Tony didn’t like powerful people.
Okay- no, wait, there were so many things wrong with that. He did. Of course he liked powerful people. Jesus, all you needed was Rhodey to see that much was obvious. The guy was in the fucking military , for Christ’s sake; abs of steel and a ranking that you didn’t want to fuck with if you had any sense. He was the epitome of power, and Tony liked him just fine. Saying he didn't was a stupid generalisation.
Okay. It was easier easier to say that… he didn’t trust powerful people. Yeah. That one fit a little better.
And it wasn’t the sort of power that came from money or authority or glamour. Hell, Tony was king of the money/ authority/ glamour trifecta, and he sure as hell wasn’t scared of himself. Because those sorts of things were manipulable. That sort of thing required intellect and willpower, and Tony...well, he ran the show when it came to that. He could win that race any day; it was the only reason he’d made it as far as he had.
So no. The powerful people were fine. It was the powerful people who...well.
It was A Thing.
He didn’t think much of it. And it wasn’t like it affected his work or anything. He was just sharper, a little more alert around them. Pissed them all off a bit more to keep them away. It worked out fine- all the big ones with the strong arms, they’d play into his trap and keep their distance, just how Tony liked it. Rhodey had enough guns for him, thank you very much.
Yeah. A Thing. He didn’t talk about it.
When he became Iron Man, everything felt a lot easier.
Well. He said that like it was all it came with- a handy little invention to make him sleep easier, to make him relax.
Relax? Hah- that was a fucking joke. He hadn’t meant it like that at all.
Becoming Iron Man had ruined and twisted him in ways he would never be able to repair. Becoming Iron Man had meant a wakeup call which changed his life and his view on the entire world. Becoming Iron Man had involved his heart being ripped to shreds and a metal one being shoved in the gaping wound it had left behind.
But hey- at least he’d gotten the armour from it. The one silver lining of the entire fiasco that had become his life. He had the armour. And people respected that. People knew the power behind it. It was good.
After Iron Man, he would look at the people who seemed as if they were capable of pinning him with ease, and his hand would flex out to feel the band of metal which could summon his armour. Whenever he wanted. Whenever he needed to. Protection.
It was fucked up and it was a product of so much destruction that he would never be able to make up for- but it also made the tightness he’d developed in his chest from the age of 14 years old loosen, just a little.
Rogers took a step toward him, and the first thing Tony thought about was escape routes.
He didn’t need to look around him to know where they were. Eidetic memory and all that. He knew that there were three, but two of them were near impossible to get out of. The third- that one was around seven steps to the left if he turned 60 degrees, and it lead off down a corridor.
Which, of course, Captain Fucking America could easily just chase him down.
The rest of the team would stop him, though, right? Yeah- he knew they would. He knew they needed him, needed the both of them in order for this to work. And Tony wasn’t exactly helping his case much anyway, he knew he was riling the man up, but it wasn’t a big fucking deal. He was Iron Man, for the love of God, he wasn’t about to be bullied by his father’s fucking wet dream-
The idiot reached for his arm and Tony felt the walls slam up, felt the canons lock and load as he shoved it off immediately. The guy’s hand had pretty much encircled Tony’s entire forearm, he was that fucking huge. He’d ripped off a reinforced door like it was nothing more than tissue paper. God only knew what he might be able to do to Tony’s suit-
Tony snapped and bickered, airy and dismissive and confrontational all at the same time. “Why, you gonna stop me?” He asked, like it was a challenge, testing the waters, how much the guy would take, because he needed to know- he was a futurist and he’d planned ahead enough to realise that it was pretty fucking likely they’d meet up again and he needed to know.
The room blew out, and- well- that was the end of that.
Tony did end up taking Rogers’ advice and suiting up, and in turn Rogers kind of maybe possibly saved his ass. Although Tony returned the favour a few seconds after, so he declared it even. Tony was calmer in the suit anyway- less to worry about, when he was in there. Not as much to fear, even when in reality it was way more.
Try telling his head that. Stubborn fucking bastard.
If there was one place he really fucking hated, it was SHIELD.
With it’s dull grey walls and it’s tiny windows. And the smell, Jesus, the smell was gross. Stifling.
It was also full of heavily armed, very strong operatives.
It didn’t bother Tony. It didn’t. Okay, so maybe he was more brittle here. He came in late and he pissed everyone off while fingering the wiring of his watch-gauntlet. It was just what he did, all part of the Tony Stark package. None of them liked him anyway, it wasn’t as if they were expecting anything else. They’d saved the world together, sure, but as far as Tony could tell, Rogers still hated his guts, Romanov was still a spy who could not be trusted on any accounts, and Barton and Thor were the ones he had yet to actually have a proper conversation with. The only person he actually got on with was Bruce. Bruce was easy. He was all dry wit and intelligence and he was...soft. It was just a welcome change, Tony figured, from all the hard lines and business profiles of everyone else he associated with.
“Stark, how nice of you to finally make it,” Fury ground out, entirely unimpressed as he watched Tony saunter in and find the chair next to a tired looking Doctor Banner, “you even managed to fit us in before morning ended entirely.”
“I aim to please,” Tony shrugged, smiling around the table with teeth and shielded eyes that were hidden behind dark lenses.
Rogers was looking at him and shaking his head, Bruce was rolling his eyes- but Romanov just observed him. It was fucking freaky- out of all of them, it was definitely her he trusted the least. Rogers may have taken first prize on the disliking side of the equation, but Romanov…
She was built on lies. Tony didn’t know which parts of her were real and which were fake. And it wasn’t like she was the first person to get close to him only to end up wanting his secrets, but she sure as hell had been a sore reminder.
He jerked, shoving the thought from his head and pointedly turning away from the redhead’s gaze. His eyes were shielded, but he knew people could still gather an awful lot from the mouth, the posture, the body language.
Better safe than sorry.
That night he went home and did a meticulous bug-sweep of his servers- checking, double checking, triple checking for warning signs, viruses or potential breaks in the firewall. He trawled through the file of one the recently employed members of staff who worked close with R&D and then called Pepper to tell her to set up a flash security check around all members of staff.
Call it what you will- OCD, madness, whatever. But all Tony could see in his mind’s eye was a woman with long auburn hair and a smile that had looked exactly like Romanov’s- and her name was Sunset.
It became a weird sort of thing. They went out and they kicked ass together; stopped terrorist plots and fended off aliens and then sort of- went home. They didn’t talk much outside of the field, and that was fine by Tony.
They were, surprisingly, a very good team. It had taken them no time at all to come to grips with one another, and worked seamlessly in order to neutralize the threats which had started to become more and more frequent.
Tony ended up with Rogers, a lot of the time. They just… clicked. It was hard to explain. But Tony always knew what the other man was about to do, and vice versa. Useful in a battle, obviously, so why wouldn’t they be put together? In the same way Widow and Hawkeye were, or Thor and Bruce. Everyone had someone they worked well with.
Of course, out of the field, it meant nothing. They’d meet up, check for injuries, and then once it was established that yes, they were all injured, they’d go. Bruce usually hopped along with Tony back to the tower, and honestly Tony neither knew nor cared where the rest of them disappeared to. As far as he was aware, they just went off to lick their wounds in private until SHIELD undoubtedly dragged them back for medical and briefing. That was the routine. That was what they did.
Tony liked it that way. It was simple. Effective. It didn’t require talking and there was no magical team bonding or whatever the fuck- it was just work.
Even when Romanov attempted to speak with him one time, after he’d pulled her from a burning building and then sat them in a lake to cool off, Tony refused. Not to her. She was painfully familiar, and Tony just didn’t want to go through that again. She served as his reminder- like his own little alarm clock that screamed ‘ do not let them get close, do not let them get near, do not let them in, because this is what happens’ whenever he looked Romanov’s way.
So yeah. he’d flown off before she’d had a chance to clear her throat, and when she saw Tony half an hour later at briefing, she hadn’t brought it up. Just observed, in her own stupidly observant way.
Of course, that didn’t stop her from saying “thanks for the save, Stark,” as she’d been half-way out of the door, just so she could get the last word in.
He sat back and gave the area she’d just vacated the middle finger. As he turned, he managed to catch the tail-end of one of Rogers’ special disdained faces, and for some reason that ended up just making him feel even smaller, even more vulnerable than he already goddamn was.
“Didn’t your mother teach you manners, Cap? It’s not nice to look at people like that,” Tony snapped, defensive and sharp. He hated feeling small. He hated Rogers. He especially hated Rogers making him feel small.
“You were the one making rude gestures to a dame, but you’re talking to me about manners?” Rogers replied, eyebrows raised and eyes harsh. Tony knew they were assessing him, watching him- glancing at the beard and the bone structure and the familiarity he held in his expression whilst thinking ‘you’re not him’.
No. No he goddamn wasn’t.
“Hey, listen, no one ever said I was polite. You ; you’re the patriotic stick-up-the-ass type. I expected better,” Tony shook his head in mock offence, “oh, and also? That was sexist. We insult men and women equally here. Sorry Cap’n.”
Rogers ground out his teeth and stood suddenly, and it was so much of a reflex to him at that point that when Tony jerked back and spread his weight back to his feet, he barely even noticed. Even if Rogers did- and widened his eyes a little in response to it.
He hung around for another second, a little of the fight knocked out of him without Tony having even said a(nother) word, and then just turned and walked out.
“Time bomb,” Bruce added helpfully into the silent room, not looking up from the book he was reading.
Tony grimaced. He had a feeling the guy had a point.
They ended up getting goddamn Shawarma again, for whatever reason.
Well. The specific reason was that Barton broke his leg and possibly various other bones amongst the mess that his body had become, and therefore was physically incapable of wandering off. Plus, the joint had been like, two steps away, and the fight had been going on for ages. They were all starving.
“But… I don’t, uh- I don’t have any money on me,” Rogers stumbled over the words, shaking his head and backing off.
Tony just laughed, sticking out a hand in order to stop the man’s retreat. “Remember the ‘billionaire’ part of genius billionaire playboy philanthropist? Yeah, well I’m playing that card now. No need to waste your pension, after all.”
Rogers bristled a little, and Tony took a brief moment to mourn for every joke that had fallen flat around the other man before he got to work attempting to herd Rogers back toward the Shawarma joint. Thankfully, he did end up caving- he was a supersolider after all, and damn, those muscles wouldn’t feed themselves.
So they sat (well, Barton sort of...lay awkwardly amongst a line of chairs and groaned), and they ate. It was much the same as everything else they did- silent and brooding- until of course, Thor had to go and ruin the moment by thanking Clint for putting himself in harm’s way in order to cover Thor’s ass.
“I saved Barton about twenty seconds before he saved you, though, so I mean technically I’m the one you should be thanking,” Bruce informed Thor without looking up from his burger.
There was a short silence; everyone processing the fact that yes, that had been what sounded like a conversation opener. They were actually going to… talk.
“Well I mean, if we’re going there, then I was the one who told the Hulk to check perimeter and see if you needed backup in the first place, so it’s all on me, boys,” Romanov said with a smile that looked dainty, if not for the fact blood still smattered across her chin from the cut on her lip.
“Who was the one who pulled you out of that building a few weeks back? I mean, technically, would all be dead if it wasn’t for me, so-” Tony gestured to himself, “you can all form an orderly queue to thank me if you w-”
“What, you think mag-lev just disengaged itself back on that helicarrier, huh?” Rogers asked him, one raised eyebrow being the only emotion he held on his face as he looked over to Tony.
Everyone sniggered, and Tony imagined he probably looked a little incredulous, because what was that? Humour? On Rogers ?
“Ohhh, are we really going that far back? When’s the cutoff point, then?” Tony returned, and horrifyingly, he found himself having to hide a grin as Rogers shrugged and said “World War 2” through a mouthful of bread.
There was silence, and then Tony huffed. “Okay. You win this round. Whatever.”
“Damn right I win, I punched Nazis for your sorry asses,” Rogers grumbled, but the look on his face was almost fond as he gestured to the group around him.
Tony grinned. “Old man.”
Rogers just clicked his tongue at him, breaking off a piece of bread and flicking it at Tony’s head. “You kids have no respect these days, honestly.”
They didn’t speak much after that, but the atmosphere felt looser. More relaxed. And Rogers had looked at him with something that wasn’t blatant disapproval or sadness after their little back-and-forth, which was...nice.
Tony wasn’t really sure how it had happened, but Shawarma became part of their routine.
Suit up, fight, fight, nearly die, find a Shawarma bar. Rinse & repeat.
He kind of struggled to believe that was what his life had turned into. Although to be fair, he struggled to believe a lot of things, these days, but he kinda had to unless he wanted them to explode or invade or- or morph or whatever it was they did. Who even knew any more?
The ridiculous group outings were ridiculous, but also kind of...comforting, in a way. Tony- when he went home, it was to an empty building that was hundreds of feet above any other humans, and after battles, sometimes it just felt a little unreal. Like he was dreaming. And he got the feeling all of them felt rather the same.
None of them had other people to go back to. Only each other.
Tony had his special spot, backed against the wall with a good view of each one of them and an impenetrable armour by his side, and it was all good. He didn’t even think about it.
“Tony, we really really have to go,” Bruce tugged on his sleeve tiredly from where he was sat opposite, and they both looked at each other before groaning in unison, “Fury will eviscerate us both if we don’t show. He said it was important.”
“You’re the fucking Hulk ,” Tony muttered incredulously, “just let me stand behind you and he won’t do jack-shit to either of us.”
With great effort, he unstuck his cheek from the glass desk he’d been working off all night and sat up, shooting Bruce a murderous look as he did so. A measly one hour; that was all the sleep he’d gotten, thanks to Bruce’s stupid wakeup call.
(And maybe both of their inabilities to let an idea rest when it buried itself in their heads, but whatever. He was still gonna blame Bruce.)
“One hour, Tony. One hour of your time, and then you can leave. SHIELD is only a ten minute drive away.”
Ugh, SHIELD. The whole building smelt like ass and swarmed with idiots. It put him on edge. The whole damn place put him on edge.
“Right,” Tony bit, smacking his hand against the table and then pushing off, ignoring the banging in his head and pulling a face at Bruce when the man just sighed, “let’s go then. But we science later, okay?”
“No, Tony, I really think we should take a br-” Bruce broke off, eyes briefly flicking over to the calculations he’d written on the desk and then biting his lip. “Okay- yeah- an hour there and then we come back and finish this. But then we definitely sleep.”
Tony laughed, knowing as well as Bruce did that neither of them were going to actually be doing that any time soon. “Whatever you want to believe, Brucie.”
The base did, in fact, just as Tony predicted, smell like ass. Full of sweaty agents and tiny windows and an obviously poor ventilation system. It was run on artificial lights and held artificial people and it made Tony’s skin crawl. He hated underground places. In fact, he probably had some sort of traumatic event which could be related to at least seven different aspects of this, which never really boded well for anyone involved.
Bruce seemed to notice, because Bruce was just observant like that. He was looking at Tony like he was trying to pinpoint what exactly was wrong with him. “You okay?” He asked, when he failed to find the answer on his own, but Tony and Bruce both knew that the question was more of a courtesy than anything, because of course Tony wouldn’t tell him.
Tony didn’t tell him. Bruce nodded, but he stepped a little to the left until their shoulders just about brushed when they swung their arms. Tony didn’t need it- but it was comforting anyway. Who wouldn’t feel comforted knowing they had an immortal raging beast in their corner?
As they walked into the briefing room, everyone else was already there, including Fury himself, who was leaning over the table and staring right at them. He had a face, as usual, that looked as if someone had gone a shoved a spork up his ass. Not really something Tony wanted to picture at 11 in the morning.
“Ah, just in time,” Fury told him with a smile, and whoah, okay, first warning right there. Since when did Fury smile? Since when did Fury ever use the phrase ‘right on time’ when speaking of Tony?
The rest of the team were staring at Fury- Rogers and Thor with confusion, Romanov and Barton with apprehension. Like they knew something bad was coming.
Tony spread his weight onto both feet and let his knees bend, just a fraction.
“For once, Stark, I am going to say things and you are going to listen. So if I were you, I’d stop looking as if you were about to hightail it the fuck out of here and sit your ass down in the chair,” the man continued, pushing away from the desk and then folding his arms, looking around all of them.
Everyone stared back, meeting his gaze dead-on, because they were Avengers, and one of them was a fucking God, it wasn’t as if they were about to be quailed by a single eye
“I’m gonna cut the crap here and be honest,” Fury began, “you’re all a bunch of freaks.”
When Tony snorted derisively from the back, Fury just shot him a sour glare. “I mean it. None of you are even vaguely normal. You’re all separate disasters waiting to happen, and yet half of you are still living here, in SHIELD, where disasters cannot happen under any circumstance.”
Barton shrugged, spinning a pen idly between his fingers. “Should’ve thought of that before you dragged us all together.”
“Oh, believe me,” Fury said smoothly, “I’ve been giving this a lot of thought.” His gaze flickered over to Tony, just for a second longer than normal, before returning to the room. Tony felt the skin creasing between his eyebrows, and he wondered what the hell Fury was planning.
“So,” Fury continued, hands behind his back, rigid and unyielding as he turned to look toward Tony properly this time, “I am going to tell you what happens from here.”
He was staring at Tony.
“All the Avengers are being transferred to Stark T-”
“Nope,” and Tony had pushed himself up, head on with Fury across the table, “no way. That’s not happening.”
“Yes, Stark, it is,” Fury growled, “we need you in one place. We need a response team, and we need them to work better than this. Better than what we have already. It takes double the time for you just to assemble from all your little corners and it is not working.”
“I don’t care,” Tony hissed, his hands gripping the table so hard that no one could tell they had started shaking, “they do not stay with me. You cannot make me take them in.”
People didn’t just- just live in his tower. The tower was his. The tower was safe. It was an impenetrable fortress and he’d made it that way for a reason. Yes, okay, maybe he was getting on better with the team now. Maybe they laughed and joked a little more on the comms and flowed better as a unit, whatever the fuck, none of that mattered, not if they were in his home. Not if they...no, they couldn’t, he wouldn’t let them.
Jesus, Rogers still struggled to get along with him on a good day, and Romanov… well, she’d already been there before. She’d been there and she’d spied on him and Rogers had got up in his face and said put on the suit, let’s go a few rounds , and the thought of letting them into a place where they could sneak up on him, worm their way through his cracks and then cut him through the gaps they left behind- it made him sick, made him feel exposed and raw.
No room for mistakes. No room for anything or anyone who couldn’t explicitly trusted. Not again.
Fury clenched his fists, and Tony thought of all the power that was held in that room. All the ways any of them could take him out, right there and then; hit him or pin or do whatever the fuck they wanted-
He took a few steps back, sudden and jerky, until the heel of his boot found the wall. Good. Okay. No surprises. He could see the room. He could calm down.
Romanov was looking at him, watching the tiny hitching of his breath with something that looked similar to guilt, perhaps, as she swallowed her throat and forced it back down. “Sir, I think that perhaps you need to rethink this-”
“I told you, Romanov, there is no room for negotiation. Stark is going to have to suck it up for once in his life, because this is world security we are talking here-”
“They’re not staying with me, ” Tony said loudly, a little too loudly, perhaps, but who the damn hell cared? Who the damn hell cared, when he was stood there watching someone decide who and who didn’t belong in the one place where he felt entirely safe? “That space is mine, and it does not change. If you make any of them step foot in there with so much as a sleeping bag without my express permission, I swear to God I will sic my lawyers on your precious little organisation so hard it’ll make your dick twitch.”
There was silence in the room, heavy as a rock. Everyone was looking at him with varying degrees of emotion- Rogers with a frown (as per fucking usual), Bruce with shock, Thor and Romanov with some sort of analytic gaze which just made him feel like a zoo animal.
He hated SHIELD. He hated being trapped down here, with all these people.
“We’re done here,” he said once the lack of conversation began to get ridiculous, waving a hand through the air and slipping to the side until his hand found the door.
Fury called his name as he left, but when Tony said they were through, he meant they were through. The door was shut with a slam, and in a perfect world, Tony could’ve said he turned and walked away without a backward glance.
But the world wasn’t perfect, and Tony glanced over his shoulder at least seven times, maybe more.
Whatever number it had been, however, it obviously wasn’t enough, because he heard Romanov as she called his name down the corridor just as he thought he was in the clear. He spun fast, watching her steadily move toward him, nothing more than a brisk walk until she stood a good ten feet away.
“I’m not fucking doing it,” he barked again, but the woman just shrugged, her posture impeccably straight as she folded her arms and looked at him.
“I’ll make sure of it, unless you explicitly state otherwise,” she told him, nodding her head, and that, that caught Tony off guard, because what the hell did it mean? Since when did Romanov do… favours?
He remembered he she always stood with he arms at her sides and he knees bent, constantly prepared, always vigilant. The straightness of her form as she stood in front of him; the way her hands were essentially tied up in one another- Tony knew she was making herself less of a threat on purpose.
He was almost bowled over by the wave of hatred he felt. Not for her- just for himself, and the fact he visibly sensed his stance relaxing as he acknowledged that.
“Good,” he said, when no other words came to mind. He nodded briskly, and wondered how weird it would look if he backed all the way down the corridor, just so he could keep facing her.
God, God, okay- The Thing was quickly becoming The Thing, it was becoming a fucking problem, this was not good-
“I’m sorry,” she told him, sounding a little strange as Tony had his internal debate on whether to turn his fucking back or not, “for the record, I… I didn’t realise how deep it went. When I came to you as Natalie. It wasn’t on your files.”
Tony wished he had half an hour and a notepad to spare, just so he could write down all the questions which bombarded his mind in response to her words. What the fuck did that mean? How much did she know? Why was she apologising for it?
“If you had known, would you have done it any differently?” Tony asked her instead, even though he felt like whatever he said was nothing more than ammunition to be used against him. Just talking to her was so many levels of wrong, it made his brain scream at him to stop before he gave too much away, to think of what had happened before.
(To think of Romanov and then think of Sunsets and betrayal and lies, and realise it was all the same, all just the same, like a fucking merry-go-round, over and over and over and over-)
Romanov looked at him, face blank. She was too professional for tells. “No,” she said in the end, “I wouldn’t. I’m sorry.”
Tony just shrugged. At least she was honest. That meant more to him than anything else she could have said.
He was pathetic and he was stupid and sometimes he didn’t dream of caves or portals or important traumatic events like that; sometimes he just dreamt of hands on his waist that wouldn’t let up, and felt just as terrified upon waking as he would have if it had been anything else.
He avoided the Avengers for a week, after that particular dream.
Steve was looking at him funny, and Tony was almost tempted to call him on it, but when he turned, the man only smiled.
They were better now, Steve and him. Less arguing and more friendly bickering. It had been a good few months since the Big Invasion, and something had settled between them. Steve had learnt about which subjects to talk and not talk about, and Tony...well, he was getting there too.
They worked. Tony couldn’t help it- under all that patriotism, the guy wasn’t so bad. Funny, but not in an obvious way. Genuine. Kind to a fault. He had only touched Tony without warning once, and after Tony had jerked wildly and stumbled away so fast he’d hit his head against the wall, Steve didn’t try it again.
He had tried to apologise, though, even though Tony didn’t want it. They were not going to talk about how fucked up he was. And afterwards, to prove a point (although whether it was to Steve or to himself, he wasn’t quite sure), he made sure to touch him as much as possible. Hands on shoulders and friendly shoves and pats on the back, because he wasn’t afraid. He wasn’t. It had just been sudden, and Steve’s hand was...big.
Whatever. It was fine- like he’d said, Steve didn’t try again, so the problem solved itself, didn’t it?
“Cap, do you have the file on Zimmer? Fury told me to look it over, but it’s on paper because SHIELD are fools and so I can’t fucking find it.”
Steve chuckled, nodding his head. The team were all in the rec room at SHIELD as they waited for the next hit to come, and so that gave Tony a chance to look over some of the stuff on the guy they were supposedly stopping in about two and a half hours. Thor was currently attempting meditation with Bruce, but it didn’t seem to be going all that well, because Clint and Natasha kept throwing projectiles at their heads and breaking Thor’s ‘trance’.
“It’s back in my room. I was looking through it last night.”
Tony gestured to the exit. “Lead the way,” he told him.
Of course, it was a bad idea. Most things Tony suggested were. Because the moment he laid eyes on Steve’s room, he felt kind of...well, horrified to his very core, to put it lightly.
And listen, he didn’t go into people’s rooms if he could help it, okay, it was kind of a thing. Just like all the other Things he had, it was just...safer, if they were in his. But when Steve pushed open his door and bent down to fish the file off his nightstand, Tony had been inexplicably drawn in- like when you feel the need to go into haunted houses or abandoned buildings in the dead of night.
“Steve,” he said softly, looking around him, “you don’t… you don’t even have any windows.”
Steve stiffened, looking up a little and catching Tony’s eye before dropping immediately. “It’s fine,” he said sharply.
“No, no it’s not. How big even is this place? Six by ten? You’re living here, Steve, what the fuck-”
“I said it’s fine, Jesus, not everyone needs an entire tower to be happy, Tony,” Steve snapped, making an aborted movement to shove the file forward before glancing up at Tony and thinking better of it, instead holding it out for Tony to take.
Which he didn’t. Of course.
“Steve, this isn’t right,” Tony shook his head, avoiding the issue concerning the grabbing of the file for a little while longer, because explaining that particular pet peeve would just be awkward, “you cannot be spending all your time here, Steve, God-”
“What else do you want me to do? I have nowhere else!” Steve hissed, and he looked so sad when he said that, like the words were just a physical reminder of everything he’d lost. Which, Tony supposed they were.
“You come and you live with me,” Tony blurted, like it was the easiest thing in the world.
The silence and the shock hung in the room like a big fat elephant shouting ‘look at me, here are all the unspoken issues that we have not yet talked about but probably should!”
“I- I can’t impose that on you,” Steve said briskly, and maybe he didn’t know the full extent, but Tony was willing to bet he’d at least gathered some of it by that point, because it had been a whole month since the fateful shoulder-patting-head-banging incident and Steve had yet to try touching him again.
“Uh, yes I can,” Tony said, and he didn’t even know why , because it was an incredibly bad idea, but he just couldn’t stop talking, “and we’ll get ‘em all in. Fury’s been on my ass about changing my mind for months now, anyway, and I guess he’s right. It’s not just about me. It’s about the Avengers needing a home base, and I have one in the centre of all the action. It makes sense. And I’m sorry, but I point blank refuse to let you live in this garbage place any longer. I’ll get the suit and I’ll drag you out myself if I have to.”
What was he doing? Oh god, what was he doing?
“No,” Steve shook his head.
Tony rolled his eyes at Steve’s stubborn face and pointedly snatched the file from his hands, more as proof to himself than anyone else, seeing as Steve didn’t know. And he did it- the file was between his fingers, and it was all fine.
He had control, see?
“Listen, I’m moving the others in, whether you join or not. Please, Steve, don’t make me blow this room sky high just so you have to leave it.”
He wasn’t goddamn heartless, okay- he was broken into a hundred separate sets of issues, sure, but he couldn’t let Steve live in what was essentially a pimped up prison cell. He couldn’t.
New experiences , Pepper always said. Try new things. Step out of your comfort zone .
Well- he’d never been known for doing things by halves, anyway. All or nothing. Toeing the water or just careening head-first off the highest diving board. He could do this.
Steve looked over him; his gaze sharp and analytical. He bit his lip, because he didn’t try and hide how he felt, not like the rest of them, he was just honest like that. Everything about him was so goddamn honest. Tony knew he’d won anyway, simply by the pause Steve took, and he smiled. “It’s settled, then. Swing by tomorrow, and I’ll have everything sorted for you. Thanks for the file,” he waved, turning around and then hopping out of the door before Steve could protest.
Right. Time to tell the rest of the Avengers they had a new home.
Okay. Cool. He could do that.
Like everything with the Avengers, something about it just worked. Tony- well, he could admit, he’d been kind of a mess for the first few weeks, mostly keeping himself in the most defended part of the tower: his workshop. In the panic-fuelled haze, he ended up building inventions and machines which would take down each and every Avenger if they needed to be, and then destroyed them a few days later, only to immediately redesign them even better than before. It was just a big disaster, really- and he shoved them all in his drawer, hating himself for making them and then hating himself even more for being unwilling to get rid of them
Just in case. Just in case. Don’t let them get too close, Tony, because it’s the same story, each and every time, the same thing happens. They’ll take something.
But he’d gotten better. He’d slowly worked on it, and now he was absolutely fine. He didn’t trust them, no, not entirely- but he could rely on them. He knew their goodness. It was enough.
Sometimes he’d watch them as they all beat each other up in the gym, though, and he’d spend the rest of the night fiddling around with a gauntlet, just because it was close by.
There was a knock on the glass, and Tony jumped, nearly choking on his coffee as he swivelled around and saw Steve standing a little awkwardly by the door, a plate in hand.
“Hey Cap,” Tony said, pressing the comm link so that Steve could hear him, “what’s up?”
“I- uh,” Steve waved the plate through the air a little, sheepish smile on his face, “you haven’t eaten all day, and Clint- he was making some sandwiches, so- yeah- I brought you some,” he explained, rubbing the back of his neck before leaning forward a little, craning his neck to try and see into the workshop. “Hey- can I come in? This all looks swell.”
Tony smiled at Cap’s word choice, but it faded a little as he realised that he probably needed to answer that question.
He could. He could let Steve come in. It wouldn’t mean much, everyone wanted to see the place where he worked- after all, it was pretty fucking cool.
For instance: Ty had said he’d loved it- but then again, he’d said he loved Tony, too, and look how that had turned out. Tony saw now it had just been more of an annoyance to him- probably why he’d pulled Tony out of it so much, told him not to work, told him it was ‘their time or work time’ like there were no in-betweens.
Sunset, too, she’d thought it was just the best thing, and hadn’t Tony been thrilled by that? Finally someone who understood, someone who appreciated it just as much as him! Of course, Tony only realised a little too late that it had only been because she saw the money that could’ve been made out of it, and nothing more. Ouch- that one had stung.
And then Obie, oh, how could he forget dear old Obie, who’d loved to come in here and tell Tony to hurry it up, to make sure he was well-fed and focused, ‘all the better to help you murder with, my dear’ spoken behind the eyes Tony had trusted for too, too long.
He could. He could let Steve in. But he wasn’t going to.
“I- uh- no, just hold on,” Tony said, “I’ll be out in a second.”
He thought Steve looked a little sad for a moment, but he refused to dwell on it. He was allowed this. He was goddamn allowed it.
Hands held tightly around his wrist and the spanner was extracted from his fingers by ones that were a lot stronger than his own, and he pulled away, or at least he tried to, because goddamn it he wanted to work, stop it Ty, come on- come...please let me go.
Clint, out of all of them (not including Bruce, obviously) was probably easiest.
Not because he was the weakest. Or the most honest. Or obvious. He just… his presence wasn’t so threatening. Wasn’t as harsh as Natasha’s or huge as Steve and Thor’s. If Tony didn’t think too hard about it, it was almost as if he could pretend Clint was normal.
They mostly just argued with one another. In good nature, of course; and usually ending up with one of them getting the other some sort of sugary snack as a consolation prize. Tony liked him. He was just- he was easy.
Maybe that was why when Clint asked to spar with him, Tony said yes for the first time since they’d moved in.
Funny thing was, he didn’t even go in there feeling nervous. Because it wasn’t constant, really. It was just fucking random, those weird bouts of anxiety, of fear. They made no sense. They could be triggered, yeah, but sometimes it was just there. Instant-Lockdown-Mode-Activated-Take-Your-Children-And-Run sort of thing. If that even made sense.
But Clint was stood across from him, his guard was raised and he was gesturing for Tony to take a shot, and Tony didn’t feel any of that. All he knew was that he wanted to wipe the smug little grin off the guy’s face.
So he fucking did.
He could tell Clint was surprised. He’d made sure to keep it off the record, all the training and practise he’d had over the years. It was easier that way. But for Barton, hell, he’d give as good as he got. The man stumbled across the mat, regaining balance quickly and turning to Tony with wide eyes. “Where the hell did you learn th-”
He didn’t have time to finish, because Tony was laughing as he sent another blow Clint’s way, which he barely managed to dodge in time, another shocked cry coming from his mouth.
Clint was better. Of course he was better, he trained every day and it was part of his job to be the best at hand-to-hand. But Tony liked to think he put up a good fight. He was just a little smaller than Clint, and the other man was a lot faster on his feet, but Tony had the advantage of having a blacksmith’s arms- when you did that much heavy lifting, it turned out flipping a man across a boxing ring wasn’t all that much of a challenge.
“You got anything else hidden up your sleeve, Stark?” Clint asked, as he wound a leg around Tony and flipped.
“Well, it’d be no fun if I told you, would it?” Tony panted in reply, twisting his hips and hurling to the side with all his might, getting his own body back on top. At least- on top for a few seconds, until Clint kicked out at Tony’s solar plexus and sent him flying into the ropes.
As they laughed and kicked the shit out of one another, Tony heard the sound of the doors sliding open and turned his head to watch Steve and Natasha both saunter in, drinks in hand and chatting amicably. He caught Steve’s eye from across the room and smiled, watching as the man returned it easily. That damn soldier was going to be the death of him in those gym clothes.
Quite literally, as it turned out.
“Ooomphf,” Tony wheezed, feeling Clint’s foot smack across his jaw and send him spinning across the floor. From the other side of the gym, Steve yelled in concern, and Tony heard the thuds as Clint hurried over, apology already falling from his mouth.
“’M fine,” Tony hastened to inform them, getting up to his elbows and grinning at Clint when the man came down to join him, “ser’sly. Jus’ wasn’ concentratin’.”
Clint raised his eyebrows and shot a look off to Steve, who had run over to the ring and was currently in the process of ducking under the ropes. “Yeah, certainly seems so.”
Tony smacked him on the arm just as Steve reached them both and smacked him over the head. “Ow!” Clint looked at them both with a pout, before turning to Natasha. “Fine. I can see when I’m not wanted. I’ll just go spar with my real partner.”
“Please don’t leave me with him,” she said, completely deadpan as Clint vaulted the ropes and landed by her side.
“Until next time, Stark,” Tony was given a knowing little salute by Clint as the man dragged Natasha off. He watched out of the corner of his eye as Natasha eventually got bored of being pulled around and twisted him into an arm-lock, and that was that- their concentration had shifted to the fight in hand.
That left him and Steve, as the other man knelt down next to him and looked on in concern at Tony’s rather sensitive cheek. “Clint needs to be more goddamn careful,” the other man muttered, “do you think it’s fractured?”
“No, no,” Tony shook his head, “jus’ needs some ice, prob’ly. Bit stiff.”
Steve nodded, and then shifted a little, hand coming up to let the tips of his fingers press against Tony’s injury.
The feeling was kind of shocking, really. Thinking about it, it was probably the first time since the Shoulder-Patting-Head-Banging incident that Steve had touched him at all.
He was… delicate. Gentle in ways that most normal people weren’t. Totally surprising, really, considering how stupidly strong the guy actually was. Barely even feather-light against his cheek, whilst the other hand slowly and obviously went up to his shoulder, sitting lightly. Just resting there, more as a comfort than anything.
Tony couldn’t take his goddamn eyes off him.
Steve squinted a little, obviously unimpressed. “I think we should take you to Bruce,” he said softly, because they were very close and Steve’s voice could get loud if he didn’t regulate it.
Tony shook his head again and rolled his eyes. “Ser’sly, I jus’ need some ice-”
“Tony, you can barely speak,” Steve said, with a bit of an exasperated smile on his face, “just humour me, okay?”
“That man will do nothin’ other than gim’me a cooling pack, otherwise known as ice, like I jus’ said,” Tony argued, getting back to his feet slowly, “jus’ take me to the fridge, Steve, tha’s the only place I need to go.”
Steve looked at him again, before shaking his head and then rolling his eyes. “Right. Fine. Be like that. Let's go get you to the kitchen, then.”
Steve reached out, a hand curling around Tony’s wrist to tug him along, and the jerk reaction, once again, was immediate and fast. Tony snapped it back forcefully, eyes going wide. Steve snapped back too, like he’d just realised Tony was molten hot. Or more likely, he thought that perhaps it was him, again, perhaps it was him who’d hurt Tony, and God, Tony felt like an asshole when he saw the look on his face.
He could spar and fight and feel Clint force him to the floor, but Steve put his hand lightly across Tony’s wrist and he freaks? Fuck, he was so fucking stupid-
“S’rry, s’rry,” he muttered, closing his eyes and resisting the urge to yell in frustration, “jus’...surprised me, tha’s all.”
Steve looked at him, and he was doing that thing that Natasha did, except a lot more obviously- the one where they looked at you and looked at you, right into your soul, trying to see and understand.
Tony prayed Steve wouldn’t bring it up.
Steve didn’t bring it up. He just nodded. “I...let’s go, then,” he finished, a little smaller, a little less bright, and Tony felt like a fucking idiot.
Tony didn’t know why his dad was yelling so loud, but the bottle Tony had knocked over was spilling amber liquid over his shoes and he didn’t want to move, couldn’t even if he tried, because dad’s hands stopped him, shook him painfully, grabbed the bottom half of the bottle and waved it furiously in Tony’s face, one of the jagged edges catching just behind his ear-
“Clint’s planning on playing a practical joke at some point soon, and I’ve been sworn to secrecy, but-” Natasha shrugged, looking over at him from her spot on the couch, “just wanna make sure you don’t accidentally shoot him, y’know.”
Oh, Tony knew what she meant alright.
“Is this your idea of making it up to me?” He asked her drily.
She didn’t reveal anything for a few seconds, and then it seemed she decided against doing that, purposely putting an emotion- sheepishness- on her face. Whether it was real or not, it was still kind of...endearing, that she was willing to try for him. “There’s also a breach in the main left vent which runs from your workshop to the 47th floor. Unless you fix it up, Clint might end up jumping out on you while you’re working.” Natasha explained to him, her voice quiet and the emotion sticking a little on her face like it didn’t really belong there.
Tony nodded, eyeing her a little as she looked at him and smiled. That one looked real. Although, you know- a lot of things she did looked real.
It seemed as if she could read his thoughts, too, because she sighed- just a tiny little thing- and turned back to the horrible 2am infomercials that were trying to sell them microwaves.
Perhaps if they’d been advertising something that would stop night-terrors plaguing the both of them, they might have been more relevant to their needs, but unfortunately they hadn’t quite worked out the secret for that yet, so microwaves it was.
“Thank you,” he said after a few more seconds, and then shifted a little awkwardly, wanting to try and find the right words but not quite knowing how.
“It’s okay,” Natasha replied with, and the way in which she was looking at him made it feel as if she was talking about something bigger than just the vents.
Thor was… a little trickier.
The guy was brilliant. Tony loved Thor. Thor gave him piggy-backs all the way across the city and talked about how glorious Tony’s machines were whenever he saw them and honestly, who wouldn’t love a bit of that? The guy was so genuine about everything it was almost naive, even though Tony knew he was actually the wisest fucker out of all of them, thanks to the fact that he was about a gazillion years old.
It was just that- well- Thor was so different.
God, he came from a world where people solved their arguments with duels and then celebrated their duels with mighty feasts and...and yeah, okay, so maybe Tony wasn’t so up to date on Asgardian culture, but he was pretty sure it was something like that. And when Thor got angry, he didn’t hold back. He never actually hit, but God, his face was like the thunder he summoned. He was pretty sure a WSC member who got a face-full of his wrath soiled himself, one time.
So yeah. Tony loved Thor. But it was always… there. The stupid voice in the back of his head, the what if what if what if.
Tony hated that voice. That voice was a fucking coward.
Tony jerked out of his thoughts as the man himself loomed into view, looking happy as ever as he lay his hammer down on the floor. Shimmying his way into a kitchen chair next to Bruce and dumping a lapful of cape onto the sleepy scientist’s legs, he leaned over to Tony, who was still barely awake himself, and grinned. “I have brought you a gift from my realm.”
Ooh. Gifts. Tony loved gifts.
He made grabby hands at the other man rather than trying to speak, and Thor laughed, low and booming as he pulled out some weird sacks from the pouch he was carrying. Sliding them over, Tony picked them up immediately and brought them up to his face, inspecting them. “This… it’s not tech, I assume?”
“Nay!” Thor answered, “it is the Asgardian equivalent of what you refer to as coffee beans. I was offered some at the gates after my long travels, and I thought you would probably appreciate it more than myself.”
Well now. That was definitely interesting. Nothing like a good cup of coffee to wake him up in the morning after a long, sleepless night.
“I want in on this,” Clint declared as he made his way toward them both and grabbed a box of cereal from the cupboards, not bothering with a bowl at all.
Tony hissed at him, clutching the little pouch close to his chest. “Pry it from my cold, lifeless body, birdbrain.”
Clint stepped forward, cracking his knuckles as Tony gave him the middle finger, but before he could advance any further, Steve stepped in front of them, looking at them both, unimpressed. “We agreed no battles before at least midday, guys. Don’t make me kick both of your asses; that’ll just be embarrassing for everyone.”
“As if either of you could take me,” Clint scoffed, raising two fingers, “all I need is an EMP arrow right in that nice shiny bit, and then a normal arrow right in the big blonde squishy bit,” he said, pointing at Tony’s chest and then Steve’s head.
Tony jerked a little at the sudden image that popped into his head. Damn Clint. “You think your little arrows could get through my armour? How quaint,” he said, and tried not to put a hand over his arc reactor anyway.
It was fine. Just a throwaway comment. Clint wasn’t to know that was exactly the sort of thing he’d been dreaming about a few hours previously. Unlucky coincidence. They’d move on from it soon.
“No, I’m thinking your arrows could get through your armour,” Clint told him with a smug face.
“But nothing gets past Vibranium, and that’s that,” Steve said with a shrug, wandering around the room until he was behind Tony, which was also fine, he was just getting goddamn milk, no need to twitch like he was holding a knife or whatever, God. “My shield would finish you both off very nicely- don’t get ahead of yourselves.”
It wasn’t true. Tony had the advantage in every way with his armour, that shield wouldn’t… it was just Steve’s weirdly morbid humour coming out, there was absolutely nothing to it. Tony took a deep breath and forced himself to calm. He was just a little bit on edge, so of course this sort of thing was going to make him antsy- it was fine, it was fine.
“I feel like us talking about killing eachother isn’t exactly appropriate breakfast conversation,” Bruce spoke to the room, a little frown on his forehead as he added, “but if I must add something, then I’ll just say- Hulk. I won’t need to go any further than that.”
“But friend,” and now even Thor was getting involved in the fucking conversation, Jesus, “have I not been a worthy opponent of you before? We did some great battle upon the helicarrier- I feel as if you do not know truly of the power I wield,” he said adamantly, hand stroking defensively against his Mjolnir as if Bruce had personally offended her.
Bruce scoffed. “Are you seriously suggesting you have a chance against me?”
“I think it’s all a matter of planning- which, incidentally, I am actually pretty damn good at,” Steve added thoughtfully, just as Thor nodded his head and banged a fist on the table.
Tony shut his eyes, and took a breath. Okay, so maybe it was better to just leave-
“Let us all have a duel, right now, if you truly feel any of you could best me,” Thor puffed his chest and grinned, and Tony just wanted to enjoy his nice little sack of Asgardian coffee, except now it appeared as if he may have accidentally started a brawl.
“I’m on Thor’s side- he got me coffee,” Tony added a little weakly, and Clint and Steve failed to hear him, too busy arguing amongst themselves over who would come out on top, but Bruce and Thor did.
Thor looked over to him, a smile on his face. “Ah, I am afraid my friend, that there are no friends on the battlefield. I will smite you all equally.”
It was one of those moments in which he became viscerally aware of them all. Of who they were. Of what they could do. And then there was little old Tony, sat there without his armour, and he was just nothing, he held nothing in comparison to what they could do. To him. With him. Whatever-
Jesus. Jesus, okay, yeah, he really should have stuck with the whole ‘no socialisation after nightmares’ rule. That had been a good rule. Solid. He should listen to himself a little more. He looked over at Thor- at the ridiculously huge arms, the thick skin and the battle-armour. Even Bruce seemed bigger now- grinning up at Thor as he told the other man what a Puny God he was without a hint of doubt in his mind, like he really could, and it was just- it was just-
He jerked to his feet. It was time to leave, he thought.
Across the table, Steve caught his eye and frowned a little, mouth stopping its movement as he looked over at Tony.
The next bit got kind of messy.
Because- well- like Tony had said, Thor tended to get riled up and he was very...enthusiastic about things. And he saw Tony leaving, see, which went against his ‘let’s all have a brawl and see who will come out on top’ idea.
“ANTHONY!” He said, standing up suddenly, too sudden, fuck he was tall-
He heard Steve saying “no no, Thor, just h-” but that was about it, because after that Tony sidestepped him so violently that his head ended up smacking into the fridge and enveloping his ears with the sounds of groaning metal. Once the fridge had stopped shaking, however, the silence rang out like a bell.
No one moved. Thor’s eyes had gone wide, and his smile was rapidly fading. Steve’s hand was still half outstretched, but his face looked guilty, like this had somehow been all his fault. Clint just looked plain confused, and Tony couldn’t fucking blame him; his friend had just had a spasm and thrown himself into a fridge, holy fucking shit, he really was broken, wasn't he?
He turned and left the room fast, silent, and fucking terrified for no good reason.
“I scared you.”
They were the first words out of Thor’s mouth, as soon as he spotted Tony wandering through the corridor the following night.
Tony looked up from his tablet, sighing deeply and trying to figure out the appropriate way to say ‘I am a walking pile of bad mistakes and trauma that shouldn’t even have affected me in the way it did and yet it somehow fucking managed to, but here we are today anyway, one betrayal after another and I still let you in, so maybe just let it go, okay, please, I’m tired’ without just sounding fucking insane.
There wasn’t an appropriate way, as it turned out, so he settled with a growl and an adamant “you didn’t fucking scare me, Thor, I’m not a child.”
“I would never assume your behaviour was anything close to childish,” Thor said calmly, and his face looked a lot more sad than it had that morning. That one was Tony’s fault, too.
“Right. Well, good. Whatever- can we just drop-”
“You were hurt,” Thor carries on, voice still soft, low, comforting even though the words themselves sent the alarm bells ringing, “someone hurt you.”
Tony fisted his hands by his sides and thought of every horrible thing he could throw back at Thor- every barb and insult that came immediately to the forefront of his mind, the amor rising, even when the actual one was being repaired in the labs. He could tear Thor apart, if he fucking wanted to. He should. Thor had no right- he had no right-
“Someone’s hurt all of us at some point, Thor,” Tony said, and there was no venom in what he said, he just sounded bitter. He guessed it was pretty fitting.
“You forget, Tony, that I am old,” Thor told him, and he’d changed out his armor now- all he was wearing were some sweatpants and a black t-shirt. It made him look an awful lot less...alien. “I have seen what hurt does to people. But I also know what trauma does. I know what it looks like when that hurt sticks.”
“Then you’d see it in all of us,” Tony hissed, stepping forward, “we’re all traumatised. I’m just fucking weak, okay, so you see it more, but we’ve all been through some shit. Most of them way more than me-”
“You cannot possibly be trying to compare trauma between warriors?” Thor said, face genuinely incredulous, “you cannot… Tony, every wound is different. You can’t possibly decide you deserve any less than someone else because yours was created differently-”
“I can,” Tony said it with a laugh, “I can and I will, because everything that happened was on me, and I could’ve stopped it. I could’ve… I could’ve-”
He coughed, and took a breath. He was… really not prepared to be dealing with this right now. Or ever.
Thor took a tentative step forward, and then wrung his hands in front of him. “I cannot speak for you, but Tony, I know that whoever wronged you before- whatever happened, there will be no repeats. Not now we are here. We would neither hurt you, nor let you be hurt by anyone. In the same way you would do the same for any of us.”
Thor looked at him with a smile, and Tony- Tony knew Thor wasn’t lying. The guy was like a huge teddybear, for Christ’ sake, he was probably biologically incapable of betraying people. So he nodded, because there wasn’t much else to say. Thor looked at him, and it seemed as if he were biting back more words, but thankfully he let it slide, instead making a gesture over to the door that they were both heading to. “Are you participating in the team movie night?” he asked.
Tony made to shake his head, but Thor was staring at him all hopeful, and honestly, no one could resist that face. Natasha could not resist that face.
Tony shrugged in resignation. “Yeah, sure. After you, Big Guy.”
Steve was sat next to him on the couch, and when Tony sat down, he smiled up softly. He looked tired. Tony wondered if he’d been sleeping recently.
“Hey,” Steve whispered, and he was curled like a cat amongst all the pillows, looking so much smaller than he really was, “can I put my feet up on your legs?”
Tony paused, momentarily confused as to why Steve was asking a question like that. In the end, though, he just shrugged. “Go nuts, soldier.”
He thought he heart Steve splutter a little, but soon enough his legs were resting across Tony’s lap and he was lying back down again, eyes dropping to the sounds of explosions and shattering glass as Ethan Hunt went through hell and back in Mission Impossible. Clint looked over to him from his seat on the floor (if you could call that a seat), and Tony stiffened a little, wondering whether Clint was going to bring it up.
Instead, he just grinned, and then made a leery smile in Steve’s direction. Tony rolled his eyes and gave him the middle finger.
In the room full of superhumans, Tony Stark relaxed.
He wished it had been like how they’d done it in the films.
You know- the whole ‘Bad Boy Who Seems Shallow Actually Has Layers That Need To Be Unlocked’ shebang. And Tony, he’d have been the the one to do it. To get past it all, so that they could bond and be emotional and maybe Ty would've put his head in Tony’s lap so he could stroke through his hair and tell him it would be alright. You know. All that romantic shit that Tony had been weak and pathetic enough to think existed back then.
He’d been so young. 14 to Ty’s 17. Ty had seemed so….bright. So new and fancy and fuck, he’d been the first one to care. Or at least, make tony think that. And back then- well, like he’d said- weak and pathetic little him, new and alone at MIT and just desperate for approval, for someone to give a damn.
Ty had looked at him like he was important.
Anyway- after finally losing the desperate hope that maybe Ty wouldn’t fuck him so hard it hurt for days, or laugh at him like he was nothing, or put alcohol in drinks that weren’t supposed to be alcoholic so that Tony would be more up for doing what he wanted, he learnt not to trust looks like that. They always ended up taking something from him.
They were dangerous, the ones who cared. Because nine times out of ten, the hand that started off holding onto you so delicately ended up being the one that struck you across the face and called you a worthless slut.
(Yeah, okay, so Thor was right. He’d never quite gotten over the trauma Ty had left him with. Too young, too young, too young. You never forgot your first, right? Right? No matter how hard you tried.
Whatever. It didn't matter, anyway.)
Steve looked at him like that, sometimes, and it scared him.
It scared him because he was stupid and broken and everything Steve wasn't. Steve was bright, too. Like Ty had been. Like everyone had been, in the beginning. Before all the shit, before their true motives came out and they took. They always took. They always fucking took.
Steve was bright, and Tony couldn't let that fool him. Not again. He’d learnt fast and he’d learnt well. He wasn't 14 any more. He wasn't scared and stupid and willing to compromise himself, his fucking body, just so that they'd stop yelling-
He’d definitely had too much to drink. He hadn't thought of Ty this much in, what, years? Probably. Stupid stupid Stupid, see, this was Steve’s fault, fucking perfect lovely warm soft gentle beautiful Steve.
Steve, who made him feel like he wouldn't ever hurt Tony. Despite the fact that he was all that...muscle and brute force and basically every factor which normally sent alarm bells buzzing in Tony's head. Steve, who just reminded him of the sunrise. Soft. He held things so delicately. He never, ever touched Tony in a way that wasn't anything other than...well, fragile, really. Just the slightest things, like pats on the shoulders or gentle shoves. They were all so carefully done. Everything about Steve was carefully done. All that power, and Steve never even let it have an inch. Unless he was beating the everloving shit out of a bad guy, of course. Then he was raging, then he didn't hold back. Lifted trucks and scaled walls and used himself like an unyielding fucking battering ram or whatever the hell the reckless bastard decided he could survive that day (answer: it was most things)
Watching him when he was in the field made Tony see, truly, deeply, how much steve held back.
But whatever. Whatever. He was derailing from the point. If he’d even had a point in the first place. It certainly hadn't been steve who had started out on his mind, though, that was for sure.
(For some reason, it was usually steve who he ended up on, anyway.)
Either way, now he was thinking about the damn idiot, and that meant that he had a space of at least half an hour in which he wouldn’t be able to concentrate on anything else properly. It wasn’t as if he had plans tonight anyway. He was drunk enough that JARVIS had initiated Suit lockdown, so he really only had to sit there and feel sorry for himself. Easy peasy, he was pro at that.
The thing was, Steve was a killing machine.
Not in that way. Obviously. Steve hated swatting flies and he cried at Toy Story every single time- he wouldn't ever...no. Just no. But his potential, however, was a different story. Everything he possessed; each jule of energy and flex of muscles- it had been designed with destruction in mind. A war experiment, a super soldier. Built to fight Nazis, for Christ’s sake, they hadn't been fucking around when they'd come up with the idea. Steve had been engineered into something that could snap a man’s neck without blinking an eye. Punch through a wall and incapacitate an entire room before anyone had a chance to fire a single shot.
And that- that was the scary part. That was something Tony couldn’t hope to control. He’d fought tooth and nail, shed blood, sweat and taught himself never a single goddamn tear, all for control. Hell- even if he’d managed to master it in every other aspect of his life, he still couldn’t control his own goddamn impulses, never mind anyone else's.
You ever tried telling your partner, ‘hey, I know you like holding my hand, but sometimes and for no conceivable reason I may suddenly push you off like you’re carrying the plague and you’re just going to have to suck it up and deal because I’m a special snowflake.’?
Yeahhh, no. Casual was easier. Casual was fun. And Tony could have it or give it as rough as he goddamn wanted to, because it didn’t mean anything. There were no strings. When they left, they didn’t come back.
He didn’t want casual, though- not when he looked at Steve.
He wanted to know what it was like to wake up surrounded by all that warmth- to lie close enough to count the tiny freckles on the bridge of his nose. He wanted to be able memorise the planes and divots of Steve’s perfect form.
Jesus, who the fuck did he think he was, Shakespeare? Son of a bitch, he really had drunk too much.
“Ugghh,” he groaned into the floor his mouth was pressed up against, and wondered at what point in his life he’d be able to wake up and say ‘hey, look at me! I’m okay!’.
Probably never. At this rate, it didn’t even look like he was going to make it off the floor.
“Sir, Captain Rogers is requesting access for the 23rd time this evening,” JARVIS informed him primly, because he always got so fucking pissy when Tony got drunk on his own in the workshop, for some strange reason.
“Decline,” Tony pitched his voice high, and then laughed, because he sounded fucking ridiculous. Then again, if his voice was in any way correlated to the shit that went on in his head, then he’d probably sound like that all the fucking time.
“JARVIS?” Tony asked quietly, rolling onto his back and staring at the ceiling, again- stupid stupid stupid Steve’s fault, making him look up when he was talking to JARVIS.
“How…” Tony closed his eyes, thinking of how Steve always asked- always asked if he could do this, if he could do that, ‘can I pat your arm, Tony’, ‘can I ruffle your hair, Tony’- what the fuck even was that, anyway? How did Steve make something that should just be horribly stilted and awkward into something so...so lovely?
“How do you fix something when you don’t even know what it feels like when it’s whole?” He whispered.
(Oh, God, here he went with the weird depressive poetry again, Jesus, he really fucking hated himself.)
JARVIS was silent for a long time, and it was how Tony had programmed him to be, because the second Tony had said the words, JARVIS would have come up with an answer- now all he was doing was pausing for effect, the dramatic little b-
“I think, sir, all you can do is build something from scratch and hope it stands.”
Huh. Well. That was… an interesting take on things.
“Ooookayyy,” Tony drawled, head lolling backward as his fingers laced together and he thought hard, “what materials do we use? Do we have access to solvents?”
“I think the correct turn of phrase is ‘a spit and a prayer’, sir,” JARVIS informed him helpfully, and Oh, boy, did Tony love him or what?
“Sounds about right,” he muttered, before rolling over again, “okay, JARV, let the fucker in.”
Ha, wasn't that symbolic?
A few seconds later, he heard the door release and the whirring sound as it nestled itself back into the wall. Then came the hurried footsteps on the ground, the sound of a gasp, the “oh, Tony,” from a voice that made him feel safe and laid bare, all at the same time. Something shifted in his view, and Tony watched blearily as Steve got to his haunches, arms hovering a little distance away from Tony’s body in worry. “I- ah, Tony, can I t-”
“Yes, yes, yes, whatever Steve! You don’ have to...to goddamn ask every time, no one else does! I’m not-” broken fragile weak stupid damaged unstable.
Steve looked at him, then he swallowed and turned away a little. “I know. I know, Tony, but it’s still important to me to know what you’re okay with. So- can I?”
Tony curled in a little further on himself, nodding his head miserably and wishing he’d just gone off somewhere else to do this, he forgot that there were people here, forgot that they... cared. Or something.
Gentle hands landed on the sides of his shoulders, slipping down, curling under his arms and hoisting him up smoothly. He ended up with his head placed against the side of the desk, back pressed against the legs of the tabletop so that he was sat straight and facing Steve. He looked down, unwilling to meet the other man’s eyes. He probably looked a sight now- red around the eyes and grey faced, hair all over the place and clothes that hadn’t been washed in a few days.
Steve, of course, looked nothing but perfect. Fuck him.
“I think you’ve had enough for one night,” Steve said quietly.
“I don’ think I’ve had enough,” Tony answered, face splitting in a smile that meant nothing, a laugh that just sounded stupid as his hands reached out for the neck of the-
“No, Tony,” Steve’s voice was stronger now, harder, and he plucked the bottle off the ground and put it out of reach. Fuck him double.
“You don’t control me,” Tony snapped, leaning forward again, trying to reach across and grab it back, but Steve put a hand on his shoulder again, and it wasn’t strong, but it stopped him anyway.
“I know that too,” Steve said simply, “no one does, not when you really put your mind into it. But I don’t think you really want to be doing this right now.”
Tony just laughed again, resting his head against Steve’s shoulder, because it was there and it was warm and God, he just remembered how much he hated people being around when he got this drunk-
He had to admit, he’d kinda expected to freak out upon that realisation. And yet, he wasn’t jerking away or yelling or anything. Weird.
Maybe it was because Steve was wearing sweats and a T-shirt with little puppy cartoons all over them, and it didn’t exactly make him look threatening.
Maybe it was just because it was Steve.
“You scare me,” he mumbled into the man’s T-shirt.
Okay, so that quite obviously hadn’t been the best thing to say, because it seemed as if every single muscle in Steve’s body tensed, and he’d extracted himself from Tony faster than he’d even thought possible, backing up on his hands and knees with eyes that had blown wide and horrified.
“No, no, I didn’t...shit,” Tony rubbed his eyes with the back of his hand, “I didn’t mean that. I take it back. I-”
“I scare you,” Steve said dumbly, eyes flicking down to his hands, staring at them like there was goddamn blood all over them or something, fuck, what had he done-
“No, listen-” Tony crawled forward, trying to catch up with Steve, but he kept backing up, didn’t even want to go near Tony, “I’m not! Not...not in the way you think, okay. Not like that.”
Steve was staring at him, breathing coming in a little ragged, and the whole situation should have been making Tony go off; Steve was a supersoldier in Tony’s one safe space where no one else came and Tony was drunk out of his skull but he didn’t even care.
“You don’t scare me 'cause I think you’ll hurt me,” Tony told him, “you scare me 'cause I know you won’t.”
Steve stared at him, brow furrowed in confusion, and Tony knew it didn’t make any sense out loud, but in his head it did. In his head he knew that was the bigger risk: letting him in. Letting him see every ruined piece and ugly scar. Knowing that he would be there, observing Tony as he bared it all- it terrified him.
“I…” Steve shook his head, running a hand through his hair, “I think you need to get some rest, Tony-”
“You don’ b'lieve me,” Tony said miserably.
“I don’t believe you’re thinking straight right now,” Steve told him, backing away a little more before slowly standing up, “I- do you think you can make it up on your own?”
Steve didn’t want to go near him any more. Tony understood that. This had probably been a very enlightening preview into what he was really like, after all.
“Prob’ly not,” Tony admitted with a wave, crossing his legs and shimmying until he was comfortable, “but it’s fine. Slept on the floor before. ‘S’not that bad.”
Steve looked conflicted, and he turned a little toward the door, as if half hoping that someone else would come in and do this all for him. They wouldn’t. JARVIS wouldn’t let them without Tony’s express permission.
“I...Tony, I- I don’t want to leave you here but- I don’t-”
“Jesus, Steve, if you wanna mother-hen me, go ahead,” Tony told him sharply, waving his arms around him before folding them adamantly in front of him.
Steve looked horribly uncomfortable as he whispered “are you sure, Tony?”
“I’m not goddamn scared of you, Steve, holy shit, forget it! Just forget it and do whatever you goddamn want to me!” Tony yelled, which didn’t seem to help even slightly, because Steve balked at the choice of words and took another horrified step back, shaking his head.
Well, this had gone downhill pretty fast, hadn’t it?
“I- I’m sorry, I can’t- I have to go,” Steve stammered, and god, he looked ill as he whirled around and pretty much sprinted out of the workshop, taking the bottle with him.
And that was it. The workshop was silent again.
Tony stared after the space he’d left behind. “So, J,” he asked after a while, feeling heavier than he had seconds ago, “how do we think that one went?”
“After initial analysis, I now believe something more than a spit and a prayer is required for this particular endeavour, sir,” JARVIS informed him, and Tony laughed, and laughed, and then toppled sideways, and kept laughing until the world blacked out around him.
Tony couldn’t move, not a single damn muscle, and there was Obie. He’d always looked so grand and big to Tony, all through his life, and now he was stood over him, the smile flexing the tendons against the man’s neck as he twisted, and whoah, there went the Arc Reactor.
The next time Tony woke up, he was lying on the couch of his workshop, nestled in a blanket and clutching a pillow to his face.
There was a glass of water and an aspirin by the coffee table, resting atop a note:
Sorry, Steve's undeniable scrawl wrote, I couldn’t leave you like that. Please drink the water.
“He came back?” Tony asked the room quietly.
“Approximately twenty seven seconds after exiting, sir,” JARVIS replied, “I suggest you follow his advice.”
“Did you and Steve have an argument?” Natasha asked him a few days later, feet propped up against the coffee table as she sipped on her mug of tea and watched the ads- this one selling high quality blenders- play in front of her.
Tony sighed. “What gave it away, I wonder- the fact that the guy hightails it out of a room whenever I step into it looking like he just saw a ghost?”
Natasha tapped a perfect nail against the rim of her mug. “That and the fact that he keeps going down to the gym, beating into a punching bag with intense passion for about ten seconds, and then suddenly stops like he just remembered something awful.” She looked over to him, and her face gave nothing away, but she knew. Of course she knew.
Out of all of them, Natasha was the hardest. The one Tony had most difficulty being comfortable around.
He never felt like he could hide anything around her. She’d look at him and he just felt so naked, so exposed. She could be whatever she wanted to be, turn herself into a completely different person at her own will. Tony didn’t even know if this was the real her, or some elaborate lie, a triple bluff, another cover.
He was trying. And so was she. But it was difficult, when everyone else who had been like her in the past had left him, and stolen something along the way.
“Yeah, well, I’m pretty sure he thinks I’m secretly terrified of him, so-” Tony took a sip of his own coffee, just so that he’d have something to do, and Natasha grimaced in understanding.
“Ah,” she said, shifting her legs around a little so she was facing Tony. He expected more; he thought that was the signal that she was going to start talking- but she didn’t. She just looked at him and smiled, a tiny little thing, and then turned back to the TV.
He didn’t know how their 2am advert-watching meetings had become their own thing, but they did it more often than not. Tony had been used to just coming down to the kitchen and making himself a coffee after his nightmares, but somewhere along the line he’d ended up stumbling upon Natasha as she watched these mind-numbing things, and he’d found himself staying to watch too.
“They make my head quiet,” she’d stated, completely out of the blue one time, and Tony had jumped from the sudden noise, but he’d looked over to her and seen how she was staring at the screen blankly and he knew that for her, that was an incredibly difficult thing to let on.
“Yeah. Yeah, they do, don’t they?” He’d answered, and that had been that.
She was doing the same thing now; staring at the screen blankly, which was incidentally a tell on it’s own, because Tony knew that must mean there were currently a hundred different emotions underneath that face which would never break the surface.
“I betrayed your trust once,” she said eventually, and Tony stiffened, just hearing the words sending an instant panic response through his body, “but when I joined this team, I told myself I would find a way to earn it back.”
She turned to face him once more, head tilting just a little bit. “If he hurts you with intent, I’ll make sure he suffers for it. You have my word on that.”
Tony smiled, and huffed out a laugh as she added “although, don’t think you’re getting special treatment. Same thing goes for you too.”
“We’re not even together,” Tony grouched, shoving a pillow in her face and then rolling his eyes when she dodged it like it was nothing.
“I thought you were a futurist, Stark?” She said, raising an eyebrow, “even I can see where all this angsting is heading. Even Clint can see it. Come on-”
“Can I ask you a question?” Tony said suddenly, knowing this was probably going to ruin the light mood, but needing to know anyway.
Natasha paused, and the smile dropped just a fraction, but she nodded anyway.
“You ask me to trust you,” he moved, clutching the mug a little tighter in his hands, “but do you trust me?”
Natasha was silent for a moment, and then she looked down, smiling. “I trust Clint, and Clint alone. But he trusts you. And that’s good enough for me,” she said finally.
It was good, how she never lied about those things. Never sugar coated them or danced around them. It was there, in the open, and she wasn’t afraid of it.
She was someone who lived her life on lies, and Tony had assumed that meant she was a liar. Apparently, however, the truth meant a damn lot more to her than he’d previously thought.
Tony didn’t know much about her. But he knew a ruined person when he saw one.
Birds of a feather, he guessed, thinking how full of patchwork people his tower had become.
Tony waited until 5:39 in the morning, when he knew that Steve would be finishing his breakfast and getting ready to go on a run. He walked into the kitchen with purpose, looked Steve straight in the eye, and slapped a piece of paper down on the table in front of him.
“The password for my shop,” he explained, pointing at the top string of letters and numbers, “the override,” he tapped on the second, “the override for the override,” he moved down to the third, and then pushed himself back, letting Steve look down at them in shock.
He didn’t put the Deadlock password on. That was for emergencies, and Tony would only ever use that if he needed complete, irrevocable isolation. But all the others, they were the real deal.
Shit, he was really doing this.
“No,” Steve shook his head in horror, pushing it back, “I- Tony, that’s your thing, you don’t need to do this just because you feel… I don’t know, guilty, or whatever-”
“I don’t,” Tony said, pushing forward again, looking at Steve, “it’s not a guilt thing. It’s… you’re team leader. And a friend. If you need to get me out of there, it’s for good reason.”
Steve kept glancing at it and then looking away fast, like he might accidentally memorise it if he stared for too long. Which, to be honest, he could well do; the guy had an eidetic memory, after all. “Tony-”
“Please,” he interrupted, picking it up and then grabbing Steve’s hand, curling the fingers around the paper until it was balled into a fist and covered with Tony’s own, “please just accept it. As long as- just don’t tell it to anyone else, okay? Then we’re good.”
“But what, I’m literally here telling y-”
“You’re scared of me!” Steve hissed, jerking away, shoving the paper back at Tony and then stumbling away, “and I don’t- I don’t know what this is, but I can’t-”
“For the love of God I AM NOT SCARED!” Tony yelled, loud and violent and paired with shaking hands, fuck, why did everyone think he was scared of them when it wasn’t goddamn true- “I’m scared of trusting you, I’m scared of letting you in thanks to my sordid past and surprisingly terrible judgement of people, but not of you. Not...no.”
Steve stared at him, and his hand clenched and unclenched immediately after, like he was making a conscious effort. “Then... why do you flinch? Some days, when I move too fast, you- you flinch away,” and God did he sound miserable when he said that, looking down at the floor like somehow that was his fault.
Tony sighed, holding back the urge to just turn on his heel and walk, not stopping until he was a good 5 thousand miles away from this conversation. This was a talk that hadn’t been spoken with by anyone other than Rhodey whilst heavily inebriated.
“Steve, that’s not because of you. That’s because of...other people, okay? Other people doing shitty things. Can we just leave it at that?”
Steve opened his mouth, undoubtedly to Not Leave It At That, but Tony held up a hand. “Line, Steve- don’t cross it,” he warned.
There was silence, then. Tony wondered if Steve was going to just get up and walk, but after a second Steve stared up at him, opening and shutting his mouth a few times. He was obviously warring with himself, but after an agonisingly long pause, he looked down at the paper once again. His fingers uncurled, and his eyes moved quickly over the sequence before tearing it up into five different parts and handing them back.
“What-” Tony began, but Steve just smiled.
“I memorised them. It’s fine,” he said quietly, chewing his bottom lip. “I...Thank you, Tony. It means a lot. Really.”
Tony nodded, unsure of what else to say. He felt tired already- too many feelings stripped him of energy, and right now, from the way Steve was looking at him, those exhausting feelings were just running haywire in his head.
“Hey, Tony?” Steve asked, a little tentatively, “I’m going to hug you now.”
And then Tony was being embraced.
Soft arms, so very warm to the touch, wrapping gently around his shoulders. A hold that was loose, that Tony could get out of if he wanted to.
He didn’t want to.
Shutting his eyes, Tony let himself lean into the touch. Just a little bit. Steve was...well, Steve was Steve. And so it was lovely. Tony hadn’t been hugged like that since Rhodey picked him up from the desert.
His hair smelt nice, like apples.
Of course it fucking did. It was Steve Rogers, after all.
God, he was so screwed.
They kicked ass against AIM when they showed up at New York’s doorstep, and Tony yelped and whooped as he spun through the sky, listening to the others as they bantered over the comm and stopping by to pick Clint up off the roof along the way to the mainframe. He didn’t even complain when the man kissed the faceplate, although why there was a lipstick mark left on it, Tony wasn’t going to ask about.
It was good. Better than good, even- it was...home.
Steve was watching the skyline from the roof when Tony found him.
It was bitter. Really, really cold- Tony had made sure to put on a sweater and jacket before stepping out, but all Steve was wearing were some sweats and a thin red wifebeater. He didn’t seem to be noticing much, though- just staring at the roofs ahead of him with an empty sort of look in his eyes.
“Not planning on jumping, are you?” Tony said with a laugh, because it was easier to make a joke than to ask seriously, easier to play it off than admit he’d put the suit on standby as soon as JARVIS had informed Tony of where Steve was.
Steve didn’t flinch. He’d obviously heard Tony come up, even though he hadn’t made a sound and the entrance was a good thirteen feet away. “Nah. Not particularly fond of falling.”
Tony stepped forward, and Jesus, there was that wind- what the hell was Steve doing out in this? It had to be below freezing, Tony was surprised there wasn’t goddamn snow.
“May I ask what you’re doing at the edge of my tower at,” Tony glanced down at his watch, “3:37 in the morning? Because I’m pretty sure you aren’t gonna be seeing any stars in this weather.”
Steve didn’t laugh, but he sort of...exhaled with a grin, so it wasn’t a total loss. “It’s changed a lot. The skyline. Used to be a lot less...high.”
Tony came to a stop next to Steve, and he slid down so that he was sat side by side with the other man. “I can imagine,” he said quietly.
They were silent for a long time; both just looking out at the ever-busy New York streets as Tony tried not to fidget too much. Steve hadn’t moved since Tony had come up, and it felt weird to be the one who couldn’t sit still.
“I was dreaming about this place, coincidentally,” Steve said suddenly, head lifting up, looking at the murky skies, “about what would’ve happened to it if the plane had ended up landing here, instead. If I’d failed, way back then.”
He stopped, biting his lip and then turning to Tony. His face seemed gaunt, somehow, even though it was impossible for someone’s face to change in the space of a single night. “Probably something similar to how it would’ve been if you hadn’t done the same with that nuke, right?”
Oh, so it was one of those nights then. Where everything seemed to topple over, all at once. Tony got the feeling. “Lucky we both managed to save the day then, right?” He said softly, eyes glancing up, up, right where that portal had been almost a year ago, now.
“Right,” Steve answered, and it sounded more bitter than relieved, “just wish I hadn’t lost everything along the way, that’s all,” he muttered.
Tony didn’t quite know what to say to that.
“You got something back, though,” he ended up with, quiet and a little too vulnerable for his liking, “I mean- with the team and all. Not like- not like we’re replacing them or anything, I didn’t mean… I was just trying to-”
“I know, Tony,” Steve said, and okay, that was a proper smile now, which was definitely good, a nice change to the other look, “and that’s… that’s real important. Sorry about this; guess I’m just feelin’ a little nostalgic after the dreams, that’s all,” he said, patting Tony’s hand, and holy shit they were some cold fingers, what the fuck, Steve usually ran like a furnace.
“Me and Natasha watch the advert channels when we can’t sleep,” Tony blurted, “and...well, neither of us can sleep, so maybe you want to join in on that? Because honestly, I’m freezing to death out here and I can only imagine how cold you are, so- can we? Can you just humour me on this? I feel like you’re gonna turn Capsicle again, and no one wants that-”
Why did anyone let him talk? seriously, what was with that? Someone should have superglued his mouth shut years ago, it would’ve been better for everyone.
But Steve just...laughed. He didn’t get offended or pull that hurt face- he just laughed. “I...Sure- okay, Tony, let’s go watch TV.”
Once Steve was out of the horrible cold, it seemed he finally noticed how freezing he must have been, because he started shaking pretty violently. Tony sat him down on the couch and then grabbed a pile of blankets from the other couch, throwing them over the man until he was cocooned in a veritable mountain of cotton. “Sit tight,” he told Steve with a squeeze of his shoulder, before hurrying off to make some that awful green tea he liked for some reason.
When he returned, Steve was watching the screen tiredly, head resting on the pillows as he curled around the blankets Tony had thrown over him. When he heard Tony approach, he smiled softly, a quiet word of thanks falling from his mouth when Tony pressed the mug into Steve’s chilly hands.
“You like the genre?” Tony flicked his head to the TV and didn’t even attempt to ignore the way his heart beat a little faster at Steve’s answering laugh.
He loved making Steve laugh. It was one of his favourite things. “Certainly a change to all the intense action they usually try and cram into the thirty minute slots of TV dramas,” Steve admitted with a shrug, taking a sip of his mug.
His nostrils flared, just slightly, and Tony sighed. “It tastes like garbage, doesn’t it?”
“What, no, it’s lovely, thank y-”
“In all fairness, I’ve never made a green tea in my life and I burn water on a good day, so,” Tony shrugged, “but just hold onto the mug a little longer, okay? Your hands are cold.”
God, Steve was looking at him again. Like, looking looking; the kind that made Tony feel as if he were the most important thing in Steve’s world.
Bright, his mind screamed in warning- bright just like Ty, just like Sunset, just like everyone else who had used and abused, taken him and twisted for their own agendas, fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck-
Bright like only Steve was. Not like an explosion. Like the sunrise. Soft. Gentle. Kind.
“Tony?” Steve asked, and Tony jerked back into the room, realising he’d just missed what Steve had been asking him. “Sorry, Steve- what was that?”
“I was asking if you wanted to tell me what your reason for being down here was,” Steve said with a raised eyebrow, “because I’m guessing it’s not to watch women try to sell an intensely average mop.”
Upon Tony’s immediate tension when faced with the question, Steve hurried to backtrack. “I mean- only if you want to. Which you obviously don’t, so- just ignore me.”
Tony swallowed, taking a breath and then nodding his head. Steve smiled again, hand slowly and obviously reaching up, touching Tony’s shoulder lightly. He’d never get over the way Steve held him with such...care.
With a sigh, he sunk deeper into the cushions and tentatively let his head rest upon the vague area he knew to be Steve’s shoulder, just testing the waters.
All fine. No panic. Just a comfy cheek.
“I feel like I’m betraying Natasha, doing this with you instead,” Tony admitted, and when Steve laughed again, he lifted his head a little, just to see it.
They didn’t talk, after that. Just sort of let time pass them by as they watched different people sell different products, until the sun was rising and Steve’s head was lolling to the side, falling against Tony’s.
“I dreamt I was fourteen again,” Tony whispered, voice barely even audible, and suddenly Steve’s head wasn’t lolling any more; it was just resting fully against Tony’s, even though he knew Steve was far from asleep. “I dreamt about my first… boyfriend? I guess that’s what you’d call him. Now I’d call him more of a mistake than anything, but- yeah. First boyfriend.”
Steve didn’t say anything, and Tony closed his eyes. Steve was warm again, now, and it was leeching through the blankets and over on to Tony’s body, which had somehow ended up smushed into Steve’s.
“He was called Ty, he was seventeen, and he was the coolest thing I could possibly have imagined. And he liked me, Steve, me. I was an angsty teen back then; thought the entire world was against me, you know. So having that attention- it was nice.”
God, he was shaking. Why was he shaking? It was years ago. It was years ago and it shouldn’t fucking matter any more, but it did, it did, it fucking did.
“He wasn’t nice, in the end” Tony muttered, running a tired hand across mouth, “he wasn’t...yeah. It was just a- a memory. The dream thing. Whatever. Wasn’t that bad tonight, actually. More of me making a big deal over nothing, really, I’ve had way worse since then”
Steve shook his head atop Tony’s, and he could feel the way his jaw clenched and his muscles tensed even through the many layers of blanket that separated them. Tony thought he heard Steve say something, but it was too muffled through Tony’s hair and he was far too exhausted to be listening properly.
After that, with nothing else for either of them to say, silence fell once more. Tony drifted off to sleep with the sun just beginning to rise through the buildings, and Steve’s head tilted into the crown of his hair.
“Hurt a hair on her head and you’ll not even live long enough to regret it,” Tony stood amongst the crowd of cowering civilians in the goddamn shopping mall, seriously, that’s where Mr Mc-Villain had decided to try and stage the public assassination of the Black Widow. They’d been shopping for fucking dresses- Jesus- couldn’t they just give it a break for a single damn second?
Natasha looked up at him in exasperation. “Oh, way to give yourself away, Tony, he didn’t even know you were h-”
“SILENCE!” Big Bad Villain said, brandishing his crazily big gun and sending another wave of panicked cries from the audience, “We are here to witness the death of the first Avenger- the rest will follow! That means you next, Iron Man!”
Tony folded his arms, eyeing up the gun. “Is that compensation for something? I feel like that's compensation for something.”
Big Bad Villain screamed, and pointed the Compensation Gun right at his face. “You talk the talk, Stark, but without your iron suit, you’re nothing! You’re just as defenseless as all the other civilians here! And so you will die!”
Something hard and bitterly triumphant solidified in his chest as he slowly unfolded his arms again. “I have a few things to say to that, actually. One- it’s not an iron suit, it’s a gold titanium alloy. Two- have you tried killing me before? I’m like a cockroach, dude, it takes a lot more than some dumb Compensation Weapon to rid the world of me. And three- what the damn hell makes you think I’m defenseless?”
See, Tony got his suits tailored for a reason. You could hide all sorts of fancy things up your sleeves if they were designed in the right way. And fancy things were what Tony specialised in.
You could take the boy out of weapons manufacturing…
Natasha looked over to him, an eyebrow raised as Big Bad Compensation Villain (and yes, that was now the official name in Tony’s head, you could pry that from his cold, dead hands) crumpled lifelessly to the floor, instantly paralysed from the dart that had been fired at his shoulder. “Well- saves me from having to rip my tights,” she declared finally, standing back onto her feet and plucking the Compensation Weapon out of his hands.
“Oh, don’t deny it, you would’ve been totally screwed without me,” Tony told her with a grin, tucking his own weapon back up his sleeve.
Natasha watched him, cocking her head. “You always keep paralytics in your suits, Stark?” She asked, as she slipped her arm through his.
“Yes,” Tony replied, only realising how weird that sounded when Natasha pursed her lips and squeezed his arm just that little bit tighter.
It hit him, then.
“Oh my God,” he stopped still, and Natasha went with him, instantly on high alert once again, scanning the area-
“I trust you,” Tony breathed, eyes wide as he turned to her, “holy shit, I trust you.”
Natasha’s mouth opened, just a little bit, in her version of surprise, but then she smiled. It was real. “Ah. I’m… glad,” she told him softly, eyes a little squinted as the beginning of laugh-lines creased her face. Tony was almost sure they hadn’t been there when she’d first joined the team.
They just smiled at one another for a long time, before one of the civilians finally spoke up. “So, are you gonna arrest that guy, or-”
Tony fixed his bowtie up in the reflective lenses of Clint’s glasses until Bruce snatched them off the man’s nose and pulled a face. “I lived in a literal cave for one and a half years and even I know that you don’t wear fucking sunglasses to an evening charity gala,” he told the man, chucking the offending object into the limo just as the doors closed and it pulled off the curb.
Clint whined, looking hurt. “I would have made it work, Doctor Banner, and you damn well know it.”
“That’s enough, boys,” Natasha slipped her arms through both of theirs, forcefully shoving them close to her sides, “I think it best we don’t start an argument before we’ve even gotten through the doors, don’t you?”
“This is going to go badlyyyy,” Bruce sing-songed, shooting Tony a mutinous glare as he was dragged up the stairs by Natasha. “This is your fault, Stark- you and your Avengers team, making me socialise. Pah,” he scoffed, and Tony just waved him off when Natasha hauled them away with a grin and a kiss to his cheek.
“What are you smiling at?” Steve asked, as he fiddled with his tie and wandered up to Tony’s side.
Tony shook his head, looking over to Steve and then immediately dropping the gaze back to his shoes, because staring at Steve when he looked like that had to be some sort of safety hazard. “Nothing, just…” ‘my Avengers team’, Bruce called it my Avengers Team and I’ve never had a team before let alone have it called my own and it just felt nice because I’m a lot more needy than a lot of people know, “nothing.”
Steve looked up to him (he was three stairs below, but Tony would take it, shut up), and he just smiled again- that beautiful soft thing that Tony adored with all his soul- and then gestured forward. “After you, Stark.”
“Where’s Thor?” Tony queried as they made their way up the stairs.
Steve shrugged. “Said he would make his own way. He went down to visit Jane this morning, so I’m not even sure if he’ll make it.”
“Is it bad that I think that’s for the best?” Tony said with a sigh.
“Oh, not at all, I mean there’s a ninety percent likelihood of some form of brawl springing up, because- well- it’s us, so it’s probably for the best if he stays well away.”
Tony sighed loudly. “You fools will be the death of me, you know that?”
Steve chuckled. “And you wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m going to put my hand on your back, now,” he said casually, and Tony was so used to it by that point that he didn’t even call the guy out on it- just held back the hitch of his breath when Steve’s fingers touched lightly against the small of his back to guide him through the door.
It had been going well.
It had. Tony was relaxed, and he was mingling. The rest of the Avengers had been dipping in and out of his conversations for an hour or so now- Clint only once, in order to ask if he was allowed to sit up in the rafters. The answer had been a resounding no, but Tony was choosing not to look upward for the rest of the night, just to avoid having to deal with that particular problem at all.
It had been going well.
“Dance with me,” Steve appeared by his side, talking quietly into Tony’s ear, and when Tony looked up at him, he smiled, “I want to learn how to dance. It’s probably going to be embarrassing, but I’m sure you’ve dealt with worse.”
Tony raised an eyebrow. “Oh ho ho, and what is that supposed to mean, Captain?”
“It means I’ve seen youtube videos of you singing to Abba onstage whilst drunk, Tony- please. I’m a grown man and I don’t know how to dance,” Steve pouted down at him, and Tony kind of hated how endearing that was, goddamn it.
“You look through Youtube videos of me?” Tony asked, keeping his voice low, suggestive, as he took Steve by the wrist and directed them to the dancefloor.
Steve spluttered a little, and when Tony turned, he was red in the face. “I- I don’t- it just sort of…happened,” he said weakly.
Tony- well on the way to tipsy, at that point- just chuckled. “Hey, hey, stand down, Soldier. Not like I’m one to talk, anyway. I watched those USO reels more times than I could count in my childhood- although I must say, enhanced as you may be, you still can’t perform for shit.”
Steve smacked him lightly on the arm, shaking his head as Tony moved in close and slid a hand up to his waist. “In all fairness, I was enhanced to fight Nazism, not wear tights and kiss babies.”
“Oh, but you did look so good in those tight trousers,” Tony sighed to himself, even though he knew Steve could hear. When their hands clasped together, Tony wondered if Steve was able to hear his heartbeat through the pulse in his wrist, too. If he’d be able to hear the way it was currently as mad as a rabbit’s as he stared up at Steve- let the scent of him, the feel of his body just envelop him like a particularly warm blanket.
“Okay. Let’s just start with the basic box step,” Tony murmured into his ear, beginning to move them across the floor with practised ease.
Steve was looking at him again; and it had been a good few months since Tony had had one of those moments in which he considered the power imbalance between himself and any one of the Avengers- but as they swayed together; Steve’s body pushed up close to Tony’s, his hands curled so lightly around his own- the thought popped back up.
Steve was so tall. And strong. And he could lift Tony with ease, that was for sure. Press him up against a wall and keep them both there, for as long as Tony wanted them to. He could let Steve take control; he’d want Steve to. And- and Steve would look at him like he always did; as if Tony was something so special, before kissing him, hands and tongue and teeth and lips and that body, oh , god, that body just rolling up against his-
Ah, shit. Okay, so probably best not to think of that whilst pressed up against the guy. That was a bad idea.
“Hey,” Steve asked softly, talking into Tony’s temple as he spun them both across the floor, because he was a fast learner like that, “I told myself I’d save my first dance for someone special, y’know?”
Tony hummed, “that so?”
Steve nodded, and as he swallowed, Tony watched; a little transfixed as his adam’s apple bobbed up and down. “That so. I… I wanted to dance with you for a while now,” he admitted, and Tony shifted a little, eyes pulling off his throat in order to work their way up to the man’s face.
Most unfortunately, however, they never made it to their intended destination.
He got caught on a figure, lingering at the edge of the dancefloor, watching him intently with a glass of champagne in his hand. Older, now, with longer hair and an even bigger frame than the last time they’d seen one another- Ty lifted the flute a little as he caught Tony’s eye, smiling easily and then making a jerky gesture with his head, as if asking Tony to go over and fucking talk to him, holy shit, holy fucking shit, they’d agreed for him to stay away, and here was acting like nothing had ever happened-
“-Tony?” Tony, what’s- was it something I said? I didn’t mean… I wasn’t trying to put any pressure on you, at all, okay, oh, God, I’m so sorry, please don’t freak out, it’s fine, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Steve babbled, eyes wide and guilty as he began pulling away, but Tony clutched on tight- tighter than he’d thought he was even capable of, because Steve was now all he had between himself and Tiberius Fucking Stone himself.
“Oh…god,” Tony choked, clutching Steve’s hand tight, never taking his eyes off the figure at the edge of the dancefloor.
Ty smiled, a little thing, but it was horrifyingly familiar; just like the ones he’d always pulled when he was horny and decided he wanted Tony’s attention, fuck, did he really think-
Tony sucked in a sharp breath, tugging him and Steve off to the side at the same time Ty turned away to the bar. “I- shit, oh, shit,” he muttered to himself through clenched teeth, Jesus Christ, how was Ty still doing this to him, twenty odd years down the fucking line.
“Tony, just breathe, okay, or you’re gonna black out,” Steve told him worriedly, fingers curling around the back of Tony’s hand, not fighting for anything more, just taking the small amount of leeway the hold gave him.
Steve looked around behind him to where Tony’s eyes were still fixed, and he looked a little helpless when he spun back around again. “Tony, please, you’re scaring me. What is it? Was it something I said?”
“No,” Tony shook his head. Everything felt jarred, sluggish. “It was just- I have to go. I have to- right now. Shit.”
He hadn’t seen Tiberius in years. The last time had been when they bumped into one another at a weapons conference when he was 32, and after the sight of his face had spiked the worst panic attack of that year, he’d gathered all the security he could find and made them escort him from the building. Five viciously worded voicemails to the lawyers at Viastone later, and they’d all agreed that perhaps it would be better if the two men didn’t interact in the same social circles.
And yet here he was. Again.
“Tony, come on- please, explain to me, I can’t just let you walk off like th-“
“It’s him,” Tony hissed, the words catching in his throat like bile, “he’s here and I don’t know why and I don’t know how; maybe the plus one of a plus one or something, but- Ty’s here.”
Oh, boy, you should have seen the look on Steve’s face.
Like a switch had been flicked, if only for a second. Something fell over Steve’s features- something dark- and every muscle in his body did a funny sort of spasm, like he wanted to clench up but didn’t in fear of causing damage to Tony’s hand.
But then it was gone, smoothed over and replaced with nothing more than a worried frown as he inhaled sharply. He began to search the room a little, before eventually pulling out his phone with calm fingers, his other hand still holding Tony’s.
“What- what are you-“
“Calling Bruce,” Steve said quietly, “he’s gonna come find us and keep you company, okay?”
“I don’t need- I’m- I’m fine, seriously, it was just- just a shock, that’s all.” Tony took a few deep breaths, shaking his head and wincing. Fuck- he didn’t need to do this. Not anymore. Ty didn’t hold anything over him. He was reacting over nothing at all; he’d faced off goddamn armies with more composure than this.
“Bruce? Can you come to the West wall of the building, directly opposite the bar? Yeah- thanks,” Steve asked, ignoring Tony’s protests as he shut off the call and pocketed his phone. “Bruce is literally seven seconds away- it’s gonna be fine, Tony-“
“I know it’s going to be fine, Steve, I’m fucking Iron Man, he won’t do jack shit,” Tony snapped, angry and furious and scared and small, “stop fucking babying me, I don’t… I just want to go home.”
Steve opened his mouth, but at that moment Bruce filtered through the throng of people, catching Tony’s eye and then frowning deeply. No doubt Tony looked like shit- it’s what he felt like, after all.
“What happened?” He asked immediately, seeing Steve and Tony as they huddled up against the wall; fingers automatically going for Tony’s wrist to check his pulse before being stopped by Steve’s hand.
“Carefully,” he told Bruce, and Tony wanted to yell at him, tell him he wasn’t a frightened animal, but honestly, he was kinda thankful Bruce hadn’t actually managed to touch him that suddenly. He had... A peeve about people grabbing his wrists without warning. It probably would’ve ended badly.
Bruce looked straight at Tony and asked “can I check your pulse? I want to see if you’re going into shock or not,” just as Steve delicately began extracting his fingers from Tony’s vice grip.
He looked over to Steve, then Bruce, then Ty, and felt a little bit overwhelmed with the sensations of it all. He didn’t know quite who to focus on- he just nodded mutely to Bruce and then called out Steve’s name, although the man didn’t appear to actually hear as he turned around and stepped calmly through the crowd-
He was heading straight for the bar.
“Bruce, let me go,” Tony said quickly, tugging out of Bruce’s grip and watching as Steve gained a little more momentum; marching through the drinkers and the dancers with a sense of purpose in his walk.
“Tony, I think you need to just take a breather,” Bruce told him, but Tony snarled and pointed over to Steve, who at that point had just given up entirely on subtlety and was simply pushing through the crowd like they weren’t there.
“Ah,” Bruce sagged a little as Tony pushed off the wall and ran after Steve.
He called the man’s name, but again, it was either ignored or unheard as Steve actually started fucking jogging- and people were turning, whispering, yelling in dismay as their drinks were spilt or food dropped.
Tony couldn’t see his face, but he guessed it was probably pretty fucking scary if you were on the receiving end of it.
And Ty- poor, oblivious Ty- made the mistake of turning to face the sudden commotion, catching Steve’s eye accidentally as he did so.
That was when Steve started sprinting. As soon as they made eye contact, Ty was truly and utterly screwed.
“What the fuck,” was all Tiberius Stone got to say, before Steve launched himself at the slimy prick; grabbing him by the throat and lifting him off the ground, then just…. Just fucking walking off with him.
“STEVE!” Tony called, but it wasn’t much use. The guy just kept going and going, walking them both forward like it was nothing as Ty kicked his legs and slowly turned an ugly red. Tony saw Clint pushing through the crowds from the other side, but both of them failed to reach in time as Steve hoisted Ty just that little bit higher-
And then Tony watched his piece of shit ex as he got choke-slammed through a table by Captain America.
It was a disaster.
The press had literally just gone insane. He was getting calls and texts and emails and apparently letters to the tower; everyone collectively losing their shit over the fact that Captain America had just been arrested for assault.
“Well Stark- no one can say that your parties aren’t interesting,” Natasha said dryly from the passenger seat, looking back at Tony as he held his head in his hands and groaned.
“I cannot believe,” he muttered for what was probably the zillionth time that night, “that he did that.”
“Neither can I,” Clint said gleefully, “God, did you see the look on the guy’s face? Totally thought he was going to die. You can see it in their eyes. He was just like: ‘this is it. I’m about to be beaten to death by Captain America-‘”
“Yes, Clint, I think we get the point,” Bruce said, poking the back of his head, “just focus on watching the road. I will not tolerate getting in a car crash as well as all this bullshit.”
“Can you believe we are sat in a car on the way to bail out Captain Fucking America from jail after he beat up my ex?” Tony asked, voice edging on a little hysterical.
“Oh, definitely not,” Clint responded with a shake of his head.
“But Steve Rogers…” Bruce added.
“Entirely inevitable,” Natasha finished with a shrug. She looked over at Tony again, something hardening in her eyes. “And for good reason. Guy got what was coming for him.”
“Oh, and now it’s Steve’s job to strangle anyone who’s wronged me, huh?” Tony asked with a bite, “what’s he gonna do next, huh, bring back Obie and daddy-dearest from the dead just so he can bitch-slap them, too?”
Natasha just shrugged again, back to her usual impassiveness. “You know he probably would, given half a chance.”
God, how the hell was Tony even supposed to reply to something like that?
“Bet Thor’s pissed he missed all this,” he ended up saying with a laugh, because it was fucking true; the guy would probably feel genuinely offended that someone hadn’t called ahead and warned him there was going to be a fight.
Jesus. There had actually been a fight. Steve had actually walked up to Tiberius Stone and then fucking choke-slammed him. Through a table. Not even just on it, no, that wasn’t good enough for Steve, was it, it had to be through it.
Holy fuck, Tony felt like he’d jumped headfirst into a parallel universe. Or possibly overdosed on crack.
They pulled up outside the station, and Tony left the rest of the team to sort out Steve’s bail as he himself went through and looked for the cell Steve was currently allowing them to keep him in.
It wasn’t difficult to find. He was Iron Man, after all. Cops didn’t like arguing with him, especially not when he put his mind to something.
They’d put him in a single cell for ‘safety’ reasons or whatever. Like Steve couldn’t have just bent the stupid metal bars and wandered right out of there if he’d wanted to. He was at the back of the back of the building, lying on the bed that had been bolted to the wall and folding a little piece of paper in his hands absently as he stared at the ceiling.
As soon As Tony took the first step down the corridor, he watched Steve as he froze up, and then turn to look over at him with wide, innocent eyes, like he hadn’t just thrown a full-grown man through a table. “Oh,” he said, a little sheepishly, “hi, Tony.”
“Steve Rogers, you are a fucking reckless idiot,” Tony began, marching forward.
Steve slipped off the bed, walking up to the bars and curling his hands around them as he watched Tony move closer. “If it helps, I’ve been quite aware of that for a while now.”
“Arrested? You got arrested?” Tony said incredulously, hands flying through the air as he gestured around him, “you’re Captain America. When the fuck does Captain America get arrested?”
“Uh, well, 7 times, back in the 40’s, actually,” Steve said with a shrug and a blush, and when Tony choked in surprise, he added “I was a scrappy little bastard, back in the day.”
Tony rolled his eyes, finally getting within touching distance of Steve.
He wasn’t sure what made him do it, in the end. Maybe the months and months of stolen glances; of soft smiles and gentle touches and that thing which lingered in the air between them, never actually being spoken upon, but undeniably there- all boiling down to one single moment. He’d blame it on the Adrenaline, later, but really, it was just because he thought the drama of it all would be funny.
Also- Steve behind bars was stupidly hot, for some reason.
So once he was within touching distance, he wasted no time reaching out for Steve’s collar, and then pulled forward, getting up on his tiptoes in order to press his mouth against Steve’s through the gaps of the prison bars.
Steve made a surprised little whining noise, but he caught on pretty quickly; melting into the kiss and stepping forward, whole body pushing up against the bars as his hands snuck through the gaps to rest gently on the back of Tony’s neck.
It wasn’t much. Just a soft press, with Steve’s fingers stroking across the wisps of hair on Tony’s neck and making him shiver. When Tony broke away, Steve was smiling like Tony had never even seen. “Always wanted to kiss a boy through the bars of his jail cell,” Tony whispered with a tiny laugh, “usually it’s been me on the other side of it, though.”
Steve licked his lips and huffed out, thumb stroking just below Tony’s ear. “You have no idea how much I’ve been wanting to do that,” he admitted with a shake of his head, eyes looking right into Tony’s as he said quietly “God, you’re so beautif-“
“WE BRING YOUR RELEASE, CAPTAIN!” An annoyingly familiar voice yelled down the corridor, and Tony shut his eyes irritably as Steve’s head jerked up. He looked down the hall, spotting Clint throwing open the doors theatrically, a cop by his side looking incredibly awkward. “Oh god, did we interrupt you guys whilst you were making out? Tony, you dog- trust you to get turned on by Captain America becoming a felon-“
“He’s not a felon,” Tony turned, folding his arms and leaning against the bars as he pulled a very unimpressed face and directed it Clint’s way, “he’s just been led astray,” he said smoothly, tipping his head to watch Steve smile sheepishly above him.
Clint made gagging noises, and the poor cop with the keys looked like he genuinely couldn’t imagine a worse situation, but he duly unlocked the cell before turning his heel and not looking back. Steve stepped out with a bit of a frown. “Really, those cells are very unreliable. There were at least three ways I could’ve broken out of there without even using my strength-“
“Don’t care,” Tony breathed, latching on again as soon as Steve had stepped foot outside, and he didn’t complain as he got an armful of Tony again, but Clint certainly did.
“Uh, hey guys, I exist, and I have rights. I don’t want to be seeing mom and dad making out in prison. That’s just so many levels of wrong,” he complained loudly, slapping them both on the back of their heads.
They broke off again, mainly for Tony to ask “which one of us is the mom?”
“Oh, as if you don’t know, Mr take-your-thermal-vests-it’s-cold-outside-and-you-can’t-fight-aliens-if-you’ve-got-a-fever,” Clint rolled his eyes.
Tony scoffed, leaning a little into Steve’s side as they walked out, “that was one time,” he muttered sulkily.
Steve laughed, and Tony poked his side, “don’t see what you’re so happy about- we’re being sued, you know? He’s gonna try and sue Captain America,”
“And I wish him the best of luck,” Steve said a little harshly, “if he fancies meeting me in a courtroom again, fine by me.”
Tony sighed. “You shouldn’t have done that, Steve,” he said quietly.
Steve stopped, taking Tony’s hand slowly and looking a lot more serious. “Probably not. But I’m not sorry. Not even for a second. And I’d do it again.”
“You won’t fucking have to,” Clint called out from in front of them, “did you hear what Steve told the guy, Tony?”
“Clint-” Steve said, blushing even deeper as Tony looked between them curiously.
“He said if Stone ever took a step in your general direction again, he’d make sure it’d be the last time he walked anywhere at all,” Clint said gleefully, as Steve put his head in his hand and looked away, “and then proceeded to beat the shit out of him until I got there and manfully dragged him off,” he added.
Tony’s eyebrows raised and he bit back on an incredulous laugh. “Man, I’d hate to get on the wrong side of you.”
Steve jerked, then, and he stopped still, looking at Tony soberly. “You- I’d never do- not to you, I swear-”
“Steve,” Tony told him, “shut up. I know, okay? Quit with the puppy-dog eyes.”
Steve nodded, and as his hand curled around Tony’s, the lips which pressed against Tony’s temple were impossibly light.
“This is going to be a thing now, isn’t it?” Clint said, sighing loudly as he pushed open the door.
Tony looked up at Steve, who just smiled again. “You bet your ass it is,” he said firmly, and the feeling in his heart at the thought of that was enough to warm him from the bones outward.
Steve kissed him good morning and played with his hands on the couch and he asked Tony out on dates to restaurants where they would just stay and talk for hours on end and not once did his hands stray anywhere below the waist.
“Tony, it’s...Christ, it’s 4 in the morning in New York- why aren’t you in bed?”
“I think I’m gonna die of blue balls.”
Rhodey hung up.
“Okay, I’d like to start this by saying I despise you,” Rhodey called back two and a half minutes later, and Tony grinned triumphantly- Rhodeybear couldn’t resist gossip, it was a known fact.
“Lies lies lies,” Tony sung, lying back on the bed and staring up at the ceiling, “do you want to know why you’re about to lose your bestest friend in the whole wide world due to a severe case of blue balls or not?”
Rhodey hung up again.
“Who is it?”
Tony laughed. “You’re never going to guess.”
“Knowing you, most certainly not. Just tell me, Tony.”
He paused for effect, and then whispered down the phone. “Captain America.”
There was silence on the other end of the line, and then a loud groan. “Oh, hell, I’m gonna need to get myself a beer to deal with this shit.”
“We’ve been dating for three and a half months, now,” Tony whined, curling up on the bed and clutching the pillow against his face, “but that’s all it has been. Dates. And like… we do all the gross couply stuff, which is- it’s nice. Really nice. I can’t actually believe how weirdly nice it is, honestly-”
“Yeah, that’s what healthy relationships look like. Tones,” Rhodey said dryly, and Tony rolled his eyes again.
“But he’s not sleeping with me,” Tony finished dejectedly, “he kisses me like it’s going somewhere and then he just leaves and I’ve had to jack off in the shower for like, ten consecutive nights now, it’s just getting ridiculous-”
“Okay, A) I’m not going to talk to you if describe all your gory fantasies about my childhood hero,” Rhodey told him firmly, “and B)... maybe he’s just taking it slow? Maybe that’s how he want to play it?”
“But I know that he wants to,” Tony countered, sitting up in frustration and looking at the door, wondering how weird it would be if he just flung open the door and marched himself over to Steve’s room right there, in all his pajama’d glory, “I see how he looks at me. He looks fucking pained when he breaks away, but he does it and I don’t know why.”
He stopped, eyes widening a little. “Maybe he doesn’t want me. Maybe he wants the sexytimes but he’s just so unattracted to me that he can’t bring himself to-”
“Oh, shut your fat face,” Rhodey scolded, “you said he was doing all the lovey-dovey shit outside of the bedroom, and that means something. It means he’s into you, Tony, and I’m not gonna hear your self destructive bullcrap about this.”
Tony pouted to the empty room, and his heart panged a little painfully. He missed Rhodey so much when he went away. “Then what am I supposed to think?”
Rhodey was silent, and he sounded like he was tapping against something whilst he thought. “I heard he got arrested for beating up Stone, a few months back,” he said eventually, like that was supposed to answer something.
“I- yeah, uh...he did. But he got off with a warning, it wasn’t that big of d-”
“Tony,” Rhodey said, with a gentle sigh, “just think about how they relate for a second.”
“What? They have nothing to do with each-”
“You… you think he’s afraid of…” Tony trailed off, unsure how exactly to finish the sentence.
“I think that’s exactly the reason,” Rhodey said bluntly, “look, Tony- no offence, but you have a lot of issues. And for good reason, okay, too many people have hurt you before. But it makes you- twitchy, around people like him, and I’m guessing he just doesn’t want to-”
“I haven’t been like that for months around them now, Rhodey,” Tony said a little snappily. He kind of hated it when Rhodey laid it all out bare for him like that. “I haven’t been like that with any of the Avengers for a while. They’re all… they’re good. And I know they’re good.”
Rhodey made a little noise at the back of his throat, and Tony knew what he was thinking, he knew there was a ‘like you knew everyone else was good? Like you thought Ty, and Sunset, and the guy on campus who dated you for six weeks just to steal your credit cards or the girl next door who invited you in for a housewarming party and then put a roofie in your drink when you refused to put out- like they were ‘good’, too?’ at the front of Rhodey’s mouth, just ready to spill out.
“I’m not a kid any more,” Tony said quietly, “if they’d had ulterior motives, they would’ve shown by now. It’s been a year and a half. They’re still here.”
Rhodey huffed. “Well- if you trust them, so do I. But I’m guessing that’s the reason behind Steve’s apparent unwillingness to go further. I’m pretty sure the guy is confused as hell in regards to what he thinks is acceptable to do.”
“The only thing I want him to do is me,” Tony said grumpily.
“I’m hanging up now.”
“But don’t you want to hear all my wildest fantasies about my boyfriend Captain America-”
The call cut. Damn bastard.
He got a text a few seconds later though, and it read: you’ll be fine. Just talk. Communicate. And if it goes the unsexy kind of south, I’ll come down and bury him 6ft. Under.
Tony laughed. Rhodey would always be his favourite
The party was louder than he could possibly have imagined, and there were so many people; one of them was grinding against Tony and he couldn’t even see their face, but they grabbed him by the waist with fingers that were already sweeping below the waistline of his jeans, and they didn’t let up when he tried to push them off, so he just rolled with it, because it wasn’t like he could do anything about it anyway.
He awoke with a jerk and shoved himself upward, gasping for breath.
Fuck. It had been awhile since those dreams had come back up. Nowadays it was mostly about death and aliens and stuff. You know. The usual.
He shut his eyes, backing up so his head was resting against the headboard and his body was facing the room. Okay, okay. It was fine. Stupid childhood, stupid decisions, water under the bridge. All good. He should just go back to sleep.
He couldn’t go back to sleep.
With a sigh, he sat up, legs hanging off the edge of the bed. He found himself in the rather unusual situation of wishing there was someone he could talk to, just for the company, but when he asked JARVIS, it turned out that no-one else was awake.
Right. Looked like it was him and Patrice, the presenter of his favourite Ad channel, then.
Padding down the stairs, he got comfortable in his favourite corner of the couch and grabbed Steve’s comforter from the back of the cushions. That one was the warmest, and- well, it smelt like Steve (shut up- he was tired and hadn’t had a decent fuck in over six months- it was allowed.)
He flicked the channel, and let his eyes glaze over as the dull tones of Patrice chatted amicably about how beautiful the 100% cashmere throw looked.
“Room for one more?” Bruce asked quietly, and Tony jerked, looking up at him as he stood awkwardly by the side of the couch. He looked like he’d been sweating, and his hands were shaking, just a little.
“For you, Doctor Banner, always,” Tony said warmly, patting the seat next to him and then shuffling, placing his feet atop Bruce’s lap when the man sat down.
They didn’t say anything, but Bruce stopped shaking after half an hour or so, so Tony was fine with continuing what they were doing. Anyway- the talking was made up for by Thor and Clint, who’d both come up from the gym and then spotted the two of them on the couch.
“Oooh, are you having a girl’s night?” Clint had asked, and it sounded a little strained, a little too false, but no one mentioned it. Bruce just nodded serenely and then wiggled his toes. “If you have nail varnish, I’d love a pedicure,” he said, entirely seriously.
Thor, of course, immediately became enamoured with the idea of a pedicure, and so Clint sullenly agreed to sneak into Natasha’s room and find some polish.
“If we listen hard enough, we’ll be able to hear his screams when Natasha throws something at him,” Tony told Bruce and Thor, and then, sure enough, Clint’s piercing scream carried back into the living room from directly above them. There was the sound of a thud, which either meant he’d fallen from the vents or Natasha had tackled him to the floor.
“I hope she doesn’t kill him,” Thor said, frowning, “I was rather excited at the prospect of a pedicure.”
He did get his pedicure, in the end. But it was from Natasha instead, who demanded she do Thor justice and give him a proper one, as opposed to Clint’s undoubtedly abysmal efforts. She didn’t say anything as she entered; just clutched her box full of nail tools and sat herself down by Thor’s feet.
“Am I missing a party?”
Tony smiled involuntarily at the sound of the voice, and turned his head, watching as Steve leaned against the door and smiled a little tiredly at them all. His hair was a mess, and he was wearing nothing but his sweats, despite the fact it was a freezing January day.
Tony never knew why Steve always did that, when he had nightmares about the ice. He’d… it was like his subconscious wanted to make himself cold.
“No, you’re just in time,” Natasha called out, not looking up from Thor’s nails, “we’re having a spa session. Tony knows how to do mani’s, don’t you? Give Steve one, his nails are atrocious.”
Steve raised his eyebrows, and Tony grinned, standing up and meeting Steve in the middle as he walked into the living room. “I agree- sit down, soldier, you’re about to have the experience of your life,” Tony said with a wink, taking Steve’s arm and standing up high to kiss the taller man. He made sure to chuck Steve’s blanket over him as he got cosy, though, and Steve just sighed a little before wrapping it tight up against his body.
So that’s what they all spent their night doing. Squashing up tight into a couch only designed for three people, giving one another mani pedi’s and watching horrible ads play on TV. Tony sat on his knees and got himself between Steve’s legs, making crude jokes the whole time, but ultimately giving Steve perfectly shaped and shined nails, because he was fucking good at manicures, okay, he’d been working with Pepper for too long to be anything but.
And Steve thanked him afterwards by getting down to Tony’s level to make out with him like there was no tomorrow, so- yeah.
It hadn’t been a good night, exactly. But for the first time in what was quite possibly his entire life, Tony was in a room full of the most powerful, strongest people in the world, and he didn’t feel anything other than cared for. Safe.
“I never got to finish teaching you,” Tony mumbled into Steve’s chest, watching as the sun yet again began to peek out through the New York horizon.
Everyone else had slunk off to bed a while ago, but Tony had been comfortably perched on Steve’s lap for a good two hours by that point, and neither of them had felt particularly inclined to move, so there they remained. Steve’s back was pressed up against the foot of the couch, his arms curled around Tony as they dozed contentedly.
“Teach me what?” Steve asked sleepily, pressing his nose into Tony’s hair, absent-mindedly kissing the crown of his head.
“How to dance,” Tony replied, fingers trailer across the juts of Steve’s collar bones; watching them in fascination as they flexed beneath his touch.
Tony could feel the smile as it pressed against his head. “What else is there to learn? I’m pretty sure I got it down. You taught me well.”
“Oh, there’s plenty to learn,” Tony told him, voice dropping lower as he shifted around a little, threw a leg over Steve’s lap, straddled him. “We haven’t covered quite a few important bases yet, actually.”
Steve’s eyes went a little wide, and Tony felt the hitch in breath as he pressed his face into the other man’s neck and kissed the tender spot under his jaw. “I- yeah, well, I mean- I bet they’re swell. I’d like…yeah, I’d like to learn them. At some point. But not- I mean, we don’t have t-“
Steve,” Tony whispered, eyes fluttering shut and voice wavering as he worked his way toward Steve’s mouth, sucked lightly on his bottom lip and then pulled away, just a bit, “I’m gonna make it nice and clear, okay?”
He pressed forward, rolling his hips into Steve’s and pushing up against him, feeling the shudder and the choked-off groan he got in response. “Take me to bed. Please. Before you kill me with the waiting.”
Steve sucked in a raspy breath and bit his lip- Jesus, he looked pretty debauched already; hair messy, shirt off, mouth a deep pink from where Tony had kissed him. He wanted all of that times a hundred. Times a million. Dammit, he just wanted Steve.
“Tony, are you sure?” he asked, and he wasn’t even speaking, really; the words were more controlled exhales than anything, almost too quiet to hear at all.
The words were meant just for them- no one else in the world could hope to hear.
And Tony should’ve gotten irritated. Annoyed, frustrated that Steve was treating him like he was this fragile thing, like he was damaged, but-
It meant too much for him to be angry. It meant too much that Steve cared enough. That he just… honestly wanted Tony to be comfortable with everything.
“Yes, Steve,” he spoke against the other man’s mouth, “it’s you. It’s okay. It’s… it’s you.”
Steve broke away, then, and his hand rose slowly, cupping Tony’s face, staring down at him with so… so much in his eyes, it was almost blinding. It made Tony want to look away and never stop staring at the same time.
Him. Steve was looking at him like that. No one else.
“You’re more than anything I could have imagined,” Steve whispered, thumb rubbing so softly along the line of Tony’s cheekbone.
“I’ll bet,” Tony croaked with a laugh, and Steve just kissed him again, cutting off any self-deprecatory words with his lips, his teeth, his tongue, holy shit, Steve could kiss.
Tony felt like he couldn’t even speak properly any more. He just sat there in Steve’s lap; looking up at him with his hands on the man’s incredibly impressive chest, and stared.
Steve smiled (again, again, always smiling, the man never stopped smiling at things, even when the weight of the world bore down on his shoulders), kissing him softly before strong hands slid under his thighs.
Suddenly Tony felt himself moving as Steve lifted them both into standing with a fluidity that made Tony feel weightless in more ways than one. “You wanna walk, or you good here?” Steve asked, lips touching gently to Tony’s cheek.
“’M good,” Tony breathed, locking his legs around Steve’s waist, pushing himself into the hold with experienced easiness and then laughing when Steve cursed under his breath and bit back another little groan.
He found Steve’s mouth again, and Steve struggled to keep his balance as he made his way down the corridor, especially when Tony and his thoroughly distracting mouth decided to start nipping on the underside of his jaw once more. His hands moved across Steve’s pale skin; running across the lines of muscle and vein that made him so very perfect. All for him. All for him.
When Steve asked “which room,” Tony had to take a second to absorb the fact he had to start using his mouth for talking again.
“Mine,” he said quickly, and Steve nodded, leaning backwards and falling into the door. He twirled around effortlessly as it gave way and allowed them both access (he’d have to remember to thank JARVIS for disabling the locks later- guy knew when they were more of an inconvenience than a help, after all).
Tony felt his heart fluttering under the metal of the reactor as Steve heeled the back of the door and then walked forward the last few steps, finally placing Tony down on the bed.
Fuck. Okay. They were really doing this.
Steve knelt; arms bracing by the sides of Tony’s thighs as he slotted himself between Tony’s knees, and he was looking up at Tony with the most beautiful, symmetrically perfect, aesthetically pleasing face he thought he had ever seen, ever, which meant a lot when you knew as many people as Tony did.
“Please, Steve,” Tony whispered, and he wasn’t even sure what he was asking for as he pitched forward to wind his arms around Steve’s neck, but it seemed Steve knew anyway, because he laughed and whispered “okay,” into Tony’s mouth whilst his fingers curled around the hem of Tony’s shirt and pulled.
Tony thought he was going to explode into a literal ball of fire when Steve’s hands ran up and down, each fingertip like a bolt of electricity, making him bite his lip and tilt his head back, wishing there was something for him to rest against. Luckily, because Steve was amazing and brilliant and a mind-reader, his hand traced the juts of his spine for a little while before coming to rest at the back of his head. It also apparently gave him the signal he needed to go to town on Tony’s neck, because he felt teeth scrape across his throat and oh, God, okay, he really wasn’t going to last very long, was he-
“So beautiful,” Steve whispered, “so fucking beautiful.”
Tony bit back on a moan as he lurched forward again, hands reaching for the waistband of Steve’s sweats, because if he didn’t get down to it fast he was just gonna come right there without any actual action, which was felt was cheating a little bit, really.
Steve rolled his neck languidly as he felt Tony’s hands on his waist, and then his own joined the fray, working on Tony’s pants too, and they were both just in their pajamas, it wouldn’t take long to-
-yanking hands and unforgiving teeth and sharp bursts of pain and he wanted to stop, he didn’t want to do this any more, but he knew as soon as he’d been taken up to their room that he wasn’t leaving until Ty was finished with him, so he might as well just suck it up and get on with it, Jesus, it wasn’t going to last long anyway-
-“stop,” he blurted, shoving Steve away so suddenly that the man yelled in surprise.
He went immediately, though; further than Tony could have pushed on his own, and he was looking at Tony in confusion but his hands were raised as he sat back a little further.
“Okay,” he said slowly.
Tony stared down at him from the bed, horrified.
Jesus, they’d been about to fuck, and he’d seriously just had a- a whatever the fuck, a flashback, a memory, of that? What the hell? He stumbled back up to his feet, suddenly feeling like he was being crushed from all sides. Fuck, that was bad. That was mortifying. how had he ever thought this would work?Steve… Steve would never want him like this. No one wanted anyone like this, it was pathetic.
“Oh my god, shit, I’m sorry,” Tony whispered, walking over to the wall and rubbing a hand across his face, “I’m so- God, Steve, I’m sorry, you don’t deserve this. You deserve someone who isn’t…who isn’t this. I shouldn’t have led you on-“
Couldn't even fuck a guy without getting fucking flashbacks, now, huh? Jesus, if Steve had any sense, He’d run. Far, far away.
“Tony,” Steve said softly, voice calm, “can you… can you look at me?”
“No, no I fucking can’t,” Tony banged his fist against the wall. He felt humiliated; felt like his heart was going to break again, and he didn’t know if he could bear it, not again, there were too many pieces already. “I don’t want to hear whatever bullshit excuse you’re gonna try, okay, I’ve heard them all before. This is… this is a shitty thing, okay, and look- this is me saying you can just…go. I’m not gonna hold it to you,” he choked on a laugh that sounded too much like a fucking sob, Jesus Christ, he was not going to cry over this, not when it had been inevitable in the first place, “look at me Steve- I’m a goddamn mess- fucked up, ruined, broken, do you get that?”
His voice was too loud for the quiet room, but he still heard Steve’s sigh.
Tony wished he could have given Steve what he wanted. Given him something normal, something simple.
Instead, all he’d thrown in his face was himself.
“Tony, can I… can I touch you? Or do you want space?”
He stopped fidgeting, just for a moment. Looked over to Steve despite himself, a frown of confusion springing up on his face. Why was Steve asking that? Why wasn’t he just…going?
Steve had rolled back up to his knees again, a couple of feet away, waiting for Tony to answer. His eyes were looking straight at him, the way they always did- with that kind of fierce intensity that made Tony feel like he was the only important thing in Steve’s line of sight.
He nodded, and slowly, Steve got to his feet, walking forward.Tony didn’t know what he was doing, but eventually Steve got within touching distance, and he raised his eyebrows a little in silent question.
Tony nodded dumbly.
“I…” Steve began quietly, taking his hand, bringing it up to his mouth. He kissed the shaking fingertips, one by one.
“Love every single…” his lips moved down Tony’s arm, shoulder, neck- finding the scar just under his ear and kissing softly, before he moved on to the cheek a few centimeters above it.
“Broken piece of you,” Steve finished, voice just a quiet murmur as he pressed his mouth to each part of Tony’s face; the eyelids, the nose, the forehead, before they stopped on Tony’s lips.
Steve pushed his forehead against Tony’s, his hands placed in a light hold around Tony’s jaw, and Tony couldn’t do anything but hold on to the other man’s wrists as he tried not to fall apart, tried to process what Steve was saying.
“I love you,” Steve told him simply, and that- that cleared it right up.
He wasn’t sure why. He wasn’t sure how or when or what- but for whichever insane reason, Steve… Steve did.
Steve loved him.
Tony kissed him again, then. Surged forward, desperate. He’d never wanted anyone more in his entire life. He’d never wanted anyone in the way he wanted Steve. To know everything about the man; to memorise his body, to know the sounds he made when he came, all of it all of it all of it-
“Tony,” Steve said through a moan, “this is… this your show to run, okay, you decide what- oh- what we do, okay? don’t do this because you feel bad, or guilty, or scared, never ever ever-”
“Not,” Tony huffed, jumping up and winding his legs around Steve’s waist, “want you. That’s all, that’s all I’ve ever wanted.”
“But if you get uncomfortable… if you- if you want to stop, at any point...we stop, okay?” Steve rasped, apparently insistent on finishing their conversation before they moved forward. Tony just nodded and pushed into him again, fast and desperate and needy, but he felt Steve’s hands run down his arms, slowing him down, moving them gently.
It seemed when Tony said everything about him was gentle, he meant everything.
Steve went slowly; took everything apart inside Tony slowly, unravelled him slowly. Even when Tony asked (begged, pleaded) for more, for him to speed up, he just… didn’t. Instead, he would smile and look down, kiss him somewhere stupid like on the tip of his nose or the space between his eyebrows and say something like “maybe next time,” or “I want to do this properly,” in the voice that sounded a little ragged and broken, but in all the best possible ways.
Tony clutched his shoulders as Steve moved them, fingers digging into the skin, knowing that the marks would be gone by morning but wanting to give it a damn good try anyway. When Steve rolled his hips and pushed upward, just right, Tony felt like he was going to explode with the pleasure, and he bit his lip to stop from crying out. Steve just looked up at him, smug little grin on his face as he surged up and kissed him, took Tony's bottom lip between his teeth and tugged a little. "Wanna hear you," he said through a moan of his own.
Jesus fuck, the guy was going to kill him. Tony had been missing out on this for months, holy mother of God, he felt utterly cheated. He was definitely going to have words with Steve about that... later.
Steve didn’t stop kissing or touching or sucking until Tony eventually shook himself apart with a choked-off cry, and that was what made Steve break away, just for a second, just to watch.
“Perfect,” Steve muttered, stroking his hair back from his forehead, and Tony felt like art, laid out like this, with Steve watching him, a look nothing short of reverence on his face.
Steve shut his eyes, burying his head into Tony’s neck as he came.
Tony was too exhausted to do anything other than lie there after that; but Steve slipped away, heading to the bathroom and then coming back to clean them up. He placed a kiss to each place his hands wiped over, and Tony could barely even keep his eyes open, but he wanted to, he wanted to just so he could look at Steve and never stop.
“I’m gonna be so good to you, Tony,” Steve whispered, lying next to him, hand playing absently with Tony’s once again.
“I know,” Tony whispered the truth like it was sacred- because to him, it was. “I love you.”
Eh. Wasn’t much point in hiding it, now, anyway.
Steve smiled- God, Tony could write sonnets about that thing- and then sat up a little. “You want me to go?” He asked.
“Never,” Tony said, and God damn, he meant it.
Tony felt his eyes flutter open to the sound of a whimper.
Bleary and barely awake, he rubbed his eyes and yawned, glancing around him to try and find the source of the noise. It had only been a little thing; Tony wasn’t sure why it had woken him at all, but if it had been enough to pull him from sleep, he figured it was probably worth investigating.
As he attempted to sit up, however, he found himself a little...well- unable to.
Steve’s arms were holding fast around his waist, legs tucked up near Tony’s butt and head nestled into Tony’s neck. He was usually pretty maneuverable when he was asleep; but tonight, it seemed he was stuck fast.
His hands were pulling Tony pretty tight to Steve’s body, actually- it was kinda constricting.
Tony shifted a little, and then Steve whimpered again, louder this time- and Tony suddenly had to suck in his breath as Steve’s hands pressed hard, holding Tony even tighter.
“Steve?” Tony whispered, then repeated his name a little louder when nothing happened. “Steve, wake up, baby. You’re having a nightmare; it’s not real. Wake up.”
Tony grimaced, spinning his hips so that he was chest to chest with the other man and then rolling, pushing himself forward so he was lying directly on top of Steve. He just had to find a way to wriggle underneath his arms, then he could wake Steve up and get back to sleeping.
He placed his hands on Steve’s chest and pushed off a little, but there was no give. “Jesus, Steve- come on, honey, you gotta let up on the death grip a little, I-”
Steve shifted, and then he opened his eyes, staring right up at Tony. Or at least- Tony’s shadow in the darkness.
Tony only had a second to between Steve’s waking and realising his mistake before suddenly a hand slammed up against his throat, completely cutting off the air as Steve hooked a leg around Tony’s and flipped them, landing Tony underneath him.
Tony tried to say something, to yell or call Steve’s name, but he couldn’t speak. Steve’s hand was impossibly tight, the other one pinning his arm to the bed and the rest of his body lying over Tony’s as he stared down with unseeing eyes, blank and cold. He felt the panic like a vice, because at this rate Steve was quite literally going to choke the life out of him in less than a minute and he was entirely defenceless to it, like some sort of horrible nightmare where Steve’s ability for violence and pain was being directed at him, and there was no escape.
Tony wheezed, smacking Steve’s arm helplessly, because it was clear the man wasn’t properly awake, and he needed some sort of stimulus. It was still pitch-dark, Tony’s reactor covered by the thick sweater he’d fallen into bed in, and so he couldn’t even see Steve’s goddamn eyes-
Feeling the dizziness already start creeping in, Tony scratched weakly against his shirt, yanking it up and filling the room with blue light. He saw Steve’s face; grey and sweaty as he stared down at Tony, blinking a little from the brightness, until-
“Holy shit,” Steve blurted, and then he was gone.
Tony felt sweet oxygen run down his poor throat as he wheezed in a desperate breath, rolling into a ball and clutching at his neck. God, it hurt. That’d bruise like a motherfucker in the morning- Steve was going to have a seizure when he saw it. He blinked back tears from his watering eyes and propped himself up on shaky elbows. Steve had honest to god just leaped straight up when he’d awoken properly, and Tony hadn’t been able to follow; too busy shutting his eyes and rejoicing in the release of pressure.
“Steve?” He croaked, voice cracked and wheezy as he looked around the room, “JARVIS, lights.”
The soft, low glow filled the room, and Tony looked around, finally spotting Steve, curled up impossibly tight into a corner, staring straight up at him with a look on his face that made Tony’s heart clench painfully.
“Tony,” Steve whispered, breath coming in short, “are you- are you okay- God, what did I do, what did I-”
“I’m fine,” Tony whispered, which was a lie, really, his throat felt really sore and talking was a little difficult. But he slid forward, still sucking in a few deep breaths and trying to fight off the wave of dizziness which swept him again as he made his way across the bed, “you didn’t- no lasting damage. You were just having a nightmare.”
Steve choked on something, hand coming up to rest in panic over his mouth as he looked at Tony. “No… I… I’m so sorry, Tony, I hurt you, I hurt- I didn’t mean to, I swear to you, I swear, I-”
Steve broke off as his voice wavered and died; clenching his eyes shut and pressing himself even tighter against the wall, like he was trying to put as much distance between himself and Tony as possible.
That just wouldn’t stand.
“Steve- it’s okay, really, just...come back here, please,” Tony said, slipping off the bed and landing on the floor with a thud, blankets pooling around his legs as he took it with him.
Steve shook his head, pretty much hysterical at that point. “No. Not...God, I’m just another one of them, I’m no better, I’m no fucking better, holy shit, please, stay away from me,” Steve begged, clenching his fists in front of him and looking at them the same way he had months and months ago, when Tony had admitted Steve scared him.
Looking at them like there was blood all over them. Like they were weapons of mass destruction.
“Steve,” Tony said faintly, “you are nothing like any of… them, okay? Nothing. You just had a nightmare.”
“I hurt you,” Steve rasped, and he looked like he might actually be sick, Jesus Christ- “I put hands on you and I hurt you even though I promised I never would-”
“Steve, I am a goddamn superhero and it wasn’t your fault,” Tony said loudly, even though it scraped uncomfortably against his throat. “You had a nightmare. I’ve had nightmares and hurt you before. It happens.”
“yes, but you couldn’t kill me if you hit too hard,” Steve spat, looking down again. “Tony,” he whispered, and he honestly sounded scared, “I’m so strong. I… these hands could…”
Tony crawled forward, sheets trailing after him as he reached across the room, despite the man’s weak protests.
“Steve,” he said desperately, hand going for Steve’s and pulling tight. He took Steve’s fingers and curled them through his own , bringing them both upward to place on his cheek. “I love your hands. I- they’re beautiful to me. They’re warm. They’re so- so fucking beautifully shaped. An artist’s hands.”
He brought it around, pressing Steve’s palm to his mouth as he moved forward once more, slotting himself easily between Steve’s legs. “Just a nightmare, baby. I’m fine.”
Steve looked at him, eyelashes clumped from the wetness, sweat pooling above his lip. “You- you aren’t… scared? I didn’t trigger anything?”
“Nope,” Tony said, and then shrugged. “Surprised me too, to be honest. But I guess I knew it wasn’t intentional. Not with you. Not ever with you.”
He leaned forward, head resting between Steve’s collarbones, just under the other man’s chin where he seemed to fit perfectly. Steve’s heartbeat was crazy; and Tony kissed his chest softly. God- he kinda wondered what it would be like to live normal lives, where you didn’t get into bed with 90 year old supersoldiers and then sit with them through their panic attacks.
Probably pretty dull.
Steve sat there and held his resolve for all of two seconds after Tony leaned in, before simply giving up and melting himself around the smaller man; shaking fingers curling around the juncture of Tony’s neck and head dipping so that his cheek pressed into Tony’s hair. Tony shuffled a littler further in, and Steve’s legs curled around Tony’s butt- his whole body was shaking.
Tony littered a few more kisses across Steve’s shoulders before leaning back, grabbing the tail-end of their blanket. He tugged sharply, and then once he had a decent bundle in his arms, he leaned forward again, tugging Steve’s back away from the wall so he could slide it around the man’s shoulders and wrap them both up.
Steve watched him through it all, wide-eyed and still a little bit haunted as Tony went back to his place under Steve’s chin, this time encased in thick cotton blankets. “Good god, I don’t deserve you,” he said in a hushed voice; fingers curling around the back of Tony’s head, pulling him back to check the marks left on his throat.
Tony let him, because he knew it would only make Steve worse if he thought Tony was seriously hurt. He wasn’t actually as injured as he’d previously thought- there might not even be bruises if he was lucky.
He hoped he would be lucky; the thought of Steve seeing the marks he made Tony feel a little ill.
“You do,” Tony said, once Steve was finished and he’d pulled Tony so very very gently back down into his chest, “you deserve everything I could possibly give to you, Steve, and more. Please don’t do this to yourself.”
Steve just shook his head. “Tony, I’m-” his voice cracked at the end, and he had to wait a few more seconds before continuing, “I’m such a mess. I’m- I’m fucking damaged, okay, you need… something better than that.”
Tony looked up, and he pulled at his sweater a little more to spill more light into the room so he could see Steve’s face in all its panicked, sweating glory.
“You told me, on that first night,” he said softly, picking Steve’s hand up from behind his neck, “that you loved every broken piece of me.”
Steve looked down at him, lips parting slightly as Tony kissed each finger on Steve’s hand, and then tilted forward to do the same against Steve’s collar bones. “It works both ways. I love you-”
Tony pressed their mouths together- “and every last damaged part,” was spoken with kisses interspersed through each word.
Steve just held his hand and kissed back, choking on breaths that still struggled to come properly and shaking through the nightmares that lingered in his head. It was a mess- everything about it was a mess. Tony was a mess. Steve- hell, Steve was a mess.
They stayed like that for a good long time; tangled up in the bedsheets in the corner of their room, mouths and hands and bodies connected to one another- all those broken pieces and damaged parts somehow fitting, jamming themselves together to make something Tony honestly wouldn’t have let go of for the whole damn world.
And eventually, Steve did calm down. Eventually his breathing evened out and his hands stopped shaking, and when he spoke, the words weren't so harsh on his mouth. The sun came up, and with it came the light that chased everything else away. For now. No doubt they would return, again and again and again. They always did.
But it was... well- not okay, exactly- but better than before. Steve wasn't quite so lonely any more, Tony wasn't quite so isolated. Natasha- she smiled a lot, these days, and Clint had softened around the edges. Bruce didn't hide away so much, and Thor- well, Thor had apparently adopted a bunch of misfit superheroes, which he seemed surprisingly okay with.
Patchwork people, Tony's mind came back to. All of them were patchwork people.
But hey. They made it work.