The moment Tony's lips touched Steve's, he knew he'd made a terrible mistake.
Instead of sinking into it, Steve stood frozen stiff, staring straight ahead. Tony's heart twisted painfully as he pulled away, looking for any sign that Steve might be even a little receptive. Steve didn't even twitch.
Slowly, Tony waved a hand in front of Steve's eyes.
Tony grimaced and backed away. "Okay. Clearly that didn't go well. I'll just..." Go soothe his bruised dignity by exploding something. Or he could make a new set of armor. Didn't the Quinjet need a new engine? Anything that would get him away from Steve's blank stare before it became an accusing one.
It took three steps before Steve noticed, snapping back to himself with a brilliant flush of red. "Ahh— I— Tony, wait..." Steve looked down at his shoes, adorably embarrassed.
Tony paused. He wanted to kiss him again, but that had been what scrambled Steve's circuits to start. Maybe he'd been mistaken about Steve's reaction. It could have been a good sort of shock. A tentative thread of hope started to wrap around his heart. "Yes?"
"I..." Head bowed, fingers running nervously over the rim of his shield, Steve refused to look up. "I'm sorry."
With two words, the thread snapped like a worn piano string.
Steve continued, sill too busy focusing on his toes to see Tony wincing more with every word. "I'm not... that way—not that it's wrong or anything, I'm just not, and I never really thought of you like that and..." He shuffled his feet, like a schoolboy confessing to having chewed gum in class. "Still friends?"
Nothing in the world could make Tony smile honestly at that moment, but he gave it his best shot for Steve's sake. "Of course we're still friends. I wouldn't let something like this come between us."
The look of gratitude Steve gave him was almost enough to make Tony forget to kick himself later. It was all big blue eyes and choir boy grin. Tony felt like an eighty year-old letch just looking at him. "Thank you."
Clearly it was for the best that Steve wasn't interested in men. Tony didn't want to be the one to take away that purity. "Don't mention it."
Three incredibly awkward days later, Steve presented himself at the door to Tony's lab. His hair had been slicked back and, by a miracle, he'd managed to put a shine on a pair of sneakers. He cleared his throat and hovered just inside the doorway, hands clasped behind his back.
Tony blinked at him through a pair of magnification goggles. Since the kiss, things between him and Steve had been uncomfortable to nonexistent, and he'd been doing his best to keep them closer to the latter until the first faded. He thought Steve had been doing the same, since he'd been unable to even meet Tony's eyes, but then why was he there? "Come down to wallow in the grease with me? I already disposed of the old Quinjet engine, if that's what you wanted to see." And a wonderful explosion it had been, too.
He loved his work.
"I— ah, no, not that, thanks..." Scuff scuff went the shoes. "I've been thinking. About— you know. The kiss." Steve looked up at Tony without actually lifting his face, his eyes barely a peek of sapphire through a nearly invisible fringe of gold lashes. "I've been thinking a lot."
Abruptly, Tony vowed never to let Pepper read her romance novels aloud again. He might actually start speaking that way, and then he'd have to give every trace of dignity he owned to someone more worthy. Peter could use some extra. "Yes?"
"Could you kiss me again?" Steve licked his lips and squirmed, looking directly at Tony for the first time, eyes pleading. "Just to be sure? I think I might be thinking of you— you know, in that way, and..."
Tony thought about dignity. He thought about not being someone's experiment. He thought about preserving their friendship before he inevitably brought it down around their ears.
Then he thought about getting his hands under that carefully tucked-in t-shirt.
"Of course I'll kiss you!" Tony beamed. His stomach was tying itself into knots, but even if he hadn't wanted to kiss Steve, he couldn't have refused those eyes. "Just so you can be sure." He looked around, belatedly lifting his goggles and moving side on the bench. "Sit down?"
Steve looked ready to bolt, but he threw a leg over the bench and straddled it. His ironed jeans pulled across his thighs, showing off the hard muscle underneath. Tony swallowed. "Okay, so... kiss me?"
Hoping that this would be worth compounding a mistake, Tony leaned in and kissed him.
Chapstick. That was the first thing Tony noticed, the slip-slide of chapstick. Steve's lips were still rough, but thanks to the chapstick their lips glided together smoothly. The tip of his tongue brushed over Steve's lower lip, humming agreeably when he touched Steve's. Feeling daring, Tony rested his hands on Steve's thighs and leaned into the kiss.
The soft press of Steve's mouth against his went tight. Tony groaned and pulled away, running his hands through his hair. "Sorry, I just—"
Steve scrambled to get off the bench, putting six feet between himself and Tony before stopping. He'd blushed bright red under his Irish-pale complexion. "No, it's okay. I guess I was wrong. That's all."
"Oh." Wrong. Of course. Tony should have known he couldn't be that lucky. "Good thing to know then, huh? So if you're done..?"
"Yeah. Thanks." Steve turned and fled so quickly that Tony imagined a cartoonish trail of dust settling behind him. He turned back to the circuit board on the table, glaring sullenly at it as he poked it with a miniature screw driver.
"This is your fault, isn't it?" Poke poke poke. "Ultron?"
No answer. Tony sighed. He knew that would have been too easy.
One month. Roughly ten "experiments". The time between varied a bit. After the second kiss, it had only taken two days for Steve to ask. When Tony had first nibbled his ear, it had taken four. In spite of the discrepancies, Tony had developed a sense for when Steve would start questioning himself, and it was coming up on that mark.
At least their friendship had returned to a sort of normal, which was the best part of everything.
Tony checked his watch and kicked his feet up onto the coffee table. The other Avengers had gone to the movies, and Steve had been fidgeting at dinner. That usually meant—
The kitchen door squeaked as it opened. "Tony?"
He twisted his head around to see Steve standing in the kitchen entry, turning a book over in his hands. Over the past month, Tony had become very fond of Steve's hands. They were big and soft, and the few times they'd touched him had beenwonderful. "Hey, Steve. Do you need anything?"
Over and over, twist and flip. The book turned. "I've been thinking— when you bit me on Monday... Do you think you could..?"
Right on time.
Tony grinned and patted the couch. "I'm always willing to help you work things out. Come sit down."
Maybe he could get that t-shirt untucked for once.