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Bond Has It Covered

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Eyes stinging and hands no longer as steady as he needs them to be, Tony Stark admits defeat. He drops the soldering iron to the table with a metallic thunk and rests his elbows on the table, pressing the heels of his palms to his eyes hard enough to make white spots dance in front of his retinas. He breathes out deeply and then quickly sits up and reaches out, remembering to turn the iron off – ha, in your face Pepper, he can still function safely after thirty hours with no sleep – waving up at Jarvis as well.

“Mute,” he mumbles, and the music that has been blaring through the workshop for the past forever abruptly turns off, leaving no sound but the gentle hum of the bots and machinery around him, and his own breathing.

Two seconds and it’s already too quiet.

“May I recommend hydration, sustenance and sleep, Sir?” Jarvis says, and Tony blinks. “In that order?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Tony mutters, scrubbing at his eyelids with his fingertips. “Does scotch, donuts and passing out down here count?”

“Technically, though I cannot find it in my programming to recommend it.” 

Tony snorts and eases himself up off his stool, back aching something fierce and neck twinging in protest. Wow, he’s clearly been at this a while. He picks up the circuit board he was working on, examines it for a moment before pulling a face and tossing it back onto the workbench, irritated that it’s not as neat as it needs to be to function at the specs he-

Shaking his head, he tries to make himself stop, because if he doesn’t he’ll start again and then that’ll be another ten hours lost in soldering and code and after thirty-six hours Jarvis will notify Pep-

Tony stops, brow furrowing. Hang on.

“J, baby, hypothetical question here; if I locked myself in here for over thirty-six hours, you wouldn’t hypothetically still call Pepper, would you?”

“No,” Jarvis says calmly, but any relief and glee that Tony feels at thinking he can live in here forever is shot down in red, white and blue spangly glory as Jarvis continues, “prior to her departure she personally requested that the thirty-six hour warning go to Captain Rogers instead.”

Tony splutters indignantly. “What? Why?”

 “Maybe because Ms Potts deems Captain Rogers to be a responsible adult,” Jarvis says, and Tony scoffs because despite technically being ninety and acting like an old man, Steve Rogers is barely twenty-four, which, in Tony’s humble opinion, does not an adult make.

Some would argue that leading a team of superheroes into battle against an alien race unleashed by a melodramatic Norse God would qualify someone as an adult, but whatever. Those people haven’t had to live with Steve Rogers for the past two months. A few days of heroic action does not balance out against eight weeks of brooding and acting like a god damn teenager. In fact, when Tony had had enough and accused Cap of acting like a stroppy teenager, he’d just got a scowl in return because apparently ‘teenager’ wasn’t even a word when Cap had actually been one.

“Where is the Capsicle, anyway?” Tony asks Jarvis, like he doesn’t already know the answer. He gives his schematics one final check-over and makes a cursory effort of tidying his bench. “Room or gym?”

“In the gym,” Jarvis tells him. “Dr. Banner is in his lab, and Agent Barton is-”

“On the roof,” Tony finishes, correctly. “How predictable.”

“Captain Rogers said the same about you when enquiring as to your whereabouts,” Jarvis said, and Tony makes an indignant noise as he throws a spanner towards the drawer where it should live.

“Why the fuck is he asking? This is my tower, I can be here if I want to be. I can be anywhere I want to be, because see the name on the Tower?”

“Currently there is only an ‘A’ on the tower, Sir.”

Tony groans and resists the urge to hit his head against the nearest hard object. Which happens to be the Mark Twelve, and that would be like headbutting himself which is a definite no-no. Maybe he should headbutt Steve or Clint whilst wearing the Mark Twelve. Not Bruce though; he’s not a maniac.

Yeah, he should definitely get some sleep.

“Lock it down,” he sighs, leaving the workshop and heading for the stairs. “Anti-Legolas measures too.”

“Locking doors and securing vents, Sir.”

“Good man.”

Just to make sure that Jarvis doesn’t tattle on him to Pepper or – worse – Steve, he heads down a couple of floors to the communal kitchen, fully intending to get his hydration and sustenance before passing out on his face in the penthouse.

Of course, there’s no-one there. There never is. The lights turns on automatically, soft and gentle considering it’s – wow, whoops – four AM, and the appliances all hum into action, ready to be used if needed. Everything is still so quiet after the blaring music and noise of the workshop, and it’s not comfortable, so Tony resolves to get out of there and into his own private space post-haste.

It’s going well, booze located and poured and necked and refilled, until he opens the fridge and sees an empty tray. He stares at it for long, long seconds and then reaches out to pluck the obnoxious yellow post-it from the middle of the empty tray.

IOU a shit load of donuts. 

It’s only knowledge that Clint is currently benched from active duty and going through - actively avoiding - therapy and pretty much losing the plot that stops Tony summoning the Mark Twelve and going to kill him. Instead, he just howls in frustration, slams the refrigerator door, kicking it for good measure, before turning his back to it, pressing his shoulder blades to the stainless steel and sinking to the floor.

Karmic justice in action. Sacrifice yourself to save the world, and obviously you get the girl and a shiny new bunch of friends who think you’re awesome for being a team player, and the powers that be get off for your back for five minutes.

Tony knocks back the rest of his drink with a grimace. Apparently, what actually happens is that your girl ups and leaves because she can’t handle the stress of a few measly near death experiences, your shiny new friends are all so psychologically damaged that they can barely spend ten minutes in the same room as each other despite living in the same damn building, and Nick Fury is already pissed off at you for something you can’t even remember saying or not saying.

And some fucker eats the last of your donuts.

Tony crawls across to the island counter and kneels up so he can swipe the bottle of scotch, slumping back against the cupboards with a thud, filling his glass before raising it in a derisive toast to the gods of karma before downing it in three swift gulps.

Some rich tapestry.

 


 

 

And the portal is closing far too quickly, and Tony is awake this time and not falling quick enough, and he can’t remember how to work his repulsors, and Jarvis is trying to call Steve and Steve isn’t picking up and there’s no damn air- 

Tony jerks awake with a strangled cry and swears as sunlight assaults his retinas and his brain and Jesus Christ everything hurts. His head is pounding and his mouth tastes disgusting and he’s lying on the kitchen floor. Fuck. He’s too old for this.

He manages to roll over and comes face to face with a pair of bare feet, inches away from his nose.

“Morning, Cap,” he croaks.

“Why are you on the kitchen floor?”

“That’s a stupid question,” Tony says, and grabs hold of the closest cupboard handle, using it to haul himself into a sitting position. “Clint ate my donuts.”

He squints up at Steve, who has his arms folded across his chest and looks like he just stepped out of the shower, clean and damp and disapproving. “No, that’s a stupid answer. That led to you sleeping on the kitchen floor, how?”

Tony snorts. “I thought you of all people would understand the pain of losing out on food. You nearly murdered Clint when he ate the last of your take-out without asking. Not to mention the bitch fit you had over that packet of bagels that went walkabouts.”

In another world, that would have qualified as banter. In this world, Steve’s face shutters and he stalks away towards the fruit bowl, snatching an orange up and turning it over in his big hands. “I have a high metabolism,” he snaps.

“Whatever,” Tony replies, suddenly weary and wishing with all of his might that that damned alien hadn’t crushed Steve’s apartment building. Because then Steve would be being a bitch there and not in Tony’s tower. Never mind that he’d deliberately redesigned and rebuilt the tower to include space for the All American Idiot and the rest of the Avengers. “Come on, Spangles. Give a bro a hand.”

He reaches out with a hand, indicating for Steve to pull him to his feet. Steve stares at him for a moment, still tossing the orange from hand to hand like it’s a damn baseball. Tony raises his brows and gives Steve a look, a I gave you a place to live when your building got crushed, put up with me or else I’ll pack you off to SHIELD to put up with Hill and Fury look, and Steve evidently gets it because he stops throwing the orange and steps over, grasping Tony’s hand in his and hefting him easily to his feet.

“Go to bed,” he says, letting go of Tony’s hand, then catching him with a hand on his shoulder as Tony lurches forwards, unsteady and not quite balanced properly. He sighs, exasperated, and pushes him back. “And shower.”

“Yes, Mom,” Tony says, and leaves the kitchen without another word. He looks back briefly to see Steve standing there in the middle of the kitchen, staring down at the orange in his hand and suddenly looking terribly lost and so, so young.

Tony ignores him and heads for the elevator and his bed.

 


 

 

Tony sits cross legged on the floor, temple pressed against the cool glass of the penthouse window. He stares out at the city beyond, all the lights and movement even at the late hour. There are cranes and construction crews everywhere, most of them still but a few working through the night. He debates putting on his armour and going to help one of the crews under cover of darkness, but he doesn’t think that they’ll appreciate a drunk Iron Man, no matter how helpful he wants to be. 

Fuck it. He flew a nuke through an alien portal for this city. Someone else can step up and do the clean up. He's already nominated the Fantastic Four; maybe if they help then he'll be able to forgive them for being in the wrong dimension when the Chitauri attacked.

A shape outside the window catches his eye, and he twists his head up and around to see Clint is outside, standing on a ledge above the deck. He’s wearing dark jeans and a black T-shirt and must be freezing without a coat at this time of night. He stands still for a moment and then clambers down from the ledge, swinging down off the higher part of the building and then jumping the last of the way onto Tony’s assembly pad, landing as easily as a cat. Tony watches him carefully as he walks slowly to the edge, then sits down with his back to Tony and the window, feet dangling off the edge into nothingness. 

“J, tell him not to jump,” Tony says. “Quiet though. Don’t make him jump. As in, don’t startle him, you know what I mean.”

He assumes Jarvis does as requested, because Clint lifts his hand up above his head and gives him a jerky wave and thumbs up without even turning around.

“Agent Barton requests that you quit fucking staring at him and go and perve on Cap instead,” Jarvis says calmly, and Tony snorts.

“Speakers,” he says, and then raises his voice slightly. “Stop making my baby swear on your behalf,” he calls, and Clint’s thumbs up turns into a middle finger. “And besides, this is my window, you’re ruining the view. Move.”

Clint doesn’t move. He lowers his hand, but doesn’t turn around. Tony leaves the speakers on, waiting to see if he’s going to talk. It’s strange with Clint. Some days he’ll chat openly – albeit flippantly or angrily – about what’s happened and other days he won’t utter a word. It’s not like Tony ever makes much effort to get conversation from him; they’re team and tower mates but that doesn’t exactly make them friends. Tony had assumed that Clint would be on lockdown within SHIELD after the whole possession and killing people thing, but he’s since learned that Clint point blank refused to stay on the helicarrier or in any designated SHIELD buildings. When Tony casually mentioned it once, Natasha had simply and curtly said ‘Coulson’, like that explained everything.

In a way, it did.

“Can’t believe the damn cranes are still working,” Clint finally says. His voice sounds steadier than it has in a while, but Tony’s not fool enough to think that he’s better. Not yet, anyway.

“Should be out helping,” Tony comments.

“I’m not allowed,” Clint says abruptly, the words bitter. “I’m still under investigation.”

“SHIELD?”

“Motherfucking WSC.” 

Tony whistles, low. “Son of a bitch,” he said. “Is Fury involved?”

“He’s doing what he can,” Clint says. “Like it matters anyway. Cap tried to go out again today.”

Tony gladly takes the change in conversation; he doesn’t even want to think about SHIELD and the damn WSC after what they did. “Good for Cap,” he says, and he means it. If Steve wants to go out and bust his ass hauling rubble, it’s his choice.

“SHIELD went and dragged him back in,” Clint tells him, and Tony frowns.

“What? Thought they’d love that. Captain perfect out there being a model citizen, build on the good press.”

“That’s what he thought,” Clint says, and that means that Clint must have talked to Cap about it. “But apparently it’s hard for the crew to do any work when there’s a hundred strong crowd getting in the way.”

“Let me guess, middle aged women swooning and trying to grab his ass.”

He hears Clint make a noise that could maybe be a grunt of laughter. “Dunno. He’s pretty pissed about it. Fuck, man, this sitting around doing nothing is driving me crazy.” 

“Alright, let’s call Thor. I bet he’s got more family we can goad into starting a fight.”

This time Clint does laugh, a low bark that sounds rough and unused. “How fucking fucked are we,” he says, and Tony sees his shoulders tense as he grips the edge of the smooth stone he’s sitting on, his head dipping forwards. “Actually wanting shit to go and fight just for something to do.”

“We’re full time Avengers these days,” Tony says dully. “Which is not as much fun as it sounds when there’s nothing to Avenge.”

Clint nods slowly and sighs heavily, his whole body moving with the deep breath. “Amen to that.”

 


 

 

“They’re fucked up, Pep. All of them. It’s like, a frat house of traumatic childhoods and poor life decisions-” 

It’s eleven PM and Tony thinks he should be given an award for being in bed at a reasonable time for a human being, never mind that he’s got four tablets open atop the sheets and Jarvis is busy crunching numbers for him. There’s also a wrench on his pillow, but he’s not entire sure why or how, so he’s going to ignore it. He’s only really up here because he doesn’t want to risk falling asleep on the floor like he did last week; his spine had not been grateful for that incident.

Pepper stops him whining with a look that’s disturbingly effective, even over video call. Tony pouts back, blanket still pulled up over his head like it’s a hood, body wrapped up in the rest of the material and leaning back against his headboard. Which used to be their headboard. Yeah, in retrospect he probably shouldn’t have called her.

“For one, Steve is the only one who could possibly qualify as the right age for a frat house,” she starts.

“He’s ninety-six,” Tony interjects.

“Twenty-four.”

“He’s ninety six, he was born-”

“He’s only been awake for twenty-four years-”

“That’s beside the point, the point is,”

“It is the point-

“No, the point is that he’s being-”

“And you are older and should know better-”

“- a total bitch-”

Tony.

Tony stops talking and pouts some more. Pepper looks like she couldn’t care less. “No-one ever said it was going to be easy,” she says. “And you decided to move them in. I think I recommended against it, actually.”

Tony pulls a face, not wanting to be reminded of that fact. He breathes out deeply, pokes a hand out from under his blanket to rub at his forehead. “It’s not just the Caphawk frat brothers,” he says, and even coming this close to admitting it is like pulling teeth. “I’m fucked up, Pep,” he says, and her beautiful face falls. He stares down at the lump of his knees under the blankets. “I’m a mess. I need you to sort me out.”

“You know I can’t,” she says, and there it is, the guilt at dragging her into this again, and he knows, he knows the only way she’s coming back is if he grows the fuck up and proves he can look after himself, but he can’t do that without her. Catch twenty two indeed.

“Yeah, I know,” he says, and lifts his chin, looking briefly at her before his eyes dart everywhere else. He shrugs, one shouldered, blanket slipping slightly. He catches it with a palm to the top of his head, pulling it back over his forehead. “I didn’t mean it. I’m right as rain. Just trying to guilt trip you into coming back.”

She doesn’t believe him, he knows it. “You know I can’t,” she says again, and it’s only a little bit comforting how it looks like it pains her to say it.

Tony nods, keeps on nodding. “Yep, yep, loud and clear. Right, look at the time, I gotta go, things to build and housemates to fall out with, you know the drill.”               

“Go easy on them,” Pepper sighs, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. She’s dressed casual but not ready for bed, and maybe she was on her way out for dinner or something, to hang out with people who didn’t want to make her tear her gorgeous hair out. It’s only just after eight on her coast after all, and she’s more than likely had a busy day, sorting out Tony’s company even though she can’t sort out him. “You’ve all got a whole load of issues, more than most people can expect to handle in a lifetime,” she pauses. “Natasha says Clint isn’t doing so well.”

“He ate my donuts,” Tony says before he can stop himself, and this time the look that Pepper sends his way is so disappointed that he can barely stand it.

“I’ll talk to you later, Tony,” she says, with a horrid note of finality. The call cuts out and Tony is left alone in his huge penthouse bedroom, blinking at the empty space where Pepper used to be.

“She’s not coming back, is she,” he says, voice hollow but steady.

“Based on past patterns of behaviour and inferences made from recent data,” Jarvis says calmly. “I predict not.”

“Percentage?” Tony asks.

“Less than twelve percent.”

Tony feels a choked laugh bubble up. “Twelve percent,” he echoes, and then he’s laughing, laughing so hard he might as well be crying.

 


 

 

It doesn’t take long for Tony to forget about the new arrangements regarding his thirty six hour limit. In fact, he forgets all about the limit at all. He holes up in his workshop with increasingly shorter and fewer breaks, building and scrapping and rebuilding, actions frenetic and soothing. He fixes a glitch in the Mark Eleven remote tracking system even though he doesn’t need to because the Mark Twelve is so much more badass, then he fixes the mount for Bruce’s electron microscope, then breaks it on purpose so he has an excuse to build a better one from scratch. He happily deconstructs one of the guns left behind by the Chitauri, trying to make sense of the alien tech and feeling cheerfully spiteful towards Nick Fury, who doesn’t know that Tony managed to swipe one. It’s a bit of a lost cause though; the finer aspects of the construction have been smashed beyond hope, and Tony suspects that if he were to go down a floor and borrow a certain super-soldier’s super-shield, the curve of vibranium would fit beautifully into the gouge in the casing of the gun.

It’s been a long week. Such a long, long week, with hours stretching on forever and days bleeding into one endless stretch of time. It’s been weeks and weeks –actually, he should really be counting it in months now – since Pepper left and it seems like it happened both a million years ago and yesterday.

Despite the situation with Pepper taking a nose-dive, things in the tower have been marginally better, Tony is aware enough to realize. Clint actually slept in a bed for two nights instead of outside on the roof, Bruce had voluntarily left his lab (and how unfair is it that Tony isn’t trusted to be in his workshop for more than a day and a half but Bruce is?) and Steve hasn’t destroyed any more gym equipment. Tony has been a tad erratic, but nothing out of the ordinary. In fact, the four of them all ended up in the kitchen at the same time yesterday morning, and nothing bad had happened. Steve had said good morning like he meant it, Clint had grunted but passed them all coffee, and Tony had made a joke that wasn’t about Cap and Bruce’s mouth had twitched like he wanted to smile but was too tired.

They’d only lasted ninety seconds together before dispersing, but hey. Progress, right?

And never mind that Tony hasn’t seen any of them since. He’s happy enough where he is, headache and backache be damned.

Whistling off-key but perfectly in time, he’s just starting on schematics for the Mark Thirteen gauntlets when the music abruptly stops and he pauses in place, confused.

“Jarvis?”

“Out.”

The voice that answers isn’t Jarvis, and Tony looks up to see Steve striding across the floor towards him, looking furious. He’s so tense he’s practically vibrating, and Tony’s brain whips through tense, vibrating, vibranium, ooh wordplay, muscles, shield, there’s a joke in there somewhere, but the words never take shape.

“Right now,” Steve says, voice low and commanding, and suddenly he’s not a twenty-four year old moron. He’s Captain America.

“Excuse you?” Tony asks, dumbfounded. “What the hell?”

“It is not my job to look after you,” Steve snaps, and he stops standing so close to Tony that he can practically feel his body heat radiating through the white t-shirt he’s wearing. “I don’t give a damn how long you’ve been in here, but apparently your damn AI does, and he won’t let me back onto my floor until I’ve fished your sorry ass out of this dump.”

“One, my workshop is not a dump, two, I didn’t ask him to ask you, Pepper did, and three, go fuck yourself.” 

For a moment, Steve looks like he wants to smack Tony in the mouth, and Tony’s breath catches in his throat. Wow. Steve can fight Nazis and command gods and it’s Tony that’s going to make him lose his cool. His hands clench into fists and Tony wonders just how quickly he can get into the nearest armour.

“All I need is for you is to stop being so damn selfish and come out for a couple of hours,” Steve manages through a clenched jaw, and it doesn’t take a genius to work out that inter-tower relations really are at an all-time low. Shit. And things had been going so well, what with the ninety second bonding over coffee and the not-yelling thing they’d got going on. “Then we can both go back to what we want to be doing.”

Tony suddenly resents Steve for even existing, every nasty and twisted thought he’s had in the past forever rearing up and focusing on the man in front of him. A vindictive streak not felt since the fight on the helicarrier rears, ready to strike and tear the precious Captain down, because he’s no better than the rest of them. How dare he stand there like he’s exempt from all this crap, the sanctimonious prick.

“What exactly am I interrupting?” he challenges. “Your super busy social schedule? All the super important missions you’ve got lined up? The hard work you’re doing with clean up?”

Steve takes an angry step closer, and he’s right up in Tony’s personal space. “I am helping with the damn cleanup work -”

“You’re busy doing fuck all, just like the rest of us,” Tony talks over him, tone scornful. He slips off his stool so he’s standing, and whoa that was a miscalculation because Steve doesn’t even back up an inch and now they’re practically nose to nose. “In fact, you’ve got even less to be doing than the rest of us. I’m working in here, Bruce is working in his lab; you’re just killing time because you’ve got nothing useful to be doing-”

“What’s going on?”

The tension between him and Steve jolts out of place as Bruce’s calm voice breaks through the argument. Steve curses something absolutely foul under his breath and turns on his heel, storming away from Tony. The back of his neck is bright red, his shoulders tightly coiled.

“I’ll wash your mouth out with soap, Captain Curse-words,” Tony yells after him, and marvels that Steve makes it out of the room without punching the door. He’s a bit disappointed actually, it would have been glorious to see and he could have observed just how strong his reinforced doors actually were. Steve leaves a brittle silence in his wake, and Tony finds he doesn’t even feel better now that the ass has left.

“What is with you two?” Bruce sighs, leaning on the doorway. “He’ll leave if you keep baiting him.”

“And?” Tony says, offhand, even though his stomach has just done a really weird twisty clench thing at the thought of Steve actually leaving. “He started that. I literally said nothing. Well, that’s a lie. I said what the fuck, but he was pissed before he got here. Nothing to do with me. Oh, and I told him to go fuck himself after he said he resented being asked to look out for me and called my shop a dump. Or something along those lines. He swore anyway. More than once.” He goes to turn to his holograph but it’s gone. He flicks his fingers to turn it back on, but nothing happens, and he now hates Steve and Bruce and Jarvis.

“What did you call us?” Tony asks wearily, elbow on his bench and forehead on his palm. “A chemical mixture? Chaos?”

Bruce sighs again and nods slowly. “Yes,” he says, pressing the fingers of one hand against his other palm, twisting them around and then squeezing his thumb. Tony watches his hands without really seeing them. 

“It’s all gone to shit, Bruce,” Tony says absent-mindedly. “Has Clint jumped off the roof, yet?”

Bruce winces. “We’ll be okay,” he says, and pauses. “As long as we all want to be.”

Tony doesn’t know about that. He knows that Clint is pretending not to be struggling with the fallout from Loki’s possession, and is finding Agent Agent’s death almost impossible to deal with. He knows that Bruce is finding it hard to accept the mixed reactions that the public have had to the Hulk. He knows that Steve is still dealing with the whole drowning, freezing, man-out-of-time, losing everyone thing. Funny. In another world he and Steve would have bonded about the whole self-sacrifice experience, but apparently not in this one.

“We need a job,” Tony says, admitting defeat and getting up, heading towards the door. His mind is now stuck on Phil and how he’d earned a proper name in Tony’s mind after he’d died. Too late, as usual. “I think this sitting around doing nothing is driving us crazy. It’s been months and all we’ve done is help with a few pieces of shitty clean-up work.”

“I think a lot of things are driving us crazy,” Bruce says, and pauses, waiting for Tony to pull the door shut and lock down the workshop. “Natasha’s back, by the way.”

“Great!” Tony throws his hands in the air. “Angry Captain, miserable Hawkeye and now an assassin who will undoubtedly want to take it out on my ass.”

“Why do you do that?” Bruce asks curiously, following Tony to the elevator.

“Do what?”

“Make it all about you,” Bruce says, and then raises his hands as Tony glares at him. “You do,” he says calmly, unapologetically. “Like the dynamics here revolve entirely around you. You know we’ve all got stuff to be dealing with, right? That’s not actually related to you? I mean, Steve-”

“I know,” Tony interjects, irritated. “Jarvis, kitchen. That’s what Pepper said.”

Bruce looks uneasy. “You called Pepper?”

“Bad idea, yes, hurray for Tony,” Tony mutters. “We’re full of bad ideas at the minute. And we were doing so well.”

“I know,” Bruce says gloomily. “I had high hopes when we all ended up in the kitchen.”

“You’re equally to blame for that, Brucie-Bear,” Tony says, tapping his fingers against his elbow in a staccato pattern. He needs a drink. “You spend more time in your lab than I do in my workshop.”

“But I have an adjoining bathroom and a bed,” Bruce reminds him. “I sleep.”

“So do I,” Tony says, and Bruce just shakes his head at the lie.

“Clint doesn’t,” he says. “Neither does Steve. Well, Clint naps at random times, enough to keep him alive and sane, but Steve-” he breaks off, shakes his head. “Frankly, I’m amazed he’s still cognizant.”

Tony throws him a grin. “You want to wire things into his brain and study him, don’t you?”

Bruce allows himself a small self-depreciating smile that borders on wistful. “Don’t you? He’s slept just less than four hours in the past four days, and all I can observe is-”

“A fucking foul mood?” Tony suggests, and Bruce grimaces.

“Well, not in those words, but yes. Increased irritability, slightly lowered concentration span. He’s pushing it, even for him.”

The elevator comes to a smooth stop and Tony and Bruce step out into the communal area. Bruce walks over to the kitchen and Tony follows, his mind flicking to Steve and the knowledge that he’s only slept four hours in as many days. His immediate reaction is jealousy, because seriously, why does Steve get more conscious time than the rest of them when he has nothing to do with said time? Tony would have invented a whole plethora of amazing new shit if he only had to sleep an hour a night and still function as well as Steve is doing.

And then he remembers the swearing and the tension and the way Steve had nearly flipped his lid, and reassesses. If Steve is sleep-deprived enough to be letting his temper get the better of him, then Tony certainly wouldn’t be at optimal performance if he were in the same position.

“And I thought I should be worried about Clint.”

Bruce turns to look at him, and it’s only when he says “you’re worried about Steve, then?” that Tony realises what he just said out loud instead of in his head.

His stomach does that strange twist again. “I don’t know,” he admits, heading to the coffee machine and jabbing at the button. Mostly because he wants coffee, but also because he feels like his hands need to be doing something. “He’s driving me crazy.”

“You wouldn’t like it if he wasn’t here,” Bruce says, and that resonates far too well with the feeling in Tony’s gut for him to be comfortable with it.

“Like I care where he goes,” he snorts, sounding just flippant enough to be believable. “I might bribe New York to finish his apartment first.”

Bruce just shakes his head again. “You can’t bribe New York,” he says patiently, and Tony hates how Bruce doesn’t get riled up at his bullshit. He just sifts through it and responds like a rational human being. God, he misses Pepper. He could wind her up and distract her from the things that mattered like no-one’s business. A lot like he seems to be able to do to Steve, actually.

“And where he needs to go is to bed,” Bruce continues, and then looks pointedly at Tony.

Tony hastily backs up towards the coffee machine, grabbing a mug and trying in vain to look busy. “Not it.”

“He’ll listen to you,” Bruce says.

“He’ll punch me in the face.”

Bruce cocks his head thoughtfully. “Maybe. But I’m pretty sure he’ll then listen to you when you regain consciousness.”

Tony sends Bruce a withering look, but doesn’t admit that he’s admitting defeat. “I am not letting him knock me out just so I can guilt trip him into bed,” he says, and Bruce’s mouth twitches in amusement.

“Oh, fuck off,” Tony sighs, and stalks away towards the elevator, doubling back for his coffee before he gets to the doors and mumbling a ‘shut up’ at Bruce. 

What does Bruce know, he thinks forlornly as the elevator takes him towards the gym, not even bothering to ask Jarvis where Steve will be.  One minute he’s saying it doesn’t all revolve around Tony, and then he’s pretty much saying that it does.

Fuck. If only one of them had even a clue about what was the right thing to do, this might be a hell of a lot easier to fix.

 


 

 

Tony stands in the doorway of the gym, hands curled around his mug of coffee and eyes on Steve. He’s been there for about ten minutes already, which is practically a lifetime if measured in Tony-Stark-attention-span years. He just can’t help it. Steve is art to watch when he’s like this. 

Coulson would have killed to watch this, Tony thinks vaguely, and shuts his eyes against the still aching wave of emotion that rolls through him when he thinks of how it would be if Phil Coulson were actually there to get them all in line.

He swallows, opens his eyes, and continues to watch Steve.

He’s wearing the same loose sweatpants and white T-shirt as earlier, and he’s going to town on a punching bag like it’s insulted his mother. Well, Tony thinks as he watches Steve deliver a vicious swing low down on the same bag he’s always at, the chains squeaking in protest. No-one ever accused Steve of being anything other than a creature of habit.

The lights are dimmed, casting soft shadows over Steve as he moves. Tony watches the shift of muscle under the shirt and even if Steve is a dick, he’s never going to not appreciate the power in that frame. Steve is a good solider – actually he's a great soldier. It’s the being anything other than that that he seems to be having trouble with.

“If I paint swastikas on the punching bags, will you try to hit them harder?”

Steve jerks slightly at Tony’s voice, grabbing the bag to still it and then turning to look at where Tony is lounging in the doorway. He wipes the back of his wrist across his forehead, but in truth he’s hardly broken a sweat. The other hand rests on the side of the punching bag like he needs support or something.

“If I hit them harder, they’ll break,” he says, and he doesn’t sound bitter or proud, he sounds like he’s just stating a fact.

“Bull,” Tony says, and pushes off the doorframe. “They’re reinforced. And if that wasn’t you hitting full force then I’ll-”

Steve turns with shocking speed, arm drawing back to punch the bag as hard as he can. The chain snaps, the bag splits and tumbles to the floor, and Tony is left eating his words as he stares at the wreckage on the floor at Steve’s feet. Steve is breathing hard, and he turns to Tony with an expression on his face that’s a little challenging and almost defensive, like he’s expecting Tony to give him shit about it.

“Oh my god,” Tony says in disbelief. “So that raging before was you holding back?”

Steve looks uncomfortable for a moment, and then sighs and bends down to pick up the ruined bag, tossing it out of the way as if it were a pillow. It hits the floor next to the wall, leaving a trail of sand over the floor. “I kinda gotta,” he says, and Tony starts at the inflection obvious in the words.

“And there’s the kid from Brooklyn,” he says, and Steve starts, his face wide open and oh-so vulnerable for a moment.

“I’m always the kid from Brooklyn,” he mutters, and there it is again, a slight twang to his words that Tony’s not really heard before. The open look on his face is gone though, replaced by something more controlled and altogether frustrated.

“Sorry for earlier,” Tony says suddenly, and Steve stares at him. Tony half shrugs and looks at the floor. “The whole, shouting thing. Yeah. I forgot Pepper had asked Jarvis to put you on Tony watch. You know I don’t mean the shit I say when I’m tired and pissy. Or being controlled by magic, whatever. Either way, I didn’t mean what I said.”

Steve grunts in reply and half turns, looking at the wrecked punching bag in the corner. “Got any more of those?”

Tony frowns. That wasn’t the apology he was expecting. Hell, if he can man up and say sorry – when he didn’t even really do much wrong – then surely Steve can do the same?”

“You swore at me,” he says, and Steve twitches irritably, picking at the wraps on his knuckles.

“I swore. Not at you.”

“You said-”

“I know what I said,” Steve bursts out, talking over him. “I was in the army – I’m from Brooklyn, for Christ's sake. I know how to swear. What do you want, Tony?”

“You need to go to bed,” Tony says, and Steve’s expression turns incredulous.

You’re telling me to go to bed?”

“You’ve had four hours sleep in the past four days. You’re being foul. You need to sleep,” Tony says frankly, and Steve’s expression darkens.

“Are you spying on me?”

Tony groans, pinching the bridge of his nose between his fingers. This is not worth the effort it’s taking. “No. Bruce has been monitoring everyone. He’s worried about you, and I’m tired of being yelled at. Come on. Bruce is currently coercing Barton into getting some sleep, too.”

It’s a lie, but thankfully Steve doesn’t notice. Tony holds his breath, and to his relief Steve just breathes out heavily and nods. He stares over at the ruined punching bag for a while longer and then nods again, turning away towards Tony and slowly undoing the wraps from one of his hands. Tony watches the muscles in his arm flex as he moves, and he can’t suppress the awe he feels now he knows how controlled Steve actually is with his strength.

“That must be exhausting,” he says, eyes still on Steve’s forearms as he walks over.

“What? Not really,” Steve shrugs.

“Not the bags. The whole, having to rein it in, thing. You could literally break everything if you didn’t.”

Steve pauses for a moment, bunching the wrap tight in his hand before starting on the other one. He exhales heavily again and then looks up and meets Tony’s eyes. He looks tired, and the anger is all but gone.

“You’ve got no idea,” he says, and then he’s laughing, low and bitter, looking away and down at his own hands. “What good is it if I’m not actually using it?”

Tony is forcibly reminded of the conversation he had with Clint, when Clint had been sat on the roof. “We know,” he says. “I know. We’re not really a group of people well suited to being idle, no matter what SHIELD think.”

This time, when Steve meets his eyes, there’s a glimmer of something a lot like understanding. A connection. “No,” he says slowly. “We’re really not.” He starts towards the door with Tony at his side. Tony offers up the coffee mug but Steve shakes his head. “Not if I’m meant to be going to sleep. Not that it makes any real difference.”

"Placebo effect?" Tony asks, curious despite himself.

"Something like that," Steve shrugs.

Tony pulls his 'well, what do you know' face and takes a gulp himself. He doesn’t say anything more, but it doesn’t matter. Steve is at his side and isn’t giving off any I am going to end you if you don’t shut up vibes, so he takes it as a win.

The elevator stops at Steve’s floor, and Steve gets out without looking back.

“See you later, Tony.”

“Night, Steve,” Tony calls as the doors begin to close again, and just before they do he catches the edge of Steve’s surprised face looking back at him. It’s only when he’s almost at the penthouse that he realises it’s because he called Steve by his given name, and not Cap or Spangles or something equally as ridiculous.

He heads straight for his bed once he’s out of the elevator, falling back on it and then wishing he hadn’t, because he’s not sure he’s got the energy to drag his ass to the bathroom. Or out of his clothes for that matter. Well, that’s what he gets for spending thirty-six hours in the workshop without a break.

Blinking hard to try and keep his eyes open, he pushes himself up into a sitting position and pulls his shirt off with tired fingers that won’t cooperate properly. He toes his trainers off and reaches for his socks, which seems like way too much effort.

“Jarvis, where’s Steve?” he asks on a whim, not entirely convinced Steve won’t double back and go straight back to the gym. He’s pretty sure Steve isn’t altogether that sneaky, and would have outright refused to leave if he didn’t want to. Tony’s not going to underestimate him though, not after the spectacle he witnessed in the gym.

“In his quarters, readying for sleep,” Jarvis answers, and Tony feels a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. Huh. Seems Bruce was right about one thing, at least.

Steve did listen to him.

 


 

 

“Morning sunshine! You’re looking less like you’re about to knock someone out." 

Tony hides his surprise at finding Steve in his workshop well. His steps falter marginally as he spots him sitting at his workbench and holding out a screw which Dummy is reaching for, whirring excitedly, but thankfully his mouth manages to cover the momentary stall.

Steve glances up, and then back in time to see Dummy swipe the screw and dart away, knocking over a sheet of metal with a clatter as he goes. “Morning,” he says, for once not taking Tony’s blathering too seriously. He watches Dummy warily as he deposits the screw on the other bench and turns back to Steve with a chirp. “Your robot won’t leave me alone.”

Tony laughs, a bark of sound that takes him by surprise. “He’s an idiot,” he says dismissively. “To what do I owe this pleasure, Captain?”

Steve shrugs. “Curious,” he says, looking around. “Jarvis told me not to touch anything. Is that a Chituari gun?”

“Erm, no?” Tony winces.

Steve almost looks amused. “I’m not going to tell Fury.”

Breathing out, Tony walks over, hands shoved in his pockets. “Then yes, yes it is. I was hoping to deconstruct it, get a look at how they were storing enough energy to fire off shots like that, but it seems someone smashed most of it.”

Steve knows exactly what he’s talking about, because his mouth twitches. “I’d blame Clint,” he says, and points. “That’s quite clearly an arrow hole.”

“Oh yeah,” Tony snorts. “Next to the huge gouge that looks suspiciously shield-shaped?”

Steve, the fucker, just nods innocently. “Yeah, right next to that.”

Tony feels another laugh welling up, and bites his lip. “Is this banter? Are we doing that now?”

Shrugging, Steve twists around on the chair, looking around some more. His eyes rest on the Mark 12, gleaming and ready to go. “Been out in it yet?”

“Not properly,” Tony says shortly. He stands on the opposite side of the bench to Steve, picking up a stray circuit board and trying to remember why he left it there. See, this is why he doesn’t take breaks from working. He tosses it back onto the bench and gives Steve a quick once over. It’s been a few days since they had their blow-out slash bonding session, and he’d be lying if he said he hasn’t been thinking about how it’d be when they crossed paths again.

“So. Just curious, then? Wanted to see where the magic happens?”

Steve frowns. “That sounds more like a sex joke.”

Tony’s mouth falls open. “Who are you and what have you done with Cap?” he asks, flummoxed and impressed. “First banter, and now sex jokes? That’s not the Cap I know.”

To his dismay, Steve’s expression clouds. “You don’t really know me at all,” he mutters, and gets up. He’s about to step forwards and then stops, exasperated, when Dummy rolls in front of him, grabbing at his shirt with his claw. “Back off,” Steve says, and tries to knock Dummy’s arm away. Tony winces slightly, the memory of the punching bag still fresh in his mind. “What is this? First you won’t let me in, and now you won’t let me out?”

“Steve,” Tony says, slightly disconcerted but not altogether surprised that the conversation and atmosphere have gone sour so quickly. “Steve, whoa, I was kidding. You know, running my mouth? Come on, back to the banter.”

Steve shakes his head, tense and unhappy. “I can never tell with you,” he says, and now he’s trying to pry Dummy’s claw from his shirt without ripping material or bending metal. Tony watches, because now he knows how much control he must be exercising with those fingers. “I can never tell with anyone here. You talk at me like I’m supposed to know when you’re serious and when you’re not, and expect me to not take offense?” He makes an angry noise in his throat, but Dummy doesn’t budge. “I had friends to banter with, and now I’ve got-”

Steve breaks off, breathing heavily. He takes his hands away from Dummy and clenches his fists near his sides. They’re trembling, and Tony hears alarm bells go off in his mind.

“Dummy, let him go,” Tony instructs, and Dummy does, though he clicks and whines unhappily. Steve smooths a hand over the front of shirt and jerks his head in a nod of thanks before pushing past Dummy and Tony towards the door.

Tony calls after him, because he’s an idiot and he can’t help himself. “You should know that I’m never trying to intentionally hurt you. You should trust me.”

Steve pauses in the doorway, doesn’t look around. “Yeah,” he says heavily, like it’s a huge burden on his shoulders. It probably feels that way. “I probably should.”

And then he’s gone, and Tony exhales and looks at Dummy, who whirs and lifts his arm up towards Tony’s face, politely inquisitive. “Two steps forwards and one step back,” he says, though in truth he’s not entirely sure when it became important that they go forwards anyway.

 


 

 

That night, Tony eats dinner – as far as he drinks two cups of coffee, one glass of scotch and wolfs down a carton of takeout that probably should have been thrown in the trash the day before – and then returns to the workshop to find Dummy squealing happily with a note in his claw. Tony manages to get it off him by trading a wrench and a length of copper wire, and he sits down to read it. It’s actually written on paper in pen, so he’s got a fairly good idea of who wrote it before he even gets two words in. 

I wasn’t actually angry with you earlier. Couldn’t work that out at the time.- Steve.

“Processed that, J?” Tony murmurs. “What the fuck?” 

“I would deduce that Captain Rogers is feeling regret at his earlier behaviour,” Jarvis says. “And he is attempting to apologise.”

“For all the apologising he does, you notice he never actually says sorry?” Tony asks.

“I can only comment that he is certainly capable of saying the word, though he has never said it to you,” Jarvis says, and Tony starts to laugh. He takes the note and clips it to the edge of the monitor next to him; the scrap of paper looks oddly out of place. 

“Talk numbers to me,” he says, eyes on the name on the note. “Positive interactions and all that jazz. How are we getting on?”

“I calculate that positive interactions within the tower have gone up by twenty-one percent,” Jarvis says. “Though a large proportion of those interactions are down to Agent Barton.”

“Risk of him jumping off the roof?”

“Lower,” Jarvis says simply.

Tony breathes out, reaches and touches the note with his fingertips. “Progress, right?”

“It would seem so, Sir.”

 


 

 

Tony sees the progress they’ve made in actual real-life form rather than in numbers around a week later. It’s mid-afternoon and the sky is bright and clear and cold, and Tony finds Clint and Steve sittting together in the communal area playing on a games console that Tony is a million percent sure isn’t his. Urgh, there’s something Microsoft plugged into his beautiful, custom-made, plasma screen television; that just screams blasphemy to him.

“What’s going on?” he asks, wandering in then coming to a standstill behind the sofa, hands resting on the back behind Steve’s head where he’s lounging back against the cushions, knees spread lazily wide and controller resting on his abdomen. Tony watches the television in morbid fascination as one of the digital figures shoves what looks like a flagpole through a guard and hefts the poor fucker up above his head, much to Clint’s delight.

“Nice one, Cap,” he says with an almost grin, shifting his weight a little. He’s perched on the back of the sofa with his feet next to Steve’s hip, because he can’t ever sit on furniture like a normal person. “Knew you were – move, move, quick – knew you were secretly bloodthirsty under that all-American exterior.”

“It’s horrendous,” Steve replies, but that doesn’t stop him promptly doing it again to the next guard who runs over.

“What the hell is this?” Tony asks, both horrified and impressed. “Steve, did you just stab that guy?”

“No,” Steve says patiently, his thumbs moving with admirable dexterity over the controller. His brow creases and his hands jerk slightly as he executes a complex take-down. “The character did.”

“Semantics,” Tony says. “Oh god, you totally stabbed him right in the face.”

“It’s not real,” Steve replies, sounding more distracted than angry or irritable. “It’s pretty fun.”

“It’s depressing, is what it is,” Clint says. “That we’ve resorted to letting Captain America kill virtual bad guys because there’s no real bad guys to fight.”

Tony and Steve both snort with laughter, and suddenly it’s like the three of them are actually friends, some bond between them that means they’re more than just housemates. It’s startling but also oddly comfortable, and Tony feels something strangely like relief. Considering he’d been adamant to Pepper that he didn’t want to bond with the Caphawk team, it’s strange that so much tension had dissipated now that it seems it’s happening.

Shaking his head at the violence playing out on the screen, Tony turns away and wanders towards the kitchen, absently wondering what normal people who weren’t trying to bond with superheroes would be doing with their day.  He’s itching to ask Jarvis for some numbers, some probabilities and percentages, wondering what the difference would be in the positive interactions between Clint and Steve and him and Steve.

He wrinkles his nose as he makes a beeline for the coffee machine, jabbing the button to turn it on. He can almost hear Peppers scandalised voice telling him that friends aren’t measured in numbers; if Jarvis measured their positive interactions the number would probably be less than one considering all the crap Tony’s put her through over the years. Actually, exasperated would probably fit better than scandalised. Nothing he does really surprises her anymore, just makes her look tired and pinched.

He grabs himself a mug, and is contentedly making his own drink when he hears Clint swear at the screen and Steve reply in a low voice. Tony pauses and then, forcibly resisting the urge to calculate what this will do to the percentages, grabs two more.

The ungrateful fuckers don’t even blink when Tony reappears, setting down two mugs in front of them on the coffee table. He steps back, rolling his eyes and wondering how rude it’d be considered if he actually claimed all three drinks as his own. He retreats to fetch his own drink, contemplates returning to the workshop, and then goes back to the sitting area and collapses into one of the lounge chairs that were ordered when it became clear just how much sofa space Steve and Thor were capable of hogging. Steve and Clint still don’t look up.

“Oh thank you Tony, you’re awesome Tony, check you out for actually doing something for someone else, Tony,” he grumbles, and Clint laughs.

“Dude, it’s coffee.

“And I’m Tony Stark,” Tony replies defensively, sipping his own drink. “I’m actually being considerate of the potential needs of others. This is a pretty big milestone for me, considerate isn’t an adjective ever found in my personal file.” 

“You are considerate,” Steve says absently, and then jerks violently as his character is cut down by a mob wielding swords. “Son of a bitch!”

Tony and Clint both start to laugh, and Steve looks like he’s about to throw the controller. Clint kicks him in the hip, not even noticing as his own avatar meets a similarly grisly end. “We’re not laughing at you.”

Well, they are a bit, and Steve knows it. Tony holds his breath because Steve is still looking disgruntled, and he could all too easily take offense and storm off in a strop. Tony can clearly see his expression from this angle, so is able to witness the exact moment that it relaxes.

“I think I’m maybe taking it too seriously,” he says dryly, dropping the controller onto the cushions and reaching for the mug of coffee. “Thanks, Tony.”

Tony is almost too distracted watching Steve’s shoulders shift as he leans forwards to catch the thanks. Almost. He doesn’t say anything though because then that would make it into a big deal and he honest to god just wanted to make coffee for people like normal friends might do.

“Did you know SHIELD actually recommend that Captain America shouldn’t be exposed to modern video games?” a voice calls out, and all three of them simultaneously turn to see Natasha wander in, Bruce at her side.

“SHIELD can go fuck themselves,” Clint replies cheerfully.

“Seconded,” Steve replies, and picks up his controller again like he’s proving a point. “They can say what they like about Captain America. Steve Rogers is liking the video games.”

“Let me guess, too loud, too raunchy and too violent for his forties sensibilities?” Tony asks scornfully, and Steve looks up at him like he’s a little bit surprised that Tony’s scorn is being employed on his behalf. “What do they know?”

“A lot about some things, little about others,” Natasha replies, and then lifts one eyebrow, just enough. “Have any of you left the building in the past week?”

“I’m not allowed out without a SHIELD escort.”

“All my cool stuff is here. Why would I want to go outside?”

“I’ve got lab work to be doing.”

“I wouldn’t know where to go even if I wanted to.”

Tony watches her look them all over, looking as calm and composed as ever. He knows she’s been doing a lot behind the scenes to try and straighten out the mess of a relationship between the Avengers, the WSC and SHIELD, and he’s grateful. Mostly because he doesn’t want to get involved, however tempting the idea of flipping off the WSC is. He also knows – through a bit of information sourcing that might not be entirely legal – that she’s fighting Clint’s corner tooth and nail. Interestingly, so is Fury.

“Okay,” she says. “Dinner?”

“I could eat,” Steve replies immediately.

“You can always eat,” Tony says dismissively, and Steve’s expression flickers towards defensive before it relaxes. Tony senses that Steve’s actually listened to him – again, wow, that’s twice in a week – and is actually trying to trust that Tony isn’t being cruel to him every time he makes a joke. Honestly, it’s a little painful to watch, seeing how much effort it takes.

“Nah, I’m good,” Clint says, but Steve elbows him in the shin and he winces. “Okay, yes, I’ll eat.”

“I’m glad to see someone else other than me is bullying you into actually looking after yourself,” Natasha says, and Tony raises his eyebrows. Normally Natasha and Clint’s relationship –whatever that mess actually is – is kept very discreet, so to hear her actually say something like that is frankly downright strange. Unable to resist, Tony looks over at Steve and sees that Steve is already looking at him, expression matching Tony’s.

They both simultaneously look away; wouldn’t be smart to let Natasha catch the knowing glances, after all.

“Take out?” Bruce says, like there was any other option. “I’m feeling Indian.”

“Yep,” Steve says, because he’ll eat anything as long as there’s lots of it.

“Pizza?” Clint says hopefully.

“You had pizza for breakfast,” Natasha replies, and seriously, how does she know that because she hasn’t been in the tower for five days.

“Indian,” Tony agrees. “Jarvis-”

The dinner order never materialises. A soft beeping comes from something in Natasha’s pocket at the same time that Jarvis interrupts Tony.

“Apologies, Sir, but there has been an incident that may require the Avengers’ attention.”

The game on the television cuts out, Natasha reaches for whatever she has that is still insistently beeping, and then the television flares back to life in a riot of noise and colour. They all whip around to watch, and it’s so loud it takes Tony a moment to focus and realise what’s happening.

Jarvis is playing a shaky cell-phone clip from a news channel. It’s jerking all over the place as the person holding the phone moves, but then can still see the gaping hole in the sky above some skyscrapers, the rough circle of inky blackness in the otherwise blue sky-

“Son of a fuck,” Clint snarls, and Tony glances over briefly, feeling sick. Natasha is suddenly right behind Clint, her hand tight on his shoulder.

“Please tell me that’s not what I think it is,” Bruce says faintly, and Tony can’t help but stare, his chest feeling too tight. He tries to swallow as they watch a streak of light tear through the portal, and then another and another, like shooting stars falling from another goddamn universe. Screams erupt on the footage, tinny and far too loud, and the camera jerks away for agonizing seconds and then swings back just in time to see the portal shrinking, twisting in on itself before vanishing. There’s a dull roaring in his ears like he’s underwater, and he can feel his heart pounding and the sensation of all that nothingness around him comes back, the memory overwhelming and terrifying-

A loud crack brings Tony back to the moment, and Steve is swearing and dropping the broken remains of the controller to the floor. He stands up, his jaw clenched and his shoulders tight, and Tony instantly recognises that he’s going straight into Captain America mode.

“Jarvis, where is this?” Tony asks, and he knows that it isn’t above their heads this time, that wasn’t his tower on the footage, but still-

“London, England,” Jarvis says calmly.

“We need to get to SHIELD,” Natasha says, looking at her phone. Clint goes to stand, but she shoves him back down with the hand that’s on his shoulder. “Not you.”

“Fuck off,” Clint snaps, trying to twist out from under her grip. “Don’t you dare leave me behind.”

“You’re suspended.”

Clint shoves her hand off his shoulder and climbs off the sofa to stand next to the coffee table, and Tony thinks he really must be losing the plot if he dares to push Natasha about. “Not when there’s a goddamn alien invasion happening again, I’m not!”

Natasha shakes her head, one short, sharp movement. “We don’t know what’s happening.”

“Look at that!” Clint bellows, gesturing wildly at the screen where the clip is playing again. “What the fuck else is that?!”

Tony can’t watch any longer. His heart is hammering double time and the arc-reactor sits heavy in his chest. He feels too warm and the sight of that god-damn portal is still making him feel hot and clammy and nauseous. He tries to wrestle the feeling back into place, clenching his left hand into a fist.

Thankfully, Cap takes charge. “Clint, put your shoes on. Natasha, I’m naming you his official SHIELD escort, right? That’s his conditions, we’re not breaking them.”

Natasha nods curtly, agreeing.

“Tony, get Jarvis to open the garage up. I’ll drive one car, Natasha, you take another. Get on channel two, I’ll do the same, as long as we’ve got one com per car we’re fine. Call Fury, tell him we’re making our own way there. Bruce, are you okay to go? We might need you.”

Bruce nods. He looks shaken but not green, and as soon as Cap nods he’s dashing away to find shoes and get to the garage.

“Am I suiting up?” Tony asks.

“No,” Cap replies immediately. “Information first, suits later.”

“But-”

“Tony,” Steve says, unwavering. “Trust me. Information first, suits later.”

Tony looks back at him, right into those blue eyes that are suddenly full of life and purpose, and he breathes out slowly between his teeth. “Okay,” he finds himself saying, not quite believing that he’s trusting someone else to make the call, hating how unnatural it feels. “Your call. Fine.”

Steve nods, and then they’re moving, running to the elevators and not looking back.

Finally, a small traitorous part of Tony’s brain thinks as he stands by Steve’s side in the elevator, so close their shoulders are brushing. Something for us superheroes to actually do.

Chapter Text

“What the fuck do you mean we’re not going anywhere?”

The entire team stares at Nick Fury, who is standing at the head of a large rectangular table, foregoing the leather backed chair that is next to him in favour of standing and looking authoritative. Tony can’t quite believe what he’s just heard, so much so that Clint has managed to get in there with the what the fuck question before him. Jesus, even Steve looks like he’d ask what the fuck right now, swear words and everything. He looks furious.

Nick Fury stares at Clint, who stares belligerently back. “Watch your tone, agent,” he says slowly.

“Sorry, I’m an agent again, now am I?” Clint asks, and the room is so tense that there might as well be weapons drawn. Tony sees Natasha shift almost infinitesimally in her chair, but is too busy being pissed off to worry for Clint’s personal safety. Actually, by the look on Natasha’s face, maybe it’s Fury’s safety he should be worried about.

“Actually, fair point. No, you’re not a damn active agent at the moment, and you won’t be again if that damn attitude doesn’t disappear,” Fury storms, and Clint shuts his mouth. Fury stares at him for a moment longer as if to check he’s going to stay quiet, and then exhales slowly. “Avengers are on standby.”

“So you called us in to tell us we’re not going to do anything?” Bruce asks, arms folded across his chest and sounding very unimpressed.

“Yes,” Fury says simply. “I thought I better spell it out loud and clear. You are not allowed to get involved.”

“Well that’s bullshit,” Tony interjects, and Steve’s eyes flicker to him for the briefest of moments and then away. “We are like, the alien guys. We are the professionals. We’ve got the high score on fighting aliens.”

“Why are we not allowed to get involved?” Natasha asks carefully.

“Lots of tedious and complicated reasons, mainly to do with red tape, legislation and up to date pysch evaluations,” Fury says. “All that aside, the main reason is that there is another team already on site, a British team who won’t appreciate an intervention by us yanks.”

“What does it matter?” Clint exclaims. “This is our damn job these days. We need to saddle up and go, like yesterday.”

“I agree,” Steve says, and Clint throws his hands in the air in a blatant even Captain America thinks we should so there gesture.

“Me too,” Tony says. “Come on Nick, we’re bored stiff.”

Fury positively bristles, and the look Steve throws Tony’s way tells him that that was definitely the wrong thing to say. “You’re bored? You think I should send a bunch of half-cocked superheroes across the Atlantic to get in a fight because they’re bored?”

Tony grins and ploughs on. “Yep.” 

“None of you are in any fit state to take on a mission,” Nick says.

“Bullshit,” Clint snaps. “Maybe we’re in no fit state because you’re not letting us do anything. Cap, come on, back me up.”

All eyes turn to Steve. He’s leaning back in his chair with his arms folded and his hands tucked up into his armpits, but there’s no mistaking the steel in his eye. “We should be allowed to go,” he says. “Clint is right. We’re not helping anyone just by sitting here.”

“You are not allowed to go.”

Steve leans forwards, hands going to the arms of the chair. “We need-”

“You need to get your collective act together before we even consider letting you lot out as a team, never mind overseas,” Fury interrupts, and there’s a horrible tense moment in which Fury stares at Steve and Captain America stares back, jaw clenched tightly and expression angry. “There is a team approved by the WSC handling it, Captain. Just because you’ve seen something similar doesn’t mean you are the only people equipped to deal with something like this. You are ordered to stay on American soil, in case anything similar happens here. What do we say to New York if there’s an incident here and you’re too busy pissing off the Brits? They can handle it.” 

Tony snorts. “James Bond has got it covered,” he says, and then because he just can’t not, he looks at Steve. Steve turns to look at him with a resigned expression on his face that Tony can’t help but love.

“No,” he says wearily, beating Tony to the punch. “I don’t understand.”

Tony wants to smile. “Fifties, I think, maybe sixties,” he says. “James Bond is a super-spy agent. Like Natasha, but male and British. English? I’ll catch you up when -”

“Can you two shut up with the flirting for ten seconds,” Clint says, and the moment breaks. Steve turns his glare on Clint, but Clint is now looking in the opposite direction and possibly like he regrets saying what he just did. Bruce is looking carefully at Tony, like he’s expecting a certain reaction to Clint’s comment. Tony ignores him.

Fury looks from Steve to Tony to Clint, then back at Steve and Tony, expression unreadable as ever. “Yes,” he says slowly. “James Bond does indeed have it covered. Now, are you going to agree that this is the best course of action, or am I going to have to order you to stand down?” 

Tony watches, and then to his dismay Steve sits back and nods. “Yes, sir,” he says stiffly.

“Oh, fuck this,” Clint says, and slides off of his perch, stalking away. Fury looks to Natasha who nods and follows him. Steve seems to have had enough as well; he pushes his chair back and stands up, looking exhausted all of a sudden. Tony shakes his head and goes to follow, as does Bruce.

“Thanks for the massive time waster there, Nicky,” he says as he leaves, ignoring the voice in the back of his head that points out that they were doing nothing with their time anyway.

 


 

Tony stalks into the tower, wishing he had a cup of coffee or a briefcase or a bottle of whiskey in his hand, purely because he wants to throw something through one of the glass walls in the atrium. He can’t believe that they’ve all been dragged out just to be told they’re not actually allowed to do anything.

Half of him is relieved that he doesn’t have to go anywhere near that damn portal, but the other half of him is furious at that part because he’s Tony Stark; he’s Iron Man and he shouldn’t be scared of anything. He's beaten countless obstacles so far in his life, and he's not going to start letting them get the best of him now.

“Jarvis, where are the Caphawk frat brothers?”

“Captain Rogers is in the gym and Agent Barton is heading towards the roof.” 

Tony is even angrier at Steve than he is at himself, though not quite as angry as he is at Nick Fury. He’s also pissed at Clint for shutting the car door in his face earlier; he’d been all set to follow Steve into the car and yell it out, but Clint had somehow managed to slip in first and had shut the door in Tony’s face, leaving him to ride with Natasha and Bruce in the second car. 

“Stark.”

Tony quickens his pace slightly, trying to get into the elevator and shut the doors before Natasha can catch up with him. Evidently the universe hates him, because she slips through the doors just before they close and now he’s stuck with her through seventy floors. Even worse, Bruce wasn’t quick enough to make it and is still wandering across the atrium, so Tony can’t even use him as a buffer or distraction.

“Don’t go and find Cap,” she says calmly, and what is she, a mind reader? “You’ll just make it worse.”

“I can’t believe he gave in,” Tony snaps. “Yes sir,” he mimics, and he knows he’s being cruel but he currently doesn’t give a shit. “What a joke.”

“Fury has a point,” Natasha says. “What if a portal opens here? Where would we be? And the London situation is under control – nothing has been damaged, no-one has been hurt.”

“Ifs and buts and coco-fucking-nuts,” Tony says. “I’m sick of being under Fury’s thumb. If Cap says we should go-”

“I don’t trust Cap’s judgment right now.”

Tony stops dead and stares at Natasha like she’s just announced she’s giving up killing and is going to get married and have babies instead.

“You’re telling me you do?” Natasha says, with a slightly raised eyebrow.

“He’s Cap,” Tony says, bewildered. “Yeah, he’s made a shitty call today, but-”

“You notice how he seems to take your opinion to heart?” Natasha says too lightly, and Tony feels wrong footed and confused and shit, he should know better than to talk to Natasha about anything. She can steal battle plans from demigods without them actually having to say anything, and Tony is tired and angry and in no place to fend off Natasha’s mind tricks.

“What?” Oh for fuck’s sake, mouth.

Natasha rubs absent-mindedly at one of her fingernails with her thumb, and even that is scary, the slow careful movement like she’s wondering how much pressure she needs to apply to kill something dead. “You see how he is with the team, with Fury, with everyone. His control, his judgment is crystal clear; he knows when to listen and when to ignore the orders.” She pauses, and so do her fingers. “And then you see how he gets with you. If you go to him and start pressuring him to go, he’ll listen to you and disobey orders from Fury. He’ll go against what he’s figured is the best course of action, because of input from you.”

“He wouldn’t,” Tony says, but he’s not entirely sure.

“Steve Rogers listens to you more than he does anyone else. And will deliberately contradict you in a way he doesn’t do to anyone else,” Natasha says, and then her gaze turns speculative. “I’ve been trying to work out why. I think maybe Clint-”

In a dazzling display of maturity, Tony decides he’s had enough and clamps his hands over his ears. “No. Not talking this out with you. Nu-uh.”

The elevator stops and the doors open. Natasha just smiles, like he’s given her the answer she was looking for anyway, and walks out of the elevator without looking back.

"Damn devil-woman,” Tony fumes. “Jarvis, penthouse.”

The doors close again leaving Tony alone with his thoughts, which have decided to take a rather uncomfortable turn. He reaches up and presses his fingertips against his mouth, thinking hard, because wasn’t that exactly what’d he’d thought about Steve, too? That he can apparently deal with everything with control and clear judgment – except when he’s around Tony.

Things might be a teensy bit more complicated than he first imagined.

 


 

“Where is everyone, J?” Tony asks, knocking back his fifth – fourth? No, definitely fifth – drink of the evening and watching as the last of the weak sunlight fades over the tips of the skyscrapers he can see from his window. The sky is a mix of washed out blue and purple, with orange bleeding through the gaps between the buildings. It’s been hours since their meeting with Fury and the tension in the tower is so thick that Tony can barely breathe. And here Tony had thought that the team had had trouble getting along when they were dealing with a major global crisis. Apparently that had nothing on how they fell apart when they weren’t distracted by smashing aliens.

The video game session from earlier is already a distant memory. It honestly feels like it never even happened. The smiles, the joking, all blown away like dust in a strong wind.

“Doctor Banner is in his lab, Captain Rogers is in the gym, Agent Romanov is in her quarters and Agent Barton is on the roof.”

Tony shakes his head slowly and pinches the bridge of his nose between his fingers. He feels utterly useless, helpless and incompetent. He can still hear the screams from the news report, see the gaping hole in the sky whenever he shuts his eyes. Being involved in a fight isn’t exactly fun, but sitting miles away from one knowing he can’t do anything about it is infinitely worse.

He wonders who the British team are that the WSC has approved. Stiff-Upper-Lip Man, and Captain Afternoon Tea, maybe? Maybe they’d queue up politely to take down whatever it was that had come through the portal, nice and orderly. 

“Is everyone okay, J?” Tony murmurs, resting his forehead against the glass, not really seeing anything.

“According to the parameters I have set regarding the definition of the state ‘okay,’ no,” Jarvis says quietly. “I have very few contextual clues available for Agent Romanov, but the fact she has shut herself in her quarters and turned off all internal and external communication may indicate she is unhappy with the situation. Doctor Banner appears to be relying heavily on meditation to keep his frustration under control, and Agent Barton seems to have reverted to his earlier behaviours. One might say that he appears depressed again. Captain Rogers has broken three pieces of gym equipment and is now sitting on the floor of the gym,” Jarvis continues. “And you have locked yourself in your rooms and have consumed a large quantity of liquor.”

“I know that,” Tony snaps.

Jarvis doesn’t even sound apologetic. “You did ask if everyone appeared okay, Sir.”

Tony shuts his eyes. “I don’t even dare ask what you think this is going to do to the positive interactions model,” he says tonelessly.

“I do predict a temporary decrease.”

“Temporary, yeah, sure,” Tony snorts, and turns away to get himself another drink.

 


 

The phone rings once, twice and then Pepper picks up, looking frantic. She’s wearing a bautiful cream business jacket and her hair is tied back neatly, and the expression on her face does not meld well with the professional aura she’s otherwise giving off. 

“Please tell me you’re not in London,” she says immediately. “I’ve been trying to call you for two days, and Jarvis cut me off and said you were unavailable-”

“I’m not in London,” Tony tells her, rubbing at his temple. “We’re not allowed to be in London.”

Pepper is looking increasingly agitated. “I know, I spoke to Natasha. Why did I have to hear about all this from Natasha, I saw the news and knew you’d want to be over there doing something, but she says you’re on standby in case anything happens but I know you don’t sit still well-”

“You ramble when you’re worried,” Tony grumbles, and waves a hand vaguely at her as if he can physically fend away the rush of words. Pepper’s face turns incredulous.

“Are you drunk?”

“No?” Tony tries, resisting the urge to reach for his tumbler of whatever was in that bottle in the back of the cabinet. It’s sitting by his knee, just out of range of the video call. He doubts Pepper needs to see the actual drink to come to an accurate conclusion though, as he’s currently sitting on the floor of his workshop, propped up against the side of his workbench and listing dangerously to the side.

“Jarvis, is he drinking?” Pepper demands. “How much has he had? If he’s still drinking, call Steve-”

“No, no, no,” Tony hastily interjects, waving his hands violently at the ceiling, even though he’s not Steve, he’s not an idiot and he knows Jarvis doesn’t live in the ceiling. “Jarvis, don’t you dare!”

“Wouldn’t dream of it, Sir,” Jarvis replies coolly. “As I doubt alerting Captain Rogers to your current condition would be beneficial to your wellbeing.”

“What?” Pepper snaps, now looking furious. “Why wouldn’t Steve help? Jarvis? Tony, what is going on, what’s up with you-”

“We’re benched, that’s what’s up! Fury won’t let us go to London and I made friends with Steve and Clint on Saturday and then this shit happened and Fury pissed us all off and then Steve pissed me off, so I’m not talking to him and he’s not talking to me and Steve yelled at Clint for being on the roof. And of course Clint yelled back and Natasha said some shit about me and Steve and I seriously think Bruce is on the verge of hulking. And yes, I’m so damn drunk I can’t even get up and if I try and leave the workshop I’m pretty sure I’ll throw up, but if I stay here for much longer Steve will get the Tony-call and then he’ll murder me because he hates the damn Tony-call but Jarvis won’t turn it off. Bastard is going Skynet on me.”

Pepper, bless her ever-patient heart, just blinks at him in that way she does when she’s taking a moment and trying to work out exactly how crazy he’s being, and then sighs, looking down at her knees. She looks up again, breathing out deeply. “So. I assume you wanted to go to London, but SHIELD said no.”

“Correct.”

“And this had annoyed you all somewhat?”

“Also correct.”

“So you’re now all dealing with it like responsible adults?”

“…not so much,” Tony admits. “I’m finding the not getting along with them thing hard.”

“Okay. A while ago you were finding getting along with them hard.”

“I know!” Tony all but shouts. “But then we did get on, and Steve was playing video games, video games, Pep, and we were joking together about guns and he sassed me and it was brilliant, and now everything I say sets him off again and we need to go to London-”

“Tony,” Pepper interrupts firmly. “You do not need to go to London. I’m sure there’s a reason you aren’t going on this mission-”

“James Bond,” Tony says dismissively, and Pepper stills for a moment, mouth still open mid-word. She nods slowly, obviously trying to work out what the hell Tony is on about.

“James Bond. Alright,” she says, like Tony is being completely rational. “Look, I’m sensing two issues here.”

“Just two?” Tony mutters, but Pepper barrels on as if she didn’t hear him.

“One, you’re annoyed that Fury is telling you what to do when you like the idea of the Avengers being a team that isn’t told what to do,” Pepper says, and Tony nods sombrely. “And two – Steve.”

“Steve and Barton,” Tony says, but Pepper shakes her head.

“Steve,” she says seriously.

“Steve isn’t going to jump off the roof.”

“Clint is not going to jump off the roof,” Pepper says hotly. “Natasha would kill him if he did. And stop trying to distract me, we’re talking about you and Steve-" 

“Pep, just don’t-” Tony says, and he grabs his drink and drains it, throwing the glass aside. It hits the floor with a thunk and rolls away. “ChristChrist, you sound like Natasha.”

Pepper, the bitch, waits for him to look back at her before speaking again, her eyes locked on his. “Tony, do you even know - do you even realise how you feel about Steve?”

Tony hangs up on her.

“Jarvis, keep her out,” Tony instructs. His heart is hammering strangely and the back of his neck feels uncomfortable and warm, and he’s not sure it’s the drink.

 


 

“Out of the gym, then?” 

Steve doesn’t bother to reply to Tony. He just carries on staring down at whatever he’s got in front of him on the countertop. From his position behind Steve, Tony can see his arm flexing as it moves. If Tony were more sober, he’d leave Steve well alone; Jarvis has been keeping tabs and he knows that Steve has slept for approximately five hours in the past six days. There’s been pretty much nothing in the way of news from London since the initial incident, but instead of making them relax, it’s just making everyone more frustrated. 

But Tony isn’t sober; he’s drunk and resentful and wants to yell at Fury but Fury is refusing to take Tony’s calls, and Pepper had been on his case about being drunk and acting like an immature brat, texting him because Jarvis won’t let her calls through, demanding to know why had he reverted to that when things had been going so well.

He bitterly regrets hanging up on her. All that had achieved was to piss her off and make everything feel ten times worse.

“I was waiting for you to emerge actually,” Tony continues, and underneath the resent there’s something else tying his stomach in knots, a strange feeling that responds to the thought that it’s been days seen he’s actually seen Steve properly. “There’s only so much fun to be had in the gym when you’ve broken all of the equipment.”

“Tony,” Steve starts, and his voice sounds as tense as his shoulders look. Tony ignores the warning sign and wanders over, aiming for the coffee but ending up at Steve’s side, because he’s selfish and wants to be near Steve, never mind what Steve might want. He purposefully doesn’t examine any thoughts concerning why he keeps finding that he wants to be near Steve.  He looks down at what Steve is busy with, and is taken aback to see a sketch book on the counter and a pencil cradled gently between Steve’s fingers.

“You’re drawing.”

“You sound surprised,” Steve says. “I used to be an artist, sorta.”

“Picking it up again now the superheroing isn’t working out as planned?” Tony asks, and Steve’s fingers flex dangerously on the pencil.

“Something like that,” he says tersely, putting the pencil down. “What do you want?”

“Jesus, Capsicle. Chill out, I’m just asking,” Tony says, and looks down at the drawing. It’s a face, almost completely shaded; Steve’s clearly been at this a while. A young man with light eyes that look positively wicked, short dark hair, a stubborn set to his jaw and a glimpse of a military collar at the base of his neck. A slight smirk graces his lips and Tony can practically sense the joke about to trip from the guy’s mouth. “Who is it?” Tony asks, and Steve shuts the sketchbook.

“No-one.”

Tony sends him a disbelieving look. “No-one important, then? Not important enough to even share a name?” he says, deliberately needling at Steve in the way he knows will work. It’s not kind, but it’s effective, and he’s got no idea why he’s doing it other than he knows he can.

“It is important,” Steve bites out, one hand resting protectively on the cover of the book. “He is - he-”

He breaks off, and Tony fills in the gap.

“Was? No longer is?”

Steve snaps. He stands up, chair screeching on the floor. He opens the sketch book violently and to Tony’s shock he rips out the page and screws it up into a ball, flinging it at Tony’s chest. It bounces off the arc-reactor uselessly, tumbling to the floor and skittering under the chair.

“You’re right,” he snaps. “Not important anymore, just because he’s not here right in my fucking face.”

He storms off. Tony watches him go, and it leaves him feeling hollow as he realises that he and Steve are pretty much back to square one. There’s no energy left in Steve for working out Tony’s intentions anymore, for making the effort to understand and trust. He can’t say he really blames him; Tony knows he’s crossed the line from joking around to being a dick, and he can’t expect Steve to put up with that, can he now?

Not quite knowing why he does it, Tony crouches down and picks up the crumpled up ball of paper. He sets it out on the counter and carefully smooths it out, trying not to smudge the drawing.

“J?”

“Sergeant James Barnes, of the 107th,” Jarvis says. “A member of the Howling Commandos, Captain Rogers' childhood friend. Killed in action during a mission in 1943, under the command of Captain Rogers.” 

“Bucky Barnes,” Tony says heavily. “Shit.”

“Quite,” Jarvis agrees, and if Tony didn’t hate himself before, he certainly does now.


 

Tony debates apologising to Steve. He even makes it as far as standing outside Steve’s room, the word sorry on the tip of his tongue, but then he remembers that Steve never apologises to him when he’s being a dick, so he leaves again. His righteous indignation never lasts long though, and all too often he finds himself thinking about Steve playing video games or Steve bantering with him or Steve smiling quietly, and then he just feels miserable again.

And then gets angry because he can’t – won’t – work out why it bothers him so much. 

The tower is still filled to the brim with tension. Tony can’t fail to notice how ironic it is; they should be all bonding over their mutual anger at Fury and the situation, but they’re all so angry that they simply can’t. They’re back to strained civility, barely able to spend more than an hour together at one time, let alone talk about anything that matters. Bruce has retreated to the lab and only comes out for food. Natasha has similarly vanished and when she is around she’s waspish and sets everyone on edge. Clint is outclassing Tony in the belligerence stakes – only by a fraction, mind – and Steve is being downright foul. During one particularly pleasant exchange, Tony overheard him calling Clint a hot-headed son of a bitch, and Clint had called Steve something that made even Tony cringe.

They’ve managed to make up, though. Tony knows because Jarvis knows; Clint had apologised for the name-calling and Steve had said something in return that amounted to an apology, even though he hadn’t actually said sorry. Again.

After finding that out, Tony most definitely does not debate staying in the workshop long enough to trigger the Steve-alarm.

Instead, he makes a copy of the picture Steve had deliberately ruined, digitally removes the creases, prints it out and slips it under Steve’s door one night.

He’s not sure it was a good idea, all in all. The next day Steve destroys four punching bags, and Tony watches him from his workshop on a small screen next to his Mark Thirteen schematics, something drawing tight in his chest as he wonders if it was his actions or the picture that’s made Steve react like this.

He doesn’t quite know what to do when he realises that it’s probably both.

And then the hours turn into days and when Steve doesn’t say thank you, doesn’t even acknowledge it, Tony realises that he’s been waiting. Waiting for things to be alright between him and Steve, hoping that what he did with the picture would put everything back to how it was when Steve didn’t openly hate his guts.

And then he realises that maybe Clint and Natasha and Pepper were actually onto something, and he smashes up his workshop and drinks enough to make himself violently sick several times over, enough to make him forget clean about what he actually maybe thinks of Steve Rogers.


 

 

“Wow, look at this. Team meeting! Buddy time! Let’s play beer pong and watch the game – no, let’s play liquor pong and watch porn.” 

Once again, Tony is more than surprised to see his three tower mates all together in the kitchen. More so considering that they’ve been somewhat disconnected since the whole London thing. On top of that, it’s nearly midnight; not exactly a sociable hour. He considers feeling left out and offended for about ten seconds, but as he sways closer he realizes that they’re not exactly hanging out, and even if they were he wouldn’t want to join in anyway, no matter what his mouth says.

Bruce is stood at the counter, slowly stirring a pot of tea or some shit, free hand pressing a book open in front of him, movements slow as he gets distracted by whatever it is he’s reading. Clint is sitting cross legged on the island counter with a deck of cards in hand, flicking them into a wastepaper bin that is on the floor about six feet away. His expression is oddly blank and he’s dripping water all over the counter, and Tony belatedly looks towards the window to see it’s pouring with rain, dark streaks spattering and running down the glass. Steve is rummaging in the fridge; the back of his shirt is also drenched and for a moment Tony’s alcohol sodden brain assumes he’s also been sitting out in the rain like a douchebag, but then Steve turns from the fridge with a bottle of water in hand and Tony clocks the sweatpants and wraps around his knuckles. 

Tony’s stomach definitely does not flip at the sight of Steve like that; sweaty and tousled and aboslutely edible.               

“Do you ever stop talking?” Clint says tonelessly, flicking another card into the bin. Perfect hit.

“No,” Tony says, and looks away from Steve with a grin that shows teeth. He walks over to the counter near Clint’s knee, leaning forwards on his elbows and setting his glass of scotch down in front of him. It just so happens that he’s now completely and utterly in Steve’s way, but he can’t bring himself to care. Steve can either go the long way around or shove him to the side, and the drunken part of Tony’s brain finds the idea of either annoying Steve or touching him quite appealing.

“Well, this is a surprise.”

A voice from the doorway makes him jump, and he twists around to see Natasha padding over, feet making next to no sound on the floor. She looks calm and collected and has a cardboard box in her arms and a pair of towels slung over her shoulder. She raises her brows at the four men and then reaches up with one hand to pluck up one of the towels and throw it at Clint, before chucking the next one at Steve.

Steve grunts in thanks and wipes down the back of his neck. Tony watches him as he loops the towel over his massively broad shoulders, cracking the top off the bottle of water, his movements slow and careful because of the tape wrapped around his knuckles. He’s back in broody mode today, mouth turned down and eyes troubled.

Clint merely picks up the towel, dumps it over his head like a hood and carries on flicking cards.

Tony feels a strange twist of something at Natasha’s actions; he’s not one for gender stereotyping, and definitely not where Natasha is concerned, but it is odd how she turns up periodically and, well, looks after them. As best she can, anyway.

“How do you even get in without me knowing?” Tony asks her. Steve shifts away from the fridge and leans back against a cupboard, body only a few inches from Tony’s. “Has Fury caved yet? And what’s with the box?”

Natasha’s lip curls and she tosses the box onto the counter. It hits Clint’s knee but he doesn’t even look away from the bin, just picks up another card and sends it sailing across the room to hit the back of the couch before bouncing back into the bin. “No, he hasn’t, and the box is from marketing,” she says, and it’s amazing how such a small inflection of disdain in her voice can have Tony fearing for both his genitals and his life. “They suggested these. I offered to take care of the prototypes.”

Tony is in the box quicker than anyone else can move; now he’s sure that it’s not something Natasha can use to kill him, he’s curious. Well, now that he’s sure that it’s not something that’s intended purpose is to kill him. He tears off the tape and pulls it open, and as he does he feels Steve step closer to the counter, close enough that his hip brushes Tony’s, a gentle drag of material against material. For a millisecond, Tony is suddenly acutely aware of just how close he is, and why is Steve all up in Tony’s personal space when he hates him? Not that Tony’s complaining, but still.

Bruce stops reading to watch, and even Clint pauses to look over as Tony plunges his hand into polystyrene shapes that fill the box.

“What the-?!”

He finds himself holding an eight inch Captain America toy, rendered perfectly in plastic, shield and all. Another scrabble through the box pulls up a Hawkeye, which Clint snatches out of his hand with shocking speed.

“No way,” he says, and Tony cackles with laughter.

“These are ridiculous,” he insists as he liberates a Hulk, a Thor and a Black Widow in quick succession, and then Steve’s hand is in the box and Tony swats at him but he’s too late; Steve withdraws with Iron Man cradled oddly gently in his palm.

“Wow,” Bruce says, expression guarded as Tony throws him the Hulk figure to look at. “These are…”

“Who signed off on these?” Steve asks, holding Iron Man far too close to his face for Tony’s liking. Tony drops the Thor and Black Widow and reaches out for it, but Steve pushes his hand away without even looking at him, brow furrowing in irritation at Tony’s grabby hands.

“None of us,” Natasha says. “Hence why I’m looking after the prototypes until one of us does. There are probably unofficial versions out there, but there’s not a lot I can do about that.”

Clint makes himself walk across the table towards Tony’s glass of scotch, animated in a way he hasn’t been for days. His eyes look more focused, brighter despite the dark circles around them. Tony feels a flicker of relief, and wow, he hasn’t been fully aware just how worried he’s been about Clint’s mental state. Just like how he hasn’t been aware of how he doesn’t mind Steve hovering at his elbow, well into his personal space. Maybe if he and Steve just vow to never talk, they’ll get on just fine.

“You stole these?”

Natasha just looks at him. “That’s relative.”

Tony snorts and marches his Captain America toy across the table towards Hawkeye. “I am Captain America,” he says, pitching his voice deep and commanding. “I am here to tell you what to do, fairy archer.”

“I am here to shoot you in the face,” Clint replies with an arched eyebrow, and Tony’s not sure if he’s playing along or not. Eh, no matter. Clint’s bow’s on lockdown so he’s safe for now.

“I do not sound like that,” Steve says, and Tony can hear the first threads of frustration in his tone, imagines that if they were pressed closer together he’d feel the tension in his frame. “Give it here.”

“AVENGERS, ASSEMBLE!” Tony makes the action figure say, and Clint snorts with laughter.

“You’re such a child,” Natasha says, and she sounds bored but Tony totally knows she thinks he’s hilarious.

“Coming from the woman who just lifted a box of toys,” he retorts.

“She was right to take them. We need to be careful with this sort of thing,” Steve says seriously, and Tony rolls his eyes, reaching for his drink and taking a swallow before putting it down.

“I know that, Spangles, if you were actually listening you would know I wasn’t disagreeing with her,” he says. He hops the figure up and down in front of Steve’s face, so close that his blue eyes almost cross trying to focus on the jiggling toy. “I did not give the order for these toys to be made! Dissention in my ranks!”

“Tony.”

Tony ignores Bruce’s soft warning and Natasha’s tiny frown. In hindsight, he really shouldn’t have done. Hell, he’s drunk enough to know that if he wasn’t drunk he wouldn’t be winding Steve up like this, knows that he’s only doing it so he doesn’t have to think about the mess that his life shouldn’t have become. It’s easy to simply revert to winding Steve up, predictable and known.

“Back off,” Steve snaps, knocking Tony’s hand away with more force than he’d used first time round. “Stop it.”

Tony cheerfully ignores that warning sign as well. “Stop what? Calling you Spangles or…playing with you?” Tony leers, letting the innuendo roll off his tongue with ease.

Steve’s expression goes dark in a way Tony hasn’t seen before, and wow, somehow he’s really hit a nerve with that. His spine prickles and his brain is suddenly flicking through endless possibilities, cause and effect, why that reaction at this time, because he’s seen Steve mad in countless ways but not like this, and there has to be a reason-

“Both,” Steve bites out, and things very quickly go to shit from there. There’s no dramatic build up, no time for Tony to realize just how far he’s pushing, no time for anyone to intervene. Tony laughs and says, “you gotta find a way to lighten up, Spangles.” He grins, and looks at the half-empty tumbler of golden liquid in front of him. “Here. Have a drink.”

And he dunks the Captain America toy headfirst into his glass of scotch.

And Steve punches him in the mouth.

It’s a hard hit, barely enough control to save Tony from a broken jaw. Pain blooms across his mouth and he is knocked to the floor, and Natasha is there shoving Steve back and Clint yells and scrambles forwards, and the box that held the toys falls to the floor, scattering polystyrene pieces everywhere. Bruce rushes around and grabs Tony, checking that’s he’s conscious and okay.

He is, but barely. He tries to blink and clear his sight. Fuck. His head is swimming and bright spots keep dancing in his vision, voices around him sounding blurry and echoing and he’s not entirely convinced he’s not going to pass out. He feels like he’s underwater, limbs lethargic and heavy and not responding as they should.

“Mmf,” he tells Bruce, swallowing thickly, convulsively. He fights past it as he always does, because isn’t fighting off unconsciousness the number one necessary skill on a superheroes CV? He keeps breathing and swallowing. Slowly but surely, the word comes back into focus and the desire to pass out or throw up fades.

Wiping his bleeding mouth on the back of his shaking hand, he looks past Bruce, past Clint and Natasha who are both pressing Steve back into the refrigerator. Tony knows that they couldn’t keep him there if he really didn’t want to be, but it doesn’t scare him. The look on Steve’s face does.

He looks wrecked. Torn after being stretched too thin, agony in every muscle and line of his body. He’s staring at Tony and the look on his face tells him that he’s absolutely mortified, shame and anger at himself seeping from every pore. He’s still clutching the Iron Man toy in his non-hitting-Tony fist, and Tony is amazed it hasn’t broken.

“Tony,” he manages to say, and he’s so damn vulnerable, and what was Tony thinking? Yeah he’s Captain America, but he’s also a twenty-four year old moron who really doesn’t need Tony toying with his feelings in such an agonizing, twisted way. Pepper was right. Tony should know better.

He can’t look at Steve any longer. It’s too painful. “Have I got all my teeth?” he asks Bruce, who pokes his chin to get him to open his mouth and then nods.

“Yes,” he says, and then turns to look at Steve, shaking his head. “What were you thinking-?” he begins, sounding astounded and angry.

“Don’t,” Tony says. “Assassins, heel. Let him go.”

Shooting him equally unimpressed looks, Clint and Natasha both simultaneously let go of Steve, stepping back just enough so that he can step past them if he wanted, but staying close enough so that they could also push him back if they wanted. It’s a compromise, but Tony’s not sure Steve is any place to recognize it.

“I’m-” Steve begins, but he doesn’t finish. Tony waits, hell, everyone waits, but he shuts his mouth and looks away.

Realization hits Tony as hard as the punch. Steve isn’t going to apologize.

Their eyes meet for a fraction of a second and then Steve looks away again, his mouth set in a tight line. Tony can’t believe it – or maybe he can. He knows how damn stubborn Steve is, and he has a horrible feeling that he probably deserved the smack in the mouth. But still, Steve is Captain America, he’s the best of the good men by definition and good men apologize for punching their friends. Colleagues. Teammates, whatever. Though maybe the whole good man thing became null and void the moment his knuckles hit Tony’s jaw.

“Seriously?” he says to Steve, and Steve shoves past Clint and out of the kitchen, not looking back. Bruce hauls Tony up and sits him on a stool at the island counter. He grabs the towel that Clint had dropped and presses it to Tony’s mouth. Tony presses it to his bleeding lip, wincing, and then lowers it.

“Did he take my action figure?”

“You need to apologize,” Natasha cuts in, voice tight.

“Did you see him apologize?”

“Of course he needs to apologise," Natasha snaps. "You didn't deserve that, just like he didn’t deserve to be deliberately wound up.”

Tony pulls a face and ouch, it hurts even to roll his damn eyes. “I wind everyone up. Do you see everyone punching me in the mouth?”

The kitchen falls silent, and Tony feels the weight of what just happened pressing down on them all. He still feels sick and dizzy, and now it’s clear that there’s no way of glossing over this with a joke or obnoxious comment. They’re in serious trouble here, and as he sits there Tony finds that he’s worried. Underneath the anger at being hit, he’s worried that he’s finally gone too far. Steve might be upstairs packing his shit right now.

It’s Clint who finally breaks the silence, jumping back up to sit on the counter, crossing his legs and resting his elbows on his knees, his face buried in his palms. He sits there for long seconds and then breathes out deeply, rubbing at his face and looking up.

“How do we fix this?” he asks quietly.

Natasha shakes her head, turns away. “Fix what?”

“The team.”

“There isn’t a team,” Natasha replies, almost snapping. “Look at us. We are not a team.”

“Yes we are!” Clint shouts back. “Until one of us actually leaves we are a team. We’ve been through oceans of shit, and-”

“And we’re doing nothing but making it worse for each other-”

“But we’re all still here!” Clint says. “And don’t tell me it’s because we’ve got nowhere better to go, because we do. Hell, we could be at SHIELD. Tony could be hiding in Malibu, or wherever the fuck else he’s got houses. Steve could go anywhere he wanted, so could you, Bruce, but we’re all still here so that has to damn well count for something.”

Tony stares at Clint. So does Natasha. Bruce looks away and then heads to the freezer, opening it and rummaging through, returning with an ice-pack which he carefully wraps in a towel and hands to Tony. Tony takes it, distracted, because despite being a complete mental case who is millimetres from a mental breakdown, Clint has actually managed to hit the nail on the head. There has to be something here, something that’s keeping them in this horrible situation together, because at the end of the day they are adults – dysfunctional and broken adults, but adults nonetheless – and it’s their choice to stay here together, when there are countless other options available to them all.

As long as Steve is still willing to stay, that is. It’s now officially frightening that Tony doesn’t know if he will. 

Clint shakes his head again. “Fine. We’re not a team - we’re like a bad family reunion. Full of name calling and fistfights, and no-one actually has a clue why we put up with each other but we still do it anyway.”

Natasha blinks, and then steps up to Clint, reaching up and running gentle fingers through his still wet hair. “Steve could have done with hearing the motivational speech,” she says, and suddenly, somehow, everything feels better. Bruce laughs quietly, and then louder and louder until he’s leaning over the counter, clutching at it for support.

“Sorry,” he says, trying to compose himself, taking his glasses off and pressing the heel of his hand to his forehead. “I’m just trying to work out who is who in the family metaphor.”

“Steve is Dad,” Clint replies instantly. “I’m the awkward teenager who’s in a mood because he’s been grounded. Natasha is the adopted niece who is probably dealing drugs but no-one has any proof. You’re the uncle who’s sort of crazy but no-one wants to talk about it in case you lose your shit. Fury can be Grandpa, the really strict one who still thinks he’s calling the shots even though he’s not been needed in years.”

“And what does that make me?” Tony asks. He finally presses the ice-pack to his jaw and hisses out between his teeth, because damn it hurts.

“Mom,” Clint replies promptly.

Bruce laughs again, Natasha smiles, and Tony makes an indignant noise in the back of his throat.

“What?”

“I think that’s a comment on you and Steve rather than a comment on your femininity or nurturing character,” Natasha says dryly, and her hand drifts back towards Clint’s hair.

“Oh fuck off,” Tony says tiredly, because he’s fed up of all these comments about him and Steve, pushing him into examining something best left well alone. “If that’s true, then I’m in a loveless, abusive relationship.”

“Not quite loveless,” Natasha says quietly, and Tony chooses to ignore her.

“So, if Clint is right and we’re all in this for the long haul,” Bruce says. “What do we do?”

“No idea,” Clint shrugs. “I came up with the premise, now I’m all out.”

“I hate to say it, but I don’t think Cap will be staying for the long haul,” Tony says, and they all turn to look at him. He expects them to look resigned but accepting, maybe angry but in agreement. What he doesn’t expect is for them to be looking at him like he’s stupid.

“Steve has stayed even though he was well aware you were pushing him to a point that he’d do something he’d regret,” Natasha says. “Same for you. You’ve stuck around him even when he’s been unbearable.”

Tony shakes his head. They don’t know about the picture.  “He’s not going to stay,” he says, offhand and with a shrug that jars the ice pack against his face.

“Stop with the fucking self-pity,” Clint says. “Just because Pepper left you doesn’t mean everyone will.”

Natasha slaps him around the back of the head as Tony stands up, pushing his stool back. He stalks from the kitchen without another word, listening to the sound of Clint indignantly defending what he said as he stomps away, still holding the ice pack against his face.

 


 

 

He finds himself outside Steve’s room, sat on the floor and staring at the closed door. He doesn’t know why. He doesn’t want to know why, because down that roads lies painful thoughts and potential hurt and emotions that he’ll have to face up to and talk about.

Never mind that he’s apparently been broadcasting these emotions to everyone within a ten mile radius. It seems the only people who don’t think there’s something going on between him and Steve are him and Steve.

Shit. If they’d been allowed to go to London this would have been so easy. They would have taken the easy camaraderie from the morning of the video games, worked as a team to kick some ass and bonded whilst everyone was in a good mood about their success.

But no. Instead they’re stuck here with nothing but their own demons for company and it’s killing them.

Letting his head fall back against the wall behind him with a thunk, Tony tries to work out what to do. Pepper’s words keep coming back to him, that stupid question about whether he knew how he felt about Steve. After that he recalls Natasha’s comments and Clint’s obnoxious jokes, and the look on Steve’s face.

Tony lets himself think about what he’d do if Steve actually left, and when the bottom promptly drops out of his stomach, he finally acknowledges that he may indeed have feelings of the awkward, emotional sort for the good Captain.

“Shit,” he mutters, shutting his eyes.

He should leave. He's drunk and not thinking straight, and Steve is clearly not in a good place either. But hey, he’s Tony Stark and he has a reputation for reckless self-endangerment to keep up, so going to find the guy who punched him in the mouth not half an hour ago – and who could probably kill him in three point four seconds if he so chose – seems perfectly sensible. Leaving the ice pack on the floor, he climbs unsteadily to his feet, trying to decide if he’s too drunk or not drunk enough for this.

He steps forwards and murmurs something to Jarvis, before pushing carefully at the door to Steve’s room. Unlocked, it opens easily and soundlessly, and Tony pauses as he takes in the darkness in the room beyond.

Silently, he slips into Steve’s rooms, one hand running over the wall to keep himself steady. He keeps blinking hard, trying to see shapes in the dark grey hues that surround him. Along the small corridor, past the bathroom and through the living area, and he slows as he sees that Steve’s bedroom door is open. Maybe he’s simply gone to bed, Tony thinks, wondering if he should feel disappointed or relieved at the notion of having a ready-made excuse to avoid the conversation-

One more step shows him that Steve isn’t asleep. He’s sat on the edge of his bed, back to the door and elbows on his knees, head in his hands. There’s a small lamp on in the corner, a soft glow of orange light that plays beautifully on the contours of his body, highlighting the strength and control in every curve and line. Tony swallows thickly, and now is probably a good time to acknowledge that he’s never once denied how physically attractive he finds Steve, but then again, he’s only human. It’s the fact he’s hit the double of finding someone attractive and having genuine feelings for them that’s left him in such a mess. 

Tony makes it halfway across the living area before Steve hears him; he twists around, looking over his shoulder, expression resigned and like he’s expecting the mother of all bollockings from someone. The moment he spots that it’s Tony, he lurches unsteadily to his feet, turning around to face him. For a moment Tony thinks he’s going to fall, but he steadies himself, feet apart and hands clenched into his fists by his side.

Edging into the room, Tony tries to think of what tge hell he should say. You broke my face, goes without saying. As does you’ve been a massive dick and you haven’t apologised. Coming out with something like I like you in a strange gay way probably wouldn’t go down well either, and Tony’s rapidly running out of options.

Luckily, or not so luckily depending on how Tony wants to view it, Steve is a man of action. He’s only still for around a second, before he’s moving around the bed and across the room in long, determined strides.

“Tony,” he says, and Tony takes an automatic stumbling step back and Steve instantly stops dead, halfway between his bed and the wall that Tony is backed up against. His expression twists, and Tony is thankful that the move has put Steve’s back to the light and thus his face in shadow, because he’s not sure he could handle the open emotions currently playing across Steve’s face. Steve lifts a hand, threading his fingers into his hair and gripping hard. “Did-” he starts, and it looks like it’s hurting him to ask. “Did I break your jaw?”

Tony shakes his head. “No,” he says quietly. “I’m okay.”

He’s not, not really, but he finds he wants to reassure Steve. He could say no, he could shout at Steve or pick a fight like he normally does, but he doesn’t think he can. He’s oh-so tired of this, the constant fighting and antagonising, the denial that he’s been wearing like another suit of armour.

His breath catches as Steve steps forwards again, cautious. Tony isn’t scared of Steve, but he can’t deny it’s hard to stand there and relax in front of someone when that someone could break him like polystyrene.

Steve comes closer, and he looks at Tony for a long moment in the dimness of the room. He breathes in and out, perfectly still, and then he reaches out.

He actually, physically reaches out, and Tony can barely hide his shock when one hand slides onto Tony’s shoulder, the other onto his neck. His thumb is angled up, turning Tony’s jaw so Steve can see what he’s done. It’s a horrendously intimate touch, unnecessary and way beyond what is required for the exchange. Steve doesn’t need to touch him like this to see the mess he’s made of Tony’s face.

His expression is inscrutable, still half shadowed but close enough so that Tony can see it just fine.

“I’m-” he tries, but gives up. The word doesn’t materialise, and Tony guesses that if Steve was ever going to say sorry, that would have been the moment. He finds he can’t be too annoyed by it though, because Steve is still touching him, touching him in a way that’s not strictly bro-like and way beyond what he’d expect from Steve’s 1940’s sensibilities. Christ, this isn’t how it feels when they’re in the kitchen or communal areas; this is a private space, Steve’s space, and it’s as if the rest of the world has fallen away, leaving just the two of them alone together in the shadows and the soft orange glow from the corner.

Tony swallows thickly. He’s not felt a moment like this in months, maybe even years. He feels ripped open and exposed, but only to Steve and this private moment they seem to be having.

“You make me so angry,” Steve says quietly, and his thumb strokes a gentle path along Tony’s skin. Tony’s heart is hammering inside his chest as Steve goes on. “You push and push and I don’t know why-”

“Neither do I,” Tony tells him, because whilst he’s got a bit of an idea, it’s all such a tangled mess in his head that he probably couldn’t explain it if he tried.

“Then why do you do it?” Steve asks, frustrated. “Jesus, Tony. I could have really hurt you, I shouldn't have-”

“I know,” Tony says, and he lifts a hand and places it on Steve’s chest, right where the star would be. “But you didn’t. Thanks for holding back, by the way. You were well within your rights to rip my head off.”

“No I was not. You didn't deserve that, I should have dealt with my anger myself, not taken it out on you,” Steve says bitterly, and then, “the picture.”

Tony blinks, wrong-footed. He looks up and that’s a mistake, because Steve is too close and is looking him right in the eye, serious and unwavering.

“What about it?” he asks.

“Why did you-” Steve begins.

“Why did I fix it?” Tony asks, to no response. “Or why was I a dick about it?”

“Bucky was everything to me, and I lost him less than a year ago,” Steve says, voice tight. “And then you waltz in, saying that he’s not important to me, like I should have forgotten. You know the last time I tried to get drunk was when he died? And I couldn’t.”

Tony takes a moment to process, and feels a thick wave of guilt roll through his stomach. Ah. The punch seems like an inevitable conclusion now really, considering the picture and Steve obviously having massively negative associations with alcohol. Dunking a miniature replica of him in scotch after winding him up about Bucky was probably the scummiest thing Tony could have done.

“I shouldn’t have said that about him,” Tony admits.

“No,” Steve says shortly. “You shouldn’t.”

His tone is clipped and annoyed, but his hands are still gentle on Tony’s shoulders and neck, his thumb warm on Tony’s throbbing jaw. His breathing is deep and even and his eyes are still on Tony’s face. This is what it’s all about, Tony suddenly thinks. Steve can be as mad at him as he likes, as long as he knows they’ll make it out the other side.

“Pepper thinks I’ve got feelings for you,” Tony blurts, because for fuck's sake. Alcohol and mouth and god damn it.

Steve leans back minutely, but his hands don’t leave Tony’s shoulders. “What?” he asks, looking mildly confused and a little bit wary.

“I’m drunk,” Tony replies with, looking down at the floor. Steve isn’t wearing shoes or socks, so Tony stares down at his toes like they’re the most fascinating thing in the world. “Ignore that. Please?”

Steve sighs, and Tony braces himself for it. “You know,” Steve says slowly, breathes out again. “That kind of makes no sense at all and more sense than anything has done in weeks.”

He winds an arm around Tony’s neck and pulls him in close for a hug, and Tony wraps his arms back around him because he has no idea what Steve is talking about but he’s right there and close and willing to forgive and still try and work things out between them. Breathing heavily, unsteadily, Tony shifts so he’s as close as he can get. He draws in a sharp breath and jerks as he feels Steve move, face brushing Tony’s, and then there’s the warm, damp sensation of Steve’s mouth pressing to his temple. His stomach twists and he clenches his eyes shut and tries to convince himself that he should let go whilst he still can.

Tony refuses to acknowledge what the whole lips touching skin thing could possibly mean. Steve’s mouth is still pressed against his brow, too deliberate to ignore and brush off. He can feel the steady regular rhythm of Steve’s breathing, far too calm compared to his own shaky exhales.

“Go to bed,” Steve finally says, not unkindly, his lips moving against Tony’s skin. “Dry out.”

Tony nods, because getting a hug and a thing-that-might-be-a-kiss-or-might-not from Steve after that fight is more than he could ever have predicted, and he’s not about to do anything to piss him off again.  “Yes, Captain,” he says tiredly, and then adds, “do I get to punch you back?”

Steve shakes his head. “Do you want to break your hand?”

Tony shoves half-heartedly at him and immediately regrets it as Steve steps back, the warmth of his skin and breath instantly leaving him feeling cold. “I have a metal suit,” he says. “I would break you.”

“Go to bed, Tony,” Steve says again, but he doesn’t sound angry.

Tony nods and gets as far as the door, when Steve calls out behind him.

“Tony,” he says, and Tony stops but doesn’t turn around. “Are we okay?”

And Tony feels the remnants of his front coming crashing down in a thousand splintered shards at his feet, because the sheer relief he feels at Steve asking the question doesn’t give him much option for pretending. Which is admittedly also sort of terrifying, because if he can no longer insist that he violently dislikes Steve Rogers…well, the alternative is not something he wants to think about.

“Yeah,” He says, and hates the honesty in his own voice. “We’re okay.”

Chapter Text

“Get up, get up!”

Tony jerks awake with a groan, and attempts to bury himself under his pillows. Jesus fucking Christ, his head is pounding and he feels like he’s taken a repulsor blast to the face. Or, he mentally amends as his brain comes back online sufficiently for him to remember the events of the previous night, a super-solider fist to the face. 

“Tony, get up,” the voice insists, and then someone grabs his pillow and yanks it away. His jaw presses painfully against the mattress and he jerks his head back, which just serves to aggravate the pounding in the back of his skull. Unlike the pain in the front of his head, it feels horribly familiar and hangover-related.

“Leave me alone, oh good god it hurts,” Tony moans, gingerly lowering his uninjured cheek to the cool cotton of the sheets. “Leave me here to die.” 

“Not an option,” the voice says, and then he feels hands wrap firmly around his ankle and pull. He yelps, kicking out, but his feet get tangled in his blanket and he finds himself dragged out of the bed and dumped unceremoniously on the floor.

“Boy, am I glad you’re not naked,” Clint says almost as an afterthought, kicking aside the blankets and pillows that Tony’s flailing have knocked onto the floor. “I didn’t really think that one through.”

“What the hell, Barton?” Tony manages, trying to sound pissed off rather than pathetic. It’s not working very well; his voice is rough and scratchy, his hair is tousled and not in the good purposeful sexy way, and his eyes are all stuck together with sleep. He rubs at them with his fingertips. “It’s like - what time even is it?”

“Five a eight in the AM,” Clint says promptly. “Get up. Fury is here.”

Hang on, Nick Fury is here? In Tony’s tower? Without asking?

Using the corner of his mattress for support, Tony scrambles to his feet, suddenly not caring about his aching body and pounding head. He’s still wearing the clothes he was yesterday, including the T-shirt with the spots of blood on the collar. “What’s happened?”

“Not sure,” Clint says, and grabs Tony by the neck of his T-shirt and shoves him towards the bathroom, and Jesus, Clint spends so much time at long range that Tony forgets how strong he is. Definitely not Steve or Thor strong, but still stronger than Tony. “That’s why we’re going to find out.”

“Jesus, talk about timing,” Tony says, and tries to pull himself together, shoving Clint off him and managing to walk himself into the bathroom with only a minor amount of stumbling. “Where’s Steve?”

“Waiting for us,” Clint says, leaning on the doorjamb. “Everyone’s assembling in the kitchen.”

“So I built a conference suite for what reason exactly?” Tony grumbles. He heads to the counter, leaning on the edge of it and examining his reflection in the mirror, blinking tiredly in the light. Yep, he looks as rough as he predicted he would; his hair is definitely a bad kind of mess and there are dark shadows under his eyes. The thing that’s drawing the most attention though is the brilliant purple and yellow bruise on his jaw, only partly hidden by his beard. Reaching up, he gingerly prods at it and winces; it’s swollen and sore but not as bad as it would be if it were actually broken. The corner of his mouth is split as well, and he knows that’s going to make talking and eating a pain in the ass. 

“That looks a mess,” Clint says frankly.

“Tell me about it,” Tony says almost absently, because his mind isn’t on the punch; it’s on the events that came after, the moment he and Steve had had in the grey shadows of his bedroom. He’s not entirely convinced that his alcohol fuelled brain didn’t make it up because no way would Steve have hugged him close and not-quite-kissed him on the head, right? Not after all the things that have been said and done between them?

“Are you going to be okay with him today?”

Tony blinks and comes back to the conversation. Clint is looking at him intently, eyes slightly narrowed and focused. From the things he said yesterday, Tony knows that Clint is holding out for a yes, because for whatever reason he wants this messedmessed up family thing they’ve got going on to work out.

“Yeah, we already talked it out, we’re all good,” he tells him, and reaches to turn the tap on, dipping his fingers into the warm water and rinsing off his hands.

“You did what?” Clint asks sounding taken-aback. Tony looks at him in the reflection, sees his eyebrows rise in disbelief. “You and Steve talked something out? With words? Spoken directly to each other and not through Jarvis and without mayhem and bloodshed?”

“Why are you hovering in my bathroom anyway?” Tony demands, and cups his hands to catch enough water to splash on his face, rubbing at his tired eyes. When he opens them again, Clint is standing there and waiting for an answer.

“I went to find him last night, alright?” Tony says, grabbing a towel and wiping his face down. He could probably do with a shower but if something has happened and they’re about to be given the all clear to go to London, he wants to know as soon as humanly possible.

“After he’d socked you in the mouth?” Clint remarks. “Brave.”

“Stupid,” Tony corrects, reaching for his toothbrush. “Whatever. It worked out. I apologized for the shit I said, he didn’t apologize but kind of did.”

Clint’s mouth quirks. “Apologized without actually saying sorry? He’s good at that.”

Tony points his toothbrush at Clint, oddly triumphant and also a little relieved that it's not only him that's noticed. “Exactly! Thank fuck, I thought it was just me he did it to.”

“It is, mostly,” Clint says and pauses. “So you guys are okay?”

He sounds sceptical, and Tony can’t really blame him. Clint’s been here to witness the catastrophic breakdown in his and Steve’s relationship after all; he’s heard the snipes and jabs, seen the fighting. To say that they’ve suddenly managed to sort it all out sounds unbelievable even in Tony’s own mind. Looking back on it, he would have expected the response to admitting his sort-of feelings for Steve – in a roundabout way that could later be denied and blamed on Pepper, but still – to be on par with the punching incident. Or at the very least, a carefully polite rejection, edged with just enough homophobic distaste to completely and utterly smash him into shards.   

But no. Instead, he’d been held in strong arms and kissed – that was a kiss damnit, he’s made his mind up – and not rejected in any way shape or form. Left with a riddle of a reply from Steve, but not rejected. Tony doesn’t need a therapist to explain to him why he’s fixating on the not rejected part of it all.

And suddenly, he knows he has to see Steve. Not to touch or kiss or make a move on – hell no, not with emotions and relationships as unsteady as they are – but just to see, to make sure that thing he’d seen from Steve the night before isn’t gone.

He brushes his teeth as quickly as he can without aggravating his jaw, which is admittedly a bit of a lost cause. He spits into the sink and shrugs. “We’re more okay than we were,” he says honestly, shoving his toothbrush back into the cabinet and rinsing his mouth out. “I think last night was breaking point. And sometimes you have to break something so you can put it back together in a way that it works.”

Clint stares at him, exasperated. “Your life is not an engineering problem, moron.”

“Could have fooled me,” Tony says, shoving past Clint and heading to the wardrobe to pull out clean clothes. “Clear out, I need to change.”

“Hurry up,” Clint yells as he leaves the room. “Kitchen!”

“Make me coffee!” Tony yells after him, getting changed as quickly as he possibly can, leaving his old clothes abandoned on the floor. He curses, trying to simultaneously hop across the room and pull his socks on, managing to clip his shoulder on the doorframe as he does. Smooth.

“Jarvis, what do you know?”

“Director Fury arrived ten minutes ago,” Jarvis tells him as Tony runs for the elevator. “Would you like me to search for any news regarding London, Sir?”

“You read my mind. Come on, come on,” Tony says, impatiently slapping at the panel. “Is everyone else there?”

“Agent Barton and Captain Rogers,” Jarvis tells him. “Doctor Banner is still sleeping in his quarters, and Agent Romanov is not in the building. Sir, my initial search isn’t showing any stories from London similar to the last.”

Tony frowns, and then gives up waiting for the stupid elevator and takes the stairs. “Then why is he here? Remind me to go snooping in SHIELD’s servers more often.”

“Seeing as that may end up in you being arrested, I’m afraid my protocols won’t allow me,” Jarvis says, and Tony laughs, jumping down the last four stairs and slowing to a casual, meandering walk so Fury doesn’t think he’s actually interested in what he’s got to say.

Predictably, he’s last one there. Fury, Clint and Steve are waiting for him when he saunters in, gathered around the island counter like it’s a damn conference table. Clint is sat on the edge of the opposite counter with his legs stretched across the gap, feet pressed to the side of the island. Steve is perched on a stool, arms crossed and expression wary, and Fury is standing on the opposite side of the island, facing them all.

“You couldn’t call first?” Tony says to Fury, but then his eyes are straight on Steve.

Steve is already looking at him, eyes intense, and Tony fights down a shiver because damn. That’s a whole lot of focus from the good Captain. Steve dips his chin in a discreet nod, the tight set of his mouth relaxing just enough for Tony to notice, and then he looks away towards Fury.

It’s enough for Tony. In fact, it’s more than enough. Steve can still meet his eyes, so Tony takes it as a yes, I am acknowledging what happened, yes it’s fine, now let’s get down to business.

It’s the most sensible thing Steve’s ever said, and he didn’t actually say anything.

Buoyed by the response, Tony turns away too. Not that he wants to look away from Steve, but even he can acknowledge that now is not the time for their whole thing they seem to have got going on. It takes up far too much energy and cognitive function to contemplate him and Steve, and he needs his attention fixed on Fury and the SHIELD shaped issues right now. He turns his attention to Clint instead of continuing to stare at Steve. “And can you not sit on furniture like a normal person?”

“I’m making coffee, shut up,” Clint replies, pointing matter-of-factly to the coffee maker next to him.

“Fair enough,” Tony concedes. “Your turn, Nicky. Please say it’s something exciting, maybe along the lines of some superheroes being allowed to go out and do some superheroing? Maybe in a place called London? Because I know some guys who would really welcome that kind of news.”

The look Fury turns on him is long-suffering. “And here I was hoping that whatever had happened to your face meant you wouldn’t be able to talk quite as much shit as you usually do,” Fury says, perfectly deadpan. “Speaking of which, what did happen to your face?”

“I walked into a door,” Tony replies instantly. “Well, when you hear walked, I mean ran. Full force, like a drunken toddler on speed. Not that I’ve ever seen a toddler on speed, but you get the whole image. Lots of momentum and not a lot of co-ordination.”

Fury frowns, obviously sensing bullshit. Tony feels Steve’s eyes on him again but doesn’t look over; Fury’s not stupid and no way does he want to get dear Nick’s opinion on how he managed to wind up the good Captain enough to receive a smack in the mouth. Thankfully, neither Steve nor Clint seem to think that Fury needs to know the exact truth either, and they all keep schtum.

“Do I actually want to know?” he asks.

Tony splays a hand over his arc-reactor. “Would I lie to you?”

“I think we would like to get to the point,” Clint interrupts, scowling openly at Fury. “You haven’t told us why you’re here.”

“I have news,” Fury says slowly, and just like that all of the attention is back on him.

“About London?” Tony asks, distracted as Clint holds out a mug of coffee for him to take.

“No, not about London,” Fury says, and he seems unusually grave. He’s standing perfectly still, and Tony has only ever seen him look so serious on one occasion, and a horrid thrill of foreboding twists through his gut. Fury takes a breath and exhales slowly and calmly before he speaks, voice flat and emotionless.

“Phil Coulson is alive.”

Tony drops his coffee. The mug smashes on the floor and he cries out and starts swearing violently as hot liquid splashes over his feet. Even as Tony staggers backwards, Steve takes a step forwards, and when he says “what?” his voice is strained with disbelief and anger and wow, Tony has never heard him sound so dangerous.

“Phil Coulson is alive and well,” Fury repeats.

What?” Tony manages to echo, his voice taking on a strangled quality that sounds more like Pepper than himself. He looks from Steve to Clint and back again; whereas Steve looks furious and like he’s about to punch the countertop, Clint looks like he’s seized up and frozen in place. His eyes are wide and his face is oddly blank, shit, he looks like he’s barely breathing. 

“Since when?” Steve demands, his voice rising to a shout. “How?!”

“We kept it from you until we were certain that he was going to make a full recovery.”

“SINCE WHEN?” Steve bellows, and Tony has to give Fury credit for not even flinching. Tony would have been running for the nearest armour if Steve was shouting at him like that.

Fury doesn’t answer straight away, and Tony doesn’t know if he’s doing it for effect or because he’s thinking about what to tell them, and if what he tells them will be the truth or a lie.

“He was revived on scene by a crash team,” he eventually says. “He was in a coma for nine weeks, and then recovering.”

“And you didn’t tell us, why?” Steve thunders. “What possible justification do you have for keeping something like that from us? We went into that battle thinking he was dead!”

“Oh god, we broke Barton,” Tony says to no-one in particular, because Clint still hasn’t done so much as blink and he’s gone sheet white, and Steve is still shouting at Fury and Fury is shouting back, some bullshit about greater good and accountability and classified, and Tony thinks he’s also going into some sort of shock because he can barely see, though maybe it’s less shock and more to do with the sheer, blinding weight of the anger inside of him.

“I recommend that you calm down, Captain,” Fury says, his voice taking on an edge that no-one in the room currently gives a fuck about.

“Like hell I will!” Steve bellows back. “Have you any idea what you’ve done? Any idea what some of these guys have been living with, all because you couldn’t tell them the damn truth! I only knew the guy a few damn days and it was hard enough to lose him! These guys had known him for years!”

And wow, Tony really wants to stay on Steve’s good side for ever and ever because all that rage is being employed on their behalf and it’s glorious to see. Steve isn’t even mad that Fury lied to him, he’s angry that the rest of the team have been dragged through the ringer by Fury and SHIELD, angry at the lies that seem to follow them every which way they turn.

Tony looks back at Clint, and as he does Clint’s whole body tremors and then he shifts, his movements violent and jerky. He slips off the counter and staggers towards the door, walking straight through the remnants of Tony’s coffee mug in his socked feet, moving too quickly for Steve to catch. Tony wouldn’t dare; even without his bow Clint is an astoundingly good hand to hand fighter. Shit. They need Natasha.

“You manipulated us,” Steve says tightly.

Fury stares at him impassively. “I’d do it again,” he says bluntly. “You needed a push.”

Strangled laughter cuts off Steve’s retort, and it takes Tony a moment to realize it’s come from him. “Join the Avengers initiative, they said,” he says humourlessly. “Do a good deed and save the world, they said. Sit around and let us fuck you six ways from Sunday.”

“Yes. You joined us,” Fury says, patient yet direct. “And we were at war. In those circumstances, you were ours to manipulate as needed.”

“Get out,” Steve says dangerously to Fury. 

Fury doesn’t make a comment about Steve not being able to order him about even if he is Captain America. He doesn’t look unimpressed, or make any more noise about the greater good. He just breathes out and pinches the bridge of his nose between his fingers.

“I am sorry,” he says slowly, and then he’s gone, his coat snapping behind him and his boots heavy on the floor as he heads towards the elevator.

The silence in the kitchen is deafening.

Tony stands and stares, and he can’t really compute that Phil Coulson is alive, and oh God Natasha is going to kill people and Pepper is going to freak, and Clint is probably going to jump off the roof for real-

“Jarvis lock the roof and all the windows and exit doors and the vents that he can hide in,” Tony blurts out in one breath and then his knees give out and strong hands are catching him before he hits the floor.

They end up on the floor. Tony is sat on his ass with his elbows resting on his raised and spread knees, hands gripping his hair as he tries not to hyperventilate. Steve is behind him, one hand on Tony’s back and the other arm wrapped around his waist, pulling him in close to his side.

“I – hate – SHIELD – so – much,” Tony gasps out, and Steve’s arm tightens marginally. The hand on Tony’s back moves across to his upper arm and then Steve is leaning forwards, his face buried against the back of Tony’s neck.

“Breathe,” he says, sounding wrecked himself. “Damnit, Tony.”

Tony takes in a shuddering breath and holds it, shutting his eyes and focusing on the weight of Steve’s arm around his middle. When he lets it out again, it goes more smoothly before his lungs spasm and he has to snatch in another breath. He lets go of his hair with one hand and clutches at Steve’s forearm, and forces another slow breath in and out, chest rattling with the exertion.

“That’s it,” Steve says. “Breathe. In and out. Come on, Tony.”

The soft instruction helps, as much as Tony is loath to admit it. So does the arm that’s wrapped firmly around his middle, and oh Christ Steve is pressed so damn close and Phil Coulson is alive. His breathing slowly evens out, despite the fact his mind is still reeling and his heart pounding like it’s about to give out. If he weren’t pressed so close he’d assume that Steve was taking the news pretty well, but seeing as they’re basically in each other’s laps he can feel the shaky quality of the warm exhales against the back of his neck, feel the minute trembling of the arm wrapped around his middle.

“Natasha is going to kill him,” Tony says weakly, when he’s in control enough to get a full sentence out.

“Tell me about it,” Steve says, and there’s a definite Brooklyn twang creeping under those words, a cadence that Tony had only ever previously noticed when Steve was exhausted. “I’m pretty tempted to do the damn job myself.”

“You wouldn’t,” Tony says, and then laughs brokenly. “God, I thought you were going to punch him right in the eyepatch.”

Steve flinches, and it takes Tony a moment to realize why.

“Hey, hey, no-” he tries to say, shifting around and grabbing Steve’s face in his hands, making him look up. “I didn’t mean anything. See? I’ve already forgotten you punched me.”

Steve’s eyes meet his and Tony stops talking. His fingers are tightly framing Steve’s jaw, forcing his head up. They’re sat way too close now, with Tony half slumped over Steve’s lap from his aborted attempt at a turn. Steve is breathing shallowly, and one hand is on Tony’s wrist and the other on his waist, and if anyone were to see them there’s pretty much only one conclusion they would draw.

“We’re okay, remember?” Tony says, and his thumb unconsciously strokes against Steve’s jaw. Steve’s eyes widen slightly and he jerks away, forcing Tony’s wrist back and his hand away from his face.

“Don’t,” he says tightly, and Tony feels the bottom drop out of his stomach, everything feeling too sharp and twisted inside of him. He jerks back, putting more distance between his face and Steve’s, looking down at his knees and swallowing around the deep, bitter disappointment rolling through him.

Strong fingers take hold of his hand, and he tries to snatch his hand back, but Steve doesn’t give. He turns Tony’s hand over in his, fingers pressing at his palm, at the pads of his fingers. Trembling, Tony looks up and see’s Steve is staring down at his hand, expression open and vulnerable again. He looks uncertain, almost afraid, but that’s ridiculous; Steve Rogers isn’t scared of shit.

“I’m,” he says, voice rough and low. He clears his throat. “I’m not used to fellas being so free with touches,” he says. “More used to hiding it,” he mutters, and then he moves. He breathes out deeply, pulling Tony’s hand back towards himself and pressing it to the side of his face so Tony’s fingers cover his temple, his palm on his cheekbone. “Haven’t had anything to hide. Not since – only – not for a long time…” Steve tries helplessly, and then seems to give up.

Tony snorts. “You’re pretty handsy yourself, Cap,” he says, sidestepping the issue that has ‘Bucky’ written all over it like a neon warning light. “And tell me I'm wrong but I think we need it right now.”

Steve’s reply is very to the point; he grabs Tony and physically hauls him into his lap, burying his face in the juncture of his shoulder and neck. His arms loop around Tony’s middle and Tony snakes an arm around his neck, holding him close. “Proving my point,” he murmurs into Steve’s hair.

“I give up holding my ground when it’s you,” Steve says tiredly. “It never seems to work out.”

Glad that Steve can’t see his face, Tony tries his best not to over-analyse that statement. He feels wrung out and exhausted and his mind still can’t comprehend the news about Coulson, never mind fathoming Steve’s motives. He shuts his eyes and just focusses on staying calm and not completely losing the plot in an overwhelming explosion of emotion.

Phil. Alive.

Fucking hell.

 


 

It’s not hard to find someone in a tower that is constantly surveyed by the world’s most advanced AI. Besides, even if Jarvis weren’t about, Steve and Tony would have been able to find Clint by simply following the trail of bloody footprints that went from the shattered remains of Tony’s mug, up and down through the floors of the tower before ending up in the gym. The blood and pretty much everything about the situation makes Tony’s stomach churn unpleasantly, and he swiftly leaves Steve to make first contact whilst he bolts to a bathroom, not convinced that he won’t throw up.

He doesn’t, but it’s a close thing. He splashes his face with water before he leaves the bathroom, wondering if he could somehow get hold of Coulson without SHIELD knowing. Possibly not – they don’t even know what state Coulson is in. Fury had said he is alive and well, but had also mentioned a coma, which wasn’t good whichever way you looked at it.

He stares at his reflection, trying not to think about the moments after they’d all thought Coulson had died. The blood on the wall. The smell of charred and twisted metal. The way Cap had stood there, calm as you please, talking about soldiers. Funny; at the time Tony had wanted to incinerate him for being so composed, so unaffected. Now he just knows Steve’s exceptionally good at hiding the hurt, especially when there’s a job to be done. He’d still think Steve was a cold-hearted bastard, had he not sat with Steve in his arms not an hour ago, bearing witness to the miniscule cracks in his control.

He swears he can still feel Steve’s warm breath on his skin.

Quelling the urge to hide in his rooms with a bottle of scotch, he looks away from his reflection and heads back to the gym. Steve is standing against the far wall, gaze turned upwards towards the ventilation access shaft above their heads. Trust Barton to know where the one damn vent without a lockable grill on it was.

“Clint. Clint, come on down.”

Tony walks over to where Steve is standing, looking up at the open vent cover, his hands behind his head and his posture slumped. He breathes out deeply. “Clint.”

“No luck, I take it?” Tony asks quietly, and comes to stand by Steve.

Steve shakes his head. “He’s not said a word,” he murmurs, the clears his throat and looks up again. “Reckon we should drag him out?” he says, loud enough so Clint can easily hear.

Tony eyes the vent quizzically, playing along with Steve’s game. “He can only get about six feet into that one before it blocks off into a filtration system,” he says, making sure he pitches his voice loud enough for Clint to hear, but not so loud that it’s obvious what they’re doing. “Not sure. I could suit up, but then it’s hard to imagine me fitting in there.”

“You could suit up and give me a boost?” Steve suggests.

“Are you kidding? Your shoulders are not going to fit in there.”

Steve shrugs. “I might. If Clint fits-”

“You are twice as wide as Clint,” Tony retorts. “You’ve got at least ninety pounds of muscle on him-”

“Fuck off does he,” a dull voice says from above their heads, and without even looking at each other they raise their hands in a silent high-five, eyes still fixed on the vent.

“Is that why you’re not coming down?” Tony asks, and he taps Steve on the shoulder and mimes giving a boost. Steve nods and laces his fingers together, stooping low so Tony can rest his foot into the cradle of his hands. Tony balances his hands on Steve’s shoulders. “You’re actually stuck?”

“No, I’m trying to find a place to avoid everyone,” Clint replies. “But someone locked the roof door.”

“That I did,” Tony replies, and pats Steve’s shoulder. Steve easily hefts him up, and Tony grabs the edge of the vent and pulls himself inside, aided by Steve grabbing his feet and pushing up. He ends up sprawled inside the vent on his side, propped up on his elbow with his legs dangling out of the vent from the knee down.

Clint is at the end of the vent with his back against the filtration unit, lying on his side with his knees pulled up under his chin.

“Picked the wrong vent to try and hide in,” Tony says calmly. “How did you even get in here without a boost? Never mind, I think I’d rather not know. Right, apparently your whole fucked up family speech really struck a chord with something in my brain, so now I’m going to play the interfering Mom card. You can either come down so Steve can chill out and stop worrying about you, because frankly he’s driving me crazy.”

“Or?” Clint asks.

“Or we can forcibly extract you from the vent to achieve the same end,” Tony says easily. “Come on. We’re all pissed about this. Come and be pissed with us.”

Miraculously, it works. Clint nods and moves, pushing against the wall of the vent with his feet and twisting around. Tony takes it as a win and shimmies backwards, trusting Steve to still be there. Sure enough, he gets his legs out of the vent and feels strong hands grasp hold of his feet.

“Driving you crazycrazy?” Steve remarks dryly as Tony slides out of the vent. He catches him easily, two strong hands on his hips, and then sets him on the floor. They both look up to watch Clint follow, slipping out without help and landing easily on the floor in a crouch.

“All the time, in so many ways,” Tony says, patting his chest. He offers him a quirked smile though, and Steve just rolls his eyes, apparently deciding not to take offense.

Clint starts to laugh. Instead of standing up, he slumps back to sit on his ass on the floor of the gym, laughing hard enough to make his shoulders shake. “You two are so-” he manages to get out, and then tips forwards, clutching his short hair between his fingers as his laughter turns hysterical. “Fuck.”

Steve looks at Tony, and Tony looks at Steve, and they both simultaneously seem to realise that they’re still standing pressed together, with Steve’s hands on Tony’s hips and Tony’s hand on Steve’s chest. They step back in tandem, and Tony spots a faint flush working its way up Steve’s neck. 

Clint’s laughter turns strangled, almost a sob. Steve is instantly there, and drops to his knees beside him, putting a tentative hand on Clint’s shoulder. Tony grimaces and then joins them, sitting cross legged beside Steve.

“And this is why I was in the vent,” Clint chokes out. “Mental breakdowns are much better in private.”

“Tell me about it,” Tony replies. “But you were the one that insisted we start acting like family, and that includes us being all up in your business.”

“I’ve been carrying around all this guilt,” Clint manages to say. “And he wasn’t even-”

Steve’s grip on Clint’s shoulder gets tighter, and Clint grabs hold of his wrist and holds on. “This emotional crap is making me want to barf,” he says heavily, and Tony pats him on top of his head.

“There, there?” he tries, and Steve sends him an exasperated look.

“What?” Tony asks defensively. “You’re telling me you know what to say? Come on.”

Steve sighs, and then laughs ruefully. “We are all pretty emotionally retarded.”

Tony chokes on a breath, and then starts to laugh, finding he can’t stop. “Back up, Cap, you’re not allowed to say that,” he manages to say, and Steve’s expression goes bewildered.

“What?”

“Captain America used the R word,” Tony gasps, and Clint starts to laugh as well.

“What the hell are you laughing about?” Steve asks in affront as Tony keels over sideways to lie on the floor, still laughing so hard it hurts. “Retarded just means-”

“Not anymore it doesn’t,” Tony gasps, and then yelps as a hand grabs his ankle. Steve yanks him across the floor, pulling him close enough so that he can put his hand over Tony’s mouth. Tony flinches in expectation of pain, but Steve is barely pressing down enough to feel, let alone to hurt his jaw. Oddly pleased by the gesture, Tony blinks up at him, mouth curving in a smile against Steve’s palm. He can feel the press of his hip against Steve’s leg, and wonders if Steve is as acutely aware of how close they are as he is. After the somewhat aborted conversation they’d had regarding touching, Tony doesn’t think he’ll be able to not be aware of Steve’s physical presence ever again.

“Are you ever going to get tired of laughing at me?” Steve asks, taking his hand away.

“Not now you’re finding it funny instead of punching me for it,” Tony says, and Steve rolls his eyes again and then looks away, smiling quietly. Tony smiles tiredly as well, too emotionally exhausted to bother trying to hide it.

“I changed my mind,” Clint says, sounding forlorn. “You two make me want to barf.”

Tony contemplates denying there is a ‘two’ when it comes to him and Steve, but he feels that would be pretty redundant. Clint isn’t stupid, and he’s been oddly perceptive of late, so it would honestly just be an insult to their collective intelligence if Tony argued the point. With that in mind, Tony decides that his options are a) to do nothing, or b) to roll with it and do exactly what Clint probably expects anyway.

It doesn’t take him long to choose. He shifts, pushing his shoulders against the floor of the gym and twisting around until his head is resting on Steve’s lap. He wriggles to get comfy, pulls his shirt back down where it had been rucked up by the unceremonious haul across the floor, then lazily pats Clint’s knee. “There, there,” he says again. “Don’t be jealous.”

“I will throw up on your face,” Clint says, but then he swivels around so he’s leaning back against the wall next to Steve, listing sideways and resting his head against Steve’s shoulder, staring out over the otherwise empty room. Steve looks down at Tony with a raised eyebrow, and Tony just shrugs. Steve blows out a breath and leans back against the wall, and Tony feels fingers slide into his hair.

There’s a long silence, broken only by the soft sounds of their breathing. It’s comfortable, oddly so, and Tony quietly resigns himself to the fact he’s now officially joined the Caphawk frat team. It’s comforting and also sort of terrifying, because having friends is great, but having friends like Clint and things like Steve in his life is also a lot of work, and frankly his emotions are shot to hell.

But Steve is still stroking his fingers through Tony’s hair and Clint has allowed them to help, and if Tony’s being honest about it they’ve actually done a pretty awesome job of it. Clint’s out of the damn vent, at least, even if he does look like he’s about to keel over, smash something or burst into furious tears.

“What about queer? Am I allowed to say that?”

Steve’s contemplative voice breaks the silence and Tony and Clint both burst into laughter. Tony rolls sideways, burying his face in Steve’s thigh and Clint slumps over, clutching his sides and laughing so hard there are tears in the corner of his eyes. Tony belatedly looks up, expecting to see Steve looking confused and affronted again, but instead Steve is smiling quietly, corner of his mouth quirked and eyes sparking with something that looks faintly devious.

“We just got sassed by Captain America,” Tony manages to gasp and Clint laughs even harder.

“Dude, you really can’t say that either.”

“I thought we’d established that I was playing you?” Steve says, and Tony loves how quickly he’s picked up on that turn of phrase. “I was pretty sure that wouldn’t be okay to say anymore, so I asked Jarvis a while back." 

Tony takes several deep breaths, grinning up at Steve. “And why were you asking about that particular word?”

“Shut up,” Steve replies evenly, but he reaches out and pulls Tony back more securely into his lap, his fingers threading through his hair once more. Clint looks over at them and then shakes his head, apparently deciding not to say anything obnoxious. Steve doesn’t even seem to notice what he’s doing; he’s staring out blankly like Clint was doing earlier, eyes looking oddly unfocussed. His fingers don’t stop gently twisting through Tony’s hair though, and Tony doesn’t want to do or say anything that’ll remind Steve that he probably shouldn’t be touching Tony like he is.

Clint pushes himself back up, slumping against Steve’s shoulder again, legs stretched out in front of him.

“This blows,” he says matter-of-factly, voice thick. “Emotionally retarded indeed.”

Tony grunts in agreement, but a small part of him that isn’t taken up with shock and anger at the news about Phil can’t help but appreciate the fact that they’re all here together, actually sharing in the emotions, as unpleasant as they are.

Fuck, Tony thinks tiredly, shutting his eyes. Maybe it really shouldn’t have taken an ass-fucking of a betrayal by SHIELD and the revival of Phil Coulson to get them to bond, but hey. What can he do?

Chapter Text

Pepper is still beautiful even when she’s been crying.

Tony notices it, but also notices how it’s more of an absent observation than an actual formed thought. It’s sort of just there, like the other casual observations about the fact she’s wearing grey, or that it looks late where she is. He’d try and deny it but he knows full well why it’s changed. Wow. Everyone should have an infuriating super-soldier to help them get over a bad breakup. Maybe he should rent Steve out; he could probably earn thousands as a distraction tool for the heartbroken masses. If only dealing with Steve himself wasn’t so heart-wrenching, then Tony might be onto a winner.

“I just don’t understand,” Pepper says, and her voice is steady though her eyes are red. “They didn’t tell any of you?”

“No,” Tony repeats tiredly. He scoots his chair over slightly, picking up a tiny screwdriver and the tiny piece of metal that needs to be secured into the gauntlet of the Mark Thirteen. He’s been over all of this in his head countless times already, so having the whole Phil is okay, SHIELD are assholesassholes, Fury is a dick conversation again is pretty exhausting.

“I don’t believe it,” Pepper says again, and she’s wearing a slightly mellower version of the shellshocked look that Clint has been sporting for the past three days. “Oh god. How is he?”

“Alive and well as far as we’ve been told,” Tony says dully, twisting the piece of metal between his fingers as he looks at her. “Walking, talking, shooting, and already filling in large quantities of paperwork.” 

Pepper breathes in and out slowly. “How are you taking it?” she asks, and there’s an uncertain lilt to her voice, like she can’t quite work out how Tony’s feeling. In her defence, she probably predicted that he would end up a drunken wreck right about now. She wouldn’t be too far off; he’s had enough to drink to dull the sharp edges but not enough so that he constitutes a wreck. 

Tony looks up absently, and his eyes fall on the Captain America toy that has somehow found its way down into the workshop. It’s perched on the edge of a computer monitor, shield raised in a dramatic pose, and Tony totally blames Clint. He hasn’t felt any urge to move it, though. “Phil is okay, SHIELD are assholes, Fury is a dick,” he recites, still staring at the toy, and Pepper winces at his swearing. 

“Have you been drinking?” she asks bluntly.

“What?” Tony asks, looking back down at the gauntlet. It’s silver and gleaming in the lights of the workshop. Thirty-eight more hours of work and he predicts that it’ll be ready for colour.

“Tony.”

“What?!”

“Are you drunk?”

“No.”

“Have you been-”

“You asked if I was drunk. No, I’m not.”

“I asked if you have been drinking.”

“Yes. But I’m not drunk.”

Tony.

Tony stops trying to blindside Pepper by barrelling his way through their conversation, sighing. He turns his face away from her, which is a mistake. She lets out a strangled sound that’s somewhere between a groan and a gasp.

“What did you do to your face?

“I ran into a door,” Tony lies easily, looking back at her so she can’t clearly see the bruising. “And in the interests of full disclosure, yes, I was drunk. It’s fine, it’s a few days old. Doesn’t even hurt anymore.”

Sighing, Pepper presses a hand to her forehead, apparently believing him and deciding that it’s not a matter to press. “How are the others? I tried calling Natasha.”

“Then you have more balls than I do,” Tony says, saluting her sloppily. “She is furious, but she’s dealing. Says she’s just glad that Phil is back, but I don’t know. She might be plotting to eviscerate Fury with his own shoelaces for all I know. Not that shoelaces are prime tools for evisceration, but if anyone can do it-”

“Tony.”

“Right. Yeah,” Tony says, reigning in his babbling with considerable effort. “The others. Yep. So, Bruce is also furious, taking lots of time to meditate and chill out. I saw him this morning and he seemed okay, mostly.”

“Did he…?”

Tony’s fingers pause as he screws a panel into place. “Almost,” he says shortly. “But no. Turned very, very green for a moment, but Steve talked him round.”

Pepper raises an eyebrow at that, and Tony can see her eyes shining with fresh tears. “He did?” she asks, and her voice tremors.

Tony nods slowly, wondering what he should tell her. In all honesty, he wants to wax poetic about the moment; Bruce had nearly completely lost it and Steve hadn’t even hesitated. He’d just stepped in with an amazingly hypocritical lack of regard for his own personal safety, and he’d managed to convince Bruce to stay calm and the Hulk to keep a low profile. Tony and Clint still haven’t decided if it was the appeal to Bruce or the one to the Hulk that had worked, and they’d spent hours debating it, hunched over the island counter with mugs of coffee clutched in hand.

“He’s doing good,” Tony says absently, mind still on Steve as he digs the fingers of the hand not holding the screwdriver into the gauntlet, trying to find the wire he needs. Not that one, not that one either. “Doing good for me. All of us. Clint, especially. Well, and me.”

“Care to elaborate?”

Tony pauses, wires wrapped around his fingers. He thinks about what he and Pepper used to have, and how it pales in comparison to the convoluted tangle of something that’s going on between him and Steve. Well, at least that’s going on in Tony’s head in regards to Steve. He’s not even going to try and second guess how Steve feels. Not with the touching and hugging and then the subsequent freak-outs over the hugging and touching, and the whole Bucky thing that’s lurking about somewhere, unquestioned and unresolved. And that’s even before he gets onto the way that Steve seems to simultaneously want to be nowhere near Tony whilst being unable to be apart from him. And god, the flipping between the defensiveness and the joking aroundaround, like some sort of All-American Jekyll and Hyde.

Wow. The list has gotten pretty long.

“No,” he finally says. “Not to you, Pep.”

He says it softly and gently, and he knows she understands. She blinks and the tears finally spill over, running perfect tracks down her cheeks. “Oh god,” she says, both exasperated and near hysterical, brushing them away with the back of her hand. “Please don’t think I’m crying over you, because I’m completely not.”

Tony laughs at that, elbows on his workbench and knuckles pressed against his forehead, screwdriver still clenched in his hand. “Didn’t even cross my mind,” he says honestly. “You’ve been over me for months, I know that.”

“And you’re now hung up on-” Pepper’s voice breaks. She pauses, clears her throat and tries again. “Let me guess,” she says bravely, chin held high and smile genuine if shaky. “You’re now avoiding him?”

Tony grimaces. “Am I that predictable?”

Pepper sighs. “Do you really want me to answer that?” she says.

Tony shakes his head. “Please don’t,” he says, with a short laugh. “And besides, I’m not avoiding him as such. I’ve just been down here and haven’t made any additional effort to find him.”

“So you’re telling me you haven’t locked him out of the workshop and you wouldn’t suddenly find somewhere else to be or something else to be working on if he came to find you?” Pepper asks sceptically.

Tony thinks about that for a moment, and his eyes drift back up to the Cap action figure. He’s glad Pepper can’t see it. “I don’t know,” he shrugs, even though a large part of him is admitting no. No, he wouldn’t turn Steve away.

Pepper looks like she doesn’t believe that he’d let Steve anywhere near his person at the present moment, and Tony doesn’t correct her. He never extended her the same courtesy after all, and he gets the feeling that it would be cruel to tell his ex that he would behave more appropriately for his new, well, his new whatever the fuck Steve is.

Something rings on Pepper’s end of the line, a soft gentle chime that sounds vaguely electronic. She turns to look at something, and then back at Tony. “I have to go,” she says, and doesn’t offer any further explanation. Tony doesn’t really want one. “Keep me updated, Tony.”

He nods and then she’s gone, leaving him alone. 


 

“Right. That’s twenty four hours. Enough." 

Tony looks up as Steve walks into the workshop. He’s got a cup of coffee in one hand and a book in the other, and he looks resolute but not angry. He’s wearing black jeans that no-one should have let him buy because honestly, Tony’s brain is short-circuiting at the sight of those hips wrapped in tight, dark denim, and if Steve turns around then Tony will probably have an aneurysm. The checked shirt he’s combined it with doesn’t even put Tony off; it’s tight across Steve’s impossibly broad shoulders and that view more than makes up for the print.

“Sorry,” Tony says, though he isn’t really, and he doesn’t put down the blowtorch. “Hang on – isn’t the Steve alarm set for thirty-six hours?”

The look on Steve’s face is somewhat pained. “The Steve alarm?” he asks wearily.

“Blame Pepper and Jarvis,” Tony says, turning off the blowtorch because is it rude to have a conversation whilst your attention is focused on tools? Eh, he’s not sure. Either way, he turns it off. “It used to be the Pepper alarm, but that would be wildly inappropriate these days. She asked Jarvis to transfer it to you because she thinks you’re a responsible adult, and seeing as he categorizes it as being in my best interests, I can’t turn it off.”

Well, he could. Not without fussing with codes or overrides, but Steve doesn’t need to know that.

Steve raises an eyebrow. “I’m sure you could,” he says, and whoops, Tony always forgets that Steve is no longer stupid when he’s talking computers and technology. “But don’t,” he adds, and Tony decides not to question or over-analyze that statement until later.  “Come on, time to go.”

He looks down at the tangle of wires in front of him, and then up at Steve, pleading. “Do I have to?” he asks, and then eyes the coffee Steve has in his hand. “Is that for me?”

“Nope,” Steve says, and pointedly lifts the mug, taking a sip. “Yours is upstairs on the kitchen counter.”

Tony glares at him. “You are a cruel man, Steve Rogers.”

Steve’s mouth quirks in an almost smile. “I’m just categorizing it as being in your best interests,” he says innocently.

“You’re hilarious. Gimme.”

Steve shakes his head. “Nope,” he repeats. “Upstairs. Food, coffee and a nap, and an explanation as to why my action figure is sitting on your computer.”

Tony groans and glances at the toy, which is in the same place it’s been for the past week, shield still raised like he’s protecting Tony’s work from something evil and unjust. “Just because it’s you doesn’t mean it’s yours,” he points out grumpily, mentally vowing to throw the stupid toy in the garbage the minute he gets back. “Barton put it there.”

Steve just smiles. “Sure.”

Tony glares some more. “Remember the days that you used to hate having to drag my ass out of here?”

“Who says I still don’t?” Steve says, but there’s no anger behind the words. “Come on.”

He turns towards the door, and yep, Tony’s stomach flips because oh my god, those jeans should be illegal. He stares at Steve’s ass for way longer than is appropriate and then tears his eyes away, up to his shoulders. Not that that helps much anyway.

“I suppose, seeing as you asked nicely,” Tony grouches. “Unlike last time.”

Steve sighs, waiting for Tony in the doorway, swiftly lifting his mug up above his head as Tony makes grabby hands for it. Tony whines but Steve doesn’t relent, and how childish can they get? Steve carries on talking as if it’s completely normal to be holding a cup of coffee aloft above his head whilst a sleep-deprived engineer attempts to climb him to get at it.

“I’d hoped that a guy could be forgiven for acting like a jerk,” he frowns. “Considering everything.”

Tony stops trying to get at the coffee and lets his hands settle on Steve’s shoulders. “Hey. No,” he says sternly. “Joking. We’re doing that now, remember? Defensive shields off, Captain.”

Steve blows out a breath. “Right,” he says, in the tone of voice that leads Tony to believe that the next word could have been ‘sorry’ if he weren't actually incapable of saying the word. “Come on,” he repeats, and they leave the workshop side by side, and Tony’s a little confused as to how Steve got him to agree so readily.

“Do you do the same thing with Bruce and Clint?” Tony asks as they enter the kitchen and hallelujah, Steve wasn’t lying, there’s fresh coffee sat there waiting for him. Oh god, he would kiss him if he thought he could get away with it.

“Believe it or not, Clint is currently coercing Bruce out of his lab,” Steve says dryly, and Tony watches as he heads straight for the refrigerator. “We teamed up.”

“Caphawk versus the Science and Engineering department,” Tony says, and Steve laughs. “They could make a movie about that.”

“Why do you call us that?” Steve asks, frowning at the shelves in the refrigerator like he can’t make up his mind what to eat. Or mentally debating how much of everything he could eat. “Not that I mind.”

“A frat house joke,” Tony says, scratching his head and taking a sip of coffee. Counterproductive if he needs to get some sleep, but it's not as strong as he'd normally brew it, so maybe it won't even make any difference. “Did they have fraternities when you were younger?”

“Of course they did,” Steve says, sounding insulted.

“Hey, don’t look at me like that,” Tony says. “You had no idea what McDonalds, seatbelts or credit cards were when you woke up, so me double checking about fraternities is a perfectly valid question thankyouverymuch.”

“I’m not an idiot,” Steve says, but he sounds marginally exasperated rather than genuinely hurt.

“Barbie dolls,” Tony says pointedly. “Barcodes. And frankly I don’t know what was more disturbing; the first time you encountered the internet, or what happened the first time you encountered a can of coca-cola.”

“Shut up, Tony,” Steve advises. “Or we can start going through all the times you’ve done something ridiculous, and you don’t have ‘spending seventy years in an ice-induced coma’ as an excuse.”

Tony laughs at that, and he’s honestly never going to get tired of this. It’s easy and fun now that Steve has taken the stick out of his ass.

“So. Fraternity joke?” Steve prompts, and Tony remembers what they were actually talking about.

“Oh, that. I don’t really remember. Something about me being convinced you and Clint had teamed up with the sole aim of being impossible. Not that you were, I did just say that I was convinced, didn’t I? And we all know how reliable my internal monologue is. And that was ages ago, and I was pretty drunk and angry about the whole Pepper thing.”

“Are you still?”

“What, drunk?”

“No,” Steve says. “Angry about the whole Pepper thing.”

“God no,” Tony says absently, watching as Steve finally makes his mind up and reaches for something in the fridge. His stomach growls as if on command, and he decides to drop a subtle hint. “Are you making me a sandwich?”

“I’m making me a sandwich,” Steve replies easily, not bothering to turn around.

“Ass,” Tony retorts.

Steve just shrugs, casual as you please. “I’m okay with it.”

Tony laughs shortly, shaking his head. He looks around and spots a tablet left on the couch and decides to relocate, snatching the tablet up before crashing down onto the cushions on his back. He opens up various news feeds and search engines and sets off digging for news of London. There’s been nothing out of the ordinary on the news, which Tony is still finding disconcerting. When a portal opens in the sky and things come through it, one would expect mayhem of some sort, not complete radio silence. It’s taken a bit of a back seat in their priorities lately, what with Phil Coulson turning out to be alive and all that jazz, but still. Portal in sky equals something the Avengers need to keep an eye on.

“Hey, do you think – whoa!”

He jerks in surprise because as he looks up to ask Steve a question, Steve is already standing right there next to the sofa and Tony hadn’t even heard him approach. He flinches instinctively, body going tense, and Steve leans down and carefully balances a plate onto Tony’s stomach.

“Please tell me that that’s not your sandwich that you’re using to torment me,” Tony says, because he’s staring down at the most mouth-watering example of a chicken-salad sandwich that he thinks he’s ever seen, sitting beautifully in the middle of the plate Steve has set on his stomach. 

“Yeah, just look after it for me for five minutes, will you?” Steve says, but then he walks back into the kitchen area and picks up a second plate from the countertop, complete with a second sandwich. He picks it up and walks back over, collapsing down into one of the barker loungers with a satisfied grunt. Tony spares a second to be surprised that Steve is willing to eat there instead of insisting that they be at the table, and then promptly tosses the tablet aside and turns on his sandwich.

It’s polished off in record time, and Tony feels warm and full and lethargic as he picks up the tablet again. Maybe the workshop can wait a couple of hours; if he does get some sleep and wake up refreshed he’ll be able to tackle that delicate piece of soldering he’s not been able to manage yet.

He glances over and sees that Steve has finished his own sandwich but hasn’t yet left; he’s still in the lounger, a pencil in his hand as he idly sketches in the thing Tony had seen earlier and presumed to be a book. He left elbow is resting on the arm of the chair, his head propped on his fist as he draws. 

Tony doesn’t interrupt him; he doesn’t dare. He wonders if Steve has still got the picture of Bucky they’d had the fight over, or if he’d screwed it up and thrown it away a second time. He itches to look over and see what Steve’s drawing this time. If it’s Bucky again then maybe they’ll have to have words about Steve’s plethora of unresolved issues, as unappealing as that sounds. Frankly, whilst Tony does hold a certain amount of respect for the guy for what he did for Steve and the Howling Commandos, he wants to hear about Steve’s feelings in regards to Bucky as much as he wants to stick a soldering iron in his ear. He’s still holding out the hope that whatever happened between Steve and Bucky was strictly platonic, but he honestly can’t tell. There have been a few hints dropped here and there, but whether they’re just honest-to-god commentary about Steve missing his best friend or if there was ever something more, he doesn’t know.

So, for the sake of his own feelings and to keep Steve from getting angry at him again, he keeps quiet.

Though it doesn’t quite stop him basically vaulting off the couch and scrambling over to the lounger the moment Steve takes a break, presumably to go to the bathroom, leaving the sketchbook balanced on the arm of the lounger.

“Jarvis, tell me when he’s coming back,” Tony instructs, snatching up the closed sketchbook. He flips through it, and finds loads of sketches of buildings, of the New York skyline, of the tower. There are countless odd sketches of items that he recognizes from the tower – the television, a games controller, the kitchen and wow, even one of Dummy.

“Come on,” he mutters. “What were you just drawing? Can’t be the television again, you boring son of a gun-”

His mumbling stops abruptly because he finally finds what he was sort of looking for.

Bucky.

God damn it.

He tries not to feel disappointed as she stares down at the finished picture. It’s a full sketch of Bucky from head to toes, slouching sideways with an unmistakable swagger, smug expression firmly in place. He looks rough and unkempt, different to the last sketch Tony had seen. He’s wearing half his military uniform; boots and regulation pants, with a grubby white T-shirt, dog tags resting against his sternum.

“Shit,” Tony breathes.

“Sir, I do feel compelled to tell you that Captain Rogers was actually working on a new piece on the next page,” Jarvis informs him, and Tony hurriedly flips the page and then freezes.

It’s him.

Stretched out on the sofa, tablet in hand and slight frown on his face – the sketch is rough and unfinished but unmistakably him.

“Sir, Captain Rogers is returning,” Jarvis says, and Tony shuts the book with a snap, puts it back where he found it and then dives back onto the sofa.

When Steve re-enters the room and sits back down, picking up his sketchbook and pencil once more, Tony very deliberately doesn't look at him. He keeps his eyes fixed on his tablet and tries to will away the prickling of his skin that comes with the knowledge that Steve is drawing him.

Had been drawing Bucky, and is now drawing him.

Tony swallows thickly and wonders if he should reassess his hope that the drawing-Bucky-thing was strictly platonic, because he knows what he wants the drawing-Tony-thing to mean, and he's not sure he can have it one way but not the other.

 


 

And his eyes jerk open and he’s looking around wildly, his heart hammering like it’s about to expire and needs to cram a lifetime of beating into the seconds he has left. “Please tell me nobody kissed me,” he gasps, and Steve is right there, on his knees on the concrete, laughing and looking like a real human being for the first time, open and happy 

“No-one kissed you,” he says with a roll of his eyes, and Tony’s no longer wearing his armour, and Steve can reach out and thread his fingers into Tony’s hair. He’s wearing his sweats and a navy T-shirt and his shield is still in hand, and then he’s leaning down and pressing his mouth to Tony’s, and the sheer power of the spike of lust that drives through Tony’s sternum is almost overwhelming. He’s alive, and he’s on earth and Steve is kissing him, kissing him like it’s the last thing he’ll ever do.

“Cap,” Tony gasps, and they’re in his bedroom, tangled on the sheets, and Steve grabs his wrists and forces him down onto his back.

“Steve,” he insists darkly, and his tongue darts out to wet his lower lip and Jesus Christ Tony could come right then and there.

“Blasphemy,” Steve mutters as if Tony spoke aloud, wait, did he? Hang on, he doesn’t care because a warm palm is sliding up the inside of his thigh and good god Steve is in his bed and naked, and if Tony doesn't get to fuck him then he's going to lose his mind. Steve's mouth is over his, panting warm breaths into the scant space between their mouths, and his hand goes higher and higher, fingers brushing against Tony's dick so fleetingly it leaves him gasping, aching for harder, more-

But then Bucky Barnes stands there in the doorway, shouting and looking furious, and Steve is shouting back, telling Bucky to clear out, his hand locked possessively around Tony’s hip.

“Me or him,” Bucky insists, and Tony feels a horrible wrench of agony in his gut as Steve looks from him to Bucky and back again. “Steve,” Bucky tries, and he’s absolutely filthy, his army-issue pants and the white wife beater he’s wearing covered in muck and grime, and his dog tags are glinting against the blue glow of his arc-reactor.

Gasping, Tony presses a hand to his chest and feels nothing but skin and bone, and the press of dog tags against his palm; he looks wildly down and see’s they’re Steve’s. Steve is ignoring Bucky and leaning down to kiss Tony again, fingers threading into his hair and body pressing against Tony’s from knee to chest.

“Out,” a voice demands, and Tony pulls away from Steve to see Coulson marching into the room, and he grabs Bucky by the back of his shirt and marches him bodily from the room-

And Tony wakes up.

The first thing he does is smack a palm to his chest, breath heaving as he feels the familiar weight of the arc-reactor sitting where it should be. His brow is prickling with sweat and he’s so hard it makes him groan aloud. He should not have such serious wood from a dream that wasn't even all that dirty, definitely not by some of his standards.

Though it was Steve he’d been dreaming about, so maybe he can be excused.

He rolls over, blinking blearily and rubbing his eyes with the heels of his palms. “J?” he croaks. “What time is it?”

“Two thirty-four PM,” Jarvis replies smoothly. “You have been asleep for five hours and twenty-one minutes.”

“And dreaming about Steve for approximately four of them,” Tony grumbles.

“Quite,” Jarvis says dryly, and Tony pulls a face. He breathes out heavily, rubbing his chest just above his arc-reactor and wondering if he could get away with jerking off whilst thinking about dream-Steve. He considers the rest of his dream and decides against it, wrinkling his nose in distaste. Sure, the rolling around in a bed with Steve aspect of the dream had been awesome and hot and not that hard to understand, but the whole thing with Bucky? Urgh, a therapist probably would have loved to get their claws into that one.

He blinks tiredly at the ceiling and allows himself a small self-depreciating smile. In his book, he’s done admirably well to not having filthy dreams about Steve up until this point.

Rubbing his fingertips across his mouth, he frowns and wonders how Steve would react if he told him about the dream. Grimacing, he throws the covers back and makes to clamber out of bed. Yeah, maybe it’s something best kept to himself, all things considered.

 


 

“And if I can somehow reduce the weight down to that point without compromising the structure, that’d give me scope for some sort of cloaking device,” Tony says, waving a calliper in Steve’s direction to prove his point. “Good for stealth." 

Steve snorts, not even bothering to look up as he turns his paper around to get a better angle for shading the upper half of his drawing. “Since when has stealth ever been your primary concern?”

Tony grins at him, flipping the calliper over in his hand and then prodding Steve in the arm with it. “Touché.”

Steve doesn’t even halt the careful sweep of his pencil across the page as he reaches up with his free hand to take the calliper from Tony, tossing it onto the workbench with a clatter, well out of Tony’s reach. “Might be a good idea,” he muses, eyes still on his drawing.

“I was using that,” Tony says pointedly. 

“No you weren’t,” Steve says, and the fucker still doesn’t even look up. He sits back a little, casts a critical eye over his sketchbook and then turns it back the right way. “You were waving it around and periodically jabbing me with it." 

“I didn’t mean to,” Tony says. “Well, I obviously did, but I didn’t consciously decide to. Must be a subconscious thing.”

“Your subconscious is a scary place,” Steve says absently, and then makes an indignant noise as Tony darts forwards and whips the pencil out of his hand, tossing it over his shoulder.  He does look up then, clearly exasperated, rolling his eyes as Tony pulls a ‘so there,’ face at him.

“Pick it up,” Steve says, and Tony sticks his tongue out before walking over to his tool cabinet, hoping there’s another calliper in there because screw what Steve thinks, he was actually being productive. “Tony.”

“Why do I let you in here, again?” Tony says as he yanks a draw open. “You touch my stuff.”

“Actually, I have no idea,” Steve says dryly, and Tony looks over his shoulder just in time to view the treat that is a Steve Rogers stretch; his arms are both raised above his head, his back curving just enough to pull the material of his already tight shirt completely taught over his chest and shoulders. Steve sighs and flops back into the chair, rubbing at his neck with both hands. “Maybe you should go back to locking me out?”

The tone is innocent and Tony hides a grin, turning back to the cabinet and rummaging through the drawer. “Sassy Steve, my favourite.”

“Obnoxious Tony,” Steve replies, and then there’s a pause. Tony turns around, eyebrows raised in question. Steve pulls a face and then slides off the stool, heading to pick up the pencil. “I’m not admitting I like you acting obnoxious, I’ll never hear the end of it.”

Tony positively cackles. “I knew it!” he crows, grabbing a screwdriver just so he can point it at Steve.

“Shut up, Tony,” Steve advises him, but the corner of his mouth is curling in a smile.

“You love it,” Tony says smugly. “Now you’re not convinced that all of my actions consistently revolve around trying to hurt your feelings, you like me being slightly obnoxious on occasion.”

“Shut up, Tony,” Steve repeats, but now he sounds almost fond, and that certainly does not make Tony shiver in a strange unexpected way. He allows himself a moment to look Steve over, eyes lingering on his neck, just above the collar of his shirt. He wants to walk over, touch his fingertips to that skin, tilt Steve’s head forwards slightly so he can press his mouth to it. He images Steve breathing out unsteadily, reaching back to hold Tony’s head in place, letting him work his mouth over every inch of warm skin before pulling him around to catch his mouth-

Tony blinks and comes back to the moment, abandoning his latest Steve fantasy. Regrettable, but necessary if he wants to get anything remotely productive done. Besides, he doesn’t want to give Steve any clues as to where his wayward thoughts have been wandering lately; Steve is still a tad unpredictable when it comes to physical contact, and Tony doesn’t want to scare him off.

God. His younger self would quite probably be pointing and laughing at just how disgustingly respectful Tony is being, at how willing he is to go without just for the sake of keeping Steve happy and close. Well, if he’s not happy then at least he seems willing to tolerate Tony, and that’s not something Tony wants to jeopardise.

He wanders back to his workbench, picking up the calliper that Steve had so rudely taken from him and slipping onto a stool. He reaches out and pulls up the schematics that shows the circuitry that connects his helmet to the rest of the suit, and is about to continue looking at ways to make the connection more secure when Jarvis smoothly interrupts.

“Sir, a visitor has entered the tower.” 

Steve looks up, Tony frowns.

“Who?”

“It appears to be Agent Coulson, Sir.”

Tony swears under his breath and gets rid of the schematics with a violent swipe of his hand. “J, bring up video,” he instructs, and the screen on the wall in front of them instantly turns on. It shows the elevator, and the figure standing inside it next to Natasha is tall, dark haired, wearing a suit and most definitely Phil Coulson.

“Son of a bitch,” Tony says roughly, slumping back onto his chair and sliding his fingers into his hair. He feels like someone has punched him right in the arc-reactor. “It’s actually him. God, he looks - it’s like it never happened.”

“It might not have done for all we know,” Steve sounds, and he sounds a million miles away, vague and vacant. Tony turns to look at him and sees that Steve is staring unblinkingly at the screen, looking as poleaxed as Tony feels.

“Thor saw it,” Tony reminds him, and Steve blinks and seems to come back to the moment.

“Yeah. Yeah, he did, didn’t he. Did you know he was coming?” Steve asks, and Tony shakes his head.

"Oh yeah, this facial expression obviously clearly expresses a sense of I knew all about this," he says as he plants his feet on the floor and shoves back hard, sending the wheeled stool sliding across the floor. Steve reaches out seemingly without thinking, catching the back of Tony’s chair and bringing it to a gentle stop next to him. They don’t look at each other; they just sit side by side and continue to watch the elevator footage in silence.

“Want to go and say hello?” Steve finally breaks the silence, sounding cautious and unsure.

“Hell no,” Tony says vehemently.

“We probably should,” Steve protests, and Tony spins the chair around and clamps his hands on Steve’s knees, pressing down even though he knows he wouldn’t be able to stop Steve if Steve actually wanted to move. He’s not really sure why he feels the need to keep Steve here; if Steve wants to go and see Coulson, then that’s his choice and not Tony’s.

After a few more moments of watching Natasha and Coulson ride in the elevator, Tony admits to himself that he’s glad Steve is there at his side.

Coulson looks well, Tony thinks as he watches him turn his head and speak to Natasha. He’s not got the audio on, so he has no idea what the words are, but Natasha nods and reached for something in her pocket, lips moving as she replies. Coulson’s usual and achingly familiar suit is so dark it’s almost black, worn well with his usual spotless shirt and tie. He’s got a long case in one hand, and Jesus, has he actually come into the tower armed?

Natasha and Coulson step out of the elevator at the communal floor, and Jarvis switches cameras without even being asked, and Tony’s heart leaps into his throat as he spots Clint on the periphery of the camera shot, perched on the back of the sofa with a games controller in hand. Next to Tony, Steve swears softly.

They watch in silence as Clint turns, seizes up, and then promptly throws the controller at Coulson. Coulson simply ducks, says something, and then walks forwards. Clint scrambles off the back of the sofa, and Coulson stops, holding out the case to Clint, and-

“Oh,” Steve murmurs, at the exact same moment Tony realizes what must be in the case.

Clint’s bow.

“J, turn it off,” he says hurriedly, because even Natasha is walking away from the unfolding scene, and as such Steve and Tony only see Clint’s right hand twitch in an aborted motion, his face twisted with confusion, heartache and disbelief before the screen flicks off.

The workshop is silent. 

“Christ,” Tony says, rubbing at his chest just above the arc-reactor. “Sorry, but I could no way handle the emotions that will be going on there right now. Even thinking about it is giving me hives.”

“No, you made the right call,” Steve says. “That’s a private moment.”

“Phil Coulson is a lunatic,” Tony decides, getting up and walking back over to his tool cabinet, just to give his limbs something to do. His hands are shaking and there’s no booze down here and shit, he hates this so much, hates how he doesn’t know how he should feel, so doesn’t know which damn emotions to concentrate on supressing or ignoring.

“What?”

“He’s returned from the dead and first thing on his to-do list is to voluntarily go face to face with a suicidal and possibly homicidal Hawkeye. And give him his bow back. I bet you fifty bucks that Barton shoots him.”

“He won’t,” Steve says, and then pauses, doubt flickering over his face. “Will he?”

Tony starts to laugh, turning around and slumping back against the cabinet with a dull, metallic thud-plunk sound. “Fifty bucks,” he repeats. “I kind of hope he does. Because then he won’t be able to come and find us for an awkward emotional reunion. I don’t do well with those.”

“Neither do I,” Steve admits, and his jaw works as if he wants to say more. Tony waits it out, and is rewarded with Steve continuing to speak, a breath held tight in his chest, audible in the way his voice is strained and tight. “It was like that when I found Bucky after he’d gone missing, a lot of adrenaline and focus on staying alive,” he says, and then exhales, shaking his head. “When we got back and it all kinda sunk in, we had a hell of a fight. He was angry at me for risking myself to go and get him, so angry, I don’t think I’d ever seen him like that. And then he obviously had a lotta questions about why I wasn’t five foot–nothing anymore…” Steve’s mouth twists in a rueful smile and Tony feels a mad urge to reach out and touch it. “I could never lie to him, so I had to tell him about volunteering for project rebirth. He turned to me and said, ‘so you fuckin’ put yourself forwards for a dangerous and untested medical procedure that could have killed you?’ He said that if I weren’t suddenly a damn superhero he’d beat my ass into next week for putting myself in danger.”

Tony’s jaw drops because hell no did those words just come out of Steve Rogers’s mouth. 

“That sounds familiar!” he says incredulously, pointing a finger at Steve in an accusing manner, because that’s the sort of shit that Steve gives them on a regular basis, and Tony’s brain is stuck on a loop of did he just say that? Oh no he didn’t, oh hang on a moment because he totally did.

Steve’s reminiscent expression quickly turns mulish and put-out. “Tony-”

“That is the most valid point I have heard ever,” Tony insists, and now he’s laughing out of sheer disbelief. “How did we all forget that? You’re lucky you’re my favourite, or I’d be such a bitch about you being a complete and utter hypocrite.”

Steve’s jaw is clenched again, and his ears are going red; a sure fire signal that he’s getting irritated. “Oh I’m sorry, this is you not being a bitch?”

“You are banned from saying the words ‘unacceptable risk’ ever again,” Tony announces.

“Tony-”

Tony ignores him. God, he’s so angry right now, brain going haywire trying to deal with Agent Agent turning up, and worrying about Clint, and then being reminded about Steve possibly dying in that stupid procedure that his stupid Dad had been part of. “God, I could throw a goddamn wrench at your stupid face right now!”

Steve gapes at him incredulously. “What?!”

“I’m angry! Okay, Phil is in my tower and Barton is going to lose his mind, and you just reminded me how you could have died during that stupid procedure! You utter hypocrite! And that is after you went toe-to-toe with the Hulk the other day! You are in no place to call people on risk. Jesus, I suppose seeing that Barnes is no longer here to kick your ass for being stupid, I’m going to have to do it!”

The stool Steve is on screeches back and he’s on his feet, and he looks like Tony has just punched him in the back of the head whilst wearing the amour, all dazed and angry and not quite sure if he should laugh, leave or punch Tony back-

“Am I interrupting?”

Steve and Tony both freeze. Their eyes are locked for a second that lasts forever, before they both slowly turn around to see Phil Coulson standing in the doorway. He looks calm and collected, and then Tony notices his right hand is holding what looks like a dishcloth tightly to his left shoulder. His fingers are red and his shirt is spotted with something that looks suspiciously like blood.

“What the hell happened to you?” Tony asks in disbelief.

Coulson glances at his shoulder, unconcerned. “Agent Barton,” he says calmly. “Nicked my shoulder. It’s nothing. I’m giving him some time to calm down before I go back up there.”

Still staring at Coulson, Tony wonders what the hell to do or say. Really, there are only two things that are going to get him through this conversation, and seeing as there is no booze in the workshop that only leaves inappropriate humour. With that in mind, he blindly holds a hand out towards Steve.

“Fifty bucks, please.”

“My wallet is upstairs,” Steve replies, sounding strangled.

Coulson smiles as if he’s not just been shot and steps into the room, closing the door behind him. “So, Stark. Captain Rogers. How’ve you been?”

“What? Don’t you need to go get that looked at?” Tony gestures to Coulson’s shoulder.

Coulson shakes his head. “No. It’s barely a scratch, not enough to stop me doing what I came here to do.”

Steve eyes him carefully. “Which is what?”

“Check up on how you’re doing,” Coulson says simply.

“We’re fine,” Tony says, because what else is he supposed to say? He can barely find the words in his own head to describe the current state of affairs in the tower, and frankly, the thought of talking it out with Coulson is as terrifying as talking it out with Natasha. The only person on the planet that Tony would be less likely to spill to is Fury himself.

“Sounds like it,” Coulson says, absolutely no inflection in his tone. “The yelling at each other and the bruised face that you’re sporting just scream successfully functioning team dynamics.”

“Are you really getting involved with this when you’ve just been shot?” Tony says, voice thick with disbelief.

“Nicked,” Coulson corrects him, and lifts the dishcloth slightly to look at the wound before clamping it back down, reapplying the pressure.

“You should go get it looked at,” Steve insists, walking over. “Jesus, someone needs to talk to Clint.”

“I’m going to,” Coulson says calmly. “Don’t look so worried, Captain. You know how good his aim is; it could have been worse. I’d prefer to talk about-” 

“Alright,” Tony interrupts quickly, wanting the topic away from the functioning of the team dynamics as quickly as possible.  “Consider us checked,” he says. “Are you back officially?”

“Not yet,” Coulson says, and pauses, tilting his head slightly from one side to the other contemplatively, looking like he’s thinking of the right word for something. “I’m negotiating.”

Tony snorts. “You negotiate the hell out of the bastards. With extreme prejudice.”

Coulson almost shrugs. “You know SHIELD,” he says, and Tony hates how casually he says it, like it’s just one of those facts of life that they all have to deal with. “They did what they thought they had to do.”

“I take it back,” Tony says, shaking his head. “I was considering letting you off the hook for the whole getting yourself killed and coming back from the dead thing, but no. No. If you’re still friends with SHIELD then I can’t be friends with you.”

“We were never friends, Stark,” Coulson says, the faintest trace of a smile playing crookedly at his mouth.

Tony narrows his eyes, glares petulantly. “Now that’s just mean, Agent.”

“So will you come back officially? Eventually?” Steve asks carefully. “After you’re through negotiating?”

Coulson considers him for a moment. “I can’t stop SHIELD,” he says frankly. “But I can be there to make sure the least damage is done to those involved.”

Tony heaves out a sigh. “You noble fucker.”

Coulson does smile at that, a tiny lift of his mouth and crinkling around his eyes. “Says the man who I hear saved New York by flying a nuclear bomb through a portal to another dimension.”

Now Tony wasn’t expecting that to come up in conversation quite so abruptly, and suddenly he’s dying. All he does is try and breathe in, but it catches in his chest and he makes a rough noise in the back of his throat, trying to inhale and finding that there’s no air. He feels his neck getting warm and his skin is too tight and fuck, he’s seriously going to choke and die because his lungs won’t work-

“Breathe,” a voice instructs, and Steve is there, always there, pushing him down onto a stool and sliding a hand onto the back of his neck. “Stop trying to breathe in, just – all out. That’s it, Tony. Out first, and then in. You know where you are, right, you’re just gonna sit here with me and breathe. Come on, you’re a genius, right? That brain of yours has got more important things to think about than breathing. You were talking about stealth for the suit, getting the weight down, using something to replace some of the titanium fixing points…”

Steve keeps talking at him, and slowly his mind unfreezes and starts slowly ticking over again, contemplating numbers and measurements and alloys. With every calculation, he turns his mind back to where it should be and away from fixating on the whole not breathing thing, and just like it did in the kitchen, it works. It takes a while, a few mortifying minutes of sweating and shaking and snatching in uneven breaths – in front of Coulson no less – but he gets it under control. It’s only when he does that he realizes that both his hands are clutching at Steve; one on his wrist and one twisted in the front of his shirt.  It’s okay though, because Steve is holding him too, one hand still on the back of Tony’s neck and the other on his shoulder, fingers gripping firmly.

Steve has stopped talking, he notices. Tony looks up and his stomach jolts as he sees concerned blue eyes fixed on him, and wow it’s still almost scary being the sole focus of that much attention. Steve is intense at the best of times, never mind when he’s looking at Tony like that.

Coulson is probably way jealous, Tony thinks, and chokes on a laugh.

And hang on - Steve can’t have been simply humouring him and pretending to listen to his babble earlier; he must have genuinely been listening to be able to repeat so much back at Tony whilst attempting to distract him.

The realisation means more to Tony than he anticipated, and he feels his fingers clench involuntarily around Steve’s wrist, not wanting to let him go.

“Stark?” Coulson says gently, and Tony blinks hard and the last of the fuzziness in his mind clears.                                                                                                                                                             

“I’m fine,” he says, voice sounding hoarse to his own ears. He lets go of Steve and Steve lets go of him, stepping back slightly. Not too far, just so they’re at a respectable platonic distance rather than being all over each other. Tony can’t wait to see what Coulson reports back to Fury. Tony can only hope that that relationship is strained enough so that it won’t happen. He clears his throat. “Just the whole-”

He flaps a hand in front of him as if that can encompass the whole terror of the panic attacks, the nightmares he still has about new York being lost in blinding white and orange light because he wasn’t strong enough, quick enough, smart enough. As if it can truly communicate the fear he feels when he imagines being left on the wrong side of that portal, dying and alone.

He breathes in and out, and this time it goes easily. He feels fine, as normal as he has done lately. He looks up and Steve is still looking at him, the question clear in his expression. Tony nods slightly and offers him a quirked grin, and Steve seems to exhale and relax, apparently reassured. Coulson doesn’t look as convinced.

“Yeah, look,” Tony says to him, and lifts his right hand. It’s remarkably steady. “Look, no shakes. I’m fine.”

“I think you need to redefine the word fine,” Coulson muses.

“Fuck off,” Tony replies, and looks up indignantly when Steve elbows him. “He’s being a dick,” Tony insists. “Miracle return from the dead or no, he’s being-”

Thankfully, the argument between him and Steve about being nice to Coulson is cut short by Jarvis. Tony has never been more grateful for his programming skills, which possibly aren’t good enough to explain how Jarvis knows when to interrupt every time things start to get out of hand.

“Excuse me, Sir, but Agent Barton has a message he would like me to impart to Agent Coulson,” Jarvis says smoothly.

Seizing the opportunity for what it is, Tony considers himself officially out. He slumps back into his chair, covering his face with his hands and wishing that he could go back to just being a genius billionaire hero that wasn’t part of a team and didn’t have to deal with people. “Hit us, J.”

“Agent Barton would like you to know he is now feeling calm enough to see your stupid fucking face without wanting to fucking shoot it,” Jarvis says. “Apologies, but he did request that I deliver the message complete with curse words.”

“Of course he did,” Tony says, voice muffled by his hands. “Why did you think it was a good idea to give him his bow back?”

“Because I believe you all need to get back to normal as quickly as possible,” Phil says calmly, and turns towards the door. “I don’t think you do well with too much free time. No matter what the boss might think.”

Tony and Steve exchange a look, and then just before Coulson leaves, something occurs to him.

“Hang on – does Fury know you’ve given it back?”

Coulson pauses in the doorway, and smiles quietly. “What Fury doesn’t know doesn’t hurt him,” he says, and leaves Tony and Steve open mouthed, looking and feeling completely stunned.


 

After Coulson’s departure, it takes Steve and Tony four and a half minutes to start arguing again. 

They’ve changed location just to keep the whole yelling at each other thing fresh, and are in the kitchen. Steve is standing on the far side of the island counter – in front of the coffee machine, the inconsiderate dick – and Tony is standing far too close to him considering that the last time they argued here he got punched. There’s no sound or sight of Clint, Coulson or Natasha and the whole place is unnervingly tidy; no blood and nothing broken.  For the time being, at least.

“I told you what we should do,” Tony is insisting, gesticulating wildly with an empty mug in hand.

“We can’t just break away from SHIELD,” Steve retorts. “The Avengers is their initiative.”

“Avengers two point oh,” Tony shoots back. “Or we could come up with a new name, I’ll bet they’ve got copyright  stamped all over ‘Avengers.’”

“We can’t just quit,” Steve says stubbornly. “No matter how we feel about the situation with Phil-”

“That’s just the icing on the cake of fuckery that SHIELD have thrown our way,” Tony says. “We can-”

“All of our intel comes from SHIELD,” Steve reasons.

“I could do better,” Tony says, and feels a flare of annoyance when Steve raises a sceptical eyebrow. “I could. You know my tech is-”

“Your tech is amazing,” Steve interrupts, and the offhand complement confuses Tony enough to shut him up for a moment. “But you don’t have time. Between StarkIndustries and Iron Man and the million other things that you categorise as important-”

“My stuff is important,” Tony says grudgingly, because he knows Steve is right. He huffs, annoyed that Steve is actually making him see reason, and then moves towards Steve because he wants to get his coffee and retreat to his workshop to sulk.

“Look, I want to tell them to move on as much as you,” Steve says in his annoying reasonable tone that Tony hates. It’s a good job he’s rarely reasonable around Tony. “But we need to be careful. We can’t make these decisions based purely on emotion.”

Tony, for once in his life, stays quiet and listens. He steps right up close to Steve, reaching past him to jab the button on the coffee machine, elbow brushing Steve’s arm as he does. Steve shifts up marginally, but not much. Not so much that Tony isn’t touching him.

“I’m lost with this,” Steve suddenly admits, bracing his hands on the counter behind him and leaning back, head tipping back as he looks up at the ceiling. He sounds frustrated, his tone and body growing more and more tense with every word out of his mouth. “I’m used to being the guy with all the intel, the guy making the decisions. In the war I had all the facts, and I could be objective about it and get the job done. And now I’m not in that position, and my emotions are playing hell with my ability to be rational about things.”

He blows out a breath. “I need Bucky,” he says, and tips his head forward again, staring down at his feet. “He’d always tell me when I was being stupid.”

Tony doesn’t really know what to say to that. He positively aches to ask Steve The Question, mental capitalization definitely warranted, but a voice in his head that sounds suspiciously like Pepper tells him that that would be insensitive and inappropriate.

Selfish as always, he decides to bring the conversation back to himself.

“I’m always up for telling you you’re being stupid,” he says casually, and when Steve’s eyes go wide he realizes the implications of what he’s just said. Shit. If Steve and Bucky were – were something, then he’s basically just put himself forwards to be the next something. And whilst he knows that he has awkward emotional feelings for Steve, it’s another thing to accidentally end up in a relationship with the man before he’s even managed to work out-

“Hey.”

A tired voice calls across to them and they both look over to see Bruce walking over, looking exhausted. His hair is sticking up on end as if he’s been running his hands through it and there’s a frown creasing his brow.

“I’m okay,” he says with a self-depreciating smile, waving away their concerned questions before they’re even finished.  “Yes, I’ve seen Agent Coulson. No, the Other Guy didn’t come out to say welcome back.”

“Obviously,” Tony says. “No alarms or structural damage.”

Bruce grimaces. “I’m not saying there would be structural damage even if I did,” he says. “I have a feeling that if Steve were suited up and told him to stay put-”

“No, not happening,” Tony interrupts brusquely. “Steve is banned from going head to head with your alter ego until further notice.”

“What?” Steve frowns.  Bruce looks from Tony to Steve, looking mildly intrigued.

“Steve is a hypocrite who shouts at people for taking risks when his track record shows next to no regard for his own personal safety,” Tony informs Bruce, crossing his arms and leaning back against the counter, staring Steve down belligerently.

Steve shakes his head, exasperated but not looking angry. “It’s not that black and white.”

“Is to me,” Tony sing-songs. “Look, you know you do the same to us, and you know why you do it. You don’t want anything to happen to us, and we don’t want anything to happen to you.”

He doesn’t even think about touching Steve, he just punctuates the end of his sentence by pressing his palm to Steve’s chest, and before he’s even realized what he’s done, Steve has smacked his hand away, jerking away from Tony like he’s been electrocuted.

“Well, ow,” Tony says, rubbing the back of his hand and looking mildly annoyed. Steve looks pained and a little confused, like he can’t quite work out what he’s just done.

“I’m going to-” he begins, but doesn’t finish. He ducks out past Tony and leaves the room without looking back, expression pinched and troubled, brooding like a thundercloud.

“I wish he’d make his mind up,” Tony says irritably, because Jesus. Steve has had his hands all over Tony more times than he can remember lately, and now he’s being prissy about it again? Was that some other version of Steve who had held Tony earlier, eased him through the beginnings of a potential panic attack with warm hands and gentle touches? Tony suddenly feels so damn resentful towards Steve, more so because he has the ability to make him feel anything as such.

Bruce hums sympathetically. “He doesn’t mean it,” he says calmly. “I don’t think it’s about you. I just don’t think he’s used to being touched.”

Tony stares moodily at his drink. “Doesn’t stop him being a handsy motherfucker when he feels like it,” he grumbles, and then corrects himself at Bruce’s expression. “Not like that,” he iterates. “Just hugs, hands on shoulders, casual shit, you know?”

“Is it casual shit for him?” Bruce questions. “If it happens when there’s emotions running high, chances are that it’s not just casual.”

“I think,” Tony begins, and then goes for it. “I think the last person that used to – that he was used to touching comfortably, was Bucky. Bucky Barnes. You’ve read the file, right? I mean, I didn’t read the file, but Jarvis knows so I assume it’s in there.”

“Yes, I read the file,” Bruce says patiently. “And if that’s what you think, it certainly explains a lot. And that’s on top of the fact that in his day, it would be massively frowned upon. If anyone thought he was being inappropriate-”

Tony snorts. “Steve Rogers, inappropriate? Yeah, and I’m best friends with Reed Richards.”

“Oh come on,” Bruce says. “According to you he’s a ‘handsy motherfucker,’ and there’s more than one rumor about him and James Barnes. Not to mention the inappropriate yelling at Nick Fury, and the fact he punched a teammate. He deliberately plays those damn games with Clint when he’s not supposed to, still tries to go out and help with clean-up even if he’s banned, and that’s not counting all the stuff from the war. What was it, purposefully going MIA to find his friends, getting a civilian to fly an aircraft through an enemy warzone? Oh, and remember the time he broke into the classified weapons storage on the-”

“Okay, okay, you made your point,” Tony protests, and then pauses. “Though I’m still not friends with Richards.”

Bruce chuckles. “I never said you were,” he says, and then, “are you sure you’re okay? How was it with Agent Coulson?”

Tony shrugs. “Can’t get my head round it,” he admits. “Spent months thinking he was gone, and to see him walking through here like nothing had happened.” He blows out a breath, running a hand over his face. “Where is he now, anyway?”

“He’s taken Clint for burgers,” Bruce shrugs, and smiles at Tony’s bemused expression. “Yeah, I know,” he says.

“Did Clint take his bow?”

Bruce smiles, eyebrows lifting. “Can you imagine him letting it go any time soon?”

Tony groans. “We will get sued if he draws it in public.”

Bruce smiles even more at that. “Then we send the bill to the Avengers management,” he says innocently, and Tony starts to laugh. Bruce chuckles as well, and reaches over to clap Tony on the shoulder. “Talk to Steve,” he advises. “Don’t avoid the issue.”

“Yeah, like that’ll work,” Tony says dismissively, and doesn’t admit that he’s already considering eight different ploys to trick Steve into having the conversation, because frankly, despite Steve still periodically being an ass about it, Steve touching is turning out to be one of his new favourite things ever and he doesn’t want to have to give it up.

 


 

It turns out that Tony doesn’t have to find some way to corner Steve to talk about the whole touching-thing. After Coulson leaves, Tony finds himself in the kitchen with Bruce and Clint, arguing about what to order for take-out, as if Clint hadn’t been out for burgers not three hours previously. He’d returned from his outing looking remarkably calm and collected, his face neutral and shoulders more relaxed than Tony has seen since the invasion. 

And now he’s sat on the kitchen counter, flicking peanuts at Tony and whining like a giant baby. Tony only keeps his opinion to himself because Clint has his bow in his hand and he’s already shown willingness to shoot people today.

They’re ten minutes in and have only managed to agree that none of them want Thai when Steve walks in, bare feet almost soundless on the floor. 

Without any prompting from Tony, he sidles up and leans on the counter right next to him, his hip pressed against the stool Tony is sat on. Never one to give up, Tony reaches out and places a hand between Steve’s shoulder blades, and instead of throwing him off, Steve just leans forwards so his elbows are on the counter, hands clasped together loosely in front of him.

Experimentally, Tony shifts his palm so it runs up over the neck of Steve’s shirt, fingers brushing the short hairs at the back of his neck, and then back again. Whilst he doesn’t anticipate Steve doing anything rash to make him stop, he does imagine he’ll move away, just enough so that Tony gets the message and stops touching him.

Instead, he sighs and lowers his head so that it’s nearly touching his arms, rolling his shoulders slightly in a loose, sinuous motion that makes Tony’s breath catch. He repeats the motion, palm running down and up Steve’s spine, and feels Steve exhale and relax.

Trying not to let on how his heart is doing some strange weird skipping thing behind the arc-reactor, Tony looks up and jumps back into the conversation.

“No, absolutely not. I’m not waiting fifty minutes for food in this day and age. We tip enough to get food here in seconds.”

“Impatient,” Steve murmurs lazily, not bothering to lift his head, sighing loud enough for the others to hear when Tony’s hand moves up to his neck again, pressing down firmly.

Tony refuses to look down at Steve, and meets the knowing gazes of Bruce and Clint with a perfectly neutral expression, as if stroking Steve in a sort of one handed massage – and in front of everyone else, no less – is something perfectly normal that Steve allows every day. Clint lifts an eyebrow but Tony jerks his head slightly in a don’t you dare motion, and Clint rolls his eyes and concedes.

“Fifty minutes for awesome food isn’t that bad,” he tries, but luckily Bruce is on Tony’s side. 

“Fifty minutes and I will eat you. You’ve already had burgers, the rest of us haven’t eaten today.”

“But the bread, Bruce, the bread,” Clint whines, and they’re off again, and Tony enormously enjoys the fact they’ll probably be arguing long enough so that the damn takeout would have got there by the time they finish anyway.

By the time Clint is actually threatening to shoot someone and Bruce is adamant that he can prove the quality of his choice through science, Steve is slumped heavily enough into Tony’s side that there’s a risk that the stool will pitch over, his head now buried in his folded arms atop the counter.

Tony shifts his body around and swaps hands, looping his right arm over Steve’s waist to keep them stable – not that it’ll be much help if Steve puts any more weight onto him – and resumes the stroking up and down his spine with his left hand. His knees are twisted to the side, squashed in under Steve’s chest, between his thighs and the edge of the counter.

“Okay?” Tony murmurs quietly enough so that it would require super-hearing to discern the word.

“Mmm,” Steve replies, sounding tired. “Haven’t slept in a while,” he admits, and Tony hears the unspoken since Phil came back that Steve leaves off the end of the sentence.

Tony glances up, watching as Clint scrambles along the counter to try and grab a menu off the refrigerator, Bruce jumping after him and grabbing the back of his shirt to foil the attempt at ordering from Luigi’s. Deeming them sufficiently distracted, Tony turns his attention back to Steve.

“I’ve got a request,” he says, and Steve stiffens slightly.

“What?” he asks warily, though he doesn’t move.

“Make up your mind about this,” Tony says, punctuating his point by sliding his hand up Steve’s back more firmly so Steve knows what he’s talking about. “Either be okay with the hands on approach or don’t. It’s taking up a significant portion of my brain cells trying to second guess you and I need them back for engineering purposes.”

Steve’s silent for a long time, but he doesn’t move away and Tony doesn’t stop. Finally, just as Bruce manages to win the argument by casually mentioning how the Other Guy hates Luigi’s – a blatant lie, but a genius play on Bruce’s part, and wow, a joke about the Other Guy, the moment needs to be commemorated in some way, maybe a plaque on the fridge – Steve lifts his head, looking over at Clint and Bruce.

“I feel I shouldn’t like it,” he says to Tony, mouth turned down unhappily. “But when it’s you, it’s - it's okay, i guess. I just don’t want people presuming anything, or thinking it’s okay for everyone to have their hands all over me.”

And wow, if Tony wasn’t head over heels for Steve before, he certainly would be after that statement. Because basically, that translates as ‘I don’t want people gossiping about me and I only want you touching me,’ and damn if that doesn’t hit all of Tony’s buttons.

“Who’s gonna gossip?” he says casually. “We don’t go anywhere in public. And frankly, I think these guys all know that Steve-touching is my gig.”

It’s a risk, a brazen comment that’s close enough to innuendo to make Steve bolt or turn indignant. All that’s missing is a wink or a leer, but Tony knows that this is important enough to not deliberately fuck up. Accidental fuck ups he can’t do much about, but he does feel he should maybe tone down on the purposeful self-sabotage where Steve is concerned. 

Tony sends out a fervent thank you to the collective mass of deities that other people believe in, because Steve just huffs out a laugh, straightening up. He doesn’t go far though; he stays pressed against Tony’s hip, sliding one warm palm onto the back of Tony’s neck. Tony rests his temple against Steve’s side and slides his arm behind him so his hand can rest in the small of Steve’s back.

It’s tiny and small and something Tony would have barely paid attention to before; he would have touched people like this within three seconds of meeting them without giving it a second thought. But this is Steve, which means that Tony will happily act like a woozy teenager for as long as it takes. Now that their ability to communicate has gone from being rated as ‘catastrophic,’ through ‘non-existent’ and onto ‘tentatively working out,’ Tony is feeling disturbingly optimistic.

It’s both a comforting and terrifying thought that Tony really thinks the two of them could get used to this.

Chapter Text

 

“Do you have…any fives?” 

Steve hums and looks down at his cards, one eyebrow lifted carefully as he ponders. He’s sitting on the carpet next to one of the loungers, his legs crossed, arm resting on his knee and his chin cupped in his hand. Tony doesn’t know whether to laugh or kick him; it doesn’t take this much effort to count the three fives he knows he’s got in his hand.

“Go fish,” Steve says carefully, and looks over to Clint, who is lying on his stomach on the sofa, legs kicked up the back and upper body dangling off the cushions. His elbows are resting on the floor and Tony has no idea how that can be comfortable. “Have you got-”

“You liar!” Tony interjects, and scrambles up from where he was sprawled on his back on the carpet, lunging across and trying to grab Steve’s cards. “You’ve got three fives!”

“I do not,” Steve insists, stopping Tony with a palm on his forehead, shoving him back hard.

Tony grabs Steve’s wrist and yanks it down; Clint seems to also smell a rat and slides off the sofa, clambering across the pile of potential winnings in the middle of the carpet, his own cards abandoned as he grabs at Steve’s. Between Tony and Clint they wrestle Steve onto his back – admittedly, Steve isn’t fighting all that hard and Tony knows he’s being careful so he doesn’t hurt anyone – and Clint manages to wrest the cards out of his grip.

“You cheater!” he crows, showing Tony the hand Steve had had concealed, panting slightly with the exertion of keeping Steve pinned to the carpet. There’s a queen, two sevens, a two and three fives, just as Tony predicted.

“Well Tony wouldn’t know I was cheating unless he was counting – cards,” Steve says, and with a grunt he grabs Clint’s wrist, lifts his knees to plant his feet on Clint’s hips and then flips him clean over his head. Clint lets out a surprised shout and hits the carpet with a thud, landing hard on his back.               

“I was not,” Tony says, and then Steve has him as well, grabbing his upper arms and rolling him over, pinning him to the floor right on top of the pot they’d been playing for.

“Captain America is not allowed to cheat,” Tony says, and yelps as Clint reappears, shoving hard into Steve’s side and sending them all sprawling out over the carpet.

“You cheated first,” Steve pants, and yanks his arm forwards from where Clint was trying to pin it behind his back, sending Clint flying forwards as well, nearly crushing Tony in the process. Tony takes advantage of the distraction to wind an arm around Steve’s neck in an impromptu headlock, and Clint obviously had a death-wish because he grapples for Steve’s arm again, and Steve is laughing breathlessly and Clint is cackling madly and Tony is cursing because Steve has managed to get both arms around his waist, shoving him back down with an ooft, and he finds himself looking breathlessly up at Steve’s face, and Steve is smiling down at him and oh god, if Clint wasn’t there then this would undoubtedly be the moment to finally-

“Really? The mightiest heroes the world has to offer are fighting over a game of go fish?”

They all stop trying to pin each other and look up to see Coulson standing there, looking down on them like a nanny might look at a bunch of unruly children, and wow, that’s a mental simile that Tony won’t be sharing with anyone anytime soon. His eyes flicker over Steve’s neck, the corded muscle he can see now that Steve’s head is turned towards Coulson, and he wonders if anyone would object if he were to lean up and lick him. Jesus. This taking things slow business is going to be the absolute death of him.

Steve’s ears go red as he clambers off of Tony and sits next to Clint, trying to discreetly tug his shirt straight. Tony stays exactly where he is, lounging on his back. He puts his hands behind his head and crosses his legs at the ankle, just to complete the effect. He glances over just in time to see Steve hastily look away from the strip of skin that is visible above the waistband of his jeans, and feels a rush of smug satisfaction roll through him. Yes, he knows he stares at Steve all the damn time – of course he does, Steve is handsome and sexy and attractive and a whole host of other flattering adjectives that Tony’s brain can helpfully summon up with next to no notice – so it’s gratifying to find that Steve keeps looking at him too. 

Based on the still-running positive interactions model, Jarvis has predicted three more days of waiting. The way things are looking right now, Tony is almost willing to believe that he can shave at least twelve hours off that prediction.  Hell, he will invent a machine that will alter time if it gets Steve’s mouth on his within the next thirty-six hours.

“High stakes go fish,” Clint says with a grin, and lets go of Steve’s shoulders, sitting back down on the carpet and brushing his shirt down. Tony blinks and remembers that yeah, they were having a conversation, and not everyone was calculating how best to go about kissing Steve Rogers.

“Steve was cheating,” he chips in, and Steve sends him a dirty look.

“High stakes go fish,” Coulson repeats, and pinches the bridge of his nose between his fingers. “What were you playing for?”

“Erm,” Clint says, scratching his head. “I forget, what were we playing for?”

“Sixty eight dollars, two buttons, the Hawkeye action figure, the last piece of raspberry cheesecake in the fridge and a ‘get out of telling Natasha we broke something’ card,” Tony fills in. 

“Right,” Coulson says. “I feel like I should ask for the recording of this and email it to Fury, under the heading ‘reason ninety four as to why he should put the Avengers back on active duty.’ You are all clearly losing the plot.”

“We love you,” Clint says earnestly. “You feel our pain.”

“You are causing me pain,” Coulson says. “You have a gym for sparring in, and are instead wrestling on the lounge floor.”

“We didn’t plan the wrestling,” Tony interjects. “It was a protest over the fact Cap was cheating.”

“You were counting cards!”

Clint perks up. “Does that mean I win if I didn’t cheat?”

“Did you cheat?”

“Well I wouldn’t tell you cheaters if I had, would I?”

“I’m going to get the armor,” Tony announces, and makes to get up. “If we’re going to fight it out, I want it to be fair.”

Steve reaches out and grabs him by the belt, keeping him down in place on the carpet. “We’re not going to fight it out,” he says impatiently. “Sorry, Agent Coulson, was there something we can help you with?”

Coulson blows out a long suffering breath, and Tony sincerely hopes he doesn’t have a taser on him. “Yes. Something has happened in regards to London,” he says, and holds a hand out in a wait gesture as they all straighten up, alert. “You are still not allowed to go,” he says. “I’ve tried to convince Fury otherwise, but the official line is that we are still not to get involved. The press is being kept quiet for now, but it won’t take long for news to get out-”

“Why?” Clint demands. “What has happened?”

“Come and see for yourself,” Coulson says. “But understand, you’re being allowed access to this information on the understanding that you are not getting involved.”

Steve climbs to his feet and reaches out for Tony, offering a hand. Tony grasps it and lets Steve haul him to his feet, attention still on Coulson.

“You think we should go though, right?” he asks.

Coulson eyes him for a moment, and then nods. “If the situation weren’t under control, then yes,” he says finally. “But that doesn’t mean you can.”

“How serious is it?” Steve asks, and they all pause as Coulson grimaces.

“You’ll see.”

 


 

“Seriously, if you don’t sit still I’m going to pin your hands to that damn chair with a couple of arrows through your shirt sleeves.” 

Tony sends Clint a dirty look and carries on tapping his fingers against the arm of the leather backed chair he’s in.  Next to him, Steve makes a noise in the back of his throat and reaches for Tony’s hand, clamping his palm against the back of it, pressing his fingers down against the arm of the chair and stilling his incessant tapping.

“We’ve been here for days,” Tony says pointedly, though doesn’t bother trying to pull his hand free from under Steve’s. “Seriously. They’re keeping us waiting on purpose, I know it.”

“Then don’t let them know it’s bothering you,” Steve replies shortly. “If that’s what you think is going on, you getting riled up about it is probably making their day.”

“God I hate it when you’re so rational,” Tony groans, slumping back into his chair. He rubs at his face with his free hand and feels Steve let go of the other after a lingering moment. Tony hides a smile and adds a point to his mental times Steve has touched me in a really not very platonic way scorecard. So far he’s got eighteen and a half points, and based on the frequency and spread of the points, he’s starting to assume that Steve is now finding excuses to touch him and to be touched by him. The touching is still very vanilla as far as Tony’s standards go, but they’re still touches that definitely fall on the far side of the line between platonic and more.

And really, the fact that Steve ignores the kissy-faces that Clint makes at them when it happens says it all about his changed perspective.

“Why didn’t you bring Bruce with you?” Natasha asks from where she’s sat in a chair by the window. Clint is perched on the window sill and has his feet resting on her shoulders, and as Tony watches she reaches up and gently strokes a finger over the top of his foot. Why Clint chose not to wear shoes is a mystery that Tony doesn’t give a shit about, because Steve’s knee is pressed against his under the table and there is London to be focussing on. 

“He was busy,” Steve says. “At a critical point of an experiment he’s working on.”

“He told us to fuck off, that he wasn’t technically an Avenger because only half of him has read the paperwork, and that he didn’t give a shit about going to a briefing that we could fill him in on anyway,” Tony fills in, grinning at the face Steve pulls. “Yeah, he hasn’t slept in a while.”

“Sounds like some other people I know,” Natasha says knowingly, and just smiles when Clint presses his toes hard into her shoulders.

“Shut your face,” he says reasonably, and then winces as Natasha digs her fingers into a spot just behind his toes, a small smile on her face that’s completely at odds with the pain being inflicted by her hands.

“Oh, fuck this,” Tony mutters, and pulls his phone out of his pocket, opening it up and flicking several icons with his thumbs. Across the table, Clint is attempting to prise Natasha’s fingers from his toes with only a modicum of success, his expression turning steadily more alarmed.

Steve groans. “Tony, no.”

“What? I’m checking Twitter.”

“You’re not checking Twitter, that’s your face you get when you’re determined to get your own way,” Steve says. “Don’t hack into SHIELD.”

“You don’t even know what Twitter is,” Tony says vaguely.

“I know you’re causing trouble,” Steve replies insistently. “Tony, don’t. Coulson will make sure we’re briefed as soon as possible.”

“Me, cause trouble?” Tony says faux-innocently, looking up long enough to bat his eyelashes at Steve. Steve levels him with a flat glare, and Tony promptly spins his chair away from Steve because he knows that Steve is about to reach out and physically take the phone from him, and as much as he hates being handed things, he also really dislikes having things taken from him.

“Where is Coulson, anyway?” Clint asks, finally free from Natasha’s death grip. He’s now sitting sideways in the window with his feet braced against the jamb, toes well out of Natasha’s immediate range.  His bow is out of its case, and he’s turning it over and over in his hands, a restless gesture that makes everyone non-Avenger rather nervous. Natasha murmurs something in Russian and reaches back behind her head, sliding her hand up Clint’s leg, from his hip towards his knee and back again. Tony assumes Clint is clinically insane, because he sits still and allows the touch, even after Natasha only just finished trying to break all his toes.

He’s about to make an obnoxious comment when he feels Steve’s foot catch his under the table, hooking under the back of his calf and pulling him round. He looks up at Steve but Steve is looking away from him and talking to Natasha, and Tony looks back down at his phone, absently wondering if Steve had seen the touch of Natasha’s fingers on Clint’s leg and felt compelled to touch as well-

 “Oh my god!”

Tony stares at his phone screen, mouth hanging open in shock.

The image he’s managed to pry out of SHIELD’s secure servers glares back at him, and all thoughts of Steve and touching are promptly obliterated. He’s willing to bet his suits that this is what Fury called them in about. “That fucking son of a whoring bitch!”

Steve kicks him under the table, presumably because of his foul language. Tony kicks him back, glaring for all he’s worth and this time adding a point to the Incidents in which Steve Rogers has proved himself to be a hypocrite mental tally.

“Tony-”

“No,” Tony interrupts brusquely. “We can have the inappropriate language argument after you’ve watched this.”

A few clicks and taps and one small firewall violation and the screen on the back wall of the SHIELD conference room blares to life, projecting the picture he’d found from his phone. They all turn to stare at the image of a figure in red and black smashing a glowing white creature through a table outside a Costa coffee bar. The creature – which Tony can only assume came through the portal – is vaguely humanoid but with long tapering limbs and clawed fingers. It’s hard to make out the details because it’s glowing; emitting a sickly white-yellow light that distorts the view somewhat. It’s definitely a creature of some sort underneath the glow though; it appears to be breaking and bleeding red, red blood in a very creature-eque fashion.

It’s a mark of how truly messed upup the situation is that no-one’s attention is even on the creature from another world; they’re instead all staring in dismay at the other figure that is present, dealing with – and pretty much obliterating – said creature. Natasha pinches the bridge of her nose. Clint groans and covers his face with his hands. Tony swears violently again.

“What the ever loving fuck is he doing there?” Clint asks, sounding strangled. “Who in their right minds would send him?”

“No-one sends him anywhere,” Natasha says, the distain clear in her tone. “He just turns up where he thinks he can earn a paycheck or cause trouble.”

“Who is it?” Steve asks, and Tony feels an urge to hit his head against the table, because Deadpool was never on any list of 21st Century things that Steve Rogers needs to know about.

“Deadpool. Previously known as Wade Wilson,” Tony fills in helpfully, sending the picture a contemptuous look and hoping that the creatures have eaten Deadpool. “A mercenary super-being who can’t be killed. Believe me, I’ve tried once or twice.”

Steve nods, looks at the picture. “Immortal?”

“Healing factor,” Tony grouches. “He’s a lunatic. Collateral damage is kind of his thing.”

“So let me get this straight,” Steve says slowly, and wow that tone of voice sounds dangerous. “We were not allowed to go and support the situation in London, but a mercenary with no justifiable agenda has turned up and is in the process of removing the aliens whilst showing no regards for the civilians or surroundings? An American mercenary?”

“Yep. Well, technically he's Canadian, but he seems to spend most of his time south of the border destroying things,” Tony says distractedly, and taps his phone some more, searching, searching –

Bingo. The still image turns to a video clip, time stamped at about an hour ago, and they all watch in morbid fascination as they watch Deadpool pull a handgun out one of his thigh holsters, shooting an alien creature right in the face and showering local commuters with blood. There’s screaming and yelling and even over that Tony can hear Deadpool cackling delightedly as he kicks another glowing creature through a shop front in a cacophony of shattering glass and splintering wood, diving though after it in a neat tuck and roll.

“Touchdown!” they hear a gleeful voice shout from inside the wreckage of the shop. “And he’s knocked it out of the park! You’re welcome, England!”

Steve is staring at the screen like he can’t believe what he’s seeing. Tony feels like squirming in his seat at that all too familiar look, because frankly it’s usually trained on him. He can’t feel too bad for Deadpool though, because he’s honestly just glad that he’s no longer on the receiving end of Captain America’s disappointed face. Maybe someone should just call Deadpool and tell him to pack it in before Steve gets really pissed at him. It’s deterrent enough for most people.

“Does he need taking down?” Steve asks bluntly.

“No,” a voice says from the doorway, and they all turn to see Fury striding in, Coulson just behind him.

“You’re kidding right?” Clint asks. “He’s taking out more civilians than he is aliens!”

“That’s his problem,” Fury says blithely. “The WSC will be on his ass, not yours. And the British Council for Intervention and Security, too.”

“Fuck the councils,” Clint rants. “Sir, look at that – how many people has he managed to kill whilst having his fun?”

“I would send you if I could,” Fury says, ignoring the question in a horribly ominous way. “I have been ordered to maintain our stand-down. SHIELD and the BCIS are not currently on good terms, and if they see two sets of Americans fighting on British soil, they will create.”

“Surely the WSC have authority over both?” Steve demands, and Tony likes Steve’s making-a-stand tone of voice, especially when it’s making a stand that will allow Tony to get what he wants.

“Yes.”

“BCIS are not well known for listening to the WSC,” Coulson adds.

“Oh, and SHIELD are?”

“Worse,” Natasha says shortly. “Believe me. You do not want to annoy them.”

“So you called us here, why?”

“To fill you in before the news broke on CNN and apologise,” Nick says bluntly. “I know how frustrating this is.”

“Really,” Tony says, flat and disbelieving. “If you did, you’d be turning a blind eye and letting us go. No offense intended, you know what I mean. A metaphorical blind eye.”

“Sir, you can’t really expect us to sit by and do nothing,” Steve says, but now he sounds tired rather than angry, and Tony cranes his neck around to glare at him.

“Don’t you dare give in,” he says, and Steve holds up his hands in a gesture that’s designed to be placating, but isn’t because it looks far too much like surrender to Tony. “Cap.

“What do you want me to do?” Steve asks bluntly.

“Say screw it and let us go to London,” Tony says.

Steve shakes his head, unhappy. “I’m not in charge, here, and you know it.”

Tony has to acknowledge that, because what he’s basically asking Steve to do is disobey a direct order from a superior officer, whilst in full sight of the superior officer. It’s just hard to accept that Steve is looking like he won’t do that, because Tony knows the stories, knows the orders he’s disobeyed before. The guy disobeyed a colonel and went AWOL to go and rescue Bucky, back in the day. If only this situation were more personal, then maybe Cap would get his ass into gear.

“Steve, look,” he says, forcing himself to be more patient than he normally bothers to be. He doesn’t really want to think about why that is right now. “Deadpool is a maniac. People are getting hurt-”

“The British Team will take him out if needed,” Fury interjects. “They’re still there.”

“I’m sorry, I think I was talking to Steve,” Tony says loudly, almost shouting over Fury, his eyes locked on Steve’s. “Cap, come on.”

Steve shakes his head again, and pushes his chair back, stands up. Tony’s on his feet before he knows it, grabbing Steve’s shoulder, getting right up in his personal space.

“We’re not done.”

Steve smacks his hand away. “We are done,” he says, and his frustration is now being directed at Tony. “Back off.”

“I’m telling you you’re being stupid,” Tony says very deliberately and very carefully, and Steve’s whole body goes rigid, his jaw clenching tightly. He inhales and exhales, and raises a finger to point at Tony.

“Not. Now,” he says, and oh good, he gets it.

Tony grabs the pointing finger and pulls it down roughly. “Yes. Now.”

“This is about the London situation, nothing else,” Steve manages to say through clenched teeth. His voice is pitched low, a vain attempt to keep the others out of the conversation, but seeing as they’re in a room full of spies it’s a useless ploy. Clint knows it too, and as such is clearly not even bothering to pretend he’s not listening in.

“Yes, and I am using the me and you situation to make sure we do the right thing in regards to the London situation,” Tony replies fiercely, also in an undertone.

Steve yanks his hand away. “This is not about-” he begins hotly. “There is no-”

He cuts himself off, blotchy red blooming over his cheeks. Tony eyes him with vindictive satisfaction. “See? You can’t deny it, because you know it’s true-”

“This is not the time-”

“Oh I’m sorry, did I miss something here?” Fury’s loud and suspicious voice rings out and Steve and Tony both jerk back away from each other like magnets repelling.

“No Sir,” Steve says, though his eyes are still fixed on Tony’s. The tension between them is palpable, and god, Tony doesn’t know whether he should punch Steve or throw him down on the damn conference table. They’re both breathing heavily. Tony’s shoulders are drawn tight. Steve’s hands are balled into fists.

“Really,” Fury says, sounding incredulous. “Because it sure as hell sounds like-”

“It sounds like none of your business,” Tony snaps, and finally tears his eyes away from Steve. Fury is looking at them both, arms folded across his chest and expression supremely unimpressed. Great. He’s not even kissed Steve yet and he’s already getting the judgemental looks.

“The team is my business,” Fury says.

Tony is about to say something crude, but someone interrupts before he gets to it.

“Personal lives are not,” Steve bites out, and the room goes silent. Clint is looking down at the floor, his thumb pressed to his brow between his eyes and mouth screwed up, wincing as if he’s anticipating something hitting him in the face. Coulson is looking at Steve with the ‘ah, new information, I am intrigued but will remain coolly neutral just to creep everyone out’ face that he seems to have patented. Natasha, on the other hand, looks obviously and oddly satisfied.

“Right,” Tony says, and turns away from the group, snatching his phone up off the table. “Now you’ve finished wasting our time again, I think I’m calling it a day.”

“Motion seconded,” Clint says, and slides from the windowsill, bow in hand. Natasha doesn’t try to stop him.

Steve runs a hand through his hair, looking frustrated. “Tony-”

“Whatever,” Tony replies, cutting him off. He doesn’t look back as he leaves the room, the disappointment and anger and feeling of uselessness once again sitting heavy and bitter on his shoulders.

 


 

“You have got it bad.

Tony doesn’t even bother to argue, or to hide the video feed he currently has up on his monitor. Clint saunters over, hands shoved in his pockets, and stands behind Tony. Tony doesn’t look up; he just takes another mouthful of his drink and continues to watch Steve via the feed. He's in the corner of the gym lifting weights like they’re made of paper. The muscles in his arm flex with each lift, and Tony aches to be there, to be able to touch instead of being forced to watch from afar. Steve hasn’t spoken to him since the meeting earlier, and Tony is pretending that it doesn’t feel like a lead weight in the pit of his stomach.

He has absolutely no plans to go down to Steve, no matter how much he wants to. He’s so angry at Steve for not telling Fury to go fuck himself that he can barely contain it. What’s worse though is the disappointment and disgust he feels in himself for allowing himself to be pushed and ordered about, for not just giving SHIELD and Steve the finger and going anyway.

“How long has he been in there?” Clint asks, nodding towards the video feed. “And more importantly and creepily, how long have you been watching him?”

Tony doesn’t reply. His eyes are bright and his thoughts and emotions are a sharp tangled mess, writhing uncomfortably in his stomach. He stays perfectly still, not giving away an inch of what he’s feeling. It feels like if he allows himself to move too quickly all the feelings will come tearing out. 

“Is there actually anything going on here?” Clint asks when it becomes clear that Tony isn’t going to reply. “You and Cap.”

“No,” Tony replies, before he can force the word back down. “Not what you guys apparently think.”

“I think there’s a whole lot of dancing around and unresolved sexual tension,” Clint says dryly. “How far out am I?”

Tony mimes pulling a bowstring back. “Bullseye,” he deadpans, and Clint snorts, and reaches out and snags up the action figure that’s still perched on the edge of Tony’s monitor. Tony is too fed up of the whole situation – and yes, completely in over his head – that he doesn’t even have the energy to be embarrassed about the double-whammy of having Steve and Captain America present on his monitor. Eh, it’s not like Clint doesn’t know how hopeless he is already.

“Got it bad,” Clint repeats. “What was with the not so cryptic conversation you and Steve had earlier? I thought Fury was going to create. He totally thinks you're banging, by the way.”

“Fuck off,” Tony says amicably, the casual tone belying the way his innards have all twisted tight at the reminder. Jesus – Steve has openly said he wants Bucky here to help him make his decisions in this new confusing day and age, and here he was blatantly ignoring Tony when he was right there to do the same. He’s beginning to think that he’ll never be able to compete with Barnes, and isn’t that a kicker, Tony Stark being outdone by a guy who’s been dead seventy years. The resentful part of him wants to tell Steve to fuck off and make do with his memories, because Tony has had enough.

He also makes a mental note to tell Natasha just how wrong she was, with her stupid ‘Steve listens to you more than anyone,’ speech. This whole escapade just shows that Steve doesn’t listen to Tony at all.

“What do you want?” Tony asks when Clint doesn’t do as he’s told and go away, and puts his drink down. He swipes a hand at the monitor, getting rid of the video feed and pulling his schematics up instead.

Clint is looking at the toy, bending the shield wielding arm back and forth. He doesn’t look up when he finally speaks. “How hard would it be for you to hack into a SHIELD server and issue a false flight request for a jet?" 

Tony spins his chair around, momentarily thrown. “You’re serious,” he says, one eyebrow lifted, just enough.

Clint stares back at him. “You in, or do I have to go playing around in your computer systems myself?”

Tony looks him over. Clint looks so tightly wound he’s practically vibrating; it reminds Tony forcibly of how Steve used to be around them all. But this is Clint, not Steve. Clint has been to hell and back at the hands of Loki and SHIELD, and Clint appears to have finally snapped. In retrospect, Tony should have seen Clint’s behaviour and this particular request as a warning sign with bells on; he’s been a SHIELD Agent since Tony doesn’t know when, and what he's suggesting is practically treason.

But Tony doesn’t consider this, because Tony has also had enough. 

And if Clint is willing to do something drastic, well thenn. So is Tony. 

“I could fly us both,” he says, and jerks his head towards the Mark Twelve.

Clint narrows his eyes. “And how cold would I get? I’m not Steve -  I’m not full of super-serum, and I don’t particularly feel like clinging onto you for any extended period of time.” 

Tony feels a fleeting urge to laugh at that, but holds it back. Just because he now sort of considers Clint a friend doesn’t mean he’s going to give him the go ahead to make jokes about the relationship between him and Steve. He’ll settle for not getting pissed off about it, and Clint will have to consider that a gift in itself.

“We could take my jet,” he finally says. “If we can get out to it.”

Clint frowns, thinking it over for a moment, his expression hard and dark. Tony’s seen footage of him from before the invasion, video evidence of the smirks and wicked smiles that Clint is capable of. He knows the serious expression that Clint wears during crunch time, but he also knows the hysterical laughter, the fist bumps and eager whoops that come when the pressure is off and a job has been well done. Hell, he’d seen glimpses of that Clint Barton when they’d been playing that stupid card game before.

He wonders if Clint will ever go back to that, or his more-excitable self has been permanently winked out of existence by his run-in with Loki.

“Getting out might be a problem,” he says slowly. “If I could get away with stealing one, I would.”

“Give me a moment,” Tony says and turns towards his computer again. “Let’s have a look and see where all the SHIELD jets are, just in case we do feel like stealing one.”

He’s into SHIELD servers quickly and pathetically easily. He knows from perusing them before that they won’t let him design their security because they don’t want him installing fixes that allow him to get in and out as he pleases. The fact that he does it anyway makes their point completely moot.

“Phil wants us to go,” Clint says unnecessarily. He tosses the action figure back onto Tony’s workbench and moves across the workshop, nimble fingers tracing along the metal bolts of the gleaming 4-barrel carburettor that Tony has left out on a trolley.

“I know,” Tony mutters, and fights down the urge to stand the stupid toy up properly. “Doesn’t mean he’s going to help us though.”

“He gave me my bow back,” Clint says, though he doesn’t sound hopeful that Coulson’s helpfulness will go any further.  Tony knows that Coulson won’t do anything more; as much as it’s clear that he wants to help them get back into the normal swing of things – as if fighting aliens is normal by their standards – he won’t directly go against Fury and Cap. 

Tony’s eyes flick back and forth with speed as he continues to delve through the information he’s been able to access, looking for anything which might be of use. He feels an odd defiant thrum go through him as he works, a familiar sensation that goes pretty well with the anticipation that has been building ever since Clint suggested doing something-

QJ6 – dest. Lon. Dep NY 23.00 ETA 04.03 incident support 9SH AGENTS + command to assist with DP containment. 

Tony halts his search, triumph rearing in his chest. “Got you,” Tony mutters, and then, “Get suited up Legolas. We need to leave in the next three minutes.”

“What? Why?”

“They are sending a team to London,” Tony says grimly. “Ten SHIELD agents.”

“Then why not us?” Clint demands.

“I don’t know, shall we go catch up and ask them? You know they have a terrible habit of leaving the rear doors of those Quinjets open as they fly.” Tony says innocently. “If you think you can handle a ten minute flight clinging to me.”

Clint smiles, tight and grim. “Ten minutes I can do. Maybe even twelve, if you promise not to give me cooties.”  

Tony snorts and makes to get up, itching to get into the armour. “Three minutes,” he repeats.

“Deal,” Clint says, and turns towards the door. On his way out he pauses. “We telling Cap?”

Pausing, Tony turns back to the monitor and slowly flicks his fingers out, bringing back up the footage from the gym. He stares at Steve’s form for a long moment, and then swipes his hand through it again, shutting the window down.

“No,” he says, and again tries to ignore the empty feeling that the word leaves in his chest. Steve was right in a way; they’ve got a job to do, and he can’t let his personal feelings get in the way of doing what he knows is right.

 


 

The loud, metallic thunk that Iron Man’s boots make as they hit the metal floor of the Quinjet sends a familiar rush of adrenaline coursing through Tony’s system. It’s such a loud, assertive noise and Tony would be lying if he said he didn’t love it, love the way it announces his arrival in such a hard to ignore way, as if the gleaming red and gold of the suit didn’t do enough on its own.

He straightens up to full height, slowly and deliberately, and lets go of the back of Clint’s jacket, allowing him to step off his foot. He feels so damn powerful, almost giddy with it, and god he’s missed Iron Man more than he’s realised.

“Good evening!” Clint yells over the engines and the roaring of the wind, waving at the SHIELD agents who are already on their feet in textbook defensive stances. Clint looks windswept and Tony knows he must be freezing, but he doesn’t look remotely bothered by that, or the eight guns that are currently all pointing towards his face, glowing red circles skittering over his forehead, his neck.

Tony notes that none of the guns are pointed at him, and wonders if it’s because they know it’s pretty useless to shoot at Iron Man unless your aim is as good as Clint’s, or if it’s because they’re all still remembering what Clint did to the thirty-six SHIELD agents that got in his way whilst he was possessed by Loki. A twisted pang goes through him as he clocks the almost hidden look of fear on one younger agent’s face, throwing the odds in favour of the latter option.

With that in mind, he flips the faceplate up so he can talk more easily, knowing that people relax more when they can see actual people parts and aren’t communicating simply with metal. “He’s cool, he’s here with me,” he says. “And he’s not tried to shoot me once today, scouts honour.”

 “You are not authorised to be here,” one of the agents – Shipman, maybe? Tony doesn’t care enough to memorise the names of all the agents he comes into contact with – says as Clint casually reaches over his shoulder and pulls his bow out of his quiver. The red circles from the sights jerk with him, chasing vulnerable spots.

“You left the back door open,” Tony says. “Security risk. We thought we better tell you.”

“Command, this is Campbell,” one agent says, pressing a finger to his headset and then frowning. “Base? Come in, base.”

“No, see, that would be telling tales,” Tony says pointedly, as the agent repeatedly and fruitlessly tries to contact base.

Shipman looks at Agent Campbell, who shakes his head and throws his hands up in the air in frustration. He turns to Tony, looking angrier than ever. “You’re jamming our signals,” he accuses, and wow, give the man a prize. “What the hell do you two think you’re doing?”

“Coming along for the ride,” Tony says. “Objections?”

“Yes!”

“Oh good, no objections,” Tony says, all false cheer. “Come on. The Captain asked us to keep an eye on things, and we know exactly how safe things are with Wade Wilson involved.”

And bingo, thank god that all the agents at SHIELD still think Captain America is the best thing to ever happen, because the moment the lie slips off his tongue, six out of the eight guns are lowered and holstered. It isn’t lost on Tony that this whole thing would be going much more smoothly if Steve had actually agreed to suit up and come along. Not that they’d asked him to join them, but hey.

“You are not authorized,” Shipman repeats obstinately.

“Think you’ll find we are,” Clint says belligerently. “When did you last check your updates?”

Shipman doesn’t lower his gun, just reaches down one-handed to snag a com device off of his belt. He looks down at it and frowns, and Tony knows he’s reading the message that he put into the system five minutes ago, something about select members of the Avengers team being allowed to assist with the Deadpool situation to contain the threat to the civilians. All done in shorthand SHIELD speak of course, hard to decipher but legit enough so that the agents should let them stay on board.

“Stand down,” Shipman finally grudgingly says, and the last two guns are lowered.

Clint smiles grimly at them and flicks his wrist out, extending his bow with the usual snapping noise. Two agents jerk at the motion, stepping back and lifting their weapons again. The look Clint shoots them is positively foul.

“If I were out of my mind, I would have shot you before you knew I was here,” he snarls.

“Yeah, I think that’s quiet time for you, Legolas,” Tony intervenes, pointing at the bench along the back of the yet. “Sit down, take a nap. Stop scaring the agents, we are hitching their ride, you know.”

Clint turns the look on Tony for a moment, and then it shifts and clears slightly. He turns, twists to slip his quiver off his back and then flops down into one of the vacated seats, shifting around to get comfortable. He doesn’t put his bow away, just rests it casually along his legs, his fingers touching the string.

“Wake me up when we get there,” he says, and Tony smiles grimly, and turns to the agents.

“He’ll be good as gold, I swear on the virtue of Captain America,” he says, and Clint snorts with laughter but doesn’t open his eyes.

The SHIELD agents seem resigned to having them both on board, because most of them turn their attention back to each other and their comm units – which still won’t be working properly, Tony’s not idiot enough to think they won’t contact SHIELD the moment they can – and talking in low voices.

He elects to ignore them and turns to the still open back door of the jet, leaning on the edge of the frame and staring out, watching the lights of New York fade as the jet streaks out over the Atlantic, a black blur in the night. He wonders if Steve has noticed that he’s gone yet, and viciously clamps down on the thought because it doesn’t matter if Steve knows where he is, what matters is that he’s in the right place doing the right thing.

He’s not going to lie; he’s secretly and frustratingly nervous. He feels comfortable in the suit – more comfortable than he has felt in ages – but he knows damn well that he’s still not fully recovered after New York. What happens if he lands in London ready to fight and freezes? What if he panics and Steve isn’t there to ease him through it? What if he’s so hopelessly out of practice that he is next to useless anyway?

What if SHIELD were right and they’re not fit for active duty yet?

Well, he won’t know unless he tries, he reasons, swallowing thickly and breathing out heavily through his nose. And at least, he thinks with a twisted smile, Steve won’t be there to see it if he does bottle it or mess things up.

 


 

Chaos, is the first thing that Tony thinks when he cuts the repulsors and lands heavily on the sidewalk – sorry, pavement, he’s on English soil now. They’d taken off from the Quinjet a couple of minutes previously, too impatient to wait for it to find a space to set down without damaging anything. 

“So, hands up who thinks we made the right call?” Tony yells over the screams and sirens and the noise of the City Police trying to evacuate what looks like half of London. He raises his hand and Clint lets go of his shoulder and steps lightly off of his boot, bow in hand seconds later, arrow nocked and ready to fly.

“You need to work on your passenger carrying skills!” he shouts back at Tony, eyes darting around as he surveys the scene. It’s dark, the scene lit by the yellow glow of the streetlights and the interior lights of the building around them. Erratic circles of white light sweep the scene at intervals, and Tony can hear the dull thudding and whining of the helicopters above their heads. His armour glints blue in the strobe lights from the emergency vehicles. Jesus, he has no idea how many creatures got through the portal but by the commotion it must be a lot. Even as he turns he sees four or five of the damn things crawl up and out of a broken manhole cover, hissing and shrieking. Underneath the glow they emit, Tony can see they’re shining with slime that seems to be sticking messily to just about everything they touch.

“Yeah, we totally did the right thing,” Tony says to himself, and then raises his voice to call over at Clint. “So, follow the screams?”

Clint gives him a pointed look and then raises his bow and lets an arrow loose. It hits an alien bang in the centre of its chest. “Or just shoot the aliens we can see?” he suggests. The creature shrieks and collapses to the floor, bleeding sluggishly all over the sidewalk, twitching and groaning in a pool of slimy white mucus.

Clint screws up his face as he draws another arrow. “They stink,” he complains, but Tony doesn’t care because he’s inside his suit and can’t smell anything. Clint fires another arrow and another creature falls to the floor.

“Easy to kill, good to know,” Tony says, and steps forwards, raising his arm -

Before his repulsor can even fully engage there’s a shout, the rush of booted footsteps and they find themselves efficiently surrounded by men in black suits who seem to have come out of nowhere, guns up and quite clearly ready to fire. Behind them, more men in black suits take out the remainder of the group of creatures that had crawled out of the drain with minimal fuss, firing in short sharp bursts which flare bright amongst the darkness.

“So, this is the part where we say we’re here to help, I guess,” Tony says, and flips up his faceplate. The air around them is biting cold on his skin, stinging his eyes, and wow, Clint was right, the smell is horrendous. “Who are you guys? BCIS?" 

“They’re the friendly neighbourhood CO19 officers,” Clint says, and one of the men grins and lowers his gun.

“Like SWAT, but less shit,” he says cheerfully. “Now why the fuck are you here? Iron Man, isn’t it?”

“Yep,” Tony replies. “We hear you’re having trouble with a yank. He’s about this tall, wearing red,” he says conversationally, lifting his hand to indicate Deadpool’s height. “Oh, and he’s pretty much invincible and is probably somewhere destroying parts of your city.”

The guy nods, and jerks his head in signal to the others, who all lower their weapons. “Yeah, we’ve tried shooting him,” he admits. “We’ve tried shooting him a lot. The bloody white things only started appearing when he showed up, so we figured why the fuck not.”

“Why the fuck not indeed,” Tony agrees, and reaches up to slam the faceplate back down. “Mind if we go try shooting him too?” 

“Don’t break anything!” the guy yells after them, and Tony snorts with laughter, before taking off.  He’s grinning manically behind the faceplate of the Mark Twelve, barely keeping the urge to whoop and cheer subdued. All his fears about not being able to perform, about not being on top of his game as Iron Man bleed away with next to no resistance.

He soars over the tops of the buildings, firing repulsor blasts at any and all creatures he sees, and he feels triumph washing through him.

This doesn’t feel wrong. He’s not panicking, he’s not missing, he’s not screwing it up. He’s back in his second skin again, doing what he’s been built to do, and it feels great.

 


 

It’s almost dawn when the last of the creatures is finally taken down with a single deft shot by one of the CO19 officers, cracking through the air like a whiplash. Tony likes the CO19  guys; they seem to all be following a strict policy of no bullshit, wanting to get the job done as quickly and efficiently as possible. They also have had no compunctions about letting Iron Man and Hawkeye direct them, taking instruction without argument or question. Handy seeing as the job was actually a lot more difficult than Tony initially expected; the first report had stated roughly sixty creatures that needed taking out, and seeing as they took minimal effort to kill, it was starting to seem like a bit of a whitewash. However, the second report that Jarvis had delivered had said that there were closer to a hundred and sixty creatures. The third had said three hundred and twenty, and then of course Deadpool had reappeared to make things that bit more complicated.

It hadn’t been until Tony had actually witnessed one of the creatures splitting in half and becoming two through a horrendously graphic and slimy example of mitosis that he’d clocked on that the fuckers were multiplying. Embarrassing how long it took him, really, though he could be excused by the fact he’d spent half the fight trying to keep track of Deadpool and the carnage he seemed determined to wreak on the city.

He’d given it up as a lost cause after Deadpool had blown up his fifth patrol car of the evening. At least Tony’d managed to get the officers out of the way in time.

But now it’s over. The sky is turning from inky navy, washed with steely blue and streaks of orange, the clear light revealing the destruction that has been wrought throughout the night. There are no more god damn aliens, and the wailing sirens have finally been turned off. Tony is covered in slime, blood, scratch marks and is exhausted.

Clint looks little better. He’s bleeding profusely from a cut on his forehead and is being simultaneously viciously grumpy and triumphant about the win. Tony won’t ever admit it out loud, but he’s impressed that Clint was still on top Hawkeye form even after his lengthy forced vacation. He doesn’t think that Clint missed a single shot, not even the one taken whilst falling from the top of a four story building. The asshole is lucky that Tony was there to catch him, though Tony doesn’t really want to ask Clint if he had known Tony was within catching distance before jumping.

“Home?” Tony suggests wearily as Clint shakes his head violently and then tips sideways, clapping the side of his head with his palm in a vain effort to get something out of his ear.

“No,” Clint says abruptly, sticking his finger into his ear. “Damn it – no, can we just bask in the satisfaction before we go back and get torn a-”

“Why, good to see you old chaps! Absolutely spiffing!”

Tony and Clint both turn around to see Deadpool standing just behind them, covered in blood and guts and sipping delicately at a cup of what Tony assumes is tea from a willow-patterned teacup. He salutes them with the cup, saucer held in the other hand. “Good teamwork, old bean.”

Clint shoots him.

Tony winces at the unholy shriek Deadpool lets out. The cup goes tumbling to the floor and smashes and Deadpool flaps his hand about frantically, as if he can shake out the arrow that’s embedded in his palm.

“You fucker!” he wails. “That was my good hand! And my good teacup!”

“You missed the cup,” Tony grouches at Clint, reaching up to take off his helmet and tucking it under his arm like he’s a NASCAR driver. He immediately regrets it when the smell hits his nostrils. Behind Deadpool, he can see four SHIELD agents and two very, very pissed looking BCIS agents assembling, weapons drawn.

“Wasn’t aiming for the cup,” Clint retorts, and then yells over at Deadpool. “Stay put and shut up or I will shoot you again.”

Deadpool yanks the arrow free from his hand and throws it at Clint. Clint merely catches it out of midair and nocks it back on his bowstring, shaking his head and turning away to face Tony again.

“Oh god, did you dip it in acid before you shot me?” Deadpool continues to wail. “It burns! It burns!”

Tony pinches the bridge of his nose with armoured fingers. “Shut up, Deadpool,” he says through gritted teeth. “My head is killing me.”

Deadpool doesn’t shut up, and Tony silently starts counting to ten in his head.

“Why, oh why, oh why do you insist on- AUGH!”

Clint doesn’t even look around as he raises his bow, draws, then lets it fly all in one swift motion. Deadpool lets out another shriek and Tony screws up his face in irritation. 

“Home?” he repeats again.

Clint nods. “Yeah,” he agrees heavily. “I’ll take a reaming from Cap over that noise any day.”

Tony’s stomach clenches and twists. “He’s going to kill us, isn’t he?” he says lightly, casually. He pushes down the guilt that’s started to bubble up; they did the right thing coming here and he knows it. He’s already had four officers and two members of the public thank him personally for helping get rid of the creatures and they’ve only been wrapped up ten damn minutes.

“I dunno, we did a good job here and they admitted they needed us after the things started breeding,” Clint shrugs, though Tony doesn’t know how willing to listen to reason Steve is going to be.

“You shot me in the eye! What is wrong with you?! You sadistic, Avenging fuckhole - now I can’t even-”

“Will you shut up,” Tony yells, finally at the end of his tether. He lifts his arm and aims a repulsor blast over Clint’s shoulder, hitting Deadpool square in the face. He falls to his knees, now making nothing but an odd gurgling sound, and then keels over backwards.

“Yeah, you’re right,” Tony continues, trusting that Deadpool will be fine after a few minutes of healing. A pity, really. “End of the story is that we got rid of the things and stopped this dick from killing anyone else.”

Clint hums in agreement. “We did destroy a shopping centre,” he says. “And pissed off the BCIS.”

“Well there is that,” Tony concedes. “Still think it was the right call though.”

“Gentlemen.”

They both look up as a BCIS Agent – looking suspiciously and annoyingly clean and uninjured – walks over, stepping calmly over Deadpool’s twitching form without even breaking stride. She joins them, a tablet computer in hand and an air of meaning business. “I suppose we should say thank you.”

“Oh don’t thank us,” Tony replies. “You totally had this under control, would have been fine without us.”

The agent chooses to ignore his obvious sarcasm. “We’re going to have to inform the WSC about everything you did, including the damage,” she says.

“Knock yourself out,” Tony shrugs. “Hey, did you guys ever work out what caused the portal?”

The agent looks over at Deadpool, her eyes narrowing. “Something he and his friends did,” she says, and holds up the tablet, showing Tony streams of data and some schematics that look suspiciously like a portal generator that he knows Reed Richards has been working on. Not quite the same, but worryingly close.

“Explains why he’s here at least,” Clint says, still poking at his ear, one eye squinted shut. “I think I’ve got blood in my ear. Or slime. Fuck, I hope it's blood." 

“Was this his version of clearing up his mess?” Tony asks, barking out a laugh. “Even we’re better than that and we have a Hulk to make mess.”

“And a Thor,” Clint adds. “He’s not exactly delicate, is he?”

The agent takes the tablet back from Tony, swiping her fingers over it. “We’ve got a team deconstructing the generator now,” she says, eyes flicking back and forth and not noticing the way Tony has perked up at the mention of tech that needs pulling apart.

“Need a hand with the deconstruction?” he asks hopefully, but she doesn’t answer. She’s gone very, very still, her fingers paused over the screen of the tablet. Behind her, the SHIELD agents are suddenly in motion, grouping together and pointing swiftly, their voices clear in the cold air.

“Agent?” Clint tries, and shares a look with Tony, obviously also sensing something is up.

“I thought SHIELD knew you were here,” she says and lifts her eyes, looking accusatorily between Clint and Tony.

Tony shrugs. “They probably know we’re here,” he says, knowing that he might as well just be honest at this stage in the game. “They may not have strictly approved our visit.”

The agent stares at them for a moment, and her face goes slightly pale.

“ShitShit,” she says, her accent sharp around the consonants. “You need to go, now.”

Without being asked, she turns the tablet over to them, already moving away and shouting out orders. Tony frowns after her and then he looks down at the screen.

The determined assurance that they’ve done the right thing slowly and pitifully dies. His stomach twists itself into a knot and he suddenly feels like he’s about to throw up.

“Fuck,” he can distantly hear Clint saying next to him. “Oh, Jesus, fuck.”

On the tablet is a video feed of New York. Tony instantly recognizes the Baxter building.

And in front of the Baxter building, there is a metal shipping container. And out of the shipping container is pouring a steady flow of robots, crude renditions of the Doombots that the Fantastic Four fought all that time ago, right onto the street of New York. He can see them already swarming the Baxter building, smashing glass and causing absolute chaos. There are civilians screaming and this already looks like more than the Fantastic Four can handle by themselves.

Oh Jesus.

Tony’s mind races through all of the dumb things he’s done in his life. He thinks about trusting Obadiah Stane, thinks about selling the weapons that led to the arc-reactor. He thinks about the time he drank a bottle of scotch and then threw up on a potential SI investor. He thinks about how he treated Pepper.

Then he thinks about Steve punching him, and the look on Steve’s face when Tony had been a dick about Bucky. He thinks about how it feels to have Steve’s strong arms wrapped around him, the fierce ache of lust that simmers under his skin whenever Steve is around. He thinks about the warm palm that finds its way onto the back of his neck when he needs calming, thinks about the small quirked smile Steve wears when they’re teasing each other, when he’s genuinely enjoying himself drawing or playing video games or watching Tony as he works.

He thinks about how Steve will have reacted when they got the call to Assemble, only to find Tony not there where he should be. He imagines Steve standing in the doorway and staring at the empty workshop, looking at the empty space where the Mark Twelve would usually be, ready to fight alongside him if Tony had just done as he was asked and stayed put.

He images Steve shaking his head, the horrid finality in his gut that will settle like lead when he Steve won’t meet his eyes and he knows it’s over before it even had a chance to properly begin.

Yep. On the scale of dumb things, this possibly goes straight in at number one.

 

Chapter Text

 

Stepping off the jet is possibly the hardest thing Tony has ever had to do in his life. Including the time he had to crawl across his workshop floor without a damn heart in his chest. His stomach is churning and his organs all feel swollen and displaced, because he knows what he’s done, and that Steve was right, and damnit.               

He can handle anger, can easily deal with being yelled at. He'll even take another punch to the face. It’s the expectation of disappointment that’s making him feel too hot and twisted and uncomfortable. Goddamn Captain America and his unnatural ability to make him feel bad, no matter how good his intentions are. Fuck the universe and its twisted sense of timing; if those bots could have waited even half a damn day then everything would be okay. He wouldn’t be panicking that his team will never speak to him again, he wouldn’t be about to torn apart with the anxiety and terror of Steve’s impending rejection.

Steve.

But he can’t really blame this one on Steve, because at the end of the day it was Tony’s bad call and Clint’s recklessness and their combined inability to sit still.

The pitch of the quinjet’s engines change slightly, and there’s a few faint clunks as the back door disengages, opening far too slowly. Tony blinks as the chilled white of early morning sunlight floods into the back of the jet. The air is still and crisp, and he can see the whorls of breath in front of the faces of the SHIELD agents.

Tony steps forwards, giving one curt instruction. “Jarvis, find him.”

Not even waiting for Clint to get out of his seat, Tony simply leaps from the back of the jet, engaging the repulsors and jetting off along the street. He hurtles haphazardly around corners, going too tight and too fast as he follows Jarvis's directions. He honest to god feels like he could throw up, and he actually doesn't know why he's heading towards Steve and pending angst when he could be hiding in the Tower with his tail between his legs and a bottle in his hand.

The tracking system counts down through thirty metres, twenty five, twenty, fifteen, and Tony rounds one last corner and suddenly, there he is.

Tony's organs clench uncomfortably as he lands with an asphalt shattering crack, eyes fixed on Cap as he brings his shield down on a bot’s case, the crunch audible even over the sirens and shouting and commotion. His cowl is pushed back and even from here Tony can see his face is smeared with muck and grime, and there's a horrible matted streak of red on the back of his head.

It’s over.

Four and a half hours on the Quinjet and they’ve missed everything. The only bots left are the ones strewn over the ground in pieces. Less than five hours of assault and once again New York is a complete mess.

"You're late, tin man," a familiar voice behind him says, and Tony had to bite down on the urge to repulsor Johnny Storm in his smug face. Fuck the Fantastic Four right now; he’s still not forgiven them for their absence during the Chitauri invasion – being in space is not and never will be a valid excuse –  and he certainly won’t forgive them for not being able to deal with their own mess this time around, instead of dragging the Avengers into it. He straightens up, not giving a shit about the fist shaped hole he’s left in the sidewalk, and turns to scowl at Johnny, who is leaning casually against a broken lamppost like he just got there.

"Fuck you," he snaps. "And why do you look absolutely fine when Cap looks like shit? Were you even part of this fight or were you too busy banging your flame on groupies?"

Johnny looks affronted. "And that’s rich coming from you,” he says, pushing off the lamppost and looking over to where Cap is still viciously neutralising fallen bots. “Maybe he looks like shit because he got here and jumped straight in without backup?"

"He wouldn't," Tony snarls. Over Johnny’s shoulder he can see Coulson in the distance, walking up with Clint in tow and a gun in his hand. Damn.

"He did," Johnny insists. "He dove in like it was a damn mosh pit.”

“He’d have good reason,” Tony bites out.

Johnny narrows his eyes at him. “Yeah, like he felt he had to because you weren't there to back him up."

Without even thinking, Tony lifts his hand in a flash of blind fury and is ready to cremate the smug prick where he stands when a voice behind them shouts "enough!" They both turn to see Sue Storm stalking towards them and looking less than impressed as she clambers over the still sparking carcass of a bot.

"Johnny, go home," she says firmly. He opens his mouth to argue and Tony bolts as her attention fixes on her brother, taking the opportunity to get to Cap before Coulson does. He surges across the road and lands with another crunch, not three metres from him.

He flips the face plate up. "Cap," he calls, and cringes a little as Cap brings down his shield again in a violent one armed swing, the force of which would definitely be described as ‘excessive’ in a SHIELD report. Steve's breathing hard, his breath visible on the chilled air. His chest is heaving with the force of it and when he stops destroying bots with his shield he stands up straight and terribly still. He won't look at Tony.

"Cap-"

"Just don't."

He’s heard Cap use that tone of voice before, but never with him. He still won’t even look at him and Tony has no idea what to say, how to fix it. He just knows he has to fix it, because as much as he still hates Steve’s Captain attitude some days, he can't.

Steve shakes his head, exhausted - of the battle, of Tony, of it all - and turns away as they hear Coulson shout Tony's name.

"Don't leave like this," Tony says to Steve's back, and he wants to mean don't leave the argument, but he knows he means don't leave me. Steve laughs, bitter.

"If I haven't left because of your shit by now, I ain't gonna," he says, Brooklyn creeping in with his exhaustion. "But damn it to hell, Tony. You really make me want to some days."

Coulson and Clint are there before Tony can reply. He slams the faceplate back down so they can't see the look on his face.

"Where's Widow?" Coulson asks calmly. "Iron Man, stay grounded. I have an EMP and open invitation to use it however I like.”

"Clearing up on 51st." Steve says. "With Richards. Com channel four. "

Coulson nods. "Debrief in sixty minutes, Iron Man, and that's non-negotiable. You too, Barton. Captain, you need to go to medical."

Steve reaches up to touch at the blood in his hair and Tony expects him to argue, to demand to be there at the briefing, and it makes the urge to vomit return full force when Steve just breathes out heavily and nods. Steve didn’t go to medical even after the Chitauri invasion and he’d been thrown through several windows and shot more than once. He’d insisted that he was fine, that other people need the time and resources more than he did. For him to be agreeing so readily this time around; either he’s hurt in a bad way or he’s had enough and knows medical is the one place he can escape to.

Tony watches him go, clenching his jaw and wishing he didn’t feel like his heart was being ripped out. It was his choice to go to London, and that’s that. The consequences are on him.

Man, he hates consequences.

Steve still doesn’t look at him as he turns away, shield in hand, walking slowly towards a waiting Humvee. He vaults neatly into the open back and sits down heavily, elbows on his knees and head bowed low. He rests his shield against his shins, gloved fingers curled around the edge near his knees, eyes staring down at his hands. Tony watches as it pulls away, taking Steve with it.

“Shit,” he says aloud, and then Coulson is at his elbow.

“Do I want to know what’s going on here yet?” he asks calmly.

“Nothing,” Tony replies.

Coulson just hums, as calm and controlled as ever. Damn, Tony would hate to ever be up against him in a poker game. He would get his ass handed to him. He glances over at Coulson, and Coulson is already looking at him, and the look on his face says it all. It’s calm and gentle and almost pitying, and Tony wants to repulsor himself in the face because it couldn’t be more blatantly obvious that everyone aready knows he’s in love with Steve goddamn Rogers.


 

Tony makes it half way to the tower, desperate to get absolutely catatonically smashed, when something changes his mind. He’s turning over all of his thoughts, trying not to dwell on any particular ones because they’re painful enough when they’re vague and blurry, let alone if he actually focusses on them. He remembers but doesn’t think about nearly kissing Steve when they were fighting over that stupid card game, passes hazily over the memory of Steve hugging him in his room, and then he abruptly and clearly remembers what Steve said to him not ten minutes ago. Something about not leaving Tony, even if he wants to.

He doesn’t want to think about this, but he can’t help it. God, his stomach is churning and the hope that kindles in his heart as he goes back to the words is sharp and painful, shards piercing him in places that he usually refuses to acknowledge. This is uncharted territory for Tony, and delving into it sharply highlights exactly why he usually chooses to hide from his emotions.

He can’t just hide from this. It’s Steve. If he ignores it, if he hides away, then it’ll be Pepper all over again. Not that they’re even comparable situations; Tony was heartbroken when Pepper left. If Steve leaves him Tony is at this point pretty much convinced he'll die.

He abruptly stops in mid-air, wheeling around and issuing a curt instruction to JARVIS, to contact SHIELD and find out where the injured are being treated. It almost kills him doing that much, but he has to know, he has to see Steve and know if this is the end or not.

And after that…Well. He’ll just have to see what form the after is going to take, won’t he?

 


 

Tony knows that Steve knows he’s there. 

He’s sitting on the floor outside a temporary cubicle, back against the wall and eyes fixed on the blue plastic curtain in front of him. He hasn’t said anything, but he’s wearing the armour which isn’t exactly quiet at the best of times, let alone on the polished linoleum floors of a hospital ward.

He’s listened to the medic bully Steve into having the back of his head stitched, even though Steve is adamant it’s not necessary. He capitulates after about ten minutes of arguing, with a wearily resigned ‘fine’ that breaks Tony’s heart, because Steve still sounds like he’s honestly had enough.

When the medic leaves, Tony doesn’t get up. He just stares unblinkingly at the flimsy curtain that separates him from Steve, because he knows that the moment he goes in there, then it’s all over. Part of him thinks that it might be better to get the inevitable out of the way sooner rather than later. The rest of him plans to sit on his ass in this hallway for the rest of his life.

It’s only after twenty four minutes of sitting and silence that he sort of realises that he’s waiting for Steve to acknowledge his presence, either by saying something or by coming out from the cubicle.  It’s that thought which finally propels him up onto his feet; even if he absolutely positively doesn’t want to be the one to make the move, he knows how stubborn Steve can be, especially when he’s in a mood.

And if Steve ever had deserved a moment in which to be in a foul mood, this would probably be it.

Tony steps over and grasps the edge of the curtain with armoured fingers, already summoning his inner ‘not giving a damn’ attitude, ready to use it at its full self-defence capabilities.

Unfortunately, it dies the moment he claps eyes on Steve. He’s sat on the edge of a battered plastic chair, leaning forwards with his elbows on his knees and his cowl in hand. He’s still got blood in his hair and he looks so very, very young.

Tony edges in and pulls the curtain back into place. He stands there for a long moment, at a complete loss. Around him he can hear the beep of hospital equipment and muted voices and the squeak of shoes on the floor. Someone calls out for a second opinion, a voice responds.  A bitten off curse, the ring of a phone, the rattle of a gurney.

“I have no idea what to say,” he finally admits, voice sounding too loud in the small space between them.

“An apology might be a good place to start, but I don’t exactly know what good it’ll do,” Steve mutters, and that’s it. He doesn’t say anything else, just twists his cowl between his filthy hands and heaves out a sigh, his whole back shifting with the force of it. He doesn’t seem so young now; he seems older and weary and resigned, like the world and all the crap in it finally got to him.

“Can you yell at me now, please?” Tony blurts out, and Steve looks up at him, expression unreadable. “Seriously, I think the suspense is going to kill me.”

Steve laughs at that, the sound strangled and bitter. “I’m not going to yell at you,” he says.

Tony stares at him. “Well someone should, and I’d rather it was you.”

Steve slowly looks up, and his eyes look so startlingly blue when he’s like this, coming down from the adrenaline of a fight and face covered in dirt. His eyes meet Tony’s and Tony forces himself to look back, even though it’s a bit like staring right at the sun, and Jesus, he’s never going to leave his room without sunglasses ever again.

“You are a moron.”

Tony’s jaw drops at the harsh words. Steve turns his head away, and continues his staring match with the tiles on the wall opposite him. Tony would actually put money on Steve winning that one. He braces himself for more, but nothing comes.

“Is that it?”

Steve reaches up with a hand to scrub at his face, and god, the way he looks so tired and vulnerable when he does that makes Tony want to kill whoever made him feel that way. Considering it’s him that puts the look there more often than not, their arrangement has been doomed from the start, really.

“That’s it,” Steve says tonelessly. “Go to debrief.”

“No, no, no,” Tony says, and steps closer. “I dragged my ass here to face the full force of Captain America tearing me a new one, like I deserve. I told you, the suspense. I may melt.”

“Go to debrief,” Steve repeats, and he sounds tired and distant.

Tony’s heart plummets. He reaches up to press a hand to the arc reactor, forgetting he’s still in the suit and that he won’t be able to feel it. His hand drops uselessly to his side, fingers curling up as he fights down the urge to fidget with something, anything.

“Okay,” he says, voice wavering in a way that he doesn’t know how to stop, dammit. “Alright. Message received, loud and clear, and just so you know I’m mentally tearing myself a whole multiverse of new ones for messing this up. I just – Jesus. I can’t sit there and do nothing, you know I can’t.”

“I’m not mad about the fact you went,” Steve says abruptly, and Tony shuts up.

“What?” he asks cautiously, not sure he’s just heard right. “Erm, I don’t know if you were actually aware of what happened, or if you went into Captain mode too quickly, but me and Clint bailed on your asses and weren’t here to answer an Assemble. When we’d specifically been asked not to go.”

Steve shakes his head irritably. “Did you know that there was going to be an attack on New York?” he asks brusquely, and even though it sounds like he’s starting to get annoyed, Tony is actually grateful. The anger is better than the indifference any day – anger equals feelings. Indifference equals nothingness.

“No,” Tony says, and resists making a smart-ass comment about him being a genius, not a psychic.

“And you helped with the situation in London?” Steve continues in the same strange voice.

“Yes,” Tony says defensively, though he probably doesn’t need to be defensive, as it sounds weirdly like Steve is trying to back him up.

“Then shut up,” Steve advises. “Stop trying to get me to lose my temper.”

“You never had any issue with losing your shit with me before,” Tony says.

Steve just shakes his head. “Yeah, before,” he says, and he shuts his eyes, breathing out heavily through his nose, nostrils flaring.

And Tony feels the sharp pieces turn acidic and sickening, the dull swoop of his stomach confirming the fear that has sat lodged in his chest since the call from New York came in. His lungs feel shallow, too small, compressed to make way for the horrible tangle of feeling that’s spreading from his gut.

“So that’s that then,” he says lightly, too lightly, and he doesn’t even know if he’s talking about London anymore.

Steve looks up at him then, brow furrowed. “What do you mean?” he asks, and now it looks like neither of them know what they’re actually talking about.

“This,” Tony says, and gestures helplessly between them. “The me and you situation.”

Steve’s expression turns confused in the blink of an eye. “What? This isn’t about-” he begins, sounding honest to god traumatised.

“But-” Tony begins unsteadily, and then Tony’s life is ruined by the curtain swishing back, revealing Phil Coulson in all his suited glory.

“Gentlemen,” he says neutrally, and Tony could scream.

“Debrief, yes, I’m going,” he snaps, and bends down to snatch up his helmet and stomps away before either of them can say a word. His heart is hammering inside his chest and his brain is stuck on a seemingly endless loop of what the hell has just happened.

 


 

Tony Stark knows that he is a liar. There’s no glossing over it really, even though he never really lies to hurt anyone or for immediate personal gain. Sometimes it’s forgetting of trivial things that get side-lined in favour of more important stuff, sometimes its deliberate evasion. Sometimes it’s a little bit of exaggeration or omission, and he mentally stresses to himself that it’s usually to protect someone or something else. 

But really, when it comes down to it, telling Phil Coulson he was going to debrief was a selfish, bare faced lie, because he never had any intention of going and it’s only his own welfare he gives a damn about. He’s not even finding anything else to do in an effort to lose track of time. Instead, he’s sat in the workshop, armour off, staring at the stupid Cap toy that is still on his bench.

He honestly doesn’t know what to do. He was all ready to batten down the emotional hatches and deal with the fallout of screwing things up between him and Steve, but it doesn’t seem quite that simple. He keeps fixating on what Steve said about not leaving, and that nasty flare of hope that is jarring uncomfortably against the miserable part of him that wants to curl up and die. It’s like an internal battle that isn’t letting him pick a side.

And that’s before he adds the variable of Steve saying he wasn’t mad about Tony going to London. He’s all but dismissed that though; to him it appears that Steve is so pissed about it that he’s bypassed the angry yelling stage and gone straight to the weary ‘should have known Tony would be a screw up’ stage. Tony has strong suspicions he’s stolen the look from Pepper and wow, the fact that they’ve both looked at him in the same way makes him feel ten different shades of crap.

“Sir, Director Fury and Agent Coulson have just entered the building with Agent Barton.”

Tony blinks, and reaches out for the toy, holding it tight in his hand like it’s a talisman. “I guess locking them out wouldn’t do any good,” he says dully.

“No, Sir,” Jarvis says, sounding apologetic. “Director Fury would like you to know that if you refuse to come to the mandatory debriefing, he will bring the debriefing to you.”

There’s a pause. “He would also like to remind you that you could be on your way to jail,” Jarvis says. “In light of this information, I would say that attending the debriefing is the lesser of two evils.”

“You wouldn’t know, you’ve never been forced through a debriefing,” Tony mutters. He leans forwards and rests his elbow on the bench, holding the Cap toy tight in his fist and pressing the top of its plastic head between his eyebrows, scrunching his eyes tightly shut.

“Is Steve in the building?” Tony asks, slowly tapping the cowl of the action figure against his forehead as if it’ll somehow help him think.

“No, he has not yet returned,” Jarvis replies. “Would you like me to trace him?”

“No,” Tony replies immediately, almost on autopilot. “No, I’m not dealing with him and Fury all in one go. Right. Monitor my vitals, J, if anything happens then you can assume Coulson has shot me.”

“Noted,” Jarvis sighs, and Tony drops the Captain America toy back onto his workbench and then heads upstairs to face the music. He probably should have showered at some point; he’s still got revolting smelling slime in places he’d rather not think about, and how did that even happen when he’s been encased in metal, and he’s also pretty sure he’s covered in almost as much dirt as Steve was earlier.

Fuck it, he thinks deliberately and somewhat petulantly. If Fury wants to deal with him, then he can deal with him in all of his stinking, filthy glory. 

The moment he enters the kitchen, he realises that Clint is making a similar stand, because he is also still covered in blood and slime from the battle, and Tony can smell him from the other side of the room. He’s still in his gear, but has pulled on a blue hooded sweatshirt over the top, and is sitting on the counter with the hood pulled up, looking like some sort of delinquent.

Coulson and Fury are also there. Coulson is stood next to Clint, and Jesus, that must be taking some serious willpower, and Fury is leaning casually against the fridge.

“Nice of you to join us,” he says. “Take a seat.”

Tony deliberately ignores him and goes and stands next to Clint, leaning back to flick the coffee machine on.

“Sit your ass down, Stark,” Fury snaps, but Tony just leans back against the counter, arms folded across his chest and expression perfectly belligerent. He knows he and Clint look like a pair of damn surly teenagers who are in trouble for breaking curfew. Shit, they just need Steve on the end with his old stroppy teenager attitude to complete the effect and it’d be perfect.

No-one says anything. The only noise is the gurgling of the coffee machine and the soft hum of the refrigerator. Tony can feel Fury glaring at him but can’t find it in himself to care. He cares about Steve’s reaction – or lack of reaction – to this entire clusterfuck of a situation, and no-one else’s. Well, he would prefer that Clint stopped looking like he was going to fling himself off the roof, but he sort of trusts Coulson to keep him tied down. Literally, if necessary.

Finally, Fury breaks the stalemate and speaks. “You’re both suspended.”

“I’m already suspended,” Clint says, and Tony chokes back a laugh, because really, now is not the time.

“You are pushing towards dismissal,” Fury replies coldly, and Tony feels Clint tense up next to him.

“For what?” Clint asks, his voice rising to a shout. “Doing my job?!”

“They needed us,” Tony joins in. “Apparently James Bond was doing a shit job.”

Fury’s murderous glare turns his way. It’s still a scary thing, even at half capacity. Tony doesn’t let it deter him in the slightest. “If we hadn’t been there, those things would have multiplied out of control,” he says. “Eight people died, do you know that? Eight people, and if hadn’t been there it would have been more.”

“That is not the point!” Fury’s voice steadily rises to a full on shout. “Do you know what the WSC currently have you labelled as? You are giving them more and more ammunition to come down hard on your asses.”

“We were doing our job!” Clint shouts again, and he sits forwards, hands braced on the counter like he’s about to launch himself off of it at Fury. Oh god, Tony really hopes he does, he has several small fortunes reserved exactly for paying to see such moments. Disappointingly, Clint’s manoeuvre is aborted by Coulson’s firm hand on his shoulder, pressing him back down onto the counter. Clint sinks back unwillingly, and Tony would now bet the same small fortune that if anyone but Coulson had tried that, Clint would have broken their fingers.

“I am barely keeping you out of jail,” Fury tells Tony, who just stares back obnoxiously. “Do you even know the consequences for hacking SHIELD servers?”

“Prove I did it,” Tony replies instantly and with the clear note of challenge in his tone, because he knows that Fury can’t. Of course he did it, they both know he did, but there will be no evidence left anywhere in anyone’s systems to verify exactly what he did or didn’t do.

“You know damn well that I won’t be able to,” Fury snaps. “Which, by the by, the WSC are also adding to the ‘reasons that Tony Stark should be incarcerated’ column. They are not comfortable with you having any leeway, considering what you appear to do with it.”

“I did the right thing and you know it!” Tony snarls at him.

“You were not authorised,” Fury shouts back. “What the hell made you think that you-”

“It was a team decision,” a voice says, and Tony nearly has a heart attack. He whips around to see Steve standing in the doorway, still in full uniform and still looking absolutely filthy. Somehow, the blood and dirt just adds to the authority that’s practically radiating from him as he stands there, drawn up at full Captain America height, arms folded and jaw set rigidly.

“Excuse you?” Fury says, staring at Steve.

“I decided they should go,” Steve shrugs, and Tony barely manages to hide his shock at the complete and utter lie. “So you either have it out with all of us, or leave it well alone.”

Fury stares at Steve like he’s contemplating how he can somehow dispose of Captain America without there being a national outcry. Clint is looking at Steve with a guarded expression that doesn’t quite hide all of the relief, and Tony knows he’s looking at Steve like he’s punched him again. 

“Steve-” he begins, not entirely okay with Steve feeling the need to heroically weigh in on his behalf. It’s not like he can’t handle Nick Fury by himself, and Steve has already made it pretty clear that he’s not impressed with Tony’s behaviour today.

“Tony,” Steve replies evenly, still looking at Fury. “Shut up. You’re on the verge of being stupid.”

Tony’s jaw drops, because he hears the way Steve says it, slowly and deliberately, and oh god, he gets it. Gets what Steve is doing, what he’s saying, and he knows what that’s code for, and suddenly his brain is going ten million miles an hour because that means that if they’re still telling each other when they’re being stupid then they’re still in this together. It’s so much for him to take in that he’s tempted to sit down. Or fall down, he’s not going to be picky.

Fury looks long and hard at Steve, and then at Tony. He opens his mouth as if to say something and then seems to think better of it, shaking his head and throwing his hands up like he’s finally had enough of them.

“We are a team together,” Steve says clearly to Fury. “You suspend us as a team, not individually. Let’s face it; even if we let you suspend Tony from the team, the armour and all his equipment is his own anyway. The government have tried to shut him down before, and failed, so all you’re doing is pushing him to go solo, which means he won't be required to answer to anyone.”

He pauses, still looking directly at Fury. “If the WSC is giving you hassle about us, then you dismiss us from SHIELD as a team. Set us up as an independent team with a SHIELD liaison, so we can still work together but you won’t be caught between us and them. Or, you continue to have us as part of a SHIELD initiative, and we keep doing what we think is right, even when you don’t want us to. Your call, Director.”

“Tactical genius,” Tony mutters, and the look Fury shoots him is downright dangerous.

“Listen to the Captain, Stark, and shut up,” Fury says impatiently.

“You wandered into my tower uninvited,” Tony points out. “You do not get to tell me to shut up. He lives here, he can just about get away with it,” he says, jerking his head towards Steve.

“That’s clearly why he gets away with it,” Fury snorts, and Tony swears he can literally see Steve’s hackles rise.

“We will quit as a team if necessary,” he snarls, and Jesus, he is going to be the death of Tony because that tone of voice still makes a shiver go down his spine and he should not find angry Captain America as attractive as he does.

“Okay, okay, I get it,” Fury says, holding his hands up in a placating gesture which is undermined by the tone of his voice and the way he rolls his eye. “No jokes about personal lives, even if said personal lives are turning out to be making a mess of the team.”

“You don’t know shit,” Tony says rudely.

“There is nothing to know,” Steve bites out, and Tony’s brain does another abrupt one-eighty, the words feeling like a punch to his gut. Hang on, ten seconds ago they were back to being stupid together and now there’s nothing to know? What page is Steve even on?

“If you insist,” Fury says, and looks like he doesn’t believe a word. Tony can’t help but feel bitter; if everyone quite clearly knows that there’s something going on between him and Steve, why is Steve adamantly denying it? Well, denying it to everyone but Tony, who he never seems to have a straight answer for.

And just like that, he’s back to where he was ten minutes ago, not knowing where he stands or what is going on, or how he should go about dealing with it.

A soft beep comes from somewhere on Coulson’s form. He slides his phone out of his pocket and quickly looks at it. “Deadpool is back,” he murmurs to Fury, who nods.

“From one hell to another,” he says, and nods at Steve before turning away and walking towards the door, Coulson at his side. “I’ll consider your proposal, Captain,” he calls back over his shoulder. “And I will let the WSC know that it was a team decision to let these two idiots overseas. They’ll probably take the news better if they know there were some sort of orders actually given by a competent leader.”

Tony opens his mouth to vehemently object, to argue and defend himself and tell Fury that he went because he wanted to go, not because Captain America told him to, but Clint moves too quickly to be human and grabs hold of him, one hand over his mouth and the other locked tight around his neck. The elevator doors close and Tony barely notices through the flash of blind panic at the squeeze around his neck, the weight on his shoulder and the palm that is clamped over the lower half of his face. He lets out a strangled yell and then yanks himself free of Clint’s grip, shoving sharply at him. “What the hell are you playing at?”

“You were about to tell him that Cap didn’t know we went!” Clint yells. “Just because you two have had a lovers spat doesn’t mean you can take the rest of us down because you feel like being an asshole!” 

“There is no lovers spat, are you on drugs?” Tony retorts. “Steve made it pretty clear-”

“Oh no,” Clint says over him, shaking his head and pointing right in his face. “No, No, I am not being caught in the middle of this damn circus. You two have been dancing around each other since we moved in, no, shut up Tony because you know I’m right, and if you don’t get your act together I am literally going to shoot you both. You will ruin this team if you insist on this constant fighting bullshit, and as pathetic as it sounds, this stupid team is about the only thing some of us have got left!”

There’s a long silence.

“Right. Now would be the time where you talk about feelings and crap,” Clint says, and slides off the counter, marching towards the stairs. “I’ll be in my vent.”

“Take a shower, you stink,” Tony yells after him.

“Sort your life out,” Clint yells back, and the last Tony sees of him before he vanishes into the stairwell is his middle finger.

Tony stares at empty doorway for a long time, because Steve is still there nearby and Tony has no idea what he’s supposed to do now. He supposes Clint is right in some way; they do need to get their act together before their fighting ruins everything for everyone. He just doesn’t know how it’s even possible for them to not fight; the only way he can imagine it happening is if Steve moves out and they only interact during official Avengers business. Though that option does feel a little like ripping his own heart out.

A hand on his shoulder scares the life out of him; he spins around and smacks it away, pulse thudding in his ears. Steve takes a step back, hands raised in something like surrender.

“And you complained to me about me not letting you touch me,” he says pointedly. “And I seem to remember you calling me a hypocrite over less.”

Anger flares in Tony like nothing he’s felt in a long time. He reaches out with both hands and shoves at Steve’s chest. Steve doesn’t even stumble back and that makes Tony even angrier. “You’re making jokes?” he shouts, and shoves Steve again, this time hard enough to make him sway fractionally. “After all that today, after everything, you’re making jokes?!”

“Like you’re one to talk. What else am I meant to do?” Steve shoots back.

“Talk about what happened today!” Tony yells. “Yell at me for not being there!”

“I don’t want to talk about London,” Steve says heatedly. “Drop it.”

“Why not?” Tony challenges. “Come on, you’ve never been shy about letting everyone know your opinion on things-”

“Because when I think about it I get so angry I don’t know what to do with myself!” he shouts, and there it is, the explosion of temper that Tony has been waiting for. “And it’s not because you left, not because you thought the right call was to go to London, not because you weren’t here to help, but because you didn’t even tell me that you decided to go!”

“That’s your objection?” Tony asks incredulously.

“Yes!” Steve bellows, and then visibly reins it in, his whole body shaking with the force of it. “And the fact that I can’t separate the London situation from the me and you situation, and it’s killing me.”

There’s nothing but a strange buzzing in Tony’s ears. His angry retort dies on his tongue, his ire replaced with honest to god confusion.

“What are we even arguing about?” he asks weakly. “London, or something else?”

Steve ignores the question. “You didn’t even have the damn decency to tell me,” he says tightly.

Tony stares at him. “Of course we didn’t. You would have stopped us going.”

Steve stares back. “In this case, I wouldn’t.”

Tony makes a disbelieving noise in the back of his throat. “Yes, you would.”

“You don’t know that,” Steve snaps, and that stops Tony short. “Christ, Tony - it’s like you’ve already made your mind up about me, and you don’t bother talking to me because you think you already know how it’s going to go. You don’t even give me a chance to show you that I’m not out to give you hell just for the sake of it. Look, you and Clint saved a lot of lives and sorted out a situation that was getting out of hand. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the bottom line. It’s just – damn it, why do you always assume you know how I’ll react?”

Tony blinks a few times, and slowly but surely he processes what Steve is trying to say. That he would have trusted Tony’s call to go, that he would have let them go. That’s he’s not actually pissed about having to take on a legion of crappy city-destroying robots without the full team behind him, but more that he’s pissed that Tony didn’t trust him enough to tell him the truth.

“I have no idea,” Tony hears himself say weakly. “Maybe I should pack it in?" 

“You should,” Steve says shortly, and then he grabs Tony by the front of his shirt, fingers fisting in the material, and then yanks him close enough so that he can kiss him.

It’s not even that much of a kiss; just Steve’s mouth pressing heavily against his own, and Tony makes a startled noise in the back of his throat, which was the wrong thing to do, because Steve lets him go, breathing heavily. Tony gapes at him, and he can feel all the nasty shards of emotion in his chest churning around and around, not quite as painful as they were before because oh that’s right, Steve just kissed him.

“You just kissed me,” he says, and then winces because really. How dumb.

“You said you had feelings for me,” Steve says shortly, and his hands are on Tony’s elbows and he still sounds abrupt like they’re fighting and not kissing.

“Pepper said she thought I had feelings for you,” Tony corrects, and Steve glowers at him.

“Stop deflecting.”

Tony hesitates. He hesitates because he still feels raw and painful inside, is unsure about what is even happening here, can’t quite work out if Steve is mad at him or not. He’s not laying it out there on the line for Steve to still walk away over what happened out there today.

So instead of being honest, he hesitates, and Steve notices. Of course he does.

“Right,” Steve says shortly, and lets go of his arms and no, no, no, Tony has not just been kissed by Captain America to make a total messmess of it now.

“You drive me absolutely crazy,” he says, the words tripping unstoppably from his tongue. “Of course I’ve got feelings for you, I don’t really know how that’s in question. You are the only person that I bother listening to, even if I sometimes don’t, and Jesus, I could touch you all day. I could be with you and not touch you all day as well, and you are a twenty-four year old moron with severe intimacy issues, and I think I deserve a medal for putting up with that, for even wanting to put up with that. Even Clint knows that I’ve got feelings for you, and I think you damn well know it as well, you just can’t make up your mind about what to do with it.”

By the time he’s finished ranting, Steve has straightened up and is staring at him like Tony has actually just announced that he’s going to give away all his money and go and live as a wandering penniless nomad in the desert. Tony might have done actually, he can’t quite remember all the words that just fell out of his mouth.

“Wow,” he says weakly afterthirty seconds of absolute silence, looking anywhere but at Steve. “How do you feel about testing out my new memory wiping technology? I’ll only take the last two minutes, I swear.”

“Don’t joke,” Steve says, voice strained. “Not now. No jokes, no deflecting, no talking shit at me.”

“Excuse me, don’t knock the talking shit card, I’ve just managed to bare my soul in a horrific river of word-vomit,” Tony says, and ignore the face Steve pulls at the phrasing. “It’s your turn, Spangles. And just to make it clear; since we’ve covered the whole London aspect of our fuck ups, we’re onto me and you, big guy.”

Steve doesn’t say anything. He opens his mouth, and then shuts it again, his brow furrowing. Breathes in, and then out again, and then reaches up and to rub at the back of his head in a familiar and awkward gesture. Tony jerks forwards and grabs his wrist, pulling it down sharply.

“Stitches,” he says, and Steve looks startled for a moment before letting Tony pull his hand away.

“Hell,” he breathes out heavily, voice low. “I never thought – it was only ever a pipe dream, getting to this point with someone,” he says, all confused feelings and faint Brooklyn drawl. “Having anyone, least of all someone who I actually…” He shakes his head, stops talking.

“Emotionally retarded, much?” Tony says before he can stop himself, and Steve glares at him.

“I’m trying,” he says hotly, and then his hand shoots out and grabs Tony’s. His fingers are tight around Tony’s wrist and if he grips much harder he’s going to break something, and then he slowly trails his fingers down over the back of Tony’s hand, before carefully threading their fingers together in a gesture that’s frighteningly intimate.

“Okay, I have to know,” Tony says, because Steve is looking like he’s treading new ground here, open and vulnerable. “You and Bucky.”

Steve twitches minutely, and he’s staring down at their joined hands. “None of your damn business,” he finally says, and then he’s pulling Tony closer and closer, pressing his mouth to Tony’s temple like he did all that time ago. Tony reaches up blindly with his free hand, skittering across Steve’s bicep and up to his shoulder, gripping on tightly and helplessly. Steve’s other hand settles on his waist, and his mouth trails down over Tony’s temple until they’re pressed together cheek to cheek and Tony can feel Steve’s breath against the side of his face.

“Tell me I’m being stupid,” Steve says, voice hoarse and low.

“I don’t want to,” Tony admits. “I’m too selfish. Though you probably are.”

“Doesn’t feel all that stupid,” Steve says, and then laughs shortly. “Only damn thing that does seem to make sense.”

“You said that before,” Tony says, and pulls back slightly. He can feel his beard rasp against Steve’s skin, can feel that the corner of his mouth is touching Steve’s, all tantalising warmth and ridiculous thrills down his spine. “And we still fucked up.”

“We’re always going to fuck up,” Steve says, and his hand traces up Tony’s waist, around the curve of his back and up to his shoulder blade, pressing them more closely together. Tony breathes out through his nose, feelings Steve’s shaky exhale in respond. He nudges Steve’s cheek with the tip of his nose, watches how Steve’s throat moves as he swallows thickly.

“Tony,” Steve murmurs, and he sounds honest to god wrecked. Tony turns his head to the side to catch Steve’s mouth and Steve jerks back marginally so their lips only brush by the barest of margins. He doesn’t go far though, and Tony doesn’t want to scare him off so he stays perfectly still, mouth slightly open and breathing in the same air as Steve. Steve swallows thickly again and then he seems to surge forwards and his mouth is pressed to Tony’s, hard and warm and perfect. He seems to get over his initial reservations pretty quickly, because when he pulls back this time it’s only to open his mouth under Tony’s, hands coming up to rest either side of Tony’s neck, holding him in place like he thinks Tony is going to go anywhere.

His fingers find a home on Steve’s waist, gripping tightly as they kiss, and Tony is pretty sure they should do this forever. At least if they’re kissing then they won’t be arguing or fighting.

Tony pulls away, chest heaving for breath, and his eyes meet Steve’s. Steve is looking unguarded and open and honest, but the fear Tony was expecting just isn’t there. But then again, it was never Steve being scared that was an issue, was it? It was the lack of trust, the confidence to know that they had each other’s backs, even when they didn’t agree.

Without thinking, Tony reaches up and presses his fingers to the frown lines between Steve’s brows, as if he can press away all of the worry, anger and sorrow that Steve Rogers has ever experienced and carried with him. Steve shuts his eyes, leaning forwards until Tony is forced to move his hand out the way. His forehead butts gently against Tony’s and he rolls his head from side to side slightly, arms settling around Tony’s waist.

It feels so natural that Tony is honestly a little alarmed. It feels easy and right, like this is just how it should be between them, which pretty much makes no sense to him right now. Surely if this is what the universe thinks is a good idea, then they should have slotted together perfectly from the minute they clapped eyes on each other? Or maybe that’s not what it’s about, maybe that isn’t why it works. Will work. Might work.

Breathing out heavily, Tony screws his eyes shut and presses his forehead harder against Steve’s, willing himself to stop thinking for a damn minute. Now is pretty much the moment where he feels the urge to make a flippant comment, to put some distance between him and Steve, because he’s never going to let himself be dependent on anyone, physically or emotionally. He fights the urge into temporary submission, because he needs to know what this all means before he and Steve start pushing each other’s buttons again. Now isn’t the time for second guessing; if this is going to work at all, he needs to know that Steve is certain about this, that he isn’t going to flip out or walk away-

It feels terrifying. He swallows, and makes himself speak.

“So, me and you?”

Steve swallows, and Tony watches his adam's-apple move in his throat. “I think - I think it's always been me and you, right?” he manages to say. Tony raises an eyebrow in question and Steve obviously gets it because he nods, and the affirmation feels like a weight lifting from Tony's chest. "Yes," Steve says roughly. "Okay, yes." 

“Are you sure?” Tony asks, and he forces his voice light. “Because you know-”

Steve interrupts him, catching Tony’s mouth again before Tony can get the words out. He kisses Tony hard, cutting off the breath in his lungs, and oh god, Tony knows him well enough now to recognise when he’s playing dirty.

Tony wrenches backwards, hard enough to send them staggering a half step into the island counter. He slides his hands up Steve’s chest and presses on his shoulders, trying in vain to keep Steve’s mouth away from his, because if Steve keeps kissing him like that he’ll never get these words out, and Steve needs to hear it, needs to know that Tony isn’t going to miraculously change. He has to know that despite all the good parts of him, the smart and clever and honest parts, Tony has always been and will always be a liability in one form or another-

“What about when we do this inevitable fucking up?” Tony gasps, and yeah, Steve is totally not playing fair because his mouth is now moving down over Tony’s jaw and across, breath hot and damp on his ear. “And by that, I mean when I fuck up.”

Steve doesn’t even bother to try and convince Tony that he won’t fuck up. “Then you understand that I will be pissed at you,” he breathes and Tony is almost too turned on to listen properly. “Sometimes monumentally, unbelievably pissed, but you trust that it doesn’t mean I’m going to leave.”

“But what if I do something that means-”

Steve pulls back quickly enough to leave Tony feeling disorientated. “Unless I say ‘Tony, I am leaving you’ in those exact specific words, then you assume that we are still in this together and we will work it out. Just – that’s not a go ahead for you to push it. You have to at least use your brain and try not to piss me off, or do anything dangerous.”

Tony opens his mouth but the words die before they can take shape, he suddenly recalls something he thought weeks ago, when he and Steve had been talking after Steve had punched him. God, what was it he’d thought? Fuck – he’d thought that it didn’t matter if Steve was mad at him, it didn’t matter how mad Steve got, as long as they made it out the other side.

“Oh,” he says faintly, and Steve just smiles faintly at him.

“Was that a light bulb moment?”

“You bet your all-American ass it was,” Tony says breathlessly, and without further ado grabs hold of Steve and kisses him again. Steve’s hands go back to his neck like he wants to deepen the kiss again, but before he can, Tony jerks back as something occurs to him.

 “Hang on, did I just end up in a relationship with Captain America?”

“I don’t know, did you?” Steve says, because he’s a bastard like that. He looks down, pensive and troubled. “You know, it’s not just you who does the fucking up,” he says quietly. “I’m pretty good at that, too.”

Tony stares at him. “You’re Captain America,” he says, and then pauses with a hum, mouth twisted contemplatively. “And you’re also Steve Rogers, and Steve Rogers has a foul temper when he’s tired, and is a moody, stubborn son of a bitch even when he’s not, and he argues for the sake of it and sometimes doesn’t listen to anyone and takes things way too seriously, and wow, why am I kissing you again?”

But Steve is laughing, and he’s shaking his head like Tony is being ridiculous but is actually finding it quite amusing, and when he leans in for another kiss, Tony doesn’t object.

“I’m all those things,” Steve murmurs against his mouth. “I’m a jerk.”

“Complete ass,” Tony agrees. “But you’re also some other things, you know.”

“Like?” Steve says, and now his mouth is curling up in a lazy smile.

Tony sucks in a breath through his teeth, faux-thoughtful expression in place. “Hmm, let me see. Handsome, tall, blond, with abs to die for and an ass I could bounce a quarter off-”

“You know, people might think you’re only interested in my looks,” Steve deadpans.

Tony shrugs, and pats at Steve’s chest. “What can I say? The pretty package makes up for the cranky old-timer interior.”

Steve rolls his eyes, turning his face away, and Tony reaches up quickly, catching his chin between his fingers and turning him back. “Hey, hey. You know by now what banter is. And you know by now what I think of you,” he says seriously, voice low. “You catch me looking at you and it crosses your mind that hey, maybe Tony’s thinking something good, assume I am. Don’t doubt. Just know. You are a whole freaking realm of adjectives that I can’t even find right now, just-” 

He pauses, and leans up to gently kiss Steve without breaking eye contact. He eases back, shrugs. “Trust me,” he says, and Steve nods slowly, agreeing. Steve leans in and ghosts his mouth over Tony’s in a not quite kiss.

“I’ll give it a shot,” he murmurs and it sounds like a promise. Tony surges forwards and kisses him hard, revelling in the way Steve’s breath catches in his chest. He doesn’t tease; his fingers move from Steve’s chin to cup his jaw, pulling him close as they kiss. It quickly turns messy and desperate and Tony doesn’t even care; Steve’s hands are moving over his back and up his arms, fingers fisting in his shirt and tugging through his hair, movements erratic and fast. Tony’s just as bad, grabbing at Steve like a horny teenager, pushing and pulling him into place so he can take and take.

A hand slides down his back over his ass and in some remote corner of his brain, Tony registers that they’re still in the kitchen, which probably isn’t the best venue for a filthy make-out session, considering that there are a bunch of other people – including spies – who live here. He’s finding it hard to care though, because Steve is still kissing him fast and hard, tongue pushing against Tony’s and hands grabbing at him like he’s frantic to get in a full lifetime quota of touch in ten minutes. God, for someone who was so edgy about touching, he’s certainly doing an admirable job of saying fuck you to his old reservations.

“Christ,” Steve gasps, and his hand slides over the small of Tony’s back again. “God, I can’t stop touching you-”

Tony grins breathlessly against Steve’s mouth, kissing him quick and hard, once, twice. “Not asking you to stop.”

Steve groans at that, and his hands are moving again, one pulling Tony’s shirt up and the other slipping down over his ass again. “I want,” he begins, and then makes a frustrated noise in the back of his throat before giving up on words. He grabs Tony’s hips and before Tony can register what’s happening, Steve shoves him up and back and he ends up sat on the edge of the counter, Steve’s bulk pressing between his thighs as Steve kisses him again and again.

Lust rocks through Tony with the force of a punch, and Jesus Christ he’s not exactly a weakling but there’s no denying the fact that out of the armour Steve can simply manhandle him without even breaking a sweat. He can feel how hard he’s getting, and as Steve presses closer he feels the press of Steve’s erection against his own, feels the muscles in Steve’s back flex as he tips forwards, grunting against Tony’s mouth.

And just like that, Steve pulls back.

He stares at Tony, chest heaving with breath and eyes dark. He looks absolutely wrecked in the absolute best of ways, and is looking at Tony like he wants to eat him. His hands are on Tony’s hips and Tony can see the obvious bulge in his pants and why oh why has he stopped?

“If you are about to decide you don’t like touching again, I am going to end you,” Tony snaps at him.

Steve leans in and presses his mouth to Tony’s face, right next to his ear. “No,” he says. “I was just going to suggest that we don’t fuck on the counter when there are other people in the building.”

Tony almost swallows his own tongue. He pulls back to see Steve is looking at him almost defiantly, a faint blush to his cheeks.

“Are you allowed to say that? I’m pretty sure Captain America isn’t allowed to say that.”

Steve rolls his eyes. “I’ll take the suit off then,” he says, and then his expression turns serious. “We can - if you want to, that is.”

“Now I want to say no on principle, because I don’t sleep with stupid people anymore, and if you are asking if I want to then you are a complete idiot,” Tony says, shaking his head. “Steve. Seriously.”

“I am serious,” Steve insists.

“A serious idiot if you think I wouldn’t want to,” Tony repeats. “I thought you would be the one objecting and pulling out the three dates with dinner rule.”

Steve snorts dismissively at that. “I highly doubt that’s even a thing these days. And if it’s – well, if we’re doing this whole thing, why not, right?”

Tony smiles at that, and he doesn’t care that it’s bright and genuine and not anywhere near his usual suggestive smirk or leer. “It’s a definite perk to ending up in a me and you type situation,” he muses.

Steve smiles back, and leans in for a kiss, so gentle it makes Tony’s head spin. “Alright,” he grins, and Tony’s heart flips because oh god, he’s seriously about to fuck Steve Rogers and that makes him the luckiest bastard on the planet. And then, Steve proves himself to be an utter asshole by leaning back, looking Tony right in the eye.

“On one condition.”

“I’m not marrying you first,” Tony says, and Steve smacks him lightly upside the head.

“Hilarious. What I was going to say was on the condition that you go and shower,” he says frankly, suddenly all business.

Tony lets his mouth fall open. “What, right now?” he asks incredulously.

“Yes, now,” Steve says. “Have you smelt you since you got back?”

“Have you seen yourself?” Tony retorts. “You’re not looking so tip-top either, Cap.”

“Never said you were the only one that needed a shower,” Steve shrugs, stepping back with a familiar devious glint in his eye, and Tony stares at him.

“I did that thing where I assumed,” he says, sliding down off of the counter. “And so far, you are proving me wrong in the best kinds of ways.”

“I’ve been told I do that,” Steve shrugs, and then slides his hands down Tony’s hips, before abruptly spinning him around and shoving him in the direction of the elevator. “Go.”

“Sir, yes sir,” Tony says with a salute, and Steve laughs, hands catching Tony’s hips again and propelling him towards the elevator.

It’s astounding how easy it is, how light Tony feels despite everything that’s been said and done in the recent past. He’s under no illusion that it’s going to be easy, because nothing ever is, especially for them, but in this exact moment it seems completely worth it. Even more so when they step into the elevator together and Steve pulls him close, wrapping an arm around Tony’s neck and pressing his mouth to Tony’s temple. Despite having hoped for more kissing, Tony finds he’s perfectly content to stand there with his hands resting on Steve’s hips, letting Steve hold him and stroke a palm down his back.

“Jarvis, let me out at my floor,” Steve murmurs quietly, and Tony looks up, looking put-out.

“Seriously?”

“I’m filthy, you are filthy and smell like shit,” Steve says with a raised eyebrow. “This isn’t going to be the sexy kind of shower. This is going to be the getting clean kind.”

“Calling Captain Buzzkill,” Tony grouches, stepping back and glaring accusingly. “In no way shape or form did you make this stipulation apparent when you suggested showering.”

Steve just shrugs. “Sulk all you want,” he says as the elevator comes to a halt and the doors open at his floor. “But I’ll be more willing to put my mouth all over you if I know what I’m putting my mouth on is clean.”

Tony can’t do anything but gape as Steve steps out of the elevator without looking back. The doors begin to slide shut and he manages to get his brain back in gear again.

“Formal complaint! You deliberately misled me!” he shouts at Steve’s retreating back, just before the doors close. He shakes his head in disbelief, not quite able to comprehend that on top of everything else Steve Rogers has revealed himself to be today, he’s added blatant flirting cocktease to the list.

“Jarvis, make a note that today is awesome,” Tony says as the elevator starts to move again, taking him up towards the penthouse.

“And where shall I file this note?” Jarvis asks, sounding long suffering. “The file with the few other moments in which you succeeded in not completely sabotaging your own wellbeing and happiness?”

Tony pulls a wounded face. “Ouch, J. Baby, that hurt.

“I am sure Captain Rogers will help you get over it, Sir.”

Tony snorts with laughter. “I’m re-coding you. No more sass. No more inferences about my own wellbeing and happiness.”

“Of course. I’ll add a reminder to the much larger ‘moments in which Sir has threatened to re-code me and not followed through’ folder,” Jarvis says, and Tony can’t fight back the smile at how proud he is of himself and Jarvis.

“You do that,” he says. “And turn off audio and video surveillance in the penthouse suite.” 

“Already done, Sir,” Jarvis says as the elevator doors open and Tony steps out into the penthouse. He makes his way quickly over to his suite, shutting the door behind him, feeling his heart thudding strangely in his chest. God, the anticipation inside him is only narrowly beating the sense of oh my god how has this happened. It’s relief, joy, relief and terror all mixed into one, and did he mention the relief? Because Steve isn’t mad at him, isn’t going to kill Tony for the bad call he made today, isn’t going to kick him off the team.

He’s going to give being with Tony a shot instead.

Yeah, Steve Rogers is quite clearly a lunatic or a masochist.

Breathing out deeply, Tony strips and clambers into the shower, turning the water up as hot as he can stand it and just standing there for a moment, head hanging forwards and water streaming over his head. Breathing through his mouth, he takes a moment to try and clear his mind, because his thoughts and emotions are still raging, and the adrenaline from the fight probably hasn’t completely faded yet. Not to mention the thrum of his body after kissing Steve in the kitchen. Just thinking about it makes warm desire curl in his stomach, spreading though his limbs and catching in the back of his throat.

He wants Steve so badly he can barely see. And to think that he can now have Steve, in his bed and his life, as long as-

Tony makes himself stop, because at the moment the relief and the joy feel mostly clean and untainted, and if he over analyses he’ll tangle it all up again.

A slight smile still curling the corner of his mouth, Tony gets himself moving and starts washing the filth and grime from his skin. Not that he’s going to admit that Steve was right, but he feels better with every passing moment, his aching muscles soothed and refreshed. Besides, if it does turn out that Steve does actually want to have sex with him, it will probably be better if he’s not covered in revolting alien slime.

And if he wants to savour the anticipation, the relief and the sheer giddiness of looking forwards to sleeping with Captain America a little longer…well, no-one’s going to be saying that’s a bad call anytime soon, right?

Chapter Text

Despite the overwhelming urge to get out of the shower post-haste, Tony forces himself to take his time getting clean, taking a few moments with both the anticipation and his thoughts. It could all have gone so terribly, awfully wrong today, and he is not going to take it for granted that it didn’t. He’s not only aware that he’s the luckiest bastard in the world, but he also knows that part of it is down to how he’s surrounded by some of the best people that humankind has to offer.

When he climbs out of the shower and pads into his room, his towel wrapped around his hips, he stops short in the doorway because the best of the best people has managed to sneak into his penthouse without him noticing, and is lounging on his bed wearing nothing but a pair of sweatpants. He’s leaning back on Tony’s pillows with an arm thrown behind his head and a tablet in his other hand, looking as comfortable as Tony as ever seen him. Warmth blooms in Tony’s chest because it’s here with Tony, in Tony’s room that Steve finally looks at home.

“Security breach,” Tony says, leaning on the doorjamb and sending a quirked smile in Steve’s direction. He could go over straight away, but he wants to enjoy the view a little longer.

Eyes fixed on the tablet, Steve just shrugs slightly without looking up. “It’s not really security if all I have to do is ask Jarvis to let me in.”

“You’re ganging up on me,” Tony states. “I object.”

“I can leave if you want,” Steve says, but he doesn’t bother to move or even look up.

“Yeah, like that’s happening,” Tony says and pushes himself off the doorframe and saunters over to the bed. When he gets close enough so that his thighs nudge the edge of the mattress, Steve finally looks up. His eyes go slightly wide and Tony hears the momentary stall in his breathing before he lets it out through his nose.

“So, the tactical genius sneaks into my room when I’m showering and then looks shocked when I’m naked?" 

“Not shocked,” Steve says, and Tony notices how his eyes flick to the arc reactor momentarily but then move on, wandering across his bare stomach to the jut of his hipbones above the edge of the towel. “Just appreciating.”

The words and his smile are warm, but Tony notices his whole body is very still and he’s not made any move to put the tablet down. He considers waiting it out, forcing Steve to make the first move, but decides against it. Firstly because it might be construed as cruel to push Steve like that when Tony knows he has issues, and secondly waiting it out means he has to hold back on Steve-touching.

“So,” Tony says conversationally, clambering onto the bed to kneel next to Steve’s hip, taking the tablet from his hands and putting it on the nightstand. He lists sideways so his waist presses against Steve’s thigh. “How long did it take you to come to terms with being gay?”

Steve blinks at him. “First, why are you assuming that it took any length of time for me to come to terms with liking men, and second, are we really having this conversation right now?” 

“Maybe not,” Tony muses, and reaches out and takes Steve’s hand, pulling it towards him. “I think I was just trying to make a point.”

Very slowly – and deliberately, Tony thinks as his pulse surges – Steve licks his lower lip, looking at his fingers, curled around Tony’s. “Point taken,” he murmurs and he uncurls his fingers from Tony’s stretching them out so they brush against the skin of Tony’s stomach. He stays like that for a long moment, the barest of contact between them, and then his hand presses forwards, palm sliding onto Tony’s hip.

“Atta boy, Captain,” Tony murmurs and Steve huffs out a laugh.

“Shut up,” he replies, and pulls Tony in, lifting his chin and kissing him gently.

It’s so easy for Tony to allow himself to be pulled close, stretching out next to Steve as they kiss, heart thudding as his bare chest brushes Steve’s. He feels rather than hears Steve groan, a low rumble of sound, and then Steve’s mouth leaves his and slowly works down Tony’s neck, warm and wet and glorious. Humming in approval, Tony slides his hands over Steve’s shoulders, pressing his palms firmly against heated skin. He can feel the shift of muscle as Steve moves, pressing closer and closer as he kisses along Tony’s collarbone.

“Come here,” Tony murmurs, dragging his hands up to Steve’s shoulders again. Steve capitulates easily, shifting up and lifting his chin to kiss Tony’s mouth again. They kiss slowly, leisurely, breathing steadily growing heavier and more ragged. 

Even though the urgency from earlier has gone, there’s no doubting what Steve wants as he moves slowly and deliberately, sliding one leg over Tony’s. He plants a hand on the bed next to Tony’s shoulder and shifts over, still kissing Tony as he clambers on-top of him, pinning him down to the bed with over two hundred and thirty pounds of super-soldier muscle in the best possible way.

“Okay?” he pants against Tony’s mouth, before nudging his chin up with his nose so he can press his mouth to Tony’s neck again, his forearms on the pillow either side of Tony’s head. “Too heavy?”

“Nope,” Tony replies immediately, and his breath catches as Steve presses a sucking open mouthed kiss to his pulse point. “Jesus Christ you’re good at this.”

"I don't really know what I'm doing," Steve muses, mouthing his way across Tony's shoulder. "Pretty much making it up as I go along."

Tony snorts with breathless laughter, tipping his head back and letting his eyes drift shut. "And I heard you were a master strategist. Did the Captain America PR team lie to me again?"

The warm mouth abruptly pulls back from where it had been licking a hot path into the dip between his collar bones. He cracks an eye open, put out, to see Steve looking down at him, expression equally unimpressed.

"You really want me going about sex with you like I would a Hydra raid?"

Tony grimaces. "No?"

"No," Steve agrees, and slowly lowers his head again, lips brushing Tony's in a slow, open kiss. He hums in the back of his throat, sounding satisfied and content. Unable to help himself, Tony reaches up and runs his hand across Steve’s shoulders, across his biceps and then slowly up and down his forearms.

He feels Steve's fingers curl around, slipping into his hair. Steve kisses him again, licking his way into his mouth. Tony slides his hands back down Steve's arms to his shoulders, breath catching in his throat as Steve's hips shift against his. God, he's not taken sex so slowly in ever; all open-mouthed kisses and slow hands over warm skin, lazy rolling limbs and gripping hands. 

“So," Steve says against his mouth. “You ever done this with a man?"

Tony hooks a foot around his calf. “None of your damn business," he says with a raised eyebrow, challenge clear in his expression.

“Hilarious," Steve says, completely deadpan, though his lips twitch before he schools his face into something resembling disappointment, complete with a sigh. “Well if neither of us know what we're doing, maybe-"

Tony doesn't let him finish. In one movement, he surges forwards and manages to roll Steve onto his back. Steve grunts in surprise and lands heavily on his back, and Tony grins down at him, more smug than he should let on.

"I got this. You just lie back and think of America," he says, hiding the grin in Steve's neck.

"Oh, fuck off," Steve says, exasperated, and then Tony is laughing as he kisses Steve again, and Steve starts to laugh too and it's ridiculous, really, but Tony can't find it in himself to care.

He manhandles Steve onto his front, straddling his thighs and dragging his hands down the glorious expanse of muscle shifting in Steve's shoulders as he arches and twists, no longer laughing but groaning into the pillow in a way that makes Tony crazy. Kissing down Steve’s back, breathing into the dip at the base of Steve’s spine just above his ass, Tony can’t help but think about Steve’s words. If he doesn’t know what he’s doing that’s a pretty strong hint that he’s never done this before, but then he never denied the whole him-and-Bucky thing-

And then Steve groans again and shifts his hips back towards Tony and Tony suddenly doesn’t care if he’s never done this or done it a thousand times. He curls the fingers of one hand around Steve’s hip, presses him down into the mattress with the other, bites lightly at the swell of Steve’s ass through his sweatpants and hears him bite out another curse.

He debates for a moment exactly what Steve might let him get away with, but then Steve is rolling back onto his back in an easy sinuous motion, reaching down to haul Tony up on top of him. Tony manages to catch himself just before he head-butts Steve in the face, hands pressed into the pillows either side of Steve’s head. Before he can even open his mouth to speak, Steve is hooking a leg up around his hip and kissing him hard enough to leave him breathless, arms hooked under Tony’s and hands gripping at his back.

Back to frantic it is, Tony thinks as he kisses Steve back, hot and open mouthed. He blindly reaches down with one hand to grab at Steve’s thigh, and as he does Steve rolls his hips into Tony’s and Tony can feel how hard he is, erection pressing into the crease between his thigh and groin. 

“Sweatpants,” he manages to say against Steve’s mouth, the words muffled. “Off. Now.”

Steve lets go of him and hastens to comply, demonstrating his multitasking capabilities in the best way possible as he pushes down his sweatpants and drags Tony’s towel from around his hips. Both offending articles are hurriedly kicked out of the bottom of the bed and Tony looks down and he swears that his brain literally breaks. Oh god, if he can never work out another piece of coding again he’ll know to blame it single-handedly on the vision that is Steve Rogers in all his sweaty naked glory. Jesus - he’s never going to be able to leave the god damn tower with Steve ever again because he now know exactly what Steve looks like under his clothes and he’s not going to be able to look at him without thinking of this moment.

And it’s only half down to Steve’s glorious body, Tony admits to himself as he finds himself nose to nose with him, mouth hovering just above Steve’s in the best kind of tease, moving back just enough every time Steve tries to catch his mouth. Steve’s breathing is uneven and warm against Tony’s mouth, and hitches beautifully when Tony slides a hand down his body and take’s Steve’s dick in hand, curling his fingers loosely around him.

“Shit,” Steve says, voice thick, and Tony smiles against his mouth.

“Language, Captain Curse-words,” he says, and Steve scowls.

“Will you shut up and get on with it.

“I will,” he promises, and he slides his hand up Steve’s dick, presses his thumb to the head and feels Steve’s hips jerk. “As soon as I know what you want me to be getting on with.”

Steve groans as Tony toys with his head of his dick, teasing it between his fingers. “Stop treating me like some sort of damn virgin,” he manages to say, though his voice is catching in the best possible way, struggling to get the words out evenly.

“I’m being considerate,” Tony shoots back. 

“Consider the fact I was ready to have sex on the kitchen counter,” Steve says, sounding strained. “Tony.

Lowering his head, Tony bites gently at Steve’s collarbones, soothing the faint mark left with his tongue. “I just want to be clear-”

Steve makes a noise like a growl, shoves Tony back with his hands on his shoulders, then lies back and spreads his legs. Spreads his fucking legs. Tony’s brain promptly turns off all over again and Steve is staring at him defiantly and his cheeks are going a blotchy pink and he’s just lying there with his feet on the mattress and his thighs as far apart as they’ll probably go. Fuck, when Steve Rogers goes for something, he goes for it.

“Clear enough?” he demands, and Tony finds himself nodding.

“Yep, twenty-twenty clear,” he breathes, and shoves Steve’s hands off his shoulders and leans back in to catch his mouth, kissing the breath from his lungs. He pulls back, leaving Steve looking dazed, and Tony grins and takes advantage of Steve’s momentary incapacitation to reach over and snag the lube out of his dresser. It’s a good job he’s not a super-villain really, if he can take out Captain America’s full mental faculties with nothing more than foreplay.

 A hand skates up his side, touch feather light, and he shivers, moving back to kneel between Steve’s thighs, still spread from his earlier show. Leaning over, he presses a kiss to Steve’s chest and feels strong fingers thread into his hair, and when he looks up Steve is smiling breathlessly down at him, mouth slightly open and eyes dark and hungry. He could make a smug comment here, tell Steve he’s in for the ride of his life, but he doesn’t. He’s still so hyperaware of the emotions flying around after his fuck-up today, and he’s not going to do anything which will cheapen the moment or make Steve think he doesn’t mean this. He leans down further, presses another kiss to Steve’s stomach, feels the muscles jump as they tense and relax. He kisses lower and lower and he can feel Steve trembling, his fingers flexing involuntarily in Tony’s hair. Well, if he’s that responsive just from Tony’s mouth on his abs, he’s in for a treat in the next ten seconds.

The cry that Steve lets out when Tony abruptly leans down and licks a wide sloppy stripe up his shaft is one of the best thing’s Tony’s ever heard.  He does it again and Steve grunts, deep in his chest, fingers gripping tighter onto Tony’s hair, and then gasps when Tony closes his mouth around the head of his dick, sucking gently.

“Fuck,” Steve bites out, and one hand leaves Tony’s hair and Tony looks up to see he’s thrown his forearm over his eyes, head tipped back into the pillow. Tony chooses to assume that it’s because the sight and the sensations are too much to handle. Fine by me, Tony thinks as he reaches for the lube and flicks the cap off. There’s about to be a whole new level of sensation to deal with, after all.

The noise Steve makes when Tony slides a finger into him is a groan that sounds oddly relieved. Tony presses a kiss to the head of his dick and slowly crawls up Steve’s prone form, hand still playing between Steve’s legs as he bites against the underside of his jaw.

“Alright?” he murmurs, and Steve nods sharply, breathing harshly through his nose. He doesn’t move his arm away from his eyes, though, and again Tony wishes he knew if Steve had done this before or not. It's not like he'd be inconsiderate if Steve had done it before, but still. Some frame of reference would be comforting, because frankly he has a lot riding on Steve enjoying this.

“There you go,” he whispers as he slips another finger into Steve’s clinging heat, feeling Steve’s body jerk against his. “God, you’re gorgeous like this.” He twists his fingers and Steve’s whole body surges against his, shifting like he can’t decide if he wants to move away from Tony’s fingers or press down against them.

He pulls his fingers free and blindly feels his way across the covers again as he searches for the lube. One of Steve’s thighs creeps up around his waist again and they’re kissing like they’ll never get another chance. Tony hurriedly slicks himself up and then he’s got a hand on Steve’s leg and one on his own dick as he shifts his hips forwards, guiding himself into Steve’s body.

Steve shudders beneath him, and Tony lets go of his leg and reaches up, taking Steve’s hands in his and pressing them down into the pillows either side of his head. He kisses along Steve’s jaw as he rolls his hips forwards, once, twice, groaning as Steve’s body gives way, the tension turning loose and easy. Steve lies back and allows Tony to take control, and Tony swears that that’s almost as much of a turn on as the actual sex. 

It’s warm and deep, and Tony’s actually beginning to really see the appeal in slow, close sex like this when Steve grunts, lifting his heel up to press firmly into the small of Tony’s back, and Tony’s had enough sex in his lifetime to pick up on the wordless request. He lifts his torso up, still pressing down on Steve’s hands with his own, and abandons the deep rolling motions in favour of short, sharp thrusts that send Steve absolutely wild. He cries out and rocks his hips up into each thrust, and Tony is losing control of his breathing as he fucks into Steve harder and harder. Steve is holding back, Tony knows, but he can’t resist for ever, and sure enough Steve gives in and wrests one hand free from Tony’s grip to reach down and take himself in hand. Tony leans back and watches Steve press a palm the length of his dick, thumb pressed to the head, not stroking but simply applying pressure in all the right places.

“Go on,” Tony coaxes breathlessly, biting Steve’s lower lip and Steve’s whole body goes tense and each breath is a gasp and Tony is sure this is the hardest he’s ever dared fuck anyone and god, Steve is grabbing at every bit of Tony he can get his hands on. Tony grabs the wandering hands and shoves them back into the pillows and he thrusts forwards and finally Steve is coming, moaning obscenely and clenching his eyes tightly shut.

Tony fucks him through it, pressing his cheek to Steve’s and hearing the harsh rasp of Steve’s breathing in his ear, and shaking hands slide up his back and Steve pressing a trembling kiss to Tony’s earlobe and he’s done, coming with a gasp and grinding his hips forwards in tight desperate circles, whole body shaking.

When he can feel all of his extremities again, he’s aware he’s sprawled out on top of Steve, completely deadweight. Seeing as Steve is a super-solider, it probably doesn’t bother him at all, but still. Sexual etiquette dictates you at least try and not pass out whilst squashing someone. Muscles protesting, he groans and pulls back and out of Steve, not missing the strangled gasp Steve makes as he does, and then rolls over, flopping onto his back. His shoulder brushes Steve's, a glorious drag of warm sweaty skin against skin, a wonderful contrast to the cool of the untouched sheets beneath his back.

Panting, Tony looks over at Steve. Steve’s eyes are already on him, head turned to the side and chest heaving as he tries to get his breath back. 

“Sort my life out,” Tony manages to say. “Check.”

Steve chuckles breathlessly, throwing an arm up over his head, wiping his forehead on his forearm. “I don’t think that’s what Clint had in mind.”

Tony swats at Steve’s side with the back of his hand. “Puh-lease,” he says. “He’s a big boy, he knows what we would have opted for instead of talking about feelings.”

Rolling over, Steve props himself up on an elbow and splays his free hand over Tony’s stomach. He doesn’t speak straight away though, instead allowing them several long minutes to relax and get their breath back. His thumb strokes against Tony’s navel and Tony lets his eyes drift shut, content to let the touch and the peace and quiet soothe him. 

Finally, Steve breaks the silence, leaning over to gently kiss Tony before pulling back. “We didn’t do so bad with the talking,” he says. Tony lets his eyes wander over Steve’s chest and down his body, feeling a shiver go through him as he looks. His eyes flick back up to Steve’s face and he catches his serious expression, knowing that there’s something he wants to say.

“Go on, Rogers, before you hurt yourself,” he says, and Steve just looks at him flatly. Funny how that statement would have been enough to cause a horrendous argument a few weeks ago. Maybe he and Steve should have been sleeping together all along; they definitely seem to be able to deal better with the superficial shit now they’ve got this deep and meaningful emotion thing going on.

 “Whose idea was it to not tell me?” Steve asks softly, and Tony stills for a moment, before telling the truth.

“Mine,” he says. “Clint asked if we should tell you, and I said no." 

There’s a long, long pause and then Steve just nods, breathing out and shutting his eyes. “So I don’t need to have words with Clint?”

“No,” Tony says. “He didn’t – it was my bad call to not talk to you. He just wanted to go and shoot stuff. It wasn’t about you to him - he would have gone without me if he could have gotten away with it.”

Steve nods again. “Should probably go and talk to him,” he murmurs, and then breathes out heavily. “I am sorry, you know,” he says, eyes still closed. “For – for whatever I did that meant you didn’t trust me enough to tell me.”

Tony is torn between being heartbroken at the quiet honesty in Steve’s voice, and jumping up and dancing because that’s right, Steve Rogers just apologised to him. He actually said the word sorry in a meaningful context, directed at Tony because he feels he’s wronged him. Hallelujah, it’s a miracle. Tony opens his mouth to accept the apology like a normal functioning adult should do, but the words get mangled somewhere between his brain and his mouth.

“Did I just fuck an apology out of you?”

He anticipates the hit seconds before it lands, but it’s a half-assed backhand to his chest that doesn’t even hurt. He laughs and Steve rolls his eyes, throwing his arm up over his eyes. “I’m not saying it again.”

“Would you consider apologising for that time you punched me in the face?”

“Maybe you’ll have to fuck that one out of me later,” Steve says lazily, and Tony starts to laugh and laugh and he can’t stop.

“Moron,” Steve says without heat, and grabs Tony and hauls him close, so Tony is pressed up against his side, the force of his laughter almost enough to shake Steve as well.

“You,” he gasps, pressing his face into Steve’s chest. “Fuck, Steve. Never change.”

“You know me,” Steve says, wrapping an arm around Tony’s shoulders and turning his head to the side, nuzzling into the side of Tony’s neck. “Too stubborn to change.”

“Bullshit,” Tony says, letting his eyes drift shut as Steve presses a kiss to the underside of his chin. “You stick to your convictions, which is admirable in this day and age, it truly is. You just occasionally need someone to kick your ass and point out where the line between conviction and stubbornness is.”

Steve laughs at that, and traces his nose up the side of Tony’s face. “You gonna be the one kicking my ass?”

“Said I would didn’t I?” Tony replies easily, and Steve’s smile is small and quiet and full of something that makes Tony’s internal organs feel like they’re rearranging themselves in quite an oddly pleasant way. They both shift slightly, settling down into the covers with limbs wrapped together, lazy and warm and close. Tony can feel Steve’s heart thudding beneath his palm, and his mouth curves into a smile. Oh yes, he really does like Steve's new and improved atttude to touch; here in the privacy of the bedroom he's being downright handsy.

“So, what now?” Tony murmurs after long, long minutes of silence.

“Coffee, food and maybe a film? We haven’t exactly got much on our to-do list.”

“As usual,” Tony grouches. “I wonder if Fury has thought about what you said.”

“For now, I don’t care,” Steve replies, and then he eases away from Tony, swinging his legs around then sitting up and stretching, sheets bunched around his waist. Tony reaches out, tracing his fingers along the muscles of Steve’s back, just because he’s allowed and he can.

Steve turns his head and Tony catches the edge of a smile before Steve sighs contently and flops back again onto his back, hands thrown up above his head. He reaches down to scratch at his thigh, wrinkling his nose as he does.

“Scratch that,” he says. “Shower, coffee, food and film?”

Tony narrows his eyes. “Are you going to insist this is another sensible ‘getting clean’ event?”

Steve hums thoughtfully, tapping his fingers against his chin in mock-seriousness. “No. Not this time,” he says, grinning at Tony upside-down. “I think I’ve done enough being sensible lately.” 

“Oh, so that was you being sensible, I mistook it for you being a complete and utter grouch,” Tony replies, and laughs as Steve’s expression turns offended. “What? You were,” he says, sitting up and stretching his legs out, prodding at Steve with his toes. “Though with good reason,” he concedes, and Steve nods, features relaxing marginally.

“Make it up to me in the shower?” he suggests, and Tony can only grin and lean down to kiss him breathless in agreement.

 


 

“So. What do you think?” 

Steve looks away from the television for a moment, staring at Tony and looking very much like he wants to roll his eyes. “It’s fifteen minutes into the film.”

“And he’s already shot someone in the face, drowned someone else in a sink and smashed up a construction site,” Tony points out. “And look – look at that. The man is climbing a crane, Jesus. Look at him go.”

Steve grunts with laughter. “Sounds like my average Tuesday.”

“You are nowhere near as cool as James Bond,” Tony says dismissively, shifting down into the cushions of the lounger. “He’s not dosed up on superhero steroids. He’s just a guy. And not to mention he’s probably drunk. He’s the poster-boy for high-functioning alcoholism.”

Steve does roll his eyes at that. “Shut up and let me watch,” he says, wriggling around to get comfortable. He throws an arm up over the back of the sofa and slumps down, his knees spreading lazily. Tony’s pulse stutters because only two hours ago Steve was doing the exact same thing but in a slightly different context. The urge to make a joke about Steve spreading his legs is almost overwhelming, but he holds back, mainly because he doesn’t want to get decked and also because he’d like to keep having sex with Steve as much as possible, and winding him up about it so soon probably isn’t a great way to achieve that end.

“Hey, can you play poker?” he asks absent-mindedly, fingers dragging over the surface of the tablet. He flicks and twists the image – a new modification design for Clint’s quiver which will allow him to control the selection with verbal commands – and pulls up the measurement specs.

“What?”

“The film - it's all about James Bond playing poker. And no, don't look at me like that, I've not ruined it, you just watched the titles and you're not stupid, Rogers. If you couldn't work out the connection you don't deserve to be an Avenger."

"I worked that much out. But what has it got to do with whether I can play poker or not?"

"You’d make a great James Bond,” Tony says vaguely, taking a millimetre from one of the measurements and watching the image twist and change accordingly. “I might dress you in a tux and get you to play poker.”

“Oh, I’m sorry that Captain America isn’t enough for you,” Steve says. “I’ll call the White House, let them know I’m handing in the shield because Tony Stark would rather I was James Bond.”

“Like you would give up that shield,” Tony laughs. “And besides, I just said you’d make a great Bond. I never said that meant you weren’t the best Captain.”

“Flattery will get you nowhere,” Steve says, sounding amused. “Now shut up.”

“So. Poker?”

“Tony.”

“What? Just asking. Poker?”

“We ended up in a fistfight over a game of Go Fish, if you remember,” Steve says. “I am not playing poker with you.”

“That fight was entirely your fault for cheating. Please? Pretty please, Mon Capitan? I’ll even waive on the tux, you can play in blue spandex if you want-”

A pillow flies across from the sofa and hits him square in the face. He pushes it away, biting down on a laugh. Steve is looking straight at the television, but Tony can see the corner of his mouth twitching in a smile.

Feeling oddly content in a way he hasn’t in a long time, Tony opts for shutting up so Steve can continue to watch the film. He’s not that bothered about it to be honest; he’d rather play around with some new designs and occasionally steal glances of Steve. By the time James Bond is merrily smashing his way through an international airport, Steve is slumped so far down the sofa he looks like he’s melted into the damn thing. As Tony watches, he yawns wide enough to make his jaw audibly click, scratching at his stomach just below his bellybutton. It makes Tony’s chest feel all strange and tight, alongside the urge to go over and put his mouth on Steve right now.

“Next time there are aliens, I’m staying at home. Shit, that slime was disgusting.

Tony and Steve simultaneously twist around as Clint’s voice comes from the doorway. Tony raises a brow and watches as Clint walks in, looking somewhere between relieved and irritated. He’s swearing a pair of baggy sweatpants and no shirt, a towel slung over his shoulders and damp hair sticking up every which way.

Tony hums in agreement. “Tell me about it.”

“You were wearing a suit of armour,” Clint replies grumpily, heading over to the coffee machine and grabbing a mug. He leans back against the counter as he waits, and when Tony glances over again he sees that Clint is staring at him with narrowed eyes. 

“What?”

“Nothing,” he says, and then he looks from Tony to Steve and then back again.

Glancing over at Steve, Tony sees him looking equally as nonplussed. Tony spreads his hands apart in his best approximation of ‘what the fuck is his problem?’ and Steve just shrugs and turns back to the film.

Clint behaves himself for a whole two and a half minutes, and then Tony jerks as something hits him on the end of his nose. He raises a hand instinctively, and then after a pause in which no more projectiles hit him, he looks down to see a dry pasta shell caught in a fold of his shirt. With a scowl, he looks up to see Clint ready to flick another one across the room.

What happened?!” Clint mouths, dropping the pasta shell and looking nonplussed. He points at Steve, and Tony glances over; Steve is still thoroughly engrossed in the film and as such hasn’t noticed Clint being a prick.

Tony sends Clint a mildly annoyed ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about,’ face and Clint smacks a palm to his face.

“Why,” he mouths, signing the word as well, and Tony has no idea why or how Clint knows sign language. “Are you two,” he continues, with the appropriate hand signals. “Not fucking?” 

The last hand gesture is one that is definitely not official sign language, and one that Clint probably wouldn’t dare do if Natasha was close enough to grab him. Tony rolls his eyes and throws the pasta back. Inevitably, it misses and Steve notices as it skitters across the counter, looking up with a frown.

“What’s up?” he asks suspiciously, and his eyes dart back to the television as if he can’t bear to miss anything, and hah, Tony knew he’d love it.

“Nothing,” Clint says, and he looks oddly disappointed. “Just thought – I don’t know. You’d sorted stuff out.”

“We have,” Tony replies easily, and the look Clint sends back is downright sceptical.

“Huh. Sure.”

“We have,” Tony repeats.

“Yeah,” Clint replies, clearly disbelieving. “So that explains the sitting eight feet apart and refusing to look at each other thing, right?”

“Oh, for Christ’s sake. Steve, watch out. Incoming PDA at Barton’s request,” Tony says, and pushes himself up out of the lounger. He steps over the coffee table and to the sofa, and promptly climbs up onto Steve’s lap, knees on either side of his thighs. Steve’s hands move reflexively to Tony’s hips even as he opens his mouth to protest, and Tony leans down and kisses him square on the mouth, lingering for a long second before pulling back. “There. Happy now, Barton? We are now acting like fifteen year olds, which is probably where your mental age is, anyway.”

“What?” Steve asks, confused, and he reaches up and pushes Tony’s head to the side. “You’re in the way of the film.”

“Clint wants us acting like love-struck teenagers to prove we sorted our shit out,” Tony says matter-of-flatly, ignoring Clint’s protests in the background. “He thinks you need to be physically attached to someone to show there’s anything there-”

“That is not true,” Clint says, exasperated. “If it were true then Nat would have brutally dismembered me for being clingy. I just meant – you looked like you were just – oh, I don’t know. You two have been eye-fucking for weeks, I expected…more. I don’t know.”

“Duly noted,” Steve says distractedly, and then he promptly shoves Tony to the side so he can still see the film. Tony ends up half sprawled over him, leant on the arm of the sofa with one leg thrown over Steve’s and the other tucked up next to his hip. Tony’s about to get up and move when a hand settles on his thigh, thumb gently stroking the material of his sweatpants. He pauses and looks at Steve for a long moment, but Steve just carries on watching the film, his palm a warm solid presence on Tony’s leg.

Warmth blooms in his chest, and he fights back a smile.

“I regret ever saying anything,” Clint says after a moment of silence. “Captain America is snuggling. I won’t be able to take you seriously ever again. I think I prefer you angsty and full of manly pain.”

“You think this counts as snuggling? Tony asks with a grin. “You poor traumatised soul. I’ll have to have words with Nat for you.”

“You try it and I’ll shoot you,” Clint replies cheerfully. “You two lovebirds want coffee?”

Steve says “yes,” and Tony opts for “fuck off and yes.” Clint just laughs and when Tony looks over, he’s stood by the coffee machine watching them carefully, and this time he doesn’t pull faces or throw food or anything else stupid, he just quirks his mouth in a smile and nods.

Tony nods back, and that’s that.

He doesn’t imagine telling Natasha, Bruce or Fury will be even a fraction as simple. He’ll happily tell Thor though; he’ll just probably just be thrilled and propose a toast in the name of the glory of man-love or something.

“So,” Clint says, walking over with three mugs of coffee clamped precariously in-between his hands. Steve reaches out to take two from him, carefully passing one to Tony. Clint clambers up onto other end of the sofa, sitting on the back with his feet pressed into the cushions. He stares down at his drink and when he speaks, his voice is too casual, which immediately gives away his apprehensions. “Do I have to snuggle with you to be forgiven for today as well?”

Tony’s mind immediately provides him with a memory of him and Steve actually partaking in something that could be labelled as snuggling – in bed and completely naked – and he chokes on his sip of coffee, sitting up and coughing, eyes watering. Neck flushing red, Steve holds out a hand for Tony’s drink and Tony passes it over gratefully, thumping his chest above the arc reactor to try and get the coffee out of his lungs. Clint looks nonplussed for a moment and then comprehension dawns, and he groans, covering his eyes with his hand.

“I’m an idiot.”

“Little bit,” Steve agrees, and then he turns to look at Clint, clearing his throat and expression turning serious. “You don’t need forgiving,” he says bluntly. “You need to talk to us. You need to trust that we’re on your side and we’ll take what you’ve got to say seriously.”

Clint frowns at him. “You’re not pissed?”

“No,” Steve says simply. “I’m annoyed you went without me. But I understand why you did. It’s no fun feeling useless, it can make you make crazy decisions. I know that better than some people.”

Clint sits back a little, looking suspiciously at Steve for a moment before seeming to accept that he’s telling the truth. His shoulders relax at any rate, and his expression clears somewhat. He looks better than he has in a while, Tony suddenly thinks. Brighter eyes and more at ease in his own skin. He empathises all too well; nothing like a good fight and the forgiveness of Captain America to set you back to rights.

“Sir, Agent Coulson has entered the tower,” Jarvis says quietly. “Shall I let him up?" 

“Yeah, go for it,” Tony says. “Tell him that Captain America is on my side now, he’s not allowed to shoot me.”

“Message delivered,” Jarvis replies smoothly, and Steve sends him an exasperated look. Tony just shrugs.

“What? If anyone had the right to shoot me it was you, and you passed, opportunity lost.”

Clint snorts and raises his mug in a salute. “Here’s to you,” he says to Steve. “You’re quite clearly insane. I thought I picked difficult people to date.”

“I’m offended,” Tony remarks, though he’s not really. He and Steve have already had this conversation after all, and it’s Steve’s opinion that he cares about.  

Glancing over, he spots his tablet left on the lounger, and remembers what he was working on before Clint rudely interrupted.  Without pause, he gets up off the sofa and wanders back to the lounger, slumping down whilst keeping his coffee perfectly balanced and grabbing the tablet again. Steve doesn’t object or even look away from the movie, and Tony actually finds himself grateful; Steve has shown that he’ll drag Tony’s ass out of the workshop if he’s been working for too long, but the fact he’s not bothered about Tony constantly working is a bonus that Tony will certainly do his damnest not to under-appreciate.

There’s a soft swish as the elevator doors open, and Tony glances up to see Phil walking in, smiling. He frowns, immediately on guard, because he’s come to associate that particular pleased expression with Phil knowing something everyone else doesn’t, or people imminently being tazed.

He feels a rather strong urge to go and sit back next to Steve.

“Gentlemen,” Phil says, and Clint pulls a face at the phrasing, mouthing ‘gentlemen’ at Tony with an exaggerated roll of his eyes.

“Here to tell us off some more?” Tony asks, and Coulson just smiles some more.

“No, actually,” he says. “Are you all okay?”

“Tip-top,” Clint says promptly.

“Excuse me, but last time you said that you’d been shot, so forgive me for not trusting your judgement even slightly,” Coulson says frankly, and turns away from Clint’s wounded expression. “Captain?”

“We’re all fine,” Steve says. “No major injuries.”

Coulson nods. “Good,” he says. “You’re going out again.”

Clint whips around so fast Tony’s neck twinges in sympathy. Steve sits up, twisting over the back of the sofa to watch as Phil walks over, an electronic tablet file in his hand. Tony stares at him, mouth hanging open.

What? A few hours ago we were all suspended.”

“And now you’re not,” Coulson says. “I spoke to Fury. Assured him that Captain Rogers was indeed deadly serious when he threatened to quit. He’s currently got a team looking at proposals for the Avengers to be separated from SHIELD, just as you suggested. Meanwhile, your suspension, Stark, hasn’t been put into the system. ”

Tony laughs delightedly and Steve throws him a grin. Clint whoops and punches the air. “Phil, you legend!”

“He’s also got a team checking over the fraternization policies,” Phil adds, looking pointedly at Tony, and Tony just shrugs.

“If he’s separating us from SHIELD, their fraternization policies don’t count.”

Steve snorts with laughter, and Phil turns to him. “Captain, we’ve got a situation happening in Louisiana. If you think the team is up for it, we’d like to send you as soon as possible.”

Steve sobers up, looking at Phil warily. “Me, or the team?”

“The team,” Phil confirms, and Tony has to resist the urge to dance. He doesn’t care that he’s only just got back from London, doesn’t care at all because it looks like he’ll be suiting up again and this time he'll be suiting up alongside Steve, and the whole team can get back on ass-kicking, world-saving form.

“What about me?” Clint demands, climbing off the back of the sofa and putting his mug down. “Am I still suspended?”

“No,” Coulson says, and Clint’s eyes go wide. “You are reinstated. On the conditions that one, I accompany you as a SHIELD authorised handler, two, you formally accept and declare Captain Rogers as your CO and follow his orders, and three, you promise to behave yourself.”

“Done,” Clint says immediately, looking from Phil to Steve to Tony then back again. “Ten times over done.”

“It’s only temporary,” Phil adds. “Six months, and then if you’ve behaved you’ll be off probation.”

Clint’s mouth works for a moment, looking temporarily lost for words. Only temporarily, though. “I could kiss you,” he announces, and marches towards Coulson. “Phil Coulson, I could kiss your face right now.”

Coulson raises an eyebrow and holds out a hand in a stop gesture. “Barton, don’t you dare,” he says, voice full of warning. “Agent Barton, stand down – Clint!-”

Tony is laughing hard enough to burst something as Clint grabs Coulson’s head in his hands and kisses him square on the mouth. “I love you, you wonderful undead bastard,” Clint beams, and then darts away before Coulson can grab hold of him and kill him.

“I am regretting this already,” Coulson shouts after him, and they can hear Clint cackling with laughter as he runs away and up the stairs. He then turns to Steve and Tony, looking put out. “That never happened,” he says firmly, and Steve nods solemnly and Tony does his best to not burst a gut from holding his laughter in. 

“So,” Coulson says, and holds out the file. Tony sobers up marginally, because file equals mission and he’s so hungry to get his hands on it, because this time it’s all of them going together, as it should be. “Your mission, should you choose to accept it.”

Tony snorts with laughter, and then looks at Steve who is predictably looking blank. “Jesus, Phil,” Tony says, standing up and snagging the tablet. “We just get him up to date with James Bond and you throw something new at him. Give the old guy time to acclimatise.”

“The old guy is very well acclimatised, thanks,” Steve says from right behind him, and Tony makes a noise of protest as the file is whipped out of his hand.  “Do I need to know?”

“Of course you need to know,” Tony says, and makes to snatch the file back but isn’t quick enough; Steve turns smartly on his heel, eyes still glued to the tablet. “It’s Mission Impossible. Half my jokes about SHIELD are based around that franchise.”

“Good job I don’t listen to half your jokes then,” Steve says vaguely, and then looks up at Phil. “This looks nasty. We can go straight away?”

“Black Widow is scheduled to pick you up at fifteen hundred hours,” Phil smiles, and nods at Steve. “Avengers.”

He turns and leaves, and Steve is still grinning as he tosses the file over to Tony. “Put on the suit,” he says, a wicked glint in his eye and Tony grins right back at him, stepping up and slipping a hand onto Steve’s neck and pulling him in for a kiss. He leans back, eyes flickering over Steve’s face and as Steve smiles back, he finally feels like everything just might be alright.

“Captain, I thought you’d never ask.”