The first time it happens (winter solstice, ritual sacrifice), they all more-or-less take it as a joke. No one makes fun of him to his face, of course; being a captain, even unofficially, does have a few advantages. There is a lot of smirking (everyone), thinly veiled innuendo (Tony), and offers to help him “take care of the problem” (Tony again), but even if they did make fun of him, Steve wouldn’t be embarrassed about it. People were raised differently back then, or at least he was – even Bucky didn’t know until he was fifteen that masturbation didn’t actually make you go blind. Besides, he wasn’t exactly in demand before the serum, and afterwards, well, fighting Nazis would keep anyone busy.
Also, he knew guys in the army who kept score. He never liked them much.
The second time it happens, it’s still pretty funny, mostly because Steve’s… situation actually comes in handy, due to there being an honest-to-goodness unicorn involved (something about dimensional travel? Steve’s still just on the space chapter of A Brief History of Time). It turns out that the mythology about unicorns liking virgins is true, though their preference for virgin women is not.
It gets progressively less funny the next few times it happens, though, and things quickly go from not-funny to inconvenient to outright dangerous, especially after the fourth time, when the explosion takes out half of Central Park. And while no one outright blames Steve for any of it (it’s not like virgins are so hard to come by that the villains have to use him, after all), Steve still can’t help feeling responsible for all the people who have gotten hurt, even killed, because someone wanted him and they got in the way.
He has enough ghosts knocking around in his skull; he doesn’t need new ones.
“No, seriously,” Tony says, as they walk out of Fury’s office, “I totally know a girl.” He tilts his head. “Or a guy, if that’s what you’re into. Free love all around, snails and oysters, you know?”
Steve doesn’t know, but that’s nothing new, so he just nods and makes a mental note to Google it up later.
The fifth time it happens (ancient ritual to raise the Leviathan and kick-start Armageddon), the person who gets in the way is Tony, and there is nothing even approaching funny about the way the little round machine in Tony’s chest (arc reactor, he calls it an arc reactor) flickers like a guttering candle, growing dimmer with every harsh, labored breath Tony takes.
“E-Elec… shock,” he gasps, mouth working like he can’t get in enough air, “can’t believe I didn’t… I mean… we’ve got Thor, y’know?” He tries to smile; Steve can see his jaw twitch from the strain. “Gonna… fix that… get back…”
“Yeah, you will,” Steve says. He lifts Tony onto his shoulder, trying his best to ignore the sour dread he feels at the way Tony’s armor’s getting stiffer by the second. He tries instead to focus on the fact that Tony’s talking about improving the armor and not about Pepper or his robots or Howard. Tony only talks about Howard when he thinks he’s going to die.
“…fucking hate…” Tony mutters, and passes out.
Steve tightens his hold, and runs faster.
And makes a decision.
Tony’s under strict doctor’s orders for bed rest, which means, of course, that he’s working. He’s sitting up in bed, typing on a tablet computer and talking into a small communication device tucked into his ear, not looking at all like a man who would be dead but for the grace of Pepper Potts and the spare reactor core that she kept in her briefcase. “Was it really necessary to rip apart my armor?” Tony asks, not bothering to glance up as Steve walks into his room. “I have override codes for a reason, you know.”
“It seems they only work if your armor has power,” Steve replies, and sits down in the empty chair beside Tony’s bed. “You should probably look into that.”
“Mmm,” Tony hums, and gives Steve a ‘yeah, yeah’ wave of his hand before he returns to whatever it is he’s working on that’s taking up so much of his attention. “So, I know you ix-nayed the jet boots, but how would you feel about a little something embedded in your heels? It won’t make you fly, and it’ll probably be a one-off, but it should be powerful enough to get you airborne if Thor and I aren’t available to pull you out.”
His mind flashes quickly to Tony’s face, ashen and bloodless, mouth trembling as he tried to grin, and he feels it again, that hard weight in his gut. “Look, Tony, I’m sorry.”
“Of course I’d have to reinforce the soles of your boots so you don’t get your feet blown off, but – wait, what?” He turns his head towards Steve, blinking rapidly. “What was that?”
“For what? You weren’t the one who short-ciruited me.”
“It’s not just—”
“Unless you’re apologizing for the whole virginity thing, which isn’t your fault either.” Tony purses his lips. “Well, I mean, it’s kind of your fault that you went on Larry King and announced to the entire world that you’ve never—”
“I didn’t announce it!”
“You blushed like a nun at a strip club and asked him to change the subject; trust me, you announced it. And let me just say, for someone who’s supposed to be a tactical genius—”
“He said he wanted to talk about social issues that are currently impacting millions of Americans! I wasn’t expecting him to ask me that.”
“Which is why you’re no longer allowed to go to interviews unsupervised.” Tony grins at him, practically oozing smug superiority, and Steve has to bite back his childish urge to retort, yeah well, neither are you. “But I forgive you. And if you ever want to take preventative measures to make sure that your unicorn-hunting license never endangers me or the world again, you just holla.”
Well, this isn’t exactly how Steve planned on broaching this topic, but still. “Okay.”
“Cool,” Tony says, and returns to his work.
“No, I mean, okay. I’m… holla-ing. Whatever that means.”
Tony stops typing, and looks up. “Y—”
“FRIEND TONY!” booms Thor, “YOU HAVE RETURNED TO US!” He sweeps in, his massive body almost completely obscured by the bouquet of heart-shaped, ‘Get Well Soon’ balloons in his arms. The other Avengers are right behind him, followed by an unhappy-looking Pepper who promptly holds out her hands, and keeps them there until Tony – as meekly as Steve’s ever seen him – gives her his tablet.
Although, that’s apparently not enough to impede him; partway through Thor’s jovial rendition of the tale of his stalwart and enthusiastic determination in balloon-procuring – with commentary from Natasha and Clint – Steve feels his cell phone vibrate in his pocket.
We need to talk, says the speech bubble coming from the little Iron Man head on his screen.
Steve looks up, and Tony sends him a quick wink, before he joins in the conversation.
Except – they don’t talk; Tony beelines straight for his workshop as soon as he gets released from the hospital, and after a while, Steve assumes that Tony has forgotten about it, or that he’s caught up with the flood of repair work that comes after almost every mission, or, hell, that he was just never really that interested in the first place.
Five days after Tony comes home, Steve is drying his dishes when he receives a text message: Come down, I need specifications. Bring coffee.
A few seconds later, another text follows: pls. Steve chuckles, and shakes his head.
“Is that Stark?” Clint asks, from the living room couch. He and Natasha – who’s blonde now – have laid out her guns on the coffee table, and are stripping and cleaning them one by one.
“Yeah, he wants to see me.”
Clint nods. Without looking, he tosses a rag to Natasha, who catches it with a casual flick of her wrist. Even off the battlefield, they move like a well-oiled machine, and Steve can’t help envying their camaraderie. “Tell him I want my bow back.”
“Will do,” he promises. He puts the dishes away, and heads for the coffeemaker.
Tony’s workshop is located at the top floor of Stark Tower, just below the living quarters. Steve’s only been in there a few times, and every time, it feels like he’s walking into something out of Amazing Stories: the hallway lights that go on as he approaches and go off again once he’s walked past them, the machines that talk to you, and the colorful, glowing figures that are apparently made of light, but move like they’re solid objects whenever Steve bumps into them. It reminds him of the first and only Stark Expo that he’d gone to, right before he enlisted – the glitz and glamour and optimism in a country that had gone for so long without it, all focused around technology – technology would save them all, make them live longer, live better; we’re heading into a new age, ladies and gentlemen, soon your car will fly you to work while your robot cleans your house.
(There is a disappointing lack of flying cars in the future. Steve’s wondered on several occasions if he’d be able to talk Tony into making him one.)
“—no, up, I said up.” He hears Tony before he sees him, hunched over a table with one of his robots whirring at his side. “Don’t try to… no, you’re not helping. What you are doing is the opposite of help—it’s like I’m talking to a frigging toaster.”
“Am I interrupting?”
Tony whirls around on his chair, a wide grin spreading across his face. “Not at all – hello, gorgeous,” he purrs, and swipes the mug from Steve’s hands before nodding absently at him. “Captain.”
“Clint wants to know when you’ll be done with his bow,” Steve says, and raises his eyebrows at Tony’s lustful moaning as he gulps down the hot liquid. “I hope you bought that coffee dinner first.”
“Why, you jealous?” Tony asks, and Steve gets a brief flash of quirked eyebrow and wicked smirk before he turns back to his work station. “Don’t worry, Cap, you’re still my best gal – Butterfingers, gloves – as for Barton, tell him that I can either do it quick and dirty, or I can spend my incredibly expensive time and incredibly expansive genius on improving his bow so that it doesn’t carve into his flesh the next time it breaks – his choice.”
“You already finished it, didn’t you?”
“As of three days ago,” Tony admits, exchanging his now empty coffee mug for a pair of gloves. “But Romanov told me his arm’s still healing, so he’s not getting his toys back just yet. Hey, speaking of Romanov, you liking the blonde? Or are you more of a brunette kind of guy? I personally liked the original red, to be honest.”
Steve blinks. “Uh… does it matter?”
Tony shrugs. “Not to me, but the more parameters you can give me, the more I can narrow down the search field. ‘Cause I know what I like but I’m about as equal opportunity as you can get, you know?”
“Um.” When Tony’s working, he has a disconcerting tendency to start conversations in his head before actually having them out loud. Steve’s more or less gotten used to just going with it until his brain pieces everything together. “We’re not talking about Natasha anymore, are we?”
“What?” Tony asks, turning around. “No, when were we talking about Natasha? This is about you. You holla-ed, remember? And do me a favor, okay – never say that word again; it doesn’t even sound like English coming from you.” He squints at Steve for a few seconds, then heaves a short sigh and starts to pull off his gloves. “Here, take a look – JARVIS? Pull up the list. Arrange by alpha, show first fifty, full screen.”
“As you wish, sir,” JARVIS intones with his usual droll solemnity, and a glowing blue grid bursts into being between him and Tony. One by one, the boxes in the grid flood with photographs of people, all beautiful, some rather scantily clad, and each labeled with a name underneath.
“Captain Rogers,” Tony says, spreading both arms like a magician about to do a trick, “pick a card, any card.”
Steve stares at the display. “What’s…?”
“It’s a simple dialogue tree – every time you provide a criterion for the filtration, it narrows down your options until you’re left with the closest approximation to exactly what – or who, in this case – you want.”
He keeps staring. “Who are all these people?” he asks, and sucks in a quick breath at a photograph of a good-looking young man in a particularly… intimate pose. “Are they all people you know?”
“Not Biblically,” Tony replies with a smirk, which derails Steve for a few seconds, until – oh. Oh jeez, what is it with Starks and their inability to talk plainly? “Though I’m flattered that you think I could – or that I’d have the time, quite frankly.” He taps a finger, and one of the photographs expands to almost four times its original size, giving Steve a far closer view of a young woman’s… navel than he’d ever wanted. “Nah, some are celebrities, some are friends of mine from my wilder days, some are from your fanmail – you got a lot after your press conference on marriage equality. Don’t worry, they’ve all been vetted, they’re all legal, and they’re all single so you don’t have to worry about being a homewrecker. I did filter out the ones who aren’t single but wouldn’t mind a threesome, since it’s your first time on this ride and all.”
“Right.” A sudden, horrifying thought grips Steve. “Wait, did you tell all of them that I wanted—”
“Of course not!” Tony says, even as his eyebrows add, you idiot. “This stays strictly between us. Do you know what would happen to me if I dangled a you-shaped carrot in front of all these people and then reneged? I’d have to seek asylum on Asgard.”
“Then how do you know that these people would all be interested in me?”
Now Tony’s entire face is calling him an idiot. “Seriously? You’re Captain America, first of all—”
Steve sighs inwardly and tries not to look disappointed.
“—but even if you weren’t, you’re six-foot-plus of all-American beefcake, Steve. Trust me, they’ll be interested.” He stops when he catches sight of Steve’s expression, and tilts his head, looking confused. “What? Did I miss something?”
“Look,” Steve says, “I appreciate the effort.” He walks through the glowing grid, until there’s nothing separating him and Tony but air. “But this isn’t exactly what I thought you meant when you said you’d help.”
Tony looks even more confused. “You didn’t think I meant that I’d use my extensive little black book and hook you up with somebody nice? What, you wanted me to build you a sex robot or something?”
“You can do that?” Off to his left, Tony’s DUM-E whirls its ‘hand.’ Steve looks warily at it.
He sees Tony follow his gaze. “Really? I wouldn’t trust that hunk of scrap metal to make my popcorn; you think I’d let him anywhere near my dick? Don’t give me that look!” he accuses, when DUM-E’s head-joint droops. “You know exactly what I’m talking about!”
“No,” Steve says, before Tony and his robots get into another fight. “Not a – a robot. I…” He’d practiced. It shouldn’t be this difficult. “I thought you had offered to look after my situation personally. I was going to take you up on your offer. That’s what I meant in the hospital. Sorry if I was unclear.”
This is the second time that Steve’s managed to turn Tony completely speechless in a week. He’s almost proud.
“Okay,” Tony says, after a long, silent moment, “not that I’m shooting this gift horse or anything, because you’re pretty much second on my list of men I’d turn gay for, but – why me? I mean, I don’t blame you for wanting to do it with the Sexiest Man Alive, but…”
“Actually, I wanted to do it with someone I can trust,” Steve replies dryly. “A friend.”
Something flickers in Tony’s eyes, but he blinks it away too quickly for Steve to analyze what it was. “All right,” he says, his usual cocky grin spreading across his face. “Name your time and place, soldier.”
Steve smiles, as something that feels strangely like relief rushes through him. “2200 hours, my quarters?”
Tony nods. “Want me to buy you dinner first?”
“Just don’t be late.”
“Well, you wouldn’t want me coming early,” Tony says, and waggles his eyebrows in a way that makes Steve sure he’s missed another reference. “Now run along, Cap, I have to finish this before our date.”
Steve rolls his eyes and heads for the door. He’s just at the stairs before he stops, and turns back around. “Who’s the first man on that list of yours?”
“Neil Degrasse Tyson,” comes Tony’s reply. “Don’t take it personally – you’re hotter, but he’s a rocket scientist.”
Steve chuckles the entire way up the stairs.