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The Single Biggest Problem With Communication

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“First learn the meaning of what you say, and then speak.”

― Epictetus

Steve had been wanting a chance to talk to Tony for a while, but it had been hard to get one that wasn’t just drawing him aside from the rest of the team, and that was a little, well, public for Steve’s taste.  They were both so busy, and Tony had been hard for Steve to track down.  He wasn’t sure if Tony had actually been making himself scarce or he was just awfully busy, but when they’d talked before, Tony had seemed so convinced that Steve wouldn’t want him around, that they would only fight with each other if he was, no matter what Steve said.  Steve figured he should have realized that Tony would take measures to prevent that into his own hands instead of trusting Steve that they’d worked it out; he was stubborn like that.  Either way, though, Steve was determined to track him down long enough for a talk, a real one, and he had a bit of break from the rest of his work at the moment.

 

Well . . . he still had paperwork to do, but that could wait.  Since he’d finally managed to find Tony on his own. 

 

It was more of a lucky break than anything—it was just luck that Steve had stopped by Avengers Tower to check on the team, anyway, but this was one of the first times Steve had seen Tony lately where he hadn’t been too busy to talk, rushing off to someplace else, or they’d had to deal with some sort of massive threat.  And he was still working, of course, but at least it was in the living room of the tower, instead of sequestering himself away in his workshop or somewhere else Steve would have no idea where he was.  Steve wasn’t sure what he was working on, but he had a tablet in front of him that he was drawing on as well as a laptop on the coffee table, and he was muttering to himself.  Occasionally he ran a hand back through his hair, leaving it horribly tangled, or ran that hand over his face.  Steve couldn’t help the way he found himself smiling at that—it was just so familiar, so much so it tightened his throat more than a little, because he’d seen Tony just like this, in his rumpled shirtsleeves and missing a jacket and all, too many times to count over the years, and if he just stood here and looked at him it almost felt as if nothing had changed at all, as if they were still in the mansion, with the others, and if he waited long enough Tony would look up at him and smile with the light in his eyes that he’d always had, or Jan would come in and tease Steve for just standing here and watching Tony work.  She’d always seemed to know there was something going on with Steve when it came to Tony—it had been hard for him to really hide anything from her.

 

He missed her.  He hated knowing that she was gone, that she had died while he hadn’t been here to do anything about it.  He knew the others would have done everything they could do save her and his being there probably wouldn’t have helped at all, or changed anything, but it still . . . it hurt.

 

Steve at least knew Tony well enough by now that he needed to seize this chance, so he did—he stepped into the living room and said, “Hey there.  Working on anything I’d be able to follow?”

 

Tony looked up, and blinked a little.  His face did something strange before it smoothed out and he smiled at him, and though his eyes had a weary, unfamiliar dullness these days and his face looked tired, drawn and strained in new, deeper ways that it hadn’t been before, there was still that same old light in them when he looked up at Steve, the genuine curve of his lips, that had always been there, and Steve felt something in his chest lighten.  Maybe things hadn’t changed as much as he’d thought they had.   “Oh,” Tony said.  “Hi.  I didn’t realize you were around.”  His eyes flickered, and he looked down a little, at the tablet in his lap.

 

Steve was left uncertain how to reconcile the warmth of his smile with that more ambivalent reaction.  He hesitated, then came further into the room, sat down on the couch at Tony’s side.  “I have a little bit of a break,” he said, “and I thought I’d stop by, see how the team was doing.  How everyone was settling in.”

 

“I’m sure everyone’s glad to see you,” Tony said, giving him another smile.

 

Steve smiled a little—everyone definitely had seemed happy to see him around, but it was strange to be here and not be on the team.  He kept feeling like he was home here, like he should be one of them.  But Bucky was Captain America now, and . . . he had other things to do, himself.  And that . . . that felt strange, unsettling and bizarre, like he’d lost something he was used to bracing his feet against.  “And what about you?” he asked, trying for a slightly teasing tone of voice.

 

Tony gave him a slightly more crooked smile.  “Let’s see if we start arguing again and then we’ll see,” he said, then shook his head, looked down a little more.  “Nah,” he said, as if shrugging away his initial reaction.  “It’s always good to see you, especially, uh, especially these days.”

 

Steve smiled at him a little more widely, even more pleased by that answer than he’d expected, the emotion in Tony's voice, feeling something warm settle into his chest.  When Tony looked up at him, his eyes widened—he smiled a little back, then looked back down again.  “So,” Steve said.  “You didn’t tell me what you were working on.  Anything I’d be able to make head or tails of?”

 

Tony smiled a little, at that.  “Actually, yes,” he said.  “I’m working on some updates to the Avengers databases.  Making sure everything’s current and erecting some new safeguards and firewalls.  I have some time, and it’s something that needs to be done sooner or later, so why not now, right?”

 

It was work that needed to be done, and Steve supposed he had to admit that Tony was one of the few who could do it, especially since he’d set up most of that network in the first place, but it struck him as something Tony had chosen to do rather than to spend even a moment not busying himself with something, almost make-work.  But he was glad of Tony’s commitment to the team, that was for sure—with everything Tony had been doing on top of everything else, like Avengers missions, his new company, and endless press appearances, it was clear that he was as devoted as ever to the Avengers to be making so much time for them, and Steve couldn’t have been more happy with that.

 

But now he could hardly find Tony to talk to him.  Even after the meetings of the Illuminati he disappeared before Steve could do more than exchange a few words with him most times, it felt like, and to be honest, Steve felt awkward using a meeting like . . . that to try to corner Tony to talk about something personal.  It felt wrong.  Underhanded.

 

“Do you ever take a break?” Steve said with a slight smile, intending it to sound teasing, a reminder of an old and affectionate argument about how hard Tony worked, how he never seemed to take the time to rest.  Steve knew that him getting on Tony’s case about it was a bit of a case of pot meeting kettle, but Tony didn’t even seem to take enough time to let himself sleep sometimes.

 

Tony tensed up, though, and looked away.  “It’ll be done soon,” he said, tapping at his tablet.  “Or, well, maybe not soon, but I’ll get it finished today.  I know I still have those Quinjet repairs to do, though that might take a little longer, sorry, I have some stuff I absolutely have to get checked over for Resilient in the next couple of days.”

 

Steve blinked, a little surprised by that response.  “No rush,” he said, then remembered, again, that he wasn’t on the team, so it wasn’t exactly his call.  “I’m sure the others won’t mind, no matter how long it takes,” he said.  “I sure hope you’re planning to take a break after that, though—working yourself into the ground isn’t going to do anyone any good.”

 

Tony gave a wry, almost harsh little laugh.  “Oh, yeah, sure,” he said.  “I’ll need to work some on upgrades to the suit around then, anyway.  There’s some weird staticky feedback I’m getting sometimes and I think it’s interference with some of the Extremis ports, but I haven’t taken the time I need to really go over it and get it checked out.”  He raised one shoulder in an oddly apologetic half-shrug.

 

Steve stared at him, alarmed.  “Wait,” he said.  “Extremis is part of your body, isn’t it?  Shouldn’t you do that first?  What if it affects you—I mean, your health?”

 

Tony gave him a bland half-smile.  “I’ve survived this long, haven’t I?” he said, then shook his head.  “It’s not going to be a problem for the team,” he said, “I promise.  It’s not that serious.  You don’t have to worry.  It won’t affect my readiness for the field.”

 

That wasn’t at all what Steve had been worried about, though he supposed Tony was right and it might be a legitimate concern.  When it came to Bleeding Edge and Extremis, though, Tony would certainly know that far better than he.  Steve had to admit that yeah, that still bothered him at times, the fact that Tony was at least part . . . computer now, but the fact that Tony had shot himself up with a retrovirus was just that—fact.  There was nothing to be gained from constantly rehashing it, or at least, that was what Steve told himself. 

 

But hadn’t Tony only recently deleted his brain, his memories, with Extremis?  Left himself permanently damaged, they’d said, and Steve had to swallow hard at the memory.  He didn’t like the thought that Tony could still be . . . hurt from that, or the things that had happened to him before that that Steve still didn’t perfectly understand.  Carol had done her best to explain when he’d asked her for a rundown, and Tony had given him a cursory explanation, but both of them had had a tendency to go off on tangents about everything else that had gone wrong around then.  A Skrull virus, of some sort, that had hurt Tony in some way, done something to Extremis, he knew that much.  He didn’t much like the idea that this new armor Tony was using might be causing him any more pain or damage, or that the injuries that had already been inflicted on him might still be a problem.

 

It was hard enough to accept everything that Tony could no longer remember.

 

“What about you?” Steve pressed, more seriously, voice low.  “Will you be all right?”

 

Tony shrugged, smiled at him, that wry crooked smile one he recognized from years and years of having it turned on him.  “Just fine,” he said, and then Steve saw him bite the inside of his cheek and turn away.  “Don’t worry about it.  Just some routine maintenance that needs to be performed on my hard drive, really.”

 

Steve scowled.  He didn’t like it when Tony talked about himself like he was a computer, and he thought he’d made that perfectly clear.  But then, he supposed, Tony didn’t remember most of those conversations.

 

He frowned down at his fists as they clenched against his knees, crossed his arms across his chest to hide that.  He hated this.  Everything Tony couldn’t remember.  And it . . . hurt, to look into Tony’s eyes and see that strange sort of innocence at times, the lack of knowledge, real knowledge, experience, of everything that Steve had been through, still remembered so vividly.  He knew the events of the conflict that had torn the superhero community apart still haunted Tony, but they did it in a different way, a way that Steve might never actually understand, that Tony found all of it hard to cope with even without remembering it, and in some ways that in and of itself was difficult for him—but he was still innocent of it in a way that Steve wasn’t, and at times, Steve hated how much he envied that innocence.  Because Tony had been a part of it too, he had, and the things he’d done still had the power to make Steve angry, but he couldn’t remember them, he didn’t have to live with those memories.  Not the way Steve did.  It made him furious with Tony sometimes, still, but he knew that was unfair, knew it.  Whatever he might have suspected about Tony’s ulterior motives in deleting his brain, he had done it, more than anything, to protect other superheroes from a madman at the near cost of his own life.  Steve couldn’t fault him for that.  Could never fault him for that.

 

“Sorry,” Tony said, belatedly, and Steve looked up again to see Tony giving him a rueful sort of smile.  “I am a computer, though, you know.  My uplink capacity might be shot, but that’s not going to change the fact that my biology is fundamentally different now.”

 

“I know,” Steve said, and it came out tighter than he’d meant it to.

 

“Right, yeah,” Tony said, and looked down again, quickly, back to his tablet, his mouth tightening.

 

Steve sighed, frustrated with himself.  This was nowhere near the way he’d wanted this conversation to go.  This was supposed to be . . . well, nothing like this, that was for sure.

 

“It’s fine,” he forced himself to say with an effort.  “Anyway, that’s not the point.  You’ve been . . . awful busy lately, though.”

 

Tony’s hands tightened on the tablet—or was he just imagining it?  “There’s a lot to do,” Tony said.  “Especially if I’m going to earn my keep around here.”

 

“No need for that,” Steve said, surprised.  “You’re on the team, Tony, that’s it—that’s the end of it.”

 

Tony bit his lip, Steve could see it, though he still wasn’t looking at him.  “I know you have every reason not to want me on the team,” he said after a moment, “and I get what you’re trying to do by overlooking . . . everything, putting us all back together like this, but it’s not like it’ll just go away.”

 

No, Steve admitted privately, heavily, to himself.  It wasn’t.  “Is someone giving you a hard time?” he asked instead.

 

Tony turned toward him, stared at him, eyes narrowed as if in confusion.  “What?” he said.  “What?  No . . . .”  His voice trailed off, and then he shook himself, returned to his computer, all brisk business again.  “No,” he said, “not at all.  Kind of a surprise, to be honest.  I expected a lot more pushback than there actually has been, but, then, I guess the word of Steve Rogers counts for a lot.”  He gave Steve another smile, from underneath his eyelashes, and Steve got distracted by it, for a second, the crooked curve of Tony’s mouth, the blue of his eyes from under the dark sweep of his lashes, the hair falling forward over his forehead.  “I guess I have that going for me,” he said, still with that wry, crooked little smile, and then turned back to his work.

 

“C’mon, Tony,” Steve said.  “You have a lot more than that going for you.  You’re an important part of the team.  You always have been.  We need you with us.” 

 

Tony shrugged a little.  “I’m doing my best,” he said, turning back to his computer.  “But I’m guessing that’s not what you wanted to talk to me about,” he added, tapping at one of the keys.

 

“Hey, did I say I wanted to talk to you about something?” Steve asked.  It was true, of course, but how had Tony known that without his saying anything about it?

 

“I figure you had to have something in mind,” Tony said, “why else come all the way over here to talk to me instead of hanging out with one of the others?  Anyway, I know I look busy here, but really, it’s not urgent.  Lay it on me.”

 

Steve frowned.  “Maybe I just wanted to talk to you,” he said.  “We haven’t a lot of time to catch up.”

 

Tony frowned at him, blinked a little.  “What?” he said.

 

“You heard what I said,” Steve said, making a split decision to focus on this instead of leading into the question that had been burning away in the back of his mind, however he tried to ignore it, ever since that time they’d spent in Asgard.  “You know, Shellhead,” he said, using the old nickname on purpose.  “Catch up.  Talk.  We haven’t had much chance since right after that adventure with Thor.  We’ve both been busy.  I . . . haven’t seen you that much.”

 

Tony blinked again, looked down.  “I wasn’t under the impression that was something you were particularly excited about doing,” he said in a low voice.

 

“No?” Steve said.  He frowned again.  “Really?  What about that talk we had after our little adventure on Asgard?”  That was what had gotten him thinking about all of this in the first place, to be honest—he’d realized, really realized, how little he liked fighting with Tony, how much it hurt to find himself just going after him, again and again, when all he wanted was to be his friend again.  To have things . . . maybe not be exactly how they were between them, but to have things be right between them again.  And more than that—the way Tony had looked at him, while they were there, his eyes wide and dark, the softness of his lips close up, the warmth of his smile—seeing him naked, even just for a moment, and then the presence of him on the horse behind him, even the smooth hardness of the armor at his back, his arms tight around Steve’s waist.  Just being that close to him again.  It had gotten Steve thinking about Tony.  Not just how much he’d missed him . . . but more than that.

 

It had felt so good to hug him again.

 

At the time, he hadn’t realized how little he remembered.  Tony, that was.  How lost he must have been, struggling to catch up, and he figured it just showed how good Tony was at faking it that he hadn’t realized until afterward the extent of the gaps in Tony’s memory.  But he could still remember the way he had leaned into Steve, had closed his eyes and pressed into that hug, and . . . Steve knew exactly how Tony had felt in that moment, because he felt the same.  They were never as good apart as they were when they were working together.  It was just true.  And he felt guilty, now, for going after Tony when he wasn’t really equipped to defend himself.  Tony had never seemed to blame him for it, it was more like the opposite, but . . . that didn’t make it right.

 

“That was . . . that was nice,” Tony said, looking down at his hands, “but give it what, a week, and we were yelling at each other again?  Face it, us spending time with each other these days is like a recipe for a fight.”  He sighed after that, his voice heavy.  He didn’t sound happy about it, at least, Steve told himself, trying to keep the frustration, the hurt, that sparked in him at Tony’s comments under control.  He was surprised when Tony spoke again, half-closing the laptop and setting the tablet aside.  “Look,” he said, meeting Steve’s eyes with what looked like determination.  “I know that what happened with the Infinity Gauntlet, it was a . . . lot to take in.  If you really do want me off the team for it, I get it.  I do.  You don’t have to play nice.”  His lips quirked a little bit further, even more wryly.  “And I promise it won’t make things with the old boy’s club any more awkward than normal.”

 

“What are you talking about?” Steve asked.  He kept feeling like this conversation wasn’t going where he expected it to go, or that he wasn’t even sure what Tony was talking about at all. 

 

If anything, after the incident with the Infinity Gauntlet, he had more faith in Tony than he’d had before.  He thought he would have been able to resist that sort of temptation so completely himself, but he couldn’t be sure.  Especially not with everything that had happened to Tony over the past several years, all the things he must have wanted to change, to affect with that kind of power—and he hadn’t touched anything.  How could Steve not trust him after that?  If he could trust him with the fabric of the universe, was he really not going to trust him with something like being on the Avengers?

 

And he was a member of their little smart guys’ club now, the Illuminati.  He could keep an eye on them.  Make sure they didn’t convince themselves in their ego that they were doing the right thing while all the while they were just manipulating others, make certain the power didn’t go to their heads.  But it had never been about being able to trust Tony, or not—that was what Tony had never understood.

 

“I’m saying I get it,” Tony said.  He smiled at Steve a little more, and now that smile, so wry and self-deprecating and edged, made something twist up in Steve’s stomach.  Get what?  All the reasons for Steve to hate him?  For Steve to be petty and vindictive toward him?  He was just going to write him a free check for that?

 

“Last I checked,” Steve said, “you’re still on the team.”

 

“Yeah,” Tony said, “but that’s what I’m saying, Steve.”

 

“I don’t have a problem with it,” Steve said, firmly.  “And none of the others have come to me with a problem.  So as far as I’m concerned, there’s no problem, as long as you don’t have one with anyone else.  All right?”

 

Tony looked down, nodded.  He took a deep, shaking breath, and blew it back out.  “Yeah,” he said after a moment.  “All right.”  There was another moment of silence, and then he said, “I have a feeling that still wasn’t what you wanted to talk to me about,” giving him a little smile and sitting back, leaning his shoulders against the back of the couch.

 

“Uh, no,” Steve admitted.  “We got a little off track.”

 

“Not that I have a problem with that,” Tony said, “but why don’t you tell me what’s going on?”

 

“It’s not anything I’d call urgent,” Steve said, knowing he sounded a little awkward.  Hell, he felt a little awkward.  More than a little.  God, what was he doing?  He looked down, away from Tony’s face.  “Just something I wanted to . . . um, well, to ask you about, I guess.”

 

“Okay,” Tony said, obviously prompting.  “Yeah?”

 

“I wanted to know if you remembered something,” Steve said, forcing himself to meet Tony’s eyes.

 

Tony looked pained.  “Steve,” he said softly, “you know I deleted those memories.  I don't have them anymore, and they’re not coming back.  I don’t know what else to tell you—”

 

“No, no,” Steve said quickly.  “Not . . . one of those.  Not anything that recent.”

 

Tony blinked, looked a little surprised.  “Oh?” he said.  “Okay, what is it, then?”

 

“It was years ago,” Steve said, still feeling terribly awkward.  “When you were still. When you were still, uh, drinking.”

 

“. . . Oh,” Tony said.  He looked down, his face settling into those tired lines again, grave and drawn.  “Yeah.  I see.  So there’s . . . some doubt about whether I remember it or not.  I see what you’re saying.”

 

“I was never sure,” Steve said.  “And honestly, I wasn’t going to ask.  But I . . .”  He’d always wanted to know, and after Tony had deleted his memories, had—had damaged his own brain, willingly, and Steve had realized that everything he’d wanted to ask him about why he’d supported registration, everything he’d wanted so badly to understand—that he’d lost his chance to find out any of it, at least from Tony’s own perspective.  To ever really know, to understand what Tony had been thinking.

 

He’d wanted to understand.  Before, whenever they’d fought, after they’d been able to talk, and once Tony had explained what he’d been thinking, it had always been hard to hold a grudge.  Once he’d understood it, he hardly ever agreed, but he’d be able to see where Tony was coming from, that it wasn’t the bad place he’d been thinking, but that Tony had had good intentions, he just saw things differently.  He’d wanted that, for their conflict over Registration.  So badly.  He’d wanted to hear Tony explain, not give him excuses and the party line and self-righteous claims about responsibility, but look him in the eye and say . . . something that made everything make sense.  But now he never would.  He couldn’t.

 

He didn’t want that to happen again, didn’t want to just . . . wonder for the rest of his life.  And after that time they’d spent in Asgard together, well.  He’d been thinking about it again.  For whatever reason.

 

“I guess I just wanted to know,” he finished.  There was no good way to bring this up, was there?  “You kissed me,” he said, forcing himself not to look away from Tony’s face, not to look down.  If he was going to bring this up again after all this time, he at least owed him that much.  “It was a while back.  You were drunk.  It was . . .”  It hadn’t been some kind of friendly, light kiss, either.  Tony had been absolutely falling down drunk, and affectionate when Steve had tried to help him into the mansion, up the stairs to his bed, and then he’d leaned into Steve, wrapped his hand around the back of his neck and pressed soft, sloppy, drunken kisses over his throat, his chin, and his jaw before finally getting to his lips, licking into Steve’s mouth, moaning against his lips and clinging to him, moving one hand into his hair and hanging on tight, his eyes squeezed shut.

 

Steve had kissed him back, just for a second, before he’d tasted the scotch on his breath all over again and remembered how drunk Tony was and pulled him away, helped him up to his bedroom and into his bed, pulling off his shoes, his shirt, his belt, and his tie, before he’d left.  But there’d been a moment, when he was pulling the blankets up over him, where he’d stood there and thought . . . .

 

He hadn’t wanted to let the incident affect how he treated Tony—he’d been too drunk to be held responsible for his actions—but he hadn’t been able to put it out of his mind entirely.  He’d never let himself think, really, that Tony might like a man like that before then; he’d figured he just liked dames.  But that had changed things, except that it hadn’t, really, because Steve still hadn’t known if Tony would ever have done a thing like that if he’d been sober.  Hadn’t even known if Tony realized who he was kissing.  And despite the awful taste of the alcohol on his breath, the sloppiness in the way he’d kissed that Steve doubted would have been present had he been more aware—he’d known what Tony tasted like after that, what he smelled like (expensive cologne and metal and the warm skin smell of his body), the feeling of his lips chapped under Steve’s, his tongue in Steve’s own mouth, the scratch of his facial hair, and . . . .

 

If Tony hadn’t been drunk, Steve would have kissed him back for sure.  No doubt about it.  But Tony had never said anything about it, and then Steve hadn’t known if he was embarrassed by it, if he’d be humiliated or upset or angry if Steve mentioned it, or if he even remembered at all.  He’d been so god-awful drunk.

 

“It was one night in the mansion,” he said.  “I was helping you up to your room.  After I knew you were Iron Man, but a while before you stopped drinking.”

 

 

Tony was staring at him, and he looked frozen, his eyes wide.  Steve wasn’t sure if that meant he remembered, or not, or . . . what. 

 

“Tony?” he tried, trying to somehow break that shocked silence, ease that startled, frozen deer-in-the-headlights expression on his face.

 

Tony swallowed, visibly.  “Yeah,” he said faintly.

 

“So?” Steve asked.  “Do you remember?”

 

“Um,” Tony said.  He looked down, swallowed again, and took a deep breath.  “I . . . I didn’t think . . . .”  He pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes.  “I didn’t think it had really happened,” he said.  “You never said anything, and . . . I thought . . . .  God.  Why are you asking me about this now?”

 

“I don’t know, really,” Steve admitted.  He knew it was a little unfair just to spring it on Tony like this, but he’d been thinking about the incident so much, and he hadn’t been able to catch Tony on his own for what felt like months.  He’d been thinking about everything that had happened recently, too, how he’d . . . well, he’d been dead for a while, and whether he wanted to think about that or not, it was true, everyone made that blindingly clear in their reactions to him, how people had treated him since he’d been back.  And he’d thought about his relationship with Tony, well, a lot.  Since he’d come back.  And Tony had come back, too, in a sense, really.  He’d thought everything would be all right after they’d returned from Asgard—being on good terms with Tony again had felt so good, but then things hadn’t stayed that way, and . . . Steve wanted to go back to that feeling.  He wanted to have that with Tony again, halting and a little awkward, maybe, but real and . . . there.  Present and warm.  They’d been friends for so long.  There was so much he couldn’t resolve between them now, so much they could never really address in a way that would be fair to either of them.  He wanted to resolve what they could.  “I’ve been thinking about it lately,” he said, finally, “about the old days, you know, in the mansion.  And I . . . there’s a lot I wanted to talk to you about.  I’ve . . . been thinking about a lot of things.”

 

“I . . . oh,” Tony said.  He was trembling a little, Steve realized in concern.  He took a deep, shaking breath, raised his chin, straightened his shoulders, and blew it back out.  “Right.  I mean, if you’re worried about it happening again, I’m not drinking anymore, so I’d say the risk of me drunkenly kissing you is pretty low.”  He gave Steve a wan attempt at a smile.

 

“It happening again isn’t what I’m worrying about,” Steve said.  He smiled back, in a way he hoped was reassuring.  “Not at all, actually.”

 

“Really?” Tony asked.  He blinked, looking a little confused.  “I mean, I’ve been inappropriate with you . . . before, and . . . I understand, that was a liberty I never should have taken, even drunk off my ass.”

 

Steve took a deep breath.  It seemed so difficult, now, to say what he’d intended to say.  But there was no going back.  He was in this, now, and he had to see it through to the end.  It was the only thing that was fair to Tony, for one thing.  “I was more curious about why you did it in the first place,” he finally got himself to blurt out, and tried not to swallow too hard afterwards.

 

Tony stared at him, and Steve could see his throat work as he swallowed again.  His eyes were very wide.  He blinked once, squeezed his eyes shut so that his eyelashes came down heavily against his cheeks, took another deep breath of his own, and then opened them again.  “I was drunk,” he said with a forced, brittle-looking smile.

 

“Is that the only reason?” Steve asked as steadily as he could, not looking away, despite the way his chest seized up.

 

Tony’s gaze slid away from his, though.  “I didn’t just go around kissing people indiscriminately when I was drinking, if that’s what you’re asking,” he said, sounding rather bitter.  He linked his hands between his knees, gripping hard enough the knuckles started to turn white, and looked down at them.

 

“No!” Steve said hurriedly.  “No, that’s not what I meant.  I didn’t think that.  I . . .” this really wasn’t coming out right at all, he realized.  He took a deep breath.  Just spit it out, Rogers.  You started this, brought this up, now you have to finish it.  “If you wanted to do that again, without being drunk this time,” he said.  “Or if I did it.  With you.  I wouldn’t mind that.  That’s . . . that’s why I asked.  That’s why I wanted to know.”

 

Tony’s head jerked up again, and he stared at Steve like he couldn’t believe what he was hearing.  “What?”  He looked absolutely flabbergasted.

 

Steve straightened his shoulders instinctively, swallowed hard.  “You heard what I said,” he told Tony.

 

“That or I’m having one hell of an unexpected and currently inexplicable hallucination,” Tony said, his forehead wrinkling.  He looked so uncertain it was almost painful.  “I . . . Steve, why?  After all this time . . .”  He shook his head, looking utterly baffled.  “After . . .” he looked down, and his voice trailed off.  “Everything,” he said, finally.

 

“There are so many things that are never going to be resolved between us,” Steve told him as evenly as he could when his hands were sweating and he had more fluttering nerves in his stomach than he’d had in years.  He pressed his hands together, took a deep breath.  “I guess I just didn’t want this to be another one.”

 

“I guess,” Tony said blankly, still staring at him.  “Steve, I—I don’t—what about Sharon?”

 

Steve swallowed, and now he did look down.  “Sharon and I aren’t together right now,” he said, and he knew it sounded a little stiff despite himself.  “She said she needed to take a break, and figure some stuff out, and we, well, I guess we haven’t been back on since.”

 

“Oh,” Tony said.  “Oh, I . . . I see.  I’m sorry.”

 

Steve shrugged, smiled at him a little.  “It’s okay,” he said.  It would be more okay, he thought, if Tony would put him out of his misery here by telling him that he’d kissed him because he wanted to, because he cared about him that way, because he wanted it, and wanted Steve like that, too—but he didn’t want to pressure him, didn’t want to make him feel like he had to because Steve wanted it, or was lonely, or anything like that.

 

He just wanted to know if there was any point in holding onto this.  In hoping.

 

“Um,” Tony said.  He took a deep breath.  “Wow, Steve,” he said, and ran his hands over his face, back into his hair, tugging at it a little and blowing out a shaking breath.  Steve was about to apologize for springing all this on him, ask him if he was all right, when he dropped his hands and turned to smile at Steve.  His eyes were strange, deep and unrevealing, and had that same dark look to them, wide and dark and wild.  “So,” he said slowly, “what if I said I did want to do that again?  Without being drunk this time.  If it’s not going to be a problem for you.”

 

Steve heart leapt, seized in his throat for a moment, as a spike of elation went through him.  He had to take another deep breath, just to calm himself down, remind himself to breathe.  “I’d say that wasn’t going to be a problem for me,” he said.

 

“Well,” Tony said, his eyes glinting.  “I guess that’s something then, isn’t it.”  He reached over to the table, closed his laptop entirely, and turned off the tablet, set it on top of his laptop.  “Would you like a demonstration now?” he asked, “or would you like to wait until we’ve had some more time to think it over?”

 

“I think we’ve had more than enough time,” Steve said with a little bit of a grin.  He reached out and let one hand rest on Tony’s back, feeling the warmth of his body through the thin matte fabric of his shirt, the slight dampness of sweat.  All those years—and Tony thought he wanted to wait now?  Now, when he might actually get what he wanted after all this time—something he’d never, ever thought he’d be able to have, not even after that night so many years ago, not really?

 

“I had a feeling you might say that,” Tony said in return, with a bit more of that crooked smile from before.  There was a brief moment, when Tony looked down at the table, seemingly not seeing it, and his hand curled inward, then flattened on his laptop.  He took a deep breath, then turned toward Steve and smiled a bit more widely, though it was still rather crooked, and he leaned forward, set one hand on Steve’s cheek, and looked into his eyes, seemingly searching Steve’s face.  His hand was warm, strong, hard with callus and firm on Steve’s jaw, but not demanding.  His face looked serious, even solemn, and then he wet his lower lip with his tongue, his eyelashes flicked down to shudder over his cheeks, and he leaned in.

 

Steve fought the urge to close his eyes—he wanted to see, to remember this.  And so he saw as Tony angled his face to one side and brushed a kiss to Steve’s cheek, instead of his mouth, open-mouthed, lips parted so that his damp breath kissed the skin of Steve’s cheek, too, then moved his lips up to his cheekbone, kissed a line along the arch there, then moved down, pressed his lips to the side of Steve’s nose, the corner of his mouth, his breath coming fast, a little hard, like he couldn’t quite catch it entirely, and then, finally, settled their lips together.

 

Except for the fact that he’d pressed kisses over Steve’s face and jaw both times, this kiss was almost entirely different from the last one—their first, though Steve found it hard to count it as a real kiss.  Which would make this their first real kiss, despite everything they’d been through together over the years, and he still couldn’t quite believe that; the thought almost left him dizzy, and more than a little breathless.  Tony kissed him slowly, tenderly, leaning into it and pressing up against him like he was only going to have this one chance, this one chance to slide their lips together, once, twice, then more firmly, wet flashes of heat and soft firmness as their lips met and then pulled apart, for him to suckle lightly at Steve’s bottom lip and then press slowly but warmly deeper into his mouth, the slow kiss heating up, going deeper and deeper and hotter and hotter, until Steve’s hands were pulling Tony forward into his arms despite himself, and Tony was braced on his knees over Steve’s thighs on the sofa, balanced precariously, the hand not curled against the side of his neck, fingers twining into his hair, fisted in Steve’s t-shirt, as Tony slowly, tenderly, inexorably, passionately kissed the breath right out of him.  He could feel the brush of Tony’s facial hair, the soft light scratch of his mustache and beard against his skin, and he closed his eyes and reveled in it, the feeling, so much better than the brief, startled flashes of his memories.  Steve had been right.  This kiss wasn’t sloppy at all.

 

Tony blessedly didn’t taste like alcohol this time, but something about the hot wet velvet of his mouth did taste the same way Steve remembered it all those years ago.  He smelled nearly the same, too, cologne and pomade and shaving cream and metal and ozone, like the smells had pervaded every inch of his body and he’d never shake them off, and then just a bit like warm skin and masculine heat and a scent that was somehow unique to just him.  Steve leaned into the kiss this time, pulled Tony close, slid one hand up along his back, over the dip of his spine, following Tony’s tongue eagerly with his own.  There was still a tight, trembling thrum almost through Tony’s body, but Steve could understand that—he thought he might be so wound up, so lit up from nerves and anticipation and adrenaline and amazement, that he was trembling himself.

 

He had no idea how long the kiss lasted—it could have been seconds, minutes, or it could have been hours, years—before Tony pulled away, and they stared at each other, gasping.  Steve thought, a little giddily, that he knew how Tony felt about kissing other men now for sure, even sober.

 

“Wow,” he said, and blew out his breath shakily, still amazed.  He still couldn’t quite believe that had actually happened, but there was Tony, right in front of him, his lips kiss-stung and soft-looking despite their firmness, his eyes wide and blown.

 

“Damn, I can’t believe I just kissed you in the middle of the Tower’s living room,” Tony said with a rather tight, wobbly laugh.  He ran one hand back through his hair again, glanced around them.  “Anyone could have come in.”

 

Steve shrugged.  “They’ve seen a kiss before, haven’t they?” he asked, feeling himself start to smile again even as the thought made him flush warm with embarrassment.

 

“Well,” Tony said with a little bit of a smirk, “I’d hope so, but I think the sight of the two of us making out on the sofa could still raise a few eyebrows.”

 

“Nothing wrong with a little necking,” Steve said, though he knew his cheeks were starting to flush.  “Though . . . you’re right.  We probably should have chosen a more . . . a more private spot.”

 

“Speaking of which,” Tony said slowly, “what happens now?”

 

Steve shrugged again.  “I don’t know,” he said.  “I guess that’s up to you.”

 

Tony looked at him with that strange look in his eyes again, his mouth quirking a bit oddly, too.  “You sure you want this?” he said.  “Me?  A lot of people would say this wasn’t the best idea, especially not for you, and we both know you could do a lot better than this, so I . . . just want to be sure.  That you really do want this.  Or me.  Or, well, whatever.  Any of it.”

 

“Yes,” Steve said, without hesitation.  He hadn’t expect anything like this kind of response when he’d thought to bring up that long ago kiss, but he wouldn’t have done it if he hadn’t wanted something like this, deep down.  That much was something he’d been sure of before he’d ever even considered asking Tony about it.  He’d wanted something with Tony for a long time, and whatever had happened between them, as strained as things had been, he still wanted that, if it was even a little bit possible.

 

Tony was still staring at him, his eyes narrowed a little, and then he blinked and his face relaxed, the lines wrinkling his forehead smoothing out.  He smiled.  “Okay,” he said.  “If that’s the way you want it, who am I to refuse?”

 

Steve started to grin, started to reach for Tony, thinking he’d pull him to his feet and they could go off somewhere private and start kissing again, and then Tony jerked his head in the direction of what Steve knew was Tony’s own bedroom, and Steve stopped, looked at him in a question, a little surprised by that.  He supposed it made sense—it was private, and where else could they be alone—but it seemed so . . . .

 

“So,” Tony said.  “Do you want to get things started now, or are you a wait until after dark kind of guy?”

 

It was Steve’s turn to stare at him in surprise now.  “Wait,” he said, “you mean—”

 

“Why wait, right?” Tony asked with that same lopsided little grin.  “You want me, I want you, why put off to tomorrow what you can do today?”

 

“It’s a . . . little fast,” Steve said.  But then, maybe this was how Tony always handled his relationships.  Maybe this was just his style.  Maybe he should have expected it from the notorious Tony Stark—Steve had never been one to press for details about any of Tony’s relationships, so it wasn’t as if he’d know.

 

Tony shrugged, his eyes still dark and oddly unreadable as he got to his feet and held a hand out toward Steve.  “We can always wait,” he said.  “But from what you said I got the impression you were tired of waiting.”

 

And that much was true.  They really had wasted enough time over the years.  Steve still couldn’t believe it—could it really be this easy?  After everything?   Everything they’d been through—all those years—all that time—and asking Tony about one drunken kiss had been enough to get this with him?  All of it?  Just like that?

 

Hell, if that was true, he felt like an idiot for missing his chance all this time, for not pushing this so much earlier.  Maybe they could have worked things out then—maybe the war, all the fighting between them, would never have happened.  He swallowed.  Thinking about that . . . hurt.  He took Tony’s hand, pulled himself to his feet, then put both hands on Tony’s shoulders before he could get too far away, looking at him steadily. 

 

“Are you sure about this?” he asked.  “I mean . . . we don’t have to rush into anything.  It’s all right if we take our time.  I’m not going to change my mind if we don’t do this right this second.” 

 

He wasn’t going to change his mind at all.

 

Tony was staring at him again.  His eyes were still very wide.

 

“Tony?” Steve said, prompting.

 

“Yes!” he said quickly.  “Yes, Steve, I’m sure.  I’m sure.”  He leaned into Steve, slid one hand down the front of his t-shirt, looped the other around his belt, tugging their bodies close together.  Steve was startled by how close Tony’s bright eyes were to his, almost level—he was a bit shorter, but not by much, and Steve wasn’t used to being with someone so close to his own height, not like this.  “I’m very sure,” Tony said.  “If you want this?  If this is really what you want?  Oh, yeah, I’m sure.  C’mon.  Let’s go to bed.”  He smiled at Steve a little, leaned into him a bit more, dropped his voice, his breath hot against his ear.  “That way, whatever happens, we can have some privacy.”

 

Steve had to admit that privacy sounded good right now.  Being alone with Tony, really alone . . . sounded good.  He let himself smile a little, and on a whim leaned forward and laid a light kiss against Tony’s lips, letting his hands rest against Tony’s waist, just for a bit, feeling the warmth and solidity of him under his shirt.  “Okay,” he whispered.  “Let’s go.”

 

Tony smiled at him again, dropping his eyes, and took a step back, heading toward the door to the hall, and, after a moment, Steve followed.  It still all seemed a little sudden, a little surreal, but he wasn’t about to say no to it—this was exactly what he had wanted, what he never dreamed would ever happen.  He hadn’t dared to expect it, but now he had it.  It was hard to believe, but amazing, so amazing, like everything he’d ever wanted out of this, out of holding to that one long-ago memory, hoping and hoping, all of it, everything, all at once.  There was no way he’d ever turn away now.

 

-----

 

He knew it was all in his head, that it was literally impossible now, with the RT running his bodily functions, but Tony couldn’t shake the seizing, tight, fluttering feeling in his chest that made him feel a lot like he was about to have a heart attack.  Every time he looked back at Steve he had to swallow hard, and it got worse.  He just hoped his hands weren’t sweating too obviously, or shaking, God, that . . . wasn’t really sexy.

 

And he wanted this to be good.  He needed this to be good, needed Steve to enjoy it.  He had to make sure it was great.  Wonderful.  Unforgettable.

 

If this was the only thing Steve wanted from him, he had to make it something worth remembering.

 

His hands actually were shaking.  Shit.  He needed to pull it together.

 

It was just . . . this was the last thing he had ever expected, certainly not what he had been thinking when Steve had come in and sat down beside him.  He’d gotten himself ready for another fight, or a business-like conversation, or just the awkwardness that seemed to hang heavy between them these days, and from that point on he felt like he’d lost control of the conversation somehow, more and more with every word that came out of Steve’s mouth.  He hadn’t even expected to see Steve in the Tower, so from the very first second he’d felt like he was playing catch-up.

 

He’d been feeling guilty he’d left the updating of the Avengers servers and database so long, but he’d just been so busy lately that this was the first chance he’d had to really set time aside for it.  He didn’t want to make Steve think he couldn’t pull his weight, or even worse, didn’t want to, wasn’t committed to the team.  He had to make Steve see he’d made the right choice allowing him to be on the Avengers again.  He’d just wanted to make it clear to him that he really did take this seriously, all of it—not that he was going to feed Steve a ton of excuses, because it was his responsibility to handle this stuff, but he really was doing his best to earn his place here.

 

He didn’t want to let Steve down.

 

Things had gotten . . . weirder and weirder from there.  And this—Tony had never seen this coming, any of it.  He’d been so absolutely, completely mortified when Steve had brought up that long ago night—he really had thought he’d dreamed it, or it had been some kind of alcohol-induced wish-fulfillment fantasy.  Steve had kissed him back, after all, and then he’d never said anything, he hadn’t been angry, or uncomfortable, or treated Tony like the embarrassing drunken mess of a man he was, so Tony figured there was no way, no way, it had been real, just his stupid pining heart and over-active imagination interacting with the alcohol in his system to make him feel like an idiot.  And pine even more after something that could never really happen.  Like he did.  Because he was an idiot.

 

But to find out that it had actually happened, and Steve had remembered it—he’d felt a hole opening up in his stomach, wanted to sink right through the sofa and never look at him again.  Or anyone, his stomach flip-flopping on empty and his face hot.  He was so sure Steve would have been disgusted—but . . . apparently not.

 

Apparently instead it had gotten Steve thinking about him physically.  At least, Tony figured that was what Steve had been trying to say.  He couldn’t imagine that he was actually going to say he’d fallen for him, after all, especially not because of one sloppy drunken kiss—not after, well, everything.  Surefire way to win the attention of the one you love, get him killed and try to destroy all his ideals!  Yeah, no.  And well, even if a physical relationship wasn’t exactly what Tony had been dreaming of all these years, it was better than nothing—better than he’d ever expected he’d have.  Better than Steve never wanting to look at him again, or touch him, for sure, which was what—what Tony had been expecting when he’d brought that little incident up.  Tony didn’t know what else to make of what Steve had said, anyway.  After all, they hadn’t been that close recently, and he figured Steve and Sharon would work things out eventually, and that would be that, as far as he was concerned.  But that was all right, it was amazing that Steve would think of him like this at all; it wasn’t like he’d be left out in the cold then, not when he’d never expected to have anything like this with Steve at all. 

 

And if this was all he was going to get, if this was all they were ever going to have—it still didn’t seem real.  But if this was it—he was going to make this so good for Steve.  He was.  At first he’d been so confused that he’d wondered if this was why Steve had kept him on the team, but no, of course that wasn’t it, Steve . . . wasn’t like that, not at all, and if he was on a break from Sharon, it made a certain amount of sense.  It was surprising as hell, but well.  Tony was certainly available, and willing.  And if he might have more feelings for Steve than just sexual ones, more than were called for in a roll between the sheets, well, he didn’t have to bother Steve with them.  With . . . that.  Any of that.  He could just keep all that to himself.  He was lucky Steve wanted him at all, especially after their more recent fights.  He’d give him a good time and just hope and pray that he didn’t mess everything up irretrievably somehow.  Like he seemed to be doing with everyone—everything—else at times, these days, it felt like.

 

It wasn’t exactly what he’d wanted, but it was so damn close, and if he ruined everything with this, he wasn’t sure what he’d do.  But he’d cross that bridge if he needed to, he supposed.

 

He closed the door of his bedroom behind Steve, his stomach knotting up again—he’d been so afraid he would leave, that if he didn’t take this chance, nothing would ever happen, or that he’d lose his own nerve, wouldn’t be able to do this, or that Steve would abruptly come to his senses—and stepped forward and kissed him again before he had too much time to think about it and get nervous, still in awe that Steve would let him do that at all (Steve had kissed him, too, Steve had kissed him), letting one hand rest against Steve’s side and the other settle around the back of his neck.  Steve kissed him back eagerly, and wow, there was just no universe in which Tony had honestly imagined that happening.  He couldn’t help it, he closed his eyes, leaned into the kiss, soaking it up, just . . . feeling it.  The way Steve kissed was sweet and steady and determined as he put his arms around Tony’s waist, holding him close.  He pulled him in, and Tony let him, and they just stood there kissing for long moments.

 

And then Tony realized what he was doing, that they were just standing there kissing like he couldn’t figure out what else to do, and he could do so much better than this, he needed to be doing so much better than this.  He’d just gotten caught up in it, the feeling, the reality of kissing Steve, until he wasn’t thinking about anything else, couldn’t think about anything else, but . . . he needed not to do that.  He’d get carried away, and that was—well, he needed to do better, not treat Steve like Tony was the love-struck twenty-something kid he still kind of was when it came to him, in some ways.  Come on, Stark, he thought, get it together, remember?

 

He needed to do better.

 

He got both hands on Steve’s waist and nudged him over toward his bed.  Steve sat down on it, and Tony smiled at him a little, took off his own belt and watch, set them over on the end table, toed off his shoes and took off his socks, then knelt over Steve, settling his knees on either side of his hips.  Steve’s thighs were so big and muscular that it was a bit of a stretch, actually, he could feel how wide he had to spread his legs in his hips and the crotch of his slacks.  Steve was staring up at him, eyes wide and very blue, lips bitten and well-kissed, and Tony couldn’t help the feeling of tenderness that welled up in his chest, or the way he leaned forward and kissed Steve again, licking into his mouth and draping his arms around his shoulders.  Steve’s arms came around him again, dragging him close, hands pressing against his back, and Tony’s breath hitched in his chest.  He felt overwhelmed already, hot all over.  He hadn’t felt this out of control, this jittery and uncertain, in bed in a long time, his chest tight and overfull and almost fizzy with nerves.  Steve traced one hand down over his back, tracing the line of his spine, like he had before, on the couch, and Tony shivered all over, had to remember how to breathe, as his skin tingled under Steve’s touch even through the fabric of his shirt.

 

Shirt.  Right.  He figured the faster he got his shirt off, the less time he’d spend getting himself all worked up and anxious over what Steve would think of the RT, the strange new glow of it in his chest.  The less time he’d have to psych himself out about this in general.  Not moving away from the kiss, tangling his tongue with Steve’s, the feeling of that slick and hot and enough to terminally distract him if he focused on it too much, Tony brought his hands back down and started on the buttons of his own shirt, glad he’d gotten rid of his tie earlier in the day, because that would make all this easier.  He pulled it up out of his slacks and shrugged out of it, tossed it over toward the chair in his room and knew he missed, then slid his hands under Steve’s own shirt, drawing it up even as he began to press kisses along the square, clean-shaven angles of Steve’s jaw, nuzzle his lips in behind his ear.  Steve shivered, shivered even more, gasping for breath a little and his eyes wide, as Tony pulled the t-shirt up and off over his head, Steve lifting his arms willingly to help him, and followed it with his undershirt.

 

And then he was faced with Steve’s broad chest, all smooth bare skin and sculpted muscles like some kind of Greek sculptor’s wet dreams come to life.  All Tony could do was put his hands on him.  Steve felt very, very warm against his touch, flushed and velvety, and he made a tiny little noise low in the back of his throat as Tony laid his hands on his pectorals, ran his palms down over his nipples to his ribs, then down over his stomach.  Tony smiled at that and leaned down to press a kiss to the hollow of Steve’s throat, feeling his pulse fluttering and jumping under the smooth skin.  Steve groaned a little more, tilted his head back at that, and holy shit, he was so . . . Tony took a deep breath and continued pressing kisses, soft and open-mouthed, down the line of his collarbone.  He slid his hands down over Steve’s sides, and he shivered, so he did it again, pressing there, rubbing in slow massaging slides up along his ribs and down nearly to his hips.

 

“So,” he said, murmuring the words against Steve’s skin, and Steve jerked under his hands, almost jumped.  Tony glanced up at him, smiled and met his eyes.  He wanted to see his expressions for this question.  “Preferences?  Likes or dislikes?  Anything you had in mind?”

 

“I . . . um,” Steve said.  His face was flushed, and Tony had to smile at that.  “I . . . I don’t know, like . . . what do you mean?”

 

“What do you like best?” Tony asked, tracing his fingers along his sides.

 

Steve shrugged, smiling a little self-consciously.  “I don’t know,” he said.  “Anything, I guess.  Anything’s fine.”

 

“Well, that’s probably not true,” Tony said with a wry grin, “but I promise not to test you on that.  But you’re saying you don’t have anything in particular you want to see.”

 

“Definitely not,” Steve said, still very pink in the face.  “Anything you want to do is fine with me.”

 

“Okay,” Tony said with a smile, moving one hand in toward the center of Steve’s stomach, up and over the gorgeous velvet smooth skin of his chest.  “Do you want me to get a condom?  I have some.”  He nodded toward the nightstand.

 

Steve flushed even redder.  “No, I . . . I can’t get anything,” he said.  “You’re safe, and I’m safe so . . .” his voice went a little lower “. . . I’d rather not, if that’s okay with you.”

 

“Sure,” Tony said, smiling.  “Perfectly okay with me.  I figured.  Not that it really makes a difference if you can’t get anything, but I’m clean, too, in case you were, ah, curious.”  He knew Steve might be in some doubt about that, so he just . . . figured he’d clear it up.  “I was just checking anyway.”  He kissed Steve’s shoulder, bringing his mouth slowly back down to his collarbone.  Licking and kissing down between Steve’s pecs, the strokes of his hands, was making Steve tremble a little and he was flushing even more, bright red and radiating heat beneath Tony’s hands, so Tony figured his chest had to be sensitive.  He didn’t want to push anything too far too fast, and who knew how he’d feel about it, but he did swipe his thumb over one sweetly perked pink nipple and watched as Steve flushed even more deeply, blew his breath out hard and arched his back a little, his eyelashes fluttering.

 

That was something he’d have to remember for later.  Assuming Steve wanted this again, that was.  Tony brought his mouth back up over Steve’s chest this time, laying soft kisses along his throat.

 

After a moment, Steve’s hands started moving on him, too, sliding up along his sides, and Tony had to fight the urge to squirm, knowing his muscle was softer than Steve’s, his chest a bit . . . especially with the RT in it, now, but Steve didn’t say anything, though he touched the edge of the RT with his thumb, traced it just slightly.  It made Tony stiffen with the pure shocked unfamiliarity of it, the jolt of adrenaline that went through him at anyone touching it at all, before Steve moved his hand outward again.  He skimmed both hands up along Tony’s back, up into his hair, stroking his thumbs at the back of his neck, and Tony couldn’t help the way he shuddered at the tenderness, the heat that crawled up his neck into his face.  He ducked his head, breathing heavily, panting for breath, and Steve cupped his face in his hands, dug his thumbs in at the base of his skull, pressed them in behind Tony’s ears, big warm steady hands supporting his head, and Tony shivered, almost groaned.

 

At least Steve didn’t seem to mind the RT.  Tony still couldn’t really believe he’d touched it so willingly.  And at least his chest wasn’t the scarred mess it used to be; he could imagine how humiliatingly sharp the contrast would have been back in those days, so close to Steve’s perfect skin and musculature.

 

He had a moment of stupid wistful frustration that he didn’t still have the unbroken skin and perfect chest Extremis had given him a second run at, if he was going to actually have a chance with Steve after all—but this was the body he had, and that was that, he guessed.  Besides, it was his own fault he’d ended up like he was now; there was no point in whining about it.

 

“What do you like?” Steve asked softly, fingers still moving gently to tangle just a little in Tony’s hair, and he sounded so—so mind-bogglingly earnest.  Tony had to swallow again, clear his throat a little.

 

“I like most things,” he said, and smiled a little at him.  “Really, I’m going to be good with pretty much anything, don’t worry about that.”

 

“Okay,” Steve said, and smiled a little back.  He moved his hands back down to rest against the backs of Tony’s shoulders, drawing him close.  “You feel good,” he said.

 

“Good,” Tony said, a little surprised.  “That’s good.  I’m glad.” 

 

He let himself settle down against Steve, realized with a jolt that he could feel the heat and hardness of Steve’s erection vividly through his pants, and oh, God, he was so hard already, and that couldn’t be comfortable, could it?  He leaned in, pressed a kiss against Steve’s neck, trailing his teeth very lightly along his jaw, and got his hands down to work at the fly of Steve’s jeans, unzipping it carefully so as to be sure it didn’t catch on the hard shaft of his cock at all.  He could feel the heat of Steve’s erection vividly through his underwear against his fingers, and Steve sucked in his breath.  Another wave of warmth swept up through Tony, and he had to catch his breath, too, sticking in his throat.  His chest still felt tight, and he was dizzy, just a little, his head swimming with heat and overwhelmed sensations and . . . and feeling.  He wasn’t sure how he was going to keep breathing evenly through this; he felt like he was barely getting air into his lungs as it was.  Steve gave a broken little noise, almost a moan, then flushed brightly in his cheeks, as Tony’s fingers brushed his cock.

 

It was amazing how into this Steve was—it must have been a long time for him.  That made all of this, the reason Steve had wanted it from him, make a lot more sense.  He pulled Steve’s underwear carefully down over his cock, too, then hooked his fingers underneath it and slid both jeans and underwear down over those sculpted thighs, lifting himself up to get them down past his knees.  Steve kicked them off, but Tony kept moving, bracing both hands on Steve’s thighs and settling back down onto the floor, on his knees between Steve’s legs.

 

Not even a half hour ago Tony had been working on the Avengers servers, deep in programming, lines of code, and here he was, about to suck Steve Rogers’ cock.  It still didn’t seem real.  Tony took a deep breath, tried not to let think about it too much so he didn’t get overwhelmed with nerves and . . . all of it, the stupid emotion, the pressure he felt to make this good for Steve, God, he wanted to make this so, so good for Steve—and took a good look.  Steve had a big cock, bright red, standing up against his stomach proud and hard with his erection, slick with pre-come.  Really slick—when Tony reached forward and ran his hand over the head, it smeared messily under his fingers, and Tony had to swallow roughly from pure desire, because okay, wow, that was hot, just feeling the velvety soft-smooth skin over the rock-hard firmness of Steve’s heavy dick, all that evidence of Steve’s desire smearing wetly under his touch.  Steve gave a little gasp and his hips rolled just a little, pushing himself up into Tony’s hand.  Tony almost groaned to see how sensitive he was.  He wasn’t sure Steve could possibly be as on edge as Tony was just from the thought of it, but from that shuddering little noise and shivery movement, he had to be close.

 

Okay, he needed to get himself under control, or he was going to come just from sucking Steve off, way too soon, and that would be embarrassing as hell.  Tony didn’t look up at Steve’s face, didn’t quite dare to, just leaned forward and pressed his lips to Steve’s thigh, then the inside of it, leaving kisses along the sensitive skin, unable to resist, then trailed his lips upward until he could close them over Steve’s cock.  Steve shivered a bit under the touch of Tony’s mouth, and Tony couldn’t resist the urge to rub his hands over his thighs, just a little, as he closed his mouth around him.

 

Steve felt just as big and heavy in his mouth as he had against his hand, and his cock was hot, blazingly hot against Tony’s lips and tongue.  He could feel the wrinkle of his foreskin under the head, against his tongue, and pressed his tongue closer, flat over it, exploring that a little, until Steve sucked in his breath.  Tony sucked lightly, slid his tongue up and around, over the pre-come he could feel welling up, reveling in the taste of it as his own cock jerked in the tightness of his slacks.  He curled his tongue into the slit and Steve gasped, panting, the grunt that left his lips almost a whine, his hips twitching upward slightly.  His hands came down, heavy and warm, stroked back into Tony’s hair, though they didn’t pull.  Tony made a pleased noise, to encourage him, and turned his attention toward making this the best blowjob he possibly could.

 

It was instinct to push himself, to pull out all the stops, to show off, but Tony hadn’t given a man oral sex in a while, and he knew better than to rush things.  Choking or gagging would ruin it, and it was better to take it slow, give himself time to get back into the rhythm of it (like riding a bike, he thought a little disjointedly).  He wrapped his hand around the base of Steve’s cock and bobbed his mouth over just the head, back and forth, making sure to follow the strokes of his mouth with his tongue, playing with Steve's foreskin a little more, while he was at it.  Steve made quiet little sounds, his hips rolling but not jerking forward, his thighs trembling slightly, and those sounds settled somewhere in Tony’s chest, making him feel warm, overheated, made his own hips shift helplessly with the answering hot throb of desire in his groin.

 

He kept at it what he’d thought was only a little while, was just warming up, but Steve was already gasping, moaning, even, his hips rolling helplessly and his knees widening, giving Tony more room to press himself closer between them.  Amazed, Tony tried sucking a little harder, and Steve made a hard, breathless noise like the air had been punched out of him, tightened his fingers in Tony’s hair like he was hanging on for dear life.  Tony cast his eyes up toward him and saw that he was looking down at Tony, wide-eyed, his pupils huge and his hair falling in mussed tangles over his forehead.  When their eyes met, Steve gave a strangled noise and shuddered, trembling, flushing hot and red all the way down to his hips, and his cock jerked in Tony’s mouth.

 

Wow.  Tony’s own cock gave a throb just to see Steve looking at him like that, he could feel it all through him, a wave of heat spreading down from his head to his toes.  It only made him want to be even better for Steve, give him an even more fantastic experience.  Tony sucked harder, went down as far as he felt he could on Steve’s cock, until his lips met the hand he skimmed up along the shaft, then hummed a little over Steve’s cock, and Steve made a low, edged noise, hot and hungry.  Tony pulled off, then did the same thing again, and he could feel the long slow shudder that went up Steve’s spine even where he was kneeling.

 

This was never going to last.  Which was probably a good thing, because the taste and heat and heaviness of Steve’s cock in his mouth had his own dick straining painfully against the confines of the slacks he hadn’t bothered to take off yet.  After a while longer, a few more slow, loving sucks of Steve’s cock, he did have to reach down, open the top button and tug the zipper down to give himself some relief, pushing the heel of his hand down hard against his cock, trying to push away some of that need even as his cock ached and twitched under his hand.  He panted over Steve’s dick, working his hand against himself even as he squeezed his eyes shut tight, trying to push the heaviness of that need to the back of his mind but not letting himself forget about Steve.  He let himself have a few moments, squirming his hips to press himself up against his hand, before he turned his attention back to Steve’s cock, trying to will away the hot throb of desire between his own legs, the way pleasure lodged at the base of his spine and shot straight through to his groin whenever Steve gave another low, hoarse needy noise or bucked his hips up or his cock twitched against Tony’s lips and tongue.  He felt like he himself was so close, already, and he didn’t want to come yet.  Tony leaned forward, sucked a little more insistently, taking Steve a little deeper than he thought was probably a good idea—but hey, he didn’t choke, so it was all fine—hollowed his cheeks out around Steve’s cock with suction, then pulled back and sucked on the head, teasing the sensitive spots he’d already noticed from earlier with his tongue, slid his tongue up along the bottom of Steve’s cock, over and around his foreskin, just under the head.

 

Steve cried out, hoarse, and came all at once, and Tony was glad he’d had the presence of mind to pull back a bit, because there was a lot of come, thick and just a little salt-sweet, exploding over his tongue and down his throat.  He swallowed, again and again, just the motion of it making his own cock ache even more needily, until Steve’s dick was just limply twitching in his mouth, spent, then swirled his tongue around the head again, licked down the side, and let himself pull off, panting, and still holding Steve with one hand, relieved that he hadn’t come in his pants just from swallowing Steve’s come, though it had been a near thing, and his cock still ached, heavy and insistent.

 

Steve looked at him wide-eyed—he looked warm and flushed and pleasure-dazed, and Tony smiled at that, even as his knees twinged and he stumbled a little as he got back to his feet, his own painfully hard cock bobbing between his legs and his loose slacks sagging around his hips making it a trickier proposition than he’d expected.  Steve surprised him when he reached out and caught him around the waist, drawing him close, hands a bit clumsy with orgasm but still gentle all the same.  He pressed his lips against Tony’s chest and his fingers rested at Tony’s hips, brushed against the fabric of his slacks.  He tugged on the belt loops, lightly.  “Can I take these off?” he murmured.  His voice was thick with satisfaction, and Tony felt a wave of answering pleasure tremble its way through him.  At least Steve had enjoyed himself.  Had liked it.  Just the thought of it settled in his groin, made him feel closer to coming than he had been able to get on his own, lately, even after jerking off for a good ten minutes.  He felt so damn close.  He’d been starting to worry about that apparent lack of ability to come, but apparently he didn’t have to worry about that little issue anymore.  More like the opposite.

 

“Sure,” he said.  And wow, his voice was wrecked, though that wasn’t a big surprise, he thought, considering he could still barely remember how to breathe.  Steve was careful and a little tentative, his hands still slow with his orgasm as he worked Tony’s slacks and shorts down over his cock.  Every little brush of Steve’s fingers made Tony groan and tremble a little more as each one sent lightning sparks of pleasure through him.  He had to swallow hard against the pleasure, afraid just those little touches would be what pushed him over the edge, as on fire as he felt, like every fiber of him was honing in on Steve’s touch, tuned to it with intense, perfect sensitivity—that would be embarrassing as hell.  When Steve had the clothes down around his thighs, Tony pushed his hands away gently and laid his hands on Steve’s shoulders, coaxing him to lie back down against the bed.  Steve went willingly enough, though he rested his hands on Tony’s arms, slid them down toward his wrists, as he went, not really tugging, but enough that Tony got the hint.  “Give me a second,” he said, trying to catch his breath from the way Steve’s touch alone made him tremble. 

 

He gave himself a brief moment, trying to cool down, get a full breath, and God, he needed it, before he pushed his pants and underwear off the rest of the way, then knelt on the bed, moving to sit beside Steve where he was lying sprawled out in the middle.  When Steve laid a hand on his hip, his palm sliding a little against his skin with sweat, and tugged him in toward him, Tony had to remember to breathe all over again, his breath catching, stopping in his throat.  He lay down, too, rolled onto his side and reached out to curl his hand against Steve’s cheek.  He hoped it was all right to kiss him—he'd already kissed him so much, and—even as he leaned forward and pressed their lips together once more, soft and slow, tilting their mouths close together, but Steve just made a low, eager noise and leaned forward, into the kiss, returning it willingly, just as soft and slow, even tender, his hand curving around Tony’s hip and then sliding up to rest against his back.  Tony realized with relief that he must not mind the kisses, sappy as they were, even though Tony had just had his mouth on his cock, had swallowed a good amount of his semen.

 

He felt a little guilty.  God, for him it was more about kissing Steve than anything, about how badly he’d wanted this, for himself.  It didn’t seem fair to Steve, when Steve presumably just wanted a good time with a friend—but if he did enjoy it, Tony supposed he wouldn’t mind Tony’s feelings getting all mixed in.  Hoped.  He guessed he was lucky Steve liked kissing.  He kissed Steve a little longer, squeezing his eyes shut, then forced himself to pull away, catch his breath, opened his eyes again.

 

“You haven’t come yet,” Steve said, smiling at him, and his eyes were so warm and fond as he stroked his hand lightly up over Tony’s side, making his skin tingle with a hot flush of warmth all over again.  Warm enough, fond enough, that Tony felt a well of relief.  Even if Steve didn’t feel the same way he did, he still liked him—that smile was enough to prove that, affectionate and caring and everything Tony hadn’t even dared to tell himself Steve still felt about him because of how much it would hurt if it wasn’t true.  And having Steve as a friend—that alone had always been more than he could ever ask for.  Just having that was . . . it was something.  It was amazing.

 

He felt himself go a little warm with embarrassment at those words all the same, though, because sure, he hadn’t come yet, but it had been one hell of a near thing, and his cock was still hard and leaking, smearing against his skin where it bobbed against his pelvis, flushed and dark.  He bit his lip.  “Yeah,” he said.  “True enough.”  He made himself grin teasingly at Steve, just a little dark and wicked.  “You planning to do anything about that?”

 

“I guess I should, shouldn’t I?” Steve asked, still smiling.  “It’s only fair, especially after you made it so good for me.”  He flushed a little more at that, but his smile looked pleased, absolutely content. 

 

Tony was glad it had been so good for him.  “It’d be nice,” he said jokingly.  He was just relieved that Steve really had enjoyed it that much.  He steeled himself when Steve smiled a little more and reached for him, biting the inside of his lip hard and digging his fingers into the palm of his hand so that he wouldn’t come immediately, humiliatingly, at the touch of Steve’s fingers to his cock.  Steve’s fingers curled around him, stroked a little, and Tony couldn’t help the choked noise he made, and it was a near thing on the whole orgasm front—Steve’s hand was so vivid and warm, his fingers big and square and strong, so big that when he wrapped his hand around Tony he felt almost completely enveloped in that amazing heat.  Steve looked up at him, his eyes wide and a little concerned, his thumb pressing gently against the head of Tony’s cock, massaging a little, and Tony made a tight sound that sounded even to him like a whimper, his fingers tightening into fists in the blanket underneath him, fighting the urge to throw his head back and shut his eyes tight because he wanted to see Steve.  If they were going to do this he wanted to see him.

 

This was too much.  How was he going to be able to handle this?  How was he going to take this?  Steve moved in a little closer, rested one hand on his shoulder, and he said, “Tony, are you all right?” and Tony panted, almost sobbed out a breath, because how was he supposed to answer that?

 

“Yeah,” he finally managed.  “Yeah, I—I’m fine.  I just . . . that feels good.”  He somehow got himself to smile.  “Really good.”  His chest was heaving, and it was hard to get in a breath.  Steve’s hand was still on his cock, warm and steady, just radiating heat and pressure against his sensitive flesh.  Tony thought if Steve just held him like that long enough, and maybe kissed him, he might come just from that.  Steve wouldn’t even have to move his hand.

 

Steve smiled back.  “All right,” he said, and leaned in, kissed the side of Tony’s mouth gently, kissed his jaw, licked carefully, gently, over his lips, then moved down to press another soft kiss against his shoulder, just above his collarbone, still working Tony’s cock in his hand.  The slow movements felt almost like a massage, squeezing and releasing, and Tony squirmed under it, almost writhing, panting at the pleasure it sent through him, even as Steve’s tenderness made his chest tighten painfully, his throat close up.  He had to shut his eyes again, to make it easier, focusing on Steve just made him dizzier and hotter, made his cock leak uncontrollably, pleasure pulling tight in his belly just at the sight of Steve’s face, his swollen lips and flushed cheeks and the blue of his eyes.  He had a feeling Steve was watching him writhe desperately under his hand, his chest heave for breath, and he wished he could hide his face somehow, felt exposed, like Steve would see, would know that he was this overcome because of how he felt, about him, his hopeless, helpless feelings for him, and feel betrayed, would pull away and take all of this with it if he saw.

 

Steve changed how he was stroking him, real strokes of his hand now, up and down, firm with pressure, and Tony wasn’t going to last, it was impossible.  He dug his hands into the bed, twisted the sheets up in his fists, grasping them tightly like it would help, gripping so tight he could feel the muscles in his arms starting to strain.  He didn’t know what to do, whether he should try to hold off longer and maybe make it impossible for him to come at all when his desperate control started getting in the way of his own climax, or just let himself go.  Thinking about the fact that it was Steve doing this for him made him feel like he was about to come already, loose and frayed and on the edge of his control.

 

He figured Steve would like it if he came, right?  Watching his partner come was always a big thrill for Tony, at least; it was the most fun part.  He twisted his head to one side, pressed his forehead down against his own shoulder, and tried to get a breath.

 

“Hey,” Steve said, and then his palm was resting on Tony’s shoulder, back to his neck, the side of his face, pulling his head up again.  Tony didn’t open his eyes, but Steve’s hand was so warm against his jaw, the side of his face, and then Steve’s thumb skimmed over his bottom lip, just a little, so lightly, and he said, “Tony,” his voice low and—and almost tender, and Tony couldn’t help it, he just couldn’t help it, he was gone.  His cock jerked in Steve’s hand and he came, the pleasure lighting him up, coursing through him, making him cry out and toss his head back despite himself, tearing him apart under Steve’s hands.

 

“Tony, God,” Steve said, his voice rough and hot and heavy, even though it seemed like it came from a long way away.  His hand stroked over Tony's cock a little more, sending more shards of pleasure slicing through him, milking the aftershocks out of his body, and all Tony could do was lie there and shake.  He didn’t even know if he was breathing.

 

Eventually Steve pulled his hand away, but Tony just lay there another moment, sinking into the bed, trying to remember how to do anything but lie there limp with pleasure and the heavy lassitude of orgasm. He felt a little . . . dizzy, fuzzy and bleary and light all over and all he could feel was pleasure, and for a second he wasn’t even sure if he was still awake.  It had been a long time, or it felt like it had, and this was Steve—and oh, God, Steve, how was he ever going to be able to handle this, his every stupid private wistful dream come true, but not really.  Not quite.

 

He couldn’t keep himself from moaning a little, bit the inside of his lip to stop himself and hoped Steve would mistake it for a moan of contentment, of pleasure.  He forced his eyes open, smiled shakily up at Steve, hoping to cover that lapse if he could.  “Hey, there,” he said.

 

“How was that?” Steve asked with a smile.  His cheeks were still very flushed, his eyes hot and heavy-lidded.

 

“Great,” Tony said, shakily.  “No, amazing.  That was amazing, Steve, I—” he caught himself, cut himself off before he continued, said something reckless and way too emotional and gave himself away.

 

“Good,” Steve said, and smiled a little more.  His eyes were fixed on Tony, like he was going to devour him with them, or see right through him, or was trying to memorize him, or some other metaphor Tony was getting all mixed up, like he wanted to fix every inch of him in his mind, and Tony fought the urge to look away, hunch his shoulders up and cover himself to hide from that look.   It wasn’t any easy impulse to defeat.

 

Instead he just let himself cast his eyes down a little, and saw that Steve was hard again—no wonder he was so flushed and hot-looking, and . . . God, he could really get it up again that quick?   Holy shit.  Wow.  That was . . . wow.  That was incredible.

 

Steve saw where he was looking and looked down, blushing a little more.  “Um,” he said, “I know, it’s because of the serum, but that’s not . . . I mean, I’m fine.  We don’t need to . . . I don’t need anything else.”

 

“No way,” Tony said firmly.  He rolled over a bit, brought his knee up gently between Steve’s legs, leaning forward into him with a grin, letting both hands fall to his shoulders.  “That’s an interesting little side effect.”

 

Steve looked embarrassed.  “Really, Tony,” he said.  “It’ll wear off, I’m fine.  I’m used to it.  I don’t need to come again.  That—” he smiled a little more—“that was plenty, really.”

 

“You’re used to it,” Tony repeated, a little in awe, hung up on that.  “Wow, what’s it like to have that kind of energy?  Holy shit.  Human perfection is right, I guess.”  He shook his head.  “No, no way, that’s not what we’re going to do.  You’re not just coming once and calling it a day.”  Jesus, how often could Steve get it up?  This was like . . . this felt almost too good to be true.  It was like Christmas or something—sure, it didn’t make up for only getting sex with Steve, but it was still pretty damn amazing.  If Steve would let him, he could have fun with this, so much fun.  He left a wet kiss against Steve’s neck, traced down over the slope of his shoulder, licking and biting lightly, and Steve shuddered, his back arching, just a bit.  His cock jerked.  “You sure you don’t want to come again?” Tony whispered against Steve’s ear, the words all low heat and breath against the whorl of it, and Steve jerked in his arms, gulped.

 

“It’s just,” Steve said, but he wasn’t pulling away, “I don’t want to wear you out, or . . . .”

 

He was worried about wearing Tony out.  Tony just . . . did that happen a lot, in Steve’s experience?  “Do I look worn out to you?” he demanded.  “I don’t wear out easy, you know that.  No way I’m done with you yet.”  He made up his mind right then and there—sure, he wasn’t as young as he used to be, but he wasn’t going to wear out fast for Steve, he was going to make sure Steve was satisfied, every time, no matter how long it took.  If this was all Tony got, he was sure as hell going to make it count.

 

“No?” Steve asked, but he was smiling a little now, and his arms went around Tony again, hands resting lightly at his back.

 

“Absolutely not,” Tony told him.  “Come here.”  He leaned up the little bit he needed to touch their lips, opening his mouth as he brought their bodies flush together, let his hand slide down Steve’s back to grip at the firm curve of his ass—wow, that was gorgeous—and press himself up against him.  He hid a hiss against Steve’s lips at the friction against his still-sensitive skin, the sparks of over-stimulated sensation that lit up bright along his nerve endings, almost pain, but he didn’t pull back, rolling his hips into Steve and feeling Steve’s cock slide against his own, hot, still that burning, blazing heat and even hotter now, maybe, worked and flushed and sensitive from one orgasm already, the pre-come dripping down his shaft already making it an even easier slide than Tony had expected. 

 

Steve gasped, muttered, “Tony,” against his lips, sounding shocked and wrecked, and Tony squeezed his ass one last time—he couldn’t resist—linked one leg around Steve’s, and then rolled his hips, hard, up into his, wrapping his arm tight around Steve’s neck, pressing his mouth in against his neck again, nuzzling and licking as he rubbed their bodies together, getting his other hand down to cup both of their cocks, hold them close for more friction.  The way it felt made him want to wince a little, pleasure, but sparking and raw and too much, like pins and needles through his cock.

 

“Tony,” Steve gasped, “Tony, I—” his hands clutched at Tony’s back, digging in tight, and Tony gasped a little, arched back against that tight, close, almost crushing hold, couldn’t help himself.  “Are you all right?” Steve panted.  “That has to—“ he groaned, his hips jerking forward—“does that hurt?  You just . . . you’ve got to be sensitive.”

 

Tony blinked, a little surprised at the honest note of real concern in Steve’s voice, even thick and hazed with lust as it was—though he wasn’t sure why he was surprised, this was Captain America he was with here, after all.  Selfless and protective was the name of the game, even, apparently, in bed.

 

“I’m fine,” he murmured.  “I’m just fine.  I like a little bit of burn, don’t worry about that.”  He leaned forward, let his head fit itself just under Steve’s chin, face against his throat, as he panted, pressing soft kisses over the flutter of his pulse as he worked their cocks together, figuring that would at least hide his face if he scrunched it up from effort or discomfort and keep Steve from worrying when he didn’t need to.  And it was true—he did like it, the rawness of it, the slight burn, the way Steve’s cock felt slick and hot against his, against his stomach, as he slid and ground against him, rolling and working his hips to give Steve a good ride sliding up and down against Tony’s cock and the steadying clasp of his hand, not moving it, just making sure their cocks didn’t slide around too much.  He figured there was no way he was coming again, not like this, and not this soon, but he also figured there was no way that Steve wouldn’t, not the way his cock was jerking, leaking against Tony’s stomach, how hot and flushed he felt in Tony’s arms.

 

Steve’s arms tightened around him at that, and he gasped, “O-oh.”  Tony didn’t know if that was a response or just a helpless noise of pleasure, and honestly figured it was good either way.  He ground in a little bit closer, bit lightly at the base of Steve’s neck, moved his fingers back down to Steve’s ass and dug them in tight, and Steve gave another ragged noise as his cock jerked against Tony.  They settled into a rhythm, and Tony just closed his eyes tight and pressed as close as he could.  He enjoyed it, being all pressed up tight against Steve, the feeling of Steve’s hot cock wet and sliding against his own stomach and hip, the rough friction on his own.

 

It didn’t take that long, actually, and Tony had to wonder if Steve always came this fast and hard as he arched his back helplessly and came on a grunting shuddering little gasp, his cock jerking and spattering come over both their chests.  A little of it reached Tony’s chin, hot against his skin, in his beard, and Tony groaned helplessly at how fucking sexy that was, reaching up to swipe it away and lick it off his fingers.  It was salty and still hot against his tongue, and he was going to have a thing for the taste of Steve’s come, he knew it already.

 

He was going to have a thing about a lot of things about Steve.  That was pretty clear.  He needed to be careful.  Couldn’t let himself get too . . . too invested.

 

Steve groaned again, his eyes widening, fixed on Tony’s fingers, and Tony winked at him, his thumb still in his mouth, just to see him flush dark.  Steve didn’t disappoint him, either, going deep red in the face.  He did reach out a second later, though, pull Tony’s thumb out of his mouth, and press a kiss gently against the side of his finger, the slope between his finger and thumb, and then against the thumb itself, licking a tentative stripe along the skin before swirling it over the nail.

 

It was Tony’s turn to shudder helplessly and stare at him, and Steve smiled.  He got one hand around the back of Tony’s neck and brought him in to press a kiss against his lips, gentle but thorough and somehow searing, before he let him pull away and looked at him, letting go of his hand only afterward.  His eyes were all lit up, his hair tousled and his skin still bright and flushed.  He was practically glowing.  “Thank you,” Steve whispered, and smiled again.

 

Tony bit his lip.  “Sure thing,” he whispered.  “I—uh.  Any time.”

 

He sounded like an idiot.  Tony swallowed.  His face felt so hot.  His whole body felt hot.

 

But Steve just grinned some more.  “I’ll hold you to that,” he said, and Tony almost felt himself slump with the relief.

 

So this wouldn’t just be a one-off.  Steve wanted more.  He was so glad.  God, he was so glad.

 

“I look forward to it,” he managed hoarsely, finding another smile somewhere.  Steve just smiled at him, squeezed him a little more around his back, and then kissed his forehead.

 

Tony couldn’t take it.  He squeezed his eyes shut, let his head drop down against Steve’s shoulder.  Steve just stroked his back, light and even, easy.  Tony tried very hard not to shake too much.  That would probably freak Steve out, and . . . and yeah.  Freaking him out would be bad.  Freaking him out might lose him this, after all.

 

He should have known Steve would be affectionate in bed.  That wasn’t a huge surprise.  He was handsy even with his friends, let alone a sexual partner—he was always free with a hand on the shoulder or even the back of Tony’s neck, always had been, had always had a . . . a warm, friendly presence once you got past the stern Cap outer shell.

 

He was lucky, he told himself ferociously, lucky that Steve wanted him at all.  He couldn’t ruin things by wanting more than he was ever going to get.  He took a ragged breath, tried to compose himself.  He needed to keep it together.  He lifted his head, kissed Steve briefly, and smiled at him as he sat up.  “Be right back,” he said.  “Going to get something to clean us both up.”

 

“Good idea,” Steve said, smiling in return, and rolled onto his back, sprawling over the bed.  And that was . . . God, he was so beautiful.  Tony smiled, gave him another smile, the best one he could manage, and got to his feet.

 

He tried not to think about whether or not Steve would be watching him on the way to the bathroom, just kept his stride steady.  He got into the bathroom and washed his hands, his face, used some mouthwash to get the taste of semen out of his mouth, and then wet a small towel and rubbed himself down before he got another one and took a deep breath while he was running it under the warm water for Steve.

 

What the fuck was he doing? he asked himself, staring at his reflection.  He’d been more than half in love with Steve Rogers quietly, in the back of his mind, for most of his adult life.  Ten years, now?  More?  More.  And now he’d just brought him to orgasm twice and he was lying in there on Tony’s bed—in Avengers Tower, no less, never let it be said Tony didn’t go big—and he wanted Tony as a, as a fuck-buddy.

 

What had he gotten himself into?  Really, what the hell did he think he was doing?

 

Tony let himself run one hand over his face, then he took a deep breath and squared his shoulders, squeezed the excess water out of the towel.

 

He could do this.  He’d had plenty of casual sex in his life—just ask anyone.  Everyone knew that.  What was a little more, right?

 

He gave a grim, rueful smile at his reflection—you got me into this, he thought, a little bitterly—forced the smile to get bigger, more genuine, practicing on himself, and only when he could pull it off to himself turned to head back into the other room with Steve.

 

Steve was still lying on the bed, one arm propped his head, and he turned to Tony with a grin as he crawled back onto the bed.  Tony managed to return it, the smile he’d practiced, then looked down as he set about cleaning Steve up, smoothing the towel over his chest, down around his groin, down his thighs.  He really did have a gorgeous cock, he mused—soft it was more obvious he was uncut.  Tony hadn’t seen a lot of cocks that were, and it was hard to master his curiosity, but he figured he shouldn’t keep staring at Steve’s cock.  He really was beautiful, though, and then there was the honest blond of his pubic hair, which made Tony smile to himself.  When he was done, he was going to get up, put the towel back in the bathroom, but Steve got one arm around his waist and pulled him down on top of him before he could get up.  He fell with an oof of air, wriggled a little, trying to get free of Steve’s grip, but Steve controlled him easily, grinning at him with just a touch of smugness, his grip like iron across Tony’s back.

 

“Hey,” Tony said, laughing a little self-consciously.  If he couldn’t get free, he could at least play it off.

 

“Stick around,” Steve said, taking the towel out of his hand, folding it, and then tossing it over onto the floor.  He ran one hand up, over the back of Tony’s neck, up into his hair, making it fluff up against the grain before settling it just at the curve at the back of his neck.  “Won’t you?”  He smiled, up at Tony, wide and a little hesitant.

 

Tony felt something in his chest twist and seize up, a weird tight, twisting feeling.  He could already tell that he was going to have a hard time denying Steve anything if he smiled at him like that, all . . . soft and intimate.  Damn it.  He took a deep breath.  “Okay,” he said.  “If that’s what you want?”

 

“It is,” Steve said, his smile more confident now.  He relaxed his arm, ran his hands down over Tony’s sides.  “Jesus, Tony,” he said, his voice a little quiet.  “I never realized it would be like this with you.”

 

Tony didn’t know how to respond to that.  He gave Steve a smile that felt uncertain even to him.  “Is that a good thing?” he asked, trying his best to joke again.

 

“Yeah,” Steve said, and his smile broadened again.  “Oh, yeah.”

 

“Good,” Tony muttered.  “That’s good.”  He made himself smile back.  “That’s very good.”

 

“Can I stay?” Steve asked, a little more bashful now, his smile taking on an awkward curve.  “For a while, I mean.  Tonight.”

 

Tony felt that same seizing feeling in his chest again.  Steve wanted to stay?  Steve wanted to—he wanted to cuddle.  Oh, God, he should have known Steve would be a cuddler, even after casual sex.  It was actually pretty sweet, to be honest.  He wanted to cuddle.  Okay.  Tony took a deep breath, then reached up, curled his arms around Steve’s neck and smiled at him.  “Sure, no problem, honey,” he said, then winced at himself.  Honey, that was—that was too much.

 

But Steve just grinned and his cheeks went all pink again as he settled back into the bed.  “Thanks,” he said, and he sounded so sincere.  How did he even do that?  Tony bent his head, kissed him again.

 

“You’re something else,” he murmured against his lips, soft and damp from all their kisses.  He couldn’t help it, and that . . . it wasn’t too sappy, was it?

 

“So are you,” Steve said, running one hand up into Tony’s hair again and smiling at him.

 

“Right,” Tony managed, a little unevenly, feeling an awkward laugh escape him.  Steve’s other arm went around his back, and God, he really was cuddly, wasn’t he?  Steve Rogers, linebacker sized teddy bear.

 

Okay, he needed to get over himself.  He was finally getting this, or at least, sex and cuddles, and that was part of it, and all he could do was mope about it?  At least Steve liked cuddling, right?  He wasn’t pushing Tony out of bed, eager to get away from him now that Tony had given him what he wanted—he was being so damn sweet.  He couldn’t help that he no doubt didn’t feel the same way about Tony that Tony did about him.  But he didn’t have to be this sweet about it, either.

 

So if Steve wanted sex and cuddles . . . he could do that.  He could definitely do that.  He leaned down, pressed his face in against Steve’s neck, kissed him lightly just under his jaw, trailing his lips down to his shoulder, then let his head rest there, propped against his shoulder.  “Good?” he asked, quietly.

 

“Mmm,” Steve said.  He ran a hand through Tony’s hair, and Tony could feel him relaxing, his body going slack against the bed.  In response Tony ran his hand back and forth over Steve’s chest, stroking lightly, and felt him relax even more.  “Yeah,” Steve said on a low exhale, “good.”  His voice sounded warm, sleepy and contented, and Tony let himself relax, because that was good.

 

He sounded like he was about to fall asleep.  Tony had been wondering if maybe he should ask him about if there was anything else—Steve had said he wanted to talk to him about a few things, but if he was falling asleep, he should sleep. Right after sex wasn't the greatest time to talk about stuff, anyway.

 

And this . . . it wasn’t bad.  He was lying in Steve’s arms, pressed tight to his body, curled up in bed—God, he could barely even believe it.  Not bad didn’t even begin to cover it.  Maybe if Steve slept a bit, that would give Tony time to process everything that had just happened.  To put it together in his head somehow, though he still wasn’t even close to doing that and he had no idea how he was going to start.  Still.  But he should.  Try.  He was supposed to be a genius, after all, he could make this work.  Surely.  He’d done friends with benefits before.  It wasn’t the end of the world.  Even if it was Steve. 

 

He snuck one last kiss in against Steve’s shoulder, figuring he was sleepy, maybe he wouldn’t notice or think much of it, and settled in to watch him fall asleep in Tony’s bed.

 

He could watch over him, at least, that was something. 

 

-----

 

Steve woke up around five a.m., the same as always, to find Tony still lying on the bed beside him, legs tangled with his, arms curled loosely around him, sound asleep and more completely relaxed than Steve thought he’d seen him in . . . in a good long time, that was for sure.  It was strange at first to see him there, and then everything that had happened the night before came back in a rush, all at once, and Steve couldn’t help smiling down at the sleeping man beside him.  His face was pillowed on Steve’s shoulder, mouth half-open and eyelashes dark against his cheeks. Asleep, the lines of strain gone from his face, he looked younger, more like the man Steve had first met, despite the addition of the goatee to his facial hair and the shorter haircut, that same short hair now spectacularly tousled against the bed and curling over his ears.  Steve kissed him, lightly and impulsively, not wanting to wake him, just unable to stop himself, kissed his tousled hair, stroking it back from his forehead, and whispered, “Good morning,” against his ear before he got up, taking care to cover him with the blankets and soothing him with one hand against his shoulder when Tony made a soft, rough, sleepy sound as Steve got up and rolled onto his back, shifting a little restlessly.  It was easy to soothe him again, though, back into quiet, relaxed, sprawling sleep, and Steve patted his shoulder a little, straightened the blankets before he left on his run.  It was nice to see him sleeping so easy.  Steve knew from sharing space with Tony over the years that he’d had nightmares on the regular for at least a decade.  Maybe he’d helped with that.  It felt a little self-congratulatory, but it was a nice thought, and Steve knew he was grinning like an idiot as he ducked out of the room.

 

Steve’s run felt the fastest and easiest it had in years that morning, his mood so euphoric and joyful people started to give him sidelong looks for his cheerfulness, but Steve didn’t care.

 

Everything had been wonderful, Tony wanted to be with him—even getting called in on an urgent mission that turned out to be not that urgent couldn’t ruin his mood.  He figured Tony would be busy in the morning anyway; he usually had been, back in the days when they had been sharing space in the mansion.

 

Steve wasn’t sure what he’d expected to happen after sleeping with Tony—it wasn’t anything he’d planned for, and so what the effects might be weren’t something he’d ever thought about.  This whole thing was a new wide-open country for him.  However wonderful the night with Tony had been, as the day went on he was a little afraid it would be too much, too fast, and that Tony would shy away, become even scarcer around him than he’d been before.  So of course, because that was how things went, Steve ended up impossibly busy the rest of the day.  After the mission with the Secret Avengers, which turned out to be nothing much, he ended up spending half of his day at SHIELD talking over security clearances for himself and the team, as well as the possibility of new teams of Avengers, before he finally made it back to the Tower, by which point, of course, Tony had gone, left on business of his own. 

 

Of course.  The others asked him what he was doing back, but he dodged the question and asked them how things were going, and before long they seemed to forget that he wasn’t supposed to be there anyway. 

 

He ended up spending most of the day with Bucky, and it was good, just to spend time with him again, when there was nothing urgent going on.  Bucky seemed to know that something was up, but didn’t give him a hard time over it, and they ended up playing catch for a while.  He ended up going on patrol with him, after Natasha excused herself, saying that if they wanted to have boy time, she could take the night off, surely, partly to take his mind off waiting for Tony, and he didn’t get back until later that night, only to find Tony asleep on the couch on the living room, the news on the TV in front of him.  Tony was alone, his face propped on his fist, oblivious to the flickering lights and sounds of the television.  Bucky looked at him, then at Steve, and raised his eyebrows at him, eloquently, but then went off to take a shower.

 

Steve wondered if Tony was sitting there because he’d been waiting for him, or if he just . . . hoped he’d have been waiting, hoped that he’d have wanted to see Steve and talk to him like Steve had wanted to see him. 

 

Well, either way, there he was.  He sat down beside him on the sofa, reclaimed the remote from Tony’s lap and turned the sound off on the TV before he reached out to sling an arm around his shoulders, shake him gently awake, saying his name at the same time.  He’d been tempted to kiss him awake, but he knew better than to startle Tony like that while he was asleep, especially these days.

 

Sure enough, Tony jolted awake with a start, jumping bolt upright and looking around dazedly for a moment before he clearly recognized Steve—his eyes widened and he sucked in his breath.  “Steve,” he said, shoulders still tense and bunching like he was ready for a fight, “what—”

 

“Shh, you fell asleep on the couch, that’s all,” Steve told him, leaving his arm around his shoulders.  “The news was that interesting, huh?”

 

“Huh?” Tony said, and his brow creased, peering at Steve like he wasn’t quite sure what he was doing there.

 

“You fell asleep,” Steve repeated.

 

“Oh,” Tony said, after another moment.  He blinked, looked down, off to one side.  “I guess I . . . .”  He ran one hand back through his hair.  “What are you . . . I mean.  Oh. Hi.  I guess . . .”  He looked up at Steve, smiled a little.  “Hi.”

 

“Hi,” Steve said, grinning despite himself.

 

“Uh,” Tony said.  “Yeah.”  He was still staring at Steve, looking at him like he wasn’t quite sure what he was doing there.  Steve smiled at him.  He looked a little dazed from sleep, still.  Steve figured he must be tired—maybe he’d had a hard day, or maybe all that work was just catching up with him.

 

He’d always had a soft spot for Tony when he was tired, muddled and bleary.  He knew it was because Tony was so tough, the rest of the time, so put-together, and just that he got to see him sleepy and dazed was a privilege.  Besides, he was kinda adorable when he was half-awake.  And there was more than a little protectiveness thrown in with the fondness, Steve could admit to that.

 

“You want to sleep in a bed, Shellhead?” Steve asked.  Tony blinked at him, and Steve grinned, shook his head and got his arm more firmly under Tony’s back.  “Here, c’mon.”  He pulled Tony to his feet and got him going vaguely in the direction of his room.

 

“I had a lot to do today,” Tony said, after a few minutes, and looked at him apologetically.

 

“Yeah,” Steve agreed.  “So did I.  We’re both pretty busy these days, I guess.” He felt a moment of frustrated regret—they’d finally, finally managed to work something out, and yet it looked like they were going to be at the mercy of their schedules and work.  They weren’t even sharing the same living space.  For once in their lives.  It seemed like such terrible luck.

 

Though he supposed it could have been worse.  Considering what they’d been through—everything that had happened.  Yeah.  Things could definitely have been worse.

 

“Yeah,” Tony said.  “I . . . didn’t know you’d be sticking around, today.”

 

Steve grinned.  “I felt like coming back,” he said, and let his fingers rest at the small of Tony’s back, just because, well, he could.

 

Tony shivered a little, at the touch, and looked at him, his eyes wide.  “Right,” he said, a little unevenly.  And then they were there.  Steve kissed Tony then, and despite the way Tony jumped at the first brush of his lips against his, he leaned into him after just a moment, returned the kiss eagerly, wrapping one arm around Steve’s back, before Steve pulled away.  “Good night,” Steve told him, squeezed his shoulders a little, and turned to head to the room Jarvis had told him was still his, even if he wasn't really living there anymore—reluctantly, but Tony was obviously too tired to do anything but sleep, even just necking for a while, or talking.  He should let him rest.

 

Steve missed living in the mansion or the Tower already, but now he had another reason to wish he didn’t have to leave.  It wasn’t as if Tony spent all his time there, but it did seem like the most reliable way to find him, because at least he regularly returned there.  And now that they were doing this together, Steve wanted to see him more often, be able to just wrap a hand around his back or press a kiss to the side of his head when no one was looking, or just . . . anything.  Talk to him, watch movies together, spar . . . just be together.  But instead Tony was splitting his time between the Avengers and his own business, like always, and Steve had his own business to look after, too.  Well, more like the country’s business.  He had a lot of messes to clean up, still, and he couldn’t slack on that just because he had a fella he wanted to spend time with. 

 

A sweetheart, he supposed, and had to stop himself from grinning at the thought.  Still, he could find excuses to drop by the Tower and see if Tony was there, at least.  It wasn’t like he didn’t want to see the rest of the team, either.  It was actually sort of nice to have a reason to visit, even if it wasn’t one he was really ready to share around.   He still didn’t get to see Tony that much, but it was still more than he had before.  Every once in a while.  Tony was hard to read, still seemed a little hesitant, but he was warm and friendly and seemed happy to see Steve, and it was like . . . it was like they were friends again, along with the rest of it.

 

If that had been the only result of their night together, Steve would still have called it a win.  That wasn’t all he wanted, of course—not nearly—but it still would have been good enough for him.  Just seeing Tony again, regularly, like the old days, being his friend.  He spent one morning with Tony in the Avengers kitchen, Tony bleary-eyed and nursing a cup of coffee, schematics spread out in front of him, and how much it felt like the old days made Steve smile, even if he did squeeze Tony’s shoulder and kiss the back of his head, which left Tony blinking into space across the table like he was surprised.  Well, he was going to have to get used to stuff like that, if Steve had much to say about it.  Tony didn’t seem to mind, just not expect it.  But Steve liked having his shoulder under his hand, square and strong and slimmer than his own, liked the way his hair felt under his lips.

 

Steve really had too much to do to be able to be there regularly, and they hadn’t been able to do much more than that, even kiss, to Steve’s frustration, but he was still satisfied—Tony had taken him up on his invitation to spar, and it really had been mostly like old times again, though Steve kept catching himself holding back, not willing to hit at Tony through the haze of memories of beating him until he bled, beating him with the shield until the mask of the armor was crumpling under it—blood and Tony’s ravaged face telling him to finish it—

 

But he didn’t think Tony noticed his hesitation, anyway, and it was good to replace those memories with those of the mat, the banter between them, hesitant and a bit awkward at first but quickly warming, growing more natural and easy, the smell of chalk and the gym and the way Tony’s body felt tangled up with his in a very different way than it had been in bed, warm and damp with sweat against him, though he felt thinner than Steve remembered.  Too thin, if you asked him.  But they ended up panting and sweaty on the mat anyway, Tony not too badly out of condition, not so much he couldn’t meet Steve halfway, and it . . . it felt good.  Tony kept glancing at him sidelong afterwards, like he was thinking about something, but he didn’t say anything, and so Steve let it go after slapping him on the shoulder (he considered Tony’s rear end, but that was a little forward, wasn’t it?) and going to get a shower.

 

Steve had to leave after that; he was gone for a week or so, on a mission.  He came back tired, just wanting to take a shower and relax and be done with it, put the strain and the stress and the frustration behind him.  It wasn’t necessarily that it had been particularly tiring, but somehow these secret missions, the responsibility that went along with them, all of it, felt a thousand times more exhausting than being Cap had ever been.  Except on his worst days—except during the SHRA, which Steve remembered as the most absolutely horrible bone-deep tiredness he’d ever felt, sleeping had made no difference, it felt like it had settled into his body for good.  This wasn’t . . . like that.  But he still felt worn out in a way he didn’t remember from all his years as an Avenger, and whatever the reason, he was tired and worn out and just wanted to put the mission behind him. 

 

He wanted to see Tony. 

 

But Tony wasn’t in the Tower—not even in his lab, or in his room, which Steve checked, feeling faintly embarrassed and invasive while he did it.  When he asked they others, they said he’d been busy with other stuff for a while and hadn’t checked in at the Tower for days.  No one seemed that curious about what that other stuff might be, either.

 

It was a little embarrassing how disappointed that left him.  It wasn’t just that he had wanted to be with someone, it was that it was Tony—he’d wanted to spend time with Tony, almost to make sure he hadn’t imagined what they’d had recently, before he’d left.  It wasn’t just that, either, that they had something now—Tony was one of his oldest friends, and he . . . he wanted that, just to spend time with him again, despite everything that had happened.  To know that they hadn’t lost everything, just because things had gotten so bad between them.  He knew that Tony was busy, and it was completely stupid and utterly unreasonable to expect him to be able to just hang around and help Steve feel better about things, whenever he wanted it, and he didn’t want that.  He didn’t want to be too demanding on Tony, or his time, and the last thing he wanted was to seem too needy, but . . . .

 

When he asked Jarvis where Tony had gone, the butler said Tony was going to be spending some time in his place in Seattle while he worked on business.  Steve made up his mind, after that.  He was going to go see him, and if Tony didn’t like it, well, he wouldn’t do it again.  But he was going to give it a try, anyway.  He told Bucky to let the others know that he had some more stuff he had to do.  Bucky raised his eyebrows at him again, but he said he would, anyway, and didn’t pursue whatever it was making his eyebrows go up (okay, Steve knew what it was, but he knew Bucky well enough to know he’d bring it up when he felt like it and Steve would just have to deal with whatever Bucky thought then) and so Steve headed for Tony’s place.

 

He was surprised to discover that it was, well, small.  He remembered Tony’s old mansion in Seattle, but the place he found was an apartment, sure, an obviously expensive one, but not the luxury he’d learned to prepare for when he visited Tony.  He felt a moment of nervousness—maybe he should have let Tony know he was coming, especially with a place this small, his presence might be intrusive—but he figured it was too late for that now, squared his shoulders, and knocked on the door.

 

The door opened a few moments later, and he found himself looking into Tony’s shocked face and wide eyes.  “Steve?” he said, sounding surprised.  He looked rumpled and tired, in a collared shirt and slacks, and Steve noticed he had no shoes or socks on, and his sleeves were unbuttoned, shoved up around his elbows.  Along with his tousled hair, it made him look strangely vulnerable, somehow, though Steve knew perfectly well that Tony wasn’t, not really.  “What—what are you doing here?”  He sounded completely flabbergasted.

 

“Hi,” Steve said with a bit of a grin, slightly bashful now that he was saying it out loud.  “I, well, I wanted to see you.”

 

“I . . . uh, I didn’t think . . .” Tony stared at him a little more, swallowed.  “You . . . you wanted to . . . see me.  Right, okay.”  He blinked.  “Uh, right.”  He stepped back, gesturing for Steve to come in, running one hand back through his hair as he did, pushing it back, scraping it back behind his ear, and shaking his head a little.  Steve hadn’t seen Tony this lost for words that often, and he couldn’t help smiling at it a little as he stepped into the apartment.

 

“Bad?” he asked.

 

“No!” Tony said, and then followed it up with a smile at him.  “No, not bad.”  He closed the door, locked it, and straightened up, squaring his own shoulders.  “Just wasn’t expecting you, that’s all.  I thought . . . wait, you had a mission, right?  Did it take you out this way?  Do you need something?”

 

“I had one, but it’s over now,” Steve said, wincing a little when he realized he probably should have let Tony know that himself—but he’d found out he had to leave so quickly, and Tony hadn’t been around; there just hadn’t been time.  “Don’t worry, there’s nothing like that.”

 

“Oh,” Tony said.  “Okay.  Well, come in, make yourself at home, and all that.  I haven’t really . . .” he shrugged, gave a charmingly wry smile.  “It’s kind of a mess.  I wasn’t exactly expecting company.”

 

“I don’t mind a little bit of a mess,” Steve said, smiling back.  He gestured toward the nearby sofa.  “Can I . . .”

 

“Yeah, sure,” Tony said.  “Can I get you something to eat, or . . .”  He still looked like he was a little bit at a loss.

 

“You could sit with me,” Steve suggested, setting down his bag and settling onto the couch.

 

“Oh,” Tony said, almost to himself; Steve more saw his mouth form the sound than heard it, but he crossed the room and did sit down next to Steve, sliding down the sofa toward him a little.  “How’d the mission go?” he asked after a moment.

 

“Fine,” Steve said, and then sighed.  He let his head fall back against the cushion of the sofa and frowned at himself.

 

“Fine?” Tony said.  One hand came up, squeezed Steve’s shoulder, then shifted under his neck to begin to rub at it, gently.  “That doesn’t sound fine.  That sounds frustrating as hell.”

 

“Everything went fine,” Steve repeated.  “I don’t know.  I’m just tired, I guess.”  Tired.  Right.  He’d been “tired” ever since he came back.  When was that going to change?  Was he really getting too old for this, this time?  Or what was it?  What was up?  He couldn’t honestly claim to be tired after a milk run like that.  He sighed again.  “That feels good,” he said instead of continuing, smiling at Tony just a little.

 

Tony smiled back and kept rubbing at Steve’s neck, fingers massaging the tense muscles there.  “Well, I guess being the new boss of everyone was bound to get a little tiring,” he said.  “Like herding cats?”

 

Steve smiled a little more.  Tony was right, and . . . hell if it wasn’t nice to have him seem to understand without Steve having to really explain.  “There’s so much paperwork,” he said, and even to himself he sounded a little bit plaintive.

 

“Man, tell me about it,” Tony said.  “I can imagine. The eternal curse.”  His fingers dug in against the back of Steve’s neck, massaging more firmly, his thumb moving firmly up along the tendons in his neck.  “There’s got to be a lot.”

 

“Yeah,” Steve sighed, tilting his head back again to get more of the gentle pressure and warmth on the back of his neck.  “It’s just . . . I’m not used to this.  Being behind the scenes . . . in charge of everything.”  He shook his head.  “I don’t mean to complain,” he said.  “There’s a lot of work to do.”  He remembered that Tony had had this job, had been Director of SHIELD for a while, and that he’d thought he was just grabbing for power at the time.  With his experience with the job, now he just sort of wanted to ask Tony how he’d handled it.  But he couldn’t, of course.  Not anymore.  He wouldn’t remember.  There was always his time as Secretary of Defense, but it wasn’t really the same thing.

 

“You’re doing a good job, from what I’ve seen,” Tony said.  “If it’s any consolation.”  He smiled at Steve.  “Not that that’s a surprise.”

 

“Thanks,” Steve said.  “It’s just . . . .”

 

“Tiring?” Tony said., and nodded.  “Yeah, I bet.  Well, if there’s anything I can do to help with that, just let me know.”  He smiled a little more, still rubbing his fingers at the back of Steve’s neck.

 

“Just being here is pretty nice,” Steve admitted.  He turned his head a little, reached out, and wrapped his hand around the back of Tony’s neck, and Tony was already moving into it, moving closer, leaning in as Steve kissed him.

 

They stayed there on the couch for a bit, just kissing—Tony scooted in and tilted his head into it, laying his hand on Steve’s shoulder—until finally Tony pulled away slightly and said, his voice a little hoarse, “You want to move this into the bedroom?”

 

Steve smiled a little, rubbing his thumb a little over the back of Tony’s neck.  “I should probably take a shower first,” he said, “if that’s all right?”

 

“Oh.”  Tony blinked a little, then smiled. “Yeah, sure.  Of course.”  He kissed Steve once more, briefly, then pulled back.  “No problem.  I’ll go get it ready for you.”

 

“Thanks,” Steve said.  He watched Tony get up, and Tony made him smile by dropping a kiss on the top of his head and squeezing his shoulder—Steve reached up and gave his hand a squeeze in return—before he headed off, disappearing around a corner Steve guessed led to the bathroom.  Steve turned back, still smiling to himself a little, and waited for Tony to come back, glancing around the apartment while he did.

 

The place was smaller than he’d expected, but it had the clean, modern lines Steve had come to expect from someplace Tony was living.  Whatever Tony had said about it being a mess, there wasn’t a lot of clutter—a few pieces of what looked like a car engine on one of the tables, and some schematics rolled up and stacked on a chair, and that was about it.  It was bright, with big windows.  The kitchen was off to the side but in with the living room, with a countertop separating the two spaces, much to Steve’s surprise—he’d thought there’d be more room in one of Tony’s places.  There didn’t seem to be a lot of food on the counter, either, though there were several coffee cups still sitting out, and the coffeemaker looked well used.  The sofa was comfortable, though, across from a large flat-screen television, with a very modern-looking multileveled geometric glass coffee table.  It didn’t look very lived-in, though.  The walls were bare, and the table was covered with papers—a few looked like bank statements—and an electronic tablet, as well as a paper one, and a computer, but nothing personal.  The view out the windows was beautiful, but still.

 

Tony was back a few moments later.  “Okay,” he said, “all ready.  Turn the dial to the left if you want it hotter, and I’ll, ah, I’ll be out here.”

 

“Got it,” Steve said, getting to his feet.  “The bathroom’s over there?”

 

“Yeah, just around the corner,” Tony said, “right before the bedroom.”

 

“Okay, thanks,” Steve said, and made his way there, noticing that even before he turned the corner, Tony was sitting down on the sofa again, sticking a pen absently in his mouth as he started rifling through his papers.

 

The bathroom was more obviously expensive than the living room-kitchen had been, half natural rock, with a luxurious bath and a large shower.  Tony had laid out towels for him on a bench set into the wall, and there was soap and shampoo . . . and a lot of other stuff Steve wasn't sure of, in the shower itself, which was already running.  It felt good when he stepped into it, too, the spray of the water powerful enough to make him feel it, the water hot, enveloping him with clouds of steam.  He didn’t take too long in the shower, though—the showers in the Tower were even nicer, and Tony was a lot more interesting than his bathroom, however nice it was.  He’d mostly just wanted to lose the weariness and sweat of the trip.  Toweled off and mostly dry, he got dressed again and went back out to the living room.

 

Tony looked up as he entered the room from where he was typing with one hand and scribbling notes on a pad of paper with the other.  He smiled a little.  “Hey,” he said.  “Enjoy the shower?”

 

“Sure did,” Steve said.  “You always have all the . . .” he shrugged, “I don’t know, the new stuff they put in bathrooms.”

 

Tony grinned.  “Well, you seem to have managed the newfangled contraptions fine,” he said.

 

“Tony,” Steve said, laughing, “that’s not what I said and you know it.”

 

“Yeah, yeah,” Tony said, but he was still grinning.  Steve hid a smile of his own before he went over to the sofa and put his hands on his shoulders.

 

“Thanks for having me,” he said into his hair, more quietly.

 

“Of course,” Tony said, sounding surprised, looking back up at Steve, with a bit of a confused expression.  “I mean.  Yeah.  Sure.”

 

“So is it all right?” Steve asked.  “If I spend the night?”

 

“Well, yeah,” Tony said.  “I’m not going to make you come all this way and then toss you out on your ass.”  He turned around on the sofa, skimmed his hands up Steve’s chest before he closed his fingers in Steve’s collar and pulled him down into a kiss.

 

It was a rather dizzying kiss, distracting, and it left Steve flushed and warm.  “I didn’t mean . . . if it’s an imposition I can always leave,” he said, a little breathless, “or spend the night on the couch; I didn’t mean to force you into anything.”

 

“Of course you’re not,” Tony said, scoffing.  “And . . . honey.  You’re not spending the night on the couch.”

 

Steve grinned in relief, feeling himself go a little warmer at the endearment, like he had the last time Tony had called him that.  He liked that, he decided.  He . . . really liked that.  “Just making sure,” he said.

 

Tony just smiled back at him and slid his hands up even further, around Steve’s neck and up into his hair, then leaned up for another kiss.

 

“If you’re busy,” Steve said, after Tony’s lips left his, still trying to catch his breath.  “I can wait.  I have some of my own work I could do.”  Tony hesitated, Steve could see it, and that was enough answer for him.  He kissed Tony again and nudged his hands away as he did it, taking them in his own and bringing them down between them.  “Finish up,” he said.  “I’ll be around.”

 

Tony stared at him.  “Are you sure?” he said.  “It’s fine, this stuff is . . . I can do it later.”

 

“I’m in no special hurry,” Steve said.  “Is it okay if I sit here with you?”

 

“I . . .” Tony looked at him a moment, then blinked and swallowed, smiling at him again.  “Sure,” he said.  “Thanks.  I’ll try to get all this done as fast as I can.”

 

Steve shook his head, putting one hand on his shoulder and squeezing again as he turned to step around the couch.  “Like I said,” he told him, “no hurry.”  He got some of his own work out of his bag, then sat down on the other end of the sofa.

 

He looked up to see Tony smiling at him fondly.  “I thought you didn’t like the paperwork,” he said.

 

Steve shrugged.  “Well . . .” he said.  “I don’t.  But it still has to get done.”

 

“True enough,” Tony said.  He smirked a little.  “We all have our burdens, I guess.”

 

Steve sighed, and Tony grinned and patted his knee.

 

They spent a companionable evening that way, though, sometimes talking, but more often just working in silence.  Somehow the paperwork seemed easier to handle with Tony around, doing his own work, and after a while, Tony asked Steve if he wanted takeout.  They ended up getting Vietnamese food, and it was a great meal, as far as Steve was concerned—Tony got talking, and it really did feel like old times again, just talking about nothing in particular, anything that came to mind, even stupid things like the recent movies.  It was several hours later, after they’d both gone back to work (though eventually Steve gave it up in favor of drawing quick sketches of Tony working), when Tony looked at his watch and then blinked at the time and swore under his breath, looking a little surprised.  “I didn’t mean to make you wait this long,” he said apologetically.  “I just . . .” he shrugged.  “Not to say that financial statements and schematics are more interesting than you are, of course . . . .”  He looked so genuinely, awkwardly apologetic that Steve had to smile.

 

“It’s just that schematics are more interesting than I am, right?” he teased.

 

Tony shook his head, his mouth going self-deprecatingly crooked.  “Only sometimes,” he said, clearly teasing back, then looked down a little.  “Seriously, I’m sorry.”

 

Steve shrugged.  “No big deal,” he said.  “I told you; I’m fine with waiting.”

 

“Well, I’m done,” Tony said, pushing his papers and tablet away with some finality.  “For now, anyway.  So . . .” he turned toward Steve, who flipped his sketchpad shut and slid it, and his stack of paperwork, back into his bag.

 

“So it’s my turn?” Steve said with a smile.  He got to his feet, and after a moment, Tony followed him.

 

“Yes,” Tony said.  “It’s absolutely your turn.”

 

“Bedroom, then?” Steve asked, glancing at the windows—it was a little open in here for him.

 

Tony smiled a little, knowingly.  “Right,” he said.  “Yeah.”  He led Steve back past the bathroom to his bedroom—which was also smaller than Steve had expected, the bed large, but not the vast size he’d grown to expect Tony’s beds to be.  This looked a lot more private than any of Tony’s bedrooms he’d seen before, more like his bedrooms in the mansion or the Tower, actually—smaller, more personal, not really intended for others to see so much as a place for Tony to sleep, basic and almost minimalist.  The windows were big in here, too, but Tony hit a button near the door and they shaded toward black. 

 

When Tony turned toward Steve after closing the door behind them, his eyes had that wide, dark look to them again that Steve kept seeing there since they’d started this, even as he smiled and stepped forward to meet Steve in the middle of the room.  Steve wondered if Tony felt a little in over his head—he sure did.  Not about the sex or the relationship itself, but the fact that it was with Tony, after all this time—it was overwhelming just to think that he could really have this, let alone to actually have it in his grasp, to be able to reach right out and touch Tony like this, and then to do it, feel the warm rasp of his skin under his fingers if he wanted, have the touch of his lips soft and damp against his own, the way his mouth felt, open against his skin.  It was more than just the sex, it was the closeness, the intimacy of it, the knowledge that this was Tony, this was Iron Man, and for years, Steve had wondered if he’d ever even know what he looked like, and now he was allowed to touch the skin that had been hidden beneath that metal suit, even the skin he hid under the other armor of his business suits, and Tony wasn’t pushing him away.

 

Steve took a deep breath and reached out, settling both hands against Tony’s waist.  He had always had a slender waist, thin hips, but he felt awfully skinny under Steve’s hands.  Too thin, Steve thought, again.  He remembered Tony with more weight on him than this, more muscle.  He made a mental note to be certain Tony was eating right and skimmed his hands gently up over his sides, leaning in to kiss him.  Tony shuddered a little, again, his sides quivering under Steve’s hands—he’d done that almost every time Steve had kissed him—but he leaned toward him, opening his mouth and kissing Steve back hot and eager, tilting his head into it and lifting his hands to rest against the backs of Steve’s shoulders.

 

Steve tugged at the back of Tony’s shirt, pulled it out of his slacks and slipped his hand under it, dipping his fingers down against the hollow of Tony’s spine to run his fingers just under the waistband of his slacks.  He could feel the softness of the skin there, the warmth, stroked his hand up along more of the bare smooth skin revealed to his fingers.  He smoothed his palm over Tony’s spine, and Tony made a soft sound in his throat that was muffled against Steve’s lips.  Steve didn’t pull away, just tugged him even closer, lifting his other hand to curl it against his jaw, holding him to kiss him even more thoroughly, soft and insistent.  Tony moaned, just a little, and his eyes fluttered shut as his mouth opened willingly for Steve; Steve could feel his muscles relaxing under his hand from the way they had been tense, rigid, before.  His hands clenched at Steve’s shirt, his arms curving around Steve’s shoulders, elbows pressing in against his back.

 

Steve took it slow, this time.  Tony was a gift, and he wanted him to feel like one, treasured and important.  They’d gone so fast last time that he wanted to be slow and careful their second time out.  He took his time even with the kiss, drawing it out, licking over Tony’s lips and sucking on the bottom one, trailing kisses down his jaw and over his neck while he rubbed his hands over his back.  Tony was panting against him, chest heaving, but Steve wasn’t holding him so tight he couldn’t have twisted away if he needed to, and when Tony looked up at him his eyes were dark and blown wide, but he was still holding Steve close.  When Steve started to unbutton Tony’s shirt, Tony jumped as if remembering where he was, or like there was a job he was forgetting to do, and brought his hands up to start on Steve’s shirt in return.  Steve let him, this time, more interested in getting Tony’s buttons undone and parting his shirt, letting him get a glimpse of Tony’s bare chest again.  He trailed his fingers around the RT like he had before, but not quite as cursorily this time, studying the white, raised scar tissue under his fingers.  Some of it was still pink and obviously healing, all of it weirdly lit in the glow from the device itself.

 

“Can you feel that?” he asked, brushing his thumb against one side, just under it, and Tony swallowed, shook his head.

 

“Not really,” he said.  His voice sounded a little hoarse.  “It’s, uh, it’s.  I don’t have a lot of sensation right beside it.”  He finished with Steve’s buttons and his hands stilled but didn’t move away from Steve’s skin.

 

“Are you okay with me touching it?” Steve asked.  The most important question.

 

Tony gave a lopsided little smile.  “I gave you the keys to it,” he said.  “You can turn it off, why would I be worried about you touching it?”

 

That sounded like a pretty good reason to be antsy about it to Steve, and he had to swallow, clear his throat.  He still didn’t quite know what to do with that.

 

He wasn’t sure he was the person to be trusted with the key to Tony’s power sources, let alone one that was inside his body, had saved his life.

 

At the same time, he was oddly glad Tony hadn’t given it to anyone else.  He could prove to Tony that he might have been willing to kill him once, but that that time was past, that he’d guard Tony’s secrets and his safety with his own life.  That he could keep Tony safe.  He would.

 

The glow of the RT changed Tony’s chest, and Steve wondered how far into his body it penetrated.  He thought it was fairly flat and not particularly deep, but he really didn’t know.  He thought about how Tony had said it ran his entire nervous system now, flippantly, almost lightly, and swallowed, letting his hand rest over it—he could feel it emitting some kind of energy, like a magnet, almost pushing against his hand, an electric, present thrum along with the glow.  He could lay his hand flat against it, but he could still feel a hum against his palm when he did.

 

Tony jiggered one shoulder uncomfortably, and both his shoulders were starting to hunch in as if in self-consciousness, so Steve moved his hands away, deliberately skimmed up Tony’s chest, over his nipples to his shoulders to push his shirt back off over them, then followed that up by removing his own, picking both of them up and tossing them over the nearby chair.

 

They returned to kissing, Steve pulling Tony back in as he traced his chest again, thumbed at the dusky circles of his nipples experimentally, ran his fingers along his collarbones, then down again, skimming his fingers around the RT this time, avoiding it.  Tony let him, then moved in himself, tilting his head to mouth at Steve’s neck, along his jaw, and settling his hands on Steve’s sides, sliding them down slowly over his ribs, his chest.  Steve gasped, shivered, felt himself flush as pleasure tingled through him from those slow touches.  Tony hooked his fingers behind his waistband and opened the button of his pants, then slid the zipper down, still mouthing wet and hot at his neck, sliding Steve’s underwear and pants down past his thighs.

 

Steve let them fall to the ground and stepped out of them, getting his breath back and letting his hands rest at Tony’s back, smooth up over the muscles of it then back down, pressing firmly into the skin just above the rise of his buttocks.  Tony shivered, and Steve tilted his head, kissed up Tony’s neck to press a kiss against his lips as he brought his hand around and got Tony’s pants unfastened, too, with one hand, then slid both hands around to slide down over his bottom, cup the curve of it, hands flat against his bare skin, using the movement to push his underwear and pants down over his thighs at the same time.  Tony gave a brief, ragged gasp against his lips, and Steve leaned in even more, sucked on his bottom lip, closing his eyes and just enjoying the warmth of their bodies together, Tony’s groin hot against his.  He really did like how they were just about the same height.

 

Tony sighed, and his mouth softened under Steve’s, even as he skimmed his fingers back up, sliding them up over Steve’s back to settle at his shoulders, move up into his hair, stepping out of his pants and underwear at the same time.  Steve sighed himself, rolled his hips forward, against Tony’s, felt him shudder and arch up slightly so his hips pressed into Steve’s, his breathing stuttering just a bit as he returned the kiss eagerly, nipping just a bit at Steve’s lips as he did, licking into his mouth.  He was so good at kissing. 

 

The heat was building between them now, pulling Steve into it and building in his belly, hot under his skin, as Tony brought his hands down again, shifted his foot around Steve’s so that their ankles curved together.  Tony pulled away from the kiss and pressed his lips to Steve’s neck, up behind his ear, his beard scratching slightly and softly against his skin.  Part of Steve just wanted to grind himself against Tony like he had the last time, just rub himself up against his warm skin, but the rest of him wanted to take things more slowly, not rush through it this time around.  He moved to push Tony back against the bed, sliding his hands up to rest against his sides and nudging him back slightly.  Tony took a step back, let Steve push him down against the bed and crawl after him, then reached for him, put one hand flat against his chest and kissed his shoulder, trailing his mouth downward.  Steve shivered pleasurably at the sensation—he couldn’t help it, it was something about the newness of the feeling of Tony’s facial hair against his skin, the contrast between that and his soft, warm lips.  He settled himself more firmly onto the bed and curled his arms around Tony’s waist, kissing the spot just behind his ear.  Tony shivered that time, and Steve could feel the heat of his erection between them, against his hip.  He didn’t reach for it, though, instead smoothing his hands down again over the curve of Tony’s rear, kept licking and nuzzling at the scratchy skin of his neck.  Tony’s lips parted, and he panted a little against Steve’s skin. Steve smiled to himself.

 

Tony had a long lean, solid, compact sort of build, pulled in tightly over his muscles and bones, the sort of body that didn’t make him look as tall as he was when he had his full weight, but right now Steve could count his ribs, and he had a drawn out, lanky look to him.  He was still heavy, though; when Steve cupped his hands at his waist and pulled him forward, he could feel that weight, just like he’d been able to when they were sparring, more than was justified by the slenderness of his body—and then he remembered that Tony was storing most of his armor inside himself and it started to make sense.

 

Steve wasn’t sure how he felt about that, really, so he pushed it to the back of his mind instead of worrying over it.  Tony’s kisses were getting hotter and wetter, more obviously sexual as he licked and caressed Steve’s chest with his mouth.  Steve felt himself starting to flush, the heat crawling up into his face, and swallowed.  Tony’s tongue sought out Steve’s nipple and curled around it, and the flash of pleasure it sent through him was startling, made Steve cry out despite himself.  He felt Tony grin against his skin, the scratch of his facial hair against the sensitive skin of his chest, even as he brought his tongue flat down over it, and Steve shuddered, half-overwhelmed by the lightning heat of the sensation.

 

God. 

 

He took a deep breath, shifted back a bit, moving back against the back of the bed, then pulled Tony into him.  Tony might be heavier, but Steve was still strong enough to move him, even to get his hands under him and lift him, and that was exactly what he did, pulling him into his lap so his knees landed on either side of Steve’s hips.  He could probably have done it even with Tony in the armor; in fact, he was sure he could (and wasn’t that a thought?).

 

“Hey,” Tony said, breathlessly.

 

Steve reached up, framed Tony’s face with his hands, running his fingers back into his hair.  He smiled at him.  “Yes?” he asked, grinning.

 

“Manhandling me?” Tony said, starting to grin a little back.

 

“Sure, a little,” Steve said, moving his fingers gently in Tony’s hair.  It was soft against his fingers, tangled already.  Tony’s erection was very hot and very present, pressed into his stomach, now.  “You got a problem with that?”

 

“Not really,” Tony said.  “You were pretty thorough about it the other day.  When we were sparring, I mean.”

 

“Not as thorough as I could be,” Steve said, smirking.

 

Tony’s skin darkened a little, and Steve could feel it heat against his hands.  Tony had flushed at that.  Steve grinned with delight.

 

“I’m sure that’s true,” Tony muttered.  He shifted his hips a little, up into Steve.  “Plan to demonstrate, or are you just teasing?”

 

“Maybe a little of both,” Steve informed him.

 

Tony smirked, now.  “I guess that’s acceptable,” he said, dropping his gaze to look at Steve from under his eyelashes, which apparently went straight both to somewhere in Steve’s chest to make it tighten a little and to his cock, making it jerk with a heated rush of desire.  Steve pulled Tony closer, tilted their foreheads together, and Tony bit his lip as it pressed their groins tighter up against each other.

 

It felt good, but Steve wasn’t that interested in rushing to the main event, not yet.  Instead he waited until Tony cast his eyes up toward him again, raising one eyebrow, then tilted Tony’s head with the grip he had on him and brought their lips together.  Tony sucked in his breath and opened his mouth, and Steve set about kissing him thoroughly, running his fingers back through his hair in slow circles as he did.  Tony made a low noise and curled his hands back around Steve’s neck, and his cock grew even hotter, slick and hard and needfully wet with precome as they kissed; Steve could feel it sliding hot against his stomach, so hard he half-wondered how far he could bring Tony toward climax just by kissing him with tongue.

 

Steve’s thumb caught on something ridged and hard, under Tony’s hair, and he followed it with the pad of his thumb, realizing it was a scar, and there were others he could feel against his fingers, at the base of Tony’s neck, just under his hair, just above his ear.  They must have healed fairly well, and his hair had come back in to cover them—and then Steve realized that the first time he’d seen Tony after he’d come back himself, his hair had been short but growing out in utter chaos, as had his stubble (he had looked fairly awful to tell the truth, not that that had mattered to Steve; what had been important was that he wasn’t going to die, and that they’d get his mind back).  And the next time he’d seen him after that, he’d had a haircut and a shave and looked more himself again.  He broke the kiss and sat back, just a little, and Tony looked up at him, his eyes blown and his mouth wet.  There was a certain rueful knowledge in his eyes, like he knew what Steve had noticed.

 

Steve rubbed at one of the scars with his thumb, raising his eyebrows at Tony.  “When did you get this?” he asked, quietly, figuring he might as well get right to the point.

 

Tony gave a rueful quirk of his mouth, then looked down, one hand moving up toward his head, then back down before he reached it, as if he’d thought better of actually making contact.  “They’ll disappear eventually,” he said.  “Extremis might be mostly inert, but some of the changes to my cellular makeup stuck.”

 

“I don’t think that’s what I asked,” Steve said, making his voice firmer this time.

 

Tony’s mouth twisted to one side even more for a moment, then he sighed.  “When Osborn scrambled my brains,” he said, and Steve knew instantly what he was talking about—it hadn’t been hard to find the news feed when he’d first come back.

 

The first time he’d seen it he’d almost been sick, physically, anger at Tony or not.  He hadn’t surrendered so that someone else who’d been wearing red, white, and blue could bash Tony’s skull in.

 

“I thought . . .” he had to swallow against the bile rising in his throat; he didn’t want to let on, that wasn’t really . . . sexy.  “I thought that the brain damage was self-inflicted.”

 

“Not all of it,” Tony said, then made a face, like he was embarrassed by the topic.  “Look,” he said, sounding apologetic, and raised one hand to curl his fingers around Steve’s bring it down, away from his head, “I’m fine now.  Don’t worry about it.”

 

Sure, Steve thought.  He was sure that was true.  Just like Tony had been fine when he was half-paralyzed.  Just like Tony had been fine after exposing himself to a flesh-eating toxin.  Just like Tony had been fine with an artificial heart he had to electrocute himself to charge.  Just like Tony had been fine after he’d been beaten to near-death and saved himself with an experimental retrovirus.  Just like Tony had been fine after stopping his heart to save Steve’s life.  Tony was always fine.

 

“Maybe I want to,” he said instead, and squeezed Tony’s hand.

 

“Huh?” Tony said, looked at Steve like he wasn’t making sense again.

 

“Maybe I want to worry about it,” Steve told him.

 

Tony shifted, looking uncomfortable.  “I don’t see why,” he said.

 

“Really?” Steve asked him sardonically.  “You have no idea.”

 

Tony just looked at him, but his face and the honest confusion there spoke volumes. 

 

Steve sighed.  “Think about it,” he told him, curved his fingers back into his hair, and kissed him again.

 

Tony returned the kiss eagerly, though Steve suspected it was at least half because it got the topic off Steve worrying about his wellbeing.  Well, he thought, a little wryly, whether they talked about it or not, he was going to worry about Tony—it wasn’t like this was a totally new occurrence, he’d been worrying about Tony off and on for years now, and he felt like he had a handle on it.  Tony was just going to have to live with the fact that Steve cared about him.  Changing the subject wasn’t going to help him there.  He pulled Tony into him and settled his hand more firmly at the back of his head, curled his other arm around his waist, and kissed him, hotly, demanding, thoroughly, because Tony was alive right now, and in his arms, and still brilliant and complicated and wonderful and himself, and Osborn hadn’t been able to crush that out of him.  No one would.  Especially not if Steve had anything to say about it.

 

He kissed him until Tony’s hands were digging into him tightly—bruisingly, Steve thought, at least they would bruise for a while, with a little bit of a thrill that settled right in his groin.  Tony was panting, his hips jerking and trembling a little as if he was desperate not to rub against Steve, controlling himself with a herculean effort for whatever reason, like Steve would have minded one bit if he just pressed himself close and writhed on top of him. 

 

Tony kissed him back just as hotly, just as passionately and intensely, his eyes squeezed shut tight, and from the way his cock felt against Steve’s hip, he really was close just from that.  Steve himself felt hot and trembling and overwhelmed, flushed all over, by the time he pulled away from the kiss.

 

Tony’s eyes shaded open just slightly, still heavy-lidded and mostly covered by his heavy lashes, his face flushed and his lips wet and bruised-looking.  He was still panting.  Steve ran one hand down his back, breathless himself, and Tony shuddered, squirmed his hips a little more and set one hand on Steve’s chest as if to hold himself up while he gasped for breath.

 

He was beautiful like this, Steve thought, as Tony raised his head a little, looking up as if trying to focus on Steve—he didn’t even have words for how beautiful, and in a way that felt special, unique, everyone was, after all, beautiful in their own way, but seeing Tony like this after all the time they’d spent together sent a thrill through Steve that he couldn’t explain.  Tony ran his thumb over Steve’s nipple again, circling it, and Steve would have thought it was accidental, but Tony was looking at him, his lips parted, like he was waiting for the way Steve flushed and panted, the sound of pleasure that escaped him despite himself, the way Steve tilted his head back, and Steve knew he hadn’t imagined the way Tony’s flush deepened at that noise, the way he smiled a little or the way his cock jumped.

 

Steve knew he was close himself, and he hoped this wouldn’t push him over the edge, because he’d had plans to draw this out a little longer, but he reached for Tony’s other hand, pulled it to his chest, then put both hands on Tony’s shoulders to hold him up, waiting and watching his face.  Tony immediately circled his thumb over Steve’s other nipple, and damn, that felt good—Steve moaned, his hips jerked despite himself, and Tony moaned a little, himself, a low husky thing back in his throat, and his eyes slid half closed, his cock spilling pre-come over Steve’s hip.  Steve let Tony keep at it for a while, and the way Tony reacted every time, almost like Steve’s hands were on him, the way he bit at his lower lip with every sound Steve made, his sounds of pleasure, along with the sweetly fiery sensation from his callused thumbs teasing at Steve’s sensitive chest, had Steve panting and desperate before too long.  Eventually he pulled Tony’s hands away, up toward his own neck, and Tony made a slight sound of loss, and Steve moaned at that, had to brace his forehead on Tony’s shoulder for a moment.  Tony used the opportunity to rub his hands up along Steve’s neck, work one there, kneading and stroking the back of his neck like he was giving him a massage again, his other hand moving up into his hair.  His lips grazed against Steve’s forehead, and Steve almost whimpered at the way that tugged something tight in his chest and was a little surprised at himself.

 

He ran one hand down over Tony’s back again, soothingly, trying to steady himself, too, with the motion, and Tony moaned a little, kissed his forehead again, still rubbing at Steve’s neck with the heel of his hand, his other hand curled lightly against Steve’s neck.  They stayed like that for a while—Steve wasn’t eager to push, all of a sudden.  He wanted this to last, even more than he had before.  Tony didn’t seem willing to wait, though, and his hands began to wander again, exploring Steve’s chest, running over his neck and shoulders, up into his hair.  Steve took a deep breath, kissed him one more time, the kiss wet with Tony’s mouth so kiss-swollen and bruised, and his the same way, but brief, and then reached forward and wrapped his hand around Tony’s cock.

 

Tony’s cock was well proportioned but average-sized, which meant it fit almost entirely into one of Steve’s hands, and in Steve’s opinion, it was just as ridiculously attractive as the rest of Tony.  He wrapped one hand all the way around it and squeezed, just slightly, rubbing his thumb against the head as he did, and Tony cried out, rose up on his knees slightly and tossed his head back, his hands clenching into fists.  Steve gave it a few experimental strokes, trying to figure out if Tony liked slow and steady better, or rough and fast, gentle or firm.  Tony just panted, eyes half-open and dazed and fixed on Steve’s face, but he groaned when Steve gave him a slow, firm stroke down to the root, the short dark curls of his pubic hair, groaned and trembled.  Steve squeezed him a little, working him slowly, loving the heat and velvety smoothness of the skin under his hand, and Tony gave another groan, this one even lower, a sound Steve thought was almost a whine, if it hadn’t been so low in his chest, his hands fumbled at Steve’s sides, and his hips jerked forward helplessly.

 

Steve took a deep breath, had to, so focused on Tony he felt like he was falling in toward him, like he couldn’t have looked away unless his life literally depended on it.  When Tony’s fumbling hand finally closed around Steve’s own cock, it startled him so that he jumped, so caught up in Tony that he hadn’t even realized Tony’s fingers were close to him.  Tony bit his lip, moaned a little more as his fingers curled around Steve’s length, then gave a crooked half-smile.  He stroked Steve loosely, his eyes half-open but fixed on him.

 

Steve wondered dazedly which of them would come first, but then it was hard to think anything at all.  Tony’s hand was knowing and insistent on his cock, and he knew just how to twist his wrist to make pleasure shudder deep through Steve, feel like it was shaking the very core of him—and then there was watching Tony, too, as he gasped and shook, turned his head to the side, sometimes, when Steve did something particularly pleasurable, like he was embarrassed to react too visibly and was trying to hide the twist of his face, the quiet cries he made, his breathless pants for air, in his shoulder.  He had done that last time, too, Steve thought disjointedly, and had just enough presence of mind to reach out, thread his free hand through the damp, sweat-curly hair at the back of Tony’s neck, and grip him tightly, pulling him back.  Tony’s face scrunched up, twisted, but he couldn’t shake Steve off, and finally he stopped fighting him and just stared at Steve, eyes glassy and face flushed.  Steve leaned forward and kissed him, light and quick, just to reassure him, and Tony’s face twisted again.  He moaned, softly, trembling, even as Steve went back to stroking his cock.  He squeezed him a little more, thumbed over the head of his cock again, rubbing his neck at the same time with his other hand, and Tony made a soft, broken little noise, like he was surprised by it, and came.

 

His eyes closed when he did, and he went up on his knees a little, again, then sagged back down, bottom resting flush against Steve’s thighs.  His come mostly splattered over his own chest, getting all over Steve’s fingers, too, as he gave him a few more strokes.  He would have wobbled, except that Steve was still holding him at his neck.  Steve had been watching his face, and he flushed more deeply, his lips parting, and for a moment he looked incredibly open, and so vulnerable Steve dug his fingers in a little more against his neck in pure protective impulse.  He pulled Tony closer, let him slump into Steve’s shoulder, and ignored the come all over his hand to wrap it around his back after a moment.

 

Tony opened his eyes a little, moved his hand back to Steve’s cock even as he was panting out the last aftershocks of his own climax into Steve’s shoulder.  He squeezed his hand, pulled up, then back down, and that was it, Steve couldn’t hold off any longer.  He buried his own face in Tony’s shoulder in return, heard himself give a hoarse cry, and the pleasure overtook him, slamming into him like a blow.   He lost track of things for a few minutes.

 

When he came back to himself, Tony had both arms wrapped around him, stroking one hand through his hair, the other wrapped around his back, still straddling his thighs, and his own breathing was coming as unevenly as Steve’s.  Steve pulled him down a little, more solidly into his chest, and lay back against the pillows, as completely sated and exhausted as he’d ever felt.  Tony shifted a little, twitched his hand toward Steve’s cock and lifted his head, questioningly, as if asking if he wanted to go again, but Steve barely had enough energy left to smile at him and shake his head.  He turned his head to pillow it against Tony’s hair and nuzzled in a little, kissing his forehead, and Tony sighed, his hand going limp against Steve’s chest.

 

The feeling of Tony’s hand flat over his heart was the last conscious thought Steve registered before falling asleep.

 

-----

 

Tony woke up to the nagging feeling that he’d forgotten something important.  It jolted him awake, and he opened his eyes with a gasp, only to shiver as he realized that he was sprawled out naked in bed in his own apartment, there was cold air on his ass, he was lying on top of Steve, and what—

 

Steve.  Oh, God.  His apartment.  Right.  Steve had come to Seattle to see him, and well, then they’d had sex, which Tony figured was why Steve had bothered to come all the way out there in the first place.  It had to be . . . right?  Why else would he have taken all the trouble to see Tony—he couldn’t just want to spend time with him, could he?  He’d never made a trip all the way just to see him before now.  Had he?

 

He tried to move, felt himself stick uncomfortably, and made a face.  Well, that was one thing he’d forgotten right there.  He got a hand down, pulled himself away from Steve gingerly, and sat up.

 

Steve’s hand slid away from his back, where it had been resting, as he did.  Steve had been . . . holding him, really, both arms around him and his face tucked in against Tony’s hair, and Tony’s heart gave a wrenching lurch, sort of, at that realization, and turned over in his chest.

 

Okay, that was stupid.  Steve just liked cuddling, and Tony needed to remember that.  And especially needed to remember that it didn’t mean anything.  And what Steve was doing here in the first place (why, why was Steve here in the first place, anyway?) and—Tony took a deep, shaking breath, because he’d honestly almost forgotten what this was about.  And he’d been a selfish lover and let himself fall asleep, and—and he was an idiot, it wasn’t anything new.  He ran his hands back through his hair, blew his breath out.

 

He felt so cold, his mind dazed and wandering and still half-asleep.  He knew at least part of it was the loss of Steve’s warmth—he was almost like a furnace, radiating heat, and pulling away from that left Tony shivering.  He hoped the loss of his body heat didn’t do the same for Steve, even if he didn’t produce nearly as much warmth himself.  He rubbed one hand across his face and reached down to pull the blankets downward, underneath Steve, so he could cover him with them, then stood up. 

 

His knees almost folded, and he had to catch himself against the side of the bed.  He looked down—then stared down, at his hand, the way it was covered up to the elbow in the repulsor gauntlet of the armor.  Shit shit shit.  When had he done that?

 

Just now.  Because you felt cold and you slipped and it feels like safety to you.  You complete dumbass.  He really must be still half-asleep to summon the armor like that.  He closed his eyes, willed the armor away, back into his bones, forced his breathing to even out, forced himself to focus.

 

At least the gauntlet was gone when he opened his eyes again.  He managed to get himself out the bedroom door, careful when he opened it so as not to bother Steve, or as careful as he could be when he was already fumbling so badly, and down the hall a bit to the bathroom, and cleaned himself up by rote, did the same thing he’d done last time—wet a warm towel for Steve, returned to him.

 

Seeing him there in his bed—in his apartment, his own place, not the Tower, even though in a way that was his place, but it was more the team’s space, now, Tony would never have dreamed of reclaiming it as his own—it hit him, hard, right in the gut, and for a moment he just sort of stood there.  He hadn’t had . . . many people in here.  It had mostly just been him, since he did almost all of his work with the people at Resilient, well, there.  He’d never thought he’d see Steve Rogers of all people here, in Tony’s bed, sprawled sound asleep on his back across the sheets and pillows.  And he really was asleep—he looked peaceful, relaxed, completely out for the count.  It was good to see him that relaxed, but strange to see him . . . here.

 

And then the towel started dripping against his arm, and he jumped a little before it spurred him into motion again.  Steve really was deeply asleep; he didn’t even stir as Tony sat down on the bed.

 

Tony just turned back the covers and sponged Steve clean in silence, without him waking, though he shifted a little, murmured in his sleep as if it felt good, nestling his face into the pillow so that his hair tousled against it, fanning out over the fabric.  Tony dried him off with the end of the towel and covered him with the blankets again, more completely this time, then leaned in, almost kissed him on the forehead, before he stopped himself.

 

That wasn’t for him to do, not when Steve wasn’t awake to enjoy the affection.  He swallowed and got up, went into the bathroom and washed the towel out before putting it away.

 

He glanced at himself in the mirror, then stopped, took a closer look.  He looked . . . well, like someone who’d just had some damn good sex.  His lips were puffy, bruised.  His hair was a mess.  He was flushed, and his cheek was pink where he’d been sleeping on Steve.  He rubbed at it.  Pink and warm.

 

“God damn it,” Tony muttered.  He knew he’d gotten too—swept up in it.  Every time.  Every time, he forgot himself, got all emotional and . . . too much.  Steve was just here for some fun sex with a friend, not for Tony to make it all heavy and weird between them, and he kept doing that.  Over-investing.  Making more of it than it was, just because he had feelings.  He needed to quit it before Steve got impatient with it, before he brought Steve’s enjoyment down too much, made everything . . . too much.  Steve could have anyone, and he . . . he still couldn’t figure out why he was even slumming it with Tony like this.  He didn’t want to drive him away through anything he did, and . . . well, why would anyone want Tony to be in love with them?  Why would Steve?  He didn’t want to ruin this with anything like that.  Even if the sex had been good so far, even if Steve had enjoyed it.

 

The sex had been better than good, it had been incredible.  The way Steve had held him, had touched him, he’d felt—

 

“Don’t look at me like that, you fucking moron,” Tony told his reflection, and turned away abruptly, not wanting to look at himself anymore.  He put one hand over his eyes and tried to breathe evenly.

 

He remembered the last time he felt like that.  He had no way of knowing if there had been times in between.  But he remembered it vividly, like it had been yesterday, Rumiko’s hair dark over the blankets, her arms tight around him like she was afraid he’d get away somehow.  Her breath had been warm against his shoulders, and she’d laughed in her sleep.

 

They’d fought that day and she’d gone back to Japan.  The next time he’d seen her—

 

Tony dropped his arm, gripped his own elbows tightly.  She’d been dying in his arms.

 

He got himself out of the bathroom in a rush, despite the way he almost tripped and fell over his own feet in the wave of sudden nausea, caught himself on the floor of the hall and stumbled into his own room again, pulled his robe out of the closet.  He was breathing too hard, too fast.  He got himself into it somehow, though he banged his elbow hard enough he almost swore, had to bite his lip not to.  He didn’t want to wake Steve up.  He pushed one hand back through his hair again and took a deep breath, had to force himself to.

 

He looked back at Steve.  He was still asleep, sprawled out across the bed.  The contrast to Tony, who was standing there a shaking wreck, could not have been more obvious.

 

The way the depths of the loneliness hit him surprised him, all at once, and with a strikingly sharp ache.  He wanted someone’s arms around him so vividly and suddenly that he was angry with himself.

 

This was pathetic.

 

Sure, he was lonely.  What was he going to do, cry his eyes out over it?  He wouldn’t be lonely if he’d quit ruining everything he touched, if he stopped getting the people who loved him killed, now would he?  That’d solve that little problem real fast.  He was luckier than he deserved—Steve had spent the night with him, was friends with him again, was right there in his bed.  Even though Tony had as good as gotten him killed.  Preemptively, this time, he thought, and had to swallow hard against a hysterical laugh.  But Steve had come back, and forgave him, and everything was as perfect as he could have ever had any reasonable expectation it would be, and then more on top of it.  They’d just had fantastic sex and he was what, going to have a breakdown over it?  Seriously?  Just because Steve didn’t care about him exactly the way he wanted?

 

Apparently, yes.  God, why did Steve even bother with someone like him in the first place?

 

He wrenched his thoughts away from that, from all of it.  There was a thought crawling around in the back of his mind—I need a drink I need a drink I’d feel better if I had a drink just one—that Tony steadfastly ignored, too, the same way he always did.  Instead he crossed the room, hitting the controls to lighten the opacity on the windows as he passed by so he could stare out the window at the dark sky, made himself take a few deep breaths.  It felt quieter here than in New York, even though Seattle was a city too.

 

And Steve had just shown up there.  Out of nowhere.  Tony figured he must have been really stressed, really wanted that booty call, after whatever mission he’d been on.

 

He wondered why Rumiko had come back at all.  What had brought her back, gotten her killed?  What had made Steve want to sleep with him?  It couldn’t have been just that long ago drunken kiss.

 

He looked back at Steve, tucked into Tony’s bed, his sprawl loose and easy.  As he watched, Steve grunted in his sleep, turned onto one side, his arm sliding over the sheet.

 

Tony swallowed.  He didn’t want him to get hurt.  He pressed his forehead against his biceps, took a deep breath.

 

What would he do if he got Steve hurt again?

 

What could you even do to make up for something like that?  Hadn’t Tony done enough to Steve already?

 

He needed to stop it, stop this.  It was pathetic, and it wasn’t . . . wasn’t helping.  God, he was so cold.  Was it cold in here? Steve didn’t look like he was shivering.

 

Despite himself, he returned to the side of the bed, rested one hand against Steve’s shoulder, trying to make sure he wasn’t as cold as Tony felt—Steve hated the cold.  But his skin was so warm it almost burned against Tony’s hand, and he jerked it away, suddenly afraid he’d make Steve just as cold as he was.

 

Steve muttered in his sleep, and his hand moved again.  Tony shifted away, would have gotten back up, except that Steve muttered, without opening his eyes, “Tony.”  He yawned.  “Come back to bed.”

 

Tony froze.  “I didn’t mean to wake you up,” he murmured, leaning in and keeping his voice low.  “Sorry.  Go back to sleep.”

 

“Mmm, nah,” Steve mumbled, and the New York was very thick in his voice.  “Y’first.”  His hand curled around Tony’s wrist and tugged.  “C’mon now.”

 

Tony tried to pull away, but Steve wouldn’t let go.  His grip was immovable.

 

Steve liked cuddling, Tony remembered suddenly.  He chewed on the inside of his cheek.  Slowly, very slowly, he pulled back the blankets and lay down next to Steve, trying not to feel like he was making excuses for himself.  And mostly failing.  The robe tangled around his legs, riding up, and he tugged it back down.  He pulled the blankets back over the both of them—

 

And was surprised when Steve wrapped both arms around him and pulled him close, pressing his face into his shoulder.  “There y’are,” he said, voice thick with sleep.

 

“Yeah,” Tony said, a little more shakily than he’d wanted to.  “Go back to sleep, okay?”

 

“You first,” Steve said again.  His hand came up, settled at the back of Tony’s neck, sliding into his hair, and he yawned.

 

He was asleep again, heavy and limp with it, breathing evenly, a few moments later.

 

Tony didn’t feel quite so cold now.  He squeezed his eyes shut.  That really was pathetic.  But Steve’s hands, on the back of his neck, against his back, helped, the warm presence of his body.  At least there was a clear and rational explanation for that, Steve’s body heat.

 

It wasn’t so bad, he thought suddenly.  At least Steve wanted to cuddle with him.  It had been Tony Steve was looking for, half-asleep, not someone else.

 

And hell, even if he just wanted a friend to sleep with, he still wanted him as a friend.

 

Tony sighed, blinked his eyes back open.  He looked at Steve’s face, soft and peaceful and relaxed, handsome and square-jawed and noble even in sleep.

 

“But I love you,” he whispered, and then made a face, smiled wryly at his own ridiculousness, and let his cheek rest against Steve’s shoulder.

 

This was enough.  He couldn’t see how Steve would ever love him.  Not like that.  Not after everything.  He’d gotten Rumiko killed—let Pepper down—just look at his history of romantic relationships and you’d get a tangled train of fuck ups and failure and letting people down.  He’d failed Whitney so badly—hell, half of the people who’d had anything with him were dead.

 

They’d all deserved better than him.

 

He’d take what Steve was willing to give him, that was his last waking thought, and be happy with it, or he didn’t deserve to have any of it at all, anyway.

 

----

 

Tony woke up feeling warm.  He blinked his eyes open, shaking the bleariness of sleep out of them, and realized that his face was pressed into his pillow, one arm clasped around it.  He was sprawled out on his stomach, his robe loosely tangled around his body.  The blankets had been tucked carefully in around him.

 

He blinked again, a little confused, then pushed himself up, ran his hand back through his hair, down over his face.  How had he—oh, right.  Steve had come by the night before, shown up out of the blue.  They’d had sex.  The bed was made up, though, and showed little sign of Steve’s presence except the way the other pillow was pressed down, showing where his head had lain.  Tony ran a hand over the depression, wishing a little wistfully that he could see more evidence that Steve had been there, since he figured he had already gotten up and what, headed out?  Maybe, Steve was pretty busy, and Tony figured he’d gotten what he’d come for.  It’d be nice to have more of a reminder, though, that they’d spent the night in bed together.

 

Tony bit his lip, as more memory filtered back in, and the little meltdown he’d had the night before came to mind.  Ugh.  He knew better than that.  He ran his hands back up, through his hair, sitting up and bringing his knees up to his chest, bracing his elbows on them.  He’d had such a good night last night—just working beside Steve in relative silence, sitting together, not side by side, but close and easy, had been . . . great, though he felt vaguely guilty for it, making Steve wait and just soaking up his time like that—like it was Tony’s time to waste.  But at least he’d gotten a lot of work done.  He wasn’t sure, but he thought he’d been more productive than usual, even.  He wasn’t going to obsess over how he selfishly wanted more.  He definitely wasn’t going to fall apart over it.  He couldn’t afford to do that, anyway.

 

Right, it was time to stop worrying about this.  He had stuff to do, needed to get up and ready for the day.  He didn’t have time for this kind of self-indulgent . . . whatever this was.  Sitting around in bed and moping.  Tony pushed himself up to his feet.  He showered—Steve had hung his wet towels neatly up to dry, and Tony touched them, swallowing a little—and shaved, already thinking about what he had to do today, getting his mind in the game.  There was plenty to do, and he still wasn’t quite sure how to handle the competition he was getting from more dubious sources, but since when was that new?  He was thinking about automotive engines and the problem with Detroit Steel and how to handle it as he finished getting dressed and went back into the living room, fastening his cufflinks.

 

“Hey!” Steve said, cheerfully, turning toward him.  “Good morning, fella.”

 

Tony stared at him, still holding one cufflink and the cuff of his shirt.  “Steve?” he said blankly.

 

Steve just grinned.  “That’s me,” he said.  “Want some breakfast?  I can’t make much other than eggs and bacon, but I made enough for both of us.”

 

What are you doing here was on Tony’s lips, but he figured he couldn’t ask that, since he knew exactly what Steve was doing there, he’d just . . . expected him to be gone already.  But he wasn’t.  He was right there.  “I don't usually eat breakfast,” he managed after a moment, finally fastening the last cufflink.  Which Steve knew perfectly well.

 

“How about this,” Steve said, still grinning slightly, “you eat the eggs and I won’t hold the coffee hostage.  Deal?”

 

Tony managed a smile in return, a bit rueful.  Steve looked . . . great, dressed in a t-shirt and jeans and sneakers, blond hair gold in the light coming in from Tony’s windows, smiling happily like there was nowhere else he’d rather be than the kitchen-slash-living room of Tony’s apartment.  “It’s a deal, I guess,” he said.  “You drive a hard bargain.”  He started toward the coffee.

 

“High praise, coming from the master business tycoon himself,” Steve said, and Tony made a face at him, surprised when Steve caught him with one hand on his hip, pulling him in slightly, the other still on the frying pan he was using.  Steve kissed him, light and soft, then let him go.

 

Tony stared at him again, surprised by the easy affection, until he realized what he was doing and took the cup of coffee Steve nodded at behind him before he himself turned back to the frying pan.  Tony buried his face in the cup, took a few swallows to hide what Steve’s presence, his affection, was doing to him.

 

He figured . . . Steve was just in a good mood.  And they were friends again . . . right?  It was great to see him so upbeat and relaxed, that was for sure.  Yeah, he—it was best just to concentrate on that.  How good it was to see him happy.  He’d do that.

 

“You and your coffee,” Steve said, sounding fond, and Tony narrowed his eyes at him over the cup.

 

“Don’t knock the rocket fuel, okay,” he said.

 

“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Steve replied with a slight smile.

 

“I need it to live, you realize,” Tony said.

 

Steve laughed.  “Believe me, I know,” he said.  “I’ve noticed.  And God forbid you go into caffeine withdrawal and turn into Tony the Grumpy Coffee Monster.”

 

“I . . . well, I guess that’s fair,” Tony allowed, looking down with a wince and a wry smile to show he knew it was true.

 

“It’s okay,” Steve said.  He turned around and handed Tony a plate of scrambled eggs, with a few strips of bacon on the side, smiling.  “I don’t mind that much.”

 

Tony sat there obediently and ate it, and they ended up talking again—it surprised him, how easy it was, just to make conversation with Steve, and before he knew it, he’d actually eaten the entire plate, as well as downed three cups of coffee.  He still couldn’t figure out what Steve was doing there, with him, making him breakfast, but it was hard to mind being able to share his company a little longer.  “I can’t stay,” he told Steve apologetically as he wiped his mouth, got to his feet.  “I have to get to work.”  He wasn’t sure what Steve was expecting—hadn’t really been sure this whole time, to be honest—but he was afraid he wasn’t going to be much fun as a companion, whatever it was.  He definitely couldn’t stay in the house and have sex all day.  Though Steve had never struck him as that sort of hedonistic type, anyway.

 

“That’s fine,” Steve said, still sounding cheerful.  “I figured.  I thought I’d spring an inspection on the SHIELD base out here, see how they react to Commander Rogers showing up out of nowhere.”  He grinned, smirking a little, and Tony chuckled despite himself, hid a grin of his own, at the thought of that, and the likely panicked reaction it would cause.  “But that’s only if you’re okay with me staying another day,” Steve went on, sounding very earnest now.  “I thought I could spend the night again, but I can always head on back if that’s not going to work out.”

 

“Of course you can stay,” Tony said recklessly, despite all the work he had to do.  “Absolutely.”  At least, he figured, he’d gotten plenty done the night before.  That was something.  He didn’t want to waste more of Steve’s time with work, but there just wasn’t any way around it—that was why he was here in Seattle in the first place, after all.  He wished he could devote more time to him, he really did, but that was how it was.  And Steve probably didn’t want him clinging too tight and acting like this was more than it was, anyway.  Probably wanted some space.  It wasn’t like this was a real relationship, and he’d be expecting dates and dinner.

 

“If you’re too busy, don’t worry about it,” Steve said.  “I don’t mind, anyway.”

 

“No, it’s fine,” Tony said.  He gave Steve a smile.  “Honestly.  I do need to head out soon, though.  Sorry, it’s just, we’re trying to make this deadline, and . . . .”  God, he sounded like an idiot.  He hadn’t stammered this much even when he’d still been in school.

 

He wasn’t sure what any of this was about—was it that Steve wanted more sex, hadn’t got enough last night?  Was that why he was planning to stay?  Or did he just not want to make the trip for one night—was this a visit between friends now, like the old days?  Or was he supposed to be acting like Steve’s boyfriend, even if he wasn’t?

 

He had no idea what to do, and he really wasn’t used to that.  And he didn’t want to mess this up—if he screwed this up with Steve, it might ruin everything, not just this, but their friendship, even Tony’s role on the team—he just really didn’t want to get this wrong.  He couldn’t afford to get this wrong.  He had to get it right.  He had no idea how he was going to do that, especially since his record wasn’t exactly good with things like this, or with Steve.  But he had to.  He couldn’t fuck this up, too.  After everything he’d already screwed up, to get another chance at this, at all this with Steve, a friendship with him again, and to know that he had destroyed it all over again—he wasn’t sure how he’d be able to take that.

 

“I get it,” Steve said.  He smiled back, and it was so sincere and honest it almost made Tony’s breath stop.  “Thanks for having breakfast with me.”

 

Tony really couldn’t seem to remember how to do anything for a second—breathe, think, anything, not at that smile.  “I.  Of course,” he said, and had to swallow.  “It was great, big guy.”

 

“I’m glad I came,” Steve said, and then he put his hand on Tony’s cheek, leaned in, and kissed him.  Tony couldn’t help it, the way he almost froze under it, his breath catching in his throat for what felt like far too long before he remembered to lean into the kiss, return it, make it deeper and warmer.  He squeezed his eyes shut, tried to breathe, and then Steve was pulling away, smoothing his hand down to Tony’s shoulder and squeezing.  “So go and do your best work, Avenger.  Don’t let me keep you, anyhow.”

 

Just hearing Steve call him Avenger, after everything that had happened—now, right now—made something in Tony’s stomach flutter and twist.  Steve wasn’t even on the team, technically speaking, and yet . . . “Wasn’t planning on it,” he said.  “Look, I’ll be back around five o’clock, probably, but if I’m a little bit late . . . .”

 

“I won’t worry about it,” Steve said, smiling.

 

“You can have my key,” Tony said, grabbing the set of them off the counter.  “I can just enter my passcode.”  He pulled the key to the apartment off, handed it to Steve.

 

Steve looked at the key in his hand, then took it, looking up at him again.  “Really?” he said, a little hushed.

 

“Sure,” Tony said.  “Of course.”  He smiled a little, trying to show that it was no big deal.  “I know I can trust you with it.  I mean, come on, you’re basically the most trustworthy person in the country.  That’s why we put you in charge, right?”

 

Steve gave him a look, but it quickly faded and was replaced by another smile.  “Well, thanks, Tony,” he said.

 

“Well, yeah,” Tony said.  It would be so much more convenient for him, and like he’d said, it wasn’t like he couldn’t trust Steve.  And if he wanted to do this a lot, or at least again, sometime, Tony didn’t want him not to be able to get in.  “So I, uh, I’d better go, but . . . have fun terrorizing SHIELD grunts and everything, and make yourself at home once you get back.  Or.  Whatever.”

 

Steve nodded.  “Got it,” he said, closing his fingers around the key.  He slid his thumb over it, slowly, then slipped it into his pocket.  “Hey,” he said, smiling a little, and tilted his head slightly.  “Gonna give me another kiss, or do I just have to be content with what I’ve already got?”

 

“Oh,” Tony said, feeling off balance, a little flustered, and uncomfortable with it. He didn’t remember the last time he’d been this badly off balance over something like this—and he probably couldn’t, actually, remember it, he thought with a flash of wry irony.  He just . . . hadn’t expected Steve to ask for another kiss.  Kissing in the kitchen after breakfast wasn’t exactly something he’d envisioned for their sort of relationship.  If you could call it that.  But if Steve wanted it, of course that was fine with him.  He’d like to kiss him a lot more than that, but he didn’t want to seem well, clingy.  Or needy.  Or demanding.  “Of course.”  He leaned in again, pressed his lips gently against Steve’s, then tilted his head, leaned in, kissed him more firmly.  He put both hands on his sides, opened his mouth, pressing closer, deepening the kiss, then pulled back again, left another kiss against the side of Steve’s mouth before he stepped away.  He had to open his eyes again, and he wondered when they’d fluttered closed.  “Good?” he asked, raising his eyebrows at Steve and smiling a little.

 

Steve flushed lightly in response, and smiled, eyelashes flicking down over his eyes.  “Yeah,” he said.  He brushed his fingers over the back of Tony’s cheek, then leaned in, kissed him there quickly, just above his beard.  “Right,” he said, looking up.  “You’d better get going and all.”

 

“Right,” Tony said.  God, he thought, Steve was sweet.  Why was he even treating him like this—why was he even bothering with all the little stuff?  They hadn’t acted like this when they were just friends.

 

Well, he figured, he knew the answer to that.  Because he was Steve Rogers, and that was what he did, who he was.  It was just . . . Tony swallowed, looked down for a second, then smiled at him and went over to the coffee table to get his briefcase, actually packing it with papers and notes and his laptop—that was a change, these days.  “Okay,” he said.  “Heading out.  See you later, baby.”

 

He winced.  He needed to be more careful.  Baby?  God, really?  Steve must have thought he was such an idiot.  But Steve just grinned again and waved a little.  “See you later,” he said.

 

So Tony waved back.  He was relieved that Steve didn’t seem to mind, at least, when the pet names just slipped out.  Or at least he was okay with it.  He himself was still a little confused, but he figured that was his problem.  He smiled at Steve, then went out the door, closing it behind him, focusing his mind on the day ahead of him as well as he could.  He really did need to get some work done.

 

-----

 

Steve wasn’t in a big hurry to get over to SHIELD.  He cleaned up instead, clearing up after breakfast, washing the plates and cups.  Tony didn’t have much food in the house—the eggs were actually going to expire in a few days, Steve had noted with fond exasperation.  But it wasn't like he could claim a better record, when it came right down to it.  Plenty of food had gone bad on him in his time, though he always felt a horrible twinge of guilt when it did, vestiges of a young life when he’d never had enough, he figured.  It felt awful to waste any kind of food.  He kind of wanted to buy more, restock Tony’s refrigerator, but he knew Tony would see that as imposing on his privacy—Tony could take care of himself, after all, he was a grown man, not a child.  And besides, he probably wouldn’t eat that food, either, so instead Steve just threw away the expired groceries—he wouldn’t want Tony eating them by mistake and getting sick, after all—and cleaned up after himself and his cooking.

 

It had been good, spending the morning with Tony.  They hadn’t been able to do that, last time, and Steve had . . . wanted to, had missed it even though he’d never had it, when they couldn’t.  It had reminded him of old times again, in the mansion, seeing Tony when he’d just gotten out of bed, and sometimes when he was just going to bed, or hadn’t been to bed at all—but his tousled hair damp from the shower, freshly shaved face, the blissful look he got when he got his first cup of coffee, all of that was familiar.  Wonderfully familiar, Steve thought, smiling to himself.

 

Waking up next to Tony wasn’t, but it was unfamiliar in the best of ways.  Tony had been sprawled over his chest after clearly having curled up around him sometime in the night.  Steve had just sat there after waking up a few moments, running his hand over Tony’s back and feeling the silky material of his robe shift under it, the warmth of his body through the fabric—Tony must have gotten cold sometime during the night, if he’d put the robe on, though Steve hoped sleeping curled up next to him would have helped with that.  At least it would have kept him warmer than he’d have been on his own, wouldn’t it?  His hair was a tangled mess, and Steve had spent some time running his fingers through it, studying the stubble coming in along Tony’s jaw, instead of the neatly shaved appearance he had most of the time, just enjoying how utterly relaxed Tony felt against him.  Eventually he’d gotten up and pulled the blankets up over Tony, tucking him in carefully in case he got cold again, though with the morning sun beginning to warm up the room even through the tinted windows, he doubted he would.  Steve had left him there, figuring he’d needed the sleep, and started off on his morning run, enjoying the chance to have it in a new place, get a feel for the area.  He’d slept incredibly well, much better than he had been lately, despite the unfamiliar bed, and he’d woken up feeling even better rested and stronger, more energetic, than normal.

 

And then he’d come back, started making himself some breakfast, because he was starving, and gotten to see Tony fresh out of the shower.  He’d looked so blankly confused when he’d seen Steve that Steve had figured he had to be half asleep still, which wasn’t all that unusual before Tony had consumed caffeine in the mornings.  He didn’t want to keep Tony away from his work or take up too much of his time, but it was nice just to see him—even nicer to kiss him, feel the soft warmth of his lips on his, the solidness of his body. 

 

He hadn’t expected Tony to give him a key to his place, not at all, and that made him feel warm, somehow, like this was real now, somehow official, even though they’d only been together what, a few weeks?  Most of that not spent together, even.

 

Being with Tony, all of it, still felt new, but not strange at all, surprisingly easy and natural, like they’d just been waiting to fall into this all along and just hadn’t realized it.  Steve kept finding himself noticing things about Tony that he’d known all along, but maybe hadn’t really ever let himself think about before, not like this.  He’d had a . . . a what to even call it, feelings for Tony for a long time, he’d known it, somewhere in the back of his mind, but what was the use of dwelling on it if he wasn’t going to do anything about it?  He’d tried not to think about it too much, or let it affect how he treated Tony, either, because that wouldn’t have been fair, especially when Tony had no idea.

 

He still wasn't sure how well he’d done at that, but now that he was free to look, free to think about it all, it was like he couldn’t stop noticing things, things that made his chest feel warm and his stomach flip and tighten—the way Tony had of running his hands through his hair and leaving it messy and tousled, the way he held himself, with his shoulders back and his hands down, or with his hip cocked to one side and his hand in his pocket, the blue of his eyes underneath those thick dark eyelashes, the way he would rest his chin on his hand when he was thinking or fidget idly while he was working, the rounded curve of his behind and the dip of his spine, the strength of his shoulders, the way he smiled, and sometimes looked at Steve as if he had no idea what to make of him, his eyes dark and hooded and a little searching.  He trembled against Steve in bed and didn’t like meeting his eyes—Steve still couldn’t quite figure that out, was it too much, somehow?  Tony seemed so incredibly responsive in bed that he figured that simply touching was just as intense for him as it felt for Steve.  Which was . . . damn intense.

 

Those were new things, of course—things he’d never have had a chance to notice before.  But everything about Tony now—even the scent of his cologne, faint and expensive, and the constant tang of metal that hung around him—felt somehow different.  New and exciting somehow, along with that reassuring feeling of familiarity.  He was lucky to have this with him.  Steve was certain of that much.

 

After he had finished with the dishes, Steve took another shower, then put on his uniform and boots and got ready to go.  It was time to see how the SHIELD agents here were going to react to him showing up.  He didn’t expect they would know what to do with themselves at first—that was the whole point of doing it, after all.  He was curious to see how they’d handle it.  It took him a moment to figure out Tony’s lock, before he locked it behind him and headed out.

 

Just as he had expected, his arrival pretty much threw the SHIELD base into chaos.  They actually weren’t quite as thrown for a loop as he’d expected, which was impressive—they pulled things together fairly quickly, and didn’t show him as much of their panic as he’d thought they would.  They offered him a place to stay in the city, but Steve turned them down, telling him that he’d just come to see how they were running the place and that he had his own things to do.  There was some grumbling about him showing up out of nowhere, but not as much as there could have been, and Steve left with the feeling that they were feeling a bit chastened, but not humiliated, which was what he’d intended.

 

He spent the rest of the day seeing the sights in Seattle, after changing out of his uniform and putting on his bomber jacket and a baseball cap to help hide his face—he went down to Pike Place Market and watched them throw fish, bought some fruit from the market and then some coffee and nursed it while walking up and down the streets.  One of the women running a stall in the market said that the herbal tea she was selling helped with getting to sleep when he struck up a conversation with her, so Steve figured he might as well buy some, and then bought some more for Tony, on a whim.  He knew Tony had some trouble sleeping, too.  He also bought a magnet for the fridge that showed Iron Man zooming toward you, past the Space Needle, figuring Tony would get a kick out of it.  He spent some time down there, just sketching the street and the people walking by, enjoying the sunny weather, since he heard from the people around that it wasn’t likely to last.  Eventually he walked up to take the monorail to the Space Needle—they said they’d built it for the World’s Fair here, both the monorail and the Space Needle, and Steve thought that was pretty nifty, though he couldn’t work out why they hadn’t put the monorail through the whole city.  He walked around the park there for a while, up through the neighborhood to the top of Queen Anne Hill, and looked down at the city from a park he found with a good view.  He did a few more sketches there before he decided to head back to Tony’s place.  It wasn’t near five o’clock yet, but Steve figured he had a key, so why not?

 

He headed back and let himself in, and sure enough, there was no one around—the place was quiet, and just as he’d left it, though he locked the door behind him and checked it over once just to be certain; you never knew when someone was going to choose that day to start planting bugs or leave you a bomb in the closet.  Once he was satisfied the entire place was clean, including Tony’s closets (he owned a lot of suits that Steve figured were probably different but looked pretty much the same to him), Steve left the fruit he’d bought on the counter and headed over to sit on the sofa and draw some more—first more views of what he’d seen that day, and then he moved on to the inside of Tony’s apartment, and then, eventually, to sketching Tony.  He started with studies of his hands, from memory, long-fingered and clever despite all the nicks and scars and rough places his work left on them, the manicured nails a startling contrast to the hard calluses and rough scars.  He ended up drawing Tony’s hand curled in the sheet like he’d seen it that morning, and that progressed to a full sketch of Tony sprawled on his side in the blankets, his robe twisted around him, the way he had been when Steve had woken up. 

 

He couldn’t quite get his expression right, the mixture of relaxed softness and yet the way his mouth had been screwed up and his brow had wrinkled at times.  But eventually it was close enough for his taste—it still looked a little too soft, somehow, but he’d seen that softer expression on Tony’s face, too.  He let himself draw another sketch, this one intentionally of that softer expression on Tony’s face, concerned and thoughtful, brow screwed up as he looked at Steve and mouth solemn but fond, and then he found himself sketching Tony the way he’d looked on his knees in front of Steve, head bent to kiss his thigh and hair falling over his forehead, the way he’d looked with his back arched in pleasure, the way he’d looked just after his climax.  It was hard for him to get the expression right on that one, too, and it was only after he pulled back a little in frustration that he realized what, exactly, he was doing, and felt himself flush red.

 

Right.  He turned the page and started drawing silly doodles of Iron Man zipping around the Space Needle, a sketch of him flying past the monorail with one hand raised to wave at the passengers, until his flush at himself finally began to ease off a little.  He drew a few different angles, then started on a more detailed drawing of Tony sitting like he had been the night before, where Steve was sitting now, working, going off of the sketches he’d done then.  He was still working on it when the sky started to shade towards dusk, and he heard the door slide open.  He reached for the shield he was using, about to flip it to active, turned toward the door to see Tony step inside, and let it slip down again.

 

Tony closed the door behind him again and entered the code into the keypad to lock it, then set down his briefcase.  “Hey,” he said, straightening his shoulders a little in an unobtrusive stretch.

 

“Hey,” Steve said, with a smile, flipping his sketchpad closed and stowing it safely in his bag.  “Welcome home.”

 

Tony smiled back, though he looked tired.  “Good day?” he asked.

 

“Yeah,” Steve said, getting up.  “Very good, actually.”

 

“SHIELD sufficiently freaked out by you showing up?” Tony asked, moving forward into the room.  He put his briefcase on the table and opened it, lifting out most of the contents onto the coffee table.

 

“Just about,” Steve said, smirking now, as he reached the counter and found the things he’d bought for Tony that day.  “No running around like chickens with their heads cut off, and the base was in pretty good shape.”

 

“You just wanted to see them scramble, right?” Tony said, crossing the room toward him now.

 

“Pretty much,” Steve admitted.  “Then I went down to the city, saw some of the sights.  I bought you something.”  He handed Tony the magnet.

 

His face screwed up as he considered it, his mouth pulling to the side, but then he started to laugh.  “God, Steve,” he said.  “Yes.  Okay.  I love it.  Me and the Space Needle, what other Seattle landmarks do you need, right?”  He winked at Steve and skirted the counter to stick it on the front of the refrigerator.  “There,” he said.  “A treasured possession.”

 

“It was just so silly,” Steve said, grinning at Tony’s reaction.  “I couldn’t resist.  Anyway, I got some of this stuff for myself, so I bought some for you, too.”  He slid the tea over toward him across the counter.

 

Tony picked it up, looked at it dubiously.  “I seriously doubt this stuff works,” he said.

 

“The least you can do is try it,” Steve said with a shrug.  “It’s not like it’s going to hurt you.  I made chamomile tea for my mother all the time once she got sick.”

 

Tony looked at him a little more seriously, his eyes dark.  “Okay,” he said.  “I’ll give it a try.  Are you having trouble sleeping?”

 

Steve shrugged, a little embarrassed by the question.  He looked down at his hands for a moment.  “Some,” he admitted.  “Just . . . some nights, you know?”

 

Tony sighed.  “Oh, I know,” he said, and they just stood there for a moment before he put the tea away on top of the refrigerator and smiled at Steve, going to unfasten his cufflinks.  “So,” he said.  “I was going to change, but what were you thinking for dinner—eat in again?”

 

“Well,” Steve said, and tried his best not to sound hesitant.  They’d had sex already, for goodness’s sake, it shouldn’t be so intimidating to ask Tony out on a date.  “I was actually thinking we might go out.”

 

Tony blinked and said nothing.

 

“We don’t have to,” Steve continued, a little more quickly, feeling a little desperate all of a sudden.  “I just saw a place I wanted to try when I was out, and I thought . . . well, why not, right?”

 

Tony looked at him a moment longer, then nodded, gave him a smile.  “Right,” he said.  “Why not?  Is this a fancy place, or a diner?”

 

Steve smiled despite himself, relieved at that response.  “I don’t only eat at diners,” he said.

 

“Sure you don’t,” Tony said, a little absently.  “I just want to know if I should change.”

 

“Probably,” Steve said.  “Sort of casual, but still nice—that’s a thing, isn’t it?  But it won’t be a problem.  You always look sharp.”

 

Tony raised his eyebrows at him and chuckled.  “You’re forgetting what I look like when I’m working in the lab, I think,” he said.  “But thanks, honey.  I’ll change in a second and be right back, okay?”

 

“Sure,” Steve said, still smiling, flushed a little at Tony calling him honey again—he couldn’t help it, even as Tony started for his bedroom and turned the corner out of sight.  It was just a casual, friendly dinner like they’d had out hundreds of times, but it was still going to be the first time they’d gone out together since, well, they’d started this, which made this their first date.  He figured he could go out like he was, so he just got his wallet and put his boots on while he waited for Tony.  He showed back up a moment later, in a different pair of slacks and a dark red collared shirt, the top few buttons open, and a leather jacket.

 

He looked great in it.  Steve had always thought Tony looked good in red—and he really looked particularly handsome in it right then.  “Looking good,” he said.

 

Tony gave him a loose smile.  “Sure,” he said.  “You look great yourself, big guy.  Where are we going?”

 

“I was thinking this little place I saw today,” Steve said.  “Great view of the water, Pacific seafood?”

 

“Sounds great,” Tony said.  “Lead on.  I haven’t really had a chance to really explore downtown, to be honest.”

 

“You’ve lived here before,” Steve pointed out.

 

Tony shrugged, smiling wryly.  “Always busy,” he said.

 

Steve supposed there was no way around that, but he couldn’t just let it slide.  “Well, you should take some more time to relax,” he said.

 

“Really?” Tony said, grinning a little more.  “You’re going to go there?  When was the last time you took a vacation, hot stuff?”

 

“Shush,” Steve said, reaching forward and taking Tony’s hands.  “Doesn’t change the facts.  You need some time off.”

 

Tony made a face, looked down.  “Well, I’m going out to dinner right now,” he said.  He pulled his hands away.  “That counts, doesn’t it?  Besides, like I said, you can’t talk.”

 

“I hope you enjoy this, then,” Steve said, smiling at him.  “Come on.”

 

“All right,” Tony said, smiling back.  He opened the door.  “Do you want to drive?”

 

“Sure,” Steve said.  “If you’ll let me.”

 

“No problem,” Tony said, gesturing at his car.  “You know where the place is, after all.  Go right ahead.”

 

They went out to the car and got in, Steve in the driver’s seat.  “Well, you’ll have to give me some directions,” he said, “I don’t know this city that well.”

 

“I’ll do my best,” Tony said with another smile.  “But no promises from me, either.”

 

But they made it without much trouble—they even found a parking space in a garage before too long.  It was expensive, but Tony said it was better than wasting time trying to find a cheaper place, and insisted on paying.

 

It was nice to walk with Tony down to the restaurant, in the clear of the evening.  He was as clever and funny as always, though he kept looking at Steve a little sideways, his eyes a little shadowed under his eyelashes, with a thoughtful look on his face, a wry little curl at one corner of his mouth.  Steve thought about taking his hand, or putting one hand against the small of his back, but in the end he wasn’t sure if he should—they hadn’t really talked about doing anything where people could see or making things public, and he wasn’t sure how Tony felt about it.  He’d never heard anything about him being with men before this, after all—maybe he liked to keep it quiet, maybe that was how he did things.  So he just left it, figuring that he’d have time to hold his hand later, if he really wanted it.

 

They found the restaurant just fine, and it turned out to have the great view Steve had hoped it would.  Tony looked like he liked the place, too—he smiled when they came in, at least.  So that was a good thing.  They sat down, and Steve did reach out, just for a second, and took Tony’s hand, squeezing it lightly, before he reclaimed it and picked up his menu.

 

Tony stared at him a moment, then swallowed and picked up his own.  “So,” he said, smiling at him a little, his eyes still a little wide, “what have we got?”

 

It ended up being a great date, actually.  One of the most fun Steve had ever had.  He’d been a little worried that their friendship wouldn’t really translate to stuff like this, that knowing each other so well would make this sort of thing awkward, but that didn’t happen at all.  Tony eventually seemed to relax a little, and the food was good—the fish was really fresh, and Steve thought it was wonderful.  He hoped Tony liked it, too.  He knew Tony had more sophisticated taste in food than he did.  He’d seemed a little nervous, or tired, but as the date went on that seemed to fade a little, and he brightened up, getting more talkative.  They talked about light, easy, not particularly important things, Steve telling Tony about his visit to SHIELD in detail, though he kept his voice low and left out names, and his day in the city.  Tony laughed and smiled and joked, but he seemed to search for topics a little, and a lot of times he’d look like he was about to say something and then fall silent to play with his glass, or look away.  For a while they talked about the monorail, and then Tony ended up teasing Steve about liking gadgets even more than he did (which wasn’t true—Steve was pretty sure that wasn’t possible).  Steve said he wondered what Seattle had been like when he’d been born.  Tony grinned and said it probably wasn’t the silicon forest back then, and they talked about the World’s Fair.  Tony had always been a good conversationalist, and it was nice—nice just to talk to him, look at him and see him smile back, watch him eating, even.  Steve had a good time, and when he asked if it had been good on the way back, Tony nodded, gave him a sideways look, and then said, “Yeah, it was great.  It’s been great . . . spending time with you again,” and Steve grinned.

 

“Yeah,” he said, curling his arm around Tony’s shoulders and squeezing, still smiling.  “You too.”  It had been a good first date, he thought—not too much, a lot like eating dinner out, just the two of them, had always been, friendly and warm and fun and natural, but still good.  Tony still seemed a little tense, had the entire time, but then, he was wound up, and Steve was nervous too.  Steve squeezed his shoulders a little more, then let go.

 

He remembered the way back, so it wasn’t quite as much of an operation this time, and then they were there.  “Mind if I come in?” he said teasingly at the door, and Tony gave him a baffled look, then sort of grinned and shook his head, looking away, and gestured inside, locking the door again behind them once they were inside.  They both scanned the apartment this time, and came up with nothing, Steve letting Tony know he’d done it earlier, and then Tony poured himself a glass of water and drank it.  “I could get you one, if you want,” he offered, but Steve shook his head.

 

Tony set the glass down.  “I thought I’d take a shower,” he said, looking at Steve, his eyes dark, and Steve nodded, figuring Tony might just want to go to bed—it was late, and who knew how hard his day had been.  “Want to join me?” Tony added, tilting his head to look up at him from just under his eyelashes again.

 

Steve swallowed.  Maybe not.  Right.  Well, that . . . that sounded good.  “Yeah,” he said, trying not to sound too eager.  “Of course, if that’s . . . all right with you.”

 

“More than all right,” Tony said with a grin, the sort of warm, knowing grin that suggested something sexual, and reached for the top button of his own shirt.

 

Tony’s shower was big, Steve had noticed that before, but it hadn’t quite occurred to him how handy that would be for this kind of thing.  Once they were both under the spray it felt amazingly intimate, almost like nothing else in the world existed, though Steve knew that wasn’t true.  Tony leaned into him, his hands on his shoulders, and Steve’s fingers sank into Tony’s wet hair, his thumbs sliding along his jaw, against his cheekbones, as he kissed him, Tony’s mouth damp and welcoming and hotter than the water streaming down over them.  His hands moved down to Steve’s sides as he leaned into the kiss, tongue curling against Steve’s; his body slid against Steve’s, slick and hot.  Steve pushed him back against the wall and he went willingly, eager and warm and inviting and letting Steve box him in against the wall with his own body.  Steve slid one hand up to the top of his head, tangling in his wet hair, and Tony just leaned in, kissing him open-mouthed and hungry.  Steve tried to reach for the soap but found himself distracted by the way Tony’s hands were traveling over his chest and sides, rubbing and teasing, thumbing gently at his nipples.  He ended up just sliding the soap up and down Tony’s back, along his spine, instinctively moving his hand as they kissed, Tony rolling his hips against Steve’s in teasing, intoxicating circles, their cocks slipping together.  Steve gasped, and Tony skimmed his hands up over his chest to his shoulders, curled them around his neck.

 

Steve got distracted for another long moment, then remembered the soap in his hand and tried to remember to soap Tony up, wash him off.  Tony let him, between the kisses he pressed over Steve’s chest and shoulders, hot and open-mouthed, turning briefly to let him get his back, bracing his crossed arms on the wall and ducking his head against them, his feet set and spread apart in way that made it very hard to ignore the flex of his shoulders, their compact, muscled strength and the way the skin dimpled between them, not to mention the slope of his back, the dip of his spine and the curved muscles of his rear.  Steve leaned forward and pressed a kiss to one shoulder, trailing his lips down along the blade, over a few barely visible freckles that stood out against Tony’s clear olive skin.  Tony shivered a little, and Steve pressed closer, rubbing against him slightly as he slid the soap up over Tony’s stomach, over his chest, and Tony shifted his weight, giving Steve more friction, tilting his head back to kiss Steve’s chin, then his lips.  Eventually Steve left another kiss against his shoulder as he finished rinsing the soap off and Tony turned back around.  He took the soap from Steve before he had even realized and skimmed it over Steve’s chest, following it with his other hand to rinse the soap away, then his mouth, warm and softly scratchy with the wet drag of his facial hair against Steve’s skin.  Steve set his hands on Tony’s hips and pressed kisses along his shoulder, his neck, as Tony soaped him up, then slid the soap around to his back, leaning up to trail kisses of his own over his shoulder.

 

After a moment, he set the soap aside, slid his hands down over Steve’s back, over his rear, squeezing a little in a way that made Steve gasp and rock up onto the balls of his feet, just for a moment, as he moved down, and then he kept moving down until Tony was on his knees in front of him.  He looked up at him, just for a moment, then pressed his mouth against the curve of Steve’s hip before he moved it down to his cock, licked a stripe down the side, opened his mouth and wrapped his lips around it.  Steve gasped, let his hands fall to Tony’s hair, sliding through the wet, dripping strands.  Tony moved one hand up over Steve’s hip, against his stomach, the other curving around his hip, as he shifted closer, close enough that his hair brushed against Steve’s hip, clinging there with moisture as the wet heat of his mouth enveloped Steve’s cock.

 

He was so good at this Steve still couldn’t quite believe it, could only set his feet against the floor of the shower, resting a little against the glass wall.  He squeezed his eyes shut a moment.  Tony didn’t seem to mind the water streaming down over his face and shoulders, his mouth hot and soft on Steve’s cock as he licked and sucked.  Steve braced himself with one hand against the wall and curled his fingers in against Tony’s head, through his hair, feeling the give of the wet strands under his fingers, even as Tony swallowed him almost to the root, hollowed his cheeks and sucked hard.  Steve heard himself moan, his voice loud and breaking, without meaning to.  The heat of the water beating down around them, the warmth of Tony’s mouth on him, made him almost dizzy.  He was a little worried about Tony being able to breathe, but he didn’t seem to be straining, even as he panted wetly around Steve’s cock.  Tony had his eyes closed, and he moaned a little around Steve as Steve drew his head closer, tangling his fingers in his hair.  The vibration made pleasure spike through Steve’s belly, and he let his head tip back to rest against the wall, gasping.  Tony moaned again, pressed closer.

 

Steve wasn’t sure how much longer they stayed like that, but he was certain it wasn’t long.  Tony’s mouth felt amazing, so incredible, white-hot and intense, and the pleasure built and built in Steve, ratcheting up with dizzying speed, until he was coming almost before he even realized it, the pleasure cresting behind his eyes.  Tony didn’t even flinch before he swallowed, just pressed closer, if anything, his fingers digging into the back of Steve’s thighs, clenching tightly against him.  Tony moaned again, but it was different, more breathless and a little more high-pitched, and then he choked it off, swallowing around Steve’s cock again and again, almost spasmodically.  He kept his mouth on him, licking and sucking, for long moments afterward, until the tremors stopped shaking through Steve, and Tony pulled away, pressed his forehead against Steve’s hip, gasping.  He wiped his face with one hand, a little unsteadily, then ducked his head, kept panting against Steve’s skin, ducked his head in to press it against the skin of his thigh.

 

Steve pushed Tony’s hair, thickly tangled, back off his forehead, and tried to catch his breath.  It took him a few moments.  “Tony,” he finally managed.  His voice sounded hoarse.  “Wow.”  Tony smiled, Steve could feel it against his skin, and pressed a kiss against his thigh, then up, along his hip.  It took him another moment, but then Steve dropped his hand to his shoulder, rubbed a little.  “Do you want to let me . . .” he started with a smile, and gestured down towards Tony.

 

Tony shook his head.  He was still gasping a little, Steve noticed, still panting for breath.  He gave Steve a crooked grin.  “That’s not going to be necessary,” he said, and his voice sounded all breathless, rough and heavy.

 

“Huh?” Steve said, and frowned.  “Of course it is . . . Tony?”

 

Tony shook his head.  “I, uh,” he said, and gestured down at himself, and Steve realized that he’d just come, a few moments ago, anyway—his cock was softening, the water from the shower washing away his come from the tile.  Steve stared—Tony hadn’t even touched himself; both hands were still where they had been, one on Steve’s stomach, the other at his hip.

 

“You—” he said.  “I.  Really?”

 

Tony colored, going a warm red visible despite the flush already in his cheeks from the heat of the water.  “Um, apparently,” he said, looking down a little and shrugging one shoulder, just a bit.  “I’m sorry, it was just . . . I . . . well, I don’t really know, I . . . .”

 

“Hey, don’t apologize,” Steve said.  “Don’t, that’s . . .” he had to catch his breath, felt a wave of warmth wash through him at the thought of it, a combination of heat and a deeper, sweeter sort of glow.

 

“I know,” Tony said, biting his lip and looking down.  “It’s just . . .”

 

“Incredible,” Steve said.  “God, Tony, that’s so . . .” he was blushing now “. . . it’s really sexy.”  There really wasn’t any other word he could think of to describe it.  “You really came just from that?”

 

Tony leaned in, kissed his hip again, his stomach just above his cock, instead of answering.  Now Steve wished he’d been watching a little bit more closely, but then, considering what Tony had been doing to him, he probably wouldn’t have even been seeing straight even if he’d been looking.  He mourned that briefly, but it was hard to miss it too much with how good he felt.  “Get up here, mister,” Steve said, smiling, getting one hand on the back of his neck, tugging Tony upward.

 

Tony let him, putting one hand down to push himself up.  “Sorry,” he said again, brushing his lips against Steve’s shoulder as he stepped toward him, letting Steve pulled him in.

 

“Come on, Tony,” Steve said.  He put one hand on Tony’s jaw, leaned in to kiss him, though Tony turned his face away, tilted his chin down.  Steve let him, but kissed his forehead instead.  “Hey,” he said.  “It was beautiful.  Don’t apologize.  You’re amazing.  Don’t apologize for that.”  He tilted his head in, pressed a soft, gentle kiss against Tony’s lips.  “And I don’t mind kissing after,” he murmured against Tony’s mouth.

 

Tony smiled a little.  “Okay,” he said.  “Noted.”  He rested both hands on Steve’s sides and leaned into the kiss, keeping it sweet and soft, slow, for long moments before he pulled away.  Steve could taste come on his lips.  “Right,” he said.  “I guess we should get out of the shower.”

 

“Yeah,” Steve said.  “I don’t want to waste your water or anything.”

 

Tony smiled a little.  “I wasn’t really worried about that, but true enough,” he said, turning back to turn off the spray, then stepping out of the shower.  He handed Steve a towel, then picked one up of his own.

 

Steve had to admit he enjoyed watching him—even with the addition of the RT to his body and his current thinness, the drawn tight look of him, he was a sight for sore eyes, for sure.  He found his eyes lingering on his shoulders again, the flex of his muscles and the curve of his bottom.  Steve only managed to get himself out of the shower and start drying himself off when Tony turned back to look at him and raised his eyebrows expectantly.

 

“Not that I mind you ogling me,” Tony said, and Steve shook his head at him.

 

“Sorry,” he started, but Tony shook his head with a smile.

 

“Like I said,” he said.  “I don’t mind.  I might not have a lot to show off these days, but I’m always willing to put on a show for you, if you want one.”

 

“You have plenty,” Steve told him, and this time geared himself up and did pat his rear, lightly.  Tony jumped a little, then looked at him with his eyes a little wide, though he was grinning.

 

“Well, then, who am I to argue,” he said.  “Catch up to you in the bedroom?”

 

“Sure,” Steve said.  He went to retrieve a pair of boxers from his bag, then headed into Tony’s bedroom.  It looked awfully bare, Steve thought.  There weren’t even any pictures on the walls.

 

Tony showed up a moment later.  “Your turn,” he said, going to his closet, turning to talk to Steve over his shoulder, and Steve nodded, headed for the bathroom.  When he came back Tony was in a pair of boxers and a t-shirt, writing something down on a notepad near the bed.  Steve was close enough to see it was a string of equations before Tony looked up, smiled at him, pushed him down on the bed and moved in to straddle him, kissing him and curling his arms around his neck.  Tony tasted like toothpaste and mouthwash now, and Steve kissed back, eagerly, but when the kiss progressed from hot and slow to Tony pushing him back against the bed, knees on either side of him, he caught him at his waist and pulled him away.  “C’mon,” he said.  “Let’s just sleep.”

 

Tony looked at him, that dark, unreadable look in his eyes again.  “Are you sure?” he said.

 

“Yeah,” Steve said.  Tony needed sleep, as far as he was concerned—it was already late.  He kissed him lightly, smiled up at him.  “I’m tired.”

 

“No,” Tony said, his eyes still searching, somehow.  “You’re not.”

 

Steve sighed.  “Well, maybe not,” he allowed, “but you’re tired, and I want to sleep.  Come on, Tony, just get into bed with me.”

 

“Okay,” Tony said after a moment, kissed him again, briefly, and slid off of him.  Steve smiled, pleased, and lay down on his side, and a moment later, Tony slid his arms around him, pressed himself up against his back, and he smiled even more, closed his eyes to settle into that.  Tony pressed a kiss against the back of his shoulder, pulling the blankets up around them.

 

“I thought I might leave tomorrow,” Steve said.  He felt like he didn’t need the blanket, felt warm enough just from Tony’s arms around him.

 

“Mmm,” Tony said.  He moved a little closer, curled his arm around him, laid his lips against the back of Steve’s neck.  His beard tickled lightly against Steve’s skin and made him shiver pleasantly.  “Gotcha.”

 

“We could have breakfast together,” Steve suggested.  “Before I go.”

 

“Sure,” Tony said softly.  “That’d be nice.”

 

“Are you gonna come back to New York soon?” Steve asked.

 

“Well,” Tony said.  “It kind of depends, I guess.  On how much work I get done, and if anything comes up in the next few days . . .”

 

“Mmhm,” Steve said.  He traced his thumb over Tony’s wrist.  “I understand.”  He wished Tony worked less, that they could spend more time together, but he knew all about having to work.  He sighed.

 

“I can try to cut it short, though,” Tony offered, but his voice sounded a little tense, like he was already trying to figure out how to make that happen without compromising anything he needed to do too badly.

 

“If you need to work, you need to work,” Steve said.  The last thing he wanted was to stress Tony out more.  “Don't worry about it.”  He ducked his head, pressed his lips to Tony’s knuckles.

 

“I can still see what I can do,” Tony said.  His hand shifted a little in Steve’s, then he turned it slightly, pressed it flat against Steve’s chest, moved a little closer into his back.  It was strange to feel the flat surface of the RT against his back, tingling slightly against his skin, but Steve thought he liked it.  It was like a marker of Tony’s presence, above and beyond the warmth of his body, a reminder that Tony was alive and well.

 

“I’d like that,” Steve said.

 

“Okay,” Tony said, and left another kiss on Steve’s neck, right beneath his hairline.  He turned his head, rested his cheek against the back of Steve’s neck.

 

“Just don’t make things harder for yourself on my account,” Steve said, as sternly as he could manage when he felt this relaxed.  “You hear me?”

 

He could feel one side of Tony’s mouth quirk against his skin.  “Nah,” he said.  “I won’t.”

 

“Good,” Steve told him.

 

Tony smiled a little more, stroked Steve’s chest a little with his thumb, before he left another kiss against the back of Steve’s shoulder.  “Good night,” he murmured.

 

“Good night,” Steve replied.  Tony curled his arms around him a little more, his breath warm and damp against the dip of Steve’s neck, against his shoulders, and lying there like that, it didn’t take long before he fell asleep.

 

He was in a desert somewhere.  It was hot, and Steve was sweating.  He didn’t know where he was.  He looked around, and saw something dark in the distance, through the shimmering haze of heat.  He started toward it, moving slowly as the sand shifted and slid under his feet.  His shield was on his back, heavy in the dry air.

 

It took a long time.  He kept walking, kept marching, but it was like every time he got close, the distance changed.  Eventually he started running, even though he knew it wasn’t a good idea—that in these kinds of conditions a march would get him further than a run.

 

And then he was tackling him, the figure in he’d seen from far out; they rolled over and over in the sand, tangled up with each other.  Tony’s head slammed back into the sliding dunes, and Steve was on top of him, his knees on either side of his chest, his shield on his arm as he hiked it back.  Tony was bleeding, his eye swollen badly, the helmet battered and cracked.  He coughed a little as Steve straddled him, and his eyes looked blank.  He stared up at him.

 

“What did you think you were doing?” Steve demanded.

 

Tony just blinked at him.

 

“Explain,” Steve roared, fury at his silence welling up, overtaking him in a dreamlike wave he didn’t quite understand, just that he was suddenly so angry, “you owe me an explanation, after everything!”

 

“I can’t,” Tony said.

 

“You can,” Steve told him.  “You just won’t.”

 

Tony shook his head.  “I can’t,” he said again.

 

“I have to know,” Steve told him, and heard his voice break halfway through.

 

“I know I’d do it all again,” Tony said.

 

“That’s not what I meant,” Steve said.  It was more of a growl than anything, low and furious.

 

Tony just shrugged, still staring up at him.  As Steve watched, his eyes went dull, lost focus, sliding past him.  “Tony!” Steve demanded.  “Tony!”

 

“Steve?” Tony said blankly.  “Is that you?”

 

Steve slammed his shield down.  He winced back, terrified of what he’d just done, and then he saw that he’d slammed into the sand beside Tony’s head, and he dropped his head to his chest, against the armor, gunmetal gray under his cheek now, shaking.  “Tony,” he whispered.  “No.  Talk to me.  Talk to me.  Tell me.  Talk to me.”

 

There was no answer.  Steve raised his head after a moment, and Tony didn’t respond.  “Tony,” Steve said.  He put both hands on his shoulders, shook him.  Tony didn’t respond, just staring blankly over his head.  He was breathing, and when Steve fumbled for his pulse, his heart was beating, but he didn’t react, didn’t even move to push Steve away as he shook him roughly.

 

“No,” Steve said, brokenly, it was almost a sob, he could feel the thickness in his throat. “No, Tony, no, I never wanted this, come back, come back.”

 

There was still no answer.  “Tony, please,” Steve said.  “Look at me.  Tony—”

 

Steve woke up.  He blinked, gasping, felt wetness in his eyes and rubbed them against his shoulder.  He couldn’t seem to get in a deep breath, and there was a lump in his throat that made it hard to swallow.  For a moment he didn’t know where he was, and then he felt the warmth of arms around him, the face against his shoulder and the solid presence of a body against his back.  The softness of a beard, the damp warmth of breath.

 

Tony.  Tony’s room.  Tony’s apartment.  Seattle.

 

Steve knew it, knew it was him, knew he was safe, that they both were, but that didn’t help ease the tight, clawing feeling in his stomach, the desperate feeling that he’d been too late, that he had to do something.  It was a feeling that had been hard for him to shake, ever since he’d come back—that he should be doing more, that he had to fix things, that he was always running but always too late, just behind where he needed to be.

 

He rolled over.  Tony’s face was half-buried in the pillow, one arm still looped loosely around Steve’s waist.  Steve reached out, laid his hand softly against his jaw, brushing his thumb against his cheek, but barely touching him and Tony made a soft sound and shifted in his sleep.  Steve skimmed his hand down, until he could feel Tony’s pulse under his fingers, the steady thump of it, and blew his breath out, feeling his own pulse start to calm.  Tony was all right, he reminded himself.  They’d been talking just before he fell asleep.  He was fine, he was perfectly fine.  Everything was fine.

 

Except it wasn’t, really, fine—Steve could see the cool blue glow of the RT through Tony’s loose t-shirt and the sheet, the way it lit the planes of his face, threw his neck into shadow.  The device that was now running Tony’s nervous system, because he’d deleted his brain.  And Norman Osborn had beaten him to a pulp, and Tony was brain-damaged, Tony’s big brilliant genius mind battered and hurt, even if not the thinking parts of it—no, just the parts that made him breathe, God, and Steve hadn’t been there to stop any of it.  And Tony had planned for that, had made a plan where that was his chosen endgame, and Steve didn’t even know if he’d have stopped it if he’d been there.

 

He swallowed, and it hurt.  He wanted to think he would have.  Would never have allowed things to get this bad, but—he’d almost killed Tony the last time he’d seen him.  How could he know that for sure?  Who knew what he might have done?  What if he’d just left Tony on his own—let Osborn do that to him, let him be pushed into a corner to protect the rest of them?

 

He took a deep breath, forced it to steady, himself to steady.  He wasn’t about to wake Tony up just to make himself feel better.  He pushed himself up, making himself continue to breathe evenly, though he left a hand on Tony’s shoulder.

 

He’d had nightmares fairly regularly since . . . since he’d come back, but that had been the first one like that.  Tony’s dull eyes, staring up at him . . . .  Steve ground the heels of his hands into his own eyes, took another breath.  Most of the others were . . . were the fractured events he’d relieved when the Skull had trapped him in his own past.  Bucky’s death.  Sometimes finding out he wasn’t dead.  How badly he’d failed him.  He’d had some others about Tony, before, but this had been the first one like . . . like that.  He braced his head on his hands and just sat there for a while, trying to calm himself.

 

Seeing Tony like that—still and broken and not waking up, even though he’d said he would if they followed his directions, just lying there, like he’d never wake up, like he’d never be him again—

 

Steve needed not to think about that.  That wasn’t going to help.

 

He sighed after a while, took another breath, still trying to make it even, then lay back down, on his side facing Tony this time.  He curled his arm around Tony’s waist and tilted their foreheads together, then closed his eyes, trying to put the dream out of his head.  Tony was warm and solid under his arm, and after a moment shifted forward in his sleep, closer to Steve, without waking up.


Steve sighed, stroked Tony’s back slowly, softly, trying not to wake him, and attempted to go back to sleep.

 

Having Tony right there helped.  He concentrated on that, on how warm Tony felt, how relaxed, the sturdy, living, breathing presence of him under his arm.  That was something he wanted to dwell on, to remember, Tony in bed with him, trusting, asleep and relaxed.  He curled his arm a little closer around his waist, trying not to clutch him too close, just feeling him there, and breathed evenly, in slow, purposefully regimented breaths.

 

-----

 

Steve being there in Seattle with him had been . . . well, it had been nice.  So was the breakfast they had that morning.  Steve was just as warm and friendly and affectionate as he’d been the rest of the time, and to be honest, they ended up making out over the sink for a while.  Kind of a long while.  Tony realized sometime around the time his fingers were sliding under Steve’s shirt to rest against the skin of his back, Steve’s tongue in his mouth, that he really didn’t want him to leave. 

 

It had been so good to have him there.  Pepper and the others had even started remarking on it, that Tony seemed full of energy.  Tony knew it was all just for sex, but it was still . . . still nice.  It was so good to be friends with Steve again.

 

He wasn’t going to argue to keep him here, though, so he just kissed him more intently, holding him tight, until Steve pulled away.

 

He didn’t seem like he was in any more of a hurry than Tony was, though.  He lingered for a while, exchanging softer, slower kisses and nursing a cup of coffee, until Tony finally brought himself to say that he really did need to go in to work, and Steve sighed a little, but nodded and smiled, finishing the coffee in a gulp.  “Be in touch,” Steve said.  “You hear me, Avenger?”

 

“Yeah,” Tony said, smiling a little.  “I hear you.  Sure thing.  I will be.  Now get out of here, honey.”

 

Steve smiled at him, a little wry, then nodded, turned to go with one last little wave.  “Take care,” he said.

 

Tony sighed as soon as the door was closed behind him.  He needed to stop pining, he told himself.  He had something with Steve.  It didn’t matter if he was in love with him.  He braced his hands on the counter and took a deep breath. He needed to remember that he was lucky.  It was hard, though.  Steve was so . . . wonderful.  Adorable. Sweet, earnest, affectionate, and so warm with him, and it was so hard to remember—what this really was.  What Tony’s role in this relationship was all about.  But that wasn’t Steve’s fault, it was Tony’s problem.  If he hadn’t been so invested already, he wouldn’t have cared so much.  This would have been fun—not that it wasn’t fun, but . . . he sighed again, ran his hands back into his hair.

 

It was his problem.  He needed to get into Resilient, anyway.  He didn’t have time to waste having a meltdown about Steve. Another one.

 

Tony had spent so long, well, kissing Steve that he was a little late into work, anyway, and he buried himself in it right away, both to make up for it and so he didn’t dwell on Steve leaving and his missing him or anything embarrassing like that, or on how he felt for him and how badly he wanted to have the right to call him and talk to him like a boyfriend, not a friend, ask about his schedule, take him out to dinner (maybe buy him something nice, if he could spare the expense).  It was better to lose himself in code and engine parts and the back and forth with the others at Resilient, orders and arguments and snarking all at the same time.  Hours passed before he even realized it, they were making plenty of progress, he only thought of Steve a few times more than normal, so all in all Tony was feeling pretty good about the day.

 

It was later on that day, and Pepper was supposed to bring him an update on the new sales numbers.  She did, sure enough, but after they’d gone through them, she closed the door and said, “Tony.”

 

He looked up at her warily, a little alarmed, suddenly feeling vaguely cornered.  That tone of voice never meant an easy conversation was coming.

 

“Can you put the pieces of the engine down for a minute?” she asked.

 

Tony did, a little reluctantly, wiping his hands.  “Sure,” he said.  Might as well face the music, after all.  He tried to brazen it out.  “What’s up?”

 

“I was just about to ask you that,” she said.

 

“Um,” Tony said.  He looked down.  Normally he’d have refused to, tried to keep eye contact, but this was Pepper.  That was no good—if he made eye contact, she’d see right through him for sure.  “Why’s that?”

 

She propped her hip against the table and just looked at him.  Her eyes weren’t harsh, but there was something piercing in them all the same, and he found himself swallowing, his mouth dry.  “I suppose you have no idea why you’ve been acting differently lately?” she said.  Her tone was wry.  She clearly wasn’t about to be put off.

 

“Acting differently?” Tony asked with a grin, still trying to bluster his way through.  “Well, I can think of a pretty good reason for that, Pep, remember the whole thing where I deleted my brain?”  That wasn’t what she meant, of course, and he knew he had been acting differently since the thing with Steve, but he thought the point was still a pretty valid one.

 

She glared at him.  “Not funny,” she said.  “You can stop trying to make me mad at you, because you’re not going to dodge the question that way.”

 

“Is that what I was doing,” Tony muttered.

 

“Yes,” Pepper said without hesitation, crossing her arms over her chest.  “Don’t you think I’ve known you long enough to be able to tell?”

 

Tony gave her a grin that felt a little weak even to him.  “Probably,” he admitted.

 

“So,” Pepper said, a little more softly.  Her eyes still had that soft but searching look to them, the one that made Tony feel naked and off-balance and caught out.  “What’s going on?”

 

Tony hesitated.  He just really wasn’t sure what to say.  “Well, I guess there’s the Avengers,” he finally said, trying to sound like he didn’t know what she was talking about but was trying to offer a plausible explanation.  “Stuff’s been busy with the team, and . . .”

 

“Tony,” Pepper said, “really?”  She was raising her eyebrows at him.

 

“What?” he said.

 

“Tell me the truth,” she said.

 

“That is the truth,” he said.  “Stuff has been busy.”

 

“And you’re here right now, and everything’s coming along fine, and you’re still acting . . . weird,” she said.

 

“So how?” Tony asked.  “How am I acting weird?  You tell me.”  He was a little curious about what she was noticing, anyway.  He didn’t want Steve to notice whatever Pepper was picking up on, after all.  That . . . would probably not be great.  The last thing he wanted was to bother Steve with his shit somehow.

 

Pepper sighed, but seemed to think.  “The last two nights you went home at a decent hour, for one thing,” she said.  “You didn’t even get takeout and eat here.  And you’re full of energy, kind of . . . focused, but if any of the rest of us talk to you while you’re working it’s like we’re not even there. You’ve been moody, too?  You’re sort of all over the place.  A lot more than normal.”  She shrugged.  “I can tell your mind is somewhere else.”

 

“The work isn’t suffering,” Tony said, frowning at that description.  Was he really that off his game?  He was letting it show that much?  “So it’s not like it’s a big deal, right?”

 

Pepper shook her head at him.  “Of course the work isn’t,” she said, “this kind of stuff isn’t hard for you, anyway, and like I said, it’s not that you’re not focused on it.  But something’s up.  I can tell.”

 

Tony sighed and sat down on the table.  “Maybe,” he said, feeling vaguely guilty now.  “ . . . look.  It’s something kind of weird, and I still don’t quite know what to think myself, and I don’t . . .”  He ran a hand back through his hair, looked away.  “I don’t know if it’s something you want to talk to me about,” he finally managed.  Pepper and he had a . . . they’d always had a, a thing, Tony wasn’t quite sure what to call it these days, after everything, and he’d always really wanted to . . . even though . . . but she’d turned him down, so she couldn’t get upset about Steve, right?

 

Just thinking that made him feel a little disloyal.  He crossed his arms and looked down at his shoes.  He got why she’d turned him down.  He got why anyone would have turned him down.  And it wasn’t like he’d stopped feeling how he felt about her.  But it wasn’t like he’d ever stopped feeling how he felt about Steve, either.

 

Maybe he was just really shitty at this whole thing.  Well, he was.  But maybe he was in more ways than he’d always thought.  He couldn’t even get it right.  Couldn’t even concentrate on one person at a time.

 

“You’re dating?” Pepper said, and he gave her a look for the surprise in her voice.

 

“I date,” he said.

 

“You sleep around when you’re not in a relationship,” Pepper said.  “That’s . . . that’s fine, but I wouldn’t call it dating, Tony.”

 

Ow.  He had to swallow at that.  It was true.  Pepper would know, after all.  And that . . . it was what he was doing now, wasn’t it?  He wasn’t in a real relationship, he was . . . well, yeah, sleeping around.  It was just with one person, but it was still just sleeping around.  No matter how much he wanted it to be something else.  No matter how sweet Steve was to him, or how warm, or how much Tony valued their friendship, there was no need to pretty it up.  And that was perfectly fine, of course, if that was what Steve wanted, but that was what it was.  “Yeah,” he said, and he couldn’t seem to help how tight his voice sounded.  But he couldn’t help it, it stung, so much more deeply than he’d expected, and the sarcasm seeped into his words before he could bite it back.  “I guess not.  It’s not like I take them out to dinner or anything.”  His mind went back to Steve in the restaurant the night before, and his chest hurt.  He had to swallow hard, gulping.  That didn’t count as a date, though—did it?  It had just been dinner with a friend, the same as always.

 

“Tony . . .” Pepper sighed.  “That’s not what I meant.  You know that.”

 

“Sure,” Tony said.  “I know that.”  He hadn’t meant that to sound as sarcastic as it did.  He was falling apart, and worse, he was taking it out on Pepper.  Damn it, what was wrong with him?

 

Pepper took a deep breath.  “Okay,” she said.  “But are you?  Dating someone?”

 

“No,” Tony said.  “I guess I’m not.”

 

“You guess?” Pepper said.  She stepped around the table, tried to get a look at him.  “Tony?  What do you mean?”

 

“I mean I’m sleeping around,” Tony said, and he couldn’t quite help how bitter and well, morose he sounded.

 

Ugh, he needed to get a hold of himself.  He was being moronic, and now he was being a jerk to Pepper, too.  Great.  Very classy.  On top of everything, and how much he’d asked of her, and whatever awful things he’d done to her before the mindwipe.  Who even knew why she stuck around him, but he was so damn grateful to her for doing it.

 

At least he hadn’t lost that, whatever else he’d ruined for her, ruined between them.

 

Pepper looked at him strangely.  “We both know that’s not all of it,” she said.

 

“Do we know that?” Tony asked, suddenly feeling tired.  That was the whole problem, after all, wasn’t it?

 

“You sleep around all the time without acting like this,” Pepper said.  “So it has to be more than that.”  She tilted her head a bit, looked at him consideringly.  “Who are you sleeping with?”

 

Tony looked away, at the wall.  A moment passed.  He sighed.  He wasn’t going to lie to her.  Not after everything.  He owed her the truth, at least.  It was just . . . it was hard to say it.  Hell, it was hard to believe it, let alone say it, but it was hard to say it after all of that, too, for . . . other reasons.  “Steve,” he said.  He felt his shoulders slump.

 

There, it was out.  He’d said it out loud.  He wasn’t sure what he’d been expecting to have happen, but nothing did, except that Pepper’s eyes widened hugely.

 

“What?” Pepper said.  Her voice climbed about an octave.  “Steve—you mean Steve Rogers?  Captain America?  That Steve?”

 

“He’s not Captain America right now,” Tony said, giving her a wry, rather apologetic smile.  He felt apologetic, anyway, though for what, he wasn’t entirely sure.  Too many possibilities to choose from, he figured. 

 

God, sleeping with Steve?  What was he even thinking?  Pepper was right, he’d always been . . . he’d always slept around, and now he was doing it with Steve?  He’d always valued their friendship so much, and now he was going to risk it for sex? 

 

But Steve had wanted it, he told himself.  He was only doing this because Steve had wanted it; he would never have suggested it otherwise, never done anything like this on his own.

 

“Oh, my God,” Pepper said.  “Oh, my God, Tony, are you serious?”

 

“It doesn’t exactly have the hallmarks of a hilarious practical joke,” Tony said.

 

Pepper glared at him.  “No,” she said.  “It really doesn’t.  But you said—you’re not . . .” her voice dropped a bit, almost to a whisper, “you’re not, um, you’re not dating him?”

 

“Pep,” Tony sighed, “why would Steve Rogers be dating me, of all people?  You probably know better than anyone why that would be a terrible idea.”

 

Pepper stared at him.  “Oh, God,” she said.  She sounded pained, now, upset.  Her voice softened horribly.  Tony felt his skin prickle, crawling with humiliated awareness of that softness, that gentleness, in her tone, and how horrifyingly close it was to pity.  “Tony . . .” she said.  “I’d . . . but you, you know how you . . . God.”  Her voice sharpened, picking up a little more heat.  “He didn’t tell you that . . . or . . . he didn’t say anything like that to you, did he?”

 

“No, no,” Tony said quickly, trying his best to smile.  “Of course he didn’t.  Come on.  Steve is way too good a person to rub it in my face like that.  We don’t discuss that part, really.”  We just . . .” he realized a little too late that describing having sex with Steve to Pepper wasn’t the most tactful thing in the world, and stopped himself before he could say anything too direct.  “Well, you get the picture.”

 

“How much have you discussed?” Pepper asked.  Her brow was wrinkled, and her voice sharp.  She looked, and sounded, highly dubious.  About the whole thing.

 

Tony wanted to tell her that he didn’t have any idea what had possessed Steve to want sex with him, either, but that seemed a little too far out there, even for him, considering Pepper and him had always a thing, too, and well, flirted at least.

 

“Not a lot,” Tony said, instead, just answering the question.  “He made it clear what he wanted and . . . we just sort of went from there.”

 

Pepper just stared at him.  “Steve Rogers just came up to you one day and said he thought it would be great if you had a casual, no strings attached fling,” she said flatly.  “You.”

 

“Yeah?” Tony said, feeling defensive for some reason.  He knew it was hard to believe, but it stung, how shocked she sounded.  “Well, no, I mean, it wasn’t exactly like that, no.  He asked me about . . .”  He hadn’t wanted to relieve this particularly lovely little piece of humiliation, but he supposed he’d done it to himself, hadn’t he?  He’d gotten himself into this mess.  The whole thing.  And he figured he did owe Pepper that explanation, at least.  “An incident when I’d, uh, I kissed him.  Years ago.  Back when I was drinking.  And he said he wouldn’t mind if we did that again, minus the alcohol, so then I . . . we did.”

 

“He asked you about a kiss,” Pepper said, and sighed again.

 

“I was drunk!” Tony said.  And he’d known it had been a bad idea, even though he’d thought it was just a dream, even through the alcohol haze, even back then, but he’d gone and done it anyway, because he just . . . he’d just . . . he’d been right there, and there had been that twist of longing low in his gut and . . . it had been years ago, he’d been stupid, sure, but it wasn’t like he’d just gone around kissing Steve at random.

 

“And then you had sex,” Pepper said, apparently just rolling right along.  “Tony . . . I just . . . look, was the sex your idea, or his?”

 

“Steve enjoyed it,” Tony said, stung, not wanting to examine how deeply that accusation hurt.  “I didn’t take advantage of him, Pepper.  I wouldn’t.  He wanted it.  He said as much.”

 

“That . . . that wasn’t what I was thinking at all,” Pepper said.

 

Uh.  “What?” Tony asked, confused now.

 

Pepper shook her head.  “You know, if I didn’t know you so well, I’d think you were being like this on purpose,” she said.  Tony scowled at her, but she just shrugged.  “But I know you well enough that I know you’re not.  Whatever that says about me.  I don’t think you’d take advantage of Steve, no.”  She looked at him more sharply, crossing her arms tightly over her chest.  “I think you might be being taken advantage of, though.”

 

“Come on,” Tony said, a little angry on Steve’s behalf now.  “That’s absolutely ridiculous.  It’s Steve.  Steve.  I don’t think he’s even capable of taking advantage.  And I’m pretty far past the age where you need to be worried about that kind of thing, you know that, right?  I know exactly what I’m doing.”

 

“I’ll believe that when I see it,” Pepper said.  “It never occurred to you, genius, that he might just have wanted to kiss you?”

 

“He did kiss me!” Tony said.  He would have thought that would be obvious, considering what he’d said they’d been doing.  He gave a wry laugh.  “There’s been plenty of kissing, Pepper.  Trust me.”

 

“Tony,” Pepper said.  “Does Steve know you’re in love with him?”

 

Tony accidentally knocked one of the pieces of the engine off the table.  For a second his chest felt tight, almost hurt, a sudden sharp pain like his heart had stopped, seized up (and he knew better than most exactly what that felt like).  The room swam, just for a second, and he had to squeeze his eyes shut, drag in a breath, and then open them again.  “Shit,” he said.  He got up, picked the engine piece up, put it back down on the table.  Stared down at it.

 

“Does he have any idea?” Pepper asked, moving forward, following him a little, and then subsiding, moving back, like she was a little afraid to touch him, or maybe to hover and risk his wrath, which made Tony swallow hard, feeling guilty.

 

“I don’t even know where you got that idea,” Tony said shakily, but he knew how weak that sounded.

 

“Oh, come on,” Pepper said.  “I’ve known you for years, and I’m supposed to have missed it?”

 

“I wasn’t lying about my feelings for you,” Tony said, feeling defensive again, a little desperate, a little frantic.

 

“I didn’t think you were,” Pepper said, looking down at the table herself, turning away for a moment.  She fiddled a little with the pieces of the engine herself, took a deep breath.  “That’s not what I’m saying.  It’s . . . it’s possible to love two people at once, Tony.  I should know.”  She took a deep breath and turned back around, putting her back to the table.  “Anyway,” she said, determinedly.  “That’s not what I meant to imply.  I’m not upset about it, it’s something I’ve known about you for a long time.”

 

“That I’m in love with Steve,” Tony said, trying to make it sound ridiculous.  It was kind of ridiculous, after all.  He’d known all along that Steve was way out of his league.  What would Steve ever see in him?  What was there to interest someone like Steve in Tony Stark?  It was enough of a miracle that Steve valued his friendship.  Tony always knew he’d been dreaming to feel the way he did about him.  Stupid, over-reaching.  Wanting too much.

 

It was ridiculous to think Steve would ever reciprocate that.  Even what they were doing seemed ludicrous even to Tony, why wouldn’t it look that way to anyone else?

 

“Yes,” Pepper said, not looking away.  “Exactly.  So does he know?”

 

“Am I this transparent to everyone, do you think, or is it a special skill?” Tony demanded.  His throat felt thick.

 

Pepper rolled her eyes.  “No, of course not.  I just know you better than most people,” she said.  “As we established already.  And you can stop trying to dodge the question, though I guess that’s already sort of an answer.”

 

“I damn sure hope he doesn’t know,” Tony said, not sure if he was angry, or upset, or what, even, he was feeling.  He knew whatever it was it was a little overwhelming, and made him feel hot in the face, and his chest tight, his stomach twisted.

 

Pepper sighed.  “Tony,” she said.  “You don’t think that’s relevant information if you’re sleeping with him?”

 

“No,” Tony said, frantically, as firmly as he could make it sound.  “It isn’t.  He—he doesn’t need to know anything about . . . my feelings for him, or that kind of thing.  It would just make things more complicated.”  He swallowed, took a deep breath.  Tried not to think about what he’d just said.  Or about loving Steve.  Or about Steve finding out.  Or any of it.

 

“Why are you doing this, though?” Pepper asked.  She sounded like she was trying to be reasonable.  “Isn’t it because you’re in love with him?”

 

Tony shrugged.  “You don’t think anyone would jump at the chance to have sex with Steve Rogers?” he asked.  He gave her his best leer.  “Why do you think I’m sleeping with him?  If you know me you know I’ve wanted a chance at that ass for years.”

 

“Well, I think that it’s because you’re in love with him,” Pepper said waspishly, “but I don’t know, you tell me.”

 

Tony sat down heavily in the nearby chair and put his head in his hands, feeling like a liar already for what he’d just said, and disgusting with it.  “I don’t know, Pep,” he said.  He obviously couldn’t keep this up, but he didn’t know what else to say.  He was at the end of his rope here.  “I don’t know.  I just . . .” he had to swallow.  “I just want him to be happy,” he murmured.  “I guess that’s it.”  He closed his eyes.  “That sounds stupid.  And . . . childish.  It’s all so stupid.  I don’t know.  I don’t know what I’m doing here, is that what you want me to say?”  He laughed a little, wryly.  “Because I don’t.”

 

Pepper’s hand came down to rest on his shoulder and rubbed slightly.  “What about you being happy?” she asked.

 

“I don’t know,” Tony said, then shook his head.  “I just . . . I don’t know.  I’d rather try and . . . and do something for Steve than worry about something that’s probably a waste of everyone’s time.”

 

“So your happiness is a waste of everyone’s time, but Steve’s isn’t?” Pepper said, her voice sharp.

 

“That’s not what I said,” Tony pointed out.  “What is happiness, anyway?  It’s not a . . . what does that even mean?  I don’t want to . . . to make things worse by being selfish.  And this isn’t . . . it’s really fucking selfish, Pep.  I can’t even pretend it’s about Steve, not really.  I wanted to sleep with him.”  He sighed, looked down at his hands.  “So I did.  That’s what it comes down to, isn’t it?”

 

“I don’t know,” Pepper said.  “You’d know better than I would if this is selfish or not.  But is it that bad to want something in a relationship for yourself?  Things can’t be all one way, or what’s the point?”  She frowned; he could see it out of the corner of his eye.  “Being a little bit selfish isn’t a bad thing.”

 

Tony shrugged.  “It’s not that, it’s just that . . . well, you know me,” he said, looking up at her.  “I’ve never been able to hang onto anything . . . that good for very long, and a lot of people right now would say I probably don’t even deserve to be looking for it, not when I have so much else to do, and make up for.  Steve having something he wants, something . . . nice, something good, isn’t quite as . . . as elusive, or impossible.  It’s a goal.”  He gave her a forced smile, looked down at his hands.  “I always like having a goal.”

 

“So you’re going to give him the sex he wants and not ask for anything that you want?” Pepper asked, sounding pained again.

 

“Like I said,” Tony said, feeling harassed now, “it’s not exactly selfless, is it?  I wanted to have sex with him so I took my chance.  It’s about as self-interested as it gets.”  He got it, it kind of sucked, but he didn’t see why it was such a big thing.  It was his choice, after all.

 

“Except that you’re in love with him,” Pepper said.

 

“Well, we can’t have everything!” Tony said, and he hadn’t meant to yell, but it came out sounding way louder than he’d wanted to, because it wasn’t just Steve, he hadn’t gotten what he wanted with Pepper, either, which was fine, it was her choice, but he’d . . . well, yeah, he felt the way he felt about her, too, and now she was sitting there, telling him he was in love with Steve, and . . . it just felt like a little much, coming from her.  He dropped his head into his hands again.

 

“Well, if you’re going to be like that,” Pepper said stiffly, then sighed.  “Look, Tony, I just . . . wanted to know what was going on,” she said, “and I . . . think I have a pretty good idea now.  I’m just a little worried, that’s all.  Did you think about this?  How’s it going to turn out?  I just . . . don’t know.”

 

“That makes two of us,” Tony said, running his hands back over his face, into his hair, and forcing himself up.  He wasn’t going to hide anymore.  “Look,” he said.  “It’s . . . good of you to be concerned, and I get it.  I’m a mess.  I’m a hell of a mess.  But that’s not going to change anytime soon, and it’s kind of the general state of things anyway, so . . . can we just leave it alone?  If I have a complete emotional breakdown, you get to say I told you so.  Deal?  Agreed?”

 

Pepper didn’t look happy, and she frowned a little, her mouth pulling to one side, before she sighed and nodded.  “Okay,” she said.  She touched his hair a little, the top of his head, just briefly.  “But let’s try not to get to that point, all right?”

 

“I’ll do my best,” Tony said with as much energy as he could, getting back to his feet.

 

“Okay,” Pepper said, and smiled.  “Right.  And listen, Tony . . . “  He looked up at her, raised his eyebrows, and she gave him a more encouraging smile.  “Good luck,” she said.

 

That at least made him smile.  “Yeah,” he said.  “Thanks.”

 

He had a feeling he was going to need it.

 

----

 

“So, man,” Rhodey said.  “Let’s talk.  What’s this I hear about you banging Captain America?”

 

“I am not and never have been and have no intention of having sex with Bucky Barnes,” Tony said.  He frowned at the comm as he pulled a piece of rebar free and tossed it over to Rhodey.

 

“C’mon, Tone,” Rhodey said, catching it easily in the War Machine armor’s gauntleted hand.  “You know what I meant.”

 

“You asked if I was sleeping with Captain America,” Tony said.  “I’m not.”

 

“Oookay,” Rhodey said.  “I guess we’re going to be evasive today, huh?”

 

“This place is really a mess,” Tony said with a sigh, surveying the ruined remains of FuturePharm.  “What do you think Hill would do if I sent her a bill for it?”

 

“Probably try to have you knocked off,” Rhodey said with a laugh.  “Don’t even, buddy.”

 

“Yeah, that’s what I was thinking,” Tony said.  “Still, SHIELD dollars, why not, right?  Cost-effective.”

 

“Except that it would have to go through your new boyfriend,” Rhodey said.  “Both the bill and the assassination order.  Awkward, much?”

 

“I don’t have a boyfriend,” Tony said.  “And you’re on a team with Commander Rogers, need I remind you, while I am not.  I’m on a team with Captain America.”

 

“This isn’t convincing me of anything except the fact that you’re being a twerp,” Rhodey said. "I hope you realize that."

 

“I didn’t know you still needed convincing of that,” Tony said, his grin hidden behind his faceplate.  “Do I need to step up my game?”

 

“It comes and goes,” Rhodey said.  “You being a twerp.  Apparently we’re in a high level phase.  About a point six on the Rhodes scale.”

 

“Is that the measurement?” Tony asked, still grinning.  “Is that because you’re a twerp, too?”

 

“No,” Rhodey said, “it’s because I’m an expert.  I’ve made a study.”

 

“When you publish the results, let me know what Reed Richards says about the depth of the subject pool,” Tony said.

 

“It’s ongoing,” Rhodey told him, tugging out more rubble himself.  “And specific in nature.  The subject is an outlier.  I don’t need more than one.”

 

“Is that so,” Tony said.  He turned the scanners on, looked further into the mess of the building.  “Maybe Sandhurst still has holdings I can sue for damages.”

 

“No way you’re getting a recovery from Sandhurst if you couldn’t get one from Osborn,” Rhodey said.

 

“I couldn’t from Osborn because the government confiscated everything,” Tony said thoughtfully.  “I don’t think that happened in this case.”

 

“Don't think I didn’t notice you changing the subject,” Rhodey said.  “By the way.”

 

“Is that what I’m doing?” Tony asked, still scanning the building.

 

“Sure is,” Rhodey said.  “You’ve been doing it a lot lately.”  He took a breath that Tony could hear through the comm., blew it out.  “Look,” he said, after a moment, the faceplate of the War Machine turning toward him, “you think I have a problem with you screwing Rogers?”

 

Tony sighed.  So much for that.  “I guess Pepper told you, huh?” he said.

 

“Did you think she wasn’t going to?” Rhodey asked.

 

“I guess not,” Tony said.  It was his turn to sigh.

 

“We’re not ganging up on you, man,” Rhodey said.  “We’re worried about you.”

 

“I know how to have sex,” Tony said.  “I don’t need the birds and the bees talk, flyboy.  We’re all good here.”

 

“We’re not worried about that, hotrod,” Rhodey said.  “We’re worried about who you’re having sex with.”

 

“I’m not going to hurt him, Rhodey,” Tony said, seriously.  “That’s the last thing I want.”

 

“Yeah, okay, that’s not what I meant,” Rhodey said.

 

“Then I don’t know what this talk is about,” Tony said, exasperated.  “You know he’s not going to hurt me.  He’s Steve.  So why are we even discussing this?”

 

“Uh-huh,” Rhodey said.  He sounded highly dubious.  “Do I know that?  Do I really know that, Tony?”

 

“You should,” Tony said.  He didn’t get why both Rhodey and Pepper were so hung up on this.  It was a little ridiculous, in his opinion.  It wasn’t like Steve was going to treat him unfairly.  That was pretty much the opposite of everything in him.  If anyone was going to screw things up, it was going to be Tony.

 

Tony probably already had.

 

“Yeah, well, I don’t,” Rhodey said.

 

Tony sighed.  “If I start a relationship with Steve and get hurt by it, it’s my fault,” he said.  “Caveat emptor, right?”

 

“So if you hurt Steve it’s your fault, and if you get hurt by Steve it’s your fault, and nothing about that seems a little weird to you,” Rhodey said.

 

“Why should it?” Tony said, frowning again.  Rhodey was twisting it around to make it sound illogical.  “I’m the fuck-up here, not Steve.”

 

“Damn, you must think I’m an idiot,” Rhodey said, sounding exasperated.  “Or at least that I have lousy taste in friends.”

 

Tony sighed, loudly enough he knew Rhodey could hear it through the comm.  “I don’t think you’re an idiot,” he said.

 

“How else do you explain that you’re my friend, then, not Steve?” Rhodey demanded.

 

“Generosity?” Tony suggested, trying to joke.  “Besides, I thought you liked Steve.”

 

“I do,” Rhodey said, “I like him fine, but he’s not my main man, Tone.  You are.”  War Machine turned toward him, crossed his arms.  “You hear me?” he said, firmly.  A few seconds passed. “I’m waiting,” Rhodey added.

 

“I hear you,” Tony said, a moment later, after he managed to swallow past his tight throat.

 

“Good,” Rhodey said, and then went back to work.  A piece of rubble landed with possible more force than necessary in the pile he was making.  “I know you’ve been messed up for a long time,” he said after a few seconds, “but if this is some kind of self-destructive prove to yourself that Rogers hates you thing . . . .”

 

“It’s not,” Tony assured him. 

 

“Good, because I’m done watching that, after everything you pulled,” Rhodey said, with feeling.

 

Just as Tony was adding, after a second of thought, “There are plenty of other ways to do that.”

 

“Do you want me to punch you?” Rhodey demanded.

 

“If you feel like it,” Tony said.  “Take your best shot.”  Rhodey probably deserved a shot at him, anyway.  He was right, he’d put him through a lot, and Rhodey had been there through everything, faithful and at his side and sturdy and loyal and warm and not treating him any differently.  He could take all the shots he wanted at Tony after that.

 

“God,” Rhodey muttered.  “I should punch you for that.”

 

Tony shrugged.  “Go for it,” he said, raising his hands and taking a step forward.

 

“No,” Rhodey said.  “We’re not going there.  Look, T.”   He sighed himself, put his hands on his hips, shaking his head.  Tony could hear the hiss of the armor as it moved and had a brief throwaway thought about doing a maintenance check for Rhodey later.  “It’s not about any of that stuff.  Steve is a good guy.  I get it.  You’ve had a crush on him most of your adult life.  Don’t say anything, I know, so just.  Save it.  But that’s the thing.  He is a great guy.  A guy who would be easy to fall in love with, you know what I’m saying?  I’m not saying you can’t take care of yourself.  I’m not going to tell you how to deal with the guy; you know him a hell of a lot better than I do.  You’re Iron Man.  I get that.  You are.  But there’s still a squishy guy inside that armor, and he isn’t invincible.  You hear me?”

 

“Like I said,” Tony said.  “A fuck-up, right?”

 

“That is so incredibly not what I mean at all,” Rhodey said with a sigh.  “I just . . . I just want you to take care of yourself, tin man.  And if Rogers gets you hurt, I’m going to have to kick his ass, so do it for his sake, all right?”

 

“It’s not his fault, Rhodey,” Tony said with a sigh.  “Don’t blame him for any of this.”

 

“He’s a grown-ass man,” Rhodey said.  “I’m going to blame him if he fucks shit up.  Especially if it’s your shit he fucks up.  Look.  I’m just saying.  I’ve got your back, no matter what happens.  Okay?”

 

Tony smiled a little.  He couldn’t help it.  “Okay,” he said.

 

“You hear me on that?” Rhodey said.

 

“Yeah,” Tony said.

 

“Don't forget it,” Rhodey said, and he really, really sounded like he meant it.

 

“I won’t,” Tony said, softly.

 

-----

 

It was nice to know Rhodey had his back.  And Pepper, too.  That whatever happened with Steve, he wouldn’t be alone.  It was stupid how much of him had been worried about that, he realized, but . . . it was Steve.  Everyone know that if things went bad between them, it would have been because of Tony’s screw-up, somehow, that was obvious.  It was good to know that his friends would stand by him anyway, even if he found some spectacular way to fuck this up, that they didn’t care how badly he screwed up, even with Steve.  He was Captain America, after all, Tony figured most people would side with him.  He really didn’t deserve friends as loyal as the ones he had—but he was so grateful to them, so grateful he couldn’t get over it.

 

It was a little strange, to be friends with Steve again.  Tony had known he missed it, but he hadn’t quite realized how much until he had it back.  He’d figured their friendship was too tentative to push, and that things would be easier if he just stayed away from Steve—then they wouldn’t fight, then Steve wouldn’t remember everything that made him so furious with Tony—but when Steve had made it clear he wanted sex with him, he’d also made it clear that he wanted Tony as a friend again, too, that he didn’t want him to pull away.  Tony was a little uncertain about the whole thing, afraid that being in Steve’s presence too much would just remind him that no, he didn’t like him much these days, but he couldn’t deny how good it would feel to have that again, to feel like Steve genuinely enjoyed his company.  So he figured that he might as well give it a shot.  They’d disagreed before, after all.  Maybe, if Steve did want him back as a friend, even after everything, they could still make this work.

 

And spending actual time with him again made him realize that avoiding Steve so that their relationship wasn’t affected had made it so they didn’t really have much of a relationship at all.  Certainly nothing like their old friendship, and he thought the one developing slowly between them now might be a lot like the one he’d thought they’d lost forever.  It certainly felt more similar than different.  They were back to discussing the team, back to spending time together in their off hours, even eating lunch together—Steve had taken to bringing Tony sandwiches while he was working in the Tower, eating his own while sitting with Tony in the workshop, and Tony had to admit it made it hard to bring himself to leave the Tower; the other labs he had to work in didn’t have the possibility of Steve coming down to see him as an attraction.  He had plenty to do, and he knew he couldn’t just hang around the Tower, but . . . it was nice, that was all.  It was nice to take a break and talk to Steve over a sandwich before he went back to work.

 

Steve was affectionate—he touched Tony more than ever, and Tony wasn’t sure whether to feel guilty over that, over how much he enjoyed it, or just appreciate it.  A hand on his shoulder, on his side, against his back, on the back of his neck, on his arm, little nudges or shoves, an arm around his shoulder or his waist.  He’d sit close to Tony, and during team movie night, which had apparently become a thing at some point again without Tony noticing, would sometimes sit at his feet on the floor, his shoulder against Tony’s knee, like it wasn’t a big deal at all.  Steve had done that for years, Tony thought, a little wonderingly, more interested in the back of Steve’s neck than the film at that particular moment, the film was some science fiction thing that was only interesting in terms of how much it got wrong.  Tony was pretty sure that Clint had chosen it to mess with him.  That wasn’t the point.  He remembered nights in the mansion when they’d done exactly this, and Steve often willingly left the sofa to the others and sat in the middle of all of them, on the floor.

 

He wondered if that was a thing, for Steve, or if he was just trying to be polite.  He’d always just thought it was because Steve took up a lot of space on the sofa, to be fair, but thinking about it again . . . .

 

He figured it was a thing.  After a little while, he reached down, rested his hand on Steve’s shoulder.  Steve grinned, he could see it, and looked back at him, rubbed his cheek a little against his hand, and then turned back to the movie.

 

Tony had to swallow hard, suddenly feeling very warm.

 

Okay, so it was probably a thing.  He let his fingers curve against Steve’s ear, brush his hair back behind it, stroke over the back of his head, sliding through his hair, and Steve shivered a little, in what Tony thought was a good way, so he laid his hand on the side of his neck and left it there, and Steve leaned into him a little more, against his leg.

 

It was nice having Steve around more, too, and Tony thought the others liked it just as much as he did.  The team hadn’t felt quite right without him, though Steve was careful not to step on Bucky’s toes.  It was good just to see them spending time together, in Tony’s opinion—after everything that had happened, and years of Steve talking about Bucky with grief and sad, wistful fondness, it was great to finally get to know him, but even better to see their friendship in action.  Bucky was a little awkward around Steve still, and God, Tony knew that feeling, but . . . it was still good.  He knew Steve was busy—but having him spend his free time with them at the Tower felt like old times again, and it was . . . it was good.

 

He wasn’t sure if it was easier this way, full of warm affection, friends but just . . . more, or harder, if it would be easier if they just found each other when they wanted sex and then went on their way.  That would be harder to live with, but this . . . Tony kept relaxing into it, and then reminding himself that he couldn’t afford to do that, couldn’t afford to slip and let on how much more he wanted.  And that made him feel more than a little guilty.

 

But then sometimes it wasn’t like they were sleeping together at all, like they were just friends again, like they’d been before, and he found himself smiling easily at Steve, or laughing at something he’d said while the others stared at him, or sharing a cup of coffee or a sandwich, and he felt the same warm, seizing feeling in his heart like he always had with Steve, and it was like nothing was any different.  They went out to the park one afternoon, walked there on a whim, mostly because Steve had suggested it, picked up some hamburgers on the way and ate them together, ended up talking about stuff that had nothing to do with the team, or anything that had happened lately, between them or anything else.  It was like something they might have done years ago.  It was . . . nice.

 

They were sparring together a lot more regularly, too, and Tony hadn’t realized how out of shape he’d let himself get until Steve had made up his mind to get him back up to speed again.  It was weird how much more hungry he felt, as a result, like his appetite had come back all of a sudden.  But that seemed to make Jarvis happy, at least, so Tony couldn’t complain.  Tony watched Steve spar with Bucky and Clint, and it felt pretty much the same as always, despite the presence of new team members.  It felt new, but still good—like home. 

 

Of course, sticking around to see Steve meant that Tony was around the Tower more, an inevitable side effect.  He thought the rest of the team would mind Tony’s presence in the Tower, with them, more regularly, having to see him, and be reminded of everything that had happened (everything he couldn’t remember), but most of them seemed to just leave it alone.  Jessica Drew mentioned it was nice to have him around these days, and it took him a moment to recapture enough self-possession to grin and wink at her as he thanked her for the comment.  It was surprising to realize how tense he’d been around the others when he stopped tensing up whenever any of them came into the room.  But it was easier now.  Still a little uncomfortable, but he felt like maybe he could start relaxing just a little.

 

Steve was still perfectly capable of knocking Tony flat on his ass no matter how hard Tony tried to keep up, or catch up, as he demonstrated plenty of times once they started sparring again, once hard enough that Tony landed on his back with a yelp he couldn’t quite keep back.  To his surprise, Steve was right there a moment later, asking if he was all right, both hands on his shoulders, helping him up, even though as soon as Tony had his breath back he assured Steve he was fine, and he’d had a lot worse than that over the years.  He ended up with a bruise where Steve had landed one on him, though, which he hid perfectly fine until Steve squeezed his shoulder after they were done, and that was that—Steve’s lips got all tight and his jaw tensed and he apologized again, touched it lightly, face dark, like he wanted to insist Tony get a CT scan or something, despite Tony’s insistence that it was all right.

 

“Believe me,” Tony told him, a little exasperated, “I’ve had a lot worse bruises than this lately.”

 

Steve’s frown just deepened even further.  “That’s all the more reason to be careful,” he said, and he sounded a little upset.  He squeezed the back of Tony’s neck, and Tony sighed and just let it go.

 

He figured Steve would have forgotten all about it, except that of course he chose that day to slide his hands up under Tony’s shirt after they’d both gotten out of the showers and start kissing the side of his neck, which turned into making out before Tony had the presence of mind to move the whole thing up to his bedroom.  So of course Tony ended up on his back at some point, and he was still sore enough to wince, and Steve got that tight look on his face again and made him roll over so that he could see how bad the bruising was, and it was really just a waste of everyone’s time.

 

It started being slightly less of a waste of everyone’s time when Steve’s lips brushed gently over the place where the bruising felt most sensitive, which Tony was sure was swollen and some flamboyant color by now.  Tony couldn’t help the way he shivered at that, the feeling shuddering all through him, and then Steve kissed the back of his neck and curled his arm back around Tony’s waist, and things started looking up a little.  Steve smoothed his hands down over Tony’s hips, along his thighs, kissing down the back of his neck, and Tony sighed, arched back into him, reached for the back of Steve’s neck to tug him closer, turning his head to touch their lips, to press slow, soft kisses up over Steve’s nose, along his forehead, up into his hair.  This was more like it.  Steve moved his hand up over Tony’s pelvis, over his stomach, avoiding his cock, and Tony shivered, spread his legs apart for him, only to feel Steve’s knee come up between them and nudge teasingly at his cock.  He gasped, groaned a little at the friction, the teasing pressure, and he felt Steve’s smile in the kisses he was still laying along his shoulders, up along his neck, wet but still somehow sweet and soft. Steve’s hands came up and started to pull down Tony’s loose exercise pants even as Tony gasped and left kisses in Steve’s hair.

 

They ended up having sex like that, spooned up together, Steve’s hand on Tony’s cock and Steve’s cock between Tony’s thighs, while Steve pressed kisses down Tony’s spine.  Steve was incredibly warm, big and strong and steady around him, and wrapped around Tony in a way that made him feel like he was folded up in all that radiant heat and muscle, the warm smoothness of Steve’s skin, the warmth of Steve’s big hand on his cock and the solid heat of Steve's own cock nudged up between his legs, the way it left his thighs all slick and wet with precome. Steve was so slippery with it that Tony didn’t bother asking if he wanted lube as he slid slick and hot between Tony’s thighs, big hands alternatively curling around his hips and curving over the muscles of Tony's legs. Steve’s hand came up to cup his cock and balls again, cupped lightly, rolled and squeezed, then began to stroke as he pressed himself closer into Tony’s back, mouth hot and needy-wet over the skin of his spine and shoulders.  Tony couldn’t help groaning, and it seemed Steve wasn’t far off, the way he was clutching at Tony's hip with his other hand, panting heavily against his back.  Steve lost track of Tony’s cock for a long while after that, his hand slowing until it finally was just cupping him loosely, and then just clutching at his hip like Steve needed that grip, needed more steadying, but Tony didn’t mind, it was enough to reach back and curl his hand around Steve’s neck and just feel it as Steve thrust between his thighs, pressing them tightly closed and groaning with every nudge of Steve’s big, heavy cock against his own balls, the wetness that smeared against him every time, even the way those nudges and tingles of hot heady pleasure were more of an accident of positioning and the heat behind Steve’s thrusts than anything.  There was something good about it, being caught up in Steve’s arms, warm and close and surrounded by him and pressed into the mattress and keeping his legs slippery and tight around Steve’s length, just in enjoying that much.  It was so warm, Steve so strong and solid around him, behind him, pressing him down into the bed.  With the kisses against his back and the back of his neck, pressed behind his ears and into his hair, and the slow, easy pace of it, the way Steve was holding him even while he thrust hard between his thighs, it felt like some of the warmest, most comforting sex Tony had ever had. Like he didn't even have to do anything to make Steve happy other than just to be there, and that was enough.

 

A big advantage of the position, Tony figured, was that Steve couldn’t see his face, because the way that made him feel, caught up and held close, Steve between his thighs, must have shown in his expression, he doubted he could have hidden anything from Steve like this.  He couldn’t stop gasping, breathy and heavy and loud, his free hand clutching in the sheet, and it wasn’t because it was physically demanding at all, it was because it was everything opposite, warmth and strength and Steve there at his back, and Steve didn’t even need him to do anything, he was panting into Tony’s back, clutching him tightly, dragging kisses wetly along his skin, his mouth loose and sloppy with desire as he panted harshly into his spine, and Tony had tried so hard to make things good for him, but it was like just at this moment Tony himself was enough, just being here, in his body for Steve and with Steve, not his mouth or his hands, just the two of them, and it was good and Tony could just lie here and have this, hold to it and be in these moments as they drew out long and warm and heady between them, and Steve was holding him up, practically, his hand still clasped around Steve’s neck, and it still felt perfectly secure, safe and stable.  Steve had him.  He knew that.

 

He was really glad Steve couldn’t see his face.

 

Steve cried out, soft and muffled against his skin, buried in Tony’s shoulder, when he came, and Tony just had the presence of mind to get his hand up and catch most of Steve's come in his palm, moaning himself at the sound of Steve behind him, his gasping, groaning breaths and the way he rubbed his cheek against the back of Tony’s shoulder as he shuddered and shook through his orgasm, the feel of Steve’s cock jerking between his thighs, the heat and wet of his climax, all of it.  Tony was left gasping, blinking against the pillow, hot and dazed and feeling heavy and dizzy just from that, even as Steve’s breaths started to ease and his shudders began to calm to nothing.

 

After a few moments, Steve pressed a soft, light kiss into Tony’s shoulder, simple and sweet, and then his hands came around, one smoothing over his hip, and Tony shivered, groaned, at the feeling, head spinning just at the touch. He was already feeling almost overwhelmed, so warm and dizzy with pleasure, and then Steve’s hand closed around his, the hand Tony had used to catch most of Steve’s come, and pulled it to Tony’s own cock, closing it around the hot hard need of Tony’s erection and folding his own hand over it, tugging Tony's hand down over himself in a wet, slow stroke so that Tony’s hand, damp with Steve’s come, smeared it all along his cock.  He hadn’t even moved his slowly softening length from between Tony’s thighs.  Tony couldn’t help it, he gave a harsh, rough whimper of pleasure, arched forward into Steve's touch and his own hand.  He wasn’t going to last, he knew that, he was already so dizzy and hot, feeling like he was reeling just at Steve’s clasp on his fingers, Steve’s steady, firm pulls of Tony’s own hand over his cock.  Steve pressed another soft kiss into Tony’s shoulder, slower, more firmly this time, another against the skin between Tony’s shoulder blades, then up, against the sensitive skin at the nape of his neck, just under his hair, squeezing his hand around Tony’s hand, and so around his cock, as he did it.  Tony gave a hoarse, rough noise, almost a cry, and Steve might have said, “Shhh, easy,” but he might just have pressed another kiss into Tony’s neck, even closer and softer into his skin, it was hard to tell. 

 

He wasn’t sure how long he lasted like that, how many slow, even passes their linked hands made over his cock, tugging pleasure out of him, turning him even dizzier, lightheaded and breathless and almost faint, but then Steve turned his head, laid another soft kiss just behind Tony’s ear, and Tony came with a faint, helpless groan, trembling his way through a long, slow climax where everything seemed to fade out, light sparking and fuzzy at the edges of his vision in bright drifts across his eyes, and there was just Steve’s arms around him, the slow gentle stroking of his cock for a few more moments, a hand rubbing gently along his stomach, more gentle kisses pressed against his hair and along his neck, soft warm breath and skin against his nape, against his ear.

 

They stayed there like that for a long while, and Steve gave him time, a long time, to come down from it, come back to himself, catch his breath.  They laid there for a while, Tony curled back against Steve’s chest, Steve’s knee resting loose and lazy and undemanding between his thighs now, and Tony panted for air.  Steve was panting too, heavy breaths against his ear, stirring his hair, even as he reached up and stroked it back from Tony’s face, brushed strands of it off his forehead, and Tony’s breathing got hoarse and harsh and raspy for a moment at that before he managed to steady it again.  He took a few seconds to compose himself, and then a few more, while Steve was still lightly stroking his stomach, along his chest.  They stayed there, a long few minutes of slow, easy closeness, and Tony just felt it, not focusing in on anything in particular, just . . . there, before he rolled over, kissed Steve briefly, and got up to clean them up again.  His bruises sure didn’t hurt now.  When he came back to bed, though, Steve curled around his back again, nosed into his hair, laid one hand over his stomach, and Tony sighed and closed his eyes, debating holding his hand or not.  He fell asleep before he came to a decision.

 

He woke up later that night and blinked, confusedly, into the darkness of his room.  He wasn’t the soundest sleeper, usually, but every time he’d slept with Steve in his bed he’d slept more deeply than he had in months, and he didn’t remember dreaming of anything that might have woken him up.  And then Steve’s fingers shifted against his stomach, moving up and clenching into a fist, and he made another sound against Tony’s back, a distressed noise, low and barely audible.  His body jerked, his shoulders trembling, and Tony could feel the wet heat of his breath between his shoulders as Steve panted against him, his breaths quick and uneven.  He made another low breathy grunt of a noise, and clutched Tony closer, close enough that Tony felt a little like a rag doll the stuffing was being squeezed out of and gasped, wheezing.

 

Okay, that was apparently a drawback to all this.  Being squeezed like a stress ball.  Jesus.  But Tony had known Steve had nightmares—they’d both used to wander the mansion at night sometimes, unable to sleep, they’d had some of their first good conversations that way.  Steve had let slip more than a few times that sometimes it was easier for him to stay up because he didn’t need a lot of sleep, and he didn’t like his dreams most nights, and Tony had . . . more than understood that.

 

“Oof,” he muttered, got his hands down and pulled at Steve’s hold around his waist.  It didn’t come free easily, but eventually Tony got their fingers laced.  He obviously wasn’t going to be able to pry Steve off him if he didn’t want to be pried off, but rubbing his thumb over Steve’s knuckles made his grip relax, so Tony kept doing that until Steve’s arms were lying more laxly around his waist.  Steve moaned a little and his head tossed back and forth, his cheek rubbing against the patch of skin between Tony’s shoulders, but his arms loosened anyway, and eventually Tony could turn around, get a look at his face.

 

 

He was obviously distressed, his eyes screwed up tight, his lips bitten to the point of raw redness and spots of blood.  Tony felt his chest pull tight, a little unhappy flip in his stomach as he wondered what Steve had nightmares about these days.  “Hey,” he whispered.  “Steve—sweetheart,” oops, damn it.  Tony swallowed.  “Steve, wake up,” he said, instead.  There was no response, Steve’s shoulders just tightened up, hunching inward, and he curled in on himself, his hands drawing up toward his chest in tight fists, almost like he was holding them away.  It reminded Tony of how Steve had looked in handcuffs in the pictures he’d seen, and he had to swallow hard.

 

“Hey,” he said, more loudly.  “Steve.  Wake up.”  He ran one hand over the smooth firm rounded muscle of Steve’s shoulder, down over his back, trying to be soothing.  He’d woken up so easily the other night, but now he refused to be roused—the dream must have really had its hooks into him.  “It’s just a dream.  Shhh.  Shhh.  It’s okay.”

 

Steve jerked under his hand, and his eyes flew open.  For a moment he just stared at Tony, his eyes wide and glassy and unseeing.  He looked stricken, somehow, like he had just seen a ghost, his breath coming in quick, hard pants.  “Hey,” Tony said again, as gently as he could.  He touched Steve’s face gently with the backs of his fingers.  “You okay?”

 

Steve made a desperately unhappy sounding noise, hoarse and muffled as he bit down on his bottom lip, and his face twisted up.  He took two heaving breaths, and then mumbled, “Tony?” sounding anxious, uncertain, even afraid.

 

Tony gave a rueful wince, not certain if his presence would help with those nightmares or not.  “Yeah,” he said, because there was nothing to say but the truth, was there?  “It’s me.”

 

Steve heaved out another breath, squeezed his eyes shut tight.  “Tony,” he said again, and his voice was wet, desperate, breathless.  He sounded lost, like he didn’t know what to ask for, and a little like he was about to cry.  Tony had no idea what to do. 

 

Recklessly, he laid down a little more and scooted closer, resting his head against Steve’s shoulder so he could wrap both arms around him, holding him close, hoping that this wasn’t exactly the wrong thing to do, hoping it wouldn’t only trigger Steve’s distress more intensely.

 

Steve gasped, and then his arms went around Tony in return, pulling him even closer, clutching him tightly.  Okay.  Okay, that had been a good call, then.  Tony murmured soothingly into Steve’s hair, running his hand over the back of his neck, down his back.  “Shh,” he whispered again.  “It’s all right.  Everything’s fine.  You’re in the Tower.  Everything’s good.  You’re fine.”  Steve pressed his face tightly against Tony’s neck, still gasping for air, and stayed silent, his fingers curled in tight against Tony’s back.  They stayed like that for a few moments, Steve’s fingers curling even tighter into his skin, before Tony could feel Steve’s heartbeat start to calm and pulled back a little, running his hand down Steve’s chest as he loosened his arms from around him.  “You okay?” he asked, peering carefully into Steve’s face.

 

His face was flushed and he still looked upset, his face a mask of distress, but he gave a faint, limping sort of smile and nodded.  “Yeah,” he said, his voice hoarse and brokenly uneven.

 

Tony wasn’t so sure of that.  “You sure?” he pressed.  He got one hand under Steve’s chin, tilted it up a little.  “You don’t sound okay,” he explained.

 

“Bad . . .” Steve took a deep breath, and then tilted his chin up himself, squaring his jaw.  “Bad dreams,” he said.  “That’s all.  Sorry I woke you up.”

 

Tony shook his head, smiling a little, brushed his fingers lightly against Steve’s jaw, wanting to soothe him.  “Don’t worry about that,” he said, “I wake up easy.  Not your fault.”

 

“You don’t wake up when I get up in the morning,” Steve said, a little waveringly, with another small, brave smile, pushing himself up to sit with his arms linked around his knees.  He looked down at his hands.  They were trembling, and he firmed them into fists, clenched them tightly.

 

“That’s different,” Tony muttered.  And it was different—a lover getting up in the morning wasn’t a crisis, and a nightmare was, was filed under a totally different category of situation.  He sat up, too, looked over at Steve, his broad bare shoulders silvered in the moonlight and gleaming dully, more brightly where cold sweat was drying on his skin.  He hoped he wasn’t too cold.

 

“I really am sorry I woke you,” Steve said, sighing down at his hands.  He gave Tony another wry little smile.  “You looked so peaceful before I fell asleep.”  He bit his lip again, looked down.  “I liked seeing you like that,” he said, more quietly.

 

“Hey,” Tony said, and reached out, impulsively, slid his thumb along Steve’s lip, moving his teeth away.  Steve’s eyes widened at him, and Tony felt a flush of embarrassment.  “You’re already bleeding,” he said.  “You’ll hurt yourself.”  He pulled his hand away.

 

“Tony,” Steve said, still very quietly, not looking away, “it’s just a bitten lip.”

 

Tony shrugged, and he did look away.  “Feeling any better?” he asked.

 

Steve made a noncommittal noise.  He was still staring down at his hands.  “It’ll heal,” he said, faintly.

 

“I mean from the nightmare,” Tony said.

 

“Jesus,” Steve said, and he put his head down on his knees, hiding it in his arms.

 

“Steve?” Tony said, alarmed.  He put his hand on his back, rubbed a little, reassuringly.  “What is it?”

 

“Nothin’,” Steve said roughly.  “Nothing, I just . . .” he blew his breath out.

 

“Need a minute, yeah,” Tony said, understanding.  And he was getting in the way.  “I’ll go.”

 

“No!” Steve said, his head coming up.  They stared at each other for a moment, and then he dropped his gaze.  “Unless . . . if you want to,” he mumbled.  His hands clenched up into fists again, then he trembled and opened them against his knees.

 

Tony blinked.  Swallowed a little.  Steve wanted him there?  It didn’t seem possible.  That nightmare must have really shaken him up.  He could understand needing the company, not wanting to be alone.  “I’m right here,” he said quietly.

 

Steve nodded, took a deep, shaking breath.  They sat in silence for a minute, Steve staring at his knees, then off toward the far wall.  After a brief moment, Tony started stroking his back again, and Steve shuddered and sighed, and his shoulders dropped, relaxing, so Tony didn’t stop.  

 

“I saw the video,” Steve said, eventually, low, still looking away, gaze fixed on the wall.

 

Tony blinked.  “Um,” he said, stilling his hand.  “What?”

 

“It’s all over the internet,” Steve said bitterly.  “Osborn doing what he did to you.  Me . . . doing what I did to you.  You could watch it as many times as you wanted.  If someone wanted to watch your face getting busted in.  And—” his voice broke “—and people do.  The one of us has over a million views.”  He covered his face with his hands, linked them over the back of his neck and took a deep, shaking breath.  “I hate it,” he said viciously.  “Why do people look at things like that?”

 

“Um,” Tony said.  He let his hand still on Steve’s back, wondered if he should take it away, considering . . . considering what he was talking about.  “Horror fascination, I guess?  They feel like they should be up on . . . current events?”  People enjoyed seeing Tony’s face beaten in?  Tony wouldn’t have blamed them.

 

“I could have killed you,” Steve said faintly, dully.  “And no one would have stopped me.”

 

“I don’t think stopping you is what most people would have had in mind,” Tony said in a wry tone.

 

“I hope most people would want to stop a murder,” Steve bit out rigidly, his shoulders seizing up, and Tony realized that might not have been the best thing to say, right before Steve’s shoulders slumped again.  “But I suppose the fact they’re willing to watch one almost happen isn’t the best testament to that,” he said more quietly, almost brokenly, and rubbed at his eyes.

 

“I’m sorry,” Tony said in a low voice.

 

“What the hell,” Steve said, and he sounded almost tired, but then he turned to him, and his eyes were flashing, “what the hell do you have to be sorry about?” he demanded.

 

“Um,” Tony said.  His mind went blank.  There was too much.  Information overload.  “I . . . just . . . wow, Steve, what do you want me to say?  Pick one.”

 

“Are you apologizing?” Steve demanded.

 

“What good would that do?” Tony asked wearily.  “I’d do the same thing, we’ve been through it, we all know it.  Apologizing is a cheap way out from under the weight of what I chose to do, willingly, in my right mind.  And when I’d do it again, it rings pretty hollow.  Wouldn’t you say?”  The best he could ask for, Tony thought, but didn’t say, would be absolution.  Not an apology.

 

Steve looked at him, piercingly, then dropped his gaze.  “Then what would you do?” he murmured.  “To make up for something you wished you could take back.”

 

“I’m doing it,” Tony said, feeling cornered.  “Trying to move forward.  Trying to do better.  Always . . . trying.  Next time I’ll find a better way.  I have to believe that, or . . .”

 

“Or you couldn’t keep on going,” Steve said softly, and for the first time, Tony thought they might not be talking about him here.

 

“Steve?” he said, questioningly, uncertainly.

 

“I hurt you,” Steve said, bitterly, tiredly.  His eyes looked wounded, haunted.  “I . . . I might have killed you.  I meant it.  For a moment I think I did mean it.  And I have to live with that.”  Steve shrugged, and his eyes tightened, his mouth worked a little, pulled to one side.  “I see that,” he said, “saw it,” and looked down at his hands, clenched them, then opened them again.  “Sometimes I wonder if there’s that much difference,” he said.

 

“What?” Tony asked.  “Steve?  You’re really not making a lot of sense here.”

 

“Between me and him,” Steve murmured.  His face twisted.  “The paint job,” he said, and his fists clenched.  “And the things I said . . . .”

 

“Uh,” Tony said, “am I supposed to be following this?”

 

Steve sighed, raised his head, and one hand, tracing it along Tony’s face.  “I did mean it,” he said, his voice sounding steady again, but absolutely wretched anyway, and that level of unhappiness in Steve’s voice made Tony feel sick and awful, his throat hurt and his stomach ache.  “What did that fight turn me into?”  His fingers sifted back into Tony’s hair, brushed it back off his face.

 

“Steve, you didn’t kill me,” Tony said.  “Clearly.”

 

“What do you think I was dreaming about?” Steve asked, a wry, sad smile on his face that looked entirely out of place there.

 

Tony swallowed.  He didn’t know what to do with that.  He didn’t see why—it wasn’t—it didn’t make sense that Steve would be that upset over him, but well, he didn’t know the details of the dream, and here Steve was, upset, so he just shoved that confusion to the back of his mind.  No need to worry about it, there was probably more to the dream that Steve wasn’t saying, and what mattered was making him feel better now, helping him calm down, being here for him, and comforting.  “Well, you didn’t,” he said.  “Like I said, I’m fine.  I’m right here.”

 

“Yeah,” Steve said.  He blew his breath out, heavily, looked down.  His fingers shifted down, brushed down over Tony’s throat.  “Yeah.  You are.”  He still sounded heavy, sad, a little bit aching.

 

“Hey,” Tony said.  He tugged lightly on Steve’s shoulders.  “C’mere.  It’s okay.”

 

Steve sighed, moved forward, wrapped one arm around Tony, and lifted the other hand, rested it along his neck, slid it up into his hair, his thumb resting against the scars, only slowly healing, at the base of Tony’s skull, stroking back and forth there, slowly.

 

“I’m all right,” Tony said, softly, against his ear.  “You know that, right?”

 

Steve gave an uneven breath, leaned in, pressed his lips to Tony’s neck, against his pulse.  Tony reached up, linked their fingers together, and squeezed gently.

 

“I’m pretty tough,” he said.  “You’re not getting rid of me that easily, Rogers.”

 

Steve squeezed his hand back.  “I’m going to hold you to that,” he said.

 

“I swear to be your personal cockroach from here on out,” Tony said drily.

 

Steve looked at him like he wasn’t sure he’d heard him right, and then his mouth quirked, and he laughed.  “Tony . . .” he said.

 

“I know, I know,” Tony said.  “That was horribly inappropriate and a terrible image.  Cockroaches, yeah, no.” 

 

“You’re impossible,” Steve said, fondly.

 

“Yeah,” Tony said, more quietly, “so I hear.”

 

Steve brushed his hair back from his forehead, curved his hand against the side of Tony’s face.  “And you’re nothing like a cockroach,” he said, his brow quirked a little as he smiled.

 

“I sort of am,” Tony said.  He grinned a little.  “Just ask Norman Osborn.”

 

Steve snickered.  “Well, if you ask any of them,” he said, “we all are.  They don’t count.  Besides, so are they.  Always popping back up.  Can’t get rid of ‘em.”

 

Tony tilted his head back, looked up at him, resting his hands on Steve’s shoulders.  “Are you all right?” he asked seriously.

 

Steve shrugged, looked down.  “I don’t know,” he said, and it sounded honest.

 

“I guess that’s fair,” Tony said.  He didn’t know if he was all right, either.  Especially not in an overall, general, technical psychological sort of sense.  He pushed Steve back down against the pillows, slow and easy, and Steve let him, going pliant under his hands, let him push him back into the bed.  “Do you need anything from me?” he asked seriously.  He figured Steve might want something, another round of sex, maybe, to take his mind off the nightmare.  He had a thought.  “Do you want some of that tea you bought?”

 

Steve smiled a little.  “Just stay with me, that’s all,” he said, voice low and quiet and a little rough, a little thick.

 

Oh.  “Sure,” Tony said.  “That’s simple enough.”  He hesitated a moment, not quite sure how to do this, then, slowly, laid down against Steve’s shoulder, let him curl his arms around him.  After a moment he closed his eyes, let his head shift to the most comfortable spot, pillowed in the hollow of Steve’s neck.

 

“Not always,” Steve said.  “But thanks, Tony.”

 

“No problem,” Tony murmured.  “Any time.”

 

He was surprised when he felt Steve’s hand seek his out, curling around it, lacing their fingers.  Steve pulled his hand up until it rested against his chest, and Tony opened his eyes a bit, looked up at him to see that Steve had his own eyes closed and was breathing in slow, deep breaths as if to calm himself, rubbing his thumb along the heel of Tony’s hand.  It seemed like it actually was helping, so Tony just squeezed his fingers lightly back and closed his eyes again, letting Steve hold his hand to his chest as he dropped off to sleep.

 

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