Steve is well-versed in his affections being unrequited.
It’s something he doesn’t admit much, since nowadays all it gets him is a confused look. And Steve understands- now, he has a body that would suit magazine covers. People stop to stare at him on the street, and not just because he’s a previously-dead national icon.
But for 24 years before the serum, Steve never got a second glance from anyone he had feelings for. It got to the point where he’d talk himself out of it whenever he’d start to have feelings for someone. The only reason he hadn’t been able to talk himself out of it with Peggy had been due to Peggy continually making it clear that she considered him worth her time, along with the brief moments that got Steve thinking that maybe his feelings were returned- stolen glances, a smile she’d try to force down but fail, a soft look in his direction that lingered when Steve caught her at it.
Once, he’d thought Peggy would be it for him. But apparently fate had other plans.
Since then, Steve’s gone back to squashing anything that’s hinted at the start of romantic feelings. It hasn’t been difficult, with anything akin to a crush fading into friendship in a way that Steve honestly prefers- it works with Sam and Natasha, which he’s grateful for.
When he starts to have feelings for Tony, he expects it to dissolve into the friendship they’re in the middle of building. But by the time they can comfortably call each other friends, Steve’s feelings for him are proving stubborn.
By the time Steve can call Tony one of his best friends, Steve has duly accepted that he’s more than a little in love with the man.
He’s still unsure how it happened. Or, no, strike that. He’s completely sure, but he’s miffed at himself for not being able to swallow his feelings for Tony. As it turns out, Steve is bad at doing this when the person of his affections doesn’t think he’s worth their distant politeness but not much else.
And once they move past the initial rocky start of their friendship, Tony slowly builds up to showing how much he values Steve as a friend, even if he does it in a sideways Tony-esque manner that confuses Steve before he’s learned to navigate it: buying Steve things he doesn’t need that he mentioned offhand one time; building him better protection for fights and getting JARVIS to monitor his sleep so Tony knows if he’s having a lot of nightmares and when to prepare accordingly (which mostly involves a lot of running into an insomnia-ridden Tony at 3am in the kitchen).
He laughs at Steve’s wry humour. He genuinely thinks Steve is funny, and he’s comfortable enough with him to the point that he lets Steve draw on the couch in his workshop while Tony weaves miracles out of maths that leaves Steve in the dust.
It would be easier, Steve reflects, if Tony didn’t like him. It’d hurt, but Steve could handle it better. But he’s stuck with Tony throwing his head back to laugh when Steve makes a joke at team dinners; stuck with Tony making an understanding face when Steve shows up at god-knows-how-late in the kitchen after a nightmare; stuck with Tony bumping their shoulders together as they walk; stuck sparring with him and trading barbs with him over the comm during battles.
Sometimes, Steve prefers this. Even if Tony doesn’t love him like Steve loves him he still has Tony’s friendship, he can still make Tony happy with that.
But sometimes Tony catches Steve’s eye and grins wearily as he waits for the coffee machine to finish brewing and Steve’s chest will ache so hard he’ll wonder if the serum has temporarily failed and allowed his bad heart to resurface.
He usually looks away before Tony notices, but one morning he allows himself a lingering look at the dark sweep of Tony’s eyelashes.
By the time he tears himself away, Tony’s frowning.
“You good, Cap?”
“Peachy keen,” Steve says, borrowing a phrase from him. He tries for a reassuring smile over his tea. “I’m fine, Tony. Just- I had a long night.”
“Bad or just long?”
“Just long. Not too bad.”
Tony hums, glancing over when the coffee machine beeps. “Okay, let me know if that changes.”
Tony looks at him over the mug he’s just picked up. It’s a look that has Steve thinking JARVIS is going to be monitoring him more closely tonight.
“‘Kay,” Tony says, and pads out of the kitchen. Steve forces himself not to turn around and watch him leave; Tony’s wearing the sweatpants that bag around his hips and show off the blades of his hipbones.
When Steve gets up to slot bread into the toaster, he catches Thor eyeing him over his oatmeal.
“What,” Steve says. He tries to push the defensive tone out of the word but doesn’t quite get there.
Thor shakes his head. He’s smiling. “Nothing, Captain.”
“Uh-huh,” Steve says. He turns and reaches for the cupboard and is untwisting the bag of bread when Thor says, “He seems to like you very much.”
Steve decides to make a sandwich. It’s faster, which means he can be out of her sooner. Thor is really nursing that oatmeal. “He likes all of us.”
“He seems to like you especially.”
Steve busies himself with grabbing the first thing he sees out of the cupboard that can go in a sandwich- peanut butter- and jerking the jar open. “Yeah, we’re close.”
He smooths the peanut butter over the bread with unnecessary force and nearly punctures the bread before slapping the two slices together. “We should spar later today,” he says in an attempt to make Thor forget the conversation.
Thor agrees heartily to sparring, but he’s still giving Steve a look that’s knowing enough that Steve makes a quick exit with his sandwich.
When Steve’s nonexistant love life gets brought up at the next karaoke night, Steve can’t help but throw a look at Thor that isn’t entirely without blame. It’s probably uncalled for, as Thor is up on stage at the time doing a surprisingly good rendition of ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart.’
“I’m not interested in dating right now,” Steve says flatly. He’s ninety percent sure that everyone but Tony is aware of his feelings- 95 percent, when Clint gives him his best shit-eating grin in reply.
“Yeah, right,” Clint starts. He glances over when the seat beside him is occupied again; Tony’s back with bowl upon bowl of onion rings and drinks.
“What’s Steve not interested in,” Tony asks, popping an onion ring into his mouth. “God, these are terrible without dip.”
“Nothing,” Steve says. He reaches for the drink closest to him. It’s beer- not his favourite, but the good, colourful drinks are sitting next to Tony’s hands.
Clint turns to Tony. “Steve says he’s not interested in dating right now.”
Steve tries to find the subtlest way to give Clint a death glare. He cuts it out when Tony looks over at him.
“Do we think he’s a lying liar?”
“Oh, I think we do.”
“Should we help him out?”
“It’s what friends do,” Clint says, ignoring Steve’s please don’t .
Tony gets something like a grin, but it goes lopsided before straightening out. “Steve. Cap .”
“Whatever you’re going to say, don’t say it.” Steve really doubts Tony will say what Steve wants him to say, so he’d rather get nothing at all.
“What’s the problem,” Tony asks. He starts chewing at another onion ring and makes a face.
Beside him, Bruce turns from watching Thor to nudge the tiny dip bowl at him. “Just use the dip, it’s less than a foot away from you.”
“Too far,” Tony says, not taking his eyes off of Steve. He leans forwards and Steve tries not to focus on Tony’s dark eyes. “So what’s the problem? There has to be someone you think is at least worth a shot at dating.”
Steve stays quiet and drinks his beer.
“Come on. Give me something.” Tony stares at him until Steve has almost drained his whole beer in desperation.
On stage, Thor is belting out the last few lyrics to loud applause. Steve tries to watch, but Tony drags him back in with, “If you don’t pick someone I’m picking for you.”
“I never got the whole matchmaker shtick,” Steve tells him. He puts his beer bottle down and wipes his hand on his pants; the glass had grown wet with condensation and perhaps Steve’s sweating hands. “If someone says they’re fine as they are, leave it at that.”
“Yeah,” Tony says flatly. His eyes narrow. “‘Cause we’re the kind of people who are totally upfront about their wants and general feelings.”
Steve has to allow that. “Okay, that’s… fair.”
Tony nods and leans back in his chair. Steve is grateful for the distance, but Tony’s still surveying him like Steve’s a stubborn piece of tech that won’t work the way Tony wants.
“At least try it out,” Tony offers.
“Mm. I’d rather not.”
“You’re being more stubborn about this than you were about- about bungee-jumping.”
Steve shrugs. “I jump off of things I shouldn’t all the time.”
Amongst the clapping that overruns the bar at Thor finishing up the song, Bruce speaks up. “Maybe Steve already has someone in mind but doesn’t think it’s a possibility.”
Steve stares at him. Bruce isn’t even watching him, he’s turning to clap Thor’s descent from the stage.
When Steve looks back at Tony, the man seems taken aback, though he recovers quickly. “That true, Steve? You been keeping secrets?”
Steve struggles to find a way out of this. Damn Bruce. “I’m- there isn’t-”
“We can help you out,” Tony says.
“There’s nothing to help,” Steve tells him. He looks down and sees that he’s started peeling the label off the beer bottle. “They don’t… feel the same way. So there won’t be any dating to help out with.”
He doesn’t look up for the reply, but when Tony speaks it’s softer than before.
“Do you know for sure?”
“Pretty sure, yeah.”
Tony makes a noise in the back of his throat. “Huh. Okay. Well, first off, they’re an idiot. Wait, guy or girl? Or otherwise?”
Steve snorts. “I’m not telling you anything. You’ll take any information you can get and start a file on who it can be.”
Tony sighs. “Fine. Look, we can still help with that.” He waves a hand. “I mean, most of us are absolute trainwrecks when it comes to- what, wooing? Do people say wooing anymore? Whatever, we can still help.”
“I really don’t need-”
“Steve, help me help you.”
“I don’t need help,” Steve insists, and stands when Thor approaches the table. “Hey, I’m next.”
Thor’s grin sticks around, but takes a confused air. “You regularly decline the honour.”
“Yeah, well, I’m taking that honour tonight.” Steve is happy to watch his teammates get up on stage and sing, but he always tries to get out of doing it himself. But tonight he’d rather publicly embarrass himself than stay in this conversation.
He ends up picking the least romantic song available. He’s sure there will be enough videos of Captain America singing ‘Cotton-Eyed Joe’ to keep SHIELD agents busy all day tomorrow taking them down from the internet.
Steve manages not to hear about it for a week, mostly because he changes the subject whenever Tony tries to bring it up.
When Tony attempts to talk about it in front of Rhodey, the latter man gags on his grilled cheese sandwich.
Tony pounds him on the back and Rhodey swallows the sandwich hastily, eyes watering. “Ugh. Thanks. Also, you’d be the worst person to help Steve woo someone.”
“I don’t know about the worst-”
“Tones.” Rhodey’s look is more exasperated than anything. “I love you, man, but you’ve had one relationship. Steve’s had, uh.”
“Less than one,” Steve says. He’s never known how to describe his relationship with Peggy- it had been over before it had a chance to begin.
“Right,” Rhodey says. “I’m just saying it might not be the best idea.”
Tony gives him a faux-wounded look. “Wh- I’m helping out a friend! What about that could be a bad idea!”
“I’m not saying the intentions are bad, just what would end up happening if you two went along with it. Also, Steve doesn’t want your help, man. He wants to pine, let him pine.”
Steve nods. “Thanks, James.”
Natasha enters the kitchen with a neat yawn. “Oh, are we discussing Steve’s pining?”
“No,” Steve tells her at the same time Tony turns to her with hungry eyes.
“Apparently everyone knew about it but me.”
Natasha heads over to the tea shelves and starts assembling her usual morning brew. “If it helps, Steve didn’t tell anyone directly. We just figured it out.”
“Yeah, well.” Tony crosses his arms. “Someone should’ve told me. Come on ,” he says, the last of it directed at his phone that he digs out of his pocket when he rings. He puts it to his ear. “I’m almost ready, Pep.”
“He’s not,” Rhodey says, and leans out of range when Tony shoves halfheartedly at him.
Tony rises and stalks out of the kitchen, pausing only to point at Steve with his free hand and tell him he’s not done with him.
Steve waits until Tony’s out of view before slumping slightly. Having the man you’re in love with try to convince you to let him help you woo him is beyond Steve’s pay grade.
“I should start eating in my room again,” he says as he takes another bite of his toast.
Rhodey grunts. “Don’t,” he says. He leans on his elbows, coffee mug cupped in his hands. “So.”
Steve eyes the door.
“This person you’re pining over.”
“He hates that word,” Natasha says from the kettle.
“This person you- have feelings for,” Rhodey says.
Steve starts taking bigger, hastier bites of his toast, eyes on the plate.
“I haven’t been able to be around here much, but whenever I am, I get these vibes.”
“He hates that word, too.”
Rhodey glances over at Natasha, who is busying herself with steeping her tea. “Yeah, not a big fan of ‘vibes’ either. Anyway, you’ve got a thing for Tony?”
Steve eyes the door again, this time to check that Tony doesn’t suddenly pop out of it and start accusing Steve of betraying their friendship. When the doorway stays clear, Steve swallows his mouthful of toast. “No offence, Jim, but I don’t feel comfortable talking about this with you.”
“Yeah, yeah, fair enough.” Jim takes a gulp of coffee. “Just thought I’d check. Sorry he’s trying to give you wooing advice, that must be awkward.”
Steve snorts. “ Oh , yeah,” he says, putting the last scrap of toast into his mouth and getting up from the table.
Tony stops bringing it up and Steve is too relieved to ask why. Instead he gratefully continues their usual friendship, sitting together at team meetings and movie nights, going out for burgers and silently spending time together in Tony’s workshop.
They even spend time in Steve’s studio, whenever Steve gets the urge and the time to be there. Tony never speaks much, just sits on the couch that Steve dragged in here for that sole purpose and taps away at his tablet.
Steve enjoys their silent times. He loves it when they talk, too, and god knows Tony can get him talking a hundred miles a minute if he tries, but there’s something precious about the hours they can spend without talking while in the same room working on their own things.
When Tony speaks up an hour into Steve’s painting session one day, Steve has to pull himself out of the headset the painting has him in. Distractedly, still picturing how he’s going to shade one of the buildings, he says, “What?”
“Is it a casual attraction thing or are there feelings with a capital F involved?”
Steve’s paintbrush pauses on the canvas. The shading suddenly takes a backseat. “Tony, I told you I didn’t-”
“-want to talk about it, I know. But you- you deserve to be happy, okay, I want my friends to be happy and something tells me that if we all let this slide then you’re going to keep pining away and never say anything until you’re both old and grey. And Rhodey thinks that your feelings run pretty deep for whoever the hell it is, and by the way I’m eight kinds of pissed off that even Rhodey knows before me.”
He stops and Steve chances a look over at him. Tony’s jaw is twitching in that way it does when he’s agitated and the source of it isn’t something he can control. But he’s also oddly earnest, and Steve remembers how many times Tony has tried to help Steve in ways that Steve didn’t understand without hindsight and prior knowledge of Tony’s inner workings.
“I-” Steve wets his lips. He tries brushing paint down the canvas again, but his heart’s not in it. “This isn’t something I want to foster, Tony. I don’t see the point in trying to woo someone who doesn’t want to be wooed.”
“You sound like an 18th century… guy.”
“Yeah, ‘woo’ sounds strange.”
Tony fidgets with his tablet. His nails clack quietly against the surface. “They might want to be wooed. You’re not the best judge at- someone’s woo-meter.”
“I don’t know, I’m helping.”
“Yeah, you’re real helpful right now, Tony.”
“You deserve-” Tony’s voice raises and then forcibly falls. He sighs. “You should be happy, okay? Of all people. And so far your life has been- not so great, and you should have great things. So I’m just, I’m trying to-”
He waves his hands ineffectively at Steve, scowling down at his tablet. “Okay?”
You’re a great thing , Steve thinks. Out loud, he says, “I appreciate it. But-”
“Yeah, no, got it.” Tony starts bumping his leg up and down. “Fine. Sure. Let me know if you change your mind.”
Steve blinks at the abrupt giving in. He watches Tony for a few seconds more, but when Tony doesn’t continue, Steve says, “Okay,” and goes back to his painting.
It doesn’t turn out to be one of his best.
It’s a testament to how fond he is of Tony that he tags along to a gala Tony begs him to attend, his reasoning being ‘everyone is boring and horrible and if you’re there I can have someone to make understanding eye contact with from across the room.’
Like most parties Steve attends without the specific goal of talking to important people, Steve mostly stays at the side of the room. He still speaks to people, and perhaps some of them are important, but they’re important in terms of magazine covers and reality shows. Steve shakes their hands and makes polite small talk and makes his way through as much food he can get down without being rude and taking more than his fair share.
And as promised, Steve meets Tony’s eyes on occasion to send him sympathetic looks as Tony makes his rounds. Steve doesn’t know how Tony does it- or, he does, he just knows he could never do it as long or as good as Tony can. Steve can fake interest and smile as well as the next fella, and being Captain America has made him all too aware of the world’s expectations of how he needs to act.
Steve can go through the motions like an expert, but Tony performs . Tony can own every room he walks into and everyone will let him take it. Tony puts on a facade that’s been primed and polished for the better part of forty years and then milks it for all its got.
When they climb into a car afterwards, the first thing Tony does once the doors are closed is flop back against the seats and close his eyes.
Steve watches him. Tony’s always tired after these things, but mostly it shows through him getting snappish or eerily silent. Tony outwardly showing his exhaustion is a rarity.
Steve lays a hand on Tony’s shoulder. “You okay?”
Tony cracks one eye open and then closes it again once his gaze lands on Steve. “Wonderful,” he says, and his head lolls against the seat. Steve tries to remember how many drinks had been put into Tony’s hand tonight.
Steve pats his shoulder understandingly. “We’ll pull into a McDonalds drivethrough on the way home.”
“Yay,” Tony mutters. He rolls his shoulders and pushes himself up so his back is more or less straight as the car begins to roll forwards. “You’ll get your usual everything on the menu?”
“Probably just fries and a burger. I ate a lot before.”
Tony hums. “Yeah, I saw you picking everything off the buffet table. How many of those tiny appetisers would you have to eat to be full?”
“Another hour of that gala and we’d have found out.”
“God,” Tony says. He sighs through his nose. “Couldn’t leave you standing there in the corner looking all morose for another hour.”
“Yeah, ‘cause you seemed to be really enjoying yourself over there.”
“Ha,” Tony says. He shifts in his seat, looking out the window to the buildings. They aren’t going fast enough for them to blur, but Tony watches anyway. “Hey.”
Tony rubs a hand down his face. “Uh. I know I said I’d drop it, but why didn’t you tell anyone about your mystery crush?”
Why didn’t you tell me is what Steve hears under the words. “I don’t know. It never seemed like an option. I didn’t want to let anyone know about it if nothing was going to happen.”
Tony sighs in frustration. “Come on, who the hell wouldn’t want you? I’d bet my fortune you’re- projecting, or something, when you say you’re 100% sure they don’t like you back.”
“I never said I was 100% sure,” Steve says, his mind reeling who the hell wouldn’t want you over in his head futilely.
Tony gives him the side-eye. “You should try, anyway. The wooing. It’d work on anyone with a brain.”
Steve actually considers it. “If I say yes, would you drop it?”
“No, I’d help . Have you not been listening?”
“You really think you’re the most qualified person to help me woo someone?”
“No, but I’m your friend.”
Steve watches the stubborn jut of Tony’s jaw with an inexplicable fondness. It’d work on anyone with a brain - and Tony has the most magnificent brain Steve knows.
The worst that can happen is he rejects you , Steve tells himself. And if it works, then -
“Fine,” Steve says.
Tony blinks. “Fine? We’re wooing?”
“ I’m wooing. You’re helping, apparently.”
Tony must be drunker than Steve thought, because his smile ticks oddly and something flickers in his face when he says, “Great. You won’t regret it, Cap.”
Once Tony sobers up, the first thing they do is get in an argument over Steve telling Tony who it is.
“It’s personal,” Steve insists.
Tony throws up his hands. “We’re planning to woo them! Giving me a name would make everything so much more helpful, I could hack their social media and find out what they like!”
“Or you could go on their public accounts and not invade their privacy.”
“So they do have social media?”
After that, Steve refuses to give any information. Of course, this leads to Tony making a categorical list of who Steve interacts with on a semi-regular basis, which leads to Tony accompanying Steve to his regular haunts and having Tony analyse how Steve acts around different people.
“Sorry,” Steve tells his usual waitress as Tony tries yet again to coax her into admitting Steve’s cute. “You can ignore him.”
She looks bemused. “Will do.”
She walks off with their orders and Steve turns to Tony. “Stop harassing people trying to do their jobs. And she has a boyfriend, they’re in a long-distance relationship.”
Tony shrugs. “I don’t know, it could be why you’re convinced they don’t like you back. Do they have someone else?”
Tony rolls his eyes. “Right, you’re not giving me any more information. Which, by the way, makes everything so much harder. We’re stuck with doing generic crap when we could be- visiting a llama zoo, or whatever, but you won’t tell me what they’re interested in.”
“They have llama zoos?”
“Probably. You’re not paying attention. Pay attention.” Tony clicks his fingers at him. “Okay, wooing step one.”
“There are steps?”
“Yes, I just decided. Step one: let them know what a great guy you are.”
“They know already.”
“Cocky,” Tony says after a second. “And what the fuck? If they already know, why aren’t they falling all over you already?”
“I’m not exactly the guy people, uh, fall over.”
Tony gives him a look that’s so dubious Steve gets a small thrill. Maybe there’s something to his small hope that Tony might like him in a way that goes past platonic.
“Sure,” Tony says. “Moving on. Do they know you think they’re all-” He waves a hand. “Fantastic and whatever you think they are?”
Steve hesitates. “I like to think so. I’m not sure.”
Tony snaps his fingers again. “Well there you go, we can start there. Compliments are always a good start. And I can’t help too much there, because you won’t get specific , but I’m sure you can figure it out on your own. Just be subtle about it.”
They both look up when the waitress comes back, beaming the smile of the tired but working in customer service.
“Thanks,” Tony says distractedly, shelling out two twenties with an absent smile.
She raises her eyebrows at the money he put in her hands, thanking him and then Steve when he contributes a ten. When she walks over to the next table, there’s a distinct bounce in her gait.
Tony takes a sip of his new coffee and turns back to Steve. “Anyway-”
“That was really good of you, Tony.”
Tony blinks. “Hmm? Oh, thanks. Anyway-”
“You’re so generous.”
Tony falters at being derailed yet again. “Thank… you,” he says, slower this time. “Uh, it’s never really a big deal for me, I’m, y’know. And if I can help someone afford rent this week, then great.”
Steve shrugs, stirring sugar into his already sweet coffee. He takes a sip, says, “Still, it’s more than some people in your position do. You always try to be nice to staff. Not everyone does.”
Tony looks at him, a little lost. “They don’t need another asshole screaming at them, I guess,” he says with something like suspicion. “Can we move on from how generous I am?”
Steve nods. Not the reaction he was hoping for. “Go ahead.”
“Right.” Tony shoots him another look, but continues. “Uh, right, so I’m not the best person to ask for compliment ideas, but just go with your gut. And apparently honesty is a big thing, so find what you like about the person and- and let them know.”
“That’s generally how compliments work,” Steve agrees.
“Let them know in a way that feels organic,” Tony continues. “Trust me, if someone lays it on thick and then just keeps layering it on, it’s the least subtle thing in the world. You can’t just walk up to her- sorry, them- and start going on about how much you love their eyes.”
Steve nods again. “So I have to find ways to nudge it into the conversation.”
“Okay.” Steve sips at his coffee again. It’s not the greatest cup he’s ever had. “I can do that. I can ,” he insists when Tony eyes him. I literally just did. And I was subtle enough that you had no damn idea what was happening, so that backfired .
“Total faith in you,” Tony says. “Let me know how it goes. Ooh, you should buy them things.”
“I don’t think they’re the kind of person who appreciates that,” Steve says, thinking about how much Tony has and how little Steve can offer.
Still, he does make a point to give Tony a drawing he’s done of him and Dummy interacting down in the workshop. At first Tony just stares at it, but his uh, thanks is soft and surprised and accompanied by a smile that Steve gets to see maybe once every three months, so Steve thinks he did okay.
Finding subtle ways to compliment Tony turns out to be less difficult than Steve thinks- they’ll spar and Steve will mention how Tony’s improving; they’ll be watching TV and Steve will tell Tony how he admires how passionate Tony can get about scifi movies.
It earns him long-suffering looks from any of their friends if they’re around at the time, but Steve ignores them. His hope that Tony likes him- or that Steve is getting Tony to see him in a different light- is turning into a theory, one with actual evidence. Steve isn’t willing to test it out yet, but he keeps working at it.
The hardest part is when Tony asks him how the wooing is going. Steve keeps his replies as vague as possible until Tony shows up one day in Steve’s studio and announces they’re advancing the wooing.
“Compliments and giving them shit is elementary level,” Tony says, and Steve can tell from the five seconds he’s been here that Tony hasn’t slept in at least a day. His hair is sticking up on one side and his eyes have that manic gleam that often comes with sleep deprivation. Steve doubts it’s serious yet, but he makes a note to get Tony to sleep after this.
Tony continues, “Have you been alone with them?”
“Yes.” A lot , Steve almost says, but stops himself.
“Okay. Have you gone anywhere? Like, have you set a date and-”
“But it hasn’t been romantic.”
Steve shakes his head.
“Okay.” Tony runs a hand through his own hair and then frowns at it when it comes out with grease. “Okay. We’re gonna do that.”
We? Steve clears his throat. “What?”
“We’re stepping up the game, Rogers,” Tony tells him. “We’ll make it romantic enough that it could be interpreted as a date if they want it to, but casual enough that it could also just be two friends hanging out. Wait, are you friends?”
Steve stays silent. Tony stares at him until it hits him and he sighs.
“Right, you’re not telling me anything. Would it be weird if you invited the person to spend time together alone?”
Steve swallows. “No.”
“Okay,” Tony says, and Steve can tell his brain is working through his list of suspects even as he continues, “Set something up. I’ll arrange everything else, just let me know what day and time. Okay? Okay. Break.”
“O...kay,” Steve says, watching Tony as he spins on his heel and walks out. Steve turns back to the painting he had been in the middle of when Tony came in. Somehow, he doesn’t think he’s going to get any further with it today.
Steve thinks about texting Sam or Natasha about it. But that means he’d have to confront what an idiot he’s being, so instead he constructs a plan as he rinses off his paintbrush. It’s flimsy, but it’s a plan.
Three days later, Tony comes into the kitchen holding the cellphone he just received Steve’s text on. “What happened?”
Steve shrugs and leans against the counter. Behind him is a meal delivered from a place that doesn’t deliver unless someone ridiculously rich asks them to. Steve thinks it’s Indian food. “They had to cancel.”
“What, this last-minute?”
Tony looks more upset than Steve, who hastily tries to adopt a hangdog expression.
“It can’t be helped, I suppose,” Steve says, with a drawn-upon sigh.
Tony approaches him and puts a hand on his shoulder. Squeezing once, he says, “Always next time, Cap. You’ll get ‘em.”
“Mm.” Steve casts a look over at the bags of food. “Shame if the food goes to waste, though.”
Tony laughs. “I’m sure you’ll find room. Remember Thanksgiving? Next year we’re making two turkeys.”
Steve grins, remembering. “Yeah, I heard. Uh.” He glances over at the bags again, then back at Tony. “Actually, I was thinking we could eat together. If you’re free. I mean, you’re already here and my evening’s suddenly freed up, so-”
He supposes he should feel bad about faking contriteness in order to make Tony believe he’s put out by the fake cancellation from the fake person.
“Sure,” Tony says instantly.
Steve tries not to look too happy about it. “Great. Do you want to eat on the couch, or-”
“Definitely. We could watch Friends.”
Steve pauses in gathering up the bags. It’s Steve’s favourite sitcom for when he wants to watch other people have dumb problems. “You hate that show.”
“I don’t hate it,” Tony says grudgingly.
Steve has to fight another smile. He ducks his head and checks the contents of the bags. Definitely Indian.
“I’d have sent you two out to the actual restaurant,” Tony says, “but I didn’t know if you were at that stage yet.”
Tony rubs his hands on his jeans. “Okay. Baby steps. You’ll get there.”
Steve stops him before they can leave the kitchen. “Hey. I haven’t thanked you for doing all of this.”
“What, this?” Tony flicks one of the bags. “I just made a phonecall. It’s-”
“No, I mean helping me with everything. With- this person.”
He watches Tony’s face carefully. His heart twists when he notices Tony’s throat bob; his eyes going shuttered for a moment before he pulls on a smile.
“Sure thing, Cap,” he says, and then makes a beeline out of the kitchen talking a mile a minute about Friends and his dubious liking of it.
Steve stands in the kitchen for a few seconds more. That hadn’t been a happy expression. If Tony’s unhappy about the possibility of Steve with someone else-?
“You coming or what,” Tony hollers from the lounge.
Steve bites the inside of his cheek to curb his smile and follows.
Rhodey corners him in the elevator the next day.
Or, more accurately, Steve gets in the elevator to head to the gym and he sees Rhodey jogging for it and puts his hand in front of the doors before they can close.
“Thanks,” Rhodey says as he steps in.
Steve drops his hand towards the buttons. “No problem. What floor?”
Steve nods and presses it. The elevator doors slide closed.
As the elevator begins to shunt upwards, Rhodey says, “So about you and Tony.”
Damn. Steve tilts his head up and has a very short conversation with himself at how pathetic it would be to climb out of a moving elevator to avoid a conversation about feelings.
“What about it,” Steve says.
“Just wondering how that’s going.”
Steve thinks about mentioning his new Tony-might-like-him theory. “It’s going okay.”
Rhodey pauses. Then he says, “He’s invested. He wants you to be happy.”
“Yeah. Yeah, I know.”
“Some might say he’s over-invested.”
Steve looks over at Rhodey, who stares right back. “You know how Tony is about his friends.”
“‘Course. He’ll bitch, but he’ll go to the ends of the earth and back. That’s how he is about his friends. But you? There’s something else. I haven’t seen him like this since Pepper.”
The implication is obvious, but Steve still has to take a second for it to absorb. “You think Tony-”
“I do. Since before this whole wooing thing started. You might want to check in on that.”
Steve nods slowly. He turns to examine the slate surface of the elevator doors. Rhodey has known him longer than anyone. If there was a person who could work out what Tony was feeling, it’d be his best friend since college.
“I’ve been starting to consider it,” Steve admits.
“I will,” Steve says. “Uh, check on that. Thank you for- your input.”
“I take care of my friends, too.”
“Tony’s glad to have you.”
“Wasn’t just talking about him.”
Steve raises his eyebrows, but he can feel a smile make its way across his face. “Well, good to have you with me, Jim.”
“You too, Cap.” Rhodey lifts a hand and claps Steve on the shoulder as the elevator doors open. “Hey, good luck.”
“Yeah. Thanks,” Steve repeats. The elevator doors slide closed again and Steve blinks at the non-reflective surface of the metal. If he could see himself in it, he’s sure he’d look like he’d just been hit in the head and is weirdly glad about it.
Tony is in Board meetings all day, so Steve can’t do anything about it right away. He supposes he can text Tony, but he thinks it’d be better in person.
Then he decides he shouldn’t ambush Tony after he’s just spent a day slogging through meetings, so he sleeps on it and wakes up with the resolution to tell Tony today. Or at least sometime this week.
Steve jolts. “Yeah, JARVIS?”
“Sir would like to see you.”
Steve’s nerves ratchet upwards. “Sure. Be right there,” he says, and continues to stand clenching and unclenching his hands as a plethora of possibilities run through his head. “JARVIS?”
Steve wets his lips. “On a scale of one to ten, how put out do you think Tony will be that I made up a crush to woo in order to woo him?”
There’s a pause. Then JARVIS says, “I’m afraid I can’t give you a number. But based on my observations, I believe Sir will be too busy with the knowledge that his feelings are reciprocated to be upset with you.”
“And when the surprise wears off?”
“He may find it endearing. He also may not.”
“Thanks, JARVIS. Very comforting.”
“I live to serve,” JARVIS says dryly.
Steve is almost at the elevator when he spots a familiar blonde. “Sh- Agent Thirteen.”
She smiles and comes to a stop in front of the elevator, facing Steve. “You can call me Sharon, you know.”
“I know,” Steve says, and presses the elevator button. “What brings you to the Tower?”
“I have a higher clearance than you,” he reminds her.
“That’s what they’d have you believe,” she shoots back, and Steve remembers why he had been charmed by her back when he’d thought she was a civilian as well as his neighbour.
They step into the elevator, and Steve wonders if he should come up with something else to say. He wouldn’t call Sharon a friend, but they’ve been friendly after Steve had gotten over her being an undercover agent.
Thankfully, Sharon saves him from coming up with something. “How’ve you been, Steve?”
“That’s classified,” Sharon says, her smile upping when he laughs. “I’ve been good. Doing a lot of work overseas. You should come on a mission sometime.”
“I’ll think about it.”
“You should. It’d be good to have you along,” Sharon says, and her smile gutters as the elevator shudders to a stop.
They both look around the elevator. Steve presses the bottom button again, but nothing happens.
“This happen a lot,” Sharon asks.
Steve shakes his head. “JARVIS controls the elevators. If one of them stopped-”
“I am afraid this elevator is experiencing malfunctions at the present. Please stand by.”
Sharon tilts her head up at the roof of the elevator. “Still mad Tony never told me about his invisible robot butler.”
Steve glances over at her. It had been startling, to say the least, to find out that Peggy- and by extension, Sharon- had been a part of Tony’s life after Steve had gone down into the Atlantic. From what Steve’s managed to gleam from Tony and occasionally Sharon, they had spent time together when Sharon was a child and Tony was a young teenager; and then later when they were both young adults. Steve can’t imagine either scenarios, what with how different their lives had been, and still are. He thinks Sharon mentioned once that Peggy taught them how to shoot together.
“He tries to keep JARVIS out of the public’s knowledge,” Steve says to her. Then to JARVIS, “What kind of malfunctions?”
“I am working on figuring that out as we speak, Captain.”
“Uh-huh,” Steve says. Every trip he’s taken in this elevator has been smooth.
Sharon speaks up. “Can we help from in here? Or I could climb out-”
“Please refrain from doing so, agent. I will let you know as soon as I have found the problem.”
Steve asks, “Why didn’t you realize there were malfunctions before it stopped entirely? No offence meant.”
“None taken, Captain. I am still working on sorting this out.” A pause. “Sir apologizes for the inconvenience.”
“Did he now.”
“Not in those exact words, Captain.”
“What words were there?”
“I don’t believe he expressly apologized.”
“Uh-huh,” Steve says again. When he catches Sharon eyeing him, he sighs. “Tony might have an idea in his head.”
Her eyebrows climb her forehead. “What idea?”
Steve makes a face. “He might think he’s helping.”
“Helping with making me late for my next meet-up?”
“That, too.” Steve sighs again. “Please don’t judge me.”
Great. “I’ve... led Tony to believe I have feelings for someone. He might’ve come to the false conclusion it’s you.”
Sharon’s lips twitch. She crosses her arms. “So his best plan is to stick us in a malfunctioning elevator until we, what? Fall into each other’s arms?”
“He doesn’t have a lot of experience with helping people get together,” Steve tries. “He means well.”
Sharon nods. “Sure. I’ll bet. Hey, Steve.”
She leans against the elevator wall. “Why did you get Tony to think you like someone?”
Steve struggles to find the best way to phrase it and decides there is none, they all sound terrible. “It’s a long story. A long, embarrassing story I don’t feel up to telling right now.”
“Okay. That’s fair and I won’t force you into it, but apparently we have time now,” she says, and waits with a carefully blank face that’s betrayed by the occasional upward twitch of her lips that has Steve thinking she knows the gist already.
“None of this makes it back to Fury,” Steve says.
She nods. “Done.”
“And you’re not allowed to laugh.”
Another mouth twitch. “Done.”
To give her credit, she doesn’t laugh. She does, however, smile very widely and make several noises that aren’t laughter but can’t be classified as much else.
“Give me a second,” she tells him when he finishes.
Steve wonders if she wants him along on those missions now that she knows what a trainwreck he is when it comes to Emotions.
Sharon takes a long, even breath. “Okay. That’s- not what I expected. Especially from you.”
Steve doesn’t know quite how to take that, but he nods anyway. “I’m going to clear the air with him.”
Sharon nods and keeps talking. “It sounds exactly like a situation Tony would get himself into, but- you? Really? How old are you, Steve?”
“I know,” Steve sighs. “I’m not proud of it.”
“You really could’ve handled this better.”
“A teenager might have handled this better,” she continues, but she’s still smiling. “Man, I’m glad the world depends on your tactical skills rather than your ability to navigate relationships.”
Sharon looks him up and down. Her eyebrows raise again, and she lifts her gaze to the ceiling. “Excuse me, JARVIS?”
“Tell Tony to let us out. Also that I think he’s a dork.”
“As you say.”
“That goes for you, too,” Sharon says. “The dork thing. God.”
The elevator creaks quietly and then begins to move again. Steve and Sharon don’t speak until the doors slide open on the basement floor where Tony’s workshop resides.
“I’ll talk to him some other time,” Sharon tells him. “Take care of each other, Steve. And- maybe go to therapy. Both of you.”
She waves. “Bye, Steve. Best of luck with… everything.”
Tony has the decency to look sheepish as Steve enters the workshop. He nudges his goggles up his face, but keeps his body angled towards the metal he’s soldering.
“Not her, then? Damn. I’m running low on possibilities. You know, if you just told me-”
Steve walks up to him. “Forget the wooing plans.”
Tony falters. He switches off the soldering iron. “Why? What happened? Was it actually Sharon and I-”
“It’s not Sharon,” Steve says, and squares his shoulders. “Look, I- I’ve decided I’m just going to come clean about my feelings.”
Tony puts down the soldering iron onto a block of wood. “Okay, that works too. You think it worked? The wooing?”
“I don’t know,” Steve says honestly. His throat clicks. “I’m starting to think he’s had feelings for me for a while.”
Tony’s eyebrows jump upwards and Steve can picture the list of suspects narrowing down with Steve saying ‘he.’ Steve wonders if Tony has put himself on that list. It’s doubtful.
“Great,” Tony says, but it comes out lackluster. He clears his throat. “That’s great! This guy you’re into is- he’s really lucky.”
Steve’s heart thuds as he watches Tony try to make a convincing smile. Jeez, he’s an ass for doing this to Tony. He should’ve said it outright weeks ago, but he hadn’t been sure-
“You seem sad.”
Tony’s eyes widen. “What? I’m not sad. Why would I be sad, the plan worked, the guy’s wooed. Go team.”
Steve shakes his head. “You’re sad.”
“Why would I be sad,” Tony croaks. He clears his throat again. “Uh-”
“‘Cause you think I’m in love with someone else.”
“Someone-?” Tony gets halfway through a frown before the confusion is overtaken. Steve watches Tony freeze, watches the impossible theory flicker over his face and set in his gaze as Tony takes in Steve’s determined shoulders, the proximity of how they’re standing.
Tony’s tongue darts out to wet his lips. “Steve?”
Steve raises a hand, places it cautiously on Tony’s face.
Tony’s breath hitches. “If, if this is just-” His eyes track Steve’s like he’s catching Steve out on a lie. “What, you asked me how to woo me ?”
“You talked me into it.”
Tony barks out a laugh. It’s short and loud in the suddenly silent workshop. “Yeah, well I didn’t- I didn’t realize- you didn’t mention-”
“Are you mad?”
Tony keeps blinking like he thinks Steve is going to vanish. “Give me a day. I’ll yell at you. It’ll be loud.”
“Sure. Until then?”
“Uh, I’m going to kiss you a lot.”
Steve nods. He can’t wipe the grin off his face. “I’ll suffer through it.”
“Suffer through it,” Tony mutters, grabbing the front of Steve’s shirt. “God. I’m gonna yell at you so loud.”
“Looking forward to it.”
“Shut up,” Tony says, and kisses him.