Steve decides on the fifteenth day of November that he wants to spend the rest of his life with Tony. To be fair, this is something he’s known for quite some time now. It’s in the way Tony rolls over in the middle of the night and threads his arms around Steve’s waist, in the way he watches Friends and Law and Order (two shows that have nothing to do with each other, from what Steve can discern) with squinted eyes that question everything. Tony is made of these quirks and strange habits. They make him Tony Stark – Steve has learned them all, memorized them like the twists and turns of a corn maze.
He loves Tony. He has known this for a long, long time. He wakes up on a cold November morning, looks at the empty space in his bed where Tony belongs, and knows. The tightness in his chest doesn’t come from training or sparring, or from the brisk air in the room – it’s there, twisting up his insides, because he’s in love. Tony doesn’t come back that day, or the next, but he leaves Steve a voicemail that tells him everything he needs to know.
“Business. Some kind of deal going down in New York, Pepper wants me to – yes, Pep, I know – to be there, in case it goes south. You know, me and all my charm. Anyway, it’s gonna be a couple days before I’m home and I should have woken you up, I guess, but – Yes, Pepper! – I just, I didn’t…you looked peaceful. I know you have nightmares.”
Tony’s voice, tinny and low, trails off. It’s a couple seconds before he picks up again.
“Okay, but let’s talk about the myriad of fucking shit you decided to pile on top of me today, Pep, let’s go back and let’s talk about that, hu—no, no fuck that, don’t you dare—Steve, I’ll call you later. I’m pretty sure Pep’s about to blow like a damn volcano, so—ow!—all right, I’m going now. Love you.”
On the seventeenth of November, Steve stumbles into the small, white room in S.H.I.E.L.D. medical, hands shaking, and finds Tony lying in the middle of a hospital bed. His eyes are open, brown and muddy and riddled with exhaustion, and Steve hurries in next to him, grabbing his hand. It’s cold.
“What did you do?” Steve asks, and he tries his best to keep his voice steady and even.
Tony shrugs, and Steve can see that his ribs are wrapped in gauze and tensor bandages. Cracked, he assumes, from the purple and green splotches that cover Tony’s skin. Steve reaches out a hand and runs it down Tony’s chest, drawing back slightly when he cringes. The hand finds Tony’s cheek, brushes it in long, languid strokes of his thumb.
“No big deal, Cap,” Tony tries to assure him. He’s got that smile on his face that he puts on for show, when he can’t find a better way to show he’s not okay, “Only hurts when I breathe.”
Steve closes his eyes and presses his lips together in a thin line. Fury’s already briefed him on what happened during the mission – it’s hard to get someone like Captain America to ‘hold on a minute’ when you’re telling him over the phone that the man he loves has been hurt.
He’s been doing that thing again, Steve learns, where he completely disregards his own personal safety for what S.H.I.E.L.D calls ‘the greater good’. This time, he falls from the thirty second floor of a sky scraper which wouldn’t be a problem, except for the fact that there’s no power in his suit and he’s wrapping a teenage girl in his arms to stop her from breaking her neck on her way down, because no, he hasn’t fallen, he’s jumped after her to save her. And while Steve is incredibly grateful for Tony’s ability to be selfless and caring and absolutely the hero he’s grown to love, he also finds himself infuriated by his lack of a self-preservation instinct.
Steve leans down and kisses him, slow and sweet, tasting blood and sweat and dust in Tony’s mouth. Tony licks his way along Steve’s lips, darting his tongue past them, until suddenly Steve stands up and stares down at him disapprovingly. His hand spiders down and grasps Tony’s.
“You know,” he murmurs, his voice quiet in the din. He strokes the backs of Tony’s knuckles with his thumb, light pressure that brings chills to Tony’s spine, “You could have died.”
“She could have, too.”
Steve reaches into his pockets and pulls out a chain. Attached to it are his dog tags, still silver with black letters engraved that read his name and rank and number. He hands them to Tony, who grips them tightly and grimaces.
Steve nods morosely, “Again. It’ll only be a few days, I promise, and I’ll have Clint and Natasha with me.”
“Okay, but let’s be real, Bird Brain isn’t gonna be able to—”
The dog tags are in his hands, clutched in his fist so tightly it hurts. They do this every time Steve leaves to go on a mission and Tony can’t come. That way, there’s always a piece of him in the tower. Tony closes his eyes.
“Go,” he offers, trying not to sound as miserable as he feels. His ribs ache, “I’ll be waiting when you come back, fair prince.”
Steve snorts, “I love you, you dork.”
On December first, it snows so heavily that New York loses its mind – the streets are closed, the buses are hardly running, and Steve will be damned if he can find a taxi that’s operating in a blizzard. He stands at the corner, just outside the tower, waiting for one of the little yellow ants to crawl by with snow caked in its tires.
He has a meeting.
The taxis show up, eventually, but not before Steve has been outside for nearly an hour. His hands are cold when he slides into the back of a car that is littered with fry and hamburger wrappers from only God knows where. Steve leans up from the back seat and tells the driver to stop at 35th, then settles back with his seatbelt on and rubs his hands together.
The jeweller’s building is shabby, but it’s been there since the 30s. Steve remembers walking by it every day on his paper route, how destitute it had been during the Great Depression. Now, it’s not much better. Admittedly, it’s got more of an appealing storefront, and one of the new, flashy neon signs, but other than that? It’s just like Steve remembers. That’s why he picks it.
Inside, the jeweller looks at him inquisitively while he explains what he’s asking for. When Steve is done, the man is silent for a while, taking it all in. Then, he holds out his hand and smiles, a gesture that is soft and warm and everything Steve needs for the anxiety in his belly to disappear.
He hands the jeweller the chain and heads home.
Christmas comes and passes, and the New Year rolls in like a bat out of hell. January fourteenth meets Steve’s calendar, and this is the day he realizes that the jeweller’s box is still stuffed in the sock drawer of his and Tony’s room. Tony gets up early that day, dragged into the office by an irritated Pepper who’s been running on fumes for, say, the last ten years.
Steve pulls the box out when he’s sure Tony’s gone and holds it in his hands. Inside, the cool, steel ring sits neatly in its spot, glimmering in the light like diamonds. Steve takes it out and holds it in the palm of his hand, flipping it over and inspecting it, running his fingers across the smooth metal. When he puts it back, his stomach twists, and he wonders if he’s supposed to feel this way, this nervous.
He tosses the box back with his socks and heads down to the living room. Natasha is curled up on the couch, watching cartoons, admittedly a little more relaxed than she’s looked in months. She’s cuddling a small stuffed animal, and Steve smiles and wants to say something, but he’s also quite fond of being alive.
“Natasha?” He asks tentatively, and she turns her head towards him.
Natasha has some of the most beautiful eyes he’s ever seen. They’re a green color that reminds Steve of the sea, the crystalline way the waters look in the Caribbean. They’re honest, and they hold a great deal of pain behind them. They’re part of the reason he likes her so much.
“It’s early,” she says, but she sits up and moves over anyway. Steve sits down behind her, “Something troubling you?”
“That easy, huh?” He smiles at her, but his eyes trail towards the TV. The cartoon is something he doesn’t recognize, but he figures that’s nothing new. TV was a luxury in his time.
The side of Natasha’s lip curls up, “Hate to break it to you, Cap, but you’re a bit of an easy read. What’s the problem?”
Right. That. He has to actually tell her.
“I just,” he begins, and as soon as the words leave his mouth he can feel a blush creep up the sides of his neck and settle in his cheeks, “Say there’s a question I want to ask someone. A really, really important question. And I’ve spent months trying to figure it out and find the perfect time to ask the question, but I’m still unsure. What do I do?”
She smiles, and Steve knows that she knows, “Cap, it isn’t about the perfect time. I mean, you can make elaborate plans and write out a script of how the question is gonna go, and what your choices are, gonna give given the answer you get, but it’s not about the right time.”
Steve absorbs her words cautiously. He leans forward and rests his elbows on his knees, staring at the lines and the notches in the hardwood.
“Not about the right time,” she says again. Natasha’s voice is low and silky, like it always is. Steve watches her reach toward a mug of coffee on the glass table top. She holds it in her hands and looks down at it like she’s contemplating something.
“What am I missing, then?” Steve tries after a few moments. He speaks quietly, a whisper in the empty living room. On the screen, a cartoon dog stretches itself into a thin line. He has no idea how that appeals to children.
Natasha leans into Steve’s side. Her head is warm and her hair is soft.
Steve is Steve, and he’s stubborn as hell, so he does exactly what Natasha says on the twentieth day of January. He pulls a fountain pen from Tony’s desk drawer, and takes a stack of paper from one of the printers, and sits himself down in what used to be his old room. It’s empty now, save for the bare bed frame and the very basics of furniture. Steve can’t remember the last time he slept there.
He takes the pen to the paper and writes out exactly how he wants this conversation to go. He likes to imagine that it’s going to be a beautiful moment – maybe he’ll drive them out to his favorite park (except Tony doesn’t like the outdoors unless he has to), or maybe they’ll go for a nice dinner and a walk along the coast line (even though Tony’s tastes are ridiculously expensive, and he won’t go near the beach if he’s wearing one of his impeccably tailored suits).
An hour later, he gives up and tosses the last piece of computer paper towards the trash in a crumpled ball. Steve’s ended up with what feels like hundreds of ideas, hundreds of ways that this will end up, and none of them are right.
Sometimes, he wonders if the box in the sock drawer is the right decision.
They’re in the kitchen making dinner when it happens. Tony and Steve are making dinner, which tonight will consist of chicken and veggies, and, to Tony’s complete dismay, a salad. Steve is cutting carrots with a large knife; beside him, there’s already a pile of mushrooms and peppers, and just a little bowl of red onion. Tony’s holding the salad bowl, an astounding level of responsibility for the first time he’s allowed back in the kitchen after the incident with the raspberry jam.
“You know,” he quips, mixing the salad with the tongs. His efforts are lackluster, “I’m getting really tired of all this ‘home-cooked meal’ stuff.”
Steve smiles and carries on slicing his carrots, “And what, exactly, are your preferences?”
In his pocket, the ring box digs into his hip. He’s been carrying it around with him ever since his talk with Natasha. Each night, he promises himself he’s going to work up the courage, but he never asks. He’ll interrupt Tony’s scientific ramblings with things like ‘Tony, can we talk? ’ and ‘There’s something I want to ask you’ and earn himself a well-deserved chastisement from the genius, but he never asks.
For a while, it scared him. Steve isn’t exactly used to things being set in stone, especially things that concern his own life, but he feels like this is the one thing that he should know from the bottom of his heart. He lies awake at night thinking about it, wondering if he’s making a big mistake considering this at all, wondering if Tony will even say yes. Now, it’s not so scary – the worst that can happen, and this is the worst possible scenario, is no, and if that’s the case, they’ll cross that bridge when they come to it.
Now, they’re in the kitchen, watching flakes of snow fall outside and collect with the others. The kitchen smells like chicken and sautéing mushrooms, and Tony can’t lie – his mouth is watering. This isn’t something he can let Steve know, though, or he’ll never hear the end of it and they’ll be eating health(ier) food for the rest of his life.
“A classic American cheeseburger,” he says morosely, staring at the salad. It doesn’t look horrible, “With bacon, and lettuce, and mayo, and just drenched in grease.” Yeah, okay, now his mouth is watering.
Steve bites back his smile, just so he can entertain Tony’s behaviour. He finishes up with the vegetables he’s using and puts them in a pot to boil on the stove.
“You’re going to have a heart attack just thinking about that.”
“I’ve had three,” Tony reminds him, tapping the arc reactor. The thought makes Steve’s chest pull and ache. Tony’s not exactly careful with himself, “And I would gladly have another if it meant we could skip this salad and go for extra bacon.”
The laugh escapes Steve’s mouth no matter how hard he tries to keep it in. He washes his hands in the sink, dries them on the hand towel, and looks up to meet Tony – and then, he stops.
Tony’s standing there, holding the salad bowl in one arm and the tongs in the other. He’s got a wicked smile on his face, a real one, one that’s all teeth and lips while the crow’s feet in the corner of his eyes and the laugh lines on his forehead crease. His hair is all mussed up, the same way it always is when he’s been spending too much time in his workshop. This is his Tony, the one that nobody sees.
The kitchen light catches his eyes in a way that makes Steve’s heart roll over. And he knows.
“Steve?” Tony’s voice is shaky, and Steve figures he must be staring at him pretty intently, and his heart is beating so fast that he can hear it in his ears and feel the blood pump through his veins.
He fumbles in his pocket for the box, grabs the smooth velvet square and holds it tightly in his palm. Steve’s thought about this for a while, about what he’s going to do. He’s always figured himself for an old fashioned kind of guy, and he wants to drop to his knee and open the box and look up at this beautiful, beautiful man, and he knows he would never live down that embarrassment, but it’s something he’s thought about for a long time. The next thing he knows, he’s thrusting the box into Tony’s hand and looking right into the brown eyes that glow like whiskey in the sun.
“I love you.” He says, because he can’t think of anything else.
Tony’s not saying anything. He hasn’t even opened the box, let alone said anything to Steve, and suddenly Steve isn’t sure that this was the best idea. His hands tremble and he has to hold them tightly at his side to keep them still.
He watches closely as Tony opens the box, and god dammit, could he be any slower about it? Steve swears it takes thirty seconds for him to flip the top open and see the ring, cushioned and silver and ready for his finger.
“Steve?” Tony repeats. His voice is nothing, barely a whisper, and Steve thinks that for sure he’s done something wrong, “Is this—”
Steve looks at the ground, “It’s a ring. Actually, it’s the dog tags, but I wanted it to be special and I know I always give you the necklace, but I think maybe it would be nice if we, just, I mean—”
His cheeks flush bright red, and he’s desperately screwing this up, saying things that were never in any version of the script, things that were never supposed to come up in conversation. It’s supposed to be simple, and now he’s kicking himself because he sounds like an idiot, a complete idiot.
“Let’s get married,” he blurts out, and his cheeks burn even hotter. He keeps his eyes on the floor, “I love you, Tony. I want to spend the rest of—”he gestures at nothing, not even knowing what he means, “—whatever this is, with you. If you want.”
Tony doesn’t speak for a long time, and an icy fear spreads itself across Steve’s stomach. He’s tried to prepare himself for the worst and tell himself that this is just a bump in the road, that maybe Tony just isn’t ready for this, but the fear is nothing like he could ever have imagined. He looks up tentatively, sparing a glance in Tony’s direction.
His eyes are misty. He’s holding the salad bowl in one hand and the ring box in the other, ring still in its slot, and his eyes are misty, and suddenly he blinks and there are full, horrifying tears. Steve leans forward and puts his hand on Tony’s shoulder.
“Tony?” He asks, because he has never seen Tony cry in all the time he’s known him. It’s not in his nature, “Are you alright?”
A smile breaks the tears, toothy and this time all gums and lips, and suddenly he’s laughing, his eyes squeezed tightly together and the lines on his face deepening. Steve watches him with awe, because this is his Tony, and this is not what he was expecting at all – nothing so completely and utterly Tony Stark.
When Tony speaks next, he tries to keep his voice cool and casual, but even Steve can hear the way it shakes behind the bravado.
“Of course, Cap,” he says, and he pulls the ring out to inspect it. He runs his hands over the steel, feels the coolness of it against his skin and the bumps from where the letters of Steve’s name used to be. Tentatively, he slides the ring onto his finger, and it feels like it belongs – he kicks himself for how corny that sounds, too, “Steve. Of course.”
And suddenly, Steve his kissing him, soft and sweet and full of something that Tony can’t place but wants to place, something he wants more of. He curves a hand behind Steve’s neck and kisses him back with such force and such passion that it leaves him breathless when they break apart. Steve’s heart flutters in his chest. He rests his forehead against Tony’s.
“I love you,” Steve reminds him, and when he speaks, their lips brush together. Tony feels the touch like sparks, shooting through his body. He smiles.
“You know,” Tony starts off trying to sound cocky, but the impression is a little less believable with watering, red eyes, “You technically didn’t even ask.”
Steve clips him on the back of the head, but presses another kiss to his lips anyway. On the first day of February, he holds Tony close in the middle of the kitchen, watching the snow from the window, and wonders what he’ll do now, with a love like this.