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The Razor's Edge

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They were a few months into this tentative truce when Steve paused outside the door to Stark Tower’s main Communications Rooms. He’d come to find Tony because they could only push off the political talks for so long before it simply had to happen. He wasn’t looking forward to it, not at all. Steve was still just so angry and it hurt to look at the person who used to be his closest friend. He was apprehensive that any attempts to talk civilly would end in disaster, as it usually did whenever they were forced in the same room as each other.

Actually, it was like that for most everyone. No one was willing to be around Tony and Steve heard the things they said about him but there wasn’t much he could do. What Tony had done was unforgivable and it was likely he would never be trusted or welcomed again. That was just the sad truth of it.

And it was sad. Steve missed Tony. They’d been best friends and Tony had been one of the people he could talk freely with and who hadn’t seen just Captain America when he looked at him. That connection was gone though, and Steve missed it so much.

He gave pause now because he knew Tony was in the Comm Room but it sounded like he was talking to someone. Which was strange because who would be willing at this point? Steve didn’t usually like covert actions like this, especially not among his team but the truth was that he had to know. Couldn’t trust whatever Tony was getting up to. He eased closer to the door, opening it a crack soundlessly and listened.

It was Peter in there with Tony. But why? No one hated Tony more than Spider-Man after all that happened.

“Why didn’t you say anything?”

“Peter.”

“Stop it!” Peter shouted. “Stop hiding and tell me if it’s true.”

A moment of quiet then Tony’s voice came again, carefully even. “That depends on what you’re asking me.”

“I hacked your computer system. I wanted to make sure there was nothing else going on you were trying to hide.”

“Find anything?”

“Nothing new, but I guess you’re not stupid enough to keep anything incriminating on them anyway. Except for the old stuff you must have been too busy to delete.”

“My computers hold a lot of things, I need you to be more specific, please.” Tony sounded as calm as he ever did but in contrast Peter seemed to be getting agitated and Steve readied himself should he have to intervene a fight.

“Your notes and observations on the old registration, the ones you discovered when you hacked the government's science centers and Osborn’s R&D. You know, the act before it was the SHRA. Everything you had found, was it true?”

Tony didn’t answer and Steve pressed his hand against the door, anxious and confused. What were they talking about?

“Tony!”

“I couldn’t stop them. Not completely. They’d been planning something like that for so long and it was buried so deep in the politics and darkness of the government there was no way I could stop it. And trust me, Peter, I tried. I had a lot of money and a lot of contacts but the dark side of society had more.”

“So it was true? Everything they were planning, everything they wanted to do to us, it was true and you knew?”

Again Tony gave no verbal response but that was an affirmative just as well as if he’d used words, Steve didn’t have to see the stiff nod.

“Okay. Okay fine. Then why didn’t you tell us? Any of us? We could have found some way to get this into the light, you had proof, Tony! It never had to come to this! Why did you try to handle it alone?

“You still don’t understand, Peter.” Tony’s voice was losing some of its calm and Steve desperately wanted to know what they were talking about. Something bad about the government, that much was clear but something held him rooted outside the door.

“Then explain it for God’s sake!”

“What would you have had me do?” Tony yelled suddenly, his cool cracking. “Sit down our little team and tell you all that your own government, the one backing us and crooning our praises after every victory, wanted to lock every one of you up and take you apart and see what made you tick! That SHIELD was only holding the fuckers back because superhumans and the Avengers were the only line of defense Earth had for the time being?”

Steve’s whole body went cold, like he was coated in ice again as disbelief tried to beat at his heart.

“How do you think that would have gone over? People believe in the government, they have to or else they get nervous and worried and nothing good comes of that. Especially for superheroes. If superheroes can no longer see their government as something to protect then how could they know what to fight for, what was right? Dragging what I found into the light would destroy this country. Civilians and superheroes alike, I could not risk that.”

“So instead of trusting us, your team, you went off half-cocked and tried to confront them?”

“Well, okay, that wasn’t my brightest idea. I can admit that. I didn’t expect Osborn to know as much as he did either.”

“I hate that guy.”

“Everyone does. But yeah, that meeting could have gone better. After that I decided the only thing I could do was try to beat them to the punch, get something up and legalized that would limit the freedom they would have to take us down. If all the mutants and supers were registered then they could be kept track of. No one could just ‘go missing’ and not get checked out thoroughly for it because that was the next step. They were gonna just starting taking people and experimenting on them if I didn’t find someway to get them some form of legal protection.”

“And that’s what the Act was for you?”

“That was my intention, yes but then everything got out of control. People got angry, couldn’t understand and I couldn’t explain and then Osborn fucked me over worse then I realized and I just...lost control of everything.”

Steve couldn’t believe what he was hearing, didn’t want to but Tony’s voice and words rang with a truth that he couldn’t deny. This wasn’t a trap it was...

“And what did Osborn do to you?” Peter asked, his own voice softened with an understanding and pain over everything that this meant.

“He, ah, he had his own plans for me. He hated me but was jealous of me and wanted me at the same time so he did some research, I have no idea how. He learned about Extremis and put together some sort of program virus that essentially acknowledged him as my, uh, master user, of a sort. Osborn paid someone to get him a path into my computers where he planted the virus that spread to me during my interaction with the interfaces. From there he was able to give me little ‘nudges’ in the direction he wanted. He was able to control me and I almost never noticed.” Tony said the last line almost too softly for Steve to catch and this was all just too much.

It was too much for him to process, he couldn’t follow what it meant.

“How did you figure it out?”

“I pulled the plug on Happy. I did that and realized that I had successfully driven away anyone who had ever meant anything good to me, even Pepper and Rhodey. That wasn’t something I’d ever do, not intentionally and that’s what that was. Intentional isolation. Osborn was trying to get me so alone that when he snatched me and disappeared then no one would care to find out where I went. And it worked, so I did the only thing I could think to. I set a trap in my own code to delay Osborn’s controls before he could stop me from wiping out from my mind anything he could use. With Hill’s help, I managed it and...well...you know the rest.”

“Jesus, Tony.”

Steve agreed with that statement, very much so and was just about to enter the room, to do what he wasn’t sure yet but he just needed to see Tony, when Peter spoke again.

“How do you remember? I thought you ended up wiping everything?”

“I left myself a message that way I’d know why nothing was okay. I had to explain to myself because no one else knew enough to do it and even if they did I had doubts they’d do it at all. I knew that it would have seemed safer to the Avengers to keep me ignorant but as long as Osborn is alive then Extremis is weak to him.”

“Tony, you have to tell Steve all this.”

Steve wholeheartedly agreed, he should have been told a long time ago. If he had they all might not have been hurt so badly.

“What? No, no no no. It’s bad enough you know. Nuh-uh, keep this to yourself, Peter. Knowing changes nothing, you hear me? Let it go.”

“Why? Everyone hates you and think that you did this, Tony. They think you wanted this and now you can prove to them otherwise!”

“Peter, I’m not blameless. I’m guilty for a lot and sharing in this misery won’t help anything, no matter what you think.”

“So that’s it then? You’re just going to give up and accept the grief you’re going to get for the rest of your life?"

Tony sounded resigned but not very upset as he said, "I knew this was going to be the outcome and it was far more prefered to the alternative. So yeah, I'm content with this."

But it wasn't right, if what he had heard was all true and Tony had really been as much of a victim as any of them, then he did not deserve this certain misery. And while Tony was right about the knowledge not fixing everything, he was wrong about it being better then not telling them at all.

"The fact remains that this truce won’t last much longer, Osborn is going to get tired of waiting and come after me. When that happens it’ll be safer for everyone if they truly don’t know anything. I’d much rather they be safe and hate me then tolerate me the way they used to and end up in one of Osborn’s cells or on his scientist’s tables.”

That was it. Steve had heard enough and was sick of Tony always pulling the sacrificial straw, it ended now. Pressing, Steve opened the door and stepped inside, taking advantage of the moment of surprise to carefully examine the scene before him.

Tony and Peter were just feet apart and the web slinger looked understandably upset. Stressed and worried, a tad bit of anger festering beneath the surface. Tony, on the other hand, looked bad. Without Extremis to keep him hale and hearty even without regular food or rest, Tony appeared to quite obviously lack both. His hair was a veritable nest of tangles that probably went unnoticed, his skin an unhealthy pale that might actually have something to do with the sudden appearance of Steve during the discussion. But when he turned those wide blue eyes on him in surprise, that was what let Steve see the extent of the damage suffered. They were darkly lined with lack of sleep and hazy in a way that suggested Tony was actually fighting to keep his thoughts linear (Steve had seen that look several times before and been witness to the higher than usual degree of word-vomit when he got that tired). Tony seemed to be better at holding himself together at this point then he used to be though, either he’d gotten used to this stage of exhaustion (worrisome) or he’d simply never relaxed in the first place (also worrisome, perhaps more so).

“Bull.” Steve said clearly, allowing the door to close behind him.

Tony straightened slightly, so clearly tense it had to be painful, and Peter looked both relieved to see him and even more worried.

“Steve.”

“Cap.” Tony said, smoothly calm again. “How much did you hear?”

“Enough to know that you apparently need to be shaken a few times.” The ambiguity of the statement caused Tony’s eyes to cut over him sharply, assessing his stance and body language before returning to his face. That Tony’s first thought was of a physical threat from him made the vice that had appeared around Steve’s heart while he eavesdropped tighten further now. They had fallen so far from what they used to be.

"That's the mildest way I've heard it put lately." Tony said drolly and Peter winced.

"How about both of you start from the beginning and actually tell me everything." Steve's tone made it clear there was no chance either of them would get away without talking.

"I was going to tell you." Peter insisted, "I just wanted to hear from Tony first."

Tony scowled at that but made no comment or motion in protest. Steve took the moment to approach and waved them toward a group of chairs. "Let's sit down for this, okay?" He suggested and Peter was quick to claim a seat, Tony less eager but obedient for now as he picked a chair further away from them both.

"Peter?"

Taking that for the encouragement it was, Peter nodded and folded his hands in his lap. "At first I was just checking up on things to see if Tony was really on board with this cease-fire or faking it. Accessing the systems wasn’t that hard at all, not for me and for some reason he doesn’t have Jarvis hooked up in here anymore.” Peter said, looking at Tony with question.

The genius winced and shook his head. “I deemed it too much of a risk to have him anyplace outside the labs, not with Osborn’s tendency for hacking him. If Jarvis is contained to as few places as possible it’s much easier for me to erase that possibility entirely.”

Steve nodded his understanding and Peter went on. “I was really just looking at some general stuff, most of it involving SI and its other versions but then I found a few oddly zipped and named folders. I hacked through them to take a look and...well, at first I thought it was sick joke but the names and signatures on the documents were legit. Honestly, it took me awhile to figure it all out.”

At this, Tony clasped his hands in his lap and frowned at the floor, ignoring Steve’s eyes on him.

“It was information compiled by Tony and Jarvis about a series of extremely covert operations and plans for experimentation on the subject of superhumans and the possibility of isolating what causes superpowers to create more suped up soldiers. These plans treated us like less then animals, it was all ‘subject this’ and ‘subject that’. There were even plans for the process of rounding us all up and dividing us out to different research facilities around the country. Hell, there were even a few documents in different languages that looked like much the same.”

“Russian, French and Japanese.” Tony said quietly, eyes still downward and Steve felt the beginnings of a tension headache.

“I thought that one looked like either Japanese or Chinese. Symbols, you know?” Peter said with a wave of his hand. “Anyway, the dates on them all were well before the initiation of the SHRA, several years before.”

“You’ve known about that for years?” Steve snapped at Tony, who jerked his head up, face mutinous and insulted but Peter hastily cut in.

“No, no, no, that’s not what I meant. The dates on the documents and stuff was a long time ago, Tony only found it all a short while ago, just before the whole incident with the New Warriors. Like I said, these fractions of scientists and politicians, they had horrifying plans."

"There was so much corruption within the government that there was no way I could let it get out. The mass disruption that would cause would have been chaotic. People would have died in the urgency to silence anyone who tried to bring this to light and in desperation those plans would have become effective immediately. I knew the only reasonable course of action would be to get counter measures in place before that could happen." Tony said, taking over the explanation without hesitation.

"So explain why you didn't come to me with this." Steve demanded. "Why didn't you trust me to help you?"

"I didn't need help." When Steve opened his mouth to snap something derisive about how he obviously did, Tony spoke over that. "Not at first I didn't. And by the time I did it was too late anyway. No one would listen to me and everyone was up in arms over SHRA. To be honest, I also didn't tell you for the same reason I didn't let the public know. You hold much regard for the government, you can't tell me that right now you're not scandalized and upset about this dark side of it."

"Of course I'm upset! You went through all this alone and even now you refuse to let anyone in without them first ambushing you over it. I get that you did what you thought you had to but if you truly intend to end all this madness and fighting then this is the way to do it."

"No."

"Tony, you can't..."

"Peter." Tony said suddenly, "Can you give us a minute?"

The younger man looked between them anxiously before nodding and he hurried from the room, door closing almost noiselessly behind him. Steve looked at Tony, taking in how the other had yet to meet his eyes and did not look eager to do so anytime soon. "Tony."

"What difference would telling them now make? Things are just now starting to calm again, however tentatively and throwing out a shock like this would only cause more strife than ever. I won't do it, Steve."

"Then I will."

At that, Tony's mouth curled and he shook his head. "Of course you would. Why would you listen to me now? You never did."

Steve remembered a short meeting at a quiet and dark field, the badly hidden pain behind Tony's demands and sighed. "We are both at fault for many things lately, so let's not make them again."

"I'm not but if you give them anything then you will be. I'm telling you, Steve, you don't realize the repercussions this will have."

"I think I know perfectly well, Tony. You should trust me, us, more then this."

Tony looked at him then, eyes narrowed and dark. "You should trust me period but you don't and never did so why should I?"

"What?" Steve gaped. "Tony, of course I trusted you! Why would you think otherwise? You were my best friend!"

"Because you refused to listen to me!" Tony shouted, finally losing whatever ice that was holding him stiff and distant. He turned more toward Steve and threw up his hands. "You were so certain I was screwed up and wrong that you refused to take anything I said with a grain of salt. How is that trust? Is that really how a best friend acts? I needed you, Steve and you turned your back on me. So forgive me if I'm not willing to give you the benefit of my doubt now."

Steve pressed his palms to his thighs and bit his tongue, mind reeling as he stared at Tony's broken open gaze. The genius had a point, partially. It was just...when the whole registration thing broke out and Tony was advocating for it, Steve couldn’t help but feel betrayed. They may have argued in the past and had differing opinions but it never went as far as something like this and when Tony kept arguing, countering Steve’s objections left and right, it burned like nothing else. Tony was his closest friend and at the time Steve couldn’t understand why the other refused to side with him, to support him. It never even occurred to him that perhaps Tony was feeling the exact same thing, betrayed and not listened to.

Could this whole damned war have been avoided if they’d just fought a little bit harder to reach each other? Tony had come to him repeatedly to talk and compromise but each attempt only burned at Steve even further and eventually he just stopped listening. Maybe he should have paid more attention, put in more effort to understand what Tony had been asking him. Maybe he should have worked harder to get through to Tony on his own rather then fighting time after time.

There were just too many possibilities of what could have happened and Steve couldn't allow himself to dwell on them. It was too late to change what happened then but he’ll be damned before he’ll ruin this chance he has now to ensure something like that won’t happen again. Steve took a deep breath and nodded once. “Okay. What do you suggest then?”

Tony blinked, visibly stunned and his hands fluttered compulsively in his lap before they clasped together tightly. “Come again?”

“If we can’t tell anyone the truth then what do you suggest we do? I won’t allow you to painted as the bad guy in everything, not after this.”

“Cap, this information changes very little. I’m still at blame for a great many of the things everyone is most angry for, that won’t go away.” Tony said, his eyes bleak despite the white toothed and wry smile.

“You made desperate mistakes, that’s different from this. And I know for a fact there isn’t a person out there who hates you for any of that more than you currently hate yourself.” And that was truth because Tony had always been that way. He took personal failure and mistakes and guilted over them to an obsessive amount that Steve had never understood but always acknowledged. Tony’s flinch confirmed it. “So I ask again, how do you intend to fix this without telling everyone.”

To his credit, Tony gave no hesitation in his answer, clearly only thrown for a moment by Steve’s insight. “Let it play out. We’ve allied and that is the first big step. The whole reason why everything went to shit is because of the divide in loyalties and families. By eliminating the ability to choose sides, eventually the rifts created can be healed and once that happens the SHRA will be completely overturned. It will take time, of course, but that is to be expected. It will help if you and I can provide a solid front, prove to the public and every superhuman or mutant that this will work.” Tony gave a one shoulder shrug then and looked slightly off to the side of Steve. “And there is, of course, the small matter of figuring out the main figureheads behind the whole ‘lets experiment on superhumans and create an army’ thing. That needs to be done soon.”

“We’ll handle that together, Tony.” Steve said firmly. “So you’re answer is to let this whole situation go as it is and hope it fixes itself?

“It’s all we can do, Steve. Pushing anything right now would be bad, especially with the lack of trust in us that pretty much everyone has.”

Sitting back in the chair, Steve sighed. “I agree. Pushing would be bad. Okay, then.”

Clearly surprised to be agreed with, Tony eyed him warily before looking away again, like it was uncomfortable to look at Steve for too long. It probably was. Steve took the moment to look over the genius again, noting once more the pallid skin and bruised eyes. Tony needed to sleep, soon and probably to eat. But first, there was one last thing Steve needed to clear up because he didn’t forget Tony’s words earlier and the ominous ring to them.

“Tony, what are we going to do about Osborn? I’m assuming you have a plan for stopping him?”

Tony startled, there was no other word for the way he jerked in the seat like his strings had been sharply yanked. Bewildered blue eyes snapped to Steve’s and Tony actually didn’t seem to have anything to say for a moment. “Osborn?” Abruptly, Tony’s eyes hardened. “There is no ‘we’ in that situation, Captain. I’ll deal with Osborn.”

“How?” Steve demanded.

“What?”

“How are you going to do that? Because if it involves you doing anything like the stunt you pulled before then forget about it. I don’t want you doing anything like that again, not ever. Not even to take him down. You are not that expendable, I don’t care what you think about yourself.”

“He needs to be eliminated!” Tony argued, clearly winding himself up for a rant.

“I know but not with a sacrifice!” Steve said quickly. “We almost lost you the last time and I won’t have it happening again.”

Derailed, Tony only stared at him with wide eyes and a partially open mouth. Steve would take some pride in being the one to make him speechless if the reason wasn’t so heartbreaking.

"What do you want from me?" Tony blurted out, tense all over again.

"I want you to let me help you and stop trying to take on the world all alone." Steve said powerfully, hopeful.

Tony only stared at him some more, barely blinking before he seemed to pull himself together again. Steve could almost literally see the walls rebuilding in the other's eyes and his chest squeezed painfully. "Don't." He pleaded quickly, softly. "Don't lock me out, please."

"Steve..."

"Tony, please. I want to fix this, all of this, especially us."

"Us." Tony repeated, giving a snort of disbelief.

"Yes! I miss you, Tony. Okay? I miss my best friend and what's so wrong with that?" Steve shifted in his seat, wanting nothing more then to get up and go to the genius. Wanted to get his hands on him and just...he wasn't sure what he would do but he wanted to do something.

Tony seemed to read the urge from his face or stance and quickly got up, circling around his chair as if just restless rather than avoiding. "Nothing wrong with it." Tony muttered, almost too low to hear. "It's just hard to believe. I figured it was just me, usually is when I get dependent on someone."

Not willing to let the other distance himself again, Steve got up as well and Tony froze, hands locked over the back of his chair. He watched Steve warily, spine so rigid it must have hurt though Steve doubted that he even felt it at this stage of exhaustion. "Tony, look at me. Please?"

"Steve." The protest was weak and seemingly against his own will the genius looked up and met his eyes. Whatever he saw there coaxed out a wounded noise but Steve could give a good guess because he was perfectly aware of his own feelings. He took the opportunity to take a step forward and this time Tony didn't retreat, didn't even seem to notice. The guarded pain in Tony's eyes drew him in another step and then one more until he could reach out and grasp Tony firmly by the arms.

Steve felt tremors running through the man and gentled his touch, clasping just above the elbows before leaning close. "I missed you." He whispered, watching as Tony's pupils shrank slightly and his breath hitched. “More than I think you’ve realized.”

Tony inhaled and licked his lips instinctively, drawing Steve’s attention to them and he did nothing to stem the urge that arose instantly, closing the small gap between them to kiss. The genius’ lips were chapped from being chewed and slightly rough but warm and they parted when Steve traced the seam with his tongue. Steve allowed himself no hesitation, he just took the offering given to him and kissed Tony as deeply and as long as he could, backing off only when he had to and even then not giving them much room apart. He kept his mouth right there and could feel Tony’s gasping breaths mingle with his own, could feel how the trembling had not subsided.

“Steve.” He felt more then heard Tony say his name and nudged in even closer to press soft kisses over Tony’s face, praying that he could get the other to let go of the tension holding him stiff even now. It didn’t work and Tony turned his head away, repeating his name with a bit more desperation behind it. “Stop it, please. I can’t...I can’t do this and survive it. Not anymore. I’m not strong enough, please.”

The words seemed to just fall out of Tony’s mouth, rushed and pleading and everything Steve had never heard him sound like. Wanton and defeated and terrified all at the same time. He thought he understood, though, what Tony was trying to say. After everything that had happened, they were both stretched thin and worn out by all the fighting and considering the position Tony was in, Steve could only imagine how much worse he must be feeling. To take a leap like this with each other and have something like the War happen again would likely destroy them both. It was right of Tony to fear it, Steve did too but he also wasn’t willing to stand aside any more. Ignoring the emotions between them had been part of the reason this whole thing happened in the first place and he refused to make that mistake again.

“It’s okay. I understand.” Steve said, pulling Tony closer to slip his arms around him. "Believe me, Tony. I want this and I'm just as scared that it could blow up in our faces but listen to me." He nuzzled into Tony's hair and then down to rest by his ear. "I want you and I want us. I get that it probably won't be easy but nothing worth anything is ever easy, you know that."

"Since when have you wanted me?" Tony asked harshly, not relaxing into Steve's touch as he had hoped.

"For longer than either of us have acknowledged. I think we've been dancing around each other for years, don't you agree?" He could actually feel Tony's hesitation to answer but then the genius lifted his hands and pressed them tentatively to Steve's back.

"I just thought it was me. I mean you are so good and amazing, who wouldn't fall for this?" Tony said with a sweep of his hands up.

Steve shivered involuntarily and pulled his head back to make Tony look at him again. "And I was so sure you'd never think twice about me like this. You could literally have anyone and why would you want me?"

Tony blinked at him, clearly bewildered before grinning ever so slightly. "We're idiots, aren't we?"

"I don't know, Tony. You're the genius of us, what do you think?"

"I think..." Tony said slowly, "that it is passed time I did this." He slid his hands straight up from Steve's back into his hair, cradling the soldier's head as he leaned up and kissed him. It was a dirty kiss with plenty of teeth and tongue and a little bit of whimpering from them both.

"Hey, guys. I, oh my God! Sorry!" Spider-Man's voice made them part and turn to look at the other, who was already faced away from them with his hands over the eyes of his mask. "I'm sorry! My bad, I didn't realize."

"It's okay, Peter." Steve said soothingly, moving enough to put a more decent space between himself and Tony but refused to let go of him. "What is it?"

"Nothing! I just wanted to make sure you both were still alive and hadn't, I don't know, killed each other."

"Well, did you get an answer to that?" Tony asked, grinning stupidly when Peter waved a hand frantically back at them.

"Oh yes, totally. I'm happy for you both, really. I mean, it took you long enough, honestly. I thought we were going to have to beat you guys with a clue stick."

"Really?" Steve said, surprised. "Were we that obvious?"

"I'm pretty sure half of the Avengers think you were already together and the SHRA just caused your divorce. Is it okay for me to turn around or do you guys want me to get out?"

"It's okay, Peter. We need to talk anyway." Peter turned back cautiously but Steve ignored him to rub at Tony's arms, trying to work out the tension that had returned. "Not a bad talk." Steve said under his breath and Tony looked at him wary eyes but allowed Steve to sit him down.

"What's wrong?" Peter asked, taking his seat from before.

Steve took hold of Tony's hand after dragging his chair closer and drew his shoulders back. "We need to make a few plans. First and foremost is dealing with Osborn. We cannot allow him to continue or get to Tony."

Peter nodded and tugged off his mask, allowing them to see his serious and determined expression. "Okay. Then we'll take him down and we'll do it together."

"My thoughts exactly."

Tony scowled and twisted his hand but Steve refused to let go. "This is not your responsibility, I can handle Osborn on my own."

"I'm sure you could." Peter said. "But you don't have to this time and if you think for one second either of us are going to let you then you're crazier than Squirrel Girl."

That got an almost involuntary smirk from Tony and Steve basked in the victory before squeezing his hand gently. "Listen to him, Tony. Remember what I said. We have to work together, a unified front, right? Isn't that what you said too?"

"Well, yes but..."

"No but. Together, yes or no?"

Tony stared at him and Steve held the gaze, putting as much reassurance and affection and determination into it as possible. After a moment, Tony gave a short, jerky nod. "I, okay. Alright. Fine."

Steve smiled, relieved and looked at Peter, "Any thoughts?"

Peter tsked and nodded thoughtfully. "Yeah, actually but it can wait. I think you need to take Tony to bed." Instantly the young man blushed and Tony snorted, giving Steve a suggestively raised brow. "That's not what I meant!"

"I know, Peter. And you're right." Seeing the petulant expression growing on Tony's face, Steve spoke quickly. "Don't even. You look about three days overdue for a long nap. Now c'mon, we'll use my room." Getting up, he hauled Tony to his feet as well and the genius only grumbled a little, clearly aware that he was stressing his own limits.

"Go, both of you. I'll do some more brainstorming and we can talk tomorrow."

"Thank you, Peter."

"You're welcome. Sleep well, Tony." Peter said cheerfully and Tony gave him a tentative smile, clearly a bit thrown by the well wishing.

Gently, Steve began to tug him away and led the slightly stumbling genius down the halls of Stark Tower toward his room. At one point, Tony stumbled and had to catch himself against the wall. Steve hesitated only a moment before making an executive decision and in one quick movement scooped Tony into his arms. The dark haired man gave a sharp noise of surprise and clung to Steve by reflex.

"What are you doing?" Tony yelped, his eyes wide. Steve was gratified to see the beginnings of a blush tinting the other's cheeks and grinned.

"What? Just giving you a lift, you got a problem with that?"

With a shrewd gleam in his eyes, Tony looped his arms around Steve's neck and shook his head. "Nope. No problems here." He muttered as he used his position to press wet, sucking kisses against Steve's neck.

"Tony." Steve groaned, picking up the pace when the man ignored him. It was a short trip with the speed he was moving and he was soon pushing open the door to his room just as Tony finally stop mauling him. Steve paused to give Tony a lingering kiss before dropping the man on his bed. The move got him a surprised burst of laughter from Tony and he sprawled out on the bed, staring up at Steve though his lashes with one of the darkest coy looks he had ever seen. Steve ignored it though to get his hands on Tony, tugging the shirt over his head with no resistance while Tony wiggled out of his pants to lay there in nothing but rich red briefs.

Steve felt himself blushing and forcibly ignored it but Tony grinned. "That blush is absolutely adorable."

Rolling his eyes, Steve quickly shucked his own shirt but kept his sweatpants. Anything less would be too tempting next to Tony and the other needed sleep, not the vigorous sex Steve was already fantasizing about. He pulled back the covers to the bed and Tony pouted as he moved to let Steve get them out from under him. “What? Are you really not getting more naked than that?”

Steve grinned and got into the bed, arranging a surprisingly compliant Tony to his satisfaction in a way that left the genius tucked into his arms and Steve plastered against his back. “Sleep, Tony. The rest can come later.”

“Hmm.” Tony wiggled in his arms, rubbing against him in interesting ways but his voice was already sleepy sounding. “Morning sex, I can totally go for that.”

Hiding his smile against the back of Tony’s neck, Steve just squeezed him gently and Tony made a strange, hesitant noise. “What?”

“Just, you’ll still be here when I wake up, right?” Tony asked, so quietly and painfully that Steve wanted to either never let go of him or get up and break someone’s face. Someone like Osborn would be perfect. But he could do that later, for now he had something more important to take care of.

Steve pressed a kiss to the part of Tony’s jaw he could reach and promised. “Yes, I will. From now on for as long as you’ll let me.”

Tony nodded sluggishly and lifted a hand to grip one of his arms, holding tight. A moment later he was asleep, breathing evenly and deeply but without letting go. Steve held on just as tightly, relishing the weight in his arms and the warmth of Tony pressed along the length of his body. This, this was what he’d been missing and yearning for all this time. Now that he had it, Steve would be damned before he let anything or anyone take Tony away from him.

They both had been through enough, they deserved this and he was prepared to spend the rest of his life convincing Tony of the same.