the last touchdown 6/?
Marvel || Steve/Tony, Various || PG-13
When Steve returns to his dorm room, Natasha is kicking Clint and Maria’s asses in Mario Kart.
"That was fast," Maria comments without glancing from the flat screen television, poker-faced, at the same time as Pepper, who is perched neatly upon Clint’s cheap swivel chair, asks, "How did it go?"
Steve can’t help the smile that spreads across his face. He knows that the helpless and broad beaming looks a little dumb—Bucky had always called it ‘The Sharon Face’ back in high school, but that was before he and Sharon had a falling out, before he joined the military, and before he met Sam—but Steve doesn’t duck his head in embarrassment to hide it, like he used to. Instead, he lets the expression grow until it hurts his cheeks and breathes, “It was fantastic.”
Out of the corner of Steve’s eye, he sees Yoshi drive right off the Rainbow Road.
"Come on, man!" Clint cries as he throws his controller onto his bed. "You don’t have to give us all the gory details!"
"Details are essential for the successful completion of our mission," Natasha interjects. Her character, Bowser, crosses the finish line with nearly half-a-lap lead. She sets her own racing wheel down and raises a perfectly sculpted eyebrow at Clint. "Did they teach you nothing in spy school?"
"The only classes I didn’t sleep through were Cool Gadgets and Their Uses and Femme Fatale 101.”
"Is that why we’re playing espionage with Tony?" Maria asks as she finishes the race behind Natasha. Her grin is quietly amused, but the mirth is more shark-like than kind. "Because he’s the enemy?"
"Only if Steve is James Bond." Clint drags his eyes from up from Steve’s brown shoes to the tips of his short hair. Then, in a terrible and droll English accent, he inquires, "You haven’t slept with the enemy again, have you Mr. Bond?"
Natasha plucks Clint’s pillow from the bed and hits him with it. Clint roars like a dying rhino, unnecessarily loud and over-dramatic in the small confines of their dorm, before pretending to fall over dead. Nonchalant, Natasha tosses the pillow atop his corpse.
"Anthony Stark isn’t a poorly disguised double entendre for something sexual, so I doubt Mr. Bond and he have done the horizontal tango," Pepper interjects.
"It takes two to tango." Maria tucks a strand of hair that has escaped her high ponytail behind her ear. "And I think we all know how eager Tony is to tango."
Pepper’s mouth quirks downwards into a frown, just as Steve splutters, “I wouldn’t!”, his voice rising dangerously on the second syllable and cracking tragically.
Four sets of eyes turn to Steve. Unfortunately, this is when his hindbrain conjures the image of Tony spread out on the indulgent and expensive rug in his dorm, every inch of his olive skin bare and his eyes fever-bright. It makes Steve panic because, even though he’s fairly certain no one can read his mind, he can feel the guilty blush burn his cheeks. Perhaps this is why he blurts, “You can’t have sex in just ten minutes!”
Somewhere, someplace, a cricket lets out a single, awkward chirp.
“Jesus," Clint blasphemes loudly from the floor. His laughter punches out of him as he rolls onto his side and clutches his sides. "Oh—oh god—what are you even—I can’t—”
"Don’t be an asshole," Natasha says, and digs her toes viciously into Clint’s ribs.
Steve can feel the heat in his cheeks multiply and creep into his ears and down his neck. He isn’t ashamed of his sexuality or inexperienced—it’s been ages since he and Sharon learned their way around their bodies in the bed of her pick-up truck, and he and Sam had been together for almost two years—but he always seems to revert to his scrawny, uncertain sixteen-year-old self when confronted by genuine affection. The misunderstanding makes Steve want to explain what he really meant; he wants to tell his small audience that his first time with Tony would never, could never, be contained by ten miniscule minutes. If Steve ever had the chance to be with Tony so intimately, he would damn well take his time.
"It’s not you I was worried about," Pepper reassures Steve as Natasha jumps off her chair and proceeds to smother Clint’s continual snickering with the discarded pillow. Clint wriggles as helplessly as a fish on dry land beneath Natasha’s ninja assault. "It’s just that Tony has never been… frugal with his physical affections."
"He’s a giant man-whore," Maria translates, snorting contemptuously. Pepper puts her hand on Maria’s shoulder and levels her with an exasperated and tired stare—Steve wonders how often they argue about Tony—but Maria simply shrugs, unapologetic.
It takes a few minutes for the five of them to settle down and regroup. Steve belatedly remembers his manners and offers the girls whatever he and Clint have in the mini-fridge. Pepper takes a Diet Coke while Maria and Natasha gleefully split Clint’s last Red Bull. Having relocated from the floor to his bed, Clint mutters something about nepotism as he grabs a bag of pretzel sticks.
"I still maintain that we should give this bad boy a top-secret code name," Clint drawls thoughtfully. He is holding one of the pretzel sticks between his two fingers as though it were a cigarette, and stares at the ceiling in deep contemplation. "And, as I am the person who brought our merry band together, I say I should have the privilege—nay, the honor!—of deciding what exactly that code name should be."
"Your code names were contrived at best, Robin Hood," Natasha scoffs.
"He told you them?” exclaims Steve.
Natasha turns to Steve and deadpans, “He made a list.”
"Oh god," Steve mutters. It’s all he can do to keep from putting his head in his hands.
"They were brilliant!" Clint cries dramatically, shaking his faux cigarette at them in indignation. "Why am I friends with you two again? All you do is put me down and tell me no!"
"The point of codename, Clint, is to refer to the mission without disclosing the objective to anyone who could be listening," Natasha says, rattling off the sentence with such speed and irritation that Steve wonders how often she’s repeated herself since she gave Clint Pepper’s number. Knowing Clint, the answer was probably a lot. "Your suggestions were neither subtle nor concise."
"Hey!" Clint objects, even though he wears a roguish smile. "I thought Operation: Get Tony Stark To—"
“We are not talking about this!" Steve all but shouts.
"—was pretty damn concise." Clint’s cat-who-got-the-canary expression melts under the heat of Steve, Natasha, and Pepper’s identical glares. (Maria is pointedly sipping the Red Bull in a pointed attempt to not laugh. Steve is beginning to think she prefers toxic mold to Tony.) Clint makes a face and continues, "So, what are we just supposed to give the mission a random name. Like, like, I don’t know, Operation…"
Clint’s eyes roll around their small, tidy room, flickering past the hamper filled with dirty clothes, over the bookshelf built into the wall about their conjoined desks, to the lone, thrift shop coffee mug Steve had left sitting on the top of the mini-fridge.
This is how ‘Operation: Tea Cup’ gets unfortunate name.
While Clint grouses ruefully about Operation: Tea Cup’s new name to Natasha and Maria—both of whom are too amused by Clint’s ire to consider changing it—Steve tells Pepper about his short visit with Tony. He talks about Tony’s tiredness, his standing invitation, and the chicken noodle soup. Steve gets a smile for the latter, which he already knows is the highest non-verbal form of praise Pepper gives.
"I just want to do this right," Steve confesses softly. He doesn’t care how he sounds to Maria or Natasha; Pepper will understand. "It’s been a long time since I felt so strongly for someone."
Briefly, Steve thinks about Sharon and her welcoming touch, about Sam and his quick laugh. He had loved both of them intensely and though neither had worked out, for very different reasons, he missed their companionship. He wanted that with Tony—possibly even for the rest of his life.
"If you can get Tony to eat something and remember there’s a world outside of his lab, then I am at your complete disposal." Pepper places one of her small hands on Steve’s arm. It’s a comforting gesture that brings Steve out of his melancholic musings, and Steve smiles gratefully. "Now, what ideas do you have for your next plan of attack?"
Clint starts to shout, “Roger him, Rogers—” before Natasha can, once again, stifle his nonsense. Even though Steve has had two serious partners and had been a Marine for six years, Clint (and Bucky) has the unfortunate ability to make Steve blush like he was still fifteen and helplessly in love with the head cheerleader.
"I was thinking more along the lines of Pepino’s," Pepper deadpans.
The group spends the next half hour planning several dates. Pepper strikes out the idea of taking Tony down to the city and visiting a museum, but endorses the coffee date.
"Just be prepared to pay for a few cups," Pepper warns him. "And don’t let Tony drink more than three. He gets a little strange when he has too much caffeine and not enough sleep."
Pepper also gives him several other phone numbers: James Rhodes, Bruce Banner, and Carol Danvers. She promises to text each of them with details and assures Steve that he can, and probably will, have to text each one of them at some point. When they finish, Clint makes them gather in a circle and put a hand in, as though the hour they spent together was a bad team exercise.
"On three," Clint says, pumping the collect mass of hands up and down. "One, two, three—"
"Operation: Tea Cup!"
chapter five: in which carol gives good advice