Steve runs the pad of his thumb along his cheekbone. At Tony's quiet inhale, Steve holds his eyes and leans forward to brush his lips at the corner of Tony's mouth, revelling at the alien feeling of the trimmed beard against his skin. Every nerve ending is screaming for more, firing and thrumming at the slight contact.
He wants more, feels something burn in his throat with the want, but Steve has learned that rarely does Tony and patience mix, and Steve wants to be the first. The first to hold Tony like this, the first to look Tony in the eye like this. The first to show Tony what it’s like when you love them like this, and god does it hurt.
It hurts. Like a shield to the chest.
His eyes burn with the hot promise of tears, and he closes them and he thinks, good. I love and I hurt with it.
He trails his fingers down Tony's cheek, tracing the curves he can draw in his sleep (he’s seen Tony's face in his dreams, in his nightmares, in the mirror on a lonely Wakandan morning) and then he remembers, this time he’s allowed to look.
He opens his eyes and leans back enough to watch his hands (Steve’s hands, artist’s long and fine, long since healed from when he’d peeled back his gloves bloody after punching Tony to shit) follow the jut of Tony's chin and circle at his neck. Steve remembers hair combed over and flannel tucked into his pants, only a week from waking in a brave new world, eye to eye with Tony and hands itching with the urge to wrap around his neck.
Steve can feel a laugh building in his chest, because of course, of course Tony could make him feel the need to choke and shake apart, hands alive with two intentions that could not be more different. He squeezes lightly, enjoying the slight give to the skin, and smirks to himself, eyes flicking upwards for a second to meet Tony's before quickly looking down because if it was amused recognition he was seeing in those brown eyes, he might let out a sob in lieu of that laugh.
Steve presses lightly, reverently (because how else do you do anything when you have Tony Stark at your hands, at your mercy) at the Adam’s apple, watches raptly as it bobs with Tony’s hard swallow. He feels himself swallow in tandem (love is a sacrament that should be taken kneeling).
Further, and further, and here’s Steve, blond and blue eyed like little Alice in Wonderland, body growing at the whims of food pressed to her mouth. And god does Steve want to feed Tony, press to his mouth and gasp, curiouser and curiouser!
He crooks a finger into the hollow of Tony's collarbone, presses down on the slightly popped open collar of his shirt.
Curiouser and curiouser!
He unbuttons down Tony’s front, liberally brushing at the expensive material Tony probably first breached the world in, eyes already alight with the power to make the world fall at his knees.
He’s seen Tony’s sure and nimble fingers do this before, weirdly enough, leaning against a bench across from him as Tony seems to forget Steve from when he’d insisted Steve had better look at the upgrades to his suit after returning from a benefit, tapping absentmindedly at his chest before unbuttoning and confirming the arc reactor was still a circle of light in his chest. It had been a frisson down Steve’s spine, an impossible thing to look away from — shirt gathered at the waist from where it’s been pulled free and collar hanging at his shoulders, eyes half mast as he thumbs at the junction where skin meets silver casing and an indescribable blue.
Now, shirt rucked up in much the same way because Steve can’t help but think about that moment in the workshop, now, it’s an uninterrupted expanse of tanned skin, save for the scars. Steve can see how Tony seizes up under the weight of his appraisal, chest heaving and stomach concaving with the abrupt need for more air.
Steve can lightly glean Tony's ribs, and even that is too much. He splays his fingers wide over the tawny skin of his rib cage, thinks of the look in Tony's eyes that hadn’t left for months at a time, obvious even through a high-tech Wakandan monitor (and doesn’t that kick, because Tony’s workshop will always be several firsts for him in the new age of technology), and wonders how he managed to keep himself from finding his way to New York and making sure Tony wasn’t neglecting food and drink, the way he was prone to when no one was there to sit him down properly.
No one was there.
Steve is familiar now, greets this hurt like an old friend. It’s not untrue; he hurt to his weakened bones from childhood, uncompromising love for Sarah Rogers and Bucky Barnes and now, Tony Stark. Or rather, always Tony Stark.
This hurt feels both new and ancient. He was born under a rain of fireworks a century ago, coughing and wheezing with defects in the lungs and the hurt starting to develop in his chest. The hurt that’s only complete now, with both hands flat on Tony's torso and the need to feel the kinetic energy of breath, the proof of life.
From here, the scar in Tony's chest is all too stark.
Steve remembers light, gilded edges, vibrancy and colour unlike any other. He remembers shattered glass, flickering through layers of dust, light cleaved in two.
Steve bends and presses a kiss to the scar, long and sweet as Tony will allow him. He stays there, breathing hotly into the skin, and doesn’t quite know if the shudders that rack his body are from himself or Tony, heaving where his hands are still spread over Tony's ribs.
The ribs are too prominent, and his hands are too imperturbable, and he thinks, how do I remember this moment. How is it framed? He dismisses paints and pigments, thinks of the media he’s never thought to use, clay or stone or —
He thinks of the picture they make now, Tony seated where he’s crowded against the wall, legs carefully arranged over the edge of the counter, and Steve, crowded against Tony, standing between spread legs and looking like Tantalus who’s finally in reach of what he’s been yearning to devour for an eternity. There’s no way he can attempt to immortalise this using pencil and paper without feeling the need to work out his troubles against a punching bag or twenty. Marble, however. A moment like this remains forever. Marble is apt enough, he hopes.
He can’t forget this, not ever. (Behind every exquisite thing that existed, there was something tragic.) And here is the tragedy: Tony before him, mouth wet and open, scars on his forehead, the shape of his erection, arm cradled to his body — the circle in his chest.
Steve looks up. He looks to Tony and Tony looks to him.
“Artists,” Tony huffs quietly, meeting the look in his eye head-on. “Always seeing too much.”
“Not seeing enough,” Steve returns. And yeah. Steve loves him.
Tony doesn’t pretend — there’s a tent in his pants and a certain file on his private servers that’s hard to deny.
He’s got a thing for Steve and apparently, self-hatred. Again, not exactly a surprise. He’s smart, as hard-pressed as it is to say, and he meant it when he said he could be counted on to pleasure himself.
So? Eye to eye with the freshly defrosted living legend himself, half of his mind devoted to some of his best blasé quick-fire comebacks and the other half marvelling at being close enough to plainly see the look in Rogers’ eyes. Tony’s got a lot of experience with this one, intimately knows that it doesn’t take long to learn how far he has to push to make someone fume at the mere sight of him, but with Rogers —
With Rogers, it’s a lot more visceral, which is probably par for the course for the swell kinda guy he is. Tony’s rather taken aback, almost lets himself flinch at that deliberate look in his baby blues (Tony’s thought about them, a lot, hand between his legs and eyes fixed on a vintage showreel) that only promises the good Captain is planning to put his red gloves to use, around his neck.
Again, he gets that expression a lot. Yet never before has it had this effect on him — mouth dry around a “I’m starting to want you to make me” and the very curious desire to succumb.
Which puts him to rights. Tony Stark doesn’t succumb to just about anybody (but he wants to learn how to for Steve Rogers).
However much Tony wants to forget about it, he’s a sucker for data. An outlier is something a self-proclaimed futurist doesn’t just lightly ignore.
So after everything (a nuke on his back, a CALL FAILED in red, a fucking alien mothership in the distance, the noticeable lack of oxygen getting to his cells) is said and done, Tony pauses from designing the floors of the Tower to consider, what happened?
What was that? That, the whole, I want to mess up your stupidly combed over hair and punch you in your perfect teeth and see if that angry flush goes all the way down and I want to succumb.
Then, Tony thinks, that’s enough rumination for the evening. He chalks it up to some awfully mutated hero worship and does his best to fucking forget ever thinking of, what was it, love. No one falls in love like that, and Tony doesn’t fall in love, period.
He laughs at that till he’s got tears in his eyes, then goes back to the StarkPad in his hands and creates a new file on his private server: Captain Steve Rogers.
Which really, is the beginning of it all. After everything (eyes closing to the dark, vacuum of space and opening to Captain America, blue eyes never fucking brighter, despite just having watched a nuke in action), Steve shook his hand, swung a leg over his motorbike and got the hell out of Dodge, but that doesn’t mean he’s left Tony, not really. The file is added to whenever he thinks of Steve, and, much to his chagrin, grows.
Tony thinks, shit, and then he makes a note in the margins of a new kevlar suit he’d drawn up after watching some shaky footage of Captain America v. Chitauri, dirt on his face and cuts in his arms. Later, when people catch a sheepish Steve in a rundown art store, Tony, with resignation in spades, makes a note about the brand of the watercolours he’s holding.
Then, Tony thinks, shit, and then he pours himself a single-malt scotch on the rocks. Here, he connects the dots.
Tony’s weak in the knees, standing before Steve and feeling phantom hands round his neck. Arthritis and a breathtaking imagination?
Tony’s showers longer and colder, like a teenager’s, mortifyingly enough. Red-blooded male in the face of bona fide human perfection?
Tony, and, I want to learn how to succumb to Steve Rogers.
He thinks, I love Steve Rogers.
Then, because he’s Tony Stark, he knocks back his drink, pulls out another bottle or five, and takes an elevator to his workshop. He’s got work to do. He’ll be damned if this revelation is going to take away from an indulgent few days of working and ignoring his many shortcomings.
Tony thinks, maybe it’s not a mistake to love him, and laughs, because if he’s learned anything in all of his miserable years, everything he does ends in heartbreak.
(Later, in a Siberian bunker, Tony thinks, Behind every exquisite thing that existed, there was something tragic. And here is the tragedy: I love you.
Instead, he says, “So was I.”)
He makes do with the knowledge that, regardless of anything, Tony loved him first. (The implication that Steve in time will love him back is carefully ignored here. As much as Tony can ignore anything.)
Later, Steve gives him a look and pulls him closer, hands hooked behind Tony’s knees. He mumbles a Curiouser and curiouser in between kisses, to which Tony hums as inquisitively as he can while short on breath.
Steve says, “I love you.”
The futurist truly knows his stuff. And what he does know is that the bedroom is only a short ways away from the kitchen. He says as much to Steve.
Steve isn’t the master tactician for nothing.
“You know, it’s been three years since it was legalised.”
Tony pulls the blankets to his chest and turns to look him, says, “Going a bit too fast for me. As a matter of fact, I’m a classy dame. I deserve to be wined and dined first.”
“How about shawarma?”
“Very sentimental there, Rogers. Feeling your age?”
He presses his free hand to his face (presses his fingers possessively to the beard burn around his mouth before it heals) and sighs, unable to hide the laughter in his voice. “What was I thinking. We’re already an old married couple.”
Tony picks his head off of Steve’s chest and he can already imagine his indignant expression. “You can’t cheat out of making me an honest man.”
Steve says, “Sugar, wanna give it to me straight here? To hitch or not to hitch.”
“Don’t Brooklyn me. And fucking, yes to getting hitched. Of course. I’m not passing up the opportunity to get Rhodey in a dress.”
“A drunken promise from our MIT days.”
“I love you too, I guess.”
“Depends on what song you’ll have me go down the aisle to."
“Shoot to Thrill.”
“Shit. I’m never letting you go.”
Steve presses his grin to Tony’s temple. He feels rather than sees Tony’s answering smile.