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Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree

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Stars, falling. Little points of light slipping through the air and losing themselves against the cold concrete below. Tony didn’t even notice their demise, his whole world narrowed to the brilliant light of the welding torch and the material beneath its flame. Smooth curves of metal coming together, warm under his leather work gloves. It was a moment of perfect beauty. Tony always found his mind wandering at times like this, his hands working of their accord through long years of experience. Muscle memory.

Warmth against his face, along his body. Dancing stars. A memory conjured, of warm muscle against him, distant through the Iron Man armour yet still driving heat through his body where they touched. At the edges of his vision, a star that somehow never dimmed, despite the mud and the blood and the tears that they fought through. Steve, all strength and determination, solid against his side. Then the metal scenery changed and now Steve was laid out below him, light trailing across every delicious curve of his naked body. Steve, looking up at him, challenging and enticing him at the same time. Steve, spread out with Tony kneeling between his thighs and hands everywhere. Steve, crying out and clutching Tony closer, deeper.

Tony revelled in the extra surge of heat the thoughts ignited, the ghost of proximity that could set his blood racing. He could almost smell Steve, that combination of sweat, leather and something undefinable. Tony inhaled deeply. Yes, he could almost smell him, under the acrid tang of the solder. He felt the warmth travel down past his stomach and pool in his groin; his cock twitched in appreciation. And that really was pushing the boundaries of being distracted around heavy machinery, Tony thought with sudden clarity. He cut the gas to the acetylene torch and pulled off the welding mask. He stood up off the low stool he’d been perched on, stretching the ache out of his shoulders. The fingertip of one of the leather gloves placed between his teeth and he pulled it off, patting at the burns on his wife-beater with his free hand as he turned around. And froze

Steve

The blond was perched casually on the bench behind Tony, looking almost like a schoolboy with his legs dangling over the side. He smiled sheepishly at Tony and slid off the bench on in one smooth move, landing lightly like a cat.

“Sorry, I let myself in but you were busy,” Steve said. “I didn’t want to disturb you

Tony still had the glove between his teeth.

“I can go if you-“ Steve continued.

“No!” Tony let the glove drop, catching it without looking. “It’s fine.” He turned away, feigning nonchalance. “What brings you down to the depths of Stark Tower

Steve rolled his shoulders in a shrug. “Just wanted to see what you were up to.”

Tony busied himself tidying his welding gear away, hoping is state of semi-arousal wasn’t too obvious. Damn the super soldier serum.

“Also, Logan’s watching hockey again.”

Tony sucked in a breath though his teeth, almost wincing. “I need to start charging him for property damage.”

Steve smirked, then turned his attention to the pile of metal behind Tony. “What are you working on?”

“Oh, same old, same old

Steve walked up to the barely constructed lump, its lines barely reminiscent of the Iron Man torso, and reached out a hand

“Careful. Hot,” Tony warned.

Steve barely brushed his fingers against the metal, then again more firmly. He spread his fingers against the smooth surface of the curved torso piece and slid his hand downwards. Tony watched, mesmerised, almost feeling the ghost of the touch against his own chest.

“Looks good,” Steve murmured.

Tony’s eyes were wide, following Steve’s every move as the man unselfconsciously studied Tony’s work. He felt the heat start to swell again, and cock was getting more interested by the second. A cold, tingle ran over every naked inch of skin and with a start Tony looked away, clearing his throat.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt you,” Steve said, stepping back from the armour in progress. “I just wanted to… never mind

“It’s fine,” Tony said quickly, but couldn’t bring himself to look Steve in the face. “You don’t have to-“

“I’ll-“

“go,”they both said at the same time. Tony almost thought he saw Steve start to blush, out of the corner of his eye.

“I think everyone’s ordering pizza in a bit. You gonna join us?” Steve asked.

“Yeah, sure.” Tony waved a hand absently at the invitation. “Buzz me when it arrives

Steve nodded silently and headed for the door when Tony didn’t look up at him again. Tony felt him leave, the ghost warmth ebbing away as Steve left the room. When he heard the door seal shut with a hiss Tony exhaled slowly and ran a sweaty hand through his hair. “Smooth, Stark,” he muttered. How was it that he could chairm an entire boardroom, but one blond, lumbering oaf could reduce him to an inept bundle of nerves. Tony leaned back against the work bench, enjoying the way the position pulled cramped muscles. He really needed to do something about this. Trust him to fall head over heels for the most heterosexual man on the planet

---

“Why do we never get to fight the fun villains?” Spider-Man yelled as he was thrown against the wall yet again.

“What the hell is a fun villain?” Spider-Woman asked, ducking a whiplash tentacle that destroyed the car behind her. The monster, some kind of giant, angry octopus, screeched at them, tiny beak gnashing angrily.

“You don’ think this is fun?” Luke Cage grinned, grabbing hold of two tentacles and hurling the creature to the ground for the fifth time in as many minutes.

“Stay focused, people!” Captain America roared, leaping over the crushed car to sever a flailing tentacle with the edge of his shield. The severed appendage flopped uselessly against the road before falling still, but Cap had already moved on to the next one.

Spider-Man swung in from above, webbing another two tentacles together, and Wolverine was clawing his way them from the opposite direction. Moments later, the giant cephalopod was sent crashing to the ground with a wet splat. It released a high pitched squeal and flailed the stumps of its tentacles. Luke was systematically punching the creature into submission, working his way towards its eyes. Spider-Woman was helping, holding the octopus down with her strength. Just as they reached one eye, the other bust outwards in a shower of gelatinous ooze.

“Oh, gross,” Spider-Woman flinched, flicking the clear muck off her arms.

A supersonic boom finally announced the source of the explosion, as Iron Man soared in the sky above them

“Good work, team!” Cap said enthusiastically. “S.H.I.E.L.D’s been called in to come clean up this mess. Head back and we’ll debriefing in twenty.” His last sentence was met with a chorus of groans, sighs and moans, but Steve ignored them, as always. When Iron Man landed next to him he was trying to wipe most of the octopoid ooze off his shield with a discarded newspaper.

“Sorry I was late,” Tony said as soon as the faceplate retracted.

Steve shrugged, scales in his armour shirt clinking together. “No problem. You said you had investor meetings this morning. Thanks for the save.”

Tony grinned. “Any idea who sent this delight to the good people of New York?”

“Not yet, but we’ll find out who

“Because, y’know, the irony of a giant octopus attacking during my meeting with my Japanese investors is not lost on me.”

Steve shook his head with a wry smile. “Maybe I should investigate your labs for crimes against seafood?”

“I categorically deny everything,” Tony said, straight faced.

Steve laughed anyway.

“Anyway,” Tony continued. “I’ve been thinking. You’ve seemed at a bit of a loose end lately...”

Steve shrugged again, casually. “I guess I have, yeah.” He went to run a hand over the back of his head, but saw the gunk sticking to his glove at the last minute and winced, dropping the hand back to his side.

“So, I’ve got this thing tonight at the Lincoln Center and I wondered if-“

“Yeah, sure,” Steve interrupted. “I’d like that.”

“Good! It’d be good for you – get out of the Tower, meet some people. Maybe we could even find you a girlfriend.”

“Uh… yeah.”

Tony slapped an armoured hand against Steve’s shoulder. “Excellent. Dress up. I’ll see you tonight.” He turned and walked away, heavy boots crunching rubble underfoot.

This could actually work. Steve needed someone in his life. Hell, if the man was resorting to hanging around Tony Stark for company, he was in dire need. Tony liked to think he could sometimes qualify as a decent friend, and friends helped each other out, right? So Tony would find Steve a nice girl, and Steve would be happy. And taken. And then Tony could put this obsession aside, and get on with his life.

---

“And this… is Tiffany.” As Tony finished the introduction, he pressed Tiffany’s well manicured fingers into Steve’s large hand, watching his friend’s eyes widen. Tony smiled smugly; Tiffany’s rather impressive boob job probably cost more than Steve’s first apartment. And that didn’t even cover the mass of diamonds dripping from her throat. She’d turned on the charm, gazing up at Steve through her lashes and was she…? Yeah, she was totally sucking her stomach in.

“Well, I’ll let you kids get to know each other,” Tony added, but neither of the pair turned to look at him. He turned and immediately sought out a waiter bearing a drinks tray, plucking a flute of Champagne from the tray and downed half of it in one go. He resolutely did not look behind him to check on Steve. Tiffany was one of the ‘good’ girls of New York high society, a small and exclusive subset whose only defining factor was their disinclination to sleep with one Tony Stark. Which was exactly why Tony had chosen her to introduce to Steve. They’d make a good pair; beautiful, charming and nauseatingly moral. Good luck to them, Tony thought dryly, downing the rest of his Champagne.

Fingers trailed down his Armani suit and he turned to come eye to eye with a stunning woman, long brown hair set off by an emerald green dress.

“Hi,” Tony drawled with a fake smile, and she leaned forward to drop air kisses next to his cheeks. “How are you... darling?”

“Tara,” the woman correctly coolly, eyeing Tony up and down like he was a side of meat. “I missed you at the Gala last week.”

“I’m sure I missed you too, but I’m afraid I was in Dubai.”

“Funny,” Tara replied, tilting her head like a cat, “I’d heard you were in Marseilles

“That too,” Tony said. The artificial warmth of the conversation was rapidly plunging into Arctic territory.

Tony examined the perfectly proportioned face of his companion, weighing in comebacks and counter-comebacks for the conversation ahead. Then, inexplicably, decided he didn’t care. He didn’t have the time or inclination for this. Tony longed to be back in his workshop, grease staining his face and metal filings in his air. Steve would come in and laugh, rubbing them out of his hair like- ... No. Steve was across the room, talking to a woman who thought Glen Miller was a type of whiskey.

His shoulders dropped and he turned and walked away from Tara without another word. He could hear her last verbal barbs as he departed, but he didn’t take any notice. He was suddenly tired; utterly, achingly exhausted. And he had no one to blame but himself.

He found another tray of drinks and grabbed a glass of wine, nursing it close to his chest. Many people came up to him to discuss... something or other; Tony really couldn’t bring himself to pay attention. Eventually the crowd started to thin out and Tony finally felt that he could leave. He walked out of the Center without looking back, and was grateful to see Happy pull up just then with the car. Tony collapsed into the voluptuous back seat with a sigh, then jumped when the other door opened and Steve slid into the seat next to him.

“I hope you weren’t going to leave without me?” Steve asked, but it really didn’t sound like a question.

Tony just looked at him, eyes guarded.

Steve studied him in return. “What?”

“You’ve got lipstick on your collar,” Tony murmured.

“Oh.” Steve blushed furiously, rubbing at the stain with fumbling fingers.

Tony watched the skyline all the way back to the Tower

---

“That’s just not right,” Tony said, distaste stripped from his voice by the helmet’s modulator. Steve’s arm was solid across his shoulders, holding on tight as Iron Man hovered above the chaos below.

The dense New York streets below were deserted, save for the horde of hideous, little, orange men riding some sort of spotted warthog. They were smashing everything in sight with maces and screaming excitedly in a guttural language. Tony thought that this was possibly out of the Avenger’s scope of heroics, but it had been four days since the team had seen any real action and Thor was hefting Molinjor appreciatively.

Steve took a deep breath, but before he could even give his customary order into battle, Luke Cage leaped off the rooftop beside them with a loud whoop, and Thor followed a half second later.

“Well, this won’t last long,” Steve mused quietly.

Tony just nodded, then reduced the power to his jet boots and they descended into the carnage

Steve had been right. Less than fifteen minutes later they were standing around in front of the remains of a Starbucks, Thor picking broken glass out of his hair. Spider-Man was salvaging the occasional still-upright beverages with glee as Steve eyed him critically.

“What?” Peter said. “It’s not like anyone’s gonna come back for ‘em.”

Steve didn’t say anything.

“I was up all night marking papers! You’re lucky I still have the will to live.”

“I was not aware that coffee was sold by the gallon,” Thor mused.

Peter shrugged, and Steve finally turned that impressive frown somewhere else.

Tony picked up a cup and stared at the contents contemplatively. “This is coffee? I thought it was liquid despair.”

Peter spat his mouthful of coffee all over a small, plastic table setting. Thor looked confused while Steve just rolled his eyes and their antics. Then Luke finally appeared from around a corner and Steve gave the command to move out. Thor grabbed a protesting Cage by the back of his shirt and shot off into the sky, Spider-Man webbing behind them. Before they’d even disappeared from sight Tony felt Steve’s arms across his shoulders again, in their customary flight hold. He slipped his arm around Steve’s waist and gently launched them skywards.

It felt awkward, being so close and yet so removed from the handsome man in his arms. Tony wanted to feel him, really feel him, so warm and close. The longing grew stronger to an almost physical presence. It burned and all Tony wanted to do was sate it. But that was impossible. Steve was Captain America, a man so astoundingly straight he could probably score a negative on the Kinsey scale. Tony winced to himself. This... This... camaraderie was probably the most he could ever get with Steve. He’d carry this forever, an ache like the scar tissue on his own chest.

But he couldn’t. Because that was no way to live, and Tony Stark had never been a man to be left standing. He’d find Steve someone to love, and then Tony could discard this and move on. And that would be fine. Really. He was used to hiding his scars.

He was cut off from his musings by a tap on the back of his helmet. Steve was saying something - his head was just under Tony’s helmet, a perfect position to hear Steve even over the rush of the wind.

“Wake up, Shell-head!” Steve yelled, but there was affection in his tone.

“What?” Tony said distractedly.

“I said, are you engaged tonight?”

The reply ‘but we haven’t even kissed yet’ flashed through Tony’s mind before he could even censor it. “What?” Tony repeated unhelpfully. He could almost feel Steve rolling his eyes at him.

“Do you have any plans?” Steve said, exasperation evident.

“Umm... yes. There’s a little do at the Hilton I’m sure I could get you in to. I think Monica said she’d be-”

“No, no,” Steve said hurriedly. “I thought maybe if you were around the Tower, we could watch a movie.”

“Ah,” Tony replied. The idea was strangely evocative; stretched out in the darkened room beside Steve, face lit only by the flickering of the TV screen. Quiet and secluded, and so very close. So very skin next to skin and.. oh no, that was the worst idea imaginable. There was no way Tony would survive such a situation without making a massive mistake and destroying everything.

Steve was looking at him expectantly; Tony could see him through the suit’s sensors. “Um, no. Sorry. Business hobnobbing and all that,” Tony replied weakly.

“Oh, alright then.” Steve said evenly, but Tony knew him well enough to hear his disappointment.

Tony sighed with relief, and was glad that Steve couldn’t see his face.

---

Steve went down like free pizza at the Annual Salvation Army Ball. Tony swore he could almost smell the wave of oestrogen that surrounded the man as soon as they walked in the door. Trust fund baby Kara had pulled Steve off into the shadows by his tie (Tony always suspected she’d inherited her father’s balls), but Steve had re-emerged, not that worse for wear, shortly later.

The man was impossible sometimes, Tony mused. He was sure Steve would have finally found someone at the Spring Gala the following week. There were more beautiful women there than Tony could count, and he was renowned for dealing with numbers. Steve had spent some time deep in conversation with a rather plain looking brunette (with some people there was no accounting for taste), and hadn’t even noticed when Tony had left shortly after midnight sporting a drunken stagger that was only partly a ruse. Tony was prepared to consider that night a success on the get-Steve-laid count, that was, until Steve came in not more than half an hour after Tony arrived home. He went straight to his room, and Tony didn’t see him again for the rest of the night.

---

That last incident had caused Tony to rethink his strategy. Almost a week later he tracked down Steve to a small conference room on the third floor. Steve hardly looked up at him as he entered, but Tony wasn’t fazed and took a seat across the table from him.

“Waiting for someone?” Tony asked innocently, looking around the blandly decorated room.

“No.” Steve’s voice was flat and cold. It contrasted sharply with the golden highlights the sun was trailing through his short hair. He had a large sketching pad balanced on his knees, and was staring out the floor-to-ceiling windows to the city beyond. “The light’s good in here, this time of the afternoon.”

“Oh,” Tony replied.

The room was very quiet, sepia stained by the setting sun.

“There’s this place I know on-“

“No,” Steve said sharply. “No. I don’t know what game you’re playing at, but I’ve had enough. I’m not some toy put here for your amusement.”

Tony just blinked at him. “You think this is all a game? I’m trying to help you!”

“I don’t see how being carted around town like a dog in a handbag is-”

“Steve, you’re not-“

“Just let me talk! Tony.” Steve exhaled deeply and ran a hand through his hair. Tony watched the movement; the way Steve’s plain t-shirt showed off every lean curve of his body. “Tony,” Steve started again. “I don’t know what you’re trying to do, dragging me to all those parties and introducing me to those plastic dames, but just leave it be now. I’ve had enough.”

“Steve, you don’t understand. I’m only trying to-“

“Don’t you dare. Don’t you dare lie to me,” Steve spat. “I’m not one of your board of investors. I know when you lie, and when you’re thinking about lying. I know you, Tony. I thought we were...” Steve sighed again, leaning back in his chair.

“I’m sorry,” Tony said, the unexpected sincerity in his voice making Steve turn and look at him. And Tony realised with a start that he was. He’d been bringing Steve discomfort in a vain attempt to alleviate his own. He should be a better man than that. Steve only deserved the best. “Look, I’ll make it up to you.”

“No, you don’t have to-“

“Please.” Tony was leaning across the table now, almost reaching out to Steve. “I want to. Trust me.”

Steve was looking right at him then, piercing blue eyes sorting through Tony’s soul. “I do,” he said quietly.

“Excellent.” Tony grinned. He had one more trick to play, one he’d been saving for the last. But this should work. Steve only deserved the best.

---

The look on Steve’s face was totally worth it. As soon as they’d walked into the lively bustle of the music hall his face had lit up. The dance floor was a riot of colour and fabric, overlaid with the smooth tones of the live quartet playing big band hits. For the first time in his adult life Tony experienced the awkward sensation of being recognised second when he entered a room, if at all. Steve was an immediate attraction, and Tony melted back into the crowd as Steve was swept off into dancing the continental and then a rather spirited shag (and learning the name of that nimble little dance almost made Tony’s night. Almost).

Tony had resigned himself to being a wallflower at this particular event and ended up standing at the back of the hall, checking his email on his Blackberry. People kept giving him strange looks, but he didn’t care. Tony was immensely pleased with himself – he’d known as soon as he’d heard of this 40s dance club that Steve would fit right in. He should’ve bought his friend here from the start, but some selfish part of himself had at least wanted to keep Steve in Tony’s world; socialising with the upper echelons of New York society. But, he had to admit to himself, this wasn’t so bad. The music was soothing and it was rather pleasant spending a night without having to consider merger details, business revenue or someone’s latest plastic surgery. Tony would have almost said he was enjoying himself when a pair of large hands wrapped themselves around his shoulders. Tony started, but the responding laugh was soothingly familiar and Tony turned to come face to face with Steve. Who was smiling. A lot.

“Tony, this is incredible.” Steve beamed at him.

Tony couldn’t help but smile back. “I’m glad you like it.”

“How did you even find-? It doesn’t matter. It’s wonderful, thank you.”

Tony’s grin widened. “My pleasure, Cap.”

Steve was still smiling at him, and Tony was starting to wonder if someone had slipped something into Steve’s drink. That is, if Steve did actually drink. Tony was just about to make a snide remark about it when Steve suddenly leaned down and kissed him on the lips.

Tony froze.

The kiss was warm, and soft, and gentle and skin on skin and so much better than Tony had ever imagined and hot and going straight down to his cock and ohmygodSteve no one had any business smelling that good and wow this man didn’t do anything by halves... and then he was gone. Steve was gone, leaning away from him and looking at him with some kind of horror and Tony realised he hadn’t even managed to respond to the most intense kiss he’d ever experienced (jesuschristSteve) and he seriously hadn’t just fucked that up, had he?

Fuck.

A moment later, Steve was gone, lost within the crowd. And Tony was standing there like the world’s most overpaid statue. He spent the next half an hour looking for Steve through the throng of people, and by the end of it he’d never hated the super solider serum more. Steve was nowhere to be found; he’d slipped away into the night without anyone seeing him leave. And Tony really, really, really needed to talk to him. Now. And maybe kiss him again. Definitely with the kissing

What a moron he was. He was going to get that printed on his next batch of business cards. Tony Stark: CEO Stark Industries, Billionaire, Super Hero, Moron.

How could he possibly have missed the fact that Steve was into him? They spent hours together and never once had Steve tried anything, or even hinted that he’d wanted to... But apparently he did want to. Wanted Tony enough to kiss him in front of a room full of people. Mr. Heternormative himself. Tony was almost shaking. He’d really screwed this up. But then, that’s what he did best when it came to things like this. The only surprising thing was that he was actually surprised he’d ruined this thing which had not yet even begun.

He tried calling Steve’s cell. And then his Avenger’s pager. And then sent him a few emails for good measure, not that Steve ever checked it. Tony knew; he was the one who had to go in and delete all the messages when the inbox got full.
In defeat, Tony went home, and Steve wasn’t there either. Tony set up the AI to notify him the moment Steve returned, then retired to his room. After three hours of lying on his bed and starting at the ceiling, Tony gave up and retreated to his workshop. He started pulling apart the rear stabiliser on his left boot – it was performing 17% below optimum output. He’d gotten most of the insulation off and was checking the connections and then suddenly the next thing he remembered was the AI alerting him that Steve was back and it was three hours since he’d last glanced at the clock. Tony was up immediately, catching the elevator up to the living quarters. He winced when the dawn sun hit his eyes as he walked through the empty living room, making a beeline for Steve’s door. It was shut, but Tony didn’t even bother to knock; he just overrode the code and barged right in. He’d spent the sleepless night rehearsing what he was going to say – how he’d apologise and explain and beg (yes, Tony Stark begging, but it was worth it, damnit) and they’d come to some kind of understanding and Tony could stop picking at this scab that Steve kept leaving on his heart.

But stuff like that only happened in the movies.

Steve was partway through undressing when Tony entered, in his shirt from that night and boxers and socks and fuck if that wasn’t the hottest thing ever. Tony wanted to paint that image. He wanted to write sonnets about it, and then he wanted to lay down and die because when did he turn into a fourteen year old girl?

Steve looked shocked for half a moment, then aghast and that really didn’t suit him. “Tony!” he yelled, holding out his arms, palm outwards, like he could hold off a determined Stark through will alone. Or, worse, like Tony was going to attack him. Actually...

Tony lurched forward and grabbed Steve by the front of his dress shirt, spinning him to slam him against the wall, and it was a sign of Steve’s good nature that he let all this happen.

“Tony,” he gasped again, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean-“

Tony shook him by his shirt collar and Steve fell silent. “You kissed me tonight,” Tony stated calmly, like he was commenting on the weather. But he was studying Steve’s face like he’d never seen it before.

Steve was submitting to his treatment in a way that was adorable and disconcerting at the same time. Tony let the moment drag, feeling the broad plane of Steve’s chest beneath his fists, the pound of Steve’s racing heart.

“I’m sorry. I thought that maybe you... That we... I’m sorry, Tony. Really-“

“Do it again,” Tony commanded, cutting off Steve’s heartfelt ramble.

Steve just looked at him for a long moment, then gasped “What?”

“I said,” Tony repeated, leaning his face in close and pushing his knee between Steve’s legs at the same time, “do it again.” Breathier this time, needier. Words whispered against Steve’s lips and followed by a questing tongue. “Kiss me again.”

Steve did.