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These Cold Nights

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He meets Tony on the tarmac.

“Is this your plane, Tony?” Steve asks, evaluating the aircraft. It's small, definitely a personal plane, a newer model, and looks to be in great condition.

“Rhodey's, actually,” Tony laughs. “He just bought it. He wants to store it in a hangar in New York and hasn't had the chance to fly it there himself, so he's graciously allowing me to break it in.”

“Very kind of him. Kind of you to offer me a ride as well.”

“My pleasure, Steve. It's a long flight, it'll be nice to have a friend along.” Tony smiles at him, putting an arm around Steve’s back and leading him to the rolling staircase.

Steve smiles to himself. It feels good to hear Tony call him a friend. He's glad that they're back to that place, it feels right. There's still a bit of awkwardness between them, a bit of hesitance, but Steve hopes they'll work it out eventually. Tony had come to his aid a week ago when the serum had mysteriously stopped working, and even though in the end he hadn’t been the one to really solve the problem- that had been Sharon- he’d been… really supportive. Steve's been thinking about it a lot. Tony can be a difficult man to read, so he's never been sure exactly how Tony feels about him. He has to either trust that Tony's being sincere in his friendly affection or be suspicious of him all the time, and the latter option is exhausting. So they're friends. And that’s great.

The plane is as nice on the inside as it is on the outside; Rhodes has good taste. Steve has watched Tony fly the Quinjet hundreds of time, so he's comfortable to just sit back and enjoy the ride as Tony takes them above the clouds. Flying like this when there’s no world ending disaster is actually pretty relaxing. The view over the Southwest is beautiful. They make conversation occasionally, but are mostly content to fly in quiet. Steve watches the scenery and lets his mind drift.

He's been trying not to show it, or really even think about it, but Steve's worried about Tony. There have been rumors, in the papers and elsewhere, people are claiming that he's started drinking again. Steve doesn't know if it’s true and hopes it isn’t, since he knows how hard it was for Tony to stop drinking the first, and second, time. Unfortunately he thinks there might be some truth to the rumors. And if they are true he doesn't think he even needs to ask Tony why.

When Tony's drinking had first been a problem, Steve had been so confused by it. He couldn't understand how a man who had everything anyone could ever want could do that to himself. These days he's come to accept that self-destruction is just part of who Tony is, but even if it wasn't he'd have a decent reason this time around. Steve had seen footage of Paris, seen what all of the “worthy” were doing. The Avengers... they'd all thought they were going to die, thought it was truly the end of the world this time, they’d even lost their home again when Stark Tower crumbled. If there is anything that could drive an alcoholic back to the bottle, that would be it.

So, from this point on, Steve is going to be watching Tony's behavior and mental state carefully. Not just for Tony’s own sake, but for everyone else’s as well. It's not that Steve doesn't trust him, but Tony is dangerous. Every Iron Man suit is stronger than the last. And this latest one can't be taken away, he stores it in his bones for God’s sake. Tony could do a million times more damage this time around. And not just to property or villains. Tony's life and company are just rebuilding, it would be too easy to knock it all down again.

Which is probably why this is a news story to begin with. Steve's aware that the truth is often bigger than what's printed. Tony's had problems with media manipulation in the past, enemies using their connections to set him up. Steve’s come to his defense before, and if that’s what’s happening here he’ll do it again. As terrible as that would be, he hopes that’s how it is, but something about Tony's behavior tells him there might be a bit more truth in the lies this time. If Tony tells him it's all false, of course Steve'll believe him, but Tony certainly isn't bringing it up.

A couple hours into the flight, the view starts to vanish, a heavy cloud layer building dark and foreboding all around them. Large thunderheads rise up in front of them.

“So, this is not looking great,” Tony says, giving voice to Steve's own worries.

“Can we go around it?” Steve asks as the plane starts to rock.

“Radar's showing this thing for miles. It might stretch all the way to New York. If this was a Quinjet I might try to cut through it, but Rhodey will kill me if I trash his plane,” Tony says. “And then he'll kill me again for crashing it with you in it.” Steve doesn't think he'd really factor into Rhodey's feelings on the situation beyond Rhodey asking him why the hell he hadn’t stopped Tony from crashing the plane.

“You think you can land it?” Steve asks.

Tony smiles. “I might have to get out and carry it in down in the armor, but sure. I can land it. Chicago's not far, and I've got a standing reservation at a hotel there. Let's see if we can make it.”

“To the Windy City, then.”

 

Steve is incredibly grateful for the invention of seat belts when Tony punches through the cloud layer. Tony’s a good pilot and obviously has control of the plane, but for those minutes it feels a whole lot like every crash Steve’s ever been in. Once they drop below the clouds, Steve expects the turbulence to stop, but it only lessens. And then there’s the snow.

This is no gentle winter flurry they're dropping down into, it's looking like the start of a full blown blizzard. The wind is rocking the small craft every which way and visibility is shot. They could be in Illinois or they could be in Hawaii for all Steve knows. He's sure Tony's as worried as he is. Steve can hear him checking in with air traffic control, he'd already requested to land, but Steve is sure he’d like to get on the ground as soon as possible.

Thankfully it's not too long before they're cleared, and Tony does not, in fact, have to get out and land the craft in the suit. Soon they get low enough that the city comes into view. Even though it's only four in the afternoon, it's dark with cloud cover. The lights of the skyscrapers pierce the veil, a sea of stars appearing before them. As they come in to land the sight is close enough to the one back home to be comforting. Tony smiles over at him.

“I know it's not home, but it's not a bad place to bunk down until this passes,” Tony says.

“No,” Steve says, “not at all.”

 

They take a taxi from the airport to the hotel. Steve's well aware that Tony could fly and be there in minutes and that he’s only tagging along to keep Steve company. Despite that, Steve's sure Tony will still insist on paying the cab fare.

Steve spends the whole ride staring out the window, assessing the storm. It's getting worse. Visibility is dropping rapidly, and with the snow it won’t be long before the road’s too clogged with snow to properly maneuver. Every now and then he sneaks a glance over at Tony who seems alternately anxious and engrossed in his phone. It seems like he’s trying to make a phone call and it’s not going through. Finally, after Tony’s given up, his phone rings.

“Jessica! There you are. Cap and I are stuck in Chicago, nothing Avengers related, we just hit bad weather.”

Right, contacting the team. Steve tunes out Tony’s conversation and fishes out his own phone to check his messages. He’s got a few texts from Sam asking him about his trip and if they’re still on for drinks tonight. Steve’s thinking that might be a no. He texts Sam back, letting him know that he’ll get to New York when he can and asking him to spread the word to Sharon and anyone else who might be interested.

Steve's phone is almost knocked out of his hand when the taxi makes a very sudden stop.

The cabbie swears. “The road’s blocked. Abandoned cars all down the fuckin' street.”

Steve sees the armor start to pour over Tony's clothes. “I'll take care of it,” Tony says.

“Wait, Mr. Stark. I'm sorry fellas, this is as far as I go,” he says, shaking his head. “Even if you can clear it, I can’t wait here for that. I gotta get home and make sure my family is safe before I can't even get home anymore.”

Steve nods. “It's alright, I understand. Thank you for taking us this far. We'll walk from here.”

“The hotel’s not too far. It's about ten blocks thataway. Good luck, you guys.”

They both thank him and Steve insists on paying the fare, but he does allow Tony to give the man a generous tip.

 

They're hit with a blast of cold air and snow as they exit the cab. They'll make it on foot, Steve's sure, but they won’t enjoy it. First things first, they have to clear the road so other people won’t be stuck walking like they are. Between the two of them it's no challenge, even with the stinging wind and the dense snow piling up around their ankles. They have all of the cars pushed to the side in no time.

But then Tony does something baffling: he reabsorbs the armor. The suit has internal heating systems and if nothing else offers excellent protection against the wind, but Tony pulls it back in so that he's standing in a blizzard wearing little more than a peacoat, a scarf and some gloves as protection.

“Tony, what on earth are you doing? Put the armor back on!” Steve yells, trying to be heard over the wind.

“Solidarity, Steve. I can't fly us to the hotel without the wind hurting you, and you've got nothing but your civvies to walk in. I'm not going to stand around in my heated armor while you freeze.”

“Don't be ridiculous, Tony. I'd rather one of us be warm.”

“We both will be, once we get to the hotel.” Tony smiles and rests a hand on his shoulder. “It's not far, lets just get there as fast as possible, alright?” Steve doesn't want to let it drop, but as wrong as Tony is to take his armor off, he's right that the hotel isn't very far, and if Steve has learned anything recently it's that arguing with Tony can be a lot more trouble than it's worth.

Walking is miserable. The snow is coming down heavy and fast and the wind is strong, pushing them and cutting through Steve's thin outer layers. It's reached blizzard conditions and is quickly becoming a white-out.

“I guess they don't call it the Windy City for nothing!” Tony quips, shouting over the howling wind. Steve's answering laugh is lost to the storm.

Tony does end up putting the armor back on, but not to protect himself from the cold. A few blocks from their hotel they come across a man trying to free his car, so naturally Tony armors up to help, even though Steve could've done it alone. Steve swallows his disappointment when Tony reabsorbs the armor afterwards. They've still got a ways to go.

Steve finds that the strangest part of the blizzard is not the cold, or the endless snow, or the fact that Tony won't keep his damn armor on, it's the absence of noise. Sure, there's incredible howl of the wind, but there's none of the usual city noise he's so used to. There are few cars on the road, so there's no honking, and the constant clattering of trains overhead has been silenced as well. Steve takes city noise as a sign of life. It's absence is eerie, foreboding. He just plain doesn't like it.

Several blocks of beautiful metalwork and an abysmal amount of snow later, they reach the hotel. The lobby is, unsurprisingly, rather crowded. Steve is sure a lot of people have had to change their plans today. Apparently a lot of those people are... affluent. There are a lot of older women, younger than him by birthdate, technically, in fur coats accompanied by their husbands in tuxedos. There must've been a show tonight, he thinks. Mixed in with this kind of crowd, he feels ninety pounds and broke again and he finds himself sticking close to Tony like a frightened child.

Steve lets Tony handle checking them in. He tunes out Tony's conversation with the front desk girl, only listening enough to hear that they've still got a room. He’s glad to hear it; looking at the crowd had gotten him a bit worried that their room might've been given away. Now that he knows it hasn't been, his mind turns back to the storm. He knows he's going back out into it. People are in danger. He certainly doesn't enjoy the idea of heading back out into the cold, but what he enjoys doesn't really matter at a time like this.

He's not waiting long before Tony's waving room keys in his face and beaming.

"We've got room five-o-five. Sounds rather lucky to me. It's not the suite I usually stay in here, but they've assured me it's just as nice."

Steve's sure that's true; he can't imagine any of the rooms in the place being anything less than extravagant.

 

Steve is proven right when the suite door opens into a spacious, beautifully decorated living room, complete with floor to ceiling windows and a giant TV. The windows he appreciates, at least. The view of the city lights is very pretty, or what lights he can see through the storm anyway. Steve's gotten more comfortable in lavish surroundings after spending so much time in the avengers mansion, but he still finds it all a bit too much. However, he's sure Tony will feel right at home. It's exactly the type of place he think Tony feels comfortable in, the contemporary design sensibility very reminiscent of the interiors of the late Stark Tower.

Steve takes note of the full kitchen as well as the full bar. He wishes he didn't feel like he has to keep an eye on Tony with that there, it’s still just a rumor, after all. Continuing through the suite, he wonders how many people it's intended for. He finds only one bedroom with one queen sized bed and a very large bathroom with two sinks and two mirrors. Well that's a little awkward. He's sure Tony didn't get them a couples’ suite intentionally, but, well. People have made a lot of jokes about the two of them over the years. It's hard to not... consider the possibility.

He pushes it from his mind. The couches look very comfortable and, well, hes not intending to spend a lot of time in here anyway. There are people out in the storm who might need assistance. He sets down his bag on a couch and starts taking out his shield, cowl, and gloves- the only uniform parts that can't fit comfortably under his street clothes. He can feel Tony watching him.

“Are you alright, Steve?” Tony asks apropos of nothing.

“What? I'm fine. It's not really that cold.”

“I don't mean the cold. I mean-” Tony blows out a breath. “I mean I know you well enough to know when you're- when you're low. You've been brooding about something.” About you, Steve thinks.

“I know it hasn't been long since your trouble with the serum,” Tony continues, “and that things with Sharon didn't work out, and the-” Tony clears his throat, “the whole thing with Sin- look I just mean- Steve, are you okay?”

“Yeah, I'm-” fine? When Tony lays all of it out like that, maybe not, “handling it.” He pulls his last glove on.

“Alright,” Tony allows. “What are you doing?”

“What does it look like?” Steve asks, pulling on his cowl. “I'm getting ready to go help people.”

“In that? Steve, you'll freeze to death.”

“I've survived the cold before.”

“Alright, so you won't die. You'll freeze yourself into a coma.”

“I'm not arguing about this. I’m going back out there, and I think you should too.”

“I'm planning on it, but I've got a highly advanced suit of armor with internally regulated temperature.”

And all Steve's got is himself. Tony doesn't say it, but that’s all he can hear. The serum’s at full strength again; why is Tony still treating him like this? Like he’s fragile, incapable. Sure, he's got only himself, but that means the serum, and that's always been enough. He's not exactly an ordinary person. “I said I'm not arguing about this.” He storms past Tony and out of the suite without another word.

 

Out in the storm he doesn't allow himself to feel the cold, the sting of the icy wind on his bare cheeks, or the way the leather of his costume is starting to stiffen. He’s got work to do.

He starts by tuning into the police radio. From that he can find out where the problem areas are. He helps clear more roads of abandoned cars so plows can get through. An area of the city has lost power, so he heads over there only to find that a certain armored genius had beaten him to it and is already working on fixing the downed power line. After similar situations in a few more locations, it becomes clear that Tony and the city's first responders have the infrastructure problems well in hand. He leaves them to it and starts combing the city for any homeless people stuck out in the storm, helping them relocate to churches, shelters, and anywhere else that will take them.

He spends hours helping relocate people; he figures its probably the best thing he can be doing. In times like this he does envy Tony and the others who can fly and shoot fire and the like. Tony can fix power outages and clear roadways in minutes, he feels weak, helpless in comparison, like he should be able to do more. But he can't do anything about that. He has to do what he can, and what he's doing does matter.

Despite the way he wishes he could do more, the activity is very cathartic. When he's out there moving and helping people it's easy to forget about his own problems, easy to forget that not a week ago he'd been back to ninety pounds of impotent fury, that a few weeks before that he'd lost the closest thing he'd had to a daughter.

There is one thing hes having a hard time not thinking about, and, unfortunately, that's Tony. Tony had rightly accused him of brooding a bit, and what he's doing now might be making it worse. Every time he finds another homeless man in the snow, every time he sees a discarded bottle, he thinks about the headlines. He tells himself that whether or not the rumors are true, Tony won’t end up in this situation again.

He does see Tony every now and then. Really, he sees a streak of red and maybe a hint of gold. The snow is still coming down hard, and even though Steve can’t really feel it anymore, it is getting in his eyes. He thinks the times he sees Tony might be Tony checking up on him, reading his vitals from afar. It's a little more paranoid a thought than the ones he usually thinks, but it does seem like something Tony would do, and Tony has made his opinion about Steve coming out here pretty clear.

He’s crossing the river when Tony decides to actually catch up with him.

“Hey Cap,” Tony says, landing in front of him.

“Tony.”

“I think it might be time to call it a night,” Tony says. Steve disagrees, it's around nine, he's only been at it for about four hours.

“If you're tired you can go back to the room any time,” Steve replies, continuing along the bridge.

“Let me rephrase that,” Tony grips his arm. “I've been monitoring your vitals-”

“That's an invasion of privacy.”

“-and I think it would be a very good idea for you to warm up now.”

“No thanks.” Steve shrugs off his hold.

“You are the most stubborn man I have met in my entire life.”

“Have you looked in a mirror lately?”

“I'm not the one trying to die in a blizzard right now.”

“I'm not trying to die!”

“Could've fooled me.” Tony tilts his head to the side. “Look, there's a major traffic problem on I-90, I'm going to help clear it up. I'll be back in fifteen minutes. We'll continue this conversation when I get back, try to stay conscious,” Tony says, taking off into the sky.

He hates Tony talking to him like a child. He’s a grown man. Yes, he’s numb all over, no, that probably isn't a good thing, but he'll stop when he has to stop and no sooner than that.

He continues his search, checking the next riverbank. He's checked it already, so his second sweep doesn't take long. He doesn't find anyone, which is certainly a good thing. He leans against a bridge support for a moment, scouring his mental map for places he could check next. Then suddenly Tony is in front of him again. Steve's pretty sure that had been a lot less than fifteen minutes.

“I told you not to lose consciousness,” Tony says. Steve's pretty sure he hadn't, he'd just lost track of time.

“I didn't. Tony, will you let this drop? I’m fine.” He's tired of this, they have much better things to be doing. He feels like a dog barking at its own reflection.

“Steve, I hate to break this to you, but you're badly hypothermic. I should just grab you and fly you out of here, windchill be damned.”

“Stop, Tony! I'll be alright.”

“New tactic, come here.” Tony says before trapping Steve in a hug. Steve recoils on instinct, expecting the armor’s metal shell to be ice cold- but it's not. The armor is warm, and it's almost painful the way it renews sensation in his limbs. It's one thing to be aware that his limbs had gone a bit numb, and another thing to really know it, as that sensation comes back as burning.

“I'm heating the armors external surface,” Tony explains. “Neat trick right? Having complete control over my armor has some benefits. Anyway, as I see it, you have two choices. You can either pull away from this nice warm hug or you can admit you're hypothermic and let me take you back to the hotel. Up to you.”

Steve likes to think hes a pretty strong man. Somewhere deep inside he probably has the will and the arm strength to break away from Tony. But as much as he hates to admit it, Tony might have a point. Tony's his friend, and he wouldn't be doing this if he wasn't really worried about Steve. And now that he’s stopped moving, Steve's feeling like that worry could be justified.

“I might be a little bit hypothermic,” he admits.

“A little!” Tony laughs, a distorted burst through the speakers. “Steve, your lips are the color of your pants.”

“I think you might be exaggerating.”

“I might be a little bit,” Tony teases, using Steve’s own words.

Tony does end up flying them both to the hotel, trying to get Steve to warmth as fast as possible. The wind is cold, but Tony is so warm, the trip feels like it takes no time at all.

 

Though he'd only stepped in it once before, the room is a very welcoming sight.

Steve pulls off his gloves with his teeth and sits on the edge of the couch. He starts on his boots then, and after some difficulty the first one comes free.

“You can go back out there, Tony. I can take care of myself from here.”

“I'm not leaving you alone like this.”

“Other people need more help than I do.”

Tony shakes his head. “The rescue workers are doing their job. I'm not going to leave and come back to you in a coma.”

“Suit yourself,” Steve says gruffly.

“Go take a shower, get warm. I'm right here if you need me.” Tony smiles at him, and it should be endearing, Steve thinks as he's gathering fresh clothes, but Steve's far past annoyed at the way Tony's treating him. He'll be fine, he doesn't need anyone telling him how to take care of himself or fussing over him, and he's certainly not about to slip into a coma. He made it back to the hotel, he's made it to the bathroom now. Yes, he’s cold, but he'll take care of it.

If he could could get his uniform off, that is. His numb fingers have turned clumsy and he can't force them to grip enough to operate his belt buckle. If this stage of undressing is proving this difficult he dreads finding out what trying to pry the frozen leather from his bare skin is going to be like. He doesn't think he's to the point of hypothermia where he should just jump in the shower, costume or no, so he really does want to get this off first. After standing there staring obstinately at his belt buckle for a few minutes, he admits he could use some help.

He leans his head against the bathroom door.

"Tony!" he calls. "I can't get my costume off."

He expects Tony to tease him, or at least rib him a little, hit him with an I-told-you-so. But Tony doesn't say anything as he opens the bathroom door. His eyebrows are knitted together and his mouth is tight.

"My fingers won't..." Steve trails off his explanation. He's sure Tony gets the picture.

Tony nods and starts undoing Steve's belt buckle. His agile fingers make quick work of it, pulling the belt through the loops of Steve's pants and hanging it on the doorknob. If Steve still had enough circulation to blush, he thinks he would be as Tony undoes the button on his pants and pulls down the zipper. Together they work his shirt out of his pants and drag the heavy ice encrusted mail over his head. Tony folds it over the very lovely brass towel bar to melt and dry.

Steve thinks this isn't how he'd imagined it would feel to be undressed by Tony Stark. Not that he'd been thinking about it, really, or often anyway. It's just sometimes when Tony turns those bright eyes on him that he wonders what other looks Tony could give him, how it would feel to be on the receiving end of Tony's advances, and, yes, what he might be like in the bedroom. One of the hazards of being friends with a man like Tony Stark, you can't help but wonder about the truth behind his reputation.

His pants are a good deal more trouble for the pair of them, since all of the accumulated frost has started to melt and that only makes them cling more. Steve has to sit on the edge of the bath and just let Tony do a lot of tugging on the cold and sodden leather until Steve's legs are finally free. Tony folds those on the towel rack as well. So then Steve is sitting there in nothing but his underwear feeling somehow colder than he had when he'd been covered in ice. Steve awkwardly watches Tony turn the shower on, leaving it to warm up, and is annoyed at himself for not thinking to do that.

"That should warm up pretty fast," Tony says. He gestures to Steve and clears his throat. "Do you, uh."

Steve looks down. Right, his underwear. Tony's seen him naked a number of times, hazards of the trade, but Steve's already plenty humiliated from needing Tony's help to strip this far. His boxer briefs are just fabric and elastic, not cold damp leather; they shouldn't be much of a challenge. He hopes.

"I think I can handle this bit." He stands up, displeased to find how much effort that takes. "Thank you, Tony."

"Right, uh. If you need anything else..."

Steve nods, but Tony looks worried as he closes the bathroom door, watching Steve over his shoulder. Steve shrugs and removes his briefs (see, no trouble) and climbs into the shower.

The hot shower does feel nice, even if on the lower heat settings it’s still very intense to his frozen skin. He's able to gradually turn the heat up, purging the cold from his body. He allows himself to luxuriate in the feeling of just being warm; he's spent much too much time in his life being cold, and that is a fact. He takes a long time, enjoying it too much to worry about wasting water, so he's not entirely surprised to hear Tony knock on the door. He shouts that he's fine and tries to cool off his temper while trying to keep warming his body.

He was hypothermic. Tony's just worried. They've all lost a lot lately. He takes a deep breath, lets it out, and turns off the shower. He'd thought he was pretty well warmed up, but the cold air of the bathroom still hits him hard. He quickly dries himself off and bundles himself into some sweatpants, a t-shirt and a sweater. He’s sure he looks like a slob but he doesn't think Tony will begrudge him comfortable clothes right now.

Steve steps out of the bathroom and does a quick sweep of the much too large suite looking for Tony. He sees him in the living room next to the full bar. Staring at it.

"Tony?"

"Oh, Steve. Hey." Tony looks his direction but doesn't make eye contact.

“You alright?"

Tony doesn't respond.

"Tony," he prompts again, putting a hand on Tony's shoulder.

“You must've seen the paper,” Tony says, finally. “You probably want to know if its true.”

“That's not what I asked. I asked if you were okay.” Steve says.

“I'm not- I haven't been drinking.”

“I believe you Tony, I'm glad.”

“But I did.”

Steve closes his eyes hard. His heart drops. Apparently it was too much to hope that one of his oldest friends might come out of this unscathed.

"Recently," Steve says. It's not a question anymore.

Tony nods.

“How long has it been?”

“Twelve days.”

Steve counts backward. “During the Serpent’s attack?” He tries to hold back his indignation, keep it from touching his voice, but judging from the way Tony's face hardens he doesn't entirely succeed.

“Not during any battles. I'd sobered up by the final assault.”

So Tony didn't just drink, he'd gotten drunk. He reminds himself that he doesn't need to ask why. Tony had seen the whole of Paris turned to stone. Broken, gray bodies piled into the sky. Reminds himself that for all of his courage and charisma, his wealth and power, Tony's just a man, and it had been the end of the world.

“But that doesn't excuse it,” Tony continues. “I know that. I was desperate.” Tony kicks the bar in frustration.

I've got to drink... I've got to…

It feels so familiar, Steve remembers another conversation with Tony in a another hotel room a long time ago. But things are different now. Tony's not drunk this time, and Steve’s not going to leave him. Anyway, he doesn't have anywhere else to go, he thinks wryly.

“I'm-” disappointed “-sorry to hear that happened. You're still... committed to sobriety?”

Tony blows out a breath. “Yeah. I went to a meeting, I talked to my sponsor. And I got a pretty great reminder tonight about what happened last time I went down that road.” Tony's saying all the right things. He seems committed. Steve hopes he stays that way.

“You don't need to worry about me, Steve. I'll be alright,” Tony says, the smile on his face is very forced. “Well, you look a lot better. Its always amazing to see how fast you recover.” It's a pretty obvious attempt to end the discussion, but Steve's willing to allow it. He's not sure what else to say at this point. "Oh!" Tony says suddenly. "You must be hungry. I was thinking we should call for room service."

"You don't feel like going out to eat?" Steve says flatly.

Tony laughs lightly at that. "You know, I think I'd like to stay in tonight."

 

They order room service and Tony declares that he'll be taking his shower while they're waiting for the food to be delivered. That leaves Steve alone to think things over.

Steve is really not pleased with the knowledge that Tony had gotten drunk. It's understandable, but that doesn't mean he has to like it. He and Tony are just barely getting their friendship off the ground again and now Tony's in trouble. Probably more trouble than he wants to admit. He'd been staring at the suites bar, this clearly isn't easy for him.

Steve has to admit he's also a little bit mad at him. Tony had said he was sober during all of the battles, but before the last battle he'd been making weapons in Nidavellir. Had he been drunk during that? It might not be a battlefield, but a forge isn't any place for someone to be intoxicated either.

That bears questioning Tony about, he thinks.

 

Tony emerges from his shower wearing a lot less than Steve had. He might have underwear on, he might be wearing nothing but a towel, Steve can't tell. He wonders how Tony isn't cold, but then again Tony hadn't been the one on the verge of hypothermia. Steve looks away as Tony brushes past him to rummage around in the bed side drawer. Tony smells nice. Steve wishes he hadn't noticed that. He's about to confront his friend more about his alcoholic relapse, he doesn't need to be distracted by something.... something like that. When Steve looks back, Tony has a tank top on and is working on pulling on some slacks over his underwear. Steve breathes out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding.

Then room service knocks.

They eat in silence, the weight of their previous conversation hanging between them. Neither of them tries to lighten the mood, there's nothing really funny about today, anyway. Steve doesn't really want to continue their conversation over food, nothing ruins a meal quite like that sort of talk, and they both need to eat to recover their strength after the day they've had. Unfortunately Tony doesn't seem all that interested in eating, fidgeting and shifting uncomfortably instead, largely just picking at his food. So Steve finishes it for him. It would really be a shame to waste food in the middle of a disaster and his own meal hadn't made much of a dent in his hunger, anyway.

After, Steve goes back to sitting on the edge of the bed. The couches are comfortable, but he's still too cold by the windows.

“Tony”

“Yeah,” Tony says. He moves from his place at the windows and comes to stand in front of Steve.

“You said it wasn't during one of the battles. Can I ask when exactly?”

“It was went I went to forge the weapons,” Tony says. Steve's grateful that Tony doesn't pretend to not understand him, appreciates that he's talking about this at all. “I thought Odin wouldn't listen to me unless I offered him something.” What does that mean? Did he-

“You sacrificed your sobriety to Odin?”

Tony nods, and Steve is mortified. He's not sure which is more horrible: the fact that Tony had thought of that, or that it had worked. Steve doesn't think of himself as particularly optimistic, though he knows he has that reputation, but he is still constantly amazed by the horrible ways in which the world works. He thinks he should say something, but nothing's coming and Tony keeps talking, barreling over Steve's stunned silence.

“It was a terrible decision, I made it out of fear and desperation, but I'm not sure I can entirely regret it. I don't know how else I would've gotten his attention. And...” Tony laughs humorlessly, “it felt really good. Everything was just so horrible, it was right after Paris, right after Bucky...” Tony sighs. “Steve, you have to know how sorry I am about Bucky. If I'd been there, if there'd been anything I could've done... Hell, I should've been there, I didn't do any good in Paris, that's for sure.”

Steve shakes his head. He knows Tony is trying to shift the topic, but once again he's going to let him. He needs to take this in. “It's alright, Tony, there was nothing anyone could've done. Sin had the power of a god.” And with all that she still hadn't actually been able to kill Bucky. Tony doesn't look convinced, but what can Steve tell him? Bucky isn't dead, but only Natasha, Nick, and Steve know that. He doesn't want Tony beating himself up over this, but it's not his secret to reveal. Tony won’t accept that he’s alright with it, and wouldn't that be a lie anyway?

Maybe Bucky's not dead, but Rikki is. She'd died just a few weeks prior to the Serpent's attack. She’d been possessed by Onslaught, and given herself up to save everyone. Steve had come back too late, he hadn’t been able to save her, and the girl who could've been his daughter was wiped from existence. He's hardly had a chance to mourn her. Even though he keeps saying he is, he's not alright, not really. He's lost Rikki, and without Nick's help Bucky would be dead too.

The serum made Steve good at a lot of things. He's strong, he's fast, he's agile, but Steve thinks the thing he might be the very best at is convincing people to suffer and die on his behalf. He's never enjoyed the power or influence that came with being Captain America, only used it to accomplish what he believed was the greater good. But that didn't make him any less responsible for the deaths he'd caused. Rikki hadn't died fighting for his cause, but she would’ve been an ordinary girl, probably safe and happy, if not for him. Bucky could've died too. Bucky, who was Captain America because of him.

Steve is never the one who suffers for his decisions. He tries to make it so that the consequences will fall on him, but they always fall on someone else in the end. Even when he does suffer, someone else still seems to get it worse. Sure, he’d taken a dive off a missile into the arctic, but he still came out of it alive and mostly unharmed, if sixty years in the future. It was Bucky who'd spent the intervening decades being remade.

He'd sent Tony to Paris, told him it was up to him to get them weapons. Tony's become another casualty of his leadership. He realizes there are tears rolling down his cheeks. Tears for Rikki, for Tony, for Bucky, for Sharon, and Sam and Bernie and Rachel and anyone who's ever been fucked over for knowing him.

“Steve, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have mentioned it.” Tony comes closer to Steve, puts a hand on his shoulder, rubs down his back. It's soothing, but Steve feels himself slipping past the point of no return. He fists his hand in Tony's shirt.

“A long time ago, I asked you why everyone around me suffered just because they knew me. I felt like I was cursed, and I went to you for help. You told me that it wasn't easy, but that we can’t let it get to us. Told me to be strong. I knew you were right, knew there was no course of action but to carry on. You always know just what to say. Can you do it again, Tony?” Steve asks. He's not sure what he wants Tony to say, just that he needs him to say something. He wants Tony to have the power to cure this, to convince him otherwise with nothing but a hand on his shoulder, he wants to believe again. Tony doesn't respond right away, but he moves in close and places a palm on the back of Steve's head, gently urging him to rest it against his chest next to the RT.

“No, I can't,” Tony says in a rough voice. He kisses the top of Steve's head. “It's too much to ask of anyone. I can't tell you to be strong, or to shake it off, but I know you will anyway. You're alive, you'll get through this. Like you always do.” He runs his hand down the back of Steve’s neck. “Because you're Steve Rogers, Captain America, and despite everything, I know you still haven't lost hope.”

Steve places the hand that’s not in Tony's shirt on Tony's hip. Tony's warm and solid, and he finds it hard not to let his worries fade to the back of his mind under the gentle caress of his hands. He's an Avenger, he'll press on, more terrible things will inevitably happen, and they might even be his fault, but he'll get through those too. Because ultimately they're a force of good and that’s all there is to it. He takes a deep breath, lets it out. He’s okay.

Recovering his composure, he takes in the position they're in; it's rather intimate. Comforting, but intimate. Tony's always been one to place a comforting hand on his shoulder, but this is a good deal more than that. He must really look like he needs it. It's really nice to have Tony holding him this way, but its a bit embarrassing as well. He's been thinking about Tony in less than platonic ways too much today.

He pulls back a bit, enough to look Tony in the eyes. He feels like he should thank him. “Tony-”

He's cut off by a kiss. Tony is kissing him. He doesn't- he doesn't really understand. But Tony's doesn't stop, doesn't explain, just places kisses on his cheekbone and down his jaw. And despite his confusion Steve's starting to get turned on. He doesn't think he’s ever gone from despairing to horny, if grudgingly so, this fast in his life. Tony still smells really nice. “Tony, what?” he manages.

“Take your mind off it.” Tony mumbles against his neck.

Is that what this is about? Making Steve feel better?

“This isn't going to solve anything.”

“There isn't a solution, Cap. Sex will just let you forget that for a while.”

Like drinking, Steve thinks. But maybe Tony's trying to forget too, maybe he's not just trying to distract Steve, but himself as well. He probably needs this more than Steve does, but god forbid Tony ever ask for help. And it is appealing to forget. To just be a body with a body's needs for a little while, instead of a hurt and confused person.

There's a part of his mind telling him that this is a very big deal, that he and Tony have been friends for over a decade (with a few important interruptions) and this could have an impact on that. It's telling him that he'd only just recovered that friendship, some amount of that trust, that now is not the right time. The other part of him is asking what he really has to lose.

“I've been thinking about it. Let me help you feel better.”

“Okay,” Steve says, and turns his head to take Tony's mouth.

Kissing Tony is great, wonderful even. His facial hair is rough, but his lips and tongue are very soft. He's quite talented at it as well, and very eager. He slides onto Steve's lap, straddling his thighs, without breaking the kiss. Talented indeed. He's surprisingly heavy, a very solid weight on Steve's lap. Tony's not a small man, six feet of dense muscle, but Steve had never expected him to be this heavy without the suit. But then he is in the suit, Steve realizes, or rather, the suit is in him. Part of Tony's strange post-human adventures. As he slides his hand across Tony's flank he thinks Tony still feels wonderfully human. Smells human. Tastes human.

Steve moves the hand on Tony's hip lower, cups Tony's buttock, feels how round and firm it is, before squeezing it a little. Tony does break the kiss then, gasping against Steve's mouth. Apparently pleased by Steve's wandering hands, Tony chuckles lowly and thrusts his hips forward, bringing their still well covered groins together. It's Steve's turn to gasp at the amount of friction on his his hardening cock. He recaptures Tony's mouth in a bruising kiss, biting and sucking on Tony's lower lip for good measure. His right hand releases Tony's shirt and he uses it to cup Tony's jaw, rub his thumb along his cheekbone, caress down his neck. He brushes his fingers into Tony's hair and Tony moans deeply against Steve's mouth.

Tony's hands find their way under Steve's sweater and shirt, running up and down his stomach, leaving shivers in their wake. Steve gives Tony a quick peck on the lips before lifting his own shirts over his head and tossing them away. Eager hands immediately find his pecs, teasing his nipples. It feels nice, but he'd rather have Tony's hands working on something else. He takes Tony's hands in his, stopping them. Tony gives him a look that’s a little more worried than curious.

“Get naked,” Steve tells him.

Tony raises an eyebrow at him, worry slipping from his features. “Sir, yes sir,” he says, and Steve is in firm denial about that having any effect on him.

Tony strips off his tank top as quickly as Steve had removed his own shirt. Steve spares a moment to think of how nice it might be to strip Tony when hes wearing a little more. Suit and tie, tuxedo, one of the old armors that actually came off. Piece by piece, taking apart Tony's perfectly manicured outer shell, breaking down the Tony meant for public consumption, to reveal the man underneath. But this is nice too, he's already got the real man.

With the shirt out of the way, Steve's very glad to have permission to look this time. Tony's lean and strong and beautiful. Steve has to admit he does find the RT somewhat strange to look at, but Tony's spent about a third of his life with something embedded in his chest, always to keep him alive. It's no difficult task to see past it to the elegant forms beneath. He leans in and kisses the base of Tony's neck, licks along his collarbone. His hands slide back up along Tony's sides, and then back down to his hips where they fit beautifully. He can feel the way Tony responds to his touch, little shivers and a warm blush spreading down his body.

And then Tony pulls away. Steve makes a noise halfway between a grunt and a whine. How could Tony bear to stop?

“I've gotta stand up for this part,” Tony explains. Steve doesn't understand until Tony stands up and starts sliding his slacks down his legs. Steve feels empty somehow, without Tony's weight in his lap, but watching Tony drop his pants certainly makes up for it.

Then Tony's standing there in nothing but his boxer briefs, his erection tenting them in the front. Now that that's out of the way, Steve has no reason to not be touching him. He places his hands back on Tony's hips, fits his thumbs underneath the elastic and pulls the front down around Tony’s cock and then down all of the way.

Tony really is a sight. A man made of harsh bone angles and soft muscular curves, piercing light eyes and dark hair, Tony is a being of effortless contrast. Steve admits, he might not be thinking in such terms if his brain had a little more blood flow, but he's not all that worried about it. The fact is: Tony is very attractive. Especially when he drops to his knees in front of Steve.

Tony runs his hands up Steve's thighs, stopping just below his groin. The skin there tingles under his touch despite the layer of fabric separating them. The feeling of Tony's strong hands caressing the muscle has Steve positively vibrating with the need to be touched. Tony looks up at him, both eyebrows raised in a question. Steve nods; he will let Tony do anything to him right now. They quickly get Steve's pants off, hes glad he put on sweatpants, but Steve keeps his hips up, expecting Tony to remove his underwear next. Instead, Tony grips Steve's cock through his boxers and Steve loses his balance, dropping his ass back to the bed.

The touch feels really, really good. Steve can’t even be embarrassed by his loss of balance. It’s exactly what he needs, but he needs more, so much more, and Tony obliges him. Tony leans in and just breathes on his cock before pressing his wet open mouth to it, licking at the fabric around the head until it’s soaked with his saliva and Steve's own precome. He must be just leaking it, his underwear is a sodden mess, the first, and hopefully only, clothing casualty of this sexual encounter.

“Tony,” he groans.

Tony hums an acknowledgment around his cock. He pulls back for a moment, pulling Steve's sodden briefs down over his cock. Steve doesn't have too long to feel exposed before his cock is covered again, this time by Tony's mouth. With nothing between him and the warmth and wetness there, Steve finds the sensation almost overwhelming.

Tony takes him deep. Steve's not a small man by any means, but Tony doesn't hesitate, sucking his cock in until it hits the back of his throat. He’s so incredibly hot and soft around Steve, it’s fantastic, he wishes it could last forever, but is very aware from the heat in his stomach that it it won’t. He feels Tony back off before taking Steve in again, and he cries out in surprise and pleasure. Tony hums around him, eyes closed in concentration.

Tony starts up a rhythm, stroking with his hand what doesn't fit in his mouth. Steve can’t help the way his hips move with it, small thrusts into Tony's beautiful mouth, not enough to throw Tony off or choke him, just enough to relieve the pressure. Tony seems to enjoy it as well from the pleased moans coming from deep in his throat.

Steve finds himself winding his fingers into Tony's hair, stroking through the still-damp strands, curled with moisture. He's always liked the way Tony's hair curled, always wanted to run his hands through it and Tony seems to like having his hair pulled a little, moans increasing. Steve remembers how Tony used to wear it so much longer back in the day, he could really have gotten a grip on it then. The thought sends more heat rushing through him.

Tony pulls off until he’s sucking only on the tip, thumb rubbing at the base of the head where Steve's foreskin is bunched. It feels perfect, hes getting so close. Tony takes him back in, and this time he doesn't stop when Steve's cock meets the opening to his throat. He keeps going, taking Steve all the way down.

Steve gasps, God it so tight, so warm, Tony's so amazing, so giving. As Tony pulls off again the drag of his throat on Steve's cock is perfect, it’s just enough and Steve breathes a warning. His orgasm overtakes him and he’s just aware enough to know that he comes in Tony's mouth. Tony jacks him through it with his hand and Steve watches him swallow it down, mouth still around Steve's cock. When its over Tony pulls off, wipes his mouth on the back of his hand.

Steve brushes his fingers through Tony's hair again. “That was amazing, Tony.” He can feel the smile on his face, he's very sure he looks dopey and blissed out because that’s exactly how he feels.

Tony clears his throat. “My pleasure, Steve.” His voice is so rough. His throat must be sore, swallowing something of that size is not exactly it’s intended purpose.

“Do you want something to drink?” Tony's eyes go wide in shock and Steve's confused for a moment before his brain turns over and he realizes what he'd said.

“Water! Do you want some water? Your throat must be sore.”

Tony huffs a laughs and slumps against Steve bare thigh. Steve continues to stroke his fingers through his hair.

“Thanks, Steve, I'm alright.”

“Come here, then.” Steve tugs gently on Tony's arm and Tony complies, soon Steve has him in his lap again. His hands find Tony's hair again and he tugs, pulling him into a kiss. He can taste himself in Tony's mouth, but he can taste Tony too, and that’s wonderful. He falls back on the bed and pulls Tony with him, wraps an arm around Tony's back and pulling him in closer. Tony hisses as his dick slides across Steve’s hip, leaving a wet stripe. Steve feels a bit guilty, Tony had been so good to him, and he hasn't so much as touched him. He grips Tony's cock, and he can tell it takes everything Tony's got not to just collapse on top of him.

Tony's cock feels good in his hand, it’s well proportioned, hard and leaking and hot. He spreads the wetness from the tip down the shaft and slowly starts pumping his fist up and down. With his other hand he takes to exploring Tony's beautiful body. He moves his hand up the back of Tony's thigh, around the curve of his buttock, up his back, then down along Tony's chest, twists one of Tony's nipples. That gets him a really pleasant little moan from Tony so he does it again. Tony is just panting wetly against Steve's neck, kissing down his throat when he can pull it together, and Steve's a little bit proud of how infrequently that is. He can feel his groin starting to stir again, but it’s not a priority, he’s got to take care of Tony first.

Tony himself seems to have a pretty good idea of how he'd like to be taken care of, taking the hand Steve's got on his chest and placing it on his ass instead. Well, Steve can work with that too. Tony has such a great ass, Steve thinks its a shame Tony doesn't run around in tight leather and spandex like the rest of them.

“Would you like to fuck me, Steve?” Tony asks, and a shiver runs down Steve's spine. He does want that, but it’s not that simple, they're both men, there’s a little more involved. But Tony's got a clever smirk on his face like he knows what Steve's thinking, so he swallows hard and dips his fingers into the cleft of Tony's ass, runs his finger around the hole. It feels slick. Lube. Oh. During his shower Tony had-

Steve groans, low and maybe a bit needy. “I would like that very much,” he says.

“Well then, come on, Steve,” Tony says, rubbing back against Steve's touch. “Go for it.”

“Is there more lube?” Steve asks.

Tony lifts himself back up onto his forearms and reaches over to the bed stand. He opens the drawer and produces a bottle, and then presses it into Steve's waiting hand. Steve remembers Tony rummaging around in that drawer after his shower and thinks he'd planned this rather thoroughly.

“Thank you.”

Steve coats his fingers and wastes no time sliding one into Tony. He seems pretty well stretched so it’s not long before Steve's got three fingers pressed deep inside him, rubbing against his prostate. Soon, Tony's back to panting wetly at his neck, emitting the occasional deep groan. Steve flips them over so that he’s got Tony underneath him. He thinks Tony's been doing most of the work up until now and he doesn’t feel that’s altogether fair. Tony's hurting too, it’s his turn to be taken care of now. Steve want’s Tony to just relax and fall apart without the worry of performing.

He takes one of Tony's thighs in his hands and presses it back toward Tony's body, stretching him wider. “Are you ready?” he asks, slicking up his erection and lining it up with Tony's hole.

Tony nods in return so Steve presses inside. He goes slowly, watching Tony's face for any sign of pain. He looks to be experiencing quite the opposite, head thrown back, mouth open and emitting breathy staccato moans, fingers digging into the back of Steve's neck. Once he’s fully seated, he kisses Tony's open and panting mouth, sucking on Tony's bottom lip and teasing his tongue inside until Tony starts to kiss back. They stay like that, kissing lazily while Tony's body adjusts to the intrusion.

“Does that feel alright?” Steve asks when they part for air. Steve is certainly feeling amazing. Tony’s so hot around Steve, and tight, but not uncomfortably so. And it’s- it’s Tony. That alone fills him with heady desperation.

“Yeah, it’s- yeah, Steve, you feel amazing.”

“Good, that’s good. Can I?”

“Yes, God yes.”

Steve pulls out slowly and pushes back in. He gradually picks up the pace, stroking Tony's cock in time with his thrusts. He just watches the play of emotions across Tony's face as he thrusts in again and again. His eyes are hooded and glassy with pleasure and every now and then his face will scrunch up as Steve hits him just right, and it’s perfect. Tony's heels press into his back urging him on, so Steve dares to move a little harder, thrust a little deeper. Tony has to be so close, he can see him gritting his teeth, trying to last for whatever reason. He kisses Tony's cheek.

Tony comes, clenching so wonderfully around his cock, and Steve's strokes him through it. When Tony's aftershocks have faded, Steve moves to pull out but Tony grips his arm.

“Don't stop,” he says. He sounds so breathy and desperate.

Steve thinks it must be uncomfortable, Tony's got to be a bit sore. But Tony had seemed pretty firm about it, and if anyone knows how Tony feels, Tony does, so Steve thrusts back in slowly. He keeps the pace down, a lot more gentle. He’s pretty close now anyway, he knows it won’t be long. Tony just pets his hair with a small smile on his face as Steve thrusts into him. It’s nice; relaxed, unhurried. Loving, maybe.

Finally Steve comes, burying his face in Tony's neck and thrusting into him without rhythm. He lets himself lie in Tony's embrace for a couple of minutes, enjoying the way Tony continues to pet his hair. He feels very, very relaxed, probably enough to drop off to sleep right there, but he thinks Tony probably doesn't appreciate having Steve's full weight on him.

He rolls onto his side, keeping an arm around Tony's waist. He gives Tony a quick kiss. He feels amazing. Sex was a good idea, he thinks. Cuddling would be too, but before he can pull Tony in and get comfortable, Tony sits up.

“I've got to clean up. I'll be back to take care of you,” Tony explains, eyes soft. Steve lets him go and watches him vanish into the bathroom.

“You already took care of me,” Steve calls after him. He knows it's temporary, but he does feel an awful lot better about life right now. Tony had taken very good care of him. He hopes Tony feels the same way. Tony had said this was about him, but Steve knows Tony needed it too. He is very sure of that now.

Steve feels himself drifting off as he waits for Tony. He only realizes he's fallen asleep when he feels something warm and wet on his midsection. He opens his eyes. Tony's wiping him clean with a damp cloth.

“Hey.”

“Hey,” Tony chuckles.

Tony runs a finger down the center of Steve's face. When Tony reaches the dimple in his chin he leans down and kisses it, Steve can feel him pressing his tongue into the little crevice. He pulls back and gives Steve a wide smile. “Always wanted to do that.”

“Always, huh?”

“So you're awake enough to catch that.”

“You bet.” Steve realizes they're going to have to talk about this. He's not going to let it be a dark secret or something they just bury. And then there's the fact that Tony had prepped himself in the shower, unless it was part of Tony's normal shower routine, which, Jesus, what a thought, means that Tony had been planning to proposition him before he'd really broken down. He's not sure what to think of that. Tony had made it seem like it was all about comforting him, and it had worked. Tony has been worrying about him the entire trip, and Steve won’t say he has no reason to, but as usual with Tony he feels like he’s missing some bit of information, like Tony’s seeing something he’s not. At the moment, however, that niggling worry is too small in the face of his satisfaction to really bother him. He feels it slipping away, they'll talk about it in the morning. Tony finishes cleaning him up and starts to move away, but Steve stops him, lightly grasping his wrist.

“Come to bed, Tony,” he implores.

“Of course. Let me put this back first,” Tony replies, holding up the towel still clasped in his other hand. Steve lets him go and takes the opportunity to slide under the covers. He lies back, closing his eyes once again. It's not long before he hears Tony's steps returning. He feels the bed dip slightly as Tony slides in under the covers. He opens his eyes again and rolls over to face him, Tony smiles at him and his heart warms.

Steve can't stop himself from running his hand through Tony's thick hair again. He's becoming quite fond of doing that. He kisses Tony then too, which he's also becoming pretty fond of. Steve pulls Tony in close to him, wrapping an arm around his middle and tangling their legs together. Breathing into Tony's neck, feeling the warmth of his body pressed against him and the tingle of the RT on his chest, nothing else could possibly matter.

Lying there curled up together on the too large hotel bed in the too fancy suite, Steve drifts off into better dreams than he’s had in a long time.