Tony takes Steve’s shield once, early on, without asking.
Steve shows up an hour later, breathing hard, eyebrows set in a flat, furious line over his eyes.
The lab is sealed, because Tony doesn’t like interruptions, but Steve snarls, “Open the door, JARVIS,” and to Tony’s astonishment, JARVIS does just that.
"Hey!" he protests, as Steve storms inside.
"Give it back."
"Relax about it, would you? I borrowed it, I was going to give it back—"
"GIVE IT BACK, TONY."
Tony gets it into his hands and manages to lift it off the lab table and…that’s it, before Steve snatches it away from him. He immediately takes two large steps back from Tony, eyes raking over the surface of the shield, hands curled around the edges.
"It’s basically indestructible," Tony mutters and Steve turns a sharp look on him.
"It’s all I have. Don’t ever take it again without speaking to me first, understood?"
Tony actually feels bad, after what Steve said sinks in later.
He’s careful to give it a wide berth from then on.
Six months after they’ve started dating, Steve comes to him with the shield.
He’s had a long, hard week that included a dressing-down in front of the senate committee on live television for a call he made during an invasion in Washington D.C. the week previous, and another fight where he’d been pinned down in a burning, collapsing building. He’s damp from the shower, hair disheveled and dark circles ringing his eyes. “Tony, are you busy?” he asks, voice soft.
Tony looks up, setting aside the stylus in his hand. “Silly question. I’m always busy. But never too busy for you. What’s up?”
The shield is on Steve’s arm, held close to his body, and his free hand is touching the edge lightly, tenderly. The shield itself looks like hell. The paint is pretty much gone, just a few patches of blue and red lingering on the scratched and scuffed surface.
Steve swallows and shuffles, fingers curling more firmly around the edge of the shield. “Do you…can we fix her up? I…I feel like it makes her look like I don’t care, when I do. I do care.”
"I know you do," Tony says, because after the way they raked him across the coals, Tony’s guessing this isn’t so much about the shield as it is about Steve himself. "And, yeah, of course we can. Bring her over."
He has to do a few quick adjustments to the mechanisms that usually hold the suits for painting, and Steve stands close by while he works, cradling the shield and looking so beaten down Tony wants to lock him up and never let him out in public again. But Steve would balk, and the Rapunzel thing never really works out, especially not when you’re as famous as they are, so he keeps his vindictive thoughts to himself and preps the station.
"Okay," he says, when he’s finished and holds out his hands. "May I?"
His stomach actually does a tremulous little flip when Steve hands the shield over without hesitation. He stands there, holding it for a minute, remembering the first time he’d taken it and being so wildly fucking grateful that he’s done something right enough to make Steve put his trust in him now.
Steve stuffs his hands into his pockets with nothing left to do with them.
"Okay," Tony says, pulling himself together. "Let’s make her the belle of the ball again, huh?"
A hint of a smile pulls at the corners of Steve’s mouth and fades away.
Tony’s careful with the shield—even more careful than he would be with his own suit, because, all cards on the table, sometimes he gets a little rough with the suit, but this is Steve’s shield, the only thing that accompanied him seventy years into a strange and lonely future and it’s irreplaceable and more important than any of that, it matters to Steve.
"There we go," he says, when he’s got her in position. He steps back slowly, hands raised just in case he missed something and she somehow slips free. When it looks like she’s not going anywhere, he reaches out for Steve’s hand. Steve accepts and lets Tony lead him to the main desk. "Okay, J," he says to the room at large, "you know the look?"
"I do, Sir."
"Best work, for the captain, all right?"
S teve tenses as the mechanism moves, but the shield stays secure. Tony strokes the back of his hand with his thumb as he sits and taps out a few commands. “JARVIS is no Picasso, but he can paint straight lines and circles around anybody, any day of the week.”
That pulls another tiny smile out of Steve. “I’m sure he can.”
The shield is on its way back into place before their conversation is over. It flips around and Steve lets out a slow, silent sigh at the sight of the vivid, crisp lines of the star and stripes on a newly polished surface.
"Give it about ten minutes to set and she’s good to go."
"That was fast," Steve murmurs.
"I know you get separation anxiety," Tony says and leans his head into Steve’s stomach, enjoying the way the curves of the muscle feel against his face. They’re quiet for a minute and then Tony says, "Hey." He hesitates before he can get out the rest of the question.
Steve’s hand settles on the back of his neck. “What is it?”
"No, come on, it’s nothing," Tony mutters.
"It’s never nothing, Tony."
He sighs, because, okay, true. “I just wondered…if maybe you’d let me hold her?”
Steve bends forward and Tony feels his lips in his hair. “Okay,” he says quietly.
When the ten minutes are up, Tony asks Steve to hold her in place and then undoes the mechanism. Steve turns her over and runs his fingers reverently over the paint. “Almost smooth again,” he says.
"Yeah, vibranium’s kinda nifty that way, if you hit it with vibrations at the right frequency, the atoms just sort of, shimmy back into place. cool, huh?"
"It’s amazing," Steve says honestly, and then holds the shield out.
"Thank you," Tony says, looking him in the eye, and then, and only then, does he reach out and take it.
Even knowing that it’s lighter than it looks, the weight takes him by surprise. He threads his arm into the straps, heart beating quick at the base of his throat and he moves his arm, just taking in how it feels. He swings it up in front of himself the way he’s seen Steve do a hundred times and nearly brains himself with the top edge.
Steve makes a little coughing sound that was almost definitely a laugh. “Like this,” he says, and moves up behind Tony, curling his arm around to brace along the lower edge of Tony’s. “Your arms are smaller, so you need to hold on to the strap, close to the shield so you can keep it stable and make it go where you want it to, instead of knocking around.”
"Uh huh," Tony says and does, immediately feeling the difference in the way the shield handles.
"Now swing it up and around."
He does, Steve’s arm following right along with him, pecs up against his shoulder blades.
"Keep it closer," Steve tells him, and tugs at the loose end of the strap so the shield is just a few inches from Tony’s face. "The closer it is the better you can control it and the more shelter you have."
"What about throwing it?" Tony asks, and if he’s a little breathless, nobody has to know.
Steve huffs. “Best not to do it with the straps ‘round your arm.” He holds the shield while Tony slips free and then holds it out in front of them. “You can fling it with the strap, or you can hang on to the edges. It’s a little bit easier to aim if you throw it like a discus.”
"Like a frisbee."
"Or like a frisbee, sure."
"Can I?" Tony asks.
"You’re going to wreck your lab," Steve warns.
Tony shrugs one shoulder. “Whatever, nothing I can’t rebuild. show me how.”
"You’re smaller, so it’s going to be harder to do." Steve helps him maneuver the shield around so he’s holding the edge farthest away from him, his arm curled so that the shield goes up under his other arm—and thank god the thing is light or he’d never be able to throw it—and then demonstrates the wrist flicking motion with a mimed throw.
T ony imitates it and he doesn’t even have to release the shield, the momentum tears it right out of his fingers and it careens wildly across the lab, smashing the glass beakers sitting on the table farthest from them. “Holy shit!” he says, gleeful and feels Steve grinning as he presses his face into his hair.
"That was pretty good for a first try."
"Again?" Tony asks, eagerly, and Steve laughs, a welcome sound.
"Again," he agrees.