The constant, driving rain is really interfering with things. Not for the first time, Steve wishes that supervillains would have the courtesy to wait to attack the city until the weather was nicer.
Ah, but if wishes were horses is the old saying, and there's definitely no time today for anything as trite as wishing. Unless they stop Graviton now, he's going to take out half of New York in his latest bid for freedom.
"How come these guys never lay low after they escape from prison?" Tony complains over the comm. "You know, run away to a tropical island, drink margaritas on the beach next to some chick in a bikini."
"I save the world every other Wednesday. How come I never get to do that?" Clint shoots right back.
"Guys, that's enough," Steve says. He doesn't mind some level of banter, but he can't afford for anyone to get distracted. Not when their current target is capable of increasing his own gravitational pull to the point where he can turn himself into a miniature black hole.
Currently they have Franklin Hall, aka Graviton, at bay near the harbor. He's tall, bearded, and capable of manipulating gravitational fields. He's already imploded several buildings and left a path of destruction behind him that will take months to recover from. He's easy enough to control once he's unconscious – it's taking him down that's the problem. If Thor weren't recently returned from Asgard, the Avengers wouldn't have much of a chance against him at all. As it is, they're doing a good job of keeping him here at the harbor, but Steve knows the situation will not hold. If they can't put him down quickly, he'll crush them all like bugs.
"All right," he says. "We need a concentrated attack. All we're doing so far is pissing him off. We need to knock him out." Even as he says this, he watches Iron Man go sailing over his head, the suit momentarily nothing but dead weight, courtesy of a fierce gravitational pulse. He knows Tony can handle himself, but the sight still bothers him, and serves to firm up his determination to put an end to this, and quickly.
He slings his shield at Graviton's head. Not because it will do anything, but to distract the man from going after Tony while the suit is still offline. "On three, I want you all to give him everything you've got." The shield bounces off an invisible barrier surrounding Graviton and comes back to him. "Except you, Hulk." He catches the shield and tucks into a somersaulting roll, diving out of the way of an energy blast that turns the asphalt where he was standing into pulverized dust. "You hold back, wait until we've got his shield down. Then you smash him with everything you've got."
There are varying sounds of assent in his ear. He waits until he hears from all of them, including Tony. He counts it down, and on three, he launches himself at Graviton.
The shield sings off the edge of the invisible force field enclosing Graviton. Lightning writhes over its surface, illuminating the barrier enough that Steve can actually see it now, shimmering ghostly pale in the gray rain. One of Hawkeye's arrows explodes nearby, and sparks fly from Widow's bracers. High above them, Iron Man throws out his arms and the unibeam blazes from his chest, blasting away at the force field.
Graviton shouts in fury. "You fools can't stop me! Do you really think I'll just let you take me back to prison?"
Without warning Steve finds himself flying through the air. Immense pressure surrounds him, pushing down on him. It's all he can do just to drag in a thin breath of air.
Then he is in the harbor. Before he can take a sustaining breath, slate-gray water closes over his head. He is powerless to fight back as he is shoved beneath the water. Gravity crushes him, sending him all the way down to the bottom of the harbor and then burying him deeper still, clouds of earth pluming upward as he is driven into the ground by Graviton's power.
He can't struggle, can't move. He can't do anything at all.
Fear clutches at his heart. He concentrates on holding his breath and tries not to panic. He has a greater lung capacity than other men, and he can survive down here for much longer than anyone else. But it's dark and it's cold and it's terrifying – and in spite of himself he struggles against the crushing gravity surrounding him. All he asks is to be able to move a hand or a foot. Just something.
And there! The terrible pressure lets up. For only a moment, but Steve doesn't waste his chance. He throws himself forward, clawing at the water, gaining precious inches of freedom. Then it's back again, freezing his limbs, forcing him down again until his boots and even his legs are sinking into the soft earth.
Far, far above him, light flares, then vanishes.
Long, terrible minutes pass. Trapped and helpless, Steve can do nothing but wait for someone to save him. He strains to see, but there is nothing to see; his world consists now of nothing but cold, black water. The urge to struggle is overwhelming, and he can't help giving in to it, throwing himself against the bonds of Graviton's power with all his strength. He knows he's not actually helping himself, that he's only depleting his oxygen reserves, but he can't help it.
He has to get out of here. He can't see anything, he can't move, he can't breathe.
He is terrified he is going to die down here.
Tony! Someone! Please!
Far above his head, light flashes once, twice, in quick succession. Steve clamps his mouth shut more firmly than before and fights to remain calm.
And at last, at last, the crushing embrace of gravity lessens. He kicks and struggles to free himself from the dirt. His head is pounding and he can feel his lungs starting to burn – he has less time than he thought.
Light high above his head now. He kicks and pulls at the water, straining for the surface. It seems impossibly far away. His chest hurts. His lungs are screaming for air.
The light source blurs before his eyes. He reaches for it feebly. He can see his hand, the glove almost red, almost in enough light now for the color to return to it.
His body impacts hard against an immovable object. Pain jolts through him. Reflexively he gasps – and cold water floods his mouth and pours down his throat. He chokes, flails, his arms moving in incredibly slow motion through the water.
Something hard wraps itself about his waist, and he is suddenly moving, rocketing upward at incredible speed. It grows steadily lighter around him and then he is out of the water, bursting through into the rainy day and still flying. He retches up what feels like the entire contents of the harbor, then settles for just coughing and gasping as he's finally able to drag oxygen into his burning lungs.
"Steve. Steve? You all right?"
The words are slightly distorted, somewhat electronic, and extremely welcome. He coughs, chokes again, and finally manages to find his voice. "Yeah."
Their upward flight finally stops. He spits the last bit of water from his mouth, and looks around.
Tony holds him close, one arm wrapped about his waist. They hover over the harbor, facing the city. It's still raining, still an ugly gray day. Dark waves toss on the water below them, tall and menacing and capped with white foam.
To Steve, it's never looked so beautiful.
"Thanks," he says. He slides one arm about Tony's waist, returning the embrace that is currently holding him aloft with such ease.
"Kinda pushing it, weren't you?" Tony says. "I calculated you had about eight seconds left."
Steve can hear genuine worry in his voice. Normally Tony tries very hard to hide any evidence that he cares – and succeeds. The fact that he can't quite do that this time shows just how close things really were.
He wipes rain out of his eyes. "Plenty of time." He's pleased with how natural his own voice sounds. He doesn't want to Tony to know how he panicked and struggled down there, so certain that he was about to die.
"You gonna be okay?" Tony asks anxiously. "I know you've gotta be freezing your ass off, but do you need a doctor? Can super soldiers even get the bends?"
"No," Steve says. "I'll be all right." He is cold, but he can deal with that. In fact, he can deal with pretty much anything right now. Soaking wet, cold, shaking with delayed shock and reaction – all perfectly acceptable. Because those things mean he's alive.
And in point of fact, he is all right. Already his lungs are clear and he is breathing normally again. He can still taste the disgusting harbor water in his mouth, but that too will go away eventually.
"You're sure?" Tony insists.
It isn't like Tony to actually do things by the book and insist on seeing a doctor when someone is potentially hurt. Steve glances over at him, but Tony's face is hidden behind the helmet, so there is no way to see what he's thinking. "I'm sure," he says.
"Okay," Tony says. He makes no move to fly off, though, either to return to the site of the battle, or to head back to Avengers Tower.
Steve says nothing. He knows he ought to ask how the battle went, find out how they took down Graviton, check to make sure no one is injured. Yet there is something in Tony's silence that extends itself to him and makes him a part of it. Without even really being aware of it, he lets his head tilt just enough that he can rest it on one red shoulder. He can't explain why he does it. After all, it's not like he's getting any warmer by clinging to a metal suit of armor. He just knows that it feels right, that he can't think of doing anything else at that particular moment.
"Okay, did I rescue the right Steve Rogers?" Tony says, and now there's finally something other than worry in his tone. He sounds almost amused, which isn't exactly much better, come to think of it. Like all of the Avengers, Tony wields humor as a weapon. He hasn't stopped worrying about Steve; he's just chosen to come at the problem from a different angle.
"What?" Steve says, blinking stupidly.
"Because the Steve Rogers I know would be chastising me for leaving the rest of our team down there in the rain, letting them handle the clean-up. And he definitely would not be using me as a pillow right over the middle of New York Harbor where everyone can see. Especially not with the News 5 chopper on its way."
Steve picks his head up and damnit, Tony is right. Now that the danger is over, the media is descending in full force.
He sighs. Silently he chastises himself for that moment of weakness. Such a thing is permitted off the battlefield, but not here. Not now. He should know better.
He takes a deep breath, pleased at how easily the air flows into his lungs. "All right. Let's get this over with."
"You're the boss," Tony says. He shifts his grip a little. "Better hang on."
And they fly off, speeding through the rain.
Afterward there is the usual debriefing with SHIELD, the same empty promises that this time the Raft will hold Graviton, the normal banter among his team members. The only thing that's different – and it takes Steve an embarrassingly long time to realize it – is Tony. He doesn't join in the sarcasm or the banter. He clears his throat a lot like he's got something to say – but he never actually does say it. He just sits there and plays with his fingers and looks often at Steve.
Steve has rarely seen him so quiet before.
The team stops for food after the debriefing, and by the time they get back to the Tower, the sun has been down for over an hour. Not that it ever really came out. It isn't raining now, but the air is thick and humid and for once the weather forecasters seem to have it right; there is definitely more rain on the way.
In the Tower, they all go their separate ways. Steve is pretty sure Clint and Natasha will end up sharing a room tonight, but it will take them most of the evening to reach that point; they circle around each other endlessly and never more than after they've been facing a common enemy, as though they need time to find some other shared ground between them. Bruce will disappear in his lab and bury himself in his latest project, and probably still be there in the morning, fast asleep on the ratty couch he bought secondhand and refuses to replace, no matter how many loud, disparaging comments the others make about it. Thor may use Skype to call Jane and share the story of their battle with her, but he's more likely to say the hell with it and just fly out to see her.
His and Tony's post-battle routine is much simpler. There was a time when Tony would have vanished into his workshop and not surfaced for days, when Steve would have spent hours in the gym and then tried to relax by reading a book, before giving up and going out for a run instead. All that is in their past, though. Nowadays after a battle like this one, he and Tony shower together, then make love. It's their way of releasing the tension, of accepting all over again the dangers inherent in their lives, of giving thanks that they both survived.
It's not just about sex, though. At least, not for Steve. When they come together like this, it reaffirms everything he already knows – namely that this is the greatest thing that has ever happened to him, that he is deeply, irrevocably in love with Tony Stark. That losing Tony would tear him apart. And because he cannot bear to think about that kind of thing for too long, he is grateful for the way they come together on days like this, giving him the perfect opportunity to escape those dark thoughts and focus instead on what is good in his life.
Today is no exception to the pattern they established months ago. Now Tony finally finds his words, everything he didn't say after the battle. His voice is low and guttural, his breath is hot on Steve's throat. He kisses Steve with such violence that anyone else would have bruises to show for it. Again and again he sweeps his tongue into Steve's mouth, and then he sinks down to his knees and swallows Steve's cock, and Steve gasps out loud and tangles his fingers in Tony's hair.
Steve knows, maybe better than anyone else, that every day is a gift. But days like this, when he's come so close to losing everything, he treasures what he has more than ever. This life. This love. This amazing man in his arms.
Provided there is no urgent project requiring his attention, Tony is usually rather cuddly in bed. It was one of the first things Steve learned about him when they began sleeping together, and it surprised him greatly at first. Now that he knows Tony better, he understands it more. In spite of all the money and the celebrity and the fame, Tony Stark spent decades being alone. Steve very much doubts that any of his innumerable one-night stands ever got to see this side of him. It's only now, when he feels safe and secure, that he lets himself reach out – and be held in return.
Tonight, though, Tony is restless. He twitches under Steve's arm and flops onto his back. He clears his throat, coughs a little. Rolls back over to face Steve. Sighs. Clears his throat. Sighs again.
They're never going to get any sleep if this keeps up. "Okay," Steve finally says. "What's going on?"
Tony looks at him in bafflement. "What?"
Steve sits up, the sheet falling to his lap. "You're acting even weirder than usual. So tell me what's going on. Is it because of what happened today?"
"No," Tony huffs. He throws back the covers and gets out of bed. He stalks about halfway across the room, pulls on his T-shirt and boxers. For an awful moment Steve thinks he is going to keep moving and just leave altogether, but then he stops and turns. "Yes. No. It doesn't matter."
Such a blatant lie isn't like Tony, not these days, not anymore. Little alarm bells start to go off in the back of Steve's mind. Whatever's going on is more serious than he first thought. "Well, clearly it does matter, because you're upset about something."
"I'm not upset," Tony says. He looks like he's about half a second away from launching into a tirade. Then to Steve's surprise, he sort of deflates right where he's standing. His shoulders slump, and the rising fire in his eyes dims a little. He tries to smile, but it looks more like a grimace. "Well, I mean, did you miss the part where you almost died today? You were there for that, right?"
"Yeah, I was there for that," Steve says. He doesn't want to think about that, though. He never again wants to remember the horror of being so helpless, trapped so far beneath the water, unable to move or even breathe.
Still, what happened with Graviton isn't anything new for them. He doesn't understand why today should be any different. "But we've had closer calls than this one. And let's not forget that I did die when Thanos came back. It was only for nine seconds, but still."
"As if I could ever forget that," Tony says with a scowl. "And thanks so much for reminding me, by the way."
He winces a little. Bringing up Thanos was a bad idea, and not just because he worries that Tony will seize on the new subject and use it as a way of preventing him from finding out what's really wrong. Because there is definitely something wrong here. He really doesn't like the way Tony is still standing a few feet away from the bed, needing the physical distance between them. He likes even less the look in Tony's eyes. "Tony. Talk to me."
Tony just glares in response. He's never made it a secret that he dislikes it when Steve plays the soldier card and starts giving out orders. Surprisingly, though, it works this time. "It's not that you nearly died," he says with some exasperation. "I get that. It's part of our job. It's what we do."
Steve slides across the bed so he can sit on the edge of the mattress with his bare feet propped on the rail. He's somewhat relieved to see that Tony remains where he is instead of moving backward in order to maintain the distance between them. But he's still worried. "Then if it isn't me almost dying, what's the problem?"
"It wasn't…" Tony clears his throat, and swallows hard. He makes a face like he just tasted something bad. He doesn't look at Steve as he says, "It was the water."
Steve doesn't know what to do with that. Far from answering his question, Tony's response has only raised a host of new questions within his mind. And they are questions that Tony quite obviously does not want him to ask, not if his downcast eyes and nervous twitching are any indication.
But it's not for nothing that they have been together for a few months now, and Steve knows Tony, knows him. And what he knows now is that there is in fact a part of Tony that wants him to ask those questions. Because if he didn't want it, he never would have said anything at all. He would have found a way to deflect the conversation and they would have already moved on.
So Steve asks the question, the one that hangs heavily between them. "You have a problem with water?"
"No. Sort of. Well, not now, I mean, obviously yes now, but not… Fuck." Tony still isn't looking directly at him.
"I don't understand," he says. "You've been in underwater situations with us before. The suit can—"
"No," Tony says flatly. "You don't get it. Iron Man doesn't have a problem with water. Tony Stark does." Now he looks up, and Steve sees all his fear and misery, all his anger and shame, all those things he's been hiding deep within him for years. Letting no one see – until now.
Pain knifes through his chest at the sight. Normally he loves doing this, peeling back the layers that make Tony who he is, unearthing pieces of his past like glittering nuggets of buried treasure. But this thing he's stumbled onto, whatever it is, this is not treasure. This is more like a body, a rotting, stinking corpse that can only horrify when it is dragged into the light.
"Can you tell me?" he asks quietly.
Tony takes a deep breath, his shoulders rising. He clears his throat. Twitches his head to one side. "Sure, why not?"
Without being asked, he crosses the space between them and sits next to Steve on the bed. This is encouraging, but Steve knows better than to push his luck. He doesn't make a move toward Tony, just keeps his hands in his lap.
Tony bows his head and stares at the floor. Twice he clears his throat like he's going to start speaking, but he can't quite manage it. His difficulty is so obvious that Steve considers telling him that he doesn't have to do this, that whatever it is, it can wait until he's ready. Except that Tony is ready, or he wouldn't have brought it up in the first place. And if he gives Tony that way out now, he'll hate himself for it later, for being so cowardly in the face of Tony's courage.
So he sits still, and he waits, and finally Tony says, "You know they wanted me to build weapons. When they kidnapped me."
Steve nods slowly. He does know this, just as he knows immediately what Tony is talking about, despite the fact that he hasn't put a time frame or a name to his words. He is also pretty certain that he knows what Tony is going to say next.
This is his last chance to put a stop to it. He can say, It's okay, I get it now. You don't have to say anything else. But he can't. He can't take this away from Tony, take away the incredible strength Tony demonstrates by speaking the words out loud.
"I wouldn't do it," Tony says. He's breathing rapidly. His eyes are unfocused as they dart about, looking at everything but seeing nothing. At least, nothing that is right here in this room. Steve wonders what he is seeing, even as he decides that he really doesn't want to know.
Tony clears his throat again, and one hand drifts upward, nearly to the arc reactor, not quite touching it, but hovering close. "They, ah, they knocked me around a little, and then just so I knew they meant business, they…" He makes a harsh noise in the back of his throat, almost a cough. To Steve's ear, it sounds more like he's choking. "They, ah, shoved my head into a barrel of cold water. Pulled me up. And then. Again. Until I said yes." He does cough a little then, short and tense; his hand curls into a fist over the arc reactor. His eyes sweep closed as a shudder wrenches through him.
Steve tries desperately to think of how to respond to that. He's always known that Tony was tortured in Afghanistan, although he never knew the details. Part of him wishes he still did not know, that he could remain safely ignorant. The rest of him is filled with sympathy and compassion and a fierce protective love. That part of him wants nothing more than to sweep Tony into his arms and hold him tight so that no one can ever hurt him again.
Calmer now, Tony opens his eyes. "Well. That is the sad story of how little Tony Stark grew up to have a phobia about being underwater." He smiles, his lips curving in a humorless arc. "The end."
The silence between them is fraught with tension. Steve has to pick his next words very carefully. He might be a tumult of emotion right now, but he has to be mindful of what he lets show on his face. Anger at the Ten Rings is okay, but not right off the bat. Some measure of sympathy is allowed. Pity is not. Neither, for some terrible reason that he wishes he did not understand but does, is respect or admiration. Tony does not feel he deserves those things, and if Steve talks now of his bravery or how he did the best he could, Tony will only recoil and close himself off.
Before he can say anything, though, it starts to rain again. The rain strikes the windows hard, very loud in the stillness of their bedroom.
Beside him, Tony flinches like he's been shot. Even Steve jumps a little. Their eyes meet, almost guiltily.
It's enough to break the tension. They both sort of slump with reluctant laughter at their overreaction to the rain. "Great timing," Tony says wryly.
"No kidding," Steve says.
He knows what to say then. "Thank you for saving me today. I know it wasn't easy for you."
Tony shrugs a little. "Actually I didn't really think about it until after the fact. Then it kind of hit me." He glances over at Steve. "I started thinking about what it must have been like for you, and suddenly it was all about me."
Steve waits, but Tony does not follow that up with the expected joke: Well, isn't it always about me?
He takes his cue from that and remains serious. He doesn't apologize for previous missions when he's sent Iron Man into water, because he knows Tony doesn't hold that against him, and he suspects it wasn't a problem while Tony was in the suit anyway. Nor does he promise to not send him into water in the future, because they both know that in the heat of battle, you do what has to be done and your personal feelings simply don't come into play.
He says, "I was terrified." Because he really was. And because this is what they have to do. They have to talk about it, each in their own terms, yet sharing the experience. "I couldn't move. I couldn't breathe."
Tony looks at him. He's very pale, and white rings his eyes. He nods. "Yeah. Like that."
"I thought I was going to die," Steve admits. He can feel phantom pressure squeezing him, holding him still. He clenches his hands tightly in his lap, mostly just as proof that he can do it, he is capable of independent movement. "I didn't think I would make it in time."
"I didn't think they would pull me out in time," Tony says hoarsely.
Fury at the Ten Rings and what they did to Tony overrides his memory of what Graviton did to him. And it's suddenly just like Tony said – it's all about him. Steve doesn't care anymore about nearly drowning in the harbor. All he cares about is Tony imprisoned in that cave, enduring horrors no one should ever have to face – and enduring them alone.
Still, he can't say anything like that. Not yet. So instead he says, "But you saved me."
Tony doesn't say anything to that, so Steve says it for him. "But first you saved yourself."
Predictably, one side of Tony's mouth turns down, automatically rejecting this. Quickly, before he can state his denial out loud and forever put it out there, Steve adds, "I know how old-fashioned that sounds. But it's the truth. I wouldn't be here right now if it wasn't for you."
He reaches out with one hand and touches Tony's arm just above the elbow. He's learned from past experiences with nightmares that this is the best way to approach Tony when he's in one of these moods, when his physical safety is forefront in his mind. He's always assumed the arc reactor was the cause of those nightmares, but now he's not so sure. Now that he thinks back on it, remembering all those nights when Tony woke up clutching at his chest and gasping for breath, he can't help but wonder how many of those dark dreams involved barrels of cold water.
Sometimes after a nightmare, Tony refuses his offer of comfort. Tonight, to his relief, Tony responds right away, turning toward him and opening his arms for an embrace.
They do not speak. They make love again, more slowly this time. Steve kneels on the bed and kisses and licks his way down Tony's stomach. He thinks that he understands now about the need to fill his mouth with the taste of something that is not cold and dark. How the need for oxygen is not always the same as the need for air, and how easy it is to confuse the two.
When he falls asleep, Tony in his arms, it is still raining.
The rain comes down in sheets, streaking the windows. Dull gray light filters into the room, turning everything fuzzy and indistinct. Occasionally a muted roll of thunder booms in the sky.
It's seven-thirty. Time to get up.
Steve lies still, steadfastly ignoring the clock. It's not like him to be so lazy, but after yesterday, he can justify it a little by saying he's earned it. Besides, it's warm under the bedclothes, and the sound of the rain is soothing, whispering to him that he should stay right where he is.
He pulls the comforter up over his shoulder, so no part of him is exposed to the cool air in the bedroom. He'll get up in a few minutes, he tells himself.
"Mmm…doin'?" comes a sleepy mumble.
"Nothing," Steve says.
It strikes him that despite yesterday's harrowing events and their conversation last night, they both slept the night through, with no nightmares. He gives thanks for that. They aren't always so lucky, and that's just on a normal day when there is nothing to force them to recall the terrors in their past. He hopes that their luck will hold, but he's enough of a realist to know better. Sooner or later, Tony is going to dream of that cold water pouring down his throat. The only difference is, Steve knows about his fear now, and when that time comes, he will be able to react appropriately.
But last night there were no dreams, and today it's raining and he doesn't want to get up just yet. He scoots across the enormous bed and puts one arm around the shapeless lump under the covers. "Go back to sleep."
"Mmkay," Tony murmurs.
They fit together so well, Tony's back to his chest, his knee fitting just right in the bend of Tony's leg. The pillow is cold where his head lays, but he bows his head so his forehead is pressed to the nape of Tony's neck, where the dark hair is beginning to curl up in need of a trim. He breathes in the scents of sleep-warmth and the smell that is uniquely Tony.
"Warm," Tony says sleepily. He fumbles at Steve's arm where it crosses his chest, and snuggles it closer.
Steve kisses the small crescent of warm skin he can just reach with his lips. "Shh. Go back to sleep."
Tony makes another blurry sound, then his breathing evens out. He sleeps.
Steve closes his eyes.
Outside, the rain comes down.
The second time he wakes up, it's for keeps. It's lighter in here, although it's still raining. The clock now reads 8:45, and Steve knows a moment of almost-panic. He can't remember the last time he slept so late.
Tony is still asleep. He's flat on his back; he has breathing issues if he stays on his side for too long, everything in his chest too compacted then for normal respiration. One hand rests on his chest beside the arc reactor. His lips are slightly parted, his hair flattened across his forehead. It's a sight Steve's seen many times before, but today he stops and just stares for a while, committing the moment to memory. Maybe later he'll try to draw Tony like this – the machine-god turned mortal for a few brief hours each day.
Thunder rumbles in the distance. The forecast calls for it to rain all day, and suddenly Steve is glad for it. He's made a decision, although he doesn't remember actively making it. It's just there in his mind, something he knows he has to do.
The weather provides the perfect excuse for it, too. They can stay inside all day if they want, not go anywhere or do anything. Just this once, they can pretend there are no demands on their time, no world that needs saving, no heroic deeds that need to be performed. Just for today, they aren't going to be Iron Man and Captain America. Just for today, they aren't even going to be Tony Stark and Steve Rogers.
Today, they are just going to be Tony and Steve.
He looks again at Tony. But Tony's breathing is still deep and even; he is clearly going to sleep for a while yet.
That's good. That gives him time.
Steve slips out of bed and puts on the bathrobe Clint got for him on his birthday. It's red, white and blue, with a huge star on the back. It was meant as a joke, but it's actually quite comfortable and warm, and Steve likes wearing it.
The kitchen is empty at this hour; everyone else has already come and gone. Steve is glad for that. The last thing he needs right now is someone asking him what he's up to.
What he's doing is quite simple, really.
It's in Tony's nature to be generous, although at first glance it's all about material possessions with him. It's not until he's known someone for quite a while, until he feels safe enough to let his guard down, that he gives of himself. Those are the real gifts, the ones Steve treasures. His heart. His trust.
And it kills him to think that someone in Tony's past, someone he once trusted and cared about, could betray him so thoroughly. Could arrange for his kidnap and torture, could be responsible for such horrors that even now, years later, he is still affected by them. If there was a way for Steve to ensure that Tony never had to fear such a thing happening again, he would do it without hesitation.
But that kind of promise is beyond his ability to give. So he settles for doing what he can. Telling Tony often that he loves him. Doing little things for him when he thinks he can get away with it.
Bringing him breakfast in bed.
He starts a fresh pot of coffee, drops eight slices of bread into the large toaster, then forages in the refrigerator for the butter and strawberry jam. It doesn't occur to him to think that he is the one who came within eight seconds of dying yesterday, and that this shouldn't be his job.
Taking care of Tony has never been a job, after all.
Toast and coffee will be enough for Tony, but Steve needs more than that to sustain him. While he's waiting on the toast, he goes back to the freezer and pulls out some microwave pancakes. No matter how long he nukes them, they always end up thick and rubbery and sort of disgusting, but he loves them anyway, especially when they're liberally covered in maple syrup.
He eats quickly, buttering the toast in between bites of his pancakes. He rinses his plate and fork in the sink, then pours the coffee into a silver carafe. He piles the toast onto another plate, and grabs two mugs from the cupboard. Everything gets loaded onto a silver serving tray. It's far too elegant for such a simple breakfast, but Steve kind of likes that dichotomy, the same way he likes wearing this bathrobe that was just meant to be a joke. He picks up the tray, then has to set it back down again when he realizes he forgot a knife to spread the butter and jam with.
Finally he has everything he needs, and he heads back upstairs.
Tony is still asleep, although he's shifted position a little and his sleep is lighter. Steve sets the tray down on the dresser he's claimed for himself, leans in, and kisses him.
Tony comes awake with a short little inhale of breath. His eyes flutter, but do not open. He relaxes into the kiss with a smile. "Mmm, maple-y."
"Mmm, morning breath," Steve says with a grin.
One of Tony's eyes crack open. "Not my fault I'm so kissable so early."
"This is true," Steve agrees easily. He goes over to the dresser and holds the tray out like an offering. "I brought you something."
"Oh God, is that coffee I smell?" Tony sits up with a low groan, rubbing at his eyes. He looks at the contents of the tray with naked longing. "Nectar of the gods."
"Does that make me Hermes?" Steve asks. He's still smiling, and that's one of the things he loves so much about Tony – the way Tony can always make him smile.
"I dunno," Tony says as he climbs out of bed. "I'm not sure if you're suited for the job of divine courier. You're a little overqualified." He goes into the bathroom, not bothering to shut the door behind him.
He's not gone long, and when he comes out, he looks more awake. He's even managed to tame his hair somewhat, to Steve's chagrin – he thinks Tony looks adorable with bedhead.
Tony gets back into bed. "Coffee me."
Steve's sitting up against the headboard, bathrobe discarded, the silver tray resting on the mattress within easy reach. He's already got the coffee poured. He holds out the mug, and Tony takes it and wraps both hands around it. He breathes in deep, his nose right over the steam. With his eyes closed and a look of ecstasy on his face, he makes an obscenely lustful growl in the back of his throat.
"Wow," Steve says. "Do I need you to give you a few moments alone with it?"
"Hush," Tony says, his voice dreamy with appreciation. "Do not speak ill of the coffee."
Steve reaches for a piece of toast and just chuckles. Tony finally gives up smelling the coffee and settles for drinking it. Like Steve, he has the ability to drink nearly-scalding liquids without seeming to feel the burn. When they had their first fight, shortly after they began sleeping together, Tony demanded to know why they were doing this and claimed that Steve was just wasting time with him, that they didn't even have anything in common. This was the one thing Steve pointed out to him as proof that they did have something in common. The coffee-drinking thing. It was the first thing he could think of, his brain scrambling to come up with something, anything, that would prevent Tony from walking out that door and ending the best thing Steve had ever known. And it worked, too. It was just silly enough that it made Tony blink in confused surprise, and that gave Steve his chance to get through to him. He was able to explain that he already knew Tony thought he wasn't good enough for Steve, he knew that but he wanted Tony to know how wrong he was, but that the only way he would get that chance was if they kept at it.
Five months later, and they're still keeping at it.
They sit in comfortable silence. They finish the toast and drink their coffee while rain beats against the windows and lashes the skies around the Tower. It's warm and cozy, the sheet puddled in their laps. Tony leans on him, one shoulder pressed to Steve's chest. "I don't know if I should be ticked off at you for this or not."
"Why would you be ticked off?" Steve asks.
Tony just sighs and takes another sip of coffee. "I know a coddling when I'm the victim of one."
"Is that what you kids are calling it these days?" Steve says calmly. Knowing full well that Tony can feel the sudden increase in his heartbeat. Hoping like hell that Tony doesn't run, that he stays, that just this once, he will let Steve take care of him. "Back in my day we just called it breakfast in bed."
"Ah," Tony says. He doesn't speak after that, just drinks his coffee. But he doesn't sit up or move away, so the way Steve sees it, it's a victory.
They can't stay in bed all day, of course. Still, Steve prolongs the inevitable moment as long as he can. When breakfast is done and the carafe of coffee is almost empty, he sets the silver tray down on the floor and turns back to Tony with an inviting smile.
He doesn't have to ask twice.
This day might be for both of them, but right here and now, Steve makes it all about Tony. He does all those things that drive Tony wild, giving everything of himself and holding nothing back. He teases with his lips, his tongue, his hands, and when he finally lets Tony come, Tony collapses back onto the bed with a ragged groan. "Jesus God," he mumbles. He's breathing heavily, his skin sheened with sweat, his mouth wet and bruised. "I think I'm going into cardiac arrest."
Steve just chuckles a little, and lies down beside him. "There are worse ways to go."
"Oh, definitely," Tony sighs, his eyes still closed. Both his arms are spread wide, and Steve nestles into the space created by that pose, laying his head on Tony's chest.
"Mmmm." Tony flops his arm up and pats Steve's elbow. "Well done, you."
"Not so bad yourself," Steve says with a smile.
They lie there for a while until Tony gets his breath back, and a little bit after that, even. But Steve can feel the restlessness settling in, and he knows their time here is rapidly coming to a close. So before Tony can announce that he's heading down to the workshop, or start talking about his latest project, or say anything else to ruin the mood, he says, "I have an idea."
"Yeah?" Tony sounds interested. His hand lazily strokes up and down Steve's arm.
"Yeah," Steve says. In front of his eyes, the arc reactor's light is very bright. "Want to hear it?"
"No," Tony says. "You should keep your ideas to yourself." He makes a little tsk noise. "Of course I want to hear it."
"Let's go for a walk," he says.
"It's raining," Tony says.
"So?" he says.
Tony's hand stills. "You're serious?"
"Yes," Steve says simply. "I'm serious."
Tony squirms a little beneath him. "Really? I kinda had--"
Steve won't let him finish. "I want us to spend time together today," he says. He leaves it at that, although part of him would like to say more, to make sure Tony understands just how badly he wants this particular wish. But if he does that, if he pursues it any further, he will have to admit to his motives, and he's definitely not going to do that. Tony will probably figure it out anyway, so he might as well keep his secret as long as he can.
He picks his head up so he can see Tony's face. "And right now I'd like to go for a walk."
It's not exactly a guilt trip, but it is kind of a low blow, he freely admits it. Tony knows it, too, judging by the way his face screws up as he contemplates his options. And certainly Tony would be well within his rights to say no, that he has work to do, that they've already wasted half the day lying in bed, that it's well past time they got up and did something productive.
But to his pleasant surprise, Tony just blows out a sigh; Steve's chin digs into his chest as his ribcage sinks and then expands. "Oh, what the hell. You only live once, right?"
"That's what they say," Steve says solemnly. He presses his lips together to keep from smiling.
Tony eyes him narrowly. "Is this just an excuse to get me wet? Like an object lesson saying hey, look, water isn't bad?"
Steve bites his lip. And there it is. His little secret lasted all of ten seconds. He ought to have known better than to expect it to last. But since Tony doesn't appear angry, he refuses to let himself be bothered by it. "Maybe," he says, keeping his tone light. "But mostly I was thinking it was an excuse to get you naked. Get you soaked to the bone first, then come back here and peel the wet clothes off you and warm you up the best way possible."
"We can go stand on the balcony for that," Tony says.
Steve sits up. "Come on," he said. "Let's go." When Tony hesitates, he adds, "It'll be fun."
Tony groans theatrically, but he sits up. "You're lucky I love you so much, Rogers. You know how long it's been since I let someone sweet talk me into doing something like this?"
"Wasn't it just last week?" Steve says as he slides off the bed. "When I got you to go to that art gallery with me?"
Tony rolls his eyes a little. He shakes his head. "Get your ass moving, before I change my mind."
"Sir, yes, sir," Steve says with a grin.
They shower and get dressed ("Really? Seems kind of pointless," Tony grumbles good-naturedly), then head out. Happy drives them to Central Park and drops them off, a disapproving look on his face. He doesn't say anything, though, as he stands beside the door, rain beading up on his hair.
"Thanks," Steve says, and Happy nods stiffly.
"The things I do for you," Tony says, and they start walking.
The sky overhead is dull and gray. The rain is cool, but not cold enough to be uncomfortable as it runs down the back of his collar and soaks into his coat. It's not a downpour, but it comes down steadily; it won't be long before he's wet to the skin.
He thrusts his right hand into his coat pocket and reaches for Tony's hand with his left. Their fingers meet, then lace together.
They don't talk as they walk through the park. This is still relatively new for them, this state where the silence between them is comfortable and easy, where even Tony is not driven to fill it with words. It's not that Steve doesn't enjoy listening to Tony ramble on about something, or the way his speech comes faster and faster as he warms to his topic, but today he appreciates the silence, this chance to just spend time with Tony.
The rain continues to come down. They walk on, and Steve feels more relaxed than he has in a while. He keeps stealing little glances over at Tony, sometimes hiding his smile, sometimes not bothering. Occasionally Tony looks back at him, slightly bemused, but he doesn't say anything. He just lets Steve lead him through the park.
Steve has no particular destination in mind. Central Park has changed a lot from the days when he remembers it. In his lifetime it went from a place of degradation and neglect to a beautiful oasis of greenery and life amid the chaos of the city. He even managed to find work for a while on one of the city crews, until the constant exposure to the new plants and trees being brought in aggravated his asthma so badly that he was forced to quit.
Now, even on a rainy Thursday afternoon, the park is full of people. Few of them glance up at Steve and Tony as they walk past, and the ones who do don't seem to recognize them. No one bats an eye at two men holding hands. This is New York, after all. They could have dragon wings and tails and probably no one would look twice at them.
They walk on, and Steve is thoroughly soaked now. Tony is too, rain dripping off the ends of his hair and streaming down his face. He catches Steve looking at him and he frowns a little. "What?"
"Nothing," Steve says. He can't help smiling. Tony doesn't seem bothered one bit by the rain. He knew of course, that it would be fine – after all, it's not like Tony freaks out whenever it rains. But he is still pleased to see that everything is okay.
He wants things to be more than okay, though. He wants this to be a day they can both remember with pleasure. A day when they were nothing but happy and in love.
Tony shakes his head in a Lord give me strength expression, then tugs at Steve's hand. "Come on. I don't know about you but I've about had my fill of getting wet for now. We can take shelter under there."
Up ahead, a bridge arches across the path they are on. Even in the dreary gray rainlight, it is beautiful, all graceful curves and swooping lines. It puts Steve in mind of something out of a Tolkien book, and fills his head with fanciful thoughts.
At least, that's going to be his excuse later.
He knows exactly what to do now, what this day needs. Smiling a little in anticipation, he trots ahead a little, left arm stretched behind him. Just before they reach the shelter of the bridge, he plants his feet. As Tony hurries to catch up, Steve raises his arm, their still-linked hands now high above his head, and gives Tony a good, solid spin.
Tony is caught completely off guard. He turns in place – he's helpless not to – but he stumbles and his feet tangle in themselves. As he ducks under Steve's arm, he lets out a very undignified yelp. It's probably the most adorable noise Steve's ever heard him make, and he bursts out laughing.
He leans back a little, and pulls Tony toward him. Tony makes another completely ridiculous spluttering noise, and then he's right there, soaking wet and utterly bewildered, both hands planted on Steve's chest to arrest his fall. Steve puts one arm around his waist and takes hold of his hand and that easily, they're dancing.
"What just… I don't…" Tony still looks baffled. "Are we…?"
"Shush," Steve says. "Just go with it."
He knows it's silly. He doesn't care. Yesterday he came within eight seconds of dying, and once upon a time Tony nearly died in a dark cave. But they lived. Against all odds, they survived. Fate has led them to this day, to this place, to this moment in the rain.
Why the hell shouldn't they dance?
He doesn't exactly know what he's doing, so he just sort of steps a little, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. After another moment of shocked surprise, Tony seems to snap out of it. He even smiles. "Okay," he murmurs. And then his free hand comes up to press against Steve's back. He ducks his head and leans on Steve's shoulder, closing his eyes and burying his nose in Steve's jacket.
They dance, and the rain is almost coming sideways now, drenching them both, and Steve has never felt so light-hearted or just plain happy. They move together without having to talk about it, just as they do on the battlefield or in bed, so in harmony with each other that no words are necessary. And when they stop, when Tony turns his face up to the rain and kisses him, Steve thinks his heart might just burst from pure emotion.
Steve wraps both arms around him, and they stumble backward, beneath the bridge, still kissing. As they pass beneath the curtain of water that pours over the side of the bridge, his shoulders jerk up and he makes a little noise into Tony's mouth. Tony flinches when the water hits his face, maybe a little more violently than another person might, but he does not stop kissing Steve, and he does not let go. And that right there is all the proof Steve needs that today is indeed going to be a happy memory for them both.
He hopes it will be enough, that the next time Tony feels the dread helplessness of cold water he will think of this moment and not the cave. He hopes it will help Tony battle his demons, maybe even just a little.
He hopes Tony knows how very much Steve loves him.
Then they are under the bridge, soaked to the skin but at last sheltered from the downpour. "I love you," he says.
"Shut up," Tony says. He takes Steve's face in both his hands, fingers curling over Steve's ears and twining in his wet hair. "Just go with it, remember?" He kisses Steve's mouth, his cheek, the bridge of his nose, having to rise up on his toes a little in order to accomplish this last. "Also, I love you, too."
Steve bends his head and kisses Tony. He takes his time about it, too. Why shouldn't he?
After all, it's going to rain the rest of the day.