The first time Steve notices the way the light hits Tony’s face when the sun is just about to set on the New York horizon, he ignores the rush it gives him and decides to never think of it again.
It’s not as if he’d made it obvious that he was staring. A party with a drunk Clint is more than enough to both hold the attention of and amuse the rest of the Avengers and Coulson and Maria, who were visiting. Their entertainment is currently being expressed in the form of throwing objects in the air as high as they can for Clint to shoot at - and impressively, the archer is hitting every single one, even with three glasses of wine and four shots of tequila.
“Watermelon! Watermelon!” is the general cheer as Thor grins and throws the fruit into the air. There’s a split second pause before Steve watches the arrow slice through the watermelon, splitting it in two and falling back to the floor. They all cheer, clapping their hands and raising their drinks to the air, but most of Steve’s attention falls back onto Tony.
The man looks genuinely happy for once, with a face clear of frowning and a smile that lights up his face. Laughter suits Tony well, Steve thinks. It’s an entirely different expression on his face from what he usually has - either disgust while complaining about the most recent mistake the Board of SI had made or concentration when he’s working on the suit or updating the Avengers’ weapons. It’s nice, Steve realizes, to be able to see Tony with his boundaries let down like this.
The loud laughter draws Steve back into the crowd, and he watches Sam and Thor racing one-shots before looking over at the rest of the Avengers. Clint’s complained about it before, but Steve still thinks it’s a good idea to check over the team every once in a while and make sure they’re doing alright. Maria and Coulson are on the edges of the open space, separate but still within the larger picture as they discuss what Steve guesses must be SHIELD business. Bruce is lounging near Tony holding a glass of red wine and amusedly watching Sam struggle to keep up with Thor. Clint’s put his bow away and is sitting with Natasha, and her hand is in his hair as they laugh over something Clint says. She looks over at Steve then, and raises her eyebrows at him. Steve shrugs, not understanding, and watches as she gestures with her head at him, then at Tony with a mischievous grin. Steve feels heat rising to his cheeks as he blushes, shaking his head at her and looking away.
When he turns away he realizes he’s just gone back to staring at Tony again. Oh well, he thinks, might as well enjoy this while I can, and watches the way Tony’s eyes light up when he grins and memorizes the way his laugh sounds the rest of the night. It’s just for tonight, he reasons, and then I’ll never stare at Tony Stark again.
The second time it happens is during breakfast a week after the party. As always, Steve is up the earliest, and has already started baking pancakes for the group when Tony stumbles into the kitchen. His hair is wild, sticking up in all directions, and he must have just woken up because he’s still rubbing at his eyes.
“Morning, Cap,” Tony says, and Steve must still be a little distracted by the disheveled look Tony has because he’s silent for a moment before replying.
“G-good morning, Tony,” he replies, and turns away to hide the blush on his face. The coffee machine starts up behind him and the scent of coffee beans fills the air as the rest of the Avengers begin to file in.
“I smelled pancakes,” Clint announces as he enters the kitchen. Steve smacks his hand away from the platter and pushes the roll of sausages into his hands instead. Clint groans but complies, starting to heat up the pan.
Bruce walks in with glasses on and a beanie covering his head. His hair is nearly as messy as Tony, and he nods at Steve as he takes a seat to wait. Steve walks away from the table just as he hears Bruce saying hello to Thor.
Sam and Natasha stumble in just as Steve is setting out the plates, and Natasha grabs the rest of the stack from out of Steve’s arms and finishes the job. Sam, on the other hand, drops straight into the chair next to where Tony is sitting, holding a mug of coffee that says ‘My Hero - Captain America and a picture of his shield on it. Clint had bought it as a joke months before, but Tony had claimed it as his, saying that Thor had taken all of his other mugs. Steve’s gotten better at hiding his surprise whenever he sees Tony using the mug, but apparently it shows, because Tony grins and raises the mug to him as if toasting him.
Thankfully Steve can focus his attention on things other than Tony when Natasha calls his name and says that the pancakes are going to burn soon. He puts them all on a plate and sets it down on the table, and breakfast is served.
For a few minutes there’s only the sound of chewing and swallowing because even the Avengers are hungry in the morning, but conversation strikes up when Clint asks Steve if he wants them to do self defense training today.
“That’s a pretty good idea, actually,” Steve says, considering the thought of it. ‘I’ve been meaning to do that for a few weeks now. We can pair off and train.”
“I don’t understand why we need self defense training,” Tony complains, and Steve grins at the small pout on Tony’s face as Bruce tries explaining exactly why Tony needs to learn to defend himself. “The suit works just fine for me, thanks.”
“Look, Tony, you’re not always going to have the suit with you. What if you went to get groceries and someone attacked you?”
“I’ve updated the suit settings; I don’t need to carry around the suitcase all the time, Bruce. See, the calibration levels from the sensor on my right arm are completely equivalent to those in the right arm of the suit, and so on and so forth for the rest of the body. The suit will accelerate to levels that can’t be measured to get there as fast as possible. See? Let me show you the schematic.”
Steve watches as Tony turns away from his plate to Bruce, holding a tablet in front of him to explain exactly what he’s talking about. It never fails to amuse Steve, the way Tony goes from talking about normal, everyday things to bringing math into the situation. Steve realized a while ago that Tony was a different person when he talked about engineering and mathematics. It changes him the same way laughter did, makes his face brighter and happier. It’s the same way that drawing changes Steve. Tony was brilliant at what he did and whenever he talked about it he was more animated, more alive.
This time it’s not Natasha that catches him but instead it’s Sam, waggling his eyebrows the way Steve used to do for Bucky whenever they were with a cute girl. When he sees Sam do it he determinedly looks anywhere but Tony, keeping his face clear of emotion. It’s impossible, though, and as he watches Tony make his way out of the kitchen with ruffled hair and sweater sleeves too long for his hands he realizes he’s done it again.
Get over it, Rogers, he tells himself. You can't have Tony. Ignore him.
The third time it happens it’s at a press conference that Fury set up for them. Tony, as usual, is taking care of the majority of the questions because of his experience with the press.
Steve hasn't had any questions for a while, so he leans back in his chair and looks around.
As they always have, his eyes find Tony and he turns to look at the man answering the questions the reporters are shooting at him.
"We've been training together and separately," Tony's saying, "Cap mostly does team training but each of us has other things to train with, too - Hawkeye's got the archery range, I have the lab..."
Steve finds himself focusing more on Tony than what he's saying. There are a thousand cameras going off, but Tony doesn't look fazed at all. He's calm if anything, voice not wavering a bit as he gives back answer after answer.
Tony is in a suit, dark blue with a white shirt underneath. His hair is combed neatly, a large difference from when they'd had breakfast. He has sunglasses lying on the table, next to where his hands lay. He looks impeccable.
Tony’s got an easy figure to admire. Steve wouldn’t mind doing anything but watching him all day - Tony is pure energy and adrenaline contained in a single body. But even so, he’s more than just alive because he has so much emotion pouring through his veins; he reminds Steve very much, in a way, of Bucky, because both of them have too much heart - the only difference is that Tony tries not to show it and Bucky showed it everyday.
Watching Tony could never get boring, Steve thinks, because with every look at him there's a new adventure at hand.
"This is for the Captain - what has it been like in the 21st century so far? Has it gotten better? What do you think of it?"
Steve hears the question in the back of his mind but doesn't connect it with a need to answer it. He's absorbed with Tony, memorizing every feature while he can so that it's easier for him to sketch later.
“Cap!” He snaps out of it when Clint calls his name. He turns to the crowd immediately but doesn't miss the look that Clint gives him as he turns away.
“Um, sorry, I - kind of zoned out there for a moment, what was the question again?”
"What has it been like for you in the 21st century, Captain?"
It's a stereotypical enough question that he can answer it without thinking too much about it, so he allows half of his mind to wander back to Tony as he replies to the reporter.
He promised himself he wouldn't do it again, but it doesn't matter if no one else knows about it, right?
When Steve is grabbed from the hallway and shoved into a tiny room, he definitely doesn't expect to see Sam, Natasha, and Clint staring back at him. They stand above him and he gets up hesitantly.
"What's-what's going on?" He asks, confusion flooding his voice.
"Okay, Steve," Sam says, face looking as if he wants to burst into laughter but is holding it back, "when are you going to ask Tony out?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," Steve protests, glancing at Natasha, who's blocking the door, and Clint, who has his arms crossed as he stands next to Sam.
"Oh, come on, Steve," Natasha adds. "All of us have noticed your not so secret crush."
"So, Captain, when were you going to tell us?" Clint says.
Steve looks anywhere but the three of them, but there's nowhere to turn his eyes to. The small room on the 45th floor is taken up entirely by the Avengers inside.
"I'm Captain America, I have the right to not answer any of your questions," he tries, and even if it gets a laugh out of Natasha and Sam they don't budge a bit.
"We just want to help you, Steve," Sam says. "You're not going to get anywhere if you keep crushing on him and don't act. You're Captain America! You could get any guy - or girl - you wanted, so do it!"
"We'll support you every step of the way," Natasha continues, ignoring Steve's groan at her words. "So tell us, Steve."
"It's just a crush," Steve says finally, dropping all pretense of not knowing what they're talking about. It does feel good to get to open up about this to his friends. "I don't even know if he likes me back. Which he probably doesn't. Why would Tony Stark even consider liking Captain America?"
"Am I supposed to answer that?"
Steve freezes when he hears Tony's voice from the hall. Tony's face is amused but confused at the same time, as if he doesn't know whether this is a joke or not.
"We'll just go, then," Clint says, and grabs Sam and Natasha's arms, pulling them out of the room.
It's silent for a few moments, with Tony standing in the hallway and Steve still in the room. He steps out and faces Tony, at a loss for what to say.
"W-why were you in there?" Tony asks, and Steve's thankful he doesn't ask directly about what Steve said.
"Uh, Sam and Nat and Clint kidnapped me from the hallway and tried to interrogate me about - things," he says, finishing the sentence hastily.
"What kind of things?" Tony asks, curiosity in his voice.
"N-normal things," Steve stutters. He's always been a bad liar with people he's close to.
"You're lying," Tony grins. "Tell me what Natasha had you so scared about that you don't want to tell me."
Steve is silent, trying to keep the words in his mouth, but they manage to spill out anyways.
"I-I had a - a crush on you and they wanted me to tell you but I didn't because it's embarrassing and you probably don't even like me back -" When Steve looks back at Tony, all out of breath, the other man is wide-eyed, a deer caught in headlights.
"You - you like me?" Tony asks, words quiet in the still air. Steve nods once, afraid of what is sure to come next -
“You stupid idiot," Tony breathes, pulling Steve in close so that his mouth is hovering inches away from Steve's. "You stupid, stupid idiot-"
He pulls them together and Steve's mind goes blank. He doesn't know what to think because God, this is actually happening and he doesn't know what to say and Tony pulls apart from him at last and that's when they hear the shutter of the camera.
Steve comes back to the present long enough to notice Natasha standing there with the Polaroid that Thor keeps around with Clint and Sam standing behind her, and Steve glares at all of them.
"I told you I'd be with you every step of the way, didn't I?" Natasha grins, and continues snapping away even as Tony kisses him again.