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Meeting Tony Stark doesn’t go at all like Steve Rogers had imagined. Since he woke up, few things do.

Turns out, Tony is a lot more like his old man than he thinks he is – not that Steve had known Howard all that well, but some things stick. When Tony crowds into Steve’s personal space – heedless of the fact that Steve is a head taller and twice as broad – and snaps, “Everything special about you came out of a bottle,” that’s all Howard, the set of his jaw and the cold, flinty look in his eye. Steve tells him to put on the suit, but Tony’s armour is already on.


 

 

After – after Loki and the Chitauri, the battle, the trading cards, the shawarma – after all of that, Tony awkwardly asks him to move into the Tower when the renovations are finished. Steve says yes, because his room at SHIELD is all sad little retro reproductions, and the window doesn’t open all the way. They shake hands.


 

 

For the first few months it’s remarkably normal. He’s still not sure he quite likes Tony, not entirely, and he can tell the feeling is mutual; Dr. Banner, who moves in when Steve does, is something of a buffer. Bruce explains the internet and pop music and cell phones and reality TV to him as best he can, and Steve is confused and grateful. All that stuff, at least, makes more sense than whatever he and Tony are always doing down in the lab (he brings them coffee sometimes, in the mornings, after he gets up and usually before they’ve even gone to bed).

 Gradually, Steve forms a routine. He goes for runs in Central Park, he sits on the red staircase in Times Square and sketches. Sometimes he spars with Tony in the gym while Bruce meditates, but he more often uses the heavy bags (they’re much more durable than the ones at SHIELD); training with Tony feels stiff, forced, more like a half-hearted attempt at the “team bonding” to which Director Fury sometimes snidely refers in meetings than anything else.

 Natasha offers, once – she, Clint and Thor had all moved in over the span of a month or so – but Steve politely declines. Tony makes some wiseass comment about his delicate 1940s sensibilities and antiquated gender roles and suffrage and what-have-you, which isn’t helped by Steve’s unfortunate habit of calling Natasha “ma’am” even though she’s asked him not to, but he has his reasons: Agent Romanov may look harmless when she’s curled up in a chair with a novel, or wandering around the kitchen on a Sunday morning in yoga pants with her hair dishevelled from sleep, but she could probably kill him with her thighs.

 Clint winks at him behind her back.


 

Tony flirts with him all the time, of course, but Tony flirts with everyone, and Steve is pretty sure it’s just to mess with him. Ms. Potts doesn’t seem to mind, anyway.

 Ms. Potts is something else. The first time Steve meets her, she shakes his hand and introduces herself, then excuses herself to bodily haul Tony out of the lab and, presumably, manhandle him into the board meeting she’s insisting he needs to attend: “No, you do actually have to come to this one, because you’ve missed the last five and, while I hate to tear you away from whatever boys’ club you’ve got going on here – hi, Bruce – it’ll take an hour of your very valuable time, maybe two, tops. You could at least pretend you give a shit about this company for that long, and then you can come back and blow things up at your leisure.” She silences his rapid-fire protests and wheedling and general verbal nonsense with a look, arching one perfectly groomed eyebrow in a gesture so reminiscent of Peggy that Steve aches with it, with missing her.

 After the door closes behind them, he just looks to Bruce, who grins and says, “Yeah, she’s always like that.”

 Dummy and You whir in agreement, and, startled, Steve laughs.


 

Shortly thereafter, Tony and Ms. Potts break up.

 Steve finds out because the team starts tiptoeing around him, and then he acts like a jerk to them because of the tiptoeing, and then Tony gets drunk and tells him.

 Tony is lying on the couch in the common area when Steve finds him – he has no idea what time it is (it’s late, anyway) or where the others are; they’ve been avoiding Tony like the plague – a mostly-empty bottle of something (tequila, by the smell of it) on the floor next to him, forearm thrown over his eyes. He looks… almost graceful, carelessly elegant, in a way Steve wouldn’t have expected.

 “Tony?”

 Tony makes a noise that could either mean, “Steve, how delightful to see you, please join me,” or “Fuck off and leave me to die.”

 Without really knowing what he’s doing, Steve pads barefoot across the room to perch on the end of the couch closest to Tony’s feet. Tony lifts his arm, barely, and cracks one eye open. It looks like it takes a lot of effort.

 “Pepper left me.”

 “I know.” He is steadfastly not looking at Tony.

 “Said she couldn’t handle being Iron Man’s terrified girlfriend anymore.”

 “Can you blame her?” It’s the wrong thing to say even though it doesn’t come out accusing, not exactly.

 “No.”

 Silence.

 “I ever tell you about the time a dame fired a gun at me because I kissed another woman?”

 The look on Tony’s face at that could mean anything. So Steve tells him the story about Peggy and the vibranium shield, her squared shoulders and the tone of her voice – there’s no way to recount it without mentioning Howard, but Tony lets it slide. Steve still can’t look at him, but he can see Tony watching him from the corner of his eye as he goes on and on – tells him about fondue and the USO and Colonel Phillips, Peggy and Bucky and Erskine, about Dali and Picasso, about the Depression and enlisting and how sick he was, before, about the Cyclone at Coney Island and the Stork Club, because he knows grief and he knows loss. He knows what it’s like to miss somebody so much it feels like phantom limb.

 He expects Tony to stop him, sooner or later, but he doesn’t; eventually, Steve realizes he’s sleeping. He briefly considers just slinging him over his shoulder and taking him to bed, but then Jarvis dims the lights; Steve decides to leave him and collects the empty bottle and tumbler from the floor. Tony shifts, rolls over.

 “Cap?”

 “I’m here.” He waits, but Tony says nothing; he’s fallen asleep again.

 Steve goes to bed. He stares at his ceiling most of the night.


 

Neither of them say a word about it.

 Neither does anyone else, though Steve is pretty sure the rest of the team has noticed a difference.

 Clint looks like he wants to say something a few times in meetings, but Natasha quells him with a nudge and changes the subject. Steve catches her eye and smiles in thanks – even though he doesn’t really know what he’s thanking her for – and she almost smiles back.


 

Most of the time, Steve is content. He trains and draws almost every day, and he’s even getting used to Jarvis. They have unofficial team movie nights about once a week; Bruce is, surprisingly, an excellent cook, and usually provides for such occasions. He’s shown Steve a thing or two and, after a batch of cupcakes is met with frightening enthusiasm, graciously offered to teach Thor to bake. Tony makes him promise to let him know when their lessons are – “so I can clear my schedule because, seriously, no fucking way am I missing that”. Bruce gives him a reproachful look, but Tony’s never apologized for cursing in front of Steve and isn’t about to start. Steve thinks his housemates forget sometimes that he was in the army.


 

 

Every so often, though, it’s just too much. His floor, the Tower, the city are all too big, there are too many people, and Steve’s brain just shuts off. He stands in the shower until the water runs cold, almost dazed; he tries to read or sketch but can’t make his brain focus. No one will spar with him, which is probably for the best, so he thrashes the bag until his hands are bruised and bleeding and his clothes are soaked with sweat. Once he goes for a run and accidentally ends up in West Orange.

“West Orange,” Tony says flatly when Steve mentions it. “That’s practically New Jersey.” His disgust is evident.

“That is New Jersey,” Bruce puts in helpfully.

Steve must look worse than he thought, because Tony doesn’t ask him why he ran the rough equivalent of a marathon and ended up in another state.


 

He finds himself actually spending time with Tony every so often, just the two of them, and enjoying it.

Well, most times, anyway. They still bicker about nothing, and occasionally they have real arguments, ones like they did when they’d first met. The difference now is that these ones tend to blow over in a day or two, ending in halting apologies extended over coffee. Bruce tries to stay out of it, but usually they both come to him independently to bitch about each other, so it’s wasted effort.

And sometimes it’s just awkward. There are lulls in their conversation, in person or on the phone. They don’t even see each other every day; Tony keeps weird hours and Steve leaves the Tower more often than he does. They don’t really have a lot in common, as it turns out.

Still, for the most part, it’s okay. They make each other laugh, tell stories, teach each other things. It’s consistent, at least, which is something Steve can appreciate, soldier or not. He is very aware that Tony’s time is not a luxury he affords everyone in his life.


 

 

Predictably, Thor’s first successful batch of cupcakes doesn’t last very long.

It’s during an Avengers movie night that they’re presented, amid much fanfare (read: at the wholly unnecessary decibel level at which Thor does everything) as they all settle in to the common area to watch as many of the Harry Potter movies as possible in one sitting (bizarrely, fantasy seems to be one of the only genres they can all agree on). Steve, as well as he knows them, can’t help but be faintly surprised at how quickly six people can devour three dozen red velvet cupcakes; even Clint and Tasha, who religiously avoid junk food of any stripe, eat their share. Thor beams.

They’re about halfway through The Prisoner of Azkaban, a mess of limbs on the couch, armchairs and floor, table littered with paper cupcake liners and smears of cream cheese frosting, when Steve excuses himself to do the dishes. Tony has been nodding off against his shoulder, but blinks himself awake when he gets up and makes fun of him like he does every time.

“Shut up, Stark,” Clint murmurs sleepily; he’s got his head in Natasha’s lap and legs in Bruce’s. Thor had settled himself on the floor with surprising grace, like a cat, when the movie started and hasn’t moved: he seems to be much more comfortable with casual physical contact than any of them (must be an Asgardian thing, Steve muses). His cheek is resting on Bruce’s knee. Bruce looks faintly confused. Steve doesn’t blame him.

Steve is elbow-deep in soapy water hot enough to scald the average person when Tony comes into the kitchen and hops up onto the counter next to him. “There is serious shit going down at Hogwarts right now and you’re missing it, Capsicle,” he says solemnly.

“It’s fine, I can hear it from here,” Steve replies mildly, flicking water at him. There’s a glass bowl half-full of unused frosting on Steve’s other side; Tony leans across him to grab it and plucks a spoon that Steve’s just washed out of the dishrack, drying it on the hem of his shirt. “You’re gonna make yourself sick, you know.”

“Am not,” Tony opines around a mouthful of frosting, and swallows. Steve shakes his head. “And there it is!”

“There what is?”

“Your face does this thing when you disapprove. It’s doing it right now.”

“I don’t disapprove, I just think you’re being a child –“

“You’re dangerously close to using the Captain America Voice, too, you know, both in the space of three seconds, I think that’s a new record for me. Jarvis, make a note – “

“Shut up,” and damn it, he’s blushing. “Ignore him, Jarvis. What are you even doing in here, by the way, besides annoying me? You’re missing the movie.”

“Watching you being domestic is infinitely more interesting than watching Alan Rickman snark at teenagers. Sexier, too,” Tony replies, waggling his eyebrows. “Although, seriously? That voice? I would not kick that guy out of bed for eating crackers, I do not mind telling you. For an older man – “

“Do you ever stop?” Steve tries to chastise, but he's chuckling.

“ – he could definitely get it. What are you, jealous? You know, technically speaking, you’re a nonagenarian? And, okay, you might not be British, but the Captain America Voice – “

“Tony, for the love of god – “

“ – talk about ‘O captain, my captain!’ I do love a man in uniform – “

“Wait, hold on, did you just – Whitman? Really?”

“What? Oh, yeah. Bruce likes him, so I read some of his stuff. Not bad. Never would have pegged you for a poetry guy, though.”

(“I could say the same about you,” Steve doesn’t say.)

He smiles for what feels like the first time in seventy years. “Passing stranger! You do not know how longingly I look upon you; you must be he I was seeking, or she I was seeking, it comes to me as of a dream…”

For a long moment Tony looks like he doesn't know what to do with his face, and then he clears his throat and murmurs, “Who is he that would become my follower? Who would sign himself a candidate for my affections?”

His eyes are the exact colour of the scotch he likes, Steve notices. His hands are still in the sink; he doesn’t know when he stopped washing the dishes.

“You’ve got frosting on your face,” Steve says, gesturing. “Just, there – “ and reaches over (with Tony sitting on the countertop they’re nearly the same height) to wipe the smear off his chin with his thumb.

 “So do you,” Tony replies; his voice is a little hoarse, and when Steve swipes at his cheek with the back of his wet arm Tony dips his hand into the bowl in his lap and smears the resulting handful of frosting clear across Steve’s face.

 “You complete jackass – “ Steve splutters, incredulous. There’s frosting in his ear. There’s frosting in his eyelashes. Tony’s grin splits his face like a knife. Steve isn’t about to take that lying down, and splashes him, big enough to soak one side of him, from hair to waist.

Half of him looks like a drowned cat. It’s priceless.

 He blinks water out of one eye, soaked hair plastered to the side of his face, one palm smeared with frosting. He looks ridiculous. They’re silent for all of three seconds before they burst out laughing. Steve folds his arms on the dripping countertop, buries his face in them, and laughs until it hurts.

When he comes up for air, Tony’s still giggling too, both hands pressed to his face. He peers through his fingers at Steve, then – “hold still” – reaches over to wipe most of the frosting off his face and neck, and flicks it into the sink. Steve hands Tony the dishtowel, which ultimately doesn’t do much good, as it’s not much drier than he is. That sets them both off again, giggling like schoolboys, grabbing at each other’s shoulders and trying to stifle it, but it’s hopeless.

“What the hell’s going on in there?” Bruce calls, immediately followed by what sounds like a smack in the gut, probably for waking Clint up.

“Nothing, Mom,” Tony yells back, which isn’t entirely true, his warm, damp hand has slid from Steve’s shoulder to his neck, his thumb brushing Steve’s earlobe and that is something, that is definitely not nothing.

They’re very close. Steve has no idea how that happened. Or how he ended up standing squarely in front of Tony, between his knees. They stare at each other, and then they stare some more. Tony has frosting in one eyebrow and his beard. He is looking at Steve's mouth; Steve is very aware of this.

“Oh, for fuck’s sakes,” Tony says finally, takes Steve’s face in both hands and kisses him.

It’s nothing at all like kissing a woman: there’s no yield, no give and take; this is all take on both sides. Tony’s grinning, his mouth is hot and hungry and their teeth clack together, it’s clumsy, and Steve does not care. All of a sudden he wants Tony, wants him so badly he’s almost sick with it. Tony’s hands drop to his hips and then skate up his sides to his chest, nails and calloused fingertips raising goosebumps, leaving wet streaks, until Steve takes his wrists and pins his hands to the countertop on either side of him because God, he can’t think while Tony is doing that but it just seems to spur Tony on, the noise he makes is obscene. His knees bracket Steve’s waist and squeeze, and then Steve is nudging Tony’s chin out of his way to bite at his neck and collarbone and how is this happening. Tony pulls his hands free from Steve’s grip to grab at his hips and roll his own against them, pulls him in for a slow, dirty grind and he’s hard; Steve thinks he might actually die. The sound of his dog tags clacking against the arc reactor knocks some sense into him, somehow, and he braces both hands on Tony’s chest and shoves him away as gently as possible. His lower lip slides out from where it’s caught between Tony’s teeth and he will not stop to think about the sound Tony’s just made, he will not.

“I don’t even – what, is something wrong? Are you okay, I didn’t – Steve, fuck – “

“Just shut up for a second, will you, please?” Miraculously, Tony obliges. Steve is abruptly confused, not to mention achingly hard, and he can’t think. He needs a shower. A cold one, probably. “I’m sorry, I just – that was – so stupid,” he mutters, more to himself than Tony, and turns on his heel.

“Steve, wait.” Steve ignores him, leaves him there, strides past the team and their questioning looks – why are you soaking wet and covered in frosting, their eyes are saying – straight to the elevator and his floor.

Tony does not come after him.


 

They don’t talk about that, either.

In fact, Steve does not talk to anyone for three days, until Bruce comes to see him on his floor. Before he opens the door he catches sight of himself in the full-length mirror on the wall, and he looks terrible. He hasn’t slept or eaten since movie night. Or showered, or shaved.

Bruce greets him with a quiet, “Hi, Cap” as he takes in Steve’s appearance, then chuckles. In response to Steve’s questioning look he explains, “Sorry, I’m just not used to being in decent shape compared to you.” He smiles. “Can I come in?”

They sit in the pair of armchairs by the window, facing each other. Steve can’t meet Bruce’s eyes. Bruce doesn’t seem to mind.

“Tony told me what happened the other night,” he says mildly.

Steve doesn’t have the energy to be offended. Of course Tony would tell Bruce.

“I know it’s none of my business, but I just wondered if – if you maybe needed someone to talk to?” Bruce continues carefully. “I’m no expert when it comes to… this kind of thing, but I do know this is different than your usual bickering match, and you two won’t solve whatever’s going on by sulking.”

“Thanks, doc,” Steve says, after a time.

“Don’t mention it,” Bruce murmurs.

“He’s impossible,” Steve bursts out, surprising himself.

Bruce waits.

“He’s just – he treats everyone around him like they’re not in on whatever private joke he’s got in his head,” he says plaintively, looks to Bruce. “Does that make any sense to you at all?”

“I know exactly what you mean.”

“I – he’s – I just never know what he’s thinking, he’s so closed off, and then out of nowhere he’s just there, talking about frosting and Alan somebody-or-other – “

“Rickman,” Bruce supplies; he looks like he’s trying not to laugh. “Sorry, sorry. Not important. Go on.”

“And then he – he knows Whitman, which, by the way, what the hell is that, somebody who spends as much time as he does listening to – what are they called – AC/DC, has no business knowing Whitman, and he’s just – infuriating and irresponsible and probably borderline narcissistic and sort of beautiful and I’m in so far over my head, Bruce, I just…” Steve runs a hand through his hair and makes an incoherent noise of frustration. “I have no idea what to do. If there’s anything to do. I have no idea what happened the other night or what he’s thinking or how I feel.” It’s quiet for a moment. Something else is still nagging at him. “I’m not – “

“What, gay?” Bruce offers, gently. Steve nods; his throat feels constricted.

“I’m not,” he repeats, but it rings hollow, he can tell. Like something he’s only saying because he feels like he should.

“That’s okay, Steve,” Bruce replies without a trace of scepticism, judgment or condescension. “Neither is Tony.”

Bruce leaves him with far more questions than answers.


 

 

Steve wishes he could get drunk. It’s never been a problem before now, but now Tony is drunk all the time and they are back to acting like they did when they first met, snapping at each other over nothing, frustrations flaring. That, or avoiding each other outright.

Steve doesn’t want to go back to the way things were. He does not like the person he was when he met Tony.


 

 

Bruce tells Thor about Belgian waffles. This is a mistake, in Steve’s opinion. He comes in to the kitchen one morning to find strawberries and whipped cream everywhere; almost every available flat surface is covered in a light dusting of icing sugar.

They’re all on second helpings when Tony stumbles in, eyes half-shut and smelling like a distillery. He makes and swallows two shots of espresso before he says a word to anyone.

“Tough night?” Bruce asks, only half-joking.

“No more than usual,” Tony replies; his tone is just as light, but his eyes flick to Steve, who averts his own gaze reflexively.

Natasha’s eyebrows go up.

Tony pours himself coffee and slides a waffle onto a napkin, and then (because he’s a child and also an incurable wiseass) salutes Steve, and leaves.

Clint looks from Steve to Tony’s retreating back. “What the hell was that?”

“Shut up, Barton,” Tony calls from the hall.


 

Of course, it takes mortal danger to put things in perspective.

Well, “mortal danger” might be a bit dramatic. They get a call from Fury about another megalomaniac with an axe to grind, because that is what Steve’s life is like now, and the Avengers manage to clear things up with only minimal damage to approximately half of the island of Manhattan (“minimal damage” being SHIELD’s official line on the matter, “FUBAR” being Clint’s).

Steve is nursing a sprained ankle and what feels like at least three broken ribs, but he has had worse. Upon de-Hulking Bruce is handed a pair of sweats by a bystander (probably more to shield her children from his nudity than any interest in his comfort, but Bruce is grateful all the same) and falls dead asleep in Thor’s arms; Tasha and Clint don’t have a scratch on them. The right arm of Tony’s suit is probably going to be scrapped and rebuilt, it’s that bad, but he seems to be fine.

Steve sits on a curb more or less out of the way to inspect his ankle. Pulling his boot off is murder. His foot and calf are swollen and purple and generally disgusting, but he’ll live.

Tony takes a seat next to him as the police cars start to pull up; they watch for a moment in silence. Tony isn’t wearing his gauntlets or mask and looks considerably more like a bad cosplayer than Iron Man (Clint had shown him photos on the internet; Steve is oddly touched by the idea) and smiles at the thought; it makes his face twinge. He rotates his jaw until it cracks.

With mock gruffness Tony says, “Good work today, Captain.”

Steve laughs. “Thanks, Tony. You, too.”

Tony murmurs something that sounds a lot like “first time you’ve said two words to me in twenty-nine days…”

Steve decides not to comment. He’s been counting, too.

Tony scrubs a hand over his face and sighs. “Sometimes with one I love I fill myself with rage for fear I effuse unreturn’d love – “

“O I have been dilatory and dumb,” Steve can’t help but cut him off. “I should have made my way straight to you long ago.”

Tony stares at him like he’s never seen him before. Steve finds that being the object of his full attention is more than a little discomfiting.

He could probably get used to it, given the chance.

Steve shifts to face him more directly, bracing a hand on the sidewalk, and pulls Tony toward him with the other. The kiss is warm and it feels like coming home. Tony tastes like sweat and dirt and blood and Steve kisses him until he’s dizzy. They are both panting when they break apart.

“So, listen – “ Tony starts, even as he’s chasing Steve’s mouth again, “we are never  talking about my father –“ Steve is determined to kiss him until he shuts up, which could take a while, “- I can figure out a way to rig the heavy bags so you stop destroying them – if you have weird ’40s hangups about sex we can wait even though I feel like I might literally cease to live if you don’t take me home in about four seconds – I will probably never hold your hand in public – don’t get bitchy at me if it sounds like I’m not listening because I am and I’ll remember everything you say, you can quiz me, which, trust me, embarrassed the fuck out of my professors more than a few times in college - and I could live in my lab if you let me which you most likely won’t so you might have to drag me out of there every couple of days because Bruce, while he is awesome, is nothing but an enabler.”

Steve kisses him again, because he’s right there and because he can. “Okay, okay, as long as you promise to stop humming ‘America the Beautiful’ every time I walk into a room and calling me Methuselah, and explain to me what 4chan actually is because Clint said it’s ‘where memes go to die’ and I have no idea what that means and would you stop laughing, I’m serious.”

But he can’t help joining him; Tony buries his face in Steve’s shoulder and laughs and laughs. They are sitting on a filthy, cracked Manhattan sidewalk, exhausted, high on adrenaline and each other, on the verge of tears, heaving with laughter like little kids. They do not stop laughing for a long time.