It’s a widely-known fact that Tony Stark doesn’t like to be touched.
People believe it, mostly. Why wouldn’t they- he’s glib, he’s superficial, he ducks out from under people’s arms and lets go of handshakes after the required amount of time. There’s been more than enough footage over the years of Tony putting his arms around the bare hips of a bikini-clad model, her glossy lips leaving sticky traces on his cheek as she laughed along to something they both knew wasn’t funny, but that’s only when Tony is leading someone into bed. After they’re finished, Tony always leaves soon after, with the minimum amount of touching he can get away with, because apart from sex, Tony doesn’t like to be touched.
There are exceptions to the rule, the public knows: Tony gets very touchy-feely when he’s drunk, draping his arms over people’s shoulders or waists, patting their cheeks or clapping their shoulders, but that’s only because he’s drunk, everyone would be touchy-feely if they were as drunk as Tony Stark always is in those videos, falling over everybody’s feet and laughing at everything until he has to crawl somewhere to throw up.
As always, the public opinion isn’t always the right one: it wouldn’t be accurate to say Tony doesn’t want people to touch him- he does, and sometimes so much his hands start to itch.
It’ll start as a twinge in his palms that is more annoying than anything, and it will build up to a steady needle of itching down his fingers. It’s purely psychological, Tony knows. His hands can’t actually itch from needing someone to put their arms around him, to actually touch him like they care and not how people usually touch him, always fleeting, always a means to an end, letting go of Tony after they’ve got what they wanted, whether ‘what they wanted’ is sex, money or otherwise.
Tony craves touch so much his brain makes up a lie about his hands itching, but he’s content to let the media speculate and make up what they want, since they always have and probably always will. He’s used to it. He’s reached a point in his life where he isn’t even surprised anymore, even slightly admiring in how they come up with the bullshit that they do.
There are very few people who are privy to how clingy Tony is- Pepper calls it ‘touch starved,’ once, but Tony makes a face and she rolls her eyes at him and that’s the last time the phrase is used- there’s Pepper, of course, and Happy, and then Rhodey, who has known the longest.
Rhodey has known since he met Tony, when some dangerously drunk 14 year old climbed into Rhodey’s bed next to him and tried to cuddle him.
Rhodey had jumped up despite the kid trying to cling to him- eighteen and half-asleep, having just handed in an essay that took him a straight 12 hours to write, he whirled around towards the bed. “What the hell, man,” he barked, and then stopped.
The kid in bed made him change his tone: he was blinking up at him, confused, no facial hair to speak of, head wavering as he held it up to stare at Rhodey. He was very obviously too young to be drinking.
Thinking he was someone’s little brother who broke into his stash- the students weren’t technically allowed to have alcohol on campus, but since the TA had the exact same stash, it was rare that anyone would get in trouble for it- Rhodey had asked him if he needed help finding someone.
The kid cracked up, and then made a worrying gagging noise. “Oh,” the kid said. “Fuck.”
Then he leaned over the side of Rhodey’s bed and vomited right on his bare feet.
“JESUS,” Rhodey yelled, face twisting as he stared at his feet, which were covered in whatever the kid had just been drinking.
“S’ry,” the kid slurred. His eyelids drooped along with his head, and for a moment Rhodey thought he was going to slip right into the puddle of vomit, so he grabbed him by the shoulders.
The kid grumbled in complaint as he was eased back up on the bed, head swaying from side to side as he mumbled.
“Okay,” Rhodey said. He grimaced down at the mess on his feet, which was now sinking into the carpet. At least it’s pretty much all liquid, he comforted himself- he wouldn’t have to scrub food out of the carpet. Did this kid even eat anything before he started drinking? “Kid, who are you here visiting?”
The kid cracked his eyes open, glared at Rhodey blearily. “What,” he managed, croaking his way through it. He coughed, and bile drooled out of the kid’s mouth.
“Okay,” Rhodey said again. “Kid? I’m Jim Rhodes, but my pals call me Rhodey. How about we get you cleaned up before someone comes looking for you and find you like this, huh?”
“Mrghhhh,” the kid groaned, his head falling forwards as Rhodey propped him up.
“I’m gonna take that as a yes, please,” Rhodey sighed. He picked the kid up, who protested weakly but didn’t get anywhere from it, and Rhodey bridal-carried him into the bathroom. He turned on the shower, made sure it was warm enough, and then turned the spray on the kid, who groaned and twisted his head away from the water.
Rhodey hosed him down, warning him when he was about to splash his face. Then he climbed in and hosed off his own feet, before stepping onto the bathmat, turning the spray off.
He sat down next to the bath. “Feeling more sober now? You should, you threw up an awful lot. How’d you even get the booze, kid? Someone give it to you, or did you steal it from someone’s room? Because someone’s gonna be coming around to report that.”
“Didn’t steal it,” the kid said, eyes fluttering open. He rolled his head towards Rhodey, who sat patiently. “Who’re you? Why’re you in my bathroom?”
“Buddy,” Rhodey said. “This is my bathroom. This is my dorm room, that was my bed you crawled into.”
The kid frowns. “No, I’m sure this is my room.”
“Oh, really? You, the unbelievably drunk toddler who just threw up on my feet?”
“I’m not a toddler,” the kid snapped. Then he wilted, shoulders hunching. He looked away, towards the tiled wall. “Sorry. For throwing up on your feet. I’ll buy you new shoes.”
“I wasn’t wearing any.”
“I’ll buy you a new carpet.”
Rhodey stared at him. The kid looked back, dripping and cresting on puberty, and completely serious.
Rhodey burst out laughing. “Where the hell are you getting the money for that, kid?”
“Ahhh,” Rhodey sighed. He chinned himself on the lip of the tub. “Your parents around here now, kid?”
“No, they’re back in Malibu.”
Rhodey lifted his head off the tub. “Your parents let you come all the way to MIT on your own?”
“They kind of had to, once I got in and everything,” the kid said, like Rhodey was the dumb one here and he wasn’t sitting fully clothed in a stranger’s bathtub after throwing up on his feet. “They wouldn’t come here anyway,” he added in an undertone, eyes still hazy, and Rhodey wondered if he was meant to hear that bit.
Rhodey looked the kid over- skinny, but not malnourished. Oil stains on his clothes and skin, deep enough that the quick spray of water didn’t wash it off. “You’re a student?”
The kid raised his chin indignantly. “Yeah.”
Rhodey couldn’t help it; he laughed at the kid’s expression. “Sorry,” he said when the kid only looked angrier. Or, well- angry wasn’t the word. More- snubbed, expectant, shut down, his jaw locking and his eyes going flat.
“It’s just- you’re a little young, aren’t you? How old are you?”
“Fourteen.” He admitted it without hesitation, jaw still locked. The kid was stubborn, Rhodey could admire that.
“Whoa. You one of those kid geniuses or something? When’d you graduate high school?”
“Two years ago,” the kid said, pausing before he said it, like he was surprised Rhodey asked. “I was twelve.”
“Whoa,” Rhodey repeated, letting how impressed he was colour his voice. “Je-sus, kid. So what, you just get to run free around here? That why you drinking?”
Another pause, and then a shrug. There was a wrinkle between the kid’s eyebrows, and he kept looking away from Rhodey’s gaze.
“Can’t even imagine what I’d be doing in your position,” Rhodey admitted, and the kid’s gaze flew right back up to meet his again.
“If I was fourteen and shunted into this place?” Rhodey looked around the bathroom, whistled lowly. “With no-one looking after me, I think I would have tried to drink as much as I could the first night I got here. At least, that’s what I did when I was fifteen and I got to try whiskey for the first time. Got a whole bottle to myself. Paid my best friend’s big brother twice the price to get it for me.”
“How’d that go,” the kid asked, the start of a smile on his lips.
“I drank way too much and threw it all up by the end of the night,” Rhodey sighed, remembering. “God knows what I would’ve done in this place- binge drinking is practically a ritual around here.”
“Yeah,” the kid agreed. He picked at a hole in his jeans, nodding to himself.
“Your friends talk you into it?”
The kid’s shoulders stiffen, and Rhodey went over it in his mind- coming to university at twelve or thirteen, with the youngest person being at least five years older than you and not many people being smarter than you- yeah, okay, maybe that would make it harder to make friends.
“Nevermind,” Rhodey said hastily. “Uh. What’s your name? You know, you’re the third person whose name I’ve found out after they vomited on me?”
The kid said, “Really,” staring at the mould that was gathering between the wall tiles. He was shivering, Rhodey noticed.
“I’m Tony,” the kid said, and Rhodey nods.
“Tony. Nice to meet you.”
“You’re- Rhodey?” Tony’s mouth twisted. “Sorry, I was really out of it back there.”
“Shit, I didn’t notice,” Rhodey deadpanned.
It startled a burst of laughter out of Tony, and Rhodey grinned. He pulled a towel off the rack, offered it to him. “Here. You look cold.”
Tony took the towel with a muttered ‘thanks’ and a quick smile. He wrapped it around him, rubbed it through his hair. “So this isn’t dorm room 112, I assume.”
Rhodey shook his head. “Room 110, man.”
“Fuck,” Tony swore. It fit in his mouth, but Rhodey found himself wishing it didn’t. 14 and stuck in a grown-up’s world to this extent- Rhodey thought it’d do a number on anyone, that it was already doing one hell of a number on the kid in front of him. He found himself wishing he could find some way to let the kid be a kid, for a little while.
Which is how Rhodey ended up standing and sighing, leaning backwards so the muscles in his back popped. “Hey, budge over.”
“Why,” Tony asked, moving over as he did so. “What are you-”
Rhodey laughed at the look on Tony’s face as he climbed into the tub with him. “Relax, kid. I’m wiped enough to fall asleep anywhere at this point, and there’s no way I’m letting you into my bed when you’re dripping like that.”
He bopped Tony on the head. “Go to sleep, Tones.”
Tony blinked at the nickname, staring at Rhodey like he couldn’t figure him out. “Uh, it’s really fucking cold?”
“Grab us some towels,” Rhodey told him, and Tony leaned over and did, swiping several off the rack and handing them to Rhodey, who layered them over both of their bodies.
Rhodey remembered nights upon nights of sleeping like this next to his brother after a nightmare, how it always calmed him down: the simple contact of his brother’s back against his, their feet knocking together. He put an arm around the kid- it felt awkward, and from Tony’s expression it felt awkward, but after a few minutes he felt Tony lean into him.
Rhodey woke up a few times during the night, falling back asleep woozy and stiffly uncomfortable in the bathtub, but every time he did, Tony was latched onto him, even in his sleep, head in the crook of Rhodey’s neck, grip so tight like he thought Rhodey would get up and leave if he didn’t hold hard enough.
Poor kid, Rhodey found himself thinking when he woke up one of those times. It was early morning, the new light was filtering dully in from the windows. He fell back into a fitful sleep, and the next time he woke up, it was to a noise made by Tony as he banged his knee on the lip of the tub.
“Sorry,” Tony hissed, hair dried into unattractive spikes, damp clothes still stuck to his body, unable to dry. “Go back to sleep, I’m just gonna go.”
Rhodey reached out, grabbed the back of Tony’s shirt. His hand came away wet. “You want eggs?”
“What,” Tony said, one foot on the bathmat and one in the bath.
Rhodey yawned, stretching. God, he’s going to have kinks in muscles he didn’t even know he had. “Eggs,” he repeated as he got up, towels sloughing off to the floor of the bath. “I’m making ‘em, you want some?”
“Uh.” Tony swallowed, eyes darting around the bathroom. The kid’s really not used to wanting to be kept around, Rhodey found himself thinking. “Sure?”
“Cool,” Rhodey said, and stepped out of the tub. “That was, by far, the most uncomfortable sleep I’ve ever had.”
“Sorry,” Tony said, lips pinching together after he said it.
Rhodey snorted, shoving him lightly. “How ‘bout you have a shower while I’m making breakfast? You must be hungover as shit, and your clothes are still wet.”
“It’s fine.” Tony’s shoulders were hunched, and it made him look even younger. “I can have a shower back at my dorm.”
“Fair enough,” Rhodey said. He handed Tony a towel, and with a moment’s hesitation, Tony wrapped it around him.
Rhodey was in the middle of making eggs when he turned around to ask what Tony wanted in them, salami or onion or some other shit Rhodey could scrape out of the back of his fridge, when Tony lunged at him and kissed him full on the mouth.
Rhodey squeaked in confusion, and then pried the kid off. “Uh, what?”
“You’re really nice,” Tony said, and tried to go in for another kiss. Rhodey fended him off gently.
“Kid. You always try this with people who are nice to you?”
“Sometimes,” Tony said after a pause and a shrug, like it didn’t mean much and it wasn’t illegal. He tried to reach down Rhodey’s pants, but Rhodey yelped and leaped back.
“The people here all have to be at least five years older than you,” Rhodey said. “I- who even- you’re fourteen, do you even like sex?”
“Not really,” Tony said, and then he froze. Something passed over his face, and he let go of Rhodey, starting for the door and apologizing towards the floor.
“Hey, hey.” Rhodey caught him by the shoulder. “You are one weird guy, Tones, but how’s about you stay for your damn eggs? Remember those? How I’m making them?”
“Why are you so,” Tony said, and stared at him, again like he didn’t know what to make of him, but this time like he was angry about it. “Are you fucking with me? Without actually fucking with me?”
Rhodey breathed in through his nose. “Man, I’m just trying to make you eggs. You want onion, salami? I think I have some garlic in my cupboard.”
“Who has garlic in their eggs,” Tony said, face twisting. “Ew.”
It’s the start of a friendship based off of Tony getting into trouble and Rhodey not-so-secretly loving it, pulling him out of fires and keeping an eye on him as much as he could, which got harder when he joined the Air Force.
It also sets a tradition: Rhodey touches Tony, casual touches, and Tony doesn’t say anything about it, mostly. He thanks him once or twice, but that’s always when he’s blind drunk and snuggling into Rhodey’s collarbone like the first time.
Rhodey never brings up Tony saying he doesn’t really like sex. He figures it’s because he was so young, but there are times when he doubts it. Like when Tony only follows the curves of people’s bodies when he’s tuned in, when he’s putting on a show for the cameras. He does it sometimes when they’re in the jet and strippers are dancing around them, but Rhodey occasionally thinks Tony’s trying to convince himself something.
But he doesn’t bring it up, because whenever he starts, Tony gets that same face he got in his dorm. And Tony’s fine, he sleeps around until Iron Man happens and he doesn’t, and Rhodey bites his tongue against asking Tony, there, isn’t that better, now you have an excuse not to do it.
Tony has never fallen in love, and no-one’s too surprised when he tells them. Not that he tells many people, but when he does, he never gets any raised eyebrows.
What he keeps carefully under wraps is that whenever he thought he was in love- with Rhodey when they were younger, with Pepper a while later- Happy always looked at him strangely.
“No offence, Boss, but that’s not being in love, that’s just plain old friend love.”
Then what the hell is being in love with someone, Tony wanted to shout at him, but chewed his cheek to keep it in. It confused him, the whole thing did. He’s still not convinced he wasn’t in love with Rhodey or Pepper, but he doesn’t tell anyone about it. He’s been worrying for a long time, since before he even met Rhodey, that he wasn’t even capable of falling in love. How fucking sad would that be?
What he keeps even more carefully under wraps- Fort Knox, 24/7 hour security type shit- is that Tony has never been attracted to anyone, that way. He had grown up expecting it to happen, but it kept not happening until one day some girl dragged him down onto her bed and Tony just went with it, hoping it would awaken something in him.
It doesn’t- the sex was okay, the orgasm was definitely nice, but he never really felt the hunger that all the books and movies described. This continued, kept up until Tony was an adult and sleeping with people left and right because people expected him to, because he was good in it in the way he always gets good at something he practices out of necessity, because he kept hoping this time it’d be different, and honestly, it was the only time people touched him, truly touched him.
He’s still confused, but he tries not to think about it.
He keeps this up until he’s forty-two and well over the expectation that he’s going to figure any of this out, until Natasha corners him in an elevator and explains it to him.
Natasha and Tony’s friendship was, at first, a grudging respect with added admiration at each other’s abilities put into the mix. They enjoyed talking to each other (when Tony wasn’t busy being a hot mess) but they only did it when they had to. But as the team started actually becoming a team and not a bunch of disgruntled superheroes shoved together in order to save the world, they found they had to talk a lot more, which turned into them seeking each other out for it.
This turned into Natasha offering to teach Tony how to spar properly, which turned into Natasha teaching Tony some ballet moves. She insists it’s to improve his flexibility and co-ordination, but he thinks it’s so she can secretly film it and get a few million hits on Youtube.
He tells her this, and she rolls her eyes. “Right, Youtube hits. My main goal in life. Take the bar, Tony, and show me the move I just demonstrated to you.”
As it turns out, Natasha is a good conversationalist for Tony, which means she doesn’t talk much, but when she does, it’s pretty great. They wile away many an hour by not talking and then having ten-minute bursts when they talk constantly, before turning back to the TV and doing it all over again. It confuses the others, but Tony confuses a lot of people.
They’re doing the not-talking-in-front-of-the-TV thing, in the not-talking stage when the other Avengers come and sit down around them, in couches and chairs, Thor making Tony budge over so he can make Tony’s couch creak by sitting in it.
Tony mostly tunes out- he’s focussed on his tablet rather than the TV. Sometimes his and Natasha’s not-talking-in-front-of-the-TV can take a fork in the road and turn into Tony-catching-up-on-his-work, which Pepper would thank Natasha for profusely.
He drifts in and out of the conversation, idly listening in before finding nothing of interest and tuning out again. It’s a little dangerous- he doesn’t usually let himself tune out like this in front of people, because when it gets to this kind of depth he ends up saying shit he probably shouldn’t say in front of people. As in, what he actually thinks, instead of some bullshit reply he pulls out of thin air.
But he’s tuned out, which is why his response is the most honest it’s ever been about the subject Clint brings up.
Distantly, Tony hears Clint say something like, “No, I definitely heard he was an equal opportunist. Like, equal-equal, no preference. Hey Tones, who are you attracted to more, dudes or chicks?”
He calls the last part out to Tony, who runs the words over in his mind and unthinkingly says, “I’ve actually never been attracted to anyone, it’s really worrying.”
A silence falls over the lounge, laughter from before Tony’s sentence trailing off as they listen to it. Tony’s ears absorb the sudden lack of noise and he looks up to find people looking at him with various looks of surprise or confusion.
“Um,” Clint says, the smile sloughing off his face. “Okay?”
It clicks that Tony missed something, and he plays it over in his mind- oh. Oh, shit. Fuck. Time for damage control.
“I’m joking,” he says, putting on his best charming grin. He tries to laugh, but it comes out stale and it’s obvious no-one’s buying it. “It was a joke, come on, guys, I’m me.”
His team starts trading looks, and okay, no, Tony changed his mind, he can’t do this. He gets up, clutching his tablet, tendrils of panic starting to catch on his mind. He forces them down- save it for the workshop, you can freak out there-
A few people call his name as flees, but he doesn’t turn around. He’s close to hyperventilating by the time he falls onto the wall of his elevator. He wets his lips. They’re cracked.
“JARVIS,” he rasps. “Worksh-”
The doors are closing when a hand smacks into them and they start opening again automatically. Tony pushes himself upright as Natasha steps into the elevator.
“Can’t you guys take a joke?”
Natasha tilts her head at him. Her lips purse, like she’s deciding something- he knows a few of her faces now, but only ever if she’s letting him see them.
“I’m asexual,” she says finally, and Tony blinks.
“Like… what, like an amoeba? What are you telling me? You can duplicate at will? Because I knew you couldn’t be in so many places with such a short gap in between, there had to be at least two of you-”
She sighs. “Oh, good. You’re as educated about this as I thought you’d be. I’m going to have to start from scratch, aren’t I? JARVIS, don’t let Tony out until I’m finished talking to him.”
“Belay that,” Tony says instantly. The doors close. “Motherfuck.”
She rolls her eyes. “Stark. Tony.”
“I think we’re at the place where we can use first names,” he says dryly, trying to calm his racing heart. He crosses his arms, tries to look powerful. He thinks he fails, because Natasha smiles at him in that way that means she can kill him in ways he can’t even comprehend.
“I’m asexual,” Natasha says again. “Basically, it means I don’t feel sexual attraction towards anyone. Despite this, some asexuals have a libido, and that’s why they chose to have sex, even though they aren’t attracted to the person or people they’re having sex with. Some asexuals-”
“Why are you telling me this,” Tony interrupts, mind whirling. “What- what?”
“From what you said out there, I think you might be asexual,” Natasha says calmly. Her eyes track his.
“Asexual,” Tony repeats. “That’s- I can’t be asexual.”
“How are you asexual? You’re-” Tony waves a hand over her, and Natasha’s mouth quirks.
“A hot piece, I know. An asexual hot piece.”
“Stop saying that,” Tony says. He bends, braces his hands on his knees. “Fuck.”
He slides to the floor, heart pounding. Natasha sits next to him gracefully, crossing her legs.
Tony wets his lips a second time. “You said- aseuxals don’t feel sexual attraction. For anyone.”
“What about- is there a thing where you can be asexual, but with an exception?”
She blinks. “Do you have one?”
“An exception?” Tony rubs a hand over his face. “Uh. Maybe? I’m feeling something, but I don’t- I’ve never felt it before, so I don’t know if it’s- that. Sexual attraction. But it definitely fucking feels like it, and oh my god, Nat, it is killing me. How do people put up with this?”
“I wouldn’t know,” she says. “And if you truly are sexually attracted to someone, you could be demisexual.”
“WHAT THE HELL IS THAT,” Tony bursts out helplessly. “What are all these words, who made up all these words-”
“They aren’t made up,” Natasha says, quiet but firm. “And they make people feel like they have a place in the world, a name for what they are after people telling them that what they feel doesn’t exist. What did you feel when I explained the definition of asexuality to you?”
Tony puts his head in his hands. “Relief,” he says finally, voice low. “And- then confusion, when I remembered, uh, Steve.”
Natasha’s hands come up to circle her knees. It’s a childish position, but with Natasha, it fits. “Steve is the person you think you feel sexual attraction towards?”
“What makes you think it’s sexual attraction?”
“Please stop saying that,” Tony sighs. He lifts his head out of his hands, presses the flat of his palms against his forehead. “Uh. I don’t know, it’s- you know when you watch movies, and it’s always there, and you always wondered what that felt like?”
“Now it’s all making sense.” Tony leans against the elevator wall, hair falling into his eyes. “All the pressing them into a wall and kissing them, ripping off their clothes and all that crap. I actually want to do that. Like- when he’s working out, and he’s wearing those barely-there booty shorts, you know the ones-”
Her lips twitch. “I brought him those.”
“You bastard,” Tony moans. “I’ve spent all this time wanting to have sex but never being attracted to anyone, and now this asshole walks in with his hair and his body and that stupid smile- his smile gets me hot, what the hell is that?”
“You’re sure it isn’t romantic?”
“This thing you’re feeling, is it sexual or romantic? Is it butterflies or heat in your stomach? Or both?”
“Uh,” Tony says. “What?” He thinks he might be saying that too much, but to be fair, this is a confusing conversation.
“Are you romantically attracted to Steve, or is it just physical?”
“I- don’t know?” Tony grimaces. “I’ve been realizing that I haven’t actually, uh. Liked anyone like that. Ever. I mean, I thought I did, but it turns out that was just a lot of friendship feelings, otherwise I’m romantically attracted to all of you guys.”
She pats his shoulder when he starts banging the back of his head against the elevator wall. “I can’t believe I’m figuring all this shit out after I’m forty. This is pathetic.”
“Some people figure it out older,” Natasha points out. “Or never. Have you been able to- tell these two feelings apart? Romantic and sexual attraction?”
Tony shifts his jaw in its socket as he thinks it over. “None of this ever leaves this elevator.”
“The romantic shit started before the sexual shit,” Tony sighs. “I- enjoyed his company a lot, but differently to everyone else? Like- I got way too happy when he noticed me. And when I made him laugh, it was even better. And whenever he stood too close, I started wanting to kiss him. I’ve never wanted that before. I think it would feel, uh- like, kissing has never been like how it is in the books, it’s only ever been a mouth on mine, but I think kissing Steve would be different. I get all stupid and stutter-y when he’s around, or when he pays too much attention, I’m like a fifth grader with a crush. God, I can’t believe I’m having my first crush at forty-two. Can’t believe I didn’t realize all that shit I felt for Rhodey and Pepper was just friendship. I’m an idiot.”
“It’s confusing,” Natasha allows. “Tony?”
“I’m going to give you some things to look through after this. Websites, and the like. And of course you can correct me later, but I think you’re demisexual and demiromantic.”
“Demiromantic.” Tony rolls it over in his mouth. “What are both of those?”
“Demisexual means you don’t feel sexual attraction until you have an emotional connection to a person, and demiromantic is when you don’t feel romantic attraction until you have an emotional connection. Does that sound like you?”
“…I don’t know,” Tony admits. “I always thought I just didn’t feel either of them. Or, I thought I felt romantic attraction, but it was really just loving my friends. Wait, I know both Rhodey and Pepper well, why aren’t I- why don’t I feel for them what I feel for Steve?”
Natasha shrugs. “Honestly, I haven’t heard of a case like yours before. If you didn’t feel what you do for Steve, I’d assume you were asexual and aromantic. But if you trust your feelings are what they are, I’d say demi is a better bet.”
“Well, after this conversation I definitely don’t trust my feelings,” Tony says. “But I know there’s something very fucking different with Steve.”
“What does your gut tell you?”
Tony snorts, rolling his head to look at her. “We’re trusting our guts now?”
“Mine’s got me out of a lot of trouble,” Natasha says, patting her stomach.
Tony laughs despite himself, and then sighs. “Honestly? I think I might be in love with him, and I definitely want to rip all the clothes off his body and fuck him until he can’t walk. Was that too much?”
“No. I’m asexual, but I can still appreciate how hot Steve is.”
“So hot,” Tony agrees. “Wow, I sound like a teenage girl.”
“Don’t diss teenage girls, teenage girls are amazing,” Natasha says blandly. “And it’s perfectly okay you sound like one. Teenage girls mostly act like that because they’re having these feelings for the first time, and you’re only feeling them now. Feel free to write ‘Tony Rogers’ all over your Biology folder.”
“Ha, ha.” Tony rocks sideways to bump their shoulders together. Natasha bumps him back.
He closes his eyes, leans his head against the elevator wall again. “I feel like something’s been lifted off of me that’s been on me since I could remember,” he says eventually. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” she tells him. “I’m glad to help. Come to me if you have any questions about this, okay?”
Tony researches until his eyes start to close on their own accord. Everything he finds is more of a weight dragged off of him, until he’s grinning at the screen. This is a thing, an actual thing, there are communities out there and everything, he even talks to a few other demisexual demiromantics about his issues (under a fake name, of course) all of whom are very friendly and understanding of Tony’s problems.
I didn’t figure it out until I was fifty, one of them tells him. Don’t feel stupid about it.
Tony goes to sleep that night feeling light as air, smiling into his pillow.
The next day, his team are warier around him, especially since he smiles at all of them as they come in for breakfast.
“It’s a little early to be drinking,” Bruce tells him, and Tony laughs, making Bruce’s eyebrows raise.
“I’m not drunk, I’m just happy.”
“In the morning?” Steve sits down next to him, digging into his cereal, and Tony bites his cheek so his smile doesn’t turn into a sappy grin. God, Steve’s so great. Kind of an asshole at times, but Tony doesn’t like people unless they’re a bit of a dick.
Steve looks at him over his weet-a-bix. “You’re usually swearing at all of us and slouching around the place in the mornings. Something good happen?”
“Yes,” Tony says, with such lightness that Steve squints at him.
“Uh.” Tony puts his toast down. “I’ll get back to you on that.”
Steve watches him chew his toast for a few seconds. “Okay, if you’re sure.”
“Okay,” Steve repeats. “We’re all here if you want to tell anyone, though.”
“I told Natasha,” he says, and Steve’s spoon pauses halfway to his mouth.
Steve puts his spoon back in his milk. “You told Natasha,” he says, worry colouring his tone. “I. What kind of good thing happened, exactly?”
“She helped me figure something out.”
“Oh.” Steve frowns, but it turns into a small smile when he continues to look at Tony’s expression. “Well, good for you, I guess. I’m glad you’re so happy about it.”
“Does it have anything to do with that weird thing you said yesterday,” Clint says from across the kitchen, and Steve turns around his chair and glares at him until Clint holds up the hand that isn’t holding his plate. “Not weird! The totally normal thing you said yesterday which we didn’t discuss in length when you ran out of the room. Sans Natasha. Because she followed you. And helped you figure something out.”
Steve’s glare intensifies until Clint hunches over and starts devouring his toast, avoiding everyone’s eyes.
“Anyway,” Steve says, turning back to Tony and offering a smile like he didn’t just scare the shit out of Clint with the power of his eyes. “We’re happy for you, Tony.”
He even puts his hand on Tony’s and squeezes briefly, but Tony catches a glimpse of sadness in Steve’s face before he looks down at his cereal. He tries to cover it up as soon as it crosses his face, but it’s definitely there.
The look appears again when they’re sparring the next day.
At first it’s fine, they’re throwing punches and Steve ducks every one and lands a few very light ones against Tony’s ribs.
“You can do better than that,” Tony goads him.
Steve grins. “Yeah, but I’d rather not.”
“I can handle it,” Tony says, going from foot to foot. “Come on, Steve, show me what you can do-”
That’s all he can get out before Steve’s legs come out to sweep his feet out from underneath him. He starts falling, but Steve circles a hand around his head before he hits the gym floor so his head is cushioned, Steve following his body down until he’s covering Tony, bodies pressed together against the floor.
Shit, Tony thinks as the touch of Steve’s skin lights him up in every place he touches, the hot press of Steve’s half-bare body making his dick twitch- god, he’s so close, Tony can count the freckles he always denies having, he can see every drop of sweat pearling on Steve’s neck-
Tony is scrambling out from underneath him before he knows he’s doing it, because if he doesn’t he’s definitely going to try to kiss him and Tony still hasn’t got this shit figured out yet. He looks back at Steve, ready to apologize, but stops when he sees Steve’s face.
Steve looks mournful, eyes big and sad and oddly self-loathing before he notices Tony looking at him and struggles to rearrange his expression. “Sorry,” Steve says, and Tony pauses, confused- Steve’s sorry?
“I shouldn’t have-” Steve clenches his fists, then loosens them. “I’m sorry,” he says again, and then he’s getting up and walking out of the gym.
Tony watches him, sitting on the wooden floor and trying to concentrate on anything that isn’t the lack of shirt or how his sweatpants cling to his hips. How the hell do people focus on anything if this is how they feel all the time?
He asks Natasha about it, who scratches her nose and says “Uhhhhh” until Tony pokes her.
“Steve might think you’re asexual and/or aromantic, though maybe not in those terms,” Natasha says, and Tony balks.
“What? Why? What did you tell him?”
“I didn’t tell him anything,” she says, eyebrows creasing inwards. “Tony, all he knows is that you declared you’ve never been attracted to anyone and then ran off. It’s not unusual to interpret that as you saying you were asexual. Or aromantic.”
Tony stares at her. “JARVIS?”
“Relay Steve’s recent search history.”
“How recent, Sir?”
“Yesterday and today.”
“Lack of sexual attraction,” JARVIS begins, “asexual definition, asexual LGBT definition, aromantic definition, LGBT terms, LGBT acronyms, supporting someone coming out, supporting someone coming out asexual, asexual colours, asexual pride, aromantic colours, pride parade NY 2015, Beyonce New York, Beyonce New York tickets price.” A pause. “The last two were from today, Sir.”
“I figured,” Tony says. He sighs loudly, leaning his whole body into it. “So Steve thinks I’m asexual and possibly aromantic.”
“And he wants to take you to Pride this year if you want to.”
“And he wants to take me to Pride,” Tony nods. “Which is nice of him. God, he’s so nice. Don’t look at me like that.”
Natasha doesn’t stop smirking. “Like what?”
“Like I’m a lovestruck teenager.”
“I hate you.”
“You love me,” Natasha says. “Go find Steve, Tony.”
Then she hugs him, and Tony has to pause to make sense of the situation before hugging back.
“Good luck,” she tells him, and kisses his cheek.
“I’ll need it,” Tony says, and goes off to find Steve.
He makes it halfway to the gym on Steve’s floor, where JARVIS tells him Steve is, before he realizes he has no idea what he’s going to say. He tries to craft up anything that comes after ‘so, I’m not asexual, I’m actually demiromantic and demisexual, it’s apparently a totally different thing,’ but he realizes it all depends on Steve’s reaction.
He mutters it to himself as he makes his way to the gym, eyes on his feet. He turns the corner and bumps into a very warm, very sweaty wall.
“Oof,” says the wall, and then it reaches out and steadies him. “Tony?”
Tony looks up and Steve is frowning down at him in concern. He’s still shirtless, still sweaty, still in the same sweatpants. His chest is heaving slightly, which means he must have been working out pretty hard.
“Tony,” Steve repeats. “You okay? You look a little-”
Tony takes his shoulders, walks him into a wall, presses his body up against Steve’s and kisses him, all in under five seconds.
He was right about the kissing thing- this isn’t just another mouth against his, this is Steve kissing him, and it sets off fireworks under Tony’s skin, sparklers swooping down his spine and flooding the rest of his body when Steve’s lips part on a groan, his arms coming up to circle Tony’s torso, one around his waist and one clutching at his shoulders.
Oh, Tony thinks, finally getting what all those stupid movies and books have been telling him from day one, the thing he was convinced he’d never figure out. Oh, wow. Shit.
His thoughts get more or less obliterated when Steve uses one hand to lift him, Tony’s legs coming up reflexively to clench around his waist.
“Tony,” Steve sighs. Then he startles, says, “Tony,” and pulls back, panting harder now. “What are you doing?”
He’s bewildered, panicked, and maybe a little pissed off. This- wasn’t the reaction Tony expected.
“Um,” he says, and Steve lets go of him. Tony holds on stubbornly, his arms around Steve’s neck and his legs around his waist. “Hey, no, what?”
Steve has that mournful look again, though more distracted this time. “Tony- you don’t have to do this, it’s okay.”
Tony says, “Huh,” as he realizes again how shirtless Steve is.
“It’s okay that you’re asexual,” Steve says, the kicked-puppy look mostly drowned out by stiff determination. “Please don’t feel like you have to do this, because you don’t.”
“I’m not asexual,” Tony starts, but Steve stops him.
“You are, and it’s okay-”
“I’m demisexual,” Tony talks over him. “And demiromantic. Don’t know if you came across them in your internet travels, but it pretty much means I only get sexually and romantically attracted to people after I get an emotional attachment to them.”
Steve frowns. “But- you said you’d never been attracted to anyone before.”
“I haven’t,” Tony says honestly. “Just you.”
Steve’s mouth hangs open, and Tony zeroes in on his bottom lip, which is redder than anyone’s lips have any business being. He ducks his head to bite it, and Steve shudders on a moan.
“Wait, wait,” he gasps as Tony moves in to kiss him. “You’re serious? You really- want this? Me? And not just, uh, sexually?”
“I really do,” Tony says. “It’s fucking terrifying and I’m still not completely clear on a few things, but I really want to fuck you and date you and do all those couple-y things that people do when they’re madly in love and also in lust.”
“Oh,” Steve says weakly. “That’s- good. Me, too.”
“Good,” Tony purrs, and this time when he leans in to kiss him, Steve meets him in the middle, hands coming up to his thighs to hold Tony steady. Tony didn’t think he’d have many new experiences in this field, thought he’d exhausted everything he could do, sexually, but god, just kissing Steve is more exciting than a good portion of the sex Tony’s had in his lifetime.
He reaches down the back of Steve’s sweatpants to grab as much of his ass as he can with one hand still holding around Steve’s neck. Steve makes a noise, breathy and pitched and wonderful.
He cups Tony through his pants, and Tony makes a series of embarrassing noises as he comes in his boxers.
His face starts to burn as he comes down, mortified, kissing Steve’s neck to try to distract him from what just happened.
It doesn’t work. “Did you just,” Steve asks, and Tony groans in embarrassment.
“Maybe? Sorry, I’m just- really excited, I’ve never actually been attracted to someone while I’m doing this, I’m sort of overwhelmed, I’m so sorry-”
“Don’t be,” Steve says, and when Tony takes his face out of his neck, he sees Steve’s gaze, dazed and incredibly pleased. “God, Tony- it’s really, I don’t want to say flattering. It’s really hot, could we still- I could get you hard again, if you want.”
Tony twitches against him at the words. “Hell, yes. I promise not to embarrass myself this time.” He digs his heels into Steve’s thighs, kicking lightly. “Onwards, valiant sex steed!”
Steve cracks up, the motion rocking Tony against him. “Sex steed? What the heck do you do to your steeds?”
“Nothing, you’re just a special steed,” Tony says. He kicks at Steve’s thighs again, gently. “Hurry up, I’ve been waiting forty two years to have sex with someone I’m actually attracted to, apparently it’s really fucking great, you’re keeping me waiting.”
“Sorry,” Steve says, grinning and nuzzling Tony’s chin as he starts forwards.
Tony notices the steady blush, trailing down Steve’s chest like it does when he works out. This one’s blotchier, though, and Tony bites at the flush on his neck, sucks as far downwards as he can without dislodging himself. He doesn’t get far, but Steve’s breathing hitches and he starts moving faster.
As it turns out, sex with someone you’re attracted to is just as good as people built it up to be, even if Tony doesn’t last as long as he wanted. He kisses apologies into Steve’s chest, but Steve just smiles, sticky and sated, and asks if Tony can get him off with his fingers instead.
Even just watching is enough to get Tony hot- Steve clenching around his fingers, twisting his head against the pillow and moaning for Tony to kiss him when he comes. It’s by far the best sex of Tony’s life, and he doesn’t even get inside of Steve.
“We definitely have to work on my endurance,” Tony tells Steve, who has to pant for a few seconds before slurring, “What?”
Tony noses at his forehead, smiling when Steve hums and turns his head into it. “I said, we have to work on my endurance.”
“I can get down with that,” Steve says, sprawled out over the bed like a starfish and looking content with everything in the entire world. “We should do that.”
“Later,” Tony tells him. “Not everyone has a super-soldier refectory period. We can’t just go whenever we want to.”
Steve’s eyes go wide. “How did you know that?”
His eyes go wider when he sees the same shock on Tony’s face.
“Wow,” Tony says. “Really?”
Steve covers his face with his arms. “It’s a side effect.”
“Holy shit,” Tony crows. He looks down, and yep, there’s Steve’s dick, half-hard again already. “We aren’t even doing anything.”
“You’re lying in my bed, naked,” Steve points out. He reaches up to tug at a strand of Tony’s hair. “’N you’re all sweaty. And I keep thinking about all those noises you made.”
“You’re somehow really cute but also incredibly fucking hot when you blush,” Tony tells him, grinning when it makes Steve blush harder. “Okay, no, I’m gonna blow you now.”
“What,” Steve says, staring as Tony moves down his body.
“You got me thinking about the noises you make,” Tony says, pausing to suck a mark next to Steve’s hip. “I want to hear them again. Feel free to be as loud as you want.”
“You don’t have to,” Steve says, and then his back is bowing, turning his face into the pillow as his eyes scrunch shut. “Oh my fucking god. Shit, Tony-”
He moans in protest when Tony pulls off to declare how fucking great this is, the whole being attracted to Steve thing.
“Really, ‘cause it’s kind of nice for me, too,” Steve says, strangled, white-knuckling the sheets as Tony sucks happily at him.
They do end up attending Pride that year, but they go in disguise, complete with shockingly realistic false noses and a fake beard for Steve.
They get their colours painted on them- bisexual colours for Steve, demisexual colours on one cheek for Tony, then demiromantic on the other cheek- and they walk around the stalls for a while, watching and smiling.
Tony feels a little guilty about not announcing their presence- Steve had been all for it, but he had understood when Tony said he wasn’t up to it.
“Maybe next year,” Steve says when they get back, after they’ve taken off their disguises. He kisses Tony, reassuring and familiar.
Tony kisses back, and tugs on Steve’s hand, leading him towards the bedroom.