There were a lot of things Steve enjoyed about the twenty-first century. He loved the new technology and how fast everything was. That people could carry around phones in their pockets and call others halfway around the world with only the push of a button was still just as amazing as it had been when Steve first heard about it.
Computers were even more amazing, as was the information he could access through the Internet. There was so much he could learn now that he’d been unable to before, and it was fantastic.
Then there were the people.
There’d been a lot of things Steve had been unhappy about when he’d gone to war. When S.H.I.E.L.D. had given him a crash course on the twenty-first century, Steve had been pleasantly surprised to hear about the civil rights movements of the 1960s, along with the Stonewall Riots later that decade. Things weren’t perfect yet, but they were a lot better than they had been in his time.
For everything that had changed in the years that he had been in the ice, there was still something that remained the same. It might have even gotten worse, what with everyone’s fixation on sex and who was dating who.
If Steve had still been alone with just one close friend, he could have dealt with it.
But he had five now, and almost all of them were nosy busybodies.
“She was flirting with you.”
Steve stared blankly at Natasha for a moment, uncertain of what she was talking about.
Natasha didn’t blink, taking a dainty sip of her wine. “You didn’t notice?”
Notice what? Steve glanced in the direction of the last woman who had spoken to him, bemused. She’d excused herself a couple minutes ago, giving Steve a small smile as she did, and now she was talking with a vaguely familiar man that Steve had seen at other events.
“She would’ve totally gone home with you if you’d just given her a sign, man,” Clint said from Steve’s other side, making a subtle but lewd gesture that Steve recognized instantly.
“Clint.” It didn’t seem like anyone else had noticed, thankfully.
“It’s not like anyone recognizes the sign for ‘fucking,’ Steve.” Clint switched the sign to a more obvious one. “Now this one—”
Steve grabbed hold of his hand. “Do you want Pepper angry at you?”
Clint froze, the fear of an angry Pepper enough to quiet even him. He instinctively glanced across the room as if checking that she wasn’t anywhere in eyesight.
“She’s busy coaxing Bruce out from behind the plant he’s befriended,” Natasha said idly, smirking slightly. “Tony was waylaid before he could do it.”
“With what?” Steve asked before he could stop himself, trying to catch a glimpse of Tony.
Natasha lifted her glass to her lips. “What do you think?”
Steve saw Tony, then, laughing at something that a black-haired woman in a red dress had said. He seemed open and friendly, interested in whatever the woman had to say and yet also engaging in conversation with a second woman at his side.
In short, Tony was in fine form. Steve felt like the dirty snow in the gutter in comparison.
“Aw, don’t look so down, Cap.” Clint patted his shoulder comfortingly. “You’ve got game; you just have to learn how to use it!”
“I don’t want to learn how to use it,” Steve said mournfully.
“You say that now,” Clint said, “but you’ll change your mind soon enough.”
“I think most of the charm is his naivety,” Natasha said thoughtfully. “He just needs a little more awareness.”
“That’s what he’s got us for, isn’t it?” Clint elbowed Steve gently in the side, nodding towards a pair of women that were looking Steve’s direction and whispering to each other. “If my sixth sense is right, then you’ve got another chance. Go for it!”
It was futile to insist that he didn’t want another chance, so Steve just manfully went along with it.
And, when Tony thankfully caught onto Steve’s plight an hour later, he smoothly slid into the conversation and extracted Steve from it with no one being the wiser. Natasha had long since departed for greener pastures elsewhere – which namely consisted of conning gullible billionaires into giving their money to the cause – and Clint was too engrossed in teaching someone sign language to pay attention.
“I trust my services as a life buoy weren’t wasted?” Tony said cheerfully once they were in a quieter area of the room.
“I’ll take it again,” Steve said, rubbing the back of his neck. He wasn’t quite able to relax, his nerves tightly strung after what had just happened.
Why was everyone so touchy? And all that giggling!
“I’ve another if needed.” Tony gave him a sharp look. “How’d you end up in the middle of that anyway? I could’ve sworn you were doing a fabulous impression of a wallflower.”
Steve ducked his head, his shoulders inching up to his ears.
“No, wait…it was the sneaky twins, wasn’t it?” Tony made a sympathetic noise. “How you feeling?”
It was surprising to note that Steve was feeling better. Only several minutes in Tony’s company and he was more relaxed than he’d been since the event started. It was too bad that he couldn’t stay in Tony’s presence…
“It’s doable,” Steve said finally, squaring his shoulders.
“Doable isn’t going to cut it.” Despite the words, Tony’s tone was gentle.
Feet shuffling, Steve resisted the urge to shrink down. That wasn’t quite possible with this body. “The others seemed to think so.”
“Hm.” Tony folded his arms, the gesture causing the fabric of his jacket to tighten across his shoulders. He didn’t even seem to notice, lost in thought as he was.
Steve couldn’t resist running a speculative eye over the sharp figure Tony cut in his suit. It was the type of figure that he would love to sketch out, but he didn’t have any of his materials on hand.
Eventually, Tony leaned in sideways, voice dropping to a near whisper. “If you want out, I can cover for you.”
Blinking, Steve snapped his eyes back to Tony’s face, desperately hoping he wasn’t blushing at having been caught unawares (and staring elsewhere). “What?”
Tony didn’t seem to notice. “Just do me a favor and grab Bruce, will you? He’s no good at these either.”
Steve reflexively looked in the same direction as Tony, catching sight of Bruce ducking behind a tall potted plant that effectively shielded him from view. “I – okay.”
Tony looked at him, giving him a lopsided grin that was far realer than anything Steve had seen him wear since the event had started. “Ciao.”
And then he was gone, wading back into the midst of the party. He instantly attracted everyone’s attention, giving Steve the needed cover to head to Bruce and excuse them both from the event.
Steve found it was a relief to be back in his own room, quiet and empty of other people. It was just bad luck that no one else seemed to share the sentiment.
“If you’re worried about dating a stranger, I can find someone for you.”
It was only thanks to practice that Steve didn’t burn himself on the stove, startled as he was by Natasha’s sudden appearance. “I’m not going on a blind date,” he said eventually, returning his attention to the sizzling omelet.
“It wouldn’t be blind,” Natasha assured him in a tone of voice that said it would most definitely be a blind date.
“If I don’t know the other person, it’s a blind date.”
“I’ll find someone you know.”
Turning the heat off, Steve turned around with the pan in hand, giving Natasha an even look. “Everyone we mutually know is either living with us or a spy. Besides, I’m not looking for anything right now.”
“You heard the man,” Tony said breezily, running a hand through his hair as he headed to the coffee machine. He seemed utterly unaffected by what had happened last night, although Clint was still sleeping off the effects of the alcohol he had consumed and even Natasha’s hair was slightly mussed up. “Leave him alone.”
Steve was about to tell Tony that the coffee was probably cold by now, only to nearly bite his tongue when Tony reached up to get his mug from where Clint had stashed it the other day. It was on the top shelf of the cabinet, hidden behind one of the obnoxiously sugary cereals that Clint favored, and it meant that Tony had to fully stretch out to grab hold of it.
Most of Tony’s shirts were tailored to fit him exactly, but there were some that were either too baggy, too long, or just a bit too short thanks to too many turns in the dryer. When the shirt rode up and revealed a stretch of skin along Tony’s stomach, teasing at a dark trail of hair, Steve abruptly found out which type of shirt this one was.
And then he promptly turned around, focusing on making sure the omelet wasn’t stuck to the pan.
It didn’t help.
Tony’s breathing was loud to his ears, and there was no hiding the sound of his feet as he moved across the floor from the coffee machine to the table. A chair slid across the tiles, and then the sound of drinking filled the air.
Annoyingly enough, Steve could perfectly picture Tony every single step of the way. It was relieving that he knew Tony well enough to do so but also worrying because he couldn’t do it to that precision for anyone else on the team.
Clint wandered in, blinking blearily and looking around in that weirdly specific manner that meant he didn’t have his hearing aids in. He brightened upon seeing the omelet Steve was still holding. “Breakfast?” he asked hopefully, just a bit too loudly.
Steve shook his head, clutching his omelet more closely.
Making a disappointed noise, Clint deflated, only to roll his eyes when Natasha pointed him to the fridge, following it with the sign for cooking. “I don’t want to.”
“You never want to,” Tony muttered, his nose stuck in his coffee.
Clint didn’t hear, and he gave Steve’s omelet one last mournful look before sighing and making a beeline for his cereals.
Steve seriously wondered why he didn’t have an army of cavities given how much sugar he consumed.
Natasha shifted to the side to let Clint get to the cereals, her attention on Steve. “We’re just worried,” she said finally, voice soft.
“There’s nothing to worry about.” Steve finally salted his omelet. “If there was, you’d be the first to know.”
There was a secret that only Steve knew. Even Bucky hadn’t suspected, and if he had known, then he might have tried even harder to set Steve up with a nice gal.
Given the current century’s obsession with sex, Steve didn’t think his team’s reception to his secret would be any different. No, they’d think he was just inexperienced and naïve, not knowing what he was missing out on, and their prodding and worrying would increase.
It was easier this way, since the only thing they thought was that he just wasn’t looking right now.
Which was true, even if it was only a facsimile of the actual truth. Steve had never been interested in anyone in the way that people kept speaking of. He had an artist’s eye and appreciation for beauty, noting easily which people were aesthetically pleasing. But it never came with any kind of heat or want, or whatever other people felt when they saw someone attractive looking.
The closest Steve had come to experiencing something remotely like that had been with Peggy, and he wasn’t even sure it had been real because of how new and strange it had been. It hadn’t even started immediately, though her personality had caught his attention instantly. No, the actual strangeness had started after he’d gotten to know her.
Clammy hands, a dry mouth, a strange heat in his body… It was everything Steve was completely unfamiliar with when it came to interacting with another person and extremely distracting. He hadn’t known what it was, though he’d tentatively returned her flirting and found it easier to smile and mean everything as time passed.
But it had been unusual, and Steve brushed it off as a fluke when nothing had changed after he was unfrozen.
Only now…now he wasn’t sure if it was a fluke.
Because Tony…Tony brought up those same feelings, and Steve had no idea what to do.
He didn’t know, and he didn’t know what was wrong with him either. It was obvious that his team expected him to branch out and form other relationships. There had been several catastrophic dates that Steve hadn’t even realized were dates with nice women until after the fact when Tony congratulated him on his game.
After that Steve made it a point to avoid talking with women who smiled too much and tried giving him their phone numbers, but all that seemed to do was make his new friends worry more. It was true enough that he wasn’t interested in anyone, but that was only because he seemed to fixate on just one person.
And that person was Tony, who didn’t suffer the same problem Steve did.
While Google had a lot of answers, Steve didn’t think it had any answers to his particular dilemma, since the only thing he found was a bunch of cheesy romance novels and something called “fanfiction.”
It was disappointing but not entirely unexpected. And it still left Steve without any idea what to do.
The large tree brightened up the room, though that was simply because of the amount of lights strung up on it than because of any charm it held. Because it had practically none.
The decorations were a mishmash of different things, consisting of some weird shiny silvery stuff, a bunch of multicolored and white lights, fake icicles, dozens of delicate baubles and ornaments, strings of popcorn courtesy of Clint, and the crowning jewel of an actual baby doll that had been donated by a suspiciously serious Thor.
The baby doll had been relegated to the top, as there was literally nothing uglier on hand, and the star that had been supposed to go on top had mysteriously disappeared halfway through decorating the tree.
Steve was 85% sure that Thor was pulling their legs, but whenever he tried to ask there was no response beyond a rather exuberant “This season is extremely jolly!” followed by Thor vanishing to parts unknown (or wherever Jane was).
Tony had seemed all too eager to help with the Christmas decorations, since this was only their second Christmas since they had first assembled as a team, and their first had been rather quiet and subdued as no one had been comfortable with celebrating with each other. But he was in fine form this year, and it was difficult to see anything but joy and happiness in Tony as he arranged everything.
Even the mistletoe.
Which were everywhere. Steve glanced up at the mistletoe on the ceiling of the gym, rather unsure as to how they had gotten up there but suspecting Clint and Natasha.
Mistletoe was strung up throughout the rest of their living spaces as well, and Steve had no doubt that there was even some in Tony’s workshop. He took a look at the mistletoe innocuously hanging on the frame of the elevator, glad that there wasn’t anyone here to rope him into honoring tradition.
It wasn’t until he entered their main living room that he saw someone else laid out on the couch. It said something about how pathetic Steve was that he recognized the shape of Tony’s arm even in the dim light. He seemed to have conked out on the couch and stayed there even as the hour grew late.
Not wanting to wake him, Steve moved across the room silently, wanting to get a blanket so Tony would be more comfortable. But no sooner had he selected a soft fuzzy blanket that he knew was Tony’s favorite did he hear a soft sigh.
“You’re not exactly a spy, Steve,” Tony murmured, still sounding half-asleep.
Ruefully, Steve turned around, blanket still in hand. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”
“You didn’t.” Tony waved a lazy hand before dropping it to his stomach. He was dressed fancily, like he’d been at an event and hadn’t bothered to do much more than take off his suit jacket and undo his tie. Said tie was draped over his chest, and the suit jacket was a crumpled heap on the edge of the couch.
Steve clutched at the blanket, frowning slightly. “Was there an event I missed?”
Tony made a dismissive noise, face scrunching up. “There was a…thing. A small thing. I came, I saw, I conquered, and then vamoosed. Nothing big.” He sighed, bringing a hand up to rub his face.
Steve looked more closely at Tony, seeing the drawn lines on his face that he hadn’t noticed before. “Did you just get back?” he asked carefully. He would’ve thought that Tony would be with his temporary bed partners. The media certainly made a big to-do about it.
“Dunno.” Tony squinted at his watch. “What time’s it, JARVIS?”
“It is currently three in the morning, sir. You returned at approximately one.”
Relaxing, Tony waved at the ceiling. “What he said.”
“You shouldn’t sleep on the couch,” Steve said, letting a teasing lilt enter his voice. “It’s bad for your back.”
“Ahh, who’s the senior here, old man?” Tony grinned at him, teeth glinting in the blue light of the arc reactor. “You can’t have it both ways now.”
“I thought that’s what cakes were for. Eating.” Grinning back, Steve dropped the blanket on Tony’s legs.
“No, that was horrible.” Tony grabbed the nearest cushion and threw it at Steve’s head, laughing. “Stop it.”
Steve would have said something else – he was ready to fire back another bad joke to keep Tony laughing – but then something just shifted. It could have been the way the light of the arc reactor illuminated Tony’s features, but that wasn’t it.
All at once, all Steve knew was that he just really, really wanted to kiss Tony, and his tongue twisted around on itself and his stomach wouldn’t stop squirming.
It was absolutely awful, and yet it was…good? It was a bizarre contrast in sensations, but all Steve knew was that it would take only a few steps and he could kiss Tony.
And that wasn’t a good idea at all.
“Steve?” Tony was sitting up now, looking at him in concern.
“I…” Steve swallowed thickly, taking a step backwards, hands flexing agitatedly. “I just remembered something.”
Steve wasn’t proud to admit that he fled, but he did. Sometimes a tactical retreat was all that one could do.
If this was how everyone else always felt when they were around someone they liked, then Steve pitied them. Because it was difficult to think around Tony now, since every time he ran into him or tried to talk to him, all Steve could think about was what it would feel like if he touched Tony’s face, his arms, his chest, his hair—
He had an issue.
And he had no idea what to do about it, especially since Natasha seemed to suspect something and was trying to sneakily maneuver them so they’d be caught under mistletoe or locked in a room that Tony could get them out of in ten seconds. All Steve could think was that at least she wasn’t trying to shanghai him into any other dates, but then there was also the problem that he lived with Tony and it’d be embarrassing if he made a fool of himself in front of him.
Since Steve was increasingly tongue-tied around Tony and practically on the verge of going beet red at the slightest insinuation, the possibility of him actually making a fool of himself was high.
But every time Steve made himself scarce, Tony looked hurt. He hadn’t at first, simply looking mildly puzzled, but by now the puzzlement had given way to hurt, and Steve hated seeing that look on his face.
Especially since he’d put it on there.
The only way of fixing it was talking to Tony, and Steve didn’t think that would go well. In fact, it was highly likely to end in him tripping over his words and Tony trying not to laugh at him.
Then there was still the mistletoe.
Steve had kept an eye on the mistletoe and where it popped up, but even so, it was difficult to keep track of every nook and cranny, and he wasn’t paying much attention that particular day. It was right before the twenty-fourth, and he wanted to make sure that everything was in order.
Which was the only reason that Tony approached him in a quiet corner, shoulders tight and face anxious.
Steve looked up from his notebook upon hearing his footsteps, freezing in place the moment he registered how close Tony was to him.
“Tony.” He was relieved to hear that his voice sounded normal at the moment.
Tony gave him a strained smile. “Did I do something?”
Steve blinked, confused. “What do you mean?”
“You run away every time you see me, and we haven’t talked in weeks.” Tony folded his arms across his chest, shifting his weight from leg to leg. “And you give me this look, like you can’t stand to see me. So was it something I did?”
“No!” Steve reached out instinctively, touching Tony’s arm. “It’s not you.”
Tony smiled wryly, his lips twisting. “So it’s you?”
“It is!” Steve’s fingers felt too warm where they were touching Tony’s arm, even through the shirt layer preventing skin contact. “It really is me,” he insisted, dropping his hand.
“You keep making these awful faces whenever you look at me—”
“Because I – I’m working through something.” Steve glanced down at his feet. “It’s my own issue.”
“You’re not avoiding anyone else,” Tony said, sounding unconvinced. “And I know this sounds ridiculously self-absorbed, but this has got something to do with me.”
“But it’s my problem!” Steve assured him, wanting to wipe that look off his face.
“And it has nothing to do with me?” Tony scrunched his eyebrows together, his jaw tightening as his head lifted slightly.
Steve sucked in a breath, not wanting to lie. “I…” It had everything to do with Tony, but it wasn’t Tony’s fault. It was all Steve’s, and his inability to deal with these new and confusing feelings.
After another moment, Tony deflated, his nod jerky. “I get it. You don’t have to lie.” Shoulders hunched down, Tony made to back away, only for Steve to lunge forwards and grab hold of his arms.
They were a lot closer than before – close enough for Steve to breathe in Tony’s scent and feel the warmth coming off Tony’s body. And with Steve’s hands on Tony’s arms, he could feel the minute trembles running through Tony’s body, along with how his breath hitched suspiciously.
“I—” Steve broke off when he heard a strange metallic clatter right above their heads. He glanced up, first seeing a vent and the mistletoe several feet away that was hanging directly over their heads. He was relatively sure that it hadn’t been there before.
Tony muttered something that sounded like a curse in Italian, arms going rigid in Steve’s grip. “I know it’s traditional and all,” he said, his cheery tone sounding so fake it made Steve’s heart hurt, “but we don’t have to actually do anything.”
Steve almost took the out. Tony had offered it to him on a silver platter after all, but then Steve caught the look on his face. It was the look of someone who thought nothing was going to happen, that Steve would take the offer and then leave him standing there by himself. Tony was staring at the floor, his arms rigid in Steve’s hands, and he seemed suddenly very small.
And Steve still wanted to kiss him.
Impulsively, he took another step closer, then leaned down and pressed his lips to Tony’s, remembering how it had worked the last time with Peggy. It was nothing like kissing Peggy, what with Tony’s goatee and the fact that he smelled very masculine, but it also kindled something warm in Steve’s stomach and had him shivering lightly.
“It’s nothing to do with you like you’re thinking,” Steve said eventually, soft. “I just… I’ve…” He struggled to put it into words in a way that didn’t sound completely ridiculous. “I couldn’t think of a way to not do that and seem like a fool.”
Tony looked stunned, his arms flexing under Steve’s hands as if he wanted to move them. “You said you weren’t looking,” he said, voice tight. “For anyone.”
“Only you.” Steve forced himself to let go, letting his hands move down to clasp Tony’s, relieved when Tony let him do it. “I…I wasn’t sure how to act. So…I just didn’t.” He grimaced. “I’m sorry.”
“Wait, let me get this straight…” Tony’s eyes flickered down to their intertwined hands before returning to Steve’s. “You’re interested in me, but you weren’t sure of how to act so you just…ignored me?” His mouth twisted.
Steve winced. “That’s about it.”
“Christ, and I thought I was bad with emotions.” Tony huffed, laughing.
“We’re both bad,” Steve said, unable to resist grinning in the face of Tony’s amusement. “I’ve no experience with this,” he continued, dropping his eyes to their hands, squeezing Tony’s gently. “I had no idea what to do, and I felt stupid talking to you.”
“Most people do,” Tony said seriously, only to grin a second later. “You’re doing fine.”
Taking a nervous breath, Steve ran a thumb over Tony’s knuckles, heart pounding in his chest. “I don’t feel fine.” He took another breath, managing a wobbly smile.
“I can fix that,” Tony breathed, leaning in closely. He pulled his right hand away, only to bring it up to touch Steve’s face, thumb tracing the line of Steve’s jaw. Cupping Steve’s neck, Tony kissed him, more assured and confident than Steve’s clumsy attempt earlier.
Heart skipping a beat and stomach twisting into knots, Steve felt his face heat even as he closed his eyes. His fingers tightened on Tony’s hand, and he wasn’t entirely sure what his other one was doing until he realized he was fisting the back of Tony’s shirt and pulling him in more closely.
“Good?” Tony murmured against Steve’s lips. Steve could feel him smiling; it sent shivers down his spine.
Steve almost didn’t recognize his own voice as he responded, a breathy “Yes.”
Tony didn’t say anything else, pressing in for another kiss and then another, each one as soft and gentle as the one before, until Steve was nothing but a warm puddle of mush and shivering heat, faintly wondering at the new sensations rushing through him.
Eventually Tony pulled away, giving Steve one last lingering kiss. “You going to avoid me now?”
Shaking his head, Steve pressed Tony closer with the hand on his back, darting in to kiss his cheek, face hot. “No. I’m…I feel great.” He grinned shakily at Tony, reaching up to take hold of the hand touching his face, linking their fingers together.
Tony’s answering grin was warm, his eyes crinkling. “You look it.”
Although Steve still wasn’t entirely sure what these feelings were, he knew for sure what he wanted to do next.
He was smiling when he kissed Tony again.