When Tony coughs up the first petal he knows he is going to die.
“Tony,” He hears Steve say while he steps into the kitchen, but he can’t take his eyes off the small blue petal that is falling gracefully into the ground. “Are the popcorns holding you hostage?”
Tony turns to look at him, blinking slowly with the shock still coursing through his veins, and he feels his throat tighten when he meets Steve’s blue eyes sparkling with amusement.
“Sorry, I got distracted” he forces out, his tongue heavy and numb in his mouth. He watches rooted to the place as Steve move to pick up the forgotten popcorn bowl.
“We better hurry before they start the movie without us” Steve says smiling at him, all boyish and showing a row of his perfect white teeth before he turns around to walk back into the living room.
Tony takes a deep breath and forces his feet to follow after him, stepping over the flower petal without giving it a second glance.
The saddest part, Tony thinks, is that he used to love flowers. He loved their sweet smell and vibrant colors, their tragic meaning and beauty. A gift from the earth that decorated the rooms of the tower and made Pepper smile.
Pepper doesn’t smile at him anymore. And now the blue flowers in his tower carry with them the smell of his blood, and there is nothing beautiful about that, there is nothing beautiful about coughing up an entire fucking plant, nothing beautiful about not being loved back, and there is absolutely nothing beautiful about not being able to breathe.
Tony coughs, and coughs, and coughs. He tries to catch the petals that won’t stop spilling from his mouth, but they are too many and seem to be increasing in number with every coughing fit.
Tony is frustrated beyond reason, his pockets are not large enough to hide all the petals and Dum-e quickly runs out of places to hide them when he refuses to leave the workshop for a week, afraid someone could find out.
There is a knock on the glass of the workshop and he immediately recognizes Steve’s built figure. Before Tony can catch his breath and tell JARVIS not to allow Steve in, Steve has already entered his code and gained access inside.
Tony wants to run and hide, but he’s been spotted and he can see Steve making his way to him with the determined strides of Captain America accompanied by Steve Rogers’s worried eyes. Tony can feel the petals making their way up his throat.
“Tony,” Steve starts once he finally reaches him, and Tony pretends to be busy with the tech lying in front of him. “A week’s enough time to isolate yourself. Movie night isn’t as fun without your colorful commentary”
Steve eyes are so blue and he smells fresh and sweet. Tony wants to throw up.
“We miss you,” Steve whispers when the silence grows between them. And at that moment Tony could cry because he wants nothing more than to go rant with Clint about plot holes and see Bruce’s amused eyes when Natasha threatens to shut them up, while Steve tries to get them to behave but everybody can tell he is trying not to laugh.
But he can already taste the flowers on his tongue, and he can’t even open his mouth to give Steve an excuse that would erase the disappointed look in his eyes.
Time seems to pass slowly with Steve’s eyes piercing his skin like needles, until Tony hears him let out a defeated sigh and turn to leave. Just as Tony’s shoulders are about to slump with relief, Steve stops by the door and says, “I guess I was wrong in thinking you were starting to enjoy your time with us.”
Words long ago stopped having an effect on him but the pain in his chest is as real as the physical one when he woke up in that cave all those years back. He wants to yell that those times spent with the team were what kept him together when he was falling apart, that he regrets taking so long to open up to them, but as soon as he opens his mouth the petals start to spill out.
Thankfully, Steve has already left the workshop and can’t see Tony`s body shaking, with petals in the corner of his mouth.
Tony isn’t surprised when Steve returns the following day with an ashamed expression and a cheeseburger. But this time Tony has thought ahead and already disabled his access.
Steve tries again, and again. And Tony sits in front of the glass that separates them every time, knowing that Steve can’t see him while he stares and coughs and tries to tear every single petal to shreds.
He sees Steve getting progressively frustrated and worried, his face falling with disappointment when JARVIS denies his access over and over again no matter the time of the day.
Until one day he doesn’t show up, and Tony keeps staring at the glass unable to stop either the tears or the petals from spilling out.
He can’t fucking breathe.
Natasha is the one who finds out. Behind the shame and the wonder of how the fuck she managed to pass his lockdown, Tony is actually proud of himself for managing to hide it from everyone for so long.
She doesn’t ask him who it is, but she's twirling a delicate blue petal with the hand she's not using to hold Tony's. He thinks it is quite obvious anyways, and if there is someone who can put two and two together quickly it’s Natasha.
Tony still feels the need to deny, to defend himself, to say that he is fine, but the petals won’t stop coming and all he can do is cough and cough again.
“There must be something-,“ she starts before she catches herself and abruptly closes her mouth. They both know there is no cure for unrequited love. “Maybe he-,“ she starts again and this time is Tony’s glare what stops her from continuing.
His breathing starts to go back to normal after a few minutes, and he only becomes aware of blood in the corner of his mouth when Natasha’s delicate hand rises to clean it.
Tony is going to die.
Tony has his good days, days where he forgets about Steve and he can let himself get lost between the numbers of a new project, until he forgets blue eyes and the flowery smell.
It doesn’t hurt when he breathes but his stomach feels like it is trying to eat itself, so driven by hunger that cannot be calmed with coffee and the snacks he had lying around, he finally leaves the workshop and makes his way to the kitchen.
Steve is there. Because of course Steve is in the kitchen at 3 in the morning.
His blonde hair is messy and his eyes are fixed on the glass of milk in front of him. Tony suddenly remembers all the times Steve slipped into his workshop, eyes hunted with nightmares and hot drinks for the two of them. He can almost hear Steve thanking Tony softly for letting him in. His stomach turns, this time with guilt and regret.
Steve looks up, finally sensing Tony’s presence. Tony stares at Steve’s eyes, they are so blue and Tony is so sick of that color, he thinks he would ban it from existence if he could.
“What are you doing here?” he asks without meaning to.
Steve stares back and takes a sip of his milk before he raises a brow and asks, “Do you want me to leave?”
He looks calm, but Tony notices his tense shoulders and the defiance in his eyes.
“No,” Tony whispers softly and brokenly, wishing he could take it back as soon as he says it.
“Tony,” Steve says, and Tony closes his eyes in pain. He doesn't understand- why does Steve say his name so heavily, with emotions he can never decipher?
When Tony forces his eyes open, Steve is standing in front of him, his brows furrowed and his lips pressed together furiously.
He is about to ask what happened, but Steve beats him to it. “What happened?”
That’s when Tony notices Steve is looking at his shirt, more specifically at the blood that has dried on it after Tony’s violent coughing fits. All the blood rushes to his ears at the prospect of Steve finding out, and he barely hears Steve calling his name worriedly.
He focuses on Steve’s eyes and immediately wishes he hasn’t. They are full of concern and anger, but deep down there is a warm emotion that makes Tony’s throat close up and the flowers start to bloom.
And it isn’t fair. It isn’t fucking fair that with one look Steve can make him breathless again. Tony is angry at himself, at the color blue, at Steve and his eyes, and he is fucking angry at whoever decided it would be fucking poetic to die for not being loved back.
“It’s none of your business” Tony grits out, trying to keep the petals from breaking free from his mouth.
Steve takes a step back, taken aback by Tony’s tone. But the look doesn’t leave his eyes. “Tony, if you have a problem you can tell me. I’m your friend-“
Tony makes a strangled noise that makes him stop.
“I’m your teammate,” Steve continues, hurt the only emotion in his eyes. Tony wants to cry. “Just tell me how to help”
Love me. Love me. Love me . Tony wants to beg but instead he spits out, “You can’t.”
And with that Tony turns around, just in time to catch a petal that was slipping out.
He hears something shattering behind him, probably Steve’s glass of milk. He winces before running back into the workshop.
Enveloped in the cold safety, Tony curls over himself, and sobs and coughs and then sobs again.
Tony is going to die because there is no way he can stop loving Steve, or that Steve would ever love him back.
Tony thinks he is going insane. He can’t escape the sweet aroma of flowers, everything is blue and he can’t leave his bed.
And there is the building anxiety in the back of his head because he doesn’t know what to do when the world needs Iron Man again.
“We need to stop this,” Natasha says angrily, after Tony’s coughing fit finally stops.
“There’s no way to stop it and you know it,” Tony replies just as angrily. He sounds weak, his throat scratched and numb, and that makes him even angrier. He has tried everything, researched incessantly into it. It’s fatal, everyone knows it, he has seen people die from it in movies, books, and the news. He had naively thought it would never happen to him.
“But you can,” Natasha fights back. “We need you, Tony. Me, the team, the world needs you. You can’t let Steve do this to you. I will destroy him myself if it means you are going to be okay.”
Tony looks at her helplessly, and opens his mouth to say that the world needs Steve more, but as soon as he does it he starts coughing more petals. Natasha curses in Russian.
Tony knows he is going to die and in that moment Natasha knows it too.
The world needs Iron Man on a Sunday afternoon. Tony takes several deep breaths and cleans the blood running down his chin.
He puts on his suit, trusts his ventilation system to get rid of the petals efficiently, and without a second thought flies to the busy street of New York where badly fabricated robots are terrorizing innocent citizens.
“They’re always trying to be you.”
Tony turns around and sees Captain America and the rest of the Avengers arrive. His reply dies in a cough, and he decides to concentrate only on the fight.
The robots aren’t hard to destroy. Doom tries something like it often enough that the team already has a dynamic prepared for it.
Tony sees Steve throwing himself out of a building and rushes to catch him. Once they are on the ground they fight back to back. Despite being efficient as always, Tony’s work is sloppy, the petals won’t stop blooming, and air isn’t reaching his lungs properly.
The last bot falls and Tony sees Steve catching his shield in full on Captain America gear, but the look on his eyes and the smile he directs at him are completely Steve Rogers. The petals are going to choke him.
Tony opens the face plate and immediately pukes all over the street. His blood covers the cement, and scattered among it are blue petals. Tony falls to his knees and he thinks he hears Clint and Natasha screaming his name before he collapses.
In the blink of an eye Steve is standing right in of front of him. The cowl is suddenly missing and the blond hair is going in all directions, Tony would love to fix it if he could lift his arms.
“Who,” Steve chokes out. And it confuses Tony because as far as he is aware he is the only one choking on petals and blood. “Who wouldn’t love you back?” Steve asks desperately and his eyes are so fucking blue. Tony hates the color blue.
He wants to tell Steve that, that he hates everything blue, especially blue flowers and blue eyes but that he still would love to stare at Steve’s for the rest of his life. But he can barely breathe never mind talk.
Suddenly Natasha appears in his line of vision and Tony knows he is delirious because he spots a tear forming in the corner of her eye.
“This is your fault!” she screams at Steve. Definitely delirious because that can’t be right.
Tony closes his eyes. He feels the sweet taste of flowers on his tongue, and his blood running down his chin, but he can’t feel the air reaching his lungs.
Tony is going to die.
With all the force he has left he manages to open his eyes, and finds Steve looking in disbelief at the blood covered petals. The ones that are supposed to be blue, the same shade of his eyes.
“But I do love you,” Steve whispers.
Tony takes a deep breath. He doesn’t die.