There were a lot of things Tony loved about Steve. He loved his scent, the way he stood, his posture, the way his eyes brightened when he got excited or when he told stories about “The Good Old Days”. He loved how he had the strength to demolish a titanium core punching bag without breaking a sweat and the gentleness of a father holding his newborn child. He loved the rare moment his accent slipped and suddenly he wasn’t the shining golden boy of America, but a rough little tramp from Brooklyn, swearing about the baseball game or a movie he and Bucky had seen. He loved watching him cook breakfast for everyone, loved how festive he got at holidays, because he had missed so many he couldn’t miss a second more of Christmas or Valentines day or Thanksgiving.
He could, if prompted, and he almost had one night after too many cocktails and too many glasses of wine and not enough sleep, written a novel about each little detail, every stitch, every inch, every pin prick that he loved about Steve Rogers. But that would be a very, very long book that would never see the light of day because a lot of the things he loved about Steve remained behind the closed door of their bedroom.
There was one thing, however, that topped all others. Nothing came as close, not the accent slips, or the muscles or the dip of his hip bones or the goofy smile when he managed a small victory against every day life. And that was how Steve said “I love you”.
It was never in the way Tony expected. The first time it wasn’t even spoken, not really and photos don’t count. Steve like riddles, or soft caresses, or murmurs of stupid sappy romance lines form old movies. Tony had expected an out right “I love you” after they’d first fallen into bed together. But Steve had just kissed his forehead and fallen asleep around him. Tony was clearly not the only one with commitment issues. Steve had said it once or twice, usually after mind blowing sex or after those lovely and cherished near death experiences that ended in the victory chant of “Oh god are you ok thank god you aren’t hurt I thought I had lost you please don’t ever do that again I love you fucking hell I love you”. Tony had yet to say it in return but Steve never seemed to bothered. They were both fairly happy with action, embraces, spooning, kisses, sex, rather than flimsy words. Steve though always seem to go the extra step, humbling Tony in ways he’d never thought possible.
It was around eleven or so that night, Tasha and Clint had hijacked the living room for a movie, Thor joining them with Jane, Bruce claiming fatigue and sneaking upstairs before the festivities had started. Steve had disappeared long before, just as their dinner of leftover Chinese food and microwave meals had been finished off and the dishes done. He’d said something about paperwork with a careless wave over his shoulder and despite a few odd looks that were exchanged, no one said a word to stop him.
Tony had missed dinner due to a late night meeting with Pepper and a few members of the board. He had behaved for Pepper, something that had caught her off guard and put her in a shining mood. He hadn’t bothered to grab food on the way home and the fridge had been more or less emptied by leftover night. He scavenged a doughnut and some peanut butter crackers before heading straight down to the lab with a shouted hello to the others who were gathering in the living room. Once he was downstairs nothing else existed, not even the fact that Steve hadn’t been there to greet him when he had arrived. He was elbow deep in spare parts and a broken down chest plate, grease spread over his forearms and splotched across his face and dirty tank, hair disheveled and unruly, eyes framed but dark circles, focused on the wires held delicately in his hand, when JARVIS buzzed him.
“Sir, the Captain is calling for you.”
“What seriously?” Tony frowned, looking up at the door, expecting to see Steve lurking as usual when something was troubling him. But he was no where in sight, the stairs empty. “Where is he?”
“The terrace room, sir. He’s asked that you join him.”
“He appears to be functioning at normal levels,” JARVIS said in what had to be a slow drawl.
“Hardy, har, har, you should get a sideshow.” Tony sighed and pulled off his goggles. “Tell him I’ll be right up. He want me to change or are clothes optional?” Tony waited for the usual pause that was JARVIS’ way of sighing.
“He is properly clothed, sir. You should refrain from the strip tease until you are in private. Ms. Romanov has threatened to remove your-“
“Yes, yes, I remember, I’ll be good.” Tony shuddered at the thought of Tasha jumping him. “Shut ‘em down, sweetums. Tell Steve I’ll be right up, just gotta wash this grim off.”
“He says it’s urgent, sir.”
Urgent could either men raging boner or alien invasion. Hoping it was the first, Tony wiped his forearms as best he could and made his way upstairs, JARVIS shutting down the lab as he left. The others had fallen asleep in the living room, the ending of Eldorado still playing on screen. Tasha was nestled against Thor, Jane tucked under his other arm, Clint had most likely gone upstairs to join Bruce.
The Terrace Room was tucked in the back of the house by the gardens. Tony could remember his mother holding tea parties there and what not for the well dressed ladies she went to the clubs with while his father worked. It was walled in by glass, glass roof that looked out to the poorly lit night sky, the lights of New York diminishing the stars for sake of a never ending day. It was fairly well lit with the old chandeliers Tony had yet to replace with something more efficient and modern. It fit the room though, the faded mock candle light casting pleasant hues on the room and those in it. Though at the moment, it was just Steve.
“You alright, there, Cap?” Tony asked, stepping into the room. Steve jumped at the sound of his voice, turning to face him, ears burning red.
“Yeah, course, sorry,” he stuttered, wringing his hands the way he did when he was nervous. “Thanks for, you know.”
“Cap you look like a fucking Tomato, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing!” Steve said quickly. “I just… I wanted to see you.”
Tony shook his head. “You’re a doofus sometimes, Steve. You could’ve just come down to the lab, I’m fixing the wires in the Chest plate. I thought something was wrong.”
“No I wanted to… uhm, to show you something, I guess? I don’t know it requires two people so it’s not exactly showing but it’s important I guess so-“
“You’re the one who said no sex outside of the bedroom.” Tony tried not to laugh at the flush creeping up Steve’s neck.
“Its not about sex, just. Just come here.” Steve pulled him into the center of the room and motioned for him to stay before going over to the record player, the ancient gramophone sitting by the door.
“Steve, you’re starting to scare me.”
“Just shut up for five seconds.” So Tony waited in the center of the terrace as Steve fumbled with the gramophone. After a moment or two, Steve started to ramble. “So, you know how I never went on many dates,” He stumbled, hands flicking through old records. “Well none, if you want to be specific. And you know how Bucky would always drag me out dancing with him and a couple of dames and I always ended up going home.”
“Yes you were quite skilled at the duck and cover dating maneuver.” Tony sighed. “What’s wrong Steve?”
“I’m talking, Tony, hush up.” He said, finally choosing a record. “Anyway, the point is, we’ve gone on a few dates, we’ve gone for dinner and to the movies and all that stuff. And Coney Island which was, you know, wonderful. But there was something I had hoped to do and I never got the chance because, well, the arctic circle kind of got in the way.” That made Tony worried. Arctic Circle was basically code for “I lost Peggy and pretty much died”. Nothing good ever came out of those conversations, just a lot of tears and little to no comfort sex afterwards. But Steve wasn’t crying, he was jittery, almost excited. Tony wasn’t sure if that made him more or less worried than the tears would have.
The record was in place and a familiar tune began to play, trumpets crooning along to an easy snare drum. It was Sinatra, something by Sinatra, or maybe Martin, or Cole or Armstrong. Steve was a sap for the oldies, which made perfect sense all things considered. It was Dean Martin, something about “Unforgettable” and Tony thought he could feel his innards shriveling from the sheer sappiness of it all. But Steve stepped forward, red faced and almost shaking, bless him, and Tony could only focus on him. He muttered something and extended his hand to Tony with a short bow of his head, eyes flickering upwards to watch Tony’s face.
“You want to dance?” Tony asked. “Steve we could have just gone out dancing if you’d only-“
“No, that’s not…” Steve took a deep breathe. “I didn’t want to go to a club or anything Tony, please just, humor me if nothing else.” Tony took his hand as Dean Martin’s voice echoed around the room and let Steve pull him into a soft sway, arm snaking around his waste, fingers threading with Tony’s as they moved about the room. They were silent, Steve’s eyes closed as he held Tony tightly, swaying to the music, light steps on the stone floor, their bare feet going unheard as the music grew louder, the orchestra booming with life as the lyrics faded into a horde of trumpets. Tony rested his head against Steve’s chest, listening to the thrumming of his heart, Dean Martin fading with one last coo of “Unforgettable”.
Duke Ellington took his place, the tempo picking up to a quick, light hearted swing, Steve tightening his grip and spinning wildly, Tony lifted off his feet for seconds as they twirled. Tony laughed as he was spun away, arm thrown out dramatically, before being reeled back in, his head dropping back to Steve’s shoulder as he was pulled against him. Steve kissed at his neck, fingers digging into his hip. Steve didn’t seem to mind the grease being smeared on his cheek from Tony’s nose that nuzzled his cheek. He kept his eyes closed, face pressed into Tony’s neck as they danced, before Steve spun Tony around to face him.
Etta James came crooning in next with her sweet tones, Tony hadn’t heard her sing in years. He remembered the words though, My love has come home at last. Steve smiled as Tony tried to sing along, finally giving up after the second chorus and opting to hum into Steve’s cheek instead.
In the Mood was a song Tony remember dancing to with Jarvis the first after one of his father’s parties. Jarvis had shed his coat and pulled Tony from his chair in the lonely corner to dance to the peppy song. He lead Steve in the dance, trying to keep it fast paced and surprising, which only led to Steve regaining the lead and dipping Tony with a flourish.
Martin returned, Tony surprisingly unbothered by the sentiment of Belonging to someone. It was nice, to be held against Steve’s chest, eyes closed, listening to the steady beating of his heart, the easy song filling the room, wrapping them in a jazz coated dream, nothing existing but the other and the warmth of their bodies.
Just remember till you’re home again, you belong to me.
That was something that would set Tony’s internal alarm to haywire, being owned, dominated, caged. Instead, he felt safe, protected, needed. And god didn’t that put a weight in his chest that hadn’t been there before.
“What’s on your mind, big guy?” he asked softly as the song changed once more, Sinatra finally joining the rat pack with a soft spoken Nightingale sang in Berkeley Square. Steve took another deep breathe, face pressed into Tony’s mess of hair.
“You’re a good dancer,” Steve said.
“Mom had me educated in it to impress the ladies. Pretty obvious that didn’t work.” Tony looked up at him. “You aren’t to shabby yourself, capsicle. Who taught you?”
“Bucky. Or at least he tried,” Steve chuckled. “Not much success there. I never put it to good use either.”
“Never went out for a dance?”
“Not even with Peggy on your down time?”
The was a pause as the song ended and Steve slowed them to a stop. “No. We never got the chance.” He shrugged. “we were… We were waiting for the right partner and all. Besides there wasn’t time for dancing, there was a war on you know?”
“All the more reason then.”
“Well, whatever reason, we skipped out.”
Tony mused a moment as Steve went to change the record. “So what you didn’t dance with Peggy, ok, then what about a french girl? I mean you said the commandos always went out dancing and drinking.”
“I never went with them. Didn’t want a one night stand or a broken heart if I found someone special.”
“So you waited.”
“Yes.” Steve set the next record on the gramophone.
“How long?” Tony wasn’t sure he was ready for the answer, but where else was the conversation going.
The reply sank like a weight in Tony’s gut, his chest becoming tight. Steve just stood and looked at him, the gramophone righting itself and beginning to play another song, one Tony couldn’t remember the artist for but it was something heartbreaking about it had to be you and Steve was just watching him with those goddamn eyes of his that could be so old and so naive at the same time and it hurt to see him standing there, more than it had to see him bleeding or crying at Peggy’s grave, or holding Bucky’s broken body when they had found him. It hurt because Tony couldn’t fix it, there was no cure no solution no repair he could make. He was being handed the man’s soul and being asked to nurse it back to health, to fight away a 70 year chill that had burrowed itself at the core.
“You waited seventy years. Because you couldn’t find the right partner,” Tony repeated as Steve stepped slowly back towards him. “And what you just decided to give it a go? Finally done waiting? I don’t…”
“I waited seventy years because life is unfair,” Steve said gently. “I wanted to share my first real dance with someone I cared for, someone who I would give anything for, someone who I trusted, who loved me. And you can call it sappy and immature and childish and comment about how I sound like a teen virgin on the way to her first school dance, but that doesn’t change anything.”
He kissed Tony’s temple and Tony waited for the stones to drop. “I finally found the right partner. After seventy years, I’m not alone.”
Tony was sure he heard Steve’s voice break. He was sure that there were tears welling up in those naive, aging eyes. So he held tighter and followed the music, leading Steve across the floor in a smooth rhythm of steps, face pressed into his shoulder, hand gripping his with everything he had, never letting go, pressing their bodies together to fight off the chill in Steve’s memory.
That was Steve’s first “I love you”, unspoken, as Sinatra sang them upstairs, their bodies never parting for more than an instant.
And it was the first time he had truly rendered Tony speechless.