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Better Angels

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Steve swiped a hand across the steam-fogged mirror, leaving a wet slash with his own face staring back at him.  He turned off the faucet and looked down at his hands. They were clean, at least. Finally.  The nail beds were whittled down to pink and small hash-like scratches were still visible across his knuckles, but they were clean.  His face was another story.  The lower part was dark and dirt-stained, streaked with lines of sweat beading below the curve of left by the cowl.  Like a muzzle, he thought grimly, and picked up the damp hand towel, rubbing it over one cheek and then the other.

Behind him, the shower was running, had been running for God knew how long, making the air in the room heavy with moisture, but it still tasted like smoke.  Everything did.  Each breath was coated with an acrid layer of dirt and ash and the melting plastic scent of drywall mixed with carpet fibers into a sludge of cinders. 

Your pal.  Your Bucky.

Steve’s grip on the edge of the sink tightened hard enough that he could feel the tiny fissures start to form against the pads of his fingers where the porcelain cracked under the strain.  Damn.  He was usually better about being careful.  Better about a lot of things.  Better.  Behind him, the shower pounded into the tile, background noise to the throbbing refrain in his head, drowning it out, or letting him drown in it, he wasn’t sure.

He huffed out a harsh breath, and let his head dip down to his chest, breathing in and out and letting the constant susurration of the water fill his head and push everything else out.  When he looked in the mirror again, he could see the star on his chest, grayed out now, discolored by the soot and smoke, like it had absorbed part of the destruction.  Maybe it had.

God, he’d fucked up, he thought, rubbing a gloved hand through his hair.  He’d fucked up, and it was going to fall on Wanda, and she was just beginning to believe in what she might be able to do. 

Suddenly, he needed to get out of the suit.  Needed it to not be touching his skin.  It was like he could feel every nerve ending at once, rubbing the edges raw.  He needed out of it.  To get cleaned up.  Get clean.

Your pal.  Your Bucky.

Steve was tearing at the buckles of the suit before he finished forming the thought, feeling the seams come apart as he pulled.  It was strangely satisfying.  Tearing it apart.  Tearing it off.  Stripping it all away until there was nothing left, too deliberate to be panic, or he told himself that, anyway.  The door clicked open behind him, but he didn’t bother to look. He knew who it was

“Hey, hey, Steve, calm down, calm down,” Tony’s voice echoed against the rush in his head, distant and hollow, but Steve slowed the frenzy of his motions when he felt Tony’s hands wrap around his own, stilling him.

“Just getting cleaned up,” Steve responded in a flat monotone.  That was true, and it wasn’t all true, and he thought Tony might understand that, probably too well.

“Pricey stuff, here, Cap.  A tad above military-grade Kevlar, after all.  Not to mention, I’m kind of partial to it. Sentimental reasons, you know,” Tony continued, voice seeming to follow his hands, gentling and soothing, as he pulled Steve’s arms down to his sides, where they hung limp and useless.

Steve turned, slowly, letting Tony’s hands guide him around.  Blindman’s Bluff, he thought nonsensically, recalling the childhood game, Bucky’s hands spinning him through the darkness and pointing him the way he was supposed to go.

He didn’t realize his eyes were closed until he opened them and looked down.  Bright, he thought, not sure if he meant the glare of the overhead lights or something else.  Tony was watching him with the same sharp, focused gaze that took problems apart and found the solution, the way Steve’s mom used to see the one wrong stitch in her pattern that meant the whole thing had to be redone.  Remade. 

You sure you want to pull that thread?

“Guess you heard.  About Lagos,” Steve said. Tony ran a hand over his mouth, then shoved it in his pocket. 

“Got called to come to the principal’s office,” Tony admitted quietly after a beat of stillness.  “Ross wants to talk.”

“God, Tony, if they want a pound of flesh, it was on me. Not Wanda. Certainly not on you,” Steve rushed out, one hand going to tug at the neck of the uniform.  It was too tight. Binding. 

“Well.  What’d you say you let me worry about that?” Tony shrugged, shoving his hands into his pockets and canting his head to one side to look up at Steve.

“Tony, I can’t just let you mop up our mess.   You know Ross is just looking for a reason—“ Steve started.

“Yeah, yeah.  Wants to ride shotgun, I know,” Tony replied.    “You let me deal with Ross, how about?   Though, if you want to tell me how Rumlow got the drop on you, I’m all ears.  Among other things.”

Steve looked down and away, then let out a long puff of air through his nose, pinching the bridge with one hand. 

“Rumlow said Bucky, and I asked how high he’d like me to jump,” Steve bit out, then let his head dip down to his chest for a minute before giving it a shake, like he could clear it, but the rushing hiss of the water hitting the tile filled it like white noise.  “It was my fault. They’re going to blame Wanda.  You know they are.  You gotta—you gotta tell Ross.  He’s looking for a reason, and I gave him one.  If he wants to come after someone, then it’s on me.”

There had been a sound machine in all their rooms when they got here. One of those fancy ones that was a clock and charger for his phone.  He’d scrolled through the sounds and then never used it. He’d come back one day to find a new one, programmed with what probably amounted to every sound on the planet that didn’t involve water.  He liked the city noise one best, though he didn’t sleep to it.  Sometimes, he’d turn it on and just listen though.  It took him a few weeks to realize why he liked it.  It sounded right.  The horns.  The engines.  The hums and clacks of the trolleys.  The low, thrumming sound from the factories that had once dotted the lower East Side.  He wasn’t sure why he was thinking about that now, but he should ask Tony how he’d put all that together.  He would ask.  One day, when all this was behind them, he’d ask about it.  It occurred to him that he might be asking a different question than the one in his head, why instead of how, but he couldn’t think about that right now.

Tony was still watching him with the same intent expression, but the edges were gone from it. 

“Let’s get you out of this, hmmm,” Tony rasped out, keeping his eyes on Steve as he started to undo buckles and zippers with practiced efficiency, until he had the uniform tugged down to Steve’s hips.  Tony went down to one knee and undid the boots, pulling them off before standing up and helping Steve shrug out of the rest of the uniform. 

Steve told himself he should probably be embarrassed, but it felt good.  Warm, somehow, standing there with Tony watching him.  Had he been cold?  That didn’t seem right, but it felt true.

Steve didn’t say anything, didn’t ask.  Didn’t need to. Tony didn’t ask, either, just started shucking off his suit, jacket first, folding it neatly on the counter while Steve watched the movements, then pulling his tie off with a whip-whirring sound as it cut against the collar of the dress shirt.  Tony’s other armor, Steve thought.  Someone had to wear it, and none of the rest of them could, but Steve knew well enough how long the list of things only Tony could do for the team was getting. 

“How many?” Steve heard himself ask.  “How many were there?  Did you get a final count?”

“Not now,” Tony said, one hand stilling lightly where it was halfway through unbuttoning the third button on his dress shirt.

 Steve could see the faint, white circle of skin where the arc reactor used to be behind Tony’s knuckles.  Steve didn’t have scars now.  The one from the time Billy O’Donnell clocked him into the side of a broken drain pipe in that alley behind the grocer’s was gone.  So was the one from when he burned his arm on the stove making soup and trying to get his mom’s medicine poured right while she coughed and coughed in the tiny bathroom, keeping the water running so maybe he wouldn’t hear.  So were the ones from his fight with Bucky on the helicarrier. 

No more scars.  It would heal what was wrong inside first. Knit bone and tissue and sinew.  Stave off infection and inflammation.  The serum fixed everything.  It would fix the scrapes on his knuckles and the bruises on his chest.  Make him whole again.  That’s what it did, over and over, never stopping, an endless line of putting him back together again.  That should be comforting.  He wasn’t sure when it starting sounding slightly terrifying.

“We’ll talk about that out there.  Later,” Tony was saying, drawing Steve’s attention back to the man in front of him.

“Tony—“ Steve started, then swallowed back the rest of what he was going to say.  Mostly because he didn’t know what he was going to say, so he said something else instead.  “What about your speech?  Is this going to…be a problem?”

“I’ll still make it,” Tony replied.  “It’ll be fine.  Can’t go wrong giving people money.  They’re generally going to clap and check the excellent box on the survey. Eleven out of ten broke college kids would recommend to friends.”

“Tony, it’s important.  What you’re doing for them.  Amazing.  You should be proud,” Steve said, shaking his head at the brittle tone under the words. 

“I’m proud of a lot of things,” Tony replied.  No, you’re not.  You want to be, but you’re not, Steve thought, but he didn’t say it.  He thought Tony might understand a bit about an endless line of always having to do more and more, but he didn’t say that, either.

“You still going to do the, ah.  The demonstration?” Steve asked, trying to keep the awkwardness out of the question.  Tony talked about his parents as much as anyone else, but Tony rarely, if ever, talked about Tony and his parents, which were two very different experiences, or so Steve had gathered. 

“BARF.  Really gotta work on that acronym, though, it is strangely appropriate for a college crowd,” Tony admitted with a shrug.  His hands were unbuckling his belt and pulling it out of the loops with a zip.  It, too, went on the counter, next to Tony’s jacket.  “Yeah.  That bit of tech is probably the most self-indulgent thing I’ve done. Present company excluded.  But, it makes the point.”

“It isn’t self-indulgent to try to help yourself deal with things,” Steve protested. It sounded weak to his own ears, but the corner of Tony’s mouth twitched up.  He knew how important the speech was to Tony.  He was giving back in more ways than one.  This was for her.  Maria.  The woman Howard had married, who Steve never met and still couldn’t quite picture.  The press would say it was guilt for Ultron, but there was something too hopeful in Tony’s efforts for that to be it.  Ultron was a mistake.  This wasn’t an apology. This was a gift.

“My decimated gym equipment would like to have a word with you on that,” Tony replied.  His tone had gone light, teasing, but the look he gave Steve was full of unasked questions.  “Anyway,” Tony continued, pursing his lips a bit when Steve didn’t rise to the bait.  “Pepper was supposed to do the bulk of the presentation.  She’d have been a great closer.  Always knew how to work a crowd,” Tony continued. 

“She’s not going to be there?  Is everything okay?” Steve asked.

“Worse than okay. She’s happy for me,” Tony replied, mouth twisting into a deprecating flash of a smile that Steve had seen too many times lately.  Tony toed his dress shoes off and flung them to the side, then shimmied out of his pants and boxers with the kind of unselfconscious grace that Steve knew from experience that no magic serum could grant.  Tony would say it was practice.  But, when it came to himself, Tony was full of shit a lot of the time.  “Or said something about Happy that I’m ignoring.  One or the other, same thing in the end.”

Steve almost didn’t catch that, then frowned when he did, unsure what to think about what it might mean, then mentally chiding himself for thinking it might mean anything.  Agreed to see other people, or so Tony had said. Still. Tony and Pepper were the endgame.  Steve knew that.  Even, in a way, wanted it to be true.  Or wanted to want it to be true.  Close enough for horseshoes and grenades.  

This..this thing with Tony…it was still so new.  Fragile, though Steve didn’t think that was due to the newness. Not exactly, anyway.  Maybe fragile wasn’t the right word.  This didn’t feel fragile, standing here, letting Tony strip them both down, take all the layers off until all they had was what they carried with them.

When Tony had shown back up at the compound after two months of tapping out, it had taken three weeks to figure out that he and Pepper were in the off-again phase of the long, painful relationship walk-out dance they’d apparently been doing for the past few years.  Except this time, Tony had stayed, and he and Steve had slow-marched through quips and jabs and barbed comments to long talks, too much laughter, almost-dates that ended before they turned into something, towards what had probably started a long time ago and ended when Tony walked into the gym, announced he was testing a theory and shoved his tongue down Steve’s throat. 

Steve hadn’t expected the joy.  That was a surprise. Still surprised him.  This thing that happened when Tony was around, where he laughed more than he should and listened longer than he thought he could, and felt more than might be right.  It scared him sometimes, how easy it was.  Everything with Tony was easy, and nothing was ever this easy.

Sometimes, that terrified him.

Even the hard parts were easy.  He wasn’t sure it was supposed to be like that, but he had an answer if someone asked him what made him happy, and he couldn’t make himself pick it apart just because they weren’t broken when they were together and neither of them knew what to do with that.

It would be so easy.  To try to hold onto this.

“Come on,” Tony urged, pulling Steve by the arm towards the shower.  The glass door was grayed out with steam, and clicked as Tony pulled it open, letting a rush of warm air, heavy with condensation, billow into the room. 

The water was too hot.  Steve stood under it anyway, feeling it make tiny spikes of cold-burning points against his skin.  Tony adjusted the temperature, then stepped inside, nudging Steve more fully under the stream until it coated the back of his neck and ran down his spine.  He tipped his head back, closing his eyes and letting the water run over his face.  For a moment, it tasted like salt.  That was the sweat and soot, he knew, but he swished it in his mouth and spat it towards the drain, anyway. 

“We’ll find him.  You know that, right?” Tony said.  He was soaping a cloth in his hands, one of those ridiculously soft ones that Steve liked more than he was willing to admit.  Steve suspected Tony knew.  They’d shown up in the gym, after all.  He didn’t bother pretending not to know who Tony meant. 

“I know,” Steve answered.  Tony was making a promise, and Steve thought he might be answering with something less. 

“Can you just maybe not—“ Tony started, then bit off the rest of whatever he was going to ask, looking away and rubbing his free hand over his mouth, like he could wipe the words away. Steve figured they both knew the answer was no, but he was still grateful Tony didn’t ask.  Tony let out a sigh that sounded like half frustration, half acceptance, then went back to his task.

The cloth was warm against Steve’s cheek when Tony held it up, wiping gently at the dirt and grime there, cooler against the other side, but Steve instantly felt cleaner.  Tony was working the soapy cloth down the column of Steve’s throat, over his collarbones and along the ridge of his shoulders, slow and methodical.  Solving a problem, Steve thought.  Finding a solution.  Today, that meant getting Steve cleaned up. 

Making him feel clean.

Steve wasn’t sure if that was a distinction that mattered anymore. 

 He should tell him.   There was a ghost in a computer who told Steve lies that held too much truth when he finally decided to look. He needed to tell Tony. Not here.  Not now, with the fallout from Lagos to deal with, and Tony’s walk down create-a-memory lane, but soon.  The possibility that he was wrong had long ago worn down to hope and now…now, he was probably approaching self-delusion. 

The hardest lie to reject is the one you want to believe, but, he’d reached and missed, and now they were here, and Tony was giving himself headaches over something he thought he’d lost, but had really been taken. 

Steve had asked himself too many times the last few months if telling Tony would make it better or worse, if it would help or hurt, and he was pretty sure he was asking a question that didn’t have an answer so he wouldn’t have to answer it. 

Two guards with two doors.  One can only tell the truth.  One can only tell lies.  One door leads to death.  One door leads to freedom.  Problem was figuring out which was which.  But, there was a door, and he had to go through it.  He’d never shied away from choosing, until now, when it felt too much like a choice.

He should ask Peggy. She would know.  Or not, but she’d know what to say to him.  She always knew that much, and there was truth in that, too.  But, Peggy wasn’t Peggy anymore, the way the city sounds were familiar, but not the same.  Nothing would ever be the same again, except him, and Steve wasn’t sure what that said.

“Hey, eyes front, Soldier,” Tony said with a sharp twang. 

“I was thinking about Peggy,” Steve replied.  Tony ran the cloth between the fingers of Steve’s right hand, rubbing and tracing them, then over the palm, before letting go and moving on the next.  Tony’s eyes were on his task, seemingly absorbed, but not really, Steve knew.  The muscles of his stomach twitched when Tony kneaded the cloth against the taut skin there, then up, across Steve’s chest, where the discolored star would sit.

“Any change?” Tony asked quietly, head ducking down like he was intent on his task, but it was a feint, Steve knew. 

“No,” Steve said. 

“I’m sorry,” Tony replied, voice gruff with emotion.  “You want, we can go down and see her. After the thing with Ross is done. Maybe stop at the Tower on the way back.  Get away from all this a little.  Let things settle.”

“Is that what’s going to happen?” Steve asked rhetorically, giving Tony a knowing look.  “Things are going to settle?”

“No.  Want to do it anyway?” Tony shot back, a small grin playing at his lips.  Tony was rubbing the cloth over Steve’s arm now, up and down, then across his chest to the other in long, slow strokes.  It felt good.  Tony knew he liked to be touched, needed it sometimes, like this, like Tony’s hands could draw something out of him, though Steve didn’t really question why or how Tony knew.  He just sank into the sensation, letting himself go weightless. Floating.

“Her family’s with her,” Steve replied.  He’d long ago stopped feeling excluded by the fact that circle didn’t include him, and that Peggy was happy, not despite it, but perhaps because of it.  Probably because of it, he thought, his mind flashing to a lifetime’s worth of memories in the photos that dotted her hospital room.  Not memories, though.  Her life was in the room with her now, keeping vigil, and he was here.  He just…wasn’t sure when that stopped being a regret, but it had. 

“Not much for settling anyway, I guess,” Steve admitted with a shrug.

“Me neither. Apparently,” Tony muttered glibly, with a flash of a smirk that would’ve brought a flush to Steve’s skin if he wasn’t already red from the heat of the water.  “Turn around,” Tony ordered, twirling the cloth a bit in his hand by way of demonstration.  Steve turned to face the showerhead, ducking his head to let the water sluice over his face and down his chest, then tipping his head back and looking up at the bright circle of light on the ceiling until it could see it behind his eyelids when he closed them. 

“Why do you want to change that memory?  Because it was the last?” Steve asked.  The cloth slowed, briefly, then kept up its pattern of overlapping circles across his back. 

“You mean, why not tinker with one of the really bad ones?  Why change a few snarky comments?” Tony replied.  “What’s that do, really, right?”

“Gives you a good-bye,” Steve offered, swallowing thickly around the words.  He fisted his hand at his side, and concentrated on the way the water felt as it ran in rivulets down his body, the way Tony’s hands felt underneath the too-soft washcloth as it made its way over his skin.   “That’s something.”

“Does it?” Tony murmured, barely audible over the spray of the shower.   “It would’ve made her happy.  I could’ve given her that.”

The cloth had disappeared, dropped with a wet splash to the floor.  It was Tony’s hands now, working their way over the flesh of Steve’s back, pressing into the skin there.  Not a massage, just…feeling.  Contact.  A stroke here.  A brush of skin there.  A hard push, where the muscle met bone.  Molding, Steve thought.  Pushing something out or pressing something in, he wasn’t sure. 

“I didn’t,” Tony continued.  “Then, I mean. Because I was twenty-one, going on asshole, and Dad was my favorite proving ground.”

“I’m sure they knew how you felt,” Steve said, though he wasn’t sure, and he was, and that was too familiar, so he pushed it away.  He turned around and shifted aside, so Tony could step under the water.  Tony had his back to Steve and one hand braced against the wall so he could lean forward and let the water cover his head.  When Tony’s hair got wet, it curled, and Steve wanted to run his hands through the soft, wet strands, but that seemed oddly more intimate than what they were doing, so he didn’t.  The sound of the Red Hook clanking down Hamliton Avenue filled his head, and he wondered if he could have, though. 

“Because I’m so good at communicating my feelings like that,” Tony scoffed, then stuck his face into the shower stream, squinching his eyes shut before turning around and scrubbing a hand over his face to wipe away the excess.

“You are,” Steve agreed, though he knew Tony wasn’t looking for agreement.  Tony looked at him for a long moment, mouth flattening into a thin line, before he moved forward, into Steve’s space, and ran his hands up the planes of Steve’s stomach and chest, fingers grazing across his nipples just hard enough to let Steve know he meant it.  This was a different kind of touch, which probably meant Steve had struck a nerve, but Tony’s body was pressed into his, and Steve’s cock was already half-hard, so he let the conversation go and held on to Tony instead. 

 “Hey,” Tony said, head tilted to one side and moved a little back and forth on his feet, swaying and sliding against Steve’s body.  “In case you hadn’t noticed.  This is me, communicating my, uh, feelings all over the place here.  Kind of a banner day for that sort of thing, you might say.”

Tony tried for a leer, but it came out too soft at the corners for that, Steve thought.  A lot of Tony’s aim on that front had been off lately, like he was sloughing off some phantom armor and sometimes forgot he wasn’t wearing it anymore. 

“That what this is?” Steve asked, then let his head fall back and hit the tile wall behind him as his arms came up to wrap around Tony’s waist, just below where the shower hit so he caught the mist of the spray flecking off Tony’s back.  “That what we’re doing here? Communicating?”  Steve wasn’t sure, but he thought it might be.

“This is…less expensive and far more pleasant therapy than BARF,” Tony replied from against the side of Steve’s neck, where he was kissing and sucking a line, tongue darting out to catch the droplets of water that hung on Steve’s skin.  “God, I’ve really got to change that.  Kinda spoils the mood. Does it spoil the mood?” Tony asked, voice low and almost challenging. 

Steve would’ve told him no, but Tony’s hand wrapped around the base of Steve’s cock, and Steve choked on the word and managed a harsh, garbled half-cough instead. 

“Good,” Tony said, the grin back, but real this time, Steve could tell by the way Tony’s eyes gleamed, satisfied and curious at the same time.  Tony had his soap-slicked hand wrapped around the shaft of Steve’s cock, just holding him, not moving, not giving Steve what he wanted, but he did want it, God, did he.  He could feel his cock hardening, throbbing in the ring of Tony’s palm, on just the contact and Tony.

“You like that, hmmm?” Tony murmured.  He traced his other hand up the curve of Steve’s thigh, over his hip and across the ridges of his ribs, then scraped his nails over Steve’s nipple hard enough that Steve felt it burn through him, all the way to the tip of his cock where Tony held him, even though that made no sense. Steve thrust forward in surprise, and Tony’s grip on his cock tightened just shy of painfully.

“Always so sensitive, Cap.  Steve,” Tony corrected immediately when caught Steve’s look.  “Serum?”

“Don’t know,” Steve rasped out.  He pressed himself back against the cool tile of the wall and tried to be still, concentrate on something that wasn’t the feel of Tony’s wet skin sliding against him, his warm hand around Steve’s cock, holding him there, holding him.  Pre-cum was leaking out of the end of Steve’s cock, dribbling onto the shower floor by the drain.  Tony was ignoring it, or not ignoring it, but not doing anything about it, and that was doing something, too, pushing away any thought that wasn’t Tony’s hand and Tony’s body, and Tony.  Steve didn’t understand why, but he didn’t question it, just rode the feeling towards what his body was telling him he needed.

“Interesting,” Tony replied in a way that said Tony actually thought it was interesting.  He gave a small, aborted stroke to Steve’s cock, then ran his fingers along the underside, all the way back to the root, making Steve’s hips judder a bit as he let a moan escape. 

It took Steve a second to realize he’d answered a question without realizing what was being asked.  He might have tried to say something, object, ninety-eight, not dead, something, but Tony’s other hand came down to lift Steve’s balls, giving them a sharp tug, then massaging gently for a moment like an apology, before deft fingers moved behind them and rubbed against the thin, sensitive skin there.  Steve forgot anything that wasn’t the searing jolt of pleasure that slammed into him.  He hissed out a breath, and let his head tip back, throat working around sounds that couldn’t quite seem to form.  He was so hard, he ached with it, and wanted to ask Tony to move his hand, do something, anything, but it was better somehow if he didn’t ask, if he just let Tony do what he wanted, so he kept quiet.

Tony grinned wickedly, eyes crinkling at the corners, and ran his thumb around the head of Steve’s cock, too lightly, damn him, making Steve let out the breath he didn’t realize he had been holding in a frustrated hiss at the denial.  Steve could feel Tony’s own cock pressing insistently against his thigh, though Tony seemed unconcerned.  He was twisted away from Steve, soaping his hands, working up a lather, and Steve’s body knew what that meant.  A shudder ran through him, too hot all of a sudden, but then Tony’s hand was back on him again, and the heat felt good, settling low in his stomach in a coil of pressure that seemed to expand with each sure movement of Tony’s hand.

Tony was looking down between them, watching his hand work at Steve’s cock, so Steve let his gaze crawl over the familiar lines of Tony’s face.  He wanted this.  This whatever it was with Tony.  No, he corrected.  He wanted Tony.  So, open a door, old man, he chided himself listlessly.   

“You’re falling,” Tony said, the smirk back in his voice, and for a second, Steve thought he’d spoken out loud, then realized he was curling forward, slipping down against the wall, seeking more friction.  Tony rewarded him by stroking his cock from base to head, flicking his wrist around as he finished the motion as Steve let out a choked off moan that might have been Tony’s name.  “There you go.  There you go,” Tony chanted, the movements of his hand getting faster, harder.  Tony’s other hand gave his own cock a tug, then pinched at the head as he bit his lips.  “God, look at you.  I love you like this.”

Easy, Steve thought, it would be so easy.  Something roared in his ears, and his hips jerked, once, twice, three times, as he came into the curl of Tony’s hand with a sharp cry, painting Tony’s stomach and arm in long stripes.  When the last of the stuttering movements died down, Steve slumped back against the tile and looked at Tony, who was wearing his satisfied face, or trying to put it on, ready to make a joke or tease, but he caught Steve’s look and leaned up to nip at the corner of Steve’s mouth instead.  Not quite a kiss, but Steve turned into it, and it was, just a press of lips, but it was. 

Tony’s hand worked him through the last of it, until Steve had stopped shaking and gone dry, then he let go and rinsed off in the shower, while Steve watched.  He wanted to tell Tony to stop, to stay like that, to keep it on him, wanted to see Tony covered like that.  Shame at the thought burned through him, but it didn’t push the thought away, if anything, made it somehow brighter, clearer, more true.  He didn’t say anything, of course, but Tony always knew, anyway.  Tony was grinning again, clearly pleased, almost surprised.

It was Steve who moved this time, finding his footing and pushing off the wall, cupping the sides of Tony’s face in his hands.  Tony’s hands came up to wrap around Steve’s wrists, rubbing circles over the pulse points there in a motion that was somehow encouraging. 

Steve leaned his forehead down and rolled it against Tony’s, letting his eyes drop shut.  The water was bouncing off Tony’s shoulders and cascading down between them where it could find the room.  When he pressed his mouth to Tony’s, Steve half expected the taste of ash, but it was just Tony.  Coffee and the slight tang of mint.  And Tony. 

Tony groaned warm against his lips, his mouth parting and tongue darting out to taste, flicking almost delicately across Steve’s lips, then harder, more insistent, seeking, pushing in, sliding over Steve’s, again and again, while his hands dropped down to wind under Steve’s arms and around his back.  The lines of Tony’s body were curved into Steve’s, and Steve distantly realized he was bending Tony back, into the spray of the water, so it ran over them both, and he was drowning, this was like drowning, but that wasn’t right, because this was heat, and drowning was cold, and he wasn’t alone.

“Bed,” Tony managed, pushing them back a little and breaking his mouth away just long enough to gasp out the word before finding Steve’s mouth again.  Steve managed to nod, and Tony got the water turned off one-handed, leaving them standing there, dripping wet and kissing, hands roving everywhere, sliding over wet skin and through silky curls.  Steve could feel Tony’s mouth curve into a smile against his own, and started to pull his hands away, but Tony hummed, a happy, pleasure-filled sound, and licked his way into Steve’s mouth.

They stumbled out of the shower, all graceless limbs and hands grabbing for purchase, mouths gasping for air, then finding each other again.  Steve pulled a towel off the rack one-handed, and shoved it at Tony, who tossed it on the floor and pressed his body against Steve’s again, grinding his hips and grunting with pent-up frustration. 

The backs of Tony’s knees hit the edge of the bed first, and he sat down and scrambled backwards, while Steve crawled up to follow.  He was hard again, his cock jutting out against his stomach, leaving dots of pre-cum on the sheets.  Tony was sprawled across the stack of pillows that lay against the headboard, legs slightly splayed, one hand running up and down the front of his chest where the reactor used to sit.  Tony’s cock was red and swollen, curving over his stomach and leaking over the sparse line of dark hairs that trailed down from his belly button.  His brown eyes were blown wide and dark, watching Steve make his way up the bed.   Tony reached down between his legs and stroked himself, once, then again, his cock twitching as Steve’s eyes followed the movement. 

“If you don’t get up here and communicate some, I’m going to communicate with myself,” Tony warned, a grin in his voice. 

Steve snorted, and rolled his eyes, keeping up his unhurried movements. He stopped when he was eye level with Tony’s stomach, sparing a look at Tony long enough to watch him suck in a breath before Steve dipped his head and licked the white beads from Tony’s skin.  Salty, slightly sweet, like old pennies, he thought.  Above him, Tony moaned, deep and throaty, and as soon as Steve raised his head, started fidgeting, hands flying to his hair, his face, down his chest, toes curling and legs flexing with the burst of energy. 

“St—Steve.  Please, God, just—“ Tony stammered, the pleas ending in a nonsensical smash of letters and sounds.  It made Steve’s head swim a little, like everything in his mind was sliding off to one side, the way Tony could come apart so easily. 

Steve dipped his head again and licked. He could feel Tony’s stomach jump and clench under his tongue, and the head of Tony’s cock was bumping his cheek, leaving a wet spot there.  It was easy enough to turn his head and wrap his mouth around the tip. He sucked lightly, hearing Tony making a hiccupping groan, then harder, hollowing out his cheeks and taking Tony’s cock in deeper, back on the flat of his tongue so he could feel the tip against the back of his throat.  Tony’s hands were in his hair, not quite pulling, but giving enough of the suggestion of it that it felt good.  Steve’s mouth filled with the salty, bitter taste again, so he sucked harder, feeling it coat his throat as he swallowed around the bulk of Tony’s cock.   Tony was making small, choked-off sounds that Steve thought might have been numbers.  Sevee pulled off to mouth at the head, using his lips to coat the tip with pre-cum, lapping up the last few beads that appeared. 

“God, you can’t be real,” Tony muttered.  He had one hand over his face, but dropped it to his side and looked down when Steve.  “We’re doing this.  Jesus. Fuck. We’re doing this.  Please don’t let me—“

Whatever Steve wasn’t supposed to let Tony do was lost to a thin, reedy moan as Steve closed his mouth over one of Tony’s nipples, sucking, then scraping his teeth over it, before lapping at it with the flat of his tongue.  He let go and pushed himself up on his hands, leaning his head down to mouth at the spot under Tony’s jaw, just below his ear.

Tony surged up, reaching for him, wrapping an arm around Steve’s neck and pulling him down.  His eyes were open, glinting hard with something that Steve couldn’t put a name to, but he wanted it.  Steve met his mouth, all teeth and tongue as Tony tasted himself on Steve’s lips.  Steve pushed forward, deepening the kiss, tongue swiping inside Tony’s mouth, sharing the taste with him.  

Tony’s hands were in his hair, at his neck, pulling him down until Steve covered him, their cocks trapped warm and wet between them, hips rocking and thrusting in rhythm.  Dimly, Steve was aware of the slick sound of skin on skin, the sucking, breathless, panting murmurs that fed the space between them, the way Tony’s skin was still damp and tasted of soap and sweat. He wanted to catalog it all, remember it, relish it, close everything else out, but closing meant he’d opened something, and he hadn’t, not yet. 

Tony tore his mouth away abruptly. Steve was still chasing the taste when Tony gripped the sides of his head, hard enough to rattle him to attention.  He pushed himself up to his elbows, keeping his weight just off Tony and looked down in confusion. 

“You could’ve died, you idiot,” Tony ground out, then slammed his mouth back to Steve’s, teeth scraping the edge of Steve’s bottom lip, then nipping, hard enough to bruise anyone else, sending a pulse through him that apparently ended in his cock.  When Tony finally pulled back, the look he gave Steve was strange, like he was seeing something he didn’t like looking at, but was making himself look anyway, because Tony would, he would look and look and look until he couldn’t stop seeing.  “If you die for him, I’ll never forgive you.  I’ll hate you.”

“No, you won’t,” Steve said, and knew it was true.

“No, I won’t,” Tony repeated dully, eyes finding some point over Steve’s shoulder.  “But, I’ll try.”

Steve wasn’t sure what to say to that, but whatever response he might have formed left him when Tony brought his knees up, clenched them around Steve’s hips, then let them fall open.  Steve pushed himself up to his knees and stretched across the bed to open the nightstand drawer and grab the tube that sat inside next to an assortment of pens, notepads and other odds and ends. 

He clicked open the cap and squeezed a generous portion into his hand, then rubbed his hands together, coating them with the silky, warm gel.  He added a dollop more to his fingers, then reached down and pressed one against the rim of Tony’s hole, feeling it flutter and tighten.  Steve pressed his finger in, and heard Tony sigh, his legs splaying wider, cock twitching where it lay still hard and leaking across his stomach.  Steve pumped his finger a few times, working it deeper into the tight, hot channel, then added a second.  Tony moaned and arched his back, the cords of his neck bowing taut for a moment.  His eyes were dark and heavy-lidded, and as Steve watched, he bit his bottom lip, then released with quick, sharp pants of air.  Steve could feel Tony pushing down on his fingers, rocking himself a bit, his body already thrumming with a flurry of impatient movement. 

Steve pulled his fingers out, and heard Tony whine and huff in protest.  Steve added more lube to his fingers, then lined two up and pushed them all the way in in one quick, deep thrust, jolting a harsh, guttural half-sob from Tony. 

“Jesus, fuck, Steve.  I’m ready, I’m ready, come on, Steve, please, please, fuck me, fuck me, fuck me, God, please,” Tony chanted under his breath, his eyes rolled back to the ceiling.  Steve curled his fingers and pressed around until he found the small nub of nerves, then rubbed the pads against it.  Tony keened out a high-pitched wail and squirmed, calves coming up to clench at Steve’s hand.  Steve added a third and started thrusting in and out in earnest, sometimes hitting that spot again, sometimes coming just close enough for Tony to feel it. 

Bright bursts of color were dotting Tony’s chest, and beads of sweat-mixed drops were coursing down his temples.  His breaths were coming in short, hoarse pants of air, and his hands had dug into the sheets and were holding on like if he let go, he’d fall. 

“Cap, Steve, please, please, nghhhhh,” Tony moaned, the rest lost to incoherence. 

Steve kept up the rhythm of his fingers, pumping in and out, stretching Tony, feeling him start to loosen and open to the invasion.  With his other hand, Steve reached out and grabbed onto one of Tony’s, prying his fingers from their death-grip on the sheet.  He leaned forward and brought Tony’s hand to his mouth, dusting Tony’s knuckles with his mouth.

“Jesus,” Tony breathed out, arching his back at the same time he twined his fingers tightly through Steve’s, holding on.  “Jesus.  Steve.  I—“

“I’m right here.  I’m not going anywhere, Tony,” Steve said. 

“Steve,” Tony repeated, throaty and thick, his grip on Steve’s hand tightening, fingers digging in.  Tony pulled their hands to his mouth, and pressed his lips there, holding it as he looked up at Steve, then letting their hands fall to his chest.  Steve could feel the slightly puckered skin of the round scar beneath the back of his hand.  This is where his heart is, Steve realized, and it felt like a choice. 

Steve slowed the fingers pumping in and out of Tony, then slowly withdrew them.  He ran his hand over his cock, coating it with what was left of the lube, then grabbed the tube and added more, until he was slick and shining with it.  Tony’s dazed eyes were on him as he shifted his stance and splayed his knees wide. 

He lifted Tony’s hips with his free hand and lined his cock up with Tony’s entrance, still gaping wide and coated with a bright sheen.  Steve watched in fascination as Tony’s body stretched, seemingly impossibly, around him as he pushed into the tight, warm sheath.  He thrust forward slowly, feeling Tony’s muscles clench and then relax around him, the long, slow drag of it burning through him, curling serpentine in his belly with a clawing sort of need. 

Steve groaned and breathed out, keeping his eyes on Tony.  Tony’s mouth had gone slack, eyes half-closed and his body boneless and ready. Tony gave out a long, low moan, and Steve swore he could feel the vibration wind its way around his cock.  Steve pressed the last of the way in, until he was fully seated. Tony’s fingers dug into the back of his hand, then released, over and over again, like he couldn’t quite decide which reflex to allow. 

Steve pulled almost all the way out, until the just the head of his cock sat sheathed just inside the reddened rim of Tony’s hole, then pushed back in, rocking Tony’s body with the force of his thrust.  Tony gasped and choked out a harsh cry, gripping Steve’s hand and pushing it into his chest. 

“Tony,” Steve groaned, lifting Tony’s hips to a different angle as he pulled out and plunged into the warm, wet heat of Tony’s body.  That was right, Steve figured, because Tony’s body went bowstring tight when Steve slammed into him, then shuddered, his eyes rolling back in his head as he let out a hiss of air through his teeth and looked up at Steve.  Something flashed behind Tony’s eyes then, too fast for Steve to catch it, before Tony shuttered them closed, panting out puffs of air in time with Steve’s thrusts.

Steve brought his hand up and wrapped it around Tony’s cock, still hard and red against the slight curve of Tony’s belly.  He started stroking, long and slow, then faster, giving the head a twist of his wrist, thumb tracing over the slit, back and forth as he pumped his hips harder and harder.  At some point, Tony released his hand and Steve lifted Tony’s hips again, finding the angle he needed, canting his hips faster in sharp, jabbing thrusts that hit home each time. 

“Fuck, God, Steeeeeeeeeeeeeve,” Tony cried out, hips arching into Steve’s hand.  Tony’s hands were scrabbling at the sheets, hips juddering, his eyes glazed over, and he was reaching, reaching, grabbing for Steve’s hand.  Steve gave Tony’s cock a harder stroke, squeezing lightly, then harder, circling and jerking around the sensitive head.  He caught Tony’s hand in his own, let his cock pull almost all the way out again, and then rammed in hard enough to rock Tony back against the pillows, hitting home.  Tony managed a harsh, stuttering cry, then low grunt, fingers flexing around Steve’s hand as he came in long, white stripes across his stomach. 

Steve’s thrusts sped up, then faltered, turned sloppy as he chased the sensation.  He looked down at Tony, who was watching him with wide, dark eyes.   Tony clutched Steve’s hand tighter, then, keeping his eyes on Steve, brought their joined hands up to his mouth and pressed a kiss against the back Steve’s hand at the same time his body bore down and clenched around the shaft of Steve’s cock. 

The orgasm slammed into Steve with enough force to knock the breath out of his chest, and for a moment, he was eight and couldn’t breathe, and Bucky was telling him to slow down, the words so loud in his head, he almost turned to see who had said them. His vision whited out, and a cry was torn from his chest as the pleasure-pain of it wracked through him.  His whole body shook with the force of it, waves of pleasure pulsing through him as the last few stuttering thrusts chased the lingering sensation.

His back curved over Tony, his whole body shaking as he spent himself.  He buried his head into Tony’s neck and tried to breath.  Distantly, he felt Tony’s free hand come up to stroke his cheek, heard him whispering, soothing, gentle murmurs of encouragement that felt like something more.  Something they didn’t want to say yet, but was there, hanging heavy and bright in whatever space was left between them. 

When his breathing finally slowed, Steve drew in a trembling breath, and let it out again.  He had one hand braced on the mattress next to Tony’s arm, and one hand still joined with Tony’s.  He could see Tony’s pulse leaping in his sweat-slicked neck, a strong, steady beat that was oddly comforting. 

“Hey,” Tony said, raising his hand to rub gently at the side of Steve’s head.  “C’mere,” Tony urged, pulling Steve’s head down to his chest.  He could hear it now, Tony’s heart, and his own, still pounding with the rush of feeling.  He stayed there until the beats subsided to something approaching normal, then sighed, shifted and then slowly pulled out of Tony, feeling Tony’s long, deep sigh as he did. 

Steve curled himself against Tony’s side, wrapping his arms around the other man’s chest.  He drifted for a bit, not sleeping, but not exactly awake either.  At some point, Tony got up and came back after few minutes with a damp towel, cleaning Steve up in a perfunctory, but gentle, manner, before crawling back under the covers and insinuating himself next to Steve again, warm and languid.  When Steve was finally able to focus, Tony was tracing a light finger over Steve’s back, writing an equation, Steve thought, with an inward smile.   It didn’t take long to feel Tony’s muscles shift in anticipation of movement.  He wasn’t going to stay.  There was Ross and MIT and memories that not even Tony could fix. 

Steve felt the press of lips against the top of his head, quick and strangely affectionate.  When he looked up, Tony had reached over and grabbed his phone from the nightstand where he must have discarded it before coming into the bathroom.  A distraction.  A shield.  Against what, Steve wasn’t entirely sure.  Tony had his own doors, Steve thought.  There was probably a cave behind one of them.  He wondered what was behind the other, or if Tony even knew.  We create our own demons, a famous man once said, Steve thought with a huff.  But, we create our own better angels, too. 

“You sure you don’t want me to go with you to D.C.? Or…or Boston?” Steve asked.  The words came out slurry and thick, like they were born of part yawn.  He was tired, that was true.  But, the weariness of earlier was gone, replaced with the desire for sleep, not the need for rest, and that was all the difference in the world.  That was Tony’s doing, he knew.  He wondered if he did the same for Tony.  It was hard to be sure.  Hard to be sure of anything, except…there were things he was sure of, and this had become one of them, sometime between the gym and the sounds of home.

“Nah.  I can handle Ross,” Tony assured him.  He blinked at his phone, then lowered it and looked over at Steve.  “Whatever happens, we’ll figure it out, okay?  Wanna know how?” Tony asked, a small smile playing over his lips.

“How?” Steve asked, genuinely curious.

“Together,” Tony replied.  “Ancient proverb,” Tony quipped, belying the joke by running a gentle hand through Steve’s hair, eyes narrowed and focused, the same look he got when he was figuring out something wonky with one of the suits.

“Funny,” Steve said.  Together.  That was a choice he’d already made, it just had a different meaning now.  Or, maybe just more meaning.  After, Steve thought.  After they dealt with Ross and the Lagos situation.  After Tony’s speech.  After everything settled down.  He’d tell Tony then.  When they had time.  When it was a better time.  “When will you be back?”

“Couple of days,” Tony answered.  “Don’t let Wanda mope.  Or Vision cook.  God, what was that last time?  Can we get a parental block on Sokovian cuisine?”

“I’ll talk to the tech guy,” Steve laughed.  “He’s kind of annoying sometimes, but I think he can be persuaded.”

“I’ll bet,” Tony agreed with a grin. 

“Hey, when you get back.  We need to—I think we should talk,” Steve said, watching Tony’s grin falter, then fall away.  Steve sucked in a breath and resisted the urge to walk it back entirely.  “No—not.  Not like that.  Just.  Maybe we do like you said.  Get away.  Just us.  I don’t know, not the city, but…somewhere.   The two of us.”

“Oh.  Ah.  I’d—I’d like that,” Tony replied after a pause.  His eyebrows were drawn together in a curious look, but he didn’t push, and for that, Steve was grateful.  “Got a place in Colorado.  Nice, homey little twenty-thousand square foot house. Lake.  Boat.  The whole works.  You fish?  I don’t fish. We could fish.”

“That sounds nice, Tony,” Steve said, finding he meant it.

“Well.   You know what else helps you deal with the bad memories?” Tony asked, scooting down the bed again to curl himself around Steve, slinging a leg over Steve’s hip and finding his hand again.  “Making good ones,” Tony breathed out, warm into the curve of Steve’s neck, almost a laugh, like he couldn’t quite believe it.

Steve swallowed thickly, throat going dry. His heart was pounding in his ears.  It sounded like a door slamming.