“I’m afraid I am not at liberty to give you that information.”
Tony squeezes his eyes shut and pinches the bridge of his nose. He slowly counts to ten before looking at the receptionist again. “I’m Tony Stark. I’m an Avenger,” he says slowly. “How could you not be allowed to tell me?”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Stark,” the older woman says, and she does actually sound a little apologetic, “but unless you are on the approved list of visitors, I cannot allow you to go upstairs.”
“Well, someone’s gotta be there now, right?” Tony asks. He knows very well that he could just look through the records on the computer himself and find a way to bypass security, but the last thing he wants is to piss off the staff enough to ban him from the hospital completely. “Can’t you tell them I’m here or something?”
“Stark?” a voice says from behind him.
Tony spins around and finds himself face to face with Natasha. Aside from a couple of bruises on her face and a brace on her left wrist, she looks normal: not at all bad for someone who helped take down HYDRA less than twenty-four hours ago. “Oh, thank God,” Tony says, relieved to find a familiar face. “Where is he?”
“What are you doing here?” Natasha asks instead. “They told me you were causing a scene.”
“Does that actually surprise you?” he says incredulously.
“Miss, I’m sorry,” the receptionist says, “I’ve been trying to get him to leave, but—”
Natasha shakes her head. “No, it’s fine. He’s okay,” she assures. “Put him on the clearance list.”
The receptionist looks skeptical, but she goes back to her work anyway.
Natasha turns her attention back to Tony. “Now, what—”
“I asked you a question, Romanoff,” Tony interrupts. “Where. Is. Steve.”
For a brief moment, Natasha actually looks taken aback by his demand, but she quickly makes her expression passive again. She turns and beckons for Tony to follow as she walks towards the elevator. Tony picks his suitcase off the ground and hurries after her.
“I didn’t expect to see you here,” Natasha says as the doors slide closed. She leans against the wall casually, but all of her attention is on him. “At least, not this soon.”
“Yeah, well, what good is the news if they won’t tell us anything about the actual people who saved the planet?” Tony says, trying to sound flippant. “Yeah, every single government secret has been released to the public. Big whoop. It was bound to happen eventually.”
“You’re checking in on us.”
Natasha’s gaze suddenly becomes too much for him, so he stares at the panel next to her instead, watching the light move from one number to the next as they ascend to the top floor. “So what if I am?”
Natasha sighs. “Your information—”
“It’s fine,” Tony says, cutting her off. He isn’t here to talk about his dead parents; he’s here to see Steve. Honestly, that revelation is a blip on the radar compared to finding out that he was one of the people HYDRA specifically targeted to eliminated. “So… yeah. Back to the news: they’re useless. Really useless. I mean, aren’t they supposed to talk about things that are, I dunno, actually important?”
“And we’re important?” she asks, arching a brow.
Tony meets Natasha’s eyes again, and the look she’s giving him is so raw and open—so unlike her usual self that it leaves him feeling a little unsettled. “Of course,” he replies. “We’re a team, aren’t we?”
“So, this was… interesting,” Steve says, putting his beer down next to the rest of the empty bottles on the coffee table.
“Someone’s gotta catch you up on pop culture,” Tony says, tossing back the last of his drink.
“And watching WarGames is the way to do that?” Steve questions.
“What? Did you want to watch another romantic drama?”
“We’ve only watched two,” Steve points out, “and you picked both of them.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Tony waves off, turning off the television. “You can pick the movies tomorrow.”
“Gee, thanks,” Steve says sarcastically.
“You’re welcome to crash here tonight,” Tony offers. “God knows I have plenty of spare rooms. Feel free to use whatever.” He stands up and stretches, working out the kinks in his back. When he looks back at Steve, he realizes the man had been intently looking the patch of skin where his shirt had ridden up. “Something wrong?”
“You’re going to sleep already?” Steve asks, getting off the couch.
“As much fun as this was, Cap, I’m kind of beat. I doubt I’ll be able to stay up for another movie.”
“Oh, that’s a shame,” Steve remarks. “I thought maybe we could…”
“We could… what?” Tony inquires.
“We could do uh, something else…?” Steve says, hesitant.
Tony looks at him skeptically, hoping that Steve answers without any prompting.
“I mean,” Steve starts, “you’re by yourself in this hideous tower of yours—”
Tony scowls. “It’s not—”
“It’s completely normal if you feel a little lonely—”
“You just got out of a relationship—”
“That was six months ago—”
“And I don’t have time for one myself,” Steve finishes.
“I'm not—” Tony swears his brain actually stops working for a moment when he finally realizes what Steve’s trying to tell him. “Are you… are you propositioning me, Cap?” Tony asks, cocking his brow.
“You want a distraction; I want an escape,” Steve states. “And I’m a man in my twenties with a stressful job and a lot of pent-up frustration. I have needs.”
“When you put it like that,” Tony leans in, “I think I could spare a few hours of sleep after all…” Steve takes a step back just before their lips brush against eachother. “What’s wrong? Isn’t this what you want?”
“It is, but you can quit acting like this wasn’t your end-game all along,” Steve says. “I know for a fact you aren’t that drunk.”
“I… have no idea what you’re talking about,” Tony says stubbornly.
“There’s nothing wrong with admitting that you find me attractive,” Steve says, facetiously. “You don’t need alcohol as an excuse.”
Tony lightheartedly punches his arm. “Rogers, you ass, I’d have to be blind to not find you attractive. But no, I never planned on this.”
“Tony, you made me watch Brokeback Mountain the other day.”
“How else are you supposed to catch up on modern pop culture?” Tony asks. “Besides, this is better than letting you mope around in your apartment again.”
“I wasn’t moping—”
“Sorry, sorry, brooding is more like it.”
Steve crosses his arms. “You’re one to talk, Stark—”
“Hey, I never said there’s anything wrong with it,” Tony says. “New world and all, I get it. What I don’t get, however, is how anyone like you couldn’t find anyone else to uh, remedy your loneliness. I’m sure Romanoff would do it if you asked her.”
“No, that… it was weird,” Steve says uncomfortably.
Tony freezes. “Wait. You and—”
“It was a long mission,” Steve interrupts. “There was a lot of waiting around and—”
Tony whistles lowly. “Um… wow? Surprised you came out of that alive.”
“We didn’t actually do anything.”
“Still… doing whatever you two did and being able to live to tell the tale? That’s impressive.”
They stand awkwardly for a minute or two before Tony clears his throat and speaks again. “So… why me?” he asks.
Steve seems to hesitate before answering: “There aren’t a lot of people I trust.”
That sobers Tony up. “You trust me?”
“Well… yeah?” Steve says, unsure now. “We’re teammates right? And I… I’d like to think we’re friends. You don’t willingly have week-long movie marathons with people that aren’t your friends.”
“Friends,” Tony says slowly.
Steve looks at him hopefully. “Okay?”
Tony smiles. “I could do friends.”
Natasha leads him down the hall and into a relatively large room. The security guards at the doorway pay her no heed when she walks in, but they eye Tony guardedly when he brushes past them.
Steve is lying on the bed, completely still aside from the steady rise and fall of his chest, and hooked up to numerous machines. Tony wonders if Natasha’s been here by herself, but there’s a stack of magazines and a number of empty coffee cups on the side table, so someone else must have stopped in too.
Tony attention goes back to Steve: his face is bruised, one eye dark and seemingly swollen shut, and stitches on the edge of his mouth. More bruises and bandages peek out from under the pale hospital gown. He looks worse than Tony has ever seen him.
The “peak of human condition,” they’ve called him. The strongest, fastest, and healthiest that a non-superpowered human could possibly be—literally perfect in every physiological way, but not immortal, in any sense. And for Steve to be on that hospital bed, so still and pale and unlike one would expect a superhero to look like, Tony realizes just how near-death he must have been, and suddenly there’s a tightness in his chest that he hasn’t felt since he had the arc reactor removed.
“How is he?” Tony asks, trying to sound as passive as possible. He knows he doesn’t do a good job of it, if the twitch of Natasha’s mouth is anything to go by.
“Healing,” she replies. “He looked a lot worse when we found him.”
Tony expects her to go into detail and roll off the list of injuries like she were giving a debrief after a mission, but she remains silent. A small part of him wants to know more, but he already has an idea (and if he’s honest with himself, he doesn’t know if he can actually handle a more vivid image at the moment). “Where did you find him?”
“Washed up ashore, a mile from the Triskelion. We found him right after the last helicarrier went down.”
“He managed to escape the wreckage, but his shield wasn’t so lucky,” she says, jokingly. “The poor guy is going to be crushed when he wakes up.”
Tony knows Steve is going to be fine. He knows that the man will wake up and heal, and probably go out and save the world again in a few months, but as silly as it may be, it’s still a relief to hear Natasha say it.
“You didn’t find his shield?”
“No,” Natasha says remorsefully. “It’s probably at the bottom of the river somewhere. We'll have to scrounge up some equipment to look for it.”
“Stop starin’ at me,” Steve mumbles.
Tony startles. “How long have you been awake?”
Steve yawns and rubs the sleep from his eyes. “Long enough to know that you’re a total creep,” he says, but there’s a fondness in his eyes that Tony’s sure he’s never seen before—at least, directed at him.
“It’s not my fault you’re so gorgeous like this.”
Steve pouts. “I thought you said I was gorgeous all the time—” The yelp that escapes his mouth when Tony tackles him is less than dignified, but he doesn’t voice any complaints when Tony pins his arms above his head.
“Anyone who says you’re a shy, innocent boy scout obviously doesn’t know a damn thing about you,” Tony states.
“And you know me better than them?” Steve challenges.
“I know you like it better on your back,” Tony says, better positioning himself on top of Steve. “I know you like it when I kiss your neck like this.”
“Tony,” Steve groans.
“I know you like it when I touch you here,” Tony says, fingers pressing into the inside of Steve’s thigh. “And that you’re ticklish right—”
“Don’t you dare—” Steve jerks when Tony’s fingers brush against Steve’s knee. “Tony!”
“Okay, okay.” Tony smirks, but moves his hand away. “I’m done.”
“So what else do you know about me?”
“Hm… I know,” Tony drawls, “that we both have to be at very important meetings in forty-five minutes.” He kisses Steve’s nose before getting off the bed.
“You’re cruel,” Steve mutters.
Tony rips the covers off of the bed. “C’mon, we need to get ready. Pepper’s going to have my head if I’m late again.”
“I hate you so much right now.”
“Yeah, you’ve said that befor—shit, fuck, ow!” Tony curses when he trips and stubs his toe on Steve’s shield.
Tony glares at him. “Thanks for the concern.”
“Sorry,” Steve says monotonously. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” Tony says, glaring at the offending metal disc. “Is it really necessary to keep this thing so close to the bed?”
“I like having it within arm’s reach,” Steve says. “And it’s not a thing.”
“Why would you possibly need it while sleeping, though? It’s not like anyone could break into the tower; that’s what JARVIS is for.”
“Well, JARVIS won’t be very helpful if an alien spaceship crashes through my bedroom and tries to abduct me,” Steve retaliates. He looks up at the closest hidden camera above his head. “No offense, JARVIS.”
“None taken, Captain. I am well aware of my own limitations,” JARVIS responds.
“See? Even JARVIS agrees with me,” Steve says triumphantly.
Tony looks at him disbelievingly. “Still doesn’t change the fact that you have a very strange obsession with your shield.”
“You have no right to talk,” Steve retorts. “You’d spend every waking moment with your armor if you could.”
“I am Iron Man, remember? The suit and I are one.”
“My shield is a part of me too.”
“Your shield is just an arm at best,” Tony says matter-of-factly. “My suit encompasses my entire being.”
Steve rolls his eyes. “Have you tried fighting off aliens with only one arm?”
“Just level with me here, Steve. If you had to choose—”
“Tony, nothing you say will make me give up my shield—”
“If you had to choose,” Tony repeats, “would you give up sex or your sh—”
“Sex,” Steve says without skipping a beat.
“What about sex with me, then?” Tony asks instead.
Steve arches a brow. “Is that supposed to sweeten the deal or…?”
Tony promptly throws a pillow at his face.
“Natasha? I thought you were leaving—oh, uh… wow?” Sam freezes in the doorway when he spots Tony sitting next to Steve’s hospital bed. “You’re Tony Stark.”
Tony’s mouth curves into a small smile. “That, I am.”
Sam approaches him and shakes his hand. “You probably don’t remember, but we met a few years back at a demonstration. I’m—”
“Sam Wilson, right?” Tony finishes.
“Um, yeah,” Sam says, obviously surprised that Tony had remembered him.
“You were the only one that didn’t crash on the first try,” Tony recalls. “It was very impressive. Are you still…?”
Sam shakes his head. “I got out a couple years ago.”
“I saw some footage of you in the news,” Tony says, gesturing towards the muted television. “How’d you manage to get your hands on a pack?”
“Beats me. It was all her,” Sam says, pointing to Natasha.
“It was child’s play,” she says, as if breaking into a highly guarded military base was a normal occurrence.
Well, knowing Natasha, it was probably a just a typical Tuesday.
“Anyway,” she says, “I have to go. I’ve got a lot work to do.”
“You can’t take a day off?” Tony says incredulously. “SHIELD is no more; what work could you possibly have?”
“I don’t think that’s any of your business, Stark,” Natasha says over her shoulder, an eerie smile on her face. “I need to call in a few favors.”
“I’ll see you boys in the morning,” Natasha says. She takes one last worrying glance at Steve before leaving the room.
Sam sits down in the plastic chair opposite Tony. His gaze lands on Tony and Steve’s linked hands. “So, you two…?”
Tony mulls over his response. “It’s… complicated.”
Sam settles back in his chair. “Why does that not surprise me?”
“Wanna go out sometime?” Tony asks, looking down at Steve. They’re lying on the couch in Tony’s workshop—or rather, Steve’s lying down, and Tony’s sprawled on top of him. “We could go to dinner? Maybe a show or something.”
Steve furrows his brow. “Like a date?”
“Yeah, I guess that’s what it would be.”
Tony shrugs. “It wouldn’t be that different from when we usually hang out.”
“Then why do we need to call it a ‘date?’”
“We’re practically dating anyway,” Tony states. “We’d just be labeling it.”
Steve remains incredulous. “Do we need a label?”
“No, but it would… I don’t know…” Tony trails off. “I feel like it’s the next logical step in… our relationship?”
Steve tucks his hands under his head and looks up at him leisurely. “You want to date me.”
“Uh… yeah? I thought I made that clear enough.”
Tony ducks his head. “I’m… not good at this, Rogers.”
“But you’re the one who wants to date me,” Steve reminds him, “I just want to know why.”
“We hang out all the time, and we have fun together. We already have sex, it really wouldn’t be all that different.”
“I don’t see why a label is really necessary, then,” Steve says, stubbornly.
Tony rolls his eyes. “You really want me to say it?”
“Yes,” Steve says, flipping them over and straddling Tony's waist. “I do.”
“Fine,” he says, crossing his arms indignantly. “I want to date you because I don’t want you seeing anyone else.”
“You said that you weren’t bothered by that date I went on last week,” Steve says innocently.
“Well, I lied,” Tony says, refusing to look Steve in the eye. “You should know when not to take me seriously.” Tony looks back when Steve doesn’t say anything after a full minute. He frowns when he realizes Steve is trying not to laughing. “This isn’t funny,” Tony whines. “Laughing isn’t a very appropriate way to respond to someone who just told you they want to date you.”
“No, it’s just…” Steve says, between laughs. “God, Tony, you’re so dense.”
Tony’s frown deepens. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means, yes,” Steve answers, giving him a chaste kiss on the lips. “Of course, I’ll date you. I’d be an idiot to say ‘no.’”
“Oh, okay. Uh… cool. Great.” He furrows his brow when Steve’s words resound in his head again. “Wait, how am I dense?”
Steve responds with a pointed look.
Tony gawks when he gets it. “You didn’t.”
Steve smiles at him smugly.
“You did it on purpose?!” he exclaims. “You went on that date to make me jealous!”
Tony hits his chest. “Don’t you dare give me that innocent look, you little shit—”
Steve just shuts him up by pulling him down for a kiss.
“That’s what you did all night?” Sam remarks when Tony returns the next morning, a familiar red, white, and blue object slung across his back.
“Couldn’t sleep,” Tony replies, propping the shield up against the wall.
“So you spent twelve hours diving in Potomac to pass the time?” Sam asks incredulously.
“It’s important to him,” Tony says with a shrug. He looks at the man lying on the hospital bed. It's the second day that he's seeing Steve in his battered state, but that doesn't make it any easier to stomach.
He turns to Sam. “I want to thank you.”
“For what?” Sam asks dubiously. “Saving your life? Because that was all him—”
“No,” Tony corrects, “I want to thank you for having his back when I couldn’t.”
“No need to thank me for that,” Sam assures. “I wanted to do it.”
“Still, I’m glad he had you to depend on.”
“He’s really important to you, huh?” Sam remarks.
“Complicated?” Sam offers. “Yeah, I get it. You look like you have something else you wanna tell me, though.”
“It’s just a small favor.”
Sam looks dumbfounded. “Wow, both Captain America and Iron Man ask me for help in the same week? I’m dreaming, right?”
“Don’t sell yourself short, Wilson. I’ve seen what you can do.”
“What is it, then?”
“Next time,” Tony replies, “because we all know someone out there is just waiting to go crazy and cause another disaster, I want you to call me. I don’t care what he says; if you guys need help, call me.”
Sam nods. “Will do.”
“Where is he?”
“Over there, s-sir.”
Tony looks up at the commotion and sees Steve storming straight towards him, bypassing all other SHIELD personnel.
“Tony!” Steve bellows. He’s in the navy blue uniform that Tony absolutely loves, but his hair’s a mess, and there’s a giant bruise on his right cheek.
Once Steve comes to a stop in front of him, Tony notices that the right sleeve of the uniform has a large tear, and his shoulder looks like it was grazed by a bullet—
“You’re a goddamn idiot!” Steve scolds, glowering at him.
Tony flashes him a smile. “Nice to see you too, Cap.”
Steve opens his mouth to continue yelling, but stops himself when he notices the young SHIELD agent cleaning the cut on Tony’s forehead. “Agent, could you—”
“Yessir. I’m j-just finishing, sir. Captain, sir,” the agent stutters, before hastily placing a bandage on Tony’s wound and leaving.
Tony amusedly watches the agent scurry away before turning back to Steve. “Have I ever told you how much I love it when you use your Captain voice?”
Steve’s frown deepens. “How could you be making jokes at a time like this?”
“Why not? It’s been handled, Steve,” Tony reminds him. “The President’s safe, Killian’s dead, everyone infected with the virus blew up—well, except for Pepper, but that’s no biggie. I’ve already figured out how to fix it. And I just got a call from the hospital saying that Happy woke up about an hour ago, so he’s going to be fine—”
“What about you?” Steve interjects.
“What about me?”
“Are you fine?
“What? Of course, I am,” Tony insists.
“Steve,” Tony says, and the way so much of the tension in Steve’s body abruptly leaves is miraculous, to say the least—like Tony uttering his name was some sort of spell.
The disapproving look on Steve’s face is replaced with worry and concern. “You should’ve called me,” he says quietly, taking a seat next to him on the curb.
“I tried calling you,” Tony replies. “It’s not my fault you jetted off to God only knows where.”
“You could’ve called Fury, or Hill, or… I don’t know. Anyone at SHIELD. This is what we do, Tony. You didn’t have to put yourself, or Rhodey or Pepper for that matter, in danger like that.”
“You think I planned on putting us in harm’s way?” Tony says dubiously.
“You know I don’t mean it like that,” Steve says with a sigh.
“What kind of Avenger would I be if I can’t even protect my own friends?” Tony asks, pained.
“You have nothing to prove, Tony,” Steve assures. “You’ve showed the world countless times, that you’re an Avenger through and through.”
Tony nods, even though he doesn’t really believe him.
“I thought you were gone," Steve says, eyes glued to the pavement.
More than anything, Tony wants to take Steve in his arms and assure him that he’s okay—that they’re both alive and okay, and both sitting together on that street curb. He wants to kiss him and just lose himself in Steve’s touch, but he knows it isn’t a possibility with so many other people around.
Tony settles for discreetly reaching for Steve’s hand and lacing their fingers together. “I'm here. I'm here now with you, and that's all that matters.”
"I was scared.”
“I know, and I don't expect you to forgive me for that anytime soon, but you know I had to do it. We both have responsibilities,” Tony says to him. “You’re not gonna be able to be here for every little thing.”
“I want to, though,” Steve says dolefully.
Tony squeezes his hand. “I know you do, Steve, but when there comes a time that I really do need you, I know you’ll be there, and that’s more than enough.”
Tony drops his coffee when he hears someone yell his name. He looks towards the entrance of the cafeteria and sees Natasha running towards him. She looks relieved, like a weight has been lifted off her shoulders. It’s as if—
“He’s awake,” Natasha says, breathless. “Sam just called me.”
Tony stares at her dumbly.
“Tony, he’s awake,” Natasha repeats.
Tony should be ecstatic. He should be running back to Steve's room, not standing in a puddle of coffee in the middle of a hospital cafeteria. He can't formulate any words, and moving his body seems to be even more difficult. Instead, he just drops into the nearest chair and puts his head in his hands.
Natasha approaches him. “Tony,” she says, shaking his shoulder, “did you hear me?”
“Yeah, I did,” Tony says, still looking down. “I just… I can’t.”
Natasha gapes. “Are you kidding me, Stark?” she says, slamming her fist on the table. “You wait around here for two days and now you won’t even go in there?”
“Jesus Christ, Natasha, I know that, okay?” Tony snaps.
“Then what’s wrong?”
Tony shakes his head. “I shouldn’t have come in the first place.”
“You’re kidding me, right?” Natasha huffs angrily when he doesn’t respond. “So you're really gonna do this? Fine,” she says. "He has no idea that you're even here. You could walk out of this hospital right now and Sam and I can act like we never saw you, and you can pretend that you didn't spent an entire day fishing for his shield,” she says irritably, “or you can suck it up, and walk down that hallway and talk to him.”
Tony takes a deep breath. His entire body is shaking, and he feels like his heart is going to beat out of his chest.
“Tony…” she calls out, her tone much softer than before.
“I messed up,” he says dejectedly. “He needed someone, and I pushed him away.”
"I don't know," Tony lies.
“There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be close to someone,” Natasha says slowly. “It’s perfectly normal to depend on others.”
“It’s not that.”
Natasha frowns. “Then what—”
“I’m gonna fuck up,” he answers. “Again. Steve’s going to need me, and I won’t be there because I’m gonna fuck it up again like I did with Pepper.”
“No, you’re not,” Natasha says, standing from her seat and walking over to him.
“You don’t know that,” Tony snaps. “Of course, I want to see him. But I know that I’m just gonna end up letting him down again.”
“But how do you know that?” Natasha counters. “Look, you didn’t mess up what you had with Pepper, and you are not going to mess up what you have with Steve. You and Pepper were always headed in different directions; there was nothing you could have done to stop that.” She puts her hands on his shoulders. “But you can’t base what you have with Steve on anything but what’s happening here and now. Whatever becomes of you two is up to you two alone.”
“…you’re right,” Tony yields, sighing heavily.
Natasha scoffs. “Of course, I’m right.”
“I love you.”
Tony positive his hearing is damaged from their fight with Klaw, because there’s no way he had heard Steve correctly. “I’m sorry, what?”
“I said, ‘I love you,’” Steve repeats.
Tony wishes his repulsors weren’t damaged in the fight, because the last thing he wants to do is have this conversation. He takes a step back. “Steve… I can’t—”
“Look, I don’t expect you to say it back,” Steve assures.
He shakes his head. “No, it’s not… I don’t…”
“Tony, it’s okay. Really. This isn’t an ultimatum or anything—”
“Then what is it?” Tony demands.
“I just want you to know how I feel,” Steve says, “I didn’t think it was fair for me to lie to you—or myself, for that matter. And I know the last place I should be saying this is in the middle of a demolished building with a bunch of SHIELD agents swarming us, but I saw you fall from the sky and I just… I needed to tell you while I still had the chance.”
“I’m sorry, Steve.”
“Tony, it’s all right.”
“No, I mean… I don’t think we should see each other anymore,” Tony says with regret.
Steve staggers back. “What did you say?”
"I don't think we should see each other anymore. We shouldn't have... this was a bad idea from the start."
Steve stares at him in disbelief. “You’re the one that wanted to date me, remember? You’re the one who wanted me to move in with you!” Steve says reproachfully.
"I know that," Tony says, "It was idiotic of me, I know—"
"How was it in any way idiotic?" Steve asks, his voice rising. "You're seriously running away now because I told you ‘I love you?’ Honestly, what were you even expecting to get out of this relationship?”
“Honestly? Honestly, I thought you would eventually come to your senses and leave me like everyone else,” Tony admits. “I knew it would be inevitable, but damn it, I’m selfish enough to just settle for whatever you were willing to give me.”
“Inevitable?” Steve repeats. “You were planning for us to break up?”
“I’m a mess, Steve,” Tony answers tiredly. “I know you’re looking for a forever, and I can’t give you that.”
“I’m not looking for anything except to be with you!” Steve tells him. “I’m not expecting a proposal or anything like that. I just wanted you to know how I feel. That's all, I swear. Whatever you think is going to happen in the future doesn't matter! All that matters to me is what happens right here, right now.”
More than anything, Tony wants to believe him, but he knows that it can’t happen. He’s hurt everyone that has ever cared about him, and he’ll be damned if he hurts Steve in the same way.
“I think it’s best if we ended things now, before I get the chance to hurt you,” Tony says with a shaky breath, and he may as well have just punched Steve in the gut with the look he was giving him.
“And you think breaking up with me now isn’t going to hurt me?” Steve says tightly.
“It’s better than waiting for me to mess up.” Tony looks at the ground, avoiding Steve’s stare. “It’s going to happen. Trust me, it’s better this way.”
“You’re don’t even want to try, do you?” Steve asks.
“I’ll stay at the Four Seasons and give you a few days to gather your things,” Tony says, dodging Steve’s question.
He’s played this scenario in his head countless times, so he’s prepared for Steve to put up more of a fight. He’s ready for Steve to rebuke every one of his calculated claims, but it never comes.
“Don’t bother,” Steve says coldly. “I’ll be out of the tower by tonight.”
By the time Tony looks back up, Steve’s gone.
“Tony?” Steve calls, surprised to see him. Most of the bruises on his body have disappeared, but he still looks worse for wear.
“Hi,” Tony greets lamely, coming to a stop at the foot of the hospital bed.
Sam coughs and gets up from his seat. “I uh… have to go… somewhere that isn’t here,” he says before ducking out of the room.
“You’re here,” Steve breathes out, looking at him in amazement, like he can’t believe Tony had even bothered to fly down and see him.
The fact that Steve truly believes he isn’t important to Tony hurts, and Tony knows he has no one to blame for that but himself. Tony’s spent his entire life building walls to keep others at a distance, believing that he couldn’t get his heart broken if he didn’t let anyone near it in the first place.
So he withdrew, and eventually drove Steve to move to DC. And as much as Tony hoped that Steve would find someone else and move on, the mere thought of that actually happening devastated him.
Steve looks at him questioningly. “Tony?”
Tony spent so much of his time trying to keep his heart out of the picture that he failed to realize he had already given it to Steve a long time ago.
Tony closes the distance between them and pulls him into his arms, while still mindful of Steve’s injuries. He thinks he makes a mistake when Steve’s entire body stiffens upon contact, but just as Tony starts to pull away, Steve wraps his arms around Tony’s back. The magnitude of his feelings for Steve are so overwhelming that it takes all of his effort not to start sobbing then and there.
“I love you, Steve,” Tony murmurs into his neck. “I love you. I’m never letting you go again, I swear. I love you, I love you.” Tony can count the number of times he's ever uttered those three words on his hand, but with Steve, he can't stop saying them. It's the closest he can get to letting Steve know just how important he really is.
“Shh, Tony, it’s okay—”
Tony pulls back to look him in the eye. “I love you," he declares. "I love you so much. I love you, and I'm sorry it took so long for me to finally say it, but—”
“I love you, too,” Steve says, cupping Tony’s face. "I love you."
Tony kisses Steve’s palm. “I want you to move back in with me,” he says. “I want to be with you.”
Steve’s eyes widen. “Are you sure?”
Tony nods. “More than sure. Very sure. I love you, and I don’t want to lose you again, Steve. I probably shouldn’t be telling you all of this while you’re still doped up on drugs—speaking of which, I have no clue where they got medication strong enough to give your metabolism a run for its money—but I can’t wait any longer. I love you, Steve, and—”
“Tony,” Steve says tiredly.
“Could you please talk a little quieter?” he asks.
Tony huffs a laugh. “Yeah, sure. Of course.” He brushes Steve’s hair back. “Anything for you.”
“Are you ever gonna kiss me, or are you just gonna keep smiling like a dork?” Steve asks.
Tony responds by leaning in and capturing Steve’s lips with his own. The kiss is soft and unhurried: so undeniably perfect. Tony will never forgive himself for denying them this for months.
“You’re a better liar than I gave you credit for, Rogers.”
They abruptly pull apart at the sound of Natasha’s voice, and look towards the doorway to find her and Sam with smug looks on their faces.
“I wasn’t lying,” Steve says, “I told you I wasn’t ready.”
Natasha smiles. “Next time, I’ll try harder to believe you.”
“What’re you two talking about?” Tony asks.
“Natasha’s been trying to set him up on dates,” Sam supplies.
Tony eyes her. “You’ve been playing matchmaker?”
“Yeah, but apparently not a very good one,” she answers. “I guess after dating Iron Man, everyone else pales in comparison.”
“Damn right,” Steve agrees, kissing Tony again.
“This is gonna be a thing, isn’t it?” Sam says with dread. “As adorable as you two are, I don’t think I can handle watching you guys do that—”
“Shut it, Wilson,” Steve admonishes.
“Our clothes are still on,” Tony points on, “It's still fair game.”
Sam puts his hands up in surrender. “Whatever. I’ll give you a free pass this time because Steve’s still sitting in a hospital bed.”
“Sounds fair,” Natasha says approvingly.
“Hey, if you’re all gonna be living under my roof, you better get used to my rules,” Tony proclaims, making the other three look at him with bewildered expressions on their faces.
"Uh... what?" Sam says, dumbfounded.
“What the hell are you talking about, Stark?” Natasha asks.
Tony turns to Steve. “I think it's time we get the team back together, don’t you?”
Steve beams at him. “I think that's a great idea.”