"Jarvis, I need your advice," Tony says one December evening, leaning back on the chair in his workshop. He's not entirely sure that asking his AI is the best way to go, but he's getting desperate, and besides, he wants to filter his intention through someone before he takes it to actual people for mocking and ridicule.
"Certainly, sir," the polite voice answers immediately.
"Say, if I wanted to get someone to kiss me. Or to let me kiss them and not punch me in the face for it. How would I need to go about that?"
There's a moment of pointed silence as Jarvis ponders the question. "Based on your previous romantic experience, that would require copious amounts of alcoholic beverages and somewhat poor judgment on the other party's side, sir," Jarvis answers in the end, and Tony winces. Maybe he needs to put a limit on the security footage that Jarvis can access, but that kind of defeats at least one purpose of having Jarvis at all. And besides, that part of his life is over anyway. He'll just erase some of the archives, maybe that will improve Jarvis's opinion of him.
"Hurtful, Jarvis. And unhelpful. I need to do this sober. And the other party's judgment is nothing short of flawless."
"Then I suggest you abandon your endeavor, sir."
This is what Tony was afraid of. But he'll be damned if he lets an artificial entity get between him and his... project. An entity he created himself, too. Loyalty is a forgotten concept.
"No, I-- okay, we won't get anywhere this way. It's Steve, okay? I want to kiss Steve at midnight on New Year's. And I need him to not hate me afterwards."
"Does he hate you now?"
Tony hesitates, and thinks about this tentative semi-friendship he and Steve have going on right now. "No, I don't think so. Not anymore, at least. But it doesn't necessarily mean he'd be interested in the attachment of our faces."
"Based on the standards of courtship that were considered appropriate in the years of Captain Roger's youth--"
"He's still young, Jarvis."
"Fair assessment. I stand corrected: in Captain Roger's formative years, then."
Tony nods. "Alright, continue."
"The approach that renders the highest chance of success entails prolonged courtship, with dates that include dancing, frequent and thoughtful gifts, and possibly flowers."
"New Year's Day is next week, Jarvis, I don't have time for prolonged courtship! Even if I wanted to give him flowers, and may I remind you, the goal here is to not get punched."
"But based on the data I cannot generate any other scenario--"
Tony stands up and starts pacing in circles, looking up at the ceiling. That's what Steve does every times he talk to Jarvis, and Tony finds it strangely endearing. "No, don't be all analytical, we're talking romance here. Come on, use your human side."
"I have no human side"
"Sure you do, I programmed you myself. That means you have a part of me in you."
"I don't recall programming you to be sassy."
"You don't recall the events of last Friday, sir."
"You have too much attitude. I'm going to go and ask Natasha."
"Because that would surely mean less attitude."
"Shut up, Jarvis," Tony says, and goes to find Natasha.
He finds her in the gym, beating the everloving crap out of a punching bag. It's probably not the most romantic setting for discussing seduction techniques. But then again, for Natasha it might be just that, so he decides to give it a shot anyway.
She speaks before Tony even has the chance to open his mouth, without stopping her training. She doesn't even sound winded, which, how unfair is that.
"You're not dressed for sparring, Stark, so what do you want?" she asks.
"Advice," he replies, and leans back against a wall. This could take a while. "Say, if you wanted to kiss somebody but didn't want to get punched, what would you do?"
"Nobody's suicidal enough to punch me."
"No, I know, but hypothetically--"
"Hypothetically, I'd pick someone who doesn't hate me. There, no punching."
"Yes, obviously, but, you know-- a heart wants what a heart wants. And I'm not entirely sure the person my heart wants doesn't hate me."
Natasha stops and turns around, scowling at him. "It's not me, is it?"
"What? No!" Tony squeals. Except he doesn't, because Tony Stark never squeals.
"Good, because then your heart would really be broken. Literally."
"You wound me, I'm very kissable."
"Then what's the problem? Just wait for a good moment and make your move."
"I have a good moment! The New Year's at midnight kind of... epic, iconic moment. I just don't know how to go about it."
"What, you want a manual? How about you grab them and kiss them. And if they don't like it, their loss. I thought you were familiar with this, considering your reputation and all."
See, that's the problem right there. Tony's fucking reputation, pun absolutely not intended. This is the thing that he's most worried will fuck things up with Steve even before there is a thing to fuck up.
"I want them to like it, and to want more, and to not hate me agai-- I mean, for it. Not hate me for it."
"Uh-huh," Natasha hums, raising one eyebrow. "So, Steve, then? Ambitious, Stark."
"Don't I know it," he sighs.
Natasha tilts her head and looks at him with something akin to sympathy. When she speaks, her voice is softer. "For what it's worth, I don't think he'll hate you, whatever happens. But I can't be sure what's the best way to... get him. Or get to him. He's-- pretty much one of a kind, I don't think the usual rules apply."
"Don't I know it," Tony mutters.
Finding Clint is only easy if you barely sleep at night and know everything that's happening in the Tower at any given time. So, basically if you're Tony. Tony just happens to know Clint's one weakness, that magnifies tenfold around any kind of holidays that involve food. Right now, at three in the morning during these generally festive few days between Christmas and New Year's, Clint is sure to be found in the biggest kitchen, covered in flour and powdered sugar, and happy as a clam.
"Wait, let me get this straight," Clint says, once he stops cracking up for long enough to catch a breath. "You're telling me that Tony Stark is too shy to kiss someone?" Clint says, and he's back to giggling like a teenage girl again. Tony's tempted to shake some of this flour out of his hair with a good, generous whack on the head.
"Screw you, asshole, I'm not shy. Just-- I need a different approach."
"You don't know how to woo him before he lets you invade his virgin lips?"
"I knew you'd be useless, I'll find someone else," Tony says, and starts getting up, but Clint grabs his wrist and keeps him in place.
"No, wait, sorry. Okay, Tony, but seriously, what's the big deal? It's a midnight kiss on New Year's. It's-- well, right next to mistletoe kisses it's the most cliché thing you could do to a person. It doesn't have to be a big deal! If it goes bad, just say you did it because it's tradition and it didn't mean anything. There, your honor is saved, your boy is kissed, and you know where you stand"
Fuck Clint and his logic.
"Yes, but--" Tony starts, but doesn't know how to finish.
"But?" Clint prompts.
"What if I know where I stand but I'm not satisfied with where I stand? Or I lose my standing?"
"Um... And where is it that you stand right now?"
"Somewhere between 'he tolerates my existence' and 'maybe we could be friends.' And I don't want to fall back down to 'glares at me whenever he sees me'."
"Then why do you want to risk it for one kiss?"
"Because the next chance like that will be next year! I can't wait that long, I've got to try. Come on, help me out here," Tony whines, but Clint just keeps staring at him with incredulity and something like pure glee mixed on his face. "What?" Tony asks, suddenly self-conscious.
"Holy shit, you actually have feelings for him!"
"Yeah, dumbass, that's why I'm asking--"
"No, no, no," Clint interrupts him, looking way too excited about the situation. "Not just he's-hot-so-I-want-to-kiss-him-once kind of feelings. You're in love with him!" Clint exclaims, pointing an accusatory finger at Tony.
"That is so--" true, Tony thinks, there's no point in denying it to himself anymore. Just to everyone else.
"Oh man, this is priceless! It's like-- it's like a fairy tale, and he's your Prince Charming, and you have to win the prince over but you're afraid to because there's still a ton of past crap between you!"
"Yes, thank you for the summary, now if you'd be so kind as to offer actual advice..."
Clint shakes his head, still laughing. "Here, try this," he says, handing Tony a cookie. It's heart-shaped, with white frosting and pink pearls on it. Tony would mock Clint for making it if he wasn't too busy plotting his sudden and violent death. "Give this to him, and he's yours!"
"You're useless," Tony tells him, then gets up to leave. "And Steve is not twelve," he adds, turning around in the doorway. "And if you tell anyone about this, I'll make the next batch of your arrows explode in your quiver."
He keeps the cookie, because Clint might be a jerk, but he makes delicious things.
"My lips are sealed," Clint says, grinning. "But hopefully Steve's won't be!"
Tony doesn't dignify that with a reply. Even he has his standards.
Barring Thor, who's not even there to help at the moment, there's only one person left in the Tower on whose sense and reason Tony can count: Bruce. And he doesn't even have to look for him.
"So what's this emergency you need my help with?" Bruce asks, entering Tony's workshop and looking around in search of a malfunctioning device, or a blown-up wall or two.
"Nowhere, I just wanted you to hurry up," Tony says.
Bruce lets out an exasperated sigh. The first one of many that night, Tony predicts. "You couldn't have come up to my lab? I was working, you know."
"No, buddy, that's a delicate and personal matter that I want to discuss, I have to be in a familiar environment to feel comfortable," Tony says, then flops down onto the couch, contemplating the ceiling in silence and waiting for Bruce to give in. He always does.
Bruce rolls his eyes, but sits down in one of Tony's chairs. "How many times have I told you to hire an actual shrink and stop bothering me?"
"But, but you're my best friend!" Tony says emphatically, turning to look at Bruce with his best puppy eyes, which will not fool him in the slightest, but it's still worth a shot.
Predictably, Bruce is unmoved, but he sighs with exasperation and leans back in the chair, resigned. "So what's your problem?" he asks.
Tony decides to be blunt and to-the-point this time. "Steve."
"Oh no, what again? I though you guys were good now, and this all... heroic pissing contest was over."
"It is! Or, I think it is. I like him well enough. In fact, I might like him a bit too much, if you know what I mean."
Bruce gives him an unimpressed look. "Tony, the doorknob knows what you mean."
Tony frowns. "What, you're not surprised? The other ones were shocked and appalled. Well, not appalled, but--"
"Yes, I knew," Bruce interrupts him. "I'm spending most of my waking hours with you, it'd be hard not to notice. For what it's worth, I think--"
"See, you understand me! You noticed that this was happening, you know it's not impossible, you must have thought about this! So tell me, am I insane here? Does this have any chance in hell of working out? Or am I just destroying the team with fraternization or other bullshit? I don't know, Bruce, talk to me here!"
"Because maybe it's a good thing, you know? I mean, you've seen Clint and Natasha, right? There's definitely something between those two, and they work seamlessly with each other in combat. And come on, with them? It can't be easy. So maybe it's good - for the team, too - to have someone by your side who understands you on this whole other level, you know?"
"And Steve and I already have it! In battle, I mean. We did even when we were at each other's throats just minutes before. It has to mean something more than just pure combat skills, right? It does make sense! And I'm not screwing up the team dynamics or whatever, I'm improving them! This is-- this would all be for the best!"
"Yes, this is what I wanted to work out. That it would not screw with anyone else and cause Fury to rain mayhem on my ass. Which it won't, provided that Steve is amenable to this development. Which, shit, he might not be. But I'll figure this out later. See ya, Brucie, I knew I could count on you! Good talk."
Tony absently pats Bruce on the shoulder, then leaves, lost in his thoughts.
So he has the "why" (and the "why not") all figured out. The "how," however, is still a bit fuzzy around the edges.
By the morning on New Year's Eve Tony is so desperate that he welcomes the sight of Thor arriving at the Tower with immeasurable joy and relief. Obviously, Thor will be the answer to all his problems. After all, he's the guy who ended up with the girl who ran him over several times upon their first meeting. He must be doing something right.
"Thor! Just the man I want to see. You have to help me, you're my last and only hope!"
Thor looks appropriately concerned. There's a reason Tony likes him best.
"What seems to be the problem, Man of Iron?" he asks, clasping Tony on the shoulder in a reassuring gesture.
"Here, come with me to the kitchen, we'll have some coffee and talk," Tony suggests.
Thor brightens up at the mention of coffee, and follows Tony into the kitchen. "Will you make the kind with the spices again? For the life of me I could not find the right ingredients in Asgard, and it's the most delightful drink I had a pleasure to taste."
"Sure, buddy," Tony says, starting the coffee machine. He makes a cinnamon latte for Thor and a double espresso for himself, and they sit down at the counter.
"So my problem is," Tony starts when Thor makes a blissed out enough face over his coffee. "I like someone. A lot. And there's this custom on Earth that at midnight on New Year's - which is tonight - you're supposed to kiss somebody. preferably somebody you have feelings for. And I don't know how to get them to kiss me. Everyone else has been useless, so I'm counting on you here. You're the only one in a somewhat functional relationship around here, so please share your wisdom?"
Thor seems to be contemplating the question for a while. "There is going to be a celebration this evening, isn't there?"
"And from what I understand from the humans' mating habits, such events are conductive to developing new relationship, however short lasting they might be."
"And what, it's different in Asgard?"
Thor gives him the same slightly judgmental looks he uses every time he compares the tiny, petty humans to Asgardians. "We do not need excuses to celebrate life, or to engage in romance. It's you humans who make it unnecessarily complicated," he explains.
Huh. Trust the Nordic god to get deep about drunken party hookups.
"So what's your advice?" Tony asks, but he already has a feeling that he won't get anything useful out of Thor.
"I'm fairly certain that one of the necessary factors leading to a spontaneous romance during festivities is alcohol. You might want to consider that."
"So... get him drunk?" Tony sums up, resigned. He's heard this one before and it's no more valid now than it was a week ago.
"It will certainly lower your chosen one's inhibitions!"
Tony sighs into his coffee. This officially completes the circle of useless advice. Tony needs better friends. And a new plan.
Alcohol doesn't even work on Steve, not that Tony would consider this.
He doesn't have a new plan.
Tony passes the entire party talking to everybody but Steve, and mingling as much as he can. It's still not a lot, the party is fairly small - just the Avengers and some, uh, friends, he guesses, like Thor's girlfriend, Jane, and her taser-happy friend, Darcy. Even Coulson is there, nursing a drink and standing in a corner, observing. It's like they have a chaperone. Tony finds it unnerving.
Too bad Pepper couldn't be there, stuck in California on business. He wouldn't ask her for advice, of course - you don't ask your ex for seduction tips, that's just not cool - but she'd be able to talk some reason into him that would make him handle things in a more mature manner than walking around the room, faking having a good time, and pretending he doesn't feel Steve's eyes on him.
Because Steve is looking at him every few minutes and it's making Tony's skin tingle in a rather unpleasant way. He can't really figure out the source of such attention - his best guess is that one of his former "advisors" has spilled the beans, and now Steve is trying to assess just how much of a hopeless moron Tony is. Which, okay, he doesn't even want to have this conversation, so he'd better steer clear of Steve for the remainder of the night.
And maybe kiss Dummy at midnight.
Steve decides to make things easier for him, and clears out before midnight, claiming that New Year's celebrations get a little old when you're over ninety. It's the most bullshit excuse Tony has ever heard, even apart from the fact that Steve has spent most of those years deep-frozen.
As Steve leaves, Tony suddenly has four pairs of concerned eyes trained on him, and he can't deal with that right now.
It's okay, really. It's not like it's a life or death situation, he's not even in love. This is just a crush, a projection of that childish hero worship he felt for Captain America as a boy. A grown-ass Tony Stark has to learn to pick his battles and move the fuck on. He already has more than he's ever hoped for, he's Steve's (almost) friend. Wanting anything more than that just seems greedy, and plain stupid.
It's good that he was spared this surefire opportunity to embarrass himself and lose even that tentative friendly thing he has with Steve now.
He still doesn't want to stay for the countdown and the kisses that will occur around the room, so fifteen minutes before midnight he slips out to the balcony on one of the highest floors, where he can't see or hear anything.
It's cold, but he doesn't mind. The frosty, December air helps him stay sober - not from alcohol, he hasn't touched anything all night, wanting to make sure Steve would know he's not drunk if he'd decided to go for it after all. And if he gets cold now, well, that would just be a good excuse to take a shot or two to warm up later, wouldn't it.
He's not even out there for five minutes when he hears the glass door slide open, and then steps that stop right behind him. He wonders which one of his would-be cupids took it upon themselves to make sure that he doesn't drown in lovesick tears. Or something to that effect.
"Brooding your way into the New Year? And not even a glass of champagne in sight?"
Tony whirls around, because that voice--
Sure enough, it's Steve, standing there in his winter coat, and with a fluffy scarf wrapped snugly around his neck. He's not a big fan of cold, and Tony can't really blame him, considering.
"Didn't feel like drinking," Tony replies, but it comes out a little distorted, because his teeth started chattering and he's suddenly very, very aware that he's standing on the balcony in the middle of winter dressed only in a thin suit.
"Geez, Tony, are you trying to freeze to death? Because you know, I tried that, and it's really not fun," Steve says, and steps forward, unwinding the scarf from around his neck and wrapping it around Tony's.
Tony still shivers, but this time it might not just be from the cold.
"There, better," Steve assesses, smiling softly, and running his big, warm hands up and down Tony's arms, trying to warm him up more.
"Weren't you supposed to be asleep, anyway?" Tony asks before he can do something stupid, like burrow further into Steve's warm coat.
Steve shrugs. "I didn't really want to sleep. It's just-- this party wasn't really my thing. But then I went down there to look for you, but they told me you'd left."
"How did you find me here, then?" Tony inquires, because it's a safer question that why did you want to find me?
"Jarvis," Steve explains, and of course, Tony should have known. "Anyway," Steve continues, tightening his grip on Tony's arms a little. "I had one more thing to take care of."
"And what's that?" Tony asks, voice strangled, but Steve doesn't answer, because right at this moment the New York skyline lights up with thousands of fireworks. It's midnight.
They watch for a few minutes, entranced. Tony shivers violently again, because Steve's scarf is not enough to make him warm, and Steve wraps his arms around him from behind.
Tony freezes. Metaphorically, this time.
"You're going to catch pneumonia, or worse," Steve says. "Let's go inside."
"Wait," Tony says, turning around in Steve's embrace. "What was that, that you had to take care of?"
"Oh," Steve says, smiling, and blushes a little. "It's... nevermind, I suppose, it's after midnight already."
"The fireworks are still going," Tony points out.
Steve glances at the sky, and then just pulls Tony closer and kisses him, firmly and determinedly, without a hint of hesitation. Tony surges forward, wrapping his arms around Steve's waist under his coat, and there, he's finally warm, inside and out. Steve's trying to pull him even closer, to wrap him up in his coat properly, and Tony just melts into him, letting a soft moan escape his lips as Steve deepens the kiss.
When they break apart, Steve doesn't let him go, and rests their foreheads together, grinning widely.
"So, yeah, that was it," Steve says, then laughs. "I wimped out at Christmas when there was mistletoe, but didn't feel like waiting another year for the next opportunity."
Tony grins up at him. "You know you don't need an excuse, right?"
"You're the one to talk!" Steve says, raising his eyebrows.
Tony bursts out laughing. "Dammit, I knew they would tell!"