Tony went stumbling into the kitchen at, in his opinion, an ungodly early hour.
Natasha and Clint were in the kitchen already, Natasha eating a bowl of fruit at the bar while Clint made bacon and eggs on the stove.
"Morning, Tony!" Clint said cheerily, far too awake for the early hour.
Tony grunted a hello, quickly pouring himself a cup of coffee. He took a sip and moaned.
"Ohhhh sweet nectar of the gods," Tony said, closing his eyes and cradling the mug in his hands, "I'd be so lost without you."
"I'm surprised you're up this early," Natasha said, glancing over at Tony.
She stopped to consider him.
"I’m surprised you went to bed at all, actually. What's the occasion?"
"Oh, don't you know?" Clint cut in before Tony could answer, "His boyfriend is coming back today, and he would get mad if he found out Tony hasn’t been sleeping."
"Steve’s not my boyfriend," Tony mumbled, reaching over to steal a piece of bacon.
He yelped when Clint smacked his hand with the spatula.
"Not your boyfriend my ass," Clint said, shooing Tony away from his food, "Like we haven't seen you moping around the tower all week since he left."
Steve had left the last Friday to go on a mission and while Tony hadn’t been enthused by his leaving, he definitely wasn’t moping about it.
"I do not mope!"
"Oh, please," Clint rolled his eyes.
Bruce walked in and Clint immediately turned to him.
"Bruce! Hasn't Tony been moping since Steve left?"
"Bruce, Clint is bullying me!"
He froze in the face of the two men in front of him, Clint looking smug and Tony looking a little red in the face.
"That's not bullying, that's stating a fact."
Clint laughed at Tony's insulted expression.
"Et tu, Bruce?"
"Dude," Clint said, "you curled up in a ball in the corner of the couch during movie night and sighed because you didn’t have anyone to cuddle with.”
“Natasha cuddled with me!”
“And then you complained and said it wasn’t the same,” Natasha cut in dryly.
“That doesn’t mean I didn’t like it,” Tony mumbled into his coffee cup, his face growing steadily redder.
"You came into my lab and complained because you were bored and didn’t have anyone to talk to while you were working," Bruce added.
“That Saturday after he left you came into the kitchen, put your head on the counter and pouted until I agreed to make you blueberry pancakes like Steve always does.”
“Ok!” Tony cut in, throwing his hands in the air, “I’ll admit, maybe I have been missing Steve’s presence around the tower a tiny bit, but that doesn’t mean he’s my boyfriend. Or that I was moping!”
"Dude, you slept last night because you didn’t want Steve to be disappointed in you. And then you got up at six o'clock in the morning because you want to see him as soon as he gets back, but you don’t know when that will be," Clint finished smugly, crossing his arms.
"Maybe I got up early because I have a lot of important work to do," Tony defended himself weakly.
"If your work was that important you wouldn't have gone to bed at all last night."
Tony glared at Clint as he shoved a piece of bacon in his mouth and smiled at him smugly. He glanced over at Bruce, who was hiding a smile behind his cup, and Natasha, who was ignoring them all.
"You know what, you're right," Tony said, a smirk crossing his face as he remembered something, "I don't have anything important to do. I mean, I was going to work on the specs for your new bow—"
The smug look dropped from Clint’s face. "Wait, what?"
"—but you're right, it's not that important.”
"Nooooo no no no," Clint whined, looking between Tony and the others in a panic.
Natasha was smirking slightly.
"I want a new bow!"
"Sorry," Tony said, grabbing an apple from the fruit basket as he made his way out of the kitchen, "I have other, more important things to do today."
He listened to Clint complain some more as he left, Bruce chuckling at him.
"Aw, bow, no."
Tony smiled to himself as he walked into the elevator, JARVIS immediately taking the car down to his workshop.
Ok, so maybe Clint was right and he had gotten up early so he could see Steve in case he got back earlier. But he wasn't lying when he'd said he needed to work on Clint's bow. Which he was still going to do. Not that Clint needed to know that.
But no, Clint, Steve was not his boyfriend.
No matter how much Tony may have wanted him to be.
Yes, things between them in the beginning had been rough. Everything Steve said felt like a slight against Tony in some way, and everything Tony did just seemed to make Steve angry. They got along on the field and worked brilliantly together as Iron Man and Captain America, but as soon as the armor and the uniform had come off they were fighting again.
It had cumulated one night when Steve came into the kitchen in the middle of the night, unable to sleep, memories of the past in the front of his mind. He had found Tony at the kitchen counter, nursing a cup of coffee and staring at the wall.
Tony couldn’t remember what had prompted them to start talking that night, but once they did they couldn’t stop. Steve told him that every night he’d close his eyes and he’s see Bucky falling, he’d hear Peggy’s voice pleading to find another way. He would lay in bed and feel the cold seep into his bones and steal his breath. Tony told him about the anxiety, about the nightmares. Every night he’d go to sleep and dream of aliens and portals and explosions and falling, falling, falling—
Eventually Steve apologized for what he had said on the hellicarrier. Tony had waved off his apology, pointing out that he had said some rather unflattering things too and that they should just blame it on the staff messing with their minds. That’s when Steve admitted that not all his negative feelings were created by the staff.
He told Tony that when they first moved into the tower he had been irritated and annoyed by Tony. Tony was everything Steve hated about the future; he was loud, he was obnoxious, he didn’t seem to respect authority. And on top of that, looking at Tony, the adult son of a young man he knew back in the war, was like a reminder of everything Steve had lost. All the time he lost, the opportunities to grow old and live lives with his friends.
He told Steve that he often got angry with him because having Steve around was a constant reminder of everything Tony was not. He had spent his whole life growing up in the shadow of Captain America, constantly compared to Steve by his father, constantly a disappointment for not being more like him. Whenever Steve would try to criticize or critique Tony in debriefs all Tony could hear was his father telling him he wasn’t good enough, that he’d never be good enough.
They had come out of that night with a better understanding of each other and after that things slowly got easier. Late night conversations became going out to lunch together to show Steve the new world. Movie nights became an established thing to catch Steve up on some pop-culture. Steve would tell Tony stories, not of Captain America, but of a skinny, punk ass kid who never knew when to keep his mouth shut or when to back away from a challenge. Tony told Steve stories of growing up with Peggy, of meeting Rhodey and Pepper and Happy, and of being raised by the human Jarvis.
Eventually, Steve stopped trying to cling to the past and was more willing to be open and accepting of the future. Was willing to try new things. The first time Tony had taken Steve down to his lab and showed him all the tech down there had blown Steve’s mind.
Tony stopped seeing Steve as this perfect guy who he’d never measure up to, but as a regular guy. A guy who cursed at baseball games on TV and cried during Grey’s Anatomy. A guy who had a terrible singing voice but didn’t seem to know it. A guy who drank straight from the milk jug and always left his dirty dishes by the sink.
Eventually – and Tony wasn’t sure how – Tony was able to say with confidence that Steve Rogers was one of his best friends in the world.
Which made things a little awkward for him when he started to develop feelings for Steve.
When Pepper had broken up with Tony not long after the Battle of New York, Tony had been devastated. Though, he understood when Pepper said she just couldn’t handle the stress of dating a superhero. Pepper had told him she didn’t want to ask him to stop being Iron Man, to choose between her and the thing that had brought so much meaning and purpose to Tony’s life. Tony was grateful she didn’t ask him to choose (because they both knew what the answer most likely would be), but he still mourned the loss of their relationship.
Thankfully, Steve had been there for him once they worked everything out between them. Steve was the one who distracted Tony from thoughts of Pepper by coming down to the lab with food and questions, asking Tony to explain the suit and JARVIS and Dum-E and other things to Steve until the last thing on his mind was Pepper. He took Tony out with him to visit places in New York. He would listen to Tony when he wanted someone to talk to and had sat with him in silence when all he needed was silent support, just to be near someone.
That, on top of a growing friendship with Steve, had really planted the seeds of feelings for Steve in his heart. But now he didn’t know what to do with them.
He couldn’t tell Steve he liked him. Steve had never shown any interest in men before that Tony knew of and he didn’t want to risk their friendship. Besides, people like Tony didn’t deserve people like Steve. It was a minor miracle that Tony had somehow managed to get Pepper; he didn’t see how luck would strike twice with a chance at Steve. Steve may not have been perfect, but he was still too good of a man to be tainted by someone like Tony Stark.
Tony shook his head to clear those depressing thoughts. He stepped off the elevator into the workshop and brought up the specs for Clint’s new bow.
No, it was much better off that Tony didn’t tell Steve his feelings. He would rather suffer in silence and have Steve as a friend than not have Steve at all, he told himself firmly. He just had to make sure he kept it hidden. It’d be better for everyone in the long run.
Tony had been working on Clint’s bow for a couple of hours when he heard the door to his lab open behind him. He smiled, keeping his back to the door and continuing his work.
He jumped a bit when suddenly hands were covering his eyes.
"Thor, I told you, it was one night and it was fun but I'm just not that into you."
He felt the hands droop a bit against his face. "Wait, what?" Steve said, laughing nervously.
Tony’s heart skipped a beat when he heard the slightly hurt tone in Steve's voice. Probably just imagining it.
"Gotcha," Tony said, turning around to face Steve.
Steve's face turned bright red in embarrassment as he realized he'd been tricked, but he smiled sheepishly. He put his hands on the table behind Tony, effectively blocking him between his arms.
"How'd you know it was me?"
"Steve, please," Tony said with a laugh, "Only two other people have their own access code to get in here; one of them is Pepper, who's on the other side of the country, and the other is Rhodey, who's on the other side of the planet."
"Well, when you put it that way," Steve drawled, the corner of his mouth ticking up in a half smile.
Tony glanced up at Steve's face, Steve's eyes catching his. He struggled to keep his breathing level as he took in how closely they were standing, Steve's arms still keeping Tony from moving. Their chests were inches apart and Tony knew if he took a step back he'd bump into the lab table. Tony licked his lips and saw Steve's eyes drop down to his mouth at the movement. He was pretty sure Steve's enhanced hearing could pick up how fast his heart was beating.
"So how was your mission?" Tony was proud at how steady his voice was.
"It was good," Steve said, removing his arms and taking a step back.
Tony tried to ignore the pang in his chest at the loss of closeness.
"It was just surveillance on some group that popped up in Brazil that Fury wants to keep an eye on. Nothing big happened."
"Well that sounds boring."
"It wasn't the most exciting week, no," Steve said with a laugh.
"Hey, so, I actually came down because it's almost lunch time and I'm starving and I wondered if you wanted to go get a bite? I was thinking Sylvia's, I know you like their burgers."
Tony felt warmth spread through his chest.
"Yes! That sounds amazing, let me just close this up and I— wait." Tony paused, glancing back and the specs he'd been working on and felt his spirits drop.
"I can't," Tony said, looking at Steve apologetically. "I told Fury I'd have the specs done for Barton's new bow by five and I really need to finish this."
He hoped Steve wouldn't be too disappointed. He really had missed Steve this past week and he would much rather spend time with him than doing stuff for Fury, but he had already blown Fury off three times before this.
Steve frowned for a minute before he lifted one shoulder in a shrug.
"OK. That's fine. We can go for dinner when you're done, right?"
"Yes," Tony said, nodding enthusiastically. "Yes. Definitely. Sounds good."
"Ok," Steve said. He smiled at Tony again and Tony felt his heart skip a beat. God, he'd love nothing more than to touch that smile, to feel Steve smile against him, he wondered what that smile tasted like—
"Hey, do you mind if I stay down here? While you work?" Steve asked, looking nervous for some reason, "I promise I'll be quiet, I’ll just read a book or something. I'd just rather stay down here with y— where it's quiet."
Tony raised an eyebrow at Steve's stuttering but nodded anyway. He was never going to turn down time spent with Steve.
"Of course. You're always welcome down here, Steve, you know that.”
Steve face immediately brightened, a beaming smile spreading across his face.
"Great," Steve said, "I'll just go upstairs and make us something to eat and I'll be right back."
"Ok," Tony smiled.
"Yeah," Steve smiled back.
Steve stood there for a minute and they just looked at each other, smiling like idiots before Steve turned tail and ran out the lab and up the stairs.
After eating a couple sandwiches under Steve's mother-henning eye, Tony had turned back to work on the specs for Clint's bow, Steve wandering off into some corner of the shop to do his own thing.
He was a few hours in when he finally took a minute to pull himself out of his work haze. He glanced over at Steve who was sitting on a couch on the other side of the workshop drawing something in his sketchbook. Dum-E was looking over his shoulder, making curious whirring noises as his camera focused on whatever Steve was drawing.
This was nice, Tony thought, a soft smile spreading across his face as he turned back to the specs. Being able to sit down here in the workshop and do his work while also spending time with Steve. He appreciated that Steve was so understanding; there were a lot of people out there who wouldn't like being turned down to hang out so often because of work. There had been instances in his life before where people had felt neglected or ignored because he spent hours on end in his workshop. He could understand it, he supposed, but he was a busy man who always had something to work on, and he had a busy mind that was constantly coming up with new things for him to create or improve on.
Steve was different though. Steve always understood when Tony said he couldn't go to lunch because he had too much work to do. Steve understood when Tony would accidentally miss a movie night because he got so wrapped up in his work. Steve never complained that Tony was working too much, not spending enough time with him. The first time Steve had offered to sit in Tony's workshop while he worked, just so he could still hang out with Tony and have someone to chat with, Tony hadn't known what to do with himself. He spent the first hour being very aware of Steve's presence, waiting for Steve to get bored and leave. But the hour had passed, then another, then another until Tony had completely forgotten Steve was there, getting swept up in the companionable silence and simply enjoying the knowledge that he wasn't alone, enjoying Steve's silent but supportive company.
Eventually it got to the point where Tony had to offer Steve a table of his own in the lab because of all the art supplies and sketch pads that had ended up down there. Sometimes Steve would sit at the table and work, sometimes taking a couple minutes to engage Tony in conversation before going back to his own work. When Tony had finally given in and given Steve his own access code to the lab so he wouldn't have to let Steve in himself every time, Steve had gotten the biggest smile on his face. He had hugged Tony and thanked him and then walked over to the couch in the corner where he sat reading a book for three hours.
And Tony appreciated having someone around to talk to when he got lonely. And he enjoyed especially that that someone was Steve. Steve, who would come down with food for Tony when he forgot to eat. Steve, who would help Tony work on his cars sometimes when he wanted mindless grunt work to do. Steve, who knew when Tony needed a little encouragement, when Tony needed to be reminded that he wasn't perfect and sometimes getting a little emotional could be good for him. Steve, who also knew when Tony needed peace and quiet, when Tony didn't need any reassurances except for the silent reassurance of Steve's presence that he'd be there if Tony ever needed him. Steve understood that the workshop was still Tony’s sanctuary away from everything when life got too hard, his safe space, and he appreciated that.
Tony was pulled from his musings when he heard an inquisitive beeping from Dum-E followed by a deep, quiet chuckling from Steve.
He looked back over to Steve's corner and felt his breath hitch at the sight.
Dum-E had moved to the front of the couch now and Steve was sitting up, holding the sketch pad up to Dum-E's claw where he was holding a pencil. He helped guide Dum-E's claw as he drew whatever he was drying on the paper, making an approving noise when he looked at it once it was completed.
"Good job, Dum-E! You're getting really good at this!" Dum-E beeped happily at the praise, his arm bobbing up and down in excitement. Steve laughed and ran a hand up and down Dum-E's strut.
"Nice," Steve said, taking the pencil from Dum-E's claw. "High-five!"
Dum-E high fived Steve before whirring happily again, his claw reaching down to pull at the sketch pad in Steve's lap.
"I'll show you one more time and then you can try it in your own, ok?"
Tony watched as Dum-E stared intently at what Steve was drawing on the paper. He could feel his heart pounding, his heart bursting with happiness and content at the sight of his oldest creation and his newest best friend bonding together. It was even better that Steve was treating Dum-E just like a human being, albeit a young one. Dum-E held a special place in Tony’s heart, the first AI he had created back after his parents died. He wasn’t perfect and he screwed up more often than not, but Tony didn’t want to change him. Unfortunately, no one ever really knew what to make of Dum-E (or U for that matter), usually just treating them like regular mindless helping robots. Even Pepper had struggled at first with figuring out how to treat the two bots.
But Steve had immediately known how to treat them; as individuals with their own special personalities. They weren't just bots that went around doing whatever you told them. They were special bots with their own distinct behaviors and even their own emotions. Steve had understood this since the beginning, calling Dum-E "he" instead of "it." Playing catch with U using an old stress ball they'd found. Drinking whatever suspicious smoothie Dum-E made for him without a single complaint, always praising the bot no matter how horrible the smoothie was. Watching Steve with his bots, treating them as individuals instead of machines had made Tony fall just that much more in love with him.
"Dum-E, you did it!" Steve was suddenly saying, pulling Tony from his thoughts.
Steve was smiling at the bot who was making exciting beeping sounds, arm raised and spinning slowly in a circle. Steve laughed at his antics.
"What are you doing over there?" Tony said, walking over to join them as he had just put the finishing touches on Clint's bow specs.
Dum-E stopped spinning suddenly, glancing over at Tony before looking back at Steve, making an inquisitive sound.
"Yeah, go ahead," Steve told Dum-E, beaming. He held out a marker in Dum-E's direction.
Dum-E beeped and took the marker carefully before turning to roll over to Tony. He stopped in front of Tony, marker poised in his hand, and beeped.
Tony raised an eyebrow. "What do you want, you bucket of bolts?"
Dum-E made another beeping sound and moved his arm up and down almost in a "come here" gesture.
Tony smiled and leaned his face closer to Dum-E's claw. He tried not to laugh when he felt the marker connect with his cheek, the cold wetness of the felt tip creating a funny feeling on his face. He felt it make small arcs on his face.
"He's not drawing a dick in my face, is he?"
"No!" Steve said with a surprised laugh, "No, no. It's nothing bad. I drew one myself and he got curious. So I told him what it meant and he wanted to learn how to do it."
"Good," Tony said, standing as Dum-E finished. Dum-E made a satisfied beep and rolled away again. "Because I remember college and I've had enough of waking up after a party with a lipstick penis on my—"
The Avengers Alert ringing through the tower interrupted Tony. He glanced over at Steve, all traces of amusement gone from both men as they prepared for another Avengers mission.
"All Avengers report to the launchpad," Natasha's voice rang out over the intercom. "We've got a situation downtown."
Steve caught Tony's eye and nodded, both men turning together to head out of the lab and into the elevator together.
Natasha raised an eyebrow at Tony's face when he walked into the hangar.
"Don't ask," Tony said, still unsure what Dum-E had sharpied into his face.
Natasha said nothing, simply nodding once before turning to the rest of the gathered team.
"Fury called," she began in full Black Widow mode. "Two portals opened in the city and dropped a couple of robots that are now terrorizing the warehouse district. He wants us to stop them."
She handed a tablet to Steve who glanced over it.
"Ok," Steve said, nodding as he read the file, “Seems simple enough. Iron Man and Thor, I want you on air support, keep this them from getting further into the city, figure out how to take them out. Iron Man, try to get a read on these things and figure out how to shut them down. SHIELD is there trying to contain it and evacuate the area. Hawkeye, Widow, Hulk, and I will try to take these things down from the ground. Tony, what do you think the chances are Thor’s lightning could electrocute them and end this quick?”
“I don’t know,” Tony said, moving to read the tablet over Steve’s shoulder, “I mean lightning could overheat the power source and shut it down or it could just give the things more power. Or it could blow them up. I need to get a look at them first, see what’s running them.”
“Alright,” Steve nodded, pulling his cowl up and moving towards the quinjet, “Let’s go take care of this. Avengers, assemble!”
Turned out the first robot (the smaller, green, human-looking one) was actually very rudimentary and Thor’s lightning was able to short circuit the power source relatively easily. The second one (a giant green and yellow monstrosity with… tentacles?) was a little bit harder, but with the whole team working together – and with the Hulk smashing the power source – it had gone down pretty quickly. Now Tony and Thor were just scouting the air, looking for anything else the portals dropped that they might have missed.
“I wonder where those portals came from, anyway,” Clint commented as he had a cut on his face tended to by medical, “Oh, maybe another universe! Do those exist?”
“Theoretically,” Tony said, taking a scan of the area, “The multiverse theory. It’s unproven, but many people think they do.”
“Why did this metal creature have a green cape?” Thor said as he flew next to Tony. “And what is this ‘doom’ it spoke of?”
“Don’t know,” Clint said, “At least it went down better than that thing.”
He pointed over to the yellow and green octopus-looking robot that had been a bit harder to defeat. Steve was crouched down next to one of its arms, examining it with a frown, a crease between his eyebrows.
“It has a Hydra symbol on it,” Steve said quietly, “The shape of it almost looks like the octopus thing on the Hydra symbol.”
“What I want to know is why they used a kraken as the symbol for Hydra instead of, you know, a hydra,” Tony said as the reached the place where the robots were laying. “Someone didn’t do their research right.”
“I mean, they were Nazis,” Natasha’s voice rang out through the comms, “They weren’t all that smart to begin with.”
Tony was about to say something when movement caught the corner of his eye.
Steve was crouched down looking at the weird cape doom robot, oblivious to the arm of the octopus looking robot slowly lifting up over his head.
Tony moved before he could think about it.
“Steve!” He yelled out, pushing the thrusters to get there faster.
Steve turned at Tony’s panicked shout and noticed the arm of the other robot poised to attack. A flash of fear and surprise crossed Steve’s face before he felt something slam against him.
Tony had run into Steve just in time, pushing him out of the way just as the arm of the robot came crashing down where Steve had once stood.
Where Tony was currently standing.
He heard different voices screaming at him to move but there was no time. The arm slammed down on his head with surprising force, sending shockwaves of pain through his head, neck, and shoulders before darkness overtook him.
Things were tense around the tower lately.
Ever since Tony had gotten out of the hospital a week ago things had been awkward. Steve seemed to have made it his mission to avoid Tony. Outside of debriefs at SHIELD, Tony had barely seen Steve. When they were in the same room together he would ignore Tony, only addressing him when he absolutely needed to. His shoulders were tense the whole time and he had a permanent scowl on his face. If Tony walked into any room Steve was in, Steve would get quiet and leave, not saying a word to anyone.
And Tony could understand why Steve was mad at first, looking back on what had happened. After all, the aftermath of that fight had ended a lot worse than Tony had anticipated.
"What happened?" Tony had asked once his eyes had adjusted to the brightness of the lights. He was in a hospital bed, propped up on a few pillows and nursing one hell of a headache. The rest of his body hurt as well, but nowhere near the sharp throbbing he felt in his head when he first woke up.
"You got hit on the head really hard by a giant robot," Bruce said, adjusting Tony's pain medication levels. "You had a really bad concussion and you’ve been unconscious the last couple days. You woke up a couple times last night, but I doubt you remember it."
"That sounds... terrible."
"Yeah, well," Tony could hear the slight tremor in Bruce's voice, saw the shake in his hands he tried to cover up when he put them in his lab coat pockets. "If you hadn't been wearing your helmet you'd be dead, so consider yourself lucky."
Tony thought about making a joke to lighten the mood but ultimately decided not to. He could hear the forced calmness in Bruce's voice, and he could see the tension he held in his shoulders.
"Where is everyone?"
"Thor is guarding those robots in a SHIELD lab. I sent Clint and Natasha home to get some sleep and food after the last time you woke up."
Tony's brows furrowed, noticing what Bruce was leaving out.
There was a poignant pause before Bruce answered.
"He left after the first couple times you woke and the doctor said you'd be fine. That was about twelve hours ago.”
Tony tried to cover up the disappointment he felt at Steve leaving him there. He'd thought that out of all the Avengers, Steve would be the one by his side when he woke up. Not that he didn't appreciate Bruce being there for him, but Bruce and Tony weren’t close in the same way Steve and Tony were. Nor was he the man whose life he’d just saved.
Something must have shown on his face, because Bruce's face softened and he gave a sad little smile.
"I'm sure he'll be back once he hears you're officially awake. Everyone had a bit of a scare the last couple of days, he probably just needed some time to process."
Which Tony had accepted for the first couple days until it was 4 days since Tony had awoken in the hospital and actually remembered it and all the Avengers had come by to visit except Steve. Hell, even Fury had come by to talk to him.
Tony had been hurt at first that Steve was just avoiding him like that. But the more he thought about it the more he realized, yes, he had almost died, and that had probably scared the hell out of Steve and he just needed time to deal with his emotions.
Of course, then they had gotten back to the tower and Steve still wouldn't give him the time of day. Whenever he asked JARVIS where Steve was he got the reply that Steve was currently busy and would be for some time. That's when the hurt had come back, Tony confused because Steve had always found a way to make time for Tony before. Not that Tony thought he had any right or demand on Steve’s time, but Steve was usually always happy to at least let Tony sit with him if he was busy. He hadn’t outright refused to talk to Tony, let alone be in the same room as him, for a long time. Or maybe Steve had finally gotten tired of Tony always being around. It wouldn’t be the first time Tony had managed to drive away someone he cared about.
But then the week had gone on and Tony had moved from hurt territory to angry. Steve had glared and him and purposefully ignored him when they tried to talk, only speaking to Tony when he had to, and when he did it was with a short, clipped tone that spoke of anger. And as that continued and the week went on, Tony started to get mad, too.
Yeah, he could understand that Steve was upset Tony had almost died. He could understand needing time to deal with your own feelings after watching your best friend nearly die saving your life. But Tony had saved Steve's life! Bruce had told him if that robot arm had hit Steve's skull instead of Tony's Iron Man helmet, Steve would've been dead on impact, his brain and spine crushed. Tony had seen the robot go to attack Steve when his guard was down, and did what he thought was the natural choice and pushed Steve out of the way. And now Steve was acting as if he was mad at Tony for saving his life! Tony thought maybe Steve could be a little more grateful about it.
When he expressed these concerns to Bruce, Bruce had seemed a little uncomfortable at first. He had given Tony a long look before turning back to his lab experiments.
"He's probably mad at himself for being mad at you for risking your life, because in doing so you saved his and he doesn't want to seem ungrateful. I think if anything he's avoiding you because being mad at you for saving his life makes him feel like an ass. At the same time, you did it in a move that almost cost you your life. It was touch and go for the first day Tony, and we could've lost you. We were all terrified. Just give him time to work things out."
“I just don’t get it,” Tony complained. “I saved his life, you think he’d be happy about it. So I got a little hurt, big deal. We both know Captain America is more important than Tony St—“
Bruce turned a mean glare on him and Tony shut up before he could finish that thought out loud.
So he was trying to give Steve some time and space, but he was getting impatient on top of being mad and hurt. How long was Steve going to ignore him? He couldn't do it forever, as they both still had jobs and were co-leading the team together. The needed to be able to be in the same room, work together and communicate civilly if they were going to work together. But Steve was determined to ignore Tony and act like an overall jerk around him, so maybe Tony was going to have to take it into his own hands. Corner Steve and force him to talk.
Of course, everything came to a head one day before he could get the opportunity to talk to Steve alone.
They were sitting in one of the towers conference rooms, Maria Hill giving them an update over where the portals had come from and who or what had opened them. Tony was actually trying to pay attention this time (because honestly, the possibility of portals to different universes? Incredible) but he was having a hard time focusing with the feeling of Steve's eyes burning a hole in the side of his head.
"Something on my face, Rogers? You've been looking an awfully long time."
Steve's face flushed a bit at getting called out but he rolled his eyes a bit, turning back to look at Hill after his eyes met Tony's for a second.
"You got a problem, Rogers?"
"Not now, Tony."
Steve's voice was quiet and tense, and the tension in the room went up a degree every second.
"Oh, so you do speak," Tony smirked, all his anger and hurt bubbling up at once. "I thought maybe you'd gone selectively mute, since you never seem to talk to me anymore."
"Tony, can we please-"
"Please what? Do this later? And when would "later" be, exactly? When you're hiding in the gym destroying punching bags or when JARVIS tells me you're too busy to give me the time of day?"
"I'm gonna get some coffee," Clint said, slapping a hand in the table. "Anyone else want some coffee? Who wants coffee?"
He gave the other people in the room a significant look and jerked his head un-subtly towards the door.
Thor's eyes widened.
"Verily, my friend. I could do with some caffeinated beverage myself, I am quite tired."
Everyone murmured an agreement and ran out the room quickly, and in a completely obvious way. Honestly, three of them are supposed to be spies.
“Tony,” Steve sighed, rubbing a hand over his face, “stop it. We can do this another ti--”
"No, you stop it. It has been a week since I came home from the hospital, and three weeks since that robot thing attacked me. And I've seen you maybe three times in three weeks. I'm starting to think I did something wrong."
Steve's head jerked at that, his face flushing in anger as he turned his eyes on Tony, finally.
"Did something wrong? Did something wrong?! Tony, you jumped in front of a giant deadly robot about to attack and got crushed by it!”
“I saved your life!” Tony shouted back incredulously.
“And you almost died!” Steve yelled back, his voice cracking on the last word, “You didn’t have to do that, I can handle myself—“
“Oh, bullshit,” Tony spat, eyes flashing, “That robot would have turned your head to mush and we both know it! I had more protection with the armor, I actually had a chance at surviving!”
"So you trade your life for mine? On the off-chance you make it through in the end?” Steve looks, impossibly, even more furious at that, “Are you out of your mind? Do I even want to know what your chances of survival were? Did you know? What the hell, Tony! You can’t just do that Tony! What if I – we – what if we had lost you? Do you know what that would do to m—us? Do you really think so little of yourself that you would even think that’s a good idea? Why would you—“
"Because I love you, you dick!"
Tony had bellowed the words before he could stop himself. Steve stopped mid-sentence, his chest heaving with the force of his anger combined with his long ranting. His eyes were wide as he looked at Tony, brows furrowed in confusion.
"You... you...," Steve stammered, trying to find an equal footing. "What?"
"I love you," Tony said, deciding to go with it.
Sure Stark, just reveal your deepest darkest secret in the middle of fighting with the guy you love. Real smooth.
"I love you," Tony said, voice firm as he took a step closer to Steve, "I love you, and I couldn't bear it if something happened to you, Steve. I couldn't just stand by and watch you die. I can’t do that. You mean too much to me."
"What and you think I could?" Steve's voice was incredulous, though he still sounded a little breathless after Tony's declaration, though, that could just be Tony's imagination.
"You think I could just stand there and watch as some giant machine attacks you and tries to take you away from me? You think I could just stand by as someone I love dies right in front of me and I can’t stop it? Again?"
"Well I mean-" Tony paused, Steve's words registering in his mind. "Wait, what?"
"You know, for a genius you can be pretty slow sometimes."
Steve moved quickly and suddenly he was standing right in front of him. Before Tony could think, Steve’s hands were gripping Tony’s face and Steve’s mouth was on his.
Tony’s brain had shut down. All thought processes were turned off and he couldn't think straight or focus. Steve was kissing him. Steve was kissing him. Tony closed his eyes and moved his lips against Steve’s, his arms coming up to wrap around him. The kiss was not smooth or gentle, their teeth and tongues clashing together with the force of the kiss, Steve pouring all the fear and frustration he had felt into it.
Steve broke the kiss off with a gasp. His hands were still gripping Tony’s face, keeping him close to him. He rested his forehead against Tony’s, their breaths mingling on each exhale. Tony opened his eyes and stared at Steve with a bewildered look.
"I love you," Steve said, blue eyes boring straight into Tony's brown.
"I love you, and the thought of you getting hurt and losing you scares the hell out of me. And seeing that robot hit you,” Steve whispered, voice shaking.
He swallowed thickly.
“Seeing all the blood from your helmet, watching Thor rip the armor off your unmoving body.... I've already lost so many people I care about Tony, I don't know what I'd do if I lost you too."
Tony’s heart was pounding in his chest. He raised a hand and gripped Steve’s wrist. Steve’s hands were trembling on Tony’s face. He cleared his throat.
“I won’t apologize for saving you,” Tony said, looking Steve in the eyes, “I can’t. I don’t regret it and I’m not sorry I did it.”
Steve swallowed again, nodding against Tony’s forehead.
“But I’m sorry I scared you,” Tony said.
Steve took in a shaky breath.
“I didn’t even have to think about it, you know? It seemed like the smart decision, pushing you out of the way even if I did get hurt. I don’t care what happens to me. You’re more important.”
“Don’t say that,” Steve said sharply. “I’m not-- you don’t--”
Steve stopped to take a deep breath, letting his eyes slipped shut for a moment.
He looked back at Tony, his eyes bright and ernest.
“You’re important,” Steve said. “I’m not more important. You are important. We need you, Tony.”
Steve gaze was so intense, Tony could see the emotion shining through Steve’s eyes. Tony took a deep breath and nodded, his eyes feeling suspiciously wet.
“I need you,” Steve said, placing a chaste kiss on Tony’s lips, “Don’t ever scare me like that again, ok?”
Tony said nothing, simply leaning back up to kiss Steve, his mind still trying to process that all of this was happening. He didn’t tell Steve that he wouldn’t scare him again because he knew in their line of work there was no guarantee his life would be safe. They both knew that. Instead, Tony tried to pour everything he was feeling into the kiss, all the love and all the comfort he could. Steve’s hands were still clutching Tony tightly, and Tony knew both their emotions were running high at that moment.
Tony pressed a couple more kisses against Steve’s lips before pulling back with a dopey smile.
“I’ve wanted to do that for a long time,” Tony said, laughing softly.
“Me too,” Steve said, smiling tentatively, “I guess we’re both a little slow, huh?”
“Yes,” Tony said, nodding, “I say we go back to the Tower and start making up for lost time.”
Steve’s smile grew into that soft look that Tony was beginning to recognize as love. God, this is so cheesy, he thought to himself. But there were butterflies in his stomach as he smiled back at Steve. But I love it.
“I think that sounds like a good plan,” Steve said, grabbing Tony’s hand and pulling him toward the door.
They could finish the meeting later.
A few days later Tony was working on an upgrade to his suit, Steve sitting on the couch in the corner reading, when Dum-E came over and started bothering Tony.
“Dum-E!” Tony said exasperatedly, pushing Dum-E’s claw out of the way for the fifth time. “Not right now, I have to finish this! Go bother Steve.”
Dum-E seemed to have rolled off to do as he’d been told (finally) so Tony let himself get pulled back into his work.
He was startled out of his work by a high pitched whistling, squeal from his right. He jumped half a foot in the air, dropping his screwdriver and yelling in fright.
He turned to his right where Dum-E was standing again, marker in his hand, waving his arm frantically at Tony. Steve had also been startled; his book was now lying open on the floor and he had jumped to his feet looking at Dum-E in concern.
“What, what, what’s wrong?” Tony said rushing forward towards his bot. Once in front of him Dum-E calmed down a bit, and was now waving his claw up and down to get Tony to come closer.
Tony moved closer until he was bent over and his face was level with Dum-E’s claw.
“Wha--” Tony was cut off when he felt the marker press against his cheek, moving in familiar arcs like once before.
Tony rolled his eyes.
“Really? That’s what you wanted? I thought something was wrong! I didn’t even know you could make that noise!”
Tony’s glanced over to Steve who was trying and failing to hide a laugh behind his hand.
“Don’t laugh at me,” Tony complained, stepping back when Dum-E gave a beep to indicate he was done, “He scared you too, you can’t laugh.”
Dum-E rolled away and Steve walked over, wrapping his arms around Tony. Tony rubbed at his hand over his cheek and wrapped his other arm around Steve’s waist.
“What did he draw on me anyway?”
Steve smiled brightly at him and reached into his pocket to pull out his phone. He quickly pulled up the camera app, flipped the view around and held it up to Tony’ face.
On his cheek in shaky, smudged black ink was a misshapen heart. The arcs were uneven and the lines were ziz-zaggy instead of straight, but it was still easy to discern what it was supposed to be.
“He saw me draw it in my sketchbook and was curious. I told him what it was and what it meant and he wanted to learn to draw it too.”
Steve’s smile was wide and bright as he looked down at Tony.
Tony’s heart was practically melting that Steve had taken the time to teach Dum-E something (he knew how stubborn and, admittedly, a little slow his bot could be) and was very touched that Dum-E had wanted to show Tony so badly.
“What did you tell him?”
“That it was a heart and that it meant love.”
Steve pressed a kiss to Tony’s unmarked cheek.
“I also told him you can use it to tell someone you love them.”
“Is that so?” Tony said with a grin.
Tony reached behind himself to grab a spare marker off one the workbenches before turning back to Steve. He uncapped it, reached up to pull Steve’s face down a couple inches to his level and started to draw.
“There,” he said when he had finished.
Steve was smiling at him with a soft look on his face that made Tony’s stomach do flips.
“Now we match.”
Steve leaned down and pressed a gentle kiss against Tony’s lips.
“I love you,” Steve said when he pulled back.
“I love you, too,” Tony said with a smile.
He still couldn’t believe he could just… say that to Steve whenever he wanted. Or that Steve would say it back to him.
There was a loud beep from the corner of the shop.
“Yes, Dum-E, I love you too,” Tony said dryly, rolling his eyes.
Steve let out a laugh and leaned back down to kiss him. They stood there kissing softly and unhurriedly for a few moments before a thought occurred to Tony and he pulled back.
“What were you drawing hearts on that Dum-E saw?”
Steve flushed slightly and turned his head to avoid Tony’s gaze.
“It was-- it was nothing.”
“What?” Tony said with a curious smile. “What did you do, write my name in little hearts all over your book like a second grader?”
Steve opened his mouth (probably to try and deny it) but was interrupted by Dum-E giving an affirmative chirp.
Tony was almost bent double from laughing so hard. Steve’s face was completely red now and he was glaring at Dum-E in the corner. Dum-E just chirped happily at him.
“I don’t have to take this abuse,” Steve said with an embarrassed pout.
He stepped away from Tony and headed towards the door out of the shop. Tony hurried over to stop him.
“Wait, wait, wait!”
Steve stopped and turned, a sheepish expression on his face. When Tony reached him he put a hand on Steve’s neck and pulled him down for a kiss.
When he pulled away Steve was smiling softly at him. Tony smiled.
“So did you write ‘Future Mr. Steve Stark’ all over it too, because that’d be--”
Steve rolled his eyes with a huff and pushed Tony away. His face was red again as he turned and stormed up the stairs.
“Cute! I was going to say cute!”
Steve ignored him, leaving Tony’s laughing and Dum-E’s chirping behind him.