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That Which Kills Us

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It’s not always bad. Most days he feels almost normal. Some days he feels great. Some days he climbs Everest or treks the Andes. Some days he flies the Iron Man suit around the world at Mach-six and takes out a few budding terrorist organisations before lunch. Sometimes the good days make it so much harder to deal with the bad days.

The bad days like today. Today he rolls over and vomits down the side of the bed before he’s even fully conscious. His stomach muscles clench and bile burns his throat. His hands shake as he holds the bed sheets in a death-grip. His head feels heavy and the light shining through the curtains feels like taking Thor’s hammer to the back of the head. He groans through another spasm, though nothing more comes up. When he’s finally done, he presses the button to tint the windows, turns his back to the mess and tries to go back to sleep.

He wakes an hour later to another fit of vomiting. Doesn’t even try to make it the bathroom, there’s no point when he hadn’t bothered to get the last lot cleaned up. His muscles ache, his eyes water, his throat burns and still his stomach rebels. Eventually, he’s finished. He wipes his mouth on the bed sheets and turns the alarm clock to face him. 6:19 AM. It’s going to be a long day. He calls one of the maids up and staggers to the bathroom while the clean-up is done.

He doesn’t have the energy for a shower, so he washes his face and brushes his teeth. He looks at himself in the mirror and he thinks there should be something, something different. Some sign spelling it out. But the bags under his eyes have been there since he was ten years old and the only thing there to remind him of just how sick he is, is the nausea rolling around in the pit of his stomach. He laughs at the irony of it, the only sign he’s sick and it’s coming from the treatment. He runs a hand over the spot. Just out of reach, just a few centimetres. For all the enemies he’s faced as Iron Man, a few measly centimetres of neoplastic tissue is what’s killing him.

When he staggers back to the bedroom, the maid is gone, the floor is clean (carpet was amongst the first things to go with the diagnosis) and the bed is freshly made. He sits on the edge of the bed and runs a shaky hand through his sweat streaked hair. He kicks the bedside table, but he barely has the strength to rattle it, and all it does is make his foot hurt. With a heavy sigh he slides under the thousand thread, Egyptian cotton sheets and closes his eyes.

The day goes like that. Sleeping mostly, interspersed with bouts of intense nausea. He spends the morning in a lethargic state of apathy, but that’s nothing new and he’s too tired to feel sorry for himself.

He’s clinging to the toilet bowl when his Ultimates’ phone signal goes off, not puking, but really wishing he would. He coughs and chokes back another wave of nausea as the phone chimes again. Hey, he thinks, kinda busy right now. He throws the phone across the room and it hits the wall with a weak clunk. He isn’t even strong enough to shatter it, goddamn it. What use is Iron Man like this? Weak as a scrawny Steve Rogers and heaving like he’s eaten at a bad Chinese joint. He coughs and gags again, but still isn't sick. The phone rings again. Tony laughs. He crawls over to it and with a shaking finger presses ‘decline call’ and shuts the phone off.

He closes his eyes and takes a long, deep breath. He presses the buttons on his customised wristwatch device to activate the under-floor heating and turn the lighting down to ten percent. He lies down and curls up in the foetal position. Everything will be fine. He just needs a minute.

But a minute goes by, and two and three and he still doesn’t have the energy to move. It’s moments like these that he remembers how pathetically alone he is. When he’s lying there curled up on the floor with no energy to get back up again. Natasha should be here. Maybe she’d never been the type to stroke his hair while he pukes or whisper sweet nothings until he falls asleep, but even she wouldn’t leave him to sleep on the bathroom floor, hell, he hardly slept in his bed when she was around. She was one woman who certainly knew how to get a man’s mind off his earthly woes. He could definitely do with a lady like her to do unimaginable things to him while downing shots of expensive imported vodka right now.

Instead he lies there on the floor for nearly an hour and tries to pretend this is no different to the worst of his raging hangovers. And really, it’s not, all that’s missing is the fun part.

He pays a nurse to look in on him every day at three o’clock sharp. It’s a compromise he made with himself and his doctors. He won’t be subjected to a regular carer and he doesn’t have anyone else to look out for him - not since Jarvis… Jarvis, he tries not to think about it, but on days like today, he misses him so much. The man had a unique talent to make him feel human when he was at his worst, some stupid joke or sarcastic comment and he never failed to make Tony smile. Tony doesn’t use that bedroom anymore, he keeps the door locked and never lets anyone go inside. He’d tried at first, but though the bloodstain was long gone, he’d stood there staring, looking for it, wondering if they’d cleaned beneath the floorboards – if he lifted them up, would he find dried blood between the cracks? He’d locked the door, melted down the key and drank himself into a stupor that night.

Without Jarvis now, he has to pay some privately hired agency nurse, whose names he doesn’t even remember, to come in everyday and check he hasn’t collapsed in a puddle of his own puke.

Today, she finds him on the bathroom floor, curled up and half asleep and if his eyes are a little watery, it’s only from the stomach cramps. She barely bats an eyelid. ‘You should call me, Mr. Stark,’ she tells him when she finds him.

His mouth is dry and sore today and it hurts to talk, but he’s not going to sit there in pathetic silence. ‘Sorry,’ he says with a grin that probably looks even more pitiful than it feels, ‘don’t get me wrong,’ he sits up and leans against the wall, ‘you’re very beautiful,’ he pushes against the wall as he attempts to struggle to his feet, ‘but I’m more of a blonde kind of guy.’ It’s humiliating how much effort it takes him just to get up, but he’s glad she doesn’t offer to help. He’d fired five nurses before he found one with just the right amount of apathy to stop him feeling completely pathetic.

She wraps her arm around his and leads him from the bathroom. She doesn’t support him, she just walks arm in arm with him on the understanding that he doesn’t want her help, but he might need it. ‘You don’t seem all that discerning according to the papers, Mr Stark.’

‘Tut-tut, Hot Lips, don’t believe everything you read in the papers.’

She just shakes her head in exasperation at that and silently strips him of his sweaty, smelly clothes. It should be humiliating, but it’s too familiar to bother him anymore and soft, clean clothes always help him feel marginally more human. ‘You know,’ he says when he’s sitting on the edge of the bed clad only in boxers while she rummages through his drawers looking for clean underwear, ‘you should enjoy the view.’

She turns her head to gaze at the panoramic view of the New York cityscape out the floor-to-ceiling windows. ‘It is rather beautiful, isn’t it?’ She says in such a deadpan tone it’s clear she’s intentionally misunderstanding.

‘Just like you, darling!’

She tuts and waggles the hand with her wedding ring as she pulls the clean underwear from the drawer. She lays the clean clothes next to him and steps back. It’s ridiculous to be thankful, but holding onto the knowledge that he can at least dress himself, even if it feels much more exhausting than it should, does take the edge off the shame.

It’s his last day on chemo today, so she gets his pill box from the bathroom, reminds him to take them soon and gives him the anti-emetics - he’s tried ten different sorts and none of them help much in the long term, they’re effective enough to help him keep the chemo down long enough, but when the sickness hits, there seems to be no stopping it.

Lastly, she all but force-feeds him a nutritional milkshake abomination because he’s never had a big appetite and the chemo makes him lose it altogether. He knows he needs something in his system though, so he drinks it without too much protest and resists making a crack about how much better it would taste with a shot of whiskey. ‘You can go now,’ he tells her when he’s finished. She sighs, but is no doubt long past forcing an argument she knows she’ll never win.

‘Please, Mr Stark, you have my number, don’t hesitate to call.’ Tony just waves a dismissive hand. He won’t call. He likes to pretend he still has some degree of pride and he hasn’t fallen so far as begging the help of some woman who wouldn’t give him the time of day if he didn’t pay her a ridiculous amount for it. At least, not yet. The door clicks closed and he’s alone again. For another four hours it’s just Tony Stark, an empty penthouse and re-runs of the Simpsons.

--

Sometimes he could swear the boredom’s the worst part of it all. He’s not just posturing when he widely and vocally proclaims his genius, and having a mind as active as his is nothing more than another problem when he’s so tired he can’t get out of bed, yet unable to stop the ten different ideas running around in his head. His fingers itch for computer keys, but they shake so much that he couldn’t type, even if the thought of looking at a computer screen wasn’t enough to make him want to stab his eyes out with a butter knife.

Sometimes the boredom’s enough to make him wonder what exactly has him hanging on so desperately. With nothing but daytime television and half-hearted schematics for impractical inventions to take his overactive mind off more morbid matters, he sometimes imagines ways he could kill himself - calculates how far his blood would spatter if he jumped from the top of the penthouse. Not that he intends to do it this time, but it helps to know that if he gets that low again, he’ll make sure to do it properly. Plus, it’s something to pass the time.

But there are only so many hours of suicidal ideation and Sponge Bob Square Pants a grown man can take without legitimately wanting to drown himself in the bathtub. Today he decides the boredom is worse than the headaches, so he sits up, takes out a laptop, dims the screen and he works. He designs everything from Iron Man upgrades to toasters, reads all the latest scientific journals and gets everything out of his head. Then he collapses in a heap and goes to sleep.

Sometime later he’s awoken by a knock at the door. ‘Yeah?’ He sits up but doesn’t get out of bed.

One of the newer butlers pokes his head around the doorframe, but doesn’t enter. ‘Captain Rogers is here to see you, Mr Stark. Shall I tell him you’re unavailable?’

‘No, just...’ Tony struggles to his feet and sits at the foot of the bed. ‘Show him up.’

‘Are you sure that’s wise, sir? He seems agitated and I know you’ve been…’ the man cuts himself off as Tony raises his eyebrows, no doubt aware of the faux pas he was about to commit – Tony has made it clear in the past that house staff are to ignore his illness and certainly not bring it up idly.

Tony grins. ‘I’ve been…?’ He likes to watch the new ones squirm, it’s why he hires them over the more experienced butlers the agencies always offer first.

The poor guy fidgets and stutters as he says, ‘Busy, sir.’

He too tired to drag it out, so he takes mercy on the poor guy. ‘Yes, of course. Just show him up.’

The man nods. ‘Yes, sir. Right away, sir.’ The door closes and Tony puts his head in his hands, scaring newbies can be fun on occasion, but god does he miss Jarvis. He closes his eyes, zones out and very nearly falls asleep. He’s jolted back to reality by another, sharper knock at the door.

He wants to get up and meet Rogers on his feet but he doesn’t think his legs will hold and it would be more humiliating to fall on his face than just stay seated, so he calls him in without getting up.

Rogers is in his uniform, but it’s torn and he’s covered in cuts and bruises. He leans against the door frame and scowls at Tony. ‘What the hell, Stark? We called you. We needed Iron Man out there.’

Tony raises an eyebrow. ‘And hello to you too, darling.’

‘I’ll exchange pleasantries when you start being responsible.’ Rogers crosses his arms.

‘Responsibility is so constraining, dear captain.’

‘You think this is funny? We could’ve died while you sit here in your ivory tower pretending you’re part of my team. You’re so full of self-importance that you think you can call yourself one of us but only turn up when you feel like it.’

‘All that self-righteous indignation must play havoc with your digestion. You should have a drink.’ He gestures of the drinks cabinet in the corner filled with a wide variety of expensive alcohol. ‘I find a good brandy really settles the nerves.’

‘You…’ he says through gritted teeth, but he cuts himself off before he says exactly what Tony is. Rogers’ fists clench and he finally takes a step into the room.

Rogers is spoiling for a fight, and Tony’s not one to be intimidated, he's not going to roll over and expose his belly, even if he doesn’t stand a chance without the suit. He jumps to his feet, or at least, that had been his intention. He wobbles and has to lean against the bedpost to regain his footing. So much for his pride, whatever he looks like now, he’s sure he’s much less than the picture of ferocity he’d intended to convey. He gets his equilibrium back quickly though, strides over to Rogers and pokes him in the chest. ‘Fuck.’ He punctuates it with another sharp poke. ‘You.’

Rogers grabs Tony’s wrist and holds his hand up. It’s shaking. ‘Are you drunk? That’s why you didn’t show up? You abandoned the team for alcohol and cartoons?’ He gestures to the glass on the bedside table - water, incidentally, not even Tony’s hardened constitution can handle vodka when the chemo has him at his worst - and the TV, where The Simpson is still playing. ‘What’s wrong with you?’

Tony tries to pull his hand away, but he’s weak and Rogers' grip is too strong. ‘Wrong with me?’ Tony laughs. ‘Cancer’s what’s wrong with me, Captain.’ He taps the side of his head, just above the tumour and gives Steve an insincere smile. ‘Unfortunately I can’t respond to every call, sometimes I’m too busy hugging the toilet bowl, if you will. I afraid I can’t always be at your beck and -’ Case and point, he doesn’t finish that sentence because he’s too busy running to the bathroom and pukeing everywhere. He decides to call that one a win.

For a solid minute it feels like his insides have rebelled against him and are fighting their way up his throat. So much for the anti-emetics. Eventually, his stomach settles down again and he chokes down frantic breaths of air.

‘Tony?’ Right, Rogers is still there. ‘Are you alright?’

Tony lifts his head up from the toilet bowl and grins. ‘Peachy.’ He gives a thumbs up then spits the last traces of bile into the toilet and flushes.

‘Is it the tumour?’ Rogers is standing at the bathroom door, his fists are clenched, like he’s just waiting to pounce on some unseen enemy. As if beating up some super villain could cure a brain tumour.

Tony staggers to his feet and chuckles. ‘Yeah, something like that.’ He’s pretty sure it’s the chemo this time, actually, but he doesn’t feel like explaining the details, doesn’t even know if Rogers would understand. He’s pretty sure they didn’t even have chemo in his time, though he supposes he might have looked into it.

If he’s honest, Tony’s expecting well wishes and half-hearted platitudes from Rogers. He’s expecting some ignorant comment along the lines of ‘you can fight this’ or ‘miracles happen’ or any of that unrealistically upbeat bullshit that has him barely restraining the urge to punch someone. Tony thinks he’ll probably throttle him if he does. But hey, spending the rest of your life in a prison cell isn’t nearly as much of a deterrent when that amounts to four years of radio, chemo and superheroing on the side.

But Rogers just helps him get steady on his feet and remains silent. He half carries Tony back to the bedroom and sits him on the bed, then awkwardly take a few steps back, crosses his arms and stares at Tony.

‘I shouldn’t have shouted at you. I shouldn’t have jumped to conclusions like that.’

Tony sighs. ‘You don’t need to apologise out of pity, in fact, I’d prefer you didn’t.’

Rogers throws his hands up. ‘It’s not pity! I should have given you an opportunity to explain. I didn’t and I’m sorry. Can’t you just accept an apology for what it is?’

Tony shrugs. He doesn’t want Rogers’ sympathy, doesn’t need it. Cancer doesn’t define him, doesn’t make him weak, he’s not some delicate little flower who’s going to break down in tears because Captain America chewed him out for skipping the heroics on an off day. ‘Hollow words, mon cher capitaine.’ He grins and waggles a finger. ‘I’m afraid you’ll have to make restitution.’

Rogers’ eyes narrow. ‘And how would I do that?’

‘Oh, I could think of a few ways.’ He smirks and licks his lips.

‘Don’t be vulgar, Stark.’ But he can’t hide the twinkle of amusement in his eyes.

Tony puts a hand over his heart and gives his best innocent puppy look. Rogers shoots him a withering look. ‘God,’ says Tony, ‘I could really do with a drink.’

Rogers walks over to the drinks cabinet, peers inside and pulls a face. ‘Should you be drinking?’

He’s not drinking though, he just really feels like he needs one, would be having one, if only the thought of alcohol wasn’t enough to make his stomach roll. But he doesn’t need to explain himself to Rogers. ‘Of course I should be drinking,’ he says, ‘everything looks better after a vodka martini or two.’

Rogers grunts disapprovingly. ‘I don’t know why you haven’t just dropped the pretence and made an IV of the stuff.’ That sounds like a brilliant idea, he could really do with being drunk for this conversation.

‘Steve Rogers, you’re a genius.’

Rogers smiles weakly. Then he seems to deflate. He sighs and sits down next to Tony. ‘Tony, you’re sick,’ he says as if Tony needs reminding.

‘Jesus fucking Christ, Rogers! You think I don’t know that?’ Tony’s hands clench up in the bed sheets and his jaw tense up. ‘I’m not a damned invalid.’

‘I never said that.’

‘It was implied.’

‘Well maybe you are!’ Rogers snaps as he jumps back to his feet and paces. ‘Maybe you think you’re fine and you think you can do everything you want to, but obviously you aren’t and obviously you can’t. You can’t always get what you want.’

Tony holds his hands together in mock pleading and pouts. ‘But what if I ask nicely?’

‘Stop it. This isn’t a joke.’

Tony rolls his eyes. If anyone in the world knows how far this is from a joke, it’s him, he has the right to speak lightly of his own damn disease.

Rogers sighs. ‘Look, what I mean is, should you be doing this at all? Iron Man, I mean. It’s dangerous and you’re not well.’

He wants to punch Rogers but he knows there’s no point, even if he wasn’t exhausted, he’d never be able to hurt the super soldier. Still, he’s one step away from getting in the suit and making this a real fight, no matter how shitty he feels, because what right does Rogers’ have to come into his life, into his home and tell him how he should react to his cancer. The captain sees him as a spoilt rich boy who thinks money will get him everything he wants, but no amount of money will cure what’s killing him, he knows only too well. What money can buy is a distant second. If a suit of armour lets him feel like a god rather than an invalid in the last few years of his life, he’s not going to let a goodie-goodie like Rogers take that away with any amount well-meaning platitudes. ‘I’ve saved your ass in the past, Rogers. Don’t act like my illness invalidates that, just because you know the reality of it now.’

‘I’m just concerned. This illness of yours, it could be a liability. I don’t want to see you get hurt and I don’t want you to end up hurting someone else.’

Sitting here, listening to Captain America talking out of his ass, makes Tony wish he’d never said anything. It would have been better, harder but better, to let Rogers believe he was drunk and irresponsible. Better a drunkard than a weakling. ‘I have brain cancer, Captain, not goddamn brain damage. I know my limits. Why do you think I didn’t show up today?’

‘And what if those limitations impact you in the field? Surely a man in your condition shouldn’t be -’

Tony doesn’t let him finish. He’s heard enough. ‘You think you know what I shouldn’t be doing? Well tell me then, what should I be doing? Sitting around feeling sorry for myself and waiting to die?’ Before he made the Iron Man that was the truth of it. He sat alone and drank too much and slept with a different stranger every night and waited to die. Until one day he couldn’t do it anymore and he downed two dozen aspirin with a whiskey chaser. He woke up in the hospital and Jarvis had slapped him round the face and given him a wakeup call. When he got out he went down to his workshop and created. The Iron Man is his life now. It’s his reason to keep going. He has something now, something to fight for.

‘Don’t try to take this away from me.’ It’s humiliating to have to beg like this but if this is what it takes to make Rogers understand then he has to. He knows it’s not within Rogers’ power to take this away; he funds The Ultimates, he made the Iron Man, no one can take that from him, but Rogers can sure as hell make his life a lot more difficult. Exposing his fears like this in a moment of honesty is a luxury he wouldn’t normally allow himself, but this is Captain America, the most morally uptight man you could get, if there’s anyone in the world he can be safe exposing this side of himself to, no doubt it’s him and if it makes his life easier, he’ll do what he has to.

Of course he knows on some level that Steve is right, he’s not supposed to overexert himself, all his doctors have told him often enough, but he can’t help it. It’s just the kind of guy he is. He won’t say no to a fight, especially not one against himself. He wants to be in the suit. He wants to be fighting and helping people and leaving a legacy that’s more than just a genius inventor who drank too much and died too soon.

Rogers is silent too long. His shoulders are tense and he’s biting his lower lip and he won’t look Tony in the eye. It’s funny how normal he looks. Just like any other man when confronted with the reality of exactly what terminal brain cancer means. Here’s Steve Rogers, the super soldier, the man who’s saved the world more than once and he’s lost for words. Losing to any enemy his fists can never beat. He looks so lost.

It makes Tony laugh. Uncontrollable, full-bodied laughter. His aching stomach muscles protest the effort but he can’t stop himself. He wheezes through breaths caught between spasms of laughter and wraps his arms around his cramping stomach. Steve looks slightly worried and confused. That just makes Tony laugh harder. ‘Oh, god.’ With one last chuckle he wipes tears from his eyes.

‘What’s so funny?’

He gives a toothy grin. ‘You are. Aren’t you just precious?’

Rogers scowls. ‘I don’t understand you.’

‘Few do, sweetheart.’

‘You’re such an… ass,’ he trips over the words like they’re difficult to say, but he’s smiling almost cautiously, like he’s not sure if Tony’s going to be offended. It nearly sends Tony into another fit of laughter.

Tony knows he’s an ass, he likes to be an ass now more than ever. He’s a pragmatic sort of guy. He hates people telling him to have a ‘positive attitude’, thinks they should come back and tell him just how positive he should be when they have an inoperable brain tumour and an optimistic four years to live. He finds that being an ass gets you a lot less platitudes. He doesn’t say that to Rogers though.

‘Joyous, isn’t it?’ He wishes he had a glass to mock toast with, his hands feel awkward without one. He gets up slowly and walks across the room to the drinks cabinet. He pours himself a glass of wine from one of the cheap bottles – several hundred dollars a pop but still, it’s the cheapest he stocks – and wonders back and sits back down. He doesn’t really feel like drinking it, but he feels reassured by the smell and the weight in his hand.

There’s an awkward silence for a moment, then Rogers sits down next to him again. ‘Look, Stark, it’s not that I don’t like you, I just don’t know how to be around you. You make me feel stupid and useless.’

‘I make everyone feel stupid, Cap. Don’t take it so personally.’

‘It’s not that, it’s… I haven’t felt helpless in a long time. I want to be able to like you, but I don’t know how to help you and that makes me feel uncomfortable. I just don’t know what to do for you.’

Tony rolls his eyes. Rogers has such a hero-complex. He can’t seem to just accept the fact that this isn’t his fight. ‘How about you let me fuck you?’ He’s flippant about it, but Rogers really does have a nice ass and it’s been a fantasy of his since he had his first Captain America poster on the wall as a teenager.

Rogers jumps to his feet, he raises his fist and Tony swears he’s about to get punched. Instead Rogers turns his back and takes an audible breath. ‘You’re disgusting. I’m trying to be nice to you and you keep mocking me.’

‘You want to be nice to me, then let me get on with my life and stop trying to decide what’s best for me. Stop patronising me and let me do my job. Let me fight this fucked up world as part of a team and fight this fucked up cancer on my own.’

Rogers’ tense shoulders slump again. This constant, back and forth, mood-whiplash is getting exhausting. ‘I just think it’s unfair to ask this of you. You’re sick, you shouldn’t be responsible for looking after anyone other than yourself.’

‘Then that’s your problem, Cap, and you better damn well get over it, because I’m not stopping until the day this thing’s got me beat,’ he says as he taps the side of his head. ‘I seem to remember stories of a sick young guy who wouldn’t let his ailments keep him from doing what he needed to do.’

Rogers scowls and bites his lower lip but it’s more thoughtful than angry this time. Tony wishes he knew what was going on in his head. ‘I think I misjudged you, Mr Stark,’ he says eventually. ‘You make it so easy to think you’re nothing more than a self-obsessed poser trying to act like a hero, but I think there’s much more to you than you let on.’

Tony shrugs. ‘I’m not that complicated a guy, old timer.’ He swills the wine in his glass and watches it churn, he smells it, but doesn’t take a sip. This conversation’s too honest for his tastes. He’s said more to Rogers now than he’d ever intended to. He feels drained now, not just on a physical level. He just wants to lie down and stop talking, he’s not on form for defending himself on a day like today, but he refuses to looks weak and validate the Captain’s opinion about his place on the team.

‘I think you are.’ Whatever tension there had been between them, Rogers has apparently decided to settle for niceties now. It doesn’t help Tony feel any lese tense.

‘Well, they say you come from simpler times.’

Rogers chuckles and rubs the back of his neck. ‘Maybe, but I don’t seem to be the only one who doesn’t get you.’

‘You are the only one stupid enough to try though.’ It probably comes out a little more biting than he intended, but he’s not in the mood for all this idle chit-chat, his mouth is dry, his throat sore and he feels lethargic and keeping up a casual pretence is wearing him down even further. Rogers, the perfect ass, doesn’t seem the least bit perturbed.

‘I thought you said you weren’t complicated.’

‘Complicated, not complicated, it’s all just a matter of perspective.’

Rogers shakes his head and smiles. ‘You’re so incorrigible.’

Tony winks. ‘You love it, darling.’

‘You do have a certain charm, Mr Stark.’

‘I’ll take that in writing, please. Sign it in triplicate and mail it my secretary.’

Rogers laughs and finally sits back down. ‘I’m sorry if I was out of line earlier.’

Tony shrugs. ‘It’s fine, Cap, I’ve dealt with a lot worse.’ Cap smiles. Tony is struck by his current situation. He knows there a good chance Rogers will beat him to a bloody pulp for this, but since the cancer, he’s lost whatever inhibitions he held onto before. He’s no longer afraid of getting roughed up for stepping out of line, now he’s far more afraid of missing an opportunity. And now, when he’s tired and weak and could really do with the distraction, an opportunity he’s been hoping for for most of his life is sitting right next to him and smiling.

Tony places his untouched wine on the bedside cabinet and drapes his arm across Rogers’ neck. He leans in and places a kiss on Rogers’ lips. Rogers makes a surprised grunt, shoves Tony away and pulls back abruptly.

‘My god! What are you -’

But Tony doesn’t give him a chance to finish. He waves his hand and shakes his head. ‘I supposed that’s a no then.’

Tony makes to get up, but Rogers grabs his wrist and pulls him back down. ‘No, wait. I was just, surprised.’ He stares at Tony with an intense frown for a moment, still holding his wrist. He’s squeezing too tight, it hurts and there’ll be a bruise for sure, but Tony doesn’t complain. He doesn’t know what’s going on in Rogers’ head but he does know Rogers could snap his wrist like a twig right now if he makes the wrong move, so he bites back the snarky comments spinning in the back of his mind and sits in silence and lets Rogers think.

Rogers leans forward, closes his eyes and kisses him. It’s cautious at first but it quickly becomes rough, almost angry and there’s a certain awkward mechanical feel to his movements. Rogers tugs at Tony’s shirt and the buttons pop open and break off and a few go flying halfway across the room. He grunts and it’s almost a growl as he manhandles Tony right to the edge of the bed and pulls him over until he’s practically sitting in his lap. The whole thing leave Tony torn between feeling uncomfortable with his aches and fatigue and ecstatic because goddamn, this is actually happening.

Rogers’ eyes shoot open as the kiss finally breaks and he briefly locks eyes with Tony, he frowns before looking away again. He pushes Tony away, and at first Tony thinks that’s it, that whatever the hell this is supposed to be is going to be over before it’s even really started. But Rogers lets out some sort of frustrated snarl, and slams a hand down on the mattress, then he puts his hand on the top of Tony’s head and pushes down hard. He’s strong and Tony’s knees buckle and he’s left kneeling on the floor at Rogers’ feet. Tony’s mind is sluggish and it takes him longer to catch on than it ever should but when Rogers’ hands start unclasping his belt, there’s no mistaking his meaning.

Tony’s mouth is sore and his throat is still raw from the vomiting but this is the sort of thing he’s fantasised about since he was a teenager so he doesn’t protest. Rogers is rough, showing a blatant disregard for Tony’s need to breathe and it doesn’t feel as good as he’d always imagined it would but that doesn’t matter, because even if it doesn’t feel great now, he’ll have something to jack off in the shower to for the rest of his life.

Tony watches him. But Rogers keeps his eyes closed and never once looks at him. Tony thinks he’s probably trying to imagine this is Gail or Jan or anyone else. But Rogers doesn’t say anything, he just tugs Tony’s hair and pushes the back of his head and lets out little, stifled gasps.

He finishes down Tony’s throat without warning and Tony wants to pull him up on how goddamn rude that is but there’s a slant to Rogers’ mouth and a crease to his brow that tells Tony now is really not a good time to be snarky. Rogers tucks himself away, gets to his feet and takes a step back. He finally opens his eyes and looks at Tony, still on his knees, hair mussed up, and shirt hanging off. He winces. ‘I think,’ he says slowly, ‘I should never have come here.’

Tony stays still and stoic but inside he’s cringing. He’s not sure what this was supposed to be - what he had hoped it would be - not a mistake though, that’s for sure. He’s been a mistake to plenty of men and women before and it’s never bothered him, but this is different. Maybe it’s just because they’re teammates and they’ll have to work together after this, maybe it’s something more than that. All he knows for sure is that he finds this painfully and unexpectedly, uncomfortable. He pulls his shirt back on and wills his hands not to shake while he does up two of the buttons, then shuffles to his feet. He shrugs. ‘Enjoy it for what it was, Captain. No need to get all weird about this.’

Rogers closes his eyes and lets out a deep breath. He’s not sure what Rogers had been expecting. Maybe he thought this was supposed to be some great act of commitment and confession of love? Because while Tony likes the guy and all, that had certainly never been his intention. ‘Yeah, right, I guess this really isn’t that much of a big deal to a guy like you.’ And whoa now, hold on a minute, Tony really does not like the implication behind that tone.

‘Hey!’ He points a finger at Rogers. ‘You’re the one who started this, Rogers.’ It’s childish really, but Tony’s not going to take responsibility for this when Rogers was the one to push him to his knees.

‘I’m not just another one of your sexual conquests, Stark. I know what you are and I should never have let you -’

‘What gives you the goddamn right?’ Rogers steps closer and stares daggers at Tony, but Tony’s not just going to stand there without defending himself, so he doesn’t back down. ‘You come into my home spouting bullshit accusations, then piling on the pity. You’re only too happy to let me suck you off, then you have the gall to insinuate that I’m the slut who corrupted you?’

‘If the shoe fits.’

‘Sleeping with a thousand people doesn’t give me mind control. You were more than willing.’

‘I’m not a queer.’ He leans right in Tony’s face and Tony’s aware that the Captain has a good three inches on him and more than a little muscle, but he won’t be intimidated. This is showboating if ever he saw it. No doubt the Captain thinks Tony’s trying to emasculate him and feels the need to demonstrate his masculinity with alpha male posturing. He doubts Rogers will actually hit him.

‘You could be the Queen of Sheba for all I care, you fuck my face like that you don’t get to be self-righteous about it.’ Tony takes a step back and goes over to pick up his wine glass. With a man like Cap, his pride would never let him back down from a standoff like that and Tony has better things to do with his time (such as getting some damn rest) than spend the next hour shooting daggers with Captain America.

Rogers is taking slow deep breaths and he keeps flexing his fingers. ‘Look, all I meant was, people like you do this sort of thing, not people like me.’

Tony huffs. ‘Clearly people like you do this sort of thing too.’

Rogers winces. ‘But it obviously isn’t a big thing for you.’ He wants to say how untrue that is, because this is Captain America not any old one-night-stand. He doesn’t think Rogers will listen though, he’s made his mind up about Tony, probably had before they’d even met if he’s like anyone else. ‘I don’t do this sort of thing,’ Rogers continues. ‘I shouldn’t have let,’ he bits his lip, ‘myself, get carried away like that.’

And then it occurs to him. Rogers is from a different time, no doubt a year of the future can’t just wipe away a lifetime of the past. He wonders if this is the first time Rogers has ever done something sexual with a guy. Probably. The thought makes him feel like a huge jerk and while that’s nothing new, he’s usually doing it intentionally. ‘Look, Cap, if you want to forget about this, pretend like it never happened,’ he shrugs, ‘that’s fine. You wouldn’t be the first.’ He finally takes a sip of the wine, he’s fairly confident he can keep it down now, but at least this way, if he’s sick again, he has something to blame it on. He savours the taste and it calms his nerves faster than can be explained by it hitting his system.

‘I think that would be for the best.’

‘If, on the other hand,’ because he just can’t leave well enough alone, ‘you’d like to come back here someday and fuck my brains out, strings or no strings, that’d be okay too. More than okay.’

Rogers’ eyes go wide and he draws in a sharp breath. ‘Do you have to be so crude?’

He shrugs and takes another drink of wine. ‘I don’t see the point in skirting around the issue. Time is one thing I don’t have to waste.’ The truth is he’s always been fairly brazen in his sexual attitude, but now more than ever he doesn’t have time for chasing shadows. If calling a spade a spade means he gets hit over the head with it, he doesn’t really care anymore. He’s always been a hedonist, but the cancer has made him more of one in some ways and less of one in others - as Tony Stark he’s all about enjoying today, as Iron Man he’s all about leaving a mark for the future. And right now, he’s Tony Stark and he’d love to have sex with Captain America and the only way that can happen is by putting the offer out there. ‘The offer’s always open. I’d say take your time but I’m afraid there’s a certain wolf at my door.’

Rogers crosses his arms. ‘You’re a handsome fella, Tony, but you’re crude, you’re shallow, you’re self-indulgent, you’re irresponsible and you’re consumeristic. You represent everything I hate about the world today. If I were a queer, you’d still be my last choice.’

‘Didn’t seem that way earlier.’

‘That was a mistake and you will never,’ he shoves Tony in the chest, it’s probably meant to be threatening, not painful, but Cap is strong and Tony is wobbly at his best right now so it makes Tony stumble and gasp for breath, Rogers just steps closer, ‘never speak of it again.’

Tony holds his hands up. ‘I can do discreet, but there’s much more fun to be had here, Captain. Don’t let those sensibilities interfere with a good time.’ He takes a gulp of wine and places his free hand on Cap’s chest. Rogers scowls and grabs his wrist, but doesn’t move it.

‘I’m serious, Stark.’

Tony sighs. ‘Aye, aye, Captain.’ He knows when he’s not wanted. It’ll be difficult to keep his mouth shut about this, but he’s got a life time of keeping stuff out of the papers, so he’ll manage. He pulls his hand free and makes a zipping motion across his lips.

Rogers stares Tony down for a minute, assessing him probably. Eventually he gives a decisive nod. ‘Keep it professional, Stark, and I don’t see why you and I can’t get along.’ It’s as much a threat as it is a reassurance. Tony figures they’re never going to be friends because there’s no way he’ll be able to resist a one liner no one else will get or a cheeky wink when no one else is looking and that will probably get Rogers all riled up. But then, if he plays it just right, well, sex doesn’t need to be loving to be the stuff of dreams.

But for now, for the sake of his tired, aching body, he just nods. ‘Are we good, Cap?’

Rogers nods, gives a thin smile then turns to leave. He pauses by the door but doesn’t turn back. ‘And… Iron Man?’ Tony gets the significance. Rogers is offering him an olive branch and telling him he accepts that despite his illness and despite whatever differences there may be between them as individuals, Tony Stark is still Iron Man and he won’t question his place on the team. Tony gives a questioning grunt. ‘I’m glad to have you at my back.’ With that, he leaves.

Tony smiles, drains the last of his wine, slumps back in the bed and in minutes is fast asleep.