"This is absolutely ridiculous. I don't even like being in the same room as that assclown," Tony snapped from his seat in one of the Helicarrier's many conference rooms, "I'm certainly not going to take him out to lunch."
"If you want to keep your spot on the Avengers you will," Nick just shook his head, choosing to ignore the fact that Tony had just referred to Captain America as an "assclown". They were alone in the room, Nick having called Tony for a private meeting that was going south for Tony, and fast, "You know Hill moved to have you taken off the team after your last bring-down-the-Tower argument?"
"Surprise, surprise," Tony sneered bitterly, "And is that what we're calling these now?"
"We are when you get the Hulk involved and he almost demolishes it."
"That was an accident—"
"Still happened," Nick held up a hand that offered no room for argument, "I had you all move in together to foster bonding, not destroy New York!"
"We work together fine—!"
"Yes, Stark, your fieldwork together is as perplexingly perfect as ever," Nick gave an aggressive sort of sigh, "And don't think for a minute that's not the only reason you're still on the team. But we're talking about your personal relationship here; you've somehow managed to antagonize the man three times this week alone!"
"It wasn't my—!"
"You started a bar fight last night. With Captain America."
"For the record, the first punch can be entirely blamed on the drunken hobo."
"He doesn't even drink," Nick groaned, "How on Earth you of all people managed to lure him in there, I'm not even sure I want to know."
"You underestimate my intelligence."
"And you underestimate my patience for your bullshit," Nick snapped, "I am done babysitting you fuckers. You have direct orders to work it the fuck out. Once a week, you and your millions—"
"Billions," Tony corrected, but Nick didn't even pause.
"—are going to take that man out to lunch, and you're going to sit your asses down for one hour. I don't care where, I don't care when, and you can yell and shout to your heart's content, but public eye should keep you two from decking each other long enough to get even you to the point of civility."
"Doubtful," Tony snorted, "What, you think we eat lunch one time without punching each other in the face and we'll suddenly be able to stand each other?"
"I didn't say once, Stark," Nick corrected with a smirk, "I said once a week; let's say tomorrow. Every Wednesday for the foreseeable future, you have lunch plans."
"Oh, hell no," Tony balked, "I don't know if you're aware, but I'm a busy guy. I run a company, maybe you've heard of it? It's only your major source of funding and all—"
"I've already cleared it with the person who really runs your company, and Miss Potts agreed with me that it was long time you and Captain Rogers buried the hatchet."
"Okay, seriously, I know we broke up, but why is Pepper never on my side?" Tony huffed.
"I don't have time for your relationship problems, Stark. Why don't you ask your new friend over lunch tomorrow?" Nick smirked.
"Oh, yeah," Tony snorted, "I've been just dying to talk to Rogers about women. I'm sure he's a veritable fountain of knowledge about that particular topic."
"Look, I don't give a shit if you two sit and glare at each other silently for an hour if you feel like it, but this kind of bullshit?" Nick tapped a finger on the open file that lay on the table, paparazzi pictures of Tony and Steve snarling at each other violently in the middle of a bar spread out, "This stops. No one says you have to be friends; civility is all anyone's looking for here."
"It's not my fault he's got a stick up his ass," Tony grumbled, crossing his arms.
"Has it even occurred to you what he's going through right now?" Nick just sighed, attempting a different angle.
"Yeah, yeah, I heard enough from my father. The guy got dealt a rough hand; I sympathize, I really do," Tony rolled his eyes in a way that somewhat belied his words, "But that doesn't mean he's not a righteous prick."
"The only other people who don't like Captain America are supervillains, Nazis, terrorists, and combinations of the above. Is that really a club you want to be a part of?"
"You're a regular laugh riot," Tony rolled his eyes again, "Look, I get that he's got that 1940's, sweet-as-you-please, innocent-as-heck look about him. But I'm telling you, that man is nothing more than a stubborn, arrogant, pain in the ass."
"And you wouldn't know anything about that, would you?"
Tony just glared back mutinously.
"What do you mean, you're going to 'take me out'?" Steve had a vaguely suspicious look on his face, as if he wasn't entirely sure Tony wasn't here to attempt an assassination. Then, he paled, eyes going wide, "You don't mean like a date?"
"Calm your hormones, Spangles," Tony snorted, "I'm here by order of Nick. I'm supposed to take you out to lunch every Wednesday til we can stand each other. So. The end of time, basically."
"Oh," Steve breathed, the word consumed with relief.
He opened his door to his SHIELD-issued apartment a little wider then, apparently reassured that Tony was not going to attempt to rape him, or whatever was going on in that Star-Spangled head of his. Tony wasn't entirely sure he didn't just have the Pledge of Allegiance playing on repeat in there.
Though Steve had a suite at Stark Tower, he was still in the process of moving in. It didn't help that anything he moved into the Tower seemed mysteriously reappear in his apartment; Steve had yet to figure out Tony had a hand in that, and Tony was looking forward to the blonde's face when he did.
"Open homosexuality's a thing now though," Tony pointed out, and, just because he felt like being an ass, "Not that they have closets big enough for you. But, y'know, no need to go perform a citizen's arrest if we see two guys macking on each other at the restaurant."
"It's…open?" Steve questioned, disregarding most of Tony's word babble as he usually did.
"You betcha. If you feel like experimenting, I know a place that won't say a word—"
"Tony," Steve didn't flush like Tony had thought he would, just chastised Tony in that stern Captain's voice the righteous prick could pull out at a moment's notice.
"Just sayin'," Tony shrugged, "I mean, I know you've been all into spangles and spandex lately, but I try not to stereotype and all. No worries, big blonde and buff, we all know you're straighter than the ruler the nuns in school smacked your knuckles with. Though, come to think of it, they probably didn't smack your knuckles, I'm sure you were a smarmy little teacher's pet—"
"Isn't it stereotyping to assume I'm straight because I'm, what was it, 'big blonde and buff'?" Steve challenged, one eyebrow raised.
"And bossy and bull-headed and a number of other b words, but no, that's not stereotyping."
"How is that not stereotyping? You just take one look at me and think just because I don't look like a nancy boy you know who I'm interested in?"
"Ooh, that would a no-no word here in the future, Captain Freezer Pop."
"You know what I meant," Steve growled, "You might be a genius but even you can't just assume you know—"
"I might be a genius? Rogers, my technology makes the world's leading engineers look like 5th graders with popsicle stick rollercoaster," Tony shot back, not caring that Steve wouldn't grasp the reference, "And the best you can come up with to describe me is that I might be a genius?"
"Oh, there are a lot of words I'd use to describe you, Stark, and trust me when I say maybe-genius doesn't even break top 50."
"Coming from the guy who still can't work a toaster, I'm really not that offended."
"I am more than capable of handling the toaster, no thanks to you—"
"Look, I'm a busy guy, I've got places to be," Tony interrupted with a drawl, "But since we're starting off on this wonderful note of sneering insults instead of screaming them, I vote we get in and out of the restaurant while we can still manage to keep it that way."
"I guess it turns out you do have the occasional good idea," Steve gave a humored little snort, grabbing his jacket and keys off the hook next to his apartment door, "Where to?"
"I know a place on 5th and Burnside, it's called Doors Down. No one'll take pictures or ask questions or bother us when we eventually go to blows. See you there, or, y'know, not, that'd be great too," Tony waved a hand in a mock salute, then hopped down the stairs and slid into the car he had waiting at the curb, "Take as long as you like. I'd love to kill this stupid therapy hour at the bar."
"I'm sure you would," Steve just grunted, already headed for his motorcycle, "Because that's not a cry for help or anything."
"What was that, darling?" Tony smirked, rolling down a window, "Couldn't hear you over the sound of my limo."
"I can ride my bike there…just…fine…" Steve paused, something catching his eye.
"Go, Hap, go!" Tony quickly rolled the window back up and urged Happy on.
"I cannot believe you—!" Steve roared, whipping around to rip Tony a new one.
But he was gone, leaving Steve to deal with his slashed tires alone while Tony laughed manically in the distance.
For two months, their lunch meetings went pretty much exactly as anyone would have expected. There were screaming matches and cold shoulder contests and Tony did absolutely everything short of launching a physical attack on Steve to keep him from attending. Regardless, Steve showed every single time.
They bounced from restaurant to restaurant for a while. Every week they ended up getting kicked out of a new one, sometimes just for yelling too loud, sometimes for throwing things at each other, occasionally for actually going to blows. Finally, they'd gotten themselves a back booth in a place called Moretti's.
It was the waitress that sold them on it. Ever since, they'd had that reserved booth and the same waitress. Her name was Emily, and she was usually very composed, taking anything they did in calm stride and ignoring any attempts they made to involve her in their arguments.
At first she came across as perhaps a bit shy just because she was so quiet, but that went out the window after about a half hour there. Tony had goaded Steve into lunging across the table, but Emily had just grabbed him by the back of the shirt, sat him back down, and given him the scolding of a lifetime instead, about manners and respect and you two can yell at each other all day and night but don't you lay a finger on him in her restaurant.
When she'd finished, Steve had folded his hands in his lap and nodded with a heartfelt yes ma'am and Tony had looked at her with eyes wide as saucers and asked if she had a twin named Pepper. Emily had refilled his water and walked away.
The one thing they could both agree on was that she was great.
"You're an ass," Steve growled, dropping down across from Tony in their usual booth one afternoon after a morning HYDRA attack.
"And you're late," Tony just hummed smugly, taking another sip of his drink, "Didn't you want to see me, snookums?"
"I'd rather fight HYDRA all over again."
"You wound me. And what took you so long, anyway? The great Captain America didn't need medical attention did he? Actually, don't tell me, it ruins your picture perfect image."
"I didn't need medical. My bike had something that looked an awful lot like a repulsor burn through the back tire," Steve shot him a dark look, "And I couldn't use one of SHIELD's cars, because for as yet undetermined reasons, the system rejected my handprint."
"How mysterious," Tony sipped his drink innocently.
"So after a twenty minute interview to assure SHIELD that I was not, in fact, a double-agent or brain-washed or who knows what else, I walked."
"You know what they say, fresh air's good for the soul."
"I walked eighty blocks."
"I'm so close to feeling sorry for you, it's almost like I care. Why'd you bother to come at all? I'm sure Emily and I could have had a nice enough chat without Captain Boring."
"Because this is important to me, Tony."
"Oh, yeah, me too, totally," Tony rolled his eyes, waving his empty glass to the waitress, "Super duper important. Another, please, Em. Make it two, actually."
"I don't drink," Steve shot him a look.
"It's not for you."
"Tony, this is serious," Steve took a deep breath, then released it. He'd gotten his anger out on the walk over; Nick was right. This was more important than them, this was about the team, "We need to learn to coexist in the same room without wanting to kill each other."
"I don't know, I'm pretty sure if I slip Emily a couple thousand she'll be happy to let us out in the alley and ignore any murder-like noises," Tony winked at her as she took his glass. She didn't bother to respond, which was an altogether intelligent move on her part. Tony turned back to Steve instead with a shark-like grin, "Or…other noises."
Steve didn't bother to dignify Tony's suggestion with a response, even if his libido did.
See, the thing about Tony was that he was insubordinate. He was conceited and narcissistic and abrasive and so God damned egotistical it was a miracle anyone else could manage to fit in the same room as his personality. He was loud and brash and everything about the 21st century Steve hated—and okay, maybe he held that against Tony more than he should've, but he couldn't help it. Tony just made it so easy.
Everything with Tony was strangely easy. In the field, their teamwork was fluid, came as naturally to them both as breathing. Steve never had to tell Tony what he was thinking, never had to broadcast and lay out every detail of his plan; often, all he had to say was a simple,
"Stark, you thinking—?"
"Course I am."
And then they were off, executing whatever maneuver best worked for the situation, fighting side by side like they'd been doing it all their lives. Off the field, they argued and shouted and all but tried to kill each other, unable to get along for anything, but even that had a strange sort of ease to it as well. Maybe ease was the wrong word; fluidity, perhaps. There was never a dull moment between them, never hesitance or awkwardness, just energy and fire.
Maybe that was why, sometime after Tony's fifth reckless, obnoxiously self-sacrificial brush with death that ended with bruised ribs and a concussion, it was oh so easy to slam him against the back wall and stick his tongue down Tony's throat.
It probably should've felt like a bigger deal than it did. Thing was, Steve found it hard to even remember when he stopped shouting at Tony and starting kissing him. It was nearly impossible the way it all muddled together, angry and heated and so easy as everything with Tony always was.
One minute, he was shouting about how Tony was careless and arrogant and it was going to get them all killed one of these days. The next, Tony licked his lips, just a small, meaningless little thing, but it was the last thing Steve could recall that wasn't a blur of warm hands and rough skin and wet tongue.
They'd been rather reckless, that first time; anyone could've walked in, though it was true that most people avoided the conference room after an Avengers debrief because nine times out of ten they were having one of their hell-raising arguments.
To be fair, they had done their fair share of hell-raising, just a different variation.
Steve wasn't blind; Tony was an attractive man, no question about it. Tony as a person, however, drove Steve up the wall insane. This generally resulted in arguments that devolved into fist-fights or sex, and either way they went at it until neither one of them had the energy to argue anymore. It wasn't a particularly healthy way to deal with their hostility, but then, none of the Avengers were exactly known for healthy problem management.
There were no emotions involved in any of it—except perhaps a fair amount of frustration, of course—and frankly, it wasn't even particularly personal. They never had sex in a bed or either of their rooms, sticking to neutral areas like SHIELD conference rooms or supply closets or various other places they found themselves alone.
If Tony had expected Steve to make it awkward, he'd been sorely disappointed. Sex with Tony was fantastically easy; they maneuvered together sexually as instinctively as they did in the field, which was good, because they certainly weren't doing a whole lot of talking about the whole thing. If he had given the idea any thought beforehand, Steve probably would've assumed he'd have felt regretful afterwards, even ashamed. In the end, though, he just felt relieved. It was all too good for him to feel bad about.
The sex, however, didn't seem to have any effect on their non-existent personal relationship.
If anything, they argued worse.
"That's rather unsanitary," Steve made a face in reply to Tony's suggestion they have it out in the alley.
"You're right, back alley's are much more suited to murder."
"I think we both know how a fight between you and me would go," Steve just couldn't resist lording it over him.
"Oh fuck you, just because I didn't have the suit that one time—"
"Some of us don't need special suits to fight our battles—"
"No, just a drug that would turn Barney into Godzilla, but, oh, look at that blank little face, does the old man not get the refer—?"
"I get the reference," Steve snapped, clenching his jaw, "I just happen to think it's a stupid one. And I may have taken the super serum to get stronger but at least I didn't need a battery shoved into my chest to become a half-decent person—"
"It's not a battery, you blonde bimbo, it's a clean energy electromagnet—"
"Did you just call me a bimbo?"
"Would you prefer airhead?"
"And you just know all about those, don't you?"
"Pepper could kick your ass to kingdom come, super serum or not, and I don't care if she and I aren't dating anymore, if you say another bad word about her I will choke you out across this table—"
"I wasn't referring to Pepper," Steve corrected stiffly, "I told you, I've seen your file; I know the kind of man you are. Always a girl on the side, right? That's why it ended, isn't it? Because that's how men like you operate—"
"There are no men like me; lucky for you, I'm one of a kind. Unlucky for you, that means you don't know a damn thing about me, no matter what fucking files you think you read. So accuse me of cheating on Pepper again, oh Captain," Tony hissed, hands going white-knuckled and tense against the table, "I dare you."
It was clear to see Steve had struck a nerve, that his assumption had in fact been wrong. The smart thing to do would be to back the heck out of the situation. The mature thing to do would be to apologize, to try and start fresh yet again.
Unfortunately, Tony had a way of neutralizing Steve's intelligence and maturity.
"You can tell yourself you're different all you want," Steve glared, voice low, "But at the end of the day, Stark? You're not special. You're a spoiled child trying to make up for his failures because he can't stand to look in the mirror anymore. No wonder Pepper left, what would she want with you?"
It was too far. It wasn't that he'd never had vicious fights with Tony before—they both had the uncanny ability to go right for each other's jugular with ridiculous accuracy. But there was something about that one, last shot he hadn't been able to resist that had been too far.
He could see it all over Tony's face.
He hadn't meant to go that far. He wasn't even entirely sure what made that line too far, as opposed to any of the other insults they threw at each other, but he knew from the look on Tony's face that he had. He couldn't figure out for the life of him why they fought so viciously to begin with, but there was just something about Tony that drew out the nastiest, most bitter parts of him.
The parts of him that still resented everyone he'd left behind for moving on without him. The parts of him that didn't want to lift a finger to help this new, different, screwed up world. Tony knew exactly how to poke and prod at the parts of him that were filled with rage at his situation, and he used to it to get Steve mad at him instead. In a weird, convoluted sort of way, arguing with Tony had actually helped Steve deal with his issues, not take them out on others or just wallow in them all the time.
Lying awake one night, Steve had almost been grateful to him.
He really had meant to try and make today's lunch work—he always did—but, well. It didn't matter now. He'd gone too far, and now Tony was going to try and hit him, and Steve was going to have to hold him back, which would only piss Tony off more, and before they both knew it they'd be getting kicked out…
"Have a nice lunch."
There was no anger in Tony's voice, no fire, no rage. Not even a nickname; his face was a clean slate as he stood, sliding his credit card across the table and turning to leave without another word or glance in Steve's direction. Steve found himself stunned. Tony was many things, but he wasn't one to back down from a fight. Tony had just…shut down completely.
"Tony, wait, I'm—"
But Tony was gone, out the door and disappearing around the corner.
"—sorry," Steve sighed, resting his head in his hands.
"I don't know what you said, but I suggest you go after him."
It was the first thing Emily had said to him that wasn't taking their orders or a 'sit your ass back down in that booth, Rogers' or an 'I see you, Stark, and if you set that off in here I will report you to the police'. He didn't have it in him to be surprised.
"If you want to fix your relationship. Haven't you ever seen a romcom?"
"I appreciate the advice, but there's not much to fix," Steve sighed, not knowing what a 'romcom' was and not wanting to look silly asking, "We've never really connected outside of the b—"
"I imagine so," she cut him off brusquely, a slight blush coloring her cheeks. He wondered why; all he'd been going to say was 'outside of the battlefield', "He does want this to work, you know."
He raised an eyebrow in question at her assumption, and she shrugged.
"He's here every week, isn't he? He groans like an old man and whines like a child, but Mr. Stark has never been a man to do something he doesn't want to do. He wouldn't be here if he didn't think this was something worth fixing."
Steve paused a moment, then glanced in the direction Tony had left.
Then he was out the door, looking for Tony in the crowd.
Steve called his name, bumping into way too many people for his usual comfort, but he figured he could be forgiven for a temporary lapse of manners to strangers if it meant catching up with Tony. He caught up with the man soon enough, taking him by the elbow.
"Tony, I'm sorry—"
"Look," Tony just shook his head, a cocksure grin that was all teeth and no Tony spreading on his face, "You think maybe just this once you could fuck off and leave well enough alone?"
"No, listen," Steve grabbed his arm again, "I went too far. I saw a weak spot and I went for it, but that wasn't right, and that sure doesn't make it true, either."
"Hey, Steve?" Tony turned, giving Steve his undivided attention for one brief, almost heady moment. Steve wasn't entirely sure Tony had ever just called him 'Steve' before, "Go to hell."
That wasn't exactly what he'd been expecting, but it was fair enough. Tony managed to slip out of his grip then, off into the crowd, disappearing almost instantly.
Tony and Pepper had broken it off many months ago, for reasons ambiguous to everyone but Tony and Pepper themselves. Steve had been living in the Tower at the time, and though Tony had been perhaps a bit moodier for a while, in the end they'd both seemed alright. Tony had a weekend bender in the shop, Pepper went on a week-long vacation to the tropics, and then they both went back to their business and friendship as usual.
There hadn't seemed to be any hard feelings either way, but even if there had been, Steve was suddenly standing in the middle of the street trying to imagine Tony cheating on Pepper, on anyone, and couldn't. Which was ironic, given that he'd been the one to throw out the insult in the first place.
For the first time in months, Steve stopped and actually considered what he knew about Tony.
If you'd asked him what he thought about the man less than half an hour ago, his answer would've been simple. He hated Tony, loathed him. Tony baited him into fights and prodded at him with insults. Tony was arrogant and self-absorbed as a person, reckless and hasty in the field, and altogether not the sort of person Steve wanted anything to do with. Sure, they had sex, but it was angry, impassioned—hate sex.
Now…he was forced to rethink that. A lot of the ideas he had in his head about Tony, he'd gotten in that first week of working with him. He'd picked a couple words, arrogant, egotistical, insulting, and ran with them. Not to say that Tony wasn't all of the above and much more, but. Well. It was the "much more" that Steve hadn't exactly taken care to look at too closely.
They lived together, after all. It wasn't that Steve didn't notice when Tony acted like a normal, even nice, human being. He just liked to ignore it. Because that would mean he'd been wrong, or at least partially wrong, and Steve was nothing if not a headstrong son of a bitch when he wanted to be.
But maybe it was worth taking a second look at Tony.
This was the single worst idea he'd ever had.
Deciding to give Tony a second chance was like flicking a light switch; once he decided to try and find one or two redeeming qualities about Tony, he couldn't stop seeing them. Which was ridiculous, because Tony was being even more of an ass than usual. To be fair, Steve had crossed a line last Wednesday, and if Tony wanted to stay angry with him for a while Steve frankly deserved it. But while Tony was going out of his way to insult Steve every chance he got, Steve couldn't stop seeing all the good qualities in Tony he'd missed before.
Yes, Tony was arrogant, but there was obvious genius behind it. Steve had never been to Tony's workshop before, and he'd most certainly never seen Tony at work. So he dropped by the day after their lunch where Tony had stormed off, meaning to apologize again, but the one visit had utterly blown him away.
Steve was relatively caught up with futuristic things. He could work a cell phone moderately well, could use the internet and tablets and other such things. It was still a bit much at times, but he was as used to it as he'd probably ever be.
At least, so he'd thought.
Stepping into Tony's shop, Steve was all but punched in the chest with déjà vu. It was like that first moment he'd run out into the street when SHIELD had first woke him from his time in the ice all over again, the future slapping him in the face. Steve's breath came in short, quick gasps, and he tried not to panic at the sheer uselessness he felt.
Rationally, nothing in Tony's shop was likely to hurt him unless Tony himself willed it—which, okay, that was entirely likely, but not the point. The point was that Steve just felt…lost again, useless and confused and suddenly very, very young.
Steve had raced right back out, and if Tony wondered what that had been about, or if he'd even noticed, he didn't mention it.
Tony's shop featured in his sketchbook quite prominently for a while. He could still see it perfectly when he closed his eyes; blue light danced everywhere, lines and graphs and 3-D visuals of the Iron Man suit enlarged and surrounding Tony like a blanket. Holographics, they were called, if he remembered correctly.
He couldn't get it quite right, but he didn't dare return to Tony's shop again. He was probably locked out now, anyway. Regardless of his accuracy, Steve drew the shop, over and over again, and more importantly, he started drawing Tony.
He'd never done that, before.
First it was just Tony enveloped in that sea of blue in the shop, but slowly the blue disappeared, then the shop. Over the course of just a few days, Steve took to drawing Tony, just Tony, every odd moment he saw him. It was this sketching that pushed Steve to keep seeing good things in Tony.
He'd start to sketch the different flexes of Tony's hands as they curled around a cup of coffee, then he'd get to thinking about the differences in Tony's behavior before and after coffee. How ruffled and dazed the man looked fresh from an all-nighter in the shop, start wondering how exactly one got a patch of grease under their chin like that. Tony was more honest before coffee, Steve noticed, much more apt to say what he meant without clouding it with insults.
Which was how Steve came to the all-too-obvious realization that much of the time, Tony didn't really say what he meant at all. He buried it under a barrage of snappy insults and fast-talking jokes, and it occurred to Steve that maybe if he didn't react so strongly to the sharp edges of Tony's words, if he looked past Tony's exact wording to what he meant instead, they might even manage to get along.
Because on the rare occasion Tony let his guard drop, Steve almost caught them getting along. They'd been through similarly traumatic experiences, were at similar places in life, and had a surprisingly similar sense of humor when Tony wasn't using his to insult people.
Tony could even be kind, a word Steve wouldn't have originally associated with the man, but once he did, couldn't seem to un-associate it.
It wasn't that Tony was always some sort of bleeding heart type, or at least he never let it show quite like that. But he was always doing these little things, things that he could easily dismiss if asked about, but altogether painted the picture of a man who honestly cared about his teammates in a way he didn't seem to want them to know.
This noticing things about Tony was becoming a problem.
For fuck's sake.
Tony was about ready to throw his cup across the room out of frustration, but it contained his beloved coffee, so he restrained himself. It was too early for this shit, anyway. It was Wednesday, exactly one week since he'd stormed out of his and Steve's last lunch meeting, and Steve had not stopped staring at him since.
It was the only explanation Tony could think of for Steve looking at him like that, like Tony was some magical rainbow unicorn he'd never seen before in his life. Steve watched him during the Avengers communal breakfast, watched him if they were ever in the gym at the same time, watched him at any events they were at, watched him over dinner.
Tony was seriously reconsidering the cup-throwing thing, and aiming for Steve's too-pretty face, instead.
What, did he feel sorry for him? Sorry for the stupid idiot who'd fallen for him? Was he trying to figure out how to tell Tony to fuck off? God, Tony couldn't keep living with Steve staring at him like that, couldn't keep waiting for Steve to ream him a new one.
Tony couldn't believe how stupid he'd been. He and Steve insulted each other every other minute, he shouldn't have reacted like that when Steve had thrown that jab about why would anyone would want him. If he hadn't have reacted the way he did, if he'd have just shouted back like always, Steve never would've figured out why that particular jab had stung so much.
Never would've figured out that contrary to popular belief, Tony apparently couldn't do casual sex anymore without falling head over heels like a god damned teenager.
Pepper had left him for similar reasons. Tony was just…he was too much. He was an all or nothing man, and he could do one-nighters with strangers or he could fall head over heels in love, but he couldn't manage to find a middle ground. He'd stifled Pepper, taken too much of her for himself. He'd made her his boss, his girlfriend, his best friend, made her whole life about chasing after him in some capacity or another, to sign papers or go on dates or make sure he was okay. Pepper was capable and wonderful and many things, but he'd taken too much of her, wrung her out.
So they'd stepped back. They were better as they'd been, when Pepper could harangue him about finishing the latest developments for the clean energy sector and be the one person who managed to sort his life out when he needed it, but still go home to her own place, her own friends, her own life.
So no, Tony had not cheated on Pepper. He knew that, she knew that, and though he resented the hell out of any implication that said he had, it wasn't as if Steve had honestly meant it. It was a jab, same as any other they threw each other's way. It was as Steve had said—he saw a weakness, and he went for it. But this wasn't about Pepper, or any implication that he'd cheated on Pepper.
It was the last thing Steve had said.
What would she want with you?
The implied question, that what would anyone want with him, it just cut a little too close to the bone. Sounded just a little too close to a rejection of something Tony hadn't even dared to think to ask…
Tony had over-reacted. He knew that. It wasn't as if Steve had a chance in hell of knowing what it was that had upset Tony. Honestly, Tony had meant to just forget about it and act normal the next day, figuring if he did then Steve would too, but then he'd caught Steve staring. Then he'd caught him again. And again.
So he came to the only possible conclusion.
Steve, the bastard, had somehow figured it out. To be fair to himself, he'd really thought that he could manage casual sex with Steve; they hated each other, after all, it wasn't like he'd expected to start to like the guy.
Tony had absolutely no desire to go to lunch with Steve. Steve was just going to give him that weird stare, then he was going to tell Tony they needed to stop having sex, then he was going to tell Tony he was an idiot for ever thinking anything more of it.
For ever thinking he deserved anything at all from someone like Steve.
Steve had been stood up before.
A number of times, actually, much more than he cared to count. Back before the serum, Bucky had always done his level best to get Steve to come on double dates with him. Nine times out of ten the gals never showed, and when they did, it wasn't much better; they just hung on Bucky anyway. Steve had never been all that invested in the dates to begin with, and had therefore never been particularly upset when they stood him up.
This felt much worse.
"Seems you've one-upped him, for once," Emily commented as she poured Steve a water, a hint of a smile on her lips.
It was true; Tony was always there first, presumably showing up right on the dot. Steve, on the other hand, was always waylaid in one way or another. He was usually at least five and often up to fifteen minutes late, Tony having set up some form of an obstacle to stop him from showing up so he could gloat over Steve being late.
Which was precisely how Steve knew Tony wasn't coming.
There had been nothing stopping him from getting to Moretti's at noon on the dot; no slashed tires, no stolen wallets, no doors locking him in the building. He'd known the moment he'd walked into the building on time and unharmed, but what else could he do but sit down and wait?
"Uh, yeah," Steve nodded to Emily absently, "Guess he got caught up in a project."
Steve was unsure why he was bothering to lie for Tony, but at the same time, he found himself unable to say the truth. I somehow insulted him so badly he won't even fight with me anymore, only to turn around and find out that, hey, I've been holding a grudge against him for pretty stupid reasons and we actually could've probably been good friends if we hadn't both been stubborn as hell. It didn't paint either of them in a particularly nice light, though he supposed Emily knew better than most that they didn't get along on the best of days.
"Right," Emily didn't seem particularly convinced, but as always, she stayed out of it and went to serve her other customers.
Part of it was pure, classic Rogers stubbornness, born and bred. Part of it was the military man in him that said he'd made a commitment to one hour, once a week, in this location, whether or not Tony deigned to show.
A part of him that he didn't care to acknowledge stayed out of hope.
Steve stayed long after an hour. At three, Emily's shift changed, and she paused on her way out of the restaurant.
"Do you mind if I…?" she made a motion, and Steve gestured to the open seat with his water glass.
"Be my guest."
They sat in silence a moment, until Emily seemed to sort out what she wanted to say.
"You're better than he is at waiting."
"I imagine," Steve couldn't help a bit of a smile at that. Tony had never been particularly patient.
"He likes to rip up napkins while he waits. Pick at them, you know? He gets anxious."
"Tony?" Steve snorted, "Anxious?"
"You really don't know, do you?" she gave him a curious sort of look, before telling him, "He shredded a whole stack once, that day you came in with blood on your shirt."
Steve most certainly remembered that day; it'd only been two, maybe three weeks ago. They'd fought AIM that morning, and Steve'd had a real rough go of it. He'd been stabbed twice, though thankfully not in any vital spots. With his accelerated healing he'd been released sometime around 12:30, and figured he might as well head over to Moretti's.
Tony had looked rather surprised to see him, come to think of it.
He hadn't honestly expected Tony to be there; Steve wasn't actually supposed to be out of medical until that night, but he'd checked himself out against advisement (he'd heal, honestly, he didn't know what all the fuss was about). After demanding to know what the hell Steve thought he was doing out of medical, they'd had one of their loudest arguments to date. Tony had shouted about Steve being a hypocrite and just as reckless as Tony himself, while Steve protested, somewhat in vain, that it was totally different.
They'd ended up having possibly the angriest sex Steve had ever experienced in Tony's car in the parking garage across the street.
Steve tried to remember if he'd seen bits of napkin on the table when he'd arrived, but couldn't recall.
"He was so twitchy that day I wanted to smack him with something. I told him to knock it off half a dozen times, but he just kept at it. I came into work the next day, boss told me we'd received a shipment last night for three years worth of napkins," she chuckled a bit, telling Steve with a smile, "He's goes about things in a strange way to say the least, but he's not a bad guy."
"So I'm learning," Steve ran a hand through his hair. This 'seeing Tony in a new light' business was more trouble than he'd anticipated.
"He's not coming, is he?"
"No," Steve sighed, answering simply, "He's not."
When Steve got home, he knew exactly what he should do. He should go to his room, read the new book Natasha had recommended to him. He should ignore Tony completely, let Nick deal out the consequences for Tony missing their appointment.
"JARVIS?" Steve questioned instead the moment he stepped foot in the door, "Where's Tony?"
"Sir is in his workshop, though I have been instructed to inform you that your passcode is 'mysteriously' dysfunctional at the moment. I feel personally obliged to inform you that trying the code will result in 'Star-Spangled Man' following you on the Tower loudspeakers for an hour."
Tony knew him too all too well.
"Tell Tony I'm coming down, and remind him exactly how glass reacts to a punch from a supersoldier."
There was a few moment's pause before JARVIS answered.
"Interestingly enough, your passcode seems functional again."
"Interesting indeed, JARVIS."
Tony, predictably, pretended not to hear Steve enter. The music was turned up so insanely loud that under normal circumstances, Steve might've almost bought the act.
"JARVIS, cut the music, would you?" Steve shouted over the music.
"I'm afraid I cannot, Captain Rogers," JARVIS reply was garbled by the thumping beat, and Steve could only just barely make it out.
"Tony!" Steve was practically screaming to be heard, "For God's sake, could we just talk like adults?"
"Not really my style, Cappuccino!"
"Come on, Tony, I said I was sorry—!" the music cut out, and Steve had to cut off his shouting abruptly, "Uh."
"What?" Tony narrowed his eyes, and Steve mentally back-tracked.
"I did say I was sorry, didn't I?"
"You did," Tony seemed wary now, "That's it? All you want to do is apologize?"
"What do you mean, that's it?" Steve was quickly losing any empathy he'd had, "You mean I sat in that stupid restaurant you chose for three hours while people stared at me like I was some poor schmuck waiting on a flighty dame on the off-chance I'd out-stubborn you—which, I now know, is impossible—all because you didn't hear me when I apologized?"
Okay, his voice was getting a little bit screechy.
"Uh," Tony cleared his throat, and it occurred to Steve that somewhere in the midst of all that shouting, he'd moved forward, close enough he was all but chest to chest with Tony, "Yes?"
"God, you're insufferable!"
Then he pressed Tony up against his workbench, kissing any snarky comeback Tony might've mustered silent. Tony seemed unusually hesitant for a moment, almost as if he was still wary of something. Then, just as Steve was about to pull away—they'd had some pretty aggressive sex before, but they'd never pushed the boundaries of consent—Tony seemed to come to himself at last, nails digging in at Steve's waist, backing him up to the couch in the corner without breaking the kiss.
Tony took control then, pushing Steve against the edge of couch until he collapsed onto it. Tony straddled Steve, yanking his shirt over his head, then Steve's, and pulling him in for one last, searing kiss before beginning to mouth his way down Steve's chest.
Before the last of Steve's blood rushed south, he managed a coherent thought.
"Hey, wait," Steve barely brushed his hand on Tony's shoulder, but Tony just about leapt out of his skin anyway. He quickly backed up and away like he'd been burned.
"You started it!" Tony accused quickly.
"I know, I don't mean stop, I mean wait, I just, before we…I just wanted to say I think we should try and be friends."
That sounded a lot less stupid in his head.
"Too, I mean," Steve shook his head, trying to rephrase himself, "I'm not saying I want this to stop. I saying, instead of enemies who scream at each other until they have sex, we should be friends who, occasionally, um. That's what I came down here to talk to you about, originally. To try and become friends. Who also do other things."
And he really should've thought of a better way to phrase that, because he didn't want to give the implication that he wanted to stop the sex. The sex was fantastic, and in spite of what the general public thought about Captain America and purity, Steve Rogers was a twenty-five-year-old male in the peak of human condition.
His sex drive was so high it was almost physically painful.
"Friends with benefits," Tony supplied, with that same wary look from before, as if he was testing shark-infested waters.
"You want to be my friend."
"Did you really just ask to be my friend? Are you four?"
And now that Steve was looking, was actually trying to hear the real meaning under all the jokes and sarcasm, he could see Tony was just confused.
"I just…all we do is scream at each other, and I think we only do it because it's all we've ever done. I've been trying to look at you this week like I've only just met you and—"
"That's what all the staring was about?" Tony gaped at him.
"What, you noticed?" Steve couldn't help his ears turning a bit pink at that, because, well, okay, that was awkward.
"Yeah, I fucking noticed! Jesus Christ, Rogers, I entered the room and you zoned in on me like I had a god damn Nazi symbol painted on my face!"
"Well, why didn't you say anything?" Steve exclaimed.
"It was weird, what the hell was I supposed to say?"
"I was just trying to think about how I'd react to you if we hadn't had the rough start that we did, it wasn't that weird—"
"It was pretty fucking weird," Tony insisted, but he seemed…almost relieved, and Steve frowned at that.
"Why did you think I was staring at you?"
Tony shot off some pointless excuse, but Steve listened to the underlying anxiety of his words instead of the bullshit Tony was actually saying, and finally got it.
"You thought I'd developed feelings for you."
"That, that is not what I said!" Tony sputtered, clearly caught off-guard, and Steve knew it was totally true.
Oh God. Tony thought Steve had feelings for him. That was why he'd been so weirded out by everything. He'd been trying to figure out how to tell Steve that it was just sex, to stop getting all emotional about things. Which was silly, of course. Steve didn't have feelings for Tony. Obviously.
"Relax, Tony, I haven't mixed anything up," Steve told him, "It's just sex. Contrary to popular belief, under the Captain America cowl there's a regular guy, and I can keep my emotions as far out of this as you can."
"That is not even half as comforting as you think it is," Tony muttered sarcastically.
"Tony," Steve rolled his eyes, "I think friends with benefits is a perfectly achievable goal."
"Preferably. And considering we're both half-naked and still here," Steve grinned, tugging Tony back down onto the couch, "If you have no complaints, why don't we just start with those benefits and work our way backwards?"
"Might as well, it's the way we do everything else," Tony muttered.
The comment seemed directed more to himself than to Steve, which was good, because it didn't make much sense to him. But then Tony was sliding down to give him an absolutely fantastic blowjob, so Steve didn't really do a lot of deep thinking about it after that.
Besides, Steve had long resigned himself to the fact that he was never going to understand Tony Stark.
This was a new level of Really Bad Idea.
Even for Tony.
Because when he could yell at Steve, could argue and shout and hide behind insults, it was easy to shove any semblance of feelings under the rug. When he had to just hang out with Steve, to talk to him and laugh with him and joke around…it was impossible.
Steve wasn't helping, either.
Of course, like everything with Steve, once he'd made a decision, he stuck the hell to it. All of a sudden he was all earnest and talkative and friendly, always inserting himself in Tony's space and hanging out with him and not taking no for an answer. He brushed off any attempt of Tony's to push him away easily, and ignored any sly insults or digs like he hadn't heard them. He seemed to have somehow developed the ability to tell between when Tony meant things and when he didn't, and it was going to be the end of Tony.
Now, Steve could tell the difference between what Tony said and what he meant, whether or not Tony wanted him to. The worst example was that now Steve knew the difference between his "get out, I'm busy", his "get out, I'm busy", and his "get out, I'm busy".
He knew that the first was for show, that Tony didn't really want him gone, so he'd just sit down and start sketching quietly while Tony did his thing, like Steve's presence wasn't totally gorgeous and completely distracting. He knew that the second meant Tony was, in fact, busy, and Steve usually disappeared for a while, only returning to drag Tony out for things like food and sleep. The third meant a particular problem was driving Tony nuts, so Steve had taken to babbling about something or another until he managed to draw Tony into a conversation, and they'd end up talking away while Tony let the problem drift to the back of his mind.
Not to mention, every time Steve opened his mouth, it just got worse. Steve wasn't as much of a jackass as Tony had tried so hard to pretend he was; when they weren't fighting, he was as freakishly nice as you'd expect out from Captain America. He was funny, too, in a quiet, dryly witty sort of way. And okay, he was kind of a dork, but instead of finding it stupid or annoying, Tony found it endearing.
God, he had a problem.
He knew he had a problem, he acknowledged it. It was a miracle Steve hadn't noticed, though that was probably because he passed off any new behavior of Tony's as their newly struck friendship. So, since Steve could only go so long before realizing that Tony had more-than-strictly-friendship-even-with-benefits feelings about him, in the meantime, Tony made the best of it. By which he meant that he might've kind of sort of pretended they were in a relationship.
It wasn't as creepy as it sounded, honestly.
They were already friends and having sex, it wasn't that huge of a leap. It was just nice to imagine sometimes that maybe…maybe Steve lingered, when they were together. Or maybe when he said one of his dry little one-liners, he glanced at Tony not out of chance, but because he'd been hoping to make him laugh.
So Tony did what came easiest to him: he gave Steve things. He bought him books and movies, and anything he couldn't buy he did himself, things like better protection for Steve's suit and improvements for his bike. Tony even attempted to make his shield fly once, one of the nights he stayed up way, way too late and started getting a little…mad scientist-y.
That one hadn't turned out so well.
Tony had hopped on to test it out the strength of the calibration right as Steve was coming down the stairs, and upon seeing Steve he'd been distracted and miscalculated the jump; the shield had shot out from under his feet and hit Steve right in the gut. They both collapsed face down on the ground, and for a minute, they both just lay there.
"So, floating shields—"
"Yeah I think I'm gonna—"
"Might want to let this one go—"
"That'd probably be best."
He went out of his way to show Steve other things as well, things like movie theaters and art galleries. Yeah, okay, maybe taking him to see what 21st century movie theaters were like was totally a blatant excuse to pretend they were on a date, so sue him. And alright, so maybe the art galleries were at Pepper's recommendation and kind of sort of made Tony want to blow his brains out, but Steve had been fascinated, and if Tony let himself get all cheesy about it, the bright smile on his face had been entirely worth the hours of looking at some boring art.
He even brought Steve to a classic arcade, figuring he might like the retro stuff better than the, as Steve put it, "new-fangled" wii and xbox platforms. Steve loved it. He quickly picked up games like galaga and gradius, and god forbid you let him lay a finger on a pac-man machine, or you'd be stuck waiting for him to finish playing for hours.
Then, he'd discovered DDR.
For the record, Tony would like it noted that there was literally no other person in any of those nine realms Thor was always talking about that could have gotten him on that machine. Not Pepper, not Rhodey, not any of the Avengers, no one. He'd never played the game before in his life, and outside of charity events and bobbing his head to the beat at clubs, Tony didn't really dance to begin with. Then Steve had looked down at Tony, blue eyes pleading, an earnest, teasing smile on his lips, one hand tugging Tony along eagerly.
So, yeah, Tony Stark may have played DDR.
He also may have flailed spastically like an idiot and lost to a ninety-five year old man, but that was not something he was admitting to anyone anytime soon. It had been a stupid, pointless, tedious game anyway, something he'd spent the whole ride home insisting, but Steve had just smiled indulgently, his eyes all bright the way they got sometimes when he thought Tony wasn't looking.
But of course, Tony was always looking, because Tony clearly had a problem.
The press, of course, had a field day about the whole thing, and Tony couldn't exactly blame them. Iron Man and Captain America spazzing out on a DDR machine in a local arcade was prime gossip fodder, and it certainly wasn't the worst press Tony had ever had. Didn't even break top twenty-five.
If the press had found out they'd had sex in the back of the Maserati afterwards, well, that might've busted top twenty-five.
That might've busted top five.
Also, the call he'd have received from Pepper would've busted his eardrums, but, hey, small price to pay for ridiculous amounts of consistently awesome sex. Because seriously, had he mentioned that? Not to be crude or anything, but, c'mon, sex with the literal peak of human perfection and he couldn't even brag? It was killing him.
To be honest, he'd been kind of worried in spite of Steve's talk, that once they became friends Steve wouldn't actually still want the benefits part. They'd only ever had sex before when they'd gotten pissed at each other to the point that fucking it out seemed like the best option—don't get him wrong, it was a deliciously, fantastically wonderful option—and he'd been worried that without all that anger, Steve wouldn't have been as interested.
Turned out, supersoldiers got horny.
After realizing this, Tony could've smacked himself—of course Steve would have a higher than average sex drive. He was still biologically a twenty-five year old male, for starters, so he certainly wasn't some chaste-minded saint. More importantly, the serum had enhanced everything, so it shouldn't be such a surprise that his already healthy sex drive had gotten a nice little hormone boost.
Not to mention, as far as Tony could tell, Steve hadn't actually had a whole lot of prior experience with these things; if Tony really was Steve's first experience with consistent—and, ahem, awesome—sex, it was no surprise that Steve would be eager to keep it coming.
No pun intended.
Okay, maybe it was a little intended.
Tony was in love with a fantastically horny supersoldier that was so fantastically out of his league it was laughable, but dragged him off to have sex at least once a day anyway; he was allowed to make "coming" puns in his head, okay?
Totally awesome as it all was, Tony was aware that he was running out of time. Steve was intelligent—in a different way than Tony, maybe, but he was still perceptive as all fuck—and his occasional naïveté about certain futuristic things was not to be mistaken for being slow on the uptake. Soon rather than later, Steve was going to realize that Tony cared, then he was going to freak and they were going to go back to the whole not-speaking thing, and god damn it, Tony wasn't ready for that.
Everyone else had figured it out. He was pretty sure they hadn't figured out the "benefits" part of it, but everyone had come to him at one point or another about his absolutely ridiculous infatuation. Pepper had told him he was being, as per usual, a complete idiot and he needed to snatch Steve up before someone else with half a brain did, and rudely ignored Tony when he reminded her that Steve would have no interest in a relationship with him. She'd then passed him off to Natasha, who just gave him a bored look and a long-suffering sigh before muttering in Russian that their antics made her want to kill things.
She said it in Russian, but it was just another tribute the bizarreness of Tony's life that he knew exactly what she'd said purely from having heard her say it so often—though, to be fair, she usually directed it to Clint, not him. Clint just made sex jokes and snickered that if his standard for men was Captain America, no wonder Tony'd been single so long. Thor had given him a slap on the back that nearly sent him flying, and congratulated him on the sincerity of his heart's desire, or whatever.
Even Rhodey found out. He'd stopped by for War Machine upgrades while he had a weekend leave, and Tony used the 'you'd get to meet Captain America' bargaining chip to get Rhodey to crash with him for once instead of at a hotel. Within five minutes of being in the same room as Tony and Steve, Rhodey excused himself, grabbed Tony by the shirtsleeve, dragged him to the side and demanded to know why he hadn't been informed that his best friend was dating Captain America.
Tony had put up a good fight—not actually dating, no seriously I don't like him, no really Rhodey stop poking me you ass I don't—before giving it up and copping to how completely far gone he was. He and Rhodey discussed it over drinks that night, and though Tony was completely smashed, he was pretty sure he'd gotten Rhodey's blessing in the form of a "Tony, if, if ya get all…hissy 'nd shit 'bout this and push Cap'n 'merica away, I swear, I will disown yer sorry ass".
There was also something about how if Tony and Steve got married, Rhodey demanded to be best man so he could tell people Captain America was his brother-in-law. Tony pointed out that he and Rhodey were not, in fact, related by blood, and marrying Steve would not make Steve Rhodey's brother, but Rhodey just called him a dream crusher and Tony called him an idiot and things devolved from there.
Eventually Rhodey went up to his room to crash, and Tony went to the basement to drunk-vent things and try desperately hard not think about how terrifying he found it that the concept of marrying Steve someday had not sounded terrifying.
Steve stood perfectly still.
He had no idea what made it click together right then, and he wasn't sure if he ever would. When it came to Tony, though, that seemed to be par for the course—no one else quite had the ability to smack Steve in the face with his own feelings like Tony did.
It had happened when they'd moved from enemies to enemies-who-had-sex; one minute, screaming match, the next, tonsil hockey. Steve hadn't really known at the time what caused him to suddenly want Tony as badly as he had, and he hadn't been able to figure it out ever since. It'd just hit him, somewhere low in his belly, that he wanted Tony, so he'd gone and gotten it.
It had happened again when he decided to be friends with Tony. One minute, he'd been shouting Tony down in Moretti's, the next he was standing in the middle of the street wondering how on earth he'd ever hated Tony in the first place. There had been a similar sort of wanting, then, too; he'd seen Tony's face twisted in hurt, and wanted to fix it. He'd wanted…he hadn't been sure what exactly he'd wanted at the time.
He'd wanted to be around Tony without any of the shouting. He'd wanted to talk to Tony, wanted Tony to talk to him, wanted the jokes and the teasing and the comfortable friendship they'd finally managed to achieve now, against all odds. Wanted Tony to take him to movies and art galleries and restaurants when it wasn't required, wanted to hear Tony's techno-babble to wash over him like a wave, wanted to sketch Tony while he worked.
And he'd gotten it.
He'd gotten all of it, every last bit. He'd gotten the easy banter that came naturally once they let themselves and the in-jokes that had the other Avengers rolling their eyes and the slow, small smiles that Steve had to work to earn and but were so, so worth it because frankly, Steve was a little bit addicted to that sincere little quirk of Tony's lips.
He'd gotten Tony dragging him all over New York, showing him the A-Z of 2013 New York, everything from arcades to zoos. He'd gotten Tony letting him into the workshop, trusting Steve with access to his lifeblood. He'd gotten Tony when he forgot himself, when he did things like chew his lip and scrunch his nose and tap his fingers along the arc's casing.
He'd gotten Tony Stark vulnerable.
He'd gotten to see Tony let go of his public persona, the need to impress and entertain and be the bestbestbest. It happened most often when he enveloped himself fully in the smoking metal and sparking electricity and elbow grease that was genius at work and forgot Steve was in the shop at all. Steve preferred to draw Tony like that, when he shed the pretense and the masks, just let himself come alive and create.
So for a while, Steve hadn't been sure why he still felt like he was wanting.
What else was there to want? Tony didn't let his guard down in front of just anyone; Tony trusted him. Steve had everything there was to want, didn't he?
This was the same sort of vulnerability Tony showed when he was working, yet different all at once.
Tony's friend, James Rhodes, had been over last night. James was still passed out in the hallway, and Tony seemed in the same condition. He had passed out spread-eagle on top of one of the workshop tables, soft snores assuring Steve that he was indeed asleep and not unconscious from poisonous gas or toxic fumes or whatever else it was Tony saw fit to mess with last night. The man was a heck of a sight; Steve was pretty sure there was even a streak of motor oil in his hair. He must've been doing that "drunkventing" thing again, because he had a wrench propped under his cheek and surely leaving a bright red mark as he drooled on a sketchy, wiggly-looking blueprint of something completely unidentifiable. Arms and legs were spread haphazardly across the table, one hand clutching a tool unknown to Steve, a long-cold cup of coffee tucked in the crook of his arm.
The dark circles under his eyes made something in Steve's chest knot in concern, but on the whole Steve was just glad to see Tony resting, even if it was against his will and in strange locations. He sighed fondly and made to carefully move Tony to the couch instead; he didn't know how long Tony had slept like that, but any longer and he was going to be complaining about the crick in his neck for weeks. Steve made it to Tony's side, bent down to slide his arms under Tony's torso to hoist the sleeping man into his arms, but paused.
He'd never know what exactly made him pause at that particular moment.
He just knew that his eyes drifted over the slope of Tony's relaxed shoulders, the sleep-mussed ruffle to his hair, the peace in his softened features, and he thought to himself that he could wake up to this.
Maybe that could have just been an errant, easily dismissed thought. So what if Tony was handsome when he was sleeping? Plenty of people were. That wasn't really it though, and Steve knew it.
Because, objectively speaking, Tony was not particularly attractive at the moment. His hair was greasy—both from not washing it and from literal grease, or maybe it was motor oil—he hadn't showered in three days, and he was splayed across the worktable like some kind of rag doll. He was drooling, for Pete's sake.
So why on earth would Steve want to wake up to that?
Because he's Tony, his traitorous mind supplied, Because he's Tony, and maybe he forgets to take care of himself sometimes, but it's because he's caught up in that mad spark of genius he gets when his eyes light up and his hands get all twitchy. And it's kind of adorable in a puppy-like sort of way, until you remember he's excited about creating the future, that he's doing things you couldn't dare dream of, and then it's nothing less than amazing if not a bit awe-inspiring. Because this is the man who can't speak English without coffee and bought you a Captain America thong to make you blush and danced with you even though reporters were taking pictures and he had to be completely mortified. He's ridiculous and a sarcastic and kind of adorable but then he's intense and focused and utterly fascinating. He's Tony. He's everything.
Steve all but fell into the chair next to the table.
He sat there a moment and just looked at Tony, still slumped on the worktable, still snoring quietly. Still disheveled and greasy and looking completely ridiculous. Still handsome and adorable and everything Steve wanted. Steve leaned forward, resting his forehead against Tony's side.
"Idiot," he hissed into Tony's shirt vehemently, "You idiot."
He'd have to be insane to try it. Tony was a hurricane, all manic energy with a healthy dose of destruction; trying to pin him down would be impossible, and even if he could manage it, it would just make Tony miserable. What would someone like Tony want with Steve, anyway? Trying to make any more out of their relationship would only ruin what they already had.
"I really need to work on my taste in men," Steve mumbled to himself.
"Dunno," Tony yawned, rolling onto his side to give Steve a lazy, still drowsy smile. His eyes were gentle and warm and looking at Steve with such fond affection that it took Steve's breath away how much he suddenly wanted, "I was kinda alright with it the way it was."
Oh God, he wanted. He wanted to fall asleep with Tony. Wanted to wake up next to him. Wanted to be able to take Tony to bed, not for sex but to sleep. Wanted to feel Tony's legs tangled with his, to be able to wrap an arm around Tony's waist and hold him close and safe. Wanted to have him like this, always, just there and content and compliant with drowsiness. Steve wanted to kiss Tony just once without the passion, the hot and heady lust to drive it, but just because he could.
"Yeah, you like it for the sex," Steve muttered bitterly, and almost clapped a hand over his mouth in surprise.
Had he said that out loud?
"Sex?" Tony repeated, clearly hungover and not comprehending. He blinked once, twice, looking at Steve like he was speaking a foreign language. Then, suddenly, he seemed to come to himself, and something ugly filtered into his eyes. Steve didn't quite understand what caused the shift, but Tony just gave a sharp smile, all razor edges, "Right."
"Tony, I didn't mean—"
"What're you doing in here, anyway? I thought I locked the door."
"I told JARVIS he could let me in, or I'd—"
"Knock out the damn glass," Tony finished, sitting up on the table with a grumble, "I have got to get real walls for this place."
"To be fair, I could probably knock through those too," Steve joked, mustering a smile. Tony didn't even attempt to return it.
"Yeah, look," Tony ran a hand through his hair, his hands coming away with black smudge marks, "I was busy before I fell asleep, so…"
"You should still eat," Steve nodded his head at the egg sandwiches he'd brought down, "I brought you breakfast. I know you have mac and cheese and top ramen down here, but that's not particularly healthy, and you'd probably just try and substitute with coffee anyway, so—"
"Cool, thanks," Tony said brusquely.
"Right," Steve finished lamely, "Well, I don't know what's so confidential you felt the need to lock me out—"
"It's not confidential—" Tony began.
"Good, because I'm not leaving again until you eat the sandwich."
"I didn't want to be disturbed."
Something about the way Tony said it felt pointed, like there was some unspoken by you tacked onto the end. Was Steve imagining things? It was possible, but Tony had his arms crossed defensively now, and he'd scooted back a bit so Steve wasn't quite as close as he had been.
"What's wrong?" Steve narrowed his eyes.
"Nothing's wrong, I'm busy. I told you that already, do you need a definition?"
"What do you mean, 'with what'?" Tony sputtered a bit.
"Do you need a definition?" Steve challenged in return.
"Things, Steve!" Tony made a flailing sort of hand gesture Steve recognized as a sign that Tony was about to start bullshitting him, and, surprise surprise, he was right, "Genius things, okay? I'm re-wiring a machine to accelerate the particles for hood pins with non-reactive silica and circuit boards because according to Archimedes' principle—"
"Are you really just throwing science words at me right now?"
"Engineering words," Tony corrected, somewhat petulantly, "Fuck you, I'm hungover as hell and it's unlawfully early in the morning, I can't be expected to come up with a decent lie under these conditions—"
"Why do you need to lie in the first place?" Steve insisted, "I'm not stupid, Tony, I could understand—"
"Oh, you're not stupid?" Tony snorted, his eyes hard, his mouth a thin line, "That's a fucking laugh. Great, Steve, great to know you're not stupid, I'll fucking file that one away for the future."
"What is with you?"
"What's with me? You want to know what's with me, Steve?" Tony snapped, shooting up off the table moving forward so fast Steve had to scramble to stand up before Tony ran him over, "What's with me, is that you claim you're not stupid and you obviously know me pretty god damn well, so why the fuck don't you get it?"
"I…" Steve racked his brain for what Tony could be referring to, but nothing sprang to mind, "Get what, Tony?"
"Fucking Christ, Steve, what do you think? I'm losing my god damn mind over here! I keep waiting and waiting for you to figure it all out and walk away but you don't, you're just oblivious and I'm not sure what's worse, that you're going to figure it out and walk away and take what's left of my heart with you or that you can't seem to figure it out, that you don't notice or don't care or whatever the hell is stopping you from seeing what literally everyone else on the planet has—"
"Tony, you're not making any sense—" Steve tried to interrupt, because Tony was getting seriously worked up and he didn't even know what was going on yet, but Tony just kept talking.
"I know!" Tony just threw his hands up, "It doesn't make any sense to me either, but I didn't mean to do it! It just happened, okay? And I'm sorry, I am, but I can't keep waiting or it's going to drive me absolutely fucking crazy—!"
"I think we've already reached 'crazy'!" Steve just shouted back, because it seemed the only way to get Tony's attention at the moment, and frankly, he was kind of annoyed now, "You keep switching between insulting me and apologizing like I'm supposed to just read your mind and know what either of it means!"
"It means it's not about the god damned sex, alright? It's about rolling over with a killer fucking hangover and the worst damn crick in my neck and seeing your stupid, smarmy, perfect fucking face and thinking, hey, I wish I could wake up like this every morning because fuck the hangover, fuck the early morning, and fuck my sore neck, I'm in love with you and I'd take it all if it meant I got to wake up next to you every day!"
All things considered, it probably made sense that the first time Steve kissed Tony after realizing he loved him, they were arguing.
Steve literally crashed into Tony, forcing him back against the table in a biting kiss, but Tony just gave a little moan of pleasure and pulled at Steve's hips. Steve dropped his hands to Tony's ass, hoisting him up for easier access. He'd meant to sit him on the table, but Tony just wrapped his legs around Steve's waist and his arms around Steve's neck, kissing him hard enough to make him stumble backwards.
Steve's grip was solid—Tony's weight had nothing on superstrength—and he wouldn't have dropped Tony for all the world, but he did find it particularly difficult to find the couch at his current level of distraction. Steve eventually found it by way of tripping over it backwards, and he landed flat on his back with Tony straddling him.
Tony didn't seem particularly fazed by their new, suddenly horizontal position, just went to work on Steve's neck like he was planning on growing fangs and sucking Steve's blood.
"God, Tony," Steve moaned like it was a prayer, which was a bit ironic, since the things Tony was doing with his tongue were most definitely not in the angelic category.
It could certainly be described as heavenly, though.
Tony abandoned his neck in favor of another, fevered kiss, stealing the tail-end of his name right off Steve's lips. Then he was stretching up to pull his shirt off, and Steve used the opportunity to roll them so Tony was underneath him. He was about to kiss his way down Tony's chest when he caught Tony making a noise that most definitely not pleasure. He sat back immediately, still on top of Tony but careful not to put any of his weight on him.
"Shoot, are you alri—?"
"Fucking Christ, Rogers, I'll deal, okay, don't stop—" Tony made to pull Steve back down by his shirt, but Steve shrugged out his grip to raise an eyebrow at him. That wasn't Tony's usual, teasing 'Rogers', that was an 'I'm still really freaking pissed' Rogers, and Steve kind of thought the whole 'loving each other and making out on the couch' bit had done away with any real anger.
"Rogers?" Steve questioned.
"Oh," Tony squirmed a bit under him, and Steve steadfastly ignored any physical reaction resulting from that, "Are you going to want to try the whole 'stay friends' thing, like, immediately? Cause if I'm being perfectly honest, and I think I still have just enough alcohol in me for it, being your friend is gonna hurt like a bitch for a while."
Steve paused. Replayed it over in his head. Then again.
No, it still didn't make sense.
"Fucking hell," Tony rubbed a hand over his face, "Do we have to do this while you're sitting in my lap? I mean, c'mon, unfair advantage much. Look, I wasn't kidding when I said I loved you, okay? I'll get over it if I have to but it's gonna fucking hurt for a while—"
"What's going to hurt?" Steve frowned, "And why would you get over it?"
Tony looked at him like he was mentally challenged, then let his head drop back against the couch and closed his eyes with a groan.
"I'm too fucking hungover for this."
"You didn't seem too hungover to give me a hickey the size of Texas."
"Yeah, well, if this is our last session I'm gonna make the most of it, hangover or n—"
"What?" now it was Steve's turn to stare at Tony comically, "What part of me attacking you with my mouth said 'we should stop seeing each other'?"
"We're seeing each other?"
"I was under the impression we'd just started to!"
"When you said you loved me? Call me crazy, I kind of thought you might like to go out sometime too."
"But—wait, you didn't…so you meant…but you didn't say anything!" Tony protested, "You just kissed me, I figured you just wanted break-up sex!"
"We weren't together!"
"Friends-about-to-no-longer-have-benefits sex then, if you want to get fucking picky about it!"
"God help me," Steve muttered with a roll of his eyes before kissing Tony long and hard, doing his level best to wipe clean anything resembling a doubt from the man's mind.
"Is that a…?" Tony asked, a bit dazed, when they parted for air.
"That's an I love you too," Steve clarified, then, "Idiot."
"Well, you didn't say that," Tony gave him a somewhat petulant look, but it was over-shadowed by the obnoxiously large grin Tony couldn't manage to hide.
"I think at some point we need to address the fact that we have serious communication issues."
"Can that be after the get-together sex?"
Steve kissed him again. This time, however, there was no heat. There was no deep passion, no heady desire, nothing in the world but him and Tony. It was a kiss for love instead of lust, and though it was relatively chaste, they both lingered. Steve dropped his forehead to touch Tony's when they parted.
"It can be after we make love, yes."
"God," Tony made a face, "Are you going to get all cheesy about this?"
"Yes," Steve kissed the tip of his nose.
"So," Tony wrinkled his nose in response, "Those're things now. Love-making and nose-kissing and what have you."
"Yes," Steve repeated, kissing his nose again, mostly to get his reaction, "You're cute when you wrinkle your nose like that. I've drawn it before."
"Oh, great,here we go with the cute. Y'know, just because we're in a relationship doesn't mean you can start babying me, Rogers—" and Steve couldn't help but smile at that, because that was the right kind of Rogers, "—I am a full-grown man, damn it, I am not cu—what're you smiling at, weirdo, I'm serious!"
"Mhm," Steve nodded seriously.
"Don't you condescend to me," Tony poked him in the stomach, "I know the difference between your serious face and your sure-thing-whatever-you-say-Tony face."
"I'm sure you do."
"Stop making the face!"
"Make me," Steve tipped his head down with a smile, not waiting for Tony to kiss him but going for it himself instead.
Tony didn't seem to mind.
Everyone in the Tower knew in less than half a day.
Tony and Steve commandeered the elevator to get to Tony's room without being seen, and proceeded to have their first time making love in his bed. And yeah, okay, it was a stupid phrase and Tony was still going to give Steve shit for it, but in the safety of his own mind he could admit that it was different than the other times with Steve, different than any other time, with anyone. In his head, he could admit that it was worth every bad relationship he'd ever been in, because it had gotten him here, with Steve; making love, with Steve.
God, it was so fucking corny, but he just couldn't bring himself to care.
Which probably explained the ear-splitting grin he was wearing when he traipsed into the kitchen for lunch. They'd been careful; Steve came down a half hour before Tony, careful not to be seen exiting Tony's floor. When Tony entered, Steve was making grilled cheese for the clearly hungover Rhodey who was slumped over the table, along with Clint, who was doing the crossword.
"Hey, Tony," Steve greeted, waving a spatula without turning around, "Want a grilled cheese?"
"Sure," Tony slid into one of the chairs.
"Oh my god," Rhodey raised his head, blinking at Tony in almost horrified bafflement, "Hot damn, Tones."
"What?" Tony was very careful not to react.
"34 across, t-h-e-y-t-o-t-a-l-l-y-f-u-c-k-e-d," Clint announced gleefully.
"12 down, f-u-c-k-i-n-g-f-i-n-a-l-l-y," Rhodey snorted.
"Pun intended?" Clint looked delighted to have someone play along with his antics.
"Of course," Rhodey grinned back.
"Okay, gig's clearly up," Tony ran a hand over his face, "How the fuck did you get that from 'want a grilled cheese' and 'sure'?"
"I know you, Tony," Rhodey began, clearly the start of a dramatic monologue, "There's no hiding things from me. We are brothers, you and I, and I'm insulted that you think you could hide something like this from me, To—"
"Oh my God," Steve startled, having finally turned around. He was staring at Tony almost owlishly, a bright red flush on his cheeks.
"Aw, way to ruin it, Steve," Clint scowled.
"I had such a good monologue going," Rhodey sighed.
Tony threw his hands up.
"You said you had makeup!" Steve just sputtered accusingly to Tony.
"Shit!" Tony clapped a hand to his impressively purple and red spotted neck, "I do! Why didn't you remind me to put it on?"
"I'm not your nagging housewife, I figured you'd remember!"
"I could barely remember my name when you left, why would I remember—"
"Tony," Steve interrupted quickly, a flush spreading bright across his face again.
"Please, no," Rhodey groaned, face-planting on the table once more, "There are some images you can't get rid of, and your childhood idol having sex with your best friend is definitely one of them."
"Rhodey, my man," Tony clapped a hand on Rhodey's shoulder, "I would be doing America a disservice if I didn't tell you about how—"
"Tony," Steve shot him a warning look.
"—Steve and I are totally in love and whatever goes on between us is private and personal and I'm ashamed of you for even asking," Tony finished innocently.
"Didn't ask," Rhodey pointed out.
"Good answer," Steve just chuckled, passing Tony a cup of coffee the way he liked it as a reward. Tony made obscene moaning noises into the cup as he gulped it down.
"I'd be flattered if I didn't know you were talking to the coffee," Steve laughed.
"Weeeeell," Tony drew the syllable out, a sneaking smile in the curl of his lips, "I suppose you can join us."
"Wh-tcha!" Clint waved his hand in a whipping motion at Tony.
"Oh, please," Tony just rolled his eyes, "I'm sorry, when was the last time you got laid, anyway?"
"Yesterday in the SHIELD supply closet."
Tony spat out his coffee.
"What the what?" Tony exclaimed.
"Images images images," Rhodey complained, still face-down on the table.
"Flexible little fucker," Tony grumbled, "How do you even fit in those things? When I tried I got my foot stuck in a bucket and managed to spray Steve in the face with windex."
Steve made a face in memory.
"The benefits of being a super awesome ninspysassin," Clint just shrugged.
"I'm sorry, a what now?" Bruce walked into the kitchen, "What's all this about?"
"Tony and Steve finally got their heads out of their asses and I'm a ninja spy assassin, aka a ninspysassin, which is how I can have sex in SHIELD closets and they can't."
Bruce paused in the doorway, blinked twice, then took a seat next to Tony at the table.
"Congratulations, I think," Bruce told him, "Or is Clint trying to be funny again?"
"No, it's true. I am officially off the market," Tony raised his cup in cheers, then, teasing, "I know the big guy's disappointed, he wanted me all to himself, but try and keep a handle on him, we just re-did the kitchen and all."
"The Hulk wanted to physically push your and Steve's faces together when you and he were bantering after the last battle," Bruce snorted, "He only didn't because he thought he might hurt you. I'm pretty sure he'll take the news fine."
"Aw, no big green angry love for me?" Tony gave a mock protest.
"Nope," Steve tipped Tony's chin up to give him a chaste kiss.
Various retching noises resounded from the table at large, though Bruce politely abstained.
"Oh, that finally happened?" someone said bemusedly from the doorway, then another someone, much louder, "At long last! Friend Anthony, friend Steven, I am most pleased at this delightful turn of events!"
Natasha and Thor stood in the doorway, Natasha with a soft smirk and Thor with a jubilant smile. They both joined them at the table, though not before Thor clapped Steve and Tony on the back hard enough to bruise.
"Ow," Tony complained, "Good to know I'm still totally and completely sore, thanks for checking, Thor."
Rhodey gave a pitiful groan and Clint wagged his eyebrows suggestively until Tony made a face at them both.
"Grow up," he snapped, "My back hurts because I fell off the bed, okay?"
"Sorry," Steve bit his lip worriedly, kissing Tony's temple in apology.
"If you apologize for that again I'm seriously going to smack you," Tony just rolled his eyes.
"There is no possible way 34 across is 'they totally fucked'," Natasha raised an eyebrow at Clint's crossword.
"I'm pretty sure it is."
"I'm pretty sure it's Corvallis."
"Swear to fucking god Natasha, if you solve my crossword again—"
"The fact that you people are the last line of defense for our planet consistently terrifies me," Rhodey muttered into the table.
Nick shouted at them for ten solid minutes. Amidst lines like "I am not a god damn dating service" and "mother of god, am I running a government agency or a fucking high school", Nick eventually rolled his eyes and assured them he most certainly did not give two fucks about their sexuality or chosen partners.
He did, however, tell them in no uncertain terms to keep it out of the press and off the coms because, "we monitor those and no one other than Coulson wants to hear Stark's running commentary of your ass in spandex".
He and Tony still had their Wednesday lunches, though less because it was mandatory and more because it was kind of the only way to get a date in without the press finding out.
"One chocolate milkshake," Tony was telling Emily the very next week, only for Steve to level him with a look, "What?"
"You're supposed to be watching your sugar, Tony," Steve sighed, "Remember what that doctor said last time you were in medical?"
"Oh please, he was some SHIELD cronie, he was hardly a real doctor—"
"And why did they assign you a SHIELD EMT? Oh, that's right, because you all but reduced the 'real' doctor to tears."
"It's hardly my fault he was incompetent—"
"He was being thorough, Tony—"
"He was being handsy, if you ask me—"
"Which is why no one asks you," Steve snorted, and Tony looked affronted.
"I liked you better before I taught you sarcasm."
"You're right, we got along so much better then."
"More sarcasm," Tony gave a sigh of mock-disappointment, "What have I done to you? Though, you do make a valid point. More valid, however, is the fact that I'm working out semi-weekly with Captain America. I can afford a milkshake, mom."
Steve a reluctant nod of concession; it was a fair enough point.
When the milkshake finally came, Emily placed it between Steve and Tony, two straws poking out the top. Steve quirked his head, the concept apparently a bit after his time, but Tony knew exactly what the waitress was assuming. Before he could say anything, however, Emily was talking.
"I know it's none of my business," she admitted, "But I just wanted to say that I'm glad you two worked things out. It's just…it's really amazing that you never gave up."
"Thank you?" Steve blinked in question, wearing his "the future is confusing face", still assuming she meant their work relationship.
"I just mean, most couples have a few fights like yours, and they stop trying to work on their relationship. They give up, y'know? But you came back every Wednesday like clockwork, no matter what, even when all you did was scream at each other. The fact that you loved each other enough to never give up, well, that's really sweet. Kind of inspiring, actually."
"Oh, uh, we weren't," Steve flushed, quickly correcting himself, "I mean, we aren't. Dating, that is."
"Mandatory team bonding," Tony supplied, even as he curled his foot around Steve's under the table playfully.
"Seriously?" Emily blurted, "You're not dating?"
"Definitely not," Tony shook his head.
"At all," Steve agreed.
"Not even, like, a little bit," Tony insisted.
"Of course not," Steve nodded.
Emily looked between them a minute, then rolled her eyes.
"You come around once a week to play footsie and make goo goo eyes at each other. Yeah, sure, you're not dating at all," she turned on her heel with a huff of, "Ugh, men."
"It's not my fault Tony can't keep his feet to himself!" Steve protested at the same time Tony complained, "Steve's Mr. big-blue-puppy-dog-eyes over there!"
But Emily was already gone. Tony and Steve looked at each other for a long moment, before bursting into laughter. When they managed to stop laughing, Steve reached across the table to take Tony's hand in his with a soft smile. Tony just shook his head, squeezing Steve's hand in return and offering him the other straw to his milkshake with a coy grin.
Yeah, they weren't fooling anyone.