Some people, like Steve, break punching bags when they’re stressed. Others, like Bruce, try very, very hard not to be stressed. And still others, like Natasha and Clint, spar with each other until they’re both bruised and panting. Tony’s still not sure what Thor does when he’s stressed, considering he’s in fucking Asgard, the lucky son of a bitch gets to leave this goddamn planet, but he sure as hell knows what he does when he’s stressed. Or, well—fuming at a national icon, hating on self-righteous demi-gods, and trying to pretend that his father’s only other creation turned out to be a better man than his real, living son.
All Tony really knows, though, is that Pepper is in Washington, Bruce is upstairs, and something nasty and heavy is leaking out of his speakers while he knocks back the rest of his whiskey and dismantles the Mark VI to fuck with it a little. For kicks, he has Jarvis pull up the mainframe camera to watch Loki get swung around like a ragdoll by the Hulk, and it calms his raging hands for about three point four minutes before they’re shaking again and he has to put them back to use.
Usually, when he works, he’s all efficient about it and stuffed up around his workbench and computers, but he’s feeling claustrophobic (and more pissed off than anything, really), and so he’s settled, cross-legged, on the floor with the suit laid out in front of him, smashed and battered, and “Jarvis, one more time.”
This time, the replay just makes him grit his teeth, and he gets off the ground to stalk over to his liquor cabinet where he pours himself another drink, trying to calm his mind a little. He had fun in the VII, he did, but it’s still got a few things to work out, and he’s stupidly attached himself to the VI, for some reason.
By the time he starts back toward the floor, he realizes he’s already downed the drink he got up to get, and so he pours another. Jarvis knows better than to tell him he’s well on his way to being piss drunk because he’s had three glasses already, is sipping his fourth, and he’s just getting started. He settles down in front of the Mark VI again, sighs, and gets back to work, pulling it apart and looking for the major issues. The hours waste away, his whiskey bottle keeps feeling lighter everytime he picks it up to pour another, and his stomach grumbles once, but he tells it to shut up and then burns his finger. He guesses that, at some fucking point, he should have expected Bruce.
He only knows he’s there because Jarvis is polite, and he turns down the music so Tony can hear Bruce’s quiet knock on the glass door far beyond his sight, and Tony has half a mind to ignore him until Jarvis shuts the music off entirely and almost sighs. He hates and loves that his AI has such a personality, loves him for being such a smartass and hates him for sending Dum-E after his glass as soon as he gets up (Dum-E drops it anyway, so it was always a lost cause).
Tony pulls open the door but doesn’t invite him in, doesn’t even open it enough that Bruce could comfortably squeeze by him, but Bruce isn’t intrusive anyway, not like the son Howard always wanted, and so he doesn’t really take offence when Tony props the door open with his foot and leans against the doorframe. “So I know you hate everyone in the world, and especially Steve Rogers,” Bruce begins, and Tony opens the door wider just for that. Bruce allows himself a little noise of surprise and contentment, steps in, and continues, “but I was wondering if you were maybe up for the idea of food, possibly, considering your robot just ruined what I assume was a very nice and probably expensive glass, but you’ll get over it. So, Chinese? I’ll expect you to buy and fetch because I’m still kind of afraid of New York.”
Sometimes, he thinks that Bruce might be a long lost brother, but really, he’s hated most of his family, or been hated by them, and he doesn’t think that’s a good idea, so he’s probably just a Tony Stark from a different universe with weirder powers and a stupid name. “New York is less frightening when there’s Chinese food in a nice little delivery package, rest assured. How are you finding your floor?” Tony asks, and he gives himself a mental pat on the back in Pepper’s voice for being nice.
“Comfortable,” Bruce says, nodding, and then, a hand waving nonsensically, “And large, thank you. Plenty of room for wandering, and a nice little place to work in.”
“Glad I could be of service. Got anything special you’ve got planned to work on?” They talk about Bruce’s projects, Tony filing through them to find any errors or help where he might, interrupted only to order Chinese and retrieve said food when it arrives, and, otherwise, Tony only thinks twice that Jarvis might have sent for Bruce to stop Tony from drinking himself unconscious and waking up tangled in the V. Mostly, he’s just glad to have someone to talk to who returns every snide remark and understands what the hell he’s saying instead of Pepper blowing right over him or fucking Captain America saying he’s not speaking in English.
He makes a mental note thrice to punch Steve in the face the next time they have to fight as the Avengers and not even try to pretend it was an accident because—and no, that’s where he draws the line. He’s not going to dwell on big man in a suit of armor because Bruce is here, and he’s trying to be polite, and even if he wasn’t trying, he actually likes Bruce.
It turns out Bruce is something of an insomniac himself, and he hangs around Tony’s lab until the sun is coming up, and he never even yawns, just keeps working on whatever he’s working on, using one of Tony’s monitors, and they even talk sometimes, which is almost nicer than going at it with Jarvis because Bruce is a real live person.
Except then the doorbell rings, and Jarvis does that almost sighing thing again and says, “Captain Rogers at the front door, sir.” And Tony almost electrocutes himself.
“I’ll get it,” Bruce says before he can even whine about his tingling hand, and Tony shrugs and goes back to work. He’s back at his desk, and he’s snapping at Dum-E every so often while he works on one of the boots. It’s about two minutes before he hears Bruce’s voice over the com, “So Barton just pulled up.”
“What do they want?” Tony asks absentmindedly, lifting the magnifying glass.
“To hang out, I guess. Natasha is with him, as well, and they’re apparently coming in whether or not I allow them.”
“I’m telling you, at least an alternate universe Earth.”
“There are only other planets, not alternate universes,” Bruce’s voice is tinny now, and Tony sighs as he realizes they’re in the elevator. Just because they saved the world together does not give them leave to bother him. He hates two out of the four of them, and he doesn’t even really know Clint, so, really, he only likes about one and one-third of them, and that’s not exactly good odds for them and his black mood.
Especially when Bruce knocks on the glass door again, and Tony almost reaches for the Mark V arm a few feet away to blast a hole in the door, but then Jarvis plays the role of butler again and says, “Shall I scan Doctor Banner’s prints so that he has access to the lab, sir?”
“Fine,” Tony says, going back to his boot, and Jarvis instructs Bruce on what to do while he solders. And then they’re inside, and now there’s really nothing he can do, except ignore them, but he’s perfected that over the years, and so, even when Bruce does the you remember Tony funny guy stuff, he just taps the magnifying glass, glares at Dum-E, and shifts in his seat.
“Your wires are crossed, stop pretending you didn’t notice,” Bruce says suddenly, crossing around behind him, and Tony moves in a blur, snatching up his pointy thing, as Bruce so lovingly refers to it, and jabs him in the side. Bruce winces but otherwise doesn’t make a sound, and Tony laughs at him.
“Just wait, soon you won’t even be flinching,” he says, turning back to the boot.
“Is that really called for?” Steve asks, and wow, all it took was his voice, and all of Tony’s hard work forgetting the past few days comes rumbling back.
“Fuck you,” Tony says before he can even blink, and even Bruce looks at him funny, but he just keeps on working, even when Steve steps forward, mouth open, because Natasha puts a hand on his arm and gives him a pointed look.
“So anyway,” Clint says, rolling his eyes, and okay, Tony thinks he likes about two-thirds of him now, just for that, “Nat and I brought pizza. Steve’s idea, really. He wanted to actually get to know everyone, and we weren’t busy, so.”
“Yeah, pizza sounds good. Okay down here, Tony?” Bruce asks, and Tony shrugs, not up for communicating. “You should have some, stop working for a bit,” Bruce says, quieter as the others set up on a semi-free table out of the way, and Tony knows he’s just trying to be nice, but it’s all hitting too close to home, and he shrugs again, blue eyes fixed on wiring that he’s not paying attention to, and he knows he shouldn’t work like this, but his hands are shaking, and he can’t let Bruce see that. So he shrugs, and Bruce takes his silence and goes to join the others. Tony takes five long seconds to breathe before he puts out the soldering iron on the sponge, cleans it with another swipe, and sets it back on the stand. He takes another five long seconds to count and breathe, his eyes closed, and then he pushes away from the boot and across the small, raised platform where all his monitors are to open a file he keeps on Rhodes. He glances through it for a moment before giving a short command, “Call.”
Jarvis does as he’s requested, and he slides in an earpiece so that it isn’t transmitted over the com. Rhodes answers on the third ring, “Tony, hey. What’s up?”
“Feel like letting off some steam, what do you say to getting your ass kicked in boxing?” he says, sliding over to another monitor where he keeps a constant projection up of the Tower.
He checks in on the power source in the ocean while Rhodes laughs, “Not sure you can handle me, but I’ll be over in a bit.”
“Just give Jarvis a nod, and I’ll meet you upstairs.”
“Working on anything special?”
“Just fixing the Mark VI, fucking demi-gods,” he grumbles, and Steve’s curious blue gaze flashes over to him as Tony actually cracks a smile at Rhodes next laugh.
“At least he’s gone.”
“Wish I could be,” he mutters before pulling out the earpiece and rubbing his chest. He hates that Steve is looking at him right now, is judging him and trying to figure him out. He hates that he let his comment get to him, that it’s settled so deep under his skin, but Tony knows that’s because everything Steve said was true, and that hurts more than anything, admitting that.
“Tony?” he vaguely hears Bruce’s voice before the door closes behind him, and he takes the elevator up to the next floor and into the huge workout room. He tugs off his t-shirt, left only in a black beater, and then heads over toward the ring to wrap his hands. He never wears shoes, or socks, for that matter, when he’s playing the role of insomniac genius, and so his bare feet pad over the cool concrete, sending a chill up his calves that he ignores. He wraps his hands in white, rolls his shoulders, and turns to one of his specialized punching bags.
When Rhodes gets there, he’s already sweating and breathing a little harder, working out his anger on the bag, and Rhodes doesn’t say a word as he kicks off his shoes and changes into a pair of sweats and a t-shirt. Tony stops to catch his breath and grab a water bottle from his stash in the corner of the room, tucked away in a small fridge. He tosses Rhodes one before he climbs into the ring, and the door opens again as Rhodes is settling opposite him. Tony throws the first punch, and then it’s game on. Rhodes just knows him, knows immediately what’s itching under his skin, and he jabs at Tony, insults his cars and his fighting style and his choice in women because he knows, just knows that Tony is ticking toward snapping, and he needs his mind far, far away from the super soldier currently watching them.
Tony takes the insults, soaks them in and lets them settle as he abuses Rhodes, but it’s not working, and all he can hear is blood roaring in his ears and Steve’s voice, big man in a suit of armor. He doesn’t mean to hit Rhodes as hard as he does, but the only friend he has goes staggering back, hand rubbing at his shoulder as he works it. “Alright,” he says, looking at Tony, who is shaking a little and short of breath. “Tony, get out of your head,” Rhodes says, and he’s about to continue when someone else speaks.
“He’s right. You can’t fight as well if you’re thinking about everything else. You need to—” Tony cuts him off, and Rhodes shouts as he swings around and clocks Steve right in the jaw, packing everything behind the punch, and it’s enough that Steve makes a noise and steps back, looking shocked. He raises a hand to his face, grimacing, and Tony can’t do it, he just fucking can’t. Rhodes tries to stop him, tries to jump across the ring to grab Tony’s arm, but he’s already on the floor and stalking away, yanking off the gloves and not bothering with the wrappings. He tries to pretend he doesn’t run the last few feet for the elevator. He needs to get out of here.
Bruce is on his feet and frowning when Tony comes back in the lab, and it only makes matters worse that Rhodes and Steve are right behind him, the elevator door sliding open as Tony makes a beeline for where the dismantled Mark VI still sits scattered. He steps over it, speaking as he does, “Jarvis, Mark V case.” A section of wall slides open, and Tony grabs the case, dropping it onto the floor before he jabs it open with his foot, and then reaches down for the protruding handles. He’s made obvious adjustments since that long ago fight in Monaco, and it’s not even his favorite, but the VI is still under construction, and he really hates taking the VII out again before it’s ready.
“Tony, wait,” is all Rhodes can say before the facemask closes over him, and Jarvis comes to life inside. He’s gone before Rhodes can even get into his line of sight.
Tony knows he’s throwing a tantrum, disappearing for three days to pass out on some beach and then spend the rest of his time lounging about and just enjoying his mini-vacation, but he also knows that had he stayed in Stark Tower, he probably would have blown someone, though preferably himself, up, and so he counts the mini-vacation as a small trip well-deserved and needed. When he finally gets back, though, Pepper is home from Washington, Rhodes has left him four voicemails, Bruce is nowhere to be found, and the Mark VI is still scattered on the ground. So he does the mature thing and gets back to work on it without telling anyone he’s back because, really, they don’t actually care. No one does.
He works through the night, and he’s just pouring himself a cup of coffee, the pot thanks to Dum-E, somehow, when Jarvis turns down his music, and in walks Pepper. “Now that you’re back, I have a few press-related things that we need to discuss,” she says, clicking over, and Tony decides, just from looking at her face, that he’s going to build a space model of the armor because he loathes experiencing nearly dying more than anything, especially when Pepper won’t answer her phone and there’s so much he always needs to say.
“Press about the Avengers?” he asks, padding back over to desks, where he punches out a few command prompts before continuing, “Because I really don’t think I could ever possibly have anything nice to say about them—at least until next week, probably, but I’ll still most likely want to punch Rogers again.”
“Yes, I heard about that. He stopped by yesterday to see if he could talk to you, but I said you were still away.”
“I was here. I’m going to build a space model. I dunno, I just think, after last week, I mean—it’s good to have one, right? And—”
“As far as the world is concerned,” Pepper cuts him right off, and Tony puts a tally on her side, “You’re on vacation right now, away from the bullshit. No details have been released about it except that Bruce went with you to escape New York for a bit. You’re in Hawaii.”
“Oh, but I don’t even like Hawaii.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t have gone there to pass out on a beach, then,” she snaps, and Tony gives her a small smile, so she caves a little. “Just a few conferences, mostly about the Tower, which you need to fix still. There’s clean-up crews taking care of everything that fell during the fight, but the top floors are still pretty smashed in. Do you want contractors, or do you want to do it yourself?”
“I’ll do it myself, the space model can wait. So, beyond being green, any Avengers ones?”
“Just a small one, no questions, just a statement. Fury asked nicely.”
“Oh—well—if he asked nicely,” Tony grumbles, turning back to his monitors and opening a last command prompt before the room is awash with an electric blue glow, and Pepper talks faster, knowing her time is limited for Tony’s coherence.
“Three for Stark Tower next week, and one for the Avengers. I’ve scheduled them for two days, Avengers on the first. I’ll let Bruce know you’re not dead.”
And then she’s gone, and Tony is left alone with his blue projections and his genius mind that his father never cared about, and he can actually breathe easy.
Thankfully, he’s not required to say anything exceptionally nice about his fellow teammates; the conference is more of a statement on the purpose of the Avengers and the different members. There are still a million and one questions to be answered, but he ignores them all as he’s ferried across town to a conference with questions about the Tower’s self-sustaining energy. The hippies hold up peace signs as he exits, and he considers it a day well-rehearsed.
He finishes his plans for the space model that night, actually sleeps, though it’s only a few hours, and then he’s standing before a crowd again the next day. It’s the kind of lifestyle Pepper knows he loves, being constantly busy, not sleeping much, always working. He might get antsy when he’d had to run Stark Industries, but he loves doing all the field work, running around and answering questions, praising his baby and getting praised for his baby. No one really sees everything that’s going on, though, and he likes it that way. No one comments on his severe lack of use outside of the suit because they’re all too busy congratulating him on being smart. Even if it’s just a constant stream of reporters and unfamiliar faces, it’s better than Howard Stark’s ever-present silence.
He sleeps again that night, and, when he wakes up, some exotic smell is wafting through the Tower, and he takes the elevator to the kitchen. His floor is directly beneath the topmost, Bruce is beneath him, and the kitchen is beneath Bruce, and, when he enters, his mouth actually waters a little. When he tries to peek, though, Bruce steps to the side, and Tony uncharacteristically gives up, shrugging and going to sit at the island. Bruce finishes a few minutes later, and Tony makes a noise halfway between curiosity and appreciation.
“It’s spicy,” Bruce warns him before he sits opposite, placing a mug of coffee before Tony.
“What is it?” he asks, poking at it warily before slicing a piece of the omelet off with his fork.
“Secrets,” Bruce says, smirking, “But curry throughout.” It’s delicious, is what it is, Tony decides, and Bruce laughs when he groans. “Good to know you like it. So, I heard Hawaii is good this time of year.”
“Yeah, it’s alright,” Tony says after he’s tried the hash browns, “I wasn’t aware it was Hawaii until Pepper made the official vacation statement. You were there.”
“Apparently. I saw your conferences on TV. Got contractors coming in for upstairs?”
“Nah, I’m doing that myself. You can help?” he finishes it like a question, looking up at Bruce unsurely.
“If you ask me to Hulk out to lift something big, I’ll throw the something big at you.” Tony grins, and Bruce copies the expression, and yeah. He’s not thinking about two weeks ago anymore.
Tony and Bruce are sitting at the edge of the Tower outside, beers in hand, and just enjoying the warm afternoon. It’s been two days since they began, and just over half of the rubble has been cleared away. It’s been nice, just hanging around with Bruce, and Tony’s been enjoying the manual labor, as well, rather than staying cooped up in his lab slaving over sketches and plans. Beyond all that, too, it’s interesting to watch Bruce and Jarvis get to know each other. And, by the afternoon on the second day, Bruce only has a small twitch when Tony jabs him with a little electric shock. They’re helping each other, knocking the weight off each other’s shoulders, and Tony is immensely grateful, more so than he thinks he’ll ever be able to make Bruce understand.
He thinks he’s doing a pretty good job of it, though, because Bruce already knows him better than Pepper does at times, and so, when Jarvis announces Steve at the front door, Bruce knocks his shoulder against Tony’s and says, “You should talk to him.” No one else in the world but Pepper would catch the way Tony frowns and rubs at his chest, because, to the world, it just looks like an itch and a thinking face, but to Pepper, it’s an ache, whether phantom or real, it’s always there, and it’s always going to be there. And, somehow, Bruce sees it, too. “It really bothered you, didn’t it?” Bruce asks, and Tony looks over at him, face a rehearsed mask of I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about, so shut up before I hit you. Bruce rolls his eyes and steamrolls right over it, “Big man in a suit of armor,” he says, and Tony flinches, looking away, rubbing at his chest again. The arc reactor whirs a little faster, shines a little brighter, and Bruce’s frown is a little deeper as he notices. “Tony, you’re something outside of the armor, something beyond genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist,” he mocks him, “and you know that. Don’t let some hothead from the 40s whose been frozen in ice for seventy years get to you. You’re better than that, and fuck it if he doesn’t see it. Whatever, he’s Captain America, your boyhood idol,” here Tony snaps his gaze up again because, seriously, Bruce has to be him from an alternate universe; no one knows that. Apparently, though, he’s transparent and Bruce has spent the last two days digging around inside, “It doesn’t matter if you pretty much hero worship the guy, okay? Look at yourself. Look at this fucking tower if you don’t believe me. You’re something, and you shouldn’t give a shit about what some geyser from Brooklyn says, alright? Hey,” he says, his voice hard, and Tony nods.
“Yeah, alright,” he says, and wow, okay, his mouth is not obeying his brain again. He starts to tell Jarvis to tell Steve to fuck off, but it does the not listening thing again, and he hears himself say, “Jarvis, let him in. Fuck,” he swears a half beat later.
“Yeah, sometimes my batteries don’t listen to my genius brain, either.”
“You don’t run on batteries, pushover.”
“And how much does Steve Rogers know about yours, asshole?” Bruce counters with before he gets up, and Tony just sits there, stumped. He looks down at the glow of the arc reactor when he hears the elevator open. Bruce and Steve exchange a few short words, Steve is handed a beer, and Tony just keeps staring. He has no heart. This is it, right here, and if someone took this from him, that would be it. Outside of the armor, he’s defenseless and weak and ashamed of himself, and he hates that Steve knows that without really knowing.
“May I sit?” Steve asks a moment later, and Tony doesn’t do or say anything, and so Steve sighs and sits anyway. When he does, Tony can see him look over out of his peripheral, and he watches Steve frown and stare. “I thought—I thought that was part of the armor,” he says finally, and Tony looks up.
There’s no fucking way he’s that stupid.
But Steve is still looking at the arc reactor, visible for all the world to see because it’s sweaty work clearing the rubble, and he and Bruce shed down to skin ages ago. “No,” Tony says belatedly, “It’s part of me.” Steve blinks, and Tony can see everything dawning on him all at once. He wants to make it all hurt, wants Steve to understand what his words did to Tony. “It’s keeping me alive,” he continues, staring at Steve, daring him to meet his gaze, which, of course, he does, because he’s Captain fucking America, hello, but Tony doesn’t care, and he hates him so much right now, hates him for ever saying that. “You want to know what I am outside the armor,” he says, his voice ice cold, “This is it. I am a bunch of—fucking scraps,” he grinds out the word, and he realizes, suddenly, that his hands are shaking, “I am nothing but this goddamn piece of—technology in my chest,” he pauses, and Steve’s eyes widen as he puts down his beer and reaches up a hand, fingers twisting, the reactor clicking, “that I had to build in a fucking cave while I was in captivity, and it’s—” his breath leaves him for a moment as the reactor comes out, “it’s keeping me alive.”
Steve still holds his gaze, and the reactor hums bright and cold in Tony’s hand, and, for one insane moment, he looks away from Steve and out over all of Manhattan, and he thinks about dropping it, about just ending everything right then and there. It would be so easy.
Whether Steve sees something in his face or just seems to have been effected by Tony’s drama, he swallows audibly and says, “Tony, I’m sorry,” and his goddamn hand touches Tony’s arm, pushes it back to his body, and Tony can see the fear there, has seen it in everyone’s eyes before. He doesn’t put it back in, though. He wants Steve to understand. He needs him to. “Tony, I—”
“My dad’s best friend took this from me and left me to die,” he says before he even realizes his train of thought. That shuts Steve up immediately, and he stares at Tony’s face, confused.
“Your dad’s best—”
“Obidiah Stane,” he says, and really, what the hell. “He came into my house, back in Malibu, and he took it out of my chest, and he left me, paralyzed, dying. It’s already starting to hurt now,” he adds, and he shocks Steve with a short, hollow laugh, “God, what am I saying, it always fucking hurts, it’s never going to not hurt, it’s just more than—damn it.”
Steve’s hand is insistent on his wrist.
He still has half of the rubble to clear away.
He still has to build the space model.
He still has to apologize to Pepper for everything.
He still has to make his father proud.
Somewhere between hating Steve for being everything his father ever wanted and hating Steve for being better than him in every way, Tony’s body betrays him and puts the reactor back in place, twists it until it hisses and clicks, and it’s so much brighter than usual, working harder to pull the shrapnel away from his battered heart. And somewhere between hating himself for being who he is and hating himself for everything else in his life, he says, “I was the one who found you.” Whatever Steve had been expecting, it wasn’t that, and he doesn’t speak for a very long time.
Tony compiles a list of the probable reactions of this outcome, and Steve pretty much shrugs all of them away when he reaches forward, and suddenly, somehow, his thumb and forefinger are tight around Tony’s jaw, his gaze is meeting Steve’s, and he knows exactly what Steve is about to do. So he punches him again.
Steve shouts and reels back, hand going to his nose this time, and Tony nearly falls as he tries to clamber to his feet. He starts to storm away, but Steve is quicker than him, and his words cut deep, “Keep running away! That’s all you seem to amount to!” Tony spins right around, and, if Steve had been expecting anything, it’s not for Tony to hit him again because he looks kind of shocked now that his nose is actually bleeding.
“I get it, okay!” Tony roars, trembling all over, “I get it! You’re fucking perfect, okay, awesome! I am the fuckup, but at least I can admit that! I know my father didn’t love me, I know his greatest creation was you, I know you hate seeing him in me because I’m not good enough!” Steve gets to his feet finally, and Tony’s hands are fisted at his sides, blunt nails biting into his palms and drawing blood. “I get it,” Tony says again, glaring at Steve, “So stop trying to fix things, and just leave me the fuck alone. I don’t care if you’re trying to find a best friend again, if you’re trying to replace my father with me, just stop fucking with me, and go away.”
For about three seconds, it looks like Steve is just going to keep bulling right ahead, but then he gives Tony a curt nod and walks away from him, taking the elevator, and Tony doesn’t see him for nearly half a year.
The next time Steve Rogers is part of the equation again is when there’s an army of Skrulls marching through Manhattan, and there’s a desperate please for the Avengers. And so he dons the armor, takes the orders, and he gets ready to continue his life with Bruce and Pepper and Jarvis in the Tower after two nonstop days of fighting. There’s more Skrulls out there, and they’re all well aware of that, but they don’t look to be coming back anytime soon, and, on the minus side, Pepper was nice and offered for Thor to stay at Stark Tower while Tony and Bruce finished up their craziest project yet: a portal.
It had started off as a joke a few weeks after the rubble was cleared from the top floor and construction was well underway for fixing up everything, but then Bruce had drawn up some plans, Tony had actually looked into it, and they’d started in on it, absorbing themselves with it for months on end until they were nearly finished; a portal that might actually be able to bring Thor to and from. Which, of course, means that the Avengers want to hang out around the Tower while the Asgardian is around; minus side, that included Steve.
He expects an approach from the super soldier. What he doesn’t expect is another bout of body betrayal that somehow ends up with him outside of the workout room, contemplating social suicide. He’s always been about keeping everything close to the chest, though, and so he throws a curveball, steps inside, and asks to speak to Steve in private.
Of course, everyone stops and stares. Tony makes a mental note to override each of their water sources so that they have cold showers for a week.
Half of him hopes Steve might follow him away from the workout room, but he knows that’s not very likely, and Steve lives up to his expectations, stopping just outside of the door and crossing his arms over his chest. He looks down at Tony, and okay, yeah, he really doesn’t like that. “Look,” Tony begins, waving his hand about unceremoniously. He has a comment wracked with sarcasm and self-loathing ready to go, so, instead, his brain says the comment, and his mouth says, “I wanted to apologize for not accepting part two of your sorry.” He blinks, thinks back on what he said, and sighs. Steve quirks an eyebrow, and, before he can speak, Tony says, “I seem to have this really infuriating habit of not saying what I want to whenever I’m around you. I intended to tell you that I still hated you and that I wanted you out of my Tower, but my batteries keep deciding differently, so—fuck, I guess I hate you is pretty much code for—” Tony forces himself to stop, because honestly. “Apology accepted, let’s not be mortal enemies forever, okay?” he finally says, and he starts to turn until Steve’s hand darts out and closes around his arm. When he turns back, part two happens, and he’s left bewildered and mildly aroused by Steve’s lips moving against his own. He doesn’t really respond, and Steve pulls back far too quickly, frowning.
“You take forever to understand the fundamentals of life, genius,” Steve says, and woah, was that a quip? Tony almost wants to applaud him.
“I never really did,” Tony admits, shrugging, “I kind of just—don’t like to sleep or eat, and I don’t really understand when people like me because I mean—I don’t even like me.”
“You should,” Steve says, still holding his arm, and Tony gives it an experimental tug. Steve lets him go, and Tony makes a mental note of that. “It was wrong of me to say what I did. Outside of your armor, you’re—Tony, you’re amazing. There’s so much about you that I just—I don’t get, and that’s partly because it’s not the 40s anymore, but it’s also because you’re so alike, and yet so different, from your father, and I keep trying to compare you, but that’s wrong. I was wrong. I never should have said that, not without knowing you first, and I just—want to know you. I want to be friends. I want to kiss you again.”
“I hate you still,” Tony says, and Steve actually laughs. Somewhere between the second kiss and Tony’s brain shutting off, he remembers Bruce, two months ago, sighing before he threw something heavy and painful at Tony, to which he shouted and glared at him.
“Stop fucking whining and just admit that you love him. Get over the fact that you hate yourself and open your eyes, Tony. Why do you think this is still bothering you, that you pushed him away, that he said all that? Because you were done for the moment they uncovered him in the ice, the moment you told him you were the one that continued Howard’s search. All this—” he gestured vaguely, but Tony knew he meant the space model, the portal, the ranting, the mess, the lack of sleep, “—this is you denying that you love Steve Rogers. Okay?”
And so he spent two months trying to stop denying it, and now Steve is right of him, and he definitely just kissed him, and Tony doesn’t know how to move forward. Steve’s had all of seven months to get his feet in the future, and Tony has had all his life, and the old man is still beating him to every punch. The second kiss ends while he’s still thinking and still not really responding, and then his brain shuts off, and then he runs away. Because he’s Tony Stark, and that’s all he really amounts to.
It happens like this.
Steve kissed him three months ago, they did a little dance off and on, sometimes Steve sneaking chaste kisses in the elevator whenever he visited Stark Tower, sometimes Tony pinning Steve against a wall immediate post-fight and snogging his brains senseless, sometimes Steve biting his shoulder while he was in the lab, which almost always resulted in Tony practically flying toward his suit or the door, and sometimes, even, Tony grabbing Steve and palming him to near completion. Except they were kind of like teenagers, and never really got anywhere, and Tony was most definitely sick of being bitten on the shoulder all the time and having countless occasions of blue balls. Those, he hates more than anything else. Mostly, though, they’re not dancing, and they’re just fighting, screaming, hitting, and breaking, and none of it is charged toward alien enemies; all of it is for each other. Because Tony hates himself, and, most times, he hates Steve, and Steve hates Tony for both of those reasons.
And so, it happens that Tony is in the lab, upgrading the Mark VII, when Jarvis pulls up a call from Steve. “Old man,” Tony says by way of greeting, and his continuous self-doubt hits an all-time low when Steve responds.
“I can’t fucking do this.” It’s partially the profanity that hits, but mostly it’s the sentiment. Tony doesn’t say anything for a very long second, which feels more like twelve hours, and so Steve continues, “I can’t. I’m coming over.” And then he hangs up, and Tony doesn’t know where to start compiling his list of reactions to this outcome because—well—he’s really confused.
And so, it happens that Tony is still sitting dumbfounded in his lab when Jarvis announces Steve breaking in through the front door, and it clicks. Tony takes the elevator up two levels, and the door is just closing behind Steve. “Turn around,” Steve orders, and Tony obeys, stepping right back inside, Steve following him. The doors aren’t even fully closed when Steve pins him against the elevator wall and fuses their mouths together. Tony can do this; he knows everything about this. He kisses back, fingers already sliding through the buttons on Steve’s nicely pressed shirt even as Steve jabs a thumb at the button for Tony’s floor. They shoot upward as Steve yanks open Tony’s jeans, and Tony groans, head falling back against the steel wall as Steve’s hand dips right under his boxers and curls around his half-hard cock. He rocks up into Steve’s hand as the super soldier leans down and nips at his neck, and then it’s game over.
By the time they make it into Tony’s bedroom, he’s tripping over his pants, and Steve’s shirt is somewhere in the hallway. Steve all but throws Tony onto the bed, yanking his jeans off his left ankle, and then he strips down out of his pants as Tony struggles to get out of his t-shirt and beater beneath. “How could you ever think you weren’t good enough?” Steve growls as he steps out of his pants, and Tony looks down at the reactor. How? He’s wondering how? Is his chest not enough proof? When Tony looks back up, Steve is settling between his slightly bent knees, and he instinctively parts his legs, gives Steve room to kneel and bend over to kiss him roughly. “This,” he says, and Tony flinches when his hand covers the reactor, his skin glowing blue because it’s working full-tilt, “this is beautiful. This is you, and I love it. I love you, every part of you, even if you are such a dick.”
“No, I have a dick,” Tony reminds him, and he doesn’t remember gaining thinking privileges back, but okay, and he arches up off the bed, hips dragging along Steve’s, cock filling so that he’s aching as it rubs against Steve’s and his stomach and god, this is Captain fucking America.
Steve claims his mouth again, pushing him down into the mattress, and Tony is totally okay with that. He kisses back, fingers fisting in Steve’s hair even as his other hand flaps uselessly around his nightstand, trying to find the handle to the drawer. “Fuck this,” he grumbles suddenly, pulling away from Steve’s mouth and yanking open the drawer. He all but throws the bottle of lube at Steve, who leans back up on his heels, and Tony quirks an eyebrow at him.
“I know what I’m doing,” Steve says, and Tony bites back a laugh. “I asked Bruce. He sent me some very helpful—links,” he remembers the word after a moment.
“You’re using a computer now, C-C-Cap?” He nearly chokes on his breath as Steve skips preamble and slams a mint-lubed finger inside him. God, he hasn’t used this one in ages, and it sends sparks up his spine as he bows off the bed, gasping. Steve lets him get used to the feel before his finger is gone, and then it’s two, and fuck—it’s been a long time since he was this full. “Steve,” he gasps, fingers fisted tightly in the sheets, “Steve—fuck.”
“Okay?” he asks, and Tony nods sharply.
“God, yes—amazing.” Tony makes a mental note to check out the links Bruce sent Steve and then make him an omelet because woah, and then he all but loses brain function. Steve’s three fingers—when did that happen—curl inside him and scrape up against prostate, and he keens, pulling at the sheets.
He forces his eyes open, panting, and he tries to understand Steve’s face even though he really doesn’t want to because he’s been trying to just enjoy this moment and pretend he doesn’t know this is a one-time thing, that he’s just a quick fuck because he’s been getting under Steve’s skin, that this doesn’t mean anything, but he does know all that, and he sees it there in Steve’s face.
“Tony,” Steve says again, and Tony’s breath stutters out as Steve pulls his fingers loose. His ass clenches around nothing, and damn it, Steve’s looking for his brain right now.
“Uh?” he manages to come up with, and hey, it’s not like he’s a genius or anything.
Steve bends over him, and Tony can’t stop the groan that bubbles up as their cocks slide together, warm and throbbing and leaking. “Stop it,” Steve whispers in his ear, rocking against him lightly.
“I’m not—I’m offended.”
Steve outright laughs, and, when he leans back up, Tony is smiling, too. “Stop,” Steve says, and Tony narrows his eyes, his smile slipping, but it’s all playful anyway because, okay, maybe he was wrong. Maybe Steve’s face wasn’t saying that but, well, this.
“Stop what?” he asks again, and Steve responds by sitting on his heels again. Tony is left to watch, entranced, as his boyhood hero drags a hand over his swollen dick, spreading precome and lube. Tony’s starting to lose the ability to talk again, especially with the way Steve’s blue eyes disappear behind his thick golden lashes, and his fingers tighten a little on his dick, teeth scraping over his bottom lip. “Oh my god, fine,” Tony snaps, and Steve opens his eyes with a smirk. “Just fuck me already, please.”
Tony grunts as he’s manhandled again, and then he groans, loudly, as Steve pushes inside him, filling him and stretching him. “God—fucking—yes—Steve, fuck yes.”
“You are so much more than you believe, Tony,” Steve whispers before he kisses him, and then it’s just his forehead resting on Tony’s, his hands on Tony’s hips, holding him tight and bruising, fingers searing against his skin, as he fucks into him, hips slapping into Tony’s ass and cock buried deep, brushing over his prostate on every thrust, his movements quick and erratic, a race. Tony is all hands, everywhere, scratching red marks into Steve’s back, digging his nails into Steve’s shoulder, fisting his hair, though his feet are still for the most part, one planted on the mattress for leverage and the other digging a heel-sized bruise into the small of Steve’s back.
It’s quick, and it’s dirty, and it’s fucking hot and hard, and Tony can’t even really believe it, not even when Steve takes one hand from his hip and fists it over Tony’s cock, strokes him up in one tight drag and pushes his thumb against the bundle of nerves beneath the crown, groans when Tony does, and pulls his thumb, swipes it over the slit and makes Tony shout as he squeezes, back bowing off the bed. He comes in thick ropes across his stomach, shaking, and Steve’s rhythm goes out of control as abuses Tony’s body, thrusts shallow and fast as he milks his orgasm.
It takes several moments for Tony to not feel like he’s dying, and, by then, Steve has pulled out with a soft gasp and rolled onto his back. Tony absentmindedly grabs his t-shirt where it landed in a crumple above his head, and he wipes his stomach, the reactor whirring loudly in his chest. When he finishes, he dumps it over onto the floor, and then Steve is hovering above him, balanced on one elbow. Tony looks up at him in wonder, and his breath leaves him all in a rush when Steve bends and kisses the reactor softly. When he retreats, it’s to move north and kiss Tony’s mouth until he’s breathless in an entirely different way.
Steve settles back on the bed, head turned to look at Tony, who is blocking out the world and not letting himself think, who is just lying there and listening to his body. For once, he goes with his betraying body and rolls onto his side, curling against Steve, one arm flung across his muscled stomach. “I love you, too,” he mumbles, and he can practically feel Steve’s smile as the super soldier kisses his messy black hair.
“I know,” Steve says, and yeah. Tony’s pretty okay with that.