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The Greatest Secret of All

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Steve walked into the living room. He still felt as if someone had whacked him in the head. He was an honest person by nature, and Hank had said it would wear off in a few hours, but . . .

“Hi, Steve,” Jan called from the armchair. She was reading some fashion magazine. “Hank finished with you?”

“Yeah,” Steve said. “Actually, I—”

“So you're fine?”

Steve winced. He'd hoped she wouldn't ask. “Loki hit me with a truth spell.”

Her eyes lit up. “Truth spell,” she repeated, sounding entirely too gleeful. “So when you look at Tony—”

“Jan!” Steve interrupted, looking around.

She pouted. “Okay,” she said after a moment. “That would be unfair. What do you think about my new costume though?”

It was black and red this time, and it looked absolutely brilliant. “It's stunning,” Steve said. “You look great.”

Jan beamed at him. “That's sweet of you.”

“I mean it,” Steve said, smiling. “You're a great designer.”

“Now shh, you'll make me blush,” she laughed.

“I was looking for Iron Man,” he explained. “Have you seen him?”

Jan squinted. “I'd ask why, but—”

“He's been hit too, but I can't find him,” Steve said. “I feel like I should warn him though. He's very private.”

Jan tilted her head, as if she was considering something. “You care about him, right.”

It didn't sound like a question, but Steve answered anyway. He didn't need to be hit by a truth spell to admit that. “Yes,” he said.

“So . . . Nothing he could say would change that?” Jan sounded too serious.

Yes,” Steve repeated, growing annoyed. She promised she wouldn't ask about his feelings!

Jan nodded. “Try asking Tony. He might know.”

Steve wondered what that was about even as he thanked her and went into the workshop's direction.

He hadn't been there very often—Tony liked to have his space and Steve understood it—but he liked it. Even when Tony was just Mister Stark to him, Steve liked seeing him work, no matter if he was welding the Iron Man's armour or writing code.

He pressed the buzzer. “It's Steve,” he said, and the door opened.

The Iron Man's armour lay disassembled on the table in front of Tony. Steve wondered where Iron Man was in this case—or maybe it was another set. Tony kept a few spare ones.

“Hi,” Tony said. “I—” He frowned. “I—” It looked like he couldn't speak.

Steve hurried to him. “Tony?” he asked, worried. “You all right?”

“Mostly, I have some bruises still—” He snapped his mouth shut. Then he looked at Steve. “Not that I mind, but why are you here?”

Tony was probably just busy, Steve explained it to himself. But bruises? Surely he couldn't have gotten injured in the lab. “Did someone—”

Steve,” Tony interrupted him. “Why are you here?”

“I'm looking for Iron Man.”

Tony nodded and didn't say anything.

“I was hit by a truth spell. Apparently, so was he.”

Tony went ashen, his breath suddenly unsteady. He was gripping the bench in front of him as if he'd fall without it.

“Tony, are you all right? Did someone attack you when the Avengers were off?”

“No,” Tony said, short and clipped, as if he stopped himself from saying more. “You should—damn it.” Tony hit the table.

He wasn't acting like himself. Something was wrong. And it was important, but so was Iron Man.

“Okay,” Steve said. “Do you know—”

“Please don't,” Tony whispered. He sounded almost defeated

Steve didn't get it, but he finished the question anyway. “—where Iron Man is?”

“Yes,” Tony said, just that.

Steve suddenly understood what could be causing Tony's behaviour right now. But this wasn't possible, right . . . ?

“So are you going to throw Iron Man off the team now?” Tony asked. “Since he's not the hero you expected? Just a fallible man who has so much blood on his hands? Just a normal human, a burden, and an alcoholic; too weak to call himself a hero. I mean, obviously, he doesn't deserve it, but I hoped—” Tony put his own hand to his lips to stop himself from talking.

Steve would get annoyed at anyone talking about Iron Man like that, if not for the fact that he pretty much knew now.

And Tony had said all these things, and believed them to be the true? No, Steve thought. Maybe he got it wrong. Maybe . . .

“Where is he, Tony?” Steve asked very, very quietly.

“He?”

Steve sighed. “Tony, please. You're my friend. You'll always be. Just tell me. Where is Iron Man?”

Tony was looking at him with wide, almost glossy eyes. He was trembling.

He looked away as he said, “Right here.” He took another breath. “I am Iron Man.”

Steve exhaled quietly.

Was he even truly surprised? Yes and no. He hadn't even considered it before—but in retrospect, it made so much sense; he felt silly he'd never guessed before. He thought back to his conversation with Jan and decided that Jan must've known.

That wasn't important now, because Tony was still looking at him like he expected a punch.

Steve put his hands on Tony's arms, gently. “Tony Stark, you know neither of us can lie right now. And I'm telling you, you're my best friend. You always have been. I wish you trusted me enough to tell me sooner. I trusted you, and I trusted Iron Man. I thought you were both heroes, and incredibly strong, in your own ways. And it was all you.” Steve shook his head. “You're amazing, Tony. And—all these things you've just said about yourself . . . none of them are true. There wouldn't be the Avengers without you. I would still be in the ice. You matter, Tony, you matter so much, and . . .”

Tony was shaking his head. “You can't mean all of that.”

“But I do,” Steve said. “And you know it.”

“I love the team,” Tony admitted. “And finding you—that was the best day of my life.” Steve felt a pang in his heart at that. Tony continued. “I—I'm not sorry I lied. It was for the best. But . . . I am glad you know now. I'm fucked up, everyone knows that, and you—you're a real hero, and you mean so much to me, and . . . and oh god, I can't shut up. I'm going to make you punch me after all—”

“I'll never punch you, Tony,” Steve promised quietly, his words suddenly hard to pronounce through his tight throat. Tony was so close. Steve wanted to kiss him.

“I will,” Tony said with a sad smile, “and I never told you, because you were friends with Iron Man, and I loved that, loved your friendship, and I couldn't bear the thought of losing it—because I love you, Steve.”

And then Tony tensed, squaring his shoulders, as if he honestly believed Steve would hit him, and—of course he believed that. He couldn't lie.

Steve wasn't sure if he should be happy about that or worry about the confession.

His body decided for him, because in the next moment, he was kissing Tony for all he's worth, his arms tight around Tony and one of his hands caressing Tony's cheek. Tony melted into him, reciprocating the kiss.

“I love you too,” Steve said, when they broke for breath. “You never have to worry about me, Tony, I love you, I loved Iron Man first and Tony Stark second, and I had no idea what was going on, and Tony, kiss me again.”

Tony looked slightly shell-shocked, but he did just that, and it was perfect.

They would have to have a long conversation about how Tony viewed himself—but it could wait. Everything could wait, when Tony was kissing him like that.

“I might even thank Loki,” Tony said when they paused again, and Steve laughed against his lips.

“Agreed,” he said.

He kept Tony in his arms, and the whole world could wait.