It happened far less often now than it used to, the team finding Steve like this: lying in a dusty bedroom, wearing clothing far too small and modern to be his own. But the dust was still far more of an anomaly in St—Avengers tower than this particular scene; the place had a top-notch maintenance staff who kept the rest of the building looking immaculate, which was no small task given that most of the team was far from conscientious about picking up after themselves. But the cleaners knew better than to even attempt entry to this room, especially after Steve’s blow up when Alma had made the mistake of washing the coffee mug Tony had left on the penthouse kitchen counter the morning before—
“Steve.” The speaker’s tone suggested this was not the first or even the second time they had tried to get his attention. Distantly Steve felt ashamed of the idea that Bucky Barnes, of all people, should ever struggle to get and maintain his focus. Bucky had once been practically his whole world. “JARVIS told me you were in here. I thought we agreed no more than once a week.” More echoes of a feeling that would be shame if Steve’s body and heart knew how to really feel anything anymore. Because how ridiculous was it that his team had to keep tabs on him this way, restricting his access to Tony’s old bedroom and clothes. (He’d only agreed to the schedule in the first place because he wanted to try to make the faint scents of Tony—motor oil and coffee and sugared blueberries—linger as long as possible. Already they were fading. Already Steve wondered sometimes if all he was really smelling when he buried his nose in Tony’s pillows was some kind of olfactory-based manifestation of his own desperation to hold on just a little longer, a little harder.)
He stood, managing not to waver on his feet as he carefully stripped out of the too-tight band t-shirt and folded it into a neat square that he deposited at the foot of the bed. Tony never would have left it that way, but Steve couldn’t bear to throw it casually to the floor as his lover would have done. Bucky waited, undisguised concern written across his features. Steve was too used to that now to bother looking away or attempting to hide himself from that scrutiny. He knows what they see when they look at him.
“Just got mixed up on the days. Been a long week.” He never used to lie, either, especially not to Bucky. But there’s no way to explain that the combination of an eidetic memory and years worth of treasured moments means Steve’s constantly in a feedback loop, always recalling something like it had just happened the day before. Their first kiss, the first time they’d held hands in public, the first time Tony had used Steve’s name instead of a nickname…he remembers them all. Today it had been four years since Steve had first been granted entry to Tony’s workshop.
Steve wasn’t supposed to be there at all. He’d been eager to depart New York and all of its ghosts, to hop on his bike and explore present-day America in the hope that he’d find somewhere that he fit in. He’d been in a cheap diner in Ohio when he’d first started seeing the news reports. Most of the initial coverage amounted to lukewarm celebrations of the Avengers, littered with the occasional criticism of their methods or the fact that they hadn’t acted sooner, saved more lives. That was easy enough to ignore, because even at the height of Captain America’s popularity Steve had never had a 100% approval rating. (That had come later. Hindsight and nostalgia were a dangerous cocktail.) But then the focus started to shift, circling continuously around Damage Control, Tony’s attempts to collect and safely store the alien technology that littered the streets like empty coffee cups after the Battle of Manhattan was over. Iron Man made occasional appearances too, assisting clean up crews with pieces of wreckage too heavy or volatile to be safely transported by regular folks.
It hadn’t really hit Steve until then, the fact that the entire team (sans Banner, whom he had been pretty sure ended up at the Tower even though he didn’t make any appearances in the footage) had left Tony behind to clean up their reportedly 160 billion dollar mess. But when it had, when he’d imagined Sarah Rogers’ disappointment at her son’s negligence and selfishness, well he’d broken basically every speeding law in existence in his haste to return to New York. And he’d only felt a little guilty for sticking SHIELD with the tickets he accrued.
He’d realized too late that he knew very little about the tower and the complex technological forces that regulated nearly every aspect of its existence. But to his surprise, when he’d signed in at the front desk and then gotten in the elevator with a request for JARVIS to take him to Tony, the AI had done so without even the pause that Steve would later come to learn meant he was verifying something with Tony himself first. That probably should have been the first indication of how desperate and lonely and terrified Tony was, the way he accepted a man he believed hated his guts into the shop, the very heart of his home, like it was nothing.
“Dummy, for goodness sake. I’m not singing the maintenance song to you again. It’s humiliating, and I’m actually doing you a favour here believe it or not. So can you just let me finish changing out those bolts before I decide to let them rust?” There was a series of beeps that Tony either knew how to interpret or could convincingly feign understanding of, because he’d hardly missed a beat before replying. “Oh, yeah? Well call me want you want, but that won’t stop me from giving Butterfingers custody of Rhodey when you’re gone. Yeah that’s what I thought.” Steve had watched, oddly transfixed by the interaction; Tony’s gentleness wasn’t masked at all by his continual stream of insults at his bot, whose beeps seemed to grow cheerier the more worked up his creator grew.
It had ended up taking over ten minutes for Tony to even acknowledge Steve was there, and the ensuing conversation (awkward attempts at apologies on Steve’s end; blustering avoidance on Tony’s) had been neither long nor productive.
But it had been a start.
Bucky didn’t call Steve on his bullshit, too focused on guiding him from the room as quickly as possible. The door clicked shut with a terrible finality, and before Steve could bother asking, JARVIS offered his usual assurance that he wouldn’t permit entry to anyone without proper access codes.
“You’re already late for Clint. He’s waiting on your floor.” Though the gears of his mind were turning far too slowly, Steve still attempted to search out an acceptable reason to cancel. He’d used injuries from battle last time, and given that he’d barely gotten a scratch in their scuffle with Doom today, that would have been even less convincing now. (He resented the serum more than he was grateful for it these days.) All other threats were currently below even Ultron’s super-sensitive notice. He could have tried insisting he needed to train, but Steve regularly logged more time in the tower’s gym than anyone, and that was on top of his morning runs.
He hesitated too long. Bucky let out an explosive sigh.
“Not again, man. We’re not fuckin’ goin’ through this again when I have Natasha waiting for me downstairs. You need to take someone down. You’re no used to us half-alive from prolonged dom-dep. Denying yourself headspace ain’t gonna bring him back, not to mention it’s about the last damn thing Tony would have wanted.”
Eventually, Steve agreed and made his way to his own floor. Not because he wanted it, but because he had put the team through enough in the immediate aftermath of Tony’s loss. They didn’t need to know how broken he still was, or how he wondered if (maybe even hoped, on the worst days) his body might someday physically give out from the grief. The story they had been telling one another lately, that Bucky had even rehearsed tonight, was that Steve had been doing better lately. And if they were able to convince themselves of that, he certainly wasn’t going to be the one to correct them; they deserved all the comforting fictions he could offer.
He used to love being with Clint. The archer was a category 6 switch primarily inclined toward domination, but on the rare occasions that he did go down into submissive headspace he went deep, and he was absolutely gorgeous—pliant, eager-to-please, and happy to take anything his Dom wanted to give him, from elaborate scenes full of props and pain to a simple hard fuck with a few orders thrown in.
Like all forms of submission, it was a gift that he was offering Steve, one made even more precious for its relative rarity. Certainly any other member of the team would be thrilled to have Clint like this; they definitely wouldn’t be fighting the urge to slip away into their own heads even while working a thick dildo into Clint’s ass the way Steve was.
“Fuck fuck fuck Steve, sir, please. ‘m ready. I want—” Steve silenced him with a kiss, all his remaining energy going into forcing himself not to wonder if he was quieting Clint because he truly wasn’t in the mood to hear begging, or because he was wishing it was someone else’s voice altogether.
“Goddamn you, Rogers, just fucking do it.” Especially at the beginning, newly outed and furious, Tony had been all fear and rage and desperation. He’d hated nothing quite as much as the way he needed the dominance, the way it seemed like his body would yield to Steve’s very thought…
He was still careful with Clint, of course; Steve was a lot of things he could barely recognize these days, but negligent had never been one of them. He prepped Clint with care, cautious of the impact his size and strength even as Clint gave every signal that he was ready, working his hips to rock back into the dildo and clawing at the sheets. When he finally pushed his way into Clint, he murmured all of the things he knew Clint needed to hear, a gentle medley of guidance and encouragement and praise. (Tony would have hated it. At least until he was far down enough to be receptive; then, like the flick of a switch, he’d be so desperate for approval that it broke Steve’s fucking heart. Every time.) When the time came for aftercare, he bathed the lax, content body of his teammate, hand fed him, and carefully tended to minor abrasions, most of which were leftover from battle, not their scene. Then he tucked Clint into Steve’s own bed. Clint fell asleep warm, secure and likely completely unaware that Steve’s arms still ached to hold someone else entirely.