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Love in the Third Person

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Iron Man pulled Steve aside after the weekly Avengers' meeting, shutting them up in the monitor room and locking the door.

"Something wrong, Shellhead?" Steve asked. He had never realised how much someone in a suit of armour could fidget. He waited silently, hands behind his back, as Iron Man systematically checked the banks of monitors, and the lock again, before turning back to him.

"You're getting pretty serious about Mr Stark, aren't you?" Iron Man said at last. It didn't really sound like a question.

Steve frowned. Tony had wanted to keep their relationship to themselves, not even tell the team. When Steve had pointed out that yet another tall blond would hardly hurt Tony's reputation, Tony had replied that he wasn't worried about himself, and closed the topic. Steve wasn't going to outright lie to his friend though, no matter who he worked for. "I don't think that's any of your business," he said evenly.

Not faltering, Iron Man responded, "I'm Mr Stark's bodyguard: If I didn't know everything, he wouldn't be alive." Whoever was in the suit must have been about Steve's height, because, with the boots and helmet, Iron Man was formidably tall. He used that to his advantage now, stepping a little closer and looming.

Steve worked with the Norse God of Thunder; he simple tilted his head up and glared back. Oh, not another one, he thought, realising what the conversation must be about. "If this going to be a 'hurt him and you shall know pain, fear and death' lecture, I should warn you that I've already had one from Ms Potts." That woman couldn't be much over five foot four, without her heels, and was way scarier than either Iron Man or Thor ever could be.

Behind his mask, Iron Man blinked. "Did she?" he said. "Huh. She's never done that with anyone else Mr Stark's gone out with. So far as I know, anyway." The helmet twitched in a way that Steve had learned to associate with the man inside shaking his head slightly. "That wasn't it, though. Mr Stark can take care of himself."

Steve didn't think that was especially true, but didn't correct him. "So what is this about?" he asked.

Iron Man hesitated before saying, "I'm worried about you, Cap. I didn't realise how serious you were about Mr Stark. You hadn't been out of the ice for very long when you two got together, and I thought maybe you were just lonely and needed a warm bed."

Which had been at least a little true, at the time. For his part, Steve had worried that Tony had only wanted Captain America, but he'd seemed genuinely interested in Steve because he was... well, just because he was Steve. He'd drop by the Mansion or call from his business trips from four or five times a week. He claimed he was checking in on the Avengers, but he seemed to spend a lot more time talking about Steve's art or what movies he had to see to truly appreciate the modern world.

Once Steve had got a better handle on life in the future and made more friends, he'd realised that he wasn't spending so much time with Tony just because he needed someone. He honestly liked the man; he maybe even loved him. He certainly admired his resourcefulness and bravery, especially since he wasn't a warrior himself, and for all his suave charms and flitting about the globe, Steve could tell that he really cared about what Stark Enterprises did. Also, the sex was fantastic.

"Did Tony say he didn't want to be with me any more?" he asked quietly. He couldn't believe that Tony would break up with him via an employee, but maybe he'd said something to his friend that made him think their relationship was growing stale. God, what would he do if Tony wanted to move on to someone less stuck in the 1940s?

"What? No!" Iron Man shook his head violently enough this time that the movement fully carried over to the helmet. "Of course not. You're the best thing ever to happen to Mr Stark, and he knows it."

Steve sighed, relieved. "Then what's the problem?"

"You know Mr Stark's reputation," Iron Man said. Steve nodded. It would be difficult to live in the English-speaking world and not know Tony Stark's reputation. Tony had assured him that he hadn't slept with a quarter of the people the tabloids said he had, but even that still added up to quite a few. "He doesn't do stable long-term relationships," he continued. "When he tries, they go down in flames. You're one of my best friends, Cap; I don't want to see you to get hurt finding out exactly how screwed up Stark really is."

Steve, by now, had a pretty good inkling of how screwed up Tony was. In a heartbeat, the man could swing from supremely pushy and arrogant to self-loathing, with a special focus on never ever letting Steve see the scars that he claimed covered his chest and back. Steve had tried to convince him that he didn't mind a few scars, but had soon given up in favour of respecting Tony's privacy. Tony had a full legion of hangups in regards to privacy. "Thanks for the advice," Steve said coolly, "But I'm not giving up on Tony unless he gives up on me, and probably not even then."

He heard a puff of static as Iron Man sighed inside his suit. "That's the problem," he told Steve. "Mr Stark doesn't know how to give up on you. I've known him his whole life. Believe me when I tell you that he can be a selfish bastard when he wants something. He has to have it, even if he ends up destroying whatever, or whoever, it is in the process."

Steve folded his arms and glared. "Tony's a good man," he snapped, "I won't stand here and listen to you talk about him like that."

Iron Man held up his hands in a conciliating gesture. "Okay, Cap," he said, "but you can't say no one warned you."

Snorting in disgust, Steve hit the lock and stalked out of the monitor room. As he left, he felt Iron Man's eyes on him his back, and wondered again what was going on between Tony Stark and his bodyguard.