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Steve found the ship's Chief Officer waiting at the promenade with a weary look. "Everything okay? You've taken care of the problem at the lower deck?" he asked, hoping he'd hear good news, at least.

Clint's head moved in a stiff nod and his chest rose and fell when he sighed – long and heavy and spoke volumes of how relieved Clint was. "It was just a bunch of pranksters," he said, voice clipped. "Some of the deck crew had cleaned up the mess."

"Good. Did you catch the culprit?" Though it was just a harmless prank, Steve had to make sure they knew who was responsible for it because cleaning up the nasty effect of stink bombs wasn't how Steve would want his crew to spend the rest of the trip.

"Yup. A couple of teenage boys. They're being held at the security room as we speak, waiting for their parents to show up." Clint pressed his back against the railing. "I could sure use a break."

Steve wanted to say he could use one too, but he knew he had to make several more rounds and he was already anticipating a long night. "Let's just hope nothing exciting happens later to disrupt the wedding."

"We have full security on duty. We wouldn't want to upset the leader of an organized crime group now, would we?"

That was one little information Steve wasn't aware of. With a raised eyebrow, he asked, "Organized crime group?"

"Yeah. I heard the groom is the head of some Mafia organization in New York or something." Clint's eyes were focused over Steve's shoulder when he said, "Speak of the devil," prompting Steve to glance behind him.

It wasn't hard to single out who Clint meant. The dark-haired man surrounded by four others, all of them garbed in suits, stood out from the crowd that were lingering along the deck. He gave off an air of authority and confidence and power but there was something else – like a carefree aura that drew Steve's attention.

"He's gorgeous," skipped out of Steve's mouth while he studied the man's profile – his well-rounded shoulders, the wide expanse of his chest, the mustache that sat above his upper lip, beard that dusted his jaw, and the pair of dark brown eyes shining against the falling sun.

Clint barked a laugh. "Your type, Steve, not mine. I like 'em with soft curves and big breasts. Too bad for you he's getting married."

"Yeah," Steve murmured thoughtfully. "Too bad."

They both had gone quiet when the man sauntered past them and stole a glance over to Steve before moving on like nothing held his interest.

"According to the wedding invitation, his name is Anthony Edward Stark," Clint said when the man and his companions were out of earshot.

Steve shifted his attention back to Clint and gaped at the Chief Office incredulously. "You got an invitation?"

"Thor had to ask for one. You know. For security purpose. It's gonna be quite a handful since they have a shocking number of guests. You think half of our passengers belong to the clan of both bride and groom?"

"Could be." Steve actually lost Clint after the 'security purpose' part because he was too busy staring at the man's – Stark's ass. "Stark. Why does that name sound so familiar?"

"Dunno," Clint said with a shrug. "Probably a clan that belongs to a popular Mafia group."

Steve faced Clint with an inquisitive frown. "Are you sure it's Mafia?"

"Thor said that it's an organization similar to Mafia. I think they're called Jarvis. I don't know if it's an acronym for something. Why do you ask?"

If Steve's hunch was spot on, then Clint was right. The group or clan may indeed be well known. "I wonder if he's related to Howard Stark. I often came across that name on newspapers back home," he muttered under his breath, not sure if Clint even heard him because the Chief Officer didn't offer any reaction.

Back home. When was the last time he ever thought of New York as home?

 

*

 

The sky was painted pale orange and gray, soft glow spilling over the surface of the water. The sound of the waves rushing through the surface made it seem like the ocean was singing while the sun began to sink beyond the line that Tony's eyes could reach.

It was at this hour when he loved to stay at the deck and watch the wonder nature had to offer unfold. It was a pacifying sight, something that eased his mind and body.

Tony watched the crystal blue water undulate as the ship cut through the surface. Seagulls flew alongside the vessel, gliding where the wind carried them.

If only his life could be like this – simple, serene and far removed from the stress and worries of his duties to his clan, his family and the Jarvis Organization.

"Mr. Stark." One of his sentries approached surreptitiously, cold, hard-bitten gaze piercing through Tony. "The wedding will start in ten minutes."

"Right." Right. But Tony didn't move. Wouldn't it be funny though… that he'd be late for his own wedding? He entertained the idea for a while but jerked at the sound of Nick's throat clearing so he reluctantly followed his sentry inside.

To Tony, it felt like walking into a death chamber or something. He loved Pepper, cared for her. But she had been nothing more than a friend. They practically grew up together, have known each other since Tony was eleven.

Tony often wondered what was wrong with him, wondered why he couldn't even get attracted to a woman as pretty as Pepper. It was when he was twenty-one that he concluded he was asexual. Maybe. Perhaps.

The largest function room was reserved for the occasion. Tony would've preferred something less extravagant, but Pepper insisted the wedding had to be on a cruise ship, somewhere in Europe and she just had to have the most lavish gown ever.

Arguing with her was like trying to move a mountain, so Tony kept his big mouth shut and conceded to everything she wanted. It was the least he could do to appease her, knowing it was more of an inconvenience for her to go through this pre-arranged nuptial since she actually had a boyfriend.

Besides, it could've been worse if Pepper's parents were still alive.

"There you are!" Pepper said, voice spiced with annoyance and frustration, hands resting on her hip, eyebrows drawn together. "Where were you? The ceremony is about to start."

"I'm here. I'm here," Tony said groaning while he threw on his black coat haphazardly. He was used to wearing suits and a tuxedo shouldn't be anything different. Why the hell did he feel like he was wearing a damn straitjacket then? It was uncomfortable as hell.

"Look at you," Pepper said, tugging on the lapels and running her fingers down the front as if trying to iron the non-existent wrinkles. "You still act like you're in your teens. Grow up a bit for me, won't you?" She hooked her arm around Tony's and led him to the makeshift altar where the officiating pastor was waiting.

They even brought a pastor along, damn it. The expenses would no doubt go through the roof, not that Tony had anything to worry about it.

Soft music flowed across the room – the wedding fucking march started playing – as if it was the cue that prompted everyone to fall into an eerie silence.

Tony thought, Fuck, here it goes, and started gliding with Pepper along the red carpet lined in the middle leading up to the pastor who had a shit-eating grin plastered on his wrinkled face.

 

*

 

The wedding was beautiful in Steve's opinion, despite it being over-the-top for his taste. He studied the bride with detached admiration – blonde hair styled in a braided bun with white flowers emphasizing the round heap behind her head, light make up highlighted her delicate beauty. White gown flowed down her shapely body so exquisitely that it seemed she was wearing the clouds around her. But it wasn't really the bride that captured Steve entirely.

Saying the groom looked perfect may be overstating it but that was the only word Steve could come up with to describe him. The black tuxedo gave emphasis to his somehow rugged features, jacket hugging the fine contours of his body and pants showing off the roundness of his buttocks. His face, despite the absence of any emotion, radiated a surpassing beauty. He must've shaved because the beard Steve saw earlier looked more like dark shadows along his jaw line that gave off a mysterious and alluring feature.

A white cloth was held out before his face. Steve blinked out of his stupor to find Clint beside him, holding out the handkerchief with a Cheshire cat-like grin. "You're drooling," Clint said, pressing the hanky on the corner of Steve's mouth.

"No, just. Shut up, will you." Steve batted Clint's hand away. "I'm going to do my rounds," he said, leaving Clint laughing like a crazed hyena. He stole one last glance at the groom, only to find him watching Steve with what Steve could only interpret as curiosity.

The undeniable intensity in the groom's gaze sent frissons surging down Steve's crotch and Steve wondered….

The bride wrapped her arms over the groom's shoulders and the distraction caused their gazes to break. Steve took that as his opportunity to escape and slipped out of the function room, heart thumping wildly.

There were people milling outside, perhaps curious to see what was going on. None of them seemed to post any threat so Steve didn't make a fuss out of it. Thor claimed he had security under control anyway.

After a run in with the hotel manager who was about to lose his patience over a couple who kept complaining there were rats in their cabin ("We've checked! There are no rats!"), and the ship doctor who just had to deal with three seasick passengers, Steve made his way to the ship's bar.

It was way past midnight and Steve just had to unwind before calling it a night. When he stepped inside the oval room, the first person he noticed was the groom – Anthony Stark, he believed was the man's name – sitting by the counter alone, wearing a navy blue night robe for God knew what reason. The wedding reception must have long been over. Steve hadn't had a chance to return to the function room because duty called.

His legs seemed to move on their own, leading him right next to the man and noticed that he – Stark – was nursing a glass of amber liquid. Scotch, Steve presumed, on the rocks. Typical.

"Surprised to see you're not surrounded by your usual posse," Steve said without preamble, noticing that his bodyguards weren't around.

The man – Stark, he has a freaking name, Steve – first regarded him with a sidelong glance and then, as if he'd been poked on the side, sprang up straight and faced him.

"It's you," skipped out of the man's mouth, which caught Steve off-guard, not expecting that reaction from someone who was, until that very second, a complete stranger. "Uh… I mean, I've seen you around. You were at my wedding reception."

Steve held out a hand, said, "Steve Rogers," with an edge of professionalism in his stance but the moment he felt Stark's strong and firm grip, Steve's bones turned liquid with all that cliché weak-on-the-knees sensation.

"Tony Stark," the man said and Steve thought, Tony, the name swirling in his dazed mind. Only when Stark – Tony now – cleared his throat did Steve realize he still had Tony's hand firmly clasped in his.

"Sorry." Heat rose on the surface of Steve's cheeks and he'd be damned if he was sporting an embarrassing blush.

"I get it all the time." The mischievous spark in Tony's eyes masked the arrogance he seemed to possess naturally.

"Might I suggest something more appropriate for the occasion?" Steve asked, gesturing at the glass in Tony's hand.

"Sure. What do you have in mind?"

Steve gave the bartender a nod. "You have any good bottle of Burgundy wine with you, Pierre?"

"Always." Pierre reached underneath the counter, pulled out a dark bottle with the familiar white label. "Your favorite, Clos des Lambrays Grand Cru," he said, the words whistling through his lips with his charming accent. "The best Pinot Noir we have on stock, you say."

Pierre went to work, placing two wine glasses on the counter and poured a generous amount of the red wine. "Enjoy yourselves, gentlemen," he said with a curt bow then moved toward the end of the bar to attend to another customer.

"Isn't red wine more appropriate on the dining table?" Tony asked, taking the glass Steve offered nonetheless.

"It's also appropriate for a congratulatory toast, I suppose." Steve raised his glass, said, "To the newly wed," and took a luscious sip of the wine, letting the lush and creamy and sophisticated taste caress his palate.

Tony flinched visibly before bringing his own glass to his lips. "Not bad," he said, and had another taste. "Better than the one my butler brought from the cellar last month."

"This is my personal favorite." Steve let his glass rest on the counter and leaned with his elbow propped against the oak-finished surface, eyes wandering over Tony's body. "Nice outfit, by the way."

A soft shade of crimson appeared on Tony's cheeks. "The wife threw me out of the room, told me not to go back unless I gain some manners."

Steve's eyebrows sprang up. "Whatever did you do?"

"Just told her she looked like a whore in that lingerie she's wearing."

Steve wasn't able to stop the laughter that rumbled out of his chest. "I can't blame her for throwing you out," he said, shaking his head. "That's not a nice thing to say to a woman you just married."

Tony shrugged, said, "I was just being honest," and brought the wine glass to his lips.

"Well, she was probably trying to look sexy for you. That's what lingerie is for, I believe." Steve noticed how Tony winced, wondered if it was a reaction to the mouthful of wine he just drank or to what Steve had just said. "Shouldn't you be knocking on the door and apologizing to her instead of sitting out here?"

"No way." Tony shook his head. "I've got my pride to take care of."

Steve felt his forehead wrinkling in a confused frown. "But it's your wedding night."

"So?" was Tony's blunt reaction.

Something didn't sit right with Steve and he knew it wasn't his place to pry but he couldn't help but ask, "Is that the proper way to treat the woman you're in love with?" When he noticed the slight quirk of Tony's eyebrow, Steve mentally kicked himself for crossing the line, sticking his nose where he shouldn't, but damn there was something about Tony that lured him in and he just had to know.

A mask of incredulity fell over Tony's face and he gave quite a contemptuous snigger. "In love with? Please. If my father wasn't stupid enough to make a pact with her father, I wouldn't be in this situation."

Bingo. Steve had to raise an eyebrow, surprised that this kind of situation still happened at this age. "Arranged marriage? You're kidding right?"

Tony shook his head vigorously. "No, not kidding."

"Then I guess we do need something stronger." Steve called Pierre's attention and asked him to bring them each a shot of Scotch. While waiting for their drinks, his gaze slants over to Tony and noticed that his robe was slipping close to his shoulders.

Steve bit on the inside of his lips, unable to keep his eyes off the patch of olive skin exposed along Tony's clavicle. He wanted to rip off the navy blue satin material and see more of what Tony was hiding underneath.

"Here you go," Pierre said, sliding two filled glasses in front of them.

"What are we drinking to?" Steve asked, keeping his tone playful.

Tony raised his glass. "How 'bout to inexistent freedom?"

"All right." Steve touched Tony's glass with his then brought it to his lips.

 

*

Tony lost track of time, probably way past three in the morning, he wasn't sure. All he knew was Steve's company pacified all the acerbic feelings that had been gnawing at his entrails since the wedding. He likewise lost count of how many shots he had but he presumed he'd had too much because the room was spinning and tilting and warping out of focus.

It felt like his head was under water and he could hear gurgling sounds around him. Or was it him slurring?

"I think we should call it a night," Steve said, or at least that was what Tony thought he said though it sounded more like 'I think we should sleep together tonight.'

Damn. He must really had too much.

"S-shure, just…" and Tony tipped his glass, the ice hitting the tip of his nose. "Want more."

"Oh no." Steve laughed and stole the glass from Tony's hand. "I don't think you can take any more."

"I am not a whore!" Tony bellowed.

"I didn't say you—" Steve's head was moving and it was making Tony dizzy. "Never mind. Come on." Steve's hand curled around Tony's biceps, the warmth of Steve's touch seeping through the satin fabric of Tony's robe.

Tony stumbled out of his stool and let Steve guide him to the door.

They had just crossed the threshold, Tony barely able to keep one foot in front of the other, when he heard sniggering and someone saying, "Look who's been thrown out of his room."

His head snapped to his right and his eyes narrowed when he saw the last person he wanted to see tonight. "Craig."

"Did Pepper actually come to her senses and realized she married the wrong man?" Craig said in a blatantly sarcastic way.

"Or maybe he just couldn't keep it up, boss," one of Craig's goons said, hand cupping his mouth in a mock whisper. "You know, not giving her what she needed." All Craig's goons laughed at that and the underlying insult made Tony's blood simmer.

"Fuck you," Tony spat, half aware that saliva sprayed out of his mouth. He took a step closer to Craig, glowering at the man with every ounce of spite he could feel running through his veins.

Craig clucks his tongue, tutting. "Temper, temper. Do you even know how to use that," he said, gesturing at Tony's crotch with his eyes, "or are you too much of a fag to get it up for a woman as pretty as Pepper?"

The tiny flame of ire flickering inside Tony now burst into a full-blown blaze. "Why you—"

Intoxication bled out Tony's system and in an instant, he regained control of his limbs, enough to throw a punch straight to Craig's nose.

"Ah!" Craig howled, hands over the most likely broken appendage. "My nose!" He glared at Tony, eyes burning with rage, and with a wave of his arm, he yelled to his men. "Get him!"

Steve stepped in front of Tony, all six-foot-and-whatever of him, shoulders broad, chest out like some sort of superhero out of a comic book. "You'll have to go through me first."

"Uh." Tony tapped Steve on the shoulder. "I'm not exactly a damsel in distress. I can fight for myself, you know."

Steve didn't turn to face him, just tilted his head slightly when he said, "I can't exactly stand around and watch. Not with five of them against you."

"That's real sweet of you. But this isn't your fight."

"Trust me, Tony. Much as I hate brawl, it's still my duty to protect passengers who are… let's just say, outnumbered."

None of Steve's explanation made sense, not to Tony at least. But he wouldn't turn down such a gallant offer from someone who seemed to have a hero complex. "Suit yourself, big man," he said, then rounded on Steve to hit the nearest man on the jaw.

The impact sent a searing pain on his knuckles but he ignored it and sent his left fist hard on another man's thorax.

When he had two men crouched in pain, he glanced at Steve, saw the blond man sending a blow right across the dark-haired goon's cheek then elbowed another right on the ribs.

Craig was standing far on Tony's right, watching with wide eyes. Then he hollered, "Enough! I am not going to stoop further down to your level, Tony Stark," and took off, his men scampering after him.

"Not bad, big man," he told Steve then winced when he felt the back of his hand smart.

"Lemme see that." Steve took his right hand despite his protests, ran a thumb along Tony's knuckles. Gently. Tenderly. "You broke your skin."

"I'm fine." Tony snatched his hand back with a hiss.

"Just. I have some first aid in my room. Let me put some ointment and Band Aid on it, at least." The imploring look Steve showered him with made it impossible for Tony to resist.

God. Why did he have to find this man attractive? Never had he been captivated by anyone, be it the opposite sex or not, the way he was drawn to this man.

"Fine." Tony's shoulders sagged in defeat as he followed Steve down to the lower level. "This your room?" he asked, studying the simple, yet neat cabin with inept sweep of his eyes. "Kinda small, isn't it? I have a suite, you know."

The effects of the alcohol came surging back through his body, clouding his mind that he barely heard Steve said, "I know."

Tony took a nose dive on Steve's bed, fighting vertigo and that queasy feeling building up in his stomach. His face is pressed on Steve's pillow, the lingering scent of the man tickling his nostrils. Only when he heard Steve say, "Want a drink?" did he lift his head to throw Steve an incredulous look.

"You've got to be kidding me." Tony shifted until he was lying on his side, propped on his elbow, head resting on the heel of his hand. "I thought you said I've had enough."

Steve shrugged and poured a dark red liquid on a wine glass. "I don't remember saying anything like that. More Burgundy wine won't hurt," he said, offering him the drink.

"No thanks. I think I'll pass."

"Very well." Steve settled the glass on top of the study desk. "Thought that might help dull any pain you're feeling."

"It's not that much, my hand just fucking stings, is all." With his brain still swirling with vertigo, Tony found the need to rest his head on the pillow.

The noise Steve made while he rummaged through his cabinet provoked the onslaught of a headache and Tony rubbed at his temple to delay it. Steve was carrying a white box when he made his way over to the bed. "Let's see what I can do." He worked with deft hands, dabbing a cotton ball damped with antiseptic on Tony's cracked skin, swiping ointment on the abrasion and finally covering the area with Band Aid.

Then Steve did something that yanked Tony out of his inebriated state, made his heart slam hard against his chest: Steve kissed his hand.

 

*

 

For a moment, they stared at each other – Steve waiting for Tony's outburst while Tony looked infinitely befuddled.

When Tony's hand slid from his fingers and muttered, "Thanks," Steve relaxed a little, presuming the gesture somehow didn't upset Tony.

Steve decided to test the waters because really, he didn't know how long he could stand this, if he could even keep his hands off of Tony because… Damn. "Shouldn't you be going back to your suite now?"

A short, disdainful laugh tumbled out of Tony and the man held his chin up in a defiant stance, said, "I am not going to crawl back in there with as much of a shadow of apology trailing behind me. She threw me out then I'm staying out."

Steve doubted there was even a legitimate argument in Tony's half-assed speech but he reckoned it would be futile to disagree considering Tony's inebriated state so he just shrugged while Tony continued to babble how he didn't understand women. "That makes two of us," Steve offered in between Tony's pause.

"Will you be a sweetheart and let me stay with you, Steve?" Tony peered up at him through his dark eyelashes and Steve could swear Tony batted them flirtatiously that Steve just lost his remaining willpower.

"Okay," Steve said, throwing ethics and all that shit out the window. He turned off the lights, with only his night lamp bathing the room in soft, faint blue glow.

Tony was sprawled on his bed like some God's gift waiting for Steve to unwrap him with his hands and mouth. His robe had slid off one shoulder, revealing the chiseled muscles of his chest. The bottom part was spread open, exposing the considerably thick thighs and perfect legs that were sprinkled with a fair amount of hair.

The sight made Steve's mouth water. Like some puppet under a Tony Stark spell, he sank on the edge of the bed, every muscle in his body feeling like liquid metal. "Tony." The name rolled on his tongue like a hymn. "You look absolutely… I mean, can I… Oh fuck, I don't think I can stop my hands from touching you."

The soft grunt that slipped past Tony's lips sounded a lot like, "Then touch me," to Steve's ears but Steve didn't move an inch, thought it was only Tony talking in his sleep. But then Tony's eyes fluttered open for a moment in a challenging glance before the eyelids fell over those soft brown orbs.

Steve's cock twitched. His hand crawled up Tony's legs, feeling the hard muscles stir underneath his touch, and moved further up to part the hem of the satin material further to reveal the black boxer briefs that clung to Tony's hips like second skin.

The heat rising out of Tony burned right through Steve's palm and Steve couldn't resist any longer. Couldn't.

Stomping down the raging hunger caused by his arousal, Steve slid out of his jacket then his fingers worked quickly on the buttons of his dress shirt. It took great effort not to tear his clothes off in a hurry. His pants dropped on the floor in a heap then he climbed on the bed in only his boxers. Once he managed to peel the robe off of Tony, he started mapping every inch of Tony's skin with his mouth and his tongue and his hands.

"Steve." His own name sounded like a prayer, a plea from Tony's lips. There was just no way, no way that he could take his time because if he didn't take Tony now, he'd probably lose his mind.

Steve hopped out of bed, dug inside his underwear drawer and when he found the bottle of lubricant and packets of condom, he climbed back on top of Tony. "I don't think I'd be able to stop," he said against Tony's neck then he grazed his teeth along Tony's collarbone.

"This is wrong." Tony's breath was coming in short gasps. "This is wrong. But… but I don't want you to stop."

Stopping wasn't part of Steve's plan but he didn’t say anything, just hooked his fingers on the waistband of Tony's boxer briefs, hoping this would get his message across. He pressed his lips on every inch of skin exposed as he slid the underwear down.

The sight of Tony's cock – thick and beautiful and oh so perfect – laying against the plane of Tony's abdomen made Steve's breath hitch.

Steve's hand curled around the shaft, the velvety skin smooth against his palm. His tongue darted, touching the protruding veins. Tasting. Feeling. Teasing.

"Please," rose out of Tony's parted mouth. His eyes were glazed, looking so sensual, so wanton, so sultry, so so fuckable that Steve couldn't fight the urge to take him in his mouth.

Tony's cock throbbed against his lips and all Steve wanted was to suck him in, devour him, taste him, drive him to the brink of pleasure so he bobbed his head, swirling his tongue around the shaft, hands cupping the fleshy cheeks of Tony's ass.

The feeling of Tony's fingers tangling in his hair, goaded Steve to swallow deeper, making Tony writhe and squirm and—

Steve released Tony's cock, his mouth and chin now covered with spit. Tony made a sound of protest, eyes snapping open to glare at Steve.

Soft chuckle rumbled out of Steve's chest. "I don't want you to come that way," he said and grabbed the bottle of lube he threw on the bed, coated his fingers with the clear gel then pressed one gently into Tony's entrance. He halted when he saw Tony's face twist, not sure if it was due to pain or pleasure. "You okay?"

"Yeah," Tony said, sounding like he was holding his breath. "Go on. Do it."

Carefully. Slowly. Steve slid one digit inside Tony, moving only when Tony's visibly relaxed. Once he was certain that Tony was used to the intrusion, he added another finger, watching the thousand expressions flittering on Tony's face. He curled his finger in search of Tony's special spot and when his fingertip grazed against Tony's prostate, he felt vibration course through Tony's body, making Tony tremble and moan.

"God, you look absolutely hot,' Steve said, hissing against Tony's ear as he slipped the third finger, stretching and stretching until he had Tony begging for Steve to take him, saying, "Now. Now, please."

Steve quickly slips on the condom, rubbed lube over his erection and slid slowly into Tony, careful not to push further and waited until Tony could say he was fine.

"This is so wrong, so wrong," Tony said through gritted teeth. "We're… we're both men. But… it feels good."

Propping himself up with his hands near each of Tony's shoulders, Steve gazed down at the man beneath him. "Then why don't you just enjoy the ride."

Steve began to move, slow and shallow until he felt Tony's hips moving with him, meeting thrust after thrust. Everything around Steve seemed to be sucked into a void with only him and Tony, the sound of skin slapping against skin echoing in the enclosed space.

Everything – the sounds falling from their lips, the feeling of his cock gliding inside Tony, the friction, the sensation, everything – zeroed into one focal point and built up in his groin, pushing, pushing, driving Steve to the edge.

The grunts emerging out of Tony's throat soon became shorter and more distant. Tony's hand circled his erection and that was when Steve knew, knew he was close. He curled his hand over Tony's and started pumping, urging Tony to his climax until Tony was spilling, back arching off the bed, muscles clamping against Steve's cock.

"Shit." Steve snapped his hips in a violent thrust, the pressure in his groin about to explode. He drove his cock deeper into Tony, plunging faster and faster until he could feel his release surging out of him in waves.

It seemed like a lifetime when he felt like he was floating somewhere nonexistent then the feeling gradually left him and all Steve wanted was to collapse beside Tony, thighs and legs numb.

"Wow," was the last thing Steve heard from Tony before he slipped into the tranquil layers of his mind.

 

*

Tony woke up with a dull ache somewhere along his tailbone, a cramp tugging on the muscles when he twisted to lie on his back. The moment his sleep-clouded mind jumpstarted, memories of what happened last night – or should he say, early that morning – came jabbing in his conscious thoughts.

Shit. He sprang up to sit on his butt, immediately regretting the stupid move when sharp pain tore through his lower body.

It took a while before his mind registered the cold, empty spot next to him. He was sure there was something out of place, was sure he had a warm body pressed up against him not too long ago.

Colorful curses spilled out of his mouth, half of him hating what he did and half of him… well, half of him liked it. The memory of the mind-blowing sex flashed in his mind and his body hummed, remembering the feeling of Steve's hands and mouth and tongue all over him.

But… but it was still weird doing it with a guy.

The thought of Steve made Tony wonder where the blond hunk of a man was. He spied a piece of yellow paper on the small desk at the corner of the room. Wincing as he slid out of bed, Tony braced himself for the discomfort and forced his legs to move.

On the desk sat a note from Steve that read: Tony, you were incredible last night. Sorry I had to slip out of the room without waking you up. You looked so peaceful that I couldn't find it in my heart to disturb your slumber. I have to work. I hope I'll get to see you again. Steve.

Below the neat handwriting were a bunch of numbers that Tony presumed was Steve's phone number. He considered crumpling the note, tossing it to the trash can along with the only way he could probably keep in touch with Steve. But there was something in him that coaxed him to tear off the part that had the number and left the top half on the table. There was no way he was going to risk anyone reading that, specially Pepper.

When he made it back to his suite, Pepper was all packed and dressed in a pencil-cut skirt and a cream-colored blouse. She planted her hands on her hips, glared at him in a reprimanding way then her gaze softened. "What happened to you? You look like you've been mugged by a gang of ten."

I was mugged all right, brushed against the forefront of Tony;s mind. "Slept in cargo. Damn hot in there and the wooden crate killed every nerve on my back," he lied, hoping to all gods in heaven – be it mythical or not – that Pepper would buy it, would not pry any further.

"Oh you poor baby," she cooed, wrapping an arm over his shoulders. "If you weren't so tactless, you could've slept on a comfortable bed, you know. Why don't you take a shower and get dressed? I took the liberty of packing your stuff. We're docking in Cannes in half an hour, so hurry." She punctuated her less than amiable instruction with a smack on Tony's ass and it took all of his fucking self-control not to yowl.

Shower, he did. Get dressed, he did. But hurry up, he did not. Tony took his sweet time, images of Steve all naked and sweaty and lustful swam in his dazed mind. The experience was something that left Tony yearning for more.

It wasn't like he hadn't had sex before. He loved sleeping around with women during the last years in high school and his entire college life. After college though, he became too focused trying to make a career and fulfilling his duties as the next leader of Jarvis. Any interest in women or sex or relationships for that matter was pushed down to the ever-growing list of priorities.

Not even when he learned about the arranged marriage did the spark return. Now there was Steve Rogers – a man he wasn't even sure he'd ever see again.

"You done daydreaming?" Pepper's voice broke through Tony's musing. "The ship had docked fifteen minutes ago. We need to disembark soon."

"Of course." Tony threw on a sports jacket, forgoing his usual pristine shirt and tie because he was certain the outfit didn't suit well while walking around Cannes. So he opted for a teal cashmere sweater instead.

When he was descending the narrow stairs several feet behind Pepper and her own sentries, he noticed a man dressed in crisp white uniform with epaulet sitting on each shoulder standing near the bottom of the stairs. A yachting cap partially covered his face but Tony could see the neatly-combed blond hair falling on the sides.

His heart leapt as he came closer. And closer. And he was close enough to see Steve's face adorned with the charming smile that completely disarmed Tony the previous night.

"Tony!" There was a light in Steve's eyes that melted the ice around Tony's heart.

"Steve, I uh… just… I mean what are you doing here?" Tony knew that was the wrong thing to ask so he backpedaled immediately. "I mean, why are you dressed… what do you do exactly?"

"I'm the captain of this ship," Steve said, lifting his arm to indicate he meant The Avenging Maiden in a grand gesture.

"Oh." Oh perfect. Tony's mind was reeling, unable to focus on one single thought.

Steve's eyes darted around them, maybe to check if anyone was within earshot, then he leaned in, close enough to whisper, "I had an amazing time last night. Sadly, you're married, be it arranged or not. If you were single, I wouldn't let you go."

Tony's heart shattered at that casual remark, but he knew Steve was right. He gave Steve a firm nod, doing his best to keep his cool. "I guess this is it," were the only words Tony uttered before stalking off after his wife and his clan members and the life that, he hadn't completely realized before, sucked big time.

 

*

 

Life at sea had always kept Steve from getting tied to one person. He had casual sex with men before, had watched these men walk out of his life as if the one night – sometimes more – they shared were nothing but a page in Steve's navigational journal.

There may have been instances wherein he was touched with a fleeting disappointment but none like this, certainly not the way his chest constricted at the sight of Tony's retreating form.

"Captain, there'd be papers to sign," someone said and Steve clawed out of his brooding stupor, spun around, only to be greeted with the silly grin that stretched across Clint's face. "Did you find yourself a new playmate?" Clint's gaze traveled to the dark Mercedes Benz Viano that was taking Tony out of the pier parking lot to God-knows-where.

"He's not a playmate," Steve snapped, and, as an afterthought or maybe to reserve a bit of his dignity rather than sounding defensive, he added, "and he's married."

"Yeah, sure." Clint lifted his shoulder in a half shrug, lips twisted as if he was unconvinced. "So? You expect me to believe that small detail would stop you from pursuing him? I mean, I've seen the way you looked at him, like you're some kind of predator who had just found his meal."

Steve chose to ignore Clint's mockery and instead poured all his focus in reading and signing the documents held in the clipboard that Clint handed him. "The ship will undergo maintenance as scheduled. That means we don't sail in a week."

"Right, Cap. I'll see you in a week." Clint held Steve's hand briefly in a firm shake before climbing up the steps that led to the ship's lower deck.

A week. Steve couldn't remember the last time he had a long break. And perfect timing too. During this time of the year, his house in Grenoble had often been occupied by transient tourists. Not this year though.

After he was sure all the passengers had safely disembarked, he made a quick call to his house sitter while he made his way back to his cabin to pack, informing her that he would be home for the week.

When his eyes landed on the rumpled sheets of his bed the moment he stepped inside his room – his home at sea – the memory of the previous night crashed hard in his head, and his chest swirled with emotions he couldn't name, his mind chanting, Tony, Tony, Tony.

Steve fished his phone out of his pocket, stared at it while berating himself because he was too sanguine to believe that leaving his phone number in the note would prompt Tony to call him. Stupid, stupid, stupid. He should've asked for Tony's number instead.

What was done was done. He would have to wallow in regret for the rest of the week. And hopefully, any thoughts of Tony would seep out of his system after that.

 

*

 

It had been the worst three days of his life.

First, Tony acquired the most painful sunburn he ever had when Pepper insisted they lie on the beach of Cannes while the afternoon sun glared down at them like some angry fire god. Yes, it was Tony's fault for refusing to cover his body with sunscreen but.

Then, Pepper had to drag him all the way to Paris the next day, had to carry her shopping bags while he trailed after her like some trained puppy.

Now… now she had this brilliant idea to purchase wine from several wineries in Bourgogne. "We need a new collection of wine for the cellar and this is the best place to buy them," she had said but Tony had had enough and decided to stay in the van they've rented. Only when Pepper had added, "Your loss. They give free taste of the finest Burgundy wine here," did Tony perk up and hop out of the vehicle after his wife and her bodyguards.

"Do you have um…" Tony racked his brain, thinking, What's the name, what's it called? Damn it. "oh, Pinot Noir," he said in the best French accent he could manage. It had been years since he used the language, years since he was forced to learn it when his mother took him to Paris every summer during his early teens."

"Good choice," the man with a balding head said then brought out a bottle out from a crate with a flourish. "The best we have."

Tony took a sip from the glass offered but it tasted nothing close to the one Steve preferred. Fuck! Why the hell was he thinking about Steve?

"You like it?" Pepper's voice interrupted Tony's musing.

"Nah. It lacks that lush and creamy taste, kind of earthy and sweet and dark." Tony trailed off wistfully, images of naked Steve tracing the rim of a wine glass with his tongue floated in Tony's mind.

"Tony?" Pepper had this look on her face, like she was dissecting Tony's brain. "Would you like to get some of this," she asked, holding up a bottle of wine with pink label.

"I don't care. Your call." Tony handed back the glass that was still clutched between his fingers. "Listen, I uh… I'm gonna take a walk outside."

Pepper laid a hand on Tony's arm, a look of concern framing her face. "Are you okay? You seem… distracted."

"I uh… I'm fine. Just need some air." Tony didn't wait for Pepper's reaction, just took unhurried strides outside the building and into the vast lawn sitting in front of the vineyard.

When they get to Beaune, Tony felt too tired to get off the van so he told Pepper he'd stay inside, catch some snooze at the back.

The sun pouring through the rear window was what woke Tony up, blinding radiance piercing through his closed lids and uncomfortable heat fanning out on his face.

There was a soft crack on his back when he lifted himself off the leather-covered cushion of the backseat and he winced, rubbing the ache on his lower back with his knuckles.

The van was empty. There was no sign of the driver and his lone bodyguard stood like a statue outside. Tony slid a window open and asked, "Where are the others?"

Nick peered up at him through the dark tint of his sunglasses. "They've been in there for more than half an hour now, boss."

Tony waved a hand, saying, "Can you go see what's taking them so long?" And when Nick didn't budge, Tony rolled his eyes. "I'll be fine. I'm pretty sure no one would jump into the van and throttle me. Just… hurry, okay?" He watched Nick disappear right around the corner of a brick house.

A couple of minutes had passed and boredom started creeping into the back of his mind. Five minutes had gone by. No one from his party had showed up and Tony wondered what the fuck was taking them so long.

Restless, he crept out of the van to stretch his legs and curiosity prodded him to roam around the premises. He was admiring the intricacy of a statue that stood near the main house when he heard the sound of an engine humming. When he stepped out of the statue's shadow, he saw the van moving farther away.

"Hey!" he hollered, waving his arms frantically while he dashed toward the driveway. The bus seemed to increase speed though when it reached the unpaved road, leaving Tony behind. "Fuck!"

Tony continued his trek, hopelessly trailing after the van's tire tracks. Good thing he was wearing a pair of sneakers, jeans and a long-sleeved shirt rather than his usual suit. It would be extremely uncomfortable being in business attire when he was dragging his exhausted body through the middle of nowhere.

Once he'd realized he had placed a frightening distance between himself and the vineyard, he stopped, found a large rock to sit on and contemplated his next move. My phone. Of course, his phone. He dug in his front pocket to fish for the gadget. Why he didn't think of it in the first place was beyond his frantic mind. Panic had seized him, removed his ability to consider his course of actions.

When he tried Pepper's number though, he was greeted with a voice mail. He parted his lips, every curse known to man balancing on the tip of his tongue. Nothing came out of his mouth though, not the tiniest peep.

Shit. What am I doing? Tony's thumb jabbed on the end button then hovered over the Contacts icon in search for any of his sentry's number. Instead, he came across Steve's.

He wasn't sure what had possessed him to keep the damn number in his phone but now he was glad he did. He pressed on the 'call' button, listened to the soft ringing then his heart dropped when he heard the familiar baritone of Steve's liquid voice.

"Steve, hey," came out of Tony's mouth in a desperate sigh. "Listen. I know this is going to sound weird but... I'm stranded somewhere. Can you like, come and get me? That is if you haven't sailed and is in the middle of the sea right now?"

"Where are you exactly?" The worry in Steve's voice was palpable, something Tony refused to believe because why would Steve care? "Near a vineyard in Beaune."

"I know where that is. Hang tight."

Like Tony had anywhere to go. "Sure. And please hurry."

 

*

 

The call was something Steve didn't expect. It had been three days – three fucking miserable days and he hadn't heard a word from or about Tony. He could've asked around, searched through the hotels in Cannes for any guest with the name Tony Stark. But then he figured a man with that reputation wouldn't risk booking a room under his real name.

When a phone number came flashing across his phone's screen without any identification, Steve had held his breath – hoping and hoping and hoping. And when Tony's voice – deep and rough on the surface – came through the earpiece, Steve wondered for a moment if he was caught in some kind of a hopeful illusion.

Tony hadn't exactly explained why he was in Beaune alone but he sounded desperate and lost so Steve steered his car to the main road leading to Burgundy as soon as the call ended.

Steve later realized when he was near the region that he should have kept Tony on the line, just to make sure Tony was fine. He slowed down when he had reached the countryside, stopping long enough to call Tony back.

"Hey." Tony's voice was like a caress. Soothing. Tempting.

Steve could feel his jeans tightening and he gripped on his phone as if that alone could keep him from losing control. Shit, he hated how Tony seemed to have this deranging effect on his oftentimes calm state of mind. "I'm almost at Beaune," he said, a little firmer than he intended. "Do you remember the name of the winery? Or the owner at least?"

"Yeah. Sure I do." There was a momentary silence, as if Tony was trying to remember where he was. "Patriarche Pere something. But I'm about three kilometers away from the vineyard. I've been walking."

"Okay. Okay. Just," Steve pulled the phone away so he could press on the speaker button then placed the gadget on the holder attached to his dashboard, "just stay where you are. I'll go find you." He turned on his GPS and programmed it to search for the winery.

Thick cloud of dust rose when his Peugeot zoomed along the dirt road sandwiched between a stretch of land and fenced vineyard.

Fifteen minutes later, he spots a lone figure huddled at the side of the road. Steve eased on the gas pedal and the car slowed down then stopped right in front of a haggard-looking Tony Stark.

"What took you so long?" Tony spat and Steve wasn't sure if he should feel any guilt but an apology was on the tip of his tongue. When he stepped out of his car though, Tony was quick to close the distance and he grabbed the edge of Steve's jacket, gave it an insistent tug and crushed his lips on Steve.

The kiss was messy, filled with frustration and longing and their tongues swirled possessively, and Steve could only interpret it as I missed you. I want you. Take me, take me, take me.

Tony was the one who broke the kiss first but his fingers remained curled on the leather fabric of Steve's jacket.

"Wow," was all Steve could utter, the tips of his fingers lingering on his bruised lips.

"Do you have any idea how close I was to losing my mind because I couldn't stop thinking about you, you bastard?" Tony said with less vehemence than what was probably intended.

"I am flattered." Steve couldn't stop grinning, his face felt so stretched and stupid. Once they were both in the car with their seat belts on, he asked, "What, pray tell, are you doing out here all alone?" before starting the engine. "Aren't you supposed to be in the middle of your honeymoon in Cannes?"

Tony gave a sardonic snort. "There is absolutely no honeymoon but there had been endless shopping spree and tedious sightseeing."

"In Burgundy of all places?"

"Pepper thought this was the best place to buy wine. She's got quite a collection back home."

"She's got taste." The drive back to where the road forked seemed faster for Steve, maybe because now he wanted every minute with Tony to last. "Where are we headed off to?"

"We're staying at a hotel in Cannes but for fuck's sake, I can't remember the name." Tony rubbed on his temple, gaze trained outside his window.

Steve lifted an eyebrow. "Can't you call Pepper and ask?" Then a thought hit him like a ton of bricks. "Why did you call me to pick you up instead of calling Pepper or any of your companions?"

It took a while for Tony to stir, to respond. His eyes sparkled as if it held so many secrets and when he spoke, it was with overt honesty. "I wanted to see you."

Damn. Those five words did things to Steve that he had to keep a firmer grip on the steering wheel, lest he would drive them off the path. "Jeez, Tony. Don't say things like that. I might end up pulling over and have my way with you at the back seat of my car."

"Why don't you then?" The flirtatious way Tony spoke was testing Steve's willpower, driving him off the brink and Steve could feel the beginnings of an irrepressible arousal boiling hot inside him.

When Tony laid a hand on Steve's thigh, thumb stroking languidly at first then with a bit of pressure, Steve threw all caution to the wind. "Okay. Okay, fine." His limbs were shaking. "Fine. I'm taking you home."

 

*

 

Steve's house wasn't that huge, compared to Tony's mansion in New York. But it was considerably big for just one man, even though Steve said he has a house sitter slash housekeeper with him.

"Are you hungry?" Steve asked, taking his jacket off to reveal the muscles bulging out of his polo shirt. "I can ask Ynez to fix us a sandwich or something."

"Yeah. That… that sounds good." Tony watched Steve disappear through an open archway, calling out for someone named Ynez, probably his house sitter. When he returned a minute later, Tony asked, "This your house? So you live here in France?"

"This is my grandfather's winter house, actually." Steve led him to the living room, tossing his jacket on the back of a wooden chair. "He passed away years ago, left me this place since I just started working on a European cruise ship back then."

"You're American though, right?"

"Born and raised. My parents were Irish immigrants though." There was a small bar in the corner where Steve puttered around, brought out a bottle and looked over his shoulder. "Care for a drink?"

Tony huffed, amused. "Let me guess. Burgundy wine?"

"You know me well enough," Steve said with a shrug.

"Give me whatever you're having."

They talked for a while, ate, and had a few more wine then Tony felt the effects of exhaustion like his bones were being melted and turned into rubber. He tried to suppress a yawn to no avail and Steve chuckled, low and soft, asked, "Tired?" while kneading on Tony's shoulder. It felt good, felt so good that Tony started leaning on Steve's touch.

"Yeah," Tony said with a groan. "Yeah."

"C'mon." Steve brought Tony to his room, much larger – thrice the size even – than the one Steve has on the ship.

"Nice." Tony dropped on the bed face first, mind clinging on the edge of consciousness but he was falling… falling slowly to the surface of slumber. His cheek was pressed on the pillow and he caught Steve's scent, musky and manly and arousing.

"I can give you a massage, if you want," Steve said, voice sounded so entrancing. "Why don't you take off your shoes so you can lie properly on your stomach?"

Tony didn't bother to move from his spot, just toed off his shoes and listened to the telltale thump it made when it hit the floor. Then he felt Steve's large and strong hands on his legs then on his thighs, kneading and pressing and stroking and oh… oh, feels good.

Steve was probably some kind of a miracle healer because he certainly knew which spots needed more attention, where to put more pressure, where to just rub and where to squeeze. Tony felt like he was in heaven. Any remnants of the fatigue that had been killing his muscles evaporated into a loose numbness.

"Don't fall asleep on me," he heard Steve say… or at least that was what it sounded like and Tony hummed in response, must have said a word or two but he was too far on his way into the slumber country, mind losing grasp to consciousness, so he wasn't sure if those were coherent phrases that came out of his mouth.

 

*

 

"Sure thing," were the last words Steve heard from Tony before the sound of soft whistling rolled out through his parted lips.

Steve sat there for a while, perched on the edge of his bed, while watching Tony sleep. Something unfurled in his chest – something he wasn't sure what to name. Fondness perhaps. Or affection.

Then he leaned over and did the sappiest thing he'd ever done in probably two years: he planted a kiss on Tony's temple.

His heart did a double flip when he realized what he'd done but he didn't back off right away, just stilled, face hovering over Tony's.

"Mr. Rogers?" Ynez's voice filtering through the closed door broke through his foolish trance. "You have a phone call, sir. It's Mr. Barton. Said he couldn't reach your mobile phone."

Shit. Steve fished out his phone from his pocket and just as he thought, his phone was off. Battery must be dead.

"Thanks Ynez. I'll be down in a few seconds," he called out while he rummaged through his bureau to look for his charger.

Once he had his phone plugged into the charger, he rushed down the stairs and straight to the living room. "Clint, sorry about that," he said when he had the receiver pressed against his ear.

"Are you with someone?" Clint said in a teasing tone and sometimes Steve couldn't help but wonder if his friend was psychic or something.

Steve's answering silence must have given Clint a hint because he made a sound as if someone had grabbed his throat, then Clint clucked his tongue. "You bastard. Did you actually go seek out that Mafia guy?"

"He's not a Mafia guy. He's just…" Just what, exactly? "…just a guy. No. I mean, he's an awesome man. He doesn't need to carry that tag along with him."

"So he is with you." It wasn't a question, more like a statement, and the incredulity was palpable in Clint's voice. "You be careful, okay, Steve? You don't know how these men are."

Steve's mind went swirling to a thousand directions. "It's not like that. I mean, I don't know. What… Crap! Why did you call anyway?"

Soft laughter rumbled through the earpiece. "I'm just calling to let you know that the schedule of departure was moved to Tuesday. They've been trying to contact you for the past hour. Don't get too distracted, Steve."

"I won't." I won't. Or he hoped he wouldn't.

Clint's warnings haunted him for the next hour or so. He probably spent half an hour brooding in his study, nursing a glass of Pinot Noir.

Tony was just waking up when Steve returned to his room. Steve's breath got caught in his throat because the man was quite a sight: dark hair attractively disheveled, eyes droopy, the soft yellow glow from the wall lamp bathing his olive skin and his shirt riding up his waist to reveal his toned up abdomen.

Just like that, any guarded morale Steve possessed vanished in thin air. He had to have this man once more, had to have this man underneath him – perhaps over him, riding him. He didn't care how. All he wanted was to take Tony, to taste Tony Stark again.

 

*

 

There was something in Steve's eyes – the hunger, the need, the want – and the way Steve looked at him broke Tony's reservations.

He wasn't usually trustworthy, not with the environment he grew up in, but with Steve… with Steve, everything seemed simple and safe.

"Hey," Tony said, voice still laced with sleep.

"Sleep well?" Steve approached the bed like some animal ready to pounce his prey.

"Yeah." Tony had to swallow the lump lodged his throat. He never expected to find the mere sight of a gorgeous man so arousing. "I just. Can I have a drink?"

"Sure." Steve's mouth descended on his and Tony can taste the sweet and earthy flavor of Burgundy wine on Steve's lips – on Steve's tongue – and it was more intoxicating than actually ingesting it. "Still want that drink?" Steve asked when he pulled away, casting Tony with a conniving smile that sent chills up Tony's spine.

Tony grabbed the front of Steve's shirt and pulled him back, closed his mouth over Steve's in a bruising kiss. When they parted, Tony said, "A glass of water would be divine," and Steve laughed, low and sultry that made Tony tremble.

"Sure." Steve went over to a small fridge and returned with a green bottle in his hand. He handed it Tony, said, "All I have is Perrier," and once Tony had downed half of the contents, Steve took the bottle from his hand and placed it on the bedside table. "Where were we? Oh." His mouth is on Tony in a flash, giving Tony no time to brace himself so Tony fell back on the bed with Steve climbing on top of him.

It was futile to even try and put up a fight. Tony wanted this, craved for this. This was all he could think of for the past three days. He bucked his hips up, seeking contact, wanting to feel Steve's body pressed against him.

And Steve wasn't one to disappoint. The weight of Steve was on him, their bodies merging. Chest to chest. Stomach to stomach. Thighs to thighs. Tony could feel Steve's erection rubbing against his own, creating delicious friction despite the fabric of their jeans in the way.

It wasn't enough though. Tony wanted more, wanted to feel skin against skin. Desperately, he pulled at the hem of Steve's shirt and Steve sat on his haunches to pull it over his head, unbuckle his belt and undo the button and zipper of his jeans.

Tony mirrored him, almost tearing his sweater off in his haste, denims scraping against his thighs in his frantic move to slip it off.

Soon, they were both divested off their clothing, Steve tossing his boxers aside while Tony kicked off his own.

His body hummed when Steve's sucked on his left clavicle, the pressure no doubt would leave a mark and Tony was so lost in the sensation he didn't even have time to consider the possible consequences. His mind was screaming, take me, make me yours, and he was drowning in pleasure, sounds he never thought he could make scraping out of his throat.

"Steve," he said, the name blowing out of his lips like a night breeze.

The fingers deftly entering him, stretching him made his body quiver, fingers digging into Steve's flesh. So lost. So lost that Tony hadn't realized Steve's head had moved south until he felt the warmth of Steve's mouth on his cock, sucking and tonguing and driving him insane.

Tony couldn’t stop his hips from snapping up to drive his erection further into Steve's throat. Wanting more. Needing more.

When Steve released his cock, he felt a wave of disappointment and frustration but those feelings quickly left him when he felt something wet and velvety press against his… Fuck!… against his entrance.

Steve's fingers slid out of him only to be replaced with Steve's tongue, prodding the ring of muscle that cause a wild string of frissons coursing through his body.

More. He wanted more. Tony could feel his lips moving but he wasn't sure if he was able to form words, words he meant to say. His fingers that were buried in Steve's blond locks closed in on a tighter grip.

It felt like he was in some sort of suspended animation and he didn't realize right away that Steve had halted. When he no longer felt the glorious sensation of Steve's tongue on his entrance, he lifted his head to find Steve easing a condom on his erection.

Tony's cock twitched at the sight and he couldn't take his eyes off of Steve even as Steve pushed into him, filling him. The slow, gentle thrust drove Tony mad. He clung on Steve's biceps, eyes piercing right through Steve's. "Do it," Tony growled. "Faster."

That one command must have pushed the right button. Steve soon pummeled into him with such force that it stung but Tony ignored the discomfort and just… just enjoyed the ride.

Not long after, Tony could feel all of his blood rushing down his groin. Before his hand could slide over to his cock though, Steve clasped on it and started pumping, thumb rubbing the tip, putting pressure on the right spots until every cell in Tony's body vibrated and he was hurled into a blinding orgasm.

Steve came almost at the same time, pushing deeper and deeper and Tony could feel the tremors that resonated off of Steve.

 

*

 

"I have to…," Tony said, lifting his phone.

"Yeah sure." Steve knew what he meant. Tony had to call his wife. And Tony didn't really have to like… ask for Steve's permission. As if Steve had a right to stop him. Tony had to anyway, had to let Pepper know he was fine.

Steve knew it was impolite to listen to someone else's conversation and that he should slink away. But he didn't. Couldn't. So Steve remained on the bed, inadvertently hearing every word Tony said, heard Tony utter, "I can't believe you didn't even notice I wasn't in the fucking van," in a hushed but angry tone until Tony glided toward the farther corner of the room, voice evanescing to almost a whisper.

"So," Tony said after a while, tossing his phone on the nightstand. He climbed on the bed, just close to the edge. "Apparently, we're staying at Le Grand." A look of defeat crossed Tony's face. "I should head there this morning before Pepper sends out a search party. They've been looking for me since yesterday. Can you imagine? She said they only noticed I wasn't in the van when they were almost at Cannes. How stupid is that?"

"Okay," Steve conceded, though the word tasted like ash in his mouth. "Okay. I'll drive you there. But can we do that after breakfast?"

There was a huge part of him that wanted to ask Tony to stay – perhaps just for another day, or a couple, or maybe, forever – which was stupid because. And… and he shouldn't be clinging to someone, married or not. His life was at sea. He just couldn't have someone waiting for him on land all the time.

"Sure. After breakfast. Maybe even after…" Tony's hand traveled up Steve's thigh, squeezing suggestively, "you know."

Steve's cock jumped in response. Damn. This was so wrong. So wrong. Because this? This was clearly an affair.

After a quick breakfast and a round of romping on his bed, Steve drove Tony all the way to Cannes. His heart felt like it was pumping liquid nitrogen instead of blood and whatever this feeling was crawling through his chest sucked, really, really sucked.

There was an army of casually-dressed men that were no doubt part of Tony's gang waiting at the entrance of Le Grand Hotel when they arrived. Steve guessed that the informal clothes were supposed to make them less inconspicuous but it wasn't working.

"Mr. Stark," the dark-skinned one said. Steve was quick to presume this was the head of Tony's team of bodyguards. "Miss Potts—I mean, Mrs. Stark has been waiting for you."

"I called her, told her what time I was coming, didn't I?" Tony snapped and made a beeline straight to the lobby.

Steve wasn't sure what to do, wasn't sure if he should just hop back in his car and drive away or if he should follow Tony.

A valet parking attendant came up to him, said, "Sir?" and Steve took that as his cue. He tossed the key to the hotel employee and breezed after Tony and his men.

Tony was standing just outside the elevator with one of his men holding the door open and he smiled when he caught sight of Steve. "He's with me, Nick. He's a friend," he said when the leader-looking bodyguard held out an arm to stop Steve.

As soon as they stepped into Tony's suite, Tony was swallowed into a commotion of bodyguards and family members who barraged him with questions like where the hell he had been and what took him so long to return.

Steve slunk away, melting against the wall and feeling like a useless outsider. He could hear Tony, but couldn't decipher what the man was saying because of all the noise.

Pepper was all over Tony, doting on him and reprimanding him all the same. And Tony… Tony seemed to have forgotten all about Steve.

This wasn't his place anymore so Steve slowly ambled outside the suite, leaving Tony to his wife, to his family, to his world.

He had one foot inside the lift when he heard Tony yell, "Steve, wait!" so he looked over his shoulder to find Tony rushing after him.

"Where are you going? Why did you leave?" Tony sounded painfully disappointed. "I was going to introduce you to—"

"It's okay, Tony. There's no need. Why don't you go back inside?"

"No. Wait." Tony hopped into the lift after Steve. "What are you…? I mean, what's going on? I thought we're friends."

Friends? Steve did his best not to scoff. "It's complicated," skips out of his mouth and he could see the frown forming on Tony's forehead through the corner of his eye.

"What the fuck is that supposed to mean?" Tony spat.

Steve wasn't sure how to explain it. He didn't even know what was going through his head. And his heart. And… Damn! "This." He slammed his mouth against Tony's, pushing Tony against the elevator's wall.

Tony's jaw slackens, lips parting, so Steve pushes his tongue into Tony's waiting mouth, tasting and devouring and hoping that this was enough to express the weight sitting heavily in his chest.

The soft ding vaguely reached Steve's ears but he didn't let go, just kept Tony pressed against the wall, his hand wandering down Tony's crotch. Only when he heard someone gasp did Steve tear his mouth away from Tony's.

An old woman was standing outside, hand on her chest, her mouth slightly open. "Oh," she said, eyes springing between Steve and Tony.

Tony's face turned a deep shade of red, the blush creeping all the way to the tip of his ears. He stormed out of the elevator with Steve in his shadow. "Fuck!" Colorful curses spilled out of Tony's mouth. "Fuck!" He grabbed a fistful of his dark hair and spun around to face Steve. "What were you thinking, Steve? What if… what if that was one of my family members who saw us? What if it was my dad? What if it was my wife? I have a wife, Steve! Damn it!"

It wasn't the outburst or the words Tony had thrown at him, but the hint of betrayal glimmering on Tony's eyes that felt much like a hard slap across Steve's face.

Steve had to take a step back, contemplating whether to raise his defenses or just… just walk away and forget this ever happened.

"You know what?" Tony had his hands raised in surrender. "Forget everything," were the last words Tony said before disappearing inside the elevator.

 

*

 

Guilt clung at Tony's conscience like a leech. The nagging feeling wouldn't leave him alone in peace with his glass of rum and coke. Fuck. He had even settled for rum and coke and his taste buds didn't mind it one bit.

Somewhere in the deep recesses of his mind echoed a voice, chanting, Steve, Steve, Steve. Wasn't it just perfectly ironic that his wife – pretty and blonde and just like Tony had always wanted women – was lying there on the bed, lace lingerie riding up her thighs while Tony's body was screaming for a certain blond man with defined muscles and abs that women like Pepper would most definitely drool over.

Shit, shit, shit. Tony downed the last few drops of his drink, giving up on any hopes of getting some descent sleep that night.

Pepper mumbled something, like, "whereyougoing," but Tony ignored her, just grabbed his phone and staggered out of the room.

Once in the comfort of solitude, he typed 'I'm sorry' on his phone and sent the damn message to Steve before he could change his mind.

Ten minutes had passed and he hadn't gotten a response. Ten minutes turned to twenty. Then to half an hour. Tony had little patience when it came to waiting so he sent another message.

'Damn it, Steve. Talk to me. Do I have to drop on my knees and beg?'

The reply came sooner than Tony had expected. His phone lit up, Steve's name flashing on the screen. Steve's response read: 'I'd rather you do something productive when you're on your knees.'

The insinuation made Tony's cock stir, heat spreading across his face. His thumbs flew across the screen. 'Fuck you. Why didn't you answer earlier? I said I'm sorry, okay?'

'Should I forgive you? Maybe so. Meet me at Havana Room tomorrow night. It's a bar a couple of blocks away from your hotel,' was Steve's next message.

Havana Room? Tony tried to recall where he had heard of it, then Oh, yeah, and keyed in the words 'I think I know where that is.' If he didn't, he would just ask around, no worries.

'Good. Be there at nine.'

The thrill that tingled through Tony's body made him feel like a god damn school girl with a crush.

The next day was a blur and Tony didn't pay attention to everyone around him. He spent the entire morning lounging in the hotel's garden and half the day walking around Cannes with Pepper. Most of their relatives, had thankfully flown home, leaving them in peace.

When night time folded in, agitation started clawing at his insides and Tony couldn't sit still longer than a minute.

"What's wrong with you?" Pepper had asked over and over. "You're making me dizzy, you know?" she said, watching Tony pace around the suite.

"Nothing." Tony shook his head, ran his hand through his dark wavy locks. "Nothing. I just… I need to get some air." When Nick and another one of his sentries stood to follow him, Tony held up his hand to stop them. "Alone, if I may. I won't go far. Just around the hotel."

A shadow of reluctance descended on Nick's face. "I'll be fine," Tony assured him and left the room before anyone could utter any protest.

Nick followed him though, as expected. It was almost half past nine by the time Tony was able to shake him off at the hotel's lobby. It was stupid and foolish, he knew, to leave his bodyguard while he took the long trek to the Havana Room.

Tony felt like a creep, peering through the club's window from outside. He could see Steve by the bar, hand curled around a wine glass filled with dark liquid. He wanted to rush inside, fall into Steve's arms and all that romantic shit but he couldn't get his feet to move.

There seemed to be a psychological tug-o'-war going through his head. Half of him wanted to go talk to Steve but half of him wanted to hightail it out of there and forget about this whole tryst with the cruise ship captain.

Logic seemed to have a strong grip on his conscious choice. Tony slunk away from the window and started to saunter down the path where he came from. He was barely ten yards away from the club when a couple of men crept out from the dark alley, their eyes burning with malice, teeth showing through their wide grins.

"Well hello there, pretty boy," one of them – the one with brunette hair – said, the roughness of his voice grating against Tony's skin. "Care to join us for a drink?"

"No, thank you," flowed out of Tony's mouth before he could assess the situation.

"We insist," the other man – shorter and stouter with dirty blond hair and olive skin – said.

"I'm actually here to meet somebody." Tony gestured at the Havana Room with his thumb.

"Really?" The blond one crept into Tony's personal space, making Tony feel utterly uncomfortable. "I was certain you were walking away from that place just a moment ago."

"That isn't any of your business now, is it?" Tony said, lifting his chin up in defiance.

"No. But I do insist you come with us," the blond man said. "Come on. It will be fun."

"I don't think so." Tony took a step back and when the taller, dark-haired man grabbed his arm, he quickly shoved the hand away. And both men lunged at him from both sides.

Tony's fist swung right across the blond man's face and he kicked the other straight on the gut. The blond man retaliated, forced a hard punch against Tony's jaw and Tony stumbled backwards.

The other guy grabbed him from behind. Tony felt a sting on his arm but he ignored it and jabbed his elbow straight to the man's rib.

The blond jerk rammed against Tony's stomach with his shoulder, pushing Tony against the wall. Tony caught sight of Steve walking out of the Havana Room. The noise must have alerted Steve and he rushed to Tony's aid, seizing the man holding Tony against the wall by the neck.

Tony felt the ground tilt, his vision becoming blurry. He felt fingers curling on the lapels of his shirt and he blinked, saw the taller man leering at him with a sly grin and Tony struggled against the man's grasp. But his muscles felt like lead and he found it hard to move. Everything around him was spinning out of focus.

He thought he heard Steve's voice, yelling, "Tony!" but he wasn't sure. Dark mist clouded his vision, his consciousness slowly, gradually slipping away.

 

*

Steve pressed the button to end the call. He had just spoken to the authorities to report what had happened to Tony.

The doctor fussed over Tony, checking his vitals then he looked up at Steve, said, "He's fine. The drug will wear off soon. It's nothing too dangerous. Just some mild tranquilizer to put him to sleep."

"Thanks doctor." Steve led him outside, promised to call as soon as Tony woke up, then went back to his bedroom and watched Tony sleep.

He blamed himself for this. It wouldn't have happened if he didn't ask Tony to meet him there. He didn't expect Tony to charge to a public place without a bodyguard. But then again, this was Tony Stark. In the little time Steve had known him, he noticed that Tony did what he wanted and said whatever was in his mind on impulse without thinking of the possible consequences.

Tony stirred, groaning, his eyelids fluttering before they slid open.

"Hey." Steve leaned over, running his fingers through Tony's dark hair. "How are you feeling?"

A soft grunt left Tony's mouth before he spoke, said, "Like I've been hit by a truck," in a voice thick with vestiges of sleep.

Steve laid a hand over Tony's chest, feeling Tony's heartbeat against his palm. "You've been drugged. The doctor said it will wear off soon."

Tony's gaze sprang up to meet Steve's, his forehead wrinkling. "Doctor?"

"Yeah. I had to call a doctor to check on you. Don't worry, he's a friend."

"What happened?" Tony's face was contorted, eyes narrowed.

"You were attacked. I suspect those guys belong to some human trafficking crime group." It was rather ironic – Steve thought – that those crooks attempted to abduct a crime group leader. Though Steve doubted those guys even had a clue who Tony was.

"Seriously?" Tony struggled to sit up. He pressed the heel of his palm against his temple, probably to ease a headache. "What? Were they planning to make some sort of sex slave out of me?"

Steve kept his lips pursed and didn't offer a response.

Tony huffed incredulously. "Fuck me."

"Be glad to," Steve teased, a smile tugging on the corner of his mouth. "You're phone had been ringing all night. I hope you don't mind but I took the liberty of answering it since I saw it was Pepper calling."

"Shit."

"I told her I ran into you in Cannes and you asked if I could drive you around," Steve said, already feeling the clench of guilt in his chest for lying to the woman. "Also told her you didn't feel like going back to the hotel so I took you home. I couldn't come up with a better excuse and I figured it would cause a lot of trouble if I told her you nearly got kidnapped."

"No doubt it would have."

Steve's hand rested on Tony's kneecap, thumb stroking the thick fabric of the sweatpants that he slipped into Tony after he stripped Tony's pants and sweater off the night before. "So. How does breakfast sound?"

Tony raised his arms over his head and stretched languidly. "Sounds like heaven."

A blanket of silence draped over them while they ate in the kitchen. It was only after they both had emptied their plates when Tony spoke, said, "We're uh… we're leaving tomorrow," with his cup of fresh brewed coffee hovering a few inches from his mouth.

"I see." Steve did his best to remain stoic despite the burning ache in his chest. Everything that happened after was a blur. Steve wanted to take Tony to bed, fuck him until Tony could no longer stand. But Pepper had called to ask for directions, which could only mean she, along with most likely a handful of bodyguards, were coming over to pick up Tony.

"Do you…" Tony's eyes darted around the room, not resting on Steve's even as he said, "Do you ever go home to the States?"

Steve wasn't sure where this conversation was going so his response was something mechanical, perhaps even flat-sounding or casual. "I haven't gone back there since I moved here."

Tony's lips parted but then he clamped it closed, shoulders slumping. "Oh well. I guess… I guess it's been nice knowing you." He sprang up from his seat so abruptly that the table shook. "I guess I better get ready. Pepper will be here soon. Do you mind if I use the shower?"

"No, course not." Steve watched Tony disappear around the corner leading to the stairs then let the air he'd been holding in his lungs out in an long, frustrated sigh.

"You like dat one, don you?"

Steve almost jumped startled, head snapping up to find his middle-aged housekeeper gliding into the kitchen, a gentle smile on her lips. "I thought you've left to visit your family."

"Well, I 'ave t'ings ta do, b'fore I leave," she said, words, though in English, were laced with her usual French accent. "An you 'ave a guest. T'ought you might need me around."

Steve can't help but smile at her motherly treatment. "That's very thoughtful of you, Ynez. But you didn't have to stick around. I can handle things around here."

Ynez a short, amused-sounding laugh. "Of course you can." She started to clear out the table, stealing a glance at Steve once in a while. "You 'aven answered my question. You like dat man wit' you, yeah?"

"He's just…" Steve started but then his mind struggled for the right word. Tony is what? A Friend? Acquaintance? No one special, just someone I met on the ship? He was just about to open his mouth despite not really knowing what to say but the shrill music blasting from his phone provided the interruption he needed.

Ynez must have taken it as her cue to leave and Steve took the opportunity to escape from the awkward conversation so he quickly made his way up the stairs before pressing the phone to his ear.

It was from the cruise line office.

 

*

 

Tony had just gotten off the phone with Pepper. She was half an hour away from Steve's place. Steve's voice floated from the other side of the door, saying, "I understand. I'll head back to the ship tomorrow," and was pulling the phone from his ear when he slinked into the room. "Oh, hey. Done with the shower?"

It took a moment before Tony could react. He shook his head, said, "No. Got a little sidetracked. Pepper called to let me know they're almost here."

"I see." There was a momentary flicker of sadness on Steve's eyes, and Tony watched him hesitate, as if he wanted to cough out words that refused to stumble out of his mouth. "Tony, I—"

"I better get ready." Tony reached the door in four quick strides. But he stopped at the threshold when Steve spoke.

"Wait, Tony. We have to talk."

Tony felt his heart slam against the wall of his chest. He didn't want to talk. He just wanted to take this Steve-related thing in stride, maybe consider it an occasional fond memory, or the best thing (at least in his opinion) was to forget about it and just live his life as planned. "Talk? About what Steve?"

The conflict that rolled over Steve's façade was so palpable that Tony could only guess the same thoughts were probably racing through Steve's mind. "About us. About this," he said, waving his arm between Tony and himself. "About—"

This was it. "No, Steve." Tony had to put an end to this. He was married, albeit not in his free will, but the point is his life had been laid down for him and he should just deal with it. Steve would only be a colossal complication. "We don't have anything to talk about."

A mixture of emotions flashed on Steve's face – hurt, sadness, regret – and Tony felt a tight squeeze in his chest. Then Steve looked away, a mask of nonchalance surfacing on his features. "I see."

"Look. I appreciate everything you've done, your help, your…" Tony's shoulders drooped as he released a long breath filled with desperation. "I'm married, Steve. There's nothing between us. We can't—shouldn't have started anything at all." It felt like the whole world was on Tony's shoulder when he slipped out of the room.

He spent more time in the shower than he should have, letting the water wash all this uncomfortable feelings that were clawing at every fiber of his being. He hadn't felt anything like this before, hadn't wanted something so much but there was this great obstacle that kept him from getting it.

Steve wasn't in the bedroom when Tony returned. The clothes he was wearing the night before – all clean and pressed – were waiting for him on the bed. The commotion downstairs reached his ears and Tony quickly got dressed.

Before he got out of the room, a thought hit him like lightning. He rummaged through Steve's desk and found a pad of paper and a pen. He wasn't sure why he was doing this, not sure what he expected out of it but his hand moved on its own accord and started scribbling down his address in New York.

Pepper and her sentries, as well as Tony's, were at the parlor talking to Steve. "Oh there you are, darling!" she said when Tony ambled into the room as quietly as he could. He caught sight of Nick standing in the corner, eyebrows tight and a furious look framing his face.

"We were so worried about you. You shouldn't have wandered out into the streets alone. It was a good thing you ran into Steve here…" Pepper's words diffused into nothing but senseless babbles in Tony's ear. He zeroed in on Steve, trying to break through the wall of impassive demeanor.

Steve wouldn't meet his eyes, too keen on looking out the window instead. "You should head back," Steve said, voice void of any emotions. "It's a long drive."

Tony did his best not to look back as he was driven away from Steve's villa, thinking that that was the last time he'd see the man who had awoken something inside him, something he never knew existed.

 

*

It had been three weeks now, three weeks since Tony Stark left France. Steve's eyes slid down to the piece of paper trapped between his thumb and index finger. He presumed the address written on it was Tony's since Tony was the only one other than him who had been in his room the day he found it on his desk, the day Tony left.

"You still hanging on to that?" Clint's voice broke through Steve's deep musing. The Chief Officer gave a courtesy nod to the handful of crew members lingering in the ship's bridge before reaching Steve. "Instead of brooding over that thing, why not do something about it?"

Steve raised his gaze to meet Clint's. "You mean go to New York?"

Clint shrugged, said, "Why not? Worth a shot and a lot better than sitting around like you're carrying the whole world on your shoulder," and cast Steve with a pitiful gaze that made Steve want to sink in his seat.

"Do I really look that depressed?"

One of Clint's eyebrows rose. "Have you looked at yourself in the mirror lately?"

The feeling of utter defeat washed over Steve. He sighed, shoulders sagging. "I thought I'd forget, thought I could just move on, you know. But…." His eyes traveled to the vast expanse of blue water that stretched ahead.

"But you couldn't," Clint supplied, his tone taking on a serious note. "Don't fight it, buddy. It will only make things more difficult as it is."

"It's pointless, Clint. He did say there was nothing between us."

Clint made a derisive sound. "What did you expect? You knew him for a few days."

"I know." How naïve could he had been for thinking that the strong hold Tony had in him could grow into something meaningful? Steve had never felt so pathetic in his life. "I just… It may sound stupid but I couldn't, can't let go."

"Then do yourself a favor, Cap. Stop moping around and go to him. File a vacation, request to be transferred to the cruise that voyages across the Atlantic, or whatever. He wouldn't have left his address with you if he wasn't hoping for the same thing." Clint's words haunted Steve for another week. And another. And weeks turned into months.

But Steve did nothing. The paper that held Tony's address stayed in his shirt pocket then later on migrated to the desk drawer in his cabin.

Fate seemed to have taken over. Exactly three months and two weeks after Tony left, Steve had been transferred to a transatlantic cruise.

 

*

The pub he frequented was unusually full that evening. Unusual because it was Wednesday and the place was a hole-in-the-wall type near the harbor. Tony headed straight to the bar, shadowed by Nick and two other sentries who were all trying to be discreet. He beckoned the bartender over, said, "Hey Reed. Never thought I'd live a day to see this place packed," while sliding on the stool by the counter.

Reed barked a laugh and shook his head. "You're such a charmer, Mr. Stark. But yeah, it gets busy whenever a passenger ship docks and I heard there's a cruise ship from Europe that arrived two hours ago."

"A cruise ship?" From Europe? A surge of thrill shoots up Tony's back but he was quick to dismiss the unnecessary excitement. It couldn't be possible. Couldn't. And yet, Tony had this gut feeling that made him want to throw up.

"What would you have this evening? The usual?" Reed asked, distracting Tony from the suddenly unsettling notion that invaded his mind.

"Yes. Make it double." An idea hit him like a ton of brick and Tony raised his hand, said, "No, wait," and wondered why the heck he had this craving for something else. "Do you have any Burgundy Wine? Uh… Pinot Noir."

Reed seemed to regard Tony as if he'd grown another head. "Of course."

Tony resisted the urge to let his eyes wander, so instead, he watched Reed pour dark purple liquid into a flute and waited for the bartender to hand him his drink. "Here you go, Mr. Stark, enjoy."

The glass is almost half empty when Tony caught a figure glide inside the pub through the corner of his eye, prompting him to turn his head. His breath got caught in his throat when he saw who it was.

Steve? It couldn't be. Not after all these months.

The blond man spotted Tony and his lips curled up into a warm smile. In slow, sensual strides, he approached the bar, eyes never leaving Tony's face.

Tony's heart made a sudden leap and not a single muscle in his body could move.

"Hey," Steve said in a silky voice. "Pepper said I might find you here."

"Pepper?" was all Tony could utter. He still couldn't believe that Steve was there, right in front of him, in living flesh and bone and—

"Yeah. I went over to your place. She said you normally come here after a meeting."

"Oh." Tony had to pinch himself mentally, just to make sure he wasn't imagining things. "W-what are you doing here?"

"I'm captain of a transatlantic cruise ship called Black Widow now. We're currently docked at the nearby pier." Steve's eyes glimmering, soft gaze felt like a caress. "It's good to see you again, Tony," he said in a soft, mellow voice that melted Tony's resolve.

All those months he fought to get Steve out of his mind, out of his system, despite knowing it was a futile struggle. And now Steve was here. Tony doubted he could ever resist the man. It's one battle he was certain he'd never win.

"It's good to see you too, Steve." And that was all it took – for Tony to stomp down the denial that he's into Steve and the walls around him crumble down. "Can I buy you a drink?"

Steve eyed Tony's glass, one corner of his lips curling. "I'll have what you're having."

"So…" Tony took a sip of his wine, the tiny flame inside him igniting. "How long are you going to be here?"

Judging from the way Steve's eyes darkened, he must've picked up on Tony's innuendo. "Long enough to be reacquainted."

Tony's lips quirked, body singing with arousal. "You wanna get out of here after you've finished your drink then?" He had to find a way to get his sentries to leave him alone with Steve.

Steve gave a half shrug. "Sure."

 

*

 

It had been too long, too long and Steve had no idea how he'd survived without this, without Tony. For four long months, he'd succumbed to the emptiness growing inside him. This was what he had yearned for, what he had wanted – to touch Tony, to taste Tony again.

The feel of Tony's warm flesh against his palm sent a fervent need surging through his veins. His lips mapped every inch of Tony's skin; his tongue traced every curve and every dip of Tony's body. He had three digits inside Tony now, preparing him, seeking for that soft spot that often made Tony tremble.

The need, the maddening ache to claim Tony, even for just one night, was so strong that it was overpowering him, blinding him and Steve feared he'd lose control.

Sitting up on his haunches, Steve tore the package of condom with his teeth and rolled the latex material over his erection. He grabbed the bottle of lube, coated his cock with the clear gel and finally pushed into Tony, gritting his teeth in hopes of not coming too soon. He was almost at the edge.

"Oh god." Tony's fingers curled around Steve's arms, nails digging into the surface of Steve's skin. A litany of curses tumbled out of Tony's mouth and he's hissing, saying, "Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck," when Steve ground his hips.

"You like that, huh?" Steve said with a growl against Tony's ear. He sucked in a breath when he felt Tony's muscles tighten around his cock, driving Steve closer to his orgasm. He lifted himself up on his knees, pushed Tony's thighs higher so he can slam his cock inside Tony harder. Faster. Deeper.

"I'm close." Tony's hips moved in synch with Steve's, the wet sounds of skin slapping against skin filled the room.

"Me too." As soon as the words left Steve's mouth, the pressure building up in his groin ripped throughout his body, sucking him into a vacuum with nothing but white noise filling his ears. His mouth parted in a silent scream, eyes shut tightly while he rode through his climax.

It seemed to take a lifetime before Steve started climbing down from his euphoria and when he lifted his eyelids open, he saw Tony's hand curled around his own erection, moving in lightning speed and it didn't take long before he felt Tony clamp against his softening cock. Thick white fluid spurted from the tip of Tony's dick and landed on the plane of Tony's abdomen.

The elated feeling didn't leave Steve right away, his chest swollen with emotions he thought no longer existed. He claimed Tony's mouth with his, plunging his tongue in the warm cavern, relishing the taste of sweat and satiation and just Tony. Steve lifted his face to come up for air, his breathing erratic. "That was…."

"Yeah." A goofy smile split across Tony's face. "Yeah."

With the numbness creeping up his legs and arms, Steve collapsed beside Tony, planting a kiss on Tony's shoulder before lying flat on his back, arm tucked behind his head. "However did you convince your bodyguards to leave you with me?"

Tony sniggered. "I told them if they want to watch me have sex with another man, then they are free to stay."

It wasn't Tony's response but more of how casual Tony said it that bowled Steve over and he snapped his head to look at Tony. "You said that? You're not worried about Pepper finding out?"

"Not really. They're my sentries. They're loyal to me and only me. They will keep a secret if I ask them too and only when it's a matter of a life-and-death situation can they reveal it to another person."

A soft whistle went past Steve's lips. "That's deep. And complicated."

"Who says my life isn't full of complications?"

They lay side by side, soundless seconds spiraling into a minute, minutes stretching into an hour with nothing but their rhythmic breathing to fill the void.

It was Steve who stirred first, breaking the proverbial ice, his fingers tangling with Tony's. "I'll be here for three days," he said. "Then we sail to Florida, but I'll be back here a week after. Do you think…?" This was a gamble, he knew. If he were to jump into the same cycle, it could not end well. But if this was all he could have of Tony – with this pathetic affair – then so be it. He'd take anything. "While I'm around, I was hoping we could meet here everyday."

"Same room, same time?" There wasn't a sign of hesitation on Tony's part, far from what Steve had expected.

Steve all thought Tony would reject him, just like he did the last time they met. "If it's possible."

Tony shifted to lie on his side, facing Steve. He laid his palm on Steve's chest, just above his heart. "I'd like that."

So they met again the next night. And the next. From then on, whenever Steve returned to New York every three or four weeks, he and Tony would meet at the same hotel and Tony did all he could to get the same room.

 

*

 

It had been five months since Steve wormed his way back into Tony's life. Five months of secret rendezvous. Five months of mind-blowing sex. Five months of wondering where this thing they had would go.

This thing. This thing. Their tryst seemed to have taken control of Tony that he craved for it, his body ached for it as if sex with Steve was a life force that he needed to survive. What Tony feared the most though was how strongly he felt about Steve, like… like Steve was the only one who kept him sane all these months.

Taking over the leadership of a clan hadn't been easy. His life was in constant danger not only from his enemies but from within the organization as well. It wasn't something Tony had wanted, not something he asked for. Blood money certainly wasn't what he desired. But his fate was sealed into this kind of life, like a game he couldn't quit.

Day after day, week after week, Tony had to face the ugly scenarios that his life as a Jarvis head had to offer. Maybe he should just give up the seat to Bruce then. After all, the Banner clan was equal candidate for the title.

"Guess what?" Steve's voice yanked Tony out of his deep contemplation. "I uh… I've been thinking of moving back here, in the States. But not in New York." Steve slipped his arm underneath Tony's head and pulled Tony close, urging Tony to rest his head on Steve's shoulder. "I actually asked my friend Natasha to find me a place down at Santa Catalina. And she found one for me. I was thinking… Well, I'm planning to buy a small ship there, or maybe a yacht, and I can rent it out or…"

The rest of Steve's words sounded warped in Tony's ears and the only thought Tony could process was Why is Steve telling me this? Cold panic suddenly rushed through his veins. His attention sprang back to Steve when he felt the quick jerk of Steve's shoulder, followed by Steve's voice. "What do you think?"

"About what?" Tony tilted his head up and instantly realized it was a big mistake. He locked gazes with Steve and saw the clear reflection of hope on the surface of Steve's eyes turn into worry.

"About… about moving with me." There was a hint of uncertainty, maybe even uneasiness, in Steve's voice.

"To Santa Catalina?" The alarm in Tony's head went off. What Steve was asking wasn't the least bit feasible. What is Steve thinking? He's got to be out of his mind. When Steve nodded, Tony bolted upright and cast Steve an incredulous glare. "Do I have to remind you I'm married—?"

"To a woman you don't even love," Steve finished for him, though it wasn't exactly what Tony was about to say, but it did hit the mark.

"I can't just turn my back on my responsibilities to my clan, to the organization, to—"

"Everything else that was forced into your hands out of your own will."

"Steve."

"I just need a single answer, Tony. Yes or no." Steve looked away, apparently finding something interesting on the ceiling that he resisted to meet Tony's gaze.

"I…" Tony felt as if his soul was being ripped in ten million pieces. This brought a strange sense of déjà vu and Tony remembered the time he'd told Steve there was nothing between them. Yet destiny had stepped in and their paths crossed once more. It was like a cycle. He was back on that phase where Tony had to make a choice, unlike the business-related decisions he had to make everyday, this one was choosing between a life that was designed for him the moment he was born and a life that his heart desired.

"You don't have to decide now, Tony. You can think about it." Steve voice was so low that if it weren't too quiet in the hotel room, Tony probably would not have heard the words spoken.

Since that night, Tony was troubled by the unexpected proposal and when Steve returned three weeks later, Steve had announced that his plans were final. He already bought the house at Sta. Catalina and using his family fortune, purchased a small cruise ship that he intended to use for business.

"I will hand the Black Widow over to the new captain next week," Steve said over his glass of Burgundy wine. Reed's bar was only half full that night and Steve's voice seemed amplified in the stillness. "Then I leave for Santa Catalina on the eighteenth."

All Tony could do was grunt in response. He tried to hide whatever expression drawn on his face behind his glass of scotch.

"Have you thought about what I told you?" Steve said after a while. In truth, Tony had a stronger urge to accept Steve's offer, but there were a million things that was stopping him. He had never felt so indecisive, so lost in a sea of options. Steve must have taken Tony's silence as a sign of hesitation. "You don't have to give me an answer, Tony. I just… I bought you a plane ticket just in case." An envelope was placed before Tony. "You can either go to the airport on the eighteenth at six-forty in the evening and if you don’t show up, then I'd know what you're decision is."

There was one thing Tony had to know though. "If I don't show up, will I ever see you again?"

It must have taken a good stretch of a minute before Steve spoke again. "I'm going to Santa Catalina to start a new life," was the only response he offered. He didn't have to say anything more. Tony knew that meant there was a greater possibility that Steve would not be coming back. Ever.

When Tony got home a few hours later, sleep wouldn't come so he thought trying to get some work done in his study might help ease his mind. He hadn't realized that dawn was creeping in until a faint glow of orange peeked through the blinds. Pepper slipped into his study and placed a mug of steaming coffee on his desk. "Have you been working all night?" she asked without a tinge of implication in her pitch that Tony usually interpreted as accusation.

"Yeah." Tony pressed the pad of his thumb and middle finger against his closed eyelids trying to rid of the strain.

Only when Pepper said, "Working? Or thinking of someone?" did Tony pull his hand away and gawked at his wife. "It's Steve, isn't it?"

The room seemed to tilt and then it started spinning. Tony tried to decipher the look Pepper wore but he couldn't. "What?"

"I know about you and Steve, Tony." She raised her hand when Tony was about to speak. "And no one told me, I just… I figured it out on my own. You were always out whenever Steve was in town. You never wanted to sleep with me, can't even gape at me when I'm naked. I thought it was me, that I wasn't attractive but…" A sad smile graced her lips. "I realized, with Steve in the picture, that you aren't really interested in women in general. It was a shock at first, but hey, this is reality and things like this happen."

Regardless of how much sugar-coating she used, Tony could tell that Pepper simply meant that she had known Tony was gay all along. "Pepper, this thing with Steve, it's… it's complicated."

"It doesn't have to be." Pepper settled on the cushioned chair in front of Tony's desk. "I know you married me because you felt you had no choice. And you led our clans' organization because you inherited the responsibility." She tucked a lock of blond hair behind her ear. "What I'm trying to say is, if you find something you really want to do in your life, something of your own choice, I won't get in your way. And the organization has a lenient rule that if in case the chosen head is unable to fulfill his duty, someone else can take his place."

"You think I don't know that? My father refused to hear reason back then." Out of desperation, Tony even considered running away. But he knew that if he left without a word, his father would surely send someone to hunt him down and kill him.

Pepper stretched her arm over Tony's desk, placed her hand over Tony's. "Let me try to talk to him," she said, giving Tony a reassuring squeeze.

Tony had no energy left to argue so he just gave a terse nod. "Thanks Pepper."

 

*

The last-call-for-boarding announcement blasted over the airport speakers. Steve glanced at his watch. It was twenty minutes before departure time. He paced a few feet from the gate, thinking he'd give it another five minutes.

When the ground stewardess approached him, said, "Sir, I'm afraid I have to ask you to board now. We're about to close the door."

Steve scanned the vicinity, as far as his eyes could reach, but there was no sign of Tony. This is it, he thought. His heart felt heavy with the realization that this could be the end of their whirlwind affair. He handed his ticket to the ground stewardess, and was about to cross the threshold when he heard someone call out to him.

Tony was standing there – a luggage sitting by his feet and a large bag slung on his shoulder, chest rising and falling as if he was trying to catch his breath. "You're not leaving without me, are you?"

Steve suppressed a smile, just stared at Tony indifferently and said, "You're late."

Tony strode over to the gate, pulling his luggage behind him, and handed the ticket over to the woman. "I had a long talk with my father before I left." A small smile slid on his lips. "Besides, it's better late than never right?"

Steve felt his heart was about to burst and he couldn't move, just searched Tony's face for any sign of mockery but Steve didn't find any. What he saw was unwavering sincerity. It was only until the ground stewardess said, "Sirs, we really have to close the door now," that Steve resumed walking, making his way to the plane with Tony right beside him.

 

END