"Okay," Tony says, clapping his hands and then rubbing them together. "I had the best idea. Epic idea, this is going to be epic. Are you listening?"
Steve peeks up over the edge of his newspaper but doesn't put it down. Tony saying he has a good idea—much less an 'epic' one—usually means something terrible is about to happen. Bracing himself for the worst, Steve drops his gaze back to the headline in front of him. Because, honestly, it's not like Tony is really talking to him.
Steve can’t help himself from looking up from time to time, though. Insane and inappropriate as he is, Tony's hard not to watch, especially when he's excited. He talks with his hands, and his eyes light up, and that little lock of hair keeps falling over his forehead, making Steve want to reach up and brush it away.
Which leads him to all kinds of thoughts he shouldn't be having right now.
"So what do you say? Everybody in? Cap?"
"Huh?" Steve jerks his head up. Apparently Tony had been talking to him after all?
The eyes of everyone on the team are pointed at him, gazes expectant, and oh heck. He rubs the back of his neck nervously. He'd been listening, kind of, but it's hard to pay attention when half of what they're saying doesn't make sense and when Tony is being all…Tony.
Tony sighs in exasperation. "Earth to Captain Inattentiveness. Harlem Shake. You, me, the Avengers, ten million or so captivated YouTube viewers?"
"Uh…Harlem?" In his confusion, Steve can’t help looking at Bruce, remembering that thing he said about…breaking it the last time he was there. He feels bad immediately when Bruce grits his teeth. "Sorry."
"No, no," Bruce says. "I promise. No boroughs will be harmed in the making of this…thing."
Tony nods. "Right. Minds will be blown, but not streets. Avengers honor."
"I still don't—"
"JARVIS? Bring up one of the videos. Pick something Cap'll like." Spinning on his heels, Tony gestures to the windows which immediately come to life with a video of people…just kind of standing still in a room with one person dancing.
"Shhh, Captain Impatient."
Sure enough, a few seconds later the video jumps and then everyone in the room from before is in a weird costume and…vibrating. Dancing? "Golly," Steve manages to choke out.
The video ends and Tony slaps his hands together then spread his arms out. "It's perfect for us, right? So I'm thinking we'll film it down in the workshop because it looks the coolest. I'll start it, obviously, because none of the rest of you could pull it off, then cut and—"
Understanding finally dawns, and Steve swallows hard. "You want us to dance? On camera?"
"He finally gets it! Alert the media."
There's a cold prickle at the back of Steve's neck, and he can't quite breathe right. "I'm sorry, I don't—"
"It'll be great," Tony continues, not even listening.
Before Steve knows what he's doing, he's up out of his seat, the paper on the table, and the cold prickle is now bright heat on his cheeks. He curses his easy blush and the curl of mortification he can't quite get past that's lodged at the base of his spine. "I don't dance," he says, only it comes out as more of a shout.
Heck. Oh, heck. They're all staring at him, and he tries to backtrack, but… "I mean, I—"
I don't know how. I never got to. I was supposed to, Stork Club, eight o'clock, don't be late, but I died. And then everyone else died while I was asleep, and now I'm all alone and no one will teach me.
"Christ, Rogers, do you have to ruin everything?" Tony spits, and now everyone's looking at him. Steve's jaw drops, because that's—that's just monumentally unfair. He's about to say as much, only Tony seems to register all the eyes on him. All at once, the enthusiasm and the light in Tony's face drain away, and Steve knows that look, is intimately familiar with the awful, awful way that Tony's mouth pinches and his features go hard while his eyes stay expressive, bright with vulnerability and accusation both. Tony gathers himself together and straightens his shoulders. "Fine. I mean. Whatever, should have known you wouldn't want to do anything fun, even if it was for the team."
"We'll do it without you."
Tony turns away, and Steve feels dismissed. Feels like the skinny kid that no one ever let play stickball with them in the lot across from the school. He doesn't even have Bucky anymore to catch up with him after he stalks away. Because that's what he's going to do. He's not afraid of a fight, but he's always been afraid to be where he isn't wanted.
"Right," Steve says. He glances at the rest of his teammates, at Natasha who seems indifferent to the whole affair, at Banner who looks like he wishes he was anywhere but here, and Thor who at least is frowning in concern.
Clint looks like he's ready to go make popcorn and enjoy the show.
And Tony won't look at Steve, not at all. That hurts, but no more than any of the rest of Steve's interactions with him. The interactions that always leave Steve feeling hopelessly out of place and like what he wants is impossibly far out of reach. Like he's completely out of his depth and out of his class.
Steve slinks away to the sound of Tony starting in again, acting nonchalant, like the altercation never happened, but the rawness to his voice says otherwise. "Now, the tricky part is going to be getting the Other Guy on board…"
He thinks he catches Tony glancing at him as he turns the corner, but he refuses to let himself stick around to find out for sure.
Steve isn't exactly certain how he became the stick-in-the-mud of the Avengers. It probably has something to do with that first time Tony wanted them all to go out clubbing after a victory, and Steve'd been cajoled along because he had no idea what clubbing was and because Tony's jeans were so tight. The place they'd ended up had been dark and screaming-loud, full of flashing lights and almost-naked women and gyrating bodies, and Steve had panicked. Absolutely panicked. He'd claimed he was tired after the fight and beat a hasty retreat, and Tony had looked at him like he was so disappointed.
There had been a few more invites, and Steve had gotten smart enough to ask questions about what precisely he'd be getting himself into if he said yes, but every time he said 'no thank you', the light in Tony's eyes got dimmer. Eventually, he'd pretty much stopped asking, and Steve hadn't known how to get past it. He still doesn't.
He doesn't know how to say that of course he wants to do things with his team and with Tony. He still doesn't understand this century or its conventions, but he's ready to learn now. No one wants to teach him, though, and the pattern is set. He's not Steve but Rogers and Captain. He leads the team, but he isn't really part of it, and it seems like he's going to be stuck like this forever, on the outside, looking in.
It's only by chance that Steve happens to head down to Tony's workshop on the day they're filming the video. He's been having some trouble with the range of motion in the shoulders of his uniform, so he heads down in full Captain America regalia.
At first, the sound of pounding music coming from beyond the door doesn't faze Steve. It's pretty much how things are in Tony's workshop—something loud and horrible is always blaring. Still, the crazier the music, the more likely it is that Tony's absorbed in something and that he's probably going to tell Steve to come back later. So Steve goes up to the door and peeks through the glass and—And.
This must the part after the 'jump' Tony talked about. The Hulk is tossing around what has to be a dummy of Loki—if that's really Loki they invited in, the team and Steve are going to have words—while Natasha is dancing around a pole, and Clint is doing a handstand and operating a console with his feet and Thor is swinging around Mjolnir.
But what Steve really can't tear his gaze away from is Tony. He's in the armor and wearing antlers and drinking and his hips are…Oh, God.
Steve can't stop staring at Tony's hips.
Steve's an upright guy, and he knows his little crush is an exercise in futility, but he's not inclined to lie to himself. He's harbored more than one fantasy about Tony and the armor, and seeing Tony moving like that while dressed like that…A whole new set of fantasies unfurls in Steve's imagination. If he was part of this whole crazy stunt, maybe he could have been dancing with Tony. Maybe they could have moved together, and after enough takes, maybe Tony would be a little tipsy from slugging back that bottle of whiskey. Maybe he'd look at Steve and be proud of him for pushing past his comfort zone, maybe he'd even like how Steve moved. Steve's awkward in this body when he's not actively fighting, but with the right coaching, he might be able to pull off something like what Natasha's doing. Might be able to shift his hips the way Tony is.
Maybe, after, Tony would come up to him. He'd taste like booze and warmth and it would be…Well, it would be everything Steve's been thinking about by himself these lonely nights.
And Steve is hard beneath the pants of his uniform, uncomfortably so, and it's a painful contrast to the clenching in his chest, the feeling of being literally on the outside looking in, separated from them all by glass and by his own inhibitions. By their lack of patience with an anachronism who can't seem to find his footing or his place in this world that passed him by while he was sleeping.
He stays there for a minute or two, watching. He doesn't want them to see him there, for them to pity him—or worse invite him in only to have to decline again, because for all he might imagine it, he can't let go the way they all are. He doesn't know how to, and there's no space inside the caricature of himself he's chosen to become, this inflexible mold he's poured himself into so he isn't blown over in the wind.
Then he spies his own reflection in the glass and sees the betrayal there, and he can’t look at it. He can't.
He's back in the elevator before he's even fully decided to go, rising up through the tower until he makes it to his own stale and stagnant rooms. He locks the door and tells JARVIS not to let anyone in, then goes to his bathroom and starts up the water. He peels out of the uniform with a wince.
The water falls, hot and stinging on his skin, and it's perfect for the way he grips himself, the lingering feelings of betrayal and hurt doing nothing to deflate how hard he is as he cants his hips to push into the circle of his fist. But all the thoughts of Tony noticing him and touching him are mixed up with the anger and isolation. Desperate to be done with this ache, he sets a punishing pace until the good feeling rises and the bad feelings recede. When he's close, he reaches back to rub a fingertip against his hole and keens.
He spills with force that sends him staggering against the wall, bracing himself as he squeezes the last few drops from where he's rung out and softening. He presses his face to cold tile, and it's what he needs to match the heat of his face—heat that's less need and more mortification now that he's sated.
Now that he's empty and alone, watching the product of his hopeless want go spinning down the drain.
That night, Steve wakes at three AM and can't get back to sleep. He tosses and turns until, finally, in a fit of pique, throws the covers off and pivots to swing his legs over the edge of the bed and drop his head into his hands.
Figuring he's up, he rises and throws on a shirt. There's not much to do in his apartment. It's a little space stuck in time, and while he could read or sketch, he doesn't have the patience for either. He glances at the clock. It's unlikely anyone will be up, so he takes a chance and heads to the common area. There, he fixes himself a sandwich in the dark and throws himself down on the couch and turns on the TV.
It's something he's been doing a few nights a week of late. Most of modern television makes his skin crawl, but if he's ever going to get the hang of this century, he hasn't got much choice but to teach himself. It makes him nervous to have to do this where anyone could stumble on him and make fun of him for it, but he made such a stink about not wanting any electronics in his apartment that he couldn't ask to have things installed now without getting even more grief for it, so he grits his teeth and does what he has to.
He flips through the channels mindlessly, forcing himself to stick with things long enough to get a feel for what they are before moving on. People are selling things, and fake-looking people are doing horrible things to each other. More than a few re-runs of old shows and old movies are on, but it kind of defeats the purpose of trying to get himself up to speed to let himself stay in a past that feels like the future to him but which, to everyone else, is basically old news.
Eventually, he settles on something that doesn't seem completely awful. People are sewing, and while the machines look different, it reminds him of the seamstress who lived next door to his mom's apartment, growing up.
"Project Runway, Rogers? Really?"
At the sound of the voice behind him, Steve whips around so fast he almost drops the plate that's balanced on his lap. Bathed in pale blue light from both the TV and the arc reactor, Tony is standing there in an undershirt and ratty jeans, a smudge of grease on his chin and that lock of hair falling across his brow. His mouth is quirked up, and it makes Steve's chest feel tight.
"No, no, it's cool. Tim Gunn is old-man hot, for sure. Kind of like you."
Steve frowns. It's these little not-quite-flirtations that make him keep wondering, make him keep hoping when there's really no reason to.
He ignores the quip about hotness, though, and swallows as he hits the mute button, offering weakly, "He helps people and doesn't treat them like they're idiots."
Tony shakes his head. "That is what you would focus on." He comes around the side of the sofa and plops down, a little too close to Steve for comfort and yet not close enough. Where Steve can feel the warmth of his arm but not the smoothness of his skin. He turns his head to the side to look at Steve. "But what I can't figure out is what you're doing here watching people make it work in the middle of the night."
Steve doesn't know what to say to that. The truth will sound too earnest and he's never been good at lying. Eventually, he settles on, "Couldn't sleep."
"So you decided to lower yourself to watching reality TV?"
Shrugging, Steve says, too honestly, "I'm trying."
Oh, heck. "I never understand what you guys are talking about. Figured if I ever wanted to be able to follow along, I should…try." He gestures at the silent images still moving on the screen.
"Well, I'll be damned. Welcome to the twenty-first century, Cap."
"Yeah," Steve says drily. "Got that memo back a while ago."
"Yeah." And Tony's gaze is piercing, feels sharp on Steve's skin, like he can see entirely too deeply. "I guess you did."
Tony turns to look at the TV, and reaches to grab the remote from Steve. Their fingers brush, and Tony's hand on Steve's is so warm that Steve can’t even remember to fight him for it or to try to hold on. Tony wrests it from him his lax grip and turns the sound back on.
And Steve should turn back and look at what's happening on the screen, but all he can do is stare at Tony. In profile like this, relaxed and dirty, he's more striking than Steve knows what to do with. It's moments like this when Steve remembers exactly how his current situation came to be. Sure, Tony's abrasive and difficult and makes Steve feels stupid and useless sometimes, but other times…Other times, he sits with Steve, in the workshop or this common room, and he's beautiful and kind. All the technobabble fades away and it's just Tony, and Steve feels a little less alone.
The program goes to commercial, and Tony shifts to look at Steve. Steve darts his gaze away just in time. Tony sighs and sits up, slapping his hands against his thighs. "Sadly, this is too gay even for me."
Steve starts and jerks his head back to look at Tony again. Sure, Steve has known that Tony identifies as bisexual, but it's still strange to hear him say things like that, to put it out there. To remind Steve that it's not his gender that's keeping him from being interested.
"Oh don't be like that," Tony says, rolling his eyes. He reaches over and ruffles his hand through Steve's hair, and if Steve imagines he lingers there a little longer than he needs to, well, then no one needs to know. Tony stands and pulls his hand away, yawning big, revealing a sliver of skin between the hem of his jeans and his shirt. "Anyway, I haven't slept in…three days? Four? I'm not sure."
Steve shakes his head. He'll never understand how Tony can do that kind of thing to himself. "Go get some sleep."
"Yeah, yeah, going. See you…I'd say tomorrow, but I'm pretty sure that's today." He screws up his features, then frowns and shrugs. Waves his hand dismissively. "Whatever. I'll probably be out for a day or two anyway. Enjoy your fashion design…thing."
"Sure, Tony," Steve says, unable to suppress his smile at Tony's rambling.
Tony's already walking away when it strikes Steve—when he comes back to the comment Tony had made.
And he hasn't ever alluded to the fluidity of his own sexuality. Hasn't ever figured out how to be anything besides the (literally) straight-arrow everybody assumes Captain America to be. But suddenly…he thinks Tony should know.
So it's pure impulse when he chokes out, "It's not for me."
"What?" Tony stops, one foot in the air at the doorway to the hall.
"This show. Too gay. For me. It's not."
Tony's eyes widen comically, but then he narrows them and blinks. "Um. Good to know?"
Steve can't help the way his chest deflates. It wasn't exactly a coming out speech or anything, and he doesn't know what he was expecting in terms of a reaction. Whatever he'd been expecting, it wasn't for Tony to turn tail and practically run from the room. But that's what happens anyway.
The minute he's alone again, Steve drags his hand over his face and groans.
After that, Steve doesn't see Tony for twenty-seven hours—just long enough that he's getting antsy and starting to wonder if maybe he can come up with some sort of reason to check in on him and make sure he's still alive. Not that he really has to worry. If Tony did die in his sleep, JARVIS would let them all know.
Steve is sitting in the kitchen up on the communal floor, restlessly paging through the paper, his gaze going to the door every time he imagines he sees movement there or hears someone coming. Thor has already been by to grab some breakfast and swept off again. Natasha is perched on the couch, reading, and Bruce is leaning against the counter, poking at a bowl of oatmeal and playing with something on a tablet computer, his glasses on his head and an absorbed expression on his face.
Steve hears Clint first, as it turns out. "Whatever," he says, voice emerging from around the corner, near the elevator banks.
"Not 'whatever'," Tony retorts. "How could you post it while I was asleep?"
The two of them enter the room. Tony's barefoot and wearing an undershirt and flannel pants. He's no longer grease-covered, but his hair is all mussed from sleep, his expression still a little slack like it is before he's achieved his normal level of caffeination, for all that his eyes are sharp, his tone pointed.
Clint rolls his eyes and throws himself on the end of the couch in a way that jostles Natasha, who gives him her usual death glare before looking back at her book. Clint glances at her, then rearranges himself so he's as far from her as he can get without perching on the arm, then addresses Tony again. "Hey. It's not my fault you decided to do your crashing for twenty-four hours thing and I got impatient."
"Clint does have the patience of an ADD squirrel," Natasha chimes in.
"Thank you!" Clint says. "See?"
"Ugh." Tony has made a beeline for the coffeemaker, and he pours himself a cup while waving his free hand at Clint. "How can you sit on a building for days without blinking, but you can't wait one stupid day to edit our video, which, need I remind you, was my idea?"
Clint shrugs. "What can I say? I use up all my patience at work. I don't have any left when I get home. Anyway, it turned out awesome. It has half a million views already and it's only been up since last night."
And…oh. Oh, they're talking about that video they made. The one about Harlem. Steve swallows and clenches his hands around the edges of the paper, making it rustle, which grabs Tony's attention. He looks at Steve and smiles, that warm little smile that Steve gets sometimes when it's just the two of them, looking at something in the workshop. Or, apparently, when neither of them can sleep and they end up meeting in the common room at three-something in the morning.
Tony seems to remember himself about a second later and he breaks eye contact, bringing the mug up to his lips and flicking a hand at the windows. He clears his throat. "JARVIS? Let's see what Merida here managed to come up with, shall we?"
The embedded screens inside the glass come to life, and a second later weird music like Steve had heard pouring out of Tony's workshop the other day fills the room. Steve hadn't seen them filming this part of the video, the part where they're all just sort of standing around except for Tony. Tony who's in the middle of the room in full Iron Man armor, helmet on, face plate down. He's shaking his hips almost as suggestively as he had been when Steve had been watching, only Steve's seeing it now from an entirely different angle, and God. It makes Steve's mouth go dry, just watching it.
And then there's the break, and it's precisely the scene Steve watched through the glass, all the Avengers except him acting crazy and having fun, and it's without him.
"Not bad," Tony says begrudgingly.
Clint crows. "Just wait. You haven't seen the best part."
And then…Oh, God.
The scene breaks, the camera pans, and it's focused on the door. It's focused on Steve, peering through the door, and the expression on his face, obscured as it is by the cowl, is even more wretched than Steve had thought. All the anger and the betrayal and the hurt are there for anyone to see. Even the want is clear there in his eyes.
The newspaper tears in Steve's hands, and he feels hot and cold, a sudden sweat on the back of his neck.
Steve rips his gaze from the awful image on the screens to find all the gazes in the room on him, and there are so many emotions. Natasha's barely veiled confusion, Bruce's curious interest.
Tony's…God, Steve doesn't even know what that is. Tony's mouth is agape, and he's staring at Steve, and Steve wants nothing more to be anywhere but here right now. He feels so naked, so exposed.
He feels even more so when Clint claps and laughs, deep-throated. "Perfect ending, right? Good old disapproving Cap."
"Steve," Tony says again, and Steve doesn't know if he can do this.
"Steve," and Tony sounds floored. "You were there? Did you want to…" He trails off, like he can't even voice the idea that Steve might have wanted to be a part of this.
"No," Steve spits out, because he hadn't. Not until he'd seen Tony moving like that, and even then, Steve never could have kept up. He would have ruined it, just like Tony said he would. "I mean, maybe, but. No. I don't—" And he's up and out of his seat, hands in his pockets to keep anyone from seeing how they're shaking. He's just so embarrassed.
"Well, it worked out perfectly," Clint says. "Pure comedy gold."
Oh. Steve's throat clicks with the force of his swallowing. Right. Because he's a punchline. That's his role here. He looks at Clint because he can't look at Tony any more, not with that tumble of emotions playing out on his face. "Glad it worked for you, then," he says and turns on his heel.
On his way to the elevator, he hears a smack and then Natasha asking, "You didn't tell Cap you put him in the video?"
"God, you are such a dick, Barton."
The elevator doors open and Steve steps inside, hitting the button for his floor a half dozen times and then the one that will make the doors close. The second before they do, he spots Tony stepping into the corridor through the gap, and Steve almost wants to hold the elevator. He almost wants to stay and see what Tony's going to say.
Steve would say the team gives him a wide berth for the rest of the day, but considering he rarely interacts with them unless he chooses to spend time in the common area or otherwise seek them out, it may just be that they're acting normally, and he's the one being reclusive. He haunts his own rooms for a while before the walls start to seem like they're closing in, at which point he takes a risk and heads to the gym.
He walks in to find it empty and can't decide if he's relieved or not by that.
He goes through the motions of his usual routine, working up a good sweat for all that he's distracted. His thoughts keep veering off into dangerous directions, ones that reek of self-pity, but as hard as he tries to clear his mind, he can't seem to stop circling.
It's nothing new for him to feel like he's really not a part of this thing they're trying to do, like he's unneeded and unwanted except on the field (and honestly, even there, he knows when he's outclassed). But it is new to have the whole world know it. It's new for him to feel like a joke.
The punching bag is one that Tony designed after another of Steve's late night workouts resulted in a particularly unsettling number of punching bag casualties, but after a couple hours, even it is starts to show signs of wear. Steve gives it another set of hard jabs, and his knuckles are screaming at him, but he doesn't stop. The swollen ache is good, clarifying and bracing, and if can just focus on that, maybe he can ignore all the other things that hurt.
And then it happens. The special chain that Tony made especially for this exact kind of abuse gives up the ghost. With a screech of twisting metal, the bag flies loose, something that might or might not be sand pouring out of the tear in the top. When the bag's sad remains impact with the wall, the mirror cracks, and Steve curses.
Steve whips around.
Tony is standing against the doorframe, effecting a pose that's all casual ease, but Steve sees past it. He sees the flex in Tony's temple and the way his eyes dart around the room too fast. He sees the tension in his arms. He looks away before he can see too much, clamping his jaw shut against any words that might try to spill out.
Not that Steve's silence really changes anything. Tony has always talked enough for both of them.
"So," Tony says, uncrossing his arms and wandering over to the ruined bag on the other side of the room. "I can't decide which I'm more impressed by—you managing to destroy the adamantium-reinforced supports I built into this thing or finding out you actually do know how to swear."
"I swear," Steve mutters.
"Never that I've heard."
There's no real point in responding to that, so Steve holds his tongue and starts unwrapping his hands. They look even worse than he thought they would, but the bruising will fade in a few hours or so. He flexes them and shakes them out. Out of the corner of his eye, he steals a glance at Tony, who's kicking at the bag, causing more sand to spill forth.
Steve sighs and heads over to the fridge in the corner to grab a bottle of water. He sucks it down greedily, breath still heaving with the kind of overexertion that comes from drowning things you can't deal with in physical exercise. By the time the water's empty, Tony still hasn't said anything else, and Steve doesn't know what he's doing here. If he just came to make sure Steve hasn't killed himself or any of the other bits of equipment, or if he was just passing through. With a sigh, Steve turns to leave.
He's not quite to the door when Tony's voice rings out. "I didn't know."
Steve stops, but he doesn't turn around. "About?"
"You being there while we were making the video, or Clint deciding to put it in at the end. I would have asked, before doing something like that. I mean, I know I'm not good at respecting boundaries or whatever, but, yeah, a line. He crossed it."
"It's fine, Tony," Steve says, and it's only sort of a lie. His shoulders drop. "I'll get over it."
A second's pause. "Get over what?"
Shrugging, Steve shakes his head. "It doesn't matter."
"Clearly, it does."
"I just…" And how much is he going to say here? On one level, Tony's usually more willing to listen when Steve's maudlin than the others are, but he shouldn't have to when Steve's feeling this self-indulgent about being left out. But then he looks over his shoulder at him, and Tony's got those wide, dark eyes fixed on him, and they're ripe with something. Steve has to look away. "I'm just not used to being the butt of the joke like that." He shrugs, heavy. "I mean, when I was smaller, sure, but now… It's going to take some getting used to again."
"Of course I am. And sure, I'm not really part of the team, but everybody's at least been nice before—"
"Not part of the—" Tony sputter. "What are you talking about, Rogers? You're the leader of this team."
Steve's shaking his head, and he turns partway to face Tony even though he's keeping his place near the exit, ready to run for it at any minute. "Not like that. You guys all have your things you do, socially, I mean." And God, Steve's being so petty right now. It's not Tony's fault Steve doesn't fit in.
Still, Steve's not prepared for the way Tony laughs. It's not a nice laugh, it's bitter, and it makes things curl up deep inside Steve. His damaged hands tighten into fists, the skin pulling where they're raw and tender. "Don't laugh at me."
Tony waves him off, gets his breath, and the look he fixes Steve with is cutting. "I'll laugh at you if I want." And suddenly, he's in Steve's space, his finger is jabbing Steve in the chest, and Steve doesn't know what's going on. For a second, the look on Tony's face is just dripping with hurt, but then it's blank, all but his eyes which go hard with accusation. "That's real rich of you, Cap. Real rich. After you never want to do anything with me—" He falters for a second. "Us," he corrects, "now you want to act like you're the one being left out?"
And that doesn't even make sense. "Never want to…"
"Do I have to tell you how many times you've turned us down? How many times you've turned me down? JARVIS can pull up a count."
"But you never want to do anything I can do," Steve blurts out, and oh hell.
Tony blinks with confusion. "Anything you 'can' do?"
For one long second, Steve looks down all the different roads this conversation can take, and none of them are good. But he's flown a plane into the ocean before for the common good, so he can get through this, even though it may destroy him. Voice cracking with honesty, he looks Tony in the eye. "I don't understand half of it. The music at those places you go is too loud and everyone's half-naked, and I look like an old man. I never learned how to dance." He shakes his head, and it hurts. "I was supposed to. After the war, with a woman. Peggy. She was supposed to teach me, but I…but I died." He swallows, a raw motion in his throat. "I died," he admits, and then he opens his heart. "And I didn't ever really learn how to live again."
The look on Tony's face is wretched, horrified. "Cap. Steve." And, God, it feels good to have someone call him that for once. "What are you talking about? You never said—"
"And what was I supposed to say? That I'm lonely and I want to spend time with you, please pick something to do that doesn't make me feel like an idiot or like I don't belong in this century?"
"Yes. I would have—"
"Would you have?"
"Of course!" And now Tony seems mad again. "Christ, Steve, how long have you been feeling like this?"
Steve lifts one shoulder and drops it back down again. "A while, I guess." Ever since he'd defrosted enough that he'd looked around at the world and stopped seeing the people he was mourning and started grieving for something else entirely.
And Tony's smart, of course he is. He's always been so smart. "The other night. With the TV thing. You said you were trying."
Steve's stomach does a little flip, and he stares at the ground, helpless. "No one will teach me, and I don't know how to ask. If I ever want to fit in enough to be able to try to do things with you, I figured I had to learn it myself."
"Oh, Steve." Tony wraps his hand around Steve's wrist, and it's a burning point of contact. How long has it been since Steve's been touched? "You don't have to. Just say the word. I thought you didn't want…"
"Of course I did. Do."
And how did they get so close? This is too much like too many fantasies Steve's had, Tony's face just inches from his, his breath warm and his hand on Steve's arm. He can't help himself. Damn it, this is going to ruin everything, but he just has to. He turns his wrist inside Tony's grip, shifts it until he's got Tony's hand in his. The skin is rough and callused, but it's warm, and Tony's fingers curl so that they're holding Steve's palm.
"But you hate the future."
Steve shakes his head. "I miss everything. Everyone. But I'm here now. I don't hate it."
"I don't hate anything," Steve says, and of course it's ridiculous. He amends it immediately. "I don't hate anything except feeling alone."
"You're not alone, Steve."
And that's Tony's hand in Steve's hair, the warm, firm clasp of it around the back of his neck, and it feels so good. Steve sinks into it, closes his eyes and leans forward and then his forehead is touching Tony's. They're sharing air, and Steve's sweaty and his hands hurt, and everything has been messed up, but he doesn't care. He reaches and puts his palm to Tony's chest, right above the glowing center of his heart.
Steve bends down, and then he's touching dry, chapped lips to Tony's, and oh, God. It's a bare brush of contact, and Steve is recoiling, is backing away, because he said he wasn't going to do this. He wasn't going to leave another avenue for being rejected.
Only Tony doesn't reject him. Not even close. His eyes are wide, his mouth open, but he's clinging tight to Steve's hand and his neck, not letting him go anywhere.
"I didn't mean—" Steve starts to choke out, but Tony shakes his head.
"I've been wanting to kiss you since the moment I met you," Tony says. It's all in a rush, and Steve almost can't believe what he's hearing.
"For ages. So don't say you don't mean—"
"I didn't mean to spring it on you. But I meant it." Steve hasn't wanted this from the very first moment, but he was too angry and lost, and Tony was covered in too many abrasive edges that Steve didn't know yet how to get past.
Since the minute Tony smiled at him though…since the minute he made time for him, since he saw him working in his lab, since he saw him, the brightest, most real thing in a world that seemed to be full of nothing but ghosts…
"A long time," Steve says. "I've wanted this for a long time."
Tony nods, and that's all that needs to be said. They meet in the middle this time, and Tony's mouth is lush and open, a wet slide of tongue, and little nips at Steve's lips that have him gasping for breath. Between kisses, Tony touches at his chest and his hips, mumbles, "All this time…"
Steve shakes his head, because it doesn't matter, not anymore.
"All this time," Tony insists, "I thought you didn't want to be around me."
"Always want to be with you." Steve shudders at a pinching slide of finger and thumb around his nipple through the soaking fabric of his shirt. "Why do you think, always coming by your lab and—"
"Thought you needed your uniform fixed, or were just worried. Making me eat or telling me to sleep or—"
"Needed an excuse. Only way you'd let me in."
It's all fragments of sentences and half-voiced regrets, but that's not what Steve wants to talk about right now. How did he not see this? How did he talk himself into thinking he could never have this?
"No. Would have let you—" The words disappear into a moan as a fumbling tug on Tony's waist pulls them together, hardness to hardness, and oh God. "Fuck, you feel so good. Going to be so good to you. Can't believe you want—"
"Always wanted you," and it's too honest, but Tony doesn't seem to care. He looks at Steve with a kind of heat in his eyes that Steve didn't know he could have directed at him.
"Oh, I am going to just…" Whatever Tony's going to do, it gets lost in the slip-slide of his kissing it into Steve's mouth, a promise that's beyond words. It's all just the slick glide of lips and tongues, and Tony's teeth tugging, and Steve's skin is electric, his whole body on edge.
Hand fisted in Steve's shirt, Tony turns them, walks Steve backward, and when Steve's spine hits the mirrored wall, it's a shock of cold. Tony scrabbles at the fabric, tugging it up from Steve's waist. Steve lifts his arms to pull the sodden mess of his shirt off, and he goes for Tony's, too. Tony slots their mouths back together and presses his body along the length of Steve's, one thigh sliding between Steve's thighs, and they're chest to chest, the sheer contact of so much skin touching skin almost enough to send Steve to the brink. Emboldened, thoughts dizzy with the sheer force of how much he wants this, he puts his hands on Tony, finds purchase on the smooth jut of his shoulder blade and the curve of his bicep. Touches the humming surface of the arc reactor and trails fingertips along the miles of scar around it. With firm pressure between them, he slides his palm down to rest over abdominal muscles, and then to hook into the waistband of Tony's jeans.
Tony's take the same liberties, and every touch is a revelation. "Fuck," Tony swears, nipping across Steve's jaw and to his ear where he sucks, making Steve's eyes jerk open, making his hips thrust forward, and oh. "Yeah." Tony's all gentle encouragements and little hints of filth as he grips Steve's hips and pulls him in closer. "You feel so good, baby. You like that?"
Steve can only nod, and he's already so close, it's too much to have Tony against him like this.
"Anybody every give you a blowjob, Steve?"
Oh God. No one ever has, but Steve knows what it means, has seen videos in all that time spent by himself, has imagined how it would feel to be surrounded by all that soft, wet heat. "No," he breathes.
"Can I? Can I have that gorgeous dick in my mouth? Is it bigger? Did the supersoldier thing make even that better, god, I can't wait to find out." While he's rambling, he's sliding a hand between them, and through the barrier of his sweats, Steve feels him curl his fingers around where he's so hard he can scarcely think.
And Steve can't focus. "A little," he admits. "I mean, yes, you can but only if—" Steve swallows the rest of the sentence because the instant the word 'yes' is out, Tony is sliding down Steve's throat, mouth hot over a nipple, a suck and a flick of tongue, and then he's on his knees, mouthing at the head of Steve's erection through his clothes. Steve's head hits the wall, and he thinks he hears it crack. "Christ."
"Just wait." He wastes no time pulling down the waistband, shoving Steve's pants and his briefs to his knees. The air is a cool shock on slick skin, and Steve's leaking a steady stream, hard to the point of aching. Tony puts a hand between his thighs and teases around Steve's balls while slipping a single fingertip from his other hand over the slit of his cock. "Oh, that's beautiful. Fucking gorgeous."
"Tony," Steve pants, and he can't look. Just this is almost too much, and then there's wet probing, oh hell, that's Tony's tongue on him. Tony's hand curls around the base, and Tony closes his lips around the head. It's the best thing Steve's ever felt, but before he do more than let out a croaking little whine, he's sliding deeper, nudging at a constriction and that's the back of Tony's throat, it has to be. He's got Steve almost all the way in, and it's so good. "Oh, God, your mouth, Tony, your mouth."
Tony pops off, slides a slick fist up and down, nice and slow when all Steve wants is fast and for this unbearable pressure to release. "You like that, yeah? Bet you're gonna blow any minute, aren’t you, and I'm gonna swallow it all, you're gonna taste so good. Look at me, baby, don't you wanna see your dick in my mouth?"
He's waiting until Steve looks (Steve can't not look), and then he rubs the wet tip of Steve's cock over his bottom lip and takes him back inside. Steve feels like he's turning inside out, and then Tony's finger is in there alongside his dick. Tony pulls that finger out and slides it over his balls and back. Pulls off to whisper, "Open up for me, gorgeous," and Steve's parting his thighs, and there's pressure at his hole, a not-so-gentle circling. It's rough and not wet enough as it breaches him, just spit to slick the way, but it doesn't matter. It's Tony inside him, and Steve only has time to rasp out Tony's name before he's coming, pulsing hot and wet, and it's overflowing the sides of Tony's mouth, trickling into his beard for all that the motion of his swallowing is an unbearable stricture. It seems to go on forever, pleasure like Steve's never known, climax like a blackout, and when it's over, he's shaking and sensitive and has to put a hand on Tony's shoulder to nudge him away.
Tony wipes the back of his hand over his mouth, and his lips look raw and used, droplets of Steve's come still clinging to the edge of his goatee, and his eyes are glazed. He kisses his way back up Steve's body and palms him where's softening and twitching, aftershocks that feel like they'll shake him apart. Steve pushes Tony's hand away, then takes Tony's face between his palms and kisses him, hard and open. Tasting himself on Tony's tongue makes him spasm, a last little spurt that leaves him empty and wrung out. "Fuck, Tony."
"You swore again."
Steve shakes his head, affection something hard and impossible in his chest. "You're ridiculous."
"And you want me anyway," Tony says. It's a question and not all at the same time, and it melts Steve. His bottom lip crackles with the force of his smile.
"God help me, I do."
Tony breathes out a little grunt like relief, and then he's back to the kissing, back to pawing at Steve, one hand on his naked hip and the other on his neck, fingers digging in hard. His tongue is filthy in Steve's mouth as he pushes out words and phrases between licking kisses. "Thank fuck, because I'm about to bust out of my jeans, I'm so hard Steve. It was so hot having you in my mouth, and the sounds you make, fuck, fuck, gonna—"
Tony's scrabbling at his fly, and Steve gets his hand there, too, pries the button loose as Tony's lowering the zip. Tony shoves his pants open, and Steve reaches into his boxers. Finds him there, bare and slick, hot to the touch and perfect and thick.
"You're so hard," he says, wrapping his hand around him. It's naïve but it sounds dirty in this context, and Tony is all over that.
"Fuck yes, I am. You're the hottest person I've ever sucked off, and yeah, that's right, touch me, fuck you're good at that, won't take much, just—"
"I've got you."
Steve only has experience doing this to himself, but for all that the motions are backward, they're familiar. Tony's reactions, though… He's a panting mess, groaning loudly with every stroke.
And Steve wants to do everything. He wants to wring every noise and every ounce of pleasure from Tony's body. It's probably artless, probably hopelessly innocent, but he mumbles, "Next time, I want to do that to you. Have you in my mouth." It pulls a little sound out of Tony's throat, and he clutches harder at Steve's side. It emboldens him. "Want you to…have me." He thinks about Tony entering him, claiming him. Thinks about the reverse, and with a deafening swallow, admits, "Want to be inside you."
That's all it takes. Tony buries his face against Steve's shoulder and shudders, says something that sounds like Steve's name, and then there's a warm, wet mess in Steve's hand, a streak across his abdomen. There's the pulsing motion of Tony's body as it spends itself. Steve gives another couple of slow strokes in time with the echoing tremors of Tony's shoulders and the aborted little thrusts of his hips.
When he's done, Steve lets go and reaches down to pull his pants up, wiping most of Tony's come on the fabric, but then, curious, bringing his hand to his mouth and licking a trail of what's left. Tony groans and tugs his wrist, and then he's sucking Steve's fingers into his mouth, letting them go and leaning in for a kiss that's so dirty and slick it makes Steve twitch.
"You. Are…" Tony bites Steve's lip and makes a growling noise. "The things I am going to do to you."
And Steve likes the sound of that. No, he loves the sound of that. Still, he has to check. "So this wasn't just a one off?"
"You have got to be kidding me," Tony says, shaking his head. His eyes go soft. "Now that I know…God, Steve. I'm so sorry. I didn't know you were lonely."
"It's okay." And it really is now. It is, and he can dare to hope… "I'm not going to be anymore, right?"
"Not if I have anything to say about it. Never again." It's fierce, and it makes Steve's chest seem to glow. Somehow, though, Tony still manages to look unsure as he tilts his head up in question. "Come to my room? I have a shower, and you're filthy. And there's a bed, and…"
Steve's the one to kiss Tony to shut him up this time. "Yes. Of course. Yes."
Tony sighs and nods. "Good. Come on. Let's go."
Before he can pull too far away, though, Steve grabs him by the wrist. It's hard to say, but he does anyway. "I'm sorry I said no so many times."
"I'm sorry anyway. I should have said…"
"And I should have asked."
Steve smiles and leans in to kiss him. They both messed this up something fierce. But maybe they've both, finally, got it figured out now.
Six months later…
Steve is sitting at the kitchen table, reading the morning headlines on the tablet Tony gave him and sipping at his orange juice. He's barefoot and dressed in pajamas; he probably has the worst bedhead imaginable. There was a time he would have been mortified to have been seen like this, but today he just smiles to himself.
His smile deepens when Tony comes sweeping through. On his way to the coffeemaker, he stops to give Steve a kiss on the cheek that's entirely more sloppy than it needs to be and to ruffle his hair. Steve catches him with a hand on his jaw, turning to peck him on the lips before letting him go.
"You know, sometimes I think I liked repressed Cap better," Clint grumbles from the couch where he's playing Call of Duty…3? 4? (Steve knows a lot more now than he did a few months ago, but he still can't seem to keep those straight.)
"He was a lot less disgustingly adorable back then," Natasha agrees. She puts her book down and runs her own hand through Steve's hair. Steve doesn't know what people have with his hair today, but he'll take it.
Clint hums. "But a lot mopier and a lot less fun." He shrugs. "I guess it's a mixed bag."
"Whatever," Tony says, pausing to blow on his coffee and to gulp down about half of it. "You all know mopy Cap is sad Cap."
"How eloquent," Steve says.
Tony blows him a kiss. "I love you either way, babe."
And that has Steve blushing and looking down, but he can't wipe the smile off his face.
"Anyway." Tony sets his mug aside and claps his hands, then rubs them together. "I had the best idea for a new viral video."
"Oh, no," Clint groans. "After all the shit you guys gave me for the last one?"
"Whatever," Tony says. "This time, we're doing it with everyone on board, right Steve?"
And Steve doesn't have to hesitate this time, or panic, or ask questions to find out whether or not what Tony has in mind is something he can bring himself to deal with. If it something too far past Steve's (admittedly expanding) comfort zone, he knows he can tell Tony that, and together they can come up with some sort of a compromise.
"I'm in," he agrees, setting the tablet down. "Tell me what you have in mind."
Tony's eyes dance as they stay fixed on Steve. "Brace yourself: it's going to be epic."
Steve chuckles. With Tony at the helm, what else could it possibly be?