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the best thing (is that it’s happening to you and me)

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Pepper sees it first.

She enters the kitchen on a Saturday morning, and is not surprised to see Steve standing by the coffee maker-- he’s one of the earliest risers she knows, and like her, it’s clear that he appreciates the way the world feels when the day’s just beginning-- but she is surprised that he’s the only one there.

“Where is everyone?” she asks by way of greeting, climbing on one of the kitchen stools.

Steve’s eyes are bright and blue over the rim of his coffee mug as he takes a sip. “Last night was poker night,” he says, and--

“Oh,” she smiles, “that makes sense.”

Steve returns it with a grin of his own, but before either of them can say anything else, there’s a low, rough groaning from down the hall and seconds later, Tony stumbles in, all bleary eyes and tousled hair and grease-stained clothing.

"Good morning,” Pepper calls out, but Tony doesn’t even turn to her as he heads straight for Steve, who puts his coffee down just as Tony steps into his space, resting his forehead on the Captain’s chest.

“Say good morning to Pepper, Tony,” Steve says gently, wrapping his arms around the brunet’s waist, and Pepper has known Tony longer than anyone alive-- except Rhodey, of course-- but she can’t remember the last time she saw him like this, pliant and relaxed, and comfortable with another person enough to allow the physical interaction she’s seeing right now.

“Pepper, Tony. Say good morning,” Steve repeats. His voice is so soft, he’s almost whispering the words into Tony’s hair, and when Tony just rubs his cheek against Steve’s shirt, Pepper has no idea why she suddenly feels like she’s intruding.

This... this is something else. It’s almost too much, to see this obvious display of trust and affection, and something else that feels so much more intimate than she was aware of. It’s one thing to hear Tony talk about his friendship with Steve-- which he's gotten around to doing a lot more of, for months now-- but it’s another thing to see it. She wonders if this closeness is new, or if she’s been missing it all this time.

Tony doesn’t move away from Steve, but he opens one eye in her direction, and as always, it’s enough for her. But then he groans pitifully, and Steve picks up a second mug that Pepper hadn’t noticed before, and holds it up to Tony’s nose.

“C’ffee? Gimme,” Tony whispers, and Pepper and Steve both chuckle when he pulls away to down it in one go. “More?”

“Have some toast, first,” the blond says, reaching behind him to bring a plate of bread, and bumping it against Tony’s shoulder.

“Want coffee,” Tony mumbles, and Pepper can’t hold back the laugh when he nuzzles Steve’s chest again.

“Toast,” Steve says firmly, but only Pepper can see the absolute joy on his face, and it makes something soft and warm spark inside her, close to her heart.

“Please?” Tony whispers.

“Of course,” Steve nudges his shoulder again. “Here you go.”

Noooooo... hate you.”

Steve’s shoulder are shaking now. “No you don’t.”

Pepperrrr,” the genius looks at her again. “Pep-pot, coffee?”

“Toast,” she shakes her head, and Steve winks at her when Tony stuffs a slice into his mouth. “Happy?” he asks, after swallowing a bite.

Steve just tugs him closer, and Pepper feels something fall into place when Tony smiles into his Captain’s chest.

-----------------------

Natasha sees it when no one else does.

It’s ironic, really, because everyone’s at the Tower that night, settled into the living room and debating on what movie to pick.

“I vote Star Wars,” Clint yells from the kitchen, and Bruce, Bucky, and Thor raise their hands in agreement.

“I swear we watched that two fucking weeks ago,” Tony groans, but he looks more than content with his head nestled on Steve’s shoulder, so no one takes his words to heart.

“Language,” Steve says, poking Tony in the rib, and chuckles when the brunet yelps.

“Stop it, you asshole,” Tony grins, but Steve just starts running his fingers down Tony’s sides. “I said-- stop it, Rogers-- you j-jerk, I’m-- I’m gonna kill you,” he gasps, but can barely get the words out through his laughter, and Natasha knows Steve is pretending he didn’t hear the genius’ warning.

“Oh my fucking god,” Clint comes in, rolling his eyes as he settles into his bean bag. “Spare us the foreplay, please.”

“Language,” Steve tells him, but then he pats Tony’s chest one more time before leaning back against the cushions, and Natasha can’t hide her smile as the genius practically spreads himself out on top of Steve, head resting on the blond’s chest.

“Barton, if we go with your choice, will you keep your trap shut?” Tony mumbles, and Steve flicks his back.

“Can it, tin man,” Natasha hears him say.

“Like that, you would,” Tony teases, and then Steve whispers something she can’t make out, but Tony lets out a laugh that lasts and lasts, until it fades into a quiet hum as the living room dims. Clint’s loud and off-key rendition of the theme gets jeers from Bucky and Rhodey as they throw popcorn his way, and Natasha can see how Thor’s booming laughter makes Bruce smile into his tea.

But Steve and Tony go quiet in the way Natasha sometimes sees them get, where the silence settles around them like a bubble they don’t want anyone bursting. One of Tony’s hands is hidden between their bodies and the couch, but the other is wrapped around part of Steve’s bicep, and she’s quick to catch the way his thumb consistently taps at it. She recognizes it for what it is immediately, and clearly Steve does too, because his hands tap their replies just as fast on the small of Tony’s back.

And when the movie’s over, when the team whispers their goodnights as they go back to their suites, Natasha takes the throw from her couch and settles it on top of her boys. She walks toward the elevator but doesn’t press the button because she knows Steve’s still awake, and some little part of her just wants to see more of their interactions.

She doesn’t have to wait long before she hears Steve whispering for Tony to wake up, and then the lump on the couch moves as the genius stretches above Steve.

“Where’d ev’ryone go?” Tony mumbles.

“Movie’s over, Tony.”

“Thank god,” he says, fixing the blanket until it covers them both again. “I know you’re, like, in love with Han--”

“I am not in love with Han, Tony,” Steve chuckles.

“Of course you are,” Tony says, and Natasha just knows he’s grinning, even though she can’t see his face. “He’s handsome, witty, and cool as fuck. A lot like me, actually.”

“You strike me as more like Leia.”

“I’m gonna take that as the compliment it is.”

“You should. She’s strong, and smart, and very opinionated. Leia’s a badass.”

Tony gasps. “What language, Captain...”

“Go to sleep, Tony.”

“Want me to move?”

“Nah,” Steve sighs, and his voice fades further and further the more he talks. “I’m going to stay here, anyway. I don’t think I can make it all the way up to my bed.”

“Fine,” Tony says, “but if I wake up on the floor, it’s your ass, buddy.”

“Whatever you say, Princess,” Steve whispers, and Natasha finally leaves to the sound of Tony’s sleepy chuckles.

Every once in a while, she remembers telling Loki that love is for children, and even though some small, hidden part of her still believes it, she can’t help but be glad that it’s not completely true.

She’s just seen the proof, after all.

-----------------------

When Clint sees it, he takes one step into the living room and almost walks out.

It’s usually his favorite room, because even though it looks a lot like every other part of the Tower, the living room is everyone’s space. Most of the time, he can come down and find Bruce reading a book in the corner chair, or Sam and Bucky shouting at each other over Mario Kart. Sometimes, he comes in and finds Steve sketching close to the large, glass windows, and Tasha sprawled on the floor with a puzzle laid out in front of her.

So yeah, it’s his favorite room because it’s his family’s favorite room.

But he doesn’t think he can stay there right now, not without shooting one or two arrows.

Or ten.

Because right off the bat, he hears Tony’s voice coming from the couch, and it only takes a moment for Clint to figure out who he’s talking on the phone with.

There’s only one person who’s not currently in the tower, and Clint decides that as annoying as it is to hear Stark and Cap gushing and flirting and laughing with each other, he’s going to stick around right now, because it’s also pretty fucking entertaining.

“How’s the paperwork?” Tony asks, and when Clint walks into his line of sight, the genius only nods at him before keeping up the steady taps on his tablet.

You’d know if you filled it out, Tony,” Steve’s voice is tinny through the tablet speaker, but his amusement is obvious. “The only reason I’m here is because some of you never are.

“Hey,” Tony says, “I can’t help it if I have better things to do.”

Like what?

“Like, uh-- eating. Yeah, eating. You always bitch about me skipping meals, so now you can’t complain, see? Better things.”

What are you eating, Tony?

“Uh, Macaroni and cheese,” he says, but it comes out more like question, and Clint sees the brunet’s eyes go wide in what might be panic. They both know Cap’s not going to buy it.

Who made the mac and cheese, Tony?

“Me?”

Steve’s laughter is immediate and loud, and if he’s where Clint thinks he is, he can imagine all the SHIELD agents’ faces as Captain America laughs his head off right there in HQ.

The fire alerts on my phone would’ve gone off if you had, so nice try.

“Asshole,” Tony laughs again. “You do not have them synced to your phone.”

Do too. Ask JARVIS.

“Jay, say it ain’t so,” Tony says, and when he looks up at the ceiling, Clint wants to laugh because that’s such a fucking Steve thing to do, and it’s so like these two to rub off on each other so much, after all the time they spend together.

I am sorry to disappoint, the AI’s voice is just as smug as Clint expected it to be. Captain Rogers did indeed request to have the Tower’s alerts sent to his phone.

“Traitors,” Tony crows, “the fucking lot of you! Jerks and traitors.”

Pipe down, Shellhead,” Steve chuckles, “I’m almost done anyway.

“Good, because now I can’t stop thinking about macaroni, and my stomach is killing me.”

I can stop by Mario’s if you want,” Clint hears Cap say, and rolls his eyes because Jesus, the man is so whipped it’s embarrassing.

“Oh my god, yes,” Tony sits up. “Get a large order, and a couple of pizzas. And a plate of those meatballs you’re, like, fucking in love with, for some reason. And some eggplant parm for Pep. And like, five orders of breadsticks, because god knows Thor and you and Barnes will each take one for yourselves.”

So bossy,” Steve teases.

“Please, Cappy bear?”

Clint can barely keep from groaning. So fucking embarrassing.

Alright, I gotta go now. I’ll see you in a bit, if you’re still alive by the time I get back.

“Oh, now you joke about me dying,” Tony humphs, but he’s got a smile on his face that Clint just knows is one only Steve gets to see, and part of him feels like looking away.

Bye, Tony.

“Hurry up,” Tony whines, and then all they hear is Steve’s laughter as the call ends.

“Where’s your better half been all day?” Clint asks, grinning when Tony rolls his eyes.

“Watch that beak, Barton,” he replies, eyebrow raised in warning. “Wouldn’t want your share of dinner ending up in the trash.”

Clint rolls his eyes. “You know Rogers would starve himself before leaving me with nothing.”

“I wouldn’t.”

“I know. And speaking of Cap... do us all a favor and get your head out of your ass, will you?”

“What?”

“I’m not stupid, you’re not stupid-- well, mostly-- so you and Steve? Figure it out.”

“Get lost,” Tony waves him off, but Clint doesn’t miss the way he brings his hands to his chest after that, tapping a steady beat against the small reactor.

So obvious.

When Cap finally makes it back, hands and arms laden with plastic bags and take out boxes that he lays out on the dining table, Tony doesn’t miss a beat before wrapping his arms around him from behind.

“Laying it on a bit thick, aren’t you?” Steve laughs. “I already bought your food.”

“Don’t flatter yourself, honey bunch,” Tony mouths against Cap’s shoulder. “It’s the food I love.”

Honey bunch?

“Not good? Should I stick to ‘Cappy bear’?”

“Or you could just use my name,” Steve smirks, rolling his eyes.

Tony scoffs. “That’s boring.”

“I’m gonna go call everyone,” Clint says suddenly, because if they get any more chummy he’s going to puke. He leaves before either of them can reply, and when their laughter follows him into the elevator, he thinks they might have to set up an intervention.

-----------------------

Rhodey practically runs all the way to Tony’s workshop when he sees it.

He’s gripping the magazine tight so that it doesn’t slip from his fingers, and when he finally gets through the door, he doesn’t even bother with pleasantries.

“I can’t believe you didn’t tell me,” he says, and then winces when the wrench Tony’s holding falls to the floor with a loud clatter.

“Rhodey?”

“You and Steve, Tony?”

“What about me?”

It’s Rhodey’s turn to start, and when he looks over his shoulder, Steve’s pulling himself up from the couch he’s clearly been lying across. He’s in socks, sweatpants and a plain white t-shirt, and he looks so comfortable-- in Tony’s not-so-zen place of zen, of all places-- that Rhodey needs a second to take it in.

Well, the pictures are making a little more sense now.

“Does Pepper know?” he turns back to his best friend, who’s looking down at the magazine with a grin. “Tony--”

Oh my god,” Tony breathes. “Oh my god, Steve, I told you that was a fucking gag gift!”

“What are you talking about?” Steve asks, but then he looks over Tony’s shoulder and--

“Oh.”

Tony’s laughing so hard now, he’s leaning back into Steve to keep from falling. “Fucking Christ,” he wheezes, wiping tears from his eyes, “How did I not notice you were wearing this when we went out?”

“What’s wrong with it?” Steve asks, but he’s smiling, and Tony just turns around to pat his cheek.

“Nothing. God knows it looks fucking gorgeous on you. I mean, really, I’ve never looked better, even if it’s just the helmet.”

“Is that why they think we’re dating?”

“Yeah,” Tony says. “That, and the dozen other pictures inside of our lunch breaks.”

“It’s just eating,” Steve counters.

“Nothing is ‘just’ anything with celebrities, big guy.”

“Should you put out a press release, then? Or call Pepper?”

Tony shakes his head. “Why bother? We’re sure as fuck not going to stop going out, and as long as we do, they’re going to keep printing shit like this. It doesn’t help when you step out the Tower wearing an Iron Man shirt.”

“What can I say?” Steve smirks. “I’m a big fan. Plus, it’s soft, and bright, and very comfortable.”

“You’re a menace, Rogers,” Tony says, wrapping an arm around the blond’s shoulder. “But wear it again next time, and I’ll get a Cap shirt. It’ll be a riot.”

“Gonna pick one from the Captain America shrine room you’ve got in the basements?” Steve teases, and Tony pulls away to punch him in the chest.

“You’re a little shit, you know that?” he asks, grinning. “My god, I should’ve never told you--”

“It’s okay, Tony, I--”

“All that shit’s his, you know that. Besides, I’ve got the real thing, so really,” Tony shrugs, “No contest.”

“I’ll find you a good one,” Steve says.

Tony nods imperiously. “It’s the least you could do, y’know, for sending the press into a frenzy.”

“You just said it’s not all my fault, Tony.”

“I was just being kind. Wouldn’t want that pretty little head drowning in guilt.”

“You think I’m pretty?” Steve nudges Tony.

“Go find me a shirt, you jerk.”

“Wait,” Rhodey finally says, and both Tony and Steve jump and turn their heads in surprise, like they’d forgotten he was there the whole time. “So you’re... not dating?”

“Nope,” Tony shrugs again. Steve shakes his head.

“Are you sure?” Rhodey asks.

“I think I’d know if I was getting any from this,” Tony points at the blond, who blushes and hides his head in Tony’s shoulder.

“Tony,” Rhodey sighs. “There’s pages of you two, all over the city. And not just in this magazine.”

“Cap’s got a big stomach, honey bear. Gotta keep him satisfied.”

“Oh my god, Tony, stop,” Steve mumbles, but Tony just winks playfully at Rhodey.

“There, there,” he coos, ruffling the blond’s hair. “You’re so easy, but okay, I’m done. Now go find me a damn shirt.”

“No manners,” Steve sighs, walking back to the couch. “Kids these days...”

“Keep it up, old man. I’ll stick this cover in a frame and hang it up. By the reception desk,” Tony warns, and when Rhodey sees the smile on his best friend’s face when Steve just giggles in response, he thinks the magazines might not be completely wrong.

-----------------------

Bucky sees it after everything goes to shit.

Even now, he still doesn't know how it happened, but one moment they're finishing up the latest battle with Doom-- without Iron Man, no less-- and the next moment, Clint’s losing his shit because Cap’s down, I repeat, Cap is fucking down!

Now, two hours and one rant-filled debrief later, Steve hasn’t said anything since the doctor last came in the room, and Bucky would probably be a little more worried about him, but the doctor had assured them that the serum was already doing it’s work. He’s just glad for the silence that lets him think clearly again.

Of course, it ends just as he’s getting comfortable on the small couch at the back.

Where is he?” Bucky hears all the way down the hall, and Steve suddenly sighs from where he's perched at the edge of the bed. There are mumbles that turn to shouts, the sound of footsteps get closer, and then the door is almost ripped off its hinges as Stark comes barreling in.

"One thing," he snarls, and lifts his index finger. "Before I left, I told you to do one thing for me."

Steve's shoulders slump. "Tony--"

"One fucking thing, Steve."

"I remember," Steve says."

Stark lets out a bitter laugh. "Do you?"

"Yeah."

"Then imagine my surprise when the first thing they fucking tell me when I get off the plane, after a fourteen hour flight, is that the Avengers have been at HQ all day--"

"Tony."

"-- debriefing after a fucking twelve hour fight with Doom that I wasn't around for."

"Tony."

"And then-- then, the fucking icing on the shitty cake... That you'd been impaled," Stark's voice breaks, "with a fucking construction bar."

"Tony, stop."

"No," he shakes his head, stepping up to the bed. "You don't tell me what to do, not--"

Steve pulls him into the space between his legs, wrapping his arms around Stark's waist, and Bucky sees him struggling immediately.

"Let me go," Stark growls.

"No."

"I mean it--"

"And I said no."

"Steve," Stark's voice breaks.

"Please?" Steve begs, tightening his hold, and just like that, something in Stark just seems to deflate.

"I hate you."

"No you don’t."

"I didn't fucking know if--" Stark stops, and only Bucky can see the way his fingers are digging into his palm.

He thinks it's to keep them from digging into Steve's skin.

"Didn't anyone debrief you on the way?" Bucky asks, because he's almost desperate to break the mood.

Steve lets Stark pull away this time, and this time, the billionaire's eyes won’t meet either of theirs. "I, uh... I might've, you know, panicked? And I didn’t let them finish talking. And there's also the, uh, slightest chance I might've broken a shit ton of traffic laws getting here."

"Tony," Steve sighs, pinching the bridge of his nose, and he's still hunched at the edge of the bed.

"What's the diagnosis?" Stark deflects, running his fingers over the bandage wrapped around Steve's middle.

"Went clean through."

"Right. So, we done here?"

"They wanna keep him overnight," Bucky says, and Steve sighs in defeat.

“Fucking SHIELD," Stark mutters, but takes his suit jacket off and throws it on the couch next to Bucky. "Alright, Cap-- up you go."

"Tony--" Steve starts.

"Nope, no whining," Stark tuts, pushing Steve down until his head hits the pillow.

And then he climbs up next to him.

"What are you doing?" Steve sighs again, and Bucky laughs because he knows what's coming.

"It's obvious, isn't it?"

"Why?"

"Really, I just fucking told you-- fourteen hour flight? Did you hit your head, too?"

Steve chuckles. "No, but why are you sleeping here?"

"Because this is a bed, Steve-o, do keep up. Doing alright there, Barnes?" Stark turns to Bucky.

"Peachy," he says, and the brunet gives him a thumbs up before putting his head on the pillow, right next to Steve.

"Sleep," he says, settling the bed sheet neatly over the blond.

“Tony--”

“I’m not leaving,” Stark says casually, like he almost wasn’t falling apart a couple of minutes ago. “He’s not leaving,” he points to Bucky, “so just close those baby blues, and go the fuck to sleep.”

-------

It’s the sounds that wake Bucky up, hours later.

There’s no steady beeping of a heart monitor, because everybody knows Captain America’s been good to go for hours. With his enhanced hearing, Bucky can hear the occasional footsteps down the hall, or a piece of conversation between agents here and there, but it’s the sound of Stark and Steve whispering that finally breaks him out of his slumber.

“--didn’t get to ask, how was Japan?”

“Fine, great, like every other time I’ve been there. But I’m taking you with me next time, jesus. It’s like I can’t fucking leave you alone--”

“It’s just the first time, Tony.”

First? You planning on getting stabbed again, Rogers?”

“I didn’t mean it like that.”

“Didn’t you?”

“Can we just... not talk about this?”

“About how you almost died? Yeah, sure, why the fuck would we talk about that?”

“I missed you, Shellhead,” Steve whispers, and the room goes quiet.

Then--

“You’re a sap, y’know?” Stark says, but he sounds hoarse and unsure.

“Says the genius who queued up texts so that I would know how far away we were from each other every hour of your flight.”

“That was fun.”

“It was annoying,” Steve says. His voice is warm and playful, though, so Bucky doesn’t buy it. “All the pictures you sent made up for it, though.”

“Thought you’d enjoy ‘em.”

“Sure did. Those were some sights.”

“I like the one I’m lookin’ at right now better.” From where Bucky’s sitting, he can see Stark leering as he says it.

“Now who’s the sap?” Steve asks, laughing softly.

“You. Always you. 'Sap’ isn’t on the Tony Stark job description.”

“Okay, Tony.”

They keep whispering after that, but Bucky doesn’t bother trying to make out what they say anymore, but he falls asleep feeling lighter than he has in a long time.