Present day - NYC, NY
“So tell us, Tony, how excited were you when you got the call for Avengers Assemble?”
“Well, first of all, this clown,” he muttered, hooking at thumb at Steve. “I wasn’t on set for The Secret Empire that many days, it was a smaller part then. But let me tell you: every time I saw him, as often as he could, Steve would moan about how this was it, he was done. Loudly. Obnoxiously,” he added with an accusative glare at his unrepentant co-star. “No more Captain America, no more Captain America movies. So, when Coulson called and said they were interested in bringing me back for number four, I thought it was a prank.”
Steve practically wriggled in his seat in his excitement to get in on the story-telling. “You have no idea—I am so upset I wasn’t there when you hung up on him!” he said with tears bright in his eyes.
“Who makes that kind of a call on April Fools!” Tony all but shouted before Steve could get his hands on the proverbial wheel. Steve’s quiet, contained snickering burst into outright laughter, and with a dirty look, Tony made a big show of scooting his chair a few inches to his right to put more distance between them.
“But, okay, to answer your question,” Tony continued after clearing his throat and very pointedly ignoring the laughing brat on his left. “Once Coulson convinced me that, you know, it wasn’t all a prank, that there was going to be a fourth movie, I was excited—obviously, it’s. Working on these movies is a dream come true, the cast, the crew—everyone is spectacular. The first time I played Robert, I was thinking more about Dominic Cooper’s performance from back in the First Avenger, and I wanted to balance that against John’s work, you know, in The Winter Soldier. I tried to imagine the son a man with that trajectory might raise. And that worked as a foundation for the first time we meet Robert, but now we get to reimagine him as a survivor of what happened to him, as a man with newfound purpose. I really got a chance to develop Iron Man independent of his legacy, and that was exciting to me. I explored him on my terms, and, I just… I loved every minute of it. I hope the fans like it, too.”
“I liked it,” Steve promised him, sounding achingly sincere for someone who Tony knew was so bored and done with the day. “For a movie on this scale, I think we really needed another hero. Not someone secondary or someone who’d bend over every time he heard Captain America said so. Then for this hero to be someone like Iron Man, I think we’re—we owe a lot to the writing team. He’s not the creation of a German scientist, Iron Man is what and who he is by his own doing, he’s… he’s a hero we can all aspire to be more like. You don’t have to be a billionaire genius to be a hero, but sometimes you can just look around and think, what can I do to make this world a better place?”
Like most interviewers, she thanked them, looked interested, but somehow wove off with her own questions anyway. “That’s, that’s beautifully put. You both clearly care about these characters. Was that a product of your interactions on set? You share a lot of screen time in this movie, did you do anything together off-set as well?”
Tony tipped his head to the side and gazed soulfully up at Steve, but Steve didn’t look back. He turned away, shook his head, and pretended his cheeks weren’t burning.
Eighteen months ago - Atlanta, GA
An insistent, metallic rap against his trailer door pulled Steve’s attention away from trying to beat his high score. With a quiet sigh, he pushed himself up to sitting on the couch, removed the large ice-packs padding his swollen knees, then slowly rolled up to his feet. It took some time, but eventually he shuffled far enough so he could open the door and poke his head out.
“You gotta give me a key, man,” Tony scolded him quietly, and Steve couldn’t help but smile. For an actor, Tony was shit at hiding his emotions. “I will personally break into your apartment and murder you in your sleep tonight if you broke something.”
“Wow. It’s a wonder you’re still single, Stark,” Steve sighed half-heartedly, but he left the door open when he turned and shuffled back to his couch.
Tony climbed into the trailer and dropped some bags on the the coffee table. He followed Steve like an attentive hen, hovering around him at arm’s length already.
“Be straight with me, dipshit, is it broken?”
Steve eased himself onto the couch with care, but before he could reach his pillows, Tony was there to help. “It’s just a mild sprain, Doc. I’m sure I’ll live.”
“Says the injured idiot—I had the day off, did you know that? Coulson called when I was having a fucking nap,” Tony growled with feeling, smacking the last pillow in his hand harder than necessary before helping Steve sit up again so he could tuck it between Steve’s back and the arm rest.
“A nap, Steve. I was drooling into my mattress—”
“You’re a regular Disney prince.”
“Fuck you,” Tony glowered, looming over Steve and pressing his fists against his hips for the added intimidation factor. He glared down at him in silence long enough so that Steve might observe just how upset Tony was with this whole situation. Then, in the same tone of anger, Tony muttered, “You hungry or something? I raided Kraft services.”
Steve eyed the two bags Tony had dropped on the coffee table dubiously. Neither of them looked particularly cheesecake-shaped. Guessing he had the slight advantage of being weak and needy, he turned his most pleading eyes up at Tony, his secret weapon since childhood. Back then, it was his sure-fire way of getting his mom to let him skip school. Now, he really needed it to shout give me sugar and cream at top volume.
With a particularly pitiful quiver in his voice, Steve asked, “You got anything good in there?”
“Don’t try those cow-eyes with me, Rogers. I’m not dumb enough to be the one to break your diet. Captain America doesn’t have love handles,” Tony reminded him with a smirk, dropping one of the plastic bags in Steve’s lap without further ado. “Eat up.”
“Wow, would you look at that,” Steve said with the kind of false cheer to make a panda cry. “Boiled chicken with kale salad and, oh, goodie! Ten whole almonds for dessert later.”
Tony snickered vindictively from his comfortable sprawl in a nearby armchair. “That’s why they pay you the big bucks,” he pointed out before taking a big, ravenous bite of his juicy cheeseburger. Ketchup and mayonnaise spilled out over his fingers, and as he chewed his first bite, Tony closed his eyes and dramatically moaned his delight.
“This is so good,” he mumbled around his mouthful. “First thing we do after your shirtless scene, we’re going out for burgers and booze.”
Steve averted his eyes and scoffed into his wet, boiled chicken. He chewed even though he wasn’t hungry. He swallowed even though he didn’t want it.
He hadn’t experienced hunger since his Captain Abs-for-days training began, and it was a bitter irony to miss the feeling of hunger. Anything, but the constant feeling that you had eaten too much.
“What makes you think I’m celebrating my first real cheat meal with you?” Steve said with a grimace.
Tony rolled his eyes without shame. “What, like you have other friends in this town?”
“As it happens, I have a date for the occasion,” Steve told him, though his self-satisfied smirk faltered as Tony polished off his burger and started sucking his fingers clean. When had he last enjoyed a meal that much?
“No, you don’t.”
It hadn’t been the most convincing bluff, but Steve still pursed his lips in irritation. “I could get a date, you don't know.”
“Sure, you could,” Tony agreed in an unusually placating tone, the kind of comfort that didn’t fit in with their typical bickering. He threw his trash out and washed his hands before coming back to check on the ice bags around Steve’s knee.
“How’s that feeling, Rogers?” he asked then with quiet, cautious words. “You think that’s going to be enough, or should I get something more serious?”
“Swelling’s going down, Doc,” Steve replied dryly, but instead of continuing with sarcasm, he lowered his voice and whispered, “Tony, don’t worry. It’s just an old injury acting up again, okay? If I needed anything, I wouldn’t hide it from you. I promise.”
“Don’t tell me what to do, tell me how to help,” Tony snapped, and again Steve was struck by how terribly transparent his friend could be about hiding his concern behind anger.
Steve gave him a look, then picked up the two mostly-melted ice bags and put them in a bowl on the side table. “A light rub-down wouldn’t hurt. Since you insist.”
Tony rolled his eyes, but he said nothing. He stepped away briefly to shrug out of his jacket and toss it over the nearest piece of furniture, then he kicked off his shoes, too, for good measure.
Finally, there was nothing left but to sit down beside Steve’s couch and get started. Steve’s leg was slightly elevated to help with the swelling, and Tony rolled up Steve’s shorts just enough to see where the worst of it was. With great care and a light touch he loosely framed Steve’s thick thigh between his hands, and rubbed small, gentle circles down Steve’s quad with his thumbs.
“You don’t breathe a word of this to anyone,” Tony warned Steve in a clipped tone. Steve hadn’t even opened his mouth before there was a quick rap at the door and someone tried the door handle.
Tony hadn’t locked up behind him, so the door easily swung open to give Clint, the actor who played the SHIELD agent known as Hawkeye, an uninterrupted view of the scene taking place in Steve’s trailer.
Tony froze. “This isn’t what it looks like,” he said at the same time as Steve smirked and assured Clint that, “this is exactly what it looks like.”
Their one-man audience only smirked back.
“Don’t worry, fellas,” he promised. “I won’t tell a soul.”
Later that day, it went without question that Tony would help Steve home from set. Some of the crewmen helped Tony pack his limping co-star into his Jeep, strap him in, then stood on the curb and waved goodbye as Tony drove them off into the sunset without a clue.
“You didn’t have to do this, you know,” Steve said quietly. “There were plenty of people who could have taken me home.”
“Right, sure. Let’s think about that for thirty seconds,” Tony drawled. “The intersection of the Venn diagram with people who were willing to drive you home to stay with you and who wouldn’t try to get into your pants are pretty much me and Clint.”
“Maybe I wanted someone to get into my pants, did you think of that?” Steve countered, though he posed the question more out of curiosity than anger. “I’m tired and sore and in pain, maybe an hour with someone in my pants would, uh, cheer me up. Did you think of that, genius?”
“First of all, your knees are too swollen for anyone else to fit in your dumb pants,” Tony replied, raising his fingers as he counted out his arguments. “Second, who would that be, anyway? Sharon? She deserves better than a booty call, and how would she help your top heavy ass up the stairs? Third, an hour? Who do you think you are, Sting? That sounds painful, Steve. Fifteen minutes, tops, and you’re not exactly in your prime—”
“Fifteen minutes!” Steve cried, not sure if he should be howling with laughter or in outrage. “Who—what? Why would—”
Tony gave him a flat look. “More like five minutes.”
Steve gaped back at him like a drowning fish, until he dropped the act with a big sigh. “Closer to eight, but sure, whatever. You made your point.”
“Hey, eight minutes is nothing to frown at,” Tony promised him with a hint of cheerful awe, and Steve laughed at how sincere Tony sounded. “I’m serious!”
“That’s why it’s funny,” Steve managed through his laughter, wiping his stray tears away. Tony smacked him on the shoulder and called him an ass, but that only set Steve off again, giggling helplessly.
“They gave you the good stuff, huh?” Tony noted dryly. “Keep it together for two more minutes, would you?”
“It’s not ‘The Good Stuff’, man, but it’s some gooooood stuff,” Steve sighed happily, and he leaned as far to center as his seatbelt allowed so he could bat his lashes at Tony obnoxiously. Again, Tony smacked him and even shoved him back to his own side of the car, but Steve gleefully noted the tiny hint of a smile hidden beneath Tony’s grumpy exterior.
“If your fans could see you now,” Tony muttered under his breath while he carefully navigated the suburbs of Atlanta to find Steve’s condo. The streets all looked the same in these new developments, and if he didn’t pay attention, they’d have to start the maze all over again. “Captain America, high as a kite.”
“I’m not high as a kite,” Steve huffed unhappily, because he knew what that felt like, and despite his hopes and dreams, this wasn’t it. “I’m just… relaxed. That’s all. Is it so hard to believe you’re just this easy to laugh at?”
“I’m regretting so many life decisions right now,” Tony said with an exaggerated sigh as he finally pulled up in the right driveway, sliding in next to Steve’s bike.
“Such a drama queen,” Steve observed sagely, and when Tony came around to help him out of the car, Steve perhaps leaned on him more than necessary. The grunt of effort that escaped Tony when he tried to haul most of Steve’s 240 uncooperative pounds to the door was worth it.
“You know what I think?” Steve continued with his thoughtful observations while Tony struggled to help him to his bedroom. “I think you’re a great actor, Tony. But there’s so much of your big old caring heart in Iron Man that when this movie comes out, and the fandom inevitably explodes, you are going to be the fan favorite bottom bitch.”
Tony stopped dead in his tracks on the threshold of Steve’s bedroom, and heaved a slow, measured breath. Then, he took two more steps, and five more, and three more, until he pulled the covers back and (less than gently) dumped Steve into bed.
“You straight people always say that like it’s an insult,” he said quietly, but it was the flash of hurt in his eyes and his resigned expression that had Steve choking on his words.
“Tony, wait. Hang on, I didn’t mean—”
Tony waved off whatever Steve was about to say, busying himself instead with putting out Steve’s painkillers and connecting his phone to charge so Steve could reach both easily on his bedside table.
“I’ll be on the couch if you need anything,” was all Tony said before he turned off the lights and left Steve alone in his bed to stew in his regrets.
Back in the present - NYC, NY
“We had a good time finding Iron Man,” Steve sang the same tune to another journalist—Carl this time, maybe?—and he did it with his typical Steve Rogers smile. He had said the same words to six other journalists before Carl already, but Tony had noticed that when he said anything with that USO smile, people gladly gobbled up anything.
“So much of this character is Tony’s work, and we got to spend a lot of time working through different lines. It wasn’t just a partnership, but we had to find the right balance of push-back and support between Iron Man and Cap, too. You’d be surprised if you knew how much of Iron Man’s dialogue is Tony improvising.”
“It really comes across, your relationship works great for the movie,” Carl agreed with a smile of excitement. “We really get this sense of tension and rivalry between them through your reactions.”
Tony blinked at Carl slowly, because something wasn’t adding up. Either his brain was short circuiting so late in the day, or Carl was not listening. Experience told him the latter was far more likely. Sure, the late afternoon interviews were a little worse after the compounded casual lunch-time and after-lunch drinking, but this was only their first day of promotions. It was only downhill from here.
“Why don’t we see how your rivalry works off screen,” Carl continued suggestively, and Tony inhaled deeply in an effort to look more awake and curious. “We have a game we like to play called Initial Reaction. I will call out these randomly generated initials, and the first one to think of an actor or actress with those initials wins the point. First to seven wins the game.”
“I’m in,” Steve said with less of a forced smile. At least games made the time pass faster.
“What about hyphenated initials?” Tony wondered, “would Joseph Gordon-Levitt count for JG?”
“Oh, good question,” Carl said with a grin. “Yes! We aren’t using three-letter initials, so all first and last names count. Are you ready?”
“Let’s do it,” Steve replied as Tony leaned forward in a small show of excitement.
“For the first round…. the initials are,” Carl said slowly, every pause full of dramatic showmanship. “GP.”
“What? Those are terrible initials,” Tony started to complain, but before he finished his sentence, Steve snapped in with, “Gregory Peck!”
Tony clicked his mouth shut and glared back at Steve while the jerk only grinned back at him.
“That’s a good one! Good job, Captain America in the lead,” Carl grinned happily, “someone’s competitive, I see.”
“I’ll pretend I’m not, but I am,” Steve agreed, and next to him, Tony rolled his eyes.
“And he always wins,” he said bitterly. “He’s the worst.”
“Then let’s see if we can’t even the score,” Carl said with a smile. “For point two… the initials are, AO.”
“Ashley Olsen!” Tony called out before Steve even opened his mouth. Steve probably should have laughed, or congratulated Tony on his point, but instead he cleared his throat and sat up straight. It was about to get serious.
“Next initials,” he decided, and Carl obliged easily. Tony got the next one (Macaulay Culkin for MC), but Steve got the fourth point (Peter Stormare for PS). By the time Carl built up to the fifth set of initials, both Steve and Tony were so committed to beating the other that Steve’s publicist had to call it a tie.
Ten months ago - Los Angeles, CA
RECEIVED FROM STEVE @ 10:47 >
You auditioned for MIB reboot?
YOU SENT @ 10:48 >
Who wants to know?
RECEIVED FROM STEVE @ 10:52 >
Just got the call for a meeting today. Might care more if I knew you were in it.
YOU SENT @ 10:55 >
I auditioned for big bad, haven’t heard back yet
RECEIVED FROM STEVE @ 11:04 >
I’d be kicking your ass? I’m in.
YOU SENT @ 11:04 >
In your dreams, Capsicle.
YOU SENT @ 15:29 >
You still in that meeting?
YOU SENT @ 16:04 >
You’re making me ask, aren’t you?
YOU SENT @ 16:04 >
Alright. Fine. How did it go, Steven?
YOU SENT @ 16:31 >
RECEIVED FROM STEVE @ 16:35 >
It was alright. Not sure it’s right for me.
YOU SENT @ 16:35 >
RECEIVED FROM STEVE @ 16:37 >
Just not right for it
RECEIVED FROM STEVE @ 16:37 >
YOU SENT @ 16:38 >
Your face sounds weird. Is it in town?
RECEIVED FROM STEVE @ 16:42 >
My face is fine Tony
YOU SENT @ 16:42 >
Then let me take it to dinner. I’ve wanted to go to a place
YOU SENT @ 16:42 >
RECEIVED FROM STEVE @ 16:48 >
Should I fear for my life?
YOU SENT @ 16:49 >
Fear for your diet
YOU SENT @ 16:49 >
The Running Goose at 8?
RECEIVED FROM STEVE @ 16:53 >
Sure why not
Tony walked up to the unassuming little restaurant on Cahuenga. Nobody bothered him, nobody stopped him for autographs or questions, or did any of the things that he knew happened to Steve on a regular basis. Quietly, he prayed he’d been right about this place, that he had chosen a small enough spot that even the people’s Captain America could walk in for dinner in peace.
“Tony! Over here.”
Steve was sitting just a few tables to his left, his back to the wall and face hidden under a baseball cap. Tony smirked at the conspicuous disguise but made his way over without delay, squeezing Steve’s shoulder gently in greeting as he sat down across from him.
“It’s eight o’clock at night, you look like an idiot with that on,” he observed, tapping the brim of Steve’s hat lightly with his menu. Steve snickered quietly and half-heartedly batted the menu out of his face, but otherwise said nothing. “Dressed like a dumb frat boy and you’re still hotter than sin. It’s just not fair.”
Steve chuckled to himself and pushed his full glass of water closer to Tony. How Steve knew he was thirsty was a mystery, but Tony accepted it gratefully and took a long drink.
“What would make you happier, Stark?” Steve asked when Tony put down his empty glass of ice cubes. “Sartorial range is my middle name. Dumb lumberjack? Dumb jock? Dumb construction—”
This time, Tony clapped him on the head with the menu loud enough for the couple two tables over to turn their heads. Steve laughed and cursed under his breath, trying to grab the menu out of Tony’s hands, but Tony held it out of reach and poised for another smack.
“Call my friend dumb one more time, Rogers,” he said coolly. “I double dog dare you.”
“It goes with the theme of the day,” Steve muttered with a wry grin on his lips. Steve’s smiles were usually irresistible, but this time Tony found he couldn’t smile back. Spending dozens of hours a week for months on the receiving end of Steve’s expressions, from the subtle to the heartbreaking, he had considered himself quite confident navigating his friend’s moods and faces.
Off-screen, Steve could be self-deprecating, and Tony had seen him genuinely angry, frustrated, or upset plenty of times; this was none of those. On a number of occasions, Tony had even seen Steve toe the line between glum and something worse. Fortunately, this wasn’t that either.
If he didn’t know any better, Tony would have guessed his friend looked afraid, but that wasn’t his Steve. Steve Rogers jumped into any stunt with gusto. He faced crowds of thousands with infectious confidence and walked into every meeting with a warm smile and a firm handshake. Fear itself would know better than to mess with Steve Rogers.
A waiter came around with water, and Steve hid behind his new glass at first opportunity. Tony took the moment to order them two salads, the flat iron steak, and two side plates.
When he turned his attention back to Steve, Steve had finished most of his water and was turning the glass in his hand to watch the ice cubes shift.
“I went to the meeting,” Steve said without prompting, already sighing at the memory. “The producers were interested, no question, but the director… after the first couple of minutes, he was silent. Dead silent.”
Tony leaned closer in a non-verbal bid for him to continue, but it didn’t work. “Steve?”
“He saw right through me, Tony—what was I thinking, going into that meeting without any planning? Peggy called and told me to go, so I said yes, and I blew it.”
Tony blinked across at him, dumbfounded. “Come again?”
“I’m not funny, Tony,” Steve admitted in a whisper. “Doing comedy and being funny are two different things, and I am not funny.”
“Listen. I don't know what's brought on this midlife crisis or whatever it is you're experiencing right now, but I’ll humor you for twenty seconds. You are one of the sassiest, most ridiculous people I've ever met,” Tony told him in a calm, patient tone that wouldn’t take no for an answer. “Eleven years in telenovelas, Steve. That’s a serious bar of ‘ridiculous’ you’ve surpassed, with flying, face-palming colors.”
“You think I'm funny, but not everybody does, Tony. Gray doesn't want ‘trained comedy’,” Steve added, “he wants genuine, clever—”
Tony interrupted him with a wave of his hand. “What did you tell me when Coulson offered me a bigger part? Steve?” he promoted when Steve was silent for too long.
“Don't talk yourself out of it,” Steve recited reluctantly. “They are meeting with you for a reason, you don’t know what that reason is. Bring your best to the table, and let them decide.”
“If that motherfucker can't fold you into his bigger picture, he's got serious creative limitations. I know—hey, listen,” he added gently when Steve only pursed his lips in frustration. “I know this means a lot to you. But it takes two to tango, and comedy is weird. Once you find the right people, Steve, it’ll come so easily you won’t even need a script. Give it time.”
Steve took deep, measured breaths as he listened to Tony’s words, breathing in through his nose and out through his mouth. When he looked up at Tony after that, he looked marginally regrouped. Tony smiled at him then, just to try, and when Steve smiled back, the world became a better place.
Their waiter brought their salads around first, and he hadn’t forgotten Tony’s two side plates. The conversation was briefly derailed into casual chit chat over the food as they each took some of kale and quinoa salads, but once the waiter was well out of earshot, Tony gave Steve a little kick under the table and asked, “Can you talk about it?”
Steve scoffed at the question and rolled his eyes. “Of course not,” he almost laughed. “But who will keep my secrets if you don’t?”
“So what’s the part you’re reading for? What are we working with?” Tony wondered with a smile that surely gave away how relieved he was to see Steve genuinely smiling again. He bit down on his cheeks as soon as the thought occurred to him, doing what he could to keep a straight face until he had himself under enough control to do it himself.
“It’s set in London, right? And Agent Oh, the new Zed, is played by Emma Thompson. The part is for the son she left behind with her American husband to help save the world with the MIB,” he told Tony in a low whisper, “he returns to England to track down what happened to his mother, and his leads take him right into the MIB agents’ case.”
Steve quirked his head when Tony really paused after asking for his attention, and Steve gently nudged Tony’s foot under the table with the toe of his boot to urge him on. “Yeah?”
“Want to get the steak to go and watch Men in Black at my place?”
Steve grinned, bright enough to warm Tony down to his bones. “Tony, that’s the best idea I’ve heard all day.”
They got the steak, they made it to Tony’s place, but they never got to the movie.
“I took English in school, sure, but to perform in English?”
Steve was stretched out on the floor on his back, one arm tucked under his pillow, and the other draped casually over his middle. Without competition for couch space, Tony had taken up the whole thing by draping himself across the three seats, his cheek cushioned on the edge of the seat only inches over Steve’s face.
His cheek was smushed against the firm couch cushion, contorting half his face. Clearly, Tony was too comfortable to care, and Steve couldn’t stop smiling up at him if he’d wanted to.
“How’d Coulson convince you to do it?”
“Wasn’t him,” Tony remembered with a smile. “I was dating this Colombian girl at the time, Magdalena, she was a dancer. I’m talking professional, tours around the world, lives in Mexico City. She hadn’t really been confident in her English at first either, but she told me she would never have seen the world or met the people she loved if she hadn’t tried anyway. She encouraged me to take that first meeting, and Sam Mendes was there. I didn’t know why a director would be part of hiring a role as small as mine, but the way he talked about the Secret Empire, about his vision for my part in it… he was so sure, I didn’t feel like I had to worry.”
“You didn’t look worried when we first met, and your English was flawless,” Steve whispered, almost to himself, and Tony predictably leaned closer in his curiosity to hear more. “First day, you were something else, talking with everyone on the crew, the cast. I watched you—”
“Creeper,” Tony snickered, and Steve reached up to smack him.
“They were short conversations, sure, but you left everybody smiling. Every day you were on set was brighter because of you.”
Steve watched color rising in Tony’s cheeks as he stared down at him. Unbidden, Steve found himself marveling at the affection and warmth in Tony’s beautiful brown eyes. His breath caught in his throat at the odd thought about his friend, and he probably should panic or run away or call his therapist, but Tony turned his blushing face into the couch cushion and groaned.
“No, Steeeve! That’s so nice,” he whined, his face-plant in the cushions muffling his voice somewhat. “I looked at you and thought you looked tired and hungry.”
Without thinking, Steve grabbed the pillow under his head and smacked Tony’s side hard. Tony curled up and covered his head, giggling madly, and Steve beat him once more for good measure.
“Such - an - asshole!” Steve said when he was finally satisfied, struggling not to laugh.
Tony rolled over and looked up at him with beautiful, bright, laughing eyes, utterly unrepentant. “Still your friend though, aren’t I?”
“The best one I’ve got,” Steve admitted with a self-deprecating laugh. “And what does that tell you about my priorities?”
Tony’s laughter calmed then, his expression warming with a smile Steve hadn’t seen before, and somehow, over the inexplicable gallop of his own heartbeat, Steve heard Tony’s answer.
“Everything I needed to know.”
Present day - NYC, NY
“We got this,” Tony reminded himself and Steve once their second to last appointment stepped out of the room. “Just one more. 12 more minutes.”
“Then, what?” Steve wondered, elbowing Tony gently in the side. “We didn’t decide: sushi or burgers?”
“Baby, we’re on the East coast,” Tony needlessly reminded him, emphasizing the words dramatically. “It’s Italian or Caribbean.”
“You know I can’t do Italian—”
“—you think you can’t do Italian; what they do to fish, Steve, it’s criminal—”
“I don’t want Italian fish: I want Italian pasta, I want Italian cheese!”
“Listen, I know this place, it’s not far, they do these ribs that’s insane, just falls off the bone—”
Steve’s stomach gurgled so loudly it landed somewhere on the Richter scale. Tony stopped talking and they both looked down at his stomach as one.
“Italian it is,” Steve decided, since, evidently, his stomach concurred.
Steve and Tony looked up in question and found a young man in brown trousers and rainbow suspenders standing in the doorway. The young man visibly steeled himself and walked in to greet them.
“Hello, hi,” he said and shook Steve and Tony’s hands in turn. His skin was clammy and his grip cautious, but he shuffled some papers in his hands, regrouped, and took his seat. “Sorry, traffic, and all these rooms end up—anyway, whatever. Hi, my name is Chris, and I’m with Bark Magazine, the coolest dog magazine ever, where Dog is my co-pilot.”
“Yes!” Tony cried with the ecstasy of a man who had been reminded of his will to live. After 276 minutes of shitty, repetitive conversations, that was arguably the most satisfying sentence Tony had heard in the history of his thirty-year-old life. In the history of all time.
Steve, on the other hand, didn’t bat an eye. “Nice to meet you, Chris.”
“Bark Magazine, Chris, such a pleasure,” Tony continued happily, and even Steve gave him a curious look. “Seriously, I can't wait. This is the first time I've ever heard that we have a puppy contingent in our fan base; is this cause I'm the new guy? Did you keep this from me?” he demanded of Steve suddenly, and Steve looked like he wasn't sure if he should laugh, or if Tony had officially lost it.
“To be honest, I was as confused as you by this assignment. I think there’s been a mistake,” Chris replied with a nervous, jittery laugh. “But, I got to watch the movie early! Plus—okay, I've never done this before, I can't give any spoilers, but I just have to tell you, I freaking loved it. That was so f-bomb cool! You guys did amazing work.”
“Thank you,” Steve said with what Tony fondly thought of as his big USO smile.
“Anything to keep the bitches happy,” Tony said with a self-satisfied grin, and he snickered shamelessly in his triumph when Steve facepalmed (loudly).
Chris, poor soul, was already turning red from embarrassment, or perhaps from the effort to repress his laughter. It was hard to tell which; Tony liked to think it was the latter.
“So, uh,” their novice interviewer began, eyeing Tony cautiously. “I have some questions for you from our loyal readers. These are all for both of you,” he clarified before kicking things off by asking, “What is your favorite new toy?”
“Really?” Steve asked after a beat, and Tony might have enjoyed the look of naked confusion on his otherwise composed, professional face, but he found he genuinely liked the question.
“Sorry, these, these are the standard Barking questions,” Chris said to Steve in a hushed tone of apology, “it’s what we ask everyone. They’re typically dog handlers, but—”
“I upgraded my phone last month, but that doesn’t feel new anymore,” Tony hummed to himself thoughtfully, looking over at Steve as if Steve’s expression could remind him of what his answer should be.
“If you think more carefully,” Steve drawled, “a close friend of yours recently got you something very colorful… literally colorful…”
“Steve! My markers!” Tony suddenly cried, then looked right back at Chris. “How could—Steve, he got me markers for my birthday. Back on the set of Avengers, we’d see Steve doodling all the time. Anytime he’s not in a conversation, a meeting, or in front of the camera, he’d be attached to his sketchbook. And he’s phenomenal—”
“Stop it, go on,” Steve preened with false modesty; Tony cracked up and almost lost his train of thought.
“—and, I guess I complained enough about him showing off, cause—I mean, look at him. He does too many of his own stunts, he’s a great actor, he looks insufferably and unfairly good, and now he’s a gifted artist, too?”
Steve made a quiet, plaintive noise under his breath, just loud enough for Tony to hear. Tony took the hint easily.
“So one day, I get to set, and he’s left a coloring book in my trailer so I can doodle, too. Then, for my birthday, he got me these amazing markers, Copic something? Those colors are liquid velvet, they’re amazing—people sitting next to me on planes think I’m a lunatic everywhere I go now, shading skulls in with blue, purple, and pink all over the place, but that’s even better. Nobody wants to chit-chat with the adult man coloring skulls.”
Chris beamed in his excitement over the story, then, more shyly, glanced at Steve. “How about your new favorite toy?”
“Tony sent me his first finished page, signed and framed,” Steve said with a thoughtful smile. “That’s been hanging in my house for a few weeks, in my office. Whenever I look at that zombie girl with pus-filled eyes eating her screaming ice cream cone, I think of you,” he told Tony with a fluttery sigh of romance.
Seven months ago - Vancouver, BC
RECEIVED FROM @ 00:17 >
Sent an image.
RECEIVED FROM @ 00:17 >
Still can’t believe you pulled off this look
RECEIVED FROM @ 00:19 >
Can’t believe you got away with a teen rating tbh
Steve inhaled deeply to steady his nerves and hurried back to bed where he had left his phone. He hadn’t heard from Tony in almost two months. He had meant to reach out, starting one message after another without ever sending them, because anything Steve wrote sounded so sad and needy. Sure, it was great to become friends with your co-stars, but not like this—the business was all about moving around and never being in the same place twice, he knew that. Still, it was almost embarrassing to admit how badly Steve missed his friend, even to himself. Then, he opened the picture.
YOU SENT @ 00:24 >
BURN THAT PICTURE
YOU SENT @ 00:24 >
RECEIVED FROM @ 00:24 >
NOMAD FOR PRESIDENT 2020
YOU SENT @ 00:25 >
You’re the worst who let you take that picture
YOU SENT @ 00:25 >
I look like a clown school reject
RECEIVED FROM @ 00:26 >
Funny, cause Cap’s costume is more colorful
RECEIVED FROM @ 00:27 >
I think it’s charming
YOU SENT @ 00:27 >
RECEIVED FROM @ 00:27 >
Yes CHARMING is that so hard to believe?
YOU SENT @ 00:27 >
RECEIVED FROM @ 00:28 >
Maybe I just miss you
RECEIVED FROM @ 00:28 >
RECEIVED FROM @ 00:29 >
Don’t tell anyone
RECEIVED FROM @ 00:29 >
I’m on set rn and it’s not the same without you
Steve sat down in his bed before he fell over and grinned down at the phone like a fool. He waited to see if Tony would follow up with some sassy remark or punchline, but nothing was happening, and slowly Steve started to believe he really meant it. Tony’s words warmed him in a way he didn’t know he had missed. Tony missed him, too.
RECEIVED FROM @ 00:32 >
Hey Steve, an asshole just got out of his trailer. He’s a big fan of Cap, can we call and say hi? Ok time?
Steve scrunched his nose at the thought. Catching up with Tony after a long day sounded like something he could do, but a random person? He took a breath, reminded himself that his career depended on networking, and figured the pros outweighed the cons.
YOU SENT @ 00:34 >
The phone vibrated in his hand as the call came through. He watched it buzz for two, three, four seconds as he braced himself, cleared his throat, then connected the call with a swipe of his thumb.
“No way,” he heard a voice gasp at a distance, and Tony laughed.
“Steve, Channing Tatum wants to say hi.”
“Did you wake him up for this? Tony, you’re the worst,” Steve heard from a near distance, followed by a smack and Tony’s contagious snickering. By the time Channing took over the phone, Steve was smiling again.
“Oh, man. Listen, I really hope he didn’t wake you up for this,” Channing said with an energetic zest and excitement Steve had lost around ten hours ago. “I’ll make it real quick. I’ve loved Captain America since I was a kid, and I love the depth you’re bringing to the guy. You could’ve just made him a kickass hero or something, but man, he’s lonely, he’s lost everything, and listen, it’s tough looking strong and badass but still vulnerable and hurt, and, fucking bravo, man. You’re awesome.”
“Oh, wow,” Steve said after a momentary silence, genuinely surprised and at a loss for words. This was the Magic Mike guy? “Uh. Thanks, thank you, I appreciate that. And you’re, uh, you’re such a good dancer.”
As the words came out of his mouth, he wished he could shovel them back in. What the hell was that, ‘you’re a good dancer’? He cringed with his entire body, and silently prayed that someone nearby was on that level of Jumanji where the animal stampede comes through so he could have an excuse for running the hell away from everything happening in his life on this phone call.
“Thank you,” Channing still replied with genuine gratitude and a smile in his voice, and by some awful, poorly timed luck, Tony finally intervened.
“Ookay, I think that’s enough, I’ll take that,” he heard Tony say as he phone exchanged hands. “Hey, babe? You’re wanted by Nina again, something about fixing your make-up.”
Steve blinked slowly and stared into the middle distance as he listened to Tony and Channing share a brief exchange that ended with a kiss. It was clearly a kiss, and a kiss that had Tony moaning in a way Steve had never heard before.
What was happening? What, what was this—were they pranking him? Was he being punked? Goddamnit, this better not be Punk’d, he was too naked to be on camera.
Yet, somehow, Punk’d would have been less hurtful than reality.
“Steve?” he finally heard Tony call his name, and it sounded like it wasn’t the first time he’d tried it. “You there?”
“Are you guys together?” Steve asked before he could stop himself.
There was a pause on the other end of the line. Steve’s heartbeat sounded like war drums in his ears. Why was he so invested in hearing Tony deny it? The guy sounded nice, and genuinely fun—he was a great dancer, someone who liked to have a good time. He’d only really ever seen or heard good things about the guy, and Tony deserved someone who made him happy.
Anybody else, and Steve would have been so happy.
“Is that a problem?” Tony asked in a careful voice. “I thought you knew I was into guys, too. Is that—”
Steve nearly jumped out of his skin as he realized what assumption Tony had landed on, and he rushed to correct him. “Tony! No, what—I don’t have a problem with, no, Jesus what do you think of me? I just.”
‘Just what?’ Steve thought to himself. Just where did he think that thought was going to go?
“I already felt like an idiot for being the most awkward person in a the history of conversations, ever,” Steve explained, which wasn’t a lie, but it also wasn’t the truth. “And if he’s important to you, I just. I hope I didn’t make a bad impression.”
“Hey, no, Steve,” Tony said in a gentle, sympathetic tone that made Steve want to crawl to a confessional and repent. “He’s happy as a clam, alright? I’m sure you made his day. Thanks for doing that, I know it’s late where you are, and—it just means a lot. Thank you.”
“No problem,” Steve promised absently. Then, after a short beat, he quietly asked, “How’re you? What’s it like being Dracula?”
“Most fun I’ve had in a cape, ever,” Tony answered with a laugh, and Steve found himself smiling again. As Tony continued talking, Steve rolled under the bedsheets and settled on his pillow to listen. “It’s beautiful here, Steve. I’ve never seen a more beautiful country. Right now we’re filming outside this village where you can see the Carpathian Mountains. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many shades of green in my life, or water this clear. Every chance we get, we’re out hiking and camping. Some nights we just sit out in the fields and look at the stars. They have an incredibly night sky, none of LA’s smog or light pollution. And if that wasn’t beautiful enough, Steve, we went out last week on a camping trip to see the Bigar Waterfall, it’s. Steve, you don’t understand, pictures don’t do it justice. It’s something out of a fairy tale, you stand there and it’s as if you’re surrounded by this magic, like the earth is reminding you how beautiful it is if we’d just leave it alone. Oh, and the food!” he moaned quietly as he suddenly remembered. “I’m basically eating my weight in cabbage rolls every day. Steve, I never want to leave.”
“That sounds incredible, Tony,” Steve murmured softly, drifting off into the pleasant and loving world Tony’s memories conjured.
Steve thought he heard Tony chuckle quietly on the other end of the line, but he couldn’t be sure. “You should get some sleep, big guy,” Tony lowered his voice to say, and Steve hummed happily in answer to Tony’s deeper, softer tone. “Want me to let you go?”
“No… it sounds so nice,” Steve mumbled, barely intelligible but very insistent. Listening to Tony’s voice, hearing his smiles, his laughter, and having his attention, all of it was infinitely better than being left with the thoughts swirling around in the forefront of his mind. “It’s still cold here,” he said then, clearing his throat so maybe Tony could hear him better.
Tony laughed, an affectionate, giggling laughter that warmed Steve in a way his duvet and quilt never could. “Are the Canadians at least more polite?”
“No,” Steve complained, to Tony’s added amusement. “The only sports people talk about here is hockey, and nobody will turn on the NFL at the bar… and,” he added indignantly, “DJ bench pressed me in front of everyone this morning. In front of everyone.”
“What! The Rock bench pressed you?” Tony said with a snap of attention, clearly shocked and very intrigued. After a beat, he whispered, “How many reps?”
Steve groaned at the memory. “Twelve. He barely broke a sweat.”
“Damn. I knew the man was big, but I didn’t think… damn,” Tony said a little breathlessly. “Did you try to bench him?”
“Tony, as big as you think he looks in pictures or in movies,” Steve said dryly, “double it. The man is bigger than a truck. Real nice, though.”
“Nicer than me?”
Steve snorted at the question, and with a sleepy slur in his voice, he blatantly lied. “Oh, yeah. Much nicer.”
“You’re such an asshole,” Tony laughed shamelessly, but as his laughter eased to a chuckle, he quietly said, “Hey, it’s really late over there. I’ll let you go. We’ll catch up soon, alright?”
“Mmm, sounds good… night, Tony,” Steve murmured as his hand dropped to the mattress and his phone was carelessly shoved out of reach under a pillow.
What were the chances that Tony had gone camping with someone other than Channing? What were the chances that they didn’t enjoy romantic trysts in paradise under the starlit sky?
The thoughts kept circling through his groggy, bristling mind, and finally Steve rolled onto his back and stared up at the ceiling. He had been so near sleep a few seconds ago, but now he was wide awake with no hope of sleep in sight. There was no reason for him to be bothered about his friend having met someone and started a new relationship. He’d been happy as hell for Bucky when he and that stunt woman went from seriously dating to seriously engaged. Bucky, who’d been his friend since the first day of drama school, who Steve never went a week without texting or emailing or talking to somehow. Hell, even after he introduced Bucky and Sam on the set of The Winter Soldier and realized they would hit it off and be friends on their own, Steve hadn’t felt jealous or worried about being left behind.
But if it wasn’t the misguided fear of being forgotten by a good friend in a new relationship, what was it? It wasn’t normal, and while this was the first time a close friend had been in a same-gender relationship, Steve knew without a shadow of a doubt that the gender didn’t matter. If Steve was sure of nothing else, he knew it didn’t matter that Tony was in a relationship with a man. Love is love is love; if Steve believed in nothing else, he believed that.
So why did he feel like such a hypocrite?
Present day - NYC, NY
“This brings us to the last question, guys,” Chris said with a little pout, and Tony couldn’t resist pouting back.
“Already? You sure?”
“This has been the fastest twelve minutes of the day,” Steve agreed, and with a smile, Tony rocked his leg against Steve’s.
“The question is, where do you most like to be scratched?” Chris read off his notepad, then with a curious look at them both, added, “and are people usually good about finding it?”
Like most of Chris’s questions, it left Steve and Tony quiet for some time as they mulled over their answers. This time, Steve was the first to respond.
“I really like seeing people’s passion for something, whatever that may be,” he said, “usually people are performing, or to some extent aware of social etiquette and pressures, but those moments when people find a way to unapologetically be themselves and share something they love with you, it makes me feel… it’s this energy, it makes me want to sit there and listen to them talk about it for hours.”
Tony tilted his head to the side in thought, then peered at Steve curiously. “Listen to them talk about it, or talk to them about it?”
“Oh, god no, I don’t want anything to do with the conversation,” Steve answered in a rush, and Tony snickered so suddenly he nearly squeaked. “No, I just—I’m happiest listening.”
“My favorite scratching is being told I’m right, extensively,” Tony said with a deadpan delivery that had Steve shamelessly cracking up. “But, about specific things! I—you know when you recommend a TV show, or a book, or a podcast, whatever to someone? There is nothing I find more satisfying than getting texts or calls from friends telling me how much they liked it.”
Steve hummed to himself in surprised amusement. “I never knew that about you.”
“I got Peter, Peter Parker, who plays Spider-Man in the film. I got him hooked on Hannibal,” Tony said, and immediately Steve doubled over and hid his face in his hands to muffle his whimpering laughter. Tony snickered to himself and rubbed soothing circles over Steve’s shoulders as he continued his story. “It’s cancelled now, but it’s one of the best shows I’ve ever seen on TV. I gave him my box set and every once in a while I’ll get these random texts from him where he’s clearly in the middle of an episode, like, ‘he’s put a person in that apple hasn’t he?’”
“Tony, you’re going to give him so many nightmares, what were you thinking!” Steve managed through his laughter. “That’s terrible, that’s a really graphic show! That poor kid.”
Tony rolled his eyes with good natured exaggeration. “I wasn’t aware we were co-parenting,” he said with a little snort of amusement. “Next kid, I’ll be sure to ask for your input first. Deal?”
In a feigned moment of sobriety, Steve made a show of thinking it over and ultimately nodding in the affirmative. “Deal.”
Four months ago - Los Angeles, CA
“I can’t believe it’s over,” Tony said first as they made their way out of the Burbank recording studio. They had just finished the last of the voice recordings, lines of dialogue that had been changed in the editing room or needed to be cleared up.
“It’s Captain America,” Steve intoned with a sigh. “It’s never over.”
“Not anymore,” Tony sang with a cheeky smirk that caught Steve’s attention. “The next movie will be an Iron Man movie, featuring his trusty sidekick, Captain America.”
Steve laughed, easily and without irony. For all that he moaned and complained, Captain America was dear to Steve, and part of his motivation for returning for the fourth installment had been that impulse to protect the franchise. But every minute spent with Tony was a lesson in how dedicated he was to developing Iron Man into a hero with a profound heart, a hero who people could love and get behind. Now, Steve would only be relieved to see Iron Man move into the fore. There was a chance he was more eager and excited to see Tony Stark top billed for the next Marvel cinematic feature than Tony himself.
It was time for the dawn of another hero, and Steve was confident that no man was better suited to bear the weight of the franchise than Tony Stark.
“Tony, you know I would be the first one to sign,” he said with a smile. “Hell, I’d be the first person in line to see it in theaters.”
“Yeah,” Tony said with a quiet, thoughtful expression. “Not sure I could do this without you, Steve. Not sure I’d want to.”
They walked out of the building side by side, making their way to the parking structure at a leisurely pace.
“I wouldn’t do that to you,” Steve said as he took a little side-step, knocking his arm against Tony’s in a playful nudge. “I’ll stick around, just… in the background. Starch your shirts, iron your ties.”
The picture Steve painted pulled Tony out of whatever thoughts weighing on his mind, and he snickered giddily at this new depiction of Captain America. “Captain America, house spouse?” he teased. “That’s a big career change, Steven, you think you can handle it?”
“Pretty sure he could do worse than a genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist,” Steve observed seriously, which only had Tony grinning again.
“You might think it’s funny, but a hero who is openly bisexual? Or gay?” Tony started to say, but Steve shook his head and interrupted.
“Maybe Cap isn’t trading in the Shield for an apron yet, but I was not joking about the relationship,” he said before Tony jumped to any conclusions about his opinion on Cap’s sexuality. “There’s no reason for all mainstream superheroes to be portrayed as straight, and if I can be part of representing the heroism and courage of a marginalized community, I’m there.”
Tony stopped walking and stared at him. Steve slowed to a halt once he noticed and spun on his heel to give Tony a look.
“Sometimes I can’t tell if you’re Steve Rogers or Captain America,” Tony said reverently, shaking his head slowly without taking his eyes off of Steve. “I could kiss you right now.”
Steve’s heart skipped a beat at the same time as his pulse pounded in his ears. His mouth ran dry as he vividly remembered lying alone in his big bed in Vancouver, listening to Tony’s distant voice recalling the joyful romance he was enjoying with another man. A man much braver than Steve, a man who deserved Tony’s affection.
Even now, Steve wasn’t sure where he stood. Was Tony an exception? Was Steve lying to himself and remaining closeted when he could be less of a hypocrite and accept the fact that he genuinely adored another man?
“Hey, Steve?” Tony asked, stepping in closer and reaching to squeeze Steve’s arm gently. “You alright? You’re pale.”
“Yeah, I’m fine, Tony, don’t worry. I’m okay. But, uh, Tony,” he said, wetting his dry lips and the decision came to him so easily then, when his world had narrowed down to the concern and affection staring back at him in Tony’s eyes. From one stuttering heartbeat to the next, Steve became determined to do what he knew was right. This was his chance; Tony might say no, but what kind of man was Steve if he wasn't honest? If he didn’t try? He swallowed back the bitter lump in his throat and found his voice again.
“Any, uh. Tony, do you have time for drinks or, or grabbing a bite to eat? There’s something I want to talk to you, uh. Something I want to talk to you about.”
Tony peered up at him still, cupping Steve’s face and studying it with concern. Eventually, he must have been convinced that Steve wasn’t ill or dying, or both, and he stepped back to give Steve some space and to glance at his phone. Rather than relief, Steve had to stifle a quiet sigh of regret at the renewed distance.
“You know, I’d love to, but I’ve got a date,” Tony said once he’d confirmed the time. “Channing’s in town and by some miracle we’re both free this weekend, so we’re heading up to Napa. But, rain check? I’ll be back on Wednesday,” he added, mildly apologetic. “We can catch up then?”
Please don’t go, Steve didn’t say. He had no voice, no words worth sharing. He was simply too late. All he could do was nod along, wave good-bye, and pretend it didn’t hurt.
Present day - London, UK
Steve was still scrubbing his hair dry when someone hammered on his hotel room door and demanded to be let in.
“Rogers, let me in!”
“Keep your pants on!” Steve called back as he pulled on a t-shirt and some sweats before getting the door.
Tony had changed since they’d arrived from the airport, and Steve couldn’t help but stare. After the mild fall in LA, Steve had enjoyed the endearing sight of Tony bundling up in multiple layers of thin sweaters and doubling up on scarves for the New York fall weather. But the Tony on the other side of his door didn’t look like the shivering little caterpillar in tortoiseshell glasses he had warmed to in Manhattan. He had blossomed into a handsome, devilish rogue in a black leather jacket, denim jacket, heather grey t-shirt, and dark blue jeans.
Steve closed his mouth and swallowed with care. “What’s that, a manatee?”
“Yeah,” Tony grinned, and with a mischievous wink he held his jackets open so Steve could better see the design. The t-shirt hugged him without looking inappropriately small, and despite Steve’s best efforts, his mouth ran dry at the clear outline of Tony’s strong, lean torso, his narrowing hips, and the obvious outline of the swell of his ass in those jeans.
“It’s my mana-tee. Get it?”
Steve took a moment to process what he heard and barely had the time to groan before Tony startled him by drumming the most obnoxious tattoo against the doorframe.
“Drinks, Rogers! We’ve been sitting on the plane for hours, let’s get out, stretch our legs. See London! What’s with the pjs?” Tony suddenly accused with pursed lips, as if caught between a pout and a grin. “Double time, baby, come on, or the next time someone asks about how you prepared for transitioning Cap into the 90s, I’ll answer with an interpretive dance.”
Steve snorted and rolled his eyes. “Joke’s on you, Stark: I’d love to see that happen.”
“Fine, whatever, I’ll do it if you’ll put some big-boy pants on—let’s go have some drinks, relax, have a good time…”
“Tony, I’m tired,” Steve said quietly, a touch apologetic. “Between the junket this morning and the flight, I’m just done.”
When Tony eyed him skeptically, as if Steve’s choice was a test, Steve smiled and added, “Go have fun, Tony. I’ve got my phone on by the bed, call if you need anything? Anything, and I’ll be there.”
“Yeah, sure. Thanks,” Tony said with a little sniff, but he still gave Steve a friendly smile. “Hey, sleep well, Steve. I’ll see you for breakfast.”
A loud knocking on the door woke Steve the next morning before his alarm ever had a chance to ring. Sluggish and still disorientated from sleep, Steve stumbled out of the bedroom, through the sitting room, and down the hall to the front door.
He tried to ask ‘who is it,’ but he couldn’t get his tongue to work yet, so without waiting for an answer, he tugged on the door until it opened.
There stood Tony, his hair a matted whirlwind around his head and his clothes only slightly askew. He was still wearing what Steve had seen him in before he left for the bar. He smelled of alcohol and cigarette smoke.
“You look awful,” Steve mumbled in a deep, gravelly voice, and without looking up or taking his sunglasses off, Tony huffed in tired amusement.
“Feel worse,” he groaned in reply, shuffling forward then and pushing on Steve’s chest to invite himself into Steve’s suite. “Need your help, Steve, back’s totally messed up.”
It took a moment for Tony’s words to register, but somewhere between realizing what he’d said and watching Tony’s awkward little limp, Steve stirred at once, entirely awake and mildly alarmed.
“What happened, Tony?” he glowered, circling his arms around Tony and helping guide him to the nearest couch. “Who did this to you? Do we need to—”
“Wow, hey, easy, big guy,” Tony murmured softly, holding on to Steve’s arms for support and rubbing Steve’s arm gently in a comforting gesture until Steve helped him sit down on the wide couch. “Nothing like that, nothing bad, nothing without consent. Extensive, enthusiastic consent.”
It wasn’t shaping up to be the kind of story Steve wanted to hear first thing on a Thursday morning, but since it no longer sounded like a story that would have him punching someone’s teeth in either, he figured he could just sit down in a nearby seat and let Tony explain.
“Long story short, I met a guy last night, went back to his place,” Tony was saying with a self-satisfied grin while he leaned most of his weight against the arm of the couch. “Pretty sure he fucked my back out of alignment and I need you to fix it.”
Steve stared at him for a long, long time.
“You want me to what?”
Not two minutes later, Tony had shrugged out of his jackets and had stretched out face-down on the floor. Steve straddled Tony’s hips and splayed his hands open on either side of Tony’s spine. It was easier to crack Tony’s upper back first, so they agreed to begin there, and with a short, quick burst of pressure, Steve rocked forward.
The ‘pop!’ was loud and deeply satisfying, and under him, Steve felt the vibrations of Tony’s groan of relief.
“That’s it Steve, that’s—that’s so good,” he moaned, “keep going.”
The second pop wasn’t as readily forthcoming, and it took a few tries to really get a good crack. A few times of rocking his whole body forward, with nothing but his boxer shorts between his early morning erection and Tony’s tight jeans.
If he wasn’t careful, Steve would be the next one to pop.
For the next push, he tried to raise his hips to avoid the torturous grain of Tony’s jeans against his cock, but with the changed angle of his thrust, Tony winced sharply and tensed up under his hands.
“Steve?” he grunted softly with a frown on his face.
Steve gritted his teeth and glared up at the ceiling with a vengeance. How had his life come to this, a choice between helping his friend and preserving his goddamn dignity?
He shuffled back a fraction, lowered himself until he sat mostly on Tony’s upper thighs, and thrust up. The ‘pop!’ was loud and Tony’s answering moan of satisfaction was immediate. Steve could feel the tension building in his own body, a flustering heat coiling somewhere deep and filthy within him.
Again, he shifted down. There was less friction against his cock now that he sat fully on Tony’s thighs, but with his hands cupping Tony’s mid-back, Steve closed his eyes and forcibly tried to ignore the thoughts of soon getting his hands on Tony’s lower back, and soon after that, he’d be digging his palms into the firm curve of Tony’s ass.
With every thrust of Steve’s hands, Tony’s t-shirt rode higher, revealing the smooth canvas of finger-shaped bruises painted across Tony’s olive skin. “You let someone do this to you?” Steve murmured, keeping his voice low in the hopes of keeping his unwarranted feelings to himself.
“Let him?” Tony moaned on the next attempted crack, and as Steve readjusted over him, doing his best to ignore the smooth elastic edges of Tony’s black briefs pressing into the heel of his palms, he tried to continue his line of thought.
“Mmmno,” Tony purred with an intimate smile, “I demanded—yes! Steve, yes, so good, just like that…”
Steve gritted his teeth and hung his head, lifting his hips again in an effort to clear his head. Almost done, he was almost done. One more crack, two at most, and Tony would be as good as new and out of his hair and nobody would have to suffer.
“You didn’t hear his accent, Steve, god, his accent,” Tony moaned under his breath, sounding drunk on his pleasure. “Imagine someone’s put your head down and fucks your ear with a condom made of velvet and silk… and he was so, fucking, good.”
Steve should have been happy for his friend. Tony had gone out, found another consenting adult for a satisfying night. Steve had no right to feel jealous, he told himself, and even if Tony suspected how Steve felt, he was not the petty kind of man to get involved with other people to make Steve jealous. It wasn’t Tony’s fault he was the first and only man Steve had felt this way about, that Steve still had no idea how or why his libido had imprinted on Tony of all people. After all, Steve had many objectively handsome, attractive male friends besides Tony, but it had never happened.
Even now, he tried to take comfort in the possibility that this could all be something else. Maybe he’d simply been single and horny for so long his body was now confused. Not that it mattered why his body was reacting this way. In either case, Steve sure as hell wasn’t going to risk a meaningful friendship and happy working relationship over a goddamn phase.
For the last time, Steve shifted down. He tugged the end of Tony’s shirt down in an effort to cover his bare lower back, then, with a final push, he thrust his palms up into the meat of Tony’s ass. Tony’s bones popped twice in quick succession, first his spine and then his pelvis, and Tony melted into the floor in his relief.
Tony groaned his pleasure, so deep and so satisfied, and with slurred, happy words, he moaned, “My hero.”
Tony threw up his hands and downright glowered at him. “Damnit, Steve. What do you have against Harry Potter?”
Steve blinked back at him, then glanced around himself to see just how many people with them on the tube had overheard the scandalous accusations. Luckily, only half the population of London was in attendance to throw unsavory looks of disapproval Steve’s way that morning.
“A little louder, please, I don’t think the Prime Minister heard you,” Steve muttered. “Look, I don’t have anything against Harry Potter, Tony, I just don’t want to spend our two and a half hours in the city stopping off at movie locations. We’re in one of the most historic and exciting cities in the world, there is so much else we could be spending our time doing.”
Tony made a face as he considered Steve’s argument. “Makes sense,” he agreed in the end, somewhat defeated. “Fine, okay. So, it is the inspiration for an important part of the story, but I wanted it to be a surprise. It is literally the highest concentration of antique books and prints and artwork on a single street in the country. Maybe the world? I don’t know. I thought you’d… you know, like that, old maps and illustrations.”
“Hang on,” Steve said after a beat, and as he turned to the crowd around them he took off his cap, his one disguise. Murmurs rose around them and a few heads turned their way as a fraction of the people standing around them on the train started to notice whom they were standing beside.
“Steve, what are—”
“Hi everyone! My name is Steve Rogers,” Steve announced in a loud but cheerful tone of voice. “You might know me as Captain America. I want to clear something up real quick: I’m a proud Hufflepuff,” he said more loudly to be heard over Tony’s distracting giggling and attempts to shut him up. “And Trelawny is my favorite character. She’s underrated and brilliant. And your city is great, thank you for—”
The doors slid open just in time, and before Steve could finish his sentence, Tony shouted a “thank you London, bye!” and hauled his co-star off the train to laughing applause and one excitable soul who waved madly after them and shouted HUFFLEPUFF PRIDE! at the top of her voice.
Tony was laughing or possibly crying against Steve’s chest as they stumbled through the scattered mid-morning crowd, and while Steve held him close to his side with one arm, he also turned to wave goodbye to his fellow Hufflepuff as the train rolled by.
“Why did you do that, I can’t believe you did—” Tony was sobbing into his shoulder in peals of breathless laughter as they stumbled along towards the exit on four legs that threatened to tangle together with every step. But instead of releasing Tony and letting them walk like grown, adult men, Steve only squeezed Tony closer and snickered shamelessly against his temple while Tony continued to deal with his momentary shock of incredulity.
“You started it,” Steve pointed out without compunction. “Accusing me of such, such atrocities on foreign soil. Can’t let that slide, Tony, I just can’t.”
“Where are we even going?” Tony finally managed to ask as they tripped their way up the stairs, and finally, as they emerged on ground level and sobered in the fresh air, Steve let him go.
“I don’t know,” Steve shrugged easily, smiling at Tony without a care in the world. “You picked the stop, and you picked the destination. I’m following your lead.”
“That wasn’t our stop, it was just the best stop cause you’re such an asshole,” Tony muttered to himself as he pulled out his phone to check how far Charing Cross was from Cecil Court. “Oh, we’re close. Five minutes.”
Steve fell in step beside him as Tony led the way, happy to just take in the sights and otherwise unbothered with where they ended up. He had never spent any time in London before, so he was happy to get any time roaming the city before the afternoon junket and TV spot later that night. He was taking in the fun shop signs and little specialty stores when he nearly walked into Tony.
“I think this is the Strand. This is how far the Thames used to reach,” Tony said even as he turned where he stood to confirm his guess. “This—then, that should be Trafalgar Square,” he told Steve while gesturing to their left. “Wanna go see?”
“What’s Trafalgar Square?” Steve wondered even as he followed Tony in the suggested direction, because either way it was something new to see.
“I know exactly four things about Trafalgar Square,” Tony said on the way, walking closer than usual so they could easily hear each other while they walked down the busy street. “It’s named after a battle, it was featured in Hanson’s MMMBop video, it kind of commemorates the last execution of a British monarch, and it is the only official location of American soil in this country.”
There was a lot of unconnected information tied together in that one sentence, and it took Steve a few seconds longer than usual to digest what Tony had said. “What about the US embassy?”
“Fun fact: the US embassy in London is the only embassy in a rented building. Apparently, the family who owns the building housing the US embassy owned a shitton of land in New York before the Revolutionary War. They later agreed to sell the US embassy back to the American government if their American properties were returned to them. So like, half of Times Square and big chunks of Manhattan. Obviously that’s a no, so instead they rent the space out for an annual charge of one pound.”
“Okay, but then why is there American soil in a random square?” Steve wondered, “or is ...I mean, I thought I knew US history, but I don’t remember a battle of Trafalgar between America and England.”
“Doesn’t have to do with the square, I think. At some point, the US government gave England a statue of George Washington as a gift, and they chose to put it here. Except, George Washington had sworn never to step foot on English soil ever again, because he’s extra like that, so when they sent the statue they included a piece of America so that the Washington statue wouldn’t make a liar out of Washington.”
They came to a halt at the iconic roundabout where they could see the equestrian statue of Charles the First, the monumental Nelson’s Column, and the National Gallery beyond. They followed along to the left at an unhurried pace, and Tony only stopped when he noticed a particular street sign. He tugged at Steve’s jacket, and unthinking, Steve stepped in close and leaned in closer still to look down the street Tony was turned towards, as if some little easter egg would be uncovered if he looked carefully enough.
“He was beheaded outside a building down that street,” Tony told him, keeping his voice low since Steve was already so close. “There’s a guard’s house where the clock face is smudged over the 2 because that’s when Charles was executed.”
Steve hummed thoughtfully and shook his head in awe. “How do you know this stuff?”
“While someone who shall not be named rewatched Groundhog’s Day on the flight, I listened to a history show,” Tony replied with a pleased smirk, and Steve rolled his eyes.
“That is an American classic and you won’t make me feel guilty, Stark,” Steve tried to say with a straight, if gruff, face, but he must have failed because Tony only laughed at him.
“Sure it is,” Tony drawled, patting and rubbing Steve’s side in consolation. “Ready for Diagon Alley?”
“I mean, I don’t have my book list or my house robes, but I guess…” Steve said with an exaggerated sigh, but as predictable as ever, Tony responded to the silly references with a beaming smile and renewed excitement.
“It’s still pretty close, this way,” Tony said in a rush and took off. It wasn’t too difficult to keep up with him, and Steve found himself losing himself more and more to Tony’s concoction of wizard and muggle stories from London’s past. But sometimes, when Steve felt the urge to put his arm around Tony, to hold him close or to lean in and nuzzle at his soft hair, he was reminded of what was missing, and he would bitterly remember the boundaries between fantasy and reality.
“My heart is racing already,” Graham Norton said after they had showed a select clip from Avengers Assemble. “So, we are back with an action-packed fourth installment. The good Captain, handsome as ever and at the height of his powers, and we have everything we can expect of a massive blockbuster. But, this may come as a surprise, ladies and gentlemen: under those smart three piece suits and grungy workshop sweats, what do you know? We have a pretty fit and spry Tony Stark, as well.”
Tony scoffed loudly. “You’re comparing me to him?”
Graham hid his mouth behind his cards, and with a little smirk in his voice whispered, “The gentleman doth protest too much, methinks.” Then, once the laughter of the audience had died down into reasonable giggling, he continued. “There are people who have noticed you, sir, and they have devoted a whole website to the, well. To the shape of your rear.”
Steve’s head snapped around so fast Tony almost felt a vicarious whiplash. Tony cringed—he knew where this conversation was going, and he wasn’t sure he liked it. “I think I’ve heard of this,” he admitted with a queasy smile.
“By the looks of things, I’d say it’s well deserved. Let’s take a look together, shall we?” Graham said with a mischievous smile as he turned to the desktop behind him. “Here you are, in something we quite easily recognize. Is that the suit from film?”
Some intrepid soul had gotten close enough to set to get a shot of Tony at an opportune moment when Tony was leaning to hear something Patty had said from her director’s chair. The tailor had taken no prisoners in the cut of that suit, and the shape of Tony’s ass was unmistakable.
“Yes, well, you laugh now—”
“I think the audience is too busy staring to laugh, Tony,” Graham observed in a grave whisper, and everyone, Tony included, laughed.
“An open secret when you start in this industry is that if you look different enough, they have to tailor your clothes for the jobs you do. And since it won’t fit anyone else after that, you get to keep them,” Tony started to say, half to the audience, and half to Graham. “Me, I happen to be average in every way - you pick up a medium shirt anywhere in the world and it will fit me. Everything, except my, uh, my ‘rear,’ as you put it. It is the only reason that suit hangs in my closet now. So, at least it’s not just along for the ride, it’s earning its keep, too.”
“And it’s no surprise, so many of these are photographs of you in action. Look at this, here you are, doing lunges with the squirrels.”
Steve frowned a little at the monitor. “Didn’t you wear that last week?”
“Yeah, pretty sure. That would have been early in the morning in Central Park. Before the press.”
“Here you are… jogging on the beach, or auditioning for Baywatch? We’ll never tell. And what’s this?” Graham whispered in a deep rumble. He had stopped at a candid photo of Tony in his running tights, wiping the sweat off his face with the bottom of his shirt. The photo was taken at an angle, nearly at profile, and it showed off his strong thighs, a teasing flash of his abs, and most importantly, highlighted the perky, generous curve of his ass.
“You’re giving Steve a run for his money with that tush, but we’d never know from the movies. An absolute disservice, we barely get any glimpses of it in the trailer at all.”
“The irony is, I couldn’t really run in Atlanta. I don’t know how they got that picture of me, I got maybe a dozen uphill sprints a day and I was done. That’s a five minute window. You see, we don’t have ‘weather’ in LA. Once you’ve lived there too long, you forget what humidity even feels like. And Georgia doesn’t mess around, their humidity is something to fear. Actually, funny story. Uphill sprints are fine for a workout, but it doesn’t clear my mind like running does. So while we were there, I got a membership to this pilates studio. Usually, I could only go to those random mid-afternoon classes when they didn’t need me on set. Except, it turns out those mid-day classes were designed for… well, the more mature demographic. I called it ‘pilates for the elderly and me.’ But there were these three beautiful, fun-loving ladies who’d come to every class; they’d lived in Atlanta their whole lives, known each other since middle school, the Nixon era, something like that. And they, they took me in. They’re my Atlanta family now.”
Graham and the couch listened with a pleasant silence, but as Tony finished his story, Graham looked thoughtful. “Pilates, that’s similar to yoga, isn’t it?”
“You can do it on a yoga mat, if that’s what you mean. That’s what I did, but there are other forms of pilates, too.”
“Because Colin, you’re quite into the fitness, I heard you’re quite mad on yoga,” Graham pointed out, addressing his statement to Colin Farrell on Tony’s left side. “Have you tried pilates?”
“You know this as well as I do, Graham, we Irish, we can only be mad about one thing at a time,” Colin said with a perfectly sincere expression, and Tony found himself grinning in delighted amusement. “Pots of gold, rainbows, yoga—”
“Now that’s not fair! That’s—there’s a lot of positions to learn in yoga,” Tony said in Colin’s defense, “you’re asking a lot of a man, Graham. You ask an average guy to do Chaturanga Dandasana, dollars to donuts, he won’t have a clue what you mean. But Colin knows.”
Graham hummed thoughtfully. “What is Chaturanga Dan—em, Dadandsana?”
“Dandasana,” Tony corrected at the same time as Colin said, “It’s a low plank.”
"Who do you think can do the low plank for longer, a yogi or a pilates—pilati?” Graham wondered innocently, then turned back to his audience with an encouraging look. “Ladies and gentlemen, wouldn’t we like to know?”
“Are you kidding me?” Tony peeped, and gestured a little haplessly at Steve. “Look at him, Captain America, strong as an ox and not saying a word—”
“Oh no, no, you got yourself into this, Tony, do not bring me into it—”
“Steve! ¿Por qué me has traicionado?” Tony whispered dramatically before turning to the audience with his most charming smile. “Guys, come on: wouldn’t you rather see one of your own, a true Irish-Irish, face off against this American Irish mutt?” Tony asked them, happily throwing Steve under the bus since Steve clearly was not on his side.
“Look of his arms, love,” Colin murmured in his deep, lyrical accent, and like a moth to the flame, Tony felt himself leaning after his voice with a shameless smile. “I’d rather take my chances with you, if it’s all the same to you.”
If anyone else had spoken, or an hour had gone by, Tony didn’t notice. All that existed was Colin Farrell and his gorgeous, Irish voice. “…say that last part again,” Tony purred, “but slower.”
Colin smiled back with a flash of his irresistible, devilish charm. “I’d rather take my chances with you, love. Any time, any place.”
“Nothing would make me happier, gorgeous,” Tony whispered, before turning back to Graham with a gaming smile. “Where do you want us, sir?”
Graham was out of his seat with gusto, and to the thunderous applause of the audience, he led Tony and Colin around to an attached, round platform beside the main stage. Two mats were already rolled out for them. Tony unbuttoned his suit jacket and held it out to Graham, and Colin soon did the same.
“Never done this in a suit before,” Colin observed with a little frown, shaking out his arms in his button up. Without the accommodating stretch of workout clothes, or the freedom of nudity, Colin couldn’t quite find a comfortable position once his arms and shoulders braced to hold his weight.
Tony had less of a problem holding a plank, and while he waited for Colin to find a reasonably comfortable position, he entertained himself with straight knee leg lifts. “If a shot of this doesn’t make it on that website, I’ll be disappointed.”
“Oh, dear,” Graham said with wonder in his voice. “Getting cocky, are we?”
“Only on better days, Graham.”
Earlier in the week - NYC, NY
After a long day weeding through the final selection of projects and trying to work out scheduling so he would be able to do all the things he wanted to do - and, more importantly, the things the two women he trusted with his career told him to do - Steve finally made it to LaGuardia. The car was there to pick him up and take him to the arranged hotel, and his agent would follow on the red eye to be there by morning. All he had to do was settle in, maybe say hi to the cast assembled for promotions, and hit the hay. If he wanted to have the energy to suffer through two straight days of press without getting sassy with someone, he needed every hour of rest he could get.
Armed with his key card, Steve shuffled into the elevator half asleep, and when the elevator stopped he grabbed his rolling bag and made to step out.
“Whoa, Steve!” a familiar voice said in alarm, and Steve blinked his eyes open just in time to realize he had been inches from knocking heads with Tony. Tony, who was panting and glistening with sweat in his black tank top and Iron Man inspired workout tights. He might have laughed, because Steve could feel his heart lifting for no reason, but he wasn’t conscious of what was happening until he noticed genuine alarm in Tony’s voice.
“Steve?” Tony asked then, taking Steve by the shoulders. Steve’s gaze snapped up from where it had caught on Tony’s strong, lean thighs, and he blushed full force at the first realization of what he’d been doing. Had Tony noticed? Was that what he was worried about?
“Tony, what a surprise! You’re on this floor, too?” he asked with a big smile that his face was too tired to support, and even he could feel how it collapsed into a lopsided grin.
“Steve, this is the gym floor,” Tony told him slowly, then gently guided them both back into the elevator. He didn’t push any buttons, and let the elevator continue on its predetermined route. “Did you just get here, or were you in the city?”
“Just got here,” Steve answered while Tony toweled his neck and face intermittently and leaned in closer to peer at Steve’s key card slip.
“Glad you made it in okay. You’re a few doors down from me, I’ll show you,” Tony said once the elevator stopped, then he took Steve’s luggage and stepped out first. Steve stalled in the elevator, his processor short circuiting as his eyes locked on target. Those ‘hot rod red’ tights left very little to the imagination, especially from behind.
“Steve? It’s this way.”
“You look,” Steve started to say as he trailed after Tony like a duckling. His sentenced hung in the air between them, unfinished until he could think of an honest conclusion. You look hot? You look hotter than ever? Take me to bed or lose me forever?
“You look great, Tony. It’s good to see you,” he managed in the end, like a coward. But Tony still turned to smile at him.
“I don’t know if you’re interested, but Barton, Barnes, and Carter went out dancing. They said to send you their way once you got in,” Tony said easily, finally coming to a stop and facing the door to Steve’s suite. “They’re expecting your text.”
Steve keyed them in and took his luggage on his way in. “You’re not going?”
“I had a long day, I’m getting dinner and falling asleep to whatever stupid shit the TV is playing. The last thing I need is jet lag,” he added with a little shake of his head.
“Want company?” Steve asked as casually as he could. “I’m practically asleep as it is, but I haven’t eaten since breakfast in LA.”
Tony smiled back at him in surprise. “Yeah, I’d like that, Steve. Downstairs in twenty minutes?”
Steve agreed and watched Tony leave. It took Steve an embarrassingly long time to realize he was staring after Tony even once the door had fallen shut behind him. Thoughts moved like cool molasses through his sluggish brain as he tried to pull together a plan of action. He needed a quick rinse after his flight, no question there. Jeans were always good, casual and classic. And October in New York was an excuse to wear clothes for warmth, as opposed to LA where ‘fall’ was still an abstract concept.
A few minutes into his shower, Steve could feel the fog lifting. Finally, he was waking up. He rushed through a shower, dried off as best as he could. Underwear went on first, then a comfortable grey long sleeved tee that he mostly hid under a sky blue thick-knit sweater. He was digging out his shoes when there was a knock on his door.
“We’re across the hall,” he heard Tony say through the door. “Why are we meeting downstairs? You ready?”
“Hang on,” Steve said without thinking, and went to tug the door open real quick. “Almost ready, shoes.”
It took a while for Steve to realize that Tony was standing silently in the little lounge.
“You okay?” he asked, absently pulling at the laces of his chosen boots.
“Oh,” Tony whispered after a quiet pause, then turned on his heel to find the kitchenette. “Just, thirsty. Forgot my water. Is it cool if I—”
“Help yourself,” Steve called after him as he stepped into his jeans. His skin was still a little too damp, but he managed it eventually, and was mostly done lacing up his boots by the time Tony returned.
“Burgers?” Tony asked, clearing his throat a little awkwardly. “I’m—where do we stand on carbs?”
“Travel days are cheat days,” Steve smiled up at him, “and I’m hungry as hell. Let’s go.”
The concierge arranged for a cab to take them somewhere well recommended, not that either of them had been there before. All Tony had asked for was a place with good food and a nice view of the city.
They ended up at the Green Gallows in the McKittrick Hotel, transported somewhere lush and inviting even at the heart of a concrete jungle. They ordered some of everything — the charcuterie and cheese plate, the grilled sweet corn and fried plantains, the moussaka and the steak skewers. Tony went for the sweet honeyed gin and Steve ordered a little something with tequila and grapefruit, though they ended up switching their drinks before they were happy with their choices.
“I don’t like this divide and conquer plan they’ve got going, we should all be doing promotions together,” Steve said after his first sip. “Did you get to talk to any of them before they left?”
“Not much, but it sounded rough,” Tony replied with a wry twist of his lips. “We’ll catch them for breakfast before their flight. Sam looked pretty excited about Paris. Something about eating his weight in cheese?”
Steve snickered and couldn’t help but grin, cause damn, Sam. What a jackass move. What a genius. “Pretty sure he’s just saying that cause Bucky can’t handle dairy.”
“Well, shit. Remind me never to tell Sam anything,” Tony said with a quiet snicker in his voice. “Did I tell you they’re putting me on a diet for MIB? As soon as this is over, I’m supposed to bulk up 30-40 pounds.”
“Oh, no,” Steve said with a sympathetic frown. “Muscle?”
With a sad grimace and a quiet huff of regret, Tony nodded. “I wish someone would pay me to put on 40 pounds of fat. I’d cook everything in lard and eat pancakes for dinner. With real maple syrup, too.”
“Buttered biscuits and baked brie,” Steve added, and Tony just moaned with delight. “And a side of homemade apricot jam.”
“Jesus fucking Christ, stop,” Tony grunted and made a show of readjusting in his seat. “I didn’t consent to any of this. Keep your culinary dirty talk to yourself, Rogers. After this press tour, it’s boiled chicken and porridge and brown rice and juiced spinach every day for months.”
“It’s gonna suck, but it’ll be worth it,” Steve said to comfort him the only way he could. “You’ll be gassy and you’ll dream of food without ever wanting to eat anything ever again, because you’ll always be so full you can’t take another bite, but I heard they’re scaling you up in post, so it’ll really look great.”
“Did you make a decision yet, did you sign on?” Tony wondered as he took a sip of his drink. Steve had used that particular strategy of hiding his excitement many times before, and he had to smile to see Tony mirroring it back at him in a time like this.
“Just sent in the official yes today. It will bump up right against press for Red Notice, and I think my head will be spinning for a week, but I’ll figure it out.”
“Yes!” Tony hissed so suddenly that Steve’s eyebrows shot up his forehead. “Fucking yes—then I’m requesting your trainer.”
“I like that!” Steve said with a big smile, “he’s incredible, yeah. I’ll call him tomorrow so he knows, or you know, I guess, ask if he’ll have availability then.”
“Steve, thank you,” Tony said just as their food arrived. There was a brief pause in their conversation as all the plates were arranged on the table between them, and a quick plan of attack was agreed upon.
“I really am proud of you, you know,” Tony said a few minutes later. “This will be a great role to dip your toes in comedy. At least I’ll be there; I always love laughing at you.”
“Two seconds ago I was going out of my way to make sure you got the best trainer I’ve known,” Steve observed ruefully.
Tony tried his best to keep a straight face, but Steve caught a flash of his grin before Tony could hide it behind a mouthful of food.
“Then how about this,” Tony wondered out loud. “‘At least I’ll be there, and if shit goes down, we’ll go paint the town red’? Hit the bars, maybe get lucky—whatever, you and me, it’ll be great.”
Steve wasn’t sure if his ears were playing tricks on him, or if he’d genuinely heard the suggestion that Tony was on the market. His heart skipped a beat, and distantly, Steve hoped and prayed and wished he wasn’t already sweating in his premature excitement.
“Wait,” he interrupted Tony in the most casual voice uttered in the history of human speech. “You. So, you and Channing ...broke up?”
Tony never congratulated Steve on his exceedingly suave rendition of A Casual Man Asking a Question in Repose, but in his defense, his gaze turned distant, and even though he sat across the table from Steve, Steve could see the moment Tony’s thoughts carried him off somewhere mournful and upsetting.
Eventually, Tony knocked back the last of his drink and cleared his throat. “Yeah. Yeah, we broke up. Two weeks ago,” he added and tried to smile. “Time to get over it, you know?”
Let me help, Steve wanted to say, but this wasn’t the time. Even he could not be so selfish to make this moment about his own feelings and pining infatuation. However Steve felt about it, he recognized as a friend that what had happened between Tony and Channing had meant something to Tony, and that he was sad to be without it.
Tony didn’t need a come-on, he needed a friend.
“Want to talk about it?” Steve asked in a gentle tone of voice, but Tony only shook his head no.
“It was great while it lasted, and… just, being honest about who you are, about how you feel about another person, whether it’s a man or a woman, I can’t,” Tony stopped himself abruptly and heaved a quiet, frustrated sigh. “I really appreciated that about him, you know? Bisexual doesn’t exist in Hollywood—gay barely does, but people like me and him? It’s exhausting being with people who hide or, I don’t know, pretend it’s a phase. Being with him, I didn’t have to explain anything, or hide anything. That… that was nice, you know? Honesty.”
Steve wished the floor would open up and swallow him whole, send him down the express lane to hell. He needed to have a talk with Tony, and it needed to happen sooner rather than later.
But tonight, it was about being there for Tony. It was about comfort, unwavering support, and a flight of tequila.
Present day - Sydney, Australia
From a hazy distance, Tony thought he heard someone calling his name. Did he care? He sniffed and turned away from the sound, crowding against the firm warmth pressed against him. The smell was familiar and reassuring, and as a gentle touch eased him back to restful calm, he found himself naturally drifting further and further from consciousness.
“Tony? Hey,” the voice said more firmly. “We’re here.”
Tony thought he knew what that meant, and whatever it was deserved a frown. It deserved to be ignored, pushed away, and told to fuck off.
But instead of obeying his demands, he only got a quiet laugh in reply and a squeeze of his shoulder. “Tony, we got less than an hour before we’re live on the Today show, we can’t—we don’t have time to—”
All at once it caught up to him—the delayed plane, the missed connection, the shitty turbulence that kept Tony on the edge of his seat but Steve somehow slept through—and Tony shot up with a startled breath. “I’m up! I’m up,” he promised, grasping at Steve’s arm to help push himself upright. “Shit, I’m good. Are we late?”
“Very,” Steve said with a frown, though as Tony started to get a clearer picture of his surroundings, he realized Steve wasn’t actually moving to exit the stretch car.
“You sure you’re alright?” Steve asked before Tony had to say anything. “We can tell them you caught something on the flight, or maybe something with your food, whatever, if you need to sleep.”
Tony blinked slow, heavy eyelids until he could level a reeking glare at his co-star. “This might be my first promotional tour, but I’ve pulled all nighters before, Rogers. Get out of my way.”
Steve rattled off some words to calm Tony and make up for his obvious slight, but Tony didn’t listen or even care to listen. He clambered over Steve to get out of the car, and with unsteady feet he stomped his way towards the indicated doors.
“You get huffy and short-tempered when you’re sleep deprived, check,” Steve said with a teasing lilt in his voice. Tony could just feel the pleasant amusement radiating off of him even from the polite distance Steve kept, and if he didn’t know any better, he’d be convinced Steve’s charm was feeding off of his stamina like some predatory energy vacuum.
“And you become insufferable,” Tony glowered under his breath, barely noticing how Steve took him by the arms and gently steered him out of the way of oncoming people.
“Good morning, welcome to the Today show! So glad you could make it,” a chipper young woman greeted them with a smile and a clipboard. “My name is Rachel, I’ll be taking you through—but first, anything you need?”
Rachel spoke so quickly that Tony barely caught on to what she was saying. He wasn’t sure if it was the sleep deprivation or if she was on something, but in a brief moment of lucidity, he wondered if maybe he should have taken Steve up on the offer to do this solo. Between the plane ride, his night with his handsome English lothario the night before, and the long days in New York before that, Tony wasn’t really firing on all cylinders anymore. Maybe it wasn’t too late to say yes—
Without warning, Tony felt the world slow down to a leisurely crawl. People around them faded into the background until only Rachel and Steve were walking beside him, and Rachel’s otherwise sprinting sentences ran slower than molasses as she ate up Steve’s entire body with her gaze and with a suggestive little smile, she clarified, “Anything at all?”
“Thanks, Rachel. Cold water and hot, black coffee, please,” Steve replied with a pleasant smile, as if the woman hadn’t just offered to spend the weekend naked on a beach licking butter off his body at her own place of work. Did a country founded by convicts even have scruples about common decency? Could they spell it? Who was she to talk to his Steve in that way—
The warm, heavy weight of Steve’s arm folded across Tony’s shoulders, and Tony could viscerally feel himself settle with the physical assurance that Steve was there. “A shot of energy or espresso, too,” Steve added with that charming half-smile you could hear in his voice. “Anything to help us wake up. Let’s just say we had a long flight.”
“Listen, the stuff we’ve seen you two do in the trailers so far, it is absolutely wild. But, we heard you had a tough flight here,” Karl said with his cheerful smile, “so we thought instead of the regular show, we’d switch it up a little. Now, we had you answer some questions before you came on stage,” he trailed off with meaning, and Tony cringed.
“Oh, no,” he said with a helpless little laugh, and next to him on the couch, Steve perked up.
“I like that sound,” he teased with cheeky grin that spun Tony’s little laugh into a quiet chuckle.
“We asked you to answer thirty question about yourself,” Karl said in clarification as he and Georgie straightened their respective note cards. “We’ve chosen some questions at random to ask you about each other, and for each correct answer, you win a point.”
This time, even Tony perked up. “Is there a prize?”
“That is important,” Steve agreed with a serious nod.
“The final prize is a box of Australia’s own double-coated Tim Tams!” Georgie promised with a big smile, then with a mischievous glint in her eye, she shrugged and said, “or, whatever sweets we can scrounge out of Karl’s lunch box.”
Tony laughed easily, but Steve nodded again as if that was exactly his preferred method of deciding on a game prize. “Fair enough, let’s do this.”
“Alright, I’ve got the first question,” Karl started, clearing his throat and gathering himself to ask the very serious question. “Steve: what was the name of Tony’s character in La Reina del Barrio?”
“Oh, crap—I know this,” he murmured to himself, and Tony stared as Steve racked his brain for the answer. “It was… it was Julián something. Julián de los Santos?”
Tony was the only one who didn’t react with gleeful surprise. “How did you know that?” he asked before he could remind himself he was on live TV.
“And here is your prize, Captain!” Karl said as an assistant walked on stage to hand Steve the smallest, fluffiest dog Tony had ever seen. Some of the crew melted at the sight of the adorable puppy, but it was Steve who cradled the small thing in the palm of one hand and held on to her with the other. She was squirming and wriggling with all her little might as she tried and failed to reach his face and lick his mouth; Tony could only sympathize. Steve contained her efforts all too easily, cooing and praising her in turns.
“This is Fran, she is a ten week old Pomeranian,” Georgie told the audience at home. “She is currently up for adoption at the Sydney Dogs and Cats Home. If you adopt any of the little rascals you see on the show today, the Today show will cover the fees. Just, something to keep in mind when you ask your mothers and fathers for a puppy this morning...”
“That was your role way before getting the call for Iron Man, wasn’t it?” Karl asked Tony, who was mostly occupied with getting in on the puppy love. “How long were you on that show?”
Tony grinned at the memory, but Steve handed him the puppy at the same time as he tried to answer the question, and let’s just say Fran had better luck climbing to his face than she had with Steve. “A year,” he sputtered, trying to speak through closed lips while prying the insistent little Pomeranian off. It only took a few seconds, but they were emotionally painful for all the little cries and whimpering Fran caused as she scrambled to get all the kisses she could get.
“I got her,” Steve promised and scooped her away in one big palm, and it was only by the skin of his teeth (or the added clarity of his third cup of coffee backstage) that Tony managed to brush off the sudden absence of puppy and return to Karl’s question.
Karl, who was slowly turning red trying to keep his smile from becoming a giggling fit.
“They don’t last as long as American soap operas, that novela lasted thirteen months,” Tony said as if he hadn’t just been mauled and rescued from a three pound puppy. “But I was only 17 when I was introduced on that show, it was my first professional role.”
“Was acting something you’d always wanted to do?” Georgie wondered, and Tony’s honest answer was a little shrug.
“Once it was offered to me, I knew I wanted to try it, but did I think I’d make a career out of acting? Not really. If I hadn’t met the people I met, I would have gone back to school. Acting is rough, it’s lonely. You need a supportive network to make it. I owe my career to Alma, Alma Guerrero, the actress who played my on-screen mother on La Reina. My mom couldn’t move to Mexico with me at the time, and I don’t think she would have let me go if Alma hadn’t promised to keep an eye on me. Even after the show she helped put me in touch with the right people, and she’d insist that I joined their family for dinner every week to check in. She’s family, my second mom.”
Karl and Georgie smiled as they listened to the story, but out of the corner of his eye, Tony caught Steve clutched Fran to his chest and openly stared. Before Karl or Georgie had a chance to move the conversation along, Steve spoke up.
“She’s an incredibly talented actress,” Steve told Tony as if he was compelled to say it. “She was so convincing. I hated her.”
“Hang on, since when do you watch novelas!”
Steve pursed his lips and looked back in defiance. “I’m not answering that unless you’ll reward me with puppies.”
Tony gasped dramatically at the betrayal. “Then watch me win all the puppies,” he shot back, and while Karl hid his red face behind his cards, Georgie took her cue and read off the next question.
“Alright, let’s do it,” she agreed with a ready competitiveness. “Tony: do you know what Steve’s first role in a movie was? Any movie.”
Steve moaned in complaint while Tony laughed. “Easy!” he said with a cocksure grin that distracted Steve from the adorable blue merle puppy long enough to slant Tony a long suffering look. “He was a background student athlete in Remember the Titans. Puppy me, please.”
Karl waved his hand in the air with a dramatic flourish. “Bring this man his puppy prize!”
Unlike Fran the little Pomeranian, this time the assistant carried a squirming, long-limbed boxer puppy with a square nose and big, curious eyes. Tony stood up in his excitement to take the dog from her, but once he sat down, Steve shuffled closer so they could both marvel at the excitable balls of energy they never expected to play with today.
“This is Star-Lord, the eleven week old Boxer mix. He’s a really sweet little guy looking for a family to love.”
“Que lindo eres, Star-Lord, you’re so handsome,” Tony promised the little dog who was absolutely insistent on licking Tony’s ears. “I—hey! Easy there, baby,” he said as he tried to corral the dog. Steve again reached out to help, but Tony quickly hugged the boxer closer to his chest before Steve could scoop this one away, too, and end up with two puppies.
“Don’t even think about it, Rogers,” Tony warned him as Karl cleared his throat and prepared for the next question.
“For the third point,” he began slowly, building the anticipation. “Steve, what would Tony most likely be doing if he wasn’t an actor?”
“That’s not fair,” Tony complained at the same time as Steve said, “He would be an engineer, programmer maybe?”
“Puppy prize!” Georgie cheered, and an assistant came out with a staggering bundle wrapped in a blanket. It wasn’t until the anxious little dog and his blanket were delivered directly to Steve that they saw it was a tan Great Dane mix. The puppy was clearly young and unsure of what to do with Steve, and Steve shifted on the couch so he could move the overgrown puppy right into his lap with Fran coddled to his chest between them.
“Say hi to Violet,” Georgie said with a big smile. “She is a Great Dane and Greyhound mix, but she’s just an oversized cuddlebug, and we’re told there’s nothing she likes more than a nap.”
“Couldn’t you ask him more difficult questions?” Tony said with a pout, nuzzling at Star-Lord even as he reached out to rub Violet’s soft ears.
“We’ll go easy on you instead, how about that?” Karl offered, and luckily Steve was too distracted with his armful of tiny and enormous puppies—one of which took up loads of space and wanted to hide under his armpit, and the other who was fearless and dedicated to climbing him like the man mountain he was.
“Tony: how many languages does Steve speak fluently?”
Tony blinked in surprise at the question. That was such a basic fact, and yet he wasn’t sure of the answer. Without thinking, he looked at Steve, and two important thoughts occurred to him. One, for all intents and purposes, Steve was the last person to save him on this one. Two, did he always look at Steve when he didn’t have the answer to something?
“French, I think?” Tony hedged cautiously. “Two, English and French. Right?”
Steve scoffed in the middle of nuzzling Violet’s forehead as she tried to hide against his cheek. “What a silly little man he is, Violet, don’t you think?” he cooed at her, only audible thanks to the microphone clipped to his shirt. “He is, isn’t he? I wish I spoke French, it is a beautiful language, but nope, he is a silly, silly goose. I only speak English.”
Whatever indignity Tony suffered for being called a ‘silly little man’ on television was quickly forgotten as Fran climbed across Steve’s legs and wagged with all her might at him and Star-Lord. “Ven aquí, carita! We missed you,” he told her as the shy little boxer started slowly wiggling his butt in tentative excitement.
“You still with us?” Karl laughed as Georgie moved on to the next question.
“Steve: outside of Iron Man, what is Tony’s dream role?”
“Violet, do you know?” he whispered, rubbing her side gently in praise as her tail wagged at the sound of her name. “What a good girl, of course you know, you're so smart. Tony wants to be a pirate, arrrgh!” he told her (and the rest of them) with a playful growl that finally had her tail wagging with full force. She rolled over in his arms until she could rest her chin on his shoulder and squirming closer until she decided it was a good enough place to sit and look across the couch at the other puppies.
“Pirate is… well,” Georgie said slowly, showing Karl her note card as if his didn’t have the same information.
“Sorry mate, that’s false,” Karl said, though he still sounded pretty cheerful. “It’s some character called… Galvarino?”
“Who?” Steve asked Tony, though he sounded less interested in the answer than Violet, who was slowly toeing her way to the open space on the couch between Steve and Tony where the other two puppies were currently scrambling and tumbling around.
“Ven aquí, niña, que preciosa,” Tony murmured softly to her in encouragement where she sat mostly pressed against Steve’s arm. He rubbed her head and neck gently, trying to coax her closer and close enough to get into it with the other playing puppies.
He could feel someone staring at him, and instinctively looked up at Steve again. Steve was watching him with such clear, focused intent that Tony was sure he was about to tell him something really important any second.
It was almost by luck that he glanced up and noticed the two hosts across from them. “Galvarino is a legendary Mapuche warrior in Latin America,” he said as the question came back to him. “He fought against the Spanish invaders. But, you’re not wrong, I would really like to be a pirate someday, too,” he added with a lopsided smile. Whatever had been on Steve’s mind seconds ago faded, and Steve only smiled back easily.
“Alright, the last question,” Karl said as he glanced back at his cards, “Tony, it’s your chance to tie this up. What movie first inspired Steve to become an actor?”
“Yes, finally!” Tony said with such excitement that Violet startled and turned tail to hide under Steve’s arm again. Steve wrapped his arm around her and held her tight to his chest, while Tony, mortified, rubbed her ears and apologized profusely.
Violet refused to peek out from under Steve’s armpit and her tail was tucked firmly between her legs, so clearly scared that in his guilt, Tony forgot they were on TV.
“Is she alright?” Georgie asked, bringing Tony back to the present, but it wasn’t until Steve smiled at him and promised he’d watch her that he could sit back and think again.
“Some Like It Hot,” he told them, doing his best to sound like an adult whose heart hadn't just broken over a puppy’s hurt feelings.
“That’s right, isn’t it?” Steve whispered to Violet, rubbing her back gently.
“You think you’ve got enough space for another puppy dog?” Georgie wondered, though it turned out to be a rhetorical question as a fat, black and white puppy with whirlwind energy was brought out for Tony.
“This is Mango,” Georgie continued, “he is a sheltie and corgi mix, and he’s fourteen weeks old. It says here that his favorite food is not mango; good clarification, that.”
“Mango!” Tony and Steve cheered in unison, and Tony reached for the dog with eager excitement. Mango spent the first handful of seconds nuzzling and licking Tony’s face and neck all over before he seemed to realize there were other puppies on the couch next to them, and he squirreled his way right out of Tony’s arms to leap into Fran and Star-Lord’s intense wrestling game.
“Alright, looks like there’s a tie here, guys, so it’s going to go to the tie breaker. Do you think you’re ready?”
“Are there more puppies?” Steve wondered, and Tony immediately seconded the question. “If there are more puppies, yes, more questions.”
“Then here we go,” Karl said with a big grin. “This is for both of you about the other, does that make sense? What song would the man next to you use to describe your characters’ relationship in Avengers Assemble?”
Steve didn’t even have to think twice. “Gold Trans Am, by Kesha!”
“Wha—wait, is it only the first answer that gets the point?” Tony said with a little frown.
“No, we’ve got back-up questions,” Karl assured him. “If you get this right, we’ll bring out two puppies and move on to the next question.”
“You got this, Tony. Let’s get two more puppies,” Steve stage whispered as he hauled the rotund little Mango (who had tried to engage Violet into playing) up into the air. “Hello, you monster! She doesn’t want to play right now, sweetheart, you’re stuck with me!” he laughed as Mango squirmed with excitement and eventually sat him down on his other side where Steve could pet him and Mango couldn’t bother Violet.
“Shit, it’s going to be one of those 80s classics or something, isn’t it?” Tony said half to himself, and half to Steve. “Is it… You May Be Right, by Billy Joel?”
“Aw, sorry, mate, that isn’t it,” Karl said sympathetically, and as Tony instinctively turned to look at Steve in confusion, he heard the name of the last song he would ever have guessed.
“It is Never Gonna Give You Up, by Rick Astley.”
The assistant brought out a little Dachshund puppy called Eli as Steve’s final and winning point of the day. Eli was half the size of Steve’s shoe, but he scrambled out of Steve’s arms to jump on Mango, and at that point, all the puppies besides Violet had taken over the couch in their mad play-fighting, dashing across legs and hands as they chased and tumbled into each other.
Tony openly glowered at Steve. There were no words he could say that were allowed on the air.
“You Rick-rolled me?”
Mischief was bright in Steve’s eyes as he hugged Violet closer like a shield between them and hid his face against her side as he laughed, and laughed, and laughed.
By the time they were dropped off at the InterContinental, even Steve was dragging his feet. Each step became increasingly heavy and difficult to bear. He developed a mantra to remind himself of the luxurious treats that awaited him in his suite - a warm shower, a firm bed. Maybe even curtains to block out the sun so he could spend the four hours they had before the premiere doing something productive, like sleeping.
He and Tony had gotten rooms across the hall from each other again, and they grunted goodbyes as they shuffled into their respective spaces. The smell of a warm meal greeted him as soon as he wandered further into the room, and Steve dropped everything in his hands to rush forward and check what was waiting for him on the cart.
Under the great dome lid he found two plates of succulent lamb and rosemary potatoes. The whole presentation was divine, and the smell even better, and for a moment he even considered leaving Tony out of it and eating both servings himself.
YOU SENT @ 11:18 >
Both meals sent to my room get over here before I eat it all
RECEIVED FROM @ 11:18 >
You wouldn’t dare
Steve rolled his eyes and replaced the lid. He got to the door just in time to see Tony with his fist raised to knock, wearing boxers and a t-shirt.
“What happened to your clothes?” Steve wondered without stepping aside to let him in.
Tony huffed at Steve’s attempt at humor and pushed his way in. “I’ve been wearing those clothes for thirty hours, sue me. Where’s the food?”
The answer was obvious, and Tony gravitated to the wheeled in tray of food like a moth to a flame. After the day they had had, neither of them was particularly talkative. They grabbed a plate each, found some comfortable spot on a couch or in an armchair, and tucked into their food with a bottomless appetite. The lamb rump was tender and beautifully seasoned, and even Steve, who probably should have gone light on those potatoes, threw caution to the wind and scraped up every delicious spoonful.
When it was all said and done, neither of them moved. Steve should probably be heading in to take a shower, and Tony could have gone to his room to do anything he needed, but something about being silent together was really soothing Steve’s nerves and frustrations from the day.
“TV?” he asked and held up the remote, apropos of nothing. Tony didn’t say anything, but the way he kicked back on the sofa, stretched his legs comfortably, and turned so he could watch TV with his head comfortably rested on a cushion was affirmative enough.
Steve scrolled through the TV guide listlessly, not looking for anything in particular but hoping something would catch his eye.
It was Tony who saw it first.
“Hey, isn’t that our Graham Norton episode?” he wondered, and without asking questions or thinking twice, Steve clicked over to the channel and rewound to the start of the show. They watched Graham Norton’s monologue, chuckling to themselves every now and then, and watched as Sarah Millican and Colin Farrell were brought on before the two of them joined the couch.
“You look good in blue,” Tony observed between leisurely bites. Steve hummed to himself, but rather than helping him appreciate his past fashion choices Tony’s comment reminded him that he was free to look less pulled together now that he wasn’t in front of a camera. He kicked off his shoes and sat up to pull his sweater off over his head so he could get more comfortable in his big armchair.
For Steve, it wasn’t so strange anymore to watch himself perform. Whether it was TV or movies, this was a strange but real part of his life. It had been years since seeing himself or hearing his voice stopped bothering him. But it was another experience entirely to see from an outsider’s perspective how he gazed at Tony with big cow eyes whenever Tony spoke, or how he gravitated after Tony’s movements instinctively any time Tony sat up or leaned away, as if Steve’s lizard brain couldn’t bear to leave more than two feet between them. Or the way his lips twisted in his discontent every time Tony fawned over Colin Farrell’s accent. Steve could only count his lucky stars that the camera operator cut away from him when Tony and Colin stepped away to see who could hold a plank longer, but then again, he’d never forget the sight of Tony getting cheeky about the challenge, or the round swell of his ass in those tailored jeans as Tony did his leg lifts.
The spell of companionable silence was broken with the buzzing sound of Tony’s phone. The distraction was a godsend, and Steve quickly got to his feet under the guise of putting their plates away and getting more comfortable so he could slip into his bedroom and get his shit together.
His crush was getting out of hand. This wasn’t just appreciating the way Tony looked, or being curious about how it would feel to suck a cock. It wasn’t casual and it wasn’t general: it was Tony he wanted, full stop. Tony, who was right there, he was single, and clearly ready to move on from his previous relationship.
Before he changed his mind, Steve marched out of his bedroom. Tony picked up his head without looking away from his texting, but when Steve only hovered in the sitting room and didn’t retake his seat, Tony paused his texting and looked up.
“I need to tell you something,” Steve said before Tony could ask what was up. “It’s important.”
Without looking at his unfinished text, Tony tossed the phone to the far side of the sofa and turned to Steve with a serious expression. “All yours. Tell me.”
Suddenly, this was all wrong. There was nothing organic or romantic about any of this, nothing special or worth remembering. Was this how he was going to declare his affections to Tony, in socked feet in some random hotel on a promotional tour for their movie? They were hanging out as good friends, eating lunch and watching TV. Tony wasn’t even wearing pants.
“I didn’t mean to do it this way,” Steve admitted quietly, which only seemed to worry Tony more.
“What do you need, a kidney?” Tony guessed, and to someone like Steve, the sincerity hidden behind Tony’s humor was a little overwhelming.
“No, nothing like that, Tony. There’s just something I need to tell you, and I’ve wanted to tell you for months but it’s never seemed like the right time—”
“Oh, god,” Tony murmured in sudden shock. “You’re really doing it, you’re retiring Captain America, you’re leaving me to—”
“Tony, I’m trying to tell you I have feelings for you!” Steve raised his voice to interrupt the greatest hits of Tony’s biggest fears. “I, I have liked you for a long time, I thought it was—it was fondness or a weird next level friendship, but, but...”
Steve’s confidence and focus started to fade as Tony got to his feet to stare back at him, face to face.
“You don’t have to feel the same,” he finished quietly, wanting so badly to hide now that Tony wouldn’t stop looking at him. God, he really should have thought this through—what if this is the end of their friendship? He’d sprung this on Tony as casually as a question about where they should go to dinner, what had he been thinking?
A sudden spark of hope had his heart skipping a beat. What if that dinner could be their first date?
“Whatever you say or do, you are my best friend. But, I can’t—I couldn’t keep doing this. Lying. Pretending. If there’s anything you’ve taught me, it’s that. I’m realizing that I’m not straight. I’m not going to be quiet about it, publicly.”
For a long time, Tony only stared back at him.
“You’re serious,” Tony marveled in a whisper after an agonizing silence. “You have feelings for me?”
“Romantic feelings?” Tony asked immediately in his excitement, and relief washed over Steve like a cold shower. He bit his cheeks to keep from laughing, quickly nodding his head instead.
“Romantic, intimate, embarrassing—you name it, Tony, and it’s about you,” Steve confessed in a rush. Tony’s affirmation left Steve feverish to tell him more, to tell him everything he’d been dying to say for so long. “I can’t stop thinking about you. Anything that happens, I want to tell you about it. Every night before bed, I want to hear how your day was; every morning I want to know if you’re alright. I can’t stop thinking about kissing you,” he added softly, almost growling around his words. “I can’t stop thinking how you’d feel in my arms.”
Tony’s look of excitement and shock eased further into a warm adoration with every added confession. He took two small steps closer and leaned in farther still on the balls of his feet until they were so close Steve could feel Tony’s breath against his lips.
Tony smiled back with affection and mischief bright in his brown eyes. “Then stop thinking and let me show you.”
Present day - Los Angeles, CA
Their first date was a simple affair, a dinner and a walk on the beach. It had been Steve’s suggestion to go to Dune’s new Venice Beach location, but after the way he had insisted that it a date and not just a dinner, Tony would have happily gone anywhere.
Steve even picked him up, prompt and nicely dressed in a blue button-up and dark blue jeans. The conversation flowed as it always had, easily and endlessly, bouncing from one topic to the next. The only difference now was that Steve held his hand while he drove, their fingers intertwined and their joined hands resting casually against Steve’s thigh. Steve grabbed a big canvas bag out of the trunk once they had parked, but he still held on to Tony’s hand as they walked.
They grabbed their food to go and wandered out to the sand. It was easy finding a spot for themselves, and Steve pulled a blanket out of his bag for them to sit on.
“You thought of everything, didn’t you?” Tony teased, leaning in to steal a chaste kiss from Steve’s lips. He still couldn’t believe he could, and he couldn’t get enough.
“Don’t jinx us,” Steve chided him absently, licking his lips after their kiss.
Tony chuckled quietly with a shake of his head. They had three plates between them, a little bit of everything and heavy on the fried eggplant and falafel for Tony. They enjoyed the anonymity of people-watching on the beach, and shared their meal with happy (if comfortably scattered and unhurried) conversation.
“One more day and we’re free. How are you celebrating?” Tony asked while Steve finished off the seared chicken.
Steve hummed thoughtfully at the question. “I’ve been gone for so long, I’m ready to just stay home for a few days. Did Bucky tell you he’s directing for the first time?”
Tony had been so distracted dreaming about inviting himself to Steve’s jacuzzi that Steve’s non-sequitur question surprised him.
“It’s a short about a kid who rescues a duck egg on his way to school, and on the way the egg hatches in his pocket. He can’t get rid of the duck because it imprints on him, so he tries to raise it secretly instead.”
Tony could only stare. “Bucky Barnes? Our Bucky Barnes? Are you kidding me—he’s too grumpy to pull at anybody’s heartstrings.”
“And the kindest people make the best bad guys. You should know,” Steve pointed out without missing a beat. Tony stared in minor disbelief then quickly turned away, too busy trying to hide his inexplicable blush to think of a comeback. It wasn’t like he didn’t know Steve liked him, but it was still a little strange to hear it expressed explicitly.
“He asked me to come out for a day and play the kid’s teacher,” Steve continued to say as if Tony wasn’t busy staring at gulls and gaggles of teenagers pretending to be hip. “Apparently, he wants my best impersonation of Charlie Brown’s teacher.”
Tony looked up at Steve with a small frown of confusion, not familiar with the reference until Steve treated him to a masterful rendition of the classic wah wah wah WAH wah.
“Stop, please, please stop right now,” Tony mumbled through pursed lips, genuinely trying not to laugh in Steve’s face.
“Wah wah, wah wah wah. Wah wah?” Steve replied in the tone of a question, intending to finish his line of thought when Tony pounced. Laughing, Steve collapsed backwards without resistance, making it all too easy for Tony to pin him down in the sand, chest to chest.
“Still feeling sassy, Rogers?” Tony growled down at his unrepentant partner. Steve batted his eyelashes up at him and opened his mouth to speak, but before Steve got a syllable out Tony cut him off with a kiss, a playful, biting thing that turned Steve’s delighted giggling into a quiet moan of satisfaction.
“There’s a chance you’re reinforcing the wrong behavior, sweetheart,” Steve observed breathlessly as their lips parted. Tony couldn’t take his eyes off of him.
“When do you leave?” he asked in a whisper. All at once, the thought of Steve leaving left Tony quite reluctant to push away and let him sit up again. He wasn’t ready to let Steve leave so soon.
“Next Tuesday,” Steve replied, matching Tony’s quiet tone. “Come with me?”
The question surprised Tony, and for a moment he worried his unhappy thoughts about Steve’s upcoming trip had unknowingly been vocalized. Had he spoken without realizing?
“If you want, of course,” Steve assured him in that brief silence while Tony wrestled with his fear of being too clingy. As if Tony’s silence was a symptom of reluctance. “If you’re not busy.”
“I was just thinking,” Tony murmured with a warm smile, studying Steve’s hopeful expression fondly. The extent of his relief in realizing Steve felt the same should be alarming, but frankly, he was too happy to care. It only made him feel more brave.
“I finally get to spend time with you like this, I don’t want to see you go,” he admitted with his newfound courage. “Not without me.”
“Then that’s settled, I won’t go without you,” Steve replied without further questions or concern. As if it had been the simplest decision to make. Tony rolled his eyes and exaggerated a sigh, then finally pushed away until he was sitting up again and Steve was free to do as he pleased.
But Steve didn’t get up. He smiled up at Tony and only wriggled closer until he all but crawled into Tony’s lap.
“Don’t be cute,” Tony warned him, but Steve only beamed up at him.
“I can’t help that you think I’m cute,” Steve told him with feigned innocence, and Tony’s smirk almost slipped into a laugh.
“And definitely don’t get smart.”
“So many rules!” Steve whined in complaint, sitting up effortlessly and nosed at Tony’s jaw playfully. “Do I get to bring you home tonight?”
“I would like that,” Tony murmured, only ever thinking about being coy long enough to dismiss the thought. “Especially if that jacuzzi of yours still works.”
Tony turned his head to brush his lips over Steve’s, sucking on his bottom lip softly before releasing it reluctantly. “Pier first?” he said under his breath, confident that Steve was so focused on him that he would hear his question easily.
Steve pressed closer as he chased Tony’s lips for another kiss, this one more eager than the first. When they eventually parted, Steve could only nod his head in agreement.
Eventually, they got up. They picked up after themselves, and folded the blanket back up. There was a zip-up hoodie at the bottom of his bag, and Steve offered it to Tony wordlessly. Tony hadn’t really felt cold until that point, and he gratefully accepted it and bundled up. They walked down the boardwalk hand in hand and shoulder to shoulder, watching the people and excitement around them while sunlight faded in the wake of the sunset. Nobody interrupted them or even stared after them, and Tony and Steve were able to stroll along the boardwalk like any other couple out for a mid-week walk.
It didn’t take long to get to the pier, and they walked out onto the dimly lit pier overlooking the coast. The ocean was dark around them, stretched to the horizon and beyond.
“I like this time of day,” Tony told Steve, apropos of nothing. Steve turned so he could lean back against the railing, and gently he guided Tony to stand between his legs so he could wrap Tony up in his arms. Tony followed easily, leaning into Steve and nosing at his throat before stretching to press a lingering kiss to Steve’s lips.
Steve brought his hands up to cradle Tony’s face ever so gently. Even when all he wanted was to watch Tony with his dopey smile, Steve continued to brush his fingers softly Tony’s hair.
“Tell me more?” he whispered and pressed an adoring kiss to Tony’s nose.
Tony couldn’t contain his smile when Steve kissed the bridge of his nose, and he wrapped his arms around Steve’s waist to squeeze even closer. “Dawn and dusk,” he said, explaining in undertone. It was only for Steve to hear, after all. “There’s something hopeful about them. One thing ends and another thing begins. You can do anything, then soon it’s night or morning and you have a fresh start.”
Steve looked like he was going to ask a question when a sudden flash of light startled them both. Tony turned and Steve looked up as another flash went off.
“Holy shit, aren’t you Iron Man?” cried the kid who thought he’d simply caught Captain America in a gay embrace.
Tony felt more than heard the growl resonating deep in Steve’s chest, and somehow, Steve managed the whole interaction without saying a word. He pulled Tony’s hood up immediately, doing what he could to protect Tony’s privacy as he steered them away from the nosey teens on the pier and back towards the car.
Their return to the car was more of a march than a stroll, and Tony gave Steve a few minutes of silence to recover before offering his hand to him across the console. It took Steve a moment to notice his hand, but when he did, he smiled, and he took Tony’s hand in his own and brought it to his lips. He pressed a soft, lingering kiss to the back of Tony’s hand. He didn’t seem ready to speak yet, but Tony felt the tension fading rapidly around them. In the end, that was all that mattered. They sat in companionable silence for the forty minutes it took to get back to Steve’s place.
Steve absently caressed the back of Tony’s hand with his thumb while he drove, not once letting go of Tony for the whole ride home.
Present day - Los Angeles, CA
One of the benefits of jet lag was the shorter lines at the grocery store. When he wasn’t in LA or Vancouver for some shoot, Bucky kept to New York. Nobody had the time or energy to care about who he was in New York, and after all his years in the industry, there was nothing he cherished more than the anonymous life. Privacy was a luxury, not a commodity, and it was worth every ounce of sacrifice.
Living on East coast time in LA meant that he could wander through Vons in the morning without tourists approaching him to tell him they thought he was shorter, or shouting at him that they were with him 'until the end of the line.'
He grabbed an extra bottle of orange juice for Sam who was by all accounts allergic to drinking out of glasses, and with a basket full of Nutter Butters and Korean barbecue kettle chips, he made his way to the check out. The self check-outs were closed for maintenance and only one cashier was doomed to work at the asscrack of dawn, so Bucky hung back from the only other customer in line and looked over the typical impulse purchase options half-heartedly until it was his turn.
Somewhere between headlines disagreeing about Jennifer Aniston’s newest beau and something about English royalty, Bucky saw Steve. The photo was grainy, unposed, and poorly lit, but it was so clearly Steve glaring into the candid photo with Tony wrapped in his arms.
The customer ahead of him finished and wandered off. On impulse, Bucky grabbed the magazine and shoved everything at the cashier. The poor young man probably said something polite or reasonable, but Bucky tuned him out and rushed through the motions of paying for his shit and booking it back to his car.
Steve startled awake to the unusual sound of his phone ringing. Even groggy from sleep he recognized that waking up to the sound of his phone ringing was a bad sign, and he groped for his phone in the hopes of answering before it woke Tony up, too.
“Are you shitting me?” Bucky hissed across the phone before Steve could say hello. “I had to find out about you and Tony from People Magazine?”
Looked like Peggy hadn’t managed to suppress it after all. Steve sighed, but found himself more frustrated by the appearance of secrecy than what the ‘secret’ was about. The last thing he wanted was for people to think he had been bi all along and actively pretended otherwise. As if his orientation was something to be ashamed of, or worse - that he could be ashamed of Tony.
“Buck, it’s only been four days,” Steve tried to explain, when beside him, Tony rolled over and looked up at him. Tony wasn’t pleasantly rumpled and half-asleep like the other times Steve had seen him waking up: he was wide awake, and he was visibly worried.
“They know?” he asked carefully, and Steve made it a point to smile back at him.
“Ahead of schedule, that’s all,” Steve promised. “Peggy will have prepared a statement, it will be fine. The premiere’s going to be crazy, though,” he added as the immediate consequences started to come to him.
“The premiere? That’s what you’re thinking about?” Bucky muttered, clearly unimpressed. “Steve, you know how long it takes me to compose a tweet. Now the whole world is going to have an opinion before me. You couldn’t have given me a heads up?”
He could make his life easier by passing the phone to Tony, Steve thought. That was part of relationships, right? Sharing the burden of nosey friends?
“I admit your tweeting privileges were not on my mind at the time,” Steve drawled, and with a hopeful expression held the phone out to Tony in an unspoken request. Tony stared at him for a beat before rolling back to his pillow and leaving Steve to handle the conversation solo.
“You know the cast and crew would have wanted to be the first to congratulate you, right?” Bucky added more quietly, and his less absurd point made Steve pay attention. “Let people know you’re planning to be open about it so we can speak up. Nobody wants to throw you under the bus if they think you’re trying to stay private.”
“I know, Buck. Peggy will share a statement, it’ll be clear. We just wanted to wait until after the movie came out.”
Bucky made a non-committal grunt on the other end of the line. “I bet there’s some kids out there who’ll be happy to know before seeing it.”
“I’m sure that’s what Tony would say if he wasn’t ignoring me right now,” Steve observed casually. Without looking back, Tony mule kicked him under the sheets. Steve grunted under his breath and did his best not to sound too tickled by it.
“He’s there?” Bucky asked, then continued before Steve had a chance to answer. “Tell him he’s too good for you, and I have a story or two to tell him from drama school.”
“What? What’s that?” Steve replied while holding the phone farther from his face. “I’m going through a tunnel, you’re break—”
He disconnected the call and tossed the phone away on his nightstand before realizing Tony was staring at him again.
“You’re an idiot.”
Steve only preened in return with an unbearably smug smirk. “That’s fair, but you’re the one dating me, Tony. What does that make you?”
Tony pressed his lips together trying to repress a smile. “I’m doomed.”
Two years later - NYC, NY
Steve and Peggy were early to his 10am, and Steve was passing the time by scrolling through his favorite posts on Iron Buns Daily. He’d only meant to take a quick peek, but Josh was running late and who could blame Steve for spending his free time thinking about Tony?
He had already caught up on the most recent update, which featured Tony looking handsomely disheveled the day before for a sunrise jog along San Francisco’s waterfront. It was far enough north that Tony had to bundle up against the winter chill, and while Steve’s appearance on The Late Show hadn’t taken him away for more than two days, it wasn’t all that easy to accept that he wouldn’t be waking up that morning to make Tony’s coffee and hold him while he thawed out in a warm shower.
But instead of spending the rest of his time wishing his flight had been scheduled earlier in the morning, Steve distracted himself by looking back over the IBD posts from the Cannes festival earlier in the year. Tony had nearly made Steve weep at the vision he made in his tuxedo. It had been a classic style, something that theoretically should have allowed him to anonymously walk the carpet on Steve’s arm and blend into the waves of other men in black and white tails as needed, but it was still Tony. His buoyant laugh, his loving eyes. And fortunately, every time Steve stared too long and forgot what he was supposed to do, Tony had been the steady reminder that kept him moving.
Besides the scant handful of posts reminding Tony’s fans of the years that he spent in tight jeans and speedos on Mexican telenovelas, IBD typically devoted its pages to flattering or complimentary candid shots taken by people who spotted Tony on set or wandering around town. And judging by Steve’s bookmarked posts alone, he was intimately familiar with the whole IBD catalog of Tony exercising, whether it was doing uphill lunges, pull-ups at playgrounds, or stretching out after a run. One particularly coveted post commemorated the six months Tony devoted to building 40 pounds of muscle, but Steve had learned the hard way to avoid opening that one in public at all cost.
The candid collection had a special place in his heart, but the posts from events like the Cannes film festival or award ceremonies like the Golden Globes were special, and few and far in between. After all, Google and Getty Images made those professionally orchestrated photos easy to find. But Steve appreciated IBD’s choice to curate posts with the more intimate and less circulated snapshots you couldn’t easily find otherwise, like the instances when Steve’s hand rested a little lower than usual on Tony’s hip, or when Tony had stretched to whisper something in Steve’s ear and a well-timed camera captured that glorious second when Tony’s ass well and truly was the highlight of the evening.
Safe to say, Steve was their all-around biggest fan. He followed both the blog and their Twitter account, and if he had gone through and anonymously answered a few fan questions in his spare time, who could blame him?
Peggy cleared her throat and Steve looked up from IBD just in time to see Happy Sad Confused’s Josh Horowitz running up to him. Steve placed his phone face down on the table to shake the man’s hand.
“Good morning, Steve, congratulations on the film! Thank you for making time for our Award Season Mashup today. I know you’re heading out soon, so. Let’s get to it. It’s been a minute since we’ve seen you on the big screen, it feels like,” Josh started with a smile as he started the recording. “And then of all movies, you step into The Devil All The Time with this unusual story to tell, and what a—your performance in it, what’s left to say? A Golden Globe nod for Best Supporting Actor, the SAG win, and now the Oscars coming up. It is safe to say the movie has had a… a pretty special reception since it first came out.”
“That, well. You’re not wrong,” Steve agreed with a quiet laugh. “This story has a way of staying with you.”
Josh mirrored Steve’s amusement with a smile as he continued. “You know, at that first screening, I remember the audience came out of it looking really shaken. The movie carries this… very human element to it that is unique and gritty, and it’s uncomfortably real. You’re putting forward a side of American gothic we haven’t seen before. How has the experience been so far?”
“As tough as the story can be, it has been rewarding to bring it to—we just came from Palm Springs, where we saw the same ashen, drawn expressions on the audience. But it’s not just about the horror on the screen, it’s… I think the story is coming through and that people are seeing what we’re trying to do with it, and that has been deeply rewarding. Like you say, it is gritty and it is uncomfortable, but underneath that is the story of this group of people who are carving out hope in a hopeless world. Wait, no; that almost sounded pleasant,” he said with a quiet, helpless laugh. “It isn’t pleasant, at all. But it is a profound story of the lengths people go to execute their salvation.”
“And what’s this rumor we’re hearing, that you sent your copy of the book to Peter Parker?” Josh wondered with curious excitement. “When I caught up with him in, in November I think, he said that you shared notes with him on how to interpret the story?”
“No—no, wait, that’s,” Steve tried to explain without laughing at the absurdity of the rumor, but eventually he could only groan and start over. “So, I read the book first in 2015 while we were shooting the third Cap, uh, Captain America movie, The Secret Empire. It was before I knew this project was taking off, and I approached the book as a story about an isolated man who returns after World War II, where he has seen the worst of humanity, and instead of finding the love and life he loved and wanted to protect, he is now facing problems that he is powerless to effectively address. To a great extent, that speaks to Cap’s experience, and thinking through Pollock’s perspective was meaningful in capturing his isolation, so, that was how the story first came to me. And I like my books as books, you know what I mean? As paperbacks with paper pages, because I, when I read, I like making notes in the margins. I like flagging the parts that stand out to me, for whatever reason. Now, Tony,” he added with a small sigh that should have been exasperated but verged on exceedingly fond. “When Tony learned that Peter was signed on to this project, he sent Peter my book. With all my old notes about how Russell’s experience could help frame Cap’s perspective, and apparently that connection to Cap helped Peter find Arvin’s place in all of this. Which is great, it was all for the better, but that certainly was not to my credit. And, you know, he still hasn’t given me my book back,” Steve finished with a wry expression.
“Something to check off the list before he shows up on set this summer?” Josh said with a laugh. “If Spider-Man is mysteriously written out of the fifth Captain America movie… we’ll know why. But to bring it back, this story, we’ve had some questions amongst ourselves now of why, what brought you to this project. I believe this was your only project last year, is that right? What was it about this story that stood out to you?”
Steve nodded in the affirmative to Josh’s first question. “For those reasons I mentioned earlier, of how it brings us to these characters and stories where life feels hopeless and, we have these individuals who try to carve something out of their own aching circumstances. Especially against the backdrop of how we view the American experience and that American post-war zeitgeist, this is an important and compelling narrative of life we rarely talk about. It’s so easy to adhere to the spirit Eisenstaedt captured in the ‘V-J Day’ kiss, to imagine that the relief and exuberance was the lived experience for everyone everywhere in our country. But this was… there are projects you jump on because they are exciting, or they’re with great people, but we felt this was all of that in addition to a chance to highlight a part of US history that has been pushed aside. And Pollock’s story brings these elements to the fore through a compelling story characterized by people whose journeys we felt were somehow both familiar and unthinkable.”
Josh paused for a moment, then quietly picked at the one word that had stood out most. “When you say ‘we,’ you are referring to…”
With a quiet huff of amusement and a quick glance at Peggy, Steve shook his head slowly. “Right, sure. From the beginning, Tony and I decided to plan our working schedules together. We make an effort not work on different projects at the same time. Sometimes he declines on projects he likes because he wants me to take a certain part, but this past year was great for him, a lot of exceptional opportunities came forward and, for me, it’s been a pleasure to have the time and presence of mind to be there for him.”
“He really was outstanding in Seeking Asylum,” Josh agreed immediately, and Steve sat up straighter in his excitement to hear more. “The way they tied Nellie Bly’s work in with today’s political climate, forced family separations—that’s not the movie we’re supposed to talk about,” Josh quickly acknowledged, and Steve burst out in delighted laughter. “But, the timing, and the writing, the performances, it was all so terrible and so good.”
“Listen, if you want to spend the next five minutes talking about how my husband knocked that role out of the park, or how perceptive and shrewd their amalgam of current and 19th century news is in its reflection of the shameful and senseless actions of our current administration, I am onboard.”
“I mean, I feel like there’s nothing left for me to say. I’m pretty sure you’ve made it when Trump personally tweets mean things about you,” Josh observed casually, and to Steve's endless joy. “That’s a standard universal law now, right?”
Steve blatantly preened over Josh’s comments. “You want to talk timing,” he said with a shameless grin. “After Tony’s Golden Globe speech Trump tried to sully the moment by suggesting that Tony and his mother were undocumented. Even Tony’s Wiki page says he was born in Manhattan, but it seems literacy is too much to expect of Trump. My favorite part of this whole story is that Tony and I had gotten married only a month before that, in December. We decided early on not to go public about it, but I guess Bucky couldn’t resist retweeting a clip from the speech in The Winter Soldier about the price of freedom.”
“That was genius!” Josh bubbled over with glee. “What’d he say, don’t bully Captain America’s husband? Something like that.”
“‘As a wedding present to Captain America and Iron Man, stand up to bullies. Stand up for freedom. Captain’s orders.’”
“Unbelievable. He broke the internet that day, I’m pretty sure,” Josh chuckled happily, but at a cue from Steve’s agent, Josh started pouting. “You’re kidding me, that’s our time? Are you sure? But I don’t want to go,” he complained with an exaggerated whine that had Steve laughing. “Steve, this has been really great, thank you for making the time to chat with us today! Congratulations again on both yours and Tony’s movies. And hey, maybe next time you’re in the City, we can follow up on some of this? Maybe with three of us at the table?”
Steve shook his hand with a smile that was broad, warm, and genuine. “You said the magic words, pal,” Steve promised with a laugh in his voice. “When Tony’s involved, I am always available for a sequel.”