It's late, but the air is still warm, too warm, making it hard to breathe and harder to move. Summer is always a challenge in Timely, and Tony knows he's dealing better than Steve with his Irish skin white as snow and delicate as a lily.
He's intimately familiar with Steve's skin, all the little freckles on Steve's face—and his arms, his back, every inch of him. It's too hot to make any use of that knowledge now, though, and Tony thinks this is what can make him really sympathise with Steve's complaints.
They're both too hot and sweaty, and Steve keeps insisting, I'm on duty, Stark, I can't go swim with you, and Tony personally thinks he should take an insult to that, but he knows Steve, he knows him better than Steve knows himself, probably, because it's been ten years since they met, running into each other on a battlefield, and probably five of them they spent together, full of whispered confessions and hidden kisses, and Steve is always on duty, and isn't that what Tony loves about him?
The thing is, he doesn't always have to be, and sometimes he needs Tony to remind him of that.
"You know, sheriff," he drawls, and Steve swallows audibly. Tony ducks his head to hide his grin. "If we go far enough, no one will pay attention to what we do in the water."
Steve looks Tony over, perhaps even unwillingly, he's usually so good at acting composed, but the sun makes everyone tired, and he deserves a break, and Tony isn't sure if he wants to kiss him or get into cool water more. He thinks mixing the two is a perfect idea, and he can see the exact moment Steve gives up more protest, however token it would be.
"You always had excellent plans," Steve says, and this time Tony smiles openly.
They go out, and the hot air hits them in the faces. Timely looks like a dead town, everyone trying to hide from the heat inside. Tony knows it's not helping much. Sun catches on Steve's sheriff badge, and Tony squints.
Far enough is not that far, considering most townsfolk prefers to sip Banner's mostly-cool drinks, but it's still enough that Tony reconsiders that idea despite the prospect of a very naked, very wet Steve in his immediate future.
"Times like this I miss Irish weather," Steve mutters, and Tony chuckles.
"Irish weather doesn't have me," he notes, and Steve nods.
"I stayed here, didn't I."
Which . . . Tony never thought Steve thought about going back, not even in the middle of the war. He shakes his head to push the thoughts away.
They know each other, but they both have secrets.
Tony takes out his flask, mostly to wet his mouth, the whiskey inside grew too warm to be enjoyable. Steve gives him a look all the same.
"I will not drown in it, sheriff," Tony snaps, and even as the words are leaving his mouth he knows they're a lie, that he's been trying to do little else—
He pushes the thoughts away. Steve was smiling a moment earlier, and this was supposed to be a break for him.
"I will not let you," Steve whispers. It sounds oddly serious, like a promise.
A part of Tony wants to touch him, a part wants to go back.
He does neither. It's too hot, he thinks, and his hat doesn't help much. This is a climate for cacti and rocks, not people.
They're almost there, the river a tempting blue. Tony starts opening his tie as he walks.
"Someone's eager," Steve comments.
"Shut up and strip, Rogers," Tony orders, finally reaching the bank. The current isn't strong here, and it's not deep, the land too dry for that. It's perfect to cool down, and maybe get hot in an entirely different matter.
He almost feels guilty as he watches Steve pull off his shirt over his head, baring his pale skin to the cruel sun, but then Steve steps out of his trousers, and guilt is the last thing on Tony's mind.
"Do you need help with that?" Steve asks, and Tony realises he froze with his hands on his buttons. He nods wordlessly and lets Steve open his shirt and slide it down his arms. Steve runs his finger on the scar under Tony's right collarbone—he always does, but Tony's not sure if he's even aware of that. He knows he'd take a hundred more bullets for Steve.
His shirt falls to the ground. He takes care of his boots and trousers himself, and then gives Steve a teasing smile before he steps around him and finally, finally, walks into the water. He gasps at the first touch of it, the temperature difference biting, before he leans down and submerges himself, letting the water wash the dust and sun off him.
"Do you even need me here," Steve says drily.
"I always need you," Tony answers automatically, and then splashes water on his face so he doesn't see Steve's expression.
"Back at you," Steve says very quietly. Tony hears him walk in too. "Oh," Steve says. "Oh, good. Good."
Tony looks over the horizon more out of habit than anything. A few trees. Cacti. Sand. Not a sign of a human being.
Steve looks like something out of this world, his hair gold in the sunlight, water dripping down his body.
He'll touch him. But not yet.
"And if I let you have your way, you'd still be at your desk, claiming it's better," Tony says.
"Do you want me to say you were right?" Steve smiles.
"I usually am," Tony tells him.
(He can't afford not to be right, because that's when tragedies happen.)
Steve touches him first, and it's almost shocking after thinking about it the whole afternoon, it's enough to stop Tony from pursuing darker thoughts.
He puts his hand on Steve's elbow to mirror his position, and for a moment they just look at each other, the water rushing past them.
Steve looks happy. Relaxed. Like Tony hasn't seen him in ages.
It's good, Tony thinks, and then leans down and catches Steve's lips, and Steve smiles into his kiss.