Steve came to peace with Tony’s drinking years ago. They’d had a bit of a rocky start, what with Tony getting into a bar fight on his very first night in Timely, but as time went on and Steve got to know the man behind the antics he couldn’t help but grow fond.
He’d kept an eye on Tony at first, the way he did all newcomers. Observed his day. Learned his habits. Attempted to reasonably piece together his intentions. He noticed the drinking, certainly. He noticed the melancholy more. Tony was a charmer in a crowd but there was an ache to him when he was alone, a grief burrowed deep within his bones. He was here to start over. Escape whatever it was that haunted him so, find a way to breathe through his guilt and build something new.
Steve hadn’t known then what exactly Tony had done to feel such guilt. In the end, he’d determined it inconsequential. Tony’s work was flawless, he kept mostly to himself, and the citizens of Timely liked him. Steve’s investigative work as sheriff was done.
He’d found his thoughts wandering back to their new blacksmith time and time again. He fully believed Tony deserved to be here. He was a quality addition to their town, befriending even their most notoriously reclusive resident. It wasn’t anything to do with town business. It was something else, something…more.
Steve couldn’t have put a name to it. Not then. Certainly couldn’t have justified it should anyone have asked. Bucky might’ve noticed, had he not been preoccupied with the new missus at time, but he was so he didn’t. Without Bucky to tease him about it Steve went right ahead continuing his observations long past necessary.
Right up until Tony called him on it.
So you know, Tony had said, voice shaky with more than alcohol. Steve hadn’t known so he’d stayed silent. Tony just laughed, bitter and too loud in the quiet night. It’s alright, Sheriff. I can be gone by morning.
As Tony stood to leave Steve had been gripped by a flash of understanding. The image of Tony curled up alone on the first train out of town burned in his mind and he knew with perfect clarity exactly why he didn’t want that to happen. He’d put his hand on Tony’s then, feather light, a barely there touch. A plausibly deniable touch.
I don’t know. Tell me,” he’d said quietly. It was an offer to listen. It was an offer for a lot of things, though Tony either didn’t know or didn’t want.
Still. It was enough, Steve thought. What they had now. What started that night, Tony confiding the barest bones of his story, and grew into friendship over the years as he slowly, inch by inch, allowed Steve to piece together the rest. Slurred declarations that he was worthless, that he was cruel, that he was any number of things Steve knew in his heart this man was not. Snippets slipped into sober conversation with feigned casualness, a conscious test of what he could say to push Steve away. Steve’s conscious, unspoken answer of nothing.
He hadn’t set out to try and change Tony’s habits. Tony already seemed to feel he didn’t deserve Steve’s friendship, the last thing Steve wanted to do was give those thoughts any kind of fuel. He simply took care of Tony where he could, tried to be around so Tony wouldn’t wind up drinking alone and diving too deep into his own melancholy. Tried to get him home early, keep him off the streets and out of trouble.
It wasn’t until years later that he noticed Tony had gone and changed anyway.
It wasn’t anything major. He still drank his share and got into plenty of rabble-rousing, the latter simply being his nature. Yet when Steve came back late from patrol one night to find Tony slouched against the door of the station, grinning at him as he slurred the words to one of his usual folk songs, Steve realized for the first time it’d been months since Tony had gotten sad drunk. It still happened. Always would. How far Tony had come, though. Like night and day.
And his smile was the sunrise.
Steve shook his head and got out his key.
“At it again, Tony?”
“Th’spirits called t’me.” Tony waved a hand dramatically while Steve unlocked the door. “In th’song of my person.”
“You’re Irish now?” Steve chuckled.
“My person,” Tony clarified. “Not my me.”
“Very clear.” Steve nodded agreeably, held the door open behind him. “You here to keep me company?”
“Why, Sheriff Rogers,” Tony over-enunciated with that posh accent Steve never could place, by now an inside joke of theirs. Steve smiled. “T’would be m’honor.”
“T’would it now?”
“T’would now.” Tony grinned back, bumping Steve’s chest with his shoulder as he passed him in the doorway. As he stepped into the light, however, Steve caught a good look at his face.
“Hey, what—” He reached to brush back Tony’s hair, inspect the nasty twin cuts on his forehead. They arched up towards his hairline like someone had come at him with a broken bottle and he hadn’t quite ducked in time. Steve seethed. “Who the hell—”
“No. Who did this?” Steve demanded. Bar scuffles were one thing, he’d been in plenty himself and it wasn’t the first time Tony had earned a bruise or two for mouthing off to the wrong person. Nearly getting his eyes gouged out was another story.
“Nobody, m’fine, s’just—” Tony ducked out of his examining grip a little too quickly, wobbling unsteadily and almost tripping over his own feet. Steve took his elbow and guided him towards his office.
“I’m the sheriff. If someone’s out there starting fights I ought to know who.” Rational or not, it was an excuse and they both damn well knew it.
“Why?” Tony shook his head with a rueful smile. “Y’gonna defend m’honor? Go out an’ round ‘em up, throw ‘em in a cell?”
“They’re gonna need a doctor, not a cell,” Steve muttered darkly. Tony blinked in surprise. They’d gotten so comfortable lately Steve kept forgetting there were certain cards he needed to hold a little closer to his chest. He started to walk it back. “I only meant—”
“It was nobody,” Tony answered. Steve opened his mouth but Tony jumped in quickly. “Actually nobody. I was workin’ on that project I was tellin’ you about, for Jan? You r’member?”
Steve nodded. At second glance he was pretty sure that was an oil streak in Tony’s hair.
“Turns out I’m rusty w’that model.” Tony winced. “And…pr’bly shouldn’t have been drinking, either. Next thing I know—” Tony clapped his hands together. “One of the pieces springs up an’ scratches the shit out of my forehead.”
“Oh.” Steve let out a breath, relieved. He wished Tony would be more careful but an inventing scrape was far better than the attack he’d envisioned. He helped Tony onto the bench in his office. “That’s—alright. Go on then, sit down. Let me get the kit.”
“Such a mother hen,” Tony huffed. Didn’t move to leave, though. Steve shot him a knowing look as he retrieved the med kit.
He still remembered the first time he’d cleaned Tony up after a brawl. Tony might not, it was years ago and he’d been pretty heavily soused. Enough that he’d mumbled something about how much he missed this. Steve still wasn’t certain what exactly this was that Tony missed from his old life—couldn’t be medical care, Tony avoided the actual doctor like the plague—but it was enough to keep Tony coming back under the guise of protest and to keep Steve assisting him instead of insisting he go to a real doctor.
They sat close. Had to, so Steve could see what he was doing. Their knees brushed together and Steve felt a starburst of warmth. Tony fell stone still as he always did, the one time Steve ever knew him not to be bursting at the seams with sound and motion. Silence wrapped around them while Steve got to work.
There wasn’t much to do this time. Tony was still but Steve steadied his face in one hand anyway, gently rinsing both marks with a wet cloth before drying and dressing the wound. He could’ve done it in half a minute. He lingered. It was revealing, Steve knew, but Tony had likely drunk enough he wouldn’t remember exactly how long Steve had held his face come morning anyway.
Just as Steve was about to let go, Tony’s hand curled around his wrist. Steve dared to take his eyes from the cuts and found Tony watching him intently. They both went still and for a too-long moment the only sound was their breath, soft and slow. Steve tried his best not to move. He’d ached for this very moment so quietly and so long he felt paralyzed now by all the ways he could ruin it. It should be Tony who moved forward, shouldn’t it? To be certain this was really what he wanted? He was drunk, after all, and he’d never shown interest before. He could come to regret—
Tony tipped forward and pressed his mouth to Steve’s. It was like a breath of fresh air after a lifetime underwater. Steve was so grateful to have the moment at all he hardly remembered to react to it; he didn’t manage to kiss back until Tony began to withdraw. There was fear in his expression and god, Steve knew that fear. He’d lived his whole life with that fear. He refused to let either of them feel it a moment longer than they had to.
“Hey, it’s okay,” he assured softly, pulling Tony back in. “It’s okay.”
The tension fell from Tony’s shoulders as Steve kissed him again. It was even better the second time around and just about heaven on the third. In the end, however, Steve had to acknowledge the whiskey on Tony’s breath and withdraw. Tony’s eyes stayed closed an extra beat. When he opened them, it was with a smile that could clear the cloudiest of skies.
“More than.” Steve stroked a thumb down the line of Tony’s jaw with an answering smile. “Think I ought to walk you home, though.”
Tony’s smile turned downright salacious. “Why, Sheriff—”
“To your door,” Steve interjected quickly. The smile dropped from Tony’s face.
“To my door,” he repeated dubiously, like Steve might be trying to kindly give him the brush off. It was anything but.
“It’s late. You’ve been drinking.” Steve took his hand. “You should be…certain.”
Tony actually laughed. “Steve, I can assure you—”
“Humor me?” Steve squeezed their linked fingers. There was little worse he could imagine than getting everything he wanted only to have it brushed aside as a meaningless, drunken mistake. “Let me get you home. Sleep it off. If you feel the same in the morning, well. You know where to find me.”
“S’pose I do.” Tony shook his head ruefully, though his smile made a return appearance as he pushed himself to his feet. “Well, come on then. Sooner to bed, sooner to rise, early bird gets the sheriff and all that.”
Steve laughed. “Is that how it goes?”
“Isn’t it?” Tony hummed, hand never leaving Steve’s as they made their way out of the station and into the night.
Steve had escorted Tony home many a night before. His home was just far enough out of the main town for Steve to worry, particularly when Tony drank, though Tony didn’t seem too deeply inebriated tonight. Just enough to be loose, to smile a little wider than he usually let himself. To kiss someone he might usually play it safe around. Steve smiled at the thought that perhaps they’d both been shooting themselves in the foot for far too long now.
He kissed Tony again at the door. If it was a liberty he shouldn’t take, well, four times was hardly going to be any different than three. Tony’s hands curled in his shirt and held him close for a long moment after parting.
“Early bird gets the sheriff,” Tony repeated firmly, like he was checking the terms of a deal he had to close just right.
Three, four…five…hardly any different. Steve cupped Tony’s face in his hands and kissed him once more.
“You get me any time you want,” he promised softly. Tony blinked back at him for a long moment, as if he didn’t understand. When he finally nodded Steve released him. He’d happily stand there all night if he didn’t. “Take care, Tony.”
It wasn’t until he was nearly home that he remembered the song Tony had been warbling earlier that night, the one he’d dismissed at the time. The verses Tony had sung were fairly innocuous but Steve found himself recalling the missing verses with undeniable warmth. He hummed the rest of the way home.
The next day, he woke far earlier than any sane man ought to. Sunlight had hardly started to break the dark of night. Didn’t stop Steve from rising anyway, going about the motions of starting his day with a skip in his step. He ought to temper it, he knew. He’d walked Tony home with good reason. Time and sobriety might have brought Tony to regret his actions last night and Steve was prepared to respect that. Mostly.
“Christ,” Bucky hissed. He was so startled by the sight of Steve ready and waiting in the station that he dropped his keys. As he retrieved them he muttered, “You need a social life, pal.”
Steve casually turned the page in his book. “Early bird gets the worm.”
“Yeah, well, last I saw you were a late worm. Patrol didn’t get back til after midnight.”
“Never needed much sleep.” Steve shrugged. Bucky narrowed his eyes.
“This wouldn’t have anything to do with who comes calling whenever you get night patrol, would it?”
“Drop it, Buck.”
“So yes.” Bucky sighed. “Honestly—”
“Bucky,” Steve warned. Bucky held his hands up.
“Alright, alright.” Bucky went through the motions of getting settled. Steve could tell he wasn’t finished. Moments later, he was proven right. “Not for nothing, Nat says you’re both stubborn enough to—”
“One more ‘Nat says’ and I’m banning your wife’s name in this office,” Steve threatened. Bucky was enamored and Steve knew the feeling all too well, today of all days, but the last thing he needed was Natasha’s advice on this particular issue. Even if she was likely right.
“I’m telling her you said that.”
“Wouldn’t expect less.”
The hours ticked by excruciatingly slow. There was some paperwork to file from patrol last night and a minor incident mid-morning but otherwise precious little to occupy Steve’s time. He grew more anxious with each passing hour. Tony could still be sleeping, certainly. Possibly. He could’ve had work to do. Pressing, time-sensitive work. Steve had said any time you want, after all. Tony must be taking him up on it.
Morning turned to noon. Bucky went out handle some kids causing a scene on the north end of town and after about thirty seconds of being left alone with his thoughts, Steve gathered his things and headed for Tony’s place.
Tony answered the door with a raised eyebrow and pleased, albeit clearly surprised smile.
“Didn’t realize you made housecalls, Sheriff. Have I raised that much of a ruckus? ”
“No, I—this isn’t business,” Steve said slowly, unsure if Tony was teasing or not.
Everything about his expression indicated he found Steve’s arrival genuinely unexpected. Certainly before today, surprise would’ve been warranted; he’d always tried his best not to visit Tony at home without reason. It felt too forward, swinging by just for the sake of his company.
Still, that was before. Regardless of how Tony felt about last night had he really not expected Steve to show up?
“Steve?” Tony’s teasing expression slipped as Steve’s lack of response stretched on a little too long. He took a step forward in concern. “Are you alright?”
“Yes, I…thought I’d check on you, that’s all,” Steve said tentatively. “You must have a hell of a hangover.”
“Had worse.” Tony snorted, accepting Steve’s provided excuse. He leaned against the doorframe in a way that might look casual to someone who didn’t know him like Steve did. He didn’t quite make eye contact as he added, with a nonchalance that rang utterly false, “Though to tell you the truth I might knock off the bottle for a bit.”
Steve tried to ignore the lance of pain. This was Tony’s way of answering the unspoken question, then. He hadn’t been himself. He was taking actions to correct it. That was—that was fine. Steve was fine. Would be fine. Probably.
“That’s…good.” He managed after a moment, when Tony seemed to be waiting on a response. When his lackluster answer seemed to disappoint he quickly added, “I mean, really, that’s—it’s up to you, but if that’s a change you want to make then I’m happy for you.”
“It’ll make your life easier, right?” Tony laughed.
Steve wasn’t certain he agreed. Less confusing, perhaps—if something about drinking made Tony inclined to cross lines he wasn’t interested in crossing sober, then it was likely for the best. Still, Steve couldn’t help a painful tug of wistfulness thinking back on all their late night conversations, not to mention Tony’s charmingly wobbly serenades.
“If that’s what you need to do,” Steve answered finally.
“Can’t say it’s anything permanent, of course. But a break sounds like just the ticket right now. Last night…” Tony shook his head incredulously. “I mean, really, I didn’t think I’d had very much at all. Could’ve sworn it was just…well, I remember working on Jan’s project. Might’ve been so engrossed in that I wasn’t paying attention?”
“Might be.” Steve shrugged stiffly. He got it. Tony hadn’t been himself, wasn’t inclined to repeat the experience, this wasn’t going anywhere. Message received. Steve was now very much ready to go home and have a good agonizing sulk about it, but Tony couldn’t seem to stop elaborating on how out of sorts he’d been.
“It’s the strangest thing. One minute I’m completely fine, next I’m waking up after what might be the strangest dream I’ve ever had. Don’t even remember going to bed. Well, I did in the dream—maybe that part was real?” Tony muttered to himself.
Steve stared at him. What was Tony trying to get at exactly? Strangest dream he’d ever had? He didn’t need to insult it, he’d been a pretty damn willing participant at the time. He’d kissed Steve first!
Steve’s determination not to push the issue was starting to crack. He managed not to scowl but couldn’t quite keep the affront from his voice. “‘Strangest dream you’ve ever had’? Really?”
“Certainly the most lucid.” Tony just nodded, apparently unaware of Steve’s growing discomfort with the conversation. “Ever have a dream that’s a bit too real? You wake up and you’re not certain for a moment whether you’re here or there, and when you figure it out, reality disappoints?”
“I guess?” Steve tried. Whatever excuse Tony was trying to weave about last night, he’d lost Steve along the way. First it was that he’d drank too much, then something about strange dreams, now it was dreams that made reality disappointing? What on earth was that supposed to mean? He was…disappointed in himself? In Steve? “Honestly, I’m not sure I follow. If you’re trying to tell me something—”
“No, no,” Tony backtracked. “It’s nothing, really, just that—”
“Could you—” Steve shook his head, frustrated. “We never have to bring it up again if that’s what you want. But Tony, if you’ve got a point to make I’m going to need you to say it plainly. I don’t have the slightest idea what you’re getting at right now.”
“A point? About what?” Tony’s brow furrowed in surprisingly convincing confusion.
“God, what else? Last night.”
“Last night?” Tony’s brow furrowed further. “Did I…was I singing at you again? Or Bucky? Poor bastard, last time I mistook him for you he startled so bad he almost shot me on sight.”
Everything about Tony’s expression read as pure, genuine confusion. He could put on a good enough act, certainly, but why would he? What purpose would that serve? All his talk of drinking too much and weird memories coalesced into startled understanding. It took damn near all his willpower not to step forward, take Tony’s hand or tug him closer or any number of the thousands of things he’d been aching for since long before last night.
“Tony, do you not remember coming to see me?”
“Coming to…see you,” Tony repeated slowly, not quite a question. “To sing at you?”
“Did a little more than that,” Steve hedged, cautiously hopeful. Tony sucked in a startled breath.
“Did I—” He cut himself off abruptly, shaking his head forcefully. “No. God, no. I didn’t. You would never, I know that, it’s—”
Oh, to hell with it.
“You kissed me last night. I kissed you back.” Tony went paler with every word. Steve sent an anxious prayer to whoever might be listening that he didn’t have this all wrong and forged onwards. “I walked you home because it was late and you were drunk, but I kissed you again at the door for good measure. If that’s what you think I would ‘never’ then, well. You’re wrong.”
Silence stretched between them.
“Do you really not remember any of this?” he asked at the exact moment Tony whispered, managing to sound both horrified and amazed at once, “It wasn’t a dream?”
Steve steeled himself. “No.”
“It wasn’t a dream?” Tony repeated, all but yelling in his face now.
“Are you happy or angry? I can’t—” Steve started but lost the rest of it along with most of the air in his lungs as Tony threw himself into Steve’s arms, kissed him with such intensity he knocked Steve’s hat right off his head.
Steve couldn’t help laughing into the kiss, far too relieved to do anything else.
“Stop laughing.” Tony peppered his demands between kisses. “Kiss me back.”
“Are you sure? I remember someone saying something about kissing me being the strangest dream they’d ever had—”
“Kiss me now, tease me later,” Tony insisted and, well. Steve just about used up all his willpower holding out long enough for the one snarky comment. He was hardly going to argue.
He wrapped an arm around Tony’s waist and hauled him in close, walking him blindly through the doorway so they’d be better shielded from the public eye. He’d be surprised if all of Timely didn’t know how he felt about their favorite blacksmith by now but Tony was a man who valued his privacy.
As they lay in bed together much later that afternoon, once Steve was exhausted and satiated and just about as perfectly content as he could ever recall being, Tony asked him about it. He brushed his thumb over the curve of Tony’s cheek and leaned in to steal another kiss. He could do that. As many times as he pleased, he could do that.
“Anything you want,” he promised. If Tony wanted him to never tell a soul, he wouldn’t. Bucky would take one look at his face and know the truth, of course, but Steve would deny it anyway if that was what Tony wanted.
“I’m fairly certain the whole town knows far too well what it is I want,” Tony murmured, tracing Steve’s shoulder with a finger as he spoke. “Does that bother you?”
“No,” Steve answered honestly. “The whole town, huh?”
“Just about.” Tony smiled wryly. “I only sang Danny Boy at you several hundred times, what exactly did you think I meant by that?”
“You said it was because I was Irish.”
“You certainly are, and did it not occur to you that the song is about being in love with an—” Tony faltered abruptly, withdrawing his hand as he caught his slip. “Ah.”
It was early, Steve knew. Still. Caution to the wind had already served him incredibly well once today, hadn’t it?
He caught Tony’s fingers, pressed a kiss to his knuckles. “I love you too.”
Tony’s smile could light the darkest of rooms. “I don’t recall saying I love you first.”
“You’re right,” Steve agreed with a hum. He nudged his nose along Tony’s hairline, pressed another kiss there. “Sing it to me?”
But come ye back when summer's in the meadow
Or when the valley's hushed and white with snow
And I'll be here in sunshine or in shadow
Oh Danny boy, oh Danny boy, I love you so.