The whole thing is Bucky’s fault.
Bucky’s the one who insists Steve needs a night out, the one who drags Steve to the club, the one who spots a gorgeous redhead across the room and begs Steve to talk up the guy next to her so Bucky can have a chance to flirt with her alone. Steve agrees, but one look at the guy and he knows it’s pointless. He’s attractive enough, sure, but he’s also wearing sunglasses indoors, his clothes look more expensive than Steve’s last year of rent, and he looks entirely bored by his surroundings. The words spoiled prick come to mind. He lets Bucky drag him over anyway, and in the time it takes Steve to blink, Bucky and the redhead—Natasha, Tony-the-spoiled-prick tells him—have disappeared, leaving Steve and Tony to try and forge onward awkwardly.
It takes five minutes of conversation for them to realize they fucking hate each other.
“Look.” Tony swirls his drink. “In the interest of speeding this terrible meet and greet along, let’s cut to the chase—irritating as you are, you’re admittedly very physically attractive and I’ve got a room in the hotel across the street. Interested?”
“You’re an absolute prick,” Steve tells him, fully ready to follow that up with a fuck no, only to find that in spite of himself…he kind of wants to go. If he’s being perfectly honest it’s been a while for him, and Tony’s a douchebag but he is attractive. “What’s the room number?”
Tony smirks, like he expected no other answer, and God, Steve hates him.
Which, oddly enough, turns him on a lot more than he expects. He’s never had hate sex before and he’s not expecting much from it, because all the sex he’s enjoyed before has come from a place of mutual admiration and respect. He doesn’t admire and he definitely doesn’t respect Tony, but there must be something there because despite being a very different sexual experience, it’s also without question one of the best of Steve’s life. It’s intense and athletic and loud, so loud, Steve expected Mr. Smooth Cool Guy to be more collected but he’s not at all, he moans and he gasps and he swears, a stream of sound that only serves to drive Steve crazier.
By the end of the night they’ve left bruises and scratches all over each other, fingerprints and nail marks and more than a few bites. He’s never had sex quite like it; now his whole system’s thrumming with adrenaline and pleasure and the need for more. He knows the routine so he starts collecting his things, but he can’t help hesitating. It’s not that he has any real desire to get to know Tony as a person, but he’s not seeing anyone right now so the idea of at least having this to look forward to every once in a while sounds fantastic. He feels like a drug addict, impatient for another hit but unsure how to ask for it. In the bed, Tony rolls up onto his elbows and smirks.
“Want my number?”
“Sex only.” Tony holds up a hand. “Couldn’t agree more.”
“If you develop feelings—” Steve starts, only for Tony to snort and roll his eyes pointedly. Steve mirrors it. “If either of us develops feelings, we tell each other. Shake on it.”
Tony looks down at his hand with amusement. “Do you want me to spit in my hand, first? Or maybe cut my palm?”
“Just fucking shake on it already.”
“If I ever start swooning at your self-righteous attitude and overabundant arrogance, trust me, I’ll let you know.” Tony shakes his hand anyway, adds mockingly, “Should we write up a list of rules, or can your cramped brain manage to remember ‘don’t fall in love with me’?”
“Actually, that’s a good idea,” Steve decides, mostly to spite him. “Rule one: no staying the night.”
Tony gives him a look. “Who said I would let you in the first place?”
“Second rule, we meet in hotels only.” Steve starts writing his number down on the hotel-logo-emblazoned pad of paper next to the bed.
This time Tony rolls his eyes. “Obviously.”
“Third, no casual texting, we’re not friends, we’re—”
“Jesus, Steve, I know how a booty call works. I’m not going to ask you out for dinner and a movie. You want another rule, let’s throw in the hand-holding, stroking my face crap, what the hell was that?”
Steve can’t help reddening a little; he’s used to taking care of his partners, he tends to like them a hell of a lot more than he does this Tony guy. Tony hadn’t objected at the time. “It was just habit, don’t make a big thing out of it. I won’t do it again.”
“Whatever, Tony.” Steve drops the pen back on the table, gathers up his things again and tugs his shirt on. “I’ll see you when I see you.”
It takes two weeks for Tony to text him. Likely playing some kind of waiting game, but joke’s on him, because Steve’s hardly just waiting around to be called. He’s not some kind of pet. He actually misses the first text, too busy getting drunk with Bucky and Sam to notice his phone buzz, but they connect a few days later and Steve’s reminded why he bothered with such a jerk in the first place. After the second time things go a little smoother, they part on slightly better terms—not great, but better—and start meeting up more regularly. They follow all the rules to a T, though Steve has more trouble than he expects with the, as Tony puts it, “hand-holding, stroking my face crap”. It’s not that he likes Tony, just that when he gets into sex—and for all that they clash the minute their clothes are back on, they are both very, very enthusiastically into the sex—he forgets about those types of things.
They’re about three months and more than two dozen meet-ups into this thing, right when Steve’s finally managed to go a whole session without any of the “touchy-feely bullshit”—another of Tony’s preferred expressions—when Tony’s the one scrambling for his hands. Steve doesn’t think much of it at the time, mostly because Tony’s coming and Steve’s not far behind, but Tony clings and Steve holds him and when they’re both finished he rolls off. They’re still not friends, but they talk a little more these days—about the sex and how to improve it, nothing else, that’s dangerous territory—so Steve’s comfortable enough pointing it out.
“You broke rule number four.” He could be less of a dick about it, true, but it’s not like Tony ever holds back with him.
“I did.” Tony acknowledges, a bit of a gasp to it, but not because he’s surprised; he’s still trying to catch his breath. Steve gets the bottle of water from the bedside, takes a long drink himself before passing it along. “Thanks.”
Tony drinks. Steve takes care of the condom, ties it off and aims for the wastebasket by the door; he misses.
“Have you ever made that shot?”
“One of these nights,” Steve insists.
Tony snorts. “Maybe if we get a room with the basket directly next to the bed.”
“Shut up.” Steve elbows him. Tony does stop talking, for a minute, but not for long. It’s not really his style.
“Maybe rule number four was added a little hastily,” Tony admits. Steve glances over at him. “Possibly by someone who, lacking proper experience with it, told themselves they didn’t like touchy-feely bullshit anyway, but has since found that it could, potentially, work for them.”
It’s a mouthful of a sentence, one that takes Steve’s sex-hazy brain a minute to unwrap. Tony’s not big on direct communication. Steve thinks he gets it, though, and if he’s reading between the lines right he thinks it’s the most personal thing Tony’s ever told him. He still doesn’t like the guy much, but he can admit there’s not as much animosity between them as there used to be. If it turns out Tony likes being taken care of during sex more than he expected, well, Steve can work with that.
“Fair enough.” Steve shrugs. “Three rules sounds more solid than four, anyway.”
“How is three more solid than four?”
“It’s just a rounder number, I don’t know.”
“But three’s odd and four’s even, four should sound rounder than three.”
“There’s all sorts of stuff in threes,” Steve dismisses him. “Three primary colors, three types of matter, the rule of three—”
“Wait, back up.” Tony shakes his head. “There’s four states of matter, not three.”
“Now you’re just being argumentative—”
“I’m serious! Solid, liquid, gas and plasma.”
“Plasma isn’t a state of matter—”
“I have a PhD in physics, Steve, plasma is a fucking state of matter.” Tony’s swearing, but it’s casual, like he finds it hilarious that Steve would try and argue with him about this.
Steve sighs, probably wrong but not happy about it. “Show off.”
“Is that what you like to call people when they’re right?” Tony teases.
“It’s what I like to call people when they’re showing off that they have some fancy schmancy PhD.”
“I have three PhD’s.” Tony props himself up on one elbow. “Did you really not know that?”
“How would I know that?” Steve rolls his eyes, mimics Tony in falsetto, “Oh yeah, Steve, fuck me like I’ve got three PhD’s, because I definitely do.”
“I meant I’m surprised you haven’t googled me.” Tony flicks his stomach. Steve rubs his stomach and flicks Tony back, though it doesn’t really hurt; the nail marks Tony left on his back sting far more, but that’s the good kind of sting.
“How would I google you? I don’t even know your last name.” Tony freezes up and Steve backtracks. “Not that I’m asking, relax.”
“Right.” Tony relaxes, or tries to; it seems forced.
“What, do you want me to?” Steve raises an eyebrow, tries for a joke to lighten him up. “Shit, have you fallen for me at long last?”
“Don’t be stupid.” Tony rolls his eyes, but the tension in his shoulders seems to finally dissipate. “I just thought I told you, I guess. Doesn’t matter, I don’t know yours, best to keep it that way.”
Steve nods his agreement, takes back the water bottle from Tony so he can drink some more before hoisting himself up. He snags a washcloth from the bathroom, does a quick wipe down of himself before tossing it to Tony and collecting his clothes.
“Out of town.” Tony shakes his head. He’s out of town a lot; he’s some kind of businessman, that much Steve’s gathered, but what kind of business Steve doesn’t know. They don’t ask those kinds of questions about each other. Steve just nods, and Tony adds, “I’ll text you when I’m back.”
Tony’s gone for about a week that time, which is fairly normal, but next time it’s nearly a month. Tony warns him prior to it and they meet up again before he goes, but once he’s gone it’s still…strange. Steve doesn’t want to say he misses Tony, exactly, but saying he just misses the sex doesn’t feel quite right either. They see each other a lot, these days; at least three nights a week, sometimes more. Steve’s friends teased him relentlessly at first, but his thing with Tony is so regular now that even Bucky doesn’t bat an eye when Steve says he’s heading out to meet him, and Bucky’s always the holdout. The flipside of that regularity means that it takes them no time at all to discover that Tony’s out of town, and even less time to decide that Steve’s become mopey in his absence.
“Oh my god, just text him,” Sam demands, halfway through his third beer.
“I’m not going to text him.” Steve ignores the round of boos that go up.
“Text him, text him, text him,” Clint starts chanting. Thor’s the first to join in, but given a minute they’re all going at it.
It’s Friday night and as per usual they’re all sitting around the coffee table, because it’s Steve and Bucky’s apartment and Steve and Bucky’s paychecks do not add up to affording a kitchen table and chairs. It’s their next intended purchase, though, right after they buy Bucky a mattress that didn’t previously house a family of raccoons. And Call of Duty 4. Bucky and Natasha are lounging in the recliner—well, Bucky’s in the recliner, Natasha’s in Bucky’s lap—Steve and Sam snagged the couch, while Thor and Clint, late to the party, have been stuck with the floor across from them.
“What would I even say?” Steve throws his hands up, not giving in, but at least saying something to get them to stop chanting. The neighbors are going to be pissy tomorrow if they’re not careful.
“I miss your dick,” Bucky suggests.
“Better yet, don’t say anything at all.” Clint makes a gesture like his hands are a camera, and he clicks a ‘picture’ over Steve’s crotch.
“I’m not sending him a dick pic, Clint.” He isn’t opposed to the idea of dirty pictures, or sexting in general, but out of the blue like that seems tacky.
“Do you think he would not like it?” Thor shrugs, takes another drink of his beer. “Jane and I often—”
Immediate and resounding protest rises up from the group, who have all heard far too many Jane and Thor stories.
“We’ve been over this, man, nobody wants to hear that.” Sam makes a face.
“I was merely going to say we keep in touch when apart, you make me out to be so crass.” Thor chuckles, then gets a smirk on his face that means nothing good. “Although, yes, I have also sent her many pictures of mjolnir.”
“Thor, for fuck’s sake—”
“Shut up, man—”
“What is wrong with you—”
Thor and Jane insist on referring to his junk as mjolnir in public, as if they’re the only two dorks on the planet who know basic Norse mythology. The group caught on in about six seconds, but if anything that’s only seemed to encourage the couple to use it more. While the others continue to complain, Steve fiddles with his phone. It wouldn’t hurt just to glance—
“He’s not listening, he’s waiting for his boyfriend to text him,” Bucky tells someone impatiently, snaps his fingers. Steve glares at him. “There we go. Stevie, we’ve been over this, just ball up and text the guy already.”
“We have a rule about—”
The group groans in unison.
“Fuck your rules, man,” Sam insists. “You like this guy, and now you’re all mopey without him even though there’s a perfectly easy solution.”
“I don’t like him.” Steve can’t help a quick glance at Natasha. He doesn’t like Tony, but Natasha’s presence is a bit more of a reason to be emphatic about it.
Natasha and Tony aren’t friends, exactly; Tony was her employer at one point, and isn’t any longer. Steve isn’t entirely sure of the details, what Tony or Natasha’s jobs were, just that they’ve kept in touch despite the fact that Natasha jumps from job to job on what appears to be a whim. She’s beautiful and charming and exceedingly talented at being what people want her to be, so she gets more than enough job offers to make that kind of lifestyle work for her. Steve worried a little in the beginning, about his best friend falling for someone who seemed so impermanent, but he’s grown to like Natasha a lot and for all that she’s flighty with jobs she’s loyal to the bone when it comes to Bucky, and now to them as well. It’s why Steve hesitates to talk about Tony around her. She and Tony are still in touch, and though Steve’s better friends with her, Tony knew her first; Steve has no idea which of them ranks higher in her loyalty hierarchy, and he’s unwilling to test it. Mostly, he just tries not say anything, but the guys seem unwilling to let that happen tonight.
“Shame,” is all Natasha says, which is unhelpfully vague. Bucky nods in agreement like he knows exactly what she’s talking about. Steve shoots him a look, and Bucky waves a hand at him.
“Come on, Steve. You have to know you’re basically dating the guy, right?”
“We’re not dating, it’s just sex,” Steve repeats for what feels like the hundredth time. He gets booed by the group.
“Look, I am all for recreational, no strings, animalistic hate sex,” Bucky gestures loosely with his beer. Natasha smirks. Steve decides he’d rather not know why. “But that’s not what you’re doing. Not all you’re doing, anyway—I mean, if you have to rely on these bullshit rules to stop you from doing anything more, then doesn’t that kind of tell you how much you want to be doing more?”
“No, we just set up the rules to be clear with each other, they’re not—the rules aren’t stopping us, we’re stopping ourselves, the rules just establish—”
“If you say ‘rules’ one more time, I’m throwing my beer at you,” Clint threatens, but it’s a null one and they all know it. Clint would never give up free beer.
“It’s not exactly like you’re good at following rules to begin with.” Sam snorts.
“I don’t want to text him, rule or no rule,” Steve insists. He’s feeling less and less certain about that by the minute, but he’ll be damned if he’s going to tell them that.
Natasha eyes his phone. “I’ll give you a hundred dollars if you text him and he doesn’t reply in less than a minute.”
Steve stares. “What?”
“You heard me.” Natasha smiles, tips her beer in his direction. “Going once…”
“I don’t—” Steve starts, only for Bucky lean off the recliner to punch him in the shoulder. “Ow!”
“Call of Duty 4!” Bucky hisses.
“I thought you wanted a better mattre—” Steve’s cut off as Sam punches his other shoulder. “Ow!”
“You heard the man, Call of Duty 4!”
“Going twice.” Natasha grins.
“Fine!” Steve holds up both hands defensively, ready to catch any more punches coming his way. “I’ll text him, breaking the rules we’ve established and potentially convincing him that I can’t handle no strings and that we should end the whole thing for good, which would be terrible for my sex life and make me really upset. ”
“Yeah.” Bucky nods emphatically. “Do that.”
“Call of Duty!” Clint whoops.
“Text him,” Natasha repeats.
“I hate you guys.”
“You love us.” Sam leans into his shoulder, adding in a sing-song voice, “Though not as much as you love Tony…”
“Shut up.” Steve shoves Sam off him, pulls out his phone.
He debates what the hell he’s even supposed to say, before a stroke of true brilliance occurs to him.
Steve: Natasha paid me $100 to text you, ignore this
He feels rather proud of himself, for all of about ten seconds. Then his phone chimes.
Tony: Just $100? You’re cheaper than I remember
Natasha raises her beer in cheers. “What’d I tell you?”
“That’s—” Shit. He should’ve explained that Tony had to wait at least a minute. He’d said ‘ignore this’, but Tony might’ve thought he was just saying he could ignore it. Why did he text back at all? They have a rule! “Damn it.”
“Call of Duty,” Clint moans sadly, falling backwards until he lands with a thump on the floor.
Steve fiddles with his phone. It isn’t as if Tony asked him any questions, his text doesn’t need answering. Tony probably only even answered to be polite; Steve texted once, because he had to, Tony texted back once, to let Steve know he got it. They haven’t technically broken the rule yet, the rule is casual conversations. Two texts isn’t a conversation—
“Just text him back.” Sam elbows him. “I can see your fingers itching.”
“That’d break the rule.” Steve puts his phone down and leans over to grab another beer. The group boos him again.
“Rules, rules, rules.” Clint makes a face at the ceiling. “Since when do you follow the rules, old man?”
Steve throws a pillow at him.
This thankfully turns into a pillow war—it’s a war, not a fight, they’re grown-ass men and women, thank you—which serves as a distraction. Steve forgets about texting Tony back for a while, until they call it a night and Natasha squeezes his arm as she leaves.
“He’ll text you back, Steve.” She smiles. “Tony’s not exactly a rule-follower himself.”
Steve wonders if she knows. He hasn’t told them, her or anyone, that he and Tony have agreed rule four no longer counts; any other rule and he would’ve, but the way in which Tony asked for it, however vaguely, seems personal. Tony’s story to tell, whatever story there is. Still, it does remind him—Tony’s already broken a rule, and Steve gave him a pass. Tony would likely be okay with breaking another, just this once. It isn’t like Steve intends to text him for long, or become buddy-buddy. He just wants to…check in, that’s all. He’s used to seeing Tony all the time, and now it’s been almost two weeks; that’s the longest since they started this whole thing.
He picks up his phone, contemplating Tony’s last message from more than an hour ago. Should he give an excuse for how long it took him to answer? He settles on,
Steve: You’re the one who keeps booking the marriott when there’s a hampton inn right around the corner
Again, Tony’s reply takes hardly a minute. He must be a fast texter; Natasha swindled Steve.
Tony: If I knew STDs and dirty sheets turned you on, I would have
Before Steve can even think of a reply, a second message pops up.
Tony: Busy night?
Steve hesitates, then texts,
Steve: Drinking with friends, got distracted. And I’m sure the hampton inn cleans their sheets, you’re just spoiled
Tony: If spoiled = values my health then yes, I am. The only way I’d step foot in a hampton inn is in a hazmat suit, and no one looks good in hazmat yellow
Steve: You sure? I definitely have a thing for men in hazmat suits
Tony: I’m calling bullshit
Steve: No, really. The sterile yellow really accentuates the whites of their eyes
Tony: Lmao, keep it up, I’ll wear a hazmat suit next time and you’ll have to eat your words
Steve: Did you really just say ‘lmao’
Tony: I texted it, I didn’t say it
Tony: And I’m in a meeting, I didn’t think about it, dick
Steve: Did you really just call me a dick while in a meeting
Tony: Dickety dickfaced dicksucker
Tony: To be fair, you’ve definitely earned the title of dicksucker
Steve: I’m so honored
Tony: Would ‘champion dicksucker’ make you feel better?
Steve: I’m concerned about the fact that you feel comfortable writing a text including the phrase ‘champion dicksucker’ in the middle of a meeting
For whatever reason, Tony’s reply takes a whopping three minutes and twenty-seven seconds. Not that anyone’s counting.
Tony: I can write a hell of a lot more than that, if you want
Ah. That might be why. Though Tony apparently thought twice about sending it, Steve finds he doesn’t really need to think twice about his answer.
Steve: Show me what you got
Turns out, what Tony’s got is a lot.
He’s a better writer than Steve’s expecting, to be honest, though he should’ve at least suspected it; Tony’s exceptional at dirty talk, it makes sense that would translate. Steve finds he’s very glad Bucky went to Natasha’s for the night. He’s always felt a little weird masturbating with Bucky home, their rooms are too close, and Tony’s texts are winding him up almost as fast as if Tony’s right there in the room with him. Then Tony starts giving him directions, like he knows what Steve’s doing—he probably does, considering how slowly Steve’s replies are coming—telling Steve how he’d help him if he were there, how he’d direct Steve’s hand with his own but not touch him anywhere else, tease him, make him beg for contact, and Steve hears himself say please to the empty room in spite of himself. He doesn’t tell Tony, Tony’s smug enough as is.
Steve’s tantalizingly close when the texts stop.
Steve kind of wants to throttle him—that complete and utter dick, Steve can’t believe he didn’t see this coming—and then his phone rings. Actually rings, for a call instead of a text, and Steve almost knocks it off the bed in his scramble to grab it. He’s way too far gone to bother trying to tell himself he’s not hoping it’s Tony.
“Hey, sorry, meeting ended, had to shake a few hands with a hard-on, that was fun,” Tony starts talking immediately, before Steve can so much as get a word in edgewise. “In the limo now, partition’s up, we’re good.”
Words like limo and partition buzz around in Steve’s head, and if he’s supposed to know what that means, he doesn’t. Tony seems to get that, because his tone changes from rushed and apologetic to something slower, more suggestive.
“You’re still touching yourself, yeah?”
“Yeah,” Steve breathes. He’s not quite as close as he was before, the abruptness of Tony cutting off and then transitioning to a call threw him a little, but he can get back there. Tony’s voice in his ear, heavy with promise? He can get there.
“Give yourself a stroke for me. That’s it, good, nice and slow,” Tony encourages, not waiting for Steve to say that he’s done it. Tony knows he will. The thought does something to him, a twist of heat low in his gut, and Steve lets out a breathy sigh. Tony hums. “I’ve got time, no rush here. You got somewhere to be, Steve?”
“No,” Steve almost stutters over the word. It’s not even the way he’s touching himself, it’s Tony voice, slow and soft and enticing, familiar and exactly what he needs right now. It’s been weeks but it feels like years.
“Good. Christ, I’ve been hard for ages, all through that damn meeting.” There’s a rustling sound over the line, something that sounds like a zipper. Arousal jolts through Steve at the thought; Tony in some fancy suit, pants around his ankles in the back of a car, getting off to Steve’s voice. Steve squeezes himself, tight, tries to calm down. He must make some sort of noise. “Thinking about me?”
“Yes,” Steve rasps, “God, yes, you in one of those nice suits, all mussed up now, with your tie askew and your pants shoved to your thighs like a teenager, too eager to wait.”
“Yeah?” It’s Tony’s turn to be breathless, and Steve hears him moan over the line. It’s not acting, either; Tony’s shameless, it’s fantastic. “You like the debauched look, huh?”
“I do.” Steve tries to get a grip on one of the several dozen fantasies jumbling around in his head now. “I’d make it worse, if I could. I’d unbutton your shirt, leave hickeys all down your throat and chest. I’d suck you off, be messy about it, get come all over those expensive pants of yours.”
Tony moans again, deeply this time. “Fuck, Steve. I’d hold you down by your hair—”
“Tight, like I like it—”
“Real tight, yeah, keep you there until you’re gasping—”
“Choking on your cock and still begging for it—”
“And I’d run my thumb over your mouth, all slick and stretched around me—god, fuck, Steve.” Tony cut himself off with a sharp inhale. “Why the fuck are you not here and fucking me—”
“You’d like that, wouldn’t you?” Steve can hardly breathe through his arousal, putting together a coherent thought is impossible. He says whatever comes to mind, wants it so badly he feels like his blood’s on fire. “Have me suck you til you’re right on the edge, then leave you hanging, manhandle you over—”
Tony keens. It always seems to do something for him, being reminded that Steve’s stronger than him and not above using it to his advantage. “God, shit, yeah—”
“Press you into the seats and take you from behind—”
Tony gives a choked laugh. “What, no prep?”
“It’s a fantasy, Tony, c’mon.”
“What, fantasy you is some kind of sadist?”
“No, maybe—maybe fantasy you prepped yourself, I don’t know—”
“Your fantasy is for me to do all the work?”
“My fantasy involves being inside you as fast as possible, okay? Pretend I prepped you, then—”
“Why am I the only one pretending, why aren’t you pretending—”
“Okay, we’re now both pretending that I have taken my sweet time thoroughly and completely stretching you, four fingers wide and a whole bottle of lube—”
“You’re such a—” Tony’s breath catches. “—sarcastic little fucker.”
“And that turns you on.” Steve grins knowingly, and Tony stutters out something that’s half Steve’s name and half a moan. “Yeah, I know it does. You’re close too now, aren’t you?”
“Fuck, yeah,” Tony groans. Steve feels his toes curl. “You there?”
Steve nods without thinking about it, wound too tight to realize Tony can’t hear him. “Tony—Tony, I need—”
“I know,” Tony pants, “I know what you need, Steve, you need—need to fuck me, use me, rut into me hard and fast and desperate, I need you too, it’s been weeks, babe, god—”
Steve comes without warning, a twist of pleasure and a flare of heat up his spine. He can’t breathe for a minute after, can’t hear anything distinct, just Tony’s voice still going on about all the dirty things he has planned for when he’s back. His voice hits a certain crescendo and he stutters, gasps, and then Steve knows he’s coming by the sound he makes. He knows exactly how Tony looks just then, breathless and flushed with exertion, expression twisted in pleasure; it’s enough that Steve can feel his dick making a valiant attempt at re-arousal. He wants to be there with Tony, wherever there is.
They pant together over the line for a minute, but it’s companionable, comfortable even. Eventually, Tony speaks first.
“I know there’s no rule, but I’m gonna go ahead and preemptively apologize for the ‘babe’ bit anyway. I’d be sorrier, but. You know my mouth.”
Steve laughs, because he does. “Don’t worry about it. Worry about what I’m gonna do to that mouth when you get back.”
Tony groans. “I’m not gonna last another two weeks.”
“So don’t,” Steve decides. It’s not really breaking their rule, anyway. “Call me.”
“Nah.” Steve shakes his head, though he knows rationally that Tony can’t see him. “We said no casual conversation, phone sex doesn’t count. Right?”
“Yeah, no, that makes sense,” Tony agrees emphatically. It’s a little quick, but then, he’s always looser after sex. “I’ll call you.”
The next two weeks aren’t exactly short, and they’d be better with Tony actually around to do the things they talk about, but it passes much faster than the first two. They call often and in between calls they text, having come to the unanimous, unspoken agreement that despite what they said, phone sex has broken the casual conversation rule, or has at least led them to the breaking point. So they call, and they text, and it’s during this time that Steve realizes Tony’s not actually a totally terrible person.
He wouldn’t say they’re friends—not out loud—but he thinks it, knows it. He still doesn’t know Tony’s birthday, or his last name, or what his job is, but he knows Tony’s favorite fruit is strawberries and that his last girlfriend, Pepper, was allergic to them. He knows Pepper is the only serious partner Tony’s ever had, and one of his best friends to this day. He knows there’s a man called Rhodey who Tony describes as his “one true platonic life partner”, and the only time they’ve ever voluntarily gone a week without speaking was in college, after Rhodey accidentally crawled into Tony’s bed instead of his own and they made out, briefly, until they figured out they weren’t each other’s girlfriends via the startling lack of breasts. Tony discovered he was attracted to men as well as women; Rhodey did not. It was an awkward week.
He knows by now that he’s definitely supposed to know who Tony is, celebrity-wise, but he also knows Tony’s glad he doesn’t; Steve tries to keep it that way, avoiding questions that dig too close to an identity and not thinking about any of the details too hard. Steve initial impression of Tony seems to have been a mask, or at least a partial one—Tony’s definitely got a snarky streak a mile wide, no question about that—but he’s kinder when he’s comfortable. Less defensive, more teasing. Steve wants to keep it that way.
Steve fully expects the texts to dry up once Tony’s back in town. They text all day until Tony gets on the plane, then meet up in the middle of the afternoon because Tony goes straight from the airport to the hotel. They spend the whole afternoon and most of the night in their room; Steve’s basically a zombie the next day at work, but he’s too blissed out to care. If there’s such a thing as the orgasm equivalent of a hangover, he’s got it. He can’t resist texting Tony that, who texts back as quick as ever suggesting that they call it an ‘orgover’. Steve points out that sounds kind of like the orgy version of Passover, then they get sidetracked debating which holiday would be best if turned into an orgy, and weeks pass without either of them ever quite finding the right place to end the conversation. So they don’t.
It takes them four months after that to break another rule, which, all things considered, Steve doesn’t think is actually all that terrible.
They’re friends now, even Tony’s acknowledged it—which is good, the term hate-sex hasn’t applied in a long while and friends with benefits is much more apt—and though their sex life has slowed, a little, their conversations have only picked up. He still doesn’t know Tony’s last name or occupation, but there’s little else he doesn’t; he knows Tony’s birthday now, May 29th, and that he’s the kind of genius who builds robots in his spare time, which is how they wind up breaking rule number two: no meeting outside of hotels.
Tony’s workshop is breathtaking.
It’s the kind of place Steve previously thought was only possible in sci-fi, with CGI or a whole hell of a lot of imagination. He can’t name half the things in the place, nor does he try. Tony shows him his projects, his AI JARVIS, and his little fleet of robotic arms; Steve knows at this point that Tony works for Stark Industries, that much is pretty hard not to know considering the giant sign on the outside of building and all, and there is the small little fact that the CEO of Stark Industries so happens to be named Tony Stark, but Tony doesn’t bring it up so Steve doesn’t either. Instead, he takes a seat on the couch across from Tony, who’s fidgeting on a workstool, and chats a little with one of the robotic arms, who beeps and hums in all the right places. Dum-E, his side says.
Steve must be doing something right, because he can’t help noticing the way Tony keeps glancing at him, shooting him these significant looks anytime he thinks Steve is focused enough on Dum-E not to notice.
“What?” Steve rubs a thumb over his cheek. “Did Dum-E get grease on my face?”
“No, it’s nothing.” Tony waves him off. “Just keep talking to that mindless heap of scrap and ignore all my other amazing, world-changing innovations, no big deal.”
“Hey.” Steve huffs a little, pets Dum-E’s claw. “That’s not very nice. Tony doesn’t mean that, Dum-E, he’s just being mean because he doesn’t want you to know how much he cares about you. In fact, I bet you’re his favorite—no offense, JARVIS.”
“None taken.” JARVIS sounds amused, and Steve marvels at how Tony could’ve possibly managed to make something that can sound amused. “I find that Sir often employs such defensive tactics, with people as well as with—”
“Oh, mute, you.” Tony scowls upwards, presumably at JARVIS, who falls silent. He squints at Steve a little, like he’s trying to figure him out. “You’ve got a whole workshop full of bigger, faster, all around better things to play with. Why’re you wasting your time with a useless old hunk of junk?”
“You’ve got some very nice toys, Tony,” Steve humors him, patting Dum-E’s hull. “But I like Dum-E, he’s got character to him. Quality.” He picks a bolt off a nearby table, rolls it along the floor. When Dum-E just looks at him quizzically, Steve points and encourages, “Fetch, Dum-E.”
He looks up and finds Tony staring at him again.
Tony shakes his head. “I…am trying to figure out how to convince you that Dum-E isn’t real therefore can’t be scandalized, so we can and definitely should have sex on this couch.”
It’s not true, Steve knows; he knows how Tony looks when he’s thinking about sex, and that wasn’t what he was thinking about. But he’s closing off now, a little bit, Steve can see it in the way his brows are knitting together and he’s hunching forward in preemptive defense, so Steve doesn’t push. Instead, he leans in and grins.
“He’s a swell little guy and all, but unless he’s hiding eyes and ears in that claw of his I think I can get past it.”
Tony smiles, a quicksilver little thing, then he’s pushing himself up and going over to dig through a desk drawer. When he finds what he’s looking for, he pumps his hand in the air like the end of Breakfast Club. Steve can’t help but laugh, both at the gesture and his prize.
“Of course you keep lube in your workshop.”
“What, weren’t you ever in boy scouts?” Tony returns to Steve with a grin as he situates himself comfortably in Steve’s lap, deposits the bottle beside them and starts kissing along Steve’s neck. “It wouldn’t do to be unprepared, Steve.”
“I was a boy scout. You,” Steve says definitively, slides his hands along Tony’s waist to get a better hold. “Were never a boy scout.”
“Alright, maybe not,” Tony admits, moving to nip at Steve’s ear. “But I’d bet you a million dollars the self-righteous little sassmonster that was your childhood self never lasted beyond the first week.”
“I show you one picture and you think you know my whole story,” Steve complains. It’s his own fault, though, and he knows it. He accidentally mentioned how tiny he used to be, and Tony promised him increasingly wild sexual favors in exchange for a picture. Steve’s weak; it took barely three texts to get him scrambling for his old yearbooks.
“Please, picture schmicture—alright, not picture schmicture, that’s definitely still your caller ID until the end of time—but the point is…” Tony sucks a kiss along his clavicle. Steve groans. “That if you weren’t a troublemaking brat, then I’ve never met one in my life.”
“Takes one to know one.”
“Fair, but already established.” Tony winds his fingers through Steve’s hair and tugs, just the right side of tight to tilt Steve’s head back. “C’mon, spill. Am I keeping my money or are we booking the penthouse again?”
It’s Tony’s go-to threat. He means one penthouse in particular, at the Four Seasons, because after they spent an insanely luxurious night there once Steve had been too curious afterwards not to google the price. He was—and still is, frankly—utterly horrified.
“Alright, I got kicked out four days in,” Steve admits. Tony beams triumphantly and kisses him, a little messy, mostly because he’s mouthing I so totally fucking knew it against Steve’s lips.
“Hm?” Steve plays innocent. “You know, I don’t even remember what we were talking about, you’re such an amazing kisser it just completely wiped my mind.”
Tony’s hands slip lower. “You think I’m afraid to cheat?”
“Oh, no, you gonna punish me with a handjob?” Steve cants his hips up, already eager for it. “You know, I’ve been really bad, you might have to blow me for the message to truly sink in…”
“Oh, I’ve got plans for you alright…” Tony’s hands edge under his shirt, and Steve’s breath catches a little at the soft, light caress…then catches again, because Tony’s not caressing at all.
He’s tickling, and he’s tickling to win because it takes barely seconds before Steve can hardly breathe through the laughter. He tries to shove Tony off but Tony just tucks his ankles under Steve’s thighs, stays hooked on him like a vice, determined and completely, utterly ruthless.
“I give!” Steve gasps out. “I give, you’re a terrible, horrible person and I give up you win—”
“Damn right I win.” Tony smirks, running his fingers along Steve’s side one last time. Whether it’s a promise or a warning, Steve’s too lightheaded to tell. Tony leans in, kisses him, steals more of his air. “Tell me.”
“Have I mentioned…” Steve can’t help panting a little, and not in the usual, fun way. “That you’re a terrible, horrible person?”
“Repeatedly.” Tony beams at him. “You know what you haven’t mentioned? Why you got kicked out of boy scouts.”
“It wasn’t even my fault,” Steve insists, because it wasn’t, it was his asshole scout leader’s fault.Tony lounges a little, moving off of Steve and to the right, kicking his legs up over Steve’s lap and resting an arm against the back of the couch.
“All my favorite stories of you start with the phrase ‘it wasn’t even my fault’.” Tony grins. “So what’d Bucky dare you to do this time, lick another swing set?”
“No.” Steve scowls at him, flicks his ankle. “I told you, that was only the once. And I didn’t lick it, I just—”
“‘Tapped it briefly with your tongue’, I know.” Tony smirks cheekily. “Come on, get to the good stuff. How old were you?”
“I was sixteen, Mom thought it might help give me some after school structure—”
Tony fakes a gasp. “Are you telling me beating up assholes in back alleys isn’t a school-sanctioned sport?”
“You wanna hear the story or not?” Steve threatens, following it up with a poke in the ribs. Tony laughs, then mimes zipping his lips. Steve rolls his eyes, entirely disbelieving, but continues anyway. “So, sixteen. Enrolled in boy scouts. Didn’t take long to discover my scout leader was a homophobe, all that ‘scouts is for real men’ and ‘ain’t no room for pansies here’ bullshit. So—”
“Oh, right, so you calmly told your mom, who then pulled you from the club without any fanfare whatsoever,” Tony finishes, apparently unable to help himself. Steve glares at him, and Tony has the gall to bat his eyes. “Right?”
Steve sighs. “…or Bucky and I made out on the hood of his car instead.”
Tony freezes, just staring for a second, then he’s absolutely howling with laughter. He has to grab Steve’s shoulder just keep himself on the couch, and even with that he nearly falls off. Steve hauls him back up and keeps the arm around his waist; partially because it’s comfortable, but mostly because he knows this next part will have Tony laughing even harder.
“When we hopped up onto it we set off the car alarm, so he came out pretty fast, but he also thought the neighborhood kids were messing with his car again so he came out armed and ready with his hose. When he realized who we actually were and what we were doing, he just changed the nozzle settings and sprayed us harder until we had to run off. I never set foot in scouts again.”
He’s right; Tony laughs even harder. Eventually the laughter peters off into snickering, most of it pressed into Steve’s shoulder as Tony leans forward and presses his face there like that’ll somehow help stop his giggling fit. “You’re such a terror, I can’t…how are you even real? My god, Steve. ‘My scout leader was a homophobe so I made out with a guy on the hood of his car’, who does that?”
He’s back to giggles again. Steve rolls his eyes, but he can’t help feeling affectionate more than anything else. “He deserved it.”
“He sure did.” Tony tucks his hand into the crook of Steve’s arm, gives a squeeze. “And of course, good ol’ Captain America just couldn’t resist jumping in with some righteous justice.”
Steve groans. “Not that again.”
“Speaking as the former king of awkward teenage Captain America over-enthusiasts, you’re going to have to trust me when I say you look exactly like the guy.”
“How can I, he’s just a character in a comic b—”
“Shh, Cap.” Tony presses a finger to his lips. “Don’t listen to the non-believers.”
Steve snorts. “Would goody-two-shoes, stuffy ol’ Captain America do this, huh?”
He gets Tony under him in one smooth move, swinging his free leg over so he can straddle him and grind down. At the friction Tony arches up, makes a surprised, pleased noise that Steve immediately covers with his mouth. He kisses Tony with intent, pulls out his favorite dirty little trick right off the bat. He can feel Tony’s pulse jump and race underneath him, hear him suck in a shallow breath only to surge up and bring Steve in for another kiss, this one harder, more desperate.
“How’m I lookin’ now?” Steve grins, lets slip the Brooklyn accent Tony’s so fond of.
Tony just looks up at him, something from the stares of before back in his eyes. It’s not quite wonder but it’s something close; Steve doesn’t remember the accent having quite that much of an effect on Tony before, but he’s certainly not above taking it and running.
The look fades before Steve can untangle it, and he doesn’t bother dwelling on it. It feels personal, whatever it is, and he knows Tony will tell him about it when he feels up to it. Steve has too good of a time after that to dwell on much of anything, anyway; it’s different than usual tonight, charged with a different sort of air—Steve sure as hell likes it, no doubts about that—though he can’t quite put his finger on any differences in particular. Still, it’s definitely something, because they wind up breaking the final rule that night as well. Steve chalks it up to the change of scenery and Tony’s surprisingly comfortable couch.
He wakes up warm and comfortable, boxers on, pants kicked off at the end of the couch and shirt nowhere to be seen. He and Tony have curled up together in their sleep, legs tangled and arms around each other, and Steve’s reminded of why he’d made this rule in the first place. He’s always been a cuddler. Still, it’s a good thing in this case, since their entangled limbs and the firm arm Steve’s got around Tony’s waist is probably the only reason Tony hasn’t fallen backwards off the couch. Instead, Tony’s face is pressed into Steve’s neck, where it feels like he’s drooling. Steve should definitely find that gross. He can’t seem to manage anything beyond a warm, inexplicable fondness. Tony shuffles a little, ducks his head down and rubs his cheek affectionately against Steve’s chest. Steve knows he should get up, or at least wake Tony, but he also knows full well he’s not going to do either of those things.
To pass the time, he tries to remember how he came to the conclusion that this would be a good idea.
He remembers starting to put his clothes back on but getting sucked back in by Tony’s voice, by a question or a teasing remark or some bit of conversation he felt completely unable to walk away from at the time and now can’t remember for the life of him. A hazy memory comes back to him, of later in the night, of long after he’s abandoned trying to put on his clothes and instead has Tony wrapped up comfortably in both arms. He remembers repeating, sleepily and without any real intent, that he ought to go. He remembers Tony stroking a thumb over the corner of his mouth, kissing him very softly. He remembers Tony asking quietly, stay, please?
Steve blames it on the new location. They’ve established good habits in hotels. The foreign surroundings of a fancy schmancy hotel room are always a good reminder, at least for Steve; he likes being with Tony, and he likes going home to his cozy apartment and familiar bed afterwards. Here, though. He doesn’t remember feeling uncomfortable or out of place here last night, just…safe. Happy.
A bit of panic begins to buzz around in the back of his head, because safe and comfortable and happy are maybe, possibly not the kinds of strictly sexual feelings Steve’s supposed to be having. But they could certainly fall under the category of friendship, right? And they’re friends now, that’s fine, that’s totally—
The hint of a yawn Tony gives as he wakes is enough for Steve to push aside thoughts of anything that isn’t this, at least for now.
“Morning,” he offers.
Tony grunts. “Does it have to be?”
“Kind of.” Steve laughs, and Tony burrows closer to Steve’s chest with a hum.
“Do that again.”
“I can’t do it on command, it’ll sound weird.”
“Take me to your laugh, leader,” Tony rumbles, in what’s apparently his approximation of an alien voice. It’s a terrible joke, one of Tony’s worst, but Steve finds himself laughing anyway. Tony hums again.
Steve can’t help agreeing. His concerns from only moments ago seem far away now. They broke the remaining rules, so what? Breaking the first two just made things better, who’s to say if breaking these last two won’t do the same? Steve’s full to the brim with warm, fuzzy friendship feelings and is likely about to have sex sometime in the next couple of minutes if the way they’re currently, lazily rubbing themselves together is any indication; life is good.
Tony gives a stuttered groan, eyes blinking open briefly, shut again, then open firmly as he plants a hand on Steve’s hip.
“I’ve been thinking,” Tony tells him, apropos of nothing.
“Sounds dangerous.” Steve teases, slides a hand between them to cup Tony through his pants. “Can you do two things at a time, or should I stop?”
“I can do a hundred things at a time—” Tony starts and Steve begins to unbutton Tony’s jeans, only for Tony to clasp his wrist. “—but letting you jerk me off while I try and talk about something serious for once is probably not one of them.”
Steve blinks, unsure of where serious for once is heading, but complies and takes his hand away. He starts to sit up, only for Tony to wave him back down.
“No, shit, don’t make it weird, just—lie down.”
Tony tugs on his shoulder when he doesn’t move fast enough, puts Steve on his back and props himself up on one elbow, leaning over Steve a little so they’re making eye contact. Any worry Steve has about the serious-for-once nature of the conversation melts at the way Tony’s smiling, soft and a little hopeful, like he was last night. Stay, please? Of course, now Steve curious what’s got Tony smiling like that, but at least he knows it’s the good kind of serious-for-once conversation and not the bad kind.
“I’ve been considering these rules of yours.”
Steve’s not sure what he means by that; they agreed to the rules together, Tony helped come up with them. “I thought they were our rules.”
“Same thing, you know what I mean.” Tony traces something over the skin of Steve’s chest, right by his heart. The touch is distracting, but he tries to pay attention to Tony’s words. “Point is, they’re not really sustainable, in the end. We broke them tonight, and we’ll probably break them again. Cycling through hotel rooms, fighting sleep after orgasm just to slink off to separate beds when there’s a perfectly good one ready and waiting? Seems like a waste to keep doing that forever. And since I know how much you hate waste, I figure…well, I figure maybe we might as well just toss out the whole ‘rule’ thing altogether.”
There’s something hesitant at the end there, something cautious; Steve misses it, distracted by Tony’s circling fingers—Tony always gets fidgety fingers when he’s nervous, but what’s there for him to be nervous about right now? Does he think Steve’s going to be mad? He smiles in a way he intends to be reassuring, takes Tony’s hand and squeezes. Tony looks elated.
“Of course we can, Tony. I mean, we came up those rules…well, kind of a long time ago.” It’s strange to think about, in a certain context; friends with benefits, for nine months? But he doesn’t think about it that way often. It’s just…him and Tony, and when Steve thinks about it like that, nine months only ever feels too short. “We were going to have to rework them eventually, I don’t think either of us planned on the situation lasting this long. I mean, we’re going to break some kind of friends with benefits record keeping this up.”
He feels Tony stiffen beside him, and the thumb that’s been rubbing over Steve’s knuckles slows, stops. “I guess we will.”
“What?” Steve can’t help feeling worried by Tony’s tone, his reaction. He can’t be thinking about…ending it, right? Why would he? Of course he’s not. Things are great, things are perfect, Tony even said he wanted to forgo the rest of rules, Steve’s just being—
“Nothing,” Tony dismisses, but it’s a lie and they both know it. The lazy, happy mood from before is gone and Steve can feel Tony withdrawing from him, literally as well as metaphorically.
“Where are you going?”
“I’ve got work.” Tony shrugs, moving off the couch and over to the table where his shirt is. “Don’t you?”
“Not for a while,” Steve lies. He doesn’t even know what time it is, but he knows he’s made a wrong move just now and he doesn’t want to leave without fixing it. Tony checks his phone before looking over at Steve, fondness there until his expression goes carefully neutral.
“You have work in less than an hour, Steve. You should go.”
“What’s happening here?” Steve insists instead, pushing himself off the couch and going to Tony. “Why are you—”
“Maybe we got it wrong.”
“Yeah.” Tony nods, surer this time as he tugs his shirt over his head. “Maybe we should’ve stuck to the rules after all.”
“It’s…kind of late for that, don’t you think?”
“Not really.” Tony rebuttons his pants, still not looking at Steve. “Not if we get back to basics.”
“All the rules, not just the ones we feel like following on whatever given day.” Tony goes in hunt of something else now, waving loosely at Steve’s pants where they’re bunched in the corner of the couch. “Your pants are there.”
“I know where my pants are, Tony, I—what are you talking about, why would we ‘go back to basics’?”
“Because this isn’t working,” Tony says, frustrated now that he can’t seem to find whatever it is he’s looking for.
“What?” Steve’s more than a little taken aback by that. “What part?”
“All of it.”
“Tony, you’re one of the best friends I’ve got these days, I’m not going to just—” Steve insists, trying to follow after him as he starts pacing wider circles, but Tony cuts him off.
“I have friends, you do too. We should stick to them.”
“You can’t honestly think I’m going to just nod and smile and walk away here, would you just—” He tries to catch Tony’s shoulder, but Tony shrugs him off. “Will you talk to me, please? Explain what the hell’s going on?”
“What’s going on is that you need to put on your pants and I need to find your shirt so you can get out of my workshop, like you should’ve last night,” Tony bites out.
“You asked me to stay, I—” I wanted to stay comes at him out of nowhere, and he startles himself by how viscerally he means it. He wanted to stay. He wanted to stay last night, and he wanted to stay this morning when he woke up. He felt so safe and comfortable and happy here, with Tony, happier than he’s been in years, than he’s ever been with anyone before—
“It was a mistake, Steve.” Tony whirls around, dangerous like a wounded animal, defensive now and all the more vicious for it. “You remember how this started, don’t you? Hate sex. Great, angry sex between two people so completely different they hated each other the minute they laid eyes on each other. Anything more than that was never going to work.”
Steve wishes Tony had just hit him, it would’ve hurt less.
He must see something in Steve’s expression because he falters, backs away with a clenched jaw and averted gaze. Steve feels like he’s going to throw up, but it’s not just Tony’s words. It’s the realization that he can’t go back to that. Steve doesn’t have the slightest clue what’s going on with Tony right now, but if he’s serious, if he wants to throw them back to hotel meet-ups and rm 143 8pm b there texts and not getting to card his fingers through Tony’s hair and stroke his hands down Tony’s spine and feel Tony clutch his hands too tightly as he comes apart, that’s just—Steve can’t treat Tony like some douchebag he met in a bar anymore, he won’t.
He doesn’t want the rules, any of them, or to set any stupid friends with benefits records. He wants their morning back. He wants Tony lazy and happy again with nowhere else to be, wants Tony tracing his chest and smiling up at him like he’s the whole world, kissing him softly and asking him to stay.
Steve knows what he wants. It’s only taken him something like seven or eight months too long to figure it out but he knows now and it’s right there on the tip of his tongue, able to fix everything or tear it all down permanently. He doesn’t know which, but Tony’s watching him so warily Steve can’t stand it. Tony’s waiting for Steve to lash out, to try and hurt him in return for what he said. It only makes Steve’s next words all the easier.
“I love you.”
Silence stretches between them, all the wariness chased out of Tony’s expression by pure surprise.
“And maybe you think more won’t work, but I do,” Steve says, filled with the sudden need to convince Tony, get him to understand this amazing thing Steve himself has only just now realized. “God, Tony, we’re so good together. Can’t you see that? I know we’re supposed to be friends with benefits and this breaks every spoken and unspoken rule that comes with that but I—I’ve been writing this off for months as really good sex and then as really good friendship but it’s not, it’s so much more than that. You mean everything to me, Tony.”
“Steve,” Tony says, but it’s barely a whisper, a stunned exhale more than anything else, so Steve barrels onward in the hopes he can salvage something, anything.
“Having you in my life—it’s not just that I can talk to you about anything, it’s that I want to. Even the little things, the dumb work stories or the barista misspelling my name again, the first thing I think when things happen to me now is that I can’t wait to tell you all about it. Can’t wait to hear you laugh, or watch you roll your eyes, or tell me how ‘it’s your own fault, idiot’ and kiss it better anyway. It can’t be a good day unless I hear your voice, can’t be a truly terrible day if I have. Anytime I’m not with you I want to be, and when I am…you make me feel safe. Not that I’m unsafe other places, but that I—I can be myself with you, not a version of it or a part of it but everything, good, bad and ugly, because you know me and I know you and being with you feels like coming home.”
Tony looks nothing short of stunned, still speaks like someone’s just punched him. His voice catches as he says Steve’s name. “Steve, how could you think—”
“I know.” Steve flinches back a little, torn between wishing he hadn’t said as much and wishing he could find a way to say more, say enough to make Tony feel the same. “I know you want to—to go back to basics, to keep the sex without the friendship but you’re not some stranger I met in a bar anymore. I can’t pretend to…to fuck you, like I don’t love you. So if we have to stop the ‘benefits’ part of this I can live with that but please, if you care about me at all, don’t cut me out of your life. I can’t lose you, Tony.”
For a long moment Tony does nothing but look at him, lips parted just slightly in surprise; it’s almost as if he’s speechless. Steve’s never actually seen Tony at a loss for words before. There’s something about the way he’s looking at Steve though, startlingly similar to the looks he’d been giving Steve yesterday, and when he does speak his voice is rough.
“You’re such an idiot.”
Steve can’t help it, he flinches again. “Tony—”
“No, shut up.” Tony crosses over to him in less than two strides, drags him forward and kisses him, desperate and more than a little relieved. Even when they have to part, Tony’s hands still hold him tight and their foreheads stay touching. Tony swallows, a barely audible sound, then he laughs, happily disbelieving. “God, you’re such an idiot.”
His tone is happy and fond and Steve thinks this means something good, but doubt and worry nag at him all the same so he has to ask, “The good kind or the bad kind?”
“The I’ve been in love with you for months kind,” Tony tells him, and Steve goes still. “I’ve been—I tried to show you that you meant more to me so many times, but you never seemed open to it. Then you stayed last night, when I asked you to, and I hoped…”
“Earlier,” Steve realizes. “When you asked to forget the rules, you meant…”
“I want you,” Tony admits, like it’s some kind of terrible weakness he can’t believe he’s confessing to out loud. “The real way, the right way, the way where we can tell people and go out together and come home to each other and I—I would trade the sex for that in a heartbeat.”
“Who says you have to trade?” Steve squeezes the hand he’s got on Tony’s waist. “Or did you forget the part where I talked extensively about how much I love you?”
Tony gives a choked sort of laugh. “No, I remember. Still working on believing, but. I remember.”
“Believe me,” Steve encourages, kisses him. He keeps it gentler than before, chaste. There’s no need for intensity and desperation. They’ve got time.
“Just like that, huh?” Tony asks softly.
“Just like that,” Steve agrees.
They kiss for another moment, before Tony tells him, “When you said yes the first time, to dropping the rules, you didn’t mean it the way I did. And I felt so stupid for even hoping—”
“I didn’t know what you were asking.” He didn’t know he loved Tony then either, but he thinks if he’d been given some sort of direct question and had to actually consider it, he’d have figured it out pretty fast. “But now I do, and I want everything you want, Tony. Same page.”
“Steve, I…you should know, my last name is—”
“Stark?” Steve raises an amused eyebrow. “As in, Stark Industries, which is plastered over the building you brought me to spend the night in without so much as a security badge? Not to mention you spray painted it on poor Dum-E, along with ‘aka mine so don’t fucking touch’ in what looks like…sharpie?”
“Sharpie,” Tony agrees with a bit of a laugh. “I was seventeen and very drunk.”
“Of course you were.” Steve smiles, because only Tony could invent something as amazing as Dum-E at seventeen and not even running on full brainpower. “Steve Rogers, nice to meet you.”
“Rogers,” Tony muses, a matching smile on his face. “Roger that, Rogers.”
“I’ve condemned myself to ten years of jokes about that, haven’t I?”
“Who says I’ll stop at ten?” Tony grins, but there’s a very genuine giddiness under it that’s nothing short of endearing. Steve leans in, steals a taste of it for himself. Tony kisses back happily for a moment, until something like hesitation cuts in.
“So you…know,” Tony says slowly as they part. Steve raises an eyebrow in question. “That I’m Tony Stark. But obviously you aren’t very tuned into the news—”
Steve chuckles. “By which you mean I don’t read celebrity trash mags, no.”
“—so you probably aren’t as aware of my…”
“What, your reputation?” Steve brushes his thumb over Tony’s cheek. “Come on. Do I really seem like the kind of person who gives a damn about reputation? I know you, Tony. I don’t need to read trashy magazines or watch TMZ to get whatever bullshit ‘inside scoop’ they think they’ve got. And yeah, that means I’m aware you haven’t exactly had a stellar record with relationships.”
“I’m kind of awful at them,” Tony agrees, a little faintly, and Steve hears the so are you really sure you want one with me? he doesn’t add. If it’s supposed to be a warning, it’s a fairly terrible one. Tony’s still smiling, for one thing, and clutching Steve like it’d take a fire alarm to get him to so much as consider letting go.
“I can get a date, y’know,” Steve tells him. Tony looks at him quizzically. “I can go out and get them myself, but I’ve also been asked on them. Given numbers, had people point me towards their friends, been coerced into set ups—”
“Is there a point buried in there?” Tony grumbles. Steve just hugs him closer, kisses his temple.
“Yes. My point is that I turned them down, that I’ve been turning them all down for months now and I’ve never even thought twice about it. I kept telling myself I wasn’t interested and never bothered thinking about why that might be. They were nice enough people, attractive enough, but they weren’t you, Tony. And at the end of the day, some part of me knew that meant they weren’t worth wasting my time.”
Tony tries to stay neutral, but eventually can’t help cracking a smile. “Okay, that was a pretty nice point.”
“I kinda thought so. I was coming around to it.”
“I just meant…” Tony glances up at him, then down again. “There’s a lot of other people you could be with, Steve. I know that. And I—”
“Hey now, that wasn’t at all my—”
“No, I know that wasn’t your point, but it is mine. My point is that I’m rich and kind of famous but I’m also older than you and carry the kind of baggage nobody needs in their life, least of all you. You’re a good person, Steve. Also kind of a shithead and a complete terror at times, but…a really good person. I’m not. You once called me the most frustrating person on planet, and just because you’re no longer mad at me doesn’t mean you were wrong. I’m going to fuck up this up at some point, at many points, in all probability, and you’d probably be a lot happier if you—”
“My exact words were that you’re the single most frustrating lunatic that ever walked the earth,” Steve corrects, but he’s teasing and he gives Tony a quick kiss to assure him of it. “And for the record, I stand by that. Also for the record, having the single most frustrating lunatic that ever walked the earth, walk into my life? Best thing that ever happened to me. So quit putting yourself down. You think I don’t know you’re older than me? That you’ve got issues wrapped up in your issues? Honestly, Tony, we met someone we didn’t like in a bar for five minutes and decided to have long-standing semi-regular hate sex with them for nine months, I think we’ve both got some issues.”
Tony laughs, and God, he has such a wonderful laugh. How did Steve ever convince himself he didn’t love this man?
“Okay, so you’re not so good at this either.”
“No, I’m really not.” Steve raises his hand to Tony’s cheek, strokes his thumb there. “Wanna try together anyway?”
Tony nods, a little forcefully, like if he doesn’t do it fast enough Steve will change his mind. Steve smiles, cups Tony’s face in his hands as he kisses him again. He knows how Tony gets, knows he doesn’t believe he deserves good things and that even if he manages to gets them they’ll never last. Steve also knows he’s going try his damned hardest to prove to Tony how very wrong he is.