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Things to do in New Jersey when you're dead

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14.

 

The cot was small for two grown men of their size, but they had managed to squeeze in every night. It squeaked faintly as Tony rolled over to look at Steve, who was still sitting at the worktable.

He'd been in the same position for at least half an hour, his chin propped up on his right fist as he frowned down at the white cloth that covered the EMP generator. Tony knew Hank had given it to Steve, but he couldn't fathom why. It wasn't like he couldn't have asked Tony for one, especially not when they were hiding in one of his labs.

Tony Stark trying to get Steve Rogers to sleep for once, what was the world coming to?

He sighed and sat up. "Steve?" he called. "You said 'five minutes'," he continued, "now I don't have a watch on me, and I know that time is relative, but I'm pretty sure five minutes have passed at least five times."

Steve didn't he didn't move an inch.

"Come to bed," Tony finally said. "Or what passes for it."

Steve snorted. "You have a peculiar sense of humor," he said, after a moment.

Tony frowned. "Thanks. I guess," he said, "but now you're worrying me. What is it?"

"Nothing," Steve replied.

Tony sighed and got up from the cot. He padded barefoot to where Steve was sitting, or rather hunching over the table, and draped himself over him, hugging him around the shoulders. "Steve, I already told you," he said. "If I did something you didn't like, just-"

"No, it's fine," Steve cut him off a little too vehemently for it to be really fine. "It's fine."

"Steve," he sighed, but Steve remained silent. Tony extended a hand and tugged at the cloth, exposing part of the generator. "What are you and Hank planning to do with an NNEMP generator?" he asked. "And you could have just asked me if you needed one, no need to go to the competition." Steve didn’t say anything. “Steve, an EMP generator of that size isn’t going to be very effective unless you mount it on a missile.”

Steve remained silent.

Tony rubbed his eyes. “I wish you would tell me about your plans,” he said after a long moment. “I know you don’t trust me, but…” he trailed off with a sigh.

Steve turned and gave him a searching look. “That EMP is going to kill every electronic system in range,” he said slowly, as if the words held the meaning of life, the universe and everything.

Tony stared at him. “Wow, thanks for telling me,” he said, deadpan, “I only have a couple of degrees in engineering and oh yeah, I built 49 hi-tech suits of armor. You may have heard about me, I’m Tony Stark?” He chuckled, shaking his head. “You don’t have to worry about me, my suit has fail-safes against EMP. I won’t be affected, I can join you in whatever mission you’re planning.”

Steve stared at him, and for a second his face crumpled up and he looked like he was in pain. It was only a fleeting second, though. "Go to sleep, I'll join you in a moment," Steve said, finally. "Everything's fine."

Tony took a deep breath and leant his forehead on the top of Steve's head. "Steve, whatever you're planning to do, don't do anything stupid," he said softly. "I- we just got you back, if something happened to you-"

Steve shook his head and Tony had to take a step back to avoid being hit in the nose. "Nothing is going to happen to me, don't worry," he said. "Just go to sleep."

Tony stared at him for a long moment but then he gave up with a sigh. He could always argue with him tomorrow, if Steve felt like it.

"Good night," he mumbled, turning on his side.

Steve was silent for so long Tony thought he hadn't heard. "Good night," he said at last. "Sleep well."

 

4.

 

Tony bolted awake when he felt the hands shaking him. He gasped and bucked, shaking off the hands and falling down from the workbench he'd been lying on.

It was a short fall, but the landing was hard and it knocked all the breath out of his lungs. He lay on the floor, dazed. "Ow," he said after a moment.

The was a flurry of movement and then big, warm hands grabbed him under his armpits and lifted him up to a sitting position. "Tony?"

Tony blinked and looked up. He'd known about Steve, the armor had told him, but staring at him now, feeling the weight of his hands against his shoulders, the warmth... "Steve?" he said, more of a question than a statement.

"Tony," Steve repeated.

Tony knew they had so many things to work out, so many wrongs to set right, but he couldn't help but smile up at him. "Steve," he said, his smile widening into a manic grin. "I guess we know each other's names, then."

Steve was staring down at him with his eyes so wide, Tony was worried they would pop out of his head. "What's-" he started, then he swallowed. "How?"

"A little bird told me you wanted to see me," Tony replied, his grin still splitting his face in two.

 

1.

 

To say he was surprised when the process actually worked, or that he was relieved when the monitor registered the steady beep of a healthy heart beating, would have been slightly inaccurate.

His feelings and his thoughts were a direct result of the imprinting of Tony Stark's thought patterns, memories and behavioral traits in his systems. It would have been incorrect to say he 'felt', all he had were these... ghosts of feelings. Echoes. It was more of the case that he reacted to certain stimuli as per his software specifications, and that included the way Tony Stark would have reacted if he had been in this situation.

That didn't mean that if he'd possessed a heart, it wouldn't have sped up with each beep from the heart monitor, with each wave that appeared on the EEG. When Steve Rogers finally opened his eyes, groaning.

It took him a long moment to focus on him, on the armor his consciousness was inhabiting. "Tony," Steve croaked. Then again, he'd gone eleven months and sixteen days without using his voice.

Of course, saying he 'felt' was a much less complex definition, and it was acceptable by human approximate standards. Human interactions and actions were mostly comprised in shades of gray, in loosely defined areas where accuracy and right and wrong were all easily interchangeable.

And that was the reason why he didn't dispel Steve's technically false notion.

"Tony?" Steve repeated, frowning.

"Yes," he answered. "Welcome back, Steve."

 

12.

 

Having sex with Steve seemed to reduce some of the tension between them, and the line of Steve's shoulders had relaxed considerably. The way his jaw clenched whenever he stared at Tony hadn't gone away, though.

Only, now it seemed to be accompanied by a guilty look that Tony didn't like in the least.

He bumped his shoulder against Steve. "Okay, what is it?" he asked. "I don't know what kind of literature you've been reading, but the brooding hero type doesn't suit you." Steve snorted at that. "Seriously, what's up?"

Steve shook his head and went looking for his jacket. "It's not you," he said.

"If you finish that sentence with 'it's me' I'll use you for repulsor practice, Rogers," he said, narrowing his eyes at him.

Steve gave a startled laugh and turned to stare at him. "You wouldn't!" he exclaimed.

Tony frowned. "No, I- of course not!" he exclaimed. "Not really. Jesus, Steve, I was joking!"

Steve bowed his head, scratching the back of his neck. "I know," he said. "I know! I just-"

Tony walked the distance that separated them and gently laid his hands on Steve's shoulders. "Hey," he said, softly. "What is it? You can tell me. We tried to kill each other, we fought each other, we yelled at each other, I'm sure I can withstand whatever's getting you all twisted up in knots."

"It's nothing, really," Steve replied, with a sigh. "I just- sometimes I think about when you- how things used to be," he said, his eyes staring right into Tony's, his index finger tracing lightly his bottom lip. "I think just how- how different this would have been. What if you-"

"If I had known you were interested in men?" Tony asked, grinning. "That you were interested in me? Steve, you know about my reputation," he chuckled, "and while most of it is only terrible, terrible lies spread by the tabloids, I'm not exactly a prude."

"No, you're not," Steve agreed. "Still, I wonder."

"Hey, what ifs have never helped anyone," Tony told him, "don't get lost in them."

Steve shot him a look. "You're right," he said with a sigh.

"What about some sparring?" Tony asked. "To take your mind off things?"

Steve narrowed his eyes at him. "I wonder just how much sparring will be involved."

"You guessed my nefarious plans, Captain America," Tony chuckled, then he leant forward to press his lips against Steve's. "I could never resist you," he said, but his smile faltered when Steve's eyes went dark again.

"Yeah, sure," Steve replied, sullenly.

 

2.

 

Steve had left precisely fourteen days, four hours and twenty-three minutes before. Despite Tony Stark's cognitive patterns and personality traits, there were some perceptions that he couldn't understand, thoughts and commands that conflicted with each other.

Like this for instance. He knew Tony would think it was a long time, but he knew that such a statement had an implicit fallacy, as the perception of time passing was relative and not absolute.

He'd been built by Tony Stark to be him, though, to perceive himself as a sentient being and not an object. He knew that contradiction was one of the most prominent human features, so he was probably less of a failure as a human being than he'd previously assumed.

Steve hadn't said much since he'd brought him back. Steve had shouted at him at first, asking where Tony was, but he had given up after a while.

He didn't know where Tony Stark was, or if still he was at all. His first conscious thought dated to three months earlier, when he had activated in Tony Stark's secret laboratory #24, located in New Jersey. He remembered joking about that - Tony joking about that - to Rhodey.

From the instant he had begun to be, he had known his purpose, he had known why he existed. After all of his researches and careful work, his purpose had walked out the door and still hadn't come back.

Logically, he couldn't understand why he was still dwelling on the fact. He had brought Steve Rogers - Captain America - back from the dead; he had served his purpose.

But he was Tony, too, and despite the fact that the armor was nothing but an empty shell housing a consciousness, part AI and part the mental blueprints of its creator, he missed Steve. He had Tony's memories and most of his capacity for feelings, he remembered what it had been like being Steve's enemy, he remembered what he - what Tony - had felt when Steve had died.

Still, he had given Steve all the information he had asked, about his death, about the Skrulls and about Norman Osborn.

"Do you know where Sharon is?" Steve had asked, finally.

He had told him, and Steve had left, just like he'd known he would. He could have followed him, but to what purpose?

He didn't anticipate Steve coming back, and from Steve's expression, he hadn't expected for him to be still here either.

"You haven't left," Steve said, staring at him.

"You came back," he retorted.

"I want to know where Tony is," Steve said.

"I don't know where he is," he replied, truthfully.

Steve stared at him for a long time. "You said you have Tony's personality inside you," he said, then. "What would Tony do if I tried to find him?"

He thought about the question. Tony would want to see Steve, he missed him, he wanted to try and make up, to rebuild if not their friendship, at least a semblance of it. Norman Osborn was after Tony, though, and he would hunt Steve down too, or worse, if he knew he was alive. And if Steve went after Tony, Osborn was bound to find out about him sooner or later.

"He would try to prevent you from finding him," he replied. "I would."

Steve nodded as if he’d expect that. "Tell me where he is," he said after a moment.

He stared at him. He had Tony's memories and they included everything he knew about Steve Rogers. He knew Steve's angry face, and the way his body subtly tensed so that you could perceive him as threatening, but not fully register it until it was too late.

Steve was ready to snap, and even without the shield Captain America was far from powerless and resource-less. He wasn't afraid of him, though, he never really had been. "Why?" he asked. "I'm Tony in the way that matters."

Steve gave him a long look. "You are an empty suit of armor," he said. "Tony built you and gave you his brain. That doesn't make you Tony Stark, that means you are a mirror. An echo, bouncing back."

He said nothing.

Steve evidently took that as a sign to continue. "I was dead," he said. "I don't exist anymore. I'm a ghost. And so are you."

 

10.

 

In the end, despite all the times Steve tried to deflect and run away, Tony had his way. He'd cornered him three times in the last four days, and he couldn't really understand why Steve kept pushing him away.

He would have understood and backed off if Steve had openly protested about the SHRA, or their motivations, or Sharon, or the fact that he didn't like men; but Steve didn't say anything at all, and he was interested, if the erection pressing against his was anything to go by, the times he had managed full body contact.

"No, don't-" Steve mumbled against his mouth, as he tried to push him away. His own body betrayed him, though, and while his hands may have been trying to put some distance between the two of them, his lips followed Tony's as he drew back.

"Steve," he said, laying his hands on Steve's cheeks and keeping his head still as he stared into his eyes. "Just give me a reason, and I'll stop. Just tell me you don't want this, and I'll stop."

Steve closed his eyes and gave a shuddering sigh. "That seems to be the whole problem," he whispered.

Tony didn't quite understand, but one of his hands sneaked down to palm Steve's erection, making him gasp and surge forward, their lips crashing together.

They didn't make it to either of the cots they were using as beds.

"That was perfect," Tony mumbled when he had finally regained his breath. He knew he had a loopy grin on his face, but it wasn't like he really cared. He was naked and sated, draped over Steve. His mind was still trying to wrap itself around the fact that they'd finally had sex.

"Yes. It was," Steve said, but the words didn't have the enthusiasm one would imagine under the circumstances.

 

6.

 

Steve was staring at him. Steve had been staring at him for a long time. Tony could tell even if he was wearing sunglasses. Steve had insisted that Tony should wear a pair too, but Tony had refused. He was already wearing a baseball cap pushed down on his forehead; sunglasses would have been overkill.

Tony laid down his burger. "What?" he asked, turning around to fully face Steve.

Steve sighed and put down his burger. "This isn't-" he pinched the bridge of his nose. "What are we doing, Tony?"

Tony frowned at him and pointed at their burgers, the french fries and the cokes. "We're having lunch," he said slowly and carefully as if he'd been talking about rocket science to a child.

"No," Steve put down his burger and took off his sunglasses, "I mean, what the hell are we doing?"

"Steve, I don't-" Tony started but faltered when he met Steve's glaring eyes. "I don't know, Steve, what do you want me to say?" he asked, then. "The armor told me you wanted to see me."

"And so it brought you here," Steve said.

"Exactly," Tony replied, taking another bite from his burger.

"And you don't think that's strange?" Steve asked.

"Well, the armor brought you back from the dead following my orders," he countered. "No, I don't think that's strange."

Steve nodded. "What do we do now?" he asked.

"We eat our-" Tony yelped when Steve's foot connected with his shin under the table.

"I'm serious, Tony," Steve said. "What the hell were you thinking? You must have a plan. You always have a plan."

"I just-" he shook his head. "I missed you."

No plans, there were no plans, but he had a purpose; he had to set everything right. It would take him all of his life to make up for his mistakes, and maybe not even that would be enough, but Steve was talking to him, and Tony would die trying.

Steve's eyes became hard. "That's not enough," he said. "Regrets will never make sound foundations."

"But they can be a good start," Tony retorted. He shrugged. "Whatever you want, Steve," he said, then. "We do whatever you want."

Steve narrowed his eyes at him. "What if I told you I want to undo everything you made ever since you became the poster boy for the SHRA?"

Tony blinked. "Okay," he said. "Whatever you want."

"A year ago, you would've never said that," Steve pointed out.

"A year ago I didn't know the lengths I had to go."

“So you’ll just happily follow my lead,” Steve said, his eyes studying him. “You’ll do what I say.”

Tony shrugged. “I don’t see what’s so bad about it,” he said. “It’s not like I disagree with you. The situation America is in right now—we can’t let our… issues get in the way of fixing everything that needs to be fixed.”

“I don’t remember you ever being so accomodating,” Steve commented after a moment.

Tony chuckled. “And here I thought you’d be pleased I was listening to you for once,” he said. “There’s no pleasing you, Cap.”

 

8.

 

Tony looked down at the papers with Steve's barely outlined plan. More than two weeks since Tony had come out of hiding and joined him, and only now were they thinking about what to do. Until now, they’d mostly spent their time staring silently at each other, going out for the occasional burger. The only spot of excitement had been when he’d lost consciousness and Steve had brought him to Hank.

“This looks good,” Tony commented after a moment, “but you’ll need to expand on some details.” He pointed at an item on the list, “Here, for example. I think you’ll have to expand on ‘form the Avengers’. After all, we don’t really know where they’re hiding right now. Or if they're still together, or…” he trailed off, shaking his head.

“I’ll find them,” Steve said. “You stay here.”

Tony blinked. “I’m sorry, I think I heard wrong,” he said. “You said I should stay here.”

Steve didn’t reply, he just stared at him with a calculating look.

“Steve, I’m not letting you go out there without back up,” he said. “You can forget about it.”

Steve studied him some more and then he nodded, as if he’d gotten the answer he had been looking for. Too bad Tony didn’t know what the question was. Before Steve could get up and leave, Tony grabbed a fistful of his t-shirt and tugged until Steve was looking at him again. “What the hell are you playing at?” he asked. “What’s with you suddenly talking in code? What’s with all the mysterious looks?”

Steve shrugged his hand away. “I should be asking you the same thing,” he said.

Tony blinked at him. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“No, you don’t,” Steve shook his head. His hands raised to Tony’s neck, fingers curling against the collar of his t-shirt. It was a surprisingly gentle move, until it wasn’t anymore.

Steve shot up, dragging Tony to his feet as well. The position would have been much more uncomfortable in other circumstances, but they were almost the same height, and while they were standing so close that Tony’s neck was forced into an awkward position so he would be able to meet Steve’s eyes, his feet were firmly planted on the floor.

That didn’t mean that Tony wasn’t confused as hell. “What—” he started, but cut himself off as Steve’s hand twisted and his knuckles pressed against his neck.

Tony had been surprised when the tension between them hadn’t degenerated into a fight the past weeks, but now it looked like it was the next item on the list. “Steve,” he said softly, “you don’t want this.”

That seemed to be the wrong thing to say, because Steve’s face became hard, and he shook him, tugging him even closer. Tony had been face to face with Steve countless times over the years, but he’d never had the occasion to study his features at length. His eyes went a darker shade of blue when he was angry, his nostrils flaring ever so slightly. Their faces were so close Tony could have counted the hair in his eyebrows.

“How do you know?” Steve growled.

Something dark, something he thought he’d since long buried and forgotten, curled in Tony’s stomach. He bit down on his lip to keep from gasping out loud in surprise as the wave of lust crashed into him.

Seeming to realize just how close they were standing, Steve abruptly stopped midway through whatever he’d been saying while Tony had been busy trying to keep himself in check. He blinked at Tony and it was only a second, but his eyes fell to his mouth and when they met Tony’s again they were just a little wider.

Steve's hands had loosened their grip and Tony shrugged them off effortlessly. He took a step back. “I think we just need to take a break,” he suggested. Never mind the fact that it hadn’t been like they’d been doing much anyway, except outlining vague plans to restore the Avengers to the glory of the past.

Steve rubbed his face with the palms of his hands. “I think you’re right,” he said, sighing. “I’m- I’m sorry for earlier. It’s just—”

Tony waved his apologies away. “That’s me and you,” he said. “You say stuff, I retort. We work through that,” he shrugged. Well, except when they didn’t. “That’s how you like me, right?” he grinned. “Contrary and challenging your authority.”

Steve sighed and scratched the back of his head. “I suppose,” he said.

 

5.

 

"I can feel you staring," Tony said finally, unable to bear the silent stare that had been boring into his back for the last thirty minutes. "You got something to say, say it."

The point of the welder was red hot as he bent over one of his armor's gauntlets. The suit lay scattered on the worktable, some pieces still on the ground where he'd left them.

"How come you suddenly appeared out of nowhere, when for three weeks your armor kept telling me it didn’t know where you were?”

Tony gave him a look. “He didn’t,” he said.

“How did you get here, then?” Steve pushed.

Tony frowned, welding down two wires together and then putting together the gauntlet. He took off his goggles and tried it on; the fingers moved effortlessly, as if wearing a leather glove and not a thick, heavy metal one. “It’s all… confused,” he replied after a long moment. “I’m on the run, Steve,” he went on, “it’s probably not safe to stay here for long. Osborn will find me.”

The armor had said ‘come’ and he’d gone. Steve wanted him there, he wanted to see him, and despite all the hounds breathing down his neck, he could have never refused him.

He owed Steve.

Steve stepped closer, Tony could feel his warmth through the thin t-shirt he was wearing. “You’re evading the question,” Steve said then, bending down to retrieve a jet boot and setting it on the table. “That doesn’t explain how you got here. It doesn’t explain why the armor is scattered all over the place.”

“Well, the armor is useless now that the real thing is back,” Tony said, shooting a grin at Steve. He took off the gauntlet and set it aside, moving onto the chest plate. “It’s been so long since I just… sat down and tinkered with one of my armors, you know?” He snapped the goggles on and went back to work on the armor. “I missed this.”

Steve sat down next to him and watched as Tony went about his business. It felt incongruously domestic. “I used to sit down and watch you, back at the Mansion,” Steve said after a moment, Tony nodded absently. “I found it soothing.”

 

9.

 

"What-" Steve gasped as Tony pressed his lips against his. "I don't-" Steve started again, and Tony took advantage of the parted lips to slip just the tip of his tongue inside.

He traced the contour of the mouth lightly before nipping gently on the bottom lip, and when Steve didn't push him away, he pressed closer, his hands landing on broad shoulders. Steve sighed against him, starting to respond to the kiss, opening his mouth, pushing against his tongue-- okay, the kissing part was good. They were good with kissing, kissing was interesting.

Tony panted open-mouthed and Steve slipped his tongue past his lips, his hands closing around Tony's hips and tugging forward. Tony's hands stroked broad shoulders and his fingers slid up to bury themselves in short hair.

Steve groaned into the kiss and pushed their hips together-

They jolted abruptly apart.

"What the hell are you doing?" Steve asked, sharply. For a second Tony was taken aback by the aggression in his voice and when he looked up at him his eyes were furious.

"I'm sorry, I-" he swallowed. "I-"

Steve sighed and he made Tony wince when he raised his hands. Steve froze at that, frowning at him. "I'm not going to hit you," he said slowly.

Tony snorted. "We've beaten up each other for much more idiotic reasons," he said. "I just kissed you, despite the fact that I knew it would do nothing but worsen the situation we're in. Despite the fact that I know you hate me, now. Despite the fact that I know you're not interested in men."

"Then why did you do it?" Steve asked, his eyes staring deep into his, as he raised his hands again, this time more slowly.

Big hands framed Tony's face, and he swallowed and closed his eyes, unable to withstand Steve's searching gaze anymore. "I-I don't know- I just," he took a deep breath. "I just wanted."

"What did you want?" Steve pressed on, and Tony wished he would just shut up so they could forget all about this.

"Just- just you," he replied, softly. "Just you, happy and safe."

Steve leaned his forehead against his and Tony felt him inhale deeply, as if steering himself for something. "Yeah, you keep saying that," he said, softly.

Tony frowned at him. "I do not."

"You're not- You and me," Steve shook his head and took a step back, his hands falling away from Tony's cheeks. "This isn't going to work."

Tony's lips felt warm, his tongue darted out, trying to catch Steve's lingering taste. "It's all right, Steve," he said, but his voice was rough. "I understand."

"No," Steve said. "You don't."

 

7.

 

Tony was dreaming.

There was a bright light burning his eyes, and long shadows moved against it.

"-turn him off," someone was talking.

He frowned.

"Don't talk like that," a familiar voice said. "He's not a... thing."

His mouth formed the words, but he lost everything before his voice could shape them properly.

Steve.

When he opened his eyes the second time, Steve was sitting next to his bed. Which was strange, since he didn't remember going to bed. After a quick check of his surroundings, it became clear that it wasn't actually his bed, nor his secret warehouse.

"...Steve?" he mumbled, and Steve's head snapped up at the sound of his voice. "What happened?"

Steve narrowed his eyes at him. "Do you remember anything?" he asked after a moment.

He frowned, trying to place the expression on Steve's face. "It was bright," he said. "And I heard voices. I think you were there too," he shrugged. "It was just a stupid dream, anyway."

Steve's face relaxed after a moment. “You got zapped while working on your armor,” he explained. "I had Hank do a check up on you.”

"Is there something wrong?" he asked, sitting up.

Steve shook his head. "You're fine," he said. "Everything is fine."

His eyes, though, told a whole different story.

 

13.

 

Steve was doing another of those secret calls of his. He probably thought he was being discreet, but Tony might have neglected mentioning that he had cameras in every room of the warehouse. It wasn't like Steve shouldn't have expected that; who builds a secret warehouse in New Jersey and doesn't put up some sort of security features?

Despite the cameras, though, Tony had tried to give Steve his privacy. He was trying to gain back his trust, and he would wait until Steve told him on his own terms about whatever he'd been planning together with Hank.

The fact that it was with Hank added to Tony's decision to wait. He certainly wasn't in the list of Hank's favorite people at the moment.

Still, the calls were getting more and more frequent, but it was only when Tony caught bits and pieces of a conversation by accident that he decided to step in.

"Yes, Hank. No, I don't think it could be used with-" Steve was saying, "I understand the concept of brainwaves and body language," he was saying, "Yes, I under- I'm just saying it's just like mind-control, I'm not going to- Hank,"

"Hey," Tony said, stepping in Steve's line of sight.

Steve froze and stared at him. "I have to go," he said, after a long moment and closed the conversation, tossing the cellphone next to him on the cot. "Hey," he replied, swallowing.

Tony sat down next to him. "I know what you're trying to do here, Steve," he said, looking down at his feet.

"You do?" Steve asked evenly.

He nodded. "I don't know what you're planning to do with Hank," Tony continued, "and I know you still don't trust me completely, even if we- and I understand." When he looked up at him, Steve's face was totally blank. "But if you need help bringing down Osborn, or whatever your plans are, you should tell me."

Steve's body seemed to go slack. "Osborn," he repeated.

"Yes," Tony said. "I've been on the run from him for quite some time now, and I've survived. I think that makes me quite the expert on the subject," he grinned, but Steve was shaking his head. "It's not Osborn, is it?"

Something passed over Steve's eyes, his expression going wistful for a moment. "It's nothing, really," he said after a moment, shaking his head.

Tony grabbed his chin and turned his face so Steve was looking at him. "Tell me anyway, maybe I can fix it," he said. At his words, Steve winced and turned away. "It's me, isn't it? I- There's something wrong with me."

"No, you-"

"Is it Extremis?" he asked. He'd never even considered the hypothesis, but now that he thought about it, it made sense. The way Steve had been distant ever since they left Hank's lab. It had to be Extremis.

"I know you're worried, but I think Extremis is gone for good," he told Steve, scooting closer and putting an arm around his shoulders. Steve stiffened, but a moment later he relaxed. Tony tried not to let it bother him. "I mean, it's still there and sometimes I feel this- this buzzing around computers and machines like- like before, but it's gone," he reassured Steve. "You don't have to worry about it."

Steve stared at him for so long that Tony started to get seriously uncomfortable. He fidgeted, clearing his throat. "Steve?" he asked, after a moment.

Steve was still staring at him. "I didn't like it," he said, finally.

Tony frowned at him, puzzled. "Yeah, I know."

 

11.

 

Steve’s eyes went from the glass in Tony’s hands to his face and back again. “That’s not coffee,” he said, after a long moment.

Tony stared at the glass of orange juice thoughtfully. “Well, yeah,” he said, “I think the fact that it’s orange gave it away.”

“You’re drinking orange juice first thing in the morning,” Steve said. “You woke up at six o’clock. You went to bed early.”

Tony gave him a long look. “I think this forced inaction is making you snap,” he said seriously. “You said you were going jogging today.”

Steve stared at him, but only because Captain America wouldn’t do something as undignified as gaping. “You want to come jogging with me,” he said.

“You’ve been harassing me for years with your mother-henning and your ‘Tony, that’s not healthy’, ‘Tony, you should go to sleep’, ‘Tony, you’ll give yourself a heart attack with all that coffee. Again’,” he said, mimicking Steve’s voice, but distorting the deep baritone into a whine, “and now that I’m actually doing it, you act like I’ve just announced I’m going to invite Doom over for tea or something.”

“That’s not like you,” Steve said, shaking his head.

“To be fair I don’t think it would be like Doom, either,” he said. “He doesn’t strike me as someone who would enjoy tea.”

“You—” Steve groaned in frustration. “I’m not—”

Tony put down the orange juice and hugged him, dropping a kiss on his nose, then his cheeks and finally his mouth. Steve whole body went rigid, but Tony didn’t let it bother him and he just kept on kissing him until Steve relaxed minutely and the mouth under his opened up for him.

Steve made a low sound at the back of his throat and the response of Tony’s body was immediate. He was hard in seconds and he crashed into Steve with a desperate whine, his fingers threading through Steve’s hair and angling his head so that he could kiss him properly.

Steve moaned around his tongue and his hands went to Tony’s hips when he slid into his lap. Steve’s grasp was maybe a little too tight, he was probably going to leave bruises, but Tony didn’t really care at the moment, not when Steve’s kisses were growing more desperate.

“Hey, slow down,” he said, drawing back to take a good look at Steve’s face. His eyes were screwed up as if in pain. “I’m not going anywhere.”

“Shut up,” Steve said, burying his face against Tony’s neck. “Shut up.” Steve’s hands sneaked under his t-shirt to map Tony’s back, Steve’s erection was pressing against his. “Shut up.”

 

3.

 

It had been four days since Steve had come back, and he was confused. It was a very human feeling, so he guessed that could be counted as an achievement at least.

Every day he had asked Steve why he was still here. Every day Steve had answered with a question. "Where is Tony?"

That morning he didn't though. He didn't need to sleep, and he'd watched over Steve as he slept, trying to understand him by the things he wasn't saying, by his words, but he couldn't read him. Steve looked tense even in his sleep, but his waking hours were the thing that confused him most.
Why was he still here? He stopped himself in time, and he went with, "Where is Sharon?" instead.

Steve gave him a sharp look and his shoulders went even tenser. "You know where she is," he replied after a moment. "You directed me to her."

"Steve Rogers, if I had eyes I would roll them," he said, and Steve stiffened even more. "I meant- You know perfectly well what I meant."

Steve rubbed his eyes and then he bent forward, hiding his face into his hands. For a second, worn and tired like that he looked as old as his date of birth suggested. "I hid and watched from far away, first," he said. "I didn't want to scare her, and- she and Sam, they-"

"I didn't know about that," he said after a long moment, not knowing what he could reply to that. "Why are you here?" he asked then.

Despite all of his learning capabilities, he was still quintessentially Tony at the core. And Tony Stark never learnt.

Steve snorted. "Where else would I go?" he said after a moment, his fingers linking together at the back of his neck, his head still bent forward. He didn't like seeing Steve like this. "The world has already one Captain America, and Sharon- it would be cruel to go to her when she's started to move on. Everyone has forgotten me-"

"I haven't!" he exclaimed, surprising himself at his own vehemence.

Steve gave him a long look. "Why did you bring me back?" he asked.

"I-" he hesitated. "I wanted to fix things."

"Some things can't be fixed," Steve replied, darkly. "And you haven't answered the question. Why are you doing this?"

"I have Tony Stark's personality-" he started, but trailed off. He should be honest with Steve if he wanted to make up to him. Steve valued honesty and loyalty above everything else. "I missed you," he said, finally.

Steve stared at him for what felt like minutes, but he knew it had been exactly fourteen seconds. Maybe he was getting the hang of the human thing. "You missed me," he repeated. There was another long pause and then he gave a loud, harsh laugh. "You missed me!"

He stared at him. "I don't like seeing you like this," he confessed after a moment. " Every time I looked at the shield I missed you and I- I want you to be Captain America again. I want you to be happy. And safe."

Steve sobered abruptly. "See, you're not Tony at all," he said. "Tony would never talk like that."

For the first time since he'd been activated, he experienced anger. "You died," he said. "Don't you think that would have affected me?"

"You. Are. Not. Tony," Steve ground out. "You weren't there when I died."

And now he was frustrated. He remembered being human with nostalgia, but now he was just wondering why he had missed it. "But I am Tony," he said. "For all intents and purposes. I believe 'soul' is an approximately correct term in these circumstances."

"A soul can't be downloaded in a suit of armor. You're not Tony."

"I'm programmed to act, think and feel like him," he continued.

"Exactly," Steve said, sharply. "You're programmed. You're a thing. If you're supposed to act, think and feel like him, why didn't you leave me in peace? After Tony destroyed everything, after he burned all the bridges?"

"I wasn't alone in that, as I remember it," he retorted. Steve didn't reply to that, though. "I felt bad about what I did and I missed you."

Steve shot up and his face was mere inches from his in a matter of instants. "Stop saying that," he snarled. "You're not Tony!"

"I-"

"And even if you were, you think bringing me back will solve everything?" Steve's gripped his shoulder pads, for the lack of a collar he guessed. "Tony has a lot to apologize for."

"We can work it out. I want to apologize, I want you to-"

Steve sighed and deflated all at once, his shoulders sagging as all his anger seemed to flow out of him. "Yes, so you said. But it doesn't work like that; whatever you do now, it will never make up for what he did."

"We can try," he said. "Let me try," he begged.

Steve took a step backwards, then another. "Let it go," he said. "There's only one person I will have this conversation with, and even if he was here I'm not sure I would, anyway."

"You're being unreasonable," he said to his back as Steve shrugged on his jacket.

Steve turned around to give him a look. "I'm stubborn. Did Tony forget to add that in when he wrote your memories?"

"He didn't write my memories, he-" he stopped when he was talking to the empty room.

Yes, Steve was stubborn, but he didn't understand his protests. He hadn't acted like this with Vision, and they were basically the same thing.

Maybe he was pushing him. It was still too soon, he had just come back from the dead and with the world in the state it was, he was bound to feel caged.

Or maybe that was why he needed 'Tony'. He wanted familiar faces around him.

Well, he could help him with that.

He stared down at the face of the LMD. Tony looked like he was sleeping. It was strange to see what he perceived, what he remembered, as his own face on someone else. Every time he looked into a reflecting surface the faceplate would be staring back at him. He didn't know why Tony hadn't downloaded his consciousness into the LMD in the first place.

He traced an eyebrow with one of his metal fingers. The level of detail was nothing but a testament to the achievements of science and technology. Steve would never notice the difference.

From creature to creator of his own creator. He was sure there was a quote by Nietzsche that could fit in here nicely.

Steve wanted Tony, and he was going to build him a Tony. A Tony just like he wanted him.