Steve had spent most of his Monday hanging around, hoping to get another few minutes alone with Tony to see if whatever had happened between them was anything more than Tony being, well, Tony.
Or just overtired.
And possibly on a sanity break.
Steve's attempts to delve into the situation were blocked, however, by the unfortunate fact that the only time he managed to see Tony was a little after noon, when he came barreling up the stairs looking furious. He paused only briefly when he laid eyes on Steve, but otherwise continued on his stalk down the hall. When shouting soon followed from the corner of the tower that Steve knew Clint was currently occupying, it shed enough light on the situation for both Steve and Bruce to decide they probably should go and take a walk.
"You know, sometimes I don't see Tony for days," Bruce was saying as they stepped out into the October sunshine. The temperatures had started dropping nicely, and both Bruce and Steve had their hands sunk deeply in the pockets of their jackets. "He gets down in that lab and will not come out until he actively loses consciousness or is just that starved that he's forced to forage for food like a mangy dog." Bruce considered. "He usually looks like a mangy dog too, once he's been down there for a couple days."
"But why?" Steve asked, shortening his steps to match Bruce's, allowing them to walk side by side. He thought he saw Bruce quirk a quick grin, but couldn't be sure. "I mean, what's he working on that's so consuming?"
Bruce shrugged. "Not sure. I don't think he ever actually needs a reason - it's just something he does. Sometimes I join him down there, mainly to make sure he hasn't died. But the equipment isn't exactly what I need in order to continue my own work, so I don't do it too often." He did grin, then. "I really can't blame Tony. I may get a little wrapped up in things myself from time to time."
"Gee, I never would have suspected that about you, Dr. Banner," Steve said, nudging the other man gently with his elbow. "So you really are a mad scientist after all, huh?"
Bruce gave a twitch of his lips. "In both senses of the term 'mad', even," he replied. "I break a lot of expensive equipment."
Steve blinked. "Do you really?"
Bruce wrinkled his nose, stepping off the path towards one of the wooden benches that lined the park walkways. "Nah, not really. I'm pretty careful. I have to be, you know?" He bent over to brush some leaves off of the bench before sitting down, leaning back. "I learned to double check everything I do, even if its something as simple as picking up a test tube." He shrugged. "I need to make sure I'm not holding it too loose or too tight, and make sure my responses to stimuli are calm... I know I over-think sometimes, because it's been years since I let my strength get out of my control when not actively being the Other Guy, but... you know."
Steve lowered himself down beside Bruce, leaning forward to rest his elbows on his knees. He looked down at his hands. "That sounds so difficult," he said, guilt tamping down on his previously upbeat mood.
"Hey," Bruce said, nudging the toes of their shoes together. "That better not be your guilty expression trying to escape and take over the rest of your face. That would just be silly, since you've got nothing to feel guilty for."
Steve shook his head. "I do, though," he said, leaning back so he could twist and look at Bruce directly. It was funny to think that someone who looked like Bruce could be so... dangerous. He just looked so soft, sitting there next to Steve in his baggy khakis and his yellow button down and slightly overlarge coat. He'd left his glasses back at the tower, but they wouldn't have helped much anyway, given how the wind kept blowing his fluffy brown hair right into his eyes. He looked kind, and slightly goofy.
It was a fairly accurate portrait of Bruce, and Steve just felt guiltier.
He took a breath, held it for a moment, and then let it out. "I need to apologize for how I treated you when we first met."
Bruce squinted at Steve, trying to brush his hair out of his eyes. "When we first met," he repeated, and frowned. "What did you do that merits an apology?"
Steve looked back down again. "I treated you like you were some kind of menace."
A silence stretched between them before Bruce reached out and touched Steve's arm. "Steve," he said gently, "I am a menace."
"No," Steve replied fiercely, reaching up to grip his hand over Bruce's, "you're not. You're so in control all of the time, so aware of yourself, and I had no right to doubt that, especially when I didn't even know you. It was inexcusable the way I behaved when I demanded Tony stop poking you -"
"Actually, no, I really appreciated that," Bruce said.
"- and I acted like you were some kind of time bomb or something, just waiting to go off."
Bruce sighed, carefully extracting his hand from under Steve's, where the grip had turned a little too crushing. "Steve, listen. You don't need to do this -"
"I do," Steve insisted. "I need to apologize for judging you like that when I had no evidence, no reason to do so."
Bruce closed his eyes, "I literally destroyed half of New York once because I lost control. Nothing in your response to Tony's attempts to get me to Hulk out in the helicarrier lab was anything other than responsible caution."
"Still," Steve said, twisting his fingers together. "I'm sorry that I didn't treat you fairly when we first met."
Now it was Bruce who put his hand over Steve's, where it still curled around his elbow. "Steve," he said, shaking him slightly. "You and I, as Clint likes to shout at Natasha during odd moments, seem to be remembering Budapest very differently."
Despite himself, Steve chuckled. "Do we? Funny, I have trouble remembering any of Budapest. When did we go there?"
Bruce smiled. " Let's call it the Helicarrier Meeting, then. Want to know what I remember?"
Without waiting for a response, Bruce let go of Steve in order to shift closer, elbowing the taller man in the arm. "Listen carefully because I'm a terrible storyteller. Okay, so here's what I remember from the first time we met. I remember you smiling at me before my eyes had even adjusted to the light, followed by you actually wanting to shake my hand." He shrugged, bumping into Steve again. "Not too many people want to touch a monster."
Steve shifted on the bench, turning a look of dismay on Bruce. "You're not -"
"Shut up, Steve," Bruce said mildly. "You made it even better after that, you know. Remember when I asked if being the man who could find the cube was the only word out on me? Do you remember what you said?"
"You said "It's the only word I care about." And you meant that. You meant that you only cared if I could help out the team, not that you thought I'd Hulk at any possible moment. You were kind, Steve. You tried to make me feel comfortable." He smiled sadly. "Please don't apologize to me for being kind."
Steve turned to look at Bruce, who looked back. When neither of them had said anything a minute later, Bruce scrunched up his face and glared. Steve laughed, shifted around again a little, and then nodded. "Yeah, okay."
Bruce smiled at him and they both settled back, hands in their jacket pockets as they watched the people around them. Tons of joggers were out enjoying the cooler weather along with dog walkers and ambling couples. The breeze had picked up briskly, blowing around the leaves on the ground with stronger determination. One of the dogs nearby proceeded to go crazy with chasing the airborne leaves, snapping his jaws into the empty air, and Steve started laughing.
"So. You have a thing for Tony, huh?"
Steve hadn't previously known that it was possible to choke on a laugh, but choke he did, his ensuing coughing fit taking up the next half minute while Bruce pounded on his back. It didn't particularly help, but Steve didn't bother stopping him.
"Sorry," Bruce said when the coughing subsided. "I haven't really gotten back into the practice of how to have civilized conversations." He thought for a minute. "Though really, I probably couldn't have segued into that with any particular skill if I'd tried."
Steve coughed out a laugh, and then groaned, dragging a hand over his face. "Am I just that obvious, or is the gossip in our tower worse than a bridge club?"
Bruce chuckled. "Do you have extensive experience with bridge clubs?"
Steve shook his head, slouching forward. "I just... kind of was hoping that I wasn't so pathetic as all that." He sighed. "I guess I must be, though. Everybody's figured it out."
Bruce stretched his legs out in front of him, inspecting his scuffed brown shoes. "Tony didn't. You had to help him. Something about you letting him grope your chest in the middle of the lab before Thor came down and had a histrionic fit?"
Steve shot bolt upright. "What? I did not let him... I mean, why would I... no!"
"Sooo," Bruce dragged out, ignoring the fact that Steve was practically falling off the bench, "there was no flirting? Tony misread the situation?"
"Well, I mean," Steve said, feeling the blush creeping up before it even arrived. "Okay, well, maybe I... I might have encouraged him when he was being a little sleep deprived and loopy, and maybe he touched my back but not my chest and it wasn't inappropriate or anything, it was -"
"Nope, Natasha said Tony was pretty much stroking you."
"Oh God," Steve cried, curling in on himself. "Why is everyone so involved?"
Bruce patted Steve on the back. "I'm involved because while you have Natasha, Clint, and Thor to talk to, Tony has me. And I was the one he came to after your visit to the lab the other day. He wanted to know if I'd watch the lab footage with him, just to make sure he hadn't gone insane."
Steve stared at him. "No he didn't. That didn't happen. You're making that up. Did he? Really?"
"Yes," Bruce said, nodding slowly. "Yes he did. And I have to say, having seen the footage, I agree with Natasha - there was definite stroking involved." He hesitated a moment, and then pushed himself to his feet, coming to stand in front of Steve. "And Steve, maybe I'm reading this completely wrong, but it kind of looked like you instigated it."
Steve flushed, fidgeted for a moment, before drawing his shoulders back and taking a deep breath. "What if I did?"
"Well," Bruce said, "then we should probably get back. We can start planning your move on the way."
Steve frowned in confusion, but pushed himself up off the bench. "My move? What move?"
"Tony is a lot more insecure than you'd think," Bruce responded as they fell into step again. "He honestly couldn't believe that all those blushes had been anything other than repressed dislike. I had to assure him pretty fervently that you weren't blushing because you were wishing he'd leave the room, but because you were a little overwhelmed that he was in it."
"But... Natasha's always telling me not to feed his ego."
Bruce laughed. "Natasha doesn't always catch subtleties, Steve. She's trained to read people, but Tony's got such an overwhelming personality that unless he chooses to reveal himself, it's hard to know what's really going on inside his head." He stopped, poking Steve in the chest. "So, if this is going to go anywhere at all, you're gonna have to be the guy to make the first move."
Steve bit his lip, and then nodded slowly. "I think I've got an idea we can work with."
"Thank God," Bruce said, sagging slightly. "You two were driving me nuts."
Unfortunately, Steve's plan was forced to begin a little later than he'd originally intended, but really it was probably for the best. Tony had been in and out for most of the week, forced into several meetings by Pepper, and also because of personal updates he was required to give Fury on the alien technology Tony had hoarded away in his lab to run his tests on. It was only on accident that Steve managed to run into Tony at all on Wednesday night, and that was because he'd just happened to be wandering into the kitchen at the same time as Tony.
"Hi," Steve said, feeling stupidly breathless.
"Hey, Cap," Tony said, literally halting in his tracks. "You're up late."
Steve shrugged, hovering in the doorway. "I was on my way to bed, actually. Are you just getting home?" He swallowed, trying to stop the blush that he knew was going to appear any minute. "It's been pretty quiet around here without you."
There. First message planted. Hopefully it wasn't too subtle. Bruce had warned Steve about being too subtle.
Tony arched an eyebrow, scratching at his goatee. "Can't imagine it being too quiet around here. I mean, Thor's all moved in. I heard he accidentally electrocuted Clint yesterday."
"Only a little," Steve replied. Clint had been doing some kind of acrobatic tricks up on the roof, and Thor had gotten nervous about it, trying to grab at Clint to get him down. Unfortunately, when Thor got nervous, he lost track of his powers and accidentally sent a zap up the pole that Clint had been climbing. Luckily circus training had kicked in and Clint had swung down to the ground rather than landing on his head, but Steve and Natasha had spent the rest of the day firmly barricading the roof access. "I may have accidentally broken one of your doors, though."
Tony folded his arms over his chest. "How does one 'accidentally break a door', Steve?"
Steve fidgeted. "Er, well, okay, more like deliberately warped its hinges and jammed it back in so Clint couldn't get back out there."
Tony huffed out a laugh, moving towards the refrigerator. "If that's your idea of things being quiet, I think you may be a little crazy."
"Yeah, well..." Steve watch as Tony pulled out bread and the sliced turkey from the fridge, along with some cheese and mayonnaise. "It's good to have you back."
He hoped Tony would catch on soon. He was starting to feel really stupid.
Tony, for his part, had stilled at the counter, his back to Steve. After a moment, he glanced over his shoulder, not quite looking at Steve, but focused on his general vicinity. "You're a funny guy, Cap."
Well, what was that supposed to mean? Steve could see what Bruce meant, now - he had absolutely no idea what Tony was thinking. Steve had always been overly aware of Tony's tendency towards distanced calculation (it was, after all, one of the reasons Steve had assumed Tony would never be interested in someone like him, because there was nothing worth figuring out about), but now when he was actively looking for an answer, that careful, quiet, blank scrutiny was incredibly frustrating. "I'm... no, not really," Steve finally said. "I don't mean to be."
At that, Tony took a deep breath, shoulders rising visibly beneath the black button down he wore. "Good to know," he said, and turned back to his sandwich. Steve had the uneasy feeling he'd been dismissed, but then Tony glanced back over at him and - to Steve's surprise - actually started talking. "I've been in goddamn meetings all day," he said, peeling open the deli bags. "Last one was with Fury. Wanted to know what I was doing with all the alien tech I may or may not have snagged and stored away for future inspection after the fight. I mean, who the hell does he think he is? Who the hell does he think I am? I'm a busy guy. I got things to do. People to annoy. I don't have time to do all the dinky little errands that SHIELD doesn't have the resources for."
Steve may have twitched with delight at the fact that, apparently, they were going to have a conversation, but he'd never admit it. "What's Fury want with that stuff, anyway?" He fidgeted in the doorway a little more before crossing the room to sit at the table. "What do you think he plans on doing with it?"
Tony snorted, still fiddling around up at the counter. "He's just looking to see if it's anything we can use against any other attempted invasions."
Steve thought back to the incident on the helicarrier, the atomic weapons stash he'd found in the stores. "Are you sure that's what he wants it for?"
Tony looked over at Steve then, licking a dollop of mayonnaise off of his thumb. "S'what he's saying, anyway," he replied. "No use to him, though. The tech in the weapons was contingent on the mothership being around to power it."
"The ship you blew up?"
"Roger, Rogers," Tony replied, and then suddenly he was sliding a sandwich in front of Steve, sitting down across from him with his own plate. "So, no ship, no weapons. Tough cookies."
Steve stared down at the sandwich. "You didn't have to -"
"Spare me," Tony said sharply, and Steve's eyebrows shot up. At the look on Steve's face, Tony's dark eyes flitted around for a minute before landing back on his own sandwich. "I've read your file about a billion times, Steve. I know what your metabolism is like. You can pretty much eat all of the time, so shut up and eat the damn thing. Unless you've got some moral aversion to eating turkey or something, in which case leave it there and I'll eat it later."
"No! No, it's fine, Tony," Steve said, leaning forward to pick the sandwich up. "Thanks for thinking of me."
Tony paused, eyes flicking up to meet Steve's. "Not really a hardship," he muttered before taking a bite.
Steve took a bite of his own sandwich, chewing slowly. "So," he said once he'd swallowed, "the weapons are useless, then."
Tony snorted. "Didn't say that," he replied, not bothering to wait until he'd finished his mouthful. "I just said that the weapons were no use to Fury."
Steve lowered his sandwich back to his place. "So you can work them?"
He watched Tony consider the question over another bite of sandwich. "Depends," he said after a minute.
Tony smirked. "On whether or not I'm the genius I tell everybody that I am. Cause let me tell you, only a freaking genius could figure out the workings of those damn things."
Steve nodded easily, picking his own sandwich back up. "Well, then I expect a full report when you're finished."
Tony froze, sandwich halfway to his mouth. "Sorry, what?"
Steve shrugged, finishing off his own sandwich - he had been hungry after all. "Well, when you're done getting them working. Shouldn't take you too long, so when it's done, let me know. I want to come see if they're viable for Avengers use." He grinned. "Guess what Fury doesn't know won't hurt him."
He pushed back his chair and stood, looking up in time to see Tony mouthing the words "shouldn't take you too long" Steve suppressed a grin. "Thanks a lot for the sandwich, Tony. It was really good."
"Uh, sure," Tony said, blinking quickly. "No problem. Known for my sandwich making skills. Famous for them. No one spreads condiments like I do."
Steve laughed, picking up his plate and walking around the table. "Sure, Tony. Whatever you say. I'll see you later, okay?"
"Yeah, that's..." Tony trailed off when (after taking a deep breath or three and almost faking out twice), Steve reached out and ran his own hand over Tony's shoulders as he passed.
"Night, Tony," Steve said, heading for the doorway. For the most part, this had been a success. He and Bruce had agreed that the best way to "woo" Tony, as Steve insisted on calling it just to see Bruce roll his eyes, was to make Tony understand that Steve really was interested. That included everything Tony did. A lot of people were interested in Tony, but for what he owned - Stark Industries, the Iron Man suit, his money. Steve needed Tony to see that he was interested in more than that and less than that all in one - he wanted Tony. But while he'd hoped that the message would be received loud and clear, he had to admit he was a little disappointed. He didn't know if Tony had really gotten the message or not or if he was still being too subtle. The problem was that Steve was just too shy to try for anything more obvious. He sighed; he'd just have to come up with something -
"Steve," Tony called just before Steve had made it more than a few steps down the hallway. He jumped, startled out of his thoughts, and turned, coming back to lean around the doorway. "Yeah?" he asked, trying not to sound stupid or desperate or stupidly desperate.
Tony had stood up to face the doorway, standing in that crooked way he had with his shoulders thrust a little back, one hand tapping on the tabletop. "Just to be clear... we're... uh..." he trailed off, shook his head. "I mean, I'm... this is something, right? We're doing something." He winced. "I sound like an idiot."
Steve couldn't help but grin at Tony's verbal fumbling. "Yeah, but that's okay," he said. "We are. Doing something, I mean. Um."
"Okay," Tony said, nodding carefully. "Okay, yeah. Just wanted to make sure this wasn't just some kind of weird 1930's touchy-feeley-but-entirely-platonic friendship building."
Steve grinned, flushing as he always did, but from the way Tony's eyes fixed on him, he decided that was okay too. "No," he replied. "Just... taking things slow."
Tony flashed his own grin, then, and Steve shivered at the sudden predatory sharpness to it. "I can do slow," he said, "but I have a feeling you'll be begging to go faster in no time."
Steve ducked his head, flushing all the way to his hairline. "Guess we'll just have to see," he said, looking up at Tony from under his lashes.
Tony laughed, scrubbing a hand over his face. "Oh yeah," Tony practically purred, laying it on thick as he picked up his own plate and deposited it in the sink. "We will. Night, Steve. Sleep tight."
"Yeah," Steve breathed, and then he was alone, the sound of Tony's footfalls fading in the opposite direction. But inside, Steve felt warm, secure and giddy and a tiny bit nervous. He let himself grin like an idiot, turning and heading towards his room. Hopefully everyone else was asleep - he kind of wanted to hold onto this by himself for a little while. Just thinking about the whole encounter made him feel like a grinning idiot, but then, he'd never really done anything like this before. Not when he was in school, not when he was out of school, not even with...well. So yeah, he didn't think it was too strange that this felt so good, or that his first instinct was to hold it tight, think about it for awhile. But in the morning he'd talk it over with them, his friends, and see if any of them had any advice - other than Bruce's, which had worked already - on how exactly one went and, well, wooed someone like Tony Stark.
Somehow, Steve suspected that of all the challenges he'd had to deal with in his new life, this one would probably be the most fun. He couldn't wait, really.
Which was just as well, because the second he walked into his room, Natasha was down from the ceiling, thighs around his head, bearing him down to the ground.
"Spill," she said, kneeing him in the ear. "Now."
And Steve laughed into the carpet.