The first time Tony almost told Steve he loved him, he was drunk.
This was, of course, not the time for any confession of any kind whatsoever. Which was why it was the perfect time in Tony’s book. In his opinion, if he doesn’t say it now he’ll never say it at all.
Never saying it at all is a better option, in the end, he thinks belatedly, but he’s already on a roll. A very drunken roll.
“I should hate your guts,” he tells Steve, scotch on rocks in one hand and a straw in the other. It was best not to talk about why he’d decided he needed a straw halfway through the night, but he had one all the same. “As any ‘Big man in a suit of armor’ should.” He sees Steve wince at that, and is almost sorry he brought it up. Almost. “But I don’t. And that’s the fucking thing, Steve, isn’t it. I don’t hate you and it’s driving me up the wall.” He jabs at Steve’s hand with the straw, grinning when Steve’s eyes narrow.
“But you want to hate me,” Steve says slowly, and Tony likes to imagine that there’s a tinge of hurt in his tone.
“Hating you would be a hell of a lot easier,” Tony snaps, and now he’s done it. That was not at all what he meant to say.
Steve’s eyes flash with something, and Tony’s heart sinks into his gut. He can’t name the emotion in Steve’s gaze as he stares at Tony, but it’s not a good one. And at that moment, he wishes someone would cut him off before things get worse.
Which is exactly what Steve does. Tony doesn’t fight him when Steve takes the scotch, and the straw from his hands, doesn’t protest or speak at all until Steve has already dumped the drink down the sink and thrown the straw away. “I didn’t mean that,” he whispers, voice breaking, and Steve just shakes his head, his back to Tony where he’s gripping the edge of the sink like it’s the only thing keeping him standing.
“Yes you did,” Steve says, hushed and even.
Tony swallows, “Steve, I . . .”
“Go to bed, Tony.”
It’s a long, long time before Tony picks up a drink again.
In all seriousness, Tony knows he shouldn’t be telling Steve his feelings at all. The first reason for this is that he’s completely unsure as to why he’s come to have such feelings, and the second is that he’s well aware that he’s doomed to rot in the pit of Unrequited Love. Also, he’s still freaking out about that love bit, like, a lot. Which is exactly why he goes whining to Pepper shortly after the first drunken incident.
“Pepper, Pepper, help me,” he begs, and absolutely does not let out a frustrated little sound when she just gives him a condescending look. “This is serious,” he pleads, “If you don’t help me I might die.”
And yeah, okay, he really shouldn’t have pulled that card on her, especially after the 184093242 other times he was actually dying and he hadn’t told Pepper jack shit, but still. This was a dire situation indeed, and as far as Tony was concerned he was, in fact, dying because of it. Slowly. Very slowly.
“You’re not dying,” Pepper says calmly once Tony has properly explained the situation. And Tony ignores the way her eye twitches murderously as she says it. He didn’t see anything.
“I’m pretty sure I am,” Tony reiterates.
“Dying of stupidity, maybe,” Pepper scoffs. “You should just ask him out.”
Tony snorts, “Uh, no. That is the worst idea in the history of worst ideas, Pep. This is why you should let me think of the ideas. I’m the genius.”
“You’re about to be a genius with brain damage due to a collapsed cranium,” Pepper warns, “Remember who you came crawling to for help.”
Tony makes a face while stealthily scooting his chair a little further back. “I think that dating Natasha has gone to your head, and it’s starting to scare me.”
Pepper just smirks.
So Tony is, of course, left with the options of either asking Steve out, or wallowing in his own misery for another couple of weeks. Or at least he hopes it’s a couple of weeks. How long does this love crap usually last? The movies cut it down to a few hours, so he hopes that in real time he’s almost in the clear.
In the end he decides that misery is always better with company.
“Are you busy?” he asks, leaning into the gym to glimpse Steve wailing away at a helpless punching bag. “Wait, that was a dumb question,” Tony corrects himself, “Obviously you’re busy, uh, punching, so nevermi-”
Steve looks up and swipes a hand over his forehead to clear the sweat from his brow, “I’m not busy,” he says, and Tony blinks in surprise.
“Really? I mean, uh, great! That’s great. I was just . . . I have some free time? And I was wondering if . . . Er . . . Do you wanna go do something?” Tony immediately smacks his hand to his forehead as he finishes talking, instantly regretting every awkward word that just came out of his mouth.
“Something?” Steve echoes, “Like what, spar?”
Tony tries not to roll his eyes. He should have known better than to ask Steve these things while he was in training mode, really, he should have. “I guess,” he deadpans with as much enthusiasm as possible, which is none. “Sparring is fine.”
It turns out, actually, that sparring is more than fine. Although Tony really thinks that he should have thought this one through better, because tussling around on a gym mat with a sweaty Steve was not in the best interests of keeping his ulterior motives a secret, but he tries. Or at least he does until Steve pins him down by straddling his thighs and throwing an arm across his chest. And that is really just too much for Tony to handle with any sort of stable sanity.
It doesn’t help that Steve’s breath keeps hitching as he sucks in air after what Tony would classify as a pretty uneven match, or that Steve is leaning down so far that their foreheads and noses are practically brushing together, and despite his stuttered breathing Steve keeps smiling at him like that, god damn it.
“Give?” Steve chuckles, and Tony feels his breath catch in his throat.
“Anything,” he replies before he can stop himself. Steve raises a bemused eyebrow and Tony curses internally before amending, “I mean, yeah. I give.”
For awhile Tony just lays there after Steve gets off of him, chest heaving and pupils blown wide, before he rolls over and groans wholeheartedly into the gym mat.
“What is my life?” he whispers, and promptly sits up and spits in horror as he realizes he just willingly put his face on a nasty, sweat stained gym mat.
When Tony actually sits down and thinks about it, he realizes he isn’t exactly sure when he started to develop such feelings at all. It definitely wasn’t after exchanges about lab experiments and big men in suits of armor, and it probably wasn’t after one way trips and shawarma. Hell, it most likely wasn’t even after inviting all these wackos to live in his tower. Wackos, of course, meaning the group of superheroes that Tony cares about very much but you’d have to start pulling teeth before he admitted it aloud. Except when it comes to Steve, because apparently Tony is absolutely jumping for a chance to declare his undying affections to him, and even Tony himself doesn’t really understand that bit.
Somehow, he thinks that it started after the first time Steve had, quite literally, dragged him out of his workshop and made him go to bed. After so many years of various people being exasperated with his over-achiever work ethic, Tony knows that it takes a hell of a lot of fondness for anyone to give enough shits to forcefully drag him away from his work and make him get some sleep. He knows this, unfortunately, because he can count the number of people who have done it before on one hand. Specifically three fingers, now that Steve’s in his life.
So yeah, it was probably that.
In Tony’s opinion, however, that is a stupid reason to start having touchy-feelies about someone, especially Steve. He rationalizes that Steve cares about every member of the team, and that Tony’s not anyone’s special snowflake, least of all Captain America’s, but his brain isn’t so great at relaying such information to his heart. Or at least the portion of his brain that’s convinced itself that he’s in love with Steve Rogers.
He may or may not spend many sleepless nights contemplating these matters and smacking himself in the face. Repeatedly.
In times like these, he has discovered, it is best to get multiple opinions.
“Do you ever get touchy-feelies for Steve?” Tony says after handing Bruce a cup of tea one morning. Bruce promptly chokes on said tea, and Tony takes a wise couple of steps back.
“What?” Bruce coughs, “What sort of question is that? No.” He scrubs at his mouth with the back of a hand, eyes narrowing in Tony’s direction. “Is this about your emotional constipation? Also, ‘touchy-feelies? Really?”
Tony shrugs, “It seemed like a better way to phrase it than ‘Are you attracted to Steve and want to invade his personal bubble to the highest degree.’”
Bruce scowls, “Yeah, no. Definitely not. Steve is a great guy, but you can keep those ‘touchy-feelies’ between the two of you. Have fun.”
Aghast, Tony sputters, “No! Not me! This is not about me at all and my hypothetical touchy-feelies, this is about . . .” He draws off as Bruce just levels him with this condescending, knowing look, and sighs. “I’m not a feelings kind of guy, okay.”
“Obviously,” Bruce quips. “And we’re all very much aware of that.”
“Thanks,” Tony mutters.
Bruce huffs out a sound that’s surprisingly close to a laugh, and Tony brightens a bit when he hears it. “Do you even know why you have these ‘touchy-feelies’?” Bruce asks mildly, taking a hesitant sip of his tea while Tony tips his head back to stare at the ceiling.
“Not really, no,” Tony decides after a moment of thought. “I mean, godly physique, no offense to Thor, and perfectly sculpted ass aside, he’s just . . . He’s Steve.”
“Very descriptive,” Bruce says flatly.
“I can’t think of any other way to say it!” Tony defends. “I mean at first he made me feel like a total dick, and it’s not like I don’t get enough of that already, but once we actually started working together and living together and talking and everything it just - I don’t know what happened, but I felt like less of a dick and more of a person. Like a real human being who has made mistakes and has been graciously forgiven of them whether I deserve it or not. And Steve made me feel that way. I wasn’t Iron Man, or Tony the billionaire, or Tony the playboy, or Tony the philanthropist, or Tony the weapons designer, or even Tony the failure to him, Bruce, I was just . . . Just Tony. And he was just Steve. And I like that.” Tony holds his breath when he finishes, aware of the slow way Bruce’s eyes had widened during his rant.
“That’s a pretty good description,” he concedes after a second, and Tony lets out his breath in a long whoosh of laughter. “You know we don’t think of you as any of those things either, right?” he adds.
Tony smiles, “I know. Do you want to tell me about your touchy-feelies for me, Bruce? Come on, confide in me, I can keep a secret.”
Bruce shoves at him, “Don’t even start. I thought we were having a serious discussion about your inability to tell Steve you’re in love with him.”
Tony balks, “I never said that.”
“You kind of did,” Bruce points out, “Just with a lot more words. Now do you want to hear my suggestion or not?”
“Yes, yes please, tell me,” Tony beseeches. “Tell me. What should I do?”
“Take Steve out,” Bruce begins, and Tony nods along, “Somewhere fun or romantic or something, I don’t know exactly where, this isn’t my type of thing. Take him somewhere he’d like to go. And then-”
“And then?” Tony interrupts with baited breath. Bruce restrains from hulking out just on principle.
“-And then tell him how you feel,” Bruce finishes wryly.
Tony’s eyebrows furrow together for a second as Bruce’s words sink in, and then he groans, “What? Why is that everyone’s suggestion.”
“Because it’s the smart one,” Bruce tells him before taking another pointed sip of his tea.
Since it’s Bruce, though, and Bruce is usually right about a lot of things, Tony takes his words to heart and tries to follow his advice to the best of his ability. And in the style of every overused romantic movie trope ever, Tony decides that taking Steve to one of his many vacation homes is a fantastic idea.
Or it is until the car breaks down halfway up a mountain.
Tony kicks the tires relentlessly, hoping to send the thing over the edge of a cliff just as much as he’s hoping it will magically start again. He has no luck with either, however, and flops over the hood of his newest car with a defeated whine. “This wasn’t how this was supposed to go,” he grumbles against the metal. “Also, the dealership who sold me this piece of shit and I are going to have words. Best new model my ass.”
“Are we stuck?” Steve asks from where he’s tugging their bags out of the trunk. Tony still has yet to figure out how he actually coerced Steve into this whole mess in the first place, seeing as he’s pretty sure he just babbled something about rest and relaxation and Steve had shockingly agreed. And agreed without insisting the whole team come along, which was something Tony still couldn’t wrap his head around. What the hell. “Should I try and push the car?”
Tony shakes his head, “No. It’s all uphill from here, you’d die before you made it.” Steve gives him a look that clearly says, “You’re underestimating my super soldier powers,” but Tony ignores it. He’s not taking any chances. “It’s like five miles,” he continues, “up a mountain. I don’t want to be alone and freaking out on the mountainside when you pass out.”
Steve sighs, “Fine. Let’s just call for a tow then.”
“Tell me when you get a signal,” Tony scoffs. “Because Mount Middle Of Nowhere is not known for it’s fabulous reception.” Even as he says it though, Steve is waving his cell around in the air rather comically, and Tony knows they are so, so screwed.
“We’re going to die,” he decides, slumping over the hood of the car again. It takes three and a half seconds for Steve to heave him back up with an arm around Tony’s chest.
“Don’t be ridiculous. The cabin has a landline, right? And it’s about five miles? Steve says, still holding on to a very purposefully limp Tony as he glances up the twisting mountain road ahead of them. “That’s not so bad. We’ll make it in no time.”
And Tony is totally not exploiting Steve’s kindness and strength by playing dead fish while Steve talks, because he totally doesn’t want Steve to hold him like this all the time, no he does not. “If you’re suggesting we walk all that way, you can just leave me here to die quietly,” he mumbles after a pause.
Steve laughs, “You? Die quietly?”
“Hey, I can do quiet!” Tony snaps, “I can be the quietest quiet thing ever. Watch me.”
“You couldn’t even stay quiet for one mile,” Steve taunts, standing Tony on his feet before he takes a few steps up the road.
“Is that a bet?”
“Do you want it to be?”
“What do I get when I win?”
“If,” Steve corrects without missing a beat. He considers this for a moment before rolling his shoulders, “If you win you can have one hour to examine my shield.”
Tony gapes, “For real? You must really think I won’t be able to shut up then, I’m offended.”
“You won’t even last five minutes,” Steve says, and turns on his heels to start up the road.
Steve is, in fact, wrong, because Tony goes a totally of ten minutes without talking. This is not, however, equivalent to a mile. “Ten minutes isn’t a mile?” Tony shrieks when Steve tells him he wasn’t even close. “How long is it going to take to get there?”
“We’ll be there before dark,” Steve shushes him.
“Carry me,” Tony pleads.
“I can carry you, or I can carry the bags, which include my shield and your armor,” Steve reminds reasonably.
When the finally get there, just before dark like Steve promised, Tony collapses on the cabin porch and tries not to cry. “We’re alive,” he gasps, “it’s a miracle.” Steve chuckles and moves past him into the cabin, emerging a minute later to lay back on the cool wood at Tony’s side.
“Called a tow truck.”
Tony smiles, “Thank goodness. We won’t have to worry about that heap of useless junk stranded out alone on the side of the road anymore.” Steve laughs, and Tony’s brain-to-mouth filter shorts out and the honest-to-god joy and amusement in the sound. “God,” Tony breathes, “Do you even know how much I l-” Steve turns his head to meet Tony’s eyes, and his brain-to-mouth filter revs back into gear as fast as it can. “-like your shirt?” Tony finishes meekly.
Steve blinks, “My blue SHIELD shirt?”
Tony squints, mentally berating himself as he realizes that it is indeed a SHIELD issue shirt. Of fucking course. “Uh, yep! Damn, I gotta get me one of those,” he says hastily.
In return, Steve casts him the oddest look Tony’s ever had directed his way in his entire life, but he’ll take it. It’s probably better than whatever look Steve would send his way if Tony ever actually said what he almost just had.
The fourth time is the worst, and it’s not for the reasons Tony wishes it was.
It’s not bad because he nearly makes a fool of himself.
It’s not bad because he says something stupid instead and hurts Steve’s feelings.
It’s not bad because his plans go disastrously wrong.
It’s bad because Steve almost dies.
And Tony thinks that’s just his luck, isn’t it, to not have the guts to tell the person he loves that he loves them until their life is slipping through his fingers. How ironic.
It comes down to the fact that Steve’s hobby is playing the god damn big hero, and Tony’s is being reckless enough to get caught in the line of some very unfriendly fire. In the end, Tony’s left standing, still bracing himself for the shot that never hit, and Steve’s crumpling to the ground in slow motion.
Previously, Tony was sure that the idea that the whole world seems to stop when bad things happen was utter bullshit. And he’d seen a lot of bad things happen. He’d been unconscious for significant parts of most of them, but same thing.
All he knows though is that one second he’s standing and the next he’s kneeling, cradling Steve’s body against his as he screams for help. And, God, it’s not supposed to be like this. They’re superheroes, they keep people safe. What sort of heroes are they if they can’t even keep each other safe. Tony’s heart rises to his throat as he realizes that was exactly what Steve was trying to do.
He flips the visor of his helmet up and presses an armored hand to Steve’s stomach, flinching when Steve winces and lets out a hiss of pain. There’s too much blood. “Come on, Steve, stay with me,” Tony begs, heart drumming out a panicked rhythm when Steve’s eyelids flicker closed and then open again. “Stay with me. Please, please, please. Someone’s getting help. We’ll get you some help. And with your super soldier healing you’ll be back on your feet fighting bad guys in no time. Come on, Steve, come on.”
But Steve’s breathing is too ragged, and Tony can no longer remember if the gauntlets of his armor were always that shade of red, or if there’s just that much blood. “No, no, no, no,” he whispers, “You can’t do this to me, Steve. Not right now. Not ever. Do you hear me? Look at me!”
Steve complies, blearily gazing up at Tony with a pained crack of a smile. “I’ll be fine,” he coughs, and Tony curses at the fresh slide of blood that oozes out between his fingers.
“You are not fine,” he hisses, “and if you’re not fine then I’m not fine. So for the love of god I need you to focus here, Steve, stay with me. Don’t you dare leave me. You can’t. You can’t.”
Steve’s eyes are fluttering shut again, and Tony chokes, a strangled, anguished noise. “No. No, Steve, look at me. Look at me! You can’t do this to me, Steve! I lo-”
The paramedics are suddenly everywhere, pushing and pulling Tony aside as Steve’s eyes slip closed, and it takes Tony a minute to figure out who’s screaming.
The team is there, too, and between Thor and the Hulk they manage to drag him back, out of the way as the paramedics do their job. “Steve! Steve!” Tony yells, shouts, howls until his voice breaks and his throat is raw. And no one is saying anything to him, no one is telling him that Steve is fine, or that everything is going to be okay, because they’re as much in the dark as he is, watching the paramedics load Steve into the ambulance and screech down the battle wrecked street, sirens wailing.
It’s the last sound Tony hears before he passes out.
In retrospect, most people would take the chance that was given to them when they found out that the person they cared for was not in fact dead, or even dying, and buck it up to tell them how they felt.
Tony does not.
He stays outside of Steve’s hospital room, doesn’t go in, doesn’t visit, doesn’t even dare pass by the window in case Steve catches sight of him.
He sits a little ways down the hall, back against the wall and his knees pulled up to his chest, hands fisted in his hair as he tries not to cry. Tony Stark does not cry.
“Steve’s asking for you,” Natasha says when she slides down the wall to sit on the floor next to him. “He didn’t believe me when I told him you were okay.”
“I’m not okay,” Tony whispers, and he can feel Natasha’s shock without even looking up to confirm it. “I almost got him killed, Natasha.”
Natasha heaves out a breath that’s almost, but not quite, a sigh. “It happens. We’re in a specific line of work here, Stark.”
“Clearly,” Tony bites out.
“I’m saying you shouldn’t go around blaming yourself,” Natasha practically growls.
“I’m the one he jumped in front of,” Tony whispers.
He doesn’t go to see Steve, and he hardly sees any of the other Avengers until he’s already halfway done filling out his resignation forms. Who knew he’d be given a stack of paperwork just for quitting a superhero team?
He spreads them all out across one of his workshop tables, meticulously reading and signing every one of them because it would be just like Fury to slip in a hundred and one loopholes simply because he knows Tony’s track record with actually paying attention to the documents he has to go over. Surprisingly, Tony has yet to find an actual, or even accidental loophole.
“Anywhere but here,” Tony mutters without looking up from page number seventy-eight. “I’m not cut out for this shit. It was easier saving the world on my own, when I didn’t have to worry about anyone else’s life.” He signs to bottom of seventy-eight and moves on to seventy-nine.
There’s a hand on the back of his chair, and Tony has only a second to realize he’s been speaking aloud to someone before there’re fingers on the back of his neck. “So let me get this straight,” Steve says slowly, peering over Tony’s shoulder at the piece of paper in his hands as if they’re discussing something else entirely. “You want to get yourself killed without taking others down with you, thus not having to worry about them, but it’s not okay for anyone else to worry about you.”
Tony flinches, shaking Steve’s hand off and getting to his feet to put some space between them. “That’s exactly it,” he says, “because worrying about me got you shot last week. What are you even doing out of the hospital, anyways? Go lay down.”
Steve purses his lips, “I got out two days ago, Tony, which you would have noticed if you weren’t so busy trying to ditch the team as fast as you could.”
“I wasn’t ditching you,” Tony spits, “I was leaving you so you wouldn’t end up six feet under because of me!”
And suddenly Steve is in his space again, standing toe to toe with Tony as he grabs Tony by the shoulders, “So I was just supposed to let you take a bullet? Is that it?”
“Yes!” Tony yells, “My armor is made for taking bullets, Steve, your skin is not!”
“Oh, really? Your armor can stand up to any and every bullet the enemy fires at you? You weren’t the only weapon’s maker in the world, Tony.“ Steve says, struggling to keep his tone even. “There are people out there making worse things than you could ever dream of and I wouldn’t be surprised if someone like Justin Hammer designed a bullet specifically meant to pierce through your armor! So excuse me for worrying about you!”
“I’m not worth worrying about!”
For a moment, Tony’s sure that all the air has been sucked out of the room, all the sound and the life along with it because the silence that settles after he shouts those words is too heavy to bear.
And here’s the thing, really, this is how the story goes. Tony loves Steve, he really does, he loves him so much that it hurts and he wishes he could find the courage to tell him that, to tell him all of the reasons he is loved. But Tony doesn’t want that love to be returned. He knows, or at least he knows now, that such a thing comes with too costly a price, and it’s not worth it.
He doesn’t want Steve to love him back.
“You really think that?” Steve says, and when Tony looks at him he’s almost horrified at the agony in Steve’s eyes. “You think you don’t deserve-”
“I don’t think,” Tony cuts him off, “I know. My life is not worth anyone else’s, especially not yours.”
Steve grits his teeth, “You don’t get to decide that.”
“Uh, I think I do. My life, my choices,” Tony snaps.
“Then the same goes for me,” Steve snarls, “If I want to give my life for you, I will. Whether you’re on the team or not.”
Tony blanches, “Don’t be stupid.”
“Back at you.”
They’re staring each other down, breathing each other’s air, and Tony can feel Steve’s fingers tightening against his shoulders, holding him in place like he’s scared Tony’s going to run away. And if Steve wasn’t gripping him so tightly, Tony’s pretty sure he’d be halfway across Manhattan right now, so it’s a pretty valid fear. “You almost died,” Tony whispers, wincing at the way his voice trembles ever so slightly around the words.
“You wouldn’t believe it, but that happens to me a lot,” Steve murmurs, very seriously, and Tony lets out a hiccup of a laugh.
This is the part, Tony thinks, where they’re supposed to kiss, where he’s supposed to tell Steve to never do that again and Steve’s supposed to grumble about how he wouldn’t have to if Tony wasn’t jumping into enemy fire like he had something to prove all the time. They’re supposed to kiss and make up, and Tony is supposed to admit what he’s been trying to admit almost as long as they’ve known each other.
It’s too close, too close and Tony knows once and for all that he doesn’t want this, doesn’t want to find himself holding Steve’s broken body against his ever again, doesn’t want to ever feel that helpless ever again, that fragile in the face of something so terrible.
So he tilts his head away instead of up, leans it against Steve’s shoulder and settles for fisting his hands into the front of Steve’s shirt like he never intends to let go. “I’ll stay,” he breathes, and that’s as close as he’s ever going to let himself get.
It happens over breakfast.
In front of everyone.
Team breakfasts start to become a regular thing, although it’s a lot more like Tony’s dinner and everyone else’s breakfast, but that’s besides the point. Thor is staring the toaster down, waiting for his Poptarts to pop because he’s obviously never heard the phrase “A watched pot never boils.” Natasha is making two cups of coffee to take back to her room, betraying the fact that Pepper is over and is either too lazy or too tired to join them, Tony doesn’t care or want to know which. Clint is heating up leftover pizza, and Bruce is looking over his shoulder with a mixture of curiosity and disgust. Steve is crouched in front of the open fridge where he’s sorting through the yogurt, looking for his favorite kind, while Tony leans over him to dig around in the freezer for an Otter Pop, which is obviously the best sort of dinner/breakfast.
“Otter Pops aren’t food, Tony,” Steve says absently as he turns another cup of yogurt around to face him, lip curling as he reads the label. Banana. “You need to eat something.”
“I’m pretty sure that an Otter Pop falls under the definition of ‘Something,’” Tony argues, fishing out three of said frozen treats from the freezer with a triumphant smirk.
“Something healthy,” Steve clarifies.
“I think there’s fruit in here,” Tony says, although even he sounds a tad skeptical as he does. “Or artificial fruit. That’s the same thing.
Steve sighs and straightens up, taking the Otter Pops from Tony and replacing them with a cup of yogurt. “Healthy,” he repeats before returning the Otter Pops to the freezer.
“You’re such a spoil sport,” Tony mutters.
“Mmm,” Steve agrees absently, “Love you, too.”
Tony’s peeling the little foil lid off his yogurt when Steve says it, and it takes far too long for him to process the words enough to react. React meaning freeze in place and stop breathing.
“I think you broke him,” Clint says from the microwave.
“I think we should leave,” Bruce urges, grabbing Thor by one arm and Clint by another as he starts to drag them towards the door, Natasha trailing after them with her two cups of coffee.
Steve watches them go, confused, and turns to Tony, “What was that? Are you okay?”
Tony remembers how to work his lungs and inhales two seconds before he recalls how to move, and grabs Steve by the collar of his shirt. “What was that?!” he gasps, “Why the hell are you asking me!? You’re the one who said it!”
“Oh my God, seriously? Two minutes ago after you handed me the yogurt!” Said yogurt is now on the floor, but neither of them seems to notice or care. “I spent months trying to tell you, and then a few months after that beating myself up about it because I decided it was better that you didn’t know. And then you go blurting it out like that? In front of the team? What is wrong with you!”
“Uh-” Steve starts, still bemused and looking more than a little startled by Tony’s outburst.
“You don’t just tell a guy ‘Love you, too,’ in the middle of the freaking kitchen, Steve!”
Steve blinks, a slow, understanding smile spreading across his face. “Oh. That.”
“Oh, that,” Tony mocks, quickly losing what little patience he never had in the first place. “Is that all you can say?”
“I love you,” Steve grins, and Tony falters.
“Cut that out, you don’t mean that. Don’t-”
“Don’t what, Tony? Don’t love you?”
“Yes,” Tony whines, “That. Don’t do that.”
Steve rolls his eyes, “It’s a bit late for that.”
“You’re not supposed to love me!” Tony protests. “I was supposed to love you! Quietly, and in the background, where no one was going to get hurt by it! You’re messing everything up!”
Steve smirks, “You love me?”
“That is not the point!” Tony snaps. “That is so far from the point that you soared right past the point on a rocket ship of - stop laughing!”
Steve puts a hand over his mouth, “I’m not laughing.”
“Giggling, laughing, chortling, I don’t care what you call it, just stop,” Tony hisses. “This is not a funny. Not even a little bit.”
“So I love you,” Steve says, annunciating like he’s explaining this to a five year old, “And you love me . . . Why are we arguing again?”
“Because you’re a moron who is not listening to me,” Tony gripes. “You can’t go around telling people you love them in the middle of the kitchen. Especially not me.”
“I thought you already knew,” Steve admits, completely honest.
Tony’s eyes widen, “What?”
“You were both being kind of obvious about it!” Clint calls from the next room, his words ending in a pained squeak when someone, probably Natasha, hits him.
Steve nods, “Plus, I could have sworn I told you. Uh, somewhere between getting shot and waking up in the hospital.”
“What, during the time you were unconscious and I thought you were dead?!”
“ . . . Yes.”
Tony lets out an exasperated, pained sigh and puts his hands on either side of Steve’s face. “I can hear the laugh track right now, you know. It’s screeching in my ears because our stupid sitcom lives have finally reached that point where sheer insanity has taken over my mind.” Steve raises an eyebrow, and Tony bites his lip. “So, this is it.”
“This is what?” Steve asks.
“This is the part where I kiss you and you don’t run away screaming. You have vetoed your Run Away Screaming card henceforth, and you are not allowed to get it back. You’re the one who said it first, so whatever happens from here on out is all your fault. Kapeesh?”
“Sounds good,” Steve smiles.
Tony brings Steve’s face down to his and kisses him like it’s the only thing he’s wanted to do for months, which it actually was. And Steve does not run away screaming.
“I love you,” Steve repeats when Tony breaks for air.
“I know,” Tony murmurs.
“They did not just freaking Star Wars that shit in there!” Clint screeches from the living room. “They did not! That’s not allowed! I’ll never be able to watch that movie again!”