The code finishes compiling at 11:53 p.m. on February 13. By that time Tony’s basically upside-down under the hood of the R8, mentally cataloguing the many ways he can improve on German engineering. Well, okay, he’s rambling aloud and Jarvis is taking notes, but Tony designed Jarvis, it still counts as mentally cataloguing. Then Jarvis announces the program has finished running, and Tony stands up so abruptly he bangs his head against the hood, and the sudden rush of blood away from his brain doesn’t help with the dizziness.
But never mind that, and never mind the car. The Audi can wait. This is important.
Tony doesn’t have a lot of friends. It’s not like that whole “doesn’t play well with others” thing came as a big surprise. He’s always been better at driving people away than keeping them close. Only now he has a tower full of people who won’t leave him alone, and though sometimes it’s very frustrating when Natasha threatens him out of the workshop with one delicately plucked eyebrow (she could probably kill him with the eyebrow) or when Clint drops out of the air ducts (seriously, what the hell; doesn’t he know Tony has a heart condition?) to shoot him up with a tranquilizer, or when Steve makes the puppy face (there is no defense against the puppy face) and asks if Tony is coming to team movie night—
Okay, so Tony has lost track of where this line of thought was going. He’s been up forty-one hours. It’s not his fault.
Anyway, now he has a tower full of—friends? Family? Teammates? Professional assassins?—whatever, and he has for almost a year now, and none of them have given any indication that they’re going anywhere anytime soon, not even when Pepper left and Tony spent a week drunk off his tits and building a sex bot. (Steve did give him his patented I’m Extremely Disappointed in You, Tony face. At least Tony thinks that’s what it was; his vision was a little blurry at the time.) Of course, the sex bot turned out creepy and Tony had to destroy it with extreme prejudice so he could sleep at night, but that’s not the point.
The point being: Tony actually likes Clint’s stupid puns and Natasha’s silent competence and Thor’s… Thoriness. He appreciates Bruce’s company and the fact that he can almost keep up with Tony’s unspeakable genius. Even Steve’s wide-eyed idealism has become endearing. And all those people put up with Tony’s bullshit with minimal complaint. Tony has friends. He should throw a goddamn parade. Friends are awesome.
And friends get each other presents, right? On special occasions like their birthdays and Christmas and Valentine’s Day. Tony is good at presents. Well, okay, no, that’s a lie. Pepper is good at presents. Tony is good at money. Birthdays and Christmas, Pepper took care of, everyone was happy, Tony signed the checks, yadda yadda. But Pepper is busy running his company (as she likes to point out every chance she gets), and apparently Valentine’s Day is not important enough to merit her personal attention, and Tony’s on his own.
Bruce is easy. With all his BS meditation crap, there is really only one thing to do for him, and that’s stick him on the Starkjet and deliver him to the Dalai Lama for some protracted navel-gazing. Really, it’s amazing what you can get for a few million dollars’ worth of no-fuss water purification technology these days.
Natasha was trickier, but Tony has been paying attention. He’s noted the way she looks mournfully at his bottles of expensive vodka, shakes her head, and goes straight for the stuff that could strip paint. Clearly she misses homegrown moonshine. He ordered her a still. He hopes like hell the hooch she’ll inevitably make with it won’t leave them all with catastrophic liver failure.
You can’t get a Valentine’s Day gift for Thor without including Jane, so Tony rented them the top floor of a Paris hotel and chartered a flight. Really that’s a Valentine’s Day gift for everyone. Tony is a genius, but so far the score is Thor’s Sex Voice: a lot, Tony’s Soundproofing Innovations: 0.
Then there’s Clint, who travels enough for work and is unlikely to be impressed with something he can’t shoot people with. Tony designed a Nerf-type bow with heart-shaped foam-tipped arrows you can aim perfectly from half a mile away. The best present for Clint is always mayhem. Tony plans to tap in to New York’s video surveillance system specifically so he can watch confused pedestrians get struck by harmless arrows of love. It’s his Valentine’s Day present to himself.
That leaves Steve, of course.
Tony throws himself down on his rolling stool and cracks his fingers and neck. Steve is a challenge. He grew up in the Depression and gets genuinely embarrassed and uncomfortable when Tony spends too much money on him. He doesn’t have stuff for the sake of having stuff. He can’t get drunk, and while he likes to travel, he definitely does not like doing it alone, not that Tony blames him. Steve’s main problem is that he’s lonely.
Tony can relate, sort of.
Unlike Tony, Steve is good at making friends. Everyone likes Steve, or at least everyone worth liking back likes Steve. People who don’t like Steve probably spend their spare time kicking puppies and taking candy from babies. Hell, Tony is pretty sure even supervillains like Steve; they keep trying to kidnap instead of kill him. Possibly they’re looking for some kind of super sex slave, which is never going to happen as long as Tony has a big metal suit that shoots a lot of projectile weapons.
And yet every time someone tries to set Steve up on a date, it ends in disaster. He got slapped once when a girl thought he was calling her a slut for suggesting sex on a first date was too soon. Tony’s been slapped a lot of times in his life, but never for not sleeping with someone. He’s had more dates interrupted by alien invasions than anyone should ever have to deal with. Then there was the time his date’s boyfriend showed up just before dessert, not to mention the date who got arrested while they were on a picnic in Central Park. Tony still hasn’t managed to get Steve to tell him the whole story behind that catastrophe.
Clearly Steve needs professional help. However, Tony’s not naïve enough to think he’s some kind of love guru. His track record speaks for itself. He tells himself that’s why he stooped to the kind of programming project that is really beneath him.
Except it isn’t. It’s the most sophisticated program of its kind, worthy of the name Stark. It tracks more variables than any of the services you can join online, plus it’s linked up to SHIELD’s laughably insecure closed camera matrix and Jarvis and the tower’s security systems. Not only does it recognize faces, it recognizes expressions. It identifies body language. Its thousands of lines of code have been optimized to gauge, measure, and analyze. It is a work of fucking art.
It’s almost too bad the program’s sole purpose is to find Steve a girlfriend. That’s just embarrassing.
“Okay, Cupid, what have we got?” Tony finally asks when the suspense gets too much.
“Displaying results,” Cupid acknowledges through Jarvis, and Tony watches as the holographic display fills with overlapping headshots and bar graphs.
Wow, apparently a lot of people spend a lot of time staring at Steve. Not that Tony blames them.
“Cupid, filter out those results currently engaged in relationships and cut to top ten matches, descending order.”
The display riffles like paper as the headshots reorganize. Except that can’t be right, because bachelorette number ten is a guy. “Jarvis, what’s going on?”
“Based on video footage of Captain Rogers’s behavior, Cupid overrode your initial parameters as incorrect, sir.”
Now Tony just feels stupid. “Jarvis. Are you telling me Captain America is bisexual?”
“That does appear to be the logical conclusion.”
Okay. Good thing he’s sitting down. Tony rubs distractedly at the arc reactor. “Cupid, display results in ascending order, top match first.”
The results shuffle again, but it’s a minute before Tony gathers the courage to look up from the desktop.
Stark, Anthony Edward, aka Iron Man. Born September 19—
Where did the coding go wrong? The answer must be in the raw data somewhere; clearly he mistyped a variable. “Cupid, display probability matrix, nobody’s that compatible, there’s got to be a mistake in there somewhere. Let’s see it.”
There isn’t a mistake. Tony swallows.
Because Jarvis is a snarky douche bag and likes to rub salt in open wounds, once Tony has scrolled to the bottom of the raw data, he brings up the video surveillance.
Tony admits that he might, on occasion, be out of touch with his… emotions. At least he might admit this on one of the rare days he owns up to having emotions. But he knows his own body language pretty well. That’s his oh my God how are you even real laugh as Steve asks him how to send an e-mail he’s typed entirely in the subject line, without spaces. That’s his I am going to have to stop walking around the house in sweatpants if I don’t want to scandalize the nonagenarian leer as Steve walks into the kitchen wearing one of his stupidly tight ultrasoft T-shirts. (Tony makes a mental note never to allow Pepper to shop for Steve ever again.) That’s his I am starved for physical affection, please touch me now shoulder bump as he plops down next to Steve on the couch for movie night.
Son of a bitch. “Ninety-seven percent? Really?”
“You did write the algorithm yourself, sir.”
Yeah, he did, and it’s perfect. Time to panic. He turns away from the display and runs his hands through his hair, wondering what the hell he’s supposed to do now he knows he’s in love with Steve, of all people.
And that’s Steve standing in the doorway to the workshop, wearing yet another one of those shirts (seriously, Pep, never again), his hands shoved into his jeans pockets, his expression sheepish.
Tony’s stupid mechanical heart goes boom. Not literally or anything, but yeah. Bad news. Really bad.
“Hey, Tony,” Steve says with a faint blush.
Which is when Tony realizes the program is still open behind him, playing video clips of Tony looking at Steve like he hung the moon. He clears his throat. “Steve.”
Steve blushes some more, which is not particularly good for Tony’s brain function but really does something for him on a visceral level, and says, “I guess you figured me out, huh?”
And then Tony remembers he’s a genius. Apparently an extremely lucky genius who was a fucking saint in a previous life. Because the program doesn’t just spit out who’s in love with Steve. That would be stupid. Everyone’s in love with Steve.
Tony turns around.
There, on the holographic display—that’s Steve’s Hey, I’m really glad you’re not smoldering atoms smile as Tony lies flat on his back and tries to remember how to breathe. That’s Steve’s I acknowledge that your childhood was shitty and you can’t accept cuddles, here is the next best thing gentle elbow in Tony’s ribs as he makes room (but not too much room) on the couch. And that isn’t Steve’s I’m Extremely Disappointed in You, Tony face when he finds Tony shit wasted and wrist-deep in rewiring the sex bot. That face says Tony, you are breaking my heart.
“I, uh,” Steve says, “I’ll just—”
Oh, no, you don’t. “We should go to dinner. Tomorrow.” Wait—“Tonight.”
Steve says, “Um.”
That right there is a preparing to be disappointed fidget.
Tony bites the bullet and says, “As a date.”
Steve does a very good impression of a deer in the headlights, but finally he smiles. And blushes again, because the gods of fate are punishing Tony for being a complete idiot by making Steve even more irresistibly attractive. “Okay, Tony. Um, do you maybe think it’s time to leave the workshop now? You’re sort of….”
Tony doesn’t need to interpret that gesture, because suddenly he can smell himself, and yeah, no, he is not kissing Steve for the first time reeking like motor oil and caffeine sweat. “Right, yes, excellent, good plan. Time to call it a night.” He instructs Jarvis to have the house bots deliver his presents, and lets Steve lead him to the elevator.
After forty-one-plus hours awake, it’s a miracle Tony manages to shower without drowning. He falls into bed naked, alone, and exhausted, and wakes up nine hours later wondering if it was all some kind of fatigue-related hallucination.
“I’ve taken the liberty of making a reservation at eight o’clock at Antonio’s, sir. Your usual table.”
That’s the great thing about being a billionaire. Trouble trying to get a reservation on Valentine’s Day is a thing that happens to other people. “You’re a good man, Jarvis.”
Steve—delectable post-morning workout Steve, flushed from a shower and God damn those T-shirts, anyway—is the first thing Tony sees when he walks into the kitchen, half-starved and desperate for more caffeine. He doesn’t see Clint at all, so it surprises him when the heart-shaped foam-tipped arrow bounces off the arc reactor and lands neatly in Tony's open hand.
Tony looks at Steve, who seems to be working very hard to hold back a smile, and then back at the arrow, and thinks, Fuck it. He fists a hand in Steve’s shirt and reels him in for a kiss. Let the mayhem begin.