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Lessons on how to be Worthwhile

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After Afghanistan, Tony's desire and tendency to indulge himself in the pleasure of alcohol and sex had faded quite significantly, simmered down into something more reasonable. Some days, though, he found himself slipping back into his old ways, and more than once he had resorted to drowning his sorrows in a night of strong liquor and beautiful men and women.

He was in his shop when something hard and cold struck him in the chest, and instead of pausing to examine the feeling that suddenly went singing through his veins, he immediately wanted to forget the feeling. Which was why he found himself stone cold drunk on a Wednesday night, clinging to some girl's arm for support. To be fair, she was a bit drunk too, so she didn't really offer too much support. They just stumbled around aimlessly, voices loud and raw in their throats and vision blurry. 

"You really nee' t'meet Steveeee," he slurred, drawing out the syllables of his name. "He's so sweet an' nice an' he smells real good, an' he's cute but don' tell'im I said that 'cause he's my best friend an' he'll think 'm weird...."

"I think you're pretty cute," the girl - Natalie? Norma? - drawled in his ear, in a slightly less drunk voice than Tony's, but she still had the sharp scent of liquor on her breath, and all of her words sounded too close together, too crowded. 

"Cute?" Tony exclaimed and stopped short, his lips curved in an "o" shape, his brows furrowed in indignation. "I'm not cute, 'm strong and handsome." He flexed clumsily in an attempt to drive this home, gesturing urgently to his bicep. Natalie - he decided her name was Natalie - giggled and hiccupped as she rested a hand on his arm.

"Ohhhh," she breathed, and flashed him an appreciative grin. She looked thoughtful for a moment. "You can still be cute, and strong," she told him, slowly, like she was carefully picking out each word, turning it over and testing it out for the proper desired effect.

Tony deflated slightly, dropped his arm and looked at the ground. "Steve doesn't think 'm cute, Natalie," he murmured mournfully.

She patted his shoulder comfortingly, the palm of her hand warm against his skin. "Have you asked him if he thinks you're cute?" she inquired after a long moment of silence, and Tony immediately perked up.

"I should ask 'im!" he exclaimed, his eyes bright and excited as he fumbled in his pockets for his phone. "I'll ask him, an' it'll all make sense, just like it always does when he talks..." He trailed off as he punched numbers into the phone slowly and deliberately, his brows drawn tightly in concentration. That’s when the girl next to him, with hair dark like chocolate and wide eyes that sparkled when she laughed, looked sharply at him and realized that this ship had already long since sailed.

"Mmmm," she murmured, and if Tony hadn't been drunk, hadn't been so dead set on talking to Steve right that moment, he would've noticed the way that a light came on into her eyes as she watched him. He would've noticed her sigh with sudden realization, the tiny shrug she gave and how she extracted herself from her grip on his arm, and stepped away. "I'm gonna go Tony, okay? It was nice meeting you."

She waved down a taxi as it rolled by and cast one last glance at Tony who was muttering something about not remembering Steve's damn number because the world couldn't stop spinning, and because of that Tony didn't see the way that she shook her head at this man who she had just met, a man who was simultaneously a genius and completely clueless.

"Hey, Tony?" she called, and he looked up with bleary eyes, lips set in a firm line, distraction hovering in his features. She rested one hand on the door of the cab and gave him a half smile that he didn't really see. "My name is Amy," she told him, and she didn't really know why because she knew he wouldn't remember, but for some reason the words fell from her lips and she felt that was the only possible way she could end this strange interaction. She gave him one last wan smile before ducking into the car, slamming the door shut behind her. Her last glimpse of the man who was known for being larger than life was of him huddled into his jacket with his phone pressed to his ear, bottom lip caught between his teeth and unmistakable hope in his eyes.


 

"Tony," Steve sighed, and pushed the glass back into his hands, "you have to drink water, or you're going to be hung over in the morning."

"I'd rather not," Tony retorted from his perch on the countertop, shoving it decisively back towards the rather amused captain who was watching him with disgruntled exasperation and a rather fond half smile.  

"Sorry," he said with a shrug and handed it to him, stepping back quickly enough that Tony couldn't pass it back to him without dropping it onto the floor. "As much as I don't mind coming to pick you up in the middle of the night, I'm afraid my services come at a price."

Tony's eyebrows shot up and he smirked suggestively over the rim of the glass. "Oh?"

Steve felt a faint flush creeping up his neck, and he tried to disguise it by rolling his eyes and letting out a long sigh. Tony flirted like he breathed, there was no point in taking it seriously. "I meant just drink the water, Tony."

"Fine," he grumbled, but it was without heat and he obliged somewhat willingly.

As Steve observed him, he took a moment to take in the fact that he was standing in the communal kitchen at two in the morning with a rather disgruntled genius billionaire, who was currently sitting on the counter with exceptionally ruffled hair, and this was what felt normal to him. When they'd torn him from the ice, from his life and the only world that he had ever known, he would never have guessed that this is where he would be.

He never would've guessed that this was where he would want to be, with barefoot, ruffled Tony who was still in the process of sobering up. Something about the way his hair was flopping over his forehead and the way his rumpled t shirt was stretched across his shoulders was soothing, almost. He wanted to be here.

He was most of all surprised that he was not at all disappointed about this, that he was content.

"What're you grinning at," Tony demanded, wobbling a bit as he hopped off the counter. Steve instinctively reached out a hand to his arm to steady him, his finger curling around his bicep with him hardly even noticing that he was doing it until he already had done it. His skin was smooth at contact, and Steve felt something like a shiver creeping up his spine, something hot and fierce that he couldn't quite define, something he couldn't quite put his finger on.

For a split second, he thought Tony might have been leaning into his touch, but then he was pulling away and Steve realized that it was just wishful thinking. He was already talking, his mouth running faster than Steve's addled brain could keep up with.

He'd said something, a request Steve guessed by the way that he was looking at him expectantly, but he had absolutely no idea what he'd said.

"Pardon?" He shook himself, clearing his throat as he fought that shivering sensation that was still hovering along his spine.

"I want to bake something."

Steve blinked. "Um."

Tony ignored his obvious confusion, and started rummaging in the nearest cupboard, muttering incomprehensibly underneath his breath.

"You want to bake right now?" Steve asked.

"Yup," Tony said distractedly as he stood on his toes to reach up into the third cupboard he'd approached. He made a satisfied little grunt when he saw the cook books up there, and his fingers closed around the nearest one, Baking Basics was emblazoned on the front. He tossed it onto the counter and then he was ducking down to reach into another cupboard for a bowl, which he plopped into Steve's hands. "You're helping me, right? Stop standing there like a confused puppy and start getting the ingredients out, you can't just stand there and watch."

Steve set the bowl down with an amused grin at still semi-drunk, bossy Tony whirling around the kitchen like a sarcastic, rather eccentric Betty Crocker, clattering and knocking things over as he mumbled under his breath. "Sure Tony, I'll help," he conceded. "But could you tell me what we're making first?"

Tony stopped what he was doing, and paused with a contemplative expression on his face. Steve tried in vain to ignore how adorable he thought that was.

"I want a cake," he finally said, slowly, like he wasn't completely sure. Then he gave a firm nod, deciding. "Yes, cake. I want cake. A cake with a ridiculous amount of chocolate and icing."

"Then that's what we'll make," Steve agreed.

Less than twenty minutes later, the two of them sat side by side on the kitchen floor, both covered in flour that hadn't quite managed to make it into the bowl, watching the cake they had haphazardly thrown together bake in the oven. Steve leaned with his back against the cupboard, and Tony was slumped against him, his cheek pressed to his arm.  Every time he breathed out, Steve could feel Tony's warm breath ghosting along the bare skin of his arm. Ever part of him was aching to reach out, wrap his arm around his shoulders and pull him close against him, to feel his solidness pressed against him. But Tony was close to him, voluntarily using him as a gigantic pillow, and Steve wasn't about to scare him away by startling him with too much intimacy. He sat still instead, and forced himself to enjoy what he was getting instead of reaching for more.

"Thank you," Tony murmured, and Steve looked down at him to see him blinking up at him sleepily.

"For what?" Steve asked.

"For coming to get me," he responded through a sudden yawn. The faint scent of liquor still clung to his breath, and as he spoke he seemed to sag into Steve more, as if relishing his warmth and the feeling of his body holding him up. Or perhaps, that was just Steve's wishful thinking.

"Of course I came for you," Steve answered, surprised. "You called me."

"Yeah, but." Tony frowned, paused, and flashed Steve a strange expression before continuing. "It was late, and 'm drunk, and you probably didn't want to come out to pick up my dumb ass in the middle of the night, but I didn't wanna call Happy, I wanted it to be you-"

"Hey," Steve interrupted him, fixing him with a stern expression. He hoped it wasn't too obvious that he was trying to tramp down the fluttering in his stomach at the admission that he had been the first person Tony had wanted to call. "If you ever need me, call me. I don't care what time it is, I'll always come for you."

There was a long moment where they just looked at each other, Steve determined and firm, and Tony looking up at him with an expression that could only be identified as sad and a little doubtful. Coming down from the intoxication he'd been at when Steve had found him outside of a club earlier that night, he had fallen into something much softer, more fragile. Steve wanted so badly to wipe that expression away with a touch of his lips, to smooth all of those worries and concerns that he was a burden with a run of his fingers through Tony's dark hair. Steve could guess what he was thinking, what he was doubting, and he wanted to tell him right then and there that it was okay, that there was nothing he would rather be than the person who comes to get Tony Stark in the middle of the night.

"I wanted to ask you something," Tony said slowly, his brow creased in a frown, "but I forget what it was."

"Maybe you'll remember in the morning," Steve suggested, and Tony nodded unhappily. He let out a little sigh as he dropped his head, breaking eye contact, and leaned closer to Steve.

"Maybe," he murmured.

Something broke in Steve then, and against his better judgement, he was suddenly moving the arm that Tony leaned against, earning himself a rather displeased squawk from Tony. Then his arm curled over Tony's shoulder, and Steve could feel the warmth and solidness of his body as he pulled him close. Tony let out a less disgruntled noise then, something low and contented, and Steve felt it right down to his bones as he hugged Tony tighter to his side.

He turned his head slightly, and murmured into his hair, "is this alright?"

Tony nodded his head. "More than alright, fantastic even. If you move now I'm probably going to hiss at you or something."

Steve smiled, and leaned down to press his forehead to Tony's. "As you wish," he breathed. Tony hummed in approval. Steve was caught between something explosive and hot in his belly, desire he might of called it, and this glowing warmth that started in his chest and spread outwards. Sure, he desired Tony, with a fierceness that shot to his loins with fervor, but then there was this. This. This is what he really wanted, Tony pliant and soft against him, wanting him close, searching for comfort and companionship in his embrace. If this was all Steve could ever get, he would have to be content, because this here was the most hidden part of Tony. He was getting Tony honest and soft and  vulnerable, and of all the people in the world, Steve got to see it. He had to cherish and protect it while it lasted, because he suspected Tony didn't trust many with this side of him.

Steve knew that when morning came, when they  were no longer protected by the haze of drunkenness and two am decisions, this would be forgotten. This was different for Tony than it was for Steve. This was friendship to him, and for Steve it was a hard ache in the center of his chest that burned brighter with each heartbeat. Steve knew that, he really did, but he had long since resolved to be whatever he could be for Tony. If it was a friend Tony wanted from him, one who sat with him in the middle of the night and baked cakes with him, then that’s what he would be. He was pretty sure he could be anything for Tony. He need only ask.

"What the hell are you two lovesick teenagers doing on the floor," a voice cut through the silence, and Steve looked up to see Clint looming over them. "And what smells so good."

Steve was blushing because of Clint using the term lovesick teenagers, because come on, he wasn't that obvious was he? He made to move away now that Clint was there and hovering over them, but Tony shot him a disapproving look and grabbed his arm, holding him right where he was. Steve shrugged and settled back against him, squeezing his shoulder a bit, and Tony's face relaxed, before he turned to the third person in the room.

"We made a cake and you're not getting any of it bird brain."

Clint stuck his tongue out just as another voice filled the kitchen.

"And what about me?" Natasha asked as she stepped into the kitchen, flopping down onto the floor opposite of them, not even bothering to comment on their current state; though she did give a tiny flicker of a raised brow in Steve's direction. He responded with a little shrug and a small smile. There was really no point in trying to hide anything from her. She probably didn't even need to see the expression Steve knew he probably had on his face to know how blissfully happy he was to have Tony clinging to him.

"You can have some," Tony conceded, and Clint made a rude grunting noise.

"Why can she have some and I can't?" he retorted.

"'Cause she would kill me," Tony retorted right back at him.

"And what makes you think that I won't?" Clint demanded, crossing his arms over his chest.

Tony shrugged. "'Cause Tasha would kill you." He shot Natasha his most dazzling grin, which she responded to with a roll of her eyes, but Steve didn't miss the amused pursing of her lips and the flicker of fondness on her face.

Clint huffed and crossed the room to where Natasha was sitting, and flopped down, laying his head down in her lap. She murmured something in Russian, and shook her head slightly, as if in disapproval or disbelief, but then one hand was gently stroking through his hair.

"Clint can have some," she said decisively, and Tony just grumbled in response instead of objecting, because everyone in the room knew that it was a fact, not a suggestion.

Not long after the cake was finished, pulled out of the oven and sloppily iced by Clint and Thor, who had joined them along with Bruce, the smell of baked goods drawing them out of their rooms. They ate that cake off of fancy plates, which no one knew where they came from, in a haphazard tangle of limbs on the floor. Steve found himself squished between Tony leaning with his back against his chest, and Natasha with her back against his.

He felt the rumble of their laughter against his flesh where they connected with him, and when Tony looked up at him with a grin stretched across his face, and chocolate smudged on his lip, Steve didn't even stop to think before reaching down to wipe it away with his thumb. For a moment he froze, comically frozen in shock at the embarrassingly intimate gesture, but no one else seemed to notice. He felt himself relax just slightly when Tony just rolled his eyes at him and simply rested his head back on Steve's chest, unbothered by the contact. Clint had ended up in Natasha's lap again, while she rested her feet on Bruce's lap. Thor somehow managed to be sprawled out in a way that had him on top of almost all of them, as he merrily devoured more cake than all of them put together, even Steve.

So that's how Steve Rogers, a man who had nothing so recently that he could still feel the cold shadow of loneliness creeping behind him, found himself on the kitchen floor eating cake with his family in the middle of the night. He wasn't even surprised when he realized that this was the happiest he'd been since he'd woken from the ice.

For the first time, he thought that maybe, just maybe, the future wasn't so bad after all.


 

It took Tony a while to get used to how much time Steve spent in the shop.

Not in a bad way, not at all. It was just strange for a while to glance over his shoulder, almost as if he was looking for him to be there, and he would be. He'd be surprised every time when he looked, and there Steve was, reclined on the couch, nose buried in a book or pencil flying across a page in his sketchbook. Sometimes he'd hear a clatter and turn around to see Steve helping Dummy with something, normally cleaning up a mess he'd made. Steve would pick things up and pass them to Dummy, who would take it from him gingerly, before going to put it in its proper place.

It was a slow, laborious endeavor, and it was the most ridiculous thing Tony had ever seen in his life. However, for some reason, he didn't have it in him to tell Steve that, who treated his faulty AI with such care and attentiveness. Often he wanted to open his mouth to tell him he didn't have to pay attention to the bot, but he would snap his mouth shut before he managed to get the words out, knowing that he would get a sharp look of disapproval from Steve, who would then just keep on playing with him.

So he never said anything, and he eventually got used to it.

The problem was, the more he got used to it, the more he was filled with dread for the time when Steve finally had enough of him and stopped seeking out his company.

"Is this really where you want to be?" he'd asked once, and Steve just looked at him with a strange smile, as if he was keeping a secret that Tony could never guess, and didn't answer.

Tony figured he's a masochist, letting Steve worm his way into his life, know everything about him, comfort him, keep him company. He found himself powerless to stop it though, every time he looked over his shoulder and found Steve there, smile bright as the sun, he felt something deep inside of him that was so happy it almost hurt.

He figured that when he left, he could remember this feeling and it would almost be worth it.


 

Steve was sitting in his usual spot in the shop, a couch tucked into the corner of the room, his hand swooping broad lines in his sketchbook, when Tony pushed away from his desk and padded over to him.

"What are you drawing?" he asked around a yawn, and flopped down next to him. He looked over at Steve with curiosity, rubbing a grease stained hand through his hair. There was a smudge of something dark across the arch of his cheekbone, and Steve had to restrain himself from reaching over to brush it away with his thumb.

"Um." Steve looked down at the current sketch he was working on, the rough lines that had just appeared under his fingertips, and started to chew at his bottom lip as he assessed the drawing.

It was a scene that had occurred the day before, with him sitting in this exact spot. He'd looked up from a drawing he was doing of the whole team, startled out of the drawing daydream when there was a loud clattering, followed by an indignant screech from Tony. What he saw in front of him when he glanced up had just struck him as absolutely necessary to document for forever.

Dummy was slumped over sheepishly next to a pile of metal parts that had been cast in disarray on the floor; obviously he'd just knocked it over, probably in an attempt Tony with whatever he was doing. Tony was standing in front of him, having vaulted off his chair in his surprise, and he had one hand planted on his hip, the other raised in front of him as he gestured with a filthy rag in his hand. He was clearly annoyed, hence the strand of scolding words that were coming from his lips, but he'd also looked like a fond parent reprimanding a child for spilling something on the kitchen floor.

Steve had just burst into hysterical laughter, at which Tony looked up with a frown, and turned his scolding on him and started wagging the rag at him too, which had just made Steve laugh even harder. He got up to help Dummy, who was now sulking and slowly picking up the objects he'd knocked over. Tony grumbled about how Steve was always on Dummy's side instead of his, and Steve just rolled his eyes and grinned at him. Eventually, still mumbling under his breath, Tony started to help too, eventually petted Dummy begrudgingly in apology. Dummy beeped happily, and immediately perked up, which made Steve start laughing again. 

It wasn't an overtly intimate drawing, just a rough image of Tony scolding him and Dummy with the rag, but Steve knew that it was intimate. He'd thought it was probably simultaneously the most hilarious and adorable thing he'd ever seen, and he'd felt a smile pulling at the corners of his mouth at the thought of it several times throughout the day a afterwards. He'd committed the scene to memory, and had sat down that evening to immortalize it in graphite. He'd lovingly sketched the contours of Tony's face, tried to capture the laughter and affection that he thought he'd hidden beneath his half hearted irritation.

It should be okay to show him, right?

Tony cleared his throat pointedly, and Steve looked over to see him awkwardly rubbing at the back of his neck, staring at Steve with an unreadable expression, his body tensed up a bit like it always did when he'd thought he'd done something wrong or crossed some line.

"It's alright if you don't want to show me," Tony told him, "I was just curious, but, if you're secretive about it, or if it's personal, I understand-"

"Tony," Steve cut in, his tone firm and reassuring, and thankfully, Tony's mouth snapped shut. "You can look at it."

"Are you sure?"

Instead of answering him, Steve just handed the sketchbook over. Tony looked at him apprehensively for a few moments, hesitant to take it from him, but Steve just sat there with his arm outstretched, offering it to him willingly. Eventually, Tony tentatively took it from him, and shrugged.

"If you insist, Rogers," he said, and flipped it over to look at the drawing.

One of the things that Steve loved so much about Tony's face, was that once he really started looking at Tony, observing the planes of his face as they melted from one emotion from the next, was once you stripped away the layers of charisma and plastic smiles, he was extremely expressive. Steve had to watch closely, but he'd always catch the flicker around his lips when he was trying not to smile, that way that his eyes danced subtly when he was excited about something, the crease between his brows that carved itself faintly into his skin when he was concerned but didn't want to show it.

So, since Steve was so used to watching Tony's face for these subtle nuances, he saw the exact moment that he registered what the drawing was.

His face softened immediately, his expression going relaxed and happy with surprise, his jaw slackening slightly. A tiny smile, hesitant and sweet, clung to the edges of his mouth, and his brown eyes stared intently at the drawing in his hand.

He ran a finger over the lines that composed Dummy's body, almost reverently, and then he looked up at Steve.

"You were drawing us?" Tony asked, and his voice may have hitched over something gravelly and hoarse, but Steve couldn't be sure.

"Of course," Steve smiled, "why wouldn't I?"

"It's just," Tony started, but then paused, and looked down at the drawing again. He shrugged, and that smile remained on his mouth. Steve wanted to cover it with his own mouth, and see how it tasted.

"It's really good," Tony said quietly, and stared at it for a few more moments, before handing it back to Steve. "Really good."

"Thank you, Tony."

Tony nodded, and stood, crossing the room to go back to whatever he was working on, and Steve returned to his sketch.


 

Later that day, after Steve had yawned and sleepily told Tony goodnight, before heading upstairs to bed, Tony found an plain envelope with his name written neatly in swooping letters emblazoned on the front.

When he opened it and unfolded the single piece of paper inside, he found the finished drawing Steve had shown him earlier, and his whole body went stiff in surprise.

In the corner, Steve had written a simple inscription;

-Because Dummy is your favourite, and you are mine.

S R

Tony kept that drawing safe for the rest of his life.


 

Falling in love, at least for Tony, was a far less tumultuous affair than he would've imagined.

It just kind of snuck up on him, creeping up behind him like some kind of soft glow, a flicker of heat that grew stronger with every breath. Much like fire, love is, and like a flame, it needs oxygen. It needs every cut off breath, every faltered exhale. And oh, how Tony gave life to that flame, fanning it to life, fuelling it without even noticing it, and giving it breath when it begged and gasped for more.

By the time he realized he was - is - in love with Steve Rogers, it's far too late for him to even think about doing anything about it.

He just looks over at Steve one day; it's four o'clock in the afternoon, the sun coming in through the window with a soft smoulder, and the room is quiet except for the soft murmur of tired voices, and the TV playing Friends in the background as the team lies lazily around the living room like a bunch of overfed, lazy cats. All in all, it was a pretty uneventful day.

But then Tony looks at Steve, really looks at him, the way he's sitting with his mouth half open in a laugh that crinkles the corners of his eyes, how the sun dances off of every strand of his gold spun hair, and he just thinks to himself; oh yeah, I really fucking love you.

He paused then, a frown appearing between his brows as he realizes what he just so nonchalantly thought to himself. A thought he'd been dancing around for a while now, something he'd pushed to the back of his mind whenever it tried to show itself.

But the thing is, he does. This wasn't a realization, this wasn't a moment of fireworks bursting in the air over him, or a horde of butterflies in his gut. It was a slow, careful awareness, a warm hug from behind that held him close and kept him calm.

It was just kind of there. Now that he was consciously thinking about it, he couldn't remember when he didn't love Steve. It was always there, in the way Steve pursed his lips to hold back a smile when Tony told an inappropriate joke, the way he laughed with his eyes. It was there when Tony would glance over his shoulder and Steve would be there, the only constant in his life. It was there in the sinking of his gut when he looked behind him, and Steve wasn't there. It was there with a longing so strong it ached, but as it is with pain, after so long it becomes so natural and you become numb to it. Tony was numb of the pain of loving someone who could never love him back.

It almost surprises him how he just accepts it. He looks at him, knows he loves him, and that's it.

Steve looked over then, lips parted to say something to him. He pauses, confusion crossing his face. Tony realizes that he's giving Steve a forlorn look, a sad smile that doesn't touch his eyes.

"Tony?" he asks, a touch of concern in his voice.

Tony almost wants to laugh, because of course he's concerned. Of course wonder boy is sweet and kind, and so stubborn and brave. Of course he treats Tony like he's worth something, like he's not broken and lost all the time.

Of course he is, because Steve is everything good that Tony will never deserve.

"Nothing," he said, brushing it off with his charismatic Tony Sark smile, the one that feels plastic and brittle on his lips. "Nothing, Steve, just watch your damn show."

It came out a little more fond than he intended, and he kind of wanted to kick himself for it.

Steve looks at him for a moment longer, assessing him with probing eyes. He clearly didn't believe Tony, but something in Tony's face must have told him that it would be better not to ask, because a moment later he's turning back to the TV reluctantly, so slow that it almost seems like he has to force himself to not demand to know what's wrong. No doubt because he wanted to fix it.

Yes, Tony was in love with Steve, and no, it didn’t look like that was going to change. 


 

Tony woke up one night when darkness still hung in the air like a heavy blanket, with a warm arm slung around his waist, light breathing ghosting across his neck from the warm body pressed against the length of his back. He was still groggy as he blinked himself into a state of semi alertness, squirming a bit to adjust himself more comfortably against the supersoldier slash space heater who was currently plastered against his back. He didn't even really remember when he'd come in, but considering Steve slept curled up against his back most nights now, it wasn't so much unwelcome or surprising to wake up to him being there.

Steve stirred at Tony's squirming, and made a sleepy noise deep in his throat.

"Tony? You awake?" Steve's voice was raspy and sleep ridden in his ear, hardly even there in the silence of the room.

"Mmmph," Tony responded eloquently, not even bothering to form a coherent sentence through the haze of drowsiness hovering over him.

For a long moment, there was complete silence, Steve not saying anything more, just letting out light breaths against Tony's skin. As the time stretched on longer and Tony still hadn't drifted back to sleep, he wondered if Steve had fallen back asleep.

"Steve?" he whispered.

"Yeah," Steve answered. "Sorry, you can go back to sleep."

Tony frowned when he heard the unmistakable crack in Steve's low voice, the way it dipped towards something that was so evidently not okay.

He pried his eyes open and carefully turned in the circle of Steve arms, not missing the way that Steve's breath caught in his throat, the way he swallowed and his throat clicked quietly at the action. As Tony moved so that he was facing him, Steve's face was lit only by the faint glow of Tony's arc reactor, shining softly with a dim blue light that glanced off of Steve's pinched features.

Tony frowned harder and reached out to poke his chest gently. "You okay, Cap?"

Steve shook his head and gave him what Tony could only recognize as a forced, fake smile. Tony knew what his real smile looked like; bright and relaxed, like his expression was just melting into a state of contentment. He had spent so many times noticing Steve's smile and the way that it made his already damaged heart stutter where it rested in his chest, that it was more than easy to tell when it wasn't real.

Since he'd become so embarrassingly infatuated with pretty much everything that Steve did, even when he drove him mad with his self righteous superiority, he'd become acquainted with the many expressions of the Captain. There was the stoic, authoritative face that he wore triumphantly in the field, leading his team of superhero miscreants on yet another quest to save New York, or the world. There was the face he made when Tony was doing something unbelievably annoying, but he couldn't help but be amused; his lips were what would give him away in that case, curving down at the edges in a way that was so unnatural that the smile he was holding was practically palpable. There were the faces that Tony hated, like the face where Steve would give this tiny, sad smile that told everyone around him that he was completely broken inside, and they one where he would look at Tony with disappointment in his eyes, heavy and sad as his eyes burned into Tony until he just had to escape.

But Steve's real smile, the one that Tony was realizing that he lived for, was when he just looked content. Not laughing, just looking at Tony with the softest expression on his face, the slight upwards curve written on the corners of his lips, the faint laugh lines that would appear between his brows. That was Steve's real smile, and whatever twisted imitation he was giving Tony right now was so far away from it that it hurt.

Of course, in a completely Steve-like fashion, he just shook his head and that dreadful expression deepened. "Yeah, I'm fine Tony. I'm sorry if I woke you."

Tony bit back a yawn and shook his head. "No, you didn't, and even if you did it wouldn't matter, I hardly sleep anyways. You should know that by now."

Steve gave him a little frown, and Tony felt his arms briefly tighten around him. "You really shouldn't do that, you know. Sleep is kind of necessary to live."

He shrugged, then fixed Steve with a disapproving stare. Steve's face was illuminated by the faint arc reactor light, his eyes like dazzling pieces of ocean swept skyline after a storm that stared back at him with so much directness, Tony had to fight to not falter. There would be time to obsess over Steve's perfection once Steve had that stupid sadness wiped off of his face. "Don't try to change the subject Mr. Subtle. You alright?"

Steve stiffened and gave a sharp nod. "Yes, Tony. I'm fine."

"Liar."

Steve narrowed his eyes, clearly surprised. "I'm sorry?"

"You heard me," Tony answered. "You're lying. I can practically feel the angst coming off of you in waves."

"There is no… angst," Steve murmured slowly, his face unreadable now. "Everything's fine Tony."

Tony grunted and gave him a disbelieving look. "Look, Steve? I get the whole 'holding in all of your emotions because you're sure no one wants to listen to you' shtick, trust me. If anyone knows about that, it's me. But uh…"

He paused then for a moment, trying to figure out how exactly he should go about wording this without sounding like a complete idiot, all the while Steve gazed at him expectantly, yet patient.

"You can talk to me, you know," he said finally, "I mean, I know that sounds cliché as hell and whatever, but you can. Or you know, you don't have to. But you don’t have to pretend to be okay. You're pretty bad at it anyways, to be honest, you're not very good at hiding your emotions, your face gets all sad and you have those puppy dog eyes. So, you know. I'm not going to think less of you for it."

There was a long pause where Steve just looked at him, silent through the way his lips were pressed together, his eyes assessing Tony carefully.

"It's just hard to sleep sometimes," he admitted.

He didn't elaborate right away, and Tony didn't interrupt. He figured that as long as he waited patiently for him to continue, he might actually feel inclined to do so. Tony wasn't exactly known for his patience, he was always the one to thrust himself headfirst without any hesitation into anything and everything, but he could be patient for Steve. Hell, he was pretty sure he could be anything for Steve.

Just as he'd thought, after a long minute of Tony waiting patiently for Steve to continue, he finally did.

He sighed and suddenly felt the absence of one of Steve's warm hands as he lifted it to scrape through his short blond locks.

"There's just too much in there sometimes, you know? My head is just so full."

"Full," Tony repeated slowly.

"Yes."

"So full of what?" Tony asked, making sure to keep his voice soft and undemanding.

He hesitated, carefully choosing his response. Tony waited.

"Of them," he whispered, and Tony would have to be an idiot to hear how broken it sounded. "I… Gosh, Tony. I miss them so much it hurts. Right here." Steve pressed his hand into the middle of his chest, fingers curling against the fabric of his shirt, tense over his beating heart. "Sometimes it's fine, sometimes they're just in the back of my mind, always there, and it's okay. I never want to forget about them. But then sometimes I'll see something that reminds me of Bucky, or I'll see a pretty dame walking down the street and for a split second I think it's Peggy, and I just. I can't. It breaks me every time, and eventually, I think I'll break for real and nothing will be able to put me back together again."

Tony hated the way Steve's voice sounded then, all hard and crackly. It was if he wasn't sure he wanted to cry or punch a wall.

Well, it was probably both.

"It's like someone cut off my arm, or my leg, and I can still feel it there, or I think I can. Then, I'll reach out to touch it, and it's not there. I'll do things sometimes and I'll think 'wow, Bucky would think that was hilarious, I have to remember to tell him,' or 'I wonder what kind of flowers Peggy likes, I'll have to ask her. It's like for a moment, I forget… and then I remember, and it's like my chest is caving in. I forget that they're gone, and then I remember, and the world ends all over again."

He stopped talking, and his bottom lip ended up caught between his teeth, his brow furrowed and his eyes hard and sad. He let out a sharp, bitter laugh and shook his head.

"Everyone always tells me how lucky I am to be alive, to have a second chance at having a life. As if that makes it easier. Yeah, I'm alive. But sometimes it feels like I died anyways. I had a whole life, and its gone now. I'm alone. Everyone I knew is dead now. Maybe I am too."

"Hey," Tony said, his voice firm and resolute as he reached out with one hand to touch Steve's chest. Steve still had his hand there, absentmindedly lingering on his broad chest, covering the spot where his heart beat within him. At the first brush of Tony's fingertips, Steve visibly flinched, and Tony immediately stopped, giving Steve the time he needed if he wanted to push him away. Then, the arm he still had looped around Tony tightened for a moment, as if in a wordless offering in permission, and so Tony continued.

Tony pressed his own palm to the back of Steve's hand, feeling the warmth of the other man's skin seeping into his flesh, right down to his bones. He splayed his fingers, imprinting each fingertip onto the flesh of Steve's hand, all the while staring at the contrast of their skin in the arc reactor's light.

He couldn't help but think that even though most days he despised the arc reactor, he didn't mind it so much when it was glowing against Steve's skin.

For a while, there was just the sound of their breathing as they held their hands over Steve's heart, connected by flesh on flesh as his heartbeat stuttered beneath their fingertips.

Tony knew that Steve didn't want him to talk right now; he didn't need it. Meaningless platitudes that were in no way  true would not help him right now, saying it's okay would not make it okay, and I'm sorry meant nothing because of course he was sorry. Steve knew that. Hearing it out loud right now would just be dry and useless. Steve had lost everything he had ever known, and he just had to move on in a future he didn't belong in, plagued with memories of a past life filled with the shadows of everyone he loved. Tony couldn't fathom how that would feel. No one could.

This was one of those times when Tony couldn't distract with a meaningless stream of words filled with nothing, and just had to wait it out while Steve got his bearings. He couldn't talk, and he was okay with that.

There had been many times when he'd desperately needed silence as well. So Tony would give him that, he would be patient and silent, offering to him the only kind of comfort he could, the only kind that would matter.

It was a while before either of them moved, and just like Tony had intended, it was Steve who did first, when he was ready. It was with flashing eyes and his bottom lip clutched between his teeth that slowly, Steve turned his hand, and began tangling his fingers with Tony's. Naturally, their palms fit together, their fingers twined with each other's so perfectly.

Steve let out a shaky sound that was half a broken laugh, and half a sigh. "Thank you," he murmured, and Tony just shrugged.

"I didn't do anything."

"That’s where you're wrong," Steve told him, "you always do."

"I'm just laying here Steve," Tony said woodenly, because he wasn't doing anything extraordinary, he was just not being as much of an asshole as he usually was. He hardly thought that required positive recognition. 

"That's more than enough, Tony. Don't underestimate the importance of just having someone there to listen to you."

"Well." Tony said, and didn't elaborate. Which was fine, because a moment later Steve was cutting in, continuing.

"I think I know your secret, Tony."

Tony raised his eyebrows in a question, and narrowed his eyes. "Oh, yeah? And what might that be?"

Steve scooted closer to him then, eyes still boring into his own, unblinking and steady. Just a little more and they would have been nose to nose.

"Not many people may know this, because you try so hard not to let them know it," he whispered, "but it turns out, Tony Stark does have a heart."

"Steve-"

"No, let me talk. Please?"

"Fine. Go on, Cap. I love when you use the commanding voice with me. It's kinda kinky." Tony added a devilish wink at the end, and as per usual, Tony was rewarded with a faint blush across his cheeks and an eye roll.

"If I was planning on being kinky, it would be a lot more obvious than that," Steve shot back, and Tony almost choked on his tongue.

"What?" he squeaked, because he really wasn't used to Steve getting him back when it came to the shameless flirting.

"You heard me," Steve said with another roll of his eyes. "Now hush, I know you're trying to distract me, and it's not working."

Tony waved him off with his free hand, still feeling a little unsteady from Steve's comment, even though he was laying down.

Not to mention he had to remember that this was definitely not the time to get aroused.

 "Yeah, go on," he said, and yes, his voice sounded completely normal, thank you very much.

Steve fixed them with those blue eyes, and then started speaking, his voice quiet and soft.

"You think you care too much, that you love too hard. And you're scared that you'll suffocate people. That they'll leave you because you're too much. So you pretend to not care, and hope no one sees."

Was Tony breathing? He wasn't sure, because he couldn't hear anything but Steve's low and gentle voice over the pounding of his heart. He was trying so hard not to let it show on his face, and he wondered for a moment if Steve's super hearing allowed him to hear people's heartbeats; in which case, he was screwed.

He opened his mouth to do exactly what Steve just said he did, to gloss over the statement like it was nothing, but Steve was shaking his head.

"I see you, Tony," he whispered. "And I'm not leaving."

That was it. Something in Tony snapped, and his breath tore from his lips in one long gust.

"I think I'm going to kiss you," Tony breathed, the words slipping out from between his lips before he could stop them. He was so close to Steve now, so close that he could see every individual eyelash as he blinked and they brushed against his skin, so close that he could see the tiny freckle that was painted onto the crest of his right cheekbone. Lips just right there, pale pink and a bit chapped, and in that moment there was absolutely nothing in the entire world that Tony wanted to do more than kiss those lips.

"Then do it," Steve whispered back, a challenge mingling in his voice with unmistakable want.

Tony's lips were covering Steve's a moment later, and upon collision Steve made a low sound, a soft murmur that brushed faintly against his skin. At the first tentative brush of their lips, Tony felt a jolt run up his spine, and then he was melting, his arms coming up to wrap around Steve. One hand pressed against the curve of his spine, and the other hand cupped the back of his neck, fingers reaching up to tangle gently with the hair at the base of his skull. Steve was firm and warm under his hands, against his lips as he pressed that kiss to his lips, letting himself imprint that moment of tenderness in his memory forever.

It was undemanding, the kiss was, nothing urgent and rushed about it, just the soft press of lips and the warmth of their bodies pressed against each other. It was more tame and subdued than Tony was used to, but better than any other kiss he'd had before that moment. If he hadn't been so completely, blissfully lost in the feeling of being so close to Steve, he might have been embarrassed at the way that he was practically melting into his arms and clinging to him. As it was, he couldn't bring himself to care.

They parted after what simultaneously felt like an eternity and far too short. Tony drew away as Steve leaned back a bit to look at him, his eyes warm and assessing him carefully, his skin tinted faintly in the darkness of the room by the light emanating from his chest. Every breath rattled through him like a wave, despite the tameness and gentleness of the kiss. He wasn't winded, per se, he just felt that he wasn't quite sure he remembered how to breathe.

"Yeah?" Steve asked quietly, his eyes searching Tony's. So much meaning hung in that single word, in the softness of his voice and the tentative lilt at the tail end of the word that turned it in to a hopeful question. He chewed on his lip as he waited for Tony to answer, his expression apprehensive and falsely passive. He really wasn't good at faking.

"Yeah," Tony answered, refusing to care about the way his voice may have broken a bit, because he was safe in Steve's arms right then, feeling like he was being looked at as though he was the center of the universe. Tony was used to being the center of the universe, yes, but not as himself. The legend Tony Stark was used to that, the one who forced charming, fast spoken lines through teeth clenched in a smile so wide and dazzling and fake that it made his cheeks hurt. Tony Stark was the one who was used to being looked at as a national icon, a leader, a man born of legacy.

But Tony, just Tony, wasn't used to being looked at like that for just being himself. Steve wasn't looking at Tony Stark with those eyes, he was looking at him. That was the best feeling in the world to Tony, so he supposed he would be forgiven for losing himself a little bit. He could allow himself this moment of weakness, just this once.

So he let Steve lean back in, and he let himself melt into him as their lips met, as their breath mingled, and hands clutched each other close.

He could let himself have this, because for the moment, Tony believed Steve wanted him and that was all that mattered.

It didn't take long for Steve to hook an arm around his waist and to pull Tony impossibly close, simultaneously rolling him so that he was sprawled against his broad chest with Steve flat on his back. With a sound on his lips that could mean nothing but pure want, Tony went willingly.

Tony had never been one to romanticise sex. It was enjoyable, he liked having it, and he had done so with many people. It was casual most times, and while he could see why people felt sex so intimately, but he never, ever imagined himself wanting someone so much to want to call sex with someone 'making love.'

Sex with Steve, his golden Captain, his kind hearted hero, changed everything.

Steve was just so attentive, in the way that whenever he wasn't kissing Tony, or sucking dark marks into his flesh, he was looking at him. His face was focused on Tony, and Tony only, his eyes shadowed with want and warmth that Tony felt right down to his bones. He stared right at him, and Tony was unable to break the gaze, unable to stop looking at him with the same kind of unadulterated lust and affection.   

Even when clothing slipped from their shoulders and fell into a pool on the floor, even as hands met flesh uninterrupted, as sparks flew and breath became heavy, Tony never felt as completely bared to the world as he did when Steve looked at him like that.

It wasn't even that the sex was perfect; there were moments when it was sloppy, and at one point Tony bumped his head on the headboard which sent them both into a fit of giggles. Steve was inexperienced, enthusiastic and careful, but inexperienced nonetheless. It wasn't perfect.

It was the best Tony had ever had.

What Steve lacked in experience, he made up for in the way he ran his hands slowly all over Tony's bare flesh, paying attention to every part of him. He was heedful of every one of Tony's reactions; his moans, the way he shivered beneath his hands. He made up for it in his confidence, like the way that when he pushed slicked fingers into him, and Tony groaned as he dug his nails into Steve's back, he'd looked up at him with a lewd grin that Tony adored. Steve had surged up then to capture his lips in a deep kiss, and Tony reciprocated enthusiastically, writhing and panting into Steve's mouth as he carefully moved his fingers in him, stretching and opening him. 

It was with Tony on his back, sprawled out across the bed, that Steve finally hooked his arms under his knees, prompting Tony to wrap his legs around his waist, and slid inside. Tony arched up into his touch, babbling incoherent words of encouragement around litanies and Steve's name. Steve rocked into him slowly at first, giving Tony time to adjust, but then Tony urged him for more, and Steve happily obliged. He proceeded to take Tony apart, pliant and trembling in his hands, in the most perfect way possible.

They found their rhythm just fine, with Steve hovering over him, his lips alternating between kissing his lips, tangling his tongue with Tony's, and nipping lightly at the sensitive flesh just at the crease of his neck. They moved awkwardly at some moments, but it only took an adjustment, a breathy, comfortable laugh, and then they were moving again, lost in a haze of desire. Lost in each other.

When Steve came, trembling and buried deep inside him, it was with Tony's name a puff of breath on his tongue.

Tony thought that it was the sweetest sound that he had ever heard.  


 

When Steve woke up, he was alone and it felt like he was missing a limb.

It took him a few minutes to stretch himself out, his joints creaking with morning stiffness, and shake his head clear of sleep. The morning light was falling through the window, illuminating the room in a faint glow, and Steve was wrapped loosely in a sea of blanket that were warm and smooth against his body.

He would've been immensely comfortable, except for the fact that he was alone.

Yawning, he sat up, and rubbed at his face sleepily, and a bit confused. He was alone, in Tony's bed, which didn't happen. He was always up first, woke up to Tony's face relaxed and peaceful on the pillow next to him. He'd stop himself from kissing his forehead like he wanted to, and instead would hop out of bed, carefully as to not wake him, and would go downstairs to make breakfast. That was always how it worked, so why was today any different?

That was when last night came back to Steve in a rush, memories of Tony's lips and hands, of sliding inside of him slick and warm, of holding him tightly against him afterwards, their breathing growing slow and languid as they drifted off to sleep. Steve remembered vaguely pushing Tony's hair back and dropping a tender kiss on his forehead, which earned him a sleepy grin and a noise of approval, before slipping into sleep.

Right. So that was what was different.

"JARVIS?" he said, feeling a burn spreading to his ears at the memory. "When did Tony leave?"

"Good morning, Captain. Sir left around one hour ago, at 6:08 am."

"So early," Steve mumbled, yawned again, and pushed a hand through his hair. "Is he down in the shop."

"Affirmative."

Of course he was. Steve scooted over to the edge of the bed, reached down to grab the sweatshirt he'd discarded there last night, and pulled it over his head. "Thanks JARVIS."

"You are most welcome, Captain."


 

He padded into Tony's shop in socked feet, carrying a mug of coffee for the resident engineer, to find Tony already hard at work.

Tony didn't look up when he came in, just stayed hunched over his keyboard where he was tapping away, something complicated and dense with numbers on the screen, that Steve was about two PhDs shy of  understanding. Even though Tony didn't look up, Steve could see the exact moment he became aware of his presence, because his fingers stuttered for a moment on the keyboard.

Steve stopped behind him, leaned over to set the cup of coffee in front of him, brushing his fingers across the skin of his wrist briefly, and planted a kiss to the top of Tony's bed head. "Morning, gorgeous."

"Morning. Thanks." Tony's voice was flat, and Steve didn’t miss the way he tensed up when Steve touched him.

Steve backed up a pace, feeling Tony's desire to not be touched practically radiating off of him, and frowned. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing's wrong, Cap," Tony responded, but his voice was just as tight, and altogether completely unconvincing.

Steve was silent for a moment, making sure he carefully approached the subject without making anything worse, and then said, "I don't want to push, but-"

"Then don't," Tony cut him off, his voice just a fraction away from snapping at Steve.

Steve flinched internally at the brittle edge in Tony's voice, but fought hard not to let it show in his voice.

"About last night-"

"Don't," Tony cut him off shortly.

"Am I going to be able to finish a sentence?"

"Not if you're going to start talking about last night."

Steve grit his teeth. "And why is that?"

"Because there's nothing to talk about," Tony said simply.

"I think you're wrong," Steve disagreed, and Tony snorted.

"We fucked, Steve. End of story. That's all it was, end of discussion."

Steve knew what Tony was doing, but still. Ow. That struck him like a punch to the gut.

"That's not all it was," Steve said softly, and he hated how he couldn't help how pained his voice was.

 "See, that's where you're wrong, Cap."

"I'm not wrong," Steve told him, his voice set and determined.

Tony didn't answer, he just folded his hands carefully on his desk, and stared at them. From behind him, Steve could see the sharpness in his shoulders, and wished desperately to smooth the jagged edges of his shoulder blades with gentle hands, but he knew that would make it worse, so he stayed put.

"I know what you're doing," he said instead, and Tony visibly flinched.  

"And what exactly do you think that is, Rogers?"

"You're pushing me away, because you think it'll be easier than waiting for me to walk away."

"That's bullshit."

"Is it?" Steve asked sadly, and he ached so bad to touch Tony he could feel it in a sharpness in his chest. "I don't think so."

"You're wrong."

"I don't think I am. Do you remember what I told you last night?"

Tony remained silent, so Steve plowed on. "I told you I'm not going anywhere."

"Great, we'll be friends then," Tony ground out, and the way he said it, it didn't sound like an overly welcoming invitation.

"That's not what I want, Tony, and I think you know that."

"I don't."

"Then let me tell you," Steve said quietly. Tony didn't object. "I want to be with you. Not as a friend. As someone I love and cherish and fall asleep next to every night."

"You're a fool if that's what you want."

"Maybe," Steve admitted. "Maybe not. But either way, the heart wants what it wants."

There was a beat, and then Tony spoke, his voice still holding on to that hard edge. "What makes you think that I want that?"

"I don't know if you want it," Steve told him honestly, "but I was there last night. I get the feeling that maybe there's a chance that you do."

Steve took a deep breath before continuing with, "I want this, Tony."

Soft, and horribly broken, Tony said, "no, you don't."

"I really do."

Steve really wished that Tony would just turn around. He needed to see his face so badly, but he just had to wait for Tony to turn to him in his own time.

Still facing away from him, Tony bolted out of his chair and stalked across the room, standing stiff and stoic, as Dummy rolled up to him with an inquisitive beep. Steve watched as Tony rested a hand absentmindedly on one of Dummy's joints, and a thought flashed through his mind, he wondered if Tony had kept the drawing.

Tony's back was still to him, but he could still see the strain in his shoulders, and his hands were clutched in tight fists at his side.

"I'll wreck everything."

"You won't," Steve answered, his voice firm. "I promise."

"I'm a pain in the ass."

Steve let out a dry chuckle; like he hadn't known that already. "I know. I like it."

"You like it?"

Steve shrugged his shoulders up in a gesture Tony didn’t see. "Keeps things interesting. Plus, it's kind of endearing most of the time."

There was a long pause, the silence strung through the air with so much meaning, so much anticipation. Steve was holding himself still, wishing that he could rush forward and turn Tony around to look at him. He wanted to see his face, he wanted to hold him, he wanted to feel the warmth of his body against him.

But that would end up doing more harm than good, so he stayed still.

When Tony finally spoke, it was with a breathy exhalation, and his voice broke in the middle of his sentence, and Steve's heart broke a little bit with it.

"I'm not worth the trouble."

Steve wanted to go find everyone who had ever made Tony feel that way, that he wasn’t worth the trouble of caring about, wasn't worth loving and appreciating.

Of course, that wasn't an option, so he just spoke with his voice low and full of conviction, infusing every word with his love for Tony, and hoped that Tony was willing to hear it.

"You're worth everything to me."

Tony let out a shuddering breath at that and unclenched his fists so he could drop his face into his hands.

Steve just couldn't stay still anymore.

He crossed the room slowly, careful to keep in mind that Tony could very well bolt out the door and leave him there at any moment. He didn't want that. He needed Tony to know how real this was.

Steve was beside Tony, who still had his face buried in his hands, his head bent down and his body curving in on itself as if he was in pain. Dummy was bumping against him as he whirred in concern, and Steve just patted him a few times to reassure him, hoping he understood that Steve was going to take care of it. Dummy seemed to get it, and he stopped tapping on Tony's arm, but stayed firmly put beside him.

"Tony?" Steve posed his name as a gentle question, but Tony didn't respond in any way. But, he also didn't back away from Steve's voice or his proximity, so Steve decided to take a chance.

He raised his hand to Tony's wrist, his fingertips soft and hesitant as they met his skin, and he paused there, giving Tony a moment to push him away if that's what he wanted. When he didn't, Steve curled his fingers around him, and brought the other hand up to do the same to the other wrist. Tenderly, more as a suggestion than forcing him, he started to draw Tony's hands away from his face.

Thankfully, Tony let him.

He only got a brief glance at  Tony's face, which was strained with lines of uncertainty, before he was pulling him into his arms, holding him tightly against him. He felt Tony stiffen for a moment, and he readied himself to let go, but then Tony relaxed and rested his head on Steve's shoulder. Steve felt a rush of relief crash over him, and he wrapped both arms tighter around his waist, resting his hand firmly at the small of his back.

It only took a few moments, for Tony to raise his hands to clutch at Steve in return, his fingers braced against the broadness of his back. He leaned into Steve with a little sigh, and buried his face into the crook of Steve's neck.

"I hope you know what you're doing, Steve," Tony said, and Steve was so happy he could've lifted Tony up and spun him right there, because his voice had softened from the harshness that had been there just moments before.

"Not sure that I do," Steve laughed, his voice muffled as he pressed his face to Tony's hair. "But I'm sure that I'll figure it out."

Tony made one of his grumpy noises, but he was still in Steve's arms, so he knew that it was all for show at this point. Especially considering the way that he was nuzzling into his neck.

"I'm going to drive you insane."

"I'd be concerned if you didn't," Steve responded, "it's part of your charm."

Tony breathed out a sound that was almost a laugh, and shook his head slightly. "You want this?"

"I want you."

Tony pulled back to look him in the face, his eyes searching Steve's. The raw brokenness was gone, but it had been replaced with uncertainty that Steve wanted to get rid of immediately.

"I love you," Tony whispered, and Steve's eyes widened. "I love you, and I'm going to drive you away."

"Never," Steve breathed, and leaned in until his forehead was resting against Tony's. "Never, because I love you too."

Tony was still looking at him with apprehension, there was still a tentativeness there that Steve didn't like at all, but Steve figured he had time to make Tony be rid of it. He'd spend his whole life trying if that's what it took.

It wouldn't be a hardship, he thought, as Tony swayed forward to brush their lips together. No, spending his life with Tony wouldn't be a hardship at all, and he'd gladly do so if Tony let him.

When they broke apart, Tony was grinning, and Steve loved that smile so much he was bursting with it.

Before he leaned in again to taste Tony's lips again, he breathed words across Tony's mouth that he knew that Tony needed to hear, and believe.

"I'm not going anywhere."

And he meant it.

He always would.