“… scans show there is a 87% chance that the explosion would initiate a chain reaction that would collapse what still remains whole of this entire section of the facility.”
Tony leans his gauntleted hand against the large steel door, and bows his head. “Right down on our heads,” he says in a low voice. He squeezes his eyes shut, feels resignation dig a hole in the pit of his stomach. “Son of a bitch,” he curses. It comes out more like a weary sigh, lacking both heat and conviction.
“Right then,” Tony mutters to himself in a feeble attempt at steeling himself against the panic that is currently having a field day beneath his ribcage. He waits a beat, then takes a deep breath and grits his teeth. Then, he raises his voice, careful to keep it casual, “It seems we’re stuck here for the time being, Cap.”
“Yeah, I gathered that the first time Friday told you the readings,” comes the swift reply, the wryness of that tone making Tony want to roll his eyes and grin like a besotted idiot. At the same fucking time.
Pushing himself away from the door, Tony takes another look of his surroundings, and, like the first twenty times he’d already done it, is met with the sight of… well, nothing. Just empty space and concrete walls, and, praise the Lord for small mercies, still working lights. By Tony’s guess, this must have been some sort of storage space before HYDRA abandoned this entire facility. But not before rigging it to blow in case of intruders.
Tony supposes they are lucky to still be in one piece, having found this room before the first set of explosives went off. They could have been blown to bits, or trapped under rubble and slowly dying of asphyxiation, or-
Tony pinches the bridge of his nose, cuts off that very much unhelpful train of thought before his mind decides to supply Tony with the visual of himself, or, even worse, Steve, lying in a pool-
Not. Going. There. Once was more than enough.
They are alive, and not in any imminent danger, even if their comms are dead, and Tony’s suit is virtually useless… and, yeah, not really helping either.
Steve claims he’d managed to get the info on their location through to Wilson before the explosions started going off and the rubble trapped them here. Tony wishes he could find some comfort in that fact. But the truth is, even if they are found in the next five minutes – Tony’s grim estimation is somewhere around five to six hours – that is five minutes too long.
Tony really needs to leave. Really. And judging by his heart’s enthusiastic attempts at trying to beat its way out of Tony’s sternum, it just might be a matter of life or death.
“You got a hot date, Stark?”
The unexpectedness of that question is enough to startle Tony into doing what he’s been carefully avoiding since, more or less, the moment they’d burst into this room: turn around and face Steve.
“What?” Tony says, then cringes inwardly at his smooth eloquence.
A flicker of a smile passes across Steve’s face. “There must be a reason you’re so set on leaving this place,” Steve says. There’s a certain hitch to his voice Tony cannot parse, but he’s kinda busy trying to keep up a nonchalant facade under the intent focus of those unfairly blue eyes. “If you were anyone else, I’d think you are claustrophobic. But since you enjoy spending time in that tin can,” Steve inclines his head toward the Iron Man suit, standing in sentry mode a couple steps to his left.
“… it can’t be claustrophobia. So it must be something else. Something important enough to make you desperate to leave this place.”
“I am not desperate,” Tony exclaims, trying for indignation but hitting, ironically enough, desperation. He frowns, crosses his hands across his chest, sends a glare Steve’s way. “I am not.”
A weary sigh leaves Steve’s mouth, his face drawing into a grimace. He looks, Tony notes with growing dismay, sad. Also, resigned, and something else… pained, maybe?
“Tony, you were contemplating the odds,” Steve says, and only small part of the heaviness in Steve’s voice is disapproval. The rest is pure, unadulterated sorrow. Tony’s heart lurches violently in his chest, his stomach twisting into knots. “So tell me, Tony, what is so important on the other side of that door you were willing to entertain the thought of going against 87% chance of dropping tons of steel and concrete down on our heads?”
“Fuck you, Rogers,” Tony hisses, steps forward, both his hands – the gauntleted one and the bare one – clenching into fists while his heart beats an insane rhythm against his breastbone. He cannot remember the last time he felt this angry. Angry enough to taste it in the back of his throat. “I would never- I can’t fucking believe-” Tony abruptly cuts himself off, his blood going cold instantly. He blinks, takes another step forward, then another, a sick sort of dread coiling around his chest as he really looks at Steve. Steve, who is sitting with his back to the wall, his shield and cowl lying on the ground a few feet away. As if Steve simply had let them fall there, too tired to worry about them. Tony swallows, tastes bile on his tongue as he notes the ashen pallor of Steve’s face, his slumped shoulders, the way his left hand is pressing hard against his right side.
That stupid, idiotic, reckless fool.
“Friday, scan Captain Rogers for injuries,” Tony says, hears his own voice as if through a great distance.
“Tony, it’s really not-”
“Rogers, now would be a good time for you to shut the fuck up,” Tony interrupts tersely, his voice unnaturally calm considering he’s practically vibrating with anger and worry as he extends his gauntleted hand toward Steve. Steve gives him a hard, unyielding look, but doesn’t try to finish the sentence. “Friday?”
“On it, Boss,” Friday affirms, her voice barely a whisper compared to the blood rushing in Tony’s ears. “Multiple minor contusions, multiple abrasions and bruises, a cracked rib and a large gash on Captain’s right side which is bleeding profusely. At this rate-”
“Tony, it really isn’t-”
“Not listening to you now, Rogers,” Tony forces out through gritted teeth. There’s something unfolding in the middle of his chest, a knot that has been there for a long, long time, and now that it is coming loose, it feels like it’s taking Tony apart from the inside. “Friday, give me the numbers. How bad are we talking about here?”
“Pretty bad,” the AI supplies promptly, and Tony feels a shiver of pure terror slither along the length of his spine. “If the bleeding doesn’t stop, at this rate it will take approximately two hours before the blood loss becomes critical.”
An expression of guilt flickers across Steve’s face, but it is gone in a second. And Tony just stands there, frozen on the spot, unable to push a word, or draw a breath past the heavy lump in his throat.
“Look, Tony, it’s not that bad,” Steve says, his voice steady and strong, but his face remains pale and there’s that unmistakable glaze of pain in his gaze, and why the fuck did he not say a damned thing? And, why, oh why, wasn’t Tony even looking? “The serum-”
“Is not a miracle solution to having a fucking hole in your side, Steve!” Tony cries out, throwing up his hands in helpless frustration. Steve’s brow furrows, his lips pressing into a stubborn line. God, Tony wants to punch him. And he will. Right after he makes certain the stubborn son of a bitch survives to take that punch. “How long were you planning to sit there, and manfully bleed in silence?” Tony pauses, tilts his head. “Were you even planning to tell me you are bleeding?”
“Maybe I didn’t want to interrupt your freak-out, Stark,” Steve bites back, and Tony cannot help himself; he flinches, the guilt blazing hot and strong across the inside of his chest.
For one moment, there’s nothing but the sound of their harsh breathing disturbing the otherwise absolute silence in the room as their gazes – both wide, both heavy with anger, with guilt – remain locked on each other’s.
Steve is the first one to break the silence.
“I didn’t mean that,” Steve says, in a quiet, soft voice Tony has only once heard from him. “I’m sorry.”
Tony remains silent, and it’s not that he lacks the words, it’s just that he cannot make his throat work. It’s like there’s a glitch in his system, and all he can do is stand there and stare at the earnest look on Steve’s face and gape like a particularly dim-witted goldfish. It’s only when Steve’s shoulders go stiff and his face pulls up in that expression of steely resolve that Tony’s brain switches into gear and he finds himself kneeling in front of Steve, holding him down by his shoulder with his gauntleted hand.
“Yeah, I know,” Tony mutters, his voice coming out jagged. He doesn’t look at Steve’s face, his eyes darting across the dark spot on Steve’s side, his fingers trembling an inch over the stained fabric. “We need-” he starts, swallows hard, tries again. “Keeping the pressure won’t cut it, we need something to stop-” Tony trails off when his gaze lands on his gauntlet. He stares at it in silent contemplation for a few seconds, trying to come up with the best way to formulate the question while simultaneously telling his heart to calm the fuck down before it beats itself into cardiac arrest.
When Tony lifts his gaze, there’s a pained little smile on Steve’s face. But his eyes – fuck, they are blue from up this close – hold Tony’s with a sort of utmost trust and steady resolve. And yeah. Not really helping in calming Tony’s heart rate. At all.
“Okay. Okay,” Steve says, gives a small nod, releases a shaky breath. “Do it.”
Tony grits his teeth against the sound he’s fairly certain would have come out as hysterical laughter. He takes a deep breath, and squares Steve with a level look. “I want it to go on official record that Captain America is an idiot,” he says, and even though his words come out a little strangled, his voice doesn’t break.
Steve’s mouth twitches, his smile widening a bit. There’s a spark in his eyes now, something bright and warm, and Tony should really stop looking now. The thing is, he cannot. “Duly noted,” Steve replies, sounding amused. “Anything else?”
Tony shuffles closer, winding up effectively straddling Steve’s lap. Steve looks up – and there’s a part of Tony’s brain that somehow notes the fact that, in this position, he has at least two inches on Steve – and his smile widens, lights up that usually somber face, and for a second there, Tony’s mind shuts down and his lungs cease to remember what their function is.
“Tony?” Steve’s voice is soft, and with an undercurrent of concern, and just enough to drag Tony from his ill-timed and highly inappropriate daze.
“Here,” Tony says and guides Steve’s right hand to his waist. Steve blinks but doesn’t question it. Instead, he folds his other arm around Tony’s waist as well. Tony offers Steve a weak smile. “Hold onto me. Just… not too tight, okay. Just a regular, breakable human here.”
“I would never hurt you, Tony,” Steve says, and there’s something in his voice that makes Tony think about vows. Makes him think about sorrow and solitude and regret. Steve’s fingers fingers tighten minutely their hold on Tony’s waist in a way that is both protective and possessive. “Not ever again.”
Tony files that statement into the folder ‘do not read’ that’s placed on the very outskirts of his mind; folder that is already full of all things Steve Rogers, and takes a deep, steadying breath.
“Okay, Friday, we need enough power to stop the bleeding efficiently and not burn Captain Stoic here into a crisp.”
“Twelve percent should do it, Boss.”
Tony nods, swallows. “Right,” he says, fixes Steve with an apologetic gaze. “This will hurt.”
And Steve just smiles reassuringly. Like Tony is the one who has a tear in his side. Like Tony is the one who is about to be shot with a repulsor blast. “I trust you, Tony.”
Those words, coupled with that unguarded look in Steve’s eyes, shatter the last barrier inside Tony’s chest, leaving his heart exposed and vulnerable, and already so very, very lost to this complicated, infuriating, beautiful disaster of a man.
Tony blinks, absorbs his sudden – sudden, you’re really going with sudden? – revelation in stride, focusing on what’s really important right now. He rips the fabric of Steve’s uniform, almost flinches at the way Steve blinks, then grits his teeth against the pain. Tony tries not to focus too deeply on the mangled flesh of Steve’s side, tries to keep himself calm and detached.
He fails miserably.
“I’m sorry, Steve,” he says in a low, hoarse voice and then he places his gauntlet directly over the wound and fires.
Steve lets out a short hiss of pain, his hold on Tony’s wrist tightening to the point of pain, his forehead falling to rest against Tony’s collarbone.
Tony chances a glance at Steve’s, now blackened, wound. “Friday?” he prompts in a thin, strangled voice.
“It worked, Boss,” Friday’s chipper voice announces. “The bleeding stopped.”
“Oh, thank fuck,” Tony breathes out, and slumps just a little against Steve. He feels like a giant weight has been lifted off his chest. He’s not sure he could do this again. He never ever wants to hear Steve make any sort of pained noise. And he’d rather fling himself off the top of his own damned tower than be the one to deliberately hurt Steve.
A moment passes, then another, and another, without either of them moving. Steve keeps clutching at Tony’s waist, small shivers still wracking his frame, his panting breaths hot against Tony’s collarbone, while Tony rubs soothing circles against Steve’s back, waiting for the inevitable moment when Steve will pull away, smile politely, thank Tony, and they will go back to waiting their rescue party.
Tony really, really wishes this is not exactly where he wants to be.
Tony waits, then waits some more, but Steve doesn’t pull away, not even when his breathing calms and he stops shaking. The thing is, Tony wants to be a good guy here, he really does, but he’s very bad at denying himself what he wants, and having Steve Rogers quite literally plastered to himself? Is definitely on top of Tony’s list.
But not this way. Not under false pretenses.
Squeezing his eyes shut for a brief moment, Tony leans further into Steve’s hold, allows himself one more moment of indulgence, of freedom to touch and hold that what is not meant for him. Then, with a silent curse at himself and the universe in general, Tony releases a heavy breath, and moves to disentangle himself from Steve’s hold. He doesn’t get very far. Actually, he doesn’t move at all.
Steve doesn’t allow it.
Tony cranes his head, frowns in confusion at Steve’s head, still nestled in the crook of Tony’s shoulder. “Uh, Steve?” Tony says, tries to wriggle free, but that earns him nothing but tightening of Steve’s fingers around his waist. “You wanna ease up that grip a little, soldier?”
“No,” comes the reply, calm and steady, and making no sense at all.
“No?” Tony repeats, incredulous, still staring at Steve’s mop of blonde hair. His mind is working frantically, trying to put sense to whatever the fuck Steve thinks he is doing, and comes up with nothing. “Come on, Rogers, you need to let go so I can stand up.”
A beat passes in absolute silence. Then, Steve raises his head, looks Tony squarely in the eyes. Tony’s heart skips a beat at the look of steely resolve that is etched across Steve’s face. “You’re not going anywhere,” Steve states calmly. “Not until we have a talk about what happened a month ago.”
“Ah,” Tony mutters, glances away. He pulls his hands away from Steve’s back, but doesn’t try to wriggle out of Steve’s grip. He knows better. He’s not going anywhere until Steve allows it. “That.”
Tony grimaces, his chest growing uncomfortably tight. He doesn’t ask for a clarification, he knows what Steve is talking about. Even if he’s been trying his damnedest to forget it ever happened.
Even now, Tony cannot recall who made the first move. He knows they were alone in the common room, talking about nothing in particular, and then, Steve was right there, a smile still lingering on his lips, and he was so close, close enough to touch, his breath warm on the side of Tony’s face.
A moment later, they were kissing, frantic and desperate and with no finesse at all. Then, they were stumbling across the hall toward Steve’s room, tugging at each other’s clothing with clumsy, eager hands until Steve became frustrated and simply picked Tony bodily up, and carried him all the way to his bedroom.
What happened after is a blur of sensation, warm and wet and rough and gentle, and all of it Steve: against him, above him, inside him; tracing each patch of Tony’s skin with his fingers, with his mouth, as if he was determined to memorize each and every part of Tony. Make it his own.
Before the night was over, Tony had learned how Steve looks like when he comes. How Tony’s own name sounds falling from Steve’s lips in helpless wonder.
But as much as the sex had been amazing, waking up wrapped up in Steve’s arms and nestled against his chest, had been better. And in that moment between sleep and waking, when everything is still sleep-soft and honest, Tony’s first, unguarded thought had been: This is what I want to be doing for the rest of my life.
Tony had run out of Steve’s bed as if all the demons from Hell were at his heels. He pretty much hasn’t stopped running since. Hasn’t stopped pretending that night never happened.
“You sure this is the right time for this talk?”
Steve’s lips form a sad smile. “You can’t run away from me here, even though you've made it quite clear you're willing to try. You also can’t ignore me, or my calls,” he says, a touch bitterly. “So yeah, I’m sure.”
“You were bleeding moments ago.”
“And now I’m not.”
Tony sighs, shakes his head. “You could at least let go,” he says, inclines his head down to where Steve is clutching at Tony's waist, his mouth twisting into a mirthless curve. “It’s not like I can go anywhere.”
“I’m not taking any chances,” Steve says, holds up his chin. “I’ve waited a month, Tony. An entire month of questions and doubts and fears, and all that time you’ve done nothing but stonewall me. So no, you’re not moving an inch, you’re staying where you are.”
Tony narrows his eyes at Steve. “And what is it you want from me?” Tony exclaims hotly. But there’s a tremor to his voice he cannot hide. “An apology? As far as I can recall, all that happened between us was entirely consensual.”
Steve looks dumbfounded for a moment. Then, he just looks annoyed. “An apology? What the hell are you talking about?” Steve grits out, staring at Tony with rapidly darkening eyes. “I let you run away from me that morning because it looked like you needed time and distance to process things.” Steve pauses, a muscle in his jaw jumping. When he continues, his voice is thick with helpless frustration. “Apparently, you took that as a sign to pretend we never spent the night together in the first place.”
“I thought that was for the best,” Tony says in a quiet voice. He keeps his gaze down. He cannot look Steve in the eyes. Not while having him this close. Not while Steve insist on picking apart a wound that hasn't even healed properly.
“Whose best, Tony? Yours or mine?” Steve says, his voice gaining a bitter edge. “’Cause let me tell you, this past month has been nothing short of miserable, Tony. I can understand if that night meant nothing special to you, that was risk I was willing to take, but I need you to tell me that. I… I can take much, Tony, but I cannot take not knowing. Not anymore. So tell me yes, or tell me no, but tell me something.”
Somewhere in the middle of Steve’s speech, Tony’s eyes have snapped up, settled on Steve’s increasingly desperate face. “Steve,” Tony says in a low, strangled voice. His hands rise slowly, settle on Steve’s shoulders. There’s something in the hollow of his chest, rising in sync with every beat of Tony’s foolish heart. It feels frighteningly similar to hope. “I need to know the question first.”
“Will you let me take you out for dinner?”
Tony blinks, his mind kinda short-circuiting for a moment. That isn't what Tony expected to hear. “You want to take me out for dinner?” Tony repeats, dully.
Steve smiles then, a soft, earnest smile. He releases his hold on Tony’s waist and cradles Tony’s face between his hands. “I was told that is what you do with someone you fancy.”
Tony’s entire body shudders, his heart pounding like mad against his breastbone. “You fancy me, Rogers?” Tony says, breathless and amused, and half-certain this is some fever dream.
One of Steve’s hands slides toward Tony’s nape, pulls him closer. They are breathing each other’s air now. “Yeah, I do. Very much and for a while now.” A rueful sort of grin flickers across Steve’s face. “I know I should have said this before we… you know,” Steve trails off, a flush appearing on his cheeks. “But I was selfish, I guess. I wanted you, and if that night was the only night I was to get with you… well, I took the opportunity.”
“Huh," is Tony's oh-so smooth reply.
Steve blinks, frowns, his gaze turning uncertain. “I’m going to need actual words, Tony.”
Tony smiles, wide and so happy it fucking hurts. He tilts his head, brushes his nose against Steve’s. “Yes, I will go out for a dinner with you.”
“Yeah?” Steve whispers, drags his thumb across Tony’s lower lip. “You will?”
“I was informed that is required activity with someone you fancy.”
Steve’s answering laugh turns into a content sigh when Tony brings their mouths together.
They kiss for one endless moment, languid and soft, then deep and demanding, until Steve’s moan turns into a pained hiss.
Tony pulls away, breathing heavily. “At ease, soldier. We’ll have to take a rain check until you’re better.”
Steve blinks, frowns, tries to drag Tony into another kiss. “Don’t wanna. Feel fine.”
Tony allows Steve to steal a quick kiss before pulling away again. “Oh, come on, Rogers. Don’t pout. It’s unbecoming of a national icon.”
“To hell with national icon,” Steve grumbles, slides his hands down to Tony’s hips.
Tony’s eyebrows shoot up. “Well, I happen to like that national icon,” Tony says, amused. Something dark and sad flickers into existence in Steve’s gaze. Tony sighs, drags his mouth against the crease of Steve’s brow. “But not as much as I like the man behind it.”
“That so, Stark?” Steve says, smiles, but there’s still a shadow of something raw and vulnerable in his gaze.
“Yeah, that is most definitely so,” Tony says as he leans his forehead against Steve’s, folding his hands around Steve’s neck and drawing himself even closer. His chest feels like it is made of champagne bubbles and pure light. It’s… not a bad feeling. Tony could get used to it.
“Good,” Steve says, fierce and heated, nuzzling his face against Tony’s, his fingers gripping tighter at Tony’s hips. “That’s good.”
And, in one of rare moments in his life, Tony remains silent, and simply smiles into the side of Steve’s face.