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Tony slipped his fingers under the helmet release, and it beeped once in warning. There was nothing more he could do with his suit disabled, but Steve had already been exposed--would die if he didn’t intervene--and at least here, he could help.

Captain America was more valuable to the Avengers, and the world, than Tony was. With any luck, T’Challa would be able to get them both out, as long as Tony could keep Steve alive. Tainted air swept into the helmet when he breached the seal, burning his lungs, and the helmet beeped again.

He tried to breathe, to force the air into his lungs, but he couldn’t seem to draw a full breath. The sound was loud, jarring, and cut through the relative silence. All at once Tony felt panic rising in his chest, his heart pounding. If he couldn’t breathe, then neither would Steve. He would have exposed himself to the Red Skull’s pathogen for nothing, and Steve would die. It would be all his fault, Steve--

Tony jerked awake, the sudden movement tugging on the tubes and wires that covered the bed, and jarring the oxygen mask over his face. Tony registered the gentle hand on his shoulder immediately, would know it anywhere, and he leaned back into the pillow with a groan that was abnormally rasping to his ears.

“Easy,” Steve said, once Tony had settled. “Are you all right?”

Tony nodded. There was a tightness in his chest that was not at all comfortable, and it hurt a little to breathe, but he wasn’t about to say as much. When Tony nodded, Steve withdrew his hand, leaning back in the metal folding chair he’d set up beside the bed. The heart monitor beside him was beeping rhythmically, a little fast but normal considering his current anxiety. Steve didn’t seem concerned by his heart-rate, but seemed rather distracted nonetheless.

“You had me worried for a while there,” Steve said. Tony wanted to ask what had happened, but he didn’t trust himself to say more than a few words without breaking into a fit of coughing, and if he did that, he was certain that Steve would never let him get away with checking out of the hospital early to recover in his own bed. He remembered exposing himself to the pathogen, his attempt to perform rescue breathing and then--he must have blacked out, and then been taken to the hospital where... presumably he'd been given a cure, if the fact that he felt remarkably well for a man infected with a flesh-eating pathogen was anything to go by.

Steve looked freshly released from the hospital as well, dressed in ill-fitting clothes, and his shield was no where in sight. Instead, he was toying with the end of a crutch that Tony couldn’t imagine him using if he weren’t really hurting from their last fight. The thought was enough to put him on edge again, considering what could have been, and Tony quickly pushed the idea aside. If Tony had to guess, he would say that Steve had probably just recently checked himself out, and hadn’t bothered to go home before stopping by Tony’s room. He might have been more gratified that Steve had decided to drop by if not for Steve’s sour expression.

He understood. The fact that the Red Skull had gotten so far as to become Secretary of Defense, and that he’d done it so easily was a terrifying thought, and Tony could only imagine what Steve was feeling.

There was also Sam to worry about, not to mention the other Avengers. Tony hadn’t heard from any of them for hours--even longer now--and he was anxious to know what had happened on front lines. He didn’t doubt that they’d come up against own troubles, though none probably as shocking as learning that Dell Rusk had been the Red Skull all along.

Tony cleared his throat and tried to imagine that he’d known, or that he’d even suspected, but--

Sure, he hadn’t liked Rusk. Tony had thought he was an asshole, and he was more than irritated that he was constantly stonewalling the Avengers at every corner, but he’d never gone so far as to suspect he was a Nazi. From the troubled look on Steve’s face, he hadn’t either.

“Red Skull?” Tony asked, ready to put the matter to bed. It came out as a rasp, his throat horribly raw either from the gas, the hospital stay, or a combination of the two. Steve grabbed a cup off the table beside the bed and handed it to Tony. It was filled nearly to the brim with ice chips, though they had already begun to melt. Tony’s hands were shaking when he reached for them, but Steve either didn’t notice or was willing to give Tony the dignity of feeding them to himself, because he let Tony take the cup without a word.

“T’Challa took care of him. They should be lifting the quarantine by the end of the day,” Steve said it tightly, like he was trying to hold something back, and Tony raised an eyebrow.

“I get the impression,” Tony said, “that there’s something you want to say.” He struggled into a sitting position, ignoring Steve’s disapproving look, and set the cup of ice back on the tray.

“No,” Steve said. Even he didn’t look convinced, but before Tony could press the matter, he added. “I was just thinking. Now that you’re awake, I should go check in on Sam.”

He was already limping toward the door by the time Tony thought to ask him to stay, but he couldn't quite make himself say the words, so Tony just let him go.

“All right,” Tony said to his retreating back. The door didn’t completely close behind him when he left, leaving Tony without even the satisfying slam of a door to confirm his suspicion that Steve was upset with him. Tony stared after him for a moment before leaning over to press the call button for a nurse to bring him his release forms.

 

***

 

Tony didn’t have to wait long to bring the matter up again. He’d just finished dotting the I's and crossing the T's on the new Stark/Wakanda sharing agreement when he bumped into Steve in the hallway outside his workshop. Steve glanced at the now-darkened stairway behind him, and then stepped aside so that Tony could get past. “What were you doing down there?” Steve asked.

“Meeting with T’Challa,” Tony said. Immediately he realized it was the wrong thing to say, as Steve halted in his progress to the kitchen, following on Tony’s heels instead.

“You’re supposed to be resting,” Steve pointed out.

“Thank you, Mother, but this was more important,” Tony said. “If we’d made this… agreement to cooperate a week ago, a lot of lives might have been saved.”

“That’s not your fault, Tony,” Steve said. “Even you can’t see the future, and it’s no reason to ignore your own well-being.”

“Well, if it makes you feel any better, I’m going to bed right now.” Steve glanced pointedly at the paperwork that Tony was carrying under one arm, and Tony shuffled it further from view on instinct, before he realized how irrational the action would seem. In his defense, Tony hadn’t said that he was going to sleep, and reading and signing papers while lying in bed was hardly a trying task.

“Tony,” Steve said, catching him by the arm before he could take another step. “You’re not supposed to be on active duty. Nothing physically strenuous. Doctor’s orders.”

Tony sighed, exasperated. How Steve had learned the conditions he’d agreed to when they discharged him from the hospital was a mystery, considering that he’d been pretty quick to run earlier today.

Tony couldn’t help but wonder what it was that was bothering Steve. He was used to Steve putting a little more faith in him, letting him be one of the first people he came to for advice, or when he had a problem, even if the problem was with Tony himself. If Tony had to guess, it either had to do with running into the Red Skull again, or…

Or he was angry with Tony over what had happened this morning. Unfortunately, Tony knew the look Steve was giving him when he thought he was too distracted to notice, and Tony hated to see it. Steve was disappointed in him.

“I’m fine, Steve,” Tony said. “They’re just stairs.” He considered pointing out that Steve could hardly lecture him about following doctor’s orders considering that, in the past couple of hours, Steve had decided to abandon his crutch, despite the slight limp he was still sporting. He didn’t think that Steve would be very receptive to the reminder.

“And you’re already winded,” Steve pointed out. “So I can only imagine what being up half the night working is going to do. Last time I checked, you didn’t have a healing factor.”

Tony rolled his eyes and started up the stairs. “I’ll be sure to give my pen-holding hand a rest,” Tony said.

“You could use the sleep,” Steve said. He had begun to follow Tony up the stairs, and was now walking beside him on his way to Tony’s bedroom. Despite what he was saying, Tony wasn’t entirely convinced that worry was what was on his mind.

He’d been almost certain at the hospital that Steve was going to give him a piece of his mind, and instead he’d just dropped their conversation before it had begun, and bolted. It was hardly like Steve to keep from speaking his mind, but… stranger things had happened today.

Tony paused, just shy of the door, to look at Steve.

“I know you’re angry at me,” Tony said. Steve crossed his arms over his chest, intent to protest, and Tony cut him off quickly before he could. “And I know you feel like you shouldn’t be, because I very heroically saved your life.”

Steve huffed, halfway between annoyance and amusement, and Tony grinned in return, counting that a win.

“But honestly, I think I’d prefer you just get it off your chest. Mother-hen isn’t a good look on you, and neither is silently brooding.” When Steve still hesitated, Tony added, “Go on, I promise not to think you’re ungrateful.”

Steve sighed, glancing down the hall as though to check that they were alone, before he nodded toward the door.

“Maybe we should go inside,” he said. Tony led the way, making a bee-line for the bed.

“Sure,” Tony said. He set the stack of files he’d been carrying onto the nightstand and dropped down at the head of the bed. Steve took his time closing the bedroom door, and then hovered uncertainly until Tony patted the bed beside him.

It was gratifying, at least, that Steve didn’t sit as far away as possible, but dropped down beside him. Whatever Steve had to say to him, it wasn’t that severe.

“It’s about this morning,” Steve said, and Tony valiantly resisted to urge to point out that yes, he had gathered that already, please move on to the why. “You exposed yourself to the gas. You didn’t have to do that.”

“I’d have done it for any of the team,” Tony said. “You were dying.”

“I have the serum to protect me. All you have is your armor,” Steve said. Tony could hear him growing frustrated, shifting so that he could face Tony when he spoke to him. “You should have kept it on.”

“The armor was fried, I wasn’t going to be of any use to you that way,” Tony said.

“You’re no use to us dead, either!”

“But I’m not dead, Steve,” Tony said. “I’m fine. So is Sam. It all turned out okay, and honestly… I don’t know why this bothered you so much. This is nothing we haven’t done before. Near-death experiences kind of come with the territory.”

Steve huffed, irritated, and grumbled. “That doesn’t mean you should go taking unnecessary risks--”

“You weren’t breathing, Steve,” Tony snapped. “Did anyone tell you that? You weren’t breathing, and my armor wasn’t functioning, but I had to do something to keep you alive until--”

“I don’t want you sacrificing yourself for me!” Steve said. Steve grabbed Tony’s shoulder, turning him so that he would face him again, and Tony hadn’t even realized he’d been turning away. He didn’t want to be reminded of what almost was, and he wanted Steve to tell him he shouldn’t have done it even less.

“Damn it, I know you don’t,” Tony said. “But I did it. I’d do it again. And I’d do it for any one of the Avengers, but especially for you.”

Something changed in Steve’s expression, an odd kind of disbelief, and Tony froze, only now realizing what he’d said and how Steve had probably (rightfully) interpreted it. For a long time he didn’t move, too proud to backtrack, because it was true, and he wasn’t going to lie or pretend that Steve was only a friend to him, because he hadn’t been for a long time.

Even if that was what Steve wanted, at least Tony would have the grace of knowing. Knowing what not to expect, knowing--

Tony imagined he saw Steve’s eyes flick to Tony’s lips, then back to his own, the gears turning in his mind, before the pressure of Steve’s hand on his shoulder increased, his fingers tightening just enough to encourage him forward, but not enough to hold him there.

And then Steve was kissing him.

Tony found a hand to cover Steve’s before he could even fully register what was happening, and that was all the encouragement that Steve needed. This was different. There wasn’t anything sexy about mouth to mouth. Tony had had more important things on his mind that the softness of Steve’s lips, the slight hitch in his breath when Tony slid a hand up his neck and into his hair.

Steve shifted again, pressing Tony back against the headboard, and the soft, warm hesitance of a first kiss changed to something heavier. Tony groaned when Steve nipped at his bottom lip, and parted his lips in invitation.

Steve’s kisses were insistent and fierce, and Tony kissed back for all he was worth, holding on for support. When Steve finally pulled back, only enough to look Tony in the eye, but still firmly in Tony’s space, Tony’s head was buzzing pleasantly.

Steve’s pleased expression waned ever so slightly, and Tony realized that he was breathing heavily, just the slightest tell-tale rasp to hint at injuries not quite fully healed. Anyone else would have been oblivious, but of course, Tony wasn’t sitting here necking with just anyone.

He tugged lightly at Steve’s hair, pulling him in for another, softer kiss, and the tension between Steve’s eyes eased.

“If I’d known you were going to kiss me like that,” Tony said once they’d parted again, “I would have gone to find you sooner.”

“I--I’ve wanted to do that for a while now,” Steve said.

“Me, too,” Tony admitted, his mind already wandering to better ways than sappy confessions to make up lost time. He dropped a hand to Steve’s belt, fiddling with the loop but not quite pulling it free, and glanced at Steve for permission.

“Yes,” Steve said immediately, and then, once Tony had pulled the belt free from the first loop, he reached out to still Tony’s hand. “No,” he amended, not sounding convinced. “No,” he said more firmly, half to convince himself, “You’re injured. We should wait until--”

“Oh, god,” Tony said, dropping his forehead against Steve’s shoulder. Steve’s hand came up on automatic to cradle it, and Tony would be tempted to shake him off, if it hadn’t felt so nice. “You are killing me,” Tony said.

“Well, I’m trying not to,” Steve teased.

“We’ll be careful,” Tony added, though it didn’t seem like Steve needed much convincing. Tony ran his thumb over the obvious bulge in Steve’s pants, just to watch him shudder, and when Tony went to do it again, Steve grabbed that hand, too.

Tony leaned in to kiss him again, just a short brush of the lips, and then grinned.

“You can do all the hard work,” he said, already pulling his hands free. When Tony slipped his hands under Steve’s shirt, he didn’t protest, just let Tony slide his hands further up Steve’s chest, feeling every perfect muscle under his hands and catching Steve’s shirt along the way.

He pulled the shirt off completely, tossing it over the edge of the bed, and leaned in to nip and suck his way down Steve’s neck, pausing only to let Steve pull off his own shirt. He put one hand over Steve’s navel and pushed, urging him back.

“I thought you said I was doing the hard work,” Steve said, resisting.

“This isn’t hard,” Tony countered. “Well,” he glanced pointed downward, and Steve swatted at the back of his head.

Tony laughed. “Now, scoot up,” he instructed, and this time, Steve did what he was told. Tony continued his path down Steve’s chest, one hand on Steve’s flank to hold him still, reveling in the little gasps and quivering muscles. In the way Steve pressed, just slightly, up into Tony’s hand, not quite able to contain himself.

Tony paused when he reached Steve’s hips, nipping at the line the muscles made and chuckling when Steve jerked slightly at the sensation.

“Sensitive?” Tony asked, working the button loose on his pants. He pulled the zip down slowly, relishing the way Steve’s eyes were transfixed on him, and leaned in to breathe hotly on the fabric of Steve’s underwear.

Steve grunted, his hands going down to help. Tony batted them away and they settled in his hair, tugging lightly on the short strands.

“Lift up,” Tony said, hooking a thumb under each side of the fabric. Tony pulled them all the way down, and Steve kicked them away, glad to be done with the distraction. Steve’s cock was as perfect as the rest of him, fully hard now and just waiting for him.

Tony leaned in and Steve’s hand’s tightened in his hair before he’d finished closing the distance. He took just the tip between his lips, sucking lightly, and Steve moaned a curse. Tony let one hand rest lightly at the base, the other going to hold Steve down--though it would have little effect if Steve didn’t want it to.

Tony still could scarcely believe that this was happening. He wasn’t quite sure how they’d gotten to this point--in fact, until today he’d been very sure that they weren’t ever going to get to this point. He’d always been attracted to Steve, sure, and he’d had the suspicion that Steve felt the same way, but there had always been something--another person, a petty argument--standing in their way.

His chest felt almost too full, and he was short for breath for an entirely different reason. Steve always did this to him--only this time, Tony could be sure that he was doing the same to Steve.

Tony tongued along the slit, ignoring the salt and flattened his tongue, just to hear Steve moan again, more frustrated this time. Tony could feel him restraining himself under his hand, and this time when Steve tugged at his hair, it was to get him to look at him.

“Enough teasing,” he said, an order if Tony had ever heard one, and Tony grinned back at him. His heart fluttered at the way Steve’s expression softened, though the moment was ruined by the slight pressure at the back of his head, showing where Steve’s mind really was.

This time, when Tony leaned in he took in as much as he could in one go, and Steve groaned, hips canting up slightly of their own accord. Tony gagged, backing off slightly, before he could readjust, dipping down again while Steve mumbled apologies, running his fingers through Tony’s hair like he wasn’t quite sure what he wanted to do.

Tony licked up and down the shaft, working with one hand while Steve gasped and moaned under him, the sounds growing more urgent with every movement, until Tony had him, hot and heavy against his tongue, his own erection straining painfully in his pants. Tony was pretty sure that he could come like this, alone, but that would just be embarrassing, and, frankly, unsatisfying after so long waiting for this moment.

Tony pulled off with an exaggerated, wet pop.

“Don’t.” Steve’s head came up off the pillow, his eyes clearing. “Don’t stop,” he said. Tony grinned, and gave the head one last, exaggerated lick before he leaned back.

“Too bad. Switch,” he said, and then laughed again when Steve looked downright offended. “You’re the one who told me to take it easy,” Tony said, crawling up so that he was face to face with Steve, his still clothed erection rubbing innocently against Steve’s.

Steve’s breath hitched, and he leaned up to pull Tony into another kiss, although it couldn’t have been pleasant, and Tony found himself relaxing in his hold. Which was probably why Tony wasn’t at all expecting it, when Steve leaned up to roll them over, pressing Tony underneath him.

He leaned down to kiss him, hot and insistent, and Tony didn’t even notice the hands working at his pants until he was nudging him to raise his hips. He gasped when the cold air hit him, and a second later Steve gripped his cock, pumping a few times in a hot, calloused hand.

Steve swallowed a moan, and with one hand groped for the nightstand. Tony heard before he saw the stack of paperwork go scattering across the floor in every direction.

“Really?” he said, flicking Steve in the side, and Steve had the good grace to at least look sheepish. “What are you doing?”

“Looking for lube?” Steve replied, more of a question than an answer. He opened the drawer that he’d likely been reaching for, and Tony leaned up helpfully to press their erections together.

“In the back,” Tony said, a second before a cold bottle dropped onto his chest, followed by a string of foil packets. Steve ripped one off with his teeth and dropped the rest of them onto the floor.

“You’re making a mess,” Tony laughed, as Steve shimmied further down the bed. “You--oh,” whatever teasing remark he’d been about to make stopped at his lips, and Steve leaned down to take him into his mouth.

He heard the click of the cap, and felt the gentle press of a finger, but all he cared about was the warm, wet press of Steve’s tongue against his cock. Steve was slow and careful, pausing every few seconds to let Tony adjust and doing his best to distract Tony from the uncomfortable stretch.

He could feel himself relaxing, and the stretch moved from uncomfortable to good to amazing. Tony’s hips hitched up a fraction, not quite sure which way he wanted to press, neither one quite enough. He could feel the pressure building, the familiar burn at the base of his spine, and it took all of his willpower to put a hand on Steve’s head and nudge him back.

“Just, give me--” Tony huffed, but Steve got the message, stilling his fingers as well. Steve blew cool air over him, smirking, and Tony squeezed his eyes shut with a groan.

“Oh, God,” Tony moaned, “Okay. Go.” He clutched at the sheet beside him, and Steve started moving his fingers again at the most agonizing pace possible. Tony fixed Steve with the most scathing glare he could manage in his position. “If this is payback for earlier, I swear to God--”

“Relax,” Steve said, breath hot against Tony’s erection, and Tony groaned but stayed firmly where he was, thanks to Steve’s hand on his hip. He eased in the tip of a third finger, and Tony groaned at the stretch. “Relax, Tony,” he said again, and Tony realized that he had a nearly white-knuckled grip on the sheets, his teeth clenched.

He willed himself to let go, tilting his head back against the pillow again, and took a couple deep breaths. Steve eased the finger in further by degrees, agonizingly slow, but when he curled them all inside him, the pressure was so great that Tony couldn’t even think to grab at anything.

Spots danced across his vision, the feeling simultaneously too much and not enough. Steve curled his fingers again, scissoring, and then pulled them free entirely. Tony whimpered at the loss, and Steve ran a warm hand over his thigh, soothing.

“Just a second,” he said, and Tony groaned, frustrated.

“It’s been many seconds,” he said, though there was no heat to the words. He heard the crinkling of the foil, the click of Steve opening the cap on the lube, and his cock stirred in anticipation. “So many seconds, Steve.”

Steve huffed a laugh, and when Steve shifted forward again, Tony leaned up as well, wanting to see.

Steve lined himself up, pressing hesitantly at first, and this was an entirely new kind of stretch, all warm ache and pressure, Steve draped over him, bracketing his head with his arms. Steve leaned in to kiss his neck, his jaw, and Tony rolled his hips unapologetically.

Steve gasped, stuttered, and Tony did it again, more slowly this time, making sure to keep his eyes on Steve’s expression, the way his eyes hooded with pleasure, the way his lips parted just slightly.

“Come on, Steve,” Tony urged. He ran a hand down his shoulders, settling at the dip of the small of his back, urging him to press closer. Steve eased in and out, a shallow thrust that sent sparks up Tony’s spine. Tony rolled his hips again, more insistent this time, “Harder, Steve. Come on. Don’t make me do all the work, remember?”

Steve huffed, picking up the pace slightly, shifting higher, and Tony moaned, when the new angle brushed over his prostrate, pleasure sending electricity up his spine on every thrust. Tony dug his fingers in, leaned over to press his lips to Steve’s ear, the only part he could reach.

“That’s--perfect,” Tony said. “Just--” Steve moaned, the sound going straight to Tony’s dick, and when he reached between them Steve batted his hand away, taking him himself. He thrust shallowly into Steve’s grip. A full-body shudder racked through his frame, and Steve moaned softly, grip tightening just slightly as his thrusts became more erratic. Tony came with a soft moan.

A few more thrusts and Steve was following, the quiet exhale the only sound. Steve pulled out a moment later, pressing Tony into the mattress when he leaned over him to reach the trash. Tony didn’t move, too stated to care even when Steve tried to drop beside him, landing partly on top of him instead, and turned to press his face into Tony’s hair. They lay like that for a few, long moments, before Tony’s arm started to go numb. He nudged Steve’s side with his other arm, not quite sure if he was still awake.

Someone had to clean them up, anyway, and turn out the light--

The bed dipped beside him, and then Steve stepped around the bed and into the bathroom. Tony heard the water running, and a few minutes later a warm rag dropped onto his stomach.

Tony rolled his eyes as the gesture--or lack of gesture--while Steve picked through the minefield of scattered paperwork to reach the light switch. It wasn’t until Tony had cleaned himself up and tossed the rag in the general direction of the laundry that he realized that Steve hadn’t gotten back into bed.

Tony sat up, eyeing what he thought was Steve’s outline in the dark, still standing by the wall.

“What’s wrong?” Tony asked, and that seemed to startle him into moving over to the bed at least, though he still didn’t climb in.

“I should probably...” Steve trailed off, and all at once Tony realized what was bothering him.

“Just get in the bed, Steve,” Tony said, wrapping a hand around his thigh and pulling. He sighed, rolling onto his back when Steve complied, and then rolling over again so that he was pressed flush against Steve’s side.

“If you really want to talk about what just happened, save it for tomorrow,” Tony added.

Steve wrapped an arm around Tony’s waist.

“Plan on it,” he said pointedly, and then, “It's probably a conversation we should have with our clothes on, anyway”

“You imply that we’re not going to have awesome morning sex,” Tony said.

“I didn’t hear anyone implying that,” Steve said. "This will be after that."

"Sure," Tony said, "and the first thing on the list is going to be 'I am a grown man, and I can make my own decisions'." He could feel Steve staring at him in the dark, the bed shifting slightly as Steve rolled over to face him.

"How about, 'We haven't even had our first date yet, and I'd like for you to live at least that long'," Steve said. His voice was light and teasing, though Tony knew better than to write it off completely, so Tony rested his head against Steve's shoulder.

"That can be item number two," Tony said lightly, and then after a pause. "We might want to have that date sooner than later. Just in case."

"Just in case," Steve agreed lightly. "And frequently after that. Just to be safe."