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In Every Way But The One That Matters

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Steve walks into the workshop, reasonably confident that Jarvis announced his presence. Tony's got an acetylene torch going, and at least he's wearing a safety mask, but otherwise he's in a tank top and jeans and work gloves, and from behind... from behind...

The shape of his shoulders, the narrow waist, the black hair at the nape of his neck, the utter confidence as he pulls things apart and puts them together again; here, surrounded by machinery, hip-deep in the things he's inventing as he builds them-- it's like Steve's not the only one who got frozen in ice, who came forward 70 years and is learning how the world works all over again. But somehow, it makes sense that Howard isn't having the same kind of culture shock Steve is. Howard fits in everywhere; Howard would manage to fit in at a fancy state dinner if he were wearing a swimsuit and a Sousaphone and nothing else.

He puts down the torch and lifts his mask up, draws the back of his hand across his forehead. Steve comes up, blocks Tony in against the workbench before Tony can get turned around.

"Wha-- hey," Tony says, laughing. "When did you get here?"

"Do you want to," Steve tries, but he still doesn't have the gift for dirty talk that Howard and Tony have. That Howard had, and Tony has. All the same, from the way he's pressing in against Tony, it doesn't take Tony long to figure it out. He rubs back against Steve, throws the work gloves off, and gets his pants down, leaning down on the workbench with his ass tilted back in invitation.

"You don't even want to take the mask off...?" Steve asks, heart pounding.

"Nah." Tony flips it down, glances back over his shoulder. Underneath he's grinning, must be grinning. "You know me," and his voice is just a little bit muffled, sounds just a little changed. He's not turned far enough around for Steve to see the arc reactor...

"Okay," Steve breathes, "okay, okay, yes," and Tony manages to dig a tube of something labeled LUBE out of the mess on the table, probably not designed for this, but what the hell, back in the day Steve used everything from margarine to sunscreen, and it's Tony's ass on the line, after all. He slicks Tony up and slides in fast and rough, too rough, but the growling sounds in Tony's throat and the panted, wordless breaths all sound just right, just exactly right.


Tony's legs are peeking out from under a Jeep, a classic Jeep, a Willys MB. Steve can hear pounding noises, metal on metal, and then there's a rattling, a choking cough, and a puff of smoke.

"Tony!" Steve says, alarmed, and he tugs Tony all the way out, banging Tony's forehead against something on the way out-- he hears the thud and the "OW" and Tony's got a smear of grease on his forehead when he looks up at Steve.

"Nothing wrong," Tony says quickly, "all good, everything according to my master plans. What's with you?"

The smudge on his forehead is distracting. It's so like Howard, when he got caught up in fixing something, so much like the man who could get a Jeep going with nothing more than a screwdriver, a snappy remark, and a little time. He'd come out with his hands grease-stained, his hair a little mussed, maybe a smudge on his cheek, and after everything, after Steve was done debriefing, after Howard was finished throwing whatever new piece of technology into shape, he'd lick the now-clean spot and taste nothing but Howard's soap-- always Howard's own, never the standard issue stuff from the Army.

"You want to go take a shower?" Steve asks, and Tony beams at him, slides his tongue over his lips like nobody's made him a better offer for at least fifteen minutes.

After Steve's got the grease smudge clean, he licks Tony's forehead, and Tony laughs at him, sliding his hands up Steve's back. "Nut," he says.

"Nuts about you," Steve answers, natural as anything. Why not? He's said it a thousand times before. And when Tony tugs him down a little more to kiss him, Steve closes his eyes and kisses back.


"I'm starving," Tony says.

Steve's doing bench presses in the gym, and isn't looking up. "Is that because you've been working for the last 36 hours and haven't bothered to have anything other than cold pizza?"

"No! Well, partly." Tony comes over, as if to spot Steve, and grins down at him.

It's actually dizzying. Tony's in a three-piece suit, not quite vintage, but dark brown houndstooth. The arc reactor's completely hidden, and with the inverted view Steve has of him, not to mention the fact that there's an iron bar in the way obstructing his eyeline as well, he looks so much like Howard that Steve doesn't even have to squint to see it: Howard's just there.

"I want to take you out somewhere nice," Tony says. "Anything you want, sky's the limit. Tell me your deepest fantasies, and I will do my damnedest to make sure they come true."

Steve finishes his set and racks the weight. He keeps blinking up at Tony for a while, holding on to the sight for as long as he can. When Tony grins, it only adds to the illusion.

"C'mon," Tony says softly. "Anything you want, I mean it."

Steve struggles not to say it, but in the end he can't bear to give up the fantasy, not this soon.

"Fondue?" he asks, and Tony snaps his fingers, calling on Jarvis to make reservations. Steve heads for the showers, alone, and makes his a cold one, ice-cold, glacier-cold. He deserves it. He really does.


"Limber front, limber rear, prepare to mount your cannoneer! And those Caissons go rolling along..."

It comes out strong, with a jazzy rhythm to it, and Steve spits his toothpaste all over the bathroom mirror. "What?" he yells out, over the sound of the shower. He grabs a towel, wets it down, and starts wiping off the glass.

But the song just keeps coming; for whatever reason, Tony's singing, of all things, "The Army Goes Rolling Along". And he's a good singer, too; he's got a strong voice, pleasant to listen to.

Still, though. Steve finishes swabbing down the mirror and rinses his mouth. Still. He wonders if Tony just picked that up on his own and gave it the jazz rendition because it amused him, or if that was something Howard still sang when Tony was growing up. He doesn't think so. From everything he's heard, Howard turned cold after Steve disappeared; he hates to think of Howard as a terrible father, but he's seen Tony's face freeze into a staged smile too many times to think Howard lived out his life as the same man Steve knew. He can't imagine the man Tony talks about singing jazzy, risque versions of Army songs.

He rounds the corner and looks into the shower, and watches Tony sing until the lyrics break down into an improvised little snippet of jazz, quickly devolving into something that has to be modern; it involves sound effects more than singing, rhythms and mouth noises and Tony washing himself along with the beat.

Tony looks up when he's finished washing his hair, and he grins at Steve. "If you're just going to watch, I can give you something fun to look at," he teases. "Or do you want to come in?"

"Limber front, limber rear, prepare to mount--"

"You realize you're perverting a perfectly innocent morale song?"

"Baby, there's nothing new under the sun. Trust me, the guys you fight with have perverted this song more than Mama Stark's boy could ever dream of. Are you just going to watch, or do you want to get in this shower with me?"

He strips off his boxers and steps into the shower, and when Tony turns him against the glass wall and murmurs, "Want to be my cannoneer?", Steve just nods, nods and nods and nods, bracing himself against the wall and biting his lip so he won't say the words that come to mind.


After the debriefing, Steve comes by the workshop with a huge grey case. Tony's eyes light up. "You got the stilts? Please, please tell me Fury sent you home with the stilts."

"Well, since Stilt-Man is off to prison, I guess they figured he wouldn't be needing them anymore." Steve grins. Tony's already digging into the case, poking at the stilts themselves, tapping at the telescoping stilts with his knuckles and making a face.

"Piece of crap alloy, who did he get to make this stuff, I could do so much better," he mutters, and he takes the stilts across the room and grabs a screwdriver along the way.

He's not talking to himself, exactly; he's talking to Steve, to Jarvis, to Rhodey and Pepper when they drop by, to anyone who'll listen. But the things he's saying make very little sense to anyone outside his own head. And that doesn't matter, Steve finds; it's exciting to watch, exciting to see Tony so animated even if Steve isn't following a word of it.

A screwdriver, a clipboard, and a new piece of technology, something he's never seen before: this is the kind of toy that could keep Tony occupied for hours. Steve takes a seat on one of the couches they've dragged downstairs, brings a few magazines downstairs. He doesn't think Tony would even notice that he's there, except now and then he'll say "your shield" or "your armor" or "and we can give this to you if you ever want to go a little higher-tech," so either he talks to Steve even when Steve's not there, or he really is aware of Steve on his couch, quietly catching up on modern-day pop culture.

He shouldn't, but he hopes it's the former. He wonders how long Howard talked to him like he was still there, if Howard used to plan for the day when they finally found Steve. Howard wouldn't have given up, not right away. He wouldn't have given up even when days had passed, weeks, years. Steve can imagine Howard sitting there, planning out new improvements to the shield, new tests they could run to make sure Steve was safe in the field. Safe, even if Howard wasn't there to keep an eye on him.

Tony gets the jump on him, though, leaning over him when Steve had almost drifted off. He smiles down at Steve, whispering out, "Hey," and bending down to kiss him.

"Hey yourself," Steve whispers back, and he tugs Tony down, shifting a little when the arc reactor presses against his chest. Tony knows Steve doesn't like it, has never asked about that-- it's metal, and it's cold, maybe he doesn't expect anybody to just like it for its own sake. He takes it in stride, levering up, kissing Steve without ever letting his heart get between them.


"I need you to know," Steve says, sitting on the couch in Tony's workshop, leaning forward, elbows on his knees, "I need you to know there's somebody else."

At first he doesn't want to look at Tony, can't look at Tony, but finally he looks up, and Tony's nodding. The smile's frozen on his face; Steve can almost see the glossy armor of Tony Stark, Genius-Billionaire-Playboy-Philanthropist sliding into place, locking in with hydraulic screws.

"Not a problem," Tony says. He digs one hand out of his pocket and offers it to Steve. "Hope we can still work together."

Steve comes up off the couch, looking Tony in the eyes. "Don't you want to know--"

"Who?" Tony shakes his head. "Nope. I figure it's better for both of us if I just take you at your word."

Maybe he knows; maybe has an intuition about it. Steve swallows. Tony's smile usually looks familiar, but not today. Steve was expecting a pained smile, Tony hurting but bracing himself to fight. He was expecting an argument, something that would let them have this out and finally clear the air. He's done this before, carried a torch long past the time it was reasonable, and he'd been thinking it would go like that, pinned down and claimed clear into next week.

It's not going to be that way. Steve winces, shaking his head; this is just another piece of evidence that he's been unfair to Tony all this time.

And maybe he can take it back, maybe he can pull those words out of the air like they never happened. "You don't understand," he starts. "I wasn't going to--"

"You weren't going to make this awkward? Good to know, I appreciate that." Tony raises an eyebrow. "I'll do my best to make things easy, too. And of course you're still welcome to stay here if you want. I mean, God knows I've got the space. Hell, I've been tempted to ask the rest of the team to move in; if Bruce busts up one more apartment, I think they're going to make him live in S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters, and who wants that, nobody."

"Nobody," Steve repeats, nodding. "Okay. So. Ah." There doesn't seem much to do other than offer Tony his hand, even though they just did that, even though a handshake isn't what he came here for.

But Tony gives it to him anyway. And maybe he sees the regret in Steve's eyes, or maybe he doesn't, but he definitely catches it when Steve looks down at the arc reactor in Tony's chest. Like always, Tony's first reaction is to cover it up, tug at his shirt so the glow doesn't show through quite as much.

"It's okay," Steve tells him. "You don't have to hide it."

"Can't do much about it," Tony says, the veneer cracking a little. "It's part of who I am."

"Yeah, I know." Steve gives Tony as much of a smile as he can. "I was just thinking how much one of those must come in handy."