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Two Out of Three (Ain't Bad)

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It blindsides him one morning in the middle of his customary third cup of coffee; Steve walks through the door in loose cotton pants, shirt pulled up to wipe the sweat off his face from his usual morning workout, and Tony thinks: adorable.

Two seconds later the thought actually registers, and Tony nearly drops his mug. Steve is buried in the refrigerator, ass sticking out, and Tony flees before he can give in to the urge to smack it.

 

 

The thing is, though, the thing is this: Tony’s good with physical attraction. He flirts with everyone he meets, automatic as breathing, and can separate ogling and actual personal interaction with a disassociation that’s almost scary. Most of the time he doesn’t even know he’s doing it, and so if a nice ass or those arms passes through his head occasionally, it’s fine, business as normal. If he finds himself thinking somebody is adorable...

Well. The last time he wanted to bring somebody home with him to stay was with Pepper, and look how that turned out.

 

 

He can’t turn it off. Every time Steve walks into a room Tony has to look, eyes lingering on the curve of his spine, the soft hair at the nape of his neck, trim waist and thick thighs, the plush set of his lower lip. Even worse, he finds himself cataloguing the way Steve’s hair flops over his forehead and how he stashes pencils in unobtrusive places, noting how he goes outside regularly to throw crumbs to the pigeons and squirrels. He’s like a goddamn fairy-tale princess, with the singing woodland animals and shit, except Disney princesses were never able to take out kevlar-reinforced sandbags with a single punch.

When Tony finds himself stuffing his crusts back inside the bag inside the freezer for Steve to use in his feeding outings, he decides enough is enough.

“I need help,” he tells Pepper as soon as she picks up the phone.

“Of course you do,” Pepper sighs. Tony would feel offended, except, you know, it’s kind of true. “What is it this time?”

“It’s not bad!” Tony protests. “I didn’t do anything!”

“Uh-huh,” Pepper says, dryly unconvinced.

“It’s Steve’s fault!”

“Steve?” Tony can practically see Pepper changing gears, from fix whatever Tony did to the company to just normal exasperation. Is it bad that Pepper’s default emotion with him is exasperation?

“What did you do to Steve?” she continues. Tony decides that no, exasperation is fine, because Pepper is fond of him. So there.

“Hey, who said I did anything?” Tony protests. “I didn’t do anything. He’s the one going around being all edible and adorable and, and kind to fluffy animals that are actually really vicious, and did I mention that he lets Clint have the remote when the guy asks? I mean, really?”

Pause. “Tony, are you telling me you have a crush on Captain America?”

“Help, Pep,” Tony tries, but knows it’s a lost cause. Pepper laughs, tells him to be a man, and then hangs up. He stares at his phone, forlorn.

“Who died?” Clint says, popping up out of fucking nowhere. Jesus. Between him and Natasha, Tony should just laser-alarm the whole place. Or get Jarvis to warn him whenever anybody approaches, that would work too.

“What? Nobody. Don’t you have,” Tony flaps his hand, “arrow-practice? Or something?”

Clint gives him an unimpressed look. What’s with everybody being unimpressed with him today, he’s amazing, if they need a reminder he can totally build a killer robot or a smartjet or something, oh, he should start designing a jet, jets are cool. Also, useful.

“Are you mooning over Cap again?” Clint says. “Because it’s kind of weird and creepy, you know that?”

“What?” Tony snaps. “I’m not mooning over Cap--Steve. And I’m not creepy!”

“You tell yourself that,” Clint says, gives him a look, and leaves. And okay, what is that, does everybody but him get together and practice those looks and tell each other hey, let’s use these on Tony because we are gigantic asses, it’ll be fun? Because it isn’t fun. It’s annoying.

He goes down to his lab and creates an entire skeleton for the greatest jet ever invented, and completely misses dinner.

 

 

“Hello, Tony,” Steve says from in front of the sink. He’s washing dishes. Tony didn’t even know they had dishwashing gloves, that’s what dishwashers are for, why is Steve washing dishes by hand?

“You know we have dishwashers, right?” he says, and then curses inwardly when Steve’s face falls.

“I just like--” Steve starts, and Tony backpedals.

“No, no, you can do what you want, mi casa es su casa, et cetera.” Tony waves. “I’m just gonna -- get my coffee--”

“Tony,” Steve says firmly, and Tony stops. Fuck, training is giving him bad habits, listening when somebody gives him an order, it’s bullshit, but Steve is looking at him with serious eyes and he can’t quite bring himself to pull away--

“Yeah?” he says when it doesn’t seem like Steve is going to go on, and Steve blinks and turns off the water. Crap. It’s never good when people give you their full attention; Tony’s eyes flick to the coffee maker. Steve shifts to block his view, subtle and causal enough to be accidental. Tony looks back at him. The other man looks entirely innocent.

“Would you like to go out to lunch?” Steve asks, and Tony is all set to brush whatever he says off, tell him he’s busy in the lab, actually opens his mouth before--

“What?” Tony says. “Like, lunch lunch? Or just lunch?”

Steve gives him an adorably blank look. Tony really has to find a better adjective to describe Steve than adorable.

“Okay, you know what never mind, lunch, sure, today? Do I have anything to do today? Jarvis?”

“No, sir. You’re free to enjoy yourself.” Ha. Smartass. He’s going to fix that sarcasm-slash-talking-back problem any day now.

“Okay, I’m free. Is it today?”

“If you like,” Steve says cautiously.

“Great, done,” Tony says. He slips past the other man (warmth against his arm, and those muscles, jesus christ) to pour his coffee and then retreats. “See you in a couple of hours.”

“Bye!” Steve calls, sounding vaguely confused. Tony snorts. Steve’s confused? Tough. Tony is fucked.

 

 

Two hours later Steve knocks on the glass door to his lab.

“Jarvis--” Tony says, and there’s a click. Steve steps inside right after, looking around curiously.

“Wow,” he says, and Tony has to preen a little.

“I know, right?” he says. Steve focuses on him, then, and the holographic model in pieces all around him but still recognizable as a plane, sleek and futuristic, and nods. His mouth is quirked up just a little bit at the side, like he doesn’t know whether to be amused or impressed. “Uh, has it been--”

“Two hours,” Steve confirms. “Are you ever on time?”

“Is that a trick question?” Tony quips, fingers flying to save his data before leaving. “I’m sure I have once...”

Steve laughs, a soft roll of sound, and Tony risks a quick look down to check for any suspicious stains that would be unsuitable for going out in public: nothing. His jeans are fine and it’s a black shirt anyway, enough to hide any oil or grease marks. This isn’t a date, there’s no need to be fancy.

Oh god, why did he have to think that. What if this is a date?

“So where are we going?” Tony says before his brain can betray him with any more terrifying thoughts. “Easy and quick like sandwiches, or somewhere more sit-down? Let me warn you, I refuse to eat pizza, I’ve been eating pizza for the past week and a half and while it may be an entire food group because pizza is awesome, after seven straight days of nothing but cheese and bread and pepperoni--”

“I was thinking of sushi,” Steve interrupts, thankfully. Tony isn’t sure he could have stopped his babbling if he tried.

“Yeah, sure, that’s good.” Tony taps the last shut-down command in and stands, stretching. “Never knew you had a thing for raw fish, Cap.”

Steve looks down and actually blushes, jesus, the man can’t be real. “It’s nice to be able to eat something exotic, once in a while. It’s so much easier to find things, now...”

“Hey, I get it.” Tony slaps Steve on the shoulder, totally normal. “Whole new world, you want to try new things. It’s fine.”

“Of course,” Steve says. The man is so nice, when he isn’t being a dick about the armor. That first meeting, not the best first impression. “Do you mind if we use your car?”

“Our benevolent overlords don’t approve of your running around loose?” Tony smirks. Fury is a suspicious, paranoid bastard.

“I didn’t want to bother them,” Steve says, and the worst part is that he really means it. Why, why, why does he always fall for the unattainable and utterly unsuitable ones?

“Yeah, yeah.” Tony digs around a bit before coming up with some keys. “So, Lamborghini or Mustang? I drive.” he adds when Steve casts a blatantly lustful look over at his cars. The guy has taste, at least. Maybe he’ll let Steve tinker a little later. Supervised, of course.

“You can pick,” Steve begins, but he’s looking at the Mustang.

“Mustang it is,” Tony says, and that’s that.

 

 

“So,” Tony says after they order, leaning back in his chair. They’re at one of those boat restaurants, where each dish floats by on a little river-loop of water. Steve is fascinated, Tony can tell. It gives him warm fuzzies. It shouldn’t give him warm fuzzies, Tony is not a warm fuzzies kind of person--

“Why did you want to take me out to lunch?” It’s only when Steve turns to look at him that Tony realizes he’s leaned in, fingers brushing over Steve’s wrist. He pulls back quickly.

Steve doesn’t seem to notice anything out the ordinary. He plucks a plate neatly from the stream, arm brushing Tony’s own, before shifting in his seat to look at him.

“I just wanted to know how you were doing,” he says, face earnest. God, this much honestly and niceness is giving Tony hives. And isn’t that sad, him not knowing what to do with people who aren’t trying to schmooze or stab him in the back?

“What?”

“It’s good for team morale,” Steve explains. “I’ve been having lunch with everybody else too, it’s just that you’ve been so busy I haven’t been able to catch you.”

“Oh,” Tony says. Shot down! he hears in a voice that sounds too much like Clint for his comfort. “Right, okay. So, about the team--”

And this is the point where a giant blue octopus thing crashes through the wall. Tony scrambles for his suit briefcase, vaguely wondering where his normal life went.

 

 

Tony ends up paying for lunch, in addition to a couple thousand dollars in damages. Turns out that for some reason (not biological or chemical, which leaves magic, Tony hates magic) the restaurant's seafood decided to take revenge, growing nearly twenty feet and deciding that humans were dinner.

He shudders. Watching Pirates of the Caribbean will never be the same; he’s going to fast-forward through all the kraken parts, now.

“Good job,” Steve tells him after the fight. The other man is dripping with slime, shield coated in strange greenish blood from slicing through flailing arms (and how hard can he throw, exactly, for it to cut through flesh like that?), and he still musters up a smile for Tony. Tony feels dirty just from looking at the goo dripping off the armor’s fingers, and winces at the thought of cleaning it off back at the mansion.

“Thanks.” There’s an awkward pause. “Do you need a ride back?”

“I’d ruin your car!” Steve protests, genuinely horrified. Yep, definitely letting him tinker a bit down in the lab. Knowing that Steve loves machines (even if they’re only certain kinds of machines) makes Tony much more inclined to be nice, which probably says something that Tony doesn’t care about, because machines are awesome. The end.

“Flying metal suit,” Tony says with an eyebrow waggle, before he remembers that his face plate is down. Which is probably a good thing, considering that the suit has air filters. It must smell horrendous out there. “If you won’t fall off, I can carry you.”

Steve looks at himself, covered in slime -- at Tony, covered in slime -- and shrugs.

Tony knew he liked Steve best for a reason.

 

 

They make it back to the house in one piece, although there’s a harrowing moment where Steve almost slips a thousand feet in the air. Tony cuts the jet boots, twisting and grabbing Steve in a bear hug hard enough to crack a normal man’s ribs. Steve gets off with some deep bruises, luckily.

Tony hisses when he sees them, blooming green and purple on Steve’s skin outside of the decontam showers. Steve is naked but for a towel around his waist.

“Sorry,” Tony offers, fingers flexing with the remembrance of his panicked hold. “I was a little rough, huh?”

“I’ve had worse,” Steve says. He looks entirely at ease, stray droplets sprinkling his shoulders.

“Are you busy?” Tony blurts out, because Steve looks delicious and the whole guilt and lust thing is getting to be too much, a heavy weight in the bottom of his stomach. “I was thinking--you know, I do that a lot, think, at the worst times, just ask Pepper, but -- I was thinking--”

“Yes?” Patient. Amused.

“How you do you feel about working on some of my cars?”

 

 

They don’t go straight down to the lab because Steve insists on following protocol and debriefing, which Tony doesn’t care about at all. He goes eventually just to shut Fury up (and not at all because of Steve’s disappointed eyes, no way) and falls into bed immediately afterwards. He should get some sort of reward for saving (a small portion of) the world and having to deal with SHIELD, after all.

When he wakes up it’s dark out; not unusual, he hasn’t had a regular sleep schedule since college. He makes his way over to the living room only to find light flickering over the walls, the soft wave of sound of the television turned down low.

“Steve?” Tony blinks. “What are you doing here at...” he checks his watch, “four in the morning?”

“Tony?” Steve says. He twists on the couch, shadows chasing each other over his face.

“That’s me,” Tony confirms, draping himself over the cushions next to the other man. “Early morning, late night, fucked up sleep schedule -- I’m an eccentric genius, what’s your excuse?”

“I’ve been frozen in ice for the last seventy years,” Steve offers drily, and Tony barks a laugh.

“Right,” he says. “I guess that would give you a bit of a free pass, huh?”

“I only use it for good,” Steve promises solemnly, and then breaks into a grin. They lean into each other almost by accident, shoulders touching solidly, and the warmth of another body and the intermittent murmur of the television lull him back to sleep.

Before his eyes close, he thinks he sees Steve make an aborted movement, like he wants to run his fingers through Tony’s hair.

 

 

“Aughurfrgrmn,” Tony says when a decidedly high-pitched squeal wakes him up. “Mfwhat? Jarvis?”

Jarvis’ “Good morning, sir,” is nearly lost under a whoop of glee and a female (Natasha?) voice telling Clint to calm down. There’s also a flash of a camera, which wakes Tony up the rest of the way.

“What?” he repeats, finally opening his eyes. For a moment nothing makes sense, until he realizes that his face is mashed half on Steve’s stomach and half on Steve’s lap. He may be drooling.

”What?” he says again, more frantically, and jerks away. Steve is blinking, confused, a cushion crease all along one side of his face. Don’t think he’s adorable, Tony tells himself. It’s a lost cause.

“This isn’t what it looks like!” Tony glances down at himself: fully clothed, that’s a relief. “Or, you know, it does, if what it looks like is that we fell asleep watching TV. Because that is. What happened. Um.” He rubs his face. “Coffee.”

“I’m sending this to Virginia,” he hears Natasha say. Fuck, Pepper. And Rhodey’s going to know about this by the end of the day. Maybe he can hack his phone...

“Oh man, wait ‘till Fury hears about this.”

“They are adorable, aren’t they?”

“What’s going on?” That’s Steve, still muzzy from sleep, hair mashed flat on one side. “Is there trouble?”

“No,” and that’s Bruce, what the hell, is the entire team here? Why do they only show up when Tony is embarrassing himself? “We were just coming down to breakfast and found you on the couch,” he continues. At least he doesn’t sound smug, like Clint or Natasha. They’re evil ninjas, Tony swears. “Well, you and Tony.”

“Coffee,” Tony repeats, because he can’t reasonably be expected to deal with something this terrible so early in the morning without sustenance. He pushes himself up and sways a little as blood rushes away from his head.

“Oh,” he hears from Steve, but he’s already halfway to the kitchen and can smell his Italian roast. The last of it finishes trickling into his cup by the time he gets to the machine.

“Jarvis, I love you.” If maybe the sentiment is expressed a little more fervently than usual, it’s justified.

“Of course you do, sir,” Jarvis says. Tony can’t even bring himself to care. He drinks his entire mug all at once, in five long swallows, and sticks it back under the percolator as soon as he’s done.

“Wow,” Clint says. He’s leaning against the doorway, looking languorously evil. Also smug. Did Tony think that already? Whatever. “That amount of muscle control is impressive. Can you do that with an entire an entire liter of Sprite?”

“College,” Tony says in explanation. “Also, yes.” There’s other things he can swallow too, with his gag reflex beaten into submission by his late teens, but he doesn’t say that. He has some tact.

“I bet you were a hit at frat parties,” Clint says, and does he actually sound a bit admiring? Seriously, Tony is a genius billionaire and Iron Man and this is the thing that Clint thinks is cool?

...Well, okay, yes, Tony can understand that.

“Yep,” Tony says. His brain isn’t totally online yet, sue him.

There’s a click. Oh, coffee.

When Tony pays attention again, he’s alone but for Steve, who is pouring himself a glass of orange juice.

“Oh,” Tony says. “Uh. Good morning.”

“Good morning, Tony,” Steve says, and smiles at him. Oh god, why is Steve smiling at him?

“...Hi,” he says, because he’s an idiot and also because Steve. Smiling at him. What. “So, uh, where did everybody go?”

Steve blinks at him. “They went out to breakfast,” he says. “Didn’t you hear Clint?”

Tony waggles his mug. It’s self-explanatory.

“Ah.” Steve makes an understanding noise. “Well they did. Clint said something about Thor and meeting at IHOP, but I didn’t really catch it.”

Tony contemplates Thor at IHOP for a moment. “Yeah, I can see how that would be difficult,” he says at last. “Kind of terrifying, actually. Uh. So. Why didn’t you go with them?”

“They need some time without me hovering.” Steve is buttering toast now, where did he get toast from? “A commander can’t stifle his men. Er, troops. Agents.”

“I bet Natasha wouldn’t mind being called a troop,” Tony offers. “Like, a ninja trooper. A one-woman army.”

“She’s very competent,” Steve agrees, and Tony tries not to feel jealous. Steve can admire whoever he likes. “Very...”

“Hot?” Tony finishes the last of his coffee. “Scary? Lethal?”

“Professional,” Steve says firmly.

“Uh huh,” Tony says. “I’m going down to the lab. When you’re ready to work on the cars -- I saw you lusting after my Mustang, by the way -- come on down.”

Steve looks at him, all big eyes and gratitude.

“Alsosorryforfallingalseeponyou,” Tony blurts out, and flees.

 

 

Thankfully, Tony is left alone for the next two hours, free to immerse himself in math and circuits and the clean lines of the universe. When his music is shut off, he looks up.

“Rhodey?” he blinks. “What are you doing here?”

“Pepper sent me,” Rhodey says. He looks weird, almost concerned. Tony hasn’t done anything concerning, at least not recently. Probably. “Apparently you’re getting in trouble.”

“Uh, no?” Tony says. “I’ve been good, mom, didn’t get nearly killed or anything.”

There’s silence for a moment. Then:

“Captain America?”

“Oh my god,” Tony says violently. “Pepper told you? Pepper told you, didn’t she? Why did Pepper tell you? Also I didn’t sleep with him, we were just watching TV, it was totally innocent, I am totally innocent.”

“Tony--Tony, stop.” Rhodey waves his arms around a little. “Pepper texted me, that’s it. And dude, I don’t want to know anything about your sex life, please don’t enlighten me. At all.”

“What did Pepper text you,” Tony asks. He’s suspicious because, hey, if Rhodey is here based on a text from this morning he has the right to be suspicious, suspicious is good, suspicious is better than being trusting and getting blindsided later. Also, people around him like to gloat. It’s getting to be a thing; at least Pepper and Rhodey are nice about it. Relatively.

“You’re kind of adorable when you’re asleep, you know that?” Rhodey says, and Tony knows what Pepper texted him. Fucking Clint. Clint and Natasha, evil ninja duo extraordinaire.

“Am not,” Tony sulks.

“You really are,” Rhodey says, and shows him the picture. God, he really does look adorable, with his hair all fluffy and his face mashed against Steve’s stomach and jesus, is Steve’s hand curving around his shoulder? This is bad. So bad.

“I deny everything.”

“I’m not accusing you of anything.”

“I deny it anyway. I do not have -- romantic feelings for Steve, I am fine, I am a totally responsible and functional adult.”

“Wow.” Rhodey’s eyebrows are raised in his your bullshit hit my bullshit meter so hard it broke face. “You must really want to talk about this.”

“No, no I--okay, yeah, help?”

And because Rhodey is the best friend ever, he leans a hip on the side of Tony’s workshop table and settles in to listen. Tony makes a mental note to build some amazing new gear into the War Machine suit.

 

 

Rhodey gives him advice, but Tony has never, ever, ever needed Rhodey’s help to land a romantic partner before (and that time with the thing and the girl in the place doesn’t count, that was an anomaly, and anyway he got her into bed without any assistance, so there) and he maybe kind of tunes out around the time Rhodey starts talking about being on time and flowers and blah blah blah. What would Rhodey know, anyway, he’s straight (except for that one time where they got really drunk, but Rhodey doesn’t count it so Tony mostly ignores it ever happened) and straight guys don’t know how to woo other guys, that’s why they’re straight.

God, Tony did not just use the word “woo,” in relation to himself or anybody else.

But Tony does take away one thing from their talk, which is this: everybody thinks that Tony is hopelessly in love with Steve. He has nothing to lose now, his reputation is already ruined.

It’s kind of freeing, in that way that having everything taken away from you can be freeing; it’s back to the basics, nothing wasted and nothing to gain by waiting. If he wants something, he’s going to have to get it himself. That’s the way it’s always been, and the way it always will be.

 

 

“I want a blood sample,” Bruce informs him over breakfast the next morning.

“What, from me?” Tony says after a short silence. He looks up from his toast. “Why me?”

“You had palladium poisoning, right? I need it to run comparisons with. And it’s not just you, I’d like some of Steve’s as well.”

“SHIELD already took blood,” Steve points out. “Get it from them. Also, what’s palladium poisoning?”

“That was weeks ago,” Tony says. “Besides, what would you use my blood to run comparisons with? The answer is no. I don’t like other people having my DNA.”

“Tony,” Bruce says.

“Tony,” Steve says.

“Bye,” Tony says, and crams the rest of his toast into his mouth before leaving the table.

Steve, because he’s -- okay, yes, basically a perfect human being in every way imaginable, but also extremely annoying -- Steve follows him downstairs.

“What,” Tony says, keying in the code for his lab. Jarvis scans him as Steve pads up from behind.

“You said we could work on the Mustang together.” Steve gives him the puppy eyes, the bastard, he knows what he’s doing, Tony knows he does. “You aren’t going back on your word, are you?”

“Oh wow, that just isn’t fair,” Tony says faintly. Steve just looks at him. “Okay, yes, Mustang, right. Uh, are you okay with ruining your clothes?”

Crap. That conjures up some images Tony really does need right then.

Steve looks down at himself: jeans and a plain white tee.

“I think I can cope,” he says.

“Sarcasm is for those who have no wit,” Tony informs him. “Also, it doesn’t suit you.”

Steve gives him the “who, me?” look. Actually, most of Steve’s looks consist of widening his eyes to look like an innocent cuddly thing. Animal. It shouldn’t work when Steve tops six feet and is built like, well, like a super-soldier, but.

The Mustang. Right.

“So how much do you know about engines?”

“Not too much.” Steve shrugs. “I could tell when my bike would be getting into trouble, but that’s about the extent of it. I saw How--scientists working on engines sometimes, but was never really involved in those projects.”

Tony graciously decides to ignore Steve’s slip of the tongue. “Okay,” he says. “Basic lesson today, then I’ve got to get to company stuff or Pepper will kill me. We’ll work on it slowly, joint project, what do you say?”

“That sounds perfect. Thank you, Tony.”

“Don’t mention it.”

 

 

Of course, because everybody is a ninja except for Tony (and Bruce, maybe, but not really because Bruce can basically disappear at will so Tony is the only non-ninja in this group of crazies) Steve ambushes him a week later in the hallway.

“Tony, do you have a minute?” Tony does have a minute, and cheerfully tells Steve so because he doesn’t suspect anything. He knows nothing, at his point, of how unabashedly evil Steve can be.

“Great!” Steve beams. Tony never knew that a person could actually beam before Steve. His whole face lights up. “How about lunch?”

Tony thinks about the paperwork sitting in his inbox, the various calls he has to make, the staff meeting at two.

“Name the place,” he says.

Steve insists they walk down to a hotdog stand a couple blocks away. Tony changes into a sweatshirt and sunglasses so he won’t be recognized (and he wonders: why isn’t Steve, the man holds himself like, well, like Captain America) and basks in the late morning sunlight.

“When was the last time you went out?” Steve asks. Tony jerks his chin down guiltily from where it was tilted towards the sun.

“A... couple days ago?” Tony ventures. “Within the week at least, no more than five days, I promise, swear it on my life, swear on Jarvis, can you please say something so I can stop talking--”

“Tony,” Steve says, gentle, and Tony snaps him mouth shut. Thank god. Then: “What’s palladium poisoning?”

“Okay, no.” Tony stops walking. “That’s sneaky and underhanded and I didn’t think you had it in you, Cap, who knew you were such a, a sneak?”

“What?” Steve says. “No, you aren’t distracting me from this, Tony. This is serious, you nearly died!”

“Did you look at my file?” Tony narrows his eyes. “Fury gave you my file, didn’t he? Most of that is lies, I’m way more stable than they say I am.”

“I never said you were unstable.”

“Good.” Tony starts walking again, and if he stalks a little well, it’s justified isn’t it? “So where are we going?”

“Tony,” Steve repeats, utterly implacable force in his tone. “Tell me about the palladium poisoning.”

“Oh -- fine,” Tony snaps, and glances around. People are walking past, oblivious, normal citizens going about their normal lives and Tony used to be like that, mostly, kind of. He’s a bit surprised that he doesn’t really miss it. “Come here.”

Steve steps closer so that they brush shoulders every step, head bent to catch the words Tony murmurs.

“Palladium is what powered the arc reactor before I was a genius and created a new element, right, but it broke down and was, ah, absorbed into my body. Heavy metals, not so great for the system. So. Dying from what was keeping me alive, brief stint with self-destructive behavior, then I saved myself and, look, tada, good as new. Okay? We done now?”

Steve takes a half-step away and gives Tony this look, a look that Pepper sometimes gets whenever Tony’s said something really wrong or really right but he can never tell which, and just as Tony starts to panic Steve grips his shoulder.

“We’re good,” he says, voice low. “Thank you, Tony.”

Hot dogs seem kind of anticlimatic after that.

 

 

The thing about it is, though, the thing is this: Steve’s got Tony now, has somehow marched into Tony’s life with his hair and his dimples and his really fantastic abs, and he’s taken a part of Tony’s life.

This is what happens when people get close to you. You lose bits of yourself.

Tony sighs and turns off his blowtorch, setting it down on the table and pushing his goggles up his forehead with a gloved hand. He’s been trying to deny it for a while, but it’s time he faces the facts: he’s in lo--in romance with Steve. He likes Steve, wants to, to have a relationship.

God. What even is his life.

But now that he knows what’s going on, he can make a plan. A good plan. A cunning plan. A plan to woo Steve.

 

 

Tony realizes five minutes later that he has no idea how to woo anybody.

 

 

“No really, Pep, this is serious, I need your help about Steve--Pepper? Pep, don’t hang up--”

Rhodey doesn’t answer his text, although perhaps need 2 kno army wooing procedures asap may not have been the best way to go about gathering information.

He tries Natasha next.

“So,” he’s able to get out before a knife flies past his head.

The better part of valor is discretion (and also staying alive), he decides, and retreats with alacrity.

“Flowers?” Bruce says. “And chocolate? I don’t know, women like it when you cook.”

“I know not why women do the things they do,” Thor declares. The man can never just say anything, he always has to announce or boom or some other hugely magnificent adjective. “Yet my lovely Jane consented to be with me in any case! Perhaps you should try being hit by a vehicle.”

“Wow, you’re really getting desperate, huh?” Clint says. “Don’t ask me, I’ve got no idea, although beer’s always a good bet.”

“Steve can’t get drunk,” Tony replies gloomily, and contemplates asking Coulson next. Then he imagines getting hit with a taser and decides, no actually, he’s totally fine with doing this on his own.

 

 

So Bruce actually gives Tony the most useful advice: cooking. Cooking is showing off your skills and feeding people at the same time, so that’s... a good thing, presumably. Tony likes to eat, that’s a plus. Steve must like to eat too.

A voice that sounds a lot like Rhodey tells him to quit while he’s ahead. Tony tells the voice that he isn’t ahead in anything right now, so it’s perfectly fine to do whatever he likes. So there.

Then he reassures himself that talking to internal voices is totally okay, because everyone does it occasionally. Also, talking to Jarvis is nearly the same, so. Completely and utterly fine.

“Your shirt is about to catch on fire, sir,” Jarvis says, and Tony looks down. Shit, what the--why do stoves even work like that?

“I knew that,” he tells Jarvis even as he hops backwards, flour spilling in a dusty cloud. “Oh, shit.”

“If I could suggest,” Jarvis begins, but Tony cuts him off.

“No, you can’t suggest. I’ve cooked before and you haven’t, so I get to make the rules here. And I say we’re making pancakes.”

“And how many times have you made pancakes, sir?”

“That time I set off the fire alarm doesn’t count,” Tony says, defensive. “I was distracted.”

“Indeed,” Jarvis says, all dry sarcasm. God, Tony programmed him well. That sharp wit is wonderful when it isn’t aimed at him (but it usually is). “Shall I alert the local fire department to be on standby?”

“I’m good.” Tony turns back to stirring his batter with a whisk. He seems to recall others doing the same thing with a spoon, but the internet said a whisk, so he’s using a whisk.

“Eggs, sir,” Jarvis prompts.

“Right, right,” Tony says. “Slave driver.”

Eggs are, in point of fact, extremely hard to crack without the shells breaking into a tiny million pieces and falling apart into the mix.

“There has to be a better way to do this,” Tony says, picking shards of shell out with his fingers. A thin strand of egg white hangs translucently off his thumb, stretching and falling back into the bowl. “Ew.”

So then he may get slightly -- slightly, only slightly distracted by how he can build an egg-cracking machine, perhaps by just slicing through the whole thing cleanly, that would work -- and forgets to watch the pancakes cooking on the stove.

“Your food appears to be burning, sir,” Jarvis informs him, and Tony swears and dives for the spatula.

The rescued pancakes are black on one side with the faintly acrid scent of smoke clinging to them, but Tony declares that all in all, it’s a success. He finds them edible, at least, especially when drowned in maple syrup. For a first try it isn’t bad; the next batch will be good enough to present to Steve.

And then, of course (because the world hates him), Steve walks into the kitchen.

“Hey, Steve.” Tony steps to the side, trying to hide the entirety of the kitchen counter behind him.

Steve pauses, taking in the picture before him: Tony in a ratty t-shirt and sweats, flour streaked from his waist to his hair, an abandoned spatula in a bowl filled with goopy substance, the canister of syrup sitting to the side.

“I didn’t know you cooked,” he says. Tony isn’t sure whether to be gratified or offended. He goes with gratified, because that’s just better all around.

“Yes!” he says. “I can cook. I’m a great cook. Of pancakes. Do you want some pancakes?”

Jesus. If he’s going to turn into a babbling mess every time Steve talks to him, he should just quit now. Or perhaps invest in some index cards.

...Then again, having to whip out index cards every time he talks to Steve would be kind of terrible. Also, what if he drew one that was unrelated to the conversation?

(He can imagine it now: “Hello, Tony.”

“Hey, Cap.”

“How’s the weather today?”

“Uh -- something something Dodgers? What? Useless piece of paper--oh, um, sunny?”)

Yeah, no.

“That’d be wonderful, Tony, thank you.”

For a second Tony is confused, because, him being terrible at conversations about the Dodgers? What? But then he realizes: pancakes. Right.

“You're welcome,” Tony says, and vows to make the best damn pancakes Steve has ever seen. He’s a genius, he can do this.

 

 

The pancakes are, in fact, perfect. Fluffy, golden, and delicious, and Steve eats them with evident enjoyment (Tony watches, and no that isn’t creepy at all). Vindication is a warm weight in his chest, making him reckless enough to trail his fingers over the back of Steve’s neck as he leaves for the lab.

“See you later, gorgeous,” he waves, and then is out the door. The soft prickle of fine hair on the back of Steve’s neck makes his fingertips tingle even as he’s walking down the stairs.

 

 

“You whore,” Clint greets him when he emerges.

“What?” Tony says. “I mean, yeah, sure I’ll admit it, but where did this come from?”

“Where are my pancakes?”

“Is that what this is about? Sorry, Steve’s my favorite, only he gets pancakes. You’re an evil ninja, actually, so really it should be that you get negative pancakes, you should get, uh, get brussel sprouts? Brussel sprouts. And coal.”

“Wow.” Clint is unimpressed. “I thought Thor was your favorite.”

“I changed my mind.”

“Uh huh. Well Steve’s been asking about you and driving the rest of us crazy, so.”

“So you came down here an called me a whore?”

Clint shrugs. “I like pancakes.”

“That’s nice,” Tony says. “That’s wonderful. I’m just going to go upstairs to eat and sleep now, bye.”

“Steve is looking for you!” Clint yells after him as he climbs the stairs, and Tony shakes his head. Crazy. Everybody is crazy.

“Hello, Tony,” Steve says mildly. Tony yelps and spins around, nearly falling. Steve moves forward lightning quick to grasp his arm and steady him.

“What the--where did you come from?” Tony is breathing hard. “You’re becoming as bad as Natasha.”

He looks around, just in case she hears and pops out of nowhere to kill him.

“I was just standing here,” Steve says. Nobody can be that innocent. Steve must be lying. He’s a devious man. A deceitful devious man. “I wanted to talk to you.”

“Can it wait?” Tony defaults to his natural setting: evasion coupled with abrasiveness. “I’m hungry and have very important genius-type things to do, with micro-circuitry and the law of physics and stuff quite frankly beyond your paygrade, so if you don’t mind...”

“I do mind,” Steve says, and wow, who knew Captain America could be such an asshole? Except yeah, Tony does, because their first meeting with the whole “big man in a suit of armor” moment, but he thought they’d gotten past that, and--

“But first, food,” Steve says firmly. Tony guesses he spaced out. It happens.

“Food,” Tony agrees. It’s a noncontroversial topic. “Not pancakes though, even though they were good. You liked the pancakes, right?”

“I liked the pancakes,” Steve says. “But, um, speaking of pancakes...”

“Food!” Tony cuts him off. “Oh hello, food, come to my mouth, god I am so hungry. Um, what do we have, takeout, takeout, takeout... I’ll have takeout, then. Orange chicken and dumplings.”

Steve is silent behind him. Ha, success.

Tony sticks his Chinese in the microwave and fishes out a fork, clenching it between his teeth. He should have a fork-holding rack.

“Har-his,” he mumbles, and then takes the fork out. “Jarvis, make a note. Fork-holding racks.”

“Noted, sir.”

“You should have some vegetables with that,” Steve says finally. He seems to have ignored the past five minutes altogether, which Tony has to admit is a pretty effective way of dealing with him. Pepper and Rhodey do it all the time.

“There are no vegetables,” Tony points out until Steve somehow manages to produce a cucumber. “Okay, right, yes, give it here.”

Steve winces when he bites off the tip with a loud crunch and spits it into the sink, then proceeds to munch noisily on the rest of the -- vegetable, right, cucumbers are a vegetable even though they have seeds? Or else they’re like tomatoes, tomatoes are actually a fruit, he remembers Rhodey lecturing him about it once--

The microwave beeps helpfully to indicate that it’s finished, and Tony throws the other end of the (now demolished) cucumber away.

“Hold this,” he says to Steve through a mouthful of green stuff, shoving his fork at the other man. He snatches it back as soon as the takeout carton is on the table and uses it to shovel food in his mouth.

“Isn’t that... hot?” Steve ventures.

Tony swallows. “It’s nothing. Coffee is way worse.”

Then he has to spit the next bite out as a dumpling releases a boiling hot jet of liquid from its insides, jesus fuck.

“Augh,” he groans, fanning his open mouth. “Don’t even say anything.”

Steve blinks. “Why would I say anything?”

Evil. Everybody in this team is evil.

After his (lunch? dinner? some-time-in-the-middle-of-the-afternoon snack?) meal, exhaustion hits him like a repulsor to the chest, and he begs off any further conversation by dragging himself up to his room to fall face-first onto his bed.

Approximately two seconds later he opens his eyes, and the light has changed.

“Jarvis?”

“Good morning, sir,” Jarvis says. “And may I congratulate you on regaining consciousness at a fairly normal hour. It is currently nine-thirteen on a Saturday morning, and the weather is sunny, seventy-three degrees. Captain Rogers has walked by your door fourteen times since you went to sleep.”

That wakes Tony right up. “What, what?” he says. “Steve’s been checking up on me in my sleep?”

It’s actually kind of flattering, in a vaguely creepy way. Then again, Tony just sits by a person’s bedside and watch them breathe-- Pepper has yelled at him about that too -- so he guesses he has no room to talk.

“Is he out there now?” Tony demands.

“I did say walked by,” Jarvis says peevishly. “That implies that he didn’t linger.”

“Don’t sass me,” says Tony, whose brain isn’t firing on all cylinders before his normal coffee intake. “I can sass way better than you.”

“Not at the moment, sir.”

“Ha.”

He heaves himself out of bed and pulls on some pajama pants. Arms are shoved carelessly into a dress shirt, left unbuttoned, and then he staggers out into the hallway.

Steve is there.

“Oh my god, you traitor,” Tony says. “You--you lying liar who lies! My own code turning against me.”

“Um, are you talking about Jarvis?” Steve ventures.

“Ignore him,” Jarvis says. “Sir, may I suggest a cup of coffee?”

“Skynet!” Tony yells.

 

 

Eventually Tony has two cups of coffee (Steve takes his mug away when he tries to make a third) and calms down enough to have a rational conversation, not that he wants to have a rational conversation.

“Tony,” Steve begins, with the earnest voice and entreating eyes and Tony is going to shoot himself if these kinds of descriptions keep popping into his head, god. “Are you all right?”

“All right?” Tony says, voice higher than he means for it to be. He clear his throat. “Of course, why wouldn’t I be?”

“Well, you’ve been acting strange. Stranger than normal,” he corrects himself, eyes shifting downwards before focusing once again on Tony’s face, determined. “And I was wondering if, perhaps...”

Tony can’t help himself. “Perhaps...?” he urges.

“If you wanted to talk?”

“Talk?” Tony blinks. “About what?”

“About anything that may be bothering you.”

“Uh.” Tony thinks about saying well, I want to lick you all over and then have you fuck me into the ground and rapidly files that away under the ‘unmitigated disaster’ category. But his pause has made Steve’s face fall, and he can’t--

“I have a problem!” he blurts out, and then scrambles for a suitably troubling situation to elaborate on. “I, um,” the only thing that comes to mind is the truth, and that’s a terrible option. “I, I like this, um, person, right, and have, uh, no idea of how to -- express my interest?”

Steve is now looking gobsmacked. Tony mentally hits himself in the face, because he’s Tony fucking Stark and Tony fucking Stark does not have relationship troubles. It’s the worst excuse Tony has ever given, and the most horrible thing about it is that it’s true.

“Forget I said anything.” Tony backpedals. “It was nothing, I -- wait. Wait. What... do you find romantic?”

This is perfect, Tony doesn’t know why he didn’t think of this before. Steve will tell Tony how to woo him, and everything will be amazing. Tony will have to be subtle with his first few attempts, obviously, so Steve doesn’t suspect until it’s too late, but.

Greatest. Idea. Ever.

Unless Steve doesn’t actually tell him anything, which looks like might happen. Tony waits with baited breath, fingers twitching with the effort to stay still, wide eyes watching as Steve’s expression goes from stiff to… accepting?

That’s good, right?

“Well I don’t have, er, that much experience,” Steve starts. Yes, Tony thinks. He won’t be all jaded when Tony tries to woo him, then. “But I’d say… dinner, definitely, in a nice restaurant, and, um, getting to know your girl better, you know? Finding out what she likes to do, and planning out things that you’ll both enjoy.”

Tony nods, mentally taking notes. He knows Steve pretty well; he can plan things they both like to do.

Steve smiles, although it looks kind of uncomfortable. “That’s it, I guess.”

“Thanks, Steve.” Tony clasps his shoulder. “You’ve been a huge help. I have to go plan!”

“Good luck, Tony,” Steve says, but Tony is already halfway down the hall.

The problem is, of course, that Tony actually doesn’t know Steve all that well. He knows that Steve likes to draw, of course, and that he loves his motorcycle and prefers his coffee with two spoonfuls of sugar and enough milk to turn it light brown, and that mostly what Steve does with his free time is train and be nice.

Tony has already offered to work with Steve on his cars because Steve won’t let him touch his bike, Steve gets up earlier than him (Jarvis makes all the coffee anyway), they’ve had dinner together before, and Steve won’t let Tony buy him art supplies.

Tony flounders.

Then his eyes light on Pepper’s modern art line thing, the one she put back after the whole Ivan and Iron-Man-being-a-hero-but-not-really incident, and because he is a brilliant amazing genius, he comes up with an idea.

He’ll take Steve to the MoMA.

He remembers going there once, vaguely, for some function or other. It was boring as hell, of course, the most exciting part being where Harry Ratterfield tripped and spilled wine all over his date, or maybe reading about the evolution of photography, but there were no models and it was all about style and not machinery anyway, so probably not. In any case it has to be better with Steve; if all else fails, Tony can just admire the other man instead of the art.

So. He’s got a plan. Now he just needs to get Steve to agree to go, preferably without knowing that Tony is hopelessly in lust with him.

No pressure.

 

 

“…and obviously I can’t be too creepy about it, so maybe just like a friendly thing. What do you think?”

“According to various internet forums, your approach has a sixty-three percent success rate,” Jarvis informs him. “Knowing you however, you should perhaps adjust that percentage downwards.”

“I think I’ll be optimistic,” Tony decides, ignoring the snort Jarvis plays out of his speakers. “I mean, I’ve already got an advantage: if he isn’t sick of me yet, he’ll probably never be.”

“It’s nice to see you aim so high.”

“Hey, I thought you’d be all for this. You know, Steve being a good influence on me and all.”

“Indeed. I could do without the inane planning and juvenile swooning, however.”

“Just wait until you meet a nice microprocessor,” Tony threatens. “I will laugh. And gloat.”

“Nothing I do will ever match up to your antics, sir, I’m sure.”

“Sweet-talker,” Tony mutters, but he’s smiling.

 

 

Because he’s Tony Stark and the universe hates him, none of his plans work. When he tries to break it over breakfast, a knife flies into the room with Clint bursting in close behind. When he opens his mouth when they’re working on Tony’s Mustang, a tube comes loose and sprays the both of them with oil. When the Avengers alert call comes through right before Tony is about to ask Steve over lunch, he gives up.

“Try and interrupt me, will you,” he shouts, repulsor-blasting something with way too many eyes and teeth. “Try to foil my—“ cut jet boots, drop, shoot. “—entirely awesome and cunning plans? Ha!”

The thing falls over, immediately replaced by another.

“Fuck this,” Tony says, and opens a private communication line to Steve.

“Hey, Cap.”

“Iron Man.” Steve sounds vaguely out of breath, but not overly troubled. Good. “Is something the matter?”

“How do you feel about going to the MoMA with me this weekend?”

“What?”

“You. Me. The Museum of Modern Art?”

“Is this really the time, Tony?” There’s a distant clang!

“I’ve been trying to ask all week and this is the first time it’s worked, possibly because it isn’t a good time, so yes this is definitely the time!”

“All right,” Steve says, and Tony continues on a little before realizing.

“What?”

“All right,” Steve repeats. “Let’s to the museum this weekend.”

“Right.” Tony blinks, then grabs a chitinous limb and pulls as hard as he can into place for Hulk to hit. “Okay, good. Yes. Saturday?”

“Saturday,” Steve agrees, and Tony sees his shield go flying past. “Black Widow needs air support, by the way.”

“On it.”

 

 

Saturday comes ridiculously quickly, and Tony panics two hours before they’re set to go out. He doesn’t know whether to wear a suit or just a t-shirt and jeans, or maybe a nice shirt with jeans? That way he’s still kind of dressed up, date-like but not too obvious. Yeah. A nice silk button-up with non-oil-stained jeans. Good.

He’s glad of his choice later, because Steve is wearing button-ups and slacks and suspenders. He looks delicious, shoulders filling out his shirt perfectly. As Tony’s eyes dip below Steve’s waistband he licks his lips. If the museum is too boring, at least he’ll have something nice to look at.

“Tony!” Steve pauses. “You look nice.”

Tony tries not to look too pleased. “You too, tiger. Rocking the suspenders, good for you. Come on, car’s waiting. I’ll even let you drive.”

“You’re too good to me,” Steve deadpans, but he snatches the keys Tony throws and practically bounces out the door.

Steve drives like an old grandmother (unless there’s an emergency, in which case he drives like a the whole world is a racetrack and he has a death wish) so Tony settles into his chair and closes his eyes. The radio is playing some smooth jazz, low-key.

He snorts and jerks awake when they roll to a stop.

“What?” he says. “What? I fell asleep?”

“You did.” Steve looks over, fond. “It was cute.”

“Oh hey, we’re here,” Tony says in a blatant change of subject. Steve lets him get away with it. “Where there’s art, let’s go see the art.”

“Let’s,” Steve agrees.

Tony’s predictions of boredom come true, although the press of Steve’s suspenders against his shoulder blades and the fit of Steve’s trousers do a lot to brighten Tony’s spirits. He pays attention briefly for the Van Gogh exhibit (he thought this was modern art though, what’s with that) and for Pollock, although in the case of Pollock he shares with Steve that he could do the same. Steve agrees.

They wander around until Tony’s feet start to hurt and then they go hunt down lunch, which turns out to be sandwiches from a little bistro around the corner.

“Thank you, Tony,” Steve says over his sandwich. “I know that was pretty boring for you.”

“What?” Tony says. “Boring? No, it was—okay, yes, kind of boring,” he admits at Steve’s look. “But it made you happy, and it wasn’t like I had anything to do anyways.”

Steve smiles. Then he leans over the table and kisses Tony.

For a moment Tony freezes, because this is so far outside normal operating parameters that – what is even going on, what the fuck, Steve likes Tony but he doesn’t like Tony, except obviously he does, and—

Steve’s lips are soft and slightly chapped, and he tastes like cucumbers and mayonnaise.

Tony must take too long to respond, because Steve is pulling back and there’s a flush to his face, an embarrassed set to his eyebrows. His mouth is pulled down when he starts to speak.

“Sorry, I thought—“

And Tony stands and all but lunges across the table for Steve’s mouth, other customers and passerby be damned, because he’s been wanting this for what feels like approximately forever and even the brief kiss from before has him hot and wanting. Steve makes a muffled, surprised noise but leans forward obligingly, opening his mouth to let Tony lick inside, suck on his tongue, and that coaxes out a sound Tony wants to hear more of—

And Steve pulls away, breathing a little heavily. Tony is rather inordinately proud of that.

“We can’t do this here,” Steve says. Tony knows he’s right, some people are already staring, but Steve and his shoulders and his eyes and his hair and his lips are right there, how is he supposed to control himself?

“Tony, the car.”

Tony throws some money on the table (it’s something like fifty dollars in tips but that’s all right, this restaurant deserves it for giving him Steve) and trails after Steve like an idiot, eyes fixed on Steve’s hands, his ass.

God.

Steve speeds a little on their way back to the mansion and that more than anything else convinces Tony that this is really a thing, that Steve feels for Tony at least as much lust as Tony has for Steve, because Steve really believes in following speed limits.

“So you—“ Tony manages before Steve makes a cutting motion with his hand.

“If you try to talk to me while I’m driving, we may crash.”

Tony thinks about this for a little and is incredibly flattered.

When they get to the garage Steve parks crookedly and Tony tells him to leave it, it doesn’t matter, they turn off the engine and leave the keys in the ignition and make it halfway up the stairs before their momentum runs out and Tony has enough brainpower to question—

“Wait, how do you even—I didn’t even know you liked me!”

“Of course I like you, Tony, it’s impossible not to like you. And then you made me pancakes, and you ate that cucumber, and Clint and Natasha were telling me but I wasn’t sure until today because you hate modern art, Tony.”

“I don’t hate it,” Tony protests weakly, but Steve grips his hand and tugs and he forgets anything but following after Steve and the sensation of callus-rough fingers on his skin. “Does this mean that you knew I was wooing you?”

“I knew, Tony,” Steve says, and pulls them into his bedroom. Tony has to stop and process that for a moment, because: Steve’s bedroom. Where he is.

“Are we dating?”

“We’ve been dating.” Steve crowds Tony against the (closed, locked) door and then oh, Steve’s lips, he’s definitely up for Steve’s lips on his, and Steve is pressing against him, all heat and hardness and Tony arches forwards with a whine. Steve moans and kisses Tony harder, teeth catching on his lower lip and Tony’s hands scrabble for purchase along Steve’s shoulders.

They separate only far enough for Steve to lean his forehead against Tony’s, aligned from hips to knees, breathing each others’ air.

“So,” Tony ventures, staring into the blue of Steve’s eyes. “If we’ve been dating, can we sleep together now?”

Steve laughs into their next kiss.

“I think we can manage that, can’t you?”

They really, really can.

 

 

Clint gloats at them the next morning. Tony throws a fork at him. Steve gives his disappointed look, which makes Tony laugh until Steve turns the look on him.

Tony thinks he should be bitter about making elaborate wooing plans that became obsolete because Steve knew he was being wooed, but whenever Steve smiles at him he forgets what he’s been thinking about. Clint fakes a gag whenever that happens.

Tony, smug as hell and magnanimous in victory, ignores him and turns his face up for Steve’s kiss.