Steve doesn't realise, at first, that Tony is unsure of their relationship. He doesn't notice the hesitation before Tony shows him affection and he doesn't see the tension that eases from Tony's posture when the affection isn't rebuffed.
Steve doesn't notice for two reasons. Firstly this is Steve's first ever relationship and he's sufficiently busy fighting his own insecurities to even think that Tony , of all people, might be feeling the same.
The second reason, and Steve feels this reason should mean he is given a little slack regarding this oversight, is that Tony sort of disappears.
Nothing magical has happened.
Steve is aware that it isn't normal for such a clarification to be necessary.
Tony is just working. It's not unusual; Tony has a lot of things that need his attention.
That it has been a week since Tony announced his intention to have the arc reactor removed and Steve has seen him only five times does make Steve miss him, but Steve isn't upset or worried.
That is until he finally notices Tony's reaction to his presence.
Steve walks into the workshop, too exhausted after the last mission to even greet his friend, and he sees Tony look up from his work and tense. Steve doesn't realise that he isn't smiling as he approaches.
'It's fine; don't worry about it,' Tony tells him.
'What?' Steve asks tiredly and slumps against the desk beside the genius.
Tony freezes for a second then throws up a smile,
'Nothing, forget I said anything.'
'Tony, just tell me what's wrong,' Steve insists.
'There isn't anything wrong, Cap,' Tony turns back to his holograms. 'Don't worry about it.'
'Is it me?' Steve forges on. 'What did I do?'
'Forget it,' Tony waves a hand which throws his hologram across the room as he scowls at Steve.
'I just thought you were here with bad news, that's all,' Tony shrugs and steps closer to Steve.
Now he's paying attention Steve sees the pause just before Tony slips his arms around his waist.
'You thought I was breaking up with you?' Steve blurts in amazement.
Tony moves as if to pull away but Steve has looped his arms around him and doesn't let go.
'In fairness,' Tony stills in his arms but doesn't relax, 'I don't know what you think you're doing with me.'
'I thought we were... dating?' Steve hates the waiver in his voice. His arms relax minutely, if Tony moves now there's nothing restraining him.
Tony does move. He surges up in Steve's arms and kisses him heatedly as his hands frame Steve's ears. Steve's arms tighten again and he grips his hands into Tony's t-shirt. Tony's tongue is in his mouth as he is thoroughly claimed by the shorter man.
'Ok,' Tony speaks against his lips, 'we're starting over with this. I know how to do this properly; we'll go out, I'll get you flowers. Whatever you want, Cap, anything you want.'
'I don't need you to buy...' Steve starts to object.
Tony's already shaking his head,
'Steve, I'm very, very rich. If I see something I think you'll like I'm going to get it for you. I'm a philanthropist; think of it as boosting the economy.
'Ground rules!' Tony continues without giving Steve a chance to comment. 'Pepper made me promise,' he waves a hand dismissively. 'I only have a couple...'
'Tony!' Steve catches the other man's arm before he moves out of reach. 'Ground rules?'
'Yeah,' Tony stills willingly enough and smiles at him. 'Like... prenuptials but for a relationship.'
'I'm not after your money...' Steve replies in confusion.
'Alright, not like a prenup. Maybe deal breaker is a better term,' Tony nods to himself. 'Jarvis, tell me if I'm forgetting anything...'
'Of course, sir,' Jarvis sounds pretty happy about this development.
'One; I'll spend a lot of time in the workshop,' Tony tells him, 'I won't change that; you can join me here, if you're quiet, or you can leave me to it. Two; The bots stay,' he gestures vaguely in Dummy's direction, 'they're entirely non-negotiable...'
'Tony!' Steve interrupts again. 'I don't want to change you.'
'Consider this a friendly warning anyway,' Tony shrugs away from Steve's hold on his arm.
'Alright, ' Steve agrees, 'anything else?'
Steve just stares at him.
'I mean it; no hitting,' Tony's earnestness is unnerving. 'I know I'll piss you off; I piss off everyone. Yell at me all you like, get into my face,' Tony waves a hand dismissively, 'that's all fine. And umm...' he looks away at this point, 'being a little... rough... in bed is all fine. Just... no hitting.'
'Why would I hit you?' Steve's voice sounds broken. 'God, Tony,' his voice raises, 'why would you even need that rule?! Who...?'
'It doesn't matter,' Tony takes a step back. 'I just needed to tell you it would mark the end of any... arrangement between us.'
'This isn't a business meeting!' Steve can't seem to lower his voice. 'You can't...'
Steve trails off. Tony can't what? Ask for certain reassurances? Can't expect Steve to respect his privacy on a subject that must clearly be intensely personal? Steve takes a deep steadying breath and clenches his fists.
When he looks back over at Tony and sees the man is staring intently at the soldier's clenched fists, his heart stutters. Tony meets his gaze steadily when he forces his fingers to relax.
'I'm trying to tell you one of my issues,' Tony tells him, quiet and calm, 'without actually having to come out and say it. Is that all right with you?'
Steve's heart may have just broken.
'Yes, Tony, of course that's... I promise you; I'll never...'
'Great,' Tony grins at him, 'that's all sorted then! Do you have any stipulations?'
Steve just shakes his head silently.
'Ok,' Tony nods his head. 'I have some work to do on the suit after that last fight so...'
'I'll bring some food down to you in a little while,' Steve tells him quickly.
Tony looks a little surprised,
'I'm fine, you don't...'
'You haven't scared me off, Tony,' Steve crosses the distance between them and presses a kiss to the genius' cheek. 'I'll see you a little later.'
Tony's smile is now genuine and Steve smiles back before he retreats up the stairs.
* * *
Steve takes his time in the shower so that he can avoid seeing the rest of his team while he's thinking about what Tony has told him. Or, rather, what Tony has tried very hard to avoid telling him.
When he gets up to the communal floor it's deserted anyway, so he needn't have worried. The others are either still cleaning up after the fight or they aren't feeling too social either.
Or they're off somewhere else being social without inviting him. Steve needs to stop thinking about that now.
Oh, and now he's back to thinking about somebody hitting Tony. Great.
'Jarvis, will you try calling Ms Potts for me?'
There's a pause,
'Do you intend to speak to Ms Potts regarding the Ground Rules?' Jarvis asks.
'Yes,' Steve won't lie to Jarvis now. Not when he's trying to work things out with Tony.
There's another pause,
'You could call her without notifying me,' Jarvis replies.
'Yeah, I could,' Steve agrees, 'but I won't go behind your back on this, Jarvis. We're on the same side; we both want what's best for Tony. I want to know what happened to him, but I don't think he, or you, will tell me. But maybe you'll be alright with Pepper telling me?'
'I am directing your call.'
'Thank you, Jarvis.'
'Good afternoon, Steve,' Pepper smiles at Steve from a screen that Jarvis has lowered from the ceiling.
'I hope I'm not interrupting,' Steve begins but Pepper just shakes her head and smiles at him.
'Tony has just sent me some designs I've been reminding him about and they're only a week later than the board wanted. Tony doing his job puts me in a good mood; how can I help you, Steve?'
'I've just been talking to Tony about his ground rules,' and then Steve remembers that Pepper dated Tony until recently but it's a little late to back out now.
'Oh,' Pepper looks surprised then delighted and then a little worried, 'umm, ok, you mean the third rule? Of course you do. And now you want to know who hit him.'
'Yeah,' Steve confirms, though it wasn't a question. 'I need to understand what...' he trails off, it's not like Pepper won't understand.
'His childhood wasn't the best,' and now Pepper just looks like she's breaking some really bad news.
'I think you're understating things,' Steve replies dryly when Pepper falls silent.
'His dad was away a lot and always busy. His mum was a social high flyer and busy in her own way. I don't think either of them knew how to deal with a child as amazing as Tony. They left him to his own devices a lot, or in the care of others,' Pepper sighs. 'You knew Howard, didn't you?'
Steve swallows heavily and makes sure to keep her gaze,
'I did. Was it Howard?'
'Everyone always assumes it was dear old dad,' Tony makes them both jump. 'What do you think that says about our culture?'
'Tony...' Pepper murmurs, sounding sorry.
'Hey, Pepper,' Tony smiles but it looks forced, 'don't worry about it. I've put you through enough over the years; I think you're entitled to talk behind my back.'
Tony has turned to get a drink from the cabinet so doesn't see Pepper's expression to that pronouncement. She opens her mouth as if to say something but then just grimaces a little and cuts the call.
'It was my mother,' Tony announces as Steve turns around in time to see him pour a generous measure of scotch. 'I never worked out why she did it. I was holding her back, maybe, or she wanted a girl. Or a kid that wasn't crazily smarter than her. Or she was hoping Dad would notice and pay her more attention.'
Steve steps closer but doesn't reach out to touch.
'She only did it when Dad was away. She never so much as touched me when he was home,' Tony's smile looks more like a sneer.
'I'm sorry, Tony,' Steve fights not to react too overprotective at Tony's news. 'We shouldn't have been speaking about you like that.'
Tony takes a gulp of his drink,
'I should have just told you,' he dismisses. 'It's not a big deal.'
'It is! Tony, you know what she did was wrong. You know that if Howard knew about it then that made it his responsibility to stop her. You should never have had to go though that.'
'He got me into boarding school,' Tony blinks at him over the tumbler. 'I don't know if he knew, but he did get me away from her. Then I did the rest myself by graduating early.'
'I've told you now,' Tony interrupts, 'it's done. Massive amounts of harm done, but it's over with. Can we drop it?'
'Can I hug you?' Steve's voice breaks a little.
Tony drains his drink and puts the glass aside,
'Sure,' he sounds casual but melts into Steve's chest too willingly for it to be the case.
'I'm sorry I wasn't around,' Steve presses his nose into Tony's neck.
Tony doesn't reply beyond grazing his teeth against Steve's neck. Steve hums his approval so Tony bites a little harder making him shiver with pleasure.
'Cap, tell me you want this,' Tony tugs Steve's head to the side by his hair.
'I do,' Steve confirms promptly, knowing full well this is Tony's way of changing the subject and regaining control. 'I've not done this before, Tony, but I really really want to...'
'Well, I'm an expert,' Tony's licking and nipping his way down Steve's neck and along his collarbone. 'I can make this amazing for you.'
'We're in the family room, Tony,' Steve half complains but keeps his grip on Tony's waist; rejecting Tony now wouldn't be the smartest plan, even if he felt he could.
'I should really be more distressed that you've taken to calling it that,' Tony tells him and starts to tug him across to one of the sofas. 'Jarvis will tell us if anyone heads this way and they're all adults. Also, we're both ridiculously attractive they should consider themselves lucky to get such a show...'
Steve can feel himself blushing at that but it doesn't stop him from allowing himself to be pushed into a sofa and straddled by Tony. He hesitantly pets at Tony's sides as the genius bites at his neck, his fingers are still buried in Steve's hair.
'Relax, Cap,' Tony practically purrs.
'I...' Steve tries not to freak out too spectacularly when Tony's hands rub down his chest.
'Relax,' Tony repeats softly, pressing a kiss to the corner of his lips, 'nothing below the waist, I promise.'
Steve feels muscles relax that he doesn't remember tensing.
'Nothing you're not ready for, Cap,' Tony presses gentle kisses to his face as Steve tries to follow his lips with his own. 'The others can't have that much of a show.'
Steve nods helplessly and raises his hands to keep Tony's head still. He feels Tony smiling against his lips as he claims a kiss.
'Can you call me Steve while we're doing this?' Steve requests.
'Not into that?' Tony bites Steve's bottom lip gently. He lowers his voice and leans forward to speak directly into Steve's ear, 'Steve.'
Steve's breath catches in his throat and he hears Tony chuckling.
'God, Steve, what did I do to deserve you?'
'You're amazing, Tony,' is all Steve can think to say. 'You're just... something else.'
'Flatterer,' Tony leans back far enough to grin at him.
'Sir, I hate to interrupt,' Jarvis' voice comes clearly from overhead.
Tony doesn't look away from Steve's eyes as he responds,
'I know you do, buddy, what is it?'
'Agents Barton and Ramanov are approaching your location.'
'Alright,' Tony presses another kiss to Steve's lips before getting up. He laughs when he has to pull out of Steve's grip.
'I'm just going to suggest we relocate, darlin',' Tony grins at him.
'Alright,' Steve agrees readily, 'yours or mine?'
'Mine,' Tony tugs on his hand.
* * *
Steve lets himself be pushed into Tony's desk chair,
'I thought you meant your bedroom,' he blushes and Tony climbs onto his lap.
Tony just shrugs and kisses him.
Steve rubs his hands over Tony sides before daring to slip his hands under his t-shirt and touch skin. Tony hums encouragingly. He rears up slightly so Steve has to tip his head back to maintain the kiss and so makes himself space to work on the buttons of Steve's shirt. Once the buttons are all undone Tony breaks their kiss, leaving Steve gasping for air, and presses a kiss to his chest.
'I'm not below your waist, Steve,' Tony swipes his tongue over a nipple, 'this is fair game.'
'Right,' Steve swallows heavily and drops his head back before changing his mind and looking down at what Tony's doing.
'If I mark you,' Tony nips gently against his collarbone, 'will the bruise even still be there in the morning?'
'No,' Steve admits.
'I'll have to do it again tomorrow then,' Tony grins up at him.
Steve can only nod helplessly as Tony starts sucking a mark into his skin,
'Off,' he manages to request as he tugs at Tony's t-shirt, 'please.'
'Anything you want,' Tony agrees readily and sits up to pull the material over his head and drop it behind him.
Steve swallows as he runs a tentative hand over Tony's chest; Tony sits still and watches him curiously. Steve looks up to meet Tony's gaze as his thumb brushes the edge of the arc reactor. The genius just smiles at him and pushes the shirt off of his shoulders.
Steve can't stop himself from arching up at the first feel of Tony's bare skin against his own as his partner refocuses his attention on Steve's neck. Steve runs his hands over Tony's back to pull him as close as possible.
'To clarify,' Tony speaks between nips to Steve's skin, 'have you not done this before with a man or...'
'At all,' Steve confirms, 'I've never even kissed someone and it be my idea before you.'
'Fuck...' Tony swaps to pressing kisses all up his neck, 'what are you doing with me, sweetheart?'
Steve opens his mouth to reply but only manages a whine. Tony's looking quite smug at this point but Steve really can't bring himself to mind.
He keeps his hands on Tony's back as the smaller man explores his chest with his hands. He tenses slightly when Tony's hands settle by his waist band, but his partner's attention has clearly diverted back to his lips. The kiss now is faintly obscene with the way Tony is thrusting his tongue in and out; Steve hopes Tony doesn't laugh at how obviously hard he is.
'We're pushing my self control,' Tony informs him as he comes up for air. 'Let me take you out somewhere. There's a great seafood place I know, you like seafood? We can go now. Jarvis can get us reservations. Or do you not want to be seen publicly? We can get a booth; it's not a problem. Then we can come back and whatever. Anything you want.'
Steve has to take a moment for Tony's out pouring of words to make sense. He presses a quick kiss to his lips before replying,
'I'd love to go out with you,' he smiles.
'Great,' Tony grins and slips from his lap. 'Jarvis?'
'Reservations in your name in forty-five minutes, sir,' Jarvis responds.
'Perfect,' Tony tugs his hand, 'come on, Cap. I know you own at least one suit. Meet me in the garage.'
They part ways to get ready and Steve lets himself take a minute to take all of this in.
He's in a relationship. He's in a relationship with Howard's neglected son. He's going on an actual date with Tony Stark.
Steve swallows heavily and squares his shoulders,
'I can do this,' he gets up and starts looking for his suit. 'Jarvis, is there anything else I should know?'
'Do not ever call sir Anthony,' the AI replies promptly. 'Try not to be offended when sir pays for everything. If you do not wish for sir to buy you things then you will have to not mention them in sir's presence; sir is already aware of you preference for art and motorcycles, you will recieve items on these themes.'
Steve blinks in surprise as Jarvis rattles of his list.
'Sir does not sleep normal hours and it does not seem to affect sir medically; do not concern yourself unduly as I shall contact you if necessary. Do not take it personally if sir forgets personal details about yourself.'
'Tony's Tony,' Steve just smiles as he pulls on a crisp white shirt, 'I don't want to change him other than to make sure he's safe. And knows he's loved...' he adds as an after-thought.
'If you hurt him,' Jarvis suddenly sounds a lot less formal. 'I will kill you and have your body buried deep enough that nobody will ever find you again. Captain.'
Steve swallows and nods,
'I don't ever intend for him to be hurt again. I promise you, Jarvis.'
'Sir will appreciate either the blue tie or the red,' the AI comments after a moment. 'Either will be mocked, of course.'
'Of course,' Steve agrees and chooses the red assuming it will result in being mocked for wearing Iron Man colours but not caring.
* * *
Tony, naturally, isn't in the garage when Steve arrives. It's another quarter of an hour before Tony reappears.
Tony looks every inch the billionaire.
Steve's mouth goes a little dry.
Tony is typing on his tablet as he sweeps across the room, he abandons it on top of one of his cars. He spots Steve as he looks up and grins at him,
'Iron Man red, Captain?' he adjusts Steve's tie unnecessarily.
Steve just smiles.
'You look gorgeous,' Tony informs him and leads the way to a silver sports car which puts back its roof as they approach. 'Don't wait up for us, Jay.'
* * *
Tony drives them and then tips the man at the door an extortionate amount of money to take the car back to his tower.
'Shouldn't we have just gotten a cab?' Steve asks as the door is held open for them.
'You say such horrifying things sometimes,' Tony scoffs at him.
The meal passes pleasantly as Tony is easily prompted into telling him about his latest round of upgrades for his suit. Steve doesn't understand most of what Tony's saying, but he can understand the emotions behind the words.
It's good to see Tony happy.
As Jarvis predicted Tony does pay for everything without even asking to see the bill. Steve decides not to fight this particular battle; if he lets Tony pay for things then he can make sure to find something he can do for Tony to keep them even.
Not that it's a competition.
'I had a great time,' Steve smiles as they finish their drinks and wait for a car to collect them.
'Good,' Tony grins and swallows the last of his drink. 'I told you I knew how to do this properly.'
'I never doubted you,' Steve hesitates before brushing his fingers against Tony's where he's still holding his glass.
Tony tangles their fingers briefly before standing and ushering Steve to a waiting limo.
Steve glances at the driver and satisfies himself, for now, with slipping his hand into Tony's.
Back at the tower they travel up in the elevator in silence as Steve rubs Tony's thumb in small circles. They stop at Steve's floor and the door open soundlessly.
'Thank you,' Steve manages to say, 'for a great time.'
He doesn't let go of Tony's hand.
'You're welcome,' Tony tugs him into a soft kiss. 'Goodnight, Steve.'
'Goodnight,' Steve realises he's actually tightened his grip.
Tony gazes at him for a moment, glances at their joined hands and announces,
'Fuck it. Penthouse, Jarvis.'
The elevator doors close.
'Tony?' Steve asks uncertainly.
'It's a day of firsts,' Tony loops his free arm around Steve's neck and tugs him down for a kiss. 'You might as well stay the night too.'
'I...' he doesn't want to leave but he's not sure he wants to stay the night either.
'Nothing you're not ready for,' Tony tells him firmly so Steve curls his arms around his waist.
'Ok,' he nods and follows Tony willingly when the doors open to the penthouse. 'Wow...' he hasn't been up here since Loki and if anything it's even more impressive than it was then.
'You like?' Tony turns and spreads his arms to gesture around him.
Three of the walls are glass making the view amazing. The fourth wall has the bar, the kitchen area and a door which presumably leads to Tony's bedroom.
'Welcome home, sir,' Jarvis adds. 'You have eighteen new messages, of which one is from Ms Potts.'
Tony makes a disgruntled noise and brings up a hologram against a window,
'I need to reply to this,' he sends Steve an apologetic look. 'Just make yourself at home.'
'I'll make you a coffee,' Steve offers and moves away to give Tony some privacy.
This break is good, Steve tells himself firmly, he doesn't want things to get too intense. He doesn't want to embarrass himself by freaking out.
Of course he's now going to embarrass himself because he doesn't even see anything over here that resembles a coffee machine but Tony must have one.
'Jarvis?' he asks quietly.
'I shall turn on the coffee machine for you, Captain. The mugs may be found in the left hand cupboard.'
A large gleaming silver machine comes to life beside him so he finds the mugs and checks the fridge for some milk. Honestly he's surprised that there is some; it's not like Tony has it in his coffee and he doesn't take many meals up here.
'I may look into cloning,' Tony reappears at his side just as the coffee is pouring. 'With two of me I might actually get everything done.'
'I'm not sure the world would survive the force of two of you,' Steve smiles at him.
'Can you imagine Fury's face?' Tony grins and takes the coffee. 'Come on, we'll watch a movie,' he tugs Steve to the seating area and gestures vaguely in the air which Jarvis apparently translates to mean drop the lights and bring up the media options on the massive drop down television.
Steve realises Tony is moving through some sort of mental check list for dating and naturally deciding that doing everything on the list in one day is better. As he doesn't want to leave just yet he doesn't bring it up.
Tony sat down first so it's up to Steve to decide how close he wants to sit. The decision should not be this nerve-wracking. He sits so there's a foot or so between them, but then changes his mind and scoots closer. Tony doesn't look away from flicking through the movie choices but does lean forward enough to get Steve's arm behind him and then slumps into his side.
The movie Tony picks is called Indiana Jones and apparently it's important for his education.
Steve wonders if Tony thought it through when Nazis appear on the screen but he's enjoying the movie anyway, and Tony is a very comfortable weight against his side, so he doesn't say anything.
'Good movie,' Tony tells him as the credits role. 'I'll make sure to show you the others in the series.'
Steve immediately misses Tony's warmth as the genius stands up and stretches. He watches as Tony moves across the room and gets himself a glass of juice which he downs and abandons on the side.
'You're smiling,' Tony tells him with a smile of his own.
'I'm happy,' Steve replies easily.
Tony grins and claps his hands together,
'Good!' he moves back to stand in front of Steve. 'Ok, important question now, do you want to stay the night up here? The bed's huge so you don't need to worry about taking up my space or about me being too close or anything. I can stay out here if you prefer; I don't need to sleep right now. Would you like a drink? I think I have anything you could want and I can have it order up if not. Are you hungry? I know we had dinner but super-soldier metabolism must be a kicker...'
'Tony!' Steve had been waiting for Tony to finish but it doesn't look like he's going to. 'I'd like that...'
'You'll stay?' Tony beams at him. 'Good. Great even. Ok. No funny business, I promise.'
'I don't mind a...' Steve clears his throat, 'a little, umm, funny business.'
'Christ,' Tony grabs his hand and tugs him through the heavy door by the kitchen.
Steve immediately realises he's made a faulty assumption as instead of finding himself in a bedroom he's beside a set of stairs which he recognises lead down to the communal kitchen. Tony leads the way up the stairs and through another security door though the stairs continue up another story.
Tony's bedroom is glass on three walls the same as downstairs. There are two doors on this forth wall; the one they came in and another which is hanging open and Steve can see in to a large bathroom.
The bed is huge.
Steve tries not to stare at it too obviously.
Tony's fidgeting beside him so he turns to smile at him.
'Still ok?' Tony checks before tugging him over to the bed. 'My side is the right, hope that's ok. I'm just going to get changed. There's some stuff there that will fit you,' he points to a small pile on a dresser, 'Jarvis had it brought up while we were watching the movie. Ok, I'll be right back.'
Tony grabs something from a drawer and disappears into the bathroom. Steve knows that Tony isn't shy regarding his body so this must be for his benefit. He bites his lip as he checks what the AI has had sent up for him; there's some loose shorts, boxers, briefs and a t-shirt.
When Tony reappears he's wearing boxers and a thick looking sleeveless top which mostly blocks the light from his arc reactor. Steve hesitates and then just takes the boxers with him as he takes his turn in the bathroom.
Tony's sitting up in bed with one of his ever present tablets when Steve steps out a little nervously. Tony's expression, at least, is gratifying; the tablet dips a little as Tony looks at him over it and he huffs a breath.
'Gorgeous,' Tony tells him as Steve places his folded clothes on side. He pats the bed to his right and Steve gets in obediently.
Steve lays down on his side as gazes up at where Tony's turned his attention back to his tablet,
Tony glances down at him,
Steve closes his eyes and drifts off to the sound of Tony muttering to himself and Jarvis as he works on whatever it is that has his attention.
Just as he falls asleep he feels a kiss to his forehead.
He loves this man.