Frankly, it was strange.
Get a comm in his ear, or drag the man out in public, and you could barely get Steve to say 'heck'. Even in battle, his curses were reserved, careful; bottled up like he was saving them or something. Ask Nick Fury, and he'd say Commander Rogers just wasn't built for a good swear. Ask Maria Hill or Phil Coulson or anyone else he worked with, and they'd say he just wasn't the type to resort to vulgarity.
Tony was the first to hear it. They'd been living together a week or so, and Tony had spent most of that time in the shop, but they were friends. Sort of. Something close to it, anyway; while the others had all sort of taken to dropping out of touch after the Chitauri attack, he and Steve had kept in contact. It had been faltering, at first—a phone call here, an email there, just to check in with someone who'd been through the same thing they had—but as the years went by, it'd grown into something near to genuine friendship.
Had to be something, anyway, or Steve wouldn't have taken him up on the offer to live in Stark Tower.
Tony had invited all the Avengers, of course, but Bruce was currently out in some third world country doing who knows what, Thor was realm-jumping between Dr. Foster's apartment in London and Asgard, and Clint and Natasha had their quarters at SHIELD. So did Steve, technically, and he had enough military backpay to afford a place of his own wherever he wanted, but Steve always went a little weak in the knees for the word 'team'. Tony had sold him on the idea of a team that lived together and fought together, friends and comrades, the whole nine yards. Alright, maybe Tony kind of sort of liked the idea too, just a little, but whatever.
They had yet to convince the others to move in with them, but even so, Tony was grateful for at least Steve's presence. This was the first time Tony had been back to New York in nearly five years, and since Pepper was staying in California—probably for the better, even if their split last year had been amicable—and without Steve wandering the halls, Tony would be alone. Tony had never done as well on his own as he liked to pretend he did.
The first time they bumped into each other after Steve moved in was late one night, when Tony came upstairs for a coffee run. He caught sight of Steve slumped over on the counter, mildly stirring something in a saucepot, and though Tony was vaguely aware that humans were probably supposed to be sleeping at this hour, the thought was driven home by Steve's sleep pants and messy hair. The shirtless part was what threw Tony's brain for a loop though, and he had to shake his head a bit to bring himself to actually open his mouth.
"Hey there, Cap."
"Hey, Tony." Steve nodded his greeting, unperturbed in the least at being caught shirtless and sleep-mussed, though Tony was pretty sure there was some kind of law against this. People that gorgeous should not be allowed to take their shirts off and just expect mere mortals to continue functioning.
"So." Tony leaned against the counter, doing his best not to stare. He was failing fairly miserably, but at least Steve wasn't facing him so he probably didn't know. It wasn't even like Tony had a thing for back muscles, but Steve's were moving as he stirred, a rhythmic motion of sheer power under smooth skin—
"So?" Steve glanced over his shoulder, breaking Tony's trance.
"You said 'so'." Steve was looking at him with something one part amusement, three parts concern. "Have you been sleeping? I don't think I've seen you leave the shop since I've been here."
"Uh." Christ, Steve was turning around and the front was even better than the back, why did Steve ever even wear clothes, who allowed that, Tony'd sue the pants off them, or preferably off Steve— "I sleep. Less, lately. What're you cooking, at…"
"3:27 in the morning," JARVIS supplied.
"That, anyway?" Tony finished. Focus, maintain eye contact. Do not stare at Steve's chest.
"Oh." Steve glanced up, still apparently becoming used to JARVIS. Do not stare at Steve's chest. "Cocoa. Used to help me sleep, when I was a kid. You said to help myself to anything, so…"
There was a hint of a question in Steve's tone, unsure of his welcome. Tony waved him off easily.
"It's your kitchen now too, do what you want." Tony turned, jerking his gaze from where it had dipped—he'd seen porn stars with less defined abs than that—and over to the coffee machine instead.
"Thank you." There was a moment of silence as they each moved about the kitchen, the shared space surprisingly comfortable. "Would you like some?"
"Some…?" Tony turned back. Look at the man's eyes, Stark, come on.
"It's fine, if you prefer coffee, I just—I used your supplies, thought I'd offer." Steve looked so…earnest. Tony was reminded of how quickly Steve had caved once he'd told him they'd all be living together as a team, as friends, before the others had bailed out. He wondered for a moment exactly how many friends Steve had in this century.
The smile he earned was pleased, just a hint shy, and frankly far too adorable for a grown—and painfully shirtless—man. Steve turned back around to stir the pot, and Tony hit the cancel button on the coffeemaker, watching Steve's back muscles for another moment instead. Maybe he ought to take Steve up on his offer to train together after all. Sometime between squaring off and getting his ass kicked he'd probably get a chance to grope a muscle or two, right? Maybe he'd even get pinned, straddled by those ridiculous thighs—
"—really wish you'd just call me Steve."
"Huh?" Tony blinked, definitely not paying attention to whatever it was Steve had just said. "Yeah, sure."
"You say that." Steve sighed, but he wasn't angry, or even grouchy. If anything, he was relaxed, leaning against the counter with a bit of a fond quirk to his lips as he told Tony, the words rolling off his tongue easy as anything, "But you don't fucking do it. I've asked you at least five times now."
Tony's eyebrows jumped to his hairline, but for once in his life, he was too shocked to actually draw up a glib or witty response. This was Captain America: childhood hero of nearly all the world, charm and good nature personified. He was the original superhero for God's sake, what was he doing slinging around fuck all casual like that?
"Uh, yeah. You got it."
Steve turned back to his pot, apparently satisfied with Tony's non-answer. Clearly, this was all a strange dream, and he ought to go to bed. After a cup of cocoa—which, at Steve's insistence, Tony begrudgingly admitted did taste better than the Nesquik stuff—he did, and when he woke, dismissed the whole thing as a crazy dream. He did find himself making more attempts to call Steve "Steve" instead of "Cap" or "Rogers" off missions, though. Steve always shot him a little smile when he did, but that didn't mean the dream was real or anything. Captain America didn't swear like that, easy and loose, like dropping any other adjective.
Even when he got angry, it was all "darn" and "gosh", no matter how pissed he got. Tony knew this, because he'd been on the receiving end of a very impassioned speech about how Tony's "darn impulsive bullshoot" was going to get them killed. Thing was, if anyone else said things like that, it'd sound ridiculous, but Steve didn't need to swear. Tony would never tell him so, but he was just as fierce without it. Steve could put the fear of god in a man with "gosh darn" just as easily as with "goddamn".
So when it happened again, just a few days later, Tony had no idea how to respond.
"What the hell kind of a call was that?" Steve leapt up off the couch, jabbing an insistent hand at the TV despairingly, waving the popcorn bowl wildly. "Is he fucking blind? That was safe!"
"I, uh—" Tony blinked, one hand frozen over his StarkPad.
"Wasn't that safe?" Steve demanded, turning to him.
"Definitely safe," Tony agreed, knowing full well the right answer here despite the fact that what's-his-face had been out by a long shot. Steve took his Dodgers very seriously.
"Damn umpire's lost his mind," Steve muttered, dropping back on the couch beside Tony. He grabbed an obscenely large handful of popcorn with a huff—the man already tended to eat like he was starving, but irritation just made him a caveman—still so intently focused on the ball game that he didn't notice Tony staring at him.
"Interesting," Tony said finally.
"Hm?" Steve made a noise of acknowledgement, muffled by his mouthful of popcorn, but didn't actually tear his gaze from his game.
"Nothing." Tony waved a hand, returning to his work. Interesting indeed.
He minimized his current window on the StarkPad and opened a new project file. Assuming the first instance had in fact happened after all and wasn't just a strange dream, Tony marked down 001 – Kitchen – 3am-ish – Wouldn't call him by his name – "fucking", then, 002, 003 – Rec room – 1:14pm – Bad baseball call – "fucking", "damn". He paused, gave it a moment's consideration, then added in the "hell" from before, which put him up to entry 4.
It couldn't just be anger that made Steve swear. Otherwise, he'd be swearing a blue streak at every alien invader and mad scientist trouncing through downtown. Not to mention, that first time he hadn't even been mad, just sort of teasing. No, there had to be something else. Great, now he'd gone and piqued Tony's interest.
Steve really ought to know better by now than to pique Tony's interest.
Oddly enough, almost as soon as Tony began keeping track, Steve's swearing increased. Tony put it to a graph, and the curve was subtle but undeniable—Steve was swearing more and more around him every day. Tony stole the remote; "what the hell, give it back!" Tony picked at the food Steve made; "quit playing and fucking eat, you dork." Tony got creative at MarioKart; "you cheating bastard!" Within weeks, Steve couldn't go an hour in his presence without swearing. Within the month, Tony's ledger was up to the hundreds.
They were still the only Avengers in Stark Tower, though Tony could tell he was roughly two mad scientists and one superpowered-psycho-gone-wrong away from convincing Bruce to come back. Steve still worked with the others, mainly Natasha and sometimes Clint, and according to him they were wearing the spies down, but considering she'd given Tony a look he personally classified as an attempt at castration when he'd asked, he wasn't so sure. Natasha liked Steve better though, so Tony was just going to have to trust his judgment on that one.
Clint had kind of dropped off the radar after the whole mind-controlled-by-an-alien-maybe-god thing, but Steve said he was starting to see him on missions more and more. Tony was also emailing Dr. Foster about trying to convince Thor to stop by Stark Tower sometime, but she said the whole dimension hopping thing was pretty sporadic and cell phones didn't exactly work in Asgard. Tony would have to work on that. Either way, the gist of it remained that Steve and Tony were left to do the team bonding shtick on their own, and to everyone's surprise—sure as hell including their own—they were kind of getting along.
Tony wasn't entirely sure what he'd expected, but Steve was actually very easy to live with. He'd thought Steve might get a little preachy—c'mon, the guy was the picture of righteousness—but he didn't. Don't get him wrong, Steve was a total health freak; he exercised for an ungodly amount of time every day, ate disgusting things like egg yolk and whey protein shakes in obscene amounts to accommodate his metabolism, and kept to his schedules like clockwork. But he didn't harp on Tony to be like that, either. He offered food when he made meals for himself, and joined Tony in the shop sometimes to keep him company, but never nagged at him to drink less coffee or eat more real food or sleep more than twice a week or whatever else Tony was surely doing too much or too little of.
Weirdly, without even really thinking about it, Tony kept sort of accidentally seeking Steve out. At first he tried to blame it on Steve coming to see him, but after the third time he looked up from his StarkPad to find himself chatting with Steve in the kitchen while he made lunch or watching Steve's latest sports obsession, Tony kind of had to admit Steve may not have been the only one seeking out company.
They watched a lot of movies that way, Tony meandering in and taking over, insisting Steve had to watch whatever Tony remembered he hadn't seen yet right now, but Steve didn't seem to mind. He seemed to find it amusing, so afternoons together like that just sort of kept…happening. Watching a movie would go past lunchtime, and Steve would suggest they go out for something to eat, so Tony would drag him off to try whatever new place he remembered Steve hadn't been to yet. Lunches out would lead to discovering some genre of music Steve didn't know about or an internet joke he hadn't seen, and one minute Tony was proving to Steve that yes, disco music was a real thing, and the next they were doubled over laughing because Steve had tricked him into wasting two hours on lolcats again.
Steve would usually get the workout itch sometime after they got home—supersoldiers weren't great at sitting still for long—and how was Tony supposed to say no to joining him when Steve kept giving him The Look? It wasn't nagging and it wasn't pleading—methods proven time and time again to send Tony scurrying out stage left—but eager. He was like a big blonde puppy, just excited to play with his newfound friend.
So working out was a thing that was happening in Tony's life now, apparently. Mostly it was Tony trying not to die on the treadmill while Steve chatted away happily, like he wasn't also busy decimating his daily supply of heavy bags probably at least five times Tony's weight, but sometimes they sparred, and that introduced a whole new, ulcer-inducing problem into Tony's life.
There were only so many times Tony could be forced to take a cold shower after getting pinned by Steve's tree trunk thighs before certain conclusions had to be drawn.
At first, he just tried avoiding Steve. That backfired completely though, because for all Tony wandered into Steve's space, Steve was just as comfortable now wandering into his. He'd come in like nothing was wrong, just start sketching something or playing fetch with Dum-E or chatting with Tony like he didn't have a clue what just seeing his face was now doing to Tony's head. And to his chest, because apparently, that whole "butterflies" thing was real and didn't only apply to teenage girls with too many hormones racing around. And okay, to be fair, Steve probably didn't know what he was doing to Tony, but whatever.
Tony needed to shut this down. Sure, Steve was strange. His eating habits were disgusting and his taste in television was atrocious and the music he liked made Tony want to scrub his brain out, not to mention he was so stubborn Tony wanted to strangle him sometimes, but none of that made Tony like him less as a person, and therein lay the real problem. He wanted to dismiss it as a physical thing—who wasn't attracted to Captain America?—but for all that Cap had a great ass, Steve was Steve, was charming and funny and interesting and so easy to talk to and a complete dork in the best and worse way and Tony couldn't have stopped falling if he tried.
Problem was, Steve was Tony's antithesis. He was all about honesty and trust and straight-shooting; Tony was flash and glamour and razzle dazzle. Tony didn't even understand how they were friends, but he did understand that it was a good thing and Tony had wrecked every good thing he'd ever touched.
So he kept a tight lid on whatever mid-life crisis was going on that he'd even thought Mr. All-American White Hetero Male was even an option in the first place, and stuck to pattern. Friends. He could do friends. Not often, and not always well, but he could; Rhodey, Happy, Pepper—there was precedent, okay? He could do that. He dropped the I-Might-Be-Falling-For-a-Supersoldier problem and returned to his original puzzle, the one he affectionately referred to as the Captain Fucking America project.
He analyzed the data every which way he could, and he'd certainly collected plenty—he had JARVIS on data collection now, he couldn't keep up with the intake anymore—but couldn't find any kind of pattern. There didn't seem to be any emotional basis behind it, anger or frustration or anything else. It wasn't just a casual thing, either, because Steve swore around him whether they were goofing around or having an out-and-out fight. Tony was about to admit defeat and just ask him, when a new variable was introduced.
They didn't work together often; they were highly but differently skilled, so they didn't usually end up working the same types of missions. Then some psycho calling himself Insectaloid sent roughly a hundred different kinds of bugs the size of trains crashing through Manhattan, and all available Avengers were called to suit up—Tony, Steve, Natasha, Clint, and some new guy calling himself Falcon, because apparently birds were the new superhero thing—and Tony learned that Steve didn't swear in front of the others.
The battle was a long and pretty disgusting affair, but between catching Cap and Hawkeye when they predictably leapt off buildings and getting bug guts all over his nice new suit, Tony couldn't help but notice that Steve had reverted to his "heck" and "darn" and "gosh golly" vernacular. Okay, not the last one, but whatever. Steve's blue streak was gone, and frankly, Tony was kind of disappointed. More importantly though, he didn't have a clue why. Natasha swore plenty. Clint was worse than Tony. Even New Guy dropped a "damn" or a "hell" here and there. What made Steve think he couldn't too? Sure, SHIELD listened to their comms, but Fury's foul mouth put them all to shame. Tony tried inciting him a bit.
"You've got a fucking huge one on your ass, Cap," Tony warned, ducking under the six-legged monstrosity gunning for his head and shooting a repulsor blast at the spider-looking thing about to leap on Clint's back.
"Got it." Steve slung his shield as it reared back, effectively slicing off its head. "Thanks, Iron Man."
"No problem. Persistent fuckers, aren't they?"
"They bugging you, Stark?" Clint snickered over the comm.
"It took you the whole fight to come up with that gem?" Tony rolled his eyes.
"Probably only an hour," Natasha commented dryly.
"Fuck you guys," Clint grumbled.
"Focus, team," Steve called.
"Scared of a little swear, Cap?" Tony teased.
"Don't tease him, Stark," Natasha warned.
"Yeah, his old man sensibilities can't take it," Clint added.
"You'd be surprised what his old man sensibilities can take." Tony snorted. Really, how did they not know that Steve swore like a sailor?
"Ugh." Clint made a gagging noise over the comm. "Please, don't even joke about your sex life, there's not enough brain bleach in the world."
"What?" Steve and Tony reacted as one.
Steve came to a halt on the ground, freezing briefly, until one of the bugs nearly collided with him and his reflexes kicked in. Meanwhile, Tony's reflexes were not quite a supersoldier's, and he careened headfirst through the window of the nearest building.
"Iron Man, are you alr—?" Steve started, but Tony was too busy dusting glass off his suit and stammering at Clint to notice.
"What in the hell makes you think I'm banging that?"
"I am not a 'that'." Steve sounded pained. "Forget it, Iron Man, Hawkeye, stow the chatter altogether and focus, we've got six incoming up on Madison Av—"
"I'm sorry, you're not curious why our teammates think we're fucking?"
"If it makes you feel better, we thought you guys were in a relationship, not just doing, uh, that," New Guy contributed. Sean?
"How disappointing," Natasha commented dryly.
"Neither helpful nor relevant, either of you," Steve replied tersely, "Falcon, I need you and Iron Man on Madison, that batch is airborne. Focus, team."
"Since you guys aren't fucking after all, does that mean we can move in?" Clint questioned, seeming undeterred.
"Chatter, Hawkeye," Steve snapped at the exact time Tony threatened, "Fuck you, I'm donating your floor to starving orphans."
"I'll take that as a maybe."
"Yes, we can move in now," Natasha told Clint.
"No, you can't," Tony protested loudly, "The offer is officially rescinded!"
"Does that include me?" New Guy McWhat's His Face piped up.
"Chatter!" Steve bit out.
"Yes," Natasha repeated.
"No!" Tony repeated more forcefully. "I don't even know who the fuck you are!"
"Sam Wilson," New Guy aka Sam Wilson offered, "Now can I move in?"
"Are you even an Avenger?" Tony sputtered.
"Is my comm on?" Steve demanded, "Iron Man, did you turn my comm off?"
"I'm not really sure," Sam answered Tony thoughtfully.
"What're the qualifications for that, anyway?" Clint mused, "Is that like, an official Thing now? Because I don't remember signing anything about—"
"Everybody shut the heck up and focus on the darn bugs!" Steve shouted, loud enough that his voice reverberated over the comms.
"Aye aye, Cap," Clint finally responded, breaking the silence.
They'd never be perfectly professional over the comms, but they kept it fairly clear after that, Steve's evident frustration enough to ward off any further chatter. The silence may have been great for Steve and all, but it sure made Tony's attempts not to think about the fact that their teammates thought they were dating about ten times harder. Why would they think that? Just because Steve lived with him? He'd offered it to all of them! He'd spent weeks offering, convincing, bribing; he'd tried every trick up his sleeve. Did Bruce think that? Did Thor? Well, probably not Thor, the only people who'd seen Thor since the Chitauri attack were Jane and her flatmates in London, he couldn't possibly have formed an opinion on Steve and Tony's relationship. Not that there was one. Shit, he'd been doing worse at hiding his feelings than he thought if fucking Barton had noticed.
"That's the last of it," Agent Hill reported a while later, "We've got a couple teams doing sweeps now, but you're officially relieved of field duty. Quinjet seven has been dispatched to your location. Once you're on base, hit the de-con showers, then meet in an hour for debrief."
"Do we have to de-con?" Clint complained, "Those showers smell like radioactive feet."
"Prelim lab results say the insect blood has gamma markers," Agent Hill told him, "Decontamination is not up for discussion, Agent Barton."
"Yeah, yeah," Clint grumbled, turning to Tony. "Hey hot rod, can I hitch a ride?"
"Sorry, Barton, you have to be this tall—" Tony gestured to Steve's height, then snagged the hero by the waist. "—to ride the Iron Man ride."
They shot up into the sky. Steve wasn't caught off guard; on the rare occasions they'd worked together before, Tony tended to haul him around since they were often headed in the same direction anyway and it was faster than waiting for a Quinjet. After a moment in the air, Steve waved a hand at him, and Tony adjusted the comm settings to private.
"I never meant for—" Steve began, but Tony cut him off.
"Look, before you say anything, I just want to say on the record that I don't know where birdbrain gets his crazy ideas, but it wasn't from me."
Steve fell silent for a strangely long moment, before he mumbled, "Yeah. Well. Real insane."
Tony wasn't quite sure how to interpret Steve's voice just then. Frustrated? He looked very…disgruntled. Nice bonus of the faceplate: Tony could analyze Steve's face all he wanted without Steve thinking he was staring. Which would've been even weirder now, thanks to Clint. Steve would probably think he was coming on to him or something. Come to think of it, Steve was probably still freaking out about the gay thing. That was illegal back in the forties, wasn't it?
"So I couldn't help noticing you kind of freaked," Tony pointed out, "And you know that's not okay, right? That wasn't very articulate, what I mean to say is, homosexuality is pretty widely accepted now, and I know you're from another century, but you can't freak out about it like that, it's offensive. Being gay is okay, and—wow, I sound like a fucking PSA—look, my point is—"
"I don't have problems with homosexuality." Steve snorted.
"Right. Just…making sure. Cause you kind of, y'know. Freaked. Don't let Clint make you all paranoid, I'm not gonna come on to you or anything—"
"My greatest fear," Steve replied dryly. "Look, I get it, Tony. You're not interested. I'm not going to start second-guessing your intentions just because Clint got some ideas in his head, okay? Relax."
Not interested. That was a laugh. Maybe a joke would lighten the mood.
"That was only funny the first fifty times." Steve sighed, but there was a trace of amusement to it, and Tony was calling that a win.
"How dare you, I'm always funny."
Soon enough, they were coming up on the Helicarrier. Tony flew in through his entrance, dropping Steve off before letting the suit disassemble itself. Tony lost sight of him for maybe a moment while the helmet peeled back, and when he looked up again, Steve was gone. Tony was confused about the hasty exit—it wasn't like Steve was eager for a de-con shower, Clint was right about one thing, that place reeked—until he realized Steve wasn't running to anything. He was running from Tony.
The thought stung far more than it had a right to. Tony stowed away the now-folded suit and headed up to the de-con showers. The weirdness would subside, he was sure of it. It wasn't like Steve knew. As far as he was concerned, Clint was just being as strange as usual. They showered up without making eye contact once—a feat in and of itself—even after Clint and Sam trudged in, shoving each other jocularly and goofing around as they stripped and joined Steve and Tony under the communal spray. They stayed in for the required amount of time, then toweled off, suited back up, and headed to their designated conference room.
All without a single word between him and Steve.
The debrief lasted little over an hour, during which Steve looked at Tony precisely thirty-seven times, and each time looked away the split second Tony caught him looking. Damn it. The minute they got home, Tony was redecorating Clint's entire suite with Hunger Games merchandi—
Thirty-eight. Another glance away.
Fuck it, he was changing the user access routines for that fucker, too. His new handle was going to be "featherhead", and his passcode was going to be at least thirty digits. Scratch that, mixed code, words and numbers, thirty completely unrelated, hard to remember words and numbers. Fifty, if Clint didn't have enough trouble remembering thirty. Seven-five if he cheated and wrote it down. By the time the debrief finished up, Tony had come up with roughly 68% of the delightfully complex code.
"Yeah?" Tony glanced up. Look at that, thirty-nine.
"We going home…or…?" Steve looked horribly awkward in a way he absolutely never would've around Tony just a few hours ago.
And what was with that or? Or what? Or was Tony going to make him walk home, just because Clint motherfucking Barton thought they were going at it? Or in a relationship, or whatever? Steve said he wasn't homophobic, and he obviously wasn't a hateful person, but he was from a very different time. He could just be internalizing it. Tony would have to make sure he felt extra comfortable.
"Yeah, we're going." Tony stood, clasping a hand to Steve's shoulder, trying to convey his best we're-friendly-but-not-weirdly-so vibe. It was a balance, okay? "Relax, Steve. You're doing that whole 'parade rest' thing again."
"Am I?" The tension in Steve's shoulders softened, just a bit.
"Yeah." Tony chuckled. "C'mon. Let's get lunch, I saw you eyeballing that Polynesian place back on 23rd—"
"Let's not." Steve shot him a look both apologetic and forced. He took a step away. "Actually, just…go on home without me. I've got work to catch up on here anyway. I'll use one of the SHIELD vehicles to get home."
"You could call me when you're done, I'll come back for—"
"Not necessary." Steve was already backing out of the room. He tossed a half-hearted wave in Tony's direction. "I'll see you later, Iron Man."
Tony just stood there a moment, frustrated and stunned. Iron Man? Since when was he Iron Man in casual conversation? He hadn't even been Iron Man when they'd first met; at least then Steve had used Stark, a part of his name. He needed to fix this. However, since Steve was unfortunately not a robot, Tony was going to need to refer to someone with better people management skills than he possessed. He flipped open his phone and hit speed dial.
"Pepper, darling, light of my life—"
"Why did you not conference into the meeting this morning?" Pepper just sighed.
"There was a meeting? Nobody told me there was a meeting. More importantly—"
"More importantly," Pepper interrupted forcefully, "I know JARVIS reminded you at least three times today alone—"
"I've been fighting supervillains all morning, I didn't have time. But Pepper—"
"I watch the news, Tony, Insectaloid didn't show up until eleven, the meeting was at eight—"
"I was preparing for battle, listen—"
"You were not—"
"Pep, come on, it's about Steve."
Pepper let out a long, gusty sigh. Silence for a moment. Then, "What did you do?"
"I did nothing. It was entirely Clint's fault—"
"Clint…that's one of the SHIELD agents?"
"Yeah, the bird one, and he decided to announce over the comms that Steve and I shouldn't talk about our sex life—"
"Tony!" Pepper exclaimed, "Lead with that! When did you start—"
"Never! No sex life to speak of there, I swear."
"Really?" Pepper mused.
"Pretty sure I'd notice a naked Captain America in my bed, yeah."
"Then why would Clint—?"
"Because he thought we were having a sex life to speak of, keep up. Clint announced it over the comms, and now Steve's been weird all afternoon. He wouldn't even accept a ride home, made up some bullshit about work to do and dashed off. I think he thinks I'm interested in him, what do I do?"
"Listen closely, Tony." Pepper sighed again. "I'm going to give you advice. However, I know you, and I know that you're not going to follow it. You're going to complicate your life like you always do, but—"
"I will not—"
"But if you listen to me, you can circumvent this whole thing."
"Alright, alright. What's your advice?"
"Tell Steve you're interested."
"You realize that's the exact opposite of what I'm asking you to help me with."
"Because when it comes to romance, you're self-defeating." Pepper's words were harsh, but her voice was soft. "You always have been. If you'd just tell him—"
"What, so he can freak out even more? He'll never speak to me again!"
"You honestly think he's homophobic?" Pepper's voice was scathing. She'd met Steve a handful of times when she'd come to do business in New York. It had only been in passing, but 'passing' was enough with Steve. Steve radiated good intentions.
"He wouldn't ever mean to be, but he's from the forties. That stuff can get internalized! It's the only explanation for why he's been behaving the way he has been—"
"The only explanation, Tony?" Pepper sounded disbelieving.
"The only sane one."
"And what about the insane ones?"
"Don't come whining to me when you don't take my advice and make things worse for yourself, Tony."
"And what, I'm supposed to just walk into the living room, drop down next to the guy on the couch and say, hey, I know you're super straight and we've got a pretty good friendship going, but just so this can awkwardly disrupt our relationship forever, be aware that I'm also pretty ridiculously into you."
"I'd pare it down—you get wordy when you're nervous, it can be off-putting—but essentially, yes."
"Off-putting? I am not off-putting, I am utterly charming—"
"Then do your charming self a favor and tell him in as few words as possible."
"'Let's fuck' absolutely does not count."
Tony blew out an explosive puff of air. "Fine. It doesn't matter anyway."
"You called me because you wanted help. That's my help. Take it and save yourself weeks of self-inflicted angst, or don't, and hope Steve is better at this than you are."
"Better at what? Maneuvering awkward advances from your very male teammate?"
"Yes, Tony. Because that's exactly what's going on here."
"That's your sarcastic eyeroll-y voice. Why are you using your sarcastic eyeroll-y voice?"
"Goodbye, Tony." Pepper sighed.
"Fine, don't help." Tony huffed. "I'll figure it out on my own."
"You do that." Pepper sighed, fond and exasperated all at once, and for a moment, Tony missed her fiercely. "Will that be all, Mr. Stark?"
"That'll be all, Miss Potts."
Tony smiled briefly as he clicked his phone shut, until he remembered where he was and what he still had to figure out. He tapped his phone to his mouth in contemplation for a moment, then put it back in his pocket and headed to his hangar.
He was no closer to solving the puzzle a week later—a very Steve-less week later, he might add, the man sure knew how to make himself invisible when he wanted to—when he walked into the middle of a home invasion.
"JARVIS, why didn't you alert me?" Tony demanded, "What in the hell do you people think you're doing?"
"Aren't you supposed to be smart?" Clint snorted, swinging the bag he had hoisted over his shoulder back in front of him, waving it at Tony. "We're moving into the superhero clubhouse, genius."
"I'm not smart, I'm brilliant," Tony grumbled. He gestured at the other guy. "What, you too?"
"Yep." Sam bounced a bit, rocking forward onto the balls of his feet, his SHIELD-issue duffel bag swinging in front of him.
"Did I even invite you?" Tony scowled at him.
"Play nice, Tony," Steve told him, coming down the stairs. Jeez, Tony only spent all day looking for him, but their teammates step foot in the door and the guy magically appeared—
"Your line here is 'yes, dear'." Clint snorted.
"Shut up." Tony shoved him. "It's not like that, we told you."
"Where's Natasha?" Steve ignored Clint's contribution, but Tony could tell the implications weren't lost on Steve by the way the muscle of his jaw jumped.
"You want more of these people to move in?" Tony rounded on Steve.
"We thought you wanted us to move in." Sam frowned in confusion. "And Natasha's on an op right now, but she'll be back in a few days."
"No kidding. Poor Steve's been on us for months about how happy it would make you if we moved in." Clint grinned at Tony. Steve made a face like he was sucking on a lemon.
"I didn't phrase it quite like that—"
"You told them what?" Tony made a face of his own at Steve, then turned back to Clint. "Clearly he was lying. You moving in does not make me happy, you moving in makes me claustrophobic."
"Hm." Clint quirked his head, then slung his bag back over his shoulder and started up the stairs decidedly. "I can live with that. I call top floor."
"Top floor is mine, Hunger Games."
"That would be mine," Steve pointed out.
"Great, so that one's empty then."
"Barton," Tony hissed.
"My floor is occupied, Clint." Steve shot him a firm look. "But the one below it is empty, you can have that one if you want. It's still got a perfectly high view."
"Fine, I'll settle for third." Clint rolled his eyes, muttering under his breath, "At least until you people get your shit together."
"I'm good wherever," Sam offered.
"Find a floor." Tony waved a hand. "Steve, can I talk to you?"
"I'm actually fairly busy—"
"It's kind of important—" Tony persisted.
"I ought to help Clint settle in—"
"Steve, come on." Tony grabbed his arm. Steve could've pulled away easily, of course, but he hesitated. Tony took the chance. "Look, I'm not gonna start coming on to you or anything, I swear. Things don't need to get weird between us just because Clint watches too many Lifetime movies."
"I'm not concerned about you coming on to me, Tony." Steve shrugged out of his grip, but thankfully stayed put. "We're fine. It's fine."
"Really?" Tony raised an unconvinced eyebrow. "Because usually we eat meals together, we work out together, you come down to watch me work, I come up to watch your baseball games, I mean, we live together and I haven't seen you in nearly a week. Something's weird."
"Nothing's weird." Steve shifted awkwardly, completely belying his words. "I've just been busy. We can get lunch again sometime. Later this week, maybe."
"Right." Tony eyed him dubiously. "I mean it, Steve, I'm not trying to hit on you—"
"So you keep insisting." Steve cut him off firmly, that same muscle in his jaw jumping again. "I get it, Tony. Not interested. Very clear."
"Yeah. So, lunch?"
"It is noon." Tony inched closer, nudged Steve with his elbow amicably. "I've been told by a certain supersoldier many a time that's when normal people come out of their labs to eat."
"Fine." Steve stepped back. He looked like he was conceding ground to Nazi's, not agreeing to lunch.
"It's just lunch with friends, Steve, it's not like it's a date or anything—"
"I know," Steve snapped, "I got it, Tony. Lunch with friends. I'll go invite Clint and Sam—"
"What, no—" Tony groaned.
"Why not?" Steve shot him a stubborn look. "It's not a date. It's lunch with friends. I can't invite friends?"
"Go invite them, then!" Tony threw up his hands. "What do I care?"
"Yeah, and sit between you two for an hour?" Clint snorted. They both looked up; he and Sam were leaning over the balcony. "No thanks."
"Seconded." Sam nodded quickly.
"This is officially a team lunch." Steve glared up at them. "You're coming."
"Y'know, I don't recall signing team membership papers." Clint tapped his fingers to the balcony ledge. "Nope, not a team member. How about you, Sam?"
"Don't involve me in this." Sam shot him a look.
"You're moving into the 'clubhouse'. You're a part of the team. You're coming to lunch." That was definitely the Captain America voice.
"Is it too late to move out?" Sam asked.
"He used the Cap voice, all other options are officially invalid." Tony rolled his eyes, a frown itching at his features. "Just drop your bags somewhere and hurry up."
Lunch was somehow more awkward than Tony anticipated. Steve ignored him completely unless Tony spoke to him directly, Clint made at least three more cracks about their non-existent relationship, and Sam clearly didn't even know what he was doing there. By the end of it, Tony was ready to punch something, preferably Steve; he might've tried it, if Steve would just workout with him like normal. Or if Steve's face wouldn't break his hand.
Steve didn't swear all afternoon either, and Tony was torn between the frustrated urge to just demand why and the stubborn need to not admit defeat. He could figure this out. He knew he could, even if Steve was being impossible, because two could play at that game.
When they got back from lunch Steve went straight to the rec room, as Tony knew he would—a Dodgers game was on, and wasn't the fact that Tony even knew that a sign of how committed he was to their totally platonic friendship?—so he gave it ten minutes or so to let Steve's guard drop. He then waltzed into the rec room and dropped down next to Steve on the couch, easy and cheerful, like the past week of weird and that disastrous lunch had never happened. Steve started to stand, so Tony grabbed his arm with one hand firmly and shot him his best don't-fuck-with-me smile.
"If you move an inch, I will have JARVIS lock the doors."
"We're watching your game. End of story."
"We're friends. Friends do things together, not avoid each other."
"I'm not avoidi—"
"You are," Tony insisted, "Look, whatever Clint said that got in your head, just forget about it. I know attitudes were different in the forties—"
"This is not about when I grew up—"
"It is, though," Tony insisted, not even pretending to watch the game anymore. He turned to Steve. "I did some research, you've probably just internalized the beliefs of your time period, but we—"
"I'm not a dinosaur, don't call it a dang time period—"
"Dang? You can't even swear around me anymore?" Tony threw his hands up. "If that's not an indicator that something's wrong then I don't…wait."
"No, I got it." Tony held up a hand, brain racing. "It's comfort level. That's the factor I missed. You started swearing around me because you felt comfortable, and you wouldn't swear around the others because you didn't live with them, didn't know them well enough—"
"No no no, hold on." Tony raised his hand again. "And then you stopped because you stopped feeling comfortable around me! This is totally about the gay thing, that's the only thing that changed, Clint made some stupid comment with absolutely no basis—"
Tony was cut off by a hand around the back of his neck and the abrupt, slightly painful crashing of Steve's lips against his. Their noses bumped because Tony was unprepared and Steve got the angle wrong, but Steve tilted his head just so and opened his mouth and then Steve was kissing him,really kissing him, hard and hot and frankly with an intense kind of desperation that ought to be reserved for the bedroom. All rational thought drained from Tony's mind immediately, but the moment he tried to dig his hands into Steve's shirt and preferably never, ever let go, Steve released him and stood abruptly.
"Clint's comment had a basis." Steve stepped back. "He just wasn't getting it from you."
Tony was trying to process whatever it was Steve was saying, he really was, but his brain was still stuck on the part where Steve's tongue had been in his mouth.
"I'd appreciate it if you'd say something." Steve met his eyes with his chin held high, like he was waiting for some kind of physical blow.
"What just—?" Tony started, then changed his mind, "Never mind, I don't care, can we do it again?"
"The kissing part, can we do it again?" Tony scooted forward on the couch.
"Do you want to?"
"Hell yes," Tony answered immediately, standing up and taking a step towards Steve. Steve stepped back. "I mean, Christ, what the hell did you do with your tongue, anyway? That was fantastic—"
"Tony, stop." Steve took another step back, squeezing his eyes shut and shaking his head. "I'm extremely confused."
"So am I, I mean who even taught you that—"
"Not about the kiss." Steve shook his head, then corrected himself, "No, yes about the kiss, I thought—you've been telling me over and over how not interested you are, how you won't hit on me, how—"
"Complete bullshit. Like, all of it. Can we kiss now?"
"I—for fuck's sake." Steve gave a frustrated growl. "Answer me straight, Tony, are you interested or not?"
"There we go." Tony couldn't help a grin at Steve's swear. "C'mere."
He crossed to Steve in two strides, dug his hands into his shirt properly, and yanked him back in. He had to tip his head back because Steve was taller when they were standing, unfairly taller, and that was new, but it was a good new, because Steve made this soft, surprised noise that was all kinds of adorable before he just caved. If it were at all possible, Steve would be a puddle the way he melted against Tony. He pressed against him in all the right ways, his hands grasping for Tony's hips and drawing him closer. His nails scraped ever so lightly over one hip where he'd rucked Tony's shirt up a bit, and Tony made a noise about half moan and half Steve, and Steve made a noise of his own that was entirely a Tony.
"Let me take you out," Tony broke away to insist.
"Now?" Steve blinked.
"Definitely not." Tony kissed him again, because the sweetly dazed look on Steve's face made it impossible not to. He interspersed his next words with impulsive kisses. "Much better things to do right now. But later. And often. Often later. For the foreseeable future."
"Is that your way of saying you'd like to start seeing me?"
"I'd very much like to see you." Tony leered.
"I mean—" Another kiss. "More than that, Tony—"
"I know." Another. "Sounds great."
"What, you want—to talk right now?"
"No, but it'd be nice to—know if we're on the same—page, at least—"
"Pick a page." Tony dropped back onto the couch, dragging Steve along by the front of his shirt. "I'm on it."
"That easy?" Steve asked, falling to straddle Tony on the couch, his hands moving up to curl in Tony's hair.
"That easy." Tony dropped his hands to Steve's waist, arching his hips up a bit to gain a little friction. Then, because even now he apparently couldn't shut his brain off, "Oh, remind me, fruit basket."
"Pepper. Fruit basket. Remind me."
Steve pulled back. Tony tried to tug him in again impatiently, but Steve just made a strange face.
"I don't understand."
"Pepper knows everything and I should listen to her more often, nothing unusual, this is unusual, let's keep doing this—"
"Unusual." Steve smiled, amused, then dipped his head to kiss Tony again. "I'm never sure if these things are compliments or insults, with you."
"Compliments, always compliments," Tony promised, peppering kisses under Steve's jaw and along his throat.
"You are so damn ridiculous."
"I'm ridiculous." Tony rolled his eyes, nipping lightly at Steve's neck. "So says Captain Fucking America."
"Why do you keep calling me that?"
"You swear like a sailor, it's both jarring and awesome."
"I swear like I grew up in Brooklyn and fought in a fucking war," Steve corrected, "It's perfectly normal."
"It's also kind of a turn on. I was pretty sure I was dreaming, the first time, but after the second time I started compiling the data—"
"You," Steve said decidedly, flipping them over on the couch and pulling Tony into his lap so he could wrap both arms around his waist, "Are doing an awful lot of talking."
Tony laughed. "That was nice guy for 'shut up', wasn't it?"
"I can rephrase, if you'd like." Steve pressed kisses along his collarbone, Captain America voice coming out, swears and all. "If. You'll shut. The hell. Up already."
Tony couldn't have suppressed his shiver if he'd tried.