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Thrust Issues

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"When was the last time you slept?"

At Tony's words, Steve jerked in his harness, blinking rapidly. He'd been sitting upright, staring into space, like his brain had been trying to doze off but hadn't bothered to tell his body. Even with the cowl up, Tony could see the shadows around his eyes.

Steve was clearly trying to smile but, exhausted, he didn't quite make it. His mouth just twitched. "Isn't that my line?"

"Humor me," Tony told him.

They were all tired, the Avengers, but Steve looked practically dead. Hell, Steve hadn't even protested when Clint had slid into the pilot's seat of the Quinjet for their return trip from Project PEGASUS' upstate facility, and usually Steve at least mustered up an objection to that one. The flight so far had been unnervingly quiet; everyone had been a little subdued since Carol had stormed off after they'd finally broken the mind control on the Squadron Supreme, sure, but a Quinjet full of Avengers almost always made more noise than this. They'd been in the air for half an hour and the only thing anyone had said aloud had been Clint radioing air traffic control. So there was that, and then there was Steve.

And the thing about Steve was that -- in Tony's vast experience -- Steve didn't get this tired. Courtesy of the serum, he didn't need as much sleep as most people, and Tony had watched Steve push himself for days on end. But Tony supposed that even a super-soldier had to run out of energy sometime. And when Steve's reserves were tapped out, it clearly took a lot to fill him back up.

Steve's face screwed up in thought and he tipped his head back against the Quinjet bulkhead and slumped into his seat. "Two, three days, maybe?" The words were a slurred mumble. "The night before Freeman called us about the downed jet. Got four hours then."

Jesus. Well, that would do it, Tony thought. Steve had been awake for going on sixty hours and in that time they'd been in combat twice. After the Squadron Supreme had accused them of being fakes, Duane Freeman had given them forty-eight hours to get to the bottom of it before he pulled the Avengers' security clearance, and apparently Steve just... hadn't slept. Even Tony had caught a nap or two in the meantime.

Out of the corner of his eye, Tony saw Wanda and Thor exchange concerned glances. They all cared about Steve.

"You could sleep now?" Tony glanced out the window; he could make out the Quinjet's flashing wingtip against the darkening, clouded evening skies. It wasn't much of a view. "It's another hour 'til Manhattan."

But Steve shook his head -- although at his energy level, it was really more a matter of letting his head fall forward and swing down. "Can't," he mumbled. "Team leader. Still an active mission. I can wait another hour."

Ordinarily, Tony thought Steve might have agreed, but he probably wanted to double down on doing things by the book. Since Carol had just left in a huff after him questioning her about her Binary powers one too many times, he was probably concerned about any of his actions making him anything less than perfect. God. It hadn't been Steve's fault -- if Tony was right about all those times he'd caught her sneaking drinks and hiding it, if Tony was right about everything that had rung too many alarm bells, then it hadn't been anyone's fault -- but this wasn't exactly the time to broach the subject.

"Okay," Tony said, on a sigh. "If you say so, Cap. Another hour."

Steve's eyes slid shut, and Tony decided not to say anything.

Steve was the last one out of the Quinjet. As the other Avengers headed across the mansion's hangar, finally starting to converse with each other, Tony stayed behind, just to make sure Steve didn't trip over his own feet on the way out.

"I fell asleep," Steve said, dazed and half-awake, as he shuffled down the ramp.

"Yeah, Winghead," Tony said, not bothering to hide the fondness in his voice. It probably got lost in the vocal filters, anyway. He patted Steve on the shoulder as Steve's boots finally hit the hangar deck. "You needed it. Go get some more sleep, okay?"

"Okay," Steve echoed, and, God, he must have been exhausted, because he didn't even complain as Tony herded him toward the stairs. But five feet from the doorway, he stopped and frowned like he was trying to remember something. "Wait. Is it Tuesday?"

Yep, Steve was definitely dead on his feet. "No, it's Wednesday. Why?"

If Steve had been any other man, Tony was positive he would have said something extremely obscene. But because he was Steve, that meant that Tony just got to watch his face fall, dejected, and that was even worse than any obscenity. Steve looked like he was about to burst into tears.

"It's my night for monitor duty," Steve mumbled, swaying on his feet. "Team leader. My duty. Have to watch the alarms. I have the first shift." His face rapidly crumbled into utter misery, his gaze anguished. "And-- and Warbird had the second shift, so I guess I have both."

Oh, no, no, no. That was cruel. That was cruel and unusual punishment, and there was no way Tony was going to let Steve be subjected to that.

"Steve," Tony said, and it took Steve half a second to react to his own name. Yeah, he was out of it. Tony put his hand on Steve's shoulder again and squeezed ever so lightly; the metal of his gauntlet scraped against the mail of Steve's shirt. "Go to bed. Go on. I've got this."


"I've got this," Tony repeated. He tipped his faceplate up so he could give Steve his best encouraging smile. "I need to stay up anyway. Quinjet maintenance. I can watch the monitors at the same time. Go get your eighteen hours of beauty sleep. I promise not to wake you up for anything short of the end of the world."

The hopeful look on Steve's face was practically heartbreaking, a bright and shining joy. His expression was so very unguarded, a rare sight to see on him. It made Tony wonder how often Steve actually got anything he wanted.

"I can sleep?"

Tony smiled again. He knew this one was the ridiculously fond smile he tried to keep off his face, so as not to give any of his more romantic feelings away, but Steve was probably too tired to notice. "Yeah," Tony said, softly. "You can sleep. Everything's going to be all right. Stand down, soldier."

Steve's mouth twitched, but this time he managed to summon a gentle, genuine smile in return, the one that always made Tony feel warm all over. "Is that an order, Shellhead?"

"You bet," Tony told him, and Steve just grinned wider.

Stumbling a little, Steve turned towards the door, and Tony flipped down his faceplate and watched him go. He turned up the audio gain to listen to Steve's footsteps on the stairs -- he wasn't about to rule out Steve actually falling -- until they turned into quiet footfalls across the floor below. Tony smiled to himself. Steve was going to be okay.

With a few quick commands, he had the feeds from the monitor room piped into his HUD. There was something to be said for multitasking. Now he could keep an eye on all the threats of the world -- not that there was going to be anything else tonight -- and fix up the Quinjets at the same time. Win-win.

A wireframe globe spun at the corner of his vision, with Avengers Mansion a blinking blue dot. No activity on either the global or local alarms. Good. They'd had enough for one day.

Tony turned back to the nearest Quinjet and suppressed a yawn. No naps for him. It was time to get to work.

Two hours later, Tony had just about finished the maintenance checklist on the first Quinjet when the alarms went off. Lights flashed, and the HUD spanning his field of vision blinked red with his least favorite sentence: PERIMETER ALERT: AVENGERS MANSION DEFENSES BREACHED.

The foundations of the mansion shook.

Today was not his lucky day.

Tony swore, levered himself out from beneath the Quinjet, and slammed the alert button on the wall that would trigger emergency all-call on the active team's identicards. He brought up the exterior camera feed and winced as he saw four very familiar shapes. Thunderball raised his ball and chain, swinging out to strike the main door again, and it splintered under the impact. Behind him were Bulldozer, Piledriver, and of course the Wrecker.

It was the Wrecking Crew. Goddammit, he did not want to rebuild this place again already. He was having enough financial problems lately as it was.

"Avengers!" Tony called into the intercom. "The Wrecking Crew are bashing their way in! Get up and get downstairs, on the double!"

He took the stairs two at a time as the mansion shuddered and shook. The Wrecking Crew were probably inside already. The smashing noises sounded much closer. And, sure, Tony reinforced the mansion to stand up to super-strength every time he put it back together -- he couldn't not, when the Avengers lived here -- but that didn't mean the place was going to weather a concerted effort to demolish it. Thank God he was already armored up.

The team had gotten the message. Vance and Angel -- who for some reason were both still dressed -- were halfway down the stairs when Tony hit the second-floor landing. Thor was close behind them, and even better, Thor was in armor. Had he slept in the armor? He had Mjölnir clenched in one fist and Tony grinned to see it. Oh, yeah, that would scare the living daylights out of the Wrecker, all right.

"Coming through!" Clint yelled, and he brushed past Tony and leaped down half the stairs at once. He was wearing purple pajama pants and fuzzy bunny slippers, but he had his quiver on his back, and his bow in his hand, already nocking an arrow.

Wanda followed Clint at a dead run, and crimson energy crackled around her fists. The flowing red dress she was wearing might have been a nightgown, but given her usual fashion sense, it was difficult to tell.

There, that was everyone--

Wait. Where was Steve?

All the doors in the hallway had been left ajar, hastily flung open, except one: Steve's. Steve's door was still shut.

That meant that Steve was still asleep. He'd been so exhausted that even a call to assemble hadn't woken him.

Tony hated to do it, but right now the Avengers needed Steve more than Steve needed to rest. Downstairs, there was a dire-sounding crunching noise. Wood splintered. Someone was yelling. Tony glanced back at the stairwell, then at Steve's door again. He'd just have to get Steve up himself.

"The mansion's under attack!" Tony called out, and he pounded on the door heavily enough to make it rattle and creak in its frame. "I need you on your feet, Avenger!" He slammed his armored fist against the door again.

From inside Steve's room, there came a very heavy thud.

"Ow," came Steve's voice, slow and muzzy. "Huh?"

"It's the Wrecking Crew!" Tony yelled. "They're downstairs! We need you, Cap!"

There was a brief pause.

"On my way!" Steve called back after a moment, but he didn't sound any more awake. Tony could barely make out some shuffling and creaking noises within the room. "Boots," Steve mumbled. There was a soft slithery sound. "Gloves." A metallic ringing noise. "Shield." Another, longer pause, like Steve was checking himself over. "Boots, gloves, shield. Okay."

Tony could feel his mouth curve in a smile beneath the faceplate. Steve was awake and ready to go. Steve had this.

The door swung open, and Steve burst out into the hallway. He had the shield in one hand. His other hand, red-gloved, was flung out, pointing in the direction of the stairs.

"Follow me!" Steve cried out, his voice ringing with command.

Dumbfounded, Tony just stared.

Steve did not, in fact, have this.

Oh, he had his boots. He had his gloves. He had his shield -- the wrong shield, since he'd grabbed the round prototype Tony had made him a few weeks ago, the one that had wreaked havoc on the sitting room when Steve had tried to throw it. But an unbalanced shield was not the major problem here.

Other than the boots and gloves, Steve was completely naked.

Steve was naked, and Steve was hard.

Having been a full-time superhero for over a decade meant that Tony was more than passingly familiar with some of the more inappropriate effects of combat adrenaline rushes -- sometimes you got erections. Granted, fighting in a form-fitting suit of armor had reduced their frequency somewhat for him, but he was well aware of the phenomenon. It was weird, it was purely physical, and it didn't mean anything. He could ignore it.

It was much, much more difficult to ignore when it was Steve's.

Steve was standing right in front of him. His cock was jutting out, flushed, dark with blood, and it was -- there was really no other word for it -- gigantic.

Steve's cock was bigger than Tony's. Steve's cock was bigger than any cock Tony had personally experienced. For fuck's sake, it was bigger than anything Tony had ever seen in porn. It was bigger than anything Tony had ever dreamed about. Jesus. It didn't even look real, at that size; it looked like some kind of Photoshop accident made flesh. Tony wasn't sure whether hung like a horse was a fair description, or if Steve was actually bigger than a goddamn horse. If he had said he was, Tony would have believed him. Good lord.

He'd known Steve for a decade and he'd never known about this. It wasn't really the kind of thing that came up in conversation, true, but Steve was one of his best friends. How had Tony never known? He was frozen, stunned, and the thoughts whirling through his head were tinged with both lust and something weirdly akin to betrayal. Steve knew everything about him. How the hell had Steve kept something like this a secret?

No, he told himself, he was being ridiculous. This wasn't about him, and it wasn't for him, much as he wanted it to be. God, he really wanted that to be for him. Right now.

Tony could feel his jaw begin to ache in an odd kind of anticipation. His mouth watered. Could he fit that in his mouth? Could anyone? Christ, how had Steve been hiding that all these years?

God, if only Tony had known about this--

Well, honestly, he'd already had a crush on Steve for most of his life, so it wouldn't have changed much of anything. His fantasies sure would have had a lot more detail in them, though. And he'd probably have practiced more deep-throating.

Neither of them had moved. Tony was still staring at Steve's cock. Steve was -- unbelievably -- getting even harder. The head of his cock was smooth and shining, damp, half-hidden by foreskin. Of course he was uncut.

Tony wondered how sensitive Steve was.

He wondered if Steve had to jerk off with both hands, or if he could actually fit his fingers around that monster. Maybe. He had big hands. He could picture Steve teasing himself, getting even harder. God, what if he got bigger?

Tony's armor was starting to get more than a little uncomfortable in very delicate places. Trapped against the unyielding metal, Tony's cock ached and throbbed. Even so, he was glad for the armor. Steve couldn't see how much Tony was... moved.

Even more luckily, Steve couldn't see Tony's face.

It occurred to Tony, distantly, that he ought to say something. Steve clearly didn't even know he was naked.

"Uh," Tony said. His voice echoed, quiet and weak, within his helmet. "Steve? Pants?"

It occurred to Tony that maybe he also ought to stop staring at Steve's dick.

He watched Steve glance down at himself, and then blink, and then stare, goggling, wide-eyed. He did an actual double-take. It was comical, almost, like something out of an X-rated cartoon. Now they were both staring at Steve's enormous cock, at least. Tony wondered if this was one of those things that was going to be quaintly funny in retrospect. Right now surreally bizarre was winning, but unbelievably fucking hot was giving it a run for its money.

Tony could feel his face growing hot. This was getting more and more awkward by the second.

He waited for Steve to look away, to blush -- though honestly Tony wasn't sure if there was enough blood elsewhere in his body for him to be capable of that -- because if there was one thing that everyone who actually knew him knew about Steve, it was that he was awfully private when it came to matters of a more intimate nature. The Avengers' good-natured discussions about their love lives, depending on who was on the team, could get detailed -- could, in fact, get pretty goddamn raunchy -- and Tony knew a lot more about certain of his teammates' preferences than he had ever wanted to know... but not about Steve. Steve never joined in the oversharing games. As far as Tony knew, the only people who knew anything about what Steve did in bed were the women he dated. And there hadn't been all that many of those.

Oh, it wasn't like Tony hadn't imagined it, furtively and feverishly. But Steve had never said. And so, of course, now that such a personal subject was unavoidable, of course Steve was going to be embarrassed. For God's sake, Steve was standing here, naked, in the middle of the second-floor hallway, and he was hard enough to pound nails. This was the stuff a thousand humiliating nightmares were made of.

From downstairs, there was another crashing noise, this one even louder, and the mansion rattled around them as if they were in the midst of an earthquake.

With effort, Tony dragged his gaze up to Steve's face. Hesitation rippled across his features for an instant, and he glanced back longingly in the direction of his room, and Tony wondered if he was going to retreat. But then Steve's expression firmed, determined, and he clenched his jaw and lifted his head. Whatever Steve felt -- and he probably was embarrassed, he had to be -- he wasn't going to let it affect him.

"There's no time for pants," Steve said. His voice was perfectly calm, crisp, still commanding. "Not when the mansion's under attack. Come on!"

Well. Apparently Steve had bigger problems than his dick. Tony seriously admired his ability to compartmentalize.

Steve ran towards the stairs. Stunned, Tony followed, trying desperately not to think about how Steve's gorgeous ass was flexing as he moved, as he pushed forward with grace and smooth, confident balance. Tony felt like he was watching either a work of art come to life or the filthiest porn he'd ever seen, and he couldn't tell which. Maybe both. God, even from this side of him he could still see Steve's enormous dick, bouncing between his thighs as he ran.

Christ. Okay. Right. Wrecking Crew. Tony needed to focus.

Halfway down the spiral staircase, Tony found Clint in position, crouching, ducking back behind the curve of the staircase for cover as he reached for his quiver and grabbed another arrow. Clint glanced over at Steve, blinked once, and then went back to his bow, as if somehow Steve Rogers naked wasn't automatically the most interesting thing he'd ever seen in his entire life.

Tony supposed that not everyone could be madly in love with Steve.

"Well, this is different," Clint said, and then he followed it up with, "Hey, Tin Man, don't just stand there gawking. You're in my line of sight."

Act normal, Tony reminded himself. Be normal. They had a fight to win.

Once Steve had leaped clear of the stairs, Tony made his way down. He dragged his gaze away from Steve's perfect body and tried to take in the scene.

It was a mess. Furniture was ruined, tables broken, vases smashed. Pictures hung askew. The carpets were scorched. There were several man-sized holes in the drywall, and the plaster moldings were so much dust.

Thor and the Wrecker were tangling, crowbar versus hammer. Vance and Angel were taking on Piledriver. An arrow whizzed over Tony's shoulder and caromed off Bulldozer's armored head, uselessly. Wanda followed up Clint's arrow with a hex, and that at least made Bulldozer stagger.

And Steve, of course, went right for Thunderball, the guy with the giant demolition ball on a chain. The surprise of an unexpectedly naked Captain America bought Steve a second at most; Thunderball stared at him, but then quickly recovered, grinning a sinister grin and swinging the ball and chain over his head.

"Decided to make my job easy, huh?" Thunderball rasped. "You're usually in that nice reinforced uniform. You want to see how much this will hurt your bare flesh?" He sneered, his gaze traveling downward. "Seems to me like you got some parts you'd like to protect."

Hearing a line like that, literally any other man on the planet would have moved to protect his dick, first and foremost. Hell, Steve was holding a goddamn shield. But, Steve being Steve, he saw through the feint and just raised the shield high, like he wasn't completely naked, and he blocked the fall of the demolition ball with a low grunt of effort.

Steve probably sounded like that in bed, didn't he? Sex definitely needed some amount of physical exertion, and Tony had been fighting and training with Steve long enough that those noises were familiar. So he probably didn't sound very different, say, taking his cock in hand. Would he be showy? He couldn't not be, with a dick that size. Fucking his fist would have to be a production of its own. He'd probably try to hold off--

A hex flew by his ear in a blur of crimson magic that gave the suit sensors fits, and Tony ducked and swore. That was close. He'd almost been a casualty of friendly fire.

He needed to pay attention, was what he needed to do.

Thunderball drew back his weapon for another blow, and Tony was grateful that in here he didn't really have the clearance to get as dangerous as possible -- but that was going to change if he started breaking through the ceiling. And he was right; Steve was unprotected. He'd grabbed the prototype shield, the one he couldn't even throw safely. Tony couldn't be sure it was going to stand up to this.

Tony's heart was in his throat as Thunderball lashed out again--

--and Steve jumped backwards, nimble as always, and landed lightly. Tony was definitely not watching his dick bounce. Jesus, Steve was still hard. How was he still hard? Tony had to wonder, really, if that meant something about his stamina in bed--

Okay, no. He had to focus. After the battle was over, he could lock himself in his room and jerk off for hours, but right now he needed to fight. Steve needed backup.

Tony raised his hands and took a few steps, heading for Steve's side--

"Watch out!" Wanda yelled.

Tony was dimly aware of the warning. It had to be for someone else. Wanda was all the way on the other side of the room.

"Iron Man!" Thor roared. "Behind you!"

Too late, Tony charged his repulsors and started to turn. The last thing he saw was the Wrecker, a foot away from him, crowbar flashing out. There was a terrible ringing noise as the HUD went blank, and then the ringing was inside Tony's skull, and then there was only darkness.

"Shh," Steve said, from somewhere next to him. "Don't get up yet, okay?"

Tony struggled to open his eyes. When he did, he found that he was lying in the mansion infirmary. The world was fuzzy and warm and soft, red-tinged, like he'd been hit by one of Wanda's hexes. Steve was at his side, and there was a warm, strong hand bracing Tony's shoulder, stopping him from getting up. What the hell had happened?

And then it all came back. He remembered now. They'd been fighting the Wrecking Crew. Steve had been... naked.

Tony smiled dreamily in remembrance. That had been great.

His eyes finally focusing, Tony blinked and took a better look at Steve. Steve was wearing his entire uniform, not just the boots and gloves.

Steve was dressed now.

That was unfortunate.

"You're wearing pants," Tony informed him. His voice came out of him slightly slurred.

"Yeah, Tony." Steve's voice was fond and a little soft, like he was humoring him. "I thought that would be for the best." His hands gently nudged Tony back into the mattress. "You should lie back down. Hank McCoy came by to check on you, and Wanda put a healing hex on you. So you probably feel a little funny, but that concussion of yours is going to be gone in hours rather than weeks. You do need to stay still for it, though. Don't worry. You've got a hard head. You'll be fine." He smiled. Something about the smile was tired.

Tony squinted and tried to take all this in. His brain didn't seem to be working right. But Steve didn't seem worried. That was good. "Okay," Tony pronounced. Even saying that took a lot out of him. He wanted to go back to sleep.

He was very comfortable. He realized he was wearing the t-shirt and sweatpants he'd been wearing under the armor. Someone had taken him out of his armor at some point. He hoped it had been Steve.

"We got the Wrecking Crew," Steve told him. "It's taken care of. Everyone else is fine. You were the only casualty." He grimaced. "The foyer is a bit of a mess, but as far as we can tell, the mansion's still structurally sound. Damage Control is coming by in the morning. They weren't too pleased about me calling them in the middle of the night, but I figure that's why they earn the big bucks, right?"

The mention of morning tripped something in Tony's magic-fogged brain, a thin knife of worry slicing through the haze. Morning. Sleep. Was it nighttime? Steve needed to sleep. He'd woken Steve up, for the fight. No wonder Steve looked tired. Had Steve slept?

Tony glanced over at the chair Steve had been sitting in; he'd left a well-thumbed paperback book open face-down on the little table next to him. He'd clearly been reading.

"What time?" Tony forced out.

"What time is it now, you mean?" Steve asked. One of the reasons Tony loved him was because he always knew exactly what Tony meant. "It's just past four. There's nothing you need to be up for yet. Nothing you need to be up for at all until you feel better, okay? They told me you could go back to sleep if you wanted."

With effort, Tony reached out and got a hand on Steve's forearm. The leather of his gloves was cool and smooth under Tony's fingertips. "Did-- did you sleep? You need sleep."

Steve glanced away and back again. "I, uh," Steve said, abashed. "It's no big deal. I just. You were out cold and I wanted to-- well. I'm just glad you're okay."

"You should sleep," Tony told him. "And stay here. With me."

He yawned, and then the world went away again.

When Tony awoke again, the world was much clearer. Steve was standing next to the doorway like he'd only just come in, and Clint and Wanda were behind him, crowding in from the hallway.

Tony pushed himself up and squinted. Nothing was red anymore, and his head felt a little cottony, but everything was basically fine.

"See," Steve said to Clint, "I told you, he was going to be awake already." He turned back and smiled. "Hey, Tony. Doing better?"

Tony nodded. The movement didn't make his head want to fall off, so he was probably all healed. "Great, thanks." He glanced at Wanda. "And I hear I have Wanda to thank for it."

Wanda grinned, wide and pleased. "It was me and Beast, but you're welcome."

"Just don't make a habit of it," Steve added. It was his serious-team-leader voice, but his eyes were soft with concern.

"Okay," Tony said, looking between the three of them. "So what time is it now, and what have I missed?"

"It's ten," Steve said. "You haven't missed much. Damage Control hasn't been by yet. They should be here soon."

"You missed a team meeting," Wanda said.

Tony frowned. "It's not Saturday." He was pretty sure about that.

"It was a special meeting." Wanda looked away and bit her lip. "The captain wanted to... apologize to the rest of us. He was concerned about his, ahem. Attire. That it had been inappropriate, and that he had sexually harassed us."

Clint stuck his head around the edge of the doorframe.

"That he had sexually harassed us with his monster horse dick," Clint contributed, helpfully.

Tony had been doing so well not thinking about what was in Steve's pants, but, God, now he couldn't not think about it. It was like the advanced version of knowing that everybody was naked under their clothes. He knew that Steve was just standing right there, and in his pants there was his dick, and his dick was inhumanly massive, and Tony couldn't not know that.

He wondered if he was ever going to get a chance to see it again.

He'd gotten a concussion because he'd been thinking about Steve's dick, and the only thing he could think of now was that he wanted to see it again. God. There was really something wrong with him.

"Hawkeye." Steve's face was getting redder, like somehow the shame was finally hitting him. He hadn't blushed at all, before, but Tony supposed there was time for embarrassment now that it wasn't life-or-death stakes. "That is definitely inappropriate."

"I'm just saying," Clint said. "If I were packing that, I wouldn't be apologizing for anything. Ever."

Very purposefully, Wanda raised her foot and stepped on Clint's toes.


"Cut it out," Wanda said. "He doesn't want to talk about it." And then she linked her arm through Clint's and started to pull him away. "Come on, Clint. We have somewhere else to be, remember?"

"What do you mean?" Tony heard Clint asking, as Wanda hauled him away. "We don't have anywhere to--"

"They need to talk," Wanda said, and that was the last thing Tony heard.

Steve's cheeks were still a little pink, and he dragged his hand over his face and sighed, like he was trying for composure and couldn't find it.

"I am sorry, you know," Steve said. The words were quiet. "I really didn't mean for... that... to happen, last night, and I hope you can forgive me."

Tony guessed that was a no on him getting to see Steve's dick again.

"It's not a problem," Tony said. He made himself smile. "It was an accident, and no one holds it against you. I certainly don't. And, hell, if that had been the worst thing that had ever happened to us, we'd be lucky." He smiled wider, trying to put Steve at ease; Steve smiled weakly back. "Besides, you've already seen me in a thong. Sometimes these things just happen when you're an Avenger, right?"

Steve snorted, the tiniest of laughs. "Okay. If you're sure you're okay with it."

"I am a hundred percent okay with it," Tony said, which was true, albeit not in the way Steve thought it was. "It's over. Done. Forgotten."

Okay, the forgotten part was definitely not true.

The computer panel on the wall flashed. Someone was at the front door, or what was left of it.

Steve glanced over. "That's probably Damage Control."

"I've got this," Tony said, and he slid off the bed and stood up. "No rest for the wicked, right?"

"Right," Steve echoed, a little dubiously. He hooked a thumb into his belt and stepped back.

Tony kept his gaze above Steve's waist, tried not to watch Steve's gloved fingers spread over his thigh, and thought that wicked was the least of the words that he deserved right now.

He couldn't stop thinking about it.

He'd see Steve in the hallway, or supervising the repairs with Damage Control, or in the kitchen for breakfast, or downstairs while he was working on fixing Vision up, or at the head of the table in the briefing room, and Tony's instant, immediate thought was Steve has an enormous dick. Ten years of steadfast friendship, of teamwork, of camaraderie, and Tony's idiotic, puerile, one-track mind had reduced it to this. And Tony smiled and nodded and his mouth said all the right things, all the normal things, but in his head was a pounding drumbeat, a solitary note: dick dick dick.

A week passed.

Every time he caught sight of Steve, desire and low-grade terror coiled together in his gut. Dick dick dick. He was hyperaware of where he was looking when Steve was in the room, trying to keep his eyes away from anywhere lower, trying to remember to make normal eye contact so Steve wouldn't think he was completely crazy. He rehearsed what he was going to say to Steve two or three times before he said it. What if one of these times he opened his mouth, what he was actually thinking came out? It was like some kind of Pandora's box. A Pandora's box of dick. It would have been funny if it hadn't been so goddamn awful. Tony couldn't even say it would be funny if it had happened to anyone else, because he wouldn't want anyone else to go through this. It would be funny if it happened in a book, maybe. To a fictional character.

Two weeks passed.

When he shut his eyes, Steve's huge dick haunted him, a ghostly afterimage. When he went to bed, he wondered if Steve was in his room, touching himself. Sexual frustration had become the background radiation of Tony's life. At this point, the supervillains -- not that there were that many -- were almost a welcome reprieve.

So Tony was lying here, in the middle of another lonely and sleepless night, his hands determinedly clutching the edge of his sheets while his cock throbbed in frustrated arousal. He'd be damned if he was going to lie here and jerk off thinking about Steve's dick. He already tried not to think about real people, people he knew, and this would be so much worse; he knew Steve hadn't liked that it had happened, had been ashamed, hadn't wanted Tony to know. How could he even think of using the unwillingly-given memory of one of his best friends to get himself off?

This needed to stop.

And it wasn't like Tony's life wasn't stressful enough right now. He didn't need this, on top of everything else. The world had thought the Avengers had been dead for a whole year, and that meant Tony was trying to pull himself together and put together a whole new company out of the ashes. Stark Solutions was in a precarious state, his cousin Morgan was waiting to pounce on any sign of corporate weakness like a circling vulture, and there were at least three different people trying to kill him -- or maybe Iron Man, he hadn't decided. He was barely getting any sleep anyway. This obsession wasn't helping.

On the occasions he saw Steve, it honestly didn't look like Steve was doing any better. The Sensational Hydra had manipulated his public image to try to cause a Skrull invasion panic in Steve's name, and that was the kind of thing that was guaranteed to give any superhero nightmares. And, for God's sake, Steve had lost his shield. Everyone knew how he felt about that. The guy was miserable, and he looked just as exhausted as Tony.

So Tony most definitely should not lie here and jerk off to thoughts of Steve's amazingly huge dick. There were so many reasons this was a bad idea.

On the other hand, Steve wasn't ever going to know, was he?

Tony was under a lot of pressure. This was nature's stress relief. Steve couldn't begrudge him that. He could almost imagine Steve telling him so, blue eyes huge and pale and earnest. His fantasies were just fantasies, Steve might say, and they couldn't hurt anyone in the privacy of his own mind. Steve would probably be glad that he was taking care of his needs; he knew Steve hated to see any of the team suffering. Besides, forbidding himself the indulgence was probably making it worse. He just needed to get it out of his system. Then everything could go back to normal.

Okay, Tony told himself. Just once.

He was already sliding his hand under the covers, smoothing his palm over his stomach, easing his cock out of his boxers. It fit neatly in his hand, the way Steve's cock wouldn't. He could feel his cock twitch and throb at that, leaking pre-come, and he cradled it gently against his fingers. He wanted to take his time with this. If he was only going to let himself do this once, he wanted to make it count.

His mind was already calling up the well-worn memory, his new obsession, the sight of Steve's cock as he'd stood there in front of him. He wasn't desperate enough to pull the armor's onboard visual logs. That would have been invasive. This was enough. In his memory Steve's size wasn't incongruous anymore. It wasn't unusual. It was just the way Steve looked. Peak human in every dimension. It suited him, really, when Tony thought about it like that.

Oh, it wasn't like he hadn't known Steve was big. Back in the days when Tony had had a hand in designing all the uniforms, he'd been aware that Steve's gear was... generously cut. And, sure, even when Steve was wearing clothes, it was pretty obvious he had something going on. So Tony had known he was big. That wasn't a secret. It was just that in Tony's experience, guys who were big when they weren't hard tended not to get much bigger. But apparently in this as in so many other ways, Steve was an exception to the rule. He was big, and he got gigantic.

Tony licked his lips. He let his fingers travel lightly up the shaft of his cock, sliding over the head, so sensitive that he gasped in the silent darkness. Steve was uncut, of course, so he was probably ridiculously sensitive. If Steve let Tony touch him, he'd have to be gentle, more gentle than he was with himself. He imagined wrapping his hand around Steve's cock -- God, it would probably take both hands, and that thought made him groan aloud -- and sliding his fingers around Steve's huge girth, up and down, teasing the foreskin over the massive head.

The funny thing was, before two weeks ago, Tony wouldn't have said that he had any kind of size kink. For him, sex was generally pretty great no matter what, and if he happened to be with a guy, it didn't so much matter how much he had to work with. It wasn't like anybody could help what they were born with. So some guys were small, and that was fine, and average was fine too, and large was great, sure, but not having it wasn't a deal-breaker. He'd been with a couple guys who'd been impressively well-hung, a size Tony would have described as maybe you ought to consider a career in porn. And honestly, neither of them had been particularly good in bed; it was like they'd expected the fact that they were amply endowed to make up for any other personal deficit.

Then there was Steve. Steve was so far off the edge of the normal distribution that there weren't even words for it. This wasn't large. This wasn't even extra-large. This was are you sure that belongs on a human? But Steve wasn't your ordinary guy with a big dick. He wouldn't be like the others. Steve was Steve, so Tony already knew what Steve would be like in bed. He'd be caring. He'd be kind. He'd want to make sure his partner was having a good time, above all else. And he'd let his partner touch him all they wanted if that was what made them happy. And, honestly, whatever size Steve was was fine by Tony, because, well... he was Steve.

So, no, Tony didn't have a size kink. He had a Steve kink. Which was unfortunate, because that one was unfulfillable.

Steve was straight, of course Steve was straight, but here in Tony's head, he didn't have to be. He'd look at Tony the way he had once looked at Peggy or Bernie or Sharon. Steve would smile, rapt, joyful, and he'd watch Tony's hands on him. Just like that, Steve would say, his voice warm, brimming with praise, and he'd moan, low and wanton, and he'd push himself up against Tony, easy and trusting, and he'd let Tony take him apart.

Alone in his bed, Tony groaned and squeezed his cock a little tighter. He slid his other hand underneath the covers to roll his balls in his palm, just the way he liked. Did Steve like that? Probably. His balls were just as big as the rest of him. But Steve had big hands. Everything was proportional. If Steve got his hands on Tony he'd probably make him feel small in comparison--

Tony's cock jumped in his hand and, oh fuck, something about that thought was really doing it for him. It wasn't so much the idea of being made smaller, but that Steve could just have him, that Steve could encompass him, that there was so much of Steve that Tony could have all he wanted and still not have all of him. Could he fit Steve's cock in his mouth? Would Steve let him try?

He'd definitely want to try. Tony was half-conscious of his mouth falling open, his body supplying the sensation of other blowjobs, the weight and heft of another man's cock on his tongue. And with Steve there would always be more, more, more. Steve's cock would stretch his mouth wide, that was for sure. He imagined Steve watching, and his hand on himself sped up, hips hitching as he rose up, as he fucked his fist, needy and greedy and lonely.

Would Steve fuck him?

The very thought of it, drifting through Tony's head, was so incredibly hot that he had to stop and back off, panting. He wanted this to last a little longer. He hadn't done that -- well, not with anything other than toys -- in a couple years, but, Jesus, with Steve it would be amazing. Steve was so huge, but he would go slow, go easy, and he'd work Tony open before sliding into him with his enormous cock, filling him up more than anyone else ever could. Oh-- oh God--

So much for making this last. Tony's hand was tight over his cock, just where he needed it, thumb swiping up and over the head. Blindly, needing something, anything, he slid his other hand back and down, fingers sliding into the cleft of his ass. He was dry, of course, too desperate to stop for lube, so this was as far as he was getting, but it was enough. He smoothed two fingers over his hole, clenched and flexed and clenched again -- God, that always felt so good, even just touching himself there -- and a hot spiral of sensation flashed up within him, from his ass to his balls to his cock, and he shut his eyes and imagined it was Steve's hand, Steve's cock, and he trembled and shuddered and came, blissful release racking his body.

The image of Steve's cock still danced behind Tony's closed eyelids, and he sighed and breathed out and enjoyed a good three seconds of peace before reality came crashing down on him.

What had he done? Panic settled into him. He'd lain here and he'd thought about Steve and he'd jerked off and it hadn't helped, it wasn't going to help, because he still wanted Steve.

And Steve wasn't going to fuck him. Steve was straight. If Steve was going to fuck anyone it was probably going to be Sharon, because it was always Sharon. Tony supposed they made it work somehow. It was probably a little tricky for Steve to find someone who could take him, at his size, but he must have managed. Maybe that was why he always kept getting back together with Sharon. Maybe that was what did it for her: Steve and his enormous dick.

Maybe Tony also had a size kink after all.

He sighed, and he threw his arm over his face like it could block out the images in his head. Steve wasn't for him, Steve wasn't ever going to be for him, and that was just the way it was.

This had been a terrible idea. And he still couldn't stop thinking about Steve's dick.

Chapter Text

Tony was now thinking about Steve's dick at an ever-increasing frequency, but he could come up with a new plan. He was a genius. He could regroup. Try something new. Wasn't that what he was already doing in the rest of his life?

Letting himself indulge in thoughts of Steve's dick clearly hadn't worked, so obviously the other path was desensitization. He'd been spending less time than usual with Steve since the incident, trying to avoid any embarrassing mishaps of his own, but what if that hadn't been the way to go? Maybe he just needed to man up and make a point of treating Steve the exact same way he'd always treated him. Then he'd remember how to set aside this hopeless infatuation. It wasn't like the hopeless infatuation was new, either; he'd had plenty of practice sublimating it. But it felt like it had never been this bad before, not even in the beginning when Steve had been so bright and dazzling that looking at him had felt like staring at the sun. Still, he'd managed to push it aside before. He could do it again. He just needed to try harder.

Tony implemented Operation Act Completely Naturally Around Steve the next evening. Laptop tucked under one arm, he made his way downstairs to the library where Steve -- as Tony had thought he might be -- had commandeered one of the larger tables, papers spread out in front of him. His cowl was pulled back, and he had his feet up on the chair next to him as he stared at the table, lost in thought. Tony recognized the sketches of tactical maps, with little torn bits of paper for each Avenger, that he'd move around until he thought of a strategy he wanted to try. Steve usually liked to work in paper for this part, although Tony had offered him a computer more than once.

Steve blinked and looked up when Tony shut the library door behind him. "Oh, hey," Steve said, smiling a warm, easy smile. He still looked tired, about as tired as Tony felt, but he was clearly putting on a brave face for Tony. "I haven't seen you down here in a few days. I was beginning to worry that the corporate world had eaten you alive."

"Not yet," Tony said, smiling back in what he hoped was his best impersonation of a man who had definitely not jerked off to thoughts of Steve's dick last night, "but they're trying." He set the laptop down on the side of the table Steve wasn't using, and he took a seat across from him. "I've just got a bit more work left tonight. Starkware's got that new web browser, WebVoyager, and we're looking at another release already. I wanted to review the QA reports."

Steve's smile went a little distant then, the politely-encouraging smile he gave Tony when he didn't exactly understand the details. "Well, it sounds important and all," he said, "but I hope you finish soon. You look like you could do with some sleep. Maybe a vacation."

Tony snorted. "I wish. That last trip to the Caribbean didn't work out so well for me."

Steve's grin now was the sympathetic smile that only a fellow superhero could have given him. Only another Avenger could understand that when you tried to go on anything remotely resembling a vacation, chaos tended to follow in your wake.

"Isla Suerte?" Steve asked. "I heard about that one."

It had been supposed to be easy -- so many of Tony's most terrible stories started with those words. Tony's visit to Isla Suerte had been intended to herald the official unveiling of the new browser and of Starkware itself, a joint venture between Stark Solutions and Stark-Fujikawa. They'd flown a bunch of journalists in. Tony had given a presentation. It had been supposed to be an easy weekend of shaking hands, of wining and dining the tech industry. The worst thing Tony had been planning on doing had been figuring out how to avoid Sunset Bain. Of course, it hadn't turned out that way.

"I fought Firebrand inside an active volcano," Tony said, mournfully.

The corners of Steve's mouth turned up, a wry smile. Yep, Steve knew exactly what he was talking about. "Welcome to life with the Avengers."

"I've been here longer than you," Tony pointed out, hoping the observation didn't sound unkind.

"Yeah, you have," Steve said, "and you used to know how to take a leave of absence when you needed one."

The back of Tony's neck prickled. His stomach twisted into a knot. God, what if Steve had noticed the way he was acting? What if Steve had figured it all out? What if this was Steve's way of saying he wanted him off the team, oh God oh God--

"If you're saying you want to scratch me from the team--" Tony began.

Steve flung up a hand to stop him. His mouth twisted in a pained grimace. "No, no, of course not!" Steve blurted out, hastily, and then he seemed to be at a loss entirely. The sound he made was a quiet, hapless sort of laugh. "I'm just so tired these days, I suppose, what with the Capmania and my shield and everything. It feels like half of what I say isn't coming out right, you know?" He paused, took a breath, seemed to regroup. "There's no one I'd rather have at my side than you. But I see you running yourself ragged these days, and I just worry about you, Tony. I want you to take care of yourself."

Some imp of the perverse, some terrifying impulse within Tony, made him contemplate opening his mouth and saying you should have seen how I took care of myself last night.

He wondered if this was what going insane felt like.

Yeah, it didn't look like spending more time around Steve was going to fix this, because he still couldn't stop thinking about Steve and his enormous dick, his dick that was right there. Steve was only a few feet away from Tony. Tony could practically touch him. Steve would never want him to.

"I'm fine," Tony said, and it was obviously a lie, but as long as Steve didn't know exactly why it was a lie, he was going to be okay.

And Steve knew it was a lie, because for an instant his face twisted with concern. He sighed, sat back, smiled half a smile. "So, you seeing anyone lately?"

If Tony's heart were still injured, he was pretty sure he would have had a goddamn heart attack. Steve didn't-- Steve couldn't-- he was just being friendly. He was being nice. He didn't mean it like Tony wanted him to mean it.

"What?" Tony managed, and he hoped he didn't sound too strained.

"You know," Steve said. "Just wondering if you were sweet on some gal." He grinned, the way he always did when he played up his old accent just for Tony. Tony was clearly meant to be at ease. It wasn't a come-on.

"No," Tony said, making himself breathe out, making himself relax. "No gal." Just you. "Why do you ask?"

What if he'd noticed after all--

Steve shrugged. "No reason," he said, easy and earnest, the way he said everything. "It's just that... you're happy when you've got someone." He glanced away, didn't quite meet Tony's eyes. "I like seeing you happy, you know?"

Breathe, he told himself. In. Out. See, it had been an innocent question. Steve didn't know. It was going to be okay.

He needed to say something normal. Natural. He needed Steve not to suspect anything.

"Well," Tony allowed, and he smiled a hint of the smile he used for the magazines. He was the billionaire industrialist playboy Tony Stark, wearing the mask that wasn't made of metal. "There was this woman I met on Isla Suerte--"

"Ha!" Steve's eyes were alight. "I knew it!"

"Her name was Rumiko," Tony said. "She was actually Kenjiro Fujikawa's granddaughter, if you can believe that, and we really hit it off. She was amazing." They'd gone walking along the beach together. He'd been smitten. Of course he'd been smitten. He was always smitten. He sighed. "But it would never have worked out. She didn't know I was Iron Man, and I had to be two people with her, and that wasn't enough for her, you know? I couldn't commit to her. She wanted more. She wanted something serious. She wanted something I wasn't able to give."

"Oh," Steve said, and something in his gaze was unaccountably sad and faraway. Tony guessed he honestly felt bad for him. "I'm sorry to hear that."

"It's okay." Tony felt his mouth curve in a smile he hoped was reassuring. "I'll be fine."

There were plenty of other people in the world, after all. And maybe one of them could help him get over his obsession with Steve's dick. He wasn't going to be able to find anyone as well-endowed as Steve, sure, but maybe a guy, maybe a nice buff blond guy, maybe a guy with a smile as sweet as Steve's-- no, he couldn't let himself think about Steve, not when Steve was right here--

He had to change the subject. Deflect. Something.

"How about you, then?" Tony asked. "You and Sharon getting back together yet?"

Steve winced, actually winced, and Tony instantly regretted the question.

"Not this time," Steve said. His gaze was unfocused; he was looking somewhere over Tony's shoulder, somewhere that wasn't here, and his eyes were clouded with remembered pain. "Not ever, I'm thinking."

"That's too bad," Tony said, even as a terrible, horrible part of his brain said at least he's single. Tony shoved that thought away as far as it would go. Steve deserved to be happy. Steve deserved to be in love. He didn't want Steve to be sad. Jesus.

"Eh." Steve's shoulders moved in a halfhearted shrug. "We're better as friends. Better as teammates. We weren't really... compatible."

Maybe on another day that sentence would have passed Tony by. Maybe it wouldn't have struck him as anything unusual. Maybe, on an ordinary day, Tony would just have taken it in stride and moved on, offered Steve his sympathy, found something else to say. But Tony had been thinking about Steve and Steve's goddamn monster cock for the past two weeks and there was nothing he could think of when Steve said compatible but Steve's sex life. Physical compatibility. Steve's cock. The thought was all-consuming and right there and Tony was on the edge and... he slipped.

"Was it," Tony started to say, and then, horrified, he stopped, half-raising his hand toward his mouth like he could take the words away.

It was too late.

Steve blinked at the interruption. He was focusing on Tony now. "Was it what?"

"Uh," Tony said. His face was hot. "Nothing. Never mind."

"No, no," Steve said, the words a gentle nudge. "What were you going to say? I want to know."

"No, you don't," Tony said, way too fast, which was the wrong move, because that meant Steve wasn't going to drop it now.

Confused, Steve squinted a little. "Sure I do."

"You don't," Tony repeated.

"It's all right," Steve said, and his voice was infused with that warm, friendly tone of his that Tony loved so much, the tone that said everything was going to be okay, the tone that always got Tony believing him. "It was just a break-up. It's hardly classified information. I don't mind talking about it. Especially with you. You're my friend."

That was it. He had to say it now. Maybe that was what would make it all stop eating at him.

"I was just wondering," Tony said, the words coming out of him slow and hesitant, "if when you said you weren't compatible, you meant." He couldn't say it. He gestured vaguely in the direction of his lap. "You know. That."

He couldn't look up.

There was no sound in the room.

He squeezed his eyes shut, opened them again, and made himself lift his head. Steve was staring at him, incredulous, and there were bright spots of color high in his cheeks.

"Are you asking me," Steve said, each word exquisitely precise, "if we broke up because of my dick?"

"I, uh," Tony said. "Maybe?" And because, for some godforsaken reason, he didn't know when to shut up, words were just spilling out of him, everything pent-up within him, everything he hadn't been able to say for the past two weeks. "It's just that you seemed, uh. Pretty well-endowed. And I was just wondering if. If it was ever a problem when you were with. Uh."

Thankfully, Steve put him out of his misery. "I appreciate the concern," he said, though his face was getting redder. This was clearly the most awkward conversation of Steve's life, and it was all Tony's fault that they were having it. He knew Steve never wanted to talk about his sex life. Why hadn't he just kept his mouth shut? "But, no, I was talking about... emotional compatibility." The words were terse, tense. He was irritated. He didn't want to talk about it. Of course he didn't. If he'd ever wanted to talk about his unbelievably gigantic cock with Tony, he'd had ten whole years to bring up the topic, and he hadn't.

"Oh," Tony said. He felt like a goddamn idiot. "Right. Okay. Sorry."

When Tony could meet Steve's eyes again, he could see that Steve was trying to smile, but the smile was wavering. "Really, I do okay for myself," Steve said, haltingly, like he'd never had to say this before. He probably hadn't. But he was gaining confidence as he went on, his voice growing a bit bolder. "There are a lot of ways to show your partner a good time that don't involve penetrating them, you know?" He bit his lip. "Kind of figured you knew all about that."

Tony nodded in agreement. And then what Steve had actually said sank in. He'd said he had ways to make his partner happy without penetration. He hadn't denied Tony's premise. He hadn't told him that actually they still made it work somehow. He'd told him, in fact, that he didn't do that. At all.

Holy shit.

Maybe Steve didn't because he couldn't.

That was-- well, that was kind of tragic, and kind of unbelievable, but as Tony considered it, it sounded more and more likely. Jesus. The poor guy. It hadn't even occurred to Tony, in all these days -- hell, all these years -- of hazy lust imagining the possibility of Steve giving it to him hard, that maybe Steve just couldn't, and he felt lower than dirt.

"You don't fuck people," Tony ventured, just to check.

Steve shook his head, the movement like a tremor. Now he was the one who couldn't meet Tony's eyes.

"You can't," Tony said. It was all becoming horribly clear. "You can't, can you?"

Steve glanced down and away and he didn't look back again. He shifted in his seat. "Maybe I could have, before Rebirth," he said, almost too quietly to hear. "I was... smaller, back then. But no one wanted me. So I'll never know." He laughed a little, a sad sound. "And then Rebirth happened, and... everything grew." He gestured down at himself, the way Tony had. "And then people wanted me. But I couldn't. Not like that. I tried. It doesn't fit."

God. Well, that explained why Steve never talked about his sex life when the rest of the team decided to share theirs. Of course he didn't want to talk about this. How could he?

Tony realized what Steve's words actually meant. "You've never," he said, slowly. "You've never done it."

Steve lifted his head and gave him a wan half-smile. "Nope."

"Wow." The word fell out of Tony's mouth without conscious volition. His brain was still processing, trying to fit this all together. His unruly, lustful mind had spent the past two weeks dreaming up -- and trying not to dream up -- luridly pornographic scenarios, all the ways Steve could put his prodigiously-endowed body to use, and it turned out-- "You're a virgin."

Steve's eyes narrowed, and his face went hard in the precise way that Tony recognized as a prelude to a fight. His head lifted, chin up, like he'd brought one of his Captain America speeches for the occasion. "First," Steve said, his words laced with tension, daring Tony to call him on it, "there are a whole lot of sex acts other than that one, and it's unfairly privileging to say--"

Tony raised his hands in hurried concession. "Okay, okay. I know. You're right. That's fair. I'm sorry." He knew he'd put it badly. Steve clearly objected to being called a virgin. "It's just-- it's one hell of a sex act, you know?"

The fight went out of Steve then, and he almost seemed to slump. "I wouldn't know." Steve said, with a rueful smile.

And then Steve... just shrugged, like he didn't care one way or the other.

A fervor rose up within Tony, a fervor that was about one part sexual frustration and three parts righteous indignation. Steve couldn't just not care.

Sure, it wasn't like Tony's sex life, such as it was, always included actual penetration, but not even having the option felt devastatingly sad, an intimacy denied, a door closed forever. Tony knew this from bitter experience. After the shrapnel, when he'd had to wear the chestplate full-time, his romantic encounters had been of necessity circumscribed: he could only do anything he didn't have to take his shirt off for, and it was better if his partner didn't get too curious about touching him. A different man might have been more crass, more crude, in describing the disappointment. He couldn't get his dick wet, such a man might have said. But it wasn't about that. When he hadn't been able to do that, he'd been so lonely, so isolated. It wasn't even about the physical pleasure, really, for Tony. It was about intimacy, about being as close to someone as you could be, so close that you were inside them. It was as near as two people could get to being one person, to never being alone again.

It was like flying. They were both experiences that nothing else could compare to.

Steve was never going to know what it was like.

And Tony knew Steve. And he knew that when it came to anything, anything other than this, Steve never gave up. He never let anything stop him. His was the ultimate story of determination: rejected by the Army so many times, but finally his persistence had paid off, and he'd become Captain America. So where was his anger, his drive, his zeal now? Why had he stopped?

"You're not even curious?" Tony asked, half in disbelief. He knew Steve didn't want him to press the point, but... how could he not care?

Steve tapped his fingers on the table, looking down at his hands like they were the most fascinating sight on Earth. His little tactical pieces of paper were all in disarray. "Like I said," Steve murmured, "I think I do all right. Even if I can't... make love the way you might expect, I don't leave my partners unsatisfied."

Tony put aside the all-too-tempting thought of Steve satisfying him and focused on the content. Steve was still talking about it like it was some kind of favor for someone else. Like maybe he didn't think he should want it.

"I don't mean for them," Tony said. "I mean for you. It's okay to want something for yourself once in a while. Pleasure is a good thing. It's not being selfish," he said, and Steve's head snapped up, his face a study in guilty recognition, and that's when Tony knew he'd hit upon the heart of it. "It's okay if you're curious," Tony murmured. "It's not a crime. It's natural to want to feel good."

Steve paused for long, agonizing seconds, and there was a sadness now in his eyes, flickering for an instant, and then gone. "It doesn't matter whether I want it," Steve said. "I can't have it." And then he just shrugged again. "I know you think I'm crazy for not caring about it. But I've never done it. So to me it's not really that important. You can't miss what you've never had, you know?"

"But if you could," Tony pressed, "if you could, would you want to?" There couldn't be something that Steve Rogers had given up about. It just seemed intrinsically wrong.

Steve's eyes flashed, dark, dismayed. "There's no point in thinking about it."

That wasn't the face of someone who didn't care. That was the face of someone who'd tried to stop hoping for it. That was the face of someone who'd wanted it. It had been important to him, once. It was still important.

"But would you?"

Steve sighed, a heavy sound. "Honestly?" he asked. "I mean, yeah, of course, I want to know what it's like." The admission seemed to weigh him down even more. His smile was sad and crooked, a jagged slash of a knife wound. "But it's not possible. I already know it can't happen. It won't work. So I'm not about to ask anyone to try, you know? There's no way anyone can help me."

He couldn't just leave Steve like this. He had to do something. He had to--

He could help.

The fantasies that had plagued Tony slid into his mind again, the thought of Steve atop him, inside him, pounding into him, head thrown back, face contorted in ecstasy. But now the ideas had a new focus. Steve had never done that. Steve had never felt that. It was a wrong that needed to be righted. He could give Steve that, couldn't he? He could do that for Steve. He could sure as hell try.

It wouldn't be about him, Tony told himself, firmly. His feelings didn't matter. He'd do it for Steve. He could give Steve this experience. He was a genius. There had to be a way to make it work. He'd figure out how, and he'd make it happen. Steve deserved it. Steve deserved all the happiness in the world. He could make Steve's dream come true.

It was kind of like being a superhero, really: if you knew you could help someone, didn't you owe it to the world to try?

Of course, there was the matter of asking Steve. But Tony had never been one to shy from danger, and it wasn't like this conversation could get any more personal.

He could do this, he told himself. It was just a question. He could ask. He could be brave.

He swallowed hard. His pulse pounded dizzily in his ears. He licked his lips. He opened his mouth. "You ever thought that someone might offer?"

"Not really." Steve was looking off into the distance again, frowning; he'd heard the words, but he was still twisted up in his own sadness, and he hadn't been listening to what Tony had actually meant by them. "I can't imagine it's something anyone would want to--"

Steve stopped dead and his eyes went wide. Yeah, he got it now.

"Tony?" Steve asked, in a small, tiny voice, quavering with disbelief and something that Tony desperately wanted to call hope. "Tony, what are you--"

"I'm just saying." Tony's palms were sweating. He tried to smile. "Maybe I could help you out with that."

Flirting ought to have been as natural as breathing; it felt like he was being held underwater, drowning. Waiting against the wall for the firing squad.

Steve stared at him, dazed, incredulous. His gaze wasn't quite tracking. His mouth had fallen open. Tony watched Steve try to pull himself together, gather himself up, sit up straighter. Steve's hands, still resting on the table, were trembling.

"You're saying," Steve said, low and even, "that you're offering to sleep with me. You'd... let me try to make love to you." His voice started to shake halfway through the last sentence. He sounded like he was expecting there was a mistake somewhere. That Tony hadn't possibly meant it. That Tony had been talking about finding him a woman. He was saying it like he thought if he just laid out his understanding of events, Tony would take this opportunity to contradict him.

Not trusting himself to speak, Tony just nodded.

This was where Steve was going to say I'm sorry, Tony, but you know I'm straight. It was good of you to offer, but I'm not interested. Thank you, though. He'd be polite. Apologetic. Tony knew just how he would sound, soft and gentle. Tony knew how he would look, his handsome face downcast into lines of regret.

Steve's throat worked as he swallowed, and then his head lowered; he was staring, unseeing, at the papers in front of him, shoulders hunched in what looked like shame. "Is this because you feel sorry for me?" he asked, so quietly that Tony had to strain to hear him. Steve shut his eyes. "Because I-- I don't need it to live, I really don't. I've been fine so far. And I know how kind you are, Tony. I know how generous you've always been to me. But if this is some sort of act of charity, then I-- I-- I'd rather not." He opened his eyes and looked up. He didn't look regretful. He looked desperately hopeful.

That... didn't sound like a no.

Steve wanted to fuck him. Steve wanted to fuck him. Oh God. This was every one of Tony's fantasies for the past decade made real.

Tony couldn't quite remember how to breathe. Steve wanted him.

Okay, so Steve also thought he might be Tony's pity fuck. On the one hand, the idea of Steve, of all people, thinking he could be anyone's pity fuck -- much less Tony's -- was so outrageous as to be nearly unbelievable. On the other hand, until recently, Tony wouldn't have believed Steve's dick is so huge that he's still a virgin, or, even more recently, Steve wants to fuck me, so he supposed he shouldn't rule anything out.

"It's not pity," Tony said, and then he was brought up short because he couldn't say what it was, because it was I've been hopelessly in love with you for a decade. And there was no way he was ever telling Steve that.

Steve visibly brightened. "It's not pity?" he echoed.

"I promise it's not," Tony said. He took a breath. He was a businessman, and this was the biggest sales pitch of his goddamn life. "You're my friend. You're one of my best friends. And, sure, I won't deny that it makes me sad to know that you've... missed out on this experience. But it's more than that. I think you know me well enough to know that I wouldn't do this with just anyone. And I've always wanted to help you out however I could. You know that." He felt a nervous smile spread across his face. "I just-- I think I could show you a good time, you know? I'd like to be the one to try, if you'd let me."

He exhaled hard. He waited. He felt like I'M IN LOVE WITH YOU was blaring in neon across his forehead, a message that Steve couldn't avoid if he tried.

But Steve must not have noticed. Steve was still trembling. He let out a shaky breath of his own. "Okay," he said. "Okay." He laughed, a small sound, dazed and dizzy. "About that." He met Tony's gaze again; his stare was deadly serious. "I know you don't like failure, but I think you're going to want to prepare for the possibility -- the probability -- that this won't work." There was steel in his gaze. "And I know what you're like about pain, Tony, which is why I'm telling you right now that if you try to hide that you're in pain, this stops. All of it. Immediately." His face twisted, anguished. "I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I hurt you. So when it starts hurting, you tell me. Okay?"

"Okay," Tony agreed. He got that. He knew all about self-sacrifice, all right -- and it was pretty obvious that it would kill Steve if he tried it. But because he couldn't ever resist a challenge, he added, "It's going to work, though. Come on, Winghead. You know me." He made himself smile. "I'm a genius."

He was going to make it work. Somehow. He could succeed where others had failed. He could find a way. He just needed to apply himself. It was an engineering problem, at its heart: how to fit Steve's cock into his ass. And he was nothing if not a world-class engineer, a professional problem-solver.

Steve frowned. "I know you're a genius, but how is that going to help?"

"You'll see," Tony assured him. "I have a plan."

He expected Steve to look doubtful, to sit back, to raise a skeptical eyebrow. Instead, Steve leaned forward and asked, almost breathlessly, "Really?"

God. Steve was into this. Steve wanted this. Steve wanted him.

Of course Steve wanted this, Tony reminded himself. The poor guy wanted to get laid. It wasn't personal. Tony was just the guy who'd offered. He had to remember that. Steve didn't really want him.

He pushed back the old memories, the well-worn spirals of thought, fragmented images of his screwed-up childhood. Steve couldn't love him because no one ever really did, not the people he most wanted to, and Steve had topped that list for years. People didn't love him. He'd learned that lesson early on. He wasn't supposed to need them to, either. Come on, boy, said the echoing whisper of his father's voice. Be a real man. Don't be weak, boy.

"I definitely have a plan," Tony lied. He glanced around the room. The shelves full of books provided no helpful answers. What the hell was he going to do? "I, uh. Maybe we could move the next phase of this to somewhere more private? I don't think the library is really the ideal place--"

Steve bounded to his feet. Geez, he was excited. And why shouldn't he have been? Tony wished he could feel something as uncomplicated as simple, joyful excitement. He had to figure out what to do. He stood up. Nothing occurred to him.

"Sure thing!" Steve said. "You can come up to my room." And then he stopped, and blinked, and looked at the table, his features wreathed in regret, and surely this was going to be the moment when he called a halt to the proceedings, before they had even begun? "But what about your work?" He was frowning at Tony's laptop. "Didn't you say you had something to do?"

Tony wanted to laugh. God. Of all the things to worry about. Like Tony was ever going to be able to focus now. "I'll come back for it later," Tony told him. "I've got time."

What was he going to do about Steve?

He'd think of something on the way. He had to.

Steve opened the door, and Tony followed him out.

He didn't have a plan.

As they made their way across the newly-reconstructed first floor and up to the second where the bedrooms were, all Tony could think was oh my God, I'm going to have sex with Steve. This was really happening. He wasn't dreaming. He had asked Steve, and Steve had said yes, and they were going upstairs to Steve's room -- Steve's room! -- and they were going to have sex.

Granted, they were probably going to fail miserably at having sex, but Tony wasn't going to let that get to him. At least he'd have had this, just once. He just needed to come up with some kind of strategy that sounded plausible, something that would convince Steve that this wasn't a pretext and Tony wasn't just here because, well, he desperately wanted to sleep with Steve and it didn't really matter to him how they did it.

That wasn't exactly true; he did honestly want to help Steve out with his problem. It was just that his motives were far from pure, and the task was probably impossible.

Tony was grateful that they didn't see any of the rest of the Avengers on the way up. He didn't want to explain this. The neon sign on his forehead had probably changed to I'M GOING TO HAVE SEX WITH STEVE. Everyone would know. Never mind that it wasn't out of the ordinary for him and Steve to visit each other in their rooms. Somehow everyone would look at them and just know.

They took the stairs to the second floor. Steve's room was a few steps away. And then Steve opened the door and they were inside, God, they were in Steve's room and Steve wanted to have sex with him--

Tony took a deep breath. His heart hammered against his ribcage. Okay. He needed to calm down, or this was going to be more of a mess than it already was.

Tony was pretty sure he hadn't been this nervous for his actual first time. Of course, he'd probably been drinking.

He glanced around the room. The place looked pretty much the same as it had always looked. A few books, a few pictures -- the team, mostly, and Steve's exes, because Steve was the kind of guy who stayed friends with his exes, which Tony supposed was possible when they didn't try to murder you -- but mostly it was Steve's furniture. Steve's bed -- oh God -- was on the far side of the room, next to the window.

Steve closed -- and locked -- the door behind them, and then he turned back to Tony. His eyes were bright and eager, and there was an honest-to-God smile on his face, wide and excited. He looked... happy. Tony thought he hadn't seen Steve this happy since before Onslaught. It was worth it, he told himself. This was the point. He was making Steve happy. An answering happiness rose up in Tony's chest, and it didn't quite make the nerves go away, but it blunted the worst of the sick nausea.

"So," Steve said, with another smile, "here we are, somewhere more private. What's this plan of yours?"

There wasn't a plan. Tony had no plan. What the hell had he been thinking? He couldn't actually take Steve's cock. No one could. And, even worse, it had been a few years since Tony had had anything in him but fingers or relatively small toys. Nothing anywhere near Steve's size. Even if Steve had been closer to average, Tony would probably have liked some practice first--

Wait. That was the key. Practice.

And just like that, Tony had a plan: he could see it all, spreading out in his mind's eye, the same way he saw the future.

"Hear me out," Tony said, and he summoned all his confidence, stood up straight, smiled, and hoped Steve wouldn't be able to tell he was completely winging it. "We're not going to have sex."

He watched Steve blink a few times, confused. His brows drew together in what had to be disappointment. Of course he was disappointed. He'd been thinking he might finally get some. It wasn't about Tony. Tony just had to keep that in mind.

"Huh," Steve said, thoughtfully. "I have to say that wasn't the plan I was expecting."

Tony smiled his best reassuring smile. "Sex is definitely involved. But we're not going to have sex yet."

Steve lifted a curious eyebrow. "Oh?"

"Okay." He stood up straighter. He couldn't help but pace a little across Steve's bedroom. He felt like he was at a mission briefing, going over a plan of attack. It would have been the weirdest team briefing ever. "I don't know the exact details of your romantic history, obviously, and please correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm guessing that when you previously tried to have sex that you just... went for it."

"Actually," Steve said, indignant, "there was a little more involved than just that--"

Did Steve think Tony meant that he just tried to shove it in? "I didn't mean to say there wasn't," Tony said, hastily, hoping he sounded soothing. "I know you'd want to do right by your partner, and I'm sure you gave it your all. There was probably a lot of foreplay, preparation, all that good stuff, right?" He looked up. Steve nodded once, mollified. "But what I meant," Tony continued, "is that I'm guessing you just... tried one or two times and it didn't work. You stopped when it hurt your partner. You-- you gave up."

He glanced up to check Steve's reaction. Steve's lips had compressed. His mouth was a thin line. "We already talked about this," Steve said, and his voice was ice-cold, brooking no argument, sending shivers down Tony's spine. "Hurting you is not an option, Tony--"

"We're not going to hurt me," Tony said, as fast as he could. He didn't want Steve to get the wrong idea. "We're going to train me."

Steve blinked. "Train you?"

"And you as well," Tony added. "But mostly me, yeah."

Steve was pursing his lips in thought. If this had been a team briefing, this would have been the part where Steve was weighing just the idea of the plan, seeing if he liked the sound of it before wanting to commit to the details.

"What do you mean by that?" Steve asked, and okay, good, he wanted to hear more.

"It's simple, when it comes down to it." Tony held his hands out, gesturing as he talked; Steve's gaze darted between his hands and his face. "You of all people understand the importance of training. You wouldn't expect to be able to win a battle with the Red Skull without ever having practiced sparring with one of your teammates, right?"

Steve's mouth wobbled. "Not my favorite analogy," he said, "but go on."

"So why should sex be any different than any other physical activity?" Tony continued. Steve blinked owlishly at him. "I'll admit that if you tried to fuck me right now, it probably wouldn't happen. But here's the thing: I can practice. I can work my way up to it. I can get some toys in all different sizes, and I can try them out one at a time. I figure if I get maybe three big dildos, of progressively larger sizes, and I practice with them, I'll be able to... take you."

There. That sounded like a plan. And when Tony thought about it, it also sounded like it might even work. God, Steve might actually be able to fuck him. A dizzying wave of lust rippled through him. He thought for one panicked second that he might just reach out and grab Steve and hold on tight.

He couldn't think about that right now. He had to keep it together. Focus on the present.

Steve nodded, thoughtfully. Approvingly. He must have been really desperate for sex. That was all it was.

"So we spend a few nights working up to it," Steve said, like he was clarifying, "and then...?"

Didn't Steve know? Wasn't this what he wanted? "We have sex," Tony said, helpfully. "And then, obviously, we go our separate ways." It wasn't like Steve was going to want anything else after that.

"Oh," Steve said. His mouth rounded, small, almost surprised, somehow sad. He didn't say anything else.

Tony felt like he'd better make sure they were on the same page here. "That's what you want, right? Sex?"

"Right." Steve's nod was slow. "Yeah. I'm willing to give it a try if you are," Steve said, and something twisted inside Tony that could have been excitement or pain. "But I don't have anything to practice with. Unless you do...?" He looked around his own room like he thought maybe giant dildos could burst out of the drawers at any second.

Tony shook his head. "I don't have anything that, uh. Large. But I can order some."

Steve's eyes narrowed, and Tony's breath caught in his throat. Surely Steve knew. Surely Steve had figured out Tony wasn't being entirely noble here.

"So if we can't work on that now," Steve asked, "then what's the goal for tonight?"

Apparently he hadn't noticed Tony's hopeless infatuation. This was going to work. Steve was going to buy into this ridiculous plan of his. Steve trusted him. And if Steve didn't trust him, Tony was about to find out right now.

"That's where your half of the training comes in," Tony said, swallowing hard.

Steve chuckled. "I can't make myself any smaller. Sorry." His smile was wry.

"No," Tony said. "It's actually a different... issue." He took a breath. He smiled encouragingly. "But first I need some data. What's a typical, uh, romantic encounter for you like?"

Steve's brow wrinkled. "That's awfully personal, and I don't see how that's--"

"I'm not asking you to kiss and tell." Tony held up his hands. "I don't need all the details. I just need to know, generally, what your experience is like. What you actually do in bed. I need to get an idea of what I'm working with, you see?"

Steve was still frowning. "Uh. If you say so." He glanced around the room. His face was reddening again. "I guess I just... try to make whoever I'm with feel good, you know? I don't see as there's really anything special about it. I just, uh, I use my hands. My mouth. Toys if they want them. Whatever they want. Whatever I can do to make them happy."

Well, that sounded exactly like Steve. Doing his goddamn best to please his girlfriends. He was probably great at it. But he hadn't even mentioned himself. That was more than a little weird. Surely no one could be that altruistic, not even Captain America.

"Okay," Tony said, "but what about you? You, uh-- you do get off somehow while all this is going on, right?"

Steve gave a halfhearted shrug. "Sure. Usually I just--" he paused and made a jerk-off motion with his hand, and Tony's brain broke with the thought of it. "I mean, sometimes whoever I'm with will help, but it's easier if I do it myself when they're all done. I don't like to be a bother."

Tony couldn't possibly imagine finding it a bother to make Steve come. Steve really didn't need to know that. This right here was the part Steve wasn't going to go for, anyway. Tony cleared his throat. "Okay, then," he said. "I'm, uh. I'm going to have to ask you to jerk off. And let me watch. For science."

Steve was frozen for a good three seconds.

"Pardon?" The single word was strangled. Steve's eyes were huge. He still wasn't moving.

"Well, not for science, exactly." This had been a terrible idea. God, what had he been thinking? He knew what he'd been thinking. He'd been thinking he might get to sleep with Steve. Somehow he was still talking, saying what he hoped were the right words. "But in order to aid this... endeavor of ours, yes. That."

Steve was still staring.

Tony took another shaking breath. He couldn't stop now. "Here's the thing. I don't mean this as any kind of criticism, but you are, effectively, a virgin." Steve's nostrils flared, his face shading into disapproval. Tony kept talking anyway. "And that probably means that when it comes to actual penetration, you're not going to last very long." Steve's expression was still dismayed; Tony figured he'd better say something reassuring. "It's all right, really. I have every confidence that your partners enjoy themselves, but what I'm saying is that if you're not used to the physical sensation and if you're not doing anything in bed that you'd need that kind of stamina for, you probably haven't had the chance to build up that stamina. It's not a value judgment, I promise. The goal here is to show you a good time, and I figure that we're putting in a fair amount of effort and you'd probably appreciate it if your good time got to last for more than thirty seconds. So while I work on my, uh, capacity, you can work on your endurance. You see what I'm saying?"

Licking his lips, Steve nodded slowly.

Jesus. That was a yes. Even if the rest of this plan was a failure, he was going to watch Steve get himself off. He couldn't believe Steve was agreeing to this. Steve clearly really wanted to have sex.

"I can see what you mean now," Steve said. "It makes sense. But you watching me, uh, touch myself -- that's going to help somehow?"

"It lets me see what we're working with." Somehow Tony's mouth was moving, saying all the right things, when the rest of him had descended into a fog of terrified lust. "In order to figure out how to help you improve, I need to see where you're at. I need to see what you usually do. How you usually come."

Steve nodded again. "That sounds reasonable."

And then he... started to take his gloves off? He was working his glove down his arm, peeling it off, to reveal his bare hand underneath. He turned and set it on the little table next to the bed, and then repeated the process with the other glove. Then he sat down, perching on the edge of the bed, and pulled off his boots with a practiced wrenching motion, setting them down on the floor, carefully lining them up. And then, with all that done, Steve scooted backwards on the bed and then rolled sideways, reorienting himself until his head was on the pillow, propping himself up against the headboard. He looked up at Tony, expectantly.

Oh. He was ready right now.

"Was there something else you wanted to talk about first?" Steve asked.

Tony didn't know what his own face looked like, but he tried to keep breathing. He decided that would probably help. He hoped he looked calm. "No, uh, I think that's it."

Then Steve patted the mattress next to him, and so much for calm. Tony thought his goddamn heart was going to give out again.

"Well?" Steve asked. "You might as well get the best seat in the house."

He'd wanted this, Tony reminded himself. There was no reason to be afraid. Steve clearly didn't mind. This was happening. So Tony nodded, and kicked his shoes off, and crawled up the bed on the side by the window to lie next to Steve, the both of them fully clothed.

Glancing over at him, Steve gave him a little nervous smile, and then he reached down and undid his fly. There was a lot more fabric than Tony would have expected, underneath; there was a thick layer of stretchy padding and what looked like some kind of jockstrap, albeit of a more high-tech material than the usual stuff. Under it all, Steve's cock, when he drew it out, was at least half-hard already; Tony wouldn't have known, to look at him. It was some kind of fashion miracle.

"You hide that thing pretty well, you know," Tony couldn't help but observe. "I had no idea."

Steve smiled a lopsided smile. "SHIELD's got a lot of experience making very good underwear for those skin-tight jumpsuits of theirs. They let me have a few pairs. Captain America has an image to maintain. This really isn't part of it."

Tony resisted the impulse to tell Steve that this was definitely part of his image of him now.

As Tony watched, Steve's cock was rapidly hardening in his hand, to its previous gigantic proportions; Steve could still fit one of his hands around it, but barely. Unlike many of the well-endowed men of Tony's acquaintance, he didn't seem to have problems getting or staying hard. He looked, in fact, very, very erect already. Lucky him. Tony wanted nothing more than to touch him, but he'd told Steve that wasn't what they were doing.

Steve was stroking himself slowly, gently, as if he needed to be very delicate with himself indeed. He wasn't even bringing his fingers anywhere near the huge head, wasn't teasing himself by playing with his foreskin; he was just moving his fingers very lightly over the shaft. Dear God, if he was doing that because he was sensitive, he must have been unbelievably sensitive.

Tony could feel the aching pulse of arousal begin in his own body, his balls tightening and his cock hardening, trapped in his pants; he hoped like hell Steve wouldn't look over at his lap.

"Was this what you wanted to see?"

The words could have been filthy, but the question, the way Steve asked it, was purely earnest. Steve was smiling a small, nervous smile, and glancing over at Tony for confirmation, like he honestly thought Tony was going to tell him he was doing it wrong. Oh, God, Steve's hand was still moving, Steve was jerking off and smiling at him and this was already everything Tony had thought he would never have.

"Yeah," Tony said, hoarsely. His voice sounded faint in his ears. "Yeah, uh. Yeah. That's good. Great." His cock throbbed.

Steve hadn't stopped to reach for the lube, and Tony was going to guess that he didn't need it. His cock was shining wetly with pre-come, making slick noises in his hand, fully hard now. Tony wanted desperately to taste him. But he'd told Steve that wasn't part of the plan, tonight. Maybe Steve would let him do it later. God, they were going to do this again. Tony couldn't even comprehend that. He couldn't think past this. He was in bed with Steve and there was nothing in the world but this.

Steve exhaled, a soft half-voiced moan that went straight to Tony's cock. His hand just barely encircled his huge cock, gliding slowly, up and down, and even at this pace, he was massively hard. His legs were visibly shaking, and he was rocking up into his fist with little shuddering jerks of his hips that made the bed creak. It was like he was trying to hold off. He couldn't be that close already, could he? Maybe he could.

And Steve was looking over at him again, his gaze anxiously searching out Tony's. "Is this all right, Tony?" His voice was a low, breathy whisper, and it was going to fill Tony's fantasies for the rest of his life. "Was there-- was there anything in particular you wanted me to do?"

He tried not to picture all the things he wanted Steve to do. "You're doing fine," Tony said. "Just what you normally do for yourself. You don't need to do anything special."

Steve was biting his lip, his teeth worrying, leaving marks, and Tony couldn't help but stare at Steve's tongue. Tony was uncomfortably hard now. Walking down the corridor to his room was going to be an adventure. He glanced back down at Steve's cock. His fist was faster now, sliding closer to the head of his cock, not daring to touch it. Tony wanted to touch it. If he reached out, if he just brushed his fingers over the very tip of Steve's cock, would he come? Could he come from that? Tony breathed out and smoothed his hands over his thighs and shoved the thoughts away and didn't shove his hand down his own pants. The thought of Steve having a hair trigger shouldn't be that much of a goddamn turn-on, and yet, here he was.

"I'm," Steve gasped out, "I'm usually pretty fast, I -- oh, oh, oh -- I'm really close already, but I can try to wait--"

"You don't have to wait," Tony said. "We're establishing a baseline here. You can come whenever you're ready."

"Thank you," Steve breathed, and he sounded so goddamn grateful, and Tony's cock jumped and grew even harder as Steve's hand sped up, and Steve asking him for permission to come probably shouldn't have been that hot, and he imagined Steve begging for it, demanding his touch, saying so many filthy things that would never have come out of Steve's mouth--

Steve's fingers finally slid up and over the head of his enormous cock, and his eyes fell shut and he gasped, a surprised sound. God, he was clearly really that sensitive. It was ten more seconds, if that; it was a matter of a few quick thrusts into his fist, and then Steve was coming. His face was transcendent, eyes still shut, mouth parted in bliss. And he kept coming and coming, his huge cock spurting two, three, four, five times -- for God's sake, somehow he got come as far up as the star on his uniform -- until he finally sagged back into the mattress, and it was the hottest thing Tony had ever seen in his life.

"Sorry," Steve mumbled, and there was a flush across his cheeks and the beginnings of a goofy smile on his face. "I just-- I'm always messy. There's always a lot of it. I'm sorry."

"Nothing to apologize for," Tony said, because that was a better thing to say than all the other thoughts in his head, chief among which was now maybe you'd like to come on my face. "I got plenty of good data. This will definitely help."

He hoped that sounded convincing.

Steve was wiping up the mess with a tissue, which he tossed into the trash can without getting up, and then he turned back to Tony and smiled a lazy, post-coital smile. His eyes were soft.

"So," Steve said, voice still low and husky. It rippled through Tony and made him shiver. "What about you?"

Tony went cold all over. "What about me?"

Steve glanced down. Tony glanced down. Since Tony was wearing ordinary dress pants and not fancy athletic gear like Steve, it was very easy to see that he was extremely hard. There was a darker stain by the tip of his cock; he was so turned-on that he'd soaked the fabric through with pre-come, and Tony didn't usually get that wet.

Tony wanted to sink through the floor. His throat closed up. He couldn't speak. His face stung with heat. He squeezed his eyes shut in misery.

Sure, it was one thing -- one weird thing, but definitely one thing -- to want to help one of your best friends out, to make your friend happy. He wasn't doing it for himself. It was another thing entirely to get a hard-on watching your best friend jerk off. It was like his body couldn't help its selfishness. And now Steve knew all about it.

There was a gentle pressure on Tony's arm.

"Hey, it's okay," Steve said, and when Tony opened his eyes, he saw Steve's hand encircling his wrist. "You think I'm going to judge you because you liked watching?" Steve's throat worked. "I'm-- I'm really glad you liked it," he added, and now he sounded a little shy.

Tony blinked. "You are?"

"Well, sure," Steve said. "Of course I am. I wouldn't want you to be here if you weren't having a good time. I mean, you're going to need to have a good time for this to work, right?"

"Right," Tony said, awkwardly. He hadn't really thought about how revealing this would be for him until this moment. "So I guess I'll just, uh--" He started to lever himself off the bed.

"Anyway," Steve said, "it's your turn." He glanced significantly down at Tony's groin and then back up.

"Uh," Tony said, scrambling for an excuse. "Uh, that's okay, thanks, I'm good--"

"I think it would help the plan, actually," Steve said, in an authoritative voice somewhat resembling his usual Captain America voice. Tony had just watched Captain America come all over his own uniform. "If you stayed, I mean," he added. "And if you, uh, if you let me watch too."

Oh, God.

"How do you figure that?" Tony's voice was thready.

"It's like this," Steve said, dropping back into his Cap voice, and Tony realized that the earlier weird mission briefing aspect had entirely missed the part of every mission briefing where Steve went over the plan with his own corrections. "In order for you to do what... you're offering to do, you're going to need to be relaxed. And right now you seem nervous. Tense. And I understand that this is a big change for you, so I think what you need is to be comfortable with me. You need to get used to being around me like this. So I think if we just practice... this... you'll feel better about it." He paused. He gave Tony one of his kindest smiles.


"I'm not saying you have to," Steve said, and it was his regular voice, but softer, gentler. "God knows I don't want you to do anything you are not absolutely in favor of doing. But I think you'll feel better if you do."

Tony hated to admit it, but Steve had a point. At some point in these proceedings Steve was probably going to be watching Tony come. Tony might as well get used to it now.

"You're right," Tony said. "You're completely right."

Before he could second-guess himself, he unfastened his pants. His cock practically leaped out into his hand, aching, throbbing. Fuck, but he was so hard.

And then he glanced up to find Steve watching him, his gaze fixed on Tony's cock, enthralled.

Tony had never actually felt small before. Rationally, he knew he wasn't, but... there was Steve. "Sorry," he said, and he knew his face was hot again. "I know it's not much compared to you," he said, embarrassed, waving his free hand in the direction of Steve's crotch, where his cock was still hanging out of his uniform. Even soft, Steve's dick put his to shame.

Steve met his eyes, and there was something like horror in his gaze. "Don't you dare feel bad about that," Steve said, low and intense. "You think I'd wish what I have on anyone? I've got no complaints about you. You look-- you look just fine from where I am."

Tony's cock jumped in his hand. Steve hadn't meant it like that, he told himself. "Okay," he mumbled.

He lay back down, and he got to it, pumping his cock with the rhythm he liked, the one that usually did it for him, nice and fast and tight over the head -- since, of course, he was far less sensitive than Steve was.

It was apparent within a minute or two that it wasn't going to work. Steve was watching him, and he tried shutting his eyes, but that just made it worse. His usual fantasy these days was Steve, and it seemed weird and wrong to think about Steve when Steve was here, like Steve could see into his head and pluck out his fantasies. He slid his hand up and down, fucked his fist, canted his hips. It wasn't working.

Sometimes he got like this. He worried too much. It wasn't easy to tune out the voices, to focus on better thoughts, especially when it was just him and his hand. And it was too dry. He'd needed lube, probably, and he hadn't wanted to ask Steve for any because it was clear Steve didn't need it, but he was starting to chafe--

What if Steve was bored? What if Steve thought this was weird? What if Steve was lying there wondering why he was taking so long?

He could feel his cock starting to go soft. Oh, no.

"Tony?" Steve's voice was gentle. "You look like you're not having any fun at all there." There was concern in his tone; when Tony opened his eyes, he saw Steve staring nervously down at him. "Can I-- can I help you at all?"

What the hell, it wasn't like this could get any worse.

"Sure," Tony said. "Knock yourself out."

He expected to feel Steve's hand on his cock, to feel Steve awkwardly mimicking his rhythm, but instead the bed tilted under him as Steve sat up, putting his back against the headboard.

"Come on over, why don't you," Steve said, reaching out, and then Tony wasn't really sure what happened but somehow he was sitting between Steve's legs, his back against Steve's front.

Steve's arms went around him, hands smoothing down Tony's stomach, sliding over his thighs. He was warm and strong and he smelled familiar, leather and metal and aftershave. Tony could feel the mail of Steve's uniform pressing against his own thin shirt, scraping over his back.

Tony's heart pounded even as he sighed and stretched out, like his body didn't know whether to calm down because it was Steve here, or panic because it was Steve here.

Steve breathed warm air over Tony's ear, and Tony shivered and shuddered.

"Relax," Steve whispered. "It's just me, okay, Tony? It's Steve. You know me."

"Not like this," Tony muttered.

Steve laughed, a huff of air, and Tony felt it against his body. "Well, now you do. It's still me. Not that different. And I-- I want to make you feel good, okay? You want that?"

Tony nodded. He couldn't exactly hide that he did.

"Okay," Steve said. "Can I-- Can I--"

His hand hovered over Tony's cock, not quite touching it.

"Sure," Tony said. "Yes. Please."

Steve waited until Tony said please. His hand was warm, callused, and dry. Despite himself, Tony squirmed. He glanced down. The visual, admittedly, was quite a sight -- Steve's huge hand wrapped around his cock -- and he felt his cock twitch and start to harden again. Tony took a breath. He wondered if Steve had ever touched another man's cock. He wondered if Steve was going to panic.

"Geez," Steve murmured, "you're dry, aren't you? You should have said something. One sec."

His hand went away, and there was the rattle of a drawer sliding open, the click of a lid, the squelch of a squeeze bottle. When Steve's hand came back his palm glistened slickly, and when he finally touched Tony, Tony gasped something that might have been Steve's name and watched his hips hitch up, helplessly, as his cock slid through Steve's fist. Oh, fuck, that felt good, hot and tight and wet and just the right pressure in all the right places.

He dropped his head back against Steve's shoulder and panted. There wasn't enough air in the room. There wasn't enough air in the world.

"There you go," Steve said, the way he always praised him. "There you go, Tony, that's the way." Tony could feel Steve's fingers sliding up and down, slowly, learning the shape of him. "Is this good? Is there something else I can do?"

You could kiss me.

The thought drifted through Tony's head, fully formed and absolutely terrifying.

He couldn't ask Steve to do that. He couldn't turn around in Steve's arms and rock into Steve's knowing hands and kiss him and kiss him and have Steve hold him tight when it was over. That was something for lovers. Steve wasn't in love with him. Steve didn't love him back.

There was one thing that Tony had forgotten to take into account, in this plan of his: it was going to break his heart.

"No," he said, through numb lips. "You're fine. This is fine. This is good."

He'd get to be with Steve, what, three or four times? Then it would be over, and Steve would go be with someone he actually loved. Then Tony would be alone. It would be worse than never having done it, because now he knew exactly what he'd be missing.

"I'm glad it's good," Steve whispered, and Tony wanted to die.

He could put this aside. He just needed to... not think about this, until it was over. He was doing this for Steve. He needed to be here for Steve.

Steve's hand tightened over his cock just the way Tony liked it -- God, Steve was good with his hands -- and Tony shut his eyes and didn't think about anything except the pressure of Steve's grip, just where he needed it most. Tony arched his hips up, fucking Steve's slick fist, almost there, almost there--

"I'm going to--" Tony groaned--

And Steve said, "Shh, I know, I know," and Steve's other arm went around Tony's chest, holding him close, surrounding him, and Tony thrust forward again and again and he was coming, trembling and shaking and Steve was holding him tight.

For one blinding instant everything was perfect, and Steve had him, and there was nothing in the world but this.

When he opened his eyes again, he glanced down to see that there was come dripping all over Steve's fingers. He shifted forward to let Steve move, and Steve came back with a handful of tissues as Tony rolled away. He set about cleaning himself up once he was free of Steve's embrace.

Time to make his exit.

When he glanced back while zipping up and putting his shoes back on, Steve was sprawled across the bed, eyes half-lidded, clearly struggling to stay awake.

Well. At least they'd fixed Steve's sleep problems.

"That was nice," Steve said. His words were slow and slurred, and he smiled wide. "I just-- I want to thank you, Tony. That was a good idea you had. I'm-- I'm really looking forward to the rest of it. Good plan."

Harsh reality made the last of his blissful haze dissipate. This had been just because Tony had asked him to do this. Steve didn't love him. Of course Steve didn't love him. This was just sex.

Tony made himself smile. "No problem," he said. "I mean, what are friends for, huh?"

Steve smiled back, and then the smile faded as he saw Tony moving towards the door. "You don't have to go, you know. You could-- you could stay a bit longer, if you wanted?"

Steve thought he was being nice, Tony told himself, as an aching sadness welled up in him. Steve was his friend. Steve just... didn't know how he felt. And he wasn't going to.

"Thanks," Tony said, "but I really have to go." Another second, and he'd found the perfect excuse. "I have all that work to get to, remember?"

"Oh," Steve said. He blinked a few times. "Okay. I guess-- I guess I'll see you tomorrow."

Tony nodded and let himself out.

Chapter Text

Tony had never really understood the phrase walk of shame until now. His journey down the -- thankfully-empty -- corridor to his room was mercifully short. And, sure, it wasn't like he was walking out of Steve's room in the morning, but his clothes were rumpled enough that it would have been obvious to any nosy Avenger that they hadn't just been having an ordinary team meeting in there.

Oh, God, what was he doing? What had he just done?

He ducked inside his room, shut the door behind him, and leaned back against the polished wood of the door. Safe at last. Except not, of course. Cold sweat began to slide down his neck, and his stomach rose up and twisted in nauseated recrimination.

And then he remembered he actually did have to go back downstairs to grab his laptop, and he said several words he was positive Steve would not have approved of.

Luckily, it was late enough that there was still no one in the mansion's halls after Tony caught his breath, washed his hands, and ventured down to the library. He reminded himself that unless they'd caught him sneaking out of Steve's room, the Avengers wouldn't know, and even then they probably wouldn't know unless he was, say, covered in hickeys.

Which wasn't going to happen, because Steve wasn't even going to kiss him. That wasn't what this was about.

Ensconced once again in his room, Tony sat down on the bed, set the laptop next to him, and shut his eyes.

Yeah, he wasn't going to be getting a lot of work done tonight.

What the hell had he been thinking?

He knew what he'd been thinking. He'd been thinking he was in love with Steve, and this was the only way he was going to get to have any of him. He'd been thinking that he'd seen a chance, and he was going to take it. And he'd been thinking that he could make Steve happy. There wasn't a lot he wouldn't do to make Steve happy.

There wasn't any reason to be upset, he told himself. This was what he'd wanted. He'd wanted Steve. He was getting what he wanted. There was no call to pity himself. Sure, maybe it wasn't turning out exactly like he'd imagined it would, but so what? That was life. Was he really going to sleep with Captain America and then have the gall to complain that it wasn't perfect because Steve wasn't in love with him? Tony was being ridiculous.

Opening up his laptop, Tony brought up the QA reports for the web browser, and then, with a moment of thought, the Starkware IDE and the newest revision of the source. Maybe coding was what he needed tonight. Maybe he just needed a nice, thorny problem to lose himself in for a few hours. Sure, he could go back downstairs and work on fixing Vision again -- but that would mean actually talking to Vision, and Tony wasn't in the mood to talk to anyone. Some nice, safe C++ was what he needed. Code that didn't have feelings. Code that didn't want to talk back.

He'd gotten as far as the first if() statement when his eyesight blurred, and he realized that he actually hadn't been paying attention to anything on his screen for the last twenty minutes.

He could tell Steve no.

The thought landed in the middle of Tony's conscious mind and sat there, its presence beckoning Tony forward, the siren song of relief, the way he used to feel -- hell, the way he still felt, on his rougher days -- when he looked at a bottle. One sip and the problem would go away. One word and the problem would go away. He just had to tell Steve no.

It didn't even matter what he told him, really, as long as it wasn't the whole, unvarnished truth, the miserable weakness of I'm in love with you and I can't do this. Steve would believe him, whatever he said. Steve was a nice guy like that. He could tell Steve he'd thought about it and he'd decided it wouldn't work. He could tell him he didn't think it was physically possible after all and there was no point in Steve getting his hopes up. He could even tell him he'd decided he wasn't comfortable sleeping with a teammate -- after his failed attempt to date Jan, all those years ago, Steve might even agree with him about that one.

But, no matter what he said, if he told Steve no, he knew Steve wouldn't protest. Steve wouldn't press him. He wouldn't push. It would be over. Tony wouldn't have to feel like this.

And they wouldn't ever sleep together again.

Sadness twisted and tightened Tony's chest, a throbbing wound under his breastbone, the way his body used to ache in the long-ago days when he'd needed the chestplate to live.

He already knew he was going to miss it. Even though Steve didn't love him, Steve had been good to him in bed. Steve had been kind, and solicitous, and gentle, and he'd wanted to make sure Tony had a good time because he honestly cared about how Tony felt. That already put him miles above a lot of people Tony had slept with. Hell, it put him above most of the people Tony had dated. It was obvious that Steve wasn't here just so he could say he'd fucked Tony Stark. If Tony had been going to have casual sex, if Tony had decided to pick a friend for some benefits -- he couldn't have done better than Steve. He didn't need to be a genius to figure that out.

The problem was that, for Tony, it wasn't casual.

It was going to be worse the longer he waited. He knew that. If he was going to break up with Steve -- not that this was a relationship -- he should do it soon. He envisioned it in his head, a little what-if: he'd find some time tomorrow, draw Steve aside, tell him that he was sorry, but this wouldn't be possible. They'd go back to being Avengers, to being friends, to being the way they'd been right up until a couple hours ago when Tony had gone and opened his mouth.

But that wasn't what he wanted.

He couldn't have what he wanted.

He didn't know what to do.

All told, Tony got maybe an hour of sleep. He'd been alternating between coding -- and it had been, he was sure, some of the worst code of his life -- and lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, thinking about the way Steve had held him close, and wondering what the hell was wrong with his life. Then he got up, wrote a few more incoherent comments on his miserable code, and then lay back down and tried to sleep again. Rinse. Repeat. The life of a superhero.

Eventually he decided to call it a failure at about seven. He got up for good, showered, shaved, and put on a clean suit.

Downstairs, there were already Avengers milling around the kitchen. Wanda was just sitting down with a bowl of oatmeal. Clint was standing next to the open refrigerator with a carton of orange juice in his hand, the vaguely guilty expression on his face suggesting that he would have drunk straight from the carton had no one been watching. And then there was Steve, slicing a bagel.

And of course Steve saw him first. "Morning, Tony," Steve said, and he smiled the easy, relaxed smile of a guy who had definitely gotten laid last night, and then, lucky him, had actually gotten several hours of quality sleep.

Tony smiled back and thought I know what your face looks like when you come.

He glanced around, but neither Clint nor Wanda were paying any attention to them; they were just carrying on with breakfast, as normal. It seemed strange, even ridiculous, that no one noticed. Tony felt like that neon sign on his head was back, blaring away, and now it said I BANGED CAPTAIN AMERICA LAST NIGHT. It had to be obvious. Surely the team knew them well enough? Surely they could tell? But no one noticed.

Tony considered the possibility that maybe he just looked like this all the time when he smiled at Steve.

"Good morning, yourself," Tony said. "Sleep well?"

He wanted to wince when he heard the words coming out of his mouth. Geez, he didn't need to go around advertising that he'd been in Steve's bed.

"Pretty good." Steve wedged his bagel in the toaster. "You?"

Tony had spent years perfecting the art of not falling apart in front of Steve. "Eh. Okay, I suppose." He had a few days before the sleep deprivation would catch up with him to the point where Steve would notice, and in the meantime there was coffee.

Right. Coffee. God, he was out of it.

He grabbed his mug, poured himself a cup, and didn't even bother waiting for it to cool before drinking. Clint grabbed the carafe when he was done, filled his own mug, and took it to the table to sit next to Wanda.

As soon as Clint and Wanda left the room, it would be easy. He'd be alone with Steve. All he had to say was I'd like to cancel our arrangement. Maybe he'd lead into it first, bring up the subject -- but he just had to say that, something like that, and it would be over. He could feel the potential hanging over him, like working with live current.

There was a light touch on his elbow. Tony startled hard, nearly spilled his coffee -- and turned to find Steve standing next to him, holding out a plate with a toasted bagel, already spread with cream cheese.

"Here," Steve said, "do you want this one? I can make myself another one."

Tony took a breath and waited for his heart rate to go down. Wow, he was jumpy. No one was going to find out, he told himself. It was going to be okay. "Sure," he said, awkwardly. "Sure, that would be great, thanks."

Steve smiled again and set the bagel on the counter next to Tony. "Say, I was wondering what your schedule looked like for today?"

It was definitely not Saturday, so it couldn't be time for a team meeting. Steve probably wanted to get some training in, put the new Combat Simulation Room to the test. "Mmm." Tony considered this while he sipped his coffee. "Reasonably busy. I've got a meeting with the Starkware project leads at ten, then a conference call, then some consulting work in the afternoon. But if you need Iron Man for something, of course I can shift--"

"No," Steve blurted out. "No, it's not Avengers-related. I just. Uh. I thought if you were free, maybe we could grab lunch?" His throat worked. "Or-- or dinner, if that's better?"

Oh God.

He couldn't. He imagined the thought of sitting across a table from Steve, in public, with all this, everything that he couldn't talk about, pressing down on him. He imagined having to pretend that everything was fine while sitting there trying to decide how to tell Steve that he wanted to stop sleeping with him. Not that he wanted to stop sleeping with him. It was a mess. He couldn't do it. He couldn't deal with any of this right now.

It was even worse that Steve wanted to go out to dinner with him. Steve had probably offered because he was a nice guy, because he was Tony's friend -- but it sounded like a date, even though Tony knew it wasn't one. And, sure, Tony had been out to eat with Steve plenty of times as friend -- if they'd all been dates he and Steve would have been on several hundred of them by now -- but since last night, it was different. It would be different. It would just be another reminder of everything Tony couldn't have.

"Sorry," Tony said, "I don't think I'll be able to make it. Maybe some other day?"

It was probably a good thing that he'd spent years lying to Steve's face about his identity, otherwise he didn't think he'd have been able to pull something like this off at all.

Steve's shoulders seemed to slump. "Oh," he said, and for an instant he actually sounded glum, as if he'd really, really been looking forward to this. "Okay."

Tony ate his bagel as fast as he possibly could -- it had been so nice of Steve to offer him it -- and drank his coffee, not pausing to get another cup. He needed to get out of here. He'd have to find a way to have that private conversation with Steve some other time.

"Gotta go," Tony said, edging toward the door. "See you all later."

Clint and Wanda looked up and made vague agreeing noises, owing to the fact that they were both eating; Steve just looked sad. Tony wondered what that was about.

Dazed, Tony drifted through the workday. He had no idea what the meeting was about, nor the conference call, and he spent his lunch break shut in his office, taking no calls, and conscious of the fact that he could have been out to lunch with Steve if he'd just said yes. Steve clearly wanted him to be happy, even if he didn't want the same thing Tony did.

And Tony wanted him to be happy, so, really, what was the problem? Maybe they could do this. Maybe it wasn't as terrible an idea as he had thought. He could keep sleeping with Steve. He'd liked sleeping with Steve. And Steve had seemed to like sleeping with him, even though at some point surely the gay panic was going to hit him. Maybe Steve would call it off before he worked up the nerve to.

He got up and paced his office, back and forth, his feet wearing a path in the plush carpeting.

He thought about ordering sex toys. It wasn't like he hadn't ever done a lot worse from work, and it wasn't like it would be the worst thing anyone had ever said about him if anyone else happened to find out. He'd survived chest trauma, heart attacks, alcoholism, bankruptcy, homelessness. At this point, TONY STARK BUYS MONSTER DILDOS across the front page of the Daily Bugle wasn't going to be able to touch him. It wasn't like they could link this to Steve. And given the way the world's elite were regarding Tony and Stark Solutions after his brief sojourn into being legally dead, he didn't think he could do any worse for himself.

So it wasn't his nonexistent reputation holding him back. It was the commitment. If he bought dildos, like he'd told Steve he was going to, he was dedicating himself to this idea. There'd be no turning back. He'd be sleeping with Steve until Steve was done with him. And then Steve would leave him, the same way everybody else always left him, and he'd have nothing.

And, sure, he knew Steve was great friends with his exes -- but it wouldn't be enough. Tony remembered the way Steve had held him close, so gently, had whispered in his ear, had calmed him. It had still been Steve, but it had been Steve as Tony had never seen him before, as if for the past decade Steve had been hiding all this away -- this closeness, this tenderness -- and now Tony had seen his true, full self, now that they had slept together. They could be friends again, but it would be hollow. Steve would never treat him like that if they were just ordinary friends. And Tony would always know what he was missing.

He couldn't give that up, could he?

But he'd be giving it up anyway, sooner or later. That was the deal. Tony didn't get to keep this.

It was best to tell Steve no now. He could look out for himself, for once. Steve would understand.

Sadness rose up, blossoming like dark ink in clear water, and Tony sternly shoved it away, back with the regrets and the years of grief and the low grinding thirst for a drink that never really left him. He was going to be okay. He was going to get over this. It had been a good night, a great night, and that was all of Steve he was going to have. He just needed to accept this, and things could get back to normal.

With that decided, Tony sighed, opened the door, and went out to grab the files on whoever the next person interested in hiring Stark Solutions might be.

He managed to avoid Steve at dinnertime by staying late at the office, and then, emboldened by that success and the relief he felt, staying later. Since Steve usually turned in early like the responsible human being he was, that meant that Tony, coming home, had a good chance of avoiding him entirely.

At eleven o'clock Tony swiped his identicard at the mansion gate, let himself in, and then let himself in the main door. The lights on the first floor were dimmed already, save for the lighting on the staircase. The mansion was silent. Everyone, even Jarvis, had already gone to bed, and Tony congratulated himself on a job well done.

He headed across the floor and climbed the staircase. He'd get some sleep now, rather than staying up all night working. He needed the sleep, God, did he ever. And if he went to bed now, that meant he'd be able to get up early enough to catch Steve alone in the morning -- since Steve got up before the rest of the team did -- and tell him he was calling it quits. Easy. He ignored the way his stomach twisted at the thought.

He walked down the hall, to his door, into his room, and he could finally relax. Tony promptly threw his jacket over a chair, added his tie to the pile, and undid several buttons of his shirt. After a moment of thought, he kicked off his shoes.

Someone knocked on his door.

It couldn't be a mission; his identicard hadn't gone off. But it was a little late for one of his teammates to just want to talk to him -- and they'd come to find him in his bedroom, after all -- so it was clearly a matter of some urgency.

Tony sighed, turned back, readied a polite smile, and opened the door.

Steve was standing on the other side.

Barefoot, wearing plaid flannel pajamas, Steve was obviously dressed for bed. From the way his hair was rumpled, Tony thought he probably had actually been in bed. He ought to have been asleep long before now. Had he been waiting up for Tony?

"Hey," Tony said. "Is there something I can do for you?"

And Steve-- well, Tony didn't quite know how to describe the look on Steve's face. His cheeks were a little flushed, his eyes sparkling bright; if Tony hadn't known better about Steve's metabolism, he might have mistaken it for drunkenness. He was smiling a small smile, and his gaze was intent, though not quite settling -- he met Tony's eyes, and then glanced down to where Tony's shirt was hanging open at the hollow of his throat, taking Tony in like he was appraising him, like he liked the look of him, like he knew exactly what he wanted to do with him and he knew Tony was going to like it as much as he was. Heat rose in Tony's body, a warm and tingling rush that started on the back of his neck and slid down his spine. Steve had never looked at him like this.

Even with the confidence on Steve's face, the way he stood was full of nervousness. He rocked back and forth. He broke Tony's gaze to glance back and forth down the hallway.

"Maybe," Steve said, and his voice was low and husky, and Tony shivered despite himself. "I was thinking about-- about our, uh, conversation, last night, and I was-- I was wondering if you wanted..."

Steve let the sentence trail off, and he smiled again, warm and eager.

The realization hit Tony full-force: this was Steve making a booty call. This wasn't Captain America showing up at his door in the middle of the night with an urgent Avengers matter to discuss, a plan of attack to formulate, or a dastardly and menacing supervillain to fight. This was Steve Rogers hoping to get lucky. With him.

Jesus, what was he going to tell him?

Tony looked back up and down the hallway the same way Steve had. All clear. Thank God. No nosy Avengers needed to find out about this.

Tony coughed discreetly. "Maybe you'd better come inside," he said.

He stepped back, and Steve practically bounded in, shutting the door behind himself and locking it. Well, someone clearly wanted some privacy.

Tony was aware, suddenly, of how close Steve was standing to him. Personal space had never really been much of a thing when it came to him and Steve; Tony had always thought of it as one of those cultural differences that fifty years of evolving American masculinity got you, and he'd watched Steve carefully learn to stand a little farther back from other men. But he'd never stepped back from Iron Man, like he'd been making up for the bubble the suit put around Tony by getting right up to the metal. And after he'd found out Tony was Iron Man, he'd never stepped back from Tony, either. Tony had always found Steve's presence a comfort. If he'd had a long day and he wanted to pass out on the couch with his head on Steve's shoulder, no one was going to judge him.

But now it felt like there was something else in the distance between them, something weighty with possibility, something pulsing with desire. If Tony stood just a little closer, if Steve tilted his head, they could kiss--

They weren't going to kiss. That had never been part of the deal. This wasn't love. And what Tony wanted was love, so he needed to end this.

He imagined saying it: Steve, I don't think this is going to work out. All he had to do was open his mouth. Right now.

And then Steve looked at him, and Steve smiled again, bright and excited. He was so happy. Tony definitely hadn't seen him this happy in years. Maybe ever. He wouldn't have said Steve was unhappy, before, but he'd never seen him like this. He'd never known this was an option. Steve was smiling wide, a real smile, not the smile for the cameras. He was smiling so wide his face creased with it and his eyes crinkled at the corners. And all this was because of Tony. The mere thought of sleeping with Tony was making him happier than Tony had ever seen him.

How could Tony possibly take this away from him?

He couldn't.

He was helpless in the face of that smile. He hadn't factored that into his calculations. This was what Steve wanted. Steve wanted him. Tony could make him happy. It was worth it. It would all be worth it, to make Steve feel like this. Tony was just going to have to deal with his broken heart when it happened. He couldn't tell Steve no. He couldn't let him down like that.

It was like jumping out of the Quinjet and waiting for the boot jets to catch -- a dizzying freefall, his stomach swooping as he dropped, wondering if this time he'd just hit the ground instead. That was what was going to happen this time. Catastrophic failure. He knew that without a shadow of a doubt. But, hell, he'd been doomed since this started.

He was going to make Steve happy. That was the important thing. That was the only important thing.

"So," Tony said, keeping his voice light, "you were wondering something?"

Steve's smile twitched and wavered; Steve glanced around the room. "I, uh." Steve's cheeks were red again. "I kept thinking about what you said last night, about the plan, and I thought maybe--"

"I didn't have the time to go toy shopping today," Tony said, interrupting Steve before he could get his hopes up. Instead, Steve nodded, like he'd expected that, like Tony's packed schedule was something he could work with and had already taken into account.

"Yeah," Steve said, sympathetically. "You sounded pretty busy."

Tony valiantly tried to ignore the pang of guilt; here he'd been purposefully fobbing Steve off in an attempt to stop this from happening, and Steve just naturally assumed the best of him, that there was no way Tony would have lied to him about any of this. God, he didn't deserve Steve.

"Sorry," Tony mumbled. "I guess that means there's really nothing we can do until I get the toys, though."

If he had a time machine and were able to talk to his past self at any point in his entire life -- well, he was sure that Past Tony would never have believed he would ever try to come up with a reason not to have sex with Captain America.

Unfazed, Steve was still grinning, still a little flushed. "I was, uh, thinking about that," he murmured, and Tony had to pause to contemplate the breathtakingly hot image of Steve thinking about that. "I figured you wouldn't have the toys right away," he continued. "But that doesn't mean we can't... practice. I mean, I have to do my part of the practice, and that doesn't involve toys." He sounded so sincerely determined when he said it, like he was talking about a regular training regimen and not repeated orgasms. "And as for you, we can practice with things that aren't toys until you get them, right?" He shifted his weight, awkwardly. "I mean, you'll have to judge for yourself, but I've been told I'm pretty good with my fingers?"

Oh, God. Tony was beginning to think he'd created a monster. This was what happened when you told the greatest living tactical mind in all of humanity that you had a plan: he set out about finding ways to make it better. That was just what he did. And since the original plan in this case had basically been Getting Steve Laid, the new and improved version of the plan was clearly going to be Getting Steve Laid Every Night. Tony didn't know how he was going to survive.

He could imagine it now -- Steve's huge fingers sliding inside him, big, but gentle, too. Filling him right up. Even if Steve hadn't ever been with a guy, he'd still be good at it. It had been so good with him last night. Besides, even if he hadn't been with a man before, that didn't mean he hadn't done this exact act with a woman. He'd probably done a lot of things to make up for what he couldn't do. It was possibly a bit too personal to ask Steve if he'd ever had his fingers in someone's ass before, though.

And Steve wanted to touch him. And even if it wasn't love, even if it was just sex -- well, knowing that Steve wanted him was a hell of a rush. The hungry way Steve had looked at him when he'd opened the door wasn't going to leave Tony's mind any time soon. The rush of heat down his spine pooled low in his belly, lighting the familiar fires of arousal.

"Yeah," Tony said. "Yeah, uh, that sounds good. Great. Good plan. I like it."


Steve smiled at him. He still seemed nervous, though, like he couldn't quite settle. His fingers were smoothing over the fabric of his pajamas, over his thighs -- and, well, he was definitely into this. He was at least half-hard and getting harder, and half-hard for Steve's monster cock meant that he was pitching an impressive tent already.

Tony glanced significantly downward. "Looks like you think it's a good plan too, huh?"

Steve exhaled hard in what was probably an embarrassed laugh; his face was still stained faintly pink. "Looks like," he agreed. He glanced around the room again. "So, uh, do you want me to...?"

He didn't finish his sentence, and Tony honestly had no idea what he meant, but he was positive that whatever Steve was thinking of, he was going to want it. He waved a hand vaguely. "Yeah, sure, go for it."

Tony probably shouldn't have been surprised when Steve started unbuttoning his own shirt and let it drop, landing on the floor behind him in a little pile of plaid fuzziness.

Wow. That was a lot of Steve. As always, Steve's body rippled with perfectly-defined muscles. Strong, powerful, he would have put a Greek god to shame. His pale skin glowed with a hint of gold in the incandescent lamplight from Tony's bedside table. The flush on his face went as far down as his chest, which Tony thought was sort of charming, like the spattering of almost-invisible freckles across Steve's shoulders. As always, he was the most beautiful man Tony had ever seen. Not that his body really mattered, in the grand scheme of things -- Steve had lost the serum before and of course Tony had still loved him then -- but, God, he was nice to look at.

An unaccountable awkwardness crept up through Tony as he watched Steve. He felt like the room around him was covered in tangling wires, like if he moved he was going to trip over his own feet. Steve was so big and there was so much of him and he was so naked and Tony felt like he had no idea what to do, like he was fourteen again and had never even made out with anyone. Not, he reminded himself, that there was going to be kissing.

It wasn't like he'd never seen Steve take his clothes off before -- that was how this whole thing had started, after all -- but there was naked, and then there was naked with intent, and that made a hell of a difference.

Steve pushed his pants and underwear to the floor without finesse, like he'd been ordered to strip for the Army, and then he stood there, still, like he was posing for a statue. And Tony, of course, couldn't help but stare at Steve's cock, rapidly hardening, just as unbelievably enormous as it had been last night. He wondered if today Steve would let him touch him. His fingers itched to just reach out--

"It hasn't gotten any smaller since yesterday, you know," Steve said, his voice faintly amused, and that was when Tony glanced up and realized Steve had most definitely caught him staring.

"Sorry," Tony mumbled.

"Nothing to be sorry for," Steve said. There was something slow and hesitant in the way he said it. "It's just that if you're thinking about changing your mind, now's usually the time. This seems to be about when it hits people." He smiled a sad, regretful little smile. "Sometimes it takes them more than once to figure it out."

The first thought in Tony's head -- oh, God, he's giving me a way out -- ran right into the second, which was the visceral, burning need to hurt anyone who had ever made Steve feel unwanted. He wondered how often that happened. From the look on Steve's face, it had definitely happened more than once. He wondered how the hell anyone who had ever met Steve could want to do anything other than make him happy. It had never occurred to Tony that anyone could think otherwise.

"Does-- does that happen a lot?" Tony ventured.

Steve's smile was even fainter. "Let's just say, if you're having second thoughts after I've taken my pants off, you wouldn't be the first."

That settled it. He couldn't back out now. There was no way Tony was going to be one of those people.

"Don't you worry about that," Tony said, and he made his smile as reassuring as he could. And then he turned it darker, just for Steve. "I'm going to go all the way with you." He let his mouth curl around the words, figuring that, even if it wasn't love, a bit of flirting wouldn't go amiss.

Gratifyingly, Steve made a tiny noise, a little gasping breath, and his cock twitched, an obvious motion given its size. Oh, he liked that idea.

"Well," Steve said, and the smile on his face was much more relieved now. "If you're sure." And then he was eyeing Tony again, looking him up and down eagerly; God, he really wanted this.

"Absolutely." Tony's fingers curled around the lapel of his shirt without him really having decided to move. "You, uh, you want me to take some of this off now?"

Steve just nodded, little shaking nods, again and again, like he liked the thought of that too much to be able to put it into words.

Okay. Now he just had to get naked in front of Steve. It wasn't like Steve had never seen him naked either -- Tony had had a lot of armor-related mishaps over the years -- but Steve had never seen him naked like this. It wasn't like they'd actually undressed yesterday, either.

Tony's hands were trembling as he undid the rest of the buttons of his shirt. He forewent his usual act, the glances, the coy looks, drawing it out. This wasn't a show. Not for Steve, not like this. Steve was probably straight, he reminded himself. Well, okay, that couldn't be exactly true. Ninety-five percent straight, maybe, and a hundred percent desperate for it. It wasn't like Steve cared what he looked like. So he kept his head down and skinned out of his shirt, and then dropped his pants and his boxers. He was about half-hard; his dick was only now receiving the message that he was really going to get some two nights in a row.

He breathed in and looked up. Steve was regarding him silently, dark-eyed, unreadable.

"Like that?"

"Yeah," Steve's voice was unsteady. "Like that." There was an undertone of praise in Steve's voice that Tony was always so hungry for; he'd done the right thing, and Steve was rewarding him. Tony felt his face heat. He was so easy for it, for Steve's approval. It was an embarrassment, really. He tried-- he tried not to want it so much, but it had never worked.

Tony took this opportunity to step backwards and climb on the bed. He pushed himself all the way across the sheets, making room, and then beckoned.

Steve followed. In an instant, Steve was lying next to him, naked in Tony's bed where Tony had always wanted him, stretching out like he belonged there. He was between Tony and the door, and something about it made Tony feel safe, deep down, some primal fear soothed: no matter what, Steve had him. Even if this didn't mean what Tony wanted it to mean, Steve was here with him, here for him.

In his fantasies, of course, this was when Steve pulled him close, kissed him, told him he loved him, told him he was never leaving him. That wasn't happening. This would have to be enough.

"Hey, there." Steve's smile was small and soft, and he reached out and smoothed his fingers over Tony's hip, his hand warm and bracing, and Tony thought that this was maybe even better than sex. He could pretend that it meant that Steve loved him. "How are you doing? Long day at work?"

Tony's laugh was startled. "You really want to talk about work?"

"Well, I haven't seen you all day," Steve said, a mild protest, as his fingertips mapped out Tony's hipbone like it was a border he wasn't allowed to cross. "I like knowing what you're up to."

Tony raised his eyebrows. "Pretty sure you know what I'm... up to."

Steve glanced down at Tony's rapidly-hardening cock and then grinned, a dopey, pleased smile, like he honestly enjoyed Tony's terrible sense of humor. "I walked right into that, didn't I?"

"You sure did," Tony said, trying to keep his mind together enough to answer Steve's questions. "I, uh, haven't been up to much of anything exciting. A lot of work." A lot of thinking about doing this some more, he didn't say, because Steve didn't need to know that. "You?"

"The same." Steve shrugged. "Reports. Training. More reports. You know how it is."

Tony had been team chairperson enough that he certainly did know, and he didn't envy Steve his turn. "Yeah." He shifted his hips a little, hopefully, but Steve didn't take the hint. "You know," Tony said, "if you wanted to, you could, um."

He wondered where Suave And Charming Playboy Tony Stark had gone off to, in his brain, and if that guy could come back and do the talking, because Tony thought this was definitely the least sexy he'd ever been in his entire life, and it was probably only that Steve wanted so badly to get laid that he was putting up with awkwardly tongue-tied Real Tony Stark in all his dubious glory.

But Steve just smiled the same gentle smile he'd smiled last night, right before he'd pulled Tony into his arms. "I didn't want to presume," he said, like he couldn't quite believe he'd gotten this far, again. "Do you have lube you want me to use?"

Tony flailed out a hand, got the drawer of the nightstand open, and passed Steve the bottle. Steve squeezed out some on his fingertips and capped the bottle. His eyes were fixed on Tony's face as he reached out, his gaze carefully evaluating, as if he thought he might somehow be doing this wrong. And then Steve's hand closed around Tony's cock, and, oh, fuck, it was even better than last night, his grip surer, more confident. It might have only been a handjob, but Tony was certain it was the best handjob of his life. He was perfect; Tony supposed he shouldn't have been surprised by that. Peak human performance extended even this far.

This part was worth it, too. Tony wasn't so selfless that he couldn't admit that. And, sure, it was going to end in misery, but at least he was going to have some truly excellent sex -- with someone he loved more than anyone else in the world, no less -- before the misery happened, which made it better than nine-tenths of the miserable things that he had ever experienced. It wasn't like most of his trauma came with a side order of mind-blowing pleasure, after all. He needed to get over himself already.

"Oh, God," Tony said, as his body arched up, his hips rising, everything in him wanting more and wanting it now, wanting Steve's warm, tight grip. "Oh, God, that's so good."

Steve smiled at him again. "Glad to hear it." He was propped up on his other arm, regarding Tony with an enthralled gaze. His lips were parted, and his eyes roved over Tony's body like he didn't know where to look first, like he was honestly enjoying looking at him.

Tony should have been less keyed-up than last night, because after all this was their second time, but somehow it was still just as nerve-racking. Steve was right here and naked and looking at him, all of him on display, with no way to hide. If it had been anyone else but Steve, it wouldn't have been a problem; Tony knew how to wear a mask, how to make sure no one saw into his heart, but he'd never quite mastered that with Steve. Nothing was feigned, nothing faked. He twisted on the mattress, thought about flinging his arm over his face, but that wouldn't stop Steve from seeing him. He was vulnerable, and it was terrifying.

And somehow Steve saw that too; his hand slowed on Tony's cock, slowed to a standstill, and his smile went gentle again, coaxing. "Hey, Tony, it's okay," he murmured. "It's still just me. Nothing to worry about." He paused. "Do you want me to stop?"

Tony shook his head, pressing his face against the pillow. "Don't stop," he breathed. "Just don't-- just don't--"

He didn't know how to say it. He didn't even know how to get what he needed, to get himself to stop being afraid of this when he wanted it so much.

"I know," Steve said. "I know what the problem is. You're thinking too much, genius." He smiled. "You have to turn that brain of yours off sometime. Here. Breathe with me."

It seemed silly -- Jesus, Steve's hand was still resting on his cock -- but he breathed, the way Steve told him, matching the rise and fall of Steve's chest, and on the third breath the tension went out of him, and it was just Steve here with him, and something had flipped over in him and all he could feel was a yearning excitement.

Steve smiled again. "Good," Steve said. "Like that. Any better?"

Tony nodded, and Steve's smile brightened, and his hand on Tony's cock started moving again, went tighter, slick fingers sliding nimbly over the shaft of Tony's cock, up and over the head, exactly as tight as Tony liked it, just where he was most sensitive. He couldn't think about anything anymore except the way it felt; Steve being right here and naked, rather than being overwhelming, was just getting him closer to the edge. Jesus, if Steve didn't stop soon they weren't even going to get to the part where Steve tried fucking Tony with his fingers -- he'd better not think about that right now, oh God -- because Tony was about to lose it.

"Okay," Tony panted, and he reached out and wrapped a hand around Steve's wrist. "Now you should stop." He summoned up a grin. "Or at least, move on to the rest of the evening's entertainment, because this portion of it will come to an abrupt end if you keep doing that."

Steve lifted his hand away. "Sure thing," he said, smiling. "You want me to--" And then he stopped talking, as Tony let his legs fall open, as he planted his feet on the bed and shifted his hips higher. "I, uh," Steve said, with the vacant, lust-fogged expression of a man who had temporarily lost command of all language. "Oh. Mmm. Okay. Uh. One second."

Well, that was flattering.

The bed creaked as Steve pushed himself up to sitting -- Tony sternly told himself not to miss the closeness -- and he flailed around for the lube, opening it and then pouring out a generous amount on both his hands. He scooted a little closer, and it was only after Steve set one hand lightly on Tony's cock again that Tony figured out what his plan was.

Steve's other hand, huge and warm, slid between Tony's thighs, and two fingers came to rest just over Tony's hole, sending a starburst of pleasure through his body. Helplessly, Tony rocked back against Steve's fingers and moaned; it was so, so good, and he wasn't even doing anything yet. Tony knew he was always so weak for this -- it was his favorite way to get himself off -- but apparently Steve's hands on him were just transcendently amazing. It figured.

And then Steve pushed one fingertip in, just barely breaching his body, and Tony caught his breath, because, God, Steve had big hands. There was a split-second of the usual discomfort -- something was in him and it felt weird -- but then he breathed out and the pleasure rushed in. Everything within Tony lit up, like a long-disused circuit finally switched on. He'd forgotten how much better this felt when it wasn't just him.

"Is that good too?" Steve asked. His voice was a husky whisper, his gaze entranced.

Tony nodded, and then he figured he'd better use his words, because he didn't want to chance Steve stopping if he was insufficiently vocal. "That's -- oh, fuck -- absolutely wonderful."

Steve's smile was almost shy. "I'm so glad we're doing this," he said, low, quiet, like it was a confession. "I'm glad it means I get to see more of you."

"You're getting to see a hell of a lot of me right now," Tony said, and then he gasped as Steve's finger went deeper, in and then out and in again; Steve was fucking him with it in earnest. He could hear the slick slide of Steve's flesh against his. He wondered if Steve was enjoying the view. Steve was obviously straight, but he had to be enjoying something about this, didn't he? He wouldn't be watching himself finger-fuck Tony otherwise.

The noise Steve made was a muffled half-laugh. "True," he said, "but not exactly what I meant." His mouth curved; his gaze flickered, away and back. "I just meant that... I miss you when you're not around, you know? I missed you at dinner tonight."

"Sorry," Tony said, and the word was punched out of him on an exhalation, because that was when Steve pushed another slick finger inside him, next to the first. "Oh, God, oh -- sorry. I just-- I was too busy. Oh, God. That's so good." Two fingers were even more perfect than one finger had been.

"You think you'll be free for team dinner tomorrow?" Steve asked, and that was when he angled his fingers up and in and slid them right across Tony's prostate.

Everything inside Tony's brain went white with pleasure. He was barely conscious of what he was doing, grabbing at the sheets, noises that weren't words falling from his lips, and all his body could do was rock against Steve's knowing fingers, making them rub up against him in just the right spot again and again.

"Sure," Tony breathed, only half-aware that Steve had asked him something. He just wanted Steve to keep doing what he was doing with his fingers. "Sure, yeah, sounds great, oh, oh--"

Steve smiled down at him fondly. And then, thank God, he didn't tease him. He knew exactly what he was doing, and he was perfect at this, just like he'd been perfect at everything else. He started fucking Tony with his fingers in earnest, his huge and clever fingers pressing in, hitting Tony's prostate on every stroke. And as Tony writhed, arching his hips to meet him, Steve's other hand tightened on his cock, so that Tony was caught between the sensations. He fucked Steve's fist; he was fucked by Steve's fingers. There was nothing to be afraid of, nothing to be self-conscious about. He couldn't remember anything except pleasure. Steve had him, and Steve would take care of him, and Tony smiled and let himself fall.

He came the way he always did when he was getting fucked, the ecstasy of his release spreading through his whole body, rolling over him in slow waves, one after another, lifting him higher and higher. His cock was spurting in Steve's hand, again and again, come spilling all over his stomach; there was always so much of it when he came like this. It felt like it would never stop, like he could live here forever, bound in this moment. Eventually the pleasure ebbed away; now he was too sensitive, cock twitching in Steve's hand, and Steve let him go. As gently as he'd put them there, Steve slid his fingers out of Tony's ass, and Tony felt a pang of emptiness at the loss.

"Wow." Steve's gaze was roving over Tony's body again, like he wanted to take in the sight, preserve it in his perfect, eidetic memory. "You really liked that, huh?"

Tony glanced down the length of his body and saw pretty much what he thought he'd see; he was a wreck, covered in his own come. He'd always been faintly ashamed of it, that here was proof that he loved getting fucked. He always responded like this, even if it was just fingers. If his ass was in any way involved, he was coming like a goddamn freight train, guaranteed. It was obvious how much he enjoyed it. He couldn't help it or hide it. There were always distant voices in his head reminding him how unmanly he was, and he couldn't mute them with alcohol because he didn't do that anymore, and he couldn't let himself think about how much he wanted to do that.

And then he looked back up and saw Steve's face, and he entirely forgot how to feel guilty about it because Steve was still staring down at him, dazed and wide-eyed, like Tony was the hottest thing he'd ever seen. And even if this all went to hell, Tony was going to remember Steve's expression and treasure it.

Steve's lips were slack, parted. His face was flushed, and one of his still-lubed hands was resting on his thigh, fingers alternately gripping and flexing, like he didn't quite know what to do with his hands. He hadn't moved to touch his cock, and Tony honestly didn't see how he'd refrained, because, God, he was rock-hard, huge cock standing up against his stomach, shining wetly, smeared with pre-come.

Tony waved a hand in the direction of Steve's groin. "Steve?" he asked. "Hey, you wanna...?"

He didn't quite have the energy to mime jerking off, but he should have tried, because Steve managed to misinterpret him entirely.

"Oh!" Steve said, like he'd forgotten something. "Of course."

Steve nodded once and then pushed himself to his feet and somehow managed to walk across the room, his erection bobbing. Tony heard the water running in the bathroom; Steve was washing his hands.

After a minute, Steve came back with a washcloth, sat back down, and wiped Tony clean, in a manner Tony's smitten brain desperately wanted to call tender. Tony knew he ought to protest the unnecessary kindness, but it felt too good for him to do anything but enjoy it. Steve wiped off Tony's stomach, and -- very gently -- his softening cock, and then passed the warm washcloth between Tony's legs and wiped the lube from his ass. There was no way Tony could come again, but he sighed and rode the pleasant edge of overstimulation, his nerves tingling with sensation. God, that was nice. The nicest part was that Steve was taking care of him. It was a shame Steve didn't love him and that this wasn't real, because that right there made Steve nicer than easily half the people Tony had ever slept with. Honestly, he was already close to topping the list. He was Steve. The only way it could have been better would have been if Steve really had loved him back.

Tony sighed, contented, as Steve set the washcloth down. "You're an officer and a gentleman, Captain."

"Yes," Steve deadpanned. "This was definitely covered in officer training." He lasted another second before cracking a smile.

"Seriously," Tony said, grinning back, because he was always a believer in handsomely rewarding that kind of outstanding effort with as much praise as he could, "that was amazing. You were right. You're very good with your hands."

"Thank you," Steve said, and was he really blushing again? "I try."

He squirmed as Tony was watching him, and then as Tony continued to watch, he... stood up. He was walking across Tony's room to the pile he'd made of his pajamas, like he meant to just get dressed and leave. Without doing anything about his perfectly good hard-on.

"Hey," Tony said, and Steve turned around, face quizzical. "You're leaving already?"

That didn't make any sense. Steve was the one who'd showed up at his door, and he didn't even want to get off?

Steve bit his lip. "I--" Steve said. "I-- it-- this was for you, Tony. I'll be fine."

Nobody could be that noble. Not even Captain America.

Tony found the energy to sit up and favor Steve with his best disbelieving glare. "You're telling me that you're not going back to your room and giving yourself a hand with that--" he gestured in the direction of Steve's massive dick-- "as soon as you get the door shut?"

The tips of Steve's ears turned pink. "Maybe."

"Come on, then," Tony said, and he patted the bed. "You're already here. Let me. Besides, it's part of the plan. We're working on improving your stamina."

"I can practice that by myself," Steve said, but he took a hesitant step toward Tony, and then another.

Tony beamed at him. "I am definitely in favor of that, but it's also important to replicate our, ahem, actual experimental conditions as closely as possible even in a test run. Meaning," he said, so Steve didn't have to ask, "that if you want this to work you're going to have to get used to me touching you, too. That's part of the practice."

There, that sounded believable, like something Tony could be doing for science. Steve would buy it if it was for the plan. Maybe now Steve would let him touch him.

Steve took another halting step forward, and then all at once he was at Tony's side, he was sitting on the bed, half-turned toward him. He still had one foot on the floor, and Tony couldn't quite reach him from here.

"Only if you want to," Steve said, softly. "I don't want you to feel like you have to, or like you owe me this. I don't want you to do anything you don't want to do. I know you said it was part of your plan, but I-- I-- I don't want it to be something you're making yourself do for the sake of your plan."

Tony supposed he should have expected this. He hadn't actually touched Steve yet. It was a line they hadn't crossed, and it made sense that Steve would be as kind in this respect as he was in every other respect, that Steve would be concerned about his happiness.

Either that or he knew Tony well enough to know that Tony was very much capable of making himself do something he didn't want to do if he thought it was for the greater good.

He swallowed hard. He couldn't tell Steve the truth, because the truth was I've been madly in love with you since the day I met you, and if you let me, I'd love you for the rest of my life. The truth wasn't the right answer. Steve didn't want the truth. Steve wanted a lie. He wanted Tony's very best lie.

"I want to," Tony said, softly, and then, a little louder: "I don't mind at all. I wouldn't have offered in the first place if this weren't something I didn't genuinely want to do." He hoped that wouldn't give it all away. "It's not a hardship. You're my friend, and this is what we're doing, right? We're friends having some fun together. A good time, no strings attached."

God, if Steve only knew.

"Right," Steve said, and for some reason he wasn't looking at Tony when he said it. "No strings attached. Just like you wanted."

Tony made himself smile. "Who wouldn't want this?" He patted the bed again. "Come here, then. My turn to make you happy. I can put some of those observations from last night into practice."

Steve obediently came closer, finally lying once again next to Tony, rolling over to sprawl on his back.

Feeling like he was getting away with something he shouldn't, Tony cautiously put his hand on Steve's abs. Some part of him half-expected that Steve would disappear, a mirage, insubstantial, but he was solid and real and, oh God, he was finally getting to touch Steve.

Steve's stomach quivered and flexed under Tony's fingers; Tony wasn't entirely sure that Steve was still breathing. Tony's hand was splayed out, inches away from Steve's cock, but he didn't want to touch Steve until Steve gave him some kind of sign.

"Is this good?"

He glanced up; Steve exhaled hard, blowing air between his teeth. The expression on Steve's face was eagerness mixed with a strange sort of resolve. He looked like he was waiting for a battle. It wasn't really the expression Tony had hoped for.

"Yeah," Steve said, finally. "It just... hits you all at once, you know?"

God, Tony knew how that felt. "I know," Tony said, and he had to ask, just to make sure. "Do you-- do you want me to--?"

"Please," Steve whispered, and, fuck, Steve was begging him. And then Steve smiled, a little soft smile, and that looked a lot more like a yes.

Still in disbelief that he was actually, really doing this, Tony slid his hand down and wrapped his fingers very gently around Steve's cock, as far as he could. Tony had long fingers, but even so, Steve's massive cock didn't quite fit in his hand. Tony's stomach turned over at the realization, fear and arousal knotting together in his gut in a strange and pleasant melange. God, apparently Tony had a size kink after all, because all he could think about was that it was so huge and someday soon Steve was going to put it inside him.

Steve made a very quiet noise, the slightest of breathy gasps, and when Tony looked up to check, Steve was staring down at Tony's hand on him, eyes wide and wondering, as if he were a virgin to even this, and wow, that thought was doing some embarrassingly good things for Tony. Tony's cock, even spent as he was, twitched. Tony hadn't even known that was a kink he had. Steve brought out everything in him, he supposed.

Tony kept his grip light, so much lighter than he would ever have used for himself, mimicking what he'd seen Steve do. He slid his fingers up and down Steve's shaft, not going near the head yet. For him it would have been an agonizing tease, but Steve wasn't trembling in frustration, just breathing a little harder.

"Like this, right?" Tony asked. "Nice and gentle, the way you like it? Not too rough?"

Steve moved his head in a motion that might have been a nod. His eyes were dazed, dilated. His hands were out-flung, pressing into the mattress. "Guess you were taking notes," Steve murmured, low and needy, and God, he sounded like sex.

It had been a while since Tony had been with an uncut guy, and he intended to make the most of this experience. Loosening his grip even more, he let his fingers drift a little higher, delicately tugging Steve's foreskin over the head. Steve was satiny-soft, slick, shining with pre-come, and Tony very lightly squeezed, just where he knew Steve would like it--

"Oh, fuck, Tony!" Steve gasped, and Tony wasn't sure if the hottest part was hearing Steve swear or hearing Steve say his name. Steve's whole body quivered, and his cock dripped even more pre-come over Tony's fingers, and his chest heaved as he struggled for breath, for control, and Tony realized that he'd done this to him, that he was making Steve do this, and nothing else he'd done had ever been as erotic as this and it was only a handjob.

It was everything he'd dreamed of and more.


"Yes." Steve breathed out. "Yes. Very... very yes." It wasn't really a sentence, but Tony would give him that.

Tony kept pumping Steve's cock, lightly, watching the foreskin play over the sensitive tip. He was hardly touching him, and yet Steve was still moaning, falling apart under his fingers.

"I was watching you," Tony said, surprised to hear the raspiness in his own voice. "I was watching you, and you didn't touch yourself like this, right here, until the end. Too much to take, or too close?"

Steve blinked a few times, like he hadn't even heard. He was sweating already, hair plastered to his forehead, his skin damp with it. "Both," he whispered, sounding uncertain. "Bit of both. It's too much, and I-- I-- really like when it feels like it's too much but I-- I'll come right away if you -- oh, God, Tony, I can't think -- if you-- if you do that-- please, Tony--"

Jesus, If Steve was coming to pieces with this kind of barely-there stimulation, actual sex was going to absolutely wreck him. But, like so many things about this arrangement, that was a worry for the future.

"Okay," Tony murmured. "Shh. Easy. What you want, okay? You can have what you want. I'm going to give it to you."

Everything was so easy. Tony kept a rhythm going, light, gentle, and Steve went crazy for it, shoving his hips up, fucking Tony's fist desperately in little, fast, jerky thrusts. Tony had always imagined that Steve, so graceful, so balanced, would be like that in bed, but apparently when Steve let go, when he did what he wanted, he just went for it, in an overwhelming rush. There was no decorum here. If Tony hadn't already come, he would have seriously considered trying to now, just watching.

Steve was moaning, arching into it. His muscles were corded with the strain. Even with the wildness, he was still holding something back. His eyes were screwed shut. His teeth were gritted. He was trying not to come, Tony realized.

"It's okay to come," Tony told him, his voice a low whisper. "You can practice holding out later. This one's for you. Go for it."

Steve's eyes flared open, and for an instant his gaze met Tony's and held. His mouth opened silently -- and then his eyes fell shut and his body curved over itself as he shook and shuddered and came and came and came, hot over Tony's hands, streaking white over his stomach and chest.

Eventually Tony slowed his hand and Steve fell back on the covers. His eyes were shut. He was smiling, skin flushed halfway down his chest.

This was where, if it were real, Tony would have kissed him. Tony would have kissed him and told him how much he loved him and how amazing he was and how grateful Tony was for letting him touch him.

"Thank you," Steve said. His voice had a tinge of that smoky hoarseness, still. And then he grinned an abashed grin. "Sorry," he murmured. "I'm not usually so-- so-- I don't mean to be greedy."

"Nothing greedy about it," Tony reassured him. "I'm just glad I could help."

Steve was still smiling, and Tony wanted to cuddle him, just nestle right up to him, here in the afterglow, but that was another thing they weren't doing.

"It was good of you," Steve said. "You're a good friend."

And it was a good thing that Steve still had his eyes shut, because Tony was pretty sure he couldn't hide the crestfallen look on his face. He didn't want to be just Steve's friend. But that was how this worked.

"No problem," Tony told him. His voice was steady. Excellent. "It was my pleasure."

Steve reached out, found the washcloth, and wiped himself off before Tony could offer. He lay there another few seconds, and then, as if this were the maximum amount of time he could permit himself to indulge in this, opened his eyes, sat up, and then stood up. Tony couldn't see his face anymore. He told himself he didn't have a right to.

He watched as Steve once again made his way back across the room to his pajamas, and Tony supposed there was no reason he could give Steve to stay this time.

Steve had said he'd felt greedy, but Tony knew he was the greedy one. He watched Steve dress with a strange hunger, watched Steve tuck himself neatly away, get his pants on, shrug his shirt on, do up the buttons. With every passing second, more of Steve disappeared under the fabric, and it was easy to tell himself that the Steve who'd lost himself in Tony's hands, who'd begged for his touch, had been nothing more than a fantasy. Here was the Steve Tony knew every day, just a friend, all buttoned-up, never uninhibited.

He kept watching, lonely already, as Steve walked to the door -- and then Steve stopped with his hand on the doorknob.

"Looking forward to seeing you tomorrow night," Steve said, with a smile.

He was really that into the sex, huh? That was flattering, but--

Tony frowned. "I'm not promising I'll be able to get toys by then, but I'll certainly try--"

Steve's smile was a little awkward, and Tony was beginning to think that that blush was never going to leave Steve's face. "Not that," Steve muttered. "I mean," he said, louder, "not just that. I was talking about dinner. You did say you'd try to come."

"Dinner?" Tony echoed, confused. Had someone said something about dinner?

"It's okay if you can't make it," Steve said, quickly, like he thought this invitation was presuming too much of him. "I know you're busy. But I-- I mean, the Avengers-- we'd all really like to see you, you know."

"Okay," Tony said, still confused.

Steve nodded like he'd received an order. "Good night, then. Sleep well."

Steve smiled one last time and let himself out, and as the door clicked shut Tony remembered exactly when he'd heard Steve talking about dinner, and it had been when Steve had been fucking him with his fingers and Tony would have agreed to anything he'd said as long as he'd kept doing that. And apparently that was exactly what had happened.

"I am a goddamn idiot," Tony slumped against the door, letting his forehead rest against the polished hardwood. "Why me?"

He was going to end up going to dinner with Steve solely because he couldn't keep his stupid mouth shut while he was getting fucked. Why did things like this always happen to him?

It was team dinner, which was heartening and agonizing in equal measure. Of course Steve wanted to improve team morale. But it also meant that for Steve they were really just fuckbuddies. Steve would never ask him out on a real date. Steve didn't love him. The sex was fantastic, but Steve was just using him.

But they both knew Steve was using him, so it was okay, Tony told himself. It was all going to be okay. He was handling this.

"You got this, Shellhead," Tony told himself, and he banged his head against the door again. It didn't make him feel any better.

Chapter Text

Once again, Tony barely slept. He'd thought last night was bad, but now it was far worse. Now he had even more memories of Steve for his brain to taunt him with, to reframe into scenarios that he knew would never be true -- and now, Steve had been in his bed. When they had been in Steve's room last night, that had been somehow safer. It wasn't like he'd never been in Steve's room before, but Steve's room wasn't his. He'd spent years in this room, in this bed, daydreaming of Steve -- sometimes with his hand down his pants, sometimes not. But the commonality of all his fantasies was that they involved Steve being here, right here. In Tony's room, or sometimes in Tony's armory. In all his most private and most personal spaces. Steve would be with him and Steve would love him and Steve would never want to leave him and Tony would never be alone.

It was pathetic, that was what it was.

He closed his eyes and began to dream up a future better than his sleeping mind would ever give him. The bed would dip slightly with Steve's weight next to him. Steve would breathe evenly, and Tony could match his breathing to Steve's and know that they were both alive, that they were both safe. If Tony turned over, he would see Steve next to him. Perhaps in his sleep, Steve would hold him tight. That way Tony wouldn't even have to ask for it. Steve would be right here.

But he was alone, and he couldn't sleep.

What he had of Steve was absolutely nothing like what he wanted, and what he wanted of Steve was something Steve wasn't going to give him. But he was going to make Steve happy, and that was enough. That had to be enough.

He stared at the ceiling for hours. He tried to open some armor schematics around four and get some work done, but after half an hour of nothing, he sighed and closed the file.

He crawled back in bed and shut his eyes. Still nothing.

At six, there was noise in the corridor, and Tony knew that was Steve getting up, leaving on his morning run. He'd be back in an hour. He was nothing if not predictable.

Because Tony was a coward, he waited. He showered, he shaved, he worked on more Stark Solutions contracts, and he very carefully did not head to breakfast. He wasn't hungry anyway. He was -- oh God -- going to have team dinner later, and that included Steve, and, God, how was he supposed to pretend to be normal around Steve? How was he supposed to look at Steve so no one else knew Steve had made him come harder than anyone else had in his entire life?

He stared at himself in the mirror and tried a smile. The hollows around his eyes were more pronounced than they'd been yesterday. It was fine. He was fine. He'd had so much worse.

Half an hour later, he had cause to reevaluate that, when the elevator let him off at the top floor of Stark Tower -- the shiny new Stark Solutions main offices -- and Pepper practically did a double-take from behind her desk.

"Morning," she said, and then her head shot up and she squinted at him. "Are you feeling okay?"

"Fine," Tony lied. "Perfectly fine. I just didn't get a lot of sleep."

She nodded, but her expressed was still unconvinced. "It's not an Iron Man thing, is it?"

Tony was grateful that she'd known about his identity for so long -- and that they were alone in the office. It was nice not to have to be on his guard all the time.

"Nope," he assured her. "Iron Man's been fine. There haven't even been any Avengers missions lately. No need to worry."

"Okay," Pepper said, still with a dubious tilt to her head. But, thank God, she was letting the topic drop as Tony headed past her into his office. "Your first meeting is in half an hour."

"On it," Tony called through the door, and then he opened up his laptop and pulled up five different sex toy websites.

The internet's selection of dildos was pretty much the same as it had been the last time he'd gone shopping for them -- staggeringly vast. There was a wide array of materials, colors, and of course sizes. Tony made a beeline for the largest ones, all of which had terrifying names like The Destroyer. There was one site that compared their models by posing them next to twelve-ounce aluminum soda cans, and that made even Tony's enthusiasm start to flag. Steve was probably bigger than most of these. Maybe even all of them. What the hell had Tony been thinking? How the hell was he going to fit anything remotely approaching these into his ass?

He couldn't chicken out now, he reminded himself. Steve was counting on him.

And Steve would make it good for him, too. It was going to work, because Steve was going to loosen him up just right. He remembered Steve's skilled fingers, sliding inside his ass, fucking him so perfectly, and then he swallowed hard and pushed the thought away, because his cock was already starting to harden, already used to getting some, just at the thought of Steve.

Tony figured it didn't much matter what the dildos looked like; he was getting enough actual dick elsewhere in this experience that the toys didn't need to look particularly lifelike. The first one he picked was glittery purple; it was large, but Tony had been with guys that big before. It wasn't intimidating, not like the others. His second pick, which verged more into the terrifyingly huge, was blue. Steve would like that. Steve liked blue. And then there was the third and final dildo, which Tony was pretty sure had not been intended by the manufacturers as something anyone was supposed to actually be able to use. It was probably supposed to be a gag gift. But it was fire-engine red, and it was humongous. The site just called it The Big One. Tony thought that maybe Steve was still bigger than it was. Still, it was the largest they had, which meant it was what he was getting.

And then -- because, really, what was the point of having obscene amounts of money if he couldn't do something like this? -- he arranged to have them same-day couriered, by a very discreet company, to his office. By lunch.

He'd be able to have them tonight for Steve. Steve would be grateful. Tony shivered and tried not to think about all the ways that Steve might express his gratitude.

Assuming all went to plan, Tony was going to get fucked tonight with one of those toys. Anticipation kindled a low-burning flame deep within him. On the one hand, the terrible aspect of this arrangement was that it was going to come to an end and he knew when: three dildos, so they had three more nights of practice, and then they had one last night together. Assuming it worked, they'd be done in under a week.

On the other hand, that meant that he had regular sex to look forward to. As an engineer, Tony appreciated precision and consistent performance. Steve was one of the handful of people in his life he could really, deeply rely on. When Steve said he was going to do something, he did it. So Tony was absolutely going to get laid. On schedule. Even if he was going to be miserable later, he was going to get to have this now. He could count on it.

With three minutes to go until the meeting, Tony made sure every sex-toy window was closed and his browser history was scrubbed. Now all he had to do was hope nobody along the line got bored or greedy and decided to leak anything to J. Jonah Jameson.

With two minutes to go, Tony realized he had absolutely no clue who he was meeting because he'd been too busy thinking about dildos to ask.

The door swung open.

"Tony!" said one of Tony's least favorite voices in the entire world, and Tony suppressed a shudder as Morgan sallied in, nudged the door shut, switched his cane to his left hand -- in which he had been clutching a manila folder -- and held out his right hand for Tony to shake. "How's my favorite cousin doing today?"

Tony stood up, smiled tightly, and stared Morgan down in that goddamn alpha-male high-powered-executive dominance bullshit that Tony always hated. Morgan was going to be insufferable about it if he "won," though. Tony made sure his handshake was stronger. Howard would have been proud.

"Doing great, thanks," Tony said, as he sat back down. "And yourself?"

"Oh, fine, fine," Morgan said. He leaned in like he was confiding a secret. "Still a little shaken by Isla Suerte. It was just dreadful how that bodyguard of yours wouldn't help me."

"Terribly sorry," Tony said, remembering how Morgan had begged him -- well, Iron Man -- for needless evacuation from the island, when there were so many other people in actual danger, whose lives Tony had had to save. "I'll have to speak with him about it."

Morgan nodded -- and then he squinted at him the same way Pepper had, like he didn't think Tony was okay either.

Jesus, Tony didn't need this. Morgan could scent weakness like a shark in bloodied water, and while Morgan had never actually managed to do more than inconvenience him all the other times he'd tried to pull something, now would really not be a great time for a corporate takeover.

He'd looked fine in the mirror this morning. What in God's name was everyone else seeing in him?

"Are you sure you're feeling all right?" Morgan asked, on cue, with all the absolutely false solicitousness that Tony had come to expect from him. "I mean, dealing with everything you've been dealing with, that whole legally-dead mess. We'd all understand if you wanted a leave of absence--"

Yeah, and you'd be all too happy to step in. Never mind that Morgan, though he was more than capable of doing his job at Stark-Fujikawa, would be worse than useless as the head of Stark Solutions. It was a consulting company. Tony was an engineer. Morgan wasn't. What the hell did Morgan think he was going to consult on? He probably didn't care, as long as he got the company.

Tony smiled through gritted teeth. "I'm absolutely fine, thanks. No need to worry about me going anywhere. Now, what can I do for you today?"

Impressively feigning a casual air, Morgan leaned back in his chair. "I wanted to talk about the Starkware roadmap with you. I had a few ideas. You understand, as director of North American operations at Stark-Fujikawa, it's very important to me that this collaboration between our two companies be a success."

"Of course," Tony said, as graciously as he could, and he tried not to think about how he could once have had Morgan fired. But he'd elected not to try to take his old company back from Fujikawa. He'd founded Stark Solutions instead, and that meant that Morgan, who still worked for Stark-Fujikawa, didn't actually work for him anymore. "Tell me what you're thinking of."

Morgan smiled and nodded and started talking. Something about projected market share. Tony stared off into space and waited for Morgan to get to the point.

He probably couldn't still have Morgan fired, he mused. Kenjiro Fujikawa had been more than a little annoyed -- and rightly so -- at Tony's flirtation with his granddaughter Rumiko back on Isla Suerte. Oh, they still had a business relationship, an excellent business relationship, but Tony was beginning to think he'd already run out of social capital for any more favors on that level. It was a damn good thing he wasn't actually sleeping with Rumiko.

No, he was sleeping with Steve. Memories of the past two nights slid into his mind, of the way Steve had arched under him and thrust up into his hands, the way Steve had smiled and laughed and looked up at him in a way Tony wished he could call adoring, but it couldn't have been that, because Steve didn't love him--

"And after the WebVoyager browser reaches a significant share of the users at this lower price point in the educational and low-income markets, as you wanted," Morgan said, enthusiastically, "that's when we raise the price. I'm thinking of a subscription model." He clapped his hands together. "Bingo. The investors will love it. A guaranteed revenue stream. Maximization of market penetration."

Penetration, Tony thought, dreamily. "Yeah," he said, only vaguely following, and then he snapped back into full awareness, because what the hell? "Wait. What?"

Morgan smiled an avid smile. "It's just good business sense, isn't it? You get more money for the same product. Honestly, I think we could stand to charge more anyway. It's a premium product."

Jesus. There was greed, and then there was Morgan. Could one man get any more venal? This was positively Dickensian.

Shaking his head, Tony held up his hands, as if he could ward the idea away. "Absolutely not."

"Let's be real, Tony," Morgan said. "We're in this to make money."

"Only from people who have the money to spare!" Tony snapped back. "That's not kids, and that's not poor people. I'm committed to education, Morgan. I'm committed to giving back to the community. I'm not going to nickel-and-dime people who can't afford it. Everyone deserves equal access to the future. That's what I've always believed, and that's what this company was founded on. That's what all my companies have been founded on."

God, Tony wished he could just fire him.

Unfazed, Morgan just raised an eyebrow. "Maybe that's how it used to be in the old days, but we're on the verge of the new millennium. I'm just respectfully suggesting that to keep pace with our competitors, well... Starkware needs to get with the times."

If Tony said over my dead body, Morgan would probably try to have him murdered.

Tony's smile was tight. "It's an interesting idea," he said. "I'll certainly give it the amount of consideration that it deserves." Which was none.

Morgan smiled in return. "You're not going to think about it at all, are you?" He sounded light. Pleasant. Like he'd expected this.

Tony leaned back in his chair. "Since you asked," he said, "frankly, I can't see what makes you think you have any kind of pull here. You're one of Fujikawa's regional directors, and I'm the CEO of Stark Solutions. I don't know why you'd think either I or Mr. Fujikawa would listen to you. We've formed a partnership. Obviously Mr. Fujikawa agrees with my basic aims, or this would never have gotten off the ground. Why do you think he'd change his mind now?"

Morgan's smile went wider, and that was when Tony realized he had something up his sleeve. "Ah," he said. "I considered that, you know. I've decided he might be more receptive if I were to show him the photos I have of you and his precious granddaughter."

Oh, shit.

But the initial split-second of panic was rapidly replaced by relief. He hadn't done anything with Rumiko. He hadn't even kissed her. The absolute worst Morgan could have would be photos of the two of them walking on a beach on Isla Suerte.

"You're lying," Tony said, confidently. "And I know you're lying, because I never touched her."

Triumph gleamed in Morgan's eyes. "Well, of course I'm lying, Tony," he said, his voice silky-smooth. "They're fakes. But Fujikawa won't know that, will he?"

He opened the folder, and took out three photos, one at a time: a long shot of a man that could have been Tony and a woman that could have been Ru, in a hotel lobby; the same two figures in a hotel room, by the window, in a passionate embrace; and the third, a close-up, blurred through a telephoto lens, of the same two people in bed, her legs around his waist as he moved within her. It was both of their faces, his and Rumiko's, unmistakable. The timestamp in the corner proclaimed it to be late last night.

It was a good Photoshop job. If Tony hadn't known for a fact that they weren't real, he might have even been fooled.

"She was actually in New York last night, you know." Morgan's voice was deceptively bland. "This very hotel, in these pictures. And I've got half a dozen people who will swear that they saw the two of you entering together." He smiled. "I wonder, Tony, do you have an alibi?"

Tony stared at Morgan in horror.

The truth wasn't going to save him. He couldn't say I was at Avengers Mansion all night, and Captain America and I were fucking. Steve was straight and they were a goddamn secret and he couldn't ask Steve to back him up because that would have meant going public about their nonexistent relationship, and that wasn't something Steve was ever, ever going to want to do.

Oh, God. Morgan had leverage after all.

"I hope you consider what I've said," Morgan said. His voice was almost sweet as he picked up the photos and put them back in the folder, tucking it under his arm. He stood up slowly, leaning on his cane. "Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to see me." His gaze took in Tony's office, scornfully, judging him, like he couldn't imagine Tony being busy, but then he smiled, suddenly, like he'd just realized he needed to get in good with Tony to facilitate his plan. Well, the part of the plan that didn't involve blackmail, anyway.

"Not a problem," Tony returned, keeping his voice pleasant. He needed to stay in control. Panic wasn't an option. "I've always got time for family."

Morgan chuckled. "I see Uncle Howard raised you right, after all," he murmured.

Under the desk, where Morgan couldn't see, Tony's fingers dug convulsively into his thigh. The world went ever so briefly gray and insubstantial, sound attenuating in Tony's ears. He wondered if he was going to faint. Now was not the time for family talk.

"I'm sure he'd consider that a compliment," Tony said, keeping his voice smooth with sheer effort of will. "I'll see you around, Morgan."

Morgan retreated, shutting the door behind him. Tony heard the irregular rhythm of his steps, the click of his cane, the noises softer and softer until the outer door opened and shut. He was gone. Tony let out the breath he'd been holding.

Well, this was a hell of a day already. God, what was he going to do?

"How many more meetings did you say I had today, Pep?" Tony called through the door.

"Five," Pepper called back. "Fifteen minutes until the next one."

Tony let his head thunk down onto the desk. He was exhausted already. Five meetings and then -- God -- he had to survive dinner. With Steve. In public.

At least he was definitely going to get laid tonight.

The dildos arrived at noon. Tony signed for them personally, not wanting to run the risk of anyone else being curious about his package, and then he stashed the box, unopened, under his desk. If he opened it up he was just going to have to deal with resealing it to get it out of here.

Lunch was right out, Tony knew. The low-key tangle of nerves and anticipation in his gut flared up every time he glanced down and saw battered cardboard and thought about what Steve was going to do to him with what was inside. There was no way he had the stomach for food right now.

Besides, he was eating dinner with Steve and the team, and the thought of that made his stomach lurch again. How was he going to get through that? Surely everyone was going to suspect something was up as soon as they saw the two of them together. Surely they were going to look at them and just know that something was different now. The Avengers now were for the most part longtime teammates, and they knew them both well enough that they had to just know. And there was no way Tony was going to be able to explain it to anyone. It had to be a secret.

He'd kept secrets for years, he reminded himself. Hell, he'd kept a secret identity. And Steve had no idea that Tony was in love with him, so didn't that mean that Tony was still doing a good job?

Nonetheless, he wasn't looking forward to this -- except for, well, the part where he got to eat dinner with Steve, because when it came down to it he always liked spending time with Steve--

God, he was gone for him, wasn't he? Tony shut his eyes and sighed.

The day dragged on. Even if Tony hadn't been exhausted, he probably wouldn't have had much luck paying attention. All he could think about was Steve. The box under his desk. Dinner. Steve. In bed with Steve.

Eventually the last meeting was over, and Tony hurriedly shook hands with someone in accounting whose name he'd completely blanked on, grabbed the box from under his desk, and hurried out. It was six-thirty. He'd be lucky to make dinnertime now.

He watched the traffic crawl by and thought about suiting up just to get home faster, but it was too late now. Steve would forgive him. Probably.

It was a quarter after seven when Tony stumbled through the doors of the mansion. There was chatter coming from the dining room, and Tony knew Steve must have heard him because someone shushed the noisy Avengers.

"You're just in time, Tony," Steve called out, from the dining room, and thank God, Tony wasn't late after all.

He realized he was smiling.

"Hurry up!" Wanda added, her voice raised in urgency. "Clint's going to eat your bread!"

"Give me a second!" he yelled back, and he dashed upstairs, threw his coat and the box in the general vicinity of his bed, washed his hands, and ran back down.

He stopped in the doorway of the dining room, as a powerful emotion washed over him -- something akin to nostalgia. The Avengers were all gathered around the table: Steve, Clint, Thor, Wanda, Vance, and Angel. It was like family, Tony realized, and the feeling rose up, tightened his throat. It was family. He was home.

There was an empty space next to Steve for him, the way there always was, and Steve was grinning at him. He had one hand held out, possessively, covering what ought to have been Tony's plate. It was a tableau, interrupted; on the other side of the empty chair, Clint was leaning over, ostentatiously tugging Tony's plate toward himself.

"I was trying to save you some bread," Steve offered. "Somebody had other ideas."

Tony smiled. "You're the sweetest," he said, and then he cringed inwardly, because, God, someone had to notice now. Wasn't that unusual? He couldn't possibly compliment Steve like that all the time. Could he?

Clint just rolled his eyes.

"Anyway," Tony added, a little unsteadily, trying to recover. "Um. Thank you."

He sat down, and Steve slid his hand away, revealing... garlic bread. Tony's mouth watered. He hadn't asked what they were having for dinner. He realized he was hungry after all. If they were having garlic bread, did that mean-- God, had they gone to all this trouble for him?

"Dinner's almost ready," Steve said, as Tony tore into the bread. Steve grinned at him again and filled his water glass for him. "Your favorite. Lasagna. Jarvis' special recipe."

"You didn't," Tony said, awed.

And then there was Jarvis behind him, the first of the trays balanced carefully in his outstretched hands. "Captain Rogers convinced me," Jarvis said, "that you might make more of an effort to join the team for regular meals if you could be enticed with your favorite foods."

Tony glanced over at Steve, who was now smothering his smile in one gloved hand.

"I might have hinted at it," Steve said.

Steve really wanted him around. He hadn't been kidding. But that didn't mean he loved him. Of course it didn't.

Tony was saved from having to reply by the arrival of another tray, and then another. Feeding the Avengers was like feeding a small army. One tray was meat lasagna, one was vegetable, and the third was probably meat but it didn't really matter what it was because that one was for Steve and Thor, who were going to demolish an entire tray by themselves.

The food was portioned out, and the chatter died down as everyone began to dig in. No one was paying attention to Tony, and that meant that he could let his guard down a little, stop worrying about what his face did when he looked at or thought about Steve, and just eat.

He was starving. He polished off one serving without really thinking about it, and after he'd cut himself a second piece of lasagna and set it on his plate, he looked up to find Steve regarding him with an odd mixture of happiness and worry in his eyes.

"You okay there, Shellhead?"

"Fine," Tony said, and it wasn't as much of a lie as it had been the rest of the day. He had some food in him. He had Steve right here next to him. He was feeling better. God, had he really not eaten anything all day? "I was just hungry, I guess. Still am."

Steve's mouth twitched in that soft little smile that made Tony's heart melt, and he gestured at the plate. "Well, don't let me stop you. I'm just glad I found something you liked. I didn't see you at breakfast this morning. It worries me when you don't eat, you know."

"Yeah, yeah." Tony snorted, in between bites of lasagna. "We all know you're the Avengers' mother hen." He thought about it. "Maybe not all of us. I don't think Justice and Firestar have figured that out yet."

Tony watched Steve's gaze shift to the far end of the table, where Vance and Angel were talking animatedly with Wanda.

"They wouldn't know, because they eat regular meals," Steve said, primly, and then he turned that earnest, concerned smile back on Tony, and widened his eyes. He had the most puppy-dog stare Tony had ever seen on a human being. God, he had beautiful eyes. Tony could just look at him forever. "Seriously, if there's ever anything I can do for you--"

Love me, Tony didn't say. Never leave me.

"Pretty sure you're doing absolutely everything I could have wanted," Tony said, which was simultaneously a giant lie and also much too revealing to be something he should have said in public, at the dinner table with their teammates, because Steve's cheeks went ever so faintly pink and Tony knew that Steve knew exactly what he was talking about.

Steve tried to cover by taking a sip of water, which was when Tony decided he'd better kill that line of discussion because Steve was clearly terrible at hiding anything. Steve was making muted spluttering noises and it seemed to take him two or three tries to actually swallow, and wow, Tony needed not to think about Steve in connection with swallowing, but it was too late, his brain had gone there.

It wasn't like Steve was going to go down on him anyway. Not only did Steve not love him, not only was it an unnecessary when Steve only cared about fucking him -- Steve was straight. And Tony was positive that straight guys were not into giving head. Well, sober straight guys, anyway, and that was definitely going to include Steve.

"Well," Steve managed to say. His voice was a little raspy. "Okay. Good. Just keep me posted."

"Can do," Tony said, and he turned back to his lasagna.

The food was delicious, as always. The rest of the team clearly thought so as well, because the next time Tony looked up from his plate, Thor was taking the very last piece. Tony sometimes wondered where he put it all, but he knew better than to ask questions of Asgardians.

"Truly," Thor said, "this is a feast as grand as any I have experienced." His gaze fell upon Vance and Angel, who were staring at him in awe, and Tony realized that this meant that Thor had new people to impress with his tales of Asgard. "Should my father have need of the Avengers, it would be my privilege to treat you with all the hospitality due a guest in my father's hall." Thor glanced back along the table. "Some customs are less welcome on Midgard."

"No mead in the mansion," Steve said, the automatic reply, with a wary glance at Tony, like he didn't know if it was okay to talk about.

"No flyting in the mansion," Wanda said, sternly, and Clint muffled a laugh. "Again."

"What's flyting?" Angel asked.

Thor opened his mouth, but Clint cut in.

"Sort of like a rap battle," Clint said. "But in Norse. With more mead."

"Aye," Thor said, clearly deciding he agreed with that assessment. "My brother is skilled in the art."

"No Loki in the mansion," Tony said. "Please. I just fixed this place up again."

"Those were the days, though, weren't they?" Steve said, with an oddly wistful look on his face. "The early days, I mean. There wouldn't be an Avengers team if you hadn't banded together to fight Loki. So we owe him, really."

It was weird, because-- "You weren't even there," Tony said.

"No," Steve said, "but I feel like I owe him, because if you hadn't formed a team, you wouldn't have found me, and I wouldn't have met you." He coughed. "I mean, you all. Everyone. So I'm grateful." He smiled a slightly misty smile. "Sorry. Just thinking a lot about... feelings, lately, I suppose."

Ha. So was Tony. Clearly not the same feelings, though. At least, not where it really counted.

Clint sprawled back in his chair with the perpetually-unimpressed look that he'd been trying out on Steve for, by Tony's count, nine years now. "Feelings are great, Cap, but what about dessert?"

On cue, Jarvis stepped forward with another serving dish. And once again, it was Tony's favorite chocolate cake. He knew he was being bribed now. Bribery was delicious.

This wasn't so bad, Tony told himself. See, he'd survived dinner. He could function in public. Maybe sleeping with Steve wasn't as terrible an idea as he'd thought it was. He was handling this.

The team demolished the cake, and then, in ones and twos, began to drift away, until it was just him and Steve and Jarvis.

"Thanks, Jarvis," Tony said. "You can get to bed. I've got this."

"But Master Stark--"

"I'm good," Tony said. "I didn't cook, so I'll wash. That's fair."

"I'll help," Steve volunteered, and soon enough, it was the two of them in the kitchen with a sink full of soapy water.

"You didn't need to help." Tony passed him a dish.

Steve shrugged and started loading the dishwasher. "The chores need to be done. Besides," Steve said, in a lower voice, "I thought we needed to talk anyway. To address that, uh, important exercise plan we were working on. You know, the training."

God, Steve was terrible at subtlety, and if that was any indication, probably also dirty talk. On the other hand, Steve hadn't really tried out any dirty talk; Tony had gotten him to say fuck last night and that had been a victory and also mind-blowingly hot. If Steve actually tried, the sheer hotness of hearing anything other than proper and staid euphemisms coming out of Steve's perfect and pure mouth would probably reduce Tony's working brain cells to zero forever, so maybe that was a good thing that he hadn't.

"Right," Tony said, and he could feel a ridiculous smile spreading across his face, one that matched the slow smile on Steve's face. "The training. Yes. Definitely."

"I was just wondering," Steve said, "if there's been any progress on acquisition of the... equipment."

Tony was very glad there was no one else in the room. "It's been acquired," he murmured.

"Oh," Steve breathed, and his face lit up. "And are you-- I mean, do you want to--"

"I'm ready if you are," Tony said.

Tony was pretty sure that no one had ever cleaned up an Avengers dinner as fast as Steve did then.

They'd decided that it would be less suspicious to anyone who happened to still be wandering the halls if they went up separately. So after Steve excused himself, Tony waited five minutes, headed upstairs, and grabbed the box from his room. Now he was standing here, waiting for Steve to let him in, feeling weirdly furtive and guilty, box of dildos tucked under his arm.

Steve hadn't opened the door yet, and Tony was beginning to second-guess himself. What if Steve had changed his mind and hadn't told him? What if Steve was just going to leave him standing here, like this, with his arms full of silicone dicks? What if--

At that moment, the door swung open. Steve was standing there, looking pretty much the same as he'd looked five minutes ago. He was still in uniform, but now the cowl was pulled back, his hair was rumpled, and he was smiling a wide and oddly nervous smile at Tony.

"Thanks for coming," Steve said, as Tony stepped in and Steve closed and locked the door behind him.

Well, with an opening like that...

Tony winked. "I haven't yet, but we'll see how the evening goes," he said, and he waited to see what shade of pink Steve would turn this time.

Disappointingly, Steve barely even flushed; he just smiled wider. "I'll do my very best," he said, low and intense, like it was a promise, and Tony went hot all over, because, God, Steve really sounded like he was into this, and Tony could almost pretend that it was actually for him.

Needing to change the subject, he held out the box. "Here you go. Special delivery."

Tony pushed the box into Steve's hands, watching as Steve immediately ripped the tape off and started to open it. His face bore an expression of satisfied delight, like Tony had handed him a more usual sort of gift -- an updated team roster or a newly-reinforced mail shirt, rather than a big box of dicks.

While Steve was distracted with the packaging, Tony took the opportunity to start removing his clothes. It wasn't like they were having some sort of deathless romance, or, in fact, any romance at all; Steve -- who was, Tony reminded himself, still straight -- wasn't going to get all hot and bothered watching Tony strip. Besides, it wasn't like Tony was anything special when the peak of human perfection was right here in the room with him. Steve probably just wanted Tony to get naked as soon as possible so they could get on with it. Steve had one dildo already clenched in his fist and was digging through the packaging for the rest.

Tony's shirt fell to the floor. He kicked off his shoes. He was working on his pants, his fly undone, his half-hard cock beginning to swell eagerly in his boxers, when he heard a small, strangled noise and looked up. "Yes?"

His mouth half-open, Steve was staring at him, his eyes wide and dazed. He was clutching the dildos, and as Tony watched, the empty box tipped out of his hands and hit the floor. "I," Steve said, like he didn't know how to form a sentence when he was looking at Tony. "I, uh. I was wondering. I wanted." He blinked and recovered a few more words. And then he held up the red dildo. The Big One. "I was going to say, I think I'm. Um. Still bigger." The words were more than a little bashful.

"Probably," Tony agreed, as he finally finished getting his clothes off. "You're very... gifted." The compliment made Steve's face tighten in entirely the wrong way, a wave of anxiety passing over him, and Tony hastened to reassure him. "Don't worry. I'm sure the plan will work. You'll get what you're here for." He held out a hand. "You want to give me the purple one? I figured I could get started tonight with the smallest size."

Steve tilted his head to one side. His eyes were clouded with confusion. "You want to use it on yourself?"

Tony squinted. "Yes? That's the plan. I thought that was what we agreed on. I try the smallest one, and if that goes well, I move on and try the next one, and then the last one, and then I'll be ready for you."

He supposed, now that he was thinking about it, that Steve didn't even need to be here. He could try them all out in the privacy of his own room.

"No, I understand that," Steve said, holding out his hands, and Tony had never before seen someone try to gesture imploringly with their hands full of dildos, but he supposed there was a first time for everything. "But I meant -- don't you want me to do it for you?"

Oh, God, did he ever want that. He remembered how good Steve had been with his hands last night, how Steve had unerringly found the right places, how he'd fucked him so well with just his fingers. Steve's hands driving a dildo in would surely be just as incredible -- that pressure, that fullness -- wielded with the same rhythm and the same skill. He should have known Steve would be good with his hands. He was perfect with his shield, in combat; why wouldn't he also be perfect in bed? And then, of course, from there his mind slid easily into the fantasy of Steve fucking him, really fucking him, with no toys in between. He wanted it so much. He wanted all of it so much.

"You don't have to," Tony said, and suddenly he felt much too naked for this conversation; Steve could look at him and see how much he liked the idea, how he was getting harder at the very thought, and Steve was still fully dressed. He felt raw, exposed, vulnerable again. "You really don't have to. I wouldn't want to inconvenience you. I can even try them out by myself. You don't need to be with me."

"I think I do, actually," Steve said, and a shiver went all down Tony's spine before he remembered that Steve couldn't mean it like that. "I mean," Steve added, "it makes sense for the plan, if I use them on you. I'm going to be with you for the, um, consummation, after all. And I think, I really think, that you need to get used to having me around in this setting. You need to be as comfortable with me as you can be, right?"

"I guess so," Tony acknowledged, "but I can't ask you to--"

Steve smiled that soft smile again, the one that Tony apparently had no defenses for. "I'm offering, Tony." He paused. "But if you don't want me to...?"

"No, no," Tony said, quickly. "That's fine. Good. That's great."

"Great," Steve echoed.

Steve set the dildos down in a messy pile on the nightstand, and, as Tony watched, he sat down on the chair next to his desk and started stripping out of his uniform. One boot. The other boot. The mail shirt, in a jingle of metal. His undershirt.

When Steve stood up to get his pants off, Tony figured he'd better get ready. He climbed up onto the bed and knelt, waiting, on his hands and knees. His cock, still only half-hard, dangled between his thighs. Facing away from Steve, he couldn't see what Steve was doing, but he heard what sounded like the clink of a belt buckle, and the soft rustle of fabric. He waited for Steve to approach him, for the touch of Steve's fingers or the dildo. He hoped Steve would want to use his fingers again, but couldn't bring himself to ask. Tony should just be able to take it, shouldn't he? The smallest toy wasn't even that big. He couldn't possibly ask for special treatment, for more attention, not when Steve was already doing this for him, and if Tony wasn't careful Steve was going to figure out exactly how much he wanted it--

But when Steve touched him, it wasn't anywhere that Tony was expecting. Steve's bare hand smoothed over his shoulder, encircled his bicep, slid all the way down his arm to where his hand was planted on the bed, which dipped as Steve sat down next to him.

"Hey, shh, what's this about?" Steve's voice was a soft, soothing murmur. "What are you doing?"

Wasn't it obvious? "Waiting for you, soldier," Tony said, in what had been supposed to be his best flirtatious voice, but it didn't quite come out that way. The words trembled in his mouth.

Steve's hand slid back up his arm again in a movement Tony wished was a caress. "Not that I mind the view, but -- you're so tense, Tony. You're shivering."

"I'm fine," Tony said. "You can just-- go on, you can just--"

He couldn't make himself say it.

"Tony," Steve said, and there was a note in his voice that might have been reproach and might have been horror, "you don't really think I'd just-- here. Just come here for a minute, okay--"

And then Steve was tugging him upward, and Steve's arms went around him, and Steve was pulling him over again, so now he was lying here, halfway atop Steve. His head was on Steve's collarbone, their legs were tangled together, and Steve's strong arms were wrapped around him, holding him close. It was every embarrassing wish-fulfillment fantasy he had ever had coming true -- Captain America was cuddling him! -- right down to the most shameful feature of some of those fantasies: he could feel Steve's dick, huge and hard and already leaking, pressed up against his hip.

Tony's heart was pounding, too heavy, too fast. What did Steve want from him?

He waited for Steve to demand explanations, excuses, but Steve just held him. His huge hands slid over Tony's shoulders; one broad palm traced a path up and down Tony's spine. Steve was shushing him, a soft sound, his breath warm across the shell of Tony's ear, and it made him shiver in a much more pleasant way. Steve's hand slid up his shoulder and his thumb rubbed little circles at the base of Tony's neck, where he hadn't realized he was tense until right now, and it was so easy to just-- relax--

"There you go," Steve breathed. "Shh. I've got you, Tony. It's still just me. Not going to do anything you don't want, all right? Just going to do this for a bit. Is this okay, what I'm doing now?"

Was he fucking kidding? It was the best thing Tony had ever felt. It had been his dream for a decade.

Tony blinked, and his eyes were hot, and he realized that if he didn't get himself under control there was a very good chance he was going to start crying on Steve's shoulder. Jesus, he was exhausted.

"Yeah," Tony said, hoarsely. "Yeah, it's perfect." He wanted to wince. He'd meant to go with a less revealing adjective. Apparently when he was this sleep-deprived, his filters started going away.

"Good." Steve's voice was soft.

They lay there for a while, long enough that Tony was starting to wonder if he could fall asleep like this. But he knew that wasn't what Steve wanted. Steve obviously wanted sex.

"It's a very kind thing you're offering to do for me," Steve began. "And I'm so glad you offered. And I understand that this is a casual thing. I know how to do this. Believe it or not, you're not the first person in the world I've ever had casual sex with. I've done the casual sex thing before." He said it a little hesitantly, as if he didn't think Tony wanted to be reminded of the fact that he'd ever slept with anyone else, or as if he didn't think Tony would believe that was the sort of thing he'd do. "For a definition of sex that means something to me, anyway," he amended.

True, Tony was having a hard time imagining Steve just sleeping around. "Really?"

On the other hand, Tony reminded himself, Steve was here, wasn't he?

"Really," Steve said, firmly. His hands were still stroking over Tony's skin, tracing aimless patterns. "And what I want you to understand is that even if this isn't anything more than just fooling around, it doesn't mean you're not my friend, Tony. I know what the offer was, I know what the goal here is, but you're more than just... a means to an end, okay? You're important to me."

Tony squeezed his eyes shut. The worst thing was, Steve probably thought he was helping. But Tony knew that they were friends. This was just reminding him that they couldn't have anything more than that. This was just some fooling around. That was what Steve was saying. This was casual.

"And we're not on any particular schedule here," Steve continued. "So if tonight you're not feeling up to that toy, that's fine by me. This isn't actually Avengers training. The fate of the world doesn't rest on what we're doing. We're just having some fun. You want that toy? Great. You want to just lie here like this and rub off on me? Also great."

Tony's brain was still trying to come up with an objection, because if they dragged this out it would only be worse, since they were still stopping once Steve got some. But he was suddenly achingly hard, because, Jesus, Steve had offered--

"You'd let me do that?" Tony could barely breathe. God, Steve could keep holding him, and he'd let him-- "I mean, I still think I should try the toy tonight, but first you'd-- you'd really let me--?"

"Oh, you like that idea?" Steve asked, and there was a low, almost sultry note in his voice that Tony hadn't heard before. "Here, here, come on--"

Tony was aware of Steve shifting under him, sliding, and then somehow Steve pulled him over a little more and Steve's huge hands were -- oh, yes -- on his ass, rocking him, up and over and then his cock slid against Steve's and they both groaned. Tony could picture how it looked. Steve could probably see it -- Tony sliding, rubbing up against Steve's monster cock. It felt even more massive now that he couldn't see it, now that he could only feel it, trapped against his cock, huge and hard and hot and leaking yet more pre-come, easing the slick slide of their bodies.

Steve was breathing hard, heaving under Tony, and somehow that made it even better. "What-- what do you mean, letting you, huh?" Steve panted. "How goddamn noble do you think I am, anyway?" The obscenity was a low growl, and Tony shivered and helplessly thrust up against Steve again. "I'm just a man, and you're-- God, Tony, you're so--"

Tony didn't get to find out what he was, because whatever Steve was going to say was swallowed up by another moan, when Tony rocked against him once more. Steve responded by grabbing Tony's ass even harder, rubbing him, his huge hands pulling Tony's cheeks apart with just the perfect amount of pressure, exposing him in just the right way, an openness that made him prickle and burn with desire.

Maybe he could talk Steve into leaving a few bruises where no one else could see.

"That's so good," Tony breathed. He was dizzy and hot and everything was perfect. He could forget all his cares.

"Mmm," Steve said, and Tony could feel the hum of his body when he talked, vibrating through him where they were touching. "Spread your legs for me?"

For one blinding instant, Tony thought maybe he was going to come just from the sheer hotness of Steve asking that, from that and the warmth and pressure of Steve's cock against his. He took a few struggling, gasping breaths and got himself under control, as Steve shifted again and freed a hand from its grip on Tony's ass. In an excellent act of forethought, he'd apparently stashed the lube under the pillow, and he was -- lucky bastard -- coordinated enough to do this all one-handed.

Obediently, Tony wriggled a little, lifting up until he was really more straddling Steve's hips in a crouch. It wasn't the most comfortable position, and it meant that he'd lost a lot of the delicious friction from Steve's cock, but somehow he had a feeling that Steve was going to more than make it up to him.

Steve's fingertips were cool and slick with lube, and the fingers of his other hand pulled Tony wider so that his right hand could settle back between Tony's legs and oh fuck that was amazing. Steve's palm cupped his balls, rolling them briefly, and Tony made a noise that probably should have been embarrassing but he was too far gone to care. Steve's face, furrowed in concentration, lit up; his smile was dazzling. Somehow Steve was enjoying this. Tony didn't really understand why Steve was enjoying getting his hands on another guy's junk, but then one of Steve's fingers slid inside him and Tony wasn't really capable of thinking of anything else.

It felt different than it had last night. Steve's fingers were slower, more methodical, shallower, just sticking to fucking him slowly, in and out, massaging his entrance. Steve obviously knew where his prostate was -- it had been very apparent that Steve had no trouble figuring out his way around Tony's body -- but other than a few glancing strokes that made Tony shiver and shudder, Steve seemed to be avoiding it.

"Is this okay?" Steve's voice was still husky, but full of concern. "You said you still wanted to try the, uh, smallest dildo tonight, so I thought maybe you'd appreciate it if I went a little easier right now?"

Oh. This was Steve working him open.

"Yeah," Tony breathed. He was having a hard time thinking. "Yeah, I want that. The toy. You and the toy." His head was hanging down; he was dimly aware that his arms were shaking. All he could think about was the feel of Steve's huge fingers. "You have good hands. I-- I thought about your hands all day, Jesus, Steve--"

"Did you?"

The words were soft and awed, the question gentle. When Tony lifted his head and met Steve's eyes, Steve was smiling at him, an amazed smile, and there was nothing Tony wanted to do more right now than kiss him.

But Steve definitely didn't want that -- if he did, he would have done it -- so Tony just nodded and smiled back. It was probably too gay for Steve, anyway.

"Good," Steve murmured. He glanced over to the side, and Tony realized he was eyeing the pile of dildos. He made that face he got when he was calculating something. And then he frowned. "It's big enough that I don't trust myself to do this blind, so I think we should move you, if that's okay with you?"

Tony wanted to protest. He liked where he was, with Steve's body pressed against his and Steve's fingers inside him and Steve's other hand holding him exactly where he wanted to be. But that wasn't the deal. They had a goal here.

"Okay," Tony said, and he choked back every bit of regret, down to where Steve couldn't see it. He was good at that.

Then Steve's fingers were sliding out of his ass, leaving him open and empty, and Steve gingerly eased away from him until Tony was half-kneeling, half-sprawling on the bed. From somewhere behind him came the sounds of Steve fumbling with packaging and lube. Thankfully, Steve didn't make him wait too long. In a few seconds, Steve's hand was on his hip, bracing him, and there was something cool against Tony's entrance that wasn't Steve's hand at all, and Tony shivered.

"Ready?" Steve asked, and Tony nodded. "Deep breaths," Steve told him. "You've got this, Tony."

Tony stared down at his hands against Steve's sheets and breathed. Steve's free hand glided up his side to his ribs and back to his hip, and then the pressure against Tony's ass increased. It wasn't quite painful, but, well, it was a big toy, and now -- oh, fuck -- it was inside him. Steve kept pushing, and when Tony breathed out again it came out of him as rough, jagged panting, and he couldn't quite remember how to breathe in again.

"Good," Steve murmured, a compliment that made Tony glow somewhere deep inside, and God, Steve was watching him; Steve could probably tell that Tony got harder when Steve praised him. Tony thought he was probably dripping pre-come on Steve's sheets. At least Steve was nice enough not to comment on it. "That's good, Tony. You're doing great. You're taking it so well. Keep breathing."

He breathed, like Steve told him to, and the dildo -- God, it was huge -- slid in another awkward inch, just the head, not far enough to feel good yet, but enough to feel the stretch and burn. It didn't quite hurt, but it wasn't comfortable, either. He whimpered, and Steve froze instantly. Tony guessed Steve hadn't been kidding about not hurting him.

"Tony?" There was a snap of urgent alertness in Steve's voice that Tony recognized from years of battlefield triage. "Talk to me. Is this okay?"

Tony nodded. "It doesn't hurt, it's just-- it's big. Go slow?"

It was embarrassing, really. He always wanted it like this, wanted so badly to get fucked, and now that he was here and Steve was trying to fuck him with something bigger than fingers, he needed it slow and gentle, like he was fragile. His face was burning.

Steve's free hand squeezed Tony's hip in reassurance. "Okay, Tony. I can go slow. You're doing great, okay? You're-- God, you should see yourself, I can't believe you're letting me do this--"

Tony couldn't help but laugh, which made his body clench in very interesting ways around the head of the dildo, and he was breathless again for a good few seconds. "Now which of us is the noble one, huh? Because I guarantee you it's not me."

If Steve only knew how true that was.

"Hey," Steve murmured, "that's a good thing. I'm just glad you're getting something out of this too."

"I'm going to be okay," Tony said, which was definitely a lie, as far as his future happiness went. "Don't worry about me. I'm really getting something, all right." He figured a joke would be best to take Steve's attention off his feelings. "I'm getting what you're gonna give me. Why don't you -- mmm, oh God -- show me what you can do with what you've got there, big boy?" He tried to look back and flutter his eyelashes, but he wasn't sure Steve saw.

He heard Steve chuckle. "Does that line actually work? On anyone?"

"Never tried it before," Tony admitted.

Steve was still laughing. "Don't quit your day job, Tony. Either of them."

And then -- oh, wow -- Steve was fucking him with the dildo, nice and slow, like he'd promised. He wasn't trying to push it in any further, just sliding it out, adding a little more lube, and sliding it back in only as far as it had been, just past the head. Steve wasn't pushing him, wasn't hinting that he ought to be able to take more at once, he was just... patiently working away, like he didn't mind waiting, like they had all the time in the world.

Tony breathed in, breathed out, and then it was like something gave way within him, because on Steve's next thrust it all felt good, all amazing, and then the whole huge dildo slid in, meeting no resistance, so big and so perfect, sliding past his prostate on the downstroke, and it was so good he couldn't form words.

He heard Steve gasp, a sound of shocked, startled arousal. Even straight guys liked asses, Tony told himself. It didn't mean anything.

"Tony?" Steve asked. His voice was rough with desire, and Tony shivered. "It's -- oh -- it's all the way in. You want me to...?"

"Please," Tony whispered. He hoped Steve wouldn't make him beg. God, Steve was just sitting there staring at him, wasn't he? Steve could see everything, everything he felt, how much he loved it. He couldn't hide. But then he remembered the way Steve had looked at him last time, after he'd come. It would make Steve happy. Steve wanted him to be happy.

Either Steve had taken the direction slow at face value or he was just an unusually good guesser about how Tony liked to be fucked, because he had it down perfect from the first stroke. Steve pulled the dildo almost all the way out of him and then thrust it back in in one long, perfect, agonizingly slow stroke, angled just right. Tony's hips rose up to meet it, and the noise that came out of his mouth was a strangled moan as the toy nestled inside him again, as deep as it could go.

He knew he could take more. He knew that, soon, he would be getting more. A lot more.

"Oh," Steve breathed, enthralled. "Oh, Tony, would you just look at you."

"S'good." Tony heard his voice come out of him slurred, lazy, dreamy, like he was drunk on pleasure. Out of control again. "More."

Steve made a small sound that might have been a laugh. "As much as you want, Tony, I promise."

Just as before, Steve worked the dildo out of him in a slow slide, and he thrust in again, at the same angle, and Tony canted his hips impatiently back.

"Harder," he heard himself say.

The next thrust was harder, heavier, the dildo slamming in. Tony was bracing himself with his hands and Steve had a hand on his hip, and even so he slid across the bed with the force of it. His head went down. His face pressed into the mattress. The toy was so deep in him, and everything lit up, and suddenly he needed release, desperately, right now, more than he'd ever needed anything. He could feel his cock twitch. His balls were aching, drawing up tight, and Tony shifted his weight to his forearm so that he had a hand free.

He fumbled, got a hand on his cock, and frantically started pumping himself when Steve thrust the dildo in again.

"There you go," Steve said, low, satisfied, joyful. "There you go, oh, Tony, oh--"

Steve kept thrusting, harder, shorter strokes now, each thrust hitting that perfect place inside him, and Steve didn't stop, and Tony was coming hard, trembling, dribbling over his fingers around the head of his cock, spurting and spurting again, crying out and clenching down, as Steve worked him through it, driving the toy into him, not letting up.

Eventually the pleasure ebbed, and Tony let himself sprawl in the wet spot, closing his eyes. Steve eased the dildo out of him. He wasn't even sore at all, really. That had been good. Tony lay there, floating in bliss, while Steve went away, coming back with -- geez, Steve was really spoiling him -- another warm washcloth, gently wiping him clean.

"Made a mess of your sheets," Tony mumbled.

Steve petted his hair. Oh, that felt nice. "They wash. And it was for a good cause. I'm not complaining."

Of course Steve wasn't complaining. Of course he was going to do whatever it took to get some.

Steve was still petting his hair, and Tony thought that maybe, for the first time in days, he could actually sleep. His limbs were heavy with post-orgasmic lassitude, a languid warmth spreading through his body, and he didn't much feel like opening his eyes again. But he was in Steve's bed, and Steve wasn't going to want him to stay the night, and besides, he owed Steve an orgasm. He had a plan to stick to. And he was really hoping Steve would let him try this phase of it out.

That gave Tony the energy to move. He opened his eyes and rolled to his side to find Steve lying next to him, stretched out on his back. Something about getting Tony off had clearly done it for him, because his erection was even more massive than it had been the last time Tony had looked at him, his hard cock draped over his stomach, throbbing, dripping even more pre-come. God, but he got wet.

When Tony let his gaze travel back up Steve's body, when Tony smiled at him, he found that Steve's answering smile was small, a quiet and nervous thing.

"Hi, there." Tony was startled by the way his own voice sounded, low and dark. "I've got a question for you."


Tony grinned. "How do you feel about blowjobs?"

Steve's cock throbbed again, and Steve made a very tiny, surprised gasping noise and bit his lip. Tony was going to guess that was a yes. "How does any man feel about blowjobs?" Steve asked, which wasn't really an answer. It wasn't exactly what Tony had wanted to know, either.

"No, I get that. I just mean--" he was having a hard time coming up with a nice way to ask can anyone suck you off without dislocating their jaw-- "uh, with the size you are, does it, how does it--"

He realized he was just gesturing at Steve's monster cock again, which probably wasn't going to make Steve feel great, but at the same time he couldn't really help that Steve and his anatomy made him speechless.

Steve grimaced. "Well, I don't know how successful you'd say they were, or what standards you hold yourself to, but I've-- I've had them a few times. Sort of. I mean, you can, uh, lick it," he said, and the last two words were an ashamed whisper, and Steve's face was bright red, and God, Tony wanted to do that. Right now. He wanted to taste him. "You can't, uh, fit much of it in your mouth," Steve added. "Sorry."

"But you like it?" Tony asked, just to confirm.

"You don't have to," Steve said, quickly. "God, Tony, you really don't have to--"

"It's all part of the plan," Tony said, and Steve's mouth twisted like somehow Tony had said the wrong thing. "Assuming it is, in fact, a thing you like," he added.

Steve blew out a breath. "That's putting it mildly," he said, low, sounding ashamed again. "I, um. It's not going to take long."

"Well, then this is going to be even more interesting," Tony said. He slid down the bed so he could rest his head against Steve's hip and get an eyeful of Steve's monster cock. He let his other arm fall over Steve's thighs, not reaching for Steve's cock yet, and he pushed himself up on his elbow and regarded Steve with his best serious look. "Because what I want you to do is try not to come while I'm sucking your cock."

Steve trembled all over, a full-body shudder. His thighs were still shaking under Tony's outstretched arm, and somehow his cock was even harder. "Oh, hell," he breathed. "Tony, I-- you don't understand, I can't, I'm-- I'm already all worked-up, I'm not going to make it--"

"Shh." Tony stroked Steve's hip. "It's not a test. It's just... training. You're not going to disappoint me. All I want you to do is consciously try to last a little longer, okay?"

He looked up along the length of Steve's body -- God, that was a nice view -- and saw Steve propped up, watching him. Steve swallowed once, his face determined, as if this were as grave as any mission.

"Okay," Steve said. "Go for it."

Tony leaned over a little more and -- fuck, he was going to have to use both hands, because that was how big Steve was -- wrapped one hand around the base of Steve's cock and the other around the shaft, making a lopsided circle. Then he bent his head and very delicately licked the tip of Steve's cock.

Steve's reaction was immediate. He groaned, low and agonized, and his entire body arched up, like he knew his cock belonged in Tony's mouth. And since his cock actually didn't fit in Tony's mouth, it was only Tony's arms keeping his hips down that kept him from mindlessly trying to thrust in anyway. God, he clearly hadn't had a lot of blowjobs, and something about that thought made Tony warm all over, the thought that he could show Steve this, even if it wasn't his very first time.

Tony wondered when the hell inexperience had become one of his turn-ons. It had probably happened at some point within the last three days.

"Oh my God," Steve said, and he sounded absolutely wrecked. Tony pulled off and regarded him. Steve's chest was heaving like he'd run a race. "Oh, Tony, your mouth, Tony," Steve breathed. "Do you have any idea how that feels? How the hell am I supposed to hold off?"

He felt like he was glowing again. Sure, it wasn't like people had never complimented him in bed, but it was different when it was Steve. Tony could tell exactly how much he meant it, because Steve was never anything but a hundred percent earnest, and there was something wonderful about knowing that he could affect Steve like this, that he could give him this.

"I think the traditional method of delay involves thinking about sports scores," Tony offered. "Baseball stats. I hear '41 was a good year for the Dodgers?"

Steve snorted. "Well, they won the pennant." His head thunked back on the pillow. "God, Tony, how do you expect me to think about anything else?"

"Just try," Tony said. "You're doing great." He lowered his head again.

He knew it wouldn't take long, but he kept up a rhythm going with his hands, rolling Steve's balls, stroking up and down the shaft, and he did the best he could with his mouth. There was so much of Steve, so much it was overwhelming him, and Tony found he liked the feeling of that. There was always more. He licked over the huge head of Steve's cock and up to the tip with broad, flat strokes, conscious of the fact that Steve was watching. His tongue met the edge of his fist on the upstroke and he squeezed a little, worked the tip of his tongue over Steve's foreskin, and Steve shuddered hard, oh, he liked that--

"Tony," Steve gasped. His voice was thin, breathy, pleading. "Oh, God, Tony, please, I can't hold on any longer--"

Honestly, Tony didn't see how Steve hadn't already come. Steve's cock was throbbing in his hands and under his tongue, his balls drawn up tight. Steve had been right when he said he was fast. They were going to need to work on that. And that meant that Tony only had a bit more time left. He wasn't sure if this would work, but, hell, he had a big mouth, didn't he?

He opened his mouth as wide as he could, feeling the ache in his jaw, and then he took Steve in as far as he could. It wasn't anything more than the tip; it wasn't even the whole head. But Steve went wild under him. He moaned and shuddered, and one of his hands came to rest on the back of Tony's head, locking into his hair with the oddly-endearing roughness of inexperience, like he could hold Tony right there.

"Oh, oh," Steve breathed. "Oh, Tony, I'm--"

Steve was coming, spurting into Tony's mouth, and while Tony would never have turned down swallowing for Steve, there was a hell of a lot of it, and Steve's hand was still holding him there. He tried as best he could, but there was too much, dripping out his mouth, and when Steve finally seemed to realize he was still holding onto Tony, Tony pulled back and the last of Steve's release smeared across his jaw.

"Sorry," Steve rasped. He'd dropped back onto the pillows, breathing hard. "I didn't realize I was so close-- maybe you didn't want to swallow-- God, it was just so good." He grimaced again. "I'm sorry I couldn't last."

Yeah, they were definitely going to need to work on Steve's endurance, Tony thought, as he scooted back up the bed to join Steve.

"Don't feel bad," Tony told him. "I liked it. And I've got more plans for you." That, at least, was definitely true. He rubbed a hand over his face; his fingers sticky with saliva and come. "Wow, I'm a mess."

Steve offered him a tissue. "You're pretty as a picture," he murmured.

The compliment made Tony hot, and he was glad he had the excuse of wiping off his face. He couldn't remember Steve ever calling him pretty before, and he picked now to start? He supposed Steve had a thing for facials, even if he didn't really like men. Tony could understand that. Steve was a very visual kind of guy. Tony could see why it would do something for him independent of physical attraction.

"Thank you," Tony said, feeling like a small compliment in return would be the best way to ease past this. "And you're so kind."

"Hey," Steve said, and Tony froze, because Steve was touching his face, because that was Steve's thumb smoothing over his jaw. "Is your jaw all right? That didn't hurt you, what you did for me there?"

Tony breathed out in mingled relief and disappointment as Steve's hand fell away. That wasn't love. That was concern for his welfare.

"I'm fine," Tony assured him. "No pain anywhere. And you liked that, what I did, right?"

He didn't know why he was bothering fishing for compliments, but Steve's nod was enthusiastic. "I haven't got much experience, because, mostly, well, people don't try, with me -- but I liked that a whole lot, and I'm glad you wanted to," Steve said, with a shy smile. And then quietly, he added, like it embarrassed him, "I never really want to admit to myself that I have a preference one way or the other. Always seemed a little unfair, because you can't help what you've got. But, well, where this particular act is concerned, generally the fellas have bigger mouths. You know what I mean?"

Tony nodded in acknowledgment -- and then every bit of lazy bliss evaporated from him in a rush as he realized exactly what Steve meant. God, that sounded like-- that really sounded like Steve had--

"Steve," Tony said, and his heart was fluttering and he was trembling and the sweat on the back of his neck was ice-cold. "You've-- you've been with men before?"

He realized that, when Steve had been talking about his past partners earlier, Steve had very carefully not specified their gender. Tony hadn't noticed.

The room was silent, and then Steve exhaled hard, a shaking breath. When Steve looked at him he was wide-eyed, tense, like he was bracing for a fight, like he thought something about this was going to make Tony mad.

"I know I've never been as open about it as you've been," Steve said, very quietly, and the words were laced with a kind of shame. "I know I've never told you how brave I thought you were. I think about what it would mean to people, to gay people, to know that Captain America is like them, and some days I feel so guilty that I've never said anything." He licked his lips, a nervous, convulsive movement. "And I know it sounds like I'm making excuses, and I am, but you have to understand that it was different back then. It was illegal. More so than it is now. At least these days, they might have covered it up. Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and all that. If they'd caught me back then, I'd have been discharged at the very least. Blue ticket, probably. And if I told the truth now, about what I did, I honestly don't know what they'd do to me. Probably still some kind of discharge. I don't care about the medals, I don't care if they take them away from me, but they'd want me to name names -- or that was what they used to want, I don't know what they'd do now -- and I don't know if any of the others are still alive, but I can't bring myself to ruin someone else's life. Not even for the truth."

God. Tony couldn't even process this. Steve was proud of him because the entire world knew he and Tiberius Stone had fucked around when they were teenagers, back when Tony had stupidly thought that maybe the people he loved wouldn't hurt him? Ha. That was rich. Like Tony deserved any kind of admiration for that.

And Steve-- Steve had slept with men? In the forties? But the way Steve was saying it, he sounded like he thought Tony was getting on his case for not being as out as he was, which was ridiculous. He sounded like he thought Tony already knew he'd slept with guys and that the real issue here was something else.

"But," Tony said, because this didn't make sense, because Steve was straight, wasn't he? "But you're really-- you're really attracted to men?"

Steve stared at him. His mouth was half-open in shock. Tony was beginning to think they were having two very different conversations.

"Is this some kind of joke?" Steve asked.

Tony shook his head. "I-- you-- but you're straight, aren't you?"

Steve took another noisy breath, this one a little calmer. "Tony," he said, and it sounded like he was trying very hard to keep his voice under control. "You asked me if I wanted to sleep with you. I said yes. We've had sex three times now. We are naked in my bed and you have just given me the best blowjob of my entire life. What part of this, exactly, suggests to you that I'm not attracted to men?"

"You never said so before," Tony pointed out. His voice was weak in his own ears. "You didn't say so when you said yes."

"I didn't think I had to!" Steve scraped his hand over his face. "Do I even want to know why you think I agreed to this?"

"Well, you know," Tony said, and he was beginning to realize that it didn't sound quite as defensible when he had to put it in actual words. "I just figured that, uh, you really wanted to get laid." Steve's face went through about four separate expressions and none of them were any good, but Tony had committed to this explanation and he might as well finish now. "And, well, people are people and we've all got hands and mouths and, uh, asses, and you could just shut your eyes and pretend--"

"Oh, Tony," Steve said, and then he was resting his hand on Tony's arm, like he could halt that train of thought just by touching him. "Jesus, Tony, no. I'm not thinking about women, okay? I'm not thinking about anyone else." Steve's face was still flushed. "You're, um. You're very attractive."

He ought to have felt better, hearing Steve say that, but it was wrong, it wasn't enough, it wasn't what he wanted, and somehow it made everything worse. He couldn't think. He couldn't even process this. Steve wasn't straight. This changed everything. This ruined everything even more.

If Steve had been straight, that would have been one thing. He wouldn't have been able to have feelings for Tony because that would just have been the way of things. The way he would have been built. The way he would have been wired. And they would have been sleeping together, just for Tony to do Steve this favor, but it couldn't have been anything more, and that had been the one thing, Tony saw now, that he had been clinging to. It would have been impossible for it to have been what Tony wanted, and that would have been heartbreaking, yes, but it would have been easier.

But knowing now that Steve wasn't straight -- it meant that Steve could have loved him. It meant that Steve could have felt for Tony what Tony felt for him, and it also meant, at the same time, that he didn't. They'd had ten years, and obviously Steve didn't. Because this was what Steve had agreed to. This was what Steve wanted from him. Meaningless sex. No strings attached. Friends with benefits. Best friends, sure, but just friends. Nothing more than that. It wasn't because Tony was a man. Tony could have accepted that and moved on. No, it was because Tony was Tony, and Tony clearly wasn't what Steve wanted for anything beyond his body. Steve was just using him, and that was what Tony had agreed to, but knowing that... well, it hurt. Tony wasn't good enough to be loved. And that -- that made it so much worse.

Tony swallowed hard. He didn't know what to say. He had to say something.

"And you've really," Tony said, ignoring the compliment because he didn't know what the hell to do with that, "you've really-- you've slept with men?"

Steve squinted at him like he couldn't figure out why Tony was still hung up on this. "Not since 1945. And I don't know what you're picturing, but I didn't really do anything you couldn't do standing up with most of your clothes on, in an alley behind a bar. Didn't learn a lot of people's names. It wasn't that kind of scene. You're, uh, the first fella I've ever brought home, really."

When Steve had said he'd had casual sex before, he'd obviously meant with men. Steve slept with men. He didn't fall in love with them, obviously. He couldn't be in love with Tony.

He needed to get out of here. Breathe. Deal with this.

Tony's pulse was loud in his ears. "I-- I'm honored." He made himself smile.

Steve squeezed his shoulder again. "You should be." But there was something in his eyes that wasn't right, and Tony didn't know what it was.

"I should go." Tony slid away from Steve's grasp and sat up, looking around for his clothes. He had to go. He had to get away.

"You know you could stay, if you wanted," Steve said, very quietly. He'd said that the first night, too.

Tony couldn't take another minute of this, of being here, trying not to think about Steve breaking his heart. "No, uh, that's okay, thanks," Tony said, quickly. He slid into his pants; he buttoned up his shirt. He thought maybe the buttons were done up crooked. It didn't matter. He needed to leave. His heart was pounding. "I should really get going."

"And you're sure you're okay?" Steve asked.

God, could Steve hear his heart pounding? Tony hoped not.

"Fine," Tony said, and he forced a smile. "Absolutely fine."

Steve stared at him for a few seconds, like he was pretty sure there was something wrong with that but he had no idea what. "Okay," Steve said, looking away, his face drawn, like somehow Tony had hurt his feelings. Tony had no idea what was going on here. "Okay. Here. Don't forget--"

Getting up, Steve went to the bathroom, and he came back with the dildo he'd used on Tony, clean and dry. He put it in the box with the rest of them, and he handed the box to Tony. Their fingers brushed, and Tony shivered.

"Thanks," Tony said. "See you tomorrow, huh? Maybe not dinner, I don't know, we'll see--"

"No, it's okay." A muscle in Steve's jaw worked. "I'm sure you're busy anyway."

"Okay," Tony said, uncertain. "Whatever you want."

Ha. They were already doing what Steve wanted, weren't they?

"Sleep well," Steve said.

Oh, like Tony was going to be able to sleep.

"Will do," Tony lied, and after he backed out the door and shut it he had to lean against the hallway wall and catch his breath.

Everything about this was going wrong, somehow.

Chapter Text

Being inside his room should have felt safe. It had always been Tony's sanctuary, from the earliest days of the Avengers. Sure, his workshop was where he invented, where he created, where he shaped the future. But in the old days, when he'd worn the chestplate, his room was the one place in the mansion where he'd felt absolutely safe being himself. The real Tony Stark, whoever the hell that was. He'd plug himself in and he'd charge the chestplate back up. And, yes, of course, it had been a burden, a kind of shackle, and he'd resented it, but at the same time there had been a kind of freedom -- he could take the helmet off and as much of the suit as came off and just sit down and not have to be anyone else.

It sure as hell didn't feel like that now.

Even being here was no respite. The problem was him, and the problem was going to keep being him, wherever he went. He was stuck being Tony Stark, and this was his life.

Tony locked the door, dropped the box of dildos on the table, kicked his shoes off, and curled up on the bed. He realized he was shaking.

Steve was queer, and everything was different now.

His mind mocked him, a loop of thoughts, running around and around, a twisted Möbius strip: What the fuck were you expecting, genius? Did you really think he'd have slept with you if he'd been straight? How dumb are you?

Pretty dumb, clearly. He'd never thought of it. He'd honestly never thought of it.

It had been so much easier when he had thought Steve was straight. Steve would never have wanted him, and that was the way it would have been. But now, he found himself picturing horrible what-if scenarios: when had Steve decided what he felt -- or rather, what he didn't feel -- for Tony? Had he met Tony and sized him up that very day as being pretty enough to fuck, capable of being a decent friend, and unworthy of anything more? Or had it been when he'd found out Tony was Iron Man? Was then when he had decided that he'd never be able to trust him enough to love him? Or, worst of all, had it been when Tony had been in the depths of alcoholic despair? God, Tony had been so drunk that even now he barely remembered what he and Steve had said to each other, the day that Steve had come to find him in that flophouse. Had Steve looked at him then and realized that Tony was too broken to ever be loved?

Tony rolled over, clutched at the sheets, and shut his eyes in misery. It wasn't fair. Even if he ended it with Steve now, it wasn't going to get better, because he was always going to know that this was how Steve felt about him. Tony just wasn't good enough. He wasn't ever good enough. Not for what he wanted.

"Cheer up, Shellhead." His voice echoed in the quiet room. "You're gonna be one hell of a good fuck."

He laughed, a harsh sound in the silence, and he realized there was a tear trickling down his face, blotting itself out on his pillow. God, he was exhausted. He hadn't slept in days, really. Two? Three? He needed to get himself under control.

It was kind of a wonder that he hadn't slept, really, given that Steve had been doing his level best to fuck him stupid for three days running. And Tony would have thought that if anything could have done the trick, it would have been the repeated excellent orgasms. He ought to have been out like a light. But, no -- as soon as Steve left him alone, he started worrying. About his life. About Stark Solutions -- fuck, what was he going to do about Morgan? But mostly, he was worrying about Steve.

This was ridiculous, he told himself. He was just going to ignore it all. Deep breaths. Get some sleep.

He shut his eyes again, and it was the opposite of relaxing. The world seemed to spin around him in the dark, like he was was dropping in the armor, falling without stabilizers. Everything seemed to be whispering at him, and there were colors behind his closed eyelids, wavering patches of red and yellow. Jesus, he was hallucinating. He was probably hallucinating. That wasn't real.

He opened his eyes and his room snapped into too-blurry focus. Okay, he was actually hallucinating. What the hell was that?

God. He needed to sleep. He needed so badly to sleep. A couple hours. Anything.

He shut his eyes again. It could have been a minute later or an hour; time was suddenly a non-Newtonian fluid. His thoughts spiraled in nonsensical tangents, too fast: Steve carrying him out of a long-ago fire, blood dripping from his chest as it oozed around the shrapnel, his father breathing whiskey-scented breath against his face and pushing a shot glass into his tiny hand. He couldn't tell if he was dreaming or if it was his waking mind, but either way it was a nightmare, and a rumble of thunder that was probably only inside his head made his eyes flare open. He sat upright, his heart pounding.

He stared at the clock. That had only been ten minutes.

Well, tonight was going to be hell.

That thought tripped a few odd causal links down the chain, and Tony had an epiphany.

Maybe it was demons.

It wasn't actually as crazy an idea as it sounded, Tony thought. Demons existed. That was an incontrovertible fact. He'd met them. Maybe the reason he couldn't sleep, maybe the reason his nights these days were full of torment -- maybe it was actual torment. Maybe Mephisto had it out for him. He couldn't think of anything he'd done in particular to merit this treatment, but who knew why demons did what they did? Maybe he was, in fact, possessed.

It made as much sense as anything else did, lately.

He really, really needed to sleep.

Sleep once again eluded him. Whenever he shut his eyes, the world was filled with half-awake, half-dreaming hallucinations, bright swaths of color and muffled shouts and dazed memories. He'd lost all grip on his feelings, and he'd decided to accept that he was just going to cry, because that was what his body wanted to do. He felt like he'd never been this sleep-deprived before, and that included the week in college where he'd started spiking espresso with caffeine pills.

He cried. He lay awake. He cried. God, he just wanted to sleep.

He showered. He stared at himself in the mirror. His face was patchy. He'd obviously been crying. His eyes were bloodshot.

At seven, Tony stumbled downstairs -- literally stumbled, because he missed a step and caught himself on the railing. Alone in the kitchen, he spooned out a bowl of yogurt and carried it to the table with shaking hands. His stomach lurched, and he wasn't sure if food was a good idea or a very bad one.

And then Clint, Wanda, and Steve walked in.

"And so I told my brother--" Wanda was saying, and then she stopped. "Oh, good morning, Tony. How are you?"

Tony glanced up. Clint and Wanda were smiling encouragingly. Steve's face, on the other hand, went through about five different emotions, one of which looked like shame and one of which looked like full-out terror, before settling on the kind of frightened concern that Tony was used to seeing on Steve's face only on the battlefield and then only when Tony had eight feet of rebar running through his chest and sticking out the other side.

"Tony?" Steve's face was almost deathly pale. "Tony, are you all right?"

They couldn't talk about it. They weren't alone. They really couldn't talk about it. Tony couldn't say I can't sleep and I think I'm hallucinating and I'm sorry I ran out on you and I know you're upset with me even though I'm not sure why and mostly I'm just really sad because you don't love me. Not that he would have said most of that anyway, but he definitely couldn't say it now.

"I'm--" Tony began, and he meant to say fine but the word just wasn't there.

He remembered what Steve had told him three days ago. Had they really only been doing this for three days? Steve hadn't wanted him to hide that he was in pain. Maybe he'd meant it about this, too.

"No," Tony admitted. His head slumped forward. He couldn't look Steve in the eye. He was so goddamn tired. "I'm really not all right."

And, okay, maybe Steve's feelings had been hurt last night but Steve was clearly willing to put all that aside, because he was next to Tony in an instant. Before Tony could say anything else, he'd pulled out a chair and he was at Tony's side, reaching for him but not quite daring to touch him.

The thought occurred to Tony that before they'd started sleeping together, Steve would have touched him. Unhesitatingly.

"You don't look well at all," Steve said. "What's the matter? Are you sick? Are you in pain? What happened?"

"I can't sleep," Tony said, miserably, and he heard his voice crack on the word, and he wanted to cry again. "I-- I just can't-- I'm not sleeping. At all."

Even though Steve didn't say it, Tony could read his thoughts as clearly as if he'd said them, as Steve's face creased in echoed pain. Steve was wondering how he didn't know. How he'd never noticed. How he'd left Tony alone eight hours ago and Tony had been fine. How he hadn't noticed anything wrong when he'd taken Tony to bed. Any of the times he'd taken Tony to bed. And, of course, Steve couldn't very well ask that.

Steve's voice was tense. "How long has this been going on?"

"I don't know," Tony said. "Three, four days, maybe?" He felt like if anyone asked him any kind of question, he really was going to start crying. "I don't-- I don't know-- I can't--"

His eyes were hot. He swallowed hard. The room spun around him again.

"Do you want to see a doctor?" Steve asked. "I think you should see a doctor. I can call Hank. He can probably be down from Westchester in an hour. Faster if I tell him he needs the Blackbird."

God, he didn't deserve Steve. Somehow he'd said something wrong to him last night and Steve was so kind to him anyway and Steve was -- oh, there he was -- putting a hand on Tony's shoulder, rubbing his back in little calming circles, the way he had last night. Tony couldn't think about last night. He was either going to start crying or get the world's most inappropriate erection. Or both.

And he didn't want to explain any of this to Hank. He didn't want to see a doctor. The only thing they were likely to do was give him hardcore sedatives, and Tony had several very good reasons for not wanting to take those anymore. Not to mention that Hank wasn't going to be able to help him if it was, in fact, demons.

"You don't need to do that," Tony tried to say, but he was pretty sure Steve wasn't going to be satisfied with that answer.

Steve's nostrils flared, and his face set into that familiar mulish expression, the one that said Tony wasn't getting out of this easy. "I really think you should see someone, Tony," Steve said, and then something in his expression changed, soft and pleading. "Please?"

He couldn't. He couldn't handle this. This conversation needed to be over.

Tony nodded in a way that he hoped was convincing. "I already made an appointment. I'm seeing a doctor in a few hours." There. Now Steve wouldn't bother him.

It was a complete and utter lie, of course, but in the grand scheme of Things He Was Already Lying To Steve About, it was actually relatively minor. Tony felt like maybe it counted as an improvement. He was practically almost a good person.

Patting his shoulder, Steve gave him an encouraging smile. "I'm really glad you're taking care of yourself," he said, in that completely earnest way that only he could pull off, which made Tony feel about ten thousand times worse. "Let me know if there's anything I can do."

Please, Steve's eyes said, a guilty message that only Tony knew how to interpret.

Maybe Tony should make himself a damn doctor's appointment after all. But he couldn't. How could anyone help him if the problem was demons? He couldn't rule that out. Med school didn't cover a lot of the kinds of trouble that superheroes actually ran into.

"Yes," Wanda agreed. "Any of us. We can help you, Tony."

"Think sleepy thoughts," Clint said. "If you pass out, I'll draw dicks on your face with a Sharpie. You don't want to miss your chance at that."

"Clint," Steve said, with what Tony considered admirable restraint.

"Come on," Clint said. "You can help. Put all those artistic skills to use. Draw a supremely gorgeous penis on Tony's face. Make it beautiful."

Steve's dick was a work of art, Tony decided, and then he hoped he hadn't said that out loud.

"Clint." Steve's voice was more strained now.

Clint sighed. "Fine, Captain No Fun."

Clint just didn't understand Steve, Tony thought. Steve didn't joke about sex, and of course now that Tony knew why, it was both better and worse. His secret, their shared secret, weighed on him. He hoped he hadn't ruined things too badly with Steve. He still wanted to see Steve again. Even if Steve was using him. He loved him too much to stop doing this.

God, he was a mess.

He was a mess and he needed a doctor. But where the hell was he supposed to find a doctor who could check to make sure he was free of demonic possession while trying to cure his insomnia?

Oh. Yeah. Right. There was an obvious answer to that.

"You know," Stephen said, "most people would have made an appointment with their primary care provider first."

The Sanctum Sanctorum had always kind of creeped Tony out. To the right sort of person, it probably would have been lovely. It always felt like it had been trapped in time, an antiquarian's dream, with shelves and shelves of leather-bound books towering above Tony's head. The floorboards were worn, creaking underfoot. The furniture was all overstuffed chairs and couches, ornate, from another era. Dust motes danced in the light from the high windows. It was a cozy place. But Tony felt like there was always something moving out of the corner of his eye, something he couldn't quite see lurking on the other side of every door, and it put him on edge. He hated magic.

Also, the place always smelled like a combination of musty old books, patchouli, and something that Tony sincerely hoped wasn't human blood.

And, worst of all, Stephen didn't keep any goddamn coffee in the house.

Still, he'd been nice enough to agree to see Tony in the first place on such short notice, and he'd been more than gracious on the phone, even though Tony hadn't even told him exactly why he'd wanted to see him. So Tony perched on the edge of his crushed-velvet wingback chair and sipped his black tea from his delicate porcelain cup while Wong stood at his side and glowered silently down at him.

Stephen was just sitting there across from him, waiting. His own cup of tea was on the table next to him. Tony watched steam rise from its surface.

"I'm not most people," Tony said. He sounded a little more defensive than he'd meant to. God, but he was tired.

There was a very faint smile on Stephen's face. "I think we're all aware of that, Tony."

Wong was still glaring.

"This is very good tea," Tony offered, in hopes of appeasing Wong, but apparently asking the guy for coffee had been an unforgivable mistake, because Wong was still glaring.

So far this wasn't going great. Maybe he should have talked to Hank after all.

Stephen gestured. "You may leave us, Wong."

Wong nodded, and with one final contemptuous look at Tony, he left the room, closing the door behind him. The two of them were now alone in Stephen's library. One of Stephen's libraries. Tony wasn't exactly sure how many libraries Stephen had.

Stephen steepled his fingers together, and he looked up. "I meant that someone other than me would have been a better first stop," he said, finally. "Unless the answer to your problem is going to involve brain surgery, I'm unlikely to be the doctor you want. And even if the answer is brain surgery, I can't actually operate on you." He lifted one trembling hand in illustration. "And I don't actually have admitting privileges anywhere anymore." He sighed. "It's hard to keep up with all the licensing paperwork when you're in another dimension battling Shuma-Gorath, you know?"

Geez, and Tony thought he had bad days. He wouldn't take Stephen's job in a million years.

"The answer's not brain surgery." Tony frowned and considered what he'd said. It wasn't like he knew for sure. "Probably."

Stephen didn't look particularly heartened to hear that.

"Let me level with you," Tony said. He twisted his fingers together and then rubbed his hands on his pants. Out of every person on this planet, Stephen Strange was going to be the one person who wasn't going to judge him if he said he thought he might be possessed. "I just want you to look me over. Do your thing. And if it's nothing you can help with, I promise I'll go to a real doctor with a valid medical license. I just thought that a real doctor who was also the Sorcerer Supreme might be able to help me out in ways someone else couldn't." He coughed. "That's all."

Stephen sat back in his chair. "All right." He sighed. "What seems to be the problem?"

"I can't sleep." Tony swallowed hard. "And I think-- I think it might be demons."

There were several seconds of dead silence, and then Stephen's eyes narrowed. "Keep talking."

"I haven't slept in days," Tony admitted. "I was really hoping you had coffee."

Stephen's mouth twitched in a small smile. His bedside manner needed some work. "Sorry, Tony." His lips pursed, evaluating. "Okay. How long has this insomnia been going on, exactly?"

Tony shrugged. "My sleep hasn't been great since we all got back from Onslaught, but I was still sleeping then. It got rougher over the past couple weeks, but even though I was getting less sleep I could still sleep when I tried. But for three, four days, maybe, it's been basically nothing. I've been trying to sleep. I just can't."

"Are there any unexpected sources of stress in your life?"

Tony heard himself laugh, low and mocking, and he wanted to start crying again. Everything felt so completely out of his control. "I'm a superhero, I'm an active Avenger, I was recently declared alive after a year of being legally dead, and I'm trying to build a new company out of nothing. What the hell do you think the answer to that is?"

His voice shook as he spoke; his tone, angrier than he had meant it to be, would have dissuaded most people, but Stephen was clearly made of sterner stuff. He was a superhero. He was the Sorcerer Supreme. He'd seen it all.

"Yes, but all of those things were true of your life two weeks ago." Stephen was unflappable. His voice was level. Calm. "And two weeks ago, you were still sleeping. Maybe not sleeping well, but you were sleeping. What I'm asking is if there's anything new or unusual that's happened to you since then that's causing you stress?"

Well, Doctor, two weeks ago I saw Captain America naked and somehow in the intervening time we've started fucking, which is both the best and worst thing that has ever happened to me.

Tony smiled a thin smile. "Not that I can think of."

"Hmm," Stephen said. He frowned, and then he seemed to shift gears entirely. "When you were sleeping, were you dreaming?"

Did those hallucinations from last night count? Probably. "Yes."

Stephen frowned again. "Were they nightmares?"

Were they ever, Tony thought. "Yes."

"What were they about?"

The sudden shock of the question made Tony sit bolt upright. It felt like a betrayal, somehow. He'd just expected ordinary medical questions. It was probing, invasive, nothing he'd been expecting. Stephen didn't need to know that in his dreams he relived everything terrible that had ever happened to him, or what those things were.

"That's personal," Tony snapped. "Why the hell do you need to know that?"

Stephen held up his hands like he wanted to ward off a blow. "It's diagnostic," he said, quietly. "It's part of what I suppose you would call a differential diagnosis for demonic possession." He raised his voice, and his gaze was hooded in apology. "I'm sorry. I should have been more specific. I don't actually need all the details. What I need to know is, were they nightmares in which you were in... a kind of barren wasteland?"

Oh. He was asking because he wanted to know if Tony's dreams had been sent by demons, and to do that he needed to know more about what the dreams had been. He was probably trying to figure out if Tony had been stuck in some kind of nightmare realm.

Tony shook his head. "Nope. Just the usual. A highlight reel of trauma. No barren wastelands."

Awkwardness flashed into Stephen's gaze then, like he wanted to comfort him but he wasn't sure what to say. "Well," he said mildly, "that's actually good news for our purposes. That doesn't sound like the Dream Dimension." He frowned again. "When you were dreaming, did you feel like you were trapped in your dreams? Like you couldn't wake up if you wanted to?"

Tony shook his head.

"Have you been having periods of missing time while you're awake? Have you found yourself in places you don't remember going to, with no memory of how you got there?"

Tony shook his head again.

"Have you noticed that you or anyone around you suddenly has odd-colored eyes?"

He hadn't, but of course now he had to ask. "What do you mean by that?"

"Glowing green," Stephen clarified. "You'd definitely have noticed."

"Nope," Tony said. "Everyone's eyes are perfect."

Especially Steve's. Steve's eyes were gorgeous.

Stephen cleared his throat and sat up. "Speaking as your Sorcerer Supreme rather than your doctor," he said, "I have to say that, in my professional opinion, this isn't looking like demons. I've heard a few whispers of rumors lately that Nightmare might have some plans, but absolutely nothing you have told me suggests that he has involved himself in your life." He smiled a smile that Tony thought was supposed to be encouraging. Comforting, even. "Nightmare tends to be... obvious."

"But there are other demons, right?"

Tony was still sort of hoping for demons. If it wasn't demons, he didn't know what it was. Well, okay, if it wasn't demons, it was just his miserable life being miserable -- but he didn't honestly think his life had been that bad lately. Maybe it was actually some kind of sudden medical problem. Maybe he did need to go to a real doctor.

Stephen sighed. "If you're thinking of Mephisto, he's usually even more obvious. I think you're in the clear, Tony. But there is one way to be absolutely certain." He paused, expectantly, but something about his silence was reticent.

"Which is?" Tony prompted.

"Well," Stephen said, "I'd have to examine your soul."

He made it sound so matter-of-fact when he said it, like it was something real and tangible, like he could look at Tony's soul just the same way as he could check Tony's temperature, or measure Tony's blood pressure, or get out a stethoscope and listen to Tony's heartbeat. Tony supposed that for the Sorcerer Supreme, it probably was that easy. He shuddered at the thought of it. He really did hate magic.

But if this was the only way to be sure, then Tony figured it was what had to happen. He was the one who'd decided to come see Doctor Strange, after all. He could deal with it. It couldn't be that bad. It would probably hurt, which would explain why Stephen hadn't looked too thrilled about it. But however much it was going to hurt, Tony had survived worse. And this was necessary. He understood necessity.

"Yeah, okay," Tony said. He couldn't tell if he sounded coolly casual or just too exhausted to care. "Just do it."

Stephen nodded with a sharp jerk of his chin -- and then, all at once, his chair slid forward across the floor. His knees brushed Tony's. He ducked his head and peered at Tony's eyes, like he wanted to make absolutely sure they weren't glowing.

Couldn't he just get it over with?

The Eye of Agamotto dangled as Stephen leaned forward and reached out with both hands. His knobbly, scarred fingers were trembling with the effort, but he held his hands out anyway, one on either side of Tony's head, his palms parallel to Tony's temples.

Stephen's smile was small and more grim than Tony would have liked. "Hold still," Stephen told him, sternly. "This is going to feel slightly uncomfortable, but it'll be over in a second."

Tony figured Stephen probably wouldn't appreciate a good that's what she said.

Something happened. Tony wasn't exactly sure what it was; he wasn't sure there were words for it. A wave of dizziness passed through him, and he felt for a split-second like the world was insubstantial, like nothing was real, and simultaneously like everything was too real. He felt like he was being turned inside out. The hair on the back of his neck stood on end. The air smelled like ozone and honeysuckle.

And then Stephen jerked away from him, and the feeling faded, along with the scent. There was an awful expression on his face, his features twisted with... regret? Disgust? Surprise? Whatever he'd found in Tony's soul, he clearly hadn't expected it and hadn't wanted to see it.

Tony figured that was probably par for the course. He wasn't a big fan of his soul either.

Stephen's chair slowly slid back across the floor. The look on Stephen's face still hadn't gone away, and now Tony was beginning to get worried. Was it demons? Was that his it's demons face? He really didn't look happy. That meant it was probably demons. Jesus. Tony didn't need this, on top of everything else in his life.

"Give it to me straight, Doc." Tony's voice sounded so soft in his ears, for all that he tried to project self-assurance. "It's demons, right?"

Very slowly, Stephen shook his head. He still looked absolutely traumatized. "It's not demons." His chest heaved as he sighed, and then he looked Tony in the eye. His mouth quirked in a very small smile. "But have you ever considered telling Captain America how you feel about him?"

Oh, hell, no.

This right here, this was exactly why Tony hated magic. He could pinpoint the second when the terrified adrenaline rush hit. His heart was racing, his skin was clammy, and he had to get out of here, he had to get out of here right fucking now. Why hadn't he worn the armor? He pushed himself up out of the chair--

--and his body kept going, up and up, until he was a few feet off the ground, hovering in midair. He bobbed.

Head tilted to one side, Stephen looked up at him. "There's no need to panic, Tony." He said it like this was all perfectly normal, like he hadn't done anything wrong, levitating Tony, snooping in his goddamn brain, finding out exactly how he felt about Steve--

"Doctor," Tony said, through gritted teeth, "would you kindly put me the fuck down?"

Stephen just stared at him in silence, but Tony very slowly began to drift downward. After a few seconds, his feet were on the floor again. Tony stared back at Stephen. He was shivering. He knew he should run, but he couldn't make himself move.

"I cannot fucking believe this." Tony felt the anger rise up in him, hot and harsh, and his hands curled into fists. At least it was better than crying.

How could he? How the hell could Stephen do this to him?

Stephen pinched the bridge of his nose. "You said it was all right if I examined your soul. There's a small amount of telepathy involved in that," he said, like Tony should have known that, like it was Tony who was being the unreasonable one here. "If it's any consolation," he added, his nose wrinkling, "that was much more information than I was ever expecting to find out about Captain America's proclivities."

Tony glared at him. "You are a grade-A asshole, Stephen."

But Stephen just looked up at him and smiled that same half-smile. "So I've been told." He folded his hands together. "But I also take my medical ethics very seriously. I won't be sharing what I've seen in your mind with anyone. Likewise, anything you tell me is absolutely confidential. I'm a doctor, Tony. If you're in distress, I'm here to help you. I understand that you don't want to talk to him about it, but if you need to talk to someone, you can talk to me."

It was probably the most awkward offer of help Tony had ever had -- Stephen was still kind of grimacing -- which was only to be expected given how well (or poorly) the guy usually played with others, but he was actually sincere. Tony could tell that much. That Hippocratic Oath, he guessed, that was really something.

Tony glanced over at the door, as if it would save him. An exit. An escape. Relief. That had always been his weakness. "I-- I need to go." He needed to get out of here. He needed to make this all stop. He bit his lip. He still couldn't seem to get himself moving. "I can't do this," he heard himself say. "I'm just so tired, Stephen."

Maybe it would be okay to talk to someone, a small voice in his head whispered. He wouldn't even have to tell Stephen anything, because Stephen already knew. And Stephen did want to help him, even if he had a hell of a way of showing it.

"You wanted to know why you weren't sleeping," Stephen said. He sounded very calm. "This is why you're not sleeping. He's why you're not sleeping. You know that, right?"

Tony blinked stupidly. "He is?"

"Well," Stephen said, "assuming you started sleeping with him three days ago, you stopped sleeping when you started sleeping... with him." His mouth quivered.

"Oh," Tony said, dazed. He stumbled backwards. His legs hit the chair, and he sat down.

He guessed he was staying after all. He took a sip of his tea. His hands were shaking, and he set the cup back on its saucer before he dropped it.

"So when I asked you if there were any new sources of stress in your life," Stephen said, his voice dry, "was there any particular reason why you lied to me?"

Ah. Yes. The interrogation. This was how therapy was supposed to go, wasn't it? God, he would rather have had to fight Nightmare, and it wasn't any consolation to know that Stephen was probably thinking the same thing.

"For one thing," Tony said, "I didn't think who I was sleeping with was any of your fucking business." Stephen just looked serenely back at him, perfectly unruffled. "And for another," Tony added, "I didn't think it was relevant to the insomnia. It's just sex. It's not like it matters."

Tony realized only after he said it that there was really no point in trying to lie to a telepath. Ah, well. Force of habit.

Stephen merely lifted an eyebrow, and Tony knew he'd been caught out. "You started sleeping with one of the most important people in your life and you didn't think it was going to affect anything?"

"He's not," Tony tried to say, and he couldn't even get the lie out of his mouth. "He's just-- he's. Fine. Okay, maybe he is important to me, but so what? It really is just sex."

"Not to you," Stephen said, so confidently that Tony just wanted to punch him. He really needed sleep.

Tony realized his palms were sweating. "That doesn't matter. It is to him."

Stephen rubbed at his forehead and gave Tony his best long-suffering stare. "All right. I'll admit that I don't know Steve Rogers as well as you do."

Tony felt his mouth curve into a smirk. "Yeah," he drawled, "I think I know him pretty well now." In the biblical sense.

Stephen ignored him, which was probably for the best. "And maybe this really is just something casual for him. I would have assumed he was straightforward and relatively traditional about his romantic affairs, but--" he shrugged-- "people are complicated, even superheroes, and I think you of all people can appreciate that one's public persona may not quite line up with one's true self. I have immense professional respect for Captain America, but I don't know him well enough to know how he conducts his personal life. It could be different for him."

That was the truth, all right. He thought about Steve telling him about the men he'd slept with in the war, soldiers whose names he didn't even know.

"Well, he's sure as hell not waiting for marriage, if that's what you mean," Tony said. "Also, exactly what kind of advice is this? If you really think this doesn't mean anything to him, why in the world do you think I should tell him what... what he means to me?"

He felt so stupid saying it, like a lovesick teenager. When it came to love, Tony knew he'd never really changed in his entire life. He fell, and he fell hard. And when it came to Steve, he'd had ten whole years to fall.

Stephen looked at him like the answer was patently obvious. "For your own good. And his."

If Stephen had known him better, he would have known that for your own good was not a line of argumentation that had a lot of traction with Tony. For his, on the other hand, was almost foolproof. "I'm not following you."

Stephen's face creased in anguish. "Look, Tony. You look like hell. You're so torn up about what you're doing that you haven't slept in days. This isn't healthy, this isn't sustainable, and this isn't good for you." He held up a finger, silencing Tony's protest. "And I may not know how Steve feels about you as a romantic partner, but I can make a pretty good guess that, even as a friend, he'd be extremely distraught to know that what the two of you are doing is hurting you this much. If you can't handle it, you need to tell him. It's the responsible thing to do."

Damn him, Stephen had a point. It was the first thing Steve had told him, when they'd started this: if Tony was in pain, this all stopped. That meant that if he found out, he definitely wasn't going to be happy. But if Tony combined that with the revulsion Steve was undoubtedly going to feel if he discovered Tony's true feelings -- well, it wasn't going to be anything good.

"If I tell him," Tony said, numbly, "it's all going to be over."

"And maybe that's what you need right now." Stephen's voice was soft. "Besides, from what I got from your mind, you've decided it's going to be over soon enough anyway."

He'd been trying not to think about that. "I can't." Tony's voice caught in his throat, and the words came out of him low and despondent. "I can't end it. I just-- what am I supposed to tell him?"

"That you love him?" Stephen suggested. "What's wrong with the truth?"

Tony snorted. "What isn't wrong with the truth?"

"If you don't tell him," Stephen countered, "you'll never find out if he feels the same way."

Tony ruthlessly quashed the flicker of hope that sprang up, a tiny ember of happiness within him. No. It wasn't true. Steve would have told him if he loved him. That was who Steve was. Steve was straightforward about his feelings and Steve was honest and therefore Steve didn't love him.

"He doesn't," Tony said, flatly.

Stephen shrugged. "As I said, I wouldn't know. But you should at least tell him you can't do this. Speaking as your doctor, I think you'd be better off."

"I can't."

There was another sigh from Stephen, this one somehow more contemplative. "I can't make you," Stephen said. "But in the meantime, you might consider switching to decaf."

"Oh, come on," Tony said.

"You did want to know how you could get to sleep," Stephen said, more tartly, a note of that doctorly self-righteousness in his tone. And then he hesitated. "And... I don't think it's as hopeless as all that, with Captain America. He does care about you. Even I could see that much, in your memories. He thinks the world of you."

Of course Steve cared about him. Steve was his friend. That wasn't news.

"Yeah," Tony said. "That and two bucks will get you a cup of coffee."

"Decaf," Stephen corrected.

Tony scowled at him. Overall, he really would have preferred the demons.

Tony did what any responsible superhero and CEO would have done: he went home, he headed down to the basement of the mansion, he went into his workshop, he locked the door, he called Pepper to tell her he was taking the rest of the day off, and he stretched out on the cot in the corner to think about Steve, since it wasn't like he was going to be able to sleep if he shut his eyes.

Stark Solutions would be okay by itself for a little while. Besides, the Maria Stark Foundation was having that fundraiser in Seattle tomorrow night; anyone who needed to see him for business reasons could wait until then. And maybe by then, he thought, hopefully, he'd have gotten some sleep.

Ha. Yeah, right.

He wasn't going to break up with Steve, obviously. He couldn't. It was going to end between them anyway, soon enough, just like Stephen had said. And there was no way it could get any worse than it was now, and he was handling this. He was. He had to sleep eventually. It wasn't that bad. If this was his only chance with Steve, he was going to take it. And besides, he was obviously making Steve happy.

Except for how Steve had been upset with him last night, of course. He still didn't know what that was about, but he knew that whatever it was, he'd done something wrong, and that meant that he needed to figure it out and apologize. He needed to say sorry, and he needed to show Steve he still cared about him. Somehow.

He knew he wasn't great when it came to feelings, but he also knew how to help people: with his money. That was what people wanted from him. And certainly that was what he had done for the Avengers from the beginning, opening his home to them, funding the team. That was what he'd done for Steve, newly arrived into the modern era: he'd given him a place to stay, a job as a superhero, all the gear he could ever want.

So that was where Tony's thoughts were trending: if he gave Steve something, if he took the time to make Steve something just for him, it could be an apology. Part of an apology.

Granted, Tony had never made an apology sex toy before, but he was having a lot of new experiences lately.

Time to get to work. He pushed himself up out of bed and headed across the room to the computer. In one window, he brought up AutoCAD, and in another he brought up his armor's visual logging for the past month and started to scrub through the footage, looking for Steve's dick.

Okay, so maybe it sounded bad when he thought of it like that.

But, he told himself, this wasn't to satisfy his prurient interest. His prurient interest was being satisfied by the daily presence of Steve's actual dick in his life. This was for science. He needed measurements. And the usual standby of a measuring tape wasn't going to work, because he wanted to have this ready for Steve the next time he saw him -- which would hopefully be tonight. So that was out. He supposed he could have called and asked Steve, because surely at some point in his life Steve had to have taken a ruler -- God, maybe two rulers -- to his dick, but he'd gotten the impression that it was kind of a touchy subject for Steve, and Steve had been touchy enough today that he probably wasn't going to appreciate a call that began how big is your dick, measured to the nearest eighth of an inch. So that was also out.

But luckily, Tony had been wearing the armor the first time he'd seen Steve naked, and that meant he had recordings. He already had the data. It was just a matter of finding it in the recordings, running visual analysis, and extrapolating the size of Steve's erection. No awkward conversations necessary.

Tony sat back in his chair and hit fast-forward.

One hour blurred into another and another and another, but eventually Tony had a decent virtual model of Steve's dick, spinning in larger-than-life three-dimensional glory on his monitor, and he was most of the way through constructing a model of the actual toy -- which was mostly just a matter of resizing, really -- when there was a knock on the workshop door.

"Who is it?"

"It's Steve," Steve called, through the door, and Tony couldn't decide whether the dizzying rush in his chest was love, terror, or an impending heart attack.

On the plus side, that meant he could at least leave the giant dick on screen. Steve couldn't possibly be scandalized by his own dick. Tony brought up the mansion's security controls in another window, typed in the appropriate command, and heard the lock click behind him.

"It's open now," Tony said. "Come on in." He swallowed hard and turned around in his chair.

Steve was carrying a tray with a plate of what looked like chicken parmigiana on it. More of Tony's favorite foods. His stomach grumbled, and he realized he hadn't eaten in hours. He glanced guiltily over at the clock. It was nine. Wow, he'd really missed dinner.

Steve was smiling at him, a gentle, careful smile, but there was something wary and nervous in his eyes.

"I thought maybe you were down here napping," Steve said, apologetically, "so I didn't want to wake you up for dinner, and it wasn't until now that I thought to check your computer activity to see if you were awake. I was hoping you were asleep."

Tony sighed a rueful sigh. "No such luck, I'm afraid," he said, and he got up to take the tray out of Steve's hands and put it on the nearest desk. "Thank you for dinner."

With his hands empty, Steve didn't seem to know what to do with them. He twisted his fingers together. He ran his hands through his hair. "What did the doctor tell you? Anything good? They didn't try to give you any of those sedatives, did they?"

Tony definitely had not mentioned which doctor he had made an appointment with, for good reason. He remembered the look in Stephen's eyes when Stephen had told him to tell Steve how he felt about him.

"Nope." Tony shook his head. "He couldn't do much for me. Uh. Told me to switch to decaf."

Steve breathed out, a very small laugh. "Bet you hated that."

"You know me," Tony said, with a grin. Except, of course, Steve didn't. In one very important respect.

They stood there, just looking at each other. Tony was tired enough that not swaying on his feet was taking a lot of energy. Steve's throat worked, a nervous motion, and his eyes were wider. They always used to be able to spend time down here together without needing to say anything -- they'd work on reports, Tony would redesign his armor, some nights Steve even brought a sketchbook -- but now the silence was oppressive, weighing down on them.

"Steve, about last night--" Tony began.

"I'm so sorry," Steve said, at the same time, talking over him. He looked a lot like Tony felt, which meant that right now he looked like he wanted to sit down on the floor and cry.

Tony blinked. "What the hell do you think you have to be sorry for?"

Steve gathered himself up, planted his feet, and lifted his chin, like he was making one last defiant speech in the face of certain disaster. "I know that it's fundamentally dishonest, not telling the world that I'm-- that I'm bisexual," he said, and his voice wobbled and caught on the word, like he'd never said it out loud before. "I know that it's a kind of secrecy that's at odds with how I've lived my life in every other respect, and I know that you have every right to judge me for it. God knows you're a braver man than I am. I'm sorry for being upset with you. Your feelings are valid, even if they're not-- even if they're not what I--"

And Steve flat-out choked on the rest of the sentence, and that was when Tony realized Steve was shaking. Steve was terrified.

Steve hadn't been angry with him, not really. Steve had been scared, and what he'd needed had been support, and Tony had been too busy freaking out about his own idiotic feelings to notice.

God, he'd been so stupid.

Tony held up his hands. "Hey, it's okay," he said, softly. He paused, trying to think of what to say. He had to get it right this time. "You've never come out to anyone before, have you? You've never actually told anyone."

"Technically, some fellas did know." Steve smiled a weak smile. "But when you're at a club and everyone knows what you're there for because it's what they're there for too, there's not much in the way of... conversation, before you get on with what you're, uh, there for." He shifted his weight from foot to foot. Yeah, there was a guy who had never actually come out to anyone who mattered to him before.

Well, Tony had supremely fucked this one up, all right. That seemed to be the story of his life, lately. How could Steve even think Tony could judge him and find him wanting? If Steve wanted to stay closeted, that was his decision. Just because Tony wasn't closeted, himself, didn't mean he was going to call him on it.

But if Steve had never come out to anyone before, of course he was going to be scared. It wasn't like these kinds of fears were rational.

"I'm the one who's sorry," Tony said. His eyes were stinging. "I've just-- I've been so tired, and I wasn't thinking, and I'm absolutely not judging you, okay? I'm sorry I didn't make that clear. You're one of my best friends, and however you want to live your life is fine by me, as long as it's fine by you. It's okay if you don't feel like you can tell the whole world right now, or ever. Whatever you do is okay. I'll still be your friend, no matter what." He smiled. "I promise."

Steve was staring at him, wide-eyed. "You really mean that?" he asked, and his voice was smaller than Tony had ever heard before.

"I really mean that." Tony channeled every bit of reassurance and acceptance that he could into his voice, and he watched as Steve ever-so-fractionally relaxed. "It's all okay. And I'm glad you told me. If you ever want to talk, or if there's anything I can do for you--"

"Like you said yesterday," Steve told him, and thank God, there was that sparkle of amusement back in his eye, "I'm pretty sure you're already doing a heck of a lot for me."

Now he knew how Steve had felt when he'd said it, because his face heated up. "Glad you're enjoying yourself," he managed. Because, really, that was the point. That was why Tony was doing this. It was all worth it for that.

"I absolutely am," Steve said. He smiled, but he still looked a little shaky.

"Hey," Tony said. "Everything really is okay. You want a hug?"

He held out his arms, hands tilted palm-outward and open, a welcome, an invitation.

Steve looked at him like a nomad who'd just found an oasis. "God, yes, please."

He'd missed this, he thought, as Steve stumbled into his embrace. It was a ridiculous thought given that they'd spent the past three nights in bed with each other, so it wasn't like they hadn't been touching, but -- somehow it felt like they hadn't been. It really wasn't the same. Sure, the sex was great, but there was just something about this simple contact that they'd been missing. Steve's arms went around him, squeezing him hard, like he was desperate to hold onto him, and Steve buried his face against Tony's shoulder. His back was rising and falling heavily under Tony's hands, and his breath was noisy and hot on Tony's neck, like he'd run a marathon and needed to come down.

"It's okay," Tony murmured, patting Steve's back. "It's okay. I'm sorry. If you can forgive me, if you want me here, I'm here."

Steve squeezed him a little tighter. Tony figured that was a yes.

They stayed like that for a little longer, just holding each other, and when Steve finally let him go, it took everything within Tony not to just grab him again.

"You feeling better?"

"Yeah," Steve said, and he smiled a real, if tremulous, smile. "Yeah, thanks." He stepped farther back, awkwardly, like he didn't quite want to leave but thought he should go. "Well, I guess I'll let you eat dinner and get back to your--" He stopped, and his gaze focused somewhere over Tony's shoulder and his eyes narrowed. "Uh, Tony? There's a giant spinning dick on your computer screen."

Tony glanced back; it was still there, spinning away. "Yep," Tony said, as nonchalantly as he could. "It's yours, actually."

Steve blinked several times in rapid succession. "Why?" he asked, finally, a question that Tony was actually happy to hear because it meant he'd decided to skip how, which meant that Tony didn't actually have to tell him he'd spent an hour measuring Steve's erection from his armor's recordings of That Night.

"I'm making you a present." Tony beamed at him. "I think you'll like it."

"I usually like what you make me," Steve said, though he still looked like he was having some difficulty coming to grips with the whole custom-sex-toy thing. "You're very kind. I'm sure I'll, uh, appreciate it."

Tony smiled. "I hope so." He glanced over at the clock. "So I've got to actually fabricate the mold, then cast it, then I can fast-cure it so you won't have to wait a day to have fun, and then smooth off the mold lines..." He tried to estimate it. "Another hour, maybe? Maybe two. And then it'll be all ready for the evening's entertainment."

Steve was still squinting at him. "Tony, are you sure you still want to do this tonight?"

That was a weird question. "Of course. Why wouldn't I be sure?"

"I just thought," Steve said, waving a hand vaguely around him, "that what with how tired you were, and all -- it would be okay if you wanted to take a break for a bit and get some sleep. I worry that I'm keeping you up."

Steve would never know how close to the truth that one was.

"That's what she said," was what actually came out of his mouth. Apparently he'd been dying to use that line all day.

"Tony," Steve said, but he was grinning.

"No, really, it's okay," Tony added. "It's not like I'd get any sleep anyway, I don't think. And besides, you can take it as a challenge -- if you wear me out, I might eventually be able to get a nap in." He raised his eyebrows. "What do you think?"

"If you're sure," Steve said, but Tony clearly didn't need to do much to convince him, because Steve smiled and nodded. "Okay. Enjoy your dinner. Come find me when you want me."

"Will do," Tony said, and as Steve smiled once more and left, Tony turned back to the dick on his computer screen.

Everything was going to be okay, he told himself. He was going to make Steve happy. It was all going to be fine.

It turned out that he didn't really have to look all that hard to find Steve. When Tony came upstairs, carrying the boxed and wrapped toy -- because he was definitely not showing this off in public -- Steve's door was open, and Steve was stretched out on his bed in his pajamas, a book in his hand. He'd changed his sheets, Tony noticed. Well, so had Tony.

"Hey," Tony said, and Steve looked up.

He was about to ask if he could come in, when Steve practically bounced off the bed and was on his feet in an instant. The Scarlet Pimpernel was flung behind him, ignored, landing on his pillow. His excitement was gratifying, and Tony couldn't help but smile.

Okay, they could do this in his room, Tony supposed. It didn't really matter where they went, as long as it was private. And at least he already had the dildos at his place.

Thankfully, it was almost midnight, so the hallway was empty and everyone else's doors were shut for the night. At least Vision was functional enough now that he could take over the monitoring and nobody else needed to stay awake for it. Steve was at his side as they headed down the hallway. Tony was exquisitely conscious of how close Steve was to him; it was like hugging Steve earlier had made him aware of his body in a different way once again, the yearning desire to touch him, to be held. Steve was inches away. If he reached out, he could hold Steve's hand. No one was here. No one would see them.

But he couldn't. That wasn't what Steve wanted. That would be for Tony, and it would be beyond selfish, especially since he knew that Steve didn't want to tell anyone. Steve hadn't told anyone he was queer since World War II. He wasn't coming out anytime soon, and he certainly wasn't coming out because he was having no-strings-attached sex with Tony. Tony wasn't about to flatter himself and think that this meant something. Sure, Steve was his friend, but as far as the sex went, Steve was just here for a good time. He'd made that perfectly clear.

So he walked next to Steve, and soon enough they were at Tony's room, and in Tony's room, and the door was safely shut and locked behind them. It still wasn't everything Tony wanted, but it was what he was getting. It would have to be enough.

Steve glanced down at the box in Tony's hands. "Is that for me?"

Tony smiled and held it out. "Yeah. All yours."

Steve took the box and opened it the way he always opened presents, carefully working the wrapping paper off so that he could save it for later. He set the paper to one side, opened up one of the end flaps, and slid out--

"Huh," Steve said, raising an eyebrow. "What is this, exactly?"

He had kind of assumed Steve would have known, but, well, he supposed that in some ways Steve lived a sheltered life. At least he'd definitely gotten Steve something he didn't already have, Tony thought, as he watched Steve turn the long, soft tube over in his hand.

"It's a... sleeve," Tony said, because Fleshlight was trademarked and because he was absolutely positive that Steve was not going to be thrilled to hear the term pocket pussy. "For, uh, masturbation. You just, you know, lube everything up, stick it in, have some fun." He made an illustrative gesture, but Steve was still squinting dubiously at the toy and hadn't noticed. "That way you can work on your endurance. It'll be almost like the real thing."

Steve poked a finger in one end of the sleeve and made an even more dubious face as he rubbed the toy's internal bumps and ridges. "Pretty sure no one feels like that on the inside," Steve said. "In my, uh, hands-on experience, anyway."

Did he not like it? Wow. Tony didn't think he'd made anything for Steve that had fallen this flat since the transistor-powered automatic shield return. It was a sex toy. For sex. Steve liked sex. How could he not even like the toy?

"Well, it's not supposed to feel the same," Tony said, bewildered and honestly more than a little hurt by the rejection. "Obviously it can't be identical, really. But it's supposed to be... stimulating. Especially stimulating. So you can practice with something that will feel really, really good," he stressed, in case the problem was that Steve didn't think it would feel nice. "It should fit fine," he added, just to cover that potential worry. "It's sized just for you."

But it looked like neither of those things were the problem Steve was having, because Steve recovered his composure and smiled at him, that perfect Captain-America-greets-the-press smile, the one that apparently Tony wasn't supposed to realize was a total fake. "Thank you so much for thinking of me and making me this," he said, with his best manners. "It was so kind of you to go to so much effort to make me happy."

Maybe if he just tried it out, he'd see that he'd like it? "So you can try it out right now, if you want," Tony said, but Steve was already putting the sleeve back in the box and closing up the flap with finality. Like he was done with it.

Tony watched as Steve set the box down on the edge of Tony's dresser. Yeah, that was a definite no.

"I think I'd rather spend our time tonight with just you, if that's all right," Steve said, and, okay, that was flattering, but Tony was still confused. Hell, he could use it with Steve if that was the problem. It didn't really matter whose hand was on the sleeve, did it? But he didn't want to push him. Maybe Steve just needed time on his own to think about it. He had to see that this was a good way of getting him closer to a goal of actual penetrative sex that lasted more than thirty seconds. "I can always try it by myself," Steve added, and when he said it, it sounded like a lie. "I'm sure I'll enjoy it."

God, Steve was a terrible liar.

"Okay, well, maybe you can try it out on your own tomorrow," Tony said, feeling helpless. "I won't be here, anyway."

A surprised sort of sadness flickered into Steve's gaze. "You won't?"

"Nope," Tony said. "Not unless the Avengers need me, anyway. I'll be in Seattle. The foundation's having a benefit gala tomorrow night. I have to go smile and shake some hands. You know how it is."

"I know how it is," Steve agreed, but there was still a lingering sadness in his eyes. "I'll miss seeing you. But it's a good thing that you're doing, with your charity work. You always try to make the world a better place. I've always admired that about you."

Awkward under the weight of the compliment -- because, really, who was he next to Captain America? -- Tony looked away and shifted from foot to foot. This was getting more intimate than he could bear. Clearly the best thing to do was change the topic. Move on. Have sex. The sex didn't mean anything. It would give him time to recover, to find his equilibrium, to try to remind himself how to feel less for Steve.

"Thanks," Tony said, and he knew that the smile on his face was small and ashamed. He turned away, because it was easier to undress when he could pretend that Steve wasn't watching him. "So, uh, do you want to get down to it?"

Without waiting for an answer, he began to take his clothes off. His fingers unaccountably clumsy, he fumbled at the top button of his shirt and eventually unfastened it, but when he moved to the second button, Steve's hand locked around his wrist. He wasn't grabbing him tightly enough to hurt, but he was definitely stopping him from moving. His hand was huge and warm, and Tony felt a shiver run down his spine.

Did Steve not want him to get naked? What was going on?

Steve tugged him around so they were face-to-face, and for some reason Steve's expression in the dim lamplight was twisted, taut with nerves. His brow furrowed. His teeth worried at his hip. But his hand on Tony's wrist was soft and gentle, his thumb rubbing over the pulse-point like a caress.

"Is it all right if I help?" Steve asked. There was a tiny anxious smile on his face. "I just-- I mean-- you're always in such a hurry to get everything off, I know, but I just thought... maybe it would be nice if we slowed it down a little?"

God. Steve wanted to touch him. Except Steve couldn't possibly want to touch him, because why would he? What did he get out of that? It had to be for the sake of the plan. He probably just wanted to make sure Tony was extra-relaxed, so that it would be easier to fuck him with the dildo, so that then it would be easier to fuck him with his actual dick. There, that was perfectly logical. If Tony was comfortable, then he would be an easier lay. If p, then q.

Of course, knowing that didn't make it easier for Tony to accept. He wanted Steve to touch him because he wanted to. He wanted Steve to touch him because he loved him. But this was what he was getting, and he might as well make the best of it.

So Tony summoned up his best smile, and he lifted Steve's hand from his wrist, placing it on his chest where he'd left off undoing his buttons. "Sure," he said. "If that's what you want to do. Go for it."

Steve's nervous smile in return was a little wider, and for some reason his fingers were trembling as he worked at the buttons of Tony's shirt. He'd meant it about slowing down and taking his time; his fingers were lingering, sliding over Tony's skin in a slow caress, down and down and down. His gaze followed his hands, as if this were work requiring the utmost concentration.

Tony's body had its own very definite opinions about what Steve was doing. He could feel the heat of arousal gather low in his belly and begin to spread. He breathed out and realized he was already half-hard and Steve hadn't even gotten below the belt. But it was like even after three days, his body had already come to expect this, to find pleasure in Steve's touch; he was a newly-rewired circuit, bright with power. He shivered and swayed on his feet as Steve undid the last of the buttons, waiting for Steve's hands to move lower still.

But they didn't. Steve untucked Tony's shirt and slid his hands up and under it, his grip bracketing Tony's ribs on either side. He felt very warm where Steve was touching him. It seemed as if there wasn't enough air, and that the only thing that existed was him and Steve. He was dizzy with it, light-headed, but Steve's hands were strong, and Steve was holding him steady. Tony had dreamed about this for years. But Steve didn't love him, and so this wasn't really what Tony had wanted at all.

Steve's hands glided slowly back up Tony's chest. The fleeting thought passed through Tony's head that he was stupidly grateful that his return to life after Onslaught had involved giving him a new and healthy body, and that the skin Steve's fingertips trailed over was smooth and unscarred. When he'd imagined this before, half the time the Steve in his head had turned away with awful pity in his eyes. But at least Tony could give him this, a body that wasn't repulsive.

And then Steve's fingers slid over his nipples, sending twin sparks of pleasure to his aching cock, and Tony's breath caught in his throat. Steve's face lit up, and he rubbed his thumb over Tony's nipple again, a little harder, and this time Tony couldn't dampen the moan that came out of him, loud and shamefully needy.

"Sorry," Tony said, abashed, into the hushed silence of the room, and Steve frowned at him.

"What are you saying sorry for?"

"You know," Tony said, because surely it was obvious. "It's-- you know, how it feels when you-- when you do that, it's really... good."

Steve tilted his head to the side. "I like it when you feel good, Tony. That's kind of the point."

"Right," Tony said, "but it's-- but I shouldn't--

Shouldn't be so weak. So soft. So wanton. What are you, really, Stark? Are you a real man?

He knew why the thoughts were with him; he knew why they had always been with him. But none of that was any use, especially now that he couldn't drown them out anymore, not the way he'd always learned to. A finger of scotch before tumbling his latest conquest into bed had done the trick, once upon a time. It wasn't an option now.

But Steve just set his hand to Tony's breastbone, palm flat against Tony's chest. The halves of Tony's open shirt fell on either side of his fingers. "None of that," he said, very quietly, like he knew exactly what Tony was thinking. "You're perfect."

Tony wondered if Steve could feel his heart beating. It was strange to think that now, after everything that had happened to him, his heart was healed. He had an ordinary heart beating away in there, a heart that wasn't synthetic, a heart that wasn't surrounded by shrapnel, a heart that he almost didn't have to worry about it giving out on him. He could hardly remember what that had been like, being normal.

And it seemed Steve was thinking along similar lines, as his thumb rubbed back and forth over Tony's chest. His gaze was still fixed there, on Tony's sternum, studying him; he didn't look up.

"You know how much I used to worry about your heart?"

Tony smiled a lopsided smile. It pulled at his mouth. "Not as much as I did, I can assure you."

"Only because I didn't know for a year or so that it was a thing I needed to worry about, until you collapsed at that Senate hearing," Steve said. "Gave me the fright of my life." He made a quiet, rueful sound, somewhere between a sigh and a laugh. "And even then it was only my friend Tony Stark that I knew I needed to worry about, and not my friend Iron Man."

Did Steve want him to apologize for his secret identity? "Steve, I--"

But Steve was smiling, a small, faint smile. "I know you had your reasons," he said. "I'm just saying, I worried. When the Avengers were called out, I'd imagine, sometimes, that I'd get back and find something had happened to you. I could imagine the headline. Tony Stark, industrialist, dead at 25. Natural causes. Heart attack. Passed away at his home in New York." His mouth quirked. "And, of course, Iron Man would be right there on the mission with me, in just as much danger as I was, but I didn't know. And then Molecule Man happened, and I knew, and I realized that you'd probably been through so much that I didn't even know about, that I had no idea was going on. I knew how you were on the battlefield, of course. So I knew you'd probably taken so many more risks with your health, with your life. You probably really were dying and I hadn't known."

"Maybe," Tony admitted, which meant yes and they both knew it. "I can't say that I've always been very careful with my health."

And then Steve finally looked up and met his eyes. His own gaze was dark in the dim light, his eyes wide, entranced, and somehow solemn. "I'm just glad I don't have to worry about your heart anymore." With his other hand he pushed Tony's shirt back from his shoulders; it tangled about his wrists, behind him, and then slipped to the floor. "And I know you're always going to be in danger, because that's what our lives are like, but I'm just-- I'm so glad that you won't have to be in pain, or afraid -- or dying -- because of your heart. Not anymore. I'm so glad that you made it through all that, and you're still here."

Tony didn't know what to say to that. "Thank you," he said, finally, because it was the best he could do. His voice was thick. "I'm glad I'm here too."

Steve's smile was a little wider now, his gaze brighter, and Tony realized he didn't feel so awful and exposed anymore. This was Steve. He knew Steve. Steve didn't care what he looked like. Steve wanted him to be happy.

"And I'm especially glad you're right here," Steve murmured. "Very fond of where you are right now."

Tony smiled back. "Me too."

Steve's other hand, the one that wasn't over Tony's heart, drifted up Tony's arm, over his shoulders, and splayed across the back of his neck, a touch that Tony hadn't realized until right now would be so arousing. Everything was hot, a fire kindling within him. Somehow, with Steve, everything felt new.

And then Steve's hand kept moving, up Tony's neck to the base of his skull, across his jaw. The calluses of Steve's fingers caught on Tony's stubble, but he was so delicate, so gentle, that when he nudged Tony's head up it was the easiest thing in the world to do what Steve wanted and lean in.

They were very close now. Steve licked his lips.

"Would you mind," Steve began, and his voice was a husky rasp, and his fingers on Tony's face were trembling. "Would you mind if I kissed you?"

So much for Tony's heart being healed. This was going to break his heart as surely as if he'd failed to charge the chestplate in those long-ago days. He thought the chestplate had probably been a better deal. He knew he could survive heart attacks, after all. He didn't know if he could survive this.

But Tony knew, too, that he was incapable of saying no. This was what Tony had wanted for so many years, wanted for so long that the yearning had become, like his thirst for the bottle, another thing that would always be within him, another thing to ignore, to work around, to sublimate. And it was just as dangerous. Maybe more so.

He could have this -- he could have Steve -- for a few more days. A week, at the outside. And then it was going to be gone forever, when Steve had had him to his satisfaction, when they went back to their regular lives.

It would be better, safer, wiser not to try. Not to know. Not to tempt himself with what he could never have again.

But Tony had always been weak.

"I wouldn't mind at all," Tony whispered, and he knew he was going to suffer for this.

He'd spent years imagining this moment. He'd dreamed it a thousand different ways. In the oldest fantasies, when he'd never met the long-lost Captain America, or when they were little more than strangers, Captain America would sweep him into his arms and kiss him passionately. Later on, when he'd gotten to know Steve, the dreams were more domestic, more familiar: Tony would make the first move one day and go in for a kiss over the breakfast table, or in the library, or on the way up to the Quinjet hangar. Or maybe, on the battlefield, so grateful that they were alive, Steve would rip off his helmet and set his mouth to Tony's. Or Tony would get the courage to ask Steve to be his date to a gala, and they'd dance their way through the ballroom like they were the only two people in the universe, and as the music faded, Tony would draw him in and kiss him.

But nothing that Tony had ever imagined was like this. Steve leaned in, and his hands on Tony were still trembling. They were close enough to breathe each other's air, and Tony's heart pounded in his chest. This was their last chance to back out. And then Steve tilted his head just a little, leaned in all the way, and pressed his lips against Tony's.

Steve was tentative and a little clumsy, like he wasn't certain how to do this, but the touch of his lips against Tony's was soft and sweet, as if, above all, he wanted to be gentle with him. Steve's hand, trapped between their bodies, slid around Tony's side to his back, pulling him closer, and that was when Steve's mouth opened against his and the kiss deepened. He was clearly giving it his all, kissing Tony like there was no one else in the world he'd ever wanted to kiss as much as this, and Tony shut his eyes and let himself believe the lie.

Dizzy, hot all over, Tony reached for Steve, grabbing fistfuls of his shirt -- God, why was Steve still wearing clothes? -- and kissing him back. He could feel himself melt: water, steam, molten metal. It felt like there was nothing holding him up but Steve. He knew already that he was never going to forget the feel of Steve's body against his, the taste of Steve's mouth, the sound of Steve's quiet breathy moans.

The kiss broke, and Steve was staring at him, eyes huge and dazed with lust. Steve opened his mouth, and whatever he was going to say, Tony didn't want to hear it. It was only going to remind him of how this couldn't last.

So Tony grabbed Steve and kissed him again, putting every ounce of feeling into it, every bit of love and need and desire, and Steve gasped against Tony's mouth and held him tighter.

Tony dropped his hands to Steve's waist, tugging his shirt up and up and up. They stopped kissing for a half-second, long enough for Steve to pull his shirt over his head and off, and then Steve dove in again like even that had been too long for them to be apart.

There was so much of Steve. Tony knew, realistically, that Steve wasn't much taller than him, but Rebirth had given him a physique anyone would envy. He ran his hands over Steve, feeling like he would never run out of him. Steve's skin hot against Tony's everywhere they touched; he'd always been a little hotter, but Tony was aware of it as never before. Tony's hands slid over Steve's back, down his spine. He wanted to learn him by feel, to map him, to be able to remember this moment forever.

Their bodies were pressed together, and it was easy to tell, even through the remaining layers of clothing, that Steve was hard and getting harder, his cock rubbing up against Tony's thigh. Daring, Tony slid his hands down to Steve's ass and pulled him close, rocking up against him, and Steve groaned and wobbled, and thrust back, nearly losing his balance in the process. Apparently even a super-soldier could be overwhelmed with lust, it seemed.

Steve wrenched his head back. His lips were red, and he was panting. "Bed," he murmured, his voice wrecked already. "Because if we don't get there in ten more seconds, we're doing this on the floor."

"I've got you," Tony said, and they went.

He pulled Steve backwards and backwards until they hit the bed, and then over, letting himself fall back against the mattress. Steve's weight rested on him, encompassing him, heavy and hot and perfect, as Steve kissed him again. It felt like a dream, what with the way that Tony was so exhausted that he was only half-awake, a perfect dream that he never wanted to wake from.

Steve planted a hand on the bed and arched up to make room between them, working one-handed at Tony's belt, at the fly of his pants, until he finally got Tony's cock out. He stroked him as he kissed him, and that was even more amazing, and Tony shut his eyes and went with it, letting the pleasure carry him along, borne this way and that by the current. He didn't have to think, he didn't have to worry, because there was nothing else in the world except Steve, kissing him, above him and on him and-- God, he should be in him--

"Inside me," Tony heard himself gasp out, his own voice low and pleading. "Need you in me, Steve. Fingers, toys, anything. Everything."

He shouldn't have said it, shouldn't have admitted even this much, but he was too tired to hold much of anything back from Steve right now.

Could he take Steve right now? Could he try? Could Steve just slide into him? He felt like if Steve kept kissing him, he could do anything.

"I don't think everything is going to happen tonight," Steve murmured, and when he pulled back there was something both longing and oddly regretful in his eyes, "but I think we can probably knock the first two items off that list."

Steve rolled off him and nudged Tony's hips up so that he could get the rest of Tony's clothes off. Tony's pants and underwear trapped his legs, then tangled over his shoes that he'd forgotten he was wearing, and then Steve just pulled everything off, shoes and all, and shoved it to the floor. Steve was still wearing pants, but he shucked his clothes as fast as possible and then went for the lube Tony had left on the nightstand. The box of dildos was there too, and he grabbed the medium one and brought it back with him, along with a pillow, which he promptly shoved under Tony's hips.

When Steve pressed himself against Tony again, with no clothes in the way any longer, his slick fingers slipped between Tony's thighs and back and up and -- oh, God -- in and he started kissing Tony again.

If Tony had thought Steve was good with his hands before, well, that was nothing compared to how good Steve was with his hands while he was kissing him. Steve had truly enviable coordination, and his tongue slid into Tony's mouth at the same rhythm as he worked two fingers inside his ass. His mouth on Tony's was heavy but not oppressive, strong but not rough; there was a tenderness there like nothing Tony had ever known. Tony was beginning to suspect that he'd been kissing all the wrong people, before now, because Steve-- Steve was perfect.

Steve's fingers moved in and out of him as easy as anything -- easier than last night, Tony thought, and he knew the kissing had made the difference -- and when Steve brushed over his prostate Tony couldn't do anything but gasp, overwhelmed, against Steve's mouth. His hands flailed for purchase, for an anchor, and he ended up with his arms wrapped around Steve's shoulders, drawing him closer. Steve's cock rubbed up against his hip, huge and hard and wet, and Steve rolled his hips, but there was no particular urgency to the motion; he seemed content to take care of Tony. Tony knew he shouldn't just give in and let him, but he was so tired, and Steve was right here, and Steve was making him feel so good--

More purposefully this time, Steve's fingers slid over Tony's prostate again, and Tony heard himself cry out with need. He needed more. Another finger. A toy. Steve.

He didn't know if he'd given voice to his thoughts -- he was so tired that anything could have come out of his mouth -- but he felt Steve smile against his cheek, peppering kisses over his face.

"There you go," Steve said, low and soothing. "Look how nice and easy you opened up, all ready for me."

He realized he was holding Steve closer, that he didn't want Steve to move away even so far as to get the dildo. But Steve was going to have to move, because last night he'd wanted to be able to see what he was doing. It was a reasonable stipulation -- the toys were pretty big, after all -- but at the same time Steve would be far away and not kissing him, and now that he'd had this he didn't think he could stand to give it up.

Steve slid his fingers out of Tony, and then there was the squishy noise of the lube bottle, and then Tony felt something huge and cool and slick resting against his entrance, with Steve's warm fingers next to it.

"I think I can do this without looking," Steve said, his expression half arousal and half determination. "I figured maybe you'd like it better with me staying right here."

God, Steve knew, and he hadn't wanted Steve to know, hadn't wanted him to realize how needy he was, but at least Tony hadn't been the one to say it. He did want Steve here, right here. He just smiled, and Steve kissed him again.

Steve began to press the toy into him, a little awkwardly. From the way his hand rested against Tony's ass, curved around the shaft of the dildo, Tony could tell that Steve was feeling his way around, pushing it in a little bit at a time, changing the angle, pushing a little more, feeding it in at the head rather than gripping the whole thing by the base and driving it in.

It was big, all right; Tony could definitely tell that it was bigger than last night's toy. He could feel himself trying to stretch around it, could feel the ache and the burn. It sure as hell didn't feel like something that was going to fit. He'd seen how big it was; it was already bigger than the biggest guy Tony had ever been with. He didn't say anything, but he exhaled hard, and Steve must have felt the tension in him, because Steve didn't try to push it in more; he just held the toy where it was. What if it wasn't going to work? What if they were going to have to stop and never do this again because Tony wasn't good enough?

Steve was kissing him, over and over, quick light kisses that made him feel dizzy again, like he was falling out of the sky. "Shh," Steve said, which was when Tony became aware that the tiny whimpering noise was, in fact, coming from him. "We're going to do this, okay?" Steve murmured, kissing him more. "You're doing so well. It's big, but you can take it. I know you can. It's going to feel so good. Just lie here and breathe for a bit, okay? Nice and slow. You've got this."

It was exactly the way Steve talked during sparring, during training, except he was usually talking about taking punches rather than taking a ten-inch dildo.

Tony breathed in and out and couldn't quite remember how to breathe in again. His dick was going a little soft, and he knew that was normal; he was getting fucked, and it wasn't like Steve had been jerking him off while fingering him, since he'd only had the one free hand and was lying on his other arm. But that didn't mean it didn't feel like a sign of failure.

Steve glanced down between them, and Tony knew he had seen. "Hey, it's okay," Steve said, and he kissed Tony's temple, a ghosting of pressure. "It happens. As long as you still want to do this, that's what's important. As long as it's not hurting you."

"I'm good," Tony assured him, not wanting him to get the wrong idea. "And I still want to do this."

"I'm glad." Steve's cheeks were a little flushed, but his grin was dazzling. Tony had always loved Steve's smile. "You could, uh, give yourself a hand if you wanted?" Steve suggested. "I'd help, but I don't think I can reach with my other hand. Not from here."

Not if Steve wanted to keep kissing him, he meant. He would have had to move.

It had seemed weirdly presumptuous before, like if he'd pitched in, it would have meant that Steve hadn't been doing a good enough job by himself. And besides, the kissing had been so good that if he'd touched himself at the same time, Tony might have just come right away and ruined all the plans for the evening.

But now, at least, he knew he wasn't going to come that fast, because he was too busy being fucking impaled -- or at least that was what it felt like -- on this dildo. It didn't hurt, exactly, not the way that Tony reckoned pain these days, but right now it definitely wasn't great.

Slowly, Tony slid his hand between them and down his body, wrapping his fingers around his cock. He gave himself an experimental tug and found that pleasure lit up his nerves. It wasn't overwhelming yet, but its very existence seemed somehow surprising in the midst of exhaustion, anxiety, and discomfort; it seemed strange that his body would remember how to feel pleasure at all. He heard himself gasp, a tiny sound, and he felt his mouth curve into a smile.

"Good," Steve said, his voice low and lush. The praise, the happiness in Steve's voice, hit him harder than the actual sensation did; Tony's cock was twitching and filling again in his grasp. "Look at you, huh?" he asked.

Tony glanced back up and realized Steve was, in fact, watching him. More than watching him -- his gaze was rapt, enthralled. Steve -- oh, God -- was licking his lips, his reddened lips, pink tongue flicking out wetly, and fuck, Tony couldn't ask for that but it was definitely nice to think about. He imagined Steve, a younger Steve, a soldier, dapper and put-together in his Army uniform, dropping to his knees in a back alley.

"You like looking, huh?" Tony murmured. Steve's cock, pressed against his side, was even harder.

Steve nodded enthusiastically. "You've got such beautiful hands, Tony."

Well, that wasn't the compliment Tony had expected.

"My hands?"

Steve was still nodding. "I've always really liked your hands, Tony," he murmured. "You talk with your hands, did you know? And you build such wonderful things. I love watching you work," he added, and it sounded almost like a confession, a hushed secret.

"You do?"

Steve nodded again, and then his grin went crooked. "I really like what you're doing right now, too."

Now, that was more like what Tony had thought he would hear. "Oh?"

"Mmm-hmm," Steve said. His lips were compressed, his face a little redder. "I like when you're... happy."

Tony slid his fist all the way to the tip of his cock and couldn't help the moan that escaped him. The huge dildo inside him was starting to feel more comfortable; the burn was being transmuted into that familiar yearning, the need to have something inside him right now, and more of it. "Getting happier," Tony gasped, as the hot ache within him grew. "You can-- little bit more-- if you want--"

But Steve didn't push the dildo in right away. He just leaned in and nuzzled Tony's jaw, dropping a line of kisses along his skin before his lips met Tony's again. And that was when he started to work the dildo in and out, thrusting in a little further every time, and Tony groaned into Steve's mouth and arched up into his own fist and then back down against the dildo and, oh, that was nice.

One more slow thrust, two, and then the dildo had bottomed out in Tony. He could feel the base of it, could feel Steve's huge hand splayed over his ass, holding it in.

"There you go," Steve whispered, drawing back just enough to speak; Tony could feel the heat of his breath on his skin. "Look what you did. So amazing. You took it all. The whole thing. You did it."

"Feels good," Tony choked out, and, fuck, it really did, filling him up more than anything ever had. Maybe he really did have a size kink.

It was definitely a good thing Steve was here, then. There wasn't going to be anyone bigger than Steve.

And then Steve drew the dildo out a bit -- it was so big that he didn't need to go far to have a very noticeable effect -- and slid it back in, actually fucking him now. Tony groaned and bore down on the dildo as Steve kissed him again and again. Steve's mouth was wonderful. He wanted to remember Steve's mouth forever. Steve was on him, in him, everywhere he wanted him to be. Steve was right here, holding him close, and Tony couldn't get enough of it; how would it feel when Steve did this for real, with his own body?

Every thrust of the dildo felt better and better. Steve knew what he was doing, all right; he angled the toy precisely to ease across Tony's prostate. It was so huge that the pressure didn't let up, driving and driving, bringing Tony ever closer to the edge as he gasped into Steve's mouth. Tony was distantly aware that his own hand on his cock was tightening, that he was pumping himself faster and harder, but that seemed almost unimportant next to the feeling deep within him, pleasure gathering faster and brighter and brighter, a star going supernova--

His orgasm rolled through him,, whiting out his vision, and all he could do was come and come and come as Steve thrust the toy within him exactly right, as Steve pressed up against him, as Steve kissed him and Tony cried out against his lips.

Eventually the pleasure faded, and Tony laid there, contented, eyes shut, smiling. He felt a little sore as Steve gingerly slid the dildo out, but it was a good kind of sore, that just-got-fucked-right feeling, and Tony smiled again as Steve kissed him. He could open his eyes and get Steve off. Any minute now. He was just going to lie here a bit first.

"Mmm," Tony mumbled. "Thank you. That was nice."

"No, thank you," Steve said. "It was my pleasure. You're-- you're beautiful, Tony." He sounded almost awed, like somehow he really thought that highly of Tony's appearance.

"Thanks," Tony said again. His voice sounded sort of slurred. God, he was tired. "Give me a sec to recover, I'll help you out there, okay?"

There was a very familiar rhythmic slick noise, and Steve groaned. "You don't-- mmm, oh-- you don't have to go to any trouble on my account, I-- I don't think I can hold out that long anyway-- if that's okay--"

Even if he was so tired he could hardly keep his eyes open, Tony definitely wasn't missing this sight. When he found the strength to open his eyes, he saw that Steve was working himself furiously with his other hand. His hands were so large that in his hand, his massive cock looked like it had something approaching normal proportions. And Steve sure wasn't fooling around. His fingers slid deftly over the head of his slick cock, and Tony could feel his body tremble and shake.

"Yeah, go for it," Tony said, because surely the plan that Tony had completely pulled out of his ass could take a backseat to watching Steve get himself off. Tony's stomach was still spattered with his own come, and Steve kept bumping him on the upstroke, dripping pre-come across his skin. "We can work on your endurance next time. Go on. Come all over me."

Steve's mouth fell open in something very like surprise, he shut his eyes, and he made a small, wrecked noise as his hand stuttered. "Oh, God, Tony--"

"Oh," Tony said, and he could feel himself grin. "You like that? You want to come like that? You want to come on me?"

"I want to-- I want to come with you kissing me," Steve gasped out. "Please, Tony, please--"

He couldn't refuse. Tony took a breath and forced back the sadness, the regret, the knowledge that none of this was real, not the way he wanted it to be, and he reached for Steve with both hands.

Steve's mouth was open, his lips slack, and he was panting out hot, harsh breaths. Tony slid a hand to the back of Steve's neck, to the back of Steve's head, cradling him, holding him close. Steve breathed out a word that might have been Tony's name, and with one last thrust he was trembling in Tony's arms and Tony felt Steve's release hot between them, painting Tony's body, marking him forever.

Tony let his eyes fall shut as the kiss broke, as Steve settled next to him. Steve tugged the pillow out from beneath Tony's hips and then rolled closer, pressing himself up against Tony. Their legs tangled together; his head was on Tony's shoulder.

"That was wonderful," Steve murmured, the words whispered against Tony's skin, a secret, just for him. "Thank you."

This was good, Tony thought. The thought was hazy, dreamlike. He thought he might be falling asleep. That seemed like a great idea. Right now he couldn't remember why he'd been so worried about sleeping. It felt like he could sleep right now, maybe even for some time as nearly as long as he wanted.

Steve's arm went over Tony, hugging him, a band of strength and warmth and, oh, that was lovely. Tony snuggled into it, but it was only for a few seconds, because then Steve shifted away.

"Here," Steve murmured. "Let me clean you up a little, okay?"

That would be nice of you was what Tony meant to say but when he opened his mouth, the only thing he had the energy to articulate was the agreeing noise mmm.

The bed creaked and dipped, and Tony was a little colder; he heard Steve's footsteps moving away. After that he must have drifted off and lost some time because Steve was back with a warm washcloth again, gently wiping up his stomach, then even more gently between his thighs and back, smoothing over his ass. Steve was definitely spoiling him now. He was clearly really dedicated to getting some.

And then Steve was gone again -- rinsing the washcloth out, probably. Tony heard the rustling sounds of fabric and decided that was Steve getting dressed. There was a cardboard scraping sound that was probably Steve fetching his present to take home with him. Tony pictured Steve using it and smiled to himself. The sound of Steve dressing seemed to drift in and out; Tony figured he was falling asleep. Maybe he was dreaming. This would be a good dream. He'd had great sex with Steve. He'd made Steve happy. He wished all of his dreams could be so good. Hell, he wished any of his dreams could be so good. He was a little cold, a little chilly, but that was the only problem he had right now in the entire world. All his cares were gone.

Steve would leave now, of course. Tony drifted back into a half-awake haze and waited for the noise of the door opening and closing.

Instead, he was abruptly much warmer, as blankets settled over him. Oh, that was nice. Steve tucked him in thoroughly, making sure he was covered, right down to making sure the blankets curved over and beneath his feet. Steve brushed Tony's hair back from his forehead, his touch soft and warm. Maybe Tony was dreaming this. Why would Steve want to do this?

"Have a good time in Seattle," Steve whispered, like he thought Tony was asleep and didn't want to wake him, but still wanted to say it. "I'll miss you tomorrow night. And I'm so glad you're finally getting some rest."

And then Tony felt Steve's lips against his. The other kisses had been passionate, arousing, meant to fan the flames of desire -- but this was something else entirely. This was fond and tender, so sweet, the sort of kiss you gave to someone when you knew were still going to be there in the morning, when you knew they were going to be there for you, but that couldn't be right, because Steve was going to walk out the door, because this didn't mean anything. Tony was dreaming. He had to be.

"Sweet dreams, Shellhead," Steve murmured, and then he was gone.

Chapter Text

The gala was everything Tony had expected. The ballroom was huge, cavernous, high-ceilinged; beyond the windows, the Seattle night sky was twinkling, lights gleaming through the patches of fog. A string quartet played in the corner, serenading the dancers who spun and twirled on the inlaid parquet flooring. The men were in black-tie; the women were all in elegant evening gowns, glimmering and shimmering under the chandeliers. Small knots of people were talking, here and there, snagging canapés and champagne flutes from the trays of passing servers.

And all Tony could think about was Steve.

He hadn't seen Steve all day; Steve had been out when he'd gotten up, and Tony had been in such a rush with the preparations for the gala that he hadn't had the time to stick around and wait for Steve to come back. Which was, Tony considered, maybe a good thing, because he didn't know how to talk about the one thing that had been circling his brain, the one thing he couldn't let go, the one thing that might have been a dream:

You kissed me.

Oh, Steve had kissed him a hell of a lot while they'd been in bed together -- and that, Tony reminded himself, was definitely not something he should be thinking about in public. But those kisses had been different than that last kiss. The earlier kisses had had an obvious motive to them. They'd been fucking. It had been a turn-on. That had been understandable. It made sense that Steve would have wanted that from him, something to get him a little hotter. But that last kiss, while Tony had been falling asleep, while he had been so close to sleep that he might even have imagined it -- that had been something else entirely. That had been tenderness. That had been affection. That had been caring. That had been devotion.

Had it been real, or had it all been an invention of Tony's besotted and exhausted dreaming mind? And if it had been real, why had Steve done it?

Half a dozen times today, Tony had caught himself staring off into space, his fingertips brushing over his lips, remembering how Steve's mouth on his had felt. He'd kissed more people than he could ever hope to count, in his life, but none of them had felt quite like Steve.

He knew he was being ridiculous. It was just his mind trying to find patterns that weren't there. It was wishful thinking. It was because he'd had a crush on Steve for his entire life. Tony was projecting. All Steve had had to do was show up, and no matter what, Tony would have been over the moon, guaranteed. It didn't mean anything. And yet somehow it was like he was falling in love with Steve all over again.

He realized he was raising his hand to his lips again and stopped halfway.

The gesture, conveniently enough, managed to turn into a muffled yawn. He was still exhausted. He had actually slept, for the first time in days, but it had been only three hours later that he'd woken up alone in the darkness. Still, three hours was better than zero.

He looked great, he told himself. The concealer covered the dark circles under his eyes perfectly, and the foundation covered the rest of his sins. Thank God for makeup. He'd shaken a lot of hands tonight and posed for a lot of pictures, and no one had said anything. He was handling this. He could handle this.

He was standing here at the edge of the room, watching. He was going to stop thinking about Steve, any minute now. He was going to stop being a wallflower and go out and shake more hands. He was going to stop thinking about Steve's hands on his body, about the way Steve's fingers had rested over his heart.

Steve cared. But that wasn't news -- of course Steve cared. Steve was his friend. Steve wasn't going to be anything more than his friend. He had to remember that.

He wished Steve were here with him.

I'll miss you, Steve had said.

He couldn't have asked Steve to come. Maybe he could have, before they'd started sleeping together, but now it would have been too much like a date. What if they couldn't be friends again after this was over? What if they couldn't behave the way they always had without the memory of this coming between them?

He wasn't going to think about after. He couldn't think about after.

God, he was finally getting everything he'd wanted -- but what if he lost their friendship in the process?

Blue sequins glinted off to his left and then Pepper was at his side, pressing a glass of sparkling water into his hand. "Here you go," Pepper said. "You looked like you could use it."

Tony smiled a grateful smile, took a sip, and felt a little steadier. "Thanks, Pep. You're the best."

He was aware as he drank that Pepper's eyes were still on him, searching, evaluating -- though what criteria she was judging him by, he had no idea.

"Tony," she murmured, laying a hand on his forearm, "are you feeling all right?"

He had been judged and found wanting. Of course he had. He could never sneak anything past Pepper, in the end. Still, as long as she didn't figure out exactly what was wrong with him, everything was going to be fine. He was coping. He'd even gotten some sleep. Didn't that mean he was doing better?

Tony kept smiling, even though he knew she wasn't fooled. "I'm absolutely fine. Why do you ask?"

"You just look so tired," she said, and her face wrinkled with concern. "And you said the other day that you weren't getting a lot of sleep, and I'm worried about you. Honestly, Tony, you look like you're a million miles away."

Only about three thousand, he didn't say.

Tony gave her his best smile anyway. "I appreciate the concern, but I'm fine. It's just been a long week, you know? It'll be over soon."

Yeah, it would definitely be over soon. Assuming everything went to plan with Steve, it would be one more toy -- the biggest of the toys -- and then The End. Steve would be getting laid, and they'd be done. He only had two more nights of Steve and that was it. It was like he was the Scheherazade of gay sex. Tony didn't think he'd ever been this sad about the promise of guaranteed sex in his life.

Pepper's eyes narrowed. "Okay," she said, and he knew he was going to have to be on his guard around her. "If you say so, Tony." And then her eyes widened. "Company coming on your right," she said, in a dire voice, and she let Tony's arm go.

It was then that Tony, with his blunted reflexes, noticed what Pepper had already noticed. Click. Click. Click. The sound of a cane tapping on hardwood. Morgan's cane.

Jesus, he did not have the strength to deal with Morgan right now. Unfortunately, it didn't look like Morgan was going to give him a choice about it.

Tony turned and pasted another smile on his face. "Morgan!" he said, beaming. "I'm so glad you could make it!"

"Tony!" Morgan said, with an equally-insincere smile, the kind with too many teeth.

Morgan shifted his cane to get his right hand free to shake Tony's hand. Tony, too slow to react, waited in horror as Morgan's hand closed roughly on his, gripping tight enough to hurt. Morgan had won his damn handshake. This wasn't a good sign. Tony was slipping.

His best bet for rallying, and thereby winning the rest of the conversation, was to pretend it hadn't happened. So Tony kept smiling. "I really am glad you could come," he repeated. "The work we're doing here with the Maria Stark Foundation is very important to me. We're working on the construction of a youth center, here in Seattle."

"Oh, that's very nice." With a wave of his hand, Morgan dismissed all of Tony's philanthropy; it was clear that he hadn't come to the gala for anything resembling the actual purposes of the gala, and Tony swallowed hard and steeled himself as Morgan sniffed disinterestedly once more. "But I was wondering, Tony, if you'd given any more thought to my proposal about the future of the WebVoyager browser."

Goddammit, not this again. Tony smiled tightly. "I have," he said, and he made his voice smooth, sorrowful, regretful. "And I have to say, I don't think it will work for me. That's just not where I see the future of Starkware, or any of my companies."

Tony was feeling just petty enough to stress the word my. Morgan wasn't getting his hands on any of his companies. Not today. Hell, Morgan wasn't even on the board. He was just a regional director at Stark-Fujikawa. He couldn't possibly touch Tony.

Morgan had the photos, Tony reminded himself. That was an unknown quantity. He didn't know how Fujikawa would react. But maybe it would be okay. They weren't real. In the end, the truth had to win out. Oh, God.

Morgan smiled wide, baring his teeth -- like a goddamn vampire, Tony thought, and Tony should know -- and Tony realized, too late, that Morgan had something else up his sleeve after all. "It's funny you should say that," he said, and his voice was practically a purr, "because Kenjiro Fujikawa disagrees with you."

Oh, shit, Tony thought, panicked, and his stomach roiled. It was only the years of masks, the years of secret identities, that prevented him from losing it entirely. It took every iota of strength within him to force his breathing down, to keep his face steady. He wasn't going to give Morgan the satisfaction of showing him he'd rattled him.

Had he given Fujikawa the photos? That had to be what he was talking about. Tony could imagine it now, Fujikawa's reaction: anger, disgust, disapproval. Oh, God. Morgan had him where he wanted him. But Tony kept his expression unaffected, nonetheless.

Watching him avidly for a reaction to this news, Morgan pouted. His lips were downturned in the tiniest of petulant moues -- a villain, foiled. But not foiled enough, because whatever he was planning-- oh, God--

God, everything in his life was going wrong--

"Excuse me?" Tony asked, when he trusted himself to speak. The words came out cool, calm, composed, with just the slightest hint of confusion, the suggestion that Morgan needed to explain himself better. This wasn't going to be enough to save Tony now. He should have been paying attention to something, anything about his business, anything other than his plans to get Steve to fuck him.

The triumphant smile was back on Morgan's face again. "You might not have thought it was a good idea, but you're not the only one running Starkware, remember? After our talk the other day, and how unwell you seemed, I was concerned that your proven leadership ability might have become compromised," he explained, with terribly-fake concern in his eyes. "So I thought, really, that the sensible thing to do was to bring up this plan with Mr. Fujikawa himself, considering your exhaustion lately. I wouldn't want you to forget to mention it to him. I just want what's best for the company, Tony. I'm sure you understand. Why, you even seem tired tonight."

That rat bastard. He'd gone to Fujikawa. Maybe not with the photos -- at least, he hadn't specifically mentioned the photos -- but he'd gone to him. Still, what was Fujikawa going to do? Even with Morgan advising him, it wasn't like Fujikawa could unilaterally alter pricing and distribution. As far as Starkware and its products were concerned, they were in this fifty-fifty.

Tony wasn't going to panic. He could get out of this. Morgan wasn't going to be able to pull it off. Even if Fujikawa believed him about the photos, Starkware needed both of them, him and Fujikawa: Tony would have had to have agreed with the changes Morgan wanted for Starkware. Which he didn't.

"I'm doing just fine," Tony told him. His voice crackled with a finality he didn't feel. "And I think you'll find that you're going to need Stark Solutions' approval -- my approval -- before embarking on any grand plans you might have for Starkware. And that, I assure you, you won't be getting."

But Morgan was still smiling, broad and confident, like this hadn't even fazed him. "Ah, but you're assuming that Mr. Fujikawa has plans for Starkware," he said, and Tony went cold all over, because, God, that was an angle he hadn't even considered. "If he's unsatisfied with the sales performance of Starkware's offerings thus far, there's nothing stopping Stark-Fujikawa from pulling out of Starkware and selling its own software, independently, with a more favorable pricing scheme."

"The non-compete clause--"

"Oh, I wouldn't be competing against my own company," Morgan said, archly. "Just you. It's perfectly legal." He smiled; he knew that Tony knew he was right. "And we wouldn't have to confine ourselves to web browsers. Our software department can make anything we like, and we can sell our products at prices that are much more... mmm... forward-thinking."

Tony saw the plan now. His stomach was a sick knot of misery. Morgan was going to get Fujikawa to pull out of the deal -- either with this concern for his health, or with straight-up blackmail -- and he was going to take Tony's work and do things Tony had never wanted with it.

"You're going to put my name on them," Tony said, dully.

Stark-Fujikawa wasn't one of Tony's companies -- but a distinction like that was virtually meaningless to the general public. His name was on it, after all. Whatever Stark-Fujikawa did, it was going to reflect on him. Tony had gone to a considerable amount of effort to clean up his name, to repair his image, to try to make a legacy he could be proud of. And if Stark-Fujikawa, under Morgan's guidance, started price-gouging the very people Tony was trying to help, to save, to protect -- well, it wasn't going to be pretty.

The life he'd been trying to build was going to fall apart under him, and it was all his fault for being so goddamn distracted. He'd be powerless to prevent it. He'd lose it all, again, just like when Stane had taken over his company. And maybe he'd slip back into the bottle again, because it wasn't like he ever had anything else. When nothing else was left, that was all there ever was. He'd curl up in a blizzard and shut his eyes. No one would miss him this time.

"No," Morgan said, coolly. "I'm going to put my name on them. It's my name too. Have you forgotten? You're not the only Stark in the world, cousin. And you've had your turn in the limelight."

And he knew, of course, that the blame would still fall on Tony.

It wasn't murder. It wasn't even corporate takeover. But it would destroy Tony's reputation, soundly and surely. His public image would never recover.

"You son of a bitch," Tony said, hoarsely.

Morgan clicked his tongue. "Now, Tony, is that any way to talk to your own family?" He smiled. "Mr. Fujikawa has penciled you in for a noon meeting, a week from Monday, to talk about the company's new direction. I'll be telling him about your recent health issues."

"That's illegal," Tony said, hollowly.

"You'll like it better than the other conversational topic," Morgan said, with a smile. "I wouldn't miss this meeting if I were you. I have a very interesting slideshow prepared. If you don't show up, I'll have to make sure he sees it."

And that was the photos, right there. A one-two punch. He might not even need them to destroy Tony. He'd probably leak them anyway, just to send Tony lower and lower.

Tony couldn't do anything except stare in horror.

"Be seeing you," Morgan said, cheerfully, and then he turned and made his way through the crowd, his cane echoing against the floor as he limped away.

Tony was frozen.

Oh, God, what was he going to do?

"Wow," Pepper said, under her breath, and Tony jumped. He'd entirely forgotten she was still here. "I'm so sorry, Tony."

"Don't be." He tried to wave a hand, uncaring; the motion was jagged and spasmodic. "It's-- it's just Morgan. He does this."

They regarded the room in silence for a few seconds; Tony watched a couple dancing, laughing, leaning on each other. They were having a much better time than he was. Morgan had ruined his evening. Morgan was ruining his life.

"So." Pepper bit her lip. "You want me to add that meeting to your calendar, boss?"

I want a goddamn drink, Tony thought, and he realized his unseeing, blurry vision was fixed on a tray of champagne. He wanted to hide. He wanted to cover his face. He wanted to cry. He wanted to be better than this, better than the worst and most insidious of his diseases. He probably needed to call Henry sometime soon.

I want Steve, Tony thought.

He wondered which was worse for him.

"Yeah," Tony said, because he didn't have a choice, did he? "Go on and add it."

He had a week to pull himself together before Morgan destroyed everything he'd built.

It didn't look like he was going to make it.

Tony was honestly not sure how he survived the rest of the night. He stayed upright. He kept smiling. He kept shaking hands. His mouth kept moving, saying the right things. But inside his head it was like a bomb had gone off. Nothing but devastation. He couldn't have said what he said to anyone, or what they said to him. All he could do was wonder: oh, God, what am I going to do now?

And he didn't even have Steve to come home to. He didn't have Steve at all.

By midnight everyone had cleared out. It was just him and Pepper, and the caterers and cleaning crew starting to swing in and get rid of the detritus.

"Tony?" Pepper asked. "Are you-- are you going to be all right?"

No, Tony thought.

He nodded. "I'll be fine. I just need to get some sleep. I'll see you back in New York on Monday, okay?"

"Okay." Pepper smiled. "Have a good weekend."

"Thanks." I'm planning on letting Captain America nail me. "You too."

Tony excused himself, locked himself in the bathroom with a very heavy attaché case, and walked out wearing an entirely different suit three minutes later.

Being in the armor almost always made him feel better -- a blessed respite from being Tony Stark -- but tonight even that wasn't doing the trick. His eyes were hot, and the glowing HUD display swam and tilted through his field of vision. At least now no one could see him if he cried.

God, he wished he could go home. He wished he could see Steve. And even though the armor's suborbital flight capabilities could get him to the East Coast in hardly any time at all, that couldn't change the fact that it was three in the morning right now in New York, and Steve wasn't going to thank him for waking him up in the middle of the night because he was so pathetic that he needed a goddamn hug. That wasn't what their relationship had ever been about, and that certainly wasn't what it was about now. If Tony wasn't going to offer him sex, Steve had no reason to want him home for the night.

So he flew to his new house, instead.

His new house was on an island in the middle of Lake Washington. It was a wonder of modern architecture, a shining beacon of glass and steel among wild nature, rising from a copse of trees. Tony had approved all the plans personally. It had all the amenities: an in-home theater, a swimming pool, a state-of-the-art household computer system with access to the Avengers mainframe, a workshop, and of course a superhero-grade infirmary. (It was supposed to be Tony's home, after all.)

It had made the cover of three different lifestyle magazines in the past six months. And until today, Tony had never even visited it. He knew where his home was, after all.

A very small voice in the back of his mind whispered that he knew who his home was.

The master bedroom was lovely. Tony had paid an interior designer a small fortune to ensure that much. The decor was minimal; there was an abstract painting over the king-size bed, whose Egyptian cotton sheets shone in the dim light from the floor-to-ceiling windows, the moonlight reflected off the water. It was a beautiful place. It was somewhere anyone would want to live.

It was-- it was so goddamn lonely, that was what it was.

Tony left his armor in pieces, gleaming crimson and gold metal strewn across the plush carpet like a trail of breadcrumbs, and by the time he'd stepped out of the last of it and kicked his shoes and socks away, his bare feet hit the cool marble floor of the master bathroom.

He flipped the light on, stared at his hollow face in the mirror, wished he hadn't, and then started pulling open the drawers under the sink, in search of cotton pads and makeup remover.

As it turned out, he looked even worse with the concealer and foundation scrubbed off. He sighed.

"You're a fucking mess, Shellhead," he told his reflection.

A few minutes later, he'd gotten ready for bed, found a pair of pajamas in the dresser -- he had a whole wardrobe of clothes he'd never worn, how strange was that? -- and settled down in the middle of the huge, empty bed, pulling the covers over himself. He might as well start out pretending that he was going to be able to get some sleep. He'd gotten some sleep last night. Maybe it was possible.

He hoped Steve was sleeping.

He'd never slept with Steve -- not in the actual being asleep sense -- but it was all too easy to let his futurist's mind paint a picture of what it would be like, of Steve in his bed, soft and warm and relaxed, trusting, at ease, at peace. Maybe Steve wouldn't mind if Tony cuddled up to him in the middle of the night, if Tony curled up against him, if he let Steve be a shield in his sleep the way Steve was on the battlefield, protecting him from harm. Steve could nestle up behind him, put an arm over him, hold him tight.

Tony shook his head. God, he wanted Steve to take care of him. How pathetic was he?

It was like after less than a week, he was used to having Steve around at night already, the beginning of a new routine, a new tradition. And certain parts of his body were definitely accustomed to the idea. He was half-hard and getting harder, just based on sheer conditioning alone -- his body already knew that now was when he got some, every day, a certainty based on four days of experience.

Tony slid his hand under the waistband of his boxers, cupping his hardening cock, running his fingers lightly over the throbbing shaft down to the tip. He didn't really want to get himself off; it seemed even more pathetically lonely, to lie here jerking off thinking about all the sex he wasn't having tonight with his best friend, who he was desperately in love with.

Unbidden, the thought entered Tony's mind: what if Steve had been lonely tonight, too? What if he'd used the toy Tony had made him?

He could picture it now: Steve, face set and determined, like he'd been assigned a mission to have an orgasm, lubing up the sleeve, sliding his dick in. He imagined the look on Steve's face transmuting into wide-eyed surprise, dazzled by pleasure, as he figured out just how good the toy felt. Tony could imagine the way Steve's huge, beautiful cock would look, sliding in and out of the toy. His cock didn't seem monstrous anymore; it was just the size he was, perfect as he was. And, of course, Steve would really appreciate the toy. Steve would probably have some porn for the occasion; all guys had needs, right? Tony didn't even need to ask Steve to know what kind of porn Steve would like: sweet, nice, scrupulously equal, the kind where everyone looked happy, where nothing looked fake.

A half-second after that, it occurred to Tony that this was his fucking jerk-off fantasy, goddammit, and in his head Steve could get off thinking about him. He'd think about how Tony had made the toy for him. He'd wonder, maybe, if Tony was doing exactly this.

And, oh, Jesus, that was a good thought. That was a great thought right there. He should keep having that thought. Tony curved his hand around his cock and pumped it a few times, and, God, that felt nice. Not as nice as when Steve had touched him, but, well, he had to make do with what he had. He could pretend it was Steve's hand.

He could call Steve now, couldn't he?

Maybe he could talk Steve into having phone sex, or at least into talking Tony through it if he wasn't up for it himself. It wasn't like Tony would take very long tonight. He imagined Steve saying you're so good, Tony, let me hear you, let me hear how much you like it and Tony shuddered, groaned, and tightened his fist around his cock, despite himself.

Steve would understand if he wanted phone sex, at least. That would be a reason he could call that Steve would understand. Steve might be annoyed that Tony had woken him, but he'd understand the basic need. They were having sex; it would make sense if Tony wanted more sex. That was something he could admit to wanting. He couldn't tell Steve the rest of it. He couldn't just call and say I'm so lonely without you or I missed the sound of your voice or maybe can you just stay on the line with me while I try to fall asleep. He'd never done any of that before, so he couldn't start doing it now. He couldn't ever tell Steve that when he was with him it felt like everything in his miserable life was finally going to be all right. He couldn't ever tell Steve he loved him.

All of a sudden, Tony didn't want to jerk off anymore.

He extricated his hand from his boxers, stared at the ceiling, and sighed. He didn't know what he was going to do about Morgan, but he already knew what was going to happen with Steve: it was going to be over in the next few days. It was going to be difficult. It was going to be strange. It was probably going to change things between them. And he had to look presentable for Morgan in a week, or he was going to lose everything -- everything he wouldn't have already lost, after Steve walked away from him.

Yeah, he definitely wasn't going to be able to sleep tonight, either.

Saturday was the traditional day for Avengers team meetings. It had been mostly Tony's fault. Back in the days when he'd been the CEO of Stark Industries, the original company, and when he'd been running a secret identity, he'd figured that weekends would be the days it would be the easiest for him to get away from the office. Even so, he'd still missed a few meetings and -- due to the secret identity making it impossible to explain -- he'd weathered more than a few team suspensions on account of it. Saturdays had been good for Thor, too; he'd never explained why at the time either, but it had turned out that mostly Don Blake wasn't on call on the weekends. Of course, sometimes he was, and then they never saw him, either. This was the problem when your secret identity had a day job.

It was ironic, then, that by the time Tony made it back to New York in time for the meeting, the only Avenger who was there at all was Thor.

After five minutes wandering around downstairs and checking the empty briefing room three times, like maybe it was going to make more Avengers appear if he looked again, Tony headed upstairs to find Thor in the kitchen with the remains of what had once been a bone-in glazed ham on the countertop.

"Thor!" Tony said. "Hey, so, uh -- where is everybody? It's Saturday."

He was pretty sure it was Saturday. He was still so tired. He'd gotten maybe an hour of sleep, and woken up terrified and alone from a nightmare he no longer remembered. He wondered if he'd have slept any better if Steve had been there to kiss him good night again. He wondered if he'd dreamed that. It was a good thing he had the suit on and Thor couldn't see his face.

Frowning, Thor licked his fingers as he talked. "Did you not receive the captain's electronic missive?"

His e-mail. Of course Tony had checked his e-mail. There hadn't been any new e-mail. Tony brought up the network access on the HUD, went to his e-mail, and double-checked his inbox just to make sure. Zero messages, just the same way it had been all morning, after he'd read the forwarded press clippings about the gala last night.

Wait. This was his Stark Solutions e-mail. Shit. That was the problem.

Tony brought up his Avengers e-mail, and there it was. From: Captain America. Subject: Weekly meeting postponed. He'd been so goddamn exhausted that he'd only been checking the one e-mail account all morning. He needed to focus, now more than ever.

Given that not much has happened this week, Steve had written, which was kind of a funny thing to say when what had happened this week was that Steve and Tony had started fucking, I'm postponing the team meeting until tomorrow afternoon. It's a nice day today and everyone should get out there and enjoy it. See you tomorrow.

Huh. That was unusual.

Ordinarily, nothing kept Steve from his Avengers duties unless he was laid up in the infirmary -- and given that they had held team meetings in the infirmary more than once, not even that stopped him. The guy had to be basically unconscious before he would quit. So saying that it was very much unlike Steve to cancel a meeting because it was a nice day out was a massive understatement.

Was Steve feeling all right? He had to be. He'd seemed okay all week, as far as Tony could determine. Tony had certainly seen enough of him to be able to tell. And, sure, Steve had been nervous about coming out to him, but they'd talked about that. They were okay now. It was over. They were moving on. And Steve wasn't like him. Steve didn't lie. Steve didn't hide things. If Steve said he was okay, then he was okay. So he had to be okay.

That didn't explain this, though. But maybe it was as simple as it looked. It really was a nice day outside. Maybe Steve just wanted everyone to relax and have a good day.

He could ask Steve about it when he saw him. Whenever that was. He'd see him tonight, if nothing else. But he could probably see him sooner. That would be good. He missed him. A dizzying rush of anticipation ran through Tony just at the thought of seeing Steve again. He was-- well, he was in love. But he knew that.

He realized that Thor was still looking at him, waiting for an answer. Thor had asked him about his e-mail.

"Yeah," Tony said, hastily. "Yeah, I see it now. Thanks. I don't know how I missed it before." Except, of course, he did know how he'd missed it, and it had been because he was rapidly losing his ability to cope with his life, and he was about to pay for all of his failures in a variety of unpleasant ways.

Thor tilted his head, a half-nod of acknowledgment. "My condolences. But it is good to see you again, old friend."

"Likewise," Tony said, and it was the truth, because of course he liked Thor. How could anyone not like the guy? Thor was great. Easy to get along with. Tony understood Thor.

He watched Thor demolish the remaining ham -- there was maybe one slice left -- and he wondered if Thor knew where Steve was. Maybe he'd feel better about some of this if he could at least see Steve.

Thor licked his fingers again. "This was another feast worthy of Asgard."

"Great, great," Tony said. "I'll tell Jarvis you said so. Say, you haven't seen Cap around, have you?"

Thor shook his head, and Tony was just not going to think about how much his stomach was sinking at that answer. God, he could do without Steve for a day or two, couldn't he? He shouldn't be this upset that Steve wasn't here. He could live without him.

And then it just got weird, because what Thor said was, "He has gone to the cinema."

Tony blinked. "He's seeing a movie?"

Steve had cancelled an Avengers meeting to go to the movies?

The first thought that popped into Tony's head was, of course: maybe he had a date.

There was no reason he should be sad or disappointed, Tony told himself, even as he could practically feel himself slumping where he stood, could feel everything within him dive off a cliff, unarmored, and wait to hit the ground. He had no claim on Steve whatsoever. There had been no agreement of exclusivity. They weren't even dating. Steve had made that perfectly clear. They were just fucking, and Tony was going to give Steve this brand-new sexual experience, and then Steve was going to move on from him to whoever he really wanted to spend his life with. Tony had known from the beginning that this was how it was going to work.

Thor nodded. "He is. Quicksilver has returned for a visit, and the captain has gone with him, the Scarlet Witch, and Hawkeye for the afternoon."

Oh. Not a date. The relief was dizzying. Definitely not a date, unless Steve was significantly more open-minded about polyamory than Tony had thought, and even considering that he might well be -- he was into a lot of things Tony hadn't known about before last week, after all -- Tony found it hard to imagine a world where the Maximoffs were into each other. (He also found it hard to imagine anyone voluntarily dating Pietro, but at least that one didn't hit any major societal taboos.)

So it was just some good old-fashioned Kooky Quartet reunion bonding. That made more sense. Granted, Tony couldn't see why he'd canceled the team meeting for it, but at least it was an explanation.

"They are seeing The Matrix," Thor added.

And, okay, that did sting, a bit, because Steve had known he'd wanted to see that one. They'd talked about it. And Steve was the kind of guy who didn't forget it, when you told him a thing like that. He was also the kind of guy who couldn't forget it, thanks to the serum, but Tony suspected that Steve had always been that way.

So here Tony was, left out. Not good enough to hang out with Steve and his actual friends, who were going to see the movie Tony had wanted to see, and maybe it was ridiculous to be upset, but he couldn't even get one thing in his life to go right, lately. He swallowed hard, forced back the shameful tightness of the rejection, and he was even more grateful that Thor couldn't see his face.

"Okay," Tony said, glumly. "Thanks."

With a cheerful grin, Thor was lifting the nearly-decimated ham, ready to put it in the fridge.

"No, that's okay," Tony said. His voice was rough. "I've got it. You don't need to put that away. You get on with your day."

Thor brightened. "I shall see thee anon!" he said. He clapped Tony on the shoulder -- well, the epaulette -- hard enough to rattle his armor, and he exited the kitchen the way he always did everything he did, with aplomb, like some kind of dramatic hero leaving the stage after a soliloquy.

Alone in the kitchen, alone in the mansion, Tony sighed, pushed back his faceplate, set his gauntlets on the counter, and got himself some bread to make himself a sandwich.

The part of his mind that never stopped planning, of course, came up with a plan while he was halfway through eating the world's saddest ham sandwich. And he didn't like the plan, but he didn't like any of this, really, so what else was new?

He needed to be less intimate with Steve.

He had to get his life together, for the sake of his company. He had just over a week. And in two more days, by his calculations, he was going to be done sleeping with Steve, so what he had to do now was figure out how to weather that in such a way as to make the end of their non-relationship as easy on himself as he could.

The thing was, what he'd been doing with Steve had all been escalation. What they were doing now had not been included in the bounds of their original plan. They'd gone from touching, to cuddling, to kissing, for fuck's sake. And while all of that had definitely been great at the time, and would be great if he were in an actual relationship with Steve, he wasn't. And he needed to accept that. What he needed to do was de-escalate. No more kissing. No more cuddling. He just needed to get through this, as impersonally as possible. Steve was a friend, and all he was doing was helping his buddy out with his virginity. That was all it was.

Oh, some intimacy was going to be necessary -- Tony wasn't about to kid himself here -- but, on the whole, what Tony needed to do was take a step back.

It was incontrovertibly the best choice. The less he could make Steve mean to him, the easier it was going to be on him -- on both of them, really -- when all of this ended. And maybe there was a chance that Tony would handle it well enough that he could fake being a normal human being for Fujikawa, and he'd get to keep his company and his reputation.

It was a shitty, miserable plan, but it was all he had.

Having retreated into his workshop for the rest of the afternoon, Tony did actually manage to get some work done. He kept the door open, because he wasn't building sex toys today and it was important to be approachable. It was certainly not because he was hoping Steve would come find him when he got back from the movie.

So maybe his plan for de-escalation still needed some work.

But Steve didn't oblige him. Four, five, six, seven -- Tony gave up and helped himself to leftover pizza -- eight, nine o'clock. No Steve.

Tony brought up the identicard tracker. Steve was in the building. Steve was in his room, in fact. So Steve was here. Steve just wasn't coming down to see him.

He was just going to have to go to Steve himself. And if Steve didn't want him for the night, that was okay. He'd deal. It would be an opportunity to practice controlling his feelings. A learning experience.

He stopped by his room first and grabbed the last of the dildos, stashing it in a tote bag on the off-chance that he actually ran into another Avenger. He did not want to have to explain this. He considered the dildo, opening the bag and peering down at it, and he frowned. Assuming he could fit this thing inside him at all -- God, it was somehow even more gigantic than he remembered -- this was going to be his second-to-last night with Steve. The end was approaching, sooner and sooner.

Nothing lasted forever. Time to get it over with.

Steve opened his bedroom door barely a few seconds after Tony knocked, like he'd been standing there waiting for Tony. Which he obviously couldn't have been, but it was nice to pretend. He hadn't changed for bed yet, and Tony stood there on the threshold, momentarily rendered speechless by how good Steve looked. Steve didn't really do civilian clothing like other people did civilian clothing; either he was out for a run in sweatpants, or he was in uniform, or he was wearing a trench coat over his uniform as if that was supposed to fool anybody, but there was very little in between. Steve didn't usually dress up nice unless he had something to dress up nice for.

But today, apparently, had been worth dressing up for. Steve was wearing a button-down shirt, in a dark blue that set off his eyes beautifully and a cut that clung enticingly to his body, and a pair of jeans, black denim, tight enough to just skirt the line between these are appropriate clothes to wear every day and I want the entire world to admire my ass. It was the kind of outfit you'd wear on a date, except Steve hadn't been on a date, because Clint Barton and the Maximoff twins were no kind of date at all.

"Tony!" Steve said, grinning at him, while Tony stood there like an idiot, tongue cleaved to the roof of his mouth, because he couldn't stop staring. "Come on in! I-- I wasn't sure you'd still want to see me tonight, so I didn't-- oh, uh, just come in."

Wondering why Steve was so nervous, Tony stumbled inside and remembered to close and lock the door behind himself. The tote bag ended up on the floor, fallen from his hand. Steve was right there and Steve was just letting him look at him, smiling back, like he liked Tony looking at him. Had Steve dressed up for him? He couldn't have.

Steve was licking his lips, just the slightest flash of pink, pink tongue, and Tony thought he was going to lose his goddamn mind.

"You look really good," Tony said, weakly. He thought that maybe he used to be more suave than this.

The faintest hint of color blossomed across Steve's cheeks, and Steve smiled, wide and pleased, like Tony had actually come up with a compliment someone could be proud of. "Thanks, Tony."

Tony breathed in and out and tried to remember how to form words. "So," he asked, "how was The Matrix?"

Steve looked away, then; his face fell. "Oh, geez, Tony, I really am sorry. I was going to ask you to go with me -- uh, with us -- but I didn't know when you were getting back to New York. I tried to make them wait as long as I could for you, but Pietro had a thing tonight, he said, so we ended up going. I know you wanted to see it. I really didn't mean to go without you."

Well, that was sweet. Steve hadn't forgotten him after all, even if Steve hadn't been able to include him. Tony realized he was smiling. "It was good, though?"

"Yeah, definitely." Steve's response was instant and enthusiastic. "You'd love it. I'd be happy to go again, if you still want to see it. Maybe next weekend?"

Tony's heart was pounding, and he opened his mouth, on the verge of saying yes, when he remembered--

This was exactly the kind of thing Tony wasn't supposed to say yes to. He was supposed to be de-escalating. He wasn't supposed to be going on a date-that-wasn't-a-date with his best-friend-with-benefits. But he and Steve had gone to movies together before, when they could catch a break from saving the world. They'd always gone out a lot. If they were going to go back to their regular old friendship, didn't that meant they got to do the things they'd done before? Tony didn't want the aftermath of this to get weird. More than anything, he still wanted to be Steve's friend.

So, really, saying yes would be okay. That made sense. That wasn't something he needed to quit doing. Just... the rest of it.

Concern and disappointment were clouding Steve's gaze. "We don't have to if you don't want to," Steve began to say. "I just-- I thought you might--"

"No, no, that would be great," Tony said. "I'd love to."

Assuming he still had a company, and a career, and any kind of relationship with Steve, that was.

Steve beamed at him, and, yeah, there was the light in his eyes again, the look that made everything worth it. Making Steve happy was the best thing on Earth. The best thing in the universe.

"The movie was that good, huh?" Tony couldn't resist asking, couldn't refrain from teasing him a little. "Good enough to postpone the weekly meeting for?"

Running his hand through his hair, glancing away again, Steve had the grace to look a little embarrassed by the observation. "I, uh. Yeah," Steve muttered. "I just-- I didn't feel like-- it seemed like maybe it would be a good day for everyone to take a break--"

Tony squinted at him. "Are you feeling okay?"

God, if Steve wasn't okay after all--

"I'm fine," Steve said, too quickly, like Tony didn't know what a shitty liar he was.

What could be wrong with Steve? Had something happened to him? Oh, fuck, Tony knew exactly what it was. The anniversary of Bucky's death was coming up soon, and of course Steve was a mess about that. No wonder he'd wanted to spend time with his old team, surround himself with friends. That had to be it.

"If you want to talk about it--"

Steve's head snapped up, and he stared at him, wild-eyed. "I'm okay," he said, slowly, firmly, like it was himself he was trying to convince. He smiled. It was obviously fake. "I'm really okay." He paused. "How was Seattle?"

That was a hell of a change of subject.

A tidal wave of panic swamped Tony, panic and awful loneliness, and the room spun around him. He took a few staggering steps forward, and then he couldn't say exactly how it happened, but he was in Steve's arms and Steve was holding him tight, his face pressed into Steve's shoulder. God, Steve smelled good. He always smelled nice. Clean, fresh, with a hint of that aftershave that no one else ever used but that Steve had probably started wearing in the thirties. Tony could probably identify him with his eyes shut.

This was definitely what Tony wasn't supposed to do. He should have remembered that he had very little resolve when Steve was around.

"Hey, hey," Steve murmured, and Steve's hand was stroking Tony's hair, down to Tony's shoulders, again and again, a calming loop. "That bad, huh?"

His voice was soft, comforting. Weirdly, it seemed like Steve sounded better, stronger, now that he was holding him. Well, whatever did it for him, Tony supposed. It probably made Steve happy to be supportive. Some deep-seated Captain America need.

"Oh, you know," Tony said, faux-casually. His voice cracked. "Morgan's being an asshole. I might lose everything. The usual."

"Aw, hell." Steve squeezed Tony tighter. "That's rotten, Tony." He paused again. "Is there-- is there anything I can do to help?"

He'll lose half the leverage he's got if you come out, Tony couldn't say. He knew Steve was queer now, but it was plain that there was no way Steve was ever going to come out. Not for him. Not because of this.

"Can you meet him in a dark alley?"

Steve's body shook against his, and then Steve was pushing him back a little so he could hold him at arm's length and give him his best reproachful glare. "Tony."

"I'm kidding," Tony said, except he kind of wished he wasn't.

Steve's hand on Tony's arm slid to his shoulder, to the nape of his neck, fingertips stroking Tony's bare skin ever so lightly. "I know," Steve said, and his eyes softened. "And, hey, just tell me what you want us to do tonight, okay? You sound like you've had a hell of a day." His hand slid to the side of Tony's neck and his thumb rubbed Tony's jaw. "You look like you've had a hell of a day, too. I know you came here-- and we've been-- but I want to do what's best for you. And if that's keeping all our clothes on and just talking as-- as friends, then that's what I want."

The best thing for me would be never doing this again. He knew what he needed to say.

"Kinky," Tony drawled, and Steve's face went charmingly pink.

But Steve, of course, refused to be cowed. "I mean it," he said, with the earnestness that Tony had always loved about him.

This was a chance to back out, just like Steve had offered him when this had all started. He could end it all right now, he thought, and he nearly choked on the renewed panic and sadness, rising up like floodwater. Or he could slow it down, he told himself. Draw it out. Tell Steve that he wasn't up for it tonight and they could just talk. But that wasn't going to make anything better, nor when this thing between them was a large amount of Tony's actual problem. He wasn't going to do himself any favors postponing the pain of not being able to have this anymore. They needed to get on with their arrangement.

And, goddammit, he wanted this.

He wanted another night with Steve, a night where there was nothing but the two of them. He wanted to make Steve happy, and, God, he wanted to be happy too. For as long as it lasted.

He wanted to pretend Steve loved him.

"I want to forget," Tony whispered, and he bowed his head and shut his eyes, and wasn't that what he always wanted? Hadn't the bottle promised him oblivion, too?

He made himself open his eyes, and Steve was staring at him, mouth parted, a raw sadness mirrored in his gaze.


"I want to take you to bed," Tony told him, and for some reason he choked on the words. "And I want to show you a good time. And I want to forget, just for a little while, that there's anything else in my life except you." He smiled, a small smile. This was no game, no planned seduction. No one who knew him from the papers would believe that this was the real Tony Stark. "Does that sound good to you?"

The smile Steve gave him in return was a little hesitant. "Only if I get to show you a good time, too."

That was Steve, all right. Always so considerate. The nicest person Tony had ever slept with. It was going to be miserable getting used to anyone else after Steve was gone.

"You got yourself a deal," Tony said, because what else could he say? He should have known that, now that they'd started this, he was never going to be able to tell Steve no. About any of it.

Steve leaned in and kissed him, and that was when Tony knew that last night hadn't been a dream. Steve kissed him the same way he thought he'd imagined Steve kissing him last night, soft and sweet, full of yearning and tenderness, with something there beyond base physical need.

Tony had to be imagining this too. It couldn't mean what he thought it did. Maybe this was just how Steve kissed.

"Is that good?" Steve whispered, his voice husky, and Tony could only nod, dazed. God, Steve didn't even know how he made him feel.

Tugging him back toward the bed, Steve pulled them both over, and this time Steve was spread out underneath him, relaxing into his touch like he didn't even mind being on the bottom. Tony kissed him and kissed him, and Steve kissed him back just as fiercely, the kisses growing in heat and intensity. Tony didn't think he'd ever made out with someone this much since he was fourteen, but he was rapidly developing a new appreciation for the art. Steve bucked up against him and Tony's knee slipped between Steve's legs and he was now straddling Steve's thigh and, oh, God, that was good. His cock, trapped between his body and Steve's, ached and throbbed, and Tony groaned in renewed need.

Jesus, if he didn't move soon he was going to come like this, and they had an agenda for the evening. Tony pushed himself up and off, curling next to Steve; Steve made a small noise of betrayal.

"I'll make it up to you," Tony told him. "I've got plans. Going to make you feel so good."

They were going to try out that sleeve. Steve was definitely going to enjoy the practice if he gave it a chance, Tony was sure.

Steve chuckled throatily. "Looking forward to it."

Impatiently, unable to stand being parted from Steve for even a second, Tony's hands skimmed over Steve's shirt. The material was obscenely soft, silken, speaking to a sort of lush hedonism that he'd honestly never thought Steve was capable of. "This is nice," Tony couldn't help but observe. "God, I want to put my hands all over you."

"I was hoping you'd like it. Decided to wear it when I thought maybe I could get you to go to the movies with us." Steve's voice was a little shy, and when Tony glanced up, his face was even more flushed. "Was hoping you'd like getting me out of it, honestly," he admitted.

Huh. He'd thought Steve had dressed up for a date, but Steve had dressed up for... him?

He didn't know what to say to that. He supposed it was further evidence of Steve's commitment to getting some.

Running his fingers lower, he dared to smooth his hands over Steve's crotch, where there was... a hell of a lot of padding down there. He had his magical SHIELD underwear, once again. Steve made a small, half-strangled noise, but if he was hard at all, Tony couldn't really feel it -- but judging by Steve's dark-eyed, unfocused gaze, and the rasp of his breaths, Tony was willing to bet he was actually into this, very much so, and it was just that his cock was very securely covered.

Tony blinked. "Jesus, Steve, how are you not dying in those jeans?"

"I kind of am," Steve said, with another bitten-back laugh. "But I figured I should take... precautions. These jeans are tight enough that I didn't want to give anyone else a free show, you know?"

Tony eased open the top button of Steve's fly. "Just me, then?"

Nostrils flaring, Steve breathed out heavily. "Just you," he echoed, and his teeth flashed white as he smiled.

God. Tony didn't know what to say to that either. A hot, bright warmth hit him hard, under the ribs, like a punch he hadn't braced for, and he realized he was smiling.

He liked this. He liked Steve. He liked doing this with Steve. When he was here, everything was perfect. And even if it was a lie, he could pretend he was loved. This was worth everything. It had to be. At least he had this.

Steve lifted his hips up, and with difficulty Tony worked his jeans down far enough that he had enough room to get his hands into Steve's underwear. Steve sighed in relief, then gasped like the pleasure surprised him when Tony got his hands on him and lifted him out, and, wow, he was definitely hard. That was flattering.

"Look at you," Tony murmured, and Steve shivered and shuddered under him as Tony ran his hands ever so delicately up the shaft of Steve's massive cock. He could feel Steve's body relaxing against his, Steve melting into him, and he marveled that Steve would give him this much power over him. "I bet that feels better, doesn't it? And you were keeping all that for me. Just look at you, huh, gorgeous?"

The pet name slipped out without Tony intending to say it, and he was grateful that it hadn't been worse; he knew he was an inveterate nicknamer, but he also knew that if Steve didn't love him, he wasn't going to appreciate any of the sappier nicknames that kept drifting through Tony's head.

He glanced back up at Steve's face to see how Steve had taken that. Steve was biting his lip and looking suspiciously misty-eyed. Shit.


"Thank you," Steve said, hoarsely, and his voice wobbled, and when he looked at Tony it was like he was looking beyond him. There was something there, an old pain renewed, still sharp and raw. Whatever it was, Tony hadn't done it, but he'd touched on it, an exposed nerve.

"No need to thank me," Tony said, trying to make it the least awkward that he could, and he didn't know what had happened but he did know that Steve was supposed to be enjoying this. "What's the matter?"

"Thank you for not thinking I'm a freak," Steve said, in a low, miserable rush, shutting his eyes.

Aww, geez, no. Tony let his grip on Steve's cock go, and he threw his arm over Steve, pulling him close. "Hey, shh, no," Tony said. "I-- I'd never think that, okay? You're not a freak, and you're you, and I--" I love you-- "I like you the way you are, okay? However you look, you make me happy. I'm just glad to be here with you."

He could imagine it, the number of people who had turned Steve away, seeing him; ironic, in a man whose body had been meant to be the peak of human perfection. He wondered if anyone had ever looked at Steve and been happy. He wondered if he was the first one.

"I know," Steve said, weakly. "So, thank you."

Tony kissed him again, because Steve seemed like he could use it -- nice and slow and gentle. After a few kisses, Steve looked a little more like himself, smiling again, and Tony couldn't help but kiss him again. God, he was going to miss Steve's mouth. He supposed he'd better kiss him all he could while he had the chance.

He was aware that this was accomplishing nothing on his plan of de-escalation, but maybe that was okay. It was hard to stop kissing Steve, after all. As long as there wasn't escalation, now, surely that would be good enough.

He let his fingers run up the shaft of Steve's cock, teasingly, and Steve made what Tony thought had to be, objectively, the world's most delightful noise: a high breathy sound that went straight down Tony's spine and made his cock throb in his pants.

"So," Tony asked, "did you miss me when I wasn't here last night?"

He stressed the words miss me enough that he hoped Steve would definitely be able to figure out what he meant.

Steve's face was suffused with red; Tony marveled that Steve still had anything he was capable of blushing about when he'd stuck two different dildos up Tony's ass so far and tonight was going to be working on a third.

"Maybe," Steve murmured. "I, uh. Maybe I did, yeah."

"Oh?" Tony heard his voice come out of him in what was practically a purr. "Want to tell me more about it?"

"I don't know that there's really anything special to tell," Steve said, and Tony loved him, but hell if he wasn't terrible at talking dirty. It was kind of endearing, though. "I, just, you know. Missed you. I thought about you," he added, and there was no coyness in the way he said it but even so, Tony forgot how to breathe for a second from the sheer hotness of knowing Steve had thought about him. "And I, uh." Steve's hand made a vague jerk-off motion in the vicinity of his hip. "Well. You know how it goes."

Tony wrapped his fingers around Steve's cock again -- not quite fitting the huge circumference of him, but it wasn't like anyone was complaining -- just to watch Steve's smile. "I think I might know, yeah."

"Oh, Tony," Steve said, and Tony's cock twitched and throbbed. And then Steve focused, his gaze gone alert, like telling Tony about his jerk-off session was some kind of field report he had to deliver. "I-- I tried to last longer, just like you -- mmm -- just like you asked me to. It was maybe a little longer. It was hard to tell."

Oh, right. The reason Steve was actually sleeping with him. It was so easy to forget.

"I'm sure you did fine," Tony said, as soothingly as he could, and Steve relaxed. "Say, you didn't try out the toy I made you yet, did you?"

He glanced around the room, seeing if he could see it, if Steve had tried the sleeve and left it somewhere. And here was the box, right here on Steve's nightstand. It looked like he hadn't even opened it.

Steve shook his head. "No, I-- no. Didn't get around to it. Sorry."

"You want to try it now?" Tony let go of Steve's cock and was already reaching for the box, opening up one end of it, sliding the toy out. "I think you'll really like how it feels. And it's good practice for the real thing."

"If you say so." Steve was biting his lip again, and his body against Tony's was tense, and it was all wrong. "I mean, if you think it would help our goal here, I definitely want to do what would help. I do."

Yeah, Steve was sure doing a real convincing impersonation of someone who thought this was a good idea. Not that Tony understood why he thought it was a bad idea, but he certainly seemed to.

"Look," Tony said, "you don't have to if you don't want to. I am definitely not into doing things you don't want to do, okay--"

"No, no," Steve assured him, and it was definitely a lie. "If it's going to help me, I should do it."

Before Tony could do anything else, Steve plucked the sleeve from his hand. He'd stashed the lube under his pillow again, and he drizzled a generous amount inside the sleeve before nudging Tony's hand away to lube up his cock. His face was set, determined, his mouth a thin line, like this was some kind of torture and not sex.

Grimly, he slid the sleeve over his cock... and then his mouth fell open, his lips a small round O of surprise.

"Oh," Steve said, a tiny breath of air and a whisper of sound. "Oh, wow, that's... different."

There. It was going to be okay, Tony told himself. See, Steve liked it after all. "Good, isn't it?"

Steve didn't say anything. He just breathed out, and he started fucking the toy.

Hypnotized, Tony watched him. It was like he'd imagined it. It was better than he'd imagined it, really. He could see Steve's dick, huge and hard, slide rhythmically in and out of the toy, the toy Tony had made for him -- and, God, that was really doing it for Tony. Steve pumped himself in long, slow, tight strokes, and, oh, that was nice to watch. Tony wondered if Steve would mind if he joined him; his pants were getting uncomfortably tight. This had been a good idea. A great idea. Watching Steve jerk off was still the best thing ever. A lot of things Steve did were the best thing ever. It wasn't exactly a ranked list.

Steve made another tiny sound, and then a groan, and, wait, that really didn't sound good--

And then Tony looked up at Steve's face, and he realized that something had gone terribly wrong. Steve's eyes were screwed shut and his jaw was clenched tight, and when Tony glanced down Steve's body he realized that Steve was actually getting softer, oh God, and he was working his cock even more harshly like that would make him get it up again--

"Hey, Steve, no," Tony said, and he laid his hand on Steve's forearm as Steve's movements slowed and then stilled. "Not like this. Not if it's not good. Don't do this to yourself. Please."

Sighing an explosive sigh, Steve lifted the sleeve away, and, yep, he was soft now. Oh, God, Tony had done this to him. Tony had made him do this, and he hadn't wanted to at all.

"I'm sorry," Steve said, small and ashamed, like he thought it was him who'd disappointed Tony. "I'm sorry, Tony. I tried. I really did."

"It's okay," Tony's heart was pounding, fast and frantic. "It's really okay. It's supposed to be fun, what we're doing, and if you're not having fun, I absolutely don't want you doing it. It's my fault. I can come up with something else for us to do." He paused; he licked his lips. "But... I'd really like to know why it doesn't work for you. So that I can do better, next time."

"It's not your fault," Steve said, instantly. "I thought I could do it, and I couldn't." He sighed. "It's hard to explain, and you're going to think it's silly."

Tony ran two fingers over Steve's ribs. "I'm not. I swear, I'm not."

Steve's face was twisted in frustration, and he wasn't meeting Tony's eyes. "I just-- I can't," Steve said, biting out the word, low, ashamed. "With toys. I can't. And I didn't want to say anything because I know you went to all that trouble to make it for me, and it's not that I'm ungrateful, it's just that I... can't."

Huh. Tony definitely hadn't been expecting that one.

"But you're okay with using the dildos on me?" Tony ventured.

It couldn't be that Steve had some kind of stance against toys. He'd seemed fine before. He definitely wasn't one of those guys who took it as a personal slight to his manhood if his partner wanted to get off on something other than his dick; he wouldn't be even if he could be, which he couldn't be because he couldn't really get anyone off using his dick, could he?

It didn't make any sense.

Steve nodded earnestly. "It's different when it's other people. If I'm with someone, I want to show them a good time, however they want. And especially if it's... something I can't do with my body alone, I want to give them that." His smile was once again shy. "I-- I really like using the toys on you, Tony. It's... nice. I like watching how happy they make you."

Tony glanced down the length of Steve's body, and Steve's cock twitched and began to harden, without anyone even touching him. Well, Steve definitely liked that idea, all right.

"I can tell," Tony said, raising his eyebrows and grinning, with a downward glance, and Steve cracked a smile again. "But it's different," Tony pressed, "when the toys are for you?"

The smile was gone from Steve's face as quickly as it had come. "I know it sounds silly," he said, mouth pinched and drawn, "but, yeah. It's different. When it's me, they just seem so... artificial? Alienating, I guess? It reminds me of medical examinations, and not in a good way. Always being poked and prodded." His hand clenched into a fist, relaxed, and clenched again. "And it's worse when I'm not alone, because if you're there I'm thinking-- I'm thinking it could be you, it could really be you, right there and touching me like-- like I want you to be, instead of some piece of plastic touching me instead." Steve swallowed hard, and his eyes met Tony's like he was looking for... understanding? Approval?

Tony turned the words over in his mind. Now that Steve had said it, of course, Tony could understand. Steve had probably never had great experiences with doctors, growing up sickly and then in Rebirth, and if he thought about it he could kind of see the aversion. Implements were implements, he supposed, medical or otherwise.

"So what you're saying," Tony asked, just to make sure that he had it right, "is that toys aren't... intimate enough for you?"

Steve nodded again. "Yeah. That's the word I was looking for. Intimacy." He gave a helpless shrug. "And I know it's strange, but it's how I feel."

"It's okay," Tony told him. "It really is. It's not weird. I'm sorry I didn't get it before."

And, thank God, Steve was smiling again. He was feeling better. Good.

Tony hadn't wanted intimacy. Well, that wasn't true -- because, God, did he ever want more intimacy with Steve. That was the dream. But it was what he knew he shouldn't have. And at the same time, well, it was what Steve needed.

But if the question was whose needs were more important, there was obviously only one right answer to that.

"But I can try again," Steve said, already firming his jaw. "I mean, it didn't work, but maybe if I try again -- and you said that this was how I should practice, so--

Nope. Nuh-uh. No way.

"No," Tony said, quickly, bracing his hand on Steve's arm, as if he could stop Steve when his mind was made up. "We're only doing things that you like, okay? You know how you said you wanted me to be happy? Well, the same thing applies to you. I can think of something else that will work for you."

Stubborn as always, Steve narrowed his eyes. "You made good points, though," he said. "You said I should, uh, practice with something that wasn't just my hand, something that would feel more like the real thing, so I could learn to last longer. What am I going to do if not that?"

It was a good question, Tony thought. That was the thing about Steve that made them work so well together, on the field and off. He always had good questions. And, sure, maybe he wasn't an engineering whiz, but he could keep up with Tony in his own way -- and that wasn't some kind of dig, because he really could keep up. Somehow he always knew how to take Tony's ideas apart and make them better.

And this, this was an idea that Steve was taking to pieces, because what were they going to do instead? How could they--


Well, that would work. And it would definitely meet Steve's intimacy requirement. It was, however, going to kill Tony, in the end -- but what wasn't, really?

Tony made himself smile, with a sense of confidence he felt nothing of whatsoever. "Trust your local genius, Winghead. I've got an idea."

Steve's eyes lit up. "Oh?"

"Mmm-hmm," Tony said, and he slid a little closer. He wanted this to be a reasonably sexy proposition, after all. "You ever gotten off between anyone's thighs?"

Steve blinked. "I-- no?" He frowned, like he was trying to picture it and couldn't. "How does that work, exactly?"

That was a bit weird. He'd expected Steve to know. He would have thought Steve would have tried everything he could, if he couldn't get laid properly, but maybe he'd just given up on anything remotely resembling penetration.

In the old days, when Steve had been new to the future, Tony had always explained everything to Steve, so this was beginning to feel strangely nostalgic. Of course, the terms back then had been things like the ozone layer and answering machines and not so much intercrural sex, but it was the same idea.

"Pretty much as the name suggests," Tony said, lifting his hand from Steve's side, gesturing downward with a sweep of his arm. "You lube yourself up, and I lube up my legs, get everything nice and slippery, and then, well, I tighten up around you, with my thighs, and you--" he motioned vaguely to himself-- "you just go for it. Like you're fucking me -- I mean, uh, making love to me -- but just a little... lower. It won't be exactly the same as being inside me, because you're big enough that you'll be bottoming out, probably, but you'll get something like the pressure and sensation I was trying to give you with the toy, and we can see how long we can get you to last that way."

He glanced up, to see how Steve took this suggestion. It wasn't anywhere near the oddest thing Tony had ever done in bed and as sex acts went it was pretty tame, but, well, it was clearly new to Steve. He hoped Steve liked the idea of it.

Steve's mouth had fallen open, his eyes were wide and hazy with lust, and he looked like he'd passed beyond excitement, beyond anticipation, into some other realm of ecstasy entirely. He looked like he was a game-show contestant who'd just been told that he'd won the brand-new car and the million-dollar cash prize.

"Oh," Steve breathed. "Oh, Tony, you'd let me?"

Jesus, he hadn't been thinking this would mean that much to Steve. "Well, sure," Tony said, awkwardly. "You're my friend."

Friends, he reminded himself. That was all they were. This was just sex.

But no matter what Tony thought, or said, or didn't say, it was obvious that this meant something, that somehow this was going to mean something.

They undressed each other, slowly, lingeringly, lifting away clothes, hands smoothing over planes of revealed flesh, kissing as they went, and Tony tried to put everything else out of his mind. There was only Steve. There was only this, and he was going to enjoy it, because it was all he had.

He shivered, naked in the middle of Steve's bed, goosebumps stippling his skin, and Steve smiled, tipped his chin up, and kissed him. Steve's body was pressed up against his, and it was obvious that Steve was into this once again, in a way he hadn't been when Tony suggested the toy. His cock was hot and hard, leaking against Tony's hip.

"Okay," Steve said, and his gaze was somehow soft and intent at the same time. "How do we play this, exactly?"

He said it like he was talking about battlefield tactics. Like he needed to remember how to do this. Maybe Tony had been wrong about this meaning something.

Tony tried to think of what would be easiest. "Here," he said. "I'll roll over onto my side, and you can just come up behind me--"

That way Steve wouldn't be able to see his face. Maybe that would help.

It was an awkward bit of positioning, with Steve scooting down behind him as Tony rolled over. He thought Steve was lined up, but he couldn't tell, because he couldn't see him anymore. And of course they were forgetting one key element: this wasn't going to work dry.

Tony flailed a hand backwards, over his shoulder. "You want to pass me the lube?"

"Is-- is it okay if I do it?" Steve's voice was hesitant, like he expected Tony to say no, like this was a privilege he expected Tony to withhold from him, and that was when Tony realized that Steve's commanding voice just now, when he'd asked what to do like he'd been calling out orders, had been a front. He'd been covering. Because he was nervous.

Right. Steve Rogers, nervous virgin. Even if this wasn't actual penetration, it was still something Steve hadn't done before. Of course he'd have all sorts of... feelings. It didn't mean he felt what Tony felt.

God, Tony didn't want to mess this up for him. He supposed if this was what Steve wanted, there was no reason for him not to have it. If Steve wanted to touch him, he could give him that.

"Sure," Tony said, airily, trying to sound like this was casual, sliding one leg up and forward to make room. "I'm all yours."

And wasn't that the truth?

There was the flat click of a bottle opening behind him, and then Steve's hands, slick with lube, slid between his thighs. Tony shivered again. He'd been cold before, but now he was hot all over, too hot, his skin exquisitely sensitized. Steve's hands were huge and warm, strong and gentle at the same time. It was a hell of a thing, being touched so delicately by someone who was so powerful, and the contrast made Tony shiver even more. It felt like he was being given a gift, a kindness, peace from a soldier.

"There you go," Steve said, after he'd smeared enough lube across Tony's skin that Tony was practically dripping with it. His hand slid up, cupping Tony's balls, briefly stroking Tony's cock, like he needed to make sure all of him had enough lube, and even with that slight touch Tony was gasping and breathless. "Is that good?"

"That's great. That's plenty." Tony stretched his hand back again and managed to press his palm to Steve's hip. "Whenever you're ready."

Steve exhaled, his breath against Tony's shoulder blade slow and shaky, and, whoa, wait, that didn't sound good. Steve was barely touching him, his hand hovering in the air over Tony's side, and he was going to need to get a lot closer than that. What was wrong now?

"Steve?" Tony rolled halfway over, just far enough to see Steve's face, to watch Steve's throat work as he swallowed and swallowed. "You okay there, buddy?"

Steve nodded, tight and jerky. "I just," Steve said, the words tumbling out of him. "I just-- I've never-- I don't know how-- and what if, what if I hurt you?"

Wow, okay. He really was a virgin. Tony reached out and back, stroked along Steve's side, the only part of him he could reach. "Okay," he said, as soothingly as he could. "First of all, you can't hurt me. I promise. You won't be able to, not like this. You won't be inside me. There won't be any risk of injury. The worst thing you can do, the absolute worst you can possibly hurt me, is if you grab me too hard and bruise me, and if you do that, I'll let you know, okay?"

"Okay," Steve repeated.

Now was not the time to have a conversation about how Tony wouldn't so much mind a couple of nice bruises. A memento or two. Possession. Ownership. Steve Rogers was here, marked into his flesh.

"And second," Tony continued. "You do know how to do this. I know you might think you don't, but your body knows exactly what to do. You have instincts. You just have to trust yourself and let go." He patted Steve's hip. "And whatever you do, whatever your body wants to do, that's the right thing to do, okay? I'm not going to think it's weird or-- or amateur, or whatever you're worrying about. It's okay. It's good. You've got this."

Steve nodded again, a motion that Tony could barely see out of the corner of his eye, but he looked more confident. His hand covered Tony's, on his own hip, squeezed his fingers. "All right," Steve said, and when he breathed out the tension in the sound now was definitely excitement.

"Come on," Tony said, rolling back over, and he lowered his voice, making it a dare. A ridiculous dare, but a dare nonetheless. "You know you want to give it to me."

Steve laughed against Tony's shoulder, a sound that was mostly breath, and then his cock slid between Tony's thighs, and that was when Tony realized exactly how much of a mistake this was.

"Oh my God," Steve whispered against Tony's skin, hushed and reverent, like he was actually praying. "Oh, God, Tony, that's amazing."

"I know," Tony gasped out, and it could have been arrogance, and it really, really wasn't.

It was so good. Steve's cock between his thighs was huge, sliding forward, and the fact that Tony couldn't really see Steve in this position only made Steve feel bigger to him, a thought that made Tony dizzy with the immensity of it. And that wasn't even the best part. The best part, really, was that Steve was cuddled up to him, close, as close as he could be, the biggest of big spoons. Steve had one arm thrown over Tony's side, his hand splayed low on Tony's stomach, holding him tight.

It was too good, that was what it was.

He shut his eyes, and he was so glad Steve couldn't see his face. This was what he'd wanted, and this was how he'd wanted it. It wasn't Steve inside him, but it was the nearest thing, and they could have it, just like this. Tony could give himself to Steve, let Steve use his body, could make Steve happy every way he could, with all of him.

This was what he'd wanted, and in a day or two, he'd never be able to have it again.

And then Steve started to move, and it got even better -- which was worse -- but better, too. Tony was feeling too many things at once and none of them made sense. He realized there was a tear sliding down his face, soaking into the sheets.

Steve gripped him tighter, and he could feel the rhythmic flex of Steve's muscles against him, pounding in time to Tony's breaths, to the rush and echo of his pulse in his head, as Steve thrust between his thighs.

"You feel," Steve panted out. "You feel so-- oh, Tony, you're perfect-- I can't believe you're letting me-- oh, thank you so much--"

Steve was kissing his shoulders, his spine, the back of his neck, uncoordinated frenzied kisses, gratitude and desperate lust mixed together, and Tony thought that maybe this was going to kill him.

Tony could feel every movement Steve made, the shaft of Steve's cock surging between his thighs, so thick and hot as he clenched it tight, and then the drag as Steve bottomed out, pushing all the way as far as he could go and then pulling back -- the head of his cock pushed out to the other side of Tony, with a snap of Steve's hips, and then pulled back into the tight grasp of Tony's body, the space Tony had made for him, warm and slick and waiting, corded muscles molded around him. He figured that part must feel amazing, given how sensitive Steve was, because Steve gasped, a hoarse and overwhelmed sound, with every thrust.

It was obvious that Steve wasn't going to last long, given how excited he'd been, and how he was thrusting, heavy and driving, faster and faster still. But that was okay. Tony hadn't really thought he'd be able to hold out. And, God, this was good no matter how long he was going to get to have it. They'd have to do it again-- maybe, somehow, he could convince Steve to do it again-- soon he was never going to have it again--

Steve's cock slid higher, brushing up against Tony's balls, sending a spark of heat through him, making his cock twitch and jump and ache, and Tony heard himself groan, surprised.

"Tony?" Steve asked, and Tony realized that this was the first sound he'd made the whole time. Jesus, Steve was probably worried he hated this. "Are you okay?"

"I'm good," Tony rasped. "I'm good, I'm good, I'm really, really good--"

He knew that wasn't enough. Words weren't enough, but somehow Steve understood him anyway.

"I'm glad," Steve said, and his next thrust slid against Tony's balls again, and Tony shut his eyes and let his body make all the sounds it wanted to make, broken and ragged moaning, urging Steve on.

Steve's thrusts were faster still as Tony tightened down around him. He was so slick with lube, and everything was gliding so easily that he half-imagined that Steve could -- oh, God -- just open him up with his cock, slide right into him, sheathe himself in Tony's body, and oh, that was the best thought.

"Please," Tony heard himself say, and he knew he was begging for everything he couldn't say. "Please, please, Steve, please."

Please touch me. Please love me. Please stay with me forever.

He didn't know if he was going to come or cry. Maybe both.

Steve's hand on his stomach slid lower, wrapped around Tony's cock, stroked him fast and hard, just like he liked it, and Tony felt his release building in him rising up, and not yet, not yet, he didn't want it to be over yet--

Steve was pumping him in time to his thrusts, perfectly coordinated, and Tony looked down and saw Steve's hand, Steve's huge hand enfolding him, and glimpses of Steve's cock, the head flushed and wet and so massive, sliding between his thighs, and he could feel the press of Steve's body against his back, Steve's arm holding him close, and everything together was somehow the hottest and the most intimate thing that had ever happened to him. Steve's mouth fastened on the back of Tony's neck, a perfect, bruising kiss, a brand, and Tony trembled and shut his eyes and came.

His thighs clenched tighter around Steve, and that meant that he could feel when Steve lost it, holding him in an embrace just this side of painful, as Steve breathed out and shook around him, between his legs, and Tony felt the hot wetness of Steve's come splashing his thighs.

Tony realized there were more tears trickling down his cheeks.

Steve's ribs heaved against his side, like a runner who'd crossed the finish line at last, and eventually his grip on Tony loosened. He didn't let go, though; he kept his arm over Tony, his hand on Tony's now-spattered stomach.

"Wow," Steve said, and there was so much wonder and astonishment in his voice, and Tony's heart swelled to hear it. He'd done this. Even if this hadn't been the goal, he'd made Steve feel this good. He'd have this to remember, after this week was over. "Wow, that was... really something."

"You liked it?" Tony asked, and, okay, maybe he shouldn't have been needy enough to require reassurance, but there were still tears dripping down his face, and Jesus, he was a mess. He didn't even know why he was crying, really. It was so much, too much, and he was so tired and he didn't get to have this again. At least Steve still couldn't see him, and at least he didn't sound like he was crying, so Steve wasn't going to know.

Steve kissed his shoulder. "I could do that for the rest of my life," Steve said, quietly, but as fervently as Tony had ever heard him speak, like he was talking about liberty or justice instead of coming all over Tony's thighs.


Tony didn't know what else to say. If Steve had loved him -- if this had been real -- it would have been perfect. And, of course, it was real, was the thing. It just wasn't what Tony had wanted.

Steve's other hand, the one that wasn't holding him, rubbed over the back of Tony's neck. His skin was tender where Steve touched it. "I, uh," Steve said. "Sorry about that, though. I kind of got carried away."

On the plus side, he hadn't had to ask Steve for a nice bruise, had he? "No problem," Tony said, and his voice shook. "It-- it was nice."

"Even so," Steve said, and he sounded like he was smiling, and if Tony was any judge he was probably blushing, "you might want to make sure all your shirts have collars."

Right. Because they weren't telling anyone, because Tony was Steve's dirty little secret, because this was the best he could ever have for himself. It was a sad statement about his life that being clandestine fuckbuddies with Steve was better than being with anyone he'd actually been openly dating. Anyone he'd been engaged to, even.

"Okay," Tony said, forcing back tears. "Good to know."

"And I'm sorry I couldn't last," Steve added, sounding ashamed. "I meant to, but it was so good. I just don't want to be bad at this for you, Tony. I know people always complain about their fellas in bed, not being good enough, not lasting long enough or not being nice enough to them, and if we-- when we make love, I want to be better than that. I want to be good for you."

Tony considered that, since Rebirth, Steve probably hadn't been bad at anything. No wonder he was worried. "Hey, it's okay." He patted Steve's hand on his stomach. "You were good. You were really good. And you're going to be good. I know it." And they were only going to do it once, Tony thought, miserably. "And I have no complaints whatsoever. You lasted longer than I did, even."

"Yeah, but," Steve said, guiltily, "we didn't even get around to the toy -- and I know it was part of the plan and all--"

Tony glanced over. Yep, that was the dildo, in the bag, still on the floor. He supposed he'd have to have sex with Steve again. What a hardship.

And the awful thing was, it kind of was a hardship, because he was just dragging this out, because it was going to be over anyway, no matter what.

"That's not a problem," Tony said, as confidently as he could, blinking back more tears. "We can do it tomorrow, right?"

"Right," Steve said, his voice a wavering echo. "Tomorrow."

Then Steve lifted his arm away and started to shift back; Tony was cold where Steve wasn't touching him, and the only thing he wanted was for Steve to stay right where he was. Ideally, forever.

"Steve?" Tony said, and he hated how lonely he sounded.

"Back in a second," Steve said, with another light touch to Tony's arm. "Just going to get a washcloth, okay? You're a little bit, uh. Um."

"Yeah, tell me about it," Tony said. Everything was beginning to get cool and sticky, and that wasn't really helping with the rising tide of regret. It was easier to feel like he'd lost everything when he was lying here alone in Steve's bed covered in tacky lube and Steve's drying come, like he'd been used and ruined and tossed aside, like he was about to be tossed aside. Which, of course, he was.

He squeezed his eyes shut and felt another tear trickle down his face. He heard the sound of Steve's footsteps, the water running briefly, the footsteps returning. The bed dipped as Steve sat back down behind him.

"Here you go," Steve said, and then there was a washcloth swiping warm and wet between Tony's legs, as Steve cleaned him up with gentleness, with tenderness, with an affection that still wasn't enough for Tony, because Tony was greedy and selfish and wanted far more than he deserved.

"Thanks," Tony managed to say.

Steve's hand settled on Tony's hip, and he started to pull Tony back, to roll him over, and God, no, Steve shouldn't see his face--

"Come over here," Steve said, "let me get the rest of you--"

"Uh, no, thanks, that's okay," Tony said, hurriedly, and he tried to struggle forward, but it was too late, and he was on his back. Exposed.

Steve's gaze met his, and Tony watched all the blood drain out of Steve's face. "Oh, God, no," he breathed. "What's wrong? Why are you crying? Did I-- God, Tony, did I hurt you somehow? What did I do wrong?"

"You didn't do anything wrong," Tony forced out. He was shaking, and, to his horror, he felt another tear run down his cheek. "I was just-- it was a lot."

He knew it didn't make any sense as he said it, but Steve's face softened and then Steve gathered him up in his arms and Tony wanted to say this is making it worse and never let me go at the same time.

Steve ran a thumb over Tony's cheekbone, blotting away the tears. "Shh," Steve whispered. "It's okay, Tony. It's going to be okay. I'm so sorry. What can I do? Is this helping? Do you want to talk about it? Do you want to stay here a little longer? You can sleep here, you know, if you want."

Steve had asked that every time, and every time it had been harder and harder to resist.

"No," Tony said, breathing out, pushing himself away from Steve. "I-- I really should go, I think. I don't think I should stay."

He grabbed the washcloth from Steve's other hand, wiped himself off more roughly than Steve had, and then set it down to crouch on the floor and gather up his clothes.

"Oh," Steve said, his voice hollow.

He didn't need to look at Steve to know what Steve would look like now, slumped over, defeated. He didn't look at Steve at all as he struggled into his clothes. He picked up the bag from the floor.

"I'm okay," Tony said. "I am. You didn't do anything wrong. Really."

He hoped he sounded convincing.

"Okay," Steve said, dully.

"I'll see you in the morning, right?" He tried to infuse his voice with something approaching normality. He wasn't sure he remembered what that was anymore.

"Yeah, of course," Steve said, and there was something cold and lonely in his voice, but Tony couldn't make himself turn back. He couldn't comfort Steve, not when he was this much of a mess. But Steve was going to be okay. Steve was always okay. Steve didn't need him, did he? Steve would be fine in the morning.

Tony let himself out without looking back.

Chapter Text

Of course, Tony couldn't sleep. It wasn't like he should have expected anything different. Every time he shut his eyes, his mind began replaying highlights of the evening, in Technicolor with full surround-sound. He remembered how it felt to have Steve hold him close, just like he'd been dreaming of. It had been pure euphoria. It had been better than he'd dreamed of, knowing that he could finally make Steve happy like this, with his body -- which, honestly, was one of the few ways he knew he could make someone happy. It wasn't like Steve wanted anything more from him, so it wasn't like Steve would find out how terrible a relationship with him really would be.

Or so, he'd thought.

Because Tony, with all his genius, had managed to fuck up this relationship that wasn't even a relationship. If he'd just kept himself under control better, if he'd been stronger, if he'd managed to stop himself from bursting into tears for the frankly pathetic reason that everything had felt too good and he'd been unable to deal with the realization that it wasn't going to last -- well, then, Steve would never have known, and everything would have been absolutely fine, just as fine as it had been.

But, no, he hadn't even been able to manage something as simple as not crying.

If you'd just been a real man, boy, he heard in a slurred memory, an echo of his father's voice, and he wanted to cringe. He'd never made anyone happy, had he? Tony was kind of grateful his old man wasn't around to see that Tony's new life goal was Getting Fucked By Captain America. He was a credit to the Stark name, for sure.

And of course, that made him think of Morgan. Tony rolled over and pounded the pillow with his fist. God, what was he going to do? He had no answers, no answers to anything, and he'd probably ruined everything with Steve.

Steve had probably decided that it wouldn't even be worth bothering, where Tony was concerned. No amount of access to Tony's ass could be worth the effort of putting up with him anymore. Oh, because he was Steve, he would phrase it much more nicely, of course. He'd get that sorrowful, apologetic, kicked-puppy look in his eyes, the one where he looked at you like he sincerely thought it was somehow his own fault that an apology was necessary, like it wasn't all Tony's fault.

Tony was sure that Steve had thought about this rationally, had come to this conclusion. He was probably sleeping peacefully right now -- all the sleep Tony wasn't getting -- and then tomorrow evening he'd come by and tell Tony that that was it, that the deal was off.

That was the scenario that Tony arrived at, after several sleepless hours staring at the ceiling. He glanced over at the clock. It was nine. At least Steve would have already gotten up, and he wouldn't have to see-- wait, no, dammit, they had that rescheduled team meeting this afternoon. He'd have to see Steve in public and figure out how to act normally.

At least Steve being Steve was going to make this easier, because there was no way Steve wasn't fine. There was no way for this to affect him like it had been affecting Tony. Steve was perfectly capable of treating him like any other Avenger. There was no way Tony had broken him, and in any case, Steve was stronger than he was anyway.

It was time for breakfast, and then he could figure out what he was doing with his day. What he was doing with his life. He had a few hours until the team meeting. Maybe he'd spend his Sunday morning at the office. Maybe he could come up with some kind of solution that would save him from Morgan.

He showered, dressed, headed downstairs -- and then stopped dead, because Steve was alone in the kitchen.

Steve shouldn't have even been here. Steve should have gotten up hours ago and left for the morning. But here Steve was. He was in uniform, but the cowl was pulled back and his hair was a mess. Tony couldn't see his face, but he was slumped forward over a bowl of oatmeal, stirring it rather than eating it, and the toast on his plate hadn't even been touched.

It took a lot to put Steve off food. And by a lot, Tony meant that he didn't think he had ever, ever seen it happen.

Oh, God, this was Tony's fault.

Steve was facing away from him. He hadn't moved; Tony suspected that Steve hadn't ever noticed he was here -- and with his senses, that was a lapse, all right.

"Morning," he said, and Steve jumped. God, Steve really hadn't heard him.

"Morning, Tony," Steve said. His voice was raspy. If anything, he sounded like he'd been the one crying. Which was ridiculous, because he couldn't have been. He couldn't have. Tony was certain.

There were two carafes of coffee on the counter -- which was weird, because the team usually only bothered with the one, and the second one was orange-topped, and nobody here drank decaf. Maybe the new kids did, though; what did Tony know?

"I remembered what you said about your doctor telling you to switch to decaf," Steve said, without turning around. "I'm not saying you have to. I'm just saying, if you want to, the option exists."

He didn't deserve to even know Steve, did he?

"Thanks," Tony said. He grabbed his mug and poured himself some decaf because there was no way he wasn't going to, after Steve had gone to all that trouble expressly for him. "I'll have some of that, then."

When he sat down with his coffee on the other side of the table, he finally got a look at Steve... and it wasn't good. Steve was still slumped in his seat. Steve's face was pale, drawn, miserable, his skin a papery white, save for the smudged and blotchy dark shadows around his eyes. He looked like an artist had tried to draw Captain America, made a series of terrible mistakes, and smeared everything out, charcoal across a sketchpad. He looked like he hadn't slept, either. He looked like he'd had a worse night than Tony had.

And then Steve met his eyes, and it got even more terrible. His gaze was bloodshot, his eyes too glassy, and if Tony was any judge, Steve had definitely been crying. Tony couldn't remember ever having seen Steve cry.

"Was it the kissing?" Steve asked, hollowly.

God, they couldn't talk about this here, now, like this, in daylight, where anyone could walk in, where anyone could hear them. Tony's gaze darted back and forth. Avengers could be around any corner.

It felt so much more real this way, talking about it in public.

"No one else is home," Steve said, a little more roughly; he must have figured out that that had worried Tony. "Jarvis went to get groceries and everybody else went out an hour ago. We're alone." Steve took a shaky breath. "So was it the kissing? Was it-- was it how I touched you? What did I do?"

Tony couldn't make himself speak.

"I," he said. "Steve, Steve, I-- I--"

"Please." Tears glimmered in Steve's eyes, and Tony considered the possibility that he had really, really fucked up this time. "Please, Tony, talk to me. Tell me what I did wrong. I just-- I just wanted you to be happy, Tony. If you don't want this, we can stop. I'll never touch you again. Whatever you want. Just, please, talk to me. Say something."

That wasn't what Tony wanted. That was the opposite of what Tony wanted. But what the hell was he supposed to say? I started crying because I liked it too much? Steve wasn't exactly going to admire him for that one.

He had to say something. He had no idea what to say. He opened his mouth anyway.


That was when his identicard started beeping.

Goddammit. He didn't need this. But he was an Avenger, and this was his job, and impending disasters and supervillain attacks weren't going to take a convenient break just because he had feelings he couldn't deal with.

Steve's identicard, he realized as he fumbled in his pocket, wasn't beeping. Just his. And that meant that he already knew what it was going to be, even as he was drawing it out, flipping it over, and reading--

"Break-in at Stark Solutions," Tony said, and, yep, he hated being right. "Security footage has a positive identification. It's Taskmaster."

At least Taskmaster wasn't difficult. On Tony's personal scale of villains, where a zero was an overconfident baseline human and tens were reserved for Ultron, Kang, Thanos, and Galactus -- well, Taskmaster was about a three, considering that Tony could basically just shoot him and it would all be over. He was more annoying than anything else. Tony wondered who'd hired him.

Still, it meant that he had to push all his feelings aside for right now and deal with this, which was difficult, because shame and sadness and guilt were all curdling together in his gut, and his face was hot. But he swallowed hard, sighed, and pocketed the card.

"Excuse me," Tony said, as he pushed his chair back from the table and stood up. "I have to go see to this."

But Steve was rising with him, like-- like he thought he was coming with him.

Tony blinked. "Cap?"

"Ready whenever you are."

Steve tugged his cowl over his head and picked up his shield -- his triangular shield -- from where it had been leaning on the leg of the table, next to him. His jaw firmed up. The aching despair on his face was disappearing, and though he still looked undeniably like he'd been crying, his mouth was thin and serious. He was braced for a fight. Tony was jealous of how Steve could just put it all behind him.

"You don't have to come, you know." Tony said, staring at him in bemusement. "It's just Taskmaster."

When Steve looked at him, something in his gaze was still broken. "And you don't have to do this alone," Steve murmured. "I've got your back, if you want me there. I've always got your back. You know that."

It felt like Steve was trying to apologize for last night, even though none of it had actually been his fault -- but now really wasn't the time to talk about that.

He might as well let Steve come. It would make Steve feel better. And, besides, it would definitely go better with two people. Everything was going to be fine.

"I know," Tony said, and he tried to smile. "Okay. You go log us in on the mission board and make this official, and I'll go suit up. See you in a minute."

And, hey, at least this way the team would have something to talk about at the meeting.

"Avengers," Steve suggested, very softly, with the gentlest of smiles. "Assemble."

Tony couldn't not smile back when Steve said that. It was some kind of rule. "Yeah," he said. "We've got this."

The elevator creaked ominously as Tony followed Steve in, each step of his armored boots making something in the floor underneath him protest, and Tony winced and made a mental note to weigh this model of armor sometime. It was a tight fit in here with Steve -- who wasn't exactly small -- in full uniform, shield already on his arm, and with Tony, who was six-six in armor and was starting to think he'd have to sidle through doorways. This model was a bulky one. It wasn't really elevator material.

Still, Stark Solutions was housed in Stark Tower, his building, and Tony was fond of his building's windows and also his building's structural integrity. So while flying the two of them up sixty-six stories to blast inside -- thereby getting to Taskmaster the direct way -- was obviously an option, it wasn't an option Tony was particularly thrilled about.

Hence, the elevator. Which was, on the one hand, much slower, but on the other hand meant that Tony wasn't paying for new windows so soon.

Steve had always had an unerring knack for knowing when Tony was looking at him even when Tony's HUD should have blocked Steve's actual ability to see Tony's eyes, and that meant that even with the helmet on, Tony was watching Steve and knowing Steve was watching him back as Steve drew himself up, as the elevator started moving.

This was the part where Steve was going to explain the plan.

"Right," Steve said. One hand came out from behind his shield, palm out, a surrender of sorts. "Your building, your mission, your call. I'm your backup on this one. Let me know where you want me and I'll follow your lead."

Well, okay, then. Apparently this was the part where Tony was going to explain the plan.

Standard procedure for all of Tony's companies for the past decade was for regular security personnel to clear out as soon as superhuman involvement had been confirmed. A baseline-human guard with a radio and a nightstick wasn't going to have any luck going up against some of the people who liked to pay Tony visits, and they all knew that by now. So he'd doubled down on surveillance and monitoring -- even though Taskmaster probably thought he'd cut all the wires he'd needed, even though the guy probably thought he was going to get in and out undetected, Tony was absolutely still watching him through the camera feeds, overlaid on floor blueprints piped to the HUD. Tony knew where he was at every possible second. He had this.

The little blinking dot on the wireframe map showed Taskmaster moving from the reception area, past Pepper's desk, into his office.

"Well, he's in my office," Tony relayed. "And he thinks he's alone. I don't think he's expecting anyone; he's not moving like he thinks he's tripped security. Good for us." He met Steve's eyes; Steve nodded. "I can take him out, but I suspect he's going to have some kind of energy shield, because he's probably expecting me." Tony half-smiled behind the mask.

Steve, of course, knew what he meant. "Tony Stark's company, Tony Stark's bodyguard. Iron Man's bound to show up."

He could feel himself smiling again. Times like these, it was a good thing that not too many people knew the truth about his identity.

Time for the rest of the plan. "This means I'm going to need to be able to focus fire, high-energy, enough to get through whatever he's got protecting him -- and I'm going to need you to play bait. Lure him out into the open, somewhere I can hit him with repulsor rays, at a distance, and keep him occupied so he'll hold still long enough for me to hit him. Does that sound good?"

Steve nodded again, more firmly. "I'll do my best."

As one, they both looked down at Steve's shield, clutched in Steve's hands, and Tony knew Steve didn't need to be reminded of the issue here. This was his triangular shield, his old one -- and the problem was that Steve couldn't throw it. This meant that Steve was strictly limited to hand-to-hand, which ordinarily wouldn't have been a problem... if they'd been fighting literally anyone other than Taskmaster. He could learn moves, imitate them, copy them, use them faster, and that meant that he was especially deadly in melee. It was where Taskmaster shone. But Steve had no other options.

"And, you know," Tony added, weakly, "just try not to close with him."

"I know." Steve's jaw tightened. "I know what I'm doing, Tony. I'll be fine."

Steve's voice was flat and hard, a low growl of anger and pain, and there was something in his eyes that was wrong again, wrong like the way Steve had looked at him last night after he'd started crying, like the way Steve had looked at him this morning. He looked agonized, like he was walking into battle wounded, already bleeding under his armor where no one could see.

Oh God, Steve wasn't combat-ready after all.

Tony's stomach flipped over. What was he supposed to say? I need you to sit this one out? If it's my mission, then I'm scratching you? There was no time for any of that. The elevator was going up. They were engaging the enemy within the next thirty seconds. There was no way to pull Steve, because Steve was already here.

He'd be okay, Tony told himself. All Steve had to do was lure Taskmaster out and move back. Even if Steve wasn't at his best, he didn't have to be. Steve didn't even have to fight. Steve could do this.

The elevator slowed and stopped. It was show time.

The doors opened with a soft ding, and Tony winced, because Taskmaster had probably heard that.

Steve tapped his earpiece, and Tony obligingly switched his comms to their private line rather than external speakers. No sense making even more noise.

Steve moved out of the elevator first, creeping down the corridor, clinging to the walls, stepping softly and noiselessly. The door to his office -- well, the door to his reception area -- was half-open, and Steve reached it before he did, easing it open all the way and stepping inside.

The office had been ransacked. Chairs were flipped, a potted plant was overturned, and half the drawers of Pepper's desk had been pulled out and dashed with no great ceremony on the floor. And whatever Taskmaster had been looking for, he hadn't found it, because the inner door, the one that led to Tony's office, was also half-open, and Tony could hear someone moving around inside, going through his office rather noisily. Some professional he was.

It was time for Steve to draw him out. Steve turned around and put his finger to his lips for silence, then turned back and crept a little farther forward, until he was standing in the reception area proper, in front of Tony.

He wondered what Steve was planning.

And then Steve straightened up, cleared his throat noisily, and... started talking?

"Hey, mister!" Steve called out. It wasn't Steve's voice. It was lower, more gravelly, raspy like a chain-smoker, and thick with an old, old New York accent that Tony had never before heard out of Steve's mouth. He sounded like a gangster in an old movie, with all the ire to match. "How about you come out of there with your hands up, and I won't call the cops?"

That was clever, Tony had to admit. If Taskmaster thought he was going up against a regular security guard... well, that was one way to get him out of there and into the open. And having Taskmaster expect ordinary humans rather than superheroes could only be a plus for them. He'd be startled, off-balance. They could use that.

There was a rustling noise from inside Tony's office. Footsteps, coming closer.

"I think you'll find that the police won't be able to stop me." The voice of the man inside Tony's office oozed arrogance. "I am far better than they could ever hope to be! Because I... am... Taskmaster!"

Tony would give the guy this much: he'd timed his entrance perfectly.

There weren't a lot of people who could pull off grotesque skeletal mask and hooded cloak over body armor, as a look, and Tony was pretty sure Taskmaster wasn't one of them, but he was standing there like he thought he was making it work for him. He had one gloved hand fisted on his hip, cloak pulled back to expose half-open belt pouches stuffed with what looked like some of Tony's floppy disks. He was standing there, head held high, looking for the hapless security guard that he thought he was facing.

Tony really enjoyed watching Taskmaster's head dip and then lower when he finally caught sight of the two of them.

"Oh, shit," Taskmaster said, much more quietly.

"I lied," Steve said, in a faux-pleasant voice that was more like his normal voice. "They already called the police. Probably they called SHIELD too. But mostly they called the Avengers." He smiled. It wasn't a nice smile.

The last words were low and grim, and Steve raised his shield.

"Hey, pal." Taskmaster's voice was dark with anger. "Some of us are just trying to make a living here--"

"Tell it to the judge," Steve retorted, and he... stepped forward? "Come on, let's get this over with."

He didn't sound angry or determined or defiant. Definitely not heroic. He just sounded... wrecked. Exhausted. Like he needed to do this one last thing and he could get out of here. Like all his attention was somewhere else. And that wasn't a mood to run a mission in.

Taskmaster was coming closer, crouching ever so slightly, readying himself into a fighting stance. And Steve was... doing the same? He raised his shield higher, and he balled his other hand into a fist. From what Tony could just barely see of him, his teeth were bared in a grimace. He definitely looked like someone who was about to go for Taskmaster's throat -- which was, of course, the one thing he absolutely, definitely shouldn't have been doing.

Hell, if Steve would just get out of the way, Tony could take a shot at Taskmaster already. But Steve was between him and Taskmaster, and that meant that there wasn't anything Tony could do.

Steve had to move out of the way. Steve was going to move. Steve was-- drawing back his fist and punching. Oh, no.

Tony keyed into the private comms. "Steve!" he yelled. "He's Taskmaster, Steve, you can't just--"

But it was too late. Steve had struck him.

It was a good move -- with Steve, of course, it was always a good move. Steve lashed out, heavy and hard, a solid blow to the side of Taskmaster's head. It couldn't have been all of Steve's strength, but it clearly rattled the guy, his head snapping back. With his other hand, Steve brought up his shield and, in a one-two punch, drove the point of the triangle into Taskmaster's side.

Taskmaster staggered backwards.

It would have been a perfect move, if it hadn't been Taskmaster.

This was going to be bad.

Catching his balance, Taskmaster paused for half a second, and Tony would have bet anything he was grinning under the mask. And then he went straight for Steve.

The thing about Taskmaster was that he moved fast. Superhuman reflexes. Near-superhuman speed, for short bursts of time. Even in the armor, Tony could barely track him. And Steve was fast, Steve was peak human, but Steve wasn't going to be fast enough.

Bringing all his reflexes to bear, Taskmaster hit back. He didn't hit as hard as Steve had, of course -- he couldn't -- but he hit faster. He delivered the same punch Steve had given him, straight to the temple -- and then, with his other hand, to the other side of Steve's head. Again. Again. He kept hitting him, a flurry of blows, faster than Tony could see, and he didn't let up.

Head. Head. Body. Head. Taskmaster wasn't stopping, and Steve couldn't counter him. And Steve should have known that.

Steve wobbled and buckled, off-balance, tripping, lowering his shield, caving under the onslaught. As Steve pitched forward, defenseless, Taskmaster snapped a knee up into Steve's face. Hard.

The wet crunch was sickening, and all Tony could see was the blood pouring down Steve's face as Steve twisted, his agonized expression caught in profile, and fell, his eyes closing as he dropped. He was out cold.

Everything in Tony fell with him.

Tony hurriedly brought up all the medical data he could. His armor's sensors said Steve was still breathing. He was alive. Tony still had hope.

But before Steve could hit the floor, Taskmaster grabbed him. He let Steve's shield fall, thudding dully against the carpet, but he had Steve by the waist. As Tony watched, transfixed by shock, Taskmaster pulled Steve back up, holding him awkwardly in one arm, pressing him against his body. Steve's head lolled back on Taskmaster's shoulder. Blood was dripping from his temple, somewhere under his cowl, oozing down his jaw, soaking the leather and fabric. One of his eyes was starting to swell shut, and the other one was just closed.

Taskmaster hitched Steve's unconscious body up a little higher, and it was then that Tony figured out what he had in mind.

"I would've liked a shield I could throw," Taskmaster said, almost contemplatively, and he kicked Steve's shield away. Tony gritted his teeth. "Got no need for this piece of scrap metal. But, hey, if I can't have Cap's shield, Cap can be my human shield. Whaddaya think?"

"Fuck you," Tony spat, and he raised his hands, bringing the repulsor rays online.

Taskmaster tilted his head to the side. "Well, that ain't very heroic of you," he drawled, and, yeah, the bastard had to be grinning under there now. "You know," he added, "you could probably shoot me, but you and I both know it'll take a lot of power to bring me down. And, well, I move around a lot, and if you miss, you're going to end up shooting your buddy Captain America. And it'll get messy. I don't think you want that, do you?"

Damn him, he was right.

But Tony had to make this shot. If he didn't, Taskmaster could just walk right out the way he'd come -- there was enough room to get by Tony -- or maybe even jump out a window. Tony wouldn't have put it past the guy to have made those exit plans. So Tony had to shoot. He had to.

His hands were shaking. He wasn't going to be able to make the shot. Even if Taskmaster had been an ordinary human, Tony probably couldn't have made it. He was shaking too hard. If he fired now, he was going to hit Steve.

He'd never liked auto-targeting systems in his armor, and this model had none. He'd always thought that if it had come to the point where he was going to shoot someone, he needed to aim and fire himself, not take the decision out of his own hands, not leave it up to an impersonal computer.

He was regretting that choice now.

God, Steve was unconscious and Taskmaster had him and if Tony couldn't shoot there was nothing he could do to help Steve, to save Steve, and what if Taskmaster killed him--

"You can't, can you?" Taskmaster was gloating. "You can't do it. You can't stop me."

Steve was hurting, Steve could die, and it was all Tony's fault--

In the distance, far behind Tony, the elevator made a very quiet ding. There was the sound of footsteps, multiple people, pounding down the corridor at high speed. And then the air around Taskmaster's head went red. Not just red. Scarlet.

Photographic reflexes didn't do much good when one of your teammates could directly manipulate the local probability of the universe.

"Hey, asshole!" Clint called out, from somewhere behind Tony. "Copy this!"

An arrow lodged itself in Taskmaster's shoulder. He wobbled as he stared down at it, as the momentum from the impact started to spin him around, and Steve began to slide out of his hands.

That was when Mjölnir whooshed past Tony and collided directly with Taskmaster's chest.

Steve slid out of Taskmaster's grasp and fell heavily to the floor, supine, landing like a sack of potatoes. Taskmaster, for his part, flew backwards, flipped over Pepper's desk, and kept going, crashing through Tony's door with a thunderous splintering of wood that took the door off its hinges, before finally colliding with something that, to judge by the sound, was probably Tony's desk. There were no more sounds from the other room.

He'd liked that door. But that didn't really matter, not when Steve was hurt. Steve was still unconscious. God, what if it was worse than that?

Tony glanced around at the other Avengers. It was just Clint, Wanda, and Thor. At least they hadn't brought the new kids to watch the two of them embarrass themselves.

"Why the hell didn't you call for backup?" Clint demanded. "And how the hell can either of you fuck up this hard fighting fucking Taskmaster?"

Ignoring Clint -- because there was really no good answer that Tony was willing to offer any other human being -- Tony ran to Steve and crouched at his side. With shaking hands, he pulled off his gauntlets and pushed back his faceplate. Taskmaster had been knocked out and everyone else in the room knew who he was, and anyway, Steve was hurt.

Steve's chest was rising and falling. He was breathing. Tony didn't want to move him, in case he'd hurt his spine. The side of his face was swelling up, mottled and dark with bruising, and when Tony ran his hands over Steve's cowl, to pull it back, his fingers came away sticky with blood.

"Oh, God, Steve," Tony whispered. "Steve, I'm so sorry."

He wanted to hold Steve. But he really did know better than to move him, so instead he grabbed Steve's hand with both of his and clung tight. He was smearing Steve's blood all over Steve's gloves. He didn't care.

Steve whimpered and moaned. His eyes fluttered. He was coming around.

"Tony?" Steve whispered. He was blinking and squinting up at him. "I don't feel so good," he said, weakly, and Tony knew Steve was in a bad way when he admitted it.

He couldn't see both of Steve's eyes very clearly, because one of them was bloodshot and nearly swollen shut, but Steve's pupils were definitely two different sizes.

"Hey, it's going to be okay," Tony said. "We got him. It's okay." He extricated one of his hands from Steve's grasp -- at some point, Steve had started holding his hand right back -- and gingerly petted Steve's blood-soaked hair. And then he folded his thumb in and held up his hand. "You want to tell me how many fingers I'm holding up?"

Screwing up his face, Steve squinted dubiously, blinked, and then squinted again, like he couldn't decide. "Uh," Steve said. "Probably not eight, I'm guessing?"

Wow, he'd really gone down hard. Oh, God. He was going to get better, Tony told himself. He had the serum. He was going to be okay.

"Not eight," Tony said. "I think maybe we should take you home, though."

"Sounds good," Steve agreed. His voice was slurred, dazed. Tony patted his hair again.

Clint cleared his throat, and abruptly Tony realized that they weren't actually alone. "Uh, Tony?" Clint asked. "There are a bunch of cops and SHIELD agents down in the lobby, and they'd probably like to take Tasky here into custody before he wakes up."

"And there is the matter of thy property," Thor added. "It would behoove thee to appear before these people as Tony Stark to discuss the matter of recompense for the damage this villain has wrought."

Right, right. Taskmaster in custody. Property damage. Tony lifted his hand from Steve's head long enough to wave vaguely at Clint and Thor. "Right. Hawkeye, go with SHIELD. Make sure they get Taskmaster settled, see what they can get out of him. You can ask them about my stuff if you want."

When Tony glanced up, Clint was scowling. "You want me to ask them about your stuff?"

"Yeah," Tony said, only half paying attention, as Steve gave an alarming half-voiced moan, "yeah, whatever, it'll be fine."

"What the fuck," Clint said, and he stomped off toward the elevator. "Okay, sure, whatever. This is fine. This is totally normal. I'll just go represent Stark fucking Solutions. I do it every day."

The elevator dinged and opened and closed again, somewhere far away that wasn't worth caring about, and then Clint was gone.

"Tony," Wanda asked, "are you sure you're feeling okay?"

"I'm fine," Tony said, and he was really hoping that right now Wanda wasn't telepathic like Stephen had been. "Why do you say that? I'm fine."

He looked up, and her gaze was haunted, concerned. Well, that was just great.

"I think I need to lie down," said Steve, who was flat on his back.

This really wasn't good at all. What the hell had gone wrong?

Tony squeezed Steve's hand. "It's going to be all right," he told Steve. "We're taking you home."

"Does anyone have anything else they'd like to bring up?" Steve asked.

Steve, being Steve, had healed from the concussion in record time, with an assist from Wanda, but they'd all quietly pushed the Avengers meeting back to the evening, after dinner, to give him more time to recover. And even so, Steve was sitting here at the head of the briefing room table with an icepack held to his still-bruised face, so he must have been feeling pretty rotten.

It was times like these that Tony wished they could give him painkillers. Such was the downside of a healing factor. He'd been using the icepack less and less over the course of the meeting, at least. Maybe that meant he was getting better.

The rest of the table looked back at Steve. Other than Tony, it was Thor, Wanda, Vance and Angel -- Clint hadn't gotten back from liaising with SHIELD yet, and Tony had hoped he was going to turn up by the end of the meeting, but that was looking more and more unlikely.

Miraculously, the debriefing so far had not raised the question of exactly how Steve and Tony had managed to screw this one up, but Tony suspected that was solely because Clint hadn't shown up yet to offer his opinion. The new kids didn't know, and Thor and Wanda were being... merciful. Steve's summation of the fight -- the parts that he'd been conscious for -- had assigned no blame whatsoever. But that was Steve. Scrupulously fair. Even though it had obviously really been Tony's fault for distracting him.

Wanda raised a hand. "Same day next week, or are we going back to Saturday?"

Tony would have preferred Saturday, because Sunday was the day before Monday, and Monday was the day he was meeting Fujikawa and losing his entire company. He was going to have a hard time focusing. Although, who was he kidding, he was going to have a hard time focusing no matter what. He wasn't going to have Steve.

It wasn't like he had Steve now. Steve had barely even looked at him, all meeting, and Tony had thought about lowering his faceplate again, but he'd decided it would be too obvious.

Steve frowned in thought. "I think Saturday would be better, because--"

There was the sound of booted feet echoing down the corridor, and then Clint was in the room. Even if he hadn't been in bright purple, he would have been impossible to miss. He strode in the way he always did, like he owned the damn place, and he slid into his usual seat, next to Wanda. He leaned back, put his feet up on the table, and grinned.

"Hawkeye," Steve said, his voice laced with that particular kind of despair he got when Clint was seeing just how far he could push Steve's good will. "Boots. Table."

Clint smiled lazily at the whole room and didn't move. Of course he didn't. "You know what I like about mercenary scum?" he said, which Tony supposed was a new and different way to say hello. "Two reasons. It's all right there in the name. You see, they're mercenary and they're also scum. Best of both worlds, really."

Steve raised an eyebrow.

"Now, your classy villains," Clint continued, "your guys with some real high-minded principles--" he made air-quotes around the word and snorted as he said it-- "they're not gonna just roll over because you ask them to. But Tasky? We all know he ain't one of those guys. Like I said, mercenary. His loyalty's up for sale to the highest bidder. He works for whoever pays him, and that means that if he gets in any kind of tight spot, he's gonna start singing like a canary. There's no reason for him to keep quiet, not if it might get him a cushier cell at the Raft. That's where the scum part comes in."

Steve frowned. "Did you get something out of him?"

Clint smiled with too many teeth. "I got a name." And then he looked... over at Tony? "I gotta say," Clint said, "I didn't even know you had a cousin. That really sucks, man." But he was still kind of glaring when he said it, and Tony supposed he was still mad about Tony asking him to go to SHIELD. And then the words hit him.

Oh, God. Oh God, oh God, it had been Morgan.

He should have suspected that Morgan wouldn't be content to make his life hell in only one way. He should have known this was coming. Tony wanted to slump under the table and disappear and never deal with this again. If he hadn't been wearing armor, he would have at least considered it, but as it was he couldn't really move.

Tony sighed and pressed gauntleted fingers to his temples. "Did Taskmaster say what Morgan was after?"

Clint shrugged. "Nothing in particular. It sounds like the guy was just paying him to turn the whole place upside-down. Make a mess. Steal whatever looked important."

Basically, Tony translated, Morgan wanted to make his life as difficult as possible. And so far, he was definitely succeeding. He probably wanted him even more off-balance for his important meeting with Fujikawa.

"Tell me you got something that will stick," Tony said, imploringly. "A signed confession. Something. Anything."

He needed to nail Morgan to the wall, and he needed to do it yesterday.

But Clint was grimacing. He swung his feet off the table, and he shifted uncomfortably where he sat. "Uh," Clint said, and his gaze darted around the room. "It was really more of an... unofficial... chat."

"I don't want to know what that means," Steve said, flatly. "Do I."

Steve definitely hadn't made it sound like a question, but Clint was Clint, and so Clint answered him anyway.

"You know," Clint said. "The kind of unofficial chat where the nice SHIELD agents in the interrogation room all spontaneously decide they could go for some coffee right now and decide to leave you alone with the prisoner. That kind of chat." He smirked. "I think the cameras might have also mysteriously broken. Funny how that happens."

Steve looked like he would have been banging his head on the briefing-room table if not for the fact that he was getting over a concussion. "Clint."

Tony could empathize. He was pretty sure he was making the same face Steve was.

"I didn't hurt him," Clint said, and he actually sounded offended. "Jesus, Cap. I just talked to the guy." And then he glared at Tony. "Look, if you want it done your way, Tony, next time you come do it yourself instead of staying home so you can hold hands with Cap, okay? I got you a name."

Clint did have a point, though. "Okay," Tony said. "Okay. Thank you."

God, had he been that obvious about holding hands with Steve? What if everybody knew how he felt?

"I mean," Clint added, "there might have been some discussion of violence. Strictly theoretical."

Steve's mouth went pinched again. "Clint," he said, more severely.

"Anyway," Clint said, talking over Steve and aiming another glare at Tony, "it's Taskmaster we're talking about, so I figure we've got maybe a week, maybe two, before the guy figures out how to pull a disappearing act. If you'd like a signed confession, I think maybe you should get to the Raft before then and give the guy a talking-to. It's your turn."

Yeah, Clint was definitely still pissed about running Tony's Avengers errands for him.

And Tony was going to need to get there at some point this week, before his meeting with Fujikawa -- because, God, if he could discredit Morgan, if he had proof of Morgan's crimes, that was his only hope for getting out of this mess with his own reputation intact.

"Okay," Steve said, eyeing both of them warily, like they were a bomb he didn't know how to defuse. "Thank you for your help, Hawkeye. Now, unless anyone else has anything to add, I'll see you all again next Saturday, the usual time." He paused. "I declare this meeting adjourned."

"Thank God," Clint said, with a kind of disgusted relish, and he was out the door again before anyone else had so much as moved. Great.

The rest of the team all rose from their chairs, starting to chatter, to laugh, to resume the ordinary rhythms of life as they left the room. It was late enough that everyone else was probably getting to bed.

Tony didn't move. Neither did Steve.

He supposed they had to talk about it now.

"I'm sorry," Steve said, very quietly. His expression didn't change. He could have been a statue. "I was... distracted. And I put the mission in jeopardy, and I'm deeply sorry. My official report will reflect that, of course."

Oh. Steve was going to try to blame himself. That was ridiculous. It was Tony's fault. Of course it was. How could Steve think otherwise?

Sadness glimmered in Steve's eyes, but mostly Steve just looked tired. Exhausted, really. As if, whatever he was going through, he was at the very limit.

"It wasn't your fault," Tony said. He wanted to get up, walk across the room, and shake some sense into him. This was a bad idea generally, and an even worse idea considering that Tony was still in armor. "It was mine. You wouldn't know, because you weren't conscious, but Taskmaster had picked you up and was using you as a human shield. He was taunting me. Inviting me to fire." Tony's throat went tight. "I couldn't. I didn't think I could make the shot without hitting you. I was a coward. So if you're going to blame anyone, blame me. I could have downed him in a second, if I'd had the nerve, and I-- I didn't."

So weak, his mind taunted him. Helpless. What are Stark men made of, huh? It's sure not this.

Steve's face was significantly paler. "Tony--"

"And besides," Tony continued, "you were distracted in the first place because I-- because of what I-- because last night I'd been crying." His face went hot just saying it; shame flooded him. Here they were talking about this in public again, outside of their rooms, making it real, but making only the worst parts of it real, Tony's terrible weaknesses. "We both know that. So if it's anyone's fault it's mine, because I couldn't-- because I couldn't keep myself from--"

"Tony," Steve said, and the snap of Captain America command in his voice made Tony stop talking. "How you felt, whatever you felt because of what I did to you, that's not wrong, okay? Your feelings aren't wrong. No matter what they are. Not now, not ever." Anguish glimmered in his eyes. "Now, what I did to you to make you feel like that, that's what's wrong."

He had to tell Steve the truth. He had to tell him at least some part of the truth. He couldn't let Steve go on thinking that he had done something wrong, when the problem had been Tony, when the problem had been Tony wanting it too much, when the problem had been the fact that Tony couldn't handle it.

What if their roles had been reversed? What if Steve had been the one crying? Of course, Steve wouldn't have cried about him -- Tony pushed back the memory of Steve's face, this morning, like he'd been crying, because that couldn't have been what had really happened -- because it was obvious that Steve didn't feel like he did. But Tony couldn't even imagine how devastated he'd be if he thought he'd hurt Steve. So he had to say something, didn't he?

"It isn't, though," Tony said, and he swallowed hard, and he thought about crying again, and he was so very tired. "Like I-- like I told you last night," he said, trying to keep his voice down, "you didn't do anything wrong at all." His voice was shaking. "I-- I liked it, okay? I liked it. A lot."

Steve stared at him like he wasn't even speaking English. "Tony, you were crying."

"Not because it was bad," Tony said, desperately, and Steve just blinked glassy eyes at him, uncomprehending.

"What do you mean?"

"It's just," Tony said, and he had to say something, and he had to not give it all away, and he had no idea what he was saying. "I've had a rough time lately, you know? What with not really sleeping, and with everything Morgan's been doing to try to sabotage me. And what we've been doing, that's... good." Oh, yeah, Stark, that sounds convincing. "Really good," he added.

Steve squinted at him, and Tony could tell he needed to be a little more enthusiastic.

"Okay." Tony was going to try this again. "Honestly, everything about my life lately has been kind of lousy. Except you. And when I'm with you, I-- you-- you make me feel so much better." Way to make it all about yourself. "And last night, I just-- I'd had a hell of a day, and then you touched me, and you-- you held me--" oh, God, his voice was cracking-- "and I-- it was so good, what you did, and everything else had been so bad, and it was overwhelming, you know?"

And after tomorrow night, he could never have it again. He didn't need to mention the part of this that had been actual sadness.

"I held you," Steve echoed, and, yeah, he could trust Steve to zero in on the exact part that had made Tony come undone, the way Steve had pressed against him, embraced him, held him close, wrapped himself around him, and Tony could almost pretend that it had been because Steve loved him.

Tony was blinking back tears again. "Yeah. Yeah, you did."

There was something a little brighter in Steve's eyes now, hope where there had been none. "And you liked it?" Steve repeated.

"I'd really like to do it again," Tony said, as earnestly as he possibly could. "If-- if that's something you want to do."

Steve looked even brighter, but he was still wavering. "As long as you don't cry." The first sentence was firm, but the rest of it turned into pleading. "Please, Tony, I can't. I can't take making you cry."

"I won't," Tony said, and he didn't know if he could actually promise that, but he was going to try.

And Steve was... Steve was standing up and holding his arms wide?

"You said you liked when I held you," Steve said, with more confidence, and... oh. Oh. Steve was smiling at him, only a little uncertain now.

"I'm wearing armor," Tony said, helplessly, but he was getting up anyway, because when had he ever been able to resist Steve?

"You're a clever fella," Steve said, and Tony went hot at the praise again. "Come here. We'll make it work."

Tony had been expecting a chaste hug. Taskmaster had pounded Steve to a pulp this morning, after all. Tony had therefore been expecting a mostly symbolic embrace, especially because he was still in the suit. He was pretty sure he smelled like sweat, oil, and metal. It was hard to imagine anyone -- especially Steve -- getting all hot and bothered about that.

And that was what he got, to start. Steve put his arms around him -- he couldn't really feel it, with the suit on -- stood on his tiptoes, and brushed his lips against Tony's.


Tony nodded.

Okay, now was when Steve had had enough and was going to let him go--

Tony was, therefore, very surprised when Steve yanked his head down and stuck his tongue halfway down his throat. Steve was kissing him hot and hard and heavy, like they were fucking, like he wanted them to be fucking, like he couldn't get enough of Tony. Tony was melting. His spine was water. If he hadn't been in the armor he would have fallen. He could feel his cock trying to get hard, which was a losing proposition in the armor, but it was like his body didn't know that, oh God. Everything was hot and he clung dizzily to Steve. He felt his armor creak as Steve held him tighter. Steve could hold him as tight as he wanted, like this, and, oh, that was a nice thought--

God, anyone could walk in, anyone could walk in here right now and see them. And he hated that he thought it, because they weren't doing anything wrong, because they had every right to be together, and more than anything, Tony wished they could just stay together--

The kiss broke, and Tony stared down at Steve. "Jesus, Steve."

Wild-eyed, Steve stared back up at him. He licked his lips and then grinned. "Never kissed anyone taller than I am before. Did I do okay?"

"I'll say," Tony said. He paused. "I'd been thinking you weren't-- are you actually up for more, tonight?"

"If you're offering," Steve said. "I have to say, I'm feeling a lot better right now."

He actually winked. Tony couldn't repress a smile.

"Okay." Tony stepped back. "Just give me a few minutes in my workshop to go pry myself out of this tin can and I'll--"

Steve caught his arm. "You don't have to, do you?" he asked, and his voice was meek, almost. Shy. Like this was something he really wanted.

Confused, Tony frowned. "If you want access to any part of me that isn't my face, then, yeah, I kind of do." He was pretty sure Steve wanted him. So maybe Steve didn't love him, but he was pretty sure now that he hadn't been wrong about Steve wanting him.

"No, I mean, uh." Steve's cheeks were pink. "I mean you could, uh, you could take it off... for me?"

Oh. Tony got it now. He could feel a grin spreading across his face. "You want to watch." He nodded. "Yeah, I can-- I can definitely make that happen."

He'd never been with anyone who wanted that. Granted, the number of people he'd been with who had known about both identities could be counted on one hand, but... wow. Wow.

He'd never realized it was a thing he could want, before; he'd just assumed it could never have happened. But now he could allow himself to think about it, allow himself the undreamed-of luxury of Steve watching him, of Steve seeing all of him, the way no one else ever really had. And Steve would be good to him. He knew that.

This was going to be good. Of course, it was going to be over so soon, but before it ended, it was going to be good. He was sure of it.

As soon as they were safely in Tony's room, Steve backed Tony up against the door. There was a muted thud as Tony's armor hit wood, and then Steve was standing on his tiptoes again and kissing him, just as passionately as he'd been when they'd been downstairs, as if the three minutes it had taken them to walk up two flights of stairs had severely and criminally deprived him of Tony's presence.

The suit was getting more and more uncomfortable. Tony had thought that by now his body had generally figured out that getting hard in the suit wasn't going to work, but it seemed that, as ever, Steve was an exception to so many rules. Steve moaned against his mouth and somehow managed to lean closer, getting his hands on Tony's shoulders and wrapping one leg around his armor-clad hip. If anyone had the strength to literally climb him like a tree, it was Steve, and Tony thought that was probably the hottest thought he had had in his entire life. His cock ached, trapped in the armor, and his hips were still trying to jerk forward anyway, as if he could feel anything through this.

Steve definitely could, though. Steve was panting, harsh and heavy, between kisses, and his eyes were huge and dark. He was shaking, and when Tony got his gauntleted hands on Steve's ass, Steve was flexing underneath him in tiny little motions like he was about twenty seconds from coming, just like this. Apparently this was doing a hell of a lot for Steve, too.

"You really like the armor, huh?" Tony panted out, when Steve pulled away from his mouth for long enough that he could get a sentence out.

Steve's face was flushed. His eyes were dazzlingly bright. "What," he asked, "is that a crime now?"

One of the things no one would ever believe about Captain America, Tony thought, was the mouth on him.

"No," Tony said. "I mean, you like it. It turns you on."

Steve's face was even redder now, but he was Steve and he was nothing if not determined, so he kept going. "Is that a crime now?"

He hadn't thought Steve would actually commit to saying so. "No," Tony said, a little helplessly. "It's just that, well. Nobody likes the armor. Not like that."

No matter how much the other Avengers joked about it, even he didn't actually want to fuck the armor. And surely if he didn't, that meant no one else did either.

Except Steve. Apparently.

God, if only Steve actually loved him. He would have been perfect.

"Then I guess you'll just have to call me nobody." Steve's mouth quivered in a smile, but the set of his jaw was determined. Trust Steve to stand up for his own weird kinks. "It's-- I don't know how to explain it. You've always made the suit so pretty, Tony."

Tony blinked. "Pretty?"

Sure, okay, he had always taken aesthetic considerations into account, on some level, but he hadn't been trying to design armor that would give anyone a hard-on. Not for anything other than pure engineering reasons, anyway.

Steve nodded enthusiastically. "When I first met you, the suits you had then, they were-- they were really something," he murmured, and his face was even redder, like he was actually parting with some long-held fantasy. Like he'd had a thing for Tony -- or at least Iron Man -- for an entire goddamn decade.

Tony was still reeling. "That long ago?"

Okay, so Tony had been in love with Steve since then, so the idea shouldn't have been weird, but it was weird to think about Steve having any kind of feelings for him -- even if it was just thinking he was hot -- at any point prior to last week.

"Yeah." Steve licked his lips. "It was funny, because I could tell that even then you were so desperate to make me-- to make us think that you were kind of like a robot, like no one could like you like that. But it was like you hadn't even looked at yourself in that suit. You've always been so... beautiful and elegant. And that-- that metal you used to have in the old suits, the way you had it on your arms and legs, it was skin-tight, you know? Like you have now, but even tighter. And you walked around like you didn't even notice." Steve somehow got even redder. "God, you were so distracting, sometimes. Your legs, Tony."

Wow. That was a fantasy that Tony hadn't even known it was possible to have.

"Not that the newer armor isn't, uh, nice too," Steve added, earnestly, like he was trying to reassure him, like Tony was somehow going to be offended if Steve didn't want to fuck every suit of armor he had. "I'm just saying, that's where it started."

Steve drew his hand down the chestplate of the armor, lingering, like he was fondling it, and from the dazed look in his eyes it was pretty clear he had it bad for this suit too.

No, that wasn't quite right, Tony realized. Steve's hand was on the suit, and Steve's hips were still rocking against his, but Steve was lifting his head and smiling and looking him in the eyes. It wasn't just about the suit. It was about him in the suit. That was how he'd been talking about it too, his... awareness... that there'd been a man under the armor. All these years.

And that was-- well, that was something Tony didn't know what to do with. But it was about sex, right? It had to be about sex.

"I don't think I could keep this suit on while we fucked," Tony said, thinking it through only as he talked it out because the way Steve was rubbing up against him with little jerks of his hips was making him lose his goddamn mind. "It's not modular enough to come off in the right pieces the way you'd need it to. Sorry. But one of the old ones, sure, I can make that happen. Maybe the Model 4? I could-- I could get just the groin piece off, easy. If you wanted. Keep all that nice skin-tight mesh on, just for you."

Steve made a noise of pure want so desperate that he barely sounded human, and he kissed Tony again, hard and rough and needy, and wow, that was a yes.

And then Steve pulled back, and Tony realized what was passing through his mind, because it was the same thought that had just entered his mind: he couldn't, because they couldn't, because they weren't doing this again. Tony had forgotten that. They were stopping after Steve fucked Tony. This wasn't a real relationship. This had a definite endpoint.

He waited to see if Steve would suggest the idea: if you wanted to, we could keep going.

Steve didn't say anything.

It had just been an idea, then. Nothing more than Steve sharing a jerk-off fantasy about his teammate with said teammate. Steve didn't really want this, because Steve didn't really want him for more than the night or two it would take for him to get what he'd really come here for. For an instant, Tony had thought maybe he could have wanted more, but he'd obviously been wrong.

"Or not," Tony said, awkwardly.

"Right," Steve said, just as awkwardly, and he was backing away from Tony a little. "I know that wasn't what we... agreed on. About what we're doing here. And I'd hate to make you uncomfortable, Tony, really, I would."

Oh, Steve had been clear about that. And he'd been just as clear about the ground rules. About when this would be over. No strings attached, he'd said.

"I know," Tony said. He glanced around the room, eventually spotting the bag that contained the last of the dildos, the one they hadn't had a chance to use last night because Tony had begged Steve to get him off while fucking his thighs instead. He wasn't going to make that mistake again. He wasn't going to let himself be lulled into this false closeness. They needed to get to it. It was going to be over and Tony needed to accept that and not just draw this out. The break needed to be as clean as possible. "Anyway, do you want to, uh...?"

He didn't really know how to finish the sentence.

"I want to," Steve said, but his smile was, oddly, a little bit sadder now. He stepped back and held out a hand, and then he was tugging Tony across the room, into the center of the room. "You want to show me how you get out of the suit?"

"Oh, I think we can do better than that," Tony said, and he raised Steve's hand and tucked Steve's fingers into the emergency release catches, hidden beneath one of the side plates. "You just press that, and the whole thing will-- oh, there you go--"

Metal clicked, and the whole chestplate sloughed off. Tony had about half a second to wonder at the fact that he'd spent a good few years thinking he'd never be able to do that, and then Steve caught the plate one-handed and eased it to the floor like it was made of solid gold and covered in diamonds. Tony didn't think Steve would appreciate knowing that it was actually more expensive than that.

Apparently Steve didn't need as much direction as Tony had thought; he promptly lifted the helmet off over Tony's head, set it down, and then got to work on the gauntlets and vambraces, adding them to the pile. Feeling oddly liminal, caught between man and machine, Tony spun around so Steve could get the backplate.

With another click, the backplate came away. But rather than go for the rest of the armor, Steve stepped in close behind Tony, wrapped his arms around his waist, and then untucked Tony's shirt. Tony shivered as Steve slid one hand up and under his shirt, smoothing over his stomach, and then his other hand down, over the armor's thick groin plating. Tony couldn't feel a thing through the metal, of course, but the sheer visual of Steve fondling him in the armor -- fondling the armor, fondling him, both at the same time, like Steve cared for him whether he was Tony Stark or Iron Man -- had practically shorted out his brain as it was.

"You weren't kidding when you said you liked the armor, were you?" Tony asked, weakly.

No one else had ever made him feel like Steve did. As if he didn't have to hide. As if, no matter who he was, Steve would still accept him.

"I'd never kid about something like this," Steve murmured, his breath hot against Tony's shoulder; Tony, still in boots, had a few inches on him. "I have to say, though, if I ever have to get you out of this on a mission it's going to be difficult to explain to anyone else why taking Iron Man's armor off is getting Captain America hard. Because I'm not going to be able to stop thinking about this."

Tony shivered. God, it was hard to think with Steve touching him. "Not a problem as long as you keep your pants on," he pointed out. "You and your fancy underwear and all."

"And here I'd been hoping you were just going to offer not to get hurt, so I wouldn't have to peel you out of your armor." Steve came around to the front of him, leaned up, and kissed him again. He didn't rise high enough to get to Tony's mouth, instead just nibbling on his jaw and throat, but that was also pretty incredible. "But I suppose that by this point I should really just know you well enough to know that's probably not going to happen, huh?"

"Probably not," Tony agreed. He reached out, got a fistful of Steve's uniform shirt, and dragged him closer. Their mouths met, and for a few more minutes there was no sound in the room but the faint creak and scrape of metal, and their gasping breaths.

At some point during the kissing, the rest of Tony's armor came off, in a much less picturesque fashion than the top half had, ending up with him rocking forward into Steve's arms as Steve lifted him out of his boots -- one-handed, of course, because Steve always made it look easy.

Tony stared down at himself. He was wearing, of course, the same clothes he'd put on this morning. They hadn't been particularly fancy when he'd started, and then he'd gone to battle in them, so now they were a rumpled mess.

"You want me to shower first?" Tony asked. "I know I probably smell like the armor."

"You say that like it's a negative," Steve said, and he tugged Tony's shirt over his head for him.

By the time Tony had moved on to unbuckling his belt and unzipping his pants, Steve was sprawling back on Tony's bed, like Tony was putting on a personal show for his entertainment. He still had his uniform on, but the cowl was pulled back now. The bruising on Steve's face looked better than earlier, but better still looked pretty painful. Still, Steve wouldn't have asked to do this if he hadn't been okay, so Tony grinned at Steve and ran his hands over his thighs, sliding a hand in the open V of his fly and palming his fabric-covered cock as he went, just to see if Steve appreciated the move.

And, boy, did he. Steve made another one of those noises, those helpless half-voiced groans that sounded like they'd been punched out of him, a sound that apparently never failed to get Tony harder. Steve's gaze tracked the motion of Tony's hand on himself like nothing on Earth could be more interesting than that.

"You look like something I should be paying for," Steve breathed.

Steve's face twisted a little, like he wasn't sure if it was something he should have said. Tony heard himself moan, a wanton noise that he didn't even know he could make, and he drove the heel of his hand against the base of his cock so he wouldn't come then and there. "God, Steve--"

"Too much?" His gaze was tense now, like he honestly thought he might have overstepped.

Tony shook his head vehemently and tried to get his body under control. "Definitely not too much." He breathed out, ragged, and slid his pants over his hips. "Just not... something I ever thought Captain America would say, you know?"

Steve's mouth was still twisted. "Pretty sure Captain America's not involved in this one."

"He is if he's still lying there with his Captain America uniform on," Tony said, and Steve tilted his head in acknowledgment of the point, with a small smile. "You want to join me?"

As if he'd just been waiting for the invitation, Steve pushed himself up and got his shirt off, then his undershirt, and Tony stopped dead, because, wow, Steve was bruised. His ribs were mottled black and blue.

"Tony?" Steve asked, like he didn't know why Tony was standing there, frozen, thumb hooked into the waistband of his briefs.

"You sure you're up for this?" Tony asked. "You look a little... battered."

Steve looked down at himself and shrugged. "You should see the other guy," he said, and that grin of pure joy was Steve all over.

Tony laughed. "Yeah, yeah, okay, you're fine." The other guy knocked you out cold, and I was terrified for you, he didn't say.

Steve raised an eyebrow. "Just fine?"

"What, are you fishing for compliments now?"

"Maybe." He drew the word out, and Tony couldn't help but grin.

Smiling back, Steve arched up and slid his pants off in a tangle of fabric and leather, freeing his cock, and any further retort Tony would have made promptly exited his brain, because, Jesus, Steve was into this. He was harder than Tony had ever seen him before, so hard that he really had to handle himself with both hands. His massive cock was flushed deep red, so slick it was practically dripping, and even the careful, delicate way Steve was handling himself was making him gasp. He was so close. He had to be.

"You really liked the armor, huh?" Tony said again, vague and dazed, because... wow. Steve wasn't his, but somehow the idea that that was for him, that that would be for him soon -- he couldn't quite comprehend it.

Steve smiled, small and almost sweet. "And the fella in the armor. Wouldn't have been the same without him, after all."

The praise rose up like fire, made Tony hot all over, and when Steve bent over to get his boots off, Tony took the opportunity to strip all the way and join him on the bed, before Steve could say anything else about him that he didn't deserve.

He expected Steve to say something about how he'd deprived him of the rest of his little strip-tease, but Steve just pulled him close and kissed him.

The kiss was different this time. Everything else tonight had been so passionate, but now that they were both naked in Tony's bed, now that they could do something about it, the way Steve kissed him was slow, soft, yearning. Steve ran his hands over Tony's body, stroked his hair, stroked his face, kissed him deep and sweet.

Tony tried to tell himself not to fall for it. Not to let go. This wasn't real. He was the only one who felt this way. He couldn't keep this, and it was only going to hurt.

When Tony opened his eyes, Steve was blinking at him, a little wetly, like he was going to cry. Steve's mouth was still parted, and his gaze wasn't tracking. He looked... overwhelmed, maybe. He looked like how Tony had felt last night, and that didn't make sense because Steve didn't love him, and besides, they hadn't even done anything yet.

"Steve? You all right?"

Steve nodded, a little shiver of a motion, but he didn't look all right, not at all. "I guess," Steve said, slowly, "I guess I just wanted to thank you."

"Thank me?"

Steve nodded again. "I mean, if we-- tonight-- with the toy, and that works, then soon we can, uh, for real, maybe? And I just wanted to say that, whether or not it works, it was... so good of you to go to all this trouble for me. I've-- I've had a really good time with you, Tony. I just wanted you to know that." His mouth curved in another small smile; his thumb ran over the corner of Tony's mouth like he wanted to make Tony smile with his touch. The way he spoke felt unfinished, as if he meant to say something after it.

Tony waited to see if Steve was going to say anything else, like I'm going to miss you or I don't want to stop, but Steve just breathed out and was silent.

Well, that was that, Tony thought, and he tried to repress the pang of sadness. He was only selfish, wanting more. He was making Steve happy. That should have been more than enough for him. This was as much as he got. He needed to not let Steve down again.

"I've had a good time too," Tony told him, and Steve smiled again, the odd expression gone from his eyes like it had never been. Tony decided to press on. "I was hoping to keep having a good time tonight, if you know what I mean."

Steve's smile now was darker, knowing, and his eyes danced with excitement. "Oh?"

"Mmm-hmm." Tony smiled back and let his hand glide over Steve's side, shoulder to arm, torso to hip. "I could show you a real good time, soldier."

Steve chuckled. "Have you been waiting an entire week to use that line on me?"

More like my entire adult life, Tony thought, and he nodded. "I think maybe tonight it would be good if we got to trying that last toy on me, first."

There was an odd pause, like something here had faltered, like a power cut. "Right," Steve said, slowly. There was something hesitant in his gaze again.

Maybe he was wondering how greedy Tony was, that Tony thought he should get to go first. "I'd make it up to you after," Tony said. "Don't worry, I'm good for it." He smiled in a way that he hoped was encouraging. "I just don't want to... get distracted, you know?"

"No, I know," Steve said, a little haltingly, and Tony wondered if he should ask him what was wrong, if there was something wrong. But Steve wouldn't be here if there were. "It makes sense," Steve added. And then he nodded to himself, firmly, like he was receiving an order. "Okay."

Steve rolled back and pushed himself up off the bed, opening Tony's bedside drawer as he went, grabbing the lube, because somehow it had been a week and it was like he already belonged here. Tony wished that were true. As he watched, Steve grabbed the dildo out of the bag. It was bright red, massive even in his huge hands, and Steve glanced dubiously down at it.

"Are you sure about this one?" he asked. "It's... awfully, uh. Generous."

Tony rose to hands and knees, turned his head, and smiled. "I can take it," he said, half because he knew it was what Steve needed to hear and half because he wanted to see if saying it would make him believe it, because, well, the thing was gigantic.

It wasn't that much bigger than the last one had been, and they'd fit that one in him. He'd done fine. He was going to be able to fit this. And then he was going to be able to fit Steve, and then Steve would never touch him again, and, no, he couldn't think like that. He couldn't think about that, or he'd start crying again, and Steve would make him stop. It was all so goddamn sad. He squeezed his eyes shut.

The bed dipped next to him and then Steve's hand was on his head, Steve's fingers were in his hair, Steve's palm was cupping his jaw and lifting his head, and Tony opened his eyes to meet Steve's concerned gaze.


"I'm fine," Tony said. "I'm fine. I just need to, uh. Prepare for this a little. Emotionally speaking." He made himself smile. "And physically too, I suppose."

There, that wasn't even a lie.

"If it's too much--" Steve began.

"It won't be," Tony said, and that was when he knew words weren't enough. He rolled onto his back; he slid a pillow under his hips to raise himself up so Steve would have a good angle. "Here, you'll be able to see my face the whole time, okay? If I'm not enjoying any part of the experience, you'll know."

This seemed to be what Steve had needed. Brightening again, he reached out with the hand that wasn't clutching the lube and dildo, and he ran two fingers up Tony's inner thigh, tracing a line of heat through him. Tony gasped with sudden need. Geez, Steve really had a thing for his thighs, Tony thought, and then he looked up from Steve's hand to see that Steve's gaze was trained intently on his face, watching for a reaction.

"It's good," Tony breathed. "Really, it is. You're so good at that. I like your hands."

He managed to shut his mouth before he said anything more incriminating, like the rest of his actual feelings for Steve.

Steve smiled. "I'm glad you like them."

Steve's fingers reached the crease of Tony's thigh and groin and then, tantalizingly, skirted up and over where Tony really wanted them. Tony groaned and wondered if Steve's secret plan involved teasing him enough to get him off without ever touching his cock. That hadn't ever happened for Tony before, but he was beginning to think that if anyone could manage it, it would be Steve.

With his other hand, Steve deftly flipped open the lube and squeezed some out, and then he switched hands so that -- oh, God -- his slick fingers wrapped around Tony's cock. Tony shuddered and moaned. He was vaguely aware that he was smiling. He hoped he was making Steve happy, watching him. God, Steve could see everything. There was no hiding now, no masks, not anymore.

Steve was stroking him slowly, in easy motions from the base of his cock to the tip, unhurried, a little looser than Tony liked -- and he had to know how Tony liked it by now.

"Shh," Steve said, and Tony realized that he must have made some kind of sound of complaint. "Nice and slow, okay?" he murmured. "We're going to get you there eventually. Don't fret. I've got plans for you first, remember?" His fingers tightened for a split-second, for emphasis. "Just want to make sure you're feeling good."

It was sort of like his Captain America voice, but not really. Steve had been right when he'd said that Captain America wasn't part of this, but Captain America had been built on Steve, after all, and that confidence, that air of command that no one else Tony had met had ever had, the way he could tell you to do something and make you feel like it was an honor, like you were a better person, a better version of yourself, just by being in his presence and doing what he wanted -- that was all Steve, no matter what he was wearing. And apparently it was still Steve even if Steve had one hand wrapped around his cock and two slick fingers -- where had those come from? -- playing with his ass. It was just a different order to follow, and that was all. A command: feel good.

It probably should have been an easier order for most people than battlefield commands, but, well, Tony had always been kind of a mess about that one.

Tony nodded and smiled and didn't trust himself to talk, and Steve slid two fingers inside him. Two was a lot -- especially with Steve's hands the size they were -- but Tony was good enough at this that two was something he could start with, and he breathed out and thought about how Steve's hands felt and he didn't think about how that meant Steve knew what he could take, how Steve knew he liked it, how Steve knew everything about him, and what if Steve thought he shouldn't be so goddamn easy for it, and what if Steve knew all his secrets too, and he wasn't doing a good job not thinking about this--

"Hey, it's okay," Steve said, and he bent down and kissed Tony's inner thigh again, all the while keeping his fingers inside him, keeping his other hand moving on Tony's cock, because he was just that coordinated. "It's okay," Steve repeated. "I'm right here, okay? Not going anywhere."

But you are, Tony didn't say. You're going, you're going to be gone.

"I know," Tony said, and Steve kissed his thigh again.

Steve really liked his thighs a lot. Tony didn't know how he'd missed it before, but he clearly had. Last night must have been amazing for him -- until Tony had ruined everything, of course.

He'd just have to try to make it up to him, he thought, and he tried not to think about how he only had until tomorrow night.

Steve fucked him nice and slow and easy with two fingers, taking his time. He seemed to be deliberately avoiding Tony's prostate, which was fine by Tony, because Tony was sure he'd get plenty of that with the actual toy. Steve was concentrating on spreading Tony wider, loosening him up. His other hand, still on Tony's cock, was moving at a glacially-slow pace, just quick enough to keep him interested, to keep him relaxed.

Steve had clearly done this before. A lot. And while it was nice to be the lucky beneficiary of someone's vast experience -- even if it was weird that said person was technically a virgin -- it made Tony feel hollow and lonely inside to think about it being Steve, and then guilty again to be thinking that. How many people had Steve been with? And why should Tony care? He shouldn't want it to be special. He shouldn't want it to mean something. It was just sex, and soon it was going to be over. That was the deal.

Steve looked up and met his eyes. "Three fingers now, okay?"

Tony nodded, and then he breathed in, sharp and surprised, as a third finger stretched him wide. Steve hadn't used three fingers before, and Tony supposed he hadn't needed to, but three-- three was a lot. Three of Steve's fingers were wider than any of the other toys had been, Tony was guessing. It sure felt that way.

"It's okay," Tony said, but he felt breathless, like he'd forgotten how to breathe again, like his body wanted to panic but couldn't remember how, and he hoped that didn't mean Steve was going to stop. "I'm okay."

"I know." Steve's voice was low, calming. His hand moved away from Tony's cock, and then Tony's aching, stretched hole was wet with more lube. Steve patted his thigh again, leaving wet streaks of lube. "I know you've got this, Tony. I believe in you. I'm not going to push, okay? I'm just going to be right here, just like this, until you're ready."

Steve's slick hand ran up and down Tony's thigh again, up and down and up -- wow, he was really a thigh man -- and then Steve very gently cupped his balls and Tony gasped. Tony knew he was going a little soft again, but Steve didn't seem to mind. Steve just rolled Tony's balls in his palm and ran his huge fingers -- God, everything about him was so huge -- over Tony's cock like he just wanted to touch him everywhere, as if for him it really was about the journey rather than the destination. Maybe not being able to fuck anyone had given him that particular viewpoint. It was nice, Tony thought, dreamily, that Steve didn't want to rush him, didn't seem to expect anything of him, didn't want a performance. He could just be. He could be himself, whoever that was.

"There you go," Steve said, huskily.

Tony hadn't even realized he'd loosened up, but Steve's three fingers were moving within him like a well-oiled piston, and all he could do was throw his head back and arch his hips up and try to take everything that Steve could give him.

"More," Tony said, and he knew he was begging, and he hadn't wanted to beg, but, God, he needed this.

Steve grinned down at him. "Yeah, you look about ready," he murmured, a fond smile spreading across his face like a ray of sunlight.

Then Steve's fingers were gone. Tony could hear more lube, and then the pressure at his hole was there again, but bigger, cooler, more impersonal.

"Breathe," Steve said. "You can do this. You're going to like it." His voice went lower, more sultry, a voice Tony didn't even know Steve had. "You like 'em big, huh? I can tell."

Tony was aware of his cock jumping instantly to attention in Steve's grasp. He was almost painfully hard. He could hear himself moan. Yeah, Steve could tell, all right. Steve could see just how much he liked it, all spread out in front of him.

"Wouldn't have offered if I didn't -- oh, God, Steve -- like 'em big," Tony managed, a retort that had been meant to be more confident and less achingly needy. "I'm-- I'm gonna like you. Gonna like you best of all. You'll see."

Steve slid the dildo in a few inches, so slowly that Tony wanted to beg for more, all of it, now. He was stretched wide, but it didn't hurt. It just felt good, all good. Steve had really prepared him well.

But Steve's smile was once again shy. "I hope so," Steve said, the words laced with nervousness. "I really hope so. I've-- I've been hoping so."

Tony's body did the begging for him as he hitched his hips up and earned himself another few inches of the toy. He was taking it, wanton and desperate, his body so shameless when the rest of him wasn't, and his mind flashed back to the look in Steve's eyes when he'd said he should be paying for it, and all the need in Tony tangled up with something dark and cold. He breathed out and tried to shove it away.

He was just being like this because he knew it was almost the end.

"You've been thinking about it all week, huh?" Tony managed to ask.

Steve glanced away and back. "Maybe more than a week."

Tony couldn't quite process that, because that was the moment Steve chose to slide the toy in the rest of the way, and suddenly there was nothing Tony could think about but the heft and size of the huge toy within him, the way that clenching down around it made everything within him light up. It was great, but suddenly even it felt off. Like he was biding his time, like they both knew it should be Steve there inside him.

"Oh," Tony breathed. "That's good. But I wish it were you."

The sentence tumbled out of his mouth without him really having meant to say it. Steve was going to know the truth, if he kept saying things like that.

Steve was smiling at him; it didn't look like he'd realized. "I know. Me too. But maybe tomorrow, huh?"

Tony opened his mouth but was then caught up in the sheer bliss of Steve starting to fuck him with the dildo, almost all the way out and back in in one sublime stroke, Steve's other hand tightening on Tony's cock as he did so. All Tony could do was gasp and moan and writhe, caught between Steve's talented hands.

"I," Tony breathed. "I-- I-- oh, God, Steve--"

"I like seeing you like this," Steve told him, and he looked almost proud of himself as he kept fucking him with the dildo, perfect long strokes that glided over Tony's prostate with every thrust, and God, maybe he should have been the one worried about not lasting, because if it was this good now, he was going to come instantly when it was Steve, when it was actually, finally Steve inside him.

Tony breathed out and regained enough self-control to come up with an answer. "What, as an -- oh, fuck, just like that -- as an incoherent mess?"

"I told you already," Steve said, and he didn't let up, just kept driving the dildo into Tony at the exact right pace. "I like seeing you when you're happy. You should see yourself. You're so beautiful like this."

The toy slid over Tony's prostate again, and so much for restraint, Tony was definitely going to come already, like this, from this. He'd wanted to draw it out, to make it last, because after this they only had one more time, but he should have known that his body would always betray him.

"I'm going to," Tony said, shaking, and Steve pushed the toy into him again, all the way in, as Steve's hand on his cock tightened over the sensitive head, and that was it, he was gone.

He came all over himself, all over Steve's hand, his body rocking against the dildo, fucking himself on it, desperate and selfish and needy, as his cock twitched in Steve's perfect grasp again and again, Steve taking him all the way through his release until there was nothing left in him but an empty ache.

It was emptier, then, as Steve eased the toy out. Tony wanted to stay in that place inside himself where nothing hurt, but he knew already that he couldn't even manage that, tonight, as the calm of the afterglow barely lasted long enough for Steve to get the toy out.

Steve kissed his thigh again -- of course he did, and Tony really didn't know how he'd missed it before -- and got up, presumably to clean himself off. Tony shut his eyes again and tried not to fall into the sadness and exhaustion, because this was what had gotten him before, last night. He needed not to think about how this was the end. He needed to hold together at least until Steve had gotten off, until Steve had left for the night. They still had one more night, he reminded himself.

"You did so well," Steve murmured in his ear, and then Tony felt the gentle, wet warmth of Steve wiping him up once again, cloth swiping over his stomach and around his cock and down between his legs. He wished he didn't like Steve helping him so much.

Steve lay back down next to him, and Tony could feel him still hard, cock heavy and firm, pressing against Tony. That was good. Tony could focus on that. If he thought about Steve, he didn't have to think about himself. He was so tired now, and he couldn't tell how much was the hazy pleasure of his release and how much was unceasing exhaustion.

He smiled anyway. He could do this for Steve. "Seems like you've still got something for me, soldier," he murmured, and he rolled his hips up against Steve's.

Steve gasped, a whispery sound, and thrust back, his huge cock hot against Tony's side, but somehow he had the control not to just keep going. "It's okay," Steve murmured. "You look so tired, Tony. I can take care of myself."

Tony hated to say it, but he could kind of see why Steve had said his sex life generally consisted of him jerking off after he'd made sure his partner was satisfied. Steve had just neglected to mention the part where he was so good in bed that his partners probably ended up lying there boneless, exhausted, fucked too well to even move, just with Steve's hands alone.

"You could jerk off on me," Tony suggested, the words thick and confusing in his tired mouth, as his eyes slid shut. "You could come all over me. I could-- I could--" And then he realized exactly what he could offer Steve. "You could get off between my legs again. That's what you want, right?"

Steve's body rocked against his, fast and hard, and, oh, yeah, Steve definitely liked that idea, but when Tony opened his eyes there was a wary hesitation in Steve's dazed eyes, like Tony was offering him everything he'd dreamed of but he wasn't sure if it was real.

"Not if you don't want to." Steve's voice wavered, like Tony was somehow taunting him with this and he couldn't take it. "Not if it'll make you sad again-- not like that, I can't, I can't--"

"I promise it won't be like that," Tony said, and that was when he knew he'd have to hold on, because Steve needed this, because this was how Tony needed to fix this, to give him his new favorite thing back.

He was beginning to see what it would have been like to discover that there was something he could do that he loved as much as Steve had loved that, and then found that his partner had spent the whole time in tears.

He was going to do better now.

He pushed himself up with all the strength he had left -- which wasn't much -- grabbed a few more pillows, and rolled over onto his stomach, propping himself up like he was on a platform. He was too tired to hold himself up, really, but some quiet, contented part of him liked that, the idea that Steve could just use him for his own pleasure when he was wrung out and exhausted, when the only thing Tony would exist for would be making Steve happy, without any of his own selfish desires to get in the way.

Tony spread his legs and looked back over his shoulder and smiled.

He definitely had this. Steve was staring at him, eyes wide, mouth parted, like there was nothing else in the world but him. Tony picked up the lube, smeared some between his thighs, and smiled.

"Come on, Steve," Tony said, and then he knew what else he had to say. "I want this. I'll keep talking, okay? You'll-- you'll be able to tell how much I want it, for sure."

"You want this?" Steve's voice was raw, like more than anything he desperately wanted to believe that.

"I really do," Tony said, putting all the feeling that he could into the words. He smiled.

Steve exhaled hard, and as Tony turned his head back he felt Steve settling in behind him, felt the wet drip of more lube, and then -- oh, that was nice -- Steve's big hands on his hips drew him up and back, positioning him, a simulacrum of fucking, as Steve's cock slid between his thighs. Tony's thighs were hot and -- oh -- his ass was sore, but sore in a good way, and it was nice to feel Steve's body, warm and solid, pressed up against his where Steve had stretched him open, where Steve had already used him.

It was better this way, thank God. Steve wasn't holding him so close. It wasn't as intimate, and Tony was going to be able to do this, and Steve would still get what he wanted.

He closed his thighs tighter around Steve's cock, and Steve breathed out again, jagged, the breath catching in him, and his fingers dug into Tony's hips.

"Oh, Tony," Steve whispered, and, yeah, this was definitely Steve's new favorite thing.

Steve started fucking him, then, fucking between his thighs in a long, slow thrust, probably bottoming out and hitting the pillows on the other side, but from the noise he made, he definitely didn't care.

"So," Tony said, "you've got a thing for my legs, huh?"

Steve's rhythm stuttered, and there was a pause that could only be embarrassment. "Tony."

Tony smiled into his pillowed arms. "Is there something else you'd rather talk about? Seems to me like now's a pretty good time to bring it up."

"It's just--" Steve began, awkwardly, like he disagreed, but his hips snapped hard against Tony's thighs and that sure felt like the opposite of no-- "that it's not-- that makes it sound like it's the only thing I like about you, and nothing could be farther from the truth--"

Steve was far more coherent than he should have been, Tony judged. It was sweet, what he was saying, but sweetness was just going to remind Tony that he couldn't have what he wanted. Tony could do something about that.

"It's the nice skin-tight armor, right?" Tony canted his hips to meet Steve on the next thrust. "You want to come on the armor? All over my shiny thighs?"

Steve groaned like the sound had been punched out of him, and he jerked and thrust, cock sliding slick and hot between Tony's legs as Tony clenched down around him, as Tony did his best to make himself into a nice tight place for Steve to put his massive cock.

"God, Tony," Steve breathed, and that was more like it.

"It'd look great," Tony told him, and, okay, he was starting to see the appeal of Steve's armor kink now. He was getting into this. Sure, it wasn't like he could come again right now, but he was definitely saving that thought for later. "You always come so much. There'd be so much of it, huh? All your come, all over all that golden metal--"

Everyone would know I belonged to you, Tony nearly said, and he bit back the words just in time.

"Ah, fuck, Tony," Steve said, and this was what it took to get Steve to talk like that, apparently. Tony glowed with an obscure sense of pride.

"That's it for you, huh?" Tony asked, half because it was goddamn hot and half because he was curious. "That's the one, right? The ultimate fantasy?"

"Well, it's sure up there now," Steve panted out, and his hands tightened on Tony's waist, slid up to Tony's side, as his hips slammed against Tony's thighs and his cock slid between them. Steve had entirely too many working brain cells left, because he kept talking. "But it wasn't just the armor. It's never been just the armor. The best one was-- it used to be-- oh, God, I can't tell you this, you'll laugh, you'll laugh at me--"

"I won't laugh." Tony urged him on. "I want to know."

Steve breathed out, ragged, and clearly the thought alone was doing something for him, because he was thrusting harder, faster, lost in it. "You remember-- you remember when you had a secret identity, and I used to spar with you, and you told me the reason you were in such good shape was that you -- oh, God, Tony -- played a lot of tennis?"

"I did actually play a lot of tennis," Tony pointed out.

"Yeah, and -- oh, Jesus, Tony -- do you know how you looked in those tennis whites?" Steve said it almost dreamily, like it been a long-held fantasy, which was a little weird because Steve had never played tennis with him. And he'd asked. He'd always been sort of sad and mystified about that one, because it wasn't like Steve wouldn't do literally anything else Tony asked.

Hell, he'd asked, and right now they were fucking.

Tony was getting the impression that maybe he could have asked earlier. Maybe years ago. In either identity. How long had Steve wanted him?

It couldn't be true. It couldn't mean anything. It was just sex. If this week had been any indication, Steve was just the kind of guy who needed to get off a lot. It didn't mean anything if sometimes Steve had thought about him while jerking off.

"Big words from someone who never took me up on that standing tennis invitation any time the team had a vacation in the Hamptons," Tony said, and he tightened his thighs around Steve's cock to punctuate his point.

"Yeah, well." Steve's breath was a rattle of air, and his cock was huge and throbbing, pumping between Tony's thighs. He was close. He had to be. "You were always right there in those goddamn shorts and I felt so bad saying no every time, but even when I just tried to stay and watch you play I'd have to -- oh, God, just like that, Tony -- I'd have to go excuse myself because just watching you and the way you moved-- oh, oh, oh, fuck, Tony, I'm--"

And then Steve was coming, hot and wet between Tony's thighs, coming in long spurts, coming like he'd been denying himself this for a long, long time. Tony knew it had only been a day, but Steve clung to him like it had been an eternity. Eventually Steve collapsed on him, his weight pressing Tony into the pile of spattered pillows, and, sure, he was a mess again but that was perfect, right there, Steve on top of him.

And he hadn't cried. Maybe he could get through this.

"So," Tony mumbled into the mattress. "How about some tennis?"

Steve laughed, warm and breathy, mouth pressed to the middle of Tony's back in a brief kiss. "If it would make you happy."

"Apparently it'd make you real happy," Tony said, and he felt Steve laugh again.

"Maybe," Steve said, and then he was moving off Tony, reaching for the washcloth he'd left on the nightstand, wiping Tony off yet again.

Tony pushed himself up -- God, he really had no strength left -- grabbed the pillow out from under him, and, wow, he definitely needed to wash that pillowcase now. He threw it on the floor. He'd deal with it tomorrow. He was so tired. And, hey, maybe tonight he could even get some sleep. Steve had tired him out, and nothing had been miserable.

Still, when Tony thought about it -- when Tony the futurist tried to project even as far as five minutes into the future -- all he could think about was two nights ago, when he'd been by himself in Seattle, when he'd been so alone.

He knew it was selfish, he knew he didn't deserve this, but he didn't want to be alone again.

Steve was sitting on the edge of the bed, facing away from him, bracing himself like he knew he needed to get up but didn't want to. His shoulders heaved in a sigh.

Steve had asked him to stay, every night Tony had spent in his room.

Maybe Steve didn't want to be alone, either.

Tony reached out and managed to brush Steve's arm, and Steve turned around, eyebrows raised.

"Tony?" Steve asked, and whatever Tony's face looked like, it must have been bad, because Steve was reaching back for him, grabbing his hand.

Tony swallowed hard and just went for it, before he lost his nerve. That seemed to be how he was doing everything else in this non-relationship so far.

"Do you want to spend the night with me?"

The room was very quiet, just then. All he could hear was Steve breathing; all he could see was Steve staring at him, frozen. Seconds ticked by, and Tony wondered if he'd said it at all, if he was tired enough that he'd just hallucinated himself saying it--

"Do you really mean that?" Steve asked. His voice was quiet, raw, rasping, full of hope. He was looking at Tony the way he'd looked at him tonight, last night, all the nights when Tony had offered him his body -- like he couldn't believe what he was hearing and he desperately wanted it to be true.

"I mean, I know how early you get up," Tony said, and now that he'd said it he couldn't stop talking, "and of course you don't want the team to find us like this, but if you leave early enough I don't think anyone else will see you--"

"Tony." Steve squeezed his hand, ran his thumb gently over the inside of Tony's wrist. "Yes."


"Yes," Steve said, and he eased Tony back to the mattress and kissed him, slow and soft and gentle. "I'd love to."

It was another kind of intimacy, Tony realized, as he watched Steve move around the room, brush his teeth with Tony's spare toothbrush, set Tony's alarm for his ridiculous time, turn the lights off, crawl into bed with him; it was Steve letting him in to every little ritual he had, and Tony should have said no, should never have offered, but he was weak and he was lonely and he could never give less than all of himself to Steve Rogers.

Tony couldn't remember the last time he'd been with someone who'd stayed the night.

Steve pulled the covers up over both of them and pulled Tony into his arms, and Tony realized he had fallen long ago, was still falling, was going to hit the ground. Brace for impact: that was practically his life story. There was nothing to do but try to survive.

Steve's body was warm against his. Steve's heartbeat was a low, comforting thrum in his ear. This was what Tony had always wanted. He wanted the rest of his life to be like this. But he was just getting the next twenty-four hours.

He'd just have to make it count.

Within a few minutes, Steve's breathing had evened out; Tony waited for it. He was asleep, his arms still wrapped around Tony, still holding him close.

I love you. Tony didn't dare breathe the words aloud, even in a whisper; Steve could still wake and hear him. But he shaped them with his mouth, one, two, three, in the darkness; if Steve had been awake, if Steve's eyes had been open, he would have seen even in this darkness. But he wasn't, and he didn't.

Still, Tony had said it, even if no one had heard, and that was worth something, if only to him. Steve would never know, but he'd done it.

I love you, he thought again, and he finally let sleep take him.

Chapter Text

Tony didn't sleep perfectly, of course. His life wasn't some kind of fairytale, and nothing ever happened perfectly. He dreamed the usual nightmare, the one where the air was hot and oppressive and the click of the landmine pressure plate under his feet was the loudest sound he'd ever heard, although when it had really happened he'd never heard it at all. It was the nightmare where blood ran and dripped down under the new chestplate, and Yinsen looked at him and said we need more time, and then everything tilted and Yinsen's face became Steve's, and Steve smiled a sad, sad smile and said oh, Tony, you know I could never really love you--

He struggled awake, upright, gasping, alone in the darkness--

And then he wasn't alone, because Steve's arms went around him; Steve was sitting up next to him. "Tony?" Steve's question was breathless and a little groggy; Tony had clearly woken him. "Tony? What's wrong?"

Tony tried to make himself breathe. His heart was pounding.

"Nothing," he managed to say. "Nothing, really. Bad dream. You know how it is."

"I know," Steve agreed, and Tony thought that would be the end of it. He thought Steve would just turn over and go back to sleep. But Steve held him tighter.

One of Steve's hands rubbed up and down Tony's spine, up Tony's clammy neck, settling in his sweat-soaked hair -- goddamn nightmares -- and he knew he couldn't feel great to touch but Steve didn't seem to care. God, that felt really good. Steve breathed in and out, huge, slow breaths, letting Tony match his breathing, letting him calm down.

"There we go," Steve murmured. "It's not real. It's just a dream."

Tony breathed out hard. "It used to be real. Most of it."

Steve didn't say anything for a second or two, but he held Tony even tighter. "One of those, huh?"

"Yeah," Tony agreed. "One of those."

"Well, it's not real now," Steve said, firmly. His fingers slid over Tony's cheekbone, Tony's jaw, stroking him reassuringly, tracing the grain of his beard. It felt nice. "Whatever it was, it's over. You did it. You survived, okay? And you're here now. You're safe. It's just me, right here, and I'm not going to hurt you. I promise."

Tony was being ridiculous. He wasn't a child. He didn't need this much reassurance. He was Iron Man. He was a goddamn superhero. It was just a bad dream.

But here, together, in the dark, it was like the regular rules of reality didn't quite apply. He could be afraid, and Steve could hold him, if that was what he needed. They could be what they needed for each other.

"And if anyone else tries to hurt you," Steve continued, sounding perfectly rational, perfectly calm, "I'll make them sorry they were ever born."

Tony blinked. "That's not very Captain America of you."

"I told you," Steve said, not apologetic in the slightest, "Captain America's not in bed with you." Tony thought he could see Steve's mouth twitch in the darkness. "You wouldn't want him to be, anyway. You think I'm inexperienced? You think I'm going to be bad at this? That guy doesn't even know what sex is."

Yeah, that settled it, Tony thought. For Steve it was all about the sex. Something cold and lonely, some remnant of the nightmare, settled in his chest. And then the rest of Steve's words caught up with his brain, and that-- what Steve was saying, it wasn't right. Steve shouldn't be worrying about this.

"Hey, who said I thought you were going to be bad?"

He had said Steve was a virgin, he remembered; he had called him that at the beginning of all this and Steve had gotten upset. God, had Steve been beating himself up over this? It sounded like he had, because Steve sighed, low and miserable.

"Tony, I'm a thirty-four-year-old virgin." Steve's voice was weary. "Let's not flatter me by pretending that I'm going to be anything even remotely approaching good in bed."

Oh, geez. Tony slid out of Steve's grasp enough to be able to wrap his own arms around Steve, as much as he could. It didn't seem to help.

"Okay," Tony said. "First off, you're actually a seventy-eight-year-old virgin--"

Steve made a ragged noise, wet and breathy, that sounded like he was ten seconds away from actual tears and, shit, okay, wrong move, wrong move.

"Hey, hey, Steve, no," Tony said, frantically, running his hands over Steve's body, pulling his head down, cradling him close. "Steve, don't. Shh. It's all right. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that."

Steve's breath was hot and fast against the juncture of Tony's neck and shoulder, and Steve was holding him tight enough that it almost hurt. Tony guessed he'd been keeping a lot of worry about this in.

"It's going to be okay," Tony told him. "Better than okay. It's going to be good. It's going to be really good. It's going to be great. You know why?"

"Why?" Steve rasped.

Because I'm desperately in love with you and I've wanted this for years. "Because even if you've never done this thing before, this one particular act, it's not like you don't have experience," Tony told him, hoping that sounded more reasonable than the words that actually wanted to come out of his mouth. "You have a lot of experience. And you're good. Take it from me. I mean, we've been doing this a week and you're... you're amazing, Steve. You're honestly amazing. That's not flattery. That's the truth."

You're the best I've ever had, and I could do this for the rest of my life, just like this, and even if it never worked, even if you could never fuck me, or even if you just never wanted to, it wouldn't matter. I'd never feel the lack of it. I'd be the happiest man on Earth if you were with me. But he couldn't tell Steve that either.

"But I've never--"

"So you've never. So what?" God, this was all his fault, wasn't it? "You know as well as I do that when people talk about being good in bed, what they're talking about is a combination of things, most of which I happen to know you're phenomenal at. It's about being kind, and caring, and considerate, all of which you are. And if you pay attention to your partner and what they like, and then do what they like, it's hard to be bad. And I know you do that. So it'll be good. Don't worry, okay?"

"Tony." Steve's voice was shaking. "Assuming-- assuming I can even-- I'm going to last twenty goddamn seconds. You know I am. And then you'll-- and then you'll-- God, you're going to laugh at me--"

Fuck. This really was his fault. He'd been going on and on about improving Steve's endurance, making him toys and everything, because what he'd really wanted were reasons to get Steve off, and to keep getting Steve off, because this was his one chance to be with Steve and it was what he'd wanted. He'd been unconscionably selfish, and he'd been giving Steve a goddamn complex. Because what he hadn't actually given Steve was enough time or experience or proper stimulation to really improve his endurance. He'd basically just gotten Steve off, repeatedly. And Steve had fixated on the idea of endurance, because Steve always wanted to be the best at everything, because that was who he was. And Tony had-- well, Tony had basically set him up to fail.

"Steve. Listen to me." Tony felt like he was giving field orders. "I'm not going to laugh at you. I'm not, okay? I would never, and if anyone else ever did--" Steve tensed under his hands, and that was when Tony figured out that, yeah, there had probably been a few bad experiences there-- "then they were assholes, and I'm not like them." But Steve still didn't relax, and Tony knew he had to try to say something more. He sighed. "And I'm really sorry if I gave you the impression that it matters so much to me, how long you last. I didn't mean to. Because it doesn't matter to me. At all. It really, truly doesn't."

"It doesn't?" Jesus, but Steve sounded like he could never buy that.

Tony shook his head in the dark; he didn't think Steve saw. "Look, I knew what I was getting into when I offered to... help you out. I knew what your experience level was. I knew what the possibilities were. I still do." He ran his fingers through Steve's hair. "I'm here for you. I want you to have this. I want to give this to you. I want to make you happy. And if it's only twenty seconds, then it's only twenty seconds, but I want it to be the best damn twenty seconds I can give you. That's what I'm here for. It's not about me. Not the way I see it. And if you come first and I don't get off with you inside me--" then it doesn't really matter because I love you and I just want you to be happy-- "then, if you want to, I'm sure you can show me a good time when you're done. No matter what happens, I'm going to enjoy it. It's not going to be the end of the world. We've done the end of the world, and this isn't it. Okay?"

"I just," Steve said quietly, "I just-- I just want to be good. I want to be good for you."

"I know." Tony petted his hair again and tried not to think about how hearing Steve say that did funny things to his stomach. "I know you do. Of course you do. And what I'm saying is that it's going to be good. It might not be perfect, but I know it's going to be good."

"But I only get one chance--"

Sweetheart, you can have as many chances as you want with me. But Steve hadn't said that he'd wanted anything more to do with Tony, and Tony had given him plenty of opportunities to. Steve probably meant that this was, therefore, his one chance to sleep with anyone, period. Well, that was unusually pessimistic of him.

"Why would you think that?" Tony asked, and Steve jumped in his arms and raised his head to stare Tony in the eye, as if of all things he hadn't expected Tony to say that. "There are a lot of people in the world, and once you figure out that this works with me, that this is possible -- because I'm sure it is -- I'm sure you can try again with someone else." With whoever you really want.

"Oh." Steve's reply was a small sound, somehow disappointed. "Okay. That's-- that's really nice of you to say. I'm glad you're so confident. Thank you."

"No problem," Tony told him, ignoring the pang in his chest, the ache of loneliness. He was getting good at that.

"Okay," Steve said again, and he breathed out. His arms around Tony loosened. "Okay. Thank you. I'm sorry I'm so-- I just-- thank you, Tony." Tony thought he saw Steve's mouth in the darkness quirk a little. "You want to try this sleeping thing again?"

Tony squinted past Steve's shoulder at the blur of the alarm clock and decided that he would probably be happier not knowing what time it was. "Sure thing."

Smiling, Steve pulled him back down, pressing gentle kisses to Tony's forehead, letting Tony pillow his head on his shoulder again. It was nice, it was so nice, and it was all going to end.

Tony shut his eyes and didn't think about tomorrow.

Steve's alarm went off far, far sooner than Tony would have liked. It was 5:30, and Tony wished he could just drag Steve back to bed even as Steve got up to make the beeping stop. But he knew that Steve had to go before any of the rest of the team got up and realized where Steve had spent the night.

Tony lay back on the bed, arms flung wide, eyes half-shut, his body trying to fall back asleep. He'd gotten the most sleep he had in... well, weeks. And if he could just ignore the terrible oncoming loneliness gnawing out a hole in his chest, he was feeling better than he had in weeks. Sleeping with Steve had clearly done wonders for him.

And Steve looked pretty good this morning, Tony thought, admiring the view as Steve headed into the bathroom, still naked. All of the bruising from the Taskmaster fight had faded while he'd been sleeping, so now he was once again unmarred, all pale skin and rippling muscle, illuminated by the faint dawning light edging past the curtains. God, he was beautiful.

Tony smiled to himself, closed his eyes, and let himself drift.

When he opened his eyes again, Steve was sitting on the edge of the bed. He was half-dressed, having gotten as far as his uniform pants and his boots, but he sat there shirtless, with his uniform top bundled in his hands. It looked like he'd been sitting there a while, thinking. It looked like he had something he wanted to say.

"Steve?" Tony asked. "Penny for your thoughts?"

Startled, Steve blinked, like Tony had caught him out. "I, uh," he said, hesitant. "I was just wondering about the logistics, later, when we-- when we--"


There was a faint flush of red staining Steve's cheeks. "I don't know where to get... protection," he said, very quietly, like he was ashamed to admit this. "I don't know if they even make condoms that would fit me." He glanced away. "When I was trying to do this before, back in the war, it wasn't exactly a concern with the fellas, you know? Not unless anyone was getting pregnant, and they weren't. And I never tried it with a woman, not like that," he added, like he thought he had to justify himself, like Tony might otherwise have thought he would have been anything less than completely responsible.

Steve started pulling his shirt on with the air of someone who was doing so because he desperately needed something to be doing with his hands.

It was sweet that Steve was thinking of things like this. At least one of them was. Tony, for his part, hadn't thought about it, because thinking about it would have involved thinking about this being over, and he hadn't even wanted to entertain that. But it was time now, he supposed.

And it didn't really matter, because Tony knew without thinking about it exactly what he was going to say. There was really only one answer.

"Don't worry about it," he told Steve.

Steve finished pulling his shirt down and stared at him, impressed. "You really know where to find anything, huh?"

Okay, and it was even sweeter that Steve had unquestioning faith in Tony's ability to find or make anything he needed. And maybe Tony could have, sure, but--

"No, I mean, really, don't worry about it," Tony said. "You don't need protection. It's okay."

Steve's brow furrowed. "It's important," he said, indignantly, like he'd memorized a safer-sex instruction manual at some point in his life -- and because he was Steve, he probably had.

"I know it's important," Tony said. "But it's not necessary. Look, I know you have access to my medical file, and I know you have seen probably every test result I have had in my entire life. I'm clean. And I know you're clean, and I know you can't catch, carry, or transmit anything. The only reason you'd need to bother, with me, is if one of us minded the mess -- and I don't." He smiled. "Besides, it feels nicer."

Tony omitted or so I've been told. Because, of course, he'd never let a guy fuck him bareback; of all the stupid decisions he'd made in his life, that had somehow managed not to be one of them.

And Steve might have looked like he was about Tony's age, but this was where it mattered that he'd actually been born in 1920. Oh, he'd caught up on the information, but that wasn't the same as having lived through all of it. Someone who was really Tony's age would have known what it meant that Tony had offered him this. Tony wouldn't have needed to say I came of age in the eighties and we were all dying and I learned that if you did this, you died, and I've never done this with anyone before, not like this, and I probably never will again. It was another kind of intimacy. It was another kind of virginity, he supposed. His own.

But Steve didn't know, and Tony wasn't about to tell him.

"You're sure?" Steve asked. "You're really sure?"

Tony nodded. "Absolutely."

"All right." Steve bent down and kissed him, a quick brush of lips, the kind of ordinary kiss you'd give your lover when you were leaving for the day -- except, of course, this was going to be the end of it. "I'll see you... after work, I guess? Have a good day."

"You too," Tony said, smiling.

Steve gave him one last smile in return, and then he was gone, closing the door quietly behind himself.

This could be their everyday life, and it was never going to be.

Tony's smile faded.

Tony's office was a mess.

Since yesterday, some kind soul had fixed the worst of the damage in the reception area. They'd repotted the overturned plant, which stood in the corner, looking unhappy but alive. The splintered and broken chairs were gone, and chairs that didn't match them had been dragged in from another floor. One of the pictures above the chairs was missing, hopefully gone for reframing.

It felt like the whole place should be covered in crime scene tape. He wondered if maybe it had been.

Somehow, what with everything else that had gone on yesterday, Tony had actually managed to forget that he was going to get to work and his office was still going to look like this.

He probably should have called Damage Control then, but he'd been distracted by-- well, Steve. And clearly no one else had called Damage Control for him, which was fine, it was his responsibility, but it meant that now he was the one suffering.

Well, him and Pepper, apparently.

Pepper was sitting at her desk, surrounded by piles of crumpled paper and teetering stacks of floppies. One of the desk drawers was still sitting on top of the desk. Her computer screen was black, and Tony hoped that meant it was just off and not broken. Pepper was staring at the chaos around her, a resigned and weary expression graven into her face. Someone who hadn't known Tony as long as she had might have been upset, but this was a frequent kind of Monday morning for anyone who worked for Tony, and Tony knew Pepper could take it. She looked composed, poised, unruffled; her suit was elegant, her hair perfect. She looked out of place in the middle of the mess, but she'd definitely been here before. They'd all been here before.

It hadn't even been that bad, had it? No one had died.

He needed to fix this. He needed to keep his mind on his company, because he was meeting with Fujikawa in a week. He needed to think about his future, and not about-- and not--

Sighing, Pepper smoothed out a ripped and torn sheet of paper, set it atop another pile, looked up, and gave Tony a tired smile. "Morning, Tony. I don't know when your first appointment is, because--" she moved to the side and gestured at the computer, and Tony saw that there was a crack down the middle of the monitor. Fuck. Okay, then.

Tony made himself smile back. "It's okay. I'll get it taken care of. Did anyone call Damage Control?"

"Not me," Pepper said, "so probably not. I just got in. And I don't have--"

She moved one of the piles of papers, uncovered the phone, and started dragging the phone cord up, foot by foot. When she got to the end, it was dismally clear that the end that should have been in the wall was not in the wall, and that, furthermore, the entire wall plate of the outlet, which definitely should have been in the wall, was hanging from the end of the cord.

"Wow, okay, yeah," Tony said, as the scale of the problem became clear. "You really don't have a way to call them. I'll go see if the line in my office still works. Maybe you want to go get yourself some coffee while I take care of Damage Control? Charge whatever you want to my account."

She looked like she could use a break. Tony felt like he could use a break, and he wasn't getting a break, so he might as well give someone the break he couldn't have. He smiled in a way that he hoped was reassuring. His best smile. It was a fake, of course, but maybe Pepper wouldn't notice.

He should have remembered that he couldn't bullshit Pepper.

She frowned in concern. "Are you all right, Tony?"

Tony tried another smile. "Yeah, sure, I'm fine," he said. He waved a hand, vaguely, at the wreck that surrounded them. "It's just-- Taskmaster, you know? Sometimes, it all makes you feel like you can't catch a break."

There, that was probably convincing.

Pepper looked a little more mollified, at least, as she stood up, grabbed her purse, and started to make her way toward the door. "I know the feeling," she said, and turned back. "Your usual order, or did you want something fancier?"

It was nice of her to think of him. "Plain black would be great, thanks," he said, and then paused. "No, wait. Decaf."

Goddamn Stephen Strange.

Pepper was squinting at him. "Decaf? You? And you're sure you're okay?"

I am so far from okay that it isn't even funny.

"Doctor's orders," Tony said, with a grimace that was not at all fake.

"Right," Pepper said, uncertainly. She knew how often he followed those, too. "Okay. Decaf. Got it."

Heels clicking on the floor, she turned and headed out.

Getting to his office was easier than ever before, because Tony no longer had an office door. Not on its hinges, anyway. The entire door was inside the room, several feet away, leaning on his desk, but other than that, his office was actually mostly okay. Only the papers that had been atop his desk were in disarray, and his phone and computer both looked fine. Some of his desk drawers had been flung open, and the disk caddy atop his desk was missing about half the floppies that should have been in there. He remembered seeing them in Taskmaster's pouches yesterday. Which meant, of course, that SHIELD had them now. He'd have to give them a call.

Tony maneuvered around the door and then around the desk. He sank down into his chair -- at least that wasn't broken -- tilted his head back, and shut his eyes.

He had to call Damage Control. He had to call SHIELD. He had to decide which of his identities was best suited to put the fear of God into Taskmaster so he could go pay him a visit and try to get some kind of confession out of him that he could use against Morgan.

Steve's face swam through his mind.

He dropped his head down, opened his eyes, and the first thing he saw was -- of course -- his picture.

Other people had pictures on their desks of their wives, their children, their pets. Tony had a picture of the Avengers. His own kind of family.

He picked the picture up, cradled the smooth metal frame in his hands. It was an old, old picture -- him, Jan, Hank, Thor, and of course Steve. It had been one of their first professional photo sessions, and this shot had been rejected. It definitely wouldn't have been serious enough for the press. Someone -- probably Jan -- had said something funny, and half the team had been cracking up. Even Steve was laughing. Steve and Tony had been crouching in front, in the first row, and Steve had one arm thrown over the metal shoulders of Tony's armor, and he was grinning at him.

Tony's thumb smudged the cool glass as he touched Steve's smiling face.


It wasn't fair. He didn't want it to be over. He loved Steve so much. He always had. How was he supposed to go back to the way it had been before, knowing exactly what he was missing, knowing he could never have it again? After tonight, Steve wasn't going to kiss him. Steve wasn't going to touch him, not the way he was touching him now. Steve wasn't going to let Tony touch him. Steve wasn't going to sleep in his bed, and hold him close, and be there for him in the morning.

Steve didn't love him.

Tony had never considered himself a particularly jealous or possessive person, but now that he was contemplating what the future would look like after tonight, it made something sick and ugly churn in his stomach, rise in his throat. Steve would bid him farewell, would smile politely, would be kind -- and then he'd go find someone he really wanted. And Tony knew he should want Steve to be happy, he knew that was what a good person should want for his friend, but he couldn't.

He wondered what Steve's next lover would be like. Would they realize how amazing Steve was? Would they be so grateful to have him in their life? Would they understand how much this should mean to them, that Steve had chosen them?

And would Steve smile at them like he'd smiled at Tony? Would he touch them like he'd touched Tony? Tony could picture it now, Steve bringing his date home -- a woman, probably, unless he found a man he wanted to be out for. And, oh, God, that was so much worse, to think that there could be a guy he'd be proud enough of to tell people about, to show off to his friends, when Tony had never been good enough. Tony was good enough to fuck, and nothing else. Steve sneaked into Tony's room at midnight and left before dawn. Steve would never be proud of him.

Steve wouldn't look at his next lover like he'd looked at Tony. Of course he wouldn't. He'd look at them like he loved them, whatever that looked like, and that just wasn't how he felt about Tony.

Tony's vision blurred, and there was a cracking sound, and he looked down and realized that he'd broken the picture. Jagged glass lay inside the frame.

Tony set the picture back on the desk, face-up. Light glinted, broken, over the Avengers' faces. He wiped his eyes on his sleeve, blinked, realized there were more tears, decided not to bother, and stared blankly into space.

He was a goddamn mess, and he was going to lose everything.

And then, because the universe truly had it in for him, that was when Pepper came back with the coffee.

Tony blinked and blinked again, and the smeary world around him resolved into Pepper standing in the doorway. She was clutching a paper coffee cup in one hand and staring at him, mouth agape, freckled face gone pale.

"Tony? Oh, my God, what's wrong?"

"Nothing," Tony said, which was blatantly a lie, but it was better than the truth.

Coffee sloshed across the desk as Pepper put the cup down in a hurry. The chair on the other side of the desk had the side of the broken door leaning on it, but she sat in it anyway, reached out, and grabbed Tony's hand. He could barely feel it.

"Are you in pain? Is it your heart?" she asked, urgently. "Tony, say something-- I can get help--"

He shook his head. "I'm fine," he said. "I'm fine, Pep, I just--"

Pepper was shaking. It could have been fear or anger; it was probably both. "Then what's the matter? You look like you're having some kind of nervous breakdown, Tony. You were in here crying."

"I know," Tony said, hurriedly. "I know, but I'm fine, really, it's nothing--"

"Is it because of Morgan?" she asked, and Tony had a split-second where he could have said yes, where he should have said yes, but she was too clever, too fast, she knew him too well, and she kept going. "No, it can't be. You were acting strange before the gala. You've been acting strange all week," she said, and, God, now she'd seen it, now she knew there was something. This wasn't good.

"I'm fine."

Pepper glared at him. "You are not. What happened? Something must have happened. You've been so distracted, like you've been thinking about something else entirely this whole time." And then Tony watched it click. He could practically see the lightbulb moment. "Oh, God, I know what it is. There's a woman, isn't there? You're in love. You're-- you're pining. That's what it is."

Sometimes he wished his friends knew him less well.

Tony's heart skipped a beat. "There's no woman," he said, even as he knew he'd been found out.

Pepper's eyes narrowed. "Come on, Tony. Who is she? Fujikawa's granddaughter? Or that volcanologist, what's her name--"

"It's not a woman," Tony said, desperately. "I swear."

"Tony, do you really think I don't know what you look like when you're in love with someone?"

Tony took a shaky breath. There was nothing to be done for it now. He swallowed. "It's Captain America."

There was a pause. Pepper blinked at him a few times and squinted, like she was recalibrating her thoughts. She didn't look anywhere near as shocked as he'd thought she might. Small mercies, Tony supposed.

And then Pepper said, "Okay. Right. What's he done this time?" Like there was some Avengers team disagreement that Tony had been distracted by.

She hadn't understood after all. It was so unbelievable an occurrence, him and Steve together, that he could flat-out tell one of his oldest friends about it and she wouldn't believe him. It obviously meant that he and Steve shouldn't have ever been together. It meant that they didn't make sense, that they were clearly mismatched. Why should Steve ever have lowered himself enough to be with someone like Tony?

"No," Tony said, and he was struggling for breath. "I mean, it's Captain America. I've been sleeping with Captain America."

Pepper's jaw dropped. Her throat worked. Tony could see her struggling for words and finding none.

Yeah, that was really more of the reaction he'd expected.

"This week, huh?" Pepper asked, very quietly. Of course she'd figured it out now. She had all the pieces.

Tony nodded. "Yeah. It started about a week ago."

"And now," Pepper said, her voice calm, her gaze evaluating, "you're sitting here in your office, crying. Because of him." There was something fierce in the way she said it, something oddly protective.

Oh, no. He hadn't ever imagined this. He'd thought she'd judge him. He'd never thought she'd judge Steve.

"It's not like that, Pep," Tony said, weakly. "It isn't. This isn't his fault. This is all me. Steve's a really good guy. The best. You don't understand."

Pepper was looking at him like he was insane. "You're crying, Tony."

Her gaze roved over the desk between them; he knew when she saw the shattered picture, because she bit her lip.

"I'm fine," Tony repeated.

Pepper sighed. She looked off in the distance like she was trying to figure out how to phrase this. "God knows I don't have much of a leg to stand on, the way things are with Happy and me right now," she began, and Tony tried not to wince, "but I've considered you a friend for a long time, and I know you don't want to hear this, but-- I don't think he's good for you. And I don't think you see it at all, and I'm worried about you. Especially now. Because he's a lot worse for you now."

Now that wasn't fair. "You've never liked him." Tony's throat rasped.

Pepper seemed to consider Tony's words as if they'd been more than just instant denial. "I'm your friend, and I care about you," she said. "And I know that you're Iron Man, I know that you're risking your life every day -- but the Avengers, I think they make you more cavalier with your life than you should be. And I know that if I told you that, you'd say that it was okay, that Cap was watching out for you. I'll assume for one moment that he's not leaving you like this deliberately, because that would be an entirely different conversation." Her eyes flashed. "But if you're dating him and he can't even be bothered to notice that he's leaving you in tears, then I don't think he's right for you. On any level." She met his eyes. "You're not watching out for yourself, and he's not watching out for you, and I-- I just think someone should, Tony."

What was he supposed to say? That he wasn't even dating Steve? That the only reason Steve hadn't noticed how fucked up Tony was was that Tony was actively trying to hide it? That he was getting worse at hiding it, and even Steve was noticing?

"It's really not like you think it is," Tony said. The words scraped at his throat. "He's not doing this to me. He's not doing anything wrong. I would know. I would."

Pepper just looked at him then, saying nothing for long seconds, and that was when Tony remembered that Pepper knew about the last guy he'd dated. Not the last guy he'd been with, by any stretch of the imagination, but the last one the world knew about -- and that had been Tiberius Stone. And, yeah, okay, Tony had been young and stupid and in love, and maybe Ty hadn't been so great to him, but that wasn't this. Steve was Steve, and Steve was perfect.

Except for how Steve didn't love him, of course.

"I'm ending it, anyway," Tony said. His voice was hollow. "Tonight. So it doesn't matter, really. It'll be over."

"Oh, Tony," Pepper said, softly. "It's going to be okay."

"I'll be better tomorrow," Tony said, and he knew it was himself he was trying to convince.

He called Damage Control. He stopped crying, pulled himself together, and actually called Damage Control. It was the one thing Tony managed to accomplish all morning. He figured out what the rest of his meetings for the day were and cancelled them.

Around noon, he got an e-mail on his Avengers account, and his heart stuttered in his chest, because the sender was listed as Captain America. The subject line: Tonight.

He had about ten seconds to work up to a good bout of panic before reality reasserted itself. Even though everything that went through Avengers servers was encrypted, there was no way Steve, who was clearly committed to keeping their affair secret, was going to mention anything about it on his official Captain America e-mail. Just in case. There were too many ways things could go wrong.

It had to be something else, he told himself, and he opened it anyway.

If you're not busy this evening, do you want to get dinner with me? My treat.


Tony could feel something welling up inside him that wanted to be laughter or maybe more tears. Trust Steve to be a gentleman. Tony was going to be putting out, and Steve wanted to buy him dinner first. They were going all the way. It was like Tony was his date to the prom, except Tony was clearly also the kind of date he was never bringing home.

He wasn't going to pretend it meant anything. Steve was just being polite. And there was no way he was going to sit through an entire meal of Steve biding time until he could fuck him and this would all be over with.

I'm sorry, Tony wrote back, but I'm swamped. Hell of a mess here. That was actually true -- but he could have gotten away if he'd wanted to, and he didn't. I'll see you tonight, though.

He hit send before he could change his mind.

Tonight. God. He couldn't do this.

He got a hold of SHIELD in the afternoon and got himself on the Raft's visitors list for Thursday. Three days after it will be over, he found himself counting. Everything was measured by Steve. Still, if Taskmaster was cooperative, it would give him some way to bring down Morgan. And if he wasn't... well, Tony would cross that bridge when he came to it.

He could ask Steve, he thought, automatically. Steve always had a way with people. Captain America could get villains to confess. Hell, Captain America could get villains to repent.

And then he remembered, again, that he probably wasn't going to want to make plans involving spending time with Steve.

Tense and jittery -- even with having switched to decaf -- Tony couldn't really eat anything all day. Lunch was a sandwich that he picked at and gave up on. He figured, given what he had planned for later, that not eating much was probably a plus.

Damage Control came by, checked out the building, pronounced everything clear and structurally sound. Tony ordered a new computer for Pepper. Someone came by to hang a door. An electrician came by to fix the phone wiring. It was five, and Tony ordered himself and Pepper a pizza he had half a slice of, and then he sat on the floor of the reception area and helped her sort out the mess Taskmaster had made of her files, because someone had to, and it had been his fault in the first place.

At eight, Pepper looked up and said, "Don't you think you should go home now, Tony?"

No, Tony wanted to say.

"Yeah," he said. "I suppose." He stood up, brushed his pants off, and sighed. "I'll see you tomorrow."

"It's going to be all right," Pepper said, and her gaze was sad, and, yeah, she knew he didn't want to go break up with Steve, either. "You have friends who care about you, Tony. You're not alone."

"I know," Tony said, because that was what you said when someone told you that, even if it wasn't really true.

Alone in the elevator, he leaned his head against the wall and tried not to start crying again.

It wasn't long before he was back at the mansion. Judging by the chatter and laughter from the front room, some kind of team game night was in progress, and at least Thor, Clint, and Wanda were there. He thought he heard something that might have been Vance and Angel; the new kids were still quieter, still a little more reserved, still finding their place. Tony hoped that if it was team Twister night again they'd remembered to move the vases out of the way this time.

He didn't hear Steve in there, though. He frowned and pinged Steve's identicard. The locator came back in an instant: Steve was in his room.

Steve was waiting for him.

No pressure, Stark, he told himself. He could do this. He breathed, in and out and in. It didn't really help.

Jesus, it was like this was his first time.

He headed up to his own room first, of course, and took what felt like the most thorough shower he'd ever had in his life, until he was satisfied that he was completely clean, absolutely everywhere Steve was going to want to touch him.

He toweled himself off, stared at himself in the mirror, and wondered if Steve cared what he wore. Probably not. He'd be naked in under a minute, anyway.

After he'd put on the sweatpants and the ENGINEERS DO IT WITH PRECISION t-shirt, he started to second-guess himself about formality.

Whatever. It'd be fine. Steve wasn't going to care. He summoned all the confidence in him, opened the door, strode down the hall, and knocked on Steve's door.

Steve opened the door instantly, like he'd been pacing back and forth, just waiting for Tony. Steve was staring at him, breathless, face flushed, smiling a nervous, excited smile. And he was wearing what looked like most of a three-piece suit. Tony nearly swallowed his tongue in surprise. God, Steve looked good.

Okay, so Tony was definitely underdressed for the occasion.

"Uh," Tony said. "I can go change?"

"No, no, you're fine!" Steve said, brightly, like it had somehow been his life's ambition to lose his virginity to someone wearing an ENGINEERS DO IT WITH PRECISION t-shirt. "You can come in if you want?"

Steve took a few stumbling steps back and held the door. He was-- God, he was actually fidgeting.

Tony stepped inside and let Steve close the door behind him. Steve even had cufflinks. He wondered what the occasion had been; there was a suit jacket hanging on the back of the door.

"You got all dressed up, huh?" Tony asked. "What, was there some kind of Avengers PR thing? Did I miss it?"

It couldn't have been that, though, which he realized even as he said it. Steve would have gone to that in uniform--

Steve shook his head. His cheeks were even more flushed. "No, I-- I mean, it's silly, but I kept hoping you'd write back and say you'd changed your mind about dinner--"

Oh. The special occasion had been him. Steve had been trying to take him out to dinner.

God. He really should have said yes. He'd been-- okay, he'd been upset, and he'd been afraid, and he should have remembered that, despite everything, Steve was still his friend. Even if Steve wasn't in love with him, Steve still wanted him to be happy -- no matter what Pepper had said -- and now he'd gone and disappointed Steve. And he'd been supposed to be the one making sure Steve was having a good time. This was what Steve had wanted. Tony was supposed to be doing this for Steve, and he'd failed him again. God, he'd been such an idiot.

"I'm really sorry--" Tony began, knowing that any apology was nowhere near enough.

"No, really, it's fine," Steve said. "I understand. I know you've been busy lately." He sounded so earnest, the way he always did, and that just made Tony feel like even more of an asshole.

Tony tried to smile anyway. "You could say that. Mostly today it was just fixing all the Taskmaster-shaped holes in my office. You know. A regular Monday."

Except for the part where I sat there in my office and cried about you.

Steve's fingers were playing with the buttons on his vest, and his smile was growing more and more nervous. "Yeah, I know what that's like."

"How about you?" Tony asked. "Good day?"

"I, uh." Steve blew out a breath and shifted his weight. "Honestly, I've been... pretty distracted."

"Yeah," Tony agreed, even though of course Steve hadn't been sitting here crying over him. "Me too."

Steve's chest heaved as he breathed. He straightened up, and Tony recognized the determined set of his jaw and the gleam in his eyes from a decade of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with him on the battlefield: he was going for it. "So," Steve said. "You're the one calling the shots, Tony. What's on the agenda tonight?"

Tony knew what it was time to say. The entire week had been leading up to this. And now that the moment was upon them, he had no idea how to say it.

Well, Steve, here's the part where you finally fuck me with your monster cock and then leave me once you've gotten what you wanted all along.

He couldn't say that, obviously, although it was the truth. That was the deal, and they both knew it. Tony liked to think he was at least a little kinder than that. Steve was still his friend, after all. Even if that was all he was.

Besides, it was clear Steve didn't want to call it fucking. Making love, probably. Steve had called it that a few times.

But Tony couldn't say that. Maybe that was what Steve called it, even in his head, because Steve was naturally Captain Polite, but for Tony the phrase had too much weight, too much emotional resonance. He couldn't call it lovemaking because Steve didn't love him. Not like that. If he said it, it would just remind him of everything that this wasn't. He couldn't say it.

He had to say something, though. Maybe humor would be safe? Yeah, that had promise. They were friends, having a good time. It wasn't serious. That was exactly how Steve wanted it between them, wasn't it? He'd say something that was sort of funny.

Only one item on the agenda, Cap, and that's you giving it to me good.

Flippant, friendly, perfect. He could say that.

He didn't want to. God, more than anything, he didn't want it to be over.

He opened his mouth anyway. He heard himself start to speak, the words beginning to tumble out of him--

"Fisting," Tony blurted out.

Steve stopped dead, and stared at him, eyes wide, mouth frozen in an incredulous half-smile. Tony didn't blame him. He looked about as shocked as Tony felt. If Tony could have left his body, he was sure he'd have been staring at himself just like that.

What the hell? Where the hell had that come from? What was wrong with him? What the fuck had he been thinking? Fisting?

Not only was Steve absolutely not going to go for fisting, Tony didn't even know if he was going to go for fisting. It was one of those things that had always sounded both vaguely terrifying and too immense to even contemplate. He had no idea why he'd said it.

The room was dead silent. The only sound Tony could hear was the dizzying pounding of blood as it rushed through his head.

Steve still hadn't said anything. Steve hadn't even moved.

Five seconds later, the even more terrible thought occurred to Tony that now he was going to have to explain to Steve what fisting was.

Before he could say anything else -- which was probably good, considering what a mess him saying anything at all had gotten him into -- Steve unfroze and started moving again, thank God. Tony waited for the inevitable confusion, to be followed by the even more inevitable disgust once he figured out what fisting was. Even if Tony didn't tell him, Steve was a smart guy, and he could work it out on his own.

But Steve must have already known what it was, because he was raising his hands, turning them over to look at them from all angles. And the weird thing was, he didn't look disgusted. He was staring at his hands with a kind of frightened awe, which was honestly pretty much how Tony felt about the idea of fisting. He was looking at his hands like he was afraid of them and had only now realized they were a thing it was possible to fear.

"Tony," Steve said, uncertainly, "I'm pretty sure my hands are actually bigger than my dick." His voice wobbled. "Are you sure about this?"

That-- that didn't actually sound like Steve was saying no.

Wow. Steve was game for putting his entire fist up Tony's ass, and there was a sentence Tony never thought he'd think a week ago.

He couldn't believe he was thinking this, but the idea was sounding better and better. Yeah, okay, it still sounded kind of terrifying, which was why he'd never done it before, but it was Steve, and honestly everything he'd done with Steve this week had been amazing. And even if fisting wasn't actually his thing, the rush of doing it with Steve would probably make it at least decent. Steve was good with his hands. He'd make it good. And it meant they had one more day together. And, most importantly, Steve seemed like he'd be into it, and that settled it -- if Steve wanted it, he was doing it.

And, of course, he'd already proposed the idea, so now he had to sound sure about it.

"I'm absolutely sure," Tony said, with a grin full of confidence that he was not at all feeling. "Think of it this way: if I can fit your hand, I can definitely fit your dick, right?"

"I-- I guess?" Steve said, still wavering, and his eyes narrowed, like he was positive there was something logically wrong with what Tony had said but he couldn't figure out where. "I've never-- have you-- have you ever done this before?"

"Nope. Never." Tony smiled encouragingly and resisted the impulse to rub his hands on his pants. His stomach had clenched up. "But, come on, how hard can it be? People do it all the time."

Steve's eyes went even narrower, only the barest glimmer of blue flashing in the light. His jaw was tight. Tony couldn't quite tell if he was aghast or horrified.

"I could really hurt you," Steve said, dismayed; Tony supposed that was him envisioning the possibility. Did Steve really not want this after all?

"You won't," Tony assured him. "I trust you. And you're very good with your hands."

He had gorgeous hands, really. Most people, when they thought of Steve, thought of Captain America, imagined him punching out evildoers. But Tony knew Steve, the rest of Steve, the Steve who had been an artist long before he'd been Captain America. Tony had seen him bent over sketchbooks, graphite smudging his fingers. He was strong, but he was gentle, too; his hands were capable of so much beauty and grace. He wasn't going to hurt Tony.

Steve glanced down at his hands again. "Tony--"

"If you don't want to," Tony said, "then of course we won't. I just thought it might be... fun?"

Fun. Fun. Could he have sounded any more pathetic?

"I didn't say I didn't want to," Steve murmured, and it took Tony a few seconds to identify the low, shivery note in his voice as desire. It occurred to Tony then that it made sense that someone whose entire sex life up to this point had basically revolved around using his hands was thrilled at the chance to use his entire hand. "I just thought-- I just thought this was another one of those things I was never going to be able to do, you know?"

Oh, Tony was definitely doing this now. Steve wanted this. And giving Steve something he wanted was-- well, it was the best thing Tony had ever felt. Better than flying. Better than drinking. Better than anything.

Impulsively, Tony stepped close and threw his arms around Steve. Steve's eyes widened in surprise as Tony leaned in and kissed him, hard. He couldn't have said why he did it. He just wanted to make Steve happy.

Steve was smiling when Tony let him go.

"We can definitely do this," Tony said. "Just let me go get the serious lube."

Steve raised an eyebrow. "The lube I own isn't serious lube?"

"Not serious enough. Trust me," Tony said. "I'm a mechanical engineer. I have a doctorate in sticking moving things inside other things."

"Yes," Steve said, and his voice was grave but his eyes were bright. "I see the t-shirt."

"Glad you approve. Back in a sec." Tony ducked back out the door, whistling as he went.

Sure, he was drawing it all out and he knew it, but maybe this could be fun. Terrifying, but fun.

It took Tony a few minutes to find the jar of lube in his room, and when he finally pushed open Steve's unlocked door he found that Steve had his laptop open and was alternating between scrolling through a webpage and filing his nails. Every few seconds he paused, glared at his hands like this was a matter of life and death, ran his thumb over the edge of his nails, and kept filing.

Well, at least one of them had been doing research.

Tony pushed the door shut, locked it, and held up the lube triumphantly. "And what has the internet been telling you?" he asked, when Steve looked up.

Steve had, Tony noted, spread a towel in the middle of the bed while he'd been gone.

"It seems like it might work," Steve said, and he sounded like he'd never expected to say that about this in his life. "They're just saying we should go slow, don't force it, and use a lot of lube."

"I've got that last part covered," Tony said, and as Steve kept reading, Tony took the opportunity to get naked, shedding shoes, socks, t-shirt, sweatpants, and finally underwear, as he headed across the room, lube in hand. It wasn't like that t-shirt was going to do any favors getting him laid.

Steve still didn't look up, intent on the webpage.

"I mean," Steve said, "in terms of basic technique, it doesn't sound too different from what we've already been--" He looked up. His lips parted. Tony probably shouldn't have liked watching him get flustered as much as he did. Steve swallowed hard and ran a finger around the collar of his shirt. "Oh," he said, softly. "Um. Oh, Tony, you're-- you're really--"

Tony lay down on the bed, propped himself up on one elbow, and gave Steve his best sultry look. He let one hand slide over his bare hip. "I'm what?" He made the words a tease, of course. A game. Meaningless. He wasn't asking for the truth.

He should have remembered that that wasn't how Steve played this game.

"You're so beautiful," Steve said, his voice low and hushed, solemn. When he said it, he made it sound like Tony was the only one he'd ever said it to. "Can I-- can we--"

"You can do anything you want to me."

That was definitely one of those things that Tony shouldn't have said. It was going to get his heart broken. He shouldn't give himself to Steve this much. There'd be nothing left of him. But whether or not he said it, it was still true. It had been true from the beginning.

Steve pushed himself up out of the chair and took a few hesitant steps toward the bed. "What if I want to kiss you?"

"Kinky," Tony said with a chuckle. "But I'll permit it."

And then Steve was stretched out next to him, running one huge hand up Tony's side, over his shoulder, lightly up the side of his throat -- Tony shivered -- and then to his cheek. He stroked Tony's temple with thumb and then his mouth met Tony's, the kiss easy and sweet.

If Tony hadn't known better, he could almost have believed that Steve loved him.

"Is that good?" Steve asked. Like he didn't know.

Tony nodded. "Yeah-- yeah, that's great."

Steve kissed him again, this time a little bit hotter, heavier, more demanding. And that was just as good too, of course, but differently, lighting a fire within him. Tony was going to have to focus and memorize this, all the ways Steve kissed, for when he didn't have it anymore, for when Steve wasn't ever going to touch him again--

Steve's hand slid between them and down, and then Tony wasn't thinking about the future anymore, because he wasn't thinking about anything other than the way Steve's hand encircled his throbbing cock, pumping him to full hardness as Steve's tongue slid into his mouth, and, God, oh God, this was the best thing in the world, and the sounds he was making were probably terrible and embarrassing, but Steve didn't seem to care--

"I like doing that," Steve confessed in a whisper. "If I'm already kissing you when I touch you. It's like you melt in my arms."

And, of course, Steve even managed to make it sound like it could have been something romantic. He didn't make it sound like he thought Tony was weak, sensitive, needing everything too much. Steve's hand drifted up his body again, glided over his ribs, and Tony didn't know what to say. This needed not to be real. This wasn't real.

"Thanks." Tony pushed a finger into the gap between the buttons of Steve's dress shirt. "Hey, you want to take this off?"

"Oh!" Steve said, abashed, like he'd forgotten something. "Oh, of course, Tony."

Steve moved away and stood up, which was a little sad, but watching Steve strip -- especially out of nice clothes -- was a pleasure in and of itself. Steve took everything off, one by one -- the tie, the vest, the shirt -- slowly. He wasn't particularly showy about it, but Tony hadn't expected him to be. He'd expected nothing less than Steve standing here conscientiously making sure his socks and shoes were neatly lined up by his combat boots. This was doing a hell of a lot for Tony anyway. When Steve undid his belt, Tony realized his own hand had dropped to his cock, stroking himself in anticipation -- and he only realized that much because Steve had stopped, and was looking at him.

"See something you like?" Steve asked, with a smile.

"You could say that," Tony said, and the words might have sounded like an overused line, but they didn't feel like that when he said them, full of longing. "Just looking forward to everything you've got to show me."

Steve's mouth twitched a little at that, a regretful expression, like he still wasn't used to that being the case when someone saw what he was packing. Tony might only have had a couple more days left, but he was determined to change that. If Steve didn't want him when they were done, at least he could give Steve a nice memory.

"You've seen it all."

"Doesn't mean I don't like seeing it again," Tony countered. "Some things are just great every time."

Steve looked a bit flustered at that. Tony was never going to fail to be charmed by the fact that he blushed halfway down his chest. And then Tony's mouth went dry because Steve was-- well, Steve was making it into a show now. For him.

One of Steve's hands traced over his abs and up, and he was still blushing hard even as he pinched his nipple, rolled it between his fingertips. Steve's other hand slid lower, tracing over the shape of his cock, rubbing it through his pants, and Tony's breath died in his throat.

Steve pushed his pants off one narrow hipbone and turned as he did it, exposing the muscular swell of his ass, and then, as he spun, a trail of golden hair leading to the barely-visible base of his cock.

Tony swallowed hard and moved his hand off his own cock with difficulty; at this rate, he was going to come even before Steve got naked.

Steve pushed his pants off the rest of the way and freed his cock. He fondled himself as he stood there, sliding his hand -- barely large enough to fit -- over his cock in long, slow strokes. His other hand cupped his balls, slid over the taut muscles of his thighs, pushing his pants down far enough to step out of them.

His face was still crimson, but he stood there, one hand on his cock, one hip back, head up, like an X-rated artist's model. He was absolutely gorgeous, and Tony couldn't keep him.

"Is that better?" Steve asked.

It took Tony a few more seconds to remember English. "Uh," Tony said. "Well, if you're ever looking for a second job again, I can think of something that pays a hell of a lot better than drawing comics."

"Sorry," Steve said, smiling. "This one's strictly amateur. Private shows only. For my very close friends."

"Oh, of course," Tony said, and he tried not to think about how Steve was just his friend, was only ever his friend. Friends fisted friends, right? He could do this. He could keep this casual.

That was what they were doing: casual fisting. Okay, so maybe for him it didn't feel like it was going to be casual, but that was just because he was in love with Steve. He just needed to remember that however emotionally intimate it felt, that was all him. This was one-sided. He needed to maintain perspective.

And then Steve was back on the bed, pressed up against him again, only better than before, because Steve was naked and hot and Steve's cock was rubbing up against his hip.

Steve kissed him again, and Tony moaned and gave himself over to it. Whatever Steve wanted, that was what they were doing.

And that seemed to be the thought that Steve had returned to as well, because Steve murmured, "You said I could do anything I wanted."

"Yeah," Tony breathed. His head lolled back on the pillow. Steve could have whatever he wanted.

"What if I want to kiss you again?" Steve asked, and Tony felt the scrape of stubble, then soft kisses against his jaw and throat as he tipped his head even further back.

"Please," Tony murmured.

Steve slid lower; Tony felt Steve's mouth on his collarbone, then lower across his chest, and he gasped, surprised, as Steve kissed one of his nipples. Oh-- oh, that was good.

"What if," Steve began, and when he breathed out, Tony shivered at the feel of the warm air over skin made cool by Steve's tongue. "What if I want to kiss you everywhere?"

Tony could barely put a sentence together. "Mmm. Yes."

Even though he'd agreed, he didn't quite realize what Steve was going to do until Steve slid further down, kissing his way down Tony's stomach as he went. He was nuzzling Tony's abs, trailing messy kisses across his skin, licking him, and once or twice Tony felt the scrape of his teeth, little bright sharp bites over his hipbone.

Then Steve's warm breath plumed over Tony's cock and Tony opened his eyes in surprise and, oh, he understood where this was going. But Steve couldn't really, could he? Steve had never offered this before, and Tony had never presumed to ask. If Steve had wanted to do it, he would have said, and Tony wasn't about to be the uncaring asshole demanding to be serviced.

Apparently Steve had been waiting to be asked, all along.

Eager but hesitant, Steve looked up the length of Tony's body with wide, darkening eyes. "Tony?" he asked. "Would you-- would you mind if I went down on you?"

"Would I mind?" Tony echoed, incredulous.

"I'd really like to," Steve said, earnestly, as if Tony's question had shown reluctance rather than endorsement. "I'd really, really like to."

"Sure," Tony said, stunned. He was getting the idea here that Steve really enjoyed explicit and enthusiastic consent. "Sure, go for it."

And then Steve smiled at him and leaned in and-- oh-- oh God--

Tony might have been a superhero, but he wasn't a particularly noble man, and one of his most reliable and most longstanding sexual fantasies was, in fact, Getting A Blowjob From Steve Rogers. Over the years his mind had mapped out how the event would go, sorting through all possible fantastic scenarios and settling on the hottest, and even those images were well-worn into his imagination by now. Still, the thought of Steve on his knees did it for him every time. Tony's libido was consistent like that: Steve sucking him off was hot, end of story.

The reality was so much hotter that there weren't even words for it.

All of Tony's fantasies about Steve had assumed that Steve was a hundred percent heterosexual. So that was the thrill he'd learned to work with, over the years: the idea of the inexperienced, nervous straight guy. He'd gotten off so many times on the fantasy of showing Steve the ropes, on teaching Steve -- determined, game, maybe a little intimidated -- to take his cock, inch by inch, to teach Steve how to suck him off, and then Steve would finally let Tony come down his throat or on his gorgeous face or whatever sounded hottest to Tony that night.

Tony's fantasies had not prepared him for getting a blowjob from a Steve Rogers who had apparently spent World War II fucking his way through the US Army. Steve sucked cock like a champion. Steve sucked cock like there was an Olympic medal in fellatio and he'd won gold every time. Tony had never once considered the idea that Steve would, independently of Tony's feelings for him, be able to give Tony the best blowjob he'd ever had in his entire life.

Settling between Tony's legs, stretching out on the bed, Steve kissed and licked his way up the insides of Tony's thighs, messy, frantic, and hungry, like there was nothing more he wanted in the entire world than Tony's cock. His stubble scraped Tony's thighs, and the kisses he pressed into Tony's flesh were soft, and then, at Tony's encouragement, harder -- Tony heard his own voice pleading with Steve for more -- and, God, that was going to bruise, and he wanted it to.

Clearly determined to lavish attention on every part of him now that Tony had given him permission, Steve began kissing Tony's balls, licking them, taking them into his mouth, one and then the other. Tony heard himself gasping. His hands were flexing, grabbing fistfuls of the sheets so he didn't just grab Steve's head and drag him onto his cock.

"Steve," Tony heard himself say, and God, his voice just sounded broken. "Steve, please, please, oh, Steve--"

He just barely stopped himself from saying I love you.

Steve glanced up, actually winked, and then licked up Tony's cock, base to tip, in a wide and messy stripe of wet warmth. He paused, mouth open, the head of Tony's cock balancing on his tongue, on his wet and reddened lower lip, looking like he was posing for a picture. Tony wished more than anything that he could take one. Steve's eyes were bright, and the corners of his mouth trembled like he wanted to smile but couldn't quite get there with his mouth full. He looked-- he just looked so goddamn happy to be there. Tony didn't think anyone had ever been this thrilled about blowing him. If it had been anyone but Steve, he'd have thought it was a put-on, but it was Steve, so Tony was absolutely certain that he meant it.

Sure, Steve was probably just trying to make sure he was nice and relaxed for the fisting, but he was really going above and beyond the call of duty here.

And then Steve took Tony's cock into his mouth, and Tony couldn't think about anything else. Tony moaned and gasped and tried to hold still, his body shaking with the effort, and he bit his lip and tried to think about anything that wasn't just losing it in that tight wet heat.

"Oh, Steve--"

Steve glanced up, and then, without faltering, reached out for Tony's closest hand, the one that was doing its best to rip Steve's sheets into ribbons, and very firmly set it on his head, like he wanted Tony to push him down, oh, God. Tony breathed in and out and didn't grab Steve's hair and didn't shove his head any farther. He could be good. He had to be.

Steve's hand went back to the base of his cock, gently rubbing him, playing with his balls again, as Steve's talented tongue proceeded to utterly ruin him. It was like he'd taken notes on everything Tony had liked when he'd touched him and set out to recreate it with his mouth. His tongue was slick and hot and absolutely perfect, just the right amount of pressure on the head of his cock, sliding down over the shaft.

Tony was moaning something. It was probably Steve's name.

And then Steve -- Tony really shouldn't have been surprised by this, by now -- took him all the way down. And, sure, Tony's cock couldn't compare to Steve's, but it wasn't like Tony was small, and deep-throating him wasn't exactly trivial. But Steve made it look easy, and he made it feel incredible. Tony gasped in surprise and ecstasy as Steve slid down and down and down, until his lips reached the base of Tony's cock. Steve's mouth was unbelievably warm and tight, and he bobbed up and down, and when Tony couldn't stop himself from pushing a little on the downstroke, holding Steve's head and finally rocking his hips up, Steve hummed a little, pleased, like he'd been hoping Tony had been going to do that all along. No other blowjob was going to be able to compare to this. Actual sex probably wasn't going to be able to compare to this. He'd need all-new fantasies now.

But the thing that nearly pushed Tony over the edge wasn't that. It was watching Steve, and watching Steve's glorious ass flex as he thrust, and realizing that Steve was so turned on by what he was doing that he was actually rubbing up against the bed, faster and faster, and, fuck, Steve was going to come from blowing him, and Steve's mouth was so warm and tight, and Tony's balls were a tight, hot ache of pure need, and he was so close, he was so very close--

"Steve," Tony rasped out. "Steve, slow down, I'm going to--"

Steve pulled off just in time and lay there, his head on Tony's thigh, as Tony tried to catch his breath and remember how to form sentences again. Steve's eyes were dark with desire. His hair was a mess, his lips were bruised, and his face was slick with spit and pre-come. He was a beautiful wreck. He looked inestimably proud of himself and maybe a little smug. He's definitely earned it.

"Jesus, Steve," Tony said, awed. "Where the hell did you learn how to do that?"

Steve smiled a small, pleased smile. "London and Paris, mostly," he said, and, God, the way he sounded after he'd been sucking Tony's cock, low and raw and dark. Tony wanted to hear him talk like this forever. His shoulders moved in the smallest of shrugs. "I figured if I was going to be disappointing the fellas by not being able to do... what everyone who looked at me in a bar was expecting I'd be able to do, then the least I could do was learn to give head the best I could."

"I can't imagine you disappointing anyone," Tony said. He was still a little dizzy and unfocused. "If everyone you met didn't want to bring you home and keep you, they were fucking idiots."

Steve glanced away, and Tony could see his face flushing patchily; he wondered how Steve had enough blood left. "Well," Steve said, "you brought me home and kept me anyway, didn't you?" He said it in a low murmur, a little hesitant, a little sad. Tony had no idea what that was supposed to mean. "But I think you can see how maybe I could be... not what people wanted."

Oh, Tony knew what he meant, all right. Anyone seeing Steve -- well, anyone seeing Steve with his clothes on -- would have assumed, as Tony certainly had for his entire life, that there was no reason Steve couldn't fuck anyone. And maybe if that was all you were judging him by, then, sure that could be a disappointment. But Steve was far more than that, and Tony couldn't see how anyone who'd talked to him for even five minutes wouldn't want him in their life forever.

Tony certainly had.

"Hey," Tony said, and he reached down and managed to pet Steve's hair. "I've got no complaints at all."

He wished he could say everything he actually felt, but he knew Steve didn't want to hear it.

Steve smiled up at him, a flash of sadness still in his gaze. "Thanks, Tony."

They lay there for a little longer, in silence, and eventually Tony figured he'd put himself back together enough that they could keep going. He was interested in seeing if this would work, from a purely scientific viewpoint if nothing else. Sure, it probably wasn't going to be the best thing he'd ever felt, but at least it was going to be different.

"So," Tony said, "I don't think there's really a suave way for me to ask this, but did you still want to--"

"Yes," Steve said, which was definitely better than Tony having to say shove your hand up my ass. "Yes, please."

"Okay," Tony said, as Steve sat back up. "You're the one who was looking it up. How do we do this?"

It was weird that now Tony, who had started this whole thing by offering to deflower Steve, was looking to Steve for guidance. He wasn't supposed to be the virgin here. Still, it was habit by now, deferring to Steve, and Steve looked pretty confident about this.

"On your back, like that," Steve said, and then he wrapped his hand around Tony's ankle and lifted his leg up, holding him fast in his grip, a move that was a lot hotter than Tony had expected it to be. "You're going to want to get your legs up and over my shoulders. I mean, I'd hold them for you, but I'm--"

"--going to need your hands free, I know," Tony said. "I'll manage. I'm very bendy."

"Oh, I know that," Steve said, and his eyes darkened in a way that suggested that he had at some point appreciated Tony's flexibility for reasons that might not have been entirely Avengers-related.

It was so unfair that Steve didn't really love him.

The position he ended up in seemed more than a little undignified, for about ten seconds -- legs over Steve's shoulders as Steve knelt there, ass raised and exposed -- and then Steve got the jar of lube open and slid one slick finger inside Tony, and Tony was no longer concerned with dignity.

"Mmm," Tony said, because that was always nice. That had been nice all week. He was developing a new appreciation for Steve's hands.

"We're taking it slow, okay?" Steve's voice was cool, calm, authoritative. "We've got all night. And if it doesn't work out, then it doesn't work out, and that's okay. If you have to stop, we stop. But we're going to go nice and slow, and see how far we get."

That was an awful lot of time to spend on Tony's ass, and Tony wondered what the hell Steve was getting out of it. He frowned. "And then we'll do something nice for you," Tony added. Steve was going to deserve it. Steve already deserved everything Tony could give him.

"This is already something nice for me," Steve said, instantly, like he hadn't even had to think about it. "God, Tony, I can't believe you're letting me try this."

Tony couldn't really believe it either. It had been a hell of a week, all right.

Anything for you, Tony didn't say. "Well, I can't -- mmm -- promise anything so far," Tony said. "But I'd like to make this happen."

It was probably just going to feel weird. Weird and huge and then eventually Steve would get bored, having his entire fist in Tony, and then they'd stop. And then Steve might cuddle him. Tony was looking forward to that part. Still, Steve was enthusiastic about this, and that would probably be sufficiently motivating for Tony.

One finger broadened to two, and Steve paused to add more lube. Steve was fucking him with his fingers, slowly. It was different than before, than the way he'd been doing this all week. Before, he'd gone hard for Tony's prostate, or at least not minded if he'd brushed it too much; now, he seemed to be studiously avoiding it, massaging the rim of Tony's hole with soft, easy strokes. Steve didn't seem to be in any hurry, and Tony just closed his eyes and enjoyed it.

It felt good, of course, but good in a different way than everything else this week had felt. By the time Tony realized this, he was already gone. The pleasure was like a calm lake he was floating in, letting it push him to and fro on the waves. The pleasure was the baseline, the background, and somehow everything else faded away even as the pleasure became somehow less important. It wasn't anything Tony felt like he had to chase. There was no burning need to come, no urgent desire, no yearning ache. There was nothing to strive for, to reach for. He wasn't sure if he was hard anymore. It didn't seem like it mattered much if he was. There was just this, and Steve, and it was good.

A distant part of his mind wondered if this was okay, if it was all right to like this, if it was too much like being drunk, if he should be worried that all his thoughts had fallen sideways into some altered state of consciousness. He wondered if this was what he'd been supposed to feel when his more adventurous lovers had occasionally bound him or beaten him, the elusive subspace that he'd fretted and worried too much to ever be able to reach. It seemed that what he'd needed was only kindness.

"Feels nice," Tony slurred, and he wasn't sure if his face managed a smile, but Steve smiled back.

"There you go," Steve murmured, praise washing over Tony like glowing sunshine. "Look how sweet you are, there you go, you've got it. Nice and relaxed. That's the way." Steve smiled. "Didn't think I could get you here, the way you live in your head. I guess it just takes time."

Whatever this was, it looked like Steve recognized it, and Tony relaxed, letting himself sink back under. If Steve knew what it was, then this was okay. Steve thought this was how it was supposed to be, and Steve wasn't worried. Steve wouldn't let him be like this if it were bad.

Two fingers became three, and Tony started to feel the stretch of it. It didn't alarm him, the way it had last night, but there was the knowledge impinging on the edge of Tony's awareness that this was a lot. It didn't hurt, exactly, but it was definitely something, and Tony heard himself make a noise.

"It's okay," Steve whispered. "It's all right, Tony. You've got this. I'm not going to push. If this is all you want, then that's okay." He smiled. "You feel so nice inside, did you know that?"

His fingers rubbed Tony inside, and the world was close and faraway at the same time, everything hot and tingly all over, and Tony felt himself melt.

"I-- I do?"

"Mmm-hmm," Steve agreed. "So soft. Smooth. Like silk. And warm, too. It's really-- it's really something else, doing this with you, Tony." His eyes shone. "It's an honor."

Tony didn't think he felt any different inside than anyone else did, surely, and Steve clearly had had some experience with this part, with other people. But it was nice of Steve to pretend for him that he was special. All the compliments made Tony feel brighter, made it easier to relax, to sink back down into that place within him where there was nothing but warmth and light and Steve inside him, with everything unnecessary left behind.

Steve worked three fingers in and out of him. Tony couldn't say how long it was. Time didn't seem to mean anything anymore; it felt like he had always been here, that they had always been like this forever. Steve's fingers were broad and warm and slick, stretching him open, wider than ever before, and in the middle of the timelessness Tony found that it didn't hurt at all, that the pressure against the rim of his hole and the deeper throbbing inside weren't pain, only more sensation.

"Would you look at you?" Steve breathed, and he turned his head and kissed the inside of Tony's thigh again. "Look how open you are for me." He smiled. "Do you-- do you want to try four?"

Tony nodded. "More." The word came out of his mouth thickly. Speaking was hard.

Steve pressed another kiss to Tony's thigh. "All right," he said, and it sounded cut off when he said it, like he'd wanted to say something else, some endearment. Which, of course, he couldn't have.

Four-- four was big. There was no way around that. Four started to bring Tony up out of the calm quiet place inside him, up to where he could start to think and form words, back up to where his body realized that this was a thing that could hurt him.

And Steve could see it, too, when he looked at him, because Steve kissed him again, ran his free hand down Tony's thigh to his hip, the touch anchoring him.

"It's okay," Steve repeated, and he didn't tell Tony he was panicking, he didn't tell Tony he could hear Tony's heart pounding. "You're doing great, Tony. I'm so proud of you. You're so amazing. Look what you're doing. And if you want to stop here, like this, that's fine, that's great, that's still an accomplishment. More than ever before. So nice and slick and open. So good."

The praise made it easier to slide his mind sideways and down, not quite falling into it, but close. "Not a disappointment?" Tony whispered, and he knew he was needy, but he needed to know this, he did--

"You?" Steve said, and there was honest surprise in his voice, like he couldn't believe Tony would even need to ask. "Never. And you could never be."

Tony breathed and out, and he thought he might cry from happiness.

More breaths -- Tony couldn't count them anymore -- and then four fingers settled in Tony, and then four seemed like not enough. The idea of more was somewhere over the horizon, like the dawn of a new day, and Tony wanted it with ache somewhere deep in his soul, the way he felt when he was grounded and missed the sky.

"More," Tony rasped. "More, more, Steve, I'm ready, more--"

"Okay," Steve said, and there was a snap in his voice, a presence, a hint of command that made even Tony's blissed-out brain pay attention. Steve was adding more lube as he talked. "Okay. Deep breaths. It might get uncomfortable, but it shouldn't hurt. If you need to call it, Tony, for God's sake, call it. No shame. No judgment, I promise. Okay?"

"Okay," Tony echoed.

And then Steve tucked his thumb in and pushed, and it got wider and wider and wider, and it wasn't letting up, it wasn't ever letting up, and God, how had Tony thought he could do this, any of this--

"Worst part's coming," Steve said, his eyes wide and nervous and pale, and Tony could call it off, he could, he could. Steve had said it was okay.

Tony's mouth opened without him meaning to, soundless, and he choked on nothing, he needed to stop, he needed to. Steve had said it was okay. He could call it--

And then suddenly everything slid, fast, and the terrible pressure lifted, and--


Steve was inside him.

Tony dropped back down into the quiet, easy place within him, falling and falling, and then he realized he wasn't falling at all. It wasn't down. It was up. He was flying, soaring into the sun--

There were tears on his face and he didn't quite know why. It wasn't that it was too much -- except it was too much, but it was that too much was also enough, exactly right, like the way he was built had always been meant for Steve to find his way in, to overwhelm him, to strengthen him.

He hadn't known it would feel like this.

He'd been afraid of intimacy. He hadn't realized what this would be like. He thought he might have feared it, if he'd remembered how to fear, but there was no room for fear in the world now, only an all-encompassing warmth.

Tony wondered if this was what happiness felt like.

"Tony?" Steve asked. "Tony, you're crying--"

"I'm fine," Tony said, as more tears trickled down his cheeks. "I'm fine, I'm fine, it's so good, don't stop, don't ever stop, Steve, please--"

Steve smiled. His eyes were wide and dazed and dark. "Okay," he said, solemnly. "Not stopping. You just let me know when you want me to move." He breathed out, a shaking breath, like he was feeling this too, even though he couldn't possibly be feeling what Tony felt. "Oh my God, Tony. Oh, wow."

Steve's hand inside him seemed so immense that it was difficult to picture him moving. He could feel Steve everywhere within him; he didn't have to clench or bear down; there was just Steve, there and huge and in him.

"Maybe you could move a little," Tony said, wondering as he said it what it would be like. It was already so much. It would be adding too much onto something that was already too much. Infinity plus infinity. He needed it. "If you want."

"If you want, he says," Steve murmured, under his breath, with a fond smile.

Steve rocked his fist inside Tony, a slow rhythm, pressing him all over, everywhere, and that gentle motion, the tiniest possible bend of his wrist, was like ripples in an ocean, an earthquake into a tidal wave. Pleasure grew within him, but not urgently. There was more of it, and more of it, as Steve kept moving his fist. It didn't feel like he had to try to come close to it, like it was something he had to capture. It just was.

Another, greater pleasure rose up in Tony, and it was more than he could hold, and it seemed then that it was spilling out of him, unending. It felt like he was coming, but if he was coming it felt like it never had in his life, the wave of sensation spreading throughout his entire body from where Steve's hand rubbed up inside him again and again, unceasing in this timelessness.

It went on forever, or so it seemed to Tony; he couldn't measure forever, and he didn't want to. He just closed his eyes and let it take him, his whole body. He thought maybe he'd come, that maybe his cock was jerking and spattering his release, but somehow that seemed like the least important part. He didn't even think he'd been hard. But the pleasure kept going and going, and Steve took him through it, moving with the clench and release of his body.

The pleasure ebbed enough that he could think, and he realized that Steve was still staring at him, lips parted, awe writ all over his trembling face. Steve was staring at him like he'd never seen anything better in the world. Like Tony was it for him.

"Oh," Steve said, smiling like he'd been the one enjoying this. "Oh, Tony, that was the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. Thank you for-- for letting me help give you that."

No one had ever looked so glad about making Tony come before. If that was what it had been. "Did-- did I come?" He didn't know what this was, what any of this was. He felt a little ridiculous asking.

"Well," Steve said, kissing his thigh again, "it sure looked like that to me. But you'd know better than I would."

"It felt," Tony whispered, and there really weren't words for how it felt. "It felt more."

"Yeah," Steve said, fondly. "I don't think it matters so much what you call it as long as you like it. I'm glad you liked it. Do you want me to stop?"

He should have wanted Steve to stop. He should have been sore, overstimulated. But it all felt nice. It felt like there was more in him, somewhere, that his body could do things he'd never even known existed.

"I don't want you to stop," Tony told him. "I want more."

Steve smiled a small, soft smile. "You can have as much as you want."

Tony came again as Steve fucked him with his fist. The next one was quiet and easy, just as slow as the first one, as Steve kissed everywhere he could reach -- still mostly Tony's thighs -- and rocked into him again with a smooth roll and tilt of his wrist, pressure everywhere in him, all over in him, exactly where he needed to be. Tony's cock was mostly soft and somehow he came anyway, come smearing his stomach, pleasure moving through his body like a wave of light, lifting him like flying. He didn't know how this was happening, but it didn't matter, because Steve knew, Steve knew everything for him. Steve was here and Steve had him and Steve wasn't letting him go.

"Please," Tony said. "Please, please, Steve, oh, God, so good--"

He hardly recognized his voice, and he could feel the pleasure somewhere he couldn't quite reach, and then Steve's hand pressed in and up and rubbed just a little harder, and he was there--

The last orgasm rode the edge of overstimulation, and tears sprang to Tony's eyes, and he was crying, sobbing all the way through it, calling Steve's name, begging for something he couldn't name, coming dry, and then it was over.

"Okay." Steve nuzzled his thigh. "You look like you've had enough for the night, huh?"

Tony sank back into the bed. He couldn't remember if he had muscles. He didn't feel like he had a body anymore. He supposed his body was where the vague ache was, empty and full at the same time.

"Right," Steve said, as if Tony had answered him. "Out's going to be just like in, okay? You did that, and you can do this--"

And then there was the same discomfort again, only it seemed lesser this time, unable to stand up to Tony's satiated exhaustion. And then Steve was out, and it was over, and Tony was empty. He wanted to sleep for a week. His eyes were already shutting, and he made himself hold them open. Steve wasn't done. He needed to hang in there for Steve.

Steve was wiping his hands off on what was hopefully the towel. Tony felt slick all over, exposed again. But Steve didn't let his legs down right away, and Tony felt a light press of fingertips at his hole, more clinical than the rest.

"No blood," Steve said, approvingly. "I think we're okay."

That was good. It didn't feel like it hurt, really. Felt like it was going to be sore as hell tomorrow, but that was a problem for tomorrow's Tony. Tonight's Tony just wanted to cuddle. He was done. But he couldn't be done yet, because Steve had needs to take care of and Steve had been very, very patient and very, very, very good to Tony.

"My turn to make you happy." Tony tried to wave a hand and succeeded in shrugging a shoulder. "Give me a couple-- minutes? Hours, maybe? Oh, geez." Tony breathed out. Wow, he was tired. "I might need to rest for a bit, sorry."

"No problem. You just stay right there," Steve said, and there was the fast, slick rhythmic sound of Steve jerking himself off. The desperate tension in Steve's voice suggested that he wasn't going to take very long at all. "I've -- oh oh -- got this."

Tony smiled a breathless smile. "You want to admire your handiwork?"

Gathering all the strength he had left, he arched up, rolled onto his side, pulled his leg up so Steve had a better view of his ass, slick and open and exposed. He reached back with one clumsy hand and spread himself open, so Steve could see even better, and Steve made a noise like he was dying. Yeah, that was what Steve wanted.

"Oh, God." The sounds of Steve's fingers sliding over his cock were even faster, and Tony had seen him enough now that he knew what it would look like, Steve fucking his own fist, barely able to wrap his hand around his cock, finally gliding his fingers over the head now that he was close. "Tony, Tony, look at you--"

"All for you," Tony breathed. "Open for you. I could take you, all of you. You could slide right in, come inside me right now--"

Steve made a strangled noise and came, spurting all over Tony's tender ass and thighs, over his hole, coming and coming so much that Tony wondered if somehow he'd come twice, until Steve finally sighed and slowed and stopped.

The bed dipped, and Steve pressed up against him, cuddling up close to him, Steve's front against Tony's back, and, okay, so Tony was a mess of lube and come, and now so was Steve, but at least they were a mess together. Steve held him close, his body heaving against Tony's, and Tony relaxed into his embrace, as Steve's breathing settled.

"Thank you," Steve whispered in Tony's ear, like Tony had been the one doing Steve a favor here, when it had obviously been the other way around. "Thank you so much."

Tony still felt like he was floating. Something about the world had shifted, turned inside out, and he was still there, in that quiet, calm place. He wanted to stay here forever. It felt like maybe he could.

"It was really nice," Tony said, which he knew wasn't the usual response to thank you, but words didn't seem to be something his brain cared about a lot right now. "I feel nice."

Steve kissed Tony's shoulder. "I'm glad," he murmured. "I'm going to try to figure out how to clean us up, okay? I'll be right back." He said the words with a deliberate tone to them, like he knew exactly what Tony needed to hear when Tony was like this, something reassuring and authoritative at the same time. "I promise I am coming right back."

And then Steve was gone, and Tony listened to the sink run for a long time, and then what sounded like the bathtub. There was a lot of water. His mind didn't seem to want to process more than that.

Just about when he was really starting to miss Steve, Steve came back. The water was off. Tony thought maybe he'd fallen asleep for a bit. He wondered if Steve would let him stay.

"The good news," Steve said, from somewhere behind him, "is that you apparently bought very nice lube. The bad news," he said, and Tony almost felt like flinching, because the thought of disappointing Steve was unfathomably terrible, like Tony had no skin left and everything was raw. "The bad news is that it's not coming off with just water."

Oh. Steve wasn't mad. "That's why it's the serious lube," Tony mumbled into the pillow. "Stays where you put it."

"Well, that's a bit of a problem," Steve said, but it sounded like he was smiling. "Given where I put it, and all. Would you like to take a bath with me? I'll clean you up."

That was why he'd run the water. Tony felt like he should have been able to figure that out. It felt like he was trying to think, but everything was slow and golden. The world was made of honey.

He managed to roll over. Steve was smiling at him, a tender smile that made everything so much nicer.

"You don't mind?" Tony asked.

"You let me put my entire hand inside you." Steve's voice was soft with awe. He didn't make it sound tawdry or pornographic, like someone else might have. He just sounded... grateful. Like this was a privilege Tony had bestowed on him. "The least I can do is clean you up."

"Okay," Tony said, and then he frowned. "I'm not sure I can walk yet."

He wasn't sure if that should have concerned him. It didn't, really.

"Don't worry," Steve told him. "I've got you. Put your arms around my neck."

Then, of course, Steve picked him up in a bridal carry, like he weighed nothing. Steve could -- and had -- carried him with two hundred extra pounds of armor. Tony rested his head against Steve's shoulder and it wasn't long at all before he heard water sloshing as Steve stepped into the tub. Steve lowered him down, and Tony sighed happily as he sank into the warm water. That was nice.

And, best of all, there was enough room for Steve to lie there behind him, pulling Tony into his arms, and that was even nicer. Tony was briefly very glad of the fact that, the last time he'd had to remodel the mansion, he'd insisted on splurging on larger bathtubs for everyone, even the people -- like Steve -- who'd insisted that a shower stall would be just fine. He'd figured Steve had probably grown up taking sponge baths in a steel wash tub, or something equally horrifying, and he'd wanted to spoil him. And now it was paying off for both of them.

Tony turned over and pillowed his head on Steve's chest. Steve's heart beat slowly, a comforting thrum.

"There we go," Steve murmured in his ear. "How's that?"

"It's really good," Tony said, and his mouth made a noise that sounded like a laugh. "It's really good inside my head, too."

"Yeah," Steve said, and when Tony craned his neck back he could see Steve smiling. "You looked like you went down pretty hard. Fast, too. I have to say I wasn't expecting to get you into subspace from this, but I'm sure not complaining."

"This is subspace?"

He'd thought, maybe, but he hadn't known for sure, and they hadn't been doing anything particularly kinky, had they? Not like that, at least. Was this what it was like? Why had it happened now? Was there something wrong with him? Was he not doing it right?

Steve's arms tensed around him. "You've never done this before?"

"No?" Tony said, and there was something cold in his stomach, the terrible feeling that he might be disappointing Steve, that he was supposed to know. "I mean, yes, I've-- sometimes, I've been with people and they've tied me up or hit me, or whatever, but it didn't-- it wasn't-- I never felt like this when they did it. Is this okay? Did I do it wrong?"

"God, no!" Steve said, instantly, and the blissful relief was like a weight lifting. "You-- you were perfect, okay? I just wasn't expecting that it would be your first time. If I'd known that, and if I'd had any idea this was going to happen to you, we could have talked about it, so you'd have known what to expect. Like you've been doing for me this whole time. But it's going to be okay. I'm here and I know what to do for you. And you were absolutely wonderful, all right?"

"All right," Tony echoed, and the praise warmed him again. Steve knew what he was doing. It was going to be okay. Steve said so. "You've done this before, huh? Was that in London and Paris, too?"

"Sort of." A soapy washcloth slid down Tony's back and, oh, that was a nice sensation. "We didn't really think of it the same way back then as people do now. The words were different. The scene was different. There wasn't really a scene like there is now, or if there was, I never found it. Just, sometimes, you found someone who knew what they liked, and they knew they liked ropes or leather or what-have-you. There wasn't the same kind of community. But, no, I've done more of it... since I was woken up." His voice was hesitant. Tony could tell Steve didn't want to get more specific.

"I'm glad you're here," Tony mumbled against Steve's chest, spreading his legs so Steve could reach with the washcloth. "I'm glad it's you."

He didn't think Ty or Sunset would have been nearly so gentle with him if he'd felt like this. Tony had always figured he'd just messed up. He couldn't do it right. Maybe he'd just needed the right person.

"I'm glad it's me too," Steve said, very softly.

Steve did not speak much after that; he only cleaned Tony, gently, and held him close, and let Tony doze on his chest, and it was perfect.

Tony was half-asleep when Steve whispered, like a secret, "I'm so glad you let me do this for you." His voice was trembling. "If-- if it doesn't work out, what you wanted me to do to you after this, then at least I'll know that this went right. I've never seen anyone look as happy as you did, in my whole life. I'll always remember it."

Somehow, in this strange bright world, Steve could be with him forever. He didn't have to worry about Steve going, because Steve was here. Now was forever and so Steve was forever too.

Eventually the water grew cooler, and Steve pulled Tony up with him, drained the tub, toweled him off. In the bedroom, Steve wrapped Tony in blankets and then gave him a bottle of water and -- oddly -- a chocolate bar. Tony wouldn't have said he was hungry, but the chocolate seemed to be the thing he needed, and Steve smiled at him as Tony licked chocolate off his fingers.

Steve liked to provide for people, Tony realized. He felt like if he were more himself, he might be embarrassed to take advantage of Steve so much, but he couldn't muster up any feeling other than exhausted fuzzy warmth.

And then Steve put both his hands on Tony's shoulders, looking into Tony's eyes, like this was serious. "I don't know where you were planning to sleep tonight," Steve said, "but I really think you should sleep with me. You're still pretty far under, and I don't want to leave you alone like this, because I don't want you to wake up alone."

"Okay," Tony agreed. Sleeping with Steve sounded great. He couldn't remember why he'd ever objected, really.

Steve slid one hand up the side of Tony's neck, ran his thumb over his jawline. "Here's the important part, okay?" His gaze was intent. "Since you've never done this before, you don't know how you're going to come out of this. You might drop. And if you drop, you might drop hard."

"Okay," Tony said, vaguely. It didn't seem like something he should worry about. Nothing did.

"So if you wake up, and it doesn't feel right, inside your head, I want you to do something for me, okay?" It was the voice Steve used when he was reassuring civilians. "I want you to wake me up. Because I'm going to help you. I'm not going to let anything happen to you, okay, Tony? You got that?"

"I got that," Tony echoed, and Steve smiled.

Steve got up and dimmed the lights -- not all the way off, because he knew Tony hated the darkness -- and then he lay back down, pulling Tony close.

Tony shut his eyes and pressed his face against Steve's bare shoulder. Steve smelled mostly like his soap, clean and faintly gingery, but there was a familiar warm sweetness underneath. Now there was nothing in the world but Steve. Smiling, Tony fell asleep.

Chapter Text

Tony woke, cold. The warm, easy bliss that had been in him had evaporated while he'd slept, and within him was only a bleak despair, the gray nothingness of depression, the hollow in his soul that he'd spent years trying to fill with liquor, open and empty and bleeding.

What had he been thinking, doing this? Doing any of this? God, he'd just thrown himself all over Steve, selfish and needy. And Steve didn't love him, he knew Steve didn't love him, and here he'd been, demanding everything of Steve, begging for special treatment. He'd gotten too close. Steve held Tony's heart in his hands and he could crush it in an instant, and there was no reason he shouldn't.

And Steve was going to. He knew that. Tomorrow, probably, this was going to be over, and Steve would be gone, and he was going to rip Tony apart, and Tony, like an idiot, had just handed him everything he needed to hurt him.

He shouldn't have gotten close at all. Steve was going to leave. And not just because everyone left. Steve was going to leave because that was what they had agreed on. And then there was going to be nothing.

Tony remembered, hazily, how he'd talked to Steve, how he'd kept pushing for Steve's praise, obvious and clumsy and terrible. It was like having half-formed memories of a blackout, the next morning. Jesus Christ, he'd made Steve tell him he was doing everything okay. For fuck's sake, he'd even asked Steve if he had come. What kind of idiot had he been?

Steve was going to have to look at him and remember how pathetic he'd been. What the hell was Steve going to think of him?

To his horror, he realized he was starting to cry.

And that was when Steve woke up.

"Oh, Tony," Steve breathed, and then Steve was holding him close before Tony could say anything. "Sweetheart, it's okay." He paused. There was enough light in the room for Tony to see Steve wince. And then, just as clearly, Steve decided not to draw attention to what he'd said.

He hadn't meant the endearment, obviously. He'd been asleep. It had been an accident. And here Steve was, holding him anyway, just because Tony needed it. Tony didn't know how Steve could bear to touch him. He didn't know why Steve would have wanted to.

"I'm fine," Tony lied.

"You're not," Steve said. "But that's okay. This is normal. You know how, sometimes, the battle's over and you feel like hell? Even if you won? You get that adrenaline crash and the world's a lousy place for a bit? This is that. This is the same thing. Brain chemistry. You're going to feel better. Right now I know you feel like you won't, but you will, okay?"

"How do you--" Tony began, but all the words came out jumbled. "How can you even-- why are you so nice about this, about everything--"

Steve opened his mouth, his throat working, like he was having a hard time coming up with an answer. It figured. Steve was a terrible liar.

"You're my friend," Steve said, finally. "And I don't want you to be in pain. I know what we did, what we've been doing is -- well, it's a lot to take in." He paused. "You can say that's what she said, if you want."

Tony laughed despite himself. "It's like you're trying to make me feel better."

"Yeah, it's like I care about you or something, I don't know," Steve said, dryly, and Tony glanced up and saw him smile. "I really do," he added, with his usual earnestness. "And I know that right now you probably feel upset and scared, and I know you don't want to talk about it."

"You're going to tell me I should talk about it anyway," Tony said, dull and resigned, knowing that he'd hand Steve a knife and let him press it to his throat if Steve ever asked.

"Nope," Steve said. "I'm going to do the talking. I'm going to tell you that I'm right here, and you're amazing, and you're wonderful, and you're my best friend, you've always been my favorite Avenger--"

The compliment should have been good, but it twisted and tangled in the gnarled pathways of Tony's broken mind, a light flickering and casting shadows.

"Liar," Tony said, meaning it to sound like a joke, but knowing it really wasn't one, because Steve obviously couldn't like him best. "I'm going to tell Jan you said that. And Sam. I'm going to tell Jan and Sam you said that."

It was going to be difficult to explain it to them without the context, though, so he definitely wasn't.

"Sam's a good partner and a great friend," Steve said, without a pause. "And everyone likes Jan. She's an excellent teammate. But I--" he paused and seemed to be fumbling for words-- "you're-- you're you, Tony. A category unto yourself. And you have been, since the day I met you. There's no one like you. And of all the people I could have met in the future, I'm so happy it was you."

"You're sweet," Tony said, and this time Steve's compliment felt better, warmer, filling the hollow within him. "But you'd have followed anyone home, though, come on."

"I don't know if I can say what I would have done if you hadn't been there," Steve said. "I don't like to think about a world where you never found me. I'm just glad we live in a world where you did."

"Me too," Tony said, and he realized he was smiling.

Even if Steve didn't love him, Steve was still his friend. He needed to remember that.

It was still going to be hell, but maybe he could get through this.

Neither of them slept the rest of the night. There hadn't been much of the night left when Tony had woken, to begin with, and Steve seemed perfectly happy to spend it holding Tony close. He didn't speak as much for the rest of it, but that was enough, and by the time Steve's alarm went off, Tony was beginning to feel better. Not happy, and certainly not ecstatic, but less like he wanted to try filling the gaping wounds in his soul with a ten-year-old single malt. He'd take it.

"It wouldn't necessarily always be like this, you know," Steve said, and there was something oddly sad in his voice, a low quaver of wrongness.

Standing there with his shirt in his hands, Tony turned around to see Steve staring off into the middle distance. Was something wrong with Steve? Was Steve sad? They hadn't done anything that should have made Steve sad, had they?

"What do you mean?"

"The drop," Steve said. His eyes still weren't quite focusing. "If you ever end up in subspace again, if you ever want to try something that... induces it -- dropping once is not a guarantee that it will always happen. It's not some kind of curse." His smile was somehow a fragile thing. "It'll be easier on you if you're with someone you love," he added.

Tony thought his heart might stop.

Steve didn't know, he told his pounding heart. It was okay. Steve hadn't figured it out.

"You know," Steve clarified, "a committed relationship. If you know they love you too and won't leave you, then you'll feel more secure to start with, and it's less likely that it'll send your brain spiraling in on itself like that. Or so they say."

It was a good thing Steve wasn't really looking at him, just looking off into the distance, because Tony was sure his face would have given it all away.

Even if he told Steve he loved him, that wouldn't help. What good was that going to do Tony? Steve couldn't reassure him that he was going to be there for him, that he was never going to leave him. What they had was the exact opposite of commitment.

Steve didn't love him back, so it was hopeless. Tony was already with someone he loved, and he couldn't do anything about the part he was missing. He would have needed Steve's love. Steve's faithfulness. Neither of those existed. Tony supposed that Steve was being kind by not mentioning it.

Tony swallowed hard and pushed everything away, down into the numbness. He couldn't let Steve know.

"Okay," Tony said. "That's-- that's good to know. Thank you."

Steve blinked and looked up at him. His smile, still wavering, was encouraging. "I just don't want you to think you did anything wrong, to have this happen to you. It'll be different when you're not with me. When you're with someone you feel... differently... about." He breathed in and out, slowly. "Are you going to be okay, for right now?"

Tony shrugged. "Even if I weren't, I'd still have to go to work."

This had apparently been the wrong answer, because Steve's eyes flashed dark with concern. "I can come by your office later," Steve said, instantly. "Or I can just come to work with you if you want."

Yeah, Pepper was going to be thrilled about that. She probably wouldn't let Steve in the door. And then Tony would have to explain to Steve how he'd accidentally told Pepper they were together, for some fucked-up value of the word together, and Steve would probably be pissed, because Steve wanted to keep this whole thing secret, and, yeah, that wasn't going to work. At all.

"I'll be fine," Tony said. "Besides, I'm sure you're busy. I'm sure I'm busy, too."

Steve's jaw was still tense with that familiar stubborn determination. "Okay, but if you start feeling bad, if you need me, you call me, okay? I'll be there. Or I'll just talk, if that's better for you. Whatever you need."

He couldn't have what he needed.

"Yeah, okay," Tony said, and he pulled his shirt on. "I've got this."

Naturally, about ten seconds after leaving Steve's room, Tony began to regret everything. He had thought he was feeling better, but apparently that only applied when Steve was in the same room as him. Fragments of happiness ebbed away from him as if he were standing outside at twilight and feeling the world grow darker and colder around him.

It didn't really matter. Tony had built his life around the ability to be functional while hating himself; an adrenaline crash and the aftereffects of his brain having spent all its endorphins in one night wasn't going to be anything he couldn't handle with the tools he already had. He was getting through this. It was just his brain trying to kill him again.

By the time he was wearing a clean suit and ready to face the world again, it was late enough that Steve -- who, naturally, had kicked him out of his room early -- would have already left.

That meant that the only person in the kitchen by the time Tony got down there ended up being Clint.

And Clint, of course, was giving him the silent treatment. Yeah, he was definitely still pissed.

After two minutes of excruciating silence in which Tony waited for his toast to be done, and Clint ate a bagel and pointedly ignored him, Tony finally cracked.

"I'm sorry," Tony said. "It was really great of you to help me out the other day with all the Taskmaster stuff, I just--"

Of course, he didn't exactly know what he was going to say, because the actual explanation wasn't something he could tell anyone.

But Clint, thank God, held up a hand to stop him. "I don't know what you and Cap have done," he said, "and I don't actually want to know, but you're a hell of a lot weirder about him than you usually are."

Well, at least Clint didn't know or want the actual explanation.

"I'm weird about him?"

Clint raised an eyebrow. "Usually, when he's hurt, you at least wait until you think the rest of us aren't looking to hold his hand."

Oh. Tony supposed that was true.

"But whatever it is," Clint continued, "for the good of the team, could you maybe try just a little harder to fucking keep it together?"

He glared at Tony, waiting for an answer.

Tony supposed it was a bad sign when the Avenger who was standing here giving him a talk on shaping up was Clint fucking Barton.

"That's a great speech, Hawkeye," Tony said, because retreating into sarcasm was clearly the best tactic to soothe his own hurt pride. "Quality team chair material. You get Cap to give you notes on that one?"

"I mentioned your name and he looked like I'd run over his goddamn puppy," Clint said. "So, no, he didn't. What the fuck is up with you two, Tony?"

"You said you didn't want to know." Tony quoted Clint's words back to him.

Clint definitely wasn't going to like the sentence Steve shoved his hand up my ass last night and now I'm sad because he doesn't love me. No one was going to like that sentence. Tony already wasn't a fan.

"I don't," Clint said. "I just want both of you to stop fucking up."

"Message received," Tony said. His face was hot.

His toast popped up, and Tony decided now was probably the best time to make an exit.

And then, of course, Tony still had to go to work.

Pepper looked up at him, worry in her eyes, as soon as he stepped in the door, which meant, of course, that he already had to admit to one more failure -- though he was, in a way, thankful about this one, because the promise of seeing Steve again was possibly the only thing making him feel like being a human being was something with any kind of positive element.

"I didn't do it yet," Tony said, before she could say anything. "I-- I couldn't tell him, so-- just, please don't--"

He couldn't make himself say anything more; he felt like he'd start crying if he did.

"Okay," Pepper said, quietly, understanding in her voice. "It's okay, Tony. Let me know if you need anything. Your first meeting's in half an hour. Let me know if you need that moved."

"I'll be okay," Tony said, because there weren't really any other options.

His office was starting to look more and more like his office again and not like the site of an apocalypse. Tony made his way around his desk and sat down in his chair, and, ow, fuck, his ass was really sore. He supposed that that figured, given what he'd been up to. But Steve was going to want him tonight, wasn't he? So he had to be up to it.

His gaze sought out the Avengers picture on his desk, which still lay there, face-up, broken. He probably should get it reframed, he thought, but the thought didn't feel like it had a point. It didn't feel like anything had a point.

Steve said he should call if he needed him.

Tony fumbled in his pocket and drew out his identicard, flipping the card over and over. He wasn't going to call. He had things to do. He could make it through this alone. It was just depression. He could do depression. But it was nice to know that Steve would be there if he needed him. It was a promise, even if it wasn't the promise he wanted. It was a reminder that he really wasn't actually alone.

In his other pocket was his five-year AA coin, and he just wasn't going to think about why he'd decided he needed that with him today. He ran his fingers over the smooth, cool rim of the coin, the metal pressing comfortingly into his skin.

He ought to call Henry, was what he ought to do -- but then, there was no way he was explaining this to Henry.

He could make it through this. He had to.

The first three meetings were fine -- Starkware, one of his accountants, and a very beleaguered woman who Tony gathered got to talk to the insurance people about damages, and whom he apparently did not pay enough for this. He scrawled a note to himself to give her a raise.

It was almost noon, and Tony was trying to decide what he could possibly make himself eat when he heard Pepper's urgent, upset voice calling him through the door.

"Tony, I'm sorry, you have a visitor, I couldn't stop him--"

Maybe it was Steve. A glimmer of hope warmed him. Steve had offered to come by, hadn't he? Maybe Steve had decided to come check on him, after all, even though Tony had told him not to. Tony really would have expected Steve to respect what he'd said even if Steve disagreed with it, but, well, Steve had been acting a little bit off ever since this whole thing had started, so maybe he'd changed his mind.

Turning around, Tony sat up straighter, looking for a glimpse of that familiar uniform--

"I'm glad I caught you," Morgan said.

He couldn't do this. There was nothing in him left to do this. He was entirely out of ability to cope with his life.

Morgan stood in the doorway, leaning on the doorframe, twirling his cane in a move straight out of a low-budget movie, the villain chewing the scenery. He'd come by to gloat, Tony realized. He wanted to see what Taskmaster had done to the place with his own two eyes. He wanted to judge for himself whether it had ruined Tony.

Tony's ruin was unrelated, mostly, but the timing was pretty good.

"Hi, Morgan," Tony said. His voice scraped his throat. "What can I do for you?"

Think, Tony told himself. Clint's talk with Taskmaster had been only unofficial. Morgan probably didn't know that Taskmaster had given him up. Unfortunately, with no way to make it stick, Taskmaster hadn't really given him up -- so pressing the point now was going to have unpredictable and probably dire consequences, because as of right now, Morgan was still, technically, getting away with it.

Tony couldn't push him. He'd just have to sit here and take this and hope Morgan went away soon.

"I read in the paper yesterday that you'd been burgled by one of those masked villains over the weekend," Morgan said. His expression fell in a very convincing grimace. "Terrible, terrible stuff, isn't it?" He clicked his tongue. "What a world."

"Eh," Tony said, with as unworried a smile as he could manage. He shrugged, but it felt more like a shudder. "This kind of thing happens to me a lot. No big deal. That's why I have Iron Man on retainer."

"Oh, of course," Morgan said, smoothly. "Is he well? Are you well? Is everything all right here? It was just that I saw the pictures in the paper yesterday, and it seemed like there was quite a lot of damage. The Avengers seemed... injured."

"What pictures?"

There had been pictures? Jesus, if there had been press there, Tony hadn't even been paying attention. He hadn't cared about anything except getting Steve home safely.

In answer, Morgan stepped inside and shifted the pile of newspapers that Tony hadn't read yet, flipping over the bottom one. They'd made the front page, apparently. Boy, had they.

Morgan was smiling. "Not the most interesting pictures I've seen recently, though," he murmured. "I still have those, by the way."

Tony would have cared more about the threat if he hadn't been transfixed by the newspaper. He stared at the blurry, smeared picture and everything in him went cold. There had been a press cordon across the street, of course. He'd never noticed. In the blur of dark-uniformed officers behind police tape, the Avengers stood out, a riot of color. Clint had his back to the camera, talking to a SHIELD agent, and Thor and Wanda were caught in motion, a wedge pushing out and making room for the center, which was, of course, Tony carrying Steve to safety.

He'd pulled the cowl back over Steve's head in some cursory attempt at preserving his secret identity, but it was obvious that Steve had gone down hard; blood was drying all over the side of his face. In the photo, Iron Man cradled Captain America in his arms, and even though there was a full-body suit of armor involved, it was crystal-clear from the way he was standing that there was nothing in the world for him except the man in his arms. He was curled over him, holding him protectively; from this angle Tony couldn't even see the faceplate of the helmet in the photo. Tony could see Steve's face, though; Steve stared up at him, glassy-eyed, barely conscious, one gloved hand resting on the side of the helmet, clinging to him like a lifeline.

Oh, God. He'd done that to Steve. That had been his fault, and now everyone had seen. He'd nearly gotten Steve killed, and Steve didn't even-- Steve didn't even--

"He's fine," Tony said, desperately. "St-- Cap-- Captain America, he's absolutely fine. All better. The Avengers, uh, they told me." That wasn't even what Morgan had asked, he'd realized. "And, uh, Iron Man, he's fine too."

Okay, so that one was definitely a lie.

Morgan was studying him carefully, and Tony could see the edges of the barely-suppressed smile on his face. "Still, I understand how difficult this must be for you," he murmured, with an emotion that was probably supposed to sound like sympathy slathered all over his voice. "It is an awful lot of stress to be under, when these calamities happen right here in your very office."

"It's fine," Tony said. His voice was shaking. God, he couldn't hold on. "Taskmaster hardly touched my office, anyway. The worst of it was the door, and that was actually Thor's fault for putting him straight through it."

Belatedly, he hoped that that detail had made it to the papers, because that sure sounded like something that Tony Stark, Avengers benefactor, shouldn't know about Avengers operations.

Even his identities were slipping. He was a wreck.

He probably looked like hell, too.

"If you say so," Morgan said. The awful note in his voice that was meant to be soothing ramped up, and Tony tried not to wince. "Anyway, I wanted to express my sympathies. When I saw that photo of the Avengers, well, naturally I thought of you."

"Of course," Tony said, and he couldn't help but think of the other photos, the ones Morgan had fabricated.

"You really don't look so well, Tony. Have you been sleeping?"

Tony could see the goddamn glee in Morgan's eyes, as everything within him went colder and colder.

"I'm fine. Thank you for your concern," Tony said, channeling the depression into ice. "And, don't worry, I haven't forgotten about the meeting next week. I understand that you want what's best for the company."

"Oh, but I want what's best for you, Tony," Morgan said.

What Tony wanted was to present him with Taskmaster's signed confession. What Tony wanted was to punch Morgan right in the face.

He wondered if maybe this was why he had problems believing that his friends actually liked him, if this was what he got from his family.

"You're very kind," Tony said. "Unfortunately, though, I'm very busy right now, so if you could...?" He raised his eyebrows and gave the door a significant look.

"Oh!" Morgan said. "Oh, yes, of course. See you soon, Tony."

As soon as the coast was clear, Tony slumped all the way forward and put his head on the desk. The polished wood was cool and unyielding against his face. He couldn't do this. Maybe Morgan was right. Maybe he deserved to lose everything. He'd done it before, after all, when Obadiah Stane had come calling. And Steve wasn't Indries Moomji, but Tony was beginning to think that this was going to have exactly the same effect. He had nothing to hold onto.

He fumbled in his pocket again. His coin was there. His identicard was there. He wasn't going to think about the cold, or the snow, or what it had felt like to be a hollowed-out shell of a man.

The edges of the identicard bit into Tony's fingers. If you need me, Steve had said.

He was weak, taking Steve up on this, he was weak and terrible and ashamed, but he couldn't do this alone.

He sat up.

"Hey, Pepper?" Tony called out. "Clear the rest of my afternoon, would you? I've got an Avengers situation."

Time to go home.

Tony didn't bother calling first. A quick check of his identicard told him Steve was still at the mansion, and that meant it was probably okay to come by -- any actual emergencies would have involved Steve getting out of the house and punching someone. The locator said Steve was downstairs, in the gym, and it was very unlikely that he was punching anything except bags.

Sure, Steve would still have to deal with him, but it meant that Tony wasn't interrupting anything big.

He could feel something lighten in him already as he stepped inside the mansion, just the thought of seeing Steve doing wonders for his mood. He shouldn't need Steve this much. It was like Steve was an addiction, another addiction, and he knew withdrawal was going to hit soon. And there wasn't anything he could do about it.

And then Tony stopped in the doorway of the gym and stared, open-mouthed, because Steve was on the rings.

Bare to the waist, Steve was holding himself in a perfect handstand in midair, his form the envy of any gymnast. His grip didn't falter; his body didn't shake. Chalk was spattered halfway up his forearms, and every muscle in his arms and shoulders stood out in gorgeous definition. He kept his legs together and his bare feet pointed, his body perfectly aligned. He was elegance, grace, and power. Even though it would have been an immense strain for anyone else, he kept holding the pose for long seconds, and Tony just stared.

Good God, but Steve was beautiful. Tony knew Steve owed all this to the serum, and he knew he'd have loved Steve without it -- it hadn't been so long ago, in Tony's Force Works days, that the serum had left Steve, just before Onslaught had come, and Tony had made him armor to keep him alive, so it wasn't as if Tony was speaking theoretically about this -- but, well, Tony had always thought he was gorgeous.

Steve's eyes were shut; he didn't know Tony was here. His expression was an odd combination of peaceful and sad, as if he had been here, doing this, looking for rest... and had found none.

Still unseeing, eyes still closed, Steve dropped out of the pose and swung down and into another hold. Now he was even with the rings, parallel to the floor, facing down. His arms were stretched out to either side of him, a cross position. Tony could only imagine the strength it took to hold the rest of his body level, but he did it without any sign of stress. Peak human, indeed.

Steve's bare chest rose and fell, slowly, as he took huge breaths.

That was when Steve opened his eyes and saw him.

"Tony!" Steve said, surprise and dismay in his voice, and then he fell off the rings.

That was what it looked like to Tony, anyway; if his dismount had been intentional, it was a disaster. Steve dropped fast and lopsided, barely getting his feet under him before he hit the mat. He stumbled and swayed and nearly tripped over his own feet. He wasn't usually clumsy.

"Whoa," Tony said, stumbling forward, with his hands out in case he needed to catch Steve. "Are you okay?"

"Fine, fine," Steve said, but he didn't sound fine. "Are you okay, though? You said you were going to be busy. I wasn't expecting you to--"

"I'm not okay," Tony blurted out, and he took two more steps forward, closed his eyes, and threw himself into Steve's arms, because this was what he'd come to. Another nadir in his life. Steve didn't love him, but it was going to have to be enough for him, because Steve was what he needed. "I'm not okay at all."

He tucked his face against Steve's neck. Steve's skin was hot, and he smelled like sweat and chalk, and Tony didn't care.

"Oh, geez, Tony," Steve said, low and sad. His arms went around Tony gingerly, not quite touching him, which was definitely not what Tony wanted. "It's going to be all right. Do you want to give me a couple minutes? I'm covered in chalk, and you're wearing a nice suit and everything--"

"It doesn't matter," Tony mumbled against Steve's skin. "Please, just-- it doesn't matter, just-- please--"

Never let me go.

"It's going to matter if you end up with a chalk handprint on your ass," Steve muttered, but then he was holding Tony tight anyway, and, oh, it was exactly what Tony had hoped for, what he had needed. A balm to his soul.

"I have had a terrible morning," Tony told him. "Clint wanted to give me a talking-to, if you can believe that, and then at the office Morgan came by and I... I couldn't handle it. And I just-- I really missed you, and I just felt worse and worse, and you said if I needed you, you said--"

Steve had to have figured out he was in love with him now. It had to be obvious. Tony was almost beyond caring. Steve was going to leave him anyway, so what did it matter if he knew the truth first?

Luckily, he had a shred of self-preservation left.

Steve held him even closer. "I know," he said. "I know. I meant what I said. I'm sorry you felt low enough that you had to come by," he murmured, but before Tony could even feel bad about inconveniencing him, he continued, "but I'm really, really glad you decided to. I figured that, no matter how you felt, you'd probably think you had to suffer alone, and you don't have to. You've got me, okay?"

"I was planning to suffer alone," Tony admitted, because of course Steve had figured that much out, and, wow, he felt like an idiot just saying it. "But I just-- I felt--"

"I know," Steve said again, and Tony not having to talk about his feelings and still getting reassured was even better. "Here, here, come on--"

Steve wobbled and pulled them down, until they were sitting on the edge of the pile of gym mats, and then Steve pulled him into him, and then down into his lap, so that they were pressed together, leg to hip to shoulder, and it felt absolutely right. And also, Tony thought, like something they probably shouldn't be doing here, where anyone could see. He glanced guiltily at the open doorway.

"You really think we should be, uh, this close?" Tony asked. "In public?"

"I'm not doing anything I'd be ashamed of anyone seeing. You're my friend." Steve's reply was instant. It was nice, Tony supposed, that Steve wasn't ever ashamed of anything. "But I'll stop if you want."

Steve didn't let him go completely, but he did slide Tony off his lap, so the hug was a little more like a way two friends who definitely weren't fucking might convincingly have been touching each other.

"Okay," Steve continued. "I'm all yours for as long as you need me. Anything I can do for you other than hug you? Whatever it is, you can have it."

Tony's plans hadn't really extended past Be In The Same Room As Steve. Some futurist he was. "I didn't have anything in mind," Tony said, and God, he was admitting everything, wasn't he? "I just... wanted to see you."

Steve's smile was like sunshine. A hit of happiness. Tony soaked it all up. "Well, you're looking at me," Steve said, still grinning, and his arm tightened over Tony's shoulders. He was smearing chalk on Tony's sleeve. Tony reveled, again, in the thought of being marked. Steve bit his lip; oddly, he looked nervous. "Do you, uh-- do you want to go see that movie with me, maybe? It'd be something to do, and I'd be right there with you, so you wouldn't feel so lonely."

This wasn't a date. This couldn't be a date. There was no way Steve was asking him out. They saw movies all the time. That was what this was.

"The movie you already saw?" Tony asked, and he didn't know why he was trying to talk Steve out of it when what he wanted was the exact opposite.

Steve was unfazed. "Yeah, that one. You'll like it, I told you."

"But you already saw it," Tony pointed out.

There was something wistful about Steve's smile. "There are a hell of a lot of things I'd do more than once if that meant I got to do them with you."

He couldn't mean what Tony wanted him to mean, but it was nice to pretend.

"If you're sure you don't mind," Tony said, and he leaned into Steve's embrace just because he could, "then I'd love to. As long as you buy me popcorn, mind you. I've got expectations, Rogers." He couldn't resist teasing him a little.

"Extra-large," Steve said, promptly. "All for you."

"I didn't think we were talking about that in public," Tony said, because he couldn't not, when Steve had left him that kind of opening. "Thought that was for after the movie."

Steve went bright red, started laughing too hard to breathe, and -- still laughing -- pulled Tony's head down, a mock-tussle that Tony ended by rolling Steve over, shoving him to the mat, and kissing him once, quickly, after checking that no one else was around to see. Steve didn't seem to mind.

Tony ended up with chalk in his hair. It was worth it.

God, he wanted this to be real. It wasn't fair.

Steve did, in fact, buy him the extra-large popcorn.

In the darkened movie theater, Tony let himself pretend. So many of the other people here were couples; it was easy to spin out a private little fantasy where they were too. In this fantasy, Tony was braver than he really was; he'd stretch his arm out over the back of Steve's seat, and then casually lower it to rest on Steve's shoulders. Classic date move. And maybe Steve would lean in a little, nestle against him, because in this fantasy Steve would want to touch him, when other people were watching, here where anyone could see them. In this fantasy, Steve was proud of him.

They weren't touching.

As the movie started and the credits came up, green-on-black ASCII like an old VT100 terminal, Tony realized that this was probably exactly when Steve knew he'd like the movie, because he glanced over and saw that Steve was watching him rather than the movie. Steve was smiling at him in anticipation, the way he looked on birthdays and holidays when he wanted to know what Tony thought of his present. And the thing about Steve was that Steve always knew what he liked.

Tony grinned and gave him a thumbs-up, and Steve grinned back.

Tony could do this. He could live like this. Steve liked him. It wasn't bad. It wasn't everything he'd ever wanted, sure, but that was life. It would be okay.

He maintained that opinion for an impressive hour and forty-five minutes, which was the point in the Definitely Not A Date friendly movie-watching experience when Steve sort of kind of started ambiguously holding his hand.

Tony had one arm on the armrest between them and the popcorn bucket balanced against his other arm. Steve reached over, took a handful of popcorn, ate it. But when Steve reached out again, he only went halfway. His hand settled on Tony's bare forearm... and stayed.

It wasn't a caress. He didn't lightly stroke Tony's arm with his fingertips. He didn't trace aimless patterns across Tony's skin. And he wasn't even holding Tony's hand; his fingers went up as far as Tony's wrist. It was the kind of casual touch he might have given Tony any day of the week, at any time in their acquaintance, to get his attention. But it wasn't just a brief tap. His hand stayed there, planted on Tony's arm, as brazen and as intentional as anything, as if this was where Steve's hand obviously belonged. Right here. Touching Tony.

He had Tony's attention, all right.

If the last forty-five minutes of the movie had a plot, Tony had no idea what it was. The film could have caught on fire and Tony wouldn't have noticed. The theater could have caught on fire and... okay, Tony would probably have noticed that one, but only because Steve would have stopped holding his hand.

But Steve didn't stop. Tony spent the entire rest of the movie wondering what the hell Steve was thinking. If it had been some kind of mistake, if Steve somehow just hadn't noticed that he was touching Tony. If he was going to move his hand. Surely he was going to move his hand. Any minute now. Tony couldn't remember caring about anyone holding his hand this much since he was thirteen. His entire world had narrowed to the awareness of that pressure, of the warmth of Steve's skin, of the shield-calluses on Steve's huge, gentle fingers.

He kept his gaze fixed resolutely on the screen. He couldn't bring himself to look over at Steve, to see whether Steve was still watching him, whether he was waiting for Tony's reaction. Maybe it had been a joke. Maybe he was waiting to catch Tony out, waiting for Tony to reciprocate, to make some kind of move in return, so Steve could laugh and dash all his hopes, so he could tell Tony he'd been an idiot for even entertaining the idea that this gesture could have meant something--

No, that was ridiculous and that wasn't what Steve would do. Ever. Steve was a better man than that.

On the other hand, this wasn't what Steve would do, either. Tony didn't have a frame of reference for this. Not when it was Steve. With anyone else it would obviously have meant something, but Steve didn't want him like that. He knew that. They'd established that. Friends with benefits. Steve had been perfectly clear.

Tony couldn't take this. This was everything he wanted, but he wanted it for real, and he couldn't have that. He should have moved his arm away, but he couldn't make himself do that, either. He was going to take as much of Steve as Steve would give him, until the bitter end.

Steve's hand stayed on his arm for the entire rest of the movie.

And when the credits began to roll, and the lights came up, Steve moved his hand away, smoothly, as if it had never been there.

If Tony had been a braver man, he would have asked. He would have said something. He would have reached out and taken Steve's hand, and then waited to see what would happen.

Maybe Steve would say something, he thought, hopefully.

"So," Steve said, with a cheerful, innocent smile, like he hadn't spent the past forty-five minutes holding Tony's hand in public, albeit in the dark, "what did you think?"

So much for that.

"It was great." Tony attempted to give him the same smile back. "I really enjoyed it. Thanks for thinking of me."

This was what he got.

Steve took him out to dinner afterwards, too, because apparently he was determined to hit every milestone on what was definitely Not A Date. Steve had clearly decided that Tony more than anything else would appreciate comfort food -- which seemed, honestly, to have been his attitude to feeding Tony all week -- so they ended up at an Italian place.

It was been a meal like every other meal the two of them had had together in their acquaintance; Steve didn't brush up against him under the table or gaze longingly into his eyes or do anything that a normal person would have regarded as a date. They talked about the Avengers. They talked about the movie. Steve did not mention anything about how he'd spent half the movie casually holding Tony's hand. Neither did Tony.

And because they certainly didn't talk about anything else they were doing, Tony didn't have a chance to explain that he wasn't really feeling up for this tonight.

The food was good, though. Steve insisted on paying, at which point Tony started thinking that he'd really better tell Steve he didn't want to put out. Steve was already going to be disappointed, though; Tony had probably waited too long as it was.

They came back home together, standing outside the mansion in the dark as Tony fumbled for his identicard so he could get them both in the gate.

"So are you feeling any better yet?" Steve asked. His hand went to Tony's back -- bracing, solicitous, and perfectly friendly. A few inches lower and it might have meant something. "Was this... what you wanted?"

Tony supposed they were omitting the part of the Not-Date that would have involved making out at the front door.

"Yeah," Tony said, and he realized that it was actually true. Sure, he wasn't great, but it was the entirely explicable and reasonable level of sadness that he'd felt since he'd started this whole thing with Steve; it wasn't the crushing and bleak depression that had seized him in the middle of the night last night. "Yeah, I'm feeling a lot better. Thank you. I know you probably had other things to do today."

Steve's reply was immediate. "Nothing that couldn't wait. You needed me."

I still need you, Tony thought about saying. And even though that was true, he couldn't have Steve with him tonight, because the only reason for Steve to stay was if Steve wanted to fuck him, and Tony hoped that wasn't happening.

He got the gate open, finally, and Steve, ever the gentleman, held it open as they went in. Tony considered the mansion's closed door. Now was really his last chance to break his solitary plans for tonight to Steve, while they were alone. Who knew how many Avengers were still milling about inside?

"Listen, Steve," Tony began. "About tonight--"

Jarvis opened the door. Fabulous. There went Tony's chance to talk about any of this.

"Master Stark! Captain Rogers!" Jarvis said, with a smile. "Welcome home!"

"Thanks, Jarvis," Tony said, as Jarvis ushered them inside.

"Will either of you want dinner?" Jarvis asked. "The rest of the Avengers have eaten, but there's most of a roast chicken left--"

Steve shook his head. "Thanks, but no. Not for me, at least. We ate out."

It was a funny thing, Steve referring to the two of them as we. Tony was sure Steve had done it before -- they'd been teammates for a decade, after all -- but he had never been so conscious of it as he was right now. It was so close to what he wanted, and in some ways it was worse than not having it at all.

Jarvis glanced over at Tony, seeking his opinion.

"I'm not hungry either," Tony said, as smoothly as he could. "But thank you. I think I'm going to turn in for the night, actually. Try to get some sleep."

The thing was, that was what he actually, truly wanted to do -- but, thanks to Jarvis' presence, it was also exactly what he would have said if he'd wanted Steve to wait a few minutes, follow him back to his room, and then fuck him through the mattress. And Steve obviously knew that. Even if they'd come up with some kind of coded way to say it, which they hadn't, Steve wasn't the kind of guy who was going to be able to discuss whether they were down to fuck, in any allusive way, while there was anyone around to hear them.

And therefore, Steve was probably going to assume Tony wanted it tonight, because he'd wanted it every other night this week. And Tony was going to have to let him down.

Of course, the other possibility, that Steve would have finally decided that Tony wasn't worth the trouble even before getting to fuck him, and wouldn't bother coming up -- well, that was pretty terrible too.

"Good night," Steve said, with a polite smile -- which didn't really narrow down the possibilities one way or the other. Great.

Tony smiled back and headed upstairs, letting his shoulders slump as soon as he hit the landing and was out of sight. He sighed and let himself in. Everything was where he'd left it, even the little jar of lube he'd brought back from Steve's this morning, still sitting on the nightstand. He threw it in the top drawer, sighed again, and started getting undressed.

By the time he'd gotten his pajamas on, it was time to accept that Steve wasn't coming.

He should have figured, he told himself, and as gray gloominess spread over him, a blanket of fog, he realized that this had been the worst of the options, and he hadn't known until now, when he had to live with it.

There was a knock on the door.

It was truly pathetic how fast that brought his mood up, really.

When he opened the door, Steve was standing there with a guilty smile. "Sorry," he murmured. "Jarvis wanted to talk to me; I couldn't get away."

Steve stepped inside and shut and locked the door behind himself before Tony could even say anything about whether or not he was welcome; he was just assuming he was, and it made Tony feel even worse about what he was going to have to say. Steve had taken him out for dinner and a movie, even; Steve obviously had expectations. Everyone had expectations about him. He was Tony Stark, world-renowned for his playboy ways -- most of which were carefully-cultivated lies, but still, his reputation existed -- and no one was really ever happy when the famed playboy told them not tonight. It was a slight, a blow to their ego. Some people had been less happy than others, over the years, and God, no, he wasn't going to think about Ty, he wasn't going to think about Sunset--

Maybe he could do it anyway. Maybe he could just grin and bear it. Experimentally, he clenched and released and -- yeah, there was definitely still some residual soreness there. And at a different time in his life, with a different guy, he'd probably have grinned and borne it. But this was Steve, and he already knew that Steve was going to be absolutely devastated if he hurt Tony in any way -- and, furthermore, Steve being so massively endowed meant that he was much, much more likely to, considering that Tony was still sore. And that wasn't what Tony wanted for Steve's first time. He wanted Steve's first time to be perfect.

Hopefully Steve would see it that way.

But that didn't mean he didn't hate to disappoint Steve. He'd always hated to, in any context.

Steve took a few more steps toward him, everything in his body language open and welcoming, smiling, holding his arms out wide.

Tony held up a hand and Steve stopped instantly.


"I can't," Tony said, hoarse, ashamed. "I can't tonight. It's not that I don't want to, I'm just still... a little sore from last night. Not hurt," he added, quickly, to forestall the guilty concern that was already washing across Steve's face. "Just sore. I'll be fine by morning, I'm sure. I just-- don't want to tonight, if that's okay?"

He waited for the anger, the sadness, the disapproval, the condemnation. He was having trouble picturing it on Steve's face but, well, it was what everyone else always did.

Steve looked back at him like he didn't understand what reaction Tony was expecting from him. "Of course that's okay," Steve said, stumbling over the words like he didn't expect to have to say them, like he thought his reaction should have been a given. "It's absolutely okay. Thank you so much for telling me."

Tears sprang to Tony's eyes. He was beginning to think that maybe he'd missed out on a lot of kindness, before. He should have been with Steve all along. But Steve wasn't a long-term option.

"Do you want me to go?" Steve asked. He was already moving toward the door. He didn't look disappointed at all, even though he'd spent all day with Tony, and then all week hoping to get some. He had to be more than a little frustrated, but he didn't show it. "I can go if you want. I'll go, I'll go--"

"Only if you want to," Tony said, because that was easier than saying please stay. Steve had no reason to stay. "Do you want to stay? For the night, I mean. Sleeping with me. Just sleeping."

Tony was going to need to get used to rejection, right?

Steve was close enough to the door that he could have opened it, but he didn't reach out. "Would it make you uncomfortable if I stayed?"

That meant that Steve wanted to stay, didn't it? For some reason, Steve wanted to stay with him even when there was no sex involved. Of course, Tony wanted that, but Steve couldn't possibly share his motivations. Still, if it was something Steve wanted, well, wasn't that all the more reason to do it? That was why Tony was here, to make him happy.

The fact that it would make Tony happy was purely coincidental. But Steve probably liked that, didn't he? Even if he didn't know exactly why he was making Tony happy at this moment in time -- and he was never going to find out -- he'd said he liked making Tony happy.

"No, no, I wouldn't mind. I'd be fine with it," Tony admitted. He licked his lips. "More than fine with it. Really good with it, honestly."

He felt like he'd talked about his feelings enough for a lifetime, and it had only been one day.

"Yeah." Steve's voice was a low whisper. "Me too." Steve was smiling, a small delighted smile, like Tony had given him a gift.

Beckoning, Tony backed up toward the bed, and Steve followed, his smile growing more eager. Steve couldn't possibly be this happy about not fucking him, could he?

He held out his hand, Steve took it, and then Tony pulled Steve over with him, toppling them both sideways across the mattress. It was no kind of position for sleeping, with their feet hanging off the bed, but Steve grinned and tucked his face against his collarbone like he was going to try. The rush of affection that coursed through Tony was better than any drink he'd ever had.

God, he was going to miss this. The sex had been great, but he was going to miss this most of all.

Maybe he could talk Steve into platonically sharing his bed, afterwards.

Yeah, no, that was stupid. Steve wasn't going to go for that.

"Let me just take my shoes off," Steve mumbled into Tony's shoulder. He was fully dressed, of course. He'd gone civilian for their afternoon and evening together, a nice shirt and pants. Tony needed to stop wondering if Steve had dressed up for him.

Tony nudged him. "Come on. I know you sleep naked."

It occurred to him only after he said it that he probably shouldn't have been telling Steve that if he didn't want to fuck him tonight. Talk about mixed messages. Steve didn't seem to mind, though. No, Steve was actually blushing.

He was amazed that Steve, who had put his entire hand in Tony's ass twenty-four hours ago, was still capable of blushing about anything, much less something as minor as that. But nonetheless, the bit of Steve's forehead was turning redder and redder.

"Should I ask how you know that?" Steve finally asked.

Wasn't it obvious? Wasn't that how this whole crazy thing had started?

"Pretty sure someone in this room woke up and answered a call to assemble wearing only his gloves and boots, Cap," Tony drawled. "I drew a conclusion from the available evidence."

Steve lifted his head; his smile was wavering and his face was still a patchy red, but his gaze was fond. "Guess that's why you're the genius."

"Guess so." Tony reached out and traced the line of Steve's throat with his hand, curling a finger behind the still-buttoned edge of Steve's shirt, tugging lightly at it. He figured Steve understood the suggestion. "So, you know, if you felt like getting naked, I wouldn't mind."

"Mmm." Steve's smile was wider, knowing in a way Tony couldn't quite put words to. "Is that wouldn't mind like how you said you wouldn't mind if I stayed the night?"

Now it was Tony's turn to heat up. "Maybe."

"Well." Steve drew out the word, pushed himself upright, and started unbuttoning his shirt. "Far be it for me to deny you something you wouldn't mind, then."

Steve was teasing him, ever so gently. Tony had been with people who would have made the words sting, who would have made them hurt, who would have mocked him for not coming right out and saying it. But when Steve said them, it didn't feel like that; he made it sound like they were sharing a private joke, together, both of them enjoying the fact that Tony wanted this, and Tony went even warmer.

It was nice. This was good. All he had to do was not think about tomorrow, the day after, all the days when he wouldn't have this.

As Steve was stripping, Tony pulled his shirt off, and Steve paused with one thumb tucked into the waistband of his pants. "You know you don't have to do that just because I am, right?" Steve asked.

"I know."

He was glad Steve didn't ask him to explain, because there wasn't a way to put it into words, the yearning ache in him to press himself against Steve, skin to skin, to be as close as he could be to him even if Steve couldn't be inside him tonight, so that somehow he could still carry Steve with him, carry the memory in the hollows of his bones, to keep himself safe and warm even when Steve would be gone. He knew even as he thought it that there was a way to put that feeling into words. It was just that all the words were things like love, and there was no way he was saying that.

Soon enough, Steve crawled back into bed with him. They were both naked, but unlike the previous nights, neither of them made a production of it -- there was no teasing, no gazes promising more, no lustful compliments. This wasn't about sex. It seemed impossible that Steve hadn't figured out what this was about, but he didn't seem to have; he just smiled and reached up to turn the lights out as he went.

"Like this?" Steve asked.

He put his arms around Tony as he lay down next to him, and, yeah, that was exactly what Tony had wanted. The sense of utter safety and peace that rose up within Tony as Steve held him tight was like nothing else. Oh, he wasn't going to tell Steve that -- he was a grown man and a goddamn superhero, and he really ought not to have needed this like he did -- but, God, it felt so good.

Admittedly, it was a little weird being in bed with Steve without sleeping with him. He knew Steve had been looking forward to it -- Steve's cock, brushing against his body, was about half-hard -- and he still felt guilty about disappointing him.

"Hey." Tony rocked his hips against Steve's, which sure got Steve's attention in a hurry. "Maybe I could help you out there, huh?"

Steve frowned. "You said you weren't interested," he said, even as his breath caught and his eyes went wider.

"Not for me," Tony said, "but I could take care of you."

Steve sighed and shook his head; Tony could see the edge of his smile in the dark. "I'm good if you're good."

Tony had noticed this about Steve, this week -- the fact that Steve seemed to be more into doing things for Tony than being the one getting done to. He wouldn't turn it down if they were both getting off -- he wasn't that much of a saint -- but the guy clearly didn't want to be the center of attention, so to speak. He wondered if Steve had always been this selfless. It kind of figured, though. It seemed like something he could have learned, what with his... anatomical gifts, to try to make the experience all about his partner, since he wasn't going to be using his dick the way most people were going to expect him to.

"I'm good," Tony said, and then, more quietly, "I just wanted to make you happy, you know?"

Because wasn't that what this was all about, really?

It was a little scary to say, but if he couldn't say it while Steve was right here, holding him, when could he?

"I know," Steve said, just as quietly, and his arms tightened around Tony. "And I'm happy. I am." He paused and breathed out, a soft noise in the silence. "And I know I've said it already, but... thank you. Thank you for this. It really means a lot to me. And no matter what happens, no matter how it goes between us, I'm glad I'm doing this with you. I'm glad you offered. I'm glad it's you."

If Steve was the selfless one, that meant Tony was the selfish one, because, God, he was glad it was him too.

"Well," Tony said, and he heard a sad half-laugh come out of him, "I'm going to try my best to make sure you're still glad, okay?"

"Sounds good." Steve's hands slid over his back, a slow, hypnotic motion, lulling him. "Sleep well, Tony."

"You too," Tony told him.

Even with the week of insomnia, he'd meant to try to stay awake a little longer. This was his last full night with Steve, while he still had Steve, and he wanted to remember it. But he was so tired, and Steve was right here, holding him tight. The warm, comforting darkness pulled him under, and he slept.

Chapter Text

When Tony awoke, he was lying on his side facing the window; through the curtains, he could see the beginnings of daylight. Steve was behind him, nestled up against him. One of his arms had been thrown over Tony's chest, drawing him close, and -- oh, hey, somebody here was having a really good morning.

Steve's cock was hard, rubbing up against Tony's ass. At his size, of course, it was absolutely impossible to miss. Tony was beginning to think Steve was going to spoil him for other men. And, wow, that felt nice. Tony didn't feel sore anywhere at all, anymore. Everything was pleasantly warm, a nice fuzzy warmth, a background glow of happiness.

He couldn't tell if Steve was awake, though, and even if Tony's cock was rapidly rising to match Steve's in interest, he wasn't about to start anything until he was sure Steve was along for the ride. But that didn't mean he couldn't lie here and enjoy it while he waited.

So he lay there, luxuriating in the feel of Steve's body pressed against his, Steve's warm breath pluming out over his shoulder, watching the sky outside gradually lighten. His last morning with Steve. At least it was a good one.

Although he wanted it to last forever, he knew it couldn't; time was still marching onward. The clock on the bedside table was turned too far for him to read. Moving carefully so he wouldn't jostle Steve and wake him, he shifted Steve's arm as much as he dared so he could reach out and adjust the clock.

Blurry numbers came into focus. 5:25. Yeah, Steve was going to need to get up soon. Tony didn't think they'd remembered to set an alarm for him.

"Morning, Tony," Steve breathed in his ear.

Oh. Steve was up after all.

Tony rolled over in Steve's arms. "Hi, there."

"Hi," Steve said, softly, with a smile.

His face was very close. His skin shone golden in the morning sun. At some point in the night they'd kicked off the blankets and the light ran over Steve's body, setting him aglow, sliding over the planes and angles of his body, pooling in the curves of his muscles. Another man might have said it was like lying with a god, but Tony, having considered the several actual gods he knew, had long ago decided that Steve was more handsome than any of them.

"Have you been awake long?"

"Not that long," Steve said, still smiling. "Did you sleep well?"

"Yeah," Tony said. No nightmares. It had been nice.

He wanted to kiss Steve. It probably wasn't appropriate, given that this wasn't a real relationship, but Steve was right here and he was smiling, and, God, his mouth--

He realized that he was leaning in at the same time as he realized that Steve was also leaning in, and their lips met. The kiss was easy and gentle, a small thing. It was the kind of kiss that didn't have to be everything, the kind of kiss that you had when you already had everything.

But they didn't, Tony reminded himself. This was it. And it couldn't be the case that Steve, so honest in every respect, could somehow fake that. So it had to be on Tony's end. It was just Tony's overactive imagination, desperately trying to impart the meaning that he wanted more than anything to be true.

Steve drew away, and Tony waited for him to say it: the polite farewell. He had to get up now, obviously. He had to go. He didn't want to be here.

Instead, Steve kissed him again.

Tony couldn't say which of them was responsible for the change, but this kiss was heavier, harder, deeper. Steve's tongue slid into his mouth. Steve rolled his hips and his cock, hot and huge and hard, rubbed against Tony's stomach, slick and velvety-soft, brushing against Tony's cock, and, oh, that was perfect.

Steve tipped his forehead against Tony's, panting hard, eyes wide and dazed.

"I don't want to go," Steve murmured.

"Then don't," Tony said. He was the devil on Steve's shoulder, for sure. "It's still early. No one else is up yet. Stay."

And if Tony meant stay forever, well, Steve didn't need to know that.

Steve's smile was breathtaking. "You'll make it worth my while, huh?" The question was low and affectionate, and warmth blossomed in Tony's chest.

The kisses now, languid and easy, were making Tony dizzy with desire. They weren't enough for his racing heart. They weren't all he needed. If Steve stayed here and kissed him for eternity it would only barely scratch the surface of what he needed. Steve's mouth was sweet and soft, lifting him higher and higher. He felt almost like he was floating, like he had the other night with Steve. And gradually he felt another ache within him, a kindling heat that had nothing to do with soreness -- since he felt none -- and everything to do with rising, burning need.

He needed Steve inside him. Now. Here. Just like this. He was ready. They were ready. It was time.

"Make love to me," Tony whispered.

He'd spent so long agonizing over how to say it, and in the end the words had slipped out just like Steve would have said them, just like Tony had meant not to say them, infused with all the feeling that he hadn't wanted to give them.

Steve froze in his arms, and Tony pulled his head back to get a better look. Steve's eyes were even wider, and his lips were parted in surprise -- and then he was smiling, his face bright with an excited, nervous joy.

"You mean that?" Steve breathed. "Right now?"

Tony nodded. "Right now. I mean it."

He had been thinking they would do this tonight, the same as they'd been doing all week -- but it didn't seem like it could get better than this, timing-wise. They'd had a good evening together, a good night together, and they'd woken up together. They were both feeling good. This was the best way, the nicest possible end. Steve wouldn't spend all day working up to it, worrying for hours about his performance. Tony wouldn't have another day to angst. It had always had an end date, and he needed to accept that. And this way they wouldn't have to deal with the awkward night after, when it was over, when they were in the same bed but never doing this again. They could both just get up and go, rejoin the world, fall into their regular routines. It would be the easiest way.

"If you're sure," Steve said, a little more uncertainly, and there was the slightest hint of sadness in his gaze. "If that's what you want."

Tony kissed Steve's neck. "I'm sure."

"Okay." Steve's throat worked. "Okay. Let's do this."

He rolled away, and Tony could see the tension hit, could watch him just tighten up and his gaze go hooded and shadowed.

"Hey, it's all right," Tony said, putting his hand on Steve's arm. "This is going to be good. It's just me, remember?" He was pretty sure Steve had told him something like that -- what, a week ago? This couldn't have been only a week. "It's me. Your friend Tony. I'm right here and it's going to be okay. We're going to do this together. A team effort, right?"

It hadn't been one of his better jokes, but a smile flickered across Steve's face. "Not the whole team, I hope."

"Well, if you want to invite them, it'll be easier if you at least wait until breakfast when they're all in one place," Tony said, and Steve snorted quietly; there, that was better. Steve was laughing again.

"I'd rather not have anyone else, if it's all the same to you," Steve said, and then with his next breath, he was anxious again; his hand came up, and he ran his fingers through his hair. "I-- how do I-- Tony, what do I do?"

Even though he'd seen Steve fretting the other day, it was still a surprise to see it again -- always so confident and commanding, here Steve was, trembling with nerves. Tony wondered if Steve had been like this the first time he'd been with someone in any other way, or if it was just that Steve trusted Tony enough to let himself be vulnerable. Either way, Tony wasn't going to judge him. He'd offered to help Steve out, and that was what he was going to do.

Tony caught his hand, held it tight. "You know what to do," Tony said. He kept his voice low, calming, even, soothing. "I know you know what to do, because you've done every step but the last one, right? So I know you're going to be good. You're going to get the lube, and you're going to work me open, nice and slow, one finger at a time, until I tell you I'm ready. Or-- if you want, I can do that part?"

He wanted Steve to do it, of course -- Steve had amazing hands and Tony would have been crazy if he didn't take one last chance to appreciate them -- but he wanted to do whatever would make this easiest for Steve. The poor guy had to be worried enough.

"No," Steve said. "I want to." He licked his lips-- "I like that part."

"Pretty sure you're going to like the part that comes after that, too," Tony said, grinning.

Steve bit his lip. "That's the part I'm worried about."

"I know," Tony said. "But you've got this." He really hoped he wasn't pressuring Steve here. "And if you decide it's too much right now, or you'd rather not, we can stop--"

Heat and determination flared to life in Steve's eyes, and yeah, that was Steve, right there. "What if I don't want to stop?"

Tony wrapped his other arm around Steve and rolled them both over, pulling Steve down on top of him. Steve's weight pressed him down into the mattress exactly right, and Tony spread his legs and got his knees up on either side of Steve's hips even as he tilted his head back, baring his throat to the man who was, in such a short time, going to break his heart.

"Then please don't stop," Tony told him.

It felt like he was aiming at himself, giving tactical commands to his armor. Weapons free. Fire.

Breathless already, Steve smiled down at him. Light haloed through his hair and his eyes were bright and eager, his expression rapidly growing more confident. He was so beautiful, and, God, he just looked so happy and this, right here, this was why Tony was doing this, because Steve deserved to feel like this. It didn't matter what happened to Tony. It was worth the heartbreak. He was going to give this experience to Steve. He was going to make Steve's first time perfect.

He expected Steve to want to move off him, then, to get the lube, because surely Steve wanted to get to it? But Steve leaned in and kissed him again, a thorough kiss that left Tony panting for air, and it was when Steve nuzzled his jaw and started kissing his way down Tony's neck that Tony realized that he should have figured out that Steve, of all people, was going to be solidly committed to foreplay.

Steve kissed the base of Tony's throat and Tony shivered with how good it was. He'd always been sensitive there, and it seemed that now Steve was figuring that out, because when Tony couldn't suppress a moan, Steve lingered there, biting little kisses into his skin, and Tony shuddered more and more at the suction, at the snap of Steve's teeth. His cock was harder and harder, rubbing up against Steve's stomach as Steve kept rocking, ever so slightly, against him, and God, it was going to be embarrassing if Tony was the one who came before Steve even got inside him.

"Oh!" Steve said, in enthralled wonder, like he'd discovered a new trick. "You like that."

He licked one of the marks he'd left on Tony's throat -- oh, Jesus Christ, his tongue should have been illegal, it was so good -- and then bit him again, harder. Tony sucked in a shaking breath as his hips snapped up against Steve's body, everything in him blindly seeking more.

"I really like that," Tony rasped. "Oh, God."

"So," Steve said, grinning, like he was really looking forward to whatever he was about to do, "you'd really like it if I did this--"

He crawled down Tony's body a little more, licked his nipple, and then fastened his teeth, lightly, then just a little harder, and oh God, that was perfect -- and then his other hand came up and pinched Tony's other nipple, and everything within Tony turned into heat and need and aching want, slid down his spine in a rush of liquid fire that made his balls ache and his cock throb.

Tony could hear himself moaning, a hoarse and broken noise, wordless, and he realized he was clutching Steve's head, holding it in place. He breathed out and hastily moved his hand to Steve's shoulder.

"Yeah," Steve said, contentedly, pride shining in his eyes. "You'd really like it if I did that."

"Uh-huh," Tony agreed, dazed.

"I could tell you to wait and see what else I can do with my mouth," Steve said, and Tony was ready to take back everything he'd thought about Steve being lousy at dirty talk, because this was doing a hell of a lot for him. "But I think you've seen pretty much every trick I've got." He jerked his head at the nightstand. "You want to pass me the lube?"

Tony opened the drawer and fumbled for the jar of serious lube with shaking hands, pushing it down the bed. Steve took it from him and didn't open it, setting it on the bed next to him. He scooted even further down, so Tony's legs were splayed out around him.

It was pretty easy to see where Steve was heading; he kissed Tony's abs, kissed his way down the trail of hair -- and then paused, breathing ever so lightly on the base of Tony's cock, hard and dripping pre-come as Steve encircled it with his thumb and forefinger, not quite touching him.

Steve was looking at his cock and licking his lips, like there was nothing more he wanted in the world than to get a taste of that. It was-- well, it was pretty goddamn flattering. Tony breathed out and just barely managed to keep himself from shoving his hips up impatiently. They were going to get there. They were going to get everywhere.

"I mean," Steve added, in a contemplative tone, "I could rim you, if that's a thing you like. I suppose that's the only other trick I've got."

Oh, God. Tony had never in his life imagined that Steve even knew what rimming was, but-- oh, God--

"I've never done it," Tony admitted, and he was kind of losing track of which of them was the goddamn virgin here. "But I'd be into that. I mean, if you want to."

His cock was jumping in Steve's grasp; it had to be obvious how much he liked that idea.

"The thing is," Steve said, "I'd also really like to go back to kissing you, here, and I think maybe it's not the best idea if--"

Trust Steve to be concerned about his health. Steve was only going to do it if it was safe. And Tony hadn't been planning this. He didn't actually have dental dams on hand. So he guessed that was a no.

"Right," Tony said. "I understand. I'd-- I'd like more kissing too."

If he had to pick -- and apparently he had to -- he'd pick kissing. How sappy was that?

Steve bit his lip. "Yeah," he said, with a small, crooked smile. "Though if we'd prepared, if we had one more time..."

He let the sentence trail off. He didn't offer.

They didn't have one more time. This was it. Tony breathed in and out and pushed the sadness away.

And then Steve took Tony's cock into his mouth and Tony couldn't think about anything else. There was no sadness, no regret, just Steve's soft lips and Steve's slick tongue and the wet heat of Steve's mouth, and Tony shut his eyes and lost himself in the feeling.

Steve didn't take him all the way down this time; he just licked over the head of Tony's cock, up and down the shaft, making him feel good but not bringing him agonizingly close to the edge. His hand went away for a second, and the came back, stroking Tony's cock everywhere his mouth wasn't, running over his thighs, caressing his balls, sliding back up to tighten around his cock again -- and then Steve's other hand, slippery with lube, brushed up against Tony's hole, and Tony's eyes flared open.

Something within Tony turned over and twisted as Steve raised his head and smiled a surprisingly tender, messy smile. Tony wanted to remember this forever.

"Is this okay?" Steve's voice was raspy, husky, and somehow still sweet. "Is it okay if I--?"

"Absolutely," Tony told him.

They were drawing closer and closer to the end, with everything Steve did to him. He couldn't let himself think about that.

Steve pushed a finger into him, gently, so gently. It hardly felt like anything, even though Tony knew Steve had big hands. Maybe Tony's plan to prepare himself this week had actually worked. Tony heard himself sigh as Steve leaned in and licked his cock again, and, oh, that was nice.

The second finger went in easily, and it was starting to feel a little more substantial. Steve slid his fingers in and out, slowly, methodically, pressing on the rim of Tony's hole, massaging the muscles, working him open wider and wider rather than going straight for his prostate. Tony felt like he was starting to float again, a little -- not all the way down into that strange, slow world he'd entered the other night, not yet, but now that he knew it was a place he could go, his mind remembered the way to get there. He had a map. He knew the road.

He didn't follow it down. He needed to stay here for this, be aware and conscious for this. He needed to be able to guide Steve through it.

Kissing his cock one more time, Steve lifted his head. "Is this still good?"

Tony couldn't remember Steve having checked in with him this many times before, but, then, this was Steve's first time, and there was more nervousness in Steve's face now, a tension around Steve's eyes that hadn't been there any of the other times.

"It's great," Tony said, smiling. He reached down and petted Steve's hair, and he saw Steve's face soften. "You're doing great, okay?"

"Okay," Steve said, and he was smiling back, and that was better. "Okay. Three?"

"Definitely three," Tony told him. "You're so good at that. You've got such good hands. Best ever. Absolutely perfect."

He hadn't quite meant to let slip exactly how much he was enjoying this, so that Steve wouldn't suspect his true feelings, but the compliment made Steve smile wider, and at least Tony had managed not to tell him that he didn't want anyone else inside him ever again, which he was suspecting was now the absolute truth.

He didn't know how anyone else was going to compare to Steve. He didn't think they ever could, really. He didn't know how he was going to go on after this.

But that was a problem for Future Tony. It was just that that future was rapidly coming closer.

He shut his eyes as Steve slipped a third finger inside him. Three fingers was definitely wide, but nothing compared to what Tony had been taking all week, and God, it just felt good. He felt so open, everything within him wide, opening up just for Steve, nearly ready now.

Steve wrapped his free hand around Tony's cock, stroking him slowly, lightly. It was lighter than Tony liked, but Tony knew that was deliberate; all he was trying to do was just keep Tony feeling nice, not bring him off, not yet.

Steve's fingers brushed over Tony's prostate, and Tony gasped and rocked up into Steve's grip and then back down onto his hand, like he could force more feeling into himself by fucking himself on Steve's hand. Pleasure burst within him like a firework, and then slowly settled down into a calmer sea. Tony stretched, arched his back.

It was brighter and brighter outside, a beautiful day; he was lying in a pool of sunlight edging around the hem of the curtains, and Steve had three fingers inside him as he pressed kisses to the soft insides of Tony's thighs, and it didn't get better than this. And he just-- he wasn't going to think about after.

"Four," Tony said. His own voice was slurred, broken, run through with a lazy pleasure. "Give me four."

Biting his lip again, Steve looked up. "Four's a lot." Concern flickered in his eyes.

"Your dick is a lot," Tony retorted, which he probably shouldn't have said; he knew how sensitive Steve was about that, after all. But everything was feeling good, and it was harder to care about what he was saying.

But Steve just smiled. "You have a point there," he murmured.

Four, it turned out, was a lot. It had been a lot the other night, and it was still a lot now, and Tony gasped and breathed out a ragged breath as Steve paused with four fingers pushed together, stretching him wide.

"You feel so nice," Steve murmured, looking down at his own hand. He breathed the words like, once again, Tony was the one doing him a favor by letting Steve put his fingers inside him. "You're so-- so warm and soft and tight inside, but you're opening up so nice for me, Tony."

Tony couldn't help but smile. "Now think about how much more you're going to like it when that's not your fingers in me, huh?"

He heard Steve's breath catch, like the statement had blindsided him. "God, Tony."

"Yeah," Tony breathed. "You really get to do this. Are you excited?" He realized he was still smiling. "I'm excited."

"I don't think excitement really covers how I feel." Steve's voice was low, hushed, serious, overcome with emotion. "I can't quite believe this is happening, still. That you're letting me do this."

"I can't believe it either," Tony admitted. He'd wanted this for years, so long that he'd practically forgotten what life had been like before he'd wanted it. It felt like it had always been part of him. He'd always wanted Steve. "I'm glad it's happening, though."

Steve slid his fingers slowly forward, pressing inside him, wider and wider, and Tony breathed hard and realized that four fingers didn't hurt in the slightest. It was big, but it didn't feel like he was struggling to take it; it just went, his body relaxed around it, opening up as naturally as anything.

Steve fucked him with his fingers slowly, back and forth, with little motions. It was shallow, and Tony could feel everything in him open up, wanting, craving more, deeper, harder.

Well, Steve could give him that, for certain.

He reached down and brushed Steve's wrist, and Steve stopped. "Tony?"

"I want you to," Tony said. "I'm-- I'm ready."

Steve exhaled and smiled. "All right," he said, sliding his fingers out, leaving Tony open and empty. Tony wondered how he looked, if he looked like he felt, stretched and lax and waiting.

Steve sat back, reaching for the lube again, as Tony grabbed a pillow with uncoordinated hands and shoved it under his hips. They were going to have to be awfully flexible if Steve still wanted to kiss him, but there was no way Tony was doing this without getting to watch Steve's face. He was here for Steve. He wanted -- no, he needed -- to see how happy this made him.

"Any last-minute words of advice?" Steve asked. He was starting to look overwhelmed again.

Tony smiled. "Trust yourself. Your body knows what to do. And go slow, okay? Go really, really slow."

Steve looked even more worried at that. He was going to bite his lip raw at this rate. "Have I not been going slow enough?"

"No, no, you have," Tony assured him. "It's just that, well, this time, your body's going to be, let's just say, a little more personally invested in going faster than you have been, and I'm saying that you're... not going to want to actually do that. At the beginning, anyway."

Sure, it would have been hot if Steve could have just grabbed his hips and thrust right in, but that wasn't ever going to be possible. It was going to have to be nice and slow. Tony was fine with that. It was still going to be Steve.

"So I shouldn't trust myself," Steve said, and Tony realized that Steve was shaking. "I really don't want to hurt you."

He had a point. It was contradictory advice.

"Then trust me," Tony said, and okay, yeah, Steve definitely wanted Tony to tell him what to do here; there was a flare of relief in his eyes. Tony could do that for him. "I'll tell you when to move, okay?"

Steve nodded. "Okay." He looked like he was receiving an order. Tony supposed that for Steve, that was probably even comforting.

But Steve didn't move. He just sat there looking at him like he didn't have the faintest idea where to begin.

"Now would be a good time to move," Tony added, with an encouraging smile.

Steve nodded and swallowed hard, and then he leaned forward and hiked Tony's leg up for him with one huge hand, bracing the back of his thigh. Tony couldn't quite see what he was doing, but there were a few very promising slick sounds. And then Steve moved even closer, and Tony felt a familiar blunt pressure on the outside of his hole, and the soft touch of Steve's fingers as he guided himself forward.

"I don't know if it's going to fit," Steve said. His voice was low, small; his face had gone tight with nerves. "It's just-- it's big, God, it looks too big for you--"

"It's going to fit," Tony told him. Maybe he should have tried to convince Steve to let him ride him. "But you have to push. It's not going to hurt me. I'm ready. Go for it."

Tony breathed in and out and in and then Steve pushed forward. It was a stretch, of course it was, and Tony heard himself groan in response. There was just so much of Steve, bigger than his fingers had been, bigger than all the toys, and Tony could feel his body struggling to accommodate him. But he wasn't giving up now. He could do this.

"Tony?" Steve asked, and his voice cracked, and, yeah, Tony knew the look on his face now, the desperate strain as everything in him just wanted to be inside him right now. He was panting. His eyes were wide with concern. "Tony, if I'm hurting you--"

"Don't you dare stop," Tony gritted out. "Just give me a few seconds, okay? We're going to make this happen. I promise."

Steve looked like he was going to die if he didn't move, but he nodded, clenching his jaw tight.

Disentangling his hand from where he'd been white-knuckling the sheets, he slipped his hand down between their bodies and got his fingers around his cock, giving himself a few experimental strokes, trying to remind his body how he felt about this. And -- hey, that wasn't bad. He stroked himself a little tighter, a little faster, and gradually the feeling of Steve's cock pressing at the rim of his hole turned from just pressure into pleasure, and he knew he wanted more.

"Okay," Tony said. His voice seemed caught in his throat. He was dizzy, sweating, too hot, and yet nothing was enough. "Okay, more. Slow and easy, okay?"

Steve pushed forward again, and Tony felt it when the whole head of his cock slid inside him, in one great rush that left him breathless and made Steve gasp. And somehow Steve managed to stop anyway. Steve's breaths were heavier and harder, and he was trembling, but he was holding still somehow. His gaze was wider now, in amazement, and Tony wondered if this was as far as he'd ever gotten before, or if it was farther.

"Keep going," Tony whispered, and his own voice was a husky, wrecked mess. He didn't even sound like himself. "God, Steve, please, just keep going. You're in me, you're in me, the hard part's over. You're doing great. All you have to do is move, okay? Just nice and slow, all right?"

"All right," Steve echoed. His eyes were wide, dazed, unseeing, like he was on a different planet, and then he blinked and came back and met Tony's eyes. His gaze was intense, smoldering, and there was a longing in it deeper than anything Tony had ever seen before. Tony didn't know what to make of that.

Steve slid further, a long slow thrust, pushing himself in even further. An inch? Two more? Tony couldn't tell. He couldn't think about anything except how it felt, Steve's huge cock filling him up exactly right, brushing his prostate and sliding over it and still going because Steve was so massive that he was touching him inside everywhere, so massive that he couldn't not do it. There wasn't enough air in the world and Tony was gasping for breath and that was fine, because everything in him was pleasure, spreading out from where the two of them were joined.

"More," Tony told him, but he didn't even have to say it, because Steve was still going.

And then Steve slowed and stopped, and Tony felt Steve's balls nudge his ass, and he realized that that was it -- Steve was all the way in. They'd done it.

"Hey." Tony smiled up at Steve. "So here we are. Enjoying yourself?"

Even if he'd had a thousand years, Tony wasn't sure he'd ever have been able to describe the way Steve looked at that moment. His eyes had fallen shut, blond lashes spread across his cheekbones. His skin was dewy with sweat, glowing in the morning light. His face was slack, his lips parted. He was transcendently beautiful. He looked like he'd found God. Tony felt an overwhelming warmth rise up within him, affection and love and pride, because this was it. This was what he'd wanted for Steve. He'd wanted to give Steve this, this perfect moment.

Steve opened his eyes. Even in the sunlight, they were dark enough with desire that they could have been black, and his gaze was full of fondness, full of caring. He was looking at Tony like there was no one else in the world but the two of them, like there had never been anyone but the two of them.

"I'm not sure there are words for how I feel," Steve murmured, and his voice ached with something that had to be gratitude. "It's like-- it's like nothing I've ever felt. You're so amazing, Tony. Thank you."

Tony knew it wasn't personal. Steve was a virgin; he had no basis for comparison. He'd feel like that about anyone. Still, it was hard not to feel a little happier at the compliment. He'd always been so weak for Steve's approval.

"My pleasure," Tony said, with a grin. "And I mean that -- you feel pretty great yourself, you know?"

Steve's gaze turned wondering. "I do?"

Tony realized that, what with Steve's history, it was very unlikely that Steve's partners had had a lot of praise for the way Steve's cock made them feel. Well, Tony could change that.

"Absolutely." Tony reached out, laid his hands on Steve's shoulders, slid them down his back. He couldn't quite reach Steve's ass at this angle to draw him even closer. He smiled anyway. "Filling me up just right. Feels so good. Just the right size, and I wouldn't want it to be any different. You're perfect."

Steve's mouth fell open. He hadn't expected that, clearly. "Perfect?"

Okay, so Tony hadn't quite meant to say it, but what the hell, it was true. "Perfect." He grinned again, slid his hands up Steve's back, draped one hand over the nape of Steve's neck. "Sure, maybe it took a bit more effort than with most people, but this was worth the wait." He was still smiling. "And it's going to feel even better if you move."

"Better than perfect?"

"Better than perfect," Tony promised. "You'll see. Out and back in, nice and slow."

Obediently, Steve began to slide back, a long, slow drag that took Tony's breath away again. And because Tony knew how to make it good for Steve, he waited, relaxing, until Steve was nearly out of him, and then another second until Steve began to move back in. Tony lifted his hips and rose to meet his thrust and tightened down, hard, and yeah, oh, that was it right there, that was the good stuff, that was the spot--

"Oh, God, Tony," Steve breathed, and he drove in hard and fast, and Jesus, that was even better, and they both moaned when Steve bottomed out. "You're incredible. That's so good. You're so good. Can I--"

"You can definitely keep doing that," Tony told him. He threw his head back, and he still felt breathless, but he figured that was just Steve. "Please."

Another thrust, and then another, both of them just as amazing as the first, turning him inside out. He didn't know what the future was going to be like, and he didn't care, because there was only this.

Steve shifted Tony's legs a little higher, practically folding Tony in half. Tony didn't mind. They were close enough that Steve could have kissed him. Steve was staring down at him, smiling, and there was something soft and kind and infinitely tender in Steve's eyes, and it seemed as if time stood still around them, as if that one look stretched on into eternity.

"I love you so much," Steve murmured.

And then everything stopped.

Tony couldn't breathe. His heart was pounding so hard it felt like his ribs were going to break, and within him, Steve was perfectly still. Steve's gaze was agonized, and then he looked away. His mouth clamped shut, like he wanted to take it all back, like it had just slipped out.

Like he hadn't meant it.

"Oh, my God," Steve said, horrified. "Tony, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to say it--"

It had all been a mistake.

Steve really hadn't meant it. Some people said stupid shit when they were turned on, and while Tony hadn't thought Steve was one of them, clearly he was one of them, because he hadn't meant it. He'd been overwhelmed. It was his first time. And so he'd said something he'd never meant to say.

Something within Tony was beginning to shrivel up and die.

Tony didn't know what his own face looked like, but it must have been pretty goddamn awful, because Steve braced himself and started to slide back.

"I'll stop," Steve said, the words fast and frantic. "I'll stop, I'll stop, I'll go away now, I'm sorry, I'm really so sorry--"

Tony flailed out a shaking hand and pressed it against Steve's back. "Don't leave. Keep going."

This was Steve's first time. That was why they were doing this. He couldn't ruin Steve's first time for him. He just had to stay calm and not panic and make it through this. For Steve.

Steve hadn't meant it. So what? It wasn't like hearing him tell Tony he loved him and then take it back should have made a difference. Tony already knew that Steve didn't really love him. Hearing him say as much shouldn't have made it worse. It was just confirming a fact about the universe.

And yet, it did make it worse. Steve had said it wasn't true. The part of Tony that had been holding out hope, the part of him that had always wondered if maybe Steve could love him back -- well, there wasn't anything left for him to hold onto now, was there?

Tony wanted to cry. He wanted to run. Unfortunately, crying was definitely going to ruin Steve's first time, and running away wasn't exactly an option when Steve was balls-deep in his ass. He was pinned here by Steve's monster cock.

"Are you sure?" Steve's voice was wobbly, and God, even Steve looked like he wanted to cry. "Are you sure you want me to keep going?"

It was just a mistake, Tony wanted to tell him. No big deal. Everybody made mistakes.

It felt a lot like a big deal, though. Tony realized he was sweating, cold and clammy, and God, he really couldn't breathe. An unseen giant hand was squeezing his chest. It couldn't be a heart attack anymore. It was just panic. He wasn't dying. He could get through this.

"It's okay," Tony told him. "It's all okay. Just-- let's just move on. Keep going. It'll be fine."

Steve thrust forward, slow and hesitant, and the size and drag that had been pleasant a minute ago was rapidly becoming uncomfortable, too much, too big for him to take. It didn't quite hurt, not yet, but it wasn't going to get him there. Steve's gaze, wild and frantic, was roving over Tony's body like he thought his next move was going to injure him, like he thought he already had, and Tony shut his eyes and grabbed handfuls of the sheets and just tried to keep breathing as his thoughts spiraled down into panic and denial. Maybe it would be better if he didn't look.

"Tony?" Steve asked, and he'd stilled within him, and that didn't feel quite so lousy, except, no, Steve needed to keep moving. He needed to show Steve a good time. "Tony, can you look at me?"

Steve had asked, so Tony opened his eyes.

"Yeah?" Tony forced out. His face was starting to go numb, and his throat burned like he'd been screaming.

"You're not," Steve began, haltingly, and he glanced down between them. "You're not enjoying this, are you? Can I help? What can I do? What-- what do you want?"

Tony followed Steve's gaze and, yep, there he was, his cock rapidly growing softer. He was going to ruin this after all.

Tony inhaled and exhaled, and there was a sudden clarity to the misery, a calm empty spot within him where he was beyond caring about the future. This was his last time with Steve. Hell, Steve was probably not going to want to talk to him after this was over, because that was how badly Tony had fucked everything up, starting with what remained of their friendship.

So if this was it, if this was the end, he might as well ask for what he really wanted. What he'd wanted all along, what he'd never asked for. Because that was the only way he was going to get through this.

"I want you to keep going," Tony told him, swallowing hard. "And I want-- I want you to touch me, and I want you to hold me tight, and I want you to kiss me. That's what I want."

He could pretend. It was terrible and pathetic and selfish, but with Steve's cock inside him, with Steve's body pressed against him, with Steve's mouth on him, he could shut his eyes and pretend that he lived in a world where Steve really loved him. And that was what he wanted, more than anything.

"I want that too," Steve said, like a vow. "I want to make you happy."

Some twisted part of Tony's mind was almost hoping he wouldn't respond when Steve wrapped his hand around Tony's cock. Maybe he wouldn't be able to fool himself like this. Maybe he wouldn't be greedy and wanton, his body begging for it when his mind was still in turmoil. But either he was too easily fooled or his cock just didn't care, because when Steve got his hand on him, it was so simple to pretend that this meant something.

Steve was rocking inside him with little rippling thrusts, a slow rhythm that wasn't so much dropping him over the edge as it was bringing him ever so slightly closer. It was making him feel better, anyway. It was probably Steve's way of holding off. Steve was watching Tony thrust up into his fist and looking a little happier as he did, as Tony responded, his cock twitching and hardening.

"There you go." Steve's fingers tightened around him, and Tony gasped; when Steve did it again, he smiled, like he was actually enjoying this. "There you go, Tony. You like this, huh?"

He sounded so kind, so gentle, and it was easy to push aside what Steve had said, to pretend it could be real, that Steve could care for him.

"I like it," Tony said. It was a little easier to breathe, to talk.

Steve's smile was wider. A little less sad, maybe. "Then let's see about the rest of what you wanted, huh?"

Steve let his cock go, and his hands glided up Tony's body, one hand sliding under him as he shifted his weight to bring them closer together, and then-- then they were kissing as Steve thrust into him again.

Tony shut his eyes and let himself fall into the lie. Steve's mouth was pressed against his, and Steve was sliding into him with sharper, faster thrusts that made pleasure spark within Tony, and Tony could push away the truth and pretend that this was love, that Steve loved him, that Steve had loved him all along. Tony tightened down, and Steve gasped and thrust harder, and Tony could pretend that Steve was doing this because he loved him, because he'd been waiting for Tony all along, because -- oh, God -- Tony was the one he really wanted.

Tony was so good at lying to himself.

"Come on," Tony whispered between kisses. "Come on, Steve, I want to feel it when you come inside me--"

Steve groaned and snapped his hips forward, one, two, three, and his hand was on Tony's cock again, stroking him hard and fast and tight, and oh, God, Tony was going to come first, after all. The pleasure built within Tony at blinding speed, and then he was shaking, coming, tightening down on Steve's cock, his body instinctively working Steve's cock over his prostate again and again.

"Oh, Tony, that feels so good," Steve gasped, like the words had been punched out of him, as Tony was shaking and coming down, and then Steve held him tight, thrust one more time and was coming, and, oh, God, Tony could feel him coming, his huge cock throbbing within Tony and the warmth of his come spreading inside him, a shockingly intimate sensation that Tony had never felt before and was never going to feel again. Here he was, claimed, marked by Steve, like no one else ever had done to him, like Steve had never done to anyone.

He opened his eyes to watch Steve's face, ecstatic, overwhelmed with pleasure, because this was his last chance.

Trembling, Steve sank down on top of Tony. His forehead was pressed against Tony's shoulder, and Tony ran his hands through Steve's hair, down Steve's back, as Steve started to slip out of him. Tony had always liked this part: the cuddling.

But, of course, it was all over now, and they were never doing this again, and Steve didn't love him.

Tony patted Steve's shoulder and tried to think of something he might have said if his soul weren't being eaten alive from his heart on out. "Mission accomplished, huh? No more unicorns for you."

Steve didn't even look at him.

"Yeah," Steve said, on a disconsolate-sounding sigh, breathing out a harsh, wet breath against Tony's collarbone. "We did it." Tony wondered if Steve was regretting everything. Steve probably wasn't going to want to stay and cuddle him this time.

Sure enough, Steve was pulling away, and he rolled over to lie next to Tony. He didn't even offer to get him a washcloth. Yeah, Steve was definitely done with him, all right. He'd gotten what he'd wanted. And Tony had managed to make him feel horrible in the process.

"I'm so, so sorry," Steve said again. His voice was thick, and if he wasn't crying now he would be in about ten seconds, and this wasn't how Tony had pictured Steve's first time at all.

He should have remembered that he always ruined everything.

"It's all right," Tony said, which was a hell of a lie, and Steve didn't even call him on it, which just made the misery rise higher. He couldn't bring himself to look at Steve. He didn't want to know.

"I didn't mean to say it, obviously. I never meant to tell you I loved you." Steve sounded like he was trying with all the strength in him to stay calm, but his voice was shaking. "I know what we agreed on, and I know you didn't -- don't -- want anything more than sex, and if I'd been a stronger man, a better man, I would have turned you down then. I should have. But I was weak, and I-- I wanted whatever you would let me have. I thought I could get through this and never let you know how I felt, and obviously that wasn't the case. I took advantage of you, Tony. I never should have done this when I knew you didn't feel the same way."


Nothing was making sense. That sounded like-- what Steve was saying sounded like--

"I hope we can continue to be friends," Steve added, his voice growing even rougher. "I know I have no right to ask anything of you, but your friendship has meant a lot to me over the years. I understand, though, if you don't want to see me again." He paused. "I'll leave the team, if that's what you need me to do. The Avengers were yours before you ever found me in the ice, and they can be yours again when I'm gone. Whatever you want to tell them is up to you. I know I-- haven't earned your respect, not when I've done this to you."

Oh, God. Oh God oh God oh God. Steve had apologized for saying he loved him -- not because he hadn't meant it, but because he'd thought Tony hadn't wanted to hear it.

Steve loved him.

Steve loved him.

It couldn't be true. How could Steve love him? What could Steve see in him? While on a good day Tony could maybe see how a nice suit, a smile, a few compliments, and some moves from the Tony Stark Playbook could get him as far as infatuation, Steve wasn't some easily-impressed stranger. Steve had known him for a decade. Steve had seen him at his worst, when he had no masks, no money, and nothing but the bottle in his hand. Steve had seen every terrible decision he'd ever made. Even as Avengers -- Tony was sure neither of them were forgetting about the Guardsmen or the Kree Supreme Intelligence. He was flawed, and Steve knew it. Steve had to know it. He'd been there. He knew Tony.

Maybe it had just been the sex.

Tony was willing to admit that he was, all things considered, a more-than-decent lay, and he'd been putting in an especially large amount of effort into showing Steve a good time. He could see how Steve might have convinced himself that he had some kind of attachment to him. It had been a very intense week. Tony had somehow blinded him. Given a bit of distance, though, Steve would obviously see the truth. Steve's feelings couldn't be anything too much older than that. That just wouldn't make any sense.

So all he had to do was reassure Steve that these newfound feelings would fade, and maybe they could salvage some kind of friendship from this mess.

"How long have you felt like this?" Tony asked.

Steve's laugh was sad. "What day is it?"

"Tuesday," Tony said, confused. "Why?"

"Ten years, two months, and eleven days," Steve said, promptly. He sounded like he was giving up the nuclear launch codes. "Give or take a few days, I suppose. I was mostly just lonely at the beginning."


"I mean," Steve said, as Tony's world was being turned upside down, "there were a few years there where I thought I was in love with two different people, so admittedly that was awkward." He paused again. "Not as awkward as this."

God. Steve had loved him from the beginning.

He thought about how Steve had treated him this whole week. The compliments. The pet names. Holding his hand at the movies. The way Steve had smiled at him this whole week. The way Steve had smiled at him this whole decade.

It had always been more. It had always been love.

"Steve," Tony said, and he wasn't brave enough. The words weren't there. Even if Steve loved him, Tony couldn't say it back--

Steve was pushing himself upright. He was at the edge of the bed. He was going to get up and leave and walk right out of Tony's life.

"I really am sorry," Steve said, to the rest of the room. Tony still couldn't see his face. "I know that doesn't excuse anything--"

Tony couldn't do this. He was a coward, and he didn't deserve Steve. But he didn't want a life that didn't have Steve in it.

Shaking, he sat up, stretched his arm out, and his fingertips just barely brushed Steve's shoulder.

"I've been desperately in love with you since the day I met you." Tony's voice rasped.

For a few seconds, there was nothing. Steve was frozen under his hand. And then Steve turned. There were tears in his eyes, and a look of disbelieving joy spreading across his face.

"Tony?" Steve asked, in the smallest, quietest voice Tony had ever heard from him. He was shaking, trembling. "Tony, are you-- what are you-- are you really--"

"I was never going to tell you." He could feel the nervous, self-deprecating smile on his own face. "Until last week, I thought you were completely straight, you know?"

Steve smiled a small smile. "I know," he murmured, and there was that same guilt in his eyes. "That was... what I was letting everyone assume."

"And then we started doing this--" Tony waved his hand at the two of them, the room, the whole scenario-- "and I figured, well, you were in it for the sex. So I figured that this was it, and if this was all of you I could have, I was going to take it. You were just going to stop when you'd gotten what you wanted."

A familiar emotion flickered into Steve's eyes, affection tempered with annoyance. "Oh, yeah, because that sounds just like something I'd do." Anyone other than Steve would probably have rolled their eyes.

Tony flung his hands wide. "How was I supposed to know what you would do? I didn't exactly have data for this, you know! As far as I knew, you didn't go around having no-strings-attached gay sex with your teammates!"

"Well, neither did you!" Steve retorted.

For half a breath, Tony thought Steve might have actually been angry, but then Steve started laughing.

"Oh, my God," Steve said, between peals of laughter. "Oh, God, Tony, it's been ten years, and we both-- what the hell, Tony-- have we really been-- did we really--"

Tony could feel his mouth curve in a smile. "Yeah, it looks like we did."

Steve smiled back at him, but the look in his eyes had a hint of reluctance. "Can I-- do you mind if I--"

"Literally everything you want is on the table," Tony told him. "In case that wasn't obvious."

"Oh," Steve said, a quiet pleased sound, his eyes wide and awed, like Tony had given him a gift beyond price.

And then he crawled back into Tony's arms. They were going to be stuck together, but Tony wasn't about to complain. Steve nudged him until they fell back against the mattress, Steve atop him, and oh, that was nice. Steve promptly curled up next to him, which was less nice, but Tony would take it. Steve was still here.

"Why didn't you say anything?" Tony asked. "Maybe I thought you were straight for a decade, but you knew for a fact that I was queer."

God, they could have been doing this a decade ago if one of them had just said something--

Steve looked up at him. His mouth worked. "Tony, this -- no-strings-attached sex -- this was what you asked for. Believe me, it wouldn't have been my first choice." Something flashed in his eyes, something confused and sad. "When we started this, you explicitly told me you didn't want commitment."

What the hell? When had he said that?

And then he remembered. They'd been in the library, talking about their respective relationships, and he'd been telling Steve why he couldn't have dated Rumiko Fujikawa. He'd told Steve how it would never have worked because she didn't know he was Iron Man, and so he couldn't commit to her the way she'd wanted, not with secrets between them -- the same reason it hadn't worked out with Jan, back in the day.

Steve had looked so sad when Tony had said that, he remembered now, and he hadn't known why. Steve had heard him say that and thought that that meant he hadn't had a chance with him, oh God--

This had all been one epic misunderstanding.

"That wasn't what I meant," Tony said, and he kind of wanted to hit himself in the face. "I was talking about Rumiko! Because she doesn't know I'm Iron Man! She wouldn't have understood my duty to the Avengers! You've known who I am for years! Why the hell would you think that applied to you?"

Steve blinked at him. His eyes were huge and blue in the morning sunlight. "What, I was supposed to think I was special?"

"Yes!" Tony said. "Of course you're special! You've always-- God, Steve, you've always been special to me. You were supposed to think-- how could you even think I didn't want commitment? You've seen my love life! You've seen me date! Commitment isn't a thing I have a problem doing! Jesus, Steve, if anything, I commit too much! How could you think I wouldn't commit? You know me!"

He knew he'd raised his voice, but he couldn't really help it. This was ridiculous.

"So I wasn't supposed to trust what you told me? How was I supposed to know I could hold out for a real relationship?" Steve retorted, raising his voice to match. "Was I supposed to bargain? You made an offer, and maybe it wasn't the offer I would have wanted most, but as far as I knew, it was sex or nothing. So I picked sex. Was I supposed to make a counteroffer?"

"You could have asked before! Anytime in the past ten years! You knew I was queer and you knew I liked you as a friend, and, come on, you had to have figured you could have had at least a chance with me!"

Tony couldn't seem to calm down; he wasn't mad at Steve so much as he was mad at the universe, because, God, they'd wasted so much time. It wasn't Steve's fault. Except it sort of was, if Steve had known and Steve had never even tried--

Steve sighed, and the fight went out of him. "I didn't know for sure that I had a chance," Steve said, very softly, and Tony could see old, old regret in his gaze. "I didn't want to ruin what we had. Our working relationship--"

"--says the guy who's dated a SHIELD agent on and off for the better part of a decade--"

"--and our friendship," Steve added.

Something about the way he said it, still hesitant, made Tony certain that that wasn't the whole reason. "I've dated teammates," Tony pointed out. "You know I have. I dated Jan, and it didn't work out, and we're still good friends. I could have handled it. We both could have. Come on, Steve." He laid his hand on Steve's shoulder, ran two fingers over his skin. "It wasn't really that, was it?"

"You really want me to say it?" Steve's mouth twisted. He was looking at Tony like he thought Tony obviously knew the answer. "Really?"

Tony had no clue what he was talking about.

"I do know you, Tony," Steve said, with a hint of a sad smile. "And I know that physical intimacy is very important to you."

That was when Tony realized why Steve had thought he'd already known what the reason was. Oh, geez. Not this. It couldn't be. It couldn't be his body. "Steve--"

"And I don't fault you for that," Steve added. "I mean, it's important to me too. But I figured you weren't going to be real thrilled if I took you out and then you found out that I couldn't, you know--" he waved vaguely downward-- "make love to you like a normal fella." His throat worked again. "And I know I've been with a few people, yeah, and mostly, eventually they took it okay -- but for you, for you I had to be... perfect. And I know I'm not, and I just-- I couldn't face disappointing you."

And here was Steve, telling Tony that Tony could never love him because of his dick.

Tony breathed in and out and tried to think about what to tell Steve, who was watching him with huge nervous eyes, like everything was riding on this, this secret that he'd kept for years.

He thought about telling Steve that obviously in that respect they'd proved Steve's fears wrong, but he knew that wasn't what Steve needed to hear.

Steve needed to know he was loved.

"You could never disappoint me," Tony said, softly, and Steve smiled a wavering smile. "I mean, yes," he admitted, "I've enjoyed the sex we've had, but it's not about that. If you can fuck me, if you can't fuck me -- hell, even if you just don't want to fuck me -- none of that matters to me. That's not why I'm in love with you, and I'd love you no matter what you looked like, or what you could do." He stroked Steve's arm, not daring to presume more. "That's not to say I'd be opposed to continued... physical intimacy, in whatever shape or form you were comfortable with. I'm just saying that there are no deal-breakers here." He took a breath. "I love you and I want to be with you. That's the long and short of it."

Something in Steve's face had gone soft as soon as Tony had said love. Steve's eyes were wide and his lips parted, a tiny indrawn breath.

They could have this after all. Tony let himself consider the thought, an ember of hope burning bright within him. They could really have this. They could really do this. Steve might let him touch him again.

This hadn't been the last time. They could have more.

Tony opened his mouth again, not sure exactly what he was going to say, what he was going to offer. He just knew he had to say something. Did Steve want another promise? His body, again? Tony could give him that.

But Steve was faster. Steve turned to face him and laid a shaking hand on Tony's arm. "Can I-- can I take you out?"

"Out?" Tony echoed.

Steve nodded, a nervous little jerky motion of his chin. "On a date," he said. "A real date."

No one except Tony even knew Steve liked guys. If Steve dated Tony -- in whatever identity, and it was probably going to have to be as Captain America to the public, otherwise his secret identity wasn't going to stay secret -- people would know. Tony's romantic entanglements were news.

"I'm not asking you to come out of the closet for me," Tony said. "It's a big step, and you were right when you said it would probably have... ramifications, and I don't want you to think you have to do it for me--"

"I want to," Steve said, and he looked even more nervous but he was still smiling. "It's the right thing to do. And I can't say I'm not afraid, but-- I don't want to be afraid anymore. They can't hurt me, and I think if I say something, maybe people will have a conversation about this. Maybe they'll realize the law is unjust." His jaw tightened in that familiar expression of determination. He'd have been posing for a Cap poster if he hadn't been naked and in Tony's bed. "I'd be proud to be with you. I'd want people to know."

Tony couldn't resist. He leaned in and kissed Steve. He'd expected that it would feel different now, now that they knew they loved each other -- but Steve's mouth against his felt just the same. The kiss was soft, sweet, full of promise and yearning.

It was the same because they'd always loved each other.

"Wow," Tony breathed. "Okay. Okay, yeah. You can definitely take me out."

"Anywhere you'd like," Steve said, with a smile. "Dinner and a movie again, if you want. A show. Feeding ducks in the park."

"The Met," Tony offered, because he knew how much Steve liked the place.

Steve made a face. "That's sweet," he said, "but that's for me and not you and you know it."

"Hey, you'd be on this date too. And you can make it up to me," Tony said, with a grin. "Make out with me while you look at the Impressionists."

Steve's laugh was a noise of pure delight. "I'd prefer to be allowed to come back to the museum."

"Fine." Tony put on his best mock-disgruntled voice. "I'll save the makeouts for scandalizing the Avengers."

Steve grinned. "Well, there's the date I've been planning for a while in my head..."


"That electronics surplus store you like," Steve said, promptly. He was beaming. "The big one. And we'd go through and you'd buy dozens of weird things that I can't identify and you'd tell me about all of it and you'd get that look on your face, that look you get when you're having an idea--" Steve was blushing again-- "and you'd hold my hand the whole time. And then, maybe ice cream."

That was-- that was sweet, honestly. And it sounded like a lot of fun. "I didn't know you knew I liked that place that much."

"I like to pay attention to the things you say," Steve said, still smiling. "And it didn't take me long to figure out that the way to your heart was transistors."

Tony took Steve's hand -- because, well, he'd asked, hadn't he? "I didn't know I was so predictable, either."

"Little bit," Steve said, with a smile. "It makes me happy that we know each other that well, actually." He bit his lip. "And then, well, okay, so the fantasy date usually got a little less innocent by the end of it..."

"I am down for that," Tony said, fervently. "I am so down for that. We can do whatever you want. We can do this again if you liked it--"

"I loved it," Steve said, quietly, and, oh, that was a yes.

"But I'm a little sore right now," Tony added, "so I think this is probably not going to be an everyday kind of thing. Birthdays and holidays?"

"Oh," Steve said, and his face was falling. "Yeah. Of course."

"There are a lot of holidays, though," Tony continued. He grinned. "I am definitely willing to lube up for Arbor Day."

Steve snorted with laughter. "I love you," he said, finally, softly. "And anything you want to do is going to be wonderful." And then he paused. "And, uh, I know you thought I was straight, but... you know I like bottoming too, right?"

Tony blinked. "You like bottoming?"

"Well, sure," Steve said, like it was obvious. "Bars full of handsome men who wanted to take me home for the night -- was I supposed to not let them fuck me? I like it a lot."

Oh. But that meant-- but that meant--

"Oh my God," Tony said. "You weren't a virgin."

"I tried to tell you," Steve said, his smile fond and a little exasperated. "But you seemed to be really into this idea of deflowering me, and, you know, it made you happy, so I went with it."

Tony hadn't really considered Steve's ass before as something... available. On offer. Of course, Steve had a great ass, but he'd figured that, what with Steve being straight, there was really no point in thinking about something that was never going to happen. And then he found out Steve wasn't straight, but Steve hadn't mentioned the possibility, and so Tony hadn't really spent time thinking about it. Except now-- now maybe he could--

"You'd let me," Tony said, awestruck. "God, Steve, would you really let me?"

Steve smiled. "It would be my pleasure."

Steve kissed him, again slow and easy, and it was with regret that Tony broke the kiss.

"I hate to say this," Tony said, "but I should probably shower and get started on the day. Not sure how I'm going to think about work now." He was still going to be distracted, of course, but for a much better reason.

"I could shower with you?"

"Yeah," Tony said, standing up. "Definitely going to be thinking about work now. Perfect. Let's do that."

He tugged Steve up and back into the bathroom.

"Maybe," Steve said, sounding hopeful, "you could take the day off work...?"

Steve wrapped his arms around Tony, held him tight, nuzzled his throat, and Tony shivered and that was it, he was helpless, he was hopeless, he was gone.

"Yeah," Tony breathed. "Yeah, okay, maybe I could."

Steve smiled at him, bright and delighted, and Tony let himself enjoy the truth: Steve loved him.

"You know," Steve said, "with your company, with how you said you haven't been sleeping, if I can do anything to help--"

And then Tony realized he knew exactly how to save his company.

He didn't have to do it on his own. He never did.

And Morgan had no leverage now, for sure.

"I think the insomnia is -- mmm -- going to fix itself, now that I'm feeling a lot better about life," he said, as Steve pressed kisses into Tony's neck. "And as for Morgan--"

"No dark alleyways," Steve reminded him, laughing against his skin as he pulled Tony backwards into the shower and turned the water on. Water sluiced over both of them. "That's my limit."

"I would never," Tony said, and he leaned into Steve under the spray. "But maybe if you want to come with me to the Raft, talk to Taskmaster...?"

"I can do that," Steve answered, drawing him close. "I've got your back."

Tony walked into the meeting exactly on time. Under his arm was a folder containing a printed interview transcript, a burned CD-R, and a piece of paper that, the last time he looked at it, had contained only the sentence By the Vishanti, Tony, couldn't you have asked someone with a valid medical license?

Another man might have been nervous. A week ago, Tony would have been terrified. Today, he was neither. He knew what he was doing, he had this under control, and he wasn't alone.

Kenjiro Fujikawa was at the other end of the room, as was Morgan. Morgan was smiling in ugly glee, in barely concealed anticipation, and Tony ignored him to walk over and greet Mr. Fujikawa.

"Mr. Fujikawa," Tony said, bowing. "Thank you for meeting me."

Mr. Fujikawa bowed back. "Greetings, Mr. Stark."

Tony turned to Morgan and offered his hand and his best terrible-predator smile, the one that said don't fuck with me, asshole. "What a pleasure to see you again, Morgan."

There was fear in Morgan's eyes now; Tony won the handshake.

"Tony," Morgan said, weakly, disconsolate. "You're looking... good."

"Thanks!" Tony said, putting every last iota of cheery brightness into his tone. "I'm feeling great, actually. It's been a really good week for me. Best ever, I'd say."

Morgan swallowed hard. His face paled.

Okay, maybe he didn't actually need to make Morgan squirm, but it was awfully satisfying.

Mr. Fujikawa motioned him to a seat; Tony sat first, then Morgan, then Mr. Fujikawa.

"Mr. Stark," Mr. Fujikawa said, and they both turned to him. He nodded at Tony. "You understand why I have asked to meet with you."

Tony nodded. "I understand that there were worries about my fitness as CEO of Stark Solutions, and because of that there were associated concerns about the business partnership of Stark Solutions and Stark-Fujikawa." He spread his hands wide. "Believe me, I understand what's at stake here. No one values this partnership more than I do. But I assure you that I am perfectly healthy. I have a statement attesting to this from my personal physician."

He smiled his best smile and pulled the top sheet of paper out of the file. Rather than a piece of something that had felt like vellum when it had been handed to him, it was now ordinary letterhead: Stephen V. Strange, M.D., 177A Bleecker St., New York, New York. Tony let out a breath.

It read: This is to certify that I have examined Anthony Stark and found him to be physically and mentally fit to assume all requirements as chief executive of Stark Solutions. He is in excellent health.

It wasn't a lie; Stephen actually had examined him. And given that the examination had included another once-over of his soul, thanks again to the Eye of Agamotto, it was more mentally thorough than any other doctor's exam Tony had ever had. Stephen had just smiled serenely and said that he was very happy for them both, and that under no circumstances did he ever want more details.

He passed the paper to Mr. Fujikawa, who read it, nodding thoughtfully to himself.

"Yes," he said. "I had heard that you were unwell." He glanced up at Tony as if he were comparing him to the paper. "But to me you seem perfectly fine."

"I hope that these rumors about my health can be laid to rest," Tony said, smoothly, "and that our companies can continue to work well together. It's very important to me that Starkware continue to respect the guiding ethos by which I structure all my companies."

"Mmm," Mr. Fujikawa said. "While there were suggestions made that Starkware should abandon its philanthropic aims, I understand that this is important to you, and I would be pleased to continue that."

He had his company. Oh, God, he still had his company. He'd done it.

Tony smiled wide. "Thank you so much."

Time for the fun part.

He pulled out the interview transcript. "While I have your time," he said, "I felt I should make you aware of some sad news involving one of your regional directors."

"Oh?" Mr. Fujikawa said. His gaze narrowed and settled on Morgan. Yeah, clearly he had his suspicions.

Morgan swallowed with an audible gulp.

Tony turned to Morgan. "You hired Taskmaster to break into my office. He confessed everything to Captain America. On the record." He dropped the interview transcript in the middle of the table. Papers spread out. "It's very educational," Tony said, sweetly. "I particularly enjoyed the part where you offered to pay him with the bonuses you were going to receive after he helped you break up Starkware. That was a nice touch."

"Lies," Morgan said. His face was gray and sweat was soaking his suit, but Tony had to admire him, just a little, for trying. "Those villains, they'll say anything--"

"Yeah, some of them sure will," Tony said. "But you picked Taskmaster, the guy who can copy moves by watching videos of them. So he takes a lot of recordings. And wouldn't you know it, you met with him where his security system was capturing audio and video." He tossed the CD-R on the table. "We've got you on tape."

"I--" Morgan stammered. "I-- I--"

"There are some very nice SHIELD agents waiting for you in the reception area," Tony said. "They'd like to have a chat with you."

Morgan stared at him with bitter, defeated rage.

Tony turned back to Mr. Fujikawa. "Is there any other business you wanted to address before the regular Starkware meeting?"

Mr. Fujikawa shook his head. "No." He sounded vaguely scandalized, but then, Tony had done a lot worse. "That's all."

"Great," Tony said. "Thanks for your time. I'll let SHIELD take over from here, if that's okay?"

Mr. Fujikawa nodded, a little bewildered.

"Excellent," Tony said, and he pushed open the door and stepped out.

The two SHIELD agents who had been sitting closest to the door got up and headed in, at Tony's gesture, and that just left the only other occupant of the room.

Steve stood up, smiling. "That was fast."

"Well, you know," Tony said. "I'd hate to be late for my lunch date with Captain America."

And if those doctored photos ever came out -- well, it was going to be hard to stand up to the word of Captain America.

Steve offered him an arm; Tony took it, holding Steve's hand, feeling the leather of Steve's gloves press against his bare hands, a little slick with sweat. Okay, maybe he'd been just a little nervous.

"Everything went fine?" Steve asked, as they headed down the hall.

Tony nodded. "Everything is absolutely perfect."

Steve smiled at him, dazzling and joyful. "Glad to hear it."

A few more seconds passed in silence and then Tony had to say it.

"Hey," Tony murmured. "Tell me again?"

Steve squeezed his hand. "I love you, Tony."

He was never going to tire of hearing that.

Tony squeezed Steve's hand back. "I love you too."