Tony’s mind, maneuvering into a begrudging state of wakefulness, confronted the impossibility of three variables vying for his immediate attention: He had slept for more than five consecutive hours; he was awake of his own volition - no alarm, prodding Pepper, or distress call necessary - at a time that should never again be witnessed by him or anyone else; and Steve Rogers was in his bed, wearing nothing but skin and heat under tangled sheets.
Turning on his side, Tony propped himself up to focus on the particularly challenging piece of that equation.
Sunlight, it would seem, was no different than anything else in this world or, likely, the next: it was inexorably drawn to Steve. A finger-width beam stole across the stretch of Steve’s brow, slipped down the strong slope of his nose to linger, as Tony was, on the man’s sinful lips.
Lips he was now intimately familiar with.
Tony knew exactly how much pressure to apply to get them to open for him; he could recount with absolute clarity how that full lower lip felt between his teeth; he didn’t have to imagine how it shone, flushed red and swollen, after Tony eased the sting with his tongue.
That knowledge - and the memory of what they had done in the wake of those first hot-as-Hell kisses - simultaneously crashed and shocked his nervous system.
Carefully disengaging himself from the strip of silk wound around his legs, Tony slid from the bed, one question dogging every oh, God, I can still feel him step he took away from it: Who had shut his brain down - who had shut Steve’s brain down - long enough to let any of last night happen?
Steve tipped his head back on the pillow. A smile tugged at his mouth before his lashes cleared his sight line.
Shifting into a long, indulgent stretch, he felt every muscle in his body pull and release; the loose, contented hum that claimed him once it was done, he realized, felt something like a third or fourth orgasm.
Turning to look at the man responsible for giving him that insight, Steve’s stomach clenched as he stared for an endless moment at the bare sheets and fading impression of Tony’s body. Pushing off the bed, Steve padded to the bathroom, listening for the sound of running water, distracted humming, anything that indicated Tony hadn’t left Steve, alone, in his bed.
The only thing that filled the space on the opposite side of the door was silence.
Following the trail of his discarded clothing, Steve pulled on his jeans, fastened them with fingers that trembled minutely, and slung his t-shirt over his shoulder. He was half-tempted to seek Tony out wearing the same clothes he’d let the other man strip him of the night before, but he needed the time, needed to figure out how to approach Tony who had bolted like a skittish horse.
Twenty minutes later, Steve took the steps down to Tony’s workshop two at a time. In a bright blue wash of light, Tony swiveled in his chair, restlessly turning one way only to retreat back, his hands still, for once, in the pockets of black pants that, with their thin blue pinstripe, looked too elegant to be worn around machinery in various states of use. The skin-tight black tank Tony wore pulled taut across his back when Steve’s purposeful steps behind him registered.
“Morning.” The coffee mug he held, large enough to almost require his full handspan, checked Steve’s impulse to ease the tension in Tony’s shoulders. Setting it down within easy reach, Steve noted a hatch mark pattern of grease on Tony’s forearm, a small patch of dried blood on his elbow, and, as they slid around the mug, the indigo ink that mapped the skin between his thumb and forefinger. “Looks like you’ve been busy.”
“Yeah, I...had things,” Tony said, nodding at the clutter of metal and virtual plans in front of him.
Steve leaned into Tony’s heat. Tearing his gaze away from Tony’s pulse, visible proof of life in that column of firm, warm skin, Steve looked up at the screens surrounding them. Tony was designing a...“What is it?”
“This?” Tony regarded the origami-like structure of the device he’d been toying with and shrugged. Easing out of the chair, he leaned over the desk, away from Steve, reaching for a fountain pen, its nib bent and cracked. “Whatever I want it to be.”
“Can you take a break? We could grab--”
“I can’t. Actually. That flamethrower I promised Clint? He wanted it yesterday. Or maybe the day before that. I don’t know. For a sniper, the man has no patience. Anyway. I was going to get to it last night, but that didn’t happen--” Tony cut himself off.
“Because you were otherwise occupied.”
Steve could still feel the sweat-slick valley at the base of Tony’s spine, the way lean muscle shifted as Steve urged the other man to move; he could hear, like it had been moments ago instead of hours, the low, purring rumble that caught in Tony’s throat when he was close, the breathless hitch that snagged on Steve’s name as Tony came.
A deep inhale, then: “I never thought the first time I made love would” make me feel alive in a way that waking up from the ice never could; would make me want to mark you so there could be no confusion, no question: you are mine, there will never be anyone else, he thought, but said, “be like that.”
Despite the lame conclusion to his observation, or more likely because of it, Steve’s words broke Tony’s concentration. Straightening from his tinkering slouch, he turned towards Steve, closed his eyes. The scarred pad of his index finger rubbed tight circles around the active tic at his temple.
“It’s like the allergy thing all over again.” Tony threw his free hand up between them. “No. It’s worse. Cherries; not strawberries,” he muttered, tipping his head back to blink up at the ceiling. “Of all the things I have forgotten, how your cherry was one of them, well, fuck me. No, I know. You’ve already done that. That’s the point, Steve. Look,” he said, dropping his chin like a chastised child for a split second before notching it back up. “I’m sorry. I should have remembered.”
“Cherries? Tony, what--”
“No.” Tony forestalled Steve’s question. “No. We’re good. We’re fine. We’re fine?” he asked, and it wasn’t until then that Steve noticed the freckles, one piling on top of another as Tony scrunched up his nose, waiting for Steve’s answer. When Steve didn’t immediately supply one, Tony pushed on. “We can just--”
“What?” Steve asked, a hint of laughter teasing his voice. “Forget it happened?”
Relief spread like complicated code across Tony’s face.
Steve bent at the waist; he gripped the back of Tony’s chair, his knuckles flushed and tight. “That’s...You really want to forget it?”
“Yes. What I mean is, what happened, it was a one-off. And we don’t want the team to find out. There’s a joke I don’t need to be the butt of,” he said, exhaling, cringing. “And that was a lousy pun. Another thing to forget.” Tony batted at the air as if words had a form that could be as easily pushed aside as his holographic schematics.
It had taken time and, frankly, a lot of patience, but Steve now knew several things about Tony: When something mattered to him, he treated it like a bullet he couldn’t dig out of his body, over thinking what might happen if he just let it be; he responded blithely when confronted by any situation that favored emotion over intellect; and, at times like this, he rarely meant what he said. Steve knew that, and still, a hurt so ferocious it made his enhanced vision blur dug into his stomach with claws.
“A joke?” Steve choked out. “Being with me...like that...that’s what you think it was?”
“What?” Panic flared in Tony’s eyes, his pupils dilating, bleeding black over brown. “Steve, I wouldn’t. No,” Tony said, shaking his head with a vehemence Steve had only before seen directed at contrary calculations. “Last night was...In my dreams it was never, but...It just can’t happen again. Yeah?”
Relationships required risk. Steve knew that better than most. He’d willingly put himself on the line when he had backed Tony against the bedroom door, tasting the salt on Tony’s exposed clavicle, wrapping the length of the man’s loosened tie around his fist. Steve wasn’t going to act like there was nothing between them now; wasn’t going to change his mind when the only thing he’d wanted for himself in a very long time was standing in front of him.
Steve’s answer, swiftly spoken, was delivered with unhesitating authority.
No. A small word, just a consonant and a vowel; Tony saw no reason it shouldn’t be simple to decipher. He had run up against it often enough - hell, his younger self had been half convinced his father had invented it along with everything else - so he should have no problem spelling it, defining it, and using it in a sentence. And yet...No.
Rubbing the back of his neck, Tony swung his seat around, settled his legs on either side, and began a steady rotation, drumming his fingers on the glass workstation as it passed.
He glanced at the door for the twenty-third time since Steve had walked out.
When momentarily stumped by the vagueness of human behavior, Tony thought, opt for petulance. “Jarvis, rescind the codes to the workshop,” he said. “All of them.”
“Rescind, sir? Because giving others the code was an invitation you extended out of generosity of heart, and not as a result of a great deal of brow-beating, a lengthy bout of the silent treatment, or on orders?”
Tony sighed. “Can you just do it?”
“I have, sir. But perhaps now would be a relevant time to point out that the odds of you maintaining a long-term romantic relationship with Mr. Rogers are--”
“Excuse me. Who,” Tony said, interrupting the AI before it could provide him with concrete proof of what Tony already knew: that the odds were so shitty, he’d have to find a shovel to dig himself out of the mire of self-pity the numbers would throw him into.
“You did, sir, after you saw the Captain cuddling a lost puppy at the conclusion of your second mission with the team. It was, I believe you said, a Husky, as the dog’s eyes were the same shade of blue as--”
“Jarvis.” Tony tried for threat, but settled for glaring at the wrench balanced on the arm of the couch.
“If I may--”
“Is it up to me? Do I have a say--”
“You also requested a run on your sexual compatibility with Mr. Rogers--”
“No need, Jarvis,” Tony said. “I figured that one out on my own.” He scratched idly at his jaw. “Well. No. Steve was there.”
“And why isn’t he here now, sir?”
It was a valid question. One Tony hadn’t quite worked out. When he’d cloistered himself in his workshop that morning, he’d run through a set of possible outcomes, hoping that determining an endgame would steady the ground he was on. He’d gone down the one night stand route with Steve, but he knew, had known the moment he woke up and wanted to push the hair back from Steve’s forehead that it wasn’t an option. Tony’s uncomfortable brush with sentimentality aside, Steve wasn’t that type of man. Which made Steve’s reaction incomprehensible.
Tony had expected demands. Persuasion, maybe, if Steve was feeling uncharacteristically flirty. And, barring any of that, Tony was sure that disappointed frown thing Steve did would make an appearance, scoring those two deep lines between Steve’s eyebrows. Imperfect, incredibly sexy lines. “Damn it, Jarvis.”
“Look. He can’t be here. I can’t have him here. In my,” Tony waved his hand, encompassing the workshop, himself, “space.”
“The presence of a strong, attractive man in one’s space is burdensome indeed, sir.”
Tony’s head connected with the desk. “You know what? I have work to do.” An exasperated exhale fogged the glass around his eyes. “And how do you even know he’s attractive? No. Never mind. That’s it. I’m done thinking about this.”
Six hours later, Tony drew the word liar on his thigh with an unsteady finger.