“I asked Stephen for help, and—”
Right. Steve's heard enough. He pushes his chair back and stands up. He's aware everyone's eyes are on him, but he heads toward the door anyway. He can't stay. He'll do something dangerous.
“Forgive me if I don't want to hear more about your plotting with Strange,” Steve says as coldly as he can manage. He doesn't look back.
He's not running away, he lies to himself. And it's not as if To—Stark needs him to think up strategy. He can talk about it with Strange over coffee. He probably does.
Steve punches the wall.
The skin over his knuckles, frail and wrinkled, breaks, and God, Stark will never stop making him bleed, will he?
The TV is on. Steve's preparing dinner and not really watching it when he hears the presenter say, Iron Man, and then he crosses the room as fast as he can.
There are clips of Tony fighting, his new armour fast and flashy. Steve likes it. He has the codes to stop it mid-move, make it disassemble or explode; he thinks he'd like to know more. To hear Tony explain how it's working, to see Tony design it in the first place, to have him call Steve when he's done, to show off and share—
The robot he's fighting throws Iron Man through three walls. Steve winces. Then the clip changes, shows a handsome man standing in front of Tony, a protective barrier around them. The presenter wonders just who the Iron Man's saviour is and Steve feels sick.
Because of course Victor von Doom is young and pretty now, and Steve is old and grey and can't walk a hundred metres without losing his breath.
Is it any surprise Tony would rather spend his time with Doom?
And it makes sense, Steve thinks viciously, the villains gravitating together, and he doesn't want anything to do with Stark, he certainly doesn't miss him.
Old and stupid, he thinks as he switches the TV off and shuffles back to his kitchen.
When Steve walks in the Avengers meeting room, everyone is already there.
Apparently, everyone includes Doom too.
“Victor gave me a suggestion on how to track these robots,” Tony explains. The assembled Avengers nod.
“Victor, now, is it?” Steve interjects.
“Come now, Steve, we can agree to let him help,” Carol says.
“Yes. I'm sure Stark does.”
Tony gives Steve a hurt look. Steve tells himself he doesn't care. “Do continue,” he says.
Tony talks about the robots. Doom chimes in now and then to add something about the design.
They do understand each other well, Steve thinks, and stops listening.
He's not an Avenger any more, why is he even here? He could be at home, reading. Ignoring Stark. He should be.
He left the last meeting. He forces himself to stay.
“Doom has no designs on Stark's virtue,” Doom says. “You do not need to worry, Captain.”
Steve freezes. “What are you doing here?” he asks. He's at home. Wasn't dealing with Doom at the Tower too much already?
“You upset him,” Doom says.
Upset him, Steve thinks. As if. And it's not like—after everything, he damn well can upset him.
“As if he cares what I say,” Steve says, but Doom is already gone.
Steve probably should talk to someone about securing his flat, but the only person who could help against magical intrusion is Stephen Strange, and—
Doom is a good guy now, right, so Steve shouldn't worry about that.
Ironically, Stephen Strange is the one waiting in the Tower when Steve is there next. Weird; Steve would think anything as mundane as waiting was behind him.
“Are you an Avenger again?” Steve asks. Who knows. Maybe Tony invited him.
“Tony asked me a question,” Strange says.
“And you couldn't just tell him at lunch,” Steve says. “Don't you two do that now.”
Strange raises an eyebrow. “I believe that the answer might interest the Avengers.”
“Great. Well, I'm not an Avenger anymore, so if you excuse me—”
“You do know Tony is trying to make up for—”
Steve's had enough. He hits the table with his cane. Strange doesn't flinch.
“What Stark is or is not trying to do is not any of my business,” he says, “and I do not care.”
“I only meant to observe, Captain, that sharing lunch might do you two some good,” Strange answers, unperturbed.
Why did Steve come here anyway? He could meet Carol somewhere else, and he liked the new kids on the Avengers, but—well, he wasn't one of them.
“Good bye, Strange,” he says, and leaves.
He passes Tony in the door. “Steve?”
“Strange is waiting for you,” Steve says, walks out.
Tony's sitting in Steve's living room.
“Doesn't anyone here know to knock?” Steve snaps at his sight.
Tony frowns. “Anyone? Is someone bothering you? Can I help?” It would be adorable, really, how he immediately sounds worried and ignores how he's the one who just broke and entered Steve's apartment.
Steve crosses his arms. “What do you want?”
Tony bites at his lip. “I, ah—” he stumbles over his words. “I don't know—or rather, I know, but you seemed—that is, Steve, I wanted to apologise.”
Steve heard that wrong. “Apologise,” he repeats, flatly.
“You're angry with me,” Tony says. “You have every right to be, of course. I just—I assumed—I shouldn't have done that. I'm sorry. I can resign of the team if you want.”
“And form your own little Defenders with Strange and Doom?” Steve asks before he can really process what Tony has just said, and—
If Steve wants?
Tony stands up. He's taller than Steve now, because Steve can't really stand straight, his back aching too much. “Is this what it's about?” he asks, sounding unsure. “I've run into some—more than usually, that's for sure—magical problems. They're helping. Is that a problem?”
“Is helping how you call it these days?” Steve snaps.
Tony blinks. “Correct me if I'm wrong, but—”
Steve talks over him. “I mean, it's really understandable; Doom's a technological genius, and he looks good, and Stephen is young and strong; of course you'd rather—them—when I'm literally from the last century, and I'm old and weak and—”
At some point, Tony walked to Steve, and now gently covered his mouth. “Hate to break it to you, old man,” he says, “but you're not the only one born in the last century. I think only Kamala wasn't, really. And—what are you even going on about? Carol said . . . And . . .” He gives a helpless laugh.
“Sure,” Steve says. “Laugh at me. The old relict, jealous.”
Tony freezes. “It would appear she was right,” he mutters. “But that doesn't make any sense, Steve. Jealous? Of me? You hate me, and I—”
“It would be much easier if I could hate you,” Steve whispers, angry at himself, angry at Tony, angry at Carol, and at Strange and Doom too, because why not, it is their fault. Belatedly, it occurs to him Tony's never finished his sentence. He looks him in the eyes for the first time. “And you what, Tony?” he asks.
Tony looks away.
“Look, Steve, I'm a genius, but this image you're painting for me doesn't make any sense, so—I'm going to try a thing and feel free to punch me if I'm wrong.” He looks flustered. And then he leans into Steve and kisses him.
Steve is frozen in place and Tony moves back. “Ah. Like I said. It didn't make any sense. Are you going to punch me now or not?” He's speaking a bit too quickly.
“But I'm old,” Steve says. He doesn't understand.
“You—old? Yes, Steve, I am aware you're nearing your first century, I'll make you a great party—”
“No parties,” Steve says on instinct.
“But what does your age matter?”
“You kissed me,” Steve says stupidly. Tony must be aware. “I'm old. And—grey. And wrinkled. Doom is—” Steve breaks off, because Tony is laughing, and Steve really wants to hit him now.
“You—you really thought Victor—Steve.” He grows serious. “Do you really think it matters to me what you look like? I've loved you for years.”
They both freeze now. Tony looks like wants to run away, but no, Steve won't let him, not after—not after that.
“Kiss me again,” he demands.
“But you didn't . . .”
Steve rolls his eyes, puts the handle of his cane behind Tony's neck and forces him to come closer and lean down. Steve kisses Tony, and after a very, very long second Tony finally kisses him back.
It's good. It's great. It's more than Steve could've imagined.
Tony moves away. “But Doom?” he asks.
It's a good thing Steve's just discovered the perfect way to shut him up.