The robot lost its grip on the bridge cables and fell, its impact taking out the remarkably ugly abandoned office building Sam had been ranting about just yesterday -- "People want to level it and put a park there, but it was built by the student of some famous architect, not that you can tell, because it's your standard 60s cinderblock bunker" -- and Steve, watching, tried very hard to look appropriately guilty. He suspected that he failed in this endeavor, since the firemen who came to deal with the robot remains a few minutes later kept giving him conspiratorial looks.
"So," Steve said to Tony, as the two of them watched a pair of firemen setting up wooden barricades at the corner of Water St. and Old Fulton St., "want to come back to my place?"
Tony's expression was hidden by the helmet, but Steve could read the implicit question in the way he cocked his head. "It's just down the street," he added. "Across from the chocolate store."
"Since when do you live in Brooklyn?" Tony asked. His voice sounded… odd. As if he were slightly uncomfortable.
This was the first time they'd seen each other since Clint, Scott, and Vision's funeral, Steve realized abruptly. Since the Avengers had broken up. "Since my old apartment blew up," he said. "SHIELD set me up in a converted warehouse down here. I've got the whole building to myself, as long as I agree to let Nick use it as a safe house any time one of his people needs to crash in this part of the city."
"Your apartment-" Tony started, then broke off. "You should have told me."
"You had enough to deal with," Steve said, feeling obscurely guilty. He'd thought of calling Tony, but couldn't bring himself to do it, hadn't wanted to be reminded of the destruction of his team at that point. "Your house had just burned down. And Rumiko…" he let the sentence trail off, not sure how to finish it. Rumiko and Tony had dated on and off for a couple of years; he wasn't sure if they'd been together when she had died, but it would have hurt Tony regardless. Tony hadn't needed the burden of Steve's problems on top of his own.
There was a long moment of silence as he and Tony stood there staring at each other. Things hadn't felt this awkward while they were fighting the robot. Steve had looked out his apartment window and seen Iron Man and the robot slugging it out atop the closer of the bridge's two suspension towers. Joining the fight hadn't even been a conscious decision.
Backing Tony up had felt natural, just like it always had, and Steve had hoped, for a few, minutes, that… well, that wasn't important. "Your armor is dented, and I saw that thing throw you three hundred feet into the water."
"Technically, it's two hundred and seventy-six feet from the top of the tower to the water, and it was more of a sudden drop than a throw."
Steve felt himself grinning, even though he knew Tony was completely serious. If he asked, Tony could probably tell him the exact amount of weight each individual suspension cable on the bridge was supporting. "All right, then," Steve agreed easily. "It dropped you two hundred and seventy-six feet straight down into the river. Come back to my place and let me take a look at you."
Tony started to wave one hand, clearly about to object, and Steve went on, "Come on. It will make me feel better. I don't have that many people left to worry about."
Tony sighed. "Fine. If it will make you feel better."
Steve had only been in his new apartment for a week, but he'd been proud of it. As soon as he'd led Tony inside, however, he found himself gazing around the place with a critical eye, trying to imagine how it must look to Tony.
It looked barren, he decided. Bare wooden floor, bare brick walls with nothing on them but the couple of old war bond posters he'd stuck up yesterday. It was nothing like the Avengers Mansion.
"I'm surprised Fury sprung for one of these warehouses, considering how much they go for these days." Tony removed his helmet, revealing dripping wet hair. "SHIELD could probably rent out this floor alone for three thousand a month, and that's not including the four floors below us."
"I'm pretty sure Nick's owned this place since before DUMBO got trendy." Steve frowned. "I thought your armor was water-tight."
"The chestplate warped where the robot hit me. The seals are shot." Tony shrugged, and reached up to flick wet hair out of his face. A drop of water landed on the floor below him.
It was February, and a cold February at that. Tony had to be freezing. "You're already here. You might as well go take a shower."
"I don't-" Tony started. Then he sneezed, his hair falling back into his face again. He glared at Steve crossly from underneath the wet hair now sticking to his face, and muttered, "Fine. I'll go take a shower. Do you have any dry clothes I can borrow?"
"Sure," Steve said, trying to keep the smug triumph he felt off his face. He'd lent Tony clothing before, once or twice, and certainly wasn't going to start objecting to the idea now. Tony looked good in t-shirts and jeans.
He looked especially good, Steve thought privately, in his t-shirts and jeans.
There was a long pause, while Tony stood there and dynamically didn't take the armor off.
"Um," Tony said, after a moment. "There might be a small problem." He used the back of his gauntlet to push the hair out of his face again, not meeting Steve's eyes. "I… can't get the armor off. The fastenings on the chestplate are dented."
Steve sighed. "I'll go get a wrench."
Several minutes of banging and prying later, the final clasp that held the chestplate in place popped open, and Steve lifted the dented chestplate free, setting it carefully on the floor.
Tony had obviously put on the armor in a hurry. Beneath it, he wore nothing on his upper body but a white dress shirt, currently translucent with water and molded to the muscles of his chest.
The artificial heart was startlingly visible this way, a dark shadow beneath the pale film of the shirt.
Tony shucked the rest of the armor quickly, avoiding Steve's eyes. He had just bent down to unfasten the last buckle on his remaining boot when he suddenly swayed, planting a hand on floor to steady himself.
"Are you all right?" Steve was stepping forward without the need for thought, wrapping one hand around the wet fabric of Tony's upper arm to pull him upright again.
"I'm out of power," Tony said conversationally. "Did I mention that?"
"No," Steve said, fighting the urge to grit his teeth. "You didn't." The charge in Tony's artificial heart was only keeping him alive. Hardly worth mentioning at all.
He'd given up wondering why Tony kept pulling this particular stunt. He'd never managed to keep track of how much power he'd had left in the old chestplate either, back when it had been the only thing keeping his damaged heart beating. And this from a man who could tell you exactly how many feet the giant robot had thrown him.
"What should I do?" Steve asked, his stomach going tight with old, familiar fear. Tony's heart was going to stop beating right in front of him; he was going to keel over, blue-lipped and gasping, and then-- "Can you charge it up here?" he asked, ruthlessly cutting off that line of thought, "Or do I need to call Happy or Pepper or somebody?"
Tony wobbled on his feet, leaning on Steve's shoulder. "Just get me to a power outlet and I'll be fine."
Steve hauled him over to the couch and pushed him gently down onto it. There was one free socket on the wall outlet, but Steve unplugged the lamp anyway. It gave him something to do, and for all he knew, Tony might need both outlets.
"You don't have to watch," Tony said, voice quiet.
Steve had known Tony for ten years, and in all that time, he had never once seen him charging either his chestplate or his heart up. Tony trusted him, but he apparently didn't trust him that much.
Tony's face was grey, and there were lines of pain around his mouth that hadn't been there a minute ago. He looked… bad. Sick.
Steve knew he'd passed out trying to recharge his old chestplate more than once back in the early days. Staying to keep an eye on him suddenly seemed like a good idea, regardless of Tony's objections. "Yes," he said, "I do. This whole floor's just one big room, and it's the only furnished part of the building."
Tony nodded, and then he unbuttoned his shirt, fingers clumsy. Steve would have offered to do it for him, but he didn't think Tony wanted any help at the moment.
The artificial heart was ugly and alien-looking, an asymmetrical not-quite-circle of grey metal surrounded by scar tissue. There were a lot of scars, more than the last time he had seen Tony shirtless.
Steve winced, looking away from the all-too-graphic reminder of how many times Tony had nearly died. When he looked back, Tony had attached a cable to the exposed surface of the metal device, and was plugging the other end into the wall socket.
Tony made a choked-off pain noise when the plug went in, and his hand sprang open, dropping the cable. His back arched, and the fingers of his other hand dug into the arm of Steve's couch, white with tension. The room's other lamp flickered, dimming perceptibly for a moment.
It went on for far too long, even though it probably lasted only a minute. Tony sagged, going limp, his breath coming in short gasps. "That's better," he panted.
Better? Tony looked like he'd just been electrocuted. And he had to do this once a day?
Tony rolled his head sideways, looking up at Steve with a slightly wobbly attempt at a smile. "You've already let me use your electricity. Would you mind giving me a hand up for that shower?"
Steve took Tony's outstretched hand by the wrist, pulling him to his feet.
The shower on this floor was an old industrial shower, left over from the building's original incarnation as a warehouse. It was about the same size as a walk-in closet.
The four high-pressure chrome showerheads were new, though, as was the tiling.
Steve left Tony shrugging out of his shirt and went to get him dry clothes. He'd seen Tony naked before, but that had been before the artificial heart. He'd just drop the clothes off and then give Tony some privacy to get showered and changed.
He returned, arms full of clothes, and halted in the doorway.
The glass wall of the shower was completely transparent, not clouded or rippled to create privacy -- Fury had said it was a security measure -- and so Steve had a clear view of Tony.
He was sitting on the floor in the far corner of the shower, back against the wall and knees drawn up to his chest, his head resting on his folded arms.
A quick, frantic scan of Tony's body revealed no visible injuries, and the water running off him was clear, with no pink tint of blood. Was this some side effect of recharging his heart? Had his legs given out, or…
Steve knelt on the tile floor to put himself at eye level with Tony, and rapped sharply on the shower door. "Tony. Are you all right?"
A sharp twitch ran through the muscles of Tony's shoulders. "I'm fine," he said, voice flat. "I'll be out in a minute. Did you bring the clothes?"
He didn't look fine. He looked like he was huddled in a ball in the corner of the shower.
"Sorry," Tony said, after a long moment during which Steve was pointedly silent. "I haven't been… You know me. I don't always handle things very well."
Steve didn't need to ask what things. "I would be more worried if you were handling it all perfectly." They had lost so many people… Clint, Vision, Scott, Wanda… The team had been the only family Steve had, with the exception of Sam, and he knew it had been the same for Tony.
To lose all of that so suddenly, along with his home and the woman he had loved; Steve didn't know anyone who would be in good shape after that.
Tony sighed, his shoulders shuddering again. "Sorry. I'll be out in a minute."
It struck Steve suddenly that he was kneeling on cold tile while Tony sat on the floor of the shower with water running over him, and that this probably wasn't a normal way to have a conversation. It probably said something about his life that it didn't seem unusual.
"You're not the only one, if it helps," Steve offered. "I keep… I have these dreams, about the war, about Bucky dying. The same dreams, for years, when things get bad. Only now the rest of the team is there, too. All the Avengers, and I can't save them either."
Last night it had been Wanda and Pietro, their bullet-riddled bodies thrown into a trench by German soldiers and left to lie there. The night before, it had been Clint and Scott, killed by an exploding grenade. And Bucky, of course, again and again.
"You--" Tony lifted his head, staring at Steve through the shower spray. "God, Steve, I'm so sorry." He closed his eyes, face twisting in pain. "This is all my fault. I should have seen it coming. If I hadn't been so distracted by stupid politics, if I'd actually been paying attention to the team, maybe I could have…" He shook his head, opening his eyes again. "I don't know. I should have seen that there was something wrong. I set us up to be vulnerable, playing politics, getting involved in so much government stuff. I painted a giant target on my back, and all the rest of us by extension, and now you--" he broke off, voice choked, then went on, "I am so, so sorry."
For a moment, all he could do was stare at Tony. This wasn't an empty apology; Steve had heard those from Tony before and knew what they sounded like. Tony honestly believed that all of the disasters that had befallen the Avengers were somehow his fault.
"You're not the only one on the team," Steve said finally, forcing the words out past the tightness in his throat. "It doesn't all come down to you. I should have seen it coming, too. We all should have." He'd taught Wanda and Clint how to fight; they, along with Pietro, had been the first team Steve had really led. And he had let both of them down. He hadn't been able to get through to Wanda, hadn't been able to save Clint.
He'd never been able to get through to Tony when he needed to, either, but he was determined to try now. Like he'd told Tony earlier, he was running out of people to worry about.
Tony had actually been the first of them to figure out that something was wrong, insisting with tear in his eyes that something was controlling him, that someone or something had done something to him and made him drunk.
Steve had believed him. Why hadn't he done something more quickly? Even with everything else that had been happening, mind-control being used against one's teammates was never something to ignore. "Tony, you didn't actually start drinking again. That wasn't you. And you had nothing to do with Wanda going over the edge."
"I set myself up for it pretty well, though." He smiled at Steve, the kind of smile that had no real humor in it.
"Tony, have you talked to anyone about all of this?" Obviously not, or he wouldn't be huddled in the corner of Steve's shower.
Tony gave him a long, direct look, suddenly seeming far more collected than he had a moment ago. "Have you?"
"Actually, yes. I talked to Sharon." Steve wasn't sure if rudely shouting at your ex-girlfriend in an attempt to get her angry enough to go away and leave you alone counted as talking, but he'd bet money it was more than Tony had done, and anyway, he had felt better afterwards.
"Well, I'm talking to you, now."
Steve surprised himself by laughing. "So, are you getting out of the shower now?"
Tony made no move to get up. "Actually, I was thinking of just staying here until the hot water runs out. Just send your electric bill for this month to me."
It wasn't that funny, but Steve found himself smiling anyway. Smiling was better than the alternative. "I'm glad you're not hurt. I was worried there was something else wrong with your heart."
Tony groaned, lowering his head back down onto his folded arms. "Sorry you had to see that. I know it's not pleasant. Ru always hated it."
"Probably because you were twitching and writhing and-
"Not the charging, the heart. I look like one of Dr. Frankenstein's less successful lab experiments." Tony looked back up, away from Steve, staring blankly at the shower wall. "You'd think being literally heartless would make all of this easier." Then, very quietly. "I just want it to stop."
He didn't specify what "it" was, and Steve suddenly didn't want to know. The last time he'd heard that tone of voice was in a hotel room six years ago.
Steve had already taken off his cowl, as soon as he and Tony had gotten inside the warehouse. Now he pulled off his boots and gloves, then tugged the scale-mail tunic of his costume over his head. Leather as tight as his costume was impossible to get out of when it was wet. He dropped everything on the floor and opened the shower door, stepping into the hot spray to kneel in front of Tony.
Tony jerked his head around to stare at him, eyes wide. "What-"
"Take it from a successful lab experiment," Steve said, laying one hand on Tony's shoulder. "It doesn't look that bad."
Tony's lips twitched, but the look in his eyes was far from amused. "Steve, you flinched. You didn't even want to look at me."
"You were practically convulsing, and there wasn't anything I could do." Steve spoke more forcefully than he'd intended to, the words loud against the background noise of the shower. He'd been helpless far too often, watched his friends suffer far too often. How could Tony have thought he was disgusted? "I don't care what it looks like," he lied. "I don't like knowing that you're that vulnerable, that all it would take for some villain to take you out is to block your access to a power source for a day." How could he make Tony understand this? Tony had always treated all of his health problems as if they were nothing, treated the need to charge his mechanical heart up the same way. "I can't lose you, too. Not you."
Tony was staring at him, droplets of water glistening on the ends of his eyelashes. Steve realized that he was leaning in so close to Tony that their foreheads were nearly touching, that his hand had somehow gone from Tony's bare shoulder to the side of his face. He felt his own face heat as he abruptly became very aware that Tony was naked, that he himself was half-way there.
There was water pounding down against the top of his head, seeping through the blue leather of his pants, which he was suddenly very grateful to be wearing, because his body had begun reacting to Tony's naked, wet proximity in a way that was totally inappropriate to the situation.
Tony was still staring at him, something hot and desperate in his eyes. Then he wrapped a hand around the back of Steve's neck and pulled him forward into a kiss.
It was a hard kiss, almost violent. Tony's fingers dug into Steve's back, into his arm, hard enough that it would have left bruises on someone a little less durable. Steve kissed him back, one hand tangled in Tony's hair, holding him in place.
Moments later, he was straddling Tony's legs, pinning him against the wall of the shower. Tony was fumbling one-handed at Steve's belt, his other hand still gripping Steve's shoulder, fingers five hard points digging into the muscle of his neck and upper arm.
Steve was starting to regret not taking the rest of his costume off before getting into the shower. The wet leather provided good friction, but it was much too tight now, and he wanted it gone, wanted as much of his skin touching Tony's skin as possible.
"I need you," Tony breathed into Steve's open mouth. He had finally gotten the belt undone, was yanking the front of Steve's pants open. His fingers brushed against Steve, sending a jolt of electricity through him. "You won't lose me. Stay. Don't let me-"
Steve wouldn't let him. He kissed Tony again, hard, grinding his hips into Tony while Tony arched up to meet him. "I won't. You can't. You're mine." Neither of them was making any sense, he knew, but he didn't care. It didn't matter.
Tony was making little moaning sounds, barely audible over the sound of the shower. He grabbed at Steve's hips, trying to hold him in place.
Steve reached down and took hold of Tony's wrists, gently but firmly pulling his hands away and lowering them to Tony's sides. "Don't move," he ordered, pressing Tony's hands against the floor for a moment. "You're not going anywhere."
Tony was suddenly very still, despite the tension Steve could feel in him. His hips jerked up once, as if the motion was involuntary, and he made another of those low moaning noises.
Now that he had control of the situation, Steve realized, he didn't have the first clue what to do about it. None of this had been planned. Fantasized about, yes, but never planned.
He bent down and kissed the lop-sided circle of metal in the middle of Tony's chest, pretending it wasn't hard and cold, that it didn't taste like metal. Tony shuddered underneath him, and Steve reached down and wrapped the fingers of one hand around Tony. It took a few moments to get the rhythm right -- it had been a long time since he had done this to anyone but himself -- and then Tony was gasping something Steve couldn't decipher, his eyes closed in what looked almost like pain, but which Steve knew was anything but.
Tony went limp and boneless as Steve mouthed gently at the worst of the scars on his chest. His hands were still at his sides, Steve noted, with mild surprise. They had stayed there throughout all of it.
"My turn," Tony gasped, his eyes coming open. "Can I move now?"
"Sure," Steve said, the whole situation suddenly seeming slightly unreal. Since when had Tony asked his permission for anything, much less actually listened to an order he gave?
"Oh," Tony said. "Good."
He twisted out from underneath Steve, and pushed Steve back against the wall. Steve had just long enough to register surprise as Tony bent down, and then coherent thought was gone. Tony's mouth was hotter than the water still pouring down on them. They were reforming the Avengers, Steve decided. Also, Tony was staying here tonight, in Steve's apartment, in his bed. Tony was not leaving. They weren't going to be alone anymore.
Several minutes later, Steve was lying on the shower floor with Tony a heavy weight on top of him, his wet hair sticking to Steve's neck.
"The water is cold," Steve said, after a moment. "And I'm pretty sure the original point of this shower was to warm you up."
"You're warm," Tony mumbled into Steve's shoulder. "Not going anywhere."
"Yes you are," Steve told him, feeling a warm current of amusement run through him. He was grinning like an idiot, really smiling for the first time in three weeks. "The floor is really hard, and the shower drain is digging into my back."
Tony's bizarre obedience lasted just long enough for Steve to get him out of the shower and dry. Then he began insisting that he ought to leave.
"No," Steve said. He tried to make it sound like an order, though he didn't think he quite succeeded. It sounded more pleading than anything else. "Stay. I told you you weren't going anywhere."
"How long do you want me to stay?" Tony's hair was still wet, as Steve watched, a drop of water fell from it onto his shoulder, and ran slowly down the lean muscles of his arm.
He could live with the metal heart, as long as Tony could.
Tony smiled. "I can do that."