The great thing about technology was that he knew exactly what happened.
The awful thing about technology was that he knew exactly what happened.
Tony flicked through the pictures again. There was no room for doubt or question, but he'd always been a little bit of a masochist. The photos were taken by different people and from different angles, though StarWatch's online website had helpfully organized them so Tony could see Steve turn, take Natasha by the face, and kiss her in chronological high definition.
The title Supersoldier Supercheats with Superspy mocked him. They had a picture of him too, one of him and Pepper laughing together at some event—the Academy Awards, maybe—with the caption Maybe Stark doesn't care? Never mind that the picture was from years ago. Never mind that the only way he was touching Pepper in the photo was with a hand respectfully high on her back. He tried to remember that if they could bend and twist his photo with Pepper, they could bend and twist Steve's with Natasha, but the theory didn't hold much water. Not only was it a painfully clear photo, it was also unquestionably from today. It had been taken in Dodger Stadium, and Tony had gone with Steve to every Dodgers game but this one since they'd met. There wasn't any other game it could be from.
Tony wasn't a baseball nut by any measure, but Steve was a die-hard. Once he'd adjusted to the idea that his beloved team had moved to another state, he'd decided his team was his team no matter where they went and attended every game he could. Tony had let himself be dragged along, though he supposed 'dragged' hadn't really been the appropriate term for a while though. He'd grown to enjoy the game. Far more importantly than that though, it was time spent with the love of his life; he could've hated baseball with every fiber of his being and he still would've gone.
Tony flicked through the pictures on the holoscreen again, looking for…he didn't know. Mind-control-blue eyes. Sprinklings of sex pollen. Alien antennae. Anything to prove it wasn't Steve, or Steve wasn't in control, or anything at all that would make it look like it hadn't been Steve's choice.
He found himself focusing on Natasha's hands; they were open, spread wide against Steve's chest, surprised and in the beginnings of a shove. Natasha clearly hadn't initiated it. That wouldn't have been particularly great either, but it was an infinitely more appealing option than his boyfriend of five years deciding to cheat on him in public for missing one stupid fucking baseball game.
He hadn't wanted to miss it by any measure. This was the game of the season, a rivalry match against the Giants that, if they won, would take them to the play-offs. Steve had been eagerly looking forward to it for what felt like ages, and Tony had too, though for perhaps different reasons. He rolled the now useless ring in his hand over, running a thumb along the smooth band of vibranium.
It had been a stupid hope anyway.
Steve's first thought, after that's definitely not Tony and well, this is awkward, was that Tony was going to find this all pretty funny.
Tony liked hearing that Steve thought about him when he wasn't around. It was silly, because Steve's train of thought when Tony wasn't around was something along the lines of Tony Tony potential supervillain nope false alarm Tony Tony Tony, but Tony liked to hear it and Steve liked to tell him so it didn't really matter.
He was going to get a kick out of this one.
Tony had come with him to every game since they'd met. The beat-up, faded team hoodie he wore for good luck, the one he was wearing at that particular moment, Tony had bought him at their first game. Their first kiss had been at a Dodgers game. Matt Kemp had hit a home run, winning the first rivalry game of the season, and Steve had been so blindingly happy he'd just turned, taken Tony by the face, and kissed him hard enough to bruise before throwing his arms around Tony's waist to lift him off the ground and spin him around. He'd never forget the bewildered but pleased look on Tony's face as he settled his arms around Steve's neck and kissed him back.
It sort of became a habit, after that. The way you train a dog, Steve learned that a ball sailing past the outfield and over the fence meant to turn and kiss Tony excitedly. Tony seemed to have learned it too, because it wasn't long before Tony was meeting him halfway every time. So when Uribe hit a home run in the bottom half, Steve turned and kissed the person next to him, who had in all previous experience been Tony.
It wasn't Tony.
It was a very surprised Natasha, who swiftly disconnected from him with a firm shove. Steve knew immediately though, before they even parted. The lips had been smooth, slick—Tony's lips were never smooth, he bit and worried at them too much when he was thinking, leaving them chapped and uneven. The mouth against his had been withdrawn, too, when Tony had always been pliant, unhesitatingly open to him. There had been no hands on his waist or around his neck, no scratch of stubble scuffing against his cheek; it had all just been wrong.
That's definitely not Tony.
Well, this is awkward.
At least Tony will find it funny.
"Sorry." Steve scrubbed a hand over his face, embarrassed. "I thought you were Tony."
"I had a feeling." Natasha's words were light, but something about the way she was looking around made him cautious. "We should leave. Now."
"I—uh." Steve blinked, surprised at Natasha's insistence. They were good friends; she knew better than anyone how devoted he was to Tony. He felt pretty stupid about the slip, but there was no intent behind it. "I wasn't coming on to you, honest. You don't have to leave—"
"Not I, we. And yes." Natasha shot him a pointed glance, and he followed her gaze to the amateur photographers still snapping their picture, and immediately felt the sinking feeling of dread. "We do."
If Tony saw that before he had a chance to explain…Steve quickly darted through the crowd, making his way to the photographer.
"Cheating in the middle of a crowded ball game? Seriously?" The guy just laughed as he ran up. "Man, I wish I had the balls to dump someone like that."
"I'm not leaving him," Steve insisted firmly, "I thought that it was him. It's habit, I forgot he wasn't with me this time—"
"And why isn't he with you, exactly? Trouble in paradise?" The guy arched an eyebrow with a grin, eager and ready to get the scoop. Steve was reminded exactly how awful dealing with the press could be.
He hadn't had to in a long time. When he and Tony had first gotten together it had been rough from both sides; people who loved them together wanted to know every detail of their lives, people who hated them together or were homophobic wanted to protest them at every turn. Tony was a master at avoiding them and taught Steve plenty of tricks, but more than a few slipped through their defenses in those first few months.
Over time it had died down, and these days the press didn't even follow them on dates anymore. They fought plenty, loudly and with vigor, but it was behind closed doors. They never gave the press anything to talk about. There were no affairs, no break-ups, no getting caught in half-dressed in compromising places—though Tony suggested jokingly they ought to try the last. They were clean of any sort of scandal, which meant that no matter how unbelievably happy they were, to the press, they were dull.
One gossip rag had actually given them a mock award for being the "Most Boring Celebrity Couple"; a clipping of the article was tucked away in one of Steve's notebooks. Boring might not make for good press, but it made for a good relationship. They were superheroes, they had more than enough mess and disaster in their lives, neither of them needed—or wanted—the kind of relationship that broke up every other week, plagued with scandal and gossip and rumors.
They'd been old news for years, according to Pepper, and Steve liked it that way.
"Steve." Natasha's voice cut through. She took him by the wrist, and he let himself be led away. "At least fifteen people took a picture, you can't reason all of them into submission."
"God, I need to call Tony before—" Steve cut himself off, already pulling his phone out and hitting 1. "Come on baby, pick up."
"—'s voicemail. If you're Pepper, I totally went to the meeting. If you're an executive, call my work phone and leave a message there. If you're an employee, you shouldn't have this number but I applaud whatever hacking you did to get it. If you're an Avenger and the world's ending again, trip the alarm and I'll meet you there. If you're Steve, you shouldn't be getting voicemail, but I'll call you back when I can. Also, if you're Pepper and you waited through all this, yeah, I lied, I didn't go to the meeting."
There was a beep, and Steve left a message.
"Tony, some pictures just went up online. It was an accident; I'm coming back to New York now so I can explain and we can deal with the press together. Give me a call when you get this. I love you." He clicked 'end'.
Two minutes to go, a man on third, Ellis at bat, and another run would put them in lead.
Steve left, and he didn't look back.
Tony was soldering part of the Iron Man boot when his phone rang again. He didn't bother looking at it. That made…what was it, twenty-seven calls in the last two hours? He made the hand motion for JARVIS to show him caller id. Pepper, Rhodey, Happy, the Avengers, the press…it could be any one of them. It didn't have to be him.
He knew it was anyway, even before he saw the picture id.
It was his favorite picture of Steve, which was why he'd had Clint send it to him in the first place. It was actually of them both, tucked into the corner of the couch on one of their many team movie nights. Tony was nestled between Steve's legs and Steve was resting his chin on Tony's shoulder, his arms comfortably around Tony's waist. There was nothing particularly special about any of it, in and of itself.
They always claimed the corner, and they always sat in some variation of that pose. Steve, still in workout clothes, had been exhausted and sweaty, and Tony, just coming off a three day bender and bearing a number of grease marks to prove it, had probably smelled like metal and motor oil. Nothing about the picture was sexy or romantic, but it was the look on Steve's face that made it worth everything.
Steve wasn't watching the movie. He was preoccupied watching Tony with a soft half-smile, nothing but pure devotion in his eyes, like he had the entire world in ratty pajamas and an unkempt goatee wrapped up in his arms.
Tony waved sharply for the picture to go away and the call to end. He knew Steve would have an explanation, and Tony had every intention of hearing him out, but it wasn't something he wanted to do over the phone. He needed to be able to see Steve's eyes when he explained, needed to know that Steve was telling the truth when he explained it however he did. Not that Steve was prone to lying, but he wasn't prone to kissing other people, either.
Tony closed his eyes briefly, and tried to think back to that morning. He'd woken up like he did nearly every day, Steve's warmth a familiar weight against him, the arm around his midsection nothing new. There had been nothing strange or unusual in Steve's embrace, nothing reticent or hinting at anxiety. He'd just seemed happy.
Steve was a morning person, always had been. When they'd first gotten together, Steve always left the bed at something like six in the morning to go run, shower, and start breakfast, all long before Tony awoke around nine. Over time they compromised, Tony waking a little earlier each day while Steve woke a little later, until they eventually landed somewhere around seven thirty, each rewarding the other with lazy, indulgent morning sex when they did manage to coordinate their schedules.
Clint complained about his breakfast not being ready early enough anymore, but they were both well-practiced at ignoring Clint.
What had changed? He couldn't think of anything. Steve hadn't been happy to learn Tony couldn't make the game, but he hadn't been angry. He'd been disappointed more than anything else, but he hadn't been disappointed in Tony, just the circumstances that kept him at work today. Steve hadn't even planned on going without him; it was Tony who'd insisted, who'd all but pushed him and Natasha onto the plane, insisting they should enjoy it even if he couldn't.
He hadn't thought twice about sending Natasha in his place. When they watched the games at home, Natasha was, to everyone's surprise, rather interested in the sport, and Tony knew Steve would just mope and be lonely if he went alone. Steve and Natasha were good friends, but at no point had the idea Steve might cheat on him, with anyone, been so much as a blip on Tony's radar.
He trusted Steve. He still did. Every inch of him was screaming that there had to be a reason, had to be something. That Steve wouldn't do something like that in a million years. That Steve loved him, but that even if he stopped, he would politely break up with Tony, apologize profusely, and wait a respectful amount of time before dating someone else. Steve was not even close to the kind of guy who woke up one morning with his boyfriend of five years and kissed someone else half a day later without so much as a heads up.
There had to be a reason.
"Captain Rogers requests you reinstate his code, sir," JARVIS informed him.
Tony had blacked out the glass and disabled all entrance codes when he'd first come down so he could mope in private, but he'd expected Steve would show up fairly soon. JARVIS' voice was clear of inflection though, which of course meant his AI was holding back.
"Defrag for your thoughts?" Tony offered.
"I have been observing and analyzing Captain Rogers' behavior," JARVIS began thoughtfully, "As I do all residents of the Tower. There are many humans whose behavior is erratic and unpredictable; Captain Rogers is not one. He relies on routine for comfort and structure more heavily than anyone I've ever monitored, and he's gone to great lengths over the years to weave his with yours. There is no basis for his actions today."
"You're supposed to be on my side, y'know," Tony commented wryly.
"I am supposed to do my best to ensure your physical, mental, and emotional well-being," JARVIS corrected, as he always did, "Captain Rogers is an irreplaceable safeguard to all three, something I have so far observed him to enjoy and take pride in. Though it is my understanding that humans are ever-changing, I cannot find precedence for such a marked behavioral change without cause."
"Guess we'll have to see," Tony hummed, though the AI's words did a little to lift his spirits. It was one thing for Tony to think this was out of the blue; his opinion was as biased as it could get. If Steve had started to have feelings for someone else, Tony wouldn't want to know, and the mind was quite powerful at blocking out things it didn't want to see. It was different if his all-observing AI said it, and far more comforting. "Let him in, J."
Tony spun in his chair as the door slid open. Steve came through immediately, beelining for him with a twisted, worried look that was both apologetic and distressed.
"Why didn't you pick up the phone?"
"Seemed like a face to face conversation." Tony rubbed a hand across his forehead as he stood. "Just tell me you had a good reason, because I've been trying to make one up for you for hours and I can't—"
"I thought she was you," Steve blurted, coming to a stop mere inches from Tony, looking like he wanted to come closer but seeming to think better of it. He was too military to fidget, but he sure looked like he wanted to.
"The bright red hair and tits weren't enough clues?" Tony cocked an eyebrow.
"No, I mean…" Steve ran a hand through his hair, mussing it just a bit. He took a half-step forward, then rocked back to his heels, seeming unsure of how he'd be received. "I just, it's always you. They hit a home run, and that's our thing, and I've…I don't think I've been to a game this century where Ihaven't kissed you on a home run ball. It's habit. You're habit."
"So you just grabbed the person closest and laid one on them." Tony couldn't help a small, relieved laugh. "You're something else. Remind me never to let you go to a game alone, you'll give some poor fan a heart attack. Not to mention a few wet dreams."
"Tony, that's not funny, I don't want…I wouldn't kiss some fan." Steve still looked miserable in spite of Tony's humor, and it occurred to him that while he'd been busy psyching himself up to talk to Steve—okay, and wallowing a bit, shut up, this wasn't how he'd envisioned his day going, alright?—he'd also been ignoring Steve. Who probably thought that meant Tony wasn't going to forgive him.
What a ridiculous thought.
"You know, if you wanted a threesome there are better ways to ask," he teased.
"As if I'm really going to let anyone else into bed with you." Steve made the indignant face Tony had been hoping for, but he seemed to finally catch on that Tony genuinely wasn't mad. He felt a familiar rush of warmth as Steve finally stepped forward, both hands reaching up to cup Tony's face gently, tilt his chin back. "You're mine for as long as you want to be, but you know I don't like to share."
The soldier was far more possessive than people would imagine, though he hid it well. He was never aggressive to anyone who monopolized Tony's attention or got a little too touchy-feely at parties, never stepped in or made any kind of show of it; he knew Tony was more than capable of brushing those types off on his own. He was nothing short of the perfect gentleman in public either, touching Tony frequently but respectfully: a hand on his lower back, a squeeze of his arm or shoulder, taking his hand more often than not.
It was when they were in private, or at least when it was only the other Avengers around, that Steve allowed himself to take the liberties Tony delighted in. It wasn't just that he let himself say sappier things, either—the public would never believe how handsy their beloved Cap was. It wasn't necessarily sexual, Steve was just affectionate, and reluctant to stop touching Tony if he didn't have to. Clint still called him Captain Snuggles on occasion, though their teammates were all long accustomed to their behavior.
"What kind of national role model doesn't like to share?" Tony clasped Steve's wrists, rubbing circles with his thumbs to emphasize that he was only teasing. He liked Steve's possessiveness, and would be sorely disappointed if it ever diminished.
"The kind who knows the importance of holding tight to a good thing." Steve closed the inch of space left between them. He was soft and undemanding, still chastely apologetic. It was Tony who looped both arms around Steve's neck to deepen it, kiss away any reticence.
"Sorry I didn't pick up the phone earlier." Tony sighed eventually, letting his forehead fall forward to rest against Steve's. "I know it wasn't really fair to let you stew like that, but I needed a little alone time to figure out what in the hell I was supposed to do if it was true."
"Tell me you wouldn't stay."
"If I ever so publicly and intentionally hurt you like that, I wouldn't deserve to be forgiven, Tony," Steve told him fiercely.
"Maybe not," Tony answered mildly, because there wasn't much he could say that Steve would want to hear.
Steve was…picky, about that. He liked hearing how much he meant to Tony. He didn't push for it, but his eyes went all soft and his smile went a bit lop-sided and he became extra cuddly, so of course Tony went out of his way to say those sorts of things when he thought of them. Steve only liked to hear certain things though, only liked to hear declarations of devotion that weren't at what he considered to be Tony's expense. If Tony answered truthfully—that all Steve had to do was ask for forgiveness and mean it, and Tony would forgive him in a heartbeat—Steve would consider that to be Tony putting his own needs secondary to Steve's, which Steve found endlessly frustrating.
What Tony couldn't seem to get Steve to grasp was that putting him first was putting Tony's needs first because what he needed, more than anything, was Steve. For Steve to be safe and happy and loved was for Tony to be; that had been part of his engagement speech, in the hopes that maybe then Steve might understand just how profoundly he loved him.
"So who won, anyway?" Steve asked him, and Tony glanced up.
"What're you asking me for? You went to the game."
"I left." Steve gave him a strange look. "Obviously."
"No, not obviously." Tony shot him a strange look right back, leaning away enough to examine Steve's face for signs of a weird joke. "You left before it was over? That game could put us in the play-offs!"
"There were pictures of me cheating on you on the internet and you weren't picking up your phone, of course I left." Steve tugged him closer, arms around his waist now. "You mean a hell of a lot more to me than any ball game, Tony. I'd leave a play-off game against the damn Giants in the bottom ninth for you."
Steve, the adorable lug, never mentioned the Giants without a precursory damn. In public, to keep with his wholesome, family-friendly image he politely changed to darn, though he steadfastly refused to drop it altogether no matter how many fans didn't like it. They'd once been interviewed about their avid sports attendance the day after losing a big game to them, and Steve had accidentally gotten a little too upset, which of course meant he'd gone Brooklyn, and ended up slipping and correcting himself, saying "them damn-darn Giants" on live tv. The phrase wound up on a t-shirt for Dodgers fans as the caption for a cartoon Steve in Cap regalia waving his fist. Tony had one.
"I'm pretty sure that's the most romantic thing you've ever said to me," Tony mused.
"Then I haven't been doing a very good job of expressing myself." Steve pressed a kiss to his nose. "I was going to ask you if we won, but I suppose it doesn't matter. I don't think I can wait another year if we lost, anyway."
"Wait for what?" Tony asked, but Steve pulled back.
"I know the timing is fairly awful, but if I hear we lost the game, Lord knows I'll lose my nerve." Steve sighed softly. "And I really, really don't want to lose my nerve."
"Tony." Steve shushed him with a smile, squeezing his hands once before releasing them. "You mean the world to me. I can't imagine my life without you, and I don't ever want to."
Holy fuck, was he kneeling? Shit, was that a fucking ring—
"Will you do me the honor of marrying me?"
"Are you serious?" Tony gaped. Steve winced.
"Not really the answer I was looking—"
"Jesus fucking Christ, what are the odds of—"
"—for, and the odds aren't that high Tony, we've—"
"—you basing a proposal on the game when I—"
"—been dating five years, I wouldn't say this is out of—"
"—was going to do the exact same thing, god, we really are—"
"—the blue, I've been hinting for months and—wait, you what?"
"—perfect for each other." Tony grabbed Steve by the wrist and hauled him up into a kiss, hard and dirty. He was fairly certain Steve picked up on his 'yes' vibe, but to be perfectly clear he spelled it out with his tongue. Steve made a face as he pulled back, wrinkling his nose a bit, but he was grinning widely.
"Were you spelling things into my mouth again?"
"It's efficient." Tony grinned back. "Why stop kissing to talk when you can do both at once?"
"You know I don't understand you when you do that," Steve reminded him fondly.
"Luckily…" Tony took the ring from Steve's hand, admiring the simple elegance of it before sliding it onto his finger. Steve's smile at the motion was blinding, and Tony couldn't help returning it. "We've got the rest of our lives for you learn."