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Ten Years Ago

When Howard had suggested Tony “learn a little about the real world” after his sophomore year of college, Tony thought his dad meant something along the lines of “traveling through Europe” or maybe “Backpacking through New Zealand.”

He hadn't realized his dad meant “spend the summer working at some shitty dig site in South America that Stark Industries was helping fund.”

He hadn't realized Howard was planning on dropping him in the middle of nowhere to work with other college kids at scraping dirt off of stone carvings and meticulously cataloguing things that Tony had no interest in.

It had never even crossed Tony's mind that when Howard suggested he “learn about the world” it was simply code for “your mother and I are traveling all summer and don't trust you to not burn the house down so here, build some character while digging in the dirt in a foreign country.”

In fact, if Tony had realized that Howard’s “suggestion” was actually a demand and that he actually had no say in the matter, he probably would have gone home with Rhodey for the summer and avoided all of this.

But by the time Tony had put all this together, it was too late and he had been dumped at the work site in some no name country by some no name river.

Stepping off the helicopter and onto the ground, Tony's two hundred dollar sneakers had sunk into about two hundred inches of mud and were promptly ruined. The bottom six inches of his favorite jeans as well. The dig manager, Paul or Richard or some other name Tony promptly forgot, had laughed and pulled him free and shoved some cargo pants, work shirts and boots at him before directing him to a building at the back end of the clearing.

“Those are the bunks.” Paul--or Richard or whoever-- had said, and slapped Tony on the back hard enough to make him stumble. “Go get changed and get back out here, we are setting a grid for a new area and need all the help we can get.”

Tony had been too much in shock and too busy slapping bugs away to bother arguing and next thing he knew he was on his knees in a marked off square carefully digging and sifting dirt and hating his life.

“You’re doing that wrong, honey.” Some one crouched down next to Tony and took his tools right out of his hands. “Try it like this. And maybe no sunglasses, you’ll miss the small things because everything’s a little too dim.”

“These sunglasses cost more than your car.” Tony had retorted, and an easy laugh caught him off guard.

“Spoiled brat, aren't you?”

Excuse me?” Tony had ripped off his sunglasses and stared up--and up-- into the bluest pair of eyes he had ever seen, set in a perfect face and followed by a smile bright enough to make him reconsider the sunglasses thing. “I mean-- um--”

“Hey, it's alright. I'm sure your sunglasses are worth a lot, but here all they are is a hindrance. Besides, why hide those pretty chocolate eyes, huh?”

“Um--chocolate...sure. What now?” Tony had forgotten how to talk, and tall blonde and beautiful just smiled more, before showing him exactly how to do whatever the hell he was supposed to be doing with the spade and sifter. Strong hands covered his own, broad shoulders brushing against him as they worked, and every time Tony managed to make his brain work enough to say something, he was rewarded with a gorgeous smile and every once in awhile a wink and a laugh.

And Tony had suddenly been thrilled that his dad had dumped him here.

That had been eleven weeks ago, and now the summer was winding down, school starting at the end of the month, and Tony had gone from staring at the dirt in bewilderment, to being the one who set the grids and organized everything they found in the ancient village.

He had discovered a love for the history of the region, for uncovering the secrets buried by time and the forest. Archaeology had never been something he had ever considered, but now he was thinking about changing his major to something related. There was something intoxicating about discovering something ancient , about holding a piece of the past in his hands and Tony was hooked .

Months in the sun had given Tony a golden tan, and what had been a stick thin frame was now wiry muscles from lugging boxes and crates, from trekking down trails to get supplies, and taking heavy equipment to the river to wash. His expensive outfits were replaced by sturdy work clothes, his sunglasses broken and forgotten ages ago, and Tony hadn't put gel in his hair in weeks.

Oh and tall, blond and beautiful-- Steve -- had gone from laughing at him to kissing him.

After that first awkward meeting, Steve had taken Tony under his wing and tried to help out, teaching him everything he could, helping him with categorizing, and with the harder grids. They had struck up a fast friendship, and then a careful, barely there flirtation and Tony had tried to talk himself out of falling for the blonde every day.

It wasn't easy, not when Steve was over six feet of just muscle , and blue eyes with a killer smile and a laugh that made Tony want to melt. Plus, Steve loved this--loved the daily discoveries and the wildlife they encountered, their occasional interactions with the indigenous peoples, he even loved the weather. And that love, that positivity and enthusiasm and enjoyment of everything had Tony tripping over himself to stay close, finding reasons to spend time together, and completely forgetting that he hadn't wanted to be doing this at all.

An ex-military man, Steve was older than Tony by just over five years. After graduating from West Point, he had gone and done a fifteen month long deployment in the Middle East, and had been four months into a second deployment before being hurt and honorably discharged with a Purple Heart. Now he was back in school getting another degree, working on the dig site in his off months, and spending almost all of his free time with Tony.

They talked and laughed and teased and shared stories, and even though they didn't have a whole lot in common-- an Army boy from Brooklyn and a Stark -- and even though there was definitely an age gap, somehow those five years didn't seem like as big of a deal when they were this cut off from the real world. So the teasing turned to flirting and the talking gave way to quick touches and it had only taken a few weeks for their careful flirtation to slide right into something better.

Their first kiss had been right after Tony found his very first find, a nearly intact pot with delicate swirls painted into it. He had screamed in excitement and jumped to his feet to go and wash it himself, snapping pictures as fast as he could while the rest of the team gathered to ooh and ahh as was appropriate for a first find.

Steve had been gone getting supplies, but when he returned, Tony had ran up to him to show off the pot again, grinning proudly.

Steve had set his bag down and placed his big hands on Tony's slim waist and kissed him gently on the lips--

--and Tony fell instantly and completely in love. Judging by the way Steve's breath had caught, the way his eyes had darkened and his fingers had tightened like he wanted to pull Tony closer, he had felt it too.

That had been the first of dozens and dozens and dozens of kisses.

Steve kissed Tony in the morning as the sun was coming up and they were heading to the mess tent for breakfast. He kissed Tony when they took a break for lunch, sitting in the shade of the trees and talking about what they had found so far. Steve kissed Tony in the evening as they hung out in the shadows enjoying the cooling air, watching the fire in the center of camp. They tried to keep it discreet, wanting to avoid the teasing, and not wanting to be a distraction, but Tony couldn't stay away, and kept going back for more kisses every chance he got.

Every once in a while, really only once or twice a week at the most, Tony would slip out of his own bunk and across the room to Steve's, climbing in silently and pressing close together under the covers. Nothing more than light kisses and fairly innocent cuddles ever happened, not with twelve other students sleeping in the bunks around them, and not with Steve being... Steve.

In spite of all his easy smiles and ready kisses, Steve was a little old fashioned and thought they should take it slow, keeping it to just kissing and cuddling close together.

Tony being Tony thought that idea was complete bull shit.

So when he would wake up in the morning with Steve pressing hard and ready against him, Tony always wiggled into him invitingly. And Steve always put a firm but loving hand on his hips and whispered, "Get back to your own bunk before everyone else wakes up." Tony would make a face and usually a snarky comment about how nineteen was legal for this sort of thing, and Steve would kiss him sweetly, call him a spoiled brat and push him quietly from the bed anyway.

Tony never pushed it, but with summer winding down and their inevitable goodbye looming over him, he was starting to worry nothing would ever happen, and that made him want to scream.

But then something changed, and a few nights prior when Tony had crawled into Steve's bunk, holding his breath when the damn thing creaked, Tony had snuggled into Steve's arms, and the big blond had held him tighter than usual, rocking his hips forward until he was pressing into the soft curve of Tony's ass.

A soft moan into his ear, a tongue flicking out against his neck, and Tony was an instant mess, wound so tight he was practically trembling.

Steve hadn't pulled away, not like he usually did, and had thrust lightly against him a few times, a big hand running down Tony's chest, the other keeping Tony's hips still, his breath coming in pants against Tony's skin, lips brushing his temple, his ear, his jawline.

“St--Steve--” Tony had whispered and nearly bit his lip in half when fingers had slipped below the waistband of his pajamas, playing over the smooth skin just above wiry curls and where Tony was so ready he thought he'd cry if Steve didn't touch him.

But Steve didn't touch him, pulling away with a shaky sigh and a slow kiss, a murmured go to sleep honey, we can talk about this whole thing tomorrow.

Tony hadn't slept at all the rest of the night, and in the morning when Steve whispered that they should meet during break time to talk. Tony simply nodded like he wasn't internally screaming.

So here he was, sitting by the river in a little secluded area where the plants grew extra high and the noise from the camp was lost behind the sound of water. It was a beautiful spot, one he had claimed as his own, and Tony was absentmindedly doodling the symbols they had uncovered on a portion of wall today, letting his mind blank out so he could enjoy the scenery.

At least, enjoy the scenery until someone much much prettier showed up.

“Hey, honey.” Steve dropped onto the ground next to him, tugging him in for a sweet kiss. “How are you?”

“Nervous.” Tony raised his eyebrow. “You wanted to talk?” The question came out harsher than he meant and he flinched a little. “Sorry. I'm just definitely nervous.”

“Easy.” Steve murmured and rubbed their noses together. “I wanted to talk about us, that's all.”

“Ah.” Tony would have rolled his eyes, but this close to Steve he just sighed and pressed closer. “Just an end of the summer talk with the guy I've been kissing and having wet dreams about. No problem. No reason to be nervous.”

“Wet dreams?” Steve laughed, low and soft, and Tony closed his eyes against the warmth that rushed through him. It was ridiculous how fast he responded to the blond. Just ridiculous.

“What's on your mind?” Tony prompted and Steve leaned away so he could meet his gaze.

“Well, the season is basically over, you know? We have about a week to pack up and get everything taken care of and then it's back to the real world.”

“Yeah?” Tony wove their fingers together, trying to sound unaffected. “And?”

And-- ” Steve smiled. “We are both heading back to New York, right? I know you are back at MIT in three or four weeks, but before you leave and even when you come home on breaks, I'd like to see you. Spend real time with you. Dinner and movies and all that.”

“Really?” Tony stared at him. “I mean, you want to keep--after we get home-- you want to date me?”

“Yeah.” Steve reached for Tony and dragged him onto his lap. “I know we are at kind of different places in life, and there’s almost five years between us but this could work if we wanted it to. Or we could leave it as a summer thing and move on, but Tony--” he grinned and Tony could have died just from how much he loved that damn smile. “Just because summer ends doesn't mean we have to.”

“I thought you thought I was a spoiled brat.” Tony accused good naturedly and Steve sighed, bringing him further up his lap until Tony turned so he was straddling Steve's thighs.

“You’ve grown so much this summer since we first met, it's amazing. And I--” Steve cleared his throat. “And I am just… crazy about you, Tony. You know I call you a spoiled brat affectionately. That's all it is, just a chance to tease you. But honey, I will spoil you rotten if you give me the opportunity. I know we won't see each other all that much, and long distance relationships are difficult but--”

“I think I want to be spoiled by you.” Tony interrupted, blushing furiously and Steve grinned before covering his mouth in a toe curling kiss.

“Glad to hear it, honey. I’ve been waiting all summer to get closer to you, waiting to see if you would stick around and if you were open to more between us. So if you think you are ready and if you think we are at that point…” Steve lay a gentler kiss on his forehead. “I want to be closer to you, Tony.”

“Closer.” Tony repeated, then his eyes widened. “You mean like if I come sleep next to you, we can do more than just sleep ?”

“If you think we are ready.” Steve nodded. “I mean, I'm ready.” He grinned sheepishly. “It's getting damn impossible to stop at just kissing you. But I don't want to do anything if you’re not ready, or anything like that, huh? No pressure honey. We can even wait until we get back to New York if you want. Don't want you to think that this is just a last ditch attempt to get laid before the summer ends.”

Tony laughed, his eyes lighting and Steve brushed noses together. “I love that laugh, Tony. So what do you think? You want to wait?”

“Uh nope. ” Tony shook his head. “Been waiting for a chance to grope you for weeks. So nope not gonna wait. When are we doing this?”

“Tony!” It was Steve's turn to laugh. “All that sass.” His smile was adoring and he brushed a dark curl from Tony's eyes.

“So if you don't want to wait, there's a bunch of people leaving this evening, a few more leaving tomorrow afternoon. After we get the last truck of boxes to the airport it will just be you and I and three or four other people to get camp broken down. So it's maybe not a king size bed in a fancy hotel but you know… we can move our beds to the empty building and be alone. Together, I mean. If that sounds good.”

“Yes!” Tony blurted and smashed a kiss onto Steve's lips. “Steve. I don't need a big bed and fancy room, let’s just-- I mean, it's sort of perfect because of where we are and how this whole summer went and I'm definitely spoiled but I'm really really ready for you to show me how… how you could spoil me.”

“Yeah?” Steve looked like he was thrilled to death and definitely relieved and completely eager all at the same time, dark blue eyes sparkling and a flush in his cheeks.

“Yeah.” Tony nodded quickly. “This will be perfect. I am on the list to go to the airport to drop off the last few boxes, so I'll be gone tomorrow night but back Thursday afternoon and we can---” he scooted closer, rolling his hips experimentally and Steve's eyes fell shut, his hands settling around Tony's waist.

“Yes. Definitely . Thursday night.” Then he looked up at Tony curiously. “I'll be your first?”

“You'll be my first guy .” Tony admitted. “Been with girls before.”

“Being with me is nothing like being with a girl.” Steve promised and Tony shivered.

“Looking forward to it.”

*********************

*********************

“What do you mean, he’s gone ?” Tony repeated blankly, and Sam shifted uncomfortably in front of him. “I just went overnight to help drop those artifacts off at the airport, I wasn't even gone twenty four hours, what do you mean he’s gone ?”

“A spot opened up on the team going to China.” Sam explained with a shrug. “They called right after you and the rest of the guys took off and sent a helicopter and Steve grabbed a pack and when was gone.”

Tony dragged his fingers through his hair agitatedly, still able to smell the shampoo he’d bought specifically for tonight, for his and Steve's first time together. He had made a special stop to buy shampoo and body wash, stopping into a facility to shower so he could smell good and be extra clean for Steve, and had driven the jeep back as fast as he could and--

“So he left?” Tony repeated. “Did he… did he leave me a note or anything?”

“Look man.” Sam sighed. “I know you and Steve had something happening alright? You weren’t as quiet as you thought sneaking into his bunk. But you know, Steve is older than you and wants different things and you knew this had to end eventually right? Maybe this is easier. Hes gone, you can go back home, no awkward goodbyes or anything, yeah?”

“Um--” Tony blinked back the tears in his eyes. “Sure. He um.. He didn't say anything ? No message for me?”

“He said something about…. Something better coming up. And that he hoped you would understand.” Sam patted Tony's back comfortingly. “We are all moving into the same room tonight to no one has to sleep alone. Come on and move your bed over, huh?”

“Thanks.” Tony nodded. “Yeah, don't want to be alone. Thanks, Sam.”

He headed back to his bunk to pack up, and threw the scented soap away as he went.

***************

***************

A Few Weeks Later--

“Tony?” Maria knocked on her son's bedroom door and waited for a soft yes before opening it. “Honey, that boy Steve called again. From China. Helen says you told her that you didn't want to talk to him?”

Tony lifted his shoulders in a shrug, then turned to face the wall when Maria sat on the bed next to him, her slight frame barely denting the mattress.

“You met him this summer, then? At the dig site? You two were… close?”

A nod, a soft sob, and Maria felt her heart break.

“Tony, honey, did I ever tell you about the first boy I loved?” Tony didn't answer and Maria sighed, leaning over to rub comforting circles on his back. “I was fourteen, and it was the summertime. We spent it sharing ice cream cones and holding hands and just before school started he kissed me right on the lips and it was the most magical moment of my life. I was so in love, and he promised he loved me and it was perfect.”

She switched to running her fingers through Tony's thick hair. “And then I saw him a few days later outside of his school as I was walking home, kissing another girl. A prettier girl. She had this beautiful blonde hair and big blue eyes and the cutest dress I'd ever seen. And he was kissing her. And my little heart was so broken I thought I wouldn't ever breathe again. I went running home to mama and cried forever.”

“What does this have to do with me?” Tony griped and Maria smiled sadly.

“I know that look, darling, the one you've had since you came home. The one that says your heart got broken and you don't think you will survive. But you will, I promise. This Steve boy hurt you and I wish I could fix it, but all I can promise is one day it won't hurt so bad. I don't know what all happened between you two or what didn't, and from what I've gathered it sounds like he was older than you?”

“Twenty four.” Tony grunted. “And we didn't do anything. Just kissed a few times. He made some stupid promise about wanting to come back to New York and date me for real, and then he just… left. Went on another dig. It's stupid. Nothing happened. I don't know why I'm upset.”

“You're upset because you loved him.” Maria whispered. “And that means it doesn't matter if you were spending every night together or if you were only stealing kisses in the shadows. Don't discount it as stupid just because it was a summer romance.”

“You don't care?” Tony's voice was muffled as he tried to curl further into his pillows. “That's he's a guy?”

“Now why would I care about something like that?” Maria said with a smile, and then tears sprang to her eyes when Tony rolled over and wrapped his arms around her waist, shoulders shaking as he tried to muffle his sobs.

“It's alright, love.” She murmured over and over as she held him. “It's alright to cry when your heart's broken.”

“How did you get over your first love?” Tony hiccuped a little and burrowed closer. "How do you stop feeling like this?" 

“I refused to date boys who looked like him.” Maria said thoughtfully. “I found new hobbies that didn't remind me of him and avoided chocolate ice cream like the plague. I found handsome brunette boys to take me dancing and cute blondes to take me driving and eventually I forgot why I thought he was cute or funny or smart in the first place.”

“Steve's a blonde .”

“Brunettes girls are more fun, my love. And redheaded girls are an entire other level of beautiful. Red headed boys are funny and dark haired boys are brilliant. There are lots of options besides blonde. I saw a boy the other day who had died his hair purple and spiked it. Not necessarily my thing, darling, but you might give it a try.”

Tony laughed a little and dried his tears, sitting up to kiss her cheek. “Thanks mama.”

“You're nineteen, Tony.” Maria cupped his cheek. “You have many years to live and love and figure out all these things. I know heartbreak is awful, but one day it won't hurt as bad, hm? And the next guy or girl to catch your eye will help you forget about your blonde alright? Sometimes you have to bury those feelings down real deep, and try to forget. And I promise, one day when you go looking for them, they won't be there anymore. Just buried and gone, alright?”

“Alright.” Tony nodded.

“I love you, Tony.”

“Love you too, mama.”

Maria kissed his forehead and said something about dinner as she left.

Tony put his head in his hands and took a deep breath, tried to visualize taking all those feelings he had for Steve and putting them in a box.

Then he buried the box as deep as he could, somewhere in the furthest parts of his heart where he wouldn't go looking for it.

And he picked up the phone and called the pretty redhead who lived down the street.

It was time to move on.

Chapter Text

Present Day

“Tony.” Pepper knocked on his office door as warning before pushing it open. “I'm assuming you're decent because you didn't say anything, so please quickly correct me if I'm wrong!”

“Pepper, darling, when was the last time you walked in on me in a compromising situation?” Tony asked without even looking up from the paperwork on his desk.

The pretty redhead opened her mouth to list off all the times she had walked in on her boss doing something indecent-- but then stopped when she realized she didn't have a single incident that was sooner than six months ago.

“I stand corrected.” She said cautiously and made her way around the desk to feel his forehead. “Are you feeling alright? When was the last time you ate?”

“Um, yesterday.” Tony set the file aside and leaned into her touch a little more. “Just trying to slog through all this crap. I had no idea… no idea what Dad did everyday in this office. I wish I would have been paying more attention when he tried to show me. Wish I would have been doing this all year instead of… instead of doing what I did.”

“What you did?” Satisfied that Tony wasn't sick, and after texting a quick order for delivery so he would have food to eat, Pepper perched on his desk, rubbing at his shoulders comfortingly. “Tony, no one blames you for reacting the way you did to losing your parents. First your sweet mother in the accident and Howard only a few months later? Honey, no one blames you for going a little off the rails.”

“A little off the rails.” Tony laughed bitterly. “I spent six months partying and drinking and high as hell, Pep. Everyone should blame me for that. I blame me for that. What was I thinking? I had a company to run and instead I was doing body shots off of girls named after... colors .”

“Colors?” Pepper asked, even as she told herself not to, because it had never worked out in her favor to ask for specifics about Tony's women.

“Yeah.” Tony groaned. “You know. Ruby. Sapphire. Tangerine. Um… one called Peaches?”

“Okay.” Pepper nodded. “Okay, I didn't know that part. But hey, you survived, right? Clean bill of health, you haven't had a drink in months and you haven't gone anywhere near something resembling a party for ages. You don't need to feel guilty for needing to blow off some steam after losing both--.” she hesitated. “--both your parents.”

“I don't feel guilty.” Tony grunted. “Feel stupid. Should have been cracking down on all this. Should have been learning how to run the company so I wouldn't be six months behind on top of not knowing what to do just to finish my day to day. I mean, how did dad do this? How did he run the company like this every day? How was he so hands on all the time?”

Tony pushed away from the desk and ran his hands through his hair in agitation. “I have worked in this building, in the office right next door for six years now, and I am just now realizing that I have no idea how to run this thing. How do I have no idea what I'm doing? Was I really that much of a fuck-up?”

“No. Tony, you aren't a fuck-up.” Pepper sighed. “Do you remember what you always used to complain about with Howard?”

“Don't do that.” Tony sent her a look. “Don't tell me to complain about him after he's gone . I'm not going to speak badly of the---”

“What did you always say?” She coaxed. “When it was the weekend and you were all supposed to go away together, or when it was a holiday and he was here instead of home? Or when you had a golf day planned and he wouldn't show up? Where was he always? Why were you always frustrated with him?”

“I always asked why--” Tony closed his eyes. “I asked why he was always working. Why he never had time for me. Why what happened behind this desk was more important than what was happening at home with me and mom.”

“Now you know.” Pepper murmured. “Howard did it all by himself. He built this company from the ground up and was still running every piece of it from his top floor office. He wasn't interested in anyone helping him, not interested in sharing the responsibility. It was his whole life.”

“Wonderful.” The muscle in Tony's cheek jumped as he clenched his jaw. “That's wonderful . I just want to do what he did. Want to make him proud. Want to be remembered as the son who kept his company going, not the son who made it on the cover of the tabloids every month. But I just… I don't know if I can.”

“Dad-- you know he was apparently great at this sort of thing, better than he was at being a family man anyway, but I'm not. I don't want to run a company, you know? I was just fine working my nine to five and being able to tinker in my garage on the weekends. And that's --that's all gone. I'm gonna end up just like dad, except he had a wife and son by my age and the last woman I was with was named Cinnamon and cost me quite a bit of money.”

“So.” he dropped his head into his hands. “I'll be just like dad but lonely . Which is just about the worst thing I can imagine turning into. Just working to keep this company running smoothly until I get taken out by a heart attack. I don't want to do that Pep. I don't want to be that person.”

“But you aren't going to do that Tony.” Pepper slid off the desk and knelt by his side, running her hands up and down his thighs comfortingly. “Because I'm here to help, right? I'll hire some assistants to help out. We have this huge office space that Howard only ever stayed in, you can move in here with a couple secretaries, I'll move into your office with an assistant of my own. You can run this company without sacrificing a life and a family like he did. Tony, you can tinker in your garage on the weekends and still date around.”

“Not dedicating every second of your life to this company doesn't mean that you aren't dedicated . It just means that you also know that you need to breathe and sleep sometimes alright?” Pepper pushed her fingers through his hair. “I'll be here to make sure that you don't turn into Howard. Or someone who only is in the news when he’s out clubbing with… Magenta.”

“You think?” Tony asked, and he was too worn out to even laugh, he sounded so utterly exhausted that Peppers heart broke a little. “Because I haven't slept in two days, and I'm still dealing with files and paperwork from last year when dad was here. I haven't even started on what's piled up from my six month drinking binge, and don't even get me started on---”

“Hey, hey it's fine.” Pepper stood and put her arms around his shoulders, letting him rest his head against her stomach. “Tony. We will figure it out. One day at a time. But first you need to eat and sleep, alright? You get some rest, I'm going to make some calls. And when you come back in on Monday morning, things will be completely different here, alright? I promise I'll help.”

Tony pressed closer and Pepper sighed. “Tony, honey, you're going to be remembered for so much more than being the son who kept Howard Stark's legacy alive. You'll build your own legacy, and I'll be around to help. You're not doing this alone.”

“You’re amazing.” Tony mumbled, breathing in her light, floral scent. “Why aren't we dating again?”

“We tried remember? None of your lines worked on me so we never actually made it past kissing. And when you tried to kiss me, it was after several drinks which meant it was sloppy and terrible and we just never tried again.”

“Oh right.” Tony laughed, rubbing his forehead into her soft body. “Right. You didn't go for my usual charm, my kissing skills were fairly lackluster and my money didn't impress you. I remember that night.”

“Mhmm.” Pepper nodded. “Not impressed by the kiss. Wasn't wowed by the money. And you're really only charming in small doses.”

“So if money doesn't matter to you, why am I paying you so much then? I didn't know being my assistant qualified for such a large paycheck.”

“Because I'm the best, and you still sort of have a crush on me. Besides, I let you hug me when you’re upset when most other assistants would scream sexual harassment.” Pepper laughed and held him tighter. “I am worth every penny you pay me.”

“All of those things are true.”

“I know. Come on, then.” Pepper titled his head up. “Food will be here in a few minutes, then to bed with you. We can pick this up tomorrow.”

“Love you, Pep.” Tony mumbled and Pepper smiled down at the man that had been her boss and one of her closest friends for six years.

“I love you too, Tony.”

**************************

**************************

Tony had to check the date to make sure it was actually Monday when he stepped out of the elevator and onto his office floor.

“Good morning, Mr Stark!”

“Oh good morning Mr Stark!”

“How are you this morning, Mr Stark?”

“Uh. Hello ladies.” He offered a quick wave to the half a dozen women sitting behind new desks and running between a copy machine and several fax machines, none of which had been there Saturday morning when Pepper had convinced him to go home.

“Say Pepper--” he pushed open the double door to his office. “There are just a bunch of beautiful women running around outside and I don't know why.”

“Tony.” Pepper hurried towards him, bussing a quick kiss onto his cheek. “Did you sleep?”

“All weekend.” Tony said honestly. “I feel a lot better.”

“Wonderful.” Pepper scooted around him and headed right back out into the busy outer office. “Come meet your new staff.”

“How did you find me staff ?”

“I made a lot of phone calls, and offered them a big bonus for dropping their current job and coming to work for Stark Tech. So congratulations. You now have two assistants to field calls, two assistants whose entire purpose is to organize paperwork and figure out what-if any of it- you actually need to see and sign, and two other assistants who are literally here to just get you caught up on paperwork.”

“And then an Executive Assistant--” she pointed to herself with a cheeky grin. “-- who will be overseeing all of them plus making sure that you are everywhere you are supposed to be when you are supposed to be and saying the things you are supposed to be saying while wearing what you are supposed to be wearing, because honestly Tony, you wore pink bunny pajama pants out to the store the other day and the gossip columns were swearing you must have bankrupted the company. Alright?”

Executive Assistant?” Tony raised his eyebrows. “And how much of a raise did you give yourself for that little promotion?”

“Seventeen percent. And you bought me a very nice bracelet as a thank you--” she held out her dainty wrist to show off the diamonds sparkling against her skin. “And it was very appreciated.”

“Yeah, alright.” Tony shrugged. “So, I have a staff now?”

“And excellent one. I stole them from some of the biggest companies in the city. You’re welcome.” Pepper finally found what she was looking for on one of the desks and turned to Tony with a triumphant smile. “So why don't you hang out in your office and deal with the paperwork as it comes your way, alright?”

“Pepper. Honestly,  I love you.”

“I know.” She laughed and gave him a gentle push. “Now go.”

**********************

**********************

“Good morning Tony.” Pepper slipped into his office with a handful of files. “So you know all week I've had Elizabeth and Natasha working strictly on optional files-- donations, charities, benefits, that sort of thing. Events that your parents supported that aren't actually necessary to the daily bottom line of the company.”

“I don't know that, but I trust you.” Tony signed the bottom of a contract and handed it to...Margaret? with a smile.

“Wonderful.” Pepper said brightly. “Anyway, we have sorted through almost all of them. Obviously I'm not going to let you cut the cord on donations for the Childrens Hospital as well as the Veterans Hospital. You certainly aren't going to stop donating to the Boy and Girl scouts of America. So these ones---” she handed him a stack. “Are the ones that are still open on one time events, or things that aren't going on anymore, like the Annual Memorial Ball doesn't exist anymore. I just need a signature at the bottom and I can dissolve them. There’s a few random ones, I came across something about an archeological dig site in South America that I cannot figure out, and then I--”

“South America?” Tony repeated and snatched at the file before he could help himself. “We are still funding a dig in South America? Why ?”

“As best I can tell--” Pepper flipped several pages and tapped on a picture of the dig site. “Howard funded it on a whim eleven years ago, and since it's only open a few months a year because of the rain and weather down there, it always managed to slip past any audits? So it's been funded by Stark Tech all this time. However lately--” she flipped a few more pages. “There have been several letters sent, all within the last year asking Howard to come visit the actual site, it seems as if what they thought was a little village actually turned out to be a temple and they wanted your dad to come visit to see if he would invest more money so they could continue digging. I only read the first few pages, haven't even made it to the back of the file. But they have definitely uncovered a temple, and I don't know what else.”

“A temple.” Tony breathed, and his eyes lit staring down at the pictures of the jeweled artifacts that were being unearthed almost daily. “That's incredible . Imagine what they are finding. All the history they are uncovering. The artifacts? This is amazing.”

“Really?” Pepper sounded amused. “Archeology? I never would have pegged you for the type.”

“Maybe once, a long time ago.” Tony cleared his throat, the smile fading from his face. “Kids dream. Nobody makes a living being an archeologist, right? Just a summer thing that never worked out. College and life and--” he shut his mouth because he was rambling and Pepper had a curious smile on her face.

“You know, Tony.” Pepper tapped the file thoughtfully. “They are asking for a visit from someone from the company to come and evaluate the dig, to see if it's worth investing in more. If you are into archeology--”

“--I'm not.”

“--Since you are definitely into archeology and you could certainly use a vacation, why don't you go? After you stopped partying, you stopped doing anything fun at all. And you've dove right into this whole thing and always look like you're two seconds from drowning.”

Tony rolled his eyes. “Thanks for that. But I don't want to-”

“And now that I have a solid staff behind me,” Pepper kept right on talking as if he hadn't spoken. “you can take a break and refresh and come back in a few weeks ready to take over again. It will give me time to work with the staff and do a lot more of this organizing that you don't actually need to concern yourself with.”

“I'm not going to South America.” Tony argued and then held up a hand in apology, shaking his head. “Not South America.”

“Why not? Someone should go. It would be wonderful press for Stark Tech to be funding a dig that could change what we consider history for that particular region, and why not South America? A steamy jungle romance with a hot archeologist could be exactly what you need.”

“A steamy jungle romance. Hot archeologist--Did you just-- Pepper, what the hell? No one needs that. Why would you say that? Who are you?”

“Tony, when you hired me it was very clear that occasionally I would be in charge of your romantic life.” she said mildly. “Trying to get you laid barely scratches the surface of what I've had to do for you. And usually you are running out the door for a trip somewhere, you love to travel. Why not South America? Why not a temple dig site? You lit up when I mentioned archeology. I haven't seen you smile like that for months, not since before Maria passed. Why don't you go? Honestly, even if you decide to shut it down, you should at least check it out.”

“Fine.” Tony snapped the file shut. “I'll go down there and shut it down. End of story.”

“Wonderful. I'll book you a flight. A real vacation is what you need, Tony. Big green jungle, find some pretty scientist to flirt with. You’ll come back a whole new person, I promise.”

“A whole new person.” Tony laughed bitterly. “South America. I actually hate South America.”

“How could you possibly hate South America?” Pepper chided. “You’ve never even been.”

“Right. Never been.”

Tony waited until Pepper had left his office, a reminder over her shoulder that he needed to sign the rest of the papers, before he opened the file again. He shuffled the pages until he came to the ones in the back, the ones Pepper hadn't taken the time to look over.

And on the very first one was the official photo that had been sent to Stark Tech so Howard could see the eager, bright faces of the young people his money was helping support.

The tallest one in the group, a beautiful, beefy blond guy of about twenty four with a near blinding smile and startlingly blue eyes, stared into the camera confidently, arms crossed over a big chest. Next to him was a wiry brunette of about twenty, dark eyes sparkling, a huge grin on his face, standing just a little too close to the blond to be casual.

It wasn't obvious in the picture, but they were from entirely different worlds, entirely different lives. One was a soldier, the other an entitled rich kid. One a virgin for all intents and purposes, and the other aiming to change that.

In the real world, such an age difference like that, to totally different upbringings would spell doom for a young couple.

But that doesn't matter when it's summer and you’re in love, does it?

Tony swallowed back some emotion he didn't want to think about, and closed the folder again.

Of course he was fascinated by the temple dig. But even after ten years he wasn't too keen on visiting a place that held all of his favorite--and all of his LEAST favorite-- memories.

It shouldn't matter, not after ten years, not after burying all those feelings and tears and moving on, right?

But Tony sat there and rubbed his aching chest and tried his hardest to not remember how many days twenty year old him had spent crying over that stupid blond.

This was a terrible idea.

God he hated South America.

Chapter Text

South America

“Mister Stark!” A woman came jogging towards him through the soft layer of mud, one hand stretched out invitingly, the other trying to keep her hat on her head as the helicopter wound down. “I am so happy you made it! We were starting to think no one would ever come!”

Tony waited until he was clear of the helicopter before answering. “Sorry about the last minute reply. We spoke on the phone right? You must be--”

“Melissa.” She supplied helpfully, shaking his hand and leading him onto drier ground. “Forgive the mud, it's the end of the season you know, so we had an early burst of rain and it about washed us out.”

Tony glanced down at his sturdy boots and jeans. “A little mud isn't going to hurt anything. It's not like I'm wearing two hundred dollar shoes.” Tony smiled faintly at the pretty blonde, thinking about another blond ten years ago who had just outright laughed about the amount of mud Tony was trudging through.

He definitely preferred the pretty girl who apologized for the mud.

“Rain is coming early this year?”

“Yes, we are actually packing up a week early because the weather is changing too quickly. Can I take your bag?”

“No.” Tony laughed a little and hefted his backpack. “It's fine. Heavier than it looks, don't want you struggling with it

“Why did you bring a bag? Are you staying overnight here? I assumed you would be staying in the city?”

“I'd like to stay here.” Tony admitted. “I'd like to see the camp and site and take some time to make an informed decision. My dad funded this for so many years that I'm not going to just shut it down because I took over.”

“I was so sorry to hear about Howard.” Melissa put her hand over her heart sympathetically. “He was so wonderful about funding this project and when it got bigger he even paid for the security team we needed to--”

“Security team?” Tony interrupted as they ducked under the low door of a thrown together cabin. “Why a security team? I wasn't aware that there were more than just college kids and some staff at the site. There wasn't anything in the file about a security team.”

“Oh, you haven't heard.” Melissa sat behind a worn desk, rooting around for some paperwork. “We've been attracting trouble from local thieves, bandits, that sort of thing ever since word got out that we are recovering gold and gem items from the temple.”

“Right. The temple.” Tony took the paper she handed him, an itemized list and ball park value of the relics they had recovered just this season. “Wow.” He raised his eyebrows. “You weren't kidding about needing a security team. When I was here all we were finding were broken pots.”

“Oh!” Melissa sounded delighted. “You spent some time on the dig? When?”

“Bout ten years ago.” Tony handed her back the paper and changed the subject. “So. Is it really that unsafe? Is that really why you guys are packing up? The whole reason I'm here is to see if this is the sort of project we should continue funding and if it's a dangerous place then I don't really want the Stark name attached to a dig where people are being hurt---”

“That's exactly why we need the funding.” She cut in. “Yes, I'm aware that it could be bad press if something were to happen. But just wait until you see what we are finding. Literal history is being uncovered every day. Imagine the press when Stark is funding one of the best finds of this decade. The preliminary results on these artifacts speak of a culture that we haven't even named yet. Imagine what we could learn. The cost of a security team is certainly worth that.”

Her enthusiasm was contagious, and Tony found himself nodding in agreement. Ten years ago he would have been chomping at the bit to get to a temple dig. He would have been calling his dad and demanding more money to fund the site, readily hiring even more security to make sure that everything they were finding was carefully guarded like the irreplaceable slice of history it was.

Ten years ago Tony would have been working at the site from sun up until sundown, or at least until someone came to drag him away to eat, because even back then he had been a workaholic for anything he was passionate about.

Ten years ago, Tony would have probably screamed at the thought of shutting down the camp, at the thought of closing down something that had given him so much joy and so much lo---

Tony came back to himself with a jolt when he realized Melissa was still talking, and was grateful for the distraction because his mind had been wandering… wandering a little too far.

“Most of the teams are gone already.” She was saying. “Just myself and a few others as well as the security detail are left. We are running a truck of artifacts to the airport now, then when they return tomorrow, I'll be packed up and ready to leave. Just the commander of the security team and a few of his men will be left to secure what can be secured and do a final sweep before the weather changes.”

“I see.” Tony spent a few more minutes looking over the detailed report, noting the bigger items that had been found, as well as the list of smaller jewelry pieces and decorative knives that numbered into the hundreds. “It's amazing that we spent years working in the village, just to find an entire temple-- how far is it? Half a kilometer?”

“Just under half.” Melissa nodded. “But as you might know from your time here, that even a hundred yards in the jungle might as well be miles for all the time it's takes to properly excavate.”

“Right.” Tony nodded, remembering with a hint of fondness and perhaps a bit of bitterness the long days working on the same two foot by two foot grid area before it was considered “clean” and he could move on.

Tedious work. Would have been infinitely more fun if he had been finding jeweled daggers and-- Tony checked the page one more time--solid gold chains.

“It's extraordinary.” He set the paper down and gestured back outside. “I'd like to see it, if you don't mind.”

“Oh! Would you like a tour?” Melissa clapped her hands. “Excellent. I have just enough time to show you the temple before I have to get back to packing. We just need to stop by the dorms and ask one of the guards to go with us.”

“They don't allow you to and from the site without protection.” Tony raised his eyebrows. “That seems excessive. It's only half a kilometer away. It's honestly that dangerous?”

“Yes.” Melissa nodded her head emphatically. “Earlier this year we lost a student when he took off to bring an artifact back to camp and managed to get spotted by a bandit and he--” she cleared her throat. “Anyway. The commander upped the security from just perimeter to everything after that.”

“I'd like to meet to commander.” Tony decided. “If I'm the one bankrolling all this, I'd like to see who's paychecks I'm signing. What's his name?”

“Here.” Melissa pushed a photo at him. “This is Commander James Barnes. We call him Bucky. He and his team have been here all this season and most of last.”

“Alright then.” Tony tapped the picture, then reached for his backpack, settling it over his shoulders again. “Let’s go meet him. I need to see exactly how dangerous this situation is.”

*****************

“Commander Barnes!” Melissa called cheerfully as they approached a set of dorms and Tony wanted to laugh at how similar they were to the ones he had slept in. Just slapped together buildings holding six bunk beds. Classy dwellings indeed.

“Commander Barnes are you there? We need an escort to the temple site! Bucky?”

“Buck ain’t here.” A burly man who stood only an inch or two taller than Tony came out the door, moving into their space so quickly that Tony actually had to take a step or two back, his hand automatically on Melissa’s arm to pull her behind him. “What do you want, Melissa? You should be packing, not bothering us.”

“Rumlow.” Melissa’s tone dropped, her lips thinning in disapproval. “I didn't realize you were here. Where did Commander Barnes go? I was not aware that he had left.”

“He went along with the truck to the airport because there was so many big artifacts to transfer. Why does it matter? What's the rush?”

“Well, Mister Stark is here and wants a tour of the temple site as well as to meet the Commander of the team. He has some concerns about security and the safety of the camp.”

“Whys that? You think we aren’t doing a good enough job? You aren't feelin’ safe?”  Now Rumlow looked at Tony, his eyes narrowing. “What did you say his name was?”

“Mr. Rumlow.” Melissa said firmly. “Is one of your superiors present? This actually doesn't concern you at all.”

“Caps still here.” He said sourly, jerking his thumb towards the building. “Talk to him.” Rumlow stayed in the doorway for a few seconds more, leering when Melissa tried to step around him.

“Ask nicely and maybe I'll move.” he said, and it sounded like maybe he was teasing, but there was just enough bite in his words to be intimidating and Tony finally rolled his eyes.

“You gonna move, big guy, or you still trying to prove a point? Cause I've got better things to do than stand here and watch you act tough.”

“Easy, pretty boy.” Rumlow sneered at him. “I'll move when I am damn well ready to--”

“Stop being an asshole and move !” A barked order from inside the dorm, and a big hand shoved Rumlow out of the way. “ Damn it, Brock.”

Tony raised his eyebrow when Brock started to respond angrily, then just sort of hunched his shoulders and stomped away. Tony turned to watch him go, unwilling to take his eyes off the surly guard until he was well and truly gone. Rumlow seemed like he had a bigger issue than just being a jerk, and the way he had watched Tony had been a little less interested and a little more calculating .

Tony could handle leers and bad come ons all day. He was rich and good looking after all, and men and women both tried to hit on him. But being eyed like he was a problem, or an inconvenience that had to be sorted out was a little disconcerting.

Melissa wasn't watching Rumlow walk away, but she still breathed a loud sigh of relief, stepping forward to shake the Captains hand.

“Thank you Captain. Not sure what we did to irritate him this time, but he was certainly upset.”

“I'm sure it’s nothing. Guys just a dick. Sorry you had to deal with him. Who’s your friend?”

“Oh this is--” Melissa tugged on Tony's arm, trying to get him to rejoin the conversation. “You will recall I've been trying to get ahold of someone at Stark Tech for months now, and we finally got a response. This is Tony Stark, Howard’s son. You knew Howard, right?”

“Nice to meet you, Captain.” Tony finally turned, his hand outstretched automatically, a pleasant smile on his face to greet the Captain. “Seems like--like--” Tony's mouth went dry and he stammered to  stop.

Melissa didn't even notice, and went right on with introductions. “And Tony, this is Captain Steve Rogers. He’s second in command for our security team under Commander Barnes.”

“Captain Steve Rogers.” Tony repeated, feeling as if every muscle in his body had gone numb. “Oh. That's um--- That's interesting. Wow, that's interesting.”

Apparently the Captain wasn't any good at hiding his shock either, and Tony was felt a little better about his own reaction when Steve jerked out of his daze and yanked his hand away like it had been scalded, staring down at Tony in disbelief.

“Goddamnit.” he blurted, and between them Melissa piped up nervously--

“Oh my. What an odd first meeting. Um Captain Rogers, you are aware that the Stark family has been funding----:

“God damnit. ” Steve repeated, rubbing his hand over the scruff on his cheek. “ Tony.”

“Yeah, you said that.” Tony somehow managed a smirk, managed to cover the shaking in his hands by shoving them into his jeans pocket, affecting a casual pose. “Got anything else for me?”

“God.” Steve laughed a little before trapping Tony with that overly blue gaze. “ Tony . I always wondered if I'd ever see you again.”

“Well, here I am.” Tony shrugged, unable to look away and hating himself for it.

Steve was… big. Well, bigger anyway. And so many muscles barely fitting into a dark blue t shirt. And damn he was big. And the beard? Why was Tony such a fan of the beard? Who knew he was a sucker for a hunky guy with a beard? Just big guys with... beards .”

“Here I am.” He said again, sounding too much like a broken record, but Steve looked too shell shocked to notice.

But then--

“Yeah.” Steve broke their overly long eye contact, taking the chance to look Tony up and down, not even bothering to hide the interest in his eyes. “Yeah. Here you are . You look good, Tony.”

Tony's entire brain squealed to a stop, still struggling with the whole Steve thing, much less a bearded Steve who was…. hitting on him? And thought he looked good?

Tony kicked himself for letting it even affect him.

This was Steve after all. And Tony sort of hated him.

“You look bearded, Steve.” Tony finally replied, mentally high five-ing himself for getting the sentence out without stammering or stuttering or anything else embarrassing, because wow who knew Steve looking at him like that would affect him so much after all these years?

“You like it?” Steve asked, raising an eyebrow that was looking decidedly more brunette than blonde now that he was older, but was still shockingly cocky.

“You look like a douche.” Tony said calmly, before turning to a completely confused Melissa. “Is there anyone besides Rumlow and the Captain that can take us to the dig site? I would like to go now but am willing to wait for someone if we need to.”

“Oh well I-- I don't know.” She fluttered anxiously. “I thought that Captain would be the best option, but you and he seem to--”

“Still a spoiled brat, huh? Ordering people around to get what you want?” Steve interrupted, and it was astonishing how quickly Tony's confusion over seeing Steve turned right into anger.

He whipped around, ready to unleash some sort of scathing retort on the soldier archeologist dickwad, but then his eyes widened because Steve was staring at his ass while talking to him.

“Hey! My eyes are up here .” he snapped and Steve didn't even attempt to look up, if anything, he just folded his arms over that ridiculous chest and tilted his head to see better.

“No way. This is a much better view. And you didn't answer my question yet. You still a spoiled brat or has ten years changed--”

Tony didn't even stop to think about what he was doing, just balled up his fist and swung hard, connecting with Steve's fucking bearded jaw with an overly satisfying crack, watching as the man dropped onto the steps.

Melissa screamed in panic and Tony grimaced, rubbing his already sore knuckles. Giant bastard . “Well now. How’s the view from down there , Captain?”

Steve rubbed his jaw and tried not to smile as Tony stormed away.

Spoiled brat.

Steve had never stopped missing him.  

Chapter Text

 

***********************************

“So this is where we very first came upon the temple.” Melissa knelt in the dirt, running her fingers over the rough edge of nearly a dozen steps. “We assumed it was the step to another house but they were too long, and when we uncovered a few more we realized that just going by the size of the steps and how sharply they were ascending that it must be a bigger building.”

“When did you actually see the door to the temple?” Tony asked, staring up the steps to where the ancient building seemed to grow from the forest floor. “It's beautiful . Look at the carvings.”

“Yes.” Melissa beamed in pride. “We found the door two seasons ago, right as the rains were coming so we had to leave it and come back with more people the following season. It was easily the longest winter of my life, waiting for the weather to change so we could come back.”

“Beautiful.” Tony repeated and started up the steps. “Can I--”

“Sorry, Mr Stark you can't actually go up there.” Mike-or Matt, or something- stepped forward and shook his head. “For security reasons, only people who have been through the proper training and have spent time on the dig can go.”

“Seriously?” Tony looked over at him in annoyance. “I've been on a dig before. It's not like I'm going to damage it. I just want to see it up close.”

“Sorry, Mr. Stark. I'm sure you think you know what you’re doing but--”

“Oh Mike!” Melissa blurted, looking nervous. “Perhaps we could make an exception. Mr Stark is funding our dig after all and--”

“It's fine.” Tony waved her off. “It's been a long time since I've been here, and the security is there for a reason. It's actually fine. He's just doing his job.”

“Oh.” Melissa looked entirely surprised that Tony had given in that quickly. “Well then, if you’re sure you don't mind--”

“Did you just voluntarily follow a rule?” Steve-- goddamn it -- broke into their conversation, his deep voice sounding all sorts of amused. “Someone told you no and you are listening ?”

Tony tensed up and Melissa glanced between the two of them nervously. “Um, Captain Rogers, perhaps it would be best if you….”

“Mike, take Melissa back to the camp.” Steve ordered. “I can stay and escort Mr. Stark around the site for as long as he needs.”

Tony closed his eyes behind his sunglasses and hoped to every god he could name that Melissa wouldn't leave, because he wasn't sure if he could handle being alone with Steve. It was bad enough even seeing the guy again, but then Tony had hauled off and punched him and--- okay it had felt extremely satisfying to see the Captain drop like a rock onto the steps, but still. Not Tony's best moment.

And he wasn't entirely sure that there wouldn't be a repeat of the moment if he had to be alone with Steve-- the Captain-- for any length of time. He also wasn't entirely sure he wouldn't mind punching him again, but while once could be excused, he supposed two punches was borderline assault so….

Melissa, bless her beautiful soul, hesitated before asking. “Mr Stark if you want me to stay, I will absolutely---”

“I'm sure Tony's fine.” Steve cut in, his eyes gleaming. “After all, the two of us go way back. I'm sure we could spend hours together and not be all caught up.”

“Really?” Melissa kept looking back and forth between them. “Because, honestly Mr. Stark, I don't mind. And forgive me if I'm out of line, but it certainly seems like yourself and Mr Stark have some animosity---”

“It's fine .” Tony said between clenched teeth, because there was no way in hell he would actually admit to being nervous, not when Steve seemed to dead set on acting like everything was just fine, and Melissa smiled cautiously.

“Alright then. Um Mike, shall we? Call me on the satellite phone if you need anything, Mr Stark.” She said, tossing Tony the phone. “Captain Rogers has one as well. Please don't hesitate.”

“No problem. Thank you.” Tony waved, watching as they disappeared into the forest, before taking a deep breath and turning back to study the temple.

It was quiet between them for almost ten minutes, quiet and tense and so awkward , but Tony knelt determinedly to examine the steps, moving to run his hands over the symbols carved into some of the higher ones, smiling to himself because even after all these years he could read a few of the marks they had translated during his weeks here.

Apparently he hadn't forgotten everything about that summer, even though he had tried like hell.

Tony was so caught up in the history, in the mystery of the stones in front of him, that he managed to completely ignore Steve for several minutes, at least until the soldier opened his mouth again.

“I'm sorry about earlier.” Steve said into the quiet, and Tony tensed again, but didn't turn from his perusal of the markings.

“Are you?”

“Well, yeah.” Steve frowned. “I was pretty shocked to see you standing there and I didn't really react very well.”

“Mmm.” Tony hummed non committedly. “So you mean, insulting someone before eye fucking them isn't your standard greeting these days?” Despite his attempt at sarcasm, the words just came out biting and he inwardly flinched, knowing he wasn't hiding his anger very well.

“Tony, I'm trying to apologize.” Steve sounded exasperated. “The least you could do is maybe acknowledge--”

“It's Mr. Stark.” Tony finally said, turning to look at Steve, folding his arms stubbornly.

“Mr. Stark?” Steve raised an eyebrow. “You really gonna do that?”

“Well, apparently I've been signing your paychecks so you and your goon squad can hang out here. So yeah , you can call me Mr Stark.”

“Me and my good squad.” Steve repeated with a nod. “Well then Mr Stark.” he spread his legs and folded his arms as well, all the sudden looking entirely aggressive and fairly intimidating. “Since I do seem to be working for Stark Tech, can you tell me which department to complain to about the physical assault earlier?”

“Physical assault?” Tony said blankly.

“Well yeah. You punched me.” Steve pointed out. “Doesn't that qualify as assault?”

Tony didn't even come close to hiding his satisfied smirk. “I did. I absolutely punched you. Laid you out if I remember correctly. No problem. You can report it to Human Resources Department right after I'm done filing my report on your sexual harassment. I'm sure someone will be very happy to help you with that.”

“Sexual harassment?” Steve sputtered, and Tony would have laughed if he wasn't so fucking annoyed.

“Yeah, you were staring at my ass and it felt threatened.” Tony snapped. “Harassment, pure and simple.”

Then Steve laughed, running his hands over his face and chuckling. “Tony.” His voice warmed, and he settled into a less aggressive stance. “Tony, I've missed you. So much sass.”

Swallowing back the urge to throw himself at Steve-- that fucking smile . Why did it still make him melt?-- Tony opted to not answer, turning back to the temple steps and studying them some more in silence, and what had almost been an easy moment between them fell again into awkward silence.

“Alright. Shouldn't have said that.” Steve scratched his fingers through his beard. “Sorry. I guess I'm having a hard time figuring out how to talk to you.” He leaned against a tree and probably wasn't staring at Tony's ass, but…. maybe.

It was Tony after all, and ten years had taken all that innocent charm and soft good looks and turned it into something…. something .

Steve liked it.

“So--” he started again, searching for something to say. “Have you been--”

“You don't have to fill these silences.” Tony shook his head. “I'm just the guy funding this site, you're just part of the security team. No need for idle conversation.”

“Tony--”

“Seriously. If you don't know how to talk to me, just don't.”

Steve opened his mouth to argue, because he would be damned if Tony was going to shut him out, but he decided not to push the issue, stepping back to give Tony more space.

He shouldn't be irritated, really. It's not like the two of them had anything to talk about, or any history besides everything that had happened that one summer and neither one of them wanted to talk about that , right? So maybe Tony was right. If Steve didn't know how to talk to him… maybe they just shouldn’t talk.

“Have you been here all season? For the entire dig? Are they really bringing cratefuls of artifacts out of here?” It was close to thirty minutes later when Tony stepped away from a huge wall and glanced at him.

“Yeah.” Steve nodded, relieved that Tony had said something-- anything to fill the silence. “Yeah, Buck got the contract about six months ago.”

“I see.”

Steve watched as Tony skirted the far wall of the temple, lips lifting in a smile as he traced some of the symbols, his hands spread wide against the dark stones looking for all the world like he was as happy as he had ever been.

And there wasn't anything quite like seeing Tony happy to make a man---

“Still interested in archeology?” Tony called and Steve jolted from his thoughts and moved closer so they didn't have to yell.

“Always. It's incredible. That's not really a love that goes away, is it?” Steve felt bad when Tony visibly flinched at the word love . “I mean--”

“I know what you meant.” Tony finally came away from the stone structure, picking up his bag from the ground again. “Well, it's getting a little late and I remember darkness falls pretty quick here so we can go.”

“You remember quite a bit, don't you?” Steve gestured to the temple. “I saw you mouthing the translations of the runes. You seemed to know your way around the camp still. For being so long ago, I'm surprised you remember so much.”

“I remember plenty.” Tony said, and it came out a little short, his dark eyes seeming the tiniest bit vulnerable.

Shit. Steve felt the exact instant they slipped from barely managing to make small talk to suddenly digging at an emotional wound, and it physically hurt.

“Tony, --” Steve started to extend his hand, palm up, ready to say something , even if he wasn't sure what it was yet. He felt awful and didn't know what to say.

All he knew is that standing in the shadow of a temple staring at Tony was like… it was like ten years had never passed.

Sure Tony was older now, and looked better if that was even possible, and he wasn't wide eyed and innocent anymore but--but damn his voice brought back some good memories, and the way he smirked after every sarcastic comment made Steve warm and he knew if Tony actually smiled at him, he would basically be lost.

But Tony wasn't smiling, wasn't laughing or sarcastic or anything right now.

Right now, he was just staring at Steve cautiously, like he was waiting for Steve to lash out and hurt him.

The worst part was, Steve knew that was exactly how he was looking at Tony .

No one really wins when both hearts are broken, do they?

******************

Tony opened his mouth like maybe he was about to say something, or even take Steve's hand before he dropped it, but instead he stepped away and looked up at the sky. “That's weird.”

“What’s that, now?” Steve was thrown by the abrupt change in topic, in the shift in the mood between them.

“The helicopter.” Tony pointed up. “I'm not leaving until tomorrow, and it's coming back now. I guess it could be a different helicopter, though. Just seems weird.”

“You’re going to stay the night?” Steve asked. “Here at the camp?”

Tony sent him a look . “Don't get your hopes up, Captain . I just figured I couldn't see all there was to see in one afternoon and for nostalgia's sake I thought it would be fun to stay. I'll be sure we sleep in separate dorms.” The almost tender moment was gone, and Tony's sarcasm was back in full force, thick and biting and intended to cut deep.

Steve's jaw dropped, then those dark blue eyes narrowed. “Don't flatter yourself.” he retorted. “I have better things to do with my time than wonder if you’re going to sneak into my bunk and disrupt my sleep.”

“Don't worry about it, I only sneak into king size beds these days.” Tony fired right back. “Not interested in anything hiding in your twin sized bunk.”

“Oh my , Mr Stark.” Steve cocked his head. “How quickly we go from professionals to slinging insults.”

“It wouldn't be an insult if you weren’t small enough to be hidden .” Tony said triumphantly, looking so pleased with himself for winning the exchange that Steve considered just laughing it off like he used to.

Snarky, sassy Tony was his favorite, after all.

But then Tony had to keep talking-- “Besides, it's a point of professional pride that a king size bed is the only bed that fits me.”

“Is that right?” Determined to throw Tony off guard, Steve switched tactics, relaxing his posture and looking Tony up and down for a long minute, lingering specifically over his lower half. “Well, I wouldn't know, would I? Never got a chance to see that for myself. I obviously have no idea what I'm missing.”

He fully expected Tony to throw some sort of retort in his face, something calling Steve's manhood into question, or perhaps insinuating that Steve couldn't handle him… anything like that.

He even was prepared for Tony to crack up, since most of their sarcastic exchanges usually ended with one or both of them dying with laughter.

Or at least that's how they used to end, anyway.

Steve was not prepared for Tony's face to go pale, for every bit of amusement to drop from his expression, and for his shoulders to drop.

Steve wasn’t prepared for the way Tony sort of… crumpled in on himself, the way he turned away like he couldn't even look at him, the way his voice cracked the smallest bit when he said, “Yeah, I guess you wouldn't know, would you? Left before we could get to any of the good parts of that summer, huh?”

And it wasn't funny anymore. It wasn’t just slinging comments, and trading sharp remarks and seeing how far they could go before one of them laughed.

For all of three seconds it had almost been like old times, even with the slightly bitter edge to their interactions, but now it was just…awful.

And Steve felt like a total asshole.

“Tony.” Steve dragged a hand through his hair. “I'm sorry, I wasn't thinking. I shouldn’t have said that. I'm sorry. Jesus Christ.”

“I don't care.”

“No, Tony, really. I got caught up in the whole game thing and shouldn't have even said---”

His quiet words were lost under the sound of a chopper and he looked up in annoyance, and then back down in concern. “Tony.”

The brunette wasn't even looking at him, just hefting his backpack and folding his arms, kicking at the dirt.

“Tony.” Steve said again. “Is that your chopper?”

“Yeah.” Tony barely glanced up, his jaw tight in irritation. “Yeah, that's it. Pretty black thing with a double red stripe down the sides.”

“And they told you they were going to back again tomorrow to pick you up? Definitely not today? You’re sure they said tomorrow and not today? Tony this is important. You told them tomorrow. You are absolutely sure they have no reason to be here right now?”

“Yes!” Tony snapped, finally looking up at him. “ Yes , everyone knew I was going to be picked up tomorrow. Why is this an issue?”

Steve stared up at the chopper above them grimly. “Because there’s an M2 Browning mounted on the side of it.”

“An M2--” Tony's brain jumped ahead several steps to the heavy fifty caliber machine guns that came mounted on most combat helicopters. “Why the hell would they have a machine gun--”

“Get down Tony!!” Steve threw himself at Tony, shoving him into the heavier trees and onto the forest floor. “ Down!!”

They couldn't do much more than try to hide as the men in the helicopter opened fire.

Chapter Text

Tony !” Steve was shouting over the gunfire and Tony pried his hands off his ears to try and listen.

“We have to get back to camp.” Steve was speaking directly into his ear, the words coming rapid fire, but his deep voice calm. “We have to get back to camp and get my pack and try to save anyone we can.”

“Tony, listen to me!” Steve cried, because Tony’s eyes were practically glazed over, his lips moving as he mumbled something, and his forehead was wrinkled in thought.

“What are you do--” Steve’s eyes widened when he realized Tony was counting , rambling off information interspersed with numbers faster than Steve could keep up.

“--The M2, Ma Deuce, created in 1918, probably has a air cooled barrel since water cooled are kind of a bitch to handle. Five . Has a basic load of 400 rounds, and depending the version, can spit anywhere from 450 to 1300 rounds per minute--seven-- unless of course they have it set for a rapid firing mode which then has different numbered bursts- five - with a short pause between bursts of only---We have to move now!”

Tony was on his feet in an instant, hauling Steve up with him and taking off back towards camp, counting rapidly under his breath as he went, and all Steve could do was follow in bewilderment, ducking when Tony did, sprinting every chance he got.

The helicopter finally tired of spraying the temple clearing and took off in the same direction as them, and they hit the ground when bullets started flying ahead of them as the helicopter moved towards camp.  

“They’re shooting up the camp.” Steve groaned, his voice quieter now that the helicopter wasn't directly above them. “Tony, we have got to get back there.”

“I'm with you.” Tony tightened the straps on his backpack. “I'll follow your lead, just tell me where to go.”

Steve met his eyes for a moment. “Wait. You trust me?”

“Of course I do.” Tony snapped. “You’re my best chance for getting out of here, so maybe you stop overthinking it and get moving!”

Steve nodded jerkily, then grabbed Tony's hand and took off through the woods. Tony stayed as close as he could, letting Steve lead now that they had escaped the guns for a moment, and thankful for his sturdy boots as they pounded through the dirt and rocks on the forest floor, trying to dodge branches and jump roots as they went. Half a kilometer hadn't seemed all that far when they were hiking to the temple, but running desperately back towards the camp turned it into the longest half kilometer of Tony’s life, accented by the sharp sound of bullets, and as they got closer-- screams.

“Wait.” Steve skidded to a stop, and Tony ran right into his back, bouncing off with a muttered apology. “Slow.” Steve dropped his voice again and held his arm out to keep Tony behind him. “Stay behind me, we are going to stay low and keep an eye out alright?”

“My things are in the central dorm, we need to get in there, get my pack and get out. You keep an eye out for any survivors, but I don't really expect to find any. Tony, this is probably going to be messy. Helicopters gone for now, but it will be back. Listen for it.”

“Yeah. Yeah, I got it.” Tony reached down to tighten his boots. “I'm ready. Come on.”

Steve pulled a handgun from the small of his back, checking the magazine quickly. “Let’s go.”

Slow, cautious steps into camp, skirting the edge of the forest until they were behind the dorms. The buildings were barely standing, the two jeeps parked in the clearing shot to hell. There were two bodies lying next to the jeep, and Tony didn't recognize either of them, even though he could tell from here that they were young-- students.

Steve turned to check on him, a concerned look in his eyes, and nearly tripped over a body lying face down in the dirt, and rolled it over cautiously with his boot.

Mike’s blank eyes stared up at them.

“Jesus Christ.” Steve muttered, and directed Tony around the body, moving towards the central dorm again. “Keep going, Tony. Try not to think about it.”

“Steve.” Tony whispered, and Steve turned around, keeping a sharp eye on the clearing, scanning for enemies or survivors or anyone really.

“Tony what---” he swallowed back a groan when he saw where Tony was pointing. “Damn it. Melissa .”

Or...what was left of Melissa anyway, her body only recognizable by the matted blond hair. Blood from everywhere was mingling with the dirt and turning her skin and beautiful hair a terrible, sobering color.

“Keep going.” Steve said firmly, but not unkindly, and watched Tony's throat jerk as he swallowed hard, visibly composing himself. “Come on.”

“Right behind you.” Tony nodded, even though his voice was a little shaky this time around. “Let’s go.”

They finally made it behind the central dorm, and Steve eyed the nearly destroyed back door warily. He didn't think the helicopter had paused long enough to let any men down, but he couldn't be sure.

“I'm going to go in alone.” He decided. “You stay here.”

“The hell I am!” Tony protested. “You aren't just going to charge in there like some Lone Ranger! What if men jumped from the helicopter and---”

“Tony!” Steve whipped around, pushing him up against a tree and covering Tony's mouth with his big hand. “This is not a discussion. I'm going in there. You are going to keep your ass right here while I go inside. You are going to stay right here until I return, and if I come back and you are not right here, I swear to god I will make sure you get lost in this god forsaken jungle, do I make myself perfectly clear?”

Tony couldn't do much more than nod, but Steve could tell by the spark in those dark eyes that the man was not happy.

It didn't matter.

Steve wasn't about to put Tony in more danger by not knowing if there were armed guards walking around the camp, or even knowing if the building wasn't going to come crashing down on them. No, Tony needed to keep that perfect ass out of sight so Steve could concentrate.

“Two minutes.” he said quietly, loosening his hand just a bit. “I'm going to be gone for two minutes. When I come out that door, you need to be running alright? Straight into the woods. If I get stopped or slowed down, keep running straight, the river is about seven klicks as the crow flies, head there and I'll find you. You won't make it before the sun goes down, you will still be a few hours away, but keep going . The satellite phone works best by the river, you get there, you call my commander Bucky. It's already set on the channel. Ask for Bucky. Whatever you do, don't stop running. If I'm not right behind you, I will find you.”

“Steve--”

“I'll find you.” he repeated and Tony nodded again. “Two minutes, Tony.”  

The longest two minutes of Tony's life.

Steve made it to the building no problem, darting across the clearing surprisingly fast for someone so big, and disappearing through what was left of the door.

Tony was counting the seconds, shifting anxiously, definitely not looking at Melissa’s body, definitely not thinking about how they had almost fallen right over Mike’s body, and really not thinking about what the hell he would do if Steve didn't make it out of---

Oh shit there he was.

Tony backpedaled a few steps and then turned and took off running, trying to listen over his own footsteps and the pounding of his heart for Steve behind him.

He was just starting to panic, just starting to worry that Steve wasn't going to be there, when a hand grabbed his wrist and Steve was next to him and then vaulting a fallen log and suddenly ahead of him, dragging Tony along.

There was a big pack over his shoulders and an assault rifle slung over his chest, a satellite radio looped around his wrist, his jaw set stubbornly as he ran.

“Steve--” Tony started to ask about the bodies they had seen, about what Steve had seen in the dorm but Steve shook his head.

“Not until we get somewhere safe.”

Tony shut up, and ran faster.

********************************

********************************

Tony had stumbled over his feet twice before Steve finally looked back at him and slowed his pace.

“You alright?”

“I'm alright, let's keep going.” Tony insisted, but Steve looked up at the quickly darkening sky and back down at him, shaking his head.

“No. Lets try to find a good place to rest for a few hours. We’ve got to make it to the river, but we are still close to two hours out, probably longer once the sun goes down. No reason we can't sit for a few hours.”

“Fine.” Tony didn't want to admit how tired he was but hey-- twenty four hours ago he was sipping a martini with Pepper as they went over his itinerary. Now he was running as fast as he could through the forest with the sun going down, and a heavy backpack on his shoulders.

So sure, maybe he was a little exhausted.

“Come on.” Steve started moving again. “Just another half hour or so and we can break. I'll find us a spot.”

Thankfully it was less than half an hour, closer to only twenty minutes before Steve held up his hand to stop.

“This is fine.”

A few meters into the bushes and they came into a small clearing, under the huge branches of a tree so tall it sort of blew Tony's mind. “Is this safe?” he asked nervously and Steve shrugged, laying his rifle and phone down, setting the heavy pack next to it and popping his neck with a grimace.

“Safe enough. We can only afford a few hours of downtime anyway.” Steve reached for Tony's backpack, and when he handed it over without a second thought, Steve smiled a little. “Just sit, alright?” He lay Tony's pack against the tree. “We need to eat something and rehydrate and try to rest.”

“I'm not hungry.”

“I don't care.” Steve tossed him a protein bar. “You need the energy, so eat .”

Tony sagged against the tree, ripping the cover off his protein bar and taking a few bites before looking over at Steve.

The soldier look exhausted, heavy lines on his face, his shoulders slumped in defeat. “There will probably be men looking for us.” he said tiredly. “They obviously know you are here, since they hijacked your helicopter, and if they know anything about the site then they know that I was left with the team.”

“And if they went through the effort of stealing my chopper and mounting a gun on it---” Tony added. “They aren't just here to steal a relic or two. I'm assuming that the bigger artifacts have already been shipped out which leaves a sort of horrifying choice between this happening to just wipe out the camp entirely, or for a chance to kill or kidnap me. So that's nice.

“About the helicopter.” Steve sent him an odd look. “What was with the counting thing? When it first opened fire? That was… that was weird. What were you doing?”

“Oh.” Tony finished his protein bar and shoved it in his pocket. “Well, remember how I'm.. sort of smart?”

“Yeah, I remember something about you getting into MIT at sixteen .” Steve deadpanned. “It came up once or twice in conversation, why?”

“I'm actually uh…” Tony cleared his throat. “Genius-level IQ. Not just smart . I was actually accepted to MIT at  fourteen and my parents wouldn't let me go. And my genius has a… mechanical bent to it, you could say. Stark Tech makes weapons, so I already know a lot about that sort of thing. But I'm fascinated by it really. Especially the big guns. But anything like that.”

“So you were---what? What were you doing? You were counting?”

“A basic M2 Browning mounted machine gun can shoot up to 1300 hundred rounds per second.” Tony said slowly. “But most are set to a rapid fire setting with burst of five to seven bullets interspersed with different lengths of time to the tune of forty rounds per minute. So it's simple math. Count the amount of rounds for a minute, time the bursts, recognize the variation rate and then you can time the shots and eventually the amount of bullets in a standard magazine and then figure out when there will be a longer break in the shooting.”

“You’re serious?” Steve was staring at him. “You’re serious. That's what you were doing? You were counting the shots and timing then so you would know when the magazine ran dry and we had more than a handful of seconds to run?”

“Well, yeah. Just you know… quickly . Sort of a life or death situation we were in.”

“That's incredible.” Steve laughed, scrubbing a hand over his face. “Tony, that’s incredible .”

“I guess.” Tony slid a little lower against the tree. “I've been doing that sort of thing for so long I don't really notice it anymore. But listen, can I sleep for like, ten minutes?”

“You’re fine.” Steve assured him, and watched as Tony fell asleep almost instantly.

And Steve kept watching him, long after ten minutes had gone by.

He still wasn't sure what he thought about… all of this.

The helicopter issue was scary enough, the idea that someone had hijacked Starks transport and then tried to kill them all. He didn't know what had happened to Bucky or the other students in the city, and was driving himself mad thinking about whether they were alive or not. And who knew how the hell they were going to get out of here.

Yeah, all of that was scary.

But Steve thought maybe he was more scared of having to spend at least the next few days in the forest alone with Tony, alone with the guy who had both stolen and broken his heart all within the same summer.

Sure they were older now, and things were different. He obviously wasn't the fresh-from-the-army soldier kicking around through South America before going back to school. Tony wasn't the wide eyed kid that had gone from hating the idea of dirt to gleefully digging in every morning, only taking breaks to scarf a sandwich and maybe steal a kiss before heading right back out.

No, they were both years past all that. Year and years and all sort of life experience away from who they used to be.

But watching Tony rest, being wowed by his intelligence just like he used to be, having seen the same look of awe on Tony's face at the temple that had been there every time something new came from the dig site…

Awkward first meetings and sarcastic comments and insults aside, Steve was still in absolute disbelief that he was looking at Tony . That it was Tony sleeping on the ground there, that it was Tony that had very possibly saved their lives with his mind boggling evaluation of the guns and quick thinking solution.

It was… Tony .

And suddenly Steve felt twenty four all over again. Twenty four and in love and terrified of getting too close to the fast talking brunette with that sly, charming smile.

Apparently ten years hadn't changed a whole lot of anything.

Because Steve might not be twenty four anymore, but he was sure as hell terrified.

Chapter Text

Tony popped awake just as Steve was reaching out to shake him and there was an entirely too awkward moment where they just looked at each other with wide eyes.

Steve’s were just as blue as they had ever been, striking against his darker hair, and Tony thought for a moment that maybe he preferred it to the golden blonde of before. And the beard was a winner. He had always loved Steve’s smile and that clear skin but he wasn't complaining about the beard. Not at all.

Plus the beard sort of went with how big Steve had gotten, all broad shoulders and ridiculous pecs and thighs that made Tony want to--

Oh shit I'm staring.

Steve's lips had curled in an amused smile as Tony was fairly obviously checking him out, and Tony finally broke the stare, looking down at Steve's out reached hand and then standing by himself, brushing the dirt as best as he could off his pants. “You let me sleep longer than ten minutes.” He said dryly, happy to pretend that he had not been ready to start drooling over the soldier.

Steve rolled his eyes before he could help himself. “Brilliant, Tony. Very observant.”

Tony bristled a little but tried to swallow down his annoyance “Why, though? We needed to get to the river.”

“Because you needed it.” Steve said honestly. “You look tired. More tired than you should for being on vacation. I just wanted to make sure you were as rested as you could be before… before we attempt whatever it is we are attempting.”

“Yes will, I did run for my life from a helicopter yesterday. I think I'm allowed to look tired, thank you.”

“More tired than that.” Steve lifted his pack. “I mean you look like you’ve been tired for months. When was the last time you slept? I could pack things in the bags under your eyes.”

There’s that Rogers charm.” Tony snorted. “Thanks for the compliments. Let’s just go.”

“Not gonna tell me why you’re tired?”

“I feel like it's not your business.”

“That's fair.” Steve took a deep breath and pointed south. “River should be no more than a few clicks that way. I ended up leaving my GPS when I grabbed my pack so I'm not entirely sure about an exact distance. Good thing is, it's a giant river so we will definitely run right into it at some point, and can follow the current until we hit a village.”

“Lean on, fearless Captain.” Tony re-tied his boot and nodded. “Let's find some water.”

************************

************************

It was a mostly quiet walk, both of them lost in their own thoughts, too preoccupied with watching their footing to attempt conversation. Steve was pushing them hard through the forest and Tony was keeping up as best as he could, determined not to complain at all, not even about the man sized blood-sucking mosquitos that seemed to think he was some sort of New York flavored buffet.

Man he hated South America.

Steve stopped abruptly about twenty minutes into their hike and dug around in his pack for a minute, finally tossing Tony a net and a bottle of heavy duty mosquito repellent.

“Thank you. I thought I packed pretty well, but apparently kamikaze level mosquito nets and bug spray didn't make the list.” Tony settled the net over his hat, and it dropped to his shoulders, providing at least something of a barrier between him and the bugs.

Steve smirked but didn't comment, just zipped the can back into his pack and kept right on going.

Tony could hear the river well before he could see it, and he was disappointed to see that the usual green-blue color was little more than a muddy brown, now that the rains had started hitting the region.

“Not how you remember?” Steve spoke for the first time in an hour. “You're all sour puss faced. Look like you ate a lemon. What did you think the river was going to look like?”

Well, it took just an astonishing amount of self control to not respond to the whole sour puss comment , but Tony took a deep breath and gritted his teeth to answer.

“I wasn't ever here when the weather changed. Flew out before the rains. I guess I knew it would be this color because of the weather but it's still just--- ugly.”

“Yeah, well it will be a lot prettier when there’s a helicopter setting down on it ready to get us the hell out of here.” Steve grabbed his satellite phone and started punching in numbers, holding it close to his ear as it started ringing.

“Identify.” A deep voice with a Brooklyn accent came across the line, and Tony perked up a little. What a voice. Why wasn't he stuck in the jungle with a man with a drawl like that?

“This is One-Seven-Seven-Six Charlie Alpha Papa. Identify.”

“Acknowledged Charlie Alpha Papa. This is One-Nine-Four-Four Tango Whiskey Sierra.”

“Acknowledged. Need to order carry out-- main and a side. Three ks. N’awlins. No fireworks available.”

“Acknowledged. Carry out is disabled. Most perks cancelled. Storm in the area.”

“ETA?”

“Not available.”

“Acknowledged.”

“I'm glad you’re alright.” The deep voice softened and Tony really listened in then. “Was getting worried.”

“I'm fine. Don't worry your pretty head about it.” Steve teased and a low laugh came across the phone.

“ASAP, alright?”

“ASAP.” Steve agreed. “Charlie Alpha Papa out.”

Steve hung up, the smile dropping from his face and his free hand clenching into a fist. “Damn it. Damn it!”

“So.” Tony cleared his throat. “You uh, just ordered carry out, or what? N’awlins? What is that Cajun food? Because I gotta say I don't love catfish.”

“What? No.” Steve shook his head. “No I was asking for a chopper to come get us. Myself and a second person. Three klicks from base camp, heading south. I can't shoot a flare gun because it might attract attention so they will have to search for us.”

“Right. And N’awlins is south. That makes sense in some weird secret code way. No fireworks, no flare gun. So he said-- perks cancelled, storm in the area.” Tony thought for a minute. “So he doesn't have any access to your usual assets, like helicopters or vehicles and there's someone dangerous watching them? Maybe laying fire down?”

“Basically.” Steve looked impressed at how fast Tony had picked that up, but then his face fell. “But perks cancelled actually means men down. Which means that while we were under attack, Bucks team and the students in the city were attacked as well.”

“Which means this absolutely wasn't random.”

“And means that we are on our own.” Steve nodded, chewing at his lower lip. “No help coming, Tony. They are dealing with their own thing, so it's up to us to get to them and help.”

“Okay.” Tony ran a hand through his hair. “Okay okay. So what. So camp is… three days hike from the nearest village?”

“Yeah, if everything goes well. Three days. I have enough in my pack for me for about a week, so we should be fine with the two of us, even though if it takes more than three days things might get a little dicey.”

“Oh I have stuff.” Tony interjected, and set his pack down to dig through it. “Um, I have six or seven MRE’s, a handful of protein bars, one of those straws that's a filtration system so we have drinking water… a few other things. A long sleeve shirt, change of pants. That sort of thing.”

“You packed.. All of that?” Steve asked, raising an Tony shrugged.

“Well yeah. I mean, I was coming to South America, right? I wanted to be a little prepared. Or you know, more prepared than I was the first time I got dumped here.”

“It's wonderful.” Steve chuckled. “We might not have to spear fish for our dinner. Damn shame, I'd enjoy seeing you try to handle a spear.”

“What makes you think I can't handle a spear?” Tony retorted and Steve raised an eyebrow.

“Am I supposed to pretend like that wasn't a dick jo---”

“Shh!” Tony suddenly hissed and grabbed at Steve's wrist, dragging him back under the cover of the bushes.

“Tony. What are you doing?” Steve wanted to laugh at Tony's attempt at dragging him anywhere , seeing as he outweighed the brunette by a good seventy pounds, but then he heard it, the faint sound of a boat engine coming up the river.

“You heard that?” He asked in a hushed tone and Tony nodded.

“It's a Cummins VT-903M. Well, two of them. It's probably a retired Coast Guard boat, which makes it big for the river but maybe not too big depending on how far they are trying to go. I wonder how they got their hands on one, and why they thought it would be good here.”

“Wait, what ?”

“The boats got a draft of over four feet.” Tony whispered. “I know the river gets down to twenty and thirty feet here but it gets shallow quick at the edges which means they can't come very close to shore. Plus it's long , pushing forty feet.”

“How do you--”

“Why don't you shut up for a few minutes? Unless you want them to find us?”

“Uh--” Steve opened his mouth to ask another question but decided against it as a boat came roaring around a bend in the river, its engine cutting down to an idle.

“They weren’t in the camp, so I'm sure that bastard Captain pulled some heroic bullshit and ran off into the woods.” One of the men’s voices, distinctly uncomfortably familiar, carried loud and clear over the water and Tony shot Steve an alarmed look.

Steve wasn't looking at him though, staring at the man on the water, his cheeks flushed with anger as he listened.

“We need Stark alive because he’s worth money, but you can just bring me Cap’s body. Nobody besides that Brooklyn boyfriend of his cares about him, so do us all a favor and put him out of his misery.”

Some quieter discussion that Tony and Steve couldn't catch, then the loud voice again. “I don't care if it takes a week! They have to stay near the river, and the nearest village is at least three days away by foot. Find them .”

“Look Rumlow, you aren't paying us enough to--”

“You're right. How about I kick your worthless ass out into the river and when you make it back to camp I'll write you a new check.”

Angry, muttered replies, but nothing loud enough to understand, then the boat roared back to full power and took off down the river.

Tony waited until the sound had faded away before finally breathing a deep sigh. “Well that… that sucks.”

“When I get my hands on that fucker Rumlow I am going to rip him apart piece by piece.” Steve growled, crashing out of the bush and to the edge of the river, so angry he was nearly shaking. “ Who the fuck does he think he is? How the fuck could he---”

“So it was Brock.” Tony stated. “He knew I was coming, he organized the helicopter. He knew that it would be basically empty. That's why we didn't see his body at camp, right? You never said anything about seeing his body.”

“No.” Steve shook his head. “I just assumed he was in one of the other dorms that had been shot up. Too much of a hurry to search for him. I can't fucking believe---” he punched at a tree hard and Tony winced at the sound.

“Steve--”

“I've put my life on the line for that bastard. I've saved him more times than I can count. I've introduced him to friends and family and--”

“Steve--”

“And for him to want me dead? Not even gonna fight me? Just gonna put a bullet into my head and leave me to rot in this ugly--”

“STEVE!”

“What?!” Steve snarled and whirled around. “ What , Tony? What do you want?”

“Steve. Focus. What are we going to do?” Tony leaned against the tree and folded his arms. “Alright? We are three days at least from the nearest village. We obviously can't stick to the river for guidance, which would be the fastest, because they are patrolling it. You don't have your GPS so we can't really set coordinates and go. What are we going to do?”

Tony being so calm helped reel Steve in, and he took several deep breaths. “Alright. Um. Same plan. We will just have to stay further from the river while still keeping it within hearing distance. It will add some more time, but we should be fine. We have to avoid the roads as well, so it will be all straight forest hiking for the next several days.”

“Okay.” Tony nodded. “Okay so let’s go.”

“Just like that?” Steve looked at him in surprise. “Just like that. A man hired to protect the camp site and someone I've served with for years decides to turn tail and try to kill us all, and is now hunting you and I up the river and what… you want to go for a hike?”

“What else are we supposed to do?” Tony pointed out. “What else is there to do? We can't sit here, right? We can't go back to camp. So I guess a hike it is.”

Steve couldn't argue with that logic, so he just shouldered his pack again, taking a long drink from his water bottle.

“I guess let’s go then. Take a few minutes to filter some water and fill our bottles and lets go.”

********************

********************

“Thank you.” Steve said sometime later.

“For what?” Tony wiped the sweat from his forehead, pausing to take a sip of water before tucking his bottle back away.

“For calming me down by the river. I was ready to call Brock back and take him down myself but-- you being so calm helped. So thank you. I never thought… I mean, I wouldn't have ever pictured you being the calm one in this kind of scenario.”

“Yeah well, back when you knew me I probably wouldn't have been. But ten years changes lots of things.”

“Does it?” Steve glanced back at him, then down over him and by the time he met Tony's gaze again, those dark eyes were sparking with something interesting .

“Ten years changes some things.” Tony corrected.

“Hm.”

***********************

***********************

“So the boat thing?” Steve asked, readjusting the way the assault rifle lay over his chest when they stopped to take a drink. “Is that like the gun thing?”

“What do you mean?” Tony was breathing hard, but refusing to complain, liberally reapplying bug spray and readjusting the net over his hat.

“I mean, you knew what kind of engine it was just by hearing it, and knew what kind of boat it was? Is that like the gun thing or--”

“Oh. Maybe. I do a kind of crazy amount about engines. But a boat was my latest project actually. I wanted a new boat and saw one in a scrap yard and she just needed some love and some work. So I rebuilt her. Same type of boat, old Coast Guard patrols and that sort of thing. Coast Guard has moved away from using them so you stumble across them every once in awhile. I've listened to that engine so many times I could probably identify it in my sleep.”

“So when you told me you liked to tinker in your garage… you meant you like to rebuild engines?”

“Sure.” Tony smiled a little at the impressed look on Steve's face. “Let's keep going.”

***********************

***********************

“You’re joking.” Tony sent Steve a disbelieving look. “I mean, you’re joking right?”

“Why would I be joking?” Steve frowned at him and Tony gestured towards the tent that was set up a few yards away. They had finally ran out of daylight and had set up a makeshift camp for the night and Steve had pulled a collapsed tent off of his pack and put it together in just a few minutes.

Tony was less than impressed with Steve’s choice in sleeping accommodations.

“Why would I be joking?” Steve repeated and Tony's eyes almost bugged out.

“Mostly because that's a one man tent. And there are let me see-- one, oh yeah that's right- two of us? And you-- you are big enough to be two men all by yourself, so there’s that.”

“What's your point?” Steve looked genuinely perplexed. “We can both fit, it's not that big of a deal. Unless you want to sleep in a tree, jungle boy, I suggest you deal with it.”

“Oh my god.” Tony laughed and folded his arms. “What, is this like where you suggest sharing bodily warmth to survive or something? Because I can't think of any other reason to get in there with you.”

Actually .” Steve glared at him, folding his arms as well. “This is where I remind you of that genius level IQ of yours, and wait for you to come to the obvious conclusion that the easiest, most comfortable, and lets face it-- safest -- way for us to get any sleep at all is in the tent together.”

“Right. Because snuggling saves lives.”

“Well, if you’re fine with sleeping on the ground with nothing to keep the rain and bugs off of you, be my guest.” Steve grunted. “But it's been a really long day and a pretty shitty one at that, what with finding out that one of my teammates basically planned to leave my body rotting somewhere in this fucking jungle and having to eat cold soup out of a can because we can't risk a fire yet. So by all means, Tony. Sleep outside. I'll see you in the morning.”

“So you have collapsable silicone pots for boiling water in that Mary Poppins bag of yours, but not a two man tent?” Tony said in an exasperated tone.

“I've probably got chloroform too, so maybe don't talk so much, huh?” Steve warned.

“You know.” Tony huffed. “If you were a gentleman you'd give me the tent and keep your bearded ass up to keep an eye out. You know, since I'm apparently helpless? You seem so shocked any time I do anything remotely helpful that you must think I'm a goddamn damsel in distress. Or the worthless female in an action movie. And she would get the tent, right?”

Steve bared his teeth in a smile. “Oh, but I'm not a gentleman, I'm a mercenary remember? But I wouldn't mind treating you like a damsel in distress or a worthless female in an action movie, if you were so inclined. I might have something pretty for you to wear in my Mary Poppins bag.”

Tony stared at him then looked away. “You piss me off.”

“Yeah, well we seem to have a remarkable talent from going from normal conversations to insulting ones don't we?” Steve snarked right back. “Some other time, maybe let’s explore the whole damsel in distress thing but for right now--”

What ? Explore the what ?” Tony yelped and Steve groaned, his patience gone.

“Get your ass in the tent, Tony!”

Chapter Text

Day Two in the Forest

Tony would die before he ever admitted how well he slept in the tiny one man tent.

And it was absolutely the tent that kept him sound asleep. The tent keeping the bugs and morning dew off of him. Stopped the wind enough to keep him warm. The tent… the tent was wonderful.

But falling asleep with with Steve's broad chest against his back? The way Steve’s arm had wrapped around his waist at some point? Dreaming of being twenty and sneaking into Steve's bunk and letting his boyfriend hold him all night? Waking up the soft scratch of a beard against his neck and big fingers tightening briefly before they woke up all the way?

No. No no none of that contributed to how well Tony slept.

It didn't contribute at all.

But he had slept great, maybe the best he had slept since Dad passed away, and that's saying something.

So when Steve had told him they had a few minutes before they needed to be on the move, a few minutes before another long day of hiking and trying to avoid detection, Tony took the chance to wash up in the calm part of the river about a hundred yards away from where Steve was packing up their tent.

Stripping off his boots and jeans but leaving his boxers and white t shirt on, Tony dipped into the water, wincing at the feeling of his toes squishing into the mud on the bottom, and tried to stand still to not stir anymore up.

It felt good to get water in his hair, to rinse out two days of jungle and sweat and ick. He knew his shirt would be uncomfortable staying damp until it dried in this ridiculous humidity, but it was worth it just to feel at least a little bit clean.

Tony hummed under his breath, and closed his eyes to dunk his head below the water, and totally missed Steve coming around the bend and seeing him.

******************

Steve stopped and stared when he caught sight of Tony.

It shouldn’t have been so distracting, seeing the man trying to wash his hair, but after a night spent curled around that perfect body, Steve was all sorts of highly tuned to everything Tony did.

He hadn't meant to end up holding Tony, hadn't meant to wake up with his lips nearly pressed to the back of Tony's neck, and his arm keeping him close. But he also wasn't complaining.

Steve wasn't sure why they had this weird dynamic, why one minute they were snarking and teasing at each other, and then the next minute there was something hot and charged between them, and then just that quickly feelings were being hurt or lines were being crossed. He didn't get it. After ten years all of that should have just gone away, but it hadn't .

At least not for him, and from the glimpses he’d seen, it hadn't gone away for Tony either.

Maybe it was this place.

If they had met again in Chicago or something, maybe it wouldn't have mattered. But here in the forest, in the jungle, next to the same river they used to hang out by, close to the place where they had met and fallen in love-- everything was just a little more bitter sweet, a little more poignant.

And after sleeping so well last night, and getting to wake up to Tony in his arms, Steve was willing to take whatever poignancy he could get, misplaced or not.

So instead of calling out to Tony or even walking away, Steve simply stared.

The water had turned Tony's t shirt completely transparent, and he was surprisingly fit underneath it, a defined abdomen leading down to sharp hipbones that disappeared into black boxers, which were clinging deliciously to every dip and line of Tony's lower half. His shoulders were broader than they had been, but he still had that lean athletic look that made Steve’s fingers twitch to reach out and grab .

And Tony was flexible , bending nearly in half to dunk his head again, then straightening up with his arms above his head before bending backwards in a dramatic stretch until his head skimmed the water again.

Steve couldn't tear his eyes away, didn't want to tear his eyes away--which is probably why he completely missed Tony standing up straight and glaring daggers at him.

“You gonna watch me all day like a perv or did you actually have something to say?” Tony called and Steve shook himself from less...appropriate thoughts and raised an eyebrow suggestively to hopefully erase the longing expression on his face.

“Just admiring the view.” He let his gaze drop obviously , hiding his smirk when Tony's face flamed red. “King size bed, indeed, hm?”

He turned away so he wouldn't laugh at the outraged look Tony was definitely sending his way. “Come on. If you’re done being a bathing beauty and distracting the fishes, we need to go.”

He could hear Tony muttering angrily as he collected his clothing and patted himself dry, and Steve just smiled to himself as they grabbed their packs and checked their campsite one last time for anything left behind before heading out.

He had forgotten how much fun it was to make Tony blush.

***********************

“So.” Tony raised his voice so Steve could hear him. “So the Brooklyn hottie on the phone. He's yours?”

“Buck?” Steve hesitated barely before answering, and Tony caught it, wondered about it. “Why do you ask?”

“Rumlow said something about your Brooklyn boyfriend. I figured he must mean Bucky because I can't imagine you have two men in your squad that talk like that.”

“Right.” Steve huffed a laugh. “My Brooklyn boyfriend. Uh, no. Bucks my best friend. We were in the service together back in the day.”

“Hm. Interesting.”

“I'd give you his number but pretty boys aren't really his style.” Steve added and he could almost feel the glare on his shoulders.

“Thanks for that.” Tony said irritably, and Steve smiled.

He just didn't know if he was smiling because of getting in a jab at Tony-- which was always satisfying-- or because Tony hadn't pressed the issue of the ‘Brooklyn hottie’.

Tony was not Bucky's to date. Not if Steve had anything to say about it.

***********************

***********************

“So. You and Brooklyn were in the service? Same group or--?”

“Yep.” Steve ducked under a low hanging branch. “Bucky and I joined together, trained together, shipped out together.”

“Didn't come home together though?” Tony nearly tripped over a log, barely managing to catch himself, and glad that for once Steve hadn't turned around to check on him. The constant glances were disconcerting, and Tony couldn't ever quite read the look in his eye. It was somewhere between concerned and interested and protective-- and it was keeping Tony on edge.

“No, Tony. I was invalidated out of the Army, remember?”

“Shit.” Tony ran a hand over his face. “Shit, your foot. No, your heel. Shattered calcaneus.”

“Yeah, that's right.” Steve nodded. “I'm surprised you remember.” Then he laughed. “Actually I'm not surprised. After seeing what kind of things you know, I'm sure you could tell me exactly what's destroyed in my foot and the exact procedure needed to put it back together.”

Tony opened his mouth to rattle off the information-- that the calcaneus was the largest of the tarsal bones in your foot, lying below the three bones that make up an ankle bone. Calcaneus is connected to the talus, forming the subtalar joint. Shattering your calcaneus can be as easy as landing wrong on a short jump or as bad as getting your foot run over and--

But then he stopped, pulling himself back before he blurted all of that entirely unneccesary information, and asked something entirely different instead.

“It's killing you, isnt it?”

“Yeah.”

“But you’re basically running through the jungle with me anyway.”

“It's got to be done Tony. Not gonna let something like a hurt foot stop me from keeping you safe.”

“You have a metal plate holding your foot together!” Tony protested, and Steve shrugged without turning around, dodging a big rock, then holding his hand back out behind him to help Tony around it.

Tony rolled his eyes and slapped his hand away. “Not a damsel in distress, Rambo. But thanks. And again, metal plate holding your foot together. How are you---”

“Tony.” Steve stopped then, turning around so quickly that Tony almost smacked into his chest. “I'm not gonna let something like a hurt foot stop me from keeping you safe. Got it?”

“Yeah.” Tony nodded jerkily. “Yeah, I got it.”

“Then let’s keep going.”

******************

******************

“Tony, come here, I want to show you something.” When they stopped for lunch, Steve gave Tony barely enough time to eat his food before calling him over.

“What's up?” Tony wiped his hands on his pants, unable to help from sending a concerned glance at Steve’s feet. He had forgotten about Steve's injury, the whole reason he had been sent home with a Purple Heart at twenty four. He didn't really know the story, Steve had been injured on a mission, classified and all that, but he did remember Steve limping after long days at the site, soaking his foot in ice to numb the constant pain.

Tony couldn't believe he had forgotten that.

“Stop thinking about my foot and pay attention.” Steve scolded and Tony rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly.

“Sorry. I just--” he motioned awkwardly. “I can't believe I didn't think about that, about how bad you must be hurting.”

“It's fine. Now listen up. I know you know a lot about big guns.” Steve placed an empty water bottle on a rock a short distance away. “But knowing about them doesn't mean knowing how to use them and I want you to know to shoot my gun just in case anything happens. The rifle is easy, point and shoot and spray the bullets wherever you want. Handguns you actually have to be more focused with, so while we are this far from the river and no one's going to hear, I want you to try it out, okay?”

“Steve, I don't think--”

“Do you trust me, Tony?” Steve interrupted. “Sarcasm and all our history and everything that's happened aside, do you trust me to keep you safe? Right now, in this situation, do you trust me to keep you safe.”

“Yes.” Tony didn't even hesitate, and Steve didn't really have the time to think about how good that made him feel.

“Alright. Then trust me when I say this is important. You need to know how to shoot my gun in case anything happens to me.”

“Fine.” Tony sighed and moved closer. “I'll give it a shot if you insist.”

“I'm insisting. This is my personal gun.” Steve pulled it from his back holster, a beautiful matte black piece with a strip of wood up the grip. “I carry it everywhere. It's a 1911 .45, it's usually standard issue for military personnel, but I loved it during my time as a soldier so I purchased one for myself. A lot of guys keep to the 9mm but I prefer the .45 for more power. You only have to put one or two bullets into someone to put them down. It holds---”

“Eight rounds.” Tony interrupted and held his hand out for the gun. “Seven in the standard capacity magazine and one--” he opened the slide and checked for a bullet. “--one in the chamber. Very traditional of you, keeping the standard mag, I'd expect you to have the high capacity mag or at the very least the aftermarket size. Manual safety, can't be too careful can we? Safety first and all that. Nice recoil, but nothing as big as some of the others out there, though certainly enough to catch someone off guard if they don't know what they are doing.”

“However, I --” Tony popped the safety off, turned and fired off three shots in quick succession, obliterating the water bottle where it sat. “-- I know what I am doing. And since I am sure you keep your sights perfectly lined, I should have no problem putting a bullet in someone's brain should the occasion arise.”

“Jesus Christ , Tony.” Steve's jaw was just hanging open, and he glanced down before coughing and turning away so it wouldn't be quite so visible exactly how much he had enjoyed that little display.

Tony with guns. Who knew?

Tony grinned at him knowingly before clicking the safety back on and handing him the gun again. “Thanks for the demonstration Steve.”

“How do you know… no wait. Why would you know all that?” Steve holstered the weapon. “I mean, that was… that was good , Tony. That was---” his voice trailed off and Tony looked at him curiously.

“Well, Stark Tech made weapons for decades, you know? Even though dad got away from it in his later years, it is still what we are most famous for. You can't grow up as a Stark and not know your way around guns. And the whole genius thing? Plus, Jarvis had a 1911 he taught me how to shoot. He wanted to make sure I could take care of myself if he wasn't around.”

“Jarvis your butler ?” Steve asked incredulously and Tony chuckled.

“I didn't think you would remember me talking about him. Sure, Jarvis my butler. If by butler you mean someone who trained SEALS and Black Ops teams in combat technique on his days off.

“Wow.”

“Yeah, I know. Who would have thought someone so dangerous was hiding behind a bow tie?”

Steve kept sending glances Tony's way as they packed up the remains of their food, his eyes lingering on Tony's mouth, down to his arms and lower and Tony found himself torn between staying silent and just letting Steve look, or saying something snarky and ruining the moment.

It was nice to have Steve looking at him like… that. Nice and a little confusing but still flattering he supposed. But at the same time, snarky was just more what they were going for so--

“Something on your mind, Cap?” Tony challenged. “I can almost hear the gears grinding from here, and is that smoke coming out of your ears?”

Steve ignored the sarcasm and audibly gulped before answering. “I just… I thought I knew you so well, back then. I thought I knew everything about you, and I'm realizing I don't know you at all.”

“Is that a problem?” Tony was thrown for a loop by the seriousness of Steve’s tone.

“No. Not a problem. It's just… interesting.” Steve looked at him for another few seconds before lifting his pack. “I like it, Tony.”

Tony followed him back into the woods, unsure of what to say about any of that.

******************************

******************************

“Do you think we will be there tomorrow?” Tony asked as they sat around a very small fire, heating only enough water to make their MRE’s. “The village, I mean. Do you think we will make it by sundown?”

“Day after, most likely.” Steve sighed. “Having to dodge both the rivers and the roads makes it more difficult, that's for sure. We just can't risk being seen, so slow and steady it will have to be. We are making decent time though. I bet we did over ten miles today. Not a fast as it would be by the river or the road, but fast enough.”

“But you know we are going the right way?” Tony pressed and when Steve nodded, he leaned back against the rock at his back. “That's fine then. The hiking sucks and my feet are killing me and my back is--”

“Complain some more, Tony. That's real productive, thank you.” Steve rolled his eyes and Tony glared at him.

“I was actually going to say that all that sucks, but at least we haven't ran into Rumlow’s goons, and your company is easier to be around than I thought it would be, but now maybe I'll take the last part back.”

“Ugh.” Steve groaned and stretched out on the ground, his head on his pack. “Why do we do that? Why are we having a decent conversation one minute and the next are snapping at each other? Doesn't that make you crazy? It makes me crazy. I just want to be able to talk to you. Why can't we just talk ?”

“I know.” Deflated, Tony picked at a thread on his jeans. “But I don't think either one of us are sure which lines we can and cannot cross with each other. We can't just joke around like we used to because there’s too much other crap that happened. And we can't just be polite because neither one of us have ever been much more than snarky bastards.” He smiled faintIy. “I mean, it's not like we’re strangers in the woods together. There’s history and drama and memories and--and you know.” he motioned between them. “Whatever else is happening.”

“We are sort of strangers.” Steve countered. “I admitted earlier that I feel like I don't really know you. So we could say we are strangers and just start over. I will admit that my first reaction to you wasn't… awesome... so lets erase that and try again.”

“But we can't really do that, can we?” Tony's voice sounded strained. “And since we aren't really strangers, I mean sure, a balance together would be hard to find anyway even in a normal situation, much less with all this shit going on.”

“So, what are we supposed to do to fix this… balance? What can we do?” Steve caught Tony's gaze, watching him steadily. “What do you want to do about it, Tony?”

“I feel like that's a topic for when we aren't running for our lives.” Tony wet his lips anxiously. “And not something we actually need to talk about ever so---” he waved off the rest of whatever he was going to say and tilted his head back to look through the tree canopy to the sky above him, counting the stars he could see, mentally trying to place any constellations he could make out.

“I used to love when you did that.” Steve said several minutes later, his eyes now firmly on the small fire. “Used to drive me crazy. Could watch you do it forever.“

Tony sighed, ran a hand through his hair and braced himself for some more of the surprisingly cutting sarcasm Steve had picked up since they saw each other last. “And what’s that, Captain Rogers? What could I possibly doing right now at this very moment that used to drive you crazy?”

Steve chuckled at the bite in Tony’s tone, and folded his arms behind his head. “You used to sit by the fire and stare up at the stars at night after all the work was done and dishes were put away. You’d whisper the names of the constellations because they were different ones than you see in New York. And then you would smile in this…. I don’t know. Sort of soft way and bite your lip like the stars were telling you secrets and they were making you laugh. And I always wanted to ask you what they were whispering to you.”

Oh. Tony blinked in surprise. Out of everything Steve could have said, Tony hadn't been expecting something sweet or--or-- nostalgic or anything like that.

And it weirded him out. So he cleared his throat and-- “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.” Tony snorted. “Stars don’t tell secrets.”

“Yeah but if they did–” a heavy sigh from Steve and Tony hated himself– HATED himself– for looking, for watching that ridiculous chest rise and fall, for wanting to lean closer to that deep voice and into those big arms.

“If they did tell secrets–” Steve said again and he smiled before closing his eyes. “They would tell them to you.”

“Why’s that?” Tony asked, even as he told himself not to, even as he tried to convince himself he didn’t care.

“You’re so beautiful Tony, even the night sky wants to reach out and know you. You’ve always been beautiful. Ten years hasn't changed that.”

“I'm-- I'm what? You think I'm beautiful?”

“You heard what I said.” was Steve's answer and silence fell over their little campsite, heavy and full and Tony didn't know what to say, didn't even know where to begin to think about what Steve had just… admitted to.

Finally he cleared his throat and said, “Alright, so you said something nice and it's my turn to turn it sarcastic and move the moment along, right? That sounds like what we do lately. Balance, right?”

“Sure Tony.” Steve sighed. “That sounds about right. Go ahead and lay something sarcastic out there.”

“Okay. Uh, is your big ass sleeping outside to keep the fire going all night?”

“Nope. Fully planning on being squeezed into that tent with you.”

“Damn shame, that.” Tony commented and across the fire, Steve smiled just the tiniest bit.

“Damn shame.”

Chapter Text

Day Three in the Forest

The day was shit.

Tony's feet hurt, and his back hurt and his legs hurt and Jesus Christ the bug spray had stopped working almost immediately after putting it on and he was sure he was bit half way to hell.

Another night crammed in a one man tent with Steve-- okay, no, actually that hadn't been all that bad, and Tony's lips lifted in a reluctant smile remembering the feel of Steve’s beard against his skin. Not that he was into beards at all. Not at all. And even after his pseudo bath in the river the day before, they were still two grown men in the middle of a jungle sweating through layers of clothing and ineffective bug spray, so they didn't smell good at all. Not at all . And yet, Tony hadn't thought to complain as they lay pressed up against each other, trying to touch as little as possible but neither one moving away when they did. He hadn't wanted to say anything when Steve ended up wrapping an arm around his waist and pulling him closer.

And when he had woken up and felt Steve, hard and thick, digging into him-- well, it hadn't even crossed his mind to complain about that. Not at all .

Alright, so that wasn't all that terrible, but the rest of the day was shit.

They were both cranky and irritable and needing a break from each other and from hiking and the constant stress of looking over their shoulders every three seconds and avoiding the water. They kept switching between eye-stripping each other and then getting under each others skin with thinly veiled insults and then something would switch all over again and Steve would be looking at him with something beautiful and terrifying in those dark blue eyes and Tony would be stammering and looking away and searching for something sarcastic to change the moment.

The terrain had been gradually getting steeper as the day went on and Tony remembered with a groan the mountain that he could always barely see from camp. Not a huge mountain by any stretch of the imagination, more of a large hill, but after three days on their feet and smaller than usual portions of food and water as well as the added stress of just being around each other, each step seemed like a marathon and by the time they broke for lunch, Tony's temper was near breaking as well.

He kept telling himself that Steve's feet hurt way worse than his, that Steve was carrying a bigger bag than him, that Steve was also stressed out being the one carrying the guns but--but-- damn it Tony was exhausted.

“Right here. Let’s break right here.” Was the first words Steve had said all day, dropping his pack and basically collapsing on to the ground, his back against a tree. “Not too long though, we’ve got to get up and over this mountain if we want to make the village by tomorrow. Too risky to get to the river at all, so conserve your water.”

“Wonderful.” Tony slumped down against his own tree and pulled the last of his protein bars from his bag. “More mountain climbing, no river to at least look at, just miles of green. I've never hated this color so much in my life.”

Steve made an agreeable grunt as he ate his own bit of food, and they sat in silence again for the few moments they had of rest.

“Will you tell me--” Tony swallowed and took a quick sip. “The students that died? Did you know them?”

“Yeah.” Steve said shortly, pouring a little water in his hands to smooth down his hair and rubbing irritably at his beard.

“Who were they?” Tony asked, bracing himself to hear their names. It had been bugging him the entire time, seeing their bodies and not knowing their names. When he got back to New York he was going to personally pay to get them home and laid to rest because no one deserved to--

“It doesn't matter.” Steve shrugged and Tony's mouth dropped.

“It doesn't matter? It absolutely matters who they were!”

“It really doesn't.” Steve crumpled up his trash, tucking it carefully in a pouch so they didn't leave any trace of being there. “Leave it alone.”

“Are you serious?” Tony's voice rose and Steve sent him an annoyed look. “Steve, they are people . How can you say it doesn't matter?”

“They were people, Tony. They aren't anymore. What good would knowing their names do for you besides stress you out? Leave it alone .”

“Jesus.” Tony swore and jumped to his feet. “Look at you. Students-- young people -- died because of some asshole you trusted and you’re saying they aren't people ? They deserve to be remembered, damnit. What the fuck is wrong with you? Are you that heartless? All these years as a mercenary just ruined you, huh?”

“You’re tired and emotional.” Steve waved him off. “We aren't talking about this right now.”

“Tired and emotional.” Tony repeated. “No. No, I want you to tell me right now why you don't think those kids deserve to be named. Why would you even say something like---”

“Because I've seen people die. Lots and lots of people die, over and over, Tony.” Steve shook his head. “And remembering their names didn't do anything except give me nightmares. I’ve seen way too much to try and put a name to every face. Once they are gone, they are just gone . And if I see it any other way then I can't do my job. They are just bodies .”

“Man.” Tony stared at him. “You make a great mercenary, don't you, Captain?”

Dark blue eyes flashed with something unreadable. “Yeah, I really do.”

****************************

“Why are you even back here?” Tony broke the silence again, after they had been hiking for some time. “I mean honestly, how the hell did you and I end up back  in this camp at the exact same time?”

“Well.” Steve took a deep breath and tried to keep the leftover annoyance from earlier out of his voice. “Commander Barnes-- Bucky-- is one of my best friends. He runs this security detail and when work came up in South America, he remembered that I had spent some time here and called me to see if I wanted the job.” He paused on the trail, turning to look at Tony. “I have good memories here for the most part, and didn't want to miss the chance to come back.”

“So you what… do the mercenary thing and then moonlight as an archeologist during the summer?” Tony gestured around them. “Or are you a tour guide? Maybe a Boy Scout leader? You seem to have the whole ‘always be prepared’ thing down. Am I just missing your cute little sash with all your buttons?

“Actually, after that first summer, I went back to New York and got my degree like I'd been planning to. So I actually teach world history and then do the… security things as a side job. I'm not a mercenary Tony, it's not like I sneak into countries and kill generals or poison diplomats.”

“Sure, but you’re still a hired gun, right? Still a lethal fighting machine trained by the good old US military and then set loose to use all those skills under the guise of being a security guard? Sounds like a mercenary to me.”

“Stop.” Steve was irritated now. “I am a teacher , Tony. I teach world history and read a lot in my spare time and try to travel around as much as I can. Working with Bucky…when he needs my help I show up. That's it.”

“You're a teacher?” That got Tony's attention, and he sent Steve an incredulous look before bursting in laughter. “You're a teacher . Like you teach history, and then run around at dig sites with a gun in your free time? Are you serious .”

Steve frowned. “I don't understand why that's so funny. And I told you, the security thing isn’t a full time--”

Tony rolled his eyes. “You're Indiana Jones. That's who you are. You got pretty girls in class trying to flirt with you? You got a whip? What about a dingy brown hat? Is the Holy Grail actually that ugly brown cup? I mean damn Captain , you’re practically a character from a shitty action movie.”

“I teach high school .” Steve's blue eyes narrowed. “If my students flirt with me, I'm not paying attention to it. And no, Tony, I don't have a whip, but it wouldn't surprise me that you're into that sort of thing, considering how open you are to everything else along those lines.”

“Sorry, what did you say?” Tony's jaw clenched, and just like, anything that resembled anything pleasant between them was gone. “Why the hell would you say that? Where do you even get off thinking I am into---”

“Oh come on.” Steve scoffed. “Don't look so surprised. “You can't walk past a newsstand these days without seeing another tabloid with Tony Stark splashed across the front page involved in some orgy or drug bust or whatever. I might be Indiana Jones but all you do is figure out some way to make the headlines doing whatever it is you do for attention.”  

“For attention?” Tony nearly yelled, then backed up several steps, running his fingers through his hair agitatedly. “You think I did all that--all that crap that ended up on the front pages? You think it was for attention?”

“Why else? Why else would you try to be on tabloids?” Steve folded his arms. “Why else would you want the world knowing-- what was the last good headline? Tony Stark prefers his redheads in pairs?”

“Shut up!” Tony shouted. “I was grieving ! I lost both my parents in a three month span! You don't think I deserved to blow off some steam?”

“Plenty of people blow off steam without making the five o clock news!” Steve shot back.

“Yeah well those people aren't me are they?” Tony was seething. “And since you seem to be so interested in my headlines, you’ll know that I haven't don't anything like that in months.”

“Yeah, that last DUI must have really got your attention.” Steve retorted. “Congratulations. You haven't seen the inside of a jail cell in months.”

“I don't have to listen to this from you.” Tony dragged a hand through his hair. “God dammit.” He pushed around Steve and stalked up the trail. “Fuck you.”

********************

Tony didn't stop again, pushing through the woods, up the increasingly steep mountain until it finally tapered off, and then started sloping downwards again.

Steve tried to get his attention to signal for a break, but Tony ignored him and kept right on walking, determined to get as far as possible before breaking for the night.

Steve kept his eyes trained on Tony's back, and didn't say another word.

*******************

They couldn't risk a fire that night, being within several miles of the village and probably within several miles of Brock’s team, so they sat in the dark in a thick patch of trees as the stars came out.

“I'm sorry about your parents, Tony. I didn't mean to sound like I didn't care.” Steve muttered. “I heard about your mom first, and your dad of course was all over the newspapers. I'm sorry. I can't imagine how difficult that was--and has been-- for you.”

“Don't do that. Don't try to make nice after being an asshole.” Tony's voice sounded hoarse, and Steve knew that he had been crying.

“Tony, I've been trying to apologize for every mean thing I've said for days now. We established that we don't know how to talk to each other, and I keep opening my mouth and ruining things and I keep saying I'm sorry and---”

“And it hasn't stopped you from saying those things, has it?” Tony bit out. “Apologies don't mean a whole lot after a while if you keep doing the same shit. Especially if the apologies aren't the right ones.”

“What do you mean the right ones?” Steve asked, but he already knew which apologies they both needed to be saying. But maybe if Tony said it, if he was the first to bring up everything they weren’t talking about… maybe they could talk about it and get it out into the open.

Steve was a coward when it came to this, and he knew it. Tony had already broken his heart once, opening up to talk about--about everything, to apologize-- Steve didn't know if he could do that, if he could be the one to start that all. He wished he could, but he knew he couldn't.

He just...wasn't strong enough for that. Not strong enough to get his heart broken again.

So he asked, “What do you mean the right ones?”

“Nevermind.” was all Tony said, and silence fell again.

Then, “I'm sorry I called you heartless. I actually have no idea what it's like to see people die the way you have. I just-- I just want to make sure those kids are taken care of when this is all said and done. You’re not… heartless. I know it's a way to cope, not seeing bodies as people. I get it. I mean, I don't get it, but I understand the reasoning.”

“I know you do, Tony. I'm sorry I was so abrupt about it. You didn't deserve to be snapped at about that. Um, the kids... they were Robbie and Deanna.” Steve sighed. “Robbie was nineteen, Deanna was twenty. They were the only ones left at camp besides Melissa and part of my team.”

“Thank you. That helps. Now they aren't just...bodies I keep seeing in my head.” Tony glanced over at their one man tent. “Um, you said the names give you nightmares? You get them often? I mean, have you had any since-- since the camp got shot up? Is it like a PTSD thing, or just flashbacks?”

“I don't get nightmares so much anymore. They used to be really bad, every night. I couldn't sleep.”

“After the war?”

“Yeah.” Steve tossed a pebble into the bushes, barely able to make out where Tony was looking towards the tent. “Do I keep you awake with them?”

“No. I never notice. Is there um, anything in particular that you dream about or--?”

Steve stared into the dark for a long time, long enough that Tony thought maybe he wasn't going to answer. “Azhara and Amir.” he said finally. “Mother and son. Young. I cleared a building of civilians, and we went in after the insurgents and they were caught in the cross fire. Everyone said it wasn't my fault, that I couldn't have possibly known they were there hiding but it doesn’t matter. Their names… haunt me. I never should have asked for them, but I felt so guilty I couldn't help myself. I went to their funeral,  I just wanted to give their memory some dignity. All I got for it was nightmares. I see their faces and hear their names and it all just… haunts me.”

“I'm sorry.” Tony whispered and Steve nodded.

“I'm sorry too.”

“I mean I'm sorry for--- for all of that. For what I said earlier too.”

“Yeah, Tony. I'm sorry too. Just… really, awfully sorry. About everything. I had no right to talk to you the way I did and--and I'm just sorry. Sometimes it seems like I open my mouth and shit just pours out.”

“Yeah.”  Tony popped his knuckles. “Well, I feel the same way. Like sometimes I couldn't be nice to you if I tried. Just too much between us. Makes everything a little more--”

“Loaded.” Steve finished. “Like there's some sort of double meaning behind every word.”

“Exactly.”

Steve yawned and dragged a hand down his face. “Let's go to bed. We’ve said enough crappy things to each other for one day, lets get some rest and try it again tomorrow.”

“Sure.” Tony crawled into the tent after Steve, laying on his side, his arm under his head as a pillow as he tried to get comfortable. “Good night.”

“Good night, Tony.”

***************

***************

“Steve.”

“For the love of god , Tony. We have to be up as soon as the sun rises and you want to talk?”

“You said the nightmares were worse after the war. But when we were at the site together back then, I never noticed them.”

“That's because the nights you slept in my bunk I didn't have them.”

“Really?”

“Not ever.”

Tony smiled, and closed his eyes.

Chapter Text

Day Four

Tony was barely paying attention to where he was walking, too exhausted from the constant hiking and from a restless night to attempt any conversation much, less keep track of every step he was taking.

Neither one of them had slept well, all too aware of the way their interactions were deepening, of how every word exchanged seemed to be laced with extra meaning and a world of hurt. Steve had been out of line, calling out Tony's actions the way he had, and Tony had been out of line calling him heartless, insinuating that Steve didn't care about the murdered students.

Both of them had said awful things, and now it was fragile between them, each waiting to be broken all over again by a wrong word or harshly phrased sentence. Or maybe--- both waiting for the other to say something about how Steve didn't have nightmares when he slept next to Tony, or about the apologies and which ones were the right ones.

But neither of them said anything, so they both just kept walking.

Steve, who hadn't hardly shown any signs of slowing down this entire time, was walking with his head down, feet dragging. Tony, who had reached his breaking point yesterday but was still somehow trudging on, was doing even worse.

So when Steve stopped abruptly, Tony didn't notice and ran right into him.

“Damn it, why--”

“Hush.” Steve clapped a hand over his mouth and pushed him deeper into the forest, behind a thick stand of trees. “Just wait.”

“Steve--”

“Hush!” He snapped, and kept his hand over Tony's mouth as he peered through the trees as best he could. “We found them.”

“The village?” Tony mumbled against his hand and Steve shook his head.

“The other mercenaries.” Very carefully he released Tony, and waved him forward, ducking down to make themselves as small as possible as they crept closer to the edge of the hill and looked over the cliff face. “They are making camp close to the village so they can spot us whether we come from the forest, the river or the road.”

“Christ.” Tony swore under his breath, adrenaline pumping, fatigue forgotten now as they stared down at maybe a dozen men milling around a rudimentary camp site. All held automatic rifles, dressed in the same all black uniform that Rumlow and Mike had been in.

“Are these all your men?” Tony hissed and Steve shook his head, getting even lower and crawling on his belly to get a better view.

“No, the standard black uniform is pretty common, especially with security teams. This way they blend in. People expect to see us around every once in awhile because of the dig.”

“Lovely.” Tony stared down at the men for a few minutes, before tensing and elbowing Steve. “Look.”

Rumlow stepped from one of the tents and every line of Steve's body stiffened. “That bastard.” he growled. “I'm gonna destroy him.”

“Maybe we should just try to get to the village and get around them.” Tony offered and Steve shook his head grimly.

“I've got grenades in my pack that are just looking for a new home. You stay here. I'm gonna blow that asshole into about a thousand pieces.”

“Stay here--?” Tony started to protest but Steve was already moving, digging through his bag for ammo, a handful of grenades and slinging his rifle over his chest.

“Stay here.” he said again. “Let me take care of this.” Steve grabbed his .45 from his belt and handed it to Tony. “If you need it, alright? You know how to shoot it, make it a kill shot, because these guy won't hesitate to kill you. If something happens, straight down the hill. Just run for it, you will make it to the village in less than two hours, tops, alright?”

“Steve, I'm not going to--”

“Yes you are.” Steve pressed the gun firmly into Tony's palm. “Kill shots only, down the hill, no more than two hours away, got it?”

“Yeah, I got it.”

“Okay then.” Steve checked the magazine of his rifle one last time and gave a terse nod. “I'll be back. Watch for the explosions.”

“That is absolutely not what Indiana Jones would say.” Tony blurted, and he didn't even know why he said it, because Steve was about to go kill these guys and it wasn't exactly the right time to be making jokes.

But Steve grinned. “I'll work on the catch phrase.”

Then he was gone, disappearing into the trees and Tony went back to peer over the hill, lying flat on his stomach to be as small as possible, eyes trained on the camp, waiting to see when Steve would make an appearance.

“Tony.” Steve reappeared, startling him.

“Hey.” Tony frowned and turned to look at him. “I thought you---”

“Come here.” Steve reached down and dragged Tony to his feet, meeting his eyes for just a second before wrapping a big hand around the back of his neck and bringing their mouths together in a long kiss.

Oh shit.  

It was sensory overload in Tony's brain.

Steve's fingers brushing the ends of his hair. The way his beard rubbed across Tony's cheek and the skin between his goatee. The strength in the bicep that both Tony's hands were curling around. A hungry moan or maybe a satisfied sigh that seemed to vibrate through Steve's chest. The way his lips were all too familiar and completely new all at the same time.

Soft and firm, warm and shiver-inducing, tender but taking all at the same time.

Sensory overload.

So when Steve broke the kiss, it was understandable that Tony was a little shell shocked, understandable that maybe he leaned in to chase Steve’s mouth for a split second.

“I'm sorry.” Steve muttered. “I'm sorry about what I've been saying, I'm sorry for bringing up your parents like that. I'm sorry that I used what was obviously a very difficult time for you as a way to insult you.”

“Steve, it's--”

“I'm sorry about everything, honey, and I know it's not the right time or the right apology but--l--” Steve took his mouth again in a brief kiss, his free hand landing low on Tony's hips, bringing their bodies together for a few seconds. “In case I don't come back, I just needed to see if you tasted the same. Just needed to see if you feel like I remember.”

“Do I?” Tony squeaked.

Steve just smiled and released him, glancing down at Tony's mouth before wetting his own lips, and disappearing back into the jungle.

***************************

It took all of Steve's concentration to get himself down the hill and closer to Rumlow’s camp without giving into the urge to run right back to Tony and kiss him again.

He didn't know what possessed him to do that. It was stupid at best, and cause for Tony to use his 1911 on him at worst. An unexpected kiss after all the hurtful things that had been said, even after apologies, was not a welcome kiss and Steve knew that had it been a terrible idea.

But Tony-- Tony tasted like summertime and memories and warmth and all the things Steve thought he had left behind when he left on that plane for the dig in China.

And Steve couldn't find it in himself to regret that at all.

So even as he clicked the safety off on his rifle, as he lined up the first of the mercenaries in his sights-- Steve knew he was going to do everything in his power to kiss Tony again.

He took a deep breath, steadied himself, and put a bullet through the man’s neck.

***************************

All hell broke loose.

Yelling and screaming as the man went down, dead before he had even collapsed, and the other dozen men scrambling for their weapons.

Steve jumped from the trees and just opened fire, raining bullets on the open camp, racing towards one of the jeeps for cover as the men rallied enough to actually start returning fire.

Bullets glanced off the vehicle, ricocheting over his head when he ducked and Steve waited for the slight break in sound as the men reloaded to jump back up and start shooting again.

One and two, then four and a fifth one dropped where they lay, their legs taken out at the knees and then put down with a head wound. Steve knew better than to aim for the chest, they were all wearing bullet proof vests and not for the first time, he cursed that he hadn't been wearing his when they had gone to the temple. Too caught up in seeing Tony again, Steve had left it at his dorms, and now knew that such a stupid mistake could very well cost him his life.

He cursed again when several shots plowed through the body of the jeep and grabbed one of his grenades from his pocket, yanking the pin and lobbing it up and into the air, counting down the seconds until there was a heart stopping boom and a few cries of wounded men.

Steve didn't care about them, only that the shooting had stopped long enough for him to move, so he dashed across the open space to get to another vehicle, diving behind it and popping up to shoot through the windows and at the rest of the mercenaries who were advancing on him.

They certainly didn't seem well trained, these guys, or at least not as well trained as Steve’s team had been, because he took out three of them without even trying, quick shots to their head and the other three scattered.

Steve stood back up, rifle ready--

--and dropped just as fast when a bullet punched through his right shoulder and out the other side.

“Jesus fuck--- ” Steve swallowed back a groan and pressed hard on the wound, trying not to focus on the blinding pain or the fact that it was his shooting arm that was hurt, and he that he was losing blood at an alarming rate.

“You all done, Cap?” Rumlow’s voice cut through the noise and Steve flinched. “That was fun right? You killed a few of my men? That’s fair considering how many of your men I've killed lately, I suppose.”

Steve reached for his gun with his left hand, ready to stand up and just shut the arrogant man up, but shouted in pain when even a short movement sent pain radiating up his right arm.

“Pretty brave of you, charging into my camp like that, but you always were a stubborn, stupid, son of a bitch huh? Hows your arm?”

“Just fine, Rumlow!” He snapped, wincing as blood soaked through his fingers and started running down his arm. “Doing just fine. I can kill you with one hand, no problem.”

“Good Christ!” Rumlow actually laughed. “Such a good ol boy! Gonna take down the bad guy all by yourself? Too bad I had to take orders from you for four years. I know all your moves!”

“Yeah?” Steve was panting as he worked to get another grenade from his pocket. “ All of them?”

“Why don't you just stand up here nice and easy and maybe I'll give you a bandaid for your arm while the rest of my men go find your pretty boytoy huh? He waiting at the top of the hill? I'll bring him down for a reunion.”

“God, Rumlow.” Steve groaned loudly, masking the sound of his movements. “Just shut up . You always did like to hear yourself talk.”

“Yeah well---”

“Grenade!” One of the men shouted. “Get down!”

“Grenade---?” Steve didn't have time to think about how there was a grenade in the camp when he was still holding his, but there was one blast, then another as one of the other jeeps incinerated, and the ground shook with the force of the explosion. Gas cans on the edge of camp ignited with the heat, and the camp and all the men were obliterated in one giant fireball.

Steve dropped to the ground, cradling his injured arm and closed his eyes, hoping beyond reason that the jeep he was hiding behind would survive, that he would survive, and hoping---

“Are you alive!” Tony yelled,shaking him roughly. “Steve! Steve!”

“Tony?” Steve jerked up in disbelief, then howled as his arm pulled. “Jesus fucking Christ what the fuck are you doing here?”

“Saving your ridiculous ass!” Tony snapped and barely glanced at his wounded arm before yanking at his other one to get him on his feet. “We gotta go! Let’s go!”

“How the hell did you---” Steve was coughing, the black smoke from the gasoline and burning vehicles filling his lungs. “What are you---”

“Let's save questions for the village huh?” Tony suggested and kept urging him towards the woods, away from the flames, not slowing down until they were well within the cover of the trees. “Is your arm--”

“Tony.” Steve held his shoulder with his left hand and just stared at the man. “Honestly. What the fuck.”

“I threw a grenade from the hill.” Tony explained impatiently. “Can we go? You are bleeding just… a lot right now and--”

“You threw a grenade from the hill.” Steve repeated dumbly and Tony nodded.

“Yes. I don't understand why you went in guns blazing when we could have just lobbed grenades at them from the top and accomplished the same thing without you getting your dumb ass hurt.” 

“We couldn't have made it from the top of the hill.” Steve pointed out. “We were definitely too far for a good throw.”

“Oh, yeah. Yeah, no, we were too far so I made a slingshot.” Tony pulled a bandana from his bag and tied it as tight as he could around Steve's arm to try and stop the blood flow, pouring a little water over the wound to try to keep it at least some what clean.

“A sling shot. For grenades.”

“Yes, Steve! Weren’t you ever a bratty twelve year old kid who broke other people’s windows? I made a goddamn sling shot! Now can we please go?!”

“Yeah.” Steve stumbled down the trail behind Tony, his ears still ringing, his shoulder hurting badly enough to make him think about passing out. “A sling shot? Really?”

“Just say thank you.” Tony slowed down, hooking an arm around Steve's waist to help him when he slipped. “And don't look so shocked. I'm a genius remember? A grenade slingshot doesn't even top my list of crazy inventions.”

“I think I love you.” Steve muttered and Tony laughed.

“Delirious, big guy. Im pretending I'm not freaking out about this whole thing, but that's not gonna last very long, so hurry your bearded ass up, huh?”

Steven nodded, and tried to move faster, looking over at the man that had saved his life again .  

“A goddamn slingshot?”

“A goddamn slingshot.”

Chapter Text

“How you doing?” Tony peeked his head into the small room, and Steve looked up with a tired smile.

“Tony. Hey. Not bleeding anymore.” He rotated his shoulder gingerly. “Bullet went clean through so they stitched me up and I should be fine, other than the pain.”

“I have ibuprofen.” Tony offered and shook the bottle in his hand. “If you want it.” It seemed like an inadequate offering after all they had gone through today, but it was all he had. 

“Thank you.” Steve nodded and Tony handed him several pills before sitting down next to him on the small bed. “And thank you... For the slingshot grenade. Saved my life I'm sure. Brock would have tried his damndest to slice me up.” 

“Yeah.” Tony shrugged. “Yeah. No problem.” 

“You okay?” Steve shifted uncomfortably, leaning back against the wall and trying not to jar his arm. “I mean, after today. That wasn't exactly a calm ending to a pretty shitty few days. You… I mean, there were six men down there when you threw the grenades. It shakes a man up, to do that sort of thing. It's alright to not be alright after.” 

“Yeah, I know.” Tony looked down at his hands, rolling the ibuprofen bottle between them slowly. “I know. Six men. But you were down there too so--” he shrugged again, looking like he didn't know what to say. “So you know. What choice did I have?” 

It was stiff between them, neither one of them willing to be the first to bring up the kiss the thing that neither one of them were willing to bring up. 

Steve didn't want to bring it up because he was afraid Tony would be angry about it and want an apology. 

Tony didn't want to bring it up because he was afraid he would launch himself at Steve and demand another one. 

So they ended up sitting and not looking at each other. 

Finally Tony coughed awkwardly and started to stand. “Well, since you're all crippled and everything, I guess I have to be the mighty hunter and find us some food.” 

“Crippled?” Steve squinted at him. “Just my shoulder, Tony. It's not gonna hold me back all that much, I can get food.” 

“No really.” Tony cracked a smile. “Just pop a few more ibuprofen and I'll take care of it. I don't want you whining all day tomorrow about both your gimpy foot and your shoulder so get some beauty rest.” 

“Oh my god.” Steve sighed. “Tony it's not that big of a deal. If you're gonna be a martyr about getting food I can go get it.” 

“Steve!” Tony barked. “You were shot. You got hurt so why don't you just lay there and let me take care of you alright? I can't do a whole lot right now so just let me do the things I can!” His voice caught and Steve's eyes widened in alarm.  

“I just want to get some food for you.” Tony continued, dropping his face into his hands. “You got shot Steve and I can't-- I mean I saw you go down and that fucker Rumlow and his men--” 

“Tony. Hey honey, no, come on. I'm fine.” Steve sat up further, reaching out a hand to comfort him. “Clean wound, stitched up, everything's fine, alright?” 

“Yeah alright.” Tony still didn't look up, his shoulders slumping in exhaustion and defeat and Steve's heart broke. 

“Come here, honey.” Steve said then, unwilling to wait a minute more to get his arms around Tony. “Come here, huh? Let me just hold you.” 

“I'm fine.” Tony smiled a little sadly and leaned away. 

“You're not though.” Steve insisted. “Please come here. Today was shit and nobody expects either of us to be alright with it. Let me hold you.” 

“I'm fine .” Tony said again. “Just because you kissed me before you thought you were going to die, and I just killed a bunch of people--- that doesn't mean we need to do...this.” 

“Maybe we don't need to, but I want to.” Steve held out his left hand. “Please?” 

I don't want to though.” Tony swallowed and stood from the bed. “I don't. We can't even be around each other for more than five minutes without one of us saying something shitty, we don't need to pretend like there’s more here just because it's been a hell of a day, alright? Lets not do this.”  

“Tony. There is more here, we've just been avoiding it. But four days in the damn jungle hasn't really taken the edge off, has it? We should hate each other but we can't seem to stay away from each other. We are either arguing or eye fucking and I'm tired of it.” Steve motioned for him again. “Please, Tony.”  

“I can't do this right now, so please let it go.” Tony said firmly and waited for Steve to reluctantly nod. “Thank you. I'll leave the ibuprofen and see about getting us some food.” 

“How are you going to--” 

“I'll figure it out, alright? Try to get some sleep.” 

Tony was up and gone before Steve could say anything else, shutting the door behind him and making it halfway down the hallway of the hostel type building before his knees gave out. 

He was entirely too emotional to have Steve fucking Rogers trying to be sweet with him.  

He couldn't do this tonight. Not any other night either but especially not tonight. Not after that kiss, and watching Steve charge into that camp alone and seeing him get hurt and knowing without doubt that if he didn't do something, Steve would die down there. 

No, Tony couldn't handle sweet , and wanting to cuddle and all...all that. 

Not tonight. 

****************************

***************************

The place they were staying, as best as Tony could tell, had been old army barracks, and had rows of empty rooms with a large kitchen area in the middle. Most of the rooms seemed inhabitable, but the older couple who owned the building had managed to scrounge up some blankets to lay over the worn mattresses, as well as direct Tony to where he could try to bathe. 

The water had been icy cold but thankfully clean, so Tony stripped down and scrubbed over himself as fast as he could, patting himself dry with a scratchy towel before dunking his clothes in the cold water, watching in distaste as dirt and mud lifted off the fabric, turning the water a nasty brown. 

“Oh no, I can do that.” The older woman who owned the building with her husband came in the room with another towel for him, her words a muddled mix of a local dialect with some Portuguese thrown in. Tony knew enough Portuguese to make stilted conversation, enough to ask for rooms and medical help for Steve and food at least. 

He didn't have any money, but he had offered the watch off of his wrist as payment for the night, and the woman and her husband had accepted it with smiles and murmured thank yous. 

“I'll clean.” She said kindly and Tony wanted to refuse her help, but was just too tired to do it. Pepper would have flipped out at him letting a little old lady do his laundry, but she would have flipped out over the grenade slingshot too, so it was fine. 

“Thank you.” he murmured, repeating it in Portuguese for her, patting her hand. “My friends, too? His clothes.” 

“Yes. Yes.” she nodded quickly and Tony said another grateful thank you, before tightening the new towel around his waist and heading back to the room. 

It was mostly dark now, and Tony felt his way to the other bed on the opposite wall. “Steve.” 

“Mm.” Steve sounded barely coherent and Tony felt bad for waking him. 

“Didn't mean to wake you, but Palita says she will clean our clothes, if you can manage to get undressed. I can-- I can help you, if you need.”

“I got it.” Steve grunted and Tony heard him hiss in pain as he sat up. A few rustled movements, then a pile of clothes landed in the middle of the floor.

“Okay, then.” Tony picked them up, feeling around on the floor to make sure he didn't miss anything, and set them outside their door, waving to Palita when she appeared in the hallway.

Then he collapsed back onto his bed, an arm over his eyes, trying to erase the sight of dead mercenaries from his mind, trying to tell himself that this whole thing was almost over. There was an old truck in the village they could take to get to the bigger city, and there they could meet up with Steve's commander Bucky and Tony could take a plane and get the fuck out of here and away from the jungle and away from… away from Steve.

“Damn it.” A muttered curse from across the room and Tony lifted his head.

“You alright?”

“Just trying to get comfortable.” Steve huffed. “Damn shoulder is making me crazy.”

“Can I do something to help? Another pillow or something? I could prop you up so you aren't--”

“No.” Steve said shortly. “But thank you.”

“You’re mad at me.”

Maybe it was the dark that made Tony so brave, maybe it was knowing that this whole nightmare was almost over, maybe just having some distance from Steve after being forced to be in each others space for the past four days. But either way-- “You’re mad because I didn't want you to hold me.” 

“I'm not.” 

“Well then what's your problem? Besides just generally being an asshole, because wow I don't remember you like this.” Tony said bluntly.  

Steve chuckled a little then blew out a deep breath. “I get it, Tony. You wouldn't have wanted to lay next to me when you saw me four days ago, why would you want it now? Adrenaline aside, it's been a shitty few days and we have been basically at each others throats. It was just an adrenaline crash, needed some physical contact, I shouldn't have asked you for it. It's fine. Boundaries are a good thing between us since apparently we are basically oil and water when we are together.” 

“That's not why I said no.” Tony argued. “Not because I thought you were just transferring your stress to me. I know you were trying to comfort me and I appreciate it.” 

Steve grimaced as he tried to get comfortable and his voice was pained when he spoke again. “Ah, it must be my rusty charm then. So many years as a mercenary and I'm not as smooth as I used to be. My charms all run out.” 

Steve was giving him an easy way out, a chance to make a sarcastic quip and leave it alone, and Tony appreciated it. 

But under the cover of dark, when they weren’t sharing a tent, when they each had space to breathe-- he was finally ready to talk about a few things. 

“Oh I don't know about being a mercenary zapping all your charm.” he started slowly, trying to keep as much bite from his tone as he could. “I mean, it seems like your charm runs out after prolonged exposure to me anyway. I mean, it's not super charming to leave your boyfriend without saying anything. Should I just be glad yor charm lasted all summer that time? Or surprised it only lasted three days this time?” 

The mood in the room was suddenly so tense Tony could almost feel it weighing down  on him. 

“What did you say?” Steve finally said, stiffly. “About leaving you without saying anything? Are we really gonna do this right now?” 

“We gotta do it sometime, right?” Tony pointed out. “We aren't sleeping outside, we don't have to hike tomorrow, we should just hash it out and get it over with. And you were willing to be physical with me and damn Steve I just can't do that with all of this between us. I can't. Otherwise we are just getting grabby and--” 

“I did not leave without saying anything.” Steve interrupted then, sounding pissed . “ You’re the one who never answered when I called. Would it have killed you to talk to me just once and let me know what was going on? Would it have killed you to pick up the phone and give me a chance?” 

“What are you talking about?” Tony sat up on his bed, turning to lean against the wall and squinting to try and see Steve in the low light. “Let you know what what was going on? I didn't want to fucking talk to you, Steve, what do you mean would it have killed me to pick up the phone? Would it have killed you to leave a note?” 

“I did leave a note.” 

“No, you didn't.” 

“Yes.” Steve groaned as he sat up too. “Tony, yes I did . Do you think so little of me that I would just hop on a plane and leave you without saying anything? After everything we went through that summer? You think I was that kind of person?” 

“Do you think so little of me that I would just be angry with no reason?” Tony shot back. “What did you expect from me when I got back to camp and you were gone?” 

“Apparently I expected too much.” Steve laughed, but it wasn't a pretty sound. “But god you were spoiled back then. I shouldn't be surprised.” 

Shouldn't be surprised ?” Tony's voice rose and he had to make a conscious effort to bring it back down, angry at himself for being so upset. It was ten years ago, why did it still hurt so damn much? 

“No, Tony, I shouldn't be surprised. I just figured you would react differently once you read my note.” 

There was no note. I was twenty years old and the man I had been dating all summer just up and left me with no word!” Tony burst out, way more emotion than he wanted coming through the words. “Do you think that was easy for me?” 

“Yeah? Well I was twenty four and had just had to leave the first person I had ever loved behind. Do you think that was easy for me ?” 

“Wait.” Tony froze. “ What ? What did you say?” 

“What?” Steve snapped and Tony blinked into the near dark. 

“What did you say? You loved me? You loved me. Really? Like you loved me?” 

“Of--of course I love you.” the heat left Steve's words, and now he just sounded worn out. “I do. I mean I did . Of course I did.” 

“You never--” Tony hated that his voice cracked, hated that he had heard the I do but couldn't bring himself to ask about it. “You never said anything like that. I had no idea. I mean, I had the biggest crush on you. I was head over heels about you but you never really said anything real, it was all just that you were crazy about me and wanted more. And then you left and-- you loved me?” 

“I was waiting for the right moment to tell you. I wanted it to be special. Wanted it to be...Private. I wanted it to be--” Steve coughed to clear his throat. “I wanted it to be a moment you wouldn't forget, didn't just want to throw the words out there, you deserved better than that.” 

“Something special like our first night together.” Tony whispered. 

“Yeah. Something like our first night together.” 

A heavy silence, full of unspoken words and rapidly relived memories as they each struggled through their reactions to the conversation. 

“So you left a note.” Tony said timidly, some time later. 

“Yeah.” Steve cleared his throat again. “In that blanket. The blue one you stole from me? I figured when you got ready for bed that night you would see it and realize what happened.” 

“When Sam told me you left, I put the blanket back on your bunk. It smelled like you and I couldn't handle that.” Tony said woodenly. “I didn't even unfold it or anything. I never even looked at it again.” 

“Oh.” 

“I can't believe how bad this all still hurts.” Tony whispered and Steve nodded, even though he knew Tony couldn't see him. “I mean, ten years and I still hate you for it. For breaking my heart, for leaving without a goodbye and now I know-- what a fucking misunderstanding. Ten years.” 

“Yeah. I guess so.” 

Silence. 

“What did it say?” Cautiously, quietly, a line of hope in Tony's voice that he couldn't hide. 

“It said--” Steve lay back down on his pillow, adjusting his arm so it didn't hurt so bad. “It said that the chance to go on the China dig had come up and I couldn't say no. That I felt bad for leaving, but I knew you would understand because we had talked all summer about how great that particular dig would be. That this was something better to do than just kicking around New York for a month waiting for school to start. I knew you would understand.” 

“Something better had come up.” Tony repeated. “ God .”  

“Yeah. I said I would call you from China as often as I could. And that the dig would be over before you went back to school, that the second I was back in the States I wanted to see you, wanted to rent a hotel room or bring you to spend a weekend at my place and make good on my promise to spoil the hell out of you.” 

“I said that---” softer now and Tony leaned closer to hear it all. “I said that I loved you, and I wished I had told you sooner, but the first time I could get you on the phone I'd tell you then. And I said that I would miss you. So I called you, as soon as I could--” 

“And I never picked up the phone.” Tony finished. “Not that time, and not all the times after. Every damn time you called I told Helen to hang up on you. Every time.” 

“Yep.”

“So you--- you thought I had read the note and was being bratty by not talking to you. And I thought you had left me for something better and didn't care.” 

“Sounds like it.” 

God .”  

Silence. 

Steve was starting to wonder what to say, what else he could say, to make this better, to make it less painful for both of them. But then there was a soft noise and his bed dipped as Tony slid under the blankets next to him, snuggling into his side, a hand resting feather light on his hurt shoulder.  

“Tony?” Steve froze because he wasn't wearing anything , and as best he could tell, Tony was only wearing a towel and that was a whole lot of skin pressed up against a whole lot of skin. “Tony, I'm not dressed.” 

“I don't care. It seems weird not to sleep next to you after sharing that fucking tent for a few nights.” was all Tony said, so Steve lifted his left arm to pull him closer, letting it settle across Tony's back. 

“Do you still hate me for breaking your heart, Tony?” 

“I don't know. Do you hate me for breaking yours?” 

“No.” Steve knew his voice sounded rough, hoarse. “No, Tony, I never did. I was always just sad.” 

“I'm sorry I broke your heart, Steve.” 

Steve took a chance and pressed a kiss to Tony's hair, and didn't say anything about the dampness on Tony's cheeks or the way the brunettes breath was hitching. 

“I'm sorry I broke your heart, too,Tony.”

Chapter Text

Waking up to Tony's head on his chest was… all kinds of perfect, and Steve hated that he had had to move.

But nature had called and wow did he need a shower so he had regretfully left a nearly comatose Tony in his bed and made his way down the hall to see about a bath.

The sweet lady-- Palita?-- had offered to help him wash, or at least that's what Steve thought she was offering judging by that hand motion, but he waved her off anyway, and tried to clean himself as best he could, at least getting the dirt from under his nails, running a rough washcloth over everything else until he didn't smell like jungle anymore.

His beard was starting to look messy, but there wasn't a whole lot he could do about that, so he splashed some water over it and his hair as well as he could with one arm, and grabbed a towel.

“Clothes.” Palita reappeared with his clothes looking much cleaner and dry.

“Thank you.” Steve said awkwardly, having no idea how to say it in a way she would understand, so he simply grinned and bent to kiss her hand, laughing when she burst into giggles and waved him away.

“You charming Palita?” Tony was awake when he got back to the room, already dressed in jeans and packing his bag with his extra change of clothes. “I could hear her giggling from-- from-” Tony swallowed hard when he turned around and saw Steve, still damp and with a towel wrapped snugly around his hips. “ Shit .”

Steve was rotating his arm, trying to keep it from getting stiff, twisting and reaching, and looked up in time to see Tony snap his head around to look away.

“You alright?” He asked, reaching for his own pants, and from his position facing the wall, Tony nodded quickly.

“Yeah. Sure. Just anxious to get on the road.” Tony's voice was a little too high to be normal and Steve caught it, hiding a pleased smile.

“Yeah.” Steve stepped into his jeans, having to do an entirely unmanly wiggle to get them up to his waist with only one hand. “You and me both. Palita’s husband found us a truck to use so we can head out as soon as we can get a few supplies.”

“Awesome.” Tony turned back around-- too soon oh shit look away damn it --and was treated to the sight of Steve running a hand through his hair, shaking water out of it, the muscles in his chest and stomach shifting as he tried to stretch, his jeans loose around his waist, button and fly undone and if Tony looked close enough he could definitely see where a line of darker-than-blonde hair began, leading down into the jeans and---

“Tony?” Steve paused in getting dressed and raised an eyebrow and Tony's face flamed red as he tore his gaze away. “See something you like, genius boy?” He was teasing, joking, and Tony took the chance to erase some of the tension between them.

“Nah, just wondering if I should call Palita to help with your pants. You don't really have enough there to hold them up, huh?”

“Damn it Tony!” Steve shouted with laughter. “The sass !”

Tony grinned, glad the moment hadn't turned into… something. Something he had been thinking about all night but wasn't sure he was ready for yet.

“You packed?” Steve zipped his pants up, easing into a t shirt carefully, holding his breath so he wouldn't cry out when his right shoulder pulled sharply. “Let's go.”

“Yeah.” Tony slung his backpack over his shoulders. “Let's get the hell out of here.”

He passed a little too close to Steve on the way through the door and when their eyes met he sucked in a quick breath at the look in Steve's gaze.

Apparently his little comment hadn't diffused the situation at all.

The only problem with talking about things, with clearing the past and being able to move forward, was that now there wasn't anything clouding their interactions, nothing muddling their words. They could say exactly what they wanted, with no worries of double meanings and loaded questions.

It was just clear and honest between them now.

Right now, Steve was looking at him like he honestly wanted to throw him in the bed and not let him loose for a few days.

And Tony honestly thought he would be alright with that.

Shit.

It was going to be a long day. 

********************

********************

A few hours later, food bought, supplies gathered and a few extra cans of gas for the truck, and they were on their way up the winding bumpy road that would eventually get them to the city. They were mostly quiet, stealing looks at each other out of the corner of their eyes, arms bumping when they reached for their water bottles at the same time. Tony kept watching Steve’s hands, the way they curled around and moved down the steering wheel, and it shouldn't have been sexy watching his fingers flex around the wide wheel, or the muscles in his arm tense around every turn but damn .  

Just damn .

One particularly large jolt had sent Tony sliding across the bench seat and against Steve's shoulder, his hand landing high on Steve's leg as he tried to stop himself. His face flaming, Tony had muttered an apology and Steve had assured him it was alright, even mentioned that if Tony wanted to sit next to him he didn't have to pretend it was the truck’s fault, he could just come right over and climb on Steve’s lap.

Tony's mouth had gone dry, and he had stammered out a half assed retort about Steve wishing he would or something along those lines and forced himself back to his side, feeling like a bumbling teenager on an awkward first date.

Steve wasn't doing much better, gripping the steering wheel tight with both hands, even though it made his right shoulder hurt. It had been one thing to tease and look this morning at the hotel when they both had things to do and wanted to leave. But now it was just a whole lot of jungle and a whole lot of road and only a foot or so of space in between them, which seemed like way to little considering how badly Steve wanted to pull the truck over and bend Tony over the hood and just--

Shit , things were tense now that they had talked everything else over. With nothing from the past coloring their interactions bitter, or their words hurtful, there wasn't anything left except the camaraderie that came with saving each other's lives and surviving together-- and pure attraction.

Camaraderie and attraction and the overwhelming need to rip each others clothes off to finally let off some steam together.

Damn it . Steve held the steering wheel even tighter, his knuckles turning white as he forced himself to concentrate on the road and not on Tony. He even picked up the satellite phone and tried Bucky again, for the third time since waking up this morning.

The morning call hadn't even connected, not ringing even once . He had put the phone down with a frown, and Tony didn't say anything about how much that worried him, but Steve had seen it on his face anyway.

This time was no different, the phone not even picking up a dial tone or a signal or anything when he punched in Bucky's number and that was...Steve was worried. Which at least kept him from picturing Tony naked so that was a plus he supposed.

Tony grimaced as Steve took a rough corner just a little too fast, trying not to groan as the worn shocks on the truck did nothing to absorb the bumps. It was certainly faster in the truck, even with the horrible road, but it wasn't more comfortable , perched stiffly on threadbare seats and a ruined suspension system. And even with the vehicle, they still would have to spend a night in the jungle, so when Tony caught Steve biting his lip as they jolted over a particularly rough patch, switching to drive with his left arm to give his right a break, he spoke up.

“Hey, let's take a break.”

“Tony we really need to keep going. We already have to spend the night out here as it is, and I want to be as close to the city as possible before we stop.”

“Okay, but a fifteen minute break won't kill anything.” Tony rolled his eyes. “I need to find a little boys room and we should probably check the gas tank right? This thing doesn't have a fuel gauge and for all we know we could be getting a mile to the gallon right now.”

“Yeah, alright.” Steve slowed and pulled over as best he could, shutting the truck off and taking a deep breath. “Hey, do you have anymore pain meds?”

“Yeah.” Tony tossed him the ibuprofen, and climbed out of the truck. “Give me a few minutes, yeah? Just gonna stretch my legs.”

“Yeah, Tony whatever you need.” Steve leaned back in the seat and swallowed four of the pills, washing them down with some water and closing his eyes.

Jesus everything hurt. His arm felt like it was in fire, and like his teeth would rattle out of his head from the road and god his head was pounding. He had slept fine last night, better than fine with his arms around Tony, but was still exhausted. He didn't think he would ever not be exhausted after this. His foot was killing him, and the ibuprofen didn't help with that, not much did since he refused to take the heavy duty narcotics. He just lived with it, and it seemed so much worse today.

And damn , he was worried that he couldn't get ahold of Bucky, more worried than he was willing to admit. Even though they had taken care of Brock, he had no idea how many men had attacked Bucky's team and the students. He didn't know how many men they had lost, or if any of the students had been killed or anything, and it was driving him mad.

And the worst thing out of everything , was that tomorrow night, maybe the night after at the latest, Tony would be on one of his private jets back to New York.

Steve was so relieved this nightmare was over. Or almost over. All they had to do was get to the city tomorrow and it was done. They would be safe. He could go back to teaching high school history and wearing khakis and polos and probably never take Bucky up on another goddamn security job offer again. Tony would be back running his company and dating lines of beautiful women and that was… that was fine.

But Steve wasn't ready to say good-bye to Tony.

Not even close.

After finally talking last night, after realizing that everything had been a big fucking mistake, that neither one of them had been in the wrong even if neither one were really right, it was like a weight from his shoulders, like he could breathe for the first time in years. All the anger and confusion he hadn't realized was still lingering somewhere in his heart was gone and it was… freeing.

And then to make everything even better, Tony had spent all night in his arms willingly .

Not because they had to share a small tent, not accidentally ending up closer than they had meant to be. The moment between them in bed hadn't been any snarky comment that was laced with innuendo, or a stare that lingered too long.

No, Tony had slipped out of his own bed and into Steve's, laying his head over Steve's heart and wrapping his arms around him before snuggling close and falling asleep almost instantly.

They hadn't talked about anything else, about how they might have still felt about each other or anything . Just the misunderstanding, and that they didn't hate each other and-- and then they had slept and it seemed like everything was back to normal between them this morning.

Except then Tony had turned around and caught him shirtless and those dark brown eyes had lit with something hot , his face turning red and his hands clenching and Steve had been about five seconds from grabbing him and kissing him senseless, just like he had in the woods.

But better .

And for longer and---

Damn. 

He needed to find Tony. He didn't know what he was going to say to him, but he needed to find him anyway.

**************

“Tony?” Steve called, heading in the general direction he had last seen him, keeping his eye on the truck. “Hey, Tony are you around? We need to get going soon.”

He heard a noise, something soft that didn't quite belong in the forest and slowed his steps, checking again that he could see the truck before pulling his .45 from his back holster, wincing at the heft of it in his hand.

Damn it, he was useless hurt like this. It was getting worse too, not being able to rest like he should. It sucked. Taking a bullet just sucked .

Popping the safety, Steve kept moving, faster now when he heard a cry or maybe a whimper? They were still close enough to the village so it could be somebody hurt and needing help, or even just a wounded animal that would be better off put out of it's misery. Either way, Steve had to check it out, so he slowed again as he got closer to the noise, peering cautiously around some bushes.

Fuck . It was Tony .

Tony, who was on his knees on the forest floor, his pants shoved down to his thighs, one hand wrapped around his cock, the other one planted on the ground to hold himself steady. He was panting, muttering-- fuck fuck fuck -- his breath coming loud and harsh, hand moving quickly over himself and Steve couldn't even begin to look away.

It wasn't right, of course, watching Tony like this and Steve had a feeling that it would land him in some Book of Creeps somewhere, but right now he didn't care.

Tony was just-- he was just gorgeous, even in this private moment. Especially in this private moment, lost in his pleasure, mouth opening on a gasp as he got closer. Steve found himself wishing that he had found him sooner, because he would have loved to see Tony from the beginning, stroking himself to hardness, that first whimper when it started feeling perfect . He wanted to see the instant Tony had had to lean forward to put one hand on the ground, the moment he had been too far gone to just balance on his knees. Steve wanted-- needed-- to know what Tony was thinking about, who he was picturing as he brought himself off.

“Tony.” he whispered before he caught himself, and he and Tony froze and for a panicky second Steve thought he had heard him.

And then there was a heavy groan, Tony's back bowing, his fingers digging into the dirt as he spilled into his fist and the ground. “Shit, shit Steve-- Steve--

Steve covered his mouth with his hand, biting his tongue hard to stave off a shout, suddenly feeling like he was seconds from ruining his own pants, listening to Tony call out for him as he came, listening to the breathy moans and quiet oh yes, yes, fuck from the beautiful brunettes mouth.

Steve waited until Tony was done, until he was leaning back on his heels and chuckling a little, rinsing his hand with his water bottle and fastening his pants. He watched as Tony stood unsteadily to his feet, running fingers through his hair and speaking just loud enough for Steve to catch it.

“Stupid, bearded history teacher.” Tony was laughing at himself. “Got me jerking off in the woods like a goddamn teenager. God damn it. Killing me. Damn it.”

He took a quick breath, glancing around to make sure he hadn't left any trash or anything behind, then drained the rest of his water bottle as he got ready to leave.

It occurred to Steve that any second now, Tony was going to start heading back for the truck so he silently clicked the safety back on and backpedaled as quietly and as quickly towards the truck as he could, breaking into a run as soon as he was clear of the forest and throwing himself into the front seat, leaning forward to bang his head against the steering wheel.

How the fuck was he supposed to drive the rest of the day with Tony, and spend tonight next to him after seeing and hearing that ?

He was fucked .

Well not fucked , which was actually all he could think of at this exact moment, but definitely in for a challenge. He could barely keep his hands to himself as it was and now--

“Hey.” Tony jumped back into the truck. “Sorry about that. Apparently I needed more time with nature than I thought.”

“Uh yeah.” Steve didn't even look at him, just shoved the truck into drive and pulled back onto what passed for a road in this part of the country. “Yeah, no problem, Tony. That's fine.”

“You alright? Your arm bugging you?”

“Nope.” Steve said honestly, gripping the wheel tight. “Literally hasn't crossed my mind.”

“Oh, great.” Tony pushed the seat back to give himself more leg room. “Well, onward I guess.”

“Yep.” Steve nodded, keeping his eyes firmly trained ahead, one hundred percent not looking at Tony's mouth or hand or lap or anything else like that. “Onward.”

********************

********************

“So let me get this straight.” Tony was opening the sandwiches they had made in the village that morning, laying Steve’s out on the paper wrapping. “We got all sorts of supplies in town right? Gas and extra food, clean clothes, all that. But it didn't occur to you to look for a bigger tent?”

“Uh, no.” Steve frowned, looking down at their tent. “I guess it didn't. There was just a lot of other stuff going on and I forgot.” They had stopped a little earlier than usual, not wanting to navigate the shitty road in less than perfect light, and Steve needing to be out of the truck and given some space from Tony before he blurted out something about what he had seen and how badly he wanted to see it up close and--

“We can always sleep in the truck.” Tony suggested and Steve blinked at him. “Or I can at least. Your big ass with your busted arm needs the space to stretch out anyway. You can take the tent, I can sleep in the truck.

“That's true.” Steve agreed and then shrugged nonchalantly. “But um, will you sleep in the tent with me anyway?”

“Are you serious?” Tony stopped halfway through a bite. “I mean, we have the option to sleep separate and you want to cram into that tiny tent?”

“We had the option to sleep separately last night too and we squeezed into a twin size bunk together and slept just fine.” Steve pointed out and Tony chewed slowly before nearly emptying a bottle of water as he tried to figure out what to say.

“Um--that is accurate, I suppose.”

Steve nodded, studying him for a long minute before seeming to make up his mind about something. “Did you have a good walk in the woods earlier?” Steve asked, as he turned to unpack his bag, and Tony froze, looking remarkably guilty all of the sudden.

“Why do you ask?”

“I just want to know how it went.” Steve cocked his head, his lips twitching into a smile. “Find a nice quiet spot to stretch your legs? Burn off some energy? Commune with nature a little?”

“I--I--I--” Tony literally couldn't put a sentence together, his face flaming red, knowing that Steve knew just about the most embarrassing thing in the world. “You--I--Nature--stretching.”

“I'd like you to sleep with me tonight, Tony.” Steve stated, looking pointedly at the tent and then back at Tony. “I know you do, too. So sleep with me. Like you did last night. Like you used to. Just curled up on my chest, your head over my heart, keeping my nightmares away.”

“Last night was--” Tony cleared his throat, scrambling to find a semblance of composure. “I mean we had finally hashed out some stuff and wanted to be close to each other. It made total sense at the time. So now we get a clean slate right? We can start over like you said the other day, find a good balance. Not continue on this whole crazy emotional thing.  I mean, it's all over right? Rumlow’s gone and we are like a day away from safety and finding your team and we have a chance to--”

“Tell me how your walk went, Tony.” Steve knelt in front of him, taking the sandwich right of Tony's hands. “But tell me in detail this time. I want to hear it all. Everything . What were you thinking about?”

“Damn it, Steve.” Tony breathed, his eyes wide. “We shouldn't do this. We shouldn't .”

“Say my name like you said it earlier.” Steve whispered. “When you came like that. Tony, I've never seen anything so--” he shuddered and Tony bit his lip almost in half trying not to moan. “Say my name. Say my name and let me---”

“How is this going to end up any different than before?” Tony was scrambling, trying to come up with any reason to talk himself out of this . “If we do this, I mean. We are still going our separate ways and it's going to be exactly the same so--”

“It won't.” Steve shook his head. “Because we are both adults now, who know what we are getting into, not kids who didn't have a clue. But don't worry about that yet. All I can think about is kissing you. Can I kiss you Tony?” Steve leaned in closer, putting one hand on the tree behind Tony's head.

“Absolutely not!” Tony blurted and pulled away. “No way, don't you dare. Not--not right now.”

“Don't I dare?” Steve frowned. “That seems harsh.”

“You haven't brushed your teeth since this morning.” Tony finished, but his eyes were sparking as he chewed at his bottom lip anxiously. “I need a minute to stop freaking the fuck out, so why don't you give me some time and go brush your teeth or trim your beard or something? Not that you're not surprisingly minty fresh  and looking just hunky as hell considering the circumstances and all, but I need a minute, so you know. Leave.”

Tony knew he sounded like he was stalling, and he absolutely was. He was unsure of what was happening between them, nervous about it, and for a second he thought maybe Steve would make fun of him when he started to smile, and Tony tensed for a snarky comment or a joke or anything that would prove Steve was just messing with him.

Please don't be messing with me.

But instead-- “I'll be right back.” Steve stood smoothly and grabbed his toiletry bag, shooting Tony a heated look and disappearing into the treeline.

Tony smoothed his trembling hands down his thighs and closed his eyes. “How was your walk, Steve? Mine was awesome, even though it seems like maybe it wasn't quite as private as I would have hoped. But hey that's fine. Goes hand in hand with the one man tent and the fact that I can't keep my goddamn eyes off you. It's fine. It's fine. It's fucking fine. Jesus.”

He counted to a hundred forwards and backwards and then to a hundred again in Italian to get his mind to stop racing and tried hard to pull himself together.

“It's just a kiss, Tony. It's just Steve. It's just us. It's fine. Shit .”

“I always heard geniuses talk to themselves. Nice to know that's true.” Steve was back, tossing his bag back into the truck and making a beeline right for Tony. “Brushed my teeth, we good now, or do you need some more time?”

“Yeah.” Tony smiled sheepishly and sat up a little straighter against the tree. “Yeah, we’re fine. Sorry, just a little nervous.”

“No reason to be nervous.” Steve murmured, moving right into his space, pushing Tony's knees apart to kneel between them, and swiping his thumb over Tony's bottom lip. “You keep biting your lip like that and it's gonna bruise, honey. Does it hurt?”

“No.” Tony's throat moved as he swallowed. “No, it doesn't. Is your arm okay?”

“I don't really care about that right now.” Steve whispered and tilted Tony's chin up gently, bringing his right hand up to carefully hold the back of his neck, bringing Tony closer. “Tony I just want to--”

“Me too. Come on.”

Tony leaned in first, pushing their lips together hard and Steve breathed a laugh against his mouth before shifting his weight and pressing Tony back into the tree, taking over the kiss with teasing flicks of his tongue, then firmer strokes until Tony opened to let him in.

“Oh beautiful.” Steve moaned and dove into Tony's mouth eagerly, licking and tasting through every corner until Tony's was panting and winding his fingers through Steve's hair, pulling on the dark strands as their tongues slid together. “Tony, god damn it--”

Steve turned them, switching hands to ease Tony down onto the ground, settling between his legs and swallowing the desperate groan from Tony's lips. “Tony, Tony , honey you taste so good.”

Steve .” Tony closed his eyes, tightening his fingers in Steve's hair as lips moved from his mouth and down his jaw, teeth on his earlobe a sharp pain that only made everything more sensitive and he couldn't find it in himself to care when a high whine left his throat, especially when Steve practically growled over it.

Nuzzling into his neck, Steve nipped and licked across all that beautiful skin, rocking his hips and loving the way Tony lifted right back against him, spreading his legs further to let Steve lay all that much closer.

“You need to trim your beard. Gonna give me a rash.” Tony huffed, sounding anything but displeased about it. “How am I going to explain beard burn on my neck?”

“Yeah well, how about I give it to you somewhere where no one would see?” Steve offered, lifting his head and smiling wickedly. Tony looked at him blankly for a second and then flushed dark red, nails digging into Steve’s shoulders.

Jesus , Steve.”

“Hell yeah.” Steve shifted down, working his hand up and under Tony's shirt to touch skin, wishing both of his arms were working so he could just rip his clothes off already but this-- oh fuck this was good too. “You feel good, honey, taste so good, I can't get enough of you.” His tongue flicked out over Tony's stomach, dipping into his navel and Tony shuddered beneath him, so Steve did it again, thrusting in and out of the slight divot as his fingers started tugging at the waistband of Tony's pants.

“Shit.” Tony cursed out loud as his hips jerked and Steve sighed into him, lifting himself back up so they could kiss, hungrier this time. Tony's teeth dragged Steve’s bottom lip, sucking lightly and Steve groaned, running a hand down Tony's thigh until he could hook under his knee and bring Tony's leg up around his waist.

“I thought--” Tony gasped. “I thought you--beard burn--somewhere no one would see it--”

“Tony.” Steve's voice was dark and deep and Tony thought he would explode just from hearing his name said like that. “Tony, there are so many things I want to do to you, so many places I want to put my mouth and god just so many ways I want to make you come apart, but all I can think about is kissing you. Just kiss me baby, and we can figure everything else-- -mmph!” he shut up when Tony lunged up, surging into his mouth, rolling his hips and tightening the leg around Steve's waist to make him fucking move, laughing into his lips when Steve made a strangled sound of surprise, and then kissed him back just as hard, lips and teeth and tongues and fuck everything was so good. Just warm and wet and hungry and---

The shrill ring of the satellite phone ripped through the air, and ruined the moment.

Chapter Text

“Damn it.” Steve put his head on Tony’s shoulder. “ Damn it . Tony I have to--”

“Yeah.” Tony ran a shaking hand through Steve's hair. “Yeah, no you have to get that. Could be Buck.”

“Could be Buck.” Steve repeated, but then he shifted on top of him and Tony groaned and wound his arms around Steve's neck again and Steve bent his head to kiss him--

--the phone kept ringing.

“Go.” Tony pulled away, closing his eyes and throwing an arm over his face. “ Fuck . Go answer it.”

“I don't want to answer it.” Steve nuzzled into his neck. “They can call back.”

“Steve.” Tony tugged at his hair. “Real life time. This is fun but we have got to get out of here, remember?”

“Real life time?” Steve stared down at him and Tony ran light fingers over his jaw, smoothing through the dark hair on his beard and the want in his eyes faded to something like resignation.

“Real life time.” He repeated. “Time to get out of the jungle and back to the world.”

“But Tony--”

“Answer the phone.” Tony said firmly, and just like that, the moment between them was over, relegated to something not real so they could focus on more important things.

Steve knew if he moved, if he rolled off of Tony and answered his phone then whatever this might have been would be over. Real life time.

“Tony--”

“Please.” Tony whispered, and sounded so fragile that Steve thought he might actually break. “Please answer the phone.”

“Alright.”

Steve lifted himself off Tony and reached for his phone. “This is Charlie-Alpha-Papa, One-Seven-Seven-Six, Identify?”

“One-Nine-Four-Four, Tango-Whiskey-Sierra.”

“Acknowledged.” Steve closed his eyes and held the phone tighter. “Thank god.”

“Yeah, we’re here. We’re here. Things are fine.”

“You’ve been out of contact.”

“Had to replace our gear. We are in a neutral spot and can come get you if needed.”

“Is the neutral spot the previous location?”

“Affirmative.”

Steve paused, looking over at Tony who had slid back up to sitting, looking entirely disheveled and a little upset, shaky hands trying to fix his clothing. His hair was messy after a week with no product, his usually neat goatee starting to look scraggly and unkempt. And he was tired . Even though they had been just a few minutes from not sleeping at all , Tony was exhausted and it showed.

“Cap?” Bucky's voice again. “You there? Can I send a chopper? I can be there to get you in a few hours.”

“That's an affirmative, Buck. I don't have an exact location, but will pop smoke when I hear the chopper.”

“I'll get ya Cap, don't worry about it.”

“Side as well.”

“Of course. Side as well. Soon, Cap. Pop some smoke, can't wait to see you.” Bucky's voice softened. “Been a hell of a week.”

“Yeah.” Steve rubbed his eyes. “Yeah it has. Soon.”

“Tango-Whiskey-Sierra out.”

Steve hung up and put his phone away before sighing and looking back at Tony. “Well. I guess there's no need for the tent then, huh? Chopper should be here ASAP.”

“Awesome.” Tony smoothed his shirt down and stood, trying to put himself back together. “That's great. I'm fully looking forward to a hot shower and a real bed. Um, sounds like everythings okay on that end?”

“As far as I can tell.”

“Got an approximate time for the chopper?”

“Just soon. Few hours at the most I would think.”

“Awesome.” Tony said again. “I'm gonna sit in the truck then, because I'm tired of sitting on the ground.”

“We have a few more hours, Tony.” Steve held his hand out. “Come here. It doesn't have to be time for real life yet. We don't have to do..all that, but I'd like to hold you, if you'd let me.”

“I'm um--” Tony coughed awkwardly. “I'm really tired of sitting on the ground, you know? Just really exhausted and I can't--”

“Yeah Tony.” Steve's throat closed up. “Yeah, I get it.”

“Thanks.” Steve watched him climb into the truck, wincing when the door slammed shut.

He was thrilled to hear from Bucky, so relieved he could feel the pressure easing in his chest just hearing his best friend's voice.

But he and Tony had been interrupted, and he was completely aware that this might have been their one and only time to connect like this before they went their separate ways.

He was good at this sort of thing usually, kissing and touching and spending the night with whoever he wanted. But with Tony every word meant something and every touch had years behind it and every line they crossed together meant they couldn't ever go back to something more innocent.

So he understood why Tony had pulled the plug, why hearing the phone had startled him back into realizing that once they crossed this line, there wouldn't be any going back at all. This line was the one that hadn't ever happened back then, and if it happened now---

So yeah, Steve understood why Tony was worried. He was worried about it too. Scratch that, he was terrified about crossing that line.

Only seeing Tony in the woods earlier had given him the courage to ask for a kiss. Only when Tony kissed him first did he get the courage to take it a step further. And only because Tony had pulled his hair like that, had whined in that sweet way, had Steve had the courage to lay him out, to stretch out on top of him and move against him the way he wanted, and they could have been lost together under the trees and open sky.

But then the phone had rang and now a chopper was coming and real life had come rushing in and their moment was gone.

So Steve leaned back against a tree, flare gun at his side and waited, leaving Tony in the truck alone.

He tried to push down everything he was feeling, everything he had been about to say when Tony was lying beneath him and staring up at him with so much in his eyes. Steve tried to push it all down and lock it all away.

That sort of thing was better off left buried, wasn't it?

*******************

*******************

The helicopter found them less than two hours later, the flare Steve fired into the sky bringing it right in.

It was all a blur of noise and wind, armed men in full op gear jumping out and racing for Steve and Tony, checking them over quickly and then grabbing their packs and hustling them into the bird.

Tony barely had time to sit down before the chopper was airborne again, and he was staring at Steve with wide eyes as they took off towards the city.

Steve just smiled a little and looked out the window at the rapidly passing jungle beneath them.

Tony looked down at his filthy boots and wondered why he felt like he had cheated himself out of that last minute with Steve.

******************

******************

“Steve!” Two hundred and forty plus pounds of big threw itself at Steve as soon as the helicopter at set down, dragging him from the seat and lifting him off the ground in a bear hug. Tony watched with amusement as Steve was swung around in a circle in a completely embarrassing way, his friend shouting dramatically about the angels delivering Steve home again.

“Damn it, let me go you giant dumbass!”  As soon as Steve’s feet touched the ground again, he shoved the man off of him, but then reached out and grabbed him right back into another hug. “I was worried about you, Buck. What the hell were you doing being out of contact for days?”

Buck ? Tony raised his eyebrows. So this was the infamous Bucky. He should have known, really. The big soldier had a Brooklyn accent thick enough to cut, and a sexy drawl to boot and Tony found himself grinning watching the two of them.

“What were you thinking going off by yourself like that, punk?” A hard punch to Steve's shoulder, thankfully his left shoulder. “Gonna turn my hair grey with worry and then I'm gonna beat yer ass, ya hear?”

“I just wanted an adventure, Buck. Working with you was so boring!” Steve joked and punched his friend right back. “But hey, it all worked out. We're okay, are you guys--”

“We lost Nick and Jo-Jo.” Bucky said soberly, “but the students are safe at the US Embassy and the rest of the guys are good. We’re all just fine. Took some time to get our gear back working and reacquire things like helicopters and ammo, but it's all fine.”

“What about the men that came after you?” Steve asked seriously, glancing around and lowering his voice. “The ones who took out Nick and Jo-Jo?”

Bucky tilted his head, a dangerous look in his pale blue eyes. “What about ‘em?”

“Right.” Steve nodded shortly. “Right. I should have figured you took care of that. Well look, I need a goddamn shower and someone to look at my arm--”

“You're hurt?” Bucky's voice pitched in alarm and Steve pulled his shirt collar so he could see the bandages, and the red seeping through it. “Well, damn , Stevie, why didn't you tell me?”

“It's not like telling you would have stopped you from picking me up and throwing me around a little, so thanks for that.” Steve grimaced. “Definitely ripped a few stitches with that hug.”

“Yeah well.” Bucky shrugged, even though he put his arm very carefully around Steve's other shoulder. “I think it's safe to say you have ruined more than one set of my stitches so it's fine. We can just call it even, huh?”

“Buck--” Steve started to protest that ripping stitches from a gun wound was so much different than ripping stitches with a flying tackle that ended up saving Bucky's life, but Bucky just shut him up with a jab to his ribs.

“Quit bitching, Stevie, I'll get ya to a doctor come on.” Bucky led Steve further away from the helicopter. “The guys will take care of your damsel in distress, and we'll get you patched up and put in a bed.”

“Sounds good, Buck. But oh man don't let Tony hear you call him a damsel in distress.”  For the first time in a week, Steve relaxed, letting his best friend take his full weight as they made their way towards a waiting truck.

“Hold on--” Bucky stopped short and sent another look towards Tony, who was just now being okayed by the EMT and led to another vehicle to get back to the hotel they had designated a safe spot and base camp for the rest of their stay. “Hold on, that's Tony ? Like the one who--”

“Yes, the one who.”

“From like ten years--”

“Yeah Buck.”

“So you were stuck in the woods with--”

Yes .” Steve said impatiently. “Can we please --”

“Oh no. No no. Nooooo.” Bucky all but dropped Steve as he made a quick one eighty and headed back the other way, making a beeline for Tony.

“Nope nope nope.” Steve shook his head and grabbed Bucky's arm, flinching when the movement pulled on his shoulder. “Don't you dare.”

“Stevie--”

“I said no , Buck. At least let him shower and sleep before unleashing whatever it you plan on unleashing, alright?”

“Steve, you are such a stick in the mud, how are we even friends?”

“Because I saved your life.” Steve leaned against Bucky again, keeping his weight off of his bad foot as they neared the truck. “Remember? The grenade in bootcamp?”

“The one that was a dud? Besides, I saved you first. Remember the fight in the alley way where you almost got your head bashed in with a garbage can lid?”

“I was fourteen.”

“Still counts.” Bucky groaned dramatically as he helped Steve into the front seat. “God your ass has gotten heavy. Running through the woods is supposed to help you lose weight.”

“Shut up, Bucky.” Steve leaned back against the seat and closed his eyes gratefully. “Jerk.”

“Punk.” Bucky wiped a smudge of dirt off Steve’s face affectionately. “Glad you’re safe.”

Steve glanced out the window and saw Tony being led helped into a different and lifted his hand in a wave. Tony just nodded and turned away.

Steve swallowed whatever emotion it was that was clogging his throat and making his eyes burn, and settled in for the ride.

Chapter Text

Tony woke up slowly, the ground seeming softer beneath his shoulder than it ever had, the thin blanket from Steve's pack warm and heavy around him. He had slept wonderfully, deeper than he had in weeks, and the sun wasn't very bright behind his eyelids yet so maybe he had a few minutes before Steve woke up and they had to start hiking.

Tony just wanted to… just wanted to lay here, warm and safe and close to the man he had loved with all of his twenty year old heart. He sighed and dug his toes into the blankets and debated sliding back against Steve's chest, maybe Steve would put his arm around him and they could pick up where they had left off yesterday in the---

---wait that wasn't right.

Tony opened his eyes to the softly lit hotel room, the white walls and brightly colored furniture and it all came rushing back.

Steve kissing him.

The satellite phone interrupting.

The helicopter and the truck ride.

Not seeing Steve before they showed him to a room with a bathroom and food.

Sleeping for...Tony glanced over at the small clock on the side table. Six forty pm. He had either been sleeping for only a handful of hours, or thirty hours, and he didn't really know how to figure it out.

A knock on the door, and a hotel maid let herself in with a wide smile. “Ah, good you are awake.” Her accent was heavy but her English was good and Tony smiled back at her.

“Uh, hey. Yeah, I guess I am. Could you tell me how long I've been asleep?”

“Since yesterday afternoon.” She answered cheerfully, and lay several towels as well as some clothes down on the bed at his feet. “You are rested?”

“Yes, thank you.”

“Clean up.” she instructed with another smile and set down several self grooming items. “Your friends are all downstairs having dinner and drinks, join them!”

“Thank you. I… will do that.”

************************

************************

“So then--” Bucky was in the middle of a story, one hand resting easily on Steve’s shoulder, the other gesturing wildly. “So then, this punk blond kid, yeah he used to be blonde, so this punk blond kid is in the alley, facing down these two goons-- and I'm thinkin’, this can't end well, I better step in and save his life so--”

Bucky stopped in mid sentence, his mouth falling open and the men gathered around the table exchanged looks.

“What’s up, Bucky?”

“Yeah man, what's goin on?”

“Scuse me, boys.” Bucky smoothed his fingers through his straight, dark hair and grinned. “Cinderella just showed up to the ball. I gotta go get my Prince Charming on.”

“Cinderella?” Steve turned as Bucky basically vaulted out of the booth and headed towards the entrance of the hotel bar, groaning when he realized who Bucky meant.

Tony had just showed up.

***********************

“Hey there, sweetheart.”

Tony looked up in surprise when a whole bunch of tall, dark and Brooklyn slid into his space, leaning against the bar and smiling down at him.

“Hey.” Tony looked him up and down. “You must be--”

“Commander in Charge James Buchanan Barnes.” Bucky wet his lips, letting his voice drop into something softer. “You can call me Bucky.”

“Bucky.” Tony was trying not to smile but it was pretty impossible to resist the amount of charm that basically poured off the blue eyed soldier. “I'm Tony. It's nice to meet you.”

“Oh, it's nice to meet you too.” Bucky promised and brought Tony’s hand to his mouth for a kiss that Tony felt down to his toes. “Let me buy you a drink, huh? They only have beer and tequila that can kill a guy, but it gets the job done.”

“A beer would be great.” Tony grinned, looking away and then glancing back up in time to see a slow, easy smile cross Bucky's face.

“Whatever you want, doll.” Raising his voice, but never taking his eyes off Tony, Bucky called for two more beers to be sent to his table, and then held his hand out. “Want to come sit with us?”

“Um--” Tony glanced at the table, at the group of soldiers with Steve sitting in plain clothes between them and swallowed a little nervously.

“Oh, don't worry about Stevie.” Bucky assured him. “I'll sit you right by me and we can get to know each other, huh?”

“Bucky--” Tony laughed. “Look I'm not actually looking for anything like that. Like you, I mean. Not to be rude, but I'm not… I can't do that right now. Trust me when I say I'm flattered but--.”

“Tony.” Bucky leaned a little closer. “Honey, you are gorgeous . All cleaned up like this, your hair done and a smile on your face. If you were anybody else I would have you upstairs and up against a wall or spread across a bed right now.”

“Oh my.” Tony coughed and blushed and Bucky grinned.

“Oh damn, babe, that blush is almost more than a man can handle. But listen. I've been best friends with Steve since before he could even wish to grow a beard. And I knew him before the war and after the war, and I knew him after he got back from China.”

Tony looked away and Bucky nodded. “Yeah, sugar. I heard all about it, or at least from his side. Now I don't know what happened between the two of in the forest, I don't even know what happened between the two of you ten years ago, but I do know that Steve would rip my arm off and beat me six ways to Sunday with it if he thought I was trying to steal his fella.”

“I'm not his--”

“Oh, yes you are.” Bucky interrupted. “So don't even finish that sentence.”

“Alright, so.” Tony cleared his throat. “So if Steve would beat you six ways to Sunday, why are you over here trying to drown me in that charm of yours?”

“I said I wouldn't steal you.” Bucky's eyes lit with mischief. “But making him jealous is a whole other thing.”

“Bucky.” Tony frowned. “I don't want to play that game. Steve isn’t-- he and I aren't--It's not junior high. We don't need to pretend to be interested in each other so Steve will pay attention to me. You know our history, I know you know why this is a bad idea.”

“Oh, sweet thing.” Bucky scrunched his nose in a decidedly teasing manner. “Stevies the good ol boy. I'm his prank pulling, date stealing, bad idea generating, bigger than life best friend.” he growled playfully. “You won't have to pretend to be interested in me.”

Tony burst into laughter and Bucky wiggled his eyebrows. “Yeah, that's right. I knew you would like me. Now come on, let's go sit down, I'll keep my arm around your shoulders and we will see how long it takes Cap to try and kill me.”

**************************

Steve had been telling himself not to look at the way Bucky was all over Tony, or how he kept leaning in and smiling, running his hand up Tony's arm or trying to make him laugh.

And dammit Tony was laughing, tossing his head back and full of laughing out loud at whatever Bucky had just said, and because Bucky had always been the smoothest, most charming guy in every room, he used to chance to move a little closer to Tony, to brush their legs together and when Tony pushed lightly on Bucky's chest, still chuckling and not actually pushing at all, Bucky said something unintelligible and covered Tony's hand with his own.

And that was… fine. Because it was all the way across the room, but then Bucky started steering Tony towards their table and it became a hell of a lot less fine.

“Hey boys, you all know who Tony is right?” Bucky slid into the booth and tugged Tony down next to him. “Tony, this is Chris, Sebastian, Evan, Stanley, Bobbie-D, and Junior. And of course you know Steve.”

“Hey guys.” Tony waved a little awkwardly at the group of soldiers. “Steve.”

“Hey Tony.” Steve said softly. “You look good.”

Tony did look good. He had managed to get his goatee back to that fancy sort of design he preferred, and his hair looked clean and full and healthy. The pants were a little snug, and the shirt a little big, but with it unbuttoned to mid chest and the sleeves rolled up, it just looked casual and perfect and damn Steve couldn't keep his eyes off of him.

“Yeah, you’re right about that.” Bucky stretched out and settled an arm around Tony's shoulders. “Cleans up real nice.” He shot Steve a satisfied look and Steve just rolled his eyes in annoyance.

Bucky was clearly trying to make him jealous, and it irritated Steve to no end that it was working. Even though it was more than a little satisfying to see that Tony wasn't impressed with Bucky's bravado, since he had yet to take his eyes off Steve.

“So I was telling these guys--” Bucky started right back into his story. “I was telling these guys about the time I found Stevie fending off some bullies with a damn trash can lid--”

“Jesus, Buck, can we not?” Steve groaned. “I hate that story and these guys have heard it like ten times!”

Bucky nudged Tony. “But Cinderella here wants to hear it! Don't be such a grouch!”

“Cinderella?” Tony cut in. “I don't know what Steve’s been telling you, but I'm no damsel in distress. I sling shotted a grenade for christs sake.”

The table exploded into shouts about needing to hear the story, and where the hell was Steve while Tony was flinging grenades, and how the hell did he do it? while Tony grinned triumphantly.

“Damn!” Bucky cried. “Flinging grenades? Forget sleeping beauty, you’re a fucking lethal beauty!”

“You know who he’s like?” Evan started laughing. “Who’s that bratty girl in the first Indiana Jones movie? The one who tries to beat the shit out of anyone who crosses her? Mary or Marilyn or---”

Tony snorted beer up his nose and thought he would maybe die but he was laughing too hard to care, especially because Steve’s face had gone bright red at the Indiana Jones comment. “Oh my god, thank you so much for saying that!!”  Evan grinned and saluted him with his beer as Bucky hollered for another round.

Tony settled in next to the big soldier and shared in the laughter and story telling from the soldiers, each story getting louder than the last, more and more bottles filling up the table in front of them. Bucky's arm was warm around his shoulders and for the first time in days weeks maybe months , Tony was having a good time, relaxed and safe and laughing as hard as he could.

And it didn't hurt that he kept catching Steve's eye, that they shared small smiles in between the outright ridiculous stories, and that when Steve slumped further into the booth, his foot rested against Tony's.

“--so we finally make it to the drop point.” Bobbie-D was in the middle of another story. “And I turn to Junior, and I'm like, hey man, give me the satellite phone. Lets call the bird and get the hell out of here.”

“Okay in my defense!” Junior interjected. “It's not like I usually carried the phone alright?”

“Terrible defense, Junior!” Sebastian shouted. “Terrible defense!”

“So Junior hands me the phone, and the damn batteries dead!” Bobby-D continued. “And I say, Junior! What the hell!”

“And then calm as you please,” Stanley joined the telling. “Cap here grabs the phone, rips out the battery and pops it in his mouth!”

“And we are all staring at him, thinking alright, Cap has finally cracked, why is he eating the battery?”

“I wasn't eating it!” Steve corrected, draining the last of his beer and dropping it on the table. “I was sucking on it.”

“That's not really better.” Bucky snorted.

“It worked though, right?” Tony asked. “I mean, it's not generally accepted as a fact, but by holding a battery in your mouth for a few seconds, if there is any corrosion or anything on the contact points that keeps the battery from giving every ounce of charge to the device, the electrolytes and moisture in your saliva can clean those and and allow for maximum contact to be reestablished which gives the appearance of being charged.”

The table went silent.

“Sorry, what?” Bucky was the first to speak.

“Oh yeah, Tony's smart .” Steve said with a proud grin and Tony flushed red when everyone at the table turned and stared at him.

“Oh I can believe that.” Bucky said slowly, “But how did Steve know that.”

“I'm smart!” Steve argued and the men all laughed.

“You’re not dumb, Cap, but you ain’t that smart. So how’d ya know?” Stanley pressed and Steve shook his head with a grin.

“Uh, it was this stupid movie, a uh natural disaster that they have to escape from and the team gets to the pick up location and their phone doesn't work, so the scientist says, suck on the battery, it will give you a ten percent charge.”

“Mega Piranha.” Tony blurted and Steve's eyes widened in surprise. “Oh my god you saw Mega Piranha! I love that movie!”

“That movie is terrible!” Steve cracked up laughing and Tony chucked an empty plastic cup at him. “What did you do, watch it and then check the science behind it?”

“Sucking on batteries, huh?” Bucky ran a big hand through Tony's hair. “No wonder your hairs all spiky!”

The table dissolved into jokes and teasing jabs at both Tony and Steve but they weren’t listening.

Tony was looking right into Steve’s eyes, a pleased sort of smile on his face, and Steve was staring right back.

Right then, the rest of the room didn't matter.

***************************

“You headed up, Tony?” Bucky asked several hours later, after an obscene amount of food and alcohol had been consumed, and the party was breaking up. Steve had left twenty minutes earlier, saying goodnight to everyone, hugging Bucky and smiling over at Tony before heading up the stairs.

“Uh yeah.” Tony turned from the bar, sipping at a glass of water. “Yeah, here pretty quick, what's up?”

“Steve asked me for a razor to get rid of that mess he calls a beard.” Bucky ran a hand over the dark scruff on his own face. “Took him till he was almost thirty to grow it and now he's sick of it. Damn kid.”

Tony chuckled and Bucky handed him a box. “Just give this to him, would you? We are all on the same floor, Steve is in room one-twelve I think. Let him know it's from me, otherwise I'll never hear the end of it. Whiny bastard.”

“Sure thing, Buck. Thanks for tonight, this was fun.”

“Yeah, you looked like you needed some fun.” Bucky wrapped an arm around Tony's waist and pulled him close to lay a gentle kiss on his forehead. “Real pleasure to meet you after all these years.”

“Yeah? I'd think as Steve’s best friend you’d want to punch me.”

“Nah.” Bucky shrugged before catching the eyes of one of the other soldiers and nodding that he would be over soon. “Steve never said anything bad about you. You broke his heart Tony, but he just chalked it up to you being young.”

“And spoiled?” Tony questioned and Bucky winked at him.

“Well yeah. But hey, pretty thing like you, I'd spoil you if you let me.”

“Jesus Christ.” Tony finished his water and set the glass down with a thunk , rolling his eyes. . “You don't ever turn that off, do you?”

“Sure don't.” Bucky stretched his arms out wide, flexing casually. “It's all Buck, twenty four hours. You wanna know why they call me the Bronco?”

“God no!” Tony burst out laughing and shoved Bucky away. “Even though I'm sure it has something to do with you giving me the ride of my life.”

“Damn, sweet thing, you're on to me!” Bucky looked devastated. “How do you know all my moves? Has Stevie been talking shit about me? Gonna beat the shit outta that kid.”

“Can I ask you something?” Tony wiped his eyes and motioned him closer again. “Is Steve, I mean is he a good mercenary? Because sometimes it just doesn't seem like something he'd ever do, but then I saw him with Rumlow and--”

“Let's get one thing straight, Tony.” Bucky sobered up, folding his arms over his chest. “Steve is not a mercenary. The rest of us? We are brutal sons of bitches who have no problem killing and taking the check and spending it on a beach somewhere. Not Stevie, though. I only call him on missions that I know won't require our usual set of skills, and unfortunately this one was supposed to be a cakewalk that turned into a clusterfuck.”

“Make no mistake, Steve is not a killer. He wasn't as a soldier and he isn't now.” Bucky cocked his head to study Tony. “But I can tell you, that even heaven couldn't help the man who tried to hurt someone Steve loved. Because that giant bastard would rip him to shreds and leave him for the dogs, ya hear?”

“That's why he was so mad at Rumlow. For hurting you guys. Probably you specifically right?” Tony stated and Bucky shook his head.

“No. I mean, yeah, but no. There isn't a single man alive who came after me and my team. No one messes with me and my team and lives to talk about it.” Bucky's eyes glittered dangerously. “Steve wasn't worried about us, Steve was gonna put Rumlow in the ground for trying to hurt you, otherwise he would have just slapped him in cuffs and smacked him around a little and brought him back to the cops. But to charge into the camp, guns blazing, ready to put them all down? No, Tony, that was for you .”

“Wait-- what ?”

“You got any more questions about that, ask the man himself. Go give that shaving kit to Steve, we will see you guys in the morning, alright?”

“Uh sure. Thanks. Good night, Bucky.”

“Oh hey!” Bucky called as Tony headed up the stairs. “You got a flight out of here right? When are you leaving again?”

“Tomorrow at noon!” Tony called back down and Bucky waved in acknowledgement. “Tomorrow at noon.” Tony said again, to himself, and refused to be upset about it.

***********************

“Come in!” Steve yelled through the door when Tony knocked. “Buck, come on in!”

“Oh, well this is awkward.” Tony stood just inside the doorway uncertainly. “You were expecting Bucky in your room at this time of night?”

“Oh.” Steve was trying to dry his hair one handed, his right arm hanging stiffly, but he stopped and tossed the towel into the bathroom. “Sorry Tony.

“It's fine. Bucky said something about you needing a razor, and I was heading up to my room, so--” he held out the box and tried not to stare at Steve in a fucking towel . Why was this guy always in a towel? Why was just wet and muscles and that damn beard always in a towel?

“Thanks, I appreciate it, I just thought Bucky would be bringing it by.”

“Sorry to disappoint.” Tony offered and Steve shook his head.

“You know I'm not disappointed to see you, Tony.” He opened the box and started rummaging through it. “Did you have fun tonight? The team sure seemed to like you.”

“Yeah, they are good guys.” Tony nodded. “You know all of them from the army?”

“Actually, just Buck. He spent four years longer than me in the military so they are all his buddies, but good guys anyway. They are all---god dammit .” Steve dropped the box in frustration and Tony looked up in surprise.

“Everything alright?”

“Bucky is a damn clown.” Steve laughed a little, rubbing his chin. “He sent me a straight razor.”

“Yeah?’ Tony prompted and Steve gestured to the shaving kit.

“So when we were in boot camp, Bucky learned to shave with a straight razor because he thought it made him look bad ass, right? So of course, I learned too. Except I was never very good at it, and now with my right arm all messed up, I'm not steady enough to shave. So instead of sending me an electric razor like a real friend, Bucky is throwing both my injury and the fact that I can't hardly do this without slicing a vein in my face.”

“He’s a bastard.” Tony was laughing and Steve nodded.

“Yeah. He absolutely it. Well, looks like the beard is staying just a little bit longer. I'm gonna look like a damn mountain man at this rate.”

“Well.” Tony cleared his throat, shifting anxiously from one foot to the other. “I could help, if you want.”

“What?”

“I could help.” Tony rubbed at his chin. “I can shave you, if you want. If it's bothering you that much.”

“Really? You can shave with one of those?”

“Jarvis.” Tony said with a smile. "Jarvis shaved with a straight razor and I wanted to learn how to do that too. He taught me. Said a real gentleman could both kill and shave with a straight razor.”

“That doesn't make me want to let you near my neck at all.” Steve was only half joking, looking a little panicky and Tony smirked.

“Your choice, Grizzly Adams.”

Steve looked at him for a minute then pulled a chair out from the desk and sat down, tightening his towel so it covered his lap and almost down to his knees and then holding out his hand for Tony.

“I'm all yours, Tony.”

Chapter Text

“So. Bucky is a handful.” Tony pulled the various items out of the shaving kit, smiling when he opened the razor, running it over the leather strop to smooth the edges, lessening the chances of leaving Steve with a cut.

“Yeah, that's putting it lightly.” Steve agreed, slumping into the low chair and letting his head rest on the back, keeping his chin tilted up. “He always has been though, ever since we were kids.”

“He loves you.” Tony glanced up at him as he poured shaving soap into a small bowl. “A lot.”

“Feelings mutual.” Steve sucked in a quick breath when the cool soap landed on his skin, Tony moving the brush in quick movements to spread it into a thick lather that reached from nearly his ears down to under his chin.

“That alright?” Tony asked and Steve swallowed, looking nervous.

“Don't slice my neck, huh?”

“Steve.” Tony said in mock horror. “Don't you trust me?”

“To have a razor at my neck?” Steve raised an eyebrow and Tony grinned, holding up the razor to show him.

“Too late now, isn’t it?” Tony looked down at Steve's legs and then back up. “So I need to be--”

“Yep.” Steve nodded and spread his legs wider so Tony could move between his knees. “You good?”

“Yeah.” Tony took a deep breath. “Yeah this is good.”

The first pass of the razor sounded loud in the room, if that was even possible, the smooth slide of the sharpened blade taking both soap and whiskers with it effortlessly. Tony huffed a soft laugh at how easy it was, wiping the soap off on a towel and returning to the same spot to shave a perfect line next to it.

Lost in concentration, Tony settled into a rhythm, moving further between Steve's legs without thinking about it, a soft hand on Steve's chin to coax him whichever direction he needed. There was an odd sort of pleasure, almost cathartic, to be found in each stroke, revealing smooth skin every time the razor moved and Tony found himself leaning even closer, his hand moving slower to make sure he got every bit of stubble.

Steve smelled good , fresh from the shower, his hair still damp and scented with the shampoo and when Tony dragged in a deep breath, he actually had to pause so his hands wouldn't shake. Being this close to Steve, doing something as intimate as shaving him, a delicate mix of danger and trust--- it was all a little much for Tony.

Steve loved this. Loved it. Tony's breath on his newly shaved, overly sensitive skin, the light in Tony's deep chocolate eyes as he concentrated. Steve had never been one to consider being pampered, but to have Tony spending so much time on him, being so careful and slow, the gentle press of his fingers on Steve’s chin-- he was finding he liked it. It was hypnotic and therapeutic , every pass of the razor an edge between a perfect shave and spilling blood and really it was exhilarating and before Steve even realized it, he was suddenly overly aware that he wasn't wearing pants, that it was just a towel that separated him from Tony--

And that’s when he realized that Tony was breathing a little too hard as well, biting at his bottom lip anxiously, his throat moving as he kept swallowing. A glance down and that loose shirt and too snug pants didn't hide how much Tony wanted him,  so Steve took a chance and  brought his hands up to Tony’s waist first, then slid them down along the curve of that perfect ass.

Tony sucked in a breath, his eyes snapping close and a barely there moan passed his lips. Then he swayed forward a little, and Steve let his grasp tighten, tugging him closer, begging with his touch, then with his words, “Tony, honey, come here. I know you said we have to get back to real life, but we don't have to yet, right? Just a kiss, just one, please. Come on.”

His voice was low and sweet, deep and coaxing, and Tony's eyes opened hazy with arousal and want and-- “Yeah , sweetheart, come here--” Steve urged. “I've missed you, Tony. Missed this between us. Haven't you? A few minutes together just wasn't enough, I want--”

Then Steve felt that razor shift just enough that any movement would break his skin and he froze, not even daring to breath.

And in the softest, sweetest voice he’d ever heard, Tony said, “Do you really wanna get grabby with me when I have a razor at your throat?”

“Shit, Tony.” Steve gasped, dropping his hands from Tony's waist and digging them into his thighs. “I kind of do. Jesus .”

Tony looked down at Steve’s lap, at the outline of his cock straining against the terry cloth, at the way Steve was physically holding himself back by grabbing his own legs as hard as he could. “Steve.” he breathed and it was Steve's turn to close his eyes, every muscle in his body locking up as he tried to keep himself under control.

Tony audibly gulped, wetting his lips because he was suddenly as dehydrated as he had ever been in his life, and started shaving again with slow, firm strokes.

“Don't talk, just listen.” He said quietly, and Steve kept his eyes closed, but brought his right hand up to rest on Tony's waist again. “I spent weeks crying over you.” Tony turned Steve's head slightly and started again. “ Weeks . And once I decided that I was done crying over you, I was just done. Finished. I never wanted to think about you again.”

“Lots of people have their heart broken by the first person they love.” He continued, his fingers light against the newly shaven skin on Steve's jaw. “I was no different, so I tried to move on. But unsurprisingly, being back in South America brought back...everything. Even before I saw you, before I knew you were here.”

Tony placed his thumb over Steve’s mouth to keep him quiet, to keep him still as he brought the razor right against his lips. “I have been dreaming about you, every night for weeks, ever since I decided to come down here. Every single night, and it's always the same thing. You want to know what I dream about?”

Tony dropped the razor on the table, a soft towel in his hands to wipe any trace of soap from Steve's face, then dipped his fingers in the small canister of pure aloe vera gel that had come with the kit.

He smoothed the thin gel into Steve’s skin carefully, tracing the same path he had taken as he shaved, feeling with his finger tips for any bumps or missed hairs. “Every night, I dream about being twenty and sneaking into your bunk.”

Steve started to frown, but stopped as Tony pressed the aloe into his lips and chin. “I don't date blondes, did you know that? From my tabloids? Only redheads and brunettes. Can't stand blondes. Not since I met you.”

He finished, wiping his hands on the towel and stepping further into Steve’s space to bend and whisper in his ear. “I'm so glad you’re practically brunette now.” Tony brushed his lips over the perfectly smooth skin, his nose through Steve's still damp hair, and Steve's hand tightened on his waist.

“Tony.” Steve turned his head so their lips met, thrilled when Tony sighed contentedly and leaned into the kiss.

“Everytime I wake up from dreaming about sneaking into your bunk, I have to remind myself that it's not real.” Tony tugged at Steve’s bottom lip with his teeth, let his fingers drag a little rougher through his hair. “Except the last four or five times, it has been real. I've been waking up next to you and it's been my new reality. Running through the jungle, eating MRE’s, waking up next to you. It's real .”

“Real life?” Steve asked hopefully and Tony nodded firmly, dipping his head for another slow kiss.

“Real enough.”

*********************

*********************

“Tony, Tony , Jesus---” Steve couldn't have been quiet if he wanted to, not with a lap full of naked Tony pressing him into his chair,  running his hands through his hair and over his jaw and down his bare chest, fingers hooking into his towel before skating away.

“Steve, I need--” Tony started to mumble, the words lost as he worked his way down Steve’s neck, sucking a hard bruise at the curve where neck met shoulder. “I need--”

“Oh honey, tell me what you need, tell me .” Steve lifted his hips and Tony moaned into his skin, the towel between them not doing anything to distract from how badly they each needed more than this. “Damn it sweetheart, I'm going to do anything you need, give you whatever it is, just tell me. Jesus fucking ---” a groan punched from his chest when Tony lifted himself enough to push the towel open between them, then settled back into his lap, slotting Steve's cock between his cheeks.

Tony!” Steve jerked beneath him helplessly, his right arm too weak to do much more than rest on Tony's thighs, his left hand squeezing and kneading at Tony's ass, and Tony shifted with each touch, rolling his hips forward and shuddering when the head of his cock dragged over Steve's stomach. “Honey, let me touch you.”

“Nobody's stopping you.” Tony teased before flicking his tongue out into Steve's ear, licking along the rim before suckling at the lobe.

Steve couldn't hardly put a coherent thought together but he managed to get his fingers into the jar of aloe and used it as lube to slick down Tony's length, the sharp yelp from Tony making the sharp bite below his ear totally worth it.

“You're so hard, babe, it's fucking gorgeous .” Steve praised as he worked his hand up and down and Tony dropped his head to his shoulder, breath coming in choppy pants. “God you're beautiful, always been so beautiful Tony, I can't even--”

“I've never done this.” Tony blurted. “Never done this but want to do it with you so can you please--”

“What do you mean you've never done this?” Steve's hand slowed and stilled and he tried to lift Tony's chin. “What do you mean?”

“I mean,” Tony wiggled impatiently on his lap. “That I haven't wanted to do this with anyone since you, so while I am definitely a genius, my expertise doesn't really extend to this sort of thing so maybe you could show me.”

“Are you serious?” Steve cupped his jaw. “No one else? I mean guys, no other guys? Not since me?”

“No.” Tony's gaze never wavered. “You were the first guy I had thought about this sort of thing with, and the last. So--” he lifted a shoulder in a shrug. “So yeah. No one else.”

“We should be doing this in bed.” Steve whispered, some unnamed emotion that felt a lot like awe making his words soft. “After my arm has healed and I can hold you the way I want. And we can have champagne and strawberries and new sheets and then I can show you so much, Tony, god it can be so good between us. We should--”

This will be good between us.” Tony said firmly. “I um--” he looked shy all the sudden, shy and young and Steve held him all the tighter for it. “I didn't need a fancy hotel room before and I don't need one now. You'll take care of me.”

It wasn't a question, it was a statement and one Steve agreed with wholeheartedly, sealing it with a long kiss, not pulling away until Tony was whimpering into his mouth, digging his fingers into Steve's shoulders then breaking away with an apologetic gasp and a plea for Steve to just please --and gonna die if you don't touch me ---and you’re gonna put your fingers where!? -- and damn it that feels so good -- Steve Steve oh fuck--

“Relax.” Steve murmured, reaching for more of the aloe, pressing just there between Tony's legs, petting through his hair comfortingly when Tony shivered and buried his face in his neck. “Oh honey, I've got you, gonna feel so good to be inside you fuck I can't wait.”

Shit .” A ripple of heat through Tony's body hearing the naked desire in Steve's voice. “ Shit I didn't think those words could be so hot when I'm on the receiving end.”

Steve laughed quietly, easing into Tony as gently but as quickly as he could, impatient but not willing to hurt him, almost desperate but not about to rush anything, and god he could have sobbed with relief when the beautiful genius started rocking back against his fingers, yes noises muffled into his shoulder, but demanding enough that Steve didn't dare stop.

“I'm ready.” Tony lifted his head long enough to say, only a few minutes later. “I'm ready, come on.”

“Tony.” Steve thrust his his fingers just enough to hear Tony cry out, to see the pretty flush that raced up his neck and cheeks. “Honey, I'm big I don't want you to--”

“Steve.” Tony tried not to roll his eyes, considering where Steve's fingers were and the fact they were naked but honestly-- “I appreciate the warning but we've been sleeping next to each other for a week and you were naked one of the times. I know what I'm getting into. Or rather, what's getting into me. I've been making tiny dick jokes all week but trust me when I say twenty year old me wouldn't have looked at you twice if I had thought you were small .”

“Tony!” Steve tried to muffle his laughter as he kissed Tony but it didn't work all that well since Tony was laughing too. “You're such a brat .”

Tony's eyes were nearly glowing. “So spoil me then.”

***********************

They moved together easily for a long time, Tony straddling Steve on the chair, biting at his lip at the feeling of Steve inside him, more grinding together than actually thrusting, Steve stroking slowly over Tony's cock, feeling every shiver and twitch and shift of Tony's perfect body from where he was buried deep inside.

“You feel so good around me, honey.” He said hoarsely, featherlight touches over Tony's face, bringing their mouths together in a kiss so tender Tony could have melted. “All the times I thought of this, I never imagined it would be this good.”

“Maybe your imagination sucks.” Tony mumbled, and Steve nipped a bite onto his tongue.

“Maybe you're just better than I could have ever dreamed.”

“Let's go with your idea.” Tony grinned and pressed their foreheads together, holding onto the back of the chair for leverage, lifting into his toes just to sink back down, just that small movement sending sparks racing up his spine, starting at where he and Steve were connected and ending somewhere around his heart, which he was dangerously close to losing all over again, and couldn't be troubled to care.

Oh.” Steve groaned and dropped his head back. “Again, honey, like that.”

Tony sighed and did it again, rising a few inches and dropping but this time Steve thrust up and Tony clamped his mouth shut against a scream as his body lit up.

“Fuck.” He bit out. “ Fuck , Steve.”

“Again.” Steve's hand landed low on his ass, urging him up, crowding him closer before pushing up into him again and this time Tony couldn't muffle his cry and Steve held him tight, rocking their hips together harder now, the hand on Tony's length speeding up as well until Tony was thrusting forward into his fist, then back against his cock and damn it was perfect.

Just intimate and close and perfect.

It wasn’t slow now, no it was fast and hard and they weren’t so much kissing as they were panting into each others mouth until suddenly-- “Steve--!” Tony barely had time to give him a warning before he was coming, making a mess of Steve's fingers and overflowing onto his stomach.

Steve mashed their lips together in a sloppy kiss and held Tony down firmly against him as the trembling, tightening, beauty of Tony's release pushed him over the edge and Tony cried into his mouth as he was filled.

“Tony, tonytonytony.” Steve pressed gentle kisses all over Tony's face and down his neck, just wherever he could reach as they each tried to come down, hearts racing and eyes glazed, murmuring whatever came to mind, everything from that was beautiful you are so beautiful to Jesus Christ I didn't think it would be this good and if I can't walk tomorrow I'm blaming you.

“I'll take the blame, sweetheart.” Steve kept bringing Tony back for more kisses, unable to get enough of how he tasted, the way Tony's lips trembled under his, the pretty gasps he kept making every time they moved in the slightest. “I wish I could hold you like I want to, honey, wish I could--”

“This is how I want to be held.” Tony interrupted. “Exactly like this. Right now.”

“Whatever you need, baby.” Steve promised and kissed him again. “Stay with me, huh? Don't go back to your room. Don't go back to your room. I need you. Want to hold you all night, stay with me.”

Tony nodded, closing his eyes against the threat of tears at the longing in Steve's voice.

“I'll stay.”

Chapter Text

Steve was decidedly less gentle the second time around.

Tony woke up sometime before dawn to insistent kisses on his neck, fingers searching down where he was warm and tight and a little sore.

Not sore enough to even consider saying no, though, so after several minutes of wandering hands and mind drugging kisses full of tongue and teeth, Tony let Steve urge him up into all fours, and hardly had time to draw a full breath before Steve had slicked a hand over himself and shoved deep inside Tony's body.

Hopefully the walls of the hotel were thick, or at least hopefully the people sleeping next door were really asleep because they were not quiet.

Steve took him hard , the position easier on his hurt shoulder and Tony just pressed his face to the pillows and wailed at the stretch and the intense feeling of being full and then nearly empty and then god so very full all over again. A constant stream of praise from Steve, because Tony was so beautiful and took him so well and his body was so tight , and fuck Steve had waited so long and being together was so much better than he had ever thought possible.  

All Tony could do was curse and tear at the pillows and ask for more more more and then curse louder when Steve gave it to him.

It was all so much less elegant this time around, just rough and fast and needy , both of them searching for a connection, for something to ground them, something to keep all of this real , because when the sun came up, things were going to change and neither one was ready for that.

Of course the sun had to come up eventually, and when it did, Steve woke Tony up a second time, settling between his legs and kissing him thoroughly, lazily, as the room started to lighten. Hands started skating over naked skin, and even though they had been together twice already, a spark ignited just that quickly between them, and the mood shifted from lazy to now .

“I wanna mark you up.” Steve’s voice was sleep roughened, maybe a little unsteady, and Tony decided right then and there that he liked it, that he liked knowing Steve was brought to the edge of his self control just by being here . “Wanna mark you and bruise you so everyone knows you’re mine.”

“I’m not yours though.” Despite such firm words, Tony drew his fingers through Steve’s hair, down that perfect jaw line. He missed the beard, but without it Steve looked younger and more vulnerable, his blue eyes wide in the low light.

“Weren’t you mine once?” And then Steve sounded vulnerable, uncertain, and it was a sharp contrast to the way he was still rocking into Tony, the way he was pressing between his legs.

“Once.” Tony admitted. “I was completely yours. Every bit of me, if you had wanted it.”

“Pretend with me.” Steve whispered. “Remind me what it’s like to be yours. Just one more time before we have to face the world.”

“Were you ever actually mine?” Tony asked and Steve stilled on top of him, lifting his mouth from Tony's neck with a heavy sigh.

“Tony. I was yours from the minute I saw you.”

“The first time you saw me I was cursing a blue streak because I’d stepped in mud and ruined my favorite shoes.” Tony reminded him with a sad sort of smile.

“And I was yours .” Steve dropped his head, taking Tony’s lips in a searing kiss, licking into his mouth almost desperately, his teeth dragging Tony’s bottom lip. “Tony, I was yours . Never stopped wanting you, never stopped loving you. Not once . I might have been an asshole these last several days, but you know I’ve never lied to you, Tony. Ask me if I was yours.  Ask me again.”

Tony hated that he was tearing up, because ten years should have erased all this, but somehow, ten years apart didn't do anything at all. And that both pissed him off and broke his heart all at the same time.

“Ask me again.” Steve whispered. “Tony. Ask me.”

“Were you mine?” Tony asked, and it was barely audible, just quiet words in a small room as the day was starting. “ Were you mine?”

“Always.” Steve answered, just as quietly, and this time when he kissed Tony it was soft and sweet and achingly tender. “Still.”

“Still?” Tony blinked back the tears that wanted to fall. “You still-- all of that?”

“Forever.” Steve rolled them over onto the blankets, bringing Tony astride him and reaching for the container of aloe that they had almost emptied. Tony pushed his hand away though, and dipped into it himself, reaching back to stroke over Steve’s cock.

“Stay with me Tony.” Steve murmured as Tony wrapped a hand around him and prepared to sink down over his length. “Stay with me. Don’t go back to the city. We can stay here for a few more days while all this gets figured out, and then you can just come home with me.”

Tony's hand faltered and he met Steve’s eyes uncertainly. “Really?”

“Please, honey. Please .”

Steve cried out when Tony took him all, when he was suddenly engulfed in that sweet body. “Tony, please.” He begged as Tony began to move above him, lean muscles highlighted golden in the early morning sun. “Stay with me. Stay with me. I don't want to lose you again.”

Tony didn't answer, not with words anyway.

Instead he used his body to show Steve how badly he wanted to stay, his hands to say how much he needed to be right here all the time, his fingers to talk about how every inch of him wanted to fall asleep in Steve's arms and wake up to those blue eyes in the morning. He said his I love yous with kisses down Steve’s neck and across his chest.

And Steve heard it all, every single word that Tony couldn't say.

And when Tony kissed him less than an hour later, fully clothed, his bags packed at his feet, Steve heard the goodbye as well.

But he didn't make Tony actually say it, and he didn't either.

Instead he wove his fingers through Tony's hair and kissed him until tears were running down both their faces, and then he let him go.

*************************

*************************

“I'm sorry to see you go, Tony.” Bucky pulled Tony's bag from the back of the truck and handed it to him. “I really thought you and the beardless wonder would patch things up if you had some more time.”

“Uh, we did.” Tony's newly bought sunglasses weren’t doing much to hide the sadness he felt, and he was glad Bucky was nice enough not to say anything. “We worked some things out, and it's fine now.”

“Right.” Bucky squinted at him. “That's why Steve’s a wreck and drinking at eleven in the morning, and you bought the biggest sunglasses you could find, in the darkest shade of black I have ever seen, to try and hide those tears.”

Alright, maybe Bucky wasn't nice enough to not say anything.

“Bucky--” Tony looked away uncomfortably, then startled when Bucky reached out and cupped his jaw.

“Look, sugar. Like I said before, I didn't know your side of the story back then, and I sure as hell don't know it now, but it doesn't make a whole lotta sense to me for you to be leaving when you both so obviously want you to stay. So what's up? What are you doing?”

“I've got a whole life to get back to.” Tony motioned at the private plane waiting on the tarmac. “I have a company to run and an assistant--excuse me-- an executive assistant probably waiting to kill me for making her worry for the past week. I had months of work to catch up on before this little vacation turned nightmare, and now I'm sure there’s even more crap waiting on my desk.”

“And?” Bucky looked entirely unimpressed. “None of those sound like legitimate reasons to break my best friends heart all over again.”

Tony shook his head quickly, gripping his bag tighter. “No, Bucky you don't understand---”

“You’re right, I don't.” Bucky brought him in for a long hug and it took all of Tony's tattered self control to not dissolve into a puddle of tears right then and there. “But I do know that both of you are being stupid as hell. You never should have left the hotel, and once you did he should have had his ass down here to carry you away. You’re both dumb, but I can't do much about that so here.” He pressed a card into Tony's palm. “You need anything, and I do mean anything , you call that number, alright? We are based out of Cali but it's nothing for me to get on a place and come see you, alright?”

“Cali?” Tony repeated and Bucky grinned.

“You should see me on a surfboard, baby.”

“Thanks Bucky.” Tony pocketed the card and Bucky hugged him again. “It was really good to meet you.”

“Sweet thing, that's what they all say.” Bucky winked at him and pushed him towards the plane. “Have a good flight. Hold a press conference once you land, or whatever you rich people do to make sure the entire world knows you’re safe, yeah?”

“Sure thing.”

Tony waved from the door of the plane just as it closed, then sat in the window and watched as the truck headed back towards town.

He had made the right decision.

It was time to get back to real life.  

******************

******************

“Anthony Edward Stark.” Pepper was furious, wiping tears away from her face of course, her hands shaking as she pulled Tony into a hug, but damm she was furious. “How could you just disappear for a week? I know I told you to find some hot archeologist but honestly, Tony, you could have crawled out of bed long enough to text me and let you know you’re alive!”

“Well, you know now , don't you?” Tony teased, but was holding her close, almost clinging to her, breathing in her familiar scent and just so happy to be home, he completely ignored the cameras flashing in his face, the reporters shouting questions about the dig site and the students who had died and how Tony had survived. Pepper knew everything of course, everything except Steve, and he was grateful that she was playing it off in front of the reporters.

“The next time you disappear into another country--” she smacked his arm. “--and don't call me? I swear to god I will declare you dead and run away with all of your money.”

“I'm shaking in my boots.” Tony answered, grinning at her as the reporters started clamoring even louder for answers. “Literally shaking.”

“You are shaking.” she whispered and squeezed his hand. “Are you sure you’re alright?” Pepper was ignoring the cameras as well, not caring that they would be all over the front pages as a ‘new couple’ tomorrow morning as she brushed hair back from his eyes. “You didn't say a whole lot when you called me from the plane, but I have known you long enough to know when you’re hiding something. And I mean more than the whole running for your life thing. Something else is going on with you.”

“I can't talk about it.” he muttered. “I can't, not yet. Don't ask me to.”

“Okay.” Pepper leaned in and kissed his cheek before sliding an arm around his waist. “I'll take you home, then.”

“Yeah.” Tony followed her into the limo. “Please take me home.”

“Do you want me to release a statement about what happened, or anything like that right now? I am sure you want to do plenty for those students and their families but would you like me to announce--”

“Not yet.” Tony said flatly. “I just want to sleep in my own bed and not wake up to mosquitos around my face.”

“Alright.” Pepper tapped at her phone for a few minutes before sliding across the back seat and taking his hand. “I'm here, Tony, if you need me. The company didn't burn down while you are gone, it will survive if you need me to take a day to spend with you, alright? I don't want to see you hiding from whatever happened. You and I have been through everything together so far, whatever happened isnt--isnt going to be something we can't handle. If you want my help, that is.”

“I left all the shit that happened on that trip buried in the jungle, Pep. I don't want to talk about it now, and I probably won't want to talk about it later.”

“That's fine.” Pepper assured him, and then hesitated. “By buried , you don't actually mean there’s a body? Because that might be a challenge for me. I'm not saying I can't handle it but--” her voice trailed off and Tony smiled.

“The only bodies are from the bad guys. No, I just… everything else.” he waved his hand in a dismissive motion. “Everything else is buried and gone, alright?”

“Alright, Tony.” she nodded slowly, even though she knew he was lying.

“Thanks.”

Pepper leaned over and kissed his cheek and Tony stared out the window, holding her hand tight, and trying to squash the need to scream.

Chapter Text

Stark Tower-- Several Weeks Later

“Tony Starks office.” Pepper answered the phone from where she sat on Tony’s couch, her legs folded primly, never stopping the furious typing on her computer. “Ms. Potts speaking.”

“Ms. Potts, this is Aaron Brown from Levy & Browns Mortuary. I am calling to ask about a request one of the family members made in regards to the---”

“The answer is yes!” Tony interrupted from across the room, hitting the conference button on his phone. “Mr. Levy, Tony Stark here. Anything at all those families want, you get them. I don't care how much it costs. When I told them I would pay for the funerals of their loved ones, I meant it. Whatever they want, anything at all, do you understand.”

“Yes, of course, Mr. Stark. It's just that---” the man on the other line hesitated and Tony dragged his fingers through his hair in agitation.

“What? What is it? Do you need a check before hand? Pepper write a check, have it delivered now .”

“Of course, Tony.” Pepper was already pulling out her checkbook. “Mr. Levy, how much do you need in advance? Give me an approximate amount and I'll send the check over tonight.”

“We are already in excess of--”  Tony shut off the conference button so he couldn't hear it anymore and leaned back in his chair, staring out the windows of his office, pulling Bucky's card out and flipping it between his fingers.

Not because he wanted to talk to Bucky.

Because he missed Steve .

It had been several weeks now, and Tony was still feeling like he was spinning, trying to find his feet. It had been an intense week away, of course, and he was happy to be home but it didn't feel… right.

His bed was huge and impossibly, annoyingly soft. The city noise that used to be soothing now grated on his nerves. His fancy shoes pinched his toes and even though Pepper had barely left his side, even curling up on the couch so he could sleep with his head in her lap, he was lonely .

They hadn't even said goodbye, not verbally anyway, which somehow seemed appropriate since last time they hadn't said goodbye either. Instead Steve had sat up in the bed, the blankets pooling around his waist and kissed Tony as if he would die without him.

Tony could understand the sentiment.

They hadn't talked about keeping in touch, they hadn't even exchanged numbers.

It was like losing Steve all over again, and Tony thought he had grown up enough in the past ten years that it wouldn't hurt so bad this time around.

He was wrong.

*********************

“Mr. Stark.” Pepper buzzed his intercom from the outer office. “Tony, I sent the other girls home early. I just thought I would let you know.”

“I…” Tony frowned at the doors as if Pepper could see him. “I don't care about that.”

“I'm just saying, Mr Stark. That there are only the three of us left since I sent the girls home.”

“Pepper. Again, why would I--” Tony stopped talking, retracing the conversation. Not only had Pepper called him Mr Stark, she told him twice that the girls had gone home, and that there was only the three of them.

But it should have only been the two of them.

He didn't even have time to worry about who or why or what the hell , before his door opened, and Pepper walked through stiffly, followed closely by---

“Rumlow.” Tony set his jaw. “I thought I blew you up.”

“Well you sure tried, didn't you?” Rumlow’s words came slowly, almost slurred, the left side of his face a red scarred mess from his forehead to his chin, and spreading onto the right side over his nose and cheeks. “Pretty impressive little fireball you turned my camp into.”

“Yeah, I try.” Tony remained seated, enjoying the look of annoyance on Rumlow’s ugly face. “So what are you doing here? I left my slingshot at home but I'm sure I can figure out some way to--”

“Quit running your mouth.” Rumlow pushed the barrel of his handgun into the back of Peppers skull and Tony tensed when she clapped a hand over her mouth to muffle a cry. “You know, we were just gonna kidnap you? Ask this pretty girl right here to write a check to get your smug ass back home safe and mostly in one piece. But after this?” he motioned to his face. “After this, I'm just gonna kill ya.”

“Damn it.” Tony stood to his feet. “That's fine. Whatever, Rumlow, but if you don't stop pointing that gun at my secretary I'm gonna lose my mind. Pepper come over here by my desk. Don't call the cops, just let me and Rumlow get out of here.”

“Secretary?” Peppers mouth dropped. “I am not your--”

“Focusing on the wrong thing, Pepper!” Tony said loudly. “Lets go, get over here so Rumlow can do his grand kidnapping thing and get us out of here.”

“Who says I'm not gonna waste you right here?” Rumlow snarled and Tony shrugged.

“If I was going to kill someone, I'd just walk in and shoot them, not monologue them to death. So you gonna talk or are you gonna kill me?”

Rumlow bared his teeth and shoved Pepper away from him. “Get your ass over there. Stark--” he waved his gun menacingly. “Let’s go.”

“Pepper, darling, be a dear and make sure the paperwork on my desk gets filed alright?” He looked right at her, and she frowned in confusion.

“Tony, what paperwork? This is serious. He is going to try to---”

“Pepper, darling!” Tony repeated louder. “You need to make sure the paperwork on my desk gets filed ASAP, do you understand.”

“No.” she shook her head, tears filling her eyes. “Tony, I don't see why---”

“Enough. She’s a shitty secretary, we get it.” Brock reached out grabbed Tony, digging the gun into the small of his back. “Lets go.”

“Why Brock.” Tony smirked. “Is that a gun or are you just happy to see me--”

Pepper screamed when Brock smashed his gun into Tony's temple, grabbing him around the waist when he went limp. “You.” He pointed at her. “Pretty thing, don't you dare call the cops. Anyone comes after me and I'm gonna put a bullet in his head, and then come back for you, you understand?”

“Okay. Okay.” Pepper held her hands up peacefully. “Please just go. Please just---”

Several shots into the ceiling sent glass and plaster raining down on her, and Pepper screamed again, ducking under the desk to hide. When she lifted her head again, Brock and Tony were gone.

“Oh my god.” she whispered and pulled herself into Tony's desk chair. “Oh my god, okay who am I going to call? Think Pepper. Tony said to--” she paused, looking down at the desk. “Tony said to do the paperwork on his desk. The paperwork on his desk. Why would he say--” she reached with trembling hands to the only thing on the desk-- a business card.

****************

****************

“This is Commander James Buchanan Barnes.”

“Commander Barnes.” Pepper cleared her throat so her voice would stop shaking. “Commander Barnes this is Virginia Potts- Pepper Potts. I'm not sure why I am calling you, actually but--”

“Sweetheart.” Bucky interrupted. “People call this number when they want other people killed. Now did you dial me by accident or do you need something dangerous done?”

Pepper closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “Commander Barnes,  I work for Tony Stark, and he was just taken by someone he called Rumlow. This was the only card on his desk and I don't how you could help but please please help.”

“Tony Stark.” Bucky repeated. “Tries to look taller than he is, fancy goatee, runs his mouth a mile a minute?”

“Yes.” Pepper wiped tears away from her face. “Yes, that's Tony. Can you help me?”

“Don't worry about a thing.” Bucky said firmly. “Don't call the cops. You did the right thing by calling me. I'll take care of it.”

“How will you take care of---”

“Ms. Potts.” Bucky's voice went dangerous and Pepper clutched the phone tighter. “I'm not going to scare with you with details but trust me . This situation will be resolved quickly. I will take care of it. Tony will be back soon.”

“Thank you.” she whispered.

“Have a real nice day, sugar. Maybe one day when things aren't so tense you and I can get to know each other.”

“What?” Pepper frowned. “I'm sorry, are you hitting on me?”

But Bucky had already hung up, and Pepper couldn't do much more than sit at her desk and hope she’d done the right thing.

*****************

*****************

“Mr. Rogers!” Steve turned when a student called for him, smiling down at Polly? Patricia?--one of the many perky blonde girls who made up the girls basketball team and half of his third period class.

“What can I do for you?”

“Sorry to bother you, but I was wondering about the quiz tomorrow, if this would be covered?” she handed him a page of notes to look over. “Allie is sick and I wanted to make sure I had all of the notes correct so she is ready.”

“Oh that's very kind of you...Paula.” Steve smiled in relief when he remembered her name. Already a month into the school year and he was still scrambling to keep up with all of his students names. “Paula. Yes, this all looks correct, but you might also want to add--”

“Oh, is this for the quiz tomorrow?” Another student, Alex maybe?, joined them. “Do you mind if I listen in?”

“No, of course not.” Steve straightened his glasses. “That's fine. I was just telling Paula that she needs to include the section about India in her notes for the quiz. I know I didn't go over it overly much in class but the book has several chapters---”

Steve's phone started ringing in his pocket and he closed his eyes in frustration, muffling a curse.

It was Bucky's ringtone.

“Excuse me, guys. Just a minute.” Steve stepped away and answered the call. “Bucky, I am with my students right now, and I feel like we were pretty clear about me not every going on another mission with you again. What do you want?”

“Hey maybe you quit playing school teacher for a few minutes and listen.” Bucky's voice was about the most serious it had ever been, and Steve moved even further away, ducking into a side hallway so he could listen.

“What's going on?”

“I got a phone call a few hours ago from one Ms. Pepper Potts. Seems Rumlow wasn't as dead as we thought he was, and showed up and snatched Tony right from his office.”

Steve closed his eyes. “You’re joking.”

“Do I sound like I'm joking? Rumlow’s got your boy. Me and the team are already in New York, we were in Florida and just hopped and skipped up. Meet us, I'll text you an address, we can set up a plan and go get him.”

“I am going to kill him, Buck. Rumlow is mine.”

“Well hurry up then, cause I've got a team full of men who want to put a bullet through his ugly mug for costing us Nick and Jo-Jo.”

“I'm already on my way.”

**********************

**********************

The students were all gathered in the side hallway, talking in low tones about what kind of phone call could have prompted their giant but gentle history teacher to put his fist through the wall before literally running out of the building, his tie and jacket left on the ground behind him, burnout marks in the parking lot from the wheels of his truck as he raced out of the parking lot.

“I heard he’s part of a black ops team.” One of the boys offered. “Does real dangerous stuff.”  

His friend rolled his eyes. “Mr. Rogers? He wears tweed and glasses. He is seriously the host of that old Mr Rogers show. He even has the same name.”

“He could still be black ops! A history teacher is a perfect cover!”

“No he couldn't. What a stupid idea.”

“Maybe someone kidnapped someone he loved!” One of the cheerleaders said excitedly. "And he is going to rip off his glasses and tweed and just be really dangerous all the sudden! Like when Superman rips open his shirt and is suddenly sexy?”

“Oh my god, I heard he works on archeological sites in the off months? That's where he was this summer! Maybe it has something to do with that.”

“He’s practically Indiana Jones.” Another girl sighed dreamily. “I love him.”

The teachers walking by tsked in disapproval and started rounding the teenagers up to get back to class, calling maintenance to take care of the hole in the wall.

Whatever or whoever had set calm, collected Steve Rogers off had a world of hurt coming their way.

Chapter Text

“Welcome back to the world Sleeping Beauty.” Rumlow’s annoying voice, cutting through the fog in Tony's head and forcing him awake. “I was afraid that little bump on the head had done you in.”

“Damn shame, that.” Tony coughed, then licked his lips, cringing at the taste of dried blood. “Is Pepper alright?”

“That little redhead? I told you I wouldn't hurt her as long as she didn't call the police. I'm a man of my word.”

“I didn't hear the part about not hurting her, that must have been after you pistol whipped me. Which, for the record, I feel like was entirely unnecessary. Also--” Tony tried to straighten, pulling at the zip ties around his wrists. “--telling me you’re a man of your word? Are you trying to make me laugh?”

“Do you ever stop talking?” Rumlow snarled and Tony smirked, looking around the room in interest.

“Not usually. So it isn’t just a movie thing, is it? The whole ‘taking a hostage to an abandoned office building and tying them to a chair in the middle of the room’? I didn't know bad guys actually did that.” Tony looked up at the light above his head. “Good god, the light is even swinging ominously. I swear, I've never been so convinced I'm just an extra in a bad action flick.”

Rumlow was pacing nervously, peering out the one window, glancing back to check the door every few minutes, scratching at his face. “He was supposed to be here already.”

“Now Brock.” Tony said mildly, flexing his wrists to see how tight the zip ties were. Tight. His hands were in front of him so that was a bonus, but his ankles were tied as well which would make escaping just a tiny bit harder he supposed. “If I didn't know better--” Tony continued, looking around at the floor for anything close enough to grab. “I would think you were waiting for the green button to kill me, which means you are working for someone, which is not the impression I got the first time. Tell me--” he spied a the broken off leg of a chair. “Who is calling the shots?”

“Shut up, Stark.”

“No, I want to know.” The broken leg was too far away so Tony changed his mind about trying to use that. First he needed to get out of the zip ties, and then he could--- “I mean honestly, what kind of guy hires a man like you to do his dirty work?”

“A man like me?” Rumlow’s voice rose, and he was looking increasingly agitated. “What do you mean by that?”

“Nothing.” Tony shook his head. “I'm just curious. Why would he let you try again after you so royally fucked up the first time?” he was trying to rile Rumlow up, trying to get him distracted to he could find the time to break these zip ties. If he could get his hands free, he at least stood a fighting chance.

Fortunately, Rumlow took the bait. Unfortunately, he didn't react the way Tony had hoped.

“You know, Stark.” Rumlow pushed away from the wall and stalked towards him, shedding his heavy jacket. “My orders were to keep you alive. That doesn't mean you have to be conscious or in one piece.”

Tony swallowed hard when Rumlow cracked his knuckles, then his neck, rolling his big shoulders in a menacing gesture.

All Tony could do was hope the first blow would knock him out.

It didn't.

************************

************************

“Steve.” Bucky looked up when the door to the hotel room banged open and Steve stomped through it.

“Where the hell is he?”

“Take a deep breath, man.” Bobbie-D cautioned. “We aren't going to solve anything by charging in---” he shut up and started backpedaling hastily as Steve whipped around ready to lay into him.

“Nope.” Bucky jumped between them, shoving Bobbie-D into a corner and pulling Steve away. “You’re not gonna beat on one of our guys because you’re pissed off, and Bobbie just don't, alright? You know damn well all of us want to drop Rumlow off a cliff, but now he’s holding the man Stevie loves, so we need to be a little patient and just… everyone just chill, alright?”

“Sorry Bobbie.” Steve muttered and Bobbie-D held up his hands peacefully, shaking his head. “It's no problem, Steve. Sorry about your man.”

“Please tell me you know something.” Steve was already in his combat suit, looking furious and deadly in all black, twin holsters on his thighs, his assault rifle slung over his shoulder, his favorite .45 in his back holster.

“Of course I know something, Stevie.” Bucky bent over a map, the blueprints of a large building off to the side. “Best we can tell, Rumlow is holed up here.”

“And how do you know that?” Steve demanded, looking uneasy when Bucky exchanged an uncomfortable look with Stanley.

“Do you remember Panama?”

“God yes.” Steve frowned. “Panama was the worst. Four men captured, one killed, we barely made it out of there with our sanity intact. What does it matter?”

“After Panama, I--” Bucky swallowed hard. “I put a tracer on the three boys who came out of that prison alive. Bobbie-D--” The big man turned his wrist so Steve could see the implantation scar. “Sebastian--” the man stepped forward and pushed his hair off his neck to show Steve the chip in his neck. “And Brock.”

“Why?” Steve was horrified. “Why would you let someone chip you, Seb? Bobbie?”

“Because I don't ever want to be lost and wonder if anyone’s gonna find me again.” Bobbie-D said firmly. “I was in that hole for eight days while you guys looked for me. And I always knew you would find me, you and Buck and the rest of the boys. I knew you would. But that doesn't mean that I'm not worried about it happening again.”

“So when Bucky asked--” Junior spoke up, rolling up his sleeves to show the scar on his elbow. “We all did. We all got a chip. Just in case. Keeps us safe.”

“Not like Buck checks on us off missions, you know?” Sebastian added. “And even if he does, I got no problem with any of these guys-- you included-- knowing where I am at all times.”

“You all are chipped, even you, Buck?”

“Yeah. Everyone but you, Stevie, cuz you aren't a merc like the rest of us, you know?” Bucky folded his arms over his chest. “You want one, you tell me. But otherwise, there’s no reason for you to have one.”

“That's all fine, but--” Steve glanced around the room. “Brock never would have consented to being chipped. He barely likes carrying a driver’s license because he’s paranoid about people finding him. His guns aren't even registered.”

“Yeah you’re right.” Bucky met his eyes steadily. “Brock never would have consented .”

“You did it without him knowing?” Steve was furious. “Bucky what the fuck -- you can't do that to people!”

“Look.” Bucky groaned. “After Panama, Brock wasn't ever the same, alright? He was more violent, quick to lash out at all of us, plus there was just one too many times when he should have had our backs on a mission and… didn't. Nothing that cost us anything, but he just wasn't there when he needed to be. So one time when he got hurt, we put him under instead of giving him pain pills and just… slipped it in under the stitches.”

“That aint right, Buck.” Steve said adamantly, and Bucky shrugged.

“You’re right, it's not . But I was worried about him, and for damn good reason, apparently. And you can bitch all you want about Brock’s rights and all that but the fact is---” Bucky turned the computer screen so Steve could see the blinking blue light in the middle of an abandoned warehouse. “Because of it, we know exactly where that bastard is. You’re welcome.”

“Damn it.” Steve stared at the screen, the muscle in his jaw jumping as he clenched his teeth. “We know exactly where he is.”

“That's right.” Bucky said and patted Steve's shoulder. “I know how you feel about the chip thing, and it was something I really struggled with but you know--- it's mandatory now. You’re on my team, you get chipped. I realize you hate this sort of thing, but hey look at it this way, after you take down Brock, it won't matter anymore, will it?”

“You’re right about that .” Steve admitted and reached for a radio, hooking it onto his belt. “Let’s go.”

“Actually.” Bucky shook his head. “We have something else to do.”

“What else could possibly be going on--”

“Brocks working for someone.” Chris spoke up. “Whoever orchestrated everything in South America. He's here in the states. Specifically New York.”

“What?” Steve's eyes narrowed. “You think Rumlow took Tony to deliver him to this guy? Who is he?”

Bucky chewed on the inside of his lip, staring at Steve for a minute before answering. “Panama. Brock's been bad since Panama. The guy who's after Tony-- it's the Colonel from Panama. I don't think he ever intended to get our team involved, but it all sort of worked out. Tony was heading to South America, our team was there-- kind of killing two birds with one stone.”

“So what? So this guy had a completely separate plan to kidnap Tony Stark, and a completely separate vendetta against the team?”

“That's what we think.” Evan said slowly. “And all of us in South America at the same time--”

“It was coincidental.” Bucky interjected. “Two totally separate plans that all happened to work out.”

“Coincidence.” Steve repeated. “That Tony and I just happened to be in South America at the same time. That the same guy who had a kidnapping scheme also happened to hate us.”

“Weirder things have happened. And with Rumlow being a bastard well… we are lucky we only lost two men. For all we know it might have been Rumlows idea to try and take us out, not the Colonels. Don't matter though. Both of them are fucked once we get to them.”

“Ain't that the truth.” Steve muttered. “Fucking coincidence. Jesus Christ. What the guys name? I only remember the--”

“After tonight, his name won't matter.” Bucky said and the rest of the team nodded. “Now we have a chance to move on him, so we’re going to go get him tonight. Gonna nip this shit in the bud. You take care of Brock and whatever men he has with him, and we are gonna go take this guy out.”

“Yeah alright.” Steve nodded jerkily, knowing better than to ask again who or how Bucky knew who the boss was. It didn't matter anyway. If Bucky had his way, the boss wouldn't be anyone anymore and no one would have to worry about him again. “I'll keep you posted.”

“Be safe, Stevie.” Bucky wrapped a big hand around the back of Steve’s neck and pressed their foreheads together. “You get your boyfriend, we will get this asshole, lets meet for brunch tomorrow, huh?”

“Brunch?” Steve raised an eyebrow and Evan laughed.

“Yeah man. Some hot blonde introduced Bucky to brunch when we were in France a few months back. He loves it.”

“Enough.” Bucky shoved Steve towards the door. “Go get your boy. Communicate with us, alright? I don't want to left in the dark with this.”

“Good luck boys.”

“Hey.” Bucky called. “Give Brock a bullet for me too, huh?”

The door slamming behind Steve was the only answer.

****************

****************

Tony wasn't sure if it was the water or the vicious slap that woke him up, but either way it worked.

He jolted back into consciousness, a scream leaving his lips before his eyes were even open, his whole body seizing in pain. “ Fuck !” He bit out. “Fuck.”

“Not running your mouth so much now, are you?” Brock hissed, washing blood from his knuckles. “I can't believe you lasted that long. Who knew pretty boys can withstand a beating as well as some of the soldiers I've run into?”

“Yeah?” Tony bent over and coughed up a mouthful of blood, listening to the wheeze of his breath and knowing he’d busted at least a rib or two, if not punctured a lung. “And do you spend a lot of time beating on soldiers?”

“More time than you would think.” Brock glanced at Tony again, noting the way he was sagging, his head nearly in his lap, his hands clenched against his forehead. “You’d be surprised how often it's necessary to beat an answer out of someone.”

“So what's the answer you need from me?” Tony spat another mouthful of blood, counting his teeth with his tongue and carefully gingerly breathed a sigh of relief, wincing when pain shot through his chest from his ribs. “Or were you just trying to get an excuse to get your hands on me?”

“Just think you’re pretty all black and blue.” Rumlow shot back and Tony nodded.

“Yeah, I'd think blue was my color.” he lifted his head again, rolling his shoulders. “So tell me--”

“Stark, I am warning you, if you don't shut up right now ---” Rumlow started to shout, but a different noise caught him attention, and Tony tilted his head to try and listen too.

There it was again, a popping noise, two in a row, and then silence.

Gunfire .

“Report in.” Rumlow grabbed his radio and barked an order. “Tell me what's going on?”

“Uh, nothing, boss.” A voice answered. “No sign of anything.”

“Why am I hearing gunfire? I want a full report now.”

“I'll check with the guys and--- oh shit!” there was sounds of a scuffle, like the radio had been dropped. Then--

--Bang! Bang!--

And “Rumlow. How many men you got in this building?” Steve’s voice over the radio, and all the color washed from Rumlow’s face. “I mean, I've killed, three so far and I'm just on the first floor. I know you’re on the fourth floor, so do I really have to kill nine more men just to get to you?”

“And how the hell would you know where I am?” Rumlow growled and Steve laughed into the radio, not a pretty sound.

“Oh I wouldn't worry about a detail like that. But know this-- when I get to you, I'm gonna put a bullet in your skull, you hear me?”

“I'll make sure your boyfriend is dead before you get here.” Rumlow shouted.

“Nah, you won't.” Steve sounded impossibly calm. “I know you won't. Tony, baby, you listening? I'm coming for you. Sit tight.”

Tony wanted to yell for Steve, wanted to snark that he couldn't possibly be sitting tighter than this, wanted to laugh in delight because he was so damn happy to hear Steve’s voice-- but he was too hurt for all of that. He could barely draw a full breath, much less yell, so he just smiled a little, and let his head loll back against the chair, and focused less on his pain and more on the fact that Steve had come for him, that Steve had called him baby .

All the wrong things to focus on of course, but that was fine.

Steve was gonna rescue him and it would be fine.

He didn't even register Brocks pacing, his growing panic as the sound of gunfire came closer and closer. Sometimes there were multiple guns firing, every once in awhile there would be a panicked shout into a radio, but for the most part it was the horrifyingly efficient .45 making it's way closer and closer to where they were.

Tony's lips were moving even though he wasn't talking, and Brock switched between eyeing him uneasily, calling on his radio for his men to just stop Rogers , and holding his gun, his finger on the trigger.

“What are you saying!” He finally barked at Tony, who managed to open one eye, the other swollen shut from a solid punch.

“I'm counting.” Tony licked at his dry lips. “Bullets.”

“What? That doesn't make any--how are you--”

“Steve is using his .45, the 1911.” Tony dropped his head again, groaning as pain lanced through his neck and head. “His mag holds seven bullets and one in the chamber. He’s been shooting your men twice, once in the chest, once in the forehead.”

“How would you know--”

“So far I've heard eighteen bullets that are definitely from his gun but we can say twenty one just to be safe because there were a few times your men had a chance to fire back. So twenty one bullets means he's changed his magazine three times, and if you have three more men waiting on this floor he will have to change his magazine again, since he will only have three bullets left in that one, he will need at least six for the men on this floor, but maybe closer to nine. All that to say, he will still have two to put through you.”

Rumlow was staring at him, looking horrified and Tony managed to smirk. “I could be wrong, I guess, but I never am.”

Shouts then, at the end of the hallway, six shots in rapid succession and then silence.

“Get up.” Rumlow dragged Tony out of the chair, ignoring his screech of pain, and wrapped his arm around Tony’s neck, his gun pointed at Tony's head. “Shut up! I don't need you screaming in my ear while I'm trying to do this!”

Tony opened his mouth to reply, and Rumlow clicked the safety off of his handgun.

“Shut. Up.”

Tony shut up.

****************

****************

Steve heard Tony scream, and put his hand on the door that separated them, hearing Rumlow’s rough voice as well, yelling at Tony.

He took several deep breaths to calm himself, checked the magazine on his gun, and then knocked on the door.

“You gonna let me in, Rumlow, or do I need to blow this shit up.”

“I've got a gun to Starks head!” Rumlow called out. “Back off, Rogers.”

“Rumlow, you know I'm not gonna do that. One more chance.”

“I'm warning you, Rogers!”

Steve didn't answer this time, just wound up and kicked the door as hard as he could, sending it ripping off of worn hinges and crashing into the room.

He stepped through the doorway, gun raised at the ready, and told himself not to lose his mind at the sight of Tony, bloody and bruised and barely standing, held up by Brock, forced to be still by a gun to his head.

“Rogers.” Rumlow snapped. “I should have known you’d come after him. I told that redheaded bitch not to call the cops but I don't know how she knew to call you.”

“You alright, honey?” Steve ignored Rumlow and focused on Tony. “How you doing?”

“Little bruised up. But I hear blue is my color, so the bruises are fine. ” Tony whispered and Steve grinned even though he was so angry he could hardly see straight.

“So much sass, baby, I love it. Don't ever change. Now Rumlow. You got three seconds to step away from Tony. Gonna count to three and then I'm gonna put a bullet in you.”

“You shoot me, my fingers gonna squeeze this trigger so either way your boy dies.” Rumlow warned. “You really wanna threaten me?”

Steve cocked his head. “ One .”

“I know you Rogers, you’re not a killer. You're not gonna shoot me.”

Two .”

“Just shoot him Steve.” Tony rasped. “If you shoot through my shoulder it will go into his chest. I'll recover, he won't it's that simple.”

Rumlow grabbed him tighter. “Shut up you little---”

Three .” Steve said calmly and pulled the trigger.

Rumlow dropped like a rock, screaming and holding a wrist that didn't have a hand attached to it anymore.

“Holy shit, you shot his hand off.” Tony gasped, and then his legs gave out, but Steve was already across the room, sliding a thick arm around his waist to hold him up, pressing his head to his shoulder. “That's a way better idea than mine. But Steve---Steve you came for me--”

“Of course I did, baby.” Steve kissed his head. “Of course I did. I was never not going to come for you, Tony. And yeah, for the record, my plan is much better than yours. You really think I could take a shot at you?”

“It's been a crazy day.” Tony mumbled and Steve kissed his head with a relieved smile.

Rumlow was still writhing on the floor, his right hand pouring blood, screaming and cursing and Steve held Tony tighter. “Don't look, honey.” he whispered, and Tony turned away so he wouldn't have to see what happened.

One bullet and Rumlow went abruptly silent. A second one -- for Bucky-- and Steve shoved his gun back in his holster, bringing his other arm around to hold Tony.

“You had three bullets left?” Tony's voice was muffled in Steve's shoulder, his fingers curled into his shirt, his entire body shaking as the last bit of adrenaline wore off and all that was left was the pain. “I was counting, thought you would only have two.”

“I upgraded to the after market magazine.” Steve told him. “Felt like you were making fun of me in the forest for only having the traditional clip and that made me feel self conscious.”

Tony's shoulders shook with laughter, even has he pressed a hand over his ribs, sucking in a quick breath of pain. “I'm gonna get you out of here, alright?” Steve pulled a knife and sliced through the zip ties. “Get you to a hospital.”

“Yeah, that's sounds good.” Tony nodded. “But first I'm gonna pass out, and if you make any comments about me fainting or calling me a damsel or princess or anything along those lines, I'm gonna be pissed.”

Steve tried not to laugh, and bent to scoop Tony into his arms, cradling him close to his chest. “No worries, baby. You pass out, I won't make any princess comments.”

Tony managed a smile before going entirely limp and Steve held him carefully while managing to get his radio out.

“Tango- Whiskey- Sierra. Side is safe.”

“Acknowledged, Cap. Glad to hear it. We are---” gunshots, a few screams, then silence-- “-- we are finished here as well. How’s the side?”

“Needs hospitalization ASAP, no idea how much damage.”

“Real sorry to hear that. Keep me posted.”

“Will do.”

Steve looked down at Tony, at the bruises on his face, the blood from his head, the marks on his wrists from the zip ties and pushed back the panic that had been threatening to choke him since he had gotten that call from Bucky.

It was over. Rumlow was dead, Bucky and the boys had taken care of the other guy, and Tony was safe in his arms.

Steve was never letting him go again.  

Chapter Text

Tony was getting real tired of waking up in pain, but at least this time he was waking up in a hospital and not at the mercy of some gun wielding asshole.

The steady beeping of the heart monitor was comforting-- he hadn't died, and the smell of antiseptic was sharp in his nose, so his senses were working. Everything on his left side seemed to be working, and he mentally went through the names of muscles and bones as he wiggled his toes and tried to slightly bend his knees, fingers, all that.

Shit . Ribs still hurt. Hurt like a bitch.

Right foot was fine, knee was pretty banged up, his hand was-- oh someone was holding his hand.

“Tony.”

Steve.

Tony forced his eyes open to see an exhausted looking Steve sitting at the side of his bed, his right hand held between both of his. “Oh, thank god. Honey, I was starting to get worried.” Steve lifted Tony's hands to his lips and kissed it lightly.

“Hey.” Tony croaked, and then tried to clear his throat to no avail. “I need---”

“Yeah, I got water right here.” Steve let go only long enough to grab a cup of water, raising the bed so Tony was sitting up and placing the straw at his mouth.

A few sips and Tony pulled away, wetting his lips. “Thanks.” his voice was still raspy, so he motioned for the cup again and Steve held it patiently while he drank his fill.

“How long have I been out?” Tony asked after settling back into the pillows, and Steve picked up his hand again. “What day is it?”

“You were only unconscious for a few hours, but they kept you pretty heavily sedated for the last three days so you had a chance to heal. I think it's Wednesday, but honestly I've been sitting here so long it might actually be Thursday.”

“Well I feel like I was hit by a truck. What's the official diagnosis? Anything broken?”

“Couple ribs.” Steve sighed.  “Um, a light sprain in an ankle, no internal bleeding and no punctured lung like I was worried about though, most of it is just deep bruising. Stitches above your eye, and they had to keep waking you up to make sure you weren’t concussed or anything. You are going to be a lovely shade of black and blue for a week or so.”

“I don't remember any of it.” Tony shook his head. “I mean, the last thing I remember is you holding me and telling me not to look while you killed Rumlow.”

“You don't remember fainting?” Steve raised his eyebrow. “It was lovely, you swoon better than the most delicate courtier.”

“I remember specifically telling you not to call it fainting.” Tony warned and Steve kissed his hand again.

“I just wanted to make sure your sense of humour was fully intact.” His voice shook a little, and he looked down, letting his hair fall into his eyes to hide his expression. “There were a few times I thought I was going to lose you, honey, before I got you here. You looked so--I don't know. You always seem larger than life, with your sunglasses and that smile but after I got you from Rumlow you just looked small in my arms. Helpless.” He cleared his throat. “Please don't ever look helpless again, I don't know if I can handle it.”

Tony just looked at him for a long time, at the obvious signs of exhaustion, at the hair that hadn't been cut in weeks, the beard that wasn't as full as it had been in South America but was getting there again. Steve’s fingers were trembling just the slightest bit where they were laced through Tony’s, and several knuckles were split like he had punched something hard.

“It's gonna take more than a jerk with a gun and a mean right hook to stop me.” he finally said, and Steve laughed quietly and just held his hand all the tighter. “You came for me.” Tony squeezed Steve's hand. “You came for me even though I didn't know how to call you.”

“Did you think your secretary would call Bucky, and Bucky wouldn't call me? Of course I would come for you.” Steve finally looked up, his eyes warming. “Even though I feel like I should point out that if you had just stayed with me when I asked, none of this would have happened.”

“Yeah, you’re right about that.” Tony closed his eyes. “But do you really want to play I told you so while I'm in the hospital? That seems like a cheap shot.”

“Only because I know I'm going to win.” Steve grinned. “Also, did you just admit I was right without putting up some ridiculous fight first?”

“It's the pain meds.” Tony said with an exaggerated frown. “They are screwing me up. I'm not responsible for what I'm saying.”

“It doesn't matter. Pain meds or not, you definitely just said I was right.”

“I take it back!” Tony laughed and then held his free hand to his ribs with a wince. “Damn, apparently I'm not healed enough to be quite so enthusiastic yet, but I definitely take it back.”

“Oh honey, don't take it back.” Steve whispered. “I’ll stop teasing you, but please don't take it back. I like hearing that you know you should have stayed with me. Makes me happier than it probably should.”

Tony sighed and tugged at Steve's hand. “You know, back when everything happened between us, when I went home at the end of the summer and spent a few weeks moping around the house, it was my mom who helped me get over you.”

“Hows that?” Steve threaded their fingers together idly, lining their fingertips up and smiling at the difference in size, so happy to just be touching Tony again, he didn't care how goofy he looked.

“You look ridiculous.” Tony informed him. “But don't stop.” Steve pressed Tony's palm to his lips and smiled against his skin.

“Tell me how you mom helped you.” He prompted and Tony nodded.

“Ma told me that sometimes the best way to get over someone is to date people who are opposite of them, to learn new habits that don't remind you of them, and to take all the feelings you have and envision putting them in a box, and then burying the box as deep as you can. She told me one day when I went looking for them, they would be gone. It was good advice. I listened to her. Never dated anyone blond, only dated girls, and I buried everything I felt for you and tried to never think about it again.”

“Yeah?” Steve tried not to think about twenty year old Tony crying over him, then trying to bury his feelings by avoiding anything that reminded him of Steve. The thought hurt . “So did it work? Burying everything?”

“Apparently not.” Tony said wryly, looking pointedly at their joined hands. “Or we wouldn't be here , would we?”

“Tony.” Steve reached out to brush his knuckles over Tony's cheek. “Honey, I love you. I never stopped. Not once. I'm sorry I didn't tell you then, and I'm sorry I haven't told you yet, but I love you. I do . I love you so much.”

“I love you too.” Tears fell from Tony's eyes and Steve leaned in to kiss them away before covering Tony’s mouth with his own. “I love you too, even though I can't believe you let me get kidnapped before you decided to tell me.”

“Hey now.” Steve sat on the bed carefully, winding an arm around Tony's waist to hold him closer. “I tried telling you when we in bed in the hotel. I just didn't know how to say it.”

“You said it just fine.” Tony whispered, touching their foreheads together. “You said it fine, I heard it just fine.”

“But you left anyway.” Steve splayed a hand across Tony's back to keep him steady, while his other hand brushed hair away from stitches, touching over the bruises lightly. “You left anyway.”

“You let me go.” Tony tilted his head up for a kiss, and Steve gave it to him eagerly, shivering when Tony's hand crept up his thigh. “I left, and you let me go.”

“I'm not making that mistake again.” Steve swore, lifting his head just enough to meet Tony’s eyes. “I am not doing it again. Not letting you go.”

“Gonna hold you to that, history teacher.” Tony mumbled and leaned in closer, so Steve touched his jaw, slid his tongue along Tony's lips, then inside when Tony opened for him, feeling like he could melt when Tony moaned shakily, Steve's name a gasp from his lips.

“I've missed you, baby.” Steve murmured. “I've missed you, this last month has been---”

“Oh excuse me.” A nurse interrupted them, staring disapprovingly at Steve. “It's actually time for some pain medication and Mr Stark needs to be resting, not fraternizing. Hospital beds aren't meant for two.”

“I don't need medication.” Tony protested and wound his hand through Steve’s hair, coaxing him forward again. “I got all I need.”

“Tony, you need pain meds.” Steve said with a regretful sigh. “I should know better than this, I'm sorry.”

Tony shook his head firmly, ready to protest again, but then he cried out in pain at the motion. “Okay, maybe i need a few.” Tony admitted, and let Steve lay him back against the pillows. “Steve will you--” he hated how unsure he sounded. “I mean, are you going to stay? Now that I'm awake? Will you stay with me?”

“He hasn't left your bed in three days.” The nurse said, handing Tony a few pills and a cup of water. “I'm sure he’s not going anywhere yet.”

“She’s right. I'm not going anywhere.” Steve promised and Tony relaxed, the combination of pills and pain and the reassurance of Steve making him almost instantly drowsy. “I'll be here when you wake up, baby, I promise . I promise I'll be here. I'm not letting you go again.”

“Like when you call me baby.” Tony muttered as his eyes closed, and by the time Steve leaned in to kiss him, he was back asleep.

****************

****************

Tony woke up sometime later to a very annoyed Pepper tearing into a shocked looking Steve-- and tried to hide his smile, because as the saying goes-- Hell Hath No Fury Like  Pepper--

“I have to say I'm not a fan of you, Captain Rogers.” Pepper folded her arms angrily. “Every time Tony gets within a five mile radius of you, he is being kidnapped or having to fight for his life or something equally ridiculous. I think you have a lot of explaining to do, and I am keen to hear one valid reason as to why I shouldn't call security and kick you out of this hospital room since all you seem to do is put Tony in danger.”

Steve opened his mouth but Pepper held up a finger in warning, shaking her head.

“And don't even get me started on your breaking his heart. Do you have any idea what it is like to clean up after Tony when he is self destructing? It was bad enough he lost his parents, and then here you are, prancing around in South America with him , sending him back to me in tears? I could castrate you for that alone, who the hell do you think you are treating him like that? Do you even understand how amazing this man is? And you trample on his heart like this?”

“I--I--I--”

“Captain Rogers?” Peppers voice rose, her foot tapping irritably. “I am waiting . Do you have anything to say for yourself?”

“Um--I-- you should---” Steve looked about three shades of panicked , and Tony squeezed his hand to let him know he was awake. “Oh Tony, thank god. I mean, good morning, honey.” he leaned in to kiss Tony gently before handing him some water. “So, uh Pepper has been--”

You will call me Ms. Potts!”

“Ms. Potts--” Steve grimaced. “Has been here for about two minutes and I am about two seconds from running out the door.”

“Yeah, she’s terrifying.” Tony smiled, his gaze dropping back to Steve’s mouth. “Come here again, huh? I realize I probably taste like hospital and medication but give us a real kiss.”

“With her watching?” Steve hissed, looking horrified and terrified and Tony burst out laughing before yelling in pain and grabbing his ribs.

“Damn it.” Pepper snapped. “This is exactly what I was talking about. He has been awake for thirty seconds and he is already in pain thanks to you. Would you please just leave? Am I the only one in this room who cares about Tony's well being and---”

“Hey! Where’s my boys?” Bucky burst through the door, arms full of flowers, a big smile on his face. “Tony! We were worried about you, sweetheart!” he deposited the outrageous amount of flowers on a chair, blowing past a confused Pepper and swooping down to smack a loud kiss on Tony's cheek. “The whole team wanted to come but I told them you only wanted to see me. I was right, wasn't I? Tell me I was right, sweet thing.”

Tony grinned up at him. “Buck. It's good to see you.”

“Trust me when I say it's good to see you too, Tony. I'm sorry about all this.” Bucky cupped Tony's jaw carefully, turning him each way to see the damage. “Steve says he took care of Rumlow though, so you don't have to worry about anything like this ever again, you hear?”

Bucky glanced over at Steve. “Speaking of which-- Stevie, goddamn , you look like hell. Go get some sleep, I promise Tony will be safe in my arms for a night.” he winked at Tony, elbowed Steve suggestively, and then whipped right around to send Pepper a look .

“How you doing, sugar? I feel like we don't know each other and that---” he looked her up and down before whistling softly. “That's a damn shame, ain’t it.”

“I can guarantee we don't know each other.” Pepper narrowed her eyes at him, entirely unimpressed with his charm. “But I can tell by that accent you must be Commander Barnes.”

“Oh!” Bucky clasped his hands over his heart dramatically. “My reputation precedes me. I love that so much. You must be the darling Pepper Potts.”

“It's Ms Potts.” She said irritably, and Bucky straightened in interest, his blue eyes lighting.

Ms. Potts . My apologies.”

“Buck.” Tony said and Bucky turned back around, dragging a chair up to the bed.

“What’s on your mind, Tony?”

“Steve said someone was behind all this? Can you tell me who?”

“Nope.” Bucky said promptly. “Sure can't.”

“Above my paygrade?” Tony asked with a soft laugh. “Come on, I know you didn't leave him alive, so it's not like you have to worry about me trying to track him down or anything.”

“You’re right, honey.” Bucky said evenly. “I didn't leave him alive. Not even close. In fact, the mans a damn jig saw puzzle and I may or may not have fed his pieces to my neighbors dog.”

“Oh my god--” Pepper blanched and Bucky sent her an apologetic look.

“All I'm saying is-- names don't matter after they are dead, so don't think about it.”

“Commander Barnes, I don't really think--” Pepper started to interrupt, but Tony shook his head.

“No, he’s right, Pep. What good is a name gonna do me besides give me nightmares?” He turned to look at Steve who nodded and smoothed a hand through his hair, moving from the seat to the bed so Tony could curl up as best as he could into his chest. “But it's all over now?”

“It's all over.” Bucky reassured him. “Stevie got Brock, we got the rest of them. Don't worry about it, alright? Was a weird fucking coincidence that everything in South America happened the way it did, but it's all done now. Nothing to worry about.”

“Thank you.” Tony sighed and turned his face further into Steve, a drowsy smile on his face.

“Sure thing, sweet thing.” Bucky said softly, catching Steve's eyes and grinning. “You two are cute as shit, you know that? Look at Steve. Blushing like a damn school girl because hes got the boy he loves in his arms. Cute. As. Shit.”

“Go away Buck.” Steve rolled his eyes, tucking Tony closer to him. “Tony is still tired, and I didn't sleep a whole lot yesterday either. Leave us alone for a little bit.”

“Stick in the mud, Stevie boy.” Bucky snorted, but he stood anyway, bending over to drop a kiss on Tony's cheek and ruffle Steve’s hair. “Now then.” He turned to Pepper. “I've got an idea. Why don't you and I go get some coffee and let these boys get handsy with each other?”

What ?!” Pepper sputtered. “Tony needs to sleep? What do you mean let them---”

Bucky grinned, all charm and coaxing and sweet, offering his arm for her to take. “I don't want to offend your perfect pretty ears, darling, but I feel like these two are dying to some alone time, and I don't mean to sleep, so let’s give it to them, hm? Steve’s staring at Tony like he’s gonna eat him alive and we don't need to be here for that.”

“I--I--” Pepper blinked at him a few times, and then looked over at Tony in concern, but Tony wasn't looking at her. Instead he was running his fingers through Steve’s beard, a soft smile on his face as Steve kissed each of his fingers before kissing his forehead, nose and mouth.

Just that quickly, they were lost in their own world, staring deep into each others eyes and it was… well it was almost sickening how sweet they looked, but Pepper just sighed and turned back to Bucky.

“Commander Barnes--”

“Oh, definitely call me Bucky.” he drawled and she smiled stiffly.

Bucky . I could use another cup of coffee. And I can tell that Tony is in no way aware that the two of us are even here then, so we might as well go for a little bit.”

“Come on then.” He opened the door and guided her through. “Let’s go get to know each other.”

They passed the nurses station just as alarms were going crazy, and Bucky tapped one of the nurses on the shoulder. “Uh hey, those alarms for room 308? Yeah, he’s fine. Just making up with his boyfriend. Not having a heart attack, I promise.” The nurse stared at him with wide eyes and Bucky grinned. “Aren't you too pretty to be a nurse? Should be in movies when you look like that. Belong in Hollywood.”

Pepper rolled her eyes and apologized to the nurse before dragging Bucky away. “Do you ever stop flirting?” she asked, exasperated and Bucky tilted his head, sending her a curious look.

“Ms. Potts, if the right one came along, I'd stop flirting in a heartbeat. All this charm? Soley hers. All my one liners and come ons and pick up lines? Would switch right to making her smile from the moment she woke up to the moment I got to crawl into bed next to her at night.” he shrugged. “Just because I enjoy the chase doesn't mean I don't want to settle down, you know what I mean?”

“I will admit I didn't expect you to say that.” Pepper said, completely surprised and Bucky closed one eye in a wink.

“I'm full of surprises baby doll. Now come here. You wanna know why the boys call me the Bronco?”

*******************

“Tony we should slow down.” Steve was murmuring, even as he helped Tony rip the leads off his chest so the monitor would stop beeping. “You are still recovering, you’re all loopy from the pain meds, we should slow down.”

“Yeah right.” Tony huffed a laugh and kept dragging Steve back down for longer and longer kisses. “Love is the best medicine, right?”

Laughter , Tony.” Steve corrected. “ Laughter is the best medicine.”

Tony rolled his eyes. “Whatever it takes for you to get naked with me, Steve.”

“We can't---” Steve stilled Tony's hands firmly. “We can't do that, baby. I am not going to jeopardize your recovery just because we can't keep our hands off each other. You know I want you, but we can't go that far. Not while you’re still in the hospital.”

Tony pouted for a minute, then his eyes lit wickedly and he drew his fingers through Steve’s beard thoughtfully. “Well, what about…” he looked down at his own lap and then back up at Steve with an eyebrow raised hopefully. “I mean, you did promise me beard burn at some point, right? And we were interrupted in the woods, and um… busy elsewhere in the hotel? You can give me beard burn and I can just… I can just lay here. No extra work on my part needed? Is that selfish?”

“I did promise you beard burn.” Steve laughed and kissed him hard while pulling the blankets down from his waist. “And it would be terrible of me to go back on my promise.”

“I love you.” Tony was biting his lip in excitement, nearly squirming on the bed and Steve cupped his jaw tenderly.

“Tony, I love you so much. And believe me--” Steve licked his lips and dropped his head and Tony clapped a hand over his mouth so he wouldn't scream. When Steve finally looked back up again, he winked at a red faced, halfway to wrecked Tony. “You can be selfish like this anytime you want.”

Chapter Text

Ten Months Later

“Tony, you need to hurry or we will be late !” Pepper called from the living room and Tony clicked his watch onto his wrist while searching for his jacket.

“Yes, Mother Hen, thank you!”

“Tony, you are sponsoring this!” Pepper reminded him. “You cannot be late to something you are sponsoring. Especially since tonight is the memorial for the---”

“I know!” Tony snapped. “Stop nagging me!”

“Anthony Edward Stark!” Pepper sounded shocked. “I am not nagging you! I am simply reminding you---”

“Steve isn’t here either!” Tony retorted. “I don't see you calling to bug him!”  Tony glanced down at his watch in annoyance. Steve was supposed to meet him here at the penthouse almost an hour ago, and he still hadn't heard anything from his boyfriend.

It had been a fun ten months together, since the incident with Rumlow. Steve still taught high school, and they switched between Tony flying out on the weekends to see him, and Steve coming to New York every long weekend and school break. Every goodbye seemed harder than the one before, but that just made every hello all that much sweeter and Tony was the happiest he had ever been in his life.

Tonight was the official opening of the Temple Display at the museum, all the artifacts from the dig site tracked down and cleaned up and put out for the public to see. A memorial had been set up to honor the students and others, like Melissa, who had been lost, and Tony was supposed to give a speech.

But he wasn't going anywhere unless Steve made it in, so Pepper was just going to have to suck it.

“Tony!” Pepper called in warning, and then shrieked when Bucky appeared over her shoulder. “Commander Barnes! What have I told you about sneaking up on me?”

“Ms. Potts.” Bucky said with a grin. “What have I told you about standing with your back to the unlocked door?” He gave a careful look over her red dress, the scooped neckline with a delicate gold chain gleaming against her perfect skin, the way it pulled in at her tiny waist, and the long long legs from underneath a mid thigh hem.

When he met her gaze again, the look in his pale blue eyes made her breath catch in her throat.

“Damn, sugar.” He said hoarsely, and lifted her hand, pressing a warm kiss to her palm. “You gonna kill a man looking like that. Don't think I've ever seen something so pretty. What are you trying to do to me?”

“Bucky.” Pepper murmured and glanced away, a blush highlighting her cheeks. “I can assure you I'm not trying to do--”

“Are you going to make me beg for a kiss?” Bucky brought her closer, winding a finger through a stray curl on her shoulder. “I haven't seen you in weeks.”

Pepper didn't answer, just lifted onto her toes to lay a sweet kiss on his lips, smiling when Bucky tried to muffle a groan. “I've missed you, Bucky.”

“Honey, I've missed you too.” Bucky wrapped an arm around her waist and bent her over backwards in a kiss that had Pepper dragging her fingers through his long hair, grabbing at his suit jacket to press closer--

--and blurting “no!” when he went to pull away.

“Why Ms. Potts.” Bucky teased, low and soft. “You did miss me.”

“I might have.” She pushed him away, straightening her dress and replacing a few pins in her hair. “I will admit to being pleased you made it tonight. Tony has been planning this for so long and--”

Pepper shut up abruptly when Bucky pulled her close for another kiss, sweet and tender and packed full of longing and this time when they parted, she touched his jaw gently. “I missed you Bucky.”

He smiled down at her with eyes full of adoration and she couldn't much more than stare up at him with the same.

“You guys are gross.” Tony said from the doorway to his bedroom, and Pepper tried to jump away, but Bucky caught her and tucked her into his side. “Yeah, Pepper no reason to pretend, I saw all of it, including that impressive dip there. For the record? No more making faces when Steve and I make out.”

“Tony, I have never--”

“Pepper you always make faces.” Tony rolled his eyes. “It's fine though. When my giant bearded boyfriend shows up, tell him he’s in trouble for being late.”

“Sure thing, Tony.” Bucky backpedaled until he could sit on the couch with a blushing Pepper on his lap, and settled in to wait for Steve.

*******************

Steve showed up five minutes later, but Bucky shook his head when Pepper started to call for Tony, and held his finger up to his lips.

*******************

Tony had finally decided which suit to wear, and had just finished buttoning his jacket when a folded piece of paper on his pillow caught Tony’s attention, and he picked it up curiously, smiling a little when he saw it was from Steve.

Tony,

Eleven years ago, when I got down in the dirt with a spoiled twenty year old kid, I had no idea that I would be both falling in love that summer. I had no idea that ten years after that , I would be back in the same spot with the same man-- and falling in love all over again even as we ran for our lives and spent our days being sarcastic and our nights huddled in a tiny tent.

I never thought I could be this happy -- but here we are. I get to hold you, and kiss you, and fall asleep next to you, and spoil you as much as I want, because you love me, and that’s the most amazing thing in the world.

It's been almost a year together now, and it has been the best year of my life. I want the rest of them to be this good, and that's only possible with you by my side.

I'm yours, Tony, if you want me. If you’ll have me.

I don't ever want to have to say goodbye to you again.

Please say yes, Tony.

I love you.

A noise by the door had Tony looking up to see Steve leaning against the door jam, a dark blue suit sitting snug on his frame, a small box clenched tight in his fist, his eyes impossibly soft as he stared at Tony.

“I thought I'd stick around and make sure you found this note. Don't want anymore misunderstandings with us.” He said quietly and Tony glanced down at the paper before folding it with shaking hands, putting it in his pocket.

“Um. Are you asking me to marry you?” Tony whispered and Steve crossed the room to get down on one knee, opening the box to show Tony the ring inside.

“Marry me, Tony. Make the rest of my life as amazing as this year has been.”

“It has been amazing.” Tony wiped tears from his face and nodded quickly. “Yeah I'll marry you. I mean, yes . I mean, of course I will. Damn it . I mean---”

Steve pressed a gentle kiss to his palm before sliding the ring onto Tony's finger, standing to gather him close for a long kiss. “I'll take all of those answers. I love you, honey. I always have. Always will.”

“I love you too.” Tony kissed him back for a long time, looping both arms around Steve’s neck and sighing into the embrace. “This is the best night of my life.”

They held each other for several minutes, kissing and smiling and unable to let go, until Bucky knocked on the door.

“So, can I stop pretending I haven't known about the ring for six months?” Bucky was grinning, Pepper was wiping tears from her face and Tony looked up at Steve.

Six months?

“Yeah, baby. I've been carrying it around for six months, waiting for the right moment.”

“Why is tonight the right moment?” Tony frowned. “I'm not complaining but why tonight ?”

“Because eleven years ago today--” Steve kissed the ring on Tony's finger. “Eleven years ago today at some random archaeological dig in South America, I made a shitty comment about your sunglasses and you nearly bit my head off and Tony-- right then I was yours .”

“Oh my god.” Tony yanked him close again and Bucky coughed loudly, steering Pepper out of the room and shutting the door behind them.

“Did you see the inscription?” Steve asked when they came up for air, and Tony pulled away just enough to look down at the ring, tracing the letters.

Love is Never Buried Too Deep To Find.” he read aloud, and pressed his forehead to Steve’s heart. “ God you're romantic. What the fuck, Steve.”

“Love is Never Buried Too Deep To Find.” Steve repeated. “Not ever , baby. Not for us.”

Tony drew in a shaky breath, then cocked a teasing eyebrow. “You’re the best archaeologist ever, Mr. Rogers. Or should I call you Mr. Jones?”

“Oh honey.” Steve growled playfully in his ear, his fingers tightening around Tony's waist. “Call me Mr Jones. I'll go get my whip.”

*******************

 

End.