It had been a long fucking night.
State dinners were never going to be Tony’s favorite. He didn’t mind the dog-and-pony show, and he didn’t mind the glad-handing, but he hated how much they stressed Steve out. Even after two and a half years in office, Steve was much more comfortable in the Situation Room than he was in the ballroom. He never complained, but Tony knew it took a toll.
Tonight’s event had been especially difficult. Steve couldn’t stand the newly-elected French prime minister, whose politics he viewed as dangerously isolationist. In a different life, Steve might’ve been one of the protesters who’d been milling around outside the White House all day. Instead he’d spent the afternoon in meetings with her, given a joint press conference full of tight smiles and carefully chosen words, and then capped it off with an evening in her honor.
Tony had done what he could, but he was a bit of a lightning rod himself, and sometimes the best thing he could do for Steve was keep his mouth shut. Gone were the days when he could piss off Congress and foreign heads of state with impunity, which was, frankly, a sad state of affairs for him. He missed pissing off Congress.
It was nearly midnight by the time Tony was able to head back to the residence, sans Steve. He stripped out of his tuxedo and toed off his shoes, then changed into sweats. He checked in with Pepper, Bruce, and Natasha, and then placed a quick call down to the White House kitchen.
“Hey, Dar, it’s me,” Tony said as he turned on the TV to see what CNN was saying about the dinner. “I know you guys are cleaning up, but he didn’t really eat anything tonight – no, everything was great, but he ends up working instead of eating, you know how it is. Anyway, can you toss one of the frozen pizzas in the oven and send it up with a couple of beers? You know the ones I mean. Thanks, I owe you.”
A frozen New York pizza – even one that was special-ordered and flown in from Pizza Suprema in Midtown – was not as good as the real thing, but it was the closest they’d come in DC. And Steve would need it by the time he finally managed to tear himself away. Tony got into bed and started flipping channels, checking the New York Times and the Washington Post on his StarkPad at the same time.
The pizza hadn’t arrived yet when Steve finally came in. He let the door shut behind him and leaned against it, head thumping backward. “I’m done,” he announced, yanking off his tie. “Bar the door. Unless there’s an international emergency, I don’t want to talk to anyone who isn’t you for at least six hours.”
“I appreciate the exception,” Tony said, and got up to help Steve undress. He batted Steve’s hands away and started unbuttoning his shirt. Steve sighed heavily and let his shoulders slump. “How’d it go, you think?”
“As well as could be expected. She won’t budge on the refugee issue.”
Tony undid Steve’s right cuff, then his left. “You knew that going in.”
“Yeah. It’s just – it’s fucking discouraging. People are dying.”
“I know, babe.” Tony slid the shirt off Steve’s shoulders and then unbuckled his belt. “I think you’re right, it went as well as it could have. That’s what most people are saying.”
Steve stepped away to unbutton his fly and shove his pants down over his hips. Tony let him, sensing he needed a little space. The hardest thing for Steve about being president was feeling like he should be able to do more. But there was only so much that one person could do, and in some ways he was more limited now than he had been as Captain America.
There were days, Tony knew, when Steve deeply regretted the choice to run. But the choice had been no choice at all, not really, not with the candidate the Republicans had fielded.
Steve ducked into the bathroom and shut the door. Tony sighed, but before he could decide whether to go in after him, there was a knock, signalling the arrival of the pizza. Tony suppressed his distaste for being handed things long enough to accept the pizza and beer and send Dar on his way. He cracked open a beer for himself and sprawled on the bed to wait. He listened to the shower run and swapped texts with Pep, who was just leaving the office in California.
Tony had just started to worry the pizza would get cold when he heard the water shut off. Steve emerged in a cloud of steam, shirtless and in boxers, and stopped at the sight of the pizza on the table.
“Oh,” he said, sounding way more surprised than he should have been. “Tony, you didn’t have to do this.”
“One,” Tony said, sitting up, “I didn’t do anything. I asked the kitchen staff to do something. Two, yeah, I did. You didn’t eat tonight.”
Steve frowned. “I ate.”
“You picked,” Tony said, “because you spent the whole time talking, and you had to leave to take a call during the entrée. I was watching you, and you didn’t eat. So have a piece of pizza, and a beer, and let me rub your feet.”
“You don’t have to –”
“Why are you even arguing?” Tony interrupted, rolling his eyes.
Steve paused. “Hell if I know,” he admitted. He grabbed a slice and flopped into the armchair, putting his feet up on the ottoman. Tony handed him a beer and pulled Steve’s feet into his lap for the promised foot massage.
They were both quiet for a long time. Steve drank his beer and ate his slice of pizza – and then, when he was done with that one, two more – while Tony rubbed his feet and thought idly about how nice it would be to be in New York right now, where they could have ordered in anything they wanted. It wasn’t even that he wanted anything in particular, it was just the freedom of being able to choose and have it delivered without it becoming a major security issue that he craved.
“Thank you,” Steve finally said, when he’d eaten the last bite of pizza and taken the last sip of his beer. “I needed this.”
“I know,” Tony said, letting his hand rest on Steve’s ankle.
Steve let his head loll against the back of the chair. “I’m so tired, Tony.”
“No, I mean I’m tired.” Steve opened his eyes. “Did you know I’ve started getting re-election questions?”
Tony shrugged. “It’s not surprising. It’s only eighteen months till the general.” Steve didn’t say anything, but his mouth tightened. Tony frowned. “Steve. Are you thinking about not running?”
Steve bit his lip. “Yeah,” he finally said. “I’m thinking about it. I did it to stave off impending disaster, but if that’s not necessary, then I’m not sure I want to do it again. Another campaign – God.”
Tony took a deep breath, choosing his words carefully for once. “I think it might still be necessary. And that would only give you a year and a half – less – to do what you want to do. What about healthcare? What about immigration reform? What about climate change? I don’t think we can get the Medicaid expansion passed in the next year and a half if we also want to pass stricter carbon emissions regulations, but if we pick up a couple House seats this November and a few more in the general then we might –”
“Tony,” Steve interrupted him, “do you want to run?”
Tony blinked. “What?”
“I mean it,” Steve said. “Do you want to run?”
“Um,” Tony said. “No?”
Steve gave him a small smile. “You sound like you want to run.”
“I don’t,” Tony said firmly. “And even if I did, you’d still have to deal with all of this. It wouldn’t get either of us off the hook. Plus, Congress hates me. Plus, there are naked photos of me out there, and three – wait, no, four – sex tapes. Plus, I’m the last person you want making the kinds of decisions you make.”
“I don’t think that’s true,” Steve said, “but I take your point about the rest.” He sighed. “It’s just been a long day. You’re right – there’s still so much left to do. It’s just that the idea of campaigning wears me out. I like governing much better. Most of the time.”
“Which is why you’re good at it. Anyone who likes campaigning better than governing is probably inherently unsuited to the job.”
Steve snorted. “Yeah, I guess. It reminds me of the old days, selling USO bonds. Except I’m selling myself. Which, come to think of it, is not that different.”
“You’re not selling yourself, though,” Tony pointed out. “You’re selling your vision of America. You’re selling your ideas about what America could and should be. And I still think your ideas are better than anyone else’s.”
Steve gave him a small smile. “Thanks for the vote of confidence.” He sighed deeply. “I don’t know. The world is so much harsher than it used to be.”
“It just feels that way today because you spent the day with a crazy French nationalist.” Tony stood up and offered Steve his hand. “But I’m not sure statistics bear you out. Infant mortality is down. Everyone is less likely to die of starvation or war than they were when you were born. We’ve managed to wipe out a bunch of diseases. You and I are legally married, and you were elected president despite being openly gay. All of that’s way better.”
“But we could all die tomorrow in a nuclear explosion,” Steve said, accepting Tony’s hand up, “or of a biologically engineered supervirus, or in twenty years from climate change.”
“That is all true,” Tony allowed, “and it will still be true whether you’re in the White House or not. But I think you give us our best chance.”
“Jesus.” Steve bowed his head. “That’s a tall fucking order.”
“I know, babe.” Tony put his hand on the back of Steve’s neck and kissed him. “It’s a tall order. And if you decide not to run, I’ll stand behind you.”
“But you think I should.”
“Yeah. I think you should.”
Steve let his head drop to Tony’s shoulder. Tony wrapped his arms around him and let Steve lean some of his weight onto him. “Promise me you’ll be here at the end of the night,” Steve murmured. “I couldn’t do this without you.”
“You could if you had to,” Tony said, “But you don’t. I promise. Even if the best I can do is pizza, beer, and a foot rub –”
“It was perfect,” Steve interrupted, lifting his head to look at him. “Tony, it was perfect.” He kissed him. “Thank you.”
Tony hoped his face wasn’t as red as it felt. He thought about cracking a joke, but there was something about the way Steve was looking at him that made him think it wasn’t the right moment. He swallowed. “It’s my pleasure. You know that.”
Tony took Steve’s hand in his and squeezed it. “Now come on, leader of the free world. It’s time for bed. All the world’s problems will still be here in the morning.”
Steve sighed. “Truer words. Yeah. Time for bed. I have to be up at five-thirty.”
It was strange, Tony reflected, staring at the ceiling. He’d never thought that he would be the one in a relationship whose job it was to make sure his partner made time to eat and sleep and take the occasional break. He’d never been any good at doing it for himself, and that had definitely been Pepper’s job – literally, when she’d been his PA, and figuratively for years afterward. And yet here he was. It chafed sometimes. He missed his workshop and his company and his suit – God, he missed being Iron Man with a physical ache sometimes. And he often worried he was no good at looking after Steve. But this was where he needed to be right now.
He wouldn’t trade it, he thought, turning his head to look at Steve. Not for anything. Not even for all the pizza in Manhattan.