“Asexual,” Tony repeated and Steve made himself smile instead of clenching his hands into fists.
“Yeah. It’s - I never really had a word for it before. But it’s accurate.”
Tony was sitting on the edge of the bed, elbows on his knees, hands clasped together. He was still dressed for work in a crisp charcoal suit and a sapphire blue shirt that was almost, but not quite as vivid as his eyes. He’d loosened his tie at some point and he’d run his fingers through his hair a few times - probably when he opened his bedroom door to find Steve saying we should talk.
“I’m not entirely sure what that means,” Tony said slowly. “I mean obviously I know what it means, but you’re going to have to walk me through what it means for you.”
“I understand if you want to break up,” Steve said, the words spilling out of his mouth like they were hot on his tongue. He hadn’t meant to say it quite like that and not so early in the conversation, but it’s out there now, loud and heavy between them and he can’t pretend he didn’t say it. “If you want to, I’ll go. I’ll let you go. I understand.”
Tony frowned at him. “Do you want to break up?”
“No.” That comes out just as fast, just as heavy. If Steve was sure of anything about their relationship, that was it. “But this can be a deal breaker. I can understand if-”
“Okay. Let’s just - stop being so understanding, all right?” Tony narrowed his eyes and ran his hands through his hair again. “Look. We’re going to have to talk this out and - and figure out how this is going to work. But I have three questions I need you to answer before we do anything else.”
“Okay.” Steve nodded once, short and sharp and then had to physically stop himself from just nodding over and over again like a bobblehead. God, he hasn’t been this nervous since Erskine and Howard strapped him into that chamber, since the first time he saw Peggy after waking up, since the day he worked up the nerve to ask Tony out on a real date.
Tony held his index finger up. “One. Do you promise to answer these questions honestly even if you think it will upset me?”
Steve bristled a little, but he swallowed the indignation. Tony was the one more inclined to gloss over the truth about his own needs to spare someone’s feelings. Steve could be demanding and they both knew it. “Yes. I promise.”
Tony nodded as if he hadn’t expected otherwise, which served to mollify Steve slightly. “Two. Did you mean it when you said you didn’t want to break up?”
God he was dating the most frustrating human being on the planet. “Yes. I meant it. I wouldn’t be in a relationship with someone just to avoid a fight, Tony.”
“You’ve never avoided a fight in your life,” Tony said dryly. He held up a third finger. “Three. Have I ever pressured you or made you feel like you had to have sex to make me happy?”
“No.” Steve took half a step toward the bed, then stopped himself. “No. Tony, you’d never do that to anyone. And I’d never do that to you.”
“To me?” Tony rubbed his hand over his face. “Steve, god. To me? I’ve been - how did I not realize-”
“Because I didn’t realize,” Steve said. “There’s no blame here. You’d never pressure anyone into sex, don’t make me laugh. And I’d never pretend just to - honestly, Tony, I complain when you buy the bagels I don’t like, you think I’d pretend to want sex just to keep the peace?”
Tony pursed his lips. “Yeah, now that you mention it, I have no idea what the hell I was thinking.”
“Asshole,” Steve said fondly. “Look, I’ve never done anything I didn’t want to with you. And I’ve said no before, Tony, when I was tired or not in the mood and you’ve always respected that. You’re going to have to trust me on that.”
“I do. But I might freak out about it a little later.”
That was fair. Steve thought he’d be reacting the same way if the man who’d shared his bed for almost a year had come to him and announced he was asexual.
He crossed the room and sat down on the bed next to Tony so that their arms pressed together. They sat there for a long moment, the silence heavy but not tense. Tony was taking long, even breaths, obviously trying to steady himself. Steve hadn’t realized how this might make Tony feel. It hadn’t occurred to him that Tony would feel guilty, but it should have. “I love you,” he said quietly.
“Oh, shut up,” Tony said, but he was smiling. “Stop making me feel better and keep going. This isn’t about me.”
Steve nudged him with his shoulder. “I do, though.”
“Good,” Tony said, taking one of Steve’s hands in both of his. “It’d be embarrassing if it was just me. Tell me.”
He’d thought how to say this for hours, practicing and rejecting a hundred different versions. He wanted to be honest but not cruel and Tony was - Tony was so easy to hurt sometimes. “I’ve always felt like I wanted you differently than you’ve wanted me,” he said slowly. “Not less, okay? Never less. But differently. Sex is good. With you it’s amazing. I don’t regret anything we’ve ever done and I never will. But I -” He exhaled heavily. “I feel the same way about fucking you as I do about cuddling on the couch. It’s good because it’s you, because I’m close to you, because it makes you feel good.”
Tony’s face was pinched. “Steve…”
Steve squeezed Tony’s hand. “It feels good for me, too. And I’ve been with other people and enjoyed it. But I never need it.” He sighed. “I don’t know how to explain this. I need you, I need to be close to you, to make you feel good. But the sex by itself is just…”
“Messy?” Tony offered. He was still tense, but he was breathing better. Not so close to panic as he had been.
Steve laughed. “Yeah. A little. I never wanted it the way Arnie said he did when we were kids. Or - okay, Bucky as a teenager, my god. I thought there was something wrong him, honestly. But then the Commandos came along and I’d listen to them talk and I realized there was something wrong with me. Something had always been wrong with me and even the serum couldn’t fix it. All the men around me were -” he waved his hands in the air, sketching something vaguely like an hourglass shape. “They wanted it and I never did. Even when I met Mademoiselle - Peggy - and I loved her, I wanted to be with her and spend time with her but I never wanted to have sex with her.
“And then I met Sharon and I still didn’t want it, but I loved her and when we did go to bed it felt good. I didn’t not want it,” he said as Tony’s face grew pinched again. “Okay? At no point has anyone forced me into anything. Maybe things would be different if I’d known what I was back then, I don’t know. But Sharon, Rachel and Bernie were important to me. I loved them. I wanted to be- intimate. I wanted intimacy. Sex is very intimate,” he said with a half smile that widened into a full one when Tony smiled back at him. “And they obviously enjoyed it. I like making the people I’m with feel good. But then we broke up and I didn’t want it anymore. No one night stands. No griping about my right hand. No really using my right hand,” he added, bracing for Tony to react with surprise or - or confusion, but his boyfriend just nodded and waited for him to go on. “People would offer sometimes. Women, men. It never interested me. After Sharon and I broke up after Civil War there was never anyone until you. And-”
“And you didn’t want me, either.”
“I love you,” Steve said quietly. “I want to be close to you. I feel good when we make love and I love making you feel good. But I don’t… I don’t turn on the way normal men do. I don’t need it the way they do. If we never had sex again it wouldn’t hurt me. I’d be just as happy to kiss you and hold you in my arms and hear your breath in the darkness.”
Tony lifted their hands so he could kiss one of Steve’s knuckles. “Thank you. This can’t have been easy to say.”
“It can’t have been easy to hear,” Steve said softly.
“What do you need? What do you want?”
“You,” Steve said. “That’s it. I’m not trying to end anything or - or even change anything. I’m happy. But I know I’m different and I’ve been - I’ve been so afraid that you’d realize how different I was and think I didn’t want you. Once I realized the right words for what I am I had to tell you.”
Tony rubbed his fingers over the back of Steve’s hand. “I had noticed something. I don’t know what I’d thought, really. Maybe my libido was a little more active than yours.”
Steve nudged Tony’s shoulder with his. “Are we okay?”
“You telling me the truth about what you need will never not be okay.”
“You keep asking me if I want to break up,” Steve said. His chest felt tight, and it was hard to get the words out. “But you never really answered when I asked you.”
“Sweetheart,” Tony said. He let go of Steve’s hand to cup Steve’s cheek in his palm. “I don’t want to break up. I will never want to break up. You’re stuck with me until you carry me out to the curb with your own two hands and even then I don’t promise to go quietly.”
“You’ve never done anything quietly,” Steve said.
Tony laughed, a soft huff of breath, but he was smiling for real. “You said kissing was okay?”
“Everything is okay with you,” Steve said. “I meant that.”
Tony hummed and leaned in for a soft kiss that was little more than a brush of his mouth against Steve’s. “So. I have a request.”
“I don’t want to have sex for a little while.”
Steve drew back, his chest clenching. “I meant it, Tony, I’m not-”
“I know. And I believe you. I promise. This is me, Steve. I need to talk about this a little more. I could never forgive myself if-” he pulled in a deep breath. “Just for a little bit. Let’s hash this out a bit more. Discuss boundaries and limits and comfort zones.”
“Tony, I like giving you what you need.”
Tony’s head jerked up like a cobra about to strike, his eyes flashing. “Okay, any guy who needs sex more than he needs to make sure his partner is safe and comfortable and happy is a jackass. I may be a jerk, Steve, but I’m not that kind of jerk. I’m not saying we should take a break or sleep in separate rooms, just that I want to talk this out a little.” He exhaled, cheeks puffing up with the force of his breath. “And I don’t need it. Not like that. Not more than I need you. What was it you said? If we never have sex again I’ll still be happy. A little frustrated maybe,” he added with a crooked grin. “I will be making use of my right hand and probably taking extra long showers. But I’ll be happy listening to your heart beating beneath my ear at night and feeling your arms around me while I make breakfast in the morning. Need and want are very different. I need you, Steve.” Tony’s voice broke and his hand pressed a little closer against Steve’s cheek. “I need to have you in my life. I need you to be happy.” He stroked his thumb over Steve’s cheekbone. “I need to be part of what makes you happy. Everything else is just gravy. It’s amazing gravy,” he added. “Your cock is fucking inspirational. For a man who doesn’t feel sexual desire you are astonishingly good at sex. I think about it a lot. And your mouth. Your hands. Your incredibly tight ass.”
“I get the idea,” Steve said dryly.
Tony laughed and leaned against Steve’s side. “I love you. Thank you for telling me.” He turns his head, pressed a soft kiss against the curve of Steve’s shoulder. “And there’s no such thing as normal, Steve. There has never been anything wrong with you.”
Steve wrapped an arm around Tony’s waist. “I lied, though.” He pressed his cheek against Tony’s hair and closed his eyes for several long moments, breathed in the smell of his shampoo and listened to the sound of his breath. “I wouldn’t have let you go. Not without a fight.”