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Enjoy the Silence

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The thing about Tony Stark was that he talked. A lot. Like constantly. No, seriously. The guy hardly ever shut up. He was an expert at bullshiting the other board members when Pepper roped him into attending Stark Industries board meetings. He could schmooze the pants off any potential investor he was pointed towards at the frequent Maria Stark Foundation fundraisers. He always had a flippant remark for every mission criticism Nick Fury flung his way. His time in the gym sparring with his teammates was always liberally sprinkled with a mixture of mild insults, nicknames, and random non-sequitors. His lab was a cacophony of blaring music, heavy machinery, and a running dialogue between the genius and his AI. Even a stroll through the corridors, a morning shower, or a team dinner was likely to be interspersed with a call for JARVIS to take a note or two when inspiration struck.

So when, in the middle of a multi-building-leveling fight with what could only be described as a witch – an honest-to-god, green-skinned, pointed-hat, riding a broomstick witch – Tony was suddenly enveloped in a sickly green light, and his running commentary on the battle abruptly stopped mid-insult, the rest of the team suspected something was somewhat off. When he failed to communicate further on the comms for the duration of the battle, they knew something was wrong. And when the foe was defeated, restrained, and hustled off into SHIELD custody, and Tony took off towards Avengers Tower without even checking in with anyone else, they might have begun to panic a little.

Okay, to be honest, it was really only Steve who began to panic. Clint and Natasha were their normal collected selves, Thor was basking in the glory of a battle well fought, and Bruce was pulling on a spare set of clean clothes after de-Hulking. Only Steve was remembering that the last time Tony had bolted back to the Tower without a word after battle was when that giant crocodile had bitten through Tony’s leg armor like a great big can opener through aluminum, and in an effort to get straight to work on repairs and get out of a trip to SHIELD Medical, Tony had taken off, holed himself up in his lab, and nearly died from the blood poisoning caused by the bite before JARVIS had alerted the team to unconscious Tony’s condition.

When the team returned to the Tower, most went to change out of uniform and get cleaned up. Not Steve. He headed straight for Tony’s lab, still in spangled uniform but minus the cowl and covered in dried sweat and dirt. He was surprised at the relative lack of noise when he reached his destination. There were tinkering sounds drifting out of the door that opened when he keyed in his access code, but the usual ear-splitting rock music and constant chatter between Tony and JARVIS was absent. JARVIS was downright pleading with his creator, “Sir, I implore you to alert the rest of the Avengers to your-“ but was cut off with a sharp hand gesture from Tony as he registered the Captain’s presence in his workspace.

Typically – when Tony was in a good mood – Steve would be greeted with perhaps a smile and a, “What can I do for ya, Cap?” When he was in a bad mood it was more often something along the lines of a pained grimace and a terse, “Yeah, Capsicle?” Even when the genius was going on day three of a science bender and had to blink for several long seconds before the large blond would come into bleary focus, he normally managed a wan smile or furrowed brow and a, “Come to save me from myself?” Not today. Today Steve got a Tony with one hip cocked against a workbench, arms crossed almost defensively across his chest, and a single eyebrow raised in what nearly seemed a challenge.

“I…I came to make sure you were okay,” Steve stated softly, color rising in his cheeks at stumbling over the beginning of the sentence. He cleared his throat a bit before continuing. “I couldn’t help remember the time with the crocodile…”

The super soldier trailed off when, with an annoyed sigh and roll of his eyes, Tony swept both arms out to the sides to encompass his rather rumpled but obviously uninjured self.

“Oh,” was all Steve managed, and the genius turned back to his bench and hunched over some pieces of the suit lying there with circuitry exposed and began tinkering. He ran a grime-encrusted leather glove through his grime-encrusted blond locks and sighed, trying to figure out what he’d done to make the billionaire mad at him, but came up empty. “Fury wants us to debrief in the conference room in an hour,” he offered tentatively, and the engineer’s head visibly sagged further down between his shoulders.

“Um…I’m gonna go shower and change. I’ll see you there…” He said as Tony waved an impatient hand at him in dismissal.

-----

The debriefing was the strangest one the team had ever had. To be fair they dealt with some pretty ridiculous crap on a fairly regular basis – the giant crocodile, that pink gelatin ooze that made people act like fraternity pledges at their first kegger, anyone who came to visit Thor from Asgard – but for this being the team’s first full-fledged witch, the briefing was surprisingly tame. Not for lack of trying, though. Clint took every opportunity to set Tony up for Wizard of Oz cracks (and even Steve had to admit it was nice to hear pop culture jokes he didn’t have to wrack his brain to understand), but Tony wasn’t taking the bait. He wasn’t interrupting proceedings to chat with JARVIS. He was uncharacteristically not snarky to Fury. Even when the Director finally worked his way down the team roster to Tony and began enumerating everything Iron Man had done wrong or could do better, the genius just glared at the tabletop and kept his mouth shut.

The vein in Fury’s forehead that looked dangerously close to exploding even on a calm day just seemed to throb with, well, fury the longer he railed at the silent man with no reply. Finally, the Director slammed both hands down on the table in front of Tony and got right down in the seated man’s face. “Do you hear a goddamn word I’m saying, Stark!?” The raised eyebrow he got in response seemed to be the last straw because he grabbed the front of Tony’s t-shirt just above the blue glow of the arc reactor and hauled him partway out of the chair.

That finally got a reaction, as Tony’s instinct to protect his reactor surfaced, and he wrenched free of Fury’s grip and staggered back from the table, knocking his chair a good four feet away as he did, breathing heavily. But still no outraged tirade spilled forth from the billionaire’s lips as one would expect. The whole team had jumped to their feet during the albeit brief altercation. Bruce and Clint were on either side of Fury, easing him back from the edge of the conference table. Natasha was still near her seat, but was quite visibly fingering the hilt of a dagger strapped to her thigh as she glanced calmly between the two men. Thor had a look of grave concern on his face, as if he didn’t know whose side he should take should things escalate further, his “boss” or his comrade.

Steve spared a passing thought for decking Fury, whether he was his boss or not, but moved toward Tony carefully. When he reached out a hand for the shorter man’s arm, he realized he himself was shaking. He’d noticed what none of the others seemed to have noticed – when Tony broke Fury’s hold, he’d cried out in panic. He’d cried out – but no sound had come forth. Taking what he hoped would be a calming breath, Steve gently grasped the genius’ arm and turned him to face the full weight of the super soldier’s concerned blue gaze. “Tony… You can’t speak, can you?” Audible gasps were heard from several other occupants of the room, but Steve kept his eyes on Tony as he sighed and closed his eyes with a shake of his head, visibly deflated.

The change was sudden but fluid as Steve went into Captain mode. “Bruce, I need you to figure out what that witch did to him. Clint, Natasha, any assistance you can provide him would be appreciated. Thor, anyone you could consult about a spell of this sort might prove helpful. Tony’ll be back for some lab tests in a little while.” With a much gentler look and touch on the shoulder he began to usher Tony out of the conference room.

Fury should have let them walk out. He really, really should have. Instead, he came around the table and made a grab for the Captain’s bicep. “No one is going anywhere until I say they are! We are not done with this debrief-” That was as far as he got before Cap’s fist connected with his jaw. He’d kept his super-strength out of it, but it took every ounce of his willpower to do so.

As the whole room – Fury included – stood in stunned silence at what Steve had just done, the soldier wrapped an arm around Tony’s shoulders and continued toward the door. “I’ll keep you updated on our progress,” he told Fury, throwing a “Sir” over his shoulder that sounded far more like a curse word than a title.

-----

Back down in Tony’s lab, when it was just the two of them, Tony raised a quizzical eyebrow at the blond. “What?’ Steve inquired. When Tony brought up a fist and mimed a low-speed punch to go with the eyebrow, the other man flushed, rubbing a hand over the back of his neck. “Yeah… Well, Fury shouldn’t have grabbed you like that. He knows how protective you are of your reactor after Stane…” he trailed off, as Tony averted his gaze, looking really uncomfortable. “Sorry.”

Tony looked back up at him with a crooked smile – really more of just a lift of the left corner of his mouth. He patted the soldier on one heavily muscled arm in a way that seemed to say “Thanks” and “Don’t worry about it” and “This is pretty screwed up, huh?” It occurred to Steve just then how much of Tony’s constant use of words was simply a front. He realized that if the man had the ability to speak right now, he would have spent at least a good half hour recounting the hilarity that was Steve punching Fury. He would have quickly changed the subject when Obadiah was mentioned. He would have called upon JARVIS to pull up some schematics so he could begin working while rattling off technical babble a mile a minute until Steve – completely overwhelmed and way out of his element – left the lab, summarily dismissed.

It kind of broke Steve’s heart. Everyone assumed that things just didn’t affect Tony the way they did others because he never appeared upset or worried or frightened, but the truth of the matter was that Tony was just a master at using language to his advantage. He filled the silences with meaningless and forgettable words so that others would buy his unflappable, devil-may-care persona that he’d carefully cultivated. But the man standing before him with a pained look on his face at circumstances beyond all their control looked vulnerable and lost.

Tony’s whole body stiffened when, without warning, Steve pulled him into a bear hug. It took several long moments before the genius relaxed into it and brought his arms up to the soldier’s back to return the gesture. Steve was glad that he didn’t fight the comfort offered. His friend had such a hard time admitting when he needed help. Tony was so strong, so independent, so smart, so beautiful… Wait, where had that thought come from? The blond pulled away, but slowly enough to not alarm the other man, and the look of gratitude and (dare he say?) contentment on Tony’s face caused a twist in his gut and heat in his cheeks.

Taking a step back, Steve cleared his throat before speaking. “Ready to let Banner poke and prod you?” he asked, barely able to maintain eye contact.

The expression on Tony’s face was inscrutable for a moment before it morphed into a semblance of fond exasperation, and he made an “after you” motion towards the lab door.

-----

The following few days were a whirlwind of every lab test Bruce and the doctors down at SHIELD Medical could think of. Steve could tell Tony was frustrated not only with the invasiveness of all the testing but also with his own inability to toss sarcastic barbs at the medical staff as was his habit. In an effort to cheer the other man, Steve doodled a caricature of Iron Man as a porcupine with various syringes as quills that had Tony laughing so hard he clutched his sides in pain and fell off the exam table.

While Tony, Steve, and Bruce spent time in and out of medical, Clint and Natasha had spent an exhaustive amount of time interrogating their prisoner. Even after Clint had left the cell to have the agents monitoring the detention area turn off all recording devices, and Natasha had been free to exert whatever less-than-Avengers-worthy pressures she deemed fit, the witch was still absolutely close-lipped about what she’d done to their teammate and how to fix it.

Thor had been gone – presumably to Asgard – since shortly after the debriefing, and no one knew when they might be hearing from him. They just hoped that him still being gone meant that he was tracking down promising leads.

The Tower was disconcertingly quiet with Tony’s condition being what it was. Tony spent far less time in his lab these days than he usually did. With how much voice interface was built into his systems, there was only so much he could accomplish like he was. It was wracking his nerves in a way clearly visible to everyone around him.

When Pepper had called the first time after The Incident –it was always spoken to emphasize the capitalization – Tony had forgotten and accepted the call, StarkPhone to his ear, before he remembered. He’d looked very close to throwing the device before sighing and handing it over to Bruce to explain that Tony would be putting his Stark Industries duties on hold for the foreseeable future.

Steve had always rather frowned upon the amount of chatter and banter that the team engaged in during sparring and battle both, but without Tony to lead the verbal assault, team training wasn’t the same. Everyone made every effort to buckle down and reassure themselves they were all in peak form, but the atmosphere was so changed and heavy that as soon as Steve called the session to a close, everyone seemed to heave a huge sigh of relief.

A little good news appeared in the form of Thor about a week after The Incident. Everyone he had consulted – no one asked just how many Asgardians or other mystical beings he’d contacted, but it seemed like quite a few – agreed that this type of enchantment had very little probability of being permanent. Unfortunately, none of them could offer a solution to the problem either; the general consensus being that it was either time-dependent or a cure would be triggered by a specific action on Tony’s part. Another few rounds of interrogate-the-prisoner yielded no more information on the “why’s” or “how’s” than previously, so the team resigned themselves to waiting the situation out.

At one point Tony had gotten the idea to carry a StarkPad around with a type-to-voice interface loaded onto it. After the fourth one had been shattered after being flung at Clint’s head over Stephen Hawking references – “Oh, come on, you would be pulling the same shit if our situations were reversed!” – that plan was scrapped. When Tony’s first attempt at good old-fashioned paper and pencil resulted in confused stares followed by uncontrollable laughter at the atrocious state of Tony’s penmanship – “I’m fairly certain you’ve thrown some Cyrillic in there, Stark…” – the genius spent an entire day locked away on his own valiantly working to improve its legibility.

While the practice had made reading his handwriting much easier, the process was so annoyingly slow that it only had limited success. It was fine for putting in his vote for toppings when Bruce called to order pizza, but as a long-term communication strategy, it sucked. Natasha and Clint could both lip-read to some extent, but the continued exercise of speaking with no sound coming out just rattled Tony all the more. The strain and frustration was obviously taking its toll on the billionaire. He began pulling away from the team more and more – except Steve.

Neither one could explain it, but with Steve Tony didn’t need to try so hard to make himself understood. A quirk of the lips, a raise of an eyebrow, a soft huff of a laugh - it didn’t take much of an effort on Tony’s part before Steve would narrate Tony’s thought out loud to the rest of the group, or just himself when the two were alone. The genius found himself more and more in the company of the super soldier, and to Steve at least, it seemed to be soothing to the afflicted man.

They spent a lot of time sprawled on one of the couches in the lounge getting Steve caught up on the must-see movies of his 70-year absence. While Tony lamented his inability to comment on his favorite movies and scenes, even he had to admit that this was probably a better viewing experience for Steve. This time anyway. He was totally making the blond watch all of these again later when he got his voice back. And it was going to be *epic*.

Sometimes, when Tony decided to indulge his masochistic side and went down to work in a much-reduced capacity in his lab, Steve would come along. He’d bring along a novel or his sketchbook and sit on the well-worn couch reading or sketching while Tony busied himself with repairs to Cap’s uniform or low-risk adjustments to the Iron Man armor. And if Tony’s music selections tended to stick more to Easy Listening than Hard Rock, well, that was just a pain he would have to suffer for the consideration of his guest. And if on more than one occasion Tony would take a seat on the couch next to Steve for a quick break after a marathon tinkering session and would just happen to wind up asleep with his head resting on the soldier’s shoulder, well, screw it. He didn’t have to explain himself – he was Tony Fucking Stark.

The worst times were when the Avengers needed to assemble. The first time, Tony had been completely suited up and about to close the faceplate when Steve’s gentle hand on a gauntleted wrist stopped him. With sad eyes the Captain forced difficult words from his throat, “Tony… You can’t…” The look on Tony’s face wasn’t anger or the stubborn set of his jaw when he was about to argue, it was a momentary flash of surprise followed by resignation. Steve could tell that Tony had simply forgotten and put on the Iron Man out of habit. With a sad smile and double thumbs-up that meant, “Go get em, Cap!” Tony began the process of extricating himself from the armor while his team – his friends – went to put themselves on the line to protect the city.

Since then, every time the team was called to assemble, Tony could do little but watch the live news footage while JARVIS played the live feed from the comm system and fret.
It was suddenly much clearer to the billionaire why Pepper had ended their romantic relationship on the grounds of being unable to watch him go off to what could very likely be his death over and over not knowing if he’d make it home. Not being able to do anything to help his team – help Steve – was quite possibly the worst in the long line of shitty consequences of The Incident.

Each time the call came, Tony held his lonely vigil in front of the television, and when he could see the fight was over, he’d turn it off, order some takeout to be delivered from one of the restaurants that had online ordering, and head down to his lab to wait for Steve. The Captain America uniform always managed to get ripped or sliced or on one memorable occasion partially eaten away by acid. Since Tony did the repair work – one job he was not letting his damned lack of voice interfere with – Steve had taken to “reporting” to the lab after battle to assess what repairs might be called for.

-----

About a month into Tony’s forced silence another Avengers call came in. The billionaire took up his anxious post in the lounge watching and listening as the battle raged. It was hard fighting, as the team had been run a bit ragged lately with villains seeming to pop up more frequently once they’d realized that Iron Man was out of commission – however temporarily. Thankfully they had Thor to provide some aerial support, but no one knew better than Tony how often they all depended on JARVIS and the vast array of extra sensors built into his HUD to provide them with split-second tactical information. This time around it seemed to be some members of an offshoot of AIM that had survived well past the demise of their founder, armed with some kind of energy weapons that packed one hell of a punch judging by the impressive amount of property damage going on.

Just as the melee seemed to be winding down and Tony was thinking to himself that someone better damn well be bringing one of those shiny new toys back to the Tower for him to study, a news camera panned over just in time to watch the last mobile AIM goon land a perfect torso shot on Captain America. The big man went down hard, face-first, and Tony felt all of the air whoosh out of his lungs. It took several long moments – during which Natasha did that frighteningly effective move with her thighs and the sound of the goon’s neck snapping was audible over the open comm – before Cap muscled himself to his feet with a pained expression.

Tony vaguely registered seeing him wave off medical attention before the news feed cut back to the on-scene reporter. He dimly realized that when he’d begun to breath once more, he’d also begun to hyperventilate. JARVIS noticed. The AI shut off the tv and the comm feed while calmly talking his creator into a breathing pattern that wasn’t going to result in loss of consciousness. When his breathing calmed – though the rest of him remained fully agitated – Tony hurried down to his lab.

-----

Half an hour later Steve, still in full Captain regalia minus the cowl, found the genius pacing restlessly around his lab. Entering his access code, the soldier entered the room and immediately moved towards the obviously troubled man. “Tony?” he asked with concern. Brown eyes darted to his face, and the blond saw him mouth a single word, “Steve?” The next thing he knew, hands were all over him, apparently checking for signs of injuries. Steve managed to catch the calloused hands in his own much larger gloved ones, and tried to sooth the anxious engineer. “Tony, it’s okay. The weapon didn’t get through my uniform. It made me dizzy as hell for a minute there,” he offered with an embarrassed grin.

And then Tony was gripping him – one hand on the back of his neck and the other in his hair – and pulling Steve down into a heated kiss. His arms immediately encircled the smaller man, bringing their bodies flush to one another. Steve gasped at the feel – Tony was already hard as steel against his hip, and he was rapidly becoming the same – and the genius took the opportunity to deepen the kiss and plunder Steve’s mouth with his clever tongue.

Steve slid his hands under Tony’s black Led Zeppelin t-shirt wanting to feel bare skin before he realized the leather of his gloves was still in the way. He pulled away from the billionaire with a frustrated growl to yank the gloves off one at a time with his teeth, and then dove back in to ravish his lips once more. When his fingertips finally did meet the flesh of Tony’s back, Steve could feel though not hear the moan that tore from the dark haired man’s throat. It was that sensation that led him to bodily lift the genius and walk with him until he found the worn lab sofa, sitting down with Tony astride his lap.

To show his great approval of the change of venue, Tony quickly stripped his shirt over his head and started working at the complicated hidden fasteners of the Captain America uniform. Though he knew every inch of the uniform just as well as the man who wore it, Tony’s hands fumbled the job when Steve leaned forward capturing one of the other man’s dusky nipples between his lips, sucking gently before thoroughly laving it with his tongue. Steve chuckled lightly at the full-body shudder that wracked Tony’s frame and moved across to the other nipple, giving it the same treatment as he brushed the dazed man’s hands aside and finished unfastening his uniform top himself.

Tony wasted no time in removing the offending article of clothing from the sculpted perfection that was a shirtless Steve Rogers. Then he slipped from his lap to kneel on the floor between the soldier’s legs, nipping and kissing his way down truly magnificent pectorals to return the favor as nimble fingers made quick work of the fly of Cap’s ridiculously tight pants. And God bless America, Tony almost saluted when he discovered that nothing came between Steve and his uniform, and the incredibly impressive member was bared to his hungry gaze.

Steve’s eyes went wide at the first gloriously hot lick up the underside of his cock. A swirl of tongue around the glistening head elicited a desperate groan. When Tony engulfed him fully, taking him all the way down his throat in one move, both of Steve’s hands clenched tightly in dark hair before he remembered himself and let go quickly, “Sorry, Tony. Sorry.” If the genius could have smirked around the enormous length in his mouth, he would have. Instead, he made pointed eye contact and drew the big hands back to his head. Steve threaded shaking fingers through silky strands and then could only hold on for dear life and moan as Tony moved up and down on his cock, tongue tracing the veins on the underside as he pulled back, hands drifting down to fondle his balls gently. It was the soundless hum causing vibrations that seemed to run all the way up his spine that had Steve pulling Tony off by the hair. “Stop, Tony. God, close,” he panted taking in the genius’ lust-glazed eyes and shining wet mouth.

Steve dragged the other man back in for a sloppy, fervent kiss that didn’t seem to last nearly long enough before Tony was pulling away once more to strip the super soldier out of his boots and pants entirely. The billionaire quickly toed off his own shoes and divested himself of his jeans and boxer briefs – Iron Man red, of course – giving the blond only a few moments to appreciate the quite stunning view of his ass as he darted over to a supply drawer and promptly returned to straddle the larger man once more.

Tony wriggled until both of their cocks were aligned with one another and tugged one of Steve’s large hands between their bodies to wrap around both lengths at once, directing him to a slow stroke. In the meantime, the genius flipped the cap on the bottle of lube he’d retrieved, slicked up several fingers, and reached backwards to begin working himself open. It took a few moments for Steve to realize what the other man was doing, but once he did a bolt of lust shot through him and his length twitched in his palm. He captured Tony’s lips in another urgent kiss that left them both gasping for breath.

Before long, Tony removed his fingers from himself and brought his still slick hand around to coat Steve. He lined himself up above the larger man, and their gazes locked, clear blue and warm brown, as Tony carefully worked his way down onto Steve’s sizeable cock in small rises and falls of his hips. When fully seated, Tony’s eyes drifted shut and he rested their foreheads together while they both adjusted to the sensation.

After what seemed both an eternity and no time at all, Tony began to move with a gentle rocking of his hips. Steve couldn’t believe how amazing the other man felt. He was so tight, so slick, so hot… He started stroking his hands up and down Tony’s back, enjoying the sighs and warm puffs of breath against his skin as the dark haired man trailed kisses and light nips down the side of his neck. When the billionaire bit down firmly but gently on the spot where neck met shoulder, Steve couldn’t help but grab his hips and thrust upwards, hitting Tony’s prostate perfectly as he did so. Judging by the silent groan that vibrated from Tony’s chest into his own, this was encouraged behavior, so he braced his feet against the floor and began a steady rhythm thrusting into Tony’s heat as he pulled his hips down to meet him.

Their initially measured pace quickly escalated as they both drew closer and closer to release. Steve’s head was leaned back against the couch, brow furrowed and lower lip caught between perfect white teeth, as he practically bounced the smaller man in his lap. Tony’s face was buried mostly in Steve’s neck, his mouth moving soundlessly and his breath hitching every time the cock inside him hit a particularly sensitive spot. When the soldier knew he was only moments away from imminent climax, he worked one hand between their bodies to grip the genius’ leaking member, and after only a few strokes, Tony was coming in a hot, wet gush between them.

“Love you! Steve! Fuck!” The words broke the relative silence almost violently. Steve wasn’t sure if it was the clenching of internal muscles around his aching cock or the sound of that much-loved and much-missed voice professing love in his ear that sent him spiraling over the edge with sparks behind his eyelids. Either way, he didn’t much care; he just held his sated genius close as they came down from their high.

Steve half expected a barrage of words to come crashing out of the man still atop him, but Tony was uncharacteristically – before the past month, that is – quiet. “Tony?” he ventured, so the other man would lift his head so he could see his face. At the quirked eyebrow he continued, “It wasn’t just those four words, right? You can talk again?”

A genuine full-fledged smile spread across Tony’s handsome face. “Words are unnecessary,” he offered before leaning down for a thorough kiss.

Steve pulled away with a look of concern. “I love you, too, you know,” he stated earnestly.

Tony’s grin turned wicked as he moved in to capture Steve’s mouth once more. “I know,” he murmured against those tempting lips.

The blond tore himself away again with a far more dazed expression than before. “We should let the others know. That you’re cured,” he explained.

Practiced fingers found a nipple to circle as the billionaire brought his lips close to Steve’s ear. “I think the others can wait,” he purred, feeling the cock still inside him begin to stiffen again. “Oh, hello there, soldier… Ready for round two?”

After that there were no more words.