The first time Tony asks him out, Steve is . . . . well, appalled is as good a word as any. He’s noticed that Tony and decorum are two things that don’t seem to mix well, but there's improper, and then there's being asked out over the team radio during the middle of a fight with five-legged monsters from a neighboring dimension. He blushes so hard he can hear his ears ringing.
He doesn’t want to embarrass Tony—he does that enough all on his own, thank you—so he pretends he can't hear him over the sounds of the fighting. He learns pretty quickly, however, that a person ignores Tony at his own risk. A thin tube emerges from the side of Iron Man’s armor and starts streaming white smoke, and with it, Tony writes, “Want to grab a bite to eat after this, Steve?” in a series of flashy swoops and swirls as he blasts the enemy. He even dots the "I's" with a heart.
The silence that follows is more daunting than facing all the monsters at once. Alone. Without his shield. “Um, I’m sorry, but . . .” He actually has no idea how to finish that sentence, but just then, he gets blindsided by a gigantic hairy leg and thrown against a building.
Oh, thank goodness.
The next time Tony broaches the subject, it’s just the two of them sitting on the couch and watching a movie. He waits until the credits are rolling and says with a sideways glance, “I’m in the mood for some . . . fondue. Interested?”
It’s such a—such a Tony thing to say, and he regrets ever telling him that story, but not really, because Tony, for all his obnoxiousness, is never obnoxious to Steve (much. Anymore), and underneath the teasing, he can tell Tony is serious.
He shouldn’t be surprised. He is, but he shouldn't be. It’s not like he doesn’t know Tony is persistent and obsessive and slightly crazy. He just . . . he hasn’t thought about it. Not in terms of him and Tony anyway. Tony is . . . well, Tony is Tony. He’s brilliant. And funny. Warm and generous. Spoiled. Arrogant, but justifiably so. He’s argumentative and complex and mercurial, and he has a habit of looking at Steve like he’s—
“You’re right. Chinese would be better,” Tony says, the leather creaking as he stands up. “I’ll get the menu.”
He doesn’t call Tony back. But a part of him wonders what would happen if he did.
There’s a long, long stretch between times two and three, long enough that Steve wonders if Tony’s over whatever it was. His crush. Infatuation. Thing.
Not that he spends a lot of time thinking about it.
Tony flirts still. Of course, Tony flirts with just about anyone and anything, so he doesn’t know that it counts for much, but there’s . . . there’s a part of him that enjoys it. Especially since Pepper had given Tony the talk about no-no touches. After spending as much time together as they have, it’s gotten to the point where it’s impossible to imagine not having Tony and his sly smiles around. There’s a certain ease to being with Tony that he never thinks too much about because there’s no reason to. It just is.
It’s a little bit of a shock though to see Tony flirting outrageously with someone else at a gala that they're all attending in order to raise money for local schools.
Needless to say, Tony can flirt with whomever he wants to. And it never bothers Steve when he sees him batting his eyelashes at Natasha or asking Thor to flex his muscles just because. But this is, well, this is a little different, isn’t it?
He can't stop watching the two of them. She's gorgeous, and Tony is . . .
Steve wouldn’t interrupt, because that’s not the type of person he is, even if a part of him whispers that Tony wouldn’t mind, would turn and smile and probably excuse himself to talk to Steve instead. But he’s happier than is probably appropriate when his cell phone goes off, and while he doesn’t technically have to yell, “Avengers assemble!” just as Tony is starting to lean closer, he does anyway.
He feels guilty enough to apologize for ruining his evening later, however, when they’re sitting against the side of some building and watching as cleanup crews take care of the mess that’s left over from the gigantic blob thing.
“You’ve got to be kidding me. I'm thrilled we had to leave,” Tony says, looking ridiculous in full armor with his face plate up. But not as ridiculous as Steve used to think he looked.
“Really? It seemed like you were having a good time," he says and admits, to himself at least, the tiny of smidgen of jealousy that's buried in his comment.
“Ah, well with enough practice, you too could keep up an expression of polite interest for hours on end. Believe me, it gets old pretty fast what with all the small talk and mingling with people whose only redeeming quality is the size of their bank accounts. Either that or having people come up to you because of the size of your, ahem, account,” Tony says, waggling his eyebrows.
He shakes his head because Tony expects him to, but there's a grain of truth in Tony's words, and it sounds . . . it sounds kind of lonely actually.
Eventually Tony clambers up to his feet, decidedly less graceful in his suit on the ground than in the sky. “I suppose I should head back and catch the last few minutes considering I’m the host and all. You’re lucky you get to stay here and make sure nothing else happens.”
“Yeah, lucky,” he snorts, watching as they shove purple goop into disposal trucks. “I’d rather go back with you.”
“Would you really?” Tony asks, sounding amused. “Maybe next time you can go as my plus one, and I’ll make Fury let you come back early with me. How about it?”
“Maybe,” is all he says, but Tony smiles at him like he’s said something more, and Steve can’t help but smile back.
Give Tony an inch, and he’ll take a mile. It’s the very next morning that he asks Steve out again, standing too close and with his hand on Steve’s arm, but he can’t bring himself to mind all things considered.
He’s still not quite certain what this thing is between them, but he can’t deny there is something, and while lying in bed last night remembering how Tony had looked standing next to someone else, Steve had realized that he wanted to find out.
Before he can say as much, the rest of the Avengers come into the kitchen, demanding coffee (Natasha), breads and sweetmeats (Thor), and the sports page and comics (Clint).
They don’t seem particularly surprised to catch the two of them in a somewhat compromising position, which . . . maybe that's telling all on its own, but he still steps back. He’s not embarrassed exactly, but he would prefer to discuss this without an audience, and he knows that if he agrees to go on a date with Tony in front of them, it’ll somehow become a team event with not-so-cunningly disguised sexual jokes (Clint), boisterous huzzahs (Thor), and blank but somehow still judgmental looks (Natasha).
He smiles apologetically at Tony, who rolls his eyes but doesn’t object, and plans to waylay him later.
Unfortunately, Tony gets a call before they’re finished eating, and from what Steve can gather from Tony’s side of the conversation—not that he’s trying to eavesdrop, but Tony apparently doesn’t understand the concept of having an inside voice—there’s a company emergency in Japan that needs his immediate attention. He doesn’t have an opportunity to do more than say a quick goodbye before Tony leaves for who knows how long, and as he watches the door close behind him, he finds himself wishing he’d said “yes” when he’d had the chance.
The fifth time Tony asks Steve out is when he gets out of the examining room after suffering a mild concussion from being thrown into a car just one day after returning from Japan. Steve sits in the waiting room as patiently as he can—wearing his costume just so he can be with Tony would be a misuse of his fame, no matter how tempting the circumstances—becoming more and more annoyed with himself for waiting for the right moment when life with Tony is more wonderfully imperfect moments that still make Steve happier than he’s been in a long time. So when Tony walks over, the doctor trailing behind him, Steve stands and says, “Why yes, I’d love to go out some time, as soon as you’re better as a matter of fact, thank you for asking.”
So maybe it’s not so much Tony asking as Steve railroading him into it, but he doesn’t think Tony’s going to complain.
Tony opens and closes his mouth, blinking frequently, and it makes Steve smile, because it’s not every day that he takes Tony by such complete surprise. But Tony regains his composure soon enough, and he takes Steve’s hand, the look in his eyes unbearably fond. Not that it stops him, however, from saying, “I knew you couldn’t resist me.”
Steve pats his hand and doesn’t disagree, because he always tries to be nice to the sick and injured. And anyway, it’s true.