The first time is a complete accident.
JARVIS tends to overreact about tiny things like fire in the workshop and calls the emergency respondents even though Tony is fine. He would tell JARVIS not to let them in but JARVIS has anticipated this, takes himself offline for routine maintenance and opens all the doors so he's not exactly disobeying a direct order.
A severely beautiful woman in the black uniform of the local private facility appears with a bulky bag over her shoulder and a no-nonsense expression on her face.
"Sir, do you want to tell me what happened?" she asks and even though it's a normal question for one of these guys Tony's sure, he still feels like he should apologize for disturbing her and buy her things until she stops silently judging him.
"It's nothing, I'm fine," Tony tries, which is apparently the completely wrong thing to say because she just rolls her eyes and says, "Let me be the judge of that, Sir," which on paper would be polite but Tony gets the feeling he was just called a dumbass to his face.
"What have we got?" a man appears behind the woman and Tony loses a second to gaping because goddamn. The guy is all broad shoulders, blonde hair and impossible teeth.
"It's fine, my robot put me right out," Tony tries, leaning past the woman because the guy looks a little less like he wants to stab Tony with something.
"Concussion?" the guy asks, raising an eyebrow at his partner.
"No, no," Tony huffs. "My robot put me out." He waves a hand at Dummy and his two well-meaning intruders turn to look. Dummy waggles the fire extinguisher at them jauntily.
"Oh, okay," the guy says, slowly turning back around.
"I swear, I'm barely burnt and I've got some stuff that'll fix it right up, better than you guys have in your rig anyway," Tony says, paws at his worktable and comes up with an unmarked jar.
"Whatever herbal remedy you think you have-" the woman starts to say with an air of impatience and Tony snorts a laugh.
"Honey, this isn't herbal. This is Stark Burn Salve." The two of them still look dubious and Tony sighs, puts his not-crispy hand to his temple and rubs. "Look, I'm pretty busy, I'll sign whatever you need me to but I'm not coming with you. I'm not in any immediate danger, right?"
"Fine," the woman says, stands and shoulders her bag.
"Look, it'd be better-" the guy starts to say.
"What's your name?" Tony asks and the guy blinks at him.
"Fine, Steve, please, get out of my house," Tony says, but he smiles and Steve rolls his eyes and looks exasperated which shouldn't be so cute.
"Alright," Steve says. "Just... get it checked out properly when you have a chance," he adds as a final plea.
"Whatever," Tony says with a dismissive wave, indulges himself in watching Steve leave because he's only human before he gets back to work and JARVIS's ongoing disapproval.
The second time is mostly an accident because Tony is thinking about how he could get Steve to come back out to his house without it seeming creepy when he slips on a patch of oil that Dummy was supposed to have cleaned up hours ago and cuts his back open on the corner of a carelessly discarded toolbox.
Which he also chooses to blame Dummy for.
Steve's by himself when he appears, holding the bulky bag. Tony's busy scowling at the long cut in the mirror with his shirt pulled up awkwardly around his upper torso so he doesn't notice until Steve clears his throat.
"Oh, hey, hi," Tony says brightly, sounding like a complete dork. He honestly wants to smack himself with something.
"Natasha wouldn't come down because she said you're just going to kick us out again," Steve says and Tony's pleased that Steve's eyes keep straying to his bared chest.
"Not at all," Tony says. "I actually need your help."
"Great," Steve says, then frowns. "I mean, not great just... you know what I mean," he huffs and his ears go pink and it's adorable.
"Yep, I can't reach," Tony says, half-turns to indicate his back.
"Let me get a compress on that and we can head off," Steve offers, starting to un-shoulder the bag and move forward.
"Oh, no, I'm not coming with you, I just need help," he says and the eager look on Steve's face drops off.
"That's a big cut and it looks pretty deep. It's going to need attention."
"So, give it attention," Tony says, hooks the canister with the spray nozzle off his workbench it took him ten minutes to find because the place is a complete disaster area and hands it over.
Steve looks at the canister in his hand and then back at Tony, puzzled. "What's this?"
"Better than stitches or glue," Tony says. "Trust me."
"I'm not just spraying something into your wound. It needs to be cleaned and-"
"This does all that," Tony says, waving a dismissive hand. "Believe me, this stuff is excellent."
"Why haven't I heard of it, then?"
"Red tape, patents, no human trials yet, yada," Tony says. "It's all fine, it's just that we don't know if it'll cause people to turn into, like, frog monsters in ten years or something."
"That's an actual risk?" Steve asks.
"Who knows?" Tony says, offers his back to Steve. "Just make with the gap fill."
"N-no, I'm not going to do that. I don't know what this stuff is," Steve says, sounding genuinely upset and Tony darts forward, takes the canister out of his hand.
"Look, it's fine, sorry," he says. He moves over to Dummy, removes the fire extinguisher from Dummy's claw and replaces it with the canister. "Dummy can do it, I just would've trusted your aim a little more."
"I'm sorry, it's just... if something happened..."
"No, it's really, it's fine," Tony says, could kick himself because asking Steve to do what he did would be like someone asking him to stick a part of unknown origin into one of his designs. "I understand."
"Good," Steve says, bobs his head. "So, I can't convince you to come in?"
"Nope," Tony says, grins. "No immediate danger, right? You could come back after your shift and check on me though, check for frog monsters."
"Are you hitting on me?" Steve asks, looking more amused than anything else which Tony takes for a good sign.
"If you have to ask I'm being way too subtle," Tony says with a waggle of his eyebrows.
"Hey, we have a real emergency," Natasha yells from the doorway. She just narrows her eyes at Tony when he offers her a little salute.
"Oh, right, better go," Steve says, hooks a thumb behind himself.
"Later," Tony says, sketches a wave. He turns back to Dummy who sprays him in the chest. "Um, close," he says.
"Sir," JARVIS says, interrupting Tony when he clearly said no interruptions. He's in the zone, thinking clearer than he has in ages and making leaps and bounds instead of the crawl his work has been for the past few weeks. "There's a Mr. Rogers here to see-"
"I said no," Tony snaps, pushing his welding goggles up onto the top of his head and leaning sideways to peer at the schematics JARVIS is rotating for a better view.
"But-" JARVIS tries and Tony smacks a hand down on the table.
"Whoever it is, tell them to buzz off JARVIS, just... dammit," Tony says.
There's a definite pause and then JARVIS says, "Yes, sir," in a way that Tony would swear was miffed if he wasn't a complex AI that wasn't capable of being offended.
Tony hears phantom footsteps on the stairs to the workshop, remembers his father yelling at the real Jarvis and feels like an ass.
"Look, sorry," Tony says, not letting it worry him about his life choices in the least that he's reduced to apologizing to a computer. "Just, bring up the second layer and enhance three point one would you?"
"Yes sir," JARVIS says, not sounding quite so stilted and Tony smiles to himself.
Tony likes to try all the local bars near the mansion at least once. He's looking for that perfect place where the drinks are good, the food isn't just reheated frozen rubbish and the bartenders are nice to look at. Tony hasn't found it yet, every bar manages to fail at least one of the criteria but he's glad he decided to give McMurphy's a try even though it looked a little lowbrow for his tastes because the bartender definitely checks the nice to look at box.
"Steve, right?" Tony calls, leaning over the bar so far his chest is nearly resting on the beer taps. The place is pretty quiet but it's seven o'clock on a Wednesday so Tony figures the after work crowd have cleared out and the late night crowd haven't arrived yet.
Plus, it's a school night for most people.
Steve turns, his automatic smile dropping off his face when he sees who it is. "Oh, yeah, hey," he says and Tony frowns, tipping back to the customer side of the bar. "What'll you have?"
It's polite but cold and Tony's not sure why. "A drink," Tony says and before Steve can ask him what, he says, "Surprise me."
That's definitely a mistake considering Steve's sudden chilly mood because he lets slip a mean little smile as he does something under the bar that Tony can't see. A few minutes later Tony is eyeing something that looks just awful and shouldn't be classed as a drink because it's semi-solid and kind of blobbing about in the glass.
Tony smiles gamely, always up for a challenge but his eyes start to water before he gets the glass even close to his face and he has to set it aside, his self-preservation instincts kicking in. "So, hey," Tony says. "I get the feeling you're mad at me."
"Oh, really? What gave you that impression?" Steve huffs, drags a rag off his shoulder to wipe down the bar. His eyes are flicking around the place, obviously looking for some excuse to abandon Tony on pretense of other duties but it really is quiet, a few small groups clustered at tables with not even half-finished drinks in front of them.
"Why?" Tony asks, because he genuinely has no idea. He's seen the guy exactly twice and both times he was a little banged up and refused a trip to the local Private but Steve didn't seem that mad about it at the time.
"You really going to stand there and claim you don't know?" Steve asks incredulously.
Tony waves an impatient hand. "Urgh, I hate that game. Can you please just tell me so I can apologize?"
"You blew me off," Steve says and there's a tiny amount of real disappointment mixed in with his anger.
"I did? I mean, why would I do that? I wouldn't," Tony splutters.
"You invite me to come back to your place after my shift then get your butler to tell me you're too busy for me through an intercom. Ring any bells?"
Tony gapes. "I what? No, that can't be right."
"Whatever," Steve sniffs, points at the glass at Tony's elbow. "Were you going to drink that?"
"Not on your life," Tony says, grimacing and Steve shrugs, scoops up the glass and dumps the contents. "What are you doing here, anyway? Don't you have another job?"
Tony sees Steve have an inward struggle, trying to resist the urge to answer a direct question. Tony realizes with a little start that Steve's just plain polite, too polite it seems because he scowls and grits between his teeth, "I have three jobs actually."
"Why?" Tony blurts. That seems a little excessive to him. So, yes, he knows that not everyone gets born into an empire and inherits a company but still. "Are you paying child support or something?"
"No," Steve says, exasperated at being bullied into a conversation just by Tony's presence. Tony leans elbows on the counter, gives Steve his most attentive expression and hopes Steve will eventually forget his annoyance just by the sheer force of Tony's charm. Tony thinks he will actually cry if he doesn't get to feel Steve's biceps, at the very least. Steve looks like someone that could pick a guy up and toss him around.
Steve sighs, gives up on looking for an escape. "I'm trying to keep my Nana in the luxury into which she has become accustomed," he says in a way that sounds like he's quoting someone else.
"Is Nana a kinky name for your girlfriend?" Tony asks, feeling disappointed.
"What? No!" Steve says. "It's my grandmother."
"Oh, right, sure," Tony says and Steve rolls his eyes because he can tell Tony's not really getting it.
"She sacrificed a lot for me when she took me in and lately she's had a few... issues. The medical bills are starting to stack up."
"No, yeah, sure," Tony nods. Steve is not only polite but he's noble and self-sacrificing. He's really going to be the death of Tony, honestly. "Look, can I buy you dinner, make it up to you properly?" he asks.
He sees Steve waver, can actually see the moment he's going to agree but then he's being jabbed in the ribs with something really pointy and he looks sideways to see it's a girl with long dark hair and glasses elbowing him. "Hello," she says and then her gaze skips to Steve and softens. "Is this him?"
"Hi," Tony says, turns his dazzle 'em into submission smile to full wattage and holds out his hand. "Tony Stark."
The girl looks unimpressed and actually whacks him on the forehead with an order pad. "You do not invite someone over to your place and then stand them up. What's wrong with you?" she snaps.
"Darcy," Steve groans, putting a hand to his face.
"And you," she says, rounding on Steve. "I could see him doing something from all the way over on the other side of the bar. You were going all gooey, I could see it."
"Listen sweetheart-" Tony starts, throws his hands up to defend his face when Darcy turns on him again, looking murderous.
"I have a taser in my bag. I will use it on you if you so much as hurt a hair on Steve's head." Tony blinks at her before he nods quickly. Seemingly satisfied, she smiles but it's a smile that terrifies him. "Steve's one of the good ones. Pull your head out of your ass."
With that Darcy disappears and Tony's left a little stunned. Steve looks mortified and it's a good look on him, completely endearing. "Still want dinner?" Steve asks sheepishly.
"Absolutely," Tony says and grins. "What is it about you and scary women anyway?"
Tony makes bookings at five different places, intends to decide on where they're going based on what Steve's dressed in. He hadn't expected Steve to say, oh hey, so I know this little place when Tony had pulled up to his apartment building and then walk three blocks to a tiny Italian restaurant with a facade in desperate need of repair, but the pasta was plentiful and absolutely delicious.
"I know you probably weren't really planning on somewhere like this," Steve says, casting a suddenly critical eye around the place like he's starting to doubt his choice. Tony's sitting back, trying to resist the urge to undo the top button of his pants because he feels like he's about to bust out of them.
"No, totally great," Tony says, reaches for the last end piece of garlic bread sitting in the middle of the table and thinks better of it when his stomach gurgles in protest with the movement. He sits back, rests a hand on his tummy and says, "I don't think I can ever get up."
"That'll make Anna happy," Steve says, raising an eyebrow at the older woman bustling about the place, stopping to drop a kiss on a forehead here and laugh at a joke there. "When you were in the bathroom she came over and told me you looked like you were wasting away, that I needed to bring you back to fatten you up."
"I might forget to eat sometimes," Tony admits. "But hey, if this place delivers that would be awesome."
"Oh, right," Steve says, looks down at his hands and the white napkin he's running through his fingers.
Tony sighs, picks up Steve's distracted hands. "I just mean because we can't go to the same place for our second date. It's bad luck."
Steve smiles and it's big and goofy and Tony is utterly, completely charmed.
After his date with Steve, Tony's at a bit of a loose end.
"Could it be because you usually bring your dates home with you, Sir?" JARVIS asks politely while Tony kicks around the house being disgruntled.
Tony had tried, he really had. Steve had just kind of laughed at him and said, "Yeah, but I want to see you again and at least this way I know you'll be motivated to do that," with a cheeky grin when Tony grudgingly dropped him off at his apartment.
"I'm starting to become disturbed by you," Tony says.
"The feeling is quite mutual, Sir."
"You're killing me," Tony protests, digging his forehead into Steve's shoulder. It's such a lovely shoulder and Tony would really like to see it without the shirt covering it but when he went for Steve's belt as soon as Steve led him into his apartment, Steve had diverted his hands out and away.
"My Nana had all these... rules. A lot of them stuck."
"She had a rule about not putting out till the fourth date?" Tony asks and Steve pulls a face at him.
"Ugh, don't be gross, of course not. Just... I want to know who you are before we do that."
"Google me," Tony says, grabbing for Steve's shirt as soon as Steve releases him. Steve manages to get both of Tony's wrists pinned with only one of his massive paws and that alone convinces Tony he is going to expire if he has to wait two more whole dates.
"That'll just tell me what other people think about you," Steve says. He's grinning at Tony squirming in his grip, looks promisingly flushed. "Since I'm trying to decide whether you're a good guy or not, do you really want to risk that?"
Tony sobers, stops struggling. "Maybe not," he admits. There are a lot of people who blow smoke up his ass but then there are more that basically despise him. Steve's most likely to stumble across the rabid anti-Stark sites than the good ones. Steve lets his wrists go, tentative like he's expecting to have to grab him again but Tony drags himself over to Steve's ancient but comfortable looking couch and drops onto it.
"So, four's the magic number?"
"Yep, two for just us," Steve says. "One to meet my friends so they can tell me what a terrible mistake I'm making and then magic date."
"If there's magic involved I really don't want to wait," Tony says with a smirk and Steve chuckles, crosses to his galley kitchen and pulls a couple of mugs out of a high cupboard.
"If I must," Tony says, heeling out of his shoes. Steve's place is nice, tidy and really lived in. Tony doesn't exactly feel comfortable at his place. The only area he's bothered to truly make his own is the workshop, everything else has the stamp of Howard on it.
"You're going to build this up too much," Steve says, biting at his lip. "Look, maybe we should-"
"No, it's fine, really," Tony says, will probably later want to kick himself but he's finding it's important to him that Steve be happy. Steve's become important in the space of two dates and two emergency call outs which is a little ridiculous. "By then I'll basically be ready to explode at the sight of you naked so you won't really have to do much to impress me."
"Oh, well, if you want me to take the edge off that," Steve says and before Tony can ask just what he means by that, Steve has hooked his shirt hem and tugged, pulling his t-shirt up and over his head. He rubs an absent thumb down the middle of his chest and then hands through the hair he'd mussed from taking his shirt off. He smiles, starts to look uncertain and blushes furiously.
The blush goes down his neck and halfway down his torso.
Tony just plainly ogles, can't really scrape his thoughts together enough to make any kind of comment. The uncertainty grabs a hold of Steve and he stoops for his shirt. "N-no... I... just..." Tony struggles to his feet, the couch ridiculously soft so it takes him a moment and then he's over to Steve who's frozen half bent over, back muscles pulled tight.
Tony puts hands to Steve's back, sweeps them down and feels how firm, hard and smooth everything is. He edges his hands around until he's cupping Steve's belly which is a ridged curve. He steps away, clutches his hands together and then sinks his teeth into one of his knuckles. He edges back to the couch, drops a pillow over his lap and glares. "You're torturing me, you realize that, right?"
Steve smiles, looks pleased. He stands back upright, hooks his shirt with a toe and tosses it up to catch in his hand. He pulls it back on. "Coffee?"
Tony had inquired as to how friendly and Steve had just rolled his eyes.
Tony is already aware Natasha is completely unimpressed with him so it's no surprise where he stands with her. The others, Tony knows Steve was mostly joking about them disapproving of him, but he's just the tiniest bit worried and it irks him because he's not used to caring what anyone thinks.
By the end of the night he can't remember any of their names and he hopes that doesn't count against him.
"You're fine," Steve assures him, gripping Tony's shoulders and shaking him gently when Tony grumbles about how he doesn't always play well with others even when he's trying to.
"I never learned the subtle art of being anyone's homeboy," Tony gripes and Steve snorts, looking far too amused. "Don't make fun of me, I can't help it that I had to make my closest friend."
"Don't you have anyone you just hang out with?" Steve asks gently.
"Pepper," Tony answers automatically, because Pepper is often the right answer to any question.
"She's your employee," Steve says, frowning.
"She's also..." Tony is about to say friend, but to be honest he's not entirely sure that's the best way to describe her. Pepper means a lot to him and he knows she cares about him or she wouldn't hassle him so much about getting sunlight and food occasionally. If she really couldn't stand him she would be glad he was a sad hermit living out of his workshop. "I have a vast number of followers on twitter."
"I can't believe you have a twitter," Steve says with a snort and Tony rolls his eyes.
"I don't," Tony says. "The guy who's pretending to be me is pretty witty though so I let it slide."
"I can be your friend," Steve offers and Tony just stares at him.
"Oh my god, don't do that," he says, smacking a hand to his face.
"Don't be your friend?"
"Don't offer like I'm so poor neglected child in an after-school special," Tony says. "I don't want to be your friend."
"Not...not just...don't look at me like that, geez," Tony says. "I don't want to just be your friend, alright?"
"You're pretty cute when you're flustered," Steve says with a grin and Tony crosses to Steve's couch, fast becoming his favorite piece of furniture in existence.
"So, what was the general consensus anyway, I'm fascinated," Tony says, looking at his nails. When Steve doesn't say anything, Tony looks up and sees him fidgeting and looking at his shoes. "That bad huh?"
"Darcy kind of poisoned the well before you really had a chance," Steve says, holding his hands out and grimacing. "Clint said you weren't as bad as he was expecting though."
"Wow, that's really glowing," Tony says, sinks further into the couch. He picks up a cushion that looks like something a grandmother would make, probably Steve's, and holds it out. "Just smother me now. This night can't get worse."
"It can get better," Steve offers, sidling over to him and Tony perks up immediately.
"Does this count as the fourth date?" he asks and Steve huffs a laugh.
"No, but we can make out for a while if you're up for it?"
"I'm up for any measly little crumbs of affection you're offering me, that's what I've been reduced to," Tony says, holds his arms out. "Come 'ere."
Tony decides he needs a new project that will consume him for the five days he has to wait for Steve's ass and so he goes back to the metaphorical drawing board to design something completely new and from scratch and relatively impossible.
He doesn't want to make it too easy.
That's why he's still working on a new type of engine that will revolutionize at least four different industries an hour before the fourth date when the explosion happens.
Next thing Tony knows, there's a face hovering over him that isn't Steve. It's Clint from the bar.
"Yeah, Tony Stark, right?" Clint says.
"Look, I'm fine, you wanna help me up?" Tony grouses, because his limbs don't seem to want to respond like they're supposed to and he's flat on his back on the workshop floor. Clint frowns and Tony suddenly realizes Clint has a hand pressing hard on his chest. He looks down his body, sees something metal and jagged sticking up in the space between Clint's thumb and first finger.
Clint's hand is red.
"No man, you're really not," Clint says.
Tony's got a blanket up around his shoulders and he pushes it down gingerly. Nothing hurts so at least he's on the good drugs but he can't really tell how bad the damage is with the thick bandaging over his chest.
Steve is there, in a chair tipped precariously on its back legs. His chin is dropped down onto his chest and he's obviously sleeping.
"Hey, Rogers," Tony croaks through a dry throat. Steve jerks, wobbling before he manages to get all four chair legs back on the floor.
"Tony, god," Steve says, leans forward and picks up one of Tony's hands to press between his own. He looks tired, dark circles under his eyes and lines between his brows. "What the hell were you doing?"
"Something perilous, obviously," Tony says dryly and Steve narrows his eyes at him, not amused in the least.
"You were impaled," Steve says, looking ill and Tony turns his hand over so he can lace fingers with Steve, grip back.
"My company makes excellent flak vests, very light, hardly noticeable. I promise to wear one when doing anything dangerous from now on," Tony promises, because he's willing to say anything to get that look off Steve's face.
"I just... you're not careful with yourself," Steve says and Tony winces. It's true, he likes danger, likes risks. He supposes if he's going to have someone like Steve in his life, then he's just going to have to curb his more reckless impulses. "It's hard for me because I've... I'm attached."
Tony grins, helpless not to. He knows he's gone for Steve, no matter how irrational it is when he's only known the guy a little while, but it's nice to hear that Steve's in the same boat. Tony frowns, suddenly remembering something.
"I missed magic date," he laments.
"I noticed," Steve says. "I thought maybe you'd stood me up again."
"Never happen!" Tony says, horrified at the thought.
"I know there were extenuating circumstances now," Steve says, waving a hand over Tony's prone form. "And you haven't missed magic date, it's just going to be delayed a little."
"You had a piece of metal in your chest," Steve points out reasonably. "It's going to be a while."
"Sucks to be me," Tony gripes.
"I promise it will be worth it," Steve says, smiling.