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Dating the Long Way Around

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“So.”

“So? Chin up. You missed a spot shaving, how do you even do that?”

“How did my life reach this point?” Tony Stark asked no one in particular. The only other person in the room was scowling at his jaw like it had talked bad about her mother and Jarvis knew better than to answer rhetorical questions. “How did I get here?”

“Poor choices and too much drinking,” Pepper Potts told him. She put her hands on his shoulders and turned him around, giving him a firm shove towards the bathroom. “Fix your face.”

“It's like twenty years and a couple of hard parties too late for that,” Tony pointed out, but he went, because she had that look on her face, the one that said that she was not amused and not in the mood for his nonsense, and there was a lot of things that Pepper qualified as nonsense when it came to Tony Stark. Morose, he headed for the bathroom. “My life is a disaster,” he told her as he went.

“You should be used to that by now,” she pointed out. “Which watch?”

“Pepper, I have bigger damn problems than the watch. I need you to focus here.” He studied his reflection in the mirror. Same as always, nothing to write home about, but he was doing okay for himself. He tipped his chin up, looking for the non-existent spot he'd missed. His eyes narrowed, he reached for his razor. Okay, maybe he'd missed a spot. He had other things on his mind, dammit.

“Tony, I am focused. There is a laserlike level of focus happening here, because the only way you're going to make it downstairs and not be late, as in humiliatingly late, is if I focus. Because you've never met a schedule that you couldn't destroy with a casual look and a martini.” She appeared behind him in the bathroom door, holding the wooden box of his watches. “Which. Watch.”

“For God's sake, just pick one!” He squinted at his chin, leaning forward to double check everything. “It is not anything I'm concerned about.”

“You should be. Come on, we're running behind.” She selected a watch from the display and set the box aside. “Wrist.” She caught his arm with one delicate, cool hand, and slipped the watch over his fingers.

“I can put on a watch,” Tony said, but he didn't look away from his reflection. “I can do that.”

“You can, but you're not going to,” Pepper pointed out, securing it in place. “Because you're having some sort of breakdown over there, I don't claim to understand it, but I've learned to respect it.” She took the razor out of his other hand and put it aside. “Look at me.” When he didn't move, she took his shoulders in hand and turned him around so she could run a quick, raking glance over his form. A smile curled her lips, warm and affectionate and real. “You look great. Perfect.”

“How did I get to this point in my life, Pepper?” Tony asked.

“Hard work and hard living,” she said, as she reached up to stroke a wayward strand of hair back where it belonged. “Try not to panic.”

“I'm not- I'm not PANICKING,” Tony snapped, recoiling from her fingers, and she followed him, adjusting his collar and smoothing his tie. “That is just a gross exaggeration of the situation, Pepper, that is slander and malice and a horrible thing to say to me, panicking, who's panicking?”

“You are. Visibly.” Pepper heaved a faint sigh, her shoulders rising and falling beneath the fabric of her tailored cream suit. “I need you to not do that. This is a delicate negotiation, but nothing that you can't do. We all know that.” Her fingers caught his chin, tipping his face back towards her when he tried to glance away. “Tony. You can do this.”

He let his eyes shut; sucking in a long, slow breath, he nodded. “Yeah. Got it.”

He heard her faint laugh, light and easy, and he opened his eyes to glare at her. She was shaking her head, smiling at him, smiling with him. “It's just dinner,” she said, and her gaze was warm and sympathetic. “It's just a date.”

“Pepper. I am standing here in my best suit,” Tony said to her, “which my ex-girlfriend dressed me in, some parts of it, quite literally, why are you here, by the way? Why are you-” She smoothed his hair down behind his ear, and he rolled his eyes. “Stop it.”

“First of all,” she said with a saccharine smile, “ex-girlfriend and current CEO, can we focus on the current? CEO of StarkIndustries, that is who just shoved your arms into a jacket, and I did it because if we left it up to you, you would still be wearing ratty jeans with a hole in the left knee and a t-shirt from a band that broke up a decade ago.”

“It's a classic,” Tony said, and that hurt, he wasn't sure why, but that hurt. “And I-”

“Shoes,” she said, stabbing a finger towards his feet, and he heaved a sigh. “I am serious, Tony, you are not going to sabotage this by acting like an ass.”

“Kind of am, Pepper, that's my default state, that is who I am, so basically, when you say to me, 'This time, Tony, this one time, can you not be an ass?' the answer is no, because that is who I am, I am a giant jackass, and the chances of me hiding that for long enough to enter into anything resembling a relationship is pretty much non-existent. So when you say, don't be an ass?” He threw his hands up. “The answer is, I would if I had any idea how to accomplish that!”

Pepper stared at him, her head angled forward, a smile on her lips. “Well, then,” she said at last, and her voice was warm and laughing. “It's a good thing that your date's been living with you for months and is more than used to it.”

He paused, considered. “He is, isn't he?”

“Yes, he is.” Pepper adjusted his tie again. Tony let her. It was kind of nice, being fussed over.

“Why am I doing this, then?” he asked.

“Because it's none of my business, and it's not anything I'd presume to ask, but I'm guessing this is Steve's first date. You. You are his first date.” She leaned in, eyes narrowed on his. “He's chosen you, and trust me, Mr. Stark, Steve Rogers could pretty much get a 'yes' out of anyone, male or female, in this country, but he's chosen you. So the least you can do is put on a nice outfit, and shave properly, and take him to a nice restaurant, and put on some DAMN SHOES.”

“I'm hearing a tone here, a certain disapproval-”

“I will throw them at your head in about thirty seconds,” Pepper told him. With one hand, she spun him around and smacked him on the ass for good measure. “March.”

Tony marched. “Why are you so crazy?” he asked her. “I pay for perfectly good psychiatric health care, Pepper, I have an excellent benefits plan.”

“No, StarkIndustries has an excellent benefits plan,” Pepper said, heading for the sitting room. Her hips swayed, the long heels of her shoes sinking into the plush carpet with each step. “You, as it turns out, are not beneficial whatsoever.”

“I've been trying to say that, Pepper, and you've paid no attention to me. That being the case, why are you so eager to send me to dinner with Captain America?”

“Because you really want to have dinner with Captain America,” Pepper pointed out. She picked up her tablet and flicked through the data on the screen. “And you're going to be late if you don't get your shoes on, Tony.”

“I don't want to go to dinner with Captain America,” Tony groused. He took a seat and started shoving his feet into expensive dress shoes. “I want to sit on the couch with Steve and eat leftover pizza and make fun of an infomercial and maybe Clint, so what am I doing going to dinner in this?”

“Because you look good in that, and Steve deserves an actual date, and you are going to act like a goddamn adult and just calm down.”

“I am perfectly calm, why are you-”

Pepper snagged his tie and jerked him forward, pulling Tony down until they were face to face. “You will calm down,” she said, her voice calm and precise. “And you will do it right now, Anthony Stark. That man has been put through absolute hell-”

“I got kidnapped,” Tony said, “did you think that was a fun time for me? I mean, really? I was kidnapped by Hydra and aliens and that is something that not many people get to say, so can we just-”

She leaned forward, until they were almost nose to nose. “We thought you were dead,” she said, her voice calm and steady. Tony fell silent. “He thought you were dead.” Her eyes were bright and shining. “He thought you were dead, and he had no choice but to keep going.”

“Not my fault you all write me off so easily,” Tony mumbled, and Pepper let go of his tie with a sigh.

“You scared us,” she said, smoothing her palms against his cheeks. “But you scared him most of all, because he's lost so much, and so many.” She smiled. “I didn't even bother crying this time,” she said, her tone arch. “I know better. You have to be gone at LEAST two months before I'll shed a tear on your behalf, Mr. Stark.”

“Good for you, Ms. Potts, at least you have sense.” He leaned forward, just a bit, and rested his forehead against hers. “Pepper? Why am I doing this?”

“I'd say it's because after all the trouble you've caused the man, you owe him at the very least a meal, but-” She heaved a faint sigh. “It's because no matter what you try to say right now, Tony? You want this date more than just about anything else in your life.”

Tony took a deep breath. “I'm going to fuck this up,” he said, his eyes closed tight. She was familiar, the light scent of her perfume, the delicate touch of her fingers, the heat of her palms against his skin. Everything about this was familiar. Because that was another thing he'd fucked up. He reached up, covering her hands with his, holding onto the touch for another second.

“Maybe,” she said, because she was a practical woman, not given to false promises. “But you're stubborn when it's inconvenient, and Steve is steadfast in everything he does.” She bumped her forehead against his, waiting for him to open his eyes and see her smile before she continued. “So I give you pretty good odds.”

“This is a horrible idea,” Tony said, and she laughed.

“Put on your damn shoes, you faker,” she said, pulling away. “You've got a date with Captain America.”

Tony groaned. “Can we not focus on that? Because, really, that is just- I cannot handle that particular line of thought,” he snapped, reaching for his shoes. “Let's not bring that up, I am dating Steve, he's leaving the uniform at home.”

Of course, now that she'd planted the damn thought in his head, he couldn't think of anything else, couldn't shake the memory of just how good the kiss he'd shared with Steve had been, still in full uniform, the slick press of the leather sliding over the Iron Man armor, his hands and his body and Tony had lost his damn mind. He'd slept with god only knows how many people, and one kiss from Steve Rogers and he was like a kid with his first crush all over again.

In his defense, Steve could kiss. Really. The man had a natural talent.

The first one had been amazing. Despite the blood loss. The second one had been better. Despite happening in SHIELD medical.

“This is the stupidest thing I've ever done,” Tony said, trying to focus on his shoes. It wasn't working. He didn't need that much brain power to tie the laces, and there was plenty left over to cheerfully go over every single kiss they'd shared since then. Steve, as it turned out, really liked to kiss.

Tony wasn't complaining.

“Tony, you've had stupider ideas before breakfast,” Pepper said. “We're falling behind. Let's go.”

*

“I am a dork.”

“Yes,” Natasha said, without so much as a blink, “you are. Don't worry, it works well for you.” She turned him away from the mirror. “Come here. I need to tie your tie.”

Steve tilted his head back to the mirror, and she set a gentle finger against his chin and pulled him away. “You look amazing,” she said with a faint smile. She was polite enough to ignore the way his cheeks flushed at that, Steve always appreciated that. “Lean over, Cap.”

“He only agreed to this out of pity,” Steve said, as she looped the silk around his neck.

Natasha rolled her eyes. “Steve, you? In this suit? This evokes a lot of base emotions. Pity is not one of them.” She knotted the tie with a flick of her fingers. Glancing up, she sighed. “Put the puppy dog eyes away. He is an idiot when it comes to you.” She slipped the knot up against his throat, the movement quick and practiced. “He adores you, Steve.”

“That doesn't mean he wants to date me,” Steve said as Natasha adjusted his jacket. “I can't even dress myself, that's a wonderful start to this-” He swallowed the word 'relationship,' because he was pushing his luck already, he knew it, and he didn't much care. God, it was absolutely pathetic how much he wanted this. “A wonderful start to this date.”

She smiled, her eyebrows arching. “Baby, you can dress yourself, I can just do it better.” She tipped her head back, her eyes narrowing in consideration. “Darcy,” she called, never taking her eyes off of Steve's face, “did the flowers arrive?”

“Yep.” Darcy peeked around the door frame. Her wide mouth turned up in a gleeful grin, and Steve couldn't help but smile back. “Oh, my God,” she said, her eyes dancing. “You are adorable.”

“Gorgeous,” Natasha corrected, taking a small step back. Her head tipped to the side, considering. “You look gorgeous.”

Steve knew he was blushing, and he didn't care. “Really?” he asked, shifting his weight. He glanced from one woman to the other, and Darcy gave him a thumbs up and a reassuring smile. Steve glanced at himself in the mirror, and reached up to tug on his jacket. Natasha caught his wrists with gentle fingers, pulling them away from the fabric. “I look all right?”

“He really has no idea what he looks like, does he?” Darcy asked Natasha. Natasha gave her a look and a smile, and Darcy laughed. “You're totally hot,” she told Steve. “Take my word on this. I know these things. I am a fantastic judge of these things, I know my hot men. You? You're hot. Tony's head is going to explode, don't even worry about it.”

“Flowers?” Natasha prompted, her lips twitching.

“Oh, right!” Darcy bounced back out the door, disappearing with a flounce of dark hair.

Natasha caught Steve's shoulders and turned him back towards the mirror. “You look great,” she said, smoothing a hand over his shoulders. “That is for you. Tony is your best friend, and he doesn't give a damn what you're wearing.” She grinned around his shoulder, sly and sleek and sharp as a blade. “But just so you know? He's going to take one look at you and start whimpering.”

Steve ducked his head, embarrassed. “Thanks, Tasha,” he said, feeling shy and awkward and pretty much an idiot. He sucked in a deep breath. “I appreciate your help. The suit-” He glanced down. “Thanks.”

She went on tiptoe to brush her lips against his cheek. “We had Coulson's input on that, but it is a good choice, isn't it? I'm glad I could help.” The suit was closer in style to the ones he'd known in the late thirties and early forties than ones of the modern day, and that was nice, too. Where Coulson had found one, let alone one that could be altered to fit Steve, he didn't know, but he was grateful for it.

He felt a little... Less out of place in it.

Steve glanced at himself in the mirror. “Tasha?”

“Mmm?” She was going over a tablet, her fingers dancing over the surface. “Pepper says that Tony's almost ready.”

“Tasha? I don't know what I'm doing.”

She glanced up, a faint smile on her face. “No one does, Cap. No one.” He managed a faint smile, but it was tight at the edges, and her smile faded. Her voice delicate, she said, “Steve. You don't have to do anything you don't want to do. Understand?”

“Yes. I mean, no. Yes, I do understand what you're saying, but-” He sighed. “I have no experience in this, none, and Tony is Tony, and he's going to expect me to know what I'm doing, isn't he?”

“No,” Natasha said, flatly. “Steve, he's not going to pressure you into anything. He likes you too much for that, and-”

Darcy poked her head around the door frame. “Look, Cap? You don't have to put out on the first date,” she said, her voice blunt. “It doesn't matter how much you like him, or how much you want him to like you, if you're not comfortable with whatever he wants, or is trying, you can say no. Say no, and make it stick. And if he pushes it, he's a dick, so get out of there.” She gave a sharp nod, as if that was that. “Not that Tony would.”

“Thank you, Darcy baby,” Natasha said, a smile playing around her mouth. “That was, for the most part, what I was trying to say. You don't have to do anything you're not comfortable with,” she told Steve.

“Just because he buys dinner, that does not mean you have to put out,” Darcy agreed.

“What if I want to?” Steve asked, because, what the heck, he needed any advice that he could get at this point, and there was no physical way he could get any more embarrassed.

“Enjoy yourself, be safe, be clear about your boundaries and limits, and I've got, like, five years worth of back issues of Cosmo, if you want sex advice, lousy, confusing but hysterically funny sex advice, man, have we got you covered,” she said, grinning. “Seriously. Covered.”

“I'm not sure if Cosmo's really what he needs,” Natasha said.

“I'll call Drew, I'm sure he's got something more guy oriented, and he won't even QUESTION it if I ask him for blowjob advice,” Darcy told her.

So, as it turns out, it was possible to be more embarrassed, and he was accomplishing it. Not one to back away from a fight, Steve gritted his teeth and squared his shoulders. “How do I get him to, you know, uh, put out?” he asked, drawing their attention.

“Blowjobs,” Darcy said, waving an idle hand. “Seriously, Steve. All of your questions will be answered with hot and-”

Natasha covered her mouth with a hand. “Thank you, Darcy,” she said. “Steve, you do what makes you happy, and Tony will be happy. Tell him what you want, and he'll-” She paused. “I really dislike the concept of a sure thing, but yes. Tony Stark is pretty much a sure thing for you. Just tell him what you want.”

“There is no way I can do that,” he said, clutching his face with one hand. “I just, I can't.”

“Then kiss him and start taking off your clothes,” Natasha said. “Yours. Your own. No one misinterprets that. Even Tony can't possibly miss that.”

“What if he says no?” Steve gritted out. “What if he says no, and I'm standing there half naked and he says no?” He resisted the urge to just crawl back into bed and pull the covers over his head. Why was this so difficult? What was it about him that made everything so hard? How could he make such a mess of everything without even trying?

“He's not going to say no,” Darcy said, pulling Natasha's hand away from her mouth.

“What if he does?”

“Then he is a pod person or a skrull or something, knock him out fast,” Darcy said, and that startled a chuckle out of him. She gave him a smile. “Seriously? Just kiss him. See where things go from there. You'll be fine. Everyone's kind of freaked out the first time.”

“Sex shouldn't be this hard,” he mumbled.

Darcy reached out, adjusted his jacket. “Not sex, goober. Going out with someone you really, really like. Someone that, you know,” she said, glancing up. “That you could love. Everyone gets scared.” She dipped her head forward, looking at him from under the sweep of her dark lashes. “Do you need a hug?”

“Yes,” he said, and she giggled.

She wrapped her arms around his waist and squeezed tight. “You're going to be fine,” she said. “Kiss him. And if that doesn't work, I'll do my best PA impression, get you put on his calendar. Scheduled in. Ten PM, Friday, Steve/intense pleasure, it's all right there on his schedule, he'll-”

Natasha rolled her eyes. “Not subtle, kitten. And I don't think that's necessary,” she said to Darcy, but there was warmth and laughter in her voice.

“I'm all right with this plan,” Steve told her.

“No, Cap. Go get your man on your own, not because Darcy likes to rearrange the lives of those nearest and dearest her heart,” Natasha said. The tablet beeped, and she glanced at it. “That's our cue. Let's go. Flowers, Darcy. Cap, take a couple of deep breaths, calm down, and be ready to move in three minutes.”

“You can do it, Captain Adorkable!” Darcy called, as Natasha shooed her out of the room.

Steve took a deep breath, and squared his shoulders, brought his chin up. He could do this.

*

Tony paused at the top of the staircase, somehow not surprised to find his entire goddamn team sitting in the living room in various states of pretending not to care about this. Most of them were not doing a good job with pretending. At all.

He wasted a couple of seconds, considering if he wanted to curse them all out, because Clint was smirking and Bruce was grinning over the tops of his glasses, and Thor looked ready to recite some epic poetry or shit, Jane perched on his knee where he could hug her around the waist. Coulson was staring down at a file in a way that made it clear that he did not give a good goddamn about the contents. And the expressions on the faces of the women were just, he was never going to live this down. For an instant he paused, one hand on the banister, and Darcy honest to God took his picture.

“What the hell, Lewis?” he asked, and Steve, who'd been facing the windows, turned around. And Tony forgot the rest of them were there, because Steve was grinning up at him, wide and happy and real, his eyes bright and his cheeks creased with the force of it.

It was possible that his heart skipped a beat, or maybe the damn arc reactor wasn't seated properly. He gave it a smack with the palm of one hand, just to be sure.

“Looking good, Stark,” Clint said from his perch on the arm of the couch. Natasha, who was standing next to him, put a hand on his chest and gave him a shove, knocking him back without much effort. He toppled back onto the couch, legs windmilling as he crashed into Coulson's lap. Coulson raised his arms out of the way so that Clint wouldn't knock his work out of his hands. Other than that, he didn't so much as bat an eye at acquiring a lapful of Clint.

“Screw you, too, Barton,” Tony said, sticking his hands in his pockets as he wandered down the stairs. “What're you all doing here, anyway, don't you have anything better to do? I mean, really? Whole tower, whole city, you have to be sitting here? Get a life.”

“I think you're asking too much for us to ignore this,” Natasha told him, arms crossed over her chest. Behind her back, safely protected from Tony's wrath, Darcy took another picture.

“Aye, and no other had plans,” Thor said. “Thursday night, we had expected to spend the night as always, watching an epic tale of heroism and love with our friends and kin.”

“I did my best,” Clint said, not bothering to sit up. His legs were draped inelegantly over the arm of the couch, but his head was on Coulson's thigh. “I said Wednesday. We were doing Wednesday, reservations and everything. Then we had to fucking deal with reduced gravity in the financial district on Wednesday.” He waved a hand in midair. “Floating stockbrokers everywhere, let's never do that again. God, I could not believe the WHINING. It was like they've never had gravity fail on them before.”

Thor was pouting, even with Jane in his lap, because Thor really did love movie night. “Aye,” he admitted. “That was a sight I had not expected. But still...” He sighed, and Jane patted him lightly on the cheek, an amused smile on her face. “The day being as it is, no other of us had plans, thus you should have expected our presence.”

“Is that a polite and overly roundabout way of saying 'don't plan dates for Thursdays?'” Tony asked. “Because I don't need this nonsense.” He reached the bottom of the stairs, and stared down at the paper wrapped bundle in Steve's hands. He arched an eyebrow, trying to be cynical about this, and failing miserably. “Did you get me flowers?”

Steve glanced down, then back up, his golden eyebrows arched over guileless eyes. “It would appear so,” he said, grinning. He offered them to Tony, who considered, just for a second, smacking them to the ground and running.

Instead, he reached for them, a bundle of perfect red and yellow roses, the edges of the petals brushed with fine gold powder. He took a deep breath, and the smile died on Steve's face. He reached out, covering Tony's hand with his. The paper around the roses crinkled under their fingers, and Tony glanced up at him. “You don't have to do this,” Steve said, his voice pitched low, almost gentle. “If you've changed your mind, Tony, you don't have to do this. I understand.” His shoulder rose in a half shrug. “I'd be disappointed, but I'd understand.”

Tony rolled his eyes, trying not to think how good it felt, the grip of Steve's fingers against his. “I have reservations, Rogers. Wearing a suit. I'm even presentable. What more do you want?”

Steve leaned in. “A smile. A real one. Or at the very least, stop it with the fake ones.” His fingers brushed Tony's jaw. “If this isn't what you want-”

Tony shifted the roses to one hand and snagged the front of Steve's jacket with the other. With a quick yank, he pulled Steve in, and caught his mouth in a kiss. Steve froze for a second, and then, just like that, his lips relaxed against Tony's, and Tony could feel him smile. It was remarkably sweet.

Someone snickered, and Tony resisted the urge to flip the offender off. It was Clint, he knew it was Clint, so that was fine. But just as he was working up the intent, Steve's lips parted on his, and Tony decided he had better things to do.

The flash of a camera brought him out of his hormone induced fog. “I will kill you all,” he snarled, and Steve's head fell against his shoulder, his laughter warm and rich and real, his big hands on the flat of Tony's back, holdig him close.

“Can't help it,” Clint sing-songed. “You're just so adorable.”

“I will set fire to your bows and roll your arm guards in industrial strength itching powder,” Tony said.

“Who makes industrial strength itching powder?” Bruce asked, his lips twitching

“Good question. I'm just going to need to borrow your lab for a few minutes,” Tony said to him.

“No, oh, no, no, no, no,” Bruce said, holding up both hands. “No. Do not involve me in this. I do not want to be-”

“He's on my side,” Clint said, smirking.

“I am not-” Bruce stabbed a finger in his direction, but his lips were twitching. “No.”

“I will take you down, Barton,” Tony started, and Steve caught his elbow.

“Can we schedule inter-team squabbling for a later time?” he said, and there was nothing but humor in his voice, in his face. In his eyes. “Because I have other plans tonight, and I'd rather hoped that you'd be joining me.” His smile stretched, warm and sweet.

Tony stared at that face and realized he was screwed. He was completely and royally fucked. It was bad enough when they were just teammates, just friends, hell, it had been bad enough when they'd been polite enemies. But dating Steve Rogers was going to be his undoing.

He was pretty sure he didn't care. Not when Steve was smiling at him, his eyes lit as if he was just glad to see Tony, as if Tony was exactly who he wanted to be with, right at that moment, as if Tony was the only person he wanted to be with.

“Unless you'd like to stay here and spend the night bickering with Clint,” Steve continued. “It's not what I'd like to be doing, but if you want to do the same thing tonight as you've done for the last six nights in a row-”

“Okay, fine, yes,” Tony said as Clint smirked and everyone else pretended not to be smirking. They were lousy at pretending, but Tony and his dignity did appreciate the pretense. “Dinner.”

“That'd be real nice,” Steve agreed.

“Man up, Stark,” Natasha said, and she collected the roses from his hand as she walked across the room to join Pepper at the bar. Pepper had a faint half-smile on her face, but she held up a hand, and Natasha gave her a high five. “You have reservations, and you were on time for once in your life, it would be a shame to ruin that, since it happens so seldom.”

“You were my PA for like, a week, what do you know?” Tony said.

“We go drinking,” Darcy said, bouncing over to the bar. She found a vase for the roses and filled it at the bar's sink. “Like, the ladies bitch night. We talk about things.”

“What kind of things?” Tony asked, suspicious.

“Mostly you,” Darcy said, smirking at him. She handed Natasha the vase and began filling glasses with liquor, using a liberal hand with Tony's expensive booze.

“That's not true,” Pepper said. “Only about fifty percent of our discussions are about you. Sixty percent, max.” She gave Tony a faint smile, but her eyes were overly bright.

“Don't start,” he told her, pointing a finger in her direction. “Don't. We've been through this, I know what I'm doing, do not even start with me.”

She held up a hand, stopping him. “Go,” she said. “Reservations.”

“I know, God, anyone else want to remind me?”

“No, but which car are you taking?” Clint asked, pushing himself up on his elbows.

“Well, I was thinking, I'm probably going to go with, one of mine,” Tony said. “And they're all mine, so I've got a wide variety to choose from. Why?”

“What if it's the one I want to use?”

“Are you kidding me? Really? Please be kidding me right now,” Tony said.

“Are you planning on going out tonight?” Steve asked, and he was honestly curious. He was worried about this. Tony gave him a disbelieving look.

“No,” Tony said, firmly. “I don't care if he plans on going out, there's like twenty cars he can use, he can use one that I haven't picked.”

“Not tonight,” Clint said to Steve, ignoring Tony entirely. “But first thing tomorrow, I wanted-”

“Tomorrow is tomorrow, and we'll be back long before then,” Tony said, and he refused to think about what would be happening after this date was over, because in that direction lay insanity. He took Steve by the arm and started for the elevator, pulling Steve along in his wake. “Do not, I repeat, do not burn my tower down while I'm not here.”

“We'll wait for you to get back to do that,” Bruce said, and Tony gave up.

“Banner is snarking at me,” he said to Steve as they waited for the elevator to arrive. “Banner. I thought he was-” He leaned back. “You are supposed to be on my side. This is the rules, this is pretty clear, you and me, we are on the same side.”

“You're talking about using my lab for evil,” Bruce said, and he was hiding a smile, Tony knew he was hiding a smile, and that was good, that Bruce had shown up for this little round of 'torment the teammates' and he was being snarky about it, and Tony grinned at him. Bruce pointed his pencil in Tony's direction. “No evil. Really. We've been through this.”

“Not fooling anyone, Banner. No one is fooled,” Tony told him.

“Reservations,” Pepper said, and Bruce hid a chuckle behind one broad palm.

“Right,” Tony said, and he pointed at her. “My flowers. Don't be stealing my roses, Potts! No one has ever given me roses, and I can see the covetousness of your gaze. I see this.”

“Tony, after tonight, you owe me far more than a bunch of flowers,” Pepper said, bracing her chin on one fisted hand, one eyebrow arched. She held up her martini. “Go.”

“Going,” Steve said, as the elevator doors slid open. “Let's go, Tony.”

“Hey, Big Blue!” Behind the bar, Darcy took another picture before she gave Steve a thumbs up. “Remember what I told you.”

“Do not remember what she told you,” Natasha said.

“I don't think I could forget,” Steve said, and Tony was a little concerned by the flush across Steve's cheekbones, a little concerned and a little turned on.

Okay, a lot turned on. Steve, when he blushed, was obscenely good looking. Obscene because he made Tony want to do obscene things to him. Really, really hot, obscene things to him that would cause him to never speak to Tony again, so he should probably ignore those thoughts.

Like if Steve flushed like that in bed. And if so, just how far down that flush went.

Tony shook his head, hard, trying to get some blood back into it. Yeah. Those kind of thoughts. Those were the kind of thoughts he should not be having. He stepped into the elevator. “Don't break anything, Barton!” he yelled as Steve joined him, laughing as the doors slid shut.

“I think he flipped me off there,” Tony said to Steve, staring suspiciously at the doors of the elevator.

“He usually does.” Steve hit the button for the garage. “You two have the strangest friendship.”

“I prefer the term 'antagonistic comradeship,'” Tony said, tucking his hands into his pockets to keep them out of trouble and off of things he shouldn't be touching. Like Steve's belt.

Steve smiled at him, and took a deep breath. “I really want this,” he started. “I.. Really want this, Tony. But if you don't-”

Tony caught the back of his neck and dragged him in for a kiss. “Okay,” he said, when they finally broke apart, and Steve's breath was a little fast and a little heavy, and wasn't that nice? That he might just be as affected by this as Tony was? “Okay,” he repeated. “I'm starting to think that you're either a little slow, and we both know that you're not, or that you're making the connection between cause and effect, and you're doing this to get kissed.” He paused. “Are you? Doing this to get kissed?”

“Let's just say, I could use a little reassurance,” Steve said, and he tucked his hands in his pockets. His shoulders hunched forward, his head ducked down, and he stared at his feet. “I might need a lot of reassurance,” he muttered, the words almost inaudible.

Tony stared at him. “Cap? Steve?” He waited, as patiently as he was capable, for Steve to glance up, to meet his eyes, and Tony kissed him again, his hand cupping Steve's chin. “I really, really want to do this,” he said, and that felt awkward. But Steve was smiling at him, so maybe it was okay.

The doors opened, and he wondered how long he'd been standing there like an idiot. Pulling away, he headed out. “You have a preference for car?” he asked as he headed for the drop vault.

“Am I driving?” Steve asked, amusement humming in the words.

Tony gave him a look as he pressed his palm to the biometric sensors. “Steve, you drive like a ninety year old man with cataracts and a sacred obligation to the speed limit.”

“There's no reason to drive like a maniac,” Steve told him, but he was grinning.

“Yes, there is. Reservations. Didn't you hear every single person up in that tower?” Tony stood still for the scan and waited for Jarvis to open the safe. He grabbed the case. “Let's go.”

“Tony,” Steve said.

“I'm thinking the Rolls. No, maybe the Ferrari?” Tony considered the cars, looking for the balance between classy, flashy and not likely to attract the attention of the paparazzi.

“Tony.”

“What the hell was Barton talking about?” he said, scowling. “What-” He narrowed his eyes. “Jarvis, which car does Barton take out most often?”

“The Aston-Martin Rapide,” Jarvis said.

“Tony, put that back.”

“What?” Tony snagged the keys. “Aston-Martin. One of the few cars I own with an actual backseat, I don't want to think about that. I swear I need to have everything he touches dry cleaned. Let's go-” The case was lifted out of his hand, and he spun around. “Hey, I-”

“You're not bringing the suitcase armor, Tony,” Steve said, returning to the safe. “Jarvis, put this away.”

“Look, I'll just throw it in the trunk.” Tony made a grab for it and Steve held it out of reach. “Steve. Cap. Just put it in the trunk.”

Steve caught him around the waist with his free hand. “Once,” he asked, his voice serious, verging on pleading, “just once, can we please just be Tony and Steve? For one night? Can I just be-” He looked down at the case, and he sighed, his shoulders rising and falling with the force of it. His eyes flicked up, pure sky blue under lowered brows, to meet Tony's. “Can I please just be Steve?”

Tony's eyes flicked over his face, and heaved a sigh. “Lock it up,” he said, and it was worth it, it was worth it for the way that the grin bloomed on Steve's face, wide and bright. And something that looked almost grateful. He leaned in, brushing his lips against Tony's.

“Thank you.”

“This is on you, Rogers,” Tony said, pulling out of Steve's hands before he could do something that would get them both in trouble. Like start stripping. “The universe has it out for me. This is a proven fact. The universe wants me to suffer. I like to be prepared for the suffering, because it's going to happen, and-”

“Tony.” Steve was laughing as he put the case back and relocked the safe. “The universe doesn't have it out for you, you're being ridiculous again.”

“You've seen my file, you've heard my drunken ramblings, how do you even remotely think that's true, Steve? Really?”

“Tell you what.” Steve caught his hand, dragged him back in. “You really think the universe has it in for you?”

“Yes,” Tony said. “Obviously.”

Steve nodded, his expression grim. “In that case-” He snagged the keys from Tony's hand and backed up out of reach, fast. “I think I should drive.”

Tony gaped after him. “Did you just- Get back here, Rogers!” But he was laughing as he hustled after Steve, who held the keys over his head.

Maybe, just maybe, this was going to be okay.