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nobody knows the wreck of a soul (the way you do)

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So time travel.

Steve said that sending him forward in time hadn’t worked, but time travel backwards was the more interesting one anyway, wasn’t it? Sending Steve forward had hurt him beyond reason, it had forced a scream from him that rang and rang in Tony’s ears. Real life was so spectacularly unsubtle it had put him in a situation where he had Steve’s literal blood on his literal hands, very cute, karma, love your work, but perhaps next time try for—

Anyway, time travel.

It was either play with time travel or talk to Pepper about where they stood on their Cap ‘n’ Bucky rehabilitation PR campaign, and he’d never been great at advance planning PR moves.

“All that means is that someone always has to come running after you everywhere with a mop and bucket,” Pepper said, irritated.

“Which they get a very nice salary for.”

“Which they do get a very nice salary for, and I’ll be delighted to supply a 2% cost-of-living raise across the board for our PR department, since you bring it up. What I meant was, don’t act like spontaneous announcements nobody is prepared for are better just because they’re what you happen to be good at.”

(What Pepper happened to be good at was being right all the time.)

So playing with time travel—which carried the risk, should he mess up, of spitting him forward in time in a way that had the capacity to do unspecified but horrible things to his body and mind that he maybe wouldn’t recover from—still felt like the better option.

Unrelatedly, Steve was helping out with the PR stuff. He’d been in and out of the country since he’d cleared himself for leaving bed rest (the doctor hadn’t cleared him but when the fuck had that ever stopped him), and when he was home he stayed at Sam’s place as often as he stayed at the Tower.

Not that Tony cared where Steve slept. Just that Steve had said I love you, and then he’d said it a bunch more times in a row and then he hadn’t even—

“Hey Tony?”

Speak of the motherfucking devil.

Tony wiped his hands on his pants and swung around to face Steve. “Hey,” he said, and waited.

“Just finished up with Pepper,” said Steve, walking farther into the lab but not closer to Tony, a wide swing that took him nearly out to the bots’ charging stations. He was wearing, intolerably, a light brown kid leather jacket Tony (well, Pepper) (well, Pepper’s then-assistant, Brian) (but the principle, he felt, stood) had bought for him a few birthdays back. “She wanted to check if you needed to sign off on some of the appearances they’re planning for you, or if she should just put them on your calendar and remind you like normal.”

Great. Either Pepper thought Tony couldn’t handle a damn morning show, or Steve did. Someone was being tactful.

“Like normal’s fine.” Being alone in the room with Steve made his heart race, his traitor heart, and he couldn’t tell anymore if it was fear or desire or some fucked-up combination of the two. The people who had abducted him had shaved his head, and it was growing back slowly. Tony felt sick seeing him like that. He thought of Aslan; he thought of Evey Hammond.

Steve picked his way through some more debris and swung himself up to sit on one of the tables. A lot of stuff was between him and Tony now, bots and sheet metal and tables full of equipment. He’d have to knock it all aside to get to Tony; it would slow him up. Tony would have time to summon his armor, get to the workshop door, escape.

I know what you’re doing, Tony wanted to say and didn’t.

“Whatcha working on?” said Steve.

“Just going through some data.”

Steve gave him a look so familiar it ached, his “I’m-not-everyone-else” look. If he’d had glasses he’d have peered over the tops of them.

“From your merrie band of abductors,” Tony clarified. “Trying to reverse engineer some things, since they blew up their records.”

“There must be a back-up.”

“Must be analog if so, because I can’t find it.” Tony rubbed his eyes. “Your girlfriend’s deal with the government doesn’t extend to showing her work, and T’Challa’s been pretty clear that Wakandan science stays in Wakanda. So. This.”

He was not going to ask Steve any questions about what it had been like, what they had asked or done or what he had noticed. He wasn’t.

Steve nodded. His heels kicked against the table’s stretcher. “What for?” he asked. He was carefully, noticeably not looking at Tony.

Tony shrugged. Steve didn’t see him. “I like knowing how things work.”

“You sure do,” said Steve, his voice warm with affection. If Tony looked up at him, he would see Steve’s eyes shining full of it. “Well, Pepper’s done with me, so I wondered if I could just—be down here with you for a little while. You don’t have to entertain me.”

It was so obvious what Steve was trying to do—force normalcy by going through the motions until it became normal again—that Tony’s skin crawled with vicarious embarrassment. It made him want to be vicious. You naïve asshole, didn’t anyone ever tell you that you can’t go home again. Don’t you know that once you’ve tried to kill someone it’s too late to sit in their lab and sketch them like you’re their sophomore fucking boyfriend? That time is gone.

“If you want,” he said. The words came out nastily indifferent, and he turned away quickly so that he wouldn’t see Steve wince.

So. Time travel.

Villemaire had discovered the two scientists—Anna whatsit and something N’Gai—when he was looking into memory, because their idea was that time travel had to be fundamentally memory-based. From the little Steve had said during his debrief, plus medical records plus what Tony could deduce on his own, this had meant hooking their device into Steve’s limbic system, zapping him, and hoping for the best.

If Tony hadn’t seen Steve time traveling with his own eyes—

He looked up.

Steve had fetched out one of his small notebooks and a charcoal pencil. The way he angled his body to get the light how he wanted it was achingly familiar.

“Rag,” he said to Dummy. Wiping his hands, he crossed the workshop, Dummy trailing hopefully behind him the way it always did. “Hey, Picasso.”

“Hey, Einstein.” One corner of Steve’s mouth curved up a little.

“I hit you. Did I hit you? In the Tower.”

Steve said, very firmly, “No.”

“When you were time-traveling.”

“No,” said Steve. “That never happened.”

Tony cocked his head to one side. He remembered it. Steve was bleeding from both arms, and his body folded up around the blow. Steadying his breathing so that Steve wouldn’t notice a difference, Tony flexed his hand open and shut, twice. “Steve.”

“If it had,” Steve said, “then when I came to see you, you’d have mentioned it. You’d have said, Someone still knows you’re my weak spot.”

Hadn’t he said that? “Friday,” he said. “Can you—”

Steve put a hand on Tony’s wrist, and Tony jerked away.

“Sorry,” he said, and Steve said, “No, I’m—”

“I’m sorry,” said Tony again. When he looked at Steve, he could see the overlay of everything else Steve had ever been to him. Steve ragged and thin and wired in to too many machines. Steve’s shield coming down. Steve wide-eyed, his heart pounding under Tony’s fingers. Too many things, too much history. They could not go back.

“Boss?” said Friday.

“I don’t want you to,” Steve said. “Tony, please. If there’s footage—I don’t want you to. If we can remember it both ways, then I’m, I have a preference about which one I want to keep. Please.”

If Steve hadn’t spent the last month being tortured (and then recovering from being tortured), if his hair wasn’t prickly stubble and his eyes still bruised with lack of sleep, Tony would have ignored him and gone ahead with what he wanted to do anyway.

“Okay,” he said.

Steve exhaled shakily. “Okay. I’m sorry for touching you without permission.”

“Well, you’ve fucked me, so I guess it’s fine.”

There was a nod that Steve did when something hit him very hard. He did that nod, now.

Tony stretched his mouth out into something like a smile. “Aren’t you glad you came down to see me?”

“Do you want me to go?”

He didn’t, was the thing.

“Because I want to—” Steve tapped his charcoal pencil distractedly against his drawing pad. “I want to make things right with you. Whatever that looks like. And I need you to tell me if I’m overstepping, because I, I won’t always know.”

The thing was that he wanted everything with Steve, and in an eyeblink, Steve could stop looking like home and safety and start looking like a murder weapon. Make that right, Captain America. Fix my fucked-up brain.

“Tony?” said Steve, his voice faltering a little. “Am I doing this all wrong?”

“You’re not doing anything wrong,” Tony said. He touched his middle and ring fingers to Steve’s face, slid them gentle up his cheekbone. Steve’s breath caught, and he shut his eyes. His lips were parted. He looked like sin, wanton, hungry.

Tony kissed him very soft. When he pulled back, Steve wet his lips and opened his eyes. He didn’t say anything.

“I think,” said Tony, “I think we want the same thing.” Darling, he thought. “I want to keep trying for that.”

“Good,” said Steve, his voice cracking a little.

It was hard to be afraid of Steve when he was vulnerable like this, all his shields down, exuding that patient sweetness that made him so easy to love. Don’t freak out, Tony ordered himself sternly, and he put his arms around Steve and buried his face in Steve’s neck. After a moment, Steve hugged him back, not too hard, his strong forearms pressed against Tony’s shoulder blades.

“Thank you,” Steve whispered.

Of course, he checked the tapes later. He had Friday search for footage of Steve between the dates when it could have happened (after their first phone call, which was the same day Rhodey got his medal of honor; before Steve came to New York), and there it was: Steve bleeding in the elevator. Sliding limp as a rag doll to the ground, coming to when Tony nudged his head with a booted foot a few times. God, even on the tape it was obvious how happy he was to see Tony, and then Tony sucker-punched him and after a few stunned seconds, Steve vanished.

“Erase the tape,” he ordered Friday. (See. Respecting Steve’s wishes.)

“Yes, boss.”

Time travel. Ain’t that a kick in the head.

He wasn’t making much progress on cracking what Anna Thingy and Something N’Gai had done to make time travel possible, so he took the suit out to Malibu and broke into Jordan Villemaire’s place.

Villemaire, the sack of shit, was lounging in his den watching 300 and drinking champagne, which was pretty much exactly what Tony would have guessed he did in his leisure time. He screamed when the suit came in the room. It was immensely satisfying.

“Get the fuck out, Stark,” he said, backing up farther into the room as Tony advanced on him. “I’m calling the police.”

“Ooh, bad news,” said Tony. “The suit’s got a signal jammer, you’re not going to be able to dial out for at least an hour after I leave. But I’m sure they’ll believe you.”

Villemaire looked wildly from one side of the room to the other, as if anything in there would have been a weapon strong enough to stop Tony, if Tony had wanted to kill him. If he’d wanted to pick Villemaire up by the throat and shake him like a terrier’s chew toy. If he wanted to drive a gauntleted hand into Villemaire’s stomach, the way Villemaire had tricked him into doing to Steve.

“What do you want?” he said finally, his voice high with fear.

“To talk,” said Tony. “Have a seat, Jordan.” He retracted his faceplate and leaned casually up against the doorframe of the room.

Villemaire wet his lips and sat. “You already know everything that happened, man, Jesus, what do you want me to say about it? I took a chance and I got caught.”

“You don’t,” said Tony, “fuck with my people, Jordan. I thought you knew that. Didn’t we go over this the last time you tried to poach Pep?”

“Hey, don’t blame me,” said Villemaire, with a hint of his usual smirk. “I tried to get Barnes.”

“Well, you didn’t get Barnes. You got Steve Rogers, you sick fuck. You got Captain America, the best fucking person on the planet. You bled him and drugged him and tortured him and he still didn’t give you what you wanted, did he.”

Villemaire’s eyes flicked up to Tony’s, clear of remorse. “Not everything we wanted, no. And by the way, if you’re recording this, I don’t give my consent.”

“Oh, shut up,” said Tony. He wanted to blast him. Hurt him, bleed him. “This isn’t an incriminate you thing, we’ve got more than enough evidence to put your pitiful ass away for decades, it’s a—”

What was it? It was that he couldn’t bear for Jordan Villemaire to walk free, while Steve, while Steve, while Tony, while everything was wrong between them and Villemaire stood there with his ankle bracelet, untouchable.

“You hurt him,” Tony said finally.

“Is he fine?” Villemaire demanded. “That’s the point, Tony, he’s a supersoldier. Would you rather we tested on humans?”

Unexpectedly, that caught Tony in the pit of his stomach. He had to fight to keep his face bland. “He is human,” he said. Steve Rogers. His eyes, his hands, his shoulders. His head pillowed on Tony’s lap, those ridiculous eyelashes resting on the curve of his cheek.

Villemaire had relaxed a lot, now that he could tell Tony wasn’t going to start blasting things. “What did you come out here for, Stark?”

Tony shook himself. “I want your papers,” he said. “Anything you’ve got relating to the time travel shit. I won’t submit it in evidence, it’s for my own personal use. Give me that, and I’ll have my lawyers go easy on you as far as what prison you end up in. I’m not negotiating for trial outcomes or parole, that’s beyond my power, but I’ll argue against putting you in maximum.”

“I trust my lawyers,” said Villemaire. “I don’t trust you.”

Tony should have remembered how profoundly unsatisfying it was to speak with people you had defeated. They would never say they had been wrong, and being the good guy, you could not rip their heads off their skulls and splatter the blood from their brainstems across their 88-inch curved televisions, no matter how nicely it would go with Leonidas’s defense at Thermopylae.

He got home late and headed to Steve’s floor. He needed to see him. Touch him. He was human.

Steve was already asleep, which was better really. Tony put the armor back in its briefcase, which he left at the side of the bed, and spooned himself up against Steve’s back. Steve made a sleepy, happy noise.

“It’s me,” Tony whispered.

“Mmm?” went Steve, questioning.

“I just,” said Tony. “I just needed you.”

“Smell good,” Steve murmured. He angled his head back at what should have been an impossible angle and opened heavy-lidded eyes a fraction, to see Tony’s face. “Hm. You have a good face.”

Tony laughed softly. “That is a very weird compliment.”

“Good face,” repeated Steve, cuddling into his pillows (not enough pillows) and Tony’s body. He was halfway back to sleep already. “I love you.”

Five minutes later, when Steve’s breathing had turned regular and his fingers had loosened around Tony’s, Tony whispered, “I love you too.”

Two days later, Steve came down to the workshop. He was wearing blue sweats and holding a pillow from one of the upstairs sofa, and he didn’t come in. “Lock me out,” he said into the intercom.

“What?” said Tony, turning around.

“Lock me out, okay, I need to talk to you about something and I want you to feel safe while I do it.” Steve looked up the stairs over his shoulder.

“You can just come in.” Tony stripped off his welding gloves and went over to open the lab door, since Steve wasn’t. “It’s fine, I’m fine. What’s up?”

“You looked at the tapes,” Steve said.

It wasn’t a question. “I deleted them.”

“But you looked at them first.”

Tony rolled his eyes. “Yes, Sherlock, I looked at them first. What’s the big deal?”

“You said you wouldn’t,” said Steve. “I asked you not to, and you said you wouldn’t, and I—I said I didn’t want it.” His arms were hooked around the pillow, and Tony realized he had brought it down so that he’d have something innocuous to do with his hands.

Steve saw him realize it, and he took two steps back. Tony wanted to punch him in the throat. “Who cares? I wanted to see if it was real or some kind of hallucination, that’s all. In case you’ve forgotten, I don’t exactly have the most trustworthy mind.”

“I remember you telling me about it now.” Steve shook his head like he was trying to clear water out of his ears. “When I came to New York I remember you telling me that someone had sent a lookalike.”

“So what?”

“So that didn’t happen.

“So if it didn’t happen, then who—”

“You made my memories change, I asked you not to do it and you did it anyway, and I can’t, I can’t, that was important to me.” Steve’s fingers were clenched tight in the down of the pillow.

“It was important to you for me not to have said, hey Steve, I saw a lookalike. That’s important to you. That’s so important to you that you had to come down here and disturb my work.”

“Yes,” said Steve through his teeth. “Keeping my real memories is that important to me.”

“Yeah, well, I didn’t touch your memory, Steven. I verified mine. That’s all. Don’t come down here acting like I was dicking around in your head like Villemaire, okay, cause you’re not the only one who feels shitty about what—” He ground himself to a stop. How he felt about Steve being abducted and tortured wasn’t relevant.

“What happened between us, everything that’s happened between us, it doesn’t only belong to you. It’s mine too, it’s both of us.”

Tony bit his lip. Steve’s eyes tracked it. If he could choose, he wouldn’t keep the memory either. He rubbed his hands hard against the cloth of his pants, needing the faint burn of it. “It would have been real,” he said, “either way.”

“There isn’t any real except what we remember.”

“Um, agree to disagree? You were there, you—you left blood in my elevator, I had to have someone in to clean it. There was tape, until I erased it.”

Steve shook his head. “You made it be there because you wouldn’t stop remembering it. If you hadn’t looked…” He didn’t finish the sentence. Drawing in an uneven breath, he looked down, the bottom of his chin brushing the piping of the pillow.

“Steve,” said Tony, more gently, “you know that’s ridiculous. Objective truth—”

“I wanted to remember it the way it was,” said Steve. He was so human. He was human, and lovely, and Tony had hurt him.

“Okay.” Tony cupped Steve’s cheek with his hand. “Okay. I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I won’t do it again.”

Steve’s fingers flexed on the pillow. “Okay. I—thank you.”

In spite of the pillow between them, he pulled Steve down for a kiss, a real one, biting at Steve’s bottom lip until Steve opened his mouth for Tony’s tongue. He tasted good, like mint, and he shivered all over as his fingers settled on Tony’s hips and tugged him closer. Tony drew the pillow out from between them and threw it sideways—it caught on something, rattled, and fell—then pressed himself up against the long, warm length of Steve’s body. Steve made a noise deep in his throat. God, it was good; God, Tony loved him.

Steve rubbed his thumbs into the indent of Tony’s hips, and it would have taken very little for Tony to deepen the kiss and press closer. But he wanted, this was good and he wanted it to stay good. Easy. He drew back.

“Sorry,” said Steve.

“For what? Don’t be sorry. I like kissing you.”

“I like kissing you too. And I—and the other night night, that was—I needed—it was good, though, last night was—I felt. I felt.” Steve gave a sad, small smile. “Anyway. Just. I also wanted to say if you have questions, maybe, about what—um. Happened. You know. To me. If you had questions about that, it would be okay for you to ask me.”

Fuck that, Tony thought. Fuck you for thinking I’d put you back there to satisfy my own curiosity. “That’s okay,” he said. “I think I’ve got a pretty good general idea. Time doesn’t exist in any meaningful way apart from what we observe, so it looks like they were just tricking your brain into believing you were living through a different day.”

Steve went to retrieve the pillow. Over his shoulder, he said, “So how come sending me into the future didn’t work? If time’s not real.”

“We don’t have to talk about this,” said Tony. He had curled his hands into fists; the feeling of his short fingernails cutting into his palm was grounding.

“I guess,” said Steve, “I’d rather know what they did to me, than not know. I’d rather have a—some idea, you know? I want to know what it was all for.”

“Well—yeah. So, they were tricking your memory, basically, which is where all the time you’ve moved through kind of lives for you. They can’t trick it forward, because there’s nothing there in your memory, and I think, if I had to guess, I think that basically your body knew there was something really wrong and that’s why it reacted by—” Tony gestured at Steve, vaguely. He didn’t like to remember that. Steve’s hands in his. Wet, hot blood.

Steve took Tony’s hands in his. “Hey. Stop that.”

“Stop what?”

“You keep, you’ve been just wiping your hands every time you come near me, and I—” He squeezed a little. “Is it, are you okay?”

I’ve got you, baby, hang on, Steve, sweetheart, please—

“I had,” he said quietly, “I had your blood on my hands. I had you right the fuck in front of me, you were there with me, and I couldn’t, I couldn’t—fuck. Fuck, and I couldn’t save you.”

Steve’s thumbs pressed into his palms. “You did save me.”

“Yeah. Well. Yeah. Eventually.” Tony took his hands back. “It’s fine.”

“It isn’t fine if you’re hurting,” said Steve. There was so much of him, shoulders and arms, all that strength and power, and his face was folded into helpless, sad lines. Tony could not bear it.

“I’m not the victim here,” he said, his voice more acerbic than he had intended.

Steve gave another of those miserable smiles. “There’s not just one victim, sweetheart.”

Tony shoved his shoulders, his too-massive shoulders, his shoulders that bore everything as if he were born to the burden. Steve staggered back a step. “Fuck you,” said Tony. He didn’t know why he was angry, but he was shaking with it. “Fuck you, Steve, I don’t need your sad fucking eyes and your, God, I don’t need your pity, okay, so stop looking at me like that.”

“Okay,” said Steve softly.

Fight back, Tony wanted to scream at him. Don’t let me be this way to you, not to you, fucking fight me. His hands were trembling badly, and he clenched them into fists, to hide it.

“Do you need me to go?” Steve asked.

Something snapped. “Stop being so careful of me,” Tony yelled. “Fucking—throw me up against the wall and have your way with me so I can be done with this, what’s the matter with you?”

He backed Steve up until his back hit the wall beside the workshop door, crowding into his space, daring him. Steve’s fingers closed around Tony’s shoulders, only for a second.

“I can’t,” said Steve, barely above a whisper. “Tony, I can’t, I’m sorry, I can’t,” and he extracted himself, not touching Tony at all, and practically ran out of the room.

Tony’s knees gave out, and he dropped hard. It hurt. When he was young and dumb and filling his body with toxic shit, he had signally failed to appreciate how well it held up under pressure. Now any little thing sent him into chaos. Palladium. Grieving mothers with purses. Steve’s sun-bright pain.

Get up, he ordered himself. Get the fuck up.

He got up. His knees hurt. He got up, and he ignored his knees, and he went to the elevator and rode it up to Steve’s floor. When he got there, he took the elevator back down to his workshop, because he had no fucking clue what to say to Steve if he saw him.

That night he didn’t sleep but he curled up in his bed and shut his eyes and imagined going back in time. Changing his own memories, changing Steve’s. He imagined a world where he had never made Ultron. Where Steve had never left him.

In Villemaire’s hands, Steve had changed very little; but then, he hadn’t been trying. Imagine what could be different, if Tony could go back in time. The lives he could save. Small tweaks, good changes, nothing that would upset the cosmic order of the universe. If nobody looked too closely at what they thought they remembered (and people did not tend with care the gardens of their memories), they could have better worlds. Better lives.

He didn’t trust himself with that power, but he trusted Steve. And Steve would not accept it if it was offered to him, so what then?

And he could not help thinking of grander things. Changes that might upset the cosmic order of the universe but it wasn’t exactly like the universe was so flawlessly arranged in the first place so who exactly gave a fuck, anyway? What if he could make a world where Steve trusted him the way he trusted Steve, blindly, easily, without question? Better: A world where Steve had never had to shoulder the mantle of Captain America, where he had grown up to be an artist.

Tony wanted to meet that Steve. Would his smile be different, he wondered. Would he laugh easily.

I would still love you, he thought. In every world, every version of our lives, I would love you.

Thinking the words was no good, if he didn’t say them to Steve, and he couldn’t say them to Steve. His jaw locked when he tried; his body would never stop betraying him.

“I love you,” he said quietly in his own bedroom, imagining Steve’s face. Even imagining Steve’s happiness (for what?) was too much.

Morning came slowly. Friday told him when Steve was back from his run, when Steve was out of his shower, when Steve was finished with breakfast. Just go, he ordered himself. Just go to him, and tell him, and get it over with.

Fucking hell, he was a mess.

Before they kissed, Tony always felt like a little kid running after Steve, grabbing at his coat-tails. He would walk into a room that contained Steve and feel suddenly that nothing he had to say was worth bothering Steve with. That his awe of Captain America was tangled up with his feelings about his father was one of those messy brain things that was best kept locked away.

He leaned against Steve’s living room door, listening to the sounds of tea being made. The fading whistle of the kettle. The clink of the spoon against the side of the cup. Steve’s soft footsteps.

It wasn’t Captain America he loved.

“Hey!” said Steve, with such obvious pleasure to see him that it snapped Tony’s reticence. “I didn’t hear you come in.”

“Hey,” Tony said.

“I was just making tea, if you want some. I have milk.”

Tony didn’t care for tea, but Steve loved doing shit like this. “Yeah, I’d love a cup,” he said. “Thanks, darling.”

Surely Steve heard how forced that word was, darling, but he didn’t comment. “Sit,” he said. “I’ll bring it out to you. I’m glad you came up.”

To Tony’s unending delight, Steve owned chintz teacups with pink roses on them. He was so inordinately proud of the set that he didn’t even blush when the other Avengers teased him, just laughed and said they could say what they wanted but Sarah Rogers, for one, would have loved them. “Thank you,” said Tony, accepting the cup and saucer that Steve handed him.

Steve settled himself into the opposite end of the sectional couch, arm flung over the armrest. He shut his eyes as he drank the first sip of tea.

“I’m sorry about yesterday,” Tony offered.

“No, I’m sorry,” said Steve. “I shouldn’t have pushed.”

“You didn’t push.”

“I did.” Steve took another sip of tea. He could drink tea fresh from boiling; the water wouldn’t scald his tongue. “I was—keyed up, to come talk to you. It’s hard to see you hurting. I want to be able to—I know this isn’t what you want, but there’s a part of me that just wants to protect you. I hate it that I can’t.”

There was a part of him that wanted to be protected. Curl up in Steve’s strong arms and shut his eyes and be safe, forever.

“I know the feeling,” said Tony. He put his back against the armrest and stretched out his legs, tucking his toes under Steve’s thigh. Steve smiled at him. “It’s—you know, I’m constantly going back and forth between being frightened for you and—”

“Frightened of me?” said Steve. His smile was strained, now.

“No. I mean, yes, there’s that too sometimes, but it’s more—angry. I’m angry that anyone hurt you, and I let it happen.”

“You didn’t—”

“And I’m angry I’m not better. I want to be good for you, not—this. Because I—” I love you. “I care about you, and I’m angry that I don’t show it right. Or at all. I want to be so good for you, and I fucking hate it when I fall short.”

Steve wrapped a hand around one of Tony’s legs, fingers sliding down the tendon of his ankle. “We all fall short, I think. I do, I know I do. I’m always saying the wrong thing to you, just—I never get it quite right.”

“Well,” said Tony. “I mean, yeah. Same. Same to infinity.”

“I needed—” Steve’s voice cracked. “The other night, when you came and slept in the bed with me, I know I was half asleep and I maybe didn’t tell you how much I—”

This about Steve, Tony already knew. He wanted to be held, cherished, petted, but he would bite off his own tongue before he’d ask for it. “I love sleeping with you like that,” Tony said.

“Yeah?” said Steve, his eyes bright with hope.

“Yeah. That could be a regular thing, if you wanted.” Before Steve could get mushy about it, Tony went on. “Hey, did you drink all your tea, you greedy fucker?”

Steve blinked at him sheepishly.

“There’s a pot in the kitchenette?” Tony asked.

“Yeah, I’ll—”

“No, stay put, you look comfy. I’ll get it for you.” Tony put his tea—nearly untouched, he really didn’t care about tea—down on the floor and clambered up to pour a new cup for Steve. He added two sugar lumps from the sugar bowl, and stirred until he saw them dissolve. Pink roses. Steve fucking Rogers.

“There,” he said, setting the cup and saucer down on the side table. He slid a hand down Steve’s head, across his cheek, and squeezed his neck briskly before going back to his own side of the couch. “Nice and hot.”

Steve took a sip, luxuriating in it. Remember this, Tony told himself. Steve loved to be taken care of, and that, at least, was something Tony could do.

“What?” said Steve.

“Nothing,” Tony said. “You look happy.”

“I am happy.”

Tony said, “So, you wanna fuck, then?” and he was proud that his voice only shook the littlest bit.

He’d expected Steve to mind the language, or—well, something. Steve’s eyes darkened a little, but his voice was very casual when he said, “You up to it?”

Fuck Steve for always knowing. Fuck him for always having one eye to the chinks in Tony’s armor. Tony went to the bedroom, not looking behind him, and he heard the soft clink of the cup and saucer being set down.

He lay on the bed on his stomach, head pillowed on his arms, inhaling the lemony scent of Steve’s sheets. Tony had bought him linen sheets once, but Steve wouldn’t take them. He was proud, that way. Steve flumped down on his side next to Tony, propping his head up with one hand. “Hey, genius,” he said.


“I don’t care if we have sex or not.”

“Hm. Flattering.”

Steve chuckled. “I mean we don’t have to have sex right now. There’s no rush. When I said I was glad you came and slept with me the other night, I meant that I liked having—”

Tony leaned over and kissed Steve hard, to shut him up, tipped him backwards onto the pillows.

Oh, God, he’d missed Steve’s mouth. He had forgotten the feel of Steve under him, that warmth and solidity. He’d forgotten the way Steve’s fingers skated lightly over his skin at first, so fucking careful, like he cherished every touch. He’d forgotten that Steve would use his nose to nudge Tony’s chin to the side, then lick hungrily down the line of his jaw. The way his hips would jerk, and still, as if his own desire embarrassed him.

That Steve would smile up at him and call him sweetheart. He’d forgotten that.

No, he hadn’t. You liar, Tony Stark. That part he remembered in vivid fucking technicolor.

Steve rolled them over, and oh yes, Tony hadn’t forgotten this. The feeling of being caged in, trapped, by Steve’s arms. His sheer size, not just height and breadth but density. The way you could not breathe for the weight of him. The way you watched for the shield that would kill you.

Abruptly, Steve was off of him, and everything was cool air. Tony heard his own breath, rasping in his ears.


Shame washed over him, and he slithered up, back to the headboard, knees hugged into his chest. “Sorry,” he said. He wasn’t hard anymore, and he was trembling.

Steve lay down on his back beside Tony, his head bumping against Tony’s thigh, and offered a hand. Tony took it, squeezing tightly, trying to quiet his breathing. When he could trust his voice, he said, “I have a fucking terrible brain.”

Steve nuzzled against Tony’s leg. “I love your brain.”

You’ll leave me, Tony thought, if I’m so broken I can’t even fuck. He knew better than to say this to Steve.

“Would it help if you tied me?”

Caught on the inhale, Tony swallowed wrong and started to cough. When his throat cleared, he looked down at Steve. “What,” said Tony. “What are you even—how does it—is this a—” He raised their joined hands and pressed his lips to the inside of Steve’s wrist. “Yeah, you just spent three weeks in restraints, I’m not exactly going to throw you back there just cause I’m—this.”

“Restraints for sex aren’t the same as restraints for kidnapping.” Tony looked down at Steve, surprised all over again, and a laugh, a real one, bubbled out of Steve. “I can read, Tony, you gave me internet access. I looked it up. Thought maybe you—”

“Thought maybe I might be so permanently—”

“Stop,” Steve said softly. He wrapped his free hand around Tony’s calf and tugged. “C’mere. Quit acting like you’re forcing me to be here.”

Tony wriggled down, lying to face Steve. Like the sap he was, Steve clasped both of their hands together and pressed them against his heart.

“I was thinking,” Steve said, his voice at the exact threshold between speaking and whispering. “If you made restraints that were strong enough, if you wanted to do that. Or we don’t have to—it’s okay, you know? If you don’t want me touching you right away.”

“I do. Fuck, I do.” Tony slid a leg between Steve’s and pulled them closer. “Let’s just— And I’ll tell you if we’re coming up on a land mine.” He tipped Steve’s head down and kissed him. The angle was awkward, face to face, so Tony shifted them, rolled Steve on his back and straddled his hips and leaned down to kiss him.

They made out for a while, dreamy and slow, like teenagers first discovering kissing. Here was a thing about Steve Rogers: He could kiss you forever without asking for more. When Tony took his mouth away, to catch his breath, Steve was breathless and wide-eyed under him, his lips wet from Tony’s, his erection pressing against the seam of Tony’s pants.

“Tony,” he breathed.

“Shut up,” said Tony, “God, shut up, I can’t—shut up, I love you too, of course I fucking—”

Steve choked and covered his face with his hands. When he put them back on Tony’s thighs, his eyes were bright. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. “God, for leaving you, for hurting you, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I love you.”

Tears pricked at Tony’s eyes, and he swallowed them back. Crying during sex. Real hot, Stark. “It’s not about you, this—” He gestured at himself, dismissive.

“The hell it’s not,” said Steve, his voice dark with anger that Tony knew (he did know) was all directed inward. “I love you more than anything, I’d do goddamn anything for you, and you get panic attacks when I touch you. Don’t say it’s not about me and my—don’t say it’s not about me.”

“It’s my fucked-up mind, it’s not—Jesus, this is fucked.”

“Can I touch your face?”

Tony nodded, not meeting Steve’s eyes, and Steve reached up one of his big hands and stroked two fingers down Tony’s temple. “I love your mind. It’s—I feel, I guess, awe. About everything you keep in there. So if it comes with some other stuff that we have to, to work through, then that’s—then okay, I hate it that I scare you, it tears me apart to see you hurting and know it’s because of me, but if that’s what we’ve got, then that’s what we’ve got. It’s worth it to me.”

But why? Tony thought. He couldn’t ask. Steve would tell him, in unbearable, tender-voiced detail. “But what if I can’t ever—”

Steve’s fingers opening him up, so careful Tony wanted to scream. The bulk of his body as he fucked Tony, the scrape of his voice around Tony’s name when he came. That feeling of being surrounded, protected. Tony shuddered, fear and lust wrapped up together in the memory of it.

He’d expected Steve to say, nobly, that he didn’t need sex. It was the kind of thing Steve would say, and then Tony would have to say he didn’t need it either because Steve was enough for him, which was a lie, and Tony could see the future that spun off from that. Ugly, bitter, resentful. He’d cheat, and Steve would look at him, white at the edges with betrayal.

“There’s not just one thing I have to do to get off,” Steve said gently. “You can tell me what you need, but—if you would feel all right talking, um, talking to me while I—it could be from another room, even. And for you, I’m, if you’d trust me to hold still and not touch you, I swear I could do it, and you could—whatever you want. You could use my mouth or my hands, or fuck me, or just—jerk off on me if you wanted. Or we could wait until you got restraints.” His dick pulsed under Tony’s thigh.

“Holy shit that was hot,” Tony managed. He was lightheaded. “How can you—how are you able to talk dirty but somehow you can’t say the words ‘talking dirty’? How is that a thing?”

Steve smiled at him, his clearest smile.


“I—” Steve’s cheeks were turning pink. “It’s really, um. I’m happy that you at least still want, or still, I guess, find me. Um. You know. A turn-on, and not. Um. The opposite.”

The thought of Steve, naked, his hands wrapped around the iron twists of the headboard while Tony jerked off on him was shorting out Tony’s brain. “Fuck you’re hot. Fuck. Okay, let’s—what do you want?”

“I really want to go down on you,” said Steve. A muscle twitched in his jaw. “Before, when we—I’ve thought about it so many times.”

“Yeah? Hey, Friday. Dim lights to thirty. This isn’t a good conversation for daylight,” he explained, in response to Steve’s raised eyebrows. “Tell me what you thought about. I fucking loved seeing you on your knees. Taking my cock like you needed it to fucking survive.”

“God,” Steve whispered. “Yes.”

Well, shit, if dirty talk was what did it for him— “Get undressed. I need to see you.”

Steve rested his fingers lightly against Tony’s hip until Tony got the hint and scrambled off him; he whipped off his shirt and undershirt together, his eyes intent on Tony’s face, and went to work on his belt. He kept fumbling it because he wasn’t looking. Deliberately, Tony made matters worse by reaching out a hand and stroking it down the line of Steve’s dick. Steve gasped and almost fell forward.

“Pretty,” Tony said, effortfully careless.

Steve kicked free of his pants and came back to kneel on the bed beside Tony, one hand down his boxer shorts. His eyes glinted dark and hungry in the dim light. “You had your hands in my hair,” he said softly. “You were making so much noise, I thought everyone would hear. Clint, and Laura, Nat, everyone.”

“You put your hand over my mouth,” said Tony, remembering. His fingers shook as he was unbuttoning his shirt, but that was just from desire, that was from Steve all intent and desperate, this was fine, he could have this.

“And you—my fingers, you—” Steve touched two fingers to the corner of Tony’s mouth, and took them away just as quickly.

Tony got up, to take his pants off. He’d left on his undershirt, just—he just had. Steve was still wearing his boxers. “Tell me what it felt like, Steve.”

“It felt like you were all around me, God, your—the way it tasted, and you were licking my fingers like, like—”

“Like they were your cock?” Tony said, scrambling back on the bed and rubbing a hand down Steve’s dick. “Like I was sucking you off at the same time, Steve, is that what you meant?”

Steve’s head fell forward onto Tony’s shoulder, and he whispered, “Yes. Tony, I’m close, I’m sorry, I’m not gonna last—”

“Then don’t.” Tony took Steve’s cock out through the gap in his boxer shorts, rubbed his thumb into the precome at the head, very gentle, then started to stroke him. “Let it go for me, darling, show me how hot it made you to take my cock like that.”

Steve gasped “Tony, God, please,” and came.

His come was hot and wet across Tony’s hand. Tony’s throat contracted, but Steve—still gasping from his orgasm—had already noticed and was tilting himself backward for a handful of tissue from the bedside table. Oh, God, how little Tony deserved him. He wiped his hands clean and showed them palm-up to Steve.

Sleepy-eyed, Steve brought Tony’s hand to his mouth and kissed the palm. “Perfect. You’re perfect. God, that was—”

“Perfect?” said Tony.

“Yeah, it was.” Steve shivered all over like a predator cat. “Lie down with me for a second, okay? Then we’ll do you.”

Tony lay down on his back and Steve on his side, his nose against Tony’s shoulder. It had been good, hadn’t it. Steve got off, and Tony was going to, too. It would be okay. There was no need for the sensation that ice was sliding slow and nasty down his back. “I love you,” he said, very firmly.

Steve’s smile was radiant. “Tony, I love you so much, I’m—it’s ridiculous how much. You make me so happy.”

Lie. Tony made him sad. Whatever it was that people had in them to make other people happy, Tony was missing that particular element. Let it go, he ordered himself, but he couldn’t. “Yeah, you’ve seemed real happy this past year. Over the moon. Giddy.”

“You mean when I wasn’t with you?”

“You mean when I ruined your life and ran you out of the country and tried to kill your best friend?”

Steve rolled onto his stomach and propped himself up on an elbow. “You mean when I exacerbated your rich trauma history and broke up the Avengers because I wouldn’t listen to you?”

“Trauma history, what the fuck, like you and Sam and everyone else on the fucking team don’t have the exact same—”

“Minds are different, Tony!”

He wasn’t raising his voice, even. He was talking at a regular volume for daylight hours. It only seemed loud because they had been speaking quietly before. But Tony could feel the familiar, sickening throb of fear in his chest, and he saw Steve register it, somehow, and open his mouth.

“Don’t apologize,” Tony said. “Fuck. You didn’t do anything. It’s never that you did anything. That’s what I meant when I said it wasn’t about you. My fucking body, my head, I can’t—do you have any fucking idea what it’s like knowing you can’t even control your own body?”

Steve’s face was serious. “Yeah. I do.”

Of course he did. Tony closed his eyes. After a moment, he said, “Where’d you get that, ‘rich trauma history’?”

“Losing Bucky, I would say was a big part of it,” said Steve, “and then, you know, falling into the ice—”

“Smartass. I meant the phrase. That’s something Sam said?”


Tony’s eyes were still closed, but he felt Steve’s fingers on him, skimming light as a breath over the line of Tony’s jaw, his mouth, his cheeks. It felt—uncomplicated. An uncomplicated good. Tony wished he would never stop. “Feels nice,” he said, so Steve would keep doing it.

“I wish you’d give yourself a break sometimes.”

“If wishes were fishes, I’d wish the same thing for you, pumpkin.”

Steve said, “Ha.” His hand pushed back into Tony’s hair. “Hey. No gel stuff today?”

Tony opened his eyes, smiling, and Steve’s face was so lovely above him that he arched up and kissed him. He intended it to be quick, affectionate, but Steve followed Tony’s mouth back down, and they were kissing hungrily, suddenly on the path to something again. Like old times, except that Tony didn’t put his hands on Steve’s shaven head, and Steve didn’t reach across Tony’s chest, or roll them, or anything that would put Tony underneath Steve even slightly.

Not that much like old times at all, really.

But it was good, anyway, it was desperate and wet and good, Tony’s hand wrapped around Steve’s wrist and the rough rasps of their breathing. “I wanna see you come,” Steve said, low, his hand on Tony’s stomach and sliding down, a tantalizing weight. Tony rolled his hips backward, and Steve shoved his boxers down and took him in hand, and oh God, Steve’s hands were a work of art.

“There,” said Tony, raggedy, “there, Steve, God, yeah—”

“Anything you want,” whispered Steve into his skin. “Anything, just tell me.”

Tony rolled his hips up this time, fucking himself into the circle of Steve’s fist, and they both moaned.

“Let me go down on you?”

Lost for words, Tony nodded hard, and Steve sat up and scootched down the bed, all of his attention on Tony’s cock, his eyes like a physical weight against Tony’s skin.

Tony’s heart jolted hard. “Wait, don’t,” he said, small and helpless, stupid because you could not plead with a weapon to spare your life and Steve had been forged into a weapon; and it was not the dying that he feared but the moments before, the pain, the pain, and Steve’s ice-blue eyes—

“Hey, Tony. Stay with me, sweetheart.”

Steve was rubbing Tony’s hands. This was a thing Steve did to you. Some old-fashioned thing his mother had taught him. Fuck. “Fuck. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry,” said Steve automatically. “Did I misunderstand?”

“No.” Fucking Christ, he wanted to get away. “I said yes, and then my fucking—I thought it would be fine and it wasn’t fucking fine. Sorry.”

Steve kept rubbing his hands, careful and methodical. “I don’t want you to be sorry for telling me to stop doing something that was bad for you. That’s exactly what should happen. Right?”

Fucking Steve. “Yeah, I guess.”

“Do you want me to go?”

No,” said Tony. He could hear the neediness in his voice. “Jesus, I’m awful today. Don’t touch me, Steve, no don’t go Steve, I need you Steve, don’t fucking touch me, fuck, why are you still here? This is—I’m—” He pulled his hands away from Steve and dug the heels of them into his eyes.

“If I didn’t want to be here, I wouldn’t be.” Steve lay back down, on his side, watching Tony’s face too carefully.

“I’m manipulating you.”

Steve actually laughed, the sound of it so good that Tony’s eyes stung. “Yeah, I’m not actually that easy to manipulate. But nice try on making yourself feel terrible.”

“I always make myself feel terrible,” said Tony lightly.

He wished he could have the words back as soon as he said them. Too much truth, not enough joke. Steve said, “I know you do. But don’t—I’m not letting you use me for that. You’re not manipulating me. Letting me know when I run up against—like you said, landmines, that’s what I want. Was it okay before, when we were talking?”

Tony sighed. “Yes.”

“Really yes?”

“I—mostly yes.”

“Not when I came on your hand,” said Steve.

He threw an arm over his eyes; the conversation was easier if he couldn’t see Steve. “That wasn’t—great, yeah. But—”

“So we’ll be more careful another time. Was anything else making you anxious?”

“I don’t—yes, I guess so. I don’t know, I’m nervous that I’ll fuck everything up, so there’s that, and then I guess I didn’t—I guess the idea of you going down on me—fuck.” He felt as if he were being turned inside out, everything secret and shameful exposed to Steve’s clear blue gaze.

Steve lifted Tony’s arm off of his eyes and scowled at him. “You have to tell me this stuff. I thought it was turning us both on, talking about it. I don’t want to just—if I wanted an orgasm, if that’s all I cared about, God, Tony, I’d go jerk off in the shower. I want sex with you that we’re both enjoying, so if that’s what you want too then you have to talk to me.”

“It was turning me on,” Tony snapped.


“And, and, I don’t know. I was anxious too. Everything’s—twisted up.” A shudder of arousal (and apprehension) went through him.

Steve nudged Tony’s shoulder with his nose. “Okay. I’m glad you told me. I’ll check in with you more, next time.”

They hadn’t done anything strenuous, but Tony felt exhausted, tired down to his bones. He wanted Steve to hold him, and if Steve held him it would be too much. “I hate this,” he said miserably.

“Hm,” said Steve. “Well. I don’t.”

Tony turned his head to give Steve a skeptical glare.

“Well, I don’t. I like being with you and touching you and talking about how we can make each other feel good. It beats—honestly, pretty much anything else I could be doing.” He hesitated, then said, “I know you could be working, so. I mean. I appreciate you taking the time—”

“Oh shut up,” said Tony. “I love being with you.”

Steve’s smile. Steve’s fucking smile. “Yeah?”

“Yes, asshole. You’re the best thing I’ve ever had in my life. Quit fishing for compliments.” The words were hard to say, but Steve’s fucking smile. “And roll over already, I want to spoon you.”

Very quickly, Steve leaned up and kissed Tony’s forehead, then rolled onto his other side, so that Tony could slot himself in against his back.

“Pick up your head,” Tony ordered. He slid an arm under Steve’s neck and another around his chest and buried his nose in the prickly, shaved nape of Steve’s neck. “There. Comfy?”

“Mm-hm,” said Steve dreamily.

“Great. Good session or whatever.”

Steve’s body shook with laughter. “Yep, that’s the weirdest thing you could have said about it.”

“Oh, I think you grievously underestimate my capacity for weirdness, pretty boy.”

“You think I’m pretty?”

Tony slid one leg between Steve’s. “I said quit fishing for compliments. You’re ridiculously pretty. Much prettier than time travel.”

“Can I have that on a plaque?”

May I have that on—”

“Steve Rogers,” said Steve. “Prettier than time travel. I’m deeply moved.”

“I’ll deeply move you,” grumbled Tony.

“Nnnn,” went Steve, clinging to the arm around his chest. “Stay, stay. This feels so good, this feels so good.”

It did feel good. An uncomplicated good. Tony shut his eyes and breathed Steve in.

The thing about falling asleep at five in the afternoon was that you inevitably woke up at one AM feeling disgusting over not having brushed your teeth. Tony extracted himself from Steve very carefully, not to wake him up, and fished around in the dark for his boxers.

“Quit it,” rumbled Steve from the bed.

Tony looked over. He couldn’t see much in the dark, just the silhouette of Steve’s head. “Quit what?”

“Clothes,” said Steve. “Quit being more clothes. Come back and be naked, I like it when you’re naked.”

Sleepy Steve was the closest thing to drunk Steve you could get, except on the rare occasions that Thor showed up with Asgardian mead. Tony smiled at him. “I was going to go just rinse my mouth out,” he said, “and then I’m coming back to bed.”

“Come back to bed,” Steve agreed blearily.

Giving up on the boxers, Tony wandered into Steve’s bathroom and started feeling around for the mouthwash. Steve liked the kind that truly burned your mouth; when Tony used his bathroom he had to cut it with water, and Steve teased him about it.

He heard footsteps, and Steve was behind him.

“S’okay?” Steve asked.

Tony waited for the rush of fear—he could see Steve’s bulk behind him, dimly in the mirror—and nothing came. “Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, it’s good.”

“Good.” Steve kissed along his shoulder, up along the line of his neck, wet hot kisses that shivered through Tony and made him want to tilt his head back for more.

“Quit it, I’m disgusting, I need your nasty mouthwash.”

Steve reached over his shoulder, unerringly, and pulled out the little bottle. As Tony was trying to measure out the right quantity in the dark, he felt Steve’s fingers press between his legs from behind, and his knees nearly gave. He sagged back against Steve, and Steve’s free arm came around him, supporting him.

“God,” Tony whispered.

“Good?” said Steve. His hand was a little cool, cupping Tony’s balls, thumb rubbing against his perineum.

“Yeah, fuck—”

“You didn’t let me get you off before,” whispered Steve, his breath hot against Tony’s ear. Tony moaned, and the mouthwash in his bottle top spilled into the sink. Steve laughed quietly, a puff of air on Tony’s skin. “Okay, fine. Do the mouthwash and then come back to bed.”

He ended up with way too much mouthwash and way too little water; his mouth was on fire by the time he got back into the bed. Steve was lying on his back, boxers cast aside, and he reached out for Tony’s hands, steered him so that Tony was straddling his hips.

“I hate your mouthwash,” Tony grumbled. He was very hard, and he could feel Steve’s own erection under his ass. Fuck it felt good. Felt easy.

“Hm.” Steve braced one hand around Tony’s left thigh and used his other to play with Tony’s cock, feathering his fingers up and down it. Tony shuddered, and Steve stilled. “Okay?” he asked.

“No, yeah, it’s good.” Tony leaned down, rubbed his dick against the heated skin of Steve’s abs, then sat back up. “Fuck, you’re really hot, how are you this hot.” He ran his fingers across one of Steve’s nipples, and Steve arched off the bed.

“Tony,” he gasped.

“Oh, you like that.”

Steve was still sliding his fingers down the underside of Tony’s dick, a tantalizing, not-enough touch. He tilted his head backwards as if he were embarrassed to meet Tony’s eyes, even in the dark, and he said, “I’ll do anything you want.”

The thing was that it was true. Even in the dark, their voices hushed for the night-time, Tony knew clear as day that it was true. Whatever he needed right now, Steve would do it for him because he loved him. The responsibility was—in the literal sense of the word, the sense that nobody used it in—awesome.

“You said I could jerk off on you,” said Tony.

Steve shivered. “Yes.”

“Make me come.” Tony put all the command he could muster into his voice.

“On,” said Steve. “On. Make you come where? My, my stomach or, or my chest, or my—” His voice hitched. “My face?”

Jesus. Jesus. Tony petted Steve’s face, and Steve turned into the touch with a sharp, hungry exhale. “You’re so good to me,” Tony said.

“I’ll do anything,” said Steve, again.

Tony thought, briefly, about fucking his mouth, kneeling over Steve and making him take Tony’s cock, but the idea of it whited out his brain, and he wanted this to last a little longer. “Get me off, touch me, I want to get you filthy with my come, so you know, so you don’t forget—”

“I couldn’t forget,” said Steve. He raised one hand to Tony’s face, and Tony flinched back. He had a moment to be furious with himself for ruining the moment, and then Steve said, “Do we need to take a step back?” and Tony said “No” without thinking because the answer was no.

Steve smiled. He was a predator, every inch of him was a predator, and Tony had never been so hard, never wanted anything so badly. Steve closed his hand into a loose fist, opened it again. “I need a warm wet place for you to fuck into.”

Jesus. The words rippled through Tony. Fuck, in Steve’s mouth, was a hundred times more filthy than it would have been in anyone else’s. He grabbed Steve’s hand and licked, the salt taste of Steve’s sweat, shaking with the memory of the first time they’d had sex. Like they were your cock? he had asked, and now it was that again, and Steve had his head thrown back and his eyes tight shut. He was rutting up against Tony in sharp little jerks, like he could not quite contain himself. Tony closed his own eyes and licked Steve’s hand, getting his fingers sloppy-wet, until Steve took it away.

“Hey,” he said.

“Hey,” said Steve, and he closed his hand over Tony’s cock, and it was not possible to think about anything else. Tony thrust into the circle of Steve’s fingers, aching. “God, you’re beautiful,” Steve whispered, his voice filled with awe. “You’re so, you’re a work of art, God, seeing you like this—”

Tony was practically riding him now, twisting his hips in time with Steve’s hand, and he could feel Steve wet and hard beneath him. “Fuck—Steve, fuck—like that, baby, please, please—”

Steve whispered, “Just—just—I need—” and Tony slid backwards a little so that Steve’s dick stood alongside his, and Steve was jerking them both off, everything slick and fast between their bodies, and Steve was stroking him, under him, it was Steve, his Steve, whose hand—

Whose face—

“I’m gonna,” Tony gasped, and he came so hard that he had to brace against Steve’s shoulders to keep himself from falling forward. Even in the dark, he could see the long rope of come making a line from Steve’s sternum to his belly button, fuck, and he thrust once, twice, three times more into Steve’s fist before Steve was coming too, sobbing Tony’s name aloud.

Tony’s head was light and sparkly with the high of orgasm. Steve’s hands were searching for his, lacing their fingers together.

“Sweetheart, Tony,” Steve murmured. “Oh.”

He wanted to tease Steve a little for his innocence, the surprise that always seemed to overcome him when he experienced pleasure, but he couldn’t bring himself to it. It worked, he thought, fuck, it worked, and maybe this could work too, this impossible thing with Steve, this thing where he was asked to pretend that he was worthy of this man, Steve Rogers, Steve, Steve, Steve.

Delicately, Tony drew his fingers through the come on Steve’s chest and held them up to Steve’s mouth. Steve sucked in without question, his cheeks hollowing with the effort of it. An aftershock rippled through Tony at the sight.

He clambered off Steve and flopped down on his back beside him. Steve’s head turned. Tony kissed him. “At ease, Captain,” he said.

“It’s my honor,” said Steve, “it is my honor to love you, Tony Stark.”

Nobody else in the world could have said those words, nobody. Tony thought that if he could time travel, the only thing he would do with it, the only thing he could ever want, would be to come back to this moment and live it over and over again. In Steve’s eyes, shadowed in the dark, there was nothing but sincerity.

“I love you too,” said Tony.

(It got easier to say, he thought. Easier when you did it more often, like most things.)

Steve bumped their noses together. Tony loved him impossibly much, a river overwhelming its banks.

“Let me clean you up,” he said. “Stay put, darling, I’ll grab a rag and get you cleaned up.”

Steve went “mmkay” as Tony went to the bathroom and fished a washcloth out of Steve’s impeccable (he guessed—it was dark, and he didn’t want harsh fluorescents spoiling the mood) linen closet. When the water from the tap ran hot, he wet the cloth and brought it back to Steve, taking perhaps longer than was strictly necessary to run it over Steve’s chest and abs.

“Mmm,” rumbled Steve. “Oh that feels nice.” He poked Tony gently in the side. “You’re the one who’s good to me.”

“It’s not a competition,” Tony teased. He kissed the bridge of Steve’s nose. After more consideration than the question warranted, he decided that he didn’t feel like leaving the bed again, so he threw the washcloth in the direction of the bathtub and cuddled up next to Steve, his head on Steve’s chest.

“If I hold you,” said Steve, “will you feel trapped?”

In answer, Tony reached behind himself, grabbed Steve’s right arm, and wrapped it over his back. It was not exactly peaceful, being held, but it didn’t make him shudder. He could lie like this for a while, yet. Maybe until Steve fell asleep.

“If.” Steve was rubbing circles into Tony’s shoulder blades. “Can I ask you something.”

Fear stabbed through Tony, and he sat up. Steve let go of him without complaint. “Yeah, sure, go for it.”

“Can you,” said Steve, “I know I don’t have any right to ask, but can you not do time travel? Would it be okay, would you hate it too much, if you just—let it be?”

Tony folded his lips inward, played chopsticks on Steve’s thigh. “I’m not really—”

“I know,” Steve said. “I know. You aren’t that person, but I. Do you think, this one time, only this one time, do you think you could be? There’s a whole world that—just, can you think about it, concentrating on something else instead of this?”

He had said I’ll do anything you want, and meant it. He was human. Steve. He was so, so human.

Tony said, “Why?”

“Because it scares me,” said Steve, simply.

He never backed down from a fight. Not Steve Rogers. He would throw himself into any danger if he thought it was right. He would give up everything for Bucky; and Tony knew, though he had denied it to Rhodes and to Pepper and to himself most of all, that he would give up everything for Tony, if it should be asked of him.

“Why?” Tony asked again.

“I want my life to belong to me,” Steve said. And perhaps Tony could have denied him, except that he added, his voice low, his eyelashes hiding his eyes, “Finally.”

If Tony gave his own life into Steve’s keeping, it would be safe. He knew that like he knew Newton’s laws, sure as death, sure as hell. (With maybe a few caveats as the field became more complex.) Tony lay back down, and Steve rolled over so that Tony could spoon him. It wasn’t what they were used to, but it was a good new thing. The broad span of Steve’s shoulders held fast between Tony’s two arms.

He said, “Okay,” and held Steve closer.

After all, what did it matter? If this was his present, how could there be anything in his past that he would ever want to change?