Steve did not expect to find Tony standing with a suitcase in the Tower's lobby.
“Going on a trip?” he asked.
Tony looked at him, something like surprise on his face. “Excuse me?”
Steve gestured at his luggage.
“Trip,” Tony repeated. “That's what we're calling it now?”
“Good bye, Commander,” Tony said and walked out the door.
Steve watched him getting into a limousine in the front of the Tower with the feeling he'd just missed something crucial.
He didn't have much time to wonder about it. He didn't have much time for anything, between running S.H.I.E.L.D. and going on his own missions.
His new job was a good excuse. For everything.
He couldn't call Tony and try to catch up when he was running from gunshots, he couldn't ask for his help with top-secret paperwork, he couldn't work on fixing their friendship when he had to work on world peace.
Hugging Tony after their trip through the multiverse had felt just right, but it didn't really fix anything that was wrong after the war.
But that was another thing Steve didn't have time to think about. And anyway, Tony might still be travelling, wherever he was going. Steve doubted he'd just go on holidays, though he obviously needed it.
Steve was busy. He didn't have time to deal with Tony Stark.
(He just wanted to, almost as much as he was scared of it.)
He flipped through the records of the last several Avengers battles. He didn't like not taking part in them, he didn't like overseeing them instead of fighting, but that was another thing he couldn't change. Someone had to do the hard job.
But something wasn't quite right in the records.
“Where's Iron Man?” he asked.
Maria Hill raised an eyebrow. “Excuse me, sir?”
“There's no mention of Iron Man in here,” Steve said.
“No,” she said. “There's not.”
Steve frowned. “What's he doing?”
“That's really not my job anymore. Sir.”
No, she was no longer Tony's subdirector, and she no longer had to try and hold him together – Steve had heard more about the time after the war than he'd really wanted to – but she was in charge of the Avengers.
Tony was her job.
And wasn't his.
“If that's all, Commander.”
Steve nodded briskly.
He did go to the Avengers Tower later that day. It still felt like home, but Commander Rogers didn't belong with the Avengers, not really. No matter how much he wanted to be there all the time.
“Hey,” he said when he reached the living room and found Bucky sprawled on the couch. “Tony here?”
“He's in Seattle. The whole US know that,” Bucky said.
“He didn't show up for any of the recent Avengers alerts,” Steve said carefully.
Okay, maybe Tony deserved some rest, but he'd said he wanted to be on the team. That meant something.
Being an Avenger meant something.
But hadn't Tony shown already that it didn't, to him? Hunting down his friends like he had?
Steve watched the Resilient press conference on TV and didn't know what to think. It was . . . surprising, in a way, to see Tony in public like that, and not knowing what was really going on in Tony's head behind his careful mask.
Tony looked tired. Too tired.
It wasn't Steve's problem, but – he missed him. Why did Tony have to run away when it'd been getting better, slowly but surely?
Steve wanted to talk to him, he wasn't even sure what about. He called Carol instead.
“I miss Tony,” he admitted over coffee.
“You what,” she said flatly.
“I hoped he'd stay here, but –” He stopped himself. Carol looked incredulous. A bit angry, too.
“You're my friend and I love you,” she said. “But you're a goddamn idiot, Rogers.”
“You told him to get out, and now you're –”
“I didn't –”
But he had. He hadn't meant it, and – Tony had stopped lying, finally; had shown him the Gauntlet, whole despite his earlier words; it'd felt like before, them sharing secrets instead of hiding them, and Tony – Tony remembered his words and left anyway?
You're out. You're done.
Steve didn't –
“Call him,” Carol said, like it was an order.
“Steve,” Tony said carefully. His voice was very clear over the thousands of kilometres that separated them. “Is there a problem?”
“No,” Steve said. He wished he could see Tony. “I wanted to talk.”
A beat of silence. “Ah.” Tony hesitated. “I'm busy now, so, if it's not a matter of world security –”
Steve was the one who decided what was the matter of world security, these days.
They had levelled a city, fighting each other.
“Sure,” he said. “Call me later?”
“Yeah,” Tony answered, and Steve didn't believe him at all.
The flight to Seattle didn't take long, but it felt like ages. He took a cab to the Resilient headquarters. His fingers itched. He wished he had his shield.
Not his, not anymore. Just like Tony apparently felt he wasn't an Avenger now.
He paid the driver and looked at the modern building in front of him. He couldn't back out now.
He went in and was met with Pepper's cold stare.
“What are you doing here?” she demanded.
Steve sighed. “I'm here to apologize.”
“You can't keep doing that to him,” she said.
Steve frowned. It was late. “Have you been waiting here?”
“A S.H.I.E.L.D. plane flying here isn't exactly inconspicuous. Tony probably didn't notice, he's in the lab, but – Steve, I'm serious, he was such a mess after the war.”
“I'm not here to make things worse,” Steve promised. He wanted to see Tony, but he was glad he still had friends like Pepper.
She looked at him for a long while before nodding. “Two levels down, the only door,” she said.
He hesitated in front of the workshop door. What right did he have to be here?
No more favours. No more special treatment. You pay for your sins, Tony.
He'd meant it then, but he never wanted this to happen. He had to fix this.
He tried the door; it was open.
Tony was working on something that looked very much like a copy of his RT. Steve knocked on the wall next to the door and watched as Tony tore his eyes away from the device and looked at him.
“What are you doing here?”
Steve steadied himself. “I need you to come back,” he said.
Tony raised his eyebrows. “Don't you have engineers at S.H.I.E.L.D.?”
“Look, Steve, you were very clear about where you don't want me to be, so I don't know what you're doing here, but –”
“You were right,” Steve blurted out. It was worth it to see Tony blink a few times.
“You were right,” Steve said. “When you said it was about my feelings.”
Tony very deliberately set the screwdriver now. It clinked on the table. “What are you doing?” he asked.
“I'm sorry,” Steve said. “I wasn't thinking straight.”
“Steve, I can't do it again.”
“I wasn't thinking straight,” Steve repeated. “We'd just started again after that whole mess, and I learnt you had even more secrets.”
“I did hide it from you,” Tony said. “You were right then.” He wasn't looking at Steve. “I'd been hiding that for years. I'll always have secrets.”
Steve breathed quietly. “I trust you,” he lied.
Tony laughed. “Sure.”
“I want to trust you,” Steve corrected himself. “Don't push me away.”
Tony seemed very fragile somehow in the artificial light, the white tank top only a bit paler than his skin.
“I don't remember it,” he said, “but I know it killed me to fight you. You can't – I won't survive this again, Steve.”
Steve wanted to touch him and reassure him, but it was his fault they were here now instead of in the Avengers Tower.
“I miss you,” he said honestly. “What I said then – I was hurt and I wasn't thinking straight. I didn't think about it later, and after you told me what you really did with the Gauntlet, I thought we were okay.”
Tony was looking at the floor. “So what are you saying?”
“Come back,” Steve said. “I want you on the team. I want you close to me. I want to forget about the war. With you.”
Tony shook his head. “I . . .”
“It's not fair,” Tony said. “I can't say no to you.”
“Will you come back?” Steve asked.
“Not now,” Tony warned. “Not even tomorrow. But – yes.”
Steve wanted to leave, but Tony's words stopped him.
He looked back. Tony was staring straight at him, a determined expression on his face.
“Why do you care so much?”
“Isn't it obvious?” Steve asked with a small smile.
Tony circled the table. They were very close. “Not really,” Tony said. “I know why it's important to me, but –”
Steve thought of everything they'd gone through. Of Tony looking up at him, whispering, finish it, Steve, blood on his face. Of Tony smiling at him brightly, when they defeated Hel.
“It goes both ways,” Steve said, suddenly very sure of himself.
“It can't,” Tony said sadly, but he stepped closer again.
“It does,” Steve said, and Tony was in his arm's reach and Steve could lean down and just kiss him and convince him he meant it –
It was Tony who reached up and kissed him, briefly, and it was perfect – before he moved away. Steve caught him by his arms and looked at him questioningly. He wanted to chase his lips, not really talk, but there was something sad in Tony's eyes.
“Like I said,” Tony looked as if he was bracing for a blow, “it can't.”
He thought that now?
“You idiot,” Steve said, and kissed him.
He woke up curled around Tony.
It was . . . definitely new. It wasn't what he'd planned. It was right.
Steve kissed Tony's shoulder blade and felt him stir. “Steve?”
Tony sighed. “Was it pity –”
Steve flipped him around and kissed him, to shut him up, to prove he wanted this.
“Oh,” Tony said. He closed his eyes. “It's still not that easy.”
“I'm still not coming back with you.”
“I know,” Steve said, because he didn't expect him to. But now he believed Tony would come back, to stay.
He sat on the edge of the bed and looked at Tony with a small smile. Tony looked about ready to drift off again, and Steve wondered when he'd last slept, before Steve showed up in his lab.
He pressed a kiss to Tony's hair. “I'll wait for you, Shellhead.”
Steve entered the Tower lobby and found Tony pulling a suitcase to the lift.
He felt a smile blooming on his face and jogged up to him, put a hand on Tony's arm. “You came.”
“Someone was very persuasive,” Tony said.
“Well, I'm very glad of that.”
There was still uncertainty in Tony's eyes, but they could work on that.
They had time.