here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)
“What’s your favorite word?” Steve asks.
The workshop is alive, buzzing, and Tony can feel the energy of it all burning patterns just beneath his skin, but he stops when Steve speaks. He’s set Steve up at his own little table in the workshop (the only other person allowed down here was Pepper, but she’s not around as much anymore, and this is a bad train of thought anyways and--)
“What’s yours?” Tony asks in turn.
“I asked you first,” says Steve. “Okay, fine. Uh, probably,” he smiles softly, traces the edge of the sketchbook in his lap, and says, “light.”
Tony nods. Of course Steve’s favorite word was light. Of fucking course. Stupid perfect Captain Blue Eyes with his perfect hair and--
“Antebellum,” he says.
“What?” Steve asks.
“You asked me what my favorite word was. That’s it.”
Steve nods, but his brow furrows, and Tony fights the urge to chuckle.
“What’s it mean?”
He turns away from Steve and back to his work, watches as images fade and swim around the room, holographic. When he speaks, it’s in a quiet voice.
“Before the war.”
After New York, it was easy to set up all the Avengers in Stark Tower. Even if Thor traveled frequently between there and Asgard and New Mexico, and Clint and Natasha were off on missions, they all considered it home.
God knows it’s better than any S.H.I.E.L.D. issued apartment.
Steve’s floor is right below his.
Most nights, they don’t sleep. Tony has Jarvis notify him when Steve’s awake, and then he joins him. Steve, of course, isn’t aware of that.
“Fancy meeting you here,” Tony will say, and Steve will smile, wry. They make tea. Steve has chamomile, no sugar, to Tony’s green, with three.
Most nights, it’s that easy. They don’t do anything really. They sit and drink their tea. Then one of them excuses themself, and it’s over.
Some nights, they sit there at the table until dawn. Natasha’s always the first up, followed by Clint. Then Bruce, then Thor if he’s there.
They eat breakfast.
They feel like a family.
“You’re an idiot,” Natasha tells him.
“I’m sure you’re right,” he says, “but why?”
“It’s been a year,” she says, raising an eyebrow at him, “just tell him already.”
He stops, swivels in his chair to stare at her. He swallows, hard. “It’s not that easy.”
“I know it’s not,” she says, “trust me, I know.” Her hand reaches up, absentmindedly brushing the necklace there. It’s an arrow, he knows, silver, with diamonds. He helped Clint pick it out.
“Then why are we even having this conversation?”
“Because,” she says, “you know damn well that it’s a two way street, and we all know the team would be better off if some of that tension got resolved.”
“There’s no tension!” He yells after her, but she’s already gone.
“What are you working on?” Tony asks, and Steve smiles, because usually it’s the other way around.
“Just doodling, really.” Steve says, brows furrowing as he looks down at the sketchbook. “I can never really do any serious project, but I’ve got lots of sketches.”
Tony snorts. He knows how that feels.
“May I?” he asks, holding out a hand.
Steve only pauses for a moment before handing it over, red creeping up his neck.
Tony flips through the book reverently, trying not to miss a single pencil mark. There are faces he only recognizes from pictures. Bucky Barnes, Peggy Carter, Howard—his father. None of them are portrayed in any kind of light – negative or positive. They’re just there, like portraits of family members you never knew hanging in the hallway. He gets it.
Then there’s them. All of them. Bruce, and Hulk, respectively. Natasha, in pajamas, curled up on the couch. Clint, wearing civvies and at the archery range. Clint again, throwing a frisbie to Thor. Thor, in Asgardian clothes and out of them, his arm curled around Jane. Jane and Darcy, laughing at something. Coulson and Agent Hill, heads bent together, talking. Fury, in a stern looking profile. Himself. There’s a lot of him in there.
There he is in the suit, fighting, not fighting. In the suit, beat up and battered, but still alive. Out of the suit, sitting at the kitchen table, a cup of tea between his hands. Out of the suit, tying his tie in the mirror. Him; lacing up running shoes. Him; pouring coffee, hair a wreck.
Him; leaned over, lit only by the light of the forge and the arc reactor. Smoke billowing out, but his eyes are sharp there. It’s strangely intimate to see yourself through someone else’s eyes.
Steve is watching him cautiously, and Tony closes the sketchbook softly, almost worshipfully, like it’s a holy book of some long forgotten religion.
“You,” he begins, but closes his mouth, nods. Steve exhales, nods. He thinks he gets it.
“Least favorite,” Tony says.
“What?” asks Steve.
“Word,” Tony clarifies, “Your least favorite word. What is it?”
Steve stares at him, oddly for a moment. They’re sitting in the workshop again. Steve’s painting now. Tony’s got something curling in his veins, aside from the energy of the room, it’s something else entirely. It’s warm, and tingly, and he recognizes it and shoves it away for safe-keeping.
The word spills into the room like liquid metal, burning too hot and not hot enough all at once.
“Yeah,” Tony says, “Yeah.”
Tony snorts, exhaling sharply. “Martyr.”
“Did you tell him?”
“HOW DID YOU GET IN MY ROOM?”
“I need to use your shower.”
“C’mon, Stark,” Barton pleads, “Mine blew up.”
“Jarvis, lights on.”
He stares at Clint for a second, eyes narrowing, before he hisses, “How?”
“I was in bed. I tried to turn the bathroom light off and I uh—I grabbed the wrong arrow.”
“Do you like being Captain America?”
He isn’t sure where the question comes from, but it falls off his tongue like it’s been waiting there for months. Maybe it has been. He gave up long ago on trying to figure himself out.
Steve’s rebuttal is quick, “Do you like being Iron Man?”
Tony chuckles, because of course, he should have expected that. Then he thinks about it.
“I – I don’t know actually. I can’t imagine not being Iron Man. It’s as much a part of me as anything else. The suit—I think I’d still be Iron Man, even without the suit.” Almost unconsciously, his fingers have started tracing around where the arc reactor is pushing at the fabric of his shirt. “Yeah,” he says, thinking of the rest of the Avengers, of how Stark Tower is never empty anymore, of how he feels less empty these days, too. “I like being Iron Man.”
“Yeah,” Steve says, “I – yeah.”
“Tony!” is the last thing he hears before he blacks out.
“Good, you’re awake,” Pepper says, as he blinks blearily. His throat is too dry. He’s in a – hospital bed? Oh. Right. Pepper’s face doesn’t betray anything, but her voice does.
“How bad was it?”
Before Pepper can respond, the Avengers are busting down the door.
“HOW BAD WAS IT?” Steve yells.
Natasha, Clint, and Thor have the decency to look guilty.
“We tried to hold him back but--”
“He’s really, really strong and really, really angry—”
“Bruce had to excuse himself because the energy was--”
“ANTHONY, YOU LIVE ANOTHER DAY!”
Ah yes, family.
Steve’s been muttering to himself, “How bad was it, he asks. How bad was it, like this a paper cut or he tripped,” He turns to face the bed, looking furious, “How bad was it, Tony? It was watching you get hit in the chest by some green light and watching you fall to the ground and not being able to do anything but watch and hope that stupid fucking suit didn’t become your coffin. It was camping out in a hospital waiting room covered in dirt and blood because none of us could leave until you decided to open your fucking eyes. It was realizing you might die and I never even told I loved you and--”
Behind him, Clint hands Natasha a handful of bills.
Steve is staring at the wall above Tony’s head blankly, so Tony glares at them all until they leave.
“I didn’t--,” Steve says, “That wasn’t how I—I’m so sor--”
“Rogers if you tell you are sorry for saying any of that, I am going to get out of this bed and beat you with a chair. Now, considering I’m almost positive that at least three of my ribs are broken, I really don’t want to have to do that.”
Steve nods at him, still looking fairly out of it, and collapses into a chair.
“Still, that wasn’t how I wanted to--.”
“Yeah, Cap,” Tony drawls, “because I’m such a hopeless romantic, right? You’re gonna have to redo that whole confession. With flowers and chocolate and a horse-drawn carriage ride through Central Park.”
Steve is awake enough to snort. “I wanted to at least plan something a little more eloquent. Or, you know, normal. Something more normal than blurting it out while yelling at you for almost dying—.”
“Almost dying taking out an alien villain with a laser-powered stun gun who was trying to take over Manhattan, if not the world, using the power of giant sea slug looking tentacle creatures? Oh yeah, Steve, our lives are so normal.”
Steve buries his head in his hands, ears turning red.
Tony grins, “Come on, Rogers, for what it’s worth, I--”
“You don’t have to, I know this was sort of—/”
“Would you shut up and let me finish a sentence.”
“Right, now where was I?”
“I think you were about to tell me you had feelings for me, too.”
“Well, damn. Yep. That was it. Thanks, Cap.”
Steve smiles at him, wide and warm, and that feeling is back, but this time he doesn’t tuck it away. He just lets it spread through his veins like liquid gold.
“Pleasure to be of service.”
Tony groans, “Please, for the love of god, do not ever use the word pleasure. Ever again. For your sake and mine.”
Steve kisses like he does anything, earnest to a fault. He presses Tony up against the wall in the workshop, and it’s all Tony can do to hold on.
The feeling is a permanent thing now, and he’s got a name to go with it. He hasn’t said it yet, not out loud, but he knows Steve knows. It was never any big secret.
“Where’s your favorite place to be?” Steve asks.
They’re curled up in bed, sleepy and sated. Steve’s been running one hand through Tony’s hair while the other settles like a claim on his hip. The room is quiet, but not silent. He can still almost hear the TV running down the hall, where the rest of them are watching some old movie.
“Here.” Tony says, burying his face further into Steve’s neck. “Right here.”