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It was just the Avengers’ luck that it began to rain heavily at the beginning of their raid on AIM. Tony reflected, not for the first time, that he wouldn’t have signed up for the superhero biz if he had known how often they would have to fight in the rain. He buzzed past Steve, who waved at him. At least he had the billion-dollar suit of armor, unlike Cap, who already resembled a drowned rat in his uniform.

“So, Cap, find that motorcycle you were looking for?” Clint said over the comms.

“Round up the AIM guys and then we can talk about my motorcycle,” Steve replied.

As part of the Avengers’ air support, Tony circled over the base following the positions of the team as they ranged through the base looking for AIM agents and scientists. He fed information to Cap about what he found. He wondered briefly about the motorcycle that Clint mentioned. Cap went through motorcycles like the Avengers went through quinjets.

AIM had commandeered a HYDRA base and the Avengers had the job of rooting them out and handing them over to the authorities. Tony was taking a dim view of AIM’s robot line of defense as he and Carol mowed them down. He granted that AIM could be vastly creative in their ideas, but real shoddy in their execution. What were they teaching for engineering these days?

He chuckled as he overheard Wanda and Natasha debate the merits of recent Eastern European films as they subdued feisty AIM scientists in the lab complex. He checked the mission data, quickly calculating how many agents were left over. They were on schedule, not bad for a routine mission.

Steve dispatched a few robots, then barked out commands as he adjusted the team’s tactics to account for the changing conditions. Tony listened in as Steve fielded team suggestions about attacking the base. Steve gave the go-ahead on some, made necessary tweaks to others, and kept the team focused on mission goals.

Tony now counted Steve among his closest friends. They’d been through the mix, fighting innumerable Hydra agents, AIM scientists, and alien invaders after the fall of SHIELD, and then Ultron. Tony didn’t think anyone could be as sincere, honest, and what-you-see-is-what-you-get as Steve. Although Steve would have much preferred that Tony didn’t keep challenging him and haring off on his own. They’d butted heads and argued until they figured each other out. Once they settled into a good working relationship, they were good, really good at running the Avengers together.

Although he had worked closely with Steve for a while, Tony still hadn’t figured what made the man tick. He admired Steve greatly for his leadership, heart and sheer guts. And Steve was the nicest guy, the sort you could depend on for anything, even moving your stuff without complaint, possibly even dead bodies.

The best way to sum it up was that Steve was wired one way, and Tony was wired another. And that was just fine. They worked together like a well-oiled machine. Tony couldn’t ask for more.

That didn’t mean that Tony didn’t wonder what it would be like if tall, blond and built ever cast an interested eye towards the guy in the armored suit.

Tony was waiting for Steve’s call for him to do an evaluation of the labs and workshops the team uncovered. A series of warnings popped up on the HUD. “Cap!” he shouted. “Incoming!”

“Got it, Iron Man. Okay, Avengers, watch it,” Steve said.

Several explosions set off by the fleeing AIM scientists ripped through the base. Tony sped up his perimeter patrol, calling up Carol to assist. He shot off his repulsors while Carol skimmed in behind him on clean-up, knocking down whoever was left standing after Tony passed through. The mission was going astoundingly well and easy.

As soon as he thought that, the main lab blew up, sending debris high into the rain and collapsing walls into rubble. He groaned. He knew better. Never say anything was easy, ever. “Hey, Cap, what’s going on?”

Silence on the comm. Tony panicked a little. “Cap? Cap!”

“Can’t raise Cap on the comm, Tony,” Clint radioed.

“Steve? Are you there?” Natasha asked.

More silence.

Damn. Tony quickly replayed HUD data about Steve, who, apparently, entered that building a minute before the explosion.

“I’m going in,” Carol shouted as she darted over to the building.

“No, hold the perimeter. I’ll look for Steve,” Tony interrupted. Carol was fast and great at nabbing fleeing henchmen. He had a talent for demolition. Plus it was Steve. He had to find the man.

When he reached the ruins of the building, he could pick up the faint energy signature of Steve buried under the debris. “Come on, Steve,” Tony hissed as he lifted concrete and twisted steel beams. He saw movement as a coughing, soaked and bloody Steve fought his way through the rubble. “Steve!” he shouted.

“Look out,” Steve snapped. Tony turned to see a robot lurching towards him. Before Tony could repulsor it into oblivion, the shield sped past him, neatly decapitating the robot.

Taking off his helmet, Tony rubbed his eyes. He huffed and ran a gauntleted hand through his hair. He suddenly felt bone tired, the weird aftereffects of highly charged adrenaline coursing through him. The fight raged on around them.

Steve walked over to retrieve the shield. He snapped it in place on the holster on his back and then pulled off the cowl. He tried to wipe the blood and grime off his face and uniform.

“Okay, Cap?” Tony asked. He watched as Steve gingerly tested the flexibility of his left leg and knee.

Steve was apparently satisfied with his leg movement. “As well as can be, considering that a building was dropped on me.”

Tony laughed. “Occupational hazard.”

“Yeah. Probably is.” A weary Steve smiled.

All of a sudden, it didn’t matter that cold rain was beating down on him and dripping into uncomfortable spaces in the suit. Tony’s pulse raced and his body tensed. Because Steve was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. His blond hair was plastered to his head and he was covered in blood and dirt, but his blue eyes were bright and sparkling and he had a broad smile on his face. And he was looking at Tony as if Tony was the most beautiful thing he ever seen.

He stepped forward and reached for Tony. Shocked, Tony took a few hesitant steps forward. His heart beat faster and faster as Steve’s eyes flickered down to his lips and then back to his eyes. Steve cupped the back of Tony’s neck with a trembling hand, thumb brushing his jaw. Tony closed his eyes, feeling Steve’s hot breath on his cold skin, not sure if this was real or some weird hallucination.

Steve pressed his lips to Tony’s. Tony leaned into the kiss, and Steve kissed back harder, sliding his fingers into Tony’s hair. Steve’s other hand gripped Tony’s hip, trying to pull him as close as the armor would let him.

Not a hallucination.

Dazed and breathless, Tony broke off the kiss. “This would be easier without the suits,” he said.

Steve sagged against Tony, still clutching him. “But --”

“Hey, Carol, take over. Steve’s in bad shape and I’m taking him back to the Tower. We’ll debrief in the morning,” Tony said over the comms.

“Steve?”

“Building fell on him. You know the drill.” He grinned at Steve and said, “Hop on the boot and I’ll fly us back to the Tower.”

While Tony launched into the air, Hawkeye radioed sarcastically, “So Tony’s taking Steve back to the tower? Well, that’s a surprise. Guess it must be Tuesday.”

After they landed in the Tower, Tony was grateful he had worked on quick release latches for the suit. He and Steve raced to tear off their suits and clothes, hands grabbing at zippers and buttons and latches, reaching out for each other for urgent, frantic kisses as they moved steadily toward Tony’s room.

Steve threw Tony on his bed, dropping down next to him. Nudity was a common thing as they suited up in the locker room for training or for missions. But seeing a completely naked Steve bending over him to kiss and touch was unbelievable and beyond anything Tony had dreamed of.

Steve trailed a hand down Tony’s side as he kissed Tony messily along his jaw, down his neck and along his collarbone. Desperate for friction, Tony grabbed at Steve’s hip to roll him closer. “Yes, right there,” he gasped as Steve’s fingers brushed his inner thighs.

“Sure about that?” Steve teased, his breath hot against Tony’s skin. He flicked a nipple before returning to kissing and nibbling his way down Tony’s chest and abs.

“Oh, my god, yes, yes, yes.” Tony was reduced to incoherent babbling as Steve took him in his mouth. His hand slid into Steve’s short blond hair, tugging as Steve proved to far more clever with his tongue than Captain America should be. Tony bucked up while Steve sucked and hummed. Waves of pleasure flooded over him, carrying him closer and closer to the edge. He begged and pleaded with Steve and his other hand slipped down Steve’s sweat-slick shoulder. Nothing had ever been as perfect as this. Steve’s fingers dug into his hips. Then Steve pulled off and gave Tony a look that went straight to his groin.

“You’re killing me, Steve,” Tony groaned.

Steve smiled wickedly and put his mouth around Tony again, pushing him right off that cliff. He moaned out Steve’s name as the stars exploded behind his eyes.

“You’re unreal,” Tony gasped out as Steve slid up his body, his hands settling on his waist.

“I try,” Steve replied. He kissed Tony again and rolled on his back.

Tony propped himself up on his elbow. He ran his hand down Steve’s sculpted chest and abs, over the sharp hipbone, and then down between his legs. “Let me return the favor,” he said, leaning forward to kiss and lick Steve’s warm skin while running a dextrous hand over Steve’s heavy cock. He was pleased at the noise and shiver he got from Steve.

“Going to take my time,” he warned, as he teased Steve with light caresses.

Steve groaned and batted at Tony, who kept up the teasing touches. “Tony …” Steve gasped. But Tony was not as patient as Steve and sped up his stroking and pulling. Steve shivered and shook with Tony’s careful work. He really was beautiful . Tony would never forget how he brought Steve, gorgeous and perfect Steve with the bluest eyes, over the edge. He smiled as Steve, weak and unsteady after he came, settled in his arms. The desperation and need between them tamped down, they fell asleep together.

In the morning, Tony enjoyed the warm lazy feeling of having breakfast in bed with Steve. Steve had made scrambled eggs and bacon for himself and gluten-free waffles for Tony and managed to avoid the pointed questions from the teammates in the kitchen. Leaning against the headboard among pillows and bathed in morning light, they laughed about the night before and where Tony had flung parts of the suit. Steve had plucked a gauntlet out of a ficus tree on his way to the kitchen.

“So. What brought on last night?” Tony ventured.

Steve’s shoulders dropped and he swirled his orange juice in thought. “The building collapse -- it felt too much like when the plane went down.”

“Steve --” Tony wanted to reach and pat Steve on his shoulder, but he wasn’t sure he could do that. He might not end with just patting. Naked, Steve looked gorgeous propped up against the pillows and headboard.

Steve shook his head. “It happens. You have your nuclear bomb, I have the plane.” He drank his juice. “Thanks, Tony. I’d like --” He looked confused and lost. “I’d like to --”

Having some experience with the morning after, Tony was miles ahead of Steve in thinking about how the morning would turn out. He liked and respected Steve a lot. Despite being intrigued by Steve, Tony wasn’t sure at all about a relationship. For all his adjustments to the 21st century, Steve in many ways was still a 40s guy. He was the ops leader for the Avengers. It felt like getting involved with Pepper all over again, and she was his CIO. He couldn’t go down that path with Steve.

“You know, it’s perfectly okay to leave this as one-time thing, Steve, if you’re thinking that way.”

Steve plucked at the sheets, his eyes downcast. “If that’s what you want .... I don’t want you to think that I took advantage of you.”

Tony hit him with a pillow. “I’d classify my involvement last night as enthusiastic consent. I worried about you too, Cap. So, let’s just call it a great time and stay friends.”

“Sure. I’ve got to get going. I’m late hitting the gym anyway.” Steve got up, put on a bathrobe he found in Tony’s room, and headed off. “Catch you at the debrief.”

After that, Tony’s intentions were to never get involved again with Steve. Really, though, he should’ve known better than to ever say “never.”

Especially when he found he couldn’t shake the images of Steve: his sleepy, blue eyes; his hand running through his bed head; the beatific smile tugging on his lips; the white sheets wrapped around his delicious body. Whenever he remembered, Tony’s breath caught in his throat and his blood raced.

~~~~~

Constantly being around Steve made it difficult to forget that one night together. Steve himself made it harder.

Tony found himself surprised by Steve’s occasional sly smile in mission debriefs. And then there was the hip check and wink during breakfast when Steve passed him on the way to the coffee maker.

He was caught off guard by Steve’s interest and the eager way he looked forward to talking to Steve on the quinjet. His relationship and break-up with Pepper remained a ghost in his life. First it was his move to New York, then it was his involvement in the Avengers, each decision carrying Pepper further and further away from him. Pepper loved him, but his superhero career kept getting in the way and drove them apart in the end. She never gave him an ultimatum, but he saw it in her eyes. It wasn’t a fight that ended it, just a pointed, painful conversation and it was over.

It had been unbelievably hard to pick up the pieces and restart a life without his partner. He did rebuild his life, but not without cost. He wasn’t ready to be another person’s someone, probably ever; and no longer had any patience for pining, crushes, the careful dance of attraction and slow build. Tony might never be in love again. He was okay with that.

And now, here was Steve, from out of nowhere.

Even with some reflection, Tony couldn’t explain the butterflies in his stomach when he saw Steve. Or why he was willing to throw caution out the window when Steve gave him a cocky smile during a workout. He noticed the tiny flame of hope glowing in his heart when he thought of Steve and the possibilities.

At least, it wasn’t an overnight change between Tony and Steve, just a slow, gradual progression over a few months.They began to slip into the habit of having lunch together regularly, with the excuse that they had to talk over Avengers business. Then it became the occasional breakfast after Steve finished his morning workout and before Tony headed to his lab. Then it turned into them going out to dinner.

Tony hung around while Steve watched sports on television. They stayed up late into the evening talking.. Steve stopped to chat with him when they passed by in the corridor. They watched movies together, Tony finally getting to show Steve all the sci-fi films he loved.

It turned out Steve loved science fiction, ever since he picked up a copy of Astounding Science Fiction magazine back in ‘38. Tony and Steve ended up talking all night about their favorite books (Steve) and movies (Tony). Maybe Tony went to bed that night with a goofy smile on his face, thinking of how Steve’s face lit up with enthusiasm as he talked about his favorite books, but he’d deny it to his dying day.

All those things Tony could brush off as friendship.

Until he ran into Steve leaving the quinjet. Steve gave a shy smile as he bumped into Tony, who was running tests on the wings. It took Tony an hour to figure out that Steve was awkwardly trying to flirt with him. Then again, on second thought, Steve probably hadn’t been. But Tony couldn’t rule it out.

Steve could also make him smile like no one else. Maybe Tony looked forward to seeing him more than he should have, if he was planning to keep his distance.

What made it worse was that the more time he spent with Steve, the more Steve let him in. And what he saw in Steve was fascinating to Tony.

Tony stopped by Steve’s suite to drop off a few books he thought Steve might like. He was always mildly surprised when he stepped into the suite. Steve decorated his suite like a mash-up of 20th century culture and styles. The furniture was sturdy and modern, the curtains in tones of blue and taupe, and the walls covered with vintage motorcycle posters and framed art pieces Steve had picked up at street art fairs. A bookcase filled to the brim dominated one wall along with two modern turntables, a receiver and two large floor speakers.

Dressed in jeans and a deep blue t-shirt, Steve sat on his couch, sorting a pile of vinyl records. The afternoon sun lit his blond hair like an angel’s halo and his blue eyes sparkled as he smiled at Tony. He hit a button on the remote control to mute the Sinatra record playing.

“I found some old copies of Asimov’s Foundation series and some other books you might be interested in,” Tony said, offering a bag of books. He nearly tripped over a stack of books on wars in Iraq, probably part of Steve’s catching up on current events project which never seemed to end.

Steve thumbed through the books. “Thanks, Tony. I’ve heard about Asimov, but didn’t get a chance to read him. What’s this Star Trek one?”

“Novelization,” Tony replied. “I thought you might try a couple since you like the show.” He glanced over the jumble of records, an odd collection of Woodie Guthrie, Peter, Paul and Mary, early Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, and the Carter Family. He wasn’t sure how that all fit in with the Tommy Dorsey, Andrews Sisters, and Glenn Miller he knew Steve listened to regularly.

“I went to a flea market this morning and found some records,” Steve explained. “Want to listen with me?”

Tony sat down on the couch and watch Steve expertly set up the next couple of records. “You know, all you have to do is ask JARVIS to stream music. We have an extensive library. And if I don’t have it, I can get it.”

Steve shook his head. “Not the same thing. It’s a little hard to explain -- but it’s not the same.”

“Maybe you could explain it to me. Because I just don’t see it.”

Steve returned to the couch. “It’s the sound.”

A long explanation about the differences between analog and digital and the issues around stereo playback died on Tony’s lips when Steve flashed a brilliant smile and patted his knee. Not that his brain usually went on the fritz when a pretty boy glanced in his direction. But Steve was warm and open, and obviously liked spending time with him.

“We have to work on your taste in music.”

“You sound like Sam. He’s always after me about Motown and jazz.”

“Seriously, Sinatra?”

“He’s someone I first listened to after getting out of the ice,” Steve pointed out. “I like it.”

“You can take the boy out of the 40s but not the 40s out of the boy.”

“Sinatra is post-war,” Steve helpfully pointed out.

Steve’s couch wasn’t as large as one would think once Steve sat down. Tony found himself sitting closer than he felt comfortable doing. Or safe doing. Rubbing a knee and thigh against Steve’s sent sparks through his body.

Tony turned to Steve. “The Carter Family?”

“Long story.” Steve bit his lip and his eyes flickered briefly down to Tony’s.

After that, it didn’t take much for Tony to slide further over to Steve’s side of the couch. “I have all afternoon.” He settled against Steve’s arm.

Steve slipped his arm around Tony’s shoulder. “I picked up the Johnny Cash album and the guy threw in the record for free, said I might like it.”

“I have no idea why you don’t have people in your life who could suggest music that happened in the past twenty years.”

“I’ve heard whatever noise Wanda is calling music.” Steve frowned.

Tony laughed. “Not a fan of EDM?”

“I’m also not a fan of AC/DC or Metallica,” Steve added pointedly.

“Heathen. Honestly, Steve, if you didn’t have me, you’d be lost in this century.”

Steve ran his hand through Tony’s thick hair, twirling strands in his fingers. “And yet somehow I manage to make it through the day without injuring myself.”

“Barely. And definitely without style.” Tony felt warm and tingly pressed up against Steve’s solidness. The smile tugging on the corners of Steve’s mouth was having a devastating effect on him.

“I find that you never go wrong with the classics.”

“Hah.” The click of another record dropping into place on the player signaled more Sinatra. “Talking about classics, have you listened to Barry White?”

“Barry White?”

Tony snorted. “Oh, come on, I’m sure someone’s told you about him. R&B singer, known for his, um, sexy songs.”

Steve gave him a squeeze. “So you think I should be listening to sexy songs.”

“Um, sure. Yeah, you should.”

“Why?”

“You’re seriously asking me? Or do you like seeing me squirm?”

Steve leaned closer to Tony and said softly. “Maybe it’s both.” His breath was hot on Tony’s skin, he could almost feel the brush of Steve’s lips.

Tony had to kiss him. He melted into Steve, who put his arms around Tony’s waist to pull him closer. For long, languid moments, they kissed, long and slow, the music and sunlight washing over them like warm waves on a beach. Steve rubbing circles into Tony’s hip as their lips and tongues slid against each other. Tony pushed up Steve’s t-shirt up run his fingers over his perfect abs.

He looked up into Steve’s amused eyes. Steve smiled and chased after Tony’s lips. Tony ducked but tapped his fingers against Steve’s. “We said we wouldn’t,” Tony said.

“Wouldn’t what?” Steve replied, a brilliant smile on his lips.

“You know, have sex,” Tony said. Although his resolve on that issue was getting weaker by the second, with Steve’s gorgeous body pressed against him and his blue eyes focussed only on him. Steve’s hand heavy on his hip pinned him in place, but it was not like Tony ever wanted to move from this spot.

Steve licked his lips and leaned forward. Don’t do that, Tony silently pleaded as he batted at Steve. Who chuckled at him and his weak protest. Steve caught his hand and began to kiss each fingertip. “Who said we were?” Steve teased.

“Steve,” Tony hissed. Steve peppered his face and neck with kisses, sending shivers through Tony’s body. He brushed a thumb over Tony’s cheek, sliding a hand through his hair, tugging on the short curls at the nape of his neck. Tony felt want and electric shocks shoot through his body as Steve kissed him messily with tongue and teeth. “What are you doing?”

“Kissing, I think. Is that people call it these days? Might need to do this more to get it right --”

Tony groaned. “Oh, hell, just this once.” He let Steve carry him over to the bed.

~~~~~

It wasn’t just that one time. There were plenty of times more, after sparring in the gym, after a mission, after a good movie, when one of them had an itch they couldn’t scratch. Tony wouldn’t say that he was walking on air but maybe he was. It was bliss.

What was even better, Tony found that he enjoyed spending time with Steve. He liked how Steve put his arm around his shoulder when they watched television. He liked arguing playfully with Steve over dessert at a restaurant. He liked that Steve hung out in the workshop working on Avengers business while he worked on the suit and the equipment. Steve even ventured to do some sketching as well, mentioning that he didn’t often have time to draw or paint. He loved how Steve’s arms felt around his waist as Steve fell asleep with him in his bed.

He might even be falling in love in Steve, who acted like Tony was the sun and moon and stars to him. It had only been six months since that first night together. But Tony had been in relationships before, figured that Steve had had his share, and they were in a dangerous line of work. He wasn’t going looking under rocks for nonexistent problems.

Except there was one nagging little thing. Not even really a thing. Just something not right, like a soft bruise on an apple before it goes rotten. Tony couldn’t quite put his finger on it.

His fretting started when he overheard a conversation between Steve and Clint in the kitchen. He had seen them sitting at the table as he went to get coffee. They looked thick as thieves as Clint pointed to something on Steve’s laptop.

“Depends on your plans for Saturday, I guess,” Clint said.

“I don’t have any plans,” Steve said. Tony’s ears perked up, because he had thought that he had plans with Steve this Saturday.

“I’d suggest you go early -- better selection,” Clint continued.

“I don’t know about that,” Steve said. He had that little crinkle between his eyes he got when he was uncertain or worried. “I’m looking for something and someone very specific.”

“You’ve been looking for that right person for over three months now, right? Maybe you should lower your standards?”

Steve chuckled. “My standards are pretty low, Clint. Anyway I could give that meet-up a try.”

“Hey, what’s up?” Tony asked in a casual tone. He clutched his coffee mug, unsettled by the conversation.

Steve shut the cover of the laptop and smiled up at Tony. “Nothing. We were just talking about something I saw on the computer.”

“I’ll catch you later, Steve,” Clint said. “Tony -- arrows?”

“Stop by the workshop this afternoon, Katniss, and we’ll talk shop.”

Tony noticed a pile of notes in Steve’s neat handwriting as Steve gathered up the laptop and things. “Steve? We still on for Saturday? That exhibit at the MET? Assuming no alien or evil robot invasions.”

Steve kissed the top of Tony’s head. “Wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

Tony knew he could trust Steve. Steve hadn’t -- wouldn’t -- ever let him down. He could not even imagine that Steve would stand him up on Saturday, even if it was a casual sort of thing where they were going to take in an exhibit at the MET and dinner. They didn’t set a time, just made vague plans to do something together that day. Tony should not be the least bit worried.

~~~~~

Of course, Tony was right about Steve. Steve had shown up on time in the workshop in new clothes -- a deep blue shirt over a t-shirt and tight jeans -- to take Tony out as they had planned. But the mystery of Steve’s discussion with Clint remained.

The art exhibit was wonderful, and they had dinner at the museum and decided to take a long walk home through Central Park. It was a beautiful spring day. Steve’s fingers brushed against Tony’s as if he wanted to hold hands. Steve talked about an art class he was planning on taking the next week, the first class he was trying in a long, long time. He was excited and Tony was walking on air.

After they exited the Park and were back on the sidewalk, a guy in a tan windbreaker waved at them and walked over. “Hey, Steve. Missed you last week.”

Steve shook the guy’s hand. “Hi, Matt. Oh, I’ve been busy.”

“Yeah, I know how it is. The daughter started Little League last week. Plays havoc on the schedule.” Matt looked over at Tony.

“Oh, right. Matt, this is Tony -- my, um, teammate.”

Matt was immediately impressed. “The Tony Stark?”

“That’s me,” Tony replied.

“Wow. I --” Matt looked back at his family. “Gotta make this short, Steve, because the wife has plans. I found a guy that might have what you’re looking for. Shoot me a text or email and I’ll hook you up.”

Steve nodded. “Thanks, Matt.”

Matt jogged back over to his family. Tony looked at Steve, who continued his interrupted story about his art class as if Matt hadn’t happened. The whole day suddenly lost its charm as the word ‘teammate’ echoed in his mind. The walk to the Tower seemed much longer as Tony tried to figure out why that bothered him so much. A happy Steve walked next to him, oblivious to the damage done.

~~~~~

Over the evening, Tony became increasingly more annoyed that Steve hadn’t introduced him as his boyfriend, only as his teammate. Natasha was a teammate, Carol was a teammate, Sam was a bro. Tony had to be more to Steve than that.

He could barely focus on the R&D reports Pepper asked him to review. He didn’t think that Steve would-- well, he thought that Steve would be the one to call him boyfriend first. Steve seemed to be that sort of guy, into committment, ready to shout that Tony was his from the mountaintops. Tony was always the guy hesitant to commit, always ready to play the field.

It was Steve, straight from the 40s, boy scout, don’t-swear-on-the-comms, save-everyone Steve he thinking about. He was lucky that Steve even looked his way.

He knew it was completely insane that he felt that way. Technically, they really weren’t even dating, he guessed. But Tony had thought that they had a solid, promising relationship. They were sleeping together, for crying out loud. That should have earned Tony some exclusive status with Steve. At least that’s what Tony thought.

Troubled and sullen, he retreated to his workshop for some peace and to maybe clear his head.
It was crystal clear to him that they were a couple. And what was that weird deal with whatever Matt was saying about a guy with something for Steve?

Shaking his head, Tony pulled up data on the recent upgrades to the suit. He noted some unexpected problems with the wiring on the leg armor. He bit his lip as he reviewed the data.

But thoughts of Steve invaded his mind. Steve might be perfectly happy with their current arrangements, but didn’t want the team to know. Maybe it was only a teammate with benefits with situation. But he had terrific dates with Steve that didn’t end in sex. Like today at the MET. That didn’t feel like a teammate with benefits situation.

He picked up and turned around the left greave in his hands, barely able to focus on checking the wiring.

What if … what if Steve was embarrassed to be seen dating him? Maybe Steve didn’t want the team or the public to think Captain America was lowering himself to be dating someone like Tony. Maybe he simply wasn’t good enough for Steve to call him boyfriend.

Damn, this was humiliating.

Tony had come too far in life and had been changed too much by his relationship with Pepper to settle for being someone’s secret squeeze. Even if he was golden, beautiful, perfect Steve’s secret squeeze. He seethed as he tried to find the wiring abnormality. He dismantled the greave in his hand.

“Uh, Tony, Bruce made cookies. Want one?” Steve asked.

Tony spun around on his stool to face Steve, who had the crinkle between his eyebrows. Good. Steve knew something was wrong. Steve wordlessly offered up the plate.

“Sure, put them over there.” Tony waved in the direction of the less-covered worktable.

Steve cleared a spot and put the plate down. He pulled up a stool. “Are things going okay?” he asked as he peered at Tony’s work.

Tony slammed the screwdriver down. “Am I just a fling for you? Or a dirty secret you can’t share with other people?” he snapped.

Startled and confused, looking like a deer caught in the headlights, Steve blinked a few times. He took a deep breath. “I don’t think -- whoah -- I --”

“We’re sleeping together, Steve! That means something, right? Like we’re more than special. Like I’m your guy, or whatever.”

Steve slumped against the table. “You mean going steady?” he asked in a low voice. He stared at the floor, rubbing his hand on his thigh.

“I have no idea what that means. But do you think of me as your boyfriend?”

“Are you happy with what we’re doing?”

“Are you ashamed of me? Or is there some other issue I should know about?”

“Definitely not. I think you’re amazing, Tony.” The crinkle deepened. “I’m happy with what we’re doing.” Worry clouded Steve’s eyes. “I don’t know what you want, Tony.”

“I want you to introduce me to people as your boyfriend.”

“We haven’t told the team that we’re dating. Is that something you want?”

“Steve -- what do I mean to you? Are we exclusive? Are we a couple? What are we?”

Steve stared fixedly at his hands. He finally looked at Tony. “I’m fine with what we have now. But it sounds like maybe you want more from me.” Steve bit his lip. “Tony ... I can’t offer you more than what we’re doing now. That might mean that I can’t, um, call you my, my, boyfriend or say anything to the team about us.” He let out a heavy breath. “And I can’t be sure that will change. I can’t predict the future.”

Tony clenched his teeth. The conversation was not going where he thought it would. He had had a little fantasy that Steve would apologize and reassure Tony that they were a couple, after all. Tony knew that he couldn’t bear to wait around until Steve made up his mind about him. Them. He’d wind end up getting less than he wanted in the end. Or, even worse, dumped.

“Fine, Steve. Let’s just call the whole thing off then, if you can’t meet me halfway,” Tony ground out.

“Tony? Are you sure?” Steve asked, his voice low and tight.

“Yes, completely. Life’s too short, Steve, I can’t wait around forever.”

Steve hesitated, then leaned forward to lift Tony’s chin with careful, trembling fingers and kissed him on the cheek. “I think -- I think I understand. I wish -- well, I hope we can stay friends.”

“Of course, Steve. We can be ... friends.”

After Steve left, Tony slammed his hands on the table, his shoulders bowing with the weight of his disappointment and anger. He had thought things would be different with Steve. But that wasn’t meant to be. He straightened up and cranked the music up, loudly, and tried as best he could to focus on his work.

So that was that. It would be hard at first to go back to being friends, but Tony would manage. He managed with Pepper, and he had lived with her.

What would be hardest of all would be trying to forget that brief, tantalizing glimpse into Steve’s private world. Tony had liked what he had seen. But that door was shut, hard, behind him when they broke it off.

~~~~~

A few months later, Tony was having a not-bad time on the training weekend for the whole Avengers team, including the part-timers. He had designed the program with Steve and was serving as a handy obstacle in most of the training scenarios. The team would never know what hit them with all the the nasty surprises he and Steve had lined up. All things considered, Tony had a fun weekend ahead of him, along with all snacks and sports drinks he could want. Better yet, Rhodey was in town for a long time.

Steve was all business as he walked the team through the first scenario of the day. Tony loved the training goal for this scenario. Steve and he had designed it to flush out any remaining teamwork problems, particularly the gap between the military-trained team members (Rhodey, Sam, and Carol) and those with a spy or civilian background (everyone else). Tony and Steve burned the midnight oil planning this scenario, maybe having too much fun thinking how to drive their teammates downright crazy.

Rhodey was acting super focused and intent, and Tony couldn’t even make him laugh, even though he could tell Rhodey was dying inside at every funny face and joke Tony made.

“Stop it, man,” Rhodey said during a break.

“What? We can’t have fun with this?” Tony said.

“This is serious stuff,” replied Rhodey. He jerked his head in Steve’s direction. “Funtimes later.”

“How’s the suit working?” Tony came over to inspect War Machine’s gauntlet.

“Fine.”

“Tight in the right shoulder?” Tony performed a quick scan of the suit.

“No, it’s fine.”

“Is that why you’re favoring your left side?” Steve asked as he walked up to them.

“Can’t hide from Captain America,” Tony quipped. “It’s the super-sensitive hearing, you know,” he whispered to Rhodey.

“Maybe -- not that I’m saying that it is -- maybe the shoulder could be pinching a bit,” Rhodey admitted.

“Yeah, I’ll work on that tonight after training.”

“What about going out for drinks?”

“It’ll take fifteen minutes, tops, then we’ll hit that place I was telling you about,” Tony said. He rummaged around for a screwdriver to fix Rhodey’s armor.

“Want to come along, Steve?” Rhodey asked.

Steve pursed his lips as if he was considering it, then shook his head. “No, I have to prepare for tomorrow’s session.”

At the end of the day, Tony looked over and saw Sam talking to Steve. Steve was looking at the ground while Sam talked. He wished he had Steve’s hearing. Experience suggested that Sam was pushing Steve to join the bar crawl that the evening was turning into. Steve set his shoulders and said something back to Sam, then clapped him on the back and walked away. Sam shrugged in response to the silent question from a curious Natasha.

Tony shook his head. That was Steve. Friendly, loyal, brave. A classic workaholic. And no one but Sam was willing to call him on it.

~~~~~

The next day, Steve displayed surprising tolerance for the team showing up under the weather. No doubt he figured that he could include that in his training plans. Tony could practically see the gears turning in his mind.

Tony stood on the sidelines, collecting data for later analysis. He would pull together the reports. Steve would give each team member his or her a debrief on their performance with a suggested training regime. That was how they worked as co-leaders -- plan and consult together, but each with their own job.

He looked away from the holograms of graphs and numbers to watch Steve walk Clint, Carol and Sam through a replay of their last training exercise. Sam was playing wounded teammate and Clint and Carol had to rescue him from the enemy. Tony noted that the holographic simulation of battle situations was holding up well under the strain. He should consider bringing on more servers if Steve ramped up his inspired training plans.

Pepper sent an email reminding Tony that she was going to be in town for the upcoming Maria Stark Foundation fundraiser. He scored a point or two when he cheerfully texted back that, yes, it was on his calendar. He might even have a real date for the night. Pepper sent back a thumbs up.

Sam was now trying takeoffs and landings. Tony signaled for him to stop and come over.

“What’s up, Stark?” Sam asked.

“Equipment check,” Tony said. He had Sam lift and flap a wing. “How are the new wings working?”

“Great. You saw last Thursday’s fight?”

“Yeah. You hit Steve’s highlight reel for the week.”

Sam snorted. He grabbed a bottle of Gatorade from the cooler next to Tony. “I wish he’d put the highlights on the Avengers page or even on a dedicated YouTube channel. It’d get the word out to the public about the good we’re doing.”

“I’ll talk to the PR team. But I think Steve’s idea of highlights and what you’re talking about are different things.”

“Steve’s always up for showing off the rescuing civilians and reducing property damage stuff.” Sam shifted the bottle back and forth in his hands and side-eyed Tony.

Carol was hovering over Rhodey, mimicking rescue maneuvers. They were teasing Steve over something or other, and a smile stole over Steve’s face. Steve didn’t smile nearly enough, Tony thought.

Sam nudged him. “So what do you think is up with Steve lately?”

“Well, if the resident counselor doesn’t know --”

Sam capped the bottle and tossed it in the recycling bucket. “I’m off duty, Tony. I’m his friend. Friends ask about friends all the time. You had to have noticed that Steve is, well, Steve’s back to what he was like during the time he was working for SHIELD.”

Tony shrugged. “He hasn’t said anything to me.”

“Okay,” Sam said. “Keep an eye on Steve, would you? You’re one of the people he’s closest to.”

“We run the Avengers together, Sam. Doesn’t make me an expert on Steve.”

Sam tapped his thigh. “I’m interested in seeing Steve happy. And I’d bet good money he’s not.”

Tony made some notes about the efficiency of Sam’s new kit, and tried not to think further about Steve’s happiness. It wasn’t any of his business anymore. “Yeah, okay. I’ll keep an eye out.”

~~~~~

The team was more subdued at dinner than they were at the bar the night before. Sam and Natasha had apparently leaned hard on Steve to get him out of the Tower and into the restaurant with the team. Steve listened as Carol and Rhodey swapped pros and cons of different Air Force jets. But the friendly look on his face didn’t match the distance in his eyes.

Steve wasn’t by nature a professionally friendly person. Steve had proven over and over that he was the genuine thing. Tony moved in circles where the people were friendly on the surface and not so much otherwise, so he knew the real deal when he saw it.

Sitting next to Steve, Tony watched him carefully to see what Sam was worried about it. And it seemed as obvious as the sun in the sky. Steve looked like he was back to what he was just after being defrosted, as if the last few years hadn’t even happened.

Clint turned to Steve. “Hey, so how’s the search going?”

Steve shrugged. “Nothing new. Still chasing leads though.”

“What’re you looking for?” Tony asked.

Steve frowned. “Nothing important.”

“More records? Because I think there are record stores in New York.”

Sam jumped in with suggestions about swap meets and flea markets Steve could try if he was looking for old records at good prices. They all ended up talking about music, and Sam excitedly mentioned an upcoming concert he was planning to see. Clint didn’t, however, see the point of jazz.

All Tony could think about was the wonderful afternoon spent listening to records in Steve’s suite. He glanced over at Steve, who seemed miles away. He pushed the food around on his plate, and nodded when necessary, but didn’t seem able to look at Tony. Tony wondered whether Steve ever thought about them, or even remembered that afternoon with the same fondness and bittersweet longing that Tony did.

To no one’s surprise, Steve declared he was packing it in after dessert. Sam and Natasha exchanged a look, and then Sam tried to persuade him to stay longer.

“I’ll go back with you if you want the company,” Tony offered. “I have to compile the data from today.” Tony didn’t wait for Steve’s answer but made arrangements for them to be picked up. He paid for dinner on their way out, despite Steve’s frown.

“You don’t have to do this, Tony,” Steve said.

“Nah, I should be heading back, like I said, long night data compiling.”

“Right.”

They swapped small talk on the ride home. Steve stared out the window while Tony checked his phone. “Going to the charity thing Thursday next week? ” he asked.

“What?” Steve was startled out of his thoughts.

“The Maria Stark Foundation event. Pepper wants to know. Personally, I think someone at the Foundation put her up to asking because --”

“I’ll be there.”

“Good. I think some of us should be there. Though we’ll have to find a volunteer for watch duty.”

Steve smiled wanly. “Sam might be interested. I think his plans for Thursday fell through.”

Back at the Tower, Steve got off at the common living room. Tony hesitated before following him. Steve gave Tony a surprised look. “I thought you were going to your workshop.”

“Are you heading to the gym?”

Steve glanced around the room. Tony crossed his arms. “You are, aren’t you?”

Finally Steve huffed. “Yes. I didn’t get a good workout in earlier.”

“It’s 8 pm. Most people would call that tv time.”

Steve stared at the floor and then over at the large screen tv that nearly covered the wall and then at Tony. After a long pause, he said, “I’ll catch you in the morning, Tony. Last training day. Good night.”

Tony released the breath he was holding. There was a time Steve would’ve jumped to watch television with him, and now this. Damn it, they were supposed to be friends. They should be able to watch television together.

Something was definitely wrong with Steve. And it bothered Tony that he could no longer reach him, much less see the Steve he had come to know so briefly.

~~~~~

A couple of days after the training session, Tony was passing through the common floor on his way to his workshop. Steve was there, watching a baseball game on television. Tony paused a second, his hand tightening on his coffee mug. A thought about joining Steve on the couch flashed through his mind. It was tempting, but Steve’s coolness the other night prompted him to keep moving.

One day he’d be able to spend time with Steve again, and maybe move beyond the shop talk. Once the edges wore off, he guessed, and the sharpness of loss dulled with time.

Except there was one tiny drawback to living with someone with super-sensitive hearing. “Hey, Tony, going to the workshop?” Steve asked.

“Yeah, I’ve got a long list of things from the training sessions to work on. You know me, always working.” He stood awkwardly near the couch.

Steve flashed a smile. “It’s tough to be a genius.”

“How’s the game?”

Steve looked up at the television. “Oh, I didn’t even notice the Mets game was over. Marlins against the Red Sox, I think? I’m not entirely certain about the new teams sometimes.”

Tony glanced at the couch, which was covered in reports, Steve’s notes, and a laptop running simulations. Steve hadn’t paid attention to the game because he was working. “Steve, have you taken a break from Avengers stuff at all this week?”

Steve shook his head. “It’s fine, Tony. I have a lot to do, just like you do.”

“You’re entitled to time off, like the rest of the team. And please don’t tell me that you’ve worn out the new treadmill already or that there’s a pile of broken punching bags in the corner of the gym.”

With a semblance of a grin, Steve said, “I’m okay, Tony. I’ll take a long weekend off next week. We set up that training session for a reason. I’m just working through the data.”

Tony didn’t believe him. But before he opened his mouth to say anything, Steve added, “Sam will be by later for dinner.”

“Oh, that’s good,” Tony replied. He tensed up as Steve looked even more bleak. Yeah, he had overstayed his welcome. “Anyway, off to the workshop.”

Steve nodded. “Catch you later, Tony,” he said, his body closed up and his eyes as cold and distant as if Tony was merely a business acquaintance. It was like nothing had ever happened between them.

Okay, screw you, Tony thought to himself. He couldn’t understand why Steve was so determined to be utterly miserable.

~~~~~

The Tuesday before the Maria Stark Foundation event, Tony was having one of those days where he was buried under too much work for both Stark Industries and the Avengers. He had even managed to get out of bed at the crack of dawn to finish up some projects. He finally emerged from the workshop to get ready for a trip to the S.I. offices for the afternoon.

On his way to the elevators, he realized he was both undercaffeinated and a touch hungry. So he stopped by the common kitchen to grab a fresh cup of coffee and something to eat that wasn’t a protein shake. Somehow, most of the team ended up having lunch around the same time in the kitchen in the common area. The chaos of superheroes having lunch washed over him as he read his tablet and waded through the crowd.

Steve was sitting with Sam at the end of the large kitchen table. Sam waved him over. “I thought you had the day off,” Tony said.

Sam laughed. “Got a late start. Days off means sleeping in. You look like you just came from work.”

“Actually on my way down to Stark Industries -- I have an afternoon of presentations on some of my R&D projects.” Tony could think of a dozen different ways of spending his afternoon more productively. But Pepper needed this.

“I’ve got a family dinner,” Sam said. “How about you, Steve?”

“Not sure, yet,” Steve admitted. A phone rang. Steve pulled out his cell phone. “Yes, this is Steve -- I called -- yes, I could do that. How about after 6? Sure. I’ll meet you -- that works -- I know the restaurant. Looking forward to it.”

Tony saw Steve write down Anne, 6:30, something Bar and Grill in his sketchbook. He narrowed his eyes at Steve, who was not even hesitating to set up a date in front of him.

Steve was a confusing and confounding man. And gaining, quickly, in the aggravating category.

~~~~~

The Maria Stark Foundation was hosting one of its three major charity for the year on Thursday. Tony was thinking of bringing a date. Tony hadn’t bothered since Pepper and he broke things off. But he had met a promising person who laughed at his jokes and wasn’t intimidated by the whole Iron Man thing.

A few weeks back he had lunch with a new tech mogul whose photographer brother happened to be in town for a while. She had not so subtly suggested that Tony might interview him for a position at the Foundation. Instead Tony ended up meeting him for drinks and then a date. Now he was on his way to the charity gala, featuring an art auction, with the fascinating Bryce.

Tony checked his phone for the schedule to see where he was expected and when. Pepper was co-chair of the recent fundraising campaign for the Foundation science education initiatives, and this evening was the big closing event for the campaign. She had specifically asked Tony to make some remarks because he could be quite persuasive with donors.

A selection of other Avengers would be at the gala as well, including Steve, who could always be relied upon to make an appearance at a charity event. Tony wondered if the Foundation event planners had asked Steve to contribute a piece or two for the auction. Carol would likely be there. Bruce, surprisingly, had volunteered since he had an interest in the project. Other than the usual suspects, Tony couldn’t remember if anyone else would be there.

Arriving fashionably late during the cocktail and art-viewing hour, Tony charmed his way through throng with Bryce at his side. Pepper was there already, dressed to the nines and holding a champagne flute as she talked to one of the artists. She smiled broadly at Tony. “So what do you think?” she asked, indicating the piece in front of them.

It was a lovely abstract piece in mixed media that had clearly enthralled Pepper. “For the Foundation art collection?”

“Your personal one,” Pepper replied. “Steve likes it too. He thinks the piece would look great in the ready room.”

Tony swiveled his head around to locate Steve. Steve was on the other side of the room, mobbed by a crowd of admirers, the usual occupational hazard. Steve looked to be holding his own for now. He’d survived the USO circuit during the war, but sometimes the crowd could get to be too much.

“Hello. I don’t believe we’ve met?” Pepper asked, reaching out to shake Bryce’s hand.

Tony left Bryce happily chatting away with Pepper about photography and went to mingle. The tide of the crowd eventually washed him up on Steve’s shore. As he arrived, Steve was showing off a pen and ink drawing he had done of Avengers Tower to interested donors. He nodded at Tony.

“Need a drink?” Tony asked.

‘“Sure,” Steve replied, somewhat reluctantly. He politely excused himself from the donors and followed Tony over to a bar in a sheltered corner.

There was something different about Steve tonight. Tony couldn’t quite put his finger on it at first. Then he wondered if he was imagining it. Steve wore a tailored designer suit, for one thing, not the off-the-rack suit he stored in the back of his closet. On top of that he had a modern haircut, a cologne that wasn’t from the Old Man Store, and a stylish, blue and white tie. He looked put together. He looked fashionable and perfect, and someone anyone would want to take home with them.

“Pepper’s sure excited about the auction,” Steve ventured.

“Yeah. This has been her baby from the get go. Any takers for your piece?”

Steve shrugged. “More interest in ‘Captain America can draw’ than my actual work. It was flattering when Pepper asked me to donate something, considering the caliber of the other artists and the donated pieces.”

Tony looked around the milling crowd while Steve silently swirled his drink. “So, who’s the date?” Steve finally asked in a slightly pinched voice.

“Bryce. I met him a couple of weeks ago. He’s a photographer,” Tony replied as smoothly as he could. All of a sudden he felt reluctant to discuss his date with Steve.

Steve’s jaw tightened and his eyes narrowed as he watched Bryce talk with Pepper. “Oh? That sounds interesting.”

A staff member arrived at Tony’s elbow to remind him he had to make some remarks before dinner and the auction to end the cocktail hour. After delivering his brief speech, Tony went back to rejoin Steve before heading to their assigned table. He found Steve talking with Bryce about baseball. Bryce had an elaborate story about doing a photoshoot for Sports Illustrated while Steve nodded, a plastic smile fastened firmly on his face. It struck Tony that Steve was being professionally friendly. It was not a good look on him at all.

The event planner had assigned Tony, Bryce, Pepper, Pepper’s date, and Steve to the same table, with donors filling out the remaining spots. Tony could see Bruce and Carol cheerfully holding sway at the table next to them. Steve, on the other hand, had developed a glazed look and gave a simple nod to anything said to him. Because it turned out that Bryce was an unapologetic Captain America fanboy.

Any other time, Tony might have been amused. He nudged Bryce with his knee and winked at him. Bryce broadly smiled in return. Then the auction started.

At the end of the evening, Tony went to find Bryce to tell him that the town car was on its way. He could hear him talking with Steve near the coat check. Bryce said, “Come on, why don’t you come back with us?”

“No, I don’t -- I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Steve replied.

“I’m sure Tony won’t mind in the least if you tag along. You’re friends, right? I know --” Bryce put his hand on Steve’s arm.

“Tony likely has plans for you both. I’ve got my own plans,” Steve stammered out. He shook off Bryce’s hand and gave one of his patented disapproving looks.

“Plans? What plans, Steve?” Tony asked.

Steve looked visibly relieved when Tony arrived. “Carol wanted -- movie or something,” Steve said. “I should catch up to her.” He shifted back and forth.

Something told Tony that if Carol had suggested watching paint dry, Steve would have been down for it. “Sure, catch you later.”

“It was nice meeting you, Steve,” Bryce said, reaching out again to shake Steve’s hand. But Steve didn’t return the handshake or comment.

It was a long, cold ride back to Bryce’s apartment. Tony scrolled through the text messages on his phone while Bryce tried to get his attention. When the car pulled up to the curb, Tony turned to Bryce. “Thanks for coming along.”

Bryce smiled. “Want to come up?”

“No.” Tony sighed at Bryce’s determined efforts. “It’s been fun, but let’s call it a night.”

“Talk to you tomorrow?”

“I don’t know exactly what I walked in on, but Steve’s my teammate. I prefer dating people who don’t hit on my teammates.”

“Are you sure about that?” Bryce asked. “Because Steve couldn’t stop staring at you all night long --”

“Thanks for playing, Bryce,” Tony replied. “Don’t pass go, don’t collect two hundred dollars --”

“I get it,” his date replied as he finally made the effort to get out of the car.

~~~~~

Tony swore he spent at least one day a week overseeing repairs for the quinjets. He ran the diagnostics on the quinjet of the day again and found he would have to replace some low-performing electronics. He checked what he had on hand, but according to his inventory, a couple of needed items were still packed up in a shipment delivered yesterday still sitting on the loading dock several floors down. This repair job was getting better with every moment.

As he looked through the boxes on the loading dock, he thought back to the gala last Thursday. It was now Monday, but Tony was still irritated about what happened, about Bryce, and especially about what Bryce implied about Steve. And he was irritated at Steve for -- well, for lots of things. For existing, maybe. He had a lot of vague things to choose from, and all he knew was that whatever it was, it had to do with Steve.

He had been throwing himself into work more than usual, mostly to avoid Steve and any other would-be helpful Avenger asking him why he was avoiding Steve. He rubbed his eyes and yawned.

He moved another box and found -- a motorcycle. And not just any motorcycle -- the most beaten up, wretched looking machine Tony had ever seen. His first thought was what this thing doing here, rapidly followed by the thought that he didn’t have the time or patience for this crap. He pushed the box back and pretended he hadn’t seen whatever that thing was.

Then he sliced his forearm on the edge of the box. That was it, he hit peak irritation at the world, everything in it, and Steve. He poked at the cut and leveled a dark look at the box.

He might as well stop now, although it was just noontime. It had been a long morning filled with minor annoying setbacks, and coffee wasn’t helping him anymore. He could eat lunch and spend the afternoon working on some designs for the suit.

The refrigerator in the kitchen was cleaned out, without a single leftover to be seen. Grocery delivery must be tomorrow. Tony looked over at the living room where some of the team were staked out. “Hey, Tony, want to join us?” Clint asked.

“Okay. Guess so.”

Natasha, Bruce, Clint and Sam were watching television with a side game of King of the Ottoman. Sam seemed to be losing to Natasha. Tony dropped down on the couch next to Bruce.

“Cold pizza?” Bruce offered.

“Where’s Steve?” Tony ventured.

“Running a half-marathon,” Sam stated. “He’ll be back eventually.”

“Right.” Tony inspected the pizza boxes in case he had to settle for cold pizza. “What are you watching?”

Natasha said, “A documentary on the Great Depression. Bruce’s idea.”

“You could just ask Steve anything you wanted to know,” Tony observed. There was a lot of black and white on the tv as a series of photographs swept across the screen.

Natasha and Sam snorted. “Depends on the subject,” Sam pointed out.

Tony had heard all the questions, which were inevitable at the Avengers’ press conferences and interviews. He frowned, thinking of Steve. He imagined that Steve would likely pass through the kitchen, grab a Gatorade, and hit the showers. He wouldn’t see him until the team meeting tomorrow afternoon. Seemed to be the routine these days. Even thinking of that made him irritated at Steve all over again.

“Does anyone know what the deal is with that broken-down motorcycle that was dumped in the loading dock?” he asked. “Someone hid it behind the row of boxes, probably out of shame.”

Clint replied, “It’s Steve’s. He bought it the other day.”

“What in hell is Steve doing buying motorcycles? Doesn’t he get a new one every month, more or less?”

Clint shrugged. “All I know is Steve wanted a motorcycle. And that’s what he bought.”

“He didn’t mention it to you?” Sam asked. “He’s been talking for months about buying a motorcycle like the one he had in the war.”

Tony pinched the top of his nose. He had just about had it with Steve. First the gala, now this thing he inflicted on the Tower. What did he even think he was going to do with it? Tony would have been glad to buy him whatever he wanted, even an antique. “Okay, I’ll talk to Steve. Assuming he’ll talk to me. That’s apparently not something he’s doing these days.”

“Ah, he might have plans for it. Or he’s just waiting for the right time to bring it up,” Sam offered.

Right. Steve talked to everyone else but him. Another slice of pizza sounded good right now.

“So, I heard the gala was, um, interesting,” Natasha said.

Bruce chuckled. “Carol and I had a good time. But what was up with your date, Tony?”

Tony groaned. “My gala date was a big ol’ Cap fanboy. I’ve dealt with those before,” Tony replied. He wasn’t in the mood to hear more about the gala or Steve. He was never bringing a date to another charity event unless he was dying of a terminal disease. Or married.

Sam smiled broadly. “That’s not what I heard.”

“Steve was okay with it. He deals with overly eager fans all the time.”

“You really don’t know?” Natasha turned to look at Tony. “Steve said your date hit on him all night and then asked if Steve was interested in a threesome with you.”

Tony found himself speechless, a very rare occasion. He thought back to the pained expression on Steve’s face as he talked to Tony’s date. Finally he managed to say, “Wow.”

“Yep. Steve didn’t want you to know that you were dating a slime bucket. My words, not his,” Sam added.

“It would have been helpful, you know,” Tony said. “I wouldn’t have had to ride back with him.”

Sam turned to face Tony, his usual warm face serious for once. “I know you guys are co-leaders, partners, whatever, and you work great together. But Steve would never tell you that.”

“Why? To spare my feelings?”

“Steve just doesn’t talk about that stuff.”

“Sam’s right, Tony” Natasha broke in. “Steve could be having a torrid affair with someone in the Tower or even on the team, and he would never say anything.”

“Come on, now. It’s just 40s manners. From the original 40s boy.” Tony had the sudden uncomfortable feeling that Natasha knew all about his brief fling with Steve.

“Maybe. But when we were on the run from HYDRA, I asked Steve about these photographs we found on a wall in an old bunker at Camp Lehigh. He refused to even mention the name of the woman -- Peggy Carter. I found out later that she was his flame during the war.”

“And remember when he was dating Sharon?” Sam said. “He was running all over the place with her having a great time. But he never talked about her, or ever said she was his girlfriend.”

Natasha laughed. “When we were in SHIELD, lots of women -- and a few guys -- would ask me if Steve was available. I’d suggest them to Steve, and he would always have a reason for saying no. If he was interested, he wouldn’t say anything, like when I suggested Sharon.”

“My grandpa’s like that,” Sam observed. “He never talks about any of the women he dated before he met my grandmother.”

Tony shut his eyes. Steve had been straight with him about what he wanted. And now their friends were coming up with excuses for Steve. Since they obviously knew something had happened between him and Steve.

His day was not getting any better.

~~~~~~

Tony cornered Steve in the gym a few hours after lunch. “Tell me, why’d you bring a hunk of junk into my Tower?”

“What?” Steve asked, looking confused. He was finishing up his weight lifting routine and Tony tried desperately to ignore the tightness of Steve’s t-shirt clinging to his chest and the shine of the sweat on his neck and arms. Sweaty and tight were good looks on Steve.

“That motorcycle. Don’t deny it -- I found it hidden behind those boxes --”

“Oh, that. Do you need me to move it?” Steve asked. He threw a towel around his shoulders and ran a hand through his hair, mussing it up in the right way.

Tony really should not be finding Steve unbelievably hot and sexy right now. Or ever. He was annoyed with the motorcycle, annoyed that Steve didn’t tell him about his gala date, annoyed that Steve didn’t want people to know that they were dating.

Annoyed, and closing in on angry.

“I’m not running a motorcycle nursing home here, Cap. The best thing would be take that thing out and shoot it,” Tony snapped.

Crestfallen, Steve said, “I’ve been looking for a motorcycle like that for a long time. I can’t afford a 1942 Liberator but --”

“And were you ever going to ask me about it? Or just drop that death trap in the workshop and expect me to work miracles?”

Steve started to shift away. “I don’t --”

“You could’ve asked me, Steve. I would have helped you research and inspect motorcycles. Hell, I’d have been glad to buy you anything. Even a real WWII motorcycle, if that’s what you wanted!”

“Tony, I -- I didn’t want to bother --”

“Bother me! Ask me! What’s so wrong with me that you can’t ask?” Tony shouted.

Steve looked alarmed. “I never --”

An alarm blared, followed by Natasha over the intercom. “Guys, AIM is attacking a government lab complex upstate.”

Steve snapped to attention and commanded, “Avengers, assemble!”

Tony couldn’t help but notice how fast Steve hustled out of the gym. Of course, they had an Avengers call, but Steve had looked awfully relieved when that alarm came through.

~~~~~

It truly was not a good day. At all.

The call had gone out that AIM was attacking a government research lab complex outside of Ithaca, simple enough at first. But when the team landed, it turned out to be AIM and their robot army. Tony could have face-palmed when he saw the crappy Ultron knockoffs swarming all over the complex.

“Gonna be a long day,” Tony said.

Rhodey fist-bumped his shoulder. “We’ll have this wrapped up by dinner. I’ve got reservations and a date.”

“Well, in that case, let’s not hold you up.”

Steve rattled off a series of commands as the team threw themselves into battle. Tony flew air support with Carol and Rhodey, picking off the AIM robots, who turned out to be surprisingly aggressive. And unexpectedly resilient to their blasts.

Tony never had problems before with the suit in fights with AIM and whatever sorry excuses they had for robots. Hell, he usually never had problems with the suit, except when he was under constant fire or working with an untested prototype.

Today, however, he had a constant stream of data in the corner of the HUD listing a series of tiny problems with the suit. Nothing major enough to affect performance yet, but he’d have to be more careful than he liked.

“Any sign of AIM slowing down?” Tony asked Cap.

“Not yet.” The comm crackled. “Could you run a scan?”

Tony did a quick run through, and, yes, the team was in big trouble. “AIM’s in the complex and it looks like they’re breaking into the labs.”

“Stop them. Now.” Cap was gone.

Okay, Tony could handle the lab stuff. Carol and Rhodey were doing fine without him. He looked for an opening, lasered down the remains of a wall, and flew into a lab. “Howdy, guys. Expecting us?” he announced to the three AIM guys ransacking the lab. “Sorry we’re late -- traffic was a bitch. Let’s gets this party started.”

His mind was already running ahead of what he had to do as he knocked down the AIM agents. He was already hacking into the lab’s servers to find out what AIM was downloading. He’d have to get control of the complex’s security systems. Maybe plant some nasty malware or a undetectable tracking program for AIM. Hmm, he was getting ideas. Lots to do, and not a lot of time to do it in.

A parting shot from the last agent as he fell hit a seam on the suit’s left jet boot, which set off a chain reaction through the left leg of the suit. The HUD screamed at him about the electrical failures in the suit, the same time he felt the stings and burns of the malfunction on his calf. Damn. He could set up shop here and do his work while the rest of the team finished up with AIM. He gave the command to shed the left boot first.

Of course that’s when more AIM agents rushed in to find out what happened to their buddies.

“Iron Man, report in,” Steve called in.

Tony could really use Rhodey right now covering his left side. He’d have to make a stand here in this room. The repulsors in the gauntlets were still good and he had enough weaponry to hold the agents off. As long as the suit still worked.

“Iron Man?” Steve asked again.

Tony planted himself advantageously behind a workbench. And did it in time to mow down a line of three agents.

“Iron Man! Report in!” Steve shouted.

“Could use some superpowered help here!” Tony replied. Where did those AIM people get those big guns? What was in this lab that they wanted so badly? He blasted the two agents who got too close. “Show some respect for your elders,” he snapped at the unconscious agent at his feet.

“Iron Man -- Tony! Tony?” Steve repeated.

Tony didn’t like the feeling that Steve couldn’t hear his request for help. “I’m fine, Cap. I need Rhodey,” he stated firmly. “Or Carol. Or Vision.”

The comm was dead. He looked up at the AIM agents pushing forward. It was going to be a long, long day and night at the rate they were going.

He shifted his stance again, ready to fight it out to the end. Or to suddenly watch AIM start falling down right and left as a familiar red, blue and white shield rolled through them like a bowling ball through pins.

“Steve, good to see you!” He huffed out as he flipped up the helmet.

Nodding to Tony, Steve prodded a couple of agents to see if they were fully knocked out. “You’re okay,” he said, obvious relief on his face. “I couldn’t get you on the comm.”

“Great, just great,” Tony muttered. “The suit seems to have decided it’s Friday and it can knock off early for the weekend.”

“Let’s get you out of here. Widow and Hawkeye are fighting it out with AIM on the other side of the building.”

“I can’t -- I’m still working on the data --”

Steve picked up the shield. He went back to the door and scanned the hallway. “Keep working on it, Tony. We’ll leave when it’s safe and I can get you back to the quinjet.”

“I’m fine, Steve. The suit’s a bit wonky, but I’ve dealt with worse problems. At least it wasn’t taken out by an EMP device.” Tony quickly checked the progress of his downloads. “Wait -- what’s going with the robots?”

“They’re not staying down as much as we’d like.”

Tony grinned. He took the helmet off entirely. “I have some tricks up my sleeve.” He pulled up a seat in front of the computer bank.

“Good.” Steve moved the unconscious AIM agents to a side office. He walked around to stand behind Tony, who was clicking furiously away. “How is it going?”

“Not well,” Tony admitted. “This is complicated … it’s like they’ve actually become competent at designing killer robots. I’ll figure this out in a minute or two.”

Steve nodded. He patted Tony’s shoulder. “I’ll get you all the time that you need.”

This time it wasn’t the human agents, but the AIM robots. Who looked a lot fiercer up close than from above. Steve was brutally efficient in taking them down as they tried to gain access to the lab.

Tony wondered how long Steve could hold up under the assault. Because it was just him and Steve against the robots. “Need help?”

“Focus on getting control of the robots. I can get help if I need it.”

“Everyone else busy?”

“Yeah,” Steve breathlessly. “More robots and AIM guys than we expected.”

Tony’s fingers flew over the keyboard and data streamed across the HUD. He’d have to spend some time sorting out the whole ‘where did AIM get their code’ later. But he had to shut down the robots now. He figured out how the robots were replicating key parts in order to keep functioning and return to the attack. He could hear Steve issuing commands to the other Avengers.

From comments from Wanda and Clint, it appeared that AIM was now targeting Tony’s lab as the source of their troubles. The robot attacks were increasing in intensity.

Then it hit him that Steve was expending a lot of energy keeping him safe to the point that Steve was pushing his limits. “Steve, can you get any help here?” Tony asked.

“Nope. We’re it for right now.” Steve flipped the shield and bashed two more robots.

“I can get the suit --”

“Need you to work on shutting the robots down,” Steve replied through gritted teeth. “You’re the resident genius.”

Tony sighed. A few concentrated minutes later, he found the code he was looking for and fixed the problem. “Well, I just put an end to the undead robot army. Yay, me.” he announced. He stretched out his arms and yawned.

Exhausted, Steve propped himself in the doorway and smiled at Tony. “Good work.”

Tony looked around at the wrecked and destroyed robots piled around Steve. “My god, Steve. How many?”

“Enough.” Steve smiled wearily at Tony.

“And you did it all for me,” Tony said, giving Steve a broad smile back.

“Of course I did. I love you,” Steve said.

Tony froze as horror filled Steve’s tired, dirt-smudged face. “Steve --”

Steve grabbed the shield. “I have to check on the team. I’ll tell Rhodey where he can find you.”

“Steve, wait. Steve!” Tony shouted after him as Steve disappeared down the corridor. “You can’t just say that and leave.”

~~~~~

Tony ended up going back to the Tower in the quinjet with the rest of the non-flying members of the team. He could hear Rhodey and Carol on the comm joking back and forth about flying. He would prefer to be out there instead of watching Steve obsessively analyze the AIM attack and Avengers response on his tablet.

The only reason Steve was even on the quinjet was that Wanda pushed him on the jet over his protests that he needed to wrap things up with the local authorities.

At least the trip was short. Tony already had plans to waylay Steve before he left the bay. But Steve proved to be a slippery bastard and was long gone before Tony could catch him.

The next day was strange. Natasha ran the traditional mission debrief. Tony did his assessment of the damage done to the equipment. Various team members were checked for injuries. But Steve was missing.

In fact, Steve was nowhere to be found. No one knew where he was, what he was doing, or anything.

Tony gritted his teeth as he sat down with his fifth coffee of the day to do his own analysis of the AIM tech and weapons. His mind kept wandering from the consideration of zombie robots to Steve’s saying he loved him and Steve’s weird disappearance.

He hadn’t been this confused about someone since college.

~~~~~

Tony snuck down to the common kitchen where he found Steve reading a book and eating ice cream straight from the tub. The nondescript tub screamed generic supermarket chocolate ice cream.Tony wondered how it got into the house with the Whole Foods order. A plastic bag on the counter from the local Duane Reade pharmacy told one part of the story and the empty half-gallon in the sink spoke to the other.

Before Steve could flee, Tony slid onto a chair next to Steve. “So, about yesterday …”

Steve’s face looked like he’d rather go after Red Skull in his boxers and armed with a spoon than talk to Tony. He gave an awkward shrug. “The team should’ve been prepared for the robots. We’ll need to develop a training program to work on that.” Steve didn’t look up from his book and ice cream.

Tony drummed his fingers on the table. Lacking Natasha’s interrogation skills, he was at a loss on how to crack an untalkative Steve. He decided direct assault was best. “It’s not about the robot thing. I’ve got that under control. It’s the other thing.”

Finally glancing up at Tony, Steve fiddled with his spoon. He tossed the spoon in the ice cream tub and marked his place in his book with a sigh. “I was hoping you’d forget that.”

“How could I? You said you loved me.”

“Heat of battle.”

“You’ve always been a bad liar, Steve.”

Steve reached for Tony’s hand, then pulled his hand back as if burned. He swallowed. “I meant what I said, Tony. I do love you.”

Tony blinked. Once. Twice. He had no more of an idea what to do now than when he first heard Steve say it. A retort about how nice it would been to hear that a couple of months ago died on his tongue.

“And?”

“I’ll get it over in time, okay?” Steve said. He scrubbed a hand over his face. “We broke it off and I know that you don’t think of me that way any more. So, please, just let it go.”

Tony sucked in a deep breath.

Steve continued. “I’m not proud of how I acted at the charity event. I’m sorry about that.”

“Whoah, stop. Back it up. You said that you love me and you meant it. Why didn’t you say something sooner? Like when I asked you about why you didn’t introduce me as your boyfriend?”

Steve tensed up and stared at the table. “I didn’t know how I felt then. I cared -- care -- about you so much. You liked me back. More than I could have hoped for.” Steve shifted his shoulders uneasily. “And It was a gift. I wanted to be careful, so didn’t blow it.” He heaved a sigh. “But I did.”

He looked up at last, meeting Tony’s brown eyes with his blue. He bit his trembling lower lip.

“Uh, Steve, you -- the table.” Tony pointed where Steve was gripping the table with superhuman strength. He immediately let go before he broke off the edge.

“Tony, I just don’t know what to do. You’ve moved on, and I --” Steve ducked his head again. “You were clear on what you wanted.”

“What I wanted was to be your boyfriend.” Tony took a deep breath and remembered the past few months. “Okay, right. Let’s start over again. Actually, let’s start that conversation all over again.”

“Huh?”

“The break-up conversation.”

Steve frowned. “Okay, I think.”

Tony racked his brain for a place to start and blurted out, “Look, if you’re concerned about how Captain America --”

“Take that right off the table, Stark,” Steve said firmly. “What happened between you and me has nothing to with being Captain America or Iron Man or being out in public. Nothing like that at all.”

“But you --”

“What I remember about that conversation is that you didn’t like that I didn’t introduce you as my boyfriend to someone I met at motorcycle rally the week before.”

“There was more,” Tony said. “A lot more.”

“You asked me why I didn’t call you my guy, I said I couldn’t, and you didn’t like that answer. We decided not to see each other any more, and, next I knew, you were dating someone. I got the message.”

“I’m trying to get from ‘we’re not on the same page’ to you saying I love you. I’m a brilliant guy, Steve, but I’m not seeing how you got from point A to point B. At all.”

Shaking his head, Steve got up and grabbed the ice cream and spoon. He put the ice cream away in the freezer. He put his hands on the island and let his head drop down. “Tony -- look, you’re confusing me. I thought this was over --”

“Yeah, well, you re-opened Pandora’s Box when you said you love me.”

“Why do you care, Tony? Just let it go. I’ve apologized, and I’m willing to put everything behind us and move on.”

Tony had always liked poking things to find out what made them tick. Steve was proving to be difficult. He took a different tack. “I thought you’d moved on to seeing other people too? Like with Anne.”

“Anne?” Steve looked genuinely confused. “The person I bought the motorcycle from?”

“Why does everything you do tie back to that death machine you smuggled in?”

“We didn’t smuggle anything in. Sam and I borrowed an Avengers van.”

Tony wanted to slam his head on the table. He could be at a bar with Rhodey right now instead of trying to wring blood out of a stone. “So you aren’t dating anyone?”

“No. Are you?”

“No,” Tony said. “The Bryce thing didn’t work out. I wish you’d told me --”

“I didn’t want --”

“To look like you were interfering. I get that.” He looked up at the ceiling and then back to Steve. “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t still have feelings, Steve. I never wanted us to break it off --”

Steve studied Tony a long time. “You wanted us to go steady.”

Tony drummed the table with his fingers as he tried to parse what Steve was saying. “I get the motorcycle -- which we are still going to talk about, by the way -- but wait, what the hell do you mean, steady--?”

“Steady. My guy. Like we’ll get married some day.”

He guessed he’d asked for it. He never knew when he was going to get blindsided by 1940s Steve. Tony looked at up 2010s Steve. “Boyfriend doesn’t mean -- I wasn’t asking -- oh, jeez.”

He ran a hand over his face. “Didn’t anyone ever talk to you about dating in the 21st century?”

“No, that topic wasn’t exactly covered in my debriefings. People think I don’t get toasters and cell phones and computers. They assume that I understand everything else.” The corner of Steve’s mouth quirked up. “Back then, in my day, you went out with lots of people until you found that one special person who liked you back. You got married and settled down. It’s … not like that now.”

He shrugged. “I thought I was doing fine with you until ‘boyfriend’ came up.”

Tony smacked his forehead with his hand. “Well, okay then. That explains a lot.” He smiled at Steve. “Um, no, I wasn’t asking you to go ‘steady.’ Boyfriend, that’s all. I just wanted you to acknowledge to random strangers that we had something going on. Oh, damn it, I’m going to have to explain exclusivity to you, aren’t I?”

Steve smiled. “I have no idea what you’re talking about -- I can guess though.”

“Let me put it another way. I wasn’t asking you to marry me. But you didn’t ...”

Steve came back over to the table. He pulled a chair over to sit close to Tony. “I thought we were doing fine. Taking it day by day, not pushing, seeing where we were going.” He looked up at Tony through those ridiculously long eyelashes of his.

“Hmmm,” Tony could only reply. He picked up Steve’s big, broad hand and rubbed a circle into the palm with his thumb. “And, I thought we were at ‘boyfriend’ stage. Which, I have to admit, is not a fitting term for adults at our age. But, you know, something a little more serious between us. A Thing.”

“Sometimes when you talk, I have no idea what you are saying,” Steve admitted. But he didn’t pull his hand back.

“The point is -- I wanted us to be a couple, Steve. You didn’t seem up for that.”

“Oh,” Steve said. He took a deep breath and squeezed Tony’s hand. “It felt too soon for me, Tony. I didn’t understand why you couldn’t wait for me to catch up.”

“I’ve been down that road before, Steve, and you were honest with me about not promising anything.” He loved the weight of Steve’s hand in his and the feel of his strong fingers. “Now --”

“You were gone. I missed you, and --” Steve’s voice hitched. “And I missed you a lot. It didn’t help when I saw you at the gala with a new guy, and you were moving on. I was lucky that someone like you ever looked at me twice. Then I made a mistake --”

“No, we both made the mistake -- enjoy the moment, Steve -- you won’t hear that from me often.”

Steve gripped Tony’s hand tightly. “So, am I reading this right? We have a -- a second chance?”

Tony grinned. “Well, I’d be stupid to turn you down, Cap. But seriously, what’s the deal with the motorcycle?”

“Let’s talk about that tomorrow,” Steve suggested. He leaned in. Tony closed his eyes in anticipation as Steve lifted his chin with both hands, his thumbs sweeping over his cheeks. Steve pressed warm lips to Tony’s.

Tony rested his forehead on Steve’s. “Yeah, that’s good. But I’m not ready to let you off the hook for that offense against modern engineering you brought in here.”

Steve laughed long and hard. “The motorcycle’s not that bad, Tony. I’ve taken it for a ride a couple of times already.”

“Consider it a miracle you didn’t get killed. I didn’t spend all this time designing equipment for you so you end up dead. And you go out of your way to buy a deathtrap.”

Steve put his large warm hand on Tony’s hip. “I’m still here.”

“I bet you even rode without a helmet,” Tony grumbled. It was a pretty weak protest, with a dazzling Steve grinning at him like he was the Fourth of July, birthday cake and fireworks all rolled up in one package.

“Possibly --”

“Could you pretend to care about your personal safety? Just long enough that we can try this thing out between us?”

Steve laughed again, his breath warm against Tony’s cheek. “I’ll do my best.”

~~~~~

A couple of days later, Tony was brushing his teeth in the bathroom. Steve came up behind him and put his arms around his waist, nuzzling the back of Tony’s neck. Tony was never going to get over that or stop enjoying it. Even if he could still feel the aching stretch in his muscles from their enthusiastic night.

“I have some spare time today,” Tony managed to get out. “I want to look at that motorcycle you bought.”

“Really?” Steve said carefully.

“Yeah, I’m not promising any miracles or anything. I wish you’d let me buy you a real motorcycle. There are a lot of great looking machines coming up at auction --”

Steve kissed Tony on the ear, sending sparks down his spine. “Just see what you can do.”

“Sure, sure. Bring me all your sad, lonely wrecks to fix, like lost puppies.” Tony was itching to get his fingers on that motorcycle though.

They went down to the loading dock where Steve had stowed it. Steve wheeled out the motorcycle. He said, “I’ve been looking for a 1940s Harley-Davidson, like the one I had in the war. Something I could use on a day off.”

Tony knelt down to look more closely at the wretched machine in front of him. “Yeah, this looks like it’s been through a war, alright.”

“I know it’s a replica -- I think that the woman who sold it to me made it from a kit or something like that. It’s the best I could afford.”

“Wait -- so all those calls you were getting were people trying to sell you junk motorcycles?”

“Yeah. Like that guy we saw in Central Park that time -- he’s someone I met through a club. Clint told me about Craigslist and Sam showed me online forums.” Steve smiled. “I knew that you wouldn’t like what I bought -- but --”

“Honestly, Steve, it’s going to take me forever to tear this down to the frame and find out if anything is recoverable, and then I have to order replica parts --”

“So you’ll work on it?” Steve said.

“If my boyfriend insists on wasting his money on broken-down pieces of junk instead of buying a fully refinished and restored work of art, it’s not like I don’t love working on hopeless cases like this --”

Tony froze. Maybe it was too soon to use that word, things were still settling down, fragile like newly formed ice.

But Steve bent down and kissed the top of his head. “Thanks. I should consider myself lucky that my boyfriend likes to work on machines.”

Something broke free in his chest, flooding his senses with unanticipated happiness. “Yeah, your boyfriend does.” He squeezed Steve’s hand and smiled. “It’ll be an adventure.”

Steve leaned over and kissed him. “I’m counting on it.”