Disclaimer: All television shows, movies, books, and other copyrighted material referred to in this work, and the characters, settings, and events thereof, are the properties of their respective owners. As this work is an interpretation of the original material and not for-profit, it constitutes fair use. Reference to real persons, places, or events are made in a fictional context, and are not intended to be libelous, defamatory, or in any way factual.
Author's Note: Written for the prompt "Steve's not the most experienced guy or just isn't a very good kisser. So I'd like one of the Starks (I'd be perfectly content with Howard or Tony) to help him out by offering to teach him a thing or two" on the Cap Kink Meme.
1: on the kind of night where you want to be out
He's on his sixth sketch of Steve's new uniform when he realizes he won't be getting anything else done today. It's not that he's stuck in a rut - he has a USO poster, stained with watered down coffee and folded over in one corner, and Steve's own doodles to help him fulfill a war hero's request - but that he keeps drawing Steve's upper body and then including the signature star and a dash of colors as an afterthought.
He can't help it; he may thrive on progress and the nonstop evolution of technology, but he can't stop marveling at the perfection Dr. Erskine managed to achieve with the human body. And it's because he can't stop marveling, or expressing his admiration on paper because who said inventors couldn't also be artists, that he decides to close shop early. He can't perform at his very best when he's distracted, and General Phillips and the war demand nothing but the best.
"Boys," he says to the two assistants still with him in the lab. "I think we've done enough for today. Take the rest of the night off and come back tomorrow at seven."
"Are you sure, Mr. Stark?" Jamie asks while George immediately starts putting away Morita's modified radio kit.
"When was the last time you went out for a drink without the Nazis dropping bombs on your head?"
The ringing silence is answer enough. Quickly the assistants tidy up the workplace and help Howard stow away the skeleton of a motorcycle. They're obviously eager to get out tonight; everyone's still basking in the glow of Steve's incredible success and sirens haven't gone off even once in the last ten hours. It's a good mood, a swell mood, the kind that tells you to relax and live a little.
Howard shuffles the loose leafs into a manageable stack on his desk and then looks up when he hears something vibration-absorbing hit a work table.
"Leave that there," he says and George puts down the round half-painted shield. Jamie is at the door, waiting.
"Will that be all, Mr. Stark?" George asks as he pulls on his jacket.
"Yes-wait." He frowns at the three bent slugs on the desk next to the stacks of sketches and layouts. "Either of you know where Steve would be right now?"
"Captain America?" Jamie says. "Well, I don't know where he would be but a lot of folks go to the Whip and Fiddle Pub after hours, when there isn't a bomb raid."
"Huh. Okay." He picks up a slug and rubs his thumb over the flattened head, recalling the rapid thunks as each bullet hit the shield and fell to Steve's feet. He's jerked out of his reverie when someone politely clears his throat and realizes his assistants are still in the lab. "Yes, that is all."
They're gone in the blink of an eye, leaving Howard to contemplate the slug in his hand and the sketch on top of the pile that's less a study of how the new uniform will look on Steve and more how Steve looks as himself.
The Whip and Fiddle Pub is smoky, crowded, and full of soldiers and the more daring members of the local working class. Howard may be wearing the closest approximation to civilian dress that's in his portable wardrobe and isn't smudged with grease but he still feels overdressed. He doesn't even know what he's doing here, which is something that doesn't ever happen. Being uncertain and hesitant isn't something he does very often, but here he is, wedging himself into the pub as a trio of cheerfully tipsy American soldiers show themselves out.
It's the raucous singing that draws his attention first and he gets a glimpse of a dingy bowler hat, but before he can move towards it he sees Sergeant Barnes talking to a very pretty lady next to the piano. Howard starts in that direction, bumping elbows with people he otherwise wouldn't, but he gets as far as three feet across before the drunken choir at the table in the middle of the establishment abruptly stop serenading and start shouting for more beer. Howard stops walking as well when he sees Steve stand up and start forging a path to the bartender; he's at least half a head taller than everybody else in the room and with that head of blond hair he's like a lighthouse.
This is when he realizes that he's here because he wants to talk to Steve. About his uniform and his shield and the equipment for his hand-picked team and the motorcycles and the strange element he snatched up at the HYDRA base and Peggy and perhaps a more thorough explanation about fondue... someone bumps into him, jolting him out of his speeding thoughts. He kneads his temple, takes a deep breath, and berates himself as he follows the moving lighthouse to the bar.
"...five beers," Steve says to the flabbergasted man behind the bar. "Wait...hey Bucky!"
Barnes, Howard notes, is making a beeline for the door while still talking with the woman. Steve hasn't noticed yet so Howard decides to spare him the embarrassment and taps him on the shoulder.
"We're in a pub, just call me Howard." He leans on the polished counter and takes a good look at the super soldier. Steve doesn't look as tipsy as Howard expected him to be. In fact he looks very sober, and Howard thinks back on some of the things Erskine said were possible side effects of the serum. "Come here often?"
"When I'm not needed," Steve says. He nods to the group at the table in the middle. "Just getting to know them a little more before we head out." He bites his bottom lip and Howard finds that very distracting. "Are you...here about something I requested? I know we don't have much time so if it's too much work you don't have to-"
"Too much work?" Howard chuckles, shaking his head. "There's never too much work for me. I'm married to it, remember? Besides, I'm not here about that."
"I'm just here to get some fresh air and have a drink," Howard says. He puts a reassuring hand on Steve's arm because the kid - He's not that much younger than me. - still looks anxious. "So, what're you having?"
"I-what? Oh, uh, water. Just water."
Steve smiles tentatively and he's suddenly seeing the scrawny 90-pound recruit climbing onto the massive contraption in the underground Brooklyn lab. "I could but it's better that I don't. Besides-" He glances at his men again. "-I need to keep an eye on these guys-"
"Hey, Captain!" one of the men bellows. It's Dugan, with the bowler hat. "Where's the beer!"
"In a minute, fellas!"
Steve looks at Howard apologetically and he shrugs, says, "I can wait."
He'll never admit to enjoying seeing Steve continue to look confused as he nods, orders five pints of beer, and carefully carries the tray over to his men. The bartender gives Howard a pointed look and politely coughs, and he starts, dragging his eyes away from Steve to say, "He'll have water. I'll have a Between the Sheets."
"Between the Sheets. It's one part brandy, one part rum, one part Cointreau..." Right. He's at a pub, not an upscale bar. "I'll have a beer."
Steve returns just as the bartender sets down a glass of lukewarm water and a pint of beer. "Sorry about that. Dugan said he'd join my team if I opened up a tab."
"Well that's one way to get someone on your side," Howard says, sliding the water towards him. "Here."
The beer, though watery, is quite passable. He still drains the entire glass in one go just to get it out of the way. He rubs the booze out of his moustache and looks up to see Steve raising a questioning eyebrow. "Tried to order a Between the Sheets-" He tries not to laugh when Steve chokes on his water. "-but that didn't go well. Beer's not my drink of choice, but I'm not feeling up to walking across town to find a bar."
Good question. There's a hotel not too far from here where people with money dare to gather to drink and forget that they're living in a version of Hell, but he walked in here instead. "Well for one I'd like to be close to my lab if and when the Nazis decide to drop some bombs on us again. Two, I just like the company here."
There's a red flush on Steve's face that isn't a trick of the smoky light because it wasn't there a second ago and isn't the beer because Steve's sober. Howard holds back the inevitable inquisitive frown and instead turns his head to ask the bartender for another beer. His heart's racing, though, and it's with that uncomfortable uncertainty he has around the few men who pique his interest.
Maybe if he'd been born in a time far into the future he wouldn't have to conceal his attraction to men. It irks him that he can't just flaunt it with the men and women who make him lose focus on his beloved work. But this is the time he has been born into, forcing him to redirect his charm and test the waters first because the one thing he can't do is get friendly with someone who might start talking. He's learned to read people, men and women alike, picking out those who either don't care or reciprocate. He can't get a read on Steve, though, and he's not sure why. Maybe because he's so earnest...and so hopeless, especially around women named Peggy Carter.
"So," he says while the bartender slides over a new pint. "What happened this morning to make Agent Carter use live rounds on you?"
The red flush only gets redder. Fascinatingly enough it travels down Steve's neck and underneath the collar of his uniform. Howard only looks up when Steve shifts uncomfortably and says, "I might have...well, see, I told her a few years ago that I'd never gone dancing before, let alone talk with a lady-a woman for more than a minute. Said I was..." He hems and haws, pressing his lips together and then rubbing them in embarrassment. "I was waiting for the right partner. To dance with, I mean.
"Then last night she came here and we talked about that. And about the equipment you wanted me to take a look at. I went in this morning and-" Now he's turning beet red, and he's fidgeting. "General Phillips' secretary...might've...kissed me."
Howard laughs. "And let me guess - she saw you and decided you already found your dance partner."
"It wasn't like that! It just...happened. And then, you know, I said that thing."
Steve covers his face with his hand. "That thing about you and Peggy and fondue."
Howard laughs as he finishes off his second pint of beer. "You don't know much about it, do you?"
"How to talk to women?"
"That, too." He tries to wipe the taste of beer out of his mouth and then decides he should probably wash it down with another glass. "So, what do you know about wooing them?"
Steve looks at him carefully. "Not...much..."
"You must've learned a thing or two from your pal."
"Bucky? Well, he tried but nobody wanted to be around someone they could step on." Steve's shoulders slumps as he stares at his glass of water, and Howard mentally kicks himself. "Then I turn into this and suddenly everyone's interested in me. I just never had the time to look."
"Or learn." The bartender sets another beer in front of him. "Thanks."
When he looks up from the froth and the rim of the glass Steve's staring at him. "Something on my moustache?"
"No," Steve says a little too quickly. "How do I get on her good side again? I don't-I don't want her to get the wrong impression of me."
"Buddy, I think she has a very good impression of you," he says reassuringly. "From what she told me you jumped on a dummy grenade instead of away from it. You should've seen her face.
"But," he continues, "there's a difference between making a good first impression as a person and making a good first impression as a possible date. First, you need be confident. Not that you aren't, considering what you just did a couple weeks ago, but from what I hear you get flustered around women. It might work on some, might not work on others. Gotta get a read on them and act to their expectations."
"I thought she liked me just as I am," Steve says.
"True." Howard strokes his chin. "Well, what's done is done and nobody can change that. All you can do is show her that you care about her. And not the way gentlemen care. She's a field agent; she had to fight her way to get this far. So what you gotta do is respect her, impress her, but don't make any grand gestures. Don't make yourself too obvious."
"I thought you said women were unpredictable. How do you...?"
"Most women are, until you've been around them a couple months to a couple years," Howard says. "The jumping on the dummy grenade was good, but let's not repeat that."
"Let's not," Steve agrees readily.
"Maybe...we're thinking small, so maybe you carry around a small keepsake to remind you of her. Like a small photograph."
His eyes light up and Howard momentarily forgets to breathe. Then they dim and it's like all the joy has been sucked out of the pub. "I don't have one of her."
"I do," he hears himself say. "In my lab."
At the look on Steve's face he hastily adds, "We were not fonduing. I promise."
The pub is a little warm. It's possibly all the people crowded in such a small space. It's possibly the beer. It's possibly how his heart keeps thudding in his chest. He tugs at the collar of his shirt as he considers getting some air and then notices that Steve's staring at his throat. It's quick, eyes flicking down and then away but there's a second or two in between and it makes Howard wonder.
"So," he begins as nonchalantly as possible, "what do you know about kissing?"
Steve spills water all over the counter. He then knocks over the glass as he tries to both evade the spreading puddle and mop it up with his sleeve, and Howard catches it before it rolls off the bar. The bartender's on the scene a second later, brushing Steve off and soaking it up with a stained rag.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to, it was an accident," Steve says and Howard decides he quite likes this naturally flustered man.
The bartender just keeps waving him off as he wipes down the counter and leaves. Howard grins at Steve, who rubs the back of his neck and awkwardly clears his throat. Before he can say anything Dugan appears, along with the rest of Steve's team.
"Since you're busy here we thought we should inform you that we'll be heading back," Dugan says. "Evening, Mr. Stark."
"And you." He has a thought, gestures to all five soldiers, and adds, "Why don't you boys come by the lab at eleven, test out your new equipment?"
The Frenchman - Dernier, his mind supplies - says something to Jones, who laughs and says, "He said he'll make his own bombs, thanks."
"If you insist, but I'm sure you'll appreciate what I came up with to help you with that. Eleven o'clock, sharp. Just making sure everything's ready to go before the good general ships you out."
Howard focuses on what must be his fourth beer - his fifth? - while Steve talks with his team. Once they're gone he swings his attention back to Steve and very casually says, "So."
"You mean the, uh, kissing, right?"
"That's right." Howard leans on the counter and props his head up because it's feeling a little heavy right now. He pushes aside the beer even though he's only halfway done. "You ever kiss a woman?"
Is it just him or are Steve's lips really, really pink? He squints a bit, eyes trained on the plush bottom lip while Steve stares up at the ceiling. "Well, uh, I did. Twice. I was ten and it was on accident."
He quirks an eyebrow and Steve blushes again. "And then this morning. I wasn't trying to-she was insistent. And she kept, uh, kept...trying to put her tongue in my mouth."
Howard can't stop laughing.