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Running out of Time

Chapter Text

 

In retrospect, Tony should not have let Pepper book his vacation, when she was clearly still upset by the whole 'I am Iron Man' thing. He'd asked for a “business trip”, like so many times before and he'd expected her to send him to the Stark facilities in Guam, or somewhere else suitably tropical, also like so many times before. There he'd planned on meeting the local hotshots for about five minutes before pissing off to the beach with the local beauty queens.

He removed an icicle from his mustache. Obviously Pepper was still angry. At least she didn't hate him, or else she would have let him pack his own suitcase and he'd be freezing his cojones off here in a speedo and sunglasses. Now he was still freezing his cojones off, but at least he was doing it in a parka packed by Pepper, so, unhappy as said cojones were with the lack of action, the family jewels might actually survive this trip. On the upside, there was no need to find proper refrigeration for his vodka, he had bottles stashed all over the upper deck of this polar expedition ship and they were all properly frozen under the merry light of the midnight sun.

He hadn't even known Stark Industries was still searching the polar seas for a trace of Captain America's downed plane every summer. Apparently it was done by some shady subdivision of SI that had been funded for the rest of eternity by dear old Dad. Because of course it was. The man never gave up on Captain America, at least.

So here he was, tagging along with a bunch of taciturn Danes who slept and swept the seafloor with sonar in twelve hours shifts and didn't do much for relaxation besides drinking heavily and talking about Danish reality tv. Or something. Tony didn't speak much Danish, and the crew's ability to remember to speak English when Tony was present was inversely correlated to the amount of alcohol they had consumed.

It had been riveting for all of about three minutes.

To be honest, though, the lack of a party scene at his current location was kind of doing him good. He had a (prototype) StarkPad full of new ideas for Stark Eco Tech and Stark Consumer Tech products that should be able to persuade even Pepper that the shift away from weapons manufacturing wasn't going to be the deathblow to SI that the entire board (and stock market) seemed to think it was. He had caught up on all the newest publications in all of his chosen fields (and a few outside of those), that he'd missed while being hosted by Afghan Club Med. He'd fired off a few suitably scathing letters to Nature and Science. Apparently nobody kept them on their toes when Tony wasn't around, and wasn't that just sad?

So anyway, that was why he was currently leaning over the railing of a gunmetal grey rustbucket, with a frozen bottle of vodka, watching his breath crystalize in front of his face and occasionally removing clumps of ice from his beard. He tried closing his eyes and pretending he was on a cruise ship in the Bahamas, but the biting wind on the exposed parts of his face was getting in the way.

An unfamiliar noise cut through the steady thrum of the ship's engine. It sounded like a massive waterfall had suddenly come into being, and when he opened his eyes it turned out to be true in some way. The enormous iceberg that had been depressingly present in Tony's view for the last half hour or so had decided to roll over for funsies. As its grey-blue underside slowly came heaving out of the ocean and the top rotated under, water ran in rivers out of the crags and crannies back to the surface. Tony watched in awe as the ice mogul rose from the depths like a frosty version of Poseidon. It rocked a few times until it had found its new equilibrium and then settled, with the last few hundred gallons of water dripping from its curves like an afterthought.

Tony was about to lift his bottle in salute to this fine bit of entertainment, but the "Cheers!" died on his tongue.

Out of the newly exposed side of the iceberg stuck the wing of an airplane.

Holy fucking fuck.

He ran off to roust some of the Danes that were still busy staring at the ocean floor.

 

 

Chapter Text

In retrospect, it had been in no way necessary to use his whole hand. Or even his fingers, for that matter. JARVIS was perfectly capable of monitoring anything remotely.

Tony liked keeping an eye on the defrosting of Captain America in the climate controlled room off his workshop and he wandered in and out during all hours as the solid block of ice slowly thawed. They had a decided on a slow defrost to avoid as much tissue damage as they could. It would be great if Captain America came out of his watery grave looking well enough to undergo embalming and be presented to the American public before they'd have the official interment with proper honors and ceremony. Tony wasn't sure yet if he would let Pepper handle that, or formally present the corpse to the US Military as a gesture of goodwill from Stark Industries (and maybe that would get congress to stop pressuring him to hand over the Iron Man suit for a while), but in the meantime he had decided not to tell anyone about his find just yet.

First thing to be released by the ice was the shield and, wow, Tony felt as giddy as a little boy holding that legendary vibranium disk. He couldn't resist the temptation to take if for a spin, so to speak, but after it killed one of his half finished projects, he limited himself to just running a battery of tests on it. It was even more amazing than he’d expected. He decided right then and there that Captain Rogers would be interred with a simulacrum. It'd be a tragedy to bury the real thing. And who would know?

 

A couple of days later all visible ice had melted from Cap's body, although JARVIS assured him the process wasn't done yet, because internally, the body was still frozen. And what a body it was! Cap was a beautiful man. Really, the pictures hadn't done him justice, what with the strong jaw and the chiseled cheekbones. And he had been flawlessly preserved by the ice. There wasn't a blemish on him, not even the slightest sign of freezer burn, even though his outfit was much the worse for wear. Tony could just feel himself basking already in the reflected glory of presenting the public with their fallen hero. Maybe even Dad would have been proud. Tony snorted. Yeah, right. Still, he must have stood there for quite a while, in the little room, just staring at this beautiful stranger who used to be his childhood hero.

It was much darker outside the windows of the workshop when he finally dragged himself away.

 

JARVIS called him to the room the next day.

"What is it?" Tony asked on entering, checking for any signs of change. Cap looked the same to him, a little eerie in his silent beauty, maybe not as deadly white and his head might have tilted a fraction to the right. Tony came to stand by his shoulder, peering down at the peaceful face.

"The defrosting process is complete, Sir," JARVIS answered, "all internal tissues have thawed and Captain Rogers' internal temperature has risen rapidly."

"Excellent. Well, we'd better lower the ambient temperature then, so he won't spoil before we can get an embalmer in here. Refrigerate him, JARVIS."

"Pardon me, Sir, but I meant that Captain Rogers' temperature has risen faster than the current ambient temperature could have achieved. He..." JARVIS paused and that was so unusual that Tony looked up questioningly at the speaker in the ceiling, as if JARVIS was residing there; something he hadn't done in years.

"Sir. Captain Rogers' heart just beat. Once."

Tony's eyes flew back to Cap's face. Nothing. He could see nothing. He cupped his right hand along Cap's jaw and turned his head back towards his own. There was no resistance to the motion. The skin felt cold, but was it dead-cold or just cold-cold? He brought his face closer. Had that been some random spasm of the heart muscle?

"Another beat, Sir."

It was impossible. It was absofuckinglutely impossible that Cap was still alive after seventy years of being frozen. But if it was not impossible, if somehow his heart was beating, however slowly, he should be breathing. Tony brought his face a fraction from Cap's lips, trying to detect air flow, any air flow.

Anyway, that is how Tony ended up just inches away, his hand cupping Cap's jaw, as if he were the prince who had just kissed Sleeping Beauty awake, when Steve opened his eyes.

"Blue," was the only thought Tony came up with. The eyes were very, very blue.

"Hey." Steve's voice was warm, but raspy with disuse.

Tony pulled back maybe six inches. He couldn't manage more, it was like he was caught by that gaze.

"Hey," he answered, eloquently. His fingers twitched a little and he felt Steve fractionally push his face into hand in response, as if it had been a caress. Which made him want to slide his hand along the jaw in wonder. He stopped himself just in time.

"Who...?" said Steve. "I'm sorry, my vision is really blurry."

"Oh, that's probably due to deformation of the cornea, caused by cryogenic pressure. It should pass when your temperature has normalized."

Steve smiled and Tony's heart almost stopped.

"Howard! It's you! That's your voice and your big words." Steve peered at Tony as if trying to force his vision to behave. Or to turn Tony's face into his father's. "When did you grow a beard?" he asked jovially.

Tony flinched back.

"Not Howard. I'm Tony... " He paused before he added: "Howard was my father."

Silence descended in the room. Steve turned his head and looked at the machinery along the walls. Even if he could see it clearly, would it make any sense to him? Finally Steve turned his face back to Tony's.

This time there was trepidation in his voice.

"Was?"

Tony sat down heavily on a nearby stool as the implications of the situation at hand finally hit him full force.

Chapter Text

In retrospect, Tony could think of roughly four billion people on the planet who would have been better qualified to bring Steve Rogers into the twenty first century. Give or take a billion. Unfortunately for Steve, Tony was who he got. The problem was that Tony was used to going off on tangents, he had his best ideas that way, but it didn't make a very good method of teaching history. He went from WWII to Vietnam to Woodstock to Watergate to All The President's Men to Marilyn Monroe to the Kennedy assassination to Reagan to Iran Contra to Al Qaida to TSA to bird flu and swine flu and AIDS and vaccinations and Disneyland and Martin Luther King and DADT and the internet and school shootings and the end result was that Steve got completely confused and overwhelmed. Eventually Tony gave up trying to start over to fix it. Then he just ordered pizza and collapsed on the couch next to Steve.

"JARVIS, just pick us a movie. Nothing that requires any explanations, please."

He rolled his head to the side to watch Steve's profile. The tv didn't seem to faze him, particularly, or maybe it was just that he had already reached his limits and was now beyond fazing.

"Sorry about that. Maybe we shouldn't have tried to squeeze 70 years into 17 hours."

Steve looked back at him, a small smile on his lips. "Twenty two hours and thirty seven minutes."

Tony lifted his head, interest piqued. "Internal clock? Serum effect? How precise is it? Did they ever test it?"

"Yup. Yup. To the second. Yup."

"Awesome," Tony sighed and finally turned his attention to the movie. He promptly sat back up.

"Seriously, JARVIS? The Incredibles? Superheroes coming out of retirement? Really?"

"It seemed that Captain Rogers would be able to relate, Sir."

"As I am sure he'll be able to relate to Schindler's List and yet-"

"Shush, Tony. It's fine. It looks fine. How was it made? It's not animation and it's not puppets, what is it?"

Tony went off on a happy tangent about computer animation and CGI and motion capture and he even pulled out his tablet and showed Steve photoshop and several drawing programs.

Tony planted his feet on the coffee table and enjoyed watching Steve delightedly explore them all, while the man kept one eye on the big screen and Tony was glad he'd found another multi tasker to watch a movie with, because honestly, how anybody ever expected him to just sit there for two hours and passively take in a story at a pace that was inevitably too fucking slow, was beyond him.

 

He woke up drooling on Steve's shoulder. Tony blinked a few times. The chicken suit guy from Toy Story 2 was on the screen, but the movie was paused. Steve was still asleep, his head resting on the back of the couch with his face turned into Tony's hair. Every exhale caressed Tony’s scalp with a warm, moist, puff of air. Somehow that made Steve more real and alive than watching him wake up had been. Tony thought he should probably move. He didn't particularly want to, but it was a little... intimate and who knew how his Dad's perfect soldier would react to finding himself all snuggled up with another dude. When he tried to carefully extract himself though, Steve made a noise of protest and his hand gripped Tony's thigh like a vise. Right. Super strength. Not going anywhere then. For a lack of alternative, Tony fell back asleep.

 

The next time he woke up, Steve was still sleeping, but he'd managed to mostly disentangle himself in the process, so Tony's extraction was more successful this time around. He snuck off to take a shower.When he came back a slightly flustered Pepper was trying to make a much more flustered Steve do the walk of shame.

"No!” Tony interjected. “No, Pep, it's not... that's not... Steve will be staying for a while."

She lifted a perfectly arched eyebrow. "Really."

"Yeah. Yeah, we're just... hanging out."

"Very well. I'll come back later, then, shall I?"

"That would be awesome. Totally awesome." Tony busied himself with the coffeemaker to avoid having to look at her. Not that she wouldn't look through that in a millisecond and make him pay for it later, but he just didn't know what else to do. Looking at Steve wasn't an option either.

"I will be here to pick you up for the board meeting at 4," she said pointedly. "I would appreciate it if you were dressed at the time. Mr. Stark." Tony grimaced. She allowed herself a tiny smirk and with that she headed for the door. He didn't dare relax yet. And indeed, she turned just before she exited.

"Should we expect any larger than usual charges for 'personal entertainment' to be charged to the company account, Mr. Stark?" How she could convey so much venom in such a sweet tone of voice was a mystery to Tony. It would serve her well once he'd made her CEO, but dammit, she wasn't the boss yet.

"Nope. No. Not using the company account. Thank you, Pepper. See you at 4."

She finally left and Tony stifled a sigh before he looked at Steve. Ignoring whatever it was he could or could not see on his face, he offered a distraction.

"Breakfast?"

"That would be... totally awesome?" Steve was obviously trying the expression on for size.

Tony laughed. "You don't sound too sure. Now, that would be wholly justified if I were actually cooking anything, but thankfully for you JARVIS keeps the fridge stocked with pre-made meals. Let's see what we've got today."

As he busied himself with showing Steve the miracles of convection ovens and microwaves as they related to reheating a selection of premium breakfast foods, he reminded himself that he might want to eventually make it clear to Pepper that he wasn't actually fucking Steve. He should probably also let Steve know, discreetly, that Pepper was currently under the impression that they were fucking, but then again... Who was he kidding? There was no way in hell he was broaching that subject with Captain America. There was a point in every man's life where he realized that sometimes living with people's assumptions was less painful and embarrassing than explaining the truth, and this was clearly that point.

 

Tony sat nursing his coffee while Steve ate. And ate some more. And more still. Wow. Gotta love a man with a good appetite. Good thing he could afford to feed him. And clothe him, the man needed clothes that fit. Not that Tony didn't appreciate the way his own T-shirt was stretched delectably across those super serious pecs and deltoids, but the shirt was probably ruined and it being a vintage AC/DC, that was kind of a shame. Which kind of made him wonder what kind of clothes he needed. Which led to the question what Steve was going to do now. What were his options? He waited until Steve started chewing a little slower.

"So. What's next, do you think? You gonna go back in the army? Fight with the boys in Afghanistan? Or should we present you to the public first? Hey! You could be part of the Stark expo! That'd be a hit. Or, I can introduce you to this senatorial committee that wants to see me. And while we're at it, you could let them know how ridiculous it is they're even asking for the Iron Man armor. It's not like they'd ever ask you to hand over your shield. Or-"

"No."

"No? What no? Which part of it no?"

"All of it." Steve stared morosely at his plate. "I don't feel ready for any of that. It's like... WWII was yesterday for me. I saw Peggy day before yesterday. I am barely here and I know nothing about this world. I need some time. Before I need to do anything. Time to figure out what's what." He looked at Tony beseechingly with those big blue eyes and Tony tried not to crumple like a wet tissue and start patting his hand and say ‘there, there’.

Steve looked away, staring out a window and that helped.

"Maybe I can find an apartment and a simple job in Brooklyn and just lay low for a while,” he continued. “There has got to be something I can do to earn some money, things can't have changed that much. What do you think?" He looked back at Tony.

Yeah, no. Like hell that was going to happen. That'd be like letting a baby duckling loose in the middle of 5th Avenue. A very strong and muscular and heroic baby duckling, so maybe the analogy wasn't quite what Tony was looking for, but still... no. Tony's conscience wouldn't survive it and that was saying something. Unfortunately, he could already tell Steve had a stubborn streak a mile wide and would be ridiculously opposed to receiving what he considered charity, so he had to come up with a viable alternative for his muscular duckling. He tapped his lips for a bit and then tried to sound casual.

"You could work for me. I need a bodyguard. It's a boring job in which you have lots of time to stand around and observe and think things over. I'd need you close by, so you can stay with me, and I'd pay you. Until you know what you want."

"You don't really need a bodyguard. I don't need-"

"Charity. How did I know? It's not charity. You'd be surprised. Despite my sunny personality, just last month my godfather paralyzed me, stole the arc reactor and left me to die and before that he arranged to have me kidnapped and I ended up carrying a car battery hooked up to my heart through the desert of Afghanistan. There's also a lot of pressure and professional jealousy and I can't go everywhere as Iron Man. Hence, I need a bodyguard. You'd be perfect."

"Because you want Captain America as your bodyguard?" The scepticism was still palpable.

"No! No, the point is that you'd be incognito. You know... like Clark Kent, our mild mannered reporter when he's not being Superman."

Steve's face slowly lost the pinched look.

"You want me to be Clark Kent?" He sounded amused.

"Yeah. You can be... Steven Grant. My mild mannered, but imposing body guard."

"That's my middle name."

"I know."

Steve looked at him funny. Had Tony not made clear yet that he'd had posters on his wall as a kid? Maybe that hadn't come up between the Cuban Missile Crisis and the fall off the Berlin Wall.

"Alright," Steve nodded. "Should I dye my hair black, like Clark?"

"Nah. No need. With a haircut, sunglasses and some fuck off suits, you'll be fine."

They shook on it, because that was the type of man Steve was and Tony felt a little bit better about himself just being in the presence of that kind of guy.

"Thanks for letting me stay," Steve said earnestly, as he held Tony's hand in a firm grip.

"Oh please," scoffed Tony. "I am paying you to stay."

Steve smiled as if they both knew that wasn't true and considering the fact that they hadn't even talked about how much money he would get, he was right of course, but that fact would be manfully ignored for the good of all and they both knew that too. They were getting to be bros already.

 

Chapter Text

In retrospect, Tony should have handed Steve over to Fury with a 'good riddance' the very first time the man showed up. The ugly bastard actually caught him in his office and given the amount of time Tony spent out of his office, that was a small miracle right there. How he had talked his way past Natalie, who was heading the front, was another. He'd stolen Natalie away from Legal for his personal assistant as soon as Pepper had left to go solidify her new status as CEO of Stark Industries. On the surface because she was unflappable and ruthless. Even more obviously because she was gorgeous and he was Tony Stark and it would have been quite unlike himself not to hire her on the spot. Totally out of character, in fact, and really, things had to be as normal as possible right now, with him harboring Cap and the secret of his own imminent death.

But deep down, in the place where Tony occasionally didn't lie to himself, he hired her because he could easily flirt with her instead of giving in to his need to get all up in Steve. And because she was unflappable and ruthless, it worked admirably.

But now she had let him down by actually letting someone into his office that he hadn't specifically greenlighted ahead of time. It was an imposing motherfucker, too. Although it could just be resting bitch face and not specifically caused by Tony. For a change. He hit the intercom.

"Natalie? What the fuck?"

"You said to use my discretion, Mr. Stark."

"Well, your discretion should be more discreet."

"That would be using your discretion, not mine."

"That's what PA's do, Natalie, they level up to their boss's discretion."

"I can go back to Legal."

He thumbed the intercom off, because it felt uncomfortable, bickering with his PA while being stared down at by the man in black on black, who was raising a single eyebrow at him. The other was covered with an honest to god eyepatch. Tony raised an eyebrow in return, already annoyed by the who-is-going-to-speak-first-pissing-contest they seemed to have going on. The silence dragged on for a bit while Steve came to stand by Tony's shoulder. Fury's eye flicked to Steve and then back to Tony.

"Mr. Stark, my name is Nick Fury, I am director of SHIELD and I am here to talk to you about the Avengers Initiative. Please send away your bodyguard, so we can talk."

Steve moved infinitesimally closer to Tony and Tony agreed wholeheartedly with that move.

"Yeah, no. Maybe if you'd shown up in dockers, loafers and a pink polo shirt, but here you are looking like you're just stopping over on your way to shoot up a college campus. Steve stays. Talk or don't talk, I don't care."

"Mr. Stark. You think you're the only superhero in the world?"

Tony sucked in a tiny breath and next to him he felt Steve tense up. Fury couldn't know, could he? Steve was sporting a neatly trimmed beard, his hair was slicked back and he wore sunglasses everywhere. Even if Fury had somehow figured out that Tony had found America's Supersoldier, the man currently guarding Tony's back looked very different from the old pictures of the clean shaven, all American poster boy for sleeping with your hands above the blankets. Of course, Tony would still pay half his fortune for thirty minutes under said blankets, but that was neither here nor there.

"You've become part of a bigger universe, Mr Stark. You just don't know it yet...." And with that Fury launched into a spiel about the so called Avengers Initiative, which sounded like something out of Tony's nightmares, full of teamwork and responsibility and accountability and camaraderie. But he kept expecting Steve to jump up and shout "Me! Pick me!" It would be perfect for the man with the overdeveloped need to protect all of humanity from evildoers. But Steve said nothing and Tony politely declined the offer, because he really wasn't a team player and he sure as hell wasn't going to take orders from guys in black leather trench coats. There were special clubs for that kind of thing, where everything was safe, sane and consensual, if he ever felt that need. And maybe he shouldn't have said that last part out loud, but what was done was done and Fury got to make a pissy dramatic exit and Tony thought the man might secretly enjoy that.

He turned to Steve.

"You didn't jump on that? That sounded right up your alley. Us against evil, Superheroes of the world unite! Saving the universe and all that jazz?"

Steve shrugged.

"It sounded good, but that doesn't mean they are actually good. Add a monocle and that man could have been palling around with the Red Skull."

"He is probably wearing a contact lens instead."

"No he wasn't. I didn't see one."

"You can see contact lenses from this distance?"

"Sure. Pepper wears them all the time."

"She does?” Tony processed that for a couple of seconds, then decided that wasn’t the real issue here. “Let's go get lunch." Tony felt uneasy. What the fuck was Steve doing here? It’d been a couple of weeks and he was wasting his fucking time and talents hanging around with Tony.

He pointedly ignored Natalie on his way out, but he could have sworn he saw a tiny smirk out of the corner of his eye.

 

***

 

Steve apparently did not feel he was wasting his talents on Tony, so that is how they ended up pretty much joined at the hip for the next few weeks. To the point that Tony's left shoulder was feeling almost bereft when Steve was more than a couple of inches away from it. It was fucking annoying, is what it was.

 

***

 

Steve alternately laughed and eye-rolled his way through the Stark Expo events. They were watching the dress rehearsal when Steve said:

"Honestly, Tony, a little less gold and a bit more white and blue and maybe a bit less skin and you'd have a perfectly decent USO tour. What are you selling?"

"Me," Tony blurted. "Well, not me in the literal sense," he continued before Steve could make a hooker joke. And he would, but it would be a horribly awkward one and Tony couldn't handle that level of adorkable while he was stone cold sober. "We’re selling Tony Stark products that aren't weapons. They're a hard sell when that's all you're known for."

Steve nodded gravely. "It's a good thing you're doing. I'm sure you'll wow them. If it helps I could lift a motorcycle with some of those girls on it, or punch out Hitler for you?"

Tony had watched all the footage he could find of the USO tours, so he knew exactly what Steve was talking about. There were so many things he wanted to say about that. That Steve had looked good: strong and noble and beautiful. But he also wanted to express his outrage that that had been all they had wanted to use Steve for, when it had been so blindingly obvious that Steve was so much more than a dancing monkey. That they had created the perfect warrior, with outstanding skills, but more importantly, with so much heart he was a boon to humanity, instead of the threat he so easily could have been. He wondered if that was why Howard had spent so much time and money looking for Steve, because he had felt guilty about helping create the new Steve with his Vita-rays and then abandoning him to bureaucrats without an ounce of vision. But even if he could have found the words to say it, this wasn't the time and place, what with all the girls in red and gold booty shorts kicking up their legs a few feet away.

"Thanks,' he said instead, "but I don't think it's necessary to break your cover just to sell a few more Starkphones. I think the ladies and I can handle it."

"You sure? Hey, wasn't that your cue?"

Tony almost stumbled when Steve shoved him onto the stage.

 

***

 

Steve wasn't always at Tony's left shoulder, to be honest. It wouldn't have been practical in the workshop. Tony spent quite a bit of time there working on some of the designs he'd started on the ship. But he set up an 'education station' for Steve within his line of sight. It made sense, it really did. Steve's main complaint about the internet was that it was so very low on facts and very full of opinions that used twisted facts. Steve had once asked him seriously whether Tony thought Elvis was really dead or not (and what about Paul McCartney? Did Tony have any vinyl copies of Sgt. Pepper that he could play backwards?), and Tony wasn't going to be responsible for setting a super powered conspiracy theorist loose on the world, so it was just better if Steve was right there while he caught himself up on current events. The fact that Steve hardly ever bothered to change after his workouts before joining Tony in the workshop had nothing to do with it.

 

***

 

Tony got kind of used to Steve being mildly confused and eager to accept Tony's authority when it came to said current events, so it came as quite a shock to come back after his first time out as Iron Man (dealing with a terrorist attack in Chad) to a Steve that had his arms crossed in annoyance and was actively glaring at him. Tony looked behind him to see if there was anyone else Steve could be mad at. There wasn't.

"What?"

"What the hell was that?" Steve wasn't shouting, but Tony felt his hackles rise anyway.

"That was me being Iron Man. You know this. I went and subdued some terrorists. What's your problem?"

"My problem is that you went in like a chicken with its head cut off. No backup. No communication. Did you even have a plan?"

"Plan? What the fuck for? I came, I saw, I went pew pew pew, I won. Simple."

"You caused major collateral damage and terrified an entire village. If you'd secured the school first then they couldn't have holed up in there and taken that class of kids hostage." He gestured to an array of monitors that were displaying all possible angles of the village Tony had just left. Steve and JARVIS had been busy while he was gone.

"No civilians died, Steve. At least not after I got there."

"But 23 kids were unnecessarily traumatized, Tony. Besides, this way you'd also have cut off the terrorists' escape route and you wouldn't have had to spend over an hour chasing them down." He was making stabby motions at the monitors as he proceeded to expose multiple flaws in Tony's plan of attack. Which, admittedly, hadn't been much more complex than Tony had already mentioned. Below the irritation at being schooled in tactics 101 and the defensiveness he manfully tried to keep under control, it dawned on Tony that this was something Steve might actually be better at than him. It stung, like it always did when someone outclassed him. Maybe because it happened rarely enough that he never had a chance to actually get used to it.

"Okay, okay, I get it. I should have had a better plan. You can stop now."

"You should have had a plan. See, if you'd-"

"Seriously, Steve. Stop! I get it! Enough."

Steve stopped talking, but he didn't look happy about it at all.

"I'm going to take a shower now."

Steve watched him in silence as he clunked away in the armor.

When Tony came back the workshop was empty.

"Captain Rogers is in the gym, Sir." JARVIS provided helpfully. Great. If Steve had gone there to work off his anger, that meant Tony would have to shell out for a few more reinforced heavy bags soon. If not an entirely new gym. He went back to work, ignoring the sick feeling in his stomach that he was sure was just caused by lack of food or something. He found himself nervously drumming some wrenches on the work table and forced himself to stop. Several times.

Steve poked his head into the workshop a couple of hours later. Tony pretended to be fully absorbed in the project he had stared through for most of the afternoon.

"I made spaghetti and meatballs. Come eat." It was phrased as a command, but it sounded like a peace offering. Tony briefly considered blowing him off to sulk a little more aggressively, but his body had already breathed a shaky sigh of relief and let his shoulders sag with the release of tension. Steve's super eyes must have spotted it, because a small smile started to tug at the corners of his mouth. And just like that Tony lost the will to sulk.

"Okay." He tossed the wrenches on the table and followed Steve out.

After dinner, they sat together on the couch and watched Armageddon, while Tony finally got some work done on his tablet and Steve doodled in his sketchbook, not in least bothered by the ridiculous number of explosions on the screen.

 

The next time Tony had to fly off as Iron Man to go deal with some crisis he spent the entire flight to Serbia being treated to Steve's tactical analysis of the situation, which JARVIS conveniently displayed on Tony's HUD. He was in and out in under 40 minutes, with no damage and no casualties.

He'd never admit it, but after that, Steve's voice in his ear during missions became a source of comfort.

 

Chapter Text

In retrospect, Tony should have left Steve at home for the congressional hearings. Steve didn't laugh and eyeroll his way through those, like he had a t the expo. He was serious and grim, standing behind Tony. Tony didn't know if Steve thought the armor should be given over or not, but he obviously didn't approve of Tony's flippancy while denying them. Tony would have loved to tone it down for him, but there was more at stake here than Steve knew. It'd be out of character, for one, and if he started acting out of character, there'd be scrutiny and that, he couldn't afford. The fucking palladium in the arc reactor was going to kill him sooner than he thought and the last series of failed attempts at finding a substitute had failed quite spectacularly just yesterday. So he was a little on edge and these smug assholes on the dais were just presenting themselves as sitting ducks, really.

 

They were coming back from a water break, when Steve all of a sudden pushed him into the men's restroom and into the handicapped stall. He flipped the lock and pushed Tony against the wall, his forearms bracketing Tony's head. His face was close enough to kiss and Tony couldn't help it, his thoughts went there and his breath hitched and his heart started pounding.

"Tony!" Hissed Steve, "whatever you do-" Then his eyes widened.

"Are you scared of me?" Steve was incredulous.

What?

"What? No!"

"Your heart is pounding."

"That isn't fear, dumbass. That's... you know..." Tony flicked his eyes down to Steve's lips and then back up to the blue eyes that still stared at him without comprehension. "You're very close." Tony could tell when Steve connected the dots. He pushed himself away from Tony with alacrity and staggered back against the opposite wall, the diaper changing table hitting him in the ass. His cheeks were flushed and Tony bit back a sigh of disappointment. The good ones always had that deplorable gay panic thing going on.

"I'm sorry. Is that even...?" Steve didn't even have words for it, apparently.

"It's legal, if that's what you’re asking." Tony made a face. "Most conservative Christians still have a conniption about it, but we could get married in New York and New Hampshire right now, if you want."

"Really..."

"Yes, really. Not that you want to, obviously." And Tony had absolutely no clue where the little pang of regret came from. He wasn't the marrying kind, also: dying, so the whole idea was ridiculous.

"Which reminds me, what do you want? Why are we in a bathroom stall if it's not to trade blowjobs?" And that really was kind of mean. Unnecessarily crass, at the least. It wasn't Steve's fault that Tony felt rejected, he hadn't meant anything by it and Tony had no business feeling rejected. But there you had it.

Steve shook his head minutely, as if trying to clear it from the visuals Tony had just so callously provided. He stepped away from the changing table, a little closer to Tony, but not anywhere within touching distance. Tony felt another pang at that.

"I overheard something as we were walking down the hall. Whatever you do, don't give them the armor Tony. Somewhere in this building, and I wish I could pinpoint where, but there's just too many people around, talking at the same time... Somewhere in the building two people just greeted each other with 'Hail Hydra!'”

"Whoa! Wait a minute. What do you mean you overheard as we were walking down the hall? You were with me the whole time."

Steve looked at him as if Tony was simple.

"Super hearing. I can hear everybody talk in this building. I can hear their heartbeats. I can hear yours. That's why I thought you were scared, it suddenly sped up. But..." He flushed again. "Sorry about that."

Tony manfully ignored this reference to the episode he was going to actively forget asap.

"Wow. I can't even imagine. That must get annoying." Of course, Tony immediately wondered if Steve had ever heard him jerk off in the shower. He sure as fuck hoped he'd never actually moaned Steve's name aloud when he did, he couldn't quite remember now if he had. Maybe he should check with JARVIS, just so he knew how much embarrassment he was entitled to.

"Kind of. Mostly. It can be helpful though. Like now."

"Yeah. Yeah, you're right. Well, we don't know if these people were random visitors or even spectators, or if they are actually government employees, do we?"

Steve shook his head, a little morosely, as if he had failed Tony somehow, which was just stupid.

"Okay, let's not assume the worst, but let's assume the worst."

So Tony marched back into the hearing room and bickered with Justin Hammer and an exasperated Rhodey and called a bunch of senators 'assclowns', and then he marched back out with Steve at his left shoulder. Less than two inches away from it, in fact. But that surely had nothing to do with the fact that Tony felt like high fiving everybody he met on the way out.

 

***

 

Tony went to see his aunt Peggy in a nursing home somewhere on the Eastern Seaboard. Pepper didn't understand why he needed to bring his bodyguard along on that particular trip and insinuated that surely he could keep it in his pants for a day or two while visiting his father's elderly friend with Alzheimer’s, but fortunately she insinuated it in such a classy way that Steve still didn’t realize that she thought Tony was fucking him.

The rest of the world probably just thought he was paranoid, walking through the grey corridors with a bodyguard at his shoulder, their shoes squeaking on the linoleum. That was the upside of being stupidly rich and a well known douchebag, though, being a little more douchey than usual didn't faze people. He left Steve by the door and slipped inside. As he kissed Aunt Peggy’s cheek, he was a little relieved that she still recognized him. He knew she'd forget that he'd been here within hours, or maybe she was down to minutes now. Eventually, she'd forget him altogether, but that was something he refused to think about right now.

"Aunt Peggy, I've brought you another visitor. Don't freak out, okay?"

"Don't talk nonsense, Anthony. As if you've ever seen me freak out."

"Yeah. Well... There's a first time for everything." He returned to the door and beckoned Steve in. Tony slipped outside quickly, but not quick enough.

"Steve! You're alive!" The tremor in her voice broke his heart.

 

He found himself an unoccupied room along the corridor and settled himself on the bare bed with his Starkpad to while away a couple of hours.

 

Tony drove on the way back to the airfield where his jet was waiting. Steve hadn't said a word since they left the nursing home and Tony hadn't pushed him. The day was dark and gloomy, but Steve still wore his sunglasses. He was staring out the window where the rain and the wind were blowing tracks of tears on the glass. If Steve was crying he clearly didn't want Tony to know. Which... Fair enough.

But when Tony touched Steve's hand, meaning it to be an unobtrusive gesture of comfort, Steve turned his hand over and laced their fingers together. They remained like that until Tony had to shift down after they took the exit to the airfield. Fucking sports cars with their manual transmissions.

Chapter Text

In retrospect, he should never had let Steve bring the shield to Monaco. Not that there had been a whole lot of 'letting' going on, truth be told. Because that implied that Tony had had any say at all, and that hadn't been quite how it played out. Basically Steve had mentioned he was going to bring the shield and Tony had made a protesting noise of the inarticulate kind and Steve had said: "It's my shield and I am not leaving it here because you feel the need to go cavorting with the rich and famous for a week in a ridiculous country." And that had been that. Except...

"What's ridiculous about it?"

Steve looked at him with pity in his eyes.

"It's only a country because France hasn't bothered to pick its nose and swallow the booger. That, and they hold a Grand Prix in the middle of the city."

"Yeah," Tony beamed, "It's awesome."

"Only if you're not particularly concerned with public safety. Or in charge of security for your own visiting genius/billionaire. Then it's a damned nightmare."

So Tony shrugged and did the best he could to create an inconspicuous carrier for the shield, but it still ended up looking like his bodyguard was an artiste lugging around a giant portfolio. Pepper wasn't impressed. And then she got even less impressed when Natalie met them in Monaco and Tony's morning took a nosedive. Between Pepper's pinched looks, and Natalie apparently rubbing it in; added to the jolly encounter with Christine Everhart and Justin Fucking Hammer and Steve breathing down his neck while radiating disdain, it was a small wonder he stuck around in the hotel as long as he did. He made his escape to the bathroom, the only place he could currently hide from Steve and honestly, the blood toxicity reading at that point was just the icing on the cake. He was dying. There was really no escaping that fact anymore. He'd have to tell Pepper. And Steve. Some day.

But not today. Today he was... going to drive a race car! What the hell was the point in owning one if you didn't drive it? The risk of crashing the damned thing and going out in a ball of flame didn't seem quite as objectionable as it would have mere days ago.

 

Fortunately, the swanky hotel they were in had multiple entrances to the toilette and it was as simple as leaving through a different exit and making his way to the race track without Steve spotting him. Of course, that would only last until the tv crews had caught on, but with a little luck he would be going a couple hundred miles per hour by the time Steve figured it out.

The actual driver, whom Tony dismissed on the spot, threw his helmet on the ground as he stomped off and Tony suspected there would be a lengthy apology and a parting with enough money to smoothe ruffled feathers in the future. Whatever. Maybe he'd be dead before that happened anyway. The engine of the Formula 1 racecar rumbled pleasantly under his ass and when the flag came down for the start of the race and the kick of adrenalin hit his system, he cackled in glee. It turned out he wasn't even that bad at racing. It was different than flying the armor of course, JARVIS wasn't his copilot in this, but the insane pull of the car as he rounded the corners was exhilarating.

His unholy joy lasted about half a dozen laps. Then there suddenly were chunks of cars flying through the air and the next thing he saw was a big ass dude with an arc reactor and white hot crackling whips that were apparently cutting cars in half. The next second his own car was being sliced and diced and it was all he could do to roll out of the way and hide behind the debris. It was obvious the guy was gunning for Tony in particular, the way he was lumbering closer, a menacing grimace on his ugly mug. As the whips set the air alight with electricity Tony really wished he hadn't ditched Steve. He was pretty fucking helpless at the moment, and he so needed a remote call function for his armor if he survived this. And now that death was a distinct probability in the next 10 minutes, he found that he really, really did not want to die. Definitely not at the hands of some asshole poser who somehow had gotten his hands on his arc reactor designs. That in itself was an outrage! And the dude had bad teeth, now that he was close enough that Tony could see. Eastern block dental care, if he wasn't mistaken.

He put an exploding car between himself and the Whiplash guy, but while Tony ended up with singed hair and a cut across his eyebrow that immediately started bleeding like a motherfucker, it didn't faze the guy. He wasn't fast, but he was persistent and the whips more than made up for his lack of agility. Tony was out of ideas and he was rapidly running out of wreckage parts large enough to hide behind, with the way the whips kept slicing off pieces.

He had just about made up his mind to throw caution to the wind and rush the guy to get at the arc reactor, which was the only way he could possibly imagine shutting him down, when Whiplash was hit in the head by a metal frisbee. The man staggered back and then it turned out that the frisbee wasn't a frisbee at all, but Steve's shield, and its owner came vaulting over the fences to catch it on the rebound. Steve landed with the grace of a panther and quickly tossed Tony his suitcase armor, with a glare that promised words later, before bringing his attention back to Whiplash. Just in time to bring the shield up and deflect the nasty whips that were coming for him. Then he somehow managed to jump away sideways, yet over Whiplash's head and conk the ugly brute in the noggin as he did so. Whiplash had no choice but to turn and face Steve and that gave Tony the opportunity to slowly let the armor unfold to cover him. And it was slow. Way too slow for a combat situation and he was going to have to work on that too as soon as he was home. It gave him plenty of time, though, to wipe the blood out of his eye and watch and admire Steve as he spun circles around Whiplash, full of deadly grace. Tony had watched Steve work out in the gym before. In fact, he had saved some 'special' recordings of that on a deeply hidden part of his servers for his own personal pleasure, but it had been nothing like this. Not even close. This was the real thing. This was why Steve was Captain America and Tony realized with a pang of apprehension that that particular cat was out of the bag now, what with all the cameras trained on them. Someone, somewhere, had probably connected the dots as of thirty seconds ago and Steve would be all over the internet in another thirty. And he would lose Steve to fame and fortune and other people. He grit his teeth.

Then his faceplate finally closed and he had other things to do for a while.

 

They fought well together. Somehow Tony had known they would. Maybe it was all that exposure to Steve's tactical thinking as he had whispered Iron Man through missions, that made their cooperation flow so smoothly now. As if they'd been fighting together for decades. He knew almost intuitively what Steve was going to do next and the same seemed to be true for Steve. Tony was suddenly wondering why he'd been so adamant on being a lone wolf, before. This felt... good. Really good. Maybe they could still fight together occasionally once Steve was back in the role he belonged in.

 

In the end, Tony wrapped himself deliberately in the whips, praying nothing would short circuit, immobilizing Whiplash unless he chose to let go, which he didn't, and that gave Steve the opportunity to pound the guy into a pulp. They stood over his unmoving body for several seconds, both breathing warily, waiting to see if he would twitch. Tony rolled him over with his boot. Broken neck. Good thing this asshole wouldn’t be bothering them again, but bad that he couldn’t ask him any questions. He reached down and ripped the chestplate with the broken arc reactor of the guys chest. That was the moment the reporters had apparently figured it was plenty safe now and a whole herd of them came charging through one of the gates, ignoring any and all security personnel that were trying to hold them back. Steve looked at Tony, a flash of panic in his eyes.

“Hop on,” he intoned through the speakers and stuck out a boot and an arm.

Steve did as he was bid, and together they blasted off. Tony briefly considered heading back to the hotel, but he didn't know if Whiplash had any friends and also, the reporters knew where they were staying, so it didn't seem like the best option right now. He didn't really know where else to go, though, his brain obsessively flitting back and forth between all the freakish events of the last few hours and refusing to assign processing power to finding a solution for this particular problem. 'Not here' seemed to be most important, however, and that he could do. He chose a direction at random and flew until he stopped feeling like there were people breathing down his neck.

He felt like he should know who Whiplash was. If the ugly motherfucker knew how to make an arc reactor there had to be a connection to himself. Or maybe to Howard. He tried matching the details of the design that he had in his gauntlet to his own and previous incarnations of it. Which was difficult while it flight and away from his mainframe And then he couldn't help thinking of Steve outing himself as Captain America and the media circus that was going to cause and, oh fuck, Pepper was going to be really upset this time.

"Sir, Captain Rogers is trying to get your attention." JARVIS interrupted his mental merry go round. Tony shook his head. He had almost forgotten he had a passenger, even with his arm instinctively curled around Steve's waist. Not that he could feel it, the more was the pity. When he turned to Steve, the man was glaring and forcefully pointing downward. Right. Land. He supposed it'd be safe to land now. He glanced down and spotted a orchard, trees neatly lined up in the spring sunshine, the nearest rough hewn stone house a couple of miles away. As good a place as any to make plans.

He set them down gently on the springy grass next to a tree. Steve tossed his shield on the grass and hopped off Tony's boot. He stood there for a few seconds, hands on his hips, looking away into the distance. Scanning for enemies, maybe. Or taking in the view of the mountains, and wow, those were close. They must have gone further than he thought, since he was pretty sure he was looking at the Matterhorn there in the distance. He made the helmet retract to get a better look. Yup. Matterhorn. Pretty. They didn't really have time for pretty, though.

"We need to get back to Malibu" Tony started, "I need to run the guy’s reactor-"

Steve whirled around, and Tony instinctively took a step back at the force of the motion.

"What the hell were you thinking, Tony!?!" Steve snarled. "What, in gods name, would possess you to go drive a race car in a fucking Grand Prix?! And ditching me to do it! Are you out of your fucking mind?! You know what could have happened, even without that lunatic showing up? Are you trying to kill yourself?!"

Silence was probably a better answer than "yes".

"And you're bleeding. Shit! You're bleeding!" Steve reached out a hand to his face and Tony backed up another couple of steps. Until his back hit a tree.

"Where else are you hurt?"

"It's just a cut. I'm not hurt."

"Yeah? Well, forgive me for not believing a word you say right now, you lying piece of shit. Take off the armor, I need to see."

"I'm not taking off the armor!"

Steve got in his face and there was no where else to go.

"Take. Off. The armor."

But his tone changed when Tony still didn't budge. "Tony, you're bleeding! I need to see!"

It was not the words, but Steve's voice tipping from anger into anguish, that made Tony comply. Before the armor had even finished folding back into the suitcase, Steve was zipping him out of his racing leathers. Tony wanted to protest and he tried really hard not to insinuate anything about Steve undressing him, or crack jokes about buying him dinner first, because even he could see that would be really inappropriate right now, but god, he couldn't stop his brain from going there. It got worse when he was finally down to boxer briefs and a T-shirt and Steve was patting him down looking for blood and bruises and it took a massive force of will not to get hard. He fixed his eyes on the tree branches above him and did prime numbers in his head to boost his endurance.

The soft touch of Steve's thumb on the cut in his eyebrow jolted him out of his mental math refuge. Warily he lowered his eyes and then got another shock when they locked with Steve's. He was so close Tony almost went cross eyed. It was... difficult to breathe and his heart started hammering in his chest. He knew that Steve could hear it, but it wasn't like he could help it. His cheeks heated as Steve kept looking into his eyes, as if there was something there that he needed. The silence stretched.

"You're not hurt," Steve whispered finally. Tony shook his head mutely. Steve swallowed hard and closed his eyes, which should have broken the spell, but Tony wouldn't have moved away even if the tree behind him had burst into flame. Then Steve leaned forward and rested his forehead against Tony's and Tony closed his eyes too. His hand came up, almost of its own accord, and came to rest on the back of Steve's neck.

"I thought you were going to die, you asshole," Steve whispered, "I just knew I would be too late." He sounded broken.

Tony finally found his voice.

"I'm not hurt." He took a ragged breath. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean-"

Steve made an exasperated little noise in the back of his throat and the next moment they were kissing. It started as a 'shut the fuck up, please' kiss, with too much pressure that implied punishment rather than passion. It was equal parts anger and and equal parts 'thank fuck you didn't die' and Tony knew in his bones that if he let it be that way, if Steve broke the kiss before Tony could convince him that that wasn't all it was, then this would be all they would ever have. Then Steve would pull back and shutter his face and then they would be even less than friends from then on. And that was so not on.

He was being a selfish bastard, he knew that. He was going to die and he should let Steve keep his distance, but he couldn't make himself actually do it. It was impossible to be that altruistic while in the process of being kissed by the man he'd been lusting after for weeks. Nothing flew as blatantly in the face of death as sex. It was a shitty thing to do to Steve, but Tony wanted more, he needed more. He needed Steve to want him like he wanted Steve.

Letting his body go soft and pliant, he stepped into the rough embrace, sliding his hand softly up Steve's neck and tilting his head for better access. He teased Steve's lips open with his own as he pressed closer, using his whole body to silently chant 'I want you, I want you, I want you. Feel how much I fucking want you'. It wasn't how Steve had expected him to react, he could tell that much from the way the kiss kind of stuttered and turned uncertain for a second. Then anger and desperation melted out of Steve and Tony seized the opportunity to press even closer and wedge a knee between Steve's legs. Now his dick was pressed against Steve's thigh and he could feel Steve's against his hip. He almost made his own knees buckle, it felt so good. Steve groaned and slid his hands down to Tony's ass and Tony did a little victory dance in his head for a second, but then all coherent thought got lost in a frenzy of groping, rubbing and trying to devour each other.

 

It was over embarrassingly soon. Tony came within a minute of Steve actually touching his dick and then he held Steve as he silently shuddered through his own release, face buried in Tony's neck. Tony was still trying to get his breath back when he suddenly felt Steve stiffen in his arms. He was having second thoughts, then, not unexpectedly, but that didn't mean Tony had to put up with that shit. The last thing he wanted right now was to watch Steve stammer awkwardly through an existential gay crisis of some sort. He gripped Steve by the chin and pulled him into another kiss. A soft one that belied the firm hold he had on him. Not that Steve couldn't break free if he wanted to of course, but it was only meant to communicate the fact that Tony didn't want him to pull back, and as such it did the trick. It only took a few seconds for Steve to relax into his grip and return the kiss. Mission accomplished, so Tony broke it. He didn't pull back far, though.

"Home?" he mumbled against Steve's lips.

"Yeah."

"How? Find an airport?"

Steve pulled back a little further. His hair was mussed where Tony had been pulling on it, his lips were swollen and he looked so fucking edible Tony's dick twitched. In vain, but the effort was there.

"No. You fly us home."

"To Malibu?! That'll take hours. And you're in your shirtsleeves." Tony gestured to Steve's suit pants and button down. "You'll freeze to death!"

"I highly doubt it. If seventy years in ice didn't kill me, a few hours in the troposphere won't either." Steve's voice was wry.

Tony shrugged. "Fine. On your head. Try not to let go when your fingers go numb, though."

"As if you'd let me fall."

He had a point.

In the end Steve ripped the sleeves out of Tony's racing leathers and tore it in a few more places so it would keep his larger frame at least partially covered. Wearing the armor in his spunk covered underwear wasn't exactly comfortable, but Tony doubted he would find a sympathetic ear in Steve if he complained, so he suffered stoically as they tried to find the best way for Steve and the shield to hitch a ride long term. Obviously the next redesign was going to need some unobtrusive foot and hand holds as well that wouldn't spoil the line of his suit. Or the aerodynamic qualities. Maybe he could squeeze in a decent uniform for Steve too. Something bulletproof, yet flexible enough to allow Steve to fully employ that deadly grace. Maybe that should have the priority over the armor redesign, actually, since Steve would be around a lot longer to enjoy it. He shook his head to banish that morbid line of thought.

"You ready?"

Steve nodded.

"Alright. Say goodbye to France."

"I think we're in Switzerland, actually."

"Whatever." Tony blasted off.

 

***

 

Tony had JARVIS leave a message with Pepper about where they were headed and then blocked the 17 calls she made in the next 34 minutes. Steve's lips had turned blue somewhere over the Atlantic and he had ice crystals in his eyelashes and Tony couldn't spare any energy on bickering with Pepper. He needed to get Steve home fast, because even if the man probably wasn't dying, like he'd said, he still looked fucking uncomfortable. Even with the added weight, he made record time. Possibly putting a bit more strain on the arc reactor than was strictly advisable, his health being as crappy as it was.

His landing in the Malibu workshop was sloppy and Steve stumbled across the floor with an ungainly stagger that made it overtly clear his muscles were barely functional from the cold. Good thing they weren't doing this in front of the paparazzi; speculations about drunken debauchery would be everywhere. Tony lifted his face plate and glared at Steve, as he struggled upright after picking up the shield he had dropped.

"Just so we're clear, you're a capsicle by choice. We could have taken a climate controlled plane."

Steve shook his head, busy wiping god knows what from his shield.

"Would have taken too long. Too many people around."

"That's why I have a private jet."

"Which was in another country. This was faster."

"God, you're a stubborn son of a bitch."

Steve's made a decidedly unimpressed face. "Takes one to know one."

Tony gestured expansively to his chest. "Moi? I am the soul of compliance compared to you."

"Right. Especially when you're climbing out of bathroom windows to go play with Formula 1 cars."

"You know, it's really unhealthy to hold grudges like that."

"I don't think it counts as a grudge when it happened less than 12 hours ago." Steve had stalked closer to Tony and he'd be waving a finger in Tony's face any moment now, but dammit, he still had ice in his beard. It was just starting to melt and drip on the floor. Tony held up his hands in surrender.

"Okay. Fine. Please go take a hot shower. Or use the sauna in the poolhouse. Anything to warm you up besides your righteous wrath. My teeth are chattering just from looking at you. And your outfit offends my eyes."

Steve bit back a involuntary laugh. "You don't like it? It's got Stark logos all over it, I thought you liked that kind of thing."

"Honey, if I want to see you in racing leathers with my name all over you I'll have them made in your size. It's the combination of the ripped leather with the cheap suit under it that makes it tacky." He sighed dramatically. "Just go. Shoo."

Steve shrugged and turned on his heel. His ass looked mighty fine in leather, as he walked away though. Tony wondered if he'd ever get to touch it again.

 

***

 

Tony had taken a shower himself and changed out of his spunky T-shirt and was busy being disappointed by the contents of the fridge, when Steve entered the kitchen in snug sweatpants and a snugger T-shirt. And freshly shaven.

Tony stared.

"Cat's out of the bag, I figured," shrugged Steve. "The internet will have figured it out by now, right?"

"After your show with the shield and the acrobatics? Sure. JARVIS?"

"There is a lot of speculation still, Sir, and the opinions are divided between Captain America miraculously surviving his crash or his fathering offspring in secret before he died, but the link between Captain Rogers and Captain America has certainly been established."

Steve looked pained for a second. Then he took a deep breath and looked back at Tony.

"So, I figured there was no point in keeping the beard. And it was itchy."

Tony pouted. "But I liked the beard. It was very manly. Like a lumberjack."

"Right. He's a lumberjack and he's okay. I heard you sing that. Not sure I want to be a girlie, but nice to know you liked the beard."

Actually, Tony liked the smooth look even more, Steve looked younger and more vulnerable without the beard. He longed to run his fingers along Steve's cheeks and cup his jaw.

But deflection was his natural state of being.

"One day, grasshopper, I shall tell you all about bears and lumbersexuals."

"I'm sure I can't wait... So does that mean you're not..." Steve trailed off and looked embarrassed. "Nevermind."

Nevermind what? Tony wasn't what? Lumbersexual? He wasn't, but he'd implied he... Oh.

Tony stepped into Steve's personal space. The man's eyes widened fractionally and Tony could hear a little hitch of breath. Encouraged, he lifted his hand and touched the soft skin of Steve's bare face.

"Actually. Was that thing in Switzerland a one off?"

"Two off," breathed Steve and then he was kissing him. God, it was even better without the facial hair, although Tony would never admit it out loud, because he wasn't shaving his own. Steve was still warm from his shower and Tony slid his fingers into the damp hair at Steve's neck, getting lost in the feel of his mouth on his own. The pressure, the taste, the hint of tongue, it all was so fucking perfect Tony thought he might be ruined after this. The thought flitted through his head that getting ruined shortly before dying wasn't as scary as it otherwise might have been. And then it dawned on him that if this was a two off and there was no guarantee of being able to talk Steve into a three off before he cacked, there was no way he was going to let this opportunity go by without at least getting a look at Steve's dick. He'd had his hands on it this morning, and that had felt awesome, but he hadn't had a good gander at it yet. He dragged his mouth away from Steve's and started mouthing down his neck, while pushing him back towards the kitchen counter. Steve made a protesting little noise that turned into a groan when Tony latched onto his neck, his hands scrabbling along Tony's back. When they bumped into the counter, Tony slid his hands under Steve's tight T-shirt and rucked it up till it was under his armpits. He ran his hands over the warm, smooth skin covering the dips and planes of the hard edged muscles under it and the sensation of it went right to his cock. Already panting, he pushed himself away from Steve and looked. Steve was breathing hard too, looking a little lost, and the rapid rise and fall of his chest served to accentuate the picture of mussed perfection. Tony stepped in again and slid his hands under the waistband of Steve's sweats, on either side of his hips. He paused and flicked his eyes up to Steve's, silently asking for permission. Steve only breathed a little quicker, in apprehension or arousal, that wasn't clear, but that was good enough. He eased the sweats down over the tight globes of Steve's ass and then brought his hands to the front to free the straining erection from where the fabric had entangled it. Bless the man for going commando. He let the sweats sit at the top of Steve's thighs and looked at the man leaning on his kitchen counter. Clothes shoved up and down, out of the way, and naked from his nipples to his ass, Steve was possibly the sexiest thing he'd ever seen. The sculpted abs, the flaring shoulders, his white knuckled grip on the edge of the countertop, his kiss swollen lips, dilated pupils and his beautiful cock straining up towards his belly... What made even better was that, unlike many of the men he'd been with before, Steve wasn't even trying to show off what he had. Instead he showed a devastatingly endearing mix of feeling discomfort at being on display and being aroused, possibly by the same things that were making him uncomfortable. It was a heady mix and Tony wanted to devour him.

He decided to do just that.

Steve sucked in a quick breath when Tony dropped to his knees in front of him and when he took him into his mouth Steve gripped the countertop so hard, Tony expected the granite to dent. He couldn't remember ever having given a more gratifying blow job. Not only did Steve's dick feel as if it was made for his mouth, but every flick of Tony's tongue, every tease of the frenulum, every time he probed the slit, and every time he varied the suction, it was met with Steve's gasps and groans and aborted stutters of his hips. Tony had never been this turned on by giving a blow job and desperately he wrapped the hand he wasn't using for fisting the base of Steve's cock, around his own. He came embarrassingly quickly, even before Steve did and the resulting moan around Steve's dick was rewarded by Steve's knees buckling and flooding Tony's mouth with come. His own dick manfully pulsed one more time at the sensation.

After a few seconds, or hours, Steve gently cupped his head as he pulled out. He held on as he sank down onto his knees in front of Tony and looked him in the eyes.

It was all wrong. The blow job giver was supposed to be the one in control, the one that could remain detached while the other guy went down the rabbit hole, but Tony didn't feel in control at all. He felt shaky and fragile and he had no words while Steve looked at him with those earnest blue eyes. And when Steve kissed him, open mouthed, but oh so gently, Tony felt like he was falling. As if the floor under his knees had opened up and he would never hit the ground.

It was an awful mess, but he let himself drown in the sensation of being kissed by Steve. Until the man slid a hand under Tony's shirt. Then Tony pulled the shirt back down, reflexively. This was so not the time to have a discussion about the visible evidence of palladium poisoning. In fact, Tony would prefer that time to be never.

He had to disengage. The questioning look on Steve's face almost made him dive back in, though, so he momentarily closed his eyes in order keep his focus.

"Right," he said cheerfully, when he opened them back up. "I'm starving. Are you starving? You must be starving. Food?"

Steve started straightening his clothes with fumbling fingers and a slight blush on his cheeks and Tony wanted to hug him. Sometimes he was even more annoyed with himself than with other people.

"Yeah. Sure. I can eat." Steve nodded earnestly.

"Good. Excellent." Tony started to scramble onto his feet. "Do you want the front side or the back side of the China Barn menu?"

"Um... which side has the Egg Foo Yong on it?"

"The front."

"Okay, the back side then. But with the potstickers."

Tony held out a hand to Steve to help him up that he didn't need, but took anyway

"JARVIS? Please order every menu item on the back of the China Barn menu plus the potstickers."

"Very well, Sir."

Tony looked at Steve.

"Should be here in thirty minutes or so. Excuse me while I go take another shower." And then he made his escape, pretending he couldn't feel Steve's eyes on his back. This was done. This had to be done, for both their sakes.

 

Chapter Text

 In retrospect, he should have told Pepper about Steve on that very first morning. Sure, she would have made all kinds of practical objections and other not fun contributions, but really, it was so much better to have her as an ally than being the object of her wrath. Tony had been busy all night running Vanko’s reactor specs against everything he had in his database and some peculiarities in the design made him heavily suspect this was a very early bifurcation of the original design. Early, as in before Tony had even been involved with the process. Something, or somebody, related to Howard, perhaps. He had managed to avoid Steve all morning too, and then Pepper stalked in with Steve in tow and announced with icy steel in her voice that both Tony and Captain America would be required to attend the press conference she had organized two hours from now.

“Do you have any idea, Tony, what our stock prices have been doing in the last 24 hours? You first decided to drive a Formula 1 race car, then almost got decimated by a lunatic with whips, powered by what looked suspiciously like patented Stark Industries technology, so now we seem to be the victim of corporate espionage. Or, you know, maybe you have gambled it away at some drunken party. Then you appear to have been hiding a national icon, miraculously come back from the dead and you take off with him and go completely radio silent. Tony, we are are the laughing stock of Wall Street right now! You may not be CEO anymore, but everyone knows you are the talent, and as far as all our investors are concerned you have gone completely off the deep end. I don’t know what the story is here,” she gestured between Tony and a sheepish looking Steve, “but whatever it is, you’re going to come up with something good and wholesome and you’re going to tell everybody how incredibly sane you are. Or as sane as you can be expected to be while you’re still continuing that whole Iron Man charade.”

“Alright, fine, I’ll come vouch for my sanity, but there is really no need to drag Steve along for this.”

“Are you kidding me? Yes, there is! Unless you want to be accused of kidnapping him, or brainwashing him or whatever the hell you did to him to get him to go along with the bodyguard scam. Tony, I can’t believe you didn’t tell me. You let me believe you had hired an escort as your bodyguard!”

She turned to Steve, whose eyebrows had disappeared into his hairline.

“I am so sorry, Captain. I do apologize for my assumptions. I am afraid that I have spent too much time cleaning up after Mr. Stark to recognize an innocent victim of his schemes.”

Tony could see he was trying to speak, but barreled over him.

“He’s not ready to be thrown to the wolves, Pep. He has been Sleeping Beauty for seventy fucking years, you can’t just toss him into the real world.”

“He’s spent three months glued to your side, Tony, he’s seen plenty of the real world. Any longer and he’ll start thinking that you are normal. Besides, the cat is out of the bag, and I need him right now to draw attention away from your fuckups.“

“I am not sacrificing Steve to cover up my fuckups. It's not like people expect me not to fuck up, anyway. There are plenty of ways to deal with this without involving Steve.”

Pepper opened her mouth to retort, but Steve spoke first.

“I will do it.”

“What? Steve, no! You don’t need to do this. We can hide you longer, for as long as you need. New identity, private island, it’s not hard… I could come visit?” Tony hated how small his voice sounded at the end of that, because Steve’s face rejected the offer before he even spoke.

“No, Tony. You’ve done enough for me. I can never pay you back as it is. I knew when I shaved the beard that my time was up. Even if I wish we’d had longer…”

Yeah, well, so did Tony, they hadn’t even fucked yet, but then again, Tony wasn’t going to be around for this mythical ‘longer’ so why was he fighting this? He sighed.

“But maybe we will be Avengers together soon, right? We work well together.” Steve sounded so hopeful that all Tony could do was dredge up smile for him.

“Sure. We’ll check it out, together.”

“Okay, that’s settled,” Pepper butted it. “Happy will pick you up in an hour. Be showered, caffeinated and dressed. Captain Rogers, I have been so free to bring something suitable to wear for you and I will have to brief you about modern press conferences.” She tugged Steve along and Tony watched them go, already feeling bereft. By the door she looked back at Tony.

“You know the drill, Tony. Chop chop.”

 

***

 

The press conference was interminable. For maximum effect, Pepper had brought Tony in first. He’d put on his public persona and assured everyone that he was completely sane and competent, cracked some jokes and managed to not even once imply that he was dying. The corporate espionage claims were obviously ludicrous and it would soon be clear where the late Ivan Vanko had gotten his outdated designs. He would be sure to let them all know as soon as it was. Blablabla.

He looked around at the sea of faces. They were focused on Tony, kind of, but not really. He wondered if Pepper had let it be known that Steve would be here. They looked at him as if he was just the appetizer, pleasing enough, but they were saving their hunger for the main course. It wouldn’t matter what he said, how he told them, they were going to want to hear it from the horse’s mouth. So he told them a nice sanitary version of how he’d acquired Steve, and didn’t even bother embellishing anything. Then, before the questioning could begin, Pepper introduced Steve and everybody forgot Tony was even there. Hell, even Tony forgot where he was for a moment.

Someway, somehow, Pepper had managed to find a WWII army dress uniform that fit Steve and the way he entered the room with his cap under his arm and a shy smile and a small wave of his hand, there wasn’t a person there who didn’t instantly fall a little bit in love with him. Steve talked with ease, made it seem delighted that he was there with all of them and had obviously been briefed within an inch of his life by Pepper. He made Tony sound like a swell guy, who had completely selflessly searched for him for decades in secret and offered him a safe haven to get adjusted to these confusing modern times. He played endearingly discombobulated when reporters tried testing his knowledge of recent events, he told some funny war stories and managed to be so ‘Aw Shucks’ about his ordeal, that Tony had an almost irrepressible urge to lean in towards the microphone and announce. “I sucked his dick, yesterday. Just so you know.” But then he spotted Fury and Natalie behind the crowd of reporters and he got distracted.

He guessed they were here to pick Steve up. Bring him into the fold immediately, that’s what he would do. God, he hoped Steve was ready for this.

But it was out of his hands, now.

Natalie was staring at Steve and she seemed put out. Fury was staring at Tony, though, weirdly enough.

“Captain Rogers! What are your plans now? Will you be continuing as Mr. Stark’s bodyguard?” The reporter cracked herself up with her joke and the entire room laughed with her. Tony wanted to kill her career. A week to live or not, he wanted to drag Steve out of there and forget that anyone else had any kind of claim on him.

Steve started blathering something about getting another chance at serving the American people and Tony got up. He gave Steve a hearty slap on the shoulder, told everyone that he was sorry to interrupt, but he was sure that Steve would be fantastic in whatever way, shape or form he decided to serve, and he wished him all the luck in the world, and that he himself had to go back to work now, so he could solve the mystery of Vanko’s arc reactor.

He ignored Steve’s pleading eyes and Pepper’s glare, gave them a jaunty wave and stalked out.

The hallway was empty, what with everyone crowded into the press room and his footsteps echoed down the long, grey corridor. Happy was waiting by the car, thankfully. He threw himself into the backseat and closed the screen. It would have been nice to have been able to say goodbye to Steve, it really would have been, but it was better this way. Tony would have been too tempted to kiss him, audience be damned, and Steve didn’t deserve that kind of emotional mess. Clean breaks were the way to go.

 

He had barely taken his tie off at home when Fury walked in with a woman in black leather, who was the spitting image of Natalie. She stabbed him in the neck with a syringe.

“So, listen Stark,” Fury began, “I have some stuff to tell you about your imminent death and your father…”

Chapter Text

In retrospect, Coulson shouldn’t have had a remote control in the first place. Tony didn’t even know he owned one, JARVIS was a hell of a lot more adept at finding him the channels he wanted to watch than that ante-diluvian piece of equipment. He wouldn’t put it past Coulson to have brought in his own, though. Half of the time Tony forgot that Coulson was even there, keeping an eye on him and reporting back to Fury on his progress, the other half of the time he was unpleasantly reminded. He’d suddenly see him in the corner of his eye, watching Tony like a silent spectre. Or a vulture on a wire. Or there’d be a sudden comment from behind Tony, that usually boiled down to a disapproving ‘what do you think you’re doing, young man?’ It was not even half as pleasant as living with Steve, that was for sure.

It was early morning and Tony was welding the last of his particle accelerator together. And suddenly there was Steve’s laugh, clear as day. Tony jerked and almost fucked up the weld.

“So, tell us, Captain. Do you have a special lady in your life?” The woman’s voice was both loud and coy. “I am sure plenty of them are interested, ha ha.” Tony shut off the equipment and lifted his mask as he turned around. Coulson was sitting on his couch watching the big screen tv over the fireplace. Some stupid morning show. The camera panned from the lady with helmet hair to a relaxed looking Steve, who was saying something about finding his footing in his new life before he’d consider dating. Tony barely registered what he was saying, too busy drinking in the sight of Steve. The blue eyes, the laugh lines, the impressive physique and omigod, were those pleated khakis? Didn’t SHIELD know you couldn’t let the man shop for himself because he would inevitably come home with old man pants? He tore his eyes away.

“Coulson! Must we?”

“We must.”

Tony sighed and tried to go back to his project. He should be ready to give the creation of the vibranium core a shot this afternoon. By this evening he might no longer be dying, if it all worked out. On the screen Helmet Hair abandoned her fruitless prodding into Steve’s love life.

“What was it like to live with Tony Stark for so long? He’s got a terrible reputation as a playboy.” Tony could just hear the hunger for dirt in her voice. He glanced back at the screen. Steve still looked relaxed, but Tony knew him well enough to spot the signs of tension in his posture. The twitch of the fingers, the flutter of a muscle in his jaw.

“I owe my new life to Mr. Stark and Mr. Stark’s father. I would still be frozen if they had not kept looking for me. And Mr. Stark has been very generous toward me those first few months of my new life. I would hate to pay him back by gossiping about him.”

“Did you know there are very salacious videos of him online? Have you seen them?” The bitch was practically drooling.

“I know and I have seen enough and that is all I am going to say about someone who is not here.”

“Oh, such old-fashioned good manners!” she purred.

Motherfuck. What?

“JARVIS? Did I not tell you to keep those videos away from him?”

“Actually, sir, you said not to show him the bad ones. I had to make a value judgment. I apologize if my exposure to your usual antics led me to believe that anything without nudity was not to be considered ‘bad’.”

On the couch, Coulson sniggered.

“Laugh it up, Coulson. Have you worked up the guts yet to ask for his autograph?”

Coulson was about to retort when his phone rang. He excused himself, but left the tv on.

Tony watched as the interview veered back to more inane matters and watched Steve’s affable performance with a critical eye. And a performance it was. It was good, but Tony could tell his heart wasn’t in it. The smiles were a little lackluster, there was no twinkle in his eye, his laughs didn’t boom the way Tony remembered. Steve was mostly ok, but Steve wasn’t happy.

Good. Call him self-centered, but Tony was glad he wasn’t the only one not feeling it. Of course, Steve’s unhappiness could be totally unrelated to Tony, but the way he had tensed up at those questions said otherwise. He might be pissed at Tony, that was also an option, but one that Tony chose to ignore. As long as he was fucking dying, he was going to assume Steve missed him, just because he could and it made him feel better.


Coulson came back in and turned off the tv. Silence descended in the room as the man made his way to Tony.

“Goodbye. I have been reassigned. Director Fury wants me in New Mexico.”

“Fantastic. Land of Enchantment.”

They bitched back a forth for a bit and then Tony was alone in his house. He cranked up the music and picked up his welding torch.


***


Later that night Tony fitted his new vibranium powered arc reactor in his chest and got a new lease on life. JARVIS congratulated him. No one else was there.

He was acutely aware that sparing your friends the worry of your approaching death meant that you had no one to celebrate with when you beat the odds. He stared through his window at the moonlit ocean and felt empty. He could drink himself into a coma, of course, but it seemed counterproductive to celebrate his beating heart by trying to kill his liver. He rested his forehead against the glass, the cool surface soothing his headache. God, he wished Steve was here. Wished he hadn’t cut off all contact. It had seemed the right thing to do when he was dying. Clean start for Steve, unencumbered by Tony’s train wreck of a life, it had been for the best. Besides, Tony had been busy, didn’t need the distraction.

And now he wasn’t busy anymore and he would kill for a distraction. He could call Steve, but he had no way of explaining his maudlin mood without going into all the crap he’d kept from him. Maybe someday when being alive was normal enough again that he could have a drink or two before he called.


“JARVIS, call Natalie. I mean Natasha.”

“Her number is unlisted, sir.”

“Duh. Hack the SHIELD database, old man.”

It took a few minutes.

“Stark? What do you want?” No welcome in the voice.

“Just letting you know I did it. Not dying anymore.”

“...Good.”

“You can pass that on to your creepy director, too.”

“Will do.”

“While you’re at it, tell him to stop parading Steve around Good Morning America and the like. Steve hates it, it’s obvious. Why isn’t he having him do something useful?”

“It is useful. The Avengers Initiative is going to cost a lot of money. Steve is creating goodwill and raising a lot of funds.”

“Oh my fucking god, it is the USO tours all over again! Are all bureaucrats the same? Do they all look at those blue eyes and charming smile and go ‘cha-ching!’? Tell your director that if he doesn’t find Steve something to fight for, he is inevitably going to lose his dancing monkey. You can tell him Stark is willing to bet a hundred bucks on it.”

“Personally, I wouldn’t take that bet.”

“You agree with me.”

“Not that Fury will take my advice.”

“Fuck, Romanov. Think of something. Maybe Coulson will listen if you can convince him his hero is crying into his pillow every night. Anything.”

“I’ll consider the matter.”

“Good… Oh, and Romanov? For fucks sake, don’t let him go clothes shopping by himself anymore. It’s a fucking disgrace SHIELD is letting a national icon go on tv in old man pants.”

He could hear the smile in her voice when she said: “Goodnight, Mr. Stark.”

“Goodnight Ms. Romanov.”

“...And congratulations.”

“Thanks,” he whispered as she hung up.

He went to bed feeling a bit better anyway. 

Chapter Text

In retrospect, he shouldn’t have taken the call. For one thing, he was in Chad yet again, and any time Boko Haram wanted to call it it quits and become productive citizens wouldn’t be too soon for him. He was facing heavier than usual opposition, this band was better armed and better organized. The anti-aircraft guns couldn’t penetrate his armor, but he kept having to recalibrate his flight path through the shock waves.  

“Little busy, Romanov.”

“I know. Start with that shed at 2 o’clock. It’s where they keep the drugs they use to finance this operation.”

“That’s where they stash their stash? Is that why it’s so heavily guarded? Wait, how do you know?”

“JARVIS patched me in. Either that, or he has gone rogue and transferred his loyalty to me.”

“J?” Tony tried to sound casual, while he torched the shed.

“I was trying to reach Captain Rogers, sir. I thought the situation could benefit from his analysis, but Ms. Romanov answered instead.”

“Standard SHIELD security features and he leaves his phone lying around,” offered Natasha.

“Why the hell is he using a SHIELD phone and not the StarkPhone I gave him? And J, what the fuck? You can’t just call Steve, it’s-” A shot glanced the armor’s shoulder. “Fuck! This is not the time, people!”

“You have another squad of about 20 coming in at 4 o’clock. Blow up that bridge to slow them down and then get the communication center. It’s between those huts near the wadi.”


An hour later, Tony was drinking a warm coke at an outside cafe in N’Djamena. He was still in the armor, so he was drawing quite a crowd of onlookers, and the coke was disgusting, but he didn’t give a fuck at this point. He rubbed his hands through his hair, making it stick up in the sweltering heat. Then he took a deep breath.

“Romanov? Talk to me.”

“Hey Tony.” Her voice was tinny over the com piece.

He groaned.

“First names? This can’t be good.”

“It’s not. I think I may have misjudged and made things worse.”

“Made what worse? What did you do?” It was hard not to whine, as tired as he was.

“You know how you two haven’t spoken since the press conference? I know he thinks you won’t take his calls because he figures you’re mad at him for the choice he made. And I know you’re not calling him because you don’t know how to tell him that you kept it from him that you were dying. And you’re both miserable.”

“I’m not miserable,” Tony objected on auto pilot. He spun the beer coaster he’d gotten with his bottle of tepid coke. He missed Steve like he’d miss a limb, but he wasn’t miserable. Just… not happy.

“Oh, my mistake,” said Natasha and Tony could almost hear her eyes rolling over the com. “I guess just Steve is miserable, then.” And that was so much worse.

“Okay, maybe I am a little miserable.”

“As I said. You’re both miserable. And it was getting in the way. So I figured the one obstacle I could clear up for you was tell him about your near death and how it got resolved.”

Tony almost choked on his coke. His audience whispered and elbowed each other. He plastered on a smile for them. Then he hissed:

“Jesus Fuck, Natasha! Why?!? He is going to kill me!”

“That’s why. I wanted to make him angry. Anything to get him out of the funk he was in.”

She paused and Tony was afraid to breathe. “It didn’t work,” she admitted. “The funk got worse.”

Tony sighed. He started pulling the coaster to pieces.

“How bad?”

“Bad enough that I am asking you to fix it.”

“What? Me? You are the one that fucked this up!”

“Let’s be totally clear, Stark. You baked this cake of fuck ups, Steve iced it and the only thing I did was put the cherry on top.”

“Except that you could have left things alone and nobody would have been any wiser and everybody would have been happy!”

“Except that nobody was happy to begin with.”

So there was that. He sighed again and scratched his stubble.  

“What do you want me to do?”

“Go see him. Go see the place he lives in. Then tell him that you’re sorry and that you’ll do anything if he’ll take you back and for the love of god, beg him to stop pining.”

“Natasha, we’ve shared a total of two orgasms. He is not pining for me.”

“I have a strong suspicion that that is two more orgasms than he has shared with anyone else. And he is not just pining, he is pining and sulking. First it was ‘Tony says…. Tony says... Tony says…’ day in, day out. Clint started calling it The World According to Stark . Then he stopped talking about you. And then after I told him he stopped talking altogether. It’s horrible. I want to shoot him.” She paused. “At this point it might be considered a mercy killing.”

“Jesus Fuck, you crazy woman. Step away from the gun.”

“That sentence doesn’t parse. There is no such thing as ‘away from the gun’. Best hurry, Stark.”

“Fine! But if he kills me, I hope you have crippling guilt forever.”

“If it helps, I’ll pretend I will.”

Tony swore at her for a bit for good measure before he hung up. He swallowed the last of his coke and signed a few autographs. Then he told himself to man up and took to the air.


***


Tony looked around the dark, spartan apartment that SHIELD database told him was Steve’s. He had had to double check, because absolutely nothing in here showed any sign of the man. No wonder Natasha had made a point of mentioning the apartment. Steve’s room at the Malibu mansion had been all bold blues, browns and burgundies. His walls had been covered with sketches, pictures that grabbed his attention in magazines and a couple of modern art pieces that he had relocated with Tony’s blessing. In contrast, this space was so beige and bare even Best Western hotel rooms seemed personable in comparison. He stowed the armor in a corner and sat himself on the ugly beige couch to wait for Steve’s return.

He didn’t have to wait long. When he heard the key in the lock he suddenly felt sick to his stomach. What the hell was he going to say? There probably weren’t a lot of precedents. He stood up and wiped his hands on his jeans.

Steve saw the armor first. Tony hadn’t bothered to turn the light on so he was standing in the dark, while the orange glow of the street light through the window was glinting off his suit. Steve’s eyes widened in surprise and then alarm and Tony realized that the suit was kinda collapsed against the wall as if it had been shot and Steve wouldn’t know he wasn’t in it.

“It’s alright,” he hurried to say. “I’m over here. I’m not dead.” And then he wanted to bite off his tongue. Way to jump into a puddle of shit with both feet. Steve’s head whipped around and then he just… froze.

“So I hear.”

“It’s a bit of a painful subject, mind if we skip it?”

““It’s why you decided to drive that race car. Because you thought you were going to die.”

Tony hated people who were inconveniently perceptive.

“And that is why you had sex with me.”

“What? No! I mean, maybe it helped. A little. Not like that, though. I mean, sex is life affirming and stuff…” Tony sighed and rubbed his face. “Do you know how hard it is to think rationally when you’re about to die?”

“I’ve been to war. So yes.”

“Then you know it isn’t that simple. Maybe I would have considered the long term ramifications a bit more carefully if I hadn’t been dying?”

Steve looked at him.

“Yeah. Probably not.”

“And you didn’t tell me, because…?”

“Oh, come on! You had enough on your plate and it’s not like you could help. If I couldn’t fix it, I thought nobody could fix it, so I was giving you a clean break and all that shit… I thought it was very noble of me at the time, actually.”

“And now?”

“Well, now I think it was utterly stupid. Obviously martyrdom isn’t for the likes of me and I shouldn’t aspire to it. Especially not when I am not dead yet. It leaves you fucking lonely as hell when nobody knows you’ve miraculously survived.”

Steve nodded gravely. He had moved a little closer and now they were only a few feet apart.

“And now you’re here because…?”

“Well, truthfully, I am here right at this particular moment because a little birdie slash Russian spy told me she’d have my balls if I didn’t fix this.”

“What are you going to fix?”

“You? Me? Us? Them! Everybody! We need to still watch The Blues Brothers . It’s a modern classic. Hey, can we get to the part where you are angry with me and start pushing me against walls and getting into my face? I mean, this downer thing is a little freaky, Romanov wasn’t kidding. And the other thing ended really well, last time.”

“It did, did it?”

Tony wasn’t sure, but he thought he saw a tiny little smile trying to sneak onto Steve’s face.

“Well, if you like orgasms, it did. I suppose there’s a few people out there that would disagree, but not as many as you’d think.”

“Tony…”

“Oh good, you’re starting to get exasperated. That’s better. That’s almost normal. For fuck’s sake, Steve, I’m sorry, alright? And I really fucking missed you. And I am actually glad Widow told you my secret and twisted my arm to come over here. Just don’t tell her I said that. Now can you come over here and shut me up, please?”

Instead, Steve grabbed him by the back of the head and pulled him in. Tony stumbled forward and had to catch himself with his hands on Steve’s chest. Good start.

“You think sex is going to fix this?”

“Yes!” Tony beamed, then dimmed the wattage when Steve frowned at him with comically downturned eyebrows. “No. Not really. But it’s a good start! Proves that we still want each other and then, afterwards, we can communicate properly and take it from there.”

“Three-off?”

“Why, yes, Steve. That’s a great idea!”  

Steve’s mouth closed over his and Tony thought little woodland creatures ought to burst into song with how good that felt. He wound his arms around Steve’s neck and started pulling him backwards, while Steve tried to shrug out of his leather jacket. It dropped to the floor as they landed on the ugly couch. Steve landed between Tony’s legs and the weight of him felt so right, that he couldn’t help but push up against it. This caused Steve to groan into his mouth, and scrabble at his jeans and that was all wonderful, so Tony did it again. It elicited the same reaction, except now Steve got a good grip on Tony’s jeans and ripped them in two. Whoa! It was Tony’s turn to make incoherent noises now and as he helped Steve’s cock out of its confinement, slicked it up with spit and precome and guided it to where he wanted it, he vowed to get so many cum stains on Steve’s bland, beige couch that they would have no choice but to burn the ugly fucker.

 

Chapter Text

In retrospect, he could have made different choices all along. From letting Pepper book his ‘business trip’ months ago, to keeping Steve a secret from Fury and, most recently, talking to Natasha on the phone. He could have made different choices and then he wouldn’t have ended up joining the Avengers and flying a nuke through an interstellar portal with Steve’s voice over the com, tight with misery:

“Tony! You know that’s a one way trip.”

“I know. I’m sorry.”

“Take care, Tony.”

“Always, Cap.”

And a whispered: “Come back to me, please,” before the com cut out.

 

And later, once he’d fallen back to earth and the Hulk had roared him back to life, he’d stared up at the sky and wondered how he had gotten so fucking lucky. Again. He tried to sound flippant when Steve moved into his line of sight, but it sounded a little shaky, even to his own ears.

“Please tell me nobody kissed me.”

“I am afraid the good Captain kissed you quite thoroughly, Man of Iron. I believe the Lady Widow has recorded it from yonder rooftop. Perhaps she can persuaded to share, if you are sorry you missed it.” Thor inclined his head, like he always did when he listened to his com unit. “Ah! She says you can find it on Youtube any time you want to see it.”

Tony looked from Thor to Steve, who smiled a small smile at him. “I thought we’d agreed you shouldn’t aspire to martyrdom?” he berated Tony, nonetheless.

“Excuse you? You did exactly the same thing in 1944. And we won that time too. Wait. We won, didn’t we?”

“We won.” The smile grew bigger. “And I am trying not to be a hypocrite, but, honestly, Tony, it’s not a competition. Stop trying to prove you’re worthy.”

Tony made a dismissive gesture with his gauntlet. Concrete dust wafted from it.

“I think flying through an interstellar portal with a nuke beats flying into the Atlantic Ocean with a nuke anyway. So I think I won this competition once and for all. I’m officially more heroic than you.” He held out his hand for Steve to pull him up to sitting. The suit was dead and heavy as shit.

“You know,” said Steve conversationally, while helping him up, “this competitive streak of yours is really unattractive.”  

“Liar,” grinned Tony. “You can’t wait to get me home for ninety-seven-off. After we sleep for 24 hours, anyway. And shower for two more. Also: food. Then I am up for anything.”

“No.”

Tony swallowed hard. No? What? Was Steve breaking up with him? Now? Had he finally had enough? He didn’t blame him, it was only-

“No. I am done with treating this like it’s temporary, Tony. No more counting, no more pretending we are gonna quit any day now. We’re going to make this official.”

Tony looked around him, to check the witnesses. Hulk was stomping cars, halfway down the street, but Thor was beaming at him and sticking two thumbs up, like Tony had just accomplished something great. Clearly, the world had gone mad only after the Alien invasion. He turned back to Steve.

“There is no ‘or else’ in that statement. ‘We’re making this official, or else…’ It seems like there should be an ‘or else’.”

“Nope. Not giving you an out. I am not leaving those kind of decisions up to you. I think we both know how you screw them up.”

Tony conceded the point. “Fine. Okay. No more counting. You know we’ll be depriving science of some unique data on superhero sex drives here, but okay. We’re official.”

“Congratulations, my friends!” boomed Thor. “This is a most fitting end to such an epic battle! Your love shall be like the rose blooming on the rubble of our victory! I shall officiate this ceremony and lady Widow has just offered to be maid of honor. Let’s find friend Hawkeye, so he can also witness this momentous occasion!” He glanced at the Hulk. “Though, perhaps we should wait until Doctor Banner is fit to stand up as best man for his brother in science?”

“Wait!” yelped Tony. “How official are we talking here? I thought we were talking boyfriends-official. Not…..” he almost choked.  “This official. This is like a whole ‘nother level of official, Steve!”

Steve laughed. The bastard.

“Let’s go home and eat and sleep and shower and I am sure by that time we can convince him to stall for a couple of months.”

Right, that did it. Tony wasn’t marrying that asshole. At least not for a couple of months.

He wasn’t sure if the swoop in his stomach was fear or something else.