It catches him off guard, sometimes, when he and Tony are quibbling over something and he goes from towering and broad to someone much smaller and fleshier, soft and warm to the touch outside of the armor. Where not even thirty seconds ago Tony had been able to look him straight in the eye, Tony out of the armor has to tilt his head to be able to meet Steve's gaze, his head reaching just a mere inch past Steve's face up to his chin. It makes something inside Steve a little...hungry, wondering with every second he spends in Tony's presence how he's the perfect height to curl into Steve, to come close and tuck his face where Steve's collarbone meets his throat, slide his arms around Steve's hips and hold on. It's distracting, to say the least, thinking of all the ways Tony can fold into him-Tony, with his bright mind and calloused hands and glittering eyes, so staggeringly striking that sometimes it takes Steve's breath away just to look at him.
There's always been pieces of him...missing, you could say, little empty spaces in a Steve Rogers shaped puzzle where something belonged but didn't exist; he was born searching for puzzle pieces that clicked into his blank spaces and completed him-his art, Bucky, Peggy, the serum-and in turn, lost some of those as casualties of war.
Tony isn't like that.
Tony is pieces slotting into his gaps and expanding his puzzle until it's a much bigger picture showing Steve parts of himself he didn't even know existed, an intricate jigsaw work that highlights not the missing pieces of Steve but all the new pieces he's gained and can still gain, beautiful and dazzling and too good to be true.
He never means to mention it-his feelings about Tony in general and specifically those about how Tony's height difference makes him feel, what with Natasha being the only one on the team shorter than their resident genius and all those lifted shoes he wears when he goes out in public-but if there's anything Steve's learned through experience over and over again, it's that nothing ever goes as planned.
"Guys, this isn't going to work," Steve says exasperatedly, watching with crossed arms as Clint and Sam pour drink after drink into Thor's favorite gallon-sized tankard, nose wrinkling at the smell coming from it halfway through. "I've tried getting drunk before, you know."
"Not on this you haven't," Clint argues, resolutely pouring another bottle into the tankard and gesturing for Sam to grab another bottle of Spirytus. "I refuse to let you go sober on your 97th birthday, Cap, plain and simple-I'll get you drunk one way or another, just you wait. It took me a hell of a long time to find my moonshine guy, but if it means getting to see you drunk, it'll be worth it."
Sighing, Steve moves his eyes over to Sam and raises his brows in question, receiving an shrug and innocent grin.
"I just wanna see you swallow a literal gallon of the world's strongest alcohol," Sam admits easily, Steve rolling his eyes in return and moving to sit by Natasha and Maria as they mix their own drinks and chat guns.
Flopping down on the couch and sinking into it gratefully, Steve still bites back a smile at the scene before him; there's streamers and balloons everywhere, confetti littering the floor beneath his friends as they all laugh over the sounds of his favorite songs filling up the room. There's the team, of course, and Maria, and Sharon, and Pepper eating cake in the corner with Rhodey and Happy despite her and Tony's recent breakup, Steve's smile breaking through when he remembers walking into the communal floor after a visit to Peggy to the sound of confetti poppers and a near hundred candles floating in front of him in the dimly lit room. Tony'd been holding the cake, because he was the one who'd ordered it and wanted to be the first to get a look at Steve's face, and the sight of all his favorite artworks displayed on cream cheese frosting under the warm light of the candles illuminating Tony's smiling face is undoubtedly something he'll remember for the rest of his life, he knows. Thinking of Tony, Steve perks up and looks around the room for him, brows furrowing in confusion when he fails to find him amidst the partygoers milling around once again.
"Where's Tony?" Steve asks Natasha, who stops in her new conversation with Bruce about some kind of exotic meat dish to answer him.
"He went to grab something with Thor after we finished cutting the cake," Natasha answers, watching with vague fascination as Clint walks toward them with the tankard almost overflowing with alcohol and five seconds away from causing a health hazard.
"Oh, God, that's terrible," Steve gags, nose wrinkling as the smell hits him like a punch to the gut. "Christ, Clint, what the hell is this?"
"Probably the strongest and most disgusting drink known to mankind," Clint grins, holding it out for Steve to take and wiggling it in front of him.
"And you expect me to drink that?" Steve asks incredulously, trying to wave off the incredibly strong smell coming off the drink and failing spectacularly. "What do I look like-you?"
"Yeah, except sober," Clint throws back, squaring his shoulders. "Come on, Cap, you and I both know you've wanted to get drunk since 1943, you might as well give it a try."
"How bad can it be?" Natasha reasons unexpectedly from beside him, popping a cherry off its stem and rolling it around in her mouth when he turns to look at her in surprise. "If it doesn't work, no surprise-if you do, you can finally get drunk for the first time in almost a century. Either way, you lose nothing."
"I'm telling you, it's not gonna work," Steve grumbles, shoulders falling in defeat as Natasha gives him a look. "Alright, fine, I'll drink the damn thing."
"Hold up, stop the party!" A voice rings out, Steve's eyes immediately falling to the doorway and lighting up at the sight of Tony standing next to Thor with a shimmery bottle in his hands, grin bright and infectious. "Can't let Cap drink all that without this in there."
"Tony!" Steve calls out, grin wide as Tony makes his way to them and plops down on the couch in front of them, "Where've you been?"
"Grabbing your birthday present, Gramps," Tony tells him with a mischievous shine to his eyes, swiping the tankard from Clint and observing it with a practiced eye before throwing back a few gulps.
"Holy shit, Stark," Sam marvels in awe as Tony breathes out in a quick hiss, "you just drank straight up poison, Jesus."
"I've had worse. Besides, I had to make some room for this," Tony shrugs without a care, uncapping the bottle in his hands and letting half of the shimmering gold liquid inside it fall smoothly into the tankard.
"Which is...?" Steve asks doubtfully as Tony swirls the liquid in for good measure and Clint's concoction transitions from a pale white to a smooth amber.
"A gift, from myself and Anthony!" Thor beams, glowing with pride from beside Tony and looking like an six foot tall puppy.
"You mentioned before how nice it'd be to be able to get drunk out of your mind like the rest of us regular mortals, so I asked Thor if he happened to have anything that could help out the last time he made a trip home over the rainbow," Tony explains as he hands the drink back to Steve, who takes it with another look inside before focusing on Tony. "The big guy didn't exactly hold back on the chug-chugging, but there was enough for me to replicate it with some help, and voilá! Homemade Asgardian mead from yours truly, with a whole bunch of kick, courtesy of Clint. I figured if anything could get you drunk, it'd be this."
"Wait, how drunk is this supposed to get him?" Sam questions with a curious eye, sniffing the drink from behind Steve.
"Well, seeing as it makes regular humans feel like they got sloshed and then smoked the biggest bong of pot in existence," Tony smirks, something very dangerous swooping in Steve's stomach at the look on his face, "Plus that nice little bonus package inside, I'd think...blackout drunk."
Turning towards Steve all at once, he sighs under their unblinking gaze and meets Tony's eyes, feeling his lips quirk automatically into a half-smile.
"You're sure it won't kill me?" Steve asks, Tony raising a hand to his heart in exaggerated shock and widening his eyes.
"Why, Steven Grant Rogers," Tony gasps, eyes twinkling with humor, "are you afraid of a little ol' drink?"
Knowing it's a trap and falling for it anyways, Steve narrows his eyes and takes a deep breath before bringing it to his mouth and swallowing in large gulps, just barely managing not to choke at the strange mixture of what tastes like honeyed wine and the strongest vodka he's ever tasted sets fire to his throat; he drinks half of the tankard in one go to enthusiastic whooping from everyone around him and coughs heavily, feeling lightheaded from lack of oxygen and the straight line of heat burning away at his insides.
"How's that, Stark?" Steve replies with a hoarse voice, feeling both fond and annoyed in turns at the smug grin playing across Tony's face as he takes his chin into hand and winks at Steve.
"You're doing great, babe," Tony praises, Clint letting out an impressed whistle as Natasha just barely resists rolling her eyes to smile at Steve instead.
"So?" Tony asks as Steve's toes and fingers start to tingle, the feeling sweeping up his arms and legs until he feels a buzzing throughout his entire body.
"Oh," Steve mumbles, overwhelmed, swaying a bit to the side as the alcohol starts to hit him hard. "I think..."
"You think...?" Bruce prompts, leaning forward in fascination as a soft pink flush creeps over Steve's cheeks and the back of his neck.
"I'm tingling everywhere," Steve hums, eyes slowly falling to half-mast before them and clouding.
"Holy shit," Clint breathes, hand moving to clap Tony's shoulder without taking his eyes off Steve. "You did it."
"This might be the biggest achievement of my entire life," Tony says with the widest grin known to mankind, raising a hand to high-five a crowing Thor.
"Oh, wow," Steve marvels as it settles into him, his smile dazed enough to get a bystander drunk. "That's...really strong."
"Alright, ladies and gents," Tony exclaims, standing up and throwing his arms out wide for dramatic effect, "the real party has officially started!"
Cheering enthusiastically, everyone hustles Steve into the center of the room to make the most of the experience, setting up drinking games and taking more than a handful of pictures for later reference as Steve laughs, his legs going wonky halfway through the night and cheeks stained a hot red only twenty minutes in. By the time the party's winding down, every last drop of Tony's special brew is gone and most members of the team are just as drunk as he is, staggering off to their rooms with the help of the few sober people left. As Bruce and Natasha take off with Rhodey and Clint in hand respectively, Steve stumbles over to Tony and throws an arm around him, nearly knocking the both of them to the floor.
"Tony! Tony," Steve says with an exuberant beam, "hi!"
Holding back laughter and straightening underneath Steve's arm, Tony places his own around Steve's back to help him stand properly.
"Hey there, Cap," Tony grins while Steve hangs onto him and makes happy snuffling noises into his suit jacket. "You feeling alright there, buddy? The Thor special seems to have hit you pretty hard."
"Oh yeah," Steve enthuses, nodding wildly, "n'ver-never felt better!"
"Is that so?" Tony hums in amusement before nodding goodbye to Sharon and gesturing his leave with Steve. "You seem pretty out of it to me, Cap."
"I'm noooot," Steve grumbles petulantly as they get into the elevator, Sharon hiding a smile behind one of her hands when she waves at them. "I'm perfectly....perfectly-hic-fictitioning."
"Functioning?" Tony guesses with a laugh, laughing harder when Steve shoots him a cross look and feeling delight swell up inside his breast in a rising cloud of soft yellow.
"You mean what I know and you know-hic-know it," Steve sniffs hotly, turning his face away from Tony's traitorous fake sympathy. "Y' shaddup."
"Come on, twinkletoes, just a little more," Tony shakes his head fondly while Steve lights up at the sight of the elevator doors opening to his floor.
"Hey! I li-hic-ve here," he tells Tony, whose mouth twitches upwards once more.
"I have an actual century's worth of blackmail on you and I'm never giving it up," Tony informs Steve with an unholy glee, teeth shining in the white lights of the hallway.
"Hey," Steve grouches with a furrowed brow, "are you-are you makin' fun o' me?"
"You're making plenty fun out of yourself without my help, trust me," Tony snorts lightly, looking up in surprise when Steve suddenly stops and pouts at him, lower lip jutting out in a way that should be comical and is instead hopelessly cute.
Drunk as a skunk and high as a kite, Tony reminds himself, keeping his hands in all the appropriate places and resisting the urge to kiss Steve in the middle of the empty floor.
"I'm not drunk," Steve denies resolutely, shaking his head when Tony laughs at him. "T'ny, 'm not drunk. Look!"
Yelping as Steve wraps muscled arms around his waist and lifts him up a good four inches off the floor, Tony instinctively reaches for Steve's biceps and grabs on tightly, mouth falling loose as he realizes what just happened.
"See?" Steve says thickly, both a challenge and an attempt at earning Tony's awe. "Not-hic-drunk."
"Are you seriously carrying me right now because I said you're a joke?" Tony asks incredulously, torn between laughing and demanding his freedom. "Cap, I know you have issues, but come on."
"A drunk can't-hic-do this," Steve argues again, jostling Tony slightly as he moves his hands around for a better grip and moving in a stumbling line to his door.
"Woah, Cap, careful, let me dow-"
"No," Steve refuses childishly, holding on tighter and muscling his way into his room behind Tony's back with some kind of witchcraft, "Yer gonna stay righ' here."
"If you want me to stay in your room and tuck you in, there are less barbaric ways to go about it," Tony tells him in exasperation, clinging tight when Steve jostles him more forcefully before making his way to the bed and falling on top of Tony.
"Here," Steve insists, flexing his biceps around a startled Tony. "I want you in my...in my 'rms."
"What?" Tony says flatly over the strange feeling climbing up his throat and threatening to choke him underneath the warm weight of Steve's body on his, a distracting line of solid muscle everywhere setting his heart on the fritz.
"I like you here," Steve blurts out, his flush darkening on pale cheeks when he raises his head to catch Tony's eye. "I like-hic-when yer...when you're like this. You fit me."
"I fit you?" Tony repeats slowly, still struggling to understand what's going on and feeling his breath vanish at the sight of Steve's face two inches from his own, rose-colored cheeks and big blue eyes staring into him with fierce concentration.
"Yer small," Steve whispers, the insult on the tip of his tongue dying when big hands squeeze Tony's hips. "Smaller th'n me and-and perfect."
"Perfect?" Tony swallows, holding his breath as Steve shifts so that Tony's face is pressed against the column of his throat.
"I know ya don't like it," Steve confesses in a slur, warm breath falling onto Tony's sensitive ear and causing him to shudder. "But I...I think it's-hic-real cute. I like your small. It means you can-you can c'me up close and fit just like this."
Mind blanking as Steve presses a sloppy kiss to his temple and rubs his nose along his hairline, Tony feels his lungs constrict, his entire body locking up and quivering faintly.
"You fit all m' empty spaces," Steve mumbles, a small, heart-throbbing smile crossing his flushed face. "In me, and-'nd around me, you fit me 'verywhere. I can kiss yer head, 'nd nose, and cheeks, and I c'n-hic-pick ya up, and yerr-you're perfect."
Blinking back what he prays aren't tears, Tony clears his throat and tries not to let the desparate hope clawing at his chest slip into his voice when he asks, "You like my, uh, my...height?"
"Ye-hic-ah, Tony," Steve nods, leaning back again to sweep his eyes over Tony in awe and doing his best to compose an intelligible response. "It makes you really...cute. You're-you're so small, but 'everything about you is big; your hands, 'nd your heart, 'nd your brain, and when things in me are small, you...you fit into all of 'em and make me b'tter. 's why I love you."
Heart stopping in his chest while time slows down around him, Tony's mouth falls open, breath escaping him entirely in the face of Steve's earnest confession.
"Makes me wanna hold you tight," Steve continues, oblivious to the reaction he's caused and pressing his words onto Tony's brow, "and n'ver let you go. Wanna...keep you around me fir-forever. Can't say it when I'm n'rmal 'cuz I don't wanna-don't wanna hear you say no. I love you, Tony, I love ya, I love ya, I-hic-love ya. I want...I wanna be yours. Stay? Be mine?"
Choking back a million words he knows Steve deserves to hear properly-when he's sober and awake and they've talked about all of this-Tony closes his eyes and prays with everything he is that this isn't a dream, a single tear falling down his face despite his efforts before he takes a deep breath and directs a shaky smile at Steve.
"You got it, Steve," Tony whispers thickly, a trembling hand reaching up to run through Steve's mussed hair and settling there, lips wobbling at the feel of the instantaneous, wide smile that bursts across Steve's face against his skin.
"Really?" Steve asks, moving back to search Tony's face like he thought it might have been a trick of his mind. "You'll-you'll stay w'th me?"
"As long as you'll let me," Tony manages, rubbing his thumb against the arch of Steve's cheekbones and barely hearing anything over the blood rushing through his ears, the sound of his heartbeat growing louder and louder until all he can is Steve-on him, around him, warm and firm and so much more than he could ever have imagined in his wildest dreams.
"Forever," Steve promises fervently, face aglow with exhilaration, blue eyes glittering in the dim light and smile dizzyingly handsome, Tony unable to keep himself from reaching up to cup Steve's face with both calloused hands
"I really wish you were sober right now," Tony laughs wetly, Steve leaning into his touch and nuzzling their noses together.
"What'd you do 'f I wass sober?" Steve asks, eyes going half-mast at the naked want reflecting back up at him from Tony's open expression.
"I'd kiss you," Tony says quietly, voice small, Steve laughing low in his throat.
"Don't-don't gotta be sober t' know I wanna kiss you," Steve murmurs, dipping lower and lower until his fair lashes brush Tony's cheek, lips soft against his and tasting of all the sweetest things Tony's never let himself want.
"Stay," Steve orders breathlessly into the scant space between them, kissing Tony again with a face like he's gotten everything he could ever want, "stay, 'nd see. Drunk or sober, I'll always want you."
"You know what's kinda funny?" Tony chokes, letting their foreheads rest against each other. "I'm so head over heels for you, I'm staying with you for even the slightest goddamn chance of that."
"I love you now," Steve says, "and I'll love ya in the m'rning, and the m'rning after, 'nd all the mornings after."
And Tony-Tony, with his trembling hands and beautiful smile and vast heart, Tony who makes Steve feel like he doesn't need to be a whole because he's so much more than his missing pieces or the small picture he was at the beginning, Tony who holds onto him the entire night because Steve asked-clicks himself into all places Steve had waiting for him, face tucked into the hollow of a pale throat, arms loose around the small of Steve's back, legs tangling under the sheets.
Steve was born incomplete and woke up in the 21st century with less of himself that he'd ever known to do with, but with this-with Tony-he has more than he's ever known could be, a Steve Rogers unparalleled to any other; he's all the things he's ever wanted to be and never thought he could, bright, amazing new parts unearthing themself in Tony's blinding brilliance.
"That's a pretty smooth way of covering up your height difference kink," Tony teases one day, playing with Steve's hand as he leans against a muscled chest, the sheets pooling low on their hips.
"Every man's got something," Steve grins, leaving a trail of lush kisses down the unblemished expanse of Tony's shoulder and snaking his other hand around Tony's waist to pull him in closer.
"The things I do for you," Tony sighs dramatically, hiding his smile from a laughing Steve before turning to face him with a serious frown.
"Seriously, though, you're sleeping on the streets if you ever call me short," Tony warns him, Steve rolling his eyes and cupping Tony's cheeks with broad hands to drag him in for a deep kiss.
Some things never change.