The moment the door closes behind them, Tony shoves Steve against it, pinning him in place with his hips and nudging a knee between his spread legs. Steve can only gape before Tony is kissing him, licking into his open mouth with desperate urgency, teeth pulling roughly on his bottom lip. It’s messy and frantic, with none of the usual finesse, but Steve’s knees still buckle under his own weight. Even though they’d last done this only a couple days ago, Steve feels starved, relishing the feeling of Tony’s facial hair scratching along his jawline. His hands drop to Tony’s waist, pulling his shirt out of his slacks to rub circles around the sharp juts of his hipbones. The skin is warm to the touch, their bodies fitting together with familiar ease.
On the other side of the door, Steve can hear loud music and drunken chatter that turns into raucous laughter—the sounds of the party Tony dragged them away from. He’d been sneaking glances at Steve from across the room for the majority of the night, until he seemingly had enough and whisked him away from a conversation with a rather eager fan.
This thing between them is new, to say the least; truthfully, Steve isn’t even certain if it qualifies as a “thing.” They’ve been growing closer ever since all the Avengers moved in together a year ago, but their relationship only turned physical in the past couple of months. They’ve yet to put a name to it, never so much as discussed exactly what they were doing. They should, Steve knows they should before one of them gets hurt, but there never seems to be a right time, and he never seems to be able to find the courage to bring it up.
“Not that I’m complaining here, but what brought this on?” Steve asks when they part for air, hooking a finger in one of Tony’s belt loops. He swipes his thumb along the sliver of bare skin above his waistband, tracing the vein that runs down his lower stomach and disappears into his pants.
“Nothing, I—” Tony starts, letting his eyes flutter shut. The room is dark save for the light coming from the arc reactor, illuminating Tony’s features and the indiscernible expression he’s wearing. He chews on his bottom lip, a nervous habit that means he’s contemplating his options. Steve wonders if he’s searching for the right words or if he’s reaching for a half-truth. “Just need to feel you,” he says, pressing his mouth back to Steve’s like he can’t bear for them to be apart.
Steve kisses back—of course he kisses back, it’s Tony and he wants to give him everything—getting lost in the sensation of soft lips, the way that clever tongue carrasses the roof of his mouth. His hands wander down Tony’s back, feeling solid muscle before following the bony curvature of his spine. Tony clutches at his front, his movements broad and aggressive, trying to map out the expanse of Steve’s chest. His fingers falter as he reaches Steve’s heart, gingerly pressing his palm flat against it. For a moment, he seems mesmerized by the heartbeat under his fingertips, relief washing over his face.
“You’re here,” he whispers, so soft and quiet that Steve almost wouldn’t have been able to catch it were it not for his enhanced hearing. “You’re really here.” By the time he works his way to Steve’s collar, his hands are shaking, fingers fumbling with the buttons of his shirt with little success.
“Tony,” Steve says gently, making eye contact. He grabs Tony’s wrists in his hands, holding them still against his chest. “What’s going on?”
“Nothing’s going on,” Tony insists, nuzzling into Steve’s neck and trying to lean in for another kiss.
Steve stretches his neck and pulls away from the contact. “Bullshit. You’ve been worked up ever since we got back from the mission.” He lets go of Tony’s hands so he can hold his face instead, brushing a thumb along his cheekbone. “That was days ago. What’s wrong? Are you hurt?” The idea sends a chill through Steve’s spine, his chest tight with panic. Tony didn’t seem physically hurt, doesn’t look it now, but Steve wouldn’t put it past him to go to great lengths to hide his pain.
“I’m fine, Steve,” Tony says. If Steve didn’t know him so well it would almost be convincing. After spending much of the past year together, it’s easy for Steve to spot the cracks in Tony’s facade; it’s in the way his voice wavers ever-so-slightly, the tight set of his mouth, the tilt of his head which suggests a strained neck.
“You’re clearly not fine,” Steve counters, keeping his voice soft, “so, please, just talk to me.”
They should be able to do that much. No matter what else is happening between them, Tony is his friend—one of his best friends. Surely he knows he can trust Steve?
Tony’s eyes slip shut again, like he can’t bare to maintain eye contact, his Adam’s apple bobbing as he swallows. It’s the most naked and vulnerable Steve has ever seen him, but it’s gone in a flash. Tony steels his jaw and flattens his mouth into a thin line, eyes hard and distant when they open. He backs away from Steve with a determined step, squaring his shoulders. It’s like watching him putting on his armour, each piece sliding into place with precision, encasing him in impenetrable alloy.
“This was a mistake, I’m sorry,” he says, reaching behind Steve to twist the doorknob. “We should get back to the party, they’ll be wondering where we are.”
Steve moves out of the way, allowing Tony to pull the door open; he has no intention of trapping him here if this isn’t where he wants to be. His stomach drops as he watches Tony leave, accompanied only by the soft click of the lock. With him gone, the room is shrouded in darkness. Steve backs up against the wall, sliding down its length until he’s sitting on the cold tiles, legs bent in an awkward angle. He hugs them closer to his chest, resting his head on his knees. He doesn’t know how long he stays like that for, wondering what the heck just happened, and why it feels so much like a rejection.
When he finally rejoins the party, most of the guests have left. The team is congregated in the living-room, taking turns trying to lift mjolnir as Thor watches with great amusement. Steve feels anything but worthy, but he plasters on a smile and joins the loud cheering and playful jabs.
Half an hour later, Ultron shows up, and everything goes to hell.
We can go home, Peggy’s voice echoes in his mind.
Steve grips the axe tighter, splinters digging into his fingers. He puts his strength into the swing, feeling satisfied when the blade meets the wood, splitting it in half. The sound of crunching leaves grabs his attention, and he looks up to see Tony walking up with his own pile of logs, dropping them to the ground.
“Thor didn’t say where he was going for answers?”
“Sometimes my teammates don’t tell me things,” Steve says, unable to keep the bitterness out of his voice. “Kinda hoping Thor would be the exception.”
To his relief or disappointment, Tony doesn’t bite. “Yeah, give him time,” he says, picking up his own axe. “We don’t know what the Maximoff kid showed him.”
“Earth’s mightiest heroes,” Steve scoffs. What a joke. He’d been foolish to believe he could lead this team, to believe he could have a home to come back to. “Pulled us apart like cotton candy.”
“Seems like you walked away all right.”
The challenge in Tony’s voice makes Steve clench his jaw. “Is that a problem?”
“I don’t trust a guy without a dark side,” Tony says, picking up his axe and starting on his pile. “Call me old fashioned.”
And that’s exactly the problem, isn’t it? Tony doesn’t trust him—he didn’t trust him enough to tell him about Ultron, didn’t trust him enough that night at the party, doesn’t trust him now. The realization makes Steve’s blood run cold. They’re supposed to be a team. They’re supposed to be leading it side by side. They’re supposed to be friends. Does Tony really think so little of him? He must, if he thinks so little separates Steve from a slab of marble.
“Well let’s just say you haven’t seen it yet,” is all he manages to say. The empty dance floor of the Stork Club flashes before his eyes, causing his throat to close up. The silence is deafening as the music cuts out, Peggy vanishing in front of him—
“You know Ultron’s trying to tear us apart, right?”
The taste of bile is heavy and acrid on Steve’s tongue. It feels like he’s suffocating, lungs unable to take in enough air. Evidently he doesn’t have to try too hard, he wants to say. He manages to stop himself from voicing the thought, but what comes out instead isn’t much better. “Well I guess you’d know. Whether you tell us is a bit of a question.” His hands don’t falter as he swings his ax and chops another log in half.
Tony drops his axe to the ground, chin held high as he closes the distance between them with a few short steps. “Banner and I were doing research—”
“That would affect the team—”
“That would end the team!” Tony shouts, his expression turning stormy and tense. “Isn’t that the mission? Isn’t that the why we fight, so we can end the fight, so we get to go home?”
Captain America. Pretending you could live without a war, Ultron’s mechanical voice whispers in his ear, as clear as it’d been in Wakanda.
Steve loses control of his strength, muscles working without permission, ripping the log in his hands. “Every time someone tries to win a war before it starts, innocent people die,” he says. “Every time.”
Tony averts his eyes, looking guilty. He seems to deflate right in front of Steve’s eyes, shoulders hunching and chin dropping to his chest.
The fire inside of Steve is smothered as quickly as it’d begun, leaving him endlessly tired. Even so, there is still plenty of smoke for him to choke on. “You should have told me,” he says, well aware of how defeated he sounds. He may as well put all his cards on the table. “You should have talked to me.”
“Would you have listened?”
“Of course I would have—”
“Would you, really?” Tony’s expression is no longer combative or challenging; instead, there’s something soft in it, begging Steve to pay attention. “We only had a couple of days with the scepter. If I had come to you with this idea, if I tried to explain why it’s needed, would you have heard me out? Would you have at least considered it?”
Steve opens his mouth to say yes, but the word gets lodged in his throat. He lets his mouth snap shut. More than anything, he wants to be able to answer affirmatively, but the truth is… the truth is he’s not certain he could’ve stopped his knee-jerk reaction long enough to listen. “You still should have told me,” he says stubbornly.
“If the choice is between telling you the truth or saving you,” Tony says firmly, folding his arms over his chest, “I’m going to pick the latter.”
Steve furrows his brows. “What are you talking about?”
“You were dead,” Tony says, voice cracking on the last word. His expression is haunted, like the ghosts are circling him even now. “You were all dead.”
Steve stills. “What?”
Tony closes his eyes, long lashes casting shadows across his cheeks. “When I went into the Hydra base for the scepter, I saw—the Maximoff girl, she… I didn’t know it was her,” he says, struggling to get the words out. “The Chitauri, they were—the whole team—you were all dead. I didn’t… I didn’t do enough and you were all dead. I could’ve stopped it. I could’ve—it was my fault.” He’s trembling by the time he finishes speaking, hands balled into fists, knees shaking like they might not be able to support his weight for much longer.
Without thinking, Steve closes the remaining distance between them and wraps his arms around Tony, pulling him against his chest. Tony goes easily and allows himself to be held, leaning his head against the juncture between Steve’s neck and shoulder. Steve lets his chin rest on top of Tony’s head, securing his grip on his waist. “Why didn’t you say anything?” he asks, keeping his voice soft.
Tony just shakes his head against Steve’s chest. “I couldn’t let it happen, Steve. I couldn’t.” He balls Steve’s t-shirt in his hand, stretching the fabric with the tight hold. Suddenly, Steve is reminded of the night of the party, the way Tony touched him like he needed to make sure he was real, and everything starts clicking into place.
“Tony,” Steve says gently, lifting his chin so their eyes meet. “Everyone on this team is aware of the risk they’re taking every single day. You can’t protect us from that and we don’t expect you to. If something like that were to happen… it wouldn’t be on you. You shouldn’t demand the impossible from yourself. You don’t have to do any of this on your own.”
Tony chuckles, soft and fond. “You’re one to talk, winghead.”
The statement manages to bring a smile to Steve’s face and he presses it against Tony’s forehead. He cards his fingers through Tony’s hair, enjoying the feel of his soft curls. “I guess we both have stuff to work on.”
Tony disentangles himself enough so he can look at Steve, eyes searching his face. “I can’t believe you’re still…” he gestures between their bodies, “I thought I fucked this up for good.”
Steve flashes a lopsided grin, suddenly feeling lighter. “I’ve been told I can be remarkably persistent.”
Tony’s laughter is genuine and booming and it resonates down to Steve’s bones. The crinkles around his eyes are the most beautiful thing he’s seen. “A stubborn sonofabitch is what you are, Rogers.”
Steve can’t exactly argue with that, so he leans down to kiss Tony instead. The response is instantaneous, Tony opening up for him, holding on to Steve like he has no intention of letting go. He rests his forehead against Steve’s, hands framing his face.
“I’m sorry,” Tony says, stern and pensive, like he’s unsure if it will be received. Steve smoothes the furrow between his brows with his thumb. “What I said earlier… I do trust you, Steve. I just… I’m not used to having all that many people to count on.”
The statement makes Steve’s stomach twist, chest tightening with the weight of the words.
“You were trying to do something good. I know that. But… You should have told me. You should have discussed it with all of us,” he says. Tony tenses in his embrace but doesn’t pull away or break eye contact. Steve rubs up and down his arms, making sure he’s paying attention to the next part. It’s not about blame, but they have to be able to learn from this. “And I should’ve done more to make you feel like you could. I… I can be quick to judge and slow to forgive. So we’ll… we’ll both have to do better.”
Tony nods, pressing his face into the crook of Steve’s neck. “So, how are we planning on beating this thing?”
Steve doesn’t have the answers. There’s a lot left to figure out, a lot of issues they all have to work through. But it feels like they’re a step closer, and it’s a start.
He cradles the back of Tony’s head in his hands, pressing a kiss to the crown.