It was almost 11:30. The night was dark and cold, and Steve Rogers was so tired he could feel his feet wanting to trip over each other as he climbed the steps to the apartment SHIELD had let him use during his stay in Washington DC.
He hated this city. He wasn't Steve Rogers here, or even Captain America. He was just Fury's pet dancing monkey, trotted out to the politicians and the lobbyists and everyone else who needed to be convinced that superheroes were not crazy or freaks or criminals in the making. It was like selling war bonds again, just an actor on a stage reading his lines, dressed up in full costume, right down to the shield and winged cowl.
He stabbed his key at the lock, missed, then spent a few seconds chasing it around the faceplate, swearing mildly under his breath. He reached up and rubbed at his eyes, then tried again. This time the key went in. He unlocked the door, then stepped inside.
Right away he stopped dead, still in the doorway. When he had left this morning, the SHIELD driver honking at him from the road, the apartment had been cold and silent, all the lights off, the heat turned down. It was like staying in a hotel room; even the air here seemed borrowed and slightly stale.
Now, though, the apartment was wonderfully warm. A single lamp was lit on a small table set against the wall, and the surface light on the stove cast an inviting yellow glow around the too-small kitchen. He could smell something sweet and cinnamon, and he inhaled deeply, recognizing his favorite pastries from the bakery two blocks down from his home in New York.
"What are you doing here?" he asked in wonder.
Tony smiled at him from the kitchen, where he was carefully arranging something on one of the cheap plates that had come with the apartment. "Isn't it obvious?"
Steve shook his head. There was every possibility that he was so tired he was merely imagining this. He set his shield on the floor and leaned it against the wall, then pushed the cowl back so it hung down his back. "I talked to you this morning and you were in New York."
"That was fourteen hours ago," Tony said. "Try to keep up."
"When did you get here?" he asked. He crossed the living room. There was a place set for him at the ridiculously tiny "dining room" table. A steaming mug of coffee stood beside a plate full of the New York pastries. At the sight, he suddenly realized how hungry he was; his lunch with the Senators seemed very far away.
"Sit down before you fall down," Tony scolded. He came forward holding his offering of food. He set it down next to the pastries, a heaping portion of everything Steve loved best, all of it from New York – and still warm.
"You didn't have to do this," he said.
"I wanted to," Tony said. "Now eat."
Steve didn't need to be told twice. He sat down and helped himself to a pastry. He had had a long day, he told himself as justification; he was entitled to dessert first.
Tony sat in the chair opposite him, cradling his own cup of coffee. "Don't you want any?" Steve asked, and he waved off the question.
So Steve ate alone, and he ate well. When he finished his first helping, Tony got up wordlessly and brought him back another plate, along with a second cup of coffee. Steve reached for it and their hands brushed, fingers lingering for a moment.
"So how did it go today?" Tony asked as he sat back down.
"Don't ask," Steve grunted as he dug into his second helping.
"Okay," Tony said easily, and silence fell over them again.
When Steve had finished eating (Tony gave him an assist with the last pastry), he sat back and watched as Tony got up and began gathering up his dishes. "You don't have to do that," he said.
"Go take a shower," Tony said. "I'll wait for you."
Despite his exhaustion, Steve's blood quickened a little at this thought. He did not protest. He just headed for the small bedroom down the hall that he had claimed as his own.
In the bedroom he found his favorite bathrobe laid out on the bed. It was thick and warm, but he hadn't packed it because he was only going to be here for a few days, and there hadn't been room in his suitcase. He smiled a little as he picked it up and headed for the bathroom.
The hot shower made him feel better, but it also reminded him how tired he was. The heated water streaming down on his neck and shoulders was like a soporific, lulling him to close his eyes and just stand there with his head bowed, breathing in clouds of steam and ready to fall asleep right then and there.
But this was not the home of the Avengers, where he had every amenity he could want thanks to Tony Stark's riches. Too soon the water began to turn cool, and he turned it off. Quickly he dried himself off and pulled on his bathrobe.
Tony was in the living room, sitting on the couch. He looked up when Steve walked in, and smiled. "Feel better?"
"Tons," Steve said. "Like a new man." He smiled back.
"That's good to hear," Tony said. His smile turned inviting.
Steve walked over and sat beside him. "I'm glad you came," he said. "It's a nice surprise."
"That was the whole point," Tony said. In one fluid motion he rose up, then turned so he was facing Steve. He planted his knees on either side of Steve's thighs, then let his weight settle.
So it was going to be one of those nights. He was so tired, but he was more than willing. He started to reach for Tony, and to his surprise, Tony took hold of his hands and made him lower them back down. "No," Tony said. "Just sit."
Willing to see where this led, Steve let his hands remain at his sides, just inches away from Tony's knees. "Okay."
Tony reached up and slid his hands beneath the thick bathrobe, then placed them on Steve's shoulders. He exerted just enough pressure that Steve was pulled forward until his head was bowed, his forehead touching Tony's collarbone. For a long moment nothing happened. Then Tony's hands began to move, kneading the tension out of his shoulders.
"Oh," Steve murmured. He closed his eyes and surrendered.
Unerringly Tony's fingers found the knots in his muscles, soothing them away. Those hands that were so nimble and clever, so beautiful despite being scarred from years of hard work, eased the stresses of the day away until he could not even remember what they had been. His shoulders were so tight that the massage almost hurt occasionally, and he would wince a little. Always then the pressure would let up, and Tony's hands would just rub gentle circles on his skin until he relaxed again.
"Tony," he breathed.
"Shh," Tony said. Warm lips ghosted a kiss at his temple. He turned his head so he could lay his cheek on top of Tony's shoulder, and Tony's fingers moved to the back of his neck, pressing gently in the same small circular motions.
The last of the tension bled from him. Steve let himself slump against Tony, taking comfort from that solid strength that held him up. He felt utterly relaxed, so warm and content.
Another kiss touched his forehead, warm breath stirring his hair. Strong arms wrapped themselves around him. One hand stroked his back, making a faint whissshing sound on the fabric of the bathrobe.
"Sleep," Tony whispered. He kissed Steve's brow again.
Steve made a sleepy mumble that might have been assent.
"I love you," Tony said.
Tomorrow the puppet show would go on again, but tonight Steve slept, safe and warm in the arms of the man he loved.