Tony makes it to the end of the road before he stops the car right in the middle of the street. He sits there for a couple of minutes, staring blankly through the windshield. It's a beautiful sunny day, bright enough that he can blame the sudden wetness in his eyes on the fact that he forgot his sunglasses. His fingers start to ache and he realized, somewhat belatedly, that his grip on the steering wheel is so tight that his knuckles have gone white.
In front of him lies a drive to the airport, followed by a short flight back to the city, and then another drive back to the tower. The empty tower. Pepper won't be there, because she moved out months ago after she caught him building another Iron Man suit, and their relationship fizzled back into an awkward friendship not long after. And now JARVIS won't be there either.
He'll just... be alone.
The idea is paralyzing, crippling in its intensity. He's never been alone in the tower before. JARVIS has always been there, even if Pepper wasn't. He's always known that JARVIS would be on his side, supporting him, never betraying him, because JARVIS wasn't human, but he was loyal and amazing and this feels like the worst sort of punishment that anyone could've come up with.
If this is what God - or the gods, who even knows at this point - has dreamed up as atonement for his part in creating Ultron and Vision, then fuck them all. Tony wants no part of it.
He shuts his eyes and leans forward, drawing in too quick, sharp breaths. He can't go back to New York. He just... can't. If he walks into the tower and has to listen to the silence, to the emptiness, then he's going to kill himself. No one will know, he'll just drown himself in whiskey and vodka until the pain stops and his body can't take it anymore (because the hurt is so jagged, so visceral, that it would only stop when his body shuts down) and it ends.
Tony can see the headlines now. And it's tempting, it really is, because no one has ever accused him of being a selfless man. At the same time, he knows he has to atone for his part in what happened. It's his fault. He carries the blood of all those people on his hands. Somehow, he needs to make up for it, and he knows where he needs to start. There's loss, but then there's punishment.
His body acts of its own accord, wrenching the steering wheel to the side, foot slamming down on the gas. The car shrieks as it spins around, two tires leaving the pavement for a split second. Tony speeds the whole back to the facility, delighting in the shock stares his approach garners. He slams to a stop, throws the door open and gets out, stalking back inside.
There's no need to ask where the rest - other Avengers are. Tony is drawn to them, and he finds them immediately. Rhodey, Sam, Wanda, Vision, and Natasha are all listening while Steve rattles off a lecture about how important team cohesiveness is. Ironic, really, considering everything that they just went through, because the kindest thing that could be said about their team is that they haven't tried to kill each other in the past two days.
Natasha spots him first, of course, and her eyes widen just a little. Wanda's head pops up a second later, and then Vision. Rhodey, Sam and Steve all have their backs to him, but Rhodey and Sam still catch on first. By the time they've turned around, Steve's realized that no one is paying attention to him. He starts to turn. Tony gets there first and helps him, fisting his hands in Steve's suit and smashing their mouths together.
Steve makes a startled sound, a sort of "gumony?" that is probably supposed to be Tony's name. Tony is beyond caring. He kisses harder, pouring months worth of ignored sexual frustration into that one kiss, until Steve gets the damn memo and starts kissing back. His hands start on Tony's hips before sliding up, ghosting across his ribs.
"Aw man, I didn't need to see this," Sam complains. "That's just - ow!"
The yelp is enough to make Steve jerk away, the material of his suit slithering through Tony's grasping fingers. Wanda is blushing. Vision is already walking away, and doesn't that still make Tony's heart twist. Rhodey is staring hard at Tony. Natasha has Sam's ear in a - Tony knows from experience - grip that is vice tight.
"When Mom and Dad finally start to make up, you do not interrupt," Natasha said, her voice sweet with an edge of scary. "Weren't you listening to the lecture? Team cohesiveness is important." She starts walking towards the door, hauling Sam along with her. "Come on, Wanda."
Still eyeing Steve and Tony with eyes that are a bit too interested for Tony's taste, Wanda trails after them. Rhodey hesitates, still staring at Tony. "You okay, man?"
"I'm fine," Tony says. It must not come out right, judging from the identical looks of concern. He shoves down the rising tide of emotions and forces a smile. "Steve and I have some unfinished business, that's all."
"Right," Rhodey says, clearly skeptical. "Does this have anything to do with you and Pepper breaking up?"
"You and Pepper broke up?" Steve repeats, his eyebrows shooting up, and right behind it is a touch of hurt and maybe even annoyance that here is something else that Tony has kept secret, even if it doesn't directly relate to the Avengers.
Tony can work with this. He goes for a flippant shrug. "Peppie Pie and I decided to go our separate ways," he says, even though that's not really what happened. More like Pepper yelled at him for a while, packed her stuff and jumped ship while Tony was still sitting frozen in his lab like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar.
Rhodey's eyes narrow even further. "Are you sure you're okay?"
"I have never been better," Tony lies. "You're welcome to stay for proof, but you may see more than you wanted to." He starts to reach for the hem of his shirt and Rhodey balks.
"Whoa, no, I saw enough of that in university," he complains, hands held up. "I'm going." And in less than a minute, the room is empty except for him and Steve.
"Tony," Steve says. "What are you doing? I thought you left."
"I did. I came back. Like I said, we've got unfinished business."
"I'm not following."
"I distinctly recall someone promising to show me their dark side."
"I didn't -"
"You said I hadn't seen it yet," Tony says, because he remembers that conversation word for word. That, and the image of Steve splitting woods with his bare hands, is seared into his memory forever. "So come on, Cap. Show me your dark side."
Steve just looks at him, and Tony huffs with frustration. He takes initiative, reaching for Steve again, inwardly relieved when Steve doesn't back away or push him off. There's a moment when they're inches apart, then centimeters, their eyes connecting with a delicious tension, and Tony's not sure who closes the last fragment of space. All he knows is that suddenly Steve is kissing him ruthlessly.
It's harsh, a far cry from the sweeter kisses he used to share with Pepper, but Tony surges to meet it. He bites at Steve's mouth aggressively, thrilled when Steve gets with the program and starts biting back. Their teeth click together and Steve growls, twisting his head to the side and sprinkling kisses across Tony's cheek, jaw, then latching on with teeth. It burns and Tony yelps.
But he can feel it, the sting sparking past the pain in his chest, and that's good. He arches, rubbing his body against Steve, pleased to feel something hard against his belly. Sometimes he noticed Steve watching him, but it was hard to tell whether or not Steve was interested. For a man who has a shitty poker face during actual games, Steve has the annoying ability to know how to look neutral when it matters.
Tony's not hard, but he doesn't need to be, not when he knows how to grind just right. Steve's moan echoes through his ear and that really makes Tony's blood sing; he wants to hear more of that right fucking now. So he turns his head and bites down hard on the side of Steve's throat, harder than he would with anyone else, until Steve's breath stutters and his fingers press too tight into Tony's hips.
"Tony, that's -"
"This isn't dark, this isn't even the sun behind the clouds," Tony says, squirming free. He likes the way Steve looks at him, especially when he pulls his shirt off. The scars from where the arc reactor used to be stand out, but Steve's eyes skate right past them.
"You don't know what you're asking for," Steve says finally.
"Then why don't you show me?" Tony counters, dropping his jeans and turns around, eyes Steve over his shoulders as he slowly inches his boxers down. Anyone could see them, but Tony's been seen in worse.
He needs this, needs this punishment, and then it will be better.
Steve's throat makes a clicking sound when he swallows, his gaze locked on Tony's ass. The arousal on his face is tangible, like he wants to devour Tony whole. Tony would let him. He shakes his ass a bit, sinking down to the ground and pushing his ass out in offering. Wants it to happen raw and fast until it swallows everything else in his head and he can emerge out the other side.
"Fuck," Steve breathes, and then he pounces. Sharp bites just this side of too painful are dragged up and down Tony's back while he squirms. "I've thought about this so many times, Tony."
"Just do it, Steve."
"I don't have -"
"I'm clean, and you can't catch anything anyway," Tony points out, impatient, rocking his hips back. Steve moans again.
"Lube, Tony. I don't have lube."
"It's fine. I'm ready."
There's pressure between his ass cheeks, and for a shining second he thinks that Steve's taken him at his word. Then he realizes that the pressure is just Steve's fingertips, probing to see if he's slick, when it abruptly disappears.
"I'm not fucking you without lube."
"Just wait here a minute, I'll be right -"
Tony sits up, feeling cold all over, plan in ruins at his feet, twitchy like he wants to jump out of his skin. He's not going to sit here while Steve goes in search of lube and then preps him; that's too much like what he wants, it's a reward, not the punishment he's craving. So he'll have to find it somewhere else.
"What's wrong?" Steve asks, confused, when Tony gets up and grabs his pants.
"Nothing, I'm fine."
"You don't look fine."
"Well, I am. I just realized I have a big meeting tomorrow with Maria Stark Foundation," Tony lies.
Steve frowns. "Can't you ask JARVIS to -"
"No I can't, because JARVIS is dead!"
Too late Tony realizes he's screaming, and then he has to watch understanding dawn over Steve's face. The pain in his chest gets worse, close to suffocation levels, and Tony abandons the rest of his clothes. He's got pants on, and he has more than enough money to buy a new shirt. He staggers towards the door, wanting out, needing fresh air to help him breathe.
He makes it onto the balcony and collapses against the rail, staring at the sky. It's so bright his eyes get wet again, smearing the blue into something he can barely see.
Steve joins him less than a minute later, his suit tugged up around his hips and loosely tied around his stomach. "Tony, what's going on?"
Answering takes more than Tony has right now, but somehow the words crawl out. "JARVIS is gone. Kaput. I can't... the tower's gonna be empty now, you know? S'empty, Steve."
"S'my fault," Tony says, his breath catching and then bubbling up. "S'punishment... thought maybe if you punished me too... it might... be different..." He ducks his head and closes his eyes against the stupid brightness. "I can't feel nothing, Steve. Just... want to feel something." He chokes, trying to force the next sob down.
"Tony." Steve sounds so fucking agonized; he wraps his arms around Tony's waist and practically scoops him up into a hug. Tony wants to pull away because he doesn't deserve comfort like this, but he has nothing left.
Tears start streaming down his cheeks and then he's sobbing so hard he can barely breathe. The last time he cried like this was after a panic attack about New York, and JARVIS had talked to him soothingly the whole time until Tony was able to calm down. Remembering that just makes this hurt so much worse. It feels like someone stuck a knife in his chest.
No, that happened in Afghanistan, and this is so much worse.
He cries for a really long time, longer than he wants to, because it's like his mind and body have disconnected and he has no control anymore. At some point they sink to the ground, and he ends up on Steve's lap. Steve's grip is so tight that it makes his ribs ache, but Tony is terrified that he'll let go. Because this, this is overwhelming, and without Steve to anchor him down he'll just get swept away.
"You can't blame yourself, Tony. You didn't deserve this," Steve keeps saying, over and over. "It wasn't your fault."
Eventually Tony can't cry anymore. It's not that his body doesn't want to, he just can't. His head aches fiercely and he's limp all over, face hidden against Steve's bare shoulder, can't even muster up the strength to hold on. But it's okay, because one of Steve's hands is on the back of his head and the other is wrapped securely around Tony's body, holding him close.
Over the sound of his own, ragged breathing, he hears a light thump and then footsteps, and then Natasha says, "You might want to move. It's getting cold out."
"I - yeah," Steve says, and now he sounds wrecked, and Tony starts to shake. Steve shushes him, kissing the side of his head.
"Come on," Natasha says when Tony is reduced to trembling, prodding Steve in the shoulder. She helps him to get up, ungraceful with Tony's weight unbalancing him, until Steve is standing with Tony in his arms. The kind of bridal style carry that, at one time, Tony would've rather died than be seen it.
Now he just doesn't care.
"Did you know this was going to happen?" Steve asks her. His chest rumbles when he speaks. Tony nestles closer.
"I had a suspicion. I've seen that look in his eyes before. Though last time it was because he was dying." She pauses for just a second, before adding, "Guess this time it was death in a different way, maybe. You're lucky he came back instead of going to New York."
The way she says it, the way Steve's breath catches and he clutches Tony tighter, suggests they both know what would have happened.
"Get him inside, Steve. The world's at peace for now. We can afford to take a couple more days off."
Whatever Natasha does in response, Tony doesn't see. He refuses to look, just keeps his face tucked against Steve when Steve starts walking, but he already knows where they're going. All of the Avengers, retired, MIA or new, have rooms at the facility. There are also a handful of spares, built for when the inevitable happens and they get even more newbies.
They're headed to Steve's room, but Tony doesn't want to know what's going to happen when they get there. He's just too tired, and his head is throbbing on top of the lingering aches from the battle, and he just wants everything to stop for a little while. Fortunately, for once it seems like his body and mind are in complete agreement. He passes out before Steve even makes it halfway down the hall.
Waking up to find a super soldier sprawled on top of you shouldn't be comfortable or reassuring. Somehow, it manages to be both. Tony wakes up to the feeling of fingers drawing idle designs across his back. It's a soothing feeling, verging on ticklish when Steve's fingertips dance a little too far up his ribs, and he allows himself to bask in the sensation for a couple of minutes.
"Tony?" Steve says, quiet and subdued, and of course Steve knows he's awake.
"No, sorry. Tony is busy. Leave a message," Tony mutters into the pillow, keeping his eyes resolutely shut.
Steve sighs and tugs at his shoulder until Tony turns, rolling onto his back and looking up into concerned blue eyes. There's a very sad smile on Steve's face as he says, "I'm sorry about JARVIS. I didn't even think -"
"Don't beat yourself up, Cap. Nobody did."
"That doesn't make it right."
Tony shrugs a shoulder, trying for a bland, aloof mask, but it's like his shields are nothing more than shattered glass around his feet. In spite of his best efforts, Steve's worried expression is going all blurry.
"It's not right, what happened," Steve plows on, kindly not mentioning the first tear that rolls down Tony's cheek. "But you punishing yourself over it isn't right either."
"But it was my fault," Tony says, because it's the truth. "I just - I thought - I wanted..." He trails off, frustrated with his inability to put it into words. It all seemed so simple when he was standing in the lab with Bruce. It made so much sense then.
"You just wanted to protect people. There's no shame in that. You didn't go about it the right way, but..."
"If you really want to make up for it, you can stop keeping secrets."
That stops Tony cold. He looks up at Steve, his heart stuttering. "What do you mean?"
"What did you see when she got inside your head, Tony?"
And yeah, that's one of the worst questions Steve could've asked. Tony wants to look away, but Steve's hands are keeping his head in place. He settles for squeezing his eyes shut. "You. The team. Dead. And me. Alone."
"I don't want that," Tony says, and it comes out pathetically small and weak, tears falling faster.
"That won't happen, baby, I promise."
The nickname catches Tony's attention instantly. His eyebrows furrow in confusion. "Steve?"
Steve is blushing a little, pink painted across his cheekbones, but he meets Tony's gaze squarely. "What, you thought all I wanted from you was a quick fuck?"
"I really think it's time you let that go."
"I'm never letting that go," Tony admits, trying to work this through in his head. "So you want..."
"Whatever you're willing to give. Until yesterday, I thought you were still with Pepper. I was happy just to be your teammate. Your friend." Steve gives him a hard look when Tony snorts. "If you want more..."
"I - yes," Tony says, because this is the last thing he ever thought he'd get, and he'd be a fool to turn it down.
"On one condition."
"Don't ever try to provoke me into punishing you again, Tony. That's not what I'm here for. I understand that you were upset because of JARVIS, but that's not what I want with you. I don't bring the battlefield into my bedroom. If there's something wrong, if you feel the need to make up for something, then tell me and we'll work it out together. You need to use your words."
"I'm not very good at that, Steve."
"You can try," Steve says gently, leaning down to give him a gentle kiss. "That's all I ask for."
It's more than fair, more than Tony expected, and he kisses back until Steve pulls away and gets up. He scoops Tony off the bed, ignoring Tony's squeak of protest, and carries him into the bathroom. It's large and has a state of the art water system, so the water that spurts out of the shower is immediately hot. Tony twitches a bit when drops land on his hair, too vulnerable to will away the old and bad memories, and Steve smoothly maneuvers him so that he's not in the direct flow.
There's nothing sexual about their shower, though Tony does make sure to capture a few details for later perusal, just Steve's soapy fingers slowly massaging the tension from Tony's shoulders and his own hands carefully rubbing shampoo into Steve's hair. They kiss a few times, and it's not sexual, no, but with a level of intimacy that should be setting Tony on edge.
Except it feels natural, with Steve, like all those months have been building up to this one moment.
Tony has no other clothes with him, and his boxers and shirt and coat are still in the gym, so Steve lends him a shirt to go with his pants. The shirt is large on him, and he has to roll the sleeves up, but not to the point where it's immediately noticeable considering how tight Steve likes to wear his shirts. The phrase 'skin tight' has definitely come to mind a time or two.
They walk down to the cafeteria together. It's early, and the room is only about half full. Maria and Fury are sitting at the table closest to the door. Neither one of them looks surprised to see Tony and Steve come in together. Steve makes a beeline for the table closest to the food, where Rhodey, Sam and Natasha are sitting clustered together, and Tony follows.
"I'll get us breakfast," Steve says, brushing a quick kiss to Tony's lips, and then heads for the food, leaving Tony facing the stares of their three teammates.
"Alright?" Natasha says, giving him a quick but thorough once over. Her expression is as inscrutable as always, but something in her eyes hints at sympathy. If it weren't for the fact that they're in a crowded room, Tony might have risked a slow death by putting his head on her shoulder.
"Getting there," he says wearily, flicking his eyes towards Rhodey. "You up for a beer tonight?"
Rhodey gives him a hard stare, but nods. It's an old tradition. "Yeah, man, absolutely."
"Is that Steve's shirt?" Sam says suddenly, then looks like he really regrets asking.
"Oh my god," Sam mutters. "That was so much more than I needed to know."
"Don't ask questions you don't want the answers to," Steve tells him as he returns, carrying two trays. He puts one down in front of Tony.
Sam glances back and forth between them and then turns to Natasha. "Do I want to know who Mom is and who Dad is?"
Steve chokes on his coffee and Tony glares. Natasha just smirks. "It becomes pretty self evident," she says.
"I hate you all," Tony grumbles. His food doesn't look appetizing, not colored with the pain of losing JARVIS. But when Steve's hand appears on his lower back, solid and warm, grounding, it's not as smothering as before. He finds the strength to eat a couple bites of eggs and drink some coffee, and that's worth the knot in his throat for the way Steve smiles at him.
"Are you going back to New York?" Steve asks him quietly.
Again, Tony pictures walking into the empty, silent tower and flinches. "No. Not yet. I -"
"It's okay. I'd love it if you'd stay for a while," Steve says, almost shyly, and Tony tries to smile back. Sam gags loudly when Tony leans in closer and rests his head on Steve's shoulder, Steve's arm surrounding him, but Tony doesn't care. He closes his eyes and lets the voices wash over him.