Tony Stark was in the kitchen. Which was not an unusual thing, considering the Avengers took most of their meals there instead of in the fancy, overbearing dining room reserved for special occasions. What was unusual was that Tony was cooking.
Steve cautiously entered the kitchen, looking around for any suspicious behavior. Tony could cook, of course, and did occasionally when it was just him around the Tower. But given the amount of ingredients laid out on the table, Tony looked to be making enough food for ten people. That meant something was wrong.
"Hey, Tony," he said casually, taking in all that he could just from looking at Tony's back as he moved closer. There was a tension in Tony's shoulders and a jerkiness to the chopping noises that made Steve worry.
Tony didn't even look up, but at least he wasn't tensing up more because of company. Steve took that as a good sign. "Hey, Cap," Tony said nonchalantly, putting aside the carrots to start on the onions.
Not Capsicle, ice cube, grandpa, McFly, or any other nick names and pop culture references from the insanely long list that Tony had up his sleeve. Which, granted, Tony didn't use as often as he did before, but Tony still had a thing for little pet names. The way he had said 'Cap' wasn't like his voice when he normally used nicknames. It was dull and lifeless, like a cursory greeting when he's distracted by a problem, and Steve was pretty sure that the problem wasn't keeping onion fumes away from his eyes.
Moving to lean against the counter that Tony was facing, Steve could see a whole row of neatly diced vegetables. He was almost tempted to measure them all to see how close Tony got the dimensions of each one. Steve wondered how he settled on the perfect size, or if he had just gotten carried away.
There were also four chicken breasts neatly wrapped up in plastic off to the side, waiting for whatever Tony was planning for them. Taking in the ingredients that were laid out, Steve did some mental cataloging and figured it was some kind of roast chicken? Why would Tony be making that? Even when Tony did cook, it was never anything that fancy. "What are you making?" Steve asked, not seeing any pans to put the chicken in.
"Chicken noodle soup," Tony said, dicing the onions and not meeting Steve's eyes.
Steve raised an eyebrow. That was different, though now that he could see the chicken broth half hidden on the other side of Tony, it made more sense. "Anyone sick?" Steve asked, mentally tallying who he had run into today. Bruce and Thor didn't get sick. Pepper had seemed fine when she called to ask Steve to attend a Maria Stark Foundation charity event. Maria Hill looked angry when he'd passed her in the hall, not sick. Clint was still undercover, and Natasha-
"Natasha's leg is broken," Tony stated.
Suddenly, the whole chef routine made a lot more sense. Well, Tony-sense. For normal people, this was still baffling, but Tony sometimes lived by his own warped sense of logic that one could learn to translate eighty percent of the time with a little effort according to Rhodey and Pepper, and Steve had recently been putting in that effort for reasons he was trying not to think about too hard. Steve was still working on his average, but this one was easy.
"Food won't solve everything," Steve said, his voice quiet and full of empathy.
Tony winced. At least Steve was on the right track. "Who says?" Tony asked, a slightly petulant tone in his voice.
"Most people make chicken soup when people are sick. She's not sick," Steve said, though not unkindly.
"It's supposed to be good for the soul," Tony replied, not looking up as he pushed away the onions with a few blinks to clear his eyes. Then he pulled the chicken breasts closer and started to take out the tendons.
"You don't believe in souls," Steve pointed out.
"And you do. Fancy that," Tony said, biting his lip in concentration.
Steve fell quiet for the moment. Tony still hadn't looked up at him or relaxed. His movements with the knife were jerky, but Steve couldn't tell if that was the tension or lack of practice. "It wasn't your fault," Steve said, his voice soft and carefully neutral, because dealing with Tony without making things worse was also still a work in progress for Steve.
Thankfully, Tony didn't start yelling. Unfortunately, he also didn't react, other than his lips pressing together to form a grim line.
Steve was at a loss of what to do as Tony continued to strip away the fat and tendons. He wished Sam were here. Sam always knew the right thing to say, even with prickly billionaires. "Tony-" Steve started to say as he placed a hand on Tony's back.
Tony jumped, the knife slipping through his fingers. Steve wasn't entirely sure how it happened, but suddenly there was blood on the cutting board and Tony was swearing.
Steve immediately went to grab the first aid kit which they left in the kitchen (Clint was an enthusiastic - if not very careful - cook), searching for the antiseptic. Tony would cut himself while working with the chicken, rather than the vegetables. He grabbed Tony's wrist and pulled him over to the sink, washing out the cut on his finger thoroughly.
"Sorry," Steve said, biting his lip as he kept the guilt at bay. Guilt could come after making sure Tony's finger didn't become infected.
"It's okay," Tony said, waving vaguely with his other hand after attempting to do so with the hand Steve held captive. "No problems, Cap. You're good. You don't have to-"
Steve's hand around Tony's wrist tightened for a fraction of a second before he remembered his strength. Tony didn't protest again after that, silently allowing Steve to clean and dress the cut.
Thankfully it wasn't that deep. The bleeding had already stopped and it was only the fact that Tony had been cutting chicken that was worrisome. Steve made a note to check on Tony in a few hours to make sure the finger wasn't swelling, since he doubted Tony would volunteer the information.
Afterwards, Tony merely raised his eyebrows at Steve, who looked away. "You know, I'd be more willing to believe it wasn't my fault if you believed it yourself," Tony said dryly.
Steve didn't wince, but it was a near thing. He also refused to say that this was different because he shouldn't have distracted Tony. Sometimes, he really wished Tony weren't so damn selectively perceptive. He chose to notice things at the worst times.
"There," Tony said, pulling his hand back once Steve finished. "You've done your patriotic duty to patch up a wounded team mate. You can go be heroic elsewhere."
"I..." Steve said, remembering the reason he'd sought Tony out in the first place - an empty room with crumpled papers littering the floor as a testament to his drawing skills. He had been appalled at the waste, but even more frustrated with his inability to draw even simple things, so Tony wasn't the only one having a bad day. There was a punching bag one floor down he could abuse, but Sam kept suggesting to try new things, and with Bucky still missing he just...
Steve didn't want to be alone.
Something must have shown on his face. Steve didn't like to think about what, considering that Tony wheeled around 180 degrees. "Or you could stay and, I dunno. Cut the chicken? They should be three to five centimeters. If I see any that are two or six centimeters, you're fired. But you can stay."
Steve didn't say anything, cleaning the knife and the board of Tony's blood before starting on the chicken.
Five minutes later, he was fired. "Seriously, Steve? Those are so clunky they could sink the Titanic."
"They're not that bad," Steve said, continuing to cut the chicken regardless of Tony's protests. Some people liked chunky soup. He'd seen it on the cans when he went to the supermarket.
It was surprisingly nice, cooking with Tony. He kept Tony from getting too distracted and burning things by turning up the heat too quickly, and Tony's soft humming reminded Steve he wasn't alone. Tony was not someone who stayed still very often, and Steve found himself bumping shoulders with Tony when he reached for the next ingredient more often than not.
When all was finished, Tony carefully ladled some of the soup into the bowl and Steve felt his fingers twitch. He wasn't quite willing to go back down and try drawing again. He could always go with Tony to check on Natasha and see how she was holding up.
Tony eyed him as Steve followed him into the elevator, but only sighed in response. He stood a little closer to Steve, reminding him that there was someone nearby. He wasn't alone. It was one of the things Steve loved about Tony, the fact that he was never afraid to get into his personal space. He always seemed to have a sixth sense for when Steve actually needed someone near too.
Natasha was stretched out on the couch reading when they found her. "Really? Tolstoy?" Tony said as they came in. "Isn't that a little too Red for a turncoat to read?"
Natasha didn't even look up from her book as she gave Tony the middle finger. "The common floor is upstairs, Stark," she said, though she couldn't have been too bothered since she let them come in in the first place.
"I come bearing gifts!" Tony said, the tension from earlier returning to his shoulders.
This time Natasha did look up, raising an eyebrow as she caught Steve's eye. He shrugged in return and she moved on to looking Tony over. Steve could see the mental categorizing in her eyes for a split second before it shut down into a more neutral expression. "That so?" Natasha said, putting the book down but giving no other indication of what she had planned to do about the strain in Tony's shoulders, if anything at all.
"But don't get up to greet me," Tony said, fully coming into the room as he poked at his own wound. "With your broken leg and all. You could always get a peg leg. Or is that against your ninja code?"
"KGB doesn't train ninjas, Tony," she said in exasperation, but the fondness and given name belied the words.
"Right. That's tragic back story number 458. I'll try to keep them straight, but-"
"We brought soup, if you're hungry," Steve said, earning a glare from Tony and a small upward tick of Natasha's lips.
"What kind of soup?" she asked.
"Chicken noodle. Homemade," Steve replied. While Tony was setting out the soup, she shot a look to Steve over his head. Steve nodded, a small motion Tony wouldn't notice. Some of the vegetables had been burnt, while Steve had been cutting the chicken and Tony had been paying more attention to ribbing Steve about it, but on the whole the soup was edible. Even if Steve sometimes had to sneak in some of the forgotten ingredients when Tony got ahead of himself. No bots had been involved, so the soup was okay to eat.
Steve briefly wondered how this had become his life. Seeing Tony hesitantly return Natasha's smile was worth it though. Except then she grabbed Tony's wrist and tugged hard until Tony practically tumbled on top of her. Steve immediately stepped forward to make sure Natasha didn't hurt her leg further, but he should have known she'd take that into account.
"Natasha?" Tony asked, the lack of nickname giving away his uncertainty even when his voice sounded steady.
"Thank you for the soup," she said, her arms wrapping around Tony's waist as she rested her chin on his shoulder. Steve told himself firmly that jealousy was not an emotion he should entertain, even if Tony was basically sitting in Natasha's lap.
Steve obviously hadn't done very well at hiding it though, because she raised an eyebrow at him from behind Tony as she said, "And it's not your fault, but you're forgiven anyway."
Tony tensed in her arms as she tightened them around him, and she closed her eyes when his breath hitched, a small smile on her face.
"You should eat your soup before it gets cold," Tony said, his voice tight, but he leaned into her just a little instead of pulling away.
Natasha just hummed a soft agreement. Steve felt like he was intruding on a private moment, but he couldn't bring himself to leave either.
Finally, Tony relaxed and she loosened her grip enough for Tony to wiggle out. And he did, but not as immediately as Steve had expected (and hoped, just a little, but no, he wasn't thinking about that because Natasha was already on to him and he did not need to give her more material). Tony's hands settled over Natasha's for a moment as he took a deep breath, then he stood up, fussing with the bowl of soup as he talked. "It's good for you. And for your soul. At least, that's what the internet tells me. Or were those the heartwarming stories? Whatever. It works, right?"
"It works, Tony," Natasha said, a smile threatening her lips no matter how hard she tried to stay stoic.
"Right then. It works. I'll just-" Tony said, waving his fingers. "-go now. Bye."
And with that, Tony fled the room.
Steve started to follow after him, but Natasha's soft "Wait" stopped him. He looked back to see her blowing on a spoonful of the soup. "The vegetables got a little burnt," Steve said.
Natasha shrugged. "Could have been worse," she said, and yeah, it really could have been. "He's not the most attentive when it comes to cooking, especially when he's distracted. The chicken's too chunky though, that's unusual for him."
"It's not that bad!" Steve said.
Natasha nodded. "Ah, that explains it."
All thoughts of how ridiculous both Natasha and Tony were being about his cutting skills were lost when she looked up at him with narrowed eyes. "How long?" she asked, not bothering with any interrogation techniques.
He could only guess that meant she was impatient and she knew the direct approach usually worked best with him. That didn't mean he was just going to tell her though, especially not after she insulted his chicken chunks. "How long what?"
"I can cut you with my crutches," she said dryly.
"You shouldn't bully people into answering," he said with faint disapproval. Though he should answer her before she put her threat to use and potentially hurt herself further. "About a month," he said finally, feeling the blush creep up his neck. Natasha had, admittedly, been out most of that month, but he could see her reclassifying every encounter with him since.
He didn't like the glare he found himself receiving. "I thought we were friends, Steve! A month I could have been setting you up, pushing you into him, and sending you some of his racier photoshoots, and you didn't tell me until I broke my leg. How am I supposed to be your wingman if you keep this sort of thing to yourself?"
Steve was suddenly very glad she hadn't known. Though 'racier photoshoots' were definitely relevant to his interests, knowing her, she'd have sent them at a horrible time. "I've been doing fine on my own," he said, hoping it came out sincere and not defensive.
"You haven't made a move and you're sulking."
He was not sulking. He refused to say that and let her use his denial against him. "I'm planning."
Natasha snorted, eating her soup and some how managing to let her disdain for Steve show while doing it. Steve resolutely did not pout.
"You have one week, Rogers," she said. "Then I'm bringing Clint in. And no, your wounded puppy dog eyes will not work on me. Now scram. I've got soup to eat and a Russian novel to finish."
Steve sighed at her clear dismissal, moving the rest of the soup closer so that she wouldn't have to stand if she wanted more. She pet him on the shoulder as he drew nearer, and he resisted the urge to stick his tongue out at her.
Tony would have flicked her off, but he was more mature than that. Not that he didn't love that side of Tony, no matter how much he tried to hide it under disapproval. Tony usually only acted that badly when someone had struck first, and he did it because he didn't care what they thought of him. Steve envied that a little, since as Captain America he couldn't do that. And he may or may not have a thing for Tony's grin when he'd turn around after doing something outrageous, his brown eyes positively gleaming with smugness. And how expressive Tony would get with his hands and...
Okay, maybe Natasha was right. He had a bit of a problem.
Well, he'd do something about it and soon. Maybe tonight, if he could catch Tony before dinner.
* * *
Five days later Steve still hasn't said anything. He'd do it eventually, but right now he was just going to sit at the table in the kitchen and draw. And no, he wasn't sulking because Tony had been down in his workshop all day yesterday instead of resurfacing for at least one meal. He really wasn't. Even if he had made a special dinner of Tony's favorite lasagna with a recipe he had to bribe JARVIS to hack from Tony's favorite restaurant - and he'd made sure to chop the onions and parsley in smaller pieces this time.
Probably a good thing though, Steve admitted quietly to himself. The face Thor made before the god could hide his reaction suggested that Steve needed a bit more practice at cooking lasagna.
Any thought of saying something tonight left Steve as Tony entered the kitchen in a suit and tie, looking like death had warmed over. "You okay?" Steve asked, half-rising from his seat.
Tony waved him off, slumping down into a chair across from Steve. "Just a long day arguing with idiots who want me to go back to designing weapons despite the fact we're making about the same profits as before. A little better, actually. But they seem to think more weapons would net us even more money. Because the board needs to be that much richer. Never mind morals or my reasons for stopping," he said, leaning his head against the table as anger slipped into his voice.
Steve opened his mouth to reply or possibly even offer to make Tony some dinner (his food-comfort quirk worked both ways, Steve found, and he could always pick something easier than lasagna to make) when his phone beeped cheerfully to notify him of a text.
He looked down at his phone for a moment then ignored it. Tony stared, then snorted. "Don't let me keep you from your messages. Could be a secret admirer, and you don't want to disappoint them," he said teasingly.
"It's rude to look at your phone while talking to someone," Steve replied as he punched in his unlock code. Tony would only make fun of him more if he didn't.
He didn't think when he saw the message was from Natasha. He just flicked it open before he remembered her words from earlier. Steve immediately put the phone down, feeling a blush rush across his neck to the tips of his ears. His second mistake was to meet Tony's eyes, and then to accidentally let his eyes drop to Tony's lips, and he was not going to think about Natasha's message, red sports cars, or any information Natasha might have gleaned from Pepper Potts about Tony's sex life.
"Wait, is it a secret admirer? Are they sexting you?" Tony asked, brightening up considerably.
Steve really hated Natasha. "It's nothing," he said, knowing he was going to have to come up with some kind of retaliation that wouldn't put more stress on her leg. Sadly, he doubted he could catch her sleeping, but maybe if she was distracted, he could get some revenge by drawing on her cast.
"Yeah, nothing. And that's why you're as red as a hot rod."
That really was not helping. "Just a message from Natasha," Steve said, calculating the distance from the kitchen table to the door and how likely Tony would realize the source of his discomfort in that time. Highly likely.
"And what is Natasha saying that put the red in red, white, and blue?" Tony asked.
He needed a distraction. "How are the repairs on your armor going?" he asked.
"The joints in the left leg aren't working like they should. Especially in the knees."
Wait, that actually worked?
Tony sighed, looking down at the table dejectedly. "I'm going to have to rebuild it entirely tonight. So much for normal sleep schedules."
Steve frowned, putting his phone down. "You've got some of your older suits, right? You shouldn't-"
He realized his mistake far too late. He barely saw Tony's hand darting out before his phone was stolen. He half-stood, then remembered why standing was a bad idea and quickly sat back down. "Tony," Steve said, his voice thick with disapproval.
And that was a mistake too, he realized. The disapproval had just the slightest undercurrent of fondness to it. He should have been sharper, so Tony wouldn't have taken that as a cue to continue the teasing.
"Let's see what kinky things make a national icon blush," Tony said, hacking Steve's phone with a depressingly fast amount of speed.
"Wait, Tony-" Steve said too late.
There was a mixture of hurt and confusion that was quickly replaced by a neutral expression on Tony's face. "'Pepper says he liked going down on her in his sports cars.' You got a thing for Pep, Cap?"
"No," Steve said, sinking his face down on the table for the eventual epiphany. But it never came.
He heard the smirk returning to Tony's voice as if he were back on solid ground, except he was way off the mark. "Looking for sex tips then?" Tony asked, and Steve felt like he should be grateful that Tony was so very dense. "Why didn't you say so? I've got plenty of those. The lucky girl won't even know what hit her. You don't have to get second hand tips from Natasha, buddy. Seriously, it's all in the tongue."
Actually, no. This was an all-new level of hell.
Steve was not going to admit to the sound he just made. In fact, he was quite happy to just never look up again from where he had planted his face into the table, especially since he was pretty sure his ears were bright red and gave him away, but then Tony would keep going and he'd get worse as he went on. Steve really wasn't that much of a martyr and he definitely was no saint.
He looked up to see Tony grinning at him, which he returned with a glare. "For a genius, you're really dumb, ya know that, Stark?" he said, enjoying his brief revenge when he saw the indignant look in Tony's eyes.
"It's not my fault you can't appreciate the finer applications of licking and-"
Alright, Rogers. Man up and ask. "Come to dinner with me."
That at least rendered Tony off guard, and it took him a minute to regroup. "We need to work on your deflection skills, Cap, cause that's the definition of sucky. You-"
"I mean that. Tomorrow night. You and me at the French restaurant a few blocks away," Steve said, steeling his nerve.
"Careful, John Holmes. That sounds like a date," Tony said, still flicking through Steve's phone.
Before Steve could say anything, either to confirm it was a date or to berate Tony, his phone beeped again. Tony absently opened the message and to Steve's great shock, this time there was a faint blush on Tony's cheeks.
"Uh, date then. Definitely not a mistake," Tony said, coughing as he turned slightly away and made some quick swipes to the screen on Steve's phone.
"What was it?" Steve asked, half-dreading the answer.
"Picture I didn't realize had been made public domain. Actually, I don't even remember that picture."
"I believe, Sir, that the picture comes from that night in Monte Carlo with-"
"Thanks, J. Memory jogged," Tony said. He slid the phone back across the table to Steve.
Steve discreetly checked his messages to see that the last one Natasha sent was gone. He was torn between extreme curiosity and wanting to respect Tony's privacy. Then again, Tony had already violated Steve's privacy several times over, so maybe he could tell Natasha about it later and hope she re-sent it to try to make him blush more. Then it would still be her fault that he saw it. "Dinner?" he asked hopefully.
There was uncertainty in Tony's eyes, along with hesitation, but he nodded, and Steve thought he could still see faint traces of a blush around his cheeks. Sadly, Tony quickly regained his composure. "I... sure? I mean, you sure about this, Steve? I'm not exactly..." Tony wiggled his fingers in a way Steve couldn't quite discern their meaning, "...good dating material."
Steve shrugged. "Neither am I," he said, thinking back to his attempts with Peggy and his awkward failing with Sharon. Tony might be a mess of issues, but so were all of the Avengers, and Tony at least had some practical dating experience. "But I'd like to take you out all the same."
"Well, with an offer like that, who can refuse?" Tony teased, though there was a softness about his eyes that betrayed him.
Steve felt a wide smile breaking across his face, the tension that had been about his shoulders relaxing. Tony said yes. "I'll pick you up at seven then."
"Okay," Tony said, pushing away from the table with a small smile on his face.
"Going down to the workshop?" Steve asked, wondering if it was too soon to follow Tony down, because he always liked drawing with other people near by better than drawing alone.
"Making spaghetti and meatballs," Tony said. For Natasha was heard even if not spoken.
"Mind if I help out?" Steve asked shyly.
Tony nodded. "There's no cutting in spaghetti, so why not?"
Just for that comment, Steve made the meatballs extra big. Natasha was not amused.