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See, the thing about a phone connected to Steve, even a top secret phone that should only be used in emergencies, was that Tony's fingers itched to use it. He tried locking it away in a drawer and pretending it didn't exist, but that was a pretty epic failure. He kept finding himself cradling it in his hands, staring at the one number programmed into the memory.

The last clear memory he had of Steve was the look on his face as he'd driven his shield into the arc reactor powering the suit. Tony kept waking up with the image floating on front of his eyes, which at least made a change from the terrifying nothingness of space. Not a good change, but Tony was resigned to not having good things in his head.

He'd moved into the Avengers base pretty much full-time since they were down to a grand total of three Avengers, one of whom was on extended medical leave. He set himself up a workshop, because god knew he couldn't live anywhere without one of those, but somehow kept forgetting to grab a bedroom and make it his. Instead, he either crashed on a sofa in the workshop, or found himself in what had been Steve's bedroom, curling up on top of the covers as if that made it less creepy to sleep in a bed that still kinda smelled like Steve, if you really buried your face into the pillow.

It really didn't make it less creepy. And spending hours staring at a phone number, trying to come up with things to say that could make trying to kill Captain America's bestie okay didn't exactly make Tony feel any more sane.

Maybe he should just give in and accept he'd lost it. The more time that passed, the more he was getting the horrible feeling that he was technically in the wrong on this one. Technically.

Well, okay, and maybe not-so-technically as well.

He typed out a text saying, Okay, my bad, probably shouldn't have gone psycho on your bro's ass for something he did while brainwashed then actually read it and winced.

Nope, no way he was admitting that.

He fixed up War Machine, even though it was going to be months before Rhodey would be anywhere near close to well enough to fly again. He replaced the arc reactor and completely upgraded Iron Man, then found himself fiddling with designs for things he was never going to need now. Things like a new set of explosive arrows, or a version of Sam's drone that incorporated multi-spectrum scanning technology, or a revamp on Steve's gauntlets that would link up with the Iron Man suit so it would be easier to give him a lift.

Tony was never going to be giving Steve a lift again. He needed to accept that, and maybe not be so pathetic about it. Come on, he was Tony Stark, international billionaire superhero, he shouldn't be pining over a guy he never even got close to having a thing with.

He really should have just jumped the guy at least once when he got a chance. Yeah, okay, it might have been hella awkward afterwards, and maybe during, but at least he'd have got a chance at groping some of those muscles.

Man, those were some good muscles.

He lost himself in a daydream about just what, exactly, he'd have done with those muscles given half a chance, then got stuck on what it would have been like just to be held by Steve, both of them curled up naked together and, no, stop, come on, Tony. Now you're just torturing yourself.

He got drunk instead. Which worked great until he found himself with the phone in his hand, typing out, You really should have got me to suck you off. I'm fucking awesome at blowjobs and I bet your dick is really fucking nice.

Well, that would be a great way to get Captain America back at the base, if only so he could murder Tony. Probably not the best plan.

****

He got into the habit of typing out things he'd never actually send, which was bound to backfire at some point but pretty much everything Tony did was doomed to backfire so, fuck it.

Rhodey walked the whole length of the west corridor today, and he only swore non-stop for the last four metres.

Tell Clint that his kids are doing fine but his wife is seriously pissed. She somehow managed to get hold of my personal line and ripped me to shreds, cos clearly it's all my fault. Well, I guess she's kinda right.

I miss you an insane amount. More than I miss Pepper, and that feels like having lost a limb.

Took the suit up today, ended up doing a loop around the Statue of Liberty. Remember when we fought those lobster things there? Man, that was fucked up.

You know, there were a couple times when I was so sure you'd kiss me back if I finally took a jump on it. I guess the brain only really sees what it wants to see, though.

He couldn't bring himself to delete any of them. He just kept them all in saved drafts as a record of just how pathetic he'd got.

Congress keep dragging me down there just so they can pontificate about the unreliability of the super-powered and trusting too much in one man and all that veiled bullshit about how they saw this coming all along. I nearly punched a senator today. Again.

Hey, if I jacked this all in and ran away to join you, would you let me join the cool superhero gang again? I mean, I love Rhodey and Vision, but this is definitely not the cool gang.

Did Natasha find her way to you, or is she just in the wind?

Sending you dick pics would probably be super-tacky, right? You should know that it's really fucking tempting, though.

And then, finally, came Tony's chance to text Steve for real, with an absolute genuine reason and not just a poorly-concealed attempt to instigate sexting.

Which meant, of course, that the phone was locked in a drawer in his workshop in upstate New York while he was on the run from a trio of alien warplanes in North Carolina. It was a good thing he was a genius who thought ahead, and had got his AI to sync up with the phone in case this happened.

"Hey, Friday, send the following text to Steve, would you?" he said, going into a spin to keep the planes on their toes.

So, it turns out that the President and half the Joint Chiefs are now shape-shifting aliens called Skrulls. Heard of them? Yeah, me neither, but they turn out to be everywhere. They're launching a mass invasion of the Earth in the next couple of days so it would be kinda great if you guys could maybe swing by and give us a hand? Promise not to arrest anyone."

He hesitated, wondering if he should also guarantee Barnes's safe conduct, then there was an explosion and he was thrown to the left, zig-zagging down to avoid the incoming fire.

"Message sent," said Friday, just as they got hit again. The HUD glitched and everything went dark for a heart-stopping moment, then it came back and she added, "All saved drafts sent."

"Wait, what?" said Tony. "I did not ask you to send those, seriously, what the hell? No. No, no, please tell me that's not-"

"All saved drafts sent," she repeated. "Incoming missile in 3...2...1..."

He put aside the crushing embarrassment and panic in favour of escaping the warplanes following him. Save the Earth first, deal with the ongoing tragedy of his personal life later.

****

Everyone turned up to help, even Thor and Bruce, which was kinda nice. Felt like a family reunion or at least, what Tony assumed family reunions were like, with yelling and explosions and near-death situations.

Afterwards, when the Earth was very much saved and damn well staying saved at least long enough for Tony to have a nap, they ended up in a pizza restaurant in Washington DC, ordering everything on the menu and trying not to fall asleep in the garlic bread.

"So, are we still under arrest?" asked Clint. "Or can I go see my kids?"

Tony shrugged. "Nah, you're good. I'm pretty sure everyone who gave a shit about that just turned out to be an alien anyway."

"Awesome," said Clint, giving a weak thumbs up and then shoving an entire slice of pizza into his mouth.

Steve cleared his throat and looked at Tony, who ignored him and kept staring at his food in the hope that pretending he didn't exist would make all those texts still be safely locked on the phone. They hadn't really had a chance to talk about anything other than strategy, and Tony was kinda hoping to keep it like that.

"And Bucky?" Steve asked.

Okay, a slightly safer topic of conversation, although not by much. Tony shrugged down at his food. "I haven't killed him yet. Doesn't seem like I'm going to."

"Well, that's reassuring," muttered Barnes. Tony had also been avoiding looking at him, for very different reasons, but right now he actually seemed easier to look at than Steve, so he sent him a glare.

"You said in that text that you were wrong," said Steve and, oh wow, Tony could feel his whole face flushing red, not good, not good, get some fucking control, man.

Tony cleared his throat. "Okay, so, you should be aware that there was a temporary glitch, very minor, totally not Friday's fault, but she sent a bunch of stuff that wasn't really for public consumption and that you should just, you know, delete and ignore and pretend never existed."

"Right," said Steve, slowly. "Okay, but what-"

Tony miraculously found the strength to stand up despite how limp every part of his body felt. "You know, I think I need to pee, be right back." He took off in the direction of the bathroom as fast as he could manage, getting out of sight before ducking sideways through a door into a back alley.

Fuck. What the hell was he going to do? Run away and never look Steve in the eye again? Well, okay, that plan had some merits, Tony could probably-

"Tony."

Ah, crap.

Tony turned around to find Steve standing in the doorway, giving him a look that was a curious mixture of exasperation and indulgence. Huh, okay, well, that was better than rage at being propositioned for dick pics. Maybe they could avoid the violence.

"I did get that you didn't want me to see those," said Steve.

"Awesome," said Tony. "So we can pretend they never existed, right? Good, done, I'll just be-"

"Actually, I'm not sure I can," said Steve, and Tony deflated. Okay, here it came. The final nail in their friendship, which was already on seriously ropey ground. He braced himself.

"See, I can't seem to shake the thought of you sucking me off," said Steve. "It kinda sounds like the best idea I've ever heard."

Tony stared at him. "What?"

Steve shrugged. "Of course, it's not like it's a new idea to me."

Tony stared harder. "No, seriously, what?"

Steve glanced behind him, then stepped out into the alley, shutting the door behind him. “You weren't wrong about thinking I'd kiss you back. I just always thought you and Pepper were, um. You know. Solid.”

Tony couldn't stop staring at him. There was a faint buzzing in his ears as if he was about to pass out which, okay, there had been some blood loss earlier, maybe he was. Maybe this was all a hallucination and he was really a captive on the Skrull mothership, that would make so much more sense.

“Pepper and I broke up,” he said, weakly.

“Then I guess I've got no reason not to do this,” said Steve, taking a step forward, taking Tony's shoulders and- Holy Crap! He was kissing him! Steve Rogers was kissing Tony, this was not a drill, actual lips were being pressed against Tony's, he had to do something, had to-

Oh, right.

Tony grabbed Steve around the waist, hauled him close, and kissed him back with every moment of pent-up want he'd felt since they first met. He took quite a while, by which time Steve had him backed up against the wall and was clutching at the side of tony's head as if this meant as much to him as it did to Tony.

“Christ,” said Steve, in a shaky voice when they separated for a breather. He pressed his forehead against Tony's. “God, Tony, you- You have to promise you won't go after Bucky again, I know it's shit but I can't do this if I'm worrying about that the whole-”

“Yeah, sure,” said Tony, his brain shut down to just one train of thought, which was that he'd say and do anything Steve wanted, as long as he got to keep this. “Won't touch a hair on Barnes's head. Gonna touch you all over, though.”

“That sounds really good,” said Steve, and bent to kiss him again.