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The nightmare that made his life change for the better happened a while ago. It didn't change the reality of it.

Back in Afghanistan, his kidnapping in the desert, the arc reactor had been the first thing to build to save him after he "agreed" to build the Jericho for the terrorists, so that he and Yinsen could finish their project and get the hell out of there.

Each day was long and sometimes Tony was a little scared, scared that one of their captors would feel impatience and punish them. Sometimes this impatience was nearly deadly, if the waterboarding and beating were anything to go by. He'd seen the pure hatred and uncaring eyes, some worse than others.

It was three months of fear, impending death, and risks.

Three days and a bit over two hours before they were set to initiate their plan, Tony was shot because he tripped over one of the men's shoes. The round hit his left leg, right above the knee. He could tell whoever was in charge was furious that the building was put to hold, easy to tell by the screaming in foreign languages in between moans and flares of pain as Yinsen told him to hold on and don't fall asleep, you'll be fine…

Tony woke up four days later with his leg heavily bandaged and doped up on whatever painkillers they had left that they'd saved for the arc reactor pain.

With Yinsen practically holding him up and his leg and chest in the worst agony that he could have ever imagined, those last few days before the escape were by far some of the worst.

And then when it was time for the armor to be put to use, his leg splinted in the metal, Yinsen looked at him with eyes of dread and sympathy.

"It's infected…very badly, Stark. We ran out of antibiotics far too soon."

Tony said he'll fix it, he always did.

Yinsen died, Tony escaped after he killed most of everyone there. He made a crutch of the bent metal of armor and stumbled through the desert, wanting to scream with each step of pain. He heard a roar, a plane, and he gave up. He didn't care if it's friendlies or not. He just wanted to be done. By the time the military plane touched down, Tony was almost crawling and wow, Rhodey was there, hugging him and shouting out for things he needed and sound good to Tony. He was crying, he thinks, whether in happiness or in pain, he wasn't sure.

The last thing he did before accepting sleep was tell Rhodey the arc reactor was safe because he saw the horror in his eyes, and then let the cold darkness take him away from the hot desert and pain.

*

When he wakes up, Rhodey is next to his bed, eyes red rimmed like he'd been crying too. He doesn't know what happened or how long he's been out or where he is, but when he tries to move something is wrong.

His eyes drift down to his legs and through the blanket…he sees. Where his leg should be, is nothing but a lump around his thigh. He makes a choking sound through the oxygen mask and looks to Rhodey who looks so sad for him that it makes him feel sheer panic.

Rhodey's telling him to calm down, there's arms holding him but all Tony can do is scream himself hoarse, lungs burning and his chest feeling like it was about to split open, and then he's down under again.

When he's more lucid and capable of not screaming and thrashing, the doctors explain. The gunshot wound had been too infected, in between the lack of care and the blood loss (he discovers Yinsen's stitches had been undone and he'd walked through that desert almost bleeding out and he hadn't even noticed) there was no choice but to amputate the leg from above the knee and down.

They start talking about post pain and options about prosthetics or wheelchair but Tony doesn't want to hear it, he just wants to go home. And he wants to talk to Pepper.

"Rhodey, sugar bear, as much I love to hear your voice, I could really use some Pepper right now. And a glass of something stronger than water please—"

"Not happening, my man. No drinks for you, but I'm going to get Pepper."

Rhodey calls Pepper for him and Pepper cries for about ten minutes and Tony keeps saying he's okay and makes really dumb jokes. She asks, carefully, if he wants her to arrange for a specialist to give him a few prosthetic options because thank God, she knows he won't want a wheelchair.

He says yes, because he needs to start fixing this.

He has to stay at the military base hospital for nearly three weeks. It's horrible, and Tony's climbing the walls to get out. Finally, though, Tony is released to go back to California, and they fly to the United States from Germany. Safer ground. Familiar ground. Pepper looks like she was crying and he makes a smart ass comment, and that seems to help tell her that he was okay.

So he calls a press conference right away just as he planned, says hello to Obadiah (who doesn't know, Tony doesn't want him to know) with only crutches and Rhodey guiding him. They put a base prosthetic there so that he can keep his…predicament a secret until he feels right otherwise, and all the press know is that he injured his leg. The whole thing leaves him sweating and he wants to collapse because it hurts, the stitches were almost ready come out but it was so sore on the bottom of his stub.

And now he's shutting down the weapons system, effective immediately. It gives him the best feeling, because he knows this was right.

He builds the suit, better this time (one specially made for his missing leg, it's the most comfortable it's felt since in there) and he goes to physical therapy and makes plans. Before he could even wish to get any farther with his progress with SI, he learns of Obadiah's under-the-table dealing, and it all clicks into place. Obadiah Stane had arranged for his death from the beginning to get rid of him, knowing he wouldn't go along if he found out about the dealing, playboy rich asshole or not.

So he goes back to the Middle East to free villages and destroy his company's weapons. He tells Pepper and right when it starts to come down and they are about to win, Obadiah takes his arc reactor and leaves him for dead, paralyzed and alone.

He doesn't have any choice but to crawl to elevator and the rest of the way to the lab, where the spare arc reactor awaits in its glass case of "Proof Tony Stark Has a Heart".

He saves the day eventually, almost dies again. He doesn't get the girl because as much as he wants to get it over with and kiss Pepper and tell her how he feels, it's not the time. Tony has too much to do. He has a mission to finish.

*

The next two-ish years leading up to the alien invasion don't matter except that he starts dating Pepper and it's great, and it's simultaneously the worst and best time. Tony tries, tries so hard not think about his leg because it just makes him feel horrible because holy shit, it's gone. Once the deal with Obadiah ends, he's left to deal with it without the adrenaline of needing to fix what he broke. It's bad at first, and worse when he realizes he's dying of palladium poisoning.

Pepper helps, when he confesses that it is a problem. She says she's proud of him admitting it, and she takes a jog with him nearly every day to keep his leg muscles in shape, and does other things to help him Tony wouldn't have imagined someone doing this for him, ever.

"Tony, just because you've made some mistakes, doesn't mean no one will forgive you and you have to be alone. Come with me. I need to get out of here, some fresh air. So do you."

"Aw, Pep, don't make me get pit stains on this shirt..."

He finishes Stark Tower, he's planning to release the information that his leg was amputated and there is brand new and improved prosthetic prototypes about to be distributed. All those plans are put on hold when Phil Coulson comes to the Tower with information about the Tesseract (he knows about his leg, too, Tony can tell, but he doesn't say anything about it).

"How is your leg, Mr. Stark?"

"Fine and dandy, Coulson."

"Right," he says, oh so convincingly.

So Tony meets the host of a green rage monster, two Norse gods, and argues with Captain America (in the flesh), saves NYC and almost dies. Again. Pepper is not thrilled about this, but it doesn't matter because they're both okay. Coulson's okay, too. Not dead and all. Tony finds the cards, gives them to Steve, and tells him Coulson is missing those by now. Steve looks at him weirdly, appreciatively. It's weird because Steve shouldn't like him. Tony didn't really do anything to deserve a friendship card from Captain America.

"Thank you, Mr. Stark."

"Mr. Stark's my father. Tony."

"Then can I be Steve?"

"…Cap and Steve are acceptable to me."

He knows that after that he'll be more than a consultant to build stuff and fight a few terrorists in the east. He and Pepper know that it's about to become more dangerous for Tony as Iron Man. Tony isn't a sort of man to let a weakness drag him down. It isn't in his genetics, or his ego, or whatever pushes him to show everyone (maybe a bit over exaggeratedly) that he's as strong as he ever would be even if he isn't close to that at all.

He could have gone his whole life without anyone else but a classified group of doctors, Rhodey, and Pepper knowing about his problem, although some of SHIELD knowing was an accident. Well, he has two "problems". One is an addition to his body, his terrible privilege keeping him alive. The other is that something was taken away from him and no matter how genius he is he won't get it back.

He doesn't anticipate the Avengers. Or rather, him actually getting to know them. Like being friends with them, more or less. After the Chitauri invasion, and after the repairs that he makes to Stark Tower, they move in, except for Thor, he's still in Asgard, but when he comes back, Tony's ready for him. It takes a while, since he renovates several floors into housing quarters and they aren't totally convinced in moving into his place until Fury ordered it officially.

He learns pretty quickly their quirks and good things. Like Clint's nearly deaf, Natasha actually despises spiders and Steve's a virgin (ha). But Bruce is an awesome cook and Steve can almost beat Tony in crossword puzzles and that's a very hard thing to accomplish, thank you.

"No fucking way. You did not…that's impossible."

"Tony, you won. What's the problem?"

"You…almost beat me."

"Steve, he's a genius, don't get him started about people beating him at things…" Natasha sighs as Tony glares at the crossword puzzle.

He doesn't tell any of them about problem #2, but problem #1 is too crucial to his wellbeing to keep in the dark. Besides, SHIELD knows and he'd rather tell them himself instead of a flat, monotone report given to them.

Four months after they move in, Pepper breaks up with him. Tony understands, when he flies off she worries and it kills her. It's not a fight. They don't yell, they don't seethe. Pepper kisses Tony, tells him to keep calling her because they're still best friends at the end of the day. It's tense for a while, but then soon after it's better than before. He loves Pepper, loves her so much, and he's glad he has her as a friend. Except its a little different, a little lonelier because he had a special someone to come home and crawl into bed with and sleep for a month.

Tony deals, like he always does.

Maybe that pushes him to actually participate in getting to know his team. He may or may not have felt a little lonely.

He gets better with teamwork, though. Even if that means he and Natasha converse in foreign languages to piss off Clint or he and Clint and prank and he and Bruce do science. Tony likes it, likes how even though he complains they drag him from his lab and have movie nights or Texas Hold 'Em poker.

It takes the longest to get used to Steve. Tony's been considerably rude, as he usually is, but between Steve's perfectness and his kind of irrational resentment towards him due to daddy-didn't-love-me issues, it was near impossible.

One day, Steve gets blown to the top, making a remark of how Howard must have taught him manners, and Tony loses it. That day became known in Tony's mind as "That One Time I Punched Captain America".

It didn't even leave a mark and Tony's pretty sure he broke his hand.

Later, though, Jarvis tells Tony that Steve is having a nightmare and he's the nearest to his floor. That's a lie, by the way, but Jarvis is mean and knows Tony needs to get over himself (and so does Steve, he's mean too, shut up).

Steve is thrashing and shivering so harshly Tony first thought he was having a seizure. It's hard to wake him up, because Tony's not dumb enough to get close and risk maybe being crushed.

He starts out saying it normally but he's screaming Steve's name and "it's okay, you're in New York, WAKE UP" by the time Steve jerks awake. His eyes are wild, unfocused. Tony knows what he's feeling, he's had plenty of nightmares similar to his from the wormhole.

Tony talks about things, really random things until he calms down. Steve says thank you, earnestly, and Tony feels relieved that they've made the first step.

Okay and after that they're practically sprinting with friendship, according to Pepper.

Steve's nice, understanding. He should be the first one Tony should tell.

He's not.

*

Bruce realizes problem #2 as an accident one day.

It's dumb, because Tony's sitting in Iron Man boxers in the lab. He takes off his prosthetic easily and quickly so that he can rest his stub and he hears a choking sound. He whips around and sees Bruce sputtering on his coffee.

"Tony-"

"What?" he said defensively, playing it cool. "Never seen a man take off his leg before?"

"You said you injured your leg a while ago and you had a limp, as everyone could see. You didn't say you lost your leg entirely." He said incredulously, walking over. Tony trusts Bruce and doesn't hide his leg as he examines it from a few feet away, but his heart is making weird frantic jumps behind the arc reactor.

"I didn't lose it entirely. I have my thigh left. Which is good, because the more thigh you have, the less awkward sex is." He winks.

There's a beat of silence, and Bruce shakes his head and smiles in that way he does. "Should have told me."

"I was going to."

"I know. But you have to tell the rest of the team, Tony. You know that."

"I will, honey bear. I have you to help me now, don't I?"

"Not carrying you."

"The Hulk will if I ask nicely." He shakes a finger.

"No, he'll throw you if you ask nicely."

"He loves me."

"Whatever, Tony." He rolls his eyes. "Why don't you show me your prosthetic leg? I might be able to give you a few pointers."

"I thought you weren't that kind of doctor." Tony squints at him.

"In the area I was in, there were a lot of bomb victims who lost limbs. I tried to help with their pain and I learned a few things."

"Will do. Have at it, green bean." The engineer gingerly hands him the leg and stands up a little straighter. "I'm going to rewrap my leg."

"Don't call me that."

"I love you, green bean."

"Tony, I swear to God-"

Bruce is his favorite for lots of reasons.

*

Natasha, he knows for sure, has a pretty damn good idea of his situation. After all, she's a super spy and was his pretend assistant when he was dying of palladium poisoning. His leg had been in agony from both the poison effects and the phantom pain, so he probably hobbled around and gripped his leg enough for her to guess.

At one point, shortly after they come back from a mission, he goes to the main kitchen for a snack and promptly falls to the kitchen floor. Whatever it came from, his stub erupts into pain and he grips it harshly. There's no Pepper to get him anything and Bruce is asleep so he could maybe have Jarvis wake him—

"Stark? Stark, what the hell?" A surprisingly gentle feminine hand is rolling him over onto his back as he gasps harshly. "Are you injured?"

"No." he scrambles for his leg. "My leg…it's just sore, is all."

"Looks more than sore to me." She glares. "Can I get you up?"

"Couch."

She nods and helps him get his balance on his right leg, stumbling to the couch. Natasha keeps her grip firm and steady despite Tony's ungraceful struggles and she lays him on the couch. He tries to wave her away when she starts to reach for it.

"I can help, Stark. I won't cut it off."

He almost chokes on his laughter. "No need, honey. Already gone."

She blinks slowly at him and then yanks up his jeans pant leg to the prosthesis only covered by a sock on the bottom to resemble his foot. "You stupid asshole."

"Yeah, yeah, can we save the lecture for later?" he groans again at another flare.

"Fine. What do you need?"

"There's a heating pad and a towel in a drawer in the kitchen. Put the towel under warm water and heat up the heating pad, bring it back to me, yadda yadda." He tries not to curl into himself again and instead fumbles to take off the fake leg.

Natasha nods, swiftly leaves to her request, and is back in a minute. Tony reaches for the things, but Natasha narrows her eyes and pushes him back. "I'll do it."

"Why?"

"Because if we're ever on a mission, or you're incapable of doing this yourself, I need you to know that I can help." The words are both gentle and terrifying. Her hands are carefully placed as she wrapped the stub in the heating pad and towel. "Do you have pain medication?"

"Uh, yeah. Also in the drawer. Blue bottle, two pills."

She gets the pills and a glass of water and makes sure he swallows it.

"Thank you, I suppose. You didn't have to do this. It's weird, I know."

"Listen up, Tony." She grips his arm painfully tight. "You are my teammate, I daresay friend. Don't keep something like this from me ever again. You hear me?"

"My penis was cut off." He blurts, smirking.

"I'll cut it off myself if you do something stupid again."

His smirk vanishes. "Okay."

"Does anyone else know?"

"Just Bruce. And Pepper and Rhodey, duh. I bet Coulson and Fury know, too. They're nosy."

She glares.

"I'll tell everyone soon, I promise!" he puts his hands out in defense.

"You better." And she leaves him be.

*

Asshole birdbrain probably "gets it" the most. Clint's been nearly deaf for years, and he still has done damn good at his job. Tony made hearing aids that are also communicators to contact the team and SHIELD for him, which Clint has taken a severe liking to. But anyway, Tony's glad he learned sign language.

Clint catches a glimpse of it when they're on a mission in the Amazon jungle.

Tony's suit goes down and since Clint was the closest, he's burdened with prying him out after Tony signs help.

Tony's okay, he's pretty sure swallowed a mouthful of jungle dirt and there's the sticky feeling of blood on his face, but Clint doesn't look that concerned.

"Hey, Iron Ass. There a release mechanism?" he peers down at him, grinning. He's dirty too, hands moving in sync with his words with sign language.

"Left leg. Turn the…thingy." He told him, and watched as the armor opened and unfolded itself from Tony's body, the broken parts he tossed aside. Clint helped him up and brushed him off.

"Are you okay?" he asked.

"Yeah. Are there any Hydra guys left down here?"

Clint shrugs. "I don't really have a weapon for you. I have my bow and arrows and my gun is out."

Tony thinks for a second and looks down at his scattered armor, then smiles. "I have an idea."

They walk on, Tony's leg not agreeing with the surface and he has to maybe grip Clint's arm a few times but the archer doesn't say anything. He reports to the other Avengers that Tony is okay and they'd meet on the quinjet at the rendezvous once Hydra was dealt with. They were literally just shooting the agents and their jets until they stopped fighting back, albeit preventing them from dropping bombs in a German area .

Tony stops them when he sees a rock that would be decent height for his leg to rest on. "Okay, I have a solution."

"What, are you going to use your arm repulsor?" Clint raises an eyebrow.

Tony grins and puts his leg on top of the rock. "Something like that."

He rolls up his pant leg to the prosthesis and briefly glances up to see Clint's jaw drop.

"I fucking knew it! Natasha said no but I was so right!" he laughs breathlessly, clearly awkward, and then looks at him seriously. "Cap's going to be so pissed."

"Cap's not going to know until I say he knows."

"And everyone on the team knows but me and Cap?"

"Well, now you know. And Thor doesn't know either."

"How the hell did you lose your leg anyway? Same story as the gunshot wound in Afghanistan with your somewhat injured muscles?" he raised his eyebrow.

"Yes, actually. It wasn't exactly sanitary there, and by the time I was rescued, it was too infected. So, ker-chop." He makes a chopping motion by his stump.

Clint visibly flinches. "Don't do that."

Tony smiles, and opens up a small pocket on his fake leg, where there's a cord already attached through it. He pulled out the other end of the cord and settled it with his arc reactor. He pressed a button next to cord and out shot a repulsor blast.

"Holy fucking shit, you actually put weapons on that thing." Clint high-fives him, and Tony huffs proudly. Pepper didn't find it as awesome so he made two prosthesis, one for general, and one decent for fighting if need be (he made a mental note to build a better foot, walking in to jungle was a bitch). "What else do you got on your peg leg?"

"Don't even start with the pirate jokes."

"What, peg leg Tony?"

"No."

"Argghh, matey."

"Keep it up, I dare you. I have a killer leg."

"Thanks, now I have this horrible image of you lifting up your pants and it's a woman's leg in a fishnet." Clint turns away absently, staring into the foliage, eyes carefully examining.

"Why would you think that?" Tony asks, horrified.

"Because last time Natasha wore fishnets, she killed every man there by distracting them with her fucking legs." Clint eye's snap to a rustle in the brush. "I see you…"

Tony barely had time to register what he meant before a Hydra agent jumped from the brush and Tony only took two point three seconds of his time to calculate the angle and speed before he pressed the button. He went down just as two more came out.

"Whoa there boys, careful. We've got a peg leg in action." Clint warns as he shoots those two down with arrows. "All we need is dramatic pirate music."

"Jack Sparrow or Captain Hook?"

"Do I look like Peter Pan to you, Stark?" Clint demands, and there's the sound of jets flying above (and exploding, they'll have to move to avoid debris if they got any closer).

"Fine, you can be the one pining for Elizabeth, aka Coulson."

"Phil will kill you." He snorts, knowing his partner, and by the way, Tony thinks they were a thing from the beginning, not just two months ago. In reality, they started fucking when they moved into the Tower.

Jarvis was startled one night by the ominous, pleasurable growling and took the liberty of telling Tony and since then he hasn't stood anywhere close to either of their floors and reprogrammed Jarvis not to tell him who's having sex.

"Out of love."

"Yeah, right."

They have to move by the time the sixth agent goes down. Tony readjusts his prosthetic and tries his best to run behind Clint and it's hard, he's sore and his stump throbs from the abuse but he doesn't complain.

In the end, they make it back to the ship and Tony's lower body is practically shaking from the trek. He's not the best at taking hour long runs into a jungle. Cap's in the cockpit with the pilot and Bruce is back at the Tower, so only he and the two spies are in the back. Clint murmurs something to Natasha as he settles onto a bench, and Natasha glances at him, then to his leg, eyebrow raised.

He sighs and let's Natasha take him to the back to ease his pain. Clint watches from the doorway, stiff.

This is weird. It's like they've formed some kind of group of "Tony friends". It should infuriate him, he doesn't like to be coddled. But it's nice. Tony trusts them.

He must really be desperate for friends.

*

Thor arrives back from Asgard, looking to be in a better mood than he was when he left. And apparently saving the world together was a pact of friendship for life. Tony has bruises from his hug, he's pretty sure.

Everyone on the team knows about his leg except Cap (and Thor) and Tony hadn't really built up the motivation to sit Steve down and explain that he's had one leg this entire time. He doesn't really think it matters that much.

Okay, wrong. He and Steve are closer than Tony would have ever guessed they would be. Steve spars with him, made sure he got something to eat and he slept when Pepper wasn't there to remind him, and always offers to bring something if Tony's leg was bothering him.

Steve will be pissed that Tony hadn't trusted him enough for telling him vital information not only as a friend but a teammate (and maybe he is secretly worried he'll put him off duty, but that's ridiculous). So, avoidance.

"Man of Iron!" shouts a booming voice. Tony visibly flinches and nearly falls off the couch.

"Jesus, Thor, warn a guy." He says, trying to get his breathing even again. Then he realizes he's wearing shorts, splaying his prosthetic to the world. Fucking hell. He was getting too cocky lately.

"Apologies. I did not realize you were resting."

Tony just shrugs and puts down his tablet. "You didn't see Cap around, did you?"

"No, I believe he is amongst the city with Lady Natasha."

Tony nods, relieved, and gets to his feet, watching Thor out of the corner of his eye. He's watching down below, of course he is. "My face is up here, buttercup."

"That's a grievous wound." Thor notes, not understanding the innuendo.

"Yeah, not fun."

"In Asgard, those who received the gravest wounds in battle are the most honored." He beams, clapping Tony on the shoulder.

Something crawls under Tony's skin. "It wasn't battle. I was kidnapped and I was shot because I didn't listen to them." He says bitterly.

"That's a battle of courage, my friend. Most would cower. You did not, and that must mean something, yes?" Thor cocks his head.

"Maybe," he says skeptically.

Thor sits down on the couch next to where Tony is sitting. "Aye. I know that I am right this time around. My father taught me this, and those are wise words. Shall we…watch a movie, perhaps?"

"Did someone show you a DVD player yesterday?" Tony blinks.

"Last night, yes. It is one thing I especially enjoy so far about Midgard."

"All right then. Jarvis, play something from my list." He waves a hand.

The movie Red with Bruce Willis turns on to the flat screen on the wall and right when Tony is about to sit back down, Thor turns to him.

"Popcorn, Man of Iron?"

"You got the full luxury, didn't you. You're going to have the honored guy get popcorn?"

"Honor does not mean treated as a king, my friend," Thor's eyes sparkle.

Tony has never met a man such as Thor, even if he was a sort of god, and he decides that if everyone was like Thor and Steve, the world would be a better place.

"Popcorn it is," Tony says, and he's pleased because Thor knows Tony likes to do things that make him like everyone else and not an invalid.

If everyone else could understand his problem #2, it was only fair that Steve knew too (also, team leader, kind of a given).

*

Pepper makes him do it instead because she doesn't believe him that he was already planning to.

"He was just fine about your arc reactor, Tony. I'll sleep better knowing the team leader knows your strengths and weaknesses."

"I know, Pep, I—"

"Did you ever show them how to take it out, put it back in, in case you need it? Or where to get a replacement?"

Only Brue, but whatever. "Yes."

She glares at him.

"Some of them."

"We'll talk about that later. Steve's on his way, there's a chef waiting for you in the conference dining room."

"That's a nice dining room, you should use that instead."

"No, Tony. You're going to have a nice lunch, and you're going to explain that your leg was amputated and I am going to kick his ass if he puts you in danger." Pepper explains. "You should tell him the other thing too."

"What other thing?"

"That you like him." She says pointedly. "In that way."

"Pepper, I don't have a crush on Cap."

"You've said that a lot, and yet I don't believe you."

"I'm going to stick with just telling him I lost a leg, thanks."

"And have you thought of something to lead with that?"

"I am a cyborg from your greatest nightmares, Steve Rogers," he says in a fake gravelly voice.

Pepper raises an eyebrow at him and fixes his collar, then glances at her phone. "He's waiting."

"Why are you so determined for this? Are you trying to get a threesome with Captain America?" he asks teasingly.

"That sounded just fine to me when I was fifteen." She remarks casually.

"You what?" he splutters, and she kisses him on the lips and slaps his ass. Pepper. Ass slapping. It doesn't compute.

"Go. We'll have dinner tonight. I'll see you." She smiles at him, and Tony sighs and leaves.

He meets Steve outside the dining room, clearing his throat. Steve turns and nods to him.

Holy shit. Steve looks way too perfect. His jaw looks artistically carved by gods and his hair looks like it was combed with a magic brush. Fuck. He's wearing a really nice jacket too. Yeah, that's the only normal description he can get out.

"Pepper said you had something to talk about with me?" he asks.

Tony glances at the fancy table and the waiters and waitresses waiting for them. This is ridiculous. He wanted in the first place to tell Steve problem #2 his own way and he is fucking going to. Pepper had good intentions but has the wrong idea of the "right time and place". "Do you want to just…go to the park? Central?"

Steve looks relieved. "You have no idea."

They chat as they usually do on the way, Tony making hand motions as he talks and sometimes he'll get caught up in his explanations and Steve would maneuver him farther from the road because Tony isn't always looking where he's going (he had to do that all the time, give him a break). Steve would smile and nod, not fully understanding but Tony knows he likes hearing about the future anyway.

There is still a lot Steve has to get caught up on, of course, but he knows the important basics. Tony knows how terrifying it could be to lose something you had once thought you never could have lost, even if the difference was leg and time period. Whatever. It works.

Tony hasn't been to Central Park in a long time, not since the invasion. He and Pepper's jogs usually are around a few blocks from the Tower or in the workout gym. He doesn't like seeing the destruction unless he's cleaning it up.

They are in the area where the damage isn't as drastic as it was blocks away, as the park wasn't hit as hard as the buildings. Maybe that's a good thing. Central Park is a beautiful place, and it's good that there was a not-destroyed area in NYC, right?

"You're right," Steve acknowledges, and Tony curses silently when he realizes he'd said that out loud. "It's very good."

"Did you go here a lot…before?"

"When I was younger, usually. It wasn't like this, though. It's much more…"

"Modern?"

"In a good way, though," he assures. "It's beautiful. I like it."

"Yeah, me too."

"I thought you only liked fancy, expensive things," Steve teases lightly, passing a mother and her two children calling for her to hurry.

"Tony Stark has a deep dark secret. He likes cheesy, cliché things." Tony whispers loudly, putting a finger to his lips. "Don't tell anyone. It'll ruin me."

"It's a deal if we can get snow cones." Steve's eyes drift to the stand, rested under the shade of a large tree.

"Deal, then. Let's go."

He gets a cherry one and Steve picks out a blue raspberry. The vendor was happy to give them half price with him being Tony Stark, but he waves him off and paid full price plus extra. Tony doesn't really like to be given cheaper benefits, not for something like two snow cones.

As he relishes in the snow cone, oh my god why didn't he get these more often, stupid Pepper and her demanding diet, Steve licks at his own while watching everything around him.

They walk for a bit, letting Steve take it all in like a vacuum. It's fun to watch. Steve's face will get all amazed or he smiles in that perfect way he does. Their snow cones have long been gone when Steve seems to remember why they called this in the first place.

"So, what did Pepper want you to talk to me about?" he asks, cocking his head.

Ugh. Here it comes. Tony's been thinking over the conversation in his head a lot, but Steve's too nice for Tony to predict his reaction because he's so expecting of a negative response, like he always gets because he's an asshole and not deserving—

His breath quickens and his chest constricts in that way Jarvis told him wasn't physical, so he tries to breathe normally and look at Steve to calm down—FUCK

He's on the ground, what the hell, and there's suddenly a lot of screaming. Someone is looming over him, too close, and Tony wants to push him off but then he recognizes Steve's voice.

"—ony! There's a sniper, stay down."

How about no, Steve's just as vulnerable as Tony is, he's not going to stay on his ass. He struggles to get up and there's another gunshot, more screaming, and Tony feels his body jolt. He thinks for a horrible moment he's been shot, but he looks down and feels like laughing. There's a hole in his jeans where his prosthetic is.

It must be some kind of curse, bullets only hitting that leg.

At least it didn't hit anywhere else.

"Tony, don't move, for God's sakes! You've been shot!" Steve is yelling at him and yanking him to cover. Steve must think…oh. Yeah. Steve wouldn't know. Steve tugging at him like that doesn't help, though.

"No, Steve! Let me go! Didn't hit me. Go get the asshole, I'll call for back up, okay? Get off." Tony's irritated, in that way he gets when he feels like a damsel in distress. It's worse because Steve is acting like Tony can't defend himself at all. That weird chest feeling comes back, this time in anger. Steve's hands on his shoulders get too tight, a gentle squeeze that feel like the grimy, meaty hands back in—

"Tony—"

"Get off, Steve!"he yells, rolling away and panting. It's not just Steve, not just feeling useless. There's a throbbing where his leg used to be, and Tony knows it's not real, but he still feels it and it's awful, it feels like he's in the cave again, full of agony and dim light and talking in foreign languages…oh shit, shit, shit…stop, just stop, let me die, Yinsen, I'm going to die…

It's too much; Tony can't see the park anymore.

*

Then he does, because, hey, look, Steve.

Tony forces himself up and away from Steve, whom has stopped yelling at him and looks like someone kicked his puppy.

Steve doesn't get it, Tony wouldn't let him, and it's not fair.

He wishes Pepper were here.

Then he remembered why exactly this happened in the first place. "Shooter?"

"Gone. I think he thought…" he glances to Tony's leg, frowning. "It's not bleeding."

"Of course it's not fucking bleeding. I—" he takes a breath. Not fair, Tony. "Next time, don't do that."

Steve frowns just as Clint appears, out of a tree, no less. Tony doesn't want to know how long he's been out of it.

"Do what, exactly?"

"I don't need you to be my shield, Steve. I can take care of myself." He snaps. Clint shakes his head and signs stop, relax at him, gesturing around them. Yes, right. In public. People had scattered and are currently being held back by the police, and it occurs to Tony that people had seen his…uh, incident.

"I was just trying to help, Tony."

Tony doesn't answer, just wiggles the jitters out of his trembling hands and follows Clint to the quinjet.

*

Clint comes in to the lab the next day, pouting and arms crossed.

"Who kicked you in the balls?" Tony says, rolling his head in Clint's direction.

"Actually, I was threatened no sex if I didn't talk to you." He sighs, slumping into a chair next to Tony's. "Can we sign? I just got an earful of Fury and Coulson, I don't think my damaged ears can take much more."

Yes, Tony makes the motion, rolling his eyes.

"You know Cap likes you."

He did, you mean.

"No, he does now. He just doesn't understand. I thought Pepper set that up for you so could do the 'I have one leg and I love you, by the way' thing." Clint absently spun in his chair, making the sign for heart.

Interrupted.

"Did you get cockblocked by a sniper?" he snorts.

Shut up. He hates me. And this is Steve. Most likely, he's pining after a girl.

"Oh please. Coulson had the fun talk of telling him that it's okay to be gay now because we bet that he actually was gay, if it weren't for the signs that I see with me and Coulson. Guess what? Captain America's gay."

Tony blinks. Then blinks again. "Whatabuh" he says intelligently.

"Yeahhhh. Pepper's known for a while and we may have made a reasonable bet when you two would hook up, too." Clint grins.

"I hate you guys." Was Tony the only one not aware of a double sided crush between him and Steve? Naturally. Tony's never been that much of a genius with relationships.

"I know. Anyway, as your friend, not just a desperate gambler, go talk to him. He's upset that he upset you, yadda yadda. Also, you'll be glad to hear your panic attack won't go public."

Tony splutters. "It wasn't a panic attack!" he remembers to sign this and say this so Clint would get it crystal clear.

"Tony."

His shoulders sink. "I can't show weakness."

"Everyone on this team has a weakness. I'm deaf."

"I know. I told you your fly was down the other day before your date with Phil but you didn't hear me."

"Rude."

"Honest mistake on your part." He grins, patting Clint on the shoulder. "Tease me, I tease you."

"Well, anyway. Main point of coming here. Grow some balls and kiss Steve already, maybe go for a little ass groping. I don't care. Why am I still here? You're mean to me. Goodbye." He stands to leave and Tony scoffs.

Tony's going to do it. He's done. He's got nothing to lose. The team supports him, even if they were actually betting on him.

Tony may or may not be in love with Steve, and he's going to tell him. Like, tomorrow.

He's so fucked.

*

Steve beats him to it.

If he didn't have Steve's tongue in his mouth he would have been on the floor laughing. Congrats for them, as of now they've confessed their love for each other and hey, Tony's making out with Steve.

Score one for Tony. He got the girl. Guy. Whatever. He's bi, he doesn't care. All he cares is that Steve loves him back. The whole one leg thing is ironically not important right now.

"Hey Steve?" he gasps.

"Yeah?" Steve breaths, lips trailing down to Tony's neck.

"Why didn't we do this earlier?"

"Because we're both really stupid in feelings."

"Well, we better make up for lost time then," he murmurs and Steve's grunt of approval sends shivers down Tony's spine.

"Tony, we have plenty of time." Steve smiled, eyes shining. "I love you."

"Iloveyoutoo." He laughs-sort-of-chokes, huddling close to Steve. "Glad that's over."

"Yeah, me too."

"Steve?"

"Yeah, Tony?"

"Let's continue."

*

Later, they're on Tony's bed fully clothed minus shirts and shoes but clinging to each other like they'll never have to let go. It's nice. Tony could lay there and breathe Steve in all day. His skin tingles a little, like it missed Steve's hands rubbing against him, but thankfully there's no awkward boners. Somehow.

If Tony wasn't so goddamn irrationally self-conscious about his body the touching would have progressed a whole lot more.

"Is this going to be a thing?" Oh God, he hopes.

"You mean, are we dating now?" Steve asks.

"Yeah."

"I'd like to."

"Same. Steve, will you be my boyfriend?" he asks overdramatically, turning Steve's chin to face him.

"Absolutely, Tony." Steve chuckles, pressing his lips to Tony's again. Steve's lips are way too soft and nice to be legal.

"Awesome." Tony drawls, totally blissed out. "By the way, the more thigh you have the less awkward sex is."

"What?"

Oh. Oops. That kind of led into problem #2 accidentally.

"I have one leg, just saying. Awkward sex."

Steve freezes. "Tony, your leg is—"

"Amputated. Don't say cut off, I already feel queasy." Tony whines. "I have a prosthetic leg, so it's pretty easy not to notice, I wouldn't beat yourself up about not noticing. Only Coulson has that evil power of knowing everything about everyone."

"Why didn't you tell me before?" Steve insists.

"Because I thought you would think of me different."

"Tony, I didn't think of you different from a glowing device in your chest but you thought I would look at you funny from a missing leg?"

"Yeah. It's dumb saying it out loud." He sighs, tapping absently on Steve's bicep.

"Can I see?"

Tony's breath hitches. "I—I don't—"

"It's okay. You don't have to." Steve says quickly, but Tony waves a hand.

"No, wait. It'll make me feel better." Tony pats Steve's cheek. "Don't freak out, okay? It's kind of gross."

Steve doesn't freak out, of course he doesn't. He touches the stub with the same delicacy as he did with the arc reactor, ginger, wary of Tony's reaction. He traces the edge, the long, pink scar. Tony's breathing is a little quicker than he would like, but not panicking. That's good.

Steve leans back down next to Tony, still touching his thigh in a comforting and not sexual way, and that's fine with Tony.

This is different than Pepper, maybe better. He trusts Pepper completely of course, but Steve has a thing about him that Tony would be willing to spill everything to the guy.

"God, I love you, it's ridiculous."

"I'm okay with that." Steve chuckles. "I second it."

"How'd you decide to come tell me your feelings on the same day I was going to, anyway?"

"Coulson told me that everyone is betting on us to get together, and that you felt the same way. I don't know. I just...decided to."

"Ugh, of course it was Coulson. Clint did the same yesterday." Tony snorts.

"I thought you hated me."

"What." he blinks.

"Well, the other day. Getting snow cones in Central Park. Tony, that was great. And then the sniper came and after you yelled at me for touching you, I figured you didn't want anything to do with me." Steve admitted.

"Steve." Tony laughed, a little pained. "Are you kidding me? I thought you hated me for yelling at you. I was a dick."

"Clint told me that..." Steve drew in a breath. "You had a panic attack."

"Bastard." Tony closes his eyes, not wanting to go into that territory. Fucking Clint.

"Tony, it's fine. It's okay. I get panicky too sometimes. Like that one night you woke me up."

"Yeah," he muttered. "Still. I hate it."

"It's okay." Steve says into his hair. Maybe it makes Tony feel a little better.

Tony hums and snuggles closer to Steve's chest again, content.

"Hey lovebirds. We brought shawarma and we're not saving any!" Clint's voice comes through the speakers, and Jarvis follows, "You haven't eaten in about 20 hours, sir."

"Tony." Steve admonishes.

"Busy." He excuses. "And now, not hungry."

"I will carry you if I have to."

"Fuck, no, Steve—"

If anyone minds Steve carrying a futilely complaining Tony bridal style and without his prosthesis in sight, no one says anything.

Clint does ask where Tony's peg leg is, though (and Tony doesn't care, Clint's just mean, so he throws pita bread at him).

End.