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The Fool-Proof Plan

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Tony Stark knows he is a handful. Sometimes, he also doubts whether he is enough.

Steve has joked about it often enough – Tony knows his boyfriend has never meant any of it, that Steve doesn’t joke about things he means seriously, but that doesn’t stop him from doubting. He’s been through some relationships where he thought things were going well, and look where that got him. Tony decided a long time ago that he shouldn’t have had to change for someone else, and he’s lived by that rule.

He’s not sure he still wants to live by that rule. He loves Steve like he has never loved anyone, and losing him – well, Tony would lose part of himself. It’s kind of how Tony is; he cares too much, he loves too quickly, and when he loses, he pretends he doesn’t. That he never did.

Tony thought that this is it, maybe. He thought that Steve and him is maybe what he’s been waiting for, that this is the person he will spend his life with. There’d been some time that he had doubted whether he was ever going to settle down, but since he has Steve, he didn’t feel like that anymore. It feels natural, to him. Of course, they have their fights, but Tony doesn’t think it’s ever been that bad. Most of them came from worry or misunderstandings, anyway.

Tony is sitting on a bench in the park, a cap on his head so he won’t be easily recognized, eating ice cream. It doesn’t look like he’s worried whether the love of his life is cheating on him, or going to leave him, but he would be lying if he says he isn’t.

Here’s the deal: Tony came home early because one of his meeting was cancelled. Just as he stepped in, he overheard Steve calling someone. He doesn’t know who Steve was talking to, but he heard him say some things that were hard to ignore. ‘’Tony can’t know we’re doing this,’’ he’d heard Steve say. ‘’It has to stay a secret. So don’t you give anything away, okay?’’

And even though that already clearly points to a secret, Tony didn’t want to confront Steve, so he quietly left before his boyfriend even noticed him. He can just say he had that meeting, after all. Steve doesn’t expect him home yet. At least this way, Tony is still in a relationship with Steve for now. They’re not having a discussion, they’re fine. As long as Tony’s not home, they’re still fine.

He didn’t think this would be something that Steve would do, really. Maybe it’s Tony that has driven him to this – maybe he’s an even worse boyfriend than he thought. He’d thought he had gotten the hang of it, these past two years, but maybe he’s wrong. There’s still lots of things he does wrong, after all.

He wonders who Steve would cheat on him with, if Tony’s gut is right. He told whoever he was talking with to not give anything away, so that implies that Tony knows this person. Maybe it’s Sam. Most of the women on the team are too competent to be told to give anything away, and they click very well. Besides, Tony thinks that Sam doesn’t like him very much. He’s been avoiding Tony lately.

He sits with his hands in his hair, and wonders what he’s going to do.

~*~

Tony trusts Steve, and that’s the problem. The phone call is the first real clue that he has, but Tony has noticed some things before. Steve deleting his messages and not giving his phone to Tony. Steve quickly hiding things around him. Steve going somewhere he won’t tell Tony about. It all doesn’t match up with what he knows of his boyfriend and if Tony was a bit suspicious before, he can’t help but think the worst now. He’s a genius, and it may not be in relationships, but he can draw some conclusions.

He’s not going to lose Steve. Tony’s pretty good at dating, but not very good at actually committing to a long relationship, so maybe Steve’s lost interest. Maybe he forgot whatever he saw in Tony in the first place, and he has to bring it back. They’re both busy men, so they don’t have lots of time for dates, but this calls for an emergency

He arranges a date for that evening at the first restaurant they ever went to. It’s simple but classy, a good choice for them. Steve doesn’t like it when Tony goes over the top, he learned early on, so he just makes sure there’s some candles and nice music, nothing more. In these two years, he’s come to know pretty well what Steve considers normal and what he doesn’t. Normally, he is a bit more extravagant, and Steve will smile at him and shake his head in that way he does, and Tony will be pleased. But now he has to do everything exactly how Steve wants it, because he has to convince him to drop this other person and stay with Tony.

‘’What’s the occasion?’’ Steve jokes, but he does look a bit surprised when the waiter brings them to their own table, away from the windows and in a secluded space in the restaurant. Steve is looking around, probably trying to stay what else Tony has arranged, but he won’t get any surprises this time. Tony is going to make this evening exactly the way Steve wants their dates to be, even if Tony thinks they’re a bit vanilla.

Tony doesn’t look at Steve as he sits down, playing around with the vase a bit. There’s a bright red rose in it, and Tony moves it out of the way. ‘’No reason,’’ he manages. ‘’I just thought a date might be nice.’’

Steve smiles, and takes Tony’s hand over the table. Tony does his best not to draw back his hand – that would not be a romantic thing to do, and he’s trying to woo Steve here. He’s not here to think about Steve in bed with someone else, someone more qualified to make him happy, Steve sparing his feelings by not telling him about it. Tony’s not in the mood for a date, but in the mood to yell at Steve for lying to him. Still, he can’t lose Steve. He can’t.

‘’It is nice,’’ Steve says, blue eyes locked on Tony’s. ‘’I missed this. How was your meeting, darling?’’

Cancelled, but it gave me the chance to figure out that you’re cheating on me, Tony doesn’t say. ‘’Fine. It’s been a bit busy, lately, but it was fine. I don’t really want to talk about that.’’

‘’That’s fine,’’ Steve says, and his smile grows a bit more looped. Tony loves it when that happens, because it means Steve is playful, and that it’s going to be a good night. He loves Steve like this – he always loves him, but this smile means that Steve loves him back. That Steve still wants him.

‘’The usual, sirs?’’ the waiter asks. Tony has never gone to one restaurant enough times to have a usual, but this one is kind of his and Steve’s favourite. Tony just nods, and he feels Steve’s warm hand still on his. Now he does pull back.

Conversation is a bit more stilted, but that’s completely Tony’s fault, he knows. Steve doesn’t say less than he usually does, but Tony has no idea what to say or how to respond. He can be quite the chatterbox, but he doesn’t want to mess this up. He doesn’t know what to talk about.

‘’Are you alright, Tony?’’ Steve asks. Of course he picks up on stuff like that, because he knows Tony better than anyone. ‘’You seem nervous.’’

‘’Just peachy. I’m fine, Steve. What would I have to be nervous about?’’

Steve shrugs, just as behind them a woman starts crying. Tony turns instinctively to look at it, to assess for danger, but there’s a man on his knees before her, rising to kiss her. A ring is shining on the table, and people applaud.

‘’I guess he must have been pretty nervous,’’ Steve says.

Tony turns again to stare at Steve, for the first time this evening his nerves forgotten. ‘’Are you implying that you thought I was going to propose to you? What the heck, Steve?’’

Steve holds up his hands, eyes wide. ‘’I didn’t say that. But why are you acting like this? And what’s wrong with proposals?’’

Tony covers his face with his hands, sighing. This evening is so weird. Here he is, trying to woo Steve into staying with him, while Steve is talking about proposals. What is his boyfriend trying to do, here? What’s he trying to achieve? Is he hinting at something? It seems unlikely, considering what’s really going on here.

‘’There’s nothing wrong with proposals, Steve,’’ he says. ‘’But it’s not something I’m doing. That I’m going to do, right now.’’

‘’Why not?’’ Steve presses. ‘’Is it marriage in general? Is it me? Because, Tony, if there’s something wrong with us –‘’

Tony almost wants to laugh, but if he did that, he is going to start crying too. ‘’There’s nothing wrong,’’ he lies. ‘’Steve, really. I just don’t see the use of it. Why make it official, while we both know what’s what? It’s just unpractical.’’

‘’Marriage is very practical,’’ Steve counters. ‘’But that’s not why. You marry because you don’t want to see yourself without someone. Because you don’t want to be without them ever again. Because they make you a better person.’’

Of course Steve would feel strongly about this. Tony almost tells him to go propose to his lover, then, and leave his boyfriend sitting here. But Steve is being so sincere, and Tony almost wants to ask them to get married, then. Because if Steve marries him, then maybe he won’t leave him.

Tony is too realistic to do that. He can’t stop Steve, and asking him to marry now, without a ring or plan, that’s not how Tony is going to do it, if he ever is. Steve will just leave him, eventually, and he can’t bring himself to get divorce papers. Best not to get married at all and not make too much of a fuss when Steve finally decides to leave him.

‘’Maybe someday,’’ he says eventually. Steve leans back in his chair, an expression on his face that Tony can’t figure out, but he feels like he’s done something wrong. Well, good to know that his plan to make Steve love him more is failing. He’s doomed, then.

They’re sitting in silence for a few minutes, listening to the couple behind them celebrate. The waiter comes by again, smiling pleasantly. ‘’For dessert, also the usual, sirs?’’ he asks brightly.

‘’No,’’ Tony says, throwing some money on the table. He didn’t count it, but he’s sure it will cover the bill. ‘’I have to go.’’

He walks out of the restaurant, ignoring Steve and the waiter. He takes the back exit, though, so he arrives at the private parking lot. There’s no one around, and he leans against the wall, closing his eyes for a minute.

What the hell is he even doing? How is he failing so hard at this? For two years, he’s been happy, and it seems like everything is ruined now. Tony didn’t ever think Steve would be the kind of guy to cheat on anyone, and it’s still hard to believe, but he doesn’t know what else to make of it. And it’s not like he hasn’t thought the same of others who did it anyway.

He loves Steve, but he’s not sure this is the right thing to do. He should ask Steve about this, like an adult would do. If Steve’s cheating on him, Tony is not sure he can continue.

Even if the thought of losing Steve is even more painful, at least he won’t have to pretend anymore. Enough people have lied to him in his life, and lying to himself won’t make anything better.

He’s just made up his mind when Steve comes outside. His simple blue shirt complements his eyes, and Tony doesn’t say anything as his boyfriend gives him his jacket. ‘’Don’t want you to get a cold,’’ Steve mumbles, and then leans against the wall with Tony.

It’s not like the silence they shared inside, tense. This is different, and Tony doesn’t break it.

Steve does. ‘’What’s wrong, Tony?’’

Tony takes a breath, and stays silent for a moment to gather his thoughts. ‘’Marriage is not my style, Steve. It’s too much of a hassle. I know you think I’m all show and flash, but you and me, that’s different. For you, sure, I’ll go out of my way to give you stuff, indulge in things we don’t need. The thing is, I don’t want a wedding. I don’t want to invite people to see me settle down. I don’t want any of it, because anything can change. Who says that you and me is a permanent thing?’’

‘’I do,’’ Steve says, and it’s symbolical because Tony doesn’t think he’ll ever say the same words.

‘’Can we just go home?’’ he asks, looking up at Steve.

His boyfriend bites his lip and then sighs. ‘’Sure, Tony.’’

~*~

Steve moved into Tony’s room after they’d been dating for a few months. They already lived in the same building, and it wasn’t really an official thing. It’s just the sort of thing that happened. Besides, it’s much easier than to walk to each other’s rooms all the time.

When Tony wakes up, the following morning, he finds himself alone in bed. It’s Saturday, so Steve is supposed to be home, and Tony doesn’t have to go to work either. He sits up, rubbing his eyes, and gets out of bed.

‘’Steve?’’ he calls out, as he walks into the kitchen. They share it with the other Avengers, but no one seems to be there. ‘’Steve, you there?’’

Not there, then. He tries the living room, though it’s usually not occupied this early in the day. To his surprise, someone actually is sitting there. Sam is reading the newspaper on the couch, looking up when Tony enters. He immediately freezes, and Tony raises his eyebrows.

‘’Morning, Tony,’’ Sam says, going for a smile that looks more like a grimace to Tony.

‘’Hi,’’ he says. ‘’Any idea where Steve might be?’’

‘’Yeah, he just – ‘’ Sam stops. ‘’No, actually. I have no idea. I haven’t seen him. No clue. Nope.’’

Tony sighs and sits on the couch too. Sam gives him a suspicious looks and moves away a little. ‘’Anything you have to tell me, Sam?’’ he asks. It might be marginally better coming from Sam, since he’s definitely hiding something. Tony knows almost for certain that it has to do with Steve. He just can’t ask Steve about his secrecy. If Steve tells him what he thinks Steve would tell him, Tony is going to be destroyed.

Sam looks away. ‘’I have no idea what you’re talking about.’’

Okay then. Tony stands up again. ‘’If you see Steve, tell him I have to talk to him,’’ he says, and walks away.

The only reason he stops just as he is out of the room is because he hears the soft curse coming from the room. He hides behind the wall so Sam will think he’s actually gone, when he hears his teammate’s voice again.

‘’Steve? Yeah, no, it’s about Tony. I think he’s onto us, man. He was asking me stuff. No, not specifically about that, but I don’t know, he didn’t look very happy. Are you sure – no, okay. Just get here so you can deal with him. You have to get this over with, Steve, it’s eating you up. Yeah, I know. See you later.’’

Tony closes his eyes, but he can’t stay there too long in case Sam leaves the room. He takes a moment to collect himself, and then goes back to his room. He sits on the bed for a while, feeling kind of numb.

It can’t be anything else than what he’s thinking. He’d kind of hoped he was wrong, but it seems he’s not. Tony takes a deep breath, hand grabbing the pillow just so he has something to hold. He has to break up with Steve. He can’t be in a relationship with someone who’s cheating on him, no matter how much Tony loves him. And he doesn’t understand it, because he knows that Steve loves him back. Maybe he’s just not enough.

He’s never been enough for anyone, so how could he be enough for Captain America?

It’s not fair to either him or Steve to let this go on. Tony’s going to let him go.

~*~

It is two more hours before Steve gets home. All Tony has managed to do in that time is get dressed. He hasn’t even dumped Steve yet, and he’s already more miserable than he’s been in a long time. Normally, he’d go get a drink, but he’s been cutting back, and he doesn’t want to be drunk for this.

‘’Tony?’’ Steve asks, when he enters the bedroom. ‘’What’re you doing here? I thought you’d be in the workshop.’’

‘’I have to talk to you,’’ Tony says, and Steve blinks at him.

‘’Can it wait for just a few minutes? I have to show you something, and it has to be now.’’

‘’Well –‘’ Tony starts, but then Steve gives him those pleading puppy eyes, and Tony can’t say no. He can wait just a few more minutes. A few more precious minutes with Steve – that’s not too much to ask, after that failed date the night before.

‘’Come,’’ Steve says, eyes brightening, and pulls Tony with him. ‘’I arranged this for you.’’ They’re walking to the rooftop of the Tower, and all Tony can do is follow his boyfriend, bewildered at what’s happening.

He doesn’t know what to say as he gets there. Flowers are all over the ground, though he supposes there were more, because a lot of them get picked up by the wind and move around. There’s fireworks around them, beautiful enough to be noticeable during the daytime. Music is playing from somewhere, and there’s a picnic basket standing in the middle of the roof.

It’s exactly Steve, and as he gets on one knee, Tony still can’t say anything at all.

‘’Tony,’’ Steve says earnestly, as he takes a box from his pocket. ‘’This wasn’t what I was going to do, at first. I planned this for weeks. But after yesterday, I couldn’t wait any longer. You said you didn’t want to marry because things don’t stay the same, and you weren’t sure you and I were a sure thing. I know that I love you, Tony, I love you more than I’ve loved anyone else. You’re right that nothing is permanent, but I’d like us to be. I’d like to be your husband, because you make me happier than I’ve ever been. So, will you marry me?’’

‘’Holy shit,’’ Tony says, as he takes a few steps back. ‘’You aren’t cheating on me?’’

Steve’s mouth falls open. ‘’What?’’ he says weakly. ‘’You thought I was cheating on you? How… what? Tony?’’

‘’You aren’t cheating on me,’’ Tony realizes. ‘’Shit, Steve.’’

‘’You stayed with me while you thought I was cheating on you?’’ Steve presses. ‘’How did you even get that impression in the first place?’’

‘’I was going to break up with you before you dragged me here for a marriage proposal,’’ Tony counters. ‘’Damn it, Steve, how did I get that impression? How about your secrecy, the past few weeks? You looked so guilty, the entire damn time. You put things away quickly, you hid things from me, you weren’t where you said you were, you lied to me. I overheard a phone call in which you were telling someone that I can’t know stuff and that is has to stay secret. Yes, my meeting was cancelled yesterday, okay.’’

‘’You were going to break up with me?’’ Steve asks, and he slowly gets up, the box with presumably a ring in it still in his hand. ‘’But I was – I was planning this, Tony, I was just talking to Sam, he was helping me set this all up, I would never cheat on you. You have to believe me! That you even thought that I would…’’

Steve looks at the box in his hand, and he looks so sad that Tony can’t handle it anymore. ‘’Steve, I don’t want to lose you. I love you so much. But it wouldn’t have been the first time someone cheated on me. I just –‘’

‘’If you really don’t trust me, maybe we should break up anyway,’’ Steve says, choked up, and Tony feels his heart breaking as Steve brushes past him, going back into the Tower.

There’s nothing he can say.

~*~

Tony can’t stay on the roof, because even looking at whatever Steve prepared only make his heartache even worse.

He can’t go to his room, because it’s also Steve’s room.

He goes to his workshop instead, as that’s the only place that he can truly call his own. Steve’s in everything, at the moment, but this is still his spot. His safe haven. Tony feels so numb that all he can do is sit on the couch as Dum-E rolls over, bringing him a blanket. ‘’Thanks, boy,’’ he mutters. He can’t even think up a decent insult for his robot.

Then he closes his eyes.

~*~

‘’Tony?’’ he hears, and Tony wakes up to see Steve in front of him.

He immediately remembers what happened, and takes a deep breath. ‘’Hi, Steve,’’ he mutters, and drops the blanket to his side, standing up, turning his back to his… ex? He doesn’t know what Steve is, right now. That’ll be up to Steve to decide.

‘’Tony, I’m sorry,’’ he hears him say. ‘’I realize that the secrecy was a mistake on my part, maybe. And I know some of your exes haven’t treated you well, so it was wrong of me to dismiss that. We should have talked about this thing, before I sprung it on you. I just wish you’d told me what you thought. I don’t want you to doubt me, because I love you so much. I don’t want to lose you.’’

‘’I’m sorry too,’’ Tony quickly says, still not turning. ‘’I shouldn’t have jumped to conclusions. I don’t want you to go, too. It was just – the thought of you leaving me was more terrifying than the thought of you cheating on me. Because that way, I’d still have some of you, at least. But then I decided that I couldn’t live a lie.’’

‘’That would have been the right choice,’’ Steve says, and he’s suddenly right in Tony’s face, laying a hand on his cheek. ‘’You deserve the world, Tony Stark, and I hope that one day I might be the one to give it to you. Do you still want to be with me?’’

Tony pulls Steve down for a gentle kiss. ‘’I’ll give you an ‘I do’ for that, but I’m not down for the marrying thing yet.’’

Steve smiles. ‘’I agree. Maybe it’s a good idea to see a counsellor? Together. I guess we have some issues that we should work on. I don’t want to risk losing you ever again.’’

‘’I’m not going anywhere,’’ Tony says, as he is engulfed by Steve’s arms, feeling a warmth he thought he’d lost.