To their credit, the waitstaff at the little dive Cap had taken Tony to were reacting well to having two celebrities in their pizza place. It was only a few sidelong glances and an overly nervous waiter that gave away their anxiety. Tony could see why Cap had chosen it. For the most part, they were being left alone to their discussion. For once, though, Tony sort of wished for an interruption.
“I just don’t know. I’m really busy with Stark Industries, and I don’t exactly have the best reputation in the world. Are you sure that you and Storm want me on your team?” he asked, avoiding those piercing baby blues. He’d always had a hard time saying no to those in the past, and he had a niggling suspicion that Cap knew it.
“We’re positive, Tony. We’ve talked about this a lot. We do know the reputation you have in the gossip rags,” he began, his nose wrinkling slightly at the mention, “But we also know the reputation you’ve got among superheroes. You work hard and you’re not afraid of anything. We could use your firepower on the team. More than that, though, we could use your mind. You’re brilliant, Tony, and we could definitely use that, too.”
Tony took a peek at Cap’s face. Yup. Still devastatingly earnest. Safer to give his attention to the pizza. “Yeah, but I’m not exactly used to working with a team, Cap--”
“Call me Steve,” he interrupted with a grin.
“Fine, Steve,” Tony amended. Wow. “I haven’t worked with a team before, and I’m told that I don’t play well with others.”
Steve instantly sobered, and how he could shift so quickly between an adorable smile and his speechifying face was a mystery to Tony. “We know that, too. We think that you have a lot of potential, though, Tony. You’ve had a lot of amazing tests put in front of you in the past and you’ve beaten every one of them. This team is just one more challenge, and I have never known you to back down from a challenge.” He paused, momentarily unsure, which wasn’t a look Tony thought he’d ever seen on Cap before. Maybe it was one he would see on Steve, though. After a second of hesitation, Steve reached out to cover Tony’s hand with his own. “Besides, being on a team isn’t all hard work. We’ll be there to support each other, and we’ll be able to take down bad guys that we could never face alone. And if you promise to at least try to make this work, I promise you that I’ll always have your back.”
Tony swallowed hard. Who was he kidding, though? He knew before he’d even sat down that Steve could probably convince him to the moon and back. And hey, it’s not like fighting alongside Steve had ever been a hardship in the past. Maybe a team wouldn’t be so bad. “Fine. I’ll try--but only on a trial basis. If this blows up in our faces, I’m back to flying solo.”
“Of course, Tony,” Steve said, and the smile he graced him with was like sunshine, warming him from the inside out.
And if Tony only became warmer when, after they finished eating and stood to pay the bill, Steve gave him a brief hug and said “Welcome to the Avengers”, it wasn’t like anyone had to know.
There were some days that Tony enjoyed being CEO of a successful and wildly profitable company. Today was not one of those days. He sighed softly in the elevator and rubbed his tired eyes with his free hand and tried not to drop his briefcase with the other. Two weeks. Two long weeks he had been overseas in Japan. And while this new contract would be incredibly mutually beneficial for both companies, that didn’t mean he had enjoyed flying fifteen hours to argue over the details. The people had been polite and friendly, his hotel had been luxurious, and he liked warm dango as the next guy, but he was 100% ready to be home in his own bed. Hotel beds were never quite the same, no matter how high the quality. They were always too hot or too cold or too soft or like a brick. And now that he had been spoiled by Steve, it had also seemed far too lonely.
Tony rolled his shoulders and resisted the urge to sigh again. Well. Another five minutes and he’d be able to slide into bed. It was late enough that Steve had probably already gone to sleep, but at least he could curl up next to him and soak in his warmth. He’d never realized how much he’d come to depend on his own personal furnace until he’d found himself alone and shivering in a perfectly climate-controlled bed.
The doors of the elevator glided open with a soft ping and Tony stumbled out, grateful that no one would see him doing his best impression of a zombie. Or so he thought, until a pile of blankets on the couch on the living room shifted and a sleep-muffled voice asked, “Tony?”
Tony squinted at the pile of living rags, wondering if it was some horrible new stray they’d taken in (probably named after some deadly animal... Spider-Man, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Tigra? What were they, some kind of menagerie?) for a good few moments before his brain rallied itself enough to place the voice. “Steve? What are you doing down here?”
Steve poked his head out from under a blanket and blinked up at him owlishly. (And good lord, Tony had somehow forgotten just how blue those eyes were.) “Waiting for you,” he said simply, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.
“But it’s--” Tony juggled his belongings so he could check his watch. “It’s almost 2 am. You should have been in bed hours ago.”
Steve pushed himself up onto his hands with a half-shrug. “It’s fine. It’s not like I can sleep well without you, anyway.”
There was silence for a moment as Tony tried to force his sleep-deprived mind to reboot and process that statement. He opened his mouth, sure that a snarky comeback would make itself known any time now, but nothing came out. He had a sinking feeling that his traitorous body was instead responding with a light blush, one that only intensified with Steve’s lopsided smile.
Even as tired as he was, Steve still placed a hand over his mouth when he yawned. Ever the gentleman. “How was your trip?” he asked. He ran his fingers through hair that was really unsalvageable and shook his head slightly before standing up from the couch. Tony was mildly surprised that he didn’t immediately start folding the blankets.
“It was fine. Just long. Really long.”
Steve hmmed lightly, coming over to take Tony’s briefcase and drop it on a nearby chair. Tony gave him a quizzical look, which Steve just answered with a grin before pulling Tony into the kind of bear hug that most people can only dream about. His arms were gentle, but firm, around him, and he’d somehow managed to tuck Tony’s head against his shoulder without him having any say in the matter. Not that he would have argued, honestly. Steve felt fantastic against him, warm and solid and everything that he’d been missing while he’d been gone. Tony let himself breathe in quietly for a moment, just enjoying the quiet embrace, before opening his eyes (when had he closed them?) and pulling back just enough that he could give Steve a brief kiss before wriggling so he could free his arms from where they were trapped against Steve’s chest. Steve turned those dreaded puppy dog eyes on him for a second, but his expression turned to sleepy content when Tony used his newfound freedom to wrap his own arms around his partner, fitting himself better against the other man’s body.
“I missed you.” The words hung in the silence for almost a full minute before Tony realized that they’d come from him.
Steve’s arms tightened around him and Tony could feel his smile against his neck. “Yeah?”
Tony gave him a brief squeeze and nodded against his shoulder. “Yeah.”
Because as much as he missed his bed, his house, and his city, it was Steve that made this place home.
Ahhh, Rockefeller Center. The enormous tree winking with colored lights. The cheerful Christmas music being piped into the square. The hundreds of tourists watching as he fell square on his rear end. Bliss, right?
“Bliss, my Aunt Fanny...” Tony grumbled to himself as he struggled to his feet once more, wobbling on the precarious bits of metal people had the nerve to call footwear. Why exactly had he agreed to do this again? He possessed none of the grace on the ice that he did in the air and ice was hard, darn it! He was pretty sure that he had bruises on his bruises at this point.
A skater skidded to a stop next to him, showering him with slush, and Tony scowled at the darkening cloth covering his knees. “Are you okay, Tony?”
Tony peered up into worried blue eyes and was forced to admit to himself that he knew exactly why he was out there on that ice. “I’m fine, Steve. I’m not going to be beaten by a patch of frozen water,” he said, stubbornly skating forward. He’d intended to leave Steve in his metaphorical dust, but instead he inched forward in choppy, half-aborted motions.
“Of course you won’t,” Steve agreed amiably, and Tony refused to look at his face to see the amused expression he knew he would find there.
“I’m serious, Steve! I fight aliens, dinosaurs, supervillains, and angry board members on a regular basis. My downfall is not going to be a little bit of--”
Tony would deny to his dying day that the noise he made was a shriek, but the papers the next day begged to differ. That little detail would be repeated again and again along with the picture that a passing tourist had snapped. Steve was cradling a rather frazzled looking Tony in his arms, caught mid-fall. The expression on his face, however, was fond, with a bit of a mischievous grin quirking the lips that were en route to his partner’s forehead.
If one or two news clippings made their way into Tony’s workshop, Steve never said a word.
“S-st-stupid doctor. Stupid water. Stupid everything. I--” Tony paused for a moment to sneeze. “I hate being an Avenger.”
“No, you don’t,” Steve told him soothingly, draping another blanket around his shoulders.
Tony looked up at his boyfriend suspiciously from his position on the couch, then pulled the blankets closer around himself and sniffled pitifully. “I’m pretty sure I do.”
It had been an awful day. Some idiotic Dr. Whatsisface had decided that the rainiest, coldest day of the year was the perfect day to try to invade New York City. To make matters worse, one particularly brutal smash from one of the Doctor’s robots had sent Tony plummeting into the Hudson. Usually his suit would protect him from that water, which was probably hazardous on the warmest of days, but the blow had torn a large gash in the chestplate, allowing freezing cold water to seep through his iron shell and into what felt like his very bones. He’d been sitting next to Avengers Tower’s huge fireplace for almost an hour and he still felt like he’d never be warm again.
“You don’t hate being an Avenger, Tony,” Steve repeated, seating himself next to Tony and pulling him into his arms, cocoon and all. Tony grumbled a little, protesting the manhandling, but quickly quieted down. For a man who had spent seventy years trapped in a block of ice, Steve sure was warm.
“What do you know, anyway?” Tony asked. He was aware that at this point he was just being petulant, but his body was still being racked by periodic shudders and it had just been a really long day, okay?
“Well,” Steve started, pressing a kiss to dark curls that had once been perfectly coiffed, “I know you like helping people. You do it every day, even when you think nobody sees you. You say that you let Pepper handle everything the Maria Stark Foundation does, but I know you oversee every donation personally. You push yourself to the very brink out in that suit even when there’s no one there to thank you for it. And I saw the way you smiled after we helped that little girl with her labradoodle last Tuesday, Tony, don’t think I didn’t.” He paused for a minute to rest his chin against Tony’s hair, inhaling the scent of him. “You try to hide how much you care, but I see right through you. You’re a good man, Tony Stark. You love being an Avenger because you love helping people. And we’re glad that you do, because we love you being an Avenger. We’re a family.”
Tony kept his breathing very steady for a moment, then turned his cold nose into Steve’s neck, who, like the saint he was, didn’t even complain but instead murmured something softly and brought a hand up to stroke Tony’s hair. Well. Sure, it was long nights and impossible odds, but maybe, he was willing to concede, just maybe being an Avenger was pretty okay.
“And did you see the person who took a shot at you, Mr. Stark?” the policewoman asked him. She was young, Tony noted numbly, but something in her eyes told him that she meant business.
“No,” he told her, voice faintly apologetic. It was difficult to see individual faces in the audience when he was under the lights like that. That helped him through most press conferences, but it was less helpful when there was a would-be assassin waiting somewhere among the reporters.
She nodded with disappointment, but no real surprise. “That’s all right, Mr. Stark. Just tell us if--”
Both Tony and the policewoman, jerked their heads around to see where the yell had come from, immediately on guard. But as soon as Tony saw who it was, he immediately relaxed. “Steve, it’s okay, it--”
“It’s not okay, Tony!” Steve insisted, stalking into the room. The policewoman looked like she wanted to argue, but quickly took in the shape and size of the bulge hidden in Steve’s portfolio and backed off. Steve really wasn’t nearly as subtle as he thought he was.
“No one was hurt, Steve,” Tony said soothingly, but whatever else he was going to say was cut off as Steve yanked him into a rough embrace. His grip was just short of painful, but Tony didn’t have the heart to protest, not when he could feel the way Steve’s shoulders were quivering under his hands. “Steve,” he murmured again, turning his head so he could press a kiss to Steve’s collarbone, “I’m okay.”
Steve didn’t say anything, just shook his head and pulled him tighter. Tony tried not to think too hard about the way that Steve’s breaths alternated between tight, too-controlled, and shuddery. Please don’t cry, he begged silently. He wasn’t sure what he would do if Steve cried.
Finally, after a few minutes more of Tony’s internal freak out, Steve bit out, “It’s not okay, Tony. You could have died. You could have died and I wouldn’t have even been here to help you.”
Tony rubbed soothing circles into the bunched-up muscles of Steve’s back and tried to find words. Their lives were dangerous ones. He knew that and Steve knew that. “I didn’t,” he finally said. It sounded weak even to his own ears. “I’m okay.”
Steve lightened his hold minutely so he could slide one arm down to Tony’s waist so he could pull him even closer. “I know what you’re thinking. But this isn’t--this isn’t like Avengers business. I’m not wearing a suit and you’re not wearing any armor.” Tony started to say something, but Steve cut him off. “I told you once that I would always have your back, but what if I can’t? What if something happens when you’re just Tony and I’m just Steve and there’s nothing I can do to help you? I can’t--” but Steve’s voice broke then and Tony wasn’t sure what he couldn’t do. Stop bullets with his bare hands? Be there 24/7? Predict the future? “I can’t even make myself think about losing you.”
Tony’s breath caught then as he got caught up in that dizzying concept: What if he lost Steve? What if some punk villain finally got lucky? What if Steve got in an accident? What if Steve got sick, what if it wasn’t something they could cure? What if Steve just got old and he went first to a place that Tony could never follow?
Later Tony would marvel that the idea of growing old with Steve was one that he hadn’t batted an eyelash at, but for now a sort of panic gripped him until he was holding Steve just as tightly as Steve was holding him, and he was murmuring some kind of reassuring litany of sounds and trying to tell himself that that would never happen. That it could never happen because he couldn’t bear to think of the alternative.
The policewoman had at some point slipped out, was perhaps guarding the door, but Tony could hardly be bothered to care. Let her see what it looked like when two people loved each other. He wasn’t ashamed of Steve, and he wasn’t even ashamed of the suspicious stinging at the corner of his eyes. One day both of them wouldn’t be here. They wouldn’t be able to play basketball together or get lunch. Tony wouldn’t be able to thrash Steve at Call of Gears 7 and Steve wouldn’t be able to inexplicably best him at Peter’s ridiculous dancing game. They wouldn’t curl up together on the couch and watch terrible movies and annoy the others by kissing when they got bored. One day they wouldn’t be able to do any of that, so Tony wasn’t going to waste a single moment of the time they did have. Not one.
Tony blinked blearily at the ceiling and tried to figure out why he had woken up. The room was silent and dark, for once not a hint of any wrongdoing breaking the peace. Tony rolled over on his stomach to squint at the clock beside the bed. 4:38. Not even almost time to wake up yet. He rolled back on his side and sighed. Must just be one of those things.
Steve snored softly beside him, unaware of his partner’s distress. Tony regarded him silently for a few minutes, taking in features just starting to come into focus as his eyes adjusted. He was perfect, honestly, and Tony would never be quite sure what he’d done to deserve this. After a few more minutes of mildly creepy staring, Tony edged closer to his bedmate until he could wrap an arm around him and insinuate himself against Steve’s side. “I love you,” he mumbled, and the steady in-out of Steve’s breathing lulled him back to sleep.