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A Friendly Understanding

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Another day, another fight. Groaning, Steve poured himself into the Avengejet for the trip home. Cuts and bruises already healing, he also knew he needed a shower, more likely two, food and a long sitdown in front of a tablet going over files. Fighting innumerable Molemen always brought its share of dirt and mud and then some. The rest of the team looked completely beat too; even Thor was half asleep, slumped down in his chair. But Tony had flown ahead muttering darkly about a pinched articulated joint and minor electrical shocks.

Restless, Steve had a stray thought that maybe Tony needed some help getting out of the suit. Perhaps the pinched joint was along Tony’s upper thigh panel and he’d need Steve to bend the metal to free him. And maybe he would get a handful of Tony’s muscled, round ass as he eased off the armor. Steve looked out the window, a smile stealing over his face at the thought of Tony pressed up against him, asking for his help.

They had this understanding, ever since Tony had re-formed the Avengers. It wasn’t anything special, just a little one-on-one time in the locker room or shower after a battle, working off extra energy. Sometimes it was a quick meet-up in a bedroom when a sparring session got a little heated. Their little understanding worked for them. It was what it was, nothing more or less.

Natasha landed the Avengejet at the Tower. The tired, dirt-covered Avengers silently slunk out of the jet, seeking showers, food and clean clothes. Steve expected to see Tony lingering around the lockers. Steve could picture Tony in his worn jeans and black tank top, waiting for Steve with a suggestive look in his brown eyes. But he wasn’t there.

“Where’s Tony?” Steve asked Clint.

The archer stretched and yawned. “No idea. Haven’t heard.”

Steve paused a minute and looked around the room, seeing only Clint, Thor and Sam. The Hulk had already laid siege to the contents of the refrigerator and pantry. If anyone else wanted to eat, they would have to order in tonight. Steve ran his hand through his hair, pondering if he should shower before looking for Tony.

Clint made the decision for Steve. “Gah, Steve, take a shower, will ya? Getting hard to stand downwind from you.”

Letting the hot water pour over him, washing away all the filth, mud and blood, Steve thought back to breakfast. That morning Steve had looked up from his morning coffee and paper to see Tony having a very intense conversation with Sam over recalibration of lab equipment. He liked watching Tony in full flow, his face animated and his body moving fluidly with each gesture, and admired the play of light over Tony’s sculpted biceps. He sipped his coffee, gathered up his paper, and checked his tablet for the day’s appointments and tasks.

Tony broke off his lecture on the correct way to maintain the lab equipment. “Steve, what’s up?”

“Off to the gym,” Steve replied cheerfully.

“That’s all? I was hoping to talk you into trying out some new training equipment or a new set of jet boots.”

Steve frowned, remembering the long, lingering humiliation on the internet from his last try with jet boots. Then he noticed Tony standing a little too close. Tony’s lips were red from drinking hot coffee and Steve could only think of what Tony did with those lips two days ago when he cornered Steve in the shower.

Tony’s eyebrow shot up as if he could read Steve’s mind. “You know,” he said, with a slight grin. “We could just review some files in the workshop.” He ran his fingers up Steve’s arm, noticing how Steve shivered at the touch.

Then the alarm rang and Natasha ran into the kitchen announcing the latest attack from molemen on a suburb of Cincinnati. Sam wondered, “Molemen?”

“Yeah, don’t wear your Sunday uniform,” Tony growled. “Or anything you’d like to wear again.”

“It’s the mud,” Steve explained as they ran towards the locker-room and hanger.

Once out of the shower, Steve threw on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt and towel dried his hair. He really should check on Tony. JARVIS would tell him if Tony was seriously injured or if he called it an early night. Tony was probably still in the workshop trying to fix whatever had happened to the suit.

Passing by the kitchen, Thor and Clint were figuring out the pizza order. “Steven, how many pizzas would you like?” Thor boomed. “We are seeking pizza from yon House of Pizza, best pizza of the land.”

“Oh, hmmm.” Steve was very hungry. “I’m good for three.”

Clint sighed. “Guess it’s going to be the usual fifteen extra-large pizza order.”

“Have you seen Tony?” Steve asked.

“Iron Man? Nay, not since we left the field of battle.”

“Okay. I just want to check on him to make sure he’s okay.”

“The pizza will be here in 30 minutes. If you or Tony aren’t here, we’re feeding your share to Hulk. Or Thor. Or whoever’s pushier or likely to hit harder,” Clint called out to him.

On the way to the workshop, Steve thought about how much he admired Tony’s confidence, his sheer brilliance, how he always pushed as hard as he could to defeat an enemy. And at the risk of blushing in public, Steve was fascinated by how Tony just knew the right way to drive him crazy when he put his hand down Steve’s pants. Especially last week, when Tony had pushed him up against Steve’s bedroom wall and demonstrated exactly why he had a reputation. Maybe Steve liked it far more than he should, because in quiet moments Steve had begun to crave Tony’s touch more and more.

As soon as Steve heard the roar of music from the workshop, he knew he had found Tony. “Hey, Steve,” Tony said when he saw Steve. His left arm was bandaged and there were scrapes on his face and other arm. He was standing in front of three holoscreens with data and schematics and parts of the armor were scattered all over the workbench. “Yeah, been working on the suit, trying to figure out what malfunctioned. I’ve got a massive bruise on my left thigh, burns on my left arm, and I’ve narrowed down the electrical wiring problems in the suit to three probable causes. I’m going to have to refit some of the suit panels.”

Steve stood next to him. “That doesn’t sound too bad,” He noticed the little wrinkle on Tony’s forehead that appeared when Tony was thinking hard about something that worried him.

“Yeah, sure. Just a bunch of annoyances and pain in the ass stuff I don’t really need today.” Tony sighed and rubbed his eyes.

Putting a hand on Tony’s warm shoulder, Steve said, “Clint’s ordered pizza from that new place around the corner.”

“I -- I don’t know, Steve. I’m not fit for human company tonight. And the team’s probably not up for grumpy Tony.”

“A couple of slices will do you a lot of good,” Steve wheedled. “You don’t have to stay long -- just show up and let us know that you’re okay.”

“I warn you, the minute Thor and Hulk start arm-wrestling for the leftovers, I’m out of there,” Tony said reluctantly.

“Sit next to Natasha -- she doesn’t steal food. Or better yet, Sam.”

Tony was uncharacteristically quiet during dinner. When Sam asked a couple of questions about the suit’s performance, Tony replied in one-word sentences. Clint couldn’t even get a rise out of him with some pointed teasing about the suit. Later, the rest of the team fell into an enthusiastic conversation about the Moleman attack. But a silent Tony finished off the pizza on his plate and then slipped away.

Even though he was having a fun time listening to Clint’s version of the attack, Steve was concerned about Tony. Something was seriously wrong. He preferred a smiling, sarcastic version of Tony instead of this closed-off one. Steve wasn’t one to push, but he should check in on Tony. JARVIS informed Steve that Tony was in his bedroom. Steve was honestly surprised. He’d thought given Tony’s mood that he had retreated to the workshop. Whatever was going on wasn’t about the suit.

Tony’s bedroom door was slightly ajar, as if in invitation. But Steve hesitated. He had been here more than a dozen times for all sort of reasons from the innocent to not at all innocent. But tonight, somehow the bedroom on the other side of the door felt like alien territory. Unfriendly alien territory.

Steve never backed down, and despite his misgivings, he knocked. “Uh, Tony?” No answer. He should back away now and put in his vote for what to watch on television.

“Oh, hey, Steve,” Tony said listlessly. “Come in.”

He found Tony sitting on his bed, staring out at the New York city skyline. The sun was setting, bathing the room in a dark gold light. “I thought you’d be in the workshop,” Steve said.

Tony fell back on the bed. “Gah. Everything I tried to fix broke when I touched it. I can’t get anything right.”

Steve sat down next to Tony. He really shouldn’t be noticing how unbelievably sexy Tony was with messy, unstyled hair and in the clothes he’d pulled out of his laundry. He nudged Tony’s knee playfully. “It’ll get better.”

Tony rubbed his face. “Not up for the ‘buck up, take on the world’ speech right now.”

That stung a little. “You go around looking upset and withdrawn, I’m going to think something’s not right,” Steve pointed out.

Steve could see that Tony was struggling with whether to talk about whatever was bothering him. He kicked off his shoes, swung his legs onto the bed and scooted towards the headboard to sit with his back against the pile of pillows. He smiled at Tony with a silent invitation to join him.

Tony frowned, then thought better of it and climbed into Steve’s arms. He laid his head in the crook of Steve’s shoulder. After a few minutes of silence, Tony sighed. “Today was sucky from beginning to end. Sometimes things just stink and there’s nothing much anyone can do about it.”

“That happens,” Steve replied.

“I can’t even start -- Everything went wrong in the lab this morning and then we had that Moleman fiasco.” Tony shifted a little, snuggling into Steve.

“I wouldn’t call that a fiasco. We were able to round them up and put an end to the invasion with minimal damage.”

“Except for the elementary school,” Tony blurted. Oh, there was a story here after all, Steve thought. “You didn’t see it, but the Molemen tore apart that elementary school. They were having a science fair in the gym -- you know, little stuff like foaming volcanoes, plants grown in the dark, homemade batteries, solar system models. But the Molemen wrecked everything. Those kids were really disappointed,” Tony said.

Steve remembered the scene a little differently -- not the wrecked science projects, but a line of third graders cheering for Iron Man and Hulk while being evacuated. “They can hold the fair again, once the school is cleaned up and fixed.”

“Not the same thing. I could have stopped it, you know, if I had fixed the Probability Engine.”

Steve began to rub circles into Tony’s back with his thumb. “I don’t think even the S.P.E. could’ve predicted that the Molemen’s faulty GPS would lead them to attack a town a hundred miles away from the chemical plant they were targeting.”

“That’s what was so shitty about the whole thing -- it was pointless and destructive. And all I can think about is that some kid spent a month putting together his volcano and a Moleman destroyed it.”

“Well, you think those foaming volcanos are kind of awful.” He squeezed Tony with his arm and smiled.

“Yeah, but I was a little kid once, believe it or not. And then I screwed up something on the suit when I was working on it late last night and I started getting shocks midway through the fight. You guys needed me and I almost let you down.”

“Tony, you were magnificent out there, especially when you improvised that holding tank for the molemen as we rounded them up.” Steve could feel Tony begin to relax against him.

“Any idiot could have welded that tank together.”

“But you’re my idiot,” Steve said fondly and kissed Tony’s forehead. “Despite what you say, you should have heard the kids cheering for you.”

Tony grimaced but continued to relax against Steve’s shoulder. As he kept on with a litany of inconveniences and complaints from the day, Steve combed his hand through Tony’s thick, dark brown hair. He smiled when Tony mumbled a rant about the lack of toastiness to this morning’s toast.

“It will be better in the morning,” he murmured to a drowsy Tony, a welcome weight in Steve’s arms and on his chest.

Bright sunlight falling across his face nagged Steve awake. He yawned and started to stretch but found Tony still curled against him. Then his stomach rumbled loudly.

“What an awful way to be woken up,” Tony muttered. He looked up at Steve and smiled. “But you make a wonderful pillow.”

“I try my best.” He kissed Tony’s nose, temple and lips.

“Can’t do that too often. I’m going to have an awful crick in my neck.” Tony rolled off Steve’s chest. He propped himself up on an elbow and bent down to kiss Steve.

Putting a hand on Tony’s shoulder to tug him closer, Steve kissed back eagerly, letting the kiss become heated and intense. He loved every minute of Tony in his arms, against his body, and just the closeness of being with him. Tony’s hand slid down, caressing Steve’s stomach and ass, then his fingers slipped under the waistband of Steve’s jeans.

“Can’t let the morning go to complete waste,” Tony murmured. Steve laughed and they quickly managed to work their jeans and boxers off. Tony’s dextrous fingers worked up a pleasant ache in Steve with swift, sure strokes. Tony pressed against him, responsive, full of life, as they thrust and moved together, building towards release. Revelling in Tony, Steve threw himself totally into the moment, holding nothing back, completely open. His release hit him like a train, leaving him holding tightly to a smiling, dazed Tony.

“Wow,” Steve whispered finally. They eventually had to move from the bed to clean up and get on with the day. But only after Steve finished a pillow fight that started when Steve asked if Tony was concerned about the quality of his toast. Laughing until the tears ran, Steve turned to Tony. “I really have to get breakfast.”

“And I need coffee. Desperately,” Tony stated. He tugged at Steve. “Hey, thanks for coming by last night.”

Steve took advantage of his new-found freedom to kiss Tony whenever and wherever and peppered Tony’s face with kisses. “I don’t like seeing you unhappy. Ever.”

Tony sighed. “You know, Steve, you could do that more often, you know, stay the night and all,” he said hesitatingly, as if afraid of what Steve would say.

“Sounds like a plan,” Steve reassured him. “Breakfast first, though.”

“Nooooo, coffee. Lots of it. Hey, I know what’s wrong with the suit now! Let’s go.” Tony squeezed Steve’s hand.

After that, the Avengers arrived at an unspoken understanding. They didn’t ask why or when Steve moved into Tony’s bedroom. And they didn’t say anything when Steve put his arm around Tony as they watched television or when the two of them mysteriously retreated after a battle or an argument.

It was what it was. The smiles on Steve and Tony’s faces explained it all.