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even if you don't

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Steve’s heart is lodged in his throat and he has to take several deep breaths before he can speak. He rolls over, Tony’s silk sheets bunching up underneath him as he sits up in the wreckage they’ve made of the bed. “I didn’t - I don’t think I heard you correctly.”

Tony smiles at him, but it’s a brittle thing, too tight and ready to shatter with one blow. That he’s clearly expecting one from Steve is… Steve’s stomach is threatening to turn on him. He doesn’t know what’s happening, he has no idea how it got this bad so fast.

“I said it’s fine if you don’t love me,” Tony says again and it’s even worse than it was the first time. His voice is even, calm, but it’s the voice he uses when he’s leading the press conferences so the reporters won’t tear Steve or Jan apart, or when he and Steve go head to head over something in front of the team. It’s a voice Steve hates because it means Tony’s determined not to show that he’s upset or hurt or embarrassed. Steve wishes he didn’t know that voice or that smile quite so well.

Tony is standing by the windows, still naked, and there’s a glass of clear liquid in his right hand - seltzer and lime, which means he wants a drink. He’s just had sex with Steve and he wants a fucking drink while he talks about Steve not loving him with the bruises Steve’s hands made on his hips just starting to form.

“I’ll understand,” Tony adds. He’s not looking at Steve, his gaze focused on the city sprawled out before him. The hand holding the drink is steady, but his knuckles are turning white. “I’m not - This is still new, what we’re doing. It’s fine if you don’t feel that way yet. Or-” he almost looks at Steve, but obviously stops himself, the ice in his glass clinking against the sides. “If you don’t at all. It’s fine. This is good, either way. I’m enjoying what we have.”

God, I love you. Tony’s words had been little more than a gasp against Steve’s mouth, the words lost between them as Steve dragged him down into another kiss. Steve doesn’t remember what he’d said, or if he’d said anything at all. He wasn’t usually a talker in bed and Tony had been deep inside him at the time. He doesn’t remember much of anything except the need to get him deeper.

It makes sense in a rush that leaves him almost weak with relief. A thread of irritation follows, but he can shake that off. Tony said something in the heat of the moment he hadn’t meant to say and now he’s doing what he always did - trying to save face. Trying to downplay his own feelings to keep Steve comfortable.

Trying not to scare Steve off.

Steve’s known Tony Stark for fifteen years and he’s intimately acquainted with the desire to strangle the man and kiss him at the same time. It’s a little different now that they’re both naked and his dick has been in Tony’s mouth, but Steve knew what he was getting into.

Here is where I’ve chosen to law my affection, he thinks whimsically, something he picked up from Kamala over the years. No one had thought this would be easy. Nothing worthwhile ever is. And Tony is worth it. Even if this ends up blowing up in their faces, Tony will have been worth it.

He leans forward, rests his elbows against his knees. “And if I do?”

The ice clinks against the glass again as Tony flinches. “Do?” he repeated blankly, eyes finally coming to rest on Steve.

“Love you,” Steve says. He pushes himself up off the bed. His hips ache in a way that’s entirely new and there’s the rather unpleasant sensation of Tony’s come slowly trickling down his leg, but the warmth in his belly and the surge of fondness in his chest - those are old and well-known things. “If I do love you?” he asks. He carefully wraps one hand around the glass in Tony’s hand and Tony surrenders it easily. Steve sets it down on the bedside table and takes Tony’s hand in a gentle hold, loose enough that Tony could pull his hand away if he needed to have some space. “Because I do. I have. For a long time.” He takes Tony’s chin between his thumb and forefinger and drops a soft kiss on Tony’s mouth. “Come on, you know that.”

“It’s different now,” Tony says, and he sounds a little lost, a little confused.

“It is,” Steve agrees. “And it’s going to be messier and more complicated and it might hurt a little more. But it’s going to be sweeter and sweatier-” Tony huffed a short laugh and rolled his eyes at that and Steve couldn’t bite back the grin as he finished, “-and it might just be the best thing either of us has ever done. Because I do love you, Tony. More now than I did last year, but a little less than I will tomorrow.”

“I love you,” Tony says for the second time and this time his voice is soft and shy, but his eyes are locked on Steve’s.

Steve leans in and presses his lips to Tony’s temple for a long moment. “I know. And now I need you to trust me.”

Tony’s hands settle at his waist, fingers pressing into Steve’s skin. “Okay,” he says. “Okay. That - that always was the sticking point with us, wasn’t it?”

“I will if you will,” Steve says. He presses another kiss to Tony’s cheek, squeezes Tony’s hand. “Hey, if it was easy, it wouldn’t be any fun, would it?”

Tony’s smile eases into something a little rueful, but his eyes are gleaming silvery blue in the light from the moon. “God, we deserve each other.”

“That seems to be the general opinion.” Steve tugs him away from the window, leads him back to the bed. “Come here. Tell me you love me again.” He pushes Tony down onto the bed and crawls in beside him until they’re a tangle of limbs and skin and sheets, one of Tony’s legs between his and Tony’s mouth hot against his throat. “Trust me,” he says, curling his fingers around Tony’s waist until they press into the bruises he’s made and Tony moans against his skin. “Trust me, this is going to be worth it.”