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The Art of Diplomacy

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"I thought you'd be waiting for me with the others."

Tony half turned, twisting around to look up and back at Steve but not shifting away from his desk. Stubble had started to fill in his goatee, and it didn't look as though he'd combed his hair since Steve had left two weeks ago. "I was busy," he said, not sounding at all guilty. "We got a new contract right after you left, it's at a..." His brows twitched down, and a he studied Steve's expression. "I did monitor the portal when your delegation came back. Seemed like Reed had it; all this dimension hopping stuff is more his thing anyway."

Which was all perfectly logical, Steve had no reason to expect that Tony would be there to greet him like a soldier's wife standing on the pier. Somehow, telling himself that didn't lessen the biting disappointment of scanning the waiting faces as his own world faded back in, and not finding the man he loved among them. Tony didn't have to know that, however, especially not when Steve didn't even know how he would take the news. Now wasn't the time to seem needy and weak.

Closing the door behind him, Steve triggered the lock, then strode across the lab. He reached around Tony, taking his hands and spinning the chair to bring them face to face. Increasing the tension, he drew Tony to his feet, their joined hands pressed between their bodies. "So you didn't miss me at all?" he asked, nose barely an inch from Tony's.

"I didn't say that." Tony leaned forward just enough to lay a feathery kiss on Steve's lips.

"I missed you." He'd missed the smell of Tony's aftershave mixed with sweat and burnt circuitry. He'd missed the scratch of Tony's beard against his cheek, and other places. He'd missed the little pleading whimper Tony made when he pressed their hips together. "Especially this."

"Now that I think of it, I may have missed you too." Pulling their hands apart, Tony circled Steve's neck, then wrapped first one leg than the other around Steve's waist. Tony almost matched Steve and height, and though he was built along leaner lines, he still wasn't a light man, especially when he leaned back a little so he could grin down at Steve and ask, "Want to see how much?"

Steve put a hand on the back of the chair to catch his balance. It squeaked and rolled away under the desk. His breath caught as he felt himself sway past the point of recovery. Tony yelped right in his ear, and Steve nearly dropped him."Dammit!" he snapped, and tried to twist so he wouldn't flatten his boyfriend. A second later, he landed on his butt with a thud, damaging nothing past his dignity.

"Well," Tony said, wiggling in Steve's lap and loosening his death grip on his neck, "That saves us a step. Though I was hoping to at least make it to the cot in the back. You have no idea where this floor's been."

Laughing, Steve pulled Tony tight against him, burying his face in his neck. He gave himself a moment to feel the beat of Tony's heart, fast and strong even through Tony's t-shirt and Steve's uniform. Then he leaned back a little, met Tony's clear blue eyes, and said. "We need to talk."



"Run that by me again."

Steve studied Tony, trying to tell what he was thinking, but he was sitting straight in the chair, both feet flat on the floor, face as expressionless as a block of raw marble. "Which part?" he asked eventually.

"I don't know," Tony's hands clenched on the chair's arms, then relaxed. "Maybe all of it, just a quick overview."

"Fine." Which sounded a lot more petulant than Steve intended. It wasn't like he'd been expecting Tony to take this well, so why did he feel hurt now? He wanted to pull Tony out of the chair and into his arms like he had before, but he didn't feel sure that Tony would appreciate Steve touching him. "The Thallsians require two children of shared parentage to seal a major treaty with a potentially hostile tribe, one to be raised with each group. Since the male of the species carries to term, like a seahorse, and since Hank's size changing abilities would abort the foetus, I was it." He took a deep breath, and repeated, "I'm pregnant." The words seemed to get easier each time he said them.

Tony nodded to himself, eyes fixed on the fray in the knee of his work jeans. "So who's the mother?"

Steve wandered if it would be as easy as jealousy. "One of the other Ambassadors. Her name is Kashen, but I didn't..." he felt heat rising to his face. "It was all in a lab, Tony."

"Good to hear." It seemed as though he relaxed marginally, but Steve couldn't tell. "When are you due?"

Maybe it is that easy, Steve thought. "I'll need to go back to deliver in about eight months. Sue will want to go too, since she's the mother of the Thallsian child."

"Okay." Tony stood up and wrapped his arms around Steve's neck, pulling their bodies tightly together. He didn't move, not running his hands down Steve's spine or nuzzling his neck like he usually did. After a moment of this stiff embrace, Steve cautiously encircled Tony's waist and leaned in a little bit. He felt a slight tremble in Tony's hand as it rested on his shoulder blade, but no other movement.

They stood like that for several minutes, Steve's mind racing as to what Tony meant, but feeling too tongue tied to ask. Then Tony pressed his lips against Steve's neck and stepped back. "Do you want me to be a part of this?" he asked.

"I understand if you don't want to," he said, finding it impossible to still his expression to neutrality as Tony had. "But I... I hoped you would."

"Okay," Tony said again, a soft smile not quite hidden by his goatee.

"Okay." Something fluttered in Steve's stomach, and he thought of the little spark of new life growing there, before he realised it was just layers of tension unknotting themselves. "I'm so glad. I didn't want to do this by myself."

"So I guess that leaves one question," Tony said, reaching out to catch Steve's hand in his. "Your place or mine?"



"Is that it?"

He knew the answer, but Steve checked the label on the last crate anyway. It felt weird not to be lugging everything himself, or at least shelling out for pizza getting the Avengers to help. He'd had people for this kind of thing for more than a year now, and he still hadn't gotten used to it. "Should be."

Tony glanced down at the stack of belongings piled around the army footlocker, pitifully small in his cavernous living room, and looked like he wanted to ask if Steve was sure. "I guess after ninety years, you learn to travel light."

"I just move too much," Steve said, ignoring the crack about his age. "And someone blew up my house not too long ago. Again." Doctor Doom this time, or one of his agents. Steve was beginning to understand Nick Fury and his unauthorised wars.

"Remind me to upgrade the tower's shielding." Looking up, as though he could see through to the invisible layers of protection surrounding them, Tony started to tap his fingers against his leg. The prospect of a good engineering challenge had already begun to take over his attention. "Actually, the whole security system really needs a good overhaul. It's got to be six months old already, and I wasn't thinking of a baby when I designed the last one. I should..."

As Tony elaborated on the additional layers of security he planned to spin around the whole of Midtown, an image flitted through Steve's mind. In it, he was panting along behind Arnie as they wove between the dark-suited men crowding Grand Street. It had been Thanksgiving Day, and they'd just walked back from the Macy's Christmas Parade, but with Steve's lungs it had taken almost two hours, and now they'd be late for dinner if they didn't hurry. Arnie was laughing back at him, face flushed with perspiration and excitement, and right then, at twelve years old, Steve realised how much he wanted to kiss him.

Steve felt his tentative good mood starting to slide away as, for the thousandth time in three days, he wondered how the hell they were going to pull this off. Sometimes, he couldn't imagine why he'd wanted to have kids. The child of one of the world's few successfully engineered super soldiers would have to spend his or her life under guard as it was, and this one's parents were the world's "Top Cop" and a billionaire industrialist.

He wondered if Howard Stark, with his military connections and his millions, had let his son run wild through the streets. Probably not, or at least not without a couple of bodyguards dogging him. Steve tried to imagine it, and found himself smiling. As if Tony ever did what anyone told him.

Tony stopped mid sentence, and glared at him, dark brows bunching together. "What?"

"It'll keep." Punching Tony lightly on the shoulder, he said, "Are you going to help me unpack, or what?"



"Sure you don't want to come?"

"Yeah," Steve said, though he very, very much wanted to lead this mission. Intelligence said the target was most likely a Hydra base. Punching Hydra agents was his favourite. He let his eyes linger on his locker door. He thought of changing into his battle uniform and going with his team, just one last time, to feel that moment right before the fight, when his pounding heart as it seemed to slow and the world snapped into focus. Shaking his head, he looked away. "I've got to get off the horse someday, and anything that risks the pregnancy risks the treaty."

Sharon snapped the holster strap closed around her thigh and pulled it snug as she straightened. A lock of hair had fallen out of her braid, the tip brushing her cheek bone. She reached up and deftly wove it back in. "Is this going to a permanent thing? Or just until..." She faltered, corner of her lip twitching up, then rallied. "you're done being pregnant."

"We'll see how it plays out." Steve said. He'd gotten that look a lot in the past week, and Sharon especially seemed like she didn't know whether to laugh or cry half the time. "But I don't want to leave my kid without..." he stumbled over "without a father," then hit on, "with only one parent." The Thallsians had made it clear that if he were to die, the child would remain on Earth rather than going back to his or her mother. Steve couldn't imagine how Tony would handle being a single parent.

From the tightness in her expression, Sharon was thinking of the same thing. "That would be best." She turned towards her locker, one hand braced on the door, staring into the shadows.

Steve waited for a breath, then stepped forward, stopping just outside her space. "I'm sorry."

"No." Sharon turned, the action bringing them closer. "No, we've done this. No regrets and better as friends, right?"

"Right." She seemed too sincere, but Sharon had always been a master at putting on her best face.

"It's just..." She laughed, her eyes crinkling, and Steve knew then that it was no front. "Being your friend is really fucking weird sometimes, Steve."

He'd heard that a lot this last week too. "I hope you don't plan on using that kind of language around my child," he said.

Sharon's grin just got wider. "I'm not the one you should be worried about." Kicking her locker door closed, she leaned against it, arms folded under her breasts. "How's Tony taking all this, anyway?"

Steve ran a hand through his hair. "He uh... he seems to be nesting."

"Oh yeah?" She was clearly trying to sound neutral, but the edge of her mouth was beginning to curve up, no matter how stolidly she tried to suppress it.

"He just had half the penthouse renovated. We've been living in a construction zone for days." And that had been above and beyond the security stuff. "He hired a 'learning environment design consultant.'"

Which should have been Steve's ideal outcome, Tony throwing himself wholeheartedly into raising their child together, the way he did with any project he truly loved.

"You think he's trying too hard?" Sharon asked.

"Of course not." The defence rose automatically, then Steve remembered that this was Sharon and amended, "I don't know. Maybe."

Reaching out, Sharon wrapped her gun-calloused hand around his wrist. "Have you asked him?"

"No."

"Well maybe you should."



"Orange is the best colour to enhance learning."

"What?" Steve dropped the data pad on the bed and rolled to face Tony.

Tony lounged in such a way that he transformed his side of the bed into a bordello of silk pajamas, shower-damp hair and musky body wash. "Orange. Ms Chandra said that it enhances learning. Personally, I think it's more likely to permanently stunt the poor thing's taste. Especially since it's not inheriting any of my fashion sense. But maybe we could..."

Suddenly, Steve couldn't handle a second more, snapping, "Tony, enough."

"What?"

The maelstrom of emotions that had been churning inside him since he'd moved in finally spun free. "No more renovations. No more colours. No more ergonomic bassinets. No more design consultants. Tony, just stop it, will you?"

"Okay." Tony's voice sounded flat and expressionless.

Pressing his eyes closed, Steve silently counted to ten, but when he opened them, Tony still wore that awful expression: lips parted in surprise, blue eyes wide and hurt. The worst part of it was that he couldn't even claim that none of it had come out like he'd meant it to.

"Steve," Tony said softly. He met Steve's gaze steadily, fingertips trailing over his knuckles. "What do you want?"

The simple question seemed to knock the air out of Steve's lungs. He flopped onto his back, staring at the ceiling. "I don't know.

"You asked me to help."

There was no denying that, and Steve felt even more guilty for it,. "I know. I know." He had, and Tony hadn't said a word of complaint, not a sincere one anyway. "It's just that's it's been a heck of a few weeks. My whole life, my body, my career, my home, my reputation, has changed. I don't have a lot to hang onto, here."

The duvet rustled as Tony scooted forward until his stomach rested against Steve's hip. "You can hold onto me."

"Not when I'm trying to figure out best I can why you've suddenly turned into some manic fusion of Martha Stewart and Victor Von Doom."

Tony snorted and rolled the rest of the way over, sprawling across Steve. "I'm not that bad, and what do you mean you don't know why?" His hand found its way to Steve's stomach, spreading lightly over it. "This is going to be our baby, Steve. I've screwed up a hell of a lot of things in my life, but this isn't going to be one of them. I want this baby too."

"Really?" Steve asked, voice sounding small even for such an intimate moment.

"Of course, really," Tony said, voice as warm and full of compassion as Steve had ever heard it. "I love you, don't I? The rest is details."

Tony didn't say that often, and never lightly or with insincerity. It never failed to make his heart glow.

"But if it makes you feel better," Tony continued, "I promise to scale back on the baby stuff." He didn't add, "A bit," but Steve knew the implication was there.

Steve wiggled his arm under Tony's side and pulled him close. "Thank you."

They lay together for a moment, Steve's eyes fixed above him, Tony's face press into his neck. He thought he heard Tony's breath catch a few times, as though he wanted to say something, but decided against it. Finally, Steve broke the silence. "I can't say this is how I figured on getting them, but I've always wanted kids."

He felt the brush of Tony's lips against his breastbone before Tony said, "I know. We'll make it work. I promise. Everything I have, I promise it." That was Tony: overworked, maudlin and extravagantly generous.

Steve smiled into Tony's hair. "Loving me is enough."

"I love both of you," Tony said, and Steve believed him.



The End.

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