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The Hand That Feeds You

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Blood tasted better in the future. 

 

Steve paused mid-mouthful, the mug still pressed to his lips, and wearily acknowledged that that was a bad thought. 

At another time, he would’ve gone on to admonish himself for still thinking of it as ‘the future,’ or panicked over the fact that he’d started thinking of the supplements as ‘blood,’ or at least cringed at himself for critiquing the taste of it…

But it was late, and he was just so tired. 

 

So, instead, he tried to quiet his mind entirely, focusing on the rhythmic clanging in the radiators as he drained his mug…

They were wrong, by the way. 

Which was probably also a bad thought, but it seemed easier to let that one drift through his head than to stop and examine it-

And the radiators were wrong. 

Steve was sure a lot of effort had gone into researching and replicating the features of a 1940s home. At least, his apartment looked very different to everywhere else he went in the 21st Century, and was mercifully free of the ‘wireless’ and ‘interactive’ appliances that the world seemed to take for granted these days - so he knew that really he should just be grateful for the consideration…

But he’d never seen radiators of this shape and size, before. Like he’d never seen light fixtures that looked like his, or ever been in a home painted this strange shade of yellowish cream. Oversights in the research process, slight errors in the dates, a misunderstanding of the little details - like Fury picking the wrong baseball game to play as Steve woke up, or the agent who came to greet him wearing the wrong tie and bra. Minor, understandable mistakes that nonetheless made Steve feel disorientated and nervous, like he was wandering through the eerie almost-perfect suburb at the beginning of a horror movie…

Well, that’s assuming they are all harmless mistakes…

And that Fury didn’t play the wrong baseball game on purpose -

 

He stopped that thought dead, as he dropped his cup into his era-appropriate enamel sink. He most certainly did not have the energy to get into paranoia right now. 

 

He didn’t really have the energy to wash his mug right now either, but certain habits were hard to break. Wearily, he turned on the tap, and waited for the water to heat up.

...He knew they had water heaters now that worked much quicker. That he could, if he wanted, install a specific tap that dispensed boiling water in an instant. And he would have wanted that, in the forties. Everyone on his block would have wanted that. 

He didn’t even know if he wanted that, now. 

There was a fine spray of water over his chest, as he held the cup under the stream. He watched, mindlessly, as the foam burst into a bright cerise, and then faded into a soft pastel pink… and then into nothing… He carried on like that until a memory piped up out of nowhere. The cheery voice of one of the many nurses he’d met in his first few days out of the ice,

Mustn’t waste water.

He could recall the vaguely condescending, sing-song tone. The jaunty little flourish as she turned off the faucet. He remembered thinking that she sounded nervous, and not knowing why.

He remembered trying to figure out if she was making a joke.   

 

He turned the tap off. 

 

As he trudged through to his little living area he glanced up at the clock, willing it to be later than he already knew it was-

Wondering if it would matter if he went to bed at seven twenty. 

Instead, he sank into his ugly, beige couch - which did at least look like a thousand couches he'd hated in the forties. He rubbed his eyes and groaned softly, even though there was no one there to hear it. He just couldn’t work up the energy to go through his usual list of anxieties and neurosis at the moment … and he genuinely didn’t know how else to take up his time. 

 

A montage of well meaning strangers scrolled through his brain, reciting a list of support groups and help lines and offers to talk, if he ever needed anyone… All of which would be more of a chore than a comfort. 

Steve had always hated small talk anyway. Even in the forties, he’d gritted his teeth through every interaction with new people - or followed Bucky around like a valet, if that was an option. And back then he’d at least known how to speak the language. Now, the thought of trying to start a conversation with a stranger, having to navigate all the assumptions and references that they didn’t even know they were making, avoid the pitfalls of offense and misunderstanding with no idea where they might be hiding...

That all sounded more like the problem itself than any sort of solution to it. 

 

He cast a disinterested glance towards the left of the room, knowing that there was a laptop over there somewhere, tidied away so that it wouldn’t jar with the aesthetic. 

Contrary to everyone’s awkward assumptions, Steve had picked up the actual workings of modern technology pretty well. The true purpose and modern ethics… not so much. But as a cognitively enhanced, at one time highly-trained strategist, he’d managed to master a smartphone… 

Thank you though…

Please stop offering to show me how a touchscreen works.

The instructions are in the name...

Steve could have opened the laptop, and gone to Google, and started researching anything he liked. Watched any movie, read any book, listened to any song… he knew how to do all of that. He knew how it worked, how all of these thousands upon thousands of servers were connected to this shared global network…

 

And he couldn’t think of a single thing he wanted to do with it.

 

Mindlessly, he looked down to the stack of manila files on his coffee table. The cold, heartless details designed to summarise the lives and deaths of his closest friends. 

Steve had found that his interest stirred gently when he went through those files the first time. There was a genuine curiosity about the stories that those facts obscured, a real and immediate reaction to some of their revelations… Actual thoughts and personal feelings, which were hard for him to fish out of the numb trauma of his mind, these days. 

Briefly, he mused over the idea of digging a little further, maybe looking for some first hand accounts or candid photos or notable events too minor to be considered in the summary - something that might add some human colour to what he knew already…

He could look for interviews and accounts by the first SHIELD agents, see if any of them mentioned Peggy…

Or he could look into some of the educational programmes that Morita founded in his retirement, see what they developed into, if they had produced any famous alumni or groundbreaking new discoveries…

...Or he could look up Howard’s son. Try to work out if there really was something unusual in his features, or whether it was just a vague family resemblance hidden behind a posed expression and a lot of hair product. Seeing as staring at that one photograph for twenty minutes hadn’t helped Steve to figure it out…

He’d almost worked up some enthusiasm for the idea, before that ominous resistance began to swell in his chest. That wordless feeling that it was likely to be more confusing than he expected and more effort than it was worth. The instinct to prepare for frustration and disappointment, which was apparently just his default setting now. 

The odd thought that it wouldn’t matter what he discovered, seeing as he didn’t have anyone to share it with.

 

...If you learned something about Vampires it would matter, though. 

That wouldn’t be an arbitrary use of your time…

 

Steve noted the observation, and filed it away. Immediately, he knew he wasn’t going to do anything about that now . It was far too big an idea to just get started on like that, especially considering the mood he was in. 

...But still, it was a thought for later. Something that might provide some meaningful contemplation, when he was up to it. 

As for right now-

 

And there was a knock at the door.

 

Steve felt the hair on the back of his neck stand on end - one of very few panic reactions that remained unchanged after Operation Rebirth. He knew there was no one in the world who could be calling on him for a friendly chat. 

As quietly as he could, he rose from the couch and stepped into the hall, pausing to survey the area. He cast a glance at his shield, resting in its usual place by the front door, but he didn’t reach for it yet. A quick calculation suggested it might be better to start this thing with both hands free.

 

He fell into battle stance as he opened the door - and stayed there, even after he recognised Nick Fury. 

 

“Trouble sleeping?” Nick enquired wryly, casting a knowing eye over Steve’s tensed muscles. Steve huffed a little breath of acknowledgement, and stepped back - but didn’t loosen his shoulders. Out of spite. 

“I’ve slept for seventy years sir, I think I’ve had my fill,” he muttered. Begrudgingly, he gestured to the living area, come in then.

“You should be out celebrating,” Nick observed, as he made the leisurely stroll through Steve’s apartment. And Steve would’ve liked to have been annoyed by the callousness of that remark, but he was too busy watching Nick run his gaze over all of his things.

 

Really, he could’ve relaxed that instinct just a little on this occasion- 

Yet another habit he couldn’t break. 

 

Nick Fury was one of a very, very small group of people who had ever known that Steve was a vampire. He didn’t really know what it meant , of course. No one really knew what it meant. Steve didn’t really know what it meant. But Nick would at least understand if he saw a bloodstain on the coffee table, or a medical bag in the trash…

Still, Steve nervously catalogued his living room as Nick did, because there had been too few exceptions to that rule for it to be worth his time thinking about it -

And the consequences of breaking it had always been too great.

 

The authorities behind Operation Rebirth had decided, unanimously and without need for much discussion, that ‘Raising An Army Of The Undead’ would be bad for the propaganda war. The euphemism ‘Super Soldier’ had been decided on long before Steve was - and only became more important after Erskine was shot, and their proposed ‘army’ became one symbolic serviceman. For that first year, Steve’s only value to the Allies was as a poster boy and a bond salesman, and he didn’t need reminding that it would all have been for nothing if the truth came out - that, if the American Midwest discovered they’d been handing their babies to a vampire for souvenir photos, Steve would have done more harm than good.

People reminded him anyway, of course. And now the fear was rooted. 

 

“You here with a mission, Sir?” Steve prompted, barely masking his irritation. 

“I am,” Nick confirmed, and handed him another manila folder. Steve frowned as he took it.

“Trying to get me back in the world?” He sighed, wondering why he should resent that-

 

And then the folder fell open in his hands, and everything went cold. 

 

“Trying to save it,” Nick’s voice echoed somewhere in the distance, as Steve’s eyes were drawn deeper into that eerie, ethereal blue…

“Hydra’s secret weapon,” Steve murmured, hating how familiar the words felt in his mouth-

Hating that these were the first familiar words he’d heard in weeks.

“Howard Stark fished that out of the ocean when he was looking for you,” Nick explained, still managing to sound as though he didn’t feel any need to explain himself. “He thought - we think - the Tesseract could be the key to unlimited sustainable energy. That's something the world sorely needs.”

And the worst part was the immediate instinct to snap at Nick, what the hell was Howard thinking?

...As though he was still alive.

For one very brief moment, Steve found himself right back where he left off -  talking to a government agent about Howard’s latest investigation into Hydra tech. 

The recognition that Howard wasn’t in a lab across town justifying himself to whoever would listen, that this mission report was actually over seventy years old… it was sad for so many reasons.

 

He fixed Nick with a level stare for a second, allowing himself to briefly indulge in the fantasy of saying no. Or, at the very least, pointing out that - from his perspective - it had only been a few weeks since he’d died to keep the world safe from this threat. That the reckless, shortsighted opportunism of his own side had rendered all of his sacrifices meaningless, and it was perfectly reasonable that he should resent that. That Nick should be embarrassed to ask him to fix this…

“Who took it from you?” He asked in a resigned monotone.

“He's called Loki. He's... not from around here. There's a lot we'll have to bring you up to speed on if you're in. The world has gotten even stranger than you already know.”

 

Steve almost laughed. As though there was any sort of scale, at this point. 

 

There was a pointed silence before Nick sighed, and stepped back towards the door. 

“I’ll let you familiarise yourself with the details,” he said, as though he’d decided to be gracious about Steve’s bad mood. “Agent Hill will be here in thirty minutes with transport.” 

Steve just nodded tersely, and then cast a little glance between Nick and the exit - still feeling slightly rude for not showing him out. Damn his good Catholic upbringing. 

Nick took the hint, and nodded a goodbye. 

He’d made it as far as the hall before he paused, and, as though it was an afterthought, added, “is there anything that you can tell us about the Tesseract that we ought to know?” Without missing a beat, Steve replied,

“Yeah, you should have left it in the ocean.”

 

Nick actually smirked. Which was infuriating, of course - but not in the same league as everything else Steve had to be angry about. It began pinching in his head as soon as Nick closed the door. Vicious, hot little thoughts that seemed to pull a piercing irritation up through his skin. 

His mind filled with incomplete ideas and evocative images; not really thinking about why he was angry so much as creating an abstract representation of it. 

He was furious at everyone who’d helped bring this nightmare back into the world. He was aghast and outraged at the thousands of people who’d accepted and defended this project. He thought of all the people who had worked on the Tesseract, knowing that Steve had killed himself to protect the world from it… he felt as though every one of those people had dismissed his intelligence and invalidated his sacrifice, every single time they’d clocked in for a shift.

And he was furious at Howard. And he was furious that he couldn’t be furious at Howard - that he would never be able to confront him or yell at him or punch him in the fucking face for this…

That he’d never see Howard again, or any of the people he knew - that the routines and relationships of his life were all ancient history… forgotten… like a tree falling in the woods, they no longer ever existed…

And all for nothing

All at once, Steve was angry over everything that had happened to him, all over again. He found himself reliving that bitter sense of injustice that he should be so alone and lost and miserable-

No - it was worse this time. 

 

Agent Hill will be here in thirty minutes with transport

 

Steve’s shoulders slumped from under him. He wanted to be angry at himself for bringing that up… That petulant part of him, that had always been prepared to get his head kicked in rather than let anyone treat him like shit - that part of him knew that Fury had no right to ask this of him, that SHIELD had had no right to disrespect everything he’d died for, that they deserved to clean up their own mess…

That part of him had always ceded to the determination not to do the same to others. The desire above all else to be a good person. The moral lessons that he still heard in a voice a bit like his mothers… although, of course, he was beginning to forget her voice now…

Steve knew he couldn’t let the world get its head kicked in to prove his point. That he had no right to dismiss anyone else's suffering, just because everyone seemed quite happy to dismiss his.

And he knew how dangerous the Tesseract was. 

And - as of thirty seconds ago - he was sure that he couldn’t trust anyone else on earth to take it seriously…

 

So, somewhere between reconciled and begrudging, Steve sank back into the couch and threw Fury’s folder down onto the coffee table with a satisfying slap. With his irritation still grinding somewhere in the background, he forced a checklist into his head.

Read the files

Look up all the references that he didn’t recognise.

Re-read the files.

Change into some more durable clothing.

Drinking again should probably have been on that list too, just to be on the safe side - but he’d well and truly lost his appetite, so he’d have to wait and see if he could face it again in time.

 

Dejectedly, he looked at the file...

And then his eyes ran over to the stack of folders next to it…

It was a ridiculous impulse, and probably a waste of valuable time, but Steve decided to indulge his anger for just a second longer before he got to work. He took the folder marked Stark from the top of the pile and opened it to the first page, his mind filling up with things he would have liked to yell at him…

But this wasn’t a picture of the Howard that Steve knew. 

This was an old man, his hair cut in a style that hadn’t existed in the forties, his features worn and somehow crueller...

Even the surrogates for Steve’s former life were wrong , now. 

Steve huffed bitterly and let the file fall into his lap. And then he sat up to collect the folder he was supposed to be looking at-

Pausing, when he saw that the papers on his knees had fallen open at Tony Stark's page again. 

There was a brief curl of embarrassment, acknowledging that it was probably because the files were falling into their natural position - that Howard wasn’t the reason this one was already on the top of the stack… But Steve’s anger was hot enough to swallow it up, burning it into fragments that became a part of his fury. 

 

Leading expert in renewable energy…

 

Ha. Well, that figured. 

And, to think, Steve had actually been vaguely impressed when he read that Tony Stark had unilaterally shut down Howards weapons business. 

Not that he’d given much thought to the details on Tony Stark's report. The first time Steve saw it, he’d just finished reading all of his friends' obituaries, and he’d not had much mental energy left for the people he’d never even met - if his attention hadn’t been snagged by that strange… quality , in his facial expression, Steve doubted he’d even remember Tony’s name. 

But, now that he thought of it, he did remember briefly thinking it was unusual to hear of any businessman making such a comprehensive stand. It had seemed to Steve that most companies had to be bullied for years before they changed their harmful practices, usually in as small a way as possible and only after it had actually become more cost effective to do it. When he read the line ‘Tony Stark stated that after his experience in Afghanistan, he had no choice but to…’ Steve had already assumed an end to the sentence - that it would be something about stricter safeguards or a charitable donation, or something. When it actually read ‘shut the company down’, Steve had almost smiled. It was unexpected, and yeah, maybe even worthy of admiration…

 

But now that he thought about it, it made far more sense that Tony Stark had simply decided that another one of his fathers projects was potentially more profitable. That he hadn’t suddenly grown a sense of responsibility so much as decided to be irresponsible about something else. 

That seemed far more in keeping with the world as Steve found it. 

In fact, he felt embarrassed that he’d fallen for the publicity stunt. 

 

It’s just the same old cycle, over and over again…

 

He slammed the Stark folder closed with too much force, and tossed it aside. 

 

...So I guess I might as well get on with it, then. 



*

 

There was still something otherworldly about the freedom of flying. At times, it was like being free from the boundaries of reality, feeling so at ease with the sort of speed and movement that should’ve been impossible. 

Beneath him, the city streaked into an abstract work of art, a perfect balance of colour and form that would disappear completely when he moved closer to it. In moments like this, Tony could still appreciate the wonder and absurdity of what he was doing, however many times he’d done it before.  

 

“We’ve gotta go wider on the public awareness campaign,” Pepper interrupted his train of thought over the headset. “You need to do some press. I'm in DC tomorrow-”

“Pepper, you’re killing me. Remember the moment?” Tony smiled...and carried on smiling, as he realised that actually he’d forgotten the moment. That he was in the moment, living it and enjoying it, without the usual anxiety and background stress…

“Well, get in here then, and we’ll celebrate,” Pepper told him cheerfully, as the familiar shape of the Tower came at him out of the blur. 

And it was nice that it just sounded nice . It was almost nostalgic, that mundane little lift in his chest as he looked forward to spending a few hours with a friend. The simplicity of enjoying leisure time as a reward for a job well done. If he didn’t think too hard about why this felt special, maybe he could hold on to it - maybe even get to appreciate it, before-

 

“Sir, Agent Coulson of SHIELD is on the line,” JARVIS informed him.

 

Oh well, I guess not then.

 

“I’m not in,” Tony bit out, as his feet made contact with the landing pad with a soft bump. “I’m actually out.”

“Sir, I’m afraid he’s insisting.”

Immediately, Tony’s jaw clenched with a particular sort of indignation. He let go of a slow breath through his nose as he began the walk into his suite, trying to let go of the tension in the same way he relinquished his suit to the flank of bots.

“Grow a spine JARVIS. I’ve got plans,” he retorted - even though Coulson had already disrupted them, simply by jarring him out of his easy mood. 

 

Now he’d remembered his prickling sense of injustice over the way SHIELD had treated him the last time; now he had to commit some mental energy to not thinking about it.

Not starting up a thousand well worn arguments about their cruelty and hypocrisy-

Not reliving the searing pain of palladium breaking down in his chest, or the familiar panic of having someone he thought he knew - someone he’d trusted - sneak up behind him and take ownership of his body, without warning, much less consent-

Not to think about Obie, and the lie of his youth, and the increasing worry that maybe no one was as they seemed-

The burn of metal melding with flesh-

Afghanistan-

 

- nope .

 

Even if it wasn’t quite the care-free evening he’d had planned, Tony was determined to keep hold of it. Out of spite.

 

“Levels are holding steady...I think…” Pepper informed him, as he walked through the living area.

“Well, of course they are, I was directly involved” he responded with a jovility that he no longer felt. “Which brings me to my next question - how does it feel to be a genius?” 

Pepper laughed, dropping her eyes briefly to mask the fact that even she wasn’t immune to shyness-

But there wasn’t the awkwardness to it that there once was.

 

Tony would be lying if he’d said he never wondered how things would be, if they’d gone the other way. If, when they’d finally sat down to talk about their changing relationship like adults, they’d taken the conversation in a different direction. A simple human curiosity about the road not travelled, really. 

In reality, Tony was becoming increasingly comfortable that they’d made the right call. And increasingly pleased that they’d actually made a call, come to that. That they’d finally acknowledged that their relationship had changed since he hired her to be his PA, even if that didn’t make them a good match romantically. To find and name those acts of kindness and concern and commitment for what they really were. 

At moments like these especially, Tony could appreciate that there was nothing lesser about having Pepper as a best friend. That maybe he preferred it. Being able to give her an honest compliment like that, without there being any question of what it might mean. Being able to talk about his life, or choose not to, without the inherent moral burden of having already agreed to share it with her. Being able to spend the evening not doing much of anything-

 

“Sir, the telephone. I’m afraid my protocols are being overwritten.”

 

-would have been nice, wouldn’t it?

 

Unfortunately, Tony could already feel his phone vibrating in his pocket, so he knew he wouldn’t have time to process exactly why that was so fucking annoying-

And, as usual in those circumstances, it came out as a misplaced attempt at humour.

 

“You have reached the life model decoy of Tony Stark. Please leave a message-”

“This is urgent,” Coulson snapped impatiently.

“Then leave it urgently,” Tony snapped back-

 

And then the doors of his private elevator slid open.

Of course they fucking did. 

 

Tony was always so much more affected by the things he knew were wrong, than by the things that hurt his feelings. 

What burned brightest, as Coulson casually let himself into Tony’s home, was a sense of the unfairness in this - how obvious the parallels were, and how blindingly irritating it was that no one else saw them. 

 

This man had treated him like shit, and justified himself on the grounds that Tony deserved it .

Because Tony was irresponsible - said the man who’d threatened to taser a terminally ill person with a serious heart condition. 

Because Tony was selfish - said the man who’d held onto a treatment for palladium poisoning, or at least a potential relief from the incredible pain of it, just to see how Tony would react without it.

Because Tony was arrogant - said the man who had no problem letting himself into Tony’s living room, against his express wishes, whilst being generally impatient that Tony had dared to have a life in his absence. 

And, of course, there was no chance Tony would get to say any of it.

 

So, another meaningless quip it was.

 

“Security breach,” he sighed, glancing at Pepper to watch her smile at the in joke. 

And then she turned to face Coulson, the little grin breaking out into a full-on joyous welcome.

“Phil!” She beamed-

And, okay, yeah - that hurt Tony’s feelings a little bit…

But that was the easy thing to brush off.

“Why is he Phil?” he asked anyway, never expecting he’d get an answer. 

“We need you to look this over, as soon as possible,” Coulson dictated, already aiming a data case in Tony’s direction.

“I don’t like being handed things,” Tony reminded him, in lieu of mentioning all the reasons that this whole thing was entitled and presumptuous and rude -

“That’s okay, because I love being handed things,” Pepper announced - and, immediately, Tony’s shoulders sagged, because he knew where this was going.

“Official consulting hours are between five and eight,” he muttered, taking the file from her without so much as a glance. Talking purely for his own amusement, now.

“This isn’t a consultation,” Coulson - or, apparently ‘Phil’ - asserted.

 

No, technically it’s breaking and entering.

 

But Tony didn’t say it - in fact, he had just decided that there was no point saying anything else, when Pepper piped up,

“Is this about The Avengers?” And, when Tony raised an eyebrow at her, hastily added, “Which I.. I know nothing about…”

Ah. Just as he was about to bury this resentment, Pepper had to poke that particular argument out of its slumber.

“The Avengers initiative was scrapped,” Tony commented bitterly… and then just carried on talking . “And I didn’t qualify. Apparently I’m volatile, self obsessed, don’t play well with others…” 

“This isn’t about personality profiles anymore,” Coulson replied, tersely.

 

Tony would’ve liked to ask why they ever needed to so bluntly dissect his personality - what even gave them the right - if he was obviously capable of fixing their mess regardless. 

What, he was too volatile to work on a side project, but not too self-obsessed to be handed responsibility for national security?

Was it all just because they thought he deserved it, because they wanted to put him in his place?

When he didn’t even work for them - had directly declined the offer to work with them, in fact - when he’d never asked for their help. And still maintained that he never needed it, seeing as their only real input was to lock him in his room and tell him to fix it himself-

 

Stop . You have to stop.

 

If there was one lesson Tony had learned, repeatedly, from birth , it was that there was no point in defending himself on a point of principle. 

He’d learned how to defend himself in every battle of wits, every battle of will, every competition he could be objectively strong enough or fast enough to win - but there was no point trying to change people’s opinion of him. 

There was no argument, however well thought out or cleverly communicated, that would dissuade people of that inherent understanding they already had of him. That Tony’s feelings weren’t quite as real as everyone else's. That he should have to disprove their preconceptions of him, to be worthy of a fair shot. That he was somehow asking for it

Tony remembered far too many infuriating arguments with his father to believe that any good could come from trying to explain. 

 

“Whatever,” he sighed, opening the data case and placing it on a work desk before he turned his attention back to Pepper, “Miss Potts. Got a minute?”

She smiled a polite apology at Coulson, gesturing, one moment , before she skipped down to join Tony.

 

“This is not what I meant by staying in the moment, by the way,” Tony murmured, just to fill the gap while he waited for the files to load. 

“This seems pretty serious. Phil seems pretty shaken,” Pepper answered.

“I’m amazed you can tell the difference,” Tony muttered. He considered asking again why it was ‘Phil’, all of a sudden… he was strangely relieved to remember that it wasn’t actually any of his business. 

“What is all this, anyway?”

This , is…”

 

And then, right on cue, the air around him lit up in a wall of movement and colour-

That colour…

That blue…

 

Tony didn’t know much about the Tesseract, scientifically speaking. But he knew enough to immediately recognise the whole new level of serious they were at. The briefest glimpse of it was enough to set off a chain of sense memories… The hushed whisper his father had used whenever he mentioned it... the way the air had changed, that one time Tony had asked about it…

His eyes rushed on to the block of text beneath it, taking it in at a sweep-

- They were experimenting on it?

-The were experimenting on it and they lost it?

...These were the people who deemed Tony too reckless and narcissistic, by the way. 

 

And maybe he would have quite liked to turn to Coulson with one final barb, just for his own sake, before he got to work. 

A pointed observation about why their experiments were obviously flawed to begin with, before an unfriendly agent became involved. 

A thinly veiled question about the many safeguards they’d overlooked - safeguards that, oh, say, the world's leading expert in renewable energy might’ve suggested, if they’d asked him. 

But before he could get to even that minor point of satisfaction, his eyes caught on the screen to his right.

 

... Captain America .

 

Oh, that was an entirely different sort of nostalgia. A cold, curling sensation low in his gut; the sort of fear you can only come up with as a kid, but remember all your life. 

An uneasy chill crept over him, as he remembered Steve Rogers face staring down from the wall of his father’s office, the sound of his name in his fathers voice

Steve Rogers died for ungrateful little shits like you

Do you know how hard Steve Rogers fought just to get a chance at life? While you throw all yours away?

Steve Rogers was twice the man you are even when he was half your size - all the super serum in the world wouldn’t make you the man he was.

… All with that slightly sinister filter over everything. That ominous music playing faintly in the background of Tony’s memories. Those blink-and-you’ll miss it scene-shifts that only he could see…

He’d never found the words for it.

But, somewhere, ever since he was a little boy, he’d just had the feeling that there was something… nefarious, about Steve Rogers, something forbidden and… wrong , somehow-

Tony swallowed roughly, and was just about to tell himself to get a grip, when his gaze dropped to the information listed beneath those horribly familiar images-

 

- He’s alive?

 

There was what could only be described as a trauma response.

A hot burst of denial - because, surely, he couldn’t be ?

A deluded attempt at bargaining - no, someone would have told me

A spike of anger, as he realised - what, like Fury told you about that message from your dad, that he’d kept hold of for you-don’t-even-know-how-long? Like they told you there was a treatment for palladium poisoning, or like they told you they were working on the Tesseract at all? Or do you mean like they told you that your new assistant's name was Natalie?

A wave of genuine, bodily fear, followed immediately by a curl of shame. 

 

Steve Rogers is alive.

 

“I’m going to take the jet to DC tonight,” Pepper spoke as though from miles away.

“Okay,” Tony nodded robotically, his eyes still fixed on Steve Rogers name. “Fly safe.”

“Work hard,” She smiled as she left - but he barely heard it. He’d fallen into his own little world long before she and Coulson had strolled out the door.

 

For a moment, he simply let his eyes run over the chaos of information, waiting for one issue to make itself known as the priority right now. 

Of course, he knew it should be the mission - at the very least, he should probably figure out exactly what the mission was-

But his attention just kept getting dragged back over to Rogers image.

Tony had the eerie feeling that he was about to live through one of his childhood nightmares. That he was about witness the real Steve Rogers decreeing once and for all that Tony really was the disappointment that his father always predicted-

That maybe he was about to come face to face with whatever wordless quality it was that always made his blood run cold... 

 

Currently employed as an Agent of SHIELD…

 

Tony coughed a joyless laugh. Well, that figured. 

His dad had never given him much of an insight into Steve Rogers character - only what Rogers would think of Tony … But on that basis, he would probably fit in very well alongside Fury and Romanoff and ‘Phil’...

 

...And if he walked in right now and called you a disappointment, he’d have a point.

 

Tony felt his entire body surrender to it, softening under him in defeat. He carried on chastening himself, even though he already felt thoroughly ashamed,

The issues you have with your father don’t matter

The issues you have with SHIELD don’t matter

The issues you have with Steve Rogers don’t matter

The things you have been through don’t matter and the feelings that have been hurt don’t matter and your arguments about any of it don’t matter-

It’s not all about you.

 

What matters is doing the right thing, now.

 

So, you might as well get on with it.

 

Chapter Text

Steve was trying to be sensible about all this.

 

Which was difficult, when you were fighting the Norse God of Mischief and a robot had just landed next to you.

It wasn’t a situation that lent itself to sensible analysis, really. 

 

But, as he didn’t have the option of surrendering to chaos, he decided to rely on his standard mission protocols and safeguards. They might be ill-fitting and insufficient for the circumstances, but they were all he had.

His muscles still throbbing from the blows he’d taken, Steve straightened his back and fixed his eyes on Loki, until he was pretty sure that he’d dropped his defences - which, again, was a tricky call to make, when said defences appeared to be made of magical glitter... 

Next, he cast a glance over the now deserted plaza, checking the shadows for anyone that might’ve been injured or too distressed to run. 

Then, and only then, did he allow himself the briefest glance at Iron Man - 

And he was careful to make the distinction. 

 

He already knew that wouldn’t have felt comfortable thinking any of this about Tony Stark

 

But Steve couldn’t help observing that the The Iron Man Armour - the entirely separate, inanimate entity that was the suit itself... 

The Iron Man armour was far more intimidating, and far more impressive, and far more... aesthetically pleasing , than he’d been expecting.

 

He’d seen photographs of it, of course; the cold, functional images that were included in the SHIELD information files, and a few highly stylised magazine covers that he’d seen in waiting rooms and on newsstands... 

And maybe his 1940s notions of robotic technology had influenced his impression of it, made it more bulky and industrial and ugly in his memories. 

Maybe photographs simply didn’t do it justice.

But either way, Steve found himself somewhat taken aback by how... fluid , it was. How sleek and intuitive its movements were… how expressive its posure was…

As though it was alive.

Steve wanted to stand and stare for a moment, to step closer and try to make sense of this impossible futuristic construct, to indulge this strange, wordless compulsion-

 

But none of that was sensible. 

 

So, instead, he looked away, and swallowed hard, and chastened himself,

Okay, it isn’t quite what you were expecting and it’s nothing like you’ve ever seen before - but it’s just another piece of future tech that you’ll get used to in a few minutes.

Okay, so no one mentioned he’d be here, and it’s a bit awkward, what with all the time you’ve spent staring at his picture and ranting at him in your head… But no one ever tells you anything, and you feel awkward all the time anyway, and you don’t want anything to do with this man, so what does it matter? 

 

...Okay, so you’re not sure this reaction is anything to do with any of that, and maybe this feels like something new, and different… and… physical...

 

But that would be ridiculous.

 

No, it was simply that Steve was still occasionally thrown by the stranger elements of the future, and more emotional and irritable since he came out of the ice, and personally offended by the actions of so many people involved - and really, all of that was ridiculous, and he should work on getting over it-

Not fortifying in it.

 

So.



“Mr Stark,” he managed a reasonably level tone, making sure to keep his eyes averted.

“Captain.”

 

There was a sharp spark at the base of Steve’s spine, like a needle. An electric shock that splintered up along his back, and a queasy tightening in the pit of his stomach. 

He forced a long, slow breath out through his nose - which was purely performative, obviously, but sometimes those little human rituals helped to centre him. 

 

This is not that weird

It’s just eerie to hear such a human voice through a robotic filter.

You’re still flooded with adrenaline from fighting a Norse God

You’re just pissed at Howard for invalidating your life’s purpose, and pissed at his son for carrying on with it, and incredibly pissed that they brought him in without telling you-

And it’s unbecoming of you, and childish-

But it’s not weird-

 

A gentle whooshing sound stirred the air, and Steve turned to watch the Quin Jet coming to a soft landing a hundred feet behind them. Automatically, he scanned the area for access points and potential blindspots, finding some comfort in the patterns of battle planning. And then he looked back to Iron Man, already practicing his impassive battle commands in his head-

Just as a violent burst of movement split the air beside him. 

 

He leapt back, instinctively falling into combat stance, refocusing his attention in time to see Loki’s arms being pulled hard against his ribs. 

Steve didn’t really recognise what Stark had done so much as he worked it out after the fact - that he must have fired some sort of restraint, something shiny and flexible that had wrapped itself around Loki’s torso, and seemed to have him pinned tight. 

The immediate shock burned out as quickly as it had flared up… but the residual adrenaline lingered, and blended nicely with his general mood. His previous self consciousness morphed into defensiveness, his panic pricked into irritation, and in no time at all Steve had convinced himself that he was really very angry about that little stunt.

 

“Any chance you could warn me if you’re going to do that in the future?” Steve muttered, silently adding a few incredulous observations about firing weapons in tense situations, and sharing your battle plans with team mates, and following a chain of command-

“Sure,” Iron Man replied, the sarcastic tone already clear in that odd, pseudo-human voice, “I am absolutely going to restrain hostiles in the future - and this is me warning you.”

And then he cocked his head in Steve’s direction - 

And Steve was forced to confront the truly surreal experience of being given a smug look by a sheet of metal. 

 

The reaction that scorched his skin was every bit as intense as all the others - but at least this one was familiar. This was the immediate bite of temper, the searing frustration of not being able to articulate his indignation as quickly or as fiercely as he felt it. This was a human response. This was an especially human response, in fact.

Steve wasn’t sure he’d felt such a pure and personal desire to fight with someone since he was at school. 

He even recognised the cold, defensive glare that his features hardened into, as the initial surge of outrage settled into a more general throb of aggression. 

You’re exactly what I thought you’d be.

You are so much like your father

You are every reckless, entitled show off I ever wanted to punch in the face

 

And he would have said so, too - or, at least, he was about to say something .

Steve distinctly remembered that he’d already opened his mouth to say something, so presumably he knew what it was, at the time…

Unfortunately, just before he got the chance, Stark casually reached up, and unclipped his helmet, and pulled his head free…

And looked right at him.

 

...And Steve... just...forgot.

...All words.

He had literally forgotten all words.

 

He just froze , physically incapable of tearing his gaze away from those fathomless brown eyes. 

 

In that first fraction of a second, it was mostly shock. A very basic startle reflex; the jolt of epinephrine that came from having his most basic expectations contradicted.

Because this was not what he thought Tony Stark looked like - and he’d been really, really sure that he knew what Tony Stark looked like. Steve may even have been picturing his face beneath the visor, an exact replica of the photograph he’d spent so long staring at… 

And yet he felt as though he’d never seen this man before.

...He’d never seen a man like this, before.

 

And then that shock thawed into an awed admiration, as he began to process what he was looking at. A purely esthetical appreciation that became an objective amazement, and then a more personal allure… 

He began to understand that Tony Stark was beyond beautiful. That there was something in the way the details hung together, something that couldn’t be sufficiently expressed by a collection of observations. Something that Steve couldn’t quite find in the curve of his lips or the softness of his skin or the opalescent shimmer on his hair-

 

But he could feel it.

 

And then came a distinct tug of attraction…

And then a wave of overwhelming, icy terror…

And then he remembered that his mouth was still open. 

 

Steve pitched his lips together and dropped his eyes, and gave thanks to God that it wasn’t possible for him to blush anymore.

Frantically, he tried to work out how long that little interlude had lasted, and how obvious his reaction would have been… And then kicked himself, when he remembered that they were still in the middle of a global catastrophe. 

 

“Do I need to ask your permission before I drag him to the Helicarrier, Captain ?” Stark enquired. with a politeness so exaggerated that it sounded outright disdainful. 

Steve was deeply concerned to discover that his voice was more unnerving without the robotic filter. 

“It’s fine, I’ve got it,” he replied, without making eye contact. Still, he saw the condescending shrug that Stark gave him…

And he still saw the way Stark’s huge arsenal of weapons folded themselves back into the suit, and disappeared.

 

Again, Steve was struck by how natural it seemed. It was the illusion of simplicity achieved through the complete mastery of complexity; as much a feat of artistry as engineering. Like butterfly wings, or flocks of starlings…

And so much more charismatic for the fact that he could see Tony’s face. 

 

Steve swallowed hard, and stormed over to Loki with all the subtly and self control of a tantruming child. 

 

He was, perhaps, a bit too forceful when he picked him up...

 

*

 

Well, all of this is very weird .

 

Tony had made that observation about fifty times since he stepped aboard the SHIELD helicarrier. Which had been a useless observation the first time around, and had only become more annoying with every repetition...

But it felt as though that was literally the one thing he could say for sure. 

 

Of course, he’d known this mission was going to be weird. He’d felt decidedly out of sorts before he even left the house, already aware that so many of his usual defences were going to be put to the ultimate test. 

And he’d like to convince himself that the events so far were simply an extension of those perfectly ordinary, understandable anxieties…

That this physical nervousness was just the hangover of an old childhood fear, nothing more.

That his self-awareness was somehow rooted in the way SHIELD had judged him, and the way his father had criticised him, and the unfortunate way Steve Rogers seemed to embody all of it.

That his defensive rage and embarrassment and even his strange desire for Rogers’ attention were all due to the regrettable circumstances - and the fact that Steve Rogers was actually kind of an ass.

...That this immediate, intense attraction wasn’t really unlike anything Tony had ever felt in his life. 

 

But all those determined words were losing the fight against a shadowy, ominous feeling.

Now, several hours after his inglorious introduction to Captain America, Tony found himself hovering in a corridor, trying to distinguish between different levels of surreal. 

Really, what is the normal amount of fucked up to feel, when you’re getting ready to fight aliens with your dad’s dead friend?

Who also happens to be a childhood phobia, and the subject of your fathers’ nastier abuse-

And the most beautiful man you’ve ever-

 

Tony scrunched his nose in distaste, and tried to ignore that observation. It seemed remarkably unfair that he should have to deal with that reaction, as well as all the others. He couldn’t help thinking that things would’ve been far less complicated, if Steve had been an ugly creep with a BO problem-

If Steve had just been a normal person - someone who looked better in their professionally produced publicity photos than they did in real life. That’s how it usually works, right? You meet the movie star or the model or the childhood hero and find they’re less lucent and flawless and imposing in real life…

Maybe , at a push, you find they look just like their poster, and you’re delighted and amazed by this, and you spend the rest of your life telling dinner party guests ‘I met Captain America once - and you know, he looks exactly like he does on his posters…’

Bargaining his way down, Tony decided that wouldn’t have been so bad if Steve had just looked like he did in the news reels. Obviously, it was clear from even those grainy old images that Steve was attractive… Actually, there had been a brief time in his teenage years when Tony had been especially aware of that fact, and the way it blended with that undercurrent of fear and resentment, and curdled into something else-

Something he certainly shouldn’t be thinking about now. 

But, at least if it had only been that, Tony might’ve had a chance to process it. If Steve had simply been pretty in the same way as thousands of other people, if Tony had felt a regular, everyday attraction to him… Yeah, it would’ve been another layer of shit to deal with, but at least he would have recognised it. 

This feeling was nothing like his adolescent interest in Steve Rogers - nothing like any attraction he’d ever felt before.

 

Again, he found himself picturing the way Steve had marched up to Thor, finding it so easy to recall every little detail. The way his uniform gathered oh so slightly at the waist as he walked. The changing shape of his lips, as his aggression simmered down into authority. The curve of his shoulders, as that ripple of muscle rolled down the length of his arms…

Was it really possible that Steve was so flawlessly, impossibly beautiful that it had knocked Tony senseless? Did that really happen, outside of Hallmark greetings cards?

Or had Tony already been knocked senseless, and that’s why he thought Steve was so beautiful?

And, if so, then what had caused this reaction in the first place-

 

Involuntarily, he picked the sound of Phil Coulson’s voice out of the buzz of activity on the helicarrier. Tony glanced up to see Coulson striding confidently along the hallway with his hand held to his ear - a gesture that wasn’t necessary when using the high definition SHIELD earpieces, except to signal that he wasn’t talking to himself. At another time, Tony might even have smiled at that silly human observation. Right now it just jarred his thoughts, dragging an irritable resistance through his skull. 

 

Now he was going to have to deal with SHIELD, and the next part of his plans, and the next part of the mission… And he didn’t know how to do any of that. He didn’t even know how to start thinking about any of that…

 

Tony was reluctant to accept that his previous existence had simply disappeared, that all the things he cared about were no longer important or that all his careful plotting had actually been irrelevant-

He knew that was insane.

But it somehow felt inappropriate to be second-guessing SHIELD and nursing personal grudges, now that a whole other mindset had occurred to him. Like waking up as his teenage self, perfectly able to remember what mattered to him back then, what his plans were, how people would expect him to behave - and not quite able to picture himself doing any of it. Not really believing it, somehow. He found himself questioning things that should have been instinctive, uncomfortable with things that should’ve been second nature. 

The idea of simply carrying on seemed ridiculous.

The idea of doing anything else seemed ridiculous.

And Tony wasn’t sure whether he’d be able to solve that conundrum, however much time he was given-

But he was still pissed off that he had to deal with it now .

 

Unfortunately, Coulson caught his eye and raised a hand for his attention - which faintly tugged at a chord of discontentment, from somewhere a long time ago.

And Tony needed that response. If he was going to walk out onto the bridge, and deliver his speech with the necessary confidence, he was going to have to be the person he was this morning. If he still thought that SHIELD weren’t to be trusted, and he still thought they were up to something, and he still thought it was important to find out what… and he had to assume he did still think all that, because he had no idea what he’d think instead… and if that was the case, then he had to carry on being the person who came up with this idea.

The person who came up with this idea did not get tongue tied around attractive strangers - however attractive they were. 

That person did not get nervous about addressing a room, or have difficulty concentrating on the many aspects of their strategy. 

That person had taken for granted that he’d be able to spin a distraction, set up his own plan and work on the mission - that’s what he was good at. Or, it had been, this morning. 

... That person had been deeply, personally angered by Coulson's behaviour. And had considered that to be relevant, and important

 

So, Tony decided to go with that - even though, to be perfectly honest, it now seemed as petty as forcing himself to bicker with his highschool bully. 

He reminded himself that Coulson had no right to throw flippant gestures at him, and that he should be irritated by it. 

He remembered that another version of him would probably have stormed off at that point, out of spite…

Or said something scathing?

Or…

God, it was so hard to work out what he would do, when he didn’t feel like himself…

 

That moment of existential crisis was the only reason that Tony stood and waited for Coulson to address him - which felt like a warning of exactly what would happen if he let this crisis spiral much further.

“They’re waiting for you on the Bridge,” Coulson told him dismissively, when he’d made it to within a few feet.

“Funny, I didn’t think anyone thought I was important enough to wait for,” Tony bit back, on autopilot. 

“So then you’re not important enough to delay the whole project, are you?” Coulson sighed, gesturing impatiently to the other end of the corridor-

To where Steve Rogers was waiting.

 

Tony took a deep breath as subtly as he could, giving up on any idea of maintaining his pissing contest with Coulson - 

He had bigger challenges to overcome. 

 

He remembered Rogers’ voice booming from somewhere above his head, that’s enough! The fear and resentment and even exhilaration that flooded Tony’s body...

He remembered the humiliation that had curled in his stomach as he stood next to Steve on the QuinJet, the horrible feeling that he was running out of words as he was saying them, the cold smallness that came over him when Steve said, Fury didn’t tell me he was bringing you in.

He remembered the way his body had locked up the first time their eyes met…

Tony wanted to dismiss them all as ‘things that didn’t happen to him’. But they had.

He wanted to believe that there was a logical explanation for all this…

 

“What is he?” Tony heard himself ask.

“Who, Loki?” Coulson frowned. In a burst of impulsiveness, Tony decided to commit to the line of enquiry.

“No, Steve Rogers,” he clarified, making sure to look Coulson right in the eye. “There’s some big, scary secret about him. So, what is it?”

Tony watched as Coulson’s brow furrowed in confusion, before he pursed his lips, offended… With a sinking feeling of disappointment, Tony recognised that Coulson really didn’t know anything. Which, actually, was the end of his interest in the conversation - but Coulson answered him anyway. 

“As I understand it, Captain Rogers took the ultimate risk for his country, and then made the ultimate sacrifice for his country, and now, a few months after waking up in a new century, he’s in there waiting to do it again,” he huffed indignantly, sharpening his expression to add, “waiting for you .”

 

The spike of injustice Tony felt at that was a truly blessed relief. 

That felt real.

That felt more like him…

With that one little outburst, Coulson had triggered a genuine feeling of grievance, one that Tony had known since he was a little boy. That wordless recognition he’d been forced to form early in life - 

That there were some people that everyone wanted to like, and some people they didn’t. 

That there were people who just gave the right impression - and people who simply never could.

The people who were afforded respect unless they did something to lose it, and the people who had to prove that they didn’t deserve to be hated. 

 

Suddenly - and quite happily - Tony found himself filled with vital passion for his arguments.

So, it’s courageous and patriotic to want to become a war-ending weapon for the United States Army - but weapons manufacturing is so evil that you can never be redeemed for it, even if you change your mind.

So, his trauma is a sacrifice, to be lauded and given concessions - and I got reprimanded for giving Fury ‘another problem to deal with’, before you jabbed a needle in my neck, threatened to assault me, and locked me in my house.

So, he’s allowed to criticize and judge and order people about, and that’s actually him being more heroic and commanding - but when I refuse to take orders from people that I don’t even work for, then I’m a ‘textbook narcissist’. 

With every line the tension built in his chest, straightening his spine and raising his shoulders. That static frustration began to hum in his head as his skin grew hotter, his jaw aching with the effort of clenching his teeth-

Tony clung to that feeling with every ounce of effort in his body.

 

He deliberately applied it to all his current crises, making himself think back over the entire day now that he was in this mood - hoping to overwhelm and correct whatever weird trance he’d fallen into. 

He was delighted when it immediately suited his memories of Steve, well enough to reform them into something else entirely.

 

That’s enough! Wasn’t unnervingly powerful - it was bossy and cocky and rude.

Fury didn’t tell me he was calling you in - was simply entitled and uncalled for.

And that arresting luminescence in his eyes was… well, it wasn't… well, it wasn’t really...

...Okay, fine. Steve was very pretty. 

Tony would give him that one. 

But so what?

 

Tony even allowed it to mutate into a whole new level of disdain for Coulson, immediately indulging himself in an idea of Coulson as a sycophantic fanboy-

And a fresh new source of self loathing: the idea that perhaps he’d done the same thing. 

 

Which was mortifying, and he hated it…

But Tony always found it easier to believe the version of events that made him feel like a total dickhead.

And maybe that was why this was the only explanation so far that felt right. 

Or maybe he’d just calmed down enough for a sensible explanation to take hold, at last. 

Either way, the idea that he’d simply been a bit star struck by Captain America, and allowed himself to be genuinely intimidated by him, seemed to fit.

That was a horrible, humiliating thought-

But so much better than the other thing. 

He smiled.

 

“Well, best not keep him waiting any longer then, eh?”

 

*

 

There had been a lot about this mission that had confused Steve. 

 

The thermonuclear astrophysics and the flying aircraft carriers and the approaching horde of alien invaders were all somewhat outside his comfort zone to begin with. That was before he had to take on not one, but two Asguardians - in two completely separate fights. Add to that his surreal introduction to Tony Stark, and the creeping anxiety that had followed him ever since, and Steve had come to the conclusion that things couldn’t be any more bewildering-

 

And then he’d had yet another argument with Stark, which had somehow managed to turn everything on its head all over again.

 

Looking back on it, Steve wanted to say that it had started out ordinarily enough - which was a ludicrous statement, because nothing about this was ordinary. 

There was nothing normal about the way he’d been prowling the helicarrier, just looking for an excuse to go to Tony. There was no reason that he should’ve walked into Tony’s lab knowing what to expect, no reason that the rhythm of their argument should already feel familiar

...But it did.

Already , strolling into Tony’s space and picking a fight felt like something he would do. He already recognised the reaction he had to each outburst - which was no less intense than it had been, but now it felt right somehow… or, no longer alien, at least. 

It even felt strangely natural to be so overwhelmed by Tony’s prettiness. The same way the sound of gunfire and the rumble of explosions had started to seem natural during the war, however extraordinary it all was. 

Steve might have found some small comfort in his new normal, some tiny little boost of his personal confidence as compared to a few hours earlier..

 

And then Bruce had commented, perfectly casually,

So, why didn't SHIELD bring him in on the Tesseract project? I mean, what are they doing in the energy business in the first place?”

 

Steve could swear he’d felt his heart stop. 

 

... they didn’t bring him in on the Tesseract Project?

 

“I should probably look into that once my decryption programmer finishes breaking into all of SHIELD's secure files,” Tony breezed on, a little edge of superiority in his eyes. 

But Steve didn’t even hear that, at first.

He was still completely reeling from the discovery that his main complaint against Stark - the very foundation of all of his assumptions, the justification he had for not liking him - wasn’t true…

The realisation that no one had ever told him it was

The conflict of suddenly hating himself - but not knowing if that meant he didn’t hate Tony Stark…

A memory flashed up behind Steve’s eyes. The condescending expression on Stark’s face when he mocked, well, you’re pretty spry for an older fellow…

So, he still thought Tony was an arrogant, vain bully… Right?

...Or did everything look different to him now?

...Had he gotten everything wrong up until this point? Or just that one assumption about the Tesseract Project?

 

...And, wait, the decryption programme was doing what ?

 

“I’m sorry, did you just say-”

“Jarvis has been running it since I hit the bridge. In a few hours we'll know every dirty secret SHIELD has ever tried to hide,” Tony clarified, smugly, before thrusting a small plastic bag in Steve’s direction, “Blueberry?”

 

And, well - at least Steve’s horrible mix of defensive outrage and unexpected personal anxiety felt human, this time. 

Even though all the other responses were still there - even over the top of that unnatural draw and unfathomable attraction - Steve recognised the perfectly mundane panic of having to rethink an argument in the middle of having it. The conflict of not knowing whether to commit or capitulate, right at the moment he had to make the choice.

He could have taken a moment to ask about Bruce’s earlier statement. He could have admitted to Tony - and himself - that he’d been surprised by that, that maybe he did owe Tony an apology…

But he wasn’t sure he did. 

He wasn’t sure whether he would later regret apologising to someone who was an asshole, and conceding this ground to someone who didn’t deserve it - whether, when he had the time, Steve would look over all of his previous grievances and realise that they were still valid.

 

So, as he always did when he was forced to take a line he wasn’t completely sure of - Steve doubled down.

 

“Yet you're confused about why they didn't want you around?”

An intelligence organization that fears intelligence?” Tony enquired, cocking an eyebrow “Historically, not awesome.”

Steve’s chest pinched with that same tension. The acknowledgement that had actually been quite a good line - that there might even be something to think about in that… The equal, opposing impulse that he genuinely hated Tony’s flippant attitude, that it did demonstrate an arrogance that Steve didn’t like.

That, and an immediate desire to win the argument , regardless of whether he was right or not, because it had triggered such a visceral, irrational competitiveness in him-

No. Don’t engage with this at all. Be professional.

Abort mission. Abort, abort.

“I think Loki's trying to wind us up. This is a man who means to start a war, and if don't we don’t stay focused, he'll succeed,” he made his best attempt at the Captain America voice. “We have orders, we should follow them.”

Following is not really my style.”

And, oh, the heat that flooded through Steve at that. 

The immediate pang of attraction - followed just as quickly by the stab of self loathing, as Steve recognised himself being impressed by all the personality traits he was supposed to hate. 

With that one line this had become a personal fight, and all of Steve’s priorities had changed.

And you're all about style, aren't you?” He heard himself asking in a voice that didn’t sound like his own. 

Of the people in this room, which one is; A. wearing a spangly outfit, and B. not of use?” Tony shot back, without missing a beat.

...Steve had sort of forgotten about the spangly outfit.

The sudden awareness of himself, coupled with the fear that he didn’t have an answer to that line, was enough to make Captain America hesitate in the heat of battle. At least for long enough that Bruce could intervene, softly,

Steve, tell me none of this smells a little funky to you?”

Steve recognised the placating tone that Bruce was using - the way you spoke to the asshole in the conversation, in order to calm him down. 

And Steve realised that he didn’t even know if he was being the asshole…

Or what he was even arguing about…

Abort mission. Abort. 

 

“Just find the cube,” he muttered, miserably, before storming off to look for a hole that he could crawl into and die. 

 

*

 

Tony wished the ground would open up and swallow him. 

 

He was standing over the cold, cavernous gap that had once housed Loki’s cell - Bruce’s cell, before that. Every so often his gaze would get pulled towards the bloodstain that ran down the walls of it, the thin trails that marked its journey from the floor above…

Where Coulson had died.

Tony sort of hated himself for not hating himself more, over Coulson. He did know that there was a personal reflection to be made about that, that there was some irrational conflict over his previous hatred for a fallen hero, some residual resistance to giving Coulson the credit he was due…

He told himself that he’d get to all that, once he’d finished feeling confused and frightened and guilty over everything else.

For now, the recognition that they’d let Loki get the better of them, and then get away…

The shameful fact that they’d all been too busy bickering and point scoring to stop him - that Loki had been relying on his personal weaknesses, and had been right...

The ominous knowledge that the end of the world was out there waiting for them now, and they no longer had a plan to stop it…

If he’d been thinking about any of that rather than Coulson, he might not have felt so bad. 

 

But he wasn’t. He was thinking about Steve.

 

In the time since Fury had thrown a pack of bloodstained trading cards at them, Tony had cycled through all sort of fears and neuroses and injustices and bouts of shame-

All of them about Steve.

From the bitterness and hurt Tony still felt, listening to Rogers' damning assessment of him going around and around in his head…

To the threat of self awareness that had lingered ever since he heard Rogers wry observation, well, it seems to run on some form of electricity … the nagging worry that Tony had been far too hard on him so far… 

To the moment that Steve had burst into Fury’s office, a fifteen pound warmachine dandling from one hand as though it were weightless, and asserted that the computer was running a little slowly for his liking-

Tony kept coming back to that one. 

He wished he could decide whether he felt good or bad about it. Either would be bad, obviously, and that would only be the first step in analysing his reaction… But, as it was, he didn’t even know how to take a step. Where to begin. 

Whether he should be asking himself why he was so angry about it - why Steve’s jab about the tracking programme had struck a nerve, if it really was the case that Steve had shown himself to be a judgemental hypocrite, or if Tony was just being sensitive over it…

Or whether he should start by asking himself why he’d been so immediately impressed by it - if this... feeling , this wordless idea that Steve had just proved him wrong about something, had any basis in reality. What to call that tender little emotion that tugged at him, when he realised that maybe Steve wasn’t exactly like everyone else at SHIELD…

That he didn’t like Nick Fury’s methods either…

That he’d been subjected to Fury’s manipulation and superiority complex, the same as Tony…

...That he did listen to what you told him, and he did something about it, and he didn’t care what Fury thought-

God, it was pathetic that Tony should be moved or grateful for that - especially as Steve had given him zero credit, not even apologised for how angrily he’d responded to Tony’s investigations, before doing the same thing himself

… But was he actually that aggressive when he said that, or were you just thinking of him as another SHIELD narcissist, at the time?

… Were you being more of an ass than you thought you were, when you assumed you were talking to someone who deserved it?

Urg. 

Was he really so desperate for any sort of validation that he could twist some out of that exchange? An exchange that came ten minutes after Steve had burst into his space, without so much as a hello, purely to call him reckless and self involved and sneaky. An exchange in which Steve did not acknowledge that fact, even as he was being self righteous over doing the same sneaky, reckless thing. An exchange in which Steve had - for no reason and without any provocation - brought up Tony’s past as an arms dealer, asserted that Tony was selfish and worthless, and then, when Tony had finally snapped back with an insult of his own, threatened to beat him up -

Tony was going to walk away from that exchange feeling almost moved that someone had sort-of stood up for him? Feeling less sure that Steve was a short-sighted, arrogant SHIELD staffer?

...Apparently, yes.

Although he didn’t know why-

 

And then he felt Steve walk into the room.

Tony didn’t see him, or hear him, he was sure of that. But he knew he was there. He didn’t even turn his head when Steve finally moved into his line of vision.

A heavy pause descended over both of them. 

“Was he married?” Steve asked, eventually. 

“No,” Tony sighed, begrudgingly dragging his thoughts back to Coulson again. “There was a, uh...Cellist, I think…”

“I’m sorry. He seemed like a good man.”

 

A little ripple of irritation ran up Tony’s spine - mostly because he didn’t want to talk about Coulson. He looked up, probably to make some petty comment-

But then he saw the blush that ran over Steve’s cheeks.

To be perfectly honest, the initial hesitation was probably just that it was pretty...But it didn’t take long for Tony to recognise that it was unusual . That it looked out of place on Steve’s earnest, professional expression…

...That it wasn’t a blush.

“Did you get burnt?” He asked, in a tone of casual enquiry that didn’t really suit the conversation. 

Even so, Steve seemed unduly surprised by the remark.

“Hm? Oh, no, no, that’s not…” he stammered, glancing at the floor, unconsciously raising a hand to his face. “No, that’s a… Serum, thing.”

“A serum thing?” Tony frowned - and then recognised that it was a bit of a personal question to just come out with like that. If Steve had taken that as a reason to get defensive with him, Tony might’ve understood.

But Steve just smiled, shyly, forcing himself to look up again before he explained,

“My skin gets flushed like this sometimes. Especially in the sunlight,” he shrugged. “It doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t hurt or anything. It’s just a weird side effect… It’ll go away in half an hour.”

 

It looked more like a blush, now…

In fact, Steve looked so human when he said it. Exactly like anyone being forced to explain an uncomfortable medical condition to yet another insensitive busybody…

Which helped Tony to see that he was just being an insensitive busybody. That, however many special considerations applied to their relationship in general, some things were simply a question of human consideration…

 

...Which slowly cooled into a naked, shameful recognition of just how little consideration he had given Steve, up until this point.

... That it was only strange to see Steve looking so human now because Tony hadn’t been looking at him that way, before.

When, really, it should have been obvious that anyone might be uncomfortable about being asked personal questions by a stranger…

… Or trying to keep up with seventy years worth of pop culture references that they didn’t recognise

... Or trying to pick allegiances, or make personal judgements, or maintain appropriate conversation, in a world where you knew nothing and everyone you’d ever known was dead.

 

...I am the asshole in this situation.

 

Well, at least it was a wearily familiar sensation.  

Tony’s shoulders slumped, pulling his gaze to the floor as they went. A life-times worth of mistakes and misjudgements scrolled through his head, like some macabre previously on… montage - culminating in him standing here being slowly crushed by the burden of his own flaws. Again. 

Which was just what Loki had been banking on. 

Tony looked again at the rapidly browning bloodstain on the wall, as he catalogued just how much his personal failings had cost the world this time. Slowly recognising how much difference it would have made, if he’d only behaved like a reasonable human being.

...That this was exactly what Loki wanted to happen.

... wait a minute-

 

And if that burst of inspiration hadn’t hit him quite so hard, at exactly that moment, then Tony would’ve seen the way Steve stood himself up and began to move towards him. He would’ve noticed the complete change in Steve’s attitude, the difference in his posture and the look in his eyes. 

He certainly would’ve noticed that, for the first time ever, Steve called him by his first name. 

But, as it was, an idea of global importance had occurred to him just as Steve went to speak, already on its way over his lips when Steve said, very softly,

“Tony-”

“-Loki made it personal,” Tony cut him off.

 

...And then it was too late to do anything else but carry on with the mission.

 

*

 

Please be alive.

 

It was the only thought in Steve’s head, repeating over and over in time with his footfalls as he ran over to Tony - who was still lying horribly motionless on the shattered concrete.

It grew increasingly frantic, as he watched Thor roll Tony onto his back and tear the visor away… And then his eyes fell onto Tony’s face, so perfect and peaceful and out of place in the ugly chaos around them, and the voice changed-

 

You were wrong .

 

It was a universal realisation, a shift in his understanding of life - whatever the dark version of a moment of enlightenment was. 

You were wrong about everything

 

It wasn’t only that he’d misjudged Tony so horribly… Although that was certainly a big part of it. Those were amongst the images that illustrated the new mantra rolling through his head-

You’re all about style - wrong.

You’re not the one to make the sacrifice play - wrong.

I’ve known guys worth ten of you - wrong.

He was wrong to assume that Tony had worked on the Tesseract Project and he was wrong to assume that Tony would be anything like his father and he’d been wrong to question him about his investigation of SHIELD-

But it was more than that.

Steve would swear he’d felt the importance of the moment bear down on him, while he was staring up at that gaping wound in the sky, desperately scanning for any sign of movement. Like he’d known that it was more than just a life or death decision, or a key point in the battle for the earth-

It felt like a question sent directly from God.

He knew that this was what so many of his challenges had been leading to. It truly felt as though everything he’d ever been through, everything he’d ever learned, had been designed to prepare him for that one choice-

Would he commit to the ideals of Captain America, the rigid understanding of the greater good and unquestioned faith in objective morality?

Or would he trust this newfound passion of his own, this illogical, unexamined feeling that Tony was special - that maybe he could justify risking the future of the earth for just a little longer, for him…?

It was a symbolic choice, a choice about who he was as a person - a referendum on his entire worldview so far-

 

And he’d made it wrong.

 

And he knew he’d made it wrong, as soon as he’d forced it out. There was an instant, all encompassing realisation, even as his order was still echoing in the air around him-

Close it - was wrong. So very wrong. 

 

The true significance of it just kept unfolding as he dropped to his knees beside Tony. Steve knew, even if Tony opened his eyes right now, he would still be forever haunted by what might have happened because of what he had already done. 

But please God, I swear, if you just let him open his eyes now-

Please God,

Please

Each second stretched to its own breaking point, dragging the awful, empty silence into what seemed like hours…

The heat of his panic began to twist into grief, in spite of Steve’s attempts to hold onto his anguished hope. The voice in his head grew colder, and quieter, until at last it could only whisper to him,

You should have apologised .

Steve knew it wouldn’t really make the top ten in his list of regrets, but still, it was the one that seemed to matter now. The fact that he’d let Tony talk over his one attempt at reconciliation - because it had been about the mission. That he’d unquestionably accepted that the mission came first, that other people came first, that his own feelings could always wait…

 

He barely flinched when the ground below him rumbled. Hulk’s roar was no louder that the agonised screaming in his own head, no more frightening than the thought of carrying on living, after this-

And then Tony opened his eyes.

 

Steve’s legs would’ve gone out from under him, if he hadn’t already been on the ground. 

Oh, thank you.

Thank you God.

I get it, and I’m so sorry, and whatever the price is, I’ll pay it-

And he might’ve said all of that outloud, if he hadn’t been too overwhelmed with relief and gratitude to speak. For that one moment, Steve had lost all sight of where he was or what he was doing - of anything beyond the all encompassing joy of Tony being alive.

“Woah! What the hell? What just happened?” Tony gasped, his eyes darting left to right as he struggled to sit up. “Please tell me nobody kissed me?”

 

Steve could only laugh. 

Chapter Text

“This is, by some distance, the stupidest thing I’ve ever done,” Tony sighed - talking to himself, really. Just trying to disperse some of his nervous energy, while he paced erratically through the corridors of the Tower. Trying to fill the seemingly endless time before 6pm…

“Without knowing what it is that you’re referring to, I can only say that is highly unlikely to be true, Sir,” JARVIS answered him anyway. Tony rolled his eyes.

 

Of course, JARVIS knew exactly what Tony was referring to - it was the same thing he'd been talking about and thinking about and getting emotional over all week. 

And now, the day had finally arrived.

 

Tonight, Steve Rogers was moving in with him. 

 

“What time is it?” Tony asked, as his mindless tour of the building led him into the break room on the upper floor.

“Four Twenty Six, Sir,” JARVIS replied, in a wry tone that silently added, seven minutes after the last time you asked. Tony huffed an unimpressed laugh at himself, and threw himself into one of the couches. His legs throbbed in painful gratitude, which came as something of a surprise. 

He really didn’t know how far he’d walked this afternoon. He hadn’t noticed if he’d walked past anyone, or spoken to anyone. He didn’t know what he’d been thinking about. He had no idea how tired he was. If someone had walked up to him with a basic math problem right now, it probably would’ve stumped him…

What is 8 x 7…

I don’t know, but I know it’s exactly 96 minutes until Steve is supposed to be here.

 

“Urg. This is all my own fault, you know,” he groaned, throwing his head back against the cushions. 

“If you’ll permit me the observation, Captain Rogers already spends a great deal of time here,” JARVIS reminded him. “As his living quarters are some distance from yours, and share no basic amenities, it seems unlikely that your day to day arrangements will change by much.”

 

Tony snorted. Actually, JARVIS had made that observation several times already - but, in fairness, Tony had said this is all my fault, you know, maybe fifty thousand times since Monday. Really, what choice did JARVIS have but to repeat himself, if Tony was going to?

And, of course, JARVIS was right - Tony had basically turned his home into a public space already. In the three months since the Battle of New York, the Stark Building had been completely renovated into Avengers Tower, with a personalised floor for each of them, as well as meeting rooms, training areas, and research labs. SHIELD employees with any connection to the Avengers Initiative had been relocated to the offices on the lower floors. As such, nearly all of the day-to-day business of the team happened at the Tower, and - with the exception of Thor, who was still off being dramaturgical in space somewhere - every one of the Avengers had reason to stop by at least twice a week. 

And yes, Steve, as the leader of the team and the figurehead of the new project, was called in more often than the rest of them. 

And Steve seemed to prefer the Tower training facilities to wherever he used to go to demolish punching bags… Much to Tony’s shameful delight.

So, on paper, Tony fully accepted why JARVIS - or any normal person - wouldn’t see a problem here. The guy who came to the Tower every day was going to start sleeping in a room on his own floor, rather than taking a short subway ride to his apartment. What was the big deal?

 

“The big deal is that it’s Steve,” Tony announced dramatically - just trusting that JARVIS would follow these disconnected thoughts. “Actually, that’s lots of big deals… We fight all the time as it is .”

“I feel obliged to cite the statistics on that once again,” JARVIS responded. If Tony didn’t know better he’d have sworn he’d heard a patient sigh. 

“Statistics are like a bikini; what they reveal is suggestive and what they conceal is vital,” Tony parroted unthinkingly, simply repeating a phrase he’d learned from a professor at MIT… and then he wrinkled his nose in distaste. “And remind me not to say that in front of Steve, ever.”

“And have you devised any sort of warning that I might act on, Sir?” JARVIS reminded him, knowingly.

Tony cringed, as he thought through all the other things he’d told JARVIS not to let him say around Steve… and then blurted out anyway. 

 

This was why the statistics hadn’t made him feel any better - JARVIS may assure him that, actually, 80% of their interactions were friendly, these days… But the other 20% took up so much more of Tony’s attention. 

He was sure it must take up most of Steve’s attention. That if anyone were to ask Steve about him, it wouldn’t be the friendly interactions that came to mind. It would be the still-not-infrequent occasions that Tony put his foot in it, or lost his temper, or jumped to the wrong conclusion-

 

“I don’t even care if he likes me,” Tony exhaled, even though no one had asked. “I mean, basically everyone takes an instant dislike to me anyway, so it’s not like I take it personally - and, actually, I’m pretty sure that I’d think he’s a closed-minded, arrogant, bore if we ever had a conversation of longer than five minutes-”

“You were also very clear that I should stop you saying these things about Captain Rogers, Sir,” JARVIS reminded him… And Tony felt his heart sink, as he remembered where the damn sentence was going in the first place.

“...I don’t care if he doesn’t like me, I just don’t want to be the asshole in this situation,” Tony said, for his own benefit. “If I behave like a reasonable human being, and he still doesn’t like me, then fine…”

“Does that not provide the solution to your dilemma, in which case?” JARVIS prompted.

“Well, it might, if I could just stop being an asshole for, like, five minutes…” Tony scowled, his face flushing at yet another parade of unfortunate recollections…

 

He didn’t even know whether he could reasonably whine, I’m doing my best.  

On the one hand, the sheer amount of effort that he’d put into making Steve comfortable was embarrassing - bordering on unhinged. He’d even gone as far as paying a manufacturer to produce a long-since discontinued brand of wood varnish, because he’d gotten it into his head that it was the right one…

He doubted Steve had even noticed.

And he hated himself for caring whether Steve noticed, and even more for being irritated that he didn’t notice - because Tony knew that wasn’t fair to Steve...

But he just felt -

 

Well, that was part of the problem - Tony didn’t know how he felt. It changed from one moment to the next… It was always so different when Steve was actually standing there. 

Tony could spend hours, days , berating himself for picking at Steve, and planning extravagant ways to make it up to him, and promising himself that he was going to stay calm next time-

And then Steve would say something that touched a nerve, and Tony would snap.

Or Tony would say something that felt entirely harmless, until he saw Steve’s jaw clench. 

Or Tony would be halfway through a perfectly normal sentence when something shifted in Steve’s expression, and Tony would remember just how phenomenally beautiful he was - and forget everything else.

 

Or those times when something would trigger that odd curl of childhood fear low in his gut, and Tony had no choice but to bolt from the room...

 

When Tony was alone, nursing his insecurities like this, there was always that shameful, petulant hurt that Steve had never talked to him for more than a few minutes. 

And an awkward, anxious excitement about seeing him again. 

And a raft of over-analysed plans for how he’d act the next time he saw him. 

And yet, for all that, Tony knew that he was usually the person who cut the conversation short. Because he was angry, or embarrassed, or scared…

 

...And he was usually angry, at the time. That was the other thing. Right now, Tony felt worthless and dirty and small, because he kept getting caught up in these irrational tempers… But he knew, at some point, he’d be feeling self-righteous and certain and mad at himself for ever caring what Steve Rogers thought-

 

“What time is it?” He asked again, purely to force a stop on this wearily familiar train of thought.

“Four Twenty Nine, Sir.”

 

Tony just groaned. At himself. At the situation. He didn’t even know. 

He didn’t bother to say, this is all my fault again - but it was. All of it.

He was the one who was making a big deal out of this... thing , with Steve - something he couldn’t even bring himself to call a ‘relationship’, because there was so little between them. 

Just a few petty arguments that he mostly started, and a few causal interactions that he was making far too much of, and hours worth of attention and analysis and anxiety that was, obviously, all in his own head-

Arg.

 

Why had Tony suggested Steve move in?

He’d suggested it. Unprompted. Unasked for. Probably entirely inappropriately. Tony had just leapt onto a throwaway remark from Steve, some mundane complaint about his apartment that Tony couldn’t even remember now. Steve was probably just making small talk, and he’d jumped right to, why don’t you move into the Tower? 

The room’s all set up, and you stay there at least once a week anyway - like he was selling it.

...He might’ve been selling it, at the time. 

Ridiculous though it seemed to him now, Tony was sure he could remember being quite excited about the hypothetical prospect of Steve saying yes-

Although he was sure that he didn’t really think Steve would say yes-

 

“I just wish I could work out what the big deal was…” Tony muttered, trying to gather all of his irrational, contradictory reactions to Steve into one single question.

“If it isn’t too simplified an assessment,” JARVIS offered, “could it simply be that you like Captain Rogers, and would therefore like it if he felt the same?”

 

Tony sat up.

...JARVIS hadn’t made that observation before. 

 

Immediately that question felt impactful…

Like it should be a moment of enlightenment, like if he thought about it for a second he’d see the truth in it, the significance of it…

Unfortunately, all parts of this ‘thing’ with Steve grew more complicated when Tony thought about them, not less. 

The instant feeling of confidence was very quickly shaken by all the thoughts that didn’t fit - and there would always be thoughts that didn’t fit, because all of Tony’s thoughts contradicted one another.

I do like Steve… So quickly became Why do I like Steve…? And then Do I like Steve? All over again. 

That’s why I do it… Became ... is that why I do it? And then ...So why do I keep doing those other things, then?

It would be nice if he liked me… Curled into an eerie, compulsive discomfort at the thought…

 

What would he even do with Steve, if he had him?

 

Well, other than the obvious.

Tony had some very vivid ideas of specific things he could do with Steve, out of all context… But he genuinely had no idea what could possibly happen afterwards. Even hypothetically. Tony couldn’t picture the world in which that existed. 

If the opportunity ever really came up - and he honestly couldn’t imagine how it could possibly come up - but if it ever did come up… Tony wasn’t at all sure how he’d feel about the proposition, in real life. Whether his lust or his fear would win out, in the moment. 

He had pictured kissing Steve a thousand times, but he wasn’t entirely sure that he’d even like it, if it happened. 

...Or what the hell he’d say to Steve, after something like that.

Or what he’d talk to Steve about , if he ever got that conversation of more than five minutes.

Or what they could possibly do , if Steve ever did ask to spend some time with him.

 

Did he even want to be Steve’s friend? What the hell would that look like?

 

“JARVIS-”

“It’s Four Thirty Two,” JARVIS cut him off, punctuating it with an overly polite, “Sir.”

 

Tony rolled his eyes and pushed himself up onto his feet, even though he still had nowhere in particular to go-

 

He had to do something for the next hour and a half.

 

*

 

Steve stormed through the door of his new suite, his muscles coiled just a little too tight for comfort, his hands curled into fists-

 

He didn’t even know why. 

 

He was used to coming back to his new room in this state - although there was usually a reason. 

Some quip Tony had made that Steve had reacted badly to.

Yet another instance of Steve putting his foot in it or getting the wrong end of the stick.

A moment when Tony looked up at Steve through his eyelashes.

Or pouted…

Perhaps more disconcerting than any of them where the genuinely friendly moments - those brief exchanges that Steve spent pulled tight with the anticipation of fucking it up, never sure whether he wanted to cling to every moment or quit while he was ahead… He usually misjudged it, and Tony would be the one to run. Either way, Steve always seemed to leave the conversation feeling tense and inappropriately exhilarated.

 

...And then there were these times, when he really didn’t know what had come over him - except that it was an intense, physical feeling, alive and energetic and uncomfortable… And something to do with Tony, he knew it was. 

… Wasn’t it?

... Or was it just that he was thinking about Tony all the time these days? Has Steve started applying even his general moodswings to Tony now?

 

With an unimpressed groan, Steve shook out his shoulders and walked over to throw himself into his new couch-

Except it wasn’t his ‘new’ couch, really. He didn’t know why he was still affixing that label to everything - it didn’t even feel true, anymore. He’d officially moved into the Tower three weeks ago, and he’d spent nearly all of his time here before that. 

 

...And even from the first time he walked into this place, it felt more like home than his apartment ever did. 

 

On his own floor especially - which was one of the first that Tony’s team had finished work on - Steve immediately felt more at ease than he had at any time since he woke up in the 21st Century. The radiators weren’t wrong, here. The lighting was the right colour and the bedsheets were made of the right fabrics - it even had a familiar smell to it, somehow. 

And yet, weirdly, the thing Steve liked most about it was the fact that it didn’t feel exactly like a 1940s apartment. In all these weeks he’d never quite been able to put his finger on it, but just sitting here helped him to understand what had been wrong with his old place. His apartment had felt like a sad attempt at a time capsule, whereas this felt more like a familiar room in the modern world…

The fact that not every detail had to aggressively scream 1940s Vintage! The fact that some things were allowed to just be, you know, white, or wooden, or brass. 

The fact that the flat screen TV and the computer screens didn’t have to be tidied away for the sake of the aesthetic, the way they seemed to sit comfortably beside the theme.

The fact that he could connect to all of the same services and systems as anyone else - but he didn’t have to. 

Steve had yet to collect these individual observations into a satisfying explanation of what he meant - he would never be able to explain what Tony had gotten right that SHIELD had managed to get so wrong-

Well, he assumed it was Tony…

...He hoped it was Tony-

 

He huffed an annoyed little noise at himself and forcibly unballed his fasts again, rubbing his palms over the couch cushions to try and dull that sting. 

Steve was starting to seriously think that this thing with Tony, this fixation, this compulsion, whatever it was, was driving him mad. Steve spent most of his waking hours thinking about Tony, or trying not to think Tony, endlessly rewatching their previous interactions and pointlessly asking himself the same questions over and over again-

He didn’t even know why he cared. He didn’t even know if he liked him. Steve spent as much of his time ranting at Tony in his head as he did crafting apologies and thank yous that he never managed to say out loud. Well, maybe not quite as much time… But being irrationally furious at Tony wasn’t exactly a rare occurrence, even now.

Even as he found himself consumed by this challenge, Steve wasn’t sure what the aim of it was. Whether he was trying to beat Tony or impress Tony or just get Tony to notice him…

...Or this odd impulse that had started to stir in him recently, this strangely detached instinct to ask Tony where he was going or why he looked so tired or how he’d managed to hurt himself this time-

 

Steve shook that one away. 

All of his thoughts about Tony were illogical and uncomfortable - but he really wasn’t up to dealing with that one just yet. That peculiarly… protective feeling that roused sometimes, as though from a different part of him completely. That one was new, and… different-

Steve squeezed his eyes shut and clenched his teeth. And not real , he reminded himself. 

 

God, he had to stop thinking about this - there wasn’t even anything to think about, this time! He hadn’t even seen Tony since yesterday, and God knows he’d already analysed that meaningless exchange to death-

He tried to quiet his mind. He tried telling himself to think about something else. Anything else.

 

And then he glanced over at the computer in the corner of the room, and the idea almost occurred to him-

No. Not that. You can’t think about that now.

 

...At another time, when he had any hope of convincing himself that his motives were reasonable, Steve might go back to his idea of researching vampires. 

He knew, logically, that particular curiosity had nothing to do with Tony; that he’d felt it long before he even knew Tony. That it made perfect sense that he would want to know more about who and what he was - especially now, when he was all alone in an unfamiliar world.

...And maybe, at another time, Steve would actually believe any of that. 

Right now, if he let himself think about it, he’d have to confront this horrible fear that it was all somehow connected. That, somewhere, in some deep, dark part of him, Steve had started to worry that this might be a ‘vampire thing.’

 

And that had to be ridiculous. 

 

Steve had - quite pointedly - never believed in the spiritual, supernatural tales of the vampire. He’d been quite clear with himself, right from the outset: he was going to be taking a scientific formula, designed to have measurable, fathomable effects on his physiology. And if there still existed, or had ever existed, a species of people that possessed these qualities innately, then that would be an extraordinary example of the variety of biology, and the limitless capabilities of life in the universe. Steve could get his head around unlikely, and fantastic, and beyond the realms of human explanation… 

But bloodlust and soulmates and psychic bonds were something else entirely. That was a whole different kind of impossible.

Steve hadn’t given much thought to vampires, before the government asked him to become one. And, when they did finally get to explaining the specifics of Project Rebirth - three days before Steve took the serum - there wasn’t a lot of relevant reading material to hand. All he’d had to think about in those few days were the stories he’d heard as a kid, and the few pulp fiction novels he’d managed to gather from around the camp, and what little details the Army deemed it necessary to share with him… And, immediately, Steve could see the difference between the sincere and the ludicrous. He just knew which of the theatrical details might have some basis in reality, and which simply didn’t

 

...This thing with Tony simply didn’t .

 

This thing with Tony was already unlikely and fantastic and beyond the realms of human explanation - but Steve had to believe there was an explanation. A reason that could be found through a psychological examination of his trauma or a scientific study of his DNA or an anthropological analysis of social bonds, or... something.

Something tangible. Even if it was something he would never get to understand.

 

...But Steve already knew this subconscious link between Tony and vampires came from a different part of his brain. 

He knew that the connection he felt to Tony, the way he felt around Tony, felt...Different. More than human, somehow. 

He knew which parts of the vampire myth almost came to mind, when he thought of Tony.

... He knew why he thought of researching vampires, every time he asked himself what was going on between the two of them.

 

He just couldn’t legitimise this train of thought.

It was as simple as that. 

 

So, instead, Steve put the idea out of his mind completely - or rather, packaged it up and stored it away somewhere, separate to all the other thoughts in his head, where he might be able to come back for it.

As for right now… 

Well, he could go down to the gym on the lower floor, and put some of his excess adrenaline into a couple of punching bags… That didn’t seem quite such a daunting prospect here at the Tower. Steve felt so much less self conscious here, where everyone knew who he was and the equipment had been specifically designed with him in mind… even if he did still break things pretty regularly. 

Or, since he wasn’t sure he had the energy for that, he could wander down to the offices and see if there was any paperwork for him to catch up on… Or any new information files to read, or any new tech that was about to be rolled out… Or maybe he’d just bump into someone he knew, and be able to trade a few lines of small talk about their weekend or the latest news story. 

Or, if he didn’t feel like doing something official, he could stroll up to the labs, and see what Bruce was working on. He always seemed pleased to have someone to explain his research to, and Steve had found some of it genuinely interesting…

... And Tony might be there-

 

At least Steve smiled, as he chastened himself for that. 

As frustrating and confusing and occasionally frightening as his life was, these days… He had to admit, it was better . At least there was a wider range of meaningful distractions, some sort of a routine. Somewhere for him to be confused and frustrated. Somewhere he thought of as home. 

...Something that mattered - really mattered, just for him. 

 

Having given his options no real thought, Steve already knew that he was heading up to the research department - because simply recognising where Tony was most likely to show up had already won the argument…

And that was something

It was an immediate, vibrant, entirely personal fixation of Steve’s , unrelated to Captain America and none of SHIELDs business and literally nothing to do with 1945. Something that made no sense and was probably going to end badly and didn’t even feel good most of the time…

But it was real.

And it was his.

And that was better.

 

As he left the room, Steve observed once again that none of this was rational. He acknowledged that he spent most of his time walking the line between barely coping and almost breaking down, trying to fit his chronic overthinking around his reluctance to think too hard about anything…

And he thought of the life he had come from, before any of this chaos. The meaningless thoughts in a lonely apartment where nothing was right…

 

Sometimes, Steve wondered if this thing with Tony was driving him mad.

...Other times, he thought it might be the only thing keeping him sane.  



*

 

Tony had taken to coming down from the workshop whenever he wanted coffee. 

 

He told himself that it was good for him to get out of the room once every few hours. Stretch his legs. Let people know that he hadn’t died. 

Of course, by now, it was really only that he’d gotten into the habit of telling himself that - because he knew full well that he only did it in the hope of bumping into Steve.

 

He wasn’t especially optimistic, on this particular trip. Tony had made the journey down two floors and over to the other side of the building on the off chance, but there wasn’t much likelihood of bumping into Steve at 7am. Contrary to expectations, Captain America was not a morning person…

So, Tony was reasonably well prepared for the disappointment of reaching the break room with no prospect of a friendly barb or loaded glance-

 

He was not prepared to find Nick Fury sitting on one of the couches, his expression already fixed in an expectant glare.

 

“You’re up early,” Nick commented, running a judgemental glance over Tony’s oil stained sweatpants. Tony’s chest seized with a familiar aggression, but this time he did his best to breathe through it. 

Perhaps it was simply that he had something else to focus on these days. 

Or, maybe it wasn’t his imagination, and Nick really had started to behave more like a reasonable human being since New York. 

Or maybe, just maybe, the Avengers was really starting to mean something to Tony, and, whether he liked it or not, Nick was a part of that team…

Whatever the reason, Tony’s antagonism towards Nick and his little SHIELD cohort had waned considerably in the last few weeks, and, begrudgingly, he had to admit that he felt better for it. 

He would rather have ignored this little spike of the old rivalry-

Even if he had been taken somewhat by surprise.

And he was incredibly tired.

And he was still vaguely, fussily distracted by the fact that Steve wasn’t here…

Even so, Tony took a slow breath and replied - as reasonably as he could manage,

 

“Actually I’m up late. Just putting the last touches onto Clint’s new body suit.”

“I thought you finished with that a few weeks ago?” Nick observed.

“That was the old new body suit,” Tony corrected him, as he strolled over to the coffee pot. He tried not to tense when Nick snorted a laugh.

But he couldn’t keep the hair on the back of his neck from standing on end, when Nick stood up and began to walk towards him. 

And he couldn’t do anything about the cold plunging in his stomach, when Nick told him,

“Well, I’m glad you’re up, because it’s you I came to see.”

 

Tony hand stuttered just slightly mid-pour. He made a conscious effort to keep his posture relaxed, even as that familiar combative reaction rose up in his chest…

But really, the only sane reason he’d had for so readily ceding control of the team to Steve was that it made Nick Steve’s responsibility. There was no reason at all for Nick to want to speak to Tony, specifically, about anything Avengers related…

So that made this something personal

“And what would you want to speak to me about?” He asked, in a perfectly level voice. Nick smiled.

 

“You remember Dr Mondésir, from the SHIELD Medical Research Panel?” Nick queried, and Tony simply nodded. “Well, she heard that the Avengers were looking to partner with some of the other SHIELD departments, and she put in a call - seems she has a project that could save a lot of lives, but it’s kind of hit a hurdle…”

Tony’s shoulders began to ache with the effort of hiding the tension. His palms began to tingle against the hot coffee mug that he was now gripping with both hands. He had an ominous feeling about this… something that made his chest ache…

“And why wouldn’t you talk to Steve about it?” He asked, “If it’s a team partnership thing. Or Bruce, if it’s a medical thing?”

But already he could see Nick raising his hand; he realised he was expecting this exact gesture…

“Because what she’d like to know about,” and he jabbed his finger towards the centre of Tony’s chest, his fingertip coming to within an inch of the Arc Reactor, “is that.”

 

“No,” Tony answered immediately - more an exclamation of distress than an actual answer, although he’d just about managed to keep his tone flat. Suddenly, Tony found himself fighting nightmare images of rusty car batteries and bloodstained kevlar, with no capacity left for anything else. 

The thought of talking to anyone about the arc reactor made him feel horribly vulnerable.

The thought of letting anyone actually examine it made him feel physically sick.

And the thought of having to explain any of that, to Nick Fury of all people, would’ve been enough to blind Tony with miserable rage, if he’d been able to process that much.

As it was, he could only stand there, momentarily frozen inside himself, while Nick remained oblivious.

 

“Look, Stark,” Nick began - nicely enough, had Tony been capable of being fair to him, “no one’s expecting you to let them open you up and take a look at it-”

Tony felt a bitter burst of salvia fill his mouth at that particularly unfortunate choice of wording, and only just managed to swallow it back down.

“-she just wants to ask you a couple of questions. Maybe ask to see some of your test results,” Nick continued placating him. “And the way she tells it, this could make a hell of a lot of difference to-”

 

“He said no .”

 

Tony felt it in every inch of his body. 

A terrifying calm command , in a voice that was so familiar and so unfamiliar, all at once. 

At first, it simply registered as an event , like a force of nature - a low, powerful rumbling that vibrated through parts of him that he wouldn’t even be able to find. 

He saw Nick feel it; his features falling in a basic, primal fear that didn’t seem to fit his face, it was so unlike him. 

The air in the room changed, sparking darker and heavier and static, like the moments before a storm.

Something has happened. Something is here.

 

Steve.

 

Tony expected to see him when he looked up - and still, he was shocked at what he found. 

His heart turned to ice in his chest, stopped dead under the sheer force of Steve…

...just… standing there…

A cold sensation gripped Tony by the ribs, as one second stretched into the next, with both he and Nick pinned under this invisible power - this immediate, physical understanding of the authority Steve had…

And then an electric thrill began to hum beneath the fear, and then a sudden flush of heat up along Tony’s back. 

There was something… Forbidden, in this. Almost illicit. Something that was more compelling to look at because it was hard to look at - something it might’ve been impossible to look at, if Steve’s glare hadn’t been so firmly fixed on Nick... the ocean blue of his eyes darkening to something vast and terrifying, like the night sky...

A little voice in Tony’s head whispered, 

 

This .

 

This was the thing that he’d been scared of since he was six years old - something he’d only seen by proxy, before now. This was the flash of fear in his fathers eyes, and the element hidden somewhere in the poster on his office wall, and the loaded pause in his fathers war stories… 

Tony still didn’t know what it was - but he knew he was looking right at it.

 

And..

He… Liked it?

 

...He really liked it?

 

Oh...This was a strange reaction.

...A compellingly strange reaction-

 

He finally managed to snatch his eyes away from Steve - and found that Nick was already looking back at him, still possessed of that same vulnerable panic. 

“Right, well, fair enough,” Nick muttered, in a voice that barely sounded like his, “I said I’d ask, and I’ve asked, so…”

And with that he started to back away - and actually left the room in that strange, backwards shuffle. 

 

Tony kept his eyes lowered the entire time, unsure whether he was scared to look up at Steve, or resisting the temptation to…

But eventually he heard the sound of Nick’s footsteps beating a far hastier retreat down the hallway, and he felt the silence in the room settle over them, and he knew that it was just the two of them...

That he had no choice.

Tony took a deep breath and clenched his fists tight, trying to disperse some of this charge before he had to face him. And then he straightened his back, and raised his head-

 

-to see a different expression entirely. 

 

Tony felt his shoulders fall from under him...

Maybe Steve’s expression simply looked so impossibly soft because of what he had been expecting… But, at the time, it made Tony wonder whether he’d ever actually seen affection before. If everything he’d ever thought of as kindness and compassion was just a pale imitation of the raw feeling he was currently looking at…

Or whether this was something else completely.

“Are you okay?” Steve asked, in a gentle, sincere tone that washed over Tony like warm water - more wholesome and comforting than his Captain America voice by far. 

And Tony had completely forgotten his usual reactions. He’d forgotten there was any such thing as trauma, or defence mechanisms, or ‘later’. In the moment, it was like he’d simply rebooted - so shaken by everything that had happened in the last ten seconds that he resorted to factory settings. 

For maybe the first time since he was a kid, Tony just answered the damn question.

 

“Yeah...Yeah, I’m okay,” he breathed. “Just, um, a sensitive topic, I guess…”

“Did he upset you?” Steve asked. And, again, Tony didn’t stop to ask himself why he liked that question - why it was so much better than any of the awkward, intrusive questions that he’d instinctively braced for.

“Nah,” he smiled. “Well, he didn’t get the chance, did he? So, you know… um… thank you…”

His voice trailed off as he noticed Steve walking closer to him…

The way the air grew thicker, the growing abundance of colour and sound as Tony’s focus narrowed on Steve, his muscles… relaxing? Which was obviously entirely the wrong reaction, but it felt completely natural in the moment.

Tony wasn’t scared.

He hadn’t even remembered yet why he should be, he’d not got as far as asking himself the question… Having finally come face to face with this shadowy suggestion of something terrible - having seen for himself that it was every bit as awe-inspiring and frightening as he’d always imagined… 

This was the first time Tony had felt no instinct to flee. 

 

...This time, it was Steve that hesitated.

 

Tony saw the way his brow flickered when Tony told him thank you . The little shift in Steve’s expression that somehow changed the lighting in the room…

That tiny flash of confusion in Steve’s eyes seemed to crack the illusion, bringing the Steve that Tony knew back into himself… Human, and relatable, and… slightly anxious…

Tony wanted to reach out to him. He didn’t even know which one of him - he just knew that without the urge to run, there was only the overwhelming urge to be closer-

 

“I’m sorry,” Steve muttered, dropping his eyes - taking a little step away from Tony. 

Tony wanted to say no , it’s okay .

He wanted to say, don’t go .

 

But he couldn’t find the words in time. He couldn’t find himself in time. 

Dazed, Tony just stood there, silently gripping his rapidly cooling coffee, as Steve retreated from him and left the room without another word.



Chapter Text

Steve hated being late.

 

Even though it wasn’t his fault that he was running late, even though he had already messaged to say that his previous meeting had over run, even though Maria Hill had already sent a cheerful ‘no worries’ in response-

Still, he was almost running through the Tower in a bid to get to his next appointment on time, with the exact same anxiety he used to get when he was late for Sunday School-

 

And then he caught sight of Tony, sitting in the office at the end of the corridor, idly scrolling through his phone...

So…

Steve… eased up… a little…

Even as he was slowing down he was yelling at himself to keep going, to keep his head down, to pretend he hadn’t seen Tony and hope Tony wouldn’t see him-

And not just because he was running late.

 

It had been a week since what Steve had dubbed ‘The Event’ in the breakroom, and he’d spent most of it panicking about having to confront the issue with Tony. He was barely able to confront it himself, yet.

Steve knew that whatever had possessed him in that moment, it was weird. He was still desperately trying to convince himself that it couldn’t possibly be a vampire thing - although he was long past denying that he’d thought of it. A lot. Which, of course, meant that even if it wasn’t a vampire thing, it was something that felt supernatural and inhuman… and that meant it was something frightening, whatever it was. 

...Even if it didn’t actually feel frightening. If it actually felt strangely comfortable and deeply reassuring- 

That should be the scariest part of it, really.

And Steve had now spent eight days reliving those few tense seconds, helplessly overthinking all the possible reasons and ramifications, and, more than anything else, dreading what would happen if Tony asked about it…

 

And still being drawn to him. 

 

Steve simply couldn’t help himself. Every time he saw Tony he would find himself pausing or hovering or slowing down like this, like he was playing a weird game of chicken with himself. So far, he’d always managed to back away at the last moment, ducking into another corridor before Tony spotted him, or giving an awkward nod from the other side of the room and scurrying off… Never sure whether he was relieved or disappointed that he’d gotten away with it. Always telling himself that he wouldn’t put himself in that position again…

It was partly that strange compulsion, which had only grown since he first laid eyes on Tony. That hyper awareness, that physical fixation - the first of the eerie, inhuman reactions, and the foundation of Steve’s fear of them. 

Partly, of course, it was his personal habit of running headfirst into any perceived threat. The very fact that he was nervous irritated him, made him want to fight this thing, to prove to himself that he was bigger than it was. That part of things was nothing to do with vampires, he was sure. That part was pure Steve Rogers.

...And then there was that other part of it. The part that felt completely alien, but still so very human-

The part of Steve that just missed Tony. 

 

Steve had never slowed down for anyone on his way to Sunday school, and, while history might have it that he was just too well behaved and pure minded for such things, the truth was that he’d never liked anyone enough to be late for. He’d never known the simple thrill of a crush, the energy of wanting someone's attention… The pleasure of enjoying someone's company, and hoping that they enjoyed his. 

He hadn’t realised just how big a part of things that was, until he was forced to do without it.

His efforts to avoid Tony had been pretty half-assed, but they did at least stop Steve from actively planning his entire day around where Tony might be. It meant he couldn’t justify going up to the labs for no reason, or going to the breakroom in the middle of the night - not if he was supposed to be avoiding Tony.

After a while, Steve had started to recognise just how many little interactions they’d shared each day - that even the ‘insignificant’ ones started to feel significant when they were missing. This past week had made Steve realise that Tony made him smile far more often than he made him grit his teeth… far more than anything else did. God help him, Steve even missed the relentless over analysis of every little gesture…

And not only because it helped fill his time… As it turned out, he actually liked having Tony to think about…

 

Sometimes, Steve tried to comfort himself with the idea that this was nothing more than falling for someone. That maybe all the songs and movies and greetings cards about romance weren’t overselling it all this time, that maybe sometimes it really was overwhelming and all consuming like this-

 

And then he’d remember the way his vision narrowed on Nick, the instant awareness of every tiny detail around him, the visceral flood of adrenaline at the very idea that he was scaring Tony…

The cold, comforting embrace of certainty, of purpose-

He said no.

 

And, with that thought, Steve once again pulled himself back from the brink. He pointedly lowered his head, and picked up his pace, thinking only of rounding the corner at the end of the corridor before Tony saw him-

Not thinking that Tony would choose that exact moment to step out of the office, and that Steve - head lowered - would therefore walk right into him.

 

They both exclaimed an awkward little oh as they stepped backwards. Steve threw his arms out, one hand knocking into the wall beside him hard enough to graze his knuckles. Instinctively, he glanced down to see if he’d drawn blood-

“You okay?” Tony asked, his voice warm with amusement… and right there

 

Steve had to remind himself that it literally wasn’t possible for his heart to stop. 

 

“Yeah,” he answered on autopilot, before he finally gave into the temptation to look up.

And, immediately, there was that physical draw towards Tony. 

And that spike of irritation at his own ridiculousness.

And that little kick of exhilaration at the bottom of his gut.

All at the same time.

 

Steve smiled.

He didn’t even know if it was nervousness or happiness - he just couldn’t help it. 

“Yeah, I think I’ll live,” Steve finished his answer, and Tony breathed that soft little laugh that Steve had missed so much- “Are you hiding out down here or something?” He blurted, in an poorly planned attempt to put some conversational distance between them. 

“Hm? Oh, no. No... I’d never thought of that, actually…” Tony’s brow creased in concentration, his lips pursed just slightly, his ruminative expression exaggerated for comic effect…

And he was so very pretty in that moment that it made Steve’s chest ache. 

He was overwhelmed by the urge to touch him - fleetingly panicked that he might actually do it. Subconsciously, Steve tensed his arms at his sides, clenching his jaw so that nothing unfortunate could slip out.

“But no, I just finished a meeting,” Tony carried on breezily. “Made the mistake of ‘quickly’ checking my email before I left the room.”

Steve nodded, struggling to think over the arguments shouting for attention in his head,

Get out of the conversation now!

No, say something, anything-

 

“Why’re you in such a hurry, anyway?” Tony asked, raising an eyebrow. 

“Oh…” there was another sharp jab of alarm, as Steve scrambled to remember what the hell existed beyond this moment. “Oh, I’m running late for a meeting with Hill and that new Pentagon guy - Loren?”

“Lorien,” Tony correctly kindly. “Jason Lorien, been at the Pentagon forever - nice enough guy, actually. Uses a lot of sports metaphors.”

Steve smiled more naturally when he nodded at that. He tried to make a mental note of that detail, for when he was invariably baffled by something Lorien said-

Instead of which, he found himself noting the way casual Tony had slipped that into the conversation…

And that, now that he thought of it, Steve quite often took little titbits out of Tony’s small talk… In just this way, actually…

And he was always referring back to mindless comments that Tony had made, when trying to work out what people were talking about…

 

...They weren't mindless comments, were they?

Tony had been helping him out.

 

Ordinarily, that was the sort of thing that might vaguely annoy Steve. He’d always been slightly defensive about people taking it upon themselves to help him, especially if they managed to do it without him knowing. There always seemed to be something presumptive in things like that, something that nagged at a particular vulnerability. However grateful he told himself to be, however well-intentioned the other person was, there was always a part of Steve that felt caught out, or trapped, or something. The effects of his perilous childhood, or a by-product of his natural stubbornness, probably. 

...But he liked to think of Tony doing it.

It gave Steve a warm, secure feeling - the complete opposite of what he might usually feel. 

“Thank you,” he smiled, his stomach twisting pleasantly at the little flicker of recognition in Tony’s eyes.

And then Tony lowered his gaze shyly, his lashes fluttering as he took a barely audible breath-

 

“I, uh, I haven’t had a chance to say this since, but… Thank you, for saying something to Nick, last week…”

Steve felt his spine jolt straight, his muscles clenching painfully in panic.

“Hm?” He squeaked. Tony responded with that same soft laugh, and Steve was faced with the unique discomfort of melting and tensing at the same time.

“Oh, you probably don’t even remember it…” Tony muttered with a self-conscious shake of his head. “But… Well, I appreciated it, anyway.”

“I was worried you might think I was trying to talk for you, or something,” Steve confessed - randomly selecting one of the many, many thoughts he’d had about that moment, just for the sake of something to say.

“Well, I don’t know… Maybe it’s nice to have someone talk for you, sometimes…” Tony shrugged.

And then their eyes met again.

Steve felt the tension ease out of his ribs, his shoulders lowering slowly as one second became two… and then three…

Steve’s fingers flexed gently at his sides. His gaze dropped to Tony’s lips-

 

Just as Tony shook himself to his senses.

 

“Anyway, I should probably let you get to your meeting,” he announced more forcefully, looking away. Steve swallowed, and tried to hide the way he deflated.

“Yeah, probably, I’m already ten minutes late,” Steve sighed, shuffling aside to let Tony walk by him. 

“I’ll see you later,” Tony smiled, already taking his first step down the corridor.

 

Steve was tempted to stay there a moment and just watch him go… It was only the fear of being caught that pushed him, begrudgingly, to turn the corner. 

 

Back to the real world. 

 

...At least, Steve was pretty sure it was that way around. 

 

*

 

Tony had not-read this same paragraph three times now. 

 

He huffed as he recognised the final sentence, and the weary confusion that came with it. He’d run his eyes over these words so many times that the shape of them was intimately familiar - and he still didn’t have a clue what they said.

He put the page back on top of the untidy pile in the middle of his desk, giving it a dirty look as he leant back in his chair and sighed-

This whole exercise would’ve felt far less arduous if he hadn’t had to deal with actual, physical papers. 

Tony hadn’t realised just how much he’d come to rely on his digitised textbooks and hologram displays, until several box files of dusty old medical reports had been delivered to his office. He was almost embarrassed by how quickly he became frustrated at having to manually scan for things, and how aware he was of the effort of holding things in his hands-

Talk about first world problems.

And problems that weren’t worth dwelling on, because it was perfectly obvious that all of the potential research on this project was going to be in paper form. He already knew that no one would’ve digitized any of this information - 

Because this information should never have been gathered in the first place. 

 

That cold feeling stirred in his gut again, unsettling another random collection of childhood images - like the gritty silt that muddies a clear pool when you disturb it. Once again, Tony found his mood subtly coloured by the echoes of things he was trying not to think about.

The fact that everyone else thought his father sounded proud when he talked about Operation Rebirth...But Tony could hear the sadness in it.

The fact that his father seemed so aggressively particular about certain details of Steve’s life...But was prepared to let other observations go as part of the ebb and flow of casual conversation. 

That one specific photo of Steve on the desk in his fathers office, the one that Howard had always refused to look directly at, and yet never moved…

Tony knew there was something in all these almost-recollections… Some abstract pattern that kept disappearing when he grabbed for it…

 

Something he was finally starting to associate with his father, rather than Steve. 

 

Of course, there was an element of wishful thinking in that. It suited Tony, on multiple levels, to section off the unpleasant parts of his reaction to Steve and attribute them to Howard...

But it hadn’t been hard to start thinking that way.

In fact, Tony was sure that the shift in his head had happened before he started rationalising it like this…

As soon as he heard Steve say, he said no.

 

In that moment, Tony was completely certain that there was something different about Steve. Something eternal and powerful - something that wasn’t listed in any of the official reports. 

And it wasn’t something dark, or wrong, or even frightening in any way that was bad. 

Whatever ‘it’ was, Tony only had to see it to know that it was something natural and reassuring and good…

 

That had been the simple part of the revelation.

 

Of course, there were all sorts of complicated thoughts that later occurred to him - questions about where that power came from, and why it was a secret, and how it could affect Tony so directly… 

And the realisation that Nick might’ve seen the whole thing very differently. 

Which had slowly developed into the incredibly appealing idea that maybe his father had done something similar. That all this time Tony had been taking his fathers’ shifty gestures as some indication of Steve’s nature, when in fact they were a sign of Howard’s own guilt and inadequacies...

Which was obviously far better than thinking he’d imagined the whole thing.

And so, so much better than thinking there was any dark, fearful element in Steve...

 

And that was how he’d come to collect forty mouldy smelling file boxes in the first place.

 

Tony knew that he’d have to tiptoe very carefully to stay within this new grey area he’d created for himself - but at least there was that distinction now. 

This wasn’t him investigating Steve. He’d been very strict with himself about that.

 

He would have liked to investigate Steve. He couldn’t deny it. Ever since Tony was little, his first reaction to anything that frightened or frustrated him was to try to understand it better. To work out what a thing was made of, what made it tick - how to beat it. 

He’d never been able to do that with ‘the Steve thing’, because that alone had seemed just too ominous. Shapeless. It had simply been ‘a fear’ for his entire life, something he could never find the beginning of, something that had always been just out of the corner of his eye. Something it had been easy enough to put out of mind, for as long as Steve Rogers had been a figure from the past.

Initially, actually meeting Steve had inspired a conflict in Tony - a sudden interest in dismantling this reaction, now that he had to deal with it on a daily basis, coming up against a fresh wave of terror, now that this thing was right in front of him… Wanting to know, because he was scared. Not wanting to know, because he was scared.

And then, as he’d grown closer to Steve, that conflict had changed. Now, Tony wanted to know more about him because he was interested. The temptation to explore these new and wonderful ideas was so much stronger, now that there wasn’t the fear to hold him back… Unfortunately, that now came up against an unexpected feeling of loyalty-

A feeling that it wouldn’t be fair to look into Steve’s past, or his physiology, without his consent. Behind his back

Tony was still stuck with that dilemma, and so his curiosity about Steve was still unexplored.

 

...But he was allowed to investigate his own father, right?

 

Looking into Howard Stark’s work history, and early research, and personal relationships… all of that had to be fair game, surely? Seeing as it was his father?

Seeing as this had probably been his great fear all along, as it turned out?

 

Tony knew better than to twist facts to suit theories. Even really, really compelling ones… But he couldn’t help it if this idea had grabbed him, if it felt right - if it did just suit him better. 

The thought that maybe Howard had done something terrible in the past, that he’d betrayed Steve or gotten on the wrong side of him or had some reason to flinch from that powerful goodness in him or...something… Something like that would’ve made sense of everything. 

Including his newfound certainty that there was nothing wrong about Steve.

 

...Unfortunately, that meant he had to find some evidence of it. 

Which meant trawling through boxes of paperwork, without really knowing what he was looking for - only that, whatever it was, someone probably made a lot of effort to cover it up. 

 

With a heavy sigh, Tony leant forward and picked up that same piece of paper again, groaning internally at how slow it all was…

God, is it worth it? For something you’re not even sure you are scared of anymore?

...But Tony didn’t put the paper back.

For some reason, this felt like something he was doing for Steve. Even while he was so diligently keeping Steve out of it, so pointedly telling himself it was nothing at all to do with him… Somewhere, Tony felt as though it was important for him to understand this, to get over this

For Steve.

Which was ridiculous, for so many reasons - not least of which, the fact that Steve probably never gave Tony a second thought, and no doubt would’ve recoiled at the idea that Tony was laying down any sort of foundation for him…

 

But still, he carried on trying to read. 

 

*

 

Tony was standing at the counter of the kitchenette in the breakroom, his eyes locked in the middle distance, a mug of coffee cooling rapidly in his hands. Just for a change, it wasn’t anything Steve-related that had his attention - for a few, brief moments, Tony had allowed his thoughts to drift into details of his latest suit upgrade, and had quite happily gotten lost there-

 

Until Steve actually walked in. Then all bets were off.

 

“Hi,” Tony beamed, his cheeks warming as he realised how openly delighted he probably sounded.

“Hey,” Steve smiled back. He also looked as though he was blushing, but Tony knew by now that it was just the flush he always got across his cheekbones when he was forced to go outside during daylight hours...

Tony rather liked the fact that Captain America kept incredibly anti-social hours, and would often sleep in late enough to put even his MIT-era self to shame. There was something unexpected and subversive about it, something that contradicted his father’s assertion that Steve would be aghast at all of Tony’s personal habits-

Tony had never said that though.

Even now that they were so much closer, even though their little interactions did occasionally bubble over into actual conversations these days, there were still things that simply fell outside the bounds of their relationship. Tony just knew they did. 

He still wouldn’t have mentioned his father to Steve, even though they were both aware of the connection. 

He wouldn’t make personal comments about Steve’s sleeping habits, except maybe to gently mock them. Not in an earnest attempt to build some common ground between them, certainly.

...He’d never point out that Steve’s little daytime blush was actually very cute on him. Not even in jest. 

Some things were just too close. 

 

But at least now they shared enough casual conversation that Tony could grin, and gently enquire,

“So, Nat roped you into the Public Library thing after all, huh?”

“I’m not even sure how she did it,” Steve smiled, self-consciously. “She asked if I was interested, I said not really, she said fine… and here we are,” he shrugged. Tony laughed.

“How bad was it?”

“Well, actually, it was kind of interesting,” Steve confessed. “Although don’t tell Nat I said so, I’ll never hear the end of it.”

“Dedication of a new wing?” Tony clarified, trying to remember the details of Nat’s pitch. He’d basically stopped listening the moment she’d said ‘10 am’. 

“Renovation of one of the wings,” Steve corrected casually. “New IT system, new exhibits - just trying to get some additional publicity out of the thing, I think.”

“Did Nat ever tell you why she was so interested in it?” Tony frowned, finally taking a sip of his coffee.

“Well… She didn’t say,” Steve answered, shyly. “But I think maybe she just wanted me to go.”

“You?” Tony raised his eyebrows.

“Yeah, there’s a whole exhibit there now on 20th Century America…”

“And you’re in it.” Tony guessed. 

“And the Commandos, and a whole thing about the war effort,” Steve nodded.

“So, was that awful or nice or both?” Tony enquired kindly - which was actually stepping pretty close to the bounds of their relationship, but still technically okay, he thought.

“...I’m not entirely sure,” Steve admitted with a smile. “But I am glad I went. So.”

Tony smiled back, in the hopes of letting Steve know that he understood.

 

And then the strangest little flicker of discomfort crossed Steve’s brow. Tony saw him drop his eyes very briefly, and almost pinch his lips, before he visibly pushed himself through the next sentence,

“There’s a video exhibition about New York, and, uh, your mother is in it.”

“My mom?” Tony frowned, putting his cup down on the counter. 

“Yeah, there’s a whole section about the charity work she did in the eighties,” Steve explained, talking a little too quickly - like he was nervous. “There’s an interview with her. Well, a bit with her talking to camera, anyway…”

“Huh,” Tony managed. He was taken aback by how much that affected him - by how surprised and fundamentally pleased he was that someone had mentioned his mother, for once…

“I… I mean… This is probably going to sound...” Steve stammered. “And, I don’t know, maybe I shouldn’t say…”

“Oh, but you have to say it now,” Tony teased, kindly

 

“It’s just… You’re so much like her,” Steve said, eventually - and Tony felt his expression soften in shock. 

He was so used to people drawing parallels between him and his father, mostly forgetting that his mom had ever existed - it threw him to have someone remember his connection to his mother in the first place…

And for Steve to say it-

But before Tony could finish working out the importance of it, Steve very bravely explained it for him,

“And, I don’t know, I think maybe when I first met you I was looking for similarities between you and your dad, or, asking myself if they were there, at least. And, you know, sometimes I’d see things in you that sort of reminded me of Howard, and sometimes you do things that are just… So, so unlike him… And I don’t think I’d realised that I’d just been asking myself that one question, until today. And then I saw that movie and it made me think, if I’d known both of them, I never would have said you were anything like your dad - because I’d have known that you’re obviously just like your mom… And then I had this great idea about trying to explain that, and it was way less rambling and incoherent in my head…”

A giggle bubbled over Tony’s lips at that, and he rushed to reassure Steve,

“No, it’s okay, it’s…”

 

Oh, God, what was it?

 

“...It’s nice to hear someone say that,” he found himself confessing - not feeling nearly as vulnerable about it as he thought he should be. “To be brutally honest, I liked my mom more than my dad, and no one ever says I was like her, so, no, that’s a nice thing to hear.”

“Really, no one said that?” Steve frowned, so genuinely confused… Tony felt his heart swell.

“Uh, no, not really,” he muttered, shyly. 

“You talk exactly like her,” Steve carried on, just a bit more firmly. “I don’t know if that makes any sense… But, I don’t know, if I hadn’t known that you were Howard's son, I’m not sure I would’ve guessed, thinking about it. If I hadn’t been looking for it. But if I talked to your mom for two minutes, I absolutely know I would’ve thought of you. I’d have known she was your mom.”

 

“Oh,” Tony breathed, so quietly that he was sure Steve couldn’t have heard it. He was flooded with a vulnerability every bit as pure and as impactful as when Steve had intervened between he and Nick-

But this time it felt very human. 

This moment was his.

“Well, thank you,” he murmured - just as Steve’s phone beeped. Steve rolled his eyes as he fished it out of his pocket, frowning before he’d even looked at the screen. “Expecting bad news?” Tony asked lightly.

“No, a meeting I was hoping they wouldn’t need me for,” Steve sighed.

“You optimistic fool.”

“I know, I know,” Steve smiled sadly, sliding his phone back into his pocket as he stood up to leave. 

Tony waved a casual goodbye, in spite of the garboil of emotions churning in his gut. He managed to hold out until he was sure Steve was long out of earshot before he let go of a heavy breath, melting down towards the counter as he exhaled.

 

Well, that was quite far outside the boundaries, Tony thought, happily. 

 

*

 

Steve had always hated formal events in the forties. 

He’d never been invited to one before he became Captain America, and after that he always felt more like he was providing the entertainment than enjoying it. He’d never been able to relax at a gala or a charity dinner, knowing that all eyes were on him, while he was actually completely out of his element and had no idea how he was supposed to behave-

Of course, the context had changed somewhat, since he woke up in the 21st Century.

 

Now, formal events were no more alien to him than any party he could have gone to - in fact, if anything, they were the events least changed by the march of time. 

Standing in the corner of an old money New York hotel, trapped in a conversation with a well-meaning but dull politico and a pretentious CEO, Steve felt exactly as uncomfortable as he would have at the same event in 1944 - which was something.

And then his eyes drifted over to Tony, who was effortlessly charming an elderly couple at the bar, and a little voice reminded him,

Maybe you’re not quite as uncomfortable as you would’ve been, in the forties…

 

And… Wow. That was a new thought. That might’ve been the first time Steve had ever considered that he might be more comfortable in the present than he would’ve been in the forties…

 

Tony looked up, right at Steve. Steve’s ribs clenched with a delighted shock as their eyes met, and then melted along with the rest of him when Tony smiled. 

Steve had by now accepted that he had a full blown crush on Tony Stark. Obviously he did, he knew he did, it would be ludicrous to deny that he did…

Steve wasn’t sure when that had happened, or quite how he’d gotten here - but here he was. Trying not to grin too broadly at the pretty boy he liked. 

It was probably a bad thing. A confusing, complicated thing that could only lead to disappointment, or worse…

But Steve had to admit, for the time being, it was sort of fun…

 

Well, this part of it, at least. 

The way he automatically focused his attention on anyone who stood too close to Tony, the way he assessed the capabilities and intentions of anyone who went over to speak to him… Not so much.

Many things about Steve’s relationship with Tony were still unnerving and uncomfortable; the ominous prospect of something going horribly wrong was still there, and still terrifying, and of a different thing entirely to his harmless anxieties about whether or not Tony liked him…

But the nights spent wondering if Tony liked him, or reliving their every interaction, or asking himself if any of his daydreams could possibly, hypothetically happen ...Those anxieties were the bit that could sometimes be fun. Those feelings were novel and exciting and real, even when they were driving him mad. 

Those feelings were the reason he looked forward to nights like tonight, and felt connected to the modern world, and no longer felt like everything about his life was worse now. 

As it turned out, caring about something was the start of caring again. 

Believing that something mattered was enough to convince him that one day things would matter again.

And wanting an excuse to spend time with Tony and getting to overthink the fact that Tony had invited him and thinking that Tony looked especially lovely in that tux was probably all very silly - but it was a reason to want to be here. 

 

“So, I have a question,” The CEO announced brashly, dragging Steve’s attention back to the conversation. “Why don’t all the Avengers have an Iron Man suit? I mean, wouldn’t it be better if you and Black Widow and Hawkeye could all fly and fire missiles and stuff?”

“Because not everyone can fly it,” Steve answered, trying to ignore that same dark possessiveness that was trying to push up through his chest. “People think you can just step into it and fly. That you just point your palms at things, and stuff magically happens. The reason the suit looks so simple is because it’s just that clever, and it takes a thousand separate commands and controls, at hundreds of miles an hour, at thousands of feet in the air, to do all that.”

“Yeah, but, I mean… James Rhodes learned to fly one,” The CEO continued - in a far more cautious tone than he’d been using all night, but Steve was far beyond caring.

“Yes, because James Rhodes is a Lieutenant Colonel with two decades aerial combat experience and a Masters in Aerospace Engineering from MIT,” Steve corrected him. “If I tried to do any of what Colonel Rhodes does in battle, I’d probably end up flying face first into a wall.”

 

...Oh, he was doing it again.

He could tell from the way the CEOs eyes had widened, the way the politico was glancing around for an excuse to shuffle away-

“Hi,” Tony sang brightly, as he appeared next to Steve, as though by magic. 

“Hey, we were just talking about you,” Steve grinned, almost as relieved as the CEO was to have been gifted a way out of this encounter. Almost.

“Well, I assumed,” Tony answered with such casual confidence that Steve couldn’t help but laugh. And then Tony turned his attention to Steve’s still stunned companions, ignoring their baffled expressions as he explained, “I’m terribly sorry to drag the good Captain away, but unfortunately our bedtimes are now mandated by a government committee, so,” he finished with a theatrical shrug, while Steve snorted another laugh-

At what was, now that he thought about it, an in joke.

It was a reference to a mindless little comment that Steve had made in a meeting, weeks ago…

Well, how about that. He and Tony had an in joke.

...Steve understood that reference.

 

Of course, the CEO and the politico were more than happy to bid Steve a good night. Tony waited until they had both scurried out of view before he cocked an inquisitive eyebrow.

“Interesting fellows,” he commented, in a very level voice. And Steve knew, if he wanted to, he could take that as, what the hell happened there? He knew, hidden in there somewhere was, are you okay?

“Nice enough,” Steve answered instead. “Although not ‘interesting’, really…” He tried not to look smug when Tony giggled at that.

 

He followed comfortably as Tony led the way outside, to where Happy would be waiting for them, looking unduly enthused about being in the driver's seat, for once. Steve still found it odd that Tony hired a chauffeur and then almost always insisted on driving for himself, but these days it was filed away as a charming eccentricity rather than a frustrating misnomer. 

And it meant that Steve could feel a little bit touched that Tony had chosen to sit in the back seat with him tonight.

“So, how awful was it?” Tony asked cheerfully, as they made their way through the main lobby.

“I had quite a nice time, actually,” Steve answered… realising the truth in it as he spoke. It hadn’t been the best night of his life, and he’d still been confused and uncomfortable at times, but, on balance, he’d had a pretty good night. Certainly better than he would have brooding quietly in his room. 

“Careful about being too polite,” Tony warned, playfully. “You’ll end up stuck with all the charity invitations…”

“Well, no one’s taking my hints about the hard-core rave invitations, so I’ll take what I can get-” Steve joked, cutting himself short when Tony paused mid step to throw his head back and laugh. 

 

Steve stopped, maybe a foot away from the main entrance, to look back at him…

“I’m sorry, I really wasn’t expecting you to say that,” Tony giggled, his whole body still alive with laughter, his eyes shining and his lips curved into the prettiest smile…

...His hair all soft, almost curling at the back of his neck

...His skin almost glowing against the crisp white collar of his shirt

“I’m full of surprises,” Steve blurted a response entirely at random… and then, when he realised how cringey it sounded, hastily added. “The trick is to appear very, very boring.”

Tony grinned again and shook his head, before stepping forward to fall in line with Steve, so that they could leave side by side. 

 

It was a beautiful night, soft and warm and calm… Tony seemed to have a knack for reading these events, always able to steer Steve away from crowds before they formed and avoid awkward situations before they happened. He seemed to have picked the perfect time to leave, while the main steps were deserted save for a few loitering smokers, and the driveway was quiet…

Steve felt his fingers twitch involuntarily, as a warm tingle spread outwards from his palms…

He didn’t really think of it so much as he just went to do it, his hand naturally reaching out where he knew Tony’s was, a fraction of an inch away from taking hold of it-

 

When suddenly the air around him exploded into light. 

 

Steve’s whole body flinched tense, his arm immediately locking into place in front of Tony, pushing himself in front of him as he switched into combat mode. 

His mind burst into worst-case scenarios - or possibly the worst of his battle memories - as he braced for the familiar onslaught of information, the rush to process it in time

...Oh, but that other thing. That new thing. That immediate, feral awareness of Tony-

There was an angry shout, a spiteful collection of sounds that Steve couldn’t comprehend as words. And then, over the top of it, the very soft whisper in Tony’s voice.

“It’s okay Steve”

There was another flash, and immediately Tony’s hand was on Steve’s shoulder, pressing against him reassuringly through yet another burst of light-

 

At last, Steve’s mind provided the word photographer, and with it all the context he needed to understand what was going on….

He waited for his shoulders to relax, assuming some degree of relief was about to hit him, like it usually did when his many little triggers turned out to be false alarms…

But no, there was still this dangerous, possessive impulse…

It wasn’t going away

...It was growing. 

 

“Who’s your date Mr Stark?” The guy demanded, through a barrage of obnoxious flashes. 

“He’s my personal numerologist, Tony mocked back, immediately and without joy. Steve barely heard the words, and certainly wasn’t going to waste time analysing them - already his attention was focused on reading this guy, in a more detailed and determined way than he’d ever managed on the battlefield. 

He was taller than Tony, and broad, a layer of dense fat sitting stoically over what were probably pretty strong muscles. Out of shape, but still physically imposing-

And using that to try and intimidate Tony, Steve realised, with the taste of blood. Deliberately towering over Tony, getting too close, trying to threaten him.

Steve’s vision darkened around the edges.

“What’s it like fucking Captain America?” The photographer shouted, dialling up the aggression in an attempt to get a reaction.

“Such slander,” Tony breezed, continuing his little game with himself. And then he somehow swerved around Steve in a single step, putting himself between them before he looked back and said, “you can probably sue him for suggesting that, you know.”

But Steve wasn’t listening. 

He was too busy fighting the urge to pull Tony back, to bark at this guy to back off, to snap his spine clean in half-

Everything was in such high definition it was impossible to make sense of it, to put it into context. Too many details, too much colour, too much focus on that one objective that he knew he couldn’t-

He couldn’t kill man, he-

Couldn’t process why he couldn’t, though. He couldn’t remember how to prioritise a threat like this, how to separate it from the noise, how to place it into the real world and the person he was-

He could only process how to protect Tony from it, so quickly and in such depth that it blotted everything else out-

You can’t though, you know you can’t-

 

Steve’s head started throbbing as the battery of camera flashes started up again, Tony standing like a barricade between them, like he was taking the blows. Tony waited patiently for a few seconds, not moving or posing, before he sighed and told the guy,

“Okay buddy, I think that’s all you’re going to get tonight. Good job. Earning that pay cheque,” 

and then he glanced back at Steve, a warm confidence in his expression as he murmured, “come on, let’s go.”

Tony’s voice was so much more coherent than everything else.

There was an instinct to listen to Tony, as strong as the instinct to defend him. 

Steve tried to lean into that instead, pointedly telling himself they were leaving because Tony wanted to, just because that still made sense to him-

 

And then he watched, in slow motion, as Tony flashed an empty smile and made to lead Steve past the photographer with that same easy confidence-

And the guy put himself in front of him-

And grabbed his shoulder-

 

The stab of rage was so swift and so brutal that it physically hurt, tensing Steve’s muscles past their own limit, scorching all other thoughts out of his head, purifying every other sensation into this bright, blinding anger-

 

And then Steve just hit him.

 

There was no more to it than that - just that whip crack of feral outrage, and then the drive to attack-

 

And then the eerie, high-buzzing silence of the aftermath…

 

Steve looked down on the photographer, lying prone on the gravel of the driveway, the fragments of his camera arranged in a jagged halo around his head… He was sure that he did remember doing that, but it had all happened to fast and in such unreal clarity, it didn’t feel as though it had happened at all.

...He still didn’t feel anything about it. He still couldn’t work out what he would usually think, or say or do-

 

“Steve,” Tony spoke very gently from behind Steve’s shoulder - and immediately a wave of physical relief rolled up along his spine.

 

Tony.

 

Steve understood that reference. 

Tony still made sense.

 

Just listen to Tony...

 

Chapter Text

Tony could only assume that he was going to freak the fuck out, just as soon as this hit him. 

 

He’d already considered that the photographer might well be dead. He could see that the guy still wasn’t moving… 

But, more to the point, he’d seen the way Steve hit him. 

Tony knew that Steve was capable of literally punching a Chitauri Soldier in half - and he didn’t think that Steve had been anywhere near as angry or as focused as this, in the battle of New York.

 

So, Tony would probably be hit by a wall of horror and panic pretty soon…

Surely…

Any minute now...

Eventually, Tony even tried enunciating it to himself, 

Steve might’ve just killed a man, right in front of you, just now.

Or, that man might be seriously hurt, while you’re just standing here.

...But no. All Tony could feel right now was calm, and… safe.

 

He knew it was wrong. All of this was wrong. 

When he finally managed to look up at Steve, he could see the visceral fury that still tensed his muscles, the naked instinct in his eyes - the pure, inhuman power that still radiated from him. Tony knew that none of that was... normal

That it should feel wrong-

 

But it didn’t. 

 

When he saw Steve like this, Tony could only feel a soft swell of affection and a deep sense of comfort, however hard he tried to force a more appropriate reaction. And even though he knew that there were other things he should be thinking about, that he should obviously be doing something right now - the only thing that seemed to matter was putting his arms around Steve…

He heard himself whisper Steve’s name, his breath catching in his throat when Steve’s eyes finally met his-

 

And then there was the tiniest little groan from the body of the floor. 

 

Instantly, Steve snapped back to focus on the photographer again, a literal growl rolling from somewhere low in his chest. Tony’s blood flashed hot at the sound of it, but he ignored that reaction in favour of a more pressing concern-

Clearly, Steve still saw this man as a threat-

Steve feels threatened-

And the basic instinct to fix that was more real and more urgent than any of the many catastrophes playing out all around him. When Tony stepped forward and put a hand to Steve’s shoulder, he still wasn’t thinking of containing the situation, or helping the injured man on the floor - it was only because he wanted to comfort Steve.

 

He was vaguely surprised by just how quickly Steve melted under his palm; how completely his expression changed from fierce aggression to total trust.

“It’s okay baby,” Tony soothed. “Just breathe, okay?”

 

At last, Tony’s brain rebooted, providing some back-up to his physical impulses. 

He still hadn’t moved beyond his improper - possibly unethical - focus on Steve’s needs, but he’d finally started to think about what they might be. How all of this might fit into the real world. What Steve was really at risk of, how Tony could make it better…

I can’t let him feel badly about this-

I can’t let him get into trouble for this-

If he’s really hurt this guy-

And it was only because, at that very moment, the photographer let out a more conscious groan, that it finally occurred to Tony-

 

I should be helping this guy.

 

“Okay, just, stay here,” Tony warned Steve, gently. “I need to check on him-” he saw Steve’s eyes flash with concern, his jaw tensing at the very idea of letting Tony get near to him again, “-I know, I know, but I promise I’ll be okay. You have to listen to me now, okay?”

And, somewhat begrudgingly, Steve softened again, and nodded.

 

There was a dull spike of guilt as Tony scrambled to kneel beside the photographer - although whether it was because he might’ve ignored a man with a brain haemorrhage, or because he’d left Steve’s side, Tony wasn’t sure. 

He could see the guy trying to blink himself awake, his face already contorted in pain, his body trying to curl away from the visible dent in his shoulder.

“Hey, hey, can you hear me?” Tony tried to keep his voice calm and level. The photographer simply groaned in response. “Hey, come on pal, I need you to answer me, can you hear me?” Tony spoke more sharply, leaning closer. 

At last he opened his eyes, looking up at Tony with a confused, feral panic. Tony felt a plunge of relief - and, again, he wasn’t sure whether it was because this guy wasn’t dead, or just because Steve hadn’t killed him. 

“Hey, you with me buddy?” Tony demanded again. “What’s your name?”

“W-Wes-ley,” the photographer stammered.

“Okay Wesley,” Tony intervened, before Wesley could attempt to struggle through his surname, “We’re going to get you some help-”

“What the - hell was that?” Wesley gasped - and Tony had a sudden burst of inspiration.

“You don’t remember what hit you?” He asked.

 

And he saw the way Wesley’s gaze flitted up towards Steve, very briefly.

The way he tried to flinch into himself, even as his eyes narrowed in disbelief-

And then he let out another sharp cry of pain.

 

“Okay, okay,” Tony soothed. “First things first, let’s get you to a hospital…” He fished his phone out of his pocket, texting a very hasty message to Happy, telling him to pull up as close as he could-

It’d be quicker - and, more to the point, more discreet - to give Wesley a ride to the emergency room themselves.

In the meantime, Tony took a second to scan their surroundings. Much to his surprise, he found that the driveway was now entirely deserted. He very cautiously counted that as a positive. Of course, he couldn’t be certain that no one had been watching when it actually happened... but, in his experience, when people witnessed the drama they usually stayed around to witness the aftermath too. If he was lucky, the few straggling by-standers had all gone back into the party, or off to their cars, before this little...episode. 

 

“Hey boss,” Happy panted, as he jogged awkwardly up to the scene. “What happened here?”

“This is Wesley. Something attacked him,” Tony answered, very carefully. “No idea how bad it is, so I want to get him to the hospital as fast as we can, okay?”

“Sure, sure, the car’s up on the kerb,” Happy replied, gesturing to what was clearly an illegal park job. 

“Okay buddy, you think you can stand?” Tony turned his attention back to Wesley - who was still locked in a terrified, wide-eyed stare with Steve.

“I’m s-s-sorry,” he hissed, under his ragged breathing.

“Don’t worry about being sorry, just, let’s just get you fixed up, okay?” Tony replied, pointedly, dragging Wesley’s focus back to him. Wesley winced as he nodded.

 

He made a lot of noise as Tony and Happy helped him to his feet - Steve standing just behind them, staring down at Wesley like a bouncer. It took an agonisingly long time to cross the few feet of gravel to the car, but, miraculously, no one seemed to notice them in the meantime. 

While Happy was settling Wesley into the passenger seat in the front, Tony steered Steve into the backseat of the car - again finding that he was far easier to manoeuvre than his fierce expression would suggest. 

By now Tony’s regular thoughts were beginning to filter through. Not that the urge to throw himself into Steve’s chest had worn off at all… But Tony was starting to think of other things as well. He began cataloguing the important details of the situation, trying to put them in order. 

It occurred to him that Steve had probably struck Wesley in the shoulder, rather than the head - which was the better option, he supposed. Okay, that particularly nasty break in Wesley’s collarbone might never properly heal… But at least he was responsive, and coherent, and didn’t seem to be having any sensory issues... 

As he always did in times of crisis, Tony thought of Rhodey and Pepper, and the various disasters they’d helped to steer him through…

Pepper, he decided. This particular catastrophe - the immediate aftermath of it, at least - was definitely more of a Pepper thing.

 

“It’s alright Wesley, I’m on first name terms with everyone at this hospital,” Tony reassured mindlessly, as he scrolled through his phone for Peppers number. “You’ll get some really good pain meds-” and then he mentally kicked himself, as he remembered all the jokes Pepper had warned him not to make in potentially litigious situations. “I’ll take care of the medical costs, and I’ll make sure someone looks into what happened, and I’ll get someone to come down to the hospital to talk to you, when you’re up to it,” he tried again, more carefully. “Okay?”

“Okay,” Wesley whimpered quietly.

 

“You mean thank you,” Steve corrected, in a cold, dark voice.

 

Tony felt his whole body tighten, his skin tingling sharply as he snapped up to look at Steve again. 

God, I love it when you do that-

He so nearly said it out loud. It was only that Wesley rushed to answer first,

“Yes, thank you, thank you.”

 

...Tony got the impression that Wesley wouldn’t be making any trouble for either of them, after this.

 

*

 

Steve didn’t really come back to himself until hours later, when he found himself standing awkwardly in the middle of Tony’s living room.

 

It was a truly surreal moment of clarity.

Seemingly out of nowhere, Steve found himself musing that this was the first time he’d ever been on Tony’s floor of the Tower. It was his first conscious thought since they’d left the hotel, and it had the same effect as when a teacher used to snap him out of a daydream with a question. Immediately, he scrambled to place where he was and what he’d missed - with no real urgency, at first.

It was only as he began to piece the evening together that a queasy sense of dread rose up in him, reaching a tipping point when he actually revisited the memory of punching that man…

 

...Oh my God.

 

It flashed up in him, instantly drenching him in an awful, shameful fear.

Oh, God - Tony-

 

Frantic now, Steve looked over to the kitchen area, to where Tony was walking in short, sharp lines as he talked to someone on his cell phone. Already, Steve knew that this was the wrong priority. He knew that he should be far more concerned by what he did to that photographer - by what he became, when confronted by that photographer - than by what Tony thought of him…

But he couldn’t help it if the initial emotional reaction was just a horrible fear that he’d ruined things between them-

 

Tony glanced up at him - and it burned.

 

Steve dropped his eyes, his shoulders curling inwards as another wave of wordless anxiety crashed over him. He heard Tony continue his conversation, his voice a calm, measured rhythm that seemed to come from miles away… Steve wasn’t up to picking out the words, just yet.

 

Instead, he balled his hands into fists, squeezing as hard as he could in a bid to expel some of this energy. With nothing else to fall back on, Steve tried his best to think what the hell Captain America would do with a situation like this-

Well, Captain America wouldn’t be in a situation like this, now would he-

Steve screwed his eyes shut and shook his head. That wasn’t a useful line of thought. 

Okay, okay, start by laying out what you do know…

What actually happened?

 

And he couldn’t even begin with the more existential question of what actually happened - so he made do with laying out the order of events as he remembered them.

...It turned out that he remembered them surprisingly clearly.

...unnervingly clearly.

It was like being able to remember someone else's thoughts - someone else’s feelings. None of those reactions were rational, none of those thoughts made sense, nothing about himself was familiar… but he remembered the feeling of it being familiar. He remembered these unnatural impulses being the most natural things in the world…

 

He remembered the dizzy freedom of snapping, the absolute absence that swallowed him as he hit that guy… 

And maybe the vaguest echo of concern, right at the last second. 

Perhaps that was just wishful thinking. Perhaps it was simply that Steve knew he should have shown more restraint than that - that, surely, he would have shown more restraint than that… 

But somewhere he thought maybe he’d made a last-ditch attempt to pull himself back. That maybe he remembered not hitting the guy in the face… Maybe he remembered that being deliberate…

 

But nothing after that felt deliberate. 

Everything from that moment to this had just… happened to him. 

...And none of it was good.

 

He remembered the car ride to the hospital. The razor-edged focus on Wesley; the hyper-awareness of every move he made, every word he whimpered under his breath, every pained expression. And, looking back on it, Steve was horribly aware that he’d not even been thinking of Wesley as a threat, at that point. By then, it was like a concentrated hatred, an inability to move past his blind outrage that this man had dared to touch Tony like that…

It felt dark and frightening and immoral now… 

But it hadn’t, then. 

...And that was worse.

 

Okay, just - don’t lose your head.

What happened next?

 

He remembered arriving at the hospital. He remembered hovering at Tony’s side in the lobby, as he and Happy gleefully handed Wesley over to a nurse – Steve remembered being aware of the nervous glances he was getting from her, and Happy, and the staff pretending not to pay attention to them from behind the reception desk… He remembered not caring. Not thinking anything of it.

Although...Not glad of it, now that he thought about it. 

Not the way he’d been glad to watch Wesley wilt away from him. Or Nick, a few weeks earlier… 

And, thinking back, Happy hadn’t seemed nearly as affected by Steve’s mood as Wesley, or Nick, or even that CEO… Aware of the atmosphere, certainly. More nervous than he’d usually be. But he, and the nurse, and the rest of the staff, seemed able to contain their response to a few shifty looks and a slightly stiff demeanour… None of them had seemed gripped by the overwhelming physical terror that had paralysed Wesley, from the second he regained consciousness…

 

Steve wanted to wonder about that - but the headache kicked in before he could even begin. The whole thing felt too huge, too shapeless… Thinking about any one part of it felt hopeless. Faintly ridiculous, somehow… 

And it felt like a cheat, a creepingly self-serving excuse, to try and find solace in the people that he hadn’t completely traumatised.

...Especially as he still felt a dark sort of satisfaction at Wesley’s terror, even as he was feeling guilty over it-

 

And then, like he was reaching for comfort, he thought of Tony leading him away from the hospital, the reassuring weight of his palm against the small of Steve’s back…

Of course, it made no sense now. But there was such a feeling of rightness about it, at the time. Something fundamental and basic and good. Steve could remember that feeling - almost clearly enough to recreate it…

But he couldn’t quite outrun the conscious knowledge of it. 

He couldn’t stop himself from worrying what it all meant-

What it must actually have looked like to Tony.

...Oh, and then he’d sat far too close to Tony, when they got back into the car.

...Oh, God, he’d held Tony’s hand. He’d just taken hold of it and- 

 

Oh, God, Tony had finished his call.

 

Steve felt his stomach drop as he watched Tony slide his phone back into his pocket, his entire body tensing as he waited for Tony to look at him.

He didn’t even know what he was bracing for - but he wasn’t prepared to see such kindness in Tony’s expression.

Belatedly, he recognised how kind Tony had been to him all evening. How calm and in control he’d been, throughout the whole ordeal. How gently he’d responded to all of Steve’s strange behaviour…

And with that, something slipped.

Oh, God, I’ve ruined everything-

I could’ve killed a man-

I don’t know what this is or how to stop this-

 

“Tony, I’m - sorry-” he whispered, suddenly worried that he might cry - worried that if he started crying, he might never stop. That he might just fall into this endless, wretched emptiness-

“Hey, it’s okay,” Tony reassured, walking over to him and placing a gentle palm on his chest.

It was immediately grounding. Physically comforting, in such an uncomplicated, pure way… Just like it had been all night. Steve was conscious enough now that he knew it was strange, aware enough to be unnerved by it - but he felt it, still. 

“I don’t - I’m - I didn’t-” he stammered, fighting so many conflicting thoughts when all he wanted was to give in to that one unmistakable feeling.

“It’s okay,” Tony repeated, with a smile. “Come and sit down, and we’ll talk about it.”

 

Steve nodded. A watery giddiness crept up along his legs as Tony led him over to the couch, until he felt unsteady on his feet. When Tony guided him to fall into the cushions Steve was relieved and ashamed in equal measure. His head was swimming…

It occurred to Steve that maybe he wasn’t sobering up - maybe he was coming down. That maybe this sudden vulnerability and anxiety and tearfulness wasn’t the absence of whatever had been affecting him, but another stage of it-

Which didn’t help at all.

 

“So, the photographer is going to be okay,” Tony began, his voice warm and confident, as he took his seat at the other end of the couch. “Pepper went down there just after we left. Apparently he has a few broken bones - but they were all clean breaks, so, nothing that won’t heal. Some torn muscle tissue and some pretty serious bruising, but, again, it’ll heal. He had a mild concussion, but they think it’s from when he hit his head going down, not… Anyway, he’ll be fine. And he doesn’t want to press charges - he didn’t want anyone to pay his medical bills, but Pepper insisted. Covers our backs in case he changes his mind, or something. And he has a brand-new camera already on order. So. That’s that…”

 

Steve nodded again, fighting an urge to pull his knees up into his chest as he took it all in. 

He knew he should be relieved at that. And, in fairness, there probably would have been a lot more guilt and panic to deal with, had Tony said something else… So, that made it a comfort of sorts, he supposed…

“I’m sorry,” Steve whispered, miserably. “And not just for that man. For the trouble I caused you, and Happy… and Pepper… I don’t… I don’t know what to say, I just…” 

“Steve,” Tony tried to interrupt, to help him out-

“-You don’t have to be scared of me,” Steve blurted it out, taking himself by surprise - realising as he said it that it was the thing he dreaded most. 

 

Tony’s face fell.

He couldn’t possibly have looked more shocked and aghast if Steve had actually slapped him. 

 

Steve’s chest clenched in panic, and he immediately wanted to take it back, to apologise - but no words came out. 

And then Tony shook his head, and shuffled close enough to put a hand on Steve’s knee when he promised him,

“I’m not scared of you, Steve. I could never be scared of you. Never.”

A treacherous heat flooded Steve’s face, as the threat of tears almost overwhelmed him again. He didn’t know what to call this feeling. It was a relief and affirmation that cut deep enough to be painful; a level of exposure that was freeing and terrifying and horribly raw.

“I know you must think-” he croaked - but Tony cut him off, pointedly. 

“No, I don’t,” he corrected, with such heartfelt confidence. “All I am right now is worried about you.”

 

Steve crossed his arms over his stomach, slumping his shoulders as he dropped his eyes - still wishing he could just curl up in a ball…

Or bury his head in Tony’s neck, and surrender to that soft quality in his voice…

 

“Why?” He asked very quietly, unable to meet Tony’s gaze.

“Why am I worried about you?” Tony frowned. Steve shook his head.

“No,” he sighed. “I mean, why aren’t you scared of me?”

He didn’t really know why he was questioning it, other than he was confused and insecure and Tony still felt like a safe haven somehow, even as he was so scared of losing him. The desperation to keep all of this hidden from him couldn’t quite overcome the instinct to run to him - not now that he’d hit a crisis this huge.

Tony breathed a kind laugh, squeezing Steve’s knee gently before he answered.

“Well… There’s the sensible answer to that. The one my brain would come up with, during regular life in the real world. That I know you, and I know how much you hate to hurt anyone, and that nothing you’ve ever done would make me think you’d ever hurt me…”

“And what about what I just did?” Steve dared to challenge, although his voice was still too quiet. 

“Well… That didn’t happen during regular life, in the real world, now did it?” Tony sighed.

 

A chill washed over Steve’s skin, as he recognised that this was Tony acknowledging it for the first time. That they were about to go somewhere that there was no coming back from.

That Steve would have to make choices now, choices that he wasn’t prepared for - choices he would never be able to take back…

 

“And… I don’t know if it is my brain that comes up with anything, in that world,” Tony carried on. “And I know nothing I could say about it would be sensible. But… I don’t know. I don’t know why that doesn’t scare me… I guess Nick wouldn’t be able to tell you why he is scared of you sometimes. I’m just not. I’m really not. And I just know I never could be…”

Steve finally managed to look up at him.

“I don’t know either,” he whispered - tiptoeing around a conversation that he knew was coming anyway.

 

He didn’t want to lie to Tony.

He already hated that the vampire thing was a secret. It had long since changed from feeling like his own personal business to feeling like a lie of omission, something he should have told Tony, just because they were friends... And that was before he started feeling like maybe Tony had a right to know - that maybe this was affecting Tony too. 

 

And, right now, Steve felt so lost, so vulnerable, so metaphysically drawn to Tony… He wanted to tell Tony everything. 

He wasn’t sure he’d be able to lie to Tony’s face. 

Not now.

 

...But he knew he couldn’t tell Tony. 

He couldn’t tell anyone. That had always been the rule - and a single slip-up could’ve cost him his life, could’ve cost America the war, could still end the world if it got into the wrong hands.

That argument was so well practiced, it leapt to the front of Steve’s mind automatically-

Anyone you tell will be at risk. There are still so many people who would torture and kill for that information.

Anyone you tell will be forced to keep that secret for you - to lie to their friends, so that you don’t have to lie to yours.

You will implicate the few people who do already know.

 

...And what if he’s scared by it? Or disgusted by it?

...What if he hates me for not telling him sooner? What if he hates me for telling him now?

 

It was such a huge choice to make when he wasn’t in his right mind. When he couldn’t be sure what he was thinking or what he wanted or how he would feel in the morning…

 

So, stalling, he went with the only thing he could say that wasn’t a lie. 

 

“I don’t know what any of this is,” he confessed, turning away again. “I know it’s… something. I know it’s weird. But I don’t know what it is. I’ve… Never felt anything like this before. And it just...feels like, I don’t know - I keep asking myself if it’s something about the serum, although I don’t know why it would be, but I can’t think what else…”

“Okay, well… Why don’t we start with what happened tonight?” Tony suggested.

“I just… I don’t know, I think it got it into my head that he was a threat,” Steve shrugged. “I don’t know what I thought he was going to do… And… I was just so angry at him…”

“...Is this anything like what happened with Nick?” Tony asked, carefully. 

“I don’t know,” Steve replied - not even sure if he was lying, now. “I don’t really know what that was, either…”

 

“And this is only since you came out of the ice?” Tony pressed, gently.

Steve felt so dirty when he nodded, even though that was technically true.

He knew where Tony was going with this. He could see Tony trying to understand this as a trauma reaction, looking for the underlying event – as any reasonable person might.

And Steve was just letting him think that. Being deliberately and sneakily obstructive, when Tony assumed they were in this conversation together-

Because you have to,

Because of National Security,

Because-

“Are there any other times you’ve felt… like that?” Tony carried on, sounding more cautious with each new question. “Was there something that Wesley said, or did, that made you feel different-”

“It’s not-” Steve had to cut him off. And then he sighed. “It’s not that. It’s not me struggling to deal with the 21st Century or some side effect of being frozen, or me not coping with what’s happened to me…”

“And you’re sure of that?” Tony asked, kindly.

“Yeah,” Steve nodded. “I don’t know what it is, but I know it’s not that. It’s… It didn’t… It didn’t start when I woke up here, it’s not… It’s not me being upset...It’s…”

“It’s?” Tony prompted.

 

And Steve just couldn’t think of another way to outrun it.

And he couldn’t let Tony keep trying to guess like this. 

...And Steve wanted to tell him-

 

“It’s just you,” he surrendered - with no real idea where he was going with it. “I don’t know what it is, but it’s… just… Ever since I first met you, I just…” 

And then he looked up at Tony... in time to see his features fall in such innocent, open sadness that it hurt Steve’s heart to look at it…

But before he could even work out why, Tony had glanced away to take a steading breath and put his mask back up. When he looked back at Steve there was a fragile sort of courage in his eyes.

“That’s really not your fault, and you don’t have to feel bad about it,” Tony whispered. “I’m not the easiest person to be around, and if I’m making things more difficult for you, it’s okay for you to… you know… To say you need to not be around that…”

 

Steve felt his stomach fall away from him, as he realised what Tony thought he meant-

 

“But, for what it’s worth, I really am sorry for how I behaved when we first met-”

“No, Tony, no, no, no, that’s not what I meant,” Steve interrupted, his confused hesitancy immediately overwhelmed by a desperation to explain-

“But it would be okay, if-”

No, Tony,” Steve stopped him forcefully, moving closer to him and taking his hand - moving much more confidently. More instinctively.

Finding that the push to say this for Tony was far greater than his motivation to say any of this for himself.

“It’s not that it’s hard to be around you,” he promised, making Tony meet his eye, “I like being around you. I like you - and that’s not the weird part. That’s not the bit that confuses me. It doesn’t even confuse me that I sort of want to kill anyone that hurts you…”

 

...Oh, he may have accidentally veered onto a dangerous path, under the influence of that little burst of passion

...And now, even as he recognised that danger, it seemed he was still just talking-

 

“...It’s just sometimes there’s this… other thing, and I don’t know what that is or where it comes from or why… Why I felt it so soon after I met you,” Steve stumbled on, not sure if he was struggling to force these words out or to hold them in. “I don’t mean, ‘I don’t know why I feel this way about you’, I just mean… I don’t know how I knew that, back then. How I could have known that I would...like you, or, want to stand up for you, or… Or why, sometimes it just feels… I don’t know, like I could actually kill someone for hurting you…”

 

He saw Tony’s face soften into a blank expression that was so hard to read… But so very pretty. 

At the worst possible moment, Steve remembered all the ways that he liked Tony - that, underneath the unnatural, impossible draw that he was trying to explain, there was also the perfectly human crush he had on Tony… And the increasingly important friendship…

And the entirely natural desire to stare at him, to touch him, to kiss him…

There were so many things Steve could ruin, right now. 

So many different consequences - different fears, from different perspectives, that Steve was in no fit state to process-

It was not a good time to become distracted by Tony’s eyes... 

Or to give into that irrational and inappropriate urge to just fall into him…

Or say something he would later regret. Something that would change their friendship forever-

 

“...I liked it,” Tony whispered softly, lowering his lashes.

It was the tone Steve heard, rather than the words. A deeper meaning that he immediately understood - even though it was the last thing he’d expected.

“What?” Steve blinked.

“After you hit Wesley,” Tony carried on, awkwardly. “I think maybe even after that thing with Nick… There was this… moment. And I liked it. And I don’t mean that in some creepy, I like watching you hit people, kind of way. It wasn’t any of the… uh, the normal kinds of creepy. It wasn’t being smug or vindicated or excited… It felt safe. Or, comfortable, or… Something. Something that I know is strange, even though it didn’t feel strange. Something that just didn’t seem to go with the situation, however you want to view it. And I can’t explain it - or why it doesn’t bother me more, that I can’t explain it…”

Steve felt himself squeeze Tony’s hand.

He wasn’t sure where to put this rush of surprised excitement - whether this was a poorly timed but entirely ordinary response to hearing his crush say that, or a swell of guilty relief to hear that a friend understood this feeling, or yet another feral reaction to something Tony had done…

...I liked it

It felt safe.

It doesn’t feel strange-

 

Steve was sure this shouldn’t feel good - that he certainly shouldn’t be getting carried away with how good it felt, when he had so many things to think about…

But he was so tired of thinking. 

He was so overwhelmed and drained, possibly still under the influence of the very thing he was trying to work out, and everything was so confusing and complicated-

Except Tony.

Everything about Tony felt right. Every part of Steve wanted to pull Tony into his arms - even the parts of him that would usually think it was a bad idea.

 

“...I keep getting this strange impulse to touch you,” Tony muttered shyly, his eyes firmly locked on Steve’s hand, still curled protectively around his. “Not even in a… I don’t even mean like that. I just keep finding myself about to put my hand on your shoulder, like it’s a habit I’ve had forever. And I know that must be really weird and uncomfortable and I don’t even know why I’m doing it… I just keep getting this feeling that it would...help, or something…”

And then Tony screwed up his face, and gave his head a little shake, clearly about to take that back and try again-

When Steve just said it-

 

“It does.”

 

And yes, there were alarm bells. A thousand incoherent questions about what the hell he was doing and where this could possibly go and all the reasons that he would regret this in the morning-

But right now he was so tired and lost and lonely,

And in so much pain,

And he knew he could make all of that go away, just for a moment-

 

“Does it?” Tony asked, his voice so sincere and brave and...dark, in a strangely enticing way…

He looked up at Steve again, his eyes wide and shining and impossibly deep, his lips slightly parted, his fingers curling apprehensively around Steve’s hand…

 

“Yes,” Steve whispered.

 

His whole body tensed as he watched Tony shift to face him, leaning closer to him as Tony raised his free hand… the nervousness melting away as he placed it against Steve’s chest, and then let it settle there…

Steve felt his shoulders fall apart under the pressure of it, a little surge of dizziness rolling through his head at the sheer release of that one touch…

 

You were about to have a real conversation about this - you should stop and talk about it.

You were just listing all the consequences this could have, all the things you don’t even know - you should stop and think about this.

You should stop…

 

And then he felt Tony shake his other hand free, so that he could move closer and place it on Steve’s shoulder.

...And then let both hands slide up, slowly folding his arms over the back of Steve’s neck, pulling himself up against his chest-

 

And there just weren’t any other voices in Steve’s head, now. 

He had been swamped by that feeling of pure and simple rightness as he finally wrapped his arms around Tony’s waist, the relief of feeling Tony’s bodyweight pressed against him-

It was just so easy, and natural, and good. 

It was like the first brick pulled out of the wall, the first little stumble on the way to the finish line - the second he gave into that feeling, there was no pulling it back. No way to stop himself from crumbling into the bliss of giving in-

 

“Steve,” Tony whispered, his gaze dropping to Steve’s mouth, his thumb stroking over the curve of Steve’s shoulder. 

And Steve didn’t even know that he shouldn’t, anymore. 

 

He just pulled Tony in to kiss him. 

Chapter Text

Tony had never been as immediately or as overwhelmingly affected by anything as he was that first kiss from Steve.

 

It was like a drug. The second he felt Steve’s lips brush against his, everything changed. His body was flooded with a hot, electric sensitivity, as though every nerve had been exposed. His senses shifted. 

His thoughts changed.

As quickly as that, Tony found himself entirely consumed by these sensations, completely committed to this new mindset, these new priorities, this new natural-

 

And fuck, it felt so good-

 

A thick wave of pure, physical pleasure crashed up along his back as Steve parted his lips. It was a warm, heavy sensation unlike anything Tony had ever felt before - but he didn’t even question it. He simply followed the instinct to melt into it, his shoulders falling apart as he surrendered his bodyweight into Steve’s chest. 

Steve threw a hand to the back of Tony’s head, threading his hands roughly through Tony’s hair as he pulled him deeper into the kiss. A fizzing shiver ran down the back of Tony’s neck, his skin throbbing under Steve’s hands, a low friction grinding through his muscles as Steve moved against him. He moaned into Steve’s mouth, scrambling to rock against him - vaguely frustrated by the awkward position they were still in, kneeling chest to chest on the couch like this, but without the capacity to fix it-

He couldn’t stop kissing Steve for long enough to figure it out.

Instead, Tony grabbed mindlessly for as much of Steve as he could reach, dragging his fingertips down Steve’s back, clawing at his shoulders - and it just felt good. There was no other context, no background noise. No conscious awareness that he was finally touching Steve after so long. No way to process just how impossibly beautiful Steve was, how rare and wonderful it was to experience something this perfect - it just was.

 

And then he felt Steve growl. 

 

It rolled up through Tony’s ribs and down through his hips, tightening in in his groin. He barely broke the kiss to gasp - but Steve raced to claim him back anyway, devouring his mouth, possessive and desperate and hungry-

And all Tony wanted was to submit to him. 

His ordinary, everyday mind might’ve been concerned by that impulse, or wondered what it meant - he certainly would’ve second guessed whether Steve even wanted that, on a regular day.

But Tony wasn’t that person anymore. 

Like a drunk has no idea that they’re usually too shy to dance, or a hysterical person has no idea that it will only make things worse if they scream - Tony just didn’t know that he’d usually be too insecure and too guarded to do this. 

Now, all Tony could think of was being good for Steve.

Taking care of Steve.

Giving Steve everything he desired-

He was supposed to, Tony knew he was.

 

It was that impulse that drove Tony to caress his palms over Steve’s neck, rough and affectionate all at once. Walking the line between yielding and assertive, giving himself completely without being passive, revelling in his surrender-

And he knew that was what Steve wanted. What he needed .

He followed that instinct as he dug his fingertips hard into the little store of tension under Steve’s shoulder blades. 

He didn’t question himself as he slid his hands under Steve’s jacket, pushing it back over his arms-

You should get him out of these formal clothes - he isn’t comfortable in formal clothes-

You should make him comfortable-

You should take care of him-

 

And somewhere, as part of that basic, animal impulse, it finally occurred to Tony-

You should check if he’s okay 

You should ask how he’s feeling

You can’t do anything to hurt him. You can’t

 

“Steve-” he murmured - letting it get swallowed up by another kiss, almost giving in-

If he doesn’t really want this-

If he ends up wishing that he didn’t do this-

“Steve,” he tried again, more forcefully. “Steve, stop-”

 

And Steve stopped. 

 

That impossible, immovable grip softened immediately, that seemingly uncontrollable urgency screeched to a halt. And then Steve looked up at him, something close to panic in his eyes, and whispered,

“Are you okay?”

Tony’s heart clenched painfully. He knew something about this was so very wrong, that he should just kiss Steve again, that it was cruel to stop this now, to let Steve think he wasn’t every bit as certain of this-

He so nearly apologised-

“Are you sure you want this?” he hissed instead, hot and hurried and obviously pained-

Yes ,” Steve answered before Tony had even finished the question, in a voice so dark that Tony had no idea how he was still resisting it-

“But are you sure?” He stammered. “I mean, if you’re not yourself and - after everything - I just… I don’t want to take advantage or do - I just don’t want you to regret this in the morning-”

Tony ,” Steve cut in - his feral desperation suddenly replaced by such raw feeling , such sincerity and... tenderness , such-

If Steve did but know it, Tony had already folded. He’d completely forgotten his own objection, as Steve carried on reassuring him,

“Of course I want you. I have wanted you from the moment I first laid eyes on you. I want every part of you, more than I can possibly tell you, and I could never regret you… Unless you don’t want this…”

“I just want you …” Tony breathed, leaning into Steve again-

But now he’d thought enough about the moment to recognise where they were-

He’d accepted these impulses enough to listen to them, enough to know-

Not here .

 

So, he moved to bury his head in Steve’s neck instead, sucking a bruising kiss to his throat before he whispered close,

“Come to bed.”

And then the world fell away, as Steve stood up with Tony held firm against his chest, still kissing him as he carried him through to the bedroom.

 

*

 

It never even occurred to Steve that he didn’t know where Tony’s bedroom was. It was pure luck that he chose the right room to confidently burst into - and Steve didn’t think anything of it.

 

He was sort of beyond thinking, at that point. 

 

He was aware of everything - more focused and clear-headed than he’d ever been in his life… To the point where he didn’t need to say the words aloud in his head, where he didn’t have to process the various stages that got him here-

He just was .

He just knew .

 

He knelt onto the bed with Tony still held tight against him, covering him completely as he laid him out of the mattress. Immediately, Tony rocked up against him, his hands clawing under Steve’s shirt… And Steve was flooded by an entirely new sort of pride and affection, something fundamentally comforting and fulfilling and right -

Because Tony was being good for him.

Because Tony was good, and right now Steve understood exactly what that meant, and how rare and beautiful it was.

He slid his hands under Tony’s back, cuddling him close as he dropped to kiss him again, deliberately dragging his body against Tony, indulging in every inch of him. A very specific heat flushed up along Steve’s back, something that felt strangely familiar even though it was completely new - something Steve wanted more of. He kissed Tony deeper, forcing his mouth open, delighting in how easily Tony melted to meet him. And then he slowly pulled Tony’s bottom lip between his teeth-

 

Tony made a hot, barking gasp for air, his hips bucking sharply, his fingertips digging into Steve’s shoulders hard enough to leave a bruise. 

Tony likes that-

I like that Tony likes that-

More-



He buried his head into Tony’s neck, already anticipating the way Tony rolled his head to let him, sucking a fierce kiss to the tender skin at the hinge of his jaw-

“Jesus Steve,” Tony moaned, one hand grabbing at the back of Steve’s head, “ please, please let me-”

So, because he knew exactly what Tony wanted, Steve pushed himself up onto his arms, giving Tony enough room to start undressing him-

And oh, his hands were so fast and fluid, unlacing Steve’s tie and unbuttoning his shirt with those same clever, delicate movements that he used in his lab. Those same perfect, talented hands that Steve had stolen so many glances at, now running over the contours of his chest…

Steve finished shrugging out of his shirt before he started undressing Tony, dropping to kiss each new inch of exposed skin. He traced his fingers along the edge of the arc reactor, taking careful note of the way Tony shivered, as though that was especially sensitive… And then he very deliberately shifted, so that he could carry on trailing kisses over Tony’s stomach. 

Tony gasped, and arched up into him, his hands caressing affectionately over Steve’s neck as Steve moved further down his body. 

“You’re beautiful, you know,” Steve murmured, lifting his head to unfasten Tony’s belt. “Perfect, absolutely perfect…”

“Steve…” Tony breathed, like a prayer, writhing up the bed as Steve tugged his pants and underwear down over his hips.

And Steve was thinking of stripping him completely - but now that he saw Tony’s cock pressed hard against his stomach, leaking against his skin, he just wanted to taste him-

 

“Oh Steve, Jesus fuck-” Tony barked, snapping his hips up as Steve slid his cock into his mouth. 

And, God, Steve could taste the smell of Tony’s skin, the heat of his blood, the excitement building in Tony’s hips-

It overwhelmed his senses completely. 

He sucked hard, pressing his tongue against Tony’s skin as he drew back slowly, savouring him-

“Oh God Steve, Jesus, you’re - oh -” Tony babbled, tugging at Steve’s hair, breaking down into a pleading whine as Steve rolled his tongue over the head of his cock. Steve could feel Tony’s heartbeat against his lips, racing ever faster as Steve dropped his head again, taking him right to the back of his throat. Steve could hear Tony moaning, his voice pulling higher and tighter as he worked himself off against Steve’s tongue. 

The pressure in Steve’s hips coiled tight, his cock throbbing in time with Tony’s movements, a strange, tingling pleasure gathering in his back-

But he wanted to feel Tony come, first.

He wanted to taste it.

So - having completely forgotten about pretending to breathe - Steve took Tony as deep as he could, letting his throat close around the head of Tony’s cock-

And then Tony tensed against him, a wonderful, low moan rolling through his chest before he came, hard, in Steve’s mouth.

 

Steve felt the tension break in his shoulders, a wave of glorious relief rolling up along his spine as he swallowed, hungrily - until he felt Tony fall back into the bed. 

When Steve lifted his head he was dizzy, his vision obscured by a shimmering veil of stars…

 

And then he blinked - and there was Tony. 

 

An awed gasp fell over Steve’s lips as he tried to take him in. He ran his eyes up over Tony’s beautiful body, lying so open and relaxed and displayed for him like this, the contours of his muscles sharpened under the soft blue of the arc reactor…

The hint of an amazed smile on those perfect, soft lips.

That thick, dark hair falling in mussed up curls around his head.

Those eyes-

For just a second, Steve was rendered still by just how ethereally lovely Tony looked-

 

And then Tony looked up at him-

And Steve just pounced .

 

He hadn’t known he was going to. There was just no delay between the impulse and the reaction anymore - literally nothing standing in between that overwhelming desperation and simply acting on it. 

He felt Tony fall into it, his lips parting against Steve’s, his entire body yielding to Steve’s motions, melting into his embrace-

... Submitting .

Even as Tony threw his arms around Steve’s neck, even though he pushed up into Steve with as much force as there was left in his sated limbs, still, Steve could feel that surrender. That Tony was giving himself completely, desperate to be consumed-

And it was right.

It was good .

Reluctantly breaking the kiss, Steve moved to yank Tony’s clothes all the way over his legs - Tony arching his back and kicking his feet to help him. And then he pushed Tony’s legs further apart and settled himself between them, pulling himself even closer to Tony as he dropped to claim his mouth again.

Steve could feel Tony’s heart beating.

He could feel the liquid heat of Tony's blood pulsing, right there under his hands-

And then he felt Tony roll his hips against him, sending a hot, grinding friction up along Steve’s back. 

Steve groaned against Tony’s mouth, his grip tightening sharply against Tony’s hips. Tony broke away to breathe more deeply, his chest heaving against Steve’s…

 

Steve let his eyes drop to the curve of Tony’s lips, swollen and damp and a darker shade of red, the memory of them instantly curling into a hunger for more…

He watched the shape of Tony’s mouth as he breathed Steve’s name, the heat of it ghosting over Steve’s skin-

And the only answer Steve had - the only world left in his head - came out awed, and quiet, and muffled against Tony’s lips as he kissed him again-

 

But he definitely said it.

 

“Mine.”



*

 

Yes

Please, yes

Yours

Only yours

 

Of course, Tony couldn’t say any of that - by then, Steve had curled one hand under Tony’s head, guiding him into that deep, devouring kiss. But he thought it, over and over again, as he parted his lips for Steve, grinding his body up against him-

Somewhere, he still thought he should have done this differently - that he should have finished undressing Steve first, that he should have done more at the start of this-

But it didn’t matter now.

Tony knew exactly where they were up to by now, exactly what Steve needed from him-

And Tony wanted that .

He wanted to be Steve’s . He wanted to just be this overwhelming love and desperation that he felt for Steve, and nothing else. 

Yours

I’m yours  

Only yours-

But, when Steve finally broke the kiss to let Tony breathe, those weren’t the words that came to him.

 

“Fuck me,” he begged instead, “ please , please Steve - oh -”

His words were swallowed up by a high gasp as Steve moved - so quickly - to push himself up again, gripped Tony by the hips and threw him onto his front.

A dull ache throbbed in his groin as his still sensitive cock made contact with the sheets, a confused urgency curling through the warm bliss in his muscles-

But it wasn’t even about any of that, anymore. 

It was Steve’s reactions Tony could feel now, Steve’s desperation that he understood and yearned to satisfy - it was Steve’s pleasure that he wanted.

Thinking only of that, Tony made a clumsy grab for the bedside cabinet, managing to knock the top drawer open a few inches - but that was enough for Steve to know. Tony let his body melt against the bed again as Steve leant over him and retrieved the bottle of lube, tossing it carelessly onto the sheets before he focused his attention on Tony again…

Tony could feel him looking. 

Instinctively, Tony parted his legs and shifted his weight to his knees, lifting his hips-

Offering himself up-

Presenting himself-

With absolutely no concept that this was all so unlike him. With no idea that anything about this could be anything other than good

And then he felt Steve’s palm against the inside of his thigh, stroking firmly over the curve of Tony’s ass, spreading him open-

And then the hot, electric drag of Steve’s thumb over his hole.

 

Tony’s cock throbbed hard again, the conflict in his body immediately dissolving into a pure and certain desire for more. He tried to beg, to plead, to whisper Steve’s name, but he was still trembling too much to do anything more than whimper. His shoulders tensed against an onslaught of sensation as Steve rolled his thumb over Tony’s rim, just a little rough-

And then a painful jolt of frantic need, as Steve leant away from him to grab the lube-

And then an almost unbearable coiling of anticipation in every muscle, as he listened to the little snick of the cap being unfastened, the metallic drag of a zipper, the wet sound of skin on skin-

Tony pushed himself up onto his knees, dropping his head, curling the sheets into his fists so hard that his knuckles turned white-

 

And then Steve pushed two fingers into him in one slow, smooth thrust, like he was trying to wring every imaginable pleasure out of him-

Tony felt that sharp, tightening feeling drag through his hips, and it took every ounce of effort not to come again immediately - an effort he only made because he wanted this feeling to last longer. This compulsive, needy pleasure that crawled through him as Steve twisted his fingers, that gloriously satisfying frustration that only grew as Steve began to move harder and faster inside him.

“Please, I’m ready, please-” Tony babbled-

Falling silent, the moment he felt Steve place his other palm against his shoulder. 

Shhh, ” Steve soothed in a rich, warm voice, “be patient.”

And Tony didn’t know why that was the single hottest sentence ever uttered by man - but it was. A low purr rolled through Tony’s chest as he relieved it, his body softening slightly, as though responding directly to Steve’s orders. When Steve pushed a third finger into him, Tony could feel that sensation spreading ever deeper though him, rushing to fill the gaps as he let himself fall open completely - revelling in feeling more vulnerable than he ever had in his life. He moaned shamelessly as Steve twisted his knuckles against his rim, writhing back against Steve’s hand.

 

He bit his lip as Steve pulled away from him, willing himself, be patient, be good.

 

Every nerve lit up as Steve pushed up close to him again, his hands caressing firmly over the curve of Tony’s ass as he spread him open.

Tony’s breath caught, as he felt the head of Steve’s cock push against his hole - and then left his lungs in a rush, as Steve finally pushed inside him.

Tony let go of a wanton, animal moan as Steve slowly filled him, a new wave of sensations sparking up along his spine with every inch. He felt the low hum of appreciation from Steve thrumming through his hips, a swell of giddy pride rolling after it. That wonderful ache began to break down in his muscles, an easier pleasure seeping through the cracks. And then at last Steve was buried inside him completely, the head of his cock pressing up against Tony’s prostate, one hand gripping Tony’s shoulder and the other kneading into Tony’s hip.

For just a moment, Tony felt as though he didn’t have a body at all. He was just floating in this state of constant, pulsing bliss, his head swimming in this thick, shimmering rightness

 

And then Steve thrust into him hard - and, oh God, Tony did have a body. Tony could suddenly feel every part of his body, every inch of him alive and sensitive and desperate for more of whatever the hell just happened-

But before Tony could even remember how to beg, Steve had grabbed him by the waist and thrust into him again, and again, quickly falling into a fast, brutal rhythm.

Tony screamed into the sheets, a long, low note that was cut into pieces by Steve’s movements. He could feel every thrust at the pit of his stomach, his whole body lighting up with white hot pleasure every time Steve hit that sweet spot inside him, the sensations crashing on top of one another too fast for Tony to keep up with.

He heard Steve growl, his balls tightening at the sound of it, wishing he had the capacity to beg Steve to do it again.

And then Steve’s arm slid under Tony’s chest, that intoxicating strength just radiating from him, making Tony feel wonderfully weak-

 

Before Steve just pulled Tony up onto his knees, as though he was weightless. 

 

There was a giddy dip in his stomach, like he was free falling, a rush that heightened every other feeling as it was consumed by them. And then a spike of pleasure that bordered on pain, as Steve forced Tony's body down onto his cock, somehow burying himself even deeper inside him. Tony choked out a sob as the constant sensation of Steve grinding against his prostate began to burn inside him, pushing him right up against his limit, holding him there

 

And then Tony felt his head fall back against Steve’s chest, his chin tilting away from him - baring his neck. He didn’t know why he was doing it at first. He didn’t even know that he was doing it, at first. But as soon as he felt Steve’s lips brush against his throat, he was suddenly so very, very sure-

He wanted Steve to bite him. 

More than that.

He wanted Steve to sink his teeth into his throat, he wanted Steve to tear his skin. 

He didn’t even ask himself where the idea had come from - somewhere, he assumed it was perfectly natural, that it was obviously what happened now.

He could picture it.

And he would have asked for it, if he could. He was desperate to ask for it, trying so hard to control his breathing enough to beg for it, helplessly offering his neck in the hopes that Steve would just-

 

But then he felt Steve kiss his throat - and it was enough to break him. 

 

Tony’s vision flashed white as he came hard against his stomach, his lips parted in a silent scream. Every muscle tensed against that sharp, visceral pleasure - twisting hot again as Steve thrust into him, still fucking him as he carried on coming, and coming…

And then he felt Steve brace against him, growling into the crook of Tony’s neck as he came inside him - and with that, Tony felt the most overwhelming wave of relief, crashing through his body with enough force to knock his bones loose. His limbs all relaxed at once, a surge of warm, watery bliss flooding through them. 

Tony collapsed back against Steve’s chest, just trusting that Steve could catch him - which, of course, he did. 

And then Steve pulled his arms around Tony, strong and solid and safe, and heavy with satisfaction… and it was all so perfect that Tony could have cried, if he weren’t too busy gulping for air. 

For a moment, there was only this. 

Tony didn’t have a name or a job or an identity. He didn’t come from a town in a country on a planet. There was nothing outside of this embrace. The world didn’t exist. There was only him, and Steve, and this wonderful, wordless bond between them.

And then Tony felt himself murmur something - a nonsense string of sounds that he might’ve been working on for a while. Still not thinking beyond the moment, he simply swallowed hard and tried to think what he was saying, whether he might be able to manage it now…

 

...Bite me. 

I was going to say, ‘please, bite me’.

 

...wait, what?

 

Tony frowned. 

It wasn’t so much that the idea was weird , as yet - nothing could seem weird to him, for as long as the real world didn’t exist…

...But he wouldn’t have known how to explain that, if he had said it out loud. 

 

And then he felt Steve shift against him, and he remembered that he didn’t care

 

“C’mere,” Steve smiled against his skin, his voice all warm and sleepy… that dreamy grin floated over Tony’s face again, as he let Steve gather him up in his arms and lie him down on the bed. A dull comfort began to throb in Tony’s lower back as the mattress took his weight, spreading out though his limbs as Steve laid down beside him. And then he turned to Steve, intending to say...well, something-

“Oh,” he breathed instead, getting caught in that beautiful, ocean blue gaze for a second, before his eyes drifted to Steve’s perfect, pretty lips...and that flawless, strong chest, and those impossible, solid arms, and that wonderful, liquid smooth skin… “Oh, you’re…”

 

But before he could find words enough, Steve had leaned in and kissed him again - sweet, and soft and tender now, almost smiling against Tony’s lips. Tony softened into it, a feeling of love and affection closing around him like a warm blanket, memories of tonight already beginning to whisper to him….

 

Mine.



Chapter Text

Steve woke up - or, really, ‘regained consciousness’ - a few hours later, feeling slightly disoriented and thirsty… and sticky… Blinking against the artificial light in the room, he finally recognised that he wasn’t in his own bed... That he didn’t know this place... 

And then, just as he was beginning to ask himself what happened, he felt the slightest little shift on the mattress beside him - and he remembered.

Tony.

He was in bed with Tony.

 

Steve’s body tensed in shock, as the whole story came back to him in one rush of images.

The feral fury that overwhelmed him, right before he punched a photographer.

The strange trance that he fell into afterwards - the hypnotic effect it had on the people around him.

The all-consuming high of having Tony pressed against his chest…

 

Steve was caught off guard by the pleasantly uncomfortable heat that curled under his skin. A sheepish little smile began tugging at the corners of his lips, as a whole other raft of memories came back to him-

And then a generic pull of anxiety, and a shapeless feeling that he shouldn’t be thinking that way…

 

You don’t even know what last night meant, so don’t get carried away with it.

You should probably be worrying about everything else that happened last night.

Or, you should be worried about this morning, and what the hell you’re going to say to him.

Oh...this is all going to be so messy...

This is going to have so many consequences…

This is all going to hit you, any second now...

 

...But all of this did feel decidedly human, at least.

 

Steve could still recall the stranger impulses with alarming clarity - but he didn’t actually feel them any more. However intense and tumultuous his feelings right now, they were undeniably different to whatever happened to him last night. This was, as Tony might say, Steve’s regular brain working in the real world…

And, okay, Steve’s regular, everyday brain was beginning to panic, slightly…

And, worse still, he was maybe starting to feel a stirring of genuine hope…

And an increasing amount of confusion, as he tried to keep track of which part he was fretting over, in any given second…

 

But all of that felt reassuringly normal, when Steve compared it to the night before.

 

Which really meant that Steve should start thinking about what had happened. He knew he should. 

However huge and noisy and impossible it all seemed, Steve knew he could think about it now - that he had a capacity for rational thought and a control over his reactions that had simply been beyond him last night… A capacity and control that he might lose again at any time, apparently.

So, obviously, he should make use of this moment of clarity. He should be sensible, simply because it was an option. 

He should want to think about all of the crazy things that had just happened to him. 

He really should be more concerned by the issue of… well, having gone feral

 

...But then, there was Tony... lying right there...

 

Steve felt that giddiness in his stomach break out into full on butterflies, as he tilted his head as carefully as he could-

And then a warm surge of pure affection, when he saw Tony sleeping peacefully beside him. 

And yes, it was immediate and physical and overpowering - but it wasn’t strange or supernatural, like it was last night. This was an entirely understandable reaction. This was just because Tony was so impossibly beautiful, because Steve was amazed and excited to actually be in bed with him…

 

...Because Steve was in love with him.

 

...Wait, is that right?

When did that happen?

How did that happen?

 

...But he was.

Obviously, he was.

 

...Shit.

 

Steve looked away again, and screwed his eyes shut, wishing he could will himself out of existence for just a moment-

Just long enough to work out what the hell was going on.

 

He knew, really, this was all part of the one big clusterfuck - that these strange new impulses were part of what made the...thing, with Tony, so complicated. That he wouldn’t be nearly as worried about these new impulses, if it weren’t for Tony-

He wasn’t entirely sure if he’d even have these impulses, if it weren’t for Tony. 

So, there was no way to separate the nicer parts of last night from the scary parts - and, even if there was, it should really be the scary parts that Steve dealt with first-

 

But he wanted to think about Tony. 

 

He still felt as though he could just think about Tony - as though it was an isolated issue, separate from all the existential panics that he didn’t want to have...

 

In fact, his impulse to think about Tony was so human - it was an impulse to think of it in an entirely human way. 

All the questions Steve wanted to ask himself, all the what if’s that came to mind, all the hopes and fears and bashful excitement… As though he was still some scrawny kid in Brooklyn, waking up next to his crush. 

As though any of that even applied anymore.

He was quite possibly turning into an actual monster, with an undeniably inhuman draw to Tony Stark and an apparently supernatural power that only manifested in Tony’s presence-

And yet Steve was lying here wondering if he’d made a complete ass of himself last night, and asking himself if Tony liked him, and what could possibly happen between them-

Like any of this is the point?

 

And Steve knew this wasn’t the point. Or, at least, that this was all part of a much larger point-

But Steve couldn’t get his head around the larger point.

And the larger point was frightening and confusing and horrible.

...And Steve had just worked out that he was in love with Tony Stark, who was still lying in bed with him, and it just seemed so much easier to think about that-

 

Until Tony stirred again.

Then it became a daunting and terrifying prospect.

 

Oh, God, I have no idea what to say-

I don’t even know what I want to say-

 

And then Tony blinked himself awake, an adorable little pout softening on his lips as he stretched out of his sleeping position-

And then a distinct sharpening of his expression, as he registered that he was in bed with Steve.

 

Steve froze again, like a cornered animal. He willed himself to think something, anything, but there was only that static-electric panic in his head. 

He couldn’t do anything but watch as Tony’s reactions played out in front of him - his own responses simply pulled along with them. 

A slightly embarrassed pulse of hope, when he saw Tony run his eyes over his chest - and smile.

A confused nervousness, as Tony shook his head and dropped his gaze, hesitant or shy or... defensive, maybe…

A little dip of disappointment, as he watched Tony take a steadying breath - like he was building himself up

 

...A rapidly increasing, still shapeless determination. A feeling that he wanted something, that he was prepared to fight for something, to do anything for that something… even if he hadn’t quite worked out what it was, yet. 

 

After a few seconds, Tony seemed to settle somewhere between amazed and wary - so, Steve did the same. And then, a pretty blush colouring his cheeks, Tony managed to meet Steve’s eye again, and muttered quietly,

“Hi.”

“Morning,” Steve mumbled back, fighting a smile that was mostly nervousness. 

“Is it?” Tony frowned, glancing up at the widows. They were still blacked out using that fancy holographic effect that Steve probably had on his floor, but never used.

“I’ve no idea, actually,” Steve admitted.

“JARVIS, what time is it?” Tony asked at a slightly higher volume.

“Three forty two, am, Sir,” JARVIS replied politely - and Steve jumped. 

“Still not used to that?” Tony enquired, with a playful edge on his voice that struck Steve as somewhat hopeful-

If only he could’ve thought of something interesting to say back.

“Well, it hits kind of different... here,” was the best he could come up with - and he knew  immediately that he’d gotten it wrong, that he’d drawn attention to the situation in the most awkward possible way…

Sure enough, the warmth vanished from Tony’s expression, leaving that touchy uncertainty in its place-

And Steve lost patience with himself.

“Do you regret it?” He asked, sadly. Even though he was scared to death of the answer. Even though he was vaguely ashamed to have asked.

Because he just couldn’t stand waiting for it. 

And he was cautiously reassured by the way Tony’s eyes widened in bewilderment. That was something, he supposed. 

“No, of course I don’t regret it,” Tony promised, giving his head a little shake of disbelief… But still, there was something he was holding back, Steve could see it. 

“...But you don’t want it to happen again?” He guessed. 

Tony breathed a little laugh, and pitched his lips together, and dropped his eyes.

“...No, I do,” he confessed, shyly. 

 

Steve felt himself break out into a grin, his thoughts briefly overwhelmed by a burst of bright, shiny happiness-

Which he just about managed to swallow before Tony could look up at him.

 

“...I just - I don’t really know what I think is going to happen now…” Tony struggled on, the blush darkening as he forced himself to maintain eye contact. “And really, that just means I never thought I’d actually be in this situation - I’ve never even asked myself if… this could work, or what it would look like…”

 

Steve had, by now, completely forgotten about the bigger picture. 

He was gripped by the same focusing adrenaline that he might’ve felt if he’d been walking a tightrope-

If he could just get through this conversation without Tony telling him no-

If he could just keep hold of this very cautious maybe-

If he could just keep the possibility of something alive after this-

 

That would mean he had a chance.

 

“If you wish last night hadn’t happened and you think it should never happen again, now would be a really good time to say, by the way,” Tony added, timidly-

No.”

...Oh, that was a bit fast.

Steve saw the way Tony’s eyes snapped up, that he’d clearly noted how enthusiastically Steve answered that…

“No, I don’t regret it,” Steve carried on, more cautiously. “And, I mean… To be honest, I’d never really imagined myself… well, being in any sort of relationship, really… I’ve never really asked myself about any of this, at all. But, I mean… I don’t not want that to happen again…”

...Smooth, Rogers. Real smooth. 

Thankfully, Tony breathed another good natured smile...

And then he sort of gathered himself up, like he was trying to brace himself.

 

“The thing is…” Tony began, sounding a little strained now. “I don’t want to hurt you.”

“Tony-”

“No, I know, that probably sounds really arrogant,” Tony cut him off with a wince. “And I don’t think I’m going to break your heart or anything - I don’t think I’m that important. I just mean… I mean, we work together, and we actually get on these days, and… I do like you… But none of that means we really know each other,” he sighed, resignedly. “You don’t know what a nightmare I am, for a start. You don’t know how bad I am in relationships of any kind, how many bad habits and character flaws I have-”

Tony-” Steve tried more forcefully to interrupt him - but Tony was determined to get to the end of this point.

“-I just don’t want to ruin what we have, and end up disappointing someone I actually like, when I don’t really have anything to offer you,” he said, more pointedly. “When I know that everything is so hard for you right now, and you’ve been through so much, and I don’t have any answers and… I just don’t want to be something that makes it all more complicated and… worse. That’s all.”

 

And, little did Tony know, he did have the power to break Steve’s heart-

Steve’s heart was breaking right now.

He was momentarily so overcome with hurt that Tony would think that way, and guilt that he’d ever played into it, and a pained desperation to make it right, that he forgot all the reassurances he was trying to make. 

And, oh, how Steve wanted to tell Tony all the things he loved about him, all the reasons he’d be lucky to have him, how proud he’d be if he could call Tony his-

But Steve was still on that tightrope.

He was terrified that any move he made would send the whole thing crashing down around him - and painfully aware that he couldn’t stay still. 

He couldn’t do anything too sudden or dramatic.

He couldn’t risk fucking it up.

 

So, he steadied himself, and proceeded very, very carefully...

 

“Well, I’m not sure of all that much, these days - but I’m pretty sure that sleeping with you won’t make my life worse,” he smiled awkwardly, feeling as though he’d taken another step towards land when Tony smiled back. “And, I mean, I don’t want to ruin what we have either - because I like what we have. I like the time I spend with you… and I’m not expecting anything more than that. But, you know, honestly… I have spent most of that time with you thinking I’d like to sleep with you…” And Tony broke out in a grin when Steve said that, which felt like a big step in the right direction. “So, you know, from my point of view, it wouldn’t be a bad thing if we actually did it…”

...Wow, I am so bad at this.

And, to make matters worse, he really couldn’t read Tony’s reaction. Steve felt like he could find every emotion, from elation to visceral discomfort, if he looked from a subtly different angle…

And then he saw Tony bite his bottom lip, and was briefly distracted by how much he wanted to kiss him again…

 

“I, uh… I don’t really know if I did the right things, last night…” Tony whispered, softly. 

 

Steve felt his stomach knot sharply - and the immediate, simple impulse-

Oh, do we have to talk about that?

Couldn’t this just be about the fact that I like you, and maybe you like me, and that maybe we could do this again?

And Steve knew, just as quickly, that of course they had to talk about that. He really did try to do the right thing - to check himself, to think about how to be mature and realistic and fair…

He just couldn’t help how much he wanted things to be a certain way.

He didn’t even know that he was convincing himself - he really thought he was being honest, and balanced, when he began to shape those events...

 

“You know, to begin with - none of last night was your fault. You were amazing last night - I mean, even before…” And he had to pause while Tony snorted a surprised little giggle “...But I mean it, I don’t know what I would’ve done without you to deal with… everything… last night…”

 

And he knew Tony deserved an explanation - he meant to give Tony an explanation.

He knew this was serious - he thought he was taking it seriously.

He knew that something strange and unknown was happening to him, and that he had to deal with it, however inconvenient that was.

He really thought he’d accepted that.

...But there was still a part of Steve that was only human. 

A part of him that was still so lost and lonely in this new world, so worn down by all these trials and traumas, so desperate for any chance of happiness-

And so in love with Tony-

And so thrown by that revelation-

And, really, if he thought about it logically, it was true that-

 

“...I don’t really know what last night was about. I know it feels weird, and it really doesn’t feel like just, a trauma reaction, or whatever… But I guess I wouldn’t know,” he mused. “But I do know that, whatever the reason, I did just snap last night - and I know I can’t just do that, and I’m sorry for it, and I know I have to figure all that out… But, for what it’s worth, none of that is on you…” He saw Tony look up at him, a questioning expression on his brow - and Steve cringed in acknowledgement. “And I know I said it was all just a reaction to you… And, actually, I don’t even know if that’s true, really...” 

...Okay, he was aware that one was a bit of a stretch.

...He should probably pull back from outright lying.

“...But even if it was some sort of reaction to you - that’s irrational, and ridiculous, and that’s something for me to work out,” he clarified, carefully. “And it isn’t on you to deal with that at all - even though, like I say, you were amazing about everything... And none of that is anything to do with me liking you, or me wanting this. It’s not like I only wanted you because of what happened last night - I meant all of that. I wanted you anyway…”

 

...And that was all true, wasn’t it?

 

And you can’t tell him about the vampire thing - that isn’t your choice to make

And you don’t know that it’s anything to do with that, anyway

And it’s not like you won’t have all that to deal with, whatever you decide now…

 

… And Tony seemed to be considering it

…Tony seemed to be convinced by it

It felt like being one shaky step from safety - the panic increasing as he edged ever nearer, the resolve building up in his shoulders as he prepared for the final leap.

 

“...but if… all of that puts you off, I wouldn’t blame you,” Steve sighed. “I mean, I can’t even tell you that it’s no big deal, because I don’t know that either. And I can’t tell you anything about it, until I work that out for myself. And if you’d rather not… get involved, in any of that-”

 

“No, Steve,” Tony smiled, warmly, reaching over to place a hand over his. “That’s not what I was saying, really. It doesn’t bother me. I mean, maybe that’s weird. Maybe it should bother me. But it doesn’t … I guess, really, I’m just making sure that it doesn’t bother you…” And then it was like he caught himself, a self-aware little smile pinching his lips before he shook his head, and sighed, “well, no, that’s not really true. Really, it’s just that last night was amazing, and I do want to do it again - and I just want someone else to tell me that I can. That’s the truth of it. I am worried that I’ll be bad for you. I’m worried that I’m jumping into the unknown, just because I want to… And really, I just want to be able to say I told you that, and you said it was okay.”

Tony surrendered that last line like some terrible confession, his body stiffening as though he was bracing for Steve’s reaction-

He clearly wasn’t expecting for Steve to be touched, even a little bit awed, by his honesty. 

 

Steve briefly considered telling him that.

Again, he thought about telling Tony that he loved him - that he already thought Tony was the best thing that had ever happened to him, that Tony deserved to like himself more than this…

But he was so close to getting through this now. He had his tiptoes on the ledge. 

He couldn’t risk misjudging things so spectacularly, right at the last moment. 

So, instead, he steeled himself, his chest aching with hope as he met Tony’s gaze and asked him,

“And now that you have said all that, and I am saying it’s okay…?”

 

Steve caught the flash of honest excitement and innocent joy in Tony’s expression, before he had a chance to cover himself. He could still see the shadow of it in the performative demeanor Tony adopted when he answered, in a mock nonchalant tone,

“Then I will defer to your judgement.”

Steve broke out into a giddy smile that he hoped looked less ridiculous than it felt. 

“Okay,” he whispered shyly, dropping his eyes. He heard Tony hum a smile in response, before he rolled onto his back-

 

And then huffed out a resigned little moan.

 

Steve glanced up and saw Tony peeling the pillowcase away from his shoulder, his forehead creased with harmless distaste. That same sheepish grin pulled at Steve’s lips again as he looked away… and saw his shirt, snagged on the corner of the bedside table…

Oh yeah… real life…

Clothes and… wet patches… and… things…

“Urg, I should shower,” Tony groaned, wearily, clearly coming to the same realisation Steve just had. And then, as he pushed himself up, he casually added, “you can stay, if you want to go back to sleep, or have a shower here, or whatever…”

The question blindsided Steve somewhat. 

It was such a mundane, functional consideration, for someone who’d just that second stepped out of fairyland-

Steve had sort of forgotten he had a room of his own. 

“Oh, thanks…” he yawned, thinking about the question as he answered. 

On the one hand - he didn’t want to leave. It really was possible to put it as simply as that. He liked being here. He liked being able to be here. He felt comfortable, and happy, and safe, for the first time in so long…

But. On the other hand.

He really didn’t want to push his luck. 

He didn’t want to risk outstaying his welcome.

He still wasn’t sure how to act, or what to say, or how to handle all the things he hadn’t thought about.

...And he was hungry.

Which was odd, actually, because Steve drank before he and Tony went out to the gala, and even at the most conservative estimate, that should’ve held him for at least a few days…

But now that he’d thought of it, the idea was going to nag. In fact, now that he’d recognised it, he seemed to be getting hungrier by the second-

 

“But, no, I should go back to my room and slip into something more comfortable,” he joked, gesturing to his formal jacket. Tony snorted a laugh, and then nodded an acknowledgement, fair enough

 

And then, like he’d just remembered that he was allowed to, Tony leaned over and kissed him very softly on the forehead. 

Steve’s stomach turned to water, his face falling into a dreamy expression that Tony must’ve seen, before he climbed off of the bed and walked into the bathroom-

But Steve could be embarrassed about that later. 

Later, he’d comb through every detail of the night and analyse every part of it and worry himself to death.

Later, he’d ask himself what the hell he thought he was doing, and panic when he didn’t know.  

 

Right now, for just a moment, for possibly the first time in his life, Steve was just happy. 

Just that.

 

*

 

Of course, there was never any chance of Tony going back to bed. In fact, by the time he got out of the shower, he was beginning to think that he’d never sleep again-

That there was no end to this list of overwhelming ideas, much less any chance to process them. 

His anxiety, and his hope, and his elation - and, most notably, his guilt - had grown steadily as he’d fully woken up, until he felt so much of everything that it was like not feeling at all. Like a tingling numbness he could feel on his skin, like a barrier between him and everything else…

Oddly...floaty…

 

He didn’t really think much about why he was getting dressed, or where he was going. He just sort of… followed his feet, simply letting this excess energy propel him forward-

Until he found himself standing in the elevator, looking out into his workshop.

“Good morning Sir,” JARVIS prompted, when Tony didn’t move. Tony semi shook himself to his senses - enough to step out of the elevator, at least.

“Uh, yeah, morning J,” he replied, sounding somewhat dazed. 

“And how are you feeling?” JARVIS enquired in a loaded tone-

And Tony winced to himself, for maybe the tenth time that morning, as yet another failing came back to him.

I didn’t even ask Steve how he was feeling before he left. I didn’t even check-

 

“Uh, yeah, how am I feeling…” Tony repeated, taking a few heavy, staggered steps in the direction of the couch. “Well, let’s see… I think I might be having the world’s happiest nervous breakdown…”

“...Would you care to elaborate on that?” JARVIS suggested, wryly.

“Well, so, for one thing… It turns out I’m in love with Steve Rogers. And, okay, I think I already knew that, but, I don’t know, that’s kind of just hit me… what with the fact that I slept with him last night, and all… And you know, I feel like that really would’ve been enough. Like, figuring out I’d fallen in love, and then the fact that I actually slept with the guy, would be enough for one day, you know?” He demanded of no one in particular. “I mean, let’s be honest - that’s enough of a head fuck… I don’t even know how he really feels about me, or what he wants from this, or what he needs - but I do know that I’m not good at relationships. I’m not good enough for him. I feel like I literally just had this conversation with myself, when I was accepting I would be no good for Pepper. So, already, there’s me, about to get carried away with a relationship that I’m not good enough for, that can only end up hurting this person that I’m actually in love with-”

“But this is, in fact, not the whole issue?” JARVIS reminded him, just as he started to spiral.

“...No, there's also this horrible, awful guilt I feel for not looking after him like I’m supposed to,” Tony smirked, joylessly. “I don’t even know where to begin with that…”

 

“As you are supposed to, Sir?”

 

“I know, right?” Tony snorted. “I just… I just have this feeling like… It’s my job to keep him safe, or happy, or… And I don’t know whether to panic because I’m not doing that, or panic because I know I’m not good enough to do that, or panic about the fact that I want to do that at all - because, obviously, that’s just weird…” And then he let go of a heavy sigh, his shoulders slumping in surrender as he conceded, “And I should have told him that. I should have told him all sorts of things, but I didn’t, because I just… really didn’t want to freak him out, and scare him off. That’s it.”

 

And with that, he threw his head back, and then covered his face with his hands, and groaned.

As had been happening all morning, a memory flashed up behind his eyes, without warning or permission - yet another image of himself, naked and pleading and offering himself up, overwhelmed by that pure, perfect desire to submit-

In one instant, Tony felt that curl of shame, that anxiety about how it must’ve looked in the cold light of day, that crisis of identity as he struggled to imagine himself doing it-

And, at the same time, the now familiar flush of heat, that compulsive, craving feeling - that odd sense of pride…

And, over the top of it all, the noisy fuzz of total confusion.

And you really should’ve told Steve about this-

 

Unthinkingly, Tony committed himself to those final few steps, and let himself fall into the couch as a deadweight. His legs throbbed in muted protest, and his eyes stung under the change in the light - but Tony couldn’t quite understand it as ‘tired’. 

‘Tired’ seemed so far away from where he was. 

“So, you are primarily concerned that you haven’t explained this impulse to Captain Rogers?” JARVIS clarified. “You are not primarily concerned with the impulse itself…?”

“I should be concerned with the impulse itself,” Tony acknowledged. “But… Honestly, I know that’s the weird part, but that’s the part that doesn’t bother me. That part feels perfectly natural. What actually bothers me is the part that I know is totally irrational. The thing that bothers me is that I’m not… taking care of him, right now. So, I don’t know. Maybe I’m just losing my mind…” he conceded, letting his head fall back into the couch cushions, his eyes drifting aimlessly over the workshop as he got carried away with his thoughts…

 

He wanted to tell himself that this must have something to do with Steve. That it was connected to that unspoken, inhuman power Steve had wielded over Wesley and Nick - or at least, that it must be related to the strange mood Steve had fallen into, while Tony was falling into...this. 

...But Tony wasn’t sure of any of that, now. 

He couldn’t be completely confident that anything inhuman or supernatural had ever happened around Steve - or if Tony had just been having this irrational reaction to him, all along. If, maybe, Nick and Wesley had just been intimidated by Steve in a perfectly normal, human way. If Steve had simply lost his temper last night, or snapped under the pressure, as any person might.

Maybe Tony was seeing things that weren’t really there.

If he could find himself genuinely trying to beg Steve to bite him-

If he was struggling to function over the desperate urge to go to Steve and… bundle him in blankets, or something...

Maybe he was going crazy.

Maybe all of this was just a symptom of Tony’s madness, rather than anything to do with Steve-

 

And then his eyes happened to fall on one of the many boxes scattered around the workshop - and, like a rescue light in a storm, it occurred to him-

That doesn’t explain my dad, though.

 

His investigation into his fathers past had drifted down his list of priorities, recently. Probably because, if he was honest, he was only ever using it as a way to feel close to Steve - his interest had waned in direct proportion to how much time he and Steve spent together in real life. 

But he found he was interested again now…

That one idea started to grow into the beginnings of a theory - and Tony grabbed for it with all the desperation of a drowning man.

Something he could lay out and consider scientifically. Objectively.

Something, anything, he could use as a starting point.

Some possible foundation for a train of thought. 

 

A relieved smile melted over Tony’s lips, as the ideas fell into line - the clutter falling away as he tidied it all into boxes…

Invariable number one - he loved Steve, and he wanted to be with Steve, and he wanted to make Steve happy. Tony was, for whatever reason, entirely sure that all of that was genuine, and reasonable, and real. And, okay, he didn’t know if he could actually have any of that, or what it would look like, but he knew he couldn’t even begin to think about it until he’d answered-

Question number one: Was he going mad? Was this urge to submit to or care for or even be bitten by Steve anything more than his own personal issue - was it really anything to do with Steve at all?

...Was it real?

...What did it mean?

If he could only work that out, then everything else would make sense. 

If he was just going crazy - or had fallen victim to some entirely separate curse, let’s not show research bias - but if these urges were just a symptom of something going on with him… then fine. He would deal with that, and then ask how he could possibly deal with being in love with Steve

But if there was something else to it - if this impulse came from somewhere, if it was something to do with Steve… If it was real…

Well, Tony wouldn’t know what to do about that until he knew what the answers were, now would he?

 

...But he did have an idea of where to start investigating.

 

He knew that he’d always thought there was something strange - something eerie - about his father’s relationship with Steve. He’d had that idea long before he’d fallen in love with Steve; before he’d even met him. 

His fathers notes couldn’t be influenced by Tony’s feelings for Steve. 

If there was some objective proof - even some corroborating evidence - that Tony’s dad had experienced, or witnessed, some power of Steve’s… even if it was different to how Tony experienced it… if there was a secondary source to back any of this up…

That would be something... wouldn’t it?

...Of course, Tony couldn’t prove a negative.

It wouldn’t help him, if he just didn’t find anything...

...But if he could just find something, some clue as to where to start

...If he could find an explanation for his father’s behaviour, even if it wasn’t anything supernatural, even if it wasn’t anything to do with Steve-

 

It would still be more information that he had right now. 

It might fill in some of the gaps-

 

...Tony didn’t know what else to do. 

 

Buoyed by his new sense of purpose - and deliberately leaning into that certainty - Tony braced to stand up from the couch, already thinking about where he’d filed his father’s old research books-

 

“But you would characterise this as a happy moment of upheaval?” JARVIS asked.

Tony paused mid motion, blinking as he repeated the question to himself

...Oh yeah, that conversation he’d been right in the middle of.

“Oh, well, yeah…” he replied-

And, oddly enough, it was the exact same image that flashed up in his mind. Him, naked and pleading and offering himself up… Steve, stroking his hands over Tony’s skin… Strong, and commanding, and kind…

“Yeah, I am - as well as being a nervous wreck, and wracked with guilt - so very happy,” Tony sighed. “And I just spent the most amazing night of my life with the most wonderful man who I am hopelessly in love with, and I think that he might actually kind of like me…”

And all of that was entirely true. 

Tony was happy. 

He was blissfully, deliriously happy-

It was just that he wasn’t just happy.

It was that the guilt, and the confusion, were every bit as loud and as constant as the joy and the excitement - which made the whole thing one hell of a din, to be honest.

 

...you should talk to Steve about this.

You know you should.

 

Tony winced again - but this time it was because he was picturing what would happen if he did tell him…

He couldn’t even think how he’d word it. 

 

...But you already decided that it was your own business, if you were just researching your own dad

...And it couldn’t hurt to have more idea what you’re talking about, when you do get to explaining this

...And who knows, you might find an answer that saves you a really awkward, redundant conversation

 

...And you just got him to maybe like you a little bit, and if you come out with all this hysterical nonsense right now-

 

And he just needed a starting point, a way to cut through the noise-

 

“JARVIS,” Tony announced, throwing himself onto his feet with pointed determination, “where did I put my dad’s old research file?”

 

Chapter Text

It hit him sometime in the middle of the afternoon.

 

By then, Tony had been in the workshop for nearly twelve hours, and had gone through fourteen box files, three folders full of project notes, nearly two hundred pages of meeting agendas and countless scraps of handwritten doodles. He had also, in that time, run through every possible human emotion at least twice, revisited every interaction he and Steve had ever had, and reconsidered basically everything he was ever sure of. 

And then, as he was emptying the contents of yet another box onto his work desk, wincing at how many unmarked pages there were in this one, it suddenly dawned on him-

 

But really, what the hell was he doing?

 

His limbs slumped into a heavy surrender, all the tension draining out of his body as he lost his resolve. As it turned out, his unhinged level of focus had been the only thing keeping the exhaustion at bay. Now, along with everything else, Tony was forced to confront the aching back and nagging headache that he’d apparently been ignoring for hours…

Eyes burning, he took a quick glance around the workshop. There were unsteady piles of papers stacked on every surface, upturned boxes thrown at random across the floor, holographic displays full of nonsensical observations layered ten deep on every wall-

If anyone walked in right now, they’d naturally assume he was in the middle of a breakdown…

 

And, with that, Tony remembered the very question he’d been trying to answer when he started all this. 

 

He sighed and fell into the chair behind him, simply letting the page he was holding slip out of his grip and onto the floor. 

It occurred to him that it was probably just as well that he was never really interested in ‘uncovering the truth about his dad’ - because in all this time, he’d still made no progress with it. He’d learned a lot of very mundane details about a few non-essential projects that his father worked on in the forties and fifties, and that was about it. 

...Thinking about it with a slightly clearer head, Tony realised what a ridiculous aim it had been in the first place. That he was obviously never going to find any answers with a search this unstructured.

There probably wasn’t an answer to an anxiety as vague and subjective as his fears about his father.

 

But that had never been the point, had it?

 

Now, it was only too clear that he’d just been grasping for some structure - some distraction, even - to help stave off a potential mental crisis…

To avoid the question of whether he was actually going mad.

 

Although, now that he was thinking about that question again… it didn’t seem like quite the imminent panic it had before…

 

Maybe it was just that he was tired. An uncharacteristically sluggish mental calculation told him that he’d probably had about three hours sleep in the last two days - and he must’ve walked at least twenty miles that afternoon in laps around the workshop. Maybe he just wasn’t awake enough to muster that overwhelming, existential dread anymore. 

Maybe he’d just run out of it. Maybe there was only so long a person could panic.

 

Or maybe, it was just that you got carried away in the first place, and now you’ve calmed the fuck down…

 

Tony let his head fall back, and closed his eyes against the sting of the ceiling lights. 

Objectively speaking, he should probably just give up on this and go to bed. Allow his exhaustion to draw a line under it for the time being, collapse into sleep while he had some chance of getting any, revisit all of this with a clear head.

Which meant, really, he should get up right now without giving it another thought. He should pointedly refuse to acknowledge the real issue, or plan what he was going to think about later, because he knew that would only lead to nagging worries about it now…

 

...But there was still that feeling that he’d started doing all of this for Steve. 

...And, okay, Tony could probably convince himself that it was probably all part of the same irrational panic. That he’d simply ‘gotten it into his head’ that this was important for Steve, that it was all an emotional delaying tactic, that it was just one of the things he’d have to think about when his head was clearer

...But to convince himself of that, he’d have to think about it.

 

...Damn it, he was thinking about it.

 

“JARVIS, put my room into Migraine mode and clear my calendar for the rest of the day,” He decided, somewhat irritably. 

“Yes, Sir,” JARVIS agreed. “Would you like me to alert Ms Potts or Colonel Rhodes?”

“Oh, no, no,” Tony shook his head - immediately alarmed at the idea. “No, I don’t actually have a migraine… I’m just making it very clear that I’m going to bed. I am going to decide what the problem actually is, and roughly where I think I’m up to right now - and that is it,” he resolved, talking to himself now. “I am just going to decide what I’m thinking about tomorrow, and then I am going to bed.

“Understood, Sir,” JARVIS replied softly, as though he knew that none of that was really for his benefit.

“Right,” Tony announced, determinedly.

 

...So, what was the problem?

 

Begrudgingly, Tony thought back to that morning, and the frightened conflict that had consumed him. 

The first thing that came back to him was the powerful, painful urge to look after Steve. The shameful anxiety that he felt, because he wasn’t doing that… The horrible dread that he couldn’t do that…

He remembered it clearly enough that it turned his stomach, like the emotional hangover that resurfaces whenever you think back to a nasty accident… But it wasn’t the same as being there.

And, with the slightest inch of relief, Tony realised that he didn’t feel it anymore…

Well…

Obviously, he did want to look after Steve, still…

It still upset him to think of Steve being hurt or lonely, and he did feel that little swell of pleasure when he imagined making Steve happy…

But that wasn’t the same thing.

 

...Was it?

 

...He hadn’t just had a total breakdown over a perfectly normal reaction to loving someone, had he?

Tony didn’t think so. He really didn’t think so… He remembered that urge this morning as a powerful, physical thing. He remembered it being unlike anything else he’d ever felt in his life…

 

...But then, he’d never been in love before. 

 

And, with a cooling feeling of disappointment, Tony noted that he was never likely to be very good with love. To have completely freaked out at the suggestion that he might have to care about someone, that he might have to commit something to a feeling like this, was embarrassingly on brand.

It would make so much sense, if it was just that he’d fallen in love and completely lost his mind for a moment…

If these feelings were only an expression of his own insecurities, an over the top reaction to a perfectly ordinary fear of intimacy or commitment… If it was just him worrying that he wasn’t good enough for this. 

That’s probably what any therapist would say. 

That’s probably what he would’ve thought, if he’d happened to live a different life and never learned anything about aliens or gods or the limitless possibilities of the universe… If he’d been some anonymous businessman with an undistinguished career and no interesting stories, it never would’ve occurred to him that this was something ‘weird’. He never would have asked himself if there was something deep and meaningful about his strange impulses this morning…

 

So, maybe there wasn’t anything deep and meaningful about them. At least, nothing more deep and meaningful than love itself.

And maybe it wasn’t that he was going mad - maybe he’d simply been affected by the life he’d led, aware of different anxieties because of it… that wasn’t the same as going mad…

 

And Tony really didn’t want there to be some ominous, shadowy reality behind this-

And he certainly didn’t want to think he was going crazy.

He didn’t want to deal with any of it - he wanted it to all just go away…

Well… that part of things, at least.

And there was a natural instinct to assume his own sanity, a feeling that there must be a sensible answer if only he could find it…

Being oversensitive and bad at love would do.

...That might even help to explain that weird...submissive reaction he had to Steve. Tony wasn’t sure how exactly… But it felt like the sort of thing a psychologist could string together for him.

Maybe that’s why he had picked up on Steve being protective of him-

And why he’d been so quick to assume an impossible explanation-

 

But, just as Tony was about to completely commit to the comfort of that assertion, he glanced up at the workshop again.

...Although maybe this level of mania suggests a problem regardless

...And there is still the thing with my dad. Even if that’s not really why I was interested, I know it was a thing

...And I know Nick, and Wesley, felt something in those moments. I know it wasn’t all in my head

...And I wanted him to bite me-

 

“Okay, that’s it. I’m going to bed,” he snapped out loud, standing up and slamming his hands down on the desk to punctate his point.

He’d not really decided that he’d reached his limit so much as simply found himself there. Whether it was right or wrong, it seemed that further analysis would just have to wait until he’d had some sleep.

 

And he would’ve turned and stormed out of the workshop there and then, without so much as a backwards glance…

Except that his eyes happened to catch on one of the items on his desk - a scrap of paper, yellowed with age, that had been hidden in the middle of one of the unsteady piles of correspondence, until Tony’s sudden movement sent it sliding into view…

 

A detailed charcoal sketch of a muscular, dark haired man - in what really looked like a lace baby doll.

 

Tony blinked at it twice, sure that whatever he thought he was looking at was about to turn back into something mundane...

But no…

An entirely different sort of curiosity stirred in Tony then. Something between shock and intrigue. A personal pang of uneasy amusement that led him to pick the paper up without thinking…

 

...And it clearly was exactly what Tony thought it was. Not only that it was actually a drawing of a beautiful man in lingerie, but it was obviously a certain type of drawing. This wasn’t a sketch someone had taken while they were designing the outfit, or keeping a record of this image, or even as an artistic portrait… This has been sketched with attention to certain details, with the intent of drawing the eye a certain way…

So, on top of everything else, I think I might’ve just found some specialist gay erotica in my father’s old work files.

 

Tony almost laughed.

 

He found himself turning the paper over - immediately recognising his fathers handwriting on the back.

 

Ahreddan, Mortal Blessing, c1770

 

Tony’s brow pinched into a frown. The strangest thoughts cropped up, randomly, in his head,

So, is this guy's name ‘Ahreddan’ or ‘Mortal Blessing’?

That would be an awful porn star name

Maybe Ahreddan isn’t a name-

Why would my dad have erotica from the Eighteenth Century?

Wouldn’t it be easier to find other stuff, even back then?

Well, unless that was the kink-

Arg, wait, no.

No, no, no.

What the fuck am I thinking?

 

Blushing, Tony slammed the picture down onto the desk and dropped his eyes. 

He really couldn’t start an entirely unrelated enquiry into his fathers personal life, right now-

And, more to the point, he really could not start musing about what his fathers kinks might have been. Ever.

This was unrelated, and uncomfortable, and none of his business - and, more to the point, he was going to bed.

With a sharp intake of breath he turned away from the chaos in his workshop, shutting the lights down with a wave of his hand as he strode wearily to the elevator 

 

...Leaving the sketch right there, in the middle of the desk.

 

*

 

Steve froze, every muscle coiled tight anticipation, as he tracked that ominous creaking sound through the ceiling above him…

But no.

This time the structural integrity of the room held up, the reinforced steel groaning back into its natural state as the wild swinging of the punching bag began to slow. 

Steve resolved to wait until it had come to a complete stop before he risked starting up again-

Because you will break something, if you carry on like this-

 

Steve closed that voice down with an irritated huff, already stretching out his shoulders again. 

Steve was never the sort to try and bury his internal conflict under other projects and investigations. He was never in the habit of trying to unassemble and over-analyse and rationalise the thoughts that frightened him-

Steve’s tactic of choice had always been to not think about it at all. 

 

And he’d had a middling level of success with this, earlier in the day. Still high on the elation of having actually fucked Tony Stark - and still so focused on his simple desire to keep that possibility alive - he’d found it easier to force himself back to the assertion that everything was going to be fine. For a few hours, he’d managed to basically keep that nagging apprehension at bay by putting all of his physical anxiety into his workout, and all of his mental energy into that simple averment-

He didn’t say no, it’s better than nothing, it’s going to be fine.

 

But that anxiety kept nagging at him - and, after a while, it had started to speak. 

You’re keeping secrets from him

You’re lying to him

You can’t have a relationship with him like this

You’re letting him down

You were supposed to bite him-

 

It was getting harder and harder to silence that little voice each time - but that didn’t mean Steve wasn’t still trying. 

Rather than acknowledge the fact that he kept breaking things today, or asking himself why he still had all this painful energy, Steve simply fell back into stance and started throwing punches again. 

 

You let him think the thing with Wesley was something else. You let him think he might be imagining it-

Steve grit his teeth harder, and threw a punch so hard that it stung his knuckles

He was trying to tell you that he wasn’t sure about this. You tried to convince him that he was.

Steve silenced the thought with another blow, rattling the support frame again.

You weren’t completely human this morning - you’re not completely human now. Just because you weren’t in a feral rage by that point, doesn’t mean any of this is normal. Nothing is ever going to be normal again-

Steve hit the bag even harder, with a force he could feel reverberating up his arm. And then again, and then again-

You promised him a casual relationship. You said you didn’t want any more from him than what you have - and that’s a lie-

 

There was a sharp shriek of tortured metal as the punching bag snapped free of it’s chains, and then a dull crash as it hit the wall opposite him.

Steve’s body softened, defeated.

 

Well, that was inevitable.

 

He sighed, already looking over at the stack of spares that was always waiting for him in the corner of the gym. He knew he should just walk over and get one. That he should move right onto the next thing, think only of the next thing, try to keep himself in the moment…

 

Oh… But that last thought had snagged on something.

 

Maybe it was because that was the most human of his concerns. It was a conflict he understood only too well, even if he didn’t want to think about it-

It was harder to stop himself, when he couldn’t assure himself that he was making it up or misinterpreting it or that there was simply no way to deal with it…

This wasn’t something he could sweep under the rug with a blunt ‘there’s no way to know what’s going on’.

Because, with that one, Steve did know what was going on - the man he was in love with had said he didn’t want a serious relationship, and Steve had been so desperate for any sort of relationship that he’d agreed to it. Championed for it, in fact. 

That was a romantic conundrum as old as the ages… and it was only too easy to think where it was going to end up.

 

Out of nowhere, Steve found himself thinking of all sorts of scenarios where his new relationship with Tony would simply be a barrier…

If he ever walked in on Tony when he was crying, or unwell, or insecure.

If he wanted to do something thoughtful, or even romantic, for Tony

If he wanted to ask Tony to go with him to an event, or if he had any advice on a personal problem, or if he just wanted a hug-

Steve might have been able to do any of those things, yesterday. He might have been able to build up to them, at least. Those things might’ve been stepping stones to actually getting closer to Tony, who knew, maybe even the relationship that Steve really wanted-

Except now, he’d have to worry that any one of those things would complicate everything. Now, doing any one of those things might look like he wasn’t following the rules - like he was trying to turn the relationship into something else, something he’d promised Tony it didn’t have to be. 

 

Because you do want to turn it into-

Although you know it can never turn into-

And if he really doesn’t want a relationship like that, would you really rather have nothing than-

And you’re not good enough for him anyway - you’re already lying to him and manipulating him and-

 

Steve groaned out loud at himself, clenching his fists hard at his sides. And then he forced himself to walk over and snatch another punching bag up from the stockpile - still trying to convince himself that he could outrun this…

 

Until when though?

 

Steve tried to ignore the question. 

He tried throwing out random suggestions that he wasn’t going to examine, hoping to convince himself that there was an answer out there somewhere - that it would be fine.

Maybe you’ll feel better when you work off this adrenaline

Maybe it’s just because you were so hungry this morning, that you’ve had more of the supplement than you usually would

Maybe you just need a little while to get used to this idea

Maybe when you’re in a better mood

 

...Unfortunately, even without examining them, he knew none of those explanations were any good.

That he wasn’t going to work off this excess adrenaline - that the real question was where it was all coming from.

That, even if the amount he drank this morning was affecting him, he still didn’t know why he’d been so hungry… Or why it didn’t taste the same, anymore. 

Somewhere, he knew he was never going to get used to this idea unless he thought about it. 

He knew that this was the source of his bad mood.

 

Really, Steve already knew that he would have to think about all of this at some point… But the very idea of opening that wound, and all the things that might come spilling out of it, and how messy it would be, and how much it could possibly cost him-

 

He shook his head again, and began attaching the new punching bag. 

 

The sound of approaching footsteps caught Steve’s attention before he could spiral again. He looked up at the door of the gym, thinking that this might be actually be a welcome distraction-

Until Nick Fury strolled in. 

 

Steve’s shoulders bunched with an irritated sort of weariness - a vague idea that he was too bothered right now to be bothered with anything…

But he was very practised with containing his inner turmoil in official situations. He even had a specific routine he could fall into for Fury. 

 

“Do we have a situation?” Steve asked automatically, as he stepped away from the punching bag.

“There’s always a situation happening somewhere,” Nick breezed, confidently walking over to where Steve was standing.

“Do I have to ask you for the details?” Steve huffed, trying not to grit his teeth - faintly aware that he was finding it harder than usual to maintain his professional demeanor, but simply putting it down to the mood he was in.

“Well, as a matter of fact, we don’t have many of the details, as yet,” Nick smiled. “Which is where you come in.”

Steve fixed Nick with an impatient expression and gave a performative sigh. He’d always hated the dramatic, round-about way Nick explained everything - as though he were setting up a funny anecdote, rather than making use of people's valuable time. 

And Steve really didn’t have the nerves for it, today. 

 

He saw Nick’s face shift into the superior expression of a parent who was about to humour an irritable toddler. Which irritated Steve even more. 

“A US Air Force plane was ‘lost’ somewhere over Germany,” Nick explained. “Everyone assumed a technical issue or maybe a crash - then, when we found no evidence of that, we thought maybe we had an unfriendly agent on our hands…”

“But?” Steve prompted

“But we have no evidence of anything,” Nick shrugged. “No debris, no recent activity in the area. Nothing.”

“So… You want me to go to Germany to look for a plane?” Steve squinted at him, trying to ignore the prickling discomfort in his gut.

...He didn’t want to go to Germany.

...He didn’t want to go anywhere, right now. He wanted to be here. With Tony.

“They want you with the team that are investigating what happened to that plane,” Nick clarified, carelessly. “Seeing as we have no idea what we might be walking into, we felt it was best to send the best possible contingency.”

 

And Steve knew that was meant to be a complement - or, rather, a manipulative sop to his ego. A cheap ploy to flatter him into doing their dirty work for him-

That annoyed him,

And it annoyed him that SHIELD were happy to send him as a catch-all contingency. That they thought nothing of upending his life or even putting it at risk, without having any real idea what he was even going to do. That they didn’t need a good reason.

...But then, that had irritated Steve since the day he came out of the ice. 

At least this irritation was simple. 

 

“When’s the debrief?” He sighed, turning back to his punching bag.

“The team’s meeting in the conference room in an hour,” Nick replied, breezing right over the edge on Steve’s voice. “Agent Romanoff is going with you.”

Steve simply nodded, resigned.

 

And, maybe it had occurred to Steve, in some wordless way, that this wasn’t the way Nick had spoken to him the last time they talked. Part of him might’ve recognised a curiosity, trying so hard to stir, under all those layers of denial. But he was trying so hard not to think past the end of his nose that, if anything, Steve was actively looking away from that issue, determined to avoid it even for himself-

Except that Nick just couldn’t resist that last little comment.

 

“And maybe take it easy on the gym equipment, before Stark decides to bill you for it.”

 

Steve’s blood flashed hot at the very sound of Tony’s name, an instant, corporal reaction tensing every muscle in anger.

His eyes snapped up to Nicks with all the passion and power of an animal focusing on its prey-

 

And Nick flinched.

 

Steve recognized it immediately. He saw the shift from Nick’s every day demeanor to a basic panic mode. 

A lightbulb lit up in his head. 

Excuse me?” Steve demanded, in a cold, hard edged tone. And Nick was already subtly stepping away from him, dropping his eyes as he muttered,

“Yeah, sorry, ignore that…” 

“Ignore what?” Steve heard himself asking, his outrage running on autopilot while that enlightenment continued to unfold in his head.

 

He didn't think about it. If he'd thought about it, it would've become complicated and confusing - like everything else in his head. He'd have flinched away from it.

But, as it was, Steve just had this sense of something - something he’d only just worked out…

 

“Nothing, I’m - I’m sorry, that was a stupid thing to say, and I don’t know why I said it,” Nick stammered, already backing his way out of the room. “I’ll… I’ll tell the others you’re-”

“Hang on,” Steve ordered-

And, of course, Nick froze.

 

Steve considered him for a second, while that burst of inspiration articulated itself

 

Nick wasn’t scared of Steve - not in general, anyway. 

Even after Steve had terrified the living wits out of him once, Nick still felt no nervousness about strolling into the gym and talking down to him and ordering him about-

But the second it was about Tony

 

If this had been an attempt to think about the issue as a whole, Steve would have run from it.

If this idea had occurred to him as part of that jumble of anxious thoughts, he would have shut it down.

But coming as an isolated theory, an instant feeling that he was onto something… 

 

“What if I asked to see the records from Operation Rebirth?” He asked, deliberately softening his voice and adopting a less combative stance.

Nick blinked, still shifting uncomfortably under Steve’s gaze, his eyes darting back and forth as he scanned for a way out of this…

“What kind of records?” He queried, nervously.

“All of them.”

“Well…” Nick exhaled. “Obviously, a lot of those files are lost, and lots of them are highly classified… I don’t know how much there is for me to even request.”

Steve felt a strange little smile tug at the corner of his mouth.

Something about that felt very telling.

“I need to see everything,” Steve told him, his voice measured and calm. And then, after leaving a beat for emphasis, he added very pointedly, “it’s for Tony.”

And he saw Nick’s eyes widen.

 

There was a lift of enlightenment somewhere deep inside of Steve - a voice assuring him, Eureka! even without him having to process the revelation.

 

“...Why would it have anything to do with…?” Nick asked, that tremble already returning to his voice. Steve couldn’t help noticing that Nick was now afraid to even say Tony’s name. 

“That’s none of your business,” Steve informed him, taking a moment to enjoy the way Nick shrank back from him, before he explained again, “the point is, I need to see all of the records from Operation Rebirth - for Tony - and I’m asking you if you can do that for me.”

Nick swallowed hard, almost hovering on the spot, he was so tense. It took him three attempts to finally force the words out.

“Yeah, okay, I’ll see what I can.. Yeah, okay,” he nodded - 

And then actually looked to Steve as though he was waiting for permission to leave.

“Okay,” Steve nodded back, fighting an urge to smile as Nick scrambled from the room.

 

Well. That was all very interesting.

That made this strange, shapeless power feel like something more tangible...something that was making more and more sense, as he replayed that interaction in his mind-

As he recognised that he did have some sort of control over it - that somehow, he already understood it, and how it worked, and what it was for

...It's for Tony

 

Which would probably have been the thought that pulled him back into his anxiety, if it weren't for the other thought that stirred at the same time-

 

...And you might actually get your hands on some of the background detail now.

 

...Well. How about that.

 

To be honest, Steve had picked that request almost at random - because it was the first request he could think of that would work as a test. Something he was quite sure Nick would’ve refused under any other circumstances. Something that he could connect to Tony...

 

Of course, it was only now that Steve recognised why this could be connected to Tony. 

That it could actually be something he was doing ‘for Tony’... 

That maybe it was something he should do for Tony…

That, thinking about it, it was something he’d wanted to do for himself for a very long time. 

Something he thought he’d never get the chance to do - because, even if he had eventually followed that urge to learn more about himself, Steve never in a million years dreamed that SHIELD would give him the actual files…

 

...That might’ve been a bigger gesture than he’d intended, actually.

 

That might raise all sorts of new questions - like whether he should’ve already thought of doing this for Tony, and if it meant that he’d finally accepted this was a vampire thing, and if he was really ready to learn the details of his identity, and…

 

And, well, he’d done it now, hadn’t he?

And… It would be fine.

...He didn’t want to think about it.

 

Steve squeezed his eyes shut, and hit the punching bag again. 

 

Chapter Text

It was three days before Tony could face the chaos he’d left in the workshop - and even then, only because he’d run out of other ways to distract himself from thoughts of Steve.

 

Well, attempted to distract himself, he should say, because it wasn’t as though any of his recent busy work had actually taken his mind off Steve.

But then, Tony had never been one to give up on a personal coping technique just because it wasn’t working.

So, to that end, Tony had spent the last few days pestering Bruce for tasks he could help with, and taken an unnecessary interest in a few SI side projects, and actually turned up to the SHIELD meetings that he usually skipped…

Which had allowed him to daydream about Steve in laboratories, and offices, and conference rooms…

 

But there were no meetings Tony could gate-crash this afternoon - or, if there were, the exhausted SHIELD officials had decided not to tell him about them anymore. Bruce had very politely declined his offers of further assistance, and Pepper had just flat out told him to stop being weird. 

Eventually, in desperation, Tony had resigned himself to this most tedious and uncomfortable of chores-

Which had allowed him to think about Steve while sitting on the workshop floor, for a while. 

 

At least the task itself had become significantly less uncomfortable the further through it he got. When he first walked into the room Tony had suffered through the same curling of shameful remorse that he used to get when he spotted the empty liquor bottles, the morning after a bender. Mostly, because the disarray of his workshop had reminded him of the ridiculous state he’d gotten himself into before he made this mess in the first place-

A state he had basically worked his way out of, since. 

 

Which wasn’t to say that he hadn’t been in a state all week. But Tony was pretty sure it was a standard state of anxiety, probably common in dysfunctional people… who had fallen hopelessly in love. Even though his moods had been pretty intense, and his thoughts permanently distracted - and even though he had never felt this way before - Tony had still been reasonably confident that it was all ‘normal’. That anyone would easily identify these butterflies and stress headaches and moments of unbearable longing as symptoms of a perfectly human crisis…

 

...That confidence had wavered just a little, when he saw the havoc he’d created a few days earlier - and so easily remembered the feelings that had triggered it. 

Tony had been forced to take a few moments to calm himself, all too aware of the thoughts he was trying to smother. There was maybe a second or two where he might have capitulated and found himself right back in the same toxic cycles again-

But somehow he managed to push through it. 

One box at a time he’d tidied away the turmoil, and felt slightly better with each square foot of cleared space. Slowly, the workshop became less oppressive. The more frightening thoughts ebbed away, until they finally sank back into the darkness of his subconscious and allowed his daytime thoughts to return to… ‘normal’.

 

Wondering where Steve was, and if he was safe-

Hoping he wasn’t cold. Steve hated the cold.

Over thinking the fact that Steve hadn’t called since he left - and occasionally talking himself out of the impulse to call Steve. 

Remembering the press of Steve’s lips against his throat, and the power of Steve’s arms wrapped around him, and the heat in his voice as he whispered, shhh...Be patient.

 

...And yes, occasionally Tony remembered himself, arching his back and spreading his knees, so happy and sure of submitting to Steve like that-

He hadn’t indulged that thought quite as much. There was still an instinct to flinch from that one, an unspoken awareness that he could slip down that slope into scarier thoughts… Into asking himself what was normal all over again.

...But he wasn’t because he didn’t like the idea, per se. 

In the last few days, Tony had almost come to think that… maybe he did like something about that idea-

 

Those sorts of scary thoughts.

Those were the ones he was avoiding.

 

Tony sighed at himself. He gave his head a shake, and forced himself to focus on the task in front of him. He hastily gathered the last few papers within easy grabbing distance, and pushed them into an already over-full file box. His legs winced as he stood up to retrieve the lid for it, easing into a pleasant throb as he settled into his feet. 

For a moment, his mind was quiet.

And then, as he bent to seal the box file, his eye caught on a little scrap of yellowed paper, peaking out at him from beneath the more modern paperwork-

 

And that sparked his attention.

 

Smiling, he knelt down beside the box and very delicately pulled it free-

He knew from experience that some of these pages were extremely fragile.

 

The first one that Tony had come across that afternoon was blackened with mould, tearing at the creases as he tried to unfold it-

Tony hadn’t been especially enthusiastic about that one. 

When he found that page, there had been a stirring of awkward discomfort - and not only because the paper was slightly slimy. It had immediately reminded him of the last similarly historical item he’d found amongst his fathers things… the kinky lingerie sketch that was still sitting on his work desk. 

Initially, there was a strong urge not to know, battling the discomfort of knowing but not knowing…

Obviously, in the end he’d opted with knowing.

 

...And discovered that it was a sketch of a man's forearm, clearly intended as a medical diagram, with lines pointing to seemingly arbitrary points, and no annotation. 

 

Which, for one, made the entire mystery seem so much less… personal, in nature. It suggested a story or an interest or a meaning that wasn’t purely sexual…

And it had intrigued him.

 

Of course, it hadn’t grabbed his attention as it probably would have, if he’d been even remotely able to concentrate. As it was, it had become a sort of harmless game he played as he tidied. Every so often he’d spot another page much older than the others, and feel that little lift of achievement that came with collecting another prize-

 

Which, this time, was a sketch of several lengths of chain, each of different thickness, some adorned with what looked like jewels, or possibly charms - like the illustration that might appear in an old textbook.

 

Tony frowned at it for a few seconds, enjoying his interest in this diversion. 

 

He thought back through the stack of pages that he was collecting over by the stairs-

So, now there was the drawing of a man's forearm...

There was the page that looked like it had been pulled from a sample book - although hand drawn, like the rest of them - with all the different lace patterns, and the captions he couldn’t read...

The sketch of two sets of what looked like animal teeth, side by side.

The picture of the woman in the lace bodysuit - although that one looked far less sexual in nature. More like an illustration from a Victorian women's magazine. 

The sketch of what might’ve been a man’s ring, although it was really too degraded to tell…

 

And now this.

 

Tony flipped the page over, hoping to find some additional clues - but, again, there was nothing. So far, only the somewhat kinky sketch had any readable notes. Tony couldn’t even tell what date most of the pages were from, although if the state of decay was any indicator, it was quite a wide time frame…

And yet no care has been taken to store these correctly, or even file them together…

He glanced at his ‘finished’ pile of stacked boxes, and again wondered how many other clues were still hiding in between the accounting records, overlooked while he was daydreaming about Steve…

...And again recognised that he simply couldn’t be bothered to look for them, right now. 

 

The truth was, he still wasn’t invested enough in this little side quest. It had sparked a curiosity, sure, and he was quite happy to keep musing over these items as he found them-

But he just didn’t have the mental energy to care that deeply right now.

Instead, he took a moment to wonder whether this was a drawing of restraints or jewellery… before conceding that he still had no way to work anything out, and walking over to put it with the others. He looked over at his desk, and reminded himself that he should put the kinky sketch with the others-

And that, also, he should really stop calling it that...

 

And then, just as he was trying to choose which area of devastation to move on to next, an icy-hot tingling pulled tight around his ribs, sudden and severe enough to take his breath away.

There was an instinctive kick of panic-

And then, almost immediately afterwards, a surge of disorientating relief.

Out of nowhere, Tony found himself panting for breath, trembling through that horrible misplaced shock that lingers when you thought you saw something truly terrible - but didn’t.

 

Oh, God, I thought I was dying

But I’m not dying

...I’m safe.

 

...Steve is home.

 

Hearing those words in his head sent a cold chill down Tony’s spine, even over the top of this swell of comfort.

 

“J… Is Steve home yet?” Tony asked, very carefully.

“He has just this moment walked into the lobby, as a matter of fact, sir,” JARVIS confirmed.

 

Tony swallowed hard.

That intoxicating warmth was still pulsing beneath his skin, moving closer to the surface, pinching his shoulders in anticipation of something….

There was no way to write this off as something he was imagining. No way to pretend it wasn’t real. 

No way to deny that he’d known, the second that Steve came home. 

 

Well, this isn’t normal.

 

Oh, that was… bad…

Tony knew it was bad…

And yet, the longer he stood here, and the more of that warmth that soaked into him, nothing felt bad…

Oh, and he knew that was bad - that he should fight this, that he should think about this, that he should-

 

Go to him, then.

 

No, no, that wasn’t…

 

...Okay, that was the only thing he could think about. 

 

...And then he stopped thinking about it.

 

Tony found himself just following his feet. It wasn’t that he’d decided this was a good idea so much as he’d forgotten the question. The only conscious consideration left in his head was whether he’d reach the lobby before Steve left it, and how he’d go about finding him in that case…

 

And all the while that warmth kept building, bubbling up into a pleasant sort of excitement now that he’d allowed it.

 

He’s home.

He’s here.

 

That feeling propelled Tony out of the elevator with an exaggerated spring, pushing his pace into a run.

He barely even saw Nat as he rounded the final corner, a mumbled greeting falling over his lips on autopilot as he went to carry on right past her-

 

But something in her response snagged his attention.

 

Begrudgingly, he paused and turned back.

“Hm?” He asked, impatiently.

“...I said ‘hey’?” Nat frowned… but that tone was still there. That simmer of irritation, pulling beneath the actual words. 

“...Are you okay?” He enquired, in a softer voice. She blinked at him, and then dropped her shoulders.

“Yeah, sorry - it’s just been a rough couple of days, that’s all,” she sighed, and managed an appeasing smile for him-

But Tony was very far from appeased.

“Rough how? Did something happen?” He demanded, making no effort to mask the immediate panic that had gripped him.

“What, no, nothing,” Nat shook her head, frowning at Tony’s bizarre reaction. “No, it was just… complicated, and boring, and… tense, that’s all.”

“Is Steve okay?” Tony cut in, almost before she’d finished speaking.

 

And Nat let go of a subtle little scoff, and raised her eyebrows, well, that is the question.

 

Tony felt his jaw tighten.

“Nat, is Steve okay?” He repeated, more forcefully - and Nat shrugged.

“Honestly, I don’t know - I mean, I don’t know what’s wrong with him,” she answered. “He’s been sulky and brooding for three days now - which is not a look that works for him.”

“Did he say why?”

“He didn’t say anything - he barely said anything throughout the whole mission,” Nat informed him, with an unimpressed look on her face.

 

That tingling heat under Tony’s skin had sharpened into something more painful. More desperate.

 

“Where is he?” 

“Maria Hill is trying to coax some answers out of him, out in the lobby,” Nat nodded in that that direction-

And Tony was already poised to move, when she so casually added,

“-But, honestly, you might want to give him a couple of hours before you talk to him.”

Tony’s body jarred to a stop, the air collecting in the top of his lungs. He looked back at Nat, questioningly.

“...Well, I’m not saying he’ll be any better in a couple of hours,” she added. “I’m just saying, no one seems to be getting anything out of him right now.”

“... Oh,” Tony replied, as a human disappointment tried to cool some of his physical excitement-

 

And just left him thoroughly confused. 

 

Ignore her! Go to him! A little voice pleaded, the only clear command in a muddle of conflicting ideas…

 

“...Are you okay?” Nat enquired thoughtfully, pulling Tony part way out of his own head.

“Hm? Oh, yeah,” he assured her. “Always.”

She raised her eyebrows again, a certain affection in her scepticism… and then she just smiled again.

“Well, if you’re going to do something stupid, at least let me know how it went,” she told him by way of a parting message, raising her hand in a casual wave goodbye as she turned to carry on along the corridor.

“Yeah, will do…” Tony heard himself answer…

 

His own voice seemed to be coming from miles away.

 

He glanced again in the direction of the lobby. He could swear he felt his body pulling in that direction, like his blood was literally being drawn towards Steve…

 

...This isn’t normal, you know-

No, he didn’t want to start thinking about that again-

You’re about to put your foot in it. You’ve just been warned that he’s not in the mood to see you-

Oh, but surely he wouldn’t-

But you don’t know he wouldn’t-

You don’t know anything-

Go to him! What are you doing? Just go to him-

 

And then he felt Steve move closer. 

 

He had no idea how he knew, but he knew - he had maybe thirty seconds to make this decision.

Stay here, and risk putting a very tense Steve into contact with his very strange mood, and potentially trigger a fight… Which might just about crush him, right now.

Or run, and risk failing this primal instinct once again, and suffering with this desperate physical longing to just see his face-

 

Panic.

He was choosing, panic.

 

And, with that, Tony turned on his heel and literally fled before Steve could see him. 

 

*

 

Steve recognised the sharp little crack as he slammed his bedroom door behind him.

 

It had been quite a few weeks since Steve had last stormed into his room like this, but still, he immediately knew that sound-

And the spike of shame that went with it, and the mantra that automatically rolled through his head after it-

 

Get a hold of yourself.

Calm down

You’re being ridiculous

 

...It was a mantra that was wearily familiar, after the last few days.

 

Forcing a sigh, Steve threw himself down onto his bed and covered his face with his hands. 

He knew he’d been a nightmare for the last few days. He’d known it even at the time. And he really had done everything he could to snap himself out of that mood, or ignore that mood, or reprimand himself for forcing others to endure that mood-

But it had only grown stronger.

It was like a nagging feeling of anxiety, an irritable fear that he’d done something terrible or forgotten something important. A feeling that permanently distracted him and set his body in a state of constant tension. It made it almost impossible for him to maintain any train of thought, which only added to the feeling that he was missing something…

 

He could find reasons for it. He’d spent three days asking himself if it was only that he missed Tony so much, or simply because he felt so guilty over how he’d left things between them, or if it was just because he kept agonising over whether to call him or not-

Having gone through the list of possibilities, Steve had concluded that this almost detached, physical mood wasn’t anything to do with any of that - but that he did now have all of those things to worry about as well, thanks.

 

Not to mention having to worry that he’d alienated Nat and the rest of his new team - and probably made them all feel very uncomfortable all week, come to that. 

...Although, none of them had seemed unduly affected by him, he noted. A few of the administrative staff had seemed slightly nervous of his mood, but only in a perfectly normal way. Nat hadn’t been remotely frightened of him. 

Steve knew he had that little side project to feel anxious and confused over, too - but for the moment, he couldn’t concentrate enough to remember the thread of it. Only that he had all these theories and hastily considered experiments rolling around his head, and a whole raft of documents on their way from Fury, and a lot of work to do in figuring out why any of it mattered...

 

...Plus all the details of that mission that still weren’t adding up.

...Or possibly just the details he’d missed when he was distracted, he really couldn’t tell.

But either way, there was that to add to his growing headache.

 

Go and find Tony-

 

But Steve shook that thought away. Tony was the last person he wanted to see him in this state-

But maybe you wouldn’t be in this state, if-

But he really couldn’t risk it, okay?

...Not after he’d just spent three days torturing himself over whether he’d inadvertently hurt Tony already.

...Not when the thought of hurting Tony’s feelings was so unbearable to him.

 

No, he would simply have to calm himself down first. 

Then he could go back to overthinking how forward he was allowed to be under the rules of a casual relationship-

And possibly take another moment to berate himself for ever getting into this ridiculous situation, just for good measure.

And then he could maybe think about bumping into Tony…

 

...And then you can see Tony

 

Steve felt his chest loosen, a pleasant shiver running up his spine as he finally recognised that Tony was actually here. That, after all this time of counting down the days and hours and minutes, he was home. 

...That was the first thought that had calmed him down all week. 

 

...that isn’t normal, you know.

 

Steve actually rolled his eyes, all alone in his room. That thought had gone beyond wearily familiar and right into meaningless. He’d lost all frame of reference, all sense of what normal used to be, of what it was even supposed to be. 

At some point, he’d been ground down by the fruitless, circular attempts to work out which of his impulses were alarming and which were just perfectly human. In the end, he’d accepted it all as ‘how he felt’-

 

And how he felt was awful.

 

Tense, and guilty, and anxious, and-

His cock throbbed painfully against the front of his jeans, as though to remind him, and that.

Not that there was any chance of him forgetting that.

He’d spent so much of the mission trying to ignore a painful erection that he barely bothered to notice that he was hard, anymore. 

 

...But you’re home now.

 

His cock pulsed again, tighter and more painful, begging him to pay attention to that revelation-

After three days crammed into safehouses with too many SHIELD agents, Steve was at last alone in his own room-

 

And, honestly, it was the freedom to think that surged through him as the greater physical relief. 

 

It had taken so much mental energy to keep himself from spiralling into thoughts of Tony, all this week. A permanent, concerted effort to ignore sexual thoughts altogether, in a futile attempt to curb his physical desperation-

But now he could think about whatever he wanted. 

And with that revelation came the raft of memories and fantasies that had stirred just below the surface for days. 

The image of Tony kneeling in front of him, pleading that he was ready. The memory of Tony’s cock sliding over the back of his tongue, the taste of him, the sting of his fingertips digging into Steve’s shoulders-

 

Steve fumbled slightly in his haste to unfasten his zipper, the hint of friction already burning through his groin. A jolt of heat cut through his hips, as he wrapped his fingers around his cock and immediately began to stroke himself with rough, fast motions-

 

And he thought of Tony’s hands. Tony’s beautiful, clever hands stroking him like this, his eyes locked on Steve’s, his lips full and slightly parted.

He thought of kissing those perfect lips. He remembered the heat of them against his skin, the soft caress of Tony’s increasingly excited breathing - the wanton little noise Tony made when Steve pulled his bottom lip between his teeth.

He imagined being able to lie Tony out of a bed and dote on him for hours, all the wonderful details of him that Steve could run his fingertips over, all the ways that he could make Tony feel good-

 

The pressure built in Steve’s hips as he let his mind run away from him, the immediate, visceral relief of contact finally giving way to warmer, lower pleasure.

God, he wanted to wrap his arms around Tony.

He wanted to feel Tony’s body pressed against him.

He wanted to bury his head into Tony’s neck and-

 

A hot, dark feeling curled, right at the core of him. Something compulsive and illicit and raw. 

His balls tightened sharply, his cock weeping steadily over his fingers as he drew closer to that limit-

And stayed there, held at that knife edge.

Steve gripped himself tighter, working himself off in shorter, sharper motions, but every sensation simply frustrated the need he was trying to sate-

Like he was holding himself back-

Like somewhere he knew that-

Go on, say it-

You want to bury your head into his neck and bite him

 

It was as though those two words had broken him. 

From there, so many forbidden ideas simply burst free, rushing through the tiny chink in his denial while they had the chance-

The thought of sinking his teeth into Tony’s throat-

The sound Tony would make-

The taste of him, running down his throat in hard, desperate gulps-

 

Steve heard himself moaning Tony’s name as he came hard over the front of his shirt.

 

For a few seconds, the sheer relief of it was enough to white out all the thoughts in Steve’s head. 

And then, as the last of the aftershocks had finally trembled through him, and his muscles at last settled into their resting place, one single voice spoke up very clearly through the haze.

 

...What have you done?

 

Chapter Text

Steve felt as though he’d been hiding from Tony for days. Weeks.

 

Actually, it had been just over twenty four hours since he got back from Germany - and he’d spent most of it pacing in little circles in his room. Even his supernatural endurance was beginning to flag, adding an aching back and shaky legs to the list of things he was trying to ignore-

 

Although, he wasn’t trying to ignore everything anymore - so, maybe that was progress. Sort of. 

 

Okay, so he still hadn’t acknowledged that he apparently had several very vivid fantasies about biting Tony, buried somewhere in his subconscious. Put simply, he just wasn’t ready to go there yet.

In fact, he’d decided to stop thinking about ‘the vampire thing’ altogether, for the time being… It was too big a topic, and too vague a question... And he had to drop something from his mental spiral.

 

...He had to start putting things into boxes.

He had to start somewhere.

 

This particular revelation had come to him at some point in the previous evening, once the wall of panicked thoughts and constant effort of denial had finally worn him down. Exhausted, and miserable, and still suffering from the most intense post-orgasm shame in history, he’d finally accepted that he had to do something

 

So, he had started sorting through the various things that frightened him, assigning them to general headings and trying to prioritise them… and yes, putting some of them straight back into the dark place he’d pulled them from-

But he really had tried to think through some of those issues. Mainly - because it seemed like the most important thing, as well as the topic most likely to hold his attention - he’d tried to think about his relationship with Tony. 

He’d even come up with a list of questions - which he’d repeated to himself so many times that the rhythm of them had started to irritate him.

  1. Figure out why I want to go to Tony.
  2. Figure out if I should go to Tony - specifically, if there’s any way that I could hurt him, if I do
  3. Figure out what the hell I’m going to do, or say, if I do go to Tony
  4. Figure out what the fuck is going on with this ‘relationship’... And what I should do about it
  5. Figure out if there really is a ‘vampire element’ to this thing with Tony, or if it’s just that I’m going mad… And then possibly freak out some more.

 

In all honesty, Steve had been hoping that he wouldn’t get as far as 5 when he made the list…

‘The vampire thing’ was a list all of its own - a pandora's box of issues, that could spill out into all sorts of crises and mysteries and terrors the moment he opened it up. 

He knew he’d have to tackle it at some point... but he was also trying to calm himself down, and make all of this more manageable - so he could just about convince himself that it was sensible to try and keep a lid on that one. He’d been forced to accept, at least hypothetically, that he might have to skirt around the edges of it, if he was going to work out what was going on with Tony… But he could try his best to focus on the Tony part of that equation.

Because he had to start breaking this down into something he could deal with…

Because he had to start somewhere.

 

Which had all sounded very positive, when the ideas first came to him. It seemed like a start. Unfortunately, in the agonising length of time that had dragged past him since, he hadn’t really gotten any further with it. It turned out that his ‘relationship’ with Tony could generate plenty of noisy, conflicting arguments, even as an isolated topic-

And any attempt to think about them had to compete with that constant, nagging urge to just go to him.

 

Groaning petulantly, Steve threw himself into his bed again, for what would probably be another twenty minutes of irritably staring at the ceiling, before the tension got the better of him and he started to pace again…

Most likely, another twenty minutes of pointlessly cycling through points 2, 3 and 4 - which really meant daydreaming about meeting up with Tony, and then overthinking how much of it would be allowed, and then worrying that he was fucking everything up-

Over and over, for hours now-

 

And then came the knock at the door.

 

Steve glanced up, not sure if he was relieved of the distraction or if he just resented having to stand up again so soon.

His legs certainly resented it. They throbbed in pointed protest at having their break cut short - a protest his spine soon joined in with. It took a phenomenal effort to wipe the frustrated wince from his face before he opened the door-

 

And found a nervous looking Shield Agent, holding a metal briefcase, and a clipboard.

“Agent Fury said to bring this to you, Sir,” he said, dropping his eyes as he held the case out for Steve to take. Something about that sentence annoyed Steve before he’d bothered to listen to it - but he did his best to relax his posture, and soften his voice, when he told the agent,

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” the agent mumbled, as Steve took the case and set it down at his feet. “I, uh, need to ask you to sign for it…” he gestured with the clipboard, like he was waiting for permission.

“Sure,” Steve smiled… and made sure to carry on smiling, even as the sheer number of security clearance forms started to worry him…

...I swear to God, if this is about another mission-

“Thank you,” he said again, with forced politeness. At last the agent managed a shy smile, blushing as he nodded a goodbye. And then he shuffled off, awkwardly - already feeling for his phone in his pocket, planning the ‘I met Captain America’ group text that he was going to send.

 

Steve allowed a more genuine smile for that - before he glanced down at the briefcase, and remembered his bad mood. 

Oh well, at least it’ll be something else to think about for a few minutes.

Sighing, he brought the case over to his desk, sat it down and clicked it open-

 

And paused, when he found a handful of USB pens and a stack of loose papers, tinged brown with age.

For a moment, it was so far removed from what he was expecting that Steve couldn’t work out what it was-

And then his eye caught on a serial number, and a date, printed in tiny, typewritten font on the bottom of the top page - both of which he recognised.

 

Operation Rebirth.

...Oh yeah.

 

A wave of physical exhaustion rolled up his back, as he remembered that conversation with Nick, before he left for Germany.

...So now there’s that.

Steve huffed wearily, leaning his weight on the desk and letting his head fall forward. 

This was not on his list, he reminded himself. 

This belonged in an entirely different box - one he’d decided to close, since the fleeting moment of madness when he’d actually asked for these files...

But now here they were. Sitting right there in front of him, where he couldn’t ignore them or deny them - reminding him of all the issues he was trying to draw a line under, and all the questions that he should have been asking himself before he tugged at this thread-

Did he want to know who he was? Did he even know what that question meant to him - was that what he was hoping to get out of this?

Was he ready to have his most fundamental beliefs challenged - did he even know what they were? 

What if he learned something he didn’t want to know?

What if he was presented with a choice that he wasn’t ready to make?

 

...These were the things that should have stopped him asking for these papers in the first place. Or at least made him think more carefully about the request. Steve knew, if it hadn’t been for his single-minded determination not to think about anything that morning, he would’ve known better than to simply run with that impulse. He never would have started this.

 

But you have started this...

 

The thought was not as frustrating as Steve was expecting.

...It might actually have come as a relief.

Steve wasn’t sure he understood it… But he couldn’t deny that he felt a little calmer, when he recognised that he had no choice but to deal with this now.

...He could dispense with the tedious circular arguments about whether he should ignore this, at least.

And, as horrible and consequential as this might be, at least it was something he could get on with...

 

...It doesn’t bring you any closer to Tony, though.

 

Well… No. And Steve couldn’t deny that sparked an immediate, physical resistance to the plan-

But there again was that comfort in inevitability. The reassurance that it no longer mattered what he wanted to think about, or what it would be sensible to think about - for as long as that briefcase was sitting on his desk, it was going to command his attention. No matter how horrible it was, no matter what the consequences, no matter what his original plans, this was now the only available starting point…

 

And that did feel better, as much as Steve hated to admit it.

 

Maybe it was only that reading paperwork seemed more manageable than trying to deal with his own thoughts. At least he could push through that. He could make himself do that. He could force some sort of progress, if he was sitting there and learning things. 

And maybe it would calm him down, if he actually managed to focus on something for more than a few minutes. Maybe he’d feel better if he achieved something today. 

Maybe then he could sleep.

...Maybe then enough time would have passed that it wouldn’t look too eager-

 

Steve forced a breath and threw his hands up in front of himself in a halting gesture.

Okay. New plan.

He would draw a line under the last twenty-four hours. 

He would get out of this room for a moment, go and get a cup of coffee, make a sandwich - anything to force a break into the day. 

And then he would come back, and start again - with this. 

He would sit down and read these papers, one at a time. He would not start thinking about what they said. He would not allow himself to run away with unanswerable questions, or get carried away with endless What Ifs. He would simply trudge through them, the same as he had with so many uncomfortable, confusing briefing packs in the past, until he was finally worn out enough to sleep. 

He would deal with everything else when he woke up.

 

A pleasant, comfortable confidence began to ease into his muscles - which only wavered slightly when he raised his head, and caught sight of the serial number again…

Because it really could be awful-

But no. 

He shook his head decidedly, and closed the case with a firm snap, reiterating to himself-

He was happy with his plan.

It was a good plan… A better plan, at least…

And he didn’t have a choice about it anyway. So.

 

He pointedly refused to look at the case again, before he turned and stormed out of the room. 

 

*

 

Tony didn’t know if he was hoping to bump into Steve or not.

 

Well, no. That was a lie. Tony knew he was hoping to bump into Steve - he’d spent the entire day picturing Steve, his heart clenching with anticipation every time he caught the sound of approaching footsteps, every instinct willing Steve to walk around the corner-

 

But he didn’t know if it would actually be a good thing, if it happened.

 

Tony didn’t even know if he was supposed to be avoiding it.

He’d spent the first two hours after Steve’s return hidden away in his workshop, under the direction of a wordless anxiety that he ‘probably should’. And it wasn’t that he’d talked himself out of that, so much as the cabin fever had gotten to him - and now he didn’t know whether he should feel guilty. Whether he was supposed to be talking himself out of a ridiculous, irrational paranoia - or whether he should’ve listened to that warning and run.

In the end, as usual, he’d resorted to an uneasy compromise; wandering aimlessly around the corridors of the Tower, and feeling bad about it. 

 

He didn’t even know what he was feeling bad about anymore. 

He didn’t know what he should be trying to make happen. 

 

He knew that he was every bit as nervous of seeing Steve as he was desperate for it. There had been just as many nightmare scenarios as fantasy reunions, in amongst his conflicting thoughts. There was still the anxious, wordless fear of fucking it up, if he did bump into Steve before he’d worked out what the hell he was doing-

And he wasn’t making any progress on working out what the hell he was doing. 

 

...But he wasn’t sure it would be a bad thing, if it happened. 

Tony didn’t actually know what catastrophic outcome he was scared of, much less whether it was reasonable. 

He had no idea what Steve was feeling right now.

He didn’t really know what responsibility he had in this situation, what behaviour would make him the asshole-

 

He didn’t know it was a bad idea to find Steve. He didn’t really have a conscious reason to think it would be - his mind was too frazzled by now to come up with any. 

He was just scared it would go badly. That was all.

 

Which might’ve been enough to make the decision for him, if Tony hadn’t been so achingly desperate to go to him. It was like a compulsion, a habit he kept falling into even as he was telling himself no. Every thought was interrupted with the impulse, go to Steve. Every time he reached the end of a corridor, he had to physically stop himself from just walking to Steve’s room. 

He kept asking himself, why are you doing this? Only to realise that he didn’t know if it was why are you going to him? Or why are you stopping?

...He’d forgotten which impulse was the weird one. 

 

By this point, his mindless tour had once again reached the break room - which he’d started thinking of purely as a turning circle. He automatically followed the now familiar route through the kitchenette, behind the couches, past the windows…

Well, he was supposed to carry on walking past the windows. But apparently the sun had set since he last hit this checkpoint, meaning the glass was dark enough for him to catch his reflection - and that was enough to stop him in his tracks.

Because, wow, he looked like absolute shit. 

Even in this imperfect mirror, Tony could see how pale and sallow his skin looked. Last night's clothes were now creased and bunched in the most unflattering of places, and strands of his hair were clinging to the film of sweat on his forehead. The bags under his eyes were so dark that he could see the city skyline through them. 

 

Not giving Steve much incentive to invite you in, really…

 

And Tony hated himself for thinking it - mainly, because he was quite sure Steve wouldn’t have thought something as shallow as that…

...There are so many things that would put him off, before he thought of that.

 

Tony sighed sadly at himself. Not for the first time, he wondered whether he was making this whole thing too complicated-

If, maybe, this was just a simple case of him falling in love with someone that was out of his league. 

 

And then came a memory he should have flinched from. An idea that he knew was dangerous, that he was already in the habit of distancing himself from…

...But he couldn’t find the energy.

Perhaps it was just that he’d grown desensitised to these fears. After all, there were only so many times he could ask himself what was normal before it started to feel normal to ask. There was only so much anxiety he could generate for the same memory, once he’d watched it a thousand times. Even if the thoughts were as horrible as they’d ever been, there was only so horrible he could feel about it. 

Now, after so many nights of terrible sleep, and so many hours of mental exertion, Tony couldn’t muster the resolve to control his mind anymore-

He couldn’t stop the memory of that first morning after, and the state he’d gotten himself into, right before he trashed his workshop. 

 

He remembered that horrible fear that he wouldn’t be good enough for Steve… 

He remembered that total certainty that he was doing something wrong, that there was something he was missing...

He remembered the panic that he was in over his head…

 

Now that he’d used up all his adrenaline, and wasn’t able to flinch away from it so forcefully, Tony found himself thinking that these weren’t the eerie, abnormal impulses that he’d originally feared-

Maybe all of that was just true.

Maybe it didn’t even matter whether he was going mad, or freaking out, or recognising the reality - maybe it was just obvious that he wasn’t enough for Steve, that he couldn’t make him happy, that he wouldn’t know where to start-

 

And then everything stopped.

 

After all those hours of relentless analysis, Tony’s mind simply fell silent. The mood swings simmered down into a gentle, pleasant numbness. His heartbeat slowed. 

And then there was that warm, safe feeling, gathering at the small of his back…

Rolling though his body, like a caress…

 

He heard himself think, should you be running from this? But even that came to him in a calmer, clearer voice than anything in the last four days-

And the answer came quickly.

Of course not.

 

Which was as far as he got, before he heard the footsteps approaching from the end of the corridor. A flutter of anticipation broke out in Tony’s stomach as he turned towards the door-

Shattering into a full-on physical elation, when Steve walked in.

...And that was before Steve saw him.

 

When Tony saw the delighted excitement that flashed up in Steve’s eyes, and the euphoric relief that washed through his body, he was overwhelmed by such emotion that he felt literally unsteady on his feet-

Immediately, he knew that all of his previous fears were unfounded. All the confusion and nervousness fell away completely, rendered irrelevant and ridiculous by what Tony could undeniably see in that look-

I can go to him

I should go to him

This is right

God, Tony wasn’t sure he’d ever been this happy-

 

“Hi,” Steve breathed, already walking towards Tony with a dazed smile on his face. 

And Tony didn’t care if any of this was normal. 

He liked the way his body pulled towards Steve - he liked giving into it. It felt natural and comfortable and right…

He let that feeling tug him forward, a tingling release rolling up his legs as he fell into step. His shoulders loosened, allowing a warm, watery sensation to soak up through his muscles, rushing to fill the gap. 

It was like he’d been halfway through drowning and suddenly worked out that he could float. The physical relief and feeling of revelation, the realisation that everything made sense the second he stopped thrashing against it. 

Tony just allowed it to happen. He let it carry him forward, all the way into Steve’s arms-

He let it take control of his voice - he actually said it out loud,

“I’ve missed you.”

 

Steve’s lips parted in a silent gasp, his eyes lighting up with open, vulnerable joy as he wrapped his arms around Tony’s waist.

“I’ve missed you too,” he whispered, gazing at Tony like he’d been dreaming of him all his life. He was so pretty in that moment, and so full of all the wonderful, earnest goodness that Tony loved so much about him-

He would’ve said it. 

He would’ve told Steve exactly how much he adored him, and pledged his eternal, undying loyalty, and confessed every delirious impulse he’d had since they met - and any other thought that occurred to him. 

 

But before he had a chance, Steve had pulled Tony up into a deep, bruising kiss.

 

It hit Tony like a rush of oxygen; disorienting and frighteningly focused, at first. He clawed his way closer to Steve’s chest, pushing his way deeper into the kiss, devouring Steve’s mouth like a dying man gasping for air. Steve kissed him back just as hungrily, grabbing at him with that same insatiable desire to be closer.

Tony barely noticed himself getting light headed. He didn’t care about breathing-

He needed this more. More than anything-

 

And then, out of nowhere, the floor disappeared beneath him.

There was a plunging dip, right to the bottom of his gut, as Steve pulled him up off of his feet and hard against his chest. A swell of giddiness bloomed up through Tony’s head, a little yelp of surprise getting swallowed up by a desperate gulp for air. Automatically, Tony wrapped his legs around Steve’s waist, falling further into the thrill of weightlessness. And then, even though his lungs were still frantically working to catch up, Tony grabbed at Steve’s hair and tried to pull him into another kiss-

But Steve dropped his head instead, nuzzling determinedly at Tony’s neck until Tony tilted his chin up - so that he could suck a long, slow kiss to the column of his throat. 

“Oh… Steve, God-” Tony panted, as a hot, sharp pleasure flooded through him. Oh, God, this-

His cock throbbed against the front of his pants, and instinctively he flinched into it. The low drag of friction caught him of guard, eliciting a needy little whine and an immediate craving for more

He felt Steve groan against his throat.

 

Steve,” Tony moaned, tightening his grip on Steve’s hair, trying to rock into him again-

And then, over Steve’s shoulder, he caught a glimpse of the couch.

And he didn’t give a thought to where they were.

It didn’t occur to him to wonder whether this was a good idea.

He just saw a nearby flat surface, and a way to get to it-

A way to get to more of Steve.

 

Whimpering impatiently, Tony forced his weight forward, doing his best to push his feet to the floor as additional leverage - and, of course, Steve went with it, just like Tony knew he would. He kept Tony held close to him as he took a step backwards, cradling him protectively as the two of them fell into the couch, pulling Tony into his lap. There was another curl of friction as Tony ground into him, hotter and tighter than before. It flared up and burned out into an ever deeper need, an urgent, compulsive desperation for more. Unthinkingly, Tony pushed against it, rocking into the spark he felt when Steve put a firm hand to the back of his neck-

And then Steve kissed his throat again, the edge of his teeth teasing the sensitive spot at the hinge of his jaw.

Harder,” Tony begged, grabbing roughly at Steve’s shoulders, trying to pull himself into Steve’s lips. Steve moaned, his hips bucking upwards as he sucked hard against Tony’s skin-

Tony could swear that he felt it leaving a mark. That it felt good.

 

“Oh, God, I want to touch you, please can I - please, I want-” Tony babbled, as that frustration sharpened to a breaking point…

And then Steve broke away and looked up at him, his eyes wide and shining, his lips flushed dark…

“Oh God, please,” Tony whispered, as he ran a firm hand down over Steve’s chest, already forcing his way between them and caressing roughly over the outline of Steve’s cock as he begged, “please can I-”

“Yes,” Steve gasped, writing up against Tony’s hand. Tony fumbled at his unfastened Steve’s jeans, his entire body starting to tremble as he slip his hand into Steve’s underwear and curled his fingers around his cock. “Oh Jesus Tony-” Steve hissed, rolling up to meet his touch, arching his back as Tony pulled his cock free and ran his grip over the length of it.

 

It felt so good to touch him like that - but it wasn’t enough. 

Tony couldn’t get close enough to him in this awkward position, couldn’t feel as much of this as he wanted to… He could make it better than this….

Without another thought Tony wriggled his way out of Steve’s lap and onto the floor in front of him, kneeling between his legs. Steve had barely had the time to frown in confusion, before Tony dropped his head and slid Steve’s cock into his mouth.

“Oh, Fuck, yes-” Steve barked, his hips snapping upwards, his hand clawing at the back of Tony’s head. 

 

An immediate, physical satisfaction rolled through Tony’s senses. That emptiness in him eased, soothed by a warm feeling of comfort as he sucked slowly against Steve’s cock. The taste of him tingled over Tony’s tongue; it felt good, as it slipped down his throat. He heard himself moan, the ache in his hips settling into a pleasant, dull throb as he began to move against Steve, swallowing the length of him, and then again, and again…

Steve’s pleading whimpering grew tighter, the sound of it shivering up Tony’s spine. A low pleasure coiled in his hips as Steve started rutting sharply against his mouth, spiking with every move Steve made.

Oh, Tony loved this feeling-

The was nothing other than this feeling-

Nothing more than being close to Steve, being good for Steve-

 

“Please, Tony, I’m going to come, please-” Steve groaned, pulling Tony’s hair into a fist. Tony moaned in response, sucking hard against the head of Steve’s cock, his palms caressing roughly into Steve’s thighs in time with his increasing rhythm.

Please come for me Steve,

I want it

I need it

Please

“On God Tony,” Steve whined, arching up off of the couch as his body tensed solid-

 

Breaking down into a low, pleading moan as he came hard in Tony’s mouth. 

 

And Tony moaned along with him as he swallowed desperately, his mind swimming with pleasure as the taste of it overwhelmed him. By the time Steve fell away, Tony’s body was throbbing with a primal sort of satisfaction, an intoxicated dizziness buzzing in his head.

He felt weightless… Free…

 

He let his head fall into Steve’s lap, a dreamy smile washing over his face as Steve stroked a tender hand over the back of his neck. For a few moments, there was nothing but this perfect, simple happiness, and this complete, unquestioned safely…

 

And then, without thinking, Tony let a hand slip away from Steve’s thigh and onto the couch…

This only-vaguely-familiar couch… Which was not his couch…

“...We’re in the breakroom,” he remembered, out loud. 

He heard Steve snort a laugh, and looked up in time to see him trying to swallow it back down. 

Their eyes met in the same amused surprise.

Instinctively, Tony held his breath - bracing for one of them to start caring about the real world again, and the many uncomfortable questions and reactions that were probably about to hit him…

But then Steve smiled at him.

“We should probably go to bed,” he suggested, in a playful tone of voice.

 

And Tony knew, in the moment, that he had a choice.

He could force himself back into the ‘real world’, with its norms and values and concepts of acceptable behaviour - he could make himself confront what had just happened, and all the reasons it was strange…

 

Or

 

“Yes please,” he grinned, and let Steve pull him up onto his feet again. 



Chapter Text

Tony stirred into consciousness with the resentful, disappointed feeling of someone trying to hold onto a pleasant dream…

 

Instinctively, he screwed his eyes closed tighter and tried to bury himself into Steve’s chest, already aware that this calm sense of rightness was about to slip away from him… But if he could only hold onto it a few seconds longer-

And then Steve shifted beneath him, pulling Tony fully into the waking world…

...But not out of the dream, yet.

 

Frowning, Tony lifted his head and did his best to blink his vision clear. The night before came back to him, along with an unspoken understanding of all the things it explained - why Steve was here with him, why he was waking up so early... why there was still a satisfying ache throbbing gently inside him…

But not why he wasn’t panicking about it yet.

 

In what was probably his first fully cognizant thought of the morning, Tony realised that the warmth and sweetness that he was trying to cling to wasn’t a dream, but a very specific reality - that safe, natural place he sometimes fell into with Steve… A state that Tony had so comfortably slipped into the night before, and didn’t want to leave yet…

 

But you’ll have to, you know you will.

You always do…

 

A different collection of memories briefly crowded to the front of Tony’s head. The hysteria that had driven him to demolish his workshop that first morning after. The deep sense of dread he’d felt when he realised that he could just tell when Steve was home. The countless moments of existential fear as he’d asked himself, is this normal? 

A tug of anxiety ran through him, bunching his mood into conflicting clusters, allowing the day-time complications to start arguing in the gaps-

The now distinct part of him that knew this feeling, that wanted this feeling, that believed there was no greater priority than holding on to this feeling - even if that proved futile. A part of him that knew this was important in and of itself, regardless of what happened next…

And then there was the separate part of him that belonged in the real world, growing ever more aware of the problems on the horizon - the part of him that only knew sensible, human coping mechanisms. The part that warned him to brace, temper his expectations, start planning for the fall out…

 

And then, like some sort of benevolent mediator, a little voice reminded him:

If you stop fighting the tides, you will float.

When you stop questioning this, you know the answer.

 

...It felt significant, even now. 

That revelation somehow spoke to both the intuitive and analytical side of him… Something that felt right, even as he was thinking about it…

Just go with it. See what happens.

 

Tony felt himself smile. Okay, he already had the feeling that ‘going with it’ might not be quite as simple now as it was last night… Now that he thought of it, he was beginning to recognise that this feeling came in waves. That it was stronger at some times than others. That it didn’t always feel the same… 

That there might even be some sort of a pattern, some outside variable… 

...Something he should probably investigate more fully, some other time. 

Right now, he simply had a sense that things weren’t coming to him quite as clearly or resolutely as they sometimes did… But there was still something there. Something he could lean into.

Something that might provide more answers...

And it gave him permission to indulge in this feeling for a just little longer…

 

With a far more tempered apprehension, Tony let his head rest on Steve’s shoulder again, and started by dismissing all the things he wasn’t going to think about right now-

He wasn’t going to wonder what happened next, or where this might be leading.

He wasn’t going to worry about what it meant, or whether it was normal.

He wasn’t going to start theorising about where it came from, or what else it might be like - not yet, anyway.

Right now, he was going to allow whatever impulses came to him, and go with them as far as he could, and just… see what happened.

 

...And at least the first of those impulses was easy to identify. 

Immediately, he knew that the most important thing was-

 

“Good morning, Sir,” JARVIS announced in a cheerful voice. “You requested that I remind you in time for the next team update.”

Tony huffed irritably. He knew it wasn’t JARVIS’ fault, but still, he couldn’t help being annoyed at the unwelcome interruption - especially as it had woken Steve up.

“What’wasthat…” Steve slurred, blinking against the light.

“Good morning, Captain Rogers,” JARVIS answered politely, “Mr Stark asked that I remind him of the weekly team meeting. It’s due to start in an hour.”

“Oh, right, that… the update, yeah,” Steve murmured, some of the tension returning to his shoulders as he reached up to rub the sleep from his eyes. “An hour…”

 

Tony pointedly reminded himself not to question it.

This was the instinct he knew. This was the simple part. 

 

Deliberately, he snuggled closer into Steve and threw a heavy arm across his stomach. He looked up at him, and waited for Steve to meet his eye before he said, in as confident a tone as he could manage,

“Let’s not go. Stay here instead. With me.”

And there was a sharp clench of anxiety, and an ordinary, everyday pang of hope, simply because Tony knew that he was putting himself out there with that statement-

But it was the right statement. He knew it was.

Whatever came afterwards, Tony was sure that he was supposed to be with Steve right now… that he’d feel a lot more anxious, and in a very different way, if he just let Steve leave…

 

Steve smiled at him.

“Captain American playing hooky?” He replied, in a teasing tone… settling back into the mattress.

“I know, I’m a terrible influence,” Tony grinned, because he already knew that Steve was staying. That Steve wanted to stay.

“...I don’t know, I like myself more when I’m around you,” Steve muttered, like he hadn’t decided whether he wanted Tony to hear it.

 

But of course Tony heard it. He felt it, right at the core of him… And that one might have simply been a reaction to hearing something so sweet from the man he loved. 

And, he reminded himself, he would not overthink his response to it.

He would not fall back into those well-worn distancing techniques or familiar fears.

He would not swallow down his feelings, or pull out some witty comeback, or pretend he hadn’t heard it… 

...None of those responses were right. 

However nervous it made him, however unlike him it was, however much he might later regret it, Tony knew the right response was,

“I like myself more when I’m around you too.”

Steve swallowed hard, and gave Tony’s arm a gentle squeeze, before burying a kiss somewhere in his hair… Tony couldn’t help feeling a little bit smug that his hunch seemed to be working out.

Because, whatever this was, in the moment it was just… Nice. 

 

For a while they laid there in comfortable silence, Tony tracing light touches over Steve’s stomach while Steve played with his hair…

And, this actually being the first available opportunity, of course Tony’s mind went right back to the night before.

Without having to think about it, Tony knew that submissive impulse had still been there. Perhaps it hadn’t been quite as strong, or maybe last night had just been too hurried and desperate for him to really fall into it… but it was definitely there. 

He flinched slightly, and wondered if this was the sort of thing he wasn’t supposed to be thinking about…

 

...Or maybe you shouldn’t over think it.

 

...What, just accept that sometimes he fell into an all-consuming, physical urge to be good for Steve, and offer himself up for Steve, and let Steve take care of him… And that was just… Fine?

Well, that would be…

That was...

 

...Well, it was nice, at least. 

If Tony was ‘going with it’, then it was very easy to go with this one - truthfully, he wanted to be able to daydream about it, without all the collateral noise…

To be able to remember Steve’s hands, pinning him to the bed by his hips as he fucked into him…

The rough growl in Steve’s voice as he’d whispered, I missed you, close against Tony’s throat…

The wonderful sense of rightness as Tony arched his back and spread his legs and begged for him…

 

...Once he allowed himself to forego all the analysis, it was nice to think about it.

It was… good.

 

And then he looked up at Steve again, and it occurred to him that it wasn’t the same instinct now. 

That submissive impulse, whatever it was, definitely seemed like more of a night before thing than a morning after thing - well, at least on his insufficient sample of two occasions, so far. 

But it certainly wasn’t that feeling now…

If there was an impulse here, beyond the simple elation of being curled up in Steve’s arms - and besides the basic need to be with him - then it was more like that urge to take care of him…

Not as strong as it was before, and certainly not as clear… but still there, maybe…

A feeling that he was supposed to be doing something…

Feeding him…

Keeping him warm, cuddling him, soothing him - something like that…

 

Tony sighed, and settled back against Steve’s chest. 

Whatever it was, he’d just have to let it come to him….

 

*

 

By the time made it back to his own room Steve was practically floating. 

 

It was late afternoon by then and Steve had cried off all of his commitments for the day - and he didn’t care. More than that, he might even have been pleased about it. It might have added a touch of harmless rebellion, or an enticing element of novelty-

Not that his day needed any embellishments. 

Steve’s day had been perfect anyway.

 

He flopped out into his bed with a dramatic sigh, and then laughed at his own ridiculousness. He was well aware of the high he was drifting through, and even aware that it was unusual and unlike him and possibly outright weird - but he was still too soaked through with it to care. Right now, everything in his life seemed to have fallen into some magical, perfect balance-

Whatever these strange impulses were, if they even existed, for the time being they were all satisfied and calm. Everything felt natural, and there was simply no overthinking himself out of it. 

And even outside of that - every ordinary, human anxiety Steve had ever felt had been eased by a day just lying in Tony’s arms. His fears that this relationship could only be complicated and painful had been replaced by an optimistic nervousness that things seemed to be going really well. His shapeless loneliness and confusion about life in the 21st Century had, at last, relented. His back even felt better. 

And he ‘knew’ that eventually this balance would probably topple. At some point, he’d probably go back to over analysing and feeling bad…

But it wasn’t as though he had any choice about enjoying it, for the moment. So, excuse him if he was going to…

 

With that, Steve let his eyes fall shut, and set his mind adrift among this sea of wonderful thoughts…

The memory of Tony’s beautiful body pressed close against him.

The sweet things that Tony had whispered to him as they laid there just… being together…

The warm, indulgent feeling of not having to be anywhere else - of knowing there was nothing more important than what was wrapped up in his arms…

Steve let his head loll to the side, a giddy smile washing over his face as he all but lost himself entirely… 

And then he happened to glance at his desk…

...And remembered the seventy-year-old paperwork that was still sitting there, waiting for him. 

 

...Urg.

 

Steve threw a begrudging little wince in the direction of the Operation Rebirth files, feeling like a kid who’d come home from the fair and remembered that he still had homework to do…

But even that wasn’t enough to jar him out of his good mood.

In fact, his good mood was already starting to make the whole thing seem less daunting… He had only a hazy memory of the stress this task had triggered before he left it last night, and even that didn’t make sense to him anymore.

Really, what was the big deal about learning a bit more about himself?

What was the big deal about anything?

As a matter of fact-

 

Steve found himself leaping up to his feet, buoyed by that general sense of hopeful enthusiasm. He might vaguely have decided that, since this needed to be done, it made sense to tackle it when he was in the right frame of mind… although, to be honest, he didn’t really remember thinking anything. Just this feeling that nothing was insurmountable, that everything would be okay…

What’s the worst that could happen?

 

In spite of which, Steve was still somewhat surprised when he sat down and flicked through the first few pages - and found that it was immediately reassuring, actually.

He almost laughed. He hadn’t realised that he’d simply expected some sort of comedy screen wipe - that, even though his mood wouldn’t allow him to worry about it, he was still wryly awaiting a punchline for the universe in punishment for being this smug-

But no.

The first thing that Steve saw when he started scanning those files were rows and rows of medical readings, familiar looking graphs, and anatomical terms he recognised.

Steve’s shoulders sagged in relief. He didn’t really know what he’d been scared of seeing - but, whatever it was, it was the opposite of a page of neatly ordered test results...

It’s a scientific thing. A biological thing. Something created by human beings in a lab in the real world…

 

He was so encouraged by this unexpected boost that, for a good few minutes, Steve actually found himself paying attention to what these dry old files said.

In a few moments of speed reading, he’d learned that the serum he took was entirely manufactured by SHIELD scientists, based on a few trace samples of what they believed was vampire blood, and a lot of theorising. The final product was also infused with Steve’s own blood, along with various other organic components, and quite a bit of iron-

Steve couldn’t help smiling at that little detail.

And he carried on smiling, as he learned more banal facts about the lab work and test parameters and the process for separating plasma. Growing ever more confident of the objective, clinical nature of it - until, without even realising it, he was slotting everything into that scientific framework. 

The discovery that the vampire blood samples had been split into ‘families’ would probably have unnerved him at one point, and brought to mind some dramatic, gothic myth… But now Steve simply accepted them as medical terms, no different to the Latin names for flowers.

Learning that Vampires almost certainly existed as recently as four hundred years ago, and that they probably did survive by drinking blood, absolutely would have turned Steve’s stomach yesterday. But now he could easily reframe that as the study of another lifeform, something only distantly connected to himself. 

Finding out that the last of those ‘true vampires’ died out a long time ago might’ve been disappointing or confusing, at one point… But now it just felt like being able to trace his roots back to Ancient Rome. It didn’t really mean anything to him, that it no longer existed. 

 

After a hundred pages or so, Steve was so deeply calmed by what he’d read that he started to daydream again. This thing that had once held such power over him was reduced to a mild distraction for him to run his eyes over, while he mused about other things…

He began to think that maybe these ‘strange new instincts’ could all be explained by a chemical reaction… or a shift in his thinking. Maybe he’d just gotten it into his head that this was something eerie and supernatural, and stopped looking for the logical explanations. Maybe, if he looked again, he might realise how silly and superstitious he’d been about things that could easily be understood.

He started to think that perhaps he could talk to Tony about all this… He even started to think about how, hypothetically, he might start a conversation like that…

...He started thinking about Tony.

And then, right when he was about to drift away from the page entirely, Steve’s eyes snagged on the title of the next page-

 

The Consort Effect

 

Automatically, Steve read it again… and then a third time…

...Okay, that’s a weird medical term.

Steve frowned, and tried to convince himself that was the only reason it felt slightly...off, to him…

Inappropriate, somehow…

He found that he had to search for the meaning of the word - and, for whatever reason, the first thing that came to mind was a half-remembered news report about Prince Phillip. Which wasn’t of much help.

...Except it does mean something like that… Princes and Queens and… Official partners…

A cool tingling began to gather underneath Steve's skin.

He turned to the next page, and found a few typed lines that had been xeroxed so many times he could barely make them out,

 

Investigations into The Consort Effect are still stuck in the theoretical stages, mainly due to a lack of reliable primary information. Dr [REDACTED] has agreed to remain as the head of the project, but the consensus is that we may not be able to verify the existence of this phenomenon until after the procedure, if at all. 

 

Well, that was… interesting.

Steve couldn’t say that even this had pulled him out of his good mood completely... He wouldn’t go as far as to call himself worried

But… Interested, certainly…

 

He turned to the next page, and found the far less ominous title, The Healing Effect. So, apparently that was it, for whatever this ‘consort effect’ was…

Except that you know it isn’t - that one page tells you there was a project, and initial investigations, and theories… So where is all of that? 

And why was the Doctor’s name redacted?

Steve thought back to Nick’s stuttered attempts to respond when he’d first asked for these files… And, immediately, he was sure that Nick wouldn’t have tried to keep anything from him. Whatever Fury could possibly get his hands on was now sitting on Steve’s desk…

So, either these documents had been lost over the course of the last seventy years… or else they were so confidential that Nick Fury couldn’t find them.

Hmm.

 

He flipped back to the previous page and squinted at it for a moment longer. And then he began flicking through the remaining few pages, focusing his eyes solely on the shape of the word ‘Consort’. But nothing leapt out at him. 

 

...Well, maybe it would be in there when he read the rest of it more carefully. 

...And, anyway, he didn’t know that this wasn’t a random project name, or an official term like all the others.

 

...And apparently, he just wasn’t up to getting anxious over it right now.

 

Impulsively, Steve piled the paperwork up again and closed the folder.

He decided that he’d done quite enough self-discovery for one day - and, actually, he was quite pleased with himself, thank you very much. He was sure, whatever happened, he’d be glad that he’d finally crossed this Rubicon. He was sure that it really wasn’t as bad as he’d feared; that he’d still be happy about that, tomorrow.

Right now…

 

Right now, he had daydreams to indulge in.

 

*

 

It was a few hours later when Steve gave into the temptation to go and find Tony again.

 

He had promised himself that he’d give it at least one night… He wasn’t really sure why. A vague hangover from his fears of being too needy, or breaking ‘the rules’, or something…

But that had started to sound more and more ridiculous, as his initial high had eased into that familiar desire to be around Tony - which wasn’t even one of those new, physical impulses. This time, it was just because he liked being in Tony’s company. Because Tony had always been the welcome distraction, the thing to look forward to, the thing that mattered… Because Steve already missed him.

And maybe yesterday Steve would have worried that would seem pathetic, or pushy. Maybe he’d think that again tomorrow. But, right now, there was still enough of that wonderful, calm feeling to see him through it…

 

Who knows, maybe this is real.

Maybe you really are that much closer to him now.

 

Steve did his best to wipe the silly grin from his face, as he descended the stairs down to Tony’s workshop. He should probably make some effort to temper his hopes; to at least leave himself some room for denial, if he got anything other than the response he was hoping for…

But every time he thought of Tony looking up at him and asking, stay with me?

Every compliment and reassurance that Tony had so easily offered to him that morning...

All the warmth and affection in Tony’s smile as he tilted his head up to kiss him goodbye…

 

...Steve was allowed to look happy to see him, right?

...Even without the strange state of euphoria, he’d know that now… Right?

 

In truth, Steve couldn’t muster more than an excited nervousness about the whole thing. He was already picturing Tony’s smile as he came to a polite stop at the glass partition, and raised his head to say hello to JARVIS-

 

But the door slid open before Steve had chance to say a word.

 

“Greetings, Captain Rogers,” JARVIS welcomed him after the fact. But Steve was still staring at the unguarded entrance to Tony’s lab.

“...Does he know I’m here?” Steve asked, carefully.

“I can announce your arrival, if you would prefer,” JARVIS suggested amiably, “but your name has been added to the entry list. You no longer require specific permission to enter.”

 

...So, Steve would be going with the silly grin after all.

...Oh well. 

 

“Hey,” Tony called out to him before he’d even rounded the corner, apparently alerted by the sound of his voice. Steve found him sitting on the floor of the workshop next to an open file box, surrounded by a messy spray of papers. There were another two boxes sitting behind him, one of which was already sealed, and behind that about twenty more of them piled into a neat-ish wall. Steve smiled, harmlessly intrigued.

“Hey,” Steve replied, walking up to stand beside him. 

 

And then Tony looked up at him - and there was that smile Steve had been imagining.

 

“Everything okay?” Tony asked, casually.

“Yeah. I was just… bored, to be honest with you,” Steve laughed softly. And Tony grinned back, as though he was pleased about something… 

“Ah, well, allow me to introduce you to the exciting world of box stuffing,” he joked, gesturing to the papers in front of him.

“What are you doing?” Steve enquired, as he lowered himself to a sitting position behind Tony, glancing over his shoulder in a questioning sort of way, can I look?

“Oh… Tidying, mostly,” Tony scoffed. “But I was looking through some boxes from my dad’s old office.”

“How come?”

“Eh, aimless curiosity, I think,” Tony blushed, tilting his head so that Steve could see the paperwork in front of him. Accounting records, or personnel files, or something dry like that. 

“Find anything good?” Steve smiled.

“Apparently my dad collected old sketches,” Tony nodded, a more animated edge on his voice. “Of the most random things… Well, I think they’re random. I keep hoping I’ll find more of them, and then some sort of pattern will emerge.”

 

A swell of affection rose up in Steve’s chest. He loved the way Tony’s mind worked, the constant search to know and learn and understand. Steve loved the way he found the interesting stories and the unique ideas and the potential of a challenge in everything he did...

It was only because he couldn’t think of the right words that he didn’t just tell him that.

And then a thought occurred to him - something he would have been too guarded to say before now...

 

“You never ask me about your dad.”

“You never mention him,” Tony replied, with a kind smile and a shy shrug. 

“...No,” Steve realised aloud. “I guess… I don’t know, maybe I didn’t want to tread on your toes, or something?” He narrowed his eyes, not entirely sure himself what he was trying to say…

But Tony nodded, like he understood.

“Honestly, I’d like to pretend otherwise, but I probably would have snapped at you if you had brought him up. At least at the beginning,” Tony sighed, wincing softly before he added, “actually, I’ve always kind of wanted to apologise, properly, for being an ass to you, when you first arrived-”

You wanted to apologise?” Steve blurted without thinking. Tony snorted a laugh.

Yes,” he assured, looking back over his shoulder at him. “Because I was defensive, and challenging… and not very understanding, all in all. And I wish I had been. And I’m sorry.”

 

For a second, Steve was lost for words. With nowhere else to put the sudden swell of emotion, he wrapped his arms around Tony’s waist, and let his head fall into the crook of his neck…

He heard Tony take a slow breath, with just the hint of a smile in there somewhere, as he put his hands over Steve’s, and let his weight settle back against him. 

“You know I’m sorry too,” Steve murmured, eventually.

“Oh, hush,” Tony teased. “I’ve had worse reactions to a bad day in the office.”

“That wasn’t a bad day in the office,” Steve corrected him.

“...The day with the invasion of earth, that day?” Tony reminded him.

“That was the day I met you,” Steve said - hoping that he hadn’t crossed the line into too cheesy…

 

But then he heard the happy sigh he got in response, and decided he was probably good.

 

“C’mere’” Steve murmured, curling his hands over Tony’s hips and pulling him up into his lap. Tony gave a delighted yelp of surprise, that simmered down into a playful giggle as he locked his legs around Steve’s thighs. He exhaled slowly, as he let his back settle against Steve’s chest. 

“This is comfortable,” he grinned. Steve hummed an agreement. 

“You know…” he began, cautiously, not wanting to break the mood… But feeling like he should probably say it, “if you ever want to know anything about when I knew your dad, or anything… I’d be happy talking to you about anything…”

“Thank you,” Tony replied, in a sincere tone. And then Steve heard him smile. “...Maybe later.”

“Okay,” Steve smiled, dropping his head to press a kiss to the back of Tony’s neck.

 

Tony shivered.

 

“Hm?” Steve questioned, bringing his lips closer to Tony’s ear.

“I like it when you kiss my neck,” Tony murmured, very softly. 

 

Steve’s blood flared up to the surface of his skin as he let that sentence run through his head again… For some reason, it struck him as the most intimate thing that he’d ever heard Tony say.

“Yeah?” He whispered close, deliberately letting his lips brush against Tony’s throat. He felt Tony’s ribs twitch under his hands, his legs tensing harder against Steve’s thighs like he was trying to anchor himself.

Smiling, Steve pressed another slow, deep kiss in that same spot, this time letting the edge of his teeth rest very gently against Tony’s skin…

Tony’s breath hitched.

Steve felt Tony’s heart skip a beat, just there, under his tongue...

And then Tony sighed, his body softening against Steve’s grip as he let his head fall back-

 

Baring his neck. 

 

Steve’s fingers curled tighter around Tony’s torso, simply responding to this sudden possessive impulse, this desire to keep… This automatic response to feeling Tony move like that

He nuzzled his head into the dip of Tony’s shoulder, pushing Tony’s chin higher, so that he could suck hot, sharp kisses to the line of his jaw. Tony groaned and rocked his hips hard in Steve’s lap, sending a shard of friction through to the small of his back. 

 

A low, animal growl rumbled from low in Steve’s chest. 

If he hadn’t been so completely lost in his own arousal, he probably would’ve paused to worry about that... As it was, he liked the excited little gasp he got in response. That was all.

He let his hands slide down over Tony’s sides, his touch heating into a firm caress as he moved over the curve of Tony’s waist. Tony began to fidget more urgently, writhing back against Steve’s cock, just enough to maintain a maddening, compulsive need for more-

Which was still an afterthought, compared to that burning desire to keep Tony’s neck bared for him like this. 

 

The next kiss was rougher, infused with a whole new level of desperation. Steve sucked at the tender flesh at the hinge of Tony’s jaw, nearly hard enough to bruise - eliciting a needy little whine that he instantly wanted more of. He let his mouth move down the column of Tony’s throat, trailing a line of long, languid kisses that left a pattern of ever darker marks. Tony’s breath moved higher in his chest as he tried to push himself up against Steve’s lips, his hips still rocking in that wonderful, infuriating rhythm. Steve stroked the flat of his palms over Tony’s hip bones, hard, pulling the fabric of Tony’s jeans tight against the outline of his cock. Tony whimpered and bucked up against this new source of friction-

Breaking out in a sharp, delighted cry, when Steve nipped lightly at the sensitive skin behind his ear.

 

It was a light, sweet gesture, more lips than teeth - but Tony shivered under the force of it anyway, rolling his head away from Steve in an attempt to offer more of himself. Steve's blood flashed hotter. He felt his senses sharpen, the familiar smell of Tony suddenly crashing over him as a wave, his mouth watering with the taste of Tony’s skin…

Steve braced his hands against the inside of Tony’s thighs, deliberately digging his thumbs into the crease of Tony’s groin as he pulled his earlobe between his teeth-

Oh- Fuck, Steve-” Tony hissed, jerking against him, sending another sharp stab of pleasure along Steve’s spine. 

“You’re beautiful, Tony,” Steve purred in a low, dark voice. “My beautiful Tony...”

“Steve-” Tony pleaded. 

“So pretty,” Steve murmured against his throat - and then nipped lightly against his skin, teasing with the very edges of his canine teeth. Tony gave a breathless yelp, his entire body flinching into it, dissolving into shivers as Steve covered the same spot with an intentionally sweet, chase kiss.

“So clever,” Steve whispered close, punctuating it with the same barely-there scrape of his teeth, and the same tender press of his lips, a little lower down his neck. Tony’s heavy panting was interrupted by desperate, high pitched squeaking sounds as Steve carried on in that same pattern, marking every kiss with an endearment, so brave, so strong, so sweet, so kind… 

Finally, Steve found himself at the curve of Tony’s shoulder, biting into the denser flesh just a bit harder-

 

“Oh, Jesus, Steve, stop, stop I can’t, I’ll- I,” Tony babbled, an edge of genuine panic on his voice, his hands scrambling to find Steve’s arms. Steve paused instantly, relaxing his grip and leaning back - but, before he could give Tony any real distance, or worry about what had happened, Tony carried on, “I will actually come if you carry on like that, I- really, I can’t…”

At first, Steve assumed the warmth that surged through him was simply relief - and, of course, he was relieved that he hadn’t done anything wrong…

But as it continued growing hotter, Steve realised he was more than just reassured by that statement…

That he liked the idea of making Tony come like this…

There was something fundamentally… right, about that idea...

 

“Good,” he purred against Tony’s throat - waiting until he felt Tony's arms fall heavily to his sides again, before he dug his fingertips hard into his thighs. “I want you to…”

And Tony made the most beautiful little whimpering sound; wanton and vulnerable and easily the hottest thing Steve had ever heard in his life. His cock throbbed, that sharp, frustrated need clenching painfully in his hips with every movement Tony made - but it still felt as though that wasn’t the point somehow. Like everything else was just background noise to this thing Steve really wanted…

And he wanted-

 

He sucked hard at the delicate skin at the dip of Tony’s collarbone, making sure to leave a bruise this time. Tony’s breath caught again, breaking through as a strangled ah as he arched his back, rocking his shoulder up to Steve’s mouth, rutting at what little friction Steve’s grip afforded him-

But he didn’t touch himself.

Tony’s arms were held tense at his sides now, his fingers flexing and clawing helplessly at the air, so clearly fighting an agonising temptation to move. 

Even after Steve had told him that he could come, without a single word of instruction to clarify what he meant… Tony knew. 

And Steve knew that Tony would know…

And it didn’t even feel strange, in the moment. 

Steve just smiled into that bruising kiss, pleased that Tony was being good for him… Pleased in a way that he’d never felt before, in a way he probably had no right to feel - but that he simply took for granted, at the time. 

 

He followed that instinct, letting the tip of his tongue trace over the line of Tony’s shoulder blade, biting hard enough to leave a dull indentation in his skin. Tony keened, his breathing growing sharper and sharper, until it fell in time with the frenetic rocking of his hips-

And then Steve threw one arm up so that he could grab a fistful of Tony’s hair, pulling Tony’s head up as he moved to suck a dark, purple mark to the side of his throat-

Letting his teeth pinch gently at either side of the vein-

Steve, fuck, please-” Tony gasped - as his body tensed into Steve’s chest. He held completely rigid for a second, his heart racing under Steve’s lips… And then Steve felt him shudder, a trembling, pleading breath falling over his lips as he came. 

 

For a few minutes Tony surrendered all of his body weight into Steve, his limbs hanging loose and liquid by Steve’s ribs… 

While Steve sat there, feeling very pleased with himself.

“Jesus- Jesus Christ, Steve,” Tony panted, eventually. “How… That was… I mean, that’s not even a thing…”

Steve huffed a laugh into the crook of Tony’s neck, delighted when it sparked a sensitive flinch.

“...You want to go to bed?” Steve purred.

“Yes,” Tony answered immediately, his voice still high and breathless. “Yes, I do. Just - just as soon as I’m sure my legs are working…”

Steve laughed again, a giddy, playful excitement bubbling up under his skin.

 

And then, in a burst of reckless inspiration, Steve shifted Tony’s weight - so that he could stand up with him held tight in his arms.

“Oh! Oh, okay, that’s - that's…” Tony stuttered, instinctively moving so that he could grab for Steve’s shoulders… Finding himself cradled, bridal style, against Steve’s chest. Their eyes met. “...That’s incredibly hot,” he finished, weakly. 

 

Steve had pay particular attention to ensure his own legs didn’t turn to jelly, as he carried Tony Stark to bed. 

 

Chapter Text

Interesting fact: there was a ‘vampire family’ in 16th Century Russia who were known for being expert healers. People would travel from all over Europe to seek their advice and remedies. 

 

Well, maybe ‘interesting’ was a bit strong. Steve had to admit that, without any additional context, that was really just a fact. But it was at least one of the more interesting titbits in the Operation Rebirth file…

Which was, generally speaking, pretty fucking dull. 

 

Steve still felt guilty for thinking that. After all, this had been such an ominous, overbearing concept in his life, for so long… Part of him felt obliged to have some reaction to it. An excitement, a curiosity - a visceral disinterest in the contents, even. 

But he’d been dutifully slogging through the details for nearly three weeks now, and the initial novelty had long since worn off. Any vague ideas he’d had about finding some deep, spiritual meaning had been smothered several data tables ago. Besides the ever-dwindling hope that he might yet stumble across something enlightening, Steve couldn’t really claim to care about it. 

 

Which was the main reason it was taking him so long to get through this. He’d skimmed the entire folder more than once, but he still felt obliged to read it line by line - and, apparently, that wasn’t something he could focus on for longer than thirty begrudging minutes at a time. 

Especially when there were so many things that he could be thinking about...

 

A little smile tingled on Steve’s lips. 

He gave his head a shake, as though that could dislodge the daydreams that were already gathering. He made a point of looking up at the window, and the rainy Sunday afternoon that was flickering miserably on the other side of it, and reminded himself that he wasn’t missing out on anything right now…

Tony’s not even in the country…

 

Steve let go of a frustrated moan. He told himself that he was irritated by his own lack of attention, and the seeming hopelessness of this task…

In reality, he was frustrated that he hadn’t seen Tony in nearly two days. 

But if Steve started thinking about that, then it would be all too easy to start thinking about Tony, and the things he wanted to do the moment that Tony got back-

 

Concentrate!

 

Petulantly, Steve focused his vision on the page in front of him, and read the title for the third time today. 

A summary of evidence of Vampire Families, and Vampire Family Trees: Western Europe.

Really, this should be the easy part. After twenty pages of dry research data, this section of the folder at least had some narrative, some element of human interest… for want of a better word. 

The problem was that Steve didn’t feel any connection to these long dead people - especially since he’d started reading this file. Now that he knew exactly how much human science and everyday engineering had gone into creating him, how many centuries separated him from the last of ‘his kind’... Now, these were mundane stories of the lives of strangers, and nothing more. 

And it didn’t really matter whether these were more interesting than the pages he’d just struggled through - the point was, they weren’t nearly as interesting as the things he could have been thinking about-

 

No! Stop it.

 

Powered entirely by his own stubbornness, Steve forced himself through three whole pages - almost paying attention to them, and everything.  

He learned that a vampire was suspected to have been the lover of a ‘high ranking member of the royal family’ in 17th Century France… which might have been an interesting story, if there had been any further details.

He learned that there was a vampire family from a little German town that he happened to have visited recently, on a mission… which wasn’t even an interesting coincidence really. Just a coincidence…

And then he found himself reading Italian place names, and realised that he’d done it again - he hadn’t been listening to any of what he’d just read. 

 

Urg. Is there any point in trying to pay attention, when Tony isn’t home-

Steve cut that idea short with a joyless laugh. 

Actually, as it happened, Steve did find it easier to concentrate when Tony was close. He was certainly more focused, more observant… less irritable and clumsy. Even so, he couldn’t kid himself that he’d be studying harder if Tony was in the Tower right now-

He wouldn’t even be trying to. 

If Tony had been home, Steve would’ve been drawn to him hours ago. By now, he would’ve been quietly basking in Tony’s company while Tony worked, or holding Tony close against his chest while he played with his hair, or teasing those increasingly frantic whimpers from him as he trailed kisses along the inside of his thighs…

 

Steve didn’t even feel anxious about it anymore.

Everything with Tony was so easy and natural and… nice. And Tony was so much more open than Steve ever expected him to be, so affectionate and welcoming and warm… 

All the things that Steve used to overthink had become things he found familiar, so quickly-

It seemed strange to question any of it now, when this was just how he lived his life, and nothing about it ever seemed wrong…

 

But you haven’t told him you love him, yet.

 

A cool disappointment sank down through Steve’s chest and pooled in the pit of his stomach. 

He glanced back at the Operation Rebirth folder.

You haven’t told him you love him, because that would be a commitment. 

And you can’t make a commitment, because you haven’t even told him you’re a vampire

And you can’t tell him you’re a vampire

And you’re going to have to tell him you’re a vampire

And you still don’t really have an answer for him, when he asks you what it means that you’re a vampire…

 

...Okay, so now Steve felt anxious. 

 

He ran a firm hand over his face, and then leant forward to search for wherever he’d last gotten distracted. On the plus side, it did help his focus to remember why he was doing this in the first place.

Because he did love Tony.

And he wanted what they had right now to last forever - he wanted to spend the rest of his life with Tony.

...He wanted to know if that was even possible

He wanted to have something to say, when Tony asked what this meant for the future - even if it was ‘I read everything there is, and there’s nothing like that in there.’

 

...If he was being honest, he wanted to have an answer when Tony asked why he hadn’t told him before. 

And ‘I wanted to read the file first’ didn’t really hold, unless he actually bothered to read the file.

 

None of which made these papers any less boring, or Steve any more invested in the tedious detail, per se. But it was incentive enough to keep going with it. It was enough to power him through the whole of the Vampires of Western Europe without any significant distractions, and keep him focused as he turned to the Vampires of Central Asia-

But he found that there was another page nestled between those two sections - with several words manually blacked out. 

 

That caught his attention in a more immediate way.

 

Contrary to his initial expectations, there wasn’t very much in the folder that had been redacted… which made Steve ever more curious about the few details that had

Automatically, he scanned his memory for all the other instances he’d collected, wondering if he could yet make out a pattern… A few doctors' names, on a range of different projects. A few dates and individual test results, with no way to know what was significant about them. 

...The Doctor investigating ‘the consort effect’

 

Steve had no idea whether he was really hoping to discover more details about that or really hoping not to. 

But, whatever his feelings were, they were pretty intense-

This was the first page that Steve had felt genuinely invested in since he first opened the folder. 

 

A Note on the Family Ahreddan

 

We know that the Family Ahreddan had homes in Russia and Kazakhstan, and held rituals in both, although there is no clear evidence on where the family line first started, or where they considered their family base.

 

This family were unusual, in that they were happy to work quite closely with human chroniclers and historians at various times between the 14th and 18th Century (most notably, the work of **** ****** and ***** *****). This means we have far more evidence pertaining to the culture, rituals, society and history of this family than any other-

However, the Ahreddans were very selective in what they chose to share - so, while we have ample evidence of their ceremonial clothing and social hierarchy, we actually have very few pertinent details about their bloodline. 

 

What is potentially very useful to this project - and for any number of future projects - is the diary left by ********. This diary gives a detailed account of a Mortal Blessing, which analysts are all agreed, almost certainly refers to a consort ceremony. It would seem to confirm, through the eyes of a human witness, that the ******* ****** is a real, observable phenomena in both the human and the vampire - and seemingly triggered by the act of biting. 

This diary also provides the clearest account that a ******* is distinct from a ***** Vampire.

 

As such, all details and theories on this family’s bloodline and physiology can be found in section 9 of this report, which further examines--

 

Steve flicked the page over, and then back again, incredulous that it could really stop there-

A second too late he realised that he was dizzy. He was forced to let his weight fall into the back of the chair, his body curling in on itself as a swell of panic bloomed in his head-

Observable phenomena in a human partner-

The act of biting-

A Mortal Blessing…

 

He was overwhelmed by a hot, buzzing confusion, a sense that he didn’t know any of these words, and there were so many of them, and none of it meant anything-

And yet, for all that - and far scarier than all of that - there was the horrible feeling that he already knew exactly what this meant…

That, without much effort at all, he could actually picture it

 

A ritual, in a grand, ancient house. 

Tony... in ceremonial clothing…

The act of biting him, claiming Tony as his, promising himself to Tony forever…

Changing both of them in the process…

 

Steve swallowed a bitter taste, and tried to convince himself that it was a horrible idea…

And when that didn’t immediately work, he flinched away from it altogether, telling himself that he was jumping to conclusions, making it all up…

That maybe an 18th Century historian had been making it all up, or that the vampires themselves had lied. Maybe it was all a mistranslation, or an example of research bias, or…

Or maybe there is such thing as a consort-

He shook his head more violently, deliberately looking away from the page. 

It didn’t matter anyway. Even if this entirely theoretical bond existed, even if it was something like the random image he’d created from nothing… It was created by the act of biting. That’s what the report said…

And Steve was never going to bite Tony, so it didn’t matter…

 

...Never, though?

...Not even if it meant he could be young and strong and healthy for as long as you are? If it meant you never had to lose him?

 

Steve literally jumped to his feet, shuddering under the strength of his own discomfort- 

But seriously, where the fuck had that come from?

 

He had no reason what-so-ever to think that the ‘consort effect’ was anything like that. He didn’t actually know what a consort was. He couldn’t be entirely sure this page was even about that…

...Just because that would make a lot of sense, thinking about everything else he’d read

...And everything he’d already felt for himself

...And even if that would explain why SHIELD were so interested in it

None of that was distinctive proof of anything…

 

But you’re already bonded to him, you know you are.

You want to bite him. You’re supposed to bite him.

It makes perfect sense that it would be safe, that there would be a natural way to balance it.

You know all of this already. You’ve known it for weeks.

You know you have to ask him…

 

“Oh no, no, no, no…” Steve muttered out loud, all alone in his room. 

No, he would not be asking Tony anything.

He would have to tell Tony everything - that much was obvious. Steve would have to explain that he was a vampire, and that he was very sorry for not telling him sooner… And that he couldn’t be sure if it had an effect on the people he loved, or so much as guess what that effect might be.

He’d have to hope and pray that Tony didn’t leave him over it-

 

Steve’s chest clenched painfully when he thought those words.

Oh… If he lost Tony, he… God, he had no idea what he’d do. 

 

...which is the real reason you haven’t told him before now.

 

That realisation crawled over Steve’s skin like a film of dirt.

He’d long since stopped caring what Nick Fury or SHIELD or the US Government thought of him - he couldn’t pretend otherwise. He wouldn’t have let anyone on earth tell him to keep a secret from Tony…

Unless, of course, it was something that he really didn’t want to tell him.

Something that could shatter the fragile happiness Steve had built and take from him the one thing that mattered - someone he couldn’t bear to live without.

...Then Steve might be persuaded to respect the confidentiality of the US Army. Apparently.

 

Oh, he felt very tired, all of a sudden…

 

Faltering slightly, Steve wandered over to his bed and sank very slowly to sit down on the edge of it. 

An optimistic little voice spoke bravely through the fog - but maybe he’ll say yes

Steve scoffed at himself. 

Tony would not be saying yes to anything, because Steve would not be asking him anything. It was enough to hope that Tony wouldn’t be offended by the betrayal, or put off by the ominous strangeness of the whole thing - Steve most certainly wouldn’t be asking him to get involved with it.

 

...But maybe Tony wouldn’t leave him.

Maybe that closeness and affection between them was real, maybe he really was as safe with Tony as he felt…

If Steve could tell Tony that he was a vampire, then he could tell Tony that he loved him, that he wanted to be with him for the rest of his life…

...Then there would be nothing left between them, no dark corners to flinch away from.

If Tony didn’t walk away from him then, maybe it would mean-

 

Steve let go of a heavy sigh.

All of that seemed an awful lot to ask of one person, even someone as kind and understanding as Tony Stark…

In the harsh light of day, it all seemed too unlikely to risk getting his hopes up over

...But he really couldn’t bear to consider the alternative.

 

He threw a poisonous glare in the direction of his desk. He knew it was ridiculous, but he couldn’t help feeling like that stupid file had ruined everything, that his life had been so happy and hopeful and good before that one piece of paper…

Which didn’t matter, of course. He had to finish reading it - preferably, before Tony got home this evening. How he felt about it, rational or otherwise, was irrelevant. 

 

...But he might just give himself a few minutes to sob quietly into his pillow first. 

 

*

 

A few hours later, Tony was curled up in one of the seats on his jet, idly tracing patterns in the powdered sugar that he’d managed to get all over the table in front of him, and smiling to himself. 

Of course, he had been every bit as frustrated as Steve for the last two days, and he was still agitatedly counting the minutes until he could be with him -

 

But the flight home did at least offer some sort of reprieve, and Tony could still find a way to enjoy it. 

 

Because Tony had spent the last two days having to pay attention in meetings, and make small talk with business associates that he’d likely never see again - and having to think about his expression. Several times he’d caught himself, halfway through some detailed memory of Steve, this same silly grin plastered all over his face. And every time he’d been forced to drag his thoughts back into room, Tony had petulantly bemoaned the fact that he couldn’t even daydream about Steve-

 

Well, he could daydream about him now, at least. 

Tony had, in fact, spent the entire flight, happily reliving every moment he’d spent with Steve in the last few weeks…

And yes, that included a very detailed recap of the time they’d spend in bed together… and in his workshop… and in various other places, including the couch in the breakroom…

...Twice.

And yes, those memories were especially fun, and very easy to lose himself in…

But, increasingly, Tony found his attention getting snatched by the other little details.

The silly jokes they’d shared when they were getting dressed in the morning.

The smile Steve gave him when they saw each other in team meetings.

The way Steve kissed his cheek when he said goodbye, his hand always resting in that same spot on Tony’s hip…

Before too long Tony wasn’t just remembering those moments - he was imaging them. Happily dreaming of a future where he and Steve could be together like that…

 

He glanced down at the table, smirking at himself when he realised that he’d drawn two perfectly symmetrical hearts into the dust. 

He rather liked being a cliche. It was fun.

Even the two endless days he’d just suffered through had been fun in a strange sort of way. Tony had never missed someone the way he’d missed Steve. He’d never looked forward to anything the way he was looking forward to getting home. He’d never been as excited about anything as he was right now…

 

You should tell him that you love him

 

Tony ran his eyes over the shapes in the powdered sugar, as a static feeling started to gather in his stomach… Not uncomfortable exactly, but…

It occurred to him to wonder why he hadn’t said it before now.

Why, now that he thought of it, he always stopped himself when that word was about to fall over his lips - why that was the only thing he was mindful of, when he and Steve were together…

Why he hadn’t thought about this before.

 

But then Tony remembered that he had decided to live in the moment, as far as Steve was concerned.

That he had given the whole thing considerable thought… If not necessarily rational thought… But he had none the less come to the objective conclusion that it was better to just… Go with it. 

And, in fairness to him, the last three weeks had proven him right. Not only was Tony happier now than he’d been when he was panicking over the relationship, Tony was literally happier right now than he’d ever been in his life. It had been so easy to stop thinking about it when it started working, to take everything for granted and simply fall into it…

To be as sweet or as submissive or as presumptuous as he felt like being, without ever wondering what it said about him.

To suggest every idea that he thought Steve might like, without worrying what it would mean in the long run.

To go to Steve whenever he felt like it, just assuming that Steve would be happy to see him…

 

But not ‘I love you.’

...Because you couldn’t say ‘I love you’ on a whim.

 

A little frown pinched at Tony’s dreamy expression, as he tried to decide whether he was uncomfortable with this train of thought…

Not that he had any choice about following it, now.

The really quite obvious chain of observations-

That ‘I love you’ was different to all the other endearments he’d spent a month indulging in, because ‘I love you’ meant a promise for the future.

That he’d started out with a rule that he wouldn’t think about the future, because he wasn’t sure he could handle the existential crisis that would surely come with it.

That he did want a life with Steve, including all the parts that required planning and commitment and communication - and everything that traditionally scared him

 

...That he’d just spent two hours daydreaming about a future with Steve, and it hadn’t frightened him at all.

 

In fact, Tony now realised that being in this relationship hadn’t scared him nearly as much as trying to work it out. That he’d been living all the strange impulses that he’d been so worried about confronting… And he liked them. 

He felt as though he understood them - even if he still couldn’t explain them.

 

...So maybe he didn’t have to live in the moment anymore. 

Maybe Tony didn’t need ‘a rule’ that allowed him to listen to his instincts.

May-be, listening to his instincts didn’t preclude all thoughts of the future. Maybe he could follow these impulses while still thinking about the sort of life he might want to build.

...Maybe living together and making vacation plans and even getting married one day could all be a part of it-

 

Tony huffed an embarrassed laugh at himself, the tips of his ears glowing pink as he realised it was probably a bit early to be thinking about marriage proposals.

...But he did love Steve, and he loved being with Steve, and he wanted to be with him forever. That much he knew.

...And he trusted Steve, and he liked being able to trust Steve - he liked being in an open, vulnerable relationship, much to his own surprise.

...And it wasn’t just the passion Tony felt for him or the strange draw they had to one another or the pleasant haze he’d fallen into in the last few weeks. It wasn’t only the endearing details that Tony had been collecting as tokens of their bond. It was more than any of that. It was Steve. 

 

And he wanted to tell Steve that he loved him. Tony had wanted to say it so many times-

And what was he scared of, really?

 

There was the tell-tale, almost imperceptible dip in the pit of Tony’s stomach that let him know the jet had finally started it’s decent towards New York. 

That exhilarated fizzing broke out over his skin - burning hotter and sharper now, and not only because he was that much closer to home…

 

It was also because Tony had just worked out that he was that much closer to taking that next leap of faith with Steve. That, out of nowhere, tonight was apparently the night he told Steve he was in love with him - and everything that represented.

 

...And he was excited about it. 

Who’d have thought?

 

Chapter Text

Steve felt as though he was outside of his own body, floating high above himself, watching himself make the faltering journey down to Tony’s workshop, like he was watching someone else...

He couldn’t imagine what that man was feeling right now.

 

He knew exactly what he’d been feeling twenty minutes earlier - anxiety and misery. A cold dread that’d weighed down on him since the moment he realised that he had to tell Tony the truth. An ominous sadness that had grown heavier with every detail Steve read, and every worst case scenario he dreamed up, until it had crushed every optimistic or pleasant thought out of his head-

There was nothing complicated about that feeling. 

 

But then Tony had arrived at the Tower, and brought with him an immediate surge of relief and rightness. Something powerful enough to make itself known even over the top of Steve’s emotional breakdown-

And still not enough to drown it out.

 

With that, everything had intensified to the point that it lost all meaning. 

His desperation to see Tony grew ever sharper, as Steve struggled with the impossible fear of losing him.

The fear of seeing Tony grew increasingly hysterical, as he remembered how much he loved him, how much he needed him.

The pressure in Steve’s head built and built, to the point of a blinding headache, as he tried to work out whether he was delighted that Tony was home or devastated that the moment had come - whether he was dreading this reunion, or dying for it to happen-

 

Which was the only reason it had taken Steve as long as twenty minutes to get here.

 

Steve had spent that time sitting rigid at his desk, waiting in vain for the dizziness to pass, flinching between one impulse and the other. 

The Operation Rebirth folder was closed by then, glaring up at him like a spiteful reminder of what was coming - somehow gloating and indifferent, all at once. Like a prison guard, waiting to lead him to the gallows. 

Steve had finished reading it, at least. If nothing else, he could say that he’d read every detail there was available… 

And there was nothing else. 

He’d been unsurprised to discover that the file was about as unhelpful as it could possibly have been. It contained just enough ominous detail to put endless horrible possibilities into Steve’s head - but no actual answers.

Nothing he could use to explain things to Tony, or assuage any of his fears.

...Nothing that justified taking this long to tell him.

 

As it turned out, having dutifully suffered through every line in the file, Steve had basically the same message for Tony as he had three weeks ago-

That he was a Vampire, and that he didn’t really know what that meant, except that he was sure it had some strong, supernatural importance in his relationship with Tony… And still, he had no facts to back that up. 

 

And Steve really didn’t want to have that conversation. To the point that he could feel the resistance to it as a physical force on his skin, pinning him to the chair while a thousand awful outcomes played in his head-

If he doesn’t want to be with me-

If he’s angry at me-

If he’s scared of me-

 

And, at the same time, all Steve wanted to do was run to Tony. He could feel it pulling from the bottom of his gut, tensing his muscles to action over and over again, almost pushing him to his feet a hundred times-

You’re supposed to be with him-

He’ll make everything better-

Nothing will ever be better, until-

 

Just that rapid cycle of competing bodily impulses, over a white noise of total panic.

 

Steve didn’t even know why he’d snapped, in the end. He honestly couldn’t remember thinking anything, when he finally rose to his feet and marched out of his room without so much as a backward glance. It was more like a chemical reaction finally coming to fruition; the objective moment that everything reached critical mass-

And, as it turned out, it was his desire to be with Tony that won out. 

 

...Except, now that he was about to put his hand to the entry panel, Steve didn’t know if he could call this churning reluctance ‘a desire to be with him’

...And he certainly couldn’t call this burning, bodily yearning a resistance to being here

 

...So, now he just… didn’t know. 

 

His vision was actually clouding at the edges by the time he walked into Tony’s lab. His voice felt strange in his mouth, as he tried to call out casually,

“Hey.”

 

And then Tony called back, from behind one of the server banks,

“Hey you.”

Steve could hear the smile in his voice. He could feel the way it moved the air around him - he could feel the difference, now that Tony was here.

A different sort of dizziness rolled over Steve as the relief of it washed up along his back. His limbs fell into a pleasant heaviness, tingling at the joints…

...Plus a queasy sense of alarm at the thought of losing focus like this

...And a clenching, guilty awareness that he couldn’t keep this, that this somehow made things worse-

 

But still, his feet pulled him slowly forward, his whole body leaning towards the sound of Tony’s voice.

And then Tony stepped into view. 

Steve was forced to stop then. He was overwhelmed by such a powerful affection for him that it made his legs feel weak. 

And then Tony smiled, and it was more than beautiful. It was everything that Steve loved about him. It was every warm memory they’d shared. It was everything Steve had been searching for, since long before he went into the ice-

I can’t hurt him like this-

I can’t lose him-

I can’t-

But Steve didn’t have time to process any of that before Tony was bounding playfully towards him. By the time he’d been distracted by the way Tony moved, and that rush of fondness for him, Steve’s arms were already opening…

And then pulling Tony into him…

 

Oh, the smell of him…

The shape of him, the way he fit so perfectly against Steve’s chest…

The sound of him breathing…

“I’ve missed you,” Steve whispered into Tony’s hair, sounding every bit as overcome as he was. Tony’s palms caressed against Steve’s back, reassuring and possessive, and everything Steve wanted to keep…

“I’ve missed you too,” Tony grinned, pressing a soft kiss to the side of Steve’s face before he lifted his head to look at him.

 

Steve looked at that beautiful face, and realised that he’d never be able to describe it to anyone. Even if he could find words for those perfect golden eyes, if he could have named the thousands of colours in Tony’s hair…  He’d never be able to explain the joy and wit and courage that there was in every expression. He’d never be able to describe the soft warmth that melted in his chest whenever Tony looked at him…

You’ll never meet anyone like him again

There will never be anyone like him again, anywhere in the world-

 

“Have you eaten?” Tony enquired brightly.

“Hm? Oh, uh, no,” Steve answered, without even thinking about it. 

“You want to go out for dinner?” Tony suggested… And, even in the midst of his own crisis, Steve picked up in the fact that Tony sounded… Nervous? Distracted, maybe? “Or, we could order in, if you like?” Tony added, hurriedly.

“Yeah - I mean, either sounds good…” Steve replied, still answering on autopilot… his brow pinching in thought as he recognised the tense excitement simmering under Tony’s skin. Like there was something he wasn’t saying… “Why, are you hungry?”

“Well, yes, there’s that,” Tony laughed, shyly. “And… I… I was going to talk to you about something, is all…”

“Oh yes?” Steve teased, cocking an eyebrow. 

And Tony actually blushed.

“...Hang on, let me check that upgrade is actually running, and then we’ll go,” Tony murmured, smiling as he stepped away from Steve. And then he skipped his way back over to the side of the room, still full of that same exhilarated energy…

 

And Steve got exactly two seconds to wonder what Tony wanted to tell him, before he remembered that he had other things to be thinking about-

Like the fact that his entire world might be ending, any minute now…

 

...But he has something he wants to tell you first.

Steve frowned at himself, unimpressed. Immediately, he warned himself not to go looking for excuses. He already knew that he wanted to talk himself out of this, that he’d be so easily swayed…

But, on the other hand… He could tell that Tony had something important to tell him. That Tony was anxious about telling him, or excited about telling him… That wasn’t just Steve looking for excuses. That was real.

...Maybe he should let Tony talk to him first.

Maybe this excuse had found him-

 

...But if you don’t tell him right now, you’re not going to tell him.

 

Steve groaned softly before he could stop himself, and then had to hope that Tony hadn’t heard it. He took a few ungainly steps in no particular direction, aimlessly looking for a flat surface to rest his weight on. He ended up leaning over one of Tony’s work desks, both palms pressed against the tabletop, his body braced into his arms.

You’re being ridiculous.

You don’t have to talk all over Tony’s thing - you could just tell him in an hour-

But you won’t-

And then he heard Tony’s footsteps behind him. He felt the warmth in the air, as Tony stepped closer-

 

And he just couldn’t tell him.

 

For that one, brief fraction of a second, they were both on a different path entirely. Steve had decided to let Tony speak first - and that would have meant a very different end to the evening. Steve wouldn’t have told him-

 

Except that, as Steve was standing up again, and pulling himself out of his own head, his eyes so happened to catch on the scrap of paper that was sitting on the desk-

Ahreddan, Mortal Blessing, c1770

 

Steve’s spine snapped straight, his ribs closing tight around his lungs-

He could’ve sworn he felt his heart stop.

For a moment, he wasn’t sure it was even there, or if his own guilt was manifesting in hallucinations - both seemed equally unlikely. And equally terrifying. 

And then, before another thought could enter his head, he’d blurted it out,

 

“You’re researching Operation Rebirth?”

 

Steve swung around as he said it - turning just in time to see Tony’s carefree expression freeze in shock at Steve’s outburst.

And only then did Steve recognise how defensive he’d sounded… Angry even…

That this was the first time he’d raised his voice to Tony since those first few weeks at the Tower…

...That Tony looked absolutely heartbroken-

“Oh, God, Tony, I’m so sorry,” Steve gasped, hardly able to process how very sorry he was. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that to sound so- I don’t even know why I said that at all. I’m just - I’m sorry.”

 

At last, Tony’s dazed expression melted into a frown.

“...Am I what?” He asked, glancing at the desk.

“It doesn’t matter,” Steve assured him, taking a step forward- 

But Tony carried on looking past him.

“But what made you think of Operation Rebirth?” He asked, more firmly. “What made you say that?”

“Oh… Ahreddan was a… code word, in Operation Rebirth,” Steve muttered, still clinging to the hope that he could side step this, “and I thought I saw it in your notes, and I… Overreacted, and I don’t even know what over, and I’m sorry…”

“Ahreddan was a code word for Operation Rebirth?” Tony clarified, a different kind of curiosity flickering behind his eyes. “...But that’s got to be a coincidence, right?” He murmured, almost to himself. And then he looked back at Steve, and asked more directly, “that can’t have anything to do with Operation Rebirth… can it?”

And he looked pointedly at the desk. 

 

Steve knew this feeling.

This cold, seizing terror that was almost calm, this sense of resignation in the face of something too horrible to accept…

This is what it felt like, crashing that plane. 

 

...There was no way out of this now.

 

Begrudgingly, Steve turned and picked up the offending scrap of paper - not actually expecting to find any further details. He was already thinking ahead, wondering how he was going to explain what a Mortal Blessing was when he didn’t really know himself-

Until he mindlessly turned the page over. 

“Oh…” He whispered, leaning his weight into the desk again. Tony breathed a laugh.

“I mean, unless Operation Rebirth was much more interesting than my dad said it was…” he joked - with the slightest hint of a question in there somewhere. Like he was trying to prompt Steve to speak.

 

But Steve couldn’t speak.

 

He was just so shocked by how familiar that image felt, even though he knew he’d never seen it before - how quickly and completely he understood what he was looking at. 

...He even knew that he was supposed to wear those chains, for Tony.

And then the details came pouring in - scraps he’d learned from the Operation Rebirth file, observations he’d made for himself, things he’d thought of earlier that day… All things that helped make sense of this feeling after the fact.

But Steve knew that the feeling came first.

That he hadn’t needed a folder full of test results to know-

“Steve?” Tony said cautiously, stepping closer.

 

“I...I, uh, have something I need to talk to you about, too,” Steve sighed, miserably. He put the sketch down, and swallowed hard before he made himself look at Tony again-

And watched the fear rise slowly in Tony’s eyes…

 

...He thinks I’m about to break up with him.

Steve could see him thinking it, bracing for it-

And Steve couldn’t bear that. 

It was perhaps the only thing guaranteed to push Steve over that edge and force the words out of his mouth-

 

“...I’m a vampire.”

 

*

 

Tony very nearly laughed.

 

A hundred scenarios had flashed up in his mind when he recognised the sombre tone that Steve was using - that Steve might be about to break up with him, that Steve was going to say he was leaving, that Steve was going to say he was dying…

 

But not that Steve might be a vampire, no. 

 

It was just so unexpected, so surreal - so much better than anything he’d been bracing for. In the first instant, Tony was relieved and shocked… Without really knowing why.

Then he saw the weight of it pressing down on Steve’s shoulders. 

Tony realised that, whatever Steve was talking about, it was important…

And only then did it occur to him that he didn’t really know what Steve was saying. 

 

“You’re a vampire?” Tony repeated, half expecting Steve to laugh at whatever he’d misheard. 

But Steve let go of another heavy sigh, his eyes falling to the floor before he could bring himself to begin,

“I know, it sounds ridiculous - and it’s really not much like all those old fairy tales and horror movies… But, I’m pretty sure that’s where all those myths come from. Because there were such things as vampires, hundreds of years ago. And the serum I took was made using samples of their blood, and a bit of human science… So, I don’t know if I’m exactly a vampire in that sense, but…” he trailed to an awkward stop, visibly struggling with the task of putting this into words.

 

Somewhere, Tony felt the realisation begin to stir - just an uneasy sense of awareness, for now. He still couldn’t picture what Steve was talking about, he still couldn’t thread these ideas together…

 

“So… What does that mean?” Tony asked, very carefully.

“...Honestly, I don’t really know,” Steve admitted, wincing as he said it. “But, in real terms - mostly it’s just the stuff you already know about me. Vampires were stronger and faster and they healed more quickly. All that stuff you already know about the serum… it’s just… that’s why. And, you know, I’m more sensitive to sunlight - although that obviously got exaggerated in all the fairy tales. It’s not like I can’t go out during the day… And I do breathe, obviously, and my heart does beat… it’s just that it doesn’t have to, very often. It’s just that my organs work more efficiently, really. That’s why people used to think that vampires were literally dead, I think… I don’t really know… But really, it’s just that I can be unconscious for a long time without dying. And I can hold my breath for a really long time...”

Slowly, Tony was beginning to see the real meaning in all of this - that Steve was something other than human, that it meant something… Which was probably the only reason he didn’t think to make an off colour joke about how long Steve could hold his breath.

Because he was genuinely being drawn back into all his memories of Steve… And realising how still Steve was when he was sleeping, and how cool his skin was, and, yes, how long he could hold his breath for…

 

“...But there is other stuff,” Steve went on, timidly. It was the nervous tone that snagged Tony’s attention.

“Other stuff?”

“...Vampires did drink blood,” Steve answered quietly. “I have to. Well, I have to drink supplements that SHIELD provide me with. Which are mostly made of animal blood.”

“You drink blood?” Tony repeated. Steve cringed again.

“I know, that sounds… horrible, but-”

“No,” Tony cut in, “It’s just… well, it’s a surprise…”

“...And I don’t know how long I’m supposed to live for,” Steve added, even quieter. “No one knows how long actual vampires lived for, only that people thought they were immortal.”

 

Tony felt that one. 

With that one line, everything stopped feeling distant and hypothetical and started to feel terribly real…

 

“You’re immortal?” He gasped, recognising at once that it would change everything…

That any dreams he’d had about marriage and kids and a future together might have been rendered irrelevant - laughable, even.

That his idea of the two of them as contemporary beings was under threat.

That everything he’d wanted to say to Steve might not matter, that there might simply be nothing he could offer him…

 

Suddenly, Tony wanted to demand answers in a far more urgent way. He wanted to ask Steve to start again, to question every detail with this new sense of purpose…

But, oh, he had no idea where to begin-

 

“I don’t know,” Steve surrendered, finally meeting Tony’s eye-

And he looked so lost and hopeless and scared that Tony could’ve forgotten everything else entirely, and simply thrown his arms around him-

Except that Steve carried on talking.

“They didn’t really tell me anything when I first took the serum, and I probably didn’t ask enough questions, and to be honest, I don’t think they really knew themselves… and I’m… I’m just sorry that I didn’t tell you this sooner,” he assured, a pleading edge on his voice, “I just… Didn’t really know what to tell you. And I thought maybe if I looked into it first, it would be easier. I finally asked to see all the files, because I wanted to read them before I told you any of this… Not that there was really much in there, but I just thought…” Steve stopped himself with an impatient sigh. And then he gathered himself, bravely, squaring his shoulders before he went for the big finish, “but the truth is that I still don’t really know what I am, and I don’t know how it could affect you, or… us, and I’m sorry about that, and I’m sorry that I didn’t tell you that, and… I’m just sorry.”

 

Tony had already opened his mouth to tell Steve it was okay. His lips were already curved around the words…

Frozen there, as he realised…

…He doesn’t know how it could affect me?

...Or us?

 

...Oh, but Tony knew.

 

All at once, everything fell into place. A sense of understanding overwhelmed him, far quicker than the words for it. 

He realised... the word Vampire wasn’t surreal, or ridiculous, or anything to do with those campy, Halloween images-

It was the word for... For…

“So, wait - that’s why…?” Tony blurted out, as he was still running through all those memories…

The panic he’d fallen into that first morning after, that strange sense that there was something he was meant to be doing

The draw he felt to Steve, the way he always knew when Steve was near

...The fantasies about Steve biting him-

“...That’s why?” Steve questioned softly, sounding somehow fragile. Tony snapped up to look at him again. “...You… felt something, like that?” Steve clarified-

 

And Tony really didn’t mean to sound so angry. He was just so overwhelmed, so at a loss for how to express it-

“I thought I was going mad!” He exclaimed, too loud and too sharp. And he saw Steve flinch, and he really tried to calm himself - but- “I have driven myself mad, just trying to work out why I change when I’m around you, if I’m making it up - why didn’t you say anything?”

 

It was only when Tony heard himself ask that last question that he realised how hurt he was that Steve had kept this from him. And not only because it might’ve made so much difference if he’d known all of this, not just because he felt he had a right to know… Mostly, it was because he thought that he and Steve were closer than that. 

But if he couldn’t even tell you something that fundamental...

Does that change everything he did tell you? Does this mean everything you think you know was something else entirely?

… Does this mean you can’t keep him?

 

“Tony, I’m so sorry,” Steve said again, taking another step towards him. “I didn’t know - you didn’t say-”

I didn’t say?” Tony snapped back - knowing, even as he did it, that it was irrational and unfair and not even what he was really feeling… But it just came tumbling out. “I didn’t know there was a thing to say - you don’t honestly think-”

“No, no, Tony, I didn’t mean that,” Steve implored, “I don’t - I just - I just meant I was sorry. That I would’ve told you, if I’d known…”

 

Tony took a step away from him. He didn’t even mean to - it was just all too much. 

But then he saw the way Steve shrank back, and immediately, Tony’s heart broke for him. That impulse to throw his arms around him was still there, stronger than ever, on top of everything else-

Making everything else so much more confusing.

“I’m sorry,” Tony whispered, averting his eyes. He heard Steve take a small, trembling breath, and his stomach clenched. A little voice whispered, go to him-

And, God, Tony didn’t even know whether to feel enlightened or terrified, when he recognised that voice for what it was.

 

“Why didn’t you tell me?” He asked again, more gently. More fragile. He looked up to see Steve melting under the heat of his own shame.

“... To begin with, because I wasn’t allowed to,” Steve confessed, miserably. “I was never allowed to. It was such a big deal, and before I knew you… And then, when I did get to know you, everything changed,” he sighed. “Before that, I just thought Vampire was another word for super soldier. I knew the blood drinking thing was a bit creepy… But that’s basically all I thought I was keeping from anyone. And then there was just this… Draw to you. And this… desire to protect you. And then that thing with the photographer, and… And then I realised I didn’t know what to tell you. I mean, I didn’t know if I was just making it up, or what it really was… And I didn’t want to scare you, and I didn’t want to lose you, and I didn’t really want to think about it myself, if I’m honest… And then, like I say, I thought maybe I’d try looking it up first…”

 

“And?” Tony asked. Steve hesitated, a questioning frown creasing his brow. “What did you find out, when you looked it up?” Tony clarified. Steve’s shoulders slumped again.

“Not much,” he answered, apologetically. “Most of the Project Rebirth file is experiment results and project notes… But… it did mention… Consorts…”

“Consorts?” Tony repeated. There was an instant tug of connection, which was both unnerving and strangely compelling.

“...I think it means a human that a Vampire falls in love with,” Steve muttered, shyly. “And I think a Mortal Blessing is a ceremony… Like a wedding, or something… I don’t actually know if any of that is right. There really isn’t much in there about that-”

“Wait, but, it’s a thing?” Tony demanded. “A consort is a - you mean I might be… a thing, now?” 

 

A beat too late, Tony realised how presumptive that was…

That Steve had never said he loved him…

That he hadn’t even known who Steve was, this whole time…

 

“Oh, God, sorry,” Tony blurted out, as a blush scorched his way up his neck. “Wow, that was embarrassing. Sorry, I just-”

“No, Tony,” Steve stopped him, grabbing hold of both of his shoulders and fixing him with a serious look. “I do love you, Tony.”

All the air left Tony’s lungs in a rush. A treacherous heat flooded his face, and for a second he had to divert all of his focus into not bursting into tears-

 

He had spent so long dreaming about this moment, and the elated rush that came with it - and it was there. A shiny burst of brilliant white joy, and excitement, and pride…

Which somehow made the fear and confusion all the more crushing. Like they were more horrible for just how much they could ruin for him-

“...I don’t know what that means,” Tony admitted, his voice trembling. Because he literally didn’t know what being in love with an immortal looked like, or what changes he should be frightened of first, or which vague, shadowy feelings this might yet explain…

“It means that I think you’re incredible, that I love being around you, that I like the person I am with you - it means everything it would’ve meant, before I took the serum,” Steve answered a different question completely. “...I just don’t know what else it means.”

“What else it means,” Tony whispered, dazed.

“... I don’t know what the hell my life is going to look like in ten years time… or a hundred,” Steve accepted, sadly. “And I don’t know what this bond is, or how it works, or how it would change either of us. And I’m sorry. If I’d known any of this before I was already in it - if I’d known what the hell I was talking about, ever…”

 

Tony took another step away from Steve and covered his face with his hands. He felt lightheaded and very heavy, all at once. 

“So, uh, to confirm,” he managed, sounding distant and spacey, even to himself. “The serum was based on vampire blood, and when the US Army said ‘super soldier’, they really meant ‘vampire’... And as well as being faster and stronger and smarter, you also drink blood and barely breathe and might live forever. And it’s possible that it affects the people you fall in love with, but you don’t know how.”

“Tony, I-”

“Could you, just, uh…” Tony waved him quiet, screwing his face up against the frustration of thoughts. “...Could you just give me a minute here, please?”

 

And then he looked back at Steve - in time to catch the way his face had fallen, before he bravely rearranged himself into that stoic posture.

“Yeah, of course…” he whispered - even trying for a little smile, before he awkwardly turned to leave-

 

Tony nearly called out after him - except that he didn’t know what he would have said. 

 

Chapter Text

Tony had never known such horrible, suffocating emptiness. 

 

Even the inky nothingness of the wormhole - even the nightmare counterpart that swallowed him in his sleep - was less oppressively vacant than his workshop in the moments after Steve left. It was as though he’d taken all the air with him, all the sound, all the colour, all life… For a few seconds, Tony’s mind was completely blank, frozen in panic over what to panic over first-

 

It may’ve been random chance which thought spoke up. 

But, as it happened, of all the thousands of things that had just shattered his reality, the one to break the silence was, he lied to me.

 

With that, Tony’s chest clenched tight, and a hot tearfulness flushed his face. A muddled collection of memories flashed up, over a soundtrack of questions and realisations - all moving too fast to mean anything. Still, he could feel the picture forming behind it, the overwhelming fear that everything was feeding into…

Nothing is like I thought it was 

Nothing is real

...None of this can last.

 

Oh, God, Steve might be immortal-

 

Tony shuddered under the power of that thought - and everything that came pouring out with it. 

The idea of growing older while Steve could only watch. 

The thought of Steve having to love him in the knowledge of how little time they had.

The unfathomable concept of Steve living for hundreds of years, resigning himself to fleeting relationships with human beings… The idea that Tony was just the first of many people that might provide some brief comfort in a life so much bigger than his own…

 

...Like he was a pet, or something.

 

And then an unbearable guilt and grief hit him like a wall of water, as he finally realised what that meant for Steve-

It was so powerful that his legs literally weakened, and he was forced to sink inelegantly to the floor. His heart started racing in his ears, his breaths coming higher and faster as he recognised what Steve had really told him-

That Steve was as surprised and confused by these impulses as he was-

That Steve didn’t know if he would be forced to watch everyone he ever cared for wither and die in front of him-

That Steve hadn’t known how to tell him or what to tell him, that he’d wanted to tell him but didn’t think he was allowed to, that he’d been scared and burdened all this time…

 

That Steve was the only vampire left. 

 

Tony felt terrible for taking so long to realise all of that.

And confused, and frightened, because there was nothing he could do about any of it.

And so incredibly sorry for Steve that it had started to make him feel light-headed…

 

...Go to him then.

 

Oh, but now Tony knew that voice for what it was…

Or, thinking about it… He still didn’t. Which was actually the scariest of all options - knowing that it was almost certainly something supernatural, but still having no clue what it really meant. Where it really came from. 

...What if being with Steve could change him into something else entirely?

...What if it already had?

 

...What if you want it to?

 

Tony wanted to be appalled by that thought. He wanted the simplicity of knowing. But all he got was a strangely compelling queasiness, and a thrill of fear. 

And, now that he thought of it, a strange desire to look at that sketch again…

He glanced up at his desk, to the tiny glimpse of yellowed paper that was peaking over the edge. He didn’t know why he should want to pick it up again, seeing as he could already visualise it perfectly… But something about it pushed him to his still shaky feet and powered him through those few floaty steps to the work bench. 

 

He paused when he saw that Steve had left the sketch face down - when he saw that familiar engineer's scrawl, and immediately pictured his father... 

Which set off yet another raft of observations, like an avalanche, gathering pace and power as one idea tumbled into another…

That’s why his father had this sketch-

That’s why he had all of these sketches-

The lace patterns, the anatomic diagrams, the drawings of teeth - it was all about this…

 

...It was all about this.

 

Tony gasped softly as everything fell into place. He knew he shouldn’t allow himself to jump to conclusions, to twist evidence to fit theories… But it all just made so much sense-

The peculiar look that would cloud his father’s features whenever someone mentioned Steve, or Operation Rebirth - the mix of guilt and fear that Tony could never name, but seemed so obvious now. 

The specific details that Howard wanted the world to know, and the ones he couldn’t bring himself to talk about. 

The wordless reverence that Steve had always commanded in Tony’s house, along with the terrible awareness that it must never be said out loud…

 

Tony’s father had loved Steve, and held him in as much esteem as he always said he did.

Howard hadn’t been scared of what he’d created - he’d been scared of what he didn’t know.

He’d been ashamed of all the unanswerable questions he’d laid on Steve’s shoulders, guilty for every awful, empty future that he might have forced on him…

He’d felt guilty for being relieved that Steve died.

 

...Or, God no, even worse - he’d always been afraid that Steve was out there somewhere, barely breathing, under the ice.

 

Jesus, Tony didn’t know what to do with himself. 

He wanted to scream, and cry, and break things. 

He was so consumed by anger on Steve’s behalf, so hurt for him, so desperate to make it better and so frightened that he couldn’t

He was still so confused and scared about what this might mean to him, so overwhelmed by the sheer range of possibilities, so completely bereft of context-

 

Somewhat unnerved by the way things kept shifting under the weight of this one revelation.

 

He pulled the office chair back and fell into it with too much force, causing it to slide back in a fashion not exactly in keeping with the mood. Irritably, he pulled himself forward again, suddenly filled with an energy that he was still too dizzy and weak to do anything with. 

 

...Go to him then.

 

Tony breathed a heavy sigh, and propped his elbows on the desk, and let his head fall into his hands. The temptation to give into that instinct was growing by the second…

But if he did, what then?

What about tomorrow morning, or whenever the time came that Tony had to think about all these things?

...What about in twenty years from now, when Tony was grey haired and tired, and Steve still looked like that?

...What about in forty years, when Tony needed help getting out of the bathtub?

...What about in a thousand years? Would Steve even remember him? Would those forty years of slow decline seem significant to him, by then?

...Was it worse to hope that Steve didn’t forget him, and therefore hope that Steve spent ten thousand years mourning forty - or was it worse to enter a relationship hoping that the other person can get over you without much trouble…

 

Oh, there were just so many questions. Impossible questions. Ethical, philosophical questions with no right answer. Practical, physical questions that he’d never have the data to solve. Shapeless emotional questions that he didn’t know how to begin asking…

They all started pouring into his head, one after the other, in no particular pattern - and with no attempt to answer any of them. 

This fantasy about Steve biting you - is that a sign you should? Is there a danger of you giving into that? Wouldn’t that kill you?

This weird sense that you know what he’s feeling - does that mean you’re psychically linked? Will he be able to read your mind one day? Does that mean he can change your mind, if he can walk around in it?

Do you know this Consort thing won’t change your mind anyway? That it won’t send you crazy, or turn you into someone else?

This protective thing that he feels for you, this draw to you - is it all a physical thing? A compulsion? Does he really love you, or is he just… entranced, or something?

Do you really love him?

 

Which was the thing that finally brought the spiral to a painful, screeching halt. 

Tony hated himself for even asking that question. It felt disloyal and spiteful and completely ridiculous to ask that question.

...But he had to ask that question now, didn’t he?

 

The trouble was, he didn’t even know where to start evaluating that - because the answer was so obviously yes. 

...But if that was the result of a… blood compatibility, or something…

...If it was an involuntary response to Steve deciding that he wanted him

Tony had absolutely no fear that Steve had...enthralled him, on purpose-

But what if he couldn’t help it? What if it just happened? What if Steve had no idea that he was doing it?

Neither of them could know, apparently. 

And any of those things might result in a confident, immovable feeling of love like this - if anything, didn’t the purity of his affection for Steve suggest something… more than human?

And when he thought of himself, consumed by anxiety because of a physical urge to ‘take care of Steve’, or pacing the halls of the Tower in anticipation of Steve moving in, or that instant, dizzying attraction he’d felt the second he laid eyes on him…

Objectively, it didn’t look... normal.

 

But you didn’t like him when you first met him, now did you?

 

Tony perked up at that thought, like he already knew it was going to be important.

And, as it unfolded, he realised-

He hadn’t felt a pure devotion to Steve all this time. However intense the spark, however quick his superficial infatuation, it hadn’t always been the warm, uncomplicated feeling of love that it was now…

And the instincts hadn’t always been the same.

The initial attraction might have been more powerful than anything Tony had ever known, and for all he knew it was something supernatural… But Tony hadn’t always known the moment that Steve got home. He hadn’t always felt the urge to care for him. He hadn’t always wanted Steve to bite him…

 

...And Steve hadn’t always felt the same impulses towards Tony

Tony knew he knew he hadn’t-

He had objective proof.

Steve had stood there on the helicarrier and watched as Nick tore a strip off of him - Steve had joined in. Steve had once ordered Nat to close the sky on him-

Tony never thought he’d be reassured by either of those memories.

But, right now, they came as an overwhelming relief - proof that whatever existed between them wasn’t simply a side effect of something beyond their control, it hadn’t simply been triggered by them meeting one another - it had grown.

 

...And it had grown with every little detail Tony found to like about Steve, every pleasant moment they’d shared together, every small kindness they’d traded - all the things that Tony was quite sure he loved about Steve, vampire-mind-powers or no. He was sure that being brave, and sweet, and secretly sassy, were qualities he would always have fallen in love with. He knew Steve was special…

 

...You know, scientifically speaking, this all suggests that you started bonding because you fell in love, not the other way around.

 

Tony snorted at himself for so casually slipping into language that sounded so silly to him - and might not even be right.

But there was no denying he was greatly reassured by all of that - which was probably the first positive thought that had crossed his mind since Steve left.

 

He did love Steve.

...And Steve loves you.

 

Tony didn’t know whether to smile at that, or cry. 

He thought of all the reasons he’d longed to hear Steve say that, all the things he always thought it meant - getting married and having kids and growing old together… 

And he realised.

He’d never wanted any of those things, specifically - he’d only ever wanted Steve. Those might have been the images he chose to represent it, but only because they were loaded as a default. All he really cared about was sharing a life with Steve, he didn’t actually have his heart set on any other detail, he didn’t care what it looked like-

As long as they were happy.

 

...Could an immortal ever be happy with someone who wasn’t? Could either of them be content, for as long as they didn’t know?

...What if this meant uncontrollable and horrible changes to both of them? What if it turned them into something they couldn’t even conceive of yet?

...What sort of commitment were they really making? If they carried on with this, were they tying themself to one another in a way that couldn’t be undone? It already felt as though he’d die without Steve - what if one day they simply couldn’t leave each other? Could they make a commitment like that without even knowing what they were doing?

 

...Of course, on the other hand, Tony was literally making all of this up. 

These were just the darkest fears from the recesses of his mind - and it was probably ridiculous to throw away his only chance at happiness on such a vague what if…

But… What if?

 

But what if it is good?

What if that instinct is telling you something?

What if this is natural and wonderful and right, and it’s just that you’ve never heard of it?

 

Tony bit his lip, a different sort of discomfort fizzing up in his skull. Without realising it, he’d slipped from a shapeless emotional spiral into an irritating internal debate with himself-

But if you encouraged every horny teenager to simply follow their impulses-

Or told every drug addict to listen to their body-

Or assumed that the instincts of serial killers and cult leaders must be in some way valid-

… But sexual attraction is a perfectly natural, normal impulse, even if it is laden with ethical questions and easy to politicise and terrifying to some people.

...Feelings of compassion and empathy and injustice on behalf of others are all valid human impulses, even if they don’t exist anywhere else in nature, even if they stand to get us hurt

...Look at all the damage that was done by people trying to deny those normal instincts, or force them into different structures - is it always better to deny an instinct we don’t understand, or that makes us uneasy?

 

Tony slapped the work desk in frustration, hard enough to make his palm sting. God, it was like having a bad High School Forensics team in his head, squabbling over philosophical concepts that had no place in the real world-

He already knew none of this was relevant. That there were no analogies - that this wasn’t like anything else.

...And how the fuck do you think about something like this, without analogies? How do you even start, without some sort of context?

 

Well… you know you love him.

Tony frowned at himself, unimpressed. Because that wasn’t any kind of an answer - that was the fucking problem. 

The fact that Tony’s heart broke when he tried to think of any life without Steve in it. 

The fact that he didn’t know what a life with Steve would look like, if he was up to it, if there was any way he could make Steve happy…

 

It wouldn’t have mattered, if Tony hadn’t cared so much about making Steve happy…

 

At last, and without really thinking about it, Tony reached over and picked up the sketch. There was a warm, soft feeling when he turned it over, something he knew should be deeply unnerving but felt very comforting….

 

...What if we’re both already caught up in this now, already changed in a way that can’t be undone? What if I’m already on a path to something ancient and powerful and inhuman, something I don’t even understand…

 

For such a huge and surreal thought, it was oddly familiar…

 

Not quite the same as the moment he unhooked that car battery and slotted the first arc reactor into place… But it reminded Tony of it.

And, now that he thought about it, it reminded him of the moment he’d walked off stage at that infamous press conference - when, once again, he’d found himself risk-assessing something he’d already done, and asking himself how that whole ‘I am Iron Man’ thing might ripple…

That eerie feeling that something had already changed beyond recognition, and possibly in scary, unpredictable, hugely consequential ways - and he was going to carry on existing here…

 

But in what unknowable, unimaginable form?

 

Tony’s shoulders softened slightly, more in weariness than relief. The compromised comfort of knowing that he had at least found the crux of the matter under all the noise - however messy it was.

Whether it was fair or not, even if it didn’t fit with any social or moral structure Tony had ever known, no matter how impossible it seemed… The choice in front of him was still the choice in front of him.

And, under all that panic, it was actually pretty clear-

 

He could walk away from Steve now. 

Tony could endure the unthinkable grief of losing him, and give up on the only romantic relationship that he’d ever cared about - not to mention denying a powerful impulse that felt natural and right, and for all he knew actually was. All to keep the option of a conventional life, that he’d never even wanted. All to avoid a shady fear that he couldn’t even name. 

Which would mean walking away from Steve - that determined, caring, courageous man who still laughed at Tom and Jerry cartoons and remembered everyone's coffee order and who’d thought to talk to Tony about his mom…

It would mean never touching him again, never falling asleep against his chest, never being able to tell anyone that Steve was his…

It would mean being alone forever. Tony already knew that. Whether Steve was a part of his life or not, Tony knew that he’d never be able to give his heart to anyone else for as long as Steve was out there somewhere.... He’d never get over him.

...It would mean never being able to help Steve, or comfort Steve.

 

But then… 

 

Tony ran his eyes over the details of the sketch, as he considered the only other option.

Commit himself to Steve completely, with no way to know what that meant in the long term. 

Decide that any life with Steve was better than being without him - however strange or dark or outside the realm of his imagination.

Surrendering to powerful, supernatural feelings that might alter the most personal and fundamental parts of him…

 

It was a question of whether he could promise Steve that he wanted to be with him forever, throughout any challenge - and really mean it. 

 

And then Tony just sort of… came to his senses. His back straightened, his features sharped, his grip on the sketch flinched tighter, enough to crease the paper…

But this wasn’t a supernatural impulse. This wasn’t some new instinct that he had no context for - he knew this one.

This was that very familiar, perfectly human response to suddenly recognising yourself in the cold light of day - of looking at yourself and asking, what the hell am I thinking?

 

...What had he done?

 

Oh, God, he had to fix this, he had to-

 

He couldn’t even be bothered to finish the thought, before he was scrabbling to his feet and bolting for the door. 

 

*

 

The rain clouds had slowly darkened over the course of the day. By the time Steve made it back to his room the horizon had started to flicker with the first warnings of the approaching thunderstorm-

Which was morbidly fitting really, wasn’t it?

 

Steve’s internal crisis had come on much hotter and faster than Tony’s - and consumed itself far more quickly.

He’d realised so many fears, all at once-

The fear of what he truly was, and what was going to happen to him - the anxious worries that he’d been forcing to the back of his mind since he first took the serum.

The loneliness and loss of this strange, alien future - the grief and trauma of his very existence.

The unthinkable, unbearable idea of losing Tony… Of it all being his own stupid fault.

 

It all tumbled into the same seemingly endless cascade of misery.

 

There were so many things he’d been running from. Things it had seemed easier to bury… until, against all odds, a solution appeared. 

Until Tony.

Falling in love with Tony had given Steve’s life a meaning. It had given him something for himself; it had helped him to find himself again. 

Meeting Tony had offered him an alternative to being lost and lonely, made him believe that there might be something good in what he was… Made him think that there had been a reason for all of it. That he wouldn’t have undone it, given the chance.

...Which had meant recognising all of those horrible things. 

You couldn’t take joy in finding the solution to all of your problems without acknowledging the problems, after all. 

 

...And that meant he couldn’t unknow them now.

He couldn’t protect himself from the awareness of everything he’d just screwed up - the ominous future he would have to face alone, every bottomless fear he’d never be able to share-

And all he’d wanted was to run to Tony. It was all he’d ever want; he already knew that-

And, God, if Steve had just taken every hope and happiness in his life and destroyed it in a single night-

 

Every tragedy Steve had ever endured had come bearing down on him as one solid weight of sadness. 

It was all too much.

Within a few minutes his panic had burned out into an awful, anxious emptiness-

 

And in that state Steve had stayed.

 

At some point he’d apparently wandered over to the window, and let his forearms rest on the ledge. He didn’t remember doing that, but here he was, staring through his own reflection at the shattered pattern of angry raindrops…

 

Missing Tony. 

 

Without words, without form… Just missing him. Braced against that constant urge to throw his arms around him, like a pain he couldn’t find the source of. 

 

Still, this was all very easy for him to say, he supposed - in what were his first sluggish thoughts in a while. 

Steve was fucked either way - already committed to this warped, unknown future, because he didn’t ask enough questions of the US Army. Why wouldn’t he want someone to share that with, for at least as long as he could?

...It was a rather different proposition for Tony. Steve was asking Tony to take a step into this macabre world, to take on those uncertainties and risks, on the promise that Steve would love him more than any other person in the world-

 

-But you would, though. 

… And you don’t know that it's a macabre future - it could still be something wonderful.

...He did feel something too-

 

Steve sighed, and forcibly crashed that train of thought - mainly because he couldn’t bear to get his hopes up. Because it felt arrogant and ridiculous and embarrassing to be getting his hopes up, at a time like this.

 

...And, anyway, the time for thoughts like that had passed.

 

Too late, Steve realised that he’d spent the last few weeks coming to terms with all the things he might be, and all the questions he still couldn’t answer. That he’d given himself all the time he needed to figure this out. He’d had all the available information to help him make sense of it... to reassure himself that he wanted whatever this bond turned out to be.

And he hadn’t shared that with Tony. 

...He hadn’t realised that’s what he was doing… But there it was. 

Along with yet another shiver of guilt, and the creeping understanding that this outcome was probably exactly what he deserved...

 

This was when he figured out what he wanted, and exactly what he should have done - and wasn’t that typical of him?

If he’d only told Tony what he was feeling - if he’d let Tony know that there were words to say that he felt something too…

If they’d uncovered these answers together…

If Steve had just said

 

But it was all too late now.

This would always be how Tony found out, and this would always be his first impression of it, and now the choice was his. A choice that he was probably making right now, with none of the details that Steve wanted him to know - but Steve had lost any right to demand an input. Steve had already frightened Tony, and proven that the trust between them wasn’t infallible, and now there was no way to demand a platform without being a complete ass-

Without pushing Tony further away.

 

So now he could only wait, trapped in this grey area between feeling nothing and feeling everything, unable to consider his options - because he didn’t have the front to hope Tony came back to him, and he couldn’t bear to think about the alternative-

 

And then came the frantic rapping at his door. 

 

Steve wanted to melt in relief and tense with apprehension, all at once- 

Because he knew it was Tony. 

And Steve didn’t know whether to be thrilled that Tony was willing to talk to him again, or terrified of what Tony might be here to say, or anxious about fucking it up… 

But he felt so much better for Tony being here. That much was a given. 

 

He reached the door in two long strides, putting perhaps a tad too much enthusiasm into opening it-

And then his eyes met Tony’s, and for a second everything froze. 

He was so beautiful. Fragile and brave and so very real - right there where Steve could reach out and touch him… It was like he brought everything back into focus.

Tony’s breath hitched, his eyes flashing with such raw feeling that Steve’s arms twitched against the urge to reach out and-

“I’m sorry,” Tony whispered, urgently. 

There was a sharp kick low in Steve’s stomach. He didn’t dare hope, and he couldn’t bear to think, and-

 

And then Tony was throwing himself into Steve’s chest, burying his head in Steve’s shoulder.

 

Steve’s arms folded tight around him, pulling Tony so hard against him that he almost pulled him off his feet. Immediately, Steve was flooded by a wave of euphoria, a wordless joy and overwhelming physical relief that rolled up through his body until it swallowed him completely - until there was nothing but the smell of Tony’s hair and the warmth of his skin and the dizzying happiness of being allowed to touch him…

 

“I’m sorry,” Tony said again, this time muffled against Steve’s neck.

“What?” Steve asked, still dazed. Tony lifted his head, resting his forehead against Steve’s. Steve could feel the heat of his breath as he spoke,

“I’m sorry I sent you away, I’m sorry for the things I said,” Tony answered in a rush. “I didn’t mean any of that-”

“Tony-” Steve interrupted - because he knew it wasn’t Tony’s place to be sorry. That he had so many apologies he wanted the chance to make-

“No, Steve - I love you,” Tony insisted - at which point Steve was cut short by a startled little gasping noise. 

 

And Tony smiled at that, and softened against him, and Jesus Christ, Steve didn’t know how to be this happy-

 

“And I don’t care what that looks like, and I don’t care what it might mean - there isn’t anything it could mean, that would make me walk away from you,” Tony carried on, breathlessly. “There isn’t anything I want in this world more than I want to be with you. I love you. I love every brilliant, brave, sweet, stupid, infuriating thing about you - and I would have, if I’d met you in 1942. And I’d have promised you forever without a second thought - and I’d have stood by you through anything. I don’t need a vampire impulse to tell me that.”

 

And, of course, every inch of Steve had was already pulling towards Tony. Almost every voice in his head was simply shouting yes-

Which made it a little easier to hear the single voice that was saying something else.

The sharp, chastening reminder that he’d just finished berating himself for this…

For falling into Tony’s arms when he should have been thinking about Tony’s heart. 

 

He couldn’t simply take this.

He couldn’t ignore those questions because of what he wanted right now - he couldn’t keep them from Tony.

He had to say-

 

“Tony, are you sure?”

“Yes,” Tony replied, instantly

“Even though neither of us knows what’s going to happen?” Steve pressed, in a pleading tone. “Even if it means you end up changing, or if I’m immortal-”

Steve,” Tony stopped him, determinedly. “Okay, look, I won’t lie - I’m really hoping it doesn’t turn out that the second stage of the vampire life cycle is a giant slug, or something. But, you know, when people promise in sickness and in health, and for richer and poorer and for better or worse - they’re all hoping for health, richer and better. No one wants to deal with a debilitating illness or a family disaster, no one expects one - but that doesn’t mean they don’t mean it when they make that promise. That doesn’t mean they’d have walked away if they’d known. And even if it is the giant slug thing, I still wouldn’t want to lose you a minute sooner than I had to. I’m never going to regret a minute I spend with you, whatever comes next. Only the time I didn’t. And, I mean, if that’s what… If you want to…”

 

Steve almost laughed. 

At once, he was possessed of an almost physical panic, as he realised that he didn’t have words to explain how much he wanted to - that there weren’t words for it-

 

So, in the end, he gave up and kissed him. 

 

Chapter Text

Tony knew - this was the moment. 

 

Whatever milestones and ceremonies and... changes, were still ahead of them, whatever serious conversations they were yet to have, whatever big decisions they still had to make- 

All of it would only define and celebrate the thing they were starting right now.

 

And he’d never been so certain of anything in his life. 

 

The moment Steve’s lips touched his, Tony gave himself completely.

He melted into Steve’s chest, instinctively trusting that Steve would support him - knowing that he was supposed to. Steve’s arms braced across Tony’s back, his hands caressing into Tony’s skin as he pulled him closer, gently pressing his mouth open wider, kissing him deeper-

And everything about it felt so right

At last, all the impulses that Tony had been denying, and running from, and worrying over, were all speaking together. Without having to think about it, Tony knew the story he was a part of, the role he played - it didn’t matter if it wasn’t a role he’d ever heard of before, or if it didn’t fit into any of his existing labels, or if there were no words for it. He knew it. It was natural-

 

To submit… But not in any way that he’d ever thought of it before...

 

He clawed his way into Steve’s embrace, his fingertips bunching the material of his shirt as he pulled closer, kissing him back every bit as hungrily-

Giving his body weight over to Steve, letting Steve hold him, and move him - letting Steve set the pace and then meeting it, eagerly.

 

He felt Steve growl, that same thrilling, feral sound that he’d forced himself to ignore so many times… It burned through him now, rolling up through his ribs and trembling through his muscles, soaking into him…

Consuming him…

 

...He wanted to be consumed by this-

 

And then Steve broke the kiss with a gasp. He ran his hands up along Tony’s back, rough and possessive, before he moved to cup Tony’s face between his palms. He looked at Tony with such intensity that it almost hurt to look back at him. 

“I love you,” he whispered.

 

And it was like it was the first time Tony had ever heard it.

 

His body was instantly flooded by the heat of it, the shock of it, the overwhelming wonder of it - everything he would have felt the first time Steve said it, if he’d not been too busy bracing for his world to end…

And the relief that his world hadn’t ended like that. Not the compromised relief that he usually felt when a crisis had been avoided - not just the release of adrenaline at the end of a panic, or the queasy comfort of thinking about all the ways that things could’ve been worse… This was everything made better in a single stroke. Every hurt and fear that Tony had ever experienced, instantly erased and replaced with a joy he’d never dared hope for. This wasn’t finding a light in the dark; this was stepping out of the dark completely, for maybe the first time in his life. 

And even more than that. 

The feeling that his world was ending - but in a good way. The sense that everything was changed, simply by being loved so much

...Being loved like that

 

“I love you, only you,” just fell over Tony’s lips. He didn’t even notice as all of his defensive walls simply...disappeared. He felt so far removed from the person he was yesterday, so completely sure of this instinct - it never once occurred to him to pause. “I’m yours. Always. Forever…” 

And, God, the dizzying freedom of that. The unexpected elation of being able to say it, of not being afraid.

“Oh Tony…” Steve breathed, his thumb still tracing over Tony’s cheek, his eyes shining with emotion. Tony felt it pooling in his stomach; something so familiar, even though he’d never felt it before. A warm sense of total security and perfect happiness, simmering with excited promise - an anticipation without tension, without limit…

Steve was happy…

Steve was happy with him

 

...His vampire was happy with him.

 

Somewhere, Tony already knew there was another word for that. There must be. He could feel it so clearly, so distinct from everything else in the world… Whatever Steve was to him now, whatever bond they shared - there was a name for it. Steve was... something more than a partner or a provider or a protector… something that no one else on Earth would understand. But Tony knew it. 

He knew it was right that he made Steve happy like this, more right than anything he’d ever done before… It was something ancient and fundamental and... good…

 

“You are everything I have ever wanted,” Steve promised, his voice low and gritty with need, “you are everything anyone could ever want - you are more wonderful than anything I could have dreamed up, more spectacular than anything I could’ve asked for… You make everything make sense…” He let one hand stroke up into Tony’s hair, cradling his head with a heated tenderness, whispering closer, “all this time I thought there were all these terrible things that had happened to me - but they’re not terrible things. They’re such small challenges, such small sacrifices, for something like this. I would have given so much more, and gone through so much more, just for the chance to meet you. To see this brilliance and bravery and joy and kindness and strength. Just to know you were real… There is nothing I wouldn’t give, nothing I wouldn’t do, for the chance to touch you like this… I wouldn’t take any of it back. I wouldn’t risk changing a single thing that brought me to this…” Steve paused with a smile when Tony’s voice cracked, his fingertips pressing against Tony’s skin in a quiet reassurance. Tony swallowed hard - only trying to contain it so that he wouldn’t stop Steve from speaking. Steve waited until Tony had settled into his breathing again, making sure to keep his gaze as he carried on, “you are the meaning in my life, Tony. You’re the reason to keep fighting. You are everything that I have to look forward to, everything that matters…”

 

And then Tony saw the way his eyes sharpened. He felt the way Steve’s body changed, the strength that closed around Tony like a blanket, the intention coiling in Steve’s muscles…

“I promise you, I am yours forever,” Steve said, in a different voice. A lower voice, laden with that unnamed power. Tony could feel it. “I promise that I will make you happy, whatever that takes. That I will keep you safe. That I will love you every minute of every day of the rest of my life…”

“Steve…” Tony breathed-

 

Already tilting his chin up.

...Oh, God, he knew what he was doing-

 

“Steve, I want…” Tony whispered, his eyes dropping to Steve’s lips…

But Steve knew what Tony wanted. Tony knew he did. 

It was like he could feel everything Steve was thinking...Tony knew that Steve wanted this.

He knew that Steve felt it, that he knew it was right, that he understood…

Tony knew that Steve was going to bite him… 

One day.

“But we can’t do it like this,” Steve answered softly - gazing longingly at Tony’s throat, even as he said it, “I’d have to be sure I knew what I was doing… I can’t hurt you. I’d never hurt you. And we have to talk about that first… I have to ask you, properly…”

 

Out of nowhere, the strangest sense of total calm came over Tony. A happy, safe feeling, like coming home…

Because this was right, somehow.

Handing this choice to Steve, trusting him to make it, knowing that Steve would know…

...This was how it was meant to work.

“Okay,” Tony smiled, his eyes still fixed on Steve’s mouth. “But, just so you know, I’m definitely going to say yes…” 

 

And he just about caught the delighted little grin that broke through Steve’s serious expression, before Steve grabbed him by the hips and pulled him up off of his feet. Instinctively, Tony threw his arms around Steve’s neck, pulling himself up into Steve’s embrace and wrapping his legs around his waist. A jolt of friction shot up along Tony’s spine, sparking a flood of hot, tingling excitement-

And then Steve was kissing him again, more urgently this time, devouring Tony’s mouth without any restraint-

 

And Tony certainly didn’t do anything to restrain him.

 

Tony lent into it, wanting to be devoured, offering himself up as enthusiastically as he knew how. Neither of them so much as paused as Steve carried Tony over to the bed, his hands grasping desperately at Tony’s clothes the whole time.

And then there was the giddy little dip in the pit of Tony’s stomach, as Steve dropped to lay him out on the mattress and crawled over the top of him. When he looked down at Tony it was with a feral sort of hunger, something primal, and superior, all at once. Tony felt his shoulders soften under the heat of it, his limbs falling open and his head tilting up again-

His body automatically preparing for something that wouldn’t happen tonight.

...But it knew.

 

Tony felt as though he knew so many things, now.

 

Somewhere, Tony recognised that impulse to care for Steve, that same feeling that had consumed him the morning after…

...The morning after Steve hit that photographer.

Oh… oh, he got it now! 

That’s what that little voice had been trying so hard to tell him - that’s what he was supposed to be doing, and why…

Because he will care for you, and protect you, and fight for you… Because you’re his

And then you’re supposed to care for him, and comfort him… And feed him.

Because he’s yours…

 

Another wave of exhilaration crashed through him; the satisfaction of figuring it out

Followed by the dizzy realisation that it would be like that, soon. Before long, Tony would be able to provide for Steve, and look after Steve, exactly as he was always meant to. There would come a time when Tony could ease that tension in Steve, and sate that hunger in him, and be a part of that power that was for him alone, now.

Just as soon as Steve said so.

 

For now, it was enough that Tony knew. Right now, he didn’t think he could be any happier…

 

“I love you,” Steve whispered, before he dropped to press a deep, slow kiss to Tony’s throat.

“Oh, God, Steve…” he mewled, throwing his head back against the pillows as the pleasure of it rolled out through his shoulders. “Oh God Steve, I love you.”

“You’re beautiful,” Steve purred close against his skin, and then sucked another bruising kiss to the curve of Tony’s neck, his hands already sliding up under Tony’s shirt. “You are the most beautiful thing I have ever laid eyes on, perfect, beyond perfect…”

Before Tony could say it back, Steve was pushing his shirt up over his head, his hands caressing over Tony’s ribs as he moved. 

 

Oh… And this is what it means to submit…

To surrender to this feeling, this experience…

To let himself feel everything without shame, or fear, or hesitation

To trust, completely, that whatever happened now was good… Because it was Steve.

 

“Steve, I want you, please,” he begged, breathlessly, as Steve carried on kissing his throat. He could feel Steve smiling against his skin. 

“You can have anything you want,” Steve murmured, as he moved his way down to Tony’s collarbone, “everything you want, always. There is nothing I wouldn’t do for you, nothing.”

Mindlessly, Tony clawed at Steve’s shirt, wanting to be closer - wanting to feel every inch of him. He heard the little hum of comprehension; he knew Steve could feel what he was feeling - that he would always know exactly what Tony needed… 

 

Without any further prompting, Steve sat up enough to pull his own shirt over his head and toss it aside. And then, before Tony could grab for him, his hands were unfastening Tony’s belt, his fingers curling over Tony’s waistband.

Please,” Tony breathed, arching his hips so that Steve could undress him, tugging his pants and underwear down over his thighs in one rough motion. The cool air burned over the tip of Tony’s cock, sharpening that need into a painful desperation.

“Jesus Tony…” Steve murmured, running his eyes over him. 

 

Tony felt the blood rush to the surface of his skin.

His heart began to beat harder rather than faster, until he could feel it in his spine. 

The skin tightened over his throat, and his thighs.

All of a sudden, everything felt so much closer and more vivid - like every sensation in the world was being drawn into him. 

A startled gasp was tugged straight from his lungs when Steve went to pull his clothes down over his legs, the simple feel of his skin sending sharp shocks of pleasure deep into his muscles. 

And then Steve put a firm hand to the inside of Tony’s thigh, and the sensation was so intense that Tony moaned, and tensed into it. Steve carried on pushing his legs apart, that determined confidence radiating from him like the forcefield around a magnet.

“Please,” Tony whispered again, arching up into Steve’s touch, his voice trembling as little electric shivers broke up though his hips-

 

And then Steve dropped his head, and sucked a deep, bruising kiss against the sensitive skin on the inside of his thigh.

A desperate scream lodged somewhere in Tony’s lungs, as his whole body braced into that feeling-

An static, dragging sensation, pulling just below the surface - something Tony had never felt before. Better than anything he’d ever felt before-

Triggering a physical need unlike anything he’d ever felt before. 

One hand grabbed at Steve’s hair, the other clawing frantically at the sheets, as the pleasure pulsed deeper, and hotter, drawing down from the small of his back. His cock throbbed, thick beads of pre-come dripping onto his stomach in time with that increasing beating sensation.

And then the edge of Steve’s canine teeth traced over a specific spot - that Tony could’ve sworn had never been a scaldingly sensitive spot before today - but now, it was like every nerve in his body had been set alight, from that one teasing touch. 

Tony opened his mouth to scream, but still no sound came out. He arced up against Steve’s lips, his muscles tensing against him as he twisted his grip in Steve’s hair-

Oh, God, I want him to bite me-

I want him to bite me there-

 

...Oh, but he liked knowing that Steve was responsible for this.

He liked the idea of the anticipation, the waiting - without anything to complicate it.

...He liked being good for Steve-

 

Which didn’t stop the pained little whimper, when Steve broke the kiss and lifted his head. 

 

But, before Tony could beg, Steve’s hands were on Tony’s hip, and on his shoulder, that incredible strength already radiating down through his arms-

And then Tony was being rolled onto his front in one swift, confident motion.

A sharp cry finally broke free, as his cock pressed against the mattress - that basic, human pleasure sliding over these deeper sensations. Tony froze, briefly confused as to what to feel first, what to lean into-

 

But you don’t have to know…

Steve knows…

 

Even as the thought was still forming, Steve was already making the point, stroking a firm palm along each of Tony’s legs, pushing his thighs further apart, bidding him to lift his hips-

Tony did as he was told without having to be told.

He followed Steve’s movements as though they’d rehearsed this a thousand times, as though every part of this was already carved into his muscle memory, into his most basic assumptions. He pushed his weight up onto his knees, and parted his legs, and lowered his head…

Presenting himself…

 

And, fuck, the overwhelming elation of that

It was of a completely different nature to any other pleasure he was currently feeling - enough that he didn’t even care about losing the friction that he’d had such a teasing hint of. 

It came over him like a wave, like a physical intoxication-

The immediate, bodily relief of surrendering like this - like it had taken all his strength to keep himself from falling into this position, and he’d finally been allowed to let go-

The comfort and safety and rightness of following these instincts-

The sheer thrill of Steve seeing him like this, being happy with him.

And maybe, underneath it all, the simple human excitement of giving into a taboo - although, of course, he’d forgotten all about his human insecurities and assumptions.

For a moment, Tony felt as though he’d reached the peak of physical pleasure and personal happiness, that this was all he’d been looking for, all he wanted-

 

Until he felt Steve’s fingertips dig into his flesh - into that same spot on his inner thighs - gripping him hard as he spread him open-

Then Tony wanted more.

 

“Please,” he barked, dropping his shoulders and lifting his hips and trying to wriggle back against Steve’s hands - thrilled to find that Steve’s hold was too strong for Tony to be able to move him. “Please Steve, please-”

“Jesus, you are beautiful,” Steve murmured, like he was talking to himself. Still, Tony felt it curl in the pit of his stomach, his cock pulsing sharply under the power of it-

And then there was the slow, firm drag of Steve’s tongue over his hole.

“Oh, God-” was cut off by a startled, choking cry as that sensation coiled tight in his hips, his thighs still burning under Steve’s fingertips. His mind blanked completely, ceding everything over to his body as Steve began to work him open with the tip of his tongue. Tony keened, and writhed into it as much as he could, the deep, satisfying friction of Steve’s grip on his legs throbbing into the teasing, needy pleasure that was building under Steve’s lips.

 

“Oh, God, please, I can’t, I’ll come like this, I-” Tony babbled desperately, barely aware he was even speaking. Steve simply dug his fingers harder into Tony’s flesh and pushed his tongue deeper inside him, tightening that need to the point of pain-

But fuck, it felt so good.

And then, just as that pressure was threatening to break, Steve loosened his hold on Tony’s thighs. 

 

Tony let go of a carnal moan, which soon trailed back into a whimper, as he fell away from that limit and back into focused, bodily desperation. He pulled the sheets into his fists, trying to dispense some of the eye-watering tension as Steve stroked his hands over the curve of his ass, his tongue still working against his rim in sharp, determined motions-

Oh, so good,

So close,

Please just-

 

And then Steve lifted his head, and sat up, taking his hands away.

 

Tony’s spine jolted with something much like panic, stars exploding behind his eyes as he screamed into the pillows, not yet able to process this new level of urgency-

For a few seconds he was too frantic to know what the hell Steve was doing, and by the time he’d worked out how to beg for him again, Steve had pressed a firm, reassuring palm to the small of Tony’s back…

Patience.

Tony’s body simmered down immediately, his thighs relaxing and his shoulders falling loose - like they were following Steve’s commands directly. But that need still burned beneath his skin, building at an impossible rate-

 

And then he felt Steve’s fingertip, now wet with lube, press firm against his hole and push inside him - and everything sharpened again. 

That familiar human pleasure crawled up his spine, a hot compulsive friction that quickly burned itself out and left an aching need for more-

And then Steve pushed another finger into him, pushing deeper this time, brushing against Tony’s prostate in a shower of sparks.

“Oh, God, more, please,” Tony moaned, trying to rock back. Steve pushed a third finger into him and twisted his hand, waiting until Tony had whimpered through it before he began thrusting into him, slow and hard.

Tony’s low groaning was cut into a jagged, stuttered cry, breaking every time Steve pushed into him, moving higher in his chest as that pressure built again-

He was so sure every move would break him, trembling on that knife edge, every muscle pulled tight-

 

Steve’s free hand stroked down over Tony’s hip again, holding him firm as he slowly pulled his fingers out of him - already pulling Tony closer.

The pleading scream ebbed away, as Tony recognised that he didn’t need to beg - as his focus shifted to positioning himself against Steve’s hands. He pushed his weight up onto his elbows, his head still bowed. 

The head of Steve’s cock pressed hard against his rim-

“Steve-”

“Oh, God, Tony,” Steve breathed, his voice catching as he pushed into him, “my Tony.”

Tony’s blood flashed hot as the sound of it, that phrase echoing through his head as Steve slowly filled him up.

And then, when Steve had buried himself completely inside him, the head of his cock pushed up against Tony’s prostate and his hands caressing into Tony’s hips, his voice dropped into something darker and more possessive as he growled,

Mine.”

 

Tony came hard against his stomach, all the air leaving his body at the shock of it. It tore up through the tension in his back, breaking him into pieces as it shuddered through him, until there was nothing left of him - just this blinding, scalding pleasure he’d been swallowed up by. 

He might have screamed, or called out to Steve - he had no idea.

He didn’t know where his limbs were, he couldn’t see, he couldn’t think-

But, God, he was so happy-

 

“Yours, I’m yours, only yours,” sounded as though it was coming from miles away - Tony didn’t even recognise his own voice. He’d forgotten where he ended and the rest of the world began. There was only that thick, pulsing bliss, beating through his body in time with his racing heart.

 

Steve held still inside him the entire him, his fingers flexing gently against Tony’s him as he moaned and pleaded his way through his orgasm. Tony had no idea how long it was, before the intensity of it began to dissolve into shivers, and then simmer into a low, pulsing satisfaction. 

Eventually, the world came back into focus.

Tony became more aware of his body - specifically, the fact that Steve was still buried inside him. 

“Fuck me,” Tony pleaded, simply speaking those instincts out loud, now. “Take me, use me, I want you to, I want to feel you, please.”

 

He heard the soft hum of approval from Steve, like a balm on his skin. An immediately soothing sound that managed to settle the trembling. 

And then Steve thrust into him, hard

Tony let out a sharp, startled cry, as the pleasure shot through his over sensitive limbs-

But there was a deeper satisfaction to this, now. 

So much so that the physical sensation almost faded out of focus, as Steve settled into that fast, brutal rhythm. It rolled below the surface, a wonderful, uncomplicated euphoria throbbing beneath the far more spiritual elation that had overwhelmed him-

The fundamental satisfaction of being good for Steve-

The feeling of being possessed by him, and of completing him-

The more-that-human rightness of this-

Tony sank into it, letting it close around him and soak into him and swallow him up, the memory echoing in his mind as Steve thrust into him,

My Tony

My Tony

My Tony

Mine

 

And then he felt Steve’s muscles tense - he felt his desperation sharpen.

...He could feel Steve’s hunger, his pleasure, his need-

And, when Steve finally broke, Tony could feel the release of it - a lofty, heady sort of euphoria that swamped him as Steve came inside him. 

Tony fell into it with him, his head swimming as he was overwhelmed by that bright, warm bliss…

His head fell forward, his body softening in Steve’s hands, his thighs burning where Steve had bruised them and his throat raw from screaming and his eyes stinging with tears-

 

And it was, without question, the most perfect pleasure Tony had ever known. 

 

*

 

It was hours later that Steve finally came back into himself. 

 

Up until that point, he’d been lying in a state of dazed happiness, his mind completely silent and his limbs still throbbing with satisfaction. Tony was lying against his chest, sighing softly as Steve played with his hair, a constant source of amazement and comfort that Steve didn’t have to think to name. It was simply everything, and it was good… 

 

And then, at last, he noticed that his pants were still hanging carelessly from one foot. 

 

Steve smiled at the observation, his brain sluggishly waking up enough to recognise the harmless silliness of it. He gave his leg a shake, letting his clothes fall over the edge of the bed with a soft swoosh… somewhat surprised by how heavy his body was.

...Sort of surprised to remember that he had one, to be honest.

 

And then he glanced down at Tony, who was looking up at him with a playful smile… And he remembered.

He is perfect, and I love him.

And he loves me, and he’s mine.

...And there are no more secrets, no more compromises

Everything is wonderful…

 

...Okay, so he couldn’t process those thoughts yet. But they were there. 

 

“I love you,” he smiled, just because he liked saying it so much. And because he loved the way Tony smiled when he did.

“I love you too,” Tony replied, snuggling into his chest-

But Steve had caught the flicker of thought behind his eyes.

“Hm?” He questioned, warmly. Tony tilted his head up again.

“I was thinking… So, you said you read everything SHIELD had about Operation Rebirth?” He asked, in an interested tone. 

“Mm-hm,” Steve nodded. “It’s not much help, but it’s something - if you want to read the file.”

“...But that’s all you’ve read?” Tony went on.

“I don’t know that there is anything else,” Steve sighed.

“Well, maybe not on Operation Rebirth, or the serum you took,” Tony mused. “But you said that there were vampires hundreds of years ago?”

“Apparently,” Steve shrugged.

“And SHIELD did some research on them?”

“Well, it looks like they tried. But I don’t think they had all that much to go on…” But he could see Tony’s eyes warming in that thoughtful way of his… “Why do you ask?”

“Because I think, if you set a challenge to see who could find more original sources - and who could better use those original sources - I’d beat anyone in SHIELD…” 

 

It took Steve a second to realise what Tony was getting at. And then his shoulders tensed just slightly, his mind coming into sharper focus as he looked at Tony.

“...If you wanted me to, I mean,” Tony clarified - at which point Steve broke out into a grin.

“Well, yeah, of course I’d love that,” he breathed, as the revelation continued to unfold. “But it’s not just that, it’s… I’ve always been on my own with this, before now… I’ve never even had anyone I could talk to about it, never mind having someone who wanted to help…”

Much less someone who could help…

Someone smart and resourceful and determined…

...Oh, God, could I really find some answers to this after all?

 

“...But you’re not on your own with anything now,” Tony reminded him, with a kind smile.

 

Steve felt it wash over him like warm water. 

Of course, he had no hope of processing a revelation that huge right now – he had far, far too many things to be happy about first, before he could think about that… But he felt it. He understood everything it made better, everything it meant…

He pulled his arms tight around Tony, burying his head in Tony’s hair and breathing him in, trying to think of how to express this incredible joy…

And then Tony nuzzled closer into Steve’s neck, his breath warm against Steve’s skin when he whispered,

“Mine.”

Steve let go of a trembling breath, his face flushing with a happy tearfulness as he whispered back,

 

“Yours.”





Chapter Text

Tony part floated, part danced his way back to his workshop at some point in the middle of the following afternoon. 

 

Of course, he still begrudged having to get out of Steve’s bed at all. If Steve hadn’t scheduled a meeting with the Secretary of the World Security Council, there was no way either of them would have bothered going back to work today. 

...Tony still had that nagging feeling that they shouldn’t have gone back to work today. That he was supposed to be with Steve, right now... 

But, on the other hand, there was something nice about knowing that they were actually dealing with this thing. As much as Tony would’ve liked to listen to his instincts above all else, there was something more comforting in the idea that they were going to make this work with their lives, and their jobs and their responsibilities. It made everything seem more tangible, more real. 

And that petulant longing was so much more bearable now that he knew what it was, and now that he was sure that it would be short-lived - and now that he had these wonderful memories to indulge himself in.

 

Which was why there was still an elated grin on Tony’s face as he threw himself onto the workshop couch.

He could still feel that absence burning under his skin, and that recurring compulsion to get up, move, do something… but he knew now that this was a perfectly normal impulse that he only needed to distract himself from.

 

Which was easy, today. 

 

Today, he could lie here and relive all the wonderful things that Steve had whispered to him last night, and let that tingling excitement flood through him all over again. 

He could focus on those tender spots along his inner thighs, and remember the bruising grip that left them.

He could drift back into that warm, quiet place that he’d fallen into when Steve had him cradled against his chest. That heady sense of contentment and security that he’d never known before. 

 

...He could daydream about the life he was going to lead from here.

He could picture waking up in Steve’s arms every morning, and kissing those beautiful lips whenever he wanted to… 

And bearing his neck for Steve…

 

A low heat curled, pulling a tightness through Tony’s skin. 

He knew it would feel different if he pictured it now.

All of his previous fantasies had been shadowy and ill defined and… scary. He hadn’t known what it was that he wanted, not really. He could never quite imagine how it wouldn’t be messy and painful - even though it already felt like it wouldn’t be… Tony had never been able to work out how that feeling would look. He’d only ever had brief glimpses and shots from a distance- 

Because it didn’t make sense for a human to sink their teeth into someone's throat. The reality wouldn’t convey the abstract appeal…

 

But, of course, he could immediately picture how a vampire might bite him…

If he wanted to, Tony was sure he could visualise a thousand highly detailed scenarios…

That heat coiled more sharply. His lips curled into a darker smile as his cock stirred… But he decided to leave those ideas until he could really indulge in them - maybe even until he could share them with Steve.

 

After all, it wasn’t as though Tony had to plot different ways to bump into him anymore, or worry about every little interaction they had - he knew that Steve would race to be with him the moment his meeting ended, and that Tony would be able to share absolutely anything with him...

 

So, instead - and with no real sense of hardship - Tony refocused his thoughts on the memories he already had, this time drifting back to those quiet moments right before he fell asleep. That calm sense of peace, the feeling that everything was going to be alright, that everything finally made sense…

And it wasn’t only a feeling.

As he’d finally started to unpack everything that had happened to him in the last twenty-four hours, Tony had been delighted to realise that so many of his questions had real answers now. His vague anxieties had been given context and explanation. He had a structure through which to think about things - a genuine starting point, after all those false alarms. 

Now, rather than spiralling through undefined panics, Tony could begin working out the source and function of these new instincts. The question of ‘what was going to happen’ was no longer a rhetorical expression of fear. 

...Tony liked that question, now.

 

He found himself wondering what it would be like the mornings after Steve bit him - whether, maybe, this urge to be with Steve after such intimate moments was part of a more fundamental impulse… It felt as though it might be. 

Tony didn’t really have a reason to think it, but it just… felt right, to him. 

...It would be an intimate moment like that, if he bit me

It would be seeing the Vampire side of him - the side I only got a glimpse of last night, or the night he hit that photographer…

I know I’d want to be close to him after that, that it would feel important - more so than it ever has…

But that would make sense, as a natural instinct….

Tony’s dreamy expression pinched in interest, as he began filtering through all the different bonds and dynamics that appeared in nature, wondering which ones fit, and to what extent.

 

And then he remembered the simple human happiness that lit up Steve’s whole face, when Tony said he’d like to help Steve learn more about vampires. 

 

At the time, Tony had been consumed by how nice it was to see Steve smile like that… But, now that he thought about it, he recognised where that smile had come from. 

It was the first opportunity that Tony had really had to think about how hard it would’ve been to live with that secret. How lost and confused Steve must’ve been, with no one to turn to for help. How scared he was of anyone finding out, of letting people down…

...How reckless and uncaring the Army was to give Steve that serum without a shred of support - without any of the details they did have about the treatment they were giving him.

Now, thinking of Steve smiling like that was enough to make Tony’s chest ache. He was annoyed at himself for not being annoyed at the Army sooner

… And SHIELD, now that he thought of it. 

Nick Fury and Alexander Pierce and anyone else who’d known about this ridiculous, 1940s policy and decided to let Steve run with it - even after all the additional trauma he’d gone though.

 

...So, it turned out that this protective instinct went both ways. 

 

“JARVIS, we still have all the details we were able to lift from the SHIELD Servers on the helicarrier, right?” He asked, with an icy sort of focus that he would have thought beyond him, a few moments ago.

“Indeed, sir,” JARVIS responded politely. “As yet, I am still unable to decrypt the files stored on Alexander Pierce’s personal server, but all other files are still available.”

“Okay, we’ll start with that,” Tony decided. “Scan every file for any references to Steve Rogers, Operation Rebirth, vampires, blood or plasma treatments, blood or plasma research studies, historical or genealogical studies of any specific families that date back 200 years or more…”

“And you’re sure you aren’t forgetting anything?” JARVIS asked, wryly.

“If there is, I’ll add it to the list,” Tony replied, standing up from the couch. 

“Scanning now,” JARVIS informed him. “However, there are over 400 Petabytes of information to sort through, so this may take a while.”

“Okay… In the meantime, can we run a full internet search for any book or article that mentions both Vampires and Consorts…” Tony mused out loud. 

“I can, but a basic search of those keywords has returned over seventeen million results. You may wish to refine your search, or define a way to prioritise the results,” JARVIS suggested - although Tony had already worked out that he’d need to be more specific…

 

And then, out of nowhere, he found himself looking up at his work desk…

“Tell you what, let’s look for anything that also mentions a ‘mortal blessing’, or the name Ahreddan…” He added, as a whole other idea started unfolding…

“Compiling results now,” JARVIS replied, as a hologram display flashed into life and rapidly filled with names and dates…

 

But Tony was staring right through it-

Looking at the wall of box files that contained all of his father’s work notes…

 

He laughed softly to himself.

Oh, yes, I feel so much better than I did the last time I was possessed by this frantic need to care for Steve - so now I’m going to dump the contents of the very same boxes all over my workshop floor…

But, of course, he knew the situations were entirely different, even if the narrative parallel was somewhat amusing. 

This time he would be looking for something very specific - something he had good reason to think was in there, and something that seemed very likely to help.

...Because he was sure there would be more of those loose papers in there somewhere, slotted into whatever random piles Tony had made in his impatience to dispense with the tidying-

 

And then he heard the sound of the elevator settling on his floor. 

 

He glanced up at it, his surprised frown quickly melting back into a smile. He knew that it wasn’t Steve. For one, Steve never took the elevator - but more to the point, Tony would always know when it was Steve. 

But there were only two other people in the world who had access to that elevator - especially without an introduction from JARVIS. So, that meant it could only be Pepper, or-

 

And then Rhodey stepped into the workshop.

 

“Hi,” Tony grinned - casually waving the hologram away before he stepped over to meet him. 

“Hey, how was the trip?” Rhodey asked… And Tony’s mind went totally blank for a good few seconds…

“Oh, yeah, the trip,” he remembered at last. “Oh, fine - boring, but, yeah. No catastrophes…” He trailed off into a shy murmur as Rhodey narrowed his eyes at him.

“Yeah?” He prompted, knowingly. “Well, something’s happened.”

“Hm?” Tony smiled - mainly because he enjoyed the game of it. 

“You,” Rhodey answered, gesturing at him. “Being all… giddy. What happened? Did Steve propose, or something?”

 

A musical laugh broke free of Tony’s chest. 

Partly because… well, yes, sort of. More than, even. Steve had asked him to share a far deeper commitment - and Tony had said yes.

And he liked that idea. 

He would’ve liked to share it with Rhodey… And he knew, pretty soon, he’d have to have a serious think about what he was prepared to hide from his friends. And he’d have to talk to Steve about it. 

But he also knew he couldn’t take that choice away from Steve - certainly not before he’d given it any real thought, or bothered to discuss it. 

So, for the time being, the true extent of what had happened would have to stay as their little secret…

Which, again, Tony didn’t mind, today. 

 

“You know, I don’t think we were officially ‘a couple’, before last night,” he said instead, his voice still rich with laughter. Rhodey scoffed at him. 

“Well, then you and Steve were the only two people who didn’t know you were a couple before - last night?” His expression brightened, as he registered what Tony had said. “Why, what did happen last night?”

“I, uh, finally got my shit together and I told Steve I love him,” Tony confessed. The pleasant blush deepened as he saw Rhodey’s eyes flash with a childish excitement.

“And?”

“...And he said it back,” Tony tried for a nonchalant shrug, but he was still smiling too much.

And so was Rhodey. 

“Aw, well, I’m pleased for you both… And, kind of scared for you both…” He pulled off a mock-concerned expression, to take the edge off the sweetness. Tony did his best to frown at him.

 

“So, what brings you down to my lair, anyway?” He enquired cheerfully.

“Hm? Oh, nothing really,” Rhodey shrugged. “I was just wondering if you wanted to go grab some lunch, now that you’re back in the country?”

Tony nodded automatically, responding to the simple niceness of the suggestion…

...And then he found his gaze being drawn back to the box files on the other side of the room.

...But you do have something important to do-

 

Ah. But Tony knew what it was, now.

He knew it wasn’t something terrible he’d forgotten, or a subconscious sign that the world was in danger. He knew he wasn’t teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown. 

This was part of being bonded to Steve - a need to keep Steve safe, and make him happy, beyond anything he’d ever thought of as love. And it was real, and it was important-

 

But Rhodey was important too.

 

And Tony hadn’t had a chance to catch up with Rhodey in far too long-

And no harm would come of spending an hour with him, while the computer ran its searches. 

His instincts still nagged at him, of course. Instincts couldn’t understand context - they had no way of knowing when you’d gotten the message, and worked out what you had to do. But Tony could understand the context, now that he knew the instinct for what it was. He could figure out how to make it work. 

 

“Yeah, I’d love to,” he beamed, casting a final glance over the workshop before he gestured towards the elevator, shall we?

 

*

 

Steve had tried several times to stop bouncing his feet.

 

He was sitting in the sleek, glass and chrome waiting room outside Alexander Pierce’s office - no doubt irritating the receptionist, who was ignoring him from behind an imposing mahogany-topped desk. His calves had started to throb with the repetitive stress of it-

But he just couldn’t keep himself still. 

 

He had too much energy, too much excitement - too much happiness - to contain. He had no idea how he was going to pretend to care what Alexander Pierce had to say-

And it wasn’t only his newly clarified instinct to go to Tony that was distracting him. 

A big part of this mood was simply the thought of having someone of his own, having something go right for once, having something to look forward to-

Having so much to look forward to. 

Just having someone to come home to was something to look forward to - something he’d taken for granted that he’d never have again.

Having someone to talk to - someone he didn’t have to hide from.

Someone who really knew him for who he was, who loved him for what he was.

Someone beautiful and brilliant and brave and kind…

 

And, okay, yes, occasionally Steve’s mind drifted into excited musings about what it would really be like to have a consort, and what wonderful experiences there might be ahead of them…

But that part of things hadn’t really hit him yet. 

He was still overwhelmed by the idea of having someone to wake up next to-

 

“Captain Rogers,” a smooth, professional voice snapped him out of his daydreams. Steve looked up to see Alexander Pierce strolling across the lobby towards him, hand already extended. Steve made sure to leap from his seat in time to take it.

“Sir,” he managed a perfunctory smile. “An honour to meet you at last.”

“Oh, obviously the honour is all mine,” Pierce assured him, gesturing to his office. Steve simply followed him. 

 

“And I should thank you for coming to see me today,” Pierce carried on with the pleasantries, as he closed the door behind them. “I was hoping to arrange this meeting outside of daylight hours, but it seems your schedule is the only one more packed than mine.”

Steve paused, standing in the middle of the room, and turned to consider Pierce for a second. 

Something about that statement had struck Steve as… odd. Pointed. 

Like he’s making sure you know that he knows?

 

...But Steve shook it away. For one, there had never been any doubt in his mind that Pierce knew. As the Council Secretary, he knew everything - well, Steve assumed.

And he couldn’t think what advantage Pierce would be seeking, in referencing that very obvious fact… It was more likely that he was just trying to be considerate, and that Steve was being paranoid about it…

“Well, I appreciate it, but there’s really no need,” Steve replied, eventually. “The stories about my susceptibility to sunlight have been greatly exaggerated.”

“So I see,” Peirce smiled, strolling around his desk and sitting down - glancing at the chair on the opposite side, in a silent invitation to do the same.

Steve tried to ignore the creeping feeling that was making its way down his spine and sank into the chair. 

 

“So… Why did you want to see me?” Steve asked, when it became clear that Pierce wasn’t going to start by telling him. He noted that this round-about way of talking was a SHIELD thing, and not merely a Nick Fury thing.

“Because I wanted to touch base with you, really,” Peirce replied, breezily. “I feel as your overall director I should personally make sure that the reports are correct, and that you’re acclimating well. And, I won’t lie, as a fan of yours, I wanted to meet you.”

Steve maintained the tense smile, while he tried to convince himself that he wasn’t put out by this. He reminded himself that Peirce didn't know how much Steve wanted to be somewhere else. He told himself that being annoyed by this demand on his time was disproportionate and unreasonable. 

...He told himself that there was nothing more to this reaction.

...Was there?

 

“So, how are you acclimating to this brave new world?” Pierce asked him, softening his tone slightly. 

Immediately, Steve felt a resistance to answering him. Which was probably down to his usual defensiveness - it wasn’t as though he’d ever been comfortable talking about these things with strangers…

“Well, it’s been a challenge,” he sighed, deliberately keeping his tone somewhere between neutral and upbeat - the ‘small talk’ voice, designed to maintain a conversational distance. “But I think I’m finding my feet with it. And, I have to admit, some things are better now. Food's a lot better, we used to boil everything. No polio is good.”

Peirce breathed an obliging laugh.

“Is there anything SHIELD can provide you with, anything you think might help?” He continued.

“Uh… Honestly, nothing I can think of,” Steve shrugged. “I mean, I’ve been very well provided for, so far…”

 

And then, as casual as you like, Peirce just came out with it,

“I understand you’ve become close to Tony Stark?”

 

Steve’s eyes snapped up to fix Peirce’s in a steely glare. He didn’t even have time to remind himself that this was the head of World Security - the reaction was instant.

“Is that a problem?” He demanded. 

And he saw Pierce flinch. He saw all the tell-tale signs of panic that Pierce had no way to hide - the way his pupils dilated, the way his chest seized, the way the hair on the back of his hands stood on end…

And Steve noticed that Peirce didn’t actually move.

...He was quite sure that Pierce had been braced for this moment. 

 

“No, of course not,” Pierce replied - in what wasn’t quite his normal voice, but a reasonable approximation of it. “I was hoping you would say that you were building some real relationships here in the 21st Century…”

No, you weren’t - you wanted to see what would happen when you mentioned Tony.

Steve pinched his lips, and forced himself to break the stare, glancing down at his hands while he filtered through this new information…

 

He already knew there was no point in asking if his fears were reasonable. He didn’t have enough information to make that assessment, or enough time to make it in-

He had to decide right now if he was going to create an issue with one of the most powerful people in the world or walk away from this intuition - so he skipped straight to the risk assessment.

And he couldn’t see any imminent danger from Peirce. He couldn’t think of any threat that couldn’t wait until after he’d left the room and better assessed the situation.

...Whereas there would be immediate consequences to picking a fight with the Council Secretary on a hunch. Consequences that could affect the team he’d come to think of as family - the team Tony was a part of, and cared about… Even if Steve was right, and there was something greater at play here, he stood to do more harm than good by leaping to action. If he was wrong - and he was increasingly sure that he wasn’t - but if he was just being edgy and paranoid, then it would be even worse. 

 

“Well, thank you,” he replied, trying to let go of that possessive energy. “I appreciate it. And I apologise if I’m still a little jumpy on occasion - but it is getting better. Honestly.”

Peirce nodded - but didn’t unbunch his shoulders. His eyes remained fixed on Steve with a rabbit-in-headlights level of focus, as he replied, carefully,

“Well, I know you’ve already been given the contact details of our various support staff…” And then he had to stop and swallow hard, visibly gathering himself before he could carry on, “and if there’s ever anything… specific… that you need help with, that you’re not able to talk to most people about-”

“My being a vampire, you mean?” Steve cut him off - for no reason other than he’d lost his patience. Pierce’s eyes widened, a flicker of a nervous smile playing out before he answered,

“...There are people you can talk to about that, if you need to. I can get you a list of the people who know.”

 

And, for the first time ever, it occurred to Steve that he could ask why it was still a secret. That he actually had a right to object - that maybe he did object, now that he thought of it…

And it occurred to him to wonder why Peirce hadn’t suggested it - or at least asked how he felt about it…

Maybe he was just too eager to get out of the conversation.

Steve was certainly eager to get out of the conversation - more so than he’d been at the beginning of the meeting. Which was saying something. 

...That was the priority, he decided. He could think about everything else after that. 

 

“I’ll keep it in mind,” he said, in what he hoped was a final tone of voice. Pierce huffed out a relieved little breath, and nodded. 

“Well, thank you again for coming by,” he exhaled, as he stood up to take Steve’s hand again.

 

Steve made sure to squeeze it a bit too tight. 

 

Chapter Text

It was late afternoon by the time Steve had finished with his various photo ops and ‘networking meetings’ in DC. The adrenaline had gathered at an increasing rate as the itinerary dragged on, until his skin tingled, and his shoulders began to ache… Although, he had to admit, it was far more manageable than it had been. 

In a weird sort of way, it might even have been fun. Steve had never had someone to rush home to before. He’d never had a new boyfriend to be excited over… Part of him enjoyed the novelty of it. The feeling of being included in the world. Knowing that it would be that much better, for how much he wanted it…

 

He spent the entire flight home pacing from one end of the plane to the other, alternating between daydreaming about Tony and repeatedly checking the time. 

When they finally landed in New York, Steve spared the most fleeting observation that he was probably supposed to check in with Fury - with absolutely zero intention of acting on it, of course. 

Instead, Steve sprinted through the Tower as quickly as he ever had on the battlefield, wilfully oblivious to the strange looks he was getting. He was in and out of his own room so fast that the door didn’t have time to close behind him - a pitstop he only bothered with because it was something that Tony had asked for. And then, at long last, he was on his way down to the workshop.

He didn’t even ask himself how he knew where Tony was. 

He was just glad to finally be there. 

 

Steve was already opening his arms to throw them around Tony as he walked into the room-

And paused, when he saw the chaos that obscured his view.

Every surface in the workshop had been covered with precarious stacks of paper, the floor was littered with empty file boxes and the air was alive with hologram screens, layered one on top of the other. It took a second for Steve to sort it all into any kind of sense, by which time Tony had already called out to him,

“Hey!”

Steve broke into a delighted grin at the sound of his voice, and followed that instinctive draw towards him, picking his way through the debris until he found Tony at the back of the room, struggling to his feet amongst a spray of papers on the floor. 

“Hey you,” Steve beamed, endeared and amused by the scene he’d walked into. And he would’ve asked all about it, except that Tony had managed to stand up by that point-

 

And Steve had been waiting for hours to hold him. 

 

It was only as he was throwing his arms around Tony’s waist that he remembered the metal case that was still dangling carelessly from one hand - and even then, only as a vague obstruction. He let it fall at his feet with a dull bump so that he could grab at Tony with both hands, pulling him tight against his chest and breathing him in…

 

...Something stirred beneath Steve’s skin. A recognition and a longing, both physical and emotional... Like hunger pains triggered by a familiar taste…

Steve had no doubt this was exactly the sort of response that would have bothered him, twenty four hours ago. He knew this would have seemed frightening and confusing and wrong, yesterday-

But it felt so right now. Even though he still didn’t know exactly what it was, Steve knew ...It would feel wrong not to feel these things, now. 

“I’ve missed you,” Tony whispered, as he looked up at Steve. Steve’s heart clenched in the most wonderful way, and he barely managed a mumbled me too before he was pulling Tony in to kiss him.

 

And, oh, the taste of him…

The warmth and weight of him against Steve’s chest…

The softness of his lips and the feel of his hands and that sweet little sighing sound that he made…

Steve could have so easily fallen into it without another thought, if a hollow clattering sound hadn’t snagged his attention. They broke the kiss and looked together at the source of the commotion - which turned out to be a stack of empty file boxes overbalancing. When Tony looked at him again, it was with a bashful smile.

“Yeah, sorry, things are a bit of a mess,” he blushed - and Steve was very tempted to simply kiss him again, he was so very pretty… But he had also remembered that he did want to know,

“Yeah, what on earth is going on here?” 

Organised mayhem, I assure you,” Tony grinned, his hands still caressing gently on Steve’s hips. Steve’s smile broke into a giggle, his entire body warming with affection as Tony carried on, “For a start, I was thinking that there were probably more of those old pages in my dad’s stuff, if I bothered to look for them - and I was right!” Tony gestured, proudly, to an untidy pile of yellow papers on the desk nearest to them. “And some of them have some readable notes on them - which, okay, don’t really mean anything to me yet, but, I have JARVIS running a scan on all the information that SHIELD have on their servers, as well as a general internet search, and I’m hoping if I use them to cross reference, it might help me find the relevant files.”

 

A warm, watery feeling soaked up through Steve’s chest, making him feel slightly unsteady on his feet. 

He knew that Tony meant it when he promised to help, and, obviously, he knew how brilliant and resourceful Tony was… But Steve hadn’t had much time to picture what that would really mean. Actually watching Tony break this impossible anxiety into problems and tasks and solutions was… somewhat overwhelming, amongst other things. 

 

“I’m thinking that, firstly, this should help us find any sources that SHIELD didn’t,” Tony continued in that same animated patter, “but, you know, also that it might uncover anything SHIELD were trying to hide, or redacted, or whatever…” And then, as Steve was trying to find words for how amazing he was, Tony glanced down at his feet and asked, “speaking of which, are those the Operation Rebirth files?”

“Oh, uh, yeah,” Steve answered, still dazed, nodding at Tony, yeah, you can take them. Tony snatched the case up from the floor, and - having quickly scanned every desk and remembered that there was no room on any of them - he dropped to sit cross-legged on the floor again so that he could open it. 

“Do you know what’s on these?” Tony enquired, gathering the USB pens into his hand.

“Oh, I think it’s just scans of the paper file - but I didn’t look through those as carefully,” Steve admitted, apologetically. Tony looked up at him with a reassuring smile, before he stood up again and weaved his way over to one of the computer Towers.

 

“JARVIS, got some more files to add to your sorting pile buddy,” Tony announced, as he clicked each USB pen into place. 

Steve was briefly amused to discover that even the great Tony Stark was incapable of inserting a USB without turning it upside down at least twice. 

“Will you be searching for the same key words, Sir?” JARVIS enquired. 

“Yup - and let’s pay special attention to anything they’ve labelled redacted, shall we?” Tony suggested. “See if there’s any way we can un-redact it.”

“Scanning now,” JARVIS replied, cheerily. 

 

“Tony, this is amazing,” Steve found his voice at last. Tony glanced up at him, a hint of genuine emotion flashing up in his eyes before he smiled shyly and replied,

“Well, it will be, when we’ve found something-”

“No,” Steve cut him off, before he could deflect the compliment, “it’s amazing now. It’s amazing that you’ve done all this, that you’ve thought about all this… That you care this much…”

“Of course I do,” Tony murmured, walking back over to Steve as Steve made his way to meet him. 

“But it matters, Tony, more than I can tell you…” Steve sighed, taking Tony’s hand and tugging him closer. “I never thought I’d have anyone who cared about me like this - especially not someone as wonderful as you…” He watched Tony take a deep breath, his lips pursing like he was about to say something… And then Tony gave his head a little shake, and tilted his head up to kiss Steve instead-

 

And this time, Steve did just fall into it. 

 

*

 

An hour later, Steve and Tony were still cuddled up together on the workshop couch, surrounded by the papers that they’d sent sliding in all directions in their haste to undress each other. 

 

For the time being, Tony had completely forgotten the project that had so consumed him - vaguely aware that JARVIS was working on it and happy to leave it at that. Right now, he was perfectly content to bathe in the strength of Steve’s body, and the kindness in all of his teasing little touches, and the way he shivered as Tony traced idle patterns on his chest...

 

Every inch of him thrummed with a physical sense of peace, something he wouldn’t have been able to explain, but that he already knew so well. A fundamental sort of comfort, as though he’d found his natural resting position…

And, beneath it all, that pleasant yearning feeling…

 

And then Tony felt Steve smile.

 

“Hm?” He asked, lifting his head enough to look at him.

“I was just thinking about that press conference, when you told everyone you were Iron Man…” Steve mused. Tony snorted a self-conscious laugh.

“Ah yes, one of my top ten moments…” he mocked - trailing off when he recognised the thoughtful expression on Steve’s face. “What made you think of that?” He prompted.

“Well, I was just thinking… they told you not to say that, right?”

“They told me to say that Iron Man was my bodyguard, and that was partying on a yacht while the whole Stane thing was going on…” He remembered. 

“So… how come you didn’t?” Steve asked.

“...Because I’m a brat, mainly,” Tony accepted, with a sigh. “But, I mean, also because it was a ridiculous cover story… I don’t know, it wasn’t a plan I’d put a lot of thought into before I did it, if I’m honest.”

“Do you regret it?”

“No,” Tony answered, easily. “But, I suppose I might’ve done, if things had worked out differently - and, like I say, it’s not like I gave a lot of thought to how things were going to work out from there, so I suppose it was mostly luck… But then, on the other hand… I never really think about what life would be like if I had to have a secret identity… That’d be weird…”

Steve huffed a laugh at that… and only then did Tony realise where Steve was going with this. He shifted, so that he could sit himself up a little and fix Steve with a questioning look. 

“... I dunno,” Steve answered with a shrug. “I just… when they told me, you can’t tell anyone you’re a vampire… I don’t think it ever even occurred to me that I could just say no... I mean, maybe I wouldn’t have, in 1943. If I had decided to think about it for myself, I might’ve seen their point, back then… But it never occurred to me that there was anything to think about. That there was even an option…” And then he focused his gaze on Tony, melting into a more knowing smile when he added, “and then I think of you… Nick, and Coulson, and all the powers that be trying to tell you what to do… and you just saying no… And I love that.”

 

Tony broke out into a surprised grin. There was something immediately validating about that specific compliment, something that moved him before he’d had a chance to think about why.

 

“Well… Like I say, it could’ve been a disaster,” he murmured - resting his head on Steve’s chest again purely so that he could hide his shyness. “...So, you know, the right answer would probably be to think about it first… And, for what it’s worth, maybe even I would’ve seen the point in keeping that secret, when you were the poster boy for the allies, and, I don’t know, maybe when the world wasn’t ready for it…” And he glanced up, looking at Steve through his eyelashes when he carried on, “but, maybe if you thought about it now, you might decide that you’d be happier without that secret, or that you don’t need to keep that secret… And that’d be okay. Take it from someone who’s been there - Nick Fury will tell you the world will end - but really, it won’t.”

 

Steve’s smile settled into an expression that Tony had never seen before… A more confident sort of happiness - more him, somehow.

Tony liked it very much.

 

“Forgive the interruption, Sir,” JARVIS spoke up, cautiously. Tony giggled at the fact that Steve still blushed at that. “But you asked to be informed if I was able to uncover any of the redacted information in the SHIELD files.” Tony perked up then, some tension finally returning to his softened limbs as the considered the possibility of a breakthrough...

“Yeah?” He grinned.

“It would appear that the diary referenced on page 229 of the Operation Rebirth file was written by an Etienne Rossinhol, at some point in the 18th Century,” JARVIS announced, “It was published in limited numbers, and although I have not yet found reference to another copy currently available, it would seem that SHIELD were not in possession of the original.”

 

At first, Tony was too excited about the new lead to really think about what it was…

But, already, something about it was nagging at him…

His elated smile quickly pinched into a thoughtful frown, as he tried to place that feeling of connection. And then he glanced at Steve, and found a similarly thoughtful look in his face.

“...I’ve heard that word before,” Steve murmured, pursing his lips as though he was repeating it in his head.

“Rossinhol?” Tony repeated - because that was the word that had snagged his attention, now that he thought of it… It felt familiar in his mouth-

“That mission in Germany,” Steve realised aloud, his eyes brightening as he found it-

 

But Tony carried on frowning - because he was sure that wasn’t it. 

 

“When Fury sent you looking for a lost plane?” Tony clarified.

“Yeah - there was a big… like a country estate, really near to where we landed, called Rossinhol - I remember thinking it was weird, because it sounded French rather than German…” And then Steve saw that Tony was still thinking about it, and raised an eyebrow in question.

“...I’m sure I’ve heard that word recently,” Tony explained. “But I’m sure that wasn’t it…” As he always did with questions that he couldn’t immediately answer, Tony turned to Jarvis, “J, why do I know that name?”

“You recently sent an item to a small media company by that name,” JARVIS reminded him, “an SLR digital camera, sent as a replacement, as I understand it…”

 

But, of course, the light bulb had already lit up in Tony’s brain - and Steve’s too, if the way he tensed was any indication.

 

“That’s the company that that photographer was working for,” Tony said it anyway, as Steve’s features sharpened in thought. 

“...So, the stately home I was mysteriously sent to, and the company who sent that photographer, and this famous diary on vampires… all have the same name?” He enquired, narrowing his eyes.

“Yeah…” Tony nodded, as his mind raced ahead to a thousand other questions and possibilities and hypotheses… 

 

None of which was any use to him, without more information…

 

“JARVIS, I need to find a copy of that diary,” he announced, decisively. “At any cost, from any source, as a matter of urgency - that’s the priority right now. Find me a seller, a collector, a museum I can burgle… whatever it takes…”

And then he sat up on the couch, instinctively reaching for his shirt as he shifted back into work mode. But before he put it on, he turned to Steve with a sigh,

 

“I can’t believe I’m going to say this - but I think we have to speak to that Wesley guy again.”

 

Chapter Text

The vampire susceptibility to sunlight might have been exaggerated, but Tony still knew that it made Steve uncomfortable to be out during the day. So, as keen as they both were to continue their investigations, Tony had managed to convince Steve to wait until after sunset-

 

It was, therefore, about ten minutes after sunset when Steve rapped authoritatively on Wesley’s door. 

 

Wesley lived in a rundown little house on Staten Island, with weather-worn wainscotting and a rusted flagpole out front. One lonely window glowed in the encroaching darkness, flickering intermittently with the rhythm of a television screen. Immediately, Tony got the impression of a sad and solitary life.

 

The door opened with a jolt. Wesley appeared wearing an impatient expression, which quickly sharpened into apprehension when he realised who it was. Tony noticed that his shoulder still looked misshapen. 

“I never spoke to anyone about it,” Wesley blurted, deliberately stepping behind the door. Steve put a firm hand out, pushing it open another inch.

“Well, now we need you to talk to us about it,” he answered, in a dark tone of voice. 

 

Tony felt a now-familiar tug of heat, right under his skin. 

 

Before they set out on this off-the-books mission, Tony had reminded himself to pay more attention to his reactions - and Steve’s, and Wesley’s. He knew that if he was ever going to figure out what these feelings really were, and what triggered them, then he was going to have to start making better notes at the time.  

… Which was already proving harder than he’d expected, now that those reactions were actually there. 

But, reluctantly, he focused enough to observe that - as intimidated as Wesley clearly was - he wasn’t physically petrified in the same way as last time. This seemed more like a perfectly human reaction to seeing someone he was scared of…

 

Tony’s own response was somewhat harder to quantify. He suspected that the attraction itself was perfectly human - or, at least, he was sure that he would always have thought Steve was incredibly hot, right now… But the depth of feeling that Tony was capable of seemed to be increasing by the day. He wondered if it was possible that he actually felt attraction differently now. If he maybe just experienced everything differently now-

 

But he didn’t have chance to muse on that any further, because Steve was already barging his way into Wesley’s house. 

“Look, I don’t know anything, and I don’t want any trouble,” Wesley implored helplessly, as Steve strolled right past him and into the living area. 

“We’re not here to start trouble, Wesley,” Tony assured him, following Steve at a more leisurely pace. “We’ve just got a few perfectly routine questions, about an investigation that doesn’t have to concern you, and if you answer them like a reasonable person, then we’ll be on our way and you’ll never have to think about either of us again, okay?”

Wesley cast a nervous glance at Steve and then replied to Tony directly,

“What sort of questions?”

 

Tony glanced pointedly at Wesley’s couch, trying to coax him out of hovering in the hallway. Wesley took a few cautious steps into the room, but didn’t sit down.

“Who hired you?” Tony asked, after a pause. Wesley looked down at the floor.

“Some media company,” he shrugged, with unconvincing nonchalance. 

“Some media company?” Tony repeated, sceptically. 

“...Rossinhol something,” Wesley muttered. “Some guy just called me, asked me to get some pictures. You know. It’s… what I do…”

“It’s not, actually,” Tony corrected, carefully watching Wesley’s facial expressions. “You started out as a legitimate photojournalist in DC. Then you slid into selling compromising pictures of politicos to the tabloids. But you’ve never been a celebrity pap.”

“Yeah, well, next logical step in my illustrious career,” Wesley bit back, his eyes still averted.

 

Tony considered him for a moment, while he lined up all his data. He could tell that Wesley was both unnerved and offended that Tony had looked into his past - and clearly too much of the former to fully express the latter…

...But it still wasn’t the same fear as last time.

...And, even though he was clearly scared of the Avengers - and Steve especially - Wesley was still obviously reluctant to answer their questions. He wasn’t eagerly offering any scrap of information, which would be the natural reaction if Wesley was just trying to get the two of them out of his house.

...So, whoever these Rossinhol people were, Wesley was scared of them too. 

 

Casually, Tony swept his gaze over Wesley’s living room, not bothering to hide that he was doing it. The inside of the house was every bit as tired and neglected as the exterior, with threadbare carpeting and ugly duct-taped repairs to most of the furniture. The couch had a visible sag in the middle where the foundations had collapsed. The yellowed paint on the walls was flaking in the corners, stained with layers of watermarks… and without any sort of decoration. In fact, there were no photographs, no paintings or mirrors, no keep-sakes or trophies, anywhere in the house…

Of course, Tony knew that quick assessments were risky. But an educated guess would suggest that Wesley wasn’t trying to protect something - because it didn’t look as though he had much to protect. He didn’t seem to have a career that anyone could ruin, or any status that he was scared to give up, or any loved ones to worry over… 

What he probably did have was money problems. 

 

Hm...

 

“How much did they pay you?” Tony enquired. 

“...They didn’t, in the end,” Wesley huffed, sounding bitter about it. “Well, I never got the pictures, did I?”

“So, how much were they offering to pay you?” Tony corrected, with an air of impatience. He felt Steve take a step closer to him… The quiet power that radiated from him, that maybe only Tony could feel, at this stage…

He swallowed and refocused, hardening his expression as Wesley stewed in quiet discomfort.

 

“Wesley, buddy,” Tony sighed, after a few seconds. “I’ve gotta ask you, are you really more scared of these people than you are of us?” Wesley looked up then, a more immediate flash of panic in his eyes as he glanced between Steve and Tony. 

“...Look, I really shouldn’t be involved in any of this,” He pleaded, after a moment.

“But you are involved in it,” Tony informed him. “You decided to get involved with it, so now the only question is how you’re going to get out of it. You think you stand a better chance siding with them, or with us?”

Wesley looked up at Steve again, swallowing hard before he could force the words out,

“...Half a million.”

Half a million,” Tony clarified. “They offered to pay you half a million dollars - for what?”

“For a picture of you,” Wesley mumbled, averting his eyes again. Tony made a big show of letting go of a frustrated sigh, and pointedly gathering his patience again.

“Wesley, no one is going to pay that amount of money for ‘a picture’ of me,” he corrected, irritably. “I’ve been on the circuit long enough to know. And, more to the point, there are plenty of easier places you could have gone to get one, and you already had a hundred shots of me before Steve broke your arm - but you just kept going. And the only reason for that is that you still didn’t have what you really came for. So, I’m going to ask one last time, and then I’m going to let Steve ask you. What did they pay you half a million dollars to do?”

 

Wesley's breath seemed to seize in his chest. His shoulders hardened inwards, and the colour began to drain from his skin. And then, as Tony was debating whether to change tactics or ramp it up another notch, Wesley managed to bite out an answer,

“It had to be a picture of you getting upset.”

 

The air in the room changed. 

It rolled over Tony like an invisible wave, washing away his previous mindset and consuming him in something else completely-

Something focused.

By now, he’d completely forgotten his plans to take notes when this happened - but he was very aware of it happening. 

He felt Steve tense up behind him, drawing that power into him, assuming that different form… And Tony felt himself change along with it. Instantly, everything came into higher definition. The world around him seemed to slow down, enough that he could think that much faster, observe that much more…

He saw the impact hit Wesley square in the chest. Tony watched as all those cognitive anxieties flared into physical terror.

 

And Tony felt very calm.

And very sure of his role in this, all of a sudden.

 

Before Steve had even moved, Tony had his arm raised, placing it gently against Steve’s chest as he took an aggressive step towards Wesley-

And Steve stilled under his palm, just like Tony knew he would. 

Their eyes met with a spark. 

Steve’s fierce expression softened only slightly, as the two of them communicated that shared understanding-

 

For all Steve’s terrifying, supernatural power in this moment, Tony was the one in control of this situation.

...He was supposed to be.

 

“...So, they paid you half a million to get a photograph of me being upset?” Tony went, turning to Wesley again. He could already see that, now, Wesley would answer any question put to him.

...And Tony could think of those questions much more easily.

 

Everything came much more easily, now. 

 

“I’m, look, I’m really sorry-”

“No one cares,” Tony cut him off, casually. “What I want to know is why they’d go to you for that… I mean, for half a million dollars, they could’ve gone to almost anyone - so why did they need someone as desperate as you? What made this job dangerous, hm?”

“Well… Well, they- they said… They said that Captain America might get, you know, might, try to help you out-” Wesley stammered, shuffling towards the wall as he spoke, like he was trying to hide. 

“So why not pick an event he wasn’t at?” Tony pressed on. 

“They sent me to that one. They called, and said that you’d be there, and to - to go there, and take the picture, and - I mean, I didn’t think I’d really upset you, I thought I might just piss you off a bit a get a picture of you looking angry, I-”

 

Wesley came to a guttural stop when Steve sneered at him. 

 

Tony paused and took the opportunity to arrange his thoughts - still very aware of Steve glowing, right behind him…

“...How did they know he’d be there?” He asked, eventually.

“I don’t know,” Wesley replied immediately. “They just said that he would be.”

“...So, these people paid you half a million dollars to upset me in front of Steve, and take a photograph of what happened?” Tony summarised. Wesley nodded. “...Who are these people?”

“I swear to God, I don’t know,” Wesley answered, literally throwing his palms up in front of him. “They-I- I mean, I- I got into some trouble, last year. Gambling, you know. And I owed some money. And then one day, out of the blue, this guy just calls me, and says how would I like to earn half a million bucks. So, I don’t know, maybe he knows the guys I owe money to - but he didn’t even tell me his name! I didn’t know who I was working for until the camera turned up, and there was a company logo on the shipping label - I don’t even know if they’re the same people!”

“Okay, take a deep breath for me Wesley, you’re doing great,” Tony told him, cynically. But Wesley stopped and took a deep breath anyway. “How many times did this guy call you?”

“Tw-twice, once to make the offer, and once t-t-to tell me where to go-”

“Did he mention Steve the first time?”

“Y-y-yes, they s-said he’d be there, but they didn’t-they didn’t tell me where ‘there’ was, yet.” Wesley stuttered. 

“And afterwards?” Tony challenged.

“They- they sent a note, saying that they weren’t going to pay me and not to talk to anyone about it - it’s in the desk!” Wesley remembered, pointing frantically towards the corner of the room. “You-you can have it, take it, just take it.”

 

Tony fixed Wesley with a deliberate stare for a second, before he turned to walk over to the wonky desk in the corner of the room - leaving Steve to glower right at Wesley the entire time. 

“T-Top drawer, right on the top, you can’t miss it,” Wesley instructed him. 

It took a concerted effort to tug the drawer open. Carefully, Tony picked a folded ivory paper from on top of the betting slips and receipts. It felt expensive.

He could hear Wesley whimpering quietly as he unfolded it, his eyes immediately drawn to the letters tastefully embossed at the top of the page, Rossinhol Family Publishing. The note underneath was handwritten, and unsigned. It read,

 

Sir,

It has come to our attention that you have been unable to acquire the material we need. As such, you will not be paid for your services, and you may consider our arrangement at an end. You would be advised not to speak of this matter with anyone.

 

“Why are you scared of them, Wesley?” Tony asked, as he folded the paper and put it into his inside pocket. 

“I’m-I’m not, I don’t, I don’t care about them-”

“Well, not right now, no, because you’re more scared of him,” Tony observed, smiling towards Steve. 

 

There was such a primitive, physical pride to seeing Steve like this - something powerful enough that it would’ve completely thrown him, if it hadn’t felt so natural.

Tony could see every detail of Steve, every shift in his muscles, every tiny movement in his limbs… Tony could see that defensive impulse, the way it concentrated all of Steve’s strength, the way it responded so viciously to every breath Wesley took.

Because Steve was his-

And it was only Tony’s absolute responsibility to stay in control that pulled him back into the room.

Because right now he knew that Steve needed him in this room. Steve needed him to take control of a situation that Tony had needed Steve to make safe. 

 

“...But you were scared of them before,” Tony went back to his original question. “Why?”

“I… I swear I don’t even remember…” Wesley replied - and he was probably telling the truth. But Tony still made the point of staring him down, until eventually he scrambled for more words. “I mean - I mean the people I owe money to aren’t exactly- I mean, I know some scary people. And these were the people above that, and they knew all about me, and, I just, I thought I’d better just keep my mouth shut and, you know, just hope it all went away…”

 

Tony considered Wesley for a moment longer, running through a final checklist before he gave a little nod of concession. 

“Well, guess what - if you keep your mouth shut, it will all go away,” he said, walking forward until he was standing by Steve’s side. Wesley was nodding hysterically the whole time. 

And then Tony took hold of Steve’s hand and squeezed it, shivering through an illicit thrill at the solid strength of Steve’s arms, and the way it melted under his touch…

Steve looked up at him with a dark sort of intensity, his fingers curling around Tony’s protectively. Tony felt his stomach knot.

“Come on, let’s go,” Tony whispered to him alone, leading him out of the house without another glance at Wesley. 

 

He could hear Wesley retching as he closed the door behind them. 

 

As he led Steve back towards the car, Tony tried to get his various observations in order… But already, that focus was slipping-

Or rather, shifting.

Now that he was past the immediate task of controlling the situation for Steve, Tony was fast losing interest in it - instead being pulled into the things that Steve needed now.

And Tony didn’t have to think about Wesley right now - he wasn’t here anymore.

He didn’t even have to think about the overall investigation at this very moment- 

There was something more urgent he needed to do.

 

He could feel it.

Coiling in his muscles, burning in his lungs… pulsing through his veins. A fire he could feel moving under his skin, tightening-

 

He stopped in front of the car and turned to face Steve, and found a look of such honest feral hunger that his entire body froze under the force of it - like a rabbit caught in the gaze of a predator…

...But he wanted to be devoured.

Tony was so sure of it, so desperate for it, it was like a separate force pulling him closer to Steve. His eyes fell to Steve’s lips, and he caught that brief flash of tongue, that faint ghost of a smile - that tiny pinch of hesitation. Tony watched in slow motion as those beautiful lips shaped his name, barely a whisper, Tony please…

And, God, Tony wanted to, needed to. He was supposed to, he knew it. There was an ache tightening in his jaw as he fought the urge to tilt his chin up-

You shouldn’t be fighting it-

You’re supposed to feed him now-

 

But then he saw Steve’s gaze drop to his throat - and the flash of pain that came with it. The way he flinched into himself, the conflict in his eyes…

Tony could read it all so clearly. 

He could see Steve, so clearly - like he could feel what he was thinking. 

...And, God, he loved him so much. 

His protector. 

His vampire. 

His.

...This was hard for Steve, Tony knew it was.

This was Steve’s choice to make, and it was Tony’s job to support him with it. 

 

...More than anything, it was his job to take care of Steve now. That was what mattered. 

 

Tony let go of a long, slow breath, and put a tender hand to the side of Steve’s face. 

“You are incredible, you know,” he whispered, as Steve wrapped his arms around him. “You keep me safe, and you make me feel safe - and that was good, in there,” he nodded in the direction of the house, never taking his eyes off Steve. “That was perfect.” Steve smiled, that frantic need in him uncoiling just slightly. Tony waited until he felt Steve’s hands soften against his back before he added, “come on, let's go home, and I’ll look after you.”

 

Tony physically manoeuvred Steve over to his side of the car, mostly because it seemed natural to carry on touching him… He warned himself to maintain a little bit of concentration for the road, as he got into the driver's side door and fastened his seatbelt. 

And then, as he started the engine, JARVIS piped up over the speakers,

 

“Good evening, Sir.”

“Hey J, what’s up,” Tony answered on auto-pilot, with no intention of paying attention to the answer - his mind was fixed solely on his new priority-

“You may be pleased to hear that I believe I’ve found a current owner of the Etienne Rossinhol Diary,” JARVIS announced cheerfully. “A copy was purchased through a private sale in 1992, from an unidentified buyer, by a Dr Mondésir. Records indicate that it may still be here in New York.”

 

Some key words in that almost snagged Tony's attention. 

Even in his rapidly encroaching feral state, Tony remembered that The Diary was a thing - enough that he forced himself to stop and think about it…

But the only calculation that seemed worth his while was whether this mattered right now. And Tony soon worked out that, wherever this diary had been since 1992, it could stay there one more night-

 

“I know that name,” Steve said.

Tony looked over and found Steve frowning thoughtfully, his lips pursing as he repeated the word in his head.

“Dr Mondésir?” Tony asked, and Steve nodded.

“Yeah, I’m sure I do… I just can’t think… Where…”

And Tony didn’t stop to ask himself if he’d heard that name before. 

He would have, if he hadn’t been watching Steve bravely fight all his own needs - if Tony hadn’t been so keenly aware of everything Steve wanted, everything he was feeling…

But as it was Tony had fallen into his own part of his, trusting completely in the little voice that he’d been trying to silence for months.

 

Take him home

Take care of him.

 

“It’s okay sweetheart,” he assured, putting a comforting hand on Steve’s knee. “Tomorrow, we can go through everything we learned tonight, and decide where we go from there - right now, I want to take you home and take care of you, okay?”

 

He waited until Steve nodded before he finally pulled away. 

 

Chapter Text

Steve had never known hunger like it. 

 

He recognised this as the same feeling that had gripped him the first time they met Wesley - at least, he knew it came from the same place, and served the same purpose.

But it was so much clearer this time. So much more intense.

It commanded his thoughts in a way it couldn’t have, back when he didn’t have words for it. It raced through his body so much quicker now that he didn’t have the confusion to act as a buffer. 

 

And, seeing as he was way beyond rationalising any of this, it would have to be enough that he could simply tell-

But it was different, now that he knew Tony wanted it too.

 

By the time they arrived back at the Tower, Steve felt as though he was looking at everything through the eyes of an animal - like he could see into a place with no fourth dimension, no context, no before or after or because…

In this moment, Steve knew what it was to have only the moment - to have no concept of questioning the things he felt…

 

...But he wasn’t an animal. 

 

If he’d fallen into that place, he’d have pushed Tony against the wall as soon as they got back to his room, and tilted his head back, and sunk his teeth into his throat-

Steve felt sure that he would have known how to.

He knew that was what he wanted, what this all-consuming physical hunger was driving him to do…

But, unlike an animal, he knew better than to simply do it. 

...He wasn’t entirely sure why, at the moment. He had lost hold of his higher reasoning, and forgotten all of his everyday concerns, and lost sight of what ‘tomorrow’ really meant - but he still knew that tomorrow would come. He still understood the concept of consequences, and the needs of others.

He knew that he loved Tony, and would rather die than let anything happen to him.

 

Steve knew that he couldn’t give in to an impulse like that, on the strength of a possible intoxication - he could never find himself looking at some terrible, gory scene and trying to explain, it really felt like I knew what I was doing-

 

So, Steve pushed Tony against the wall and kissed him instead - and Tony surrendered to it immediately, like Steve knew he would… Dropping his shoulders and melting into Steve, his arms pulled tight across Steve’s back… Just like he would, if-

Steve tried to put all of his frantic desperation into that kiss, grabbing at Tony’s hips as he devoured his mouth. That desire flared hotter as Tony moved against him, like he was teasing it, hinting at that taste he wanted but couldn’t reach. Every wave of pleasure was edged with that razor sharp need for more. Steve’s teeth began to ache, his stomach twisting painfully as Tony’s tongue swept along his lip-

 

And then Tony broke away and gasped for air. 

Steve forced himself to stop, bracing one arm against the wall behind him in a futile bid to expel some of his frustration. Hovering in that grey area between feral and more than human, fighting a blinding instinct with an unconditional love. And then he looked down at Tony.

And a more genuine stillness came over him.

 

...But you can fall into this one - right?

 

...There wasn’t any reason to question this instinct, was there? Steve was sure he’d never worried about this one, even when he was in his right mind - that he always trusted Tony…

Tony smiled, warm and dark and… calm somehow, despite his breathless panting and bright-eyed elation. He put a confident hand to Steve’s chest, a pleasant coolness radiating through Steve’s skin and deep into his muscles…

It felt so good. Not just the touch itself, but the feeling of giving into it…

“Come, sit down,” Tony purred, putting the slightest pressure against his fingers. There was a pleasant rush of dizziness as Steve followed that movement, like the relief that came with a surge of oxygen…

 

The primal part of Steve knew that he should listen to Tony now. On a very basic level, he understood that it was how this was meant to work, the only way it could work… That it would feel good to let him. Every bit as right and as satisfying as it would feel to bite him…

And the supernatural part of Steve knew that he should listen to Tony now. He understood that on a higher level, in an ancient and powerful way. He knew that they were both a part of something bigger, listening to something infallible and eternal and real…

And the human part of Steve wanted to listen to Tony now. Even if he was in no state to think about it, somewhere, he recognised the freedom in handing over control… he knew why this was the only instinct it felt safe to give into. 

...Ceding power to Tony wasn’t a restraint. It was a safe space. A chance to silence all the conflict and the questions and know it would all be okay, that he could follow this impulse as far as it ran...

 

The thrill of it built in Steve’s chest as Tony led him over to the couch. It hummed under his ribs, somewhere between anticipation and exhilaration, as Tony paused and let his eyes run slowly from Steve’s feet up to his lips…

Steve felt as though he was holding his breath. Which was a strange sensation, to someone who hadn’t breathed in seventy years. 

 

“Come here,” Tony murmured very softly, as he reached for the top button of Steve’s shirt. Steve let his shoulders fall loose, tilting his chin up - letting Tony decide…

A ripple of relief ran up Steve’s back when Tony opened his shirt and pushed it down over his arms. It was only then that Steve realised how restrictive his clothes were, how unnatural they felt…

 

That Tony knew what he needed better than he did, right now.

 

He stood there with a dreamy smile on his face, simply allowing Tony to strip him down to his underwear, stepping out of his pants and falling into the couch at the gentlest encouragement.

A new source of joy glowed brighter, along with everything else-

The simple pleasure of being good…

Tony knelt down on the floor in front of him, and reached for the blanket that was folded on the arm of the couch. He unfurled it and wrapped it around Steve’s shoulders, eliciting an electric shiver as he dragged it across Steve’s bare skin. 

Tony had bought him that blanket, Steve remembered, distantly. It was one of the hundreds of small acts of kindness that Tony had shown him, right at the very start…

 

Tony lifted his head to kiss Steve again, sweetly this time. And then, his forehead still resting against Steve’s, he smiled and said,

“You need to drink.”

Steve’s languid expression flickered only briefly - but, of course, Tony saw. Steve watched Tony’s eyes sharpen in thought, and then soften in understanding…

“You don’t want to?” He asked - even though he already knew. 

 

“I never want to. Well, not like that, anyway,” Steve clarified, gesturing over to the kitchen area at the back of the room, referencing the bags of anonymous blood that were stacked in the fridge. “That’s just… like a medicine I have to take. And… To be honest, it doesn’t taste right anymore…” Involuntarily, his eyes dropped to Tony’s throat again. He saw the way Tony swallowed… “But I know I have to…”

Tony placed a tender hand to the side of Steve’s face, a silent reassurance, it will all be okay… 

Steve believed him.

 

Without another word, Tony stood and walked over to the refrigerator, casually pulling one of the blood bags out - like he handled them all the time. Steve noticed that he already knew exactly how to tear them, and that he managed to empty one of them into a mug without spilling a drop. 

Vaguely, he wondered if Tony had looked it up… 

And he was somewhat touched that Tony didn’t warm it up - but only because he knew that Tony had remembered. Steve thought back to the way Tony wrinkled his nose when he said he preferred to drink it cold, how obviously sceptical Tony was of his assurance that it didn’t taste as strong that way… Clearly, Tony would have warmed it up, left to his own assumptions-

But he’d listened. And he’d remembered.

 

There was a very… human niceness to that, somehow…

 

Reflexively, Steve lifted his hand to take the mug, already steeling himself for this unfortunate biological necessity - wanting to get it out of the way. But Tony didn’t hand it to him. Instead, he set it down on the side table, and then shrugged his way out of his jacket…

Steve watched, mesmerised, as Tony undressed, all unpleasant thoughts temporarily forgotten. 

Again, there was that sensation of seeing through different eyes, knowing what it was to see only Tony’s body, recognising the flush of blood under his skin… Steve’s body responded to it directly, his mouth watering and his muscles tensing…

 

...But there was a deeper satisfaction in staying still.

It should’ve been a strange feeling - but it wasn’t. This immediate, physical impulse to restrain these physical impulses… like it was all coming from the same place. The anticipation simmered now, keeping him on the edge of desperate, never reaching the point of frustration or pain. And all the while there was that oddly comforting pulse of self-denial…

Like it was supposed to be…

 

“You’re perfect,” Steve murmured, when Tony was standing in front of him in his boxer shorts. Steve ran his eyes over the shape of his thighs and the curve of his hip, letting that excitement caress under his skin… Tony waited until Steve’s eyes met his before he smiled, and pressed a gentle touch to his shoulder. Automatically, Steve leant back and opened his arms, letting Tony climb into his lap and then folding the blanket around both of them…

The smell of Tony overwhelmed him, the feel of Tony's bare skin tingling warm against his…

Tony’s heart beating, right there…

Steve buried his head into Tony’s neck and breathed him in. It rolled through his head like a shower of stars…

A voice urged him, over and over again, bite him, bite him, bite him.

Along with another voice that warned him, don’t hurt him, don’t ever hurt him…

 

And it didn’t matter, because all of it was under that complete and total certainty - just listen to Tony, just do as he says.

 

“Here,” Tony whispered, reaching to pick up the mug. Steve smiled at it. He still didn’t want to drink it… But all of a sudden, he didn’t really mind…

It was a little awkward to take it, bundled up close to Tony like this - but it didn’t occur to Steve to move.

And it did help.

It felt better like this, closer to what it was meant to be…

Which, okay, made it more teasing in a way - it emboldened that first voice, and tugged a hopeful longing into his body that he knew he’d have to disappoint. 

But still, it was better. It soothed that sour aftertaste into almost nothing, stopped it from stalling in his throat. Steve managed more than half the mug before he was forced to pause. 

“Good boy,” Tony grinned, playfully - but Steve felt it quite sincerely, right at the pit of his stomach. He would have liked to ask him to say it again…

 

And then Tony’s eyes flitted to Steve’s lips and flashed with interest. Steve froze, the mug gripped tighter in his hands, as Tony reached up to take a drop of blood from the corner of Steve’s mouth with the tip of his finger-

And, oh, that taste-

The faintest hint of it, like a scent lost in a breeze or a trace of sweetness somewhere unexpected - but every part of Steve focused on it, desperate to hold onto it. He moved to suck at the tips of Tony’s fingers just as he was about to pull away, and Tony paused to let him, watching Steve’s expression so intently as Steve tried to find that taste again…

“It’s better like that?” Tony asked, softly. 

“Yes,” Steve nodded, lowering the mug…

 

Watching as Tony could dip two fingers into it. 

 

Steve parted his lips, letting Tony slide his fingers over his tongue-

Steve groaned low in his chest as that taste flooded his mouth. A rich, sweet, slightly salty taste, that was nothing like the taste of blood. It was the taste of Tony’s skin, the smell of him, the feeling Steve got when Tony smiled… He sucked hard against Tony’s fingers, earning a sharp hiss of excitement that shot straight through his hips. He could hardly bear to let Tony take his hand back, still licking at his fingertips as he pulled away. He didn’t still until he saw Tony coat his fingers again, opening his mouth more eagerly this time-

And this time, Tony wasn’t as gentle.

Steve’s head swam as he felt Tony push to the back of his throat. That wonderful flavour met the heady sensation of his throat closing around Tony’s fingers, his teeth throbbing in his jaw… He let Tony pull away this time because he was too giddy to fight it. By the time the shimmering cleared from his vision his tongue was tingling with a physical craving for more-

 

And Tony was just looking at him, thoughtfully, his eyes impossibly dark.

Steve could swear he heard Tony think it. 

A growl rolled up through his ribs. 

 

Tony sat himself up, rocking into Steve’s hips with a shock of friction. He let the blanket fall away, and then took the mug from Steve’s hands. Everything came into sharper focus, as Tony poured a little of the blood over his shoulder, letting it drip slowly onto his chest. Steve would’ve liked to watch it, but he couldn’t resist the taste of it any longer. He grabbed Tony by the waist, lifting him so that he could lick the trail of blood with the flat of his tongue, hungrily sucking at the dip of Tony’s collar bone-

Tony gasped and bucked against him, one hand clawing at the back of Steve’s head, the other gripping hold of the mug. Steve lapped at his neck with increasing urgency, his nails digging into Tony’s hips, his entire body flinching into every needy sound Tony made-

 

And then something snapped. 

Steve didn’t even know he was going to do it. There was just this rush of frustration, and then he was throwing Tony onto his back. Of course, most of the blood spilled onto the floor, but Tony managed to keep hold of the mug. On a whim, Steve took it from him and poured the last of the blood over Tony’s stomach, and then threw the cup aside with enough force to smash it into fragments. 

Tony’s breath hitched.

His eyes widened, awed and excited and… beautiful.

His limbs fell open, his head tilling up, trails of crimson red rolling over the curve of his waist, staining the waistband of his underwear…

Stunning…

Perfect…

Mine

 

“Oh, God, Steve,” Tony breathed, arching into Steve as he dropped to kiss the blood from his stomach. “Jesus Steve, that feels… Different, that feels so good, please…” He broke down into a pleading whimper as Steve worked his way lower, sucking at the tender skin hard enough to bruise. Steve tugged Tony’s underwear down over his hips, just thinking of getting to more of him, diligently chasing that taste along the line of Tony’s hipbones as Tony panted and pleaded and tried to wriggle lower, “please Steve, please Steve, please-”

Steve carried on following that instinct - that instinct to taste Tony, to touch him, to please him. He took Tony’s cock to the back of his throat, sucking slow and hard against his skin. Tony keened, bracing up against Steve’s mouth and tugging at his hair. 

 

Steve felt that arousal tighten sharply, throbbing in time with Tony’s urgent movements. Steve’s cock leaked steadily against his underwear as Tony worked himself off against the back of his tongue, the taste precome spreading through the flavour of the blood-

“Jesus, Steve, please baby please,” Tony begged, his voice pulled tight, his thighs tensing solid under Steve’s hands-

And Steve wanted him to come, needed him to come - he needed to feel that release, for both of them-

He pulled Tony into him as he took his cock as deep as he could, letting his throat close around him. Tony screamed, his breathing coming high and fast, both hands pulling Steve’s hair into fists

“Oh, God, Steve-” Tony barked, his frenetic movements stalling as his pleading caught in his throat-

 

And then he broke

 

And Steve felt as though he broke along with him. A wave of relief crashed through him as he swallowed, his muscles falling loose under the force of it. 

Oh God, this was-

Wonderful,

Right

So close to perfect

...So close-

 

“Oh, Steve, please Steve,” Tony gasped, still tugging at Steve’s hair. Steve crawled over the top of him, deliberately pinning Tony between his arms before he looked down at him…

His lips were flushed so dark and soft, his eyes shining… his skin still patterned with streaks of red. 

 

...Something shifted. 

...Maybe.

...Tried to shift, perhaps.

A question stirred, a fundamental confusion about what he was supposed to do next…

 

Because you’re supposed to bite him next

You were supposed to bite him then-

 

“Please fuck me Steve, please fuck me,” Tony begged, wrapping his arms around Steve’s neck and trying to pull him closer-

Which very quickly convinced Steve of exactly what he should be doing next. 

 

Purring, Steve gathered Tony into his arms and stood up with him held close against his chest. Tony melted into him, surrendering all of his weight and letting his head fall into Steve’s shoulder. Steve let one hand slide into Tony’s hair, cradling the back of his head as he whispered close,

“I love you.”

 

And then he carried him to bed. 

 

*

 

I can hear bells…

 

Reluctantly, Tony blinked himself awake, his dream thoughts disappearing as he came back into his body… and became more interested in that bruised tenderness humming under his skin.

 

He smiled. 

 

Sighing happily, he snuggled into Steve’s chest again - and deeper into that pleasant, throbbing sensation. Memories of the night before came back to him, in no particular order-

Steve’s fingertips digging into his shoulders as he fucked into him-

The feral sounds that Steve made, the fierceness of him-

The outline of Steve’s teeth, pressed against his throat, so close-

…The sharp, fizzing sensation of Steve’s tongue as he lapped the blood away, not like anything Tony had ever felt before-

A warm, watery sensation flooded through Tony’s limbs, filling him with the strangest urge to laugh. He was overwhelmed by the pleasure of simply existing right now…

 

And then Steve stirred, and stretched, and opened his eyes- 

And smiled

 

“Hi,” Tony beamed, all but climbing on top of him. A similarly overwhelmed giggle bubbled over Steve’s lips, before he kissed Tony’s forehead very softly, and answered,

“Good morning you.”

“Your bed is too small,” Tony complained, playfully.

“I blame the landlord,” Steve grinned, and Tony laughed. 

 

And then, for no reason whatsoever, he simply carried on,

“You should move into my room.”

Steve broke into a surprised smile. 

“Yeah?”

“If you want to,” Tony smiled back. “I mean, I’m not buying you a bigger bed, so…” Steve giggled again.

“You would absolutely, one hundred percent buy me a bigger bed, if I wanted one,” he corrected, smugly.

“I would,” Tony conceded - and then asked, quite seriously, “do you want a bigger bed? Because-”

No,” Steve assured him, through a peal of laughter, “no, I want to move into your room with you.”

Tony let a delighted shiver run up his back. 

Well, he hadn’t planned that… But he was absolutely thrilled he’d done it-

 

And then, from somewhere in the near distance, his phone rang.

...Ah, the bells.

That’s what woke me up.

 

Of course, Tony fully intended to ignore it - Pepper and Rhodey each had their own ringtone, and everyone else could wait.

Plus, his phone was still on the couch, and that was such a long way away…

So, he waited until the ringing stopped, and went to settle himself back Steve’s arms-

 

And then it started ringing again.

 

Tony’s brow pinched in annoyance… and perhaps a hint of concern.

Begrudgingly, he rolled over, flashing Steve an apologetic smile before he climbed out of the bed - still thinking he was only going to turn it off.

As he stood up, he happened to catch a glimpse of the pink marks that decorated his stomach and thighs. An excited grin tugged at his lips… Although, if he was honest, he was a little disappointed… and surprised, actually, that the bruises weren’t darker. It had certainly felt more… intense, that that, when Steve was actually making them…

 

Naturally, the ringing stopped just as Tony reached his phone. Without even thinking, he went to check the number, simply following through on a mundane habit…

...But there wasn’t one.

 

Three missed calls… But no details. Not even a note to say that the number had been withheld. 

Tony didn’t want that to snag his attention - but it almost had. Just because he couldn’t recall ever seeing it before…

 

And then the phone buzzed in his hand, and the cheery notification flashed up, one new voicemail.

 

Hmmm.

 

Phone still switched on, Tony went back to the bed - sitting on the edge of it, rather than climbing back into Steve’s arms. Steve frowned.

“Is everything okay?”

“Someone left a message,” Tony murmured in response, as he keyed in the security code to his mailbox. He waited until he heard the automated voice before he switched the speaker on.

-one - new message and - no - saved messages. First - new message, sent - today - at - seven - forty eight - am-”

“Hello, Mr Stark. I’m calling because I’ve recently come into possession of a book that I believe you are trying to locate… And because I know why you’re looking for it. We’re on the same side, you and I - and I think we have much to discuss. I’ll try calling you again at midday today, and I think it would be in both of our interests if you picked up.”

 

That was it.

 

Steve and Tony looked at one another with the same anxious interest. 

The mailbox robot continued to list his options, eventually asking him if he wanted to repeat the message-

And Tony decided that yes, he did.

 

This time he listened out for other details, trying to pick out any noises in the background - but there were none. The guy’s voice gave nothing away. Tony couldn’t even place his accent…

 

To listen to the message again, press 2. To delete, press 3. To save the message, press 4.”

 

Tony saved the message and looked at Steve again. 

“...There’s something going on,” Tony muttered, trying to work out what he meant even as he said it. Remembering the various connections that he’d made in the last few days, but ignored in favour of paying attention to Steve…

“...Someone knows,” Steve added, in the same tone of voice. “...Someone has known about us since before that party - it's the only reason someone would want to upset you in front of me…”

“But we didn’t even know, then,” Tony reminded him, and Steve frowned back at him, I know, right?

...But Steve was right. Now that he was bothering to think about what Wesley had told them, Tony realised that it was the only explanation…

 

...Except it wasn’t an explanation. It was just a lot more questions.

 

“So… What do we do?” Steve asked, sitting himself up. Tony glanced down at the phone in his hands, squeezing it a little harder as he thought. 

 

“We wait until midday, I guess,” he shrugged, eventually. 

 

Chapter Text

Tony stepped out of the car and made a thorough assessment of his surroundings - quickly concluding that it was all a bit on the nose. 

 

As promised, the mystery man had called back at midday, to arrange a clandestine meeting - in an empty multi-storey parking garage, of all places. It had taken all of Tony’s resolve not to make a deep throat joke. He was literally thinking back to all the bad 1980s action movies he ever watched and trying to remember where the bad guys jumped out from…

 

Again, he found himself wondering if this was a really stupid idea. 

 

The person they were meeting had been infuriatingly sparing with his information, and completely resistant to all of Tony’s questions. He’d refused to explain who he was, or what he knew, or why he was doing any of this. He’d simply said that he had ‘answers to Tony’s questions’, along with a copy of the Rossinhol Diary - and that if Tony wanted either of those things, he would be in the parking lot of a rundown mall in New Jersey at midnight. 

And it might’ve been very different, if Tony had been searching for answers about his history and humanity and biology… If this had all been for him, then Tony might’ve pushed back more. He hated walking into situations without all the facts - and more to the point, he hated to give anyone the upper hand. He had been severely tempted to be petulant, just because this guy presumed he couldn’t be…

 

But he didn’t need answers for himself - he needed them for Steve. 

 

Which is how Tony had ended up standing in parking space 4B, waiting for Bruce Willis to leap out from behind a pillar…

He glanced up at Steve, who appeared to be doing a much more balanced risk assessment, checking every entrance and exit, noting every bit of debris that could be used as a weapon.

A little smile tugged at Tony's lips, simply because he loved him so. 

 

“He’s late,” Steve murmured. Tony glanced at his watch and saw that it was two minutes past midnight. 

“Well, by Stark time, we’re two hours early,” he joked mindlessly, still scanning the parking lot. Theirs was the only car here, of course - Tony doubted there were many visitors to this barely-in-business mall even during opening hours. Now, they were likely the only two people for miles…  

 

At least, until their informant finally arrived. 

 

Tony saw Steve hear the car, long before he picked up on the sound of an approaching engine. They both tensed, each making the subtle effort to take a protective step forward. 

And then the back wall lit up with a bright sweep of headlights, heralding the arrival of… a battered 90s Ford Escort. 

 

...Not quite the entrance Tony had been bracing for. But that was a good thing, he supposed.

 

He caught his first glimpse at the driver as the car pulled into parking space 4D - enough to see that this guy was more Hugh Grant than Steven Segal. There was a friendly, casual way about him, as though he was just dropping by the mall after work, already thinking about his dinner plans…

Tony threw a curious glance at Steve, who was frowning with the same uneasy intrigue… And then the mystery man cut the engine, letting the garage fall back into darkness before he opened the door and confidently stepped out. 

 

He was remarkably nondescript. 

Not quite six feet tall, with perfectly even, blandly attractive features. His shiny black hair was peppered very sparingly with grey, and fell in the unkempt curls of a high-school librarian. He had a brown overcoat thrown over a mid-range, off the peg suit. 

He smiled amiably as he met Tony’s eye.

“Mr Stark,” he greeted, and then looked at Steve. “Captain Rogers.”

“And you are?” Tony asked, pointedly - still trying to work out if this was the same featureless voice he’d heard over the phone. The man’s smile warmed into a harmless sort of amusement.

“John Smith,” he replied, raising a wry eyebrow. 

“John Smith,” Steve repeated, unimpressed.

“You know, it is one of the most common names in the world,” ‘John’ answered, playfully. “There are over twenty five thousand people in America who have to deal with this reaction every day of their lives…”

 

As he was talking, John was reaching into his overcoat. He either didn’t notice, or expertly ignored, the way Steve and Tony flinched at the movement. 

“I believe you’ve been looking for this,” he said, as he revealed a scuffed, leather-bound book. 

 

And then he simply held it out for Tony to take. 

 

Of course, Tony did. Immediately. He had been too focused on this one item for too long to miss the chance…

But that didn’t stop him being suspicious of the offer. 

“And what’s the price?” He asked. 

“It’s really not like that,” John replied, leaning his weight back against his car. 

“So, what is it like?” Steve demanded. 

“...I’m directly descended from the man who wrote that diary,” John explained, gesturing to the book in Tony’s hands.

“You’re a Rossinhol?” Steve asked, but John just smiled and shook his head.

“No, that name got changed half a dozen marriages ago, before it got to me… As you can imagine, the family has spread far and wide, since the eighteenth century. I have some very distant relatives that I have nothing else in common with…” he sighed heavily.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Steve frowned.

“It means… It means I should probably start at the beginning,” John replied, waiting until he’d received an impatient nod from both of them before he continued.

 

“My family were ‘friends of the vampires’, since at least the early 17th Century. It was what we became known for. Gave the family status - and wealth. Turns out, you can accrue a lot of wealth and power if you live for hundreds of years. But then the vampire population began to dwindle. They were hunted for a brief period in the late 1800s, you know - but that was only one of the factors. They weren’t as welcome, in a modern world. They had more reasons not to turn new vampires, they had reasons to disperse and live away from their communities. And so, my family's influence dwindled, and their connections to the great vampire houses became less important … And most of them moved away, and moved on. There are probably thousands of people out there who think it’s kind of neat that there’s a vampire connection in their long distant past, and don’t think much more about it. But then… there are the people who could never let it go. A couple of people who, kind of… cling to that identity…”

 

“Not you though…” Tony muttered, still trying to get the measure of this man.

“...Well, to be honest with you, I’m kind of in the middle,” John shrugged, shyly. “My great, great, great grandmother was consort to a vampire - a few people in the family have been. You know, spending so much time with them, over the years… And seeing it gives you a bit more insight into what it really is. Makes it all less distant. I’m not saying-”

Seeing it?” Tony cut in. “You actually met the vampire that your grandmother was bonded to?”

 

He looked up at Steve, and caught that flash of a question behind his eyes - with a little edge of hope, maybe?

He wants there to be more vampires.

...So I want there to be more vampires.

 

“Is he, she - are they still alive? The vampire, I mean?” Tony asked, trying to keep his voice level.

“Oh, I see them both every Christmas,” John smiled.

Tony and Steve both snapped to attention.

“...Your great, great, great grandmother?” Steve clarified. “Is still alive?”

“Is she a vampire too?” Tony frowned. John shook his head.

“You really don’t know much about all this, do you?” He asked, in a kind tone of voice. “Yeah, my great, great, great grandmother is still alive - and, you know, you can just call her Sophie. It’s quicker. And no, she’s not a vampire. She’s still alive, and looking as young as I do, because she’s a consort. Because every time a vampire bites you, you absorb a little of that power. It makes you stronger, and healthier - and the more times you get bitten, the stronger you become. A consort is supposed to live as long as their vampire does. It’d be pretty cruel otherwise.”

 

The static feeling that had been building in Tony’s head flashed over, and for a few seconds he was simply overwhelmed by it. 

Isolated ideas floated around in the white noise, without context or further analysis-

What would it be like to live for hundreds of years-

It would change me; it would mean becoming something else-

It would be cruel not to do it-

None of it meant anything. It was all just set dressing, his brain making a blind attempt to find words for this feeling, to illustrate the scale of this revelation, this emotion, this…

This excitement?

This instant, thrumming elation, this feeling that everything was going to be okay after all?

...It couldn’t be as simple as that.

And then he looked up at Steve, and found the same deliberate numbness - he knew that Steve was thinking the same thing.

Is it okay to be happy about that?

 

“How did you find out about us?” Tony asked on autopilot - simply reverting to the plan as originally written, while his brain rebooted. “How did you even know he was a vampire?”

“Ah, yes, the family, that’s where I got up to,” John nodded. “So… yeah, there are a couple of people out there who like the idea that they come from a famous line of vampire historians. And some of them try to carry on with that, writing their own little diaries… Hanging around at the house in Germany, pretending it’s still 1750. Which is embarrassing, but probably harmless… But there are also people who have tried to use their connection to vampires in darker, more self-interested ways…”

“Like who?” Steve challenged.

“Well, I know for a fact that plenty of people have researched the Consort Effect-”

“Which is what, exactly?” Tony interrupted.

 

“Oh, I’m sure you’ve felt it,” John replied, looking directly at Steve. “You know, if anyone threatens him or insults him in front of you, you have the power to terrify them into submission - which, actually, is a very peaceful instinct. Traditionally, it allows vampires to keep their consorts safe without anyone getting hurt - if you learn how to use that impulse properly. But, you know, that doesn’t stop people wanting to use it for war. It would be a powerful weapon to anyone who could isolate it or replicate it or control it… None of which is possible, if you ask me. I’ve seen that bond up close. But my extended family are amongst the few people who know about vampires, and, yeah, some of them have tried to use that. Which is part of what I wanted to tell you, actually…”

 

“SHIELD wanted to replicate it…” Steve murmured, trailing into the inside of his own head. And then he snapped to attention. “I know where I heard that name before.”

“What name?” Tony turned to ask him.

“Dr Mondésir,” he replied, and then looked back to John, “that’s who you got the diary from, right?” And back to Tony. “Or, at least, JARVIS said she had a copy - and she works for SHIELD.”

“She does?” Tony blinked.

“Yeah - she’s the doctor who wanted to examine the Arc Reactor, that day I told Nick to leave you alone… Except she didn’t, did she? She wanted to examine you.” And then he looked at John, accusingly. 

 

“She’s a very distant cousin who I’ve never actually met,” John placated. “I didn’t even know she was working for SHIELD. And no, I didn’t take that diary from her - although, it doesn’t surprise me that she has one. Because, yeah, she’s one of those people who thought maybe vampires could help her career, put her on the map, all that. She wanted to research the healing powers they have, I think… Well, that’s what she was doing years ago. I don’t know, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s why she wanted to examine you, Mr Stark.”

“But how would she know?” Tony demanded. “She might’ve known about Steve because of SHIELD, I guess - but not about me. I didn’t even know about me then. In fact, Steve’s right - that whole Consort Effect thing happened for the first time while Nick was asking about her work. How could she have known before that?”

 

John smiled.

 

“Well, like I say, I can’t tell you anything about Élina or what she’s thinking right now - but I can tell you how I knew about you,” he offered. “I know, because a vampire will know another vampire - my grandpa Luca knew you were a vampire when he saw the way your skin flushed in the sunlight. And both he and my grandma Sophie just know the way you look at him,” John gestured to Tony - who was having to make considerable efforts not to outright grin at that. “And she happened to mention it to me the last time I called her, as a bit of idle gossip, really - did I know that Captain America is a vampire, and he’s Tony Stark's Sovereign, isn’t that interesting, sort of thing-”

 

“Sovereign?” Tony questioned, almost annoyed at himself for stopping the flow - but he really wanted to know-

“Oh, it’s the word for your specific vampire, if you know what I mean?” John replied, as though it was a detail of little consequence. “If he turns you into a vampire, he’s your Sire, if you’re his consort then he’s your Sovereign.”

Tony felt his shoulders loosen under the warmth that was flooding his body. A flicker of a smile broke through. He glanced up at Steve, a pleasant blush warming his cheeks as he repeated the word in his head…

Sovereign…

My Sovereign…

...I knew there would be a word for it.

“But my point is that, even though most people on earth wouldn’t know what you are, there are a handful of people out there who know what to look for - and a lot of those people talk to each other,” John continued his explanation. 

 

“So, what do you want?” Steve refocused the conversation, narrowing his eyes. 

“...Some people are just nice, you know,” John sighed. “I mean, I know you know that - that’s why you do what you do. And, honestly, at the heart of this is… I know that the vampire bond is a rare, wonderful thing. And I know that neither of you have the first clue what you’re doing, and all things being equal, I’d have liked to just meet up with you and answer your questions and give you that diary - which was my grandpa Luca’s, by the way. And he’s happy for you to have it.”

“All things being equal?” Tony pressed.

“...Well, you’re not the easiest person to get a hold of, for a start,” John breathed a laugh. “As a matter of fact, I’ve been thinking how nice it would be to give you that book for weeks now - but how exactly am I going to get in touch with Iron Man?”

“But you did,” Tony reminded him. 

 

John dropped his eyes, shyly.

“I volunteer a few nights a week with… A kid’s charity in New York. And to be honest, I don’t want to tell you too much about them - because, to be honest, I don’t want to get too involved,” he admitted, with a sigh. “That’s the other thing. That’s why the secret meeting in the back end of nowhere, and all the cloak and dagger - as you can probably tell, I’m not used to this. I’m not an Avenger. I don’t work for SHIELD. I’m not really part of the whole Vampire World, except very tangentially… I only know rumours about people who would go to great lengths to learn all about you. I imagine there are even more, even scarier people interested, just because it’s you. And I know it’s cowardly, but I was looking at that diary and thinking maybe it would be easier if I just didn’t do anything… You know, since no super villains or scary scientists are paying attention to me, right now…”

 

“But you did do something,” Steve prompted, with a distinct edge of frustration.

“Right,” John nodded. “So, there I was, looking at this book, feeling bad that you didn’t have a copy or anyone to help you. And thinking that maybe some bad people would be looking for you, and you wouldn’t even know… But also thinking that I couldn’t get in contact with you, even if I wanted to, and maybe I didn’t want to… And then I heard one of the kids I work with, bragging that his daddy has Iron Man’s phone number,” and then a darker feeling crossed his face, the way a passing cloud can drain the colour out of a summer afternoon. “See… they were there, that day, when the aliens came to New York. They all ran screaming into the streets when the building got hit, and saw all that death and chaos - and they all would’ve died, if it weren’t for what you did. And it turns out that this one kid got lost in the aftermath, and his dad was hysterical - until he got a call from Tony Stark himself, to say that his son had been found. Because apparently you wanted to let him know that his kid was safe, enough that you used your own phone. And… I don’t know, maybe it seemed like a sign. Like, since the two of you had put so much on the line to save me and everyone else in the city, and since I could reach you now… the least I could do was hand over the book. Give you a heads up that there are people who know about you, and I don’t know what those people are capable of,” he finished, with a shrug. 

 

Tony considered John very carefully for a few moments, letting his thoughts filter into order, watching the picture emerge…

He didn’t believe this man.

Nothing about this story made sense, and somehow ‘John’ didn’t seem to fit with it. This little performance had been too practiced for the affable, amateur tone it was delivered in. The nervous, uninformed man that John was talking about didn’t seem anything like the person Tony was talking to. 

Tony knew something more was going on.

...But he wasn’t sure he was going to get anywhere by asking directly, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to let on that he was suspicious, yet. 

Of course, at the same time his head was filling with questions. Things he wanted to know about being a consort, and the other vampires that were out there, and the members of the Rossinhol family that they apparently had to watch out for… But would he believe any of the answers? Was bad information worse than no information?

And then an idea occurred to him. 

 

This guy is expecting us to ask questions. He’s relying on us to ask questions...

If we don’t ask any, he’ll have to come out and say it..

 

He turned to Steve again, just as Steve was parting his lips to ask something else-

And, very subtly, Tony waved him quiet.

“Thank you, for this,” Tony smiled at John, gesturing with the diary. “And I promise, I’ll never tell a soul where I got it, and no one will know we spoke.”

And then he nodded at Steve, come on, let's go, and turned to walk toward the car. 

 

He could feel Steve’s confused hesitancy as he followed a step behind. Tony slowed his pace as much as he could whilst still appearing natural, his heart beating faster as he reached out for the door handle-

Maybe this wasn’t going to work-

Maybe the guy wasn’t going to bite-

Maybe he should turn back now, while he still had the chance-

 

“...You know,” John called after them, in the nonchalant tone of an afterthought. 

Tony bit back a smug grin before he looked back.

“Hm?”

“Well, I’ve never been there, and from what I hear, the whole thing is very silly… But the house in Germany, the Rossinhol estate, is sort of a meeting place for vampires and consorts. Well, the closest thing that still exists, anyway.”

“Oh?” Tony asked, detached and polite. “What is it, exactly?”

“Oh, well, from what I’ve heard it’s… Well, back when there were great Vampire Houses, and communities - we’re talking 200 years ago or more - there used to be all these celebrations and rituals and gatherings. Just part of the vampire culture, I suppose… But I know a handful of vampires and consorts have tried to recreate that in a country house in Germany - and some of my relatives go there, and they all pretend it’s the Eighteenth Century again… And, like I say, it’s all very silly. But, if you wanted to talk to someone about all this - I’m just saying, it’s out there.”

 

“Thank you,” Tony repeated, smiling again as he opened the door and slid into the driver's seat. He and Steve both fastened their seatbelts, but left the car in park, watching ‘John’ drive out of the garage before they turned to look at one another. 

“You don’t believe him either, then?” Steve sighed.

“Well, he seems to know a lot about the family he says he knows nothing about, and he seemed pretty comfortable for someone who doesn’t ‘do this stuff’” Tony replied. “So, I don’t think he’s who he says he is, and I don’t think that’s his reason for being here, and I don’t think that’s the whole story.”

“...But he wanted us to know about the house in Germany,” Steve mused - because, obviously, he’d figured out Tony’s plan pretty quickly. 

 

“You know, I’m sorry if there were other questions you wanted to ask...” Tony said.

“No, you’re right,” Steve assured him. “We couldn’t be sure if any of the answers were true - and we wouldn’t know what his angle was, if we’d picked our own…” He smiled at Tony, so that was a good call. Tony had to wait for that happy, watery feeling to subside before he could carry on. 

“So, what do we know?”

 

“Well, we know that someone - possibly a lot of people - know about Vampires… and Consorts… And us…” Steve began. “And we don’t know who they are or what they know exactly… but we can probably guess why people are interested in it. I mean, that part about people wanting to use the Consort Effect sounded pretty legitimate.”

“And we know Dr Mondésir is probably one of those people, since she had a copy of the diary, and she wanted to examine me…” Tony said.

“We know that SHIELD were researching the Consort Effect at one point…” and then Steve’s thoughtful expression sharpened. “And I’m pretty sure that Alexander Pierce knows. I think he called a meeting with me recently just to find out more about it… So maybe they’re still researching it…”

“You think SHIELD are involved?” Tony asked - although, even as he said it, he felt the weary recognition of how typical that would be…

“Well, they were secretly building a Tesseract Weapon, when I met them,” Steve sighed. “I wouldn’t exactly be shocked, if there was some ongoing vampire project that Nick forgot to mention…”

“And if one of the people working on that project was also a Rossinhol - or, hell, if one of those people just decided to go rogue…” Tony mused, simply thinking out loud at this point. “I mean, I’d believe that the real reason ‘grandpa Luca’ knows about you is because of a leak from SHIELD. Actually, after the whole Natalie Rushmore thing, I wouldn’t be shocked if ‘John’ works for them…” he trailed off into a huff. 

 

“Did you really call a kid's dad to tell him his son was okay?” Steve asked, a more human interest colouring his voice.

“Hm? Oh, yeah, maybe - I made a few calls like that, right afterwards…” Tony remembered. “So, maybe there are a few people out there with my number, now that I think about it, and I should probably get it changed before it ends up online,” he scoffed. “But I don’t buy for a second that this guy had a moral crisis because we helped some kid he knows. So, this guy got my number some other way… But he knows enough about me to give a cover story that actually happened. Like, that whole thing wouldn’t have made sense, if I hadn’t called a bunch of hysterical parents that day in New York… He bothered to plan this little interaction.”

“And, for whatever reason, he wants us to know about that country house in Germany…” Steve went on, “...Where SHIELD sent me recently - on a mission that I always thought made absolutely no sense…”

 

They settled into thoughtful silence for a moment. 

 

“So, what do we do next?” Steve sighed, eventually.

And, even then, Tony knew the answer. He was sure they both did. Despite the fact that it was obviously a trap, and exactly what this shady stranger wanted them to do, it was already clear to both of them-

They’d be going to Germany.

But before they got that far, they had to work out what it was they were investigating. Who did they suspect, what did they suspect them of - what were they even going to Germany to look for…

 

And then Tony remembered the weight of the book in his hands.

 

He glanced down at it, and instantly thought of the look on Steve’s face, when John said that there were other vampires out there…

And then he remembered what John had said about consorts…

 

The priorities in Tony’s head started to shift. He started to question John’s credibility, not as a witness in a professional investigation, but as the source of a personal revelation. Tony’s observations and hypotheses strayed from the potential conspiracy to the riddle of his own existence…

Was it possible that there were more vampires out there?

Could it be true that being bitten by Steve would change him - make him immortal?

...Did this diary really hold the answers they’d both been looking for, all this time?

Tony looked up at Steve again, and smiled.

                                                              

“I think the first thing is, we have some reading to do.”

 

Chapter Text

 

Text from these pages reads:

You must understand that what follows is an imperfect explanation of a perfect thing - because otherwise, I would not be able to explain at all.

The true nature of these creatures, and their rituals, and, most of all, the bond they share, is outside of human understanding.

I must warn you that I still have no scientific explanation - or even any scientific theories – for the observable effects of Vampiric Bonds.

I can confirm that I have seen with my own eyes that so many of the stories are true. The act of bonding does appear to increase the strength and healing capacity of the Consort. It does appear to give each party a psychic awareness of the other. And it does appear to bestow powers on a vampire that I am at a loss to describe, much less explain.

*

To begin with, we must understand that the Vampire Consort bond is a complicated and personal thing - much like human love.

In the simplest terms, we might divide the Vampire Consort bond into sections for consideration - the blood lust, the psychological bond, the physical and spiritual effects on both parties, the lived roles - and, lastly, what we might consider the simple human affection. However, we must also keep in mind that, in reality, these issues are not so easy to define, or separate from one another.

For example, it has long been assumed that 'Blood Lust' is simply a side-effect of bonding. In fact, it would be as accurate to describe lust as 'simply a part of love'. In the broadest terms, this may be true - and a Bonded Vampire will often feel a powerful Blood Lust for their Consort. But it is possible to feel a powerful Blood Lust for someone that you do not love or wish to bond with. It isn't ALWAYS a pure or romantic impulse, and doesn't always indicate a willingness to bond.

Some swear that a 'Compatibility of Blood' exists, that one can know their True Bond at a glance. However, the majority view appears to be that you must get to know, and care for, and love a person before you can form a Bond - and that any powerful initial attraction is simply a fortunate coincidence.

*

I still have no scientific explanation for the physical changes and impossible abilities that seem to come to both parties when they bond. I can only describe the phenomenon as I have witnessed it.

The first and most notable of these changes is that the Vampire will acquire a powerful, feral desire to protect their Consort at all cost - and a seemingly supernatural ability to do so. It is not only an increased awareness and physical strength - although certainly, there is that. But it is also an almost hypnotic power over those they deem a threat. An ability to physically terrify, at a glance.

At first, this may appear to be an aggressive, attacking instinct - but it soon becomes clear that it is more of a shield than a sword. Used 'correctly', this instinct wards off the need for physical altercation.

*

In the broadest possible terms, the Vampire is said to act as protector, and the Consort is said to act as provider.

A Consort will often feel an especially strong impulse to provide sustenance, comfort and release in the aftermath of their Sovereign coming to their defence - and a Vampire will often feel an especially strong caring and protective impulse in the moments after feeding.

Consorts appear able to provide blood in amounts and frequency far beyond regular human capacity, and recover far quicker from the effects. This does not appear to be the case for humans bitten by Vampires outside of Bonded relationships.

Whether this is simply because the effect needs time to build up, I haven't sufficient observations to say.

*

The effects of Blood Lust and feeding are distinct from the effects of bonding - although Bonded Vampires will often understand both as part of a single experience.

Blood lust and feeding, while powerful, are purely physical things. Perhaps similar to a powerful human lust, it does not act as an actual intoxicant, or impede capacity.

There are, however, other experiences and abilities that appear to apply only to those who are bonded - and, curiously, these changes can begin to occur before biting

*

I have been asked on numerous occasions to categorize the Vampire Consort relationship according to our rigid human binaries - which role is feminine and which is masculine, which is dominant, and which is submissive... And on this topic, I really cannot simplify things into human constructs. The fact is that one is simply in the role of Vampire, and the other in the role of Consort, and there is no explanation beyond that.

I can observe, however, that the act of Bonding seems to empower both parties with a possibly supernatural awareness of each other - to the extent of simply 'knowing' one another's thoughts. This in itself obscures the true nature of any Bonded ritual from outsiders. What may appear to be an act of dominance might be the following of a silent order, for example.

It is certainly true that, whatever the balance, the Vampire and Consort understand it perfectly

*

We have long noted the prevalence of decorative dress and adornments in Vampire art work.

I have learned that these embellishments, particularly the use of lace and chains, carry a deep and layered meaning.

Different chains are worn in different formal rituals, more often by Vampires than Consorts. They signify Family, Honours, and - in the case of Bonded Vampires - their status as such. They will quite frequently be adorned with gifts or personal tokens from their consort, or items significant to their story

Collars may be worn by either Vampires or Consorts, and, again, may signify many different things

*

Lace carries a great many historical and communal significances for Vampires.

Each family of Vampires will have their own Lace pattern, which may be subtly amended to reflect the status and history of each individual member.

Lace is also the traditional gift given by Vampires - and, again, may signify the emotional significance of the gift, and the relationship.

As such, Lace is frequently gifted to Consorts by Vampires - although Vampires may also wear lace gifted to them by peers and family members, in specific rituals.

*

The basic chains for a Bonded Vampire will include Silver Chains, which represent the Bond itself, and Gold Chains, which represent the Consort. The Gold Chains will often be adorned with precious stones and charms, representative of their particular relationship with their Consort. Birth Stones are common, as are Anniversary charms - Pearls to represent 30 years, Rubies to commemorate 40, Diamonds for 60 years, and so on.

Depending on the ritual, a Vampire might also wear a chain to represent their family affiliation, rank or membership of a specific fraternity. The Chains of Bondage will be worn by a Bonded Vampire in any ritual where Chains are worn.

*

All Vampires are agreed that a True Bond can only exist as a caring and balanced relationship, based on a shared understanding. It is accepted as a universal truth that the powers that come with being Bonded simply cannot be bestowed on a lesser relationship. Sadly, however, not all those calling themselves Bonded are in such relationships. Vampire communities will begrudgingly acknowledge that there are those who misinterpret simple blood lust - and, rarer still, abusive relationships between people who incorrectly use this sacred term. Such people are the subject of vicious and universal scorn.

It is worth noting that the co-dependence and responsibility of a bonded relationship will not apply in the absence of a genuine bond. Unbonded Vampires will not be disgusted by other blood, and therefore won't risk starvation. Unbonded humans will not gain any abilities or immortality to lose in the event of separation

 

Chapter Text

Steve and Tony had fallen into a thoughtful silence under the gravitas in the room.

 

They were sitting, facing one another, on the couch in Tony’s suite - now their suite, Tony had to keep reminding himself…

He’d intended to be more excited about Steve moving in with him, but that milestone had been somewhat overshadowed. 

 

He glanced down at the diary that was now sitting in Steve’s lap, Steve’s fingers still playing mindlessly along the spine. They had spent the night passing it back and forth to one another, each reading aloud until their voices tired - or, more often, until they came across a passage that overwhelmed them, and they had to pause. It had seemed like the most efficient way of doing it…

Although neither of them were expecting it to be quite so... Intimate. 

 

Tony didn’t know exactly what he had been expecting. He’d hoped for ‘answers’, in a very general way… But he’d not thought to wonder how it would be worded. 

He never imagined he’d be listening to Steve read him the most beautiful love poetry that he’d ever heard in his life.

...Or that he’d find himself reading aloud from a very detailed, very emotional account of vampire sex.

And, if he was honest, Tony hadn’t really expected for such incredible, existence-altering potential to be laid out so clearly. For someone to explain his own feelings to him so succinctly, and find a reason behind all of these impulses.

He’d spend so many weeks wondering what if… But now it really was. 

 

“So… What now?” Steve asked at last, his voice soft but somehow determined… Both brave and fragile, in that way that was so specifically his…

A swell of affection rose up in Tony, a now familiar, physical surge of love.

…And he found himself wondering if he would ever feel love in this way again. 

 

There were so many things that he might never experience in the same way, after tonight. All the basic human instincts that defined him, that linked him to everyone else in the world, might be forever changed. He would be giving up the human part of himself, along with all the comforts and habits that went with it. He would be saying goodbye to something, forever…

And he wasn’t afraid. 

 

“Well, I mean… That was a lot,” Tony exhaled, gesturing to the diary. Steve huffed a laugh, and Tony shuffled closer so that he could place a gentle hand on his knee as he went on. “And I know there are a lot of… things, that we might want to talk about, and look into… Whether there are more vampires out there, and… you know, who the hell John is, and what’s really going on, and… everything…” He took a deep breath, before he finished, “but, I’ve got to be honest, the thing that really has my attention right now is that whole Consort thing…”

Steve smiled at that… but then he pinched his lips, and looked down…

 

“I… Well, there’s a lot of things about that,” he muttered, uncomfortably. “The first thing being that… We don’t actually know if this diary is accurate. I mean… Medical textbooks weren’t, in 1750…”

“Hm,” Tony conceded… A smile flickering on his lips. 

 

Because he knew that Steve was only saying this because he wanted the diary to be accurate.

 

He could hear Steve trying to temper his optimism - he could see how scared he was to believe that this could really be it…

… He could feel what Steve was thinking, in exactly the way Rossinhol described it. 

“I mean, there’s definitely some stuff in there that is pretty… fanciful…” Steve went on, like a child who was scared to ask for something. Like he was desperately hoping Tony would argue with him. “That stuff about vampires being able to command the loyalty of wolves-”

A giggle bubbled over Tony’s lips - because he’d forgotten the bit about the wolves.

“You might be able to talk to wolves,” Tony grinned. “Have you ever tried it?”

“...I don’t feel like I can talk to wolves,” Steve replied playfully. 

 

“Well, we know that not everything in that book is completely accurate, or literal,” Tony conceded, still smiling. “But… I don’t know, a lot of it feels right. There are things in there that I recognise, things that already happened to me - exactly like the diary said. And if they hadn’t happened to me, I’d think those things were pretty fanciful too… But I can feel you when you’re nearby, and I do know when you’re hurt, and what you’re feeling…”

Steve smiled, shyly, resting a hand over Tony’s as he thought back through all the passages that had struck a chord with him…

 

“...But, if it is accurate…” Steve whispered, nervously, “then that’s a whole other list of big questions. Whether you want to live that long - whether you want to change, like that. Whether you want to make that sort of commitment…”

Tony breathed a good-natured laugh - but he knew better than to be frivolous about this. He made an effort to stop and think about exactly what he was going to say before he answered.

 

“The thing is… I know this is a big decision. I know those are all important questions. And I’ve been making myself think all of those things - what if I change my mind, what if you change your mind, what if it’s nothing like it sounds in the book… Am I really ready to become something other than human? All of that… But no matter what I do, the answer is just yes,” he sighed. “Everything that book says about being a consort - and everything I just feel - is… Everything I want. Everything about it sounds amazing, and no matter how much I think about it, I can’t make myself less sure. I want to live as long as you do - and, I mean, being young and strong and healthy for maybe hundreds of years? Seriously, if that’s the grand sacrifice I’m making to have everything I want in the world then… yeah, fine…”

 

Tony trailed off as he got drawn into the way Steve was looking at him; the happiness that Tony was so proud to have inspired, that he was so relieved to see… He found himself having to swallow an unexpected lump in his throat before he could carry on,

“I know that I’m not going to change my mind about this,” Tony promised. “And I know that you’d never leave me. I know that being a consort is going to be better than being human - and I’d do anything to be with you anyway. I want to do everything that my body has been telling me to do for weeks. And I know that there’s still a risk - but of all the many, many risks I’ve taken in my life, this is the one I’m most sure of. For the thing I want the most…”

And then, because he knew he had to ask, Tony finished,

“But if you’re not sure of this yet, then-”

 

Tony,” Steve interrupted him, firmly. “Believe me, there is no part of me that isn’t very, very sure of this. I just… I know it’s different, for me. I’m already something other than human. Of course I want you to always be there, of course I want the blood I’m drinking to be yours… But I have to know that I’m not talking you into it, or not giving you the time to think about it-”

Steve,” Tony interrupted right back, mimicking his tone. “You really aren’t having to talk me into this. This is something I want. And, to be honest… I kind of think I’m already something other than human anyway. That book lists all these changes that are supposed to come with being a consort - and half of them are things I already feel. Ways I’ve already changed - and I’m not sad about any of them. I already wouldn’t want to change any of those things back. And, I don’t know, sometimes I think...”

 

He hesitated, wondering if his final point would come over as manipulative, or put extra pressure on Steve. Tony didn’t want to talk Steve into it either - he certainly didn’t want this to be something that Steve thought he had to do for him. Tony inherently understood that it didn’t work that way…

And, in the same wordless way, he understood that this point would land differently from anything he’d said so far. That it carried a greater responsibility…

 

But then he saw Steve look at him. He could feel Steve listening to him.

And then, seamlessly, Steve finished the thought for him.

 

“...Sometimes I think maybe you’re already my consort, and now we’re just doing it wrong. I wonder if I should be doing something about this… I mean, I think about this whole thing as a risk, and ask if we’re ready to take it, but sometimes I wonder if it’s a risk not to do it… If I were to speak to a genuine vampire community, would they be horrified at this ridiculous, unhealthy thing I’m doing… Like I’m refusing to eat, or something…”

“...Sometimes I wonder if it’s hurting you,” Tony whispered. “Having a consort that you can’t bite… Like, how hard it is for you to drink the blood you need now - and how you do drink less of it, I know you do…”

And there was perhaps just a bit less shyness, when Steve nodded again - less of that social filter… More honesty. 

It occurred to Tony that the responsibility to consider the impact of his words - up until now, something he’d taken for granted as a pillar of correct behaviour - might be one of those human impulses that he was going to lose… Which was so at odds with how he’d always seen the world, and should seem wrong, or scary…

But, again, it just looked like a good thing to him.

The idea that there would be one person in the world who he could be completely honest with - not because he didn’t care about that person’s feelings, but because that person knew the core of him in any case. Because Steve would always know what he really meant. Because Steve would always love him, and see the good in him, and never make him ashamed of his feelings…

 

He knew Steve was thinking it too.

 

Tony watched that little lift, as Steve allowed the first frisson of excitement to simmer though - the way his restraint shifted and became an enforced sort of patience. 

 

“...This could be dangerous,” Steve said, in a slightly different voice. A tone that silently added, so, we’re going to have to think about what we’re doing - that took for granted that they were doing it. “I mean, technically, you’re asking me to slit your throat - and if it turns out that the 18th Century textbook is wrong, and there is no magic failsafe…”

“I know,” Tony nodded - trying not to break out into a grin. “And, you’re right, we need to risk assess as best we can, I guess…” 

 

And then his eyes fell on the diary again, and a thought occurred to him. 

 

“You said you think about it? Biting me?”

“All the time,” Steve confessed, with that little smile that made it look like he was blushing. It tugged a warm feeling from the pit of Tony’s stomach. Something that felt sweet, and romantic - which should probably have seemed strange.

...But, after pages of rapturous verse on the joys of bonding, it didn’t. 

“Is that how you pictured it?” Tony nodded towards the book. 

“...Yeah, pretty much,” Steve agreed. “Even… That thing, about Vampires being able to heal wounds… I think I already knew that. I mean, I sort of knew I’d have to do that after…”

 

They paused to share a smile, and to share the hope that maybe everything would be the way that Rossinhol had described it…

...It did all sound so wonderful, in the book. 

And it was in Tony’s nature to resist getting his hopes up, and he didn’t want to be disappointed by any part of this simply because it fell short of a fairy-tale…

But somewhere at the back of his mind was that beautiful thought…

What if it was like that?

Even hypothetically… What a perfect idea, that he never would’ve been able to dream up, that he wanted to indulge in just for itself.

 

If he and Steve had really fallen in love so deeply that it had bonded their very souls together-

If being bitten was even half as intimate and life affirming as the book made it sound-

If Tony really could have hundreds of years of that love and trust, if he could know that he would never leave Steve alone in this world-

 

“But even so, yeah, we should probably be careful,” he coughed, pointedly stopping himself from getting carried away yet. “... You know how to patch a wound like that?”

“If we had everything we needed there, yeah,” Steve sighed. “I mean, assuming I was in my right mind…”

“I know you’d never hurt me, Steve,” Tony told him, seriously. “Whether you were ‘in your right mind’ or not. Actually, when you’re not in your right mind, you’re much quicker to listen to me - and a lot more intense about me not getting hurt… But if it makes you feel better, JARVIS will be on stand-by, and most of the Avengers will be downstairs…”

Steve pinched back a smile, and nodded…

And Tony was momentarily thrown by the flutter of exhilaration, realising how excited he was at what was happening, whether it looked like the fairy-tale or not…

 

“Tony, I…” Steve whispered, his eyes falling to Tony’s throat… And then he pulled himself together, gathering the resolve in his shoulders and leaning forward to take Tony by the hands. “...I feel as though I’ve been looking for you my whole life. Meeting you has made sense of my whole life, made everything I ever went through worth it… You make me love the entire world more just because you’re in it. And from the moment I met you, all I’ve wanted was to keep you safe, and make you happy… I want you to be mine.”

And Tony wanted to say something back, but his chest had seized under the wave of emotion. His head was humming softly with a static electric excitement, and his skin was beginning to tingle…

Oh, God, he was actually tearing up…

 

After all that logical analysis and all those stern reminders to be sensible, Tony was somewhat shocked to realise that he was suddenly in the middle of the most romantic moment of his life. That after all the risk assessment and careful negotiation, he was actually being proposed to-

That talking about this for an hour hadn’t made it any less overwhelming- 

Somehow, it still came as a surprise...

 

“And I promise you, I will love you, and look after you, forever - and I will make you happy every day for the rest of your life.”

A whispered Steve was all that Tony could manage to push through the feeling building in his chest. 

... He couldn’t believe that this dizzy elation was real. That it really was like a Hallmark movie-

 

Well, except for that instinct to tilt his head up.

 

Even though he knew that Steve wasn’t going to bite him now, that they’d literally just discussed the fact that they had to plan it carefully - that he’d have to brief JARVIS, and at least get a first aid kit ready-

 

“Tomorrow?” Steve smiled.

“Yes,” Tony exhaled, trying to control his ridiculous grin enough to speak properly - not that he could think of anything to say, except, “yes.”

 

And Steve looked so happy…

And Tony was so happy - so completely full of such pure, sparkling joy, like nothing he’d ever known…

 

...A contentment of the soul that is only attainable when every part of it is open to love, as Rossinhol had so poetically put it. 

 

When Steve reached out for him, Tony’s body felt entirely liquid, so soaked through with this sensation that there was no room for resistance. He pooled into Steve’s chest, parting his lips to let Steve kiss him, slow and deep and possessive…

For a moment, Tony simply surrendered to that warmth, letting that shiver of excitement spread and build until it bubbled up as a delighted laugh - still muffled against Steve’s lips. 

Steve broke the kiss and looked down on him, those beautiful ocean blue eyes glowing with excitement, those perfect lips still damp and shining under the lights…

Oh, God, Tony loved him-

He loved every inch of him, every single thing about him, every moment he spent with him-

And he was going to spend the rest of his life with him, he could make him happy, he-

Jesus, he didn’t even know what to be happy about first-

“I’m getting bonded tomorrow,” he giggled. Steve grinned, the same delighted exhilaration coiling in his arms as he pulled Tony close again.

I’m getting bonded tomorrow,” he whispered, somewhere between giddy and awed. “To Tony Stark.”

Tony breathed a laugh, his fingers still curled into the fabric of Steve’s shirt…

 

“...But you can still fuck me tonight, right?” He asked, quite seriously.

“Yup,” Steve beamed-

 

And then pulled Tony into his arms in a single strong tug, and stood up with Tony held strong against his chest, and carried him through to their bed. 

 

Chapter Text

Tony was very much in two minds, at the moment.

 

One mind was as focused and organised as he’d ever been in his life. That mind had woken him up at 8am with a surge of motivation and a fully written list of things to do. 

By 10am, Tony was an expert in the human cardiovascular system, the effects of blood loss and bite wounds - including a thorough investigation on how the arc reactor might affect things. 

By midday, he’d obtained every item they could possibly need at any point in the process, however it went - from emergency trauma kits to ice packs. 

And, that entire time, there was another voice - all giddy excitement and bright, shiny joy as it reminded him-

 

You’re getting bonded tonight!

 

He thought he’d prepared for this rush of exhilaration. Tony thought he’d imagined this a thousand times, that he’d spent so many nights thinking about how happy this would make him - he assumed he was prepared.

But no.

He’d been completely blindsided by the intensity of his reaction - by how physical it was… By how much of it was so very human, even if it wasn’t like anything he’d ever felt before. 

He’d taken one bite of his breakfast and found that he was too worked up to swallow it. 

He’d done so many laps around the workshop that his feet had started to ache - but he couldn’t keep himself still.

He kept finding himself giggling for no reason, or grinning to the point his face ached-

It was ridiculous… But in the nicest possible way.

 

He made himself stop for lunch at around 2pm, even though he still wasn’t remotely hungry, because he knew he shouldn’t meet Steve on a totally empty stomach - not tonight. And while he was forcing his way through a sandwich that he couldn’t taste, he allowed himself a few moments to indulge in his daydreams…

And it wasn’t even tonight that he was thinking of.

 

Well, no, that wasn’t quite true - there were a couple of daydreams about tonight. 

But, mostly, Tony was daydreaming about what it would be like after tonight. 

He kept trying to imagine what it would be like to live as Steve’s consort, trying to picture his day to day life with that bond as a part of it - what it would be like, when being bitten by Steve was something he could look forward to all the time…

What it would be like, when Tony had lived two-hundred years by his side, and there were still hundreds of years ahead of them…

 

Somewhere, between the two sides of Tony’s mind, there flickered the reminder that he still had to explain this to some of his friends. 

 

Which was a practical consideration, noted by the organised side of his brain as something that needed to be done - something that was important, if he wanted to commit to the role of consort and do everything properly. Tony didn’t want this bond to be built on secrets and lies, and he didn’t want anything to compromise it. He felt responsible for making sure the necessary announcements were made.

But it was more than that. 

The elated, emotional part of him wanted to tell his friends about this - at least, the people he actually cared about, like Rhodey and Pepper and the rest of the team. Even though he couldn’t predict how they would react, or expect them to understand the significance, still, there was a part of him that was gleefully imagining those conversations. 

Because Tony was so happy about bonding with Steve, and so proud, and somewhere there was an impulse to shout it from the rooftops-

 

He wouldn’t do that today, though.

 

Instinctively, Tony knew that today wasn’t the day for complications like that. For one thing, he knew that he’d have to discuss it with Steve, and make sure that Steve was comfortable with exactly who they were telling, and how, and when. Like most things in his life, Tony was simply starting to understand this as a joint consideration.

And, more importantly, Tony knew that tonight was meant to be about them. And even if he’d wanted to deal with another task today, there simply wasn’t the concentration for it - all of Tony’s care and all of Tony’s attention was dedicated to Steve, right now. 

It was supposed to be.

 

That silly grin broke out on his face again, his cheeks warming with a romantic excitement. Just because he was so much looking forward to a night that was all about them, a chance to experience and indulge in this part of himself-

He wanted tonight to be perfect. He wanted to be able to look back on it forever as the perfect beginning to this perfect relationship - he wanted Steve to be able to think back to this night with the same nostalgic joy. 

 

And then Tony found himself thinking of the diary again.

 

It was a wistful, bittersweet sort of feeling that he was very familiar with by now - that little, nagging question-

Was there supposed to be more to this? 

 

Of course, Tony knew it didn’t matter really. He knew that Steve knew no more about Vampire traditions or customs than he did, that none of it carried any real emotional weight - it wasn’t like Steve could have been dreaming of a fairy tale bonding night since he was a kid. 

And Tony knew that Steve didn’t care about any of that stuff any more than he did. He knew that, for both of them, the only thing that really mattered was that they both wanted this. Tony knew that this was about how much they loved one another, and how good it was going to feel, and what it meant, and that was what was going to make tonight perfect…

 

…But still, he kept thinking that he probably would have bought Steve a bonding chain, or Sovereign ring, if the diary had contained just a bit more detail about what either of those things really were. If Tony knew what they were really meant to represent, or what they were supposed to look like, or when they were supposed to be presented and worn. 

As it was, those ideas felt somewhat performative and awkward… But there was a niceness to them. 

 

…Maybe, when they learned a bit more about everything.

…If they did decide to go to Germany, or if they were able to speak with any other vampires-

 

But, again, those weren’t thoughts about tonight, so Tony had no place for them right now. 

Right now, Tony had to get on with clearing his schedule for the next few days, and giving JARVIS all the necessary Do Not Disturb instructions-

 

And then jumping up and down animatedly for a few hours. He had to make sure he scheduled time for that. 

 

*

 

Steve was three steps away from their door when he suddenly came over lightheaded - to the point that he had to stop and steady himself. 

And then a giggle bubbled up over his lips-

God, this was… all so much…

 

He felt like he’d been containing this simmering elation all day. Like an alarm he’d been trying to talk over the top of - getting louder and louder as the afternoon wore on. 

It overwhelmed him now. 

This abundance of everything - the nervousness and the excitement and the happiness and relief, all at once. 

 

You’re getting bonded tonight.

Right now.

To Tony Stark-

 

God, he wanted this to go well. 

He wanted this to be even half as wonderful as it felt like it would be-

There was a part of him that couldn’t bear to break the anticipation…

 

It just wasn’t nearly as powerful as the part of him that couldn’t bear to wait any longer. 

 

He burst into their suite with perhaps a bit too much enthusiasm - only to come to an immediate pause again as soon as he set eyes on Tony.

Fuck, he was beautiful.

Standing in the middle of the living room, hovering with a nervous energy that made him look like he was glowing, those bottomless brown eyes warm with happiness and fixed right on Steve-

Steve was sure he’d had all sorts of important, romantic things he’d wanted to say - but fuck it.

 

Steve took one bold step towards Tony, who was already throwing himself forward into his arms. Steve brought Tony up into his lips, kissing him slow and deep, letting all of his love and affection melt into that embrace-

Already, this felt different. Everything was easier, and more comfortable - freer, for the fact that they weren’t running from this anymore.

Steve took his time indulging in it, stroking his palms up over the curve of Tony’s back as he teased his lips apart-

 

And then there was that twinge of hunger at the pit of Steve’s stomach.

 

Steve had managed to force down half a cup full of blood that afternoon, for no other reason than it seemed safer not to be absolutely ravenous when they did this - but it tasted so bad, and felt so wrong, that he’d given up. So, there was probably some genuine hunger gnawing under the surface… 

But Steve was sure that he’d have felt this pang of longing either way. This was a different hunger, something sparked by the taste of Tony’s tongue and the warmth of his skin under Steve’s hands…

And then came that specific shift in his perceptions. That subtle, indefinable change that he’d always resisted and denied and ignored, up until now.

There was a thrill of nervousness as Steve let himself give into it…

It felt… 

Good. 

 

Tony broke away with a gasp, his hands pressing hard against Steve’s back like he was trying to steady himself. 

When Steve looked down at him, it was like coming home. Just looking at him now, recognising that smile in his eyes, was enough to make Steve feel like he’d made it.

“You are everything,” he whispered, his thumbs caressing little circles into Tony’s shoulders as he spoke. “You’re everything I ever wanted, since long before I was a vampire. This is everything I want - and I have never been surer of anything, or happier about anything, in all my life.”

“I love you,” Tony whispered back with an awed smile. “And I want this life, I want everything about it. I want you.”

 

And whatever else Steve was going to say simply dissolved in the heat of his desire. He didn’t know if there was meant to be more of a lead up into this - but, on the other hand, he felt as though his entire life up until this point had been leading to this.

And he could still taste Tony on his lips, and that hunger was beginning to claw at him every more insistently…

 

That dark filter was starting to close in on his vision, making everything seem brighter by comparison. He pulled Tony into him again, kissing him more fiercely this time - revelling in the way Tony weakened in his arms. It seemed so natural to just gather him up, lifting him up and holding him close against his chest as he walked through into the bedroom. 

 

He could feel Tony’s heart beating. He could hear the rising note of excitement in every breath…

He laid Tony out on the bed, kissing him again before he leant back to look at him. Steve’s eyes were immediately drawn to Tony’s throat, catching on the flutter of his pulse under his skin…

 

But he knew what he was waiting for. 

 

Instinctively, Steve knew that he was waiting for Tony to submit to this. It was different to simply knowing that Tony had consented, or knowing that he really wanted this - Tony would have to give himself to this completely. Steve knew exactly how it would feel, that he’d understand it when it happened-

It made him feel safer. 

 

Somewhere, Steve recognised the balance that Rossinhol had rhapsodised about - he understood that, even though Tony would relent to him entirely, really, it was still Tony that was in charge of this. It was Tony who would decide when this started, and once it had, Tony alone would have the power to stop it. 

Steve knew, he was giving himself to Tony every bit as much. 

 

So, instead, he crawled over the top of Tony and started kissing his neck, still chasing that taste. His hands went to the front of Tony’s shirt, mindlessly seeking out more of him. It was only when he recognised the silky texture of the fabric under his fingers that Steve realised that he knew this shirt - a black, subtly fitted shirt that Steve had always loved on him… Which was no doubt why Tony picked it.

“You look beautiful tonight,” Steve purred, as he worked his way down Tony’s buttons, impatiently caressing the bare skin he exposed.

“You are beautiful,” Tony murmured back, running his hands over the curve of Steve’s shoulders, sending little shivers of electricity down Steve’s spine.

That hunger tightened, as Steve dropped his head to kiss Tony’s chest, the coppery taste of the arc reactor blending with the flavour of his skin, making Steve want him even more. He felt Tony wriggle upwards, lifting his shoulders just enough to let Steve push his shirt down over his arms - still pressing kisses to his ribs as he moved. 

“Oh, God, I love you, I want you,” Tony gasped, writhing up against Steve’s mouth-

 

But still, Steve knew, not yet.

 

He sucked a particularly bruising kiss to the curve of Tony’s waist, earning a sharp cry of approval in a more urgent tone - a sound that curled in Steve’s hips and tugged a dull ache along the length of his cock. Steve allowed himself to rock into that sensation, or, rather, he didn’t think to stop himself-

Because that constant, throbbing hunger was secondary, for the time being - the natural background to the more focused yearning that grew with every second. 

 

When Tony whimpered again, Steve could swear he heard it differently. It resonated in a different way, pulling the physical reactions directly from his muscles - tensing his body to action before he’d processed any of it. The way an animal hears. 

His teeth began to ache in his jaw as he carried on kissing Tony - more desperate, messier kisses, peppered across the softer skin on Tony’s stomach. He heard Tony’s breath catching, his wordless pleas and breathless moaning matching the erratic rhythm of Steve’s lips. In a brief flare of frustration, Steve grabbed at Tony’s hips, knowing that Tony would rock into his hands, expecting the way Tony’s skin tensed under his fingers… Like they were each half of this one, fluid movement…

 

And then Steve heard the little high-pitched cry. A longing, feral sound, from the back of Tony’s throat. Something different. Something that still edged Tony’s voice, as he begged, breathlessly, please-

 

When Steve lifted his head again, everything seemed different. When he looked at Tony again, he didn’t think about how beautiful Tony was - he could only feel it. An instant reaction, an overwhelming rush of affection and awe and… desire… A specific, dark sort of desire - possessive and urgent and raw. 

It simply fell over his lips, like he was thinking it outloud,

Mine.”

 

He watched Tony’s eyes flash wider, his lips parting in such a soft, pretty expression-

And then his hands were on the back of Steve’s shirt, frantically clawing the fabric up towards his shoulders - and Steve recognised that Tony was right. These clothes did feel restrictive and unnatural. He didn’t want anything standing in between them…

 

He leant forward so that Tony could finish pulling his shirt over his head, and then immediately knelt up so that he could unfasten his belt. 

And there was the impulse to hurry, the growing hunger and the near-painful urge to surrender to it… But, when he saw the way Tony was watching him, there was also the instinct to slow down… to let Tony watch - to undress for him…

 

Steve kept his gaze fixed on Tony’s expression, watching Tony watch, as he shuffled to the edge of the bed and tugged his pants down over his hips… Tony’s eye’s trailed over Steve’s thighs and down over his legs, devouring every new inch of exposed skin, his body curling towards Steve like he was being drawn to him…

Steve kicked his clothes away and put a firm hand to Tony’s shoulder, bidding him, lie back

He wanted to lie Tony out, and cover him completely… He could just see it, the way this was supposed to be. 

He wanted to have Tony naked in his arms. He wanted to feel every inch of him.

 

Tony was already reaching out for him as Steve knelt between his legs again - instantly shifting to lift his hips, when Steve began to unfasten his jeans. 

That hunger twisted sharply, as he tugged Tony’s clothes down over his thighs, the ache in his jaw meeting that throbbing physical desire in one searing stab of need-

 

He wanted to taste him-

He wanted to have him-

He wanted-

But Steve was way beyond thinking what he wanted. By now, he was all bodily impulses and unquestioning faith - something base, and primal, and more than human, all at once. 

 

He followed his body into that instinct and dropped his head to slide Tony’s cock into his mouth. 

A low groan rolled through Steve’s ribs as that taste hit his tongue, his mouth watering with the intensity of that craving… 

And then the way Tony keened, the way his body tensed upwards, the way his muscles tightened under Steve’s hands - the powerful urge for more of that-

He took the length of Tony’s cock, right to the back of his throat, sucking against his skin as he worked Tony off against the base of his tongue. Tony called out, a wanton, musical moan, broken into an irregular beat as he began to rock up against Steve’s lips. He reached down to grab at Steve’s hair, his other hand clawing frantically at the sheets as panted and moaned.

 

Oh God, that taste, constantly feeding that yearning that it couldn’t sate. So close to what Steve wanted…

The sounds Tony was making, a wordless reassurance, yes, this. Yes.

The constant, pulsing arousal that made everything sharper and more sensitive-

 

Steve shuffled his knees back so that he could pull Tony’s clothes further down his legs, sucking against Tony’s cock in that same slow, determined rhythm the entire time. He caressed his hands over Tony’s thighs, deliberately digging his thumbs into the tender flesh at the top of his legs-

 

And then he heard a dark, breathless, please-

And he knew it was different. 

 

Steve lifted his head - leaning away for long enough to finish stripping Tony and toss his clothes aside, before he crawled over the top of him again.

And he watched the way that Tony softened against the sheets, the way the trust and elation of a moment earlier melting into something deeper.

He saw the way Tony lifted his chin, and dropped his shoulder, like his was falling into his natural, resting position-

Entirely surrendered.

Ready.

 

And Steve had planned all sorts of things he could say when it came to this moment - but, of course, he’d entirely forgotten that. He wasn’t even thinking in words, at this stage. 

And, obviously, Steve had done as much background reading as Tony had - he’d spent most of the afternoon carefully studying medical textbooks and visualising the safest ways to do this… And he’d forgotten all about that, too. 

Now, all Steve could see, all Steve knew, was the flutter of Tony’s pulse, right there. He didn’t have to picture anything to know exactly what he had to do-

He only had to let it happen. 

 

Steve dropped his head to press a long, slow kiss to Tony’s neck, letting the tip of his tongue trace over Tony’s skin… Searching. Waiting until he felt that tell-tale flush of heat, that almost imperceptible change in texture, that invisible little dip.

He felt it like a snap when he got it right; a metaphorical click as everything came into place. 

 

And then, without another thought, he sank his teeth into Tony’s throat. 

 

And just the taste of him hit Steve like a drug - that sweet, slightly salted taste of Tony… It was like being able to taste the smell of his hair and the sound of his voice and that feeling Steve got whenever he smiled…

It was more than a craving or a compulsion. It was a physical, spiritual need for more - something that Steve would’ve been powerless to fight, even if he’d wanted to-

 

But he didn’t want to.

 

If he’d had the capacity to think about it, Steve would’ve known that his previous risk assessments were all wrong, that he could trust that instinct to keep them both safe… But he didn’t think about it. He simply drained a long, slow mouthful of Tony’s blood, holding it on his tongue before he swallowed it, feeling as confident as if they’d done this a thousand times before. Knowing how it should feel-

Knowing how Tony felt.

 

Then came the roll of highly focused euphoria. 

The colours in Steve’s head glowed brighter, the texture of Tony’s skin moving under his hands… The ebb and flow of Tony’s blood, the beating of his heart…

Steve could hear every whispered, whimpered note in Tony’s breathing. He could feel Tony pleading as he flexed his fingers against his hips. Steve dragged another long, slow mouthful, one palm caressing up along Tony’s ribs as he drank… Steve could swear he could feel it. A ghost of a sensation through his torso, and a frisson of secondary excitement…

He followed that feeling, digging his fingertips into Tony’s muscles as he pushed his hand up under his back…

Because he knew Tony liked that-

He could feel the way Tony liked that-

His Tony liked that-

The third mouthful of blood slid down Steve’s throat, and this time it tasted… dizzy. Sparkly. Static electric on the roof of his mouth. A feeling that seemed to spread out through him like bubbling water…

 

A detached, authoritative voice in his head warned, enough, now.

So, Steve stopped.

 

At once, he pulled his teeth free, immediately covering the wound with the flat of his tongue…

There was a pleasantly strange lull. A few distant, echoing seconds in which Steve could hear Tony’s heart beating like the sound of the shores in a seashell.

And then, when he was completely sure the wound had healed, Steve softened into a warm, slow kiss…

 

The way Tony shivered broke Steve out of his trace. 

He blinked himself back into that hyper-aware, high definition as Tony’s body melted against his hand, trembling and panting for breath and still trying to claw weakly at Steve’s back…

 

And then Steve felt a swell of tenderness overwhelm him completely. 

 

It wasn’t that he decided to be gentle, or that he knew he should be gentle… 

He just was gentle. That’s all he was.

He didn’t even stop to think that this was the exact opposite of what he’d expected. It never registered as being in conflict with that desperate, feral hunger. It never really registered as anything at all - it was simply how Steve saw the whole world now.

 

When Steve lifted his head again, and looked down at Tony… It was like seeing him for the first time. It was the most powerful feeling Steve had experienced since the first time he saw Tony…

That beautiful face… his skin glowing and his lips flushed dark red, those impossible eyes shining with joy and wonder…

Steve could see it all through new eyes. He could see all the perfect little details that made up this miracle, the way they worked together… He could see it all with more affection than he’d ever been capable of, before…

My Tony…

Mine. 

 

And, God, Steve wanted fuck Tony… But it was separate to that feeling of Tony wanting to fuck him. And Steve could feel how much Tony wanted to fuck him. 

And Steve wanted to give Tony everything he wanted. He wanted to care for him, and protect him, and be close to him…

 

“Relax sweetheart,” Steve purred, in a voice that felt familiar and not all like his own… He felt it run down Tony’s back as a shiver of arousal, and a heightened pang of longing…

Steve…” Tony whispered in a pleading tone, his eyes flashing in delighted surrender.

“Lie back,” Steve instructed, confident that Tony would do whatever he told him now… Aware that things had shifted between them.

As they were supposed to. 

 

He reached for the bedside table, and the tube of lube that Tony had thoughtfully placed within easy grabbing distance, before he knelt up between Tony’s legs. He kept his eyes locked on Tony’s face as he flicked the cap open and wet his fingers. And he carried on watching, as he gently pushed Tony’s thighs apart, and pressed a firm fingertip to his rim-

Steve felt a shudder of pleasure that echoed-

The pleasure of watching Tony melt into it-

The pleasure that coiled through him, knowing what Tony felt-

The simple human pleasure of feeling Tony relax into his touch, as he slowly pushed two fingers inside him - that sensation tightening in his hips as Tony arced up into him.

 

There were none of his usual anxieties. Steve didn’t overthink whether Tony was ready, or wonder if he should slow down-

He felt the way Tony’s body moved as he twisted his fingers inside him, a heat tightening though his hips as Tony rocked against him, a burning desperation that he could feel on Tony’s behalf as well as his own. He poured more lube onto his fingers as he pushed into Tony again, and again, and then threw the tube aside so that he could brace one palm against Tony’s inner thigh. Tony followed the motion immediately, fluidly, arching his back as Steve pulled his hand away-

 

And then pushed into Tony in one swift, smooth stroke. 

 

“Oh, God, Steve,” Tony moaned, as a surge of pleasure flooded through Steve’s limbs. 

“Oh, Tony, my Tony,” Steve murmured as his hips began to move, chasing that sensation. He grabbed at Tony’s waist, pulling Tony in to meet his rhythm, picking up his pace as Tony ground more urgently against him.

He could feel how close Tony was already. It was enough to push Steve up to his limit so quickly, overwhelming his senses with a frantic need for more. He dug his fingertips into the curve of Tony’s hips, deteriorating into short, sharp thrusts, a low growl building in the bottom of his chest.

And then there was a blinding spark, so intense that it bordered on pain - and he felt Tony think it-

There.

The growl broke into a roar as Steve fucked into him harder, hitting that spot again, and again, sparking that same flash of heat over and over-

 

He didn’t even know which one of them broke.

 

It was all just a part of the solid wall of sensation that crashed through him, breaking through all resistance, and flooding every inch of him with that dizzying, electric pleasure as they came together. He could hear Tony calling his name, either out loud or in his head - it didn’t matter. 

 

“Oh, Tony, my beautiful perfect Tony…” Steve whispered, dropping his head to pepper Tony’s face and neck with kisses, before he whispered close, “my consort.”

He heard Tony’s voice crack, a soft tremor humming under his skin as Tony tried to find his voice.

“I love you,” he managed eventually, barely audible over his laboured breathing.

When Steve dropped his head to kiss him again, he saw the slightly raised, already-silvery scar on Tony’s throat…

“I love you too,” Steve replied, intending to carry on - except that his voice had cracked too. So, he had to be content to bury his face in Tony’s neck, and simply be as happy as anyone had ever been-

 

And trust that Tony knew. 

 

Chapter Text

Tony wondered what it felt like to be born. 

 

What it would be like, to experience the sights and sounds and sensations of the world for the first time, without any context for them, without language to process what light and noise and feelings even were… To be totally unaware that you are separate from all of that. To have no comprehension of where any love or bond to your mother came from, or what it was… If you were even able to comprehend it at all…

Was there some wordless, innate understanding that you existed now? Was there any understanding of joy, or sadness - any recognition that these feelings separated you from the void?

 

Apparently, these were the sorts of philosophical musings that slipped through his mind when he was completely free, and comfortable, and… limitless…

Ponderings on the meaning of life, and the nature of death, and the definitions of reality… All without being afraid of the questions, or confused by the definitions, or frustrated by the lack of answers. 

Not separate from the universe, exactly, just… more aware of it all. Seeing it all as though from a distance, even as he felt more connected to it than ever. Like he wasn’t drowning in it anymore…

 

Tony hadn’t even realized that he was drowning in reality, until he wasn’t.  

Until he was lying against his Sovereign's chest, perfectly at peace, at rest in his own body for the first time ever…

It wasn’t like being born, he’d decided… Because he was aware of the void that he’d been rescued from, and he did have language - inadequate though it was - to try and explain these feelings. Because he understood Steve as more than a shapeless feeling of love and safety…

But still, there was a reason Tony’s mind had drifted onto this topic. A recognition that this was like a rebirth…

 

It was late the following afternoon, but the two of them were still cocooned together in their bed, Tony molded against Steve’s body, Steve’s hand resting protectively on the back of his neck… 

Tony couldn’t remember the last time he’d been this still. 

He couldn’t remember the last time he was allowed to be this still - he couldn’t remember another time in his adult life when there had been no task on the horizon, no threat to worry about… And he knew that none of his previous priorities and responsibilities had disappeared, that time hadn’t really slowed down or made a little space for them…

But he was different now.

Everything felt different now.

He moved through time differently, thought differently, experienced differently…

 

Better.

Like it always should have been.

 

A warm feeling caressed up the back of Tony’s neck, under his skin - a reaction to the subtlest pressure under Steve’s fingers. 

Tony tilted his head up just enough to let Steve trace his fingertips over the mark on his throat, hissing softly as that now-familiar pleasure fizzed up under his touch…

Tony loved it when he did that. 

Tony loved that he had that mark now… He already knew, he was going to spend weeks, months, grinning stupidly at that mark, and running his fingers over it just like this-

It wouldn’t feel the same as when Steve did it… but he’d still shiver every time… 

 

Tony let himself melt into the sensation, waiting until it had dissolved through his shoulders before he smiled and pressed another kiss to Steve’s chest…

He could feel the way that Steve tensed into it… Different to the way he’d softened under it before…

Tony could taste that heat that was building in Steve’s blood- 

He knew.

 

A burst of excitement broke out in Tony’s chest - a bubbling, giddy feeling that made him want to curl his toes.

He was so immediately thrilled to experience this, to know it so well-

So overwhelmed by the thought of what he was about to do - by the idea that this was the first time of thousands…

So ready for this. Like there was some equal, complimentary need in him… 

 

Tony had to take a moment to swallow down his elation before he could say it.

“Are you hungry, baby?” He whispered, through a dreamy smile. 

He felt Steve’s arms tense tighter around him. He heard the same buzz of excitement in Steve’s grin. 

“Yeah?” Steve purred, already guiding Tony onto his side so that he could shuffle down the bed and face him. Tony’s heart clenched as their eyes met, the memory of the night before flashing through his body as well as his mind-

The purity of that feeling, as Steve sank his teeth into his throat - the bright, perfect pleasure of it. 

The intensity of that release, the bliss of complete and total surrender.

The indescribable power and purpose of it, the rightness of it.

The love he felt in that moment, uncomplicated and uncompromised and unlike anything he’d ever felt…

 

And now, this wonderful feeling of knowing exactly what Steve needed.

The joy of being this. 

 

This time, Tony melted against the sheets as soon as Steve guided him onto his back, his head tilting up at once. Steve dropped his head to kiss Tony’s throat very softly, sending a ripple of tingles through Tony’s shoulders… 

And just beneath that, the first throbbing of a dull ache, gathering under Steve’s teeth…

Like there was too much blood now, or it was pumping too hard, too close to the surface… Too much to be left like this…

As though Tony’s body had changed already.

As though he needed Steve to feed from him now, every bit as much as Steve did…

 

Tony liked that idea very much. 

 

And then he felt the electric sensation at the very edge of Steve’s teeth, followed by the teasing flicker of his tongue. Tony’s breath didn’t catch, this time. He didn’t tense into the excitement of it, the way he had last night. Now, his only instinct was to relax into position, simmering in the simple joy of waiting. 

 

Until at last Steve bit down into his neck. 

 

The release of it was just as intense, that dull ache dissolving in the hot flood of pleasure as Steve drew a long, slow mouthful of his blood. Tony could swear he felt it being tugged through his body, dragging this feeling through every inch of him. It pulled tighter and tighter, tingling sharply under his muscles - until Steve swallowed another mouthful, breaking him all over again. That heat coiled, grinding though his hips and up along his back as Steve sucked against his throat, Tony’s skin pulsing under Steve’s lips. 

 

And then the swell of dizziness as Steve pulled his teeth free, the sudden rush of light and space in his head, the thrill of free falling with none of the fear-

The tender caress of Steve healing the wound. The most intimate kiss imaginable. 

 

Oh, God, Tony was so happy. So endlessly, fathomlessly happy…

And Steve was happy - Tony could feel it. A different kind of contentment and gratification, beating beneath his own, feeding into it…

His Sovereign - full, and satisfied, and safe, and cared for, because of him.

 

Eventually, Steve lifted his head, smiling down at Tony with such affection and joy that it took Tony’s breath away. His lips were stained a deeper red, even fuller than they usually were, and Tony knew that he’d be able to taste the coppery flavor of his own blood when he kissed them…

“You’re so beautiful,” Tony murmured, too quietly for Steve to have heard it, but Tony knew he knew…

“My Tony, my beautiful, perfect consort,” Steve whispered, awed, as he leant down to kiss Tony’s neck again, slow and deep and full of affection…

The pleasure of it flowed through Tony’s softened muscles, shivering through the parts of him that used to be closed off. He let it collect in his hips, writhing into the sensation…

“Closer,” he purred, arcing up into Steve as much as his watery limbs would let him, grinning into the tender pleasure that it sparked. 

He felt Steve smile against his throat. 

 

Without another word, Tony parted his thighs, letting Steve settle between his legs. Steve deliberately ground against him as he covered Tony’s lips in a possessive kiss, forcing Tony to moan into his mouth. Tony’s cock throbbed hard, pressing against Steve’s stomach, igniting two separate frissons of sensitivity - the physical thrill that he could feel, and the excitement that Steve could feel… It echoed through him, an ever-increasing feedback loop, even before Steve slid a firm hand down over the curve of his hips… Another surge of dizziness flooded through him as Tony finally threw his head back to gasp for air - and Steve didn’t miss a beat. He simply carried on pressing those hot, slow kisses to Tony’s jaw and neck as he caressed his palm over the curve of Tony’s ass, opening him up…

 

And Tony knew that he was ready for this; still wet from when Steve fucked him that morning, as relaxed and open as he’d ever been in his life-

He liked that they could both take that for granted - that Steve knew everything he was feeling, as well as he did…

That Steve could follow that natural impulse and push inside him now, slow and firm…

“Oh, Fuck, Steve…” Tony gasped, as that roll of pleasure pushed up through him, cresting and crashing into something more compulsive as Steve began to move inside him.

“My Tony…” Steve growled - and God, Tony was never going to get used to that, in the best possible way. 

“Yours,” he promised, rocking into that friction. He managed to throw his arms heavily over Steve’s back, indulging in the perfect shape of Steve’s beautiful body, and the thrill of knowing it was his

That gritty, feral growl was his.

Those beautiful lips were his-

 

That spike of desperation as Steve thrust into him harder, the rush of pleasure that followed, was his.

 

Tony’s breathing broke down into a pleading murmur, catching every time Steve pushed into him, the pitch pulling tighter as Steve picked up the pace-

And then Steve hit Tony’s prostate, and tugged that needy whimper into a guttural groan. 

Tony’s body tried to tighten into it, creating a compulsive sort of conflict - a strange, intimate feeling that shuddered through him, as that tension trickled through his weakened muscles, like electricity. 

It flashed hotter as Steve thrust into him again, gathering down through the small of his back and up through his thighs, an edge of frustration finally sharpening-

And then Steve dropped his head again, sucking another bruising kiss to Tony’s throat - right over that raised mark-

 

“Oh, Steve-” Tony keened, as that pressure broke-

And again, as Steve felt it-

And again, as Tony felt him feel it-

And again, as Steve moaned against his throat, and came inside him-

 

Oh, God, that feeling kept echoing, cresting again and again, until there was nothing but that feeling-

 

And then that heady, heavy bliss that settled over him, submerged and saturated him, until he felt like he was floating in it…

Someone whispered, I love you, I love you - and Tony didn’t even know if it was him. If he could even hear it out loud, or just in his head-

And it didn’t matter. He knew it was real.

 

It took a few moments for any semblance of reality to reform - and even then, it was a distant, shimmering reality that ended at the edge of the bed. 

When Tony’s vision cleared, there was only Steve, flushed and glowing and utterly flawless, gazing down on him with such affection…

“I love you,” Tony definitely managed to say it out loud this time, albeit whilst panting for breath. And Steve smiled - that beautiful, dazzling smile that was for Tony alone - and whispered back,

“I love you.”

 

Tony gasped as Steve pulled out of him, pulling his arms tighter across Steve’s back in a bid to hold onto that closeness. Steve snaked one arm under Tony and pulled him into his chest, bringing Tony with him as he rolled onto his back again. And for a while Tony was content to stay there, basking in the warmth of Steve’s adoration, revelling in the strength and softness of him… Tony didn’t bother to catalog any of his own reactions. He didn’t need to find or name the pulsing pleasure of the afterglow, or the fizzing excitement in his mind, or that strangely present emptiness in his stomach…

Until Steve named it for him.

 

“Are you hungry baby?” Steve whispered into his hair. And Tony grinned - because, yes, as it turned out, he was. 

But he didn’t have to answer - at least, not in words. He knew that Steve already knew-

That Steve would take care of him now. 

And, for maybe the first time in his life, Tony had absolutely no reservations about that. No nagging guilt or feeling of inadequacy, no lingering vulnerability, no irrational questions about what it meant-

He knew that Steve was supposed to take care of him now-

He knew that there were no judgements or caveats-

He knew that he didn’t have to do anything to earn this or deserve it or repay it-

It just was.

 

Tony even smiled as he opened his arms, letting Steve shuffle away from him and climb out of the bed. He watched, happily mesmerized, as Steve stood up, taking the opportunity to run his eyes over the curve of Steve’s back before he carelessly tossed a bathrobe over his shoulders. And then Tony relaxed back into the bed with a dreamy sigh, and breathed in the smell of Steve, and waited for the warm, comfortable thoughts to float into his mind again…

 

We should go to Germany…

 

There was the briefest flicker of a thoughtful frown. A vague curiosity about where the idea had come from.

…But it was right.

And it was separate from the idea that they still had to work out ‘what was going on’ - who knew about them, and why, and what they wanted from either of them…

Of course, Tony knew those considerations were still important, that they’d have to think about all that at some point and make a plan of action. But it seemed like a secondary concern, now. Something he could think about when the really important things were out of the way…

Now, Tony understood that Steve needed to know if there were other vampires. He knew what it would mean for Steve to be able to talk to them, to see that culture first-hand. 

In fact, now, Tony had a far more present interest in it for himself. A genuine curiosity, a feeling of potential connection… Something he felt compelled to look into…

He remembered that there were things he’d wanted to work out first. He remembered a whole list of reasons why it might be dangerous to go to the Rossinhol Estate, and a longer list of contingencies that he’d wanted to consider…

Did any of them really matter?

 

He was brought out of his musings when Steve walked back into the room, holding Tony’s favorite coffee mug and a plate of French toast. Tony grinned as he sat up, as much at the idea that Steve had remembered his favorite comfort foods as at the thought of eating it… Although, that thought wasn’t far behind, now that he’d realized how hungry he was. 

And then Steve set the plate down on the bedside table, and sat on the edge of the bed, and brushed the hair away from Tony’s face…

And Tony simply carried on the conversation in his head. Just expecting Steve to know what he was talking about. 

 

“We couldn’t tell anyone, if we went to that Rossinhol place,” he said, thoughtfully.

“In case SHIELD found out,” Steve agreed immediately - like he’d been listening to every word.

“Well, in case anyone found out, I suppose,” Tony mused, reaching out to take the mug. “I mean, seeing as we don’t know who’s watching us, or what they want - probably better to keep as much to ourselves as possible, right?” 

Steve nodded, fair point. 

And then there was a little frisson of thought behind his eyes.

“Are you sure you’re okay with not telling people about all this?” He asked, carefully. “I mean, Rhodey and Pepper and… the rest of the team… I don’t want to make you keep secrets from the people you care about.”

“Well, of course I want to tell everyone as soon as I can,” Tony smiled. “I mean, I want to tell everyone, just because I’m excited and happy and I want to… And we will, as soon as we can. But this isn’t about anyone else. This is about us. And this is important, and it’s important that we do it right - and I don’t think I owe anyone an explanation about my personal life before we’re both ready.”

 

Steve smiled at him, relieved and appreciative and warm…

But still, Tony could feel something beneath it.

“You’re thinking about Bucky,” he guessed. Steve sighed and dropped his eyes.

“I would have liked to have told him about you,” he nodded, sadly. “About all this… It’s things like this… I don’t know, sometimes I find myself thinking as though he’s still alive. Like there’s this weird gap… Like it doesn’t quite feel real that he’s never going to meet you, or something.”

Tony put his mug down again and shuffled closer to Steve. He knew there was nothing he could say to that - he knew it better now than he ever had. He could feel the loss that Steve lived with, and the trauma it fed into. He understood the hurt and guilt that meaningless pleasantries did nothing to ease…

And that was a painful revelation, of course.

But there was also the revelation that at least Tony could do something about it now. Not that he could ever make it better - he knew, nothing would ever erase that heartbreak, or fill the space it had left… But at least Tony could help to carry that burden now. He could provide a different kind of purpose and comfort. He could do more for Steve than any mere human would’ve been capable of…

He could place a tender hand on Steve’s thigh and know that it communicated all the love and care he felt - and that mattered.

 

“It’s probably a trap, you know,” Steve sighed.

“Well, everything’s probably a trap,” Tony countered, and Steve laughed. “And hey, if someone is setting this whole thing up to trap us, then we really should go and see what’s going on… And, to be honest with you, I think they’d regret bringing us there more than we’d regret going. I’m… Never going to be scared of anything, when I’m with you.”

Steve broke into a different smile then - one that Tony could feel in his chest. 

Tony was glad that Steve was proud of him in that way - that Steve was proud of himself, for protecting Tony. 

…And, now that he thought of it, he was excited to think of ‘the consort effect’ and what it meant in real life. Up until last night, Tony had only ever had an academic understanding of it - and, for weeks, it had been as unnerving as it was compelling.

Now that Tony wasn’t running from it - now that he understood it on a basic, physical level - he was free to really think about it…

The idea that Steve could command such terror from anyone who threatened him… That Steve would feel such a feral, protective instinct towards him… Was incredible, really, wasn’t it? 

“And I know we can prepare for all of that,” Tony carried on, over the lightness in his chest. “We can find out as much as possible about the place first, and plan all our back up plans, and everything…”

 

But a malicious trap wasn’t the worst-case scenario, and Tony knew it. Far more disappointing than that would’ve been…

“You know it might not be what we want it to be,” Tony finished, softly. And Steve nodded immediately - because, obviously, if Tony had been thinking about this then Steve knew it already.

“I know… there might be no one there, or they might not really be vampires, or they might all be awful people with awful customs that I want nothing to do with…” He agreed, sadly. “But… I’d still want to know. And anyway, it’s not like any of this is really the point anymore. I mean, sure, it might be nice to actually learn something, or…. Whatever. But it’s not like I’m clinging to this one chance to find meaning. I have that already.”

He put a hand over the top of Tony’s, squeezing gently, sending a warm caress all the way along Tony’s arm…

 

“So… I’ll start looking into it, then,” Tony decided, with a grin. “I’ll find out what this place is, and what we’d need to do to get an invitation, and… everything else. First priority.”

“No,” Steve corrected, in a playful tone of voice that was none-the-less entirely sincere, “the first priority is that you let me take care of you.”

And with that, he handed Tony his plate. Tony smiled.

 

“Yes, Sovereign,” he agreed.

 

Chapter Text

Tony hadn’t really expected Rossinhol House to look exactly like what he was expecting.

 

He and Steve had reached the end of the long gravel drive an hour after sunset, as instructed. They’d already walked half a mile across uncultivated woodland to get to this point, following overgrown paths through gnarled and blackened trees, whose bare branches clawed up at the darkening sky like the fingers of a fairy tale monster. Now, they stood in silence and took in the gothic grandeur of the estate - the intricately carved gargoyles that stood on stoic stone trellises, the gilded spires that topped the high towers, the rows and rows of stained-glass windows framed with bronze… Both thinking the same thing.

 

This is all a bit on the nose.

 

For Tony’s part, he might have found something amusing in it, if it weren’t for the feeling that it fit with a wider, shadier anxiety…

That something about this whole thing was too… easy. Too convenient. Too… forced, or something.

 

Which wasn’t to say that it hadn’t been a challenge to get away for this little trip. They’d both spent the last two weeks carefully layering their cover stories, feeding details to Fury, making sure to clear their work schedules and arrange cover before they ever mentioned taking some time off… So, maybe it was just that it had worked. 

… But Tony couldn’t shake the feeling that there should have been more questions. That Nick should have wanted more details about where they were going, or how they could be contacted in an emergency. That Pierce should have brought it up at their last meeting with the SHIELD Directors - or, at least, that the Council should have reacted differently, when Tony mentioned it. He was almost sure that Nick had even intervened to stop Nat and Clint from asking about it… And, okay, maybe he was impatient to start the briefing, or uncomfortable talking about their personal lives, or even scared to question Tony in front of Steve… But Tony found it hard to believe that Nick hadn’t been interested in letting people ask those questions on his behalf…

 

And then there was how easy it had been to get this invitation in the first place. 

Perhaps Tony should take it as proof that ‘John’s’ casual account had been accurate - maybe this was how it would have gone, if there were just vampires out there who knew each other, and this was just a place they all hung out. Maybe it really was that ‘John’s grandma Sophie’ knew a guy, and that was the only criteria to get in…

But Tony couldn’t shake the feeling that John had been waiting by the mailbox, desperate to post that invitation. Tony couldn’t help thinking that John sounded relieved when he finally got in touch. That he had too many of the answers to hand, that he’d offered up too many details…

 

All in all, it just felt like someone wanted them to be here - and that wasn’t necessarily a good thing. 

 

He glanced up at Steve - and immediately knew that he was thinking all the same things. Which was something of a comfort. 

The intensity of their bond was stronger at some times than others. Since that first night, Steve had bitten Tony almost every day, and in those moments Tony would feel as though they were two halves of the same form, walking around in each other's head, literally able to feel everything the other did - and, of course, that was wonderful… But, having given it some sober thought, he accepted that it was probably better if it wasn’t like that all the time. For one, neither of them would ever get anything done. And, okay, in those passionate moments, with Steve’s lips pressed against his throat, Tony didn’t care whether he ever got anything done ever again… But in the real world, Tony was glad that he could still lead a version of his everyday life. A version where he was always connected to Steve, and he felt stronger and healthier than he ever had, and was constantly high on the simple human happiness of being so in love… But still, a version of him that could do his job and think of his other relationships and remember why the fate of the world mattered. Which seemed like the right balance, to him. 

 

Right now, that balance allowed him to think strategically, to remember all the things they had to be careful of, all the different priorities they had for this trip and how best to rank them… All with the constant comfort of Steve right there beside him, sharing these anxieties - thinking about his own part in fixing them. 

 

“So, we’re supposed to just walk up and knock…?” Steve asked eventually - which Tony knew really meant are we happy with this plan?

And, in all honesty, Tony wasn’t happy with this plan - like he wasn’t completely sold on any of the potential plans they had considered up to this point.

Because there were so many unknowns, and so many risks, and so many people they had to be wary of…

Because, as was so often the case, the only way to be completely safe about this was not to do it at all…

 

And then Tony looked at Steve again - at all the deeply buried hope and expertly masked vulnerability that no one but him would’ve been able to see. 

He thought about all the questions that Steve had lived with for so long, and all the burdens that might be eased if they could find something or someone he could connect with.

Tony recognised that there was no risk he wouldn’t take, no consequence he wouldn’t accept, for the chance to help Steve with this.

 

“That’s what the invitation says,” Tony replied brightly, sliding his hand into his pocket and running his fingers over the embossed lettering again. The accompanying note, with the more detailed instructions, was crunched up underneath it, purely because Tony didn’t want to leave anything incriminating at their budget motel… But, of course, he’d read it so many times that he knew it by heart. 

… And he had the growing suspicion that they wouldn’t need either of them. 

In fact, he was increasingly sure that someone was already watching them, just waiting for them to knock on the door…

“And then we go along with whatever they tell us, until one of us feels uncomfortable with it,” he carried on, reminding Steve of the general plan mostly as a reassurance to them both.

This is a mission. We are here to gather information. We know the procedure for that.

You will know if I’m uncomfortable, and no power on earth will stop you from getting to me then. 

We can force our way out of this if we have to. Everything up until then is a bonus. 

 

Steve smiled as though he was listening to Tony’s train of thought… And then he reached down and took Tony’s hand. 

Tony allowed the warmth of it to spread up along his arm, soaking through his body as they began the slow walk to the front entrance. He started to feel the security that he’d spent the last few days talking about, finally believing that nothing could hurt either of them, as long as they were together…

 

…Which made room for that other anxiety, possibly greater than the fear that they were about to be ambushed-

The fear that this was going to be a massive disappointment. 

Tony would quite genuinely have preferred to be set upon by a gang of mercenaries than find a group of deluded cosplayers, or something…

 

They paused again when they reached the door. Tony’s heart swelled when he heard Steve take a deep breath - because he knew that it served no physical purpose. It was simply a human routine that Steve had maintained, and something about that struck Tony as particularly endearing. 

And then Steve gathered himself and rapped against the heavy wooden door, squeezing Tony’s hand a little tighter as he stepped back to wait. 

 

One second became two, and then three… Tony was forced to rethink his opinion that someone was poised for their arrival… and eventually to consider how anyone would have heard them at all…

He and Steve shared a glance, shall we try again? But before either of them could move, the door slowly creaked open. 

 

Instinctively, they both fell into battle stance - or, as close to it as they could manage, whilst still holding hands. 

Which seemed somewhat ridiculous, when a tiny, gray-haired woman greeted them with a pleasant smile. 

 

“Oh! You must be the Starks,” she beamed, looking between them. Tony tempered the lift of excitement at hearing Steve referred to by his name, and instead corrected her,

“Well, I’m Tony Stark - this is Steve Rogers.”

She nodded along with him, as though to say, yes, that’s what I said.

“Of course. Yes, they’re expecting you,” she replied politely, stepping aside for them. 

He and Steve shared one final glance, so, this is it, then.

And then they stepped inside. 

 

“Your journey was without issue, I take it?” The woman enquired, as they both scanned the little reception room for any further clues - not that there was much to take a note of. Just a small, stone walled space, with an ornate, carved wooden bench against one wall, and another set of imposing-looking doors. “You had no problem navigating the woods?”

“Oh, no, the instructions were very helpful, thank you,” Steve replied politely. “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name?”

“Gwen,” she smiled. “I’m one of the Patrons of Rossinhol House.”

“Patrons?” Tony enquired, still straining to hear what might be happening elsewhere in the building… It was eerily quiet. 

“We take the role of a board of trustees, I suppose would be the easiest way to think about it,” Gwen explained. “Those of us that live here, and manage the estate, and events that happen in the house.”

“And are you… A Vampire?” Steve asked hesitantly, like he was still trying to convince himself he could say the word out loud. Gwen smiled as she shook her head.

“No, my connection to the estate is through the family,” she explained. “My sister is Consort to a Vampire, and I’ve lived with Vampires all my life.”

 

Tony nodded along and tried to concentrate on why that was interesting, and what else he should ask about it… But he was getting more and more distracted by the question of what they were waiting for…

And then, as he was looking for a non-combative way to ask, there was a genteel knock on the inner doors. 

They opened before anyone had a chance to respond, and two young, broad-shouldered men stepped inside and stood to attention. 

Vampires, Tony thought, immediately… although, in fairness, he wasn’t sure if he could actually tell, or if he simply assumed…

They looked strong, though. And they made the reception room seem claustrophobic, just for being there. 

 

“Ah, right on time,” Gwen grinned, and then gestured to the men. “This is Andre and Manny; they’ll escort you and help prepare you for the welcome service.”

“The welcome service?” Steve asked, in a tone of casual interest. Because the letter that arrived with their invitation had referenced the various rituals that happened every day at Rossinhol House, and they’d already discussed how they were going to deal with that - they’d accepted that it was part of their reason for being here, in fact. 

But then Gwen carried on talking. 

“Mr Stark, if you’d like to follow Andre, and Captain Rogers, Manny will take you t-to…”

 

She stammered to a halt as soon as Steve flinched.

 

“Why do we need to be split up?” Steve demanded, in a completely different voice - hot, and sharp edged, and apparently laced with that dangerous quality that affected everyone besides Tony.

Tony noticed the way that Manny and Andre tensed and wondered if that meant ‘the consort effect’ worked just as well on other Vampires… he hoped so. 

“Oh, there’s no need to be concerned, I assure you,” Gwen placated. “It’s simply a matter of tradition. The welcome ritual involves both Vampire and Consort being introduced individually, and then brought together in front of the congregation. Like a wedding ritual, perhaps…” she trailed off under the intensity of Steve’s stare. 

 

The thought, well, that’s a nice idea, floated through Tony’s head… but he didn’t have the space to consider it fully, because his attention was increasingly drawn to his Sovereign, and the specific form their bond took in these moments…

He could feel his own body tensing in preparation, his mind focusing on Steve and what he might need…

 

“And what do you mean ‘prepare’?” Steve carried on, the atmosphere building around him.

“It’s just a matter of getting dressed,” Gwen assured, a sense of desperation bleeding into her voice. “The traditional dress, as worn by Sovereigns and Consorts for generations… If you’re comfortable with that, that is….”

 

Steve finally looked away from her and directly at Tony - at which point, everything else ceased to exist. 

Without another word, Steve asked him, Are you comfortable with that?

And it took a huge amount of willpower for Tony to think beyond his impulse to keep Steve calm in the moment - a feat he only managed because it was a question of what would be best for Steve in the long term…

This is what we’re here for, he assured silently, focusing his gaze to add, and if I change my mind about that, you’ll know, and you’ll come find me.

 

Somewhat reluctantly, Steve turned to Andre specifically and fixed him with a stare so dark that the man seemed to wilt under the power of it. Tony was sure that Andre wouldn’t have to read Steve’s mind to know exactly how much trouble he’d be in if he put a foot wrong.

Tony tried to ignore the heat that sparked in him. 

 

“Okay, so, Andre, is it?” Tony intervened. Andre seemed very relieved to look away from Steve.

“Yes sir,” he nodded.

“Okay, well I guess I’m following you then,” Tony smiled, giving Steve’s hand one last squeeze before he finally let go and gestured to Andre, lead the way.

 

He had to admit, there was a nervous tightening in his chest when the doors closed behind them and blocked Steve from view.

But he knew that Steve felt it too.

He knew that Steve was still with him…

 

None-the-less, it was hard to take in the details of his surroundings, as had been the original plan. He noted that they’d stepped into the middle of a long, echoey corridor and turned right, in what he assumed was the opposite direction to wherever Steve would be taken. He noticed the gilded arches and the gold framed paintings hanging on the exposed brickwork … but that was about all he could see, over the top of his rising anxiety.

 

Until, after what seemed like no time at all, he was led into a grand looking parlor, with softer, more sumptuous looking couches and antique rugs and several silver-framed mirrors… and where a handful of men were waiting for him. 

He paused and swallowed hard. And then he made the effort to smother his apprehension, putting on his best Tony Stark™ smile before he greeted them,

“Well, hi everyone.”

One of the men stepped forward, clearly marking himself out as the leader of the group. He was a good six inches taller than Tony, and - like all of the men in the room – imposingly muscular…

“Welcome, Mr Stark,” he said, extending a hand. Tony was sure to be confident as he took it, never letting it show that he’d noticed how strong this guy's grip was… “My name is Nigel. Please feel free to ask any questions as we’re getting you ready today.”

 

Immediately, Tony noticed a certain… formality, about the way Nigel was speaking. An unnatural rhythm in his speech patterns, a stiffness in his movements… something that struck Tony as fundamentally wrong…

But he couldn’t think how to ask about that. 

So, instead, he skipped ahead to the next most obvious question.

 

“So… Are you all Vampires?” He asked, trying to check out the others’ physique as subtly as he could. Counting six of them, in total. 

“We are,” Nigel confirmed, perfunctorily. “And Patrons of Rossinhol house.”

As Nigel was speaking, Tony became aware that two of the others were openly sizing him up, slowly trailing their gaze from his head to his feet and then back again… 

“So, uh, does that mean it’s all Consorts looking after Steve right now?” Tony asked, as more of his attention was pulled to those two Vampires, who were now muttering between themselves.

“No,” Nigel answered, “it is a Sovereign's place to serve. As a Consort, you are the honored guest here.”

 

Instantly, Tony’s brow pinched in confusion - or outrage. 

There was such a visceral, instinctive reaction to that sentiment that he almost said it out loud,

That’s not how it works.

He managed to bite it back, reminding himself that they were here to learn - that, if nothing else, he should probably try not to antagonize their hosts before they’d had a chance to see anything… But the spike of adrenaline was so intense that he couldn’t think of what to say instead…

 

Luckily, a flurry of activity to his left broke the tension and gave him somewhere else to focus his attention. 

Tony looked up in time to see one of the Vampires who’d previously been checking him out disappear into a side room. 

“What’s through there?” Tony asked, for the sake of something to say.

“The wardrobe, sir,” Nigel replied, robotically. And then, as though to illustrate that point, the other Vampire returned, holding what seemed to be a bundle of black fabric. 

“I believe these should fit you, sir,” the Vampire told him, handing him a pair of black silk pants. Tony felt himself frown as he took them.

…He wasn’t sure they would.

They certainly weren’t going to leave much to the imagination, if he did manage to wriggle into them… 

On autopilot, he searched for a quip to cover his anxiety - but when he looked up again to deliver it, he noticed that the Vampire still had something delicate and lacy draped over his arm…

And a leather collar hanging casually from his hand. 

“...As long as you’re comfortable with these?” The Vampire prompted, after a moment.

Tony looked at the collar, and the lace shirt, and then back at the pants he was holding…

 

…Was he?

 

Tony was sure he wasn’t especially comfortable right now, just in general…

But wasn’t sure if it was anything to do with the outfit. He knew that it was going to be revealing, and probably suggestive… But it wasn’t as though he’d ever had an issue with provocative or ridiculous clothing before now…

And he couldn’t really say what about the demeanour of these men made him uncomfortable, if it even did…

… And he knew that if he didn’t get a hold of himself soon, Steve would pick up on his mood. And then Steve would come to rescue him from it, which would put an end to this endeavour before it had even begun. 

Which simplified things down to a single question,

Am I prepared to take this chance away from Steve, and leave without any answers, on the basis of how I feel right now?

 

“No, it’s fine,” he muttered, and kicked off his shoes. 

 

*

 

Tony isn’t happy.

 

That same thought had been running through Steve’s head on a loop ever since they split up - and the only reason that Steve was trying to ignore it was because he knew that Tony was. 

Because he knew that he’d know when Tony actually wanted his help.

 

Somewhere, Steve remembered this train of thought. Back in the real world, when he wasn’t consumed by his role as Sovereign and thrumming with this protective instinct, Steve had warned himself not to claim all of Tony’s agency. He’d worried that being so aware of Tony’s fears and so focused on Tony’s well-being might lead to him being possessive or controlling or over the top, if he simply let those impulses run unchecked. 

He didn’t want to stop Tony from taking risks. He didn’t want to stop Tony from ever being the hero. He didn’t want Tony to live any other way than the way Steve had first fallen in love with.

 

So, despite the growing pressure in his shoulders, Steve kept his mouth shut and followed Manny along the corridor - paying literally no attention to where they were, until he found himself in a large, severe looking room with no windows…

The first word that sprung to mind was dungeon. Which wasn’t comforting. 

 

There was another man waiting for them, taller than Steve and just as well-built… with a length of chain dangling from his hand. 

And Steve had intended to be polite and conciliatory, at least in the first instance - it had seemed the best way to get people on their side and gather information, back when he was thinking about it sensibly.

Now, it was all he could do to keep that possessive temper under the surface, and his opening statement came out somewhat antagonistic as a result.

“And you are?” He demanded, authoritatively.

“Vasily, sir,” the man replied, with the same defiant edge on his tone.

“And you’re a Vampire?”

“I am,” Vasily answered, curtly. 

Steve felt his temper flare, and he was immediately possessed by a feral desire to punch the guy in the throat…

 

But he recognised that was a rather extreme reaction - which helped him to get a hold of himself, at least.

 

“Steve Rogers,” he said, trying to soften his tone, offering his hand in what he hoped was a friendly fashion-

But Vasily didn’t move.

“For as long as you’re here, you will be referred to by the name of Stark, in acknowledgement of your commitment and duty to your Consort,” he informed Steve bluntly. 

And, at any other time, Steve might even have liked that idea. He would certainly have been very honored if Tony had ever referred to him that way…

But the cold, entitled way that Vasily said it instantly put Steve’s teeth on edge… and, beyond that, pulled up a stirring of discomfort…

He just knew that Vasily wasn’t thinking of this bond in the same way that he and Tony did. And that was troubling. 

“And what’s that?” Steve bit out, jerking his head towards the chain.

“Traditional dress for a Sovereign who is to receive his or her Consort,” Vasily replied. “You will need to remove your shirt.”

 

Steve stared at him for a moment, asserting himself as he considered the situation…

There was a part of him that would have liked to refuse, out of spite. 

And it wasn’t any desire to stay here that stopped him, or any personal interest in what they’d yet to learn-

It was purely the fact that he didn’t want to start a fight whilst Tony was out of his sight. He didn’t want to find himself in the middle of something that might delay him getting to Tony, or cause any problems that might get to Tony before he did.

So, gritting his teeth so hard that his jaw ached, Steve shrugged his way out of his shirt and tossed it aside. 

 

There was a pause that Steve was sure was deliberate - Vasily trying to assert his dominance, whilst Steve stood there half naked. Of course, Steve didn’t flinch.

At last, Vasily handed the chain to him - which, as it turned out, was an intricate net of silver links, rather than a single length, as he’d first assumed.

Vasily offered no more guidance or assistance as Steve struggled to work out how to wear it, eventually finding a way to slip it over his head and arrange it over his shoulders. He glanced down at the pattern of chains that criss-crossed his chest, and hung heavily over his arms, and considered that it did look a bit like the sketches in the Rossinhol Diary…

It didn’t feel right, though.

Maybe it was just the attitude that Vasily had about it, or the mindset that Steve had slipped into… But something about this felt… more constricting, than he’d imagined? More performative, maybe?

 

“Now what?” He snapped, fast losing interest in everything except getting back to Tony.

“Manny will show you through to the main hall,” Vasily informed him, gesturing vaguely in the direction of a door at the back of the room.

Steve very pointedly didn’t thank him before he followed Manny out into another, narrower hallway…

 

This isn’t right…

 

And Steve wished he could figure out what about it wasn’t right, exactly. He might’ve felt better about storming out, in that case…

Instead of which, there was only this general, building anxiety…

He was still consumed by it when they reached the end of the corridor and stepped out into a huge, wood panelled room, lit by sparkling crystal chandeliers, like the banquet halls in period dramas- 

And it was full of people.

 

At once, Steve was painfully aware of how many eyes were on him. A seemingly endless sea of people, all turned to look right at him…

His throat tightened as Manny walked him right up to the crowd, which waited until the last moment to part for him - revealing a raised platform in the middle of the room. 

And Steve realized that these people were actually an audience.

 

The crowd slowly turned in unison to follow Steve’s slow approach to the stage, watching him in oppressive silence. 

At long last, Steve’s training kicked in, and he remembered how to properly assess a situation like this…

He finally noticed the balcony that ran all the way around the edge of the room, and spotted a few of the well-dressed people leaning over the side, observing him with an entitled sort of curiosity…

And he recognised that all the people standing on the ground with him were imposing, and muscular, and probably Vampires… all of them in plainer outfits, their expressions more subdued…

Steve found himself thinking of theaters and opera houses, and the immediately apparent hierarchy of the aristocracy in their private boxes, looking down on the peasants in the pit…

 

This is wrong.

It isn’t like this.

 

But Steve couldn’t think of what he even meant by that - or, at least, he wouldn’t have known how to word it… Why this felt so fundamentally at odds with what he thought being a Vampire was… or, what being bonded was…

He was fast coming to the conclusion that it didn’t matter - that, either way, he and Tony shouldn’t be here…

In fact, he had already started to plan how he was going to get to Tony and get them both the hell out of here-

When the crowd on the other side of the stage parted, and he saw Tony walking slowly towards him…

 

And then he forgot literally everything else. 



Chapter Text

Tony felt ridiculous. 

And uncomfortable. In every possible way. 

 

The walk to the main hall seemed to take forever, and Tony spent the entire time flexing his hands at his sides to keep from touching the collar. The delicate pattern of the lace shirt did nothing to cover him and, as he’d suspected, the silk pants clung to his thighs like a second skin. He felt horribly exposed, and painfully aware of the reaction this outfit was designed to inspire…

But it was more than that.

Besides feeling vulnerable and somewhat objectified, Tony couldn’t help feeling that it was all so… Tacky. So unsubtle, and cliche, and forced. 

 

It wasn’t the worst feeling in the world - Tony wouldn’t have said he was frightened, or outraged, or anything as strong as that. The vampires who’d helped him to get ready had all been respectful; no one had been remotely aggressive or pushy…

Cold, maybe.

Strangely robotic in their responses…

But nothing that suggested that Tony should be wary of them. 

Nothing that he wouldn’t happily put up with in Steve’s long-term interest.

 

… He just knew he would be a lot happier when this part of things was over. That was all.  

 

There was a brief spike of uneasiness when they reached the hall, and Tony felt the weight of all those eyes baring down on him. Automatically, he crossed his arms over his chest and lowered his gaze, leaning into a physical instinct to hide… But even as he was doing it, he could feel Steve’s presence, somewhere behind everything else… or above everything else…

 

And then Tony felt Steve look at him.

 

All of that self-consciousness and anxiety simply disappeared. His arms uncrossed of their own accord, his shoulders dropping as he tilted his chin up to look at Steve-

 

Presenting himself.

 

In that moment Tony was vaguely aware that this was something new - if only circumstantially. There was the thrill of novelty, the pleasant excitement of recognising that they’d never been in this situation before… that their bond had never been so public before, or so directly framed… Tony might even have started to wonder about how intimate this moment was going to be - he might have recognised that he liked something about that idea, right here at the beginning of it-

 

Until Steve’s eyes met his, darkening as they focused on him, as though Steve could claim him with only a look-

And then Tony didn’t remember anything.

 

The people watching them, the strange set up, the hundreds of questions Tony had been listing in his head… It all faded away from the sphere of his attention, rendered irrelevant and unimportant - and, finally, non-existent.

He forgot all about his previous fears and insecurities; he forgot the world they came from. 

He forgot about his previous experiences, or pre-conceptions. He forgot to consider them at all-

 

The only thing he was remotely aware of was a shameless, naked hope that he was pretty for Steve.

 

He barely noticed the way his vampire escort ushered him up to the stage - because he was already being drawn towards Steve anyway. 

It wasn’t until he was standing right in front of him that Tony even noticed what Steve was wearing… and then he found it hard to look away. Any concerns Tony might have had about what the chains symbolized were completely smothered by how good Steve looked in them… the way they decorated his chest and trailed over his perfect arms…

 

Somewhere, a little voice might have asked him … is this real?

 

Was there something about these outfits, this set up, that elicited a specific reaction?

Was it only that Steve looked beautiful - and Steve thought that Tony looked beautiful, he could tell… Was it only that they wanted each other? 

Was this immediate spike of interest something that was inspired by this ritual, or this place, or Tony’s role as consort… or an idea that he liked, just for himself?

But, of course, Tony couldn’t answer any of those questions right now. He was too overwhelmed by these feelings to question where they came from - too affected by the whole to think of deconstructing it into separate parts. 

He only knew that he wanted Steve, as much as he’d ever wanted anything-

He knew that Steve wanted him, and Tony wanted to provide-

 

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” came a confident, theatrical voice from somewhere behind Tony’s head, probably in the balcony - but Tony didn’t even turn to look. He was completely incapable of tearing his eyes away from Steve, hardly able to listen as the unseen man went on, “tonight, we welcome Mr Stark, the newest member of our family, along with his Sovereign. In the act of sharing this ancient ritual, we also extend our loyalty, hospitality and family bond, now and forever.”

There was a murmur of assent from the crowd, like a group of weary teenagers responding to the Lord's Prayer at a school service - but Tony didn’t make out what they were saying. He didn’t even try. He was too focused on Steve, and the silent question hanging between them, and his growing desperation to say yes-

Because Steve wanted to bite him-

And Tony wanted to be bitten-

 

“Steven, we ask in front of all those present - do you pledge yourself, in body and mind, to the service of your consort, and promise to devote yourself to his care and safety, above all else, now and forever?”

Steve kept his gaze fixed on Tony, a tender smile playing on his lips as he answered for Tony alone, 

“I do.”

Tony gasped softly, genuinely surprised by how physically affected he was. He’d imagined a hundred different ways this whole thing might go and considered a thousand different reactions he might possibly have - but it never occurred to him that this would be the most romantic moment of his life. He wasn’t prepared for the way his legs weakened, or the way his stomach turned to water, or the giddy smile that he had no hope of containing.

The little voice whispered to him again, this could be real.

This really could be an important, ancient, life changing moment… Maybe Tony could feel it-

“Do you promise to cede to his wishes, and yield to his command, and remain bound by this authority, above all others, now and forever?” The unseen voice continued. 

 

… And maybe Tony should have been more critical of the wording. 

Later, when he was looking back on it, he would question the phrasing, and acknowledge the discomforting nature of it… and the uncomfortable fact that he wasn’t more uncomfortable at the time…

But in the moment, he wasn’t aware of anything but the feeling between he and Steve. Without knowing it, he was framing this event in terms of how their bond really worked - substituting the literal meaning of these words with all the things he already understood.

Simply assuming that it was a promise to listen to him, and respect him, and honor the true nature of their relationship, when Steve answered again, without hesitation,

“I do.”

 

“This collar represents the ultimate authority of any Consort - it is in his power alone to remove it, and thus in his power alone to decide when a Sovereign will feed-”

There was a flicker of resistance in Tony then - although, still, not at the words themselves. 

The first pang of conflict came when he realized that he wasn’t going to be asked to say it back. Somehow, without fully processing the speech he was listening to, Tony could tell that the anonymous official had moved on-

But Tony wanted to say it back. 

He wanted to be able to pledge his undying love and devotion and service to Steve… and with that came the first ripple of discontent. The wordless understanding that it wasn’t right that only Steve had been asked these things…

Which might well have snowballed into a deeper concern, if it weren’t for the fact that the unseen man carried on,

“-and in removing it now, the Consort grants the great honor of claiming the Sovereign as his, in front of all those gathered here, and thus invites the Sovereign into this family.”

 

And, finally, it dawned on him-

They were all waiting to watch Steve bite him.

 

And, of course, somewhere, he’d already worked that out. But it was only now that the significance of it - the reality of it - hit him like a wall of water.

Being bitten was such an intimate thing, such a personal thing - more so than any human experience. It would never have occurred to him that it could be anything other than a deeply private moment. Any other view was shocking, and forbidden, and…

 

…And he did like the idea. 

 

He still had no idea what that meant, or what it said about him, but there was no way to deny it - 

His blood flashed hot. His cock flushed painfully hard against the tight fabric of his pants. His skin tightened in tingling excitement.

And then he saw Steve smile - almost shy, despite the intensity in his eyes. 

And Tony smiled back. 

 

“Whenever you’re ready, Mr Stark,” the unseen man prompted, more gently. At last, Tony bothered to glance back, and found that the master of ceremonies was indeed standing in the balcony right behind him, wearing a black robe and a very stoic expression. Which was probably also very tacky and obvious - but Tony had stopped taking notes. 

There was only Steve, and the anticipation building between them, and those words ringing in his ears,

Whenever you’re ready, Mr Stark.

 

Steve looked right at Tony, silently checking,

Are you ready for this?

Tony was so excited that he actually nodded, even though he knew he didn’t have to. 

And then, without thinking, he tilted his head up again - completely disregarding the instructions he’d barely heard and assuming that Steve would take the lead from here-

 

And he did hear the awkward murmur from the crowd, and later he’d recognise it as an attempted rebuke of his behavior - but, at the time, he didn’t think about it. 

It wasn’t the audience that led Tony to hesitate, and tentatively lower his chin again-

It was Steve. 

It was the flicker of his smile, the subtle widening of his eyes… The unspoken reminder,

You’re supposed to take it off.

… It was the fact that, apparently, Steve liked this idea.

 

Slowly, Tony raised his hand to the fastening on the collar, like he was trying it out. A low hum of interest flared into something hotter and more compulsive as he watched Steve watching him…

Tony paused for a second, his fingers trembling on the clasp, just to see…

There was a jolt of exhilaration, a dragging shiver along his back… a strange conflict between what should happen, and the pleasure of not doing what he should…

All of it came from Steve. 

 

Well. That was interesting.

 

Tony might even have been tempted to play with this idea a while longer, except that he was far too excited to show that amount of patience. 

He kept his eyes locked on Steve as he unfastened the collar. There was a rush of vulnerability and exposure, magnified by all the people he knew were watching them, and a flood of arousal that Tony knew was all his.

 

He took a small step forward. He tilted his chin up again, just a little - still keeping eye contact. 

He knew that Steve already knew that the answer was yes. Tony knew he didn’t have to say it…

But Steve wanted him to say it.

…Steve liked waiting for him to say it.

 

There was a pleasant dip of nervousness, like at the crest of a rollercoaster. Tony took a slow breath, purposefully loosening his shoulders, increasingly mindful of all those eyes on him…

And then, as firmly as he could manage, he told Steve,

“Okay.”

 

And there was the power and passion and total control that Tony usually associated with Steve in this moment.

He grabbed Tony by the hips and pulled him off the ground as though he was weightless, sinking his teeth into Tony’s throat as part of the same fluid movement. Tony let go of a needy, high-pitched gasp, physically aware of the way it echoed through the crowded room… The pressure of all the people quietly watching-

Until Steve sucked slow and hard against his skin.

The rush of pleasure was even more intense and disorienting than usual, knocking all sense and tension out of Tony’s body - somehow catching him off guard. He forgot to expect the roll of euphoria that followed. He forgot himself completely.

There was only that wonderful, dragging heat under his skin, and the giddy elation blooming in his mind, and the sense of pure, perfect love he was floating in…

 

Steve pulled his teeth free, and sucked against Tony’s throat in that familiar, bruising kiss. Tony’s arms were heavy as he threw them around Steve’s neck, one hand caressing into the back of Steve’s hair, a pleading whimper melting into his breathing as he encouraged him on-

He would have fallen into it completely, without a second thought. He would have simply followed this feeling the same way he always did, seeking out Steve’s lips and clawing his way closer to him, gathering every ounce of strength that returned to him and putting it all into this increasing desperation for more of Steve-

 

If he weren’t startled by a sudden burst of applause.

 

Tony flinched into Steve’s chest, his fingertips digging into Steve’s skin in an attempt to pull him closer - an instinct to protect and to be protected, all at once.

He felt the low growl that rumbled through Steve’s ribs as he wrapped his arms around him. 

There was a blinding wave of awareness; an intense feeling of exposure and shock… maybe shame… or something like it…

…Something Tony didn’t dislike.

And thrumming behind it all, clawing at his attention like an addiction he was failing to ignore, there was that ever-building need to be closer to Steve…

 

The realisation that they’d never done this before. 

 

Every single time Steve had bitten him, they’d fallen pretty much immediately into sex - so, Tony had never had the chance to realise how overwhelming and corporal this instinct was. 

If he’d given this any real thought before they went and did it, he probably would’ve expected that wave of intense arousal, and prepared himself to be very frustrated and horny in the aftermath-

But he wouldn’t have expected this.

It wasn’t until he was forced to endure this impulse for longer than a few seconds that Tony had a chance to examine it… To recognise that it was more than just excitement and affection… That there was a whole other need as part of that, a separate, bodily pull towards Steve for other reasons entirely.

 

…That he could feel himself growing stronger. 

 

Tony could actually, literally feel the power that soaked into him as he recovered from the bout of dizziness. And he knew this feeling. He’d never stopped to analyse it - he’d always rolled it right into fucking Steve… But he could feel himself healing. He could feel his body recovering from more than the bite. Like he was getting younger, and healthier…

 

So, that part was real…

 

“Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the newest members of the Rossinhol family,” The official announced jovially, raising his arms along with the swell of applause. 

Tony buried his head in Steve’s chest, a pleasant flush of shyness burning his cheeks. He could feel Steve smiling into his hair. 

“As is traditional on any couple's inaugural night, Mr Stark and his Sovereign will return to their room to consummate their bond,” the official continued, in the tone of someone building to the big finish. “The rest of us here present will take part in the evening ritual in their honor. Welcome!”

The rest of the congregation answered less enthusiastically - but suffice to say, Tony really wasn’t paying attention now-

 

The only part he cared about was the bit where they could go back to their room.

 

*

 

Steve had no recollection whatsoever of walking to their bedroom.

 

He couldn’t remember if they’d been escorted there, or if they’d been told where to go - he couldn’t imagine how he would’ve listened to instructions, much less followed them…

His focus was on Tony. To the point that his surroundings faded to black. To the point that he could see each individual muscle rolling under Tony's skin, each flush of blood with every beat of his heart…

By the time he was slamming the door behind them, Steve’s mouth was watering in anticipation, his palms itching with the need to touch him.

 

But there was something about the torture of waiting… Something specific that he was starting to realize he liked…

 

Of course, right now, he couldn’t stand to wait for longer than it took Tony to turn and look at him.

He might have done, just to indulge this new idea a little further - if it weren’t for how phenomenally pretty Tony looked in that moment.  

But as it was, Tony’s eyes were shining with a hunger that Steve had never seen from him before. His perfect lips were dark and parted and slightly damp… Steve could see the lines of his body moving beneath the delicate lace of his shirt - and yes, the outfit was obvious, but God, Tony looked so good in it-

“You’re so beautiful,” Steve gasped, even as he was pulling Tony in to kiss him, the last of it being swallowed up by the soft heat of Tony’s breath. 

 

It was as though he just couldn’t kiss him enough. 

 

He caressed a hand into Tony’s hair, guiding him in as Steve forced his lips apart, devouring his mouth - but still, he wanted more of him.

More than sex.

More than blood.

More than he could ever possibly have of him, and he already knew it. 

He pulled Tony into him, hard against his chest, clawing him closer even as he was walking them backwards - not recognising he was doing any of that. Just wanting to be closer. Needing to be closer-

 

The fragile fabric of Tony’s shirt gathered up under Steve’s nails, and Steve considered the idea of tearing it off of him… But he liked Tony in this shirt. So, instead, he let his hands slide lower, grabbing at Tony’s hips, indulging in the roll of his muscles under the silk. 

He broke away when he felt Tony’s lungs burning, instantly moving to pepper urgent, fitful kisses along the line of Tony’s jaw. There was a pleading edge on Tony’s voice as he gulped for air, his fingernails digging into Steve’s back through the chains as Steve worked his way lower, sucking against the soft skin of Tony’s throat. 

“Oh, God, Steve, please-” Tony begged-

 

Cut off when the back of his legs hit the bed frame. 

 

Steve held Tony steady while he worked out what the hell had happened. 

It was the first he’d bothered to look at the room since they fell into it, and even now, he didn’t pay it much attention. Only enough to know that it was a lot like the rest of the house - large, and dark, and imposing, with heavy wooden furniture and what was probably a stained-glass window-

The only detail Steve had any interest in was the huge, ornately carved four poster bed he was about to lay Tony down on. 

 

He lifted Tony into his arms and Tony instantly wrapped his legs around his waist, sending a hot jolt of pleasure through Steve’s hips that he had to stop and shudder through. 

And then he climbed up onto the bed with Tony still held against him, covering Tony as he laid him out on the sheets, stealing kisses the entire time. It wasn’t until he put his hands to the covers to brace himself that Steve realized that they were also made of soft black silk-

He was glad.

He liked the idea of fucking Tony on these sheets. 

 

“Please Steve,” Tony breathed, already kicking his shoes off and arching his back. Steve carried on from Tony’s movement, curling his fingers over the waistband of Tony’s pants and tugging them down over his hips - possibly tearing them in the process. Tony whimpered and wriggled up the bed, trying to work his way free of his clothes even as Steve was peeling them away from his legs.

And then he found himself looking down at Tony, wearing nothing but that lace shirt-

“Jesus Christ Tony,” Steve groaned, running his eyes over him, torn between the instinct to stare at him and the instinct to grab at him with both hands. 

Until he heard Tony moan, low and hot and desperate - and then Steve’s hands just reached out of their own accord. 

 

He caressed roughly over Tony’s thighs, forcing his legs further apart. Tony whimpered and arched upwards as Steve lowered himself, his breath catching in high-pitched gasps as Steve trailed those same frantic kisses along his inner thighs. 

Tony grabbed a fistful of Steve’s hair as Steve spread him open, groaning as Steve dug his fingertips into the tender skin at the crease of his legs. He broke out into a needy, keening whine when Steve ran the flat of his tongue roughly over his hole, writhing into him as best he could while Steve carried on in the same determined, graceless way.

“Oh God Steve, please Steve, please, please,” Tony begged, trying to wrap his legs around him, his hand still twisting ruthlessly in Steve’s hair. Steve pressed deeper, pushing the tip of his tongue inside Tony, his palms kneading into Tony’s thighs-

He could feel Tony’s desperation growing in time with his own, feeding into and feeding from everything Steve could feel-

 

He didn’t know which one of them snapped. 

 

Before Tony could plead with him again, Steve pushed himself up on his arms and crawled over the top of him - already looking over to a side table that he didn’t even know he’d seen. He could feel Tony hurriedly unfastening his pants and tugging them down over his hips, but his eyes had already been drawn to the little black tube sitting proudly on the tabletop. 

…He didn’t know if he’d spotted it before, and not noticed

…Or if he just assumed it would be there, and knew what he was looking for.

…He didn’t notice any other items that were laid out around the one that he needed. 

He simply snatched the tube up, and unflicked the lid, and ran the thick, oily liquid over his fingers - Tony watching him intently, keening softly the entire time. 

 

“Oh fuck yes,” Tony moaned, throwing his head back into the pillows as Steve pressed two fingers against his rim. Steve kept his eyes fixed on Tony’s face as he pushed inside him - the way his lips parted, the way his eyes fell shut, the flicker of pleasure on his brow when Steve twisted his fingers inside him. 

“Jesus, Tony, you’re perfect,” Steve whispered, letting his gaze trail lower, over the silvery scar on Tony’s throat, over his chest and stomach, to where his cock was pressed hard against the lace of his shirt, leaking steadily through the fabric. 

“Please more, I want more, I want-” Tony panted. Steve growled in response, pouring more of the lube over his hand as he worked a third finger inside him, thrusting into him harder and faster as Tony rocked to meet him. 

 

Steve groaned as wantonly as Tony did when he was forced to take his hand away - but he couldn’t take this anymore. He had to fuck Tony. He knew that Tony wanted him to.

So, as Tony writhed and clawed helplessly at the sheets, Steve poured the lube over his hand again and then over his cock, biting through the shock of sensation. Mindlessly, he finished tugging his clothes over his legs and kicked them away. And then he knelt between Tony’s thighs, already grabbing hold of Tony’s hips and pulling him closer.

 

Tony breathed his name, over and over, like a prayer, as Steve pushed inside him. 

Steve went as slowly as he could, trembling through the heat that flooded through him.  

But fuck, he felt so good-

Tony grabbed hold of the chains, frantically rutting against Steve as Steve’s resolve broke down. Shards of pleasure broke through Steve’s hips, spreading up through his back until he could feel it pulsing in his shoulders. He buried his head in Tony’s neck, sucking at his throat as he fucked into him harder and faster, feeling every desperate cry that broke from Tony’s chest.

“Oh, fuck, Steve, so good, you’re so good, you feel so good, Jesus fuck,” Tony babbled, sparking an entirely different warmth that curled low in Steve’s stomach. 

Because he wanted Tony to feel good.

He wanted to be good for Tony.

 

And then he felt Tony clench around him, his body pulling tighter, his grip pulling the chains hard across Steve’s shoulders.

Steve could feel that hunger sharpening, the need for release growing sweeter and more torturous all at once. 

And then came the wave of shivering, tingling relief as Tony called out, and came-

And the surge of release as Steve followed, coming inside him, shuddering through the aftershocks for both of them.

 

And then the heady, heavy bliss of the afterglow…

 

“I love you so much,” Steve whispered, kissing Tony’s neck again… and again, and again…

 

And carried on kissing him. 

 

*

 

It was hours before the euphoria wore off enough to allow for any actual thoughts.

 

Tony had spent that time trading kisses and caresses with Steve, whispering promises and endearments, letting himself bask in the warm safety of Steve’s chest… In fact, the first real thought that floated through Tony’s buzzing mind was that this might be as good as he’d ever felt…

Which, with no sense of urgency, slowly uncurled into a longer train of thought, and then a broader idea-

 

And, of course, his first instinct was to share that idea with Steve.

 

“So, do you think all of this is… real?” He asked. 

“I don’t know,” Steve replied in the same relaxed tone. “Parts of it feel real… But I can’t tell how much of it is this place, and the rituals and whatever - and how much of it is just what I feel for you.”

Tony smiled… But it flickered as that idea kept developing, reminding him of details that he’d previously swept aside.

“There are parts that don’t feel right, though,” he said, lifting his head to look at Steve as he carried on, “all that stuff about you ceding to my authority, and them not asking me to promise anything, and them insisting you use my name and all that… I mean… That isn’t how it works…”

He watched Steve’s brow crease as he considered it.

 

“Well… I don’t think any of it is literal, even if maybe some of it’s real,” Steve answered at last. “I mean, I don’t really feel like these clothes and these services are… magic, or anything. I don’t see how any of that can make things different, or make me feel different, in themselves… But, I don’t know, maybe they symbolize something real? I mean, if you look at a wedding ceremony, that doesn’t really change anything, in and of itself. And a lot of the traditional wedding ceremony is pretty troubling, and probably not how a lot of people's relationships are. I’m sure a lot of women have promised to love, honor and obey even though both of them knew it wasn’t going to be like that, or wanted to wear a white dress even if they didn’t think being a virgin was anything to celebrate. But… that doesn’t mean all those marriages weren’t real, or that ceremony didn’t mean something, or that a wedding doesn’t really have the power to make you feel something…”

 

Tony smiled again - because he liked that explanation.

He liked the idea that there was an explanation… that he didn’t have to ignore or argue down the part of him that liked it here. 

He liked the idea that their bond was solid enough to override anyone else’s interpretation of it. He liked to think that, whatever the set dressing, no matter how anyone else saw it, they always knew what something meant to the two of them - and that was all that mattered.

…He liked the idea of pledging his undying loyalty to Steve. He liked that Steve had felt it too, that he’d wanted to make that statement publicly - that they were both happy to overlook the parts that didn’t fit and take from this a memory that still made sense.

 

He liked to think that Steve saw some potential meaning in all this… That the troubling details hadn’t already ruined this experience for him, that there was still the chance to walk away from this with something important.

 

And then he saw Steve’s expression soften into that shy little smile - the one that made it look like he was blushing. 

“Hm?” Tony prompted, affectionately. 

“Well…. I mean… I know that isn’t ‘how it is’ between us,” Steve explained, sounding slightly coy about it, but not ‘uncomfortable’, per se. “I mean, I know you aren’t always ‘in charge’ in our relationship, and I don’t think you’d want to be. And I know there are whole parts of our relationship that just didn’t come into it tonight… But, I don’t know… maybe, thinking about it as just, like, an isolated thing… I mean, it was sort of fun…”

 

Tony felt his smile brighten into a grin under the surge of harmless, human interest he had in that…

“Me being in charge?” He clarified.

“Well… Me not being in charge, maybe,” Steve suggested. “And I don’t know if that’s a reaction to this place, or any part of these rituals, or if it’s just a general vampire thing, or… If maybe that’s just a ‘me’ thing. I don’t know, I’m thinking maybe it’s just that I have an interest in that, and I’d never really thought about it before, but…” He trailed off into a bashful pause.

“So, you have a submissive side,” Tony mused playfully - finding that he rather liked the idea of Steve liking that idea…

Finding it very easy to understand why Steve liked that idea, and what nights like tonight might mean to him… Wanting to be able to do that for him.

He saw the way Steve relaxed under his gaze. He knew that Steve could tell what he was thinking and that he was reassured by it…

“Maybe,” Steve shrugged, in a way that Tony found especially endearing. 

 

And then Tony felt another idea tugging beneath the surface, adding to the tingling sensation in his cheeks. 

 

“For what it’s worth, I’m pretty sure I’ve just discovered a voyeurism kink that I didn’t know about,” he confessed. Steve grinned.

“Yeah?”

“Well, I mean… Maybe it is just the ritual, or this place, or a… Vampire thing…” Tony went on, working it out as he spoke. “I suppose it could just feel different, being watched by other vampires, in this place, as part of all this… But maybe it turns out that I kind of like the idea of being watched. At least, sometimes…”

Steve snuggled closer to him and pressed a kiss to his temple, before he added quietly,

“Turns out, I don’t mind showing you off like that…”

Tony let that idea shiver along his spine, not overly concerned with analyzing his reaction to it - only knowing that he liked that…

 

And then he felt Steve tense slightly. Thinking about something else. 

 

Tony raised his head again, a questioning look in his eyes.

“What did that guy say at the end?” Steve asked, frowning in concentration. “About us retiring to our room because it was our inaugural night, or whatever?”

“Uh… Something about it being traditional,” Tony replied, straining to find the memory, and finding that most of it was still muddled and distorted by the lust he’d felt at the time…. Although… Now that Steve mentioned it… “And everyone else was going to do… something else…”

 

Their eyes met again, a more immediate idea flaring up between the two of them…

 

“So… Where are they expecting us to ‘retire to’ the rest of the time?” Steve said it out loud for both of them… An interested smile contained somewhere underneath it.

Because they both knew that there was no way they wouldn’t end up in this state any time Steve bit him - if there had been any doubt about that, it had been silenced tonight. Having to wait had been almost unbearable. Intense enough to blot out any sensible thought until hours afterwards.

… If they’d be led to anywhere else after that ritual, they both would’ve been too far gone to question it.

… They’d have had the same reaction, regardless of where they were, or who was watching them.

“Well, maybe they don’t expect you to bite me as part of every ritual,” Tony offered - aware, even as he said it, that he was actually trying to temper his hopes.

“Maybe,” Steve conceded, sceptically. “But, I mean… Would you be… okay with it, if they do expect…”

“Well… I wouldn’t be not okay with it…” Tony smiled. Steve quirked an eyebrow, teasingly, and Tony broke out into a grin. “Okay, fine. Maybe I actually kind of like that idea…”

Steve grinned back at him, looking down at Tony’s lips like he was thinking about kissing him again. 

But, before he did, he gathered himself pointedly to ask,

“And you’re okay with staying here a bit longer? I know you weren’t all that comfortable when we got here. And neither was I, to be honest… and you’re right, there are a lot of red flags, and if you’d rather think about all that somewhere else-”

“Steve,” Tony interrupted him kindly, “I promise, I am happy to carry on with this for as long as you are.”

“You don’t have to do this just for me,” Steve told him. 

“Well, for a start - it is actually okay for some things to be about you,” Tony assured him - not really sure where that one had come from, actually, but just feeling like it was right to say it. “That’s part of having people who love you. Knowing that it’s really okay for them to do something that’s just for you…” He paused there to watch a tender expression settle on Steve’s features, sure that he’d hit on something deeper than the conversation they were having. “And, anyway, I’m really not uncomfortable being here. As it turns out, I might like something about being here…”

 

He felt Steve squeeze his arm gently, a small, subtle gesture that was still somehow loaded with affection and gratitude.

 

And then Steve kissed him. 



Chapter Text

Tony was woken so suddenly, and so seamlessly, that it took him a moment to recognise that he was awake.

 

In the meantime, autopilot took over. He pushed the covers back and rolled out of bed, the heavy warmth of deep sleep still lying over him like a blanket, making all of his movements feel watery and unreal. He grabbed one of the complimentary bathrobes from a hook on the wall, without bothering to think about what it was or why he needed it - simply following a basic understanding that he had to cover up before he answered the door-

He didn’t even remember hearing the knock. 

And then he felt the cool air of the corridor roll over his calves, and found himself looking at the politely bowed head of… someone he didn’t recognise…

And then he began to consider general concepts, like the question of where he was… and why he still felt so soft and comfortable-

 

“Apologies for the interruption, Sir, but we were asked to bring your bags,” the stranger - vampire, Tony remembered belatedly - told him. 

Oh yeah, he was in a house full of vampires.

And, yes, now that he thought of it, Tony did remember there was a… thing, with the bags…

 

“Oh, yeah, thanks,” Tony muttered, stepping aside to let the valet bring two bags into the room. He noticed the way he kept his eyes averted the entire time, the way he took barely two steps over the threshold before he put the bags down and shuffled away again…

Tony remembered some of his vague observations from the night before, and started to feel like there was a connection somewhere-

 

But before he could even finish the thought process, the vampire valet had already disappeared up the corridor - 

And Tony found himself standing alone, dazed and still slightly sleep drunk, as a nagging feeling struggled to break through.

 

He glanced up when he heard Steve roll over. He saw Steve’s face flicker with awareness, barely opening his eyes to look at Tony, settling back into sleep when he saw Tony flash a reassuring smile. 

Clearer memories of the night before came flooding back to him - the rush of exhilaration at being bitten in front of all those people, the queasy excitement of indulging Steve’s submissive side, the incredible pleasure that had coursed through every inch of him as Steve pinned him to the bed and fucked him…

The total love and security that was still thrumming through Tony’s body, even now.

 

It was tempting to give into that feeling - to simply relive all those revelations, without troubling himself about the deeper meaning…

But there were those bags, sitting out of the corner of his eye, tugging that uneasiness into the front of his brain. 

 

…Tony remembered that he’d bothered to pack various pieces of hi-tech equipment, concealed inside everyday items - a scanner masquerading as a classic watch, an internet enabled hologram display hidden in a pair of reading glasses, a comms device built into a fountain pen…

He remembered why he’d bothered to hide those things. Why he’d bothered to bring them at all.

 

He wondered… Did those things seem unimportant now? Or did he just want them to?

 

Steve stirred again, snagging Tony’s attention back. Tony watched, mesmerized, as Steve’s pretty sleep-softened features melted into a smile. Tony could just crawl back into bed with him now… Give in to the moment, see where it took him - see if that led him to a deeper understanding of what this place really meant…

 

But there were all those questions about who the Rossinols were - how they knew about Tony’s relationship with Steve, why they’d hired a photographer to goad Steve in public, who ‘John Smith’ really was…

How SHIELD fit into any of this - if they were involved at all. 

Whether there was anything behind Nick or Alexander Pierce’s strange behavior of late, or if it was all in Tony’s head…

 

Why their invitation to the Rossinhol Estate included the instruction that they should pack and send their bags separately.

 

Tony distinctly remembered thinking that, obviously, someone was going to search through their things - that it was the only possible reason for making that rule. He remembered thinking it was important, and that he should prepare for it-

 

“What’re you doing?” Steve slurred, tilting his head to look at him. 

“Trying to remember what we’re doing here,” Tony confessed, walking back over to the bed and sitting on the edge of it. Steve snuggled closer.

“We’re here to learn…” Steve reminded him - although, as he said it, there was a flicker of a frown. Like he was starting to remember all the complexities, too. 

“I just wonder…” Tony mused. “I mean, I know we’re here to learn more about what it means to be a vampire, and a consort, and I know we’re here to learn what ‘vampire culture’ really is - if it even exists… I know that’s part of it, anyway. But, I just wonder if any of those lessons mean anything, before we’ve worked out who these people are and what their agenda is. I mean… so far, I get a definite… vibe, at least. And I could sit here and wonder whether that’s real, and what it all means - whether vampires really are… traditionally as submissive as these guys, or what these rituals are all about - but if this place is being run by someone with an ulterior motive, or even just a personal agenda…”

“Then is any of it real?” Steve finished for him, sitting up. 

“Or, you know, is there a whole other element that we’re missing?” Tony suggested. “Something that would make things look different…”

“You can’t do the equation if you don’t have all the variables,” Steve smiled. Tony blushed, touched that Steve had remembered that, and glad that he seemed to find it endearing…

“The thing is - I want to believe it,” Tony admitted. “Or… I want to believe there’s something to it. I want to be able to take it at face value and just… go with it. But there’s this question at the back of my mind, you know? Is there something I’m missing…”

 

And then a thought occurred to him. Something he could feel sure of, regardless of what else was going on.

 

“I am stronger when you bite me though. I know that part was true.”

“You do?” Steve asked, sounding pleased.

“Yeah… I can feel it,” Tony grinned. “When you bite me - and we don’t immediately get carried away with how horny that makes me - then I can actually feel myself… healing. Or… renewing, or something. I think John was right - I really think this means I will live as long as you do…”

 

The significance of the statement hit Tony as he was saying it - as he watched Steve’s eyes widen in hope and wonder. 

If that was true… It would mean that Tony had so many more years of this wonderful, love-filled life to look forward to. That he no longer had to fear aging or death or the scarcity of time.

…That he never had to leave Steve alone in this world. 

 

It might have been worth the trip to have worked that out. To have as much time as possible to enjoy it. 

 

“...So, does that mean we trust John?” Steve asked, still glowing with happiness.

“Oh, hell no,” Tony answered immediately. Steve snorted a laugh. “But, you know, even untrustworthy bastards tell the truth sometimes. In fact, a lot of the time, they like to throw in a few provable facts to make them seem less untrustworthy and bastard-ish…”

 

Steve’s smile sharpened into a more thoughtful expression.

 

“I still think that SHIELD know about this place,” he said - and Tony chuckled, knowing that the phrase ‘untrustworthy bastards’ was the connection. “I mean, maybe that’s all there is - maybe they just know about it-”

“But in that case, why wouldn’t they tell you about it?” Tony questioned. “Why let you think that you’re the only vampire in the world?”

“Well, cos they’re SHIELD,” Steve shrugged. And Tony had to give him that - it was entirely possible that SHIELD were being insensitive, sneaky shits, as usual, and there was nothing more to it than that…

But, on the other hand-

“Or, they could be involved somehow, or have some secret buried here, or their own selfish reasons for keeping it from me…” Steve went on. “...Or their own reasons for wanting me to be here.”

“They must know something about ‘the consort effect’ by now,” Tony added. “Seeing as it was in the files Nick gave you - and seeing as Nick got to experience it first-hand. He must’ve told someone about that.”

“And there’s no way SHIELD aren’t interested in that,” Steve carried on. “And yet no one’s asked about it. Well, not directly.”

“Well, that might be ‘cos they’re scared to,” Tony smiled. 

 

He pulled his feet up onto the bed, letting Steve hold the covers back for him whilst he snuggled closer to Steve’s chest. Tony allowed himself a moment to bask in the warmth and security of it, curling his toes happily as Steve stroked a hand through his hair. 

“We need to find out who’s really running this place,” Tony went on, after a moment. “Who’s paying for it, and organizing everything. Who else they’re working with…”

“What they’re getting out of it,” Steve sighed. “I mean, okay, it could just be a place for people with… shared interests. Maybe that is all they’re getting out of it…”

“But we have to know for sure,” Tony agreed. 

“So, you got any ideas for where we start with that?” Steve asked. 

Tony glanced over at the bags again.

 

“Well… I had a couple of thoughts.”

 

*

 

‘Breakfast’ at Rossinol House was served between three and six pm-

Tony wasn’t sure whether that should seem somewhat amusing or perfectly obvious. 

But he had to admit, living on vampire time suited him. 

 

He felt surprisingly clear headed as he was shown to his place in a grand, gilded dining hall. Enough that he was able to think about more than the fact that he and Steve had been split up, again…

Although, of course, Tony was thinking about that. 

He was thinking that he already missed Steve - that, even more than usual, he wanted to be around Steve right now, to share all the little smiles he couldn’t contain as he remembered the night before. 

Tony was wondering what to make of the fact that they kept being separated… Whether to question what that meant about vampire culture, or question whether this place was even representative of vampire culture, or wonder if it was about something else entirely… something nefarious…

And, once again, Tony was asking himself if they were right to go along with it. He was sure they didn’t have to eat in separate rooms. Everyone here seemed pretty deferential to his preferences, and, failing that, there would have been Steve to tell them that the answer was no…

 

But they were supposed to be investigating how this place really worked. Tony knew they would never learn anything about these rituals if they refused to take part in them - and they’d never understand the motives of the people in charge if they flatly refused to engage with them. 

 

So, Tony swallowed down his petulance, and made a point of carefully scanning the dining room as he took his seat at a long, ornately carved table.

To the naked eye, it looked much the same as the rest of the house - the same stone walled, dark wooded design, with the same high ceilings and echoing sense of space. The discreetly placed electric lighting would’ve been the only signs of modernity, to the average person-

But Tony came prepared.

Through the hi-tech glasses he was wearing, he was able to tell that this room - like all the others - was using far more power than was needed for those few subtly placed lamps.

He also knew it was hooked up to a wireless surveillance system and a network of concealed cameras, which therefore meant there must be a reliable internet connection…

 

He wasn’t sure how suspicious he should be about that - or how personally outraged.

 

It had occurred to him that he had every right to be angry that someone here was recording such personal moments - and that they hadn’t even seen fit to inform their guests. Afterall, no one at Rossinol House would’ve known that, as it happened, it didn’t really bother him all that much… 

He didn’t know why it didn’t. But it didn’t. 

 

As to whether there was anything suspect about it… Tony supposed it was possible that even vampire estates moved with the times. That whoever was running this place thought it was sensible to safeguard against crime and maintain contact with the outside world, even if they weren’t prepared to let it ruin the aesthetic… 

He needed to break into that internet network. As soon as he was sure that their bedroom wasn’t being monitored, he could-

 

“Hi! Mr Stark?” 

 

Tony blinked his way out of his spiral of thoughts, and found himself looking at a stocky, square jawed man sliding into the seat opposite.

Automatically, Tony shifted into his corporate smile, a raft of small talk options popping up in his brain - most of which had been designed to deflect conversation as much as possible, actually…

But, as he was reaching for a closed pleasantry or quip, it occurred to him that he should be trying to engage in conversation this time. After all, even their ‘cover story’ allowed them to be curious about the place, and it was probably in the interest of the mission to ask some general questions…

 

Urg. He hated small talk.

 

“Hi,” he beamed, softening into a friendlier expression. “Have we met?”

“Oh, no, hi, the name’s Frank. Frank Fisher,” the other man replied in a confident tone, extending a hand as he spoke. He had a salesman’s handshake and a midwestern accent that Tony couldn’t quite place. “I gotta say though, I’m a big fan of yours. I know, we’re not supposed to talk about all that real world stuff, but-”

“Aren’t we?” Tony intervened, more interested now. “Sorry, I’m new to all this - but no one ever told me that ‘what happens in Rossinhol House stays in Rossinhol House’”

“Well, I don’t think it’s a rule or anything,” Frank breezed on. “It’s just… not the vibe, you know? Like, people don’t.”

“Glad you told me,” Tony smiled. “Wouldn’t want to start out by putting my foot in it.”

“Oh, you won’t offend me, if that helps,” Frank laughed, leaning back as a waiter - again, a vampire - appeared at his side with a silver tray. Tony glanced up to see another waiter step up to his shoulder, holding a matching tray of food. Tony muttered a thank you as it was placed in front of him - Frank, he noticed, did not. 

“So, you don’t mind me asking about your real life?” Frank asked, picking up a piece of French toast and taking a huge bite.”

“My real life, or the Iron Man thing?” Tony clarified lightly. 

“Well, I mean, I gotta say…” Frank spoke between chews, “Captain America being a vampire? I did not see that coming.”

 

Tony felt a little pang of objection tighten his jaw - he might even have said something, if he could’ve worked out exactly what he objected to. As it was, he breathed through it and reminded himself that he wasn’t in this conversation to make friends. 

 

“Is that any weirder than the hundred-year-old super soldier story?” He joked, taking a bite of his own breakfast. He was surprised by how nice it was - and by how hungry he was, as it turned out.

“He doesn’t exactly seem like the subservient type,” Frank commented.

“Is that supposed to be a general vampire trait then?” Tony asked, trying to keep his tone casual. “Steve’s the only vampire I know - and no, he’s not exactly the subservient type.”

“Well, pretty much every one I ever met,” Frank answered. “But I’m not exactly an expert either.”

“So, what about your vampire?” Tony enquired.

“My vampire?” Frank raised his eyebrows - and then he laughed, “oh, I’m not bonded.”

“No?”

“Nah - I mean, never say never, but I don’t think I’m the bonding type.” 

 

A simmer of awkward discomfort ran under Tony’s skin as he looked for a way to word his next question.

 

“So… What brought you here then?”

“Oh, I grew up around vampires,” Frank replied glibly. “I had a couple of aunts who did get bonded, way back when. Heard about this place as a teenager and wanted to see it, you know? Started angling for an invitation. Been coming here twice a year ever since I left college.”

“So, you don’t take part in any of the rituals?” Tony assumed-

“Oh, of course - that’s the point in coming, right?” Frank chuckled. “If you don’t have anyone, they’ll pair you up with someone.”

Tony felt his features twist in distaste. A second too late, he realized how unsubtle he was being – and, by then, his opinion was more than obvious to Frank.

“And here’s another surprise,” Frank went on with a grin - true to his word, apparently not at all offended by Tony’s unimpressed sneer. “I didn’t see you as the puritan, no-sex-before-marriage type.”

 

Tony huffed a joyless laugh and lowered his eyes.

Is that what I sound like?

 

“I’m not judging,” he lied. “I just - I don’t know, being bitten is a pretty intense, personal thing. I think I’d be worried, doing it with someone I didn’t even know…”

Which was at least one of the reasons that the whole idea felt uncomfortable to him. 

And, yes, possibly an idealistic, privileged view of how this whole thing should work, based on his own experiences…

…And an immediate distrust of any motivation to do this, if not for the love of the person you were doing it with. 

But Tony wasn’t sure how much of that was fair, or how much of it he could have explained, even if he wanted to. So, he muttered an insincere, “that’s just me though. I’m not thinking anything about anyone else.” 

 

Frank smiled again, like he was amused by that response. 

“Hey, I’m not judging either,” he said. “There’s plenty of people here who are in couples, and, you know, a bond sounds amazing - it’s just not the only way, you know?”

“Hm,” Tony nodded. 

“Can I ask,” Frank leant in closer, not waiting for Tony to answer before he went on, “is it really like that? Being bonded?”

“I don’t know - what’s it meant to be like?” 

“I mean - can you really hear what he’s thinking?” Frank pressed, sounding like a highschooler in search of gossip-

But no matter how jovial Frank kept his demeanor, Tony could still tell - he was being interrogated right now. 

 

Well. Two could play that game.

 

“Eh, not exactly,” Tony smiled. “Why, you don’t get that when someone bites you?”

“God no, nothing like that,” Frank scoffed. “I mean, you get a rush. And it makes you feel stronger and quicker - but not magical or anything.”

“Is that why you do it?” Tony asked, casually. 

“Well - yeah. I mean, it’s the most amazing feeling there is, right?” Frank laughed. “I thought that was why everyone did it…?”

“Old fashioned puritan,” Tony reminded him. “I do all this because I fell in love.”

“So, you fell in love first?” Frank enquired. “You didn’t, like, bond after he bit you?”

“Uh, a bit of both, I guess?” Tony mused, being deliberately vague - refusing to give Frank any real answers, just because he knew that Frank was digging for them. “Why, is that not how it usually works?”

“Depends on the couple,” Frank shrugged. “I know plenty of people let a vampire bite them and it feels so good that they ‘fall in love’ you know? And yeah, sometimes that works out. And I know some people would never have come here if they hadn’t fallen in love with a vampire. But, I gotta be honest - I’ve never met anyone who was actually bonded. Like, bonded-like-they-talk-about-in-the-books bonded.”

Tony’s brow pinched in interest.

“And what makes you think Steve and I are bonded-like-in-the-books bonded?”

“That’s what the vampires are saying,” Frank told him. “They can tell these things, apparently.”

 

Tony felt his cheeks prickle with a warmth that didn’t feel appropriate to the conversation. A shy smile threatened to break through - but he contained it. 

 

“I do love being the subject of gossip,” he said. “What else have they been saying about us?”

“Just that, really,” Frank answered - the slightest hint of anxiety cracking his affable facade for the first time. “A lot of them are interested in seeing you at the ritual tonight.”

 

Tony’s entire line of investigation evaporated from his head.

 

“The ritual tonight?” Tony squeaked. 

“The Ceremony of the Immortal Blessing,” Frank clarified theatrically. “They do it most nights - they didn’t tell you about it yet?”

“Not really, no,” Tony muttered, still distracted by the idea that a lot of people wanted to watch them…

“It’s one of the old rituals - it’s mentioned in the Rossinhol Diaries and everything.”

“Oh, yeah, I did read about it,” Tony remembered. “...But it just said something about reaffirming a bond in front of the family, or something-”

“Yeah, the old texts don’t give a lot of detail, I’ll give you that,” Frank grinned. “But they do say that it’s meant to be different when two people are ‘truly bonded’ or whatever… You know, all that stuff about ‘speaking with one mind’ and getting super human power to protect each other. I mean, no offense, but I don’t know if I believe all that stuff - I mean, it can’t all literally be true, can it?” 

 

And, yes, Tony still knew that this guy was trying to goad him into talking. He knew he should probably be more concerned with why Frank was interrogating him, or what he really wanted to know…

But his attention had been well and truly diverted now.

The only thing he was interested in finding out was-

“So, wait - what is actually going to happen tonight?”

 

Tony wasn’t sure that he liked the way Frank’s grin darkened before he answered. 

 

*

 

Steve had spent his entire breakfast in silence - which suited him fine.

 

His surroundings were rather more basic than Tony’s. He and the rest of the vampires ate in an undecorated basement room, under unflattering strip lighting, at what looked like very long picnic tables. The wooden benches were attached too close, forcing everyone to awkwardly tuck their legs and lean over just a bit too far to be comfortable-

But then, Steve got the impression that the whole experience was designed to be uncomfortable. 

He couldn’t put his finger on why, exactly, but Steve could feel a distinct sense of… disapproval, in the atmosphere. As though no one in this place liked the vampires in it – as though the vampires even disliked one another. 

…Like someone thought they deserved to sit in cramped discomfort.

 

Now that he didn’t have Tony to distract him, Steve remembered that he’d felt this curl of disappointment before. The nagging concern that he didn’t much like the version of ‘vampire culture’ he was being presented with… 

He still clung to the hope that, maybe, this was a group of people who had interpreted the same instincts very differently - that there might still be something to glean from this, even if he couldn’t commit to the interpretation in general…

He was trying to ignore the worry that the whole idea was a bust, that there was no ‘vampire culture’, no one who shared his particular experiences of it and therefore no one he’d ever be able to talk to about it… He told himself it was too early to jump to that conclusion.

…He flatly refused to consider that this might be ‘vampire culture’. There was simply no way that this uncomfortable hierarchy and unkind behavior was anything to do with him. He knew this wasn’t his true nature…

 

Steve had spent his entire meal quietly nursing those concerns, more than happy to be ignored by everyone else in the room. 

But, by the time he heard the scrape of empty plates being collected and the shuffle of people getting ready to leave, he recognised that he should probably make some effort to talk to someone. 

 

He looked up at the nervous looking vampire sitting across from him. He looked older than Steve, pale and thin with dark circles under his eyes - which remained fixed on his empty plate, like he was trying to disappear into it. 

“Hey,” Steve said in a soft tone of voice, instinctively trying not to startle him. The other vampire glanced up briefly, and then looked right back to his plate. “Are we not supposed to talk?” Steve pressed on. “No one’s told me any of the rules, if there are any-”

“Of course we’re allowed to talk,” the other vampire muttered, still not looking up at him. 

“What’s your name?” Steve asked.

“Louie,” the vampire replied, like the word was being forced out of him. 

“And who’s your Consort?” Steve went on, assuming that topic would inspire some sort of enthusiasm-

“Mr Henderton,” Louie replied, vacantly. “Going on two years now.”

Steve blinked. He was forced to pause and swallow down a physical discomfort before he could clarify-

“You don’t call him by his first name?”

“He prefers that I don’t,” Louie answered. 

 

Of all the disquieting details Steve had come across in this place, that seemed like the biggest red flag so far.

 

“...but you’ve been with him for two years?” Steve pushed, cautiously. For the first time, Louie’s expression flickered with irritation.

“I have been acting as his vampire for two years,” he said, like it was a correction. 

“Is there a difference?” Steve asked. Louie fixed him with an unimpressed glare for a second - and then looked away again. 

 

There was an awkward silence whilst Steve tried to work out his next move. He knew that it was going to be hard getting any information out of Louie… But, all of a sudden, he felt incredibly reluctant to walk away. And he could tell that Louie was going to duck out of this conversation at the first opportunity, so that gave Steve limited time to work out how to play this…

In the end, it was desperation that led him to be direct.

 

“You look hungry,” Steve observed. He saw the way that Louie tensed, immediately understanding that Steve wasn’t talking about food. 

“I’ll feed at the ritual tonight,” Louie responded, tersely. 

“Oh, yeah, the evening ritual - no one’s told me much about it,” Steve carried on more brightly, still hoping to hook Louie into some sort of conversation. “Don’t suppose you can tell me what’s actually going to happen?”

“It’s the Ceremony of the Immortal Blessing,” Louie explained, impatiently. “And your Consort will decide what is going to happen - your Consort is always your guide.”

Steve bristled slightly when he recognised the robotic way Louie delivered that last line. Like it had been drilled into him. 

“Oh, yeah, I saw that one mentioned in the Rossinhol Diary,” Steve nodded. “Didn’t give much detail about it though? Not that I remember…”

“The Rossinhol Diary is only one of the available texts,” Louie said, still sounding as though he was reading a prepared statement. “And perhaps not the best one to take your instruction from - it is old, and romanticized, and seen through the eyes of an outsider, who doesn’t understand our ways. If you’ll excuse me.”

 

With that, Louie stood up to leave the table - and, in a fit of pique, Steve grabbed hold of his wrist. 

The dead-eyed way that Louie looked down at his hand was enough to make Steve’s blood run cold - and Steve’s blood didn’t even ‘run’, per se.

“But you did choose this?” Steve clarified, seriously.

“I chose not to choose,” Louie replied, and then shook his hand free. “Good day, Mr Stark.”

 

Steve let him go - mostly, because he was too stunned to think of a response in time. 

He watched Louie go, and tried to turn that sinking feeling into actual words…

Of course, Steve knew that he didn’t like any of what he’d just heard - he felt like he understood why he didn’t like it… but trying to explain that understanding, even to himself…

 

He knew how his relationship with Tony would’ve sounded, if he’d tried to explain it to an outsider. He knew people would think it was dangerous and co-dependent, if he said that he relied on Tony to feed him, that he had an uncontrollable, feral desire to protect Tony at all costs, that there were times when he ceded all control to Tony and times when he took all responsibility for him…

It occurred to Steve that maybe the only difference between him and Louie was that he had chosen better. That, maybe, even the ‘vampire nature’ that he did recognise was dangerous, and he’d simply been fortunate enough to avoid the consequences… 

He didn’t want that to occur to him, but it had. 

 

He sighed heavily and stood up, scanning the room for any indication of where he was going next. He found a weary line of vampires trudging towards one of the doors and, without any purpose or enthusiasm, he made to follow them - his mind filling up with unanswerable, existential questions of the nature of control and consent and choice as he walked. 

 

And then he shook the thoughts away.

 

He knew that he had to think about all of this at some point - he wasn’t running from these ideas because they were uncomfortable, he really wasn’t. 

He just knew that he wasn’t going to get anywhere by aimlessly fretting like this. 

When he had a moment to think more clearly, and could organize these questions into a useful plan…

When he had a chance to talk to Tony about it…

After he’d been to the ritual tonight, maybe-

 

because, at that point, Steve was still thinking that he could pay attention to what the other vampires were doing at the evening ritual, maybe make some observations, test some theories…

 

…He wouldn’t be doing any of that, of course. 

But Steve didn’t know that yet.