So here’s the promised Steve/Tony fic. This is Part 1. Edit: part 2 here.
You Can’t Replace Love
It was the first time since they’d gotten together that Tony had allowed Steve into his bedroom. Every time Steve had asked before then, he’d been met by Tony closing up and becoming cagey, followed by Tony running away to the lab for hours. It had taken months of careful planning and subtle prying to finally get to this moment. Steve couldn’t say he was let down.
Upon opening the door Steve had been shocked at just how untidy the younger teen’s room was. It was as if a bomb had gone off: books of all kinds—the majority of them being mechanics and upper level biochemistry and biotechnology textbooks—were strewn about the floor haphazard, clothes were piled in corners and hanging from every available hook. The bed was unmade with the sheets bundled at the foot in a pile and a knitted blanket, fraying at the edges, was neatly folded (the only neat thing about the room) by the pillow, shelves filled with all sorts of memorabilia and knickknacks covered the walls and model airplanes (and some cars) hung from the ceiling at regular intervals. The desk in the corner, though neater than the rest of the room but still riddled with scorch marks and coffee rings, held a massive computer monitor; it was so large that it was as wide as the desk—nearly three feet wide—and stood about two feet up the wall. There was no keyboard.
“Wow,” Steve breathed, afraid to break the manic silence of the room.
Tony, having walked in before him and sat himself in his desk chair, just looked sheepish and, Steve noted, was blushing furiously. “Yeah, I’m, uh, not so good at the ‘keeping my space clean and organized’ bit… um, sorry. I never really had to deal with that like you did, or well, ever. Comes with growing up as an only child to a famous billionaire who’s too busy working to care about his son—oh,” he added as an afterthought, “and having a butler who cleans up after you helps.”
It still struck Steve that Tony’s childhood had been so lonely and miserable, especially when the public perception—one that Tony had helped create—was that Howard Stark was a loving and attentive father. Tony’s real adolescence was so opposite to everything Steve had ever been led to believe about the famous billionaire and his son that it never really reconciled itself in his head, remaining two separate entities: two separate lives for Tony, one loving and one miserable. It was hard to tell which was which sometimes, with the show Tony put on for everyone.
Steve felt like there should have been something more he needed to say about
Tony’s room but he couldn’t think of anything to say except, “Wow,” again. His jaw had dropped to the floor and remained there.
“You said that already,” Tony replied, snarky, as usual. “Let’s move on to the big-boy words, please.” He smiled mischievously, knowing Steve would understand that he (mostly) wasn’t mocking his boyfriend.
This snapped Steve out of his trance. “Oh, sorry,” he said, embarrassed. “It’s just—Jesus, Tony, I’ve never seen anything like it.” Steve saw the snappy retort about ‘the way his mama raised him’ that was about to come out of Tony’s mouth and stopped him with a quick hand gesture. “No, I mean, it just looks so…so lived in. It’s so Tony.”
The younger’s man’s eyes narrowed. “Thanks? I think.”
This time, it was Steve who blushed. “It’s not a bad thing…” Tony didn’t make a retort; Steve took that as a good sign. He walked across the room to the knickknack shelf and perused it while Tony rambled on about the lab work he’d been doing recently; he always rambled when he was nervous. Steve, being an art major, had no idea what any of his boyfriend’s technical language meant, but he always found the buzz from Tony’s voice to be soothing and let him talk; Tony would just continue talking anyway, even if Steve asked him to stop. Tony was one of those people who could talk and listen and work all at the same time; he assumed everyone else could do the same. They didn’t call Tony a child genius for nothing.
The room, overall, seemed neglected, which wasn’t surprising considering this was Tony’s room. If he wasn’t working, he was usually passed out drunk or at his work station. Steve had even found him asleep on the stairs leading up to his student apartment one time. Tony had denied it fervently afterwards, but Steve had the photographic evidence. Anyway, Tony’d never been one for such ‘meaningless trivialities’, as he put it. He spent too much time in his lab or in his workroom building and creating to notice the smaller things in life.
The thing that bothered Steve about it, though, was the fact that the state of Tony’s room spoke volumes about the state of his upbringing: both neglected, unloved and untidy, left for someone else to clean up and take care of, both shuffled away to make room for work. The only well-used spaces in Tony’s room were his desk and his bed. Even then, they were still disorganized and neglected, given the numerous coffee rings and the ominous scorch marks. Steve could only hazard a guess at what had caused those; he hoped they were caused by his experiments, and nothing more.
Steve came back over to where Tony was still seated in his desk chair, watching him as if Steve was going to balk and run away at any moment. Tony did that a lot: assumed everyone he cared about was just going to up and leave at any moment. Steve was on a mission to prove him wrong; he’d stayed, through good and bad for the better part of two years, now. Though they’d only been dating for about the last four months of that time. Steve sat down on Tony’s bed, facing him.
“Can I ask you something?”
Tony stopped rambling about superconductors and arc reactor technology and suddenly looked wary, but obliged him. “Yes.”
“What’s most important to you in this room?” Steve spoke slowly, carefully. He knew ‘touchy-feely emotion-y’ (Tony’s expression) conversations were difficult for Tony; in fact, he just avoided them completely with everyone who wasn’t Steve. Pepper and Rhodey, no matter how hard they’d tried over the years, had never gotten Tony to open up the way Steve could. Neither of them knew why Steve was the exception.
Tony, who was always thinking about sixteen different things in sixteen different ways in the most frenzied manner Steve had ever seen, seemed to stop for a moment to process. Steve liked to believe he was teaching Tony how to slow down and pay attention to the problem at hand; he was starting to see it was working. “Um, well, my computer? For obvious reasons.” He suddenly switched from public-Tony to the Tony he only allowed out when it was just him and Steve alone, “And that, uh, blanket next to you.” Tony pointed at the dying blanket next to Steve weakly, trying to avoid the emotion by shying away from it as much as possible. As if Steve would somehow not notice the only thing in his room that seemed actually cherished and loved by Tony.
Steve fingered the soft fabric. It was old and had a horrid looking pattern, actually no particular ‘pattern’ seemed to take shape on the blanket, it was just blocks and blotches of random colors knitted together. Though it lacked a stylish pattern, it did not lack love. “Why?”
“My…” Tony stopped. He paused for a moment. “My mom made it for me. Back when she was still alive.” His voice grew very quiet, “It’s the only thing I have left of her.”
They both fell silent for a time.
The screen on Tony’s computer monitor kicked to life, then, and pinged. “One sec.” Tony glanced at the message and typed something quickly onto the desk. Steve didn’t understand how he was typing without a keyboard. Tony turned back towards Steve.
“How do you do that?”
“Oh,” Tony looked surprised, like no one had ever asked before. “Virtual keyboard. Computer displays a hologram onto the wood and tracks my finger movements. It’s part of my new A.I. I can do it with writing too, if I’m holding a pen or something, but I usually just type.”
“That’s awesome,” Steve blurted.
“Thanks.” Tony’s face suddenly turned embarrassed. “I’m sorry; something’s come up with school and I need to go into the lab for a bit. You can come with? Or, I don’t think I’ll be long, but,” he stopped. Both of them knew how that sentence ended: you know how I can lose track of time. Tony still didn’t understand why Steve liked watching him work, didn’t understand the allure of watching someone do something you don’t understand and know you can’t do for hours at a time. Steve just told him it was an artist thing.
Steve smiled. “I’ll come.”
“I’m sorry the tour has to end so quickly,” Tony sounded legitimately upset at this; Steve had expected sarcasm. This was entirely new for Tony, being the stoic and snarky child-prodigy, he rarely allowed himself to put any emotion aside from bravado into anything he said to anyone, but this was Steve. With Steve, everything was different; his usual snark didn’t apply.
“Next time,” Steve said as they walked out into the hallway. He pulled Tony’s hand into his own as they went down the stairs out to his motorcycle. Tony’s smile widened.