For some reason, Tony had always assumed he would get more time to internally deliberate whether Steve deserved his help. Ever since it became clear that the U.S. Government might put an end to Steve’s fugitive status, he had been torn between letting the bastard rot in jail or giving Steve another opportunity to run away. But when the moment came and Tony’s constant surveillance of Secretary Ross’s operation tipped him off, he found he couldn’t not make the call. Perhaps if it involved getting in the armor and flying to wherever, Tony would have decided the son-of-a-bitch deserved to get caught.
Unfortunately for Tony’s pride, all he had to do was sit at his desk and pick up the damn phone and dial the only number in the address book.
“Tony?” Steve’s voice was hopeful and scared at the same time. It had been the last thing he expected to hear. Tony couldn’t help but take a moment to wonder if Steve thought if he just wanted to talk or was just about to alert him to some world ending event.
It didn’t matter. It was neither. “A strike team is about to engage you. I suspect you have less than fifteen minutes to disappear if you want to stay a free man.”
“What’s going on?” The uncertainty was gone from his voice. Tony could already hear Steve’s mind evaluating all possible scenarios.
“This is all you are going to get from me.” If it sounded rehearsed, that was because Tony had been saying it as his mantra since he learned he might have to make this phone call. He waited a second in hope that Steve would say something that indicated he felt what Tony said. But then the second was gone and Tony just wanted this to be over.
He hung up.
And poured himself three fingers of a twenty-five-year-old Macallan.
It turned out sad classical music and booze complimented each other perfectly. Tony had been laying unusually still as he played through some of his mother’s favorite pieces and got more drunk than he could recall in recent memory. Had his mom only liked the melancholy ones, or was that just all Tony could remember? It was getting harder to sort through his thoughts, which just made them all the more painful. He was old enough to know he couldn’t drink away his feelings – just not honest enough to stop.
Even though he heard her footprints behind him before he saw Natasha’s blurry form in the glass, he still wished she was a drunken mirage. Her presence had never been so ominous.
“Are you here to kill me?” he asked, slurring less than he expected.
She stopped her approach and held his gaze from her reflection in the window. “No”
“Then go away.”
“Tony...” She sighed and looked legitimately concerned.
“It was a joke,” Tony said, not entirely lying.
“If you want me to go, I will.” Tony watched her and thought about that. The booze, the music, the night of self-pity – it was beginning to feel oppressive. This was why he had taken to building suits instead of getting drunk. At least that provided a way to shut out the thoughts.
Being lonely felt like a weakness, but it was weakness he couldn’t fight anymore. If it had been any other night, he would have told her to fuck off. But tonight, he didn’t say anything.
“What are we drinking?” She asked, correctly taking his silence as encouragement and sitting down on the couch across from him. He could tell by her guarded movements that she was observing the situation carefully.
“Expensive scotch.” Tony passed his glass to her and she took a careful sip.
It seemed to meet her standards because she poured some for herself. “You always had good taste.” They sat there for a while, listening to the first movement of Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony. It was a beautiful piece of music, if crushingly sad. “I know this one. I remember hearing it as a girl. We listened to a lot of Tchaikovsky. This is Pateticheskaya. ”
Tony had only known the French name “I thought the symphony was named Pathetique? ” That this song had come up right now was serendipitous. Pathetic was the best way to describe how he felt.
“No. Leave it to the French to get it wrong. Pateticheskaya means something like... emotional. Passionate. ”
That made Tony chuckle to himself. He couldn’t even get his self-pity right. “My mom used to play it as a kid. She loved going to the orchestra. Used to take me all the time, even though I could never sit still long enough to enjoy it. I wish I did. Wish I could have shared that with her.”
Natasha was thoughtfully quiet. “You want to talk?”
“I thought that was what we were doing.”
“No. I mean abou–”
Tony cut her off. “I know what you meant.” He wanted to talk so much he could scream. But he wasn’t about to admit to it and the music had turned loud and epic and provided a good opportunity to avoid saying anything.
Then the movement ended and sadly faded away. “How long did it go on?”
Even though Tony knew exactly what she was asking, he was still taken aback that she had asked it at all. “How did you know?”
“I began to suspect something was going on between you two sometime after SHIELD fell. But I wasn’t sure till Ultron.” Of course. That made sense. It was almost comforting that she had figured it out and he almost wished she had said something sooner. At least, it gave the illusion that something could have changed. “How did it start?”
Tony affixed a crooked smile that felt all sorts of wrong and made his face hurt. “Well, when a man and another man both want to touch each other's genitals...” Natasha glared at him but he didn’t drop the grin. “That’s true, by the way. That is exactly how it started.”
“Remember that time we went out to celebrate his birthday? When you guys were working for SHIELD in D.C.? That night.”
Her eyes narrowed and Tony could feel himself being fact-checked. “When we watched the fireworks from your hotel room?”
“Let’s just say the night had more fireworks in store,” he joked, but it was a joke on himself. This was actually a good memory, and it was almost untouched by the bitterness infecting him. Almost being the operative word.
“But I was there...”
The grin faded and a gross feeling settled somewhere in his gut. “You left early. Had some mission in the morning that didn’t require Steve. So, he stayed and we talked.”
“Can you start from the beginning?” Steve asked with wide eyes and an even wider smile.
It took Tony aback to see him like that. Happy and loose weren’t words one associated with Steve Rogers. “You really want to know about my time at MIT?”
Natasha had left an hour ago, but Steve still wanted to talk. And Tony was finding he was enjoying the audience. The guy seemed genuinely interested in him in a way he couldn’t compare to anyone else. It was more intoxicating than the drink he had barely touched. “Why wouldn’t I? What was it like? You were so young...”
He laughed at that. He hadn’t felt that young. When you’re a Stark, young and old and other things that mattered to other people didn’t register. “I was only fourteen. And didn’t you drop out of school by then?”
“Yeah. But that’s different. I had to.” If Tony didn’t know better, he would have assumed Steve was drunk. There was an easiness about him Tony hadn’t ever seen before. Tony, for his part, was still nursing the same gin and tonic for the last hour. It wasn’t a conscious decision – he kept just forgetting it was there.
“Well, I had to go to MIT. It was that or... I’m not sure what the other option was. It was certainly worse than MIT.”
“Ok. I’ll make a deal. You tell me your college stories and I’ll tell you mine.” Steve offered as if this was a special sort of bargain.
“You don’t have any college stories.”
“Rub it in, why don’tcha?” His voice was mock serious, but the smile was back in full force. “I’m just curious. You live such an interesting life.”
Tony let out a barking laugh. “That’s really something coming from you.”
“I mean it.” His voice quivered at the end and his face set in concentration. “Could I... I was wondering if I could...” Steve must have been working up the courage to ask him something and Tony braced himself for whatever tabloid fodder he was going to have to defend. “Oh, god damn it.” And then Steve clearly gave up on asking any questions at all and surged forward to kiss him. Always proud of his ability to improvise, Tony kissed back, completely forgetting any important details.
That is till he felt Steve reach for his belt. “Wait. Wait, wait, wait. Wait.” Steve stood up so quick it was almost as disorienting as the last few minutes.
“I’m so, so sorry. I really should have asked... What the hell was I thinking?” He continued to ramble in that vein while Tony just stared at him, completely transfixed. It wasn’t until Steve began to head towards the door that he realized he needed to do some damage control.
“Hey! I didn’t say stop. I said wait.” That broke Steve’s forward momentum and he turned around to face Tony. “I just need a second for my brain to catch up with everything.” He paused for effect and tried to give Steve a look that would punctuate it. “Second taken. Let’s continue.”
“Are you sure...?”
But Tony didn’t need him to elaborate. “Are you worried about Pepper? Don't be. We have an arrangement. What the other doesn’t know, doesn’t hurt and all that. So, unless you plan on calling her up...”
“No. Definitely not.” Tony wondered how much this went against Steve’s code of ethics and briefly wished he had gotten Pepper’s permission in writing, just to assuage any of his potential hang-ups. Tony, for his part, hadn’t actually acted on the open relationship thing yet. And if he knew Pepper had, well, that was what he got for snooping in her emails.
“It’s completely above board. As long as it’s discreet, it’s ok.” The wild fear was beginning to fade out of Steve’s eyes. Good. That was good. Situation salvaged. “I don’t know about you, but we’ve been talking about this for five minutes longer than I wanted.” Steve must have had the same concern about using time effectively, because he was across the room and on Tony before Tony even had a chance to breathe.
There wasn’t much to elaborate on. “It was talking till it wasn’t. He made the first move, by the way, if that was what you were wondering.” Tony took a second to take a long sip and poured himself more scotch. It had the added benefit of giving himself a moment to collect his thoughts.
“But it wasn’t a one-time thing, was it?” Natasha asked, clearly trying to lead the conversation.
“You already know the answer to that. You said it. And... yeah. Of course, it wasn’t a one-time thing. Steve was the perfect side piece,” Tony explained, being purposefully crass. “He wasn’t interested in anything besides sex, we had reasons to see each other but we weren’t always together, and both of us wanted to be discreet about it. Even after Pepper and I broke up.”
“Why would Steve want to be discreet?”
“Maybe he was worried about the ethics of fucking someone you had to command in the field. Maybe he wasn’t comfortable being out. I actually don’t really know. It never came up, if you can believe it.” He didn’t tell her how as it went on, he avoided that question more and more. Just in case the real reason was that Tony didn’t measure up. “Either way, it started off easy. Low stakes. Nothing to lose.” Tony laughed at himself. Hindsight was always twenty-twenty.
Forty more minutes... Tony had promised Pepper he’s sit in this godforsaken board meeting for forty more minutes, and then he was going to hightail it out of there. He could do that, even if they weren’t dating anymore, he owed her that much. And there was only so much a person could take hearing a group of men and women this dumb try to explain to him the future they envisioned for his company. Nope. He didn’t need any more of this. He checked his phone, making his boredom obvious for everyone and noticed a missed call from a certain Avenger’s personal cell phone.
This was a great excuse for a power play. He was only demonstrating his importance and dominance by making them wait for him. At least, that’s what Tony told himself as he excused himself to step into his office. It was grand, all floor to ceiling windows and tasteful amounts of leather. He didn’t use it for much more than impressing potential investors or employees, and for that reason it always felt just a little foreign to him.
At least it was comfortable, he thought to himself as he plopped into the enormous desk chair and turned to look out onto the city before placing the call. “Aren’t you on some sort of mission?” Tony asked as soon as he heard the line connect.
Steve, for his part, laughed off the brusqueness. “Yes. Technically.”
“You going to tell me more about it?” He booted up the computer.
“If I did, I’d have to kill you,” Steve said, not even attempting to sound convincing.
It took Tony two minutes to find the answer he was looking for. “Hmmmm... Somalia. So, let me guess. Right now, you are sitting in whatever safe house they have you holing up in.” He shook his head even though he knew Steve couldn’t see. “Steve... are you bored ? And here I thought you were calling because you enjoyed my company.”
Tony could hear a soft chuckle on the other line and could imagine what he was only beginning to recognize as Steve’s ‘oh Tony’ face. “What if it’s a little of both?”
He checked his watch and did a little quick math. “Isn’t it midnight over there?”
“And your first thought was to call me?”
“No, my first thought was to exercise, but I can’t really go running through the streets of Mogadishu.”
“So, you’re looking for some physical exertion?” An idea was beginning to creep into Tony’s brain and he flipped the switch on the desk that locked the doors. “What are you wearing?”
“Just go with it. What are you wearing?”
Tony made an exaggeratedly loud sigh. “Phone sex. I’m trying to have phone sex with you.” He pretended not to hear the choked off sound Steve gave. It was always nice to catch the man off-guard and he didn’t get to do it enough. “So, I’ll start. I’m wearing a Marc Jacobs gray two-piece suit.”
“Where are you? I’m not sure it’s appropriate to...”
Tony cut him off. “I’m in my office, and in my office, anything I like is appropriate. Plus, it would give me great joy to help Captain America violate himself to very gay thoughts while in Somalia. Always been a dream of mine.”
“I’ve never been in your office,” Steve replied, his voice dropping half an octave.
“That’s what you’re focused on?”
“What’s it like? Big windows? Great views?”
Tony decided he was just going to have to go with it. “You can see most of Manhattan from up here.”
“And the desk?”
What this a thing for Steve? “Huge. Dark wood. Very, very expensive.”
Steve made a sound Tony was only beginning to get familiar with. “Wait – do you want to fuck me or my office?”
“What if it’s a little of both?” Steve replied, and it would have been completely deadpan if not for the smile Tony could hear over the phone.
Well, that solved that. Somehow this man never failed to surprise him. “What am I going to do with you?” And Tony meant it.
“It sounds like you have a couple of ideas. And I’d like to hear them in great detail.”
The board could wait, Tony thought. This was clearly going to be the best use of his time. He turned in his chair to look out over the city and began to unzip his fly as he started saying, “If you were here right now...”
“So, it was just casual?” Natasha asked as she poured herself more scotch. For a brief moment Tony calculated blood-alcohol contents, metabolisms, and the intended length of the conversation and decided that they would probably need another bottle soon.
After picking the third most expensive thing he could find, he stumbled back and said, “Totally casual.”
“Yeah. No feelings at all. Not ever a single feeling that wasn’t platonic. Nope. Nada.”
She quirked an eyebrow at him. “I’d tell you your denial is incriminating, but you already know that.”
One long and purposefully extended sip later, Tony said, “Feelings couldn’t be on the menu. So, there weren’t any.”
“When did they start?” Tony could imagine her spying and asking questions just like that. Like they came naturally, like she wasn’t trying to pry for answers. There was a reason she was so good at this.
“I have no idea when they started.” Possibly it was sometime into their friends-with-benefits arrangement. Maybe it was when he made sure to book a hotel room in Washington, DC with a good view of the fireworks. Maybe it had been on the helicarrier, or the streets of New York. Tony literally had no fucking clue. “I... uh... I think I realized something wasn’t above board when the whole ‘SHIELD is Hydra’ thing happened.”
She squinted at him and he could see her brain try to piece everything together. “You weren’t there.”
“Yeah. Because I was in Mumbai trying to acquire... something. I don’t even remember. I think it was some company that focused on electric car batteries. But it could have been phones, or something else. Something about batteries.” He took a deep breath. His speech was coming out fast and hurried because somehow, even though this had been years ago, it still shook him. “It must have been interesting at the time, because somehow I went hours till anyone told me about Fury, or Ft. Leigh, or the little scuffle you guys had on the interstate. And it wasn’t like anyone was updating me on the situation from the inside.” The thought still made him feel bitter.
“We didn’t have time. Or resources. And... honestly? I didn’t think about it,” she explained, but something about the way she said it made him think she knew they were all weak excuses. “You seemed to have taken a break from the whole Iron Man thing. And I knew you weren’t on this side of the world.”
That shouldn’t have mattered. They were supposed to be a team, and even on the other side of the earth, he could have helped. “I hadn’t packed a suit. Didn’t think I needed one. Which is why I was over Newfoundland when I heard the news about the helicarriers and the Potomac.” Somehow, he had never forgiven the river for rising up to meet Steve, like it was the Potomac's fault Steve fell and not everything else. He certainly wasn’t blaming the brainwashed best friend or the global Hydra conspiracy. And he was definitely not blaming himself for not being prepared to race halfway around the world.
Ok. He did blame himself.
“You were barely at the hospital,” she asked. It was half of a question.
“I was there long enough.”
This hospital needs better security, T ony thought as he maneuvered through the hallways. He was attempting to carry himself in a way he was certain came naturally to him the rest of the time in an attempt to broadcast ‘I am Tony Stark. Do not fuck with me right now.’ It worked – probably too well – because he met no resistance on the way to the room.
That momentum got him all the way to the doorway, but couldn’t get him past the threshold. Inside, Steve was lying unconscious and he looked... bad. It was bad. Tony had already seen everything on video. But they were superheroes! Superheroes who usually walked off things like falling ten storeys.
Steve’s body must not have gotten that memo because he looked so human right now. So fragile, and all Tony could do was stare.
“He woke up an hour ago,” said a man whom Tony had never met. “Promptly passed out again, but he’s going to be ok. I’m Sam, by the way.” He was standing in front of him and offering his hand. Tony barely stared at it – he had no interest in pleasantries. Tony said his name, answering whatever silent question this stranger was asking of him before the man continued to talk. “I thought so. Anyway, as I was saying, he’s going to be fine. Just some gunshot wounds, bruising, you know the stuff that happens to you guys. Natasha made it sound like this was just a Tuesday and –”
“Where is she?” Tony said, cutting off whatever inane thought he was about to hear because he had no fucking clue who this person was and Natasha at least had the capacity to know when to stop talking.
Because this guy clearly did not. “She went to do something. Didn’t elaborate. Either she’s getting a change of clothes or going to kill someone. I can’t tell with her.”
Tony really wasn’t listening to any of that. “Can you just... leave? For, like, fifteen minutes?” He couldn’t care less if that sounded rude.
The man went to go get his coat. “Yeeeeeah... This is an Avengers thing, right?”
“Yeah. Of course. Whatever.” Tony waved him away and sat down at a chair next to Steve’s bed. When he heard the door close, he finally let out a breath he’d been holding since he’d boarded the plane in Mumbai.
Despite sleep, Steve’s face was scrunched up in pain. Tony supposed there wasn’t any way to give him something strong enough to let him at least rest in peace. Finally, able to sit there quietly, all the anxious thoughts that had been with him floated away and he felt some sort of twisted version of relief. He had no idea what would have happened if Steve had died. The whole idea of that death suddenly had become his biggest fear, where before he had never even considered it. He grasped Steve’s clammy and unusually cold hand and held it tight. Tony wasn’t an idiot. He knew that something was very wrong with how he was feeling. But he needed confirmation that Steve was going to live more than he needed to lie to himself.
He sat there for what felt like forever and oscillated from relief and fear and realized he was going to have to end this. Steve had made it clear from the beginning that their situation was entirely no strings attached, and Tony’s feelings were pretty significant strings.
“Tony?” Steve’s voice was soft and dry and Tony could almost convince himself that it was trick of his imagination till Steve tried again. “Tony? I thought you were in India.”
“I came back. Apparently not soon enough.”
“Naw. We did ok. You didn’t have to rush back.” Somehow Steve was smiling despite all the obvious pain.
“Someone has to pick up after you guys,” Tony said, but his heart just wasn’t in it. It didn’t matter if Steve had needed him. He needed Steve – alive and whole and safe, and he hadn’t been able to do anything about that.
“It’s good. So good to see you.” Steve’s face scrunched up and he looked around the room. He seemed to be trying to remember something. In slow-motion, Tony watched as Steve’s eyes found where Tony was still grasping his hand. A new terror gripped him and he found himself paralyzed as Steve’s hand held his in a firm clasp. “Tony... I need to tell you something.”
Suddenly, he wasn’t sure what scared him more – that Steve was about to tell him that he didn’t share Tony’s feelings or that he did. Neither option needed confirmation to be unacceptable. Tony finally found it in himself to tear his hand away and he purposefully avoiding looking at Steve’s face to see any of the emotions playing on it.
“I just remembered I need to be at this meeting. That’s why I came back, by the way, for the meeting. Not... I mean...” Tony sighed. He was so screwed. “Anyway, whatever you’ve got to say probably isn’t that important and you’re in a ton of pain and your new friend seems really nice and I’m going to leave now.”
As he walked out of the hospital he hated himself for saying any of that. But if it was that or confessing, well... the option was obvious.
“The idea of losing him.... Spoiler alert – it bothered me a lot. And I hadn’t had to think about it till then. Never even considered it. That’s when it should have ended. All of it – Iron Man, Steve, lying to myself. Thinking I had anything under control.” Tony was rambling right now and he knew it. Maybe if he said the right words he could get her to understand the slow-motion train wreck that was his life.
It turned out Natasha didn’t need him to say anything to know about that. “But it didn’t end, right?”
“Of course not. I was fucking Steve Rogers, and he was at the tower a lot, so the opportunity was there, and what the hell am I supposed to do? Say no to that? And once we found a new rhythm...” Tony stopped to chuckle pathetically. “It was easy to pretend we were just fooling around. Finding excuses to justify it was just too easy.”
“And what about Pepper?”
Tony sighed. He felt gross just thinking about it. “She was busy. And not around a lot. And stressed that I wasn’t going to stop building suits. We were always on and off and never together long enough, even though it always felt serious to me when we were. And we always had an arrangement –”
“I know about the open relationship thing.”
“She told me.”
Tony thought about that for a moment. “I wanted to make it work with her. I really did. I just don’t know. Because instead of being a proper human being, I pushed her away by avoiding phone calls and pleas to join her on trips. All of it was too easy, because sleeping with Steve was easier than fixing my life. Sleeping with Steve was an excuse to not answer phone calls or stop being Iron Man.”
“That’s why you started making suits again...” Natasha said and regarded him carefully. It was strange how well put together she was given the amount of alcohol she had drunk. That must have been another one of her skills, Tony thought.
“I don’t know if I ever really stopped, but it made it easier to justify it. I could tell myself ‘look, here’s what happens when you sit out the fight’. And it was fix everything or fight, and I hadn’t figured out the ‘fix’ yet.” Even now, Tony wasn’t sure if he could stop long enough for it mean more than a petulant vacation. He thought about it for a few moments before remembering there had been another train of questions before that one. “Fucking Steve, it... it was good. And fun. Let me tell you, the guy does not have a single prudish bone in his body when you get him into bed. He was down for pretty much everything and anything.”
“I don’t need to know the details,” Natasha warned.
“Then you are missing out. We are talking about the best sex of my life. And not just in absolute terms, like it was consistently good. And...” The memories and emotions from that time flooded him and were somehow more warming than the scotch. He wanted them to hurt more than they did. After everything, they still shouldn’t be putting a smile on his face. Tony internally blamed the booze and left it at that. “Mostly it was just fun. I felt like the version of myself I wanted to be. It was effortless and intimate in a way... in a way I didn’t even notice. It just happened and kept happening.”
“Please don’t tell me you installed removable armor plates just for... Oh no. You did. You actually did that,” Steve said in mock horror as Tony demonstrated that he could take off the parts of the suit covering his groin and ass. They were sitting on the small bed he had stashed in a closet right off the lab. It was originally intended for all those times he was too tired to make it to his own room, but in the last few months it began to see more and more extracurricular use.
“I didn’t make them just for tonight. It’s just good form to be able to detach parts of the armor. You know – just in case.” Tony placed the pieces back on the suit because taking them off later was going to be half the fun. “Actually, you should know that. For first aid and everything. Though I did make some other upgrades I think you’ll enjoy...”
“It vibrates,” Steve guessed instantly.
“Vibration is only the beginning. I’m thinking of filing three separate patents. The sex toy market is woefully underdeveloped.” Tony was legitimately proud of this – it had been too much fun upgrading the suit in anticipation of this night with Steve. He’d been wanting to try this for a while, but Pepper would never have done it. Steve hadn’t even batted an eye.
And he clearly wasn’t regretting it. “And here I am feeling left out. I don’t get any upgrades? You told me just to come in the uniform.”
Tony snickered. “Your uniform comes sex-ready.” And he meant both in form and function.
“How does this work? If there some sort of story or we do we just ‘go at it’.” The face Steve made when he said ‘go at it’ was priceless.
Of all the things he had thought of, this had somehow fallen through the cracks. “I didn’t have anything specific in mind. Any ideas? And don’t tell me you never thought about fucking in full regalia.”
He shrugged. “I can honestly say it never crossed my mind till you brought it up.”
“And what about after I brought it up?” Tony asked, practically baiting him. He knew Steve well enough to know Steve only shared about five percent of whatever was on his mind.
And what was Steve, if not a tactical genius? So, it didn’t take him long to start talking. “Ok – we’ve just had a battle. It was probably a two or three – difficult but nothing we can’t get up and work the day after.”
“You have a number system to rate our battles?” Tony interjected, amused. Something about that gave him a pleasant and fond feeling entirely unrelated to what they were about to do.
“It’s not like I have a rubric or anything. It just helps when I’m trying make surface level comparisons,” Steve explained. It looked like he was trying to work up his courage for what he was about to say and Tony attempted to wait patiently for him to begin. It didn’t seem to matter how long they had been doing this, somehow getting Steve to start talking about what he wanted was always the hardest part. “As I said – there was a battle. Everyone’s a little banged up but no one is badly hurt. And when we get back to the tower... I’m mad at you?” Steve had the gall to look sheepish. “You did some reckless thing out in the field and I got angry and ... we haven’t been doing this.” He gestured between the two of them instead of saying it aloud.
To Steve’s credit, Tony had no idea what vocabulary to use to describe what was going on between them. And he was spending too much emotional energy pretending that wasn’t a problem. So, he decided to help the guy out, if only to get this show on the road and certain thoughts out of his head. “You're saying this is our first time?”
“Yes. I followed you down to the lab to confront you, but before I get a word out you push me in this room...”
“And attack you with my mouth?”
Steve gave him his best 'you-are-ridiculous' face, but he didn’t say no. Tony could work with that.
Later, the whole thing was going exactly according to script, when Tony pushed Steve so he was sitting on the bed and straddled him. Of course, that was when Steve started to laugh.
“What?” Tony asked as a familiar anxiety began to fill him. It just wasn’t an anxiety he normally associated with Steve.
It took Steve a good few minutes to catch his breath long enough to get out – “You reinforced the bed.”
Tony was confused. “Huh?”
“You’re heavy in the suit.” Steve lifted him off his lap for a few seconds and Tony suppressed a comment about how he apparently wasn’t heavy enough to make Captain America break a sweat. “There is no way this bed was originally made to hold you in your full armor.”
“So what? I came prepared. All necessary equipment included.”
Steve’s laughs had settled into an easy smile. “I’m not judging or... negatively judging. It’s a good thing. I like that you think of everything.” He stopped to take a deep breath and earnestly stared into Tony’s eyes. “You’re really something, you know that? There is everybody else, and then...” Somehow the air had stilled and Tony forgot that they were in the middle of role-playing. “ There’s you. ”
Most of the time there wasn’t a reason to believe Steve saw whatever they were doing as more than a just a way to blow off steam. But then he said things like this, with eyes like that, and for a few moments Tony couldn’t be so sure.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Time to get this show on the road. Where were we?” He lightly pushed Steve so that he was laying on top of him and tried to affix whatever snarl he would wear during a bout of hate sex. “I don’t need to be taking commands from some outdated relic, Rogers .”
A mischievous grin passed over Steve’s lips before his face set and he said in his most commanding voice, “I will not tolerate insubordination. Especially not from the likes of you, Stark. ”
Natasha looked more thoughtful than usual. A small part of Tony hoped it was a sign she had drank too much, but mostly he knew better. “It’s just hard to square away ‘fun’ and ‘intimate’ with Steve, especially at that time,” she said. “I could probably count the times he smiled on my hands.”
Tony knew exactly what she was talking about, and it had always given him great satisfaction that he was a part of giving Steve moments of happiness, no matter how fleeting or inconsequential. “Maybe he needed a place without the world weighing him down? I can’t tell you why, just that it was.”
“And that drives you crazy.” Natasha didn’t need to make it into a question.
“More than I could possibly explain.” Even now, it was difficult to really understand what had been going on in Steve’s mind that whole time. It was a vital variable he needed to put everything in perspective and like anything good, it was just out of reach. “He wasn’t around a lot either – too busy looking for Bucky,” Tony said, only somewhat bitter. “And when he was gone on those little missions, I missed him. And maybe I became too invested in chasing whatever it was that made him smile the few times he was around.”
The city looked quiet from all the way up here, Tony thought. He hadn’t spent much time looking at it from the windows in his office – hadn’t really spent much time in here at all – but it was nice enough at the moment. The distraction was necessary, as sitting there and waiting for Steve to arrive was beginning to become intolerable.
When he’d agreed to tonight, he had done so thinking that acting like the king of the world was going to be second nature to him. But now that he was up here and working through the logistics of the situation, Tony was second guessing himself. He was supposed to pretend he was Steve’s powerful and somewhat skeevy boss who was comfortable exploiting his influence. And while the notion would have squicked him out in a real setting, Tony had been so excited he practically forgot to breathe when Steve brought it up.
This had been the first time Steve had suggested something without being prompted and Tony was worried that if he didn’t do this right, there wouldn’t be a next time. And he was noticing more and more that it mattered if there was going to be a next time. A tiny voice in his head tried to raise all sorts of alarms at the thought, but it was easy enough to shut it out by countering with the fantasies he was about to live out.
His priorities were in order, clearly.
A knock on the door provided the needed distraction to his mental tug-of-war. “Come in,” Tony said, trying his best to sound bored and not whatever combination of anxiety and desire he was actually feeling.
Steve poked his head through the door and somehow managed to look more nervous than Tony was feeling. And that was saying something. “I’m sorry to disturb you, Mr. Stark.” Oh. So that was how it was going to be. They hadn’t really agreed to anything specific and Tony was not prepared in the slightest for what being called ‘Mr. Stark’ did to him. Half of him wanted to casually tell Steve ‘just call me Tony’, and the other half was trying to decide if he should fuck Steve against the windows or on the desk.
“Is there anything I can do for you?” Tony asked like he wasn’t particularly invested in the answer.
Steve took that as a sign to step through the door and walk the length of the office so that he was standing before Tony, just the desk in between them. He had come dressed in pressed khakis and a button down and briefly Tony wondered exactly what it was Steve imagined he would do if he was employed at Stark Industries. “I just wanted to drop off the schematics you requested.” He placed them on the desk and waited patiently for Tony to respond. Tony could see him standing there with a stillness that he had learned was Steve repressing whatever it was he actually wanted to do. Tony was going to have to take that as encouragement, because there was no way Steve would go through the effort of standing still if he didn’t want whatever was coming.
Tony casually looked out the window and then back at the papers on the desk. “It’s pretty late.”
“I’m so sorry if I....” Steve said, flustered. Tony couldn’t tell if he was acting or not.
“Don’t be.” And Tony could feel the smile on his face turn predatory. “I like to see my employees show initiative. ”
Steve’s eyes subtly widened. “I really want to do well at this job. I don’t mind going above and beyond, Mr. Stark .” He said and practically set Tony up for his next line.
Tony took the time to look him up and down and make it clear he was enjoying what he was seeing. “I appreciate that. I really do.” He paused and tried to think of the best way to phrase what he wanted to say without it sounding forced. This was for Steve and he needed to make this better than a cheap porno. “Could I ask you a favor?”
“Unbutton your shirt.” Tony commanded and tried to keep the boredom in his voice.
It probably would have made sense if Steve attempted to protest that, but instead he just gulped and began to slowly get to work. “Like this?” Steve asked after he finished and his shirt hung limply on his frame. He was still wearing a tight undershirt.
“Hmmm.... I’m afraid that won’t work.” Tony tried to pause for as long as possible. “Take it off.” He kicked his feet up on the desk and lazily watched as Steve did just that. After he shrugged the shirt off and hung it around his arm, Tony shook his head. “And the other one.” Steve went from stone-still to visibly shaking. The sight made Tony want to ask him if this was ok, if he wanted to stop or pause or anything. But they had safe words and gestures and Steve had been very clear about his intentions. Interrupting would only be about Tony seeking affirmation and praise, and as difficult as it was to believe – this wasn’t about him.
“Is this... good?” Steve asked as he shucked his tight undershirt, and Tony could hear the trembling in his voice.
As he was admiring his handiwork, Tony said, “Perfect.” He hoped it sounded more lecherous than awed. And then, as slowly as he could, he stood up and walked around the desk so that Steve was stuck in the middle. He enjoyed the view for a couple of moments before telling Steve to turn around. Steve promptly complied. “I have just the project for you – but it requires late hours, a good work ethic, and some... creativity.”
“Anything you need, Mr. Stark.” Steve was either over his earlier nervousness, or was finally over pretending. His voice sounded almost dangerous. It was exhilarating.
Tony stalked forward, letting his presence push Steve back. He must have lost his superior spatial awareness, because he gave a small yelp of surprise when his thighs hit the desk. That gave Tony the perfect opportunity to crowd over him and place his hands on Steve’s hips. “Oh, please. Call me Tony.” And then all he had to do was close the limited distance between them and kiss like he was the confident and powerful leader of industry it often felt like he was only pretending to be.
After they’d finished and were catching their breath on the floor, Steve leaned over him with a goofy smile and whispered, “Thank you.”
And it was that moment – more than anything – that made Tony feel like the king of the world.
“What tipped you off?” Tony asked. He was sitting on the floor with his back against the couch. Somewhere along the way this had become the best decision he had made in a long time. The floor was safe.
“About you two?” Natasha asked, more likely clarifying for Tony’s sake and not her own. Tony nodded to confirm, but the world moved with his head and he had to stop. “Little things. Both of you would be missing, or there was a weird look. Nothing too specific. A couple of times I thought about looking into it more – installing surveillance or catching you in the act. But it never seemed worth the effort.” Natasha stopped and readjusted herself as she poured more scotch. The movement was clunky and uncoordinated and Tony declared a small victory over her perfect composure. “I know better now, of course.”
“What would you have done?”
“Hit both of you in the head, most likely. Or, just know. In case things got out of hand. At the very least it could have helped me understand the dynamic between the two of you better. So many things clicked into place when I overheard you two that night at Clint’s during the whole Ultron mess.”
Tony had to laugh at that. “I don’t think we ever understood the dynamic between us, so I’m not sure how that would have helped you. It’s funny,” Tony said, even though he had stopped laughing, “that was the last time we had together. Ironically, you figured it out just in time for it not to matter anymore.”
“Is that why you left the team?” Natasha asked, and it was clear she was no longer able to affect casualness in her questions.
“Yes and no. I just... couldn’t be there anymore.”
Of all the things he had to suffer through since this whole nightmare began, sitting on a twin bed in this glorified closet with ugly wallpaper and only ONE electrical outlet was certainly the worst. Would it have killed Clint to be prepared for the Avengers visiting, or at the very least, someone wanting to charge their phone and their laptop at the same time? Now if Tony had prepared to be stuck in the house from Field of Dreams , he might have brought some tech of his own, instead of trying to hack the tablet Clint’s daughter used to watch cartoons.
All of this just left Tony to his thoughts, and none of them were pretty. It was a self-hating loop. It started with the vision of the dead Avengers and Steve’s imaginary blame and then morphed into Steve’s not-so-imaginary blame. Whenever he tried to internally defend himself by remembering why he created Ultron, it just started all over again. Losing them was unacceptable. They had to understand that, even if Tony couldn’t formulate a logical argument on why that was so.
The loop was interrupted when he heard the faintest of knocks at the door. Tony knew who was on the other side because nobody else would have cared about being heard. For a long moment Tony considered just pretending he didn’t hear it, or was asleep, or some other improbable thing, if it meant that he didn’t have to hear Steve reinforce everything he was thinking. That meant when he got up and cracked open the door, he was doing it against all of his better judgment.
“Can I come in?” Steve asked.
“I think I need a break from your righteous anger – like three hours. Can I get three hours?” Tony muttered.
“I didn’t come here to....” Steve trailed off and then furtively looked around at the hallway. “Can I please come in?” he asked again.
Tony was going to have to work on his self-control because he acquiesced. “What do you want, Steve?” They were both standing awkwardly in the middle of the room. There was too much space in between them, but the room was so small it made no difference. Steve’s eyes narrowed and Tony could see the gears turning in his head. He had the impression Steve was trying to choose his words very carefully and Tony’s heart sank. So, this was how it ended – with a renegade peace keeping robot and small farmhouse room. There was almost something comforting about it, like the final piece had fit into place.
“Tony, I –” Steve started and then sighed and shut his eyes tight, like he couldn’t even look at Tony while he said it. Tony found it was easiest to pretend he was a dispassionate observer and began the internal process of purging his emotions. Steve attempted to begin whatever he was going to say again. “I – I missed you. And I was worried about you.”
Tony hadn’t been expecting that, but based on the look on Steve’s face, neither did he. “You what?” Tony asked because he needed more information to go on.
Steve finally opened his eyes and his gaze became the center of the room’s gravity. “I don’t want to be angry at you. I just... can’t. I have no idea what’s going to happen tomorrow. And I can’t stop thinking about that – if this is the last fight I’m ever going to fight, then I won’t die angry at you.”
None of this made sense, but it was there all the same. Steve wouldn’t lie to him; wouldn’t mislead him. It wasn’t in his nature. And if he was standing here, saying this, then that meant... “You forgive me, this time?”
“This time? I’ll forgive you every time . I only hope you can forgive me. I was... the way I am.” There was an intensity to Steve’s gaze that was making Tony lose balance. He had the distinct impression that Steve was actually seeing him. They had spent so much of their relationship pretending to be some version of themselves, but now that it mattered, he had the impression that Steve really knew him. And liked him anyway.
“Even though I’ll do it again?” Tony asked.
“Yes. I can’t not.” Steve would always forgive him, and Tony couldn’t think of anyone else he could say that about. Before, it had always been about hiding his flaws or exposing them to push people away. But now, everything had changed. Steve was still standing there and looking like he had much more to say. But when he opened his mouth to spill whatever in that head of his, he must have thought better of it, because instead he lunged forward and kissed Tony.
Just like that first time, so long ago, it took him by surprise. Steve was kissing him with a passion that Tony couldn’t measure. He ignored the voice in his head that was demanding an explanation. Steve might not feel for Tony what Tony felt for him, but Steve did legitimately seem to like him. And tonight, that was something Tony wanted to keep. He pushed them towards the bed and they toppled over without any grace. The noise startled them and they stopped for a second to listen for anyone who might have heard.
It was Steve who started it again by slowly moving his hands under the bottom of Tony’s shirt. It was slower this time. There was an unspoken agreement in the air that demanded they do whatever it was they were doing as silently as possible. The silence meant that they had to move slowly, utilizing every other form of communication they had at their disposal.
The tiny twin bed wasn’t meant to hold either of them, and certainly not the two of them together. But with Tony on top, they made it work. Steve’s eyes were fixed on his and they were telling Tony everything he needed to know about how to proceed.
After, Tony fell asleep wedged between the wall and Steve’s solid frame. Which was why he was surprised the next morning when he woke up alone.
“When we were together that night...” Tony began, unable to say ‘when we fucked.’ It wasn’t for sentimental reasons – he was just too drunk to want to be shocking. “It felt like everything had fallen into place. Endorphins, serotonin, or what have you. But it wasn’t real.” Tony could still remember the empty bed from the next morning and the understanding that whatever moment he had been chasing the night before, was now gone. Steve never had to say it, but he must have known it, too. “It wasn’t anything at all.”
“Who decided that?” Natasha asked.
He scrunched his face, taking a second to figure out what exactly she was asking. “Decided it was over? He did, I did... we both did. I told him I was going to try and make it work with Pepper. And he told me he wasn’t looking for anything serious.” Tony’s mind returned to the same place it had been after Ultron. It had surprised him then how easy it was to pretend none of it mattered. Now, it seemed like a feat he could never do again.
She picked up the bottle of scotch and carefully regarded it. She was probably doing the same math Tony was and coming to the same conclusion. He would be hungover tomorrow, and none of this would be any better. Once again, Natasha exhibited superior decision-making skills and set the bottle down without pouring it before speaking. “Why do I have a feeling neither of you said what you were really thinking?”
“Does it even matter? Our intentions were the same.”
“I just... I don’t know. It’s probably for the better with everything that happened with the Accords and Barnes.”
The world was swimming around him, and all Tony could do was sit there and think. He knew it was all hopeless. If he had felt it on that morning at Clint’s, he knew it for sure the moment Steve dropped the shield. There was no going back from this. “I hate him so much sometimes, hated him even back then.”
“Why’d you do it? Why call him and warn him today?”
“You're watching the same people I do. You know why I did it.”
“Ross had plans...” Her jaw clenched in anger. “He wants to resurrect the super-soldier program, and the Accords make it possible to detain someone with Steve’s abilities indefinitely.” That churned in Tony’s stomach. “That gives him the opportunity to experiment on the world’s most successful super-soldier.”
Tony sighed. He couldn’t drink anymore and all that was left was to wait for the inevitable hangover. “I... I’m not ready to forgive him. Not today. But tomorrow? Maybe. And he has to be alive if I’m going to do that.”
“I would have broken him out, if that happened. You have to know that.” She was trying to soothe him, but he didn’t need it. Tony had made his decision, and now that it was over he didn’t regret it.
“It’s better if you don’t have to.” He had enough guilt.
“I was about to warn him today. You just got there first.”
“I figured.” He shook his head but stopped when the motion made him nauseated. “Look – I know what you’re trying to do. But it’s ok. I’m ok with it.”
“You don’t have to be.”
“I know that, too.” Tony thought back to Steve’s eyes that night in the farmhouse. Was Steve thinking about Barnes as he looked at Tony like that? When he told him that if they would fail, they would do that together? “I just don’t know if he didn’t tell me about my parents because he cared too much or too little. And I wish he had said something so I wouldn’t have to think about that. I don't think it would make anything better. I just want to know."
Natasha was quiet. She was smiling at him in a soft, sad way. It was almost pity, but it seemed like she knew something he didn’t. “I didn’t tell you because I cared. Knowing what I know about Steve? The answer seems obvious.”
It didn’t feel obvious, but he wanted it to be. Maybe someday he’d be able to ask Steve and know for sure. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe before the next world-ending crisis, if he was lucky.
But it wouldn’t be tonight. He stumbled up and fell back onto the couch. “I think I’m done.” The cushions were now the most comfortable thing he had ever felt and he was struggling to keep his eyes open. “I think I’m going to close my eyes for a minute.” She didn’t stop him, so he gave up trying to stay awake and drifted into an easy, drunk sleep.
The next morning
When he woke up the next morning there was a light blanket over his body and a glass of water on the floor, but no other sign of Natasha. It was a struggle to stand up and he was distinctly aware he’d have to sleep the rest of this off on his real bed, but also equally aware that he wouldn’t. Tony stumbled to his desk and opened the drawer. The phone was there, just like it always was. Tony picked it up and opened it, just like he always did. It was an anxious habit, one part reassurance that the world was not ending and another part wishful thinking.
And just like every morning, it was only a useless phone. Tony navigated to the contacts page and almost pressed ‘call’ before closing it and returning it to the drawer.
He wasn’t ready to make the call. At least, not today.
But tomorrow? Maybe.