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An Ounce of Prevention

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The first time Steve jumped out of a building, no one was there to catch him. He went through a plate glass window, and a glass roof before he hit the floor, shield first, cracking several floor-tiles. In retrospect, it was kind of amazing he hadn't done more than fracture his wrist in that impact.

Sam gave him hell about it afterward.

The second time Steve jumped off a building, Sam was there to grab him and struggle to get him to a safe height to drop from.

That time, he got scolded by Natasha.

The third time, though. The third time was different. That time, when he jumped, Tony caught him. It was far from comfortable, but much preferable to taking the fall, or staying put on top of a collapsing parking garage.

After that, Tony insisted that they develop a method for it, and practice. Which Steve personally thought was kind of hypocritical, coming from the guy who avoided team practice and drills like the plague.

But on the other hand, he wasn't about to say no to something that could easily save his hide. His hand had been forced three times already, in the field, and just sitting back to wait for the fourth wasn't an idea he relished. An ounce of prevention, and all that.

It took the two of them a while to work out the best position for Tony to carry him in, so that he wouldn't foul any of the repulsors or control surfaces. Once they did, it felt very awkward and out of balance at first.

It took them another longer while to work out the aerial maneuvers needed for Tony to catch him safely and get him into the correct position.

When he caught them practicing, Clint just about busted a gut laughing and dubbed it the hug-and-fly. Tony protested the idea immediately, which, naturally, meant the name stuck. Steve thought it was actually fairly accurate, and far better than any of the other suggestions Clint had made in response to Tony's complaints. The rest of the team had filed in after that, lured in by their raised voices.

Tony gave Steve a betrayed look when he didn't intercede, and that broke Steve's impassive facade. With a smirk, he shrugged. "You know it could be much worse, Tony."

"Fine." With an irritated huff, Tony turned and disappeared into the elevator.

Clint stared after him for a moment. "He does know that we're joking, right?"

Bruce stretched in his seat. "Sometimes I'm not sure."

Steve watched the closed elevator doors for a few more seconds, thinking. He really wasn't sure what Tony's reaction had meant. Why Tony had obviously felt vulnerable.

Thor was the one to break the silence next. "Mayhap thou shouldst go after him, Captain," he rumbled. "Our Man of Iron is ever easily wounded, despite his tough shell."

"Thor," he replied on a sigh, "I don't even know why he's upset. I'd probably only put my foot in my mouth and make it worse. I always seem to, somehow."

Natasha snorted. "He cares what you think."

What that meant, Steve had no idea, but given it had come from Natasha it meant far more than it seemed to on the surface. He nodded slowly. "Okay?"

She didn't bother to elaborate and none of the others spoke up, so Steve shrugged and headed for the elevator. Whatever the case might be, Steve wasn't about to let Tony think he didn't appreciate the effort to make sure he didn't get hurt.

When he got to the workshop door, it was closed, but he could tell the floor wasn't locked down. JARVIS, somewhat tellingly, didn't greet him when he approached, and Steve forced back a wince. Yeah, Natasha had been right; Tony was clearly upset, though he'd never admit it to them.

There was a bit of lag between his keystrokes, as he put in his passcode, and the click of the door opening. A lag that usually wasn't there.

He'd have to tread carefully.

Pulling open the door and stepping through, Steve glanced around. The music was off, and so were the machines. Everything was shut down, including the lights, except the single interface in front of Tony.

"Hey," Steve opened, "you know Clint didn't mean anything by it, right?" Tony didn't acknowledge the statement, so after a pause, Steve went on, changing tacks as he did. "I didn't either, and I'm sorry if it sounded that way."

This time Tony snorted. "You don't have to pretend, Cap," he replied. "I know I'm only on the team because Fury wanted access to my design expertise. That was made abundantly clear."

"Bullshit." Steve could feel himself bristling on Tony's behalf, now. "We didn't get off to a great start, but you're on this team because we want you there."

"I can't tell if you're lying to yourself, or to me," Tony sniped.

"Neither," Steve riposted. "You care. About the team, about the future. About all kinds of things that it never would have occurred to me to care about. And if you think I don't value that, you're out of your mind."

That at least got Tony to look up at him. He looked oddly raw and wounded, and Steve wasn't quite sure what that made him feel. A confusing mix of protectiveness and defensive anger laced with a hint of want what he didn't dare identify.

"You think we don't care," Steve went on, knowing that the hurt the thought caused was probably audible, "and I don't know how to convince you otherwise."

"Steve," Tony's voice was so low most people wouldn't even have heard it, but he could.

A silence fell and stretched, then. Not a comfortable one, by any means, but also not one Steve wanted to break.

It wasn't until he turned to leave, giving up on getting an answer, that Tony spoke.

"Do you have any idea what it's like to have no real value except the money in your pockets, Cap? To be rejected time and time again when you offer anything else?" Steve didn't dare answer, or even look at Tony, but he stopped in his tracks. He could hear the layers of pain and sadness in Tony's voice. When Tony went on, he added a smile that held a sharper edge than Natasha's knives. "Do you know what reaching out over and over and getting rebuffed almost without fail does to a person?"

That immediately convinced Steve that he needed to do something. That if he left it would shatter this fragile moment, and possibly their entire friendship, tentative as it was. "Yeah," Steve could feel the slight catch in his voice as he answered. "I do." Tony snorted, disbelieving, so he added, "I didn't always look like I do now, and I've always had a knack for making enemies. Or saying the wrong thing. It's just as painful to be wanted for nothing more than your muscles. Or what the public thinks you stand for."

"You had Bucky, and Peggy, and the Commandoes."

Steve raised an eyebrow at him. "You have Rhodey and Pepper, and the Avengers."

Tony didn't look convinced. "Rhodey and Pepper I'll grant you, but the team... nah."

"Fine. Let me put it in more concrete terms. I've seen the care you put into making sure our equipment is good, and keeping us in one piece in the field. And the others have, as well. But," Steve paused to give his next words the weight he felt they needed, "most important to me is knowing you've got my back. And always will."

Something about that statement made Tony stand, meeting and holding his eyes like he wanted to stare right through Steve to pull meaning out of him.

"Please don't punch me if I'm reading this wrong," was all he said, before he was stepping into Steve's space and tentatively reaching for him.

Steve wasn't quite sure what was happening until he was pulled in, and kissed.

It took him a long moment to process that. He'd never thought about it, and probably never would have, if Tony hadn't made a move. But it felt oddly natural. Like nothing had changed really; just been acknowledged. Steve decided he would wrestle that out later.

Tony tried to pull back, then, clearly unsure of his welcome, and Steve pinned him against his chest with an arm around his back. Tony struggled against it for a moment. "Steve, what--"

Steve shushed him, noting but not responding to the use of his name rather than his title, abbreviated though it was when Tony used it. "Give me a moment."

Looking like he couldn't quite squash the hope that he'd guessed correctly, Tony subsided.

It had felt... different. Mostly thanks to Tony's facial hair. Still warm and wet and surprisingly nice, though.

Giving in to the impulse, he reeled Tony back in with a hand through his hair and kissed him. It pulled a surprised squeak out of Tony, which made Steve smirk into the kiss and almost ruined it. And that somehow only made it better.

He could worry about the consequences and implications of this later. Personal and professional, there were bound to be some, but right now, he didn't really care. He'd probably end up ignoring most of them, anyway.

He usually did. And it usually worked out.