Tony went to his first outfit fitting when he was five years old.
He was very bored, and Jarvis had to be extra attentive to keep him from blowing something up at the store as the tailor went to search for the right fabrics. After a while, though, he got used to it. A Stark was always in the media’s eye, and that meant dressing well.
So Tony learned his favorite types of clothing, and the ones that worked better for him, very early. He enjoyed suits and button up shirts. On a more casual basis, he went for jeans and t-shirts, but he made sure they all fit him properly. He had his favorite brands and the ones he wouldn’t be caught dead in, a closet for all his shoes, and a hand-picked tailor on speed dial. All in all, Tony knew he could pull most stuff off, but he still preferred to play to his strengths, which lead to a very firm streak of spots on the list of best dressed celebrities at any Red Carpet he attended (except that time in '98. Tony prefers not to talk about it).
When he became an Avenger, he thought his experience in the public eye would be helpful for the rest of the team. Thor didn’t know anything about human fashion, even though during his time on Earth, he became very interested in it (and had received more than a few offers of modelling contracts); Natasha was mostly fine, though she rarely wore anything that wasn’t very discreet; Bruce had grown to not care about his clothes as there was always the risk the Hulk would rip them apart; Clint was Clint; and, well.
And then there was Steve.
Though Tony liked to dress well, he wasn’t the type to judge other people for their clothing. Well, sometimes, when they were ridiculous assholes like Justin Hammer, but not regular people, who could dress however they wanted as far as Tony was concerned.
So Tony didn’t set out to become obsessed with Steve’s terrible fashion sense. Really. It just… happened.
It started out on a day like any other – Tony was leaving SHIELD, right after a boring meeting with Fury, when he ran into Steve on the way out. He had seen Steve in his uniform earlier, arriving from a mission. Now Steve had clearly slipped back into regular clothing. In his case, that consisted of a green plaid button-down, a pair of khakis, a pair of brown shoes that seemed older than Steve himself, and, bizarrely, a leather jacket, topping it all off.
Tony stopped in his tracks, removing his sunglasses to get a better look. The t-shirt was the most hideous shade of green, which, combined with the plaid pattern, created something downright atrocious. And those shoes – they dissented from the entire outfit, somehow too formal and also ready to fall apart at the same time. The jacket was okay, but it clashed terribly with the shirt, its brown leather matching the shoes way more than advisable.
All in all, the khakis were the most acceptable part of the whole look – a sentence Tony had never thought would cross his mind.
“Hey, Cap,” Tony managed to say. Steve turned towards him, a strained smile forming on his lips. They didn’t talk much more than necessary, outside of missions. There was still tension there, but of course Steve, ever so polite, would never ignore him.
“Hello, Tony. I didn’t see you when we arrived.”
“Yeah, Fury was torturing me with some very interesting reports. I took the chance to run off when he went to the bathroom, so we should probably walk faster,” Tony quipped, gesturing towards the front door. Steve shook his head, smile growing a little more relaxed as he walked with him.
For a moment they walked in silence, and then Steve asked, “Did you make progress with the repulsors?”
Tony almost rolled his eyes (because he hadn’t escaped a work meeting to walk right into another one, thank you), but he stopped when he caught sight of something poking out of the pocket of Steve’s jacket. It was the tip of something metallic, and for a horrifying moment Tony thought it was a brooch of some kind, which would truly be the cherry on the cake of this terrible outfit Steve decided to show the world that day.
“Uh, yeah, something like that,” Tony managed to say. He opened the front door of the building and stepped outside, Steve right behind him. They stopped next to Tony’s car, which was parked right out front.
There was another awkward silence. It was always a bit strange, talking to Steve outside the field. Though they weren’t yelling at each other anymore, something about him just seemed to push all of Tony’s buttons – what the hell was he supposed to say to freaking Captain America, the Living National Legend, who turned out to be unable to stand Tony’s guts? Tony rarely retreated into silence when he was nervous, but now, standing next to Steve on a sunny sidewalk, in that god- awful outfit of his, the words seemed to turn into a mess inside his brain, making it impossible to get a coherent sentence out.
Which was why Tony decided to gesture to Steve’s pocket and say: “New watch, Cap?”
That turned out to be the wrong thing to say - perhaps the worst thing to say, even worse than your shirt is so ugly it makes me want to gauge my eyes out or everything special about you came from a bottle. Saying something like that would make Steve furious, Tony was well aware, but, somehow, his innocent question about the watch turned out to be worse.
Because right there, by the door of SHIELD’s building, in an otherwise very lovely sunny day, Tony got to watch Steve’s strained and polite smile faltering, his mask slipping for one second to reveal a glimpse of an almost unbearable melancholy.
“Oh, not really.” Steve controlled his expression so quickly nobody else would have caught it, reaching into his pocket and removing a compass. “It’s – uh, it was among my other things.” He gave another forced smile, somehow even more obviously fake than the previous one. His thumb caressed the compass gently, blue eyes glimmering in such a way that Tony suddenly felt as if he was intruding on a very intimate moment. “I just got it back last week.”
Steve didn’t open the compass, but he didn’t have too – Tony had watched it countless times, as a child, the videos of Captain America, seen him longingly looking at a picture of his beloved Peggy Carter to gain strength in the middle of a battle. Back then, to child Tony, it had seemed gallant, like a knight waiting to return to his princess. Now, so many years later, the way Steve’s hand clung to the compass as if he wanted it to be something other than a memory of what he had lost seemed depressing.
Tony wanted to pretend he didn’t see Steve’s sadness. He wanted to politely say goodbye and go off to his car, but once his brain was on a roll, there was no turning back. Suddenly he saw clearly that Steve’s annoying question about the repulsors was probably Steve’s attempt at small talk, in a world where anything other than battle strategies was mostly foreign to him. He took in the image of Steve in those mismatched clothes, himself mismatched in a new world, and something heavy seemed to dawn inside Tony's chest.
He could see Steve’s motorcycle, on the other side of the street. Steve was perhaps the only man in the universe who drove a motorcycle in khakis. Tony wondered where he’d go after that – if he had a date or someone to meet for a beer, or do anything at all that wasn’t sitting in his apartment and reminiscing about all his dead friends. He’d sit there in that presumably sad apartment with those sad eyes and that sad outfit and…
If you asked Tony, honestly, he’d blame the green shirt entirely. That was his tipping point.
“Hey, have you had lunch already?” he heard himself asking, and immediately considered biting off his tongue right after, but, well, the damage was already done. “There’s a Burger King two streets from here that’s the quintessential American experience. You walk in, order something and take a bite, and we have a picture so patriotic it could be hanged in the Oval Office. We could sell it to papers for millions. Or not,” he added, when Steve just stared at him wordlessly. “Or you could just have a milkshake instead. I’d definitely recommend trying the fries, though.”
Steve glanced away, hand rubbing the back of his neck. “I didn’t—I was just planning to grab some food on the way. Maybe some soup.”
Tony used all his brainpower to not focus on the idea of Steve eating soup in his apartment alone, so he wouldn’t do something unbelievably stupid, like hugging him. “There’s also a place a few blocks that way with incredible Japanese food. Best Misoshiru I’ve ever had, if you’re a soup fan.”
Steve looked at him for a moment, and boy, was it overwhelming, to be scrutinized by those bright, impossibly blue eyes. “Are you sure—Aren’t you busy?”
Tony made a show of shrugging. “You know me, Cap, I’m only busy if I want to be.”
Steve seemed thoughtful, and then he smiled – a real one this time, smaller but honest, just a small twist of the corner of his lips that still managed to be very distracting. “Ok, then. That… That’d be nice.” Those blue eyes looked deep into Tony’s again, but they didn’t feel as scrutinizing this time, with a glimpse of something a bit warmer and brighter.
Tony turned to walk towards the car, and tripped.
Lunch started out very awkward, and Tony regretted it deeply all the way until Steve finished his first burger, when the TV started playing reruns of last night’s game and they managed to start a conversation about baseball. It ended up being more a conversation about what Steve remembered baseball to be like, and Tony’s total lack of knowledge to explain to him how it was like now, and Steve’s amused indignation at Tony’s ignorance about sports.
Afterwards, those lunches became a bit of a regular thing.
Tony grew more used to Steve’s old man clothes. It wasn’t that Steve was averse to modern fashion, Tony found – it was just that he didn’t think much about what he was wearing, so he gravitated towards what felt familiar, regardless of style. The plaid shirt with the leather jacket was, to Tony’s despair, one of his go-to looks.
After a while, though, Steve started looking into getting himself some jeans and some workout clothing, which, well. Ended up being another problem.
A… pretty huge problem.
Tony guessed it was to be expected, on some level. It must have already been hard for Steve to get used to his new size in the 40s, where he at least knew how people were supposed to dress. To have to relearn that in the modern world would be difficult for anyone, so Tony couldn’t blame Steve for being a bit confused.
Steve seemed to not be aware of the timeless truth that, just because you can get inside it, doesn’t mean it fits. That was something Tony himself had only learned after his 20s, where he genuinely thought he was killing it in clubbing shorts and wife beaters that left little to the imagination. Steve seemed to be living that confused, slightly sluttish phase of his life right now. And he was doing it inside Tony’s Tower, on his increasingly frequent stops there to use the gym.
So Tony would be making some coffee, watching TV, or getting some work done, and he’d walk into the living room to find Steve. Steve, drenched in sweat, in a t-shirt that seemed to be painted over his torso, evidencing the clear shapes of his abs; and in a pair of sweatpants that, while not as obscene, still did an admirable job at clinging to his ass.
It was just… distracting. Very distracting.
On one memorable occasion, Tony walked into the kitchen right after a boring call with Fury, and his body went from bored out of his mind to uncomfortably aroused in record timing when he took in the image of Steve stretching right there next to the freezer, in front of God and everyone, in a white t-shirt.
Tony stopped dead in his tracks, watching the graceful motion of Steve lowering his torso to easily reach the tips of his toes, back muscles flexing obscenely against the tight fabric, leaving Steve’s ass propped up in the air, a pair of gorgeously shaped buttocks pretty much staring at Tony with no previous warning.
Tony might’ve choked a little.
“Hey, Cap,” he croaked, a little proud of himself for the greeting not sounding as much like a whimper as he thought it would.
Steve stood up in a quick, smooth movement (God, he was flexible, Tony thought, suddenly very thankful for his own choice of not wearing tight pants today). He turned around and, honestly, his shirt was— It was transparent, no other way of putting it. His nipples stood proudly under the thin cotton, incredibly perky, their rosy shade visible through the sweat-drenched fabric. He looked like the long reigning champion of a wet shirt contest.
“Hey.” Steve’s light voice made Tony think he was smiling, which Tony would know if he stopped staring at his nipples, which he’d do, eventually, at some point in the foreseeable future. Probably.
“Nice, uh,” Tony stuttered, because his mind was at full speed now, thinking of how sensitive Steve’s nipples must be, to be hard like that just because of a tight t-shirt. A light stroke would probably be enough to make Steve’s body jerk, and his flush would probably spread to his chest and—“Nice workout, huh?”
The words came out a little strangled, but Tony didn’t care, a little horrified at himself by his reaction. Wearing tight clothes was just tacky, and unnecessary, and not something a thirty year old man like Steve should be doing. Tony had always been a firm believer when it came to looking sexy, less was more, and that hadn’t changed now, just because of those unbelievable pecs and how wonderfully firm they’d be to touch and squeeze, and how those nipples seemed made to be teased, rolled into Tony’s mouth and sucked until Steve…
Tacky, Tony reminded himself. Also, his eyes are up there.
“Yeah.” Steve rolled his shoulders backwards, apparently finishing his stretching lesson. Tony, attempting to fake some amount of normalcy, walked past him, opening the fridge to get a water bottle. “You know, we… We should spar sometime.”
Tony’s head snapped over to look at him. Steve’s expression seemed nervous all of a sudden.
“I think it would be good for you,” he explained, then seemed to regret his words. “Not that you’re not, uh. Not that you need…” He gestured a bit aimlessly, and Tony raised an eyebrow. “I mean, it would be good for your self-defense. If you’re ever caught without the suit. I… I have a lot of free time. I could help.”
It was a completely reasonable idea, so Tony didn’t really get why Steve’s cheeks flushed as he said it.
“Sounds great, Cap,” Tony said, awkwardly tapping Steve’s shoulder. “Just try to not break a hip on me or anything.”
Steve smiled, and his eyes darted towards Tony’s hand on his shoulder. His flush deepened a little, and Tony could see that it spread down to his neck.
Damn it. He would probably need another water bottle.
Tony found out that he and Steve had become friends right before a talk show.
They had been spending more time together lately – the sparring and lunches had become kind of a regular thing, and every time it got less awkward. Tony grew used to the way Steve listened to his rambles, to his dry commentary, to his melancholic smile when he reminisced about something from his time.
Still, if someone asked, Tony wouldn’t say they were close. There was still this lingering tension between them, snapping sometimes at arguments during team meetings or even about stupid shit like the dishes. Tony hated that he could never seem to fully grasp what Steve was thinking, and sometimes it seemed like Steve would look at him with those stunning eyes and Tony could only imagine Steve finding numerous flaws in what he saw. Which—fine, maybe he was being paranoid, but it was hard to tell with Steve. He’d hang out with Tony and then close off completely for days. They’d be talking and Tony would make a light-natured joke and Steve’s posture would tense, and something in his gaze would grow distant, even as he said everything was fine.
That night, all of the Avengers were scheduled to show up to an interview. Aside from Tony, all other Avengers avoided the media like the plague, but they had to do some group appearances in talk shows from time to time, to keep good publicity going.
In the dressing room, Tony couldn’t be more ready for the entire thing to be over already. It had been a long day, and sitting on a couch between Thor and an incredibly uncomfortable Bruce while answering stupid shit like the Hulk’s favorite pizza flavor was not something he was looking forward to doing at the moment.
It occurred to Tony, as he was dressing himself, that the only person who was less excited than him for this interview was probably Steve.
Mostly because Steve hated interviews. It was actually hilarious, the way he’d clam up entirely when the questions turned towards him while also attempting to stay polite. It didn’t help that, when Tony and Thor weren’t dominating the conversation, Steve was the main target for questions, especially uncomfortable questions that interviewers knew very well he wouldn’t be willing to answer. Everyone wanted to know what Captain America did in his free time, who was his celebrity crush, if he was seeing anyone at the moment, what was his opinion on about a thousand different 21st-century issues. Steve handled the political questions well (too well, probably: they still had PR to think about, so Tony really couldn’t have Steve ranting about the dangers of modern capitalism on CNN, but damn if it wasn’t entertaining), but the personal questions would make his jaw clench in that distinct telltale sign of his discomfort, and Tony would step in to steer the conversation away with some outrageous joke.
Tony felt that he had a moral obligation to get Steve out of those situations, but it also made his mind itch a little, because, technically, Steve should already be used to that. Aside from Tony, he was the team member with the most experience in the spotlight. Also, though Tony didn’t want to admit it, he was kind of interested in the answer for some of those questions, especially the ones about Steve’s love life (though he very adamantly refused to ask himself why).
A knock on Tony’s door stopped his flow of thoughts.
He expected it would be Bruce, asking for reassurance; or Natasha, to insist he hurry; or even some TV crew to tell him they’d be on in five minutes.
He wasn’t expecting Steve.
For a moment they just stood there, by the door to Tony’s dressing room, in silence. Out of habit, Tony assessed Steve’s outfit. He was wearing a button-up shirt with jeans. The jeans were definitely too cheap to be on TV, in Tony’s opinion, but to be fair, it was unlikely that anyone watching from home would notice. The shirt was white, which, objectively speaking, was not a good choice for Steve, because it tended to wash lighter complexions out.
To the untrained eye, it was pretty okay, Tony guessed. At least it didn’t look like it was painted on.
Steve shifted awkwardly at his scrutinizing gaze. “Can I come in?”
“What do you want?”
Steve didn’t flinch at his rudeness, but his posture went even more rigid, if that was possible. Tony regretted his words instantly, but he couldn’t bring himself to apologize, distracted by the slight flush coloring Steve’s cheeks.
“I need some help,” Steve said, face frowning as if every word pained him terribly. He raised his arm and revealed a red, simple tie he was holding between his fingers. “Could you… Could you put this on for me?”
Part of him wanted to refuse. The tie was not ugly in itself, just slightly wrinkled because of how Steve had been gripping it, but the color didn’t make any sense, with the white button down and those jeans. Without a blazer, it’d just seem completely disjointed.
But along with the reflexive distaste of the outfit, Tony felt something weird twisting in his chest. Steve’s face seemed so pained to ask for help, and Tony realized he could’ve gone to anyone else. He chose to come to Tony, specifically. It was such a small request, but Steve was always so adamant about not needing anything, that it made something inside Tony’s chest swell, to see Steve standing there in front of him, jaw clenched and blue eyes a lot more vulnerable than Tony knew Steve would ever be comfortable showing to anyone.
Tony nodded, wordlessly, and stepped aside to let Steve in.
Steve laid the tie in Tony’s hands, and his fingers brushed Tony’s palm slightly, and the contact shouldn’t have sent an electric spark over Tony’s skin, but it did.
Tony unfolded the tie and laid it across Steve’s collar. He was so tall, Tony was staring straight at his Adam’s apple, which didn’t feel like a safe thing to stare at. Tony swallowed tickly.
“Didn’t the army teach you to put on a tie?” he asked with a slightly hoarse voice, but Steve didn’t seem to notice. There was a shade of a bashful smile on his lips.
“I always get it crooked,” he said, shrugging a little.
Tony started working on the tie, very careful to not let his fingers rest on Steve’s collar any longer than strictly necessary. It was the fastest knot he ever made.
“There,” Tony said, resisting the insane urge to smooth the fabric of Steve’s shirt over those ridiculously broad shoulders. “All done.”
Steve took a step back, attempting to look down to the knot. “Thank you.”
He then turned towards the mirror of the dressing room, catching a brief glimpse of his reflection. Tony watched as his face took on an expression of pleased surprise at the straightness of the tie (Tony learned how to put on a tie perfectly when he was seven, thank you very much). His blue eyes then traveled down in the mirror, taking in his whole image, and he chewed a little on his bottom lip.
“So, uh. What do you think?”
For an absolutely delirious moment, Tony thought Steve was asking about his mouth, which Tony had been staring fixedly as Steve’s teeth pinched that full, smooth, reddish lip.
Then he realized they were still in the real world, and Steve was asking about his clothes. Obviously.
“Uh,” Tony said. Usually he’d have no qualms about letting Steve know he was wearing a poor excuse for an outfit – he had no qualms about critiquing anyone, after all, and most definitely Steve. Still, something about Steve’s question – and the whole situation – seemed more important than a regular conversation about style should be. He had the feeling Steve was trusting him with something more fragile than it first appeared, and for once, he wanted to not let him down. “It suits you,” he finally said, settling on something that wasn’t an insult, but also not a blatant lie.
To his relief, that seemed to be enough.
“Yeah?” Steve rubbed the back of his neck. He looked so… shy, sometimes. He could yell out orders and challenge enemies with the fire of a thousand suns, and then sometimes he’d give that bashful half smile that brightened a room like the first rays of sunlight in the morning. Either way, he was always blinding. “There was an article about my clothes.”
Tony blinked, then frowned. “What?”
“Yeah,” Steve turned towards the mirror again, reassessing his outfit. “Apparently I get my clothes from my museum exhibit, and the serum never really cured my colorblindness.”
He didn’t sound upset, but still, the thought of some reporter sitting down to write some mean-spirited shit about Steve’s wardrobe sent a spike of anger in Tony’s chest. Really? The man was out there risking his life every day for a world that he had literally already died for, and some idiot thought it would be funny to mock him for having some admittedly weird fashion sense?
“Who wrote it?”
“I don’t know,” Steve shrugged. Then he seemed to notice Tony’s demeanor, because he added: “It’s not a big deal.”
It was the reason Steve was self-conscious about his clothes all of a sudden. “It is a big deal. They can’t go around publishing whatever they want.”
Steve frowned. “They publish the most terrible things about you.”
Something in his voice – serious and disapproving like he sounded when someone messed up in a battle – made Tony feel strangely warm. He gestured flippantly in Steve’s direction.
“I’m used to it. Besides, most of it is probably true.”
There was a moment of silence, and Steve’s eyes stared straight into Tony’s, his expression impossible to read. “No,” he said, and something in his voice felt dangerous, invading Tony’s chest and messing up everything inside it. “No, it isn’t.”
Tony crossed his arms and looked away. “Anyway,” he said, desperate to break the sudden awareness of the closed door and of being alone with Steve. “Is that what you came here for? Fashion advice? If you want to, I can hook you up with one of my tailors. He’ll probably cry from joy.”
Steve smiled and shook his head. “Don’t worry about it. I just wanted your opinion. You’re always so…” he flushed, gesticulating towards Tony, then looked away, shooting one last glance at the mirror. “I never know what to wear for this stuff.”
“What stuff? Interviews?”
Steve nodded. “I’m so bad at these things.”
“Hey, nobody’s perfect,” Tony quipped. Then, indulging his curiosity, he asked: “I did think you’d be more used to it, though. In the films you always… I mean,” he stuttered a little, already regretting charting into personal ground. “Don’t get me wrong, you were never Oscar-worthy, but you seemed very at ease in front of the camera.”
Steve rubbed the back of his neck. “It was a different time,” he said, and Tony hated how he sounded, so old and young at the same time. “I had my lines memorized. Nowadays, I… I don’t know. Before, people wanted to know about the war, or about our soldiers. I knew the right answers. Now they ask so many…random things. My hobbies, food, everything. I don’t know why it matters.”
“They want to get to know you,” Tony said, a little desperate over how completely lost Steve seemed. Tony wondered if he had ever talked about this to anyone else in the future. “It’s about humanizing your figure. They just want to… see the man behind the helmet and whatever.”
“I don’t know what they want to hear,” Steve said, and for a moment he sounded so uncertain that it all made sense.
Steve had been at ease doing Captain America movies. He was good at doing Captain America speeches. He was used to posing for pictures and signing autographs as Captain America.
But in the future that wasn’t enough. In the future, who Steve was when he wasn’t wearing the damn helmet mattered. Perhaps it mattered more than anything. And Steve wasn’t only confused by that. He was downright unsure, at a loss of how to answer to that expectation.
In the modern world, people wanted to know about Steve Rogers.
And Steve Rogers didn’t understand why they thought he was worth knowing.
Don’t hug him, Tony thought rather desperately, his heart seeming to weight a million pounds in his chest. Whatever you do, don’t hug him.
He didn’t hug Steve. Instead, he walked towards him and laid a hand on his shoulder, catching those blue eyes with something he hoped came across as reassurance. “At the risk of sounding like a teenage movie,” he said, and his voice shook a little, under those eyes. “Just be you. There are no wrong answers. Just—just try to act as regularly as possible. That’s—That’s enough.”
Something flickered in Steve’s eyes, and Tony bit his tongue in order to not add that it was so much more than enough, that getting to know Steve Rogers was one of those privileges the world was probably not even ready for. Tony wasn’t ready for it when it happened to him, at least – and, he realized, he seemed less ready at every single new thing he learned about Steve, completely unprepared for the utter amazement that it was to just be by his side every day.
“Thank you, Tony,” Steve said. His voice sounded softer and fond, and Tony wanted to hear it like that all the time. “Thank you.”
Tony swallowed thickly. “You’re welcome, Cap.”
Tony found out that he was in love with Steve on a Sunday morning.
In hindsight, it was clearly something his genius brain should have realized earlier. Tony was pretty good at denial, though, especially when denial was the least painful route to take.
So Tony was able to keep up seeing Steve, fighting by his side, listening to his laugh and seeing his smile and pretending, like an idiot, that he wasn’t completely gone for him. He was able to fight with Steve and pretend his heart didn’t hurt when Steve’s jaw clenched with disapproval in his direction. He was able to wake up in the morning, come to the kitchen, and feel like the entire day was already worth it because Steve had slept over at the Tower. He’d see Steve lift his head to give him a small smile and a simple, Good morning, Tony, and pretend the warm delicious feeling that took over his insides was because of the pancakes.
He was full of shit like that.
Until that one specific, otherwise uneventful Sunday morning.
It was, by all accounts, a perfectly average day. Tony was at end of a 30 -hour streak without sleep, but he hadn’t figured out the schematics for Rhodey’s new HUD yet, so he came down to the kitchen to get himself more coffee.
Steve was sitting at the table, going through some documents. He was shirtless, which was not a big deal – Tony had seen Steve walking shirtless around the Tower many times before, and, aside from his sudden urges to chew on some wood, he had been able to handle it pretty well. It was distracting, but not shocking.
So Tony walked inside the kitchen, straight towards the coffee machine. He managed to grunt something resembling a reply to whatever Steve said—probably a greeting of some kind, though Tony didn’t register it—and waited as the coffee got ready.
Steve, clearly unsatisfied with Tony’s response, must have stood up, because the next second Tony felt a big, warm hand on his shoulder. Tony’s eyes fluttered closed for a moment, and he almost made a fool out of himself by leaning onto Steve’s body, but, fortunately, he managed to regain composure just in time, forcing his eyes open.
He turned to look at Steve like a normal, functioning human being, and just stopped.
Because Steve was wearing crocs.
Hideous, horrible, tacky yellow crocs.
Tony’s face must have been a portrayal of the purest shape of existential horror, because Steve followed his glance, looking at his feet.
He flushed a little, then shrugged with one shoulder. “They’re really comfortable,” he said, as if that was enough explanation for why he was wearing a pair of devil carcasses on his feet in Tony’s kitchen. Then he tilted his head as he looked at Tony, frowning. “Tony, how long have you been up?”
And there it was, that half-concerned, half-disapproving voice, with that little frown between his eyebrows and those worried blue eyes searching Tony’s face. It hit Tony like lightning, like a bunch of bricks falling right over his head. Steve was standing right in front of him, worried about his sleeping habits and wearing the most hideous shoes in the world, and Tony was completely and utterly in love with him.
Shit, he thought.
Considering Steve’s expression, he probably said it aloud.
“You’re wearing crocs,” Tony deadpanned, only vaguely aware of the words coming of his mouth. “Because they’re comfortable.”
Steve raised an eyebrow, and he looked downright fucking adorable with that confused face of his. “Yeah?”
Don’t hug him, Tony told himself, out of habit at this point. Don’t hug him, don’t hug him, don’t hug him.
He didn’t hug Steve.
He kissed him.
Truth be told, it must have been the weirdest kiss in history, because Tony only realized he was actually doing it when his lips met a warm, soft surface that just happened to be Steve’s mouth. Then he shuddered, suddenly going wide awake, and practically jumped away, nearly pushing Steve in the process.
Steve said something, or several somethings, but Tony couldn’t listen to anything, too focused on the pink, plump lips that his own mouth had touched just a few seconds ago. It had been barely a peck, but the thought of kissing Steve was enough to send a wave of warmth over Tony’s body, lips tingling at the very idea.
Tony shook his head to try to keep some grain of focus on what was actually happening, but, boy, was it hard to look away from that mouth.
“I’m,” Tony said, interrupting whatever it was that Steve was saying with those sinful rose-petal lips of his. “I’m gonna. Sleep.”
It was luck his behavior had caught Steve by surprise, because that was probably the only reason he managed to escape the kitchen and retreat to the elevator without Steve stopping him.
Fourteen hours later, in the privacy of his lab, Tony reflected on what had happened. He enumerated the facts in his head, to try to organize them.
Fact number one: he was in love with Steve. That, in and of itself, wasn’t that much of a terrible thing to realize. After all, he was a grown man. Even though he had those feelings, it didn’t mean he had to fuck everything up by acting on them.
Fact number two: he had already acted on them. Which had definitely, by extension, fucked everything up.
Fact number three: Steve could have pushed him away, some annoying hopeful voice whispered in a distant corner of Tony’s brain. Steve had superhuman strength and reflexes, and, if he didn’t want a kiss from Tony, he could’ve easily avoided it.
Tony buried his face in his hands, almost exasperated at his own misery. Apparently, the fact Steve didn’t punch him was enough to give him hope.
He focused on fact number four, way more important: Steve didn’t kiss him back. Sure, he could’ve pushed Tony away and he didn’t, but he also could’ve opened his mouth, melted deliciously against Tony’s lips, enveloped Tony with those strong arms and kissed the sleep-deprivation out of him. And he didn’t.
Fact number five: Steve hadn’t come to him. That was important, because Tony was pretty sure that, on the remote chance Steve was interested and just being a gentleman and refusing to take advantage of Tony’s nearly delirious advances, Steve would have come to see him now, fourteen hours and six minutes after their kiss (not that Tony was counting). He would have come to talk things out and ask Tony on a proper date.
And he hadn't.
So now Tony was stuck dwelling on his stupid mistake, trying to figure out what to do next. He considered acting like nothing had happened – Christ, he wanted to do that— but it turned out to be impossible. The second he left his workshop and ran into Steve in the living room, the vivid memory of the warmth and softness of his lips made Tony’s head spin and he forgot whatever he was planning to do there in the first place.
“Hey, Cap,” he managed with a strangled voice, walking towards the bookshelf. “I just came to, uh.” Steve blinked at him with those blue eyes, and Tony forgot his next sentence again. He was truly hopeless. “Books.”
Steve tilted his head at him.
Tony grabbed the first book he saw, getting ready to make his exit. “Ok, so, uh, I found it. Uh. Bye.”
He tried to turn towards the door—emphasis on tried, because next thing he knew, a strong hand grabbed his wrist and stopped him.
“Tony,” Steve said, and Tony forced himself to actually look at him. His hair was messy, bangs falling over his forehead, and he wore a grey shirt with an ugly pair of checkered sweatpants. Tony swallowed. Steve said, “What the hell?”
“What?” Tony said, because the best way to deflect a question was to answer it with another question, even if his brain was feeling a little incapable of formulating questions right now, under Steve’s gaze, feeling the warm pressure of his fingers against his wrist.
“What do you mean what?” Steve’s voice had that distinct tone he had when he was trying to keep his anger in check, but it was clearly pulsing under the surface, threatening to slip away at every syllable. And he was so unbearably close, and touching Tony, and Tony’s breath hitched, wanting to beg Steve to stop talking. “You—You can’t just…”
“Cap, I have no idea what you’re…”
“You kissed me.” He took a breath that seemed strangely sharp, then paused. “You kissed me.”
Tony felt his face heating. “I was half asleep,” he said, a coward to the bone, and for a second he thought he felt Steve’s hand shaking against his wrist.
“So—What? You’re just gonna ignore it?” Steve said, and something was wrong, because he didn’t sound pissed, he sounded almost—indignant, as if Tony’s attitude was insulting him deeply. “Can’t we talk about this?” His voice wavered, sounding nearly pleading, and in a distant corner of Tony’s mind, alarm bells started to ring, because why the fuck was Steve sounding pleading? Shouldn’t Tony be the one in that position?
“Talk about what? Yeah, fine, I kissed you. I kiss lots of people. It was a shitty move, though, so, I’m sorry, okay?”
Tony pulled his hand away. Steve’s grip loosened immediately and his own hand snapped back as if Tony had burnt him.
Tony, deciding to not think deeply about that, turned around, walking—fine, fine, practically running—towards the elevator. He punched the button, and was about to snap at Jarvis to hurry up when Steve followed him, stopping right by his side.
“No,” he said.
“No,” Steve repeated. His face was flushed and angry, but he crossed his arms and stared at Tony firmly, lips pressed in a thin line. “I’m not accepting your apology.”
The words felt like a punch to Tony’s stomach. He swallowed, trying to school his expression into something flippant, something casual, something definitely not heartbroken. “Well, sorry, Cap, but that’s all I’ve got.”
“You can’t do this,” Steve said, and his voice seemed to waver, letting a glimpse of something that seemed too much like raw hurt for Tony to keep breathing properly. “We’re friends, Tony.”
Tony felt something inside him deflating, his façade threatening to slip, and he fought to keep himself together, to maintain at least that shred of dignity. “What the hell do you want me to say?”
To his surprise, Steve’s eyes darted away. “It doesn’t matter what I want.”
The alarm bells in the distant corner of Tony’s mind increased, taking over the control room of his brain. “Wait, what?”
“You heard me.” Steve peered at him again, but he seemed to be composing himself, too. He seemed—resigned. “You may not care about me that way, but I assumed you cared about our friendship. Or the team.”
The control room of Tony’s brain was nothing but noise, so he didn’t say anything, just opened and closed his mouth a few times. Steve seemed to take that as a sign to continue.
“I never wanted to make you uncomfortable,” Steve said, and a flush deepened on his cheeks, and apparently Tony’s brain wasn’t confused enough to miss how lovely it made his face look. “But for you to just—“ He uncrossed his arms, hands clenching at his sides. “This sort of thing, that, that is serious to me, Tony. It’s not a joke.”
“Joke?” Tony blinked, forgetting the elevator now, turning towards Steve entirely. He took in the tense line of his jaw and shoulders. “Do you think what I did was a joke?”
Steve’s frown deepened. “Wasn’t it?” Since Tony didn’t answer, he shifted uncomfortably before adding: “You said I was wearing crocs and then you kissed me and practically ran away. I may not be an expert, but I’m pretty sure this is not how those things are supposed to go.”
Tony, for some reason, looked down to the floor.
Steve was barefoot.
“A lot of people make fun of the way I dress. But I don’t care what any of them think,” Steve crossed his arms, eyes darting away. “But you had never done that. You make jokes and quips, but you never mock me. You never mock anyone.”
Tony’s eyes shot up to search Steve’s face. He was scowling deeply, and Tony should have been feeling terrible about it, but he was starting to understand the situation now. And if he was right—God, if there was even the slightest chance he was right—
“That’s why you didn’t come talk to me?” Tony asked. There was something akin to the preamble of an explosion forming in his chest at the thought Steve could… “You thought I was making fun of you?”
Steve frowned again, but this time it seemed slightly less sad, just a touch confused, and unfairly adorable. “Weren’t you?”
“No,” Tony said, a bit too quick and frantically, but he didn’t give a fuck. “No, I was mostly definitely not making fun of you. If anything, I was making fun of myself, because it’s really something ridiculous, what you—What you do to me,” he stuttered to get the last words out, fear creeping into his pleasant growing hope, making his voice waver.
But Steve’s eyes widened, and the feelings bomb in Tony’s chest recognized the spark in his eyes as hope, and yeah, that was it.
“What you do to me,” Tony repeated, taking a step forward, raising his hands to carefully, lightly cup Steve’s face. “Listen, push me away at any moment if this isn’t something you want, but—but it’s something I really want, and I’ve wanted for some time now, and you were just standing there with your goddamn face and eyes and you were wearing crocs and just generally being so you, and I lost it. I’m a weak man and I lost it. I’m sorry about that,” he leaned his head closer, and he could count Steve’s eyelashes now, could see tiny light freckles over his nose, could feel his warm breath against his lips. “But I’m not sorry about what I’m going to do now. I’m going to kiss you, and I’m gonna mean it, and if by any chance you—“
Tony was interrupted by the warm, strong press of Steve’s mouth against his. His own lips parted immediately, almost as if on cue, as if he had been forever waiting, forever ready to do this.
Steve’s arms enveloped his waist, pulling him closer. Steve’s mouth opened eagerly against his as well, their tongues meeting in a heated, messy haze. Tony clung to Steve’s shoulders for dear life, unable to think anything coherent as all he could feel was Steve, Steve everywhere, sweet and soft and wonderful, Steve all around him.
They kissed and kissed and kissed some more, and probably could have kept kissing, as far as Tony was concerned, if Steve didn’t decide to remember Tony’s lungs weren’t enhanced. He pulled away to give Tony time breathe, resting their foreheads together.
“So,” Steve said, and Tony was pleased by the fact that he also sounded breathless. Tony lifted his head and pressed a kiss to Steve’s lips again, short and sweet, because, honestly, compared to kissing Steve, breathing was completely overrated. Steve giggled, and, wow. Who needed air anyway? “Will I have to wear crocs all the time for you to kiss me again?”
Tony giggled too, because, well, he couldn’t help it. “I’ll happily kiss you barefoot,” he said, punctuating his words with a kiss to Steve’s cheek, the corner of his mouth, his nose. “But honestly, right now,” he let his voice grow velvety, lower, almost to a whisper, enjoying the way Steve’s flush deepened. “I’m more interested in what you’d look like not wearing anything at all, soldier.”
Steve’s grin grew bright and mischievous as he pulled Tony closer. “I think I pull it off,” he whispered.
Tony didn’t doubt it in the slightest.