twentysomething: (tony no)
PART 2.

Length: 7,500 wordish this part

Notes: In an ongoing trend, I apparently can't edit unless it's 1 in the morning or something. WE'RE IN THE HOME STRETCH THOUGH, GUYS, BEAR WITH ME. (And kisses to [personal profile] leupagus, always, who fixed this bitch up while recovering from pneumonia.)


Steve starts by making a list.

Toni likes places that are unpretentious, preferably with food and easy access to a bar. She also likes blowing things up for science, being right, and making things- and does not like flowers or talking about her father.

He’s a little stumped, so he takes a break and wanders out to the living room where Bruce is watching the antiques show again.

“Yesterday’s data was awful,” Bruce says by way of explanation. “Running it again.” He gestures to the empty sofa, which Steve accepts. There’s a young man with his grandfather’s minor leagues uniform and it hits Steve. Baseball.

He pulls out his phone and, marveling at technology with maybe a hand from Bruce, looks up the Mets schedule for the next two weeks. Upon being told the Dodgers were in California of all places, Steve had been forced to make a decision and found the Mets the lesser of two evils. He’s pleased to find they’ll be back in town two days from then, starting the Subway Series at Yankee Stadium. Through most of his childhood it had been the Dodgers versus the Giants, he still manages to hold some resentment in his heart for the Yankees for the ’41 World Series.

He excuses himself and calls the stadium ticketing office- he’s used to just going, but Steve doesn’t want to leave anything to chance. He decides to just buy the tickets for Thursday afternoon, because they’re only 20 dollars- which, though it seems insane for baseball tickets, is not a lot of money. If Toni can’t make it, he’ll just try again later and take Thor instead. Although, not just because he wants to take her to the game, he hopes Toni can make it. Thor would probably want to get on the field and play. Steve barely keeps himself from calling Toni- she’ll be back in New York soon enough, and it’s probably the kind of thing that should be done in person.

Waiting, now that he’s made up his mind, is excruciating. He tries to pay attention to the federal-style chairs on the television, but it’s hardly distracting enough, so he excuses himself again, pops into Toni’s workshop for “his” drawing supplies and comes back. He’s halfway through an absent sketch, much more occupied when he has something to do with his hands, when he realizes that he’s been drawing Toni’s hands. The delicate, long fingers with burns, nicks and calluses couldn’t be anyone else’s.

Steve coughs and flips to a new page.

They’re talking about American arts and crafts pottery when Steve realizes the hunched shoulders and messy head of dark wavy hair is unmistakably Toni, too.

Steve flips to a third page.

He starts sketching the coffee table, but before he thinks about it, there are extra coffee cups, drifts of paper, Dummy hovering over them protectively. Steve glances down and sighs before going ahead and adding Toni in, scolding Dummy.

“Okay, this is either the saddest or the sweetest, I’m not sure.” Clint and Darcy are hovering over Steve’s shoulder. Steve is equal parts embarrassed about his sketches and that they snuck up on him at all.

“It’s sweet,” Darcy decides.

“And sad,” Clint adds. “Sweetly sad.”

“Can I help either of you?” Steve says, calmly flipping over the stack of papers. Just because he’s been made doesn’t mean he particularly wants them looking.

“Your girlfriend’s helicopter totally just got clearance to land on the roof, thought you might wanna know,” Darcy says, smiling at Steve sweetly.

“I don’t have a girlfriend,” Steve says, although he knows what she means. He’s already standing by the time he’s done saying it. Darcy and Clint take his evacuated couch.

“C’mon, can’t we at least watch How It’s Made if we’re going to watch creepy, hypnotic tv?” Darcy asks Bruce as Steve’s headed out the door.

The moment Steve gets to the elevator, it dings open without him having to push the button and no one is inside. The elevator closes quickly and is going faster than Steve thinks is normal toward the roof. Steve blinks for a second, but then the penny drops.

“Uh, thanks, Jarvis,” Steve says.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Captain Rogers,” Jarvis says smoothly, but the elevator gets another little burst of speed.

Toni is hopping out of the helicopter and Steve has spent so much time with her in the shop recently that he forgot how formidable and attractive she looks in a suit. Steve flashes back to the first time he saw her, breezing down the hallway, long legs carrying her away from him and he can’t help but think he prefers this, Toni starting to grin as she walks toward him.

“I didn’t know I merited a welcome committee,” she says when she’s close enough to be heard over the roar of the blades, the wind tossing her hair around her face. Steve’s mouth goes dry and he’s never felt so ridiculous in his entire life, not even when he was on USO tour.

“Um, hi,” Steve manages finally and he wants to kick himself

“Hi,” she says, smiling brightly. “What’s up?”

“So, uh, baseball,” Steve says as she gets in the elevator with him.

Toni raises her eyebrows. “What about it?” she asks, patiently- well, patiently for her.

“Uh,” Steve starts and bites his tongue firmly. No more stuttering. “I got tickets to see the Mets and Yankees this Thursday, I was wondering if you’d want to come with me?”

Toni blinks for a bare second, before smiling again. “Sure thing. I’ll get the evening cleared out. Be nice to hang out somewhere else, right?” she says.

Steve breathes a quick sigh of relief. “Exactly,” he agrees.

***


He doesn’t see too much of Toni in the next day and a half- Agent Coulson makes him go through more incident reports; Colonel Fury asks for a report on team building and Steve is pretty sure he’s painfully awkward in response. Toni’s holed up in her workshop doing something that has Fury telling him not to distract her, anyway. He eats lunch with Darcy again and learns more about Clint than he ever could have wanted to know. There’s plenty to keep him busy, including Thor and Jane’s “relished return to our friends!” In Thor-speak, Steve thinks this translates to “his parents loved Jane but he had to leave Asgard before the god equivalent of baby albums happened.”

Steve likes to think he’s been acting normally, but Darcy insists he “totally has crazy eyes.”

“It’s okay, it’s cool to be nervous before your first date in this century,” Darcy assures him Thursday evening. Natasha had stopped in the living room, wrinkled her nose and said, “You’re wearing that?” Steve had looked down at his khakis, button down and tie and stared back at her, completely bewildered.

Somehow this had led to him sitting on his bed while Darcy and Natasha disagreed with everything in his closet.

“You’re going to a baseball game, not a matinee on Broadway,” Natasha says, eyeballing two identical pairs of jeans like she’s evaluating them for mission viability.

“This is what I dressed like every day,” he says. Well, when he hadn’t been in uniform. “It’s how men dress.”

Darcy shakes her head. “Not anymore, they don’t. That look makes you look like a big, sexy poindexter.” Darcy tells him.

Steve frowns.

“I mean that in a loving way,” Darcy adds, patting him on the knee.

Natasha pulls out his leather jacket. “Take off your tie,” she says.

Steve tugs at the knot.

“Good, take off your shirt.” Natasha motions for him to get on with it when he pauses. “Not anything I haven’t seen before.”

Steve freezes again and she rolls her eyes.

“On other people,” she adds. “Come on, shirt, off.”

“This sounds like a porno,” Clint says, sticking his head in the room. Steve turns scarlet as he finishes unbuttoning his shirt. “Which is interesting, but not cool, because hey, that’s my girlfriend.” He comes all the way into the room, slipping an arm around Darcy’s waist.

“He’ll hardly take off even one of his shirts, I think our virtue is safe,” Natasha says, rolling her eyes again.

“No game, Rogers,” Clint says mock-sad. “None.”

“I have to meet Toni in five minutes,” Steve points out.

Darcy pouts. “No more Dress Up Cap,” she sighs.

Natasha hands him the left hand pair of identical jeans and the jacket. “Take off the button down. Put the jacket on, change into the jeans.” She sounds like she’s giving him a tactical brief.

“Okay,” he agrees. There’s a long pause where no one moves, though. “A little privacy guys?”

“So shy, Cap!” Clint calls as the three of them head out of his room. Steve shakes his head. He had been the one to insist he get a separate dressing room from the girls on the USO tour, all of whom had seemed not to have a problem changing inches away from a guy. Seems some things never change.

He glances at what he can see in his bathroom mirror. He feels distinctly underdressed, but he supposes he sees people dressed much more casually on the streets every day. His instinct was to dress nicely- it shows the person you’re with that you made an effort for them. Then again, the only date he’d ever imagined before involved a fancy club and dancing, not a baseball game. He supposes some adjustments have to be made. When Steve steps out of his room, the three of them are still waiting for him.

“Nice,” Clint gives him a thumbs up. Darcy and Natasha are nodding.

“Go get her, tiger.” Darcy says. Steve can feel the tips of his ears heat and yeah, apparently some things really never change.

“Get me for what, I’m on time,” Toni says, walking into the hallway in- in-

Steve’s mind sort of goes blank for a moment because Toni’s wearing a “Captain America” t-shirt, which was obviously not built with, ah, her dimensions in mind, because it’s awfully tight. He’s seen the graphic version of his shield before, but it looks decidedly different stretched across her chest. Her long, long legs are in a pair of faded, tight jeans that look well worn, especially since they probably had a previous owner. Steve is trying to focus on anything that’s not part of her anatomy, and finally he sees a small pair of burns near the hem of the shirt that Steve would guess were from an absently discarded soldering iron. It’s so Toni that Steve finally manages to get himself together.

“Sure you are,” he says easily, because date or no, this is his friend.

“Which is a disgusting habit you’re encouraging,” Toni adds.

Steve grins. “I’m very sorry I’m making you be punctual.” Steve apologizes, schooling his features into something appropriately sincere looking.

Toni just laughs and nods her head toward the elevator. “C’mon, let’s go, I want to eat like, five things of nachos.” Toni says, in her sweetly imperious way and Steve can’t help but smile as they head toward the elevator.

“Yeah, bye,” Clint calls out pointedly. Toni just waves a hand behind her but Steve mumbles out a good bye even as she herds him into the elevator.

“I, uh, like your shirt,” Steve says, because apparently he can’t not say something.

Toni glances down, as if she’s forgotten what she’s wearing, and grins. “Well, all the cool kids are wearing it,” Toni says slyly.

Steve ducks his head, but he really can’t get rid of the smile on his face.

“Now, are we being proletariat and taking the subway, or am I driving?” she asks.

“Up to you, I don’t want to make you drive.” Steve says.

Toni grins. “I always want to drive,” she tells him, whipping out her phone and firing off a quick message.

“As long as it’ll make you happy,” Steve says, probably too honest by half, but Toni just grins at him, impish.

“It will. It will make me very happy.” She hits the button for the underground garage.

“Just remember you said that when we hit a traffic jam,” Steve bites his lip to hide a smile.

“Why d’you gotta say that? We weren’t going to hit any traffic, but now we will.” She’s smiling, like she wouldn’t care even if they did hit traffic.

“Did I jinx us?” Steve asks and it’s only after it’s out of his mouth he realizes he said “us.”

Toni snorts. “Like I’d let traffic make us miss the first pitch.” Toni scoffs and Steve feels warm all the way down to his toes. “Worst comes to worst, we use the briefcase suit and I fly us in to the stadium.”

Steve laughs. “I’m pretty sure that’s a misuse of your superpower,” Steve says.

Toni grins. “I don’t have a super power. Just a big metal suit. Misuse of a superpower would be if I made you carry me there.” Before Steve can say anything in return- she’s far from lacking a super power, the suit is more than metal, he could probably carry her to the Bronx- the elevator doors ding open and Toni is leading them with purpose to a corner of the garage.

“Also, I hope you appreciate what is about to happen,” Toni says, and instead of the sleek silver car from before, it’s an older cherry red convertible. Steve feels a little silly thinking it, but the only word that comes to mind is “sexy.”

Which is not an unreasonable thought when Toni leans over the hood to brush away some invisible dust.

“It’s a very nice car,” Steve says, hopefully sounding appreciative enough.

Toni rubs a hand over the mirror. “Damn right it is. Now get in, I want a hot dog.” she says firmly.

The drive is just warm enough, spring promising summer, the breeze whipping through Toni’s hair. Despite all worries of jinxing, the drive to the Bronx is a dream, the sunlight turning red and gold around the edges. Because Toni’s Toni, she cruises into a frankly unbelievable parking space as if it was her due.

“Do you see a meter?” Steve asks, pulling out his wallet for change. Toni shakes her head.

“Nah. Plus, a ticket’ll be cheaper than the parking would be around here anyway,” she says, easily pulling up the top.

“It would not,” Steve rolls his eyes and looks up and down the street, peering around cars, but still no meter in sight. Toni is leaning up against the car, arms folded across her chest, smiling at Steve like she can’t figure him out.

“That might be the cutest thing I’ve ever seen and Zac Efron asked me out once,” she says.

“I did my part from stopping your car from getting towed,” Steve points out. Toni snorts.

“You can buy my subway pass if it happens, how about that,” she says, tugging on Steve’s jacket sleeve. “C’mon. If you treat me right, I’ll buy you some peanuts and crackerjack.”

Their seats are in the bleachers, which feels right to Steve. They buy beers and Toni gets her nachos.

“You know, I know a guy, I could have gotten us seats behind the plate if I’d known you wanted to go to a game.” Toni says idly, adjusting her bright orange sunglasses.

Steve shakes his head. “That’s if you wanna go to a show. This is going to the game, Toni,” Steve says solemnly.

Toni looks skyward but she’s smiling. “My apologies, show me how it’s done, guru,” she says, taking a messy bite that leaves cheese on the corner of her mouth.

“You’ve got some uh,” Steve rubs at the corner of his own mouth with his thumb. “On you.” Toni hums and the pink tip of her tongue darts out, licking the cheese away.

“Did I get it?” she asks, tilting her face toward him.

“Uh, yeah,” Steve says, but he's distracted by the wrinkle of her brows, the bow of her lips.

“Anyway, I’m looking forward to the Mets getting their ass handed to them, amiright?” Toni grins at him.

Steve stares at her for a moment. “You’re a… Yankees fan?” Steve asks, a little afraid of the answer.

Toni laughs. “Yeah, what like you’re rooting for the Mets?” She stares back at Steve. “Oh my god, of course you are.”

“I’m going to overlook this,” Steve finally says. He must be in love, because all he’s managing is some light indignation.

Toni snorts. “You mean I’m overlooking this. The Mets.” Toni shakes her head. “You’re killing me, Rogers.”

“I’m going to get you a hotdog. That way your mouth will be busy eating instead of cheering,” Steve says, keeping an eye out for roaming vendors.

“Promises, promises,” Toni mutters. Before he can assure he’ll buy her a hotdog, a large section of people start chanting. Even if it’s Yankees fans, Steve’s happy to see that the fans are just as dedicated as they used to be. Toni joins in, grinning slyly at Steve. He just sighs, but honestly, he can’t care because she looks so happy.

Which is, of course, when the cheers turn extremely raunchy and Steve can’t help but turn bright red.

“Okay,” Steve says.

Toni bats her eyes at him innocently. “I’m sorry, is this offending your delicate sensibilities?” Toni asks, as the right fielder salutes toward the bleachers.

“The Yankees give me indigestion,” Steve zips back.

Toni laughs, but she stops chanting. “All right, all right.” Toni crosses her legs in front of her. They spend the first couple of innings cheerfully sniping back and forth as the Yankees score with a one-off home run and the Mets get a couple of guys on base without scoring.

It’s the bottom of the fourth when the first kid shows up.

“Uh, excuse me,” The boy is maybe 8 or 9, clearly coached by his parents to be polite. “Are you Captain America and Iron Woman?”

Steve is torn- he loves meeting the people they spend their days trying to protect, but on the other hand, he should have thoughts about making their first date so… public.

“Most of the time,” Toni jokes. “But right now I’m Toni and he’s Steve. What’s up, champ?”

“Can you sign this?” He holds out his ticket, printed onto regular paper and a pen. “Sorry, I mean, I’m supposed to ask ‘can you please sign this.’” He glances back at his parents, who nod approvingly from a couple of feet away.

“Absolutely,” Steve says, taking the pen and paper. “What’s your name, bud?” The kid is smiling from ear to ear, practically bouncing on the balls of his feet, but shyly keeps glancing back at his parents.

“Tim,” he says. Steve prints out clearly, “To Tim from Captain America- Hope you enjoy the game!” He sketches out the same shield logo that’s on Toni’s shirt quickly.

“You’re rooting for the Yankees, I see,” Toni says pointedly, gesturing at his pinstriped t-shirt with the pen she takes from Steve. “See, even kids know.”

Steve grins at the kid. “You’ll come around,” Steve teases Tim. He glances at the paper where Toni has written, “To a smart guy- Toni Stark.” There’s a perfectly rendered arc reactor next to the shield and Steve can’t help but grin.

“Thank you,” Tim squeaks out, heading back to his parents.

“That was nice of you,” Steve tells her.

Toni smiles. “I am a nice person,” Toni replies, adjusting her sunglasses.

Apparently, Tim is a trend setter, because they spend most of the following two innings posing for pictures or signing everything from tickets to receipts for kids of all ages- even a few adults. The real cherry on top of the public date sundae is when they end up on the big screen during the seventh inning stretch.

Toni grins and Steve waves, because Toni is much better at playing it cool than him.

“You know, they put people on these to kiss,” Toni says, teasing. “Like Dustin Hoffman and Jason Bateman.”

“Well, um,” Steve screws up his courage and-

Chickens out at the last second and kisses her on the cheek.

Toni laughs and presses her hands to her cheeks as the stadium lets loose an audible coo of “awww.”

Steve decides their second date should probably be somewhere more private.

Or at least less broadcasted on national television.

***


Amazingly, Toni’s car is still waiting for them, sans ticket, when they get out of the stadium.

“I’m not saying I told you so, but that’s because ‘I told you so’ is reserved for people who are not magnanimous in their rightness,” Toni says, grinning up at Steve. Steve just sighs at her, but he knows he’s smiling, in too good a mood still, keeping a hand on Toni’s elbow to draw her out of the way of people and pylons alike.

“I’ll remember that the next time I’m right.” Steve says evenly, helping Toni put the top back down.

“Did you get enough to eat at the park or do you need a snack?” she asks, glancing around as she pulls out of the space. “Growing super soldiers frequently do, I believe.”

Steve snorts. “I think between us, we ate the entire stadium out of business.” he says, but a moment later he’s kicking himself, because going for dinner would have been the perfect way to get some actual alone time with Toni. But even if it won’t work out tonight, it’s not a bad idea.

“Uh, say, Toni,” Steve starts slowly, trying to think of how to phrase it right. “I used to cook a lot before the war. SHIELD’s kitchen is fine for heating things back up and it’s nice to eat out so much, but is there somewhere I could really use a stove? Of course, the finder’s fee for getting me to a kitchen would be payment in dinner.”

Toni blinks, but seems to be thinking it through. “I can’t say my kitchen in the apartment is any better… I don’t even think I have one.” Toni frowns. “Well, we do have a house. It’s a little old-fashioned.” She smiles slyly at Steve. “You might like that, though. I don’t think it’s been updated since I was a kid, so it’ll just be pleasantly futuristic, instead of terrifying,” Toni says.

“I’m pretty sure the important things haven’t changed. You still have pots and pans, right?” Steve teases.

“I guess we’ll find out. You need anything special brought in?” she asks.

Steve shakes his head.

“No, no, I’ll get all the groceries. You just let me know when is good for you.” Steve promises.

Toni shrugs. “Okay, tomorrow night?” she offers.

Steve can’t get his smile down to something manageable, so he gives up and just grins at her. “Sure thing.”

He’s still too chicken to go for a kiss at the end of the evening, but he doesn’t think he’s imagining the way she pauses for a moment before she drives off.

Steve goes to bed that night with a lighter heart than he’s had in years.

***


He sleeps in and goes on a run to the Cloisters. It’s a little out of his way but gorgeous and quiet, the surprise of the medieval architecture springing from the gardens, seemingly unchanged from the first time he saw it in 1940. He takes the subway back as a nice lazy cool down. Clint is eating what looks like eggs out of a coffee mug when he gets back to SHIELD, sipping at orange juice out of another mug.

“Morning, Cap,” Clint says. “How was the game?”

“Yankees won, 5-3.” Steve answers.

“I’m sure the ride home was a joy,” Clint buries his face in his coffee mug.

“She was too busy gloating over her car not getting towed to rub it in my face,” Steve says dryly. “She’s sweet that way.”

“Spirit of generosity,” Clint agrees. “I saw on Oh No They Didn’t that you failed to seal the deal.”

Steve frowns. “What- what is an Oh No They- no, wait, don’t tell me.” Steve is becoming increasingly resigned to the fact that everyone seems to knows his business- almost before he does- but it doesn’t mean he likes it.

“Kiss on the cheek?” Natasha asks, breezing into the kitchen. “That was a set up out of a movie.”

“I didn’t think it was appropriate,” Steve mutters, a little churlish even to his own ears.

“It might have been inappropriate about four dates ago,” Clint explains. “But I think it would have been okay now.”

Steve sighs. “I have errands to run,” he says loftily. Refusing to engage isn’t a tactic he’s familiar with but it seems to be the only way to deal with Clint.

“Going to get groceries?” Natasha asks, too innocent by half.

“I was going to get you cookies, but I’m reconsidering that decision now.” Steve tells them both before snagging the entire fruit bowl and heading back to his room.

“Get chocolate chip!” Clint howls after him. “Soft ones, not hard, those suck ass!”

The worst thing is, he’s still probably going to get them cookies.

***


Steve spends what feels like an hour at the meats counter in Whole Foods before he gives up and finds a butcher somewhere in Hell’s Kitchen. He feels like at least he knows exactly what he’s getting, paper wrapped parcels safely inside the bag. No one had asked him if he wanted organic, free-range or, most puzzling, meatless. He’d managed the flour and eggs at Whole Foods, getting the most basic basics, mostly because he’d seen Toni’s refrigerator in her workshop, which had contained a sad jar of pickles and four colonies of fungus that had once been takeout. Steve walks back up to SHIELD HQ, juggling his bags as he reaches for his phone to text Toni.

So you know, it’ll take about two hours for me to get everything ready before it’s ready to eat, three if possible. You can just let me in and go back to work, if you want?

everything should be set up and Jarvis is installed in the kitchen to give you a hand i'll get there around 7? Toni sends back.

Sure, what’s the address?

oh crap, I don’t know it’s on the corner of 70th and 5th. can’t miss it. Jarvis’ll let you in.

Steve snorts. Of course she doesn’t know her own address.

Where Clint and Natasha were before, Thor is demolishing a box of donuts.

“Steven!” Thor booms, as if he could want nothing more than for Steve to have walked in the door.

“Heya, Thor,” Steve shoots back, putting the groceries away in the fridge, leaving the cookies on the counter. “How’s it going?”

“Most excellent. Jane has introduced me to these ‘dough nuts’ and I find them most delicious!” Thor confides. Steve chuckles.

“Not a lot wrong you can do with a fried hunk of dough, you got that right.” Steve agrees.

Thor waves the box toward him magnanimously. “You must have one then!” Thor insists.

“If you’re sure,” Steve says.

Thor laughs. “The only thing better than good food is when it is eaten in good company!” Thor booms. Not for the first time, Steve marvels at the sheer improbability of Thor. Steve takes a careful bite and still gets powdered sugar all down his front. Well, he’d been planning on changing anyway.

“I admit, the thing I find most lacking in Midgard is the meals,” Thor confesses. “Not the quality, but quantity! How is a god to stay fed?”

Steve laughs. “I know how you feel, it’s like I’m constantly eating.” Steve agrees. “But at least you can always grab something at a food cart, right?”

Thor frowns. “What is a food cart?” he asks, curious and solemn. Steve blinks. Even in his day, there’d been roasted chestnuts and sometimes ears of hot corn.

“Well, vendors on the street have carts they sell hot food or snacks from, for people on the go.” Steve explains. Thor grabs Steve by the hand- luckily not the one still holding the donut.

“Steven, we must go now.” Thor says, as deadly serious as Steve’s ever seen him.

Because it will never occur to Thor, Steve takes the emergency pizza money tacked to the refrigerator. They’ll need it- Steve thinks he only has about 40 in cash on him.

***


Steve manages to keep pace through the Nuts 4 Nuts on the corner of 41st and 7th but after that, it’s wandering around in sick awe as Thor practically eats several food carts out of business for the day. The hot dog vendor looks like he’s going to cry from happiness.

“He’s really hungry,” Steve says unnecessarily as Thor goes for number eight.

“Next one is on the house,” he says, delighted. Thor has mustard on one side of his beard and shows no signs of stopping.

It takes them about three hours and the better part of midtown Manhattan to sate Thor. Steve fully believes he would keep going, but the lobster roll truck takes the last of their money.

“A kingly repast, thank you my friend,” Thor booms, dabbing at his mouth, as genteel as any mother could wish. “Who could have guessed? Portable foodstuffs sold by peasants on wheels!”

“Happy to help,” Steve says, still two parts awed, one part suffering sympathetic indigestion.

“Sister Natasha tells me of your plan to prepare an intimate refreshment for yourself and Toni,” Thor says, like he’s sharing a secret. “I am heart glad of your acknowledgment of the feelings you share. May your night be full of wonders!”

“Um, yeah, I guess you were right about that,” Steve admits sheepishly.

Thor broadly winks at him. “In matters of conquest, I am not oft wrong.” Thor tells him. Steve doesn’t even know what that means, really.

“Now, proceed in your romance, I trust you will succeed!” Thor assures him. Steve thanks him and sort of shakes his head. He wonders what it’s like to go through life as confident as Thor. It’s probably not for guys who weren’t allowed on the Cyclone until they were fourteen.

Steve showers quickly to get the smell of fourteen different kinds of food smoke off him before dressing. Natasha and Darcy don’t mysteriously appear so he’s left to dress himself according to his own plans. Which unfortunately means he spends an absurd amount of time in front of his closet doors staring at the carefully hung garments as if an answer will suddenly spring out at him. Steve remembers why he spends so much of his time in a uniform. Bearing their previous objections in mind, though, he chooses the other jeans and a simple sweater it’s almost too warm for anymore. He collects the groceries and heads out, getting off the 6 at Hunter College, glancing around at the fancy apartment complexes that get nicer the further he heads west.

He frowns when he crosses Madison, because there are about four numbers before the- the giant mansion on the corner. Can’t miss it, Toni had said.

“Jesus,” Steve mutters to himself as the gate swings open easily to let him in.

“Hello, Captain Rogers,” Jarvis says politely, unusually tinny through a speaker in the gate, as if Steve wasn’t idly blaspheming on the street.

“So this is it, huh?” Steve says, still mostly to himself.

“Somewhat more imposing than you expected, sir?” Jarvis asks sympathetically.

“She said it was a house, Jarvis,” Steve complains. “I expected some kind of fancy townhouse, but she didn’t say…” Steve trails off helplessly, indicating the courtyard.

“Miss Stark rarely does. May I guide you to the kitchens?” Jarvis puts in kindly.

Steve nods dumbly, catching glimpses of dim rooms decorated with white sheet covered furniture. The décor is elaborate and ornamental- crown moldings over damask walls and Steve’s mind is spinning with the urge to look around and sketch.

“Could we take a look, Jarvis?” Steve finally permits himself to ask.

“I believe Miss Stark was planning on giving you the tour herself, sir. I would hate to deprive her of the opportunity.” Jarvis sounds apologetic.

“Oh, no, that’s fine,” Steve says as something warm curls up in his chest at the thought of Toni wanting to take him around personally, help him lift dust sheets to peer underneath.

“The kitchens are just around the corner,” Jarvis says a few minutes later. Steve hopes Jarvis won’t mind talking him back out, or Steve will never manage to leave. For all Toni had kidded about it being “pleasantly futuristic”, the kitchen looks more than familiar. It’s made even easier by the way Jarvis politely and unobtrusively directs him to exactly what he needs, thoughtfully, including an apron.

Steve had thought about what to make for a long time before finally settling on Mrs. Agnostino’s spaghetti. He’d worried about it a little- what do you make for someone who’s eaten at the best restaurants in the world, anyway? So he’d gone with something he knew how to make and make well.

He’s kneading the dough when the silence of the house starts to wear at him- he’s used to a certain amount of noise, living in a city all his life and spending the rest of it in a literal warzone. The still of the kitchen is almost too much when he remembers he has a font of noise with him.

“Hey, Jarvis, would you mind putting on some music?” Steve asks.

“Certainly, sir. Do you have a preference, or shall I pick?” Jarvis says immediately.

Steve shrugs. “Surprise me,” he suggests. The music starts out quiet, but then a woman sings, “Cathedral bells were tolling and our hearts sang on; was it the spell of Paris or the April dawn?”

Steve sucks in a sharp breath, his heart beating loud in his ears and his hands clench down hard on the soft dough.

“Sir? Would you like me to choose a different song?” Jarvis offers, almost nervous sounding.

“No,” Steve croaks out. All he can think of is Bucky crooning the same words, off-key and unwanted, as Jim had been trying to convince a pretty French resistance fighter to share his bed for the evening. They’d sung it at him for a week and Jim had just returned it with a satisfied smirk and a reminder that she’d gone with him anyway, hadn’t she. Which would always lead into an argument about it being all because of Bucky’s singing and Gabe trying to lead Dum Dum in an atrocious waltz.

Steve forces his hands to relax, to release from their death grip and takes a deep breath. The song fades away and the memory goes with it, slipping into a big band song he’d never heard and Steve can make his hands move normally again.

“Sorry about that, Jarvis,” Steve finally says, after almost two songs have passed.

“I have a feeling the apology is more necessary on my part, sir.” Jarvis is meek and subdued. Steve shakes his head.

“No, I’d forgotten all about that- I’m glad to know I still remember.” Steve manages and is pleased to hear he sounds more like himself. He’s never been broadsided with a memory like this before, but he’s glad he remembers, all the same. He sets the dough aside to rest and mechanically starts in on the meatballs, blending the veal, pork and beef. By the time he starts rolling them into neat balls, his heart rate is steady, his breathing is normal and he doesn’t feel so bad about asking Jarvis to switch the music up a little.

The new stuff sounds like the old stuff, but he doesn’t know any of the songs and he has the sneaking suspicion that Jarvis has taken out any songs written before 1944. He feels a little cowardly for the fact that he breathes easier for it, but he thinks maybe Jarvis gets it.

The sauce is simmering gently as Steve browns the meatballs before dumping them into the pot. He eyeballs the pot of water he’d filled and salted, reminding himself to wait until Toni gets there to start the pasta. As if summoned, Steve’s phone beeps in his pocket.

on my way, 10 min

Before he can respond, another text pops up

also I am starving you had better be ready Steve smiles as he shakes his head, turning the burner on beneath the pot. Closer to fifteen minutes later, just as he’s dumping the pot into a colander, he hears footsteps in the hallway.

“Oh my god, what- that is the best thing I’ve ever smelled, I’m going to eat all of it,” Toni says within seconds of opening the doors.

“If you’re that hungry, you should get the plates and silverware,” Steve suggests, not unkindly. Toni laughs.

“I’m going to eat it with my bare hands, are you kidding me?” she says even as she collects the place settings and puts them on the part of the counter Steve hasn’t covered in mess. Steve plates up two heaping servings and Toni finds some stools from who knows where.

“Cheese, all the cheese,” Toni insists, when he offers. “In fact, give it, I can tell you’re going to skimp on it, you have that look.” She dumps a ton on before passing it back. “You should also take how desperate and crazy I look right now as a compliment,” she tells him as she takes her first steaming hot bite. The moaning and groaning is entirely food-related, but it doesn’t stop Steve from squirming a little in his seat.

“How did- who do I have to thank for teaching you this?” Toni demands when her pace has slowed.

“I spent nearly a month out of school when I was 12 after catching bronchitis,” Steve says, watching Toni figure out that he means in 1932, processing and moving on. “My mother had to go to work at the hospital, so she left me with our neighbor, Mrs. Agnostino. She had a family of 10, a lot of big meals, a lot of helping hands.”

“Canonization is imminent for Saint Agnostino. This should count as her first, second, and third miracles.” Toni groans her way through another bite. “It’s too bad that whole ‘super-soldier with heart of gold action’ worked out, or I’d try to hire you as my personal chef. I mean, I’d try now, but Fury would have me shot.”

Steve takes that for the compliment he’s pretty sure it was meant as. Nestled in the warmth of the big kitchen in Toni’s ridiculous mansion, Steve wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, tomato stained apron and all.

“I heard you and Thor went on an extended lunch break,” she says, waving half a meatball on her fork before popping it in her mouth. Steve wonders if Toni has some intern whose only job is sending her gossip articles about what Steve is doing at any given moment.

“It’s sort of impressive, up to a point,” Steve explains. “Then it’s horrifying and then it sort of cycles back around to impressive. If I’d had more cash on me and we’d kept going- which, I assure you, Thor was all for- I’m sure I’d have come back around through horrified and impressed again.”

Toni laughs. “We should enter him in the hotdog eating contest this summer,” Toni suggests.

Steve laughs. “Probably against the rules to put a demigod up against Joe Schmoe,” he points out.

Toni sighs, but she’s smiling. “Maybe we can just sell him to the circus,” she counters.

“Thor would love the circus,” Steve agrees. Thor would probably make great friends with all the animals with the ability to kill a grown man.

Toni goes in for seconds- as does Steve, both of them thoroughly stuffed by the time they admit defeat. Because Steve doesn’t know how to cook for any less than 10 people, there’s still roughly half of it left over. Between the two of them and Jarvis, they manage to find some take home containers that Toni puts in the fridge with a stern reminder to Jarvis to make sure they’re diverted to Toni’s fridge at Stark Tower.

“Why would you possibly want to live there when you could live here?” Steve finds himself asking, up to his elbows in suds. Toni had offered to let a cleaning service do the dishes, but Steve couldn’t abide by it.

She pauses for a second. “Well, it’s convenient there, but honestly… I don’t have a lot of good memories of this house.” She shrugs it off. “A lot of stiff parties where I was expected to come downstairs for ten minutes, look nice in a party dress and go back upstairs to the nursery.”

Steve is loathe to ask her to show him around it all of a sudden, even strangely glad he hadn’t made Jarvis show him around earlier.

“I thought you’d like it, though. Someone should,” Toni swings her feet back and forth from her perch on the counter, nominally drying.

“It’s very beautiful,” Steve agrees. “But that’s not what matters about a house.”

The expression on Toni’s face is indecipherable. “No, it’s not. A bunch of people asked- after my parents died- if I wanted to use it as an art gallery. The Stark Collection, or something. All the art my mother had bought, something like that. I don’t know why I told them no.” Toni sounds too composed, too objective.

“You still could,” Steve points out. “I’m sure they would never refuse the space.”

Toni thinks about it for a second and shakes her head. “Nope,” she says, huffing out a little laugh. “Still can’t do it. It’s just-“ Toni wavers on the edge of a confession. “I just- when I walk into some of these rooms, I swear I can still smell her perfume.” Toni laughs again, helplessly. “That has to be the stupidest reason to hold on to a multi-million dollar piece of New York real estate, but-“ She takes a plate and ineffectually wipes at it with the towel.

“It’s not stupid, Toni,” Steve says. He knows to avoid Howard in conversation, but he has no idea what to do with Maria.

She shakes her head. “It is,” she contradicts him with a smile. “But thank you for trying to make me feel better about it.”

“Anyway, so your spaghetti,” she segues them quickly and Steve can’t bring himself to change the subject back. “I’m thinking you make it for me every day for about forever.”

“Sure,” Steve says easily. “You don’t eat enough.”

Toni rolls her eyes. “Yeah, thanks Jarvis,” Toni teases. “But we should do this again.” Steve feels the corners of his mouth pull up into a smile, because this is it, this is what he’s been waiting for. “Next time, we’ll butcher a small village of animals and we’ll invite the whole terrible bunch. Team building would be infinitely more tolerable if we were all eating and didn’t have to talk to each other.”

That was not was Steve was waiting for at all.

Jarvis, seemingly reluctantly, tells Toni that there is an urgent matter at the office requiring her attention. Toni rolls her eyes and idly fights with Jarvis about whether she really has to go before acquiescing, taking the leftover containers of spaghetti with her.

“I’m sorry about this, Steve, rain check? I’ll let you poke around the old pile of bricks to your heart’s content.” Toni promises, pulling her suit jacket back on and flipping her hair out from under the collar. She’s out the door half a second later before Steve can say anything.

Steve finishes the dishes, because it’s not right to leave a job half done and because it gives him time to think.

Toni is a smart woman, who could and should have her pick of the guys. Steve can’t be the first guy to try to date her. If the distasteful floral arrangements are anything to go by, anyway. The point is she has to know that he wants to be with her. Steve couldn't be any more obvious, between the baseball game and the dinner, which means, by not saying anything, she’s letting him down easy. Steve sighs.

He’d really thought that he and Toni might have had something more, but it can be enough- being teammates, being friends. It would be unkind for Steve to keep pushing her for anything else.

He puts the last of the dishes in the drying rack, resolved and a little resigned.

“Well, that’s done.”



PART 4.

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