Rhodey does a double-take when he sees him, and Steve feels himself do the same. He stops, watching as Rhodey excuses himself from the men he's talking to and start towards Steve.
"I heard you were getting yourself transferred to the search detail," Rhodey says, something unsure about his smile. "Good to see you again, Cap."
"You, too, Colonel," Steve says, accepting the handshake when it's offered.
Rhodey nods, letting his hands drop when Steve lets go of his hand. "I didn't know if you'd come, to be honest. I mean, you had a lot of things to keep you busy-"
"Of course I came," Steve says, a little snappish, the words out before he can stop himself. He pauses, takes a long breath. "Sorry. Ever since- I just- people have been-"
"Yeah, I get it," Rhodey cuts him off. "Bet you didn't miss the paparazzi."
"No sir, I didn't," Steve sighs. "They camped outside my house last night. Ambushed me as I was leaving this morning."
Rhodey winces in sympathy. "Vultures."
"Mm." Steve says, and the words he need to say itch at the back of his throat until he hears himself ask, "Colonel, has there been any progress in finding him?"
Rhodey's eyes go dull, and it's all the answer Steve needs.
"We're hopeful," Rhodey says finally.
"It's been two months," Steve says, voice low. "Rh- Colonel. It's been two months."
"Thank you, I've noticed," Rhodey says dryly. "So what, you want to give up? Go back to your team?"
"No, I- I want to keep looking." There's been a kernel of panic in his stomach ever since he found out the news two days ago, and with a familiar face here- Rhodey, who made sure Tony didn't pass out in his own vomit when Steve wasn't around to do it- the panic is all but overwhelming.
Still, Steve makes himself smile. He guesses he isn't fooling Rhodey.
"If there's anyone who can come back from this, it's Tony," Steve says, and Rhodey laughs, a small, sad thing.
"Don't you know it, Cap. Stubbornest son of a bitch I've ever met, barring you."
Steve meets Pepper Potts, whose smile wobbles at the edges when he confronts her- she had been staring out the window, lost in thought when he approached her, he supposes he has interrupted something personal.
"Sorry," he says, and she snorts, waves one hand as she dabs at her eyes with another.
"Don't be, I'm just-" she sniffs, and Steve sees that her eyes are red-rimmed. "What can I do for you, Captain Rogers?"
Of course she recognizes him, Steve thinks. He's been all over the papers this week, and she probably saw gossip magazines back when they were teenagers and him and Tony were plastered over every cover more often than not.
He resolutely tells himself that's the reason, not because Tony told her about him. No use getting his hopes up, especially since Tony might be-
He shuts that thought down, opens his mouth.
"I," Steve says, and then finds himself lost at how to say the next words. He fumbles along anyway. "I was, I wanted to know how he's been doing. Since high school."
Pepper's face twitches. "Surely you haven't been stationed overseas for that long."
"No, I had leave."
"Then you've read newspapers," Pepper says. "Or seen videos. You know exactly how Tony's been doing since high school."
Her tone has started sounding accusatory despite how polite she's trying to make it, and he tells her this.
She stops smiling, a gradual thing until she just looks tired. "Captain Rogers, I have been Mr. Stark's assistant for over ten years now. And over that ten years, the times I've seen him looking the happiest is when he talks about you."
Steve swallows over the sudden lump in his throat. "Oh."
She nods, smoothes her hair down with both hands. "Also the saddest."
"The times when I've seen him the most sad and also the most happy is when he talked about you," Pepper says, and Steve has to close his eyes for a moment.
When he opens them, Pepper's expression has changed. It's not pity, not quite, but it's close. "You felt the same about him as he did for you, didn't you?"
"Feel," Steve corrects. "I feel the same about him as he- does. If he does."
"Captain, even if I can't assure that Tony will come back," Pepper says, and her voice breaks on the last word. She breathes deep, continues steadily: "Then I can still assure you that Tony will always feel that way about you, even if he acts otherwise. I know that much about him."
She smoothes her hair again, looking at the carpet.
Steve absorbs this, taking it with a grain of salt. "I'm glad he has you," he says.
She looks up at him again, smiling faintly. "Well, I am the best PA this side of America."
Weeks pass and Steve's superiors get more and more skeptical over whether they'll find him, even with Rhodey and Steve's constant assurances that they will.
Steve takes to joining Rhodey in riding a helicopter over the sand dunes. Whenever he does this, he has nightmares about finding Tony's corpse among the sand, having to dig it out and carry it into the helicopter.
He calls Bucky every other day, who remains dubious about the whole thing but is supportive anyway.
He listens as Bucky tells stories about what's happening with their team, how shit the food is, how jealous he is of Steve for getting to sleep in an actual bed.
"Are you coming back," Bucky asks, once. "After you find him, I mean."
"I don't think I'd be much use after we find him," Steve answers. "And I miss you guys."
"Aw, shucks," Bucky says, and Steve grins and tells him to shut up.
They get word of an explosion, a big one, somewhere in the ten mile radius that they think Tony is, and as Steve makes his way to the helicopter he can't think of anything but how many damn explosions Tony caused in high school.
For a while there's nothing but sand, but then Rhodey blurts, "There, something's moving," and Steve all but plasters himself to the window.
"Definitely a person," the pilot says, and Steve's chest twists and twists. The person is waving.
They land the helicopter and Tony comes into view, ragged and bloody and dirty with an overshirt wrapped around his head, in his knees in the sand, his hand outstretched in a peace sign.
Rhodey makes it out first, Steve following behind him, and Steve overhears Rhodey say something like, "How was the funvee."
Steve stands in the scorching sand, relief a physical weight in his stomach as Tony clings to Rhodey, exhausted.
Rhodey clings back, muttering things and eventually helping Tony stand, looping a hand around Tony's shoulders and helping him stagger into the helicopter. They have to lift him into it, and as Steve touches Tony for the first time in fifteen years, Tony glances at him and then stares.
His eyes are still the same, even with some new lines around them, and Steve's breath hitches.
"Joined the search detail as soon as he heard about it," Rhodey says breezily, like they're chatting over lunch. "Tony, man, you gotta lift your feet- yeah, there we go."
Tony stares at Steve as they close the helicopter door and take off, stares as Rhodey pushes him gently into a chair.
"Ow," Tony says vaguely, finally looking away as Rhodey starts easing his shirt away to see the damage. Then "Oh, hey, probably don't-"
Rhodey's makes a noise, a very not-good noise, and Steve is moving to see even as Tony gets louder and tries to yank the bits of shirt back over his chest.
"It's a, I had to, it's really not as bad as it looks," Tony babbles, and he trails off as Steve crouches down next to him.
"No, sorry," Rhodey says beside him. "I wasn't, I was just surprised. Tones, is that- supposed to be in there?"
"Is what supposed to be in there," Steve asks, and Tony gives him a fleeting look before making eye contact with the wall.
"Yeah, it's supposed to be in there. Needs to be, actually. Kind of can't remove it."
"Remove what," Steve asks, and Rhodey makes a noise again, quieter this time, flicking his fingers towards Tony's chest, which is spilling light through Tony's fingers. What the hell?
Steve looks questioningly at Tony, who swallows before moving his hands away.
Steve has to stop himself from making the same noise Rhodey did. Tony's chest is a mess of scarring, and in the middle of it is a bright blue circle of metal embedded in Tony's chest.
"What the hell did they do to you," Steve chokes, and Tony covers it back up again.
"Actually, this one is something I made, a new and improved version, if you will." Tony shifts in the chair, skin smeared with dirt and blood and sand, so obviously traumatized, and Steve aches to watch him.
"It stops the shrapnel from reaching my heart," Tony says, eyes on the ground, and Steve aches and aches and aches.
He calls Bucky as soon as they get to the hospital.
"We found him," Steve says. "He's alive."
Bucky lets out the breath he had been holding. "Fuck. Just as stubborn as I remember."
Steve hums in agreement, and after a few seconds of silence Bucky says, "I'm assuming there's more."
"He's," Steve says, and slumps lower in the hospital chair. "He's trying to hide it, but they tortured him, Buck."
"Is he okay?"
"He got goddamn tortured, Buck, he's a civilian, how do you think he's doing," Steve snaps, and then flinches. "Sorry."
"Is that it?"
"You sound like there's something else."
Steve rubs his free hand down his face. "Something feels off, Buck. I don't know what it is, but something's up."
"And you're gonna stick around to figure it out," Bucky finishes.
"No, it's fine," Bucky stops him. "Seriously, I get it. The whole Stark thing- he was always your achilles heel."
Steve doesn't say anything to that, and after a while the line starts getting staticky.
"Do what you gotta do, Steve," Bucky tells him. "We're behind you if you need us."
“Oh, also,” Bucky says just before they end the call, “Fury called. Wants me to tell you to keep your eye out.”
“Whatever you think is wrong, I’m guessing. Your hunches usually turn out right.”
“I’ll keep an eye out. Thanks,” Steve says, and hangs up.
Steve walks in Tony's hospital room two days after bringing him back and is more angry than surprised to find the bed empty.
He rings Pepper. "Where'd he go?"
"He's getting burgers," Pepper sighs. "I'm sorry, Steve, I couldn't get him to stay short of sedating him."
"Sedate him next time," Steve says. "Just- make sure he takes it easy when he gets home."
A pause, and then a sigh. Stee gets the feeling Pepper sighs a lot. "Actually, we're going to a press conference."
Steve lies his head on the bedside table. "Of course you are."
He drives to Tony's place and waits until he gets back, which takes a while. Steve is a third of his way through his book before the car pulls up, and Tony, Pepper and Obidiah get out.
"Ah, Captain," Obidiah starts, but Steve talks over him, looking at Tony.
"You should be in hospital," Steve says as soon as they're close enough. "Your body got put through an insane amount of stress, you walked through the desert for three days with no food and water while recovering from open heart surgery-"
"Well, if I did all that I think I can handle a press conference," Tony cuts him off with a bland smile, and Steve grits his teeth.
Pepper sends him a sympathetic look, and Steve returns it with gusto.
"What was the press conference about," Steve asks, and Tony raises his eyebrows above his sunglasses.
"You didn't see it?"
"No, I drove over from the hospital when I found out you got out."
Tony motions towards the house. "You could've watched it in the house."
"Isn't it locked?"
"Yeah, but JARVIS would let you in, I gave him your clearance," Tony says, and Steve stops, worry flooding his veins.
"Tony," he says slowly. "Jarvis passed away years ago."
Tony turns to him, confused and then amused. "Different JARVIS, Cap. This one's an AI. Just A Rather Very Intelligent System."
"You made an AI and called it JARVIS," Steve says, and he can't stop the smile that curls his lips. "Why am I not surprised."
Tony is back to confused now, watching Steve like he isn't sure what Steve is doing and is less sure if he likes it or not, when Pepper clears her throat.
"Tony announced that SI will no longer be making weapons," she says briskly, and Steve has a moment to look surprised when Obidiah laughs and slings an arm around Tony's shoulders and Steve has to put effort into not making a face. There's something not quite right with how Obidiah handles Tony.
"Like you said, Captian, he's been under a tremendous amount of stress," Obidiah says, smiling. "We'll have this sorted out in-"
"There's nothing to sort out," Tony says, and his face drops to this expression that Steve sees sometimes in fellow soldiers. He doesn't know if it suits Tony.
Tony shrugs out from under Obidiah's arm and starts towards the house despite Obidiah's protests.
"I'll talk to him," Pepper assures him. She starts to walk away, and then pauses. "You should come with me to check on him," she says to Steve.
He watches the line of Tony's walk, how he's hiding the limp. "I don't know if I'd be welcome."
Being inside Tony's workshop is more overwhelming than it was when they were young, mostly because of the upgrades.
Steve watches in quiet wonder as Tony brings up holograms and maneuvers them like he was born to do it, moving through the workshop with the grace that Tony always denies he has.
He tries not to watch Tony's fingers work with the metal, because just like high school, apparently it never fails to get Steve hard.
He is jerked out of his trance when something cold nudges his hip, and he looks down to see a familiar- well, not a face, but close to it.
He lets out a delighted laugh and bends down. "Hey, boy! I can't believe he still has you! I bet you missed him, huh? Yeah, you did, I bet the first thing he did was oil up your joints."
Dummy beeps happily as Steve talks, and it dissolves into a mechanical, pleased whine as Steve rubs his hands over the top of his camera.
"Great," Tony says, and Steve looks up to see Tony looking at the two of them. "Fifteen years later and he still likes you best."
"Aw, he loves you," Steve says, still grinning. "Don't you, Dummy? You make him all the best smoothies."
"He makes me mush mixed with the occasional dose of engine oil," Tony says, side-eyeing Dummy. "He's a useless, annoying- hey, no, don't you BOTH give me that look, don't you dare, come on, no-"
Steve supposes he had started doing what his friends call his 'puppy eyes,' something he had apparently passed onto Dummy, who is hanging his head and making sad beeping sounds.
"No," Tony finishes. "I refuse to be swayed."
"But look at him," Steve says forlornly, cupping Dummy's camera and tilting it towards Tony. "You made him sad. Poor Dummy."
Dummy beeps sadly, and Tony snorts. "He's just trying to get attention, the big hog. Oh, don't beep at me."
Steve starts laughing, which sets Tony off, and then they're both laughing until they shake with it.
It's loud in the otherwise quiet room, and it doesn't take long for the laughter to die down and get replaced by awkward silence.
Damnit. For a moment, it had been just like it was before, like they were 17 and giddy with first love, with the most intense thing Steve has ever felt, and Steve is suddenly swallowing back everything he's wanted to tell Tony since they parted ways.
But before he can open his mouth, Tony clears his throat.
"Hey, Steve, I'm actually pretty busy here, so-"
"Right," Steve says, and stands. Dummy beeps curiously, claw curling in Steve's shirt. He tries to unclench it, but Dummy holds him fast.
"I have to go, I'm sorry, Dummy," Steve says, and Tony snaps, "Dummy, let him go," and Dummy lets out a final sad beep before his claw drops away.
Steve doesn't see Tony for a while after that, and apparently neither does anyone else.
Fury calls him eight times in a week, trying to get him to go back to the mission with his team, to which Steve assures him they’ll do fine without Captain America leading them for another month or so.
He gets a phone call from Rhodey that spurs him into going over to Tony’s again- "You try and talk some sense into him, he's talking about flying robot suits," he tells Steve.
Steve goes over, gets to the workshop and stops.
Tony stares back.
"In my defense," Tony says, most of his body clad in red and gold metal as mechanical hands from the floor try to pry it off, "This is not the worst thing you've caught me doing."
"What are you doing."
"Uh," Tony says. "There really is no way to explain this without making me sound insane."
"You think," Steve says, voice a little pitched. “Tony, what the hell? Are those bullet holes?”
After they get Tony out of the suit, which takes half an hour and a lot of help from JARVIS, Tony sits him down and explains about his kidnappers- the Ten Rings- having his tech, and are using it for their own means. He shows Steve the news footage, tells him about how he just got back from the village where the Ten Rings are stationed.
“I needed to do something,” Tony says, voice strained. “I already caused so much damage, so much pain, I had to do something.”
“You killed them,” Steve says, and Tony shrugs jerkily.
“I killed most of them on the way out of the cave,” he says, hands folded together, voice mostly blank.
He pauses, and then turns to Steve. “Hey, you’ve killed people, right?”
“Okay,” Tony says, and leans back against the couch. He rubs his palms against the couch, material clumping under his hands. “And you get nightmares, right? About- the wars?”
“I do,” Steve says, quiet and firm.
“Okay,” Tony says again, and this time he tips his head back to stare at the ceiling. “Is it worth it? The nightmares?”
“To protect my country? Yes.”
“Huh,” Tony says, staring unblinking at the ceiling. “I’ll trust you on that.”
Steve wants to tell him that therapy does wonders, that it really does get better with time, but he doesn’t think the sentiments will be appreciated.
“I can help, if you want,” Steve says, and then leans back so their heads are next to each other. “You know, since I’m going to be around for a while.”
“Why is that?”
“Why are you going to be around,” Tony asks. “Don’t you have a team? I’m ninety percent sure you mentioned a team.”
“They’ll cope without me.”
Tony hums, and then twists his head so he’s looking at Steve. “I’m never going to get used to you growing five inches everywhere.”
“Not everywhere,” Steve says. “My hands stayed the same. And my feet.”
“You always did have freakishly big hands and feet,” Tony says, and then a smirk is growing on his face, and Steve feels the blush spreading across his cheeks. Fifteen years and he can still make Steve blush like a schoolgirl.
“Stop it,” Steve says, and Tony grins.
“Stop what? I didn’t say anything. But seriously, did it?”
“I’m not having this conversation with you,” Steve says, turning his head away so he’s looking at the ceiling again.
“It was big to begin with,” Tony continues, and Steve’s mouth twitches. “If it grew as much as the rest of your body, then wow.”
“I mean, it was a thing of beauty back then, but-”
“Your obsession with my dick always confused me,” Steve says, and Tony laughs.
“Tell me and I’ll stop talking.”
Steve purses his lips, drags a breath through his nose. “It stayed the same size.”
Silence from Tony’s side. Then the couch rustles as he gets comfier. “Guess everything will finally look in proportion, then. Like, you know I loved your body, but it was always kind of weird how you were skinny everywhere and then BAM, hello there-”
Steve hits him with a pillow, and Tony laughs until he cries.
Tony calls him once every few nights about the nightmares, and in turn Steve shares his. Tells Tony they’re rare now, but when they come, they’re all-consuming.
“Things to look forward to,” Tony says, voice shaking, and Steve hums, remembering when they used to do this, used to ring each other up at any hour of the night and talk, though back then it was more about worries for the future or Howard being a dick than about night terrors that made you wake up screaming.
Falling in love with Tony the second time around takes less time than the first one did.
He thinks Tony feels the same, but Steve is sure that this is definitely a bad time, since Tony is traumatized and flying around in robot suits and things are far too heavy right now to start anything.
Still, Steve has to stop himself from leaning over and kissing him too many times to count, has to stop himself from thinking about what it’d be like to re-learn Tony’s body, to kiss him with the goatee tickling his mouth.
It’s been almost twenty years and they’ve both changed, but Steve doesn’t think they’ve changed enough to not feel this way about each other.
Rhodey calls him, tells him he just found Tony collapsed on the floor of his workshop and apparently Pepper’s in trouble and now Tony’s riding around the city in his robot suit and Pepper called a while back and apparently Obidiah was the one who got Tony kidnapped and something’s going down in the city-
He gets another call halfway through but ignores it. When he hangs up, he checks and sees that Fury had called him.
He texts him: Taking care of it, and gets on his motorcycle.
He doesn’t have time to put on his uniform or get his shield, so he gets up to the roof in his civvie clothes just in time to see Tony dangling from a roof and Pepper unconscious on the ground.
Tony is screaming something about pushing a button, but whatever buttons Steve can see are crushed under metal poles.
While Tony is in the robot suit, Steve can see another one, bigger and bulkier and firing in all directions. As Steve climbs up onto the roof, stealth forgotten, just trying to get there as fast as he can, he notices that it’s Obidiah in the bulkier suit.
He starts out at a run, and hits Obidiah with everything he’s got. The suit is strong, but Steve is pissed and superhuman and he manages to slam Obidiah, suit and all, into the roof. He punches Obidiah in the face, rips off one of the guns and then shoves his now bloody hands into the guts of the thing, pulling out wiring and trying to yank Obidiah out of the suit.
Tony’s screaming, and Steve sees Pepper out of the corner of his eye, shaking and pushing a button, and then the world lights up.
Steve wakes up in a hospital bed next to Tony, who is working on his tablet when Steve looks over at him.
Steve looks him over- some cuts and bruises, but otherwise okay. Then he tests himself- he can feel all of his limbs, nothing feels broken. His mouth is a bit dry, but other than that, he just feels woozy.
“I’m surprised they managed to keep you here this long,” Steve croaks, and Tony startles.
“You don’t know how long it’s been, you’ve been unconscious,” Tony says slowly, putting down his tablet.
“Right. How long has it-”
“Just a couple of hours,” Tony says, his tone snappish. “So, you forgot to tell me some things.”
Steve winces. He’d hoped that Tony hadn’t been able to see him taking Obidiah’s metal suit apart with his bare hands. Damn.
“It’s a government secret,” Steve sighs, and Tony rolls his eyes.
“Steve, if you don’t tell me right now I swear to god I will hack into every government file until I find yours.”
“You won’t. It’s only on hardcopy.”
“Who the fuck still-”
“SHIELD,” Steve says, and Tony pauses, tilts his head.
“Strategic something of something? The thing that Coulson guy is from?”
“The thing that Coulson guy is from,” Steve nods. “I can’t say anything else until we’re somewhere that doesn’t have cameras.”
Tony fiddles with his tablet for a moment. “They’re off. Go.”
Steve eyes them dubiously before turning to Tony, sitting up in his hospital bed. “After I got into the army, I volunteered for an experiment.”
“Oh, good,” Tony says blandly. “A government experiment. Of course you volunteered.”
“I could hardly run a mile, Tony,” Steve says, rubbing his hands over his face. “Anyway, it worked.”
“Which made the whole,” Tony says, and gestures at Steve’s body, the one Steve has been getting used to for fifteen years. “And let me guess, it also gave you super strength.”
“And healing abilities,” Steve says with a weak smile. “I can’t get sick anymore.”
Tony’s answering smile is more sarcastic than anything, and Steve swallows. “What happened to Obidiah?”
“He’s dead.” Tony’s eyes go dull. “Superhumans don’t get killed from massive electric shocks, apparently, but Obidiah wasn’t superhuman.”
“Yeah, well.” Tony looks down at his hands. “I should’ve known.”
“You knew and trusted him for years. You couldn’t have known.”
Tony snorts. “You always thought he was a creep, even when we were teenagers.”
“Yeah, a creep, not a murdering sociopath,” Steve says, and feels Tony’s eyes on him as he pushes the blankets back, walking the four steps to Tony’s bed and sitting down next to him. “None of this is your fault, Tony.”
“He was dealing weapons to people without me knowing,” Tony says, eyes still stubbornly on his hands. “I should’ve noticed. I should’ve-”
“You’re doing everything you can.”
“I should be doing more-”
“You’re doing everything you can,” Steve repeats, and Tony makes a disbelieving noise at the back of his throat.
Steve calls Bucky, who sighs as soon as he answers.
“I heard,” Bucky says, and Steve stays silent until Bucky says, “You’re staying with him.”
“There’s work to be done,” Steve says, and Bucky groans.
“Yeah, yeah, there always is. Just- we gotta see each other for Christmas and shit, okay?”
“Of course,” Steve says. “Tell the team I’m sorry.”
“Thanks.” Steve pauses. “Buck?”
“I may have another reason for calling.”
“Lay it on me.”
“You know those other people in our line of work, the lone ones? Black Widow and Hulk and-”
“Yeah, we crossed paths with a few of them a while back. I think Banner’s trying to keep it quiet at the moment. Why?”
“Fury wants me to start up another team with them. The Avengers Initiative.”
Bucky snorts. “What, with those guys? You’ll all eat each other alive. There’s a reason why they all work alone, Steve.”
“That’s what I told Fury.”
“But he’s trying it anyway.”
“Got it in one.”
Bucky sighs, long and loud.
It’s inevitable, after that- one night soon after that, Steve tells Tony he’s going to bed and then asks Tony if he’s coming, and Tony puts down his tablet and follows Steve down the hall for some of the best sex they’ve ever had, which is also inevitable, since the last time they had sex they were both teenagers.
It’s comfortable in a way it never was before. It’s still intense, they still argue more than they probably should and they both work each other up more than anyone else in the world can, but it works.
“I don’t know how I feel about this whole team thing,” Tony confesses one night as they’re falling asleep, and Steve grunts into his shoulder.
“You’ll get used to it,” he says, muffled by Tony’s skin against his mouth. “You might even be good at the whole team thing.”
Tony hums into his pillow. “We’ll see.”