C1: Prologues and Revelations
The first time they slept together, they broke the bed.
And the table. And a wall. And three chairs, and a priceless fourteenth-century marble statue that Pepper was bound to kill them for.
That should have been a warning for what they could expect out of the rest of their relationship.
It would have been a lie to call what they had any less than dysfunctional. There was very little healthy about it, in fact. It happened because Tony didn't have to worry about hurting Steve, and Steve didn't have to be perfect for Tony (so Tony said). But Tony's tongue was as sharp as steel, and Steve was strong but sometimes things didn't bounce off like people thought they did.
Steve had a nightmare one night and woke up to discover he'd broken Tony's nose, thrashing in his sleep. He apologized profusely, wrecked with guilt, but the brunette assured him it was nothing at all and he should just go back to sleep.
The next day, Tony 'accidentally' locked Steve in a Hulk-proof glass chamber he'd been working on for the Avengers. He'd treated himself out to a nice dinner that evolved into an all-night party.
He'd come home to find Steve a trembling wreck, drenched in sweat, his eyes glassy and unseeing because he was trapped; always trapped. Bodies everywhere; he couldn't move. The ice was his prison. He couldn't even scream.
It took weeks for that one to blow over. Weeks of avoidance and heavy silence and Steve waking up screaming in the night.
Tony didn't know how to apologize. Steve didn't know how to live in a world that had moved on without him. They hurt each other. Tony lied and Steve drew into himself further and further every time they fought.
But they never ended it. Whatever 'it' was, it was what they needed. They needed each other in the violence and sex and sweat-slicked bodies, in the knowing eyes and warm touches when everything was too much to handle. They fought, they physically battled like arch-enemies. The peace was inside, and it felt so good sometimes. But physically? It never lasted.
Maybe, Steve suggested late one night as he nursed a black eye, it was in their nature.
Tony poured himself another drink and watched Jarvis sweep up the remains of his coffee table.
The man behind the iron suit had made it clear, on too many occasions to recall, that they weren't exclusive. Steve nodded and pretended he understood, and watched silently as Tony left with another long-legged blonde.
But the next time they had attended a briefing aboard the S.H.I.E.L.D. Hellicarrier and Tony caught Clint making a pass at Steve, he exploded. Their ensuing fistfight knocked out the power in an entire deck and earned them both a stern conversation with Fury and a prompt ejection from the ship.
Steve had never meant to mention it. He really hadn't. He'd accepted his relational position and had allowed his relegation into silence and submission, and they didn't talk about things like this as a rule.
But he had. He'd brought it up and what was done was done.
Because it didn't matter which angle he looked at it from: it hurt. That Tony was so willing to throw himself after anything with two legs while Steve was not allowed a conversation with a teammate burned deeper than any slight before. When he thought about it, what hurt the most was that he had almost been ready to accept the possibility of this beautiful trainwreck. He'd been ready to accept that this was all they would have, and that it would never make either of them completely happy, but that neither of them could be happy without it.
So he brought it up, and the way that Tony looked at him made him feel like a complete idiot. But that was just Tony for you. He'd remarked on more than one occasion that Steve was all the heart they needed and Tony was all the brains they needed. Steve had pretended that bounced off, too. He was no genius, and he knew that. But somehow, it only hurt when Tony pointed it out.
It had been a long moment; dark eyes narrowing into blue ones. Tony was probing Steve's soul for something, and the super-soldier didn't know if his heart was ready for the blow to come but he steeled himself and squared his shoulders anyway, and simply stared back.
"I was wondering when you'd figure it out, meat-head." Tony's words had been sharp but his tone had not, and he smiled into his glass as he took another pull.
Steve wasn't sure what that meant.
Tony took his time setting his glass down on the bar, and then advanced on Steve so suddenly that the super-soldier wound up falling backwards onto the couch. His muffled sound of surprise was muted by a mouth crashing into his, all sharp teeth and hot breath and unrestrained feeling. They had an on switch and an off switch, and nothing in-between.
And so, they decided to give it a try. They wouldn't see anyone else, and they would make a shot at pulling whatever they could out of the rubble of their current relationship. Maybe, Tony shrugged, they could turn it into something worth looking at.
That night, as they lay in bed, Tony watched Steve as the soldier's eyes moved rapidly behind his lids, sweat beading on his forehead as a nightmare dug it's talons into his mind.
If Steve could have seen the expression on his lover's face as the first quiet sound of distress broke through the soldier's lips, he would have understood everything.
Tony pulled Steve into his arms and held him. He pretended that he did it because he was cold. It wasn't concern or fear or tenderness, he told himself. He pretended it wasn't love.