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Learning Curve

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He watches Vision sweep down and avoid War Machine's fire. He and Wanda have developed a special connection and it shows in the way they move through battle together, knowing exactly where the other is at all times. There's no reason at all why it should make Steve feel unhappy, but it does.

Natasha clears her throat beside him.

She has something to say and so far she has held it back. Maybe now she's finally ready to tell him whatever it is she thinks he doesn't want to hear, instead of hovering at his shoulder watching him like a hawk, making hinting comments every chance she gets. He's getting tired of it. Down on the training floor Wanda throws up a telekinetic shield to protect Vision, leaving her own flank open and Steve's mouth sets into a thin line. He's ready to shout out an admonishment. The new team has lots of work ahead.

"Don't bark at the lovebirds just because you're a grumpy old man who doesn't get laid."

"What?" he asks and turns around to stare at Natasha in a flash. Her face is unreadable. He's getting used to all the inappropriate little jibes about love lives and his improbable age and - well, everything. It doesn't shock or confuse him anymore. It's not like the conversations of soldiers are that different from the conversations improbably heroes have at every turn. But Natasha, even when she's joking, does it for a reason. Whatever this is about, she thinks it's important. He takes a good long look at her to gauge her expression and her eyebrow raises slowly as if she's challenging him.

Maybe she is.

"Don't play dumb, Steve," Sam says from his left and he turns to frown at him next. "You're grumpy. We all know why. Do something about it."

"Okay," he says without inflection. “I do have no idea what the two of you are talking about, but as you are apparently the experts on all things me, I'll just accept your statements at face value, okay? So do you want to enlighten me about what it is I need to do something about or is this something I need to figure out myself?”

Natasha rolls her eyes in an exaggerated way and then looks him straight in the eye. He half expects her to say: “Get laid!” But her expression isn't playful at all. This is serious. What she actually says is: "Look, not everybody needs to fail at relationships."

"Is that a fact?" he asks, because he basically has still no idea what they are talking about and going all cold and unimpressed is the only response that seems fitting. His friends are being purposefully annoying, because they feel he’s going all relentless taskmaster on the rookies. He needs to figure out what this is about, because Natasha isn’t backing down, and Steve hopes she knows that he would never imply that Natasha should stop giving him relationship advice because of her relationship with Bruce Banner being... whatever it was now. Not that he needs any relationship advice at the moment, or people to set him up. There wouldn't be much time for any of that anyway. He chances a quick glance at Sam, who he knows is sweet on her, but hasn’t acted on it yet, because of her relationship status being whatever it might be, and then back at Natasha.

"Do you remember what you told me when I was missing Bruce and blaming myself?"

"I told you that you needed to find him and talk this out or find a way to move on."

"Right," she says and looks at him expectantly, as if he finally gave an answer that was correct in her estimation.

"Take your own advice," Sam adds when he's apparently not quick enough with putting the pieces together and Steve narrows his eyes at him, trying to figure out what exactly both of them are getting at now. It’s not about that former SHIELD agent Natasha tried to set him up with who had pretended to be a nurse to keep an eye on him. For a moment he has the weird thought that perhaps they are both talking about Bucky, but he is trying to find Bucky and bring him back around already; it’s all he’s thinking about when he’s not thinking about the Avengers. He knows his expression must have turned dark, or at the very least worried, when Sam shakes his head with an exasperated sigh.

"You’re hopeless. You really are. Captain America, my ass. You're supposed to be so smart, aren't you?”

“I think we need to spell it out,” Natasha says and she looks like she’s slightly amused, finally. Just the slightest bit. But Sam grins at her and she smiles back, just the corners of her lips moving a bit and changing her expression into one of happy glee. Suddenly it occurs to him that they are getting along really well. Sam apparently knows what he’s doing there.

But Natasha stops his line of thought when she focuses right back on him and tells him sternly: “Go to him, Steve. Now. Before we all decide to kick your ass. Or before one of us goes to New York and drags him back here kicking and screaming and it’s going to be a real mess.”

New York. Bucky isn’t in...

Oh.

Tony. They are talking about Tony.

“It’s just a short ride in a Quinjet. I made sure it’s ready to go,” Sam adds. “Rhodey helped.”

He knows he’s staring, trying to recall the last few minutes of conversation and suddenly is getting a much better picture of what they’d been talking about.

Oh.

Yeah, finally that makes sense. Quite a bit of sense, actually. He hasn't even been talking about Tony for weeks, leaves the room sometimes when Rhodey tells stories about him. Of course, Natasha would notice. “What makes you think going to him would be a good idea?”

“You mean will he be obnoxious and smug? He probably will, Steve. But you need to figure out what's more important: not to admit you miss him or getting laid.”

“We have already figured it out, by the way,” Sam adds and grins at Natasha, “thus this intervention.”

The pieces fall into place. He knows he does miss Tony, has just never thought about it in these terms, because... well, because he's Tony. But then he's always gone for stubborn smart people, who are ready to shoot at him when he's being annoying just as much as they would be ready to kiss him in battle. Perhaps he needs to find out if Tony would be ready to kiss him at all and get this over with.

For some reason the only thing he can picture them doing, is having a big argument about kissing technique.

But thinking of that actually makes him smile.

“Ah,” Sam says. “I think he's getting it, finally.”

* * *

He's smart enough to send the last available code he has for the Tower to let Tony's security know he's coming in advance and make clear that he's not a threat. He hasn't checked with him to see how security has changed after the Ultron disaster. Hasn’t checked with him at all - and that’s exactly the problem here.

By the time he closes in on the landing pad it’s raining cats and dogs. New York is a gray mass beneath him uninviting, but beautiful. It still feels like coming home all over again, even though he’s never far away with the training base so close by. Maybe Sam is right about living in Brooklyn. He should look into that.

The systems take over as soon as he’s close enough, guiding him in. The security code has been accepted then. His fluttering heart calms a little at that. He jumps up before the Quinjet even touches down and the hangar opens, impatient to get this over with. When he gets out, nobody is there to greet him. Who is to say if Tony’s even in the building?

Maybe he's only been admitted, because he had the right code and Tony's in Miami, or Europe or...

But there’s the unmistakable sound of the elevator and the metal doors slide open and finally Tony appears, wearing a black suit and a yellowish tie, his hair is slicked back and tidy as if he’s been about to go out. He looks like Tony Stark more than “Tony”, who in his mind is always clad in a t-shirt and jeans or is halfway clad in the armor and has messy hair from just dislodging the helmet.

All words freeze in his throat at the sight. He can't do this.

Tony strides out of the elevator quickly, looks grim, looks him over then frowns at the Quinjet. “Where is everyone?” he asks, all business.

“Just me,” Steve says, clearing his throat awkwardly and croaks out: “You were right.”

Tony turns around, startled, and frowns. “I was what? Something must be wrong with my ears. I just heard you say I was right. Either something is terribly wrong or I should be worried about you. What did you say?” He says it jokingly, but his eyes remain sharp as he glances Steve over as if he’s waiting for an attack.

A chirpy female voice says: “He said you were right, boss. I can replay it if you want.” It made Steve nearly jump out of his skin until he realizes that this is the new AI - that JARVIS isn't around anymore, of course. It’s hard to think of the Tower and Tony without JARVIS. He doesn't ponder it long enough to forget his objective here and instead pushes on. “I missed you,” he says before he has any time to think better of it, pushing through. Better get it out and over with now. “Just like you said.”

Tony’s eyes go wide and he stops in his tracks as Steve approaches. He stares, wide-eyed. Steve thinks of all the ways to apologize for just blurting it out like this, thinks of grinning and pretending it's all a big joke, but he knows his face has already given away the truth and Tony can’t miss it with how he’s taking him in, probably registering every little detail. Then finally Tony nods, turns on his heels and walks slowly back to the elevator. “You scared me to death!” he mutters and presses the button to open the elevator doors again and motions for Steve to step in before him.

“I really missed you,” Steve repeats, because he's sure something has just gone sideways.

Tony looks at him for a brief second, the tiniest hint of nervousness showing through. “Glad you’re home then,” he says, looking away and avoiding meeting Steve’s eyes. “Took you long enough.”

And that apparently is that. It doesn’t feel like the explosion he’d expected after all the arguments and flirting and rubbing each other so completely the wrong way. It was hilarious how easily this was happening. Thinking of how Natasha and Sam had basically had to shove his face in it is really amazing that this is it. And Tony… Tony isn’t even surprised, the bastard.

That rubs him the wrong way all over again. In exactly the right way.

The realization gives him all the incentive he needs to shove Tony against the wall of the elevator and kiss him, before he can give a command or press a button. The door closes behind them and Tony blinks at him, finally surprised, and Steve takes advantage and kisses him again, using his strength and height to hold Tony exactly where he is. He isn’t surprised or displeased when the kiss turns into something that is more like a fight than any kiss he’s ever experienced before.

He likes it, comes even away breathing hard and feeling warm, hot.

Tony’s mouth is open and wet and he’s staring at him as if he's considering something. “That was unexpected,” he says in a level tone, trying to hide his own labored breathing.

“And here I was thinking you had me all figured out,” Steve shoots back and grins, holding him there trapped with his body. Tony hisses when he braces up a leg between Tony’s own, touching, close, promising.

The left corner of Tony’s lips slowly rise into a slightly mocking half-smile, but his cheeks are turning red. It’s enough to drive Steve wild. So he gives in to temptation and kisses him again, this time pressing their bodies flush together, letting Tony feel his own strength. Never before has he done anything remotely like this and it’s thrilling, exhilarating, being the one who in some ways has the upper hand when it comes to bodies pressed together.

This time Tony pushes against his shoulder to make him break the kiss and let him come up for air. “Okay,” he says panting. “Tell me! Do old men like you really go for sex in the elevator? Because I didn’t see that one coming.”

Steve smirks. “If it can’t be helped. You never know when the time is right.”

And Tony actually laughs out loud, surprised and a little breathless. “Shouldn’t you be the voice of propriety?” Tony asks. Apparently he's only contrary because that's part of who he is and actually angles up to steal another brief kiss.

“You've not met many soldiers of my time, have you?”

“Not of your time, but I doubt things have changed that much when it comes to the army to be honest,” he admits. “I’m surprised because it’s you, soldier.”

“I'm full of surprises,” he whispers in Tony's ear and finally pushes the button that will bring them to Tony's spacious apartment.

“I'm learning.”

“Good.” He grins. “I'm learning too.”

They step out of the elevator together and Steve knows he's smiling. He hasn't smiled like this in a long time. Tony isn't smiling, but something has changed. Some of the tension is gone and he suddenly looks relaxed and pleased. It is as good as a smile, maybe.

Maybe Sam has a point about Steve needing his own place in New York, instead of living at the base. But maybe living in Manhattan will do the trick just as well as living in Brooklyn. Would make some things so much easier in the long run, surely. He'll ask Tony later about moving back into his rooms here.

Now he just wants to enjoy this moment as Tony watches him when he sits down on the sofa and pats the space next to him. “Let's talk, Tony.”

Tony grins and sits down, too. “That's a bit more like what I would have expected from you. All proper and nice.”

And just because he wants to stop him from saying any more and be his charmingly annoying self, his kisses him again.

It's going to be a good day. He's finally home and his mood is much improved.