NOTE: The story was a spur of the moment decision to get rid of the Tony/Steve bunny quietly chewing my ankle off in a corner of my brain. The universe is a mix of movie and comic, taking some elements from one, some from the other, and hopefully butchering them less than I believe I did. I've been staring at this story so long, I think I got cross-eyed.
Anyway, apologies in advance to the long-time fans in case I did a really bad number on the characters.
Tony Stark knew exactly when it had happened: the moment he had laid eyes on the very much alive form of Steve Rogers – Captain America. No one had believed it possible that the man could have survived over seventy years in a block of ice. No one had would have bet on the brain to be in perfect health. No one, not even Tony Stark himself, would have guessed on what the moment Captain America woke was for the future.
SHIELD had found the man on a more or less routine science mission – sponsored by Stark Industries, like so many things nowadays. Tony's involvement in SHIELD was a diverse one. He gave money, he supplied tech, but he also demanded that Stark Industries be involved in all the new developments, that SI was the only supplier, and that Iron Man and his technology belonged to Stark alone. As much as Nick Fury wanted to get his hands on teat particular tech to use it as full body armors for his troops, Tony had put his foot down and not budged.
In the end he had won.
Tony had been in the isolation chamber when Rogers had blinked open incredibly blue eyes, looking confused and slightly out of it. Of course he would be out of it. He had been in a hibernation-like state for seven decades!
Medical personnel had swarmed around the man, checking blood pressure, breathing, heart beat, everything. Tony had been a by-stander, dressed in his Iron Man suit. It was the only reason he had been allowed in because the armor was better than any HazMat gear or Quarantine pressure suit. No bacteria, no germs, no foreign biological material of any kind was allowed to touch the defrosting Captain America, and now that he had woken, security was even tighter.
Tony had watched, impassionate, glowing slits in a featureless mask. No one had seen his expression of disbelief and… hope.
Blue eyes had fallen on him.
Dull and unfocused. Filled with so much confusion and emotional pain, Tony had stepped forward and wrapped a gloved hand around Rogers'. The blond had held onto it with more strength than Tony would have thought possible, and he had refused to let go. Those blue eyes had been on him like Tony was his life line. He was trying to voice a question, but his voice didn't work. It was a rough rasp and Tony shushed him almost gently.
"You'll be fine," he said over and over.
Doctors worked around him. Medical personnel swarmed into the room. Captain America was staring at him with that painful confusion, unable to understand anything happening to him.
Until the moment he had fallen asleep again, the young features relaxing, his full concentration had been on Iron Man.
Tony had never been more struck with another person than with Steve Rogers. Maybe it was part of the Super-Soldier serum effect. Maybe it was the plain human need projected by the man. Maybe…
Rogers' recovery took little over twenty-four hours, after which he was briefed on what had happened. Tony was there, again as Iron Man, hiding behind the mask. The dull confusion of before had made way to curiosity in the alert blue eyes. Rogers was quick on the uptake, intelligent, and not as shocked about matters as SHIELD had figured.
Super-Soldier, Tony mused. Here was the man who had volunteered himself to an experimental drug to save the world, to help his country.
Rogers was the All-American pin-up. He was broad-shouldered, blond, blue-eyed, muscular, with the good looks and general build of a quarterback, and an idealism that was almost supernatural. He inspired loyalty and confidence, you looked up to him – and not just because he was tall – and he wasn't stupid. Quite the contrary. He might be a little overwhelmed by this new millennium, but he adapted fast.
The Avengers closed around him like a shield. They fit him perfectly, and he fit them. He was a natural leader. He provided the guidance needed to reign in the younger ones. He was the stability, the rock in the stormy sea. He inspired and he cautioned and he could be trusted. He was a known factor, an American icon. He had no ulterior motives, he wasn't a mutant with a grudge, he wasn't… like them.
Tony watched them all with a secret envy and longing. He didn't doubt for a moment what he himself represented in this group: the money well. He funded the operations, he supplied them with gear and a place to meet, even to live. Iron Man was nothing but an add-on. He had no super-powers. He was no inspiring leader. He was a man who knew how to handle a very powerful armor, who had an incredible power-source in the middle of his chest, and who had the right connections. They let him play in their sandbox because of the Tony Stark component.
So Tony still went out on his own missions. No back-up but Jarvis, sometimes Rhodey, and mostly Pepper at home, with a first aid kit.
But he wouldn't wallow. He wouldn't sink into despair.
Sometimes he was close to it, though.
They became friends somehow. Tony found that 'Cap' had a dry sense of humor and despite his innocence when it came to the modern electronic age, all the technical devices and the progress that had been made in all the areas, Steve Rogers wasn't innocent at all. He could blush at the oddest moments about the simplest things, but suddenly he would surprise Tony with a wry remark and a simple raised brow.
It was hard not to like the man. It was hard to resist the charm.
He failed. Miserably. Spectacularly.
Tony spent his time alternating between LA and New York. His hideously expensive and huge apartment in New York City saw more of him in a week than in the last years combined. The mansion he additionally owned was rid of dust, refurbished, and converted into the Avengers' Mansion. A training room was added for their special needs. By and by Tony moved stuff. He constructed a second maintenance base for the armor. Jarvis was given a home. Pepper took the changes in a stride. The board of directors didn't so much as raise an eyebrow at their CEO's move. The New York office of Stark Industries shifted uneasily as their boss moved so much closer.
Steve hung out at the apartment, sometimes slept over, much to Tony's rising misery and secret happiness. They talked and Stark found that the other man had an open mind, was quick on the uptake and while he didn't follow techno-babble, he asked precise questions that Tony was only too happy to answer.
Yes, they were friends. After a few months they were good friends. After a year they were best friends. It didn't help his crush. It didn't help that Steve still didn't know that Iron Man and Tony were the same person. He would only know the rumors, if he had ever heard them, which Tony doubted.
SHIELD had taken care of Tony's declaration in front of the assembled press years before. He had 'outed' himself as Iron Man, but that had been corrected to Stark supplying the gear for the unknown man in the high tech suit. Fury arranged for witnesses to claim to have seen Iron Man while Stark had been answering questions for the press. There had been visual proof of Stark being in New York at a dinner while Iron Man was taking care of some terrorist group somewhere else.
The media interest in Tony Stark as a new kind of superhero diminished. While Tony hated to play the game, he knew Fury had made the right decision. He would have killed himself and SI with this. It had been a heat of the moment decision, riding on an adrenaline high, wanting the good press to finally annihilate all the rumors and lies.
For a moment he had felt incredible.
Now he was just the billionaire playboy again. At least that didn't bother Steve. Rogers had never made anything of the fact that Tony was disgustingly rich. He treated him like one of the team, just like he treated Iron Man.
That didn't help Tony's crush either.
If at all, it made it so much worse.
Steve found out about who Tony was by accident. Well, maybe not so much. Tony had dropped enough hints, not always involuntarily, and Rogers wasn't stupid. Stark had never consciously hid who he was, he had just never openly told Steve that he was Iron Man. The others would do that, he had believed. Fury, for example, who saw Steve as the solution to all his troubles, as it seemed.
The problem was, it didn't help. Well, okay, it helped with the whole secrecy thing, the sometimes rather shady excuses for Iron Man's fast arrival, but not with Tony's by now quite prominent problem: he found Steve Rogers to be an impossibly attractive man. He lay awake at night, wondering about the cruelty of fate, and spent the rest of that night in the workshop, fiddling around with something or other.
He needed to get over this.
It was almost laughable! He, Tony Stark, the man who could have everyone and everything, was trying not to have Steve Rogers, epitome of all that was right and perfect. He was actually trying to push away from the man.
But maybe it was more. Maybe it wasn't just because Captain America was the leader of the Avengers, was a damn hero whose fame spanned decades. Maybe it wasn't because the others referred to him, looked up to him, needed him – while they had never needed Iron Man.
Tony Stark was damaged goods, despite the Extremis upgrade. That had been heat of the moment as well. A decision made while he was dying in agony from internal injuries inflicted by a near-unbeatable foe. Tony had been desperate, and he had been hopeful Extremis might give him an edge, the edge he needed. It had, he had beaten the enemy, and he had come out of it with a new body and spanking-new abilities.
He was still a reformed alcoholic, but hey, new liver! He was a workaholic – no reform in sight. He had an arc reactor in his chest – Extremis hadn't taken care of that for some reason. He still hadn't figured out why. Tony knew he could get people into his bed, men and women, but Steve Rogers… was perfection. Tony was imperfection squared. He had killed people with his weapons contracts, he had been and still was a ruthless business man. He wasn't companion material for Captain America. The others would skin him alive if he tried to corrupt their golden boy.
So he kept away.
Team meetings were held with him as Iron Man. He was Iron Man through and through. He had abilities then, he wasn't readable. He was a featureless mask. He was good in battles. He helped people, he destroyed weapons that could harm, he captured criminals. He was the heavy hitter of the team and he proved it each time. Extremis gave him an edge. He would get into the thick of things and take the brunt of a blast or a blow, and Extremis would handle it.
The pain was brief. The bruises stayed for a few hours. Broken bones needed a little longer. Tony didn't care. The problem was that he started to care a lot about their team leader. More than was healthy; more than he should. And he would keep Captain America safe no matter what.
Sparring sessions had been Tony's idea and he was mentally hitting himself over the head for that stupid move over and over again. Sweaty Steve was even harder to ignore than non-sweaty Steve or Steve-as-Captain-America. That uniform hid nothing at all! That Rogers easily threw Tony halfway across the room and didn't even breathe hard was unfair, but expected. Tony learned several new moves and Steve told him to stop playing target and learn some self-preservation.
He almost laughed at that.
He was good at self-destruction. It was a skill he had never needed to perfect.
"You need to stop thinking and listen to your instincts," Steve said as he pushed him to the ground.
Tony looked into the man's too blue eyes, took in the perfectly sculptured face, the strong neck, the broad shoulders, the…
Jeez, Stark, get a grip!
"Trying," he coughed.
"You're not inside the armor. You can't take a direct hit, okay?"
Steve got up and held out a hand. Tony took it, trying desperately to ignore the way the muscles moved under the skin, how that gray t-shirt was too tight and revealed a bit of stomach…
Okay, that really has to stop!
"Let's stop for today," Steve suggested, reaching for a towel.
"Good idea," Tony muttered. His brain cheered. Other body parts weren't so happy.
He needed a shower. Preferably made of ice cubes!
Love it? Hate it? Struck speechless by the horror?
The thing had come out of nowhere and no one had really cared about it because the destruction it wreaked was distracting from that particular thought. The Avengers had responded to the call and taken on the creature. That it had spawned a lot of little drones had complicated the matter; they had had to split up.
Somehow Captain America had ended up with Tony. Somehow they had been cornered and matters got worse. The behemoth of a creature had them cornered, backs to a crumbled building The others were too far away, still busy with the drones, the canon fodder. It was just Iron Man and Captain America.
Of course Steve would do something incredibly heroic – and dumb, in Tony's eyes. For the leader to jump into the fray of things while he had a perfectly-armored warrior at his side… But that was just Cap. It was his way. He wouldn't leave it to Tony to weaken their opponent with repulsor blasts; he would go in as well.
Steve had been served a blow from the gigantic metal creature that had him laying stunned and bleeding against a wall. Tony gritted his teeth as he fired another repulsor blast.
This had to stop.
The enemy wasn't invincible. It wasn't unbeatable. Its armor had suffered and strong enough blasts would tear it open. Tony just had to make sure his blows were strong enough, powerful enough, and he knew just the way.
He accessed the suit with Extremis, running a system analysis as he evaded the angry thing that was out to flatten him against the wall.
"Power level at 78," Jarvis informed him.
"Yeah," he breathed. "And we'll need it all."
He opened the connection to the arc reactor.
"Sir?" Jarvis asked, sounding perplexed.
"We'll blast that son-of-a-bitch to hell!" he hissed.
"Sir, you're drawing all power from the suit into the repulsors."
"I know, Jarvis."
"It's highly dangerous," the AI continued.
"The repulsors won't be able to handle this much, sir. You won't be able to handle it."
"Jarvis, shut up!"
There was a brief silence, then, "Please don't do that, sir."
"Kill yourself to prove yourself."
Tony was momentarily stunned, then mentally braced himself. "I'm not suicidal, Jarvis, don't worry."
He disconnected the AI and faced his opponent. Steve was moving faintly, trying to get to his feet using the shield as a crutch.
The ugly metal head swung around, fixing on the weaker of its two opponents.
Now, Tony thought. Now!
And the power tore out of the repulsors. It lanced into the mechanical behemoth, pushing it back, actually starting to melt the point of impact. The creature screamed.
Tony echoed the scream as fierce pain raced through his arms.
The metal monster retaliated, firing its weapons at the unmoving enemy. Tony felt every impact. The blows rattled every bone in his body and his knees started to buckle as the pain grew more intense. Extremis was fighting the damage, was trying to keep up with his demands, with the demands of the suit, and suddenly the agony spiked. It was like a ice pick into the middle of his brain.
The world whited out briefly.
His knees gave way.
He crashed heavily.
Everything grew distant, the sounds muted.
Tony lay on the ground, seeing nothing, hearing nothing but his hammering heart, feeling nothing but the endless pain.
The AI sounded shaken. Really shaken. Maybe it were just blown circuits in the helmet.
"Sir, help is on the way. Captain America…"
The rest faded away. The HUD flickered, but refused to come online. All he had were grainy images. The suit status was unknown.
His head ached. Extremis was like a sore open wound in the middle of his brain. Every twitch of the enhancement had him whimper.
Someone touched him, tried to remove the helmet, but the safety features were still in place.
"Damnit!" the someone cursed. "Tony? How do I get this off?"
Rogers. It was Captain America.
Tony licked his lips. His hands hurt. He couldn't move them. All of him was sore and bruised and… and the worst was his head. Every thought brushing the Extremis resulted in spikes of migraine-like proportions.
"…jarvis… unlock… the armor…"
The AI complied and fresh air touched Tony's face as the helmet cracked open. He blinked up at the masked face of Captain America, covered in soot and grime and blood. There was a gash on one temple, which had bled profusely, and one eyes showed severe bruising.
"What the hell were you thinking, Tony?" the man demanded. "You nearly killed yourself!"
"…necessary," he managed roughly.
Steve looked ready to blow a gasket. His fury was enhanced by the battered looks.
"It wasn't necessary to throw yourself at the creature! The others were on the way! We just had to keep it busy!"
"…better me… than… you…"
"alive," Tony managed, voice fading. "you…alive…better…"
Blue eyes widened in shocked realization. Steve tore the mask off. "What the hell are you talking about, Stark?"
"…need…" Tony repeated, feeling himself fade. "…you're needed…"
There were voices. One was Steve, telling him to stay with him. The others he no longer had the necessary coherence to attach to anyone. He let himself slide away, too tired, too much in pain.
Steve Rogers sat in the workshop, playing with a small welding tool, looking at the spread of parts and devices and tools all over the work tables. Tony's place always looked like this: cluttered chaos. It was amazing how the man found anything in here, but he did. He didn't have to search. He simply knew.
The place seemed empty, dead. Without Tony it was simply just a big room with a lot of fancy toys, the latest in technology, but no soul. Tony Stark was in the hospital, hooked up to machines, while his body, and with it Extremis, took care of making him whole again.
Steve dropped the welder and got up, pacing the length of the spacious workshop.
Tony had thrown everything at the metal creature that he had had. He had almost completely depleted the reactor.
The barely audible, rough words came back. It was better that Steve survived than Tony. Better Captain America than Iron Man because Captain America was needed.
Steve ran a hand through his short, blond hair.
No life was worth more than another. Least of all Tony's. What had the man been thinking? He was needed, damnit! Steve needed him!
Dummy rolled over to him, beeping softly. He smiled a little at the robot. The thing had creeped him out the first time he had come into the workshop. Just like the computer that ran the mansion.
"Do you require assistance?" Jarvis' discorporate voice asked, startling Rogers.
"What? No. Sorry. I… I'll leave."
"Your presence is not unwelcome, Captain."
"I'm out of uniform. Call me Steve, Jarvis."
"As you wish, Steve."
"I just needed a place to… retreat. Upstairs felt crowded."
Upstairs was horrendously spacious. The mansion was bigger than any home Rogers had ever seen. It could house several families and their pets, and they would still have room to spare.
"Mr. Stark prefers to unwind down here as well," the AI replied calmly.
"Yeah. I know. You can't get him out of here unless there's a real emergency." Steve sat down on a work bench. "Idiot!" he whispered fiercely.
"I beg your pardon?"
"Not you. Tony. He was such an idiot! He risked his life… and all we had to do was keep the thing busy until the others arrived!"
"Mr. Stark is prone to sometimes irrational behavior."
"As is Iron Man."
"I believe they are the same person, Steve," Jarvis pointed out.
"Yeah. He didn't have to push himself past his limits, though. Jarvis… he said it would be better him than me!"
"Mr. Stark is protective of those he considers friends."
"But… he could have died!"
Jarvis was silent.
"For me!" Steve added, springing up again. "It makes no sense!"
"For him it made perfect sense."
Steve glared at the ceiling. He had no idea where the heart and brains of Jarvis sat, but he needed somewhere to focus his anger.
"He's no less than me! No one is! He didn't have to throw himself between me and the creature!"
"He decided he had to, Steve."
"I think that is a question you should ask Mr. Stark."
"I'm asking you now!" he exploded.
Jarvis was silent again.
"Jarvis, please! I've known him for a while now and I always think I don't know him at all! He hides! He retreats!"
"I can't help you, Captain," came the formal reply.
Well, fuck you! Steve thought in a rare moment of irrational anger.
"I thought you were his friend!" he exploded.
"I also protect Mr. Stark."
"Protect him from his friends?"
"Are you a friend?"
Steve was momentarily speechless, then he whirled around and stalked out of the workshop. He knew he couldn't run away from the AI since it ran the whole house, but it felt good anyway.
No one was upstairs and Steve was infinitely glad about that. He leaned against the wall in the hallway and exhaled slowly. His anger drained away, leaving him shaken.
"What's going on with Tony?" he asked into the silence of the house.
"It's a question you have to ask him," Jarvis replied.
"Will I get an answer?"
"I believe that depends on how and when you ask him, Captain," came the reply tinged with amusement.
Steve smiled wanly. "Yeah, probably."
Tony came home the day after the enforced overnight hospital stay. He was moving carefully, holding his bruised ribs, and Steve glowered at him all the way from the hospital to the mansion. The other Avengers had carefully inquired how he was, but Tony had brushed it off with a smile and the reassurance that he was fine.
He wasn't fine. Steve knew it. Everyone knew it. The bandaged hands were a dead giveaway. Overloading the repulsors had been a Very Bad Idea. Like so many other things. The bandaged ribs were out of sight under one of Tony's dress shirts, and his concussed head was just the icing on the cake.
Steve was angry. At himself. At Tony. At Fury. Very much at Tony. At the others. And Tony again. It all came back to the other man. Tony Stark, who couldn't take it easy, who wouldn't let anyone else help, who was…
When Steve caught Tony logging into the Stark Industries mainframe to work, things boiled over.
"You're supposed to take it easy!"
"I am taking it easy."
Tony spread his arms. "You see any work?"
Steve grimaced. "I know you're using Extremis."
Stark tilted his head. "You do?"
"I can see it in your face. Your expression changes."
Tony frowned. No one had ever mentioned that, not even Pepper or Rhodey, who knew him a lot longer than Steve. But Steve watched people. He picked up on little things. He had been an aspiring artist before the Super-Soldier experiment and he still had the eye. That he hadn't figured out that Tony Stark and Iron Man were one and the same still bugged him, but maybe it had been too much of a jump. His brain had refused to make the connection.
"I see. But that isn't work. It's not physically straining."
"Mentally it is! Tony, you got nearly trampled by some gigantic metal toy!"
"I survived." It sounded dismissive, like it wasn't important. "And I don't need a baby-sitter, Steve. Go to the others."
"And leave you here? No way. You either come with me or I'm staying!"
"Fine. Stay. Bore yourself to death."
Tony turned and walked over to a small, well-hidden fridge. He tried to hide the twinge of pain as he bent down to retrieve a Coke, but Steve saw it. It made him angry.
But he stayed. Maybe it was the only way to force Tony into surrendering to his body's needs.
It wasn't, of course. That another call came in and the Avengers headed out didn't help. Neither did the argument with Tony about whether or not he was ready for a new mission. Steve wasn't able to win the argument and he was glad when it proved to be a relatively mundane and easily solved problem.
Still, the anger stayed.
Pepper Potts stood in the workshop, lips a thin line of disapproval, looking at her employer. Tony was working on the gauntlets. Whatever he had done with them in the last battle – a battle that had put him in the hospital and had Steve Rogers pissy, which put the rest of the Avengers in a state of confusion – he was currently trying to repair it.
And he had taken off the bandages.
"I think they were there for a reason," Pepper said curtly and nodded at the pile of soiled bandages.
Tony's hands looked fine. A bit bruised maybe, but better than she would expect after being wrapped up so completely.
"They get in the way," Stark answered, sounding distracted. "They only kept me from moving my fingers because of the concussion pain. That's gone. Extremis repaired me." He flashed her a quick smile.
"You're not supposed to work."
"I'm not. I'm relaxing."
"You're working, Tony. Handling small tools and dangerous repulsors isn't collecting stamps!"
He looked up, face passive. "Why are you here, Potts? Board having their weekly midlife crisis? Emergency meeting over a contract? Design flaw brought down the helicarrier?" He turned back to his work.
Pepper decided then and there that Tony was definitely not okay. Physical injuries aside, something else was going on. Of course, she hadn't been able to overhear the very loud, very angry argument between Captain America and Tony Stark. The Avengers were out fighting whatever and Tony was stuck here. Like a little kid grounded by his dad. It was a miracle he had followed Cap's orders.
"You know Captain America made the right decision. You're injured…"
He looked up again, anger flaring in the dark eyes. "I'm not useless! I can carry my weight in a battle, whatever my condition!"
Pepper refused to step back. She locked her knees, squared her shoulders and gave Tony her best personal assistant glare.
"Your condition right now is downtime. You got hurt! You need to heal!"
"I'm good as new. Extremis helps."
"It's no reason to run off and get hurt again."
He slammed the tool onto the table. Pepper jumped a little.
"Just because I don't have superhero instant mutant healing powers doesn't make me useless! Just because everyone else is genetically enhanced doesn't make me the weak link!"
Pepper's eyes narrowed. "Just because you're having an emotional identity crisis over who you are on the Superhero Ladder of Greatness and Monumental Stupidity doesn't make me your verbal punching ball, Mr. Stark," she shot back, eyes flashing. "You chose this life as Iron Man. You are part of the team – the team you helped found. Get a grip on yourself and deal with it!"
She turned abruptly on her heels and stalked away. Her own words echoed in her mind and she winced a little at how frank she had been. But she had known Tony long enough and she had seen him through alcohol abuse, air-head groupie babes, and near-death at the hands of a man he had trusted all his life. Whatever was going on now, and she knew it wasn't just the fact that he had to sit out a fight or had feelings of inadequacy, she would see him through that as well.
Tony had retreated after the last call and Steve hadn't seen him for the rest of the evening when they had returned. In the morning he was already gone.
That game continued for about there days, then Steve's last shred of patience snapped.
"Where is Tony?"
"Mr. Stark is currently unavailable."
He had heard that line quite often. Aside from an Avengers emergency, Tony wouldn't respond to any calls.
"Where. Is. He?"
Okay, so threatening an AI was stupid. Jarvis could just shut him out and there was nothing Steve could do about it.
"Captain, I can't reveal that particular information to you."
Steve snorted and headed for the basement. The workshop was the only place Tony felt safe. He suspected that was where he would be.
And he was.
Steve didn't need a special override code for the door. He had the regular one – and it worked.
"Tony," he said calmly as he entered.
Stark was fiddling with the armor. Of course he was.
"What do you want?" Tony asked, not even looking up.
"There's nothing to talk about, aside from a new mission or Nick Fury handing me my ass in a sling."
Steve frowned. "What are you talking about?"
Tony looked up, eyes unreadable. "Why are you here, Steve?"
"We've got nothing to talk about."
"We do. Like your willingness to take the heat for others. Like your sacrificial nature…"
Stark laughed darkly. "I'm not sacrificial, Captain. I never was. I do what needs to be done."
"Killing yourself is part of that?"
"I'm not dead."
"Yet. Tony, there was no need to drain the reactor! The others were coming!"
"You were out for the count, Rogers!" Tony snapped. "It was my only choice! It would have killed you!"
"So you were ready to let it kill you?"
Steve couldn't forget what Tony had said, that it would be better for Steve to survive than himself.
"They want you, not me," Tony said calmly, voice schooled. "Your survival counts. You're needed."
And no, he didn't sound pathetic. Or lost and alone. Or like he wanted a hug. No, definitely not because Tony Stark had pride and he had gone through worse. Much worse.
"That's not true! You're as much part of this team as I am. Together we're strong."
The old recruitment speech, Tony thought derisively. He laughed. He'd buy it; really, he would. This was Captain America. He could just sweep you off your feet.
"Sure," he only answered, voice neutral. "Get real, Steve. Tony Stark is a playboy billionaire with an eccentric hobby. I'm not a hero."
"Then you're probably the only one who thinks so."
"Fury wants the tech and the money and the connections I bring, Steve! Nothing else! If he had someone else with the Extremis in his head and an inkling of how to handle the suit, I'd be obsolete!"
Steve shook his head, anger rising. "You're not just a tool, Tony!"
Stark snorted and turned away.
"We respect you! You're needed on the team!"
"Until someone with enough firepower joins."
Steve grabbed the retreating man, flung him around and against the wall. Stark stared at him wide-eyed, shocked, and a little breathless.
"You got the Avengers started! You made this real! You gave us a place to meet, the weapons and the gear! You are the link, Tony! Like Extremis is the link between you and the computer world! We need this!"
"No," Tony said quietly. "You don't. Fury needed me to start the funds. He already had a list of possible candidates for recruitment. SHIELD needed me because I'm the easiest way to Stark Industries weaponry, and it's the best on the market."
There was no pride in his voice. It was a flat delivery of facts.
"The Avengers were Fury's idea, Steve. From the beginning. I was only the one who finally got his idea rolling. He gave me a spot on the team as bait. I was stupid enough to take it."
Steve was close to slamming Stark against the wall once more, just to shake his stubborn brain lose.
"You don't need me any more," Tony repeated. "Or Iron Man. We did our part. The Avengers…"
"You're such a stubborn jerk!" Steve exploded, interrupting the self-destructive speech.
It got him a tired laugh. "Heard that often enough."
"You're a superhero like all of them out there!" Steve gestured with one hand. "You save people! Don't tell me it's nothing!"
"I'm a man piloting an armor. Anyone could do it."
"But you are doing it."
"Don't sell yourself short, Stark! You got me back! You gave me a life, an existence!"
"Fury did that. I paid the bills."
"You were there."
"I was an observer."
Steve shook his head. "You were there," he repeated, "in a way none of the doctors were. I woke up and had no idea where I was, actually who I was. I couldn't move, I felt cold, I was alone… and you were there, Tony."
"You, Tony. You were strange and alien to me, but you spoke with me. You touched me. I needed a focus and it was you."
The other man looked stunned, like it was a revelation. Maybe it was. Steve had never talked with anyone about this, not even his old friend Nick Fury. He had been ripped out of his time, had lost his friends – Bucky – and no one and nothing could bring all of it back. He was out of his own time and he was an icon in this one. He had apparently taken it all in a stride, but he hadn't.
"You were there. You treated me like a normal person," Steve went on. "I needed that."
And the nights spent talking. Him and Tony. He hadn't known why he trusted that man back then; now he supposed he had had an idea who Stark might be. It had been so natural back then; still was.
"You know more about me than anyone. You listened."
Tony had that deer-caught-in-headlights look.
"You're the only one who doesn't put me on a pedestal! They all look up to me like I'm some kind of god! I'm not!"
Tony stared, dumbstruck. Then, "You… Goddamn, Rogers, you are an icon! I think so too!"
"But you don't fall all over yourself!" Steve stated.
"No, I just daydream about you," Tony muttered, then his eyes widened in shock at his own words.
Steve blinked and took a step back. "What?"
"Forget it. Tired. Need sleep."
He tried to push past, but a strong hand held him back. "What did you say?" Rogers demanded.
Normally he would completely agree that Tony needed sleep, that he was too tired and exhausted, that he should listen to his body, which demanded rest. But not now. Not after that revelation.
"Nothing! I said forget it!"
"No!" The hand clamped down more and Tony winced.
Steve winced himself at the expression of pain, but this had to end here and now. Something had been going on since day one. He wanted to know.
"Why don't you just go back home?" Tony only said, sounding exhausted, like he was giving up. "Fury's probably looking for you. He might think I'm corrupting you." The smile was barely there. "Hell, I probably already did."
"You're not. You never have."
"Doesn't stop the rumors."
Steve shook his head again, unable to follow the erratic conversation. "Please talk to me," he begged.
"I am talking to you, Rogers."
"Not about what's going on."
"Let's say it's need to know basis and you don't need to know."
"I do. Because it concerns me. Us."
"There is no us!" Tony erupted, eyes ablaze.
"Could there be?" Steve asked.
Tony stared at him, throat working convulsively.
"There could," Steve went on, the light bulb finally going on in his head.
"If you let it happen."
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"Let it happen, Tony."
The dark eyes were almost panicky. "It won't work. Not with me. It can't."
Tony pushed past him again, and again Steve caught him. This time Stark retaliated, tried to make it into a defensive move, but Steve Rogers was Captain America, the best the world had to offer in hand-to-hand, unarmed combat. It was a very brief struggle that ended with Tony on the floor, Steve on top of him, hands pinned down at shoulder level.
"Why?" Steve repeated. He wasn't even out of breath.
"Let go of me," was the toneless order.
"No. I want an answer!"
Steve leaned in closer. "Why, Tony?"
"Because Fury wouldn't let it happen! Because it can't happen! Because I'm not…" He stopped.
"I don't care what Nick Fury thinks or does," Steve said, voice intent.
Tony's face hardened. "And because you're straight," he added a last argument.
Silence. Tony had faint signs of disbelief and even fainter ones of hope in his eyes.
"I like men, too," Steve said calmly. "I like you, Tony."
It got him the opposite reaction he had hoped for. Tony's lips drew into a sneer. "And gentleman that you are you never mentioned it?"
Steve sighed. "No, I didn't. I wasn't sure. Tony, I'm not the most… sexually active of men. I didn't have the chance to…" He stumbled. "Well… to find out about all the little signals. I didn't know if I was your type."
Tony gaped. "Not my type? Hell! You're Captain America! You're everyone's type!"
"You're not everyone, Tony."
Tony's eyes narrowed. "And I'm not a pity fuck," he hissed.
Rogers reeled back. "What?"
Okay, Tony was trying for erratic again. Throwing him off track. Successfully. Here he was opening up to Stark about his sexuality and Tony turned it around and accused him of wanting him because he pitied him?
"You can't be interested in me! What you feel is pity, right?" the man underneath him spat. "Because I'm damaged!"
"Tony, would you please stop not making any sense? I don't pity you! I admire you!"
It got him another stunned look.
"You're courageous. You're a genius! You're so much more intelligent than the rest of us! You're handsome and successful… Tony, what I am is what a lab, a serum, made of me. That's not true with you. Iron Man's contribution is very much valued. What you do each time you put on the suit… it's invaluable. It takes more courage than what I have."
"Steve, stop it…"
"No. I want you to understand that what I see is what you are."
"A shallow bastard?"
Steve shook his head in despair. "You're not shallow. You want everyone to think so. You want an image. You protect yourself with it. But it's not what you are, Tony Stark."
He looked away. Steve waited, still sitting heavily on the much more slender man. Not thin. Never thin. Tony had the most outrageous eating habits Steve had ever seen, and he could live on coffee alone if he had to, but he wasn't showing ribs or looked gaunt. Just… slender. There was power in that deceptive frame. Being Iron Man meant more than just piloting the armor. Tony had the strength and the endurance and the will-power to last through grueling fights, and he had the stubbornness to insist he was fine even if he was bleeding into the suit.
"What I am…" Stark finally said softly. "What I am is a bastard, Captain. You better deal with it."
"I would if you'd let me."
It got him a hollow laugh. "You don't want me."
"What for? You can't save the world, so you want to rescue poor little me?"
Steve leaned in closer again, releasing the wrists slowly. "Tony, what I want is very selfish, very human, and even if I wasn't Captain America, I'd still want it. The question would be then: would you want me in return?"
Confusion reigned the dark eyes.
"I was nobody, Tony. I wasn't even some eccentric billionaire. I was rejected by the Army. I was a scrawny kid with high ideals, studying art. Why do you think I volunteered to be a test subject? I wanted to be stronger. I wanted to be better. I wanted to fight for my country."
"It worked," Tony said softly, eyes fixed on Steve.
"Yeah, it worked. Only too well. But would you have wanted me without it?"
"We wouldn't have met," Stark simply said.
Steve chuckled. "Probably. But that isn't the point. I've not always been the big, buff guy. And inside nothing has changed. I have the same ideals, wishes and dreams as I had before my physical change. You getting what I'm saying?"
"I think so. But what we want… it's not important. I can buy myself what I want. I can get all the buff, blond, blue-eyed guys money can buy. You can have all the girls you want by just being yourself. The Avengers and SHIELD need you. They don't need me holding you down, sullying your image…"
Stark's brows shot up at the expletive.
"There's nothing to sully," Steve said forcefully, eyes blazing. "You… what we could have… isn't some kind of affliction. No one can tell me what to feel and who to like. I don't want some girl. I don't want anyone who throws himself at me. I want you. This is me, Tony. This is for me. Steve Rogers, not Captain America."
"You are the same."
"No. Just like Tony Stark and Iron Man are not the same."
Tony smiled humorlessly. "Well, it would be so much better for all involved if they were. Iron Man people respect and support."
"You have changed your ways, Tony. You have become someone else. Give the world time to see that. I already see it."
Steve got up and held out a hand. Tony took it reluctantly and let him pull him up. He was wincing a little and Steve chided himself for ignoring the injuries.
"Don't," Tony said tiredly. "I'm okay."
"Are you reading minds now, too?"
"You're an open book, Rogers."
"Then you should know I'm not lying to you."
Tony smiled, but it had no strength. "Not giving up?"
"I'm not known for it." Steve stepped closer again. "Take a chance."
Tony closed his eyes. "It won't work."
"Unless we try it, we won't know."
Steve took a big chance and cupped the other man's neck. He pulled him close and leaned down, brushing their lips together. Tony's hands were clenching into his shirt and he was kissing back with the same intensity he did so many things.
When they separated, the dark eyes were positively lethal with desire. Steve licked his lips.
"How about it?" he asked, slightly rattled by the intensity of the brief kiss.
"If you say no, you're lying, Stark. You want this as much as I do."
"Okay," Tony said softly. "I won't lie. I want this. I've wanted this ever since I laid eyes on you."
"I was frozen in a block of ice."
"Call me kinky."
Steve chuckled. "I'll call you a lot of things." He hooked a finger into the waistband of Tony's pants and pulled him closer once more. The next kiss was almost chaste. "Want to go out for dinner and a show?"
"A date?" Tony teased, features much softer now.
"Whatever you want to call it."
"Delivery and a home movie?" Tony asked.
"About getting seen with Captain America on a dinner date?" Stark laughed. "No. It's your good name you're destroying."
Steve frowned. "Tony, stop it. You haven't changed me in any way. I've always liked men and women equally. It's just not something you write down in your resume. You're not a black mark on anyone's vest."
"Ask the protesters. Ask the people who died because of my weapons." Tony's voice was flat, his face a mask.
Steve sighed. "Tony…"
"I'm not shy, Steve. I just… I want to stay home."
Because he felt safer here, Steve realized. Because this was new and unexpected and Tony needed to deal with it his way. He had managed to fluster the man, upset his balance, and in a way it was strangely satisfying. Tony Stark was only human and his reaction to the revelations showed it.
"Okay." Another kiss. "Fine with me." And another.
Tony didn't really fight it. He was rather enthusiastic and Steve found that his future lover's reputation as a womanizer must have expanded on the male side of the sex, too. Tony showed no hesitation, and he was good. Damn, he was good.
Steve grinned. "Are we having dinner at all?"
Oh, and that was ambiguous. "I could eat," he said calmly.
Tony chuckled and stepped back, giving them both a little more breathing space. "I think we can find something in the kitchen."
Steve followed him, feeling strangely elated and slightly giddy. Adrenaline from the verbal fight was still rushing through his veins, but he also felt like he had won a big race. A race against Tony Stark and his damaged self-perception. Steve knew this would take some more work, especially since he didn't want to hide what was hopefully developing between them from the others. They were a team and a team needed to trust each other. He didn't think any of the other Avengers to be so narrow-minded as to start something over the relationship between the two men, but Steve was prepared to fight on that front, too.
Then there was Nick Fury. His old friend and comrade would probably have a conniption, question Steve's judgment and then growl and snap and grumble until he had it out of his system.
Steve didn't care.
He wanted this. A lot.
And he was prepared to fight.
Steve trailed a finger over the edge of the fiberglass case of the arc reactor, then onto warm, human skin. He was still shocked and amazed at what Tony had gone through, what he had survived. The Extremis had left him with the reactor and no one knew why. Maybe the nanotubes had found it was a necessary part of Tony, maybe there had been a glitch in the programming, maybe it was some other reason. It was there, smoothly inserted into the flesh and bone of the chest. There were no more edges, it no longer looked like a foreign object shoved into Tony's body. It was molded to the curve of his chest. It gave off no heat, just the cool, beautiful light. The reactor powered the suit and it had kept the shrapnel from Stark's heart. The shrapnel was gone, the reactor remained, and it still powered the armor.
Tony placed a hand over Steve's questing fingers. His eyes reflected the inner turmoil, the muted fear, the disgust, the longing – and his doubt. The man projected such self-assurance, such aloofness, such arrogance, but Steve had found someone else underneath. Someone who was ashamed of his one remaining scar, who compared himself to the other Avengers and found himself lacking, and who saw his contribution to the team as minor.
Steve leaned over and kissed him, leaving his hand on the device. Tony wrapped one arm around Rogers' waist, the other carded into the short hair on the back of his head. His mouth opened, welcoming Steve's kiss.
They had retreated into the living room. The TV was running, but Steve had stopped paying attention a long time ago. Pizza, half eaten and still in the carton, littered the table. Next to it were bottles of beer and soda.
Tony's shirt was unbuttoned, hanging loosely on his slender frame. Steve had lost his t-shirt a while back, too. He liked touching Tony. He liked exploring the sinewy frame. There were no scars of any kind, thanks to Extremis. Nothing blemished the lightly tanned skin.
Steve plundered Tony's mouth again, pushing him back into the couch. The other man let him, making soft little sounds that only encouraged Steve more. He wouldn't let anything take this away from him. Anything at all.
"So… is this a date?" Tony asked when they parted, eyes full of mischief.
Steve loved that expression. It was so different from the mask he wore as Tony Stark, CEO and billionaire industrialist. It was the private man, someone who sometimes came out and wanted to play. It wasn't the person who was Iron Man. It also wasn't the Tony Stark who had the money and supplied the gear for the Avengers. It was a different person Steve had caught only once or twice.
Right now Tony wore no masks at all. He was just himself. Not vulnerable, but more open.
"If it is, we're already making out," Steve replied, trailing questing fingers over the curve of Tony's ribs.
"Hm, what would your mother say?"
"She'd warn me of guys like you."
"Thought as much."
"But I like guys like you."
Tony grinned. "Good for me then, hm?"
Steve nuzzled his neck. "Very good."
Tony made a noise between a sigh and a groan as Steve found a sweet spot, and he squirmed as the blond used his considerable skill to torment him with it. He didn't just give in, though. He ran his hand over the perfectly sculpted body, across warm, tanned skin, down the back and to the hips, until he reached the firm behind. He pulled Steve closer and Rogers gasped a little at the contact.
Grabbing Tony's hands he pushed them against the couch. The other man grinned up at him, eyes alight, face flushed. It was a good look on him, a very good look, and Steve planned to put it there more often.
"Bedroom?" Tony offered.
Steve laughed softly. "You assume much for a first date."
"I think we've been dating for a whole lot longer," was the quiet, more serious reply.
Steve blinked, then nodded slowly. Yes, they had. All those nights spent together, talking, getting to know the other. Even each battle fought side-by-side.
"And seriously, I haven't gotten any in a long time," Tony went on conversationally, one hand playfully caressing Steve's side. "My hand was my consolation prize for too long. Which I hope doesn't send you running off screaming."
Steve gazed at the arc reactor again, fingers brushing over the casing. "No running," he said softly. "No screaming. I think you're perfect as you are."
Tony blushed. He really blushed. Steve was fascinated.
"I'm far from it," Stark finally replied, refusing to meet his eyes.
"You are. For me you are."
"No, you listen. I want you as you are. I didn't fall for someone else, Tony. I fell for you."
"You… fell for me?"
Steve smiled. "Haven't figured that one out yet? And here I thought you were so brilliant. Yes, Tony Stark, I fell for you. You think I'd be here if I hadn't?"
Tony didn't answer and Steve suppressed a sigh. He leaned forward and kissed the other man, coaxing the lips to open and their tongues to meet.
"I'm not so cheap, Tony," he whispered when they parted, lips against lips. "I want this. With you. Very much."
There was such hope in Tony's eyes, such need, it almost took his breath away. He was probably the first person aside from Rhodey, Pepper and maybe a doctor to see the arc reactor. Stark hadn't had a woman's – or man's – touch for a long time because of the device. But to Steve he was perfect. He wanted him just the way he was – and had been. Tony could be an arrogant, ruthless bastard, but it wasn't him. He was more. He didn't show it in public, but Tony was warm and gentle and loving and caring.
Tony buried his face against Steve's neck, warm breath ghosting over the blond's skin. He nibbled at the crease of skin and kissed him.
"Thank you. Now… how about we do something about my long dry-spell…. And yours?"
The mischief was back, as was the light in the dark eyes.
Steve chuckled, only too happy to comply.
Steve woke throughout the dawn hours. It was still dark outside, but the first signs of imminent sunrise could already be seen. His bladder had woken him and he found himself drawn between ignoring it as long as he could and going right away. He felt warm, comfortable, next to the man with whom he had shared more than just body heat a few hours before. He pushed himself up and looked down at the dark head. In the twilight of the room, Tony's features appeared smooth and relaxed. He lay on his back, one arm flung out, the other on his stomach. Like Steve, he was naked underneath the covers.
Tony was such a contradiction. He was cold and hard, relentless and a total bastard when it came to business contracts or business partners. But he could charm them, too. He could wrap someone around his little finger, give the buyers a show they would never forget. He was flashy and superficial if he wanted to be.
He was Iron Man. Powerful and courageous. He was an Avenger and not just the provider of money, as he saw himself. He was a valued member of the team. They needed the genius and the technology and the sheer battering ram power the repulsors could have. Behind Iron Man, maybe even meshed into him, was the engineer, the genius, the wizard. Tony was such an incredible mind and it was dizzying and beautiful and awe-inspiring to watch him work. Steve had never talked to a man who had such vast engineering knowledge that spanned more than his own life time. You could probably wake him at night and he would be able to build a complete engine from scrap.
He had built the arc reactor from scrap, Steve reminded himself. That alone was… more than amazing. It was incredible.
Still Tony saw himself as lacking compared to the other Avengers. He had no mutant super powers, but neither had Steve. Steve was an icon; Tony was… respected but not really loved. He was accepted like one would accept a necessary evil. It was what he had told Steve. It was what he believed.
Steve had no idea how he could remedy this, how he could help Tony understand that the others wouldn't leave him to fend for himself in any given situation. He was there for each and every one of them; they would be, too.
His bladder urged him to leave the warmth of the bed and he hurried back in record time, slipping in next to his lover. Steve's body twinged and complained in very unfamiliar places. Tony hadn't been his first male lover. People always thought him to be too innocent in some areas, but like Tony wore his cloak, so did Steve. The 1940s hadn't been the Age of Innocence. He had experience. And their encounter had been breathtaking. Tony had been slow and gentle, careful and loving. He had also been starved of touch and affection and the simple pleasures of sex. Steve planned on fulfilling that need and give him that pleasure.
He slipped off into a light doze that was broken two hours later. Tony had left the bed and hadn't returned. The spot at Steve's side was cool to the touch. Rogers slipped out as well and took a shower, dressed, and went in search for the other man.
"Jarvis?" he asked quietly.
He rolled his eyes. The AI could be as stubborn and sarcastic as his master.
"In the kitchen."
Not the workshop. Good. Steve padded through the humungous living room into the open kitchen. Tony was leaning against the ceiling-to-floor window, coffee mug in hand, gazing at the bright blue ocean.
"Hey," Steve greeted him. "Good morning."
Tony glanced over his shoulder, smiling. It was a relaxed smile that did a lot to ease Steve's subconscious fear.
"Hey," was the lazy reply. "How do you feel?"
"Sore." Steve smiled ruefully.
"It'll pass." There was a brief hesitation, then, "Regrets?"
He looked into the suddenly uncomfortable eyes. "No," Steve answered truthfully. "None."
And why would he have them? He was his own person, he was of age, had been of age for a while now, even before he had involuntarily been frozen, and could decide whom he slept with.
"Coffee?" Tony offered, sounding more relaxed than Steve had ever heard or seen him.
"You left some?" Rogers teased.
"I'll even share."
A lazy smirk. "That's me."
Steve poured himself a cup and joined his lover at the window. They didn't talk, but it felt like a companionable silence. Tony's glances had Steve smile and the other man smirked a little in return.
Finally Steve closed the distance and placed a soft kiss on Tony's lips, feeling the scrape of the goatee. Tony's response was just as gentle and he wrapped an arm around Steve's waist, pulling him flush against him.
"Take a day off," Steve suggested, voice low, lips at Tony's ear.
"You. Me. Nothing else. No Extremis."
"You can. One single day. The world won't end and the company won't crash." He nibbled at one ear, feeling Tony shiver. "One day."
"Okay," was finally the answer.
Steve nuzzled one temple. "Extremis off."
"Off," Tony promised.
"Just you and me?"
Steve sealed their lips together. He wanted to get to know this man again, as a different person, as someone who opened up to him, had opened up to him. As his lover and partner.
"So what's the plan?" Tony asked, sounding flirtatious.
"Have you ever been to Coney Island?"
It got Steve a burst of laughter, almost breathless. "You want to go to an amusement park?"
"Yeah. You mind?"
"No! It's just…" Tony grinned. "It's you."
Steve raised an eyebrow. "It is?"
"Hm, one hundred percent."
Tony kissed him and Steve again discovered just how good the man was. Tony had a reputation. He lived up to it. Completely.
When they finally separated, Steve was leaning against the window, the panes cool against his back, and Tony was watching him with a hooded, very much pleased expression.
"You're not getting out of that deal," Steve grinned.
"Well, damn," was the dry reply.
"You'll enjoy yourself."
Tony looked doubtful, but he followed Steve back to the bedroom. They showered – separately, since anything else would have led to more sex – Tony had more coffee, and then they were off. By subway. Steve insisted.
Tony did enjoy himself. Dressed in jeans, a t-shirt, running shoes, and a leather jacket – all so expensive, you could clothe a family for a year with the money, Steve suspected - he blended in. The baseball cap helped. Steve stood out, no matter what he wore. He was just… big and handsome and Captain America, with or without a uniform. People looked at him. Tony grinned as he watched Steve blush as a pair of teenagers flirted with him, as a woman tried to invite him on a date, or when an older lady told him he reminded her of her husband, god bless him, when he had been younger. For some reason he wasn't jealous.
Steve finally pushed away from the latest admirer, a bubbly blonde who might have fit Tony's prey scheme a long time ago, and walked back to Stark.
"Told you," Tony said softly as they headed toward the beach, eyes glinting. "Everybody loves you."
Steve looked at him long and hard, looking for something. Tony just smiled.
"I don't want everybody," Steve finally said, voice serious.
Tony felt himself shiver a little at the intensity. He didn't look at the blond next to him, kept his eyes on the Atlantic. There weren't too many people here this time of the year. Tourist season was over for summer and soon there would only be the old ladies in their fur jackets, feeding the sea gulls and talking Russian. They had their stretch of beach all to themselves.
The voice was soft but still laced with a command. He had to look.
"I love you."
Tony knew he was staring. He had hoped to settle for 'I like you' and time together, but this was too much in such a short time. His brain was still short-circuiting over the fact that Captain America was bi. Now Steve loved him?
"Don't try to tell me I don't," Rogers went on, voice firm now. "I do."
"Okay," was all he managed.
"It's not impossible to love you, Tony," Steve added.
Was he reading minds now, too?
"And I'll prove it to you."
Tony drew a steadying breath. Things were really cascading now. A strong, warm hand on his thigh had him meet the intense blue eyes again. Steve leaned over and brushed their lips together. His hand drew calming caresses along the butter-soft fabric of the washed-out jeans. Tony shivered, trying to stop that electric feeling that coursed through him. He was like a touch-deprived man finally getting all he wanted, and in a way he had been deprived. Of a lot. Now he had given in to something he had feared, had tried to shy away from, and it had proven to be the most wondrous experience.
Tony made an embarrassing little sound of need.
Steve smiled at him as they separated, strong fingers playing through Tony's wind-tousled hair.
"I'm in the mood for cotton candy," he whispered, voice full of laughter. "How about you?"
Tony burst out laughing, shaking his head. And they called him erratic!
Steve ate a ton of sugary sweet stuff and Tony indulged in coffee-flavored ice cream. They had fantastic hot dogs and cheese-smothered fries. Steve showed off at shooting gallery and Tony dragged him into a cabinet of curiosities show that was as bad as he had suspected it would be. They ended up on the giant Ferris wheel as darkness fell. The wheel had lit up and was sparkling in bright colors.
Steve looked like a little boy. He was clearly happy.
It made Tony happy in turn.
Finishing off his second hot dog, he wiped his hands on a napkin. The wind was blowing through his hair, bringing with it the smell of the ocean. Children laughed, playing chase, others were begging their parents to buy them more sweets or to go on one last ride, see one last show, have one last trip around the fair.
Tony wrapped his jacket a little more tightly around him as a gust of rather cold air blew past and he snuggled a little closer to Steve, who didn't seem fazed by the dropping temperatures. A large hand slipped under the leather jacket, stroking over his back.
Yes. No. Not really. He wanted to stay here, but part of him also wanted to go into a bar, order something alcoholic and warm himself up.
"Are you impervious to cold?" Tony asked instead of answering.
"No, but it's not yet that cold." Steve looked suddenly mischievous. "Must be your lack of body fat."
Tony growled. "I didn't hear you complain last night."
"I'm not complaining. Just stating a fact."
The hand stayed, a source of heat and a strange kind of reassurance. Tony huffed slightly, but he didn't move away from Steve either.
They stayed a little longer, but when the rain started, even Steve wasn't eager to drag out their day off. They hurried back to the subway station and crammed into the train with other Island tourists. Tony had to chuckle as he saw his wet, wind-torn self reflected in the windows.
He hoped there had been no reporters anywhere and if Peter had tailed them, he'd do unspeakable things to the younger man's precious camera and computer.
A cab got them to the mansion from the nearest subway station. It was by now pouring down and neither man stayed dry.
As the door closed behind them, Steve pulled Tony into a kiss, wet lips against wet lips, both dripping in the hallway. Tony laughed breathlessly.
"Had fun?" Steve teased, carding his fingers through the wet hair.
The blond looked pleased as punch and Tony kissed him again, just because his expression was so inviting.
"And look, Mom, no Extremis."
"Keep it off a little longer," Steve rumbled.
"You'll find out."
That night he watched the other man sleep, studying the perfect features in the perfect face, the perfect body.
Tony didn't dare touch Steve, though he was so tempted. He didn't want to wake him. He didn't want to look like a sap, staring at Steve, wondering how this could have happened. This wasn't a dream; it couldn't be. It had be real.
Steve wanted him. Steve loved him. He had said so, shocking Tony. He loved the blond for sure. He knew it. This was more than just a brief indulgence. He had had enough 'relationships' or partners to see and feel the difference.
And today had been… special. Nothing grand. Nothing fancy. Just them, having fun, eating hot dogs, enjoying each other's company and the simplicity of life. At least for one day.
Tony smiled and he knew it was a really sappy smile at that.
He was lucky.
And maybe, just maybe, this would really work.