It was after about the seventh woman Steve watched JARVIS kindly guide out of the Avengers Mansion – LED lights and all helpfully leading her from Tony's bedroom to the door – that Steve decided he and Tony needed to have a sit-down discussion. Tony might not feel vulnerable with JARVIS inexhaustibly keeping an eye on him, but Steve doubted the efficacy of a incorporeal computer program at neutralizing threats. No matter how many demonstrations of JARVIS' capabilities Tony had insisted on showing him.
Which was why Steve had two mugs of coffee and some protein bars on a tray and was bringing them down to Tony's lab at six in the morning – late enough that Tony would need a refill on his morning cup, but early enough still that Tony wouldn't have left to do the million and one other things he did every day besides tinker with his inventions. Coffee and protein bars weren't exactly the bribe of choice Steve might normally pull out for this kind of conversation – coffee and cookies maybe, or even better an ice cream sundae and some cookies – but he knew better than to try and treat Tony to anything outside his strict diet. He'd already heard enough derisive “super serum” comments to last one lifetime.
Balancing the tray in one hand, Steve let himself into Tony's lab by swiping his index finger over the sensor. In less than a second the indicator glowed green and Steve's ears could pick out the faint click of a lock being released somewhere within the cages of glass and steel that seemed to make up all of Tony's living quarters.
Tony was deeply involved in his work, Steve could tell that much when he first caught sight of him. He was bent over the lab table, fingertips faintly scorched and undershirt smeared with grease and burn marks, though Steve couldn't know if that was from just this morning or if that shirt was always like that. Music was blaring – some of that awful stuff Tony listened to, all heavy bass and screeching guitar and men shouting at the microphone like they wanted to hit it for no reason Steve could discern – so Steve was surprised when Tony snapped his fingers in Steve's direction with one hand and swiped at some glowing holographic displays with the other. In an instant the music ceased and Tony was spinning around in his chair, looking Steve up and down with something not quite like irritation, but not far off, either.
“You. What do you want? What's that? Bring it over, come on.”
Without waiting for him to reply Tony was up, grabbing at the coffee and protein bars like a starving man. He downed the coffee too quickly, making Steve grimace in sympathy for Tony's tongue. Tony didn't seem to mind though, placing the half-drained mug haphazardly atop a pile of... circuit boards, Steve supposed they might be... before ripping open one of the protein bars and biting it in half.
“Welf? Gsho, gsho.”
Steve blinked uncomprehendingly at Tony. After a moment the other man rolled his eyes and swallowed thickly before speaking again.
“People – you especially – don't bring me food and coffee just for fun. Unless you're Pepper. But that was her job, so it wasn't fun. So. What do you want? Make it quick, I'm in the middle of something and I've got a meeting in an hour I should probably get ready for in, oh, an hour and a half or so. So.” Tony stared incredulously at Steve as his brain caught up to the speed of Tony's speech. “Come on, come on, go go go. What do you want?”
Steve frowned at the way Tony snapped his fingers at him. Being busy, or a billionaire, or a genius, or a superhero didn't excuse poor manners. Not in Steve's mind, at least.
But he wasn't here to get into yet another fight with Tony about his lack of manners. Today's argument focused on Tony's lack of propriety – related, but not entirely the same thing. “I wanted to talk to you about the security risk posed by the women you... entertain.”
Tony blinked at Steve, uncomprehending for a minute. Then a grin flashed across his face, something close to a leer crossing his features. Steve cleared his throat, doing his best to stay in his Captain America, Team Leader of the Avengers persona. “Making you uncomfortable, Cap? Offending your delicate sensibilities?”
Steve shook his head. Yes, it was odd to hear Tony and the others talk about their exploits so openly, especially around Natasha. It was especially weird to hear Natasha respond back in kind. But Steve could understand this. He just had to mentally group the Avengers team – Natasha included – in the same category of what was appropriate and what wasn't as he did the team he led back in the War. Bawdy jokes and blue humor were standard, there, and apparently the same was so in the modern day. Steve could wrap his mind around that.
What he couldn't wrap his mind around was allowing strange women free reign in a superhero team's headquarters. “You could at least see them out yourself. Make sure they're not a spy sent to go through our armory or something.”
Tony laughed and turned away, his rolling chair gliding almost silently on the smooth floors of his lab as he positioned himself back behind his desk. He shook his head as he pulled up some screens – schematics, Steve thought, but he couldn't be sure. It was only after a few seconds that Steve realized what Tony was working on wasn't at all related to their conversation. So then Tony thought they were done, then. It was so courteous of Tony to let him know, Steve thought glumly.
“Can't,” Tony explained. “On both counts: can't see them out and they can't be security risks. JARVIS checks them out for me when I snap a picture of them before I even bring them back to the mansion. Then all the important places are locked down. They can only access my room, my bathroom, and the kitchen. They couldn't even get in your room, Boy Scout.” Tony reached a hand out and patted Steve on the arm from his seated position.
Steve took a step back and folded his arms over his chest, frown deepening. Tony's little condescending jabs got old after a very, very short amount of time, and that small window had passed long ago. “Even so, is there a reason you can't see them out, rather than JARVIS?”
Tony nodded, fingers flicking lazily at something on his screens. Whatever it was flew away, so fast Steve's eyes couldn't even follow it. “Yup. Great reason: because then they'll think I care.”
It wasn't the callousness of Tony's words that startled Steve into taking a step forward. It was the way Tony said them: bitter, like... like God forbid anyone ever think Tony Stark cared for anyone other than himself.
In that moment Steve thought he could see just a little bit more of Tony. Not the whole picture – Steve didn't think a lifetime of fighting alongside of him, living alongside him, would ever reveal all his hidden depths. But in that bitterness Steve could see the years and years of loneliness, the way Tony had always had to be his own support network, his own comfort. He sought out these women for companionship, but not really. He sought them out to fulfill some sort of sad, mechanical biological need for human contact, something Tony was unwilling – unworthy? – to seek out in his day to day life, from the people who he worked with. Suddenly, Steve felt a next to uncontrollable urge to comfort, to even hug , the lonely man in front of him, playing with his machines.
Steve realized he had been quiet for too long when Tony spun around in his chair and started poking at his ankle with one bare foot. Steve shook his head, unsure of how to put the thoughts and feelings swirling around inside him – or if he even should.
Finally, he settled on sticking to the topic of conversation, deciding not to push any of the many, many issues he felt the need to hash out with Tony. “Is there anyway you could cut down? Or at least set some new alarms in or something – anything that would help me sleep easier, instead of lying awake thinking about the latest potential security breech you've brought in.”
Tony snorted as he ducked his head, fiddling with something on his desk. Steve's eyes narrowed. He wasn't a technological genius like Tony, but he was pretty sure that was just a headset. “You lie awake and think about the women I bring home? Kinky.”
Steve couldn't help the flush that such an implication brought to his cheeks. But he set his jaw and ignored the way Tony was smiling at him, eyes tracing the red as it spread across his skin. “Tony.”
“Alright, alright. I'll put in some alarms and feed them straight into your room. Tap it into JARVIS, so you only need to ask him what you want and he'll do it. Okay? Captain.”
There was still half of Steve's coffee left on Tony's workspace, going cold. Glancing around, Steve found another rolling chair off in the corner. He brought it over, straddling it and placing his forearms on the back. Tony watched all this while trying to seem uninterested, though Steve wasn't fooled for a moment. Once he was sitting, Steve nudged his half-drained mug at Tony. The other man took it, expression curious but for once not saying anything.
Steve chose his next words carefully, not wanting to sound like he was taking pity on Tony even though, sure, that was some part of it. But a bigger part was wanting to get to know the man inside the suit, the man who took it upon himself to start protecting the world even though he had no special abilities to speak of besides his intellect. “If you're looking for some companionship, why not ask one of us? You have a house full of people you could spend time with,” Steve pointed out. “You and Bruce I'm sure have a lot in common, with... science...” Steve trailed off, ducking his head when he saw mirth glimmering in Tony's eyes. “I suppose it's not the same?”
Tony laughed. “What Bruce does in his lab and what I do in mine are about as different as science could be,” Tony confirmed.
“Well, then there's Thor. I'm sure you could introduce him to all sorts of 'Migardian' revelry. You two seem to have that in common. Or you and Clint...” Steve paused, considering. “You could go to a bar,” he finally came up with, though he wasn't sure if he had ever seen Clint drink.
“Look, let me just stop you there,” Tony said, after draining the rest of Steve's coffee as he listened to him speak. “Fury already made me promise before he'd let me in that I wouldn't try anything on any of my new teammates, and if you're off-limits then I gotta go somewhere else.”
A brief, almost hysterical thought flittered through Steve's mind: “If you're off-limits.” “ You're .” Was that “you” supposed to be singular or plural? Was it referring to everyone on the Avengers, or just Steve?
“There's a difference between companionship and... what you do with those women,” Steve pointed out, forcing his attention back to their conversation. “I'm just suggesting that maybe if you spent more time with some of us, maybe you wouldn't go out looking for a new woman every night.
Tony rolled his eyes. “First: not even going to get into the flaws in that logic, because wow, just wow. You obviously don't have enough exp-” Abruptly Tony stopped, eyes going wide as he considered Steve. “You...” he muttered. His eyes narrowed, then widened again. “Oh. Okay. Wow. Another conversation for another day, wow, definitely going to bring that up at some point when I'm not certain you'll punch me in my nose just for asking, and hey: that's the moneymaker, there. Gotta preserve it. Anyway. Point two being: Fury.”
Ignoring whatever epiphany Tony had just had about him – and Steve didn't want to think about what it might have been, what with all this talk of sex and companionship and the experience to know the difference – Steve grinned a little bit at Tony's continued citing of their director's orders. As if Tony was one for following orders.
“Fury didn't ban you from keeping company with us,” us, because Steve still wasn't sure if Fury had warned Tony off him specifically or just teammates in general. He kind of hoped it had been him in specific, just because that meant Fury was worried there might be something there. There could be something there, given half a chance. “Did he?”
Tony shrugged, mischievous grin reminding Steve almost painfully of Howard. “He might have strongly suggested I not spend more time with you in particular than was strictly necessary,” he admitted.
Steve smiled back at Tony, more at ease within the space of a five minute conversation than he had been in months of doing battle side-by-side with the other man. “Did he think you'd be a bad influence on me?”
“Something like that.” Tony winked rakishly.
“Well,” Steve murmured, leaning in closer to Tony. The other man's eyes widened as he did, watching Steve's every move with abrupt focus. Steve found he liked the attention. He like being just unpredictable enough for Tony to take note. “Who's to say I won't be a good influence on you? Maybe get you to cut down to six girls a week, instead of seven.” He threw in the last bit casually. He shouldn't feel the need to prove to Tony that he could fit in this modern age, but some small, little part of him did, leftover from that skinny kid who got beat up in alleyways in Brooklyn.
Tony snorted into Steve's coffee as he drained the last of it, setting the empty mug back onto the tray Steve had brought it on. “I've heard rumors even God rested on the seventh day,” Tony conceded. “Could give it a shot. But only if you promise something equally as attention-grabbing to occupy my time.”
Steve realized Tony was waiting for a suggestion. Meanwhile, his mind could think of nothing more than something “equally as attention-grabbing” as Tony's endless string of beautiful models. So he ended up blurting the first non-sexual thing that came to mind. “Baseball?”
Tony's eyebrows shot up to disappear beneath his bed-head mop of hair. Steve rushed to develop the idea into something more than a stalling tactic. “How about we go to a baseball game?” he explained. “My treat. I have to start liking this new team, the Mets, anyway.”
Tony's smile was just a little watery, Steve imagined. “Yankees,” he offered.
That smile turned a little more predatory, a little more Stark, at that. “I root for the Yankees. Gotta back a winner.”
Steve couldn't help but keep smiling, even in this face of Tony's antagonism. “Well, I'm paying, so I get to pick the team. And we're going to a Met's game.”
“Wait, hold on, back up, reverse that.”
Steve waited as Tony fluttered his hands around, almost as if he was trying to rewind video footage.
Finally Tony folded one hand over, moving it in little circular motions as he pointed it at Steve. “Are you asking me out on a date? I mean, it sounds like you are. And normally I wouldn't ask except my ability to read 1940s super soldiers' signals is a little out of practice, so. And I'm pretty sure this violates everything Fury was telling me I could do, and I know we just talked about this, and you're Mr. Boy Scout, so-”
“Tony.” Steve unfolded his arms from the back of the chair and rested one hand lightly on Tony's thigh. It was supposed to be calming, reassuring, but it just made Tony twitch and his eyes open wide. Steve rushed forward, hoping to do some damage control. “It's a baseball game, Tony. That's all.”
Steve didn't think he was reading too much into anything when he saw a glimmer of disappointment in Tony's features. “Yeah,” Tony muttered, eyes immediately drifting back to his holographic screens. “Baseball. About as far away from sex as possible, right?”
Steve opened his mouth to testify differently – he knew Bucky at least had had plenty of luck with dames at baseball games – but then Tony was speaking again, like the switch between his brain and mouth was broken. “Right, well, call one of my assistants before you schedule the game. Don't know my own schedule, so you'll have to go through them. I'll see you whenever you find a four hour hole in my schedule, so, I'll see you next time the world's ending. Good chat, Cap. See you around.”
“Tony,” Steve chastised. His hand was still on Tony's thigh, and he refused to move it even as Tony's mind was obviously drifting away. “It's just baseball. For now. And for all Fury needs to know, that's all it will ever be.”
Tony blinked, understanding finally spreading across his features. “Oh. Uh. That's...”
Steve stood up, not really managing to hide his grin. He's definitely have to do his best to be surprising to Tony – it was so much fun to watch him try and recover his balance after being thrown off guard. “I'll talk to your assistant,” Steve gently reminded Tony as he started to collect he detritus from their morning snack.
At that Tony snapped to attention and started shaking his head rapidly. “No no no no no! They'll never... Pick a date, and I'll make it work, okay?”
Steve nodded, a warm thrill going through him. “Okay,” he replied. Then, just because he thought maybe he could get away with it, he pointed a finger warningly back at Tony. “No Yankees paraphernalia.”
To his pleasure, Tony smiled right back at him. “No promises,” he teased.
And because Steve couldn't help wanting to see Tony thrown off balance just one more time, he turned and grinned over his shoulder just as he was pulling the door out of he lab open. “Definitely not a date, then,” he grumbled mock-sadly. And because Steve knew how much his 1940-isms tickled Tony: “Shucks.”
Tony's mouth was hanging open wide enough to be a fly trap as Steve let the door swing shut behind him.