The makeup artists are going to kill him, Tony decides as he examines his reflection in the bathroom mirror. Although his facial hair serves to detract some attention from it, there’s no mistaking the rash scattered along his cheeks and neck. Even more obvious is the mark that’s been suckled underneath the hinge of his jaw, and Tony shivers as he passes his fingers over it. By far, his favourite souvenir from last night is the one on his left pectoral, just under the arch of his collarbone, where the dark red-purple bruise contrasts with the blue glow of his arc reactor.
Tony is so preoccupied pondering how he’s going to explain this all away to a bunch of vulturistic reporters that he almost doesn’t notice when the shower turns off. Steve dries himself off using the towel on the back of the stall before pulling on a pair of grey sweatpants. They’re one of Tony’s, the elastic riding obscenely low on Steve’s narrow hips. The hem only reaches midway to his calves, exposing the delicate curves of his ankles. There’s something incredibly intimate about the sight of his bare feet against the tiles, the domesticity of it all hitting Tony square in the chest.
Steve kisses Tony’s nape as he passes by on his way to the adjoining sink, the two of them standing shoulder-to-shoulder as they go through their morning routines. Tony gets momentarily distracted as he watches beads of water slide down Steve’s back.
“I’ve decided,” Tony announces with all the flare he can muster, making a show of spreading aloe vera gel on his poor, abused skin. “That there’s really only room for one beard in this relationship.”
Steve finishes rinsing his mouth and dries his face. “Well, if it really bothers you,” he says, his tone taking that sweet lilt that Tony’s learned to identify as total bullshit. He reaches for the shaving cream and takes off the cap. “Maybe it’s time I shaved it all off.”
“Don’t you dare,” says Tony, grabbing the container out of Steve’s hands with a speed that could rival a super-soldier’s. Steve’s mouth quirks up in that irritating smirk that only makes his face even more devastatingly handsome. It’s outrageous, really. “It can… stay a little longer, I suppose,” he says, trying to fake nonchalance. The crinkles around Steve’s eyes make it clear he’s called Tony’s bluff. “I am, however,” Tony continues, pointing a menacing finger at Steve, “buying your beard a grooming kit. Conditioner, Steve. Conditioner is your friend.”
“Anything for you, sweetheart,” Steve says, biting his lip. He’s holding in a laugh, that bastard.
For good measure, Tony puts the shaving cream in a drawer on his side of the washbasin. He turns back to his reflection with a long-suffering sigh, noting how his skin isn’t looking any less red or angry. “I’ve got two televised interviews scheduled for today. I’ve got a press conference,” he complains. This is the third time this month he’ll be seen with beard burn and hickies, and he knows the reporters are only going to get more aggressive about prying into his personal life. Unfortunately, he can’t exactly clue them in to the fact he’s become Steve Rogers’ favourite canvas.
“We could tell the truth,” says Steve, drawing Tony out of his thoughts. As the words actually register, Tony’s body goes tense, his grip white-knuckled against the sink. When he finds the courage to turn and face Steve, an adorable blush has coloured the bridge of his nose. “Not about… that, obviously,” he gestures down Tony’s body and its various marks. “But about us.”
Tony takes a deep breath and looks into Steve’s eyes. He knows this isn’t a conversation he can afford to fuck up. “You… you want to go public?”
It’s not exactly a topic they’ve broached before, in so many words. Tony is under no illusions about their relationship; neither of them does things by halves, and he knows it’s serious. They haven’t exactly kept it a secret, either. All of their friends know. Heck, even Fury knows, though they sure as fuck haven’t bothered to tell him. Still, in the six months they’ve been together, they’ve followed an unspoken role of not speaking to the press. In public, they never act in any way that would disclose they’re a couple. He’d been sure it’s what Steve wanted.
Steve gives a small shrug, biting his lip. His hand finds the dog tags around his neck, moving the plates around on the chain and thumbing along the debossed letters. “You’re the one who doesn’t. And I—I respect that, I do. I’m more than fine with what we have. So it’s up to you. I just wanted you to know that option isn’t off the table, from my end.”
“Steve,” Tony tries, voice croaking. The last thing he’d wanted was to give the impression he’s ashamed of what they have. He takes Steve’s free hand in his, lacing their fingers as he wonders how to best proceed. Tony’s yet to encounter a physics problem he can’t solve, but unfortunately for him, relationships don’t seem to follow universal formulas. “It’s not that I don’t want to—God, it… being with you is incredible.You’re incredible. It’s just…”
Steve gently cups Tony’s face in his hands, caressing his jaw. “Then what is it, Tony?”
“I know you’re used to a certain level of publicity, and the scrutiny that comes with it,” he starts, carefully choosing his words. “But being romantically involved with me is going to magnify that tenfold. Paparazzi and reporters alike are going to hound you for a quick comment. They’ll be hiding in bushes to catch a glimpse. There will be new rumours every week—”
“You don’t think I know all that?” Steve asks, brows creasing. “Tony. None of that matters to me, and it’s nothing I can’t handle.”
“No, Steve, you don’t get it,” says Tony, letting his eyes slip shut. How can he make Steve understand? “They’re going to say things. They’re going to say I’m some evil sex demon who’s seduced the virtuous Captain America. They’re going to bring up every shitty thing I’ve done for the past forty years. They’re going to question why you’re with me, why you’ve lowered yourself to playing in the dirt. And eventually…” Tony trails off, unable to finish the thought.
“You think I’m going to believe them,” Steve says, his voice pained. He takes a deep breath. “It’s a good thing I understand this is about your self-worth issues, and not me, or I’d be incredibly offended.”
That prompts Tony to open his eyes, meeting Steve’s gaze. “You really believe that what a few sleazy reporters say about you could change what I think about you? How I feel about you?” He strokes the side of Tony’s face, pushing hair out of his eyes. “I knowyou, Tony Stark. I know your heart. That’s all that matters to me.”
Tony can barely hear anything over the rush of blood in his ears. “You really wanna do this?” he asks, hoping Steve will understand what he’s getting at.
“I’m all in,” Steve says, expression sincere as ever. He smiles, then, that mischievous grin that’s all teeth and trouble. “And I’ve been told I can be remarkably stubborn.”
“An insufferable ass is what you are,” Tony says, grabbing the back of his neck and surging up for a kiss. Steve’s hair is still damp from the shower and his mouth is still minty fresh. Tony searches out the taste with his tongue, mapping out every nook and cranny. Steve’s hands find Tony’s hips, turning them around until they’re backed up against the sink. With Steve’s help, Tony hops up to sit on top of it. Steve steps in between his legs and Tony hooks them around his waist.
“So, if you’re serious about going public, how do you want to swing this?” Tony asks when they’re both out of breath. “We give an interview? Joint statement?”
“No announcements,” says Steve, wrinkling his nose. After a thoughtful pause, he shrugs. “No fuss, just… no hiding. The next time we’re out, I get to hold your hand. You get to wrap your arm around my waist. That sorta thing. Whatever we want.”
It never really occurred to Tony that it could be so simple, that he could cling on to whatever little control they have of this thing. He quite likes the sound of it. “All right,” he agrees, “we can do that.”
Steve smiles and grabs the sides of Tony’s unbuttoned shirt. “Oh, and for the record, Tony?” he says, as serious as he is when devising strategy. “I’m with you because you’re brilliant and infuriating and full of passion, and because you challenge and support me in equal measure.” Steve removes the dog tags from his neck and slips them around Tony’s, the plates clinking when they meet the arc reactor. “Because you inspire me, and you make me feel more intensely than I ever have.”
“Steve,” Tony chokes out, throat clogging up with emotion. Tentatively, he brings his fingers to his chest, feeling the cold metal of the tags and the warm energy of his reactor. “Are you… you’re?—”
“I’m sure,” says Steve before Tony is even finished speaking. He brings his hand to rest on top of Tony’s. “Looks better on you, anyway.”
“Well, I am rather dashing,” Tony says with a quirk of his lips. His chest feels heavy and full and Steve’s reach goes all the way to his heart. “You know,” he says, because he’s feeling petty and this sentimental moment has stretched on long enough. “I still don’t know how to confront all those cameras when half my face looks like it’s been sandpapered off.”
Steve throws his head back and laughs, jovial and full of affection. “Well,” he says, and that’s definitely the beginning of his suggestive tone creeping through. He lets his hand wander down Tony’s stomach, hooking his thumb in his boxer briefs. “I could always lavish some extensive attention on other areas… ”
Tony shudders at that, reaching for the truly magnificent curve of Steve’s ass. “You’ve got a filthy mouth on you, Rogers, you know that?”
“Mmm. Thought you liked my mouth,” Steve says, nibbling on Tony’s ear as he whispers the words. “Especially when it’s wrapped around your cock or eating out your ass.”
Jesus fucking Christ. Tony has never met anyone as enthusiastic about those two things as Steve Rogers. “I…do…truly…appreciate those things,” Tony manages to say, biting his lip as Steve sinks down to his knees in front of him.
“Well, then, let’s make sure your thighs get to enjoy my beard while it’s still around.”