Steve likes Tony. He really likes Tony. He likes being with Tony. He likes spending his free time with Tony. He doesn't like it when Tony spends time with other people, and if they're not people he approves of, he'll cut them out -- he's good at that, does it with such grace that people go away feeling like something nice has happened to them; hey, Captain America noticed them specifically! Captain America has something special he needs done that only they can do!
Meanwhile, Steve gets to spend a lot more time with Tony. Because Steve likes Tony.
Steve likes it when Tony does engineering, because that's a worthwhile use of time. He invents amazing things like the armor and the arc reactor and an entire new element, plus once he fiddled with Steve's alarm clock so that no matter what Steve did to it, it was better balanced on its feet than face down. It's also very interesting to watch, with the ghostly documents flying through the air and the things that Steve can only guess at the purpose of.
Steve likes it when Tony is Iron Man, too, because he's a better fighter than you'd think, and can take off and land in the middle of a crowded parking lot without the slightest damage to any of the cars, and that corny one-knee-down landing position makes Steve smile every time.
He likes it when Tony takes him flying, which is too amazing for words.
He likes it, though he shouldn't, when Tony teases Fury. He'd feel worse about liking that if he didn't suspect that under the gruff exterior Fury might be kind of amused by it, too.
He doesn't mind when Tony teases the rest of the team, because all of them have their own ways of dealing with it, and if Natasha sometimes tosses something that grazes a line down Tony's cheek by way of warning, well, how can anyone expect him to learn if they don't let him make mistakes and bear the consequences?
He only grudgingly accepts Tony's public persona, and he doesn't like it when Tony drinks, and he really doesn't like it when Tony goes to those kinds of parties where people are doing drugs in the bathrooms and having sex in the coatrooms. When these things come up, he separates Tony from them as quickly as he can.
And it's not as if Tony really puts up much of a fight. If he really wanted to stay, he'd say so, and Steve would go away and not sulk. Because he doesn't sulk. And anyway, the prospect of your friend sulking is not a serious enough threat to make somebody abandon something unless they weren't enjoying it very much in the first place.
But what it all comes down to is that Steve likes Tony.
But sometimes this thing will happen that he can't quite make sense of. Like, say it's a Saturday afternoon, and he and Tony have sparred a little, and then he's watched Tony build a twice-life-sized lobster out of aluminum (because you never know when you might need something like that), and then they've played catch, and then they've washed one of Tony's cars and taken it out someplace for burgers, and in the elevator up from the parking level, Steve puts his hand on Tony's shoulder and squeezes and says, "This was a great day," and ...
See, this is when it gets confusing. Because Tony smiles back at him and says, "The greatest," and his eyelids go a little heavy, and he leans into Steve's hand on his shoulder and turns a little, raising his chin ...
And then Steve takes a big step backwards and gulps in a big breath and says, "All right! See ya!" and high-tails it up to the gym, because it was almost like Tony was going to kiss him, and it was almost like he was going to kiss Tony back, and one of them is very confused.
And the next day they steer clear of each other, and maybe the day after that, but soon enough there'll be a ransom note or something mysterious in the water system or just a night too nice not to have a cookout, and Steve wouldn't want to have a cookout without Tony, because Steve likes Tony.
Steve tries not to think about sex too much. Young men of his generation still considered sublimation to be a positive goal, and Steve has had a lot of practice.
Besides, who's he going to think about?
He used to imagine making love to Peggy, undoing the tiny buttons of her wedding gown one by one. Peggy probably would want (probably would have wanted) to get married in her uniform, but she had a linen handkerchief with handmade lace around the edges, when he knew her, and he likes (liked) to think about giving her pretty things.
He doesn't think about that now, though, because it would be too sad to contemplate.
If he tries to make up a girl who isn't real, though, no matter how carefully he constructs her beforehand, she always turns into Peggy as soon as things get interesting.
He could think about girls -- women -- he actually knows. Pepper, Natasha, Jane. But it seems so disrespectful. It would be different if he were in love with one of them, or even had a special liking for one of them beyond appreciating their skills and their wits and thinking that all of them are kind of pretty in an abstract way that has nothing to do with him. But he doesn't, and so using them for fantasy just seems wrong.
He knows he could meet new women and date them. He sees the way they look at him. But he didn't even know how to romance a dame in his own time, and he certainly doesn't know how to do it now. If it's OK to have sex without being married, or engaged, or even in love, then how do you know how long to wait? Are you supposed to fall into bed with a girl and then get to know her? It seems so complicated that there's no way he could manage not to get it horribly wrong.
It's one of the reasons he spends so much time with Tony. Keeping his mind off it.
It works at first, and then it doesn't. He works out more, but it's pretty tough to wear this body out. And anything other than full-out exertion leaves his mind free to wander, which is just what he doesn't want.
It's probably bad to wish for another megalomaniac so soon after they defeated the last one.
When Tony comes down to the gym, Steve thinks at first that he'll be a great distraction, but he stays just as keyed up as before. It doesn't help at all. In fact, when Tony wants to spar, the idea just makes things worse. Maybe it's the similarity to dancing? Anyhow, Steve says, "No," really fast, and Tony makes an exaggerated hands-off gesture and says, "Fine, fine, no contact, I get it," and there's something stiff around his mouth like Steve's hurt his feelings.
He's heard fellows say, "I just need to get laid," to break tension like this, but he just cannot imagine those words coming out of his own mouth.
"Teach me to play soccer?" he says instead.
"How is it you're assuming I know how to play soccer?" Tony says, but there's a soccer ball in the equipment room, and he knows more than Steve knows, so it's perfect.
It's fun. Being with Tony is always fun. Steve doesn't exactly have two left feet -- he'll probably never fall over his feet again -- but learning a new physical skill is good for his body and his mind, and it's a fun challenge, keeping the ball going in tiny hops from foot to foot. Better when Tony tries to steal it away from him, a game of keep-away but with feet instead of hands, Tony twisting and ducking and making taunting comments to try to distract him, both of them laughing. And then everything just goes wrong -- Tony backs while Steve is pivoting, and Steve's groin goes right up against Tony's behind, and Tony throws a wicked grin at Steve over his shoulder and says, "Easy, there. Buy me dinner first."
Steve is ten feet away before he registers moving. "I, uh," he begins, taking another step backwards.
Tony's grin curdles, and he spikes the ball so hard it rebounds almost all the way to the ceiling. "What," he says, "what, what does it mean, why do you do this?"
"I didn't mean to," Steve says. The ball bounces unregarded down to the far end of the gym and rolls around under the weight rack.
"You flirt and you flirt, and that is not a problem, that is the complete opposite of a problem, except that the minute it looks like we're actually going to get somewhere, you're --" Tony waves his hand -- "all the way over there, wringing your hands and looking miserable."
Steve stops wringing his hands. "I don't flirt."
"Oh, please," Tony says sourly. He goes off towards where the ball came to rest, muttering to himself.
Steve reels back what happened in his mind, the way his face must have lit up when Tony came in (because his day always gets brighter when Tony is in it), the sheer physical joy of trying to outmaneuver him. "I don't mean it as flirting," he says.
Tony stands there, soccer ball in his hands, looking sort of slack and clumsy like a fellow who was dancing a few seconds ago and doesn't really know why he isn't still dancing. "Why the hell not?" he says.
"Look here," Steve says. "I know all you people expect me to be like everybody's grandpa, but I never looked down on a man if he wanted to go to bed with other men. Never. It's his business, and that's the end of it. And if you're one of those --" He falters at that, because it runs smack up against all these pictures in his head. Tony at a party with some gal in a fringed skirt, doing a dance that's not too much different from screwing standing up. Tony in a limo with a blonde whispering into each ear. "Or only some of the time, if you --"
Tony smirks at him, and he goes on doggedly: "But it's got to feel different for a fellow like that. Because what I feel when I'm with my best pal and what I feel when I'm with a girl I like, they're totally different feelings."
Tony bounces the soccer ball idly off his knee, catches it in his outstretched hand without looking at it. "Have you ever been as close to a woman you liked as you were with me just now? Physically, that close, for that long a time?"
Steve gives it some thought. Tony, being Tony, takes the fact that he's giving it some thought as evidence that he's already conceded the argument. "The fact is -- and I say this as your friend -- the fact is that that certain something that you feel when you're with a woman you like is not some special heterosexual exclusive feeling. It's sheer mortal terror."
"Now that is just --" Fairness stops him from finishing the sentence. "Sure, but it can't only --"
Tony is bouncing the ball off his foot now, still not looking at it, with this annoying expression of polite attention on his face. It's driving Steve bats. He grabs the ball out of the air before Tony can do anything else annoying with it. "It's like the difference between," he says, and he kisses Tony soundly on the mouth.
It's meant to demonstrate the huge gap between the brotherly sensation of two sets of male lips together and the mysterious flame that results if one set of lips belongs to a girl, and so, in the interest of justice, he doesn't make it quick. He's not going to get sloppy, but he knows very well that Tony will refuse to accept his conclusions if he doesn't make it the best kiss he knows how to give.
Steve closes his eyes, because that's just simple politeness.
Tony's lips aren't slick the way a girl's would be, because of the lipstick, just warm and dry. His moustache prickles Steve's mouth a little bit. Even sweaty, he smells pretty nice, in a way that is not like a girl at all.
Steve's not aware of dropping the ball, but distantly he hears it hit the floor as he cups Tony's face in his hands, running his thumbs down the thin line of whiskers on either side of Tony's mouth, and Tony makes a little noise in his throat, like a cut-off sigh.
Oh, jeez, he's kissing Tony.
He steps back. Tony is standing there with his hands hanging loosely at his sides, his eyes shut, his face a little pink, his chest visibly rising and falling with his breath. Steve wasn't deep-kissing him, but his mouth is wet. It's very, very obvious that that didn't feel like a brotherly kiss to him.
Steve touches his own mouth, which is also wet. It didn't feel like a brotherly kiss to him, either.
"Tony," he says helplessly. "What -- I don't understand."
It's like playing that game where you make a move and turn over all the pieces from black to white: all the things that have happened since he woke up are turning over and showing another side. He and Tony have been spending nearly all their time together for months. He's seen Tony's good sides and admired them. He's seen Tony's bad sides and either accepted them or helped him nudge himself out of them.
He likes Tony.
"It's all right," Tony says. He doesn't even get his eyes open until halfway through the sentence. "It's all right, I understand, it can be unnerving, though most of us have this revelation in puberty and not eighty years later, but! It doesn't have to be anything else, just, just a new understanding of yourself. A boost in self-awareness! That has to be a good thing! And I won't -- I mean, you're not under any kind of obligation, just because I happened to be the, the catalyst for --"
Steve takes Tony's flailing hand and pulls him in. "Is it all right," he interrupts softly, "if I kiss you some more?"
Tony's body answers for him, and it's a lot more concise than Tony's words usually are. And now he sees the difference between a kiss that Tony is permitting and one that Tony is really participating in. Tony grips him by the nape of the neck and opens his mouth with his tongue, and their bodies press tightly together, and it's -- god.
Steve sweeps his hand up Tony's back, under his T-shirt, running his thumb along the line of Tony's shoulderblade, and with his eyes shut he can see it so clearly, because he's aware of the shape of Tony's shoulderblades. He's aware of the points of his shoulders and the ridges of his quadriceps and the lobes of his ears and the lines at the corners of his eyes. He wants to touch them all, and kiss them all, these places that he's been noticing, without knowing he was noticing, all these months.
"I am such an idiot," he says.
"We're talking now?" Tony says in tones of despair.
Steve kisses him instead of answering. Lifts his T-shirt off and kisses him some more; breaks, reluctantly, to let Tony work his T-shirt off over his head, and then goes back to kissing. He feels like there's a lifetime of kissing Tony that's been held in a vault someplace waiting for him to wise up, a lifetime of touching the sweep of muscle up either side of his spine, the knots of scars around the reactor and the sparse hair above and below.
He runs his thumb along the edge of Tony's shorts. "Can I?"
"Security protocol five-oh-one," Tony says hoarsely, and Jarvis's voice says, "Yes, sir."
Steve laughs. "You've got a security protocol for fooling around in the gym?"
Tony looks at him with one eye sort of squinted. "You find that disgusting? Evidence of loose living, etcetera?"
"Kind of dirty and clever all at the same time, just like you," Steve says. "Can I?"
"Me first," Tony says, and pushes Steve's shorts and skivvies until they fall off.
Tony puts his hand right on Steve's cock, without hesitation. It sends an astonishing zing of pleasure through his entire body. Tony makes a low murmur of approval, and Steve's knees go weak. He puts his back against the cold wall and slides down, slowly so that Tony won't let go. Tony doesn't disappoint him, just drops his shorts and climbs right into Steve's lap.
He grabs Tony's ass, which feels fantastic, and hauls him closer, and then he gasps, because that's brought their cocks right up together, and he could never possibly have imagined what that would feel like, not in a hundred years. Tony gives him a breathless, grinning "Yeah," and Steve stops caring about what's allowed and grabs hold of them both.
"Christ," Tony says thickly. He's got his lip caught between his teeth, and his hips are moving fast and graceful. "I, oh, sorry, Steve, normally I'm not this -- but fuck you've got big hands --" and Steve gets it all at once, like a blow to the gut, that he's going to make Tony come, and he comes himself just thinking about it, just feeling it, both of them together.
"Don't let go," Tony whispers into his ear as the pleasure starts to fade. "Ease up, but don't let go yet," and Steve cradles his cock and kisses his mouth until his breathing slows down.
What do people do now? It's very messy, and just because it's a fellow instead of a girl doesn't make Steve any more of an expert on what comes next. But Tony says, "OK," and against his face Steve can feel him smiling. "Now we can talk about what an idiot you are."
So Steve wipes his hand off on his own hip. "You could have explained it to me."
"What, right, welcome to the twenty-first century, Captain Rogers; you're secretly lusting after your teammate, and also soccer is a hell of a game."
"I don't know how you ever expect me to learn to get along if you won't explain these little things to me."
And he feels good. He feels like they can clean up, and shower, and have dinner, and argue over what to watch, and maybe do this again in a bed, slowly, because the important thing hasn't changed: he likes Tony.