There were many ways in which blindness could be a pain in the ass. Tony was no stranger to any of them. He could get along pretty well for the most part, and when he really absolutely had to, he turned to his PA, Pepper Potts. Grocery shopping, he'd insisted, was not one of these cases. He could recognize most of the foodstuff he bought by touch, but now, standing at the frozen goods section, which he could tell by the smell and the low hum of the refrigerators, he faced a difficult issue. The frozen dinners came in identical containers, and he loathed to get the wrong ones. Again.
"Excuse me," Tony said as he heard shuffling footsteps approaching. "Could you get me the Roasted Sesame Chicken? It's the green healthy choice with the broccoli and mushroom." The stranger didn't answer, but Tony assessed he was heard, and he figured there was some confusion as to why he'd requested this, so he touched the dark sunglasses perched on his nose. "I can't really tell them apart by touch." He explained.
Even without being too close to the stranger, Tony could register a sudden inhale of breath. "Oh, I'm sorry, let me get it for you." The young man's voice was earnest, a pleasant, if somewhat startled baritone. The door beside them opened. And then closed. And then opened again. Tony counted seven repetitions before the frozen package was shoved in his hands. He grasped it for a moment, surprised, then smiled slightly.
"Thank you, uh..."
"It's Steve." The voice provided.
"Steve." Tony said, testing the name on his lips with a smile. "I'm Tony." Tony said, holding out his hand for a shake. There was a beat of hesitation, or at least, Tony waited a few seconds. He heard three quick, shallow breaths, and then a warm hand fitted itself into his own. He received a rather mechanical three-shakes handshake, after which the hand disappeared, and the sound of a cap opening followed. He tilted his head at the sound, curiosity piqued. "Huh."
"I'm- I…" Steve said, sounding breathless, like he'd been punched or like his lungs aren't getting enough oxygen in them, but Tony didn't let him retreat just yet.
"Hey, Steve-" He reached forward, touching nothing but air, but he knew Steve was still there. "Can I touch your face?" And Steve, who was probably still calculating a way to squirm out of the situation with his dignity intact, paused. Tony couldn't even hear him breathing.
"What?!" Was all Steve managed to let out, and it was enough for Tony to detect shock, disbelief, and a hint of disgust in that tone. He shoved aside his knee-jerk self-hating instinctive response.
"To know what you look like. I can't… I have to touch."
Steve didn't answer right away, but Tony could tell this silence was more contemplative than panicked, he considered it a win. When Steve spoke next, Tony was surprised, but in hindsight he figured, he shouldn't have been.
"Are your hands clean?"
"I can't really wash them around here…" Tony answered, a little affronted. He dumped the frozen dinner in the shopping cart he had with him and tried reaching out for Steve again, or where he assumed he was.
"sanitary hand gel." Steve said, and Tony was momentarily confused, until instead of a person, he suddenly had a handful of gel.
"Is that gelled alcohol?" Tony asked, bewildered even as he did what any sane person would do, and rubbed his hands together before bringing them to his face to sniff. It smelt faintly antiseptic, but not unpleasant. Once the material was spread evenly, he held out his hands. "We good?"
Instead of answering, Steve took his hands and guided them towards his face. Tony took a moment before starting to trace the lines of the man's face. It was a skill he had taken a long time to refine. Losing his eyesight had been a terrible blow, but Tony was not one to give up because of a small laboratory experiment gone wrong. So he took a while, but he learned to 'see' faces with his hands. "Damn…" He said quietly. "What color are your eyes? Don't tell me. Blue. It's blue, isn't it? Are you dark blond or-" and then a delightful sound hit his ears. Steve was laughing. Tony took his hands away, to not overstay his welcome, and grinned.
"Yeah… My eyes are blue. And it's light blond, actually." Steve supplied once he settled down, the laughter helping him relax a little.
"Aww a hot blond at the grocery store! Talk about cliche." Tony said, "If only I could see…" He trailed off, still smiling despite himself, even as Steve, he noticed, had fallen silent. "Can I ask you something?"
"Why 7? And then, why 3?" He bet Steve would understand what he meant, and he was delighted to be proven right.
"It's different for human interaction and inanimate objects." Steve said after a moment, "It can't be one, two is an even number, three is still not enough. Five is half of ten, awful number. Six is even. Seven is the first one that's odd and not- bad." His breath hitched on the last word, but Tony didn't question it. He also kept from asking about four. "As for the handshake… You can't shake once, twice is even, and three is just before it goes into the unbearable-number realm. Seven would be awkward for a handshake and-"
"I like it!" Tony declared. "I like you. Will you go out with me? On a date?" The silence that followed was deafening, and Tony couldn't bear to even think about going deaf on top of everything, but he could've sworn Steve wasn't breathing at all again. He waited it out for a bit longer, but nothing followed. Tony felt the air in front of him. "Steve? Did you teleport out of here?"
"Okay." Steve answered, leaving Tony reeling for a second. He didn't know how he'd gotten from trying to get some frozen dinner to asking a random guy out on date, but he rolled with it.
"Alright!" Tony responded. Where did that enthusiasm come from? Did he have too many coffee cups today? Possibly. Probably. "So this is what we'll do," He said, fishing for his phone in his pocket.
"I can't…" Steve started saying, but Tony was already fumbling with the device.
"Hey J., you up?"
"As always, sir." the phone spoke, and Tony had a moment of joy at imagining how startled Steve must be.
"It talks." Steve said, sounding once more a combination of horrified and disgusted.
"It's my AI. I made him. Jarvis, this is Steve."
"My pleasure." The AI said.
"Steve, you can just give Jarvis your number so that I'll be able to call you and set a date." Tony urged.
For a moment there was another silence, but before Tony could ask again, Steve started speaking, giving Jarvis his phone number.
"The number has been recorded." Jarvis declared. "Will there be anything else?"
"We're good. Thanks J." Tony said, shoving the phone in his pocket even as the AI responded politely. Then, Tony turned to the direction Steve's voice had come from. "I'll call you." He said, smiling as he reached into the shopping cart and fumbled for the frozen dinner. "Thanks for the help." He said, lifting the food before waving his hand. He wasn't going to make Steve uncomfortable with touch a third time on their first meeting.
"Do you need anything else?" Steve asked, probably uncomfortable with leaving a disabled man to fend for himself, but Tony didn't take it personally.
"I can get around the store on my own, but thank you." Tony said, "I gotta get back to my workshop anyway." He added, and pulled out his phone again. "Talk to me, J. Nearest exit."