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Tony leaned back against his bedroom door with a contented sigh. The night, his and Steve's second date (officially, though if you listened to the rest of the team, they'd been not-dating for months), had gone spectacularly if he did say so himself; dinner had been perfect, and the show riveting. Or at least, watching Steve's reactions to the show had been riveting as Tony had already seen it once before with Pepper.

And then they went for a brief walk to get some air, followed by a leisurely ride back to the tower in the back of the town car, cuddled up and lost in each other and even more sweet, lazy kisses that had just begun to heat up when they had arrived.

And now, Tony was pressed against his door, with a gorgeous, debauched super soldier pressed into him and he was pretty certain life couldn't get any better than this.

Unless he were able to tempt said gorgeous, debauched super soldier to continue this 'discussion' on the other side of the door. Preferably in his bed.

He was trying to behave himself. Really.

He knew that Steve was from a very different era, where one didn't just hop in the sack after a date. Well, for the most part. At the very least, he knew that Steve wasn't the sort. And he was trying to be so very good because he really wanted to see this through. He didn't want to scare the other man off by moving too quickly.

But Steve's thigh, wedged between his own, and rubbing against very sensitive parts, was making all those very good intentions slip away like so much water under the bridge.

The man was driving him crazy.

And Tony is certainly no saint.

Which is why he arched his body up into Steve's, groaning lowly when his cock scraped against denim, and mumbled against Steve's mouth.

"Want to come in?"

That turned out to be the wrong thing.

Because instead of pushing Tony through the door and onto his bed as he'd hoped, Steve pulled away, with Tony chasing Steve's lips as they left his. Biting back a whimper, Tony opened his eyes to find Steve studying him closely and Tony wanted to bluster and babble and brush away his incautious words as a joke, but Steve spoke before he could wash them away with something inane.

"Tempting," Steve said, punctuating it with a soft kiss. "But, not yet, I think."

Right. He pushed too soon. He knew that. He totally knew that; but with Steve pressed against him this way, it was difficult to hear the tiny voice in the back that said, 'don't do it, you idiot.' (That voice sounded suspiciously like Pepper.)

Really, he knew better.

"I'll bet you're used to people throwing themselves at you," Steve continued, still pressing chaste, yet completely intoxicating kisses on his mouth, "falling into your bed at the drop of a hat, without so much as a thought."

Well, yeah; have you seen him? Who wouldn't want to bag this?

And seriously, did Tony mention the lack of sainthood, because this man was about two steps from being pushed against the adjacent wall and being ravished.

And Christ, he was starting to sound like a bad romance novel. That was so not on.

"I wonder, have you ever been courted?" Steve asked out of the blue.

Wait...what?

The words effectively cut through the haze in his head, and Tony pulled away to look Steve in the eye, flummoxed when Steve seemed to be perfectly serious.

"Uh...people don't really do much of that these days, Cap," Tony carefully stated, watching the other man warily. "It's a time of faster is better, and things get truncated. Look at speed dating - people judge whether or not a person is worthy of their continued attention within minutes, seconds even. There's no time or patience for a proper 'courtship.'"

And he's babbling.

That's a thing when he's on unfamiliar ground.

"Now that's a damn shame," Steve said, tracing his thumb over Tony's cheek. "You miss out on the best parts that way."

"And those are?" Tony asked, both curious and humoring the other man.

"Getting to know each other. Finding out what you have in common. Taking it slow and just enjoying the discovery. The journey is half the fun."

"Well, I don't know about you," Tony joked, winking salaciously. "But I tend to get to know my partners very, very well, if you know what I mean."

"That's not what I meant and you know it." Steve frowned, and okay, Tony knew what he meant, but he was starting to feel distinctly uncomfortable here. This was delving into the feelings realm, and he wasn't so good with feelings; especially when he was still trying to wrap his head around the whole, you know, Steve actually wanting to date him thing.

"As I said, it's a fast-paced world, Steve," Tony reiterated with a shrug. "And we're all just trying to keep up."

"Except you..."

It was softly done, under Steve's breath, so that Tony almost didn't hear it. And even then, he wasn't even sure that was really what Steve had said, or even what to make of it if he had. And it's true to a degree; Tony fancies himself as a futurist and has always been light-years ahead of most of his peers. He has often set the pace in many areas.

But Steve was wrong in this area. When it came to relationships, Tony was nowhere near as knowledgeable, and really, was kind of stunted when it came to matters of the heart.

What? He could freely admit that; he did try to not lie to himself.

"What?" Tony asked, wondering if Steve would elaborate, which of course meant that Steve clammed up instead.

"Nothing," Steve said, shrugging it off with a half smile, and then leaned in to kiss him once more. But Tony could feel the implied 'good night' in it and knew they'd get no further tonight. "Good thing for you, I'm the old-fashioned sort."

"What does that even mean?" Tony asked, trying not to feel disappointed that the night was ending.

"You'll see," Steve promised with an enigmatic grin before pressing his lips to Tony's cheek and then pulling away. "Goodnight, Tony."

"Good...night?" Tony said uncertainly, but Steve merely smiled and walked down the hall to his room, quickly shutting himself in. Tony stared at the door for a long moment, and then asked no one in particular. "What just happened here?"

Which is, of course, when his smart-assed AI decided to insert his two cents.

"I do believe Captain Rogers is planning to court you, sir."

"Who asked you?" Tony muttered, huffing when JARVIS chose not to answer. "So unfair. He's trying to kill me."

... ... ...

It started the next day.

Tony hadn't really thought Steve was serious about his intent to court Tony, because seriously, who even did that these days? Even if they were men out of their own time. Tony had just figured that Steve 'courting' him meant that Steve would be taking it slow and Tony wouldn't be getting laid anytime soon.

Not that he minded. Much.

Steve was totally worth the wait.

He could wait. (Stop laughing, Pepper.)

He could totally do the waiting thing. (No seriously, stop laughing.)

He was good at self-denial when he wanted to be. (And what is even with that; you are so not funny, Pepper.)

But that didn't explain the coffee mug, full of piping hot, black as tar (just as he liked it) coffee, and the plate with some freshly baked turnover thing, by his bed this morning. Or the cute little cartoon drawing of Tony, drooling on his keyboard, hair sticking up every which way, with Steve standing over him, a clearly exasperated, but fond smile on his face, placing a kiss on the top of Tony's head. (And wait, hadn't he gone to the workshop last night after Steve left? When...how had he gotten...sneaky little shit.)

The only thing that would have weirded him out even more would have been waking up to a flower on his pillow. (And thank fuck Steve hadn't gone there; because seriously, there would have been words. Pointed, not very nice words. He was not a teenage girl.)

Tony stared at the cup suspiciously; waiting for the moment when something or someone jumped out and he'd find out it was all an elaborate prank. But nothing happened.

"Jarvis...?" Tony began, but his AI beat him to the punch.

"Captain Rogers left it a couple of minutes before you awakened, sir."

And yeah, he'd figured, but it was always good to check. Clint had been known to mess with Tony from time to time. You'd think he'd have learned the first time he messed with Tony's coffee, (because seriously, do NOT mess with his coffee; he can't stress that enough), but Clint had taken it as some sort of weird challenge and Tony doesn't get nice things. Ever.

"And just how did he know...?" Tony trailed off, one brow arched.

"I have no idea, sir."

Right.

That meant that JARVIS was in collusion with Steve.

As he said. Sneaky. Little. Shit.

Tony huffed, threw back his covers and slid out of bed, grabbing the cup of coffee as he went. Taking a small sip, he closed his eyes and let out a small whimper of happiness; he'd give this to him, Steve knew how to brew a mean cup of coffee. Seriously, he'd keep him around just for that. Opening his eyes, he glared in the general direction of one of his hidden cameras.

"You are a dirty, rotten traitor, JARVIS. And a colluder. (Shut up; it is so a word.) And one day I'm going to strip down your code and sell you off to Tagged, see if I don't."

"I'll attempt to feel appropriately chastened, sir."

Tony snorted and headed for the bathroom with cup and plate in hand, muttering under his breath the whole way.

"...God damned, sneaky-ass, super soldiers and smart-ass AIs; how is this my life?"

... ... ...

A couple of days later it was notes.

Notes everywhere.

On a post-it, in Steve's distinctive, artistic hand, pasted to the side of the coffee pot when he first got up - I missed seeing you this morning.

On a box of Randy's Donuts, conveniently placed in the workshop - I saw these and thought of you. Don't forget to eat!

On the door to his closet when he went to change into a suit for the board meeting that Pepper absolutely refused to let him miss - Your kisses taste like a mixture of salt, a hint of metal, scotch and something sweet that I can't quite place. They shouldn't work together, but I find the combination oddly intoxicating.

And speaking of scotch, on the bottle when he went to pour himself a glass, because seriously what is this - When the light hits them a certain way, your eyes remind me of an aged Scotch whisky.

Inside a file, handed to him by a suspiciously amused Pepper as he entered the meeting - I love your hands. They are a contradiction; callused from hard work, yet well-maintained with manicured nails. Every time I'm in the workshop, I'm distracted by them, and can't help imaging them running over my body. It's why I have to leave sometimes; the thought of them on me...I can't... I can't wait to have them on me, inside me.

(He was going to kill Steve for that one. His dick went from zero to sixty in no time flat due to that little note; leaving him hot, hard and aching for the entire meeting. And Pepper wouldn't let him leave. Talk about un-fucking-fair.)

On the armor, found when he stormed out of said meeting, a laughing Pepper in his wake, because he just needed to fly and clear his head - I have this persistent fantasy of you in the suit, holding me down over the table, or pinned to the wall, fucking me slowly. I've tried to stop, but it never works. I want to make it a reality.

(And Jesus-fucking-Christ, Steve. The man was trying to kill him. Yeah, flying was a no go at that point.)

Sweet notes. Naughty notes. Notes just because... everywhere, fucking notes.

All of them carefully crafted, obviously written to make him melt into a helpless, little, puddle of goo.

And damned if it didn't work.

... ... ...

It continued in the same vein over the next few weeks.

Dates, like he'd never been on before.

The romantic - hands held across the table in a small, out of the way Italian restaurant; heads pressed together as they danced, and talked, and laughed at a discreet jazz club; a private horse-drawn carriage ride, followed by a picnic ("a picnic in the middle of winter, Steve; are you out of your mind!") with snow all around them, and sap, oh-so-much sap.

The comfortable - burgers eaten in a classic diner, that he still winces at to this day, because how a man could put that much food away in one sitting, he'll never know; pizza and movies on the couch; or even, Chinese and movies on the couch; or shawarma and movies on the couch; pretty much anything to do with Tony's couch because it was damned comfy and he liked the way Steve pressed him into it when they kissed.

The quirky - learning the art of the trapeze at the Trapeze School New York, ("That was actually much more fun than I expected."); seeing Accomplice, which turned out to be part theater, part tour and part scavenger hunt all over God's creation (hence the tour), because never let it be said that New Yorkers do anything by halves; looking through the Hell's Kitchen Flea Market, and the less said on that, the better. ("You do realize I'm a billionaire, right? That I could, like, buy everything here, and it wouldn't even put a dent in my pocket change. In fact, I should just do that. I should buy it all and then toss it in the dump where it belongs and then everyone would be happy.")

And the kisses.

Sweet, languid kisses on the couch during movie nights.

Chaste kisses as they passed each other in the halls.

A kiss on the temple when he's sitting at the table, blurry-eyed and uncertain of what actual day it is because he was doing genius things and genius waited for no man.

A brush of lips on the cheek.

A whisper across his eyes.

A quick peck on the shoulder.

And then being ambushed in the middle of the God damned hall and pressed into the nearest flat surface and being taken apart by hot, desperate lips, a far too skilled tongue and sharp teeth, until he was flushed, and panting and so there; only to have the cheeky bastard squeeze his hand and walk away as if nothing had happened.

It was wonderful and exhilarating and breathtaking and terrifying and so many things he didn't even have words for...

It just...was.

He was being romanced.

And...and, okay, yes, secretly he was kind of loving it.

All of his life, unless it had been someone interested in his money, or fame, or both, he'd always been the one to court others attention. First his father, (may he ever rot without peace), who cared far more for his work and yearly excursions than a brilliant little boy; one who was set to outstrip him in every way (or so his mother said). And then it was his peers, who weren't really his peers because they were all so much older than he, and yet, he still managed to talk circles around them. And then there was Obie, and Rhodey, and even Pepper to a degree, who had always had his back, but it had all been a natural progression, with him as the pursuer.

He'd never had someone court him just because they wanted him; just because they liked him, impossible attitude and insecurities and flaws and all.

And it didn't even make sense. He didn't need these things. (But a small part of him wanted them.) He'd taught himself from a very young age not to expect anything more than tolerance and faux smiles as others bled him dry of whatever it is they wanted from him; and perhaps a few rounds of great sex before he was tossed aside for the next pretty bauble. That was the way things were done. That was the Stark legacy...but...

He was being romanced.

And he didn't quite know what to do with that.

... ... ...

And then there was his breaking point.

The Gift.

(Capitalization intended because that was how he cataloged it in his brain.)

Tony has long been known as a man who has everything. (And yet, a man who has nothing that really matters, if you asked Yinsen. But he was desperately trying to rectify that. And he thought he was doing a pretty damned good job so far. Look at Steve. Steve, who was perfect and so, so good to him; who, really, was far too good for the likes of him, but still seemed to find something likeable inside Tony.)

Shopping for him was difficult at best, impossible at worst.

It's why he never begrudged the fact that he never seemed to receive gifts from people. (Somewhat. Maybe he did just a little. It would be nice to be thought of once in a while, even if he had absolutely no use for said gift.) After all, what do you get a man that could quite literally buy anything and everything he wanted?

And there had been a few random things Steve had left him over the weeks.

There were the silly baubles - an Iron Man Mr. Potato Head (which awesome - he kept that in his office and played with it when he hit a creative wall; or during board meetings because it was just too much fun, and Pepper can't stop him.); a Captain America plushy (and, yes he sleeps with it, shut up.); and a complete set of Avengers Pez Dispensers (he especially likes carting the Black Widow one around because Natasha scowls every time she sees it; and she'd probably destroy it if he didn't.)

Some sketches - little cartoons of him and all of the Avengers in various amusing situations (including one of their first meal together at Shawarma Palace with Loki gagged, cuffed and tethered to a pole on the curb), them curled up on the couch together on movie night, Tony bent over one of his creations and others that are best not mentioned in polite company.

Mostly because Tony does not share.

That sight is for him alone.

And food. Lots of food stuff has mysteriously shown up wherever he is supposed to be for the day. Really, he's beginning to think Steve is trying to say something about his eating habits.

But this...

It was...there were simply no words for it; no words for what it meant to him.

It was a picture of himself and Dum-E; beautifully, lovingly rendered in charcoal, and so exquisitely detailed that he could see the sweep of his lashes. (And how did Steve manage to get such fine detail with charcoal? Because, of course, it was Steve who did this; Tony would recognize his style anywhere.)

But it wasn't the standard picture; the PR photograph that everyone has seen, with Tony clean and dressed half-way decently, and posed with a half-smile next to his creation.

This one was the moment of creation; of that moment where he crouched in his father's work shop, tired, and dirty, covered in oil and God knows what, swaying dangerously because he hadn't slept in days and watched in awe as Dum-E awoke for the first time.

The moment when creator and creation (friend, child) met for the first time.

(And seriously, where did Steve even find a picture of this? He had thought he'd been alone that day.)

Of course, Tony had promptly passed out there after due to sheer exhaustion, mumbling code under his breath, which likely led to some of Dum-E's more unique quirks.

But he digressed.

The Gift was stunningly beautiful and appropriate in a way he couldn't explain.

Most people would have chosen JARVIS; the pinnacle of artificial intelligence. (And it's true that Tony has a much closer working relationship with JARVIS, who continues to amaze him with his development every day.)

But JARVIS was difficult to conceptualize without a physical body to encase him.

And this had been the starting point.

Dum-E had been his first. His first artificial intelligence. His first real friend. (His first child.) For all that JARVIS is his greatest accomplishment in the field of artificial intelligence (and a very dear friend in his own right; he's not even contesting that), Dum-E, with all his quirks and foibles, is his favorite.

Very few people were aware of that.

(In fact, he can count on one hand how many people knew that, and still have fingers leftover.)

Most assume that JARVIS holds that special place in his heart, (and he does hold a very special place in it); but there is something about Dum-E that makes Tony swell with pride whenever he does even the simplest of tasks.

(Pepper said it was some sort of weird parent-child thing; something about how JARVIS was his superior in every way - which, mean - but Dum-E was his Little Engine that Could, and he took great pride with every noticeable milestone his little bot reaches.)

Whatever it is, there is no doubt that Dum-E is very dear to him.

That Steve figured this out without even asking, shouldn't surprise him as much as it did. Steve had always been observant; he just seemed to get people. But Tony had always thought that he'd treated all his bots equally. That Steve had managed to pick up on his unspoken favoritism was, well, that was kind of daunting.

And something to be addressed, because if he knew this...

What else had he noticed?

... ... ...

"Why are you doing this?" Tony asked as he entered the room, startling Steve.

And okay, maybe he should have at least greeted his boyfriend with a hug or kiss or even a hello, but Tony knew if didn’t put the question out there right away, he wouldn’t ask it at all. He was all too aware of his failings, and it would be far too easy for him to stall and avoid and hedge until the moment died, leaving him brimming with questions and Steve with a vague sense of disappointment.

Because Steve was making a pretty big statement with this gift; it all but screamed of how well he knew Tony, of how much he wanted to make Tony happy. And to not acknowledge that would be badly done by even Tony’s dubious standards.

But he couldn’t just accept the message for what it was either. Nothing has ever been that easy for Tony, and far too many good things came with strings in his life.

Steve, for his part, just blinked at Tony, and then set aside the book he’d been reading and folded his hands across his stomach, studying Tony long enough to make him squirm before simply saying.

"Because some things are worth the effort. They are worth the time invested, and worth doing right."

And Tony reeled just a bit, because he could hear what was not being said.

You're worth it.

Steve didn't say the words, but Tony could read them between the lines. And damn, didn't that just terrify and warm him from the inside out, obliterating every negative thought Howard and Obie had seared into his brain.

Tony drew a deep, shaky breath, his mouth opening and closing a couple of times, but he found that he couldn’t speak. It wasn’t often that someone robbed him of the ability to speak, but with that one declarative statement, Steve had left Tony breathless and aching and so full of…something he couldn’t even begin to describe.

Not that it mattered, as Steve barreled right on in the ensuing silence.

"You were right in some ways,” Steve continued, rising from his chair. “Our lives are fast paced. They are crazy and hectic and we barely get the chance to breathe, let alone think, before the next threat is looming on the horizon.”

Tony just stared at the other man, his breath hitching as Steve came to a stand still in front of him, a soft smile on his lips.

“And we adjust, adapt accordingly. That's why this," Steve pointed between the two of them, “should be taken slowly, should be appreciated.”

And Tony didn’t know what the fuck to do with this. Didn’t know what to think, didn’t know how to feel, or how to act. He was just barely grasping the fact that he and Steve were a they at all. How did he even…?

“Too many people rush it. They can't wait to get to the good parts; and subsequently, fail to build a solid foundation. And then...then they're surprised when it falls apart around them.”

And then Steve took his hand and flipped it over as he caught his eye, and pressed a soft kiss against his palm. There was something so soft and warm in that gaze that it made Tony’s breath snag, his head to spin, his heart to constrict and his throat to tighten. There was so much emotion in that voice, that a tiny, shaky one in the back of his head whispered, ‘run away, run away before you get hurt.’

But Tony had never been one for giving in.

“This - us - deserves all the time in the world."

Tony‘s held that placid gaze, the sincerity of it nearly doing him in.

This terrified him; he didn't know what to do with it.

But, he wanted it.

He wanted this so, so badly; and who was he really to tell Steve that he deserved better? That he deserved more than a broken, ex-arms dealer, ex-war profiteer who could barely take care of himself, let alone anyone else. (Oh, god, what was he doing?)

Steve was a big boy; and he was perfectly capable of walking away if this truly wasn't something he wanted. To try to convince him otherwise was just insulting to Steve. (Not to mention that Steve would literally kick his ass for even thinking that Tony had to save him from Tony's less than wonderful traits. He was a bit stubborn that way.)

So, Tony sucked it up and looked the other man in the eye, his breath starting anew (and he hadn't even noticed it had stopped) when all he saw was steady, content blue shining down on him. He could do this.

"Okay."

And shit, his heart was pounding, and he kind of felt like throwing up, but there was no going back now.

"Okay?" Steve asked, seeming a bit surprised that he didn't have to persuade Tony any further. And yeah, he got that; especially with the way he'd been waffling.

But, well, Tony was selfish. And he wanted this.

So really what else was there to say?

"Yeah, okay."