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“Hey,” Steve said softly behind Tony, and as always, Tony made a show of being surprised. It’s never convincing. Steve smiled wryly, skinny hands stuffed into big pockets that hang off painfully narrow hips. Even when specially tailored, the army uniform made Steve look like a badly built mannequin. “You’re up late.” 

Someone banged up my baby.” Tony rapped his knuckles against the open chassis of the Captain America armour. Winched open on both ends, slung in heavy chains within its steel cradle, the blue and red armour sat like a peeled fruit, wiring and cables and circuitry everywhere. Tony’s arms were greasy to the elbows.

“It’s not that bad.” Steve was still running off adrenaline, his eyes a little dilated, flushed from whatever hard liquor the forward base had scrounged up to celebrate. Even in his workshop, Tony could still hear the drunken party, howling. “You didn’t stay long,” Steve added, a little accusingly. “It’s your party.”

“Wasn’t the one driving the suit.” 

“You built the suit.” Steve raised his hands up. Big palms made his wrists look matchstick-fragile. “Without it, I would never have saved Bucky and the others.” 

“Wasn’t the one driving,” Tony repeated gruffly, and pointedly turned back to the circuitry. “Go back and drink. You saved the day, et cetera. Who knows, you might even get laid. That’d be something.” 

Tony didn’t need to look over his shoulders to know that Steve was turning as red as a tomato. “Tony!”

“Saw you getting sweet on Agent Carter. Go ahead, give it a shot. She’s one gorgeous doll.” 

Steve sighed, and circled around until he was in Tony’s peripheral vision, his skinny arms crossed over his chest. “Tony,” Steve said finally, his tone oddly hesitant. “Did you ever… wish that you were the one driving the Captain America suit?” 

Tony clenched his jaw. “Long time ago. Not anymore. Next question.”

“Why not anymore?”

“You’ve obviously got a knack for it, all right?”

“It’s your suit and-”

“And,” Tony cut in sharply, whirling around, “I’m not allowed, are you happy now? You know that, Rogers. You think I like it? Being behind the lines while the rest of you go out there, get shot up and die? You think I like it that everything I make for Uncle Sam is a weapon? D’you think I like it that they think that you’re expendable, but I’m not?” 

Steve took a step back, startled, and Tony forced himself to turn back to the suit, swallowing the rest of his words. The seating fixtures seemed claustrophobically tiny within the armour, like an Iron Maiden. Steve had never complained, and Tony tested the filter system every day himself, but- 

“They’re right, you know,” Steve noted quietly. “You’re not expendable. The rest of us are.” 

“Don’t you fucking start-” 

“It’s thanks to you and your father that we’re pushing back the Nazis. Pinning down Hydra.” Steve ignored him. “Do you know why I kept trying to sign up, even though the usual army kept rejecting me?”

“Honour and the American Way?” Tony said sarcastically.

“To protect the people I love,” Steve corrected gently, and shuffled over before Tony could flinch back, brushing a kiss shyly on Tony’s cheek. “My family. Bucky. My friends. And you. So thanks, Tony. And don’t be so hard on yourself.”

Tony stared at Steve dumbly, with slow realisation, even as Steve met his gaze evenly, red-faced as he was. Finally, Tony allowed himself a quick grin, and wiped his hands off on a rag. “All right, fine. Let’s go liven up our party.”