Steve knew someone would track him down eventually. He'd made no real effort to stay off the grid -- drew money from his bank account, used his real name when registering at motels. The fact that he'd gone so many months without being disturbed meant that his friends were giving him space, respecting his desire to be left alone. But it couldn't last forever. Steve knew that.
Knowing didn't make it any easier to breathe when he walked into his motel room and found Tony Stark waiting in the ugly orange armchair next to the window.
"T-Tony." The name seemed to stick in Steve's throat. His mouth felt dry, and his chest felt as if he'd taken a hard punch to the solar plexus. Tony looked... he looked good. Alive. Healthy and whole. His hair was a little longer than Steve remembered it, and he'd shaved his goatee but kept the mustache. There were no scars on his face, no sign that any damage had ever been done. He slouched low in the chair, in a pose that was clearly meant to appear relaxed and casual, but Steve could see the tension in his shoulders, the wariness in his eyes.
"Hello, Steve." Tony's voice was so perfectly, blandly neutral, it might as well have been generated by computer. Then again, maybe it was. Extremis had brought Tony back from the dead, remade him anew from a broken corpse, created this smooth, unmarked face from a mass of gore and shattered bone. Maybe it was Extremis talking now. As far as Steve knew, this was confirmed to be the real Tony, miraculously returned after nearly two years in the grave. Then again, "as far as Steve knew" didn't stretch very far these days.
A small part of him wanted to march across the room, haul Tony out of that chair, and hug him until they both had trouble breathing. But that part was the old Steve, the one who had no right to exist anymore. The new Steve let the door swing shut behind him but stayed where he was.
"What are you doing here?" Steve didn't bother asking how Tony had found him, or how he'd gotten into the room. He'd checked in with a debit card the night before, and the door had an electronic lock.
"I was in the neighborhood," Tony said in that same flat voice. It was starting to make Steve's skin crawl. "Thought I'd drop in."
In the neighborhood. Right. In the middle of Nebraska. The old Steve might've found that funny. The new Steve was having trouble locating his sense of humor, faced with a visit from the man he'd murdered.
He wondered if Tony had brought back-up, if Luke or Carol or a team of SHIELD agents were lurking outside somewhere. Even with the armor at his beck and call, and Steve completely unarmed, it was hard to imagine Tony trusting him enough to simply show up alone, here in the middle of nowhere. It was hard to imagine Tony ever trusting him again at all, at any level.
"Are you just going to stand there the whole time?" Tony demanded, and Steve felt irrationally relieved to hear a hint of emotion in his voice, even it was only irritation. "It's your room, you know? You can have a seat."
Steve perched on the corner of the bed closest to the door, as far away from Tony as he could sit without moving furniture around.
"Why are you here?" he asked again.
Tony shrugged. "It was either me or a group intervention. Clint's been talking to Barnes, Thor, Sharon, Sam... I think he was going to drag Rick Jones out of the woodwork. I finally talked him around to letting me try by myself first."
"Try what?" Steve asked.
"To talk to you," Tony said softly. "To see what's going on with you."
"Nothing's going on with me," Steve muttered. "I'm just... trying to figure out my life now, that's all."
"Right." Tony nodded. "I get that, I really do. And I get that a man fresh out of prison might want to wander the open roads on his motorcycle for a while. But it's been a year, Steve. Just how long do you plan to keep running?"
"I'm not running."
"Aren't you? You haven't spent more than a night in one place since you started this little jaunt of yours. Is there any place worth visiting in the lower forty-eight states that you haven't visited yet?"
Steve managed something he hoped resembled a smile. The effort made his jaw ache. "I hear there's an antique tractor museum two towns over."
Tony's answering smile came and went so quickly, it might not have been there at all. Then he frowned and leaned forward, hands clasped tightly in his lap.
"Look, Steve, I know you're not in a good place now, but there's a lot of people back in New York who miss you, and who want to give you whatever help you need to get yourself straightened out. And I just want you to know... I'm one of them."
“Don't.” Steve laced his fingers together at the back of his neck and slumped forward, struggling to breathe past the choking ache in his chest. “You can't – how can you say that? After what I did?”
There was a short silence, then a faint creak signaling Tony's rise from his chair, then footsteps. Steve tensed, but Tony stopped somewhere to the left of the bed, too far for Steve to see him without turning his head. Steve took a deep breath and kept his gaze resolutely fixed on the floor in front of his feet.
“What you did,” Tony said quietly, “was strike a lucky blow in battle. A battle we both chose to have, fighting for what we believed was right. I lost, it happens. But it could've just as easily gone the other way. You've been a soldier in combat before, Steve, you know how it works.”
“That's not how it was,” Steve whispered hoarsely, “and you know it. Don't talk as if it was an accident or something done in the heat of the moment. You were down, you weren't fighting anymore. I had time to think about what I was doing.”
He was shivering, and couldn't make himself stop. Just speaking the words brought all the images s rushing back, as sharp and vivid as ever, replaying in his memory the way they'd replayed over and over in his dreams. Tony's bruised face, eyes hazy with pain, lips barely moving behind the shattered remains of the armor's face plate.
What are you waiting for, Steve? Finish it.
And he had. He'd finished it.
He heard Tony sigh, saw his shadow move across the carpet a moment before he felt the warm weight of Tony's hand on his shoulder. Steve froze, torn between the warring impulses to jerk away and to lean into the touch. He'd spent a year on the move, limiting human contact to the barest minimum needed to keep himself in gas and food and shelter. He honestly couldn't remember the last time anyone had touched him just for the sake of it.
“I hate to state the obvious,” Tony said dryly, “but I was there. You had three, maybe four seconds, tops. And I was looking straight at you that whole time, and in my expert opinion? You were not not thinking just then.”
“I should've been,” Steve snapped.
“Yeah, well.” The grip on Steve's shoulder tightened a little. “You're n-not the only one.”
The catch in Tony's voice made Steve finally turn to look at him. Tony was standing very straight, just barely within arm's reach of Steve. His expression was guarded, hard to read, but Steve thought his eyes looked tired.
"It takes two to make a fight," Tony told him. "It takes two sides to make a war. I did as much as you -- no, more than you -- to bring us to that battle in Manhattan. You can't take the blame for this one."
"I'm not blaming myself for the war!" Steve growled. "I'm blaming myself for killing you!"
"In case you haven't noticed," Tony said, "I'm not dead."
"That doesn't change what I did." Suddenly, Steve couldn't look at Tony's face anymore. He shook himself free of Tony's grip and let his head droop forward again, refocusing his gaze on the carpet. "Look, you came to see how I was, right? Now you've seen. Go back and tell the others I'm fine, and we can stop having this conversation, okay?" Please.
"You're not fine," Tony said. "And if you seriously think I'm going to just go and leave you here alone after seeing how not-fine you are, then you're even worse off than I--"
"Dammit, Tony!" Steve couldn't deal with this anymore. He leaped to his feet, fists clenched in pure frustration--
--And froze. Because Tony was scrambling away from him, pale and wide-eyed, backing up until he bumped the windowsill behind him and was forced to stop.
For a few seconds, they both stood perfectly still, staring at each other in silence. The Steve unclenched his hands and took a step back. The brief flood of anger was draining out of him now, leaving him cold an exhausted.
"You really should go now," he told Tony quietly. "This isn't any good for either of us."
"Right." Tony let out a short, painful-sounding laugh. "Because the way we were before was doing us so much good. You living like a hunted fugitive, and me--" He broke off abruptly and turned his face away from Steve, closing his eyes and biting his lip.
"And you what?" Steve prompted. Tony just shook his head. "You being afraid of me?"
Tony met his eyes again, with visible effort. "I'm not afraid of you."
"No?" Steve took two rapid steps forward, putting himself literally toe to toe with Tony, drawing himself up to take full advantage of the slight difference in their heights. Tony held his ground, but his quickened breathing and tensed posture betrayed his reaction clearly enough. "Could've fooled me."
"Well." Tony grimaced slightly. "You do loom a bit. But dammit, Steve, I will not be afraid of you! I refuse."
"You're shaking," Steve pointed out.
Tony reached out and pressed one hand against Steve's chest. "So are you."
Steve had nothing to say with that. He couldn't deny his reaction, and he couldn't hide the fact that the warmth of Tony's palm against his chest was making it worse. He'd spent a year methodically barricading himself away from the rest of humanity, retreating into a dull but bearable state of distant numbness. And then Tony had to show up and break down all his barriers with a single touch. Steve hadn't thought himself capable of the level of pure neediness he was feeling now. It was frightening, and it was wrong. He had no right to feel this way. No right to want anything from Tony.
"We're a mess, aren't we?" Tony said softly. "At least, I know I am, and you, frankly, look like shit. Why do we have to be like this, Steve? I'm alive and you're free. Can't we just... start over?"
Steve opened his mouth to tell him that no, they really couldn't, but a sudden suspicion made him change tracks.
"Tony... was it you who arranged my pardon?"
"I..." Tony looked guarded all of a sudden. "I may have had a few words with the President."
"God..." Steve pulled back, out of Tony's reach, trying to ignore how the loss of contact made him feel cold and small. "Why?"
"Because," Tony said, "the only thing I can think off that's a bigger waste than what you're doing now is you rotting in that cell at Rikers. You're Captain America--"
"No I'm not!" Steve burst out. Tony flinched a little, but didn't look away.
"You could be. Barnes has your shield, he'd hand it back to you in a moment if you asked."
Steve shuddered. "I'm never touching that thing again."
The shield had been a prominent exhibit at his trial, and Steve had forced himself to look every time the prosecuting attorney had held it up for the world to see. He had no doubt it had been thoroughly scrubbed by now, but as far as Steve was concerned, the stains would never come out.
"All right," Tony told him, "that's your decision. But even if you won't be Captain America again, can't you at least be Steve Rogers? Look, I know I said I came here to check up on you, but it was really for my benefit as much as yours. I miss you, Steve. I want my best friend back. I want us back."
Steve started to say that it didn't work that way, but the words never came out. Because Tony was moving forward now, pale but determined, and then Tony's fingers were in Steve's hair, and Tony's mouth was pressed against Steve's, and--
For a few dizzy moments, Steve just let it happen. Closed his eyes and parted his lips, let Tony kiss him thoroughly and deeply, as if nothing existed outside the two of them. Then thought came rushing back, and he roughly pulled away.
"Dammit, Tony. What do you think you're doing?"
"Starting over," Tony said, and tried to kiss him again.
Steve staggered back, bumped into the bed, and had to sit down to keep from falling over.
"Jesus, Tony, this is messed up even by your standards." Tony had always had a disturbing self-destructive streak when it came to choosing bed partners, but this went a few steps beyond disturbing. "We can't do this."
"Why not?" The bed dipped a little as Tony sat down next to him, close enough for their thighs to press together. "Do you really want to go on as we were? It doesn't have to be messed up. We can make things better between us." He cupped one hand against the back of Steve's neck and leaned forward until his lips were nearly brushing Steve's again. "What do you want, Steve? You want forgiveness, I forgive you. You want an apology, fine, I'm sorry. Whatever you need, just tell me and you can have it."
Oh, God... Steve squeezed his eyes shut and panted for air. This close, he could smell Tony's aftershave, feel the warmth radiating from Tony's body. And there was no denying his own reaction, the dizzying rush of want and arousal, the aching hardness of his cock inside his jeans. "I need..." I need the past two years to not have happened. I need to wipe the memory of your death from my mind. I need you. I need to stop needing you.
"It's all right." Tony's voice was a barely audible whisper. "You can have it."
Steve had no idea was Tony was referring to, didn't know if he'd spoken aloud or if Tony was just talking to the voices in his head. Didn't care much, because now Tony was kissing him again, and Steve's brain had apparently disconnected from the rest of his body, because Steve's arms were now moving of their own volition, wrapping around Tony and pulling him closer.
Tony went rigid and still for about a second, then abruptly relaxed and let himself be pulled, shifting his weight until he was practically sitting in Steve's lap. He slid his free hand down Steve's chest and stomach to the waistband of his jeans, undid the button and zipper with unnerving ease, and wrapped his fingers around Steve's cock.
Steve let out a short, strangled moan, and came.
The release was overwhelming and sudden, a burst of sensory overload that made the world disappear for a few short, blissful seconds. Steve didn't remember falling backwards onto the bed, but it must've happened at some point, because when he became aware of his surroundings again, he was sprawled on his back and Tony was straddling his hips, looking flushed and disheveled.
"Okay." Tony sounded breathless and a little startled, though not nearly as wrecked as Steve himself was feeling. "I'm going to go out on a limb and say you really needed that."
Steve felt his face grow hot. He wanted to say something clever and biting in return, but that would've required coherent thought, and he wasn't quite ready for that yet. Not when his heart was still racing from his orgasm, and sweat was still cooling on his skin.
"See?" Tony dipped his head and planted a kiss at the base of Steve's throat. "You did something that feels good, and the world did not end." He gripped the hem of Steve's t-shirt and tugged. "Do you want to get out of these clothes?"
Steve found that yes, he really did. The soft, clothes he'd picked out for comfort suddenly felt confining and itchy. He lifted his arms and let Tony pulled the t-shirt off him, hitched his hips up so Tony could remove his jeans and briefs. But when Tony sat back and began to unbutton his own shirt, Steve finally overcame his lassitude and reached up to grasp Tony's wrists.
"Let me," he said.
Tony went still again, just as he had when Steve had embraced him earlier.
"Yeah," he muttered after a short, tense silence. "Yeah, you do that. That's good."
Steve wasn't at all sure that "good" was the right word. There was genuine desire in Tony's eyes, but there was fear too, and Steve wondered if it wouldn't be better to just stop this. But when he hesitated, Tony rocked his hips and muttered "c'mon, c'mon..." and Steve could feel his arousal through the thin fabric of his trousers. Steve's own cock was growing hard again already, before his heartbeat had even slowed from the last time, and what the hell, maybe it would be best if they both got this insanity out of their systems.
Or maybe he was just desperate for an excuse. It was hard to tell the difference just then, and harder to care.
The impulse to simply tear Tony's clothes off was strong, but Steve forced himself to go slowly, to unfasten each button with no rough or sudden movements. When the last button was undone, he let Tony take the shirt off himself while Steve unzipped his trousers. Tony sat on the edge of the bed to finish undressing, then straddled Steve again and leaned forward to run his hands across Steve's chest.
"There," he whispered, rubbing his thumbs in slow circles over Steve's nipples. "Isn't this better than fighting?"
"Tony." Steve wrapped his arms around Tony's waist and pulled him down, pressing their bodies close together. "You..."
Tony pressed his face into the crook of Steve's shoulder. "What?"
"Nothing. Never mind." Steve honestly had no idea what he'd wanted to say. The feel of Tony's weight pressing him into the mattress was incredibly comforting, but only if he didn't think about it. Talking required thinking, so maybe it would better to just not talk. Steve tightened his hold, closed his eyes, and shifted his hips until his cock rubbed against Tony's in a way that made them both gasp.
"Steve..." Tony, of course had no reservations about talking. "Fuck, Steve, you feel so good... should've done this sooner, shouldn't let you brood alone all this time, fuck, this is so much better..."
Tony kept talking, rocking his body against Steve's in a slow, steady rhythm that Steve reflexively matched. His voice grew breathier, his sentences more and more disjointed, but he seemed determined to insist, over and over again, that things were all better now. Steve wasn't sure whom he was trying to convince, but he clearly wasn't expecting a response, so Steve said nothing. He just tightened his hold on Tony and kept moving, lost in a rising tide of sensation. His heart was pounding, and a sharp, anticipatory tension was coiling in the pit of his stomach. He let out a harsh groan and curled one leg around Tony's, pulling him even closer.
"Steve..." Tony gasped for what had to be the hundredth time. He clenched his hands around Steve's shoulders and arched his back, and Steve opened his eyes just in time to see Tony's face go slack and blissful as he came.
Steve kept moving; he wasn't sure he knew how to stop. Tony didn't seem to mind. He relaxed into a boneless heap on top of Steve, and his stream of words trailed off into soft, contented noises. After a few moments, he lifted up a little and slid one hand down to grip Steve's cock again. He gave a few slow, measured strokes, and that was enough to push Steve over the edge into another climax, nearly as breathless and intense as the first.
They both lay still for a while, catching their breaths. Steve had a vague notion that it would be nice to pull the covers over themselves, but even that simple movement seemed like too much effort. His thoughts were fuzzy, and his body felt as if it was about to turn liquid and melt into the sheets. He couldn't remember the last time he'd felt this relaxed. Or, indeed, the last time he'd felt relaxed at all.
"See?" Tony muttered finally, his breath warm against the side of Steve's neck. "I told you it would be okay."
"You have a strange definition of okay." Steve stroked one hand down Tony's back. "Do you really think this will somehow magically fix things once we get dressed again?"
"No," Tony admitted. "But we're in the same place at the same time, and we're not angry and we're not fighting. That's a start, right? We can fix the rest later."
"How?" Steve asked. Tony's laugh was low and rueful.
"I have no idea."
Maybe that should've been a worrying statement, but Steve found it oddly reassuring. In his experience, it was when Tony Stark did have ideas about how to fix everything that the trouble really started.
"I'm willing to try, though," Tony said. "Are you?"
That, at least, was a question Steve could answer easily enough.
"Yes," he said. "I am."