The first time it happens is on Tony’s new, ridiculously big sofa.
They’ve known each other for so long that it’s really easy to tell when either of them needs distraction and Steve’s mood seemed so lousy all through the Avengers meeting that Tony just doesn’t want him to sit alone in his room at the mansion or his apartment in Brooklyn and mope on his own. He’s seen this happen too often and he knows that if they allow Steve to be on his own now, whatever it is that has him in this mood won’t let the man go for weeks. So there really is only one thing for Tony to do.
He takes Steve to his own brand new New York apartment, away from superhero talk and the opportunity to hide away in the safety of his own home or bedroom. It’s the most covert invitation to share pizza and talk he can come up with and Steve comes without much prodding. It’s worrying and charming, and Tony just knows he needs to tread carefully.
And that’s how they end up on the sofa, but Tony has no idea how it happens that one of Steve’s hands ends up resting on his hip and another on his jaw, holding him in place for a kiss. It’s the kind of thing he sees coming usually. For a moment his heart stops and then it starts thumping in his chest like it wants to burst and while his mind starts racing through all possibilities — magic, Skrull impostor, mind control — his own body responds before he can make Steve back up and ask. His own desperation surprises even him.
Steve doesn’t slow down and there’s no time to think. Suddenly there are hands beneath his silk shirt and he’s clinging to Steve’s white t-shirt, not sure if he is clinging on or ready to rip it off.
He’s pretty sure it is the later when Steve uses his weight to press him down and suck on his throat. He gasps and it’s terribly loud and inappropriate in his own ears. “Steve,” he groans and it sounds like a plea.
Steve’s sighs back a “yes.” But then his lips are back on Tony’s throat, he’s nipping his way along his jaw to that maddening point beneath his ear. It’s perfection and so unreal. Perhaps he is stuck in that infernal dream machine Tiberus had tried to trap him with not long ago. But then Steve’s hand slides to his side, along his ribs and up, is touching a nipple on the way and it’s suddenly all heady and real.
The shock of it makes him gasp more even than the realization, and he arches up and against Steve who tries to pull him even closer and then backs up to look at him. The heat in his gaze is almost smoldering. Tony has seen that kind of gaze on other people’s faces. But this is Steve. His friend Steve. Captain America.
He’s been in love with him for so long, so very, very long that he doesn’t even really remember when it happened. He is sure it wasn’t love at first sight exactly because that’s just not something that happens to him, but it feels like it must have been. And here he is and Steve wants him suddenly. He tries very hard not to listen to the sensible nagging voice in his head that tells him he must stop, that this is a terrible idea, that he will never be able to take this back if he does this now.
But it’s Steve and he wants him and who is Tony to deny him?
His hands have already made their own decision, helping Steve out of the tight t-shirt. He’s seen Steve naked so many times, and he has looked and appreciated and even patted him on the back – but it had never been this, and now the sight nearly takes his breath away all over again. Just looking makes him feel hot. Steve is perfect, has always been perfect. It’s not just the body, it’s Steve.
He helps him sit up and his hands are warm as he unbuttons Tony’s shirt, careful and precise. And Tony knows what he looks like, knows Steve too has seen him naked countless times – and still revealing his synthetic heart still makes him the slightest bit nervous. Steve doesn’t stop though, regards Tony’s chest as he slowly slides the shirt away and then he leans forward to press a kiss against the metal, at the sensitive skin around it.
It too much, unexpected and scary. All air is pushed from his lungs.
“Steve,” he whispers and Steve’s eyes meet his instantly. All the heat and the want are still there and Tony can’t help himself, he reaches forward, taking Steve’s face in both his hands and kisses him, deeply, exploring, daring. And Steve isn’t holding back anything. With one hand he grabs the sofa’s backrest and with the other, he holds himself up, as he uses his weight once again to press Tony down. God, he’s heavy and for the first time, Tony can feel the play of these muscles against himself outside of hand to hand combat training. He bucks up involuntarily when Steve’s tongue slides across the roof of his mouth. The sensation is making him writhe and groan and suddenly Steve breaks the kiss, moaning himself, because Tony’s legs slide along him, touches his erection through the layers of fabric between them.
Steve is hard. For him.
All for him, tonight at least.
He feels hard enough to burst at the thought alone.
“We need to get out of these pants, right now,” he gasps out. His body is burning up and this needs to happen now or never.
Steve chuckles, breathless and distracted, and Tony is sure he never heard a sweeter sound. “Right,” he says and sounds like he has no idea why they’re not already completely naked. He sits back on his haunches, opening the buttons of his pants and giving Tony room to move.
But Tony's eyes are glued to those strong elegant fingers, busy with the jeans. His mouth goes dry in anticipation and he licks his lips. “Let me,” he says and helps Steve to get rid of the jeans. His hands stroke along Steve’s sides to the band of the briefs and Steve tenses up, holding himself very, very still. It's not bad tension, just excitement and anticipation. They look at each other, Steve kneeling on the cushions and Tony bent down to be close, to see, to have access.
He knows he wants this and Steve is staring at him, waiting, not pushing, not stopping him, just waiting.
Frantic thoughts and that little nagging voice of doubt finally dying down in his mind, he pulls free Steve’s erection, lets his hand glide along the red cock that springs free and licks his lips again. From Steve he only hears a hitching of breath and a sigh. His fingers circle around the length and he looks up again to look at Steve, and Steve’s lips are parted, still red and swollen from the frantic kisses they’d exchanged. The image of it — Steve naked, briefs pulled down to his thighs, hard and wanton — edges itself into his memory and he knows he’ll never forget it.
Leaning forward he blows a soft breath against Steve who shudders in anticipation now. “Tony,” he whispers and a hand finds its way into his hair, strong fingers encouragingly kneading his scalp and he can’t wait for the feel of that hard cock against his lips. It’s been a while for him, but he still knows how to make it feel good, how to enjoy it. He slips the tip of it inside his mouth sloppily, swirling his tongue around it after a moment when Steve is breathing hard but ready, holding himself steady and still with effort. Steve’s hand falls to his shoulder with a near bruising grip while the other, still in his hair, holds him still. “God, Tony,” he breathes. It’s praise and admonishment and pure lust. It goes right to his groin.
It's so good.
He draws back and then slowly, very slowly and savoring every detail of it, he wraps his lips around the tip again, slowly draws the pulsing length forward into his mouth, one hand finding purchase against Steve’s hip, the other, stroking the base of his cock. He can feel all of Steve like this, as his length glides against the roof of his mouth, his tongue. His pulse, his heartbeat, his heat. The world has narrowed down to Steve, his feel and smell and presence.
If he’s true to himself he can admit that this has been true for him outside of this for a long time too, even when he tries to move on when he tries to let go and be a good friend only. He was never very good at policing his own wants and desires and keeping control. It's why he never acted on this desire. It's dangerous. He can't guarantee he won't go too far.
As Steve suddenly reaches down, uses a hand to make him open his mouth wider with a surprisingly undemanding, gentle press against his jaw, Tony wants to melt. Even now Steve is thinking of Tony's comfort over his own pleasure and that's so Steve. He wants this to be perfect, wants Steve to get exactly what he wants, because Steve doesn't demand he gets it.
He bobs his head and is rewarded by a throaty moan above him. It encourages him to relax further, make Steve’s cock glide further in and in until his mouth is stretched and he has to control his gag reflex. He forgot how easy this could be, forgot how powerful and intense this was, the intensity, the closeness, the intimacy. He revels in the feeling of all of Steve’s power quivering under his touch, holding himself back, not to buck, not to move, not to make this harder for Tony. It’s exhilarating and sexy — and nearly too much. His own cock twitches when a spike of pure intense lust goes through him. Fire catching on.
“Tony,” Steve gasps. “Don’t stop. Please, don’t.”
Steve doesn’t even have to ask.
Tony wants it as much as he does. He moves, building a steady beat, working Steve until his hips buck forward finally, control slipping. It all becomes a blur with fingers kneading through his hair, a hand bruisingly strong on his jaw, Steve’s voice muttering nearly intangible words of encouragement and praise and promise above him.
It’s all too much, too perfect, too soon, as Steve starts rocking in time with Tony’s movements until it is getting hard to breath. But Steve is close. When he comes, Steve goes still and silent, clenching up like he’s freezing in the moment and Tony wants to hold it there, wants to never lose it. His hands are clenched against Steve’s hips holding on, as the bitter-sweet taste of Steve slides against his tongue and down his throat, his cock softening in Tony’s mouth.
They stay like that for a moment, like they’re resting, unwilling to break the moment.
Then Steve’ hand slides against his shoulder, softly, reverently. “God,” he breathes. “Good god.” And lets himself fall back a bit, his cock finally sliding out of Tony’s mouth leaving a smear along his cheek.
Even that is perfect.
He wants to say as much, but Steve nearly tackles him into the cushions like this is another fight simulation, like he is tackling Iron Man to the ground to take him out of the line of fire. His chest bumps against the metal of Tony’s heart and Tony winces. “Sorry,” Steve breathes and he places an apologetic kiss against his earlobe. “But we’re not finished yet.”
It sounds like a promise, a perfect, perfect promise.
And who is Tony to protest, when Steve’s strong fingers are slipping under his waistband finding no briefs or boxers there today, like Tony planned for this, touching his half-hard cock and teasing it?
“Not finished at all,” Steve whispers and leans forward to kiss Tony, whose lips are still wet with saliva and come.
Tony groans and thinks: Don’t let it end then. Don’t ever let it end.
* * *
Just like that and without any fanfare or overture Steve passes him his shirt and slips into his own jeans and they sit together there in his living room, drinking ginger ale and talking, just like they would have a week or a month before, like nothing out of the ordinary has happened at all, like they never stopped sitting here talking like always.
Only, Steve seems lighter somehow, his mood changed for the better.
And they did just have the most amazing and intense sex — and Tony knows what he's talking about there. Of course, he feels better. Tony feels lightheaded.
There’s still something unreal and unbelievable about all of this and he doesn’t want to push or ask or talk about it, because he doesn’t want to break it. There's this fragile unspoken thing between them that he needs to protect.
When he leaves, Steve actually smiles at him, bright and easy. He feels lightheaded all over again, his knees suddenly weak and his shot heart giving an impossibly loud beat. He smiles back, as Steve stands in the open doorway, like he can't decide if he should stay or go. “That was… nice,” he says, hands in his jacket pockets. “Let’s do it again sometime, Tony.”
“Okay,” he agrees easily, because what else are you going to say when Captain America implies he wants to have sex with you — again. It's so strange that he can't even be surprised at how casual and easy this seems to be for Steve. How can both of them be standing here without freaking out? How can this just be okay?
The eerie calm is just strange.
It’s far easier for him to face his own feelings when the door shuts and he's left alone again.
His mind is screaming at him: Wow. Did any of this just happen??? But he still feels the evidence, knows it has happened. The sex was amazing and he's not ever going to forget that. It’s just that nothing else about this whole thing has turned out as he imagined it would happen — in the rare moments when he had actually allowed himself to dream about it. Steve is not usually a casual guy, but he likes contact, likes being touched. Always has.
And that is what this is all about: What better way to feel connected than sex? Tony knows something about that.
His mind reels, goes in circles, and his heart beats faster.
“FRIDAY?” he says out loud. “Pull up the file for the new stealth armor. We have work to do.”
And for now he can just keep himself from obsessing by throwing himself into his work. It's far better than letting his mind and heart run away with all these complicated bottled up feelings. Steve is too important. Losing control and letting this get out of hand is absolutely not an option.
* * *
And Steve — Steve — has always been too important, as Avenger, as a friend and as Steve. The last thing he wants is to push him away or lose the easy friendship they have now. Steve’s friendship means the world to him and this is not something he wants to risk it for. They’ve been friends for so long and not all of it has been smooth sailing, but it's one of the most important relationships he's ever had and one of the long lasting ones. They are good friends now and Tony is not ready to put a strain on that for anything but world ending reasons. It doesn’t help that his treacherous heart makes a happy leap every time Steve walks in a room and seeks out his gaze with a smile; it's even less helpful that this has been the case for years now, even though Tony is quite sure Steve has never picked up on his little crush. Not before.
Now he feels like all his feelings are on display. But nothing happens. Steve never comments.
So, by the time Steve finds him at the mansion, going through the monthly inventory with Jarvis, Tony has filed it away in his mind as the “lucky incident” and is trying to be a good friend about it and not bring it up. Steve has Sam in tow, and obviously, they are not going to talk about it in front of anyone and that’s all okay. It's expected. But Steve clasps a hand on his shoulder and says, nearly whispering it in his ear: “Always working, Tony. That's how I know you.”
“I’m not sure going through everybody’s shopping requests lists is working,” he mutters. “Feels more like I’m Santa Claus.”
“You look too attractive for that part. I'm the ancient one here.”
It’s just a bantering, off-handed compliment. Steve smirks a little as he says it. Still, he can’t stop the warm feeling pooling in his belly that makes him feel slightly lightheaded all over again. He loves Steve and he will take every scrap thrown his way.
Later, when he’s found other reasons not to leave the mansion right away he overhears Sam saying to Steve: “So Sharon is back?”
“Seems like it,” Steve says and sounds happy.
He does not feel a stab of pain at that. He isn’t surprised. There's nothing to be surprised about. It was all just a matter of time.
And the important thing is that Steve sounds happy and doesn’t look like he’s going to fall into one of his moping moods again.
They are friends and if this is what Steve needs him to be, then he can fill that role. He can be the supportive friend if that's what's needed. And if Steve needs him to be a friend who he sleeps with when he’s lonely and then moves on from — then that’s fine too. He gets more out of that than he ever thought he’d be allowed to have.
* * *
“I thought…” Steve starts and looks uncertain for just a passing second before his stance turns back into a decisive Captain America posture. Tony finds it both hilarious and a turn on under the given circumstances. “I thought we could share a shower.” His gaze is intense and searching.
“Sounds reasonable,” Tony agrees easily and smiles. “Conserving water and all that. Think of the environment.” He's only thinking of himself, of course.
Steve grins and cautiously steps closer. He knows Tony has his own shower installed down here because Tony let him use it a couple of times before after a fight. He knows nobody can come and disturb them while the workshop is locked down. It’s like he’s been planning for this, making a plan and coming up with the best strategy to execute it.
Tony would not expect anything less from Captain America.
He can roll with this.
This is like one of his dreams coming true, isn't it?
He’s been thinking about what it would be like to peel Steve out of the plated shirt of his uniform, to get his hands on those tight fitting blue pants and all the honed muscle beneath. It’s no surprise that Steve lives up to all his fantasies in this, too.
Steve brushes his hand across the tank top Tony is wearing, fingers reverently brushing along the lines and edges of his mechanical heart. With a jolt, Tony realizes that Steve’s the only one he’s been with since the terrible nightmare with his suddenly sentient armor. Nobody but his doctor, Jane Foster, and a few Avengers and friends have even gotten a look at it so far. His last relationship had ended before the episode that had led to him ending up with a broken nose and dying on a god-forsaken island, kept there like the helpless girl spirited away by the monster in stories and horror films waiting for the hero to come. But he'd been both the creator and victim all at once and been stuck saving himself, and in the end, the monster had saved his life by giving him a new heart. He still has not worked out how he feels about any of that. He tries to avoid thinking about it and so far that has been working out.
“It’s safe to touch it, right?” Steve asks, all the while already pushing Tony towards the shower, impatience showing in every movement. It's sexy and unexpected and Tony, who wants to savor the moment, isn't sure he can – or should – slow things down.
“Yeah,” Tony answers simply, his throat going dry because he can see how Steve’s pants are even just that little bit tighter right now than they usually are. His whole body yearns to be touched suddenly and he pulls Steve by his hand to move faster, himself walking with the back to the shower, as Steve finally closes in and kisses him.
All thoughts just leave his genius mind to fall at his feet and be forgotten on the floor of the shower, while naked skin meets naked skin and Tony has only room for bliss and lust and passion and Steve.
* * *
Steve kisses him when Tony comes to bring him a new uniform shirt to test and he ends up spending the night at his apartment.
Tony is the one who kisses Steve when a training session gets a little out of hand.
It's not a frequent thing, just something that happens sometimes when it's just the two of them and they are both in the mood. They never talk about feelings and they never even mention it when they are not doing it. It's easy. It's clean. And it's so much less complicated than all of the other options Tony can think of.
So he never asks. And Steve never says.
Obviously this is what Steve needs right now. Some easy fallback. Someone who is there for him when he needs it.
It's not really important that Tony is in love, has been in love for so long, because he knows he can never have something this good and hope for it to last. It doesn't really matter.
Tony is very proficient at lying to himself. So telling himself that he’s okay with this is easy.
He can be whatever Steve needs him to be. It's not like he ever expected commitment.
* * *
“No new lady in your life, boss? You sure?” Happy asks. Tony isn't sure what he's supposed to answer. He hasn't been with anyone since this thing he's trying not to name with Steve has started. He hasn't been looking. “You look happy, so I thought...”
“No, no-one new for me. We know how that ends.”
Pepper is the one who gives him a long look over a bite of pasta. She can't really know what's going on. She doesn't really know Steve, doesn't really know the other Avengers, can't have a clue how post-mission time in the workshop has looked lately. But she knows him. And her eyes are saying, she knows something is wrong.
Nothing is wrong though. For a little while, Tony can have what he always wanted and be a good friend to Steve at the same time. Because that's what he is. A good friend to Steve.
* * *
Because it's really none of his business he doesn't ask if he is back with Sharon or has found someone new or is just no longer interested in what Tony has to offer.
They are still friends and it's okay.
When Steve takes him aside after all this time, Tony immediately starts explaining about Jack and the Zero room, because that's the problem at hand, and at this point, he doesn't expect Captain America to want much else from him. But Steve interrupts him with firm fingers on his jaw and one of the kisses that Tony has – hasn't, damn it – missed so much.
He lets Steve pull him down onto his own silk sheets later and the sex is as amazing as ever.
Just this time he has a hard time not thinking, not mourning this thing that he thought he wouldn't get to have any more, that very soon he won't get to have.
The orgasm is intense and he gasps and moans all through it, while Steve's hand is still milking the last sounds from him with soft strokes. It's so sweet and perfect it makes his heartache.
After it's over they lie in bed together, both reluctant to move.
“This is okay, right?” Steve asks.
“This?” Tony moves his head on his chest so he can look up at him.
“This.” Steve gestures between them. “That I come to you, when...”
“Yeah, Steve, it's alright. This,” he assures him before his mind even has the chance to scream: “No!”
He's wide awake then, but Steve drifts off, his fingers stroking circles into Tony's hair. And Tony is feeling warm and cold and loved and alone.
Even Tony Stark might have to admit to himself at some point that he's in trouble.
* * *
They don't always get along, but they do work together well when they have to. Whatever the Wakandan king thinks, he and Tony aren't that unlike each other. They care for their own. They are both scientific minds. And suddenly they are both breaking out of a cell in the Department of Defense, instead of coordinating the scientific side of solving this problem, because whoever is behind this wants the two of them out of the way.
Tony crashes through a wall, the Black Panther right behind him. He knows what to expect, but what he finds breaks his already broken heart all over again. Falcon is strapped to a wall, dead to the world, but Steve, Steve is in a glass cell, on his knees gasping, fighting to stay conscious, gasping for breath. The red fog in the cell tells Tony the rest of the story and the Red Skull, watching the display with cruel satisfaction, doesn't even have to start his rant to make it clear what's going on.
T'Challa lurches into action immediately, the villain egging him on with vicious taunts. But for Tony, there is really just one thing that matters in this room and that's Steve. He opens the glass door so he can slip in, but once again he has underestimated the Red Skull who zaps all the power from his armor and locks him in with Steve and the red fog.
Frantically he tries to come up with a solution, to get to Steve despite the dead weight of the armor.
He knows the only thing between himself and infection is the armor's filtering system.
But there is Steve and he's dying.
By the time he reaches him, Steve has stopped breathing.
“Sorry, Tony,” he says out loud to himself, “but Captain America is more important than you.”
* * *
He's not dead.
He hopes that means Steve is not dead either.
“I heard what you said, Tony,” a voice says and when he turns with some difficulty he realizes that Steve, cowl pushed back, but still wearing his tattered uniform, blood and cuts on his face, is sitting there in an uncomfortable chair beside his bed. He looks grim.
Only then does he realize that the heavy, numb feeling in his hand isn't because he has lost all sensation in his hand, it's because someone is holding onto it with an iron grip.
It still takes him another half minute to realize that there is a connection between someone holding his hand and Steve sitting right there beside him.
“It's not true, you know? I'm not more important than anybody else.” Steve looks tired and sad and he's hunched over. “I'm sure as hell not worth killing yourself over.”
He comes up blank when he tries for an answer. And there is something over his mouth that keeps him from speaking.
How can Steve ever understand what he means to Tony? He never wants to see a world that has no Steve.
“But I'm sorry,” Steve continues, and the grip holding Tony's hand doesn't let off even a little. “I think I needed the wake-up call.”
And this is where it all ends, Tony thinks. He hoped they would never have to be as dramatic as to draw a red line under their little friends with benefits arrangement, but now his crush has been revealed and Steve is no longer able to ignore that Tony is... sentimental about him. It's the end.
He just hopes things won't be awkward from here.
“I told myself that I wouldn't try and be serious and demanding, that this time I would just be okay with not going steady. Modern times and all that. I thought... I thought this was all I wanted. Just feeling good for a while.” It seems like talking is still a strain and there is a terrible red hue to Steve's skin still and he wants to tell him to shut up. But he can't. There is a respiratory mask over his mouth and nose and when he tries to reach up with his free hand, Steve stops him. “I'm not okay with that. And I'm sorry because I realize we never talked about this and you...” He sighs heavily and sits back in his chair. “You're in love with me.”
Hearing it spoken out loud and in Steve's slightly tired and overwhelmed voice is the worst punch to the gut.
But then Steve leans forward to lean his head against Tony's chest and mumbles: “Thank god, you're alive. I thought you were dead. Thank god, you're alive. Never, ever scare me like that again. It's the second memory I have of holding a dying Tony Stark in his last moments and I can't do this again.”
Tony tries again to reach the respiratory mask and apologize, but Steve is already sitting up and looking at him sternly, as he tells him: “Just so you know. When this whole thing is wrapped up, we'll sit down and have a good long talk and I'll be terribly quaint and long-winded and demanding. But you can choose the restaurant because it's high time I take my fella out on a date. And there will be no arguments about that.”
Startled he laughs into the mask, short of breath and light headed.
It's not unlikely that he's dying and all of this is just a feverish dream his dying brain has conjured up to make it easier for him.
“I suppose this means we're in agreement?” Steve asks and Tony squeezes the hand that is still holding onto his as if he's Steve's lifeline.
Oh, boy, he's in even more trouble than he thought. But this kind of trouble he's been waiting for all his life.
He's too tired to be scared.
And perhaps he can dream of being more than Steve's friend now.
He'll try hard not to fuck it up.