Tony squinted down at the tray in front of him. He was pretty sure nothing like this had ever happened to him before. There was sugar in a silver bowl, thin slices of lemon on a small dish, milk in a tiny jug, and standing at the centre of it all, a steaming teapot.
He looked up at Steve—who was dressed as usual like he'd just walked out of a period film, a plaid shirt over a white undershirt, both tucked neatly into a pair of pressed khakis—and then back down at the tea tray. The teapot was covered with hand-painted roses. "It's just," he said, "I thought this stuff was born in Starbucks cups. Like, it comes out of the... what's the tea equivalent of the womb, no, you know what, scratch that, that way lies terrible imaginings, but it's just, you know..."
"Not really," Steve said. His eyes were crinkled up at the corners, like he was amused at something Tony wasn't aware of. Not for the first time, Tony wondered how they'd ended up here, spending a Monday morning together somewhere beyond grudging tolerance, when the first few weeks had been so terrible, and—
"Is that a tea cozy?" he said, accusingly.
"Yes, Tony," Steve said, laughter in his voice, "it's a tea cozy. If you keep the pot insulated, the tea lasts longer. That's why you should always heat the pot a little before you add the tea leaves and the hot water. But I bet you'll like this—it's a Yunnan blend. Strong taste, smokey, like good whiskey." He held out one of the cups to Tony; it looked comically small in Steve's big hand.
Tony looked at Steve's face and blinked, feeling that familiar click and flare in his brain: the one that always heralded some new discovery, some new way of seeing the world. "Huh," he said, holding up a finger, "yeah, uh, could we—uh, rain check, excuse me."
He went out into the hallway, and called Rhodey.
"Fuck," he said as soon as the call connected. "Fuck, I'm so fucked, Rhodey, I'm so—no, not because of that. No, no, not that either, would you shut up? No, what I'm trying to, to say to you, to articulate, is that I may well be... actually, no, strike the conditional, I'm pretty sure I'm in love with Captain Fucking America, and—why are you laughing?"
"Are you honestly telling me you're surprised by this, Tony?" Somewhere in the background, Tony could hear the dull roar of engines, the orderly bustle of an Air Force base. "Because that makes you and what, a guy living under a rock somewhere. In Nepal. Who's wearing earmuffs and is blind."
Tony was a grown man, a business leader and a philanthropist, so he steadfastly did not whimper at the thought that he'd been so obvious. Not that it was being obvious that he objected to—Tony lived his life amid the glare of the flashbulbs and the twenty-four hour media, liked the odd kind of anonymity that gave him—he just didn't like being obvious in ways he wasn't aware of. He settled for saying, "Oh my god, Rhodey. He's like, too young and too old for me, all at once. It's like every bad prediction that Perez Hilton ever made about me."
"Well," Rhodey said, "to be fair, it's not like he ever made any good predictions about you."
"Pfft," Tony said, "I think that's your heteronormativity showing. Just because you wouldn't be happy if some online gossip columnist used Paint to draw a cock on your face—hello? hello? Did he just hang up on me?"
"It would appear so, sir," Jarvis said.
"Hush, you," Tony said, flapping a hand in the general direction of the ceiling, "No one likes a smart-Jarvis."
Then he did the only thing he possibly could do, and dialled Pepper. "Rhodey hung up on me!" he said as soon as she answered.
Pepper sighed. "Good morning to you too, Tony. Let me remind you again that I am not the teacher and you and Colonel Rhodes are not kindergarteners, so I cannot help you—"
Which reminded Tony that he wasn't actually calling to tell on Rhodey, as fun as that was—he was still in search of Steve Assistance, capitalisation totally warranted. "So, you know," he told her, "if you could stop making out with Coulson long enough to think of others—though ha, probably you got that over with in a previously scheduled ten minutes this morning. What is it like with him, is he frighteningly competent? Does he have magic fingers? I bet he has a ten step guide to—"
"Finish that sentence," Pepper said, very calmly, "and you will live only long enough to regret it a lot."
"Yes, Pepper," Tony said, hanging his head, "Sorry, Pepper, but no, seriously, I am in trouble."
"What now?" Pepper said. "Did you break my company, Tony? Have you been taunting Loki? Are you dying again? I told you not to taunt the Norse gods!"
"No, no," Tony said. "It's worse than all those things, even Loki."
"Just because you haven't had a confrontation with him recently doesn't mean you should go in search of some thrill-seeking—"
"You missed the news last week, didn't you? Anyway, bygones, it's not Loki, it's emotions."
Things went muffled for a moment, like Pepper was holding the receiver away from her, but he still heard her say, "Marianne, could you hold all my calls for the next hour or so? Great, thank you", before she put the phone back to her mouth and said, crisply, "Explain."
Okay, Tony thought, okay, that was good, because Tony worked well within clearly-defined boundaries.
(Sometimes. Maybe. When they weren't coming from a guy in uniform, or from his father. Or a guy who reminded Tony of his father. Or Obie. Or... okay, when they came from Pepper, sometimes, Tony was good with clearly-defined boundaries.)
He leaned heavily against the wall and said, "I think I'm in love with Steve." And the fact that he'd said that out loud, and to Pepper—the fact that he'd said that out loud, twice, to two of his best and only friends in the space of fifteen minutes, somehow that made Tony realise that it must be true. It must be real, and he slid down the wall to sit on the floor because he was so, so screwed. There was literally no direction in which he wasn't screwed right now.
"Is he even gay? Or bi, or whatever they called it back in the Neolithic, or even willing to consider the whole cock thing—I mean, not that it matters because he is Captain America and I am Tony Stark and—oh god, Pep, what if this wrecks the Avengers? What if Steve finds out and the team breaks up and there's no one to save the world? All those times I told you that me developing non-atrophied emotions was a bad idea and you scoffed, Pepper, you scoffed."
"Wait," Pepper said, "Hold up." He heard the sound of her closing her office door. She was using her coping voice, the one that he knew from, like, the time those photos of him surfaced on Gawker. (Well, not just him. Him and three Victoria's Secrets models. Well, he says him, but really all you could see was his ass—but okay, so it wasn't like that was what Pepper gave a damn about so much as what it was that his bite-mark-bestrewn ass did to the Stark Industries stock prices.)
But okay, okay, yes, focusing on the Pepper advice—which right now consisted mostly of her trying to figure out what had happened. "You're going to have to walk me through this," she said. "What did you? Did you kiss him? Did you tell him you like him, or—"
"He made me tea," Tony hissed.
Pepper had this face, this one specific face—Tony called it the "you need so much therapy" face, because it was the face she always made when she told him that—and now he could hear it over the silence on the other end of the line. He could hear her face, and he pressed his face to his knees, moaning softly. "I am so screwed."
"He made you tea," Pepper said, flatly, after a moment.
"My point exactly," Tony said. "There was tea and he was leaning into me and he smells, like, really good, someone should get on making a Captain America aftershave because, just—inappropriate thoughts about a national symbol, wildly inappropriate. And he has this whole—he has these rituals, right, things he thinks are important, and he was sharing them with me, with his stupidly hot hands, and he is a good person and I have no idea why he puts up with me when he hated me for so long or why it changed, but I just sort of... I looked at him, Pepper, and I thought mine and..."
He had no idea why it hurt to breathe for a moment—was this a whole Pinocchio thing? Was he finally turning into a real boy? He pressed his free hand to his chest, right where the skin met the arc reactor.
There was a pause on the other end of the line, and then Pepper said, carefully, "He made you tea and you just... walked out?"
"Yeah, I—" Tony sat upright. "Oh god, I just walked out. He's still in there."
"Okay," Pepper said, sighing. "You know I say this with some measure of... very strained affection, Tony, but you're an idiot."
"I know!" Tony said. "What do I do?"
"Probably," said a voice from behind him, "you should just tell me."
"You didn't close the door, did you?" Pepper said in his ear.
"I didn't close the door," Tony confirmed, and hung up on her. He stood and turned to see Steve leaning in the doorway, arms folded in a way that did pleasing things to the shirt fabric over his biceps. "So you heard... things?"
Steve's mouth quirked. "You're not exactly a quiet man."
"Yes, well, surveys have shown that... you're not angry? Or, or offended—I mean, I don't want to presume, and generally my biggest turn-on in a partner is, you know, enthusiastic consent. Every now and then a broken bed frame or two. So it's not like I'm presuming anything or—"
"You babble a lot when you're nervous," Steve said.
Tony opened his mouth to protest, then closed it again. Not like he could argue with the logic of that.
"Also," Steve continued, "it's not like sodomy was invented in the Sixties. Or the 1860s, for that matter."
"You..." Tony began. "I... Does the government know you know those words?"
"Just because I don't have a lot of experience," Steve said, closing the distance between them in two long strides, "doesn't mean I don't know the mechanics."
"Great," Tony said faintly, "I have a virginal World War Two superhero talking to me about anal sex."
"Are you objecting?" Steve said. This close, Tony noted, he had the longest eyelashes.
"Not," Tony said fervently, "in the least, no, but maybe we could, uh, start with the kissing? Build up to the whole—"
Steve's mouth was warm against his, and one of his big palms cupped the nape of Tony's neck comfortably. He made the best noises when Tony's tongue pushed into his mouth, shocked and hungry all at once, and the worn cotton of his shirt was soft under Tony's hands.
"You," Tony murmured, the wall cool against his back, Steve plastered solid and warm against his front, "you are just full of surprises, aren't you?"
"I pay attention," Steve said, and his smile was infectious—Tony grinned, then laughed, and laughed some more when, a long time later, they went back into the kitchen and found that the cozy had indeed kept everything warm and waiting for them.