Tony calls down at just gone six in the evening, asking Steve if he has an hour to help him with some equipment. It's not all that unusual, mostly Tony just wants him to fight some new robot test dummies, or fuss with his shield, or talk about possible additions to his suit. Sometimes Steve even says no, because Tony gets his own way far too often, and none of them want to encourage him too much. Black Widow has her own way of phrasing it, but Steve's not really comfortable repeating it, even in his own head.
Steve will admit, he's been struggling to find something to do, something to make him feel like he's being productive, rather than just killing time. So he doesn't ask what Tony wants for a change, he just heads for the elevator.
"Good, you're here," Tony meets him at the bottom of the steps, half scrolling through his phone, and half looking at him. He has his sleeves rolled up, though there's no evidence that he was doing anything before Steve showed up. Maybe they came that way? Steve's seen stranger things done in the name of fashion. He's seen far stranger and more confusing things done in the name of fashion.
"You said you needed some help?" Steve follows him inside, trying not to knock against anything that might be expensive and/or irreplaceable.
Tony hits a button on the wall, in his usual unnecessarily dramatic kind of way. Part of the wall immediately slides away, to reveal a rack of costume pieces, in various stages of completion. They're undecorated, but judging by the style and the size, Steve's pretty sure they were made for him.
"I've been making some adjustments." Tony hits another one of the controls, and the panel holding the suit pieces slides out farther, close enough to reach up and touch. Close enough that Steve can see some of them are lined with circuitry, tubes, miscellaneous things he can't identify. "It's not that I don't think you enjoy being thrown around like so much debris, but I figured you could still use a little protection. Since, even though you're a super soldier, you're still also mostly squishy interior "
"I thought S.H.I.E.L.D. did my suit?" Steve gives in to the urge to reach out and touch one. The material feels slick between his fingers.
"You've seen that thing right?" Tony shakes his head. "I don't care how many fancy materials they invent, the jumpsuit is not a good look for you."
"It's two separate pieces," Steve corrects.
"Funny, you'd think they'd make that more obvious." Tony puts his phone on one of the tables. "Ok, strip."
Steve isn't entirely sure if this is a good idea. But he still finds himself shedding jacket and shirt when Tony gestures, folding them and setting them on the only piece of flat surface that doesn't look as if it might be a computer in disguise.
"Is this safe? I mean I've read about some of the stuff you've put out for testing. I don't want to be irradiated."
Tony's already piecing together the new uniform top around his limbs, twisting him and working the strange material over the ball of his shoulder. The whole thing seems to clip together in pieces, rather than stitch together.
"There'll be no hard radiation, at least not on a first date. I'd be testing it on myself if I was qualified, but that would involve me being you, and I'm pretty sure I'd make a terrible you."
"That wasn't as reassuring as you probably think it was -" There's a hole in the back of the chest piece, where it looks like some sort of electronics were cut out. "Isn't this a little -"
"It's a prototype." Tony waves a hand. "I'll have someone put it together properly later. Put those on."
Cap catches the pants that are thrown at him, which he guesses means he doesn't have to worry too much about the delicate little lines of silver and gold when he pulls them on.
"What exactly is inside here?" he asks, because he thinks he probably should.
Tony explains, and Steve doesn't understand a single word of it.
"Ok," he says slowly. "Maybe you could dumb it down just a little."
Tony jerks one of the buckles shut, with more enthusiasm than it probably warrants.
"Glowing things, glowing things which will protect your vulnerable internal organs. With the power of science."
"You don't have to dumb it down that much." Because Steve's pretty good at following along, when people explain things to him. He's smarter than people give him credit for. It's just some of the words, the words that slip into a language when science moves on - he's still not entirely sure what an 'interface' is. But he's been around Tony enough to know that even people that grew up with all this can get lost three sentences in, when talking to him. Not that Tony needs the participation of other people. He seems happy enough to talk at people. He might actually be happier if people were replaced by more computer screens. Which even though it's probably true, still makes Steve feel bad for thinking it.
"It was a picture, I was providing a picture." Tony's doing something strange to Steve's elbow which ends in buzzing.
"I know how computers work," Steve reminds. "I have an laptop, which you gave to me."
"Which, if I remember, you spend an hour talking to."
"Only because yours has a...a voice thing." Steve thinks about it. "Interface." He thinks that's what it means. Probably.
Tony just gives him a look, sort of amused, but not so much at him any more.
"So what does this thing do, anyway?"
Tony tugs on the two straps holding the chest piece together. Then frowns, mutters 'that's not going to work,' and starts unbuckling them again.
"If your heart stops beating it will restart it," he says absently, then sticks the tool he's holding in his mouth and measures Steve armpit to armpit with some sort of laser. Before grunting and peeling the whole chest piece away, leaving Steve's chest bare to the cool of the room. Steve can see the latticework beneath the material, which is glowing ever so faintly. Tony pokes it with the tool that's no longer in his mouth, and half of the glow goes out. Steve doesn't think it's supposed to do that though, because Tony gives another little frown and pokes it again.
"There are still a few kinks to work out."
Steve really isn't sure he likes the way Tony says that.
"Oh, you know the usual." Tony reseals the chest piece. "Conduction, shrinkage, power surges."
Steve's still wondering if he should worry about 'shrinkage' when the last one really sinks in.
"Hang on, power surges?"
Tony pats him on the shoulder, in a way Steve thinks is supposed to be reassuring.
"You shouldn't be so worried, Cap. Pretty sure you're electrocution proof."
"Tony, I'm not electrocution proof." He certainly hopes someone hasn't written down that he's electrocution proof in a file somewhere, because he thinks it's going to be really unpleasant when he has to prove everyone wrong.
"More electrocution proof than other people. Which is always a valid distinction."
"I don't think that's exactly true." Steve rolls his shoulder, he can't decide if the thing's too tight or not. It's not exactly snug but it moves with him when he breathes. It's...a little disturbing.
Tony smacks him on the arm.
"How's your flexibility in that?"
"It's good. It's - actually it's better than good, it's just a little strange. It feels like the material's moving before I am."
"Good, it's supposed to do that."
That...that doesn't even make sense.
"Ok," Steve says uncertainly.
Tony doesn't seem to mind, he's poking things now, things which are now mostly inside what Steve's wearing. He's not doing it hard but it's sort of insistent, and focused. Steve hadn't even known that poking could be focused.
"Is the gel too cold?" Tony asks, briefly looking up at him.
"I don't know where you're talking about?" Steve admits, because he hasn't noticed any gel so far.
"Nope, that's good, question answered. No worries about freezer burn."
"I'm not sure that putting your uniform on should be more dangerous than the missions we're sent on," Steve says carefully.
Tony mutters something under his breath about durability tests - which Steve doesn't really like the sound of - before he starts peeling away the panels of the suit, slipping it down Steve's arms in efficient tugs, before unzipping the waist and sliding his hand up inside so he can unhook it, and peel the material away. Steve's not sure what to do with his hands. It's been years and years since anyone dressed him, or undressed him and most of them he was related too. He feels like he should be helping, or objecting. But Tony's swapping out pieces too quickly for him to really think of a good objection. Familiar with the suit in ways Steve isn't. But maybe will be, eventually? Since Tony made it for him. Which explains why his hands are confident in a way Steve still has to work at. His hands are cooler than Steve's skin, though he's used to that. He's used to the way his body runs a little hotter now. Everyone has cold hands now.
Tony's gone down on one knee, fussing with one of the heavy-duty boots, and Steve's going to say something. But there are already knuckles smacking the side of his leg, and he's lifting it without thinking.
It's kind of weird. He would have thought Tony had assistants for this, little robots. Something? Tony has never struck Steve as a menial tasks kind of guy. But right now his shoulder is pressed against Steve's thigh while he shoves the boot on, and Steve wants to put a hand on his shoulder for balance, but feels weird about it. He'd always imagined being fitted for a suit would feel a little like this, sort of invasive and efficient at the same time. But it's strange to be pulled and pushed gently in all directions, to have someone else settle your clothes into position, zipping and catching, everything back-to-front. The way Tony makes tiny adjustments, and removes things, pushes strange new things between the layers of material. The way he makes the material of the uniform briefly flexible and then hard again, in a way that fits better than before.
Steve isn't sure how to deal with it. He's pretty sure it isn't one of those modern things he's supposed to just accept. He sort of likes it, and he can't decide if that's a good thing, or a bad thing, or just one more of those confusing things which doesn't matter to anyone but him.
"Ok, now stamp against the floor a couple of times." Tony says, with an expectant wave of his hand.
Steve raises his leg at the request.
"It shouldn't explode," Tony adds.
Steve very pointedly doesn't put his foot down, a fact which Tony doesn't miss.
"Why is there something in my boot that might explode?"
"You want to be prepared, right? Who doesn't like to be prepared, boy scouts love to be prepared." Tony gestures at the floor, as if that explanation should have satisfied his self-preservation instincts.
Which it has not, if anything it's made them even more concerned.
"I don't want to be prepared to explode."
"It's electronics, it won't hurt you - unless you're full of explosive. I feel like that's something you would have shared with me - lot of flammable stuff in here."
Steve sighs and very carefully stamps - just a few times. The boots don't do anything they shouldn't, that he can tell.
"Ok, good, real world shock test is a success." Tony catches the boot by the heel and pries it off again. "Maybe I can even cram a few more -"
"I'm going to vote against any attempts to make it more explosive." Steve thinks he should get that out of the way before it becomes a problem.
"It's like you don't want to have fun," Tony says. "Why does no one want to have fun?"
"I'm pretty sure we have different ideas of what constitutes fun, Tony."
"Why does everyone say that to me, it's hurtful." Tony's standing again, sliding his fingers under the backplate of the uniform top, unhooking whatever he hooked there in the first place. He's saying something about insulation, hands falling to strip the uniform's belt through its holes, and Steve definitely feels like that's something he should say something about. He should mention how this is sort of - he doesn't know what it is. Standing here while someone he could consider a friend strips him like a mannequin, or like someone they - someone they're allowed to undress. Tony pauses to do something on his phone, scan the inside of the waistband, and that seems like a really good moment to say something. Because this probably isn't normal.
The material gets peeled down Steve's bare legs, and he doesn't say anything then either, and he realises he's going to reach a point where it will seem weird if he mentions it. He's probably past it already. Pieces are unzipped in a way that makes his skin tingle in strange ways. He's barely used to the way clothes fit now himself, and he's been tested and retested, measured, put through all manner of endurance tests. But this feels different somehow. People don't usually touch him, not like this, not this much or this easily. And Tony doesn't really touch people either, well not like this, not outside of handshakes and...women, that Steve has observed. Which is maybe part of the reason Steve feels like someone should be objecting, or noticing, in some way. He feels strange, vulnerable in a way that doesn't really make him uncomfortable, but certainly makes him feel different, standing there in his underwear, not moving, while Tony undresses him, and then goes to find something new. He's talking talking quietly - half to himself and half to Steve, and scanning the insides of each piece, before bringing them over, and laying them within touching distance.
Steve feels itchy all over, waiting for the slide of material and metal up his arms, for the latch of chest pieces, the tug and twist of strange fingers underneath, and against his skin, pressing down on his muscles and squeezing him inside every section of uniform. He swallows and scrunches his toes, tries to concentrate on one of the shining screens across the room. He can hear his heart beating, he can feel the air conditioning behind him. Steve can't work out if enjoying this is ok or not. He can't work out if he's supposed to, or not.
"You ok over there?"
"No, I mean, yes, I'm ok."
"You don't have to stand like that, you know, I'm not going to write you up." Tony sounds amused, flicking glances at him every few seconds, as he removes lengths of wire from a sleeve.
Steve forces himself to relax, to look like he's relaxed. He doesn't think about leaving.
Tony comes back with another suit. It's red and bright, and it looks like fine metal pieced together with strong elasticated fabric. He lets Tony pull it on him, moving whenever there's a subtle push on his skin, wherever there's pressure, the lean of an arm. Tony barely looks at him. He's focused on the suit, on the way it snaps together. He slides behind him, hitching pieces into place, smoothing them down with strong fingers.
"That's too tight, that won't take the stress if you want to actually do anything in it. Break the cuff would you."
Steve flexes, carefully, and two pieces of metallic fabric snap apart. Tony reattaches them a little further down.
"Don't you have people that can do stuff like this for you?" Steve's not even sure which he means now, whether it's someone to put the suits onto other people, or people who can wear the prototype suits. Tony must have people who'd be better at this, people who'd understand...things.
Tony stops trying to attach his new sleeve.
"Sure, I have minions that would come and stand here until they keeled over from exhaustion, or 'bots, neither of which are very good at having helpful opinions. Which usually is a good thing, but I figured since you're an actual human being, and you have to wear the damn thing." Tony shrugs, pulls off Steve's left sleeve and tears it into two pieces, edges of wire trailing everywhere. "And you don't seem to mind."
"Don't seem to mind?" Steve manages.
"Playing dressup for me."
Steve swallows, surprised at how much that sentence makes him want to flush embarrassment. When it sounds completely harmless. The way it makes him feel caught doing something vaguely indecent,
"Is that what I'm doing?" he asks.
Tony cuts him an unreadable look, then tosses aside the tool he'd been using to sort the circuitry inside the uniform, to pull at the shoulder again.
"Don't misunderstand me, you're doing an awesome job, and not just because you haven't caught fire yet. That's usually stage five of every experiment, fire extinguisher, alarms - no that's a lie, I usually disconnect all the alarms, though Jarvis usually sets them off anyway. Pretty sure I didn't program that in. It's mostly for effect though, since no one really...comes. Hmm."
Steve thinks there's a compliment in there somewhere.
"And I can't get any of the others to actually come in. Which is a shame, since I'm pretty sure I could actually makes something that Natasha would appreciate."
But then it seems they're all done, and Tony is taking the pieces off him, tearing open the insides and unraveling wire, as if he doesn't need him any more. Steve feels oddly bereft, and when it seems like he should, he makes his way slowly back into his own clothes, which though they're more familiar already feel thin and soft.
"I have a ton of these things in storage," Tony calls from the computer he's chosen, several feet away. "Not all of them yours, because I'm an optimist. Some in better shape than others, one of them exploded briefly, but I know where that went wrong. I do, as you may have noticed, sometimes get a little distracted trying to cram as many impossible things into a day as I can. Though I do fear for my closet if this new obsession becomes a thing, a regular thing rather than a team mate thing." He stops, shrugs like he's admitted something he didn't intend to. Though Steve isn't sure what.
He's still lacing his boot, watching Tony put things away, things which must have taken time to make, time out of Tony's insanely busy schedule.
"If you need me again..." Steve wonders how to finish that without it sounding as confused as he feels. He's not sure if he phrased that wrong, if he said exactly the opposite of what he meant.
Tony gives him a look from beneath his eyebrows, surprised, amused, some strange third option that Steve doesn't know him well enough to puzzle out.
"Oh, I'm sure I can find something to put you in," he says finally. "It's good to have hobbies after all."
"Same time tomorrow then?" Steve says, and it comes out sounding so normal. When he's not completely sure what he even means, or what happened here. Whether this is a friendship thing, or a work thing, or some other strange, new thing this world is slowly pushing him towards.
"Sure...same time tomorrow." Tony's smile is there and gone, brief and real, Steve's not sure how he managed that, or if he even did. But he decides it's good, it's definitely good.