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Heart Strings

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Jan and Jen were already in the livingroom when Tony finally dragged himself upstairs. His knees ached with each step--strained, no doubt, after the joints had started to stick halfway through the fight. The fine mist of sap had been harmless, according to Tony’s scanners, but had been hell to clean from the outside of the armor.

It was the reason he’d taken so long to make his way upstairs. Usually after a rough fight, as long as he wasn’t injured, Tony would just step out of the armor and leave it in whatever state of disrepair it had been in to deal with later, but today the sap had coated the armor so completely that it had taken two power-washes before he’d even been able to break the seal on the helmet.

Jan and Jen looked freshly showered and completely at ease, curled together across the length of the large living room sofa. Jan was curling a long strand of Jen’s hair around her finger, seemingly distracted, so Tony took a chance and leaned over to flip the channel to the news and away from whatever TLC garbage the girls were watching.

When this didn’t cause immediate outrage, Tony dropped onto the loveseat nearest the door and settled in.

“You can sit with us,” Jan said. She was frowning at him over the arm of the sofa, and reached out to pat the empty space between their knees as though that made it a more inviting offer. Tony rolled his eyes.

“You just want the remote,” he said. Jan’s frown deepened, but before she could protest, the couch on Tony’s left dipped in, and Tony found himself sliding a scant few inches before he was stopped by the wall of muscle that had settled beside him. Steve was freshly showered, too, his hair still clinging in tiny, damp curls at the base of his neck where it was beginning to grow too long. Tony’s heart fluttered treacherously, and he forced himself to tear his eyes away--a moment too late, probably, but no one seemed to be paying attention anyway--and when Steve draped an arm over his shoulder Tony stuffed the remote between the cushions, suddenly certain that Steve was working an angle to get power of the TV.

Oddly enough, Steve didn’t seem bothered by this, seeming completely at ease. Tony snuck a quick glance over at Jan and Jen, but neither of them were paying attention, eyes fixed on the news instead.

They… they didn’t do this, usually.

Tony knew how he felt about Steve, but he also knew that in all the years he’d know him, Steve had always been a friend to him. A friend, and nothing more. If he knew how Tony felt, he’d kept that information to himself, maybe to spare Tony the embarrassment of a soft rejection. Tony appreciated it, he really did, but it was hard to convince himself that Steve wanted to stay friends when they were currently pressed together from shoulder to hip.

They were friends, and casual touches were just something that Steve did. He always kept on the right side of platonic, and Tony pined in peace, and neither of them mentioned the question hanging between them.

But maybe now they did?

Maybe this was Steve’s way of telling Tony that he was interested in him after all, or… or at least interested in trying. Tony was struck giddy with the thought, and Steve, almost as though spurred on by Tony’s thoughts, slid his hand up from where it had been resting on Tony’s shoulders, and ran his fingers through his hair.

“Um,” Tony said. He floundered for something to say, but nothing was forthcoming, and Steve was still running his fingers through his hair, and Tony was almost afraid to point it out, unless Steve thought he wanted him to stop, which, no, he really didn’t.

Tony forced himself to turn toward the screen, relaxing by degrees. The news was currently playing clips from their earlier flight, but Tony was too distracted to notice, leaning almost completely against Steve now, and when he put a tentative hand on his thigh, Steve immediately reached out to twine their fingers together.

Should he say something?

Jan and Jen were still curled together on the couch. They didn’t look like they were paying any mind, but this was hardly the place for them to have a heart-to-heart. He should pull Steve aside, maybe into the kitchen under the pretense of getting snacks.

Tony went to stand, the invitation for Steve to follow already on his lips, but before he could even get up from the couch, Steve dropped his hand. The noise he made when he wrapped an arm around Tony’s waist was, frankly, adorable, and a second later Tony was being yanked back onto the couch and half into Steve’s lap.

Tony half-turned, incredulous and not sure if he should be amused or confused.

What are you doing?, he would have asked, if Vision hadn’t chosen that moment to walk into the room, Wanda in his arms and T’Challa a few steps behind them. The expression on T’Challa’s face would have been enough to raise Tony suspicions, without Vision glancing around to the room at large before announcing.

“I believe something is wrong,” he said. “Wanda is being unusually affectionate; she also will not allow me to put her down. I can only conclude that she was somehow affected during our battle."

T’Challa flicked a glance over Jan and Jen on the sofa, and then to Steve, before settling on Tony.

“Some sort of reaction to the sap, caused by skin contact or inhalation, if I had to guess. We appear unaffected.” He sounded somewhat unconvinced, given Tony’s position, but Tony understood immediately.

“Our suits must have protected us,” he said. Dread settled in his chest like a stone, threatening to squeeze, and Tony immediately went to stand again. He expected Steve’s reaction this time, and settled a hand over Steve’s fingers, trying to pry them back.

“Steve,” he said, more controlled than he felt, “let me go.”

Something in his voice must have gotten through to Steve, because his grip loosened just slightly, enough for Tony to stand, and he crossed the room in three steps.

“Go--” Tony hesitated, the vice in his chest squeezed, and he sighed. “Go sit with Jan.”

“Stark--” T’Challa started to say something, but Tony brushed past him, through the doorway and into the hall behind them.

“If it’s biological, I’m going to call Hank McCoy,” he said. It was an obvious excuse--T’Challa was fully qualified to handle this, but too bad, now was going to get an extra hand. The only person in the state of mind to see through his excuse was T’Challa himself, and at this point Tony didn’t care. He wasn’t going to think about how pathetic it was that he was reacting this way. They hadn’t even done anything, only sat on the couch together.

God, they’d done the same thing a thousand times before; the only difference here was a few casual touches and Tony getting his damn hopes up like he should have known better than to do.

If Tony slammed the door to his workshop a little too hard, well. No one was around to hear it.



By the time that Hank made the trip across the city, T’Challa reported that Jen was already returning to normal, and with any luck, the rest of them would metabolize whatever it was in their systems with slightly slower efficiency. Hank confirmed this diagnosis, took a few blood samples--from Tony and T’Challa, as well--and spent about ten minutes clanging around in Tony’s lab before he realized that Tony didn’t have the kind of equipment that he needed, especially after Hank Pym had moved out of the mansion and taken what little biochem equipment Tony had with him.

That had been five hours ago.

Steve had gotten back to normal at least three hours ago. Tony knew this, because Jan had dropped by to tell him that, and that they were fine, and to make sad faces at him that Tony definitely was going to ignore, because he didn’t need to deal with everyone knowing about his pathetic crush.

Because if Steve hadn’t known before, he certainly knew now, because Tony hadn’t even been affected and he’d been practically sitting in Steve’s lap and, god, this was humiliating.

The computer alerted him that Steve was coming down before he was in view. For one, painfully long moment Tony contemplated sending Steve away. He would listen without question, Tony knew, and in the end that was the reason that he couldn’t do it. Instead, Tony waved for him to come in, and tried to school his expression into something that didn’t look like a man staring down a firing squad.

If the pained, embarrassed expression Steve was trying to hide was any indication, he didn’t succeed.

“Feeling better?” Tony asked, grasping at the hope that Steve would let him deflect this conversation, to pretend that today didn’t happen.

“Listen,” Steve said, ignoring Tony’s question and dashing his hopes at the same time. “About earlier--” Steve let the words trail off, and didn’t say anything more. Did he want Tony to explain himself? An apology? Was he trying to let Tony down gently?

“I’m--” Tony started, but Steve cut him off before he could say anything more.

“I’m sorry,” Steve said, and whatever Tony thought he’d had been about to say, it wasn’t that, because why on earth would Steve apologize? Tony had had total control of himself, if anyone was to blame, it was him--

“Why?” Tony blurted. He regretted it the second he said it, and didn’t miss the way that Steve winced, his eyes fixing on a spot over Tony’s head while he gathered his thoughts. Tony cringed, almost went to take it back, but Steve pressed on before he could.

“You were obviously uncomfortable,” he said, and then squared his shoulders before amending, “I made you uncomfortable, and I know it wasn’t entirely my fault.” He held up a hand to stop Tony’s protest before it could start. “I know. But that doesn’t change the fact that I did it, and I don’t want this to affect our relationship or anything.”

“I liked it.”

“You--what?” Steve looked genuinely baffled, and Tony waited a moment, but he didn’t say anything else, only looked more confused.

“I--” Tony rolled his eyes to the ceiling exasperation or a prayer, and then resolved to fix Steve with as firm a look as he could manage when his insides were dancing the conga. “I like you,” he said firmly. “I’m not mad, because you didn’t do anything I wasn’t enjoying, because I really, really like you.”

“You,” Steve paused. For a moment, Tony was worried he wasn’t going to say anything. “Really?”

“Yes, really,” Tony said. “Frankly, I thought you already knew--”

Tony didn’t get the chance to finish the thought, because Steve was stepping into Tony’s space, so close that Tony can feel the heat radiating off of him but no closer.

“I’d like to kiss you now,” Steve said, voice pitched low like it was a secret. It takes Tony a moment to realize he’s asking permission. He nods, and then Steve’s lips were on his, their bodies pressed closed together, and Steve’s hands came up to the back of Tony’s neck.

Tony doesn’t allow himself any time to talk himself out of it, and just kisses back, because he’s wanted to for a long time now, and Steve is warm and wonderful against him. He pulls away from Steve’s lips, moves to press a kiss against his jaw, the shell of his ear.

“If you want,” Tony said, “we can go back upstairs? Pick up where we left off?”

Steve grinned. “That sounds perfect.”