He felt so heavy. Like he was a weight pressing down on Steve's chest, suffocating him. Like he was a monster in the lake dragging him into the depths. And every day he would go down to his lab and just work. Because if he wasn't always pulling Steve down, maybe he could float away and kiss the ceiling. Maybe he could be better than Tony. Maybe he could fly up if Tony's bruising fingers weren't latched around Steve's ankles pulling him back down. And Tony couldn't let Steve drown anymore.
"What do you mean we're breaking up? Tony, I thought- I thought..." Steve's eyes flickered between Tony's, looking for any sign this was all just a stupid Tony joke. A joke that would seriously earn Tony a good right hook, but a joke. Anything so that this wasn't serious.
"Yeah, well, people change." And that was it. No excuses, no elaborate "haha, gotcha!" Just "people change." Tony's fingers tapped restlessly against his thigh and his cheeks were sore from where he was biting them. He could feel the muscles tensing and releasing in his legs; an unconscious act brought on by years of running away.
"No." The word was said so plainly, so matter-of-fact that it took Tony a second to fully process the meaning.
"No?" he asked. "What do you mean 'no?' You can't just do that. You can't just tell a person 'no' when they say they want to break up. Trust me, I've tried. It doesn't get you anywhere." He was doing it again, he realized. He was pushing Steve away, just like everyone else. But this time it wasn't because he was determined to save him, it was just a natural reaction. His unguarded instinct to Steve's reply was to push him away. And that was why he had to stop this before they both got hurt. Before Steve realized how much time he wasted on Tony. Before Tony realized he couldn't live without Steve anymore. Before he finally killed himself the same way his father did. With alcohol and longing for the star spangled man in his heart.
"I mean no, Tony. We are not breaking up." Steve sighed and sat down on their- on Tony's bed. The sooner he started thinking in terms of his instead of theirs, the better. Steve looked up at Tony and patted the spot next to him. Reluctantly, Tony sat, his fingers still drumming out a meaningless beat. "Now, I don't know what's going on in that fuddy-duddy head of yours, but if you could please explain your reasoning, I'm sure we can come to a decision like two grown adults." And that was just it, wasn't it? Because Steve was an adult. He made decisions based on risk and consequences. And Tony was just a scared kid, running away to hide behind his parent's legs. But his parents were both dead. And all he had to hide behind was booze and the Iron Man suit. Tony already knew his usual charms wouldn't work on Captain America.
"I just- people change, Rogers." And that got a reaction out of Steve. "I just don't feel the same way I used to. I mean, yeah it was fun while it lasted, but that's all it was- fun." Steve's eyes were still screwed up in confusion and his mouth was silently repeating what Tony had just said, as if saying it himself, tasting it on his lips would change their meaning.
"But I- Tony, I thought..."
"Well, you thought wrong. I mean," he paused, getting to his feet, back to Steve. His heart was beating a staccato one second and lifeless and cold the next. "I mean, you didn't really think this was going anywhere, right? It was just a bit of fun. And now it's over." Tony's eyes were closed. He turned and opened them, and then immediately wished he didn't. Steve was still sitting there, shoulders slumped, looking like someone just kicked his puppy and then ran over it with an SUV. He raised his eyes up to Tony's and - Jesus Christ, were those tears shining in those baby blues? - blinked slowly. His face steeled and he stood so fast, Tony nearly toppled over.
"Bullshit," Steve spat, determined steps pushing forward for every one Tony took backwards. "You don't want to break up, you giant moron. You look just as confused as I do." And this was it, wasn't it? Tony with his back against a wall. Nothing new about this situation. But then, Tony never did learn from his mistakes outside the lab. Why should he? All he's ever wanted was sex, anyway. But no, that wasn't entirely truthful.
He had wanted Pepper for more than sex. And then Steve. With Pepper, that just seemed like the next logical step. Like those high school sweethearts who get married at 24 because that just seems like what should be done. But with Steve...with Steve, it's different. With Steve, he can stay down in his lab all he wants and Steve will let him, unless there's a mission. And with Steve, he always gets surprised by the little words he uses like fuddy-duddy or swell. With Steve, he can wake up from a nightmare of that cave in the desert, sweaty and scared. And Steve won't lie there awkwardly when Tony starts crying or slip out of the bed when he pretends to fall back asleep. He won't coo and tell him everything will be all right like Pepper had done. No, Steve just rolls over and pulls him closer, kisses his ear and tells him to go back to sleep. That he can rest, because Captain America is by his side and not even God himself can rip him away. And then Tony realizes. Steve doesn't placate him, doesn't patronize him because Steve's done this before. He's woken up in the middle of the night, a scream silent and impotent on his lips and cried silently for something he can't go back and fix. And Tony finally understands.
He was never drawn to Steve because he was light or high up. He loved Steve because he was just as heavy as he was. All the baggage in the world, pulling down and suffocating. Smothering and drowning. But they could drown together. And that's when Tony had his second revelation of the night. He loved Steve Rogers. And suddenly he felt he could kiss the ceiling.