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Party girls don't get hurt

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0.

For as long as Tony Stark can remember, he has known Steve Rogers. He wonders if he knew him even before he was born.

 

1. 

He is nine months old and there is a pair of very, very blue smiling eyes above him, and he is held in immovable yet gentle arms, close to a chest within which a strong heart goes thu-thunk. 

 

2. 

He is two years old, and there is a blond giant in the room, taller than Dad, enormous shoulders wide enough to block the light. Tony is not big enough to not be scared at the sight of him, but when the man sees him, he smiles wide and kneels so that he is just a little above Tony's height. 

"Hi, Tony," he says. His voice is very warm. "It's Steve. Remember me?"

Tony looks to Mom for reassurance. She is sitting on the squishy couch with another lady, this one dark-haired and with a slash of red lipstick above her cream white blouse. Mom smiles, and so does the lady. Tony is only little, but the lady's eyes are sad, he can tell.

"Say hello, darling," Mom directs, and Tony stands straight and offers Steve his hand.

"Hello, Steve," he says. He should say, 'Pleased to meet you,' next, as Mom taught him, but the man really does look familiar. Tony's small hand is engulfed by an enormous palm, soft and gentle on his. Tony grins, watching as the blue eyes blink fast a couple of times before crinkling at the corners.

"Wow, are you going to be a heartbreaker when you grow up," Steve says. 

"Just like his Daddy," Mom says. She is sad again. Tony tugs his hand away from Steve's and goes over to her, hugging her leg. Mom puts a hand in his hair, stroking gently. 

"My little Tony-Tone," she whispers into his hair.

 

3.

Tony is five years old. He is welding a microprocessor to a circuit board. The smoke is acrid and stings his eyes, but he keeps going, because if he can get this in place then he can attach it to the other wiring inside the bot's casings and it will move! It'll be amazing.

Outside his room, Dad is talking to someone. "He's fine," Dad says. "I was doing the same kinda stuff by the time I was his age, and I turned out pretty damn awesome."

"Jesus, Howard. Maybe your parents didn't know better, but you sure should. Get him some protective gear, at least."

"Christ, you're a worse nag than Maria. Fine. I'll get him some goggles. Not gloves, though, they interfere with his grip, they don't make them the size of his tiny girl hands."

Tony's hands squeeze down on the handle of the welding torch. Dad said he can handle it, and he can. He won't stop, not even when he burns himself again.

 

4.

Tony is ten and he is watching as Roger whizzes around the room, chains finding no predicaments in the piles of books and notes on the floor. Roger is three weeks old now, and ready for presentation at the school fair. If Tony says so himself, he is miles ahead of the competition he might face from the other kids in his science classes.

Roger bumps into the door, reversing until he can turn - but he never gets the chance to. The door slams open, squashing Roger into the wall.

Tony doesn't let out the whimper clawing at his throat. Howard stands in the doorway, eyes cold where they sweep over Tony's floor.

"What are you playing with now, boy?" he says, irritation warring with disinterest. Tony would take the irritation any day. At least that would mean Howard saw him. If he were any other kid, and if his father was any other man, Tony would run over and proffer Roger's bent form, and ask for help. But his father is who he is, and Roger has a better chance with Tony anyway. 

Then someone steps closer to the doorway, and Tony can feel his entire face lifting.

"Steve," he says, ecstatic. 

Steve smiles. Unlike with Howard, it reaches his eyes and makes them glow. "Hey, Tony," Steve says, with every indication that he is just as pleased to see him. "What'cha doing?"

"I was testing Roger, for the school fair," Tony says. He ignores Howard's dismissive sigh and drops to his knees, fetching Roger from his pinch. His left side is a little dented, and one of his chains has detached, but Tony can fix that, easy. 

Steve leans down to look closer when Tony straightens and offers Roger to be inspected.

"He is a very good-looking robot, Tony. I bet you're really proud."

Tony shrugs. "I can do better," he says. It's one lesson he has learned well. 

Steve's sky-blue eyes cloud over; he darts Howard an unreadable look. 

"I'm sure you can. But it's a great achievement, all the same."

"Come on, Steve," Howard says, interrupting whatever Tony had meant to say. "I got some specs to show you. Real science, you know."

Steve's jaw ticks. He smiles at Tony again, but it's not as carefree as before.

"Thanks for showing me," he says, reaching over and running a hand through Tony's hair. The touch sends a shiver down Tony's back, though he doesn't know why. "You're the smartest kid I know. I'm sure you'll do amazing at the fair."

Steve leaves. Tony walks over to his desk and turns on the light. The room seems dimmer than before. He hammers out Roger's dents and fixes his chain. Then, before he can think better of it, he picks up a couple of markers and draws a white star on a blue, red, and white background. 

"You're just like Steve now, Roger. Be brave like him, too. We'll win."

 

5. 

Tony is sixteen, back from his first semester at MIT for the Christmas holidays, and he is sitting huddled behind the couch in the living room, watching Steve out on the balcony. Steve is staring out into the ocean, hands gripping the rail so hard Tony knows he will find dents into it later. (Tony is old enough now to know not just who Steve is, but what that means, too.) From this angle he can't see Steve's reddened eyes, but he can see the hunch of Steve's shoulders, his head bowed under the insurmountable weight of grief. There was an explosion, and now Mrs Rogers is gone. 

His Mom's hand is on Steve's massive shoulder. Her forehead presses against the bulging muscles of his arm.

Tony feels like the filthiest, vilest thing in existence, because even when Steve is broken from the pain inside him, Tony still wishes he was the one pressed to Steve's side. He wishes he was the one Steve sought comfort from. He wishes he could hold Steve to him and try to make him feel better, in any way possible.

Yeah. Tony knows a thing or two more about who Tony Stark is, too. The truth seems clear - he is not a nice person. That he can think of how much he wants Steve to pick him up, press his back to the wall, and sheathe himself inside him, at a time like this - it speaks more about his nature than any of the science prizes he has won.

Maria says something to Steve, and his grip tightens, his back shakes. Tony quietly backs away from line of sight, feeling like he's coming apart inside. He hardly knows this man, and yet it feels like he knows him bone-deep, and he aches with Steve's pain and with his own powerlessness. Useless, he is so useless.

 

6.

Tony is seventeen and drunk. So drunk. Sooooo drunk, and it's good. Like this, he doesn't have to think. He doesn't have to remember what happened a week ago. The crash. The mangled steel, one pale arm sprawling on the gritty asphalt through the broken window of the flipped-over wreck. The look on Obie's face as he'd walked in the room, pale and shaking. The words that had fallen from his mouth had felt like poisonous wasps honing onto Tony's skin, his head, his heart. Howard, Tony could have handled. God knows, Tony hasn't had a father for a long time.

But Maria...

The buzzing returns to Tony's ears. He tips the bottle into his mouth, sucking down the last dregs of Howard's excellent scotch. Tony's scotch, now. Everything is his. Ever single spec and lab and dime. All his. He is seventeen and a billionaire.

"Yay me," he slurs, too gone to summon any kind of concern for what this excess must be doing to his liver. Howard had pickled his for years; why should Tony be any different? He is a Stark, after all. He has a legacy to uphold.

He is also too gone to hear the hesitant footsteps behind him, turns too late to hide the crime scene from Steve's wide, devastated eyes.

"Oh, Tony," Steve says. His voice is warm and so kind that Tony wants to curl inside it and sob all his pain away .

"Hey, Steve," he says instead, tries to enunciate clearly enough to misdirect from how wasted he is. He doesn't look at Steve again to check if he succeeded. "I guess you heard. You missed the service, it finished a few hours ago."

Steve doesn't say anything. Exhausted and aching, Tony slumps over the top of Howard's vast desk. There is a silk scarf bunched up under his arms, likely getting ruined. It Tony closes his eyes and buries his nose in it, he can still smell the molecules of his mother's perfume trapped between the fine threads. She loved that scarf. If Tony was less of a selfish bastard, he'd have had it buried with her – but he isn't. He is weak, the failure Howard always knew he was.

Shit, he isn't drunk enough. He staggers upright and trips his way over to Howard's wet bar. Good old dependable Dad. You can always rely on him to supply the booze.

Could.

Tony grabs for the first bottle he finds. The neck shivers against the glass in his other hand, tinkling a perfect liturgy for its late owner. And then there are arms reaching past his sides, large, strong hands taking away the bottle and the glass and putting them back in the cabinet. Done with that, they wrap themselves around Tony and pull him back against a broad, shockingly hot chest. Bulging muscle surrounds him, a safe little hidey hole for him to fall apart in.

Steve's breath whispers past his ear.

"I'm so sorry I wasn't here," he says.

Tony's body spasms with the pain, bending in two. A wail cuts through the air. It takes Tony much too long to recognise that it's coming from his own mouth.

"Shh," Steve says. His voice is shaking. There is dampness on the back of Tony's neck. The arms are a vice across his chest, tight and incredibly reassuring.

"Shh, I'm sorry," Steve keeps repeating while Tony falls apart against him.

Everything is too much. Tony needs to not think. He needs to be distracted, overwhelmed so thoroughly that it will shut off his stupid, useless brain.

He turns in Steve's arms. Steve's eyes are red-rimmed and too bright, tear tracks snaking down the perfect planes of his cheeks. Tony wants him so, so much, it's a gaping chasm in his chest. He can't remember when he fell in love with Steve Rogers, only that Steve is the only thing keeping him whole, has been for longer than he had known to realise.

"Please," Tony whispers, nuzzling at Steve's cheek, his neck. "Please." He presses a kiss there, right at the spot where throat meets shoulder. His hands clutch at the front of Steve's pale blue shirt, desperate to keep him right there. "Steve. Please."

Steve shudders against him, then shifts his hold. One hand comes to rest over the back of Tony's head, keeping it in place against Steve's chest.

"Don't," he murmurs. His voice is rough. "Tony. You don't know what you're doing."

"I do," Tony promises against the warm cotton, sucking down the scent of fresh soap underneath. "I do, I promise. Steve, please, I want you so much."

Steve exhales harshly against his hair. The arms that had been so comforting minutes ago are now constricting, preventing Tony from getting what he wants. He chokes down a sob. "Please, just this once."

"Tony, you know I can't do that," Steve says, sounding pained. "Come on. You've had enough for one night."

The next second, Tony is airborne and the room is spinning alarmingly. He clutches at the only steady point – Steve's neck and shoulders above him. The arms have shifted, one under his knees and one around his shoulders. Tony presses his face into Steve's neck, wanting the nauseating lurching to stop. Steve carries him up the stairs, past Howard and Maria's bedroom, past the guest room where Steve sometimes spends the night, to Tony's old room at the far end of the corridor. He pushes the door open with his shoulder and deposits Tony on top of the bed. Tony lies on his back, relieved that the movement is over, barely able to help Steve as he takes off his shoes and his black mourning suit. Steve's fingers undoing the knot of his tie make him tremble, which quickly turns into wracking shudders. Steve tugs the covers over the top of him, then sits on the bed, one hand stroking Tony's hair away from his face. Tony curls inwards, hiding his face in Steve's hip. He feels safe for the first time in a week.

"Will you stay?" he whispers.

"Of course, Tony," Steve says. His voice makes Tony's cheek thrum pleasantly. "I'll be just down the corridor."

Suddenly terrified, Tony clings to him, not proud of it but unable to stop.

"Don't leave me," he chokes out.

Steve's breath hitches. Long minutes pass, until Tony starts drifting in and out of alcohol-induced unconsciousness.

"Please," he whispers.

It's the last thing he remembers, until he opens his eyes again and it's morning. The sun stabs cruelly into his brain, making his stomach heave. He is so hot, it's almost unbearable. He tries to throw back the covers, but they won't budge – like something is pinning them down.

Very slowly, Tony turns his head. Steve is asleep on top of the blanket, hunched miserably in on himself. One of his arms is hugged against his stomach; the other hand rests on Tony's side, as if to make sure he doesn't leave.

Tony wishes, oh how he wishes, that he didn't remember last night. But he does. He basically threw himself at Steve, amazing, kind, noble Steve, who of course wanted nothing to do with him. The way his body is a very careful distance away from Tony's speaks volumes about how uncomfortable he must feel, lying there next to the kid who drunkenly tried to seduce him after sobbing snot and tears all over him.

Christ. Tony knew his crush was pathetic. He didn't know it could make him this pathetic, though. Poor Steve, having to put up with him.

Very carefully, Tony slides out from under the covers, placing Steve's hand gently over the bunched-up duvet. He tugs on a pair of old jeans and a t-shirt, leaving the suit where it lies. He can't bear picking it up. He'll never wear it again.

He is at the door when he hesitates, turns back just one more time. Steve looks so young and vulnerable, lying there, mouth pouting open a little in his sleep. Tony has never, and probably never will love another person as much as he adores Steve Rogers.

He crosses over to his old desk, unearthing an ancient robot schematic from the pile of papers. He turns it over.

He leaves the scribbled note on the pillow next to Steve. He will never be able to tell him just how much he appreciates what Steve did for him last night. He hopes the barely legible 'Thanks' is enough.

 

7.

Tony is eighteen an a half, and grinning up at a gorgeous, dark-skinned older guy, who is looking at him with wide, worshipful eyes.

"You know Captain Rogers? Like, personally know him?"

He hasn't reacted to Tony's name when Tony had introduced himself, nor to the waiter who came over asking if Tony wanted more champagne brought out, at two hundred dollars a pop; but Tony name-drops Steve, and the guy – Rhodes – almost wets himself.

"I do, actually," Tony says, grinning. "Slept with him once. Actually slept," he amends with a grin when he sees the way Rhodes is trying to veer between disapproving and awe-struck. "Don't worry, he had no designs on my virtue. He's a real stand-up guy, even if I wish he hadn't been right then."

Rhodes laughs, which is what Tony was trying for. He grins, too. No reason for Rhodes to know just how much Tony meant that last one. His sad secrets are his alone.

"Wow, I can't believe you grew up with him. Must have been awesome."

"Yeah," Tony says quietly, meaning it. "It was. He taught me what it's like to have someone you trust unreservedly at your side."

Rhodes eyes him shrewdly, and Tony fidgets, aware he's disclosing more about his personal life than he might necessarily mean to.

"I could introduce you sometime," he offers, watching Rhodes' face light up. It's not an offer Tony makes all the time, or at all. But he's here because half an hour ago, Rhodes dragged him out of a room with four drunk fratboys in it, where Tony had been sitting on the bed, wondering why he always got himself into those kinds of situations and how to extract himself from this one with his dignity intact. That's what you get for knowing you're only good enough to be wanted for your name and your bank account. It's rare to meet someone like Rhodes, who not only doesn't seem to be impressed by either, but is still standing here, talking to Tony like he wants to actually get to know him.

"That would be amazing, man," Rhodey says, hushed. "Captain Rogers has been my personal hero for longer than I can remember."

"Yeah, he gets that a lot," Tony says, not unkindly, noting the 'Captain Rogers' rather than 'Captain America'. Yeah. Rhodes is definitely looking like good people.

"Hey, you know Steve?" a woman says behind Tony's shoulder. He turns, finding himself face to face with a tall, gorgeous strawberry blonde whose skin looks luminous under the low light. Her pale blue eyes are shrewd and intelligent; the slant of her smile makes Tony want to smile back, with appreciation if not outright awe.

'Steve'. Interesting.

"I do, as a matter of fact, know Steve. How do you know Steve?"

The woman looks around, as if trying to secure their privacy. Once she has made sure no one is listening too closely, she leans in.

"My grandfather knew him. Fought with him, actually. Steve came to see us all the time, while Grandfather was sick."

Wow. Tony had had no idea. He wonders why the realisation is so surprising, that Steve knows other normal, ordinary people, and likes to spend time with them. It sure as hell shouldn't be.

"What was your Grandfather's name?" Tony asks, careful not to make it sound like an accusation, because while he knows he has issues, he also knows it's unfair to project them onto other people.

"Timothy Dugan," the woman says, smiling like Tony and Rhodes aren't staring at her in wide-eyed fascination.

"You do have his colouring," Rhodey says, peering at her eyes.

She shrugs. "With a little red thrown in from my father. I'm Pepper Potts, by the way."

Tony boggles. "Really?" he blurts, grinning in delight. Pepper rolls her eyes. "It's Virginia, actually, you can thank my father for that, too. Granddad always called me 'Pepper', though. Said it suited me better."

"Lady, I don't even know you that well yet, and already I can tell he had a point," Tony grins.

Rhodey looks between the two of them. "You're both legacy babies," he say sadly. "Man, I can't compete with that."

Pepper shakes her head a little. "Trust me. That's actually not something you want. I mean, don't get me wrong. I loved my grandfather, and I sure as hell was proud of him. But I grew up being gawked at, and I'm sure Stark did, too. It gets to be a lot."

"Amen," Tony murmurs. It's strange, but he feels kinship to these two people, different though they are. They remind him of Steve a little, his intelligence, his nobility. Even when Steve doesn't want anything to do with him anymore (which is the only conclusion Tony can reach, when he hasn't heard from the man since that night), he's still changing Tony's life.

"Hey, you guys wanna get out of here?" he says on an impulse that feels too right to ignore.

Pepper cocks an eyebrow at him. "Isn't this your party, Mister Stark?"

Tony scrunches his nose. "One, call me Tony. And two, yes it is, which is why I feel perfectly entitled to ditch it when I get bored, and the two of you are way more interesting than a bunch of Harvard escapees. Besides, I'm hungry. I could murder a cheeseburger. Care to join me?"

Pepper and Rhodes share a look. Tony, well-versed in reading people since he knew why that was important, can see the reluctant amusement and agreement in their eyes, and knows he's won.

"Lead the way," Rhodey says, grinning. Pepper hooks her arms through theirs, and sets their pace, quickly maneuvering them through the crowded room and outside.

"Wow, you are so good at that," Tony says. It's definitely awe this time.

Pepper smirks. "When you've been a part of my family, you quickly learn to navigate hostile waters. Grandfather used to teach me evasion maneuvers when I was little."

"Badass," Rhodey says, impressed, as Tony signals the valet.

"Thank you," Pepper says primly. She ruins it a little by the self-satisfied smirk, but what the hell, she's earned it.

"I bet Steve loves you," Tony blurts, without realising he's going to say it until the words are hanging in the air.

Pepper gives him the same shrewd look that she threw the room prior to their exit. Tony feels peeled away, exposed, caught in her crosshairs.

"He's been a good friend," Pepper says kindly, "but we've never been close. Not like you and he have, from what I can gather."

Tony fights not to squirm. Rhodes has let go of Pepper's arm and is standing in front of them, blocking off the street and giving out every impression of waiting patiently while his eyes dart to Tony's face.

Tony wonders with a sick feeling of disappointment how very transparent he apparently is, that strangers can read him so well.

"You know, we could get close. All three of us," he says with a leer, because it's a tried and tested method. No one ever refuses a piece of him, especially not when offered.

Pepper looks at him, looks at Rhodes, who is watching the two of them with a bemused expression.

"Actually, I'd much prefer to get that burger," Pepper says, artless but firm. She mitigates it with a smile, something reserved but with the promise of unbending in the future.

Tony sighs. What the hell. Maybe they could become actual friends. Stranger things have happened.

 

8.

Tony is twenty-one years and one month old, and he is taking over the company his father created.
 
He has never been more terrified in his life.
 
"Beep?" Dummy says. "Beeb boop squeak?"
 
"Yeah, yeah. Go away with your common sense, I don't know how the hell I managed to program you like that," Tony says, rolling his eyes. "I need my head examined."
 
"I can start an X-ray scan if you would like me to, sir."
 
Tony waves a hand. "No, no, J, it's – it's a figure of speech. Means I don't know what I was thinking when I made your big bro."
 
"Noted, sir. Perhaps you would consider talking through your reasoning in the future, for my records? Then I could be of better assistance in further queries of that nature, especially since they seem otherwise sound."
 
"Sass," Tony admonishes, wishing he sounded more reproachful and less like a proud father probably does.
 
"Sir, we have a visitor."
 
Tony jerks upright. No one has been in his workshop since he remodelled it post-Howard. He definitely doesn't want anyone down here. Good thing Obie is completely disinterested in how their millions happen, just that they keep coming in.
 
"Who is it?"
 
"A Captain Rogers, Sir."
 
Tony's heart performs a violent flip-over. He hasn't seen Steve in months – more like a year, actually. He keeps being sent on far-away missions of national importance. Tony has spent the time torn between upset at only getting the occasional message, and relieved by it. They still haven't talked about that night when Tony begged Steve to take him to bed, and for that alone Tony is beyond grateful. The remembered humiliation is more than enough to last him a lifetime.
 
That doesn't mean that Tony's feelings for the guy have abated even the slightest bit. Tony has spent the past four years fucking his way through most of MIT and Harvard, yet no one has come close to holding his interest even a fraction as much as the big lug - not even darling Rhodey or Pepper, otherwise known as 'the ones that got away'.
 
"Let him in," Tony directs, licking his suddenly dry lips. He does a quick inventory of himself – stained jeans and a t-shirt with its sleeves torn off. Not the worst thing he's ever worn.
 
"Tony?" Steve calls from the door. Tony swallows around the lump in his throat. In just a second, he's going to see Steve again. He's not sure he can handle it.
 
"Over here, Cap," he calls, grabbing the closest wrench and yanking Dummy in between his legs. Dummy squeaks, alarmed, but Tony pets his arm and pretends to tighten a stray screw. He sees the boots before he sees the man – combat-ready, polished black. Tony drags his eyes higher, along devastatingly shapely legs, to lean hips that have Tony's mouth drooling. He skims the rest of Steve in a hurried flash, because jeans are really bad at concealing inconvenient boners from people who would only react to them with pity.
 
"Hi," he says, smirking when he reaches Steve's face.
 
"Hey," Steve says. He still smiles at Tony the same. Thank god that, at least, hadn't changed. Tony didn't think he could bear it. "How's our resident genius doing?"
 
"Oh, you know," Tony says, waving the wrench to distract from his own misdirection. "This and that. Hey, have you met JARVIS?"
 
Steve eyes Dummy. "I didn't realise this was a new bot," he says, patting him on the head. Dummy beeps and pushes his arm into the touch.
 
"Naw, that's just the same old idiot. No, JARVIS is my AI."
 
Steve looks at him sharply. "You made an AI? Tony, that's...that's an amazing achievement."
 
Tony fidgets under the earnest, unconcealed praise. He never knows what to do with it.
 
"Good evening, Captain Rogers," JARVIS pipes up, saving his creator from himself. "It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance."
 
"Likewise, JARVIS," Steve says. There is a faint, aching smile on his face. Tony wonders with a pang if he's thinking about his wife, and wants to kick himself for giving JARVIS a British accent. But the damage is done now.
 
"He seems like a pleasant fella," Steve muses, looking around. The smile doesn't drop. "I like what you've done with the place."
 
Tony rubs a hand over the back of his neck, probably smearing all sorts of mess on his skin. "Yeah, well. I had to get to work, and I can't work in a tidy environment. Makes me want to mess it all up."
 
"That's shocking to hear," Steve says dryly. Tony huffs a laugh, cheeks warming. "No, really, though. I like this."
 
Tony hums, looking around. Work surfaces abound, leaving plenty of space between them for what Tony plans to put into action – an interactive holographic interface he can manipulate and design through. In one corner, several of Howard's old beauties lurk, paint shiny and unsullied. If Tony ever gets any free time, he plans to do some work on the engines, continue the fine old Stark tradition of tinkering and improving on their machines.
 
Tony knows that Steve's bike came to life in that same corner, a strangely beautiful amalgamation of engine and body parts fitting together almost like a cyborg. Steve must have spent a lot of time down here, chatting to his old man and supplying opinions when needed. For a moment, Tony's gut twists at the thought of how much Steve must be missing Howard, too; how strange it must be for him to see his friend's son taking over his space and remodelling every bit of it until it's almost unrecognizable.
 
Tony clears his throat and makes himself look back at Steve. "Not that I'm not thrilled to see you, Cap, but was there a reason for the visit?"
 
Steve's smile dims and all but disappears. Tony's gut lurches.
 
"I just wanted to let you know that I'm going away for a while. I won't be able to make much contact."
 
Tony purses his lips, trying to hide the dread he feels at the words. Steve has been away before, but nothing that warranted a warning like this. "Mission?" he asks, not knowing whether to be relieved or worried when Steve nods.
 
He wants to ask whether it'll be dangerous. He wants to make Steve promise him to look after himself. He wants to cling to Steve and beg him not to leave him.
 
But he has his pride. He isn't going to keep Steve in a place he doesn't want to be, with company he would much rather do without.
 
He looks away with an effort, feigning fascination with his work. That, at least, comes easily to him, even if everything else is only ever hard.
 
"Sure thing, Cap. Thanks for dropping by to let me know, you didn't have to come all this way. Hey, I'm going to Afghanistan next month, doing some glad-handing over our latest tech. Maybe we'll run into each other."
 
Steve frowns. "Afghanistan? Surely there's no need for you to be there in person? These aren't safe times, Tony."
 
Tony can't clamp down on a scowl fast enough. He isn't a kid anymore, damn it; when is Steve going to stop treating him like he can't look after himself? Like he's some nuisance needing watching over?
 
"It'll be fine, Steve," he says dismissively. "It's just a meet-and-greet, do some PR, sell some weapons. I'll be home in time for drinks in Vegas."
 
Steve looks like he wants to object, brows furrowed and mouth puckered in tiny white lines. Tony ignores him, and sees him deflate out of the corner of his eye.
 
"Fine," Steve says, as if it's his business to pass judgment on Tony's business plans. Just because Tony is stupid in the head over him does not mean he's going to be taking any orders from Captain Stick-up-his-tight-ass, who can't even see that Tony is far from the kid Steve used to bounce on his knees and throw in the air to make him giggle, a lifetime ago.
 
"You can see yourself out, can't you?" Tony says, biting into the meat of his cheek to not take it back immediately. It hurts, to have Steve look at him like that, disappointment and disapproval in the blue gaze, but it sure beats Steve not looking at him at all because he's afraid of what he might see.
 
"Bye, Tony," Steve says sadly, turning to go.
 
Once upon a time, Tony would have clung to Steve's legs with chubby hands and begged him not to go. Tony smiles grimly, twisting the wrench in his fingers and watching Steve's stiff shoulders as they round the corner. If he thought that getting on his knees for any reason at all would make Steve stay, he wouldn't have to give his legs conscious direction to fold – but that's not the case, is it.
 
He watches the empty doorway, and tries to convince himself to accept Steve's choice. The man has earned it. Besides, Tony has his work, and JARVIS, and his MIT professors (who are more like his cohorts now), and Rhodey to tease, and Pepper to worship, and military bigwigs to charm. He has no time left for pining over what he can't have.

 

9.

Tony is twenty-one years and two months old, and he knows he is going to die. It's cold water sluicing down his back and under his clothes; it's drowning in a mouthful, over and over again, and all he can think, apart from "Oh, God, please, no," is that it's a good thing Steve doesn't love him, or Tony would be about to turn into another entry in a long, long list of losses.

Then, he is taken outside the cave, and he opens his eyes on what surrounds him, in crates upon crates etched with a painfully familiar logo, and then he doesn't think anything very much for a good long while. An argument can be made that he doesn't think at all for the next two months, not until he stumbles across sandy desert dunes under the gruelling noonday sun, and sees the chopper fly overhead.

When Rhodey closes his arms around him, it's like his trembling is passed on to Tony, where it evolves into full-out shaking, violent enough to make his teeth chatter.

And then, he looks up, and shivers to stillness, because there, leaning against the side of the chopper like his legs can't hold him up any longer, is Steve. He looks haggard and a second away from breaking down, and when Rhodey helps Tony stagger towards the chopper, Steve comes forward to meet them like he can't stand another second of not moving closer. Huge, strong, unbreakable arms close around Tony, holding him to a familiar, reassuring chest tight enough to bend his aching ribs, and for the first time since Steve walked out of his workshop a lifetime ago, Tony can breathe.

(Pepper hugs him, too, when they get back to LA, crying silently as she clutches at him for dear life, and he loves her, but it's not the same.)

Steve leaves immediately after he delivers Tony into her arms, of course, chasing after the people who took Tony, or whatever mission the higher-ups at SHIELD have sent him off on now. So he isn't there when Tony is dying slowly again, in the space of a month, in the comfort of his own home this time, how very considerate. Tony should really get out of the habit of doing that, it's hell on his clothes. How ironic, that Steve should be away trying to keep Tony safe from threats across the world, while everyone has ignored the one in their own back yard. If that isn't just like the good old US of A.

Especially when the last words out of the mouth of the man Tony had considered a mentor in his professional life, as much as Steve ever was to his personal one, are, "Hail Hydra, asshole."

Oh, Cap is going to have a field day with that one.

 

10.

Tony is twenty-two, and dying again.

This can't be good for his life expectancy. Seriously, he is so over the novelty of his body aching, and dreading the moment when it will have no choice but to fail.

And then he isn't dying anymore, and is instead watching Steve scowl from his spot of looming over Tony with his arms crossed and a helpless look in his eyes, like he doesn't know what even to do with him.

"How could you not tell me you were dying," Steve demands, sounding furious and put-upon, and Tony practically hears the soft snap as he loses his grip on his sanity.

"Fuck you, you giant hypocrite," he growls, one hand curled protectively over the arc reactor, now new and improved and, as a bonus, not poisoning him anymore. "I didn't see you caring when you didn't think I was dying. All you do is rag on me and disapprove of everything I do, and I've had enough. Just because you're ninety years old doesn't give you the right to run my life, got it? I have Pepper for that. Besides, you haven't exactly been around for the past five years. I know I fucked up, and I know you don't want anything to do with me, what with you dropping me like a hot potato over a pass that one time, so don't pretend otherwise, okay? We're not friends. We never were."

Steve's jaw is ticking. Tony felt fine while he was rushing around poking at Rhodey and saving the world in the suit, but now that it's just him and Steve and the leftover taste of coconut in his mouth, he feels exhausted down to his bones, and so very inadequate to participate in any kind of human interaction, especially with this guy.

"You are such a fucking asshole," Steve says.

Tony gapes at him, torn between shock at Steve swearing and the sentiment Steve is putting across.

"I'm the asshole?" he manages, before Steve interrupts again, face flat and voice expressionless.

"Just because I don't want to be another notch on your bed post does not mean I don't care about you, Tony," he grinds out.

Tony's mouth seems to be stuck on hanging open.

"That was five years ago! I wasn't a whore back then!"

Two spots of vivid red colour Steve's cheeks. His eyes are flashing, his jaw is clenched, and Tony has never wanted another human being this much in his life. Just his rotten luck that he appears to have fixated on the one person that has no trouble resisting him.

"You are not a whore," Steve says in that tight, contained way of his that means he's this close to snapping someone's head off. "But yes, in the past five years, I haven't seen you sustain a single relationship, so forgive me if I jump to conclusions."

The strain of the past week – hell, the past month – is catching up to Tony all at once.

"I have Pepper. And Rhodey. So you can take your theories and shove them up your ass, along with that foot-long stick, Rogers."

Steve blanches. Tony wonders what he has said that has finally gone through Steve's thick skull.

"My apologies, Mister Stark. I didn't mean to suggest you don't have people who love you. I think I should leave now, before--" He sighs, sounding as tired as Tony feels. "Get better," he adds with a last unreadable look.

Before Tony can say another word, Steve is spinning on his heel and marching towards the door. But, well, Tony wouldn't be Tony if, when faced with a button marked 'off-limits', he didn't immediately trample all over it.

"Thanks for dropping by," he yells faux-cheerfully. "Feel free to not force yourself to endure my company any longer."

Steve stops. It's more of a lurch than a conscious choice, it looks like; his fists clench at his sides tight enough to turn his knuckles white.

"You goddamn idiot," Steve says. It sounds resigned, and like it hurts, coming out of his throat. Then he turns around, stalks back towards where Tony is lying on one of the enormous yet surprisingly uncomfortable sofas Pepper is so fond of. He braces one arm over the back, stares at Tony for a long moment, and then leans in to kiss Tony full on the mouth.

Shocking heat blooms inside Tony's chest, scorching him from the inside out. His lips tingle, hyper-sensitive where they press against Steve's—and Steve's kissing him, he is kissing him, and he is big and warm and there, close enough for Tony to curl his hands in his shirt and pull him fully on top of Tony's body. Steve is breathing harsh and a little out of control; he holds himself tight as concertina wire, and much as Tony wants to melt into the sofa and let Steve do whatever he wants to him, it doesn't seem to be what Steve actually wants.

Now, Tony's all about making a point, but in this particular case, he doubts he can survive Steve's brand of driving his meaning across. There is only so much his poor heart can take.

Tony lets his head fall, separating their lips. Steve doesn't follow him down. He stays leaning over Tony, blue eyes feverishly bright.

"What are you trying to say?" Tony asks, willing his voice not to shake. He knows what he wants to read into it, and he also knows it's not what Steve means to project.

Steve huffs in frustration, pressing his plush, delicious lips together again.

"I love you, you bastard," Steve says quietly.

Then he closes his eyes and hangs his head. "I tried not to," he whispers. "I know it's wrong, and I know I'm goin' to hell for it, but I can't help it. I want you."

Tony feels like he is back in Afghanistan, plunging into cold water again.

"Thanks," he says flatly, swallowing down the humiliating tears that try to escape his eyes. "I didn't realise loving me was such a hardship. Let me save you the trouble – you needn't feel bad for me anymore, Rogers. Yeah, I threw myself at you when I was seventeen. But don't worry. I got over you. I'm sure that your other feelings will straighten you out again in no time. Now, please excuse me. I need to shower the last half hour off of me."

He doesn't look at Steve as he straightens, and makes his body walk past without giving away the state inside. Wow. Just when he'd thought he couldn't feel worse. He should know better than to tempt fate.

And to think how many times he had dreamed of Steve kissing him, and telling him he loved him. That he wanted Tony. Just goes to show – you really should be careful what you wish for.

 

11.
 
Tony is twenty-three, and flying a nuclear missile into a wormhole.
 
The joke's on him, it seems. Or is it that his whole life has become a joke? Bruce Banner was right; they're not a team, they're a ticking timebomb. But here's the thing: Tony Stark has been a ticking timebomb since the day he was born. He's got way more practice than any of the rest of them, and fuck these bastard aliens anyway, coming here, trying to destroy his world. If anyone's gonna blow up New York, it's him, and no motherfucking upstart lizard is gonna take that from him.
 
His earpiece crackles.
 
"Tony." Steve's voice, sounding broken and beaten down and, actually, kind of terrified. "Tony, what are you doing?"
 
It's sure a change from 'Mister Stark' and 'You're all about style'. It had hurt, being around Steve after the last time they'd seen each other. Wow, had that been a clusterfuck. They always manage to rub each other the wrong way, it seems. It had been a lot easier when Tony was ten years old and didn't know any better.
 
"What I'm good at," Tony replies. It's even the truth. He seems to make a habit of (almost) dying.
 
"Tony, no."
 
"It's okay, Cap. I gotta do this, you know that. There's no one else who can."
 
The line is breaking up, now that Tony is in open space billions of miles from Earth. Even JARVIS can't fix that. But... That sounds a lot like a sob.
 
"I'm sorry we got so broken up," Tony says in the privacy of his helmet. He doesn't even know if Steve can still hear him. JARVIS is flickering around him, so it's a good bet that's a no. "I never wanted that. I never wanted to love you like this, but you didn't really give me a choice. I'm sorry I'm not better."
 
His HUD flickers one last time and goes to emergency power mode, so it's only Tony's human eyes that can see the missile as it flies towards the mothership and blows it to its component atoms. He closes them, too. His work here is done.
 
When he opens them again, his faceplate is gone and Steve is leaning over him, looking a quarter of his age. Tear tracks streak the grime caking his face, and his breathing is laboured. Nursing cracked ribs, if Tony's any judge. His eyes are so, so blue when they look down at Tony. One of his hands is braced on Tony's chest, on the arc reactor, as if wanting to keep it safe.
 
No one has ever looked at Tony with so much love before. Tony considers the possibility that he played that one really, really wrong.
 
"Hey, Cap. No use crying over me, I'm still alive," he murmurs, the corner of his mouth quirking up.
 
Steve's head bows, and holy shit, he's shaking. Tony can't move, because the suit has shorted out and there is now half a ton of solid metal pinning him down, which is probably just as well, or Tony would do something really stupid, like kiss him again.
 
"Cap."
 
Steve looks up. Even like this, a complete and utter mess, he is still so devastatingly beautiful.
 
"See that lever, just past the edge of the chest plate, going towards my armpit? Pull it."
 
Steve's eyes sharpen and focus, like he has purpose again. He does as Tony instructs, feeling his way around the suit's ribcage, then pulls the lever. A spark kickstarts the systems, locking them back into the arc reactor, and Tony can sit up again.
 
"Put in a few failsafes since the last time," Tony can't keep from pointing out. "I really can look after myself, you know."
 
"I'm starting to see that," Steve agrees, a little dry and a lot relieved, less likely to shake apart where there's nothing Tony can do about it. Tony is starting to hope the two of them might actually become the friends Tony accused them of never being.
 
"Hey, have you ever tried shawarma? There's a shawarma joint about two blocks from here. I don't know what it is, but I wanna try it. How about it?"
 
Steve smiles at him, looking about nineteen years old, all told.
 
"I'd like that," he says, sounding surprised by the words himself.
 
"Aye," Thor agrees, while the Hulk just grunts, looking around with interest. "But we're not done yet."
 
"Right," Tony sighs. "But shawarma after?"
 
Of course, Steve doesn't stick around. He never does, these days, but Tony likes to think that there is a lot more reluctance to leave this time than there has been recently. Tony doesn't say, 'So stay,' because he keeps hoping that Steve will want to do that on his own, some day. But he does let Steve tell him about this Russian operative he's been hearing about that keeps wreaking havoc in Eastern Europe – mostly amongst organised crime, which is very interesting indeed.
 
"Nick wants you to bring him, doesn't he? I mean, that's why he's sending in the big patriotic guns and not just turning up all dark and mysterious and wanting to talk to him about the Avengers initiative?"
 
Steve flushes a little, but nods.
 
"That's my brief. Interesting fella, in any case. Near-Hawkeye precision on the hits, and he keeps going out of his way to leave the bodies where they can be found. They're always pretty bad people."
 
Tony sighs, and shakes his head. Steve and his hard-on for a good cause.
 
"Just don't land yourself in his crosshairs, you hear me?"
 
Possibly he doesn't have the right to dictate to Steve what he can and can't do. He can't keep it back, though. Losing Steve is not a future Tony wants to contemplate, whatever the state of this thing between them.
 
"Pot, kettle," Steve replies, giving Tony a level look that Tony grins at.
 
They shake hands before Steve straddles his motorbike and lets rip. It's a far cry from the last time they touched (and Tony is trying really hard not to think about that all the time, but it's a losing game). At least this time there is no yelling and flouncing off by any of them. That's a straight-up win, for them.
 
There's a chance that Tony is starting to feel hopeful about him and Steve reaching some kind of understanding. He isn't holding his breath for more, but having back the Steve he grew up with would sure be nice.
 

12.
 
Tony is twenty-four years old, and actually not dying! He deserves, like, a gazillion cookies for that. The world is kind of a little bit trying to break, though, and while he isn't dying right now, he is presumed dead. The knowledge makes something in his sternum itch with the thought of how well Steve must be taking that.
 
"Stark Secure Server: now transferring to all known receivers."
 
"Steve, it's me. Look, I know things haven't been great between us, and I'm trying, I really am, but this time, it was totally not my fault, I need to state that for the record. …Okay, maybe just a tiny little bit my fault? Um.
 
"I'm okay. I can't come home yet, but I am okay, and I'm working to fix this, and, just, keep yourself safe, okay? Don't come after me. Don't think you're superhuman, because you're not, so concentrate on that spooky operative all the way over in Russia, okay? Hope Natasha's there to watch your back, she's terrifying but I feel better thinking you've got her on your side.
 
"Anyway. I've gotta go. I stole a poncho of a wooden Indian, and… yeah. Call Pepper, okay? Just, let her know I'm okay and to stay safe. I'll see you when I see you. I… Maybe after this is over, we could, I don't know. Have drinks? Wait, you don't drink. Coffee, then. Lots of food, anyway, I know what your metabolism's like. I'll see you soon, Cap."
 
He puts down the receiver, cringing. Smooth, Tony. Real smooth. It'll be a marvel if he even works out what you're trying to say, since you don't seem to know yourself.

So, anyway. Pepper saves the world outside of Tony Stark's little universe for a change, which is easy for her since she's already got plenty of practice with Tony. It goes pretty smoothly, apart from that bit where she really can set Tony on fire with her brain now, but that's also not much of a change of pace for them. Tony makes it home safe and sound, if a little later than anticipated, since he has to go fish his useless bots out of the Pacific. All in all, a good show, as these things go.

He and Steve have exchanged the odd message, along the lines of 'Hey, I'm alive and mostly whole', but not much else, so Tony thinks he can be forgiven for standing rooted to the spot outside the door of Steve's apartment in Brooklyn, staring when it's opened by a tall, well-put-together guy who looks the spitting image of Sergeant James Buchanan Barnes, the one who fell off a train in the Alps and Steve spent a lifetime mourning. Tony never saw any pictures of Barnes where he had long hair pulled back in a ponytail, though, and that's not even mentioning the shiny, fuck-off metal arm.

"So... I'm guessing operation 'From Russia With Love' went better than expected, then," Tony says, because the only other alternative is curling up in a ball and screaming a little. He knows the stories, okay, and he is very well familiar with the set of dogtags Steve always wears under his shirt. He can read between the lines as well as the next bi kid growing up with his own personal wet dream. He can't possibly begrudge Steve the second chance to carve out for himself the future he must have always dreamed of, back in the day. It's Tony's own fault that he left things to stew until it was too late, and now he has no one to blame but himself when he watches Steve and Bucky cozying up together and buying an apartment in one of those retro hipster neighbourhoods and raising cats for the next couple of centuries together, or whatever it is they wanna do.

Bucky looks him up and down critically. "Pal, I ain't been awake long enough to catch up on the times, but I'm pretty sure that thing on your face is way overdone. I mean, Howard's 'two caterpillars fighting under his nose' was bad enough, but at least he didn't have a clit teaser on his chin."

He reaches up and chucks Tony under said chin, scratching the goatee Tony is trying out and shaking his head.

"Kids these days," he says mournfully.

Tony gathers his wits and smacks his arm away, scowling at his stupid gorgeous face.

"Fuck off, grandpa, I don't expect you to be down with the latest trends any time this century."

Bucky Barnes actually does not look a day older than when he fell into the snow, even though Steve has a few tiny crow's feet wrinkles around his eyes. Tony's guessing Steve wasn't the only one shot up with a version of the serum, except that he doubts Bucky volunteered for his procedure.

Bucky smirks at him, stepping aside to let him in. Tony walks past, eyeing him suspiciously and waiting for the next critique of his taste. Coming from a guy wearing some kind of baggy oversized sweater that leaves nearly his entire collarbone bare and curls around his wrists with tube-like cuffs, Tony isn't giving him too much credit for fashion sense.

That's when Steve walks into the living room, sees him, and stops in his tracks.

"Tony," he says, sounding so relieved and happy that Tony feels a kindred ache in his chest. "It's real good to see you. You had us worried for a while there."

Tony shrugs, dropping his eyes and then hurriedly dragging them back to Steve's face and away from the painted-on t-shirt stretched over his vast chest.

"Told you I'd be fine," he mutters.

Behind him, Bucky clears his throat in the sudden silence. Tony turns his head to watch him give Steve an unreadable look.

"I should probably be going," he says, hooking a thumb in the direction of the door. Steve, inexplicably, flushes bright red.

"Uh, you don't have to," Tony tries, confused. "I'll go. You folks probably have a lot of catching up to get on with."

Bucky smothers a laugh for no reason Tony can see. "Hah, no. You stick around, boyo. Steve, I'll see you tomorrow. Don't be a schmuck."

"Bye, Buck," Steve calls, as Bucky grabs his jacket and disappears through the door.

"That was weird," Tony remarks, turning around to look at Steve.

Steve, who is drinking him in with wide eyes ringed with dark lashes. Tony could get lost in those eyes.

"So," Tony starts, and forgets what he was going to say, because Steve is still looking at him like that, like Tony is everything he could have ever wanted. Tony shifts his feet, wanting to look away but trapped by that gaze, compelled to return it.

Steve walks towards him with sure steps, but there is something in the way he holds his body that makes him look uncertain, almost hesitant.

"So, I got your message," Steve says quietly. His voice, always deep and thrumming, makes Tony's skin come out in goosebumps.

"Yeah, Pepper said you called her," Tony says, swallowing hard. He doesn't know why he feels so on edge, but he does. "Thanks for that."

"Don't mention it. But, uh, maybe mention that part about dinner again?"

Tony's pulse suddenly starts hammering in his ears. Is this... Are they...?

"Dinner. Yeah." He licks his lips, trying to moisten them. His mouth feels suddenly dry as the Registan desert he'd fought his way across not so very many years ago.

Steve swallows too, throat bobbing.

"Tony," he says, something small and aching in his voice. "Last time, you said, you told me you were... over me. I won't hold it against you, of course not, and I need to apologise for the way I handled that, I can see why you'd be offended, but. You said."

Tony winces. "I lied," he says plainly. "C'mon, Steve. I've been in love with you since I knew what my dick was for. Probably longer. You're right, I'm an asshole, I push people away when I'm scared, and I'm sorry."

Steve takes another step closer, eyes a luminous blue that fills Tony's world. "I like you anyway," he says, one corner of his mouth quirking up, and Tony is just gone.

"So if I kissed you," he murmurs, afraid to speak louder in case it breaks whatever magic holds the moment in its palm.

"Tony," Steve breathes helplessly, lips pouting open and shining just a little, and that's it, that's it, Tony closes the distance between them, winds his arms around Steve's neck, and kisses him with a moan full of all the pent-up desire he's been holding inside him for the last decade.

Steve's gorgeous, delicious arms close around him, enfolding him and pressing him to Steve's dreamboat of a body. Steve kisses him like he's starved and Tony has all the food and water he'll ever need. The scent of him, sandalwood soap and laundry detergent and a sweet musk that has reminded Tony of home ever since he can remember, is driving Tony insane. He braces himself on Steve's shoulders and climbs him, winding his legs around Steve's waist and pressing the whole of his body against Steve's, and Steve just shifts his hands under Tony's thighs and holds him in place without even staggering. It's so very intoxicating, all that strength at Tony's beck and call, that his cock fills so fast it's nearly painful, pressed as it is through layers of fabric to Steve's washboard abs. Steve tilts his head, takes advantage of Tony's open mouth and licks inside, and Tony shudders so hard he nearly loses his grip on Steve's neck, because holy hell, that is one of the hottest things to ever happen to him, and he has had a lot of sex in his life.

"Jesus, Steve," he groans when Steve moves, walking him to the nearest wall and pressing his back against it. Steve fits his mouth under Tony's ear and sucks on his neck, and Tony's eyes roll back in his head with how unbelievably good that feels.

"So, uh—oh God, yes—I take it you're not shacking up with Barnes, then?"

Because clearly Tony has never mastered the art of keeping his mouth shut and taking what he's given.

Steve stops, which is horrible. Tony's skin keens with disappointment, but he forgets about that when he finds himself in the laser crosshairs of Steve's sights.

"Beg pardon?" Steve asks politely. He is still as stone, not the slightest tremor even though he's supporting all of Tony's weight.

Tony fidgets under his gaze, focusing on the tiny freckles on the bridge of Steve's nose.

"You know," he prevaricates. "I'm not an idiot. I know you loved him. And he's definitely very alive, from what I could see. I just figured, you'd want to catch up on lost time."

Steve's eyes don't leave his face, so intent on him that Tony feels himself flushing under the attention.

"Bucky's my best friend," Steve says at last, and Tony's about to roll his eyes and say 'Duh', before Steve goes on. "And I love him dearly, but he was only ever that – my friend."

"Oh," Tony says, flummoxed.

"Yeah. 'Oh.'"

Tony narrows his eyes on Steve's amused, ever-so-slightly exasperated expression. "See, every time you sass me, I feel the urge to do something very childish, like stick my tongue out at you."

"Why don't you try it, see where that gets you."

Tony immediately calls his bluff, making a face – then loses all concentration when Steve leans in and sucks his tongue into his mouth. Tony lets out a noise like he's dying, and he's not sure he isn't, actually. It's slick and wet, delicious suction that promises everything Tony ever wanted, and all Tony can do is moan like a whore and take it.

Steve's cock is hard as graphite, pressing against the underside of Tony's balls. It makes Tony break out in goosebumps, because all he can think of is that hot, thick length sliding inside him as Steve holds him up and presses his back into the wall, and it's enough to turn his body to molten lead with need.

"Steve," he moans when Steve releases his mouth and presses slick lips along the underside of Tony's jaw. "Don't tease. If you want me, if you're gonna let yourself want this, then I need you to fuck me. Now, right here. I want your cock inside me like I've never wanted anything in my life."

"God," Steve breathes, hips hitching and rubbing his bulge against Tony's body. Tony feels his ass unclench and loosen right up, like he could take Steve just like that, like a girl, all wet and open for Steve to claim. The thought should not be this erotic, but it's doing funny things to Tony's insides.

"You're sure," Steve starts, but Tony leans in and bites his mouth, makes Steve open to him this time.

"Don't you dare ask me if I'm sure. I've been sure since I was sixteen. You're the one who made us wait this long."

"I'm glad I did," Steve says, braving Tony's scowl. "I had to be sure I wasn't taking advantage. I couldn't do this otherwise, you must know this, Tony."

"Yeah, I know," Tony concedes with a sigh. He feels so right, being held in Steve's arms, cared for, cherished. It's addictive. "And you gotta know, Steve. I don't just want a tumble. You gotta know how I feel about you. I'd never use you like this, to what, scratch an itch?"

Steve nods, pressing kisses to Tony's temple, his cheek, the spot behind his ear that makes Tony arch and keen.

"I know, Tony," he says. His voice is so warm, it's like a caress down Tony's skin. "I love you. I'm not just doing this because you want me to, either."

How, how does Steve always know exactly what to say to him, Tony wonders in a daze as he threads his fingers in Steve's hair and brings him in for a kiss. It's hot, wet, so dirty that Tony could come just from Steve kissing him like this.

"I want to take you to bed," Steve whispers. "I used to dream about you spread out under me, over my sheets, begging me for it. It was horrible to think like that, but after that night, I couldn't stop. I wanted it anyway."

Tony gasps at the mental image, Steve looming big and muscled above him, pinning him to the bed, Tony helpless in his sights and loving it.

"Jesus," he murmurs, shifting to rub his cock into the friction provided by Steve's incredible body. "Now that's a fantasy that'll keep me warm a long time. You can still do it, you know. I'm twenty-four, I'm not a kid, and I know what I want. And I want you to do that, spread me out and claim me. I've always been yours anyway. Let me show you."

Steve is shaking under his arms, breath coming out in gasps full of need. His cock jerks against Tony's balls, and Tony has to close his eyes, because it feels so good and he doesn't think he could give it up, not even to save Steve's life. Steve stumbles away from the wall, still carrying Tony like he barely weighs anything, and heads for the back of the apartment, towards one of the bedrooms. It's decorated in simple earthy colours, dark floors and a reinforced steel bed covered in fluffy pillows and covers. Steve deposits Tony in the centre of it, leaving Tony to sprawl languidly while he just looks down at him, eyes dark and hungry. Tony stretches as far as he can, putting his lithe body on display. He has bulked up quite a bit since he became Iron Man, and he'll never again be a slim, slinky teenager, but he's confident enough that he looks good, and that he can make Steve want him like this even more. He has come to realise that with Steve, desire is as much in the mind as in the body, and Tony can offer him so, so much more now that Steve will let himself have it.

"Come down here, Captain. Let's pretend I've never been fucked before. You can show me how it's done."

Steve sucks in a deep breath, nostrils flaring.

"You never have, as far as I'm concerned. Not properly. Not the way you deserve to be fucked," he murmurs, voice gone low and hoarse, a near growl. It spreads around Tony's body, makes his skin come up in goosebumps, makes his heart beat faster and his cocks feel this close to going off untouched.

"So show me," he purrs, licking his lips.

Instead of falling on him, like Tony wants him to, Steve starts stripping with quick, economic movements all the more affecting for it. Tony watches, eyes wide and covetous, as Steve's skin is bared to him, golden and taut and covered in fine hairs except over his arms and legs, between his thighs, where it's coarse and dark and springy. Tony's cock jumps in his pants, making him whimper softly as his zipper digs into it.

Then Steve crawls onto the bed, over Tony, and slides his hands under Tony's shirt. Tony wriggles and helps him pull it off, then groans and arches his hips into his touch when Steve moves on to his pants.

"So eager for me," Steve murmurs, eyes roaming over Tony's naked body. Tony feels like he's on fire with need, like he might combust with the way Steve is looking at him right now.

"Need you," Tony rasps. "Please, Steve."

Steve strokes along his sides, flicks a finger at a nipple, then thumbs over Tony's mouth.

"Don't worry, Tony. I'll give you what you want."

Slowly, slowly, Steve takes him apart, small but firm touches everywhere, every inch of his body examined and claimed. With lips, hands, tongue, Steve explores him, finding each and every spot that makes Tony keen and writhe. He was right, Tony thinks dazedly. Tony has never been fucked like this, like he's something precious, as much for his pleasure as his partner's wrung from his body. Steve licks along his cock, takes one of his balls in his mouth, then nudges his tongue at the ring of muscles around Tony's entrance, twitching with the need to be filled. A finger follows his tongue, dry and insistent, stinging a little as it goes in. For a second, Tony feels an edge of apprehension – should he explain about lube? But then Steve withdraws again and sucks the digit into his mouth, closing his eyes as Tony stares and pants for air.

"God, you taste so good," Steve sighs. "You showered for me, didn't you? You hoped that this would happen."

Tony shrugs, flushing a little. "To be fair, I've hoped this would happen for the past eight years."

Steve pops his finger out of his mouth and returns it to Tony's body, slick with saliva. Tony takes him easier now, relishing the burn, knowing it will fade soon enough. He has never needed much work there, his body somehow knowing how to go lax and let the intrusion happen. Steve leans down and flicks his tongue over Tony's nipple, scraping it with his teeth, and it's like there's a direct line between it and Tony's groin, which goes all tight yet soft, needing more.

Then Steve straightens and shifts sideways, pawing at the nightstand next to the bed. From the bottom drawer, he pulls out a bottle of lube and a string of condoms, dropping them on the bed in Tony's line of sight, as if to stoke his anticipation. It's working, too; Tony's breath stutters out of his chest, along with any kind of restraint.

"I want to roll you over and suck you, and then I want to climb on top of your dick and take you for the ride of your life," he says darkly. "But since you said you wanted me on my back in your bed this time, maybe we could move this along before my balls explode from trying not to come the second you push inside me?"

Steve eyes him consideringly, and very thoroughly, as if he's cataloguing exactly what he intends to do next.

"I don't need to tie you up so you'll be good, do I?" he says evenly.

Tony's gut cramps with lust. "You don't need to, but you can. You really, really can, Captain."

"Hmm," Steve says, looking like he's filing that away. "Next time, perhaps. Now, you're going to be good for me even without the ropes, yes?"

Jesus fucking Christ on a stick. Already, this is everything Tony could have known to want, and more.

"So good," he babbles, as he watches Steve open up the lube. "So good for you, Captain, I promise."

Steve pins him in place with his eyes. "Steve," he says softly. "I don't mind the other one, I'm sure I'm going to like it just as much, but this time, Steve. Please. I need to know that you know who you're in bed with."

"Steve," Tony says, half to appease him and half because he is genuinely appalled that Steve could think that. "Don't be an idiot. I want Steve Rogers, not Captain America, although I'll take him too, if he's on offer. I grew up with Steve, not Cap. It's Steve Rogers I'm in love with."

Steve smiles at him like Tony just brought down the moon for him, and leans in to kiss him. It's softer, less desperate than before, more earnest and a little goofy, just like Steve himself. Tony melts into it, giving himself over, delighting in anything Steve chooses to give him. When Steve slides two fingers into his body, Tony is surprised but feels no need to tighten up. Steve opens him up gently, thoroughly, inch after inch, preparing him for Steve to slide inside, take him over. Tony doesn't keep himself quiet, lets out every gasp and moan that climbs up his throat, lets them tell Steve how much he wants this, how well he likes everything Steve is doing to him.

When Steve finally covers him with his body, lifts one of Tony's legs up, and slides inside him, the only thing Tony can do, the only thing left in him is to throw back his head and moan, squeezing his eyes shut so he can memorise the feel of Steve filling him up, taking him, claiming him as his own. Tony doesn't think there has ever been anything in his life comparable to this; not JARVIS, not Dummy, not taking over Stark Industries, not becoming Iron Man. This is his and his alone; he doesn't have to share it with anybody. He gets to keep it wrapped around his heart, safe inside, echoed in the chest of the one person who makes him feel this way.

"I can't," he says brokenly, too full and too wound up and too close to the breaking point. "Steve, it's too good, I'm gonna come, I'm sorry, I'm sorry."

Steve covers his lips with his, kissing Tony into submission as he inches in and out of his body. "Come, then. Let me feel it," Steve says, voice so deep and dragging it's a wonder Tony can understand, but the vibrations against his front are enough to make him shake apart, painting his come against Steve's abs while Steve fucks him through it and to the other side. He doesn't stop, not even when Tony is oversensitive and wriggling under him, unsure if he wants to get away or just wants more.

"Take it, Tony," Steve whispers. He's shaking a little with the strain of keeping it slow and shallow, barely shifting inside Tony's ass, and Tony wants to, he wants to take it, he wants to take Steve and be what Steve needs.

"Okay," he whispers back, damp against Steve's mouth. Steve kisses him again, deep and thorough, and inside Tony's body, the sensitivity transforms into something more, another spark he didn't know he could reach for. He hasn't even softened; he still presses hard between their bodies, and when he arches against Steve, the feel of it is almost overwhelming.

"Wow," he says softly. His eyes are a little unfocused, pupils completely dilated. All he can see is the beloved face above him, Steve's beautiful blue irises ringing huge pupils, lips bitten and flushed from their kisses. Steve's hair flops into his face, and Tony reaches up to push it back, slick it against the side of his head and hold it there, stroking through the strands as he keeps their eyes locked together.

Steve lets out a sob and thrusts into him, harder, more violent than before, and it's like the whole of Tony's body catches, primed and ready to be set aflame again.

"Oh, God," Tony moans, but still he looks right into Steve's eyes, still he keeps them grounded in each other. If they have to go, they'll go together. "Come on, Steve. Let go. Give me everything."

And Steve does. He takes Tony at his word, slams his hips against his body, driving his cock as far in as it'll go, and does it again, and again, and again, always pressing right over Tony's prostate until Tony is shouting under him, just as desperate as before he came.

"I love you, I fucking love you," Steve growls, and it should sound sappy and ridiculous, but that's a warrior's cry, that's a man pushed to his limits, giving up control, surrendering himself to something bigger than he could ever be. It shatters the last of the walls inside Tony's heart, pushes him to give himself over to the moment, to what's between them and always will be.

"Me too, me too," Tony pants, holding Steve as tight as he can, with his legs and his arms, cradling him against his body. Steve goes stiff and pumps into him with an aching keen, fingers digging into Tony's arms, his hips, painting possessive bruises over his body that Tony will spend days poking at to feel a tingle of the pleasure that swamps him now. He goes off again, rutting against Steve's body, pulling at his hair, crying out in desperation.

Holy mother of God. Could it ever be this good between them, again? Surely anything they do from now on will be held up to this standard, because Tony does not think he has ever felt this satisfied, this well-fucked, in his life. Steve is breathing like a bellow by his ear, still shaking from the intensity of what they just went through. Tony holds him close, tucks Steve's head under his chin, lets Steve pull him tighter against him while he kisses the scars around the arc reactor. Tony is going to say something, any minute now, is going to concede Steve's point about never being fucked like that by anyone before, and that Steve has set himself a pretty high bar to reach, but between one beat of Steve's heart and the next, he falls asleep.

 

13.

Tony is forty-five, fifty-five, sixty-five, and he might lose people, find kindred spirits in the last places he expected, share his home with his friends and adopt a couple of kids and build a dozen more robots, but one thing never changes in all that time. He knew Steve even before he was born, and he is certain to his very bones that Steve's laughing, loving eyes, the face Tony will spend a lifetime finding at his side, will forever linger in his memory, long after they're all dust and the Earth has spun on and on through the galaxy without them.