Four Times Steve Said I Love You...
Tony was so angry he was shaking. Literally, physically shaking. He clenched his hands into fists and watched them vibrate as a dozen SHIELD agents took one look at the meltdown about to occur and hastily abandoned the gym. “What is wrong with you?”
Steve was watching him warily. “There's nothing wrong-”
“You shouldn't – have you lost your mind?” Tony could hear himself talking through a fog. He sounded pissed, he thought, oddly cheerful about it. He sounded like Pepper, that low voice she got when he'd truly fucked up. The overly-precise enunciation when she wanted to make sure he understood exactly how fed up with his shit she had gotten. Probably half the reason they'd eventually broken up was that he'd actually found that voice kind of a turn-on and she couldn't actually bring herself to kill him with her bare hands. “You shouldn't have done that. Fury is – he's actually furious, which is appropriate but lacks the edge of irony I like in my catastrophes.”
“This is not a catastrophe.” Steve had found himself a voice of his own. It's the “if I speak patiently enough at Tony eventually he will stop flipping out” voice. It had a success rate of less than twenty percent for anyone who wasn't Rhodey or Bruce, but Tony admired the effort. “Fury and I had a disagreement. It has been resolved. You need to calm down, Tony.”
“He was going to take the Avengers away from you,” Tony said, and okay, yeah, he could hear something like panic slipping in at the edges there. “He would have taken the shield, the costume – he was going to take Captain America away from you.”
“I would have liked to see him try,” Steve said flatly.
Tony closed his eyes and sucked in air. “You can't do that. Not ever again.”
“What would you have had me do, Tony?” Steve sounded honestly confused and a little exasperated, none of the anger or blame in his voice that should have been there. “Tell me what you think I should have done here.”
“You should have let him cut me from the team!” Tony exploded then, the fear and guilt that had kept him on a manic high for most of the day suddenly finding an outlet. “I was never supposed to be an Avenger anyway-”
“You were the first!”
“I was an accident!” Tony jabbed a finger in Steve's face. “I was a fuck-up, I was a mistake. I should have been dead in that desert and the only reason I'm here at all is because there was no one else. But there's War Machine now and you can't blame Fury for wanting to cut out the mentally unstable drunk for someone he can trust. Rhodey would be – he'd be a good Avenger,” Tony said fiercely. “He'd be good for the team, he can follow orders and he's not likely to let his ego get in the way of what's right and he's never single-handedly armed an entire fucking terrorist cell. You should have let Fury cut me. It would have been better.”
“To hell with better,” Steve said. “Rhodes is a fine soldier, but we have a couple of those already. His loyalty to the Avengers is never going to be higher than third. We don't need the Air Force trying to get their hands on us, we're already too beholden to SHIELD. We already have a patriotically themed member, and mostly he isn't you.”
Tony scrubbed a hand over his face and left it there so he didn't have to see Steve's expression, so earnest and strangely gentle. “Steve, you know that last point is the biggest vote in his favor, right?”
“Not for me,” Steve said quietly. “Not for the others. You helped make this team. You've had our backs and we'll have yours. If Fury wants you out then he doesn't have an Avengers Initiative anymore.”
“You can't do that,” Tony said. “It's not worth it, Steve, we need Captain America, we need the Avengers-”
“We need you.”
“You don't. You really, really don't. I am-” Tony spread his hands a little helplessly, “so completely expendable here.”
“Not to me,” Steve said. “Never to me, Tony, I won't let them take this away from you and I sure as hell won't let them take you away from me.”
“I don't – what are you doing, Steve? This is not the hill for you to die on, do you get that?”
“You are loyal,” Steve said forcefully. “You're brave, you're committed, you're so smart it's scary and so self-sacrificing that I'm terrified to take my eyes off you. You aren't a drunk and you aren't unstable and your ego has never once gotten in the way of doing what's right out in the field. Stane sold weapons to the Ten Rings and you stopped it when you found out. You keep us human, can you – do you know where we'd be without you? Bruce? Me?”
“Better,” Tony said, desperate and a little sick at how fucking true it was.
“You are my best friend. You are my partner. I would die for you, you idiot, what makes you think a temper tantrum from Fury is going to stop me from fighting for you-”
“Because you're going to lose everything, he was going to take the costume away-”
Hands grabbed him by the shoulder and shook him. “I lost everyone I ever loved once, what makes you think I would ever risk that again over a spangly costume that I could easily replace?”
“Excuse you,” Tony said. “That costume is a work of goddamn genius. I dare you to replace it.”
Steve shook him again, more gently this time. “You are an idiot,” he said, and his voice was warm and his eyes were crinkling at the corners. “You are brilliant and brave and so fucking stupid sometimes.”
“Swear jar,” Tony said automatically.
“We are on the Helicarrier, Tony, the bots can't hear me-”
“Everyone you love, huh?”
Steve's hands tightened on his shoulders for a moment before he let go and carefully, slowly, raised them to cup Tony's face instead. “If Fury had made me choose, I would have chosen you.”
“And I'm supposed to be the idiot,” Tony said to the ceiling. “I – I'm not right for you. I'm not good like you.”
“You make me better.”
He could feel his heart kicking against his ribs, the sharp edge of fear making his breaths even shallower than usual. But for the first time since Fury had called him into his office and told him he was no longer an Avenger, he felt something like hope curl warm and soft in his chest. “I don't know what I'm supposed to do here.”
“Anything you want, Tony. This isn't – there's no script. There's no supposed to. Everything I just said will still be true tomorrow no matter what happens next, I prom-”
Tony stretched up on his toes and slid his mouth against Steve's, catching Steve's words on his tongue, swallowed the surprised puff of breath. Steve's lips were dry and he kissed Tony back instantly, deeply, almost desperately.
“I won't let anyone take this away,” Steve ground out when Tony pulled away for air. “I love you, I love you-”
“Stay behind me,” Cap said.
His hand was warm where it was pressed against Tony's chest, fingers splayed out until the top of one was actually pressing against the casing of the arc reactor. Tony had to steel himself against the urge to flinch – it was stupid, this was Steve, for god's sake, and while there was a very real chance he would end up ripping Tony's heart out, he wasn't going to be doing it with his hands – as he grabbed Cap's wrist. “The hell with that,” he said flatly. “You're not made of vibranium. I'm not using you as a human shield.”
There was another explosion, big enough to make the ground shake a little and Tony let go of Steve to raise his arms as a cloud of dust and debris billowed around them. The impact stung his arms and back, but they were far enough away that his suit jacket was protection enough.
Steve plucked a thumb-sized piece of jagged glass out of Tony's hair. “I'm not made of vibranium, no. But the shield is and my armor was designed by the smartest man I know and if I walk out there I have a chance of being safe.”
The urge to roll his eyes was almost irresistible, but his exhaustion at having the same fight they always seemed to have in this situation was heavy enough to push it back. “Whereas I am going to fling myself head-first into a fire because God knows if I'm not in the armor I'm suddenly fucking useless-”
“Because I love you,” Cap said. He tossed the glass away with an angry flick of his fingers. “Because I would protect anyone, but especially you. Because the sooner you get safely to the armor, the sooner you can get in this fight and probably end it. Because the thought of you being hurt when I could have easily prevented it makes me sick to my stomach, but mostlybecause I love you.” He clenched his free hand into a fist. “You can't keep using that against me. Not like this.”
“Goddamnit, Cap, this-.” Tony stumbled a little as the ground shook again and this time didn't try to pull away when Steve grabbed his arm. “All right, I know, fine, just-”
Something exploded almost directly above them. Tony cursed and Steve pulled him in close against Steve's chest with one hand as he raised the shield over their heads like the world's most expensive umbrella with the other. Bits of brick and mortar clanged against the vibranium like a hailstorm and Steve winced when a piece of rubble slammed against his back.
Tony curled his fingers against Steve's chest. The shield wasn't big enough to completely cover them both so of course Steve was leaving himself exposed. “All right,” he said quietly. “Get me to the armor. Let's end this.”
“I-” Tony gulped in a breath, trying to steady his voice as much as to get some air back into his lungs. “Steve, I-”
Steve stretched out next to him, lean muscle and golden skin, muscles rippling as he moved. Sweat was beading on his shoulders and running slowly down the curve of his spine. “Hmm?”
Tony closed his eyes and tried to ease the sudden frantic beat of his heart. He could do this. He could. And even if he couldn't, he would because Steve wanted this, Steve deserved this much from him. “I- you have to know,” he said, as he opened his eyes and found Steve watching him.
Steve caught Tony's hand in his and tugged until Tony lay down on the rumpled sheets, curled up with barely the space for air between them, their breath warm on each others' mouths, foreheads touching.
Desperation was a burn in his throat. “You have to know,” Tony said again because he was broken, he was a fucking coward, he was – he was not doing this right-
Steve's words were pressed against Tony's mouth, soft and chaste and infinitely patient.“It's okay,” Steve said. “I do know. And I love you even if you can't say it.”
When Tony woke up, there was an assassin in the room.
He blinked, letting his eyes adjust to the dim pre-dawn light. He swallowed a couple of times, thought wistfully of the coffee JARVIS wouldn't start brewing for a few more hours yet and pushed himself up on his elbows. "All right. Lockpicks or air vents?”
Bucky Barnes snorted and slumped further down in the chair by the door. “You need to think a little more creatively, Stark.”
Lacking creativity was not something he was normally accused of. Not even daylight yet and he'd already shaken up the routine. “Allow me to rephrase. Why the fuck are you spying on me in my sleep, you creeper?”
“Steve asked me to.”
Tony felt one eyebrow try to climb slowly over the top of his head. “Steve. Our Steve. Upstanding. Moral. Virtuous. Insanely possessive beneath his veneer of blushing innocence Steve, sent you to spy on his naked boyfriend without said boyfriend's consent or knowledge. His boyfriend who hates you.”
“As far as I know, you're wearing long-johns and ski pants under there. And if you try to prove me wrong I'll break every bone in your face.”
“Steve won't like that. This face is responsible for a solid fifteen percent of his sex life.”
The sound Bucky made could best be described as strangled. “Oh, god. It's like listening to someone talk about fucking your adorable baby brother.”
“Your baby brother has thighs like tree trunks and is hung like a -”
“This is why I hate you, Stark.”
“He's still adorable, though,” Tony allowed. He pushed himself up to sit against the pillows, keeping one hand on the sheet as he did so, because giving the Winter Soldier an eyeful was definitely on the list of top ten ways to get castrated in a hurry. “Okay, so now that we've gotten the obligatory posturing out of the way, why are you really here?”
“Red Skull's back.”
Adrenaline pulsed through Tony's system, followed immediately by a heavy weight of dread. “Steve. Is he-”
“Fine. For now.”
“Did he send you here for back up? Does he need-”
“Skull said he'd kill everyone Steve loved. Had a whole list. Got pretty descriptive with some of it.” Bucky crossed his fingers over his belly and regarded Tony with hooded eyes. “Steve almost lost it. He half begged me to come get you. The other half was definitely an order.”
“And you did? Barnes, I'm touched. I can feel your love.”
“Oh, fuck you,” Bucky said without heat. “Cap can't fight the Skull if he's scared out of his mind. This way he's just angry.”
“He wanted you out of the fight, too,” Tony said, reluctant approval coloring his voice. “Let the two of us baby-sit each other while he faces down with a genocidal lunatic.”
Bucky snorted. “Like either of us wouldn't see through that.”
Tony grinned. “Like either of us is any good at following orders.”
Bucky cracked his knuckles. “I had to go through more than a few of his people to get here. And there will be more coming.”
“You've warned everyone?”
“Wilson and Carter are under protective guard at SHIELD. I've got people keeping an eye on Steve's old neighbors. Tasha and Clint are with Doctor Banner, but don't ask me who's protecting who there.”
Tony forced a heavy breath out through his teeth. “So. You wanna super-hero team-up and go cave in Red Skull's face?”
Bucky reached down beside his chair and grabbed a bundle of clothes which he tossed onto the bed. “Thought you'd never ask.”
Tony wriggled into shorts and slid out of bed. “JARVIS, get the Quinjet warmed up. And start some coffee, I cannot fight Nazis without coffee, it's cruel and inhumane.”
“For you or them, sir?”
“Smartass,” Tony said through his shirt.
“Steve also gave me a message for you,” Bucky said casually.
Tony yanked the shirt down enough that he could give Bucky a dark glower over the collar. “Is it some guilt-ridden apology?”
“I know for a fact that you can fight with broken bones, Stark. Keep pushing me.”
Tony snorted. “So then it's some kind of if I don't make it back, tell him I love him bullshit.”
Bucky wobbled his head back and forth. “Yeah, pretty much.”
“After we're done with the Skull I'm going to kick his ass.”
...and One Time Tony Said It First
Steve's arms were wrapped around Tony's thighs before he realized what was happening and he was swept up against Steve's chest, lifted several feet off the ground by the sheer enthusiasm of Steve's embrace. Tony grabbed at his shoulders for balance even though he knew by now that even if Steve dropped him, he'd never let Tony fall.
Tony ignored the throngs of SHIELD agents surrounding them and the terrible music being pumped out of someone's laptop and the obviously handmade banner draped across the wall behind the snack table that proclaimed, in slightly crooked letters: “Happy Tenth Anniversary!”
Instead he looked down into Steve's face at the broad smile waiting for him. “Hey, there, soldier.”
“Ten years,” Steve said, all deep pride and vibrant satisfaction. “Did you ever think that first day on the Hellicarrier that the Avengers would have lasted ten years?”
Tony hadn't, actually. He'd expected them to crash and burn pretty quickly, but he knew better than to say so out loud. “I remember another first day on the Hellicarrier. How long ago was that?”
Steve gifted him with a smile that made his throat tight and his eyes burn. “Six years, in case either of us was counting. But I knew that was going to last. The team was... well.” He rocked Tony back and forth a little and grinned at him. “We pulled together in the end, though.”
“You idiot,” Tony said fondly. “You realize that no one in their right mind ever thought you and I were going to last?”
“I did,” Steve said and he sounds so smug Tony could kiss him.
“You don't count, you were obviously delusional at the time.” Tony squirmed as one of Steve's hands slowly inched up the back of his leg to cup his ass. “Are you seriously groping me in front of all the baby SHIELD agents?”
“Maybe I just need a better grip,” Steve said innocently. He squeezed.
Tony, threw his head back, choked on laughter. “Oh my god,” he said, scandalized and delighted. “It's official. Someone mark the calendar. As of this very second I have officially corrupted Captain America beyond all redemption.”
Steve loosened his grip and let Tony slide slowly down his chest until his feet hit the floor. He his arms wrapped around Tony, his hands settling comfortably into place on Tony's hips like they belonged there. “We were always going to make it,” Steve said confidently and Tony wanted to shake his head because he remembered awkward silences and fumbling touches and angry words. He wanted to but he couldn't because even if he hadn't known it then, he knew it now. They were going to last.
“God, I love you,” Tony said as Steve's arms convulsed around him and the words hung there for a second, effortless and perfect for all that he'd had no idea he was going to say them out loud. “You-” he was shaking a little, but he couldn't stop grinning. “I fucking love you, Steve. I love you and we are – we are going to have an anniversary party so much better than this. We're going to have fireworks, we're going to have fountains-”
“We're going to last,” Steve said and kissed him.