“What do you want me to say? I choked,” Bucky muttered into his jumbo-size bag of peanut M&Ms.
Steve gave him a moment to let the embarrassment pass, but Bucky wouldn’t stop frowning into his M&Ms. “Give me that,” he finally said, plucking the bag out of Bucky’s hands and carrying it on to their kitchen.
When Tony rebuilt the tower after the Battle of New York, he gave each Avenger their own floor. As more heroes joined the team in the years that followed, Tony threw himself into the challenge of expanding the private apartments and the common areas with gusto. Or he had, until he realized Bucky felt alone and uncomfortable in this new world, Pietro and Wanda didn’t like being apart, and Vision didn’t seek worldly possessions.
The resulting compromise was simple: Tony agreed to let Bucky and Steve figure out how to share Steve’s floor, and the team supported the addition of two new apartments - one for the twins, and one for regular visitors (like Sam and Scott and Hope and even Loki, of all people).
The super-soldier duo took one weekend to clear out Steve’s private gym, sneak away to IKEA, then wait for that minor window of opportunity where Tony passed out in his lab to secret the offending budget furniture to their floor. They made sure to cover their asses by swearing JARVIS to secrecy, who agreed it was best to spare Sir the pain of knowing his prized Tower housed furniture assembled with axle wrenches and little wooden pegs. Besides, Tony fortunately had no reason to see Bucky’s bedroom; if JARVIS didn’t rat them out, he’d never have to know.
Less fortunately, Tony had no reason to see Steve’s bedroom, either.
Which was to say, if Steve’s kitchen was suited to anything, it was getting through pining after an unattainable crush.
Steve popped the M&Ms bag open on the kitchen counter. Bucky’d made decent progress, so he filled the top half of the bag with Ben & Jerry’s Schweddy Balls (vanilla & rum ice cream loaded with fudge covered rum and malt balls) and poured on some of Aunt May’s homemade caramel sauce. He zipped the bag shut, shook it up, then opened it to fill it past capacity with whipped cream straight out of the can.
“Here,” he said when he handed it all back to Bucky with a wooden spoon. “You’ll feel better.”
Bucky shoveled one heaping spoonful into his mouth. One bite, and his droopy eyes lit up with renewed life.
“See? The future isn’t all bad,” Steve grinned, only half-joking. “So you went to the zoo with Bruce, you ran into Natasha with Clint’s kids, and…”
“What part of ‘I choked’ wasn’t in English?”
“Unless you mean you literally choked and someone called 9-1-1,” Steve drawled, but JARVIS interrupted him before he could continue grilling his best friend for details.
“Captain Rogers, Sergeant Barnes: Sir wishes to know whether he may intrude to speak with Captain Rogers on a private matter.”
“Private or privates? Cause for Stevie—” Bucky snickered - and held his M&Ms out of reach in a miraculous save when Steve swung around and smacked him with a couch pillow in the face.
“Sure,” Steve said while casually smothering his least favorite friend. It took him a minute to realize he was still wearing his sweats from their sparring an hour ago. “Or, or how about ten minutes?”
“Sir is already on his way,” JARVIS reported without remorse while Bucky shoved the pillow away to look at Steve like he was crazy.
“It’s easier to get him into bed from here than from his workshop,” Bucky pointed out around a mouthful of caramel whipped cream. “And you look fine, blue’s your color.”
“Not when I look like a Police Academy reject!”
“Not for nothing, but that Kim Cattrall was hot,” Bucky garbled around another sizable mouthful of various cream and chocolate balls.
“She still is hot,” Tony seconded as he joined them from the elevator. He eyed Steve and guessed, “Police Academy or Little Trouble?”
“Sex and the City,” Bucky said just to be contrary.
“...fair enough,” Tony conceded, though he still looked a little taken aback when he turned back to Steve. He held up a file Steve didn’t recognize and asked, “Got a minute?”
Bucky was the first to announce how comfortable he was, so if they wanted privacy, they’d have to go somewhere else. Despite his lazy attempt to wingman, Steve ushered Tony to the kitchen where there wasn’t a bed to make a wrong impression.
Tony opened his mouth to speak, then shut it with an audible click. Then, in a fit of bewilderment, he asked, “How does Winter Wonderland know who Kim Cattrall is?”
“We got through everything in my notebook, so Scott gave us a list of comedies to catch up on,” Steve answered simply. “To balance out the depressing things.”
Tony raised his brows and pursed his lips in a smile of casual acceptance. “Were his recommendations good?”
Twenty-first century etiquette differed from what Steve was used to, but he wasn't so dense that he missed the unspoken ‘better’ in Tony’s question. That didn’t mean he also knew what to say. Was he supposed to apologize? He wasn’t sure what he did wrong, but Tony’s smile didn’t reach his eyes anymore and Steve felt rotten.
Before he could think of a meaningful response, Tony seemed to remember why he was there in the first place and he spun on his heels to grab a stool - not for himself, but for Steve.
Steve looked at the offered seat and back at Tony without moving.
“You might want to sit down,” Tony suggested with an awkward, practiced smile and gestured at the stool for added effect.
“Am I going to need a lawyer present, too?” Steve half-joked, but Tony, who always had a ready grin or a quiet giggle for Steve’s brand of sarcasm, could barely maintain eye-contact. His gaze skittered between the file in his hand and Steve, and given his blatant attempt to appear calm, Steve shut up and did as he was asked.
“Right, okay. Listen. Here’s the thing,” Tony said with feigned confidence, speaking quietly in case of active eavesdropping. “Uh, wait. What do you want first: the good news or the bad news?”
“...I could use some good news,” Steve admitted, albeit cautiously. Everyone knew you started with the bad news, but if Steve got thirty seconds to pretend everything was fine and Tony only had good news to share, why deny himself? He had the rest of his life for bad news.
Tony’s well-practiced smile warmed with genuine relief. “We got a working anesthetic for Barnes from your samples. We’ll be able to put him under for four hours, maybe five. Five’s pushing it, we’ll work on it, but for now we only need three. Helen will be here Friday and we’ll get his arm reattached, pain free.”
“Tony, that’s incredible!” Steve shot to his feet in his excitement and wrapped Tony in a fierce hug, so grateful and so happy - until he realized what he was doing. Quickly he let go and stepped back, but luckily Tony was still smiling (if a little breathlessly, after an unexpected supersoldier squeeze).
“Why didn’t you say it in front of Bucky? He wouldn’t care ab—oh. Oh,” Steve trailed off as he remembered there was more to Tony’s visit. “So, what’s the bad news?”
“Steve, I don’t know how to tell you this,” Tony said with slow, uncomfortable words. He gestured at the stool again, and Steve retook his seat. “Remember the whole shit-show with the Tesseract and Loki’s staff? Future-You is a thief, the Ancient One might have the hots for Hulk dick?”
Steve needed a moment of silence to regret the serum’s two-fold curse of enhanced visual problem-solving and an eidetic memory.
“She said they took care of the aliens you saw in the wormhole,” Steve agreed when he got himself together, and he only needed a moment longer to guess what had happened. “Was it a lie? Tony, did you find evidence that Thanos is still out there? Did she lose the stones?”
“No, nothing like that,” Tony muttered and glared at the file, as if its content was more offending than Steve’s fears. He was angry, but beneath the anger Steve caught the glimpse of an emotion that had no business weighing on Tony.
It was so unnatural that Steve nearly convinced himself he’d imagined it.
Tony Stark, helpless?
“Nothing like that, Steve,” Tony eventually sighed while Steve strained to catch the cues Tony tried to hide. “Thor and Danvers confirmed it: we don’t know how, but Thanos is history, and—that’s done, okay? This is about you and the samples we started working on two years ago - remember, after Future-You said Hydra kept him alive and used him? Bruce and I started working on a formula that could sedate super soldiers for that worst-case scenario?”
Steve frowned, and for possibly the first time in recorded history, Tony immediately shut his mouth. None of it was new information and they both knew Steve’s memory was super-human; there was no need for a recap.
“Tony, where are you going with this?”
Pained, Tony looked down at the file, then made himself look at Steve again. “You’re older, Steve.”
Steve rolled his eyes at the old joke (ha!) before he realized Tony hadn’t said ‘old’. He said ‘older’.
“Wait. I’m what?”
“Bruce compared the samples a dozen times to be sure. So did I,” Tony said, finally handing Steve the file he’d brought. There were long reports with words and tests that Steve had never seen before, but the charts were clear enough: his cells were aging.
“You’re older now than you were two years ago. There’s a good chance you aged in the ice, too; our closest estimate is that you’re aging like any healthy guy in his early to mid thirties.”
Steve stared down at the documents with unseeing eyes. He could grow old?
“Is, uh. Is the serum fading?” he asked without looking up from the documents. He couldn’t look at Tony, not now.
“No, Steve. I looked at it every way I could,” Tony promised, and his voice sounded closer and softer than before. “If my math is right, you’ll be as strong as you are now to the end. I mean—no, I didn’t, not the, uh,” he stammered, scrambling for a way to save himself for two desperate seconds before giving up with a pained groan. “Damnit, I’m sorry, Steve. I didn’t mean to—but we’re a team, remember? I’m right here - we’re all, I mean, we’re all here and we’ll figure it out together, like you always say—”
Steve acknowledged Tony with a shaky nod. Tony continued talking - promising that they’d monitor him, that they’d confirm whether the same was going on with Bucky when they put him under on Friday - but none of it contended with the thoughts at the forefront of Steve’s mind.
“I called Sam. He’s on his way, he’s better at this,” Tony said in the end, quiet and defeated. Steve hated the sound of it and wanted so badly to assure Tony that it wasn’t his fault, but he felt strangely disconnected from his body that by the time he moved Tony was gone.
Maybe Steve wasn’t immune to shock yet even after all he’d been through. Was it possible that he could have a natural, human life? Steve wrestled with these thoughts in the aftermath of the Battle of New York, when he saw his teammates move forward in their lives and leave him to his and he’d wondered what a life for him could be.
His choices were simple: allowing SHIELD to run tests on him for a clear answer, or doing it on his own, and there was no way he trusted SHIELD with Erskine’s serum. They hadn’t even been able to keep him safe back in the 40s. So Steve accepted his fate as ‘a man out of time.’ People used the phrase fondly, as if it was romantic - as if his destiny defied time and space to bring him where he needed to be.
But Steve knew all too well that a man without a real, meaningful place in time had nothing. No past, no present, and certainly no future. Who would want to share his future? People dreamed of finding someone to love and support to the very end, and Steve had no end to give. He didn’t look a day over twenty, and whoever loved him would be doomed to live for years beside a constant reminder of the youth passing them by.
It was easier to avoid love and stick with Bucky. Friendship could be enough, right? Who needed romance and love and raising a family and being there every step of the way as gurgling little cherub faces grew into bright and incredible adults? It wasn’t worth watching his lover age and die alone, or watching his children and grandchildren age and fade away and leaving him with the rest of the monuments America built.
Until the file of tests and evidence proved him wrong.
Steve must have been unresponsive for too long, because the next thing he knew, Bucky wandered into the kitchen and wondered if Steve was still a bad kisser.
“So, Stark fled,” he explained, clapping Steve on the shoulder. “Less than ideal reaction, but chin up, Stevie. It only gets better with practice.”
Slowly, Steve turned to face his friend and offered him the file. “We’re aging,” he said without any preamble. “The serum doesn’t affect normal cell degeneration.”
Bucky glanced at the first charts and thumbed through the written pages without much interest. “Do they know how old we are?”
“Thirty something? Mid thirties?” Steve recalled, which reminded him of the good news. “Tony also fixed you arm and he and Bruce finally found a way to put you under for the surgery—”
“I told them I could take it.”
“And Helen’s coming on Friday to help Tony reattach it,” Steve continued without so much as acknowledging his friend’s lack of self-preservation. “They’ll take a closer look at you then.”
Unlike Steve, Bucky seemed unbothered by the idea of mortality - he simply shrugged in acceptance and tossed the file onto the nearest counter. Steve chose to think that maybe Bucky had realized it on his own, because the alternative (imagining Bucky had no reason to agonize over his immortality, no friends or connections he dreaded leaving behind) wasn’t something he could stomach.
“Guess we gotta work on that bucket list sooner than we thought, Steve,” Bucky announced, easy as can be and already heading back for his peanut M&M ice cream soup. “Is retirement age still 65?”
“Pretty sure we could retire whenever we wanted to,” Steve reasoned as he followed Bucky back to the couches.
Bucky dropped the subject in favor of clicking on Netflix and enjoying his sugar bomb in peace. Steve, however, couldn’t stop thinking about it.
One way or another, he was going to die. It wasn’t the tragedy Tony seemed to think; after all, Steve wouldn’t have enlisted back in the 20th if he didn’t think dying was a risk worth taking. Any battle could be his last, or any ambush—and who was to say one of Tony’s workshop mishaps wouldn’t blow the Tower into the sky some day?
What occupied his thoughts long into the night wasn’t death, but the chance to grow old. At least the serum hadn’t taken that sliver of humanity from him. In the early hours of the morning, it occurred to him why this all felt both exciting and so damn intimidating:
Steve no longer had a reason to hold himself back. Death wasn’t nearly as frightening or thrilling than finally taking the chance to live.
A week later, Bucky had a comfortable, functioning metal arm he’d warmed up to, and Steve had a floundering, half-assed plan for romance.
The first step was to find a potential partner to pursue, and Steve wasn’t dense enough to doubt whom that was. His heart (among other parts of him) desperately desired Tony Stark.
Sure, Tony was infuriating, stubborn, and borderline compulsive in his spending habits. There was a chance Steve had taken a few too many to the head, or maybe Stockholm’s Syndrome was more endemic than he once thought, but Steve didn’t love Tony despite those flaws - those flaws were part of his charm.
(Not that Steve loved him yet, of course. No, Steve admired Tony. He respected him, lived in awe of him. And, yeah, if villains found a way to weaponize Tony’s smile, neither Steve nor his heart wouldn’t stand a chance. But no; it was too soon to call it love.)
So Steve had part one figured out. The rest of the plan was less clear.
He needed back-up.
“Dinner and a movie is the classic choice,” Sam said while loading his egg roll with guac. “Can’t go wrong.”
“What is he, twelve?” Natasha drawled, then turned to Steve with her own genius suggestion. “Take him to the shooting range. Guys are horny for compliments.”
“Who isn’t?” Bucky wanted to know while Clint groaned about how Natasha was never, ever chaperoning Lila’s dates ever again. Sam offered him the half-finished bottle of vodka for comfort.
“I have enjoyed admiring Jane among her own kind,” Thor intoned between scraping at something stuck between his teeth and inspecting his nail to see if he’d got it. “She outshines all her peers, yet by the end of the day wants nothing to do with them, so as Natasha’s wisdom suggests, an evening of fawning and adoration from those less gifted brings me much gladness.”
“If you do, watch out for the alcohol,” Bruce tacked on to Thor’s suggestion. “Academics are rampant alcoholics, and they kinda set the mood at conferences.”
“I… am happy for you both,” Steve figured was the most polite thing to say to Thor, but after that he was a little lost. Their secret moot had so far only accomplished revealing Steve’s intention to tell and/or show Tony how he felt, witnessing a few bets being settled, and getting their collective support.
“He lives in the building, you know,” Bucky said into the awkward silence left by the highly skilled people who had no idea how romance worked. “We could get killed any day. Why are you wasting time? Tell him how you feel.”
“What, just out of the blue?” Steve balked, “He’d laugh at me.”
“Pretty sure he wouldn’t,” Natasha disagreed at the same time as Sam pointed out, “we all knew, and none of us are geniuses.”
“If it doesn’t involve math, eh…” Bruce trailed off with a wishy-washy gesture, doing his best to avoid comparing his friend to the common pigeon. “Just make sure he’s not holding anything sharp when you say it. Or a blowtorch. Or, you know, a bomb.”
“This week’s your night to cook for movie night,” Sam said to Steve and Thor thoughtfully. “He likes sitting next to you anyway—”
Clint seconded the idea with a considering nod. “Yeah, and then he’ll be all, ooh, Steve, your roast beef hero is so long and filling—”
His impression of an infatuated Tony was cut short with a yelp when Sam pried the bottle of vodka away from him.
“Didn’t take you for a lightweight, Barton.”
Natasha scoffed without having to look at either of them. “He’s sober.”
“My point is, making food for someone you care about is romantic—and it works,” Clint said with a touch less enthusiasm. “We’ll pick a quiet movie then peel off, I don’t know, halfway through the movie?”
“And should you need guidance on the acts that follow,” Thor added to the consensus of murmured agreement, “I have millennia of experience with all variations of your kind. With Jane’s permission, of course, I could demonstrate—in fact, she, too, is exceptionally talented, you could learn a great deal—”
“That’s, no—thanks, Thor, but that’s not necessary,” Steve repeated a number of times before Thor stopped inviting himself and his girlfriend where they were very much not welcome. “That’s not exactly, uh—thank you, but that’s outside the scope of this meeting. All I want to do right now is tell Tony how I feel and, and see how he feels about me. About us.”
“And we already have a plan,” Natasha reminded him, waiting for Steve to look at her. She held his gaze for a long, steadying beat, his ever-present anchor. She inclined her head just so, her green light for the patchwork plan they’d thrown together, and already Steve felt better about it.
“Thursday night, you and Thor cook dinner. Sam picks the movie. Clint signals our exit; we leave individually in alphabetic order, six minute intervals, Clint’s last, and we each grab a newbie on the way out. James, you’re on standby in the kitchen in case Steve needs an extraction. Got it, Cap?”
So much for leading the team, Steve mused ruefully to himself, but outwardly he nodded in the affirmative. It was, after all, better than anything he’d come up with himself and to the point. All he had to do was pull himself together, avoid all classic signs of anxiety or suspicious behavior, and try not to think about how there was a very real possibility that his closest friendship in this crazy new world could be irrevocably damaged if he said (or did) the wrong thing.
There was nothing ‘to the point’ about Thursday.
It’s a stormy, gloomy winter night, and nobody wanted to watch any of Sam’s three movie suggestions. The majority didn’t want to watch Notting Hill, Fifty First Dates, or You’ve Got Mail when there was perfectly good Hitchcock movies to savor the spooky mood.
To make it worse, Thor wanted to go all out for his friends with a suckling pig. He’d made it sound so easy, but it turns out that without Asgard magic, a pig needed more than 90 minutes to cook all the way through. Steve didn’t want take-out on a night he hoped would be special and memorable, so Clint came in clutch with plans for a comforting, homemade dinner.
“What’s taking so long?” Tony wondered for the tenth time in half as many minutes. He hovered in the middle of everything, either too hungry or too curious to care that he was in the way. “Is that chicken salad?”
“It’s Laura’s family recipe,” Clint said with a proud smirk, not bothering to look up from where he was folding a whole jar of mayonnaise into the other ingredients. “You’ll love it or I’ll shoot you.”
“...comforting,” Bruce muttered to himself, shot Tony a look that spoke volumes on the subject of living to fight another day, then very quickly turned tail to join the junior Avengers in the safety of the media room.
Steve waited for Tony to follow Bruce out of the kitchen so he could vent at the rest of the original team who were gathered in the kitchen, but instead of following Bruce’s obvious lead, Tony came over to see what Steve was doing by the oven.
“Did you do this from scratch?” he wondered, peering at the pans full of bread baking at a glacial speed (by Steve’s estimate). “I didn’t know you could fit that many buns in the oven.”
“It’s, uh, it’s a big oven,” Steve said like a perfectly normal person might. A perfectly normal person who was very warm all of a sudden and needed a glass of water, so that’s what he did.
“And they look good, too,” Bucky agreed as he took Steve’s abandoned post to peer into the oven beside Tony. “Do they have any filling?”
Steve glared at his friend who was clearly less subtle than a freight train. “They’re basic white dinner rolls, Buck,” Steve said through a smile of gritted teeth.
“Nice! Buns you can fill with anything you want, like Tony.”
Tony almost missed it. “Huh?”
“I said, right, Tony?” Bucky brushed off without so much as blinking. “Steve isn’t the most confident baker, he doesn’t just watch the Bake Off: he studies it. And I’d say it’s paying off. Don’t you think Steve’s big, robust buns would be great for any filling? Tuna or chicken,” he added a beat later almost as an afterthought, hooking his thumb back towards Clint.
Steve was sure his heart had stopped beating and dropped to somewhere in the vicinity of the asthenosphere, and unable to think of anything to say, he helplessly watched Tony and Bucky lock into the staring contest of the century.
“That reminds me,” Tony said after eighty thousand seconds (or something like that; Steve lost count around four), breaking eye-contact first. “I got some Italian sausages that could work as a filling, too.”
“I like the way you think,” Bucky agreed with a big, self-satisfied grin. Just to be more of an ass, he turned to Steve and innocently asked, “Steve, when was the last time you had Italian sausage? 1938?”
“I,” Steve growled, “am going to kill you.”
Bucky didn’t stick around to see if Steve meant it. He pushed Tony aside and made a run for the elevator with Steve hot on his heels.
The team shouted after them, mostly either cheering Bucky on since it could be his last day on earth. Steve skidded to a halt when he heard the elevator ping from a distance.
Bucky was retreating to their apartment.
Steve launched himself at the stairs, taking them three at a time to make it to their floor in record time. Bucky had a head start, but the elevator doors were closing just as Steve tore into the apartment.
“Where’d you go, Buck?” Steve called far too sweetly as he stalked from room to room, “I won’t hurt you, I just want to talk…”
From behind him, Tony snickered to himself. “Is this your villain origin story, Steve? A failed date?”
Steve froze inside Bucky’s empty bedroom. A part of him knew Bucky’s teasing had gone too far - he knew Tony was too smart not to put it together - but that didn’t mean he was prepared to confront it yet.
Slowly, he turned around to face Tony and his beautiful smile, the one that could light up a room with that dazzling mischief and made Steve forget the world around him.
“You know, I was going to ask if this was somehow about me,” Tony said in slow, deliberate words as he casually leaned into the door jamb. “But guessing from the world’s first silent-but-deadly shovel talk Natasha just glared at me… is there something you want to tell me, Steve?”
The irony, of course, was that this dream came to life when Steve realized his time was limited. Now, all he wanted was for the world to open up and swallow him whole. A nice, tidy end to a nice, tidy story.
“Like this?” Steve heard himself ask. It was supposed to be organic and romantic; that was the whole point of the plan!
“Well, it is about me and it seems like I’m the last one to know about it…”
“I bet if we tried really hard we could find a villain or some senators who haven’t guessed it yet,” Steve heard himself grumble. “They’re not always so quick on the up-take.”
Tony looked at him like he didn’t know whether to laugh or shout himself hoarse. Steve had to hand it to him; those were both good options, given the circumstances.
Pull himself together. Avoid classic signs of anxiety.
Try not to think about how now more than ever there was a very real possibility that his closest friendship in this crazy new world could be irrevocably damaged if he said (or did) the wrong thing.
Steve cleared his throat. He didn’t mean to scrub his floury, sweating palms dry on his jeans, and he definitely didn’t mean to rub the back of his neck, but at least he caught himself before he did it twice. He stilled his hands at his sides and made himself look Tony in the eye.
It was easiest to begin with the truth.
“I told them first because it was important to do this right and I didn’t want to mess it up,” Steve explained, quietly but without regret. “I haven’t really done this before, I needed help.”
Tony’s lips twitched up into a smile, something curious and amused that soothed Steve’s uncertainty into hope.
“So, you’re telling me all this was planned?”
“This is what the plan would have been if everything went wrong,” Steve drawled, trying to play the part of a cool, suave guy who was not at all nervous about the gorgeous playboy sauntering toward him and eyeing him like the best bite on offer.
With almost no distance left between then, though, Tony didn’t look as suave and collected as he did from a distance. Up close Steve saw everything, how his eyes were wide and bright and so very focused; how whatever answers he found in Steve lifted his lips in a goofy smile despite obvious attempt to resist.
For the first time, Steve realized Tony stood in front of him without his armor—unguarded and wildly hopeful.
“Until last week, I thought the serum would keep me like this forever. That nothing would change for me, but I’d have to watch you and the team grow old. I never thought I’d be—that the serum wouldn’t take that from me. What you told me last week was a dream come true, and since that day, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about you”
Tony pressed two fingers over Steve’s lips to quiet him. “Very flattering, but I have to say it’s hard to believe you thought you were immortal, but you never considered Thor?”
Of all the things Tony could ask in the middle of a confession of his feelings (that Steve refused to call love yet), that wasn’t close to what Steve expected. His cheeks and the back of his neck warmed so quickly he knew he was blushing, and he couldn’t help but laugh and roll his eyes at himself.
When he shook his head no, Tony removed his fingers to let him explain.
“The guy may be a god, Tony, but he also looks a lot like George W. Bush,” Steve said with a helpless shrug. “That’s not really flattering unless you can make a career out of it.”
Tony’s playful expression fell into awkward disgust. It wasn’t every day Tony Stark looked stumped, and Steve inwardly preened from his front row seats to Tony processing Steve’s comparison, and the realization that inevitably dawned on his face.
“You,” Tony whispered in a tight voice, his body already vibrating with disbelieving laughter, “ruined Thor, you’re such an asshole.”
“Me? What did I do, it’s his face!”
Tony face-planted into Steve’s pecs, hiding from the world and failing to muffle peals of laughter. His infectious laughter delighted Steve to a point of shameless snickering and laughter. Unable to resist, Steve wrapped his arms around him to close the minimal space between them, holding him close as they swayed and laughter until Tony melted against him. They had hugged before—relieved or celebratory hugs; quick, manly, platonic hugs—but Steve had never dared he’d have a chance to hold Tony this close or for this long, or to see Tony so unguarded.
The next thing he knew, Steve felt the edge of Bucky’s bed bump against the back of his thighs. He controlled the fall by sitting with Tony in his arms, but while Steve was careful of where he placed his hands, Tony wasn’t. He pushed forward before Steve settled, pushing him off balance and rolling them into bed with Steve’s body draped over Tony’s and their lips were inches apart.
After a moment’s hesitation, Steve dared to nose at Tony’s soft hair and breathe him in. He savored the spicy, clean smell of him, nearly losing himself to his overwhelmed senses. But this wasn’t just some physical spell, so Steve pulled back before his eager hands and pounding heart got the better of him.
“For the record,” Steve murmured softly, sarcastic at first but soon gentling his voice. “Even if I was into that, you’re the one I can’t stop thinking about, Tony. Not Thor, or anyone else.”
Tony’s lips curled in a wry smile and he opened his mouth to say something, but Steve got a hand up to gently keep his lips closed to quiet whatever self-deprecating or sarcastic comment he wanted to make. “Yes, you, Tony. Your brilliance, your kind heart. So, if you’re interested and free sometime, I would really like to take you on a date and get to know you better—a real date, without the team,” Steve amended before Tony inevitably teased him, then took the risk of removing his hand. “Just you and me.”
“Oh, Steve,” Tony sighed in disbelief. “Are you really asking me out in an IKEA bed?”
Steve needed a second—and a quick glance at the headboard—to remember where they were. “Appears so,” he grinned, far too delighted. “I helped put it together, too. Are you impressed?”
Tony eyed him dubiously, struggling to make up his mind. “...alright, you never heard this from me,” he finally conceded, “but maybe I am, a little.”
Laughing, Steve nuzzled into Tony’s smooth cheek down to his meticulous beard, but he pulled back before giving in to those soft, tempting lips. “Impressed enough to say yes?”
“On one condition,” Tony murmured under his breath, threading his fingers through Steve’s thick, blond hair and giving it a firm tug that Steve hadn’t seen coming. After all these years - centuries - it was enough to leave Steve panting softly for breath and staring at Tony’s lips like a depraved man eager for a long, deep drink.
“Show me what you’re willing to do with me in this bed first, then we date,” he whispered in a low, indecent moan, wetting his bottom lip with a slow, sensual sweep of his tongue.
Tony knew exactly what he was doing, and Steve had no reason to resist. An eager, covetous growl rose from somewhere deep in his chest, but when he pressed his long, firm body down to pin Tony under him, he didn’t ravage those tempting, parted lips beckoning him to do anything he pleased. The first touch of their lips was gentle and reverent, a man worshiping at the altar and savoring a gift so divine. They rolled together, slowly and eagerly, and as Tony’s thighs closed around Steve’s body for better leverage, Steve forgot all time and space and lived only to exist in Tony’s love.