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It started out in jest. Something to entertain himself. Something to distract him from the demands of being king.

“You called for me, Your Majesty,” Steve said, leather creaking as he adjusted his sword and shield in order to go down to one knee. He waited for Tony’s permission to rise.

“So I did,” Tony said and tilted his head, eyeing the man before him. Although it was the middle of the night, he hadn’t been able to sleep, hadn’t been able to find rest for several nights as a matter of fact, grief and anger and the shackles of responsibility suffocating him and keeping him awake. He’d finally thrown the covers back and decided to use the time productively, summoning Steve to discuss supply lines in the north on the chance that neighboring kingdoms saw his father’s untimely demise as a chance to attack.

If there had been a small part of him that childishly looked forward to seeing Steve rumpled and disoriented from being pulled from his bed, vulnerable as he never was during the day, well, it was a king’s prerogative to act as he wished.

It should’ve come as no surprise, however, that Steve disappointed him, coming to him impeccably arranged, alert and composed. But then, Steve had always known how to get under his skin.

He and Steve hadn’t gotten along when his father was alive. Steve had never hidden the fact that he thought Tony should act in ways more befitting his station, and Tony had never approved of Steve’s disapproval. He got enough of that from his own father, and if His Most Royal Majesty hadn’t managed to change Tony’s behavior, Steve hadn’t had a chance in hell.

To make matters between them worse, however, Howard had been just as obvious in his admiration of Steve as he’d been in his criticism of Tony, and Tony’s resentment had spilled over onto Steve. He was capable of acknowledging the unfairness of it, even if he couldn’t stop it from happening, and he’d avoided Steve as much as he could to spare him, even if Steve had always managed to find a way to be close by, watching and waiting for him to screw up.

Avoidance was no longer an option, however, now that Steve was Captain of his Guard, and that meant that it was time to move past their history and act like the adults they were.

And he would. In a minute.

He looked down at Steve’s bowed head and appreciated the sight more than he should’ve perhaps, but surely he was allowed one last moment of pettiness, and having Steve wait on his pleasure was satisfying in a way he couldn’t deny.

“Rise,” he said at last, turning his back to him, lips twitching slightly at the annoyance Steve undoubtedly must feel, even if none of it would ever show on his face. It was a small victory, to be sure, but an enjoyable one nonetheless, made doubly so because he hadn’t had much to smile at recently.

His amusement faded, and Tony went to his desk, where the maps were already laid out. He had more important matters to focus on.

-----

Weeks went by before Tony had the need to call Steve to his chambers again. He was sleeping better, although it was still far from well, and he’d begun designing a new crossbow in his free time that would allow a man to shoot twice as fast as before.

For all that he’d used the weapon in the past, however, he wasn’t a soldier, and he wanted Steve to look at the plans before he built the first working model. Tony was loathe to admit it, but there was a reason that Steve had achieved the position of Captain at so young an age, and after spending hours upon hours in his presence in preparation for possible war, he was coming to value his advice.

He doubted there was anything that needed to be changed, but one thing his father had taught him was to measure twice and cut once, and it would only take a few minutes of his time to speak with Steve versus the hours necessary to craft the bow.

He hadn’t given any thought to the last time Steve had been to his rooms and what had occurred, but he thought of it then, when Steve went to one knee before him, his shoulders revealing a line of tension that Tony had never seen before. It kept him from uttering the, “Yes, yes, get up,” that had been on the tip of his tongue, and he stared down at Steve; blinked, but it was still there.

He hadn’t thought making Steve wait would actually bother him. Vex him, yes, that, of course, but did he really think Tony would use the privacy of his room to humiliate him? He hadn’t even kept him on the ground for very long, less than a minute in fact, less than half that. Just long enough to show that he could keep him there, but that had been all.

He should probably feel guilty that it had resulted in Steve believing he would abuse his power in such a way.

Again.

And he did somewhat. It hadn’t meant anything after all, and he probably wouldn’t have done it if he’d known the belated reaction it would garner.

Mostly, however, what he felt was irritation—that Steve would suspect him, that he obviously still believed Tony would act inappropriately if given half a chance, that they hadn’t moved beyond their ridiculous differences even though they worked together every day. Irritation and a perverse desire to give Steve a reason to be so paranoid.

He took the few steps necessary to close the distance between them, the bottom of his sleeping gown brushing against Steve’s left boot, and Steve’s shoulders stiffened even further.

He didn’t say anything as he stood over him, let his eyes wander around the room since Steve wasn’t allowed to raise his head and wouldn’t know anyway.

It was only when he noticed that he was coming up with ways to alter the soldiers’ armor to allow for more movement without sacrificing protection that he realized he’d let himself get distracted. He shook himself out of his reverie. He didn’t know how much time had passed, although it couldn’t have been more than a few minutes, but it was longer than he planned to let things go.

He glanced down, mouth tightening as he tried to come up with a way to apologize to Steve without actually apologizing—except Steve didn’t look angry. Admittedly, Tony couldn’t see his face, but the lines of his body weren’t radiating hostility, and if anything, he seemed almost . . . relaxed, his shoulders loose, the normally precise posture tilted forward in what Tony was almost tempted to call a lean. What was he . . . ?

Tony moved back slowly, keeping his eyes fixed on Steve, and saw the exact moment when Steve snapped back into himself, every muscle seeming to thrum with barely-contained energy, his shoulders hunching in . . . shame?

He wrenched his eyes away, not wanting to see it if it were true. He didn’t know why the idea of seeing Steve like that disturbed him so much, but it did, and Tony swallowed before saying, “Rise, my friend,” marvelling at how even his voice sounded, as if the past minutes hadn’t happened, as if calling Steve his friend was a commonplace occurrence. “I have something I wanted to show you that I need your help on.”

He heard nothing for a moment, and he looked back, only for Steve’s eyes to catch his, keeping him pinned. Tony tried to show calmness, tried to convey that he’d seen nothing untoward, but something must have given him away for Steve’s mouth twisted for an instant before he rose, and when he stood, he looked anywhere but at Tony.