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Steve woke slowly, blinking the sleep out of his eyes and reaching blindly for his phone. It was only 3 am, two hours too early to wake Bucky for a jog. He knew sleep wouldn’t find him again, so he began to run through a mental list of anyone in the tower who might want to chat at this hour. Only one person came to mind, and they definitely weren’t speaking. They’d started this little game of ignoring weeks ago, falling victim to the tension that had been building for months.

After Steve had sulked back to the tower with Bucky in tow, his apologies fell on deaf ears. Tony wouldn’t even look at him for longer than a few seconds. And conversation? Out of the question. But sometimes, after missions, Steve would catch Tony’s eyes and blush at the heat behind his stare. He couldn’t pinpoint when, but Tony had started looking at him again. It wasn’t necessarily a nice look, but Steve had missed those eyes all the same. He wanted to fix things with the other man, so he responded with equal stares; it was the only way he knew how to get closer to Tony again.

Then, after a heated glance, or a cool staring match, Tony would disappear to his lab again.

He just wanted Tony to talk to him again like he used to. He missed the jabs and jests and the fiery arguments. Now, it was silence then a look and then more silence. Steve could hardly take it. They used to talk constantly, generally about nothing, but talking all the same. And then Steve chose to give it up. He chose to walk away from someone who was beyond important to him. He had no choice, it came down to Bucky or Tony and he had to choose Bucky.

“Friday”

“Yes, Captain Rogers?”

“Is Tony awake?”

There was no answer, which meant someone had instructed the AI to avoid answering him. So Tony was awake, he guessed as he shoved his slippers on and ran a hand through his hair. He just wanted to talk. He just wanted his friend back.

When he made it to the lab, he could hear music playing softly and the sound of metal on metal. So he was awake, Steve thought as he stepped through the door. Tony looked up immediately and scowled before going back to his work.

“I can’t sleep.” Steve started, standing awkwardly in the doorway.

No answer.

“So, um, whatcha workin’ on?”

A glare.

“Started watching the Star Wars movies again. Can’t believe I missed out on those for so many years.” Steve chuckled, trying to break the ice that had settled into every crack in their friendship. It was so hard to sit and watch Tony forget about him and what they had. It was so hard to know he’d given up his friend.

“Go back to bed.” Was Tony’s only response. He looked closed off, radiating anger.

“Can’t I just stay for an hour?” Steve asked, trying to force his voice to remain calm.

No response.

Before Bucky, and Siberia, and the fighting, Steve used to imagine what could happen between them. He’d developed some type of ‘crush’ on Tony and he’d always thought that maybe Tony felt the same. Even after all of this, he’d thought maybe they could work through it and explore whatever had been developing.

“Please.” He said, trying to force a response from the inventor.

Again, nothing. Steve could feel panic rising in his chest. He was sorry. He was so sorry. And Tony refused to see it! They wouldn’t be able to fix anything if they never spoke again. He just wanted to fix everything.

“Tony I’m so sorry. I wish I could go back and-”

“And what, Steve?” Tony seethed, moving closer. “And not save Bucky? No. And not lie to me? No, that couldn’t be it either. And not abandon me? Oh, wrong again. There is nothing that you would really change. Don’t pull that shit with me.”

“Can’t we just try?”

“No. We can’t. Go back to bed Captain.” The dismissiveness in Tony’s voice broke Steve’s heart. He’d really lost one of his best friends.

Steve nodded sharply, failing to hide the disappointment from his face. Tony seemed to soften for a moment, taking a tiny step forward, but Steve knew it wasn’t substantial enough to change anything. It was too late. He’d really fucked this up and there was no coming back.

“And next time you can’t sleep find someone else to harass.” Tony said to Steve’s back as he walked out of the lab.

Steve didn’t fall back to sleep that night, or the next for that matter. He didn’t go back to the lab again, vowing to be satisfied with the looks he received every once in a while.

 

Another month passed and Bucky had returned to Wakanda again, preferring to send most of his time alone in the peaceful quiet he found there. The security and routine were good for him, better than busy life in the tower was. Steve missed him though. He was so fucking lonely without him. Tony still wouldn’t speak to him, preferring to glare over morning coffee and stare on the way to the battlefield.

If someone would’ve told Steve that one day, he would miss Tony’s jokes, he would’ve laughed. Now, he could cry. He missed the name calling and the stories and the jabs. He missed it all and he couldn’t do anything to get it back. More than that, he missed the relationship he thought they would have someday.

Sometimes, he would sit and picture a life where they had retired. They would’ve moved somewhere quiet, away from the danger that plagued cities all over. Tony would’ve bought them a house, something big, hopefully near the mountains or a lake, something for Steve to draw while he lounged on the porch. Tony would have a lab, but he would spend more time outside with Steve, exploring and relaxing and being happy, for once. Every once in a while, Steve would picture children, maybe a boy who loved to tinker and invent, like Tony. And maybe a pretty little girl who stuck with Steve. It was all a hopeless dream, he knew, but he wished it wasn’t. It could’ve been real, but he gave it all up.

When he got to his room that night, he saw a pamphlet on his bed. He figured it must be something mission-related from Nat or Clint or Fury or anyone, really. Upon closer inspection, it was a flier for an apartment nearby. Steve’s hand shook as he picked up the next item, a check. It was a check from the one and only Tony Stark, subject line: First and Last plus Security Deposit. Steve’s fist closed around the papers. So, this was how Tony wanted to play it. He didn’t want to forgive and forget, he wanted Steve to get out and stay the hell away.

He was going to ignore it- he really was. He couldn’t. He was livid. How dare Tony ignore him for weeks and then spring this on him? He never even gave Steve a chance to show how sorry he was. He may be rich, but he wasn’t rich enough to outrank Steve’s position as Captain. Captains got to live with their teams. Didn’t they?

He stomped to the lab, imagining hundreds of things to yell at the other man. ‘Why are you doing this? Why can’t you see that I’m sorry?’ or ‘Stop being so childish!’. Maybe he could hit him with a ‘I’m Captain America! I’m not leaving my team.’ or ‘Stop, please. I love you and I’m sorry.’ What? No. No he would not say that. When he reached the door he didn’t pause to think, just stormed in and demanded that Friday cut the music.

Tony put his tools down abruptly and looked up at him, annoyance flashing in his dark eyes. Before he could speak, Steve held up a hand and began yelling.

“Seriously, Tony! Is that what you call an eviction notice? Jesus Christ, I can’t believe you!”

Tony just shrugged, walking away from Steve to rearrange his desk.

“Don’t walk away from me right now, Stark! I want an explanation for this! Sure, you’re mad, I got that loud and clear. But kicking me out? Breaking up the team? That’s real fuckin’ low.” Steve exclaimed.

Before he had the chance to launch into another accusation, Tony was right in front of him. “Do not” he began, voice low and cold. “Do not ever accuse me of breaking up this team, Rogers. You wanna talk explanations? So do I. I think I deserve one too.”

Steve was stunned. He didn’t realize how angry Tony was about the entire situation. He had figured that time would heal things. He had figured Tony would’ve said something if he was still this angry. Tony pressed closer, getting into Steve’s face.

“The only one who acted irrationally was you. I will not apologize for reacting to your bad fucking ideas.” He seethed, breath grazing Steve’s cheeks.

If anyone were to ask Steve what happened next, he wouldn’t know what to say. He couldn’t tell who moved first, but they were kissing. It wasn’t soft, it wasn’t sweet. It was rough, all teeth and tongue, it was a battle.

Steve flipped them, pressing Tony into the wall beside to door to the lab. His body covered Tony’s perfectly, shielding him from everything else. Steve wished he could do this forever, maybe he could. He considered asking, but Tony began kissing down his neck, tugging at his shirt. They broke apart for a moment to strip off their shirts before falling into each other again.

“This doesn’t change anything.” Tony gasped into Steve’s mouth as Steve picked him up and moved them to the couch.

Damn.

Steve had assumed this meant Tony had finally gotten his anger out. He’d thought this meant they could be okay. He though wrong, apparently.

Tony had apparently sensed his discomfort, breaking the kiss to glare up at the larger man. “Ever heard of hate sex, Capsicle? I don’t want to be your little girlfriend or something, I want to fuck.” He snapped.

“Fine.” Steve growled into Tony’s mouth, pulling him close again. Maybe this was for the best. Maybe they’d never get their house and their beautiful life, or even their friendship, but they could have this.

At some point, Tony flipped them, straddling Steve’s lap and raking his nails along Steve’s back. When one hand trailed down to Steve’s waistband, he couldn’t stop the moan that ripped from his chest.

“Tony please.”

That was all it took. Tony’s hand closed around Steve through his sweats, stroking him roughly. Steve’s hands found Tony’s ass, palming it a few times before tugging at the jeans that were so clearly in his way.

“Alright, alright.” Tony laughed, moving away from Steve so they could remove any articles of clothing that were separating them. Steve hadn’t heard Tony laugh in- it didn’t matter. He had to focus. When Tony climbed back onto Steve’s lap, he pressed a bottle of lube into his hand.

“Get to work.” He said, kissing Steve again, hard.

Between the feeling of Tony’s hands all over him and the kisses and his oddly romantic thoughts, Steve could hardly focus. He slowly slicked his fingers and pressed one into Tony, swallowing his gasp that came at the feeling. Ever so slowly, he worked the smaller man open, loving the whines and moans he was receiving in return.

“That’s enough.” Tony panted, positioning himself over Steve. “Want you to fuck me now.”

“You’re not ready,” Steve tried to argue, emphasizing his claim by pressing another finger into Tony and giving him a pointed look when he gasped.

“Get in me now or get out of my lab, Rogers.” He snapped, moving off Steve’s fingers and stroking Steve languidly. Steve couldn’t argue any longer, positioning himself at Tony’s hole and pressing in slowly. He loved the control. He loved knowing that he had what Tony wanted and he could control how soon he got it. He loved Tony- no, he couldn’t.

Tony slammed down, gasping as Steve entered him fully. “Fuck” He gasped into Steve’s mouth, fingers scrabbling at his shoulders.

“Oh my God. Tony.” Steve moaned, moving to bite at Tony’s neck.

After that, it was as if they were in a panic. They moved together quickly and efficiently. Steve flipped Tony over and fucked into him over and over, faster than he thought he could. Tony egged him on the whole way, panting and moaning and begging until the very last second.

When they collapsed on the couch, sticky with sweat, Tony reached for a rag and began wiping himself off. Steve turned to face him, a lazy smile playing on his lips. He was not met with the same look. Tony’s eyes were lifeless when he looked at Steve.

“Okay. Get out.”

Ice ran through Steve’s veins. “What?” He must’ve misheard.

“What do you want, Steve? A little cuddle sesh? An ‘I love you’? That’s not what this was.” Tony snapped, tossing Steve’s clothes at him.

“What was this?” Steve asked, heart sinking.

“It was sex. It was a release. Now we’re back to normal and you need to go back to your room.”

“Wait- I thought this meant we could be... friends, or something.” Steve argued, tugging his boxers on and standing up.

“We’re not friends, Rogers. I don’t like you. I like sex. Now get out of my lab, for the love of God.” Tony said, as if he was exasperated with Steve for even assuming they could be anything less than enemies. The home Steve envisioned in his dreams started to burn, beautiful walls adorned with family photos of vacations and Christmases crashed to the ground. THey would never be anything more, he’d really ruined it.

“Oh.” Steve said. “Yeah, no, I guess you’re right. Don’t know what came over me. I’m just gonna-” He gestured towards the door, holding his sweats and his t-shirt in one hand.

Tony just nodded and tugged his clothes back on, not waiting to see if Steve was leaving. Not to worry, Steve thought, he knew when he wasn’t wanted somewhere.

He felt dismissed, utterly used and rejected. Was this what Tony felt after Siberia?

 

Steve wished it was an isolated incident. It wasn’t. At least twice a week, he would find himself wandering down to the lab. They’d fight, throw scathing words across the room at each other. Then, Tony would grab his face and pull him into a kiss. Then he would rip Tony’s shirt, and Tony would pop the button on his jeans. It was all angry and harsh and mean until Steve was inside Tony. It was only then that they could slow down. Steve would drape himself over Tony’s back, or Tony would entangle their fingers and take control, sometimes they would pause for a moment, completely entangled in each other. It was only then that Steve could kiss Tony lazily, taking him apart slowly. The problem was, as soon as they finished, it was back to cold stares and harsh words. The emotional whiplash was taking a toll on Steve.

Five weeks in, he knew it had to stop. Tony’s hatred burned holes in him, and the physicality of the relationship just confused his head. It was like an addiction. He kept coming back, waiting for Tony to destroy him and then piece him back together again like any other piece of tech in the lab. The only difference was Steve was the only thing in the lab that Tony broke without the intention of putting it back together.

He walked into the lab as Tony was deconstructing an old suit. He glanced up from his work for a second before instructing Steve to wait on the couch for him. Once he finished, he approached the couch, tugging his shirt off before reaching Steve.

He held up his hand, signaling for his teammate to come sit with him on the couch. Tony looked confused, and possibly annoyed, but sat down anyways.

“What’s this about?” He asked, referring to the lack of physical contact.

“Tony-” Steve paused, trying to think of a way to word things to prevent a blow-up. “I don’t think- actually, I know I can’t do this anymore.”

“Do what?” Tony snapped, realization dawning as he waited for Steve to elaborate.

“I can’t continue to sleep with you. It’s not right.” Steve said, hoping Tony would understand how much it was killing him to have Tony for brief moments and then get kicked out immediately. It was so hard for him. Too hard.

“It’s not right? Do you have some kind of issue with me, Rogers?” Tony asked. Here we go, Steve thought. The fight was unavoidable.

“It’s too hard for me to separate what’s real and what isn’t.” Steve said, eyes pleading with Tony to understand the pain he was in. It was too hard to be treated like some doll that was cast away after Tony was through playing.

“Oh, so you’re coming unhinged? Knew age would catch up eventually.” Tony said.

Steve’s heart broke just a little more. Why wasn’t he understanding? Why couldn’t Tony see what he was feeling? It should be obvious.

“Don’t worry, pal. I get it. Your boyfriend is finally healed up and ready to roll and you don’t know how to tell me.” Tony continued.

“Bucky? What? He and I- I think you misunderstood. We never-” Steve began, trying to sort out his words. Tony thought he wanted Bucky?

“You don’t have to lie to me again. I know what’s going on.” Tony said dismissively, standing up. Steve grabbed his wrist before he even registered it. He didn’t want to be dismissed. Not again. It was so, so hard to live like this.

“Please listen to me Tony.” He begged. Tony shook him off and walked away, leaving Steve on the couch alone, like always.

“What do you have to say that you haven’t said already?” He asked, turning around with anger in his eyes. “You broke me, Steve! You had every piece of me and you dumped it on the ground and ran away with your little buddy! I don’t owe you anything, and even if I did, I don’t have anything to give you.”

“I’m not asking for anything anymore.” Steve said. His presence was hurting both of them more than he’d realized. He was trying to take from an empty man and Tony was trying to get rid of his own hurt. They were tearing each other apart and Steve knew that it would go on forever if he didn’t step up and end it.

“Then why are you still here?”

“I don’t know anymore.” Steve whispered, dropping his head into his hands. Everything was spinning. He wanted to cry or scream or run away but he was frozen. It was over this time. He knew that as soon as he walked out the door, he wouldn’t be welcomed back in again.

“I don’t know either.” Tony admitted, sounding shakier than he had before.

Steve knew he had to leave. He couldn’t keep hurting Tony and he couldn’t keep allowing Tony to destroy him. It had to end before they ended up broken beyond repair. It had to end if not for themselves, for the team. He stood slowly and walked to the door. He could feel Tony’s eyes tracking his movements as he approached the exit.

“Steve?” Tony asked, so softly Steve could’ve missed it.

“Yeah, Tony?”

“Next time you think you miss me I want you to change your mind. Don’t come back here again, please.” It should’ve sounded scathing, or demanding, but Tony’s voice was shaky and quiet as he made his request.

“Every time you come back, I’ll let you. I can’t, though. You always leave and then I sit here and wonder why you can’t get yourself to stay. And then I end up wondering why I couldn’t get you to stay.”

Steve felt every piece of himself shatter. He’d ruined everything.

“You don’t know how badly I want to be here, Tony. You’ll never understand how impossible it is for me to walk away from you.” Steve argued, walking back towards the other man, furiously wiping a tear off his own cheek. He was supposed to be strong right now, for both of them.

As Steve closed the distance between them, something inside Tony snapped. His eyes shone with new conviction and anger.

“Stop saying that shit!”

“I can’t. It’s all true. It’s always been true.” Steve said softly.

“Get out of here, Steve.” Tony said, building each of his walls back up before Steve’s eyes. “Get out of my lab. Get out of my tower. And get out of my life.”

“Tony-” Steve begged.

“Don’t.”

That was it, then. Steve had to leave. He couldn’t drag Tony out from behind the walls. He couldn’t do this anymore. It was so painful. But the worst pain, by far, was turning around and leaving the lab, for good.

 

 

When Steve returned to his room, he dug through his top drawer for the pamphlet Tony had left for him so many weeks ago. The apartment looked nice, actually. Steve knew that leaving was for the best. All he ever did was break Tony down.

He called and expressed his interest in the apartment that same evening. Once hearing his name, the woman on the other end informed him that the apartment was his as soon as he wanted it. They agreed on the next day, 8:00 am.

Steve packed his things as quickly as he could, throwing all of his clothing into a few boxes and shoving his notebooks and sketchpads into a backpack he’d taken from Bruce’s vacant room. As he packed his things away, he flipped through on of his sketchpads, his favorite one from before.

The pages were packed with Tony. In some, he was smiling, or laughing. In others, he was focused on his work, building various things with a look of intense focus. In others, Steve had drawn what their life could’ve been. In a few, he’d sketched a beautiful lake house, surrounded by lush trees and grass. I another, he’d drawn two children out on the banks of the water, collecting shells and grinning. The next was the worst, he hadn’t been able to look at it in months. It showed the children from before presenting shells in their pudge hands to Tony. His hair was grey at the temples, and his smile lines were slightly deeper, but he looked so happy. To his left, Steve had sketched himself, looking at the scene and smiling contentedly.

He ripped the page out of the book. It would never happen. He’d given up any chance of that long ago. He’d ruined everything. He wiped a tear from his eye as the page fluttered to the bottom of the trash can in his empty room.

 

The next day, he moved into the new apartment. His new home. There was a bedroom and bathroom, both big enough for Steve. The kitchen was small, far smaller than what he was used to at the tower. It was nothing like the place he used to sit and watch Tony stumble around and make coffee. It was lonely. But Steve new it was better this way, at least he wasn’t hurting Tony anymore.

After the first week or so, Steve settled into a routine. He would wake up early and meet Sam for a run, completing a few miles before and after their meet-up as well. Then, he’d return home and shower and dress before going to his balcony to read or draw for a few hours. After that he’d review any new files from Fury and meet with any officials. He was still the team leader, after all.

The worst time was when night fell. Loneliness would settle into his bones, forcing him awake at the worst hours. It was then that Tony would invade every thought he had. He couldn’t shake the feeling of loss that had plagued him since he’d left with Bucky the first time.

One night, a few weeks after his departure, someone was banging on his door. It was too late for any SHIELD visitors, Steve thought as he grabbed the shield and walked to the door. He assumed it was Bucky, they’d discussed a visit the day before, but he’d assumed it would be him flying out to see Bucky, not the other way around.

He opened the door slowly, peering out at the person on the other side. His heart stopped. He wasn’t expecting Tony, in all his manic glory, to be waiting for entrance to the apartment. He stepped out of the way without a word, allowing Tony into his home. The one place he thought he would be alone.

There were no pleasantries. Tony simply looked at him and pulled a crumpled piece of paper from his suit pocket.

“Did you draw this?” He asked, shoving the paper at Steve.

As soon as he began to unfold the page, his hands began quivering. No one was supposed to see this. Ever. It was the scene from the lake house. The completely fictional scene he’d created months ago. The page he’d thrown out before he left. His face burned with embarrassment and a tinge of guilt. He didn’t mean for Tony to find this.

“Tony, I’m so sorry. This wasn’t meant to be seen by anyone.” He stammered, trying rip the page in half as he spoke. Tony’s hand darted forward, stilling his movements before he shredded the offending sketch.

“I didn’t say it was a bad thing, Steve.” His voice was so soft, so comforting, Steve nearly melted. He hadn’t been on the receiving end of such kindness in so long.

“It’s weird. I know it’s weird. I just- I couldn’t get it out of my head. Before Bucky, before everything, I thought we would end up somewhere like that. It’s silly. I should get rid of it.” He rushed. He was absolutely mortified. Now Tony knew everything.

“Stop that, Rogers. I didn’t come here to make fun of you for your picture.” Tony said, voice tinged with a bit of annoyance. “I came here to ask a few things. The first question just happened to be about the picture, that’s all.”

“What’s the next question then?” Steve asked, trying to quell the panic that had risen in his throat. He wanted to hide.

“In the picture, we were- well, you know.” Tony said with a waive of his hand. “Was that something you wanted?”

Steve felt panicked again. This was never supposed to happen. Steve was never going to have to admit to any of this to Tony. This was never supposed to happen. It was just a silly dream.

“Well- I, um,” He stuttered.

“It’s a yes or no, Steve.” Tony interrupted.

“Yes.”

“Is it something you still want?” Tony asked, curiosity shining in his eyes. Steve was shocked at the lack of anger, but he knew it had to be coming.

“Tony please don’t make me do this.” Steve begged. He could feel the rejection coming before it even left Tony’s mouth. “I know it was overstepping a lot of boundaries. I know you don’t feel the same. Please, please don’t make me say it.”

“Would you stop acting like I’m here to hurt you, Rogers?” Tony snapped before softening again. “Just answer my question, is this something you still want?”

“Yes.” Steve whispered, unable to look at the other man. He felt so stupid. He knew he deserved this, the confrontation and subsequent rejection, it was just so hard. He could tell his eyes were watering, again, he was so stupid.

“What if I told you I wanted this too?” Tony asked, pointing towards the picture in Steve’s trembling hands.

Steve couldn’t respond, he just looked at Tony. When he saw the other man, the messy hair and dark circles, he felt his face crumple. He didn’t want this to be over. He didn’t want Tony to play with him like this.

“On, Steve, don’t cry.” Tony murmured, pulling the larger man into him and wrapping his arms around Steve’s shaking shoulders.

“If you’re here to tell me that you don’t want me, you can go.” Steve sniffed, making a futile attempt to wipe his eyes.

“What in the actual hell gave you that idea?” Tony asked, forcing Steve to look at him again. “I didn’t come here to hurt you, Steve. I came to tell you that I miss you and I want you to come back. And maybe, I want what’s in that picture too.”

“I always hurt you.” Steve said, trying to show Tony how bad this could be. If they actually tried, and Steve messed it up, he couldn’t live with himself. He couldn’t. Not again.

“I’m a big boy, I can handle myself.” Tony smiled, tangling their fingers together.

“I don’t know if I can live through you hating me again.”

“I could never hate you. I was hurt, yeah, but I didn’t hate you. I’m practically addicted to you.” Tony laughed softly.

“What about those times in your lab?” Steve asked, remembering the feeling of total rejection that would wash over him when he left.

“I thought it would be easier that way. I didn’t know you wanted me the same way I wanted you, Capsicle. And to be fair, I was still a little angry.” Tony said, squeezing Steve’s hand.

“I hope you know how sorry I am about everything.” Steve said sadly.

“I know, Steve, I know. It’s okay, we’re okay now.” Tony comforted.

“Can you kiss me?” Steve asked. He didn’t want to talk anymore; he was afraid he would ruin it. He just wanted Tony to want him.

“Of course.” Tony smiled, pulling him closer and kissing him slowly. It wasn’t like their other kisses, dirty and angry, it was soft and slow. It was exactly what Steve needed to slot the pieces of his heart back together.