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Steve was suddenly reminded why he usually chose to take his breakfast very early, before the rest of the Avengers were up and active.  Why he generally avoided being in the kitchen area until everyone was a little more...awake. As always, the sound that Tony made following the morning’s first deep drink from his coffee mug was nothing short of positively obscene. 

“There’s something wrong with you, Stark,” Steve managed, shaking his head in disbelief, doing his best to remain unaffected by such a sound.  The heat he felt in his face told him that he was failing miserably at that, especially with the uncomfortable shifting in his seat. And what the hell, there was no need for that kind of noise over a morning cuppa. 

“Aww, Cap, no need to be jealous,” Tony quipped back automatically. “There’s plenty to go around.”

“Had my coffee fix for the morning already, I’m good,” Steve said with an arched brow.  He wasn’t sure he would be able to manage another cup anyway, not after that

Tony paused and tilted his head, eyeing Steve with a curious grin, “Wasn’t talking about the coffee, but sure.” 

Steve pointedly ignored the flush he knew he was sporting, though it was obvious from the widening grin Tony wasn’t doing the same.  Steve narrowed his eyes slightly, “Think I’d prefer the coffee.”

“Ouch, Cap,” Tony mock-grimaced, hand splayed over his chest dramatically. 

“You’re a menace,” Steve shook his head, struggling to keep his amused grin at bay.

“Yeah, you love that about me though,” Tony grinned, shrugging casually.

“Hmm,” Steve hummed thoughtfully with a small smirk. “Keep thinkin’ that, Tony.”

Tony sputtered at the easy dismissal and Steve grinned brightly.  Tony narrowed his eyes and pointed at him accusingly with the hand still clinging to the coffee mug. 

“You know, I can’t even tell if they’re arguing or flirting,” Steve heard Clint mutter from the opposite side of the room.

Without missing a beat, Natasha and Bruce both automatically answered with a decisive, “Flirting.”

Steve flushed again and dropped his gaze to the empty plate in front of him, just catching Tony’s knowing smirk that he attempted to hide behind another drink from his mug. The banter between he and Tony has been one constant since the moment they met, though granted, initially it was arguing and not nearly as lighthearted as it had evolved into.  Truthfully, it did the most to thaw his heart than everything SHIELD had done to thaw his body.

 

%%%

 

It was several days later when Steve found himself back in the kitchen facing Tony with his coffee mug, only this time he was furious

“We’re a team, Tony.  You can’t just--”

“Actually,” Tony interrupted, “You’ll find that I can , Cap.”

“It’s reckless and irresponsible,” Steve said with a frustrated growl. “How the hell are we supposed to have your back if you’re determined to go off on your own every goddamned time?  We’re supposed to be watching out for each other.”

“Being a little dramatic don’t you think?” Tony asks dismissively. “There was a way to end the attack.  So I ended it. Done. I didn’t need my back watched.”

“It’s not just this time, Tony,” Steve said exasperatedly. “You do this almost every time.  I get that you’re used to running on your own, I do, but damn it, Tony, you’re not on your own anymore.”

“Gee, Cap, it almost sounds like you care,” Tony bit back sarcastically and Steve narrowed his eyes at the tone.

“What about now?” Clint mock-whispered, leaning to the side to nudge Natasha.

“Flirting,” she said, without hesitation at the same time Tony and Steve responded, “Arguing.”

“Huh,” Clint eyed them thoughtfully.  Steve scowled and Tony glared.

 

%%%

 

After that small argument, it was several weeks before Steve actually found himself in the same room as Tony again.  He was pretty sure that was intentional. Tony was really good at avoidance when he wanted, then again, Steve was no better.

Steve had just gotten back from his morning run, it was pleasant out so he pushed himself to stick it out a little longer than usual, and stepped out of the elevator with the intention of grabbing a bottle of water from the refrigerator before heading to his room for a shower and change of clothes. 

His attention was caught by a long string of colorful swearing and he glanced up to catch Tony rushing to clean up what looked to be spilled coffee.  Very hot spilled coffee. Steve frowned and hurried to help.

“Let me,” He said, carefully catching Tony’s arms just above the elbows from behind and steering him to the side, away from the potential burns, minor as they would be. The coffee was hot and Steve hissed slightly but quickly sopped up the mess with the towel that Tony had grabbed, dropping the soaked cloth into the sink.  Without thinking, he spun around and caught Tony’s hands in his, raising them palm up closer to eye level to check for burns that he might not have been quick enough to prevent. Steve frowned at the reddened skin.

“Going to kiss it and make it better, Rogers?” Tony’s voice brought him back to reality and Steve felt his face go hot and he momentarily freezes.  But...there’s an undercurrent to Tony’s teasing. It’s almost as though Tony’s daring him to actually do something about the odd tension surrounding them, like he thinks he knows Steve so well that such a taunt will get his back up and get him to back off.  

Steve quirked a brow and gently pressed his lips to the slightly reddened fingertips in his grasp, hearing the slight, surprised hitch in Tony’s breathing. He brought his gaze up to meet Tony’s.  Dark eyes were wide and blinking rapidly as though he was trying to figure out how to settle this new data in with whatever preconceived notions were already bouncing around in his brain.  

Very aware of the shocked gaze still following his movements, Steve offered him a small smile before grabbing the coffee pot and carefully refilling Tony’s mug, leaving it sit safely on the counter. “Don’t spill that one,” Steve teased, making his way to grab the water bottle from the refrigerator and heading towards his room, leaving Tony staring after him.

That was definitely flirting,” Clint commented, blinking wide eyed at the man still standing absently in the kitchen.

“Mmhm,” Natasha hummed in agreement without bothering to look up from the book in her lap.

 

%%%

 

“I’m not going to apologize,” Tony said as soon as Steve entered the lab. “I’m not sorry.”

“I know,” Steve sighed running a tired hand through his hair.  Tony had gone off script again and taken off on his own. He’d taken a rough hit because of it, too.  Steve didn’t have the energy to be angry about it. He felt more resigned than anything else.

“Then why are you here?” Tony asked, pulling Steve out of his thoughts. “Because normally when you come find me after a fight like that it’s to try to yell at me.”

“I don’t want to yell at you, Tony,” Steve frowned.  “Is it really such a bad thing that I want to be able to have your back when we’re out there?  That I don’t want to watch you take hits like that? Hit’s that you didn’t have to take?”

“Careful,” Tony said in a forced-light tone. “Coming awfully close to sounding like you care again, Cap.”

“Right,” Steve retorted with an exasperated glare. “Because I’ve never given any sort of indication that I actually do care.  That doesn’t sound like me at all.”

“Exactly, now you’re getting it,” Tony said with a wry smirk. 

Steve frowned, taking a few measured steps until he stood just in front of the other man. “Is that really what you think?”

“It’s what I know, Steve,” Tony said with an air of patience that bordered on patronizing. “You care about the function of the team and its players, yes.  You care about how well that may or may not affect future battles. But me? Pretty sure I’m the pain in your ass that you’d be glad to be rid of.”

Steve pulled back automatically, blinking in surprise at the words he really didn’t want to be hearing.  He wasn’t entirely sure what his expression was doing but Tony was eyeing him oddly. Steve swallowed thickly around the sudden onslaught of thoughts and feelings.  

“I didn’t realize you thought so little of me,” he finally managed to say. “I’ll-uh-right.  I’ll leave you alone, Tony.”

He passed Clint and Bruce in the communal area on his way to his rooms but didn’t bother to stop and chat.  He needed to get himself settled a bit before he would be any good to the rest of them. On his way, he did hear the frown in Clint’s voice, “Uh oh.  Arguing?” Bruce hummed thoughtfully, “Something like that.”

 

%%%

 

It was Steve’s turn to pull out all the stops on avoidance. And he had successfully managed to avoid being in the tower and, therefore, near Tony for two weeks.  He still wasn’t sure how he managed to get that one so wrong. How he managed to make such an impression on the man. If he was honest, it stung. Badly. That despite the year and change of banter, joking and--if Natasha was to be believed--flirting between the two, Tony still firmly believed that Steve was, what, just humoring him?

Especially since those same moments were what helped make Steve actually feel like he was living in the 21st century rather than just existing. 

His thoughts spun and spun and grew darker and darker with each strike of his fists against the punching bag.  One final swing snapped the chain attaching the bag to ceiling and sent the bag flying into the wall at the opposite end of the gym where it broke and rained sand onto the floor.  A hand on his shoulder caused Steve to jerk around in surprise, fists instinctively raised defensively.

“Woah,” Tony said, hands spread up in front of him. “Just me, Cap.”

Steve dropped his hands with a heavy exhale.  Rather than looking at Tony, he focused on unwrapping the cloth from his hands.  “You needin’ something, Stark?”

From the corner of his eye, he could see Tony wince slightly and immediately felt guilty for the cold greeting.  Tony shrugged it off, “J’ mentioned you were up. Thought you might want some company?”

It was said with such a hesitant undertone that Steve had to look up to try to place it.  He frowned slightly in confusion at the guarded expression he found. Part of him wanted to throw pieces of their last conversation back at him.  To make him sting in the same way that Steve had been ever since. The rest of him just missed Tony. That was the side that seemed to be winning and Steve shrugged, “Sure.  Let me get cleaned up?”

Steve watched Tony’s eyes rake curiously over his form and felt his face heat in the familiar way that Tony always seemed to manage to draw out.  Tony smirked slightly, though much more controlled than the ones Steve usually earned. “Nah, just up to the kitchen. Figure that’s neutral enough.”

Neutral?  Ah, they were going to try to talk about it, then.  Well, as much as Steve Rogers and Tony Stark could manage to discuss feelings.  Steve bobbed his head in agreement and silently followed him out of the gym and into the elevator.  The silence was weird and unsettling. Things were never silent.

When they reached the kitchen area, Steve beelined for the refrigerator, snagging two bottles of water and tossing one to Tony who caught it easily.  And then they were standing opposite each other, leaning against opposing counters. Steve hated the awkward tension but for the life of him couldn’t figure out how to break through it.

Tony sighed and set his water on the counter behind him and pushed off, moving to stand directly in front of Steve.  Tilting his head back marginally to meet Steve’s gaze, he hesitated and then sighed, “I’m sorry.”

Steve blinked in surprise but felt some of the tension that had been lingering over him lighten just enough.  “Me too,” he answered. “Whatever I did, or didn’t do, that-that gave you that impression.  I’m sorry. I do care , Tony.  Probably more than I should.  Always have.”

“Yeah, I think I figured that out right around the time you stopped,” Tony admitted miserably.

“Stopped?” Steve repeated. “I didn’t stop caring just because of a disagreement.  It’d take a hell of a lot more than that to make me stop caring, I promise you.”

Tony wouldn’t meet his eyes so Steve reached out and caught his wrist, tugging lightly to get his attention.  Tony’s eyes snapped down to the contact and then up to meet Steve’s, surprise evident. Steve realized his mistake just a moment too late.  

He had always been a very tactile man.  Before the ice, before the serum, Steve had grown up used to casual touch.  His mother had been free with her affections even when one illness or another wasn’t threatening to take him from her.  Bucky, and even his family, had been the same. They treated Sarah and Steve as an extension of their own family. That hadn’t changed too much after the serum, during the war once he had finally made it back to Bucky’s side.  The Howlies had become as close as brothers in short order and that tactile manner had followed swiftly among the team.

Frankly, that had been one of the hardest things to reconcile with his awakening.  Now, the only touch he could count on was the hits he took from enemies and the occasional prodding from doctors.  He had come to live for the rare occasions when Natasha affectionately ruffled his hair or when Clint got overly excited and looped an arm around his shoulders.  Small things. Such small, small things. But they helped settle those loose pieces.

So when Steve automatically reached for Tony, he hadn’t thought twice, he just acted. He swallowed thickly and began to withdraw his hand, an apology ready on his lips.  To his surprise--because Tony was always going to be able to surprise him--Tony caught his hand before he could pull away and casually laced their fingers together. Both men froze for a moment, a curious tension lingering.

“Tony,” Steve said quietly, tugging lightly on their linked hands to draw him in closer and admittedly pleased when Tony moved willingly.  

And then a tentative press of lips against his and Steve melted into it instantly, instinctively, his free hand rising of its own accord to cup Tony’s jaw.  The touch seemed to shift the energy between them because all caution seemed to disappear and the chaste, tentative kiss heated. Still languid and easy, lips parted and Steve found a new reason to love coffee and chased the lingering taste.  

A soft groan escaped him when Tony shifted in closer, crowding him further into the edge of the counter to press their bodies together, his hand curling into the fabric of Steve’s t-shirt at the small of his back.  Tony’s hand moved again, releasing the shirt to slip underneath and press flat against the bare skin. Steve shuddered at the touch, want curling heavily in his gut.

Tony broke the kiss with obvious reluctance, the need for air becoming too much to ignore.  His dark eyes studied Steve intently and Steve met the consideration as openly as he was capable of being.  “So,” he said quietly, “this is…”

“Yeah,” Steve responded feeling a small smile pulling at his lips. 

“Huh,” Tony said with a frown. “Are you sure?”

Steve huffed a small laugh and dipped in to press another short but telling kiss to his lips.  Well, he meant it to be short but found himself lingering with the affection longer than he had intended but he couldn’t bring himself to feel bad about it when Tony sighed into it.  Suddenly, Tony’s hands were fisted in his t-shirt on either side of his chest, tugging as he carefully stepped backwards. Steve followed the urging without hesitation, his own hands gripping Tony’s hips as tightly as he dared without hurting him.  

Both men’s attention was so thoroughly wrapped in each other as they stumbled out of the room and into the elevator set for the penthouse that neither noticed that the entire interaction had witnesses. 

“Huh,” Clint said thoughtfully as the elevator doors closed. “I can’t even classify that as flirting, can I?”

“Just label it under ‘finally’,” Natasha said with a satisfied smirk, stretching out comfortably on the couch with her legs crossed at her ankles.