Tony wasn't sure how it started. Or why he started it. Maybe it was because he was bored. Actually, that was probably the case. Most likely. And he was between relationships, and too busy half the time to find some socialite to bring home for a few nights.
Looking back on it, Tony really should have figured any idea that came out of these combination of events was going to lead to heartache. It always did. But some terrible corner of his mind thought that this would be fun, that Steve was an old friend and he'd probably get just as much a kick out of it as Tony did.
Amazing how often a guy as smart as Tony could be as wrong as he was and not pick up on the destructive patterns of behavior. Confirmation bias, was what it was. And the addict personality, always lurking under the surface.
Steve was sitting on a couch in one of the many common areas available to the Avengers in Avengers Tower when Tony strutted in. Maybe that was what started it all: the temporary shock of seeing Steve there, relaxing in plainclothes. He was at SHIELD so much these days, running around doing his shtick with them, that Tony had grown used to not seeing him around. Then again, Tony hadn't been around that much either, after being forced to move out—of his own building, and didn't that just sting?—and relocate to a small office-cum-apartment space in Jersey.
Clint hadn't let him live it down yet.
Even though he must have spoken with Steve in the field recently—that thing with the Serpent Society had been just a week ago, hadn't it?—a pang of loneliness and acute sense of missing hit Tony just at seeing the tidy blonde haircut over the back of the couch.
Tony vaulted himself over the back of the couch in one smooth movement, bouncing as he landed on the cushions next to Steve. The larger man didn't flinch, didn't move in the slightest, except for the corner of his lips which turned up in a smile.
“Gotta get you out of the habit of calling me that.”
Tony snorted, dropping his feet onto the coffee table as he stretched out his long legs. The smile that had been tugging at Steve's lips twitched down into a frown. Tony smirked to himself and kept his feet in place, wiggling his ass around on the cushions at he got more comfortable.
“What, d'you want me to call Barnes 'Cap'? No way. Too weird.”
Steve was suppressing a smile, Tony just knew it. He jabbed at Steve's ribs, poked at his side, nudged at his thigh. “Come on. Once Cap always Cap. And I can't call a Russian 'Captain America'! Way wrong. McCarthy's rolling over in his grave.”
“He's from Brooklyn,” Steve pointed out needlessly.
“Once a Ruskie, always a Ruskie,” Tony teased.
Steve cocked his head, eyes still on the TV. “Have you mentioned your views on this around Natasha?”
Tony twitched, looked around. No one else was in the room. He relaxed, but only marginally.
Steve was watching some terrible reality TV show. Something about addicts, or collectors, or delinquents. Maybe all three at once.
“What are you doing here, anyway?” Tony prodded after a moment. “Don't you have your own TV, Rogers?”
“Yours is bigger,” Steve pointed out. “And waiting for Bucky. Got tickets to a Dodgers game. It's opening day.”
Tony ignored the mention of Bucky. Guy was like a pile of wet blankets. In a Russian winter. Packed with explosives. Too much history and too many issues that were too different from Tony's own for him to be motivated to unpack them all. He much preferred Steve's warm light and steady kindness to Bucky's inferiority, guilt, and sharp seriousness. Not that Steve wasn't all those things too, sometimes. But it was just... different. With Steve.
Yours is bigger.
That was probably where the whole thing started, if he had to pinpoint an exact moment. Steve's throwaway comment, coupled with Tony's loneliness and feeling that he hadn't seen Steve in decades, even if it just had been last week.
“Always knew you'd be a size queen, Rogers.”
Steve snorted. Without missing a beat, he replied: “How many stories does this tower you built have?”
“More than the Baxter Building,” Tony replied immediately.
“And I'm the 'size queen'.”
Now it was too late. The idea was there, in the back of Tony's mind: a virus like Extermis, only three hundred percent more likely to cause wrath and ruin in Tony's already tumultuous life.
Tony draped an arm over the back of the couch, around the center of Steve's back, and shifted himself just an inch closer to Steve. The other man didn't move or tense: he just kept watching his terrible reality TV and smiling softly. He was comfortable, sitting there with his buddy Shellhead. Tony observed all this through hooded blue eyes, irises flickering back and forth, studying Steve's features.
What he was about to do was bad. It was wrong, and it was going to end with anything Tony still had razed to the ground around him, turned to ash just as he was starting to scramble some footholds and climb his way back up again.
Pushing down his self-loathing—because oh boy, wasn't Tony the best at that, after all these years of practice—Tony nodded at the TV. “Alright, what's the garbage and why am I watching it instead of something good?”
He punctuated this by raising his hips and resettling close to Steve, keeping his arm in place across the back of the couch. The only reaction Steve had to this was to move the remote on his left side further away, all the way to the end table on that side of him.
“It's a human interest story. When you sit down first, you can choose what we watch.”
Tony snorted but fell silent, watching families scream and cry and hug. Steve's presence was warm and solid next to him, watching the program with a quiet smile on his face. Tony's focus was more on Steve, and wondering: how far he could push it, how far he could bend it, before it broke.
When Bucky came and dragged Steve away to the baseball game, Tony sat for a while longer, the original purpose of his visit to the Tower gone from his mind. Instead his thoughts were on Steve, and how he didn't move away.
Tony bet he could get Steve to move away. He just had to be more systematic about it. Plan something out.
Tony's life was one long list of bad ideas tempered only barely in favor of good ones. Judging by his track record, you'd think he'd be able to start wising up, picking out the bad ideas at a distance. Apparently not—and especially not, it seemed, when it came to Steve.