Actions

Work Header

Summer Nights

Chapter Text

The sunset was gorgeous, filling the clouds with first orange and yellow, and then pink and purples that darkened to a stormy blue as they touched the ocean. The waves crashed loud against the rocks, the sea gulls called as they circled on the evening wind and hidden away on a soft, sandy part of the beach, a summer romance was coming to a close.

 “I’m going back to New York tomorrow.” Steve eased away from a long kiss and sighed. “How am I supposed to say goodbye to you, Tony? This has been the best summer of my life and now it’s ending. It’s not fair. None of this is fair.”

“Don’t talk like that, sweetheart.” Tony leaned in again and coaxed another kiss from Steve’s lips. “Nothin’s gotta end yet, c’mere and let me show you.” 

“Tony.” Steve was helpless against the brunette’s charm, and when their kiss grew heated, he let Tony lay him back into the warm sand, shivering when Tony’s fingers crept under the hem of his swim shorts. “This– this won’t spoil anything will it?” 

“How could it spoil anything?” Tony flattened his palm to Steve’s stomach and smiled as the blond shuddered beneath the touch. “Just gonna make it better, right? We’ve been in love all summer Steve, ain’t like we’re rushing into this.” 

“I know, I know we aren’t, and I guess I’m ready but–” Steve’s beautifully blue eyes filled with tears and Tony sat up in a hurry, whispering something soft and reassuring as he wiped them away. “This is so stupid, I shouldn’t be crying but Tony, is this the end? Is this the end of us?” 

“Of course not.” Tony was lying and they both knew it, but Steve didn’t argue when Tony pulled him up into a hug and held him close. “Course not, honey. This is only the beginning.” Tony swallowed back his own tears and pressed a kiss to Steve’s blond hair. “M’gonna love you forever, sweetheart. Nothin’s ever gonna be better than this summer with you.” 

“Will you–” Steve clutched at Tony’s side and drew in a deep breath. “Will you call me? Or can I call you? I know summer romances are supposed to end in the fall but I don’t think I’m ready to say goodbye.”

“Oh my god, of course I’m going to call you.” Tony comforted him. “Long distance calls are real expensive, but I’ll get a part time job so I can pay for it. We’ll talk every week and maybe at Christmas you can come see me again or I can come see you or something. We’ll figure it out.” 

“Are you sure?” The words were muffled in Tony’s shirt. “Cos Tony this isn’t– this isn’t me, you know? I don’t do this sort of thing.” 

“What sort of thing?” Tony combed Steve’s hair back out of his eyes and dotted a kiss to his nose. “What don’t you do?” 

“Kiss strange boys on the beach.” Steve blushed bright red and Tony nearly melted. “Getting adventurous for me usually means not studying before a test, or wearing mismatched socks, not talking to random guys and staying out past my curfew to hang out on the docks and that sort of thing. I’ve never wanted to do this with anyone but you.” 

“I’ve never wanted to do this with anyone but you either.” Tony admitted, his voice hoarse and eyes uncertain. “Steve you make me um– you make me wanna be different, you know? I’m gonna call you after you leave and I’m gonna do everything I can to see you again and um–” 

He stopped, biting at his lip and Steve whispered, “Tony?” 

“I love you.” Tony framed Steve’s face with both hands and crushed a kiss to his mouth. “Steve, I love you and nothing is ever gonna be better than this summer with you. Nothing could ever be as great as spending a day with you.” 

“‘Cept maybe the summer nights?” Steve fell back onto the sand and dragged Tony with him, wrapping both arms around Tony’s shoulders and kissing him back as hard as he could. “The summer nights with you are pretty amazing.” 

“The summer nights are pretty amazing.” Tony agreed, and in a near inaudible tone, “Tell me you love me, Steve.” 

“I love you.” There were tears again but neither Tony nor Steve were sure who was crying. “I’m never going to forget you.” 

“I’m never going to forget you either.” 

*************

*************

Bucky “Bronco” Barnes hated everything about school. He hated the teachers and the way class started so got-dang early in the morning. He hated how the rooms smelled and that he couldn’t have a smoke in the hall and had to go all the way outside for it. Ugh the homework and ick the pep rallies. 

In fact the only thing that made school worth it were all the pretty people, and as Bucky popped the collar on his leather jacket, lit up his first cigarette of the morning and checked out the talent walking up the way, he grinned to himself. 

Gonna be a good year. 

And then from across the parking lot came an all too familiar yell and Bucky’s cool guy persona slipped just a little when he caught sight of Valkyrie, Sam and Clint all running his way. 

“Bucky!” Clint whooped out loud and launched himself over the carefully trimmed hedges in an attempt to beat Valkyrie to Bucky’s side. He caught his foot on the top branches though and bowled right into the girl, and Valkyrie screamed, taking Sam down to the ground as well as she flailed around for a handhold.

“Damn it!” Sam cried at the same time Valkyrie yelled, “My lunch got squished!” and Clint just barrel rolled out of his sprawl and popped to his feet, the leaves in his hair doing absolutely nothing to distract from how big his grin was for Bucky. 

“Whaddup Bronco!” He held up his hand for a high five and Bucky rolled his eyes and punched the goofy kid right in the thigh. “Ouch! My leg! I’m wounded!” 

Sam shoved a hopping Clint out of the way and socked Bucky in the shoulder. “Bronco! Where you been all summer! We didn’t see you at the arcade or nothing!”

“Had better things to do than hang out with you kids all day.” Bucky made a show of fixing his jacket collar again, smoothing back his already slick hair. “Been haulin’ boxes at the docks to save up money for a car. Whad’ya’think about that?”

“I think it’ll have to be a pretty sweet set of wheels to get the girls to look at you twice.” Valkyrie snorted and Bucky flicked her ear in annoyance. “M’just sayin, you aren’t exactly the best looking outta the group!”

“Speaking of the best looking, where’s Tony, you seen Tony yet?” Clint piped up. “Where’s that boy at?” 

Bucky scowled over the idea that Tony was better looking than him, but he twisted around looking for his best friend anyway, scanning the growing crowd of students for that signature black leather jacket. He hadn’t seen Tony all summer and when he’d called last week to ask after him, Mrs. Stark had said he was out walking the beach which… didn’t seem right at all. Tony didn’t do beaches and he certainly didn’t do long, solo walks as the sunset, so Bucky had figured Tony had lied and snuck off with someone pretty for the night, and promised to call back later. 

Work had gotten busy and Bucky had never called back, so now he grinned when he finally caught sight of Tony, put two fingers to his mouth and whistled sharply, waving impatiently when Tony seemed to hesitate before turning their direction. 

“Tony!” Valkyrie all but tackled the other brunette and Tony oophed under her weight, laughing a little as he shoved her off, only to be taken out by Clint and Sam as well. 

Bucky thought maybe Tony wasn’t laughing at all that time, and his blue eyes narrowed when Tony even back up a few steps from the group, dusting off his jacket and smoothing his hair before shoving his hands in his pockets. 

“How’s it goin’, bud?” Bucky waited a few seconds for Tony to collect himself, then put an arm around his shoulders. “What’d you do all summer, how come I didn’t see ya?” 

“Heya Buck.” Tony was a good two or maybe three inches shorter than Bucky and Sam and just at eye level with Clint, but he tipped his chin up and set a stance like he was taller than all of them, his eyes glinting with determination and more than a healthy amount of cockiness as he answered, “Spent the summer down at the beach, too damn busy gettin’ lucky for all your bullshit.” 

“Yeah?” Bucky’s grin stretched a little wider at the typical-Tony response. “How was the action at the beach?” 

“Oh you know.” Tony huffed a laugh. “As good as it always is. Barely made it out with my pants on.” 

“Yeah.” Clint butted into the conversation. “Must’ve been hard with all them pretty people hanging around you, huh? I sure know how that is.” 

“Only thing that hangs around you are flies.” Sam shoved Clint away and asked, “So what, you just chased tail all summer? Couldn’t call us once?”

“Nah.” Valkyrie decided. “Nah, there was someone special, that’s why he didn’t call us. Look at him blushing like a fuckin’ idiot. Who was it, Tony?” 

“Wait, what?” Bucky peered a little closer at the tell tale red on Tony’s face. “You punk! Holdin’ out on me? What’d you do, go and fall in love?” 

“Yeah right, Tony Stark doesn’t fall in love.” Tony denied quickly, almost too quickly. “I mean, there was this one guy. Blonde, real hot, smokin’ boyd. He was uh–” Tony cleared his throat. “–he was sorta special, I guess.”

“So he put out like a vending machine, gave it up for nickels.” Bucky decided and the other three howled in laughter. “Ain’t that right, Tony?” 

“That all you think about, Buck?” Tony pulled a face and Bucky nodded decisively, “You know th’hell it is!” 

The bell rang, covering whatever Tony said in response but when Bucky caught what looked like sadness in his buddy’s eyes, he grabbed at Tony’s jacket to slow him down before they made it inside.

“Tony, what happened this summer, you gonna tell me or what?” Bucky wanted to know. “You don’t gotta tell me everything, but I wanna know if you found someone good. You’re my best friend, that sorta shit matters.” 

“Tony Stark doesn’t fall in love.” Tony repeated the words a little louder, almost as if he were trying to convince himself like he was trying to convince Bucky. “But if it makes you happy, I’ll give you the dirty details at lunch, you horny bastard.” 

Oh, do you know the way to my heart.” Bucky clasped a hand over his heart and Tony finally laughed out loud, shoving at his friend and jogging up the steps. “Glad you’re back around, Tony. Senior year, baby!” 

“Senior year!” Tony jumped up to slap the frame of the door, trying to hide the lingering heartbreak over Steve under another shout. “Here we go!” 

“Here. We. Go.” Natasha Romanov unknowingly echoed Tony’s words as she stepped from her car and swung a bright pink jacket around her shoulders. “One more year in this piece of shit place and then we’ll be free.”

“This place is a piece of shit, but at least we’re seniors this year.” Pepper wobbled and nearly fell on sky high heels but managed to save it, balancing rhinestoned sunglasses on her nose and shrugging into her own jacket. “This time we rule the school. Andover High is ours for the taking.” 

“Damn right we rule the school.” Carol tore open a pack of Oreos and licked the frosting from the middle of a cookie before discarding the rest and opening another. “Nobody’s gonna tell us what to do this time around!” 

“Okay maybe not, but still oh my god, stop that!” Pepper smacked Carol with her clutch and tried to knock the cookies away. “That is so adolescent!” 

“Well I mean–” Carol shrugged and destroyed another Oreo. “We’re still here for one more year right? Technically we still are adolescents.” 

“Okay just don’t flaunt it.” Pepper adjusted her bra and Natasha asked, “Stuffing this year, Pep? Gave up on asking Santa for new boobs, huh?”

“For all you know I could have gone up a size this summer! This could really be me!” Pepper cried, and then shrieked when Carol reached over with a “Honka Honka!” and squeezed at the bra. “CAROL!” 

“Definitely stuffing but it sure felt fancy.” Carol’s eyes widened. “Oooh! Are you wearing one of them new WonderBras?” 

“I hate you!” Pepper hissed and Carol tossed her head back and practically cackled with laughter as Pepper tried and failed to run after her in those stupid shoes. “Carol! I hate you!” 

“One more year.” Natasha said to herself, straightening her skirt and lifting her chin. “One more year and then I can get the hell out of here and away from–” 

Pepper was still shrieking in the distance, but that didn’t distract from a few sideways looks as a group of girls passed Natasha, nor did it cover the whispers as they shared no doubt pointless, hurtful gossip about the easiest girl in school.

“–away from all that bullshit.” Natasha sneered at their smirks and tugged her shirt down a little further to show off another inch of cleavage. “Bitches.”

************

Back in New York Steve had spent all his time with a small group of friends who had enough in common to make the school days easier. They had studied together, been wall flowers at dances together, were always in student government and sat at the same table at lunch. They might not have been the most popular kids in school, but they were fun anyway, and as he walked into Andover High for the very first time, Steve would have given just about anything to be back in New York with them again.

It was bad enough moving without any notice at all, he’d had to say goodbye to his friends over the phone while unpacking boxes at the new place. It was even worse that his parents had decided to move without even going back to New York. There had been a new job opportunity for Steve’s Dad and the perfect house opening up at the perfect time and his Ma had been so excited about it all working out–

–neither of his parents had even thought to ask what Steve wanted, when all Steve could think about was how Tony would have called the New York number only to reach a disconnected dial tone. 

Steve was sick to his stomach thinking about how heart broken Tony would be, or worse how angry Tony would be, most likely thinking Steve had given him a fake number. Steve had spent nights tossing and turning trying to come up with ways to track down Tony’s number or maybe even his address so he could write an apology letter or at least explain what happened. Tony probably hated him now and it just wasn’t fair– it wasn’t fair– and Steve thought he’d never stop being sad. 

He was pulled at least partially from first day nervousness and soul wrenching melancholy by the presence of his school assigned guide Thor, who was extra big and extra friend and really difficult to stay miserable around. 

Thor swept Steve through the halls of Andover High with wild hand gestures and loud explanations of various teachers, showed Steve the trick to kicking a locker door open if he couldn’t remember the combination, and at lunch, Thor wrapped his giant hand around Steve’s wrist and pulled him through the cafeteria and out to the tables, cheerfully announcing over his shoulder, “My friends are sort of terrible, but I promise you’ll like them anyway! Come on!” 

“Oh, they’re… terrible?” Steve asked, but Thor was already making a beeline for the lunch table on the far end of the yard and Steve knew there was no stopping the massive blond. “Well I mean, I guess I need to make new friends at some point?”

Thor might have been enthused about school and making new friends, but Natasha was already ready to jump out of a window and drop out of Andover entirely and it was only noon on the first day. 

“Hey.” Carol reached over and snatched at Natasha’s dessert before plopping down on the chair next to her. “Tasha, did you check out Tony this morning? He is looking fantastic this year. He’s got some weird, broody thing going on and it’s wonderful.”

“It’s ancient history is what it is.” Natasha muttered, poking at her food. “Stop talking about it.”

“Well sometimes ancient history repeats itself.” Pepper needled, “And Carol’s right, he does have this broody look going on. Nothing’s cuter than a damaged boy, right?” 

“Right, cos that’s what I want. A boy who needs fixed.” Natasha shoved the less than edible food away with a huff. She wasn’t willing to admit how much it had hurt that Tony hadn’t called her once all summer, especially after they’d gone together for a while last year. And Tony did look good this year, older and a little more serious but Natasha was willing to bet good money that it was another line, another play, another attempt by another boy to just be stupid because that’s all they ever were. 

“I barely wanted Tony last spring.” She said calmly. “I certainly don’t want him if he’s going to be high maintenance and need his feelings cared for.” 

Carol and Pepper exchanged a look that Natasha did not appreciate at all, but before she could say anything about it, Thor shouted at them from a little bit away and waved excitedly, so she let it drop.

“Hey girls!” Thor was bigger than most of the boys at the school, bigger than most of the teachers for that matter, over tall and over muscled and just the nicest person in the world, and even though the table shook when he sat and Pepper fussed over losing one of her rhinestones in her food, everyone had a smile for the guy. 

“Thor, that shirt is–.” Carol looked over Thor’s too tight tank top with raised eyebrows, then glanced up at Steve. “– well your nipples certainly aren’t shy, are they? Anyway, who’s your friend?” 

“This is Steve.” Thor announced proudly, and tugged Steve closer. “He moved here from New York and doesn’t know anyone and I thought he’d fit in just fine with us!” 

“Ladies.” Steve offered a somewhat awkward wave and sat gingerly at the table, smoothing the pleats of his khakis self consciously. “I appreciate you letting me sit with you. This is all very different than what I’m used to.” 

Carol, who had her hair in pigtails and was slurping at a smoothie like it was her last meal, only waggled her eyebrows in apparent approval of Steve while Pepper, who seemed quite a bit more mature than the other girls only sent Steve a coolly appraising glance over her sunglasses. He felt like Natasha immediately didn’t like him, the tiny redhead’s eyes narrowing and arms folding as she asked, “New York? What part? You seem a little small town to be from the Big Apple.” 

“Small town.” Steve repeated, not sure if he’d just been insulted or not. “I um– I’m actually from Brooklyn but it’s still part of New York City.” 

“Oooh, Brooklyn.” Natasha raised her eyebrows. “That city carries a certain sorta reputation I have a hard time believing you live up to–ow!” she scowled and rubbed at her leg when Thor kicked out at her. “Damn it–”

“Oh yoo hoo!” a voice cutting through the general lunchtime noise and whatever else Natasha was going to say. “Ayoo-ahoo-ahoo! Don’t think you can hide from me, because you can’t!” 

“Who–?” Steve started to ask and Natasha sighed as if the very words pained her as she answered, “Scott Lang. The most obnoxiously, over cheerful, pain in my– Hi!” she looked up with a smile that was closer to a snarl. “Scott! How are you!” 

“Oh, oh my gosh.” Scott was cute, bubbly and sweet and with a smile at least a mile wide, and entirely oblivious to the layer of hostility at the table. “I love the first day of school don’t you? It’s just the biggest thrill of my life! And oh! You’ll never guess what’s happened!” 

“…Probably not.” Carol said around a mouthful of sandwich. “Gonna tell us anyway though, aren’t you?” 

“The nominations for student council just came in!” Scott’s impossibly wide smile got even wider. “And you’ll never guess who’s up for Vice President!” 

“Surprise us.” Thor said calmly and Steve hid a tiny smile at the giant’s attempt at politeness. 

“Me!” Scott burst out and then laughed out loud. “Isn’t that the most! I mean, to say the least.” 

“The absolute, very least.” Pepper sighed. “So, Scott–” 

“Oh my god, you must think I’m the worst for not introducing myself to your friend!” Scott hustled his way around the table and plopped right down into Steve’s space. “Hello! I’m Scott Lang! You must the new kid because I don’t know you and I know everyone! Where are you from? You sound like you’re from New York, but don’t worry, that terrible accent will fade super quick and you’ll be talking just like us beach bums around here!” 

“Uh–” Steve blinked a few times and Scott rushed on, “You have to come to cheerleader tryouts! I know what you’re thinking, cheerleaders are girls! But no! We have to have someone strong to lift the girls into the stunts right! Say you’ll come! We’ll get to share so many experiences and have so much fun and get to be life long friends!” 

“Life long–” Steve couldn’t quite manage to match Scott’s energy. “I mean– sure?” 

“Oh my god, leave the poor kid alone.” Pepper said in exasperation and shoved at Scott’s shoulder. “Steve, you don’t have to be a cheerleader. No one except Scott is that peppy.” 

“Nothing wrong with a little pep!” Scott said cheerfully. “What do you think, Steve?” 

“I think being a cheerleader would be a great way to make some friends…” Steve started slowly, but apparently that was enough for Scott, who clapped his hands in excitement and started rattling off try out times and practice locations and oh wouldn’t Steve just love their uniforms, he looked like he was born to wear red white and blue!

“Steve.” Carol took pity on Steve’s slightly glazed expression and reached across the table to tap at his hand. “So what’d you do all summer? Anything fun?” 

“My folks rented a cottage and I was down at the beach every day.” Steve smiled when Thor made an “oooh” sound. “I um– I met a boy there. We spent the entire summer together.” 

“You hauled your cookies all the way to the beach for a boy?” Natasha took a loud sip of her drink. “Sounds pretty pointless to me.” 

“Well I mean.” Steve rubbed at a spot on his button of shirt, a streak of pink splashing across his cheeks. “He was pretty special.” 

******************

All the way across the football field, Tony sprawled onto the bleachers alongside Bucky, tossing pebbles at Valkyrie and Clint as they arm wrestled and jeering down at the jocks with Sam. It was weird to be back in school after what felt like an endless summer, weird to be back in his leather jacket after living in soft shirts and board shorts and during some wonderful afternoons, no shirts at all, just skin to skin with Steve as they kissed and touched and….

“So hey.” Bucky finished his lunch and tossed the trash away, bumping Tony with his elbow and jostling him from his thoughts. “Tell me about the guy this summer. All that beach action. Was he taller than you?”

“Everyone’s taller than Tony.” Sam joked and when Tony scowled at him, put both hands up and apologized, “Damn man, sorry. Thought the height thing was okay to joke about.” 

“Ignore him.” Bucky kicked Sam’s drink over just to be a jerk and smirked when Sam shouted in protest. “Tell me about him, Tony. Come on.”  

“Nah.” Tony didn’t really want to tell anyone about Steve, he sort of wanted to keep that memory just for himself. 

Besides, it wasn’t like the summer had ended nice or anything. Tony had kissed Steve bye and then waited a week  to call just to make sure the beautiful blond would make it back to New York, and then he’d called twice a day every day for a week and a half before someone had finally picked up. 

But the person on the other end hadn’t been Steve or anyone who knew Steve, just a confused sounding lady telling him, “No one named Steve lives here, honey. You must have the wrong number.” 

Tony had hung up, looked down at the number he had so carefully copied and repeated back to Steve at least a half dozen times so he knew it was right, then tossed the paper in the trash and cried himself to sleep for the first and goddamnit, the last time in his life. 

But now for some reason his leather jacket felt like it fit different and his stiffly styled hair look unnatural in the mirror and Tony knew he had bags under his eyes big enough to pack clothes in, but he hadn’t slept much at all since that day and he was freakin’ miserable

So no, the last thing he wanted to do was talk about the sweet blond that had both stolen and broken his heart so, “Nah.” was all he said, and went back to picking at his food. 

“Hey!” Bucky protested loudly. “What’s this bullshit about keeping secrets! Come on! You promised horny details, damn you!” 

“Horny details–” Valkyrie yanked away from the arm wrestling and Clint yelped as he splatted forward onto the bleachers. “Dumb ass! That woudn’a happened if you weren’t putting all your weight into trying to beat me! Tony! Let’s hear horny details!” 

“I’m down for horny.” Clint sniffed loudly and straddled one of the bleachers. “C’mon Stark, don’t hold out on us. I didn’t get lucky once all summer, help me out here.” 

Valkyrie, Sam and Clint were egging him on and Bucky was looking at him like he didn’t understand why Tony wasn’t willing to give up any details, so Tony did the only thing he felt like he could do–

–popped the collar of his jacket, ran his fingers through his hair and tipped his head back with a cocky grin, drawling, “Alright alright alright. You guys wanna know what happened? It started with a blond.” he let his smile slide slow and knowing, hiding the sadness he couldn’t quite seem to shake. “And ended with a–” Tony let his hand hit the bleachers a few times, bang bang bang, and Sam howled out loud as the others erupted into cheers. 

“Yeah that’s right.” It was easier to pretend he was okay so long as he didn’t talk about any feelings, so Tony basically leered as he said. “It was a blast, you feel me? Happened so fast, so damn easy. I met this smoking hot blonde. Real tall, bright blue eyes and a body that just–” he shuddered and Clint whistled. 

“He was crazy for me.” Tony said confidently, and that wasn’t a lie at all. “Just freakin’ crazy for me.” 

“Oh yeah?” Sam tore open the wrapping on a candy bar and shoved half of it into his mouth. “Did you get real far?” 

“Yeah, that’s what I wanna know.” Clint agreed. “Details! Details! Details!” 

“Oh come on, you know how it is.” Tony laughed when Valkyrie and Clint started banging on the bleachers. “Same old, same old.” 

************

“So tell us about him!” Pepper ignored Natasha’s glower and urged Steve, “How did you guys meet? Did he have a car?” 

“Oh well.” Steve didn’t even know if he could talk about Tony without crying, but he gave it a try, managing a nearly heartbroken smile as he answered, “I don’t know about a car, but uh– we met cos he was trying to show off. He was running down the beach and tried to dive for a football and ended up just kicking a bunch of sand at me.” 

Steve’s smile turned a little more genuine thinking about how Tony had tried so hard to be suave. “He was really cute though, and apologized about sixteen times so I forgave him.”

“How did he make it up to you?” Carol flicked a french fry at Natasha just to make the redhead frown and added, “I mean, boys are generally the worst, so what did he do to make you fall in love with him?” 

“Just the usual things, I suppose. “ Steve’s blush got a little deeper when Scott squealed something excited and propped his chin up in his hands to listen. “We went bowling and he was terrible, and I laughed so hard when he tried to be cool about it that he finally stopped and was just dorky with me.” 

Oooh he was dorky?” Natasha rolled her eyes theatrically. “Sounds like a keeper.” 

“… he was a keeper.” Steve said sadly. “He was wonderful.”

“Tell us more.” Scott demanded. “I want to know more about your Prince Charming.” 

“Oh I don’t know–” 

“Tell me more! Tell me more!” Scott chanted. “Tell me more!” 

**************

“So we’re both in the water, right?” Tony dropped his sunglasses down over his eyes and affected a casual tone. “He goes swimming by me in these little tiny shorts, little red and blue striped things? Just slutty, I swear. Begging for attention. Then he gets a leg cramp and almost drowns, I’m telling ya, it was a good thing thing I was there.” 

“Uh huh, uh huh.” Bucky crowed. “So you rescued him and he thanked you in all the good ways?!” 

“Don’t you know it.” Tony scrunched his nose and grinned. “He nearly drowned okay? Without me there, the world been have been less one hot blonde. Real shame, that. And oh my god, he was so grateful, you know?” 

“Did you get down doobie down?” Sam wanted to know and Valkyrie hit him in the shoulder with a, “We’re practically adults, Sam! Just call it sex!” 

“Alright fine.” Sam huffed. “Did you get sex, Tony? There, you happy Val? Now I sound like an asshole.” 

“You always sound like an asshole.” Bucky retorted. “Keep goin’ Tony. Tell us more.” 

“We made out under the dock.” Tony said slyly and Sam whistled under his breath. “Sand was warm and the water was cold and he didn’t believe in wearing a shirt so it was just a whole lotta golden skin everywhere. Plus he had this sexy little East Coast accent, something in New York. He’d get all flustered and it would get thick and just–” that was a little too true for comfort and Tony forced out a teasing whistle. “All good things.” 

“Wait.” Clint grabbed at Tony’s leg. “Wait, lover boy was a virgin? If he got all flustered when you’d kiss then–” 

“What can I say, those good boys love me!” Tony laughed out loud and everyone else joined in. 

“Even though for a good boy, he sure kissed real nice.” Tony admitted. “Never met anyone who kissed half as good as he did, and I’ve spent a whole lotta time kissin’ a whole lotta people. He was the best.” 

“The best?” Bucky said skeptically, and Tony’s smile edged towards sad as he repeated,  “Never kissed anyone like that before, and never gonna kiss anyone else like him again. I swear.” 

***************

“Oh my gosh, he was sweet.” Steve sighed a little. “Almost ready to turn nineteen, and he was handsome enough to be a model but then had these dark brown eyes that could get just about anything out of me. Bambi eyes, you know?”

“Just about anything?” Pepper’s pretty lips parted in surprise. “Out of you?” 

“Well not everything.” Steve glanced around the table, from Natasha’s bored expression to Scott’s wide eyed interest. “But there’s nothing more romantic than summer nights, right? Walking under the stars and being on the pier as the sun goes down?” 

“That sounds wonderful, and I absolutely hate that romantic nonsense.” Carol declared. “Tell us more. Did he spend a lot of money on you? That’s real love, when they buy you things.” 

“Preach.” Pepper reached over and high fived Carol. “So Steve? Lots of presents?” 

“He bought me lemonade every day and then we would share it while we wandered along the boardwalk.” Steve said wistfully. “Cotton candy at the Fourth of July fair. I didn’t need presents, it was just nice to be with him. He got all friendly wanting to hold my hand and he’s the first boy I ever kissed and it was amazing.” 

“Sounds like a drag.” Natasha fake yawned into her hand and when Pepper sent her a look, she shrugged, “What? It sounds too pure for me. Practically prissy. Call me when the story gets good.” 

“Ignore her.” Thor decided. “Tell me more. Where is he now?” 

*************

“Could he get me a friend?” Clint asked eagerly. “I need someone to kiss.” 

“No one wants to kiss you.” Valkyrie said flatly. “So what Tony? You kissed this guy and then– I mean, did he make you work for it? Give it up like it was going out of style? What?” 

“He got all sortsa friendly down in the sand.” Vaguely, but meaningful, Tony waggling his eyebrows pointedly. “All sortsa super friendly, alright? Didn’t take much at all. Those summer nights, you guys. Just ice cream, romance and gettin’ lucky. Easiest thing in the world to get lost in all that, over and over.” 

“And over and over and over!” Bucky hollered. “YES, Tony! Was he any good?” 

“I told you he’s the best kisser I ever had.” Tony objected and Clint countered, “Well yeah, but just cos someone kisses like they know what they’re doin’ don’t mean they actually know. Remember the Bruce debacle?”

“He says debacle like he knows what it means.” Sam tossed a pebble at Clint. “He’s got a point, Tony. Bruce walks around kissin’ like he’s tryna fuck you right then and there but you said when you tried to get friendly, he turned you down.” 

“Eh, maybe I’m not his type.” Tony hedged and Bucky argued, “Nah Tony’s everyone’s type. S’just that Bruce is one’a them that only likes kissing but doesn’t like sex, you know?” 

“That just doesn’t seem right at all.” Valkyrie declared. “We call the guy the Hulk for a reason, a damn waste to not use all them inches  for the greater good.” 

“The greater good–” Bucky snorted soda out of his nose and spluttered a few times. “Damn Val, warn a guy before you say something like that!” 

“Anyway.” she rolled her eyes and turned back to Tony. “Alright, so you got lucky with the guy all summer, he was hot and made you feel all shivery and shit. What then? What happened?” 

“It got cold.” Tony tried to shrug as if it didn’t matter but Bucky tipped his head and frowned when he saw a flicker of sadness across Tony’s face. “And summer romances, they gotta end at some point. It got cold, he went back to New York, end of story.” 

“End of story.” Sam repeated. “You don’t call him or anything?” 

“Tony Stark doesn’t do long distance.” Tony cocked an eyebrow like it was the stupidest thing he’d ever heard. “Summer fling, don’t mean a thing. I told him we’d still be friends, maybe if he ever came back this way then we could do it all again. That was it.” 

*************

“He told me he’d call and that he wanted to see me at Christmas and try and be together next summer.” Steve sighed, and next to him, Scott sighed as if it were his heart breaking. “Then he told me he loved me, and I told him I loved him, and we promised to never forget each other. That was it.” 

“That was it?” Pepper gathered up her lunch trash and the rest of the table stood to start heading back inside. “You spend all summer with him, fall in love, and the guy didn’t even lay a finger on you?”

“It wasn’t like that.” Steve shrugged, a hand to his stomach as it twisted uncomfortably all over again. Tony must hate me now, oh my gosh. “He was a perfect gentleman and saying I love you was enough. We didn’t need to do– to do everything else.” 

“Sounds fake.” Carol decided, jumping up onto a table so she could climb onto Thor’s back and get a ride to class. “I don’t see how anyone would spend a summer with a boy who looks like you and not be climbing into your pants.”

“You aren’t ever going to see him again?” Thor wrapped one big hand around Carol’s calf to hold her steady, then hooked his other arm around Steve’s shoulders and clicked his tongue in sympathy. “Didn’t you exchange addresses or phone numbers or anything?” 

“I gave him my number in New York.” Steve’s blue eyes dimmed in distress. “But then my folks decided to stay here and we moved our belongings with a service and never actually went back to the East Coast.” 

“So he thinks you gave him a wrong number?” Natasha cut in. “Wow. He probably hates you now.” 

“He probably does.” Steve sounded so miserable Natasha actually felt bad for her comment, and cursed under her breath before awkwardly comforting, “Well i suppose he probably thinks he wrote it down wrong.. I mean maybe he doesn’t hate you?”

“What was his name?” Carol asked from Thor’s back, peering down at Steve curiously. “Was he local? This isn’t that big of a town, we might recognize the name if he’s one’a them tourists that have a summer home here or whatever. If he comes back every summer, maybe we could help you track him down.” 

“I suppose it can’t hurt.” Steve smoothed his khakis again. “His name was Tony. Tony Stark.”

“TONY STARK—“ Thor stumbled to a stop and and nearly face planted, and Carol screamed as she catapulted over the blond’s shoulders and into the bushes.

“WELL!” Tasha said loudly, smacking Thor’s midsection so he wouldn’t say anything else. “Steve, I think your summer love sounds um— sounds—“

“Peachy keen!” Pepper interrupted. “Just absolutely peachy keen!”

“And you know.” Natasha bared her teeth in a fake smile. “If you believe in true love and um, miracles, I’m sure you’ll see your Prince Charming again.”

“Do you really think so?” Steve absolutely lit up, blue eyes sparkling. “Thor, do you think so?”

“Ummmm.” Thor glanced at the girls helplessly, then reached and hauled Carol from the bushes, brushing the leaves from her hair. “I… I think we should get to class, Steve. Let’s worry about Prince Charming another day.”

Thor hurried Steve away, sending a concerned look over his shoulder as they went, and Carol whirled around on Natasha immediately, nearly screeching, “Tasha! Prissy McGee’s Prince Charming was Tony?? Weren’t you two just playing tonsil tennis and doing the dance with no pants?”

“Oh god, Carol!” Pepper gagged. “Don’t say it like that!”

“Whatever Tony and I were doing was neither tennis nor dancing because both of those things require good hands and stamina and Tony Stark has exactly none of either.” Natasha scoffed. “A Grabby Quickfire is all he is. Steve is welcome to him. I certainly won’t miss those three minutes of grunting and groaning and cleaning up the mess after.”

Pepper sneezed a laugh into her compact and then cursed when the powder flew into her nose. “Oh damn it Tasha. Seriously, though. How the heck does that happen, and what are you going to do about it?”

“What am I going to do about it?” Natasha snatched Peppers compact and carefully reapplied a thick layer of bright red lipstick. “I’m going to make sure our new friend doesn’t get anywhere near Tony for the next week and then re-Introduce them at the pep rally on Saturday. Nothing like a spontaneous reunion to keep things interesting, right?” 

“That seems harsh.” Carol ripped the wrapper off a lollipop and shoved it in her mouth. “Gonna mess Steve up real bad to see how Tony really is.”

“Well, he won’t be the first to be heartbroken, will he?” Natasha clicked the compact shut and tossed her hair over her shoulder. “Let’s go ladies.”

Chapter Text

The pep rally was lack luster at best– forcefully over enthusiastic cheering for a football team that hadn’t won a game in several years, a semi exhausted speech by Coach Lee who had been head of Andover High athletics since the dawn of time, and a cheerleading squad that was made up of mostly newbies stumbling through their routines and one overly peppy Scott Lang. 

Steve had never once considered being a cheerleader, but Scott had talked him right into try outs and then into wearing a sparkly shirt to coordinate with the girls’ outfit and now here he was trying to get through a complicated lift without dropping anyone, or getting kicked in the face.  

It had been an exhausting week trying to settle in to Andover. Senior year meant friend groups and cliques were already well established, and Steve had jostled from one group to another as he tried to figure out where to sit. 

He was smart enough to sit with the nerds, but he’d gotten in trouble in history class for drawing all over his binder, which had apparently labeled him an art kid. But the art kids smoked cigarettes and other things, and Steve didn’t do that sort of thing. He was big enough to be a jock, but after witnessing him barely getting through the cheerleader tryouts, the coaches had stopped asking him to join the teams and even though Steve had heard rumours about the leather wearing, class skipping, car racing gang he had yet to even see them.

Not that he wanted to be a part of that particular scene of course. No sir, he was much better suited to khakis and button ups then leather and hair grease. 

And besides, Steve’s current group of semi-friends wasn’t all that terrible. Thor was nice, almost overly nice, helpful and inclusive and always willing to drop whatever he was doing to spend time with Steve. Carol was hilarious if not a little jarring with her bluntness, Pepper wanted so badly to be grown that she hated everything about high school which was funny in it’s own way and Natasha…

Well, Steve was maybe a little sheltered but he wasn’t stupid. He knew Natasha could hardly stand him, thought he was too goody two shoes to hang with their crowd. 

Her attitude sure made lunch and shared classes awkward but it had only been a week and Steve knew hoped things would get better. He had to move past sitting in his room and re-reading the few love notes Tony had written him this summer. He had to move past–

—Steve startled from his thoughts when a pen bounced off his cheek and rattled into the bleachers, and when he heard a loudly hissed “Pssst!”, Steve craned his neck in either direction, looking both ways down the row of football players until someone else leaned back and waved at him. 

Psst! Hi!” Peter Quill, jersey number seventy two, curly hair, an ear to ear grin, and the sort of build that made people swoon flashed Steve a smile. “How you doing?”

“Hi?” Steve waved back only because he was too polite not to. “I’m fine, how are you?”

“You’re gorgeous.” Peter whispered. “I was watching you on the field, you did great out there!”

“I dropped someone.” Steve whispered back and Peter shrugged it off with a cheerful, “At last weeks game I dropped my helmet and then tripped over it and almost broke my nose! You were way more graceful! Plus you’re cuter than me!” 

“Thank you.” Steve blushed a little under the unexpected flirting. “Um– yeah. Thank you.” 

Peter made a writing motion on his hand and said, “I tossed you a pen so you would give me your number! You should let me take you out some time. I have great taste in music and a sweet ride plus I don’t hog all the ice cream!” 

“Oh.” Just that fast the flirting lost its appeal and Steve’s smile dropped. “Oh I’m not— I don’t think—“ I am not ready for this. “I mean, um–”

“No rush.” Peter reached back and tapped the number on his jersey. “You know my number, you can just call me, alright?” 

Steve hesitated because a football jersey number was definitely not a phone number and honestly, he didn’t know if Peter knew that. “…sure?” 

The pep rally exploded into cheers just then, cowbells and foghorns as Coach Lee said something exciting, and Steve put Peter out of his mind as he ran back out with the other cheerleaders and tried his best not to let one of the girls fall. 

He was not ready to date. No thank you. 

Afterwards, Thor met Steve at the sidelines and swept him into a hug, booming, “You were great out there, Steve! A true natural!” while Carol cracked jokes about wanting to join the team just to look under the girls skirts and Pepper filed at her nails and commented something about how Steve’s pants made his thighs look amazing

Natasha watched the whole scene with pursed lips and an unreadable glint in her eyes and as soon as Thor had let go of Steve, she jumped forward to grab his wrist. “Come on, Stevie boy.” she jerked her head towards the other side of the field. “Have I got a surprise for you.” 

“A surprise?” It wasn’t that Steve didn’t trust Natasha, but wow he really didn’t trust the moody redhead so he was glad for Thor and the others who followed as well. “Where are we going?” 

“You’ll see.” Natasha said over her shoulder, and Pepper tugged at Steve to straighten his hair and brush some of the grass stains off his shirt. 

“What are you doing?” Steve waved Pepper’s hands away but she shook her head and clicked her tongue, insisting, “You need to look your best!” as she dotted a little colored gloss to his lips. “I just want you to look nice, Steve! Stop acting like it will kill you to wear a little gloss!” 

“Leave him alone, he looks fine.” Thor was too big too ignore, so when he pushed between Pepper and Steve, the redhead only huffed and put her make up away. “Come on, Steve.” 

Ahead of them now, Natasha pushed through Sam and Valkyrie and ignored Clint’s wave to meet Bucky’s eyes and smirk when the big brunette straightened up in interest. “Heya, Buck.” 

“Tasha.” Bucky cocked his head, letting his hair fall into his eyes as he looked Natasha over. “You’re looking good tonight.” 

Natasha’s smirk grew into a real smile, but it only lasted a second before she turned her attention to Tony, folding her arms and tipping her chin up and sounding almost cheerful as she said, “Heya Tones. Boy oh boy, do I got something for you.” 

“Oh yeah?” Tony tried and failed to sound even partly enthused, looking away as he took a drag at his cigarette. “Pretty sure there’s only one thing you got, and I’m not interested. Thought we decided you and I weren’t a good match.” 

“I think I decided you were a little too Quick Draw McGraw for my taste.” Natasha shot back, but she almost regretted the poison in her words when she saw Tony cringe as if the words had actually hurt. 

Tony Stark has a heart? Nah, no way.

“Either way,” she continued, a tad cooler now. “I found something pretty you left behind on the beach.” 

“The beach?” Tony suddenly sounded exhausted, as if talking about the beach might actually take every last bit of his energy. “What do you mean something pretty from the beach? What the hell are you talking about?” 

“I’m talking about this.” Natasha whirled around just as the rest of the group came up, snagging Steve’s wrist and yanking him forward, nearly shoving Steve right into the middle of the group. “Surprise. Say hello, lover boy.” 

The cigarette fell from Tony’s lips when his jaw dropped open and Steve stopped in his tracks and just stared

“—Steve?” Tony whispered and Steve cried, “Tony!” and they ran for each other at the same time. Tony practically leaped for Steve, wrapped his arms around Steve’s neck and dragged him down those few inches to crush their mouths together. Steve’s knees buckled at that first touch, but he kissed Tony back as hard as he could, fingers combing through Tony’s slicked back hair and dragging down Tony’s back until Steve could clutch at the leather jacket and use it to hold Tony right up against him–

–“What in the hell is going on?” From Sam, and from Valkyrie, “Who is this guy and why is Tony acting like that?” 

“Tony?” Bucky cleared his throat loudly. “What th’hell, man? Who is this?” 

Just that fast, Tony yanked away from Steve like his mouth was burning, stumbling back a few steps and wiping at his lips. He stopped and straightened the jacket Steve had crumpling in his hands, smoothed his hair back in a gesture that Steve had always found adorable but now only seemed… well now it almost seemed off putting, defensive even and Steve didn’t know what to think about that. 

“…Tony?” 

“So uh–” Tony cleared his throat and folded his arms, unfolded his arms and ran his hands through his hair again, kicked at the dirt and managed to look everywhere except Steve for a long minute before speaking again.

This time his voice was almost harsh, something unreadable in his expression, “Imagine that. My piece from the beach showed up at my school. What are you doing here, Steve?” 

“Piece from the beach?” Steve shook his head. “My parents decided to stay here, my Dad got a great job and we found a house right away and–” he reached out for Tony again, ignoring the growing snickers from the group surrounding them. “–what are you doing? Why are you acting like this? Aren’t you happy to see me?” 

“Well I mean sure, it’s always nice to revisit an old memory.” Tony’s eyes looked too dark in the light from the football field, dark and almost angry and Steve didn’t understand that at all. “But what’s summer is summer, and what’s school is school, so I don’t know why you’re being crazy about it.” 

“That’s ridiculous, don’t say that.” Steve put his hand to his stomach as it started to twist uncomfortably. “I thought I’d never see you again. I gave you my number and then we never went back to New York and I was so worried you would call and no one would answer–” he stopped. “You did call, didn’t you? Tony? You called like you said you would?” 

“Oh my god.” Pepper whispered behind Steve and his stomach started to hurt even more. “Oh my god, Steve has no idea what kind of guy Tony is. He never calls anyone.”

“Oh honey–” Carol sounded devastated for Steve, and even the so far smirking Valkyrie started to look a little uncertain. “We should get him out of here.” 

“…Tony?” 

“Of course I called.” Tony said shortly and the tiny flare of hope Steve felt was squashed when Tony finished cruelly, “I called exactly one time, but no one picked up so I figured I wouldn’t waste my time trying again. Even if I wanted to try again, I couldn’t keep your number and all the other numbers I got straight. You had a ten o clock curfew, babe, there’s a whole other world I was into after you went home to bed.” 

“Wait wait, you actually called him?” Bucky asked in disbelief and Tony’s lips thinned into a frown as he retorted, “Well yeah. You see how hot he is, that body’s worth a call.” 

“That’s enough.” Thor got an arm around Steve’s shoulders just before he crumpled, turning him away from Tony. “Stark you’re an asshole, why would you say that sorta thing?” 

“Dunno why you’re surprised.” Tony’s fingers were shaking so badly he could barely light a new cigarette, but he did it anyway, taking a deep enough drag to make his eyes water. “You know who I am.” 

“No no wait, so you–” Steve pushed Thor’s arm away, tears in his bright blue eyes. “–you lied to me? About our feelings and everything? About loving–” 

“Summer nights make a fella do crazy things.” Tony interrupted and blew a plume of smoke towards Steve. “And I wasn’t lying, I was just you know… playing it up? Pretty boys like you don’t go for greasers like me, so I felt like it wouldn’t hurt to be a little less me until you let me–” Tony could barely say it. “–until you let me get in your pants.”   

“Oh my god.” Both of Steve’s hands flew to his mouth and Thor started to turn him away again. “Tony are you– are you serious?” 

“You don’t gotta give me some pretend speech about moving and changing numbers.” Tony waved Steve off. “I called, you didn’t answer, you obviously didn’t want me to call or you wouldn’t have given me an old number. I’ve done the same thing to people, so it’s fine. Sure is fuckin’ weird coincidence you ended up coming to this school, but I don’t care. No harm no foul, no hard feelings.” 

Tony–!”

“Real good to see you again!” Tony said over loud, forcing out a laugh that didn’t sound anything near natural. “I gotta say I prefer swimming shorts to khakis, though! No reason to hide those legs! Let’s see them gams, Steve!” 

His group of friends burst into raucous laughter and Steve wrenched away from Thor and ran, the hoots and jeers following him across the field, along with Carol and Pepper calling after him to make sure he was alright. 

“Well done, Tony.” Natasha clapped her hands a few times. “Look at you, living up to everything we know you can be.” 

“Fuck off, Tasha.” Tony burned through one cigarette and lit another, muttering a curse when he dropped his lighter. “Don’t you have a corner to go stand on in that outfit? Try showing a little more skin, see what happens.”

“Hey!” Bucky shoved at Tony’s shoulder and scowled, “Ain’t no reason to call it like that, Tony. Tasha’s a lady!” 

“I don’t know about being a lady.” Natasha said blandly, but her smile for Bucky was secretly pleased, and when he closed one pale blue eye in a wink, she might have even blushed a little bit. “But thanks all the same. Tony, I really hope you enjoy the rest of your night.” 

Fuck. Off.” 

“Tony.” Bucky waited until Natasha, Thor and the other girls went off in search of Steve, and then asked, “Tony, you okay?” 

“Why wouldn’t I be okay?” Tony brushed right past Bucky and headed towards the car, cursing again when his pants caught on a strip of rust and snagged. “Hey, we should get this piece of crap into the shop and see about makin’ it pretty huh? Come up with a cool name? I’m thinking fins, running boards, a paint job in hot rod red and maybe even–” 

“Tony.” Bucky jogged after him, speaking quickly before the rest of their gang caught up. “Seriously, are you alright? That was– that was intense. The one person you actually call and he gave you a wrong number?”

“Summer fling, don’t mean a thing.” Tony was clearly not okay as he picked at the nearly worn upholstery. “I don’t care about Steve. I called him once, he didn’t pick up, decided I wasn’t going to try again. Why waste time on someone you’re never gonna see again? There’s no point.”

“But he’s here now.” Bucky pointed out. “And you were sorta crazy there, Tony. He obviously missed you, maybe the number thing was just a–” 

“Why don’t you shut the hell up and just drive?” Tony snapped. “It doesn’t mean anything! He gave me an old number, I’ve done that to about a hundred people alright? S’just embarrassing that he’s trying to act like we– like we–” 

Tony coughed and shook his head. “Just drive.” 

Bucky ground the car into drive, whistled for the other three to, “Hurry th’hell up or get left th’hell behind!” and Tony stared out the window and told himself not to cry as they peeled out of the parking lot. 

He was not going to cry. He wasn’t in love, that was stupid. It was a summer fling, he’d been an idiot who wanted to continue it over the winter and Steve had given him a fake number. The woman on the other line had said she didn’t know a Steve, that he didn’t live there, not that Steve had moved or anything like that.  Nobody just up and decided to move all at once, no one did that, no way that was real.

Steve had given him a wrong number or a fake number or maybe he’d lied about going back to New York altogether. Maybe he had already moved here but didn’t want Tony to know cos he didn’t want to keep dating and then it was just fuckin’ unfortunate they ended up in the same school. 

Just fuckin’ unfortunate was all it was, but it didn’t matter. 

Tony was not going to cry. 

**************

“I don’t know if I’m up for this.” Steve balked at the door to Carol’s house. “I’m not in the mood to hang out, and even if I was, this is a girl’s house and I think my parents would be upset about it. I should just go home.” 

“I’m here too, it’s not like it’s you in a room full of lingerie wearing man eaters.” Thor was sort of shockingly strong and even though Steve dug his heels into the carpet, Thor just pushed him in anyway. “And even if it was just you alone, you don’t like the girls like that anyway. We aren’t staying the night, just having a little wine and a little gossip and–” 

“I don’t really want to see Natasha.” Steve blurted, and Thor hesitated. “She hates me, Thor. See what she did with Tony? I don’t want to see her ever again.” 

“Natasha is…” Thor waved at Carol’s parents as they passed through the kitchen. “Natasha isn’t as bad as you think, Steve. She was a bitch tonight but more than likely she thinks showing you how awful Tony is now will save you some heartbreak in the future.” 

“I think she was just being a bitch.” Steve muttered, and Thor repeated, “She isn’t as bad as you think. Give her another chance.” 

“…I guess.” 

Steve stayed quiet after that, picked a corner of Carol’s room and stayed quiet as Pepper and Natasha flipped through fashion magazines, stayed quiet as Carol jumped up and re enacted a fairly hilarious commercial about toothpaste, stayed quiet when Thor retrieved a bottle of wine from his bag and the girls all cheered. 

“Oh! I have the perfect snack for this!” Carol ripped into a box of Twinkies and held them high. “They were buy one get one free so I ate a box and saved us a box!” 

“Twinkies and wine, Carol?” Pepper looked absolutely scandalized. “Real mature.”

Thor defended Carol’s choice with a loud, “I picked out a dessert wine, Pepper! Twinkies are perfect for it!” and Carol stuck out her tongue towards the prissy redhead. 

“Well if it’s perfect, don’t hog it.” Pepper still looked irritated, but she snatched the bottle anyway, taking a quick sip and then holding it out for Steve. “You need a drink after a night like tonight, honey. Come on and have some.” 

“Oh.” Steve hugged his knees to his chest and shook his head. “No thank you. I don’t drink. I mean, not other than a little champagne on holidays with my parents.”  

“Of course he doesn’t drink.” Natasha tpssed her magazine aside and rolled her eyes. “Probably don’t smoke either?” Another shake of Steve’s head. “Of course not. What did you do in New York for fun, then? Seems to me like you were just a wet–” 

“I have news!” Thor interrupted, effectively cutting off whatever no doubt rude thing Natasha was going to say. “I’ve decided to enroll in beauty school!” 

The announcement was met with pin drop silence, and then Carol snorted wine out her nose and started screaming with laughter, Natasha nearly fell off the bed cackling, and even though Pepper made an effort to control her giggles, eventually she gave up and collapsed into absolute shrieks

“Rude.” Thor huffed, fluffing his shoulder length hair. “I’ll have you know my interview went very well. They thought I’d be an excellent fit and I’m going to start taking classes after school.” 

“OH MY GOD!” Carol was outright guffawing and Thor winged a pillow at her in annoyance. 

“You’ll all be sorry when you want your hair done and I charge you a bunch of money for it!” 

“I’m sure you’ll be fine.” Steve spoke up and Thor beamed at him. “You should definitely do what you want to do with your life. Um, Carol, could I use your bathroom for a minute?” 

It was obvious Steve was right on the verge of a breakdown so Carol pulled herself together enough to gesture down the hallway so Steve would know which way to go. The second the blond was gone though, Carol immediately started teasing Thor–

“So are you going to start piercing ears? I feel like that should be illegal, way too dangerous. Also would you please dye your hair? Any color is fine but I’m partial to blue. And oh oh god will you please perm your hair? Maybe just crimp it?” 

“Keep laughing.” Thor said calmly. “You’ll see.” 

“Oh I’ll see alright–!” 

Carol launched into another round of teasing, but Pepper sidled close to Natasha and elbowed her. “You know, it was sorta cruel what you did to Steve earlier. We all know Tony is the worst, but you could have been nicer about having Steve find out.” 

“Oh please.” Natasha was rifling through Pepper’s lipstick bag and finally settled on a over bright lip gloss. “Wouldn’t it have been worse if we let poor precious Steve wax on like an idiot about some version of Tony that doesn’t actually exist and then weeks from now when he finally figures it out, he’d be made at us for not telling him.” 

“There’s better ways to do it than setting them both up in a bad situation.” Pepper protested. “Tony doesn’t show any emotion around those dummies! There’s no way he would have been even remotely decent to Steve tonight and you know it. I’ve watched Tony get kicked out of class just because he was too stubborn to apologize in front of his friends, you knew he wasn’t going to act right with Steve with Bucky and Val and the Tweedles watching!” 

“… the Tweedles?” 

“Oh.” Pepper waved a hand towards Carol. “We decided Clint and Sam are Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dumbass.”

“That actually makes perfect sense.” 

“Anyway.” Pepper pursed her lips. “Tasha I’m just saying–” 

“Not a single one of you asked if I was okay after Tony dumped me this summer.” Natasha interrupted and Pepper blinked at her in surprise. “Not a single one of you. Tony and me went together for two months and then he disappeared and you and I spent almost every day together this summer and you didn’t ask once if I was alright with it all. But you expect me to care about Steve?” 

“…I didn’t realize you cared about Tony.” Pepper said slowly. “I um– I mean you always said it was nothing serious–” 

“It wasn’t.” Natasha’s green eyes glittered coldly. “But you could have asked anyway. And now, boo hoo, pretty blond boy got his heart broken? Steve fooled around with Tony all summer and then is surprised when that leather jacket wearing degenerate isn’t as nice as he pretended to be. He’s so damn naive he deserves a good heartbreak.” 

“That’s not really fair, Tasha.” Pepper murmured and Natasha only shrugged. “Nobody deserves a heartbreak.” 

“Excellent advice coming from the girl with a list of romantic pen pals longer than my arm.” Natasha said dryly. “You stay here and hang out with blonde and prissy. I’m going to find some fun.” 

“Wait, is Tasha finding some fun?” Carol interrupted. “I want to find some fun, what are we–” Carol’s eyes bugged out when the unmistakable sound of a car in dire need of some tuning rolled into her driveway. “Who is that! Is that the boys? Who called them, my parents are gonna flip!” 

“I called Bucky when we got here.” Natasha tugged her shirt down a little more in the front and grabbed her purse. “I knew I’d be bored, and I knew he’d be up for a good time.” 

“Okay but honestly.” Thor gestured around the room. “Carol’s parents will definitely have something to say about you going out with Bucky. What are you going to do, crack a window and shimmy down the drain pipe to get to– oh look,she’s opening the window, she’s actually going to shimmy down the drainpipe– Natasha! Get back in here!” 

The moment the window opened, Bucky jumped out of the car, striking a perfectly casual pose where his t-shirt pulled tight across his arms and chest and his pants pulled tight everywhere else, his eager grin sliding into something heated when Natasha’s green eyes tracked his form and lingered beneath his belt line. 

“What’s good, Buck?” Natasha stopped a few feet away, not bothering to be coy, not bothering to hide her intentions. “You wanna show me a good time?” 

“You know I do.” Bucky hissed a breath through his teeth when Natasha shifted and her shirt rode up on her waist, and fumbled for the door handle behind him, swinging the creaky door open and motioning inside. “Your chariot, my Lady. Hop right in.”

“First things first, this ain’t that sorta party.” Natasha cut her gaze to Sam and Clint and Valkyrie who were sharing from a flask and making chicken sounds for some unfathomable reason. “Get rid of the baggage.” 

“Yep.” Bucky reached back and clamped a hand on Sam’s collar and then the other on Clint’s and bodily dragged them out of the car, raising his voice over their squawking to order, “Valkyrie, you too. Hit the road.” 

“Real shit day when a guy chooses a ho over a bro!” Sam called and Valkyrie echoed, “Real shit day, Buck!” 

“Don’t give a damn.” Bucky slapped a few dollars in Clint’s palm and jerked his thumb back towards town. “Go get something at the ice cream shop, but leave us the hell alone, you hear?” 

“Well what about Tony–?” Clint started to protest, but when they turned around to check on Tony, they found him already walking down the street alone, head down as he kicked at a few pebbles, hands shoved in his pockets as he wandered away. “Oh. Where’s he going?” 

“Who cares?” Bucky did care of course, but he was way more concerned with the way Natasha’s fingers were plucking at his belt to wonder where his buddy was going. “Shall we?” 

“Shall we?” Natasha mocked, but her smile was genuinely happy as Bucky pulled her into the middle seat so she was budged up against him. “Take me somewhere fun, Bucky. I’m bored and you should change that. 

“Yes ma’am.” Bucky leaned in and kissed her, then backed out of the driveway. “Here we go.” 

Upstairs, Steve watched through the window as Bucky sped away with Natasha whooping at his side, then craned his neck further down to see the lone figure of Tony still walking in the other direction. 

“Is he really as bad as everyone says?” he asked sadly. “Is Tony– I mean– is he really who he was tonight?” 

From his new spot sprawled on the bed Thor confirmed, “I hate to say it, Steve. But the Tony you met tonight is the same Tony we’ve known for years. He’s pretty much always like that.” 

“More or less.” Carol agreed. “Sorry, Steve. Those guys, they put on those leather jackets and turn into grade A assholes.” 

“Don’t sweat it honey.” Pepper popped up next to Steve on the window seat and opened up a box of perfume scent paper. “If you don’t want to pine over Tony, you can always have one of mine mkay?” 

“One of your–” Steve’s eyes bugged open when Pepper unfolded an accordion style packet of photos, men and women, some military, some dressed up, some nearly naked. “Oh my gosh, there’s so many of them! How do you keep track?” 

“ I am a very dedicated pen pal,hopelessly devoted to each and every one.” Pepper grinned at Steve and pointed to the first picture. “This one here is Happy. He drives limos for the rich folks in the summer time and when he gets done, we get drunk and fool around in the back seat. This one is the James Rhodes, he’s in the air force, isn’t he gorgeous? He sends me fancy things from Korea. Oh and this is T’Challa, he’s the Prince of some country somewhere and Nakia is his fiancee. I met them at a gala the Mayor threw and fell promptly in love with both.” 

Steve raised his eyebrows and Pepper shrugged, “My parents are rich, I meet rich people. Oooh and this? This is Maria.” 

“Ah Maria.” Carol sighed dramatically and Thor clasped his hands over his heart. “That woman could slap me and I’d actually say thank you and ask for another one.”

“Steve darling, you can have any of my pen pals except Maria.” Pepper said authoritatively, handing Steve a stack of stationary and a pen of his own. “You write the letter, I’ll send it, you’ll have a new heart throb in no time, someone who appreciates your honesty and sincerity and um–” she gave Steve a quick once over. “–pleated khakis.” 

“Um…” Steve held the materials gingerly. “Thank you?” 

“Worst case, you could always write a Dear Tony, Fuck You letter.” Thor suggested and Carol mumbled her agreement over a mouthful of Twinkie. “He deserves it.” 

“I suppose.” Something sharpened inside Steve’s freshly re-broken heart and there was a determined glint in his eye when he asked, “Actually, do any of you have Peter Quill’s number?” 

“…I do.” Thor said slowly. “Are you going to call him?” 

“I think I will.” Steve lifted his chin and tried not to let his voice wobble. “Tony Stark sure got over me quick, I think it’s high time I get over him too.” 

Chapter Text

Peter Quill and Steve Rogers became everyone’s favorite couple immediately. 

Not only were they both big and blonde and all sorts of beautiful, but Peter was adorably earnest in absolutely everything and Steve was so nice that even the lunch ladies loved him. Scott Lang put up posters that very same day nominating Peter and Steve as Homecoming Kings and the yearbook photographer came by at least once a week to snap pictures of them eating lunch, holding hands down the hall, or just laughing together because both Peter and Steve had perfect smiles. 

Peter loved the attention of course, and always had a mega watt grin turned towards the lens, and while Steve was a little more reserved, he had to admit it was nice to be with someone so uncomplicated, someone who didn’t mind showing him off. 

Peter was a little bit goofy but he had a heart of gold and was charming in a cheesy sort of way. He pulled out Steve’s chair and held open doors and even though Steve was in advanced classes and had loads of books, Peter had loads of muscles so he carried all their books in one hand and kept his other arm right around Steve’s waist to walk him to class. 

Steve liked wearing Peter’s jacket so everyone knew he was Peter’s fella, he liked the way Peter waved at him during games. He liked how Peter was always so excited to see him in the morning and how the big quarterback never wanted to hang up when they talked at night and most of all, Steve liked that Peter was always the same person whether they were in public or private, with the other jocks or sitting with Steve’s friends at lunch. 

Peter was uncomplicated, sweet and honest and sure, maybe a little dumb but Steve sort of loved it. So when Peter stopped him one day and stammered through a frankly adorable, “You sure look pretty today– I mean handsome today– I mean wow, those pants on your butt– I mean–” Steve just laughed and tipped his chin up for a kiss, and laughed again when Peter cheered in excitement before leaning in to give him a very gentle kiss. 

It was a good kiss, if not a little clumsy. A good kiss, but there wasn’t a riot of butterflies in his stomach and Steve wasn’t weak kneed like he’d been when Tony used to–

Nope. Not thinking about that.

No. Steve put his arms around Peter’s neck and kissed him again, muffling the quarterbacks surprised noise with his mouth and pressing their bodies together. No he was not going to think about Tony when Peter was good and kind and sweet and everything Steve should be looking for in a boyfriend. 

“Wow.” Peter’s eyes were blown wide when they finally parted, his smile stretching towards ridiculous. “What was that for?” 

“I just like you is all.” Steve whispered, and Peter gave a quiet “Yay!” and squeezed at Steve’s hand. 

Steve smiled over Peter’s goofiness, just like he smiled over all the good natured teasing from Thor and Carol, and the overly nosy but most likely well meaning questions from Pepper. Natasha only ever rolled her eyes over anything remotely relationship related, but Steve ignored her and ignored the lack of butterflies, determined not to let how much he still missed Tony ruin what was definitely a good thing with Peter. 

Besides, Natasha didn’t do a whole lot of eye rolling these days anyway. She was far too busy hanging off Bucky’s arm and that was definitely not something anyone was allowed to tease her for. 

Today Natasha lounged in the front seat of Bucky’s junker with her feet up on the dashboard as she watched her boyfriend– nope, not saying that– as she watched Bucky go back and forth between his tool box and the hood of the car. She fought a smile hearing the gorgeous brunette curse as he banged his head at least twice, and when Bucky yelped in pain over pinching his finger, Natasha finally sighed and wriggled her way out of the seat to see what was the matter. 

“Everything alright?” Natasha planted both hands on the car and leaned over the hood as if she had any idea what she was looking at. “My god, this looks terrible under here, I’m practically embarrassed to be seen next to it.” 

“If you weren’t so fuckin’ hot, I’d be mad about that.” Bucky huffed, sticking his finger in his mouth to clean the blood from it. “Ain’t right for a girl to insult a guy’s car.” 

“This is barely a car, Buck.” Natasha countered and when Bucky growled in frustration, she wiped a smudge of grease from his cheek and smiled. “But I like the way those jeans sit on your ass.” 

“Well I guess that counts for something.” Bucky pushed his hair out of his eyes and sighed down at the various pieces of engine. “Tony’s sposed to be helpin’ me with this shit, you know. This was gonna be our project, but I dunno where he even is most days and I’m never gonna get this done without help. You any good with a wrench, Tash?” 

“What, like a real wrench?” Tasha glanced at one of the greasy tools and shook her head, going up on her toes to kiss Bucky instead, pushing her curves into his hard frame until Bucky cursed for an entirely different reason and spanned her waist with his big hands, yanking her close. “No. Not good at all. No idea what to do with one of them.” 

“Well, are you any good with uh–” Bucky dragged one of her hands down to the front of his pants and when Natasha palmed over him, he moaned, low and messy. “Ah fuck, babydoll, you’re good with that, huh?” 

“Well it’s not a wrench.” Natasha laughed under her breath when Bucky slammed the hood of the car and then lifted her right up onto it, pushing between her knees to crush their mouths together. “But I suppose I know my way around this sort of tool pretty damn well.”

Their version of flirting was far far from Steve and Peter’s nearly chaste teasing, but it made them so obviously happy that not even Clint and Sam had anything snarky to say about the unorthodox couple. Thor fully approved, Pepper and Carol were just relieved Natasha wasn’t quite as bitchy any more, and Valkyrie was too busy gaping over Natasha to give Bucky hell about being whipped. 

Steve and Peter were happy, Bucky and Natasha were their own brand of happy, and the only person who would admit to being totally miserable was Tony

Tony who walked through school every day and saw posters promoting Steve and Peter as Homecoming Kings and Couple of the Year. 

Tony who had walked up to Bucky’s place wanting to distract himself with a couple hours of work on the car and had been treated to the misfortune of hearing Bucky and Tasha together in the back seat. 

Carol and Pepper only gossiped when they saw him, and Thor had nothing but frosty glares for the way Tony had treated Steve at the bonfire. Sam whistled and hollered for Tony anytime he saw him, but Clint and Valkyrie were too busy clowning on each other and causing general mayhem to pay any attention to Tony’s moping. 

And he was certainly moping. Tony been heartbroken when he’d called Steve and been told he had a wrong number. He’d been embarrassed to have Steve show up at school of all places acting as if nothing was wrong and then that embarrassment and heartbreak had turned to anger when Steve apparently moved right on to Peter. 

But then the anger faded into a sort of determination that Tony didn’t completely understand, but knew he had to act on. 

“He doesn’t miss me at all.” Tony muttered, pacing back and forth outside the gym. “Acts like I broke his heart? He broke my heart and then ran off to date that moron–” he kicked at a rock and then cursed when it about busted his toe. “I mean sure, I said some stupid things, maybe some mean things but I–I–” 

Tony ran his hands through his hair and groaned out loud. “I didn’t know what to do! I was all messed up and shocked and he was just so pretty right there and I acted like a dumbass and–” 

“Tony.” Gym teacher, athletic director and half past ancient Coach Stan Lee took the cigarette from Tony’s mouth and put it out with a sigh. “I came out here to smoke in peace, not to share my cigarettes with some punk and listen to him complain. What’r’ya doing out here?” 

“I uh–” Tony shoved his hands into his jacket and sighed. “Coach I uh– I want to join a team. Want to you know– want to be a jock?” 

“A jock.” Coach Lee was one of the most patient teachers in the school, had been coaching teenagers almost forty years now, had seen and heard all the bullshit kids came along with, but Tony Stark wanting to be a jock about shocked him speechless. “What?” 

“I need to change.” Tony kept looking at the ground, kicking at the dirt. “And this should be a good start, right? Being a jock? Seems bout as different from me as I can get.”

“Son, what sort of problem are you trying to solve by becoming an athlete?” 

“….a stupid one.” Tony muttered. “One I shouldn’t care about but I can’t seem to shake it.” 

“Ah.” Coach Lee raised his eyebrows. “So it’s love, then.” 

“Summer fling, don’t mean a–” Tony pursed his lips and sighed again. “Yeah. It’s love.” 

“Alright.” Stan clapped his hands together. “I can get on board with that. First things first though, you gotta change.” 

“Well that’s why I’m here.” Tony deadpanned. “To change. Apparently this rebellious punk look isn’t working for me so I’m going to get a jacket, get a letter, change.” 

“Yeah, no I mean you have to change.” The Coach motioned to Tony’s leather jacket, to the skinny jeans and high top converse. “I send you running in that get up and you’ll die of heat exhaustion or chafing and honestly son, I don’t know which of those is worse.” 

“Oh man, I have to run?” Tony whined and the Coach only chuckled and waved him inside the gym. “Go on, go get in uniform and meet me by the mats.”

“Oh man, I gotta wear a uniform?” Tony started to complain, but then he caught sight of one of those Homecoming King posters with Steve and Peter’s names scrawled all over it, and his eyes narrowed. “Alright. If Steve needs a jock, I’ll be a jock. A uniform it is.” 

********

The uniform was terrible, but Tony wore it anyway, and when Coach put him up against M’Baku as a wrestling partner Tony swallowed the instinct to scream, and worked at learning the positions and moves. 

“Alright, wrestling isn’t your thing.” Coach Lee acknowledged when Tony barely made it out of a pin alive. “What about baseball?” 

“What, like hitting people when they try to steal your base?” 

“Nope, there is no hitting people in baseball. We’re gonna slide right past that suggestion and into track.” Coach raised his eyebrows. “How about track? No contact, limited interaction, you can just get out there and run all your angst out.” 

“Run all my angst out.” Tony blew his hair off his forehead and put his hands on his hips. “That sounds okay. But isn’t the track right by the football practice field?” 

“Sure is.” Coach said mildly. “Is that alright?” 

Tony thought about how Steve sat and watched Peter at practice every single day and made an instant decision. “Yep. Yep, that’s alright. Track it is. 

****************

“Look Sam, I don’t want to hang out with you anymore than you want to hang out with me.” Pepper tucked her hands into the pockets of her fur coat and shivered. “But since Tasha and Bucky are still hooking up, we have to deal with it.” 

“Well I mean–” Sam stopped halfway to a sip of his hot chocolate. “Damn, Pep. I wanted to hang out with you. You don’t want to hang out with me?” 

“Oh.” Pepper’s eyes widened as if she’d never even considered the possibility. “No?” 

“Pep, you are ice cold.” Valkyrie chuckled. “Why are you so cranky?”

“Don’t mind her, she’s just put out cos all Tasha does these days is put on lipstick, hang out with Bucky and then reapply lipstick.” Carol hip checked Clint out of the way so she could get the next hot chocolate from the coffee stand. “Pep you can’t be too grown for high school boys and then be mad if your friends still want to, that’s not fair.”

“Whatever.” Pepper turned her nose up and sniffed. “Did you uys hear the Winter Formal is being hosted by Justin Hammer? There’s a boy I’d let boss me around. He’s on TV, drives a fancy car and he hosts one of the biggest talent shows in the country. I don’t know how he got convinced to come host a dance at Andover High, but I plan on taking full advantage of it.” 

“What, you in to older men Pepper? Justin Hammer is like thirty.” Clint pulled a face. “That’s so old, I bet nothing on him even works right anymore.” 

“I’m willing to overlook a lot of mistakes so long as there’s a lot of zeros in his bank account.” Pepper said blandly. “And it’s not like the choices around Andover are that great. Who am I supposed to go to the dance with? Oh and speaking of choices, Thor, how is beauty school going?” 

Thor ran his hands over his newly bright pink hair and shrugged. “I don’t really want to talk about it.” 

“Thor’s scary style choices aside, I’m going to the dance with Clint.” Carol hooked an arm around Clint’s neck and rumpled up  his hair. “Guaranteed to be a grope free evening because I beat him in arm wrestling and that was a turn on for exactly no one.” 

“And I’m going with Thor.” Valkyrie said matter of factly. “Again, guaranteed to be a grope free evening. No one with hot pink hair would risk a knuckle sandwich by tryna feel me up.” 

“I’d risk it.” Clint said immediately. “I’d definitely risk it.” and Sam agreed, “Should I dye my hair pink now or later?” 

“Change of plans.” Valkyrie said immediately. “I’ll be going with Carol while Clint and Sam dye their hair pink and play hide the pickle.” 

Loud shouts of “Hey!” and “Oh!” and “What in the–” were quickly followed by appraising glances and vaguely agreeable shrugs, and Sam decided, “So what Pep, so you’re gonna go with Thor? Or with Tony, cos them’s the only two left.” 

“An evening with me would be grope free.” Thor promised, holding up both hands. “Not because my hair is pink, but because I respect you enough not to try and get under your skirts.” Pepper raised her eyebrows and Thor amended, “Unless you gave me the go-ahead, of course.”

“Where the hell is Tony, anyway?” Valkyrie wanted to know. “Normally he’s at the ice cream shop or messin’ around working on Bucky’s car but I haven’t seen him in days.” 

“We haven’t seen him in…” Carol thought about it for a minute. “Thor, when was the last time you saw Tony?” 

“Haven’t really seen him since the bonfire.” Thor snagged Pepper’s compact from her purse and opened it, fussing at his hair. “He’s probably avoiding us since we spend time with Steve, but why isn’t he hanging out with you guys?” 

“Cos all we do is give him hell about Steve.” Clint answered promptly. “I feel like I’d avoid us too, we’re sorta the worst.” 

“Oh the worst.” Sam agreed, “Undoubtedly.” 

“Well, the dance should be interesting then.” Pepper said mildly. “If we’re all paired up and Steve is going with Peter, do you think Tony will go stag?” 

“He’ll come with someone, you’ll see.” Sam shook his head. “Tony Stark always has a date to the dance, he’d rather not show up than show up alone.” 

On the track field on the other side of the school, the same thought was swirling around Tony’s head as he did lap after lap around the field. Almost two months he’d been on the track team now and even though the uniform was stupid and the practice was terrible, Tony suited up every day and went running and just like Coach Lee had promised, he had all but an out his angst over Steve was feeling better ever day.” 

Not that he didn’t still miss Steve, damn it did Tony miss Steve. He hated every time he saw Steve and Peter holding hands in the hall and it was embarrassing, but every time Tony saw them kiss he always ducked down another hallway and every time he saw one of those stupid posters promoting them as Couple of the Year, he drew devil horns and stink lines over Peter’s name.

So alright, maybe Tony hadn’t ran all the angst out. Maybe he still dreamt about their summer and woke up reaching for Steve, maybe he’d let himself imagine taking Steve to the dance and wow-ing the pretty blond with all his dance moves and stealing a kiss under the stars. Maybe he’d written out a couple dozen apology letters and then thrown them all away, maybe Tony still wasn’t over Steve and maybe none of the running in the world would change–

Tony’s steady pace slowed and faltered when the football team started trickling onto the field. Usually he was done and gone by the time Peter and his goons showed up for practice. He must have ran too long today because usually he wasn’t here when 

Oh damn. 

Oh no no no.

“Are you going to break your record today?” Steve was stopped at the bottom bleacher, wiping a smudge from Peter’s helmet before handing it back. “How many yards have you thrown this season for practice?” 

Tony missed whatever Peter answered, his attention held fast by the way Steve’s eyes lit up in excitement, the way he smiled like it was the most impressed he’d ever been. Damn he missed that look and damn he missed that smile. Missed the way Steve’s eyes shone with admiration and the way his hands had always been so eager to hold Tony’s and the way he–

Tony shook himself from the thoughts when he realized he’d stopped running altogether and had come to a stop right in front of Peter and Steve. 

“…Tony?” Steve was leaning back into Peter’s arms, tipping his cheek back for a kiss, but he paused when he saw Tony. “What um– what are you doing out here?” 

Tony took off running again. He didn’t know what to say and he didn’t know what he wanted to say, so he just took off running, picking up speed until he was practically sprinting down the track towards the hurdles as if he could outrun just how much it sucked to see Peter kissing Steve.

“Huh.” Steve watched Tony run for a minute, and Peter asked, “What’s up, babe?” 

“Oh nothing.” Steve tried to sound casual but knew he didn’t quite manage it when Peter frowned a little. “No, it’s nothing. I just didn’t know Tony joined the track team. Or ran long distance. Or did hurdles. Or exercised… like at all. He was never one to– OH NO!” 

Steve cried out when Tony took on a too high hurdle and face planted on the track, splatting hard before rolling a few feet and finally skidding to a stop, groaning loud enough to be heard clear in the bleachers. 

“Oh no, I have to help him, I got to help him, give me a second–” Steve jumped the barrier of the bleachers and landed on the field, running towards Tony to check on him. “Tony? Tony are you okay?” 

“M’fine.” Tony popped to his feet and dusted the gravel from his sweats, sniffing as he checked his nose for blood. “Go away. M’fine.” Hurt leeched into his words, hurt and embarrassment and Tony hated that just being close to Steve like this made his hands shaky. “Back off, Steve. Go back to your himbo.” 

“Um–” Steve spread his hands helplessly. “My what? Go back to my what?” 

“I said what I said.” Tony swallowed hard and paced a few steps down the track. “What do you want?” 

“I just wanted to check on you.” Steve was even worse than Tony at hiding his feelings, and the look in his eyes was damn near heartbreaking. “I just– are you sure you’re alright?” 

Tony didn’t mean to snarl, but it came out anyway, “What do you care?” 

“Well I– I–” Steve folded his arms and chewed at his bottom lip anxiously. “Tony, I–” 

Hope, flaring barely there and flickering as Tony asked, “You what, Steve?” 

“I miss you, you know.” Steve said in a near whisper and Tony really thought his knees would give out. 

“You… you miss me?” 

“I miss the version of you I knew.” Steve amended in that same soft tone. “I miss you a lot. Like every day.” 

“…I miss you too.” There, the most honest thing Tony said since the night at the bonfire. “Holy shit Steve, I miss you so much.” 

“Yeah?” The beautiful blond’s eyes widened. “You do? Cos I miss you like crazy. I know I’m with Peter right now but Tony, I would–” 

“Go to the dance with me!” Tony blurted and Steve’s mouth fell open. “Please? Please go to the dance with me. I know you’re with Peter and I’m sure he’s a way better boyfriend than I ever was and I’m sorry for everything but damn it sweetheart, it’s killing me to be away from you.”

Tony wet his lips nervously and slowed down, forcing himself to breathe. “Can we try again? Will you give me another chance?” 

Oh.” Steve jolted forward like he was going in for a kiss, but stopped himself at the last minute, a nervous smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. “Tony, I’d never want to go to that dance with anyone else. I mean, you need to let me break it off with Peter before I can say yes officially, cos that’s the right thing to do.” 

The smile got a little brighter as Steve reached for Tony’s hand. “But you’re the only one I’d want to go to the Winter Formal with. I don’t care if the entire school thinks me and Peter are a perfect couple. I only ever want you.” 

“Okay.” Tony’s throat closed up over what was definitely not tears, he was definitely not going to cry, he was not going to cry– “Okay um– that’s um–” he cleared his throat. “That’s great. Cool beans. Really. Nice. That’s– that’s nice.” 

“Tony.” Steve whispered. “Just tell me what you’re really feeling. Please? You don’t have to be cool or whatever, just be you.” 

“I’m feeling like I’m going to do anything I can to make this up to you.” Tony pressed at Steve’s palm, linked their fingers and pulled Steve closer. “I was a real jerk to you and I’m sorry and one day I promise we can talk about all of it but for right now could we um– could we–” 

“I have to break up with Peter before you can kiss me.” Steve’s cheeks stained red and Tony bit back a curse as he leaned away again. Steve was right of course, break ups had to happen first but Tony was all of three seconds from combusting. 

“Right.” he nodded quickly but held fast at Steve’s hand when he went to go back to Peter. “I should let go of your hand so you can go break up, huh?” 

“Right.” Steve repeated. “Soooo let go?” 

“I swear I’m trying, sweetheart.” Tony laughed sheepishly. “Dunno why my fingers aren’t listening.” 

“Oh.” Steve blushed again and it was about the prettiest thing Tony had ever seen. “I do like when you call me sweetheart.” 

Sweetheart.” Tony stepped right back into Steve’s space and pressed their foreheads together, bumping noses teasingly. “Go break up with Goofy Gooberson over there so I can kiss you, alright?” 

“Alright.” Steve said shyly. “I can’t wait.” 

“Oh my god.” Tony breathed out shakily. “Yeah, I can’t wait either.” 

*************

*************

“I don’t want to go in there.” Natasha balked at the door to the ice cream shop and Bucky sent her a strange look. “Don’t look at me like that, Barnes. Take me to the movies or something instead.” 

“I don’t want to go to the movies.” Bucky argued. “I wanna get some ice cream and see my friends. All we ever do is hang out alone, let’s hang out with the gang tonight.” 

“It’s freezing outside, you don’t need ice cream.” Natasha crossed her arms stubbornly. “And we hang out by ourselves because the gang throws things at us if we do what we do in private, in public. Besides, I don’t want to–” 

“Is that Steve and Tony?” Bucky pushed open the door of the shop to get a better look and then whooped out loud. “It is! Tony! You get your boy back?” 

All the way across the diner, Tony looked up with a grin and a wave while Steve ducked his head and blushed, and Natasha hissed, “Look they’re on a date, they don’t want to be disturbed! Let’s just go!” 

“Well we’re on a date too, right? Let’s just make it double.” Bucky grabbed Natasha’s hand and silenced her next protest with a quick kiss. “Come on baby doll, don’t be so difficult, I haven’t seen Tony in ages, come on.” 

Natasha grumbled under her breath but let Bucky tow her across the diner and up to where Steve and Tony were sitting, sharing a milkshake and fries. “Hey kids.” she said with a falsely bright smile. “How’s tricks?” 

“Tony.” Bucky clapped a hand down on Tony’s shoulder. “Bud, where the hell have ya been? What have you been doing?” 

“So many important things.” Tony dipped a fry in the milkshake and fed it to Steve, his smile just this edge of absolutely stupid when Steve ate it right from his fingers. “This has been the best two days of my life. How’s it goin’ with you, Buck? Tasha?” 

“Well we were going to–” Natasha was rudely interrupted when first Sam and then Clint barreled past her to drag some chairs up to the table, and then Thor simply walked through the crowd holding two chairs up above everyone else so Pepper would have some place to sit as she hurried along behind him. Carol climbed between the bars of the little balcony and shoved Valkyrie out of the way to get the last chair, and Valkyrie just huffed and flopped right onto Carol’s lap as revenge. 

“–go to a movie.” Natasha finished. “But sure, hanging out with the entire gang is just as fun as a quiet movie, hm?” 

“Sure it is.” Bucky ignored Natasha’s obvious irritation and spread a few menus around the table. “So what are we eating? Who’s got money?” 

“Don’t look at me.” Pepper scolded when four different heads swiveled her way. “My parents are rich, not me! I don’t know where all my money goes! I bought hot chocolate the other day and paid for pizza last night– someone else needs to pay!” 

“You got money, baby doll?” Bucky asked and Natasha’s jaw dropped as she cried, “I’m not buying for the whole table!” 

“Oh my god, chill out, I gave you money earlier to get lunch, don’t you have the rest of it?” Bucky scoffed and turned back to Tony. “So hey, we should start working on the car? I’m thinking she needs a name, like Lightning or Sonic or–”

Natasha tuned out the rest of the conversation as Tony and Bucky jumped into car babble and the rest of the group threw around stupid names for the vehicle. Steve looked entranced by the entire conversation, or at least entranced by Tony and for some reason that irritated the hell out of Natasha. 

She dug her compact from her purse and scowled when she saw all the hickeys at her neck, dabbing at them furiously with her cover up until Bucky finally noticed what she was doing and reached out a hand to stop her. “Baby baby baby, what are you doing? You’re spreading powder all over the table, what’s wrong.” 

“I’ve got so many hickeys, I’m starting to look like a leper.” Natasha complained and Bucky did one of those lazy shrugs and drawled, “Well damn sugar, you ride the Bronco and you’re gonna get bruised. Just the nature of the game.” 

“The nature of the–” Natasha snapped her compact closed and curled her lip. “That is disgusting, you sound like an animal.” 

Oooh, talk dirty to me.” Bucky teased, but his pale eyes flashed in annoyance. “What’s with you tonight? I thought we were supposed to be having a good time and you’re just being a bitch. Is it PMS, you on the rag? Come off it, Tasha. That Ice Queen act gets real cold, real fast.” 

“Ice Queen.” For reasons she wasn’t really ready to explore, the words cut Natasha right to her soul, bringing tears to her eyes. “Aright then, here’s something icy for you, you son of a bitch.” 

She reached out and snatched Thor’s soda before he managed to get a drink and threw it right in Bucky’s face, then ripped Bucky’s jacket from around her shoulders and threw it at him too. “How’s that, Bronco?”

“Tasha!” Bucky howled when the ice hit his face and slid down his neck, the soda soaking his shirt and most likely staining into his jacket. “What the fuck–” Tasha turned on her heel and strode away, flipping him off over her shoulder and Bucky stared after her in shock. “What the fuck? Get back here! Where are you going!” 

“Damn, Buck.” Tony opened his mouth when Steve swirled a fry through their milkshake, then licked Steve’s finger teasingly to get the last bit of ice cream away and smiled when Steve immediately turned bright red. “What the hell was that? What’s going on with you and Tasha?” 

“Fuck if I know.” Bucky scowled and wiped at his shirt. “Gotta get to the bathroom and clean this shit off. “Oh and by the way. Carol? What in the fuck is going on with your hair?” 

“What?” Carol ran her hand over her nearly shaven head, a tuft of blond hair still flopping long into her eyes. “I sorta like it. Thor says it looks great. Very in fashion right now.” 

“Maybe on like… certain types of dogs…” Clint said slowly, and Sam patted Thor sympathetically, “Beauty school is just kicking your butt isn’t it?” 

The still pink haired giant scowled, “I don’t want to talk about it.” 

“If it’s any consolation Thor, I think you look nice with pink hair.” Steve spoke up. “I think it suits you, makes your eyes look extra blue.”  

Thor preened a little and Steve looked up in surprise when Tony kicked at his foot. “What?” 

“Nothing, I just forgot how sweet you are.” Tony had a curious look in his eyes that Steve couldn’t quite read. “It’s um– it’s nice. Most of my friends are jerks, but you are just genuinely sweet.”

“You’re sweet too.” Steve leaned over the table and left a soft kiss on Tony’s cheek before going back to talking about pink hair and unfortunate styling, and Tony rubbed at his cheek a few times, frowning a little. 

He really had forgotten how sweet Steve was. Sweet and a little naive and the sort of person that Tony wouldn’t ever look twice at on a normal day and yet somehow Steve was everything he wanted and it made no sense at all. 

How was Steve going to fit into his life? What happened if Steve found out about the rest of Tony’s reputation, how he’d hooked up with all those people and flunked a few classes and how he skipped more often than not and smoked where he wasn’t supposed to. Would Steve run away?

Or would Tony have to leave everything about himself behind to fit into Steve’s world? No more leather jackets? No more smoking? Would he have to be an athlete forever and get good grades and have tea with parents on Sunday and–

“Honey?” Steve tapped at Tony’s hand. “Are you okay? You look like you’re panicking all the sudden.”

“I’m– I’m fine.” Tony gulped and sternly reminded himself Steve is worth changing for. “I’m fine babe. Let’s talk about what we’re wearing to the dance.” 

Steve lit up in excitement, and that was enough to make Tony put those other more distressing thoughts to rest as the conversation took a turn towards dresses and coordinating suits. 

Outside the diner, Natasha finished her cigarette and tossed it aside, folding her arms against the night chill as she set off walking alone. She hadn’t expected Bucky to come after her, hell she probably would have laughed in his face if he had but all the same….

…all the same it would have been nice to think he cared she was upset. 

Natasha didn’t even know what she upset about. It could have been her period, it might have been failing that test yesterday. Hell, it could be that Bucky had pulled her close and told she was beautiful and that he was damn lucky to know her. That sounded an awful lot like feelings and Natasha didn’t want to say she’d panicked but yeah, she’d panicked and now—

A car horn startled her, and Natasha took a step back from the road as a sleek black convertible slowed to a stop beside her, the window rolling down and a voice calling, “Natasha Romanov. I thought Tony Stark and that moron Bronco were trading you back and forth, how come you’re out walking alone on a Friday night?” 

“Bruce Wayne.” Natasha said coolly, leaning down to look into the passenger side window. “What are you doing on our side of the bay? The rich girls at the Academy had enough of your bullshit so you gotta slum it in Andover?” 

“Sure doesn’t feel like slumming when you’re the sorta beauty I get to find.” Bruce was all dark hair and darker eyes, expensive cologne and trust fund clothing, a smirk on his face that spoke of sheer arrogance and enough money in his wallet to get whatever he wanted. Usually he only came around to stir up trouble but tonight he looked more interested in company. “You up for a ride, babe?” 

Natasha wasn’t up for a ride, but her options for the night were either hanging out with Bruce Wayne or sitting at home hating herself for crying over Bucky and honestly, Bruce was the lesser of those two evils.

So when Bruce opened the door of that fancy car and motioned for her, Natasha glanced back at the diner one more time and then slid right inside, leaning over and planting a kiss on Bruce’s cheek. 

“See there, that’s better than wandering around in the cold, don’t you think?” Bruce’s hand was warm and heavy on her leg. “What say we go get lost for a while, you want to see a movie or something?” 

“I’d love to see a movie.” Natasha settled back into the leather seats and closed her eyes. “I’d also like a new dress for the Winter Formal.” 

“Gonna be like that, huh?” Bruce chuckled and rubbed at her thigh. “That’s alright. I’ll buy you a real pretty dress, baby doll. Let’s go.” 

**********

It took less than twenty four hours for word to spread that Natasha and Bucky had broken up, and by the end of the next day, everyone knew that Natasha was bringing Bruce Wayne to the Winter Formal. 

Bucky was so mad he was practically snarling, pacing in the garage and kicking at the cars fender until Tony finally peeled himself away from Steve and pushed Bucky away from the car. “Damn Buck. The car didn’t do nothing to you, calm the hell down.” 

“Calm the hell down?” Bucky growled. “My girl is out there messin’ around with Bruce fuckin’ Wayne? That posh brat will use her and leave her when he goes back to the rich dames at the Academy and then what? Then I’m sposed to get back together with that asshole’s sloppy seconds–” 

Steve gasped quietly over the vulgarity and Bucky held up a hand apologetically. “Sorry Steve, s’just– it ain’t right!” 

“You love Tasha, Bucky?” Tony asked, and then ducked when a bucket went flying towards the garage wall, Bucky bellowing, “THE HELL I DO! I don’t love that girl! I’ll show her! She’s gonna step out on me with Bruce fuckin’ Wayne, fuckin’ rich kid I can’t fuckin’ stand him—”

Bucky stormed into the house still swearing up a storm and Tony leaned up and kissed Steve’s horrified expression away. “Don’t worry about him, sweetheart. He’s just cranky but he’ll be over it by the dance.” 

“You think so?” Steve shivered when Tony came back for another kiss and jumped a little when Tony’s hands crept down over his rear. “Tony! What are you doing!”  

“Don’t worry, I’m not gonna grope you here in Bucky’s garage.” Tony winked. “And yeah, Bucky will be fine, you’ll see. This dance is gonna be real fun and super romantic and um–” the third kiss was even longer than the second, Tony slipping his tongue over the seam of Steve’s lips and letting his fingers dig into the big blond’s waist. “–maybe we can… you know…?”

“Oh.” Steve sucked in a quick breath, his heart pounding as Tony slid kisses down his throat and to his shoulder. “T-Tony. Wow.” 

Mmm.” Tony sighed into Steve’s skin and smiled when Steve broke out into goosebumps. “S’gonna be a good time together, I promise. We’re gonna–” 

“DON’T DO THAT IN HERE!” Bucky sounded positively scandalized as he winged a greasy rag at the pair and Tony burst into laughter. “You are not gonna get down in my garage! Get out! What the hell!” 

“Come on, babe.” Tony grabbed Steve’s hand and ran away still laughing. “He’ll be fine by the dance, I promise.” 

**************

**************

Bucky was not in fact fine by the dance, and when he swaggered through the doors of Andover High with his shirt unbuttoned to his navel and his arm around one Loki “Cha Cha” Laufeyson, everyone in the gym stopped and stared

And Natasha who was snuggled into Bruce’s side wearing a rather low cut dress of her own didn’t know if she wanted to scream over the sight or burst into tears, so instead she just glared daggers at Loki as they leaned in and whispered something into Bucky’s ear. 

“Oh, who’s that with Bucky?” Steve pinned a pink rose to his shirt, smiling when he saw how perfectly it matched Tony’s tie. “They’re pretty, look at their hair. And oh wow, that dress.” 

“Eh, Bucky’s probably just trying to make Natasha jealous by bringing someone fancy.” Tony leaned down and wiped a spot from his shoes, then straightened up and dotted a kiss to Steve’s cheek. “I’m sure they aren’t half as pretty as you, though.” 

“You didn’t even look at them.” Steve pointed out, straightening the lapels of Tony’s jacket. “So how do you know?” 

“Cos you’re the most gorgeous person in any room, ever.” Tony said confidently. “We’re gonna tear it up tonight, sweetheart. Then I’m gonna take you for a drive and kiss you beneath the stars, alright?” 

“Tony.” Bucky came over then, cutting his eyes over at Natasha and letting his hand drop lower than was strictly necessary over his date’s lean frame. “What’s up, bud? You remember Loki, right?”

“Oh.” Tony’s eyes bugged out, any bit of color leaving his face as he dropped Steve’s hand. “That is um– yep, I uh– Lo–Loki. Uh. Hey.

Loki narrowed brilliantly green eyes in Steve’s direction and then parted glittered lips to practically purr, “Anthony. How nice to see you again. And wearing so many clothes this time! I hardly recognized you.”  

Tony made a horrified sort of noise and Loki’s mouth tipped up into a near vicious smile as they looked Steve over. “You must be Steven, Bucky’s told me so much about you. My name is Loki, but they call me Cha Cha.”

“Why–” Steve wet his lips anxiously, watching out of the corner of his eye as Tony seemed to grow more and more agitated. “Why do they call you Cha Cha.” 

“Cos I’m the best dancer this side of the bay.” Loki twitched the skirt of their dress out until it flared high around their shapely legs, baring a shocking amount of skin and a hint of lace far enough up their thigh to make Bucky whistle. “Or hasn’t Anthony told you?” 

“Anthony?” Steve repeated. “You call him–Tony, they call you Anthony?” 

“It’s um– it’s an old nickname.” Tony muttered and grabbed at Steve’s hand to lead him away. “C’mon babe, let’s get out of here. We can dance on this side of the gym, way the hell away from Loki and Buck, come on.” 

“Wait wait wait, Bucky brought Cha Cha?” Carol and Valkyrie joined them before Tony could make an escape, both girls with arms full of snacks and effectively blocking their route. “That seems bold, right? Are you okay Tony?” 

“Why-why-why–” Tony loosened the collar on his shirt and swore. “Fuck it’s hot in here. Um, why wouldn’t I be okay?” 

“Um.” Valkyrie made a gesture towards Loki. “Because they showed up wearing the same dress they wore when you and the Bronco–” 

Enough.” Thor clapped a huge hand over Valkyrie’s mouth, effectively shutting her up. “Don’t worry Steven. Loki might be the best dancer on this side of the bay, but they have the worst reputation and it is well earned, if you know what I mean.” 

“I don’t think I know what you mean.” Steve shot an uncomfortable look at Tony. “Tony, what does that mean?” 

“We should get some punch.” Tony said quickly. “Who’s thirsty?” 

“We talking about Cha Cha?” Clint came up holding a thermos that was certainly not full of punch. “Tony, isn’t that the same dress they were wearing when you and Bronco–glmph!” 

“Enough, Clint.” Thor covered Clint’s mouth with his other hand and sent a pained smile towards Sam as he wandered over with Pepper. “Let’s not talk about Cha Cha, hm?” 

“Who wants to talk about Cha Cha?” Pepper snorted, craning her neck every which way to try and catch a glimpse of televisions favorite host, Justin Hammer. “Even if they are wearing that stupid, slutty dress. Poor Tasha, I bet Bruce spent a bunch of money on her dress and then Bucky brings Loki along looking like they did the night Bucky and Tony–” 

“I don’t have enough hands to shut you up too!” Thor cried and when Pepper wrinkled her pretty nose in confusion, Thor tilted his head towards Steve. “Shut up, Pepper!” 

“Oh. Oh Steve.” Pepper audibly gulped when she saw how upset Steve was and how increasingly nervous Tony looked. “Oh, it’s nothing. Don’t worry about it. Cha Cha is– I mean Loki is– well they are–oh! Oh my god, there’s Justin!” 

Just that fast Pepper was gone in a whirl of perfume, balancing on her high heels and holding up the length of her gown as she hurried to meet the celebrity, and Carol snorted, “All she’s talked about all damn day was how grown up she wants to look so Justin will want to put her on the talent show. She can’t sing worth a damn but maybe the padded bra is enough to get her on TV.” 

Everyone except for Tony and Steve laughed. Tony was busy stealing looks at Bucky and Loki over his shoulder, and Steve was just staring at Tony in confusion and maybe even a little bit of fear. 

Loki was gorgeous, all long limbs and porcelain skin, knowing smiles and flashing eyes and there was something about their voice that spoke of private moments and long nights and the sort of kisses Steve had no idea how to give. 

If they were who Tony usually spent his time with, what the hell did Tony see in Steve? How long would it be before he got tired of being with a goody two shoes and went back?

“Can I talk to you?” Steve finally asked and when Tony didn’t turn around, Steve tugged at his sleeve impatiently. “Tony! Can I talk to you?” 

“Yeah sweetheart.” Tony’s head snapped around and he attempted a smile up at Steve. “What is it? What’s on your mind?” 

“Come here.” Steve laced their fingers together and pulled Tony towards a quieter part of the gym, ducking behind the row of bleachers that had been pulled out for extra seating. “Tony,  did you and Cha Cha– Tony!” 

He raised his voice when he noticed Tony still wasn’t looking at him. “Tony! Stop staring at them for two seconds and listen to me!” 

“I’m sorry.” Tony said quickly, forcing his attention off the distracting brunette and on to Steve. “What’s wrong Steve, what’s going on? You aren’t having a good time?” 

“How could I be having a good time?” Steve asked blankly. “You’ve spent the last few minutes staring after Loki and they keep smiling at you like they know something I never will. Did you and Loki go out?” 

“Oh god, no we didn’t go out.” Tony shook his head adamantly. “No it wasn’t like that, we definitely did not date or anything like that. What um– what we did? Not dating.” 

“Well then what’s going on?” Steve pressed. “And what’s the story with the dress? Why did Thor keep trying to shut everyone up?” 

“Hey.” Tony squeezed at Steve’s hand. “Hey it’s– it’s nothing. It’s nothing, Steve. It was just one time with Loki. Okay, I mean it was a few times with Loki, but we never went out, we just sorta– we just sort hung out, you know?” 

“That’s the same thing.” Steve protested and Tony insisted, “It’s really not. You and I are going together, we’re dating. But what happened with Loki is– I mean it was–” he stole a quick look around the bleachers to where Bucky was spinning Loki across the floor, the damnable skirt flying up around Loki’s hips. “It was uh–just don’t worry about it, okay?” 

Oh.” Realization and something else awful flickered across Steve’s face, his heart sinking as he suddenly knew. “I see.” 

“What?” Tony stepped closer and lowered his voice. “No no, you’re looking at me all crazy, Steve. It’s not what you’re thinking.” 

“No?” Steve pulled away from Tony and put his hands in his pocket, hunching his shoulders. “I’m thinking that how you acted at the bonfire makes a lot more sense now that I know Loki is the type of person you usually date.” 

“Wait.” Tony blinked. “What?” 

“Obviously you and Loki did all the things together that you and I don’t.” Steve said helplessly. “You said that I had a ten o clock curfew and you had a whole other life after that and no one else was even surprised. It’s because of this, isn’t it?” 

He motioned to the dance floor. “You and Loki together, and I know about you and Natasha.” he nodded when Tony’s eyes widened. “I know about Natasha. Do you and Bucky–” Steve sounded like he could barely get the words out. “You did something together with Loki, did you do that sort of thing with Tasha? Were you planning on sharing me with Bucky too?” 

“It’s not like that!” Tony snapped, and Steve snapped right back, “Stop lying, Tony! Obviously there’s this whole other side to you that I have no clue about!” 

“It’s not lying just because I haven’t told you everything!” Tony nearly shouted. “Do you really want to know about all the people I’ve slept with? Why does it even matter! It’s just sex! Sex and there was alcohol and things got crazy but none of it mattered the next day!” 

“That’s awful.” Steve’s face went very white. “It’s awful if you think se–if you think you can do that with someone and it wouldn’t matter.” and then sounding as if he wanted to cry, “If we would have done it this summer, it wouldn’t have mattered? I’d be someone you avoided at dances and that all your friends laughed about? Everyone knows what happened with you and Loki, would that be me? Would I be the person gossiped about and laughed at because I was stupid enough to– to do that with you?” 

“If you and I would have–” Tony clenched his jaw and prayed for patience. “It would have mattered Steve. It still does. It will be different with you, not just sex. I promise. You mean so much to me. It could never just be sex. Not with you, not between us.” 

“I don’t believe you.” Steve whispered, and Tony felt the words like a physical slap. “Because every time I learn more about you, you get further and further away from who I thought you were. I could handle you wearing leather jackets and I didn’t know you smoked but I sort of like the way cloves taste. I can handle that but I can’t handle–” 

He motioned towards the dance floor. “You fooled around with Natasha and never called her back, left her alone cos you were hanging out with me. Carol told me all about it. And then with Loki, or Cha Cha or whoever the hell they are, it was you and Bucky? What’s the story with the dress? Do I even want to know?” 

“…no.” Tony admitted and Steve’s face crumpled. “But I’m not like that anymore, Steve. That was just stupid stuff, but I promise, I promise being with you made me not want that anymore.” 

“…I don’t believe you.” Steve said again, and it hurt just as bad as the first time. “Because it hasn’t been all that long, has it? Nobody changes from doing that sort of thing to being fine with just a few kisses. You can’t go from this person, to being who you were at the beach and then back to this person again all that fast. Somewhere along the line you are lying about who you are.”

“Steve–” 

“This was a mistake.” A tear slipped down Steve’s cheek, blotting onto his new shirt. “I don’t want to be someone everyone gossips about because I went with Tony Stark. I don’t want to be laughed about over ice cream or avoided at dances or pitied because I thought I knew you and everyone else knew who you really were.” 

Steve.” 

“Who are you, Tony? I don’t know this version of you.” Another tear and Steve didn’t wipe it away. “And I don’t really like it.” 

“Well what if this is the only version of me?” Tony thought he could be sick watching the heartbreak in Steve’s beautiful eyes. “What if this is just me? Yeah, I went with Loki and yeah me and Tasha had some fun. No, I never called them and sure, it was just sex, it didn’t matter at all, didn’t matter one bit but that doesn’t mean what you and I have doesn’t matter. So what if I wear leather jackets now, it doesn’t change who I am underneath, does it? I’m still me, Steve. I’m still Tony and I still love you. You’re telling me you can’t look past all that to see who we were this summer?” 

Steve stayed quiet and Tony nearly pleaded, “I’m not real proud of how I acted before, but it was all before, alright? Underneath all this and all the rumours or whatever– Steve, I’m still me. The clothes and school and how I acted at the bonfire, I was an asshole and I’m sorry. But that doesn’t matter in the long run, I’m still me. Can’t you see that?” 

“I feel like you tricked me into loving you.” Steve swallowed back what might have been a sob and shook his head. “Because I never would have loved this Tony Stark at all.” 

Steve turned and fled from the gym and Tony made it two steps into chasing him before slim fingers closed around his arm and Loki pulled him back. “Leaving so soon, Tony?” they asked with a wicked smile. “Why so serious? Come and dance with me.” 

“Lo, you look amazing tonight.” Tony sort of hated that he couldn’t tear his eyes away from the length of leg showing beneath the split in Loki’s skirt. “But I gotta go after Steve. I have to. He’s all freaked out about–”

“–about who you are?” Loki interrupted smoothly. “If he can’t handle you then maybe you should spend time with people who can.” 

“…I’m willing to change, though.” Tony stared at the gym doors. “I could change for him.” 

“Maybe he should change for you.” They pointed out, and Tony frowned. “If he wants to keep you, I mean. But it sure doesn’t seem like he wants to keep you, if he can’t handle being in the same room as someone who’s seen you naked.” 

Loki winked to ease the sting of the words. They didn’t mean anything awful by it, not really. Loki didn’t go to the school and ignored all sorts of social conventions and had the unnerving habit of speaking their mind constantly, but they were rarely mean and they weren’t trying to be mean right now, so Tony softened a little under their smile. 

“So what, you pretended to be a good boy to get into his pants and it didn’t work? It’s time to stop pretending and just dance with me.” 

“…I should go after him.” Tony said quietly. “I should–” 

I never would have loved this Tony Stark.

“Actually, you know what?” Tony was just hurt enough, just brittle enough to take Loki’s hand. “We should dance. Wanna show these kids how we can burn up a dance floor?” 

“Always.” Loki twirled their skirts and Tony snatched them up against their body, moving them in a slow grind to the music pounding over the speakers. “Mmmm, see like this Tony Stark just fine. No reason to change at all.”

“Yeah.” Tony skated his hands down Loki’s back and tried to smile when the gorgeous brunette only sashayed closer. “No reason to change. This is fine.” 

“This is not fine.” Bucky disagreed, watching in distaste as Loki and Tony danced. “M’not just sayin’ it cos Loki came as my date, hell I don’t care if Tony dances with them, fuckin’ free game. But this is not fine. Tony belongs with Steve, not with Cha Cha. And Pepper’s off there trying to get up with Justin Hammer and–” 

Screeching laughter suddenly erupted across the gym, and they all turned in time to see Pepper nearly falling over her heels as she stumbled back towards them, her hands over her mouth to try and quiet her laughter. 

“Oh my god!” she gasped as she finally made it to the group. “Oh my god you are never going to believe– I can’t even– okay seriously, you guys–” 

“Pep?” Clint held the pretty redhead steady as she collapsed into giggles again. “What’s up?” 

“He’s shorter than me!” Pepper practically screamed. “Justin Hammer is shorter than me! He had to look up at me and then tried to tell me–” she finally kicked off her heels and settled barefoot on the floor. “Oh my god, he looked up at me and said ‘well from down here, your talent sure is obvious’ and I–” 

This time when she laughed the entire group joined in. “I can’t– he said– oh my god–from down here! What in the hell?” 

“Hey you know what we should do?” Valkyrie took the thermos from Clint and sloshed the contents around. “To get back at Hammer for being fucking creepy and weirdly short, we should all moon the camera when it goes around the gym, get our butts broadcast on national television.”

“Oh, I’d have to be very drunk for that.” Pepper decided and Sam whooped, “CHALLENGE ACCEPTED!” 

Across the gym, Bruce hugged Natasha a little closer to his side and commented, “Your friends are a little wild.” 

“Yep.” Natasha watched them all laughing, and swallowed back a jolt of misery when she saw Bucky grin down at Pepper. “Yeah, they sort of are.” 

“If you want–” 

“Let’s get out of here.” Natasha interrupted and pushed Bruce towards the door. “Let’s just.. let’s just go. I don’t want to be here.” 

Chapter Text

It was surprisingly easy to not see someone at Andover High. There were just enough back hallways to never have to see someone between classes, just enough round about pathways to skip the popular hang out spots on the green, just enough adjacent buildings to duck behind so if avoidance was the goal, it was easy enough to attain. 

Which was good, because Tony did not want to see Steve. 

He didn’t want to see Steve in the hall when class let out, he didn’t want to see Steve lounging around on the quad with the girls or with Thor or with Peter because somehow even after a break up, Peter and Steve were so all around great that they managed to still be friends and spend hours together. 

I never would have loved this Tony Stark. 

The words echoed in Tony’s mind over and over every time he put on his leather jacket, every time he picked up the phone and it was Loki calling, every time he lit a cigarette and skipped class to sit on the bleachers and sulk. 

I never would have loved this Tony Stark. 

 

Winter break was spent wallowing in self pity, the next several weeks at school were spent perfecting the art of never being in the same area of Steve ever and when Valentines Day came around, Tony didn’t even go to school, unable to stomach the thought of seeing all the red hearts and pink lace. 

Sam and Pepper had been caught kissing and now Sam was completely insufferable, Clint somehow always had a girlfriend this time of year and disappeared for a few weeks while he tried to guarantee a Valentines Day snuggle, and even though Carol and Valkyrie weren’t exactly dating, they’d been spending an awful lot of time cuddled up close together and Tony didn’t want to have to watch it.

Thor spent quite a bit of time with Steve, so Tony didn’t ever see him, and Natasha still hadn’t made up her mind between Bruce and Bucky, so Tony only saw her the weekends she and Bucky were hanging off each other. 

Tony was lonely and he was miserable so he tuned out most of the group’s drama and focused on his running, hitting the track every chance he got and trying to run the angst out. 

“You’re still at it, huh?” Coach Lee leaned over the fence as Tony jogged by on the track field one muddy spring ay “Thought for sure Christmas Break would cure you of the habit, but you just kept showing up for practice. Good for you.” 

“I decided I needed to change, so I’m trying to change.” Tony checked his mile time and smiled a little when he saw how much faster it was now. “Want to have something better to show for high school than barely passing classes and putting grease in my hair.” 

“That’s fair.” Coach allowed, and then, “Still motivated by love or a lack there of? You’re out here running like you’re trying to escape a broken heart.”

“Maybe. But um, I think it’s more important that I change for me.” Tony felt like an idiot for even saying that sorta thing out loud, but Coach Lee had never been anything other than completely supportive, so he cleared his throat and clarified, “I mean yeah, the person I lo– people have said they don’t really approve of who I’ve been and at first that just made me mad but–but then I realized I was pretty ashamed of who I’ve been too and that’s not great.” 

“Definitely not great.” Coach Lee agreed. “So. Gonna letter in track and that’s enough of a change?” 

“Lettering in track is a start.” Tony said with a hesitant smile. “And it looks good on college applications, right?” 

“That it does, son.” the Coach stared out over the field as Tony stretched, and then reached into his duffle bag and tossed the kid a jacket. “There. Now you got something to put that letter on at the end of the year. Get a couple events under your belt and you’ll be good to go.” 

“Thanks, Coach.” Tony felt an unexpected burst of pride as he clutched the red and white jacket, the red stitched letters ‘Stark’. “This is kinda of amazing.” 

“See you at practice, son.” 

**************

**************

“So you haven’t talked to Tony since the Winter Formal?” Thor very very carefully snipped at the ends of Steve’s hair. Nothing more than a trim, he had promised and since he desperately wanted to avoid another incident like the one with Carol’s hair, every single snip was completely methodical. “Not even once over Spring Break?” 

“Not even once over Spring Break.” Steve said dully, closing his eyes so he didn’t have to look at himself in the mirror. “I wanted to call him, but I know he wouldn’t pick up, not after everything I said to him. I was so mean to him, Thor. I said some really awful things.” 

“Which he probably deserved.” Thor pointed out. “And after he spent the rest of the dance slutting it up with Loki, he definitely deserved it.” 

“I don’t know if I believe that.”  Steve muttered. “Loki or not, I was pretty terrible to him.” 

“Welllll….” Thor changed the subject as he switched out his scissors for the set of clippers. “What about Peter? You aren’t dating him either? What happened there?” 

“The only person I want is Tony.” Steve held his breath when the clippers went a little too close to his ears, and relaxed again once they moved away. “And trust me, I know that it’s stupid. Tony was so sweet to me last summer and then so awful to me and I know the girls were trying to comfort me when they told me he was the same way with Natasha, but all it did was make me realize how different I am from who Tony normally goes after.” 

“You are very different from Loki, that’s for sure.” Thor combed through Steve’s hair, checking for uneven strands. “Did you know they and I are siblings? Well, step siblings anyway. Sort of. My dad and their mom got married a while ago and then separated later that same year. Loki moved back with his mom and now we go to different schools. They have always been ridiculous, but I can promise they are mostly harmless. One day Loki wears dresses and acts like they’re gagging for a–” 

“THOR!” Steve blanched and Thor grinned. 

“–and other days they were suits and turn their nose up at everyone. You cannot take them too seriously, and I promise whatever they and Tony had is nothing more than–” 

“–please don’t say sex.” 

“–it’s nothing more than nothing.” Thor finished and patted Steve on the shoulder. “Yes, you are different than the people Tony has been with but isn’t that good? He changed completely to be with you, doesn’t that mean it’s true love?” 

“I’m more inclined to believe it was easy for Tony to lie to me for a few months and then go back to being this the rest of the year.” Steve smoothed his fingers through his hair to check the length. 

“Steve, I’ve seen Tony when he lies, and he isn’t lying with you.” Thor said confidently. “Lying is what he does when he pops that stupid collar on his jacket and pours all that grease into his hair and laughs all the time. With you he doesn’t even fidget, just stares at you and smiles and acts like every word you say is the most important thing he’s ever heard.” 

“I’m glad your hair is growing out again.” Steve sproinged one of Thor’s blonde curls, smiling over the hot pink still at the ends. “And yeah, Tony looks at me like that but that doesn’t mean– it doesn’t mean he’s being honest.” 

“Eh.” Thor shrugged. “I’d think it’s the only time he’s being honest. Everything he ever said with Loki or Natasha was a line, which is fine cos everything they say is a line too. But I didn’t see Tony like that with you, not even for those few days you guys were back together.” 

“…I miss him.” Steve was absolutely mortified when tears came to his eyes, and he dropped his face into his hands. “Oh my god. I hate that I miss him, Thor. When does that stop?” 

“When you stop loving him.” Thor said matter of factly and Steve groaned out loud. 

“I can’t do that. I can’t stop. Peter is a perfectly good boyfriend but he asked me out again and I said no. I want Tony, I’m hopelessly devoted to him and I hate it but I can’t do anything about–” 

Steve stopped when he caught a peek of the hair styles magazine open on Thor’s dresser, a model with blond hair shaved along the sides of his head and then left a little longer on top so it fell into his eyes. 

“Steve?” Thor prompted. “You hate it but what?” 

“Um, Tony likes a certain look, right?” Steve felt along the pleats of his khakis, played with the neatly done buttons of his dress shirt, messing with his now perfectly trimmed hair. “He likes something a little more edgy?” 

Thor narrowed his eyes curiously and Steve clarified, “This last summer we ran around in just t shirts and shorts, but at school he and the rest of his gang– leather jackets, slick hair, all that? Natasha has that look down and Loki has that sort of look too. Maybe I should change how I look? Oxfords and khakis aren’t exactly sexy.” 

“I’m sure it depends on who you talk to.” Thor said kindly. “Someone out there probably thinks pleats are sexy.” 

“Not Tony, though.” Steve countered. “And he’s the only one I care about. And um– well, at the dance he told me that just because he wears leather jackets now doesn’t mean that he isn’t still him and I was too upset to listen but he’s right, isn’t he? Our clothes don’t make us us anymore than past actions make everything current a lie, right?” 

Thor followed Steve’s line of sight until he saw the magazine, and a smile curved around his lips. “What exactly are you thinking, Steve?” 

“I’m not sure yet.” Steve admitted. “But I’ll definitely need some help with it. Will you help me?” 

“You could probably just talk to Tony and avoid anything drastic.” Thor pointed out helpfully. “He might not pick up when you call, but if you went to him at school he wouldn’t walk away.”

“I’m going to talk to him.” Steve ran his fingers over the model’s picture, from the startling haircut to the open jacket and tight pants. “But actions speak louder than words, right? I’ll say what needs to be said, but I think I should do something like this too. What do you think?” 

“I think you’ll give him a heart attack.” Thor studied the picture for a minute. “I’ll start practicing this haircut on my mannequin.” 

“Uh yes please, definitely practice. Thank you.” 

*************

*************

“So I’m thinking flames going up right here.” Tony wiped his hands on a rag and tracked them up the side of the car. “Maybe silver cos it would look awesome against the hot rod red, you know? I think we should do fins. I know it’s a little old fashioned but damn what a classic look. And then maybe even some–” 

“Slow down, Tony.” Bucky fixed the steering wheel into place and checked to be sure it was set tight. “We need money for all that extra shit. Right now I’m just happy this beauty runs.”

“She runs like a champ too.” Tony patted the hood of the car with an admiring smile. “You gonna take her down to race this weekend?” 

“Hell yeah I am.” Bucky grunted. “She’s gonna be as hot as the parts on her, you know what I mean?” 

“Old man Pierce ever figure out it was you stealing pieces right the hell off his car?” Tony rubbed at a scratch on the passenger door. “He’s gonna be mad if he recognizes his car door as you roll down the street.” 

“Pretty sure old man Pierce is one of them bona fide Nazi’s that came over here after the war.” Bucky snorted. “He deserves to have pieces stolen off his car. Besides, I really needed a horn.” 

Bucky pressed at the steering wheel and the prettied up car said, “Ah-wooga!” and Tony clapped his hands in excitement. “And so what if the fucker recognizes his horn, what’s he gonna do, wave his cane at me as I drive away? Screw him.” 

“Hell yeah.” Tony pulled a gauge from his back pocket and checked the tire pressure one last time. “Who you goin’ up against on the track?” 

“Who th’hell you think?” 

“Bruce Wayne?” Tony hazarded a guess and Bucky only scowled. “You gonna go fight for Tasha? What’s going on with you two anyway, one day she’s with you and the next she’s with Bruce? You really want her that bad?” 

“Says you, currently trying to letter in track to impressed Stevie Do Right.” Bucky retorted. “How is me racing to show up th’guy getting handsy with my girl any different than Tony Stark turning jock to get into pleated pants?” 

“Yeah, alright.” Tony had to smile at that. “I didn’t know you knew about me running track.” 

“I’m your best friend, Tony.” Bucky said flatly. “I knew when you peed your pants in kindergarten cos I made you laugh too hard, I knew when you had that weird crush on the sixth grade teacher cos you pretended it was cool to wear your jacket over your front when really you were trying to hide awkward boners. You think I don’t know when you’re goddamn skipping out on helping me with my car cos you went out for the team? Why didn’t you just tell me about it?” 

“I dunno, seemed like something I needed to do by myself.” Tony shrugged a little. “Guess I was scared if everyone knew, Steve might think it was just a play. He already thinks I lied to him about everything last summer, no reason to make him think I’m lying about trying to change. Figured coming back around after I’ve changed would be better.” 

“You weren’t lying to him last summer?” 

“Bout as much as you’re lying when you call Tasha your girl.” 

“That’s fair.” Bucky hopped into the drivers seat and put the key in the ignition, a grin splitting his face when the engine turned over with a low growl. “Oooh man, listen to her purr.” 

“You think she’s ready to race?” Tony slid into the passenger side and tapped the bright red star Bucky had mounted to the glove box. 

“Only one way to find out.” Bucky tipped his head back and smirked. “You gonna ride with me, Tony? Be my second?” 

“Your second?” Tony laughed out loud. “You’re my sidekick, damn it.” 

“Oh ho, the hell I am.” 

**************

**************

The school was buzzing with news of the upcoming race, people gossiping about what it would mean for Natasha if Bruce won, if the sort of combined gangs would splinter apart if their self assigned leaders broke up for good. 

There were rumours Tony would be in the car with Bucky, a move that could very well slow the car down and jeopardize the race all together. Added weight could cause Bucky to over correct around a corner, or tip on the steep sides fo the canal, or be the different between clearing a bump or destroying the fender over a too large rock. 

And of course Inevitably the questions turned towards Steve. Was Tony trying to prove something by going along with Bucky? How did Steve feel about Tony diving even deeper into his bad boy persona by getting involved in racing? Surely Steve would stop caring for Tony now that he’s seen Tony wouldn’t be changed?

Steve tried his best to ignore it, looked away from Scott when he came running up with even more gossip, smiled at Peter when the quarterback came to ask if he was okay, and made quiet plans with Thor that none of the others knew about. 

On race day Steve posted up outside Tony’s locker and waited for the brunette to come down the hall with Bucky, both talking excitedly about the last minute changes they’d made to the car, about the paint job, about the spoiler they’d taken from old man Pierce’s car just last night and–

–”Steve.” Tony stopped in his tracks when he saw Steve waiting. “What um– what are you doing here? Are you okay?” 

“I’m fine.” Steve couldn’t help smiling at Tony’s concern. “But could I talk to you a minute? In private?”

He glanced up at Bucky, who put both hands up and backed off to give them some space. “I know you have the race soon, don’t worry, I won’t keep you long.” 

“It’s okay.” Tony swallowed and folded his arms, then unfolded them, smoothed his hair down, then fidgeted at his jacket, shuffled his feet and refolded his arms and cleared his throat at least half a dozen times. “What’s up? You alright? I haven’t even hardly seen you and um–” he swallowed again. “You look great, Steve.” 

“You look great too.” Steve’s blue eyes sparked enough to make Tony’s heart pound. “I just wanted to ask you–” 

“–Anything!” Tony blurted, then covered his mouth and shook his head. “Sorry, sorry, go ahead.” 

“Did you–” Steve took in a deep breath, trying not to let his voice crack. “Did you only call me once? Just once?” 

“…what?” 

“You said you called me.” Steve said quickly, trying to get the words out before he lost his nerve. “Did you really only call me once and then give up?” 

“No.” Tony whispered. “Oh my god no, Steve. I called you twice a day, every day for at least a week before someone picked up and told me you didn’t live there, that I had the wrong number.” 

“Twice a day every day?” Steve echoed and Tony repeated emphatically, “Twice a day every day. All I wanted to do was talk to you again.” 

“Okay.” Steve nodded. “Okay, thank you. That’s all I needed.” 

“That’s all you–” Tony spread his hands helplessly. “What?” 

“For the record?” Steve was already backing away, his books clutched to his chest and his eyes wide and more than a little vulnerable. “All I wanted to do was talk to you again, too. And I promise— I promise I didn’t know we were moving. It happened so fast and it was a company who moved us and it was probably the cleaning lady that answered the phone. I’m sorry Tony. And I’m sorry for what I said at the dance.”

“I believe you, and I’m sorry too.”  Tony bit at his lip before adding quietly, “Are you going to come watch me race, Steve?” 

“I wouldn’t miss it.” Steve smiled shyly and Tony had to force himself to quiet an excited whoop. “I’ll be there and maybe I’ll see you after?” 

“Yeah yeah yeah, sounds good.” Tony knew his grin was almost goofy but he didn’t care. He didn’t know why Steve had suddenly shown up and wanted to talk or why the question was about how many times Tony had called, but he didn’t care about that either. 

All he cared about was Steve had smiled at him again. 

“Can I come out?” Bucky poked his head around the corner. “You look like a dumbass right now.” 

“I don’t care.” Tony threw his books into his locker and kicked the door shut. “I don’t care how stupid I look, I think me and Steve are finally gonna figure this out. Let’s go burn some rubber and get your girl back so I can talk to Steve.” 

Neither Bucky nor Tony saw Natasha duck back into the girls restroom as they went running past, but when Steve came back down the hall to get to the library to return a book a few minutes later, he turned the corner and right into Natasha, knocking the little red head down. 

“Oh, Tasha.” Steve dropped his books and scrambled to help her up. “I’m so sorry, I really didn’t see you! Are you okay?” 

“I’m fine.” Natasha shoved a few of the spilled things back into her purse and pulled away from Steve. “I’m fine, just leave me alone.”

“Right, right, sorry, I just haven’t even seen you in a while, I’ve been sort of avoiding everyone and I thought you were out with Bruce–” Steve stopped when he picked up a small box Natasha had missed, his eyes widening when he saw the label, the little white stick with a plus sign in the window. “Natasha?” 

“Give me that.” Natasha snatched it back and dropped it in her bag. “Those things are expensive and I’d really like to not have to buy another one.” 

“Hey, um–” Steve hesitated. “Are you–” 

“Am I what?” Natasha had obviously been crying, and now she wiped at a few tears as they spilled down her cheeks. “Am I what, Steve?” 

“…are you okay?” Natasha was always such a bitch, but Steve took her hand anyway and led her over to the stairs, sitting down behind the cover of a big potted plant. “Tasha, are you okay?” 

“Um–” Natasha sniffed and dug a few tissues out. “I um–” she shook her head, cleared her throat. “There’s worse things I could do, you know.” 

“Worse things than–” Steve didn’t want to say it, and Natasha waved him with an irritated huff, explaining, “Worse things I could do than have a couple boyfriends I mean. People act like I’m some sort of hooker because I’ve slept around? Please. There’s worse I could do.” 

Steve stayed quiet and Natasha sniffed again, dabbing at her red nose. “I could just be a tease, right? One of those girls that dresses slutty and bats my eyes and lets everyone hold me real close and then tells them to take a cold shower cos I’m not interested. Sure, it’s their right to say no and everything, but no one likes them. It’s a wasted effort after some point.” 

“And oh god, I could be like you.” Natasha blew her nose loudly. “How many pair of pleated pants can one person own Steve? Would it kill you to undo a button at your neck? I bet you’re one of those that takes cold showers at night too because warm water is too arousing and–” Natasha broke down into tears and Steve automatically wrapped an arm around her shoulders. “–shit I’m sorry, I don’t really mean that. I’m so messed up right now but god Steve you’re so nice I can’t even hate your khakis!” 

“Tasha–” 

“I wish I was strong enough to leave boys that don’t give a shit about me.” she whispered then, and Steve held her a little tighter. “Tony destroyed you, I watched it happen, but what did you do? You went and dated the quarterback, and when Tony screwed up his second chance you walked away again. I wish I could walk away from people who don’t give a damn.” 

“You know I won’t even go to the race today?” Natasha’s lip curled in self disgust. “I broke up with Bruce a couple weeks ago but was too embarrassed to ask Bucky to take me back and he hasn’t asked me to come back, so I’m not going to the race. Seeing both ex boyfriends when neither of them want me? I’d probably cry and I definitely can’t do that. No thank you. I cannot cry in front of them, that might really be the worst thing I could do.” 

She hung her head, hair falling into her face. “You should go though. You definitely have better things to do than sit here and listen to me complain. Tony’s been miserable without you, you know. And he’s not as bad as everyone says. Sure he’s sort of an asshole but all boys are. He treated me right when we were together and I’ve never seen him half as in love as he is with you.” 

“…are you sure you’re alright.” Steve asked quietly. “Because I won’t leave if you aren’t.” 

“I’ll be fine.” Natasha tried for a smile. “Besides, the test is um– it’s probably not actually positive, right? Those things are wrong all the time.” 

“I wouldn’t know?” Steve whispered apologetically. “Sorry.” 

“It’s fine. It’s fine, I’m fine, go on, go get to the race.” Natasha pushed and shoved at Steve until he finally got up. “I’m fine. Go away, I’ve had my fill of goody two shoes for the day.” 

“Natasha–” 

“Go!” She snapped and Steve startled, backing away quickly. “God, just leave me–” Natasha’s eyes widened when a couple girls came around the corner, staring at her and then at her purse and whispering furtively. “Oh wonderful. The whole school’s gonna know now.”

Steve looked like he was going to say something else and Natasha held up her hand, shaking her head. “Please. Please just go.” 

The moment Steve was gone, Natasha pulled the pregnancy test back out of her purse and stared down at the plus sign, before bursting into tears all over again. 

What the hell was she going to do?

Chapter Text

“Okay.” Pepper pulled off her sunglasses and squinted across the canal to where Loki was hanging off Bruce’s side, eyeing the length of leg peeking out beneath Loki’s shockingly short shorts. “Loki isn’t my favorite person in the world, but I would quite literally kill to have legs like that.” 

“Eh.” Sam tipped his head and looked Loki over, then turned and looked Pepper up and down. “You do have legs like that, baby. Better legs, probably.” 

“Aw.” Pepper flushed a little when Sam smecked a kiss to her cheek. “Thanks Sam.” 

“I feel like Sam’s lyin’.” Clint disagreed. “Which I mean, ya can’t blame the guy, I’d lie to you about everything if I got to see you naked but–OW!” He yelped when Carol smacked him across the head. “Damn it, Carol! What, you get a butchy hair cut and now you’re just gonna beat me up all the time!” 

“Hey!” Valkyrie snaked an arm around Carol’s waist and tugged her back into her arms. “Make fun of my girlfriend’s hair again and I’ll beat you up.” 

“Yeah, that’s fair.” Clint scowled and rubbed at his head. “M’just saying, Pepper you got good gams, but I would willingly suffocate between Loki’s thighs.” 

“Preach.” Valkyrie said begrudgingly. “But seriously, no more making fun of Carol’s hair and Thor? Seriously get better at haircuts and Carol definitely stop letting Thor practice on you.” 

“Nah, it’s totally fine, I think it’s a good look on me.” Carol felt along the tips of her mohawk gently. “And the green is cool, right?” 

“It was supposed to be black.” Thor grimaced apologetically. “I got the bottles mixed up.” 

“The green is cool.” Carol repeated. “You’re doing just fine Thor.” 

“Hey everyone.” Steve came up with a smile and a wave, then looked over at the car where Tony was digging around beneath the hood. “Race time yet?” 

“Not for another few minutes.” Pepper sighed when she saw Steve was just as buttoned up as he always was despite the near sweltering day. “Steve, maybe undo your collar a little, you’re going to die in this heat.” 

“Oh.” Steve glanced down, then popped the top button and smiled. “Better?” 

“…sure.” Pepper patted at the big blond’s shoulder. “Did you come to cheer Tony on? That’s… surprising.” 

“Well, Bucky is my friend too.” Steve ducked his head so no one would see the anxious in his expression. “I wanted to support him. Plus, half the school turned out for the race, I didn’t want to miss it.” 

“Well let’s go get seats, then.” Apparently content with Steve’s answer, or at least surprisingly polite enough to not push the issue, Valkyrie poked Steve in the side and herded him towards the sides of the canal where a crowd was gathered. “We’ll get our asses ran over if we stay here. Let’s go, let’s go.” 

“Yeah, alright.” Steve glanced back over his shoulder and tried to find Tony, just as Tony looked up to find him. Tony grinned and waved, and Steve’s heart about soared in his chest. “Yeah, let’s– let’s um–”

“Oh my god, you people and relationships. Let’s go-o–o already!” Clint hollered and dealt Thor a swift kick in the butt. “Get up there big guy! Mush!” 

Down at the track, Tony’s grin stretched a little bigger when Steve kept checking back at him, and finally Bucky jerked at his sleeve and ordered, “Damn it, Tony. Pay attention!”

“Sorry sorry.” Tony forced his attention back to Bucky and then over to Bruce, sneering when he saw the way the rich kid sprawled against his fancy ride. “What’s going on, what are we racing for? Natasha? Honor? The right to punch you in your irritating face?” 

“We’re racing for pinks.” Bruce brushed an imaginary piece of lint off his expensive shirt. “Pink slips. I win and I get to tow that Frankenstein’d piece of shit back to my side of the bay and burn it for my bonfire party tonight.” 

“And if we win?” 

If for some reason you win?” Bruce raised his eyebrows and patted his car gently. “You get this one. But that won’t happen, so I’m not real worried.” 

“Well maybe you should be.” Tony snorted. “Our car moves like greased lightning, she’s gonna kick your pampered, rich boy ass right back to the Academy.” 

“Put up or shut up.” Bruce clapped his hands. “See you at the starting line, boys.” 

Bucky turned to Tony with an expectant grin and Tony nodded, “We got this Buck, we got it.”  

*********

….they most decidedly did not have it, but that had less to do with their car and more to do with the fact that Bruce Wayne was a low down, dirty dog, no good cheat

“What in the hell is that?” Clint shouted when the two cars leapt away from the starting line and Bruce’s car blew black smoke right into Bucky’s windshield, before spitting enough oil to make the other car slip and slide and lose several feet of traction. “What is he doing?!” 

“He’s got a bunch of gadgets on that thing.” Someone from the Academy informed them. “Mr. Wayne designs tech for the military so Bruce has got his car set up with an oil slick and like, tire slashers and everything?” 

“And in what universe is that fair?” Carol exploded. “We stole car parts from old men to build Bucky’s car and Bruce has got gadgets?!” 

“He calls them bat-gadgets.” someone else said helpfully and when Clint made a disbelieving noise, they shrugged, “I dunno man. Something about how bats are feared by everyone, or how they own the night or something? Rich people are weird.” 

“The Wayne family crest has a bat on it, you dimwit.” A third person chimed in and Sam pointed out, “Okay but that doesn’t make Bruce any less weird. Bat gadgets? Really?” 

Even Steve laughed a little at Sam’s incredulous expression but he didn’t take his eyes off the race, cringing when one of Bruce’s bat gadgets cut into the side of Bucky’s car, slicing through the passenger side door and narrowly missing the tire as Bucky yanked the wheel away. More smoke from Bruce’s vehicle and Bucky swerved to avoid it, and Steve nearly bit through his lip in fear when Tony’s damaged door swung open and the brunette nearly tumbled out. 

“Ohhh my god, I can’t watch.” Pepper hid her face in Sam’s shoulder. “Tell me if someone dies!” 

“Damn you woman, don’t say that!” Valkyrie scolded. “You’re going to jinx–” 

“LOOK LOOK LOOK BUCKY’S WINNING!” Thor pumped his fist in the air in excitement as Bucky’s car rounded the far pillar first, somehow miraculously making the turn tighter than Bruce’s big engined car could, and tearing down the canal back towards the finish line. “HE’S GOT IT! HE’S GOING TO WIN!” 

The crowd erupted into cheers and screams as Bucky wobbled and nearly lost control, as Bruce chased him down the straightaway and up onto the sides of the canal to avoid a strip of potholes, as the cars came crashing back down into the puddles and sprayed water everywhere. 

Even with Tony in the front seat, Bucky’s car was lighter and even though the front fender crumpled when the car rocketed over a bump and hit a little too hard, the engine didn’t give up, didn’t even sputter. Bruce’s heavy beast on the other hand, hit the same bump hard and veered off wildly to the left, glancing off a median separator and smashing through the guard rails, blowing the air bags. 

Tony stood up in the front seat and shouted in victory as Bucky crossed the finish line and the crowd split into two, the kids from the Academy running to make sure Bruce was okay, the kids from Andover swarming Bucky and the banged up car, clapping him on the back, cheering with Tony and shouting the Andover anthem over and over. 

Bucky whistled and whooped and popped the car into neutral to rev the engine as loud as he could, and Tony took a few hugs, and then directed the rest of the attention to Bucky so he could duck out of the melee so he could scan the crowd for Steve. 

“Are you coming down?” Thor nudged Steve and pointed to the track. “Tony’s looking for you.” 

“I see him.” Steve stood on his toes and waved, and down below, Tony jumped up and waved in excitement, motioning Steve to come down and see him. “But um, remember that thing I asked you to help me with? Can we go ahead and start working on that?” 

“Sure.” Thor put his fingers to his mouth and whistled sharply for Pepper. He and Steve had agreed Pepper’s experise was definitely necessary for this little project, and the giant smiled when Pepper kissed Bucky’s cheek, then stopped to say something to Tony and headed their way. “You got the pictures from the magazine?” 

Steve pulled the torn out pages from his back pocket and took a deep breath. “Yeah, yeah I got them.” 

“Hey boys.” Pepper had ditched her usual high heels for sneakers today, giving up fashion in favor of practicality for once in her life. “I told the gang we’d catch them later to celebrate, so we’re good to go for a few hours. Ready to say goodbye to the old you, Steve?

“As ready as I’ll ever be.” Steve took one last look at Tony, who was laughing out loud as Valkyrie all but strangled him in a hug. “This will be worth it.” 

“I promise it will be” Pepper was practically beaming with excitement as she took Steve’s hand. “Now where did we land on a lip piercing? Thor has been practicing on a piece of styrofoam and I promise he’s so much better than he used to be.” 

“…yeah, I’m still not a hundred percent on that one.” 

“I’m so much better than I used to be!” Thor insisted. “I promise! Really!

*************

*************

The city of Andover took their Memorial Day celebration very seriously. School let out for the summer the Thursday before, and graduation was the Thursday after so seniors could party for a whole week to celebrate finally being done. 

The fairgrounds opened at nine in the morning and didn’t shut down until well after midnight, and there were fireworks from Friday night clear through the early morning hours of the following Tuesday. 

It was the official kick off to summer, the official kick off to tourist season and vacation and all the good times that came with warm weather and beautiful sunsets over the beach. 

“I cannot wait until graduation!” Valkyrie shoved most of a corn dog into her mouth, juggling a bag of cotton candy with an over large soda in the other hand. “Then it’s officially summer time!” 

“Feels pretty official summer time right now.” Carol shared a funnel-cake-sweet kiss with her girlfriend and grinned. “I say we ditch graduation and make them just mail our diplomas to our parents. Who needs diplomas when there is a bikini and the ocean calling my name?” 

“An itsy bitsy bikini?” Clint waggled his eyebrows and was rewarded with twin looks of scorn from the girls. “Alright, never mind, I definitely will not volunteer to be the dedicated photographer for your summer.” 

“I tried the same line on Pep and it didn’t work either. Apparently offering to take various pictures of her new bikini didn’t work as a come on line” Sam sauntered over holding two giant turkey legs, one for him and one for Clint. “She decided that all the rich touristy boys are in town and she doesn’t want a boyfriend holding her down. Looks like we’re free to cause mayhem together all summer, Clint.” 

“That’s what I’m talking about.” Clint high fived Sam and took the food. “Where’s Bucky?” 

“Said something about finding Natasha.” Thor reached a massive hand over Sam’s shoulder and plucked the turkey leg right from his hands, ripping off a huge bite before dropping it back onto the plate. “He seemed pretty determined to fix this thing between them once and for all.” 

“Well he should watch out, she’s been on the war path.” Pepper popped up as well, sucking on one of those sugar free popsicles the cheerleaders were selling. “Sam, you look cute in that shirt.” 

“Cute enough for a date tonight?” Sam asked hopefully and Pepper rolled her eyes. “Huh. Haven’t checked out the touristy talent yet?” 

“I adore you.” Pepper said simply. “But I’m keeping my fingers crossed for someone who drives a BMW.” 

“Ice cold.” Sam muttered, but he still offered Pepper a bite of his snack and smiled when she did. “And just so beautiful.” 

“I do adore you.” Pepper whispered and scooted a little closer. “Maybe a date tonight.” 

“Hey whoa whoa whoa.” Clint slapped Thor’s hand away when the big blond tried to take his turkey leg too. “I don’t mind sharing, but with you it’s always a seventy-thirty split and you’re the one who ends up with the seventy percent. Get your own snack, Thor. And while you’re at it, track down Tony. Where the hell is he these days?” 

“Um–” Carol about choked on her next bite of funnel cake. “Tony is walking right towards us. Wearing a damn letter man jacket.” 

“No he’s not–” Clint started to protest but he shut up when he saw Tony. “…what?” 

What?” Sam echoed, and then reached over and tapped at Valkyrie’s open jaw until she closed her mouth. “Tony, what in the hell ?” 

Thor and Pepper were the only ones who didn’t look surprised, Pepper might have even looked proud as she reached out to brush at the bold red collar. “Looks good on you, Tony.” 

“Uh, I think you mean it looks a little athletic and non leather.” Clint spluttered. “What are you doing? Tony Stark going– going jock on us?” 

“Does Bucky know about this?” Valkyrie finally demanded. “Because I feel like the Bronco would have a thing or two to say and none of it would approving.”

“I know about it.” Bucky passed by the crowd on his way to find Natasha, but he stopped to ruffle Tony’s surprisingly un-gelled hair. “You look good, Tony.” 

“Thanks Buck.” Tony grinned, and then called, “Good luck!” as Bucky headed towards the Ferris Wheel and the redhead idly rocking her seat back and forth as the ride slowed and lowered her back towards the ground. 

“Tasha!” Bucky cupped his hands around his mouth and hollered once he was closer to the ride. “Natasha! Get down here! What th’ hell do you think you’re doing?” 

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Natasha brushed past Bucky on her way to the pretzel stand. “Why are you yelling at me?” 

“Why are you riding a damn Ferris Wheel?” Bucky stomped along behind her. “Those are dangerous! You could have fallen off or the rocking would’a made you sick or all sorta things!” 

“Don’t act like you care.” Natasha sighed over loud when Bucky grabbed gently at her wrist and pulled her to a stop. “Ugh, what, Bucky?” 

“Hey hey hey, just listen to me for a minute.” Bucky tugged her off to the side of the path and cupped her face in his hands. “Tasha listen, I um– I’m here, alright?” 

“You’re here.” Natasha repeated flatly. “And what does that mean?” 

“It means that I’m gonna take responsibility for all this.” Bucky lowered his voice, hesitating before brushing careful fingers over her stomach. “Even if it’s not my responsibility, alright? You hear me? I got you baby doll. I got you and I–” Bucky lifted Natasha’s hand and kissed her palm. “I got us. I’m here.” 

“Do you–” Natasha’s voice wobbled and she cleared her throat. “Do you mean that?” 

“Of course I do.” Bucky pulled his class ring out of the pocket of his jacket and slid the chunky jewelry onto Natasha’s finger. “This is a bona fide offer, Tasha. I mean every word.”

“Bucky.” Natasha stared down at the ring for a minute, then pulled it off and shoved it back onto his palm. “Don’t bother. I know you heard the rumour about me being knocked up, but it was a false alarm. Take your ring back and get lost. I don’t need you tying me down out of some weird sense of misplaced responsibility.” 

“Wait you– you aren’t–” Bucky peered a little closer at Natasha’s stomach as if he could tell anything at all through her clothes. “Not pregnant?” 

“False alarm.” Natasha forced a smile. “I checked and double checked. But hey, even if it were true, it probably wouldn’t have been your responsibility, you know? No harm done, thanks but no thanks.” 

“Tasha.” Bucky didn’t let go when Natasha tried to leave, and when she put up a little bit of a fuss he simply folded the tiny redhead into his big arms, cuddling her against his chest and kissing her forehead. “Sweetheart, I told you this is a bona fide offer. Responsibility or not, alright? I’m not going anywhere.” 

“…you’re serious.” Natasha leaned back until she could see Bucky’s eyes, hardly daring to breathe, much less daring to hope– “You want me, you want us? Are you serious?” 

“Course I’m serious.” Bucky fit the ring back onto Natasha’s finger and this time she didn’t take it off. “You’re the only one for me babydoll, and I’m tired of pretending I don’t love you. You don’t have to say it back but–” 

“I love you too.” Natasha stood on her toes and kissed Bucky as hard as she could. “Oh my god, I love you too. And I’m sorry about Bruce–” 

“Nope.” Bucky shook his head and kissed her again. “Don’t apologize baby, don’t matter none so long as you’re mine now.” 

“I’m yours.” Natasha blinked back tears and let Bucky pick her right up off the ground in a long hug, clinging to him tight. “I’m yours, Buck.” 

“That’s exactly what I wanted to–” Bucky’s sentence trailed off when something red and black and smoking hot strolled past. “Um– that’s exactly what I wanted– holy shit, I’m sorry babydoll but did you just see–” 

“– Was that Steve?” Natasha wriggled out of Bucky’s arms and gaped after the blond. “Oh my god that was Steve! What in the hell is he wearing?” 

“I don’t know, but I definitely need to be there when Tony’s head explodes.” Bucky swung Natasha up into his arms and hurried through the crowd. “You don’t mind me carryin’ you, right? I don’t wanna lose him.” 

“Carry me whenever you want.” Natasha murmured and Bucky paused to bend down and give her an achingly tender kiss, before nearly running to try and follow Steve across the fairgrounds.

It ended up being fairly easy to find Steve. All they had to do was follow the whistles and wide eyes, the dropped jaws and dropped food as one by one people turned to track Steve’s progress right towards Tony. 

Pepper heard the whistles first, and she smacked Thor in the shoulder, biting her lip to hide a grin. Sam saw Steve next, and the turkey leg fell to the ground unnoticed as he patted at Clint with a near panicked expression.  “Looklooklooklooklook– holy shit, I’m dying, Clint LOOK!” 

“Oh ho ho holy crap look at Christmas coming early this year.” Valkyrie breathed and Carol had never whistled at a boy in her life but she whistled now as Steve came to a stop in front of the group and tipped his chin up, clearly waiting for Tony to notice him. 

“Steve?” Tony’s voice went high pitched and hilarious, his eyes popping wide and mouth falling open, knees visibly wobbling as he clutched at the nearest booth to keep himself upright. “What–what–what–you look– oh my god– Steve?” 

“Like what you see?” Steve smoothed his fingers along the nearly shaved sides of his head and through the longer strands on top, the entire look rakish and rebellious and so far from his usual perfectly combed look it made Tony’s head spin. “Sweetheart?” 

“What–what–what–” Tony was pretty sure he was broken, he was broken, there was no way Steve was standing in front of him in a bright red pair of skinny jeans and a black leather jacket and not a damn thing more. 

So much golden skin, all those gorgeous muscles Tony hadn’t seen since last summer, the gleam of a gold hoop in Steve’s beautiful mouth–

–he was broken

Just wrecked.

“Nice jacket.” Steve tipped his head back and peeked at Tony from beneath his lashes. “I like the letter man look.” 

“I–I–I–” 

Steve smirked when it was obvious Tony wasn’t going to get a single word out, and sauntered closer, skinny jeans riding scandalously low along his hips. They were a shockingly tight fit, and his lip stung from the still fresh piercing, and the jacket was hot and a little uncomfortable against his bare back and shoulders but oh was it worth it just to see the stunned look on Tony’s face. 

“So I thought about what you said.” Steve made an effort to keep his voice low and flirty as he got closer to Tony, trying to remember what Pepper had said about sexy tones and purposeful eye contact. “About how you were the same person even if you wore a leather jacket now? And I figured I’d test the theory and see how it felt.” 

Steve tried for a somewhat sexy pose like the one he’d practiced in the mirror, ducking his chin to look through his lashes, cocking his hip to make sure his body looked good… phew it was a lot of work being like this, how did people do it all the time?

“…y–yeah?” Tony gulped when Steve got close enough to nearly touch, twisting his fingers in the pockets of his jacket so he wouldn’t so anything stupid, blatantly staring at the Steve’s abs tensed when the blond struck a pose that had no business being so eye catching. “And-and–and–how– um how–how– is it– how is it–” 

“How is it going?” Steve raised his eyebrows, the look nearly wicked thanks to his new haircut and that damnable lip ring. “Why don’t you tell me?” 

“I think I’m gonna combust.” Tony finally got out and when Steve inched closer, Tony very slowly put his hands on Steve’s waist, pushing aside the leather to smooth his palms over the jut of Steve’s hipbone and brush his pinky along the low low waistband of the jeans. “What are you doing, baby? You look amazing, but– but–” 

He shook his head and pulled himself together, whispering, “Steve, you didn’t– you didn’t have to do this. You didn’t have to change like this for me. I should have always been who I was at the beach with you. I should have changed faster and I’m sorry, but you— holy shit–” 

Tony gulped when Steve moved further into his hands. “Damn sweetheart, you look so good but um– I– I– you didn’t have to–” he tried for a real sentence again when Steve looked like he might laugh. “I love you, Steve.” 

Oh.” Steve breathed softly and Tony nodded, “I love you whether you’re wearing this or– or your usual stuff. You don’t have to change for me.”  

“I didn’t change for you.” Steve said simply, covering Tony’s hand where it rested at his hip. “I’m just wearing something I knew you’d like. I’m still me, Tony. You’re still you whether its leather or an athletic jacket, right? I’m still me, I’m still a goody two shoes compared to you and your friends and I still want sex to mean something. I’m going to study extra hard for tests and I’m never going to be able to smoke and I’m still going to blush when you kiss me but–” 

Tony jolted forward and kissed him, and predictably, Steve blushed. 

“You’re so damn beautiful.” Tony said hoarsely, “And I promise, I promise to be good to you. I promise to treat you special and if we ever decide to–you know? It’s going to be amazing and special and it’s going to mean everything in the entire world. You mean everything in the entire world. I don’t want you to ever change. I love you so much.” 

“I love you too.” Steve closed the distance between them for another kiss and then another, hissing when Tony bumped too hard against the still tender piercing and then sighing when Tony soothed it with his tongue. “And I promise to be good to you. And not to judge so quickly and to believe you when you say you’ve changed and to–” 

“–and to keep these clothes?” Tony interrupted. “Because I love you even when you wear pleats but please god keep the clothes.” 

“I’ll keep them.” Steve grinned when Tony’s dark eyes sparked in excitement. “I’ve missed you.” 

“I missed you too.” Tony’s hands gentled at Steve’s side, swept up to brush over his chest and then to land over Steve’s heart.. “Oh baby, I’ve missed you too. You and me are meant to be together, you know? We go together like– like–” 

He laughed quietly. “What was that song we listened to on repeat all summer? The one with the dumb words?” 

“We go together like rama lama lama ka dinga da dinga dong?” Steve asked. “That’s the worst song in the world.”

“Oh my god it’s the worst song.” Tony agreed. “But that’s what you and I are like. Rama lama lama ka ding–whatever the hell the rest of it is. I love you.” 

“I love you too.” Steve’s smile turned a little shy. “This is going to be the best summer of my life.” 

“The best summer of my life.” Tony agreed, and then with a wink, “Sure can’t wait for those summer nights with you, sweetheart. I got all sorts of things planned for us.”

“Mmm, summer nights.” Steve leaned in for a slow kiss. “Tell me more.”