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“I’m in love with you.” Steve was proud that his voice didn’t waver, especially since the only thing keeping him from shaking was his army training and the death grip of his hands behind his back. He willed his feet to stay still, shoulder-width apart, weight balanced evenly, because once he started shifting, squirming, he wouldn’t be able to stop. His eyes searched Tony’s face for his reaction, painfully hopeful at first, and then with growing dread.

Tony gaped, then frowned, then smiled. It wasn’t a nice smile. It was the kind of smile he saved for reporters that called him “a philandering war profiteer” and then dared to ask for a comment on the red carpet. The smile he gave Fury when he told Tony his opinion wasn’t needed. The smile you smiled when you don’t love someone back. Steve’s eyes dropped to the floor between them, jaw working, braced for whatever Tony might say, wondering if there was some way he could brush it off before Tony spoke and save himself the pain.

“Sorry,” Tony said, offhand, as if he’d taken the last doughnut, and fuck that hurt. “I’m not really a love person. You should probably set your sights on someone else.”

Steve opened his mouth, but with no idea what to say, and before he could conjure words that made some semblance of sense out of the churning hurt and pain and disappointment in his gut, Tony was gone. He’d marched off across the workshop and flicked open a bank of holoscreens with one hand. Layers of hard, blue light came between them, and Steve watched for a moment, flummoxed, as bits of Tony’s hair and eyes and t-shirt flickered in and out of the incomprehensible lines of math and code on the screen.

Steve spun on his heel and bolted out, no longer able to withstand seeing the pieces of Tony he could never have, broken and scattered between fragments of the work Tony would always love more than he would ever even like Steve. His feet took him down the stairs to the gym, automatically. Steve wasn’t the sort to cry, but he was the sort to beat the shit out of a series of reinforced heavy bags.

He tried to talk himself out of his disappointment while he wrapped his hands and stretched his shoulders out, the practiced routine already leeching some of the tension away. He’ll say no, but you’ll regret it if you don’t try, he had told himself on the stairs outside of the workshop, convincing himself to make his confession. But he’d been wrong; he regretted having done it so much more. His mantra to himself for weeks had been he’ll say no, he’ll say no, and yet, apparently, he hadn’t believed it because that tossed out “sorry” had wriggled itself into his gut like a parasite and was twisting and writhing and ripping him apart from the inside out.

When the bag exploded, showering the floor in sand and shredded canvas, Steve silently moved on to the next.



Tony stabbed at the blueprints, waves of irritation washing over him in rhythm with the pounding music that filled the workshop. When the plans for the super-miniaturized repulsors refused to cooperate, Tony switched to working on Clint’s latest quiver upgrade but found that just as unproductive. He was pissy, and he never worked well when he felt this way. What he really wanted was something to hit with the sledgehammer, but all of his current projects were at frustratingly fiddly, precise stages.

He spent the better part of an hour arguing with his in-progress tech projects and cycling through a hundred ridiculous excuses for his current mood before even The Stark Denial™ wasn’t strong enough to ignore it anymore.

I’m in love with you.

What utter bullshit. Tony smacked all the screens away and huffed down onto his couch, scowling at DUM-E’s overly cheerful claw waving at him, and stabbing a screwdriver against the seam of his jeans. The edge of the tool caught a stitch and popped it, leaving a little tail of brown thread sticking out. Tony frowned at it.  

Steve wasn’t in love with him. Maybe he was attracted to him, that wasn’t unusual. But love? No fucking way. The worst of it was that the last couple of months had actually been really nice. He and Steve had found some common ground and were enjoying each other’s company instead of bickering all the time. Tony had been stunned to find that Steve was his equal at chess, and lately they’d been playing at least one game a day, even switching to an app on their phones when Tony had to be in California for SI business. It had been nice, and friendly, which was weird for Tony, and now Steve was ruining it by making it about sex.

Cause it had to be sex that this was about, right? Why else would Steve say something, unless he wanted Tony’s body? Wanted Tony’s experience? It’s not that Tony wouldn’t be capable of giving Steve the best orgasm of his life, but the thought made him squirm uncomfortably, like something was missing there. He didn’t want to replace the chess, and the late night strategy conversations, and the little, shared glances across the table when Thor told one of his taller tales at a team dinner. He didn’t want to trade it for moaning and writhing and sweat. He could get that anywhere. He only had one friend like Steve.

But it was all over anyway, wasn’t it? Because Steve had to go and convince himself that he’d caught feelings just because he’d probably never had to deal with thinking with his dick before, and now things could never be the same. And that was why Tony was pissy.

And when he’d spent nearly an hour circling around the thought and pinning it down in a death grip, it just made him pissier to have it choking and struggling in his fist, instead of fluttering around, elusive. Now the full weight of what he was mourning settled over him. Pepper had thought she loved him and he had lost her; Steve thought he loved him, and now Tony would lose him too. 



It was awkward; how could it not be?

Tony had given him the brush off, and Steve was trying too hard to pretend he wasn’t deeply hurt by it. What surprised him most, however, was Tony’s attitude. Tony had mostly been avoiding him, which Steve could understand, but in the moments when they had to be together, for the team, Tony directed a painful amount of anger in Steve’s direction. Whenever Steve caught Tony’s gaze there was a tightness there and a flicker of rage that always took Steve aback. He could understand Tony being embarrassed, or confused, or even disgusted by Steve’s admission, but angry? Why?

For the most part, Steve tried to ignore it, treating Tony as normally as possible around the team, and letting him have his space otherwise. But, when they received a tipoff that Dr. Doom was gunning for them, Steve had no choice but to call Tony in for a strategy meeting. It was the way they’d always done things, and he couldn’t risk the team’s safety just because things were awkward between them.

Tony sauntered into the room, oozing the overconfidence that Steve had come to realize was born out of unease.

“This won’t take long. We just had some issues during that thing with the anti-grav gun guy and I thought it would be smart to review the plan before our next call to action,” Steve explained, stumbling a little over his words.

Tony waved a benevolent hand. “Sure, Cap. Whatever you want.” His voice was flat, with a sharp edge to it and Steve withered inside, bending a little under the weight of what he’d lost. He should have kept his mouth shut. He should have waited longer, until he was sure Tony had feelings for him too. He shouldn’t have taken all those smiles and glances and winks seriously.

Shaking himself a little, he asked JARVIS to pull up the footage from the last battle. It was an amalgamation of Iron Man’s camera feed, security footage in the area, and any news coverage that had caught them. They fell into the familiar rhythm of dissecting the battle and pointing out faults, concerns, and well-executed moves. Tony took notes on a few technological improvements that could have helped. It was over too soon, and the comfort they had naturally sunk into started to lift. Tony stood to go, then turned back to eye the screen contemplatively.

“We should have sent the spy twins up the middle right away and pulled the forces away from the centre, then swung you in around to the side to get eyes on the big guy.”

Steve thought it through, then chuckled. “The queen’s gambit? Not sure Nat and Clint would appreciate being pawns, though.” Tony actually smiled, and Steve’s heart started doing gymnastics in his chest. “It’s a good point. You always were better at chess than me.”

Tony’s smile immediately dropped off his face. “Seriously? For fucks sake, Steve. I said no, back off.”

Steve swung around to face Tony, utterly confused. “What? What do you mean?”

“You don’t have drop in little compliments to try and charm me or whatever. I meant what I said, alright?” Tony snapped, scowling.

Steve gaped, trying to catch the thread of the conversation as it blew around the room. “What? I - I wasn’t. Do you think I was -?” Steve caught himself, unable to say the word flirting without combusting. “I would have said that anyway, Tony. I mean it. You are. It wasn’t a - a thing. I was just… saying.”

Tony eyed him for a moment, and Steve could feel his cheeks inflame which probably wasn’t helping his cause. “Whatever,” Tony finally huffed, more to himself than to Steve, then he turned, and stormed out, leaving a perplexed, unhappy Steve alone in the room.



Tony’s mind had a habit of focusing on things he could quantify in moments of stress. So when the steel girder slammed into his side and the armour bend inward, crushing his ribs, all Tony could think about was the sheer miracle of statistics that meant the girder had exactly the right mass, speed, angle, and shape to find the one weak point between the large scales of metal that made up the suit.

When his body finally skidded to a stop in a pile of dusty rubble, Tony sucked in a deep breath then immediately regretted it. Fireworks shot off between his ribs and behind the arc reactor, setting the inside of his chest on fire. He choked, grit his teeth and tried the next breath shallower. The pain was less, but the begging, stabbing need for oxygen deepened and he found himself gasping up tiny, choppy mouthfuls of air, panic mixing with pain when he realized it wasn’t enough.

It took ten minutes, but eventually, he found a balance between the stabbing pain in his ribs and his need to breathe. Even when he did manage a larger breath, it felt shortened and unsatisfying, but the dizziness faded and the adrenaline that had been coursing through his veins since he’d been hit started to lessen its hold on him. The comm crackled with the voices of his teammates and a jolt of fear redoubled the heartbeat that had finally started to calm. He couldn’t let them see him like this. They’d drag him off to the hospital, bench him, maybe realize that the team was just as good without the man in a tin can. Better even, when they didn’t have to worry about him anymore.  

Luckily, it wasn’t until he was in control enough to stand that Clint and Natasha found him. They ran over when they saw him slumped in the rubble, but he brushed them off easily enough and took to the sky before they could see the massive dent in the side of the armour. He wondered if he was dripping blood.

The trip back to the tower was one of the worst of his life. He was pretty sure he passed out at least once, but JARVIS’ autopilot had taken him home. He staggered across the landing pads, stopping the bots when they tried to remove the armour. It was a painful, painstaking process, but he unscrewed and tossed aside each piece of the armour one-by-one, by hand. As he suspected, the plates around his side were badly twisted. If he’d let the bots try to remove them, it would have ended in a wrestling match that would have had him passing out again. As it was, it took a few shots of whiskey, a lot of breaks, and over an hour to get free.

When the last piece of metal hit the floor, he moaned in relief, then cut if off with a staccato gasp as his side screamed out in pain. He’d definitely done a number on his ribs. They throbbed between breaths, then raged and cursed with stabbing pain every time he asked them to expand.

He collapsed on the floor of the workshop, his back against the side of the couch. A sweat had broken out across his brow, but he was chilled to his core. He pulled up his shirt with shaky hands and celebrated with a relieved groan when there was no blood. Stitches were a bitch to give yourself, especially in such an awkward spot. A dark bruise was already blooming across his side, but he’d had worse. To be fair, he’d also once woken up with a giant hole scooped out of his chest and a magnet shoved in there, but even still, this wasn’t that bad. He’d live. Hopefully.

For some reason, his brain chose that moment to supply him with a distinct memory. What they’d been laughing about, he actually couldn’t remember, but seared into his brain was the look on Steve’s face. First, disgruntled, as he realized Tony was making fun of him, then breaking into laughter himself, deep and hearty and real. Steve had been messing up with some modern technology or spouting vitriol over the Dodgers or something equally silly, and Tony had just broken down laughing and, eventually, brought Steve with him.

I’m in love with you.

People didn’t just fall in love with him. Why would Steve say that? What did he want? And what did Tony want?

He looked across the dark workshop at the pile of twisted armour pieces scattered across the floor. He didn’t know what he wanted, but he knew what he didn’t want. He didn’t want to be alone.



It was just like Tony to skip all of the post-battle meetings and lock himself in his workshop. Steve was oscillating between worried and frustrated fast enough to give himself whiplash. JARVIS wouldn’t tell him anything, Clint and Nat assured him that Tony had been fine after the battle, but the man himself had been in complete radio silence for almost 36 hours.

By midnight on the second day, Steve couldn’t take it anymore. “JARVIS, protocol 467. Call Tony.”

“Yes, Captain.”

There was a moment of silence and then, “What?” followed by a grunt.

“I need to talk to you. Can I come down?”

“Now, really?” Tony snapped, the last syllable cracking like a whip and making Steve flinch.

Steve opened his mouth to snap back, but a strange noise, like a moan or a sucked in breath cut through and Steve had the sudden horrible thought that Tony might not be alone. Steve might have been sitting around worrying that something was wrong, when really Tony had picked up some company and had spent the last two days with someone’s thighs wrapped around his head. JARVIS hadn’t told him if he was dialing into the penthouse or the workshop - Steve had just assumed Tony was working. Steve blushed furiously at the thought, equal parts mortified and deeply, painfully jealous.  “Sorry, I - uh - I just needed a follow up after the altercation with Dr. Doom yesterday. I can’t finish my After Action until I talk to you.”

“This isn’t a great time.” Was that another voice Steve could hear in the background? “Can you harass me tomorrow instead?”

A petty, jealous anger slammed into Steve out of nowhere. “Fine,” he bit out and the line clicked off.

Steve pushed to his feet and stalked around his apartment for a while, trying to burn off a restless, unhappy energy that wouldn’t shake loose. He honestly didn’t know if it was jealousy, worry, or anger that was winning, with the added layer of being both Tony’s maybe-friend and team leader and not really being sure what either of those roles needed from him.

He was struck with the uneasy thought that Tony might be giving him the brush off because of his confession the other day, and not because of anything else. If Tony’s discomfort with Steve’s feelings meant he was cutting missions short, skipping meetings, and avoiding reports just to steer clear of Steve, that was going to be a huge problem.

The more he stared at his reports, the more something didn’t make sense. Tony had been off the comm for over ten minutes near the end of the battle. Clint and Nat had said he’d been slumped in a damaged building when they found him, but he’d flown off right away, seemingly fine. Still...

“JARVIS, where is Tony?”

“Mr. Stark is currently in his workshop.”

“And is -” Steve hesitated, worried that he didn’t really want to know. “Is he alone?”

“Yes, Captain.”

Steve let out a sharp breath, disappointed that he was so relieved. Just because Tony didn’t want Steve, didn’t mean he deserved to be lonely. He had every right to seek pleasure however he wanted. And yet, in this moment, Steve was relieved. He took one last turn around his kitchen island and gave in, heading for the door.

He took the elevator instead of the stairs, rocking anxiously from foot to foot as it descended. Tony was going to be pissed if he barged in there after he’d asked him to leave him be, but he was pissed anyway, so what did it matter? At least then Steve wouldn’t be up all night worrying. And if Tony was fine, Steve would have the chance to explain that he didn’t want his feelings to come between them. He could tell Tony that he had moved on - or he would move on - and the last thing he wanted was for it to mess up the happy friendship they’d built over the last few months.

As soon as the elevator doors sprung open, Steve’s heart dropped into his gut, and he flew across the floor, skidding into the workshop door hard enough that it bounced against the far wall. Tony sat on the floor, leaning back against the couch. An empty bottle of something amber lay on its side next to him. He was slumped to the side with one arm wrapped awkwardly around his middle, his face pale and sweaty, and DUM-E hovering nervously nearby.

God, what had he done this time?



A warm hand fell on his back as two knees appeared next to his with a thump. “Tony?”

Tony sucked air between his teeth, willing his ribs not to expand with the pressure of the breath. It didn’t work and when he let it out again, it drew a whimper out with it. “Fuck off,” he tried but even he could hear the don’t leave me threaded in between the words and knew Steve wouldn’t be fooled.

“What did you do?” Steve sounded panicked, and probably a little disgusted, and Tony couldn’t tell without looking, but he hoped a lot judgey, because he deserved it.

“Wasn’t me, was that asshole Dr. Doom,” he ground out.

Steve was silent for an entire, agonized, shaky breath. “Have you been hurt since yesterday morning?” His voice was deceptively calm.

“Um.” Tony was in too much pain to find either snark or dismissal. “Yes.”

“Shit.” Steve’s hand tensed on Tony’s back, pulling a handful of fabric between his fingers, nails scraping across Tony’s skin as they tightened, and for some reason Tony didn’t understand, that was the thing that broke it all. Steve’s hand clenching against his spine, crushing his shirt, the pure pain in that hissed out curse. Tony broke.

He jerked forward, his hands landing on Steve’s knees, then crawled his way up Steve’s body, using alternating handfuls of Steve’s clothes to drag him up to somewhere near his chest, his neck, his face. “Did you mean it?” he rasped out, pushing aside the stinging heat behind his eyes. “Did you mean it?”

“Mean what?” Steve asked, so gentle, hooking his arms under Tony’s biceps and helping him up until they were level. Tony clung to him with the desperation of a drowning man, terrified that he was bringing Steve underwater with him, instead of saving them both.

“That you’re in love with me.” His voice was steady, but it may as well have been a sob; he knew his eyes were giving away everything that the rest of him managed to contain.

There was no hesitation. “Yes. Of course.”

A horrible noise rattled up Tony’s throat and ripped out of his mouth, scratching him raw all the way up. He tipped forward until his forehead pressed against Steve’s chest, between his hands which still gripped Steve’s shirt. Steve wove his arms around Tony, half holding him, half holding him up. “Tony, I have to get you to a hospital,” Steve whispered, his breath against Tony’s ear sending a shiver down Tony’s spine. The shiver took hold deep and suddenly Tony was shaking and he couldn’t stop. Steve stood, dragging Tony up with him, his arms iron bars around Tony’s middle.

It was agony, being manhandled, but there was also something freeing in just letting go, letting Steve guide him to the door, not listening as he talked to JARVIS about cars and hospitals and travel time, not caring where they were going. Steve was in love with him. He clung to it now as hard as he had rejected it before. Someone loved him, Steve loved him. He wasn’t alone, even when he was broken. It settled as a bright ball of warmth in his stomach, calming the surging tides of stinging acid and chasing away the wracking shudders.



Two broken ribs and a collapsed lung.

Steve was pissed.

Tony’s insistence that it couldn’t really be that bad since the treatment was bed rest anyway, did absolutely nothing to calm the crackling thunderstorm of rage in Steve’s chest. When the injured man had the gall to suggest, albeit weakly, that he might do that bed rest at home, one look from Steve had shut his mouth permanently on the subject. Tony had managed the recommended week at the hospital with meek acquiescence.

Steve had been there every day with snacks, movies, books, and zero patience for bullshit. He had no hesitation in whipping out his Captain America Voice if Tony seemed at all likely to resist medical care in any way. He also put his foot down hard on discussing anything feelings related. Tony had poked the edges of the conversation a few times, but Steve had shut it down, gently but firmly. “We’ll talk about that when you’re better,” he’d insisted, and Tony had appeared to accept it.

Now that they were heading back to the tower, a bottle of painkillers in Steve’s pocket, and Tony breathing almost normally in the seat beside him, Steve was nervous. He rolled the bottle over and over, fiddling with the cap. Tony had handed it to him without a word, and as worrisome as it was that he felt the need to have a middleman, Steve was grateful at the same time that Tony’d had the guts to do it. The Tony that had let himself suck in useless breaths alone on the floor of his workshop for two days would have taken the bottle and knocked back three times his dose with whiskey, working through the drugged haze until he’d refractured and recollapsed and rebruised everything.

And Steve was starting to wonder if it was because Tony thought he deserved it. Part of him hoped that it was the same reason Tony had rejected Steve - that he thought he didn’t deserve it - but the conversation he avoided having at the hospital weighed heavier and heavier between them, and Steve found himself wishing he could put it off even longer. He wanted to keep the easy comfort they’d had at the hospital, watching silly comedies and arguing about the best colour of skittles and if jello actually counted as food.

To Steve’s surprise, when the car dropped them off at the tower, Tony made for the penthouse instead of the workshop. Steve wandered in behind him, uncomfortable, but knowing that Tony was due for a painkiller in half an hour and not sure how he should dole it out. Tony dumped his bag by the door, kicked his shoes off and tumbled onto the couch without pause. Steve looked down at his ruffled, sprawled form and smiled.

“What can I get you?” he asked.

Tony mumbled something into the couch cushions, and Steve settled on a glass of water, his tablet from the bag, and his pill. He put the rest of the bottle in a high cabinet that Tony wouldn't be able to stretch his arm high enough to reach until he was better enough not to need them. When Steve set the glass of water down on the coffee table, a hand shot out with startling speed and wrapped around his wrist.

“Am I better enough?” Tony asked, words heavy with implication.

Steve swallowed, skin buzzing under Tony’s fingers. He sat down on the edge of the sofa, by Tony’s hip. “I guess. If you want to.”

Tony turned face up, then shifted back until he was half-sitting against the arm of the sofa. His fingers dropped from Steve’s wrist, and Steve silently lamented the loss. “Of course I don’t want to, but I’m about to lose my mind if we don’t talk about this.”

Steve flinched. “Do we really have to? You know how I feel, and I know how you feel. I came down that day to tell you I was sick of all this tension between us. I want to go back to being friends. It kills me that my stupid mouth made you uncomfortable around me and I’d like to just forget it.”

“Did you mean it?” Tony asked again, soft this time instead of desperate. Steve looked up and met his eyes, and the world shifted and stumbled under him, trying to tip him into that wide, open, terrifying question.



“Yes. I’m in love with you. No doubt.” And there was no hesitation in his voice, just like last time, except this time, Tony took a deep breath and let the words ricochet around inside him in silence, waiting for them to still instead of letting them knock panic out of his mouth.

When they settled, he found the strength to meet Steve’s gaze and told him, “I didn’t believe you, before.”

Steve raised an eyebrow. “And now?”

“I don’t know.”

Steve frowned. “What changed?”

“I don’t know.”

“Tony…”

Tony held up a hand. “I know, I know. Sorry. I feel like all I’ve done for a week and a half is think about this and I still can’t get my thoughts in order.” Tony took a steadying breath and couldn’t help but take a moment to revel in the relief of feeling it fill his lungs all the way. “First of all, I know what I did - hiding this injury - was a dick move and I’m sorry. I’m not used to this… team thing. I’m used to being alone. I’m used to people using my weaknesses against me, so I learned not to have any, sometimes by force. I know it’s not an excuse, but it’s the truth. So yeah, dick move. I’ll try not to do that again.”

“You’d better not.” Steve’s eyes flashed.

“I don’t want to lose you if you’re wrong,” Tony suddenly gasped out, mortified. His chest felt tight again, but not from his broken ribs.

Steve opened and closed his mouth a few times. “What?”

“If you’re wrong about loving me. I don’t want to lose you.” Every inch of Tony’s skin tingled, static tension crackling between them. He felt like screaming or crying or maybe laughing which was distinctly uncomfortable. Because how could he do this without Steve? Steve, who asked for his advice instead of telling him to sit down and shut up. Steve, who trusted Tony with his own fears and weaknesses. Steve, who was here, would still have been here even if Tony had brought himself down, without help from Dr. Doom.

“You -” Steve cut himself off and eyed Tony for a moment. “You won’t lose me, Tony. And I’m not wrong. Also, I feel the need to point out that I never asked for anything from you.”

“I - what?”

“I never said I wanted anything from you. I never said I wanted a relationship, or sex, or for you to love me back. All I said was I’m in love with you. I wanted you to know, because I realized I felt it. We are - were friends. I hoped, obviously, that you’d have feelings too. I guess I thought the time we were spending together, it felt… like the start of something. But I was wrong, I guess, and that made you angry, which I didn’t expect. I assumed that if the answer was no, we could just forget about it. So, I’m sorry. I didn’t want to break this. I honestly thought I was making it better. It feels good to love you, Tony. You’re incredible. You make me happy. I miss you...” Steve trailed off, blushing.

Tony reached out and rested two fingers on Steve’s forearm, hoping it was clear that he needed a quiet moment to process, that he wasn’t dismissing him, he was just… recalculating. Steve loved him. Really, he had believed it all along, but it had felt like a bad thing, like a threat, or an expectation that Tony would never be able to live up to. “I’m not a very nice person to love,” Tony said, hoping Steve understood.

“I know you,” was Steve’s only reply, and somehow, that was perfect. Steve did know him, better than anyone, maybe. Because he was here, day after day, fighting side by side, playing games, staying up late listening - really listening because, god, Steve was good at that. Steve knew him, and he loved him anyway. And the reason Tony had been rejecting it, pushing him away, telling himself it was a bad thing, was because he loved Steve so much he was sure it was welded onto his bones, and when you lose that, you lose everything.

And Tony Stark doesn’t get happy endings.

But Steve was here - he was always here - and he hadn’t shaken off the fingers Tony had rested on his arm, so Tony curled the rest of them over too, then slid his hand down until it landed in Steve’s palm. Steve dropped his eyes to their hands, then tucked his fingers into Tony’s, winding them together until they were holding hands.

“I’m utterly, fucking terrified of you,” Tony admitted, unable to tear his gaze away from where they were joined. Steve’s fingers tightened and Tony’s stomach flip-flopped. “I was angry because I was scared. It’s easier to keep things the way they are, even if it’s not good enough, then reach for happiness and miss.”

Steve face twisted with sadness. “I can’t promise this will be perfect, that it’ll never hurt, or you’ll never be afraid. All I can say is that I really do love you, like crazy, and I want this so badly, however much of it you want to give me, and I’ll do everything in my power, every day, to show you how loved you are. If you let me.”

“Holy shit.” Tony tipped his head back onto the couch cushion and squeezed his eyes shut. “Well, come on then, you can’t say something like that and then not kiss me, that’s just wrong.”

“I - uh - are you sure?” Steve stuttered out, his hand spasming in Tony’s. Tony gave it a sharp tug, and Steve tipped forward with an umph, bringing their faces closer together. Steve’s eyes went wide. He smelled like hospital, but it wasn’t making Tony panic, it was filling him with a scary, jittery thrill. Because Steve had been there, the whole time.

Tony smiled. “No, I’ll never be sure. That’s something you’ll just have to get used to about me. But I want it, and I’m willing to try. Is that good enough?”

“Yes,” Steve muttered, his eyes dropping down to Tony’s mouth.

The kiss was gentle, just a press of soft, warm lips against Tony’s, which was fair enough because after a week of having his breath stolen, Tony wasn’t really in a place to be able to give it up again. But for all that the kiss wasn’t nearly as much as he wanted, it was also everything, laced through with so much promise that Tony’s mind started racing into the future, building a new world with space carved out for Steve. When Steve pulled away and smiled down at him, Tony realized he hadn’t said it back. He knew Steve wouldn’t mind, that he would give Tony all the time and space in the world - as long as none of his ribs were in more pieces than they should be - but he wanted to, and that scared him more than anything else about this.

“I’m in love with you,” Tony said, grinning when Steve’s eyes went wide with happy surprise. “And it feels good to love you too.” And he meant it.