Summary: Tony still thinks Steve is an art student. Steve still thinks Tony’s going to dump him when he finds out the truth.
Notes: For the prompt by Quietellen on tumblr: "Can you write about what it might have looked like if Steve had rescued Tony but not revealed his true occupation and Tony went on thinking he was an artist? How else might Tony have learned the truth?"
When he made his escape from the Ten Rings, Tony thanked his one lucky star that the boot jets actually worked. The suit got him out of the camp, got him far enough away to survive the explosion, and kept him alive after impact.
Of course, the problem then was that he was alone in a vast desert with no water or food, but the explosion ought to at least draw some attention. He was gratified when he saw the Army helicopters swooping over, but he was also bleeding, and exhausted. He barely saw them land, dark figures dropping to the sand and running towards him, before he passed out.
"I honestly and truly can't believe he's alive," Clint said, and Natasha stomped his foot. "What? We were all thinking it."
"Not all of us," Rhodey said sharply.
"Okay, well, I'm man enough to admit I was thinking it."
"How is that being manly?" Peggy asked sharply. Clint subsided into silence. Peggy, sitting next to Steve, ran a hand through his hair. "Steve? Are you all right?"
"Yeah -- yeah of course," Steve said. "Just glad he's alive."
"I didn't say I wasn't glad -- " Clint began, and then dodged Natasha's second stomp. "Okay, fine. I'm gonna go get some food, I'll bring some back."
Steve rubbed his face. "I need to change. He can't see me in my SHIELD gear when he wakes up."
"I think that cover might be blown, sweetheart," Peggy said.
"No, he didn't -- he hasn't seen me yet," Steve said.
"But you were gonna tell him," Rhodey pointed out. "You've said like a million times you were gonna tell him."
"And I am," Steve said, jaw tightening. "Just. Not yet."
Rhodey gave him a skeptical look.
"He's sick. He's underweight, dehydrated, he has that...whatever it is in his chest," Steve said. "A shock right now could kill him, Rhodey, you know it could."
Rhodey stood up, smoothing down the arms of his uniform. "I am gonna give you three weeks to tell him," he said. "I like you, Steve, but Tony's my brother, and you're just his boyfriend. Being honest to him is more important to me than you keeping up appearances, you get me?"
Steve nodded. "I'll tell him. I promise. Once we're back in the US."
"I don't care if you somehow end up in Tibet. Three weeks," Rhodey said. "I'm gonna go call Pepper and Obie, let them know, then get a press conference together."
"Go, get changed," Peggy said, when Rhodey was gone. "I'll keep an eye on him until you get back."
"Thank you, Peggy," Steve said, genuinely grateful, and slunk off to change into his civs, so at least he could keep up the charade a while longer.
Pepper was even more pissed about the state of affairs than Rhodey had been, but Steve managed to bribe and grovel his way into convincing her not to mention to Tony that Steve had been her main point of information during the long search for him in Afghanistan. He had Rhodey tell her about the three week deadline, which probably helped, but when they landed in Malibu, she still gave him some serious stinkeye.
It had taken a lot of work to conceal the bodies of the suicide squad that had tried to take Steve and Tony out on the plane. Tony had slept through it, thankfully, but Steve knew his luck was perilously close to running out.
So was his time. He had two weeks left when they landed, and by the time he arranged everything to his satisfaction, Rhodey was texting him daily.
That afternoon, while Tony napped, Steve set up a table on the balcony overlooking the sea -- crisp white tablecloth, heavy candlesticks with tall white candles in them, the nicest silverware he could find, the best wine (JARVIS helped) from Tony's cellar. He could have cooked, but that would have been messy and distracting, and he wanted things perfect. Tony was just waking up when Steve took the food delivery, and by the time he was fully lucid, Steve was plating the steaks and heaping vegetables next to them.
"What's the occasion?" Tony asked, appearing in the kitchen doorway.
"Balcony," Steve said, with a nervous smile.
"Whoa," Tony observed, as he sat at the table and watched Steve light the candles. "I feel underdressed."
"Don't, I'm overcompensating," Steve replied.
Tony leered as he sliced up his steak. "Not in my experience."
"I have to tell you something, and I'm hoping the meal will -- well, not make up for it, but at least you'll be well fed and mad at me," Steve sighed, and Tony stopped mid-chew.
"Are you breaking up with me?" he asked. "Because that's a low thing to do to a man recovering from a terrorist attack."
"No," Steve said, and Tony relaxed a fraction. "It's -- nothing bad, exactly. I just...haven't been honest with you."
"That sounds like you're having an affair, and honestly if you are I kind of admire your time management skills," Tony said.
"You can stop making jokes about people doing terrible things to you," Steve said gently. "I wouldn't cheat on you, Tony, and if I did it wouldn't be funny."
Tony ducked his head. "Humor is how I deal with the fact that you're freaking me out," he said.
"Okay. Sorry. Look, it's just this -- I haven't been truthful about what I do for a living. I'm not an art student."
Tony set his fork down. "Oh. Oh -- this is about you being a super secret spy agent for SHIELD, isn't it?"
Steve dropped his silverware. "Uh. What?"
"Oh my God, that is what this is. Jesus, what a production number. My third guess was going to be that you were dying," Tony said, and sipped his wine.
"You knew?" Steve asked, aghast. "Since when?"
"Since we landed in Malibu," Tony said. "More or less."
"Why didn't you say anything?"
"Are you really asking me why I didn't say anything to you about you lying about what you do for a living?" Tony asked mildly.
"Well," Steve said, and then couldn't think of a reply for that.
"You're cute, and very smooth," Tony said. "But I'm a genius, Steve. I figure these things out."
Tony looked slightly awkward. "JARVIS told me."
"JARVIS -- !" Steve stared at him, then turned to the house. "JARVIS, why did you tell him?"
"You requested silence from Colonel Rhodes and Ms. Potts," JARVIS said. "You requested no such discretion from myself. Sir asked how you got to Afghanistan so quickly. I told him."
"I was going to tell you sooner but your health -- "
"I was monitoring Sir's health," JARVIS said. He sounded irritated. "He was in no danger from knowing the truth."
Steve turned back to Tony to find him laughing silently, chin resting on his hands.
"I appreciate the steak dinner, though," Tony said, and Steve rubbed his eyes with his fingers. "I mean, you know, I like people to go to the effort."
"I'm such an asshole," Steve said.
"You're not an asshole. I'm sure you had reasons," Tony said. "Although those reasons aren't good enough that you won't spend extensive time making it up to me. Preferably with blowjobs, but I will also accept massages and more steak."
"I'm sorry," Steve said.
"Don't apologize to me. Apologize to JARVIS, you forgot to ask him to keep quiet."
"I'm sorry, JARVIS," Steve sighed.
"Accepted," JARVIS said. "Shall I begin the thaw cycle on dessert?"