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He’s still mildly shocked that something like this can even happen. In this day and age, with all the security protocols Tony’s got.

It’s a Friday, when Steve leaves to get Chinese and comes back to find an empty workshop and 100 terabytes of corrupted security footage it takes S.H.I.E.L.D. five days to reconstruct.

Fury assures him that they’re going to do everything they can. That it’s not good for anyone for Tony to be in enemy hands. They want him for something, probably. Building things. Steve’s stomach twists, because Tony’s told him about the last time someone wanted him to build something. It’s being handled, Captain, is what Fury says.

Steve hears what Fury is cleverly not saying. That Steve needs not to go, because S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn’t negotiate with terrorists and really, what needs to be done is a calculated strike. Tony knows too much about military tech and defense systems and things that explode. He’s worked on government contracts. Fury just barely stops himself from saying liability.

Steve stands there, choking on words he can’t say, because. Because Tony isn’t a liability, Tony is a person, and Tony shares his bed, and none of it matters because right now he’s probably being tortured (all over again), and there’s nothing Steve can do about it.

Iron man, Iron man, Iron man, he thinks, as he rides back to the Tower, where Tony was and isn’t anymore. Tony Stark is Iron Man.

Steve wonders if that’s enough, and then he realizes that he’s never been so terrified in his entire life.

 

- - -

 

“No,” Tony says, the first time they ask.

Possibly he’s not thinking straight. They drugged him (in the middle of the fucking day, waltzed into his sub-basement and disabled his security protocols and stuck him in the neck, and.), and then it’s hazy, but he woke up in a pitch-black box, his hands cuffed to his feet, freezing cold, the rush of air in his ears.

They’d opened up the box sometime later, after he’d quietly screamed himself hoarse and tore his fingernails up scrabbling at the inside, trying to get out.

That was his first mistake.

They’d thought it was funny. They’d also thought it was funny that he asked for his clothes back when they took him off the plane and walked him outside in the freezing fucking cold before secreting him away in their dumb little bunker in the middle of nowhere. He doesn’t know where nowhere is, but all the signs are in Cyrillic, and they’re carrying AR-74’s, so Tony is willing to be good money these guys are Spetsnaz.

Just his luck.

“It’s just a sequence,” the man says, in perfect English. “Protons and neutrons, Mr. Stark.” He’s the hirer, Tony presumes, he’s wearing a labcoat and he looks like a fossil, not the beautiful, blond kind, the kind he could take out with a well-placed roundhouse and call it a day. “It’s not treason, not really,” he says, smiling, and he sits at the table in the middle of this bare, grey room, and winds his knobbly fingers around his cup of tea. “It’s an outstretched hand. You’re a scientist. You’d be helping the entire scientific community. It would be selfish not to.”

“It’s patented,” Tony says. “Sorry.”

The man laughs, and Tony tries not to be alarmed that the guys are grabbing him again, that they’re pulling his arms around behind his back, that they’re restraining him again –

“I thought you were a pioneer,” the man says reasonably.

“I am,” Tony says. “It’s profitable, actually, being a pioneer, see, I’m not in the habit of – hngh.” He hisses out a breath, because one of them has just struck him, squarely in the ribs. He thinks some of them are cracked. He wheezes and tries not to move.

“Show me how to synthesize it,” the scientist insists.

Tony looks at his knees for a moment before he responds, because this is toeing down a road.

“No,” he says.

 

- - -

 

The first attempt fails.

Steve doesn’t know how that’s possible, except he does. It fails because Fury won’t let any of them in on this. Fury especially won’t let him anywhere near this. Steve isn’t sure why, because Fury can’t know, there’s no way, because they’ve been so careful and blacked out the windows and they don’t touch in public.

But apparently it doesn’t matter, because Steve isn’t assigned to the assault team.

So Steve storms onto Fury’s bridge, makes it abundantly clear he’s not going anywhere, and watches as he runs his fucking op. He listens to them drilling through 30 feet of permafrost. He listens as they storm the compound, and he tells himself they do this professionally, they aren’t going to shoot him accidentally.

It doesn’t matter, though, because Tony isn’t there. There’s only a cell with blood and the clothes Tony was wearing (five days ago, five fucking days) and a back tunnel that leads up to the surface that they don’t find in time.

They get the scientist that wanted him, though, some relic from the Cold War, who looks like he’s about to fall over when they sit him down in Interrogation 1. Steve takes the liberty of backhanding him across the face anyway.

Fury puts him in detention for 2 hours.

 

- - -

Tony can’t stand now.

He supposes that’s the point, to hobble him, or something, but Tony thinks this is up there in terms of the most uniquely painful things that have ever happened to him. It’s not like the bright burn of metal clawing its way through his chest cavity, it’s not electrocution or the slow slide into dizzy agony that drowning is, this is – focused. Elegant, really, if you can make it past the brutality. He thinks about how many bones are in the human foot. He bites through his lip and tells himself that at least it’s not his hands.

He can’t look at his feet. He did, once, after the first time, and it was bad. He’s sure it’s worse now, but he can’t think about it for too long, he can’t think about how he’s maybe never going to walk without a cane again, or how he won’t be able to shower without sitting down, or how he won’t be able to cram his swollen excuses for feet into fancy shoes when he dresses up with Steve for galas –

He thought Steve would have come by now.

Someone tried, once, but it didn’t sound like the Avengers, it sounded like military. Rhodey, maybe, was with them. Tony can’t be sure. They dragged him out before they could manage a rescue.

He’s pretty sure whoever it was won’t try again.

He’s pretty sure no one is coming.

He thinks about saying yes. The moments when they drop him back in his cell are worst, when he can’t see because the pain is so bad. He wonders if they know he’s got a piece of vibranium in his chest. He wonders how long before they take it out.

He wonders how much longer he can do this.

 

- - -

 

It’s been two weeks, when Fury calls him back.

“I’ll go,” Steve’s mouth says for him, about five seconds after Fury’s said we found him and Spetsnaz and ransom.

“No,” Fury says. He’s saying things, something about sending the wrong message and matters of principle, but Steve isn’t listening, he’s already thinking ahead to how he’s going to get the money Stark Industries legally isn’t supposed to pay in situations like these. How he’s going to have to call Pepper and he’s going to have to call Happy and he’s probably going to have to talk to every person in Legal, because he’s never had to walk into a bank and demand 20 million in new bills.

He’s thinking about how he’ll do it if it means he gets Tony back. 

Steve knows that what they’re really worried about is expenditure of resources. Embarrassment. They’ve failed once. They aren’t sure they won’t fail again. They aren’t willing to try another extraction.

The part that galls him is S.H.I.E.L.D. could do it. It’s nothing to them to take out a special ops team. The Spetsnaz guys are nobodies, they’re hired thugs who saw an opportunity. They have nothing to do now but sell Tony to someone and if S.H.I.E.L.D. says no, it’s gonna be someone else.

Steve is going to get there first.

“Did they send you proof of life,” Steve says. He’s getting much better at metering his tone.

“Don’t even think about it,” Fury says, which is a yes. “We’ll figure something out, but this is a delica –”

Steve slams his hand down on Fury’s desk, then, hard enough to splinter solid oak, and Clint actually flinches in his seat. Natasha hovers, like she can’t decide if she should be holding him back or helping him menace Fury, but in the end she crosses her arms and purses her lips and stays silent.

“I’m not asking for help,” Steve says, very calmly. “I’m not asking for permission, either.”

“Yeah, ok,” Fury says, “I know you’re Captain America and all, but you can’t just run this -  

“Well, you did a shit job the first time,” Steve says.

“I don’t tell you how to run your team –“

“You’re right,” Steve says. “You don’t. Because I don’t work for you. I work for me.”

“I’m gonna have you restrained,” Fury says.

“Try it,” Steve snarls, and then he goes to collect an obscene amount of money in unmarked bills.

 

- - -

 

It becomes apparent that the doctor is no longer part of the equation.

They wrestle him into the box, one day, the three of them. It’s not a struggle, really. He doesn't have the energy to do anything more than let them truss him. He can’t breathe enough to kick, or fight, or even stand, really, his ribs haven’t healed yet.

“We put you on the market,” one of them says, the one that likes to beat his body instead of his feet. “Buyers pay good for Tony Stark.”

“I bet I pay better,” Tony gasps, and one of them bashes the butt of his automatic into his eyebrow. Tony feels blood dripping down into his eye.

“We know your company not pay for you,” the one that almost never speaks says, and hammers the box shut, and Tony is left in the dark.

If they hear him screaming, they make no indication.

 

- - -

 

The exchange goes poorly.

Steve shows up, wearing one of Tony’s fancy vests under his t-shirt, the one made of the new ultrathin polymers. He takes the Audi, because he doesn’t know what kind of condition Tony will be in and they’re going straight to a hospital. There isn’t going to be an argument.

They’re meeting at the docks, past Brooklyn heights, where the train tracks meet the water. It’s all cargo containers and unregistered cranes that have to be half rusted through. No one comes here outside business hours, and Steve isn’t sure anyone comes here then, either. It’s still light when he gets there, and he’s grateful, because he doesn’t think he could have picked a tactically poorer meeting place if he’d tried.

He leans against the car, tries to do the thing Natasha does where she looks effortlessly threatening, but he feels tense and awful and his stomach is all torn up because Fury wouldn’t let him see the proof of life and Steve doesn’t know what to do if this doesn’t go right, because he’s never had to care about an operation like this before.

This isn’t something he knows how to compartmentalize.  

Everyone assumes he’s been taking it hard because Steve is the leader, it’s his responsibility. He needs to see his team safe. Needs to know. They don’t know he hasn’t been sleeping because he wakes up and he’s alone in his bed, they don’t know that he hasn’t been doing anything but this.

He’s never had to bear anything like this in silence before.

A sedan pulls up. It’s armored, it’s black, tinted windows. The doors open, and Steve tries his best to feel intimidating instead of nauseous. There are only 3 of them, a driver and two who crawl out of the back, all toting AK-74’s. They’re plainclothes, dark jeans and t-shirts, and Steve feels ridiculous and ashamed and annoyed that he’s capitulated (and without backup) all at once.

“They send Captain America,” one of them says with a heavy Russian accent. Steve is really regretting not bringing Natasha. “We gave you terms. You come alone, da?”

“I’m alone,” Steve says, because he ran over his phone on the way out of the garage.

“You have money,” the blond one says. It’s a statement, not a question.

“Yeah,” Steve says, and reminds himself he’s got a Beretta in his boot and a Colt strapped to the small of his back. “Let me see Stark first.” Stark. Steve feels like a traitor for saying it.

They pop the trunk and drag Tony out in a pile of limbs and bruises.

Tony is wearing black boxer briefs and nothing else. He’s bruised, and Steve reminds himself that he expected that, but they pull him up, and he can’t stand, he just lurches and hisses in pain and flinches up on his toes. His hands are duct-taped behind his back, and there’s more of it wound around his ankles. He blinks, again and again, like he’s seeing sunlight for the first time in weeks (he probably is). Steve watches him try to grin, but his face is pinched and tight and screwed up in pain and he only manages a half-grimace.

“Hey, Cap,” Tony gasps, his teeth red with blood, and then one of the goons casually punches him in the mouth.

Tony’s head whips around, and Steve bites his tongue and digs his nails into his palms and thinks, you fucking idiot, Tony. Because of course he’s mouthing off to ex-Spetsnaz, he’s probably been doing that the whole time, because he’s got no sense of self-preservation. Tony doubles over, coughing. He spits a string of blood onto the asphault.

Steve pops the trunk, then, because he has to do something or he’s going to rush them and snap all of their necks one by one. Really, he hasn’t ruled that out yet, but he reaches into the trunk, and then he has 3 guns trained on him, and suddenly there’s a knife at Tony’s throat.

Tony doesn’t say anything, then, but Steve sees his Adam’s apple bob up and down as he swallows, sees a trickle of blood running down where the point’s dug into his neck.

“I’m getting your damn money,” Steve says, and he thinks they’re maybe a bit jumpy, and if he wasn’t so goddamn rattled from not sleeping and seeing Tony like this, he’d be thinking like he’s supposed to be thinking, he’d be planning, he’d be taking advantage of this. 

But he’s not, and he’s tired, and he yanks the bag of money out and throws it at the blond one.

“Give him here,” Steve says.

No one makes a move, except the blond one, who’s whipped out some sort of fancy thing that looks like it might have Starktech origins. He’s scanning the bag with it, and Steve drums his fingers on the trunk, because he packed it himself, there’s nothing there –

The scanner beeps.

Steve looks up, his heart thrumming in his throat, because that’s impossible, except they’re drawing on him again, and Tony can’t hold himself up, and they’re possibly going to shoot him –

“We said alone, Captain,” the blond one spits. “No tricks.”

Steve is already opening his mouth to protest, because he is alone, when a drone soars in from over the river and the car explodes behind them.

Damn it to hell.

Steve ducks behind his own trunk, then, because weapons are being loaded, and the Quinjet is there, hovering, cloaked, he’s sure, but he can hear the engines revolving, he hears the hum of the stabilizers. Fury must have tagged the cash, Fury is probably going to have him off the team, and, oh, that’s automatic weapons fire, excellent. He reaches up and grabs his shield out of the trunk.

The Quinjet materializes, and the firing starts.

Natasha’s voice comes over the speaker. Steve thinks she sounds angrier when she speaks Russian, or maybe she’s just feeling as pissed as he is right now. There’s shouting, more in Russian, from the Spetsnaz guys, and they’re trying to climb back down the docks to water level. Steve wonders who they think they’re kidding, there’s no way they’re going to escape, Clint will blow them up before they get 300 meters out -

Tony is struggling. It’s a poor effort, and his feet, Steve’s only seeing them now, they’re purple with bruises, and he can’t keep his balance, and he stumbles and gasps in pain. The one holding him kicks him in the shins, obviously sending to send him faceplanting into the dock, except.

Except Tony is only about a foot away from the edge of the dock, and instead of falling on his face, he tumbles over the side.

Steve stops caring about a body count.

He throws his shield. He doesn’t wait to see the arc of it, how it soars and sings through the air, but he hears it slicing through flesh, and he knows he set the right angle to sever heads instead of disarming them, but it doesn’t matter because Tony is in the water, Tony’s hands are tied, Tony –

Steve dives in after him.  

 

- - -

 

Tony loses the light as soon as he hits the water, and he tries to open his eyes, but they burn and it’s a losing battle anyway, the shit that’s in the Hudson.

He’s sinking, he’s sinking and he should be floating, and all he can think is no, no, no –

He can’t breathe, he can’t breathe and this is Afghanistan all over again, this is –

It’s cold, it’s freezing, and it rips what little air he has from his lungs. He didn’t have a chance to breathe, he just fell, he fell and he doesn’t know which way is up, and there’s duct tape around his wrists and his feet are broken, and he twists and strains but the fucking tape won’t come off –

“No,” Tony gasps, and he wonders if he shouldn’t have said anything at all, because it’s back into the bucket, and it’s stabs of pain in his chest, it’s his muscles spasming wildly, and he can’t do anything, because the wires are sparking and he’s going to have a heart attack –

It’s so dark, and he has no lungs, it’s pressing and cold and ice in his veins –

They wrench him back up by the hair, and his blood is rushing in his ears, his vision’s dark and spotted, and his chest is burning, and then he’s choking, again, his nose is pressed into the bottom of the bucket, and he’s going to die here –

He’s going to die here, he thinks, as it fills his throat, and he can’t keep it out of his lungs anymore, and he feels it in his chest as his body sucks it in –

“Ok,” he’s saying, “ok, I’ll, ok, not again, please –”

Tony doesn’t register the arm that’s wrapped itself around his chest. He’s drowning.

 

- - -

 

No, Steve thinks, as he lifts both of their weights onto the dock.

He rolls Tony over as best he can with his hands tied like they are, and Tony looks terrible, like wax, cold and pale and his skin isn’t the right texture –

“Tony,” Steve says.

Tony isn’t breathing. His chest isn’t rising and falling, but there’s a pulse in his neck, at least, and Steve doesn’t even know how he’d do CPR with the arc reactor, he doesn’t know if he could, Tony would just be dead, he’d just be –

No, Steve thinks. Focus. He turns Tony’s head to the side, watches as shitty water trickles out the side of his mouth, and then he’s pinching his nose and huffing into his mouth, and Tony’s ungroomed stubble is brushing at his chin, and there’s water sloshing up between their lips –

“Steve.”

It’s Clint, Clint’s hand on his shoulder, and Steve shrugs him off, kneels, dripping, his ear pressed to Tony’s mouth. There’s nothing, he’s cold and he’s not moving, there’s just the faint thrum of his heartbeat, and Steve thinks no, no, no -

“Why didn’t you bring a medic,” he snaps, because he’s terrified and it’s easier to be angry, and he doesn’t wait to hear the answer before he’s breathing into Tony’s mouth again.

“En route,” Clint says, “here, oh, ew, Jesus –”

Because Tony’s stomach tenses, and then he’s vomiting, still on his back, a watery mess that runs down his cheek and drips down through the planks of the dock.

“Ok,” Steve mutters, and he swipes his hand around inside Tony’s mouth to clear it out, and Jesus, the things he’s willing to do for this stupid, impossible man –

“Steve,” Clint says, the pitch of his voice a little too worried, and it leaches into Steve, the uncertainty, the fear, the sneaking suspicion that Tony isn’t going to start breathing again, “Fury is–“

“Not the time,” Steve says, as he finishes another set of breaths. Steve doesn’t particularly care what Fury has to say, or what Fury is going to do, because this is his fault, and his mouth tastes like Tony’s vomit, and he could have done this without a hitch if Fury hadn’t fucking brought the cavalry –

Tony gasps like he’s still drowning, and Steve just about sobs in gratefulness.

“Jesus Christ,” Steve says, unspeakably relieved, and he barely catches himself from reaching a hand out to touch Tony’s face. But he can’t. Not here. Clint is watching, and there are more people, he realizes, Natasha is talking to Fury, there’s another Quinjet landing now. Tony coughs, and coughs, blinks his brown eyes furiously before they settle on Steve’s face, but he’s still gasping, he’s still shuddering with every breath he takes –

Tony bites his lip, and squeezes his eyes shut, and Steve reaches around, tries to sit him up, because his hands are still tied and he’s lying on them. Clint springs away, and Tony’s skin is so cold, and he whimpers when Steve wraps an arm around his chest –

“Ok, I’m sorry,” Steve murmurs, reaching around to rip the tape off. “Calm down, you’re ok, it’s me. It’s just me.”

Tony’s breathing is slowing down, and he crosses his arms over his chest and shivers, and looks at Steve. “I’m really fucking cold,” he mumbles, looking older than he’s ever looked, and his lip is trembling. “I don’t,” he says, and he won’t meet Steve’s eyes, “I hate.”

“I know,” Steve says, because he hasn’t forgotten, Tony is terrifyingly fragile under his suit. Steve doesn’t have a jacket, just his sopping shirt, so he does the next best thing and pulls Tony into a gingerly given hug. Tony is still shaking, but he’s not hyperventilating anymore, and Steve winds his arms around him and cradles him against his chest. Tony mashes his face into Steve’s shoulder, and Steve feels the tension in his body, feels how he’s holding himself instead of letting Steve hold him. His breathing sounds wet.

“We need to get you back,” Steve says, so very worried, his hand resting on the nape of Tony’s neck. “You don’t have to walk, I can –”

“Rogers,” Fury is yelling.

“I think you – I think you pissed someone off,” Tony gasps into Steve’s neck.

“He’ll get over it,” Steve says, “are you – oh, geez, Tony,” Steve says, because he thinks Tony is crying –

“I didn’t think you were coming,” Tony says, quietly enough so that only Steve can hear.

Steve swallows, and ignores Clint’s whispered he’s coming, Steve, he’s coming, and holds Tony tighter. “I'm here now,” he says, and his heart feels like it’s twisting apart, because Tony is right.

 

- - -

 

Steve is surprised it doesn’t devolve into a fistfight. Sometime in the five minutes Fury is chewing him out, they get Tony loaded onto a stretcher and into the Quinjet, and it leaves while Steve is still defending his decision to break protocol (not my Protocol, he says, and Fury looks like he’s going to blow a vein) and not let Tony get sold to some bigwig oligarch in Chechnya, if that’s ok with Fury.

By the time he gets back to the Helicarrier an hour later (he has to wait for an escort), he’s been theoretically suspended from active duty, which is funny, because he’s specifically had Tony’s lawyers draw up a contract so they can’t actually do things like that.

Tony is in the smaller of the two medical bays, and it’s another hour before they let him out. Steve waits in the hall (he’s Captain America here, not a lover, he can’t be anything but professional), and Tony gets wheeled down the hallway, still in scrubs, and Steve closes his eyes and wishes he’d brought him clothes from the tower.

But that’s straddling the line, he thinks. They can’t be obvious, that’s just what – Tony doesn’t need.

“Hey,” Steve says. “They let you out already?”

“They let me out,” Tony echoes, as he sees Steve about ready to spring to his feet and wrestle the nurse for control of his wheelchair as they come to a halt in front of where Steve is camped out. He looks awful, and Steve is pretty sure he’s high on painkillers, the way the edges of his words are dull and mashed together. He’s looking at the walls, fiddling with the tape on his wrist from the IV with clumsy fingers. Steve wonders if he’s in pain, still. His feet are bandaged, and Steve can see the tips of his toes poking out. Some of them are black with bruises.

Steve swallows, and thinks maybe he should have been better.

“Good,” Steve says, because he’s got to say something encouraging. “We can take you home,” he manages, before he bites his tongue, because he should have said “the tower,” because home is something people have together. “Do you mind,” he says to the attending, probably more rudely than he really has to, but she smiles and laughs apologetically and beats a hasty retreat down the hallway, because who says no to Captain America.

Tony is just staring, like he’s not all there (and maybe he’s not), and Steve’s heart breaks a little, because he’s shivering, and all he wants to do is kneel down and kiss Tony’s face, and maybe go down to detention and casually break all the bones in that bastard’s feet, too, but he can’t, Fury has to debrief him, and there’s nothing he can say to get out of it because no one knows they’re more than colleagues –  

“Tony,” he tries. “Clint’s gonna fly you back, ok.”

“Not you?” Tony says in the smallest of voices.

“I have a debriefing,” Steve says. “I’m in the pen. I won’t be long –“

But Tony is already deflating, and somehow the slump in his shoulders is even worse than the marks on his skin. “Can you skip it,” he says, and it’s the furthest thing from flippant there is.

“Yeah,” Steve concedes, because obviously he’s going to skip it. Fury can arrest him later. “I can.”

 

- - -

 

“What do you need,” Steve says.

Tony is wrapped in about a thousand blankets. He’s on one of the couches in the living area, and it’s not nearly as comfortable as the one in the basement, but Clint landed on the Helipad and Tony doesn’t need to be in his workshop right now, not when that’s where this nightmare started.

“I can’t stop shivering,” Tony says, and he’s not looking at anything. “I can’t.” His breath hitches, and his lip is trembling, and Steve wants to hold him, and he’s so goddamned inadequate –

“Tony,” Steve says, and he’s subtle about it, none of the panic he’s feeling makes it into his voice –

“I hate water,” Tony says, “I fucking hate it.”

“I know,” Steve says.

“I was almost over it,” Tony says. “I really miss surfing, I really. Dammit.” He bites his lip, and there’s barely any color to return to it at all –

“You don’t have to be over it,” Steve says.

“I want to have Jacuzzi sex,” Tony says miserably, and Steve would laugh if he weren’t on the verge of tears. “I want to, Jesus Christ –”

“Here,” Steve says, and he unwraps him a little, just enough so he can slip inside and lend Tony his body heat. “You ok?” he says, because he didn’t even think about it, “this ok?”

“Yeah,” Tony says, so Steve leans them back, holds Tony against his chest. “It’s. Yeah.”

It should be better. It should be blessed, this is what Steve has been desperate for, this is what he thought he’d never have again, but Tony’s breath is shaky, and he just stares and rests his head on Steve’s shoulder.

“Tony,” Steve says, because he doesn’t know what to say, because what do you say when –

“Are you mad at me,” Tony asks.

“No,” Steve says. “No, Tony, what –”

Tony shifts, and Steve realizes his shirt is damp where Tony’s face was.

“I almost told them,” Tony says, burying his face in Steve’s neck. “I think I would have. Christ, I’m sorry.”

“Anyone would’ve,” Steve murmurs, because it’s true.

“You wouldn’t have.”

“I would,” Steve says, and he runs his hands up and down Tony’s arms.

“No, you would have kicked all their asses and escaped,” Tony says miserably. “You’re Captain America, you don’t –“

“I would have,” Steve says, “if they’d threatened you.”

“I couldn’t. Dammit.” He swipes at his eyes. “I was fine, I was ok, until. This is the morphine.”

“How’s your pain level,” Steve says, hating that he has to ask that.

Tony laughs a wet little laugh into Steve’s neck, and his breath tickles against Steve’s skin, and he’s so lucky. They’re so lucky. “I’m pretty sure Bruce has narcotics in his lab.”

“No,” Steve says. “You’re already doped.”

“High,” Tony mumbles, “I’m high, no one says doped anymore.

“Great,” Steve says, “They prescribed you Percocet. I’ll make Clint bring it back.”

“Good,” Tony says, “I don’t want you to get up.”

“I might have to.”

“No,” Tony says.

“I kinda broke a lot of laws getting you back,” Steve says. “I think they might break down your door.”

“Fuck laws,” Tony says.   

“I was so angry,” Steve admits. “I. Fury wouldn’t let me.” Except Steve could (should) have. He could have tried harder. He could have done what needed to be done.

Tony has gone very still.

“Does he know,” Tony says, so very quietly.

“No,” Steve says, “I couldn’t, I. Maybe I should have. It was just me, I thought.”

“He would’ve benched you anyway. Especially.”

“It shouldn’t have mattered,” Steve says. “I’m –”

“Don’t be,” Tony says. “It’s ok.” He winds his hand up around Steve’s neck.

“He’s going to find out anyway,” Steve says. “I think Clint –”

“I don’t care,” Tony says. “I honestly don’t give a fuck, you can take me on the roof and we can call FOX News to film it, that is how much of a fuck I don’t give right now.”

“Tony –”

“I don’t care who knows,” Tony says. “I thought I was never gonna see you again. I thought they were gonna send me to you in pieces, I thought I was gonna die in some fucking bunker in Russia and you’d have no idea and –

“You didn’t,” Steve says.

“I know,” Tony says. “But it felt like it.”

Steve is painfully aware of what that feels like.

“Did you kill them?” Tony says.

“Yeah,” Steve says quietly, and he shouldn’t be proud of it, but he’d do it again.

Tony is quiet for a minute, and then he says, “Thank you.”

“I shouldn’t have.”

“Thank you for not letting me drown in the Hudson.”

“I could never let you drown,” Steve whispers into Tony’s hair.

Tony tilts his head back a little. “I love you,” he says, and he’s all bruises and fatigue and honesty, and Steve can’t help but lean down and kiss the corner of his mouth.

It turns into more, because it always turns into more with Tony. It’s long and slow, and Tony’s clumsy and tired, but he’s there, warm and his mouth is wet and he’s breathing into Steve’s. Alive.

“I love you,” Steve says when he pulls away, “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry I didn’t –”

“Stop,” Tony says. “I just want you to stay, ok. I just want to fall asleep here, I feel really shitty, can we just do that, please?”

“Yes,” Steve says. “Whatever you need.”

“I need you to stay,” Tony murmurs into Steve’s skin.

“I’m staying,” Steve says.