Tumbleweeds rolled past, the only movement detectable down the stretch of dirt road through the center of town. If you could call it that anymore. Not six months back this place had been thriving, talk of a new rail stop being built. Now it looked abandoned.
Steve directed his horse toward the saloon anyway. If someone was still here, it was a good chance they’d be at the Black Widow. Sure enough when he dismounted, the door swung open and Natasha walked out to greet him, six shooters hanging from her gun belt. She leaned a hip against the railing, arms crossed, waiting for him to hitch his mare. Star nickered at being tethered, but calmed when he patted her neck, and Steve followed behind Nat inside at her nod toward the door.
Natasha sat heavily in a chair, the same seat she’d most likely left to greet him judging by the bottle of whiskey and the half empty glass on the table next to it. She pushed a chair out for him with one booted foot. The glass was held out in offer when he sat, but Steve shook his head. Natasha shrugged, slugged the amber liquid back and set the glass down to refill her glass.
Steve set his hat on the table, feeling his brows rise watching his friend imbibe so heavily. She might own a saloon, but she was the type of woman who preferred to keep her wits about her. “What happened here?” He asked, glancing around the empty room for emphasis.
Leaning back in the chair, Nat kicked her feet up on the table, crossing them at the ankle, glass resting against her stomach. “Mine dried up. Most everyone left.”
“What about the railroad?”
“Didn’t come fast enough. Folks needed to make a living and left for greener pastures.” She smirked, adding, “So to speak.”
His lips twitched, though he shook his head. Wasn’t much else but desert outside. Few months a year when the rains came the landscape was greener, but still far from pasture or forests.
“Sorry to hear it,” he said and he was. This had been a nice town, but like many in the territories out this way, they were short lived destined to become ghost towns. More than half the population of Copper Butte had been employed by the mine. If the mine stopped producing and the company pulled out, a lot of people would have been out of work. Like Natasha said—folks needed to make a living. Nothing came for free, especially not out here. “Where’s Clint?”
She tipped her chin up. “Where d’ya think?”
Steve looked up and sure enough Clint was sitting on the second floor landing, legs stuck between the posts and hanging over the side with a shotgun across his lap. He waggled his fingers at Steve. Steve raised his hand back, gaze turning to Natasha once more. “If the town’s deserted, what’s with the fire power?”
“Never said it was deserted,” she answered cryptically.
Steve frowned. “Who’s still here? Besides you two, that is. Never did know when to quit.”
“Still hoping that rail line brings some people here. Besides,” she paused to take a drink. “Everything we got is sunk into this place. Got some savings, business was good for a while there, but…”
She trailed off, tipping her head to exchange a look with Clint. Steve could fill in the blanks. They had savings, but maybe not enough to start over somewhere else from scratch.
“As for who all’s still here.” Nat took a deep breath and rolled her head back in his direction. “The Sheriff. Doc is planning on sticking around as long as he can. Wilson didn’t want to leave the telegraph office unattended.”
She rolled her eyes at the last. Nat was a fighter, but Sam had been a soldier before he came out here to open the general store and man the telegraph office both. A soldier didn’t abandon his post; Steve understood that and wasn’t surprised to find he was still there.
Couldn’t say he was surprised about the sheriff, either. Rhodes took responsibility for this town when he took the job and wouldn’t give that up lightly. What he did find a bit surprising was that Banner hadn’t hightailed it back to civilization. The doctor was a city boy from a good family in Massachusetts—came out here with something to prove. Not that city folk couldn’t cut it in western territories, he was a city boy himself from New York, but he and Banner’d had very different upbringings. Steve hadn’t expected the man to last the year, as mild and gentle as he was. Even he could be wrong sometimes.
“Well, ‘spose I ought to go check in with the sheriff, then.” Rhodes was more likely to tell him whatever it was that Natasha was keeping close lipped about. Steve stood and donned his hat. “If I could get a room for the night, I’d appreciate it.”
“Take your pick. They’re all empty,” Natasha said with a smirk, not bothering to stand. “You can join us for dinner. Cook left, but it’ll be edible. Clint’ll take care of your horse.”
“I’d appreciate that, too.” Steve’s mouth curved in a crooked smile at the sound of Clint’s groan and he tipped his hat at the other man, turning for the door, spurs jangling softly. Nat’s next words stopped him before he stepped outside.
“The blacksmith is still here, too, if you were wondering.” He had been and by the sly note in her voice, Nat knew exactly why. She didn’t pull one of her guns on him, however, so he figured she didn’t find it too objectionable. She offered to eat with him and have him sleep under the same roof, after all. He nodded once without turning and stepped out into the shade of the overhang. His eyes were drawn down the main stretch of road where he knew Tony’s smithy was from having walked there many times, most recently when he rode through on his way to California.
Steve didn’t walk that way, though. He turned in the opposite direction for the sheriff’s office. Business before pleasure and all that.
By the time Steve made it to Tony’s place he was hot, sweaty and tired, dirt caked to places on his skin and covering his clothes, the days of travel catching up with him. He was sorely in need of a bath and a bed, but found his feet carried him here instead, his mind preoccupied with the conversation he had with Sheriff Rhodes.
Steve hadn’t realized Hydra was out this way, last he’d heard they robbed a train in Indiana, but he must be out of the loop. The gang of outlaws had been terrorizing trains and stagecoaches from the Midwest to the Pacific for years. More than a few of his fellow Marshals had lost their lives at the end of Hydra’s guns. They took down one of ‘em and their ranks grew by three. The Marshal's department was always one step behind. He would need to wire Bucky and let him know the situation, maybe get him out here, though his friend wouldn’t agree with Steve’s decision to try and gather information or attempt take them down. But he would come if Steve asked if for no other reason than to keep Steve out of trouble.
Stopping outside the large doors to the smithy, Steve doffed his hat and used it to beat the worse of the road grime from his coat before stepping into the dim interior. Before his eyes had a chance to completely adjust to the low light, a flare of sparks and a clang off to the side drew his attention and his breath caught.
Tony was dressed in a thin shirt with the sleeves rolled, a heavy leather apron covered his chest and legs, thick leather gloves hid his ropey forearms from sight and goggles obscured his eyes. His shirt was almost see through in places from the sweat coating his skin and Steve was transfixed by the play of muscles in his back and shoulders as he wielded a hammer to manipulate a piece of metal into the shape he wanted.
Either Steve made a noise that Tony heard over the din of metal work or he felt Steve’s eyes on him because he looked up, head turning in Steve’s direction. The hot, glowing metal went into a bucket of water, hissing and sending a ploom of steam into the air. Tony pushed the goggles up over his forehead, eyes looking as dark as the night of a new moon, fathomless and mysterious.
“Marshal,” Tony said, stripping his gloves off one by one to drop onto the table next to him. There was a question hidden in the set of Tony’s mouth and Steve’s brow furrowed at the formal address.
“Blacksmith,” he shot back, walking farther into the wide open space of the converted barn. “You didn’t leave with everyone else.” He pointed out the obvious, laying the statement down like a gauntlet. Tony was mad about something, agitation in the way he stripped off his apron and tossed it over top of the gloves, and it seemed to be directed at him, even though he wasn’t sure what the hell he’d done. They had parted on good terms or so Steve had thought.
“You know me, I’m not one to walk away from a challenge.” Like having no business because the town was all but deserted. Steve stopped in front of Tony, barely a foot separating them, staring down at the shorter man who crossed his arms and tilted his chin, cocky smirk firmly in place. From this distance, Steve could make out the dark circles under Tony’s eyes and the shadows in the brown depths. “‘sides, I didn’t want to leave without telling you. It would be rude .”
His mouth pulled down in a frown, turning those words over and over in his mind, trying to figure out what Tony meant because they were so loaded they had a weight behind them. When it hit him, like a punch to the head, Steve rolled his eyes. “I told you I was leaving at first light.”
“Could have woken me up,” came Tony’s petulant reply.
“Have you ever tried to wake you up, sweetheart?” Steve closed the remaining distance until their chests touched, hand lifting to cup Tony’s jaw even though he had his face turned away, looking at a point beyond Steve’s left shoulder. “You’re meaner than a rattlesnake that got stepped on.”
Those golden brown eyes that appeared like chocolate in the low light flicked to his. “A note would have worked if you were so scared of my bad mood.”
Tony was full of sass today and Steve had to fight the smile trying to break free. His hammer was still within reach, after all. Not that Steve actually though Tony would hit him with it, but threaten? Sure. Then Steve would have to work harder to sweeten him up.
“I’m sorry, I should have left a note.” Steve took it as a good sign when Tony didn’t pull away from the hand Steve placed on his hip. “I’ll do better next time. But I’d already stayed longer than I meant to. You’re hard to leave.”
Tony harumped, but laid a hand on Steve’s chest, under his vest so the only thing separating their skin was the fabric of Steve’s shirt, leaned his forehead against Steve’s sternum before straightening, nose wrinkled. “You stink like horse and dirt.”
“I’m telling Star you said she stinks.”
“Don’t you dare.” Tony glared up at him. “That beast already hates me.”
“She does not. She’s just a mite prickly sometimes, like someone else I know.”
“You had better be talking about Natasha or you can sleep alone tonight.”
Steve huffed a laugh, nipped at Tony’s lower lip before claiming his mouth in a kiss. Lord, how he’d missed this man. Their facial hair rasped together, the short hairs covering Tony’s cheeks felt so much different against the palms of his hands than the hair on his head when Steve moved from cupping one to gripping the other.
It’d been six months since they’d touched and Steve put ever ounch of the longing he felt into the kiss, all tongue and teeth and wet heat. When they parted, lungs protesting for air, Steve rested their foreheads together. They stood that way for long minutes, letting the sounds of their breathing surround them.
“Nat knows.” When Tony’s only response was to raise a single brow, Steve clarified, “About us. Which means Clint probably knows, too.”
Tony rolled his eyes, laughing when Steve frowned at him in irritation. “Of course she knows. The whole damn town knew, except maybe the preacher.”
“You’re so oblivious sometimes.” Tony patted Steve on the cheek and stepped back. “It’s precious.”
Steve’s frown deepened. He was a United States Marshal—he was not oblivious. If he were, Steve wouldn’t have survived long out here. And there was no way Tony would have been allowed to stay if so many people had known about their proclivities. “I’m sure you’re exaggerating.”
“If you say so, dear.” Tony smiled up at him sweetly. “Now, why don’t you go back to the Widow and see if you can rustle up a bath. I’ll see you at dinner.”
“You’re gonna be there?”
“Of course,” Tony said with a snort, looping his apron back over his head. “There’s only six of us in town, we eat together most nights.”
“Oh. Alright then. I’ll see you later.” Before Steve turned to leave, Tony threw him a wink and slid his goggles back into place. Steve shook his head and walked back out into the bright sun. The whole town, huh? He reckoned that was why he’d always felt more at home in Copper Butte than anywhere else, even New York City where he grew up.
And here he had been thinking it was just Tony.
The copper tub was too small for his frame, but Steve folded himself into it anyway after helping Natasha haul up buckets of water. The warmth eased the soreness from his muscles and he sighed, laying his head back over the lip of the tub, arms hanging over to trail on the floor. He had to bend his knee to fit and they were sticking up, but Lord almighty, after not having a warm bath for months—settling for dips in streams when he came across them—this was heaven.
The door opening had him on alert, all relaxation gone, thinking maybe it was the Hydra gang. He stood up, sloshing water onto the floor and had a gun in his hand, pointed at the door before it registered who it was. “Saints alive, Tony, I almost shot you,” Steve said, lowering the gun from his lover’s all too calm face.
“But you didn’t,” Tony said with a shrug, shutting the door behind him. He wasn’t dressed properly for being out, though he had changed into a different shirt—sleeves sleeves rolled up and open at the neck—but, then again, Natasha and Clint wouldn’t care and Tony never had been one to be bothered by social conventions and Steve wasn’t about to complain about the lack of best or jacket or hat. Tony looked good like this in just a shirt, trousers and suspenders.
Tony must have thought Steve looked good because his eyes took a lazy survey of all his bare skin before he locked eyes with Steve. Steve felt a flush steal over his body that had nothing to do with the warmth of the water, a certain part of his anatomy responding to Tony’s attention and proximity. One corner of Tony’s lips lifted into a barely there smirk. “Not that I don’t enjoy the view, but you gonna finish your bath before the water gets cold?”
“That was the plan before I was interrupted,” Steve said, folding himself back into the tub, lips thinned in irritation he didn’t much feel.
“How ‘bout I wash your back to make up for that and my mood earlier?”
Steve’s brows climbed toward his hairline—Tony was as likely to admit he was wrong as he would be to fly—and picked up the bar of soap from the table he’d pulled over earlier and set next to the tub, holding it out to the other man. Tony took it then knelt down on the floor and Steve leaned forward as much as he was able to give him access. After dipping the soap in the water, Tony worked up a lather between his hands and started rubbing them along Steve’s back. He sighed at the contact, leaning more heavily against his knees, and his eyes fluttered shit. Tony worked his way up Steve’s back, across his shoulders and neck, kneading stiff muscles as he went. The tension slowly left his body.
Tony had Steve lean back so he could pour water over his head and begin washing his hair. Steve braced his elbows on the lip of the tub, letting Tony work, trying to ignore the stirring in his groin. He shifted slightly, making sure his prick stayed under the water. The suds were rinsed from his back and hair before Tony’s hands reached over his shoulders to start on his chest. Tony was right behind him, so close Steve’s head rested against the other man’s chest, soaking his shirt, but Tony didn’t seem to care.
“I hate it when you leave without telling me.” There was no accusation in Tony’s voice this time; he was simply stating facts. One of Tony’s calluses thumbs brushed across his nipple and Steve sucked in a breath, eyes fluttering open.
“I know you do, sweetheart,” he said softly, leaning back more against Tony’s chest. He didn’t like leaving without saying goodbye either, but Steve had been two days late leaving because he hadn’t been able to walk away when Tony was looking at him, silently begging him to say. He took the co adds way out, sneaking from the room with his boots in his hands, Tony curled up under the blankets, one leg free, showing the curve of his behind. It was either leave Tony like that or risk not leaving at all. “I’m sorry.”
“I’m just a greedy bastard.” Tony went from soaping Steve up to hugging him, cheek pressed to the top of his head. “I hate when you leave even when you say goodbye, but I get it. You have a job to do, have to protect people, and be a hero. It’s one of the multitude of things I love about you.”
Steve’s breath caught in his throat. They hadn’t put what they were in any definite terms before, hadn’t talked about how they felt about each other. Steve hadn’t been sure there was a point. Tony had a life here and Steve’s job didn’t afford him the opportunity to settle. He twisted around, lips parted, so many words fighting to break free but none of them succeeding.
Tony pressed a finger to his lips, his smile a little sad. “Don’t. You don’t have to say anything, just make it up to me.”
Taking hold of Tony’s wrist, Steve pulled his hand away. “Anything. Just ask.”
“Fuck me,” Tony whispered. His pupils were wide, trousers starting to tend. He was so beautiful, it hurt Steve to look at him. “It’s been so long. Please, Steve.”
“I missed you, sweetheart,” he sighed against Tony’s lips before claiming them in a kiss. He surged from the bath, water sloshing over the side, and brought Tony with him, biceps gripped beneath his hands. As soon as Steve stepped out of tub and his feet were planted on the floor, he hooked his hands under Tony’s backside and picked him up.
“Steve, put me down. You’ll hurt yourself,” Tony complained even as he wrapped his legs around Steve’s hips.
Steve snorted, taking the few steps toward the bed. “Please, you barely weight anything.”
“Well, that’s a damn lie,” Tony grumbled, grunting when Steve dropped him on the bed, then fell on top of him, blanketing Tony with his body, trailing kisses up his neck.
“You’re smaller than me, at any rate.” He spoke the words against Tony’s skin, reveling in the way the man under him tilted his head back, giving Steve more access, trusting him with his body.
“That’s at least true.” Tony looped one leg behind Steve’s knee and rolled his hips, grinding their lengths together. He whispered in Steve’s ear, “I’m also wearing too many clothes.”
Despite not wanting to more too far apart, they managed to divest Tony of suspenders, trousers and shirt. When he was down to his britches, Steve kissed his way the other man’s chest, pausing only to suck on one of his nipples. He worked the ties free, nuzzling the trail of hair that disappeared underneath the fabric, and slowly uncovered Tony’s hard length. Steve pressed a kiss to the tip and peeled the material down Tony’s legs until he was bare as the day he was born.
He looked magnificent, one knee cocked, arms thrown over his head, gazing up at Steve with half lidded eyes, dark with desire. Taking him in hand just to hear the sounds it pulled from Tony’s lips, Steve pulled the foreskin back, lapping at the moisture beaded on the tip. He felt Tony’s fingers plunge into his hair and grip, hard. “Oh, God, Steve. You can tease me later. I need you.”
“Anything for you, sweetheart.” Steve took to stroking the prick in his hand and sucked two of his fingers into his mouth, circling them around Tony’s entrance, pressing but not entering yet. He thought about what he had in the room to ease his way because spit wouldn’t be enough.
“Wait, wait,” Tony said, sounding so breathless it made Steve smile. The other man’s hands were still in his hair and they tugged until Steve looked away from where his fingers played to lock with Tony’s eyes. “Over by the door, on the desk.”
Tony relinquished his hold on Steve’s hair and he glanced over his shoulder, noticing for the first time the little jar sitting there. Tony must have deposited it there when he came in. He turned back, eyebrows raised. Tony still looked a mite dazed, Steve was still pumping his hand over his erection and circling his fingers against the curled skin of Tony’s hole, but he smirked. “Something I’ve been working on. Thought it might come in handy.”
Curiosity overrode his desire to drive Tony to the brink and Steve stood to retrieve the jar. On the way back to the bed, he lifted the lid and blinked at the congealed looking substance inside before raising his eyes to Tony’s. “What is it?”
“Made out of aloe and a few other things.” Tony waved one of his hands before folding both of them behind his head and spread his legs further apart to emphasis his next statement. “Should smooth the way. Bruce helped; you should thank him at dinner.”
Steve choked, face flushing. “What do you mean he helped ?”
“Not like that.” Tony rolled his eyes and sat up, holding out a hand to him. “Come here. Stupid man, Bruce only likes me for my mind.”
“I like your mind just find,” Steve grumbled, but put the lid back on the jar to take Tony’s hand and allowed himself to be pulled back into the bed.
“Yes, but you also like my body. Stop being jealous for no reason and show me how much. I need to report back to Bruce about how well our latest invention perform—Oh, hell.”
Steve had coated a finger in the contents of the jar while Tony spoke and the mention of Bruce caused him to press past the resistance of Tony’s body a little tougher than he’d meant. He stilled. “You alright?”
“Don’t stop,” was Tony’s only reply besides a moan and the movement of his body beneath Steve. So he didn’t. Steve slowly worked him open, adding more of the concoction along with another finger until Tony was panting and writhing on three of Steve’s fingers, groaning low in his throat each time Steve touched the spot inside that made Tony fall apart. “Now. Please now.”
Steve pulled his fingers free and coated his own length with the contents of the jar, more than he thought he needed to be safe. When he pushed inside, Tony’s body accepted him like he belonged there, surrounding him in warm perfection. Steve gave them both a moment to adjust, and himself time to calm down so it wasn’t over before it started, tasting every inch of Tony’s mouth. When Tony rolled his hips and clenched, Steve gave up trying to prolong it.
The rhythm he set was fast and just shy of brutal, but Tony didn’t complain, wrapping his arms and legs around Steve and meeting his thrusts. Words that sounded like they were punched from him without any coherency, just yes and please and oh God . Steve for his part was breathing like a bull, face tucked into Tony’s neck, sucking bruises into the delicate skin. They’d both be marked all to hell by the time this was over, he thought as he felt Tony’s nails take his back.
Steve wedged a hand between their bodies, the one still coated with some of the goop from the jar, and wrapped it around Tony’s length. His thrusts were losing their rhythm, his peak close and he’d be damned if he went over alone. It didn’t take long before Tony was spilling over Steve’s hand and he followed a moment later, pressing in as deep as he could as he pumped inside Tony, the clenching of his internal muscles milking Steve until he collapsed. He had just enough presence of mind to roll them to their sides.
When he started to pull free, Tony clutched him tighter. “Not yet,” he murmured against Steve’s chest, sounding halfway to sleep. “Stay. Just for a little while.”
When Tony woke up later, Steve was already dressed in clean trousers and shirt from his saddle bag. His vest and coat were still hanging by the door. He was seated at the desk writing out what he wanted to send to Bucky at the telegraph office and looked over his shoulder when he heard the rustle of the sheets, smiling softly at the way Tony’s hair stuck up. His eyes ran up and down Tony’s form in appreciation when the other man stood to retrieve his shirt and put it on. It was wrinkled from the time spent on the floor, but dry now.
He turned back to the paper on the desk. Wouldn’t do to get all worked up again now. They both needed to put in an appearance downstairs for dinner soon. But Tony didn’t seem to care and poked at Steve until he pushed back with a huff so Tony could insinuate himself on his lap. He winced a little Steve noticed, but pressed a kiss to Steve’s cheek before turning his attention to what Steve had been writing. “What’s this?”
“Just sending Buck a telegram.” There wasn’t anything written about Hydra yet, but Tony wasn’t a fool and this was his town; he would know what was going on even if he hadn’t been good friends with the sheriff.
Tony pinned Steve with a glare. “You’re planning something stupid, aren’t you?”
“Depends on your definition of stupid,” Steve said, brows raised.
“Barnes is supposed to be keeping you out of trouble. What good is he if he lets you go off on any half-cocked plan that occurs to you?” Tony’s words were angry, but Steve saw the worry in the depths of his eyes and pulled him close to press a kiss to his forehead.
“Nothing’s gonna happen, sweetheart,” he said, putting as much certainty in his voice as he could. “I want Buck here just in case. We’ll talk to Rhodes, see if he thinks we need to send for more Marshals.”
Either Hydra was planning something big or they were hiding out, but one way or the other it could be a good opportunity to get the drop. They didn’t know Steve was here, after all.
Tony wasn’t convinced, though, lips pressed into a thin line. Steve smoothed his hair back, letting his hand rest against the back of Tony’s neck. “Means I’ll be staying for a while.”
Tony mulled that information over, then sighed, shoulders slumping when he realized he was beat. Steve was doing something he thought was stupid, but having him around was something Tony wanted. “Fine,” he said and shrugged, but his lips twitched into an almost smile that Steve caught before Tony laid his head against his shoulder. “I have some things at the workshop to show you then.”
“Really?” Steve thought of the little jar.
Tony slapped at his chest. “Not like that, you lecher. I meant weapons.”
“Oh.” Steve couldn’t quite keep the disappointment from his voice and Tony chuckled.
“Trust me, you’ll like them. As long as they work. That gang won’t know what hit them. Assuming they don’t blow up in our faces. Literally. I might have started some small fires.”
Steve chuckled, tilting Tony’s face up to his. The kiss he pressed to Tony’s lips was almost chaste, but anything else seemed inappropriate for what he was about to say. “I love you, too, you know.”
Tony did not react the way he expected. He straightened and frowned at Steve. “Oh, God, you are going to do something stupid, aren’t you? You think you’re going to die.”
“What? No.” Steve grabbed him when Tony tried to stand. “I should have told you years ago so I’m remedying the situation.”
“Years?” Tony relaxed into his hold, face softening.
“Pretty much since the moment I met you.”
“You mean when you almost ran me over on that damn horse of yours?”
“You weren’t watching where you were—” he started, but cut himself off. They’d had this argument a million times and Steve didn’t want to start a fight even one that wasn’t serious. “Never mind that. I love you, even when you’re yelling at me.”
“I love you, even when you’re being stubborn.” Tony planted a peck on his lips and stood. “Now we best get dressed before Natasha sends the dogs after us.”
Tony pulled his pants on, slipping the suspender straps over his shoulders and doing up the buttons and grabbing his boots. Steve pulled his vest on, but forewent his coat and hat. He was acquainted with everyone in town and the only woman left was Natasha who wouldn’t care if he came down in his drawers.
Tony took his hand when Steve opened the door and he paused to look back at him. Tony looked happier than Steve had seen him look outside of bed. He squeezed his hand. “Let’s go let everyone in on your stupid plan.”
“It is not a stupid plan.”
“Sure, it isn’t…”
Their good natured arguing continued down the stairs until they joined the others in the saloon and settled around the table. No one looked twice at the way he and Tony held hands or traded casual touches and looks. Steve found himself wondering about the future and for the first time in years it looked bright.