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Manage with caution

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He could feel the life slowly abandoning the body before his eyes. The heart was nothing more than a funeral march in the cold chest, and the blue of his eyes was darkened by heavy clouds of imminent death.

He couldn’t look, not really; he couldn’t stand the view of the dying man in front of him. Still, he couldn’t force himself to look away. His own heart was beating slowly in his chest, too slowly, and he couldn’t breathe. It felt like all the oxygen had been engulfed from all around him, the lump in his throat heavier and heavier by the second.

The corpses all around them vanished as if swallowed by a darkness so infinite to make the whole world disappear into nothingness, and the only thing that mattered was the look he could see in the other’s eyes. He was letting go, giving in into a pain so great to become almost blissful.

He wanted to tell him something. Maybe all the things he never told him when he still had the time. But he couldn’t.

He watched him die, right there, knowing that life wasn’t worth the effort anymore now that he was gone.

 

*

 

Tony sneaked off right after dinner.

The air was chilly outside, and a complete darkness surrounded him the very moment he abandoned the house. No city lights to make the world look like a giant neon sign in a chaotic street, no horns playing their symphony in the night, loud companions to poor wandering souls that walked the world when it pretended to be sleeping.

He missed the city. He missed New York. Mostly, he missed the familiar noises that had always made him feel comfortable, at home. He missed the Stark Tower too, and his lab, and his work; he missed the quiet of the tower when outside was pitch dark, and the corridors busy with people during the day.

Tony missed it all. And this, this farm in the middle of nowhere where the wind blowing through the trees was the only sound to be heard all night – this wasn’t what he needed.

He walked to the barn as quickly and silently as he could, leaving behind the nice and traditional family dinner the Hawk and his lovely wife had provided them. Tony wasn’t used to family dinners, the only ones he had ever had involving his father’s hard looks of disapproval and not much more.

And kids, God, Tony wasn’t used to kids. He didn’t like them much. They were noisy, and incredibly stupid, and messed up all the time. He didn’t like having children around him, and certainly he didn’t know what to do with them. Back in there, Natasha had acted like the most lovely of women, and Bruce had tried to make the kids happy by following them around and looking at their precious drawings.

Steve, well, Steve was a different matter. Children loved him (and who wouldn’t? He was Captain America, the Golden Boy the whole world worshipped), and it truly seemed like he loved them in return. He made them laugh, made them faces, and played with them as if it were the only thing that he truly cared about. He had this look in his eyes, Steve, like he couldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world, like that small house was exactly where he was supposed to be.

Tony shook those thoughts away and sneaked into the barn, closing the door behind him. On the wall to his left he found a switch, and when it clicked a dim light shone from the very centre of the room. The tractor was silent and still before him, dusty and old and neglected. He walked around it for a moment or two, taking a closer look at the rusting metal. That was something he liked, something he could understand; machineries and screws and bolts. He was good at that, it was a language he could speak. It was easy.

In a corner at the opposite side of the barn he found a metal box, and felt relaxed at the mere thought of what was ahead of him. Fixing things was what he did best – if they were mechanical. It seemed he wasn’t as good when it came down to fix something that had to do with people, where words and emotions were involved. Not that he couldn’t deal with it, Tony reminded himself; only, he couldn’t deal with it the way other people wanted him to.

People always expected him to show them something. Emotions, feelings, anger even; something that made them understand how much he cared, or how much he didn’t, how badly he wanted to fight for what he believed in.

Well, that wasn’t how he rolled. Showing wasn’t one of his best traits. Showing off was, but he doubted that really counted for something. People – normal people, people who didn’t have huge trust issues and lived their life as simply as they could – they expected him to behave exactly how they would, ignoring the little detail that, well, he couldn’t. Which was why Pepper had left him, breaking up with him before he could screw up royally for the two of them. She would never leave the company, of course, and Tony would never let her anyway, but what they had wasn’t strong enough to last, or so she thought. Not that he could disagree much, but he had always thought that if ever there was somewhere a woman who could put up with him, that was Pepper Potts.

He was wrong, and it really felt like he was wrong a lot, lately.

Tony sighed. He picked up the toolbox and carried it next to the tractor; once he cracked the bonnet open he took a look inside – yes, there it was, the problem that wouldn’t make the tractor work properly, or at all.

As he took an old screwdriver from the box to deal with some bolts that needed to be replaced, Tony managed to shut the world out of his mind. He couldn’t hear the wind anymore, nor the city noises he missed and loved so much; silence reigned around him, interrupted only from metallic screeching from time to time. He managed to shut out his thoughts too, which was exactly what he needed at the moment.

Thinking about what was going on with the world out there and how it seemed to be all his fault didn’t help him in finding a suitable and acceptable solution. If only, it made everything worse, and Tony had never been too good at dealing with guilt in his life. Anger, that was something he could use at the moment – guilt? Guilt only made him weak, thoughts streaming in his head distracting him from what it was that he could actually do to make the tables turn. Guilt had always tasted bitter to his tongue, and Tony had never liked bitter much unless it came in some sort of alcoholic form.

When the door to the barn opened with a creak, Tony didn’t hear it.

He was so focused on the engine, on finding a way to fix it quickly that he didn’t notice the footsteps approaching him, or the figure that stopped only a few feet from him, still in the dim light.

“Didn’t know you were here.”

Tony jumped a little on the spot, his fantastic bubble of silence and nothingness popping around him.

“Not much of a family guy,” he said matter-of-factly.

He heard Steve sigh, or maybe he’d just imagined it. Shadows were crawling into weird shapes inside the barn, the only company Tony had sought when he’d left the crowded house. Sometimes, all he needed was silence, that and extracting himself from the reality he knew only to drift away in a world of his own.

“Figured that much.” Steve fell silent for a few moments, as if he was thinking on what else it was that he could say.

“Yeah, well,” Tony cleared his throat. “Guess I’m a better company to this big guy, here; there’s some heavy fixing needed. I doubt anyone would mind my absence anyway.”

Tony toyed a little with a rusty screw before letting it fall into the toolbox with a click. He picked a spanner and turned it in his hands a couple of times as he eyed the engine, thoughtful.

“Tony –“

“Steve.” Tony looked up from his hands, directly into the other’s eyes. They were as blue as the ocean, with the same shades of grey that a storm would bring along. “I think I’ve had enough for one day. If you don’t mind, I’d like to go back to something I know I won’t screw up.”

He gave Steve a hard look and turned around, focusing on the engine and the engine only. He knew Steve had probably come down there to talk about the small fight they had that same afternoon, and seriously, what was there to talk about? Steve had said it loud and clear: Tony had screwed up. Again. Badly this time.

Was that everything Steve could see? Every reason he would understand? Being America’s Golden Boy did truly mean being blind to reasons that weren’t his own?

Steve saw the world in black and white, Tony knew that. Everything was either good or bad to him, no shades in between. So, that made Tony what, exactly? The bad guy? The idiot who couldn’t do anything right in his life?

Tony felt a surge of anger burning in his stomach and stretched his lips in a thin line. He didn’t need to think of what Steve probably thought of him, it didn’t make things easier or less complicated. And then again, who said Steve was right and he utterly wrong? The world was made out of shades, there wasn’t one only truth to be heard or believed; human beings were beautiful and complicated because their emotions and actions varied and nothing was ever the same.

“At least you’re capable of recognizing your own errors,” Steve spit out in a dark and icy voice, and Tony took a deep breath. He counted to ten, as Pepper had always begged him to do, and when he spoke his voice was low and as cold as the look in his eyes.

“I think we’re done here, Captain.”

Tony abandoned the toolbox and tractor to a sad, lonely night and got on his feet again, back straightened and something heavy moving in his chest. He walked as calmly as he could, his entire body aching and burning. Steve had always had this power over him, since the very day they’d met; he would say something and Tony would just find himself as angry as he’d ever been for almost no reason.

In his life, Tony had learnt soon enough not to care about other people’s opinions, to shut their voices out and spectacularly ignore them. Since day one, Steve’s voice had got under his skin and no matter how much and for how long Tony had tried to shut that out too, he had always failed. Steve’s voice was a persistent companion to his life, some sort of conscience to keep him on the wagon even when he’d find it hard not to fall off.

Steve’s voice had never hurt him much, but Steve had. His blue eyes had dug a hole inside of him and filled it with disapproval; his words had cut through his skin, sometimes to the bone, and Tony couldn’t understand why he’d let him. Maybe because Steve had always been a hero to him, maybe because Tony had grown up watching him sleep and thinking of how great a man he must be. Maybe because Steve was everything Howard ever talked about, because every time he mentioned his name a sparkle lit in his eyes – a sparkle that had never been there for him.

“This is so typical of you, isn’t it,” Steve let out as he passed him by. “You’d rather run away than face what you’ve done.”

“No, I’d rather leave before I punch you in your stupid face.”

Tony stopped a few feet away from the door. He was breathing heavily now, and felt the familiar itch under his skin – the longing for confronting Steve the only way that would actually lead somewhere, beat him up for good and erase the disapproval off his lips. Tony had always had a temper, but no one had ever been able to get on his nerves the way Steve did.

“And you think that punching me will solve anything?”

Oh, Tony knew what game Steve was playing there. It was so easy to see it now, when the sounds of battle were far away and the mask was down. Steve hated him, not as much as he used to but still; he too felt the urge to get into a fight, only he couldn’t be the one starting it, being America’s Golden Boy and everything. He couldn’t start it, but Tony could.

It was nothing but a role game, Tony realized all of a sudden. Steve and him, they both had a part to play; the virtuous and the troublemaker, it was what everyone expected from them. And Steve, oh, Steve was incredibly good at that little game of theirs. He seemed to enjoy it even, maybe a little too much.

“It will wipe off your superiority complex for a while, that’s good enough for me.”

“For Christ’ sake, Tony –“

“What, Captain?”

Tony turned around to face him, at last. He noticed Steve looked tired, and angry; his eyes were cold as stones, the usual smile gone to leave room for a stiff pose.

“You’re an asshole.”

“So I’ve been told.”

“You haven’t been told enough, apparently.”

Steve did exactly what Tony expected from him. He walked away from the barn, walked away from the fight, and when he had almost passed him by Tony grabbed his arm in an iron grip. He couldn’t let him do that, couldn’t let him leave like that.

“You think you’re better than anyone else, Rogers, but the truth is you’re not.”

“Let me go, Tony.”

“Or what?”

When the first punch hit him on the jaw, as hard as steel, Tony couldn’t say he’d seen it coming. He stumbled, shocked, cupping his jaw with his hands, giving Steve a surprised look.

Now, this was something.

Steve disentangled himself from Tony’s grip and turned his back on him. His shoulders were heavy with tension, the muscles all contracted; his hands were closed so tightly to make his knuckles whiten, but there was something else, something Tony couldn’t grasp as of now.

“Who’s the asshole now?”

Tony watched Steve stop right before he reached the door; he knew he didn’t want to fight him, but he also knew Steve enough to notice how mad he was at him and that, that was enough for Steve to give in to an easy temptation.

“You don’t wanna do this, Tony.”

“What if I do?”

Steve let out a cold chuckle. His hand was now on the door handle, long fingers closed around the old metal, but he was still there. Still standing, as if torn between the choices presented to him.

Then, he slammed the door shut.

“Then it would be no different from what you usually do,” Steve hissed as he faced him. “You’re angry now, you’re not thinking straight. Only, you’re never thinking straight, you’re too busy being impulsive to stop for a moment and think. This is how you got us in this mess in the first place, this is –“

Tony moved a step forward, then another, and another as Steve did the same. So, this was what Steve thought of him, this was everything Steve saw in him – nothing but a big asshole who had no idea what he was doing half of the time, and kept involving everyone else to clean up his messes the other half. Black or white, no shades in between. Steve never bothered to think of why people did what they did, couldn’t care of putting himself in someone else’s shoes for once in his life.

“You know nothing about –“

“What, Tony? What should I know?” Steve yelled at his face. “That you’re acting like a spoiled kid most of the time? That you act on impulses and never think about the consequences? I think I know that too –“

Tony hit him hard with a punch on the face. It almost seemed poetic, hitting Steve the way he’d hit him earlier. It definitely felt good.

Steve wiped a rivulet of blood from his broken lips and smirked coldly. When the punch hit him in the stomach, Tony felt even better.

This was something he could understand, the fight. Beating themselves up for as long as they could, until feeling so drained as not to be able to stand upright anymore. This was something Steve could understand too, and his hits were precise and incredibly powerful; it hurt, it hurt almost as much as Steve’s words, and it was good enough for Tony.

With a hook Steve sent Tony flying across the room. His whole body ached from the impact, and for a moment Tony wondered what would it feel like if Steve wouldn’t hold himself like that. Would it hurt more? Would it be enough to nearly kill him?

As he got up and stumbled back towards Steve, Tony couldn’t help but notice how badly they needed that. The events of the past few days had left them all cranky, and scared; there was a rush of adrenaline running together with their blood, running down their spines in an electric shiver that made them feel more alive than they’d ever been.

“Face it, Tony,” Steve said, breathless. “This is the biggest screw-up of it all. Haven’t you had enough? Aren’t you tired of –“

Tony never knew what he was supposed to be tired of, as he charged Steve and knocked him down, gifting him with a hail of punches that took his breath away for what seemed like forever.

“What I’m tired of is people judging my every move as if they were good enough to do that.”

Tony spat a mix of blood and saliva and got off Steve’s body as if electrified. He managed to stand up, unstable, and shook Steve a look full of burning rage. He couldn’t stand the one in Steve’s eyes now, he couldn’t even bare to look at the man, blood running from the wounds on his eyebrow and lip. For a moment, Tony saw Steve all suited up, still on the ground; he closed his eyes shut and shook his head, as if that was enough to chase the vision away. He already knew it couldn’t, for the vision had been tormenting him for days now, taking his breath away every night.

“Then tell me,” Steve whisper reached him, breaking the vision in two. “Tell me why you do it, Tony. Tell me why you keep behaving like you don’t care at all.”

Was that what Steve thought? That he didn’t care? Didn’t he care enough to save the stupid world once? Didn’t he care enough to make the world a better place for anyone to live in? Didn’t he care enough to want to be ready in case something bigger than them all happened?

“I saw you die.”

Tony grabbed Steve by his shirt and lifted him upright, slamming him against the wall.

“I saw the others dead,” he hissed. “I was the only one there to watch you die, Rogers. The one who got to feel your last breath, the one who had to shut your eyes closed forever because we had to face something that not even the Earth mightiest heroes were capable of saving this sickening world from.”

Tell me I don’t care.

Tony lowered his head and closed his eyes, his hands still on Steve’s shoulders.

“I watched you die, and I knew I could’ve prevented it from happening.”

When Tony opened his eyes again and looked up, the expression on Steve’s face surprised him. It was confused, astonished, but there was something more; anger, maybe? An urgency that Tony had never seen painted in those deep blues, something so different from the disappointment he was getting used to.

“You never –“

“I never what? Told you?” Tony let out a cold laugh but didn’t move away. “You think that would’ve made any difference? Let’s face it, Steve; you disapprove of me, of my methods, and I get it. I do. But sometimes, just sometimes, try to think about what it is that moves people, common people, people who don’t divide the world exclusively in good or bad like you do.”

Tony freed Steve from his grip; he lifted his hands and shook his head as he started to laugh almost uncontrollably. There wasn’t anything funny in what he’d just told Steve, anything at all; still, he couldn’t seem to stop. He then realized that maybe, just maybe, Steve was shocked from the vision Wanda had given him, just like he was. Maybe Steve hadn’t seen anything as catastrophic as he had, maybe hadn’t seen any of them dead and the thought that Tony did upset him.

“Tony.”

Tony stepped back, still laughing, still thinking. Steve was probably right anyway – vision or not, he didn’t seem to act as any other grown up would; he didn’t seem to think of consequences when he most definitely should, he had been doing that his whole life and was just now realizing that maybe, maybe that wasn’t exactly the way to go.

Oh, Howard would be so ashamed of him. Tony was nothing but a big disappointment to everyone, and to his father most of all. Howard was so different, so… thoughtful, and careful, full of integrity and moral values. Steve had probably expected to find in him the same man, so was his disappointment really so unjustified?

“Tony, it’s okay.”

Truth was, it wasn’t. It wasn’t okay for him to screw up, even if dictated by fear; it wasn’t okay he’d built one of the worst threats the world would ever face only because he got scared.

When Steve put his arms around him and held tight, Tony struggled to get free. He didn’t want Steve to see him like that, like the scared man he was; he couldn’t allow Steve to think him weak, it was even worse than having him think of him as an asshole. Steve had always been the fearless one, the strongest of them all maybe, and Tony had felt inadequate before him, just like he’d felt inadequate before his father.

“Steve, let go,” Tony whispered angrily as the laughter from only a moment before died in his throat. “Let go of me, now.”

“I’m not going to.”

Steve’s arms were like an iron trap around him, and Tony hated him. He hated him because Steve was the most righteous man he’d ever met, because he knew exactly what to do all the fucking time; he hated him because Steve’s eyes were so full of compassion, and Tony felt as naked as a man would ever be. Steve was looking at everything that Tony had always concealed from the world and didn’t seem impressed; if only, he looked like he truly couldn’t let go, couldn’t let Tony run away with his weakness and his shame.

Tony felt his body shake with rage and he pushed Steve as hard as he could, throwing him back to the wall. Steve’s body hit the wood with a loud thud and a crack, and Tony followed him only to slam him against the wood harder.

“I’m not the only one who needs to learn when it’s time to follow orders, Rogers.”

Tony stared into his eyes, breathing heavily as Steve did the same. They stayed like that for what seemed like a second, or maybe a lifetime, and Tony couldn’t physically move away. He was drawn to Steve, to his body, bound still from the look in his eyes; there was something hypnotising in them, something that made Tony forget about why he wanted to get as far away from Steve as he could.

“Try as you might, Tony, but I’m not going back to this.” Steve grabbed his wrist and tugged at him as to emphasise his words. “I’m not going back to call us names, I’m not going back to be that disassembled bunch of people Fury put together. This is what Ultron wants. We are a team, Tony, so just start acting like it. You don’t have to do this alone, that’s why we’re here for – why I’m here for.”

Tony tried to pull away, but he knew he lacked conviction. Deep down, he felt Steve was right – was that man ever wrong in his life? He knew Ultron wanted to divide them before breaking them up, extinct them.

And Steve, oh, Steve was right there, warm body against his own, eyes as big as the moon that shone outside, and he was asking him to trust him. Steve was silently asking him to be the man the Avengers needed, to become that man because he himself needed it badly. No more fear holding him back, making him act like an idiot. They would get through it together, or die together in the attempt, as Steve had told him.

Tony felt his own heart accelerating its beats until it was but a furious drums trying to break free from his chest.

When Tony kissed him it was rough and desperate, as if he wanted to find in Steve an anchor that would keep him grounded; it was unexpected, or so it felt like, and when Steve opened his mouth to him Tony pushed himself against him hard. He closed his eyes and felt one of Steve’s hands running up to his hips, gently touching the skin under the t-shirt; the hand that was wrapping his wrist finally let go and Tony felt it on his neck, thumb rubbing his Adam’s apple while fingers massaged the back of his head.

Tony didn’t realize Steve had made room for him between his legs until he found himself rubbing his crotch against the Captain’s. Tony pushed harder and Steve sighed in his mouth, all soft lips and hot breath, and Tony had never felt this hot before. He had never longed for anyone else’s warmth the way he longed for Steve’s, and it felt like he would die if he’d only let him go.

“Tony –“

Tony didn’t really want to open his eyes now, he didn’t want to face the look in Steve’s. He didn’t want to face the fact he was still kissing him, and less of all he wanted to think of what consequences that kiss might led to.

“Tony, you’re angry – you –“

When Tony parted from the softest lips he’d ever kissed and looked at Steve in the eyes, he found exactly what he had expected to find. Confusion. Regret. Steve had been regretting that kiss since his lips had opened for his tongue to violate, Tony knew that; he knew what he’d just done was stupid, and would’ve probably cost him his place in the Avengers if only Fury had found out, and really? What was he thinking? Did he ever think at all?

This was exactly what Steve was talking about, him acting exclusively on impulses without thinking straight like everyone else. So, this made the kiss what? Another screw-up?

“Don’t tell me I don’t know what I’m doing, Rogers,” he said in a low, angry voice. “Don’t you ever tell me that. I may do some stupid things, but I always know what I’m doing. Do you?”

The look in Steve’s eyes gave him all the answers he needed, and Tony stormed off without even looking back.

 

*

 

The following day, Tony managed to avoid Steve for almost most of the time.

Fury had called them all in for a briefing to decide what was the best curse of action to take, and they had listened to him carefully, suggesting ideas and heating up pretty quickly when finding themselves at loggerheads.

During those few hours they had had to spend together Tony had felt Steve’s eyes on him, burning a hole through the clothes and skin. He hadn’t looked back at him, nor had he spoken to him directly – and how could he, after what he’d done the night before?

The feeling of Steve’s hot lips against his had haunted him all night, depriving him from the few hours of sleep that awaited. Tony couldn’t blank out the feeling of Steve’s hands caressing him, big yet incredibly gentle, and he definitely couldn’t wipe out the hot explosion that had burst into his lower body when their erections had rubbed together in the most electrifying friction.

Tony had tried to forget all about it, to forget the kiss ever happened – and he’d failed. He had been dreaming of Captain America since he was but a young and troubled boy, since the very first time he had seen his sleeping body under a glass case. He had grown up thinking of the muscles showing under the suit, dreaming of what hid behind the closed eyelids.

Captain America had been one of Tony’s first wet dreams, and he’d got to kiss him. That was something anyone would hardly forget.

But Steve, Tony was sure Steve didn’t actually mean to kiss him back. It had all happened because of the adrenaline, blood furiously pumping in their veins making them both act on electric impulses and not much more.

Steve had looked at him the way someone would look down at some poor disenchanted bloke, and Tony had seen the pity in his eyes. He didn’t need it, and he definitely didn’t want it; if he was to kiss someone, and that someone was to kiss him back, Tony had always believed it had to happen because the two of them wanted it, not because someone pitied him so badly as to let him kiss them.

Tony had skipped breakfast, attended Fury’s meeting and skipped lunch. He’d gone walking through the woods, but the dead silence around him hadn’t made him feel any better; so he’d got back to the house and to the barn where he knew no one would have disturbed him.

The day passed without him noticing; the sky turned from pastel blue to a darker one, shaded of purple and pink as the sun slowly went down beyond the horizon. The air, warm and soft during the day, became chilly and hard all around him, and when the sky was nothing more than a black blanket dotted with stars Tony decided it was time for him to go back inside.

Dinner was over, the house silent. Only a lamp was lit in the small living room and shades moved in the dark corners; the atmosphere was warm and cosy, and Tony wasn’t used to it. His tower was huge and hi-tech, the lights there cold and aseptic. This was different, familiar in ways Tony had never believed possible. It made him feel at home.

“You can’t sleep either, uh?”

Tony turned around quickly and relaxed when he saw Bruce stepping through the kitchen door. He shrugged as he walked towards him and they sat at the wooden table.

“Always had trouble sleeping,” he said lightly. “How about you?”

“I can hear Thor snoring from my room.”

“That bad, eh?”

Bruce chuckled and nodded.

“That bad,” he said softly, a shade of fondness in his voice. “How about a hot cocoa? Might help us sleep.”

“It might,” Tony shrugged. “It’s worth a try.”

He watched Bruce getting up and reaching the fridge, emerging with a jar of fresh milk in his hand; he took two mugs from the upper cupboard and a jar of cocoa powder from the bottom one.

Tony observed, almost hypnotized, how Bruce mixed the powder with the milk, adding some more when he thought it wasn’t enough. He then placed the mugs in the microwave, and Tony found the buzz incredibly soothing. It almost made him forget what it was that was afflicting him.

“Hot cocoa for the Man of Iron,” Bruce said as he placed the mug in front of him, mocking Thor’s pompous tone. “Wanna tell me what’s going on?”

“You should at least buy me a drink first,” Tony smirked.

“I just got you one.”

“I meant, an alcoholic one.”

“Tony.”

Bruce looked at him the way he would have looked at a stubborn child; his eyes were kind but firm, a strong resolution lighting them up with a live sparkle.

“Is it because of the fight you had with Steve?”

Tony almost chocked on his chocolate. He gave Bruce a shocked look, then switched to a diffident one.

“What do you know of –“

“Clint’s wife told us she interrupted a little something yesterday, when she came to you for help with the tractor,” Bruce explained quietly. “I thought the little something meant fight, knowing you two.”

“Well, we have our differences.” Tony sipped his hot drink, trying not to look as guilty and deceiving as he was feeling. “There’s nothing to worry about.”

“Oh,” Bruce let out softly. “So you and Steve will get back to normal instead of avoiding each other like you did today?”

“What are you – we’re not –“

“If you don’t wanna talk about it, it’s fine,” Bruce smiled. “But everybody noticed, just so you know. And Steve looked pretty down today, if you ask me.”

“I didn’t ask you, but thanks for the hot tip.”

“Anytime.” Bruce stood up once again and took his mug in his hands, enjoying the warmth. “Guess I’ll go back to sleep. You should too, there are lots of things in store for tomorrow.”

“Yeah, sure. G’night, Banner.”

“Good night.”

Tony heard Bruce’s footsteps up the stairs, and the kitchen was silent once again.

Of course, the others had noticed there was something wrong with him and Steve. They weren’t stupid, and they had been around each other for enough time now to get to notice things like those.

The brief period they had spent living together had taught them all a lot about each other; what they liked, what they didn’t, their habits, everything that there was to know really. And if he had at first perceived the unavoidable cohabitation, well, Tony had soon got used to it. It had felt nice having someone else in the upper part of the tower for a change, and if there had been some trouble adapting they had all overcome it.

Whatever it was that there was between him and Steve had slowly changed before their eyes; they started jumping less at each other’s throat and started talking instead, and it felt nice. Steve, Tony had found out, was as righteous and inflexible as he seemed, but there was more. He was a quiet, reserved guy who like drawing and spending time alone; he was funny when trying to get the grip on some new piece of technology, and their nights in had been brightened by his small talks and smiles.

And now there they were, back to something Tony didn’t even have a name for. It wasn’t hate, not anymore; dislike, maybe? That too didn’t seem to quite fit the description. Then what was it? Tony couldn’t say.

On his account, he had never truly hated Steve, not even for a moment. True, the guy got on his nerves pretty easily, but he didn’t hate him. He found him a little bit obnoxious, and there had been days when Tony had found hard to be in the same room as him, but it was never hate. The problem was, Tony knew Steve enough to know what he was thinking of him, and it drove him mad. He could bare everyone else thinking him a douchebag, but for some reasons he couldn’t bare it if Steve did it, not after all they had been through together.

And the disappointment, oh, the disappointment in Steve’s eyes had the incredible power of making Tony burn from the inside out. Which led him back to the kiss.

Since he could remember, Tony had always wanted to kiss Steve. Then he’d met the guy, and some days he had just wanted to strangle him with his bare hands, but still; the desire of kissing him had never really left him, even if he knew how wrong that would have been.

Tony had never imagined Steve would’ve kissed him back though, and this was extremely confusing. Maybe they just – no, this was stupid. It had all happened because of the adrenaline, there was no doubt, and maybe they just needed to talk about it not to make everything worse. Maybe they needed to work things out and that was the end of it.

But what if –

“Didn’t know you were here.”

“Feels like history is repeating itself, Captain.”

Tony didn’t need to look up from his suddenly interesting cocoa to feel Steve’s presence. He never had. Every time Steve walked into a room he just felt it, a change in the air, electricity making the hair on the back of his neck raise; it was as if the air would warm up all around him and some imperceptible chemicals kicked in.

“Do you want me to go?”

“Do I have any say in that?”

Tony felt Steve shaking his head without having to look at him. He felt his footsteps approach him, then a chair creaked as Steve pulled it and sat down in front of him.

“Maybe you do.”

“Look, Rogers, if this has to do with –“

“I’m not being compassionate here, Tony,” Steve cut him off, and when Tony looked up he found a look of resolution in his light blue eyes. “I’m not saying it’s up to you out of compassion, or pity.”

“Then why are you doing it?” Tony asked in a provocative tone. He didn’t expect Steve’s eyes to darken the way they did, nor had he expected to see the expression on his face change so suddenly. He looked lost, and maybe a little scared.

“Because I don’t know what to do.”

“What do you mean you don’t know what to do?” Tony asked. “Of course you know what to do, Steve. You always do.”

“Not this time.”

Steve let out a sad laugh and lowered his eyes. He stared at his hands, crossed on the table, for what felt like an infinite amount of time, and Tony didn’t know what to do either. Steve looked so down, and so confused, and maybe for the first time in his life he really had no idea of how to go from there.

“I’m not following.”

“Really, Tony?” Steve finally looked back at him and raised an eyebrow. “We fight, you kiss me, then run away. Should I really be the one knowing what to do now?”

Tony shifted on his chair, uncomfortable. Steve wasn’t so wrong, was he? After all, Steve wasn’t the one who’d put them in that hell of a situation in the first place, it was only fair for him to be confused from it all.  

“I didn’t mean to,” he said in a low voice.

“You didn’t mean to kiss me?”

Tony shook his head slowly. No, that wasn’t the point. Maybe he hadn’t meant to kiss him like that, but he knew the kiss was going to happen eventually. No, what he hadn’t meant was to act like a douche and leave Steve without an explanation; what he hadn’t meant was to run away like a kid and hide just because too scared to analyse what was really going on there.

“I didn’t mean to take it out on you like that,” Tony almost whispered. “I didn’t mean to get you into a fight. Or maybe I meant that, because I was angry and tired and I needed it badly, but I didn’t mean to mess things up again.”

“And the kiss?” Steve asked with something new in his voice, something Tony had never heard before. “Did you mean that or was it just collateral damage that made you run?”

Tony sighed. For a moment he tried to think of something, something he could tell Steve to explain how things really were, but fear blocked his voice as if there was something heavy stuck in his throat; his guts turned into stones, and Tony took a deep breath and counted to ten before saying anything.

“I meant that,” he said slowly. “Maybe I didn’t mean it to happen the way it did, but I meant that.”

“And the running away part?”

“That was me being scared,” Tony let out with a small laugh. “I saw the look in your eyes and I just, I don’t know, I lost it. I thought I’d just messed up again, seems like I can’t do anything else really.”

Tony abandoned his long forgotten mug on the table and stood up, hands rubbing his tired eyes and temples. If this was what being a grown up meant, well, he didn’t like it; he didn’t like the fact he had to face his actions, and most importantly, he didn’t like the fact he had to face Steve and talk about last night. It made him nervous, all that grown-up talks, and it scared the hell out of him. Did people really do that all the time? How? It was exhausting.

“What look do you think you saw, Tony?” Steve asked, urgency clear in his voice. “What scared you so much?”

As he felt Steve getting closer, Tony walked to the centre of the living room; he fell ungraciously on the old sofa and closed his eyes for a moment. It wasn’t what he thought he saw, it was what truly lay in the deep of Steve’s eyes that had scared him.

“Tony, what –“

“Regret,” he cut him off as he looked at him, still in front of him. “Regret, Steve, that’s what I saw. Confusion. Mostly, I saw what could have been the end of me as an Avenger.”

Steve shook him an incredulous look, all big eyes and lips slightly opened in shock.

“That’s what you thought?” he asked as he too fell on the sofa with a humph of the fluffy cushions. “Dammit, Tony.”

“Language, Captain,” Tony replied almost inadvertently, and chuckled. He rested his head against the couch and sighed softly.

I let you kiss me, Stark.”

“Yeah, I know that.”

“Do you think I let you do that just because you were angry?”

Tony didn’t know what to think anymore. He turned his head to face Steve, and the smile he found on his lips came unexpected. Steve was smiling, and he was definitely on the verge of laughing his ass off; his eyes were bright and sparkly in the dim light, and he wasn’t pissed. Which alone was something Tony hadn’t even hoped for.

“Tony, do you seriously think I’d let anyone kiss me out of the blue and for no apparent reason?” Steve asked again, and Tony shrugged.

“You might, if you were in the mood.”

Steve punched him in the arm with no real conviction.

“I haven’t kissed anyone in more than seventy years, Stark, how about that?”

“You definitely weren’t in the mood.”

“Tony.”

His name came out of Steve’s lips like an admonishment of some sort, and Tony had the decency to shut up and cut the crap. Steve was right, the situation required seriousness and thoughtfulness, he couldn’t just go back to being his usual idiotic self, even if that made everything easier.

“Right,” he sighed. “What’s your point, Rogers?”

“You don’t get it, do you?” Steve smiled. “Like, for real. You seriously don’t get it.”

“If you’re done insulting my intelligence, Rogers, I’d like to –“

“I let you kiss me because I wanted to,” Steve half-whispered, half-smiled. “I definitely didn’t think it might happen like that, with the punching and everything –“

“You sent me flying across the room, Rogers,” Tony mumbled, offended. When Steve laughed, he had to stop himself from punching him in the stupid face.

Then he realized what Steve had just said.

“You wanted to?” Tony asked as if he couldn’t really trust his brain with registering the right words.

Steve blushed like a fifteen year old, and Tony was surprised when he didn’t feel the need to mock him for that. He felt the urge to take Steve’s face in his hands and make him look at him instead.

“Well,” Steve said. “I guess I did. Look, it’s true, I used to think you were a brat, and I thought you were incredibly full of yourself, but… I don’t know, when Fury got us all to stay in the tower with you, you weren’t as much of an asshole after all. And I thought it was nice, talking to you without barking at each other, and maybe I started seeing you under a different light.”

“Are you admitting you have a crush on me, Rogers?” Tony asked, unable to stop himself, and got a homicidal look in return. Not that he didn’t deserve it.

“All I’m saying is, I didn’t mind the kiss too much.”

“But you did mind the circumstances in which it occurred,” Tony clarified, and the look in Steve’s eyes seemed to confirm it. “So, let’s say it happened differently. Let’s say I was to, I don’t know, kiss you now. No fighting involved. Would you mind that?”

Steve smiled, a shy smile that make something move inside of Tony’s chest.

“I don’t think I would.”

“Cool.”

Tony moved as slowly as he could, and the small distance between them felt enormous and almost non-existent at the same time; he was so close to Steve now as to feel his breath on his own lips, hot and short as his own. He couldn’t look away from him, eyes tied down to Steve’s as if they were under hypnosis of some sort.

The kiss was slow, and delicate. Lips brushing and soft smiles distracting them, and Steve’s hands ran to the back of his neck, solid and warm and reassuring; Tony cupped Steve’s face in one of his hands while keeping himself up with the other, and when he as much as licked Steve’s lips those opened to his touch, begging for more.

“So, this is okay?” Tony asked, short breathed. He felt Steve’s body arch against his own when he lazily bit the soft skin under his jaw where a trace of beard was starting to show, only to then kiss it softly.

“Very. Very okay.”

Tony smirked as he placed wet kisses on Steve’s neck and clavicle. Steve moved on the couch that creaked underneath, and Tony had pretty much no idea of how it happened, but he didn’t mind finding himself in between Steve’s thighs.

“How about this?”

Tony rubbed himself against Steve and stole him a low growl.

“Definitely okay.”

Tony felt Steve’s hands caressing his body frantically, down his torso to his back, and when Steve grabbed him by the ass only to pull him closer Tony groaned and did what he had been silently asked. He went back to kissing Steve’s mouth, which involved a lot of tongue and teeth clattering and some biting, too; his hands ran down Steve’s body only to find the hem of his t-shirt and pull it up, feeling the hot skin underneath.

“And this?”

Tony’s fingers ran to the buckle of Steve’s belt and undid it quickly, taking care of the zip not a moment later. He abandoned Steve’s mouth and placed kisses and bites on his abdomen as he slowly lowered himself to the elastic hem of his underwear.

“Fuck, Tony.”

“Is this a request?”

Tony smirked as he freed Steve’s erection from the constriction of his jeans, and when he licked it through the cotton underwear Steve cursed under his breath. He quickly pulled down the fastidious piece and faced Steve’s dick, hard already; Tony took him in his mouth without a second thought, and one of Steve’s hands ran to grab the back of his neck while the other convulsively squeezed the innocent sofa.

Tony felt Steve’s dick on the back of his throat and kept on pumping it inside his mouth while Steve tossed his head back and shut his eyes closed.

“God, Tony.”

Tony smirked as he let go of his dick and started to lick its full length, going down to lick his balls too. When he took it in his mouth again, Tony knew Steve was already too close; the tip of his dick was wet with pre-come, the muscles in his thighs tense.

Tony went back to licking every piece of Steve he could, placing kisses on his inner thighs.

“I wanna fuck you so bad,” he muttered as he unzipped his own jeans and started caressing his own erection. He needed to come, and he was gonna come hard.

“Do it,” Steve moan reached him. “Do it now.”

Tony looked up from his comfortable spot and in Steve’s eyes he saw determination and lust. He almost moaned at the mere thought of fucking him and stroked himself harder, feeling already a familiar warmth invading his lower stomach.

“Turn around.”

Tony moved back as much as needed for Steve to shift position on the couch, and when he did, giving him a perfect visual of his firm ass, Tony bit his lips hard not to come there and then. He started kissing Steve’s neck instead, slowly moving down to his spine and back; when he reached the ass, Tony abandoned the self-pleasuring to gently pull Steve’s butt cheeks apart. He started kissing his hole and wetted it while he penetrated him with his tongue.

Steve pushed himself against him, and Tony presented him with a finger that Steve promptly took in his mouth. If that was what it felt like having Captain America giving you a blow-job, Tony wanted to try that and die happy. He inserted a second finger in Steve’s mouth, and after a few moments retrieved his hand. Fingers wet with saliva, Tony pushed one inside of Steve and started rubbing his now free erection against his back.

“Tony –“

“Hush,” Tony murmured into Steve’s ear as he licked his earlobe and penetrated him with a second finger. “You’re so tight.”

“Not a porcelain doll, Stark,” Steve groaned against the couch arm. “Do it.”

Tony felt the urgency in Steve’s voice, and he too couldn’t wait any longer. He had nothing at hand to prepare him for the intrusion that would definitely cause him pain, but Steve was so heated up already and didn’t want to wait. So he spat in his hand while he kept on fingering Steve with the other, and he started stroking himself again, slowly. He wasn’t wetted enough to slide easily into Steve, but the saliva had to do for now.

“Tony –“

Tony lowered his own jeans and underwear to his knees and positioned between Steve’s legs, pushing one of his knees up as to get a better angle. He removed his finger from him and pulled himself inside of Steve instead, as slowly as he could; as soon as the tip of his dick got inside he felt Steve tense around him, and he started masturbating him slowly while breathing softly into his ear.

“Relax,” he whispered. “I don’t wanna hurt you.”

Steve was breathing heavily, but tried to release the tension in his body as he was asking; he took a deep breath and exhaled, once, twice, until his muscles slowly relaxed and Tony tried pushing himself further inside. Steve was hot and tight around him, and that alone would have made him come if he hadn’t mastered self-control like he had.

“It’s okay,” he whispered, placing a gentle kiss on Steve’s temple. “It’s okay, just relax.”

Steve breathed deeply once again, then moved backwards to meet Tony’s body.

“More,” he let out, and Tony did as asked. He kept on pushing, as slowly and delicately as he could, ignoring the tightness of Steve’s body, and before he could think of anything else he was inside of him completely, taking Steve’s breath away.

Tony waited still for a while, getting used to the warmth around his dick and giving Steve time to get used to the intrusion, but Steve, all gritting teeth and heavy breathing, wanted more and started moving his ass back and forth.

So Tony thrust inside of him, slowly but firmly, and Steve kept pushing back to meet his thrusts halfway.

“God, Steve.”

“Fuck me.”

Tony’s thrusts became more confident and deeper, Steve’s moans everything he could hear in the dead of the night. Their bodies moved together in a perfect synch, and Tony felt Steve’s dick twitch in his hand as the pre-come slowly turned into more dense sperm.

“Fuck my hand,” Tony whispered, and Steve didn’t need to be asked twice. He started thrusting into his hand while Tony keep fucking him, and it took Steve only a couple of more thrusts to give in to the orgasm that shook his whole body from head to toe.

Tony kept stroking him gently until the orgasm washed away, and slowly pulled himself up, not truly ready to abandon Steve’s warmth.

“Don’t,” Steve whispered as he grabbed his hips firmly, his voice as shaky as his body. “Come inside.”

Tony kissed the back of his neck and kept on moving inside of him, slowly and deeply, until the familiar thrill shook him whole. When he came, he came hard, and the world around him blurred for a little while, a spiral of colours and sounds and whispers; he pushed himself out from Steve’s body and fell upon him, sweated and breathless.

Time passed before Steve started to gently shift beneath him, and Tony moved away only to let him fall into a more confortable position; Steve lay on his back again, pulling his jeans up and doing the same to Tony’s, then pulled Tony in for a languid wet kiss. He didn’t seem to mind when Tony positioned himself between his legs again, head resting against his neck.

 

*

 

Tony opened his eyes to daylight and an annoying voice the following morning.

“If you guys did what I think you did, I’m gonna burn that couch and replace it asap.”

Tony showed Clint the finger and kissed a very embarrassed Steve good morning. He couldn’t care less about the Hawk’s sofa or the state in which he and Steve were; life was too short to waste it, and he didn’t even know if they would come back after engaging with Ultron.

“Next time, I’m gonna fuck you on his kitchen table,” he muttered on Steve’s lips as he kissed him again, deeply, and yawned loudly while the smell of freshly made coffee regained his brain cells some vitality.