The gala is in full swing when Tony steps into the room. Immediately, he’s overwhelmed by the cacophony of sounds and sights around him - the clinking of wine glasses, the soft chatter, the blinding lights, the people dressed to the nights.
It should feel at home. Tony’s grown up to the glitz and glam, even basks in it from time to time.
Tonight though, all he wants to do is trade it all in for the bombast of Black Sabbath blasting through his workshop speakers as he works in grease, the bustle during team dinners, or the comfortable silence he shares with Steve whenever they spend time together.
Oh, how he longs for those quiet moments. The thought of laying his head on Steve’s lap as Steve reads and Tony works sounds like heaven right now.
Yet here he is at the annual gala for the Maria Stark Foundation, getting ready to play a role he loathes.
Tonight, he isn’t Iron Man or a member of the Avengers. Neither is he Tony Stark the inventor, the genius, the friend.
Tonight, he is Tony Stark – billionaire and philanthropist. And he has people to schmooze for the good of charity. Tonight’s not about him.
So with that thought in mind, he fixes his tie, squares his shoulder, takes a deep breath, holds his head high, and—
—and yup, he’s going to die tonight.
It shouldn’t be surprising that Justin Hammer would be here considering every single freaking billionaire in the city was invited (thanks a lot, Pepper). But still, that man shouldn't be here at all, no matter what Pepper says.
“Tony? Is that you?”
Sucking in a breath, Tony braces himself, counts to ten, and spins on his heel.
Hammer’s smarmy smirk widens. “There he is!” he crows and oh god, are those finger guns pointed at Tony?
Tony hasn’t even spoken a single word to him yet and he’s already ready to die of embarrassment. Once again, the urge to drink is strong. Which is bad considering he’s going to be two months sober next Thursday.
Not that Hammer knows that. Hell, only Tony’s close friends do. Still, it doesn't change how it feels.
“How’s my bestie doing?”
“Peachy,” Tony replies dryly. “Until you showed up.”
Hammer barks out a laugh, waving a hand around. “Oh, Tony! Such a comedian!” His eyes roam, taking Tony in with barely concealed want. Tony fights off the urge to squirm. “I should’ve said it right off the bat but wow. You're a knockout, Tony. Absolutely stunning.”
“I always look stunning,” Tony deflects, moving to sidestep. “Now if you’d excuse me—”
“C’mon, Tony,” Hammer urges, draping an arm around Tony’s shoulder, and fuck, he wants that slimy thing off him right now. “Stay. Let’s chat. Grab a drink.”
Tony freezes in place.
Yup, this is bad. So very bad. He can’t afford to be tempted. Not now. Not when Hammer’s slimy arm is on him. Not when Hammer’s pungent breath is harsh on his cheek. Not when all Tony wants to do is forget.
“Thanks,” Tony says, shoving Hammer’s arm off him, “but no thanks. Now if you’re done—”
“Come on, Tony. Just one little—”
“There you are!”
Tony almost slumps in relief at the familiar voice behind him. The voice he’s been seeking out, been hoping to hear. He turns around, a quip ready on his lips—
—and all the words on his tongue die.
Steve looks absolutely breathtaking with hair slicked back and dressed in white, from his blazer down to his dress shoes. Other people would’ve looked like a Backstreet Boy reject. Steve looks like an angel, untouchable and beautiful.
Tony snaps out of his reverie, breaking into a smile of his own. “Steven.”
“Still fashionably late, I see?”
“Still a stick in the mud, huh?”
Steve’s eyes twinkle in mirth.
Hammer doesn’t seem as happy about the turn of events though, his smile thinning. “Captain Rogers! What a pleasant surprise. I didn’t expect to see you here, considering you’re always absent.”
As much as Tony hates to admit, Hammer’s not wrong about that. Whenever there’s a black-tie event or gala, Steve tries his best to worm his way out of going. Even when he does end up going, he always tries his best to blend in with the walls, which Tony finds highly amusing.
This time, however, Steve volunteered willingly to accompany Tony, much to his surprise and puzzlement. Steve had been tight-lipped about his reasons, like the asshole he is.
Then again knowing him, Steve probably felt bad about leaving Tony alone since the rest of the Avengers aren’t around to go with him this time, with Natasha away SHIELD mission, Thor in Asgard, and Bruce on a date with Monica.
“Well, I figured it’d be rude of me to forego going this year,” Steve replies ruefully. “I’d be a terrible boyfriend if I didn’t go.”
The arm around Tony immediately disappears.
“B—Boyfriend?” Hammer splutters.
Tony would find Hammer’s crestfallen face hilarious if he isn’t too stunned himself.
Steve being bisexual is old news, given how he came out to the press after being bombarded with questions about Tony’s sexuality back in the early dates. But the fact that Tony’s dating Steve? He’s pretty certain he isn’t. He’d know if they are. Steve’s as subtle as Doom is with his plans on conquering New York when it comes to well, anything.
Even Hammer doesn’t seem to buy the statement, his eyes narrowing in suspicion behind his glasses. “Oh. I didn’t know you two were dating.”
Before he can stop himself, Tony blurts out, “You know, how the press is.” He barks out a laugh that sounds too shrill to his ears. “Vultures. Figured we’d keep things on the down-low.”
Steve hums, wrapping his arm around Tony’s waist to pull him closer to his side and oh, that’s nice. Very, very nice.
Hammer’s frown deepens, pouting like a three-year-old getting kicked out of the sandbox. “How long?”
Shut up, Tony. Ignore that—
“Six months, give or take.”
“Seven, sweetheart,” Steve corrects gently and wow, that should not do things to Tony’s chest. Nopeity nope nope.
Hammer casts his eyes to the ceiling thoughtfully. “Seven months?” He pins Steve with a reprimanding look. “With all due respect, Cap, I—”
Hammer blinks, cocking his head to the side. “Excuse me?”
“Captain,” Steve repeats. “Not Cap.”
Tony could barely conceal his snort.
Hammer’s cheeks flame, his jaw clenching. “Well then, Captain. Isn’t seven months too long to keep your relationship secret? I mean, Tony here deserves to be shown off, not hidden away like an embarrassment.”
Tony scowls, a tirade hanging on his lips but Steve beats him to it.
“Tony is not a thing to be paraded around,” he replies coolly. “He’s a human being and my partner. He has every right to want to keep our relationship quiet. I’m not afraid of showing him off at all.” His grip on Tony tightens in a more possessive grasp. Tony shouldn’t find it as flattering and hot as he does. “He’s a genius, a philanthropist. One of the most brilliant and resourceful men I’ve met in the world, even. The Avengers are lucky to have him on the team, on our side. Don’t you ever think that—”
And that’s the moment Tony realizes what Steve’s endgame is.
“Okay, I think he got the message,” Tony interrupts, tugging Steve by the sleeve and dragging him away. “See you later, Hammer. Toodles!”
As hilarious as it is to watch Hammer pale and cower, Tony would rather avoid a scandal. Though then again, that’s definitely unavoidable given that one, Hammer’s a snitch and two, there’s probably reporters and journalists moonlighting among the rich and famous right now.
God, he can’t wait to see what the headlines are going to say tomorrow.
They come to a stop on the other end of the room. Tony whirls around, ready to make a comment when he finds Steve scrutinizing him with an unreadable expression. Suddenly, Tony feels self-conscious.
“What? Something on my face?”
Steve’s eyes widen. “No, no! It’s just… You look stunning.”
All of a sudden, the room feels so much warmer, tempting Tony to pull his blazer off his shoulders. Or Steve’s.
Instead, he clears his throat, doing his best to keep himself together. “Thank you. You don’t look too shabby yourself.”
Steve rolls his eyes, nudging him in the ribs affectionally before offering his arm.
“I know you got people to talk to. But you mind if I tag along? I’ll promise to behave.”
Without much thought, Tony takes it.
“Lead the way, mon Capitaine.”
They’ve only taken a couple of steps forward before Tony speaks again.
“For what?” Steve asks, angling his body towards Tony. “The arm?”
“No, dumbass. For scaring Hammer off.”
Out of the corner of his eyes, Steve’s lips curl into a grin. Tony’s hunch must’ve been right.
Tony's gaze drifts over to the ballroom. Somehow, they've garnered some attention. It isn't surprising considering they're Captain America and Tony Stark. But the glances are pointed at their linked arms, with some attendees whispering to each other.
And that's when the gravity of everything comes crashing down.
With care, Tony begins to pull his arm away. Steve catches him halfway with a puzzled look.
“People are staring.”
“Of course they are. You're stunning.”
Heat crosses his cheeks. “I don't think that's why they're looking at me,” he says, gesturing to their arms.
This is the moment Tony expects Steve to freak out and realize what he just said and done. It’s one thing to out yourself as bisexual. But to say you’re in a relationship with the Merchant of Death?
Instead, he gets a raised eyebrow in return and a nonchalant, “So?”
“So?” Tony echoes in disbelief. “What do you mean ‘so’?”
Steve doesn’t get to reply because their path is blocked once again, this time by an elderly couple.
“Captain!” Mrs Burke trills.
Her husband smiles as he holds his hand out. “It is wonderful to see you again.”
Tony couldn’t help but roll his eyes. The Burkes are one of the last people he’d want to run into. They’re one of his father’s old business rivals, a rivalry he could barely give a shit about to even continue. Yet somehow, the Burkes never seem to let it go, constantly feeding his backhanded compliments and stealing his contracts.
Hell, the only reason why they’re here or even donating to the foundation is only because they’re huge Captain America fans. Or in Mrs Burke’s case, a huge Captain America fan.
Surprisingly, Steve’s more put together this time the last time they met. “Mr and Mrs Burke,” Steve says smoothly, shaking Mr Burke's hand. “It’s good to see you.”
Mrs Burke's grin turns predatory. Tony has to hold in the bile that’s threatening to spill out. “It’s been so long since I’ve seen you. The last time was, what? Last year’s gala?” She leans forward, resting a wrinkled palm over Steve’s arm. A flare of jealousy and anger ignites in Tony’s stomach. “You look absolutely dashing tonight.”
To his credit, Steve doesn’t recoil. Instead, his smile widens. “That’s kind of you to say. But I think my boyfriend here is so much more dashing. Wouldn’t you agree?”
Miss Burke’s smile slips off her face, yanking her arm away as if Steve’s on fire. “Excuse me?”
Tony's pretty sure his jaw is hanging the same way Mr Burke's is. Not for the same reasons, he's sure, but he's still stunned. It’s one thing to fake a relationship to ward off idiots like Hammer. There’s no reason for this whatsoever.
“My boyfriend,” Steve repeats warmly like he’s genuinely talking about the love of his life. “Tony looks beautiful tonight, doesn’t he? I mean he always does but you know, tonight's—”
“Tony,” Mr Burke interrupts in disbelief, his eyes snapping over to Tony as if he’s finally noticed his presence. Typical. “Stark?”
Steve beams with pride. “The one and only. I mean, who could resist him? As I told Justin Hammer before this, Tony’s one of the smartest people around but also the most beautiful person I’ve ever met. It’s probably shallow of me to say that but you know, appearances are what you usually notice about a person. But he was the first person I saw when I was defrosted. And I remember thinking, ‘Wow. He’s beautiful.’ Then, I got to know him and he’s also beautiful on the inside. His heart is as golden as his armor. I can assure you that. Even—”
“Steve,” Tony chastises, his cheeks burning once again. “Not in front of everyone.”
Steve grins fondly, reaching over to give their clasped hands a reassuring squeeze. Tony's heart flutters. “He hates it when I gush. Makes him all nervous and gooey.”
“Only ‘cause you go overboard every single time,” Tony retorts.
“It’s cute to see you blush. Your ears get all pink and you duck your head like—” Steve’s grin widens. “Yup. You’re doing it right now.”
God. Someone end him now.
“Um, thanks.” He clears his throat, fighting off the urge to bury his head in the nearest hole. “I guess. I think. Um—”
“I think it’s best we get going,” Mr Burke hastily interrupts, steering his wife away.
Tony smirks as he watches the two dash out of the ballroom. Maybe this time, the Burkes will finally leave them alone.
Finally getting Howard’s dumb rivals off his back and getting free (but embarrassing) compliments from Steve? A win all around.
He glances over to Steve who also has a shit-eating grin plastered on. “You’re enjoying this,” he accuses.
Steve cocks an eyebrow, feigning ignorance. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Now come on. Two people down, hundreds more to go.”
The rest of the evening goes in a similar fashion. Every time a new conversation is struck, Steve's ready to wax poetic about Tony, launching into a speech ranging from Tony’s achievements and genius ideas to the mutual affection Tony and the Avengers have for each other.
Steve would say something like, “He's the man who revolutionized green energy,” or “New York not being underwater right now? All Tony. He saved the city on his own,” and Tony would be shambles, blushing beet red.
But it doesn't beat the ones about Steve and Tony's ‘love affair’.
“It was love at first sight. The first thing I saw when I was defrosted was his eyes. I don't think I've ever been more enchanted.”
“Tony loathes and I'm telling you loathes Tolkien. But he'll sit through the whole trilogy with me. For me. He did that eight times this month.”
“For my first Christmas since the forties, he booked the Met for the day. It was the first time I really wanted to kiss him.”
It’s hilarious seeing the reactions they’d get, ranging from discomfort, disgust, mortification to genuine happiness.
It’s been a long time since Tony’s felt this embarrassed, flattered, and thrilled. Compliments from Steve isn’t new for Tony. He and the rest of the Avengers have been on the other end of it one too many times before.
But tonight Steve isn’t complimenting him as a teammate as a friend. Tonight, Steve gushes about Tony like a teenager in love. It’s something Tony never knew he needed.
For a moment, he lets himself forget that this is all an act, that Steve and him really are in a relationship.
But then they cross paths with some familiar faces and the bubble pops.
Not that their friends are against their so-called relationship. In fact, they’re enthusiastic about the whole thing.
Jan grins, his eyes shining as she declares, “Well, congratulations are in order. You both finally got your heads out of your asses. I should’ve known the moment you both turned up dressed like that.”
That’s when Tony realizes that he’s dressed in a similar manner as Steve, except all in black. As if he isn’t feeling upset enough, this makes him deflate even more.
Kate side-eyes them and says, “Pfft. Knew that already. Pro-tip, don’t out your relationship to one of the biggest blabbers in the tri-state area.”
Hank does a weird complicated thing with his face and bites out a grudging but sincere, “Congrats.”
Considering Tony and Hank’s hostile relationship at the moment, it’s obvious Hank says it for Steve’s benefit, which is fine since Tony doesn’t give a shit about Hank Pym.
Pepper swats Tony on the arm and demands, “How come I didn’t know sooner? I’m one of your best friends and your ex—”
Tony yelps, clutching his arm. “Pep—”
“I had the right to know—”
“Pep! Light of—”
“Don’t you dare—”
Steve laughs unsympathetically but offers a hand. “Wanna dance?”
Tony’s brow furrows. “You hate dancing.”
“I do.” Steve shrugs. “But you like dancing. So…”
The gears in his head screech to a halt.
Pepper smirks behind her champagne glass. “Ah, romance.”
Romance. If only that’s the truth.
Tony shoots her a half-hearted scowl as he takes Steve’s hand, letting him guide him down to the dance floor. There's something empowering about holding his boyfriend's hand in an ocean of elite bigots.
Not that Steve actually is Tony’s boyfriend. Not that any of this means anything. Not that Tony does wish—
Tony shakes the thought away. “You want me to lead or—”
“I’ll lead if you don’t mind.”
Tony could barely suppress the shiver that courses down his spine as Steve rests his palm on Tony’s waist.
Maybe it’s the close proximity they’re in right now. Maybe it’s the ballad in the background or the soft smile Steve is flashing him or the intensity behind his gaze. Maybe it’s the impending union they have to fake again once the song’s winds to a close.
But right now, as he stares into Steve’s blue, blue eyes, Tony wants. Needs.
“Taken lessons, have you?” he asks quietly as they continue to skate across the floor with surprising ease.
Steve grins sheepishly. “Nat insisted I did. She taught me.”
“Of course she did.”
“Yeah. Said a relationship wouldn’t last very long if I keep stepping on their toes.”
Tony’s heart stutters again at the odd look Steve’s fixing him. It leaves him breathless, ready to pull him closer and press his lips onto Steve’s. To tell him that he couldn’t give a shit if he stepped on his foot for the rest of their lives.
It also leaves Tony wanting to run and hide. Escape. Forget.
His gaze drifts, narrowing onto Jan, who’s thankfully out of Steve’s line of sight. Her smile dims as soon as their eyes meet. With graceful poise, she saunters over.
“Hey,” she says brightly, “mind if I take Cap here out for a spin?”
Tony takes a much-needed step back. “You two have fun,” he says before shooting them a half-hearted wink. “But not too much fun.”
Jan smirks, waggling her eyebrows. “No promises.”
Steve shakes his head. “Don’t worry,” he promises. “I’ll be yours before you know it.”
Tony almost laughs at that. Jesus hell, what kind of hellscape did he step into?
As soon as he’s off the dance floor, he sprints out of the ballroom, making a beeline for the nearest vacant balcony. He’s pretty sure Pepper would have his head for hiding. He’s done it one too many times before. He wouldn’t be surprised if she’ll show up behind him and haul him back inside by the collar. Right now though, he couldn’t give a shit.
It’s a nice night out, the cool spring air a welcoming feeling on his face and the Big Apple lights a dazzling sight. It would’ve been calming if some sugary pop song isn’t blaring from the ballroom but hey, it’s better than nothing.
Sucking in a breath, Tony’s eyelids fall shut as he crosses his arms on the balcony railing, all the moments that’s happened in the last couple of hours flooding his brain.
It shouldn’t have gone beyond Hammer. Everyone knows Hammer’s an idiot. People would’ve definitely bought Steve’s lie as well, a lie, coming out of Hammer’s lips. And if there were eavesdroppers, Tony could easily buy them off.
Fuck, why did Steve even say that? What was the point? He could’ve easily stared Hammer down. H didn’t need to lie at all. He didn’t need to lie about the flecks of hazel in Tony’s eyes when sunlight shines down from the right spot, about how he finds Tony’s sleepy rambles adorable, about how he’s been in love with Tony the moment they met.
If Steve hadn’t lied, maybe Tony wouldn’t be straddling the line between hope and despair. Maybe Tony wouldn’t be out here wishing that Steve meant it when he called Tony the love of his life.
Tony’s eyes snap open, whirling around to watch Steve shuffle over to his side.
Fuck, not now. Not when Tony’s vulnerable and spiraling.
“There you are,” Steve says, relief evident in his tone. “You ran off pretty quickly. I was worried about you.”
“Oh you know,” Tony replies airily. “Just needed a breather. You know how annoying people can be sometimes.”
Steve’s lips quirk to the side, draping his arms over the railing. “Including your boyfriend?”
It’s a joke. Just like their supposed romance.
“Of course not. Why would I want a break from my boyfriend?” Tony scoffs before barking out a laugh that’s hopefully not bitter. “Oh wait. You’re not. Ha. Silly me. Silly joke.”
Silly Tony for opening his big fat mouth because Steve’s now looking at him with horror.
“Shit,” he breathes out. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know—”
Great. Now Steve thinks Tony is pining for his spangled ass. Which is true but fuck, he never meant for him to know. Especially like this. Definitely not like this.
“Fuck. No. I wasn’t serious. I just—” Tony focuses on adjusting his watch strap, doing his best to ignore his heart that’s breaking in two. “I was joking. Chill, Cap. Chill.”
Steve frowns but his tone is still a little teasing when he replies. “I didn’t think the thought of us dating would upset you.”
“I’m not upset.”
“You sound upset,” Steve counters, sounding serious now. “If you want me to stop, I can. I would’ve stopped if you told me before. We can go back in and tell everyone the truth.”
“That…we’re not dating.”
“If you want to.”
Tony groans, ready to fling himself off the balcony.
Instead, he says, “That’s the thing. It’s not the thought of us dating bugs me because fuck, I’d break a limb to even hold your hand and kiss you and I just hate that you’ve been going around waxing poetic about me like I’m your boyfriend because I’m not your boyfriend and this whole relationship shtick is a shtick because Hammer blabs and everyone will have our asses if they know you’d lie. And sure, maybe some people would have the common sense to not listen to that idiot but he has friends who are idiots too. And don’t get me started on the press. Why the fuck did you say that in the first place? Why the fuck you would say that and wax poetic about me when I’m in love with you—”
He grows still, his fingers still wrapped around his watch strap.
Oh fucking god.
A guttural groan tumbles out of his lips as he buries his face in his hands. “Kill me now. Just kill me now.”
Now would be the right time for Taskmaster or Batroc or any random villain to swoop in and kick his ass because fuck.
He ruined everything. Him and his stupid, stupid—
“Tony,” Steve murmurs. “Hey, look at me.”
Tony drops his hands tentatively, meeting his eyes, and fuck, they’re so blue. They’re so blue and so clear and so inviting and goddamn if Tony doesn’t want to throw caution to the wind and jump in.
And he does.
“I like you,” he breathes. “I like you so much. Too much.”
The smile Steve gets in return is blinding. “I know.”
For the millionth time tonight, Tony’s world is turned upside-down.
“You’re pretty obvious about your feelings,” Steve replies. He moves to take Tony’s hand in his. “You look at me like I’m worth something—”
Steve’s smile brightens. “I feel the same way about you too, you know.”
Tony frowns. “Is this a joke?”
“Of course not!” Steve exclaims, a little affronted. “Why would I joke about something like that?”
“I don’t know! You can be a little shit when you want to.”
“I’d never kid about something like that. Ever.” Steve’s thumb brushes the back of Tony’s palm. “All the things I said tonight? Everything I said was true. Is true. I did fall in love with you the moment we met. Your eyes were the first thing I saw and I remembered thinking, ‘Wow, he’s beautiful’. You showed me everything about the world today. You were my anchor when I felt like drowning then. You still are. You make me laugh in a way no one else ever had. How could I not fall in love with you?”
Tony kisses him.
Steve’s lips are chapped but soft. His lips part in surprise, allowing Tony to wrap his arms around his shoulders and deepen the kiss.
It’s nothing like the fireworks or blaze he expected it to be. Kissing Steve is quiet, slow, and warm. Like coming home from hell. Given how the night has been going, it might as well have been.
“You don’t know how much I wanted to kiss you tonight,” Steve murmurs against his lips. He moves to caress Tony’s cheek with his other hand, stroking gently. “And every single day and night before.”
Tony’s breath catches. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“You’re out of my league, Tony. So out of my league.”
“Hey, I’m the one who’s out of your league. Fuck, I’m not even in the same ballpark as you. I’m like on the other end of the planet.”
“No, you’re not. I—” Steve chuckles. “I guess we’re both idiots.”
Tony follows suit. “Guess we are.”
“I was trying to ask you out for months,” Steve confesses, “but I kept chickening out. Then I heard you wouldn’t be taking anyone to the gala so I figured I’ll accompany you. Maybe finally have the courage to ask you out. And then I saw you and I knew—I knew tonight’s definitely the night I had to tell you. But then Hammer showed up and I just— I knew I needed to get him off your back because you looked so visibly uncomfortable and I thought it'd make sense since you're dressed all in black and I’m all in white so—”
“You were jealous,” Tony says, a smirk forming on his lips. “Steve Rogers was jealous of Justin Hammer.”
Steve scowls, dropping his hand. “Tony—”
“Wow. Holy wow.”
“Never thought I’d see the day. Let me tell you, tonight’s gonna—”
“Anthony Edward Stark.”
Tony pauses. “I hate it when you say my full name. I hate it a lot, you know?”
It’s also a little turn-on but he’ll never admit that. Yet.
Steve huffs. “Well, maybe if you’d let me admit I was jealous without being a dick about it—”
“I was teasing you. There’s a difference.”
“Teasing me, huh?”
“Mm-hmm. A big difference.”
Steve shakes his head fondly, sighing. “I really am sorry about tonight. It was supposed to be a one-time thing. But then I looked at you again and I just— I just couldn’t help myself—”
“Hey,” Tony cuts in softly, cupping Steve’s jaw. “I’m cool with it. I mean, now that I know that the feeling’s mutual and all. Still, you could’ve taken me out to dinner first before springing that on me out of the blue—”
“In that case,” Steve pulls away, much to Tony’s protest, but keeps their hands clasped together, “let’s go.”
“I’m taking you out to dinner,” Steve replies, grinning. “Figured dinner is long overdue.”
“Such a gentleman,” Tony teases. “Ditching a party for dick.”
Steve raises an eyebrow. “You complaining?”
Tony throws his head back to laugh. “Nope. Not in the slightest.”