Steve tries, he really does, but Tony turns down every invitation until Steve shows up at his house one day with movies and popcorn and refuses to leave.
"Unless you want me to," Steve adds, and Tony blurts, "No, god," so fast that they both look surprised by it.
When Tony smiles, it looks pained. "I figured you'd want to spend time with your new wife. Have to treasure that honeymoon period, right?"
"That doesn't mean we have to spend every minute together," Steve says. "Just because we're married doesn't mean we stopped being workaholics."
Tony stares at him for a long time, eyes going over the popcorn and the DVD covers, and he looks so tired that Steve can't help hugging him.
Tony freezes when he does, but then Steve squeezes and Tony's hands come to grip his shoulderblades so hard Steve's worried it might actually bruise.
"I missed you," Steve says, and Tony's voice is thick when he says, "Yeah, missed you too, Cap."
Things are better after that, but Steve is still- confused.
Some days Tony goes out with him quite willingly, and they have a great time and it's like the old days, but then there are times when Tony's eyes get distant and his voice gets the kind of sad that means he's trying to cover it up and he tells Steve he's too busy to hang out.
Sometimes this lasts for weeks, and Steve has to show up unannounced and drag him to the movies or sit with him as he works, and he tries to get Tony to tell him what's wrong, but Tony always insists everything is fine.
And Steve- Steve wants this, he needs Tony, needs his friendship and his presence, so he doesn't push. Much.
Sometimes he ends up spending the night at Tony's, because they talked late into the night and Tony has a lot of spare rooms so why bother going all the way back home?
This starts happening more and more, and he catches Sharon giving him looks that he eventually confronts her about.
When he asks, she laughs, a short, amused thing, and Steve frowns.
"Oh," Sharon says, realization dawning. "Oh. Steve-"
"What," Steve says. "What, come on, what is it with you and Tony, both keeping secrets and insisting everything's fine-"
"I'm not insisting everything's fine," Sharon says, and Steve stops.
"Is something wrong?"
"No," Sharon says, and then cocks her head. "With us, no. With Tony, it's. Uh."
"Have I been spending too much time with him?"
Sharon shrugs. "Probably, but to be honest, I've been working too much this month to tell if you're home or not. Sorry about that, by the way."
"It's fine, you know I'll be the same when I get a mission." Steve steps back, rubs the back of his head with his hand. "Do you know what's up with Tony?"
Sharon stays silent, something like guilt in her gaze, and Steve sighs. "Sharon."
"You shouldn't hear it from me," Sharon says. "But- Steve? Maybe it's better for him if you two stopped seeing each other for a while. More healthy."
Steve's frown deepens. "Jeez, I haven't been hanging out with him so much it's unhealthy."
"No, no, it's not-" Sharon puts her tongue between her teeth, squeezing down. "God. Okay. Just- trust me, Steve. Tony has shit he seriously needs to work through."
"Isn't that always the case?"
Sharon laughs, and then she steps forwards and kisses him, and all Tony-related thoughts get pushed to the side for the rest of the night.
Steve consults Jan about it, who stares at him for a few seconds before changing the subject and then saying she has something to be.
Steve asks Sam, who snorts and then laughs and says he's not qualified to answer him.
He asks Carol, who looks at Steve her well-worn 'you're a dumbass' face and then sweeps his feet from underneath him, putting her in the lead, 4-3.
No-one, it seems, wants to give him an answer about Tony, least of all Tony.
Months pass, and Steve and Tony have been spending less time together like Sharon suggested, and Tony plays hot and cold, as per usual. Some days he's fine with meeting, most of the time he's not in the mood, or he's far too busy.
The Avengers have a barbecue, and Steve catches up with people he's been seeing less of since he stopped living in the Tower, and drags Tony out from the corner.
And it's fine, it's normal, Tony seems like his old self, but then Sharon walks in , apologizing for being late, and by the time Steve has kissed her hello, Tony's expression had gone pinched and shuttered.
Steve frowns, is about to ask what's wrong when Rhodey appears out of nowhere and says he has urgent business for Tony to attend to, and all but drags Tony along by his elbow getting him out of the room.
As soon as the doors swing shut behind them, Steve turns and addresses the room. "Okay. Something's up with Tony, and one of you are going to damn well tell me what it is."
Looks are exchanged, some amused, some awkward, but most of them sad.
Sharon touches his shoulder, and Steve twists his head to look at her.
"Steve," she says. "Tony- he's-"
"Having a really hard time with work," Sam talks over her, shooting her a pointed look. "Right, guys?"
A non-committal murmur goes around, and Steve grits his teeth.
Tony has just gotten out of the shower, towel wrapped around his waist as he drips onto the carpet.
He startles when he sees Steve. "Cap-"
"No-one will tell me what's going on with you," Steve all but growls, advancing on Tony until he's mostly backed up against a wall. "You're my friend, damnit, one of my best, and you've been like this for over a year. I haven't been pushing, because I want this to work, but you're hurting, and I won't allow that. I refuse to leave until you tell me what's wrong."
Tony's laugh is close to hysterical. "Nothing's wrong."
"It's not," Steve says, bracing his hand next to Tony's head and making Tony look him in the eyes. Tony's gaze flits nervously down Steve's face, down his body where Steve has him pinned to the wall.
"Tony. Tell me."
"It's something, just tell me. Is it because I got married?"
Tony jerks, and Steve continues, "Tony, things don't have to change because I married Sharon, I can still come over, things can be the same, I told you-"
"I know," Tony croaks, his voice tight and miserable, and Steve takes his chin in his hand, makes Tony look at him.
"Then what is it?" Steve's fingers are tight on Tony's chin.
Tony's laugh is a sob this time, and his mouth wobbles, and then it's on Steve's.
Steve's holding his chin. He's pressed up close to Tony's wet, half-naked body, torsos and legs lined up together, it hardly took anything for Tony to lean up that tiny bit and kiss Steve, and Steve's lips part on a gasp.
Tony's tongue sweeps inside his mouth, and Steve's other hand, the one that isn't holding Tony's- cheek, now- comes up to grab at his shoulder.
It's then that Steve realizes- he's kissing back. It feels like a reflex, like everything is with Tony, like fighting against something together, like arguing until they've shouted themselves hoarse, it feels easy and natural and Tony's making sounds, desperate and broken and whimpered into Steve's mouth.
Tony makes another noise, like another sob, and that's what makes Steve pull back. He takes several staggering steps, and Tony lets him, eyes wide and dark.
They're both breathing hard, chests falling and rising in tandem, and Steve runs his tongue over the place Tony's mouth had touched.
"You have- feelings," Steve says when he feels like he can actually form words. "For me."
"Yes." Tony says it like he just admitted to a murder, something dark and dirty and foul. He says it looking right into Steve's eyes.
Steve nods absently, watching how Tony's hand is clutched in his towel, holding it up. Distantly notices the bulge at the front, realizes he just shoved his best friend up against a wall when he was mostly naked and hadn't thought anything of it.
"You're," Steve says, and then doesn't know what else to say.
"Yes," Tony answers anyway.
"I have- I have a wife."
Steve has no idea how to do this. Tony is- Tony is his constant, the person he loves, will always love, even when he hates him. He reaches out- he doesn't know what he was going to do, but Tony flinches and Steve drops his hand quickly.
"I'm sorry," Steve says, and Tony looks at him, confused.
"Why? I'm the one who kissed you."
"I'm sorry," Steve says, because his brain can't do much else right now. "I'm- you're my best friend, Tony."
"And you don't feel the same way," Tony fills in, this tiny, awful smile on his face. "You're straight. You're married. You're happy. I understand, Steve. It's fine, it really is."
Steve stares, and then he's saying something about needing to leave, he doesn't know what, and the last thing he sees before he closes the door is Tony standing frozen against the wall, fingers white in the fabric of his towel.
Sharon finds Steve sitting at the kitchen table with his head in his hands, and comes to sit next to him.
Steve raises his head, not looking at her. He folds his hands together, breathes in deep. "I just found out what's wrong with Tony."
She hums, sliding closer and lying her head on his shoulder. He leans his head automatically onto the top of hers, and they stay like that until Steve gets the courage to say, "He's in love with me. Has been for years. Over a decade. I asked around."
Sharon hums again, and Steve moves his head back so she lifts hers. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"Like I said," Sharon says, undoing her ponytail. "You needed to hear it from him. How'd he tell you?"
Steve pauses. "He kissed me. Uh, sorry."
"I'll be angry later," Sharon shrugs. "It's fine."
"I kissed him back."
Sharon raises her eyebrows. "Okay, that one I'm kind of- huh." She pushes her hairtie around her wrist. "Was it a surprise thing?"
"Yes," Steve says, and then shoves his hand through his hair. "And- no?"
He makes a face, and Sharon makes one back.
"I'm gonna let you off the hook for that one," she says eventually. "For now. We'll see if I bring it up in an argument later."
"Gee, thanks," Steve says, and Sharon shoves him lightly before leaning onto his shoulder again.
"So what happens now, with you guys," Sharon asks.
Steve honestly doesn't know.
He sends Tony a text saying, sorry I ran out the other day. could we talk?
He doesn't get a reply.
Iron Man stops coming out on missions, and Steve asks Rhodey how he's doing.
Rhodey makes a loud sighing noise, and Steve takes that as a bad sign. He asks Rhodey to tell Tony to call him, and Rhodey promises to pass the message along.
Steve doesn't get a call.
Sharon goes away on a mission and Steve goes away on another, and by now he can't deny that he's been- thinking about it.
The kiss is easy enough to quantify, the sharp desperation from Tony's side, taking what he know she's never going to get, the brush of his goatee, his chapped lips, his bare, wet chest getting Steve's shirt damp, Steve's fingers stroking his cheek-
Maybe not that easy to quantify, but the subject of Tony is even harder. For god's sake, he's known the man for over a decade, has been close with him for almost all of that. Tony's voice was the first he heard out of the ice, Tony gave him a home when he had none, whenever Steve was in trouble he could always call Tony up, except now he can't.
One day, Steve realizes that he and Sharon haven't had a real conversation in three weeks, even with them both living under the same roof. It's normal enough when they're out on missions, and even then they usually try to find time to call, but they've been living together and they've hardly said anything that hasn't been about work or dinner.
He wonders if he should feel concerned about that.
Steve goes over to Tony's to watch movies, and it's awkward and terrible and Steve sticks it out anyway, because damn it if he is going to let a thing like this come between them.
Tony stays quiet for most of it, laughs a bit at the movie, and tells Steve he's tired when Steve tries to engage him in conversation.
"I miss you," Steve says, unable to stop it, and Tony looks at him with the sad look that Steve knows the reason for now.
"I always miss you," Tony replies after a while, eyes on the floor, and then he gets off the couch and goes to bed.
Sharon is giving him looks again, and when he confronts her about it, she says, "You're sad."
"Tony," Steve starts, and then stops. Tony and I haven't been the same since you and I got married. Tony's in love with me. Tony looks like it physically hurts him, sometimes, and I don't know how to fix it.
"Yeah," Sharon says. "I figured."
"Don't be," Sharon says, muffled through a bite of taco. "Just- you know he's not going to get over it, right? This isn't a temporary thing. Even when he dated other people- Rumiko, Pepper- it was always there, in the back of his head."
"That doesn't sound fair to them," Steve says, and then, "Thanks," when Sharon passes him a taco.
"I don't know," Sharon says, looking at him. "It's possible to be in love with two people at once. I guess they knew it didn't make him love them any less."
She pauses, chews and then swallows. "I couldn't do it, if it was me."
Steve feels guilty, for some reason he can't place, and they eat the rest of their meal in silence.
"Maybe we shouldn't do this anymore."
Steve looks over at Tony, who is picking at his cuffs. "What?"
"We shouldn't do this," Tony says. "See each other."
Steve puts his lemonade down. They always drink lemonade with movies ever since Tony gave up drinking. "Tony, I've told you, I still want to be-"
"Friends," Tony finishes, nodding at his cuffs. "I know. Me, too. Well, not friends, I never wanted to just be friends, but you get it."
Steve doesn't know how to reply to that. How many times has he missed Tony staring at him with that agonized look he has on right now?
"I can't do this, Steve," Tony says, and his fingers rip at the fraying fabric. Steve wonders how much that suit cost. "It hurts too damn much. I mean, it hurts when you're away, but this-"
Tony takes a shaky breath. "I think this hurts more, having you in reach and no to being able to touch you like I want. Knowing you're going to go home to your wife."
"Okay," Steve says. "I- okay. Sure. We'll figure something out."
He gets his things and leaves, and realizes what he wanted to say when he's halfway home.
It hurts when I stay away from you.
Sharon starts kissing down his neck, and Steve pulls back.
She meets his eyes. "Something wrong?"
No, he wants to say. No, nothing's wrong, and then they could have sex and go to sleep and go to their jobs in the morning, and keep doing that for the rest of their lives. He could be happy like that, he knows he could, Sharon was always comfortable for him, their relationship was always something he knew he could slip back into.
He loves Sharon, but.
"You know that thing you said a few weeks back," he says slowly, "about- about Tony being in love with me and being in love with other people, too, but it being at the back of his head even while he was with them?"
Sharon sits back so she's sitting against his crotch. "Vaguely."
"I think," Steve says, and swallows. "I think that's happened- to me. I think I've been in love with Tony for a long time, Sharon. And I think-"
He stops, unable to get it out, unable to find a way to say it, but Sharon looks like she understands anyway.
She nods, slow and calculating. She climbs off of him and lies down next to him, and takes his hand as they lie together. "Do you remember how I said I couldn't do what Tony's girls did?"
Steve nods, and Sharon laughs, sweet and sad.
"Shit. Seriously, Steve?"
"I'm sorry," Steve says, and Sharon kisses him.
"Me, too," she says, and leaves.
Steve rings Tony three times and gets a voicemail, and when he rings Pepper, she tells him he's in a meeting.
"I broke up with Sharon," he says into the phone. "Or, she broke up with me. We aren't together anymore, is the point."
Pepper is silent for a long time, and then she sighs. "I'm sorry about that, Steve."
"It's-" Steve blows out a breath, rubs his forehead. The park is not the best place to say this, everything seems to crowded. "I realized something about Tony, and I felt it wasn't fair to Sharon if I didn't tell her about it."
"What did you realize?" Pepper's voice is smooth, calm, but Steve is sure he's going to get one hell of a shovel talk later.
"I think that's for Tony to hear, first."
"I'll tell him you called," Pepper says. "And I'll pass along the message."
"Thank you, Miss Potts."
"Call me Pepper," she says. "And Steve? Don't you dare hurt him anymore than you already have."
"I'll try my best."
"I'm sure you will," Pepper says. "Goodbye, Steve."
Steve hangs up, and then continues on his way to Avengers tower.
Tony walks in three hours later, pinching the bridge of his nose and making a face. He stops when he sees Steve, his hand falling to his side.
"I kind of need a place to stay," Steve says. "I was wondering if I could have my own room back, for good."
Tony stares some more. "Pepper told me you and Sharon aren't together anymore."
"Divorced," Steve nods. "As of yesterday. Papers took a while to go through."
"I'm sorry. Really."
"So am I."
"Did I-" Tony's throat clicks. "I mean, I can go and talk to her, help you get her back if I made things worse-"
"I don't want her back," Steve says, and finds that it's mostly true. He loves Sharon, will probably always love her, but it's nothing compared to what he feels for the man in front of him. "I was the one to suggest we broke up."
"But- you guys were great together!" Tony seems genuinely upset.
Steve shrugs. "We had our time. I think most of it was because we were both just- there. And that isn't a good reason to have a relationship."
Tony nods, and when his phone rings, he puts it on silent. "You can- you can have your room back, of course, Cap."
"Thank you." Steve steps forwards, and Tony blinks like an owl when Steve stops right in front of him. "But I was thinking, uh. If you still- if you want to, I was thinking I could stay in yours instead."
Tony continues to stare, and Steve says, "Not if you don't- I mean, I could stay in mine. My room. I don't mind. But, uh, I was hoping we could date, and I wouldn't hate it if you let me move into your room. But if that's too fast-"
"Steve," Tony says, face shuttered again. "I get you're lonely, but if you think- I couldn't do a friends with benefits thing, not with you."
"What? No," Steve says, taking Tony's shoulders and then letting go when Tony flinches. "I'm not- that isn't what I'm suggesting, I said we should date!"
"Why," Tony says, looking genuinely confused, frowning.
"Because I realized I've sort of been in love with you for the last, oh, decade or so," Steve says, trying to be sarcastic and coming off as scared shitless. "Sharon suggested we break up when I told her, but- I think even if she wanted to stay together, I would've ended things. Because I'd like to be with you, when it comes down to it."
He takes Tony's shoulders again, and this time Tony doesn't flinch. He rubs circles into them with his fingers. "Tony? An answer would be nice."
"You want to date," Tony says flatly "Me."
"You," Steve nods. "Very much. Please stop looking at me like I'm going to attack you."
"You want to date me," Tony repeats. "Because you love me."
"Very much," Steve says, voice softening. "Is that okay with you?"
Tony's breath is wobbly. "Is it okay? Yes, Steve, it's okay, god, are you serious?"
He's finally starting to smile, which makes Steve smile, too. "About you? Always."
Tony kisses him then, with all of the desperation but none of the fear, none of the sadness. "I'm gong to do a skrull check on you, and also check for mind-control, and about a hundred other things," he sighs happily into Steve's mouth. "Tomorrow. After I show you your new room, which also has me in it. And a bed."
Steve frowns, pulling back. "You'd be willing to sleep with someone you're not sure isn't a skrull on the offchance it's me?"
"You conveniently showed up divorced and in love with me," Tony says flatly. "Excuse me if I want to check you're actually you."
"I- don't know how I feel about that," Steve says. "Actually, I do. Take me and get me checked out now, so you can put your mind at ease."
"If you insist," Tony says, and Steve winds their hands together as they walk towards the lab.
Steve turns out to be completely mind-control free, along with human, not hypnotized, and not under any spells.
"Hi," Steve says to Tony when it's all finished. "It's me. I love you. Please show me my new room now."
Tony's grinning harder than Steve has seen him smile in- god, years. "You'll love it," he assures Steve. "It has all the perks."
"Only one I'm looking for is right here," Steve says. "And a bed. A bed is good in a bedroom."
"I'll make sure to show you the bed," Tony says. "Extensively."
"Can't wait," Steve says, and follows Tony down the hall to their new life together.