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2012 A

Steve’s known Tony Stark for a few months, and he’s still not sure how he feels about him. As Iron Man, he’s competent. Not exactly a team player, but he shows up, and he does the job, and it’s not like any of them have to be out there saving the world.

If he’s honest with himself, a big part of Steve’s ambivalence toward the younger Stark is just how hard it is to look at him without feeling sad. Howard could be a pain, yes, but he was also a good friend. He was clever and ingenuitive and funny. He was loyal and well... easy on the eyes.

Howard and Tony share enough of these traits, that spending time with Tony causes Steve’s chest to clench at inopportune times. To turn his sort of abstract concept of loss into something solid and awful. To Steve, it’s been less than 4 months since he flew into the icy water and left his friends behind. Tony’s presence in his life is a constant, painful reminder of that.

Steve’s SHIELD mandated therapist assures him he’ll feel better eventually. That he’ll ‘move on, in time’. Steve kind of wants to be a smart ass and remind the guy he’s pretty sure ‘moving through time’ is the crux of his problem but he keeps his mouth shut. Both to the shrink and to Stark.

It helps that Tony doesn’t seem any more comfortable spending time with Steve. By unspoken agreement, they avoid each other except out of absolute necessity in the field or with a strained sense of awkward politeness at charity functions.

It’s at one of these charity functions that Steve first meets Tony’s most recent fella. Steve’s been warned (yes, warned, because everyone expects that Steve will freak out) that Stark is bisexual. Steve considers pointing out to Hill that this generation didn’t invent bisexuality, or sex, for that matter but she’s trying to be helpful so he plays along. She looks relieved when he promises not to choke on his straw if he sees his teammate bringing around a man on his arm.

The paparazzi outside the fundraiser end up exhausting Steve before he makes it inside, and once he’s in there, he spends another hour shaking hands with half the city. By the time he gets his plate from the buffet and loads it up with twice as much food as anyone else in the joint, he’s just looking for a quiet place to sit down and recover. He’s pointed toward a VIP table by a helpful woman in a server’s uniform and he takes the seat labeled with his name. It isn’t long before Tony and his guest take the seats across from him.

Tony’s boyfriend is called Sean and he’s a personal trainer to the stars. Sean is tall and blonde and muscular, and Steve doesn’t fail to notice they could be cousins, as far as looks go. He hopes that’s where the similarities end because Sean’s an ass. Steve can be an ass, he knows he can, but he’s a polite ass at least. He manages himself fine in public, thank you. His dead, sainted mother won’t be rolling in her grave over anything he talks about in the company of strangers.

In addition to being an ass, Sean is loud. His voice is unpleasant in its snarkiness, and he’s rude to the waitstaff who stop by to refill the water and change out their dirty plates for clean ones.

Steve finds himself wondering if the men are in the middle of some kind of lovers’ quarrel, because for the first thirty minutes Sean doesn’t say a single word to Tony. Technically neither does Steve, but that’s because Tony won’t make eye contact with him. Or with anyone else for that matter. Not even with Barton, who has taken the seat to Steve’s left and whose company makes for a welcome relief from the rest of their dining companions.

Steve likes Barton, who early on in the conversation insists that Steve call him Clint, and who steals and eats the olives off Steve’s plate when he thinks Steve isn’t looking. It’s nice to have someone treat him like he’s normal. Like a friend.

The evening wears on and champagne is passed around like water, and it’s not even 9 PM and most of the table is drunk. Tony’s finally talking, and it’s about hydraulics and pneumatics and how they relate to some racecar Tony’s built, and he’s excited. Really excited, judging by the expressive way his hands move and the smile that finally reaches his eyes. Tony’s discussing a type of science Steve understands and even though Steve’s not part of the conversation he’s fascinated. He wishes he could see Tony like this more often. Happy. Unguarded.

“Does he ever shut up?” a woman interrupts. She’s talking to Tony’s boyfriend, who sighs loudly in exaggerated exasperation.

“When I give him something better to do with his mouth, he does,” Sean says.

Tony stops speaking as the occupants around the table (minus Steve and Clint) erupt into laughter. Tony laughs, too, but when the laughter dies down, Tony fills his next glass to the brim and drains it like a thirsty soldier with a canteen. There’s no more science talk. Instead Tony’s boyfriend takes over the conversation and launches into a story about another time he’d shut Tony up, this one involving a gag.

It seems like the type of story that ought to remain private. It also sounds like Tony wasn’t a willing participant in the events of the night that Sean is recounting. Tony was drunk at the time. Sean goes into a lot of detail about Tony resisting the gag and how his eyes had filled with tears, but how he’d loved it once it was in. Was a ‘total slut for it’. For some reason, that’s what gets the biggest laugh.

Tony’s looking down at his plate now, pushing his dessert around into a messy swirl of raspberry and chocolate. He’s smiling, but by the tense set of his shoulders, Steve can tell it’s a struggle.

“I think that’s enough,” Steve says abruptly, interrupting Sean as he starts in again with some new lurid detail.

“Excuse me?” Sean asks.

“You heard me. That’s enough.”

Sean’s drunk and maybe just plain stupid, because he gives the table a shove toward Steve, and it topples over glasses and a few bottles as it comes to an abrupt stop at the wall that is Steve Rogers’ abs.

“Fuck you, man,” Sean growls.

Steve stands. “You want to take this outside?”

The table goes silent. Hell, half the room goes silent. Clint stands as well, looking plenty ready to have Steve’s back, just like any Howling Commando would.

“Nothing to see here, folks,” Tony says in a voice that carries across the room. The look he’s giving Steve is murderous. “We’ve all had too much to drink. Time to go home.”

Tony puts an arm around Sean and tries to pull him back away from the table. Sean rips out of Tony’s grasp, but doesn’t have the balls to come at Steve. Instead he storms off and Tony follows after him. Clint nods to a side door.

“Come on’ Cap. I know a back way out. We can avoid the press.”


2012 B

What Steve can’t avoid is Tony’s wrath. It’s a day later when Stark turns up in the gym wearing a sharp business suit and shoes that are perfectly shined. He’s wearing sunglasses, too, though he pulls them off when he speaks.

“If you’ve got a problem with me having a boyfriend, you need to get the stick out of your ass, Capsicle,” Tony announces. “This is the twenty-first century. Deal with it.”

“I don’t care who you’re sleeping with,” Steve says, trying to keep his tone polite. He turns from the punching bag to give Tony his full attention. “If someone’s going to act like an asshole I’m going to treat them like an asshole. In any century.”

“You don’t-- He’s not--” Tony starts. “You aren’t my Captain, or my keeper, or my anything. Stay out of my business, Rogers. Stay away from my boyfriend. Stay out of my life. ”

That stings. But the wounded look on Tony’s face stings worse. Makes Steve want to explain himself.

“I don’t like bullies,” Steve says.

“Then don’t be one,” Tony snaps.

“He had no right to say those things about you.”

“He’s my boyfriend. He has every right,” Tony says.

“To embarrass you?” Steve asks. “Or do you mean to make you do things in private you don’t want and then announce it to a table full of strangers.”

“You have no idea what kind of things I want,” Tony says.

“You didn’t want him to finish that story,” Steve argues. “You were uncomfortable. I was watching you.”

“And you’re an expert on me, huh?” Tony demands. “You don’t know shit about me. If you’re going to clutch your pearls over bedroom talk, maybe next time don’t sit at the grown up table.”

“There were place cards,” Steve snaps. “I sat where I was told.”

“Always the perfect soldier,” Tony sneers.

Before Steve can answers, Tony turns and storms out. The doors slam behind him.

“Good talk,” Steve says to himself. “Nice to see you, too.”

After that, Steve beats the hell out of a few punching bags until he finally hits one so hard it bends the steel girder above his head and he knows he needs to stop. He sits on the gym floor, dejected, missing Bucky and Peggy and Howard. Hating this stupid place and every stupid thing about it.

That’s where Clint finds him ten minutes later.

“Saw Stark out in the halls,” Clint says. “Whatever he said about last night-- you did the right thing. I was about three seconds from putting an arrow through that guy’s balls.”

Steve smiles. “I’d have liked to see that.”

“Let me buy you a milkshake,” Clint says, reaching down to pull at Steve’s arm in an effort to get him off the ground. “There’s a place down the street that named one after you. They put a whole piece of apple pie down in the blender with the ice cream. It’s awesome”

Steve looks up. “Seriously?”

“You’re a big, damn hero. Who wouldn’t want to drink you through a straw?” Clint asks.

“The future’s weird,” Steve says but he doesn’t object. He rises to his feet, pulls on his jacket and follows after Clint.

The milkshake is as good as Clint promised.


2012 C

Reading in the paper, two weeks later, that Tony and Sean have broken up, is even better.

Chapter Text

2013 A

Steve’s found that one of the easiest ways to keep up with the modern world is to watch the morning talk shows on the television. He’s already awake when they’re on, and most days he’s run, showered and dressed before they start. So once he’s finished with his pre-dawn routine he sits in his apartment with a cup of coffee and a bagel and lets the television provide background noise as he reads the The Daily Bugle.

Good Morning New York is his favorite. They’ve tried to book him a few times but he’s politely declined. It’s nice to sit back and watch and just... not. The publicity tours are just about the only thing about his old life he doesn’t miss.

For the most part every day on GMNY is the same. There’s a cooking segment (Steve learns to make polenta and prepare kale this way), they talk about the weather, there’s some bizarre fashion trend to discuss, a weight loss segment, and then the hosts end the show with celebrity gossip. The gossip is usually where Steve starts to tune it out, but when they announce they’ve got Tony Stark’s most recent ex-girlfriend coming up next, he puts down the paper to watch.

Shayla’s as pretty as Steve expects. She’s also an accomplished pianist and singer. If Bucky was describing her Buck would have said something like she had legs that went on for miles and curves like a Coney Island roller coaster. He was always better than Steve at describing things like that. He could paint pictures with his words. Steve can only paint pictures with... pictures... and he hasn’t really had the heart to pick up a sketchpad lately.

All he ever draws is the past, and it intensifies the loneliness he feels, even after a year. It’s better not to think about. Better to distract himself with the screen.

According to her introduction, Shayla and Tony dated for a little less than three months.

“I just couldn’t get past the scars, you know? They grossed me out.” She wrinkles her nose and the audience laughs with her. “I get that he can’t help that he got kidnapped but like... plastic surgery is a thing for a reason. And that blue light. It’s in his chest. Deep. And it never turns off. I had to sleep with it right in my face.”

“For a billionaire I could put up with a few scars and a nightlight,” one of the hosts says.

“I thought so too,” Shayla continues. “Like-- I’m not trying to be rude or be all TMI, but it’s not just the scars up by the... light. The scars go all the way down to... you know.”

She does a waggle with her finger and the audience roars with laughter. Even the hosts can’t keep their composure.

Steve's blood runs cold. He was in show business long enough to know exactly what he's watching. It might seem impromptu, but this whole bit is as contrived as if it's been scripted. No doubt Shayla's going to have a book coming out soon, or a fragrance, or an album. Something. And this-- this whole act-- is just her way of prolonging her fifteen minutes of fame into something slightly more marketable. At Tony’s expense.

“Does it-- I know this is rude, but I’ve got to ask,” the male host says. “Does it affect anything in bed? The scars?”

“I think so, yeah, definitely,” Tony’s ex-girlfriend giggles. She’s smiling like a sycophant. Steve has no charitable thoughts for this woman. “It was really disappointing actually, after everything I’d heard. But I guess you’d need to get one of his old girlfriends in here if you want to have a before and after look at his performance. We can compare notes. It could be like a slumber party!”

“Pillows and pajamas and all that,” the male host agrees, enthusiastically. “I think we can make that happen. What do you think, audience? Would you be interested?”

The atmosphere in the studio is like one big USO rally. A whole party devoted to dehumanizing Tony Stark. There’s so much enthusiasm for this train wreck that the hosts have to wait a moment for the noise to die down.

“One more question and then we need to cut to commercials,” the main show host says. “Apart from the sex, which is well-- obviously-- you’re saying you weren’t that impressed. But otherwise... is he what you’d expect?”

“Honestly?” the woman asks. “He’s boring and he’s really needy. It’s sad. He’s only fun when he’s drunk and-- that-- that gets us back to where we started with the...” The woman holds up her finger again and lets it droop down slowly. She’s giggling so hard she can barely stay in her chair.

Steve cuts off the TV as the audience joins her in her mean-spirited laughter. The whole lot of them can go straight to hell.


2013 B

Clint invites Steve out for burgers and milkshakes the next day. Natasha joins them, which is a nice surprise. It had been hard to get a read on her when they’d first met, but lately she’s been welcome company.

Clint brings up Tony right away.

“Did you catch that interview with Stark’s ex?” he asks after they place their order. “It was brutal.”

“I saw it,” Natasha says. “Pepper emailed me the clip right after it aired. Shayla’s lucky she was on the next flight out of New York. It’d be a shame if something bad had happened to her.”

There’s a pause. If Natasha and Clint are waiting for Steve to remind them that Avengers don’t target civilians they're going to be waiting for a long damn time.

“I don’t get it,” Steve says instead. “What does Stark see in these people?”

“Sex?” Clint guesses. “Lots of sex? Wild, acrobatic monkey sex?”

Natasha nods seriously. “There’s a trapeze in every house he owns.”

For a few seconds Steve thinks she’s serious. And then she smirks. Clint actually looks a little disappointed when he realizes she’s teasing.

“Okay. So he’s getting sex. What are his partners getting out of it?” Steve asks. “If Shayla’s telling the truth, the sex isn’t anything to write home about.”

Clint and Natasha fix him with identical looks of pity. Clint speaks his next words slowly, like Steve’s the Kindergarten glue-eater.

“He’s a billionaire.”

“A generous billionaire,” Natasha adds, “who hands out cars like candy.”

“He gave some guy an island once,” Clint says wistfully. “I can’t believe he’s got that kind of cash to hand out and he still can’t get anyone to date him for more than a month or two.”

“Not even Pepper,” Natasha says. “And I know she loves him. If she couldn’t do it, no one can.”

“He’s not that bad,” Steve objects.

The spy twins turn their eyes on him. Apparently it’s a suspicious opinion, judging by their matching expressions of disbelief.

“He turns into a total bag of dicks any time you’re in the room,” Clint says. “I like him fine when we’re alone. I can’t stand him when he’s within a hundred feet of you. Or Nat.”

“Stark has plenty of valid reasons not to trust me,” Natasha says. “But he ought to be nicer to you,” she directs to Steve. “You,” she adds, nodding toward Clint with a bright smile, “are your own bag of dicks. No one needs to be nice to you.”

When Clint makes falsely wounded eyes at her, she gives him a nudge of apology. They’re quite a pair. Steve misses when he was the one with the best friend so close that half their conversations only required a raised eyebrow or a tilt of the head.

“Hey,” Clint pouts. “People who date me don’t run off to do talk shows about how much I suck.”

“We aren’t famous enough for anyone to care,” Natasha says. “Give it a few years. They’ll be digging all sorts of shitty exes out of the woodworks.”

“What if I want to be the shitty ex?” Clint demands.

“You’re going to date Stark?” Natasha asks with a raised eyebrow.

“For a billion dollars? Hells yes,” Clint declares. “He can stick it anywhere he wants.”

Natasha rolls her eyes at Clint and elbows him in the ribs.

“He’s not giving anyone a billion dollars,” Natasha says.

“Would he pay my cable bill?” Clint asks.

“Sure,” Natasha agrees.

“I’d date him,” Clint says. “But I don’t go down for anything less than HBO. What about you, Nat? After watching what happened between him and Pepper, would you date Stark?”

Natasha’s smile turns slightly mischievous. “Yes,” she says. “Love is for children; diamonds are forever. He’s not sticking it wherever he wants though. I’ve got standards.”

Steve doesn’t believe either of them are serious about dating Tony, which is why he can laugh. Bawdy talk was a big part of life during the war. It feels familiar. Comforting. Fun. It has been so long since he’s had fun.

“I’d date him,” Steve says, without being asked.

He loves the way they both look at him in surprise.

“But not for the money,” Steve adds. “I wouldn’t accept any gifts.”

“Of course not,” Natasha drawls.

“Then why?” Clint asks. “You don’t want his money and he’s a complete tool whenever you’re around. What would you get out of it?”

Steve picks up his hamburger, takes a bite, then swallows. “The sex. I think Shayla’s full of shit.”

Natasha looks contemplative. “You might be onto something there.”

Clint beams at Steve over his food. “Best. Lunch. Ever.”


2013 C

A few days later, Ms. Potts asks Steve to stop by the tower to sign for the ownership of some shares in Stark Industries that Howard had left behind for him in case Steve ever returned. Even after all those years, Howard had never given up hope. Steve really doesn’t know what to make of that.

It turns out the stocks are from the year Stark Industries was founded and they are worth a whole lot of money. More money than all of Steve’s back pay combined. More money than Steve’s conceivable pay in the near future unless he lives for a couple hundred years. It feels wrong to take that much. Undeserved.

“If it’s all the same to you, I think I’d rather give it all to Tony, Ms. Potts. Anything that was Howard’s should be his.”

“Call me Pepper,” she says with a cautious smile. “And you should keep them, Captain Rogers. Howard wanted you to have them.”

“But Tony--”

“Could use some friends inside Stark Industries right now,” Pepper cuts him off. “If you want to do him a favor, sign.”

Steve knows a smart woman when he meets one and Pepper Potts is right up there with Peggy Carter. He’s not going to argue.

“If that’s what you think is best,” he agrees.

Pepper looks relieved. Her shoulders relax.

“Does Tony know about this?” Steve asks, when he hands her back the pen.

Pepper nods. “I told him. Unfortunately he couldn’t stay to speak with you himself. He had other obligations.”

There is absolutely nothing in her tone that makes that sounds true.

“I understand,” Steve says. “It seems like just about everyone wants a piece of him this week.”

Pepper’s eyes goes hard. “You watch Good Morning New York?”

“Not anymore,” Steve says.

This time Pepper’s smile is less cautious. “Good.”

She slides the forms he’s signed into a folder and lays it off to the side.

“Can I buy you a coffee downstairs before I see you out?” she asks.

“I’d like that,” Steve agrees.

He learns a lot in the next half hour. He and Pepper share a love of art that makes conversation easy. They talk about museums and galleries and traveling exhibits. Steve tells a funny story about a time he and Howard snuck into the Louvre, and Pepper laughs until she snorts. She tells him a story about Tony getting them both kicked out of The National Portrait Gallery for sneaking in a potbelly pig and Steve nearly chokes on his latte.

It leads to more stories about Tony, and Steve finds out things from Pepper that have never appeared in any SHIELD file on Stark. Steve had no idea that Tony’s designed more third-world accessible medical technology than whole universities put together. Or that on occasion he puts on his full Iron Man gear to visit the children’s cardiology ward and walk around making all the patients honorary Avengers. Good Morning New York had certainly made no mentions of the 3D printed limbs Tony’s developed for injured soldiers, or that Stark Industries provides them free of cost.

No. All anyone in the media (or at SHIELD for that matter) seems to care about is what happens in Tony’s bed, or anywhere bed-adjacent.

When Pepper’s coffee break is over she thanks Steve for his time. She only looks mildly embarrassed when Tony appears across the lobby, proving her earlier story a lie.

“It’s habit to cover for him by now,” Pepper says. “It’s easier than...”

“You don’t owe me an explanation,” Steve says gently, after Pepper trails off. “I know he doesn’t like me.”

Pepper looks a little surprised by that. “He’s had a bad week. People think those interviews don’t get to him... He thinks those interviews don’t get to him...”

“I can only imagine,” Steve says.

It’s getting louder, as more people in the lobby realize Tony is walking through.

“She mentioned the arc reactor,” Pepper says, leaning up on her toes so Steve will hear her over the noise. “This is the first time I’ve seen him out of his garage since that morning.”

“That was five days ago,” Steve says.

Pepper nods, as if to say ‘yes, that’s the point.’

“I should go,” Pepper says. “If they can’t get a quote for Tony, they’ll try to get one from me.”

Steve watches her step behind the security desk and then swipe herself into an unmarked door. He understands why. There crowd in the lobby keeps growing, and dozens of flash bulbs are going off in and outside the building. Steve can’t get to the street without pushing hard through the crowd, so he moves to the edges to wait it out. From here, he hears clearly when the photographers start giving Tony a hard time, trying to get a rise out of him. No doubt they’re paid more for their pictures if Tony makes a scene.

“Show us your scars!” shouts one guy near the front.

"Or your night light!"

“Drop your pants! You don’t have anything to hide, do you?”

“Did Ten Rings burn it off or something? Inquiring minds want to know, Stark!”

It only gets more obscene from there. The abuse spewed in Tony’s direction sets Steve’s nerves on edge in a way that makes his hand itch for his shield. Today would be a good day for target practice.

He expects Tony to move briskly toward the waiting car outside, but about halfway through the mass of pushing bodies he stops. It takes Steve a minute to work out what’s going on, but when Tony reverses and uses his body to make way for a few young, nervous-looking Stark Industries employees, Steve gets it. They’d gotten caught in the crowd and Tony’s taking the time to walk them to the elevator safely.

The photographers push in further and Steve starts shoving them out of the way so he can join Tony and get the SI staff through the mob. Since heading back for the street seems like a poor life choice, Tony and Steve get into the elevator, too.

“Thank you, Dr. Stark,” the taller of the three says.

They all look starstruck and shell-shocked. Like the halfway point between a rock concert and a war zone. Steve can see from their tags that they’re interns. Must be eighteen or nineteen at most.

“Not a problem,” Tony says, his voice carefree and just-this-side of flirtatious. It breaks the tension. “Just do something impressive today. Blow up something awesome. Make it worth my time.”

The kids get off on the fourth floor, with smiles and waves. When the door closes, all Tony’s cheer vanishes with them. Tony leans back against the wall of the elevator and closes his eyes. He looks bone-tired. World weary.

“Is it like this every morning?” Steve asks.

“Only when I’m back in the news,” Tony responds. “Which I guess is most mornings these days.”

He shrugs, as if there’s nothing to be done.

“Can’t you hire more security?” Steve asks. “Or I’m sure SHIELD could spare--”

“More security means people get hurt,” Tony says, cutting Steve off. “It’s unintentional, but it happens.”

“Less security means you could get hurt,” Steve objects.

For some reason that makes Tony laugh.

“I could do it,” Steve offers.

“Captain America as my bodyguard. Tempting,” Tony says. His eyes open. “But no.”

The elevator comes to a stop and Steve gets a glimpse of the penthouse as Tony pushes off the wall and steps away.

“The vultures will be gone by now,” Tony says at the same time Steve blurts out “I’m sorry about that interview!”

Smooth.

Tony’s expression is unreadable. “J, get the good Captain on his way. I’m sure there are at least a dozen cats up in trees between here and Brooklyn that need saving. Law of averages...”

Tony’s voice is cut off as the elevator doors close in Steve's face. He’s been dismissed. Which is fine. It prevents Steve from saying anything else embarrassing or stupid.

He wanders around for a bit, not knowing what to do with himself, and eventually finds himself back at his usual diner. Steve treats himself to another burger and milkshake and in the process manages to sweet talk the lady behind the counter into adding the whole team to the menu. Scribbling out recipe combinations on the back of a place mat is an excellent distraction.

A Hawkeye is peanut butter, maple syrup, and marshmallow fluff. A Black Widow is dark chocolate strawberry. Despite the waitresses’ protests, a Hulk is not mint. It’s bright orange mango, since Steve gets the feeling Bruce has had enough green in his life to last him a lifetime. Thor is raspberry rainbow. The Iron Man shake takes the most thought, but Steve finally settles on coffee, cookies and cream. It sounds a little strange when he thinks up the combination but once he tries them all together it ends up being his favorite. Go figure.

Chapter Text

2014 A

Things have been better between Tony and Steve since that day in the tower. Tony isn’t as hostile. Steve isn’t as quick-tempered. They work well as a team in the field. Steve accompanies Tony on a Children’s Hospital visit one sunny spring day. They stop for milkshakes after and Tony laughs until tears stream down his cheeks when Steve orders a large Iron Man to go along with his cheeseburger.

It’s the best afternoon Steve’s had in 70ish years.



2014 B

“Is that a bruise?” Steve asks.

He’s only concerned because they’re a few hours out from a fight with some bouncing robots and he hadn’t seen Tony take any rough hits this time around. Nothing strong enough to breach the armor and cause the dark purple mark around Tony’s wrist.

“Not your business, SpongeBob Noseypants,” Tony replies, without looking up from his phone. It’s a firm shut-down.

“Injuries need to be noted in my field report,” Steve sighs. He’s tired. He needs to eat. He just wants to get the damn paperwork done. At least he knows what a SpongeBob is; he doesn’t need to waste time looking it up. “I swear, between you and Barton, I’m never going to finish one of these things on my first try,” he mumbles, mostly to himself.

Steve flips over his pencil to erase ‘no injuries’ from his notes.

“This isn’t from the battle. It was purely recreational,” Tony continues.

Steve looks up. They’re the last two in the tower conference room. Tony’s been tapping on his phone for the last hour, and it only now occurs to Steve that by this point in the evening he’s usually in here alone.

“Been training too hard?” Steve asks.

“Not that kind of recreation, grandpa. The bruise is from my girlfriend. The physics professor I’ve been seeing?”

Steve hadn't realized they were serious. He’d met the woman only once, and that was more than two months ago. She’d seemed nice. Smart. Pretty. And now she’s leaving bruises.

“Oh,” Steve says. “I didn’t realize... good for you.”

An off-handed ‘good for you’ is not at all what Steve intends to say, but it’s habit now. People make so many assumptions about his moral standards, it’s the easiest way to help them understand he doesn’t give two shits about what they get up to in their free time.

Want to dye your hair green? Good for you.
Want to wear a cape and boots and dance around in Times Square? Good for you.
Enjoy being tied up in bed? Good. For. You.

It’s only after the words are out of his mouth and Tony’s eyes narrow, that Steve realizes he’s gotten something wrong.

The thing is, once you know Tony’s tells, it’s easy to see when you say something that upsets him. Everything about Tony’s face goes to a look Steve used to think of as ‘rich kid wise ass.’ Except since that talk with Pepper about Shayla’s interview, Steve’s known better. What he used to interpret as bravado or contempt, he now knows is more often than not, Tony’s way of hiding hurt feelings.

It’s his ‘she mentioned the arc reactor on television’ look. Steve hates that this time he’s the one who put it there.

“Seriously,” Steve tries again, gently. “I know everyone thinks I’m some big prude, but if you’re enjoying yourself, I’m happy for you. I want you to be happy.”

Tony stands abruptly and shoves his phone in his back pocket.

“What’s not to enjoy?” Tony asks. He’s smiling an awful, fake smile, that makes Steve’s chest hurt. “Bondage is great. Don’t knock it till you try it.”

“I don’t know if I could,” Steve admits. “Some of my friends... Hydra’d captured them and when I found them they were strapped to beds. Tied up in cages. Kind of ruined the whole bondage thing for me.”

He’s trying to be honest. To lay something out for Tony he hasn’t shared with anyone else. Something he thinks Tony might understand after his own ordeal in the desert. Except Tony’s just glaring at him with that awful look on his face, and he’s not saying anything.

“I know some people enjoy it,” Steve tries again. “Do you?”

“Google me,” Tony quips. “Try an image search, safesearch off. I’m young, but legal, in the pictures. You can see for yourself how much I enjoy it.”

“I’d rather not,” Steve says.

He can’t stomach the thought of Tony objectified like that, no matter how much he’d like to see him without his clothes. Especially if he was still practically a kid. Steve knows if there are pictures of Tony tied up on the internet (and seriously what is it with the internet) they were likely leaked. And by all rights, not his to see.

“Oh. Right. Yeah, obviously,” Tony snarks. “Can’t have Captain America looking up gay porn. The world might end. The rivers will run with blood. All the kittens will die.”

“That’s not what I meant,” Steve objects.

“No, of course not,” Tony says. “You never mean to be offensive. You never mean to rub your superiority in our faces. You just exist and everyone thinks you’re perfect and you don’t have to actually do anything.”

“I’ve done an awful damn lot,” Steve snaps. His words come out loud. Frustrated. “And believe it or not, I don’t wake up every morning hoping to pick a fight with you. Whatever I did that pissed you off, if you’d just tell me--”

“Forget it,” Tony interrupts.

“If you’d just tell me--”

“Have a good night, Captain America.” Tony says it in a voice that would be a lot more fitting for saying something like ‘drop dead, asshole.’

Tony walks away, and when the door swishes closed behind him, all the lights go out.

“Jarvis, bring up the lights?” Steve asks.

There’s total silence. The room stays dark.

“Seriously?” Steve asks. “Jarvis, are you there?”

Still nothing. Still dark. Alright then.

Steve snaps his notebook closed and tucks it in his bag. He could use some air, anyway. Maybe a walk will help him sort out where this whole conversation went so very, very wrong.



2014 C

For an entire month after their fight, Tony rarely speaks to Steve outside of missions. When he does, it’s clipped and concise. Tony stops using nicknames, stops snarking. He’s carefully polite, which might be the most disturbing change of all. Every single attempt on Steve’s part to reconcile with Tony is quickly rebuffed. It turns out, Tony is really good at being mean while using the best manners possible. He’d fit in great on Downton Abbey.

On the rare occasion Steve sees Tony out of his Iron Man gear, he’s wearing long sleeves, even at the height of summer. Any time Tony’s sleeves shift, Steve gets a peek at the bruised skin beneath. Sometimes freshly dark and sometimes pale green and faded, but always there.

He tries to talk to Tony again, just to make sure everything is okay. Tony fakes a call from Pepper. The phone doesn’t even ring or vibrate and Steve’s superior hearing means he damn sure knows there’s no one else on the line. Tony holds up a finger to Steve like he’s telling Steve he can’t continue their conversation and walks away.

Steve doesn’t see him again for a week and a half.

The next time he does, it's because the Avengers are called out for a quick mission. God bless the idiot criminals and their goo. The mission ends with a win, and then things go down hill from there.

Steve can barely string three words together in their debrief because they’ve all changed into civilian clothes by then and he can see Tony’s got faint rope burns around his neck, and some bruises there, too. The meeting lasts all of five minutes before Steve calls it to a close, stands, and flees the room like the table's on fire.

It’s Clint who finds him up on the roof, sitting with his back against the landing pad’s dropped edge, hidden from view.

“You want me to talk to Stark?” Clint asks, taking a seat beside him.

“So he can hate you, too?” Steve asks in return. “Kill you with kindness? Cause let me tell you, it’s great.”

“I'm not the one with the crush on him,” Clint says. “If he snaps, I won’t take it personal. It’ll probably blow my shot at a lifetime of free cable, but it’s a chance I’m willing to take.”

Steve considers it. “I don’t...” He trails off. There’s really no point in denying the crush. Clint’s clearly figured it out. So instead he just focuses on the rest. “Would you? Just to make sure he’s safe?”

“I’ll talk to him,” Clint agrees. He shifts up a little and takes out his wallet before pulling out a five dollar bill and handing it to Steve. “Go buy yourself a milkshake, kid. I hear the Hawkeye is a best seller. Uncle Clint will make it all better.”

Steve’s pretty sure the only way the milkshake brag is true is if Clint’s ordering five a day, and hearing Clint call himself uncle is so ridiculous it brings a smile to Steve’s face no matter how bleak things feel.

"You sound really creepy when you call yourself that," Steve points out.

"Exactly."

Friends. The novelty still hasn’t worn off.



2014 D

Tony’s relationship with the pretty physics professor ends two days later. The bruises fade and they don’t come back.

Steve tracks down Clint’s cable company and pays in advance for a full year of HBO. It’s the least he can do.



2014 E

It’s probably a sign that something is seriously wrong with Steve that his fantasy life has never been so vivid. In his daydreams (night dreams, shower dreams, gym dreams) he kisses bruised wrists. He holds Tony close and tells him he’s beautiful and smart and worth so much more than he knows. He traces shrapnel scars lightly. Carefully. With his tongue. And he never minds where they lead.



2014 F

If Tony likes being tied up, Steve could work with that. Soft rope. Easy-to-tug-free knots. It wouldn’t have to be like a prison camp.

There’s not much he wouldn’t be willing to try for Tony, if Tony would just fucking speak to him.



2014 G

Then Steve meets Justin Hammer.



2014 H

“Bruce, you’re good at computers, right?” Steve asks.

Bruce laughs awkwardly and lifts a hand to ruffle some of his unruly curls, a nervous habit Steve always finds endearing. It had taken them a while to trust each other, but once they had, they’d ended up good friends. It was the Mango Milkshake that did it. Clint and Natasha had dragged Bruce and Steve out once they found out what Steve had done for them and the look on Bruce’s face when he saw his milkshake for the first time... Steve would never forget it.

It had only been a sort of offhanded thought on Steve’s part, when he’d chosen it. Give Bruce something that isn’t green. Seemed simple enough. But to Bruce it clearly meant a whole lot more.

Tonight, Bruce has come over to cook something spicy and colorful in Steve’s small kitchen. Usually on these nights, Bruce brings books, too, about the places he’s been and the things he’s seen. (Bruce has no personal photographs of these places, since he hadn’t been running around with a camera.) (Plus, you know, Hulk smash.) They look through the pictures in the books together, and Bruce weaves them all into an incredible narrative.

It’s a different kind of catching up on the world. Steve looks forward to it every time.

“Ummmm. Have you tried turning it off and on?”

“It’s more the internet I have a problem with,” Steve says. “Not my computer.”

“You should ask Tony,” Bruce says. “I avoid the unfiltered internet as much as possible. Comments aren’t good for my calm.”

“I don’t think Tony’s going to want to help me with this,” Steve hedges.

“You could try asking Jarvis for help,” Bruce suggests. “That’s what I do when Tony’s busy.”

Bruce doesn’t ask Steve what he’s trying to fix. Bruce treats people like adults and he doesn't pressure. Steve suspects that’s why the doctor ended up the de facto counselor for the team, as well as Steve’s personal tour guide to the greater culinary world.

“I’ll do that. Thanks.”

Steve checks to make sure Tony is out of the tower before he heads over after Bruce has left for the night. He’s not really sure where the best interface for Jarvis is, so he ends up sitting in the Avengers conference room on the 18th floor, well after midnight, feeling a bit like a child in the principal’s office.

“Jarvis?” Steve asks.

“What can I do for you, Captain Rogers?” Jarvis replies.

“Ummm. This is kind of awkward. I was just-- I was wondering about-- if you could erase things from the internet?”

“I do have that ability. I do not always have the correct permissions. What is it you would like deleted?”

“Tony’ssextape,” Steve says, mumbling it out all in one word.

“You’ll need to be more specific,” Jarvis says.

Because there’s more than one. Steve should have known.

“Right,” Steve says. “Of course. Ummm... I was at a retirement party for General Carston, and there was a man that kept trying to talk to me. His name was Justin Hammer. I blew him off, but then one of Tony’s exes was there, too, and I could hear him talking to Hammer at the next table over. He’s going to sell him a video. The guy said it’s... graphic. That Tony spends a lot of it begging to be let free...”

Steve trails off. He feels sick when he thinks about the exact description the man had given. Apparently Tony’s claustrophobic when anything is put over his head and this man had done just that. Used a bag once he had Tony tied up. Ignored his pleas to stop, and felt perfectly justified in doing so since right at the start Tony’d given him permission to do what he wanted. Whatever he wanted. No limits.

Hammer was giddy at the prospect. Clapped and gushed and offered the guy a few hundred-thousand dollars right there on the spot.

Steve had gripped the table so hard he’d broken the wood under his fingers; it was the only way he was going to keep from snapping Hammer’s neck. He wouldn’t have given the man selling the video even that small courtesy. He’d have broken all his fingers one by one then given him to Natasha.

Except Steve is an Avenger, and as Tony had requested two years before, Steve had stayed out of it in that moment. But it has been haunting him every moment since. He can’t leave this one alone. There’s no way to interfere that won’t piss Tony off and Steve doesn’t care. He’s protecting him, end of story. It’s the right thing to do.

“Can you find the tape and get rid of it? It sounded like it was all digital. Sitting on some server somewhere.”

“Sir has given me specific instructions not to interfere in such instances.” Jarvis doesn’t sound any happier about it than Steve feels. “His lawyers will handle it.”

“But they can’t this time, I don’t think? I mean, that’s what the guy promised Hammer. Something about Tony consenting on video?”

“I have found the video you’re referencing. Sir was highly inebriated and I do not believe his initial consent would be considered valid by a court of law. Even if it was, he revokes that consent within minutes and continues to revoke it to the end. However, I have standing instructions not to alert the police when I detect criminal activity of this nature.”

Steve can only imagine how frustrating that must be for Jarvis.

“I have some kinds of permission here, right?” Steve asks. His voice sounds rough, either from the late hour or from trying to rein in his temper. “Pepper explained them to me once. I’m an admin or something. A super user?”

“For Avengers business, yes,” Jarvis confirms. “Do you feel this recording is a direct threat to the Avengers’ Initiative?”

“If I say yes, does that mean you’ll erase it?”

“That would be enough to override my other protocols,” Jarvis said. “Yes.”

Steve takes a deep breath. “Yes. Affirmative. Do it. The video is a threat to the safety of the Avengers.”

There’s a beat of silence.

“Not anymore,” Jarvis says.

Steve feels like he can breathe for the first time in days. “Thank you, Jarvis. I really appreciate your help.”

“I am happy to assist, Captain Rogers,” Jarvis says. “If you have needs of this nature in the future, I have taken the liberty of programming my direct contact information into your phone. I have also sent you the name and address of the man who abused Sir in the video. I anticipate it will be useful to you should the tape appear elsewhere. Perhaps even if not.”

Steve smiles. “You are your father’s son.”

“I take that as a compliment, sir.”

“You should,” Steve says firmly. “You absolutely should.”



2014 I

Steve’s fantasies change. No ropes. No bondage.

Not ever.

Chapter Text

2015 A

Steve’s only met Colonel Rhodes a handful of times. When he meets him in late January at a military event and asks if he has a minute to talk about Tony, Rhodes looks unhappy.

“Tonight. 7 PM. Meet me here,” Rhodes says.

The Colonel scribbles down the name of a restaurant on the edge of a napkin and hands it to Steve. When Steve arrives at 7 sharp, Rhodes isn’t alone. Pepper is sitting with him.

They greet Steve politely. The glances they keep giving each other as Steve hugs Pepper seem ominous.

“We appreciate you coming to us,” Rhodes says, once Steve takes his seat.

“And we’re wondering if a suspension might be more appropriate than dismissing Tony from the team all together,” Pepper says. “Being an Avenger means so much to him. More than you could ever know.”

Steve’s so stunned by her plea it takes him a few seconds to put together a response. “Wait-- you think I’m here to talk about kicking Tony out of the Avengers?”

“Aren’t you?” Rhodes asks.

“No,” Steve says emphatically. “If I had issues with his performance on the team I’d talk to him. In person. Alone.”

“So this isn’t about his panic attacks?” Pepper asks.

“Or what happened in Reno?” Rhodes echoes.

They’re as confused as Steve is. Steve hasn’t heard anything about Reno. (Now that he’s ditched the Morning Shows, he’s perpetually behind on gossip.) He’s definitely not noticed any panic attacks, though he’ll be watching for them now.

“I’m worried about him,” Steve says. “About his personal life.”

“Ohhhhh,” Pepper says. She looks incredibly relieved as she reaches over, picks up the bottle of wine on the table, and pours Steve a glassful. “In that case... welcome to the club.”

“You should probably make yourself comfortable,” Rhodes adds. “And call me Rhodey. Looks like you’re in it for the long haul.”

They drink the wine as they eat and chat. Some of what they talk about is work. Some is about the Avengers. When they talk about Tony, Steve is relieved by how obvious it is that they care about their friend. They will do (and have done) almost anything to protect Tony, often against his wishes. Steve tells them a little about his own experience with that, leaving out the sex tape since it feels too private, but unloading all the rest. By the end of their entrees Steve feels like he and Pepper and Rhodey have been friends for years. They understand each other.

“I don't know what to do with him,” Pepper sighs. “I love him. I spend a lot of time wanting to smack him upside the head but I love him.”

“Natasha told me you’d dated,” Steve says. “Would you mind if I ask what happened? Unless it’s too personal...”

“It’s not,” Pepper says. “It was nothing personal. Tony made that very clear. He used those exact words, in fact.”

She emphasizes the words ‘nothing personal’ in a way that makes them seem incredibly significant and very, very personal. Rhodey stares down at his drink.

“The short story is that he cheated on me,” Pepper says, in her business voice. She’s sitting up straight and Steve can tell how hurt she is, even now, by what Tony had done.

“And the long story?” Steve asks.

“I loved him and that scared him,” she says, her posture deflating a little. “He didn’t think he deserved me. He pushed me away emotionally and I stayed. He pushed me away by shutting himself in his workshop for days at a time and I stayed. So he did the one thing he knew would put an end to things. He got blind drunk and he cheated on me. And then when he confessed it all, he kept telling me it wasn’t personal. It wasn’t about me. I’d always been enough. It wasn't my fault. It was all on him.”

Pepper’s got tears in her eyes and Rhodey and Steve both reach over at the same time to hand her their napkins. She takes Steve’s and pats at her face a few times before placing it on the table, slightly damp.

“A week later, he asked me to take him back," she says. "He bought me closets full of clothes and shoes and when they were full he tried to buy me new closets. It didn't matter that I didn't want them. That I didn't ask for them. He's not good at apologies, but he tried. He was so sorry. I've never seen him so sorry.”

“You didn’t want to give him another chance?” Steve asks. He’s surprised considering how much she obviously cares.

“My father cheated on my mother a few times while I was growing up,” Pepper continues. “He wasn’t discreet and I watched what that did to her. What it did to them. How much she hated him by the time they divorced. I couldn’t do that to us; it wasn’t healthy. I was going to lose him forever if I stayed.”

Rhodey leans over and tugs Pepper into a side hug. Steve looks away giving them their privacy but it takes only takes Pepper a few seconds to regain her composure and for Rhodey to shift back to sit forward in his seat.

“I’m sorry that happened,” Steve says.

Pepper nodded. “Me too.”

“Me three,” Rhodey chimes in. “Pepper’s the only person Tony’s ever dated that was worth a damn.”

“Why is that?” Steve asks, figuring if anyone will know the answer it will be Rhodey and Pepper.

“He doesn’t think he deserves any better,” Pepper says.

“It’s like some sick sort of penance,” Rhodey says. “It got worse after Afghanistan. The more people he saves it’s like the more he’s got to punish himself.”

He shakes his head. Rhodey obviously doesn’t understand it any better than Steve does.

“Did it start with Howard?” Steve asks. “Or his mother?”

Rhodey gives a sort of waffling gesture. “They weren’t knocking him around, if that’s what you’re asking. They weren’t a big help though, either. They mostly ignored him, unless he was acting out. Howard had other priorities.”

Like finding Steve. It's left unspoken but Steve knows without a doubt that’s what Rhodey means.

“There were a lot of kidnapping concerns, too,” Pepper adds. “Until Tony left for college they kept him isolated. It wasn’t an ideal situation.”

“When I first met him, he had bought himself more friends than he knew what to do with,” Rhodey supplied. “If you can imagine what sort of low-lifes hang out with a fourteen year old for unlimited liquor and weed, you’ll get the picture.”

“You mean the same sort of low-lifes who flock to him now?” Steve guesses. “Avengers and present company excluded.”

“Exactly,” Rhodey confirms. “I met Tony in a robotics lab. We were assigned to the same workspace, and at first I thought I was going to have to kill him and bury him out in the quad if I was ever going to graduate. But one night I was there late and he came in with a black eye and a split lip and he just looked so young, you know? He didn’t want to talk about it and I was worried my grade in that class was going to cost me my scholarship, so I didn’t push. He stayed until the next morning, and explained everything I was getting wrong in a way that opened robotics up for me. I asked him if I could buy him breakfast to thank him and he looked so surprised. I found out later it was because that was the first time anyone on campus had ever offered to buy him anything. People just figured he was rich. Why offer?” Rhodey makes another gesture that’s difficult for Steve to interpret. Irritation, maybe, at the people who’d taken advantage of a lonely kid.

“Anyway, we went to McDonalds and we talked through breakfast and once I saw past all the weird layers of cocky bullshit I liked him,” Rhodey explains. “He agreed to tutor me if I’d buy him breakfast once a week. Then after all that bargaining, he still tried to pay because he was worried I didn’t have the money. We’ve been stuck with each other ever since.”

They’ve all been drinking while Rhodey tells his story, so by the time Steve asks a few follow up questions Pepper is swaying slightly in her seat. By the time Rhodey answers them, Rhodey is too.

“Can’t keep Tony away from bad women,” Pepper rants. “Can’t keep him away from bad men. Can’t get him to make them sign the damn non-disclosure ‘greements.”

“It’s like the bad press confirms everything he thinks about himself,” Rhodey says. "Like he wants to read that shit."

“I work really hard on those non-disclosure agreements,” Pepper says.

“I’m sure you do,” Steve consoles.

“I love him like a brother,” Rhodey interjects. “I’ve spent more than half my life cleaning up after that man’s messes. Might as well call me Mop Man.”

“Mop Man?” Pepper asks skeptically.

“Mop Man, Mop Man, cleans up after a flying can,” Rhodey sings.

They all three laugh. It’s exactly what they need to lighten the mood. Which is probably a good thing since it’s late and the restaurant has mostly cleared out. They need to go.

“Hey, can I be an’avenger? I’ve got a great superhero name,” Rhodey says. “Mop Maaaaannn.”

Steve nods. “You’re right. It is a good superhero name. A good song, too. How about you let me get you both to your town cars and after you’ve given it some more thought you can call me in the morning. We’ll talk.”

Pepper and Rhodey both seem to think this is a grand idea.



2015 B

“I bought you breakfast to thank you,” Steve says, as he steps into Tony’s workshop and places one of the two paper McDonalds’s bags in his hand onto the table in front of Tony. He adds a large McDonalds coffee next to it.

Steve’s at the tower because he’d broken the strap on his shield during the last mission and Tony had offered to fix it. After Rhodey’s story, Steve had figured out a new way to try and get himself back in Tony’s good graces: appeal to his stomach.

“You realize the materials for this strap cost more than a car, right?” Tony asks. “Bringing me McDonalds doesn’t make us even.”

“Fine,” Steve says, with a shrug. “I’ll eat both our breakfasts.”

He reaches for Tony’s bag and Tony snatches it back toward his chest.

“Mine,” Tony says, with all the ferocity of a toddler. “I said it didn’t make us even; I didn’t say it wasn’t a start.”

Tony doesn’t invite Steve to stay but he doesn’t seem unhappy when Steve clears off a chair and joins him.

“This is good,” Tony says, after he takes his first bite. “I’d forgotten.”

Steve’s never actually tried an Egg McMuffin. The face he makes after he takes his first bite of the gummy English muffin and the limp egg and the flavorless, chewy ham (is this ham?), says everything about his thoughts regarding McDonalds' sad attempt at breakfast.

“What am I eating?” Steve asks. His eyes water as he tries to force his gag reflex (his strong gag reflex, thank you) back under control.

“Perfection,” Tony says. He’s already eaten to the middle of his.

Steve has to avert his eyes when he notices the sort of gray-purple of the flacid ham in Tony’s sandwich. He pushes his own McMuffin to the center of the table.

“You’re not going to eat that?” Tony asks.

“No,” Steve says adamantly. “I’ve eaten K-rations that were more appealing.”

“Which ones were the K-rations? Not all of us fought in a world war,” Tony reminds him.

Tony’s chipper. He’s vaguely insulting. It’s everything Steve had hoped.

“K-rations... Think ham loaf. Malted milk tablets.” Steve makes another face. “There were times I thought I was starving and I still couldn’t force myself to eat another one. I’d have rather eaten pig slop. One time I actually did.”

Tony reaches to Steve’s McMuffin and picks it up and places it next to the few bites left of his own, possessively.

“Apparently the Vita-Rays didn’t do anything to enhance your tastebuds then,” Tony says. “Or is this just what happens when you grow up before the invention of sliced bread?”

“Hey, sliced bread was well within my time and my tastebuds work fine,” Steve says. “Ask Bruce if you don't believe me. I have a healthy appreciation for food from this century.”

“Bruce?” Tony asks. He looks surprised and not exactly happy. "You're on a first name basis now?"

It’s either jealousy or protectiveness, and Steve doesn’t know which. Jealous Steve spends time with Bruce? Jealous Bruce spends time with Steve? Worried either of them might hurt the other? There’s no telling. He could ask, but he doesn’t want to argue. Not when Tony’s dropped the polite hostility for the first time in ages.

“He comes over and cooks for me sometimes,” Steve explains. “As a friend.”

“It’s not because SHIELD asked you to keep an eye on him?” Tony asks.

Ahhhh. Suspicion. Well, it could be worse.

“SHIELD's got nothing to do with it,” Steve assures him. “Bruce found out I’d never had Indian food and we moved on from there.”

Tony seems to relax. “That’s good. He could use more friends.”

“Who couldn’t?” Steve asks.

Tony isn’t talkative at first. But when Steve asks him about the new strap for his shield, it’s the distraction they need. Tony talks for almost 45 minutes straight about what he’s done to fix the strap, all the ways the new strap is superior to the old one, and the advances he’s made in material science over the course of half a week that might jump the entire industry ten years forward. Tony's engaged and excited. It’s fascinating.

There are times when Tony talks to Bruce in the field where every other word flies right over Steve’s head. But when Tony’s actually taking his time and explaining something meant only for Steve, it’s crystal clear. Tony’s a natural teacher. And maybe more surprising, a born encourager. He validates Steve’s questions with nods and verbal affirmations and launches into new answers, tying in everything from military history to Greek mythology to the moon landing.

If Steve could have stopped time and bottled that moment he would have. Eventually Jarvis interrupts to remind Tony that Pepper is expecting him upstairs.

“Duty calls,” Tony says. He looks a little dazed. Like he’d lost himself entirely in the lesson and only now realizes how long Steve had let it go on.

"You'd better not keep her waiting," Steve agrees.

“I like maple syrup for dipping,” Tony says. "If you bring me breakfast again."

“Maple syrup. Got it,” Steve confirms. “Thank you for the science lesson. That was great.”

Tony looks surprised by the thanks. Like he’d been expecting Steve to be a little less grateful and a little more annoyed. It makes Steve want to track down every single person who has ever stomped these science outbursts out of Tony’s spirit and teach them a lesson in kindness. With his fist.



2015 C

Steve doesn’t find the 20 dollar bill Tony somehow tucked into the pocket of Steve’s hoodie until he’s on his way home.



2015 D

Steve actively tries not to use his superior hearing to gain personal information on his team when they don’t know he might be listening. It’s pure coincidence that he's headed for the bathroom when he picks up Tony’s voice coming from a side office. Tony sounds stressed.

Steve takes a few steps toward the door then pulls out his phone, so he’ll look like he’s texting. That’s the great thing about phones. No more hiding behind bushes when you want to look inconspicuous.

“If you’d stop being so needy, I wouldn’t need so many nights out,” a man argues.

It’s Tony’s boyfriend. Jonathan’s been charming all night with the team. He doesn’t sound charming now.

“I’m not asking you not to go,” Tony says. “I’m just asking if you’ll be back here sometime tonight or if we’re going to meet back at the tower.”

“I don’t know,” Jonathan says irritably. “I don’t have set plans.”

“I thought being here tonight was the plan,” Tony objects. “I’m just trying to figure out if I need a ride home. I’m not going to beg you to stay. I already said you could take the car.”

“You own a jet,” Jonathan snaps. “I’m sure you can get yourself home.”

“I also own a car. A car I drove to get here.”

“Which you said I could take,” Jonathan says.

“I don’t have to give you the keys,” Tony points out. “I’m trying to talk about this like an adult.”

“You’re trying to control me and I don’t have time for yet another pointless conversation with an overdramatic asshole,” Jonathan says. “I’m sick of you turning every date into an argument. Give me the keys.”

“No,” Tony insists. “Can we just talk first. Please?”

“This is why no one sticks around for you, you know that, right?” Jonathan taunts. “You’re pathetic--”

“Because I want to know where my boyfriend is going with my car?” Tony asks.

“Because you’re so fucking insecure you make me crazy.”

Steve hears a scuffle, like someone’s being pushed, and the sound of car keys, and then a thud, like a punch. Steve tries the door. It’s locked. He shoves his shoulder into the wood and it opens into the room with a sharp crack.

Tony’s bleeding from a small cut on his cheek and he’s rubbing his jaw like he’s been hit. He’s staring at Jonathan with wide eyes, full of betrayal. Jonathan’s holding the car keys in his fist and he’s got his arm pulled back like he’s going to punch Tony again.

“The door is closed for a reas--” Jonathan starts then stops abruptly.

Steve’s stormy expression is more than enough to shut him up.

“Son,” Steve says, in a voice barely more than a growl. “You’re about three seconds from the ass-kicking of a lifetime. Drop the keys and go.”

The only thing keeping Steve from punching this guy is the knowledge that he’s too angry to do it without killing him.

Jonathan doesn’t need to be told twice. He drops the keys and dodges around Steve, running from the room like Steve might change his mind.

Tony eyes him wearily. “I don’t need your help.”

Steve isn’t sure what to say. Of course Tony doesn’t need his help. Even without the suit, Tony’s got a ton of self-defense training. He could have taken Jonathan easily. Yet he stood there and took the hit. Was ready to take another hit. Has taken too many hits.

“I hate everyone you date,” Steve says finally. It’s all he’s got. His only defense for why he’d interfered.

Tony looks like he’s going to say something biting, then leans back hard against the wall and covers his face with his hands. “So do I.”

Tony’s shoulders tremble. He’s crying. Steve tugs the door shut behind him to protect Tony’s privacy. There’s a crowd gathering.

“You deserve better,” Steve says.

He steps over to Tony and wraps both arms around him in a hug. There’s nothing romantic about it. There’s a time and a place for Steve’s unrequited feelings and this is not that time or place. Tony leans in against him and Steve holds him a little more tightly. They stay like that for almost a full minute as Tony pulls himself together. The shaky sobs turn to sniffles and then they quiet all together. Tony tugs away.

“I got blood on your suit,” Tony says. “And snot.”

“I’ve had worse,” Steve says. When he glances down he can see red stains on his white button up and dark blots along the black jacket. He doesn't care in the slightest. “Are you okay?”

Tony won’t meet his eyes. “What you saw... It wasn’t Jonathan’s fault. I’d been pushing his buttons all night. I do that. It’s all me.”

“No,” Steve insists. “It’s him. And if you stay with him and he hits you again I’m going to rip off his arm and beat him with it. I mean it. It’ll give a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘stop hitting yourself’.”

Tony somehow manages to laugh and cry a little more at the same time.

“Do you want to have to hold all our Avenger team meetings in a jail cell?” Steve asks. “Because that’s where this is going to land me.”

Tony shakes his head as he sniffs. “M’not worth it.”

“I think you are,” Steve says.

“I do this every time. I take good people and I break them. I make them snap. It’s always the same.”

“If they mistreat you they weren’t good people in the first place.”

“The evidence is all to the contrary,” Tony says.

“Correlation doesn’t imply causation,” Steve quotes. He’s heard Bruce say it enough times to know it can win a lot of arguments with Tony.

Tony sniffs a few more times then reaches up to dry his eyes with the cuff of his sleeves. He grimaces at the blood that wipes away along with the tears. “Science is my thing. You can’t steal my thing and then use it against me. That’s un-American.”

“I’m pretty sure that’s the most American thing I’ve done all night,” Steve points out. “Except maybe breaking down the door and threatening to kick someone’s ass. Come on. You can cover up with my suit jacket so the press doesn’t get a picture worth printing. I can patch up your cheek with what we’ve got in the tower if you trust my medical skills.”

Tony eyes him skeptically. “Okay. Yeah. Whatever. Show me your wartime medic skills. They did have penicillin back then, right?”

Steve shrugs playfully. “I’d heard of it.”

“Very reassuring,” Tony huffs as Steve hands over his jacket.

Steve picks up Tony’s keys from the floor. “Mind if I drive?”

“It’s not like tonight could get any worse,” Tony says.

Steve laughs, and after a moment, Tony does, too.

“For what it’s worth, I’m sorry Jonathan’s a jackass,” Steve says as he reaches for the door.

“I’m sorry for everything you’re going to read about yourself in the paper tomorrow,” Tony says. He sounds nervous. “Maybe I should go out there alone. Lead them away.”

“I’m not worried about it,” Steve says.

“They’re going to print lies about you,” Tony warns. “They always do. They’re going to say you’re gay. That we’re together. Probably that I was blowing you in here.”

“It’s fine,” Steve insists.

“I’m serious, Steve,” Tony says. “So far the press has been good to you. You don't want them to turn.”

Tony sounds insistent. Steve’s mostly stuck on the part where this might be the first time he’s ever heard Tony use his given name.

“It’s going to be in every paper,” Tony insists. He’s agitated. Maybe on Steve’s behalf? His anger is confusing. “Captain America’s a homo. You really want to read that?”

“Captain America isn’t real,” Steve says. “If they want to say Steve Rogers is gay then they can go right ahead and say it. I don’t advertise, but I’m not ashamed.”

For a few seconds Tony stares at Steve like he’s grown a second head. “Wait. What?”

“Bisexual,” Steve offers. “But yes. It’s a thing. A true thing. And if they want to make up some story about what the two of us were doing in here, that’s on them.”

Steve’s never seen Tony so flustered. So gobsmacked. So... eerily quiet.

“Is that a problem?” Steve asks Tony.

Tony’s laugh is off pitch and angry. “Ummm. No? No, not a problem, just wondering why the fuck you never told me,” he says. “I thought... I thought you disapproved. All this time. Thought you... you hated me for it. Howard’s son. Gay. A disgrace to his memory. You were one more person for me to disappoint.”

“I never... I never knew you thought that,” Steve says helplessly. He tries to replay a hundred different moments in his head at once. A hundred different confrontations and conversations and sideways glances. “I’m sorry. Shit, I’m sorry. That was never my intention. I thought you knew. Everyone else on the team knows.”

That does not help Steve’s cause. Tony glares at Steve with a sort of fury that leaves no room for apology. Not now. Maybe not ever. He drops Steve’s coat to the ground like it burns him. “I want my keys.”

“I can still drive you,” Steve pleads.

Tony snatches the keys out of Steve’s hand and throws open the door.

“No. You can’t. Stay away from me. Stay out of this. Stay the fuck out of my life!”

Tony’s face is bloody, his shirt is bloody, and Tony barrels through the crowd of gathered photographers not giving one single fuck who he bumps or shoves out of the way. It all happens so fast that they miss getting a clear shot of Tony. When the flashes go off, their focus is on Steve. Steve who’s standing in the door, with Tony’s blood on his shirt, watching him go with a stricken look on his face.

The newspapers the next morning are not kind.

Steve's not even mad. He deserves it.

Chapter Text

2015 D

Tony flies his Iron Man suit to Malibu the next day. He doesn’t own a house there anymore so he rents a big, fancy one right on the beach. Steve learns this from a SHIELD report. A week later Tony throws a wild enough party to get kicked out of that house and he rents another one, this time up on the same hill where he’d once lived. Steve learns this from Pepper. A few days later there’s a house fire during yet another party so Tony buys himself a new place outright. Like he plans to stay in California permanently. Steve learns this because it is plastered across the front of The Daily Bugle.

He’s not hearing any of it from Tony because Tony won’t return his calls.

Every day the internet explodes with pictures of the new man or woman (or both) on Tony’s arm. Every day there are photos of parties and kegs and vodka fountains. And like clockwork, every day for the first two weeks there are texts from Pepper and Rhodey asking Steve for help. Asking him to intervene. Then abruptly, without explanation, these texts stop.

Tony starts doing interviews with anyone who will have him on their show or put them on the front page of their newspaper. He reveals things he ought to keep quiet. About all of them. No one, not even Bruce, is spared. Tony’s words are brutal. He’s got a knack for knowing exactly what to say that will cause the maximum amount of emotional damage while skirting the edge of anything classified.

He’s not so careful in his private correspondence. Tony sends Nick Fury a resignation letter so full of SHIELD secrets (and expletives) by the time it gets handed to Steve, it’s mostly one long, black, redaction bar.

Steve can’t mention Tony’s name without Bruce’s eyes going hazel or Clint disappearing off to the range for hours at a time. Natasha flies to South America and only promises she’ll check in once a week. Pepper says she needs to focus on keeping SI afloat despite Tony’s best efforts to sink the company, and Rhodey buries himself in his military work.

Tony hasn’t just burned his bridges. He’s taken Jericho Missiles to them.



2015 E

Pepper’s text comes in at 3 AM, on the six week mark of Tony’s departure from New York.

Pepper Potts: Tony’s in jail. I can’t

That’s it. That’s all she says.

Steve hops on the next SHIELD jet west.



2015 F

It’s never going to cease to amaze Steve what dropping his own name can do. Bucky’d get a real kick out of it, for sure. It takes Steve less than an hour to get the right piece of paper in hand that will allow for Tony’s release. It helps that Tony’s only gotten himself locked up for public intoxication and not say... accidently blowing up the Golden Gate bridge. Which at this point seems equally likely.

Steve’s led back through a series of halls to a holding room separate from the rest.

“We didn’t want him getting hurt,” the officer explains. She’s the sort of efficient professional Steve appreciates and he smiles at her in thanks. “There’s a lot of prestige in prison, being the guy who punched Tony Stark, and he’s pretty out of it. I don’t think he could defend himself if he wanted to.”

There’s nothing new about that, Steve thinks grimly.

“Everything’s set so he can leave?” Steve asks.

The officer nods. “I’ve got to see him all the way to the door but after that, he’s all yours.”

Steve nods. “Thank you,” he says sincerely as the officer opens the door.

Tony’s curled up on the floor in a corner, a mess of vomit on the tile next to him. He’s sweaty, and grimy and he’s lost weight since Steve last saw him. There’s more than one fading bruise on his jaw and he has dark circles under his eyes, either more bruises or just the effect of drinking like a fish for six weeks straight. Despite the heat in sunny California, Tony’s wearing a long sleeved shirt. Steve’s mind helpfully fills in exactly what that means.

“Tony?” Steve asks quietly.

“Go away,” Tony mumbles.

“I can’t,” Steve sighs. “I need to get you out of here.”

“Fuck off.”

“Not a chance.”

Steve walks over and picks Tony up carefully. Tony goes limp against Steve’s chest and blinks his eyes open for a few seconds before closing them again resignedly.

“Is there a back door we can use?” Steve asks the policewoman. “I’m parked in the garage.”

“Follow me,” she says.

Steve appreciates that this woman doesn’t try to make conversation. Tony’s mumbling to himself, and he stinks like cheap liquor and puke, and Steve’s head aches with the effort of keeping his Captain America face on as they pass a janitor, and then a few guards. He gives them grateful nods, and small, apologetic smiles. He’s not sure why except the alternative is to frown at all of them deeply, and it isn’t their fault Tony’s in this mess.

They get to the rental car without incident. Steve rented one with dark windows, so no one can see in as he pulls out of the garage and down the street. The reporters are all out front anyway, waiting for the Tony Stark circus to begin anew. They ignore the plain green sedan that cruises by.

“Did SHIELD finally have enough?” Tony asks, once they’ve been driving for a few minutes. His head is resting against the window and his eyes are still shut tight. His words are slurred and sluggish. “You taking me to Fury’s top secret hidey hole so you can lock me up like the dark family secret?”

“No one’s locking you up,” Steve says quietly. “I’m here to take you home.”

Tony doesn’t reply. Steve checks to make sure Tony’s still breathing then drives on to a private airport. Pepper may be angry and frustrated, but she’d still helped arrange a StarkJet to get them back to New York. Steve had tried to contact Jarvis for help first, but he’d gotten no reply.

Once they’re on board the plane, Steve lays Tony on the cushy cabin sofa and tucks a blanket around him. He finds a trash can and places it on the floor in front of Tony in case he wakes up and gets sick, and then Steve just ends up sitting down next to it on the carpet, because he’s not sure what else to do with himself.

They’re somewhere over Ohio when Tony starts to stir. He’s not exactly awake as he struggles against the covers.

“We’ll land soon,” Steve soothes. “You’re safe. I’m here.”

Steve turns and pulls the blanket up over Tony again to help him feel more secure. He rubs his arm soothingly and Tony goes quiet again. Steve checks the clock. There’s no point in trying to nap so he decides to allow himself to dwell on thoughts he’s spent the last 15+ hours shoving out of his mind.

He knows he ought to be as pissed at Tony as everyone else is. Steve certainly hadn’t come out smelling of roses in Tony’s interviews. They’d been scathing. At times downright vicious. Tony had laid bare almost as many of Steve’s secrets as he’d known. He’d mocked Steve’s insecurities and inadequacies, his home-sickness for the past, his occasional difficulties with tech. He’d given out Steve’s personal cell phone number on national television. The one thing Tony hadn’t done was out him; he’d kept Steve’s sexuality to himself. It made no sense.

Steve has had weeks now to sort this out. To make sure he isn’t putting himself in a position of accepting the exact sort of abuse from Tony that Steve has watched Tony suffer through himself. It doesn’t feel like that.

Maybe it’s because Steve’s old. Maybe it’s because he lived through a war and he’s lost so much. Or maybe it’s because he’s stupid and in love. Whatever the reason, Steve’s not angry with Tony. He’s frustrated; not angry.

And when he looks at Tony he doesn’t see an abusive billionaire hellbent on destroying his friends. He sees the man Pepper described. Someone who doesn’t know how to handle being loved. Someone who doesn’t feel they deserve the care and consideration of others. And someone with enough influence and power to push people away on a grand scale.

It’s not a good situation but Steve’s willing to try and work through it. When he pictures Tony at the Children’s Hospital, or ushering nervous interns through a crowded lobby, or explaining science in a way that lights up his whole face, Steve knows that Tony is worth the effort.

They finally land and Happy’s there to meet him. He’s clearly not happy to see his boss, but he’s willing to help Steve get Tony in a town car and then to drive them to the tower loading dock so no one will realize Tony’s back in town just yet. Then it’s up to Steve to carry Tony into a service elevator and get him up to the penthouse.

Jarvis is silent. Steve hopes it’s not permanent. That whatever Tony did that made Jarvis leave can be undone and Javis can come back and breathe life into the tower again. Steve misses his steadying presence.

When they arrive at the penthouse, it’s spotlessly clean and the air is lemony stale. The whole place smells like citrus cleaner and closed windows. Steve wanders around, carrying Tony, until he finds the master bedroom, walks through it to master bathroom and then places Tony carefully in the bathtub, fully clothed.

“I’ll be right back,” Steve assures him unnecessarily, since Tony seems to still be asleep.

Steve leaves to go fetch a glass of water from the kitchen. When he returns, Tony’s awake. He hasn’t moved and he’s taking in the room looking confused, moving his head as little as possible.

“M’in New York,” Tony says. His voice is rough, either from shouting or vomiting or disuse. It’s impossible to tell.

“I went to California and brought you back,” Steve says.

“Why am I in the bathtub?”

It was a fair question.

“I didn’t know where else to put you. You’re gross.”

Tony lowers his chin, sniffs, and then makes a face. “Ugh, I am. I’m really gross.”

“Drink this and then maybe you can undress yourself. Take a bath?” Steve suggests.

“Uh... yeah. I can... I can do that,” Tony says. He sounds unsure.

Steve holds the glass of water to Tony’s mouth and waits for him to take a sip.

“After you get cleaned up, maybe we should get a doctor to look at you,” Steve says.

“I don’t want to deal with doctors,” he says. “Unless Bruce is around?”

Steve shakes his head. “He moved out of the tower. He’s staying with Clint over in Bed-Stuy. I don’t think he’s up for a visit just yet.”

Steve can see the slow, dawning misery on Tony’s face. Like everything he’s done for the last six weeks is slotting into place in his memories. Like the full weight of what he’s done is settling on him.

“Oh,” Tony says, sounding miserably sad. “Right. That makes sense. He hates me... that’s good. Can you leave now?”

“I’ll give you your privacy,” Steve says, standing up. He’s not leaving the tower. He’s not leaving the vicinity of the door. “I’ll be right outside if you need anything.”

There are clean towels stacked on a shelf and he grabs one to place down next to the tub so it will be easy for Tony to reach. Steve spots a razor and pockets it. It doesn’t seem like a good idea to leave Tony alone with one just yet.

Steve leaves the door cracked and listens as Tony rustles and thumps around (undressing, Steve assumes) and then the water starts. It’s the shower, not the low tap, so at least Steve doesn’t have to worry Tony’s going to drown.

A few minutes later the water shuts off. There’s more rustling and some muted thumps. Eventually the door opens, and Tony’s leaning against the doorframe for support, with the towel wrapped around his waist. He’s angled himself deliberately so his chest is turned away from Steve.

He’s covered in bruises.

“Tony,” Steve breathes out.

“Don’t,” Tony warns.

He turns away entirely, but that only manages to reveal his back, which is worse than what Steve had already seen. The bruises are darker there, and there are more of them. Other injuries, too. Belt marks. Cigarette burns. What the actual fuck?

“You need to see a doctor,” Steve insists.

Steve can’t even begin to figure out how all these bruises could relate to sex. It looks more like Tony volunteered to be the punching bag in a gym somewhere. Or joined a Fight Club.

Steve stands.

Don’t,” Tony snaps, taking several steps away from him, further into the bathroom.

“You’re hurt,” Steve says. “Who did this?”

“I stopped asking their names. It didn’t matter. And I’m not seeing a doctor. Just go. Leave me alone,” Tony pleads.

Steve doesn’t want to fight and by now he knows that if he pushes, Tony can push back harder. So he decides to just ignore the request. To focus on moving forward. “Do you still have clothes here?”

“Should have,” Tony says quietly. “Unless Pepper threw them out.”

Steve turns away and walks to the closet. “She wouldn’t do that. She’s upset, but I don’t think she’s vindictive.”

“I leaked the security footage of her singing Oops, I Did it Again at the office Christmas party,” Tony says. “To Entertainment Tonight.”

Steve’s hand stops before it reaches the closet door. “Well,” Steve says. “I’ve got clothes in my bag if yours are gone. We’ll find you something.”



2015 G

Rehab is Tony’s idea. He tells Steve that’s where he wants to go, once he emerges from his bedroom, dressed in a pair of dark blue pajama bottoms and a Stark Industries t shirt. Pepper hadn’t touched Tony’s clothes. Everything he owns is right where it belongs.

“I think that’s a good idea,” Steve affirms. “A really good idea.”

“Will you stay here tonight?” Tony asks. It’s strange to hear Tony so plaintive. “I don’t... I know i told you to leave but I’m not sure I’ll go if I don’t have someone...”

“I’ll stay,” Steve agrees.

Tony walks further into the living room and pulls out his phone. He taps on it a few times shakily and the lights brighten. Jarvis’s voice fills the apartment.

“Welcome back, Sir.”

“J-- I need you to find me a rehab. Somewhere I can start in the morning. Out of the city but still in New York.” Tony says it all in a rush, as if he thinks he’ll change his mind if he doesn’t get it all out at once.

There’s a few second delay and then Jarvis speaks again.

“I have found somewhere that meets your requirements. I’m sending you the information now,” Jarvis says.

Tony reads his phone for a few seconds and then lowers it.

“You know me best. If they’ll accept me, shoot it to my email.”

“Should I forward it to Captain Rogers, also?” Jarvis asks.

“Yeah. Might as well,” Tony says.

“It’s good to have you back, Sir.”

“Sap.”

They move to the sofa and Jarvis orders them dinner from SoupSoupSoup. They watch a game show while they wait. A security guard brings up their food to the penthouse and looks surprised when Steve’s the one standing there waiting at the elevator. The man gives him a courteous nod and hands over the large, brown, paper bag. Steve thanks him before the lift doors slide closed.

The confirmation for Tony’s spot in the rehab facility comes while they eat their dinner. Tony passes out against the couch cushions after only half a bowl. Steve finishes his own soup and breadsticks and then carefully picks Tony up and carries him to his bed. Tony doesn’t stir. Steve tucks him in securely then pads out. He leaves the door open a crack.

“Jarvis, can you let me know if Tony wakes up or if he needs anything?”

“Of course, Captain Rogers.”

“If I want to get rid of all the alcohol that’s in the apartment, can you point me to anything I miss?”

“I will do my best, sir.”

“You don’t really have to call me sir,” Steve says conversationally. “Or Captain.” He walks behind the bar since that’s where he assumes the bulk of the liquor sits. “I'm pretty sure we moved to a first name basis when we started breaking into corporate servers together.”

“Is crime often associated with human friendship?” Jarvis asks.

“Probably more often than it should be,” Steve admits.

“May I make another inquiry then? Since we are friends.”

“Sure,” Steve says. Jarvis is a pleasant distraction. “Ask away.”

“The last time Sir displayed similar behaviors, his expected death was imminent. Is he dying again?”

The question is like a punch to the gut. The night Steve and Jarvis had bonded over destroying the sex tape had given Steve a glimpse of how much Jarvis cares about Tony. But in this moment, he has no doubt that Jarvis is capable of more care than Steve thought possible from a machine. What he’s hearing sounds like love. Because what is love if it isn’t an overriding (sometimes idiotic) concern for the wellbeing of someone other than yourself?

Steve stops what he’s doing to look up at the ceiling. He wants Jarvis to know he has his full attention.

“I’m going to do everything I can to make sure he’s safe and healthy,” Steve says. “I promise, I’ll take the best care of him I can.”

“That is very reassuring,” Jarvis says. “Thank you.”

With that settled, they talk about other, more cheerful, things. Artificial Intelligence mostly, since Steve has a lot of questions.

When he finishes at the bar (he doesn’t even want to think about how much of Tony’s money he’s poured down the drain) Jarvis directs him to the kitchen, then to Tony’s workshop, and then to his office. The alcohol is never very hidden because Tony’s never had a reason to hide it. None of his recent boyfriends or girlfriends showed concern about the amount that he drank.

He’s only fun when he’s drunk. That’s what Shayla had said.

When Steve and Jarvis are satisfied all the alcohol is out of the house, Steve lays down on the couch. He sleeps all the way through to the next morning.



2015 H

Steve and Tony have smoothies for breakfast. They don’t speak more than a few words to each other as Tony packs. When it’s time to go, they take a hidden elevator down to Tony’s private garage. There are two dozen gorgeous cars waiting, in every color of the rainbow.

Steve can’t hold in a low hum of appreciation.

“This one,” Tony says, choosing a red one that Steve thinks is Italian and expensive and fast. “The keys are already in the ignition. It’s yours to keep.”

Steve shakes his head. “I can’t accept this.”

“I owe you,” Tony says.

“No. You really don’t,” Steve insists. “We can take this car out for the day but I’m bringing it right back. It’s yours.”

Miraculously, Tony doesn’t argue. He climbs into the passenger seat and buckles himself in. He’s still weak, and he’s definitely got the shakes. Steve knows this can’t be easy. That Tony must be absolutely miserable.

“I’m proud of you,” Steve says, as he climbs in.

Tony turns his face to stare out the window without saying a word.

Steve starts the car, turns on the radio to a classical music station, because those are the only stations that don’t ever seem to cut in with gossip, and they’re on their way.

A minute into the drive, Tony reaches over and changes the music. It’s no longer the radio but it’s nothing obnoxious. Jarvis, maybe, choosing songs he thinks they can both tolerate. Tony’s quiet for nearly an hour.

“Do you know what I said about you?” he asks. “Have you seen the interviews, I mean?”

“Yeah. I watched them,” Steve confirms. “They were on the news channels for days. And in the papers. You were on the radio, too. And the internet. It was hard to miss. You were very thorough.”

Steve’s tone is light. Tony’s expression is not.

“Then why did you come to California?” Tony asks.

There’s no easy answer to that. “It’s complicated.”

“I’m a genius. Try me,” Tony says.

Steve considers his response. “No man left behind?”

It’s not a lie. He would never leave a teammate behind bars to fend for themselves. It’s just not the full extent of the truth, and everything in his mannerisms gives that away.

“That’s stupid,” Tony says.

“Fine. Patriotism?” Steve ventures. “That sounds like me.”

“That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard and I’ve sat through multiple congressional hearings. Why really?”

“Pepper texted me that you were in jail,” Steve says. “It never occurred to me not to go.”

“Huh,” Tony says. It’s more of an audible huff than commentary on Steve’s answer.

Tony goes quiet again. Steve glances over occasionally and he can see Tony thinking. Puzzling something out. Tony’s finger moves erratically like he’s writing on an invisible StarkPad and he has that ‘I’m sciencing’ look on his face.

“Is this about Howard?” Tony asks, half an hour later. “You think you owe him? Want to fix his mistakes?”

“Is it really so hard to believe I care?” Steve asks.

“Yes,” Tony says immediately. “Am I right? Howard?”

“It’s not about your father,” Steve says.

“But you liked him?” Tony asks.

Steve realizes maybe this is a conversation they should have had a few years ago.

“I did,” Steve agrees. “I don’t know how he was later in life, but when I knew him he was loyal, brave, a total smart ass, and he never treated me like some kind of national treasure. Exactly the kind of person I wanted to be around.

Tony considers it. “He wasn’t like that after you were gone. He was cold. Calculating. Were you two together?”

“Together?” Steve asks.

“Making whoopie? Knocking boots? How am I supposed to know what you geriatrics called it back in the day? He was obsessed with finding you for the rest of his life. If you were playing hide the pickle that would make sense.”

“We called it fucking,” Steve says. “And by the time your dad and I were friends I was already interested in someone else. Howard knew my preferences and he helped me sneak around but that was the extent of it. He never told you about any of this?”

“We didn’t talk,” Tony shrugs.

“That’s a shame,” Steve says. “When I knew him, he’d have thought you were great.”

Tony looks doubtful.

“I mean it. Listening to you talk about the things you’re passionate about? I feel like you could have kept all of us mesmerized for hours. Science talk was all the rage back then. Or we were giant nerds. Could have been that, too. Probably a mix of both.”

Tony doesn’t reply. He’s already lost in his thoughts again. Less time passes this time before he makes his next guess about Steve’s intentions.

“Is it Pep?” Tony asks. “If you want in her skirt I wouldn’t blame you, but you should know I don’t think you have the kind of money it takes to keep her in the manner she’s accustomed.”

Steve smiles. “Pepper is very nice. I didn’t fly to California for her.”

“You’re not even mad at me,” Tony says incredulously. His body is practically vibrating with frustration. “Why are you being so decent about this? And I swear to God if you tell me you’re doing it for America I’m jumping out of this car.”

“I’ve forgiven you,” Steve says.

“I haven’t apologized.”

“You’ve pissed off enough people that consequences are a given,” Steve says. He thinks of the close friendship Bruce and Tony had enjoyed before all this, and how hard that’s going to be to earn back. “I don’t see why I should add to your misery.”

Tony narrows his eyes at him. “I just want to know why you’re doing this so I can stop thinking about it, okay? I don’t like not knowing things.”

At least he’s being honest. Steve knows he should do the same. Stop being such chicken shit. Own his feelings.

“I have a crush on you,” Steve says. “I have for a while now.”

This is not a romantic admission. It feels more like something Steve would say in a confessional booth before mass.

“Well that’s fucked up,” Tony says. “SHIELD needs to find you a therapist. Tell them I’ll pay.”

Steve’s never pictured this conversation going particularly well so he’s unfazed by Tony’s less than enthusiastic reception.

“That won’t change how I feel,” Steve says.

“I’ll have Jarvis send you a compilation video of all the shitty things I’ve said about you in the last six weeks. You should play it a couple of times a night. You’ll get over me, just fine.”

This doesn't feel like rejection, more like disbelief. Steve pulls over to the side of the road and puts the car in park. He wants to have this conversation without distraction.

“You’re going to make me walk to rehab because I’m not impressed by your naive little crush?” Tony snaps.

“There’s nothing naive about the way I feel about you. I’ve been watching you use relationships to self-destruct for years now and I know how things ended between you and Pepper. I’m still here. I’m still willing to try.”

Tony opens the car door. “You’re out of your goddamned mind.”

Tony fumbles with the buckle to get himself free. When it clicks open, he climbs out. Steve checks to make sure there aren’t any cars coming then exits after him, because he’s not going to continue this conversation by shouting out the door. As soon as Steve takes a step in his direction, Tony takes several steps back toward the car to keep it between them.

It makes Steve’s stomach churn to see Tony look at him the way he is looking at him now. The same way he’d looked at Jonathan after he’d been hit. He’s waiting for a punch. Steve wishes they had Tony’s Iron Man suit with them just to give Tony somewhere to hide. Some way to feel protected.

“I would never hurt you,” Steve says. He stands absolutely still, so Tony doesn’t interpret any movement as threatening. “If you’re not interested in me, that’s fine. We can be friends. Team mates. Polite strangers. It’s your call.”

Tony leans against the car and let’s his forehead drop so his face is hidden.

“I would ruin you,” Tony says. He sounds terribly sad and entirely sure. “I take good people, and I break them, remember?”

“You won’t break me,” Steve says. “You didn’t break Pepper.”

“You’re right,” Tony says. “Because she was too good for me from the start. And when she couldn’t figure that out on her own, I did the one thing I knew would hurt her badly enough that she’d get a clue. I’m fucked up. I don’t work right.”

“People make mistakes. In your case, you’ve made some big ones. It doesn’t mean it always has to be that way.”

“I can’t do this,” Tony repeats.

“That’s fine,” Steve agrees. “I’m not going to push you into something you don’t want.”

“You don’t think I want you?”

“I don’t have a clue,” Steve admits.

“I’ve wanted you since that night you told Sean off for forcing the gag on me. There you were, Captain fucking America, back from the dead, and as good and righteous as every story I ever heard.” Tony sounds wrecked. Haunted. “You were the perfect person for me to want because you were never going to want me back. I could daydream about you and it was going to hurt indefinitely because you would never be interested and that’s what I deserve. And then you had to go and be bi. Which-- thanks for head’s up, by the way. It felt great finding that out three years after everyone else.”

“I thought they would tell you,” Steve says helplessly. “And I’m not... good at talking about this stuff. I don’t have much practice.”

“You thought the two tight-lip-super-spies and the man with the big, green secret were going to out you? Bad plan, Rogers.”

“Terrible plan,” Steve agrees. “I’m sorry.”

“Can you not apologize?” Tony asks. “I don’t deserve it. Not from you. Not from anyone.”

“I can think of lots of people who owe you apologies,” Steve disagrees.

“None of those people are you,” Tony says. “Anyway, this isn’t going to work. Even if it’s what we both want, I’m tainted. Used goods. There’s nothing left.”

“I don’t see you that way,” Steve says.

Tony stares at him for a few long seconds, like he’s looking for something specific. Whether or not he finds it there, Steve doesn’t know.

“I want to go,” Tony says. “Now.”

“Sure,” Steve agrees. He lets Tony get secure in the car before he joins him.

Steve knows there aren’t any magic words to fix this mess between them. Even if there were, Steve wouldn’t use them if it meant a shortcut around all the pain. Tony needs rehab. He needs time. He needs to heal.

The silence turns into something heavy and almost palpable as Steve drives Tony the rest of the way to his new temporary home. It’s been awhile since Steve has prayed. Old habits die hard apparently because he finds himself doing it without really meaning to.

Please let him be okay. Help him believe that he’s loved. Give him peace. Please let him be okay. Help him believe that he’s loved. Give him peace.

Steve prays the same words over and over, willing the universe to accept them. If there is a God, it shouldn’t be asking too much. Not after everything they’ve been through.

When they finally pull up to the rehab’s security gate, Steve’s prayer stops. He gives Tony’s name to the guard as well as his own. The man doesn’t bat an eye. They’re allowed through and Steve pulls ahead to a small gravel parking lot next to a large, elaborate mansion. It looks like something built in the gilded age, all nooks and angles and gables. There are porch swings, too, and a garden. If it were a bed and breakfast, it’d be somewhere Steve would like to stay for quite a while.

“I can walk you in,” Steve says, once the car is in park. “If you want.”

Tony nods. They both climb out and Steve pops open the trunk to retrieve Tony’s duffel bag, shouldering it easily. There’s a desk, with an older woman behind it. She has the eyes of someone who has seen it all and she smiles at them in greeting.

“You’ll need to say your goodbyes in the lobby,” she tells them gently.

Tony stops before getting to the desk and turns to Steve.

“I can take it from here,” Tony says, reaching out for his bag.

Now that they have an audience, Tony seems more confident. His public mask is back in place so he sounds like himself again. Steve knows he’s the one who looks sad. He’s not good at this like Tony is. His Captain America persona can shield him from a lot, but it can’t mask the pain of watching yet another friend head off into a battle where Steve can’t follow.

And Tony is a friend. No matter what’s happened, that isn’t going to change.

It surprises Steve when Tony drops the bag to the floor, closes the space between them and pulls Steve into a tight hug. Tony’s fingers wind into Steve’s shirt so they’re tucked together tightly. He rests his forehead against Steve’s shoulder, keeping his face hidden, and he stays there, holding on to Steve like he has no intention of letting him go. Steve hugs Tony in return. He buries his face in Tony’s hair and breathes him in. Tries to memorize the way he feels in his arms. It’s what he would have done with Bucky before they’d swung onto that train, if he’d known it was time to say goodbye.

Steve knows this isn’t like that. It’s not the same. This is absolutely a good thing. It still aches like a loss somehow, because feelings are hard and Steve’s don’t always work right. Tony isn’t the only one who’s broken.

“It will be a few weeks before they’ll let me have visitors,” Tony says quietly. His voice is muffled into Steve’s shoulder. “Jarvis will know the rules. If you still want to see me.”

Tony pulls back and Steve lets go. Tony’s warmth lingers on Steve’s hands and forearms. They meet eyes and Steve gives him a nod of promise.

“I’ll be here.”

Chapter Text

2015 I

The next two weeks are some of the longest of Steve’s life. He’s antsy all the time. He’s distracted in conversation, because his brain is far more interested in replaying that last hug with Tony than thinking about anything useful to SHIELD. This isn’t the first time Steve’s been stuck on someone like this. It was just as bad with Peggy. Boy, did he have it bad for her there in the beginning.

Only back then, Bucky was there to pour some water down his throat or to remind him he needed to eat dinner, and oh yeah-- duck punk, they’re shooting at you! That last line was usually delivered with a slap to the back of the head.

This time there’s Clint.

For the first week, they don’t talk about Tony. Clint just shows up at random times, with food or coffee and whatever else he thinks might cheer Steve up.

“Girly mags?” Steve asks in a whisper, shoving the magazines quickly back into the plastic bag Clint had handed him. They’re sitting in the middle of the SHIELD cafeteria where anyone can see.

“And boy mags,” Clint says cheerfully. “If you’d looked past the first one you’d see I am all about equal-opportunity porn.”

Steve wants to be annoyed but the laugh bursts out from him. “Thanks, I think?”

“You need to get out of your own head,” Clint says. “If you don’t want to do that with smutty smut we can go to the paintball range instead.”

“Why? Do you have some kind of paintball crossbow you’re trying to break in?” Steve asks.

Clint’s smile is non-committal. “You’ll have to come with me to find out.”

 

2015 J

Clint does own a paintball crossbow. Two in fact. And they’re awesome.

Steve’s having a good time for the first time since he left Tony upstate. Clint doesn’t take it easy on him, and Steve’s not a terrible shot. By the time they’re finished, they’re both out of breath.

“You look like a unicorn took a shit on you,” Clint says, with a grin.

“Where did you even buy rainbow glitter paintballs?” Steve asks.

“If I told you, I’d have to kill you,” Clint says.

“Well, you could try,” Steve smirks.

They’ve both still got paint in their hair when they collapse into the booth across from Bruce at their favorite diner.

“I thought the waitstaff was going to send out a search party,” Bruce says.

“Are we that late?” Clint asks.

Steve doesn’t miss how Clint kicks up his foot onto the booth across from them, so it rests against Bruce’s thigh. Huh.

“Only twenty minutes,” Bruce says. “It’s just that Steve’s never late, apparently.”

The hostess has spotted them and she waves at their favorite waitress, Mae, who carries over a tray full of food.

“I went ahead and ordered for us,” Bruce explains. “I figured no one would mind the usuals.”

“Genius,” Clint agrees, grabbing greedily for the plate passed his way.

Steve’s bacon-cheeseburger and fries are exactly what he wants. The large Iron Man milkshake makes him feel a little blue, though. Mae must notice because she gives it a nudge toward him.

“We renamed it after all those things Stark said about you boys,” Mae consoles. “It’s just a C3 for now. Coffee, Cookies and Cream. It can’t hurt you.”

Steve isn’t sure what to say. There’s definitely an awkward few seconds before Clint takes the lead.

“You’re the best,” he tells Mae. “Thanks for thinking of us.”

When Clint wants to turn on his mid-western charm, he can definitely make it work. His smile is so bright and sunny, Bruce laughs into his hand and coughs out the word “Suck up.”

Mae leaves with a smile on her face.

“So what’s the deal with you and Stark?” Clint demands, as soon as Mae is out of hearing distance. All his best charm used up apparently.

Steve can feel how guilty he must look as he shrugs.

“We aren’t going to be upset with you if you’re talking to him,” Clint insists.

“I’m not talking to him,” Steve says. That much he can say with certainty. “He’s not supposed to use the phone.”

Not that not having a phone would stop Tony if he really wanted to speak to Steve. He could probably make one out of an old shoe and some fishing wire. This is better though. The rules are in place for a reason.

“I don’t want you to think I don’t care that he hurt you,” Steve says. It’s important to him that they believe that. “I do. I care. He was wrong.”

“We know,” Bruce says. “We’re glad he’s getting the help he needs.”

Clint snags a fry off Steve’s plate, just to be a brat, and dips it in ketchup before shoving it in his mouth. “Just don’t expect the rest of us to be so forgiving.”

"I don't."

 

2015 K

It’s been one month since Steve dropped Tony off upstate. When he pulls into the parking lot of the rehab mansion, Pepper is walking down the steps. Steve parks next to Pepper’s town car wear Happy is waiting. Pepper smiles and waves when she spots Steve.

“I didn’t know you were coming,” Steve greets her. “We could have ridden together.”

“I have to hurry back for a meeting and you shouldn’t rush this,” Pepper says.

Steve nods. “How he’s doing?”

“Good,” Pepper says. “Better than I’ve seen him in a long time.”

“I’m glad to hear it,” Steve says.

“He talked about you a lot,” she says. “I know it’s not any of my business but I’m wondering.... hoping... is this more than friendship for you?”

“You don't mind?” Steve asks. “I was going to tell you. I just wanted to wait until I knew if Tony felt the same.”

Pepper’s smile reassures him he hasn’t done anything wrong. “Rhodey and I spent hours strategizing how to get you two together one afternoon. I couldn’t be happier for you.”

“Thank you, Pepper,” Steve says. “For everything.”

She leans in and kisses Steve on the cheek. “Ditto.”

 

2015 L

“You look good,” Steve tells Tony. “Really, I mean it. So good.”

“Oh my god, I am going to die from sugar overload if you keep looking at me like I’m made of cotton candy. Stop,” Tony complains.

Steve bites down on his bottom lip to hide his smile.

Tony ducks his head looking shy, and that’s new, Steve thinks. Or maybe Tony’s always been shy about open admiration but he’s never had anyone look at him the way Steve’s looking at him now.

They’re sitting on one of the porch swings in front of the giant rehab house (mostly) alone. The receptionist can see them from inside, and the guard can see them from the gate, but no one is listening. After Pepper left, Steve walked inside and the receptionist asked him to wait on the porch. When Tony had walked out a minute ago, looking unbruised and well-rested, Steve’s face had broken into a smile that he could not suppress. The huge, awful weight he’d been carrying around for the last month had lifted.

“I can’t help it,” Steve says. “I’ve missed you.”

“You’ve seen me exactly three times in the last three months. At the gala when I yelled at you. During the whole California mess when I yelled at you,” Tony says. “And today. Where there’s no guarantee I’m not going to yell at you. I’m a weird thing for you to miss.”

“Okay, so I don’t miss the yelling,” Steve agrees. “But the other parts. Seeing you around. Bringing you breakfast. Knowing you’ve got my six out in the field. I miss all of that.”

Tony tries again, patiently. “I feel like you should acknowledge that I haven’t been the most likable guy in the world lately. It would be good for you.”

“Fine,” Steve huffs. “Recently, you have not been the most easy to like guy in the world. Happy?”

“Marginally,” Tony says.

“Also, I’m proud of you. I don’t think I can say that enough times.”

Steve’s smiling again, and no doubt still looking at Tony like he’s made of something sweet. He can’t help it.

“Stooooop,” Tony groans, biting back a smile of his own. “You’re delusional. I created a new element, you know that right? I was in like every science journal ever. Twice. If you want to be proud of something be proud of that. All I’m doing now is not drinking. Any person with an ounce of self-control can do the same. It’s not impressive.”

“It is to me,” Steve says.

They’re quiet while Tony scrutinizes Steve’s expression.

“You really mean that,” Tony says.

“I do,” Steve says. “You could have taken the easy way out. Kept drinking. Kept pushing us away. None of us could have stopped you, and you were really on a roll there for awhile. But you chose, all on your own, to walk away from that. To try and fix things even though you had to know how much that was going to suck. How can I be anything but proud?”

“Fine. You can be proud of me. Just stop making that stupid face.”

Steve tries to school his features and fails epicly. Tony rolls his eyes but leans in against Steve, and stays there. It’s an awkward angle until Steve puts his arm around Tony, and then they fit together just right.

“I missed you, too,” Tony says. “I’ve thought a lot about you. About everything you said. And I want to do it. To try this. To date. I talked to someone about us. My main therapist. She said there isn’t any reason it can’t work but that it’s going to mean a lot of you and me talking. About things. First.”

Every single word Tony speaks seems to take an extraordinary amount of effort. Like he’s bracing himself for Steve to reject this. To decide even this tiny request is too much.

“We can talk as much as you want,” Steve assures him. “I mean, I’m sure it’d be good for me, too. It’s not something that comes naturally. So where do you want to start?”

Tony shrugs. “I don’t know. It’s not like there was a list of questions. She just said we should talk about... expectations. Needs. Wants. Feelings. It’s stupid.”

“I don’t think it’s stupid,” Steve says. “I think I’ll probably mangle it, and pick all the wrong words and it’s not going to be smooth but I’ll try. Whatever it takes.”

“I don’t deserve you,” Tony says helplessly.

“But you want me, right?” Steve asks.

“Selfishly.”

“I don’t think there’s anything selfish about all of this,” Steve says. “The reason you're worried is because you’re afraid you’re going to hurt me. That’s the opposite of selfish.”

“You’re giving me a lot of credit.”

“Am I wrong?” Steve asks.

Tony considers it. “No...”

It takes Steve a few seconds to turn feelings into vocabulary, and then to get his mouth around the words. “I want us to be honest with each other. I... um... I want to treat you the way I’ve always wanted to see you treated. I want to support you. I want to take you to bed and show you how beautiful I think every inch of you is. I want to spend whole days in your workshop, listening to you explain whatever it is you’re doing in there. I want to find a breakfast restaurant that we both like, and I want to never try another Egg McMuffin again. I’m sorry, those things are like rubber vomit, seriously. That was off track, I know. This is just... hard.”

Steve trails off. Tony’s got tears at the edges of his eyes and Steve’s not sure if they’re good tears or bad tears. If he got this wrong.

“Is all that okay?” he asks.

“I want that,” Tony says. “I want all of that.”

But he doesn’t think he can have it. Tony doesn’t need to say as much out loud for Steve to hear how it hangs in the air.

“You’ll have it,” Steve says. “Everything I just said is mine to give, and there’s no one else I want to give it to. Only you.”

“I’m going to hurt you,” Tony says desperately. Like Steve needs one last push.

“You’re going to get help here so that doesn’t happen,” Steve says. “I think maybe I should start seeing that therapist at SHIELD again, too. There are all kinds of reasons we could walk away from this, but please don’t let fear of hurting me be one of them. You’re worth the risk.”

Tony wipes at his eyes with his palm. “You’re not bad at this talking thing. I should have known you’d be some kind of therapy all-star.”

Steve laughs. “I think my previous therapist would disagree. I didn’t want to talk to her. I didn’t have anything to motivate me. Now I do.”

The topic changes after that. They both have more than enough to think about, and it’s easier to move on to less touchy subjects. Steve tells Tony about how he’s been going to the tower at least once a day to air things out, and talk to Jarvis, and visit Tony’s bots.

“They seemed lonely. I hope you don’t mind?”

“Just don’t drink anything they try to hand you in a cup, and you’ll be fine,” Tony says. He hesitates. “How’s everyone else doing?”

“They’re getting by,” Steve says. “It sounds like Nat’s coming home soon. Bruce has been in the tower lab a few times when I’ve dropped by. Clint’s been keeping me entertained. Oh, which reminds me... how much do you know about paintball production? I’ve got a whole list of ideas...”

Steve explains about Clint’s rainbow glitter paintballs, and pulls out his notebook to show Tony where he’s been plotting his revenge. Skunk scented paintballs. Paintballs that look like bird poop once they’ve hit you. Paintballs that cover you in foam. Paintballs that contain a mild itching powder. There are more. Steve had spent the better part of an evening writing out ideas, and sketching himself a special paintball shield for future use.

Tony laughs until he’s gasping for breath. “These are amazing,” he says. “I can do all of this and so much more.”

“There’s no rush,” Steve says. “While you’re in here, focus on being in here. When you’re ready to come home, Clint’s not going to know what hit him.”

The visit last another half hour beyond that. When the receptionist walks over to the window to signal that their time is up, Steve squeezes Tony’s knee before they stand. This time the hug is automatic. Steve’s not even sure which one of them initiated it.

What’s new is the way Tony tilts up his face and pushes forward the inch or two so that their lips meet.

It starts soft. Steve lets Tony lead and opens his mouth compliantly when Tony deepens the kiss. It never becomes rushed or urgent. Steve enjoys the warmth and absolute bliss of the intimate gesture, and then Tony pulls away.

“That,” Steve says. “I want a lot more of that.”



2015 M

Natasha comes back to New York a few days later. She and Clint meet Steve at their diner, and that’s where he tells them about an idea he had on the drive back from rehab.

“You want to come out publicly?” Clint asks dubiously. “On YouTube.”

“That’s the plan,” Steve says. “I won’t go on a talk show. I had Jarvis look. He couldn’t find a single one that didn’t badmouth at least one of us. So I’m doing this on my own terms.”

“Someone would probably pay you a lot of money for this interview, Steve,” Clint says seriously. “Like a million dollars. I’m not exaggerating. Back me up here, Tash.”

“We all know what you’d do for a million dollars,” Natasha says, nudging Clint. “We’re talking about Steve, and Steve doesn’t want the money.”

Clint looks torn and then sighs. “Fine. You’re coming out on YouTube. Do you need help setting up a channel? My friend Kate’s good at that kind of thing.”

“Jarvis is working on it,” Steve says. “I just didn’t want it to catch the two of you off guard.”

“Nothing catches me off guard,” Natasha smirks. “I think you’re thinking of Clint Slow Reflexes Barton.”

Clint flings a fry at her and she manages to catch it in her mouth and then she throws her hands up in the air victorious, like the giant nerd that she is.

“I’m glad your back,” Steve tells her.

Natasha smiles. “Couldn’t leave you losers alone for too long. There’s no telling what kind of trouble you could get into. And speaking of trouble, where’s Bruce?”

Her eyes go straight to Clint and she looks oh so innocent, so basically, if there’s something going on there, she is already in the know. And if there’s anything she doesn’t know, the way Clint’s face lights up tells her everything.

 

2015 N

Steve visits Tony every Sunday. As Tony’s time at the rehab center stretches on, they add phone calls to the mix, and they get more time together each weekend. This visit, Steve surprises Tony with a few sketches for his rehab bedroom walls.

Two are Steve’s work. The first is the view from the top of the tower since the previous week Tony had mentioned missing New York. The next was a drawing, done in pencil, of Tony’s workshop. Steve had drawn it one of the days he’d gone to visit the bots, and he liked how it turned out. Even without Tony there, his presence lingers. Steve had included details he hadn’t seen, like a mug of coffee, and papers scattered on the desk and the ground. Like Tony had just stepped out of the frame for a moment but he planned to be right back.

When Steve hands the third picture over, Tony looks confused. It’s several hearts drawn on one page. They differ in size and get more steady from left to right.

“I taught Dum E how to draw,” Steve says proudly. “This is his second try. There was an incident with the first. A spilled drink. Then fire.”

Tony stares at the paper and then back up at Steve. “Dum-E did this?”

“I held the paper, but I didn’t move it or anything. It’s all him.”

Tony’s fingers tremble slightly. “He did good.”

That day when it’s time for Steve to leave, Tony takes longer to let go of their hug.

“You promise you’ll be back?” Tony asks.

“Yeah, of course,” Steve says. “Always.”

 

2015 O

“I promised my therapist we’d talk about... sex,” Steve says.

It’s Sunday. Rhodey has just left, and they’re alone in Tony’s room eating gummy bears. A bit belatedly, Steve wishes they weren’t having this talk while sitting on Tony’s bed.

“So talk,” Tony says.

“I just... there are boundaries. I guess. We should discuss. She thinks it’s important.”

Steve is such a giant fail at this. It’s not even the talking about the sex part, because he can talk about sex fine in other circumstances. It’s the part where it’s his thoughts and feelings and they all seem one way in his head and then the minute he’s around Tony it all turns to mush.

“Steve. Talk,” Tony prods. “And then I’ll talk. We’ll talk. It will be fine.”

Steve nods. “I just don’t want to disappoint you. And I know you think I’m going to be boring in bed--”

“Whooooooa,” Tony says, raising a hand to shut Steve down. “Why would I think that?”

“You said as much in the conference room,” Steve says. “When you were dating what’s-her-name. The professor. We were talking about bondage. You said you knew I’d be boring in bed.”

“Oh. The day you said you would never want to see my naked,” Tony remembers. “That was a good talk.”

“Wait. What?” Steve asks. Because now it’s his turn to be confused. “I never said that.”

“I told you that you could look me up on the internet and you said you absolutely wouldn’t.”

Steve looks at Tony, completely dumbfounded. “That’s what you thought I meant?”

“What else would that mean?” Tony asks.

“That you had just told me there were pictures of you on the internet from when you were barely legal. I assumed they weren’t there with your permission. I didn’t-- It had nothing to do with you not wearing clothes. That is something I am absolutely looking forward to seeing,” Steve says emphatically. “I didn’t want to see photos of you in a position where you’d been hurt or taken advantage of. I’d end up breaking into the Pentagon and shutting off the world internet or something, to protect you.”

Tony snickers. “Please tell me you don’t think that’s where the Internet is located. I’m dying over here.”

“I know that now,” Steve says. “At the time, I was maybe a little less sure. The IT department at SHIELD liked to prank me by seeing how many lies I’d believe before I caught on. But you’re missing the point. I didn’t want to look at those specific pictures. If you ever feel like getting creative with your phone and you’re sending them just to me...”
Steve trails off and bites his bottom lip. Tony’s face lights up like a kid in a candy store.

“Captain America wants to sext with me. Today is awesome. And for the record. I don’t think you’re going to be boring in the sack. I said it because I’m a dick. I have no doubts we’ll be just fine there.”

Steve gives a slight tilt of his head.

“Maybe,” Steve says. “I just-- I think there are some things you might be into that are absolute nos for me. Like... I’m not going to hurt you. I’m never going to leave bruises on you. I’m never going to put you in danger. You are precious to me. I won't treat you like you're anything less.”

“I was never really into that stuff. It just took my mind off things I didn’t want to think about. Made me numb. Gave me an outlet for the punishment I thought I deserved. I’m not even sure if I’m any good at... I mean, Shayla said--”

“Fuck Shayla,” Steve growls. “She wanted her 15 minutes of fame and she got it. I never believed one word of her bullshit.”

“Has anyone ever told you how hot it is when you get indignant?” Tony asks. "Because I kind of want to jump you right now."

“Surprisingly, yes,” Steve admits. “But I like hearing it from you best.”

Steve leans in and kisses Tony several times lightly on the forehead, and then down his cheek, and along his neck, to his shoulder.

“We can take our time,” Steve says. “Find the things we like and get extremely good at them. I am all for practicing over and over and over again, until I get it right.“

Tony freezes for a moment, then bursts out laughing.

“What?” Steve asks, pulling back a little so he can see Tony’s face.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” Tony gasps between laughs. “It’s just... you’re totally aiming to be the Hawkeye of sex.”

“Ugh, nooooo,” Steve complains, though now he’s laughing too. “I’m never going to get that out of my head. I need brain bleach. Or a time machine.”

“How about one really mind-blowing kiss?” Tony asks.

Steve pretends to consider it. “I guess that could work.”

 

2015 P

Apart from his Sunday afternoons spent upstate, Steve’s life is mostly back to normal. The Avengers train together during their days and hang out most evenings. Occasionally they fight some bad guys and everything turns out okay.

It’s a Saturday morning, two days after one of these fights, when Bruce texts Steve to ask if they can get lunch. They meet at the diner and chat about the usual things until their food arrives. Steve only learns why Bruce has asked him to meet when Bruce pulls out a crumpled envelope and taps it on the table.
Steve can see from the handwritten BRUCE on the front, that it’s from Tony. It looks like it was opened without care.

“Tony sent this a couple of weeks back,” Bruce says. “Did you know?”

“No,” Steve says. “He didn’t tell me.”

“I didn’t open it at first, because I didn’t want to know how little he thinks of me. What he was going to offer me to buy back my friendship,” Bruce says. “He’s smart. He’s got to know a few million aimed at a medical clinic somewhere poor would do the trick. I’d resent him, sure, but I’d fake a few smiles if it really helped people, right? It’s not like I’ve got enough friends to turn him down, and he’s got you and Pepper and Rhodey so I only half need to matter.”

Bruce sounds bitterly sad about all this. Like he’s repeating things he’s heard other people say, or maybe his own deepest doubts about his likability or worth.
Steve knows that’s not how Tony sees Bruce.

“You thought he’d say all that, but you still opened the letter,” Steve says gently.

“Yesterday,” Bruce nods. “Curiosity got the better of me.”

“What did he offer?” Steve asks.

He’s already pretty sure he knows the answer. Knows that Tony wouldn’t resort to bribery. That he’s changing. Getting better. Risking more.

“Nothing,” Bruce says. “I was wrong.”

“Tony--” Steve starts.

“Loves me,” Bruce interrupts. He runs his thumb over the envelope absently. “You don’t have to say it for him because he says it in here. That he loves me, and he’s sorry and that I deserved better from him.”

Steve nods. He’s not surprised. He’s known for years that the bond Tony and Bruce share is special. Not romantic love, but just as real and every bit as important.

“He got it exactly right,” Bruce says quietly. “I wouldn’t have forgiven him for less.”

"It's big of you to try," Steve says.

“I want to go with you tomorrow, if that’s okay?” Bruce asks. “I don’t want to take up your time with him or anything though, so if you’d rather I not--”

“I’d like the company,” Steve says, saving Bruce from his doubt. “I know how much he misses you. Thank you for being willing to forgive him. I don’t think he thought you would.”

Bruce thinks about that for a second. “Neither did I.”

 

2015 Q

It’s like a party at rehab the next day.

Tony’s so happy and surprised to see Bruce that he can’t stop staring at him and smiling. Like he can’t quite believe Bruce is there.

Pepper, Rhodey and Steve excuse themselves to the garden, and leave Tony to give Bruce the grand tour alone. They’ve all seen the whole place by now. The receptionist brings them chilled apple cider, and they drink it in the garden, where the leafy bushes have all gone red and orange. The air is still warm and the sun is bright in the sky. The afternoon passes much too quickly.

Steve only gets a minute alone with Tony, right at the end. Pepper and Rhodey have said their goodbyes, and Bruce hugs Tony then tells Steve he’ll wait for him in the car.

“Thank you,” Tony says sincerely. “For bringing him.”

“It was his idea,” Steve says. “Whatever you wrote meant a lot to him.”

“I just told him the truth,” Tony says. “I wasn’t sure it would be enough.”

“For the people who love you, you’re always going to be enough,” Steve says.

He leans close and presses a kiss to Tony’s forehead.

“There’s something else,” Tony says. “Something I wanted you to be the first to know.”

“Oh?”

“My doctors think I’m ready. I think I’m ready. I want to go home,” Tony says.

Steve hopes his smile says everything he’s thinking because he’s too choked up to speak for a second. Instead he just grabs Tony and pulls him close and hugs him tight.

“That’s great news,” Steve says as he lets him go.

“I hope,” Tony says, sounding a little agitated. “There’s a lot to sort out first. It will probably be a few weeks. And I know... I mean, I don’t know actually. What you want. About... the tower. Living. Arrangements.”

It takes Steve a second to piece together what Tony’s getting at. Living together. As a couple.

“If you want me there, I’ll be there,” Steve says. “And with your permission everything I own will be there too. Every ugly armchair. Every thrifted quilt. All my old records. You sure you want that?”

“Great Depression Chic is due for a comeback,” Tony says, looking quietly pleased. He’d calmed down as soon as Steve had said he’d move in. “And I don’t care about the stuff. I’ll take it all. We can turn the living room into a flea market if that’s what would make you comfortable. As long as you’re there, I’m good. You living there; that’s what I want.”

Steve feels himself grow warm all over. Tony’s the one who initiates the hug this time.

“I’m really proud of you,” Steve whispers into Tony’s ear. He pulls back enough so Tony can see him. “Am I making the stupid face again?”

Tony sighs, acting put upon, but he looks incredibly happy.

“I don’t mind your stupid face anymore,” Tony says. “In fact, I kind of love it.”

Chapter Text

2015 R

‘A few weeks left in rehab', turns out to mean five.  No one wants to rush Tony home, especially not Steve.

It’s good though.  It gives them a chance to start couples therapy (Bruce’s suggestion) with a therapist from the city, who drives up on Saturdays to meet with Steve and Tony together.  For their relationship to be sustainable outside of rehab, it can’t hurt to have some extra support, and once Tony returns to the tower they’ll continue their couples therapy with the same therapist for as long as they need the help.

Jarvis had been the one to track down this particular therapist.  He had his doctorate (which Jarvis felt might keep Tony from railroading the guy) and he was known for working with ex-child stars and professional athletes.  Apparently there wasn’t much he hadn’t seen before.  That would probably come in handy.

The first Saturday after Tony tells Steve he wants to come home, they sit together on a loveseat in one of the rehab mansion’s many parlors, facing their new therapist, Dr. Gerber.

“Before we start, I want you to know, I’m not here to take sides. I’m not here to pull punches, either.  I’m blunt.  Pussyfooting around your issues is going to get you exactly nowhere.  Think you can handle that?”

After all the kind and gentle therapists they’ve dealt with lately, this is a big change.  Steve approves.  He glances at Tony.

“I put on my big boy undies today,” Tony agrees.  “I’ll survive.”

It turns out, the tough love approach isn’t a bad thing.  Some of what they talk about is difficult to hear, and some of it is downright painful, but as the weeks go on they’re better off for it.

Steve’s biggest challenge during these weeks is mostly the exhaustion that comes from working a full time job with SHIELD, Avenging when necessary, and spending his weekends outside of the city. He drives upstate on Saturday mornings, they have couples therapy until lunch, and then Steve naps in Tony’s room while Tony does the rest of his rehab therapy on his own.  They eat dinner together, and then Steve leaves to go to the nearest hotel.  He returns Sunday for their usual visit, and that’s when they do their couples therapy homework from the day before.

“Do you think Gerber lays in bed at night and just gets off on thinking up the most impossible talking points ever?” Tony asks.  “Like ohhhh-ohhhhh-ohhhhh this is good.  This is going to make one of them cry... Maybe both... Real tears... Ahhhhhhhhhhh.”

The sex noises and accompanying jerk-off gesture make Steve snort a loud laugh and then choke on his iced tea as it goes down the wrong pipe.  “No!  No, I have never thought that and now I’m never going to be able to unthink it.  Thank you.”

Tony laughs, looking pleased with himself.  Clearly that’s what he was going for.  

Steve gives him a look, then digs around in his pocket for the slip of paper with their homework discussion topic for the week,  He reads the question out loud.

“In a healthy relationship, both partners experience an equal sense of worth, value and contribution.  How does this look in our relationship?”

Tony rolls his eyes.  “I’m dating Captain America.  Equal worth seems like a stretch.”

“I’m dating Iron Man,” Steve points out.  “And he’s brilliant, and funny and a real handsome guy.”

“Okay, well, Iron Man doesn’t exist anymore so your boyfriend might as well be imaginary, and my boyfriend punched Hitler,” Tony argues.  “I win.”

“Your boyfriend punched a guy dressed like Hitler.  He never hit the real thing.  And he and Hitler were both wearing tights at the time.  My boyfriend created a new element.  He’s been in all the science journals.  Twice.”

Tony laughs.  “I don’t think that’s a big relationship selling point.”

“Clearly science must not do for you what it does for me then,”  Steve teases.  “I like to listen to him talk.  Like to listen to you talk.”

Tony looks doubtful.

“I understand why you might put me on a pedestal,” Steve says.  “Even if I don’t think I deserve to be there.  But Tony-- please believe me--”  He pauses and waits until Tony meets his eyes.  “I don’t feel like I’m settling.  I don’t feel like I could do better.  We’ve both got issues.  We’re both doing the best we can.  I see you as my equal, always, in everything.  I swear I do.”

“That’s because you’re delusional, sweet cheeks.”

Steve sighs.  “Can you please--”

“Steve.  It’s not going to happen, okay?” Tony asks.  He’s upset.  “You’re asking for the impossible.  No one in the history of ever has looked at me and looked at you and found us equal.  In anything.”

“The opinions of people who don’t know us don’t count,” Steve says.  “The people who know us both understand exactly what I see in you."

“They understand that you have a messiah complex the size of Brooklyn and won’t give me up no matter what they say,” Tony says.  “It’d be a waste of air and logic.  And hey-- I’m not complaining.  It means you’re here.”

Steve sucks in a breath and holds it there, before letting it out slowly.

“I think we should stop for the night,” Steve says.  “Wait until we’re with Dr. Gerber to see if he can help."

Tony goes still and quiet, the way he does whenever Steve seems like he might be growing annoyed. Like Tony’s trying to make himself a less irritating target.

“If that’s what you want,” Tony agrees.

“I’m not mad at you,” Steve says.  “At all.  I’m not even upset.  I just don’t want to continue a conversation that I think is making you doubt why I want to be here because I’m bad at words.  Dr. Gerber might have some ideas.  We can figure this out together.”

Tony crumples up the slip of homework paper and tosses it into the trash can by the door.  He makes the shot perfectly.  Steve smiles.

“My boyfriend is really good at paper basketball,” Steve consoles, threading their fingers together and then pulling Tony’s hand up to his mouth so he can kiss his knuckles.

“I’m sure that looks good on his resume,” Tony says.  “Maybe the Knicks are hiring.”

“Pretty sure he could buy the Knicks,” Steve says.  “Hire himself.  I’m telling you.  He’s really impressive.”

Tony rolls his eyes but he doesn’t argue, and he lets the conversation drop.  

The following Saturday, Dr Gerber seems proud of them.  Nothing gets resolved, but the equality question is now an “Area of Awareness” and that’s supposedly a big step forward.

 

2015 S

Steve dresses for a mission.  Not his usual sort of mission.  No, this one is going to be a whole hell of a lot more difficult than a bunch of killer robots or venomous super-slugs.

He puts on a pair of faded jeans that are a stitch too tight and a royal blue t-shirt that makes him look about as Captain America as he can manage outside of donning his uniform.  He checks his hair twice and even spritzes on cologne.  He’s got to get this right.

He makes it to the diner right after the afternoon rush.

“Wooooooooah baby,” Mae greets when she sees him.  She stops wiping down the counter to admire Steve. “You going on a hot date or something?”

Steve smiles.  “No,” he says.  He takes the stool nearest to the end.  “I’m here to see you.”

“Me?” she asks in surprise.  “If I’m dreaming, don’t wake me up, sugar.”

“I need a favor,” Steve says.  “And I don’t think you’re going to like it.”

“You dressed up for that?” she asks.

“I reallllly don’t think you’re going to like it.  And my ma always said it’s harder to say no to someone who put in some effort. ‘Course she was telling me that for my art school interviews but it stuck.”

“Your mom sounds like a smart lady.  What is it you need?”

“I’m hoping you’ll rename the C3 milkshake back to an Iron Man for me,” Steve says.  “Not right away.  Just... before too long.”

“After everything Tony Stark said about you four?” Mae asks, sounding unhappy.

“I know.  It’s messy.”  Steve bites his bottom lip, weighing how honest he can be with Mae.  

People know Tony’s in rehab.  People know Steve’s been spotted up there dozens of times.  But apart from a few internet rumors, no one has put together the exact nature of why Steve visits.  The general consensus is that he’s up there to try and gain access to the Iron Man suit.  After what Tony had said about him, it’s too much to believe that Steve could be so forgiving.  But Steve trusts Mae with his privacy.  She’s never been anything but supportive.

“I love him,” Steve says quietly. “We’re together now.”

It’s the first time Steve’s said it outloud to anyone who didn’t already know.  It sounds so simple, even if lately it’s been anything but.

Mae’s face softens.  “Oh, Lord.”  She leaves the cloth where it is and comes over to sit next to him.  “You designed the milkshakes.  They’re yours to name.

“Really?”

“Like I’m going to tell you no in those jeans,” Mae laughs.

Steve smiles in relief.  “We’re going to need a few places to go out to eat that don’t serve alcohol.  Places where we can be treated like we’re normal.  The diner has always been a safe space for me.  I don’t have a lot of those anymore.  And I just don’t want Tony to feel like he’s lost anything more than he already has.  Which is a lot.  He knows how bad he messed up.”

Mae nods.  “As long as you know what you’re doing.  He seems like a handful.”

“I love him,” Steve says again, because he really has no better explanation.

Mae’s gaze is exceedingly patient.  “I don’t doubt that.”

Steve relents.  “Sometimes I think I might be in over my head, but that’s not a reason to give up on somebody is it?  And even if it was, I wouldn’t.  That’s not how I’m wired.  When I’m in, I’m all in.  To the end of the line.”

Mae lets the words hover for a few seconds, then pats Steve’s hand as she stands.  “You’re one of the good ones, Steve Rogers.  You’d make any mama proud.  Now when Mr. Stark is better, you bring him around.  I’ll have the shake renamed for him by then.”

“Thank you,” Steve says appreciatively.  “I want to talk to Clint and Natasha, too.  I think they’ll understand, but if they don’t, I don’t want them blaming you.  This isn’t about me trying to get him back on the team.  I just want him to have his milkshake.  That’s all.”

“Works for me,” Mae says, with a nod.  “You want the usual?”

“That’d be nice, thanks.”

“One bacon cheeseburger, hold the onions, a large fry and a large Iron Man shake, coming right up,” she rattles off.

Steve smiles.   One fence is mended.  Only a couple hundred left to go.

 

2015 T

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Tony grumbles.  “Gerber’s a sadist.  He’s got to be working for AIM, or Doom, or the President of the We Hate Tony Stark Fan Club or something.  I’m sure he’s evil.”

It’s Sunday, and today it’s Tony’s turn to read their homework assignment out loud.  Considering Tony’s reaction, Steve braces himself for a doozy.  He reaches for the paper and takes it carefully out of Tony’s shaking hands.

Discuss your parents.

Fuck.

As much as Steve knows that this is important and that Howard has been an elephant in the room for far too long, he still isn’t sure how to get through it.  And that only takes Howard into consideration.  Tony’s never said more than a word or two about his mother.  She could have been equally cold.  Distant.

“I could go first,” Steve says gently.  “Mine’s easy at least.”

“You never met your father and your mother was a saint,” Tony says, rolling his eyes.  “Tell me something I don’t know.”

Steve knows Tony’s being sarcastic and rhetorical, but you know what?  He’s got an answer for this.  A memory that comes to mind more often than Steve would like, when he remembers his mother.

“Okay...” Steve begins.  “Here’s something.  My ma was seeing a man before she died.  A real nice guy. I liked him a lot.  He was good to her and he treated her right.  He wanted to get more serious but she wouldn’t commit because she was too set on taking care of me.  Right before she got sick we argued about it.”

Steve looks down at his hands.  He can hear that fight replaying in his head like it’s on the radio.  He’s memorized every word.

“That wasn’t our last conversation or anything.  We had a couple of days between that night and when she...”  Steve trails off.  “But I wasn’t talking to her much, and she didn’t have a lot to say to me.  I’d said a couple things I think were still smarting.  I wish I’d have just kept my mouth shut, you know?  All I was hoping for was that she’d take a chance on being happy and somehow I got it all wrong.”

For a few seconds he forgets Tony is even in the room until Tony reaches over and puts a hand on Steve’s knee.

“I’m sorry,” Tony says.

And that’s all.  He doesn’t try and make Steve feel better or convince him that he was a kid and he had good intentions and it wasn’t a big deal.  He just squeezes Steve knee and then speaks.

“Can I cheat?” Tony asks.  “Talk about Jarvis and Ana instead of mom and dad?”

“Tell me anything you want,” Steve affirms.

“Ana and Jarvis were the ones who raised me,” Tony says.  “They couldn’t have kids.  I didn’t know that until I was older.  Ana always said they had me around, why would they need anything more?”

Tony smiles wistfully at the memory.

“They loved spending time with me, I think.  They were proud of everything I did, even if it was macaroni art or an A on a book report about turtles.  They liked the little things.  I didn’t have to do something impressive to impress them.”

Steve can imagine why to someone like Tony that would have been a godsend.

“Ana died when I was ten,” Tony continues.  “Dad wouldn’t let me go to the funeral because he didn’t want pictures of me crying on the front of the newspaper.  Though it might look bad for Stark Industries.  Like I’d grow up weak.

Tony doesn’t sound bitter.  Just sad.  Tired, maybe

“Ana sounds special,” Steve says.

“She was.  And so was Mr. Jarvis.  It’s funny.  I always called Ana by her first name, but I called Jarvis by his last.  They never corrected me.”

“Was he anything like your Jarvis now?” Steve asks.

Tony considers it.  “I think the AI Jarvis is more a mix of me and Mr. Jarvis.  That’s why I gave him an accent, though.  It didn’t seem right for him to have the name and then sound American.  Jarvis would have hated that.”

“I wish I could have met them,” Steve says.

“They’d have loved you,” Tony says.  “Aunt Peggy always said so.”

And that makes Steve’s breath hitch.  Aunt Peggy.  Of course.  Three years into his friendship with Tony, and somehow this is the first time she’s ever come up.  Steve can’t hide the flash of pain he feels at her name.

“I know it’s weird,” Tony says.  “Do you ever go and visit her?”

“I have a few times,” Steve says.  “Not often because I think it upsets her.  Was she happy when you were young?

“Very,” Tony says.  “I’d go and stay with her and her family sometimes over the summer.  They’d take me to the beach or to science museums.  I always felt like they wanted me around.  It was good.”

Steve fights the urge to ask for more in depth information.  Tony’s being as open as he can, and they’ve got all the time in the world; Steve doesn’t need every question answered tonight.

They fall into silence.  Steve isn’t sure where to go from here.  Howard’s presence still hovers over them like a cloud.  A shadowy unknown.  And it’s confusing because that’s so far removed from the Howard that Steve knew.  His Howard could brighten any room.

“I’m sorry your father wasn’t good to you,” Steve says.  “And I’d say I wish I’d been around to knock some sense into him, but if Peggy couldn’t do it, I don’t think I’d have stood a chance.”

“When he’d talk about how you were friends, I never believed him,” Tony says.  “My dad was a mean drunk.  Why would Captain America be friends with someone like that?  Now look.  Me a drunk and you’re still here.  I guess it makes some sort of warped sense.”

“Howard wasn’t a drunk when I knew him,” Steve says, wanting to explain.  “We were in the war and for a long time he was like... like a breath of fresh air.  Like someone so smart and so special, the war couldn’t touch him.  When I see similarities between the two of you, that’s what I see,” Steve says.

“Because I’m so cheery and untouched?” Tony asks doubtfully.

“It’s hard to explain,” Steve says.  “You’re just special.  From the first time I met you, I could tell.  You’re someone so far ahead of the rest of us we will never catch up.  You’re someone who can change the world.  Do you understand what an amazing thing that is?”

Steve isn’t sure if this is the kind of thing Tony wants to hear, but it’s the truth and some of these things just need said.

“I’m sorry that Howard got bitter,” Steve continues.  “If I hadn’t put the plane in the water--

“I was the kind of needy kid who was always getting in the way.  It’s probably my fault he couldn’t--”

“Nope,” Steve says.  “Don’t do that,” he adds gently.  “The relationship between a kid and a parent is completely one-sided.  He had all the power; you had none.  That makes it not your fault.”

Tony makes a face, but doesn’t argue Steve’s point.  They’ve both read that particular family therapy pamphlet more than once.  

“If we’re talking about things not to do,” Tony says, “Don’t wish that the past had gone differently when it comes to me.  I doubt we’d be dating if you’d changed my diapers.”

Steve makes an alarmed gagging sound because that was a visual he didn’t need.  Ever.  And Tony never fails to be delighted when he gets that reaction, so he gives Steve a small smile.

The elephant in the room begins to fade away.  Talking helps.  Who knew?

 

2015 U

It happens while Nat, Clint and Steve are on a mission with Rumlow and his STRIKE team.  Everything goes fine until they realize their intel’s bad and they’re about 140 miles from where they ought to be.  They can’t get from one place to the other in time and the mission is called off.

Innocent people get hurt.  There’s nothing they can do to stop it.

“Too bad Stark went batshit,” Rumlow says.  “He was an asshole but his airspeed was useful.”

“He was more than just air support,” Steve says automatically.

His brain isn’t going to let a ‘blame Tony’ moment go unchecked.  Blame Tony seems to be the default for SHIELD, even though Tony’s been gone for 6 damn months.

Brock laughs. “Unless you’re talking about the things they say he can do on his knees--”

His rude comment is cut off by a rough shove to the shoulder, and surprise of surprises, it doesn’t come from Steve.  Clint pushes Brock hard enough that Brock hits the nearest wall with a loud thud.  Hard enough that dust from the ceiling shakes down into their hair.

“Keep your mouth shut about Stark,” Clint warns, all of his usual friendly nature gone.  His eyes are hard.  There’s no room for argument.

Rumlow looks like he’s going to fight back, but Natasha steps up to Clint’s left, with her arms crossed like she means business. You’d have to be a straight up idiot to take them both on at once.  Brock looks to Steve for assistance, and Steve just glares.  Brock thinks better of his clenched fists and jogs away to catch up to the rest of his team, mumbling slurs under his breath.  He’s pissed, and he can stay pissed.  Steve’s not going after him to play nice

“You didn’t have to step in,” Steve says, assuming Clint did so because he was worried Steve was going to throw Rumlow through the nearest brick wall.  “I’ve already figured out I can’t punch every asshole who’s got something bad to say about my boyfriend.  That would involve a bus tour across America and I don’t have the time.

“Didn’t do it for you, Cap,” Clint says.  “I’m not ready to kiss and make up, but I’m less pissed than I was.  Tony wrote me a letter.  I know he’s sorry.”

“We don’t doubt he’s sincere,” Natasha adds.

“We just haven’t decided if sincere is enough to earn back our trust,” Clint says.  “We aren’t gonna let people shit talk him, though.  Not while he’s your boyfriend and Bruce’s Science Buddy. If nothing else, Tony’s family by extension.”

“Which means we protect him,” Natasha explains. “Like one of our own.”

Steve’s touched they’re willing to do that for him and Bruce.  It’s going to make life a hell of a lot easier once Tony’s home.

“That is incredibly kind of you,” Steve says.

“I'm always kind,” Natasha says.  She reaches up to ruffle Steve’s hair as she passes him, then swats at Clint.  “Now get your asses in gear.  Last ones back to base are gonna end up stuck with the paperwork and I know a shortcut.”

 

2015 V

Their last couples therapy session before Tony’s set to leave rehab is a tense one.

Tony’s scared.  Steve knows this, because Tony can’t keep from fiddling with the worry-ball he’s holding and he keeps having to ask for things to be repeated because his attention is firmly elsewhere

When Dr. Gerber brings up the importance of equality in a relationship one last time, Tony loses his patience entirely.

“Can we just fucking drop this?” Tony demands.  “I’m never going to feel like things are equal with Steve so if that’s the end all be all of a healthy relationship we are fucked.”

“I’m not suggesting that it is,” Dr. Gerber says patiently.

“We’re not fucked,” Steve says, putting his hand on Tony’s arm to try and anchor him.  “Maybe this issue is just gonna take some time.”

“Would you at least be willing to talk about how you’ve tried to achieve relationship equality in the past?” Dr. Gerber asks, powering through.

The man is relentless.  Which is probably why Steve and Tony have come as far as they have.

“I’ve dated assholes,” Tony says.  “That made us equals.”

“They weren’t your equals,” Steve objects.  “Sean and Shayla and the rest of them were so far beneath you they might as well have been worms.  And Pepper wasn’t an asshole.”

Tony shakes his head.  “Fine.  Pep was the exception.  We all know how well that worked out for her.  Even when I tried to contribute, it was all wrong.”

“What did you try?” Dr. Gerber asks.

“I bought her things,” Tony says.  “It didn’t work for her and it definitely isn’t going to work for Steve. He won’t even let me pay for his gas to drive up here or split the cost of his hotel room.”

Now Dr. Gerber’s eyes go to Steve.  “You won’t let him buy your gas?  Why is that?”

Steve doesn’t need to think to respond.  He turns to Tony.  “People have been using you for your money your entire life.  I’m not going to be one of those people.”

Tony glares at him.  “That’s what’s got your star spangled panties in a twist?  I just thought it was the great depression or something.  Seriously?  You’re worried I’m going to think you’re a gold digger?”

“Yes?” Steve asks.

Tony’s glare turns into a glower.  “Have you even met yourself?  If I made a list of the top one million words to describe you, gold digger wouldn’t be on there.”

Steve’s not sure what to say.  “I didn’t... I mean, it’s not like the words gold digger occurred to me exactly... What are you even going to buy me?  An island?  I don’t want an island.  I want you.  You’re enough.”

“It wouldn’t have to be an island,” Tony says.  “I want to buy you reasonable things.  Gas.  Hotel rooms.  Breakfast.  I want to take care of you.  That’s what I want.”

The whole ‘that’s what I want’ thing works great for them most of the time.  It’s pretty much the only set of therapy words they can both consistently use without a lot of stress.  And Steve’s got a choice.  Because either he wants the same, or he’s got to tell Tony that no, he doesn’t want that.  That he doesn’t want Tony taking care of him.

“I want you to feel secure,” Steve says.  “Secure that what I want from you isn’t your money.”

“I am incredibly aware of that,” Tony says.  “It is totally an Area of Awareness.  Consider me secure.”

Steve tries to dig further into his own feelings.  He remembers something Bruce said.  One of Bruce’s concerns about Tony’s letter.

“And I want you to only buy me things because it makes you happy.  Not ever to apologize.  When you apologize, I want you to use words.  I don’t want to be bought off.”

“Like you’d ever let me get away with that,” Tony says.

“How does the thought of being able to buy things for Steve make you feel?” Dr. Gerber asks Tony.

Tony considers it.  “More equal,” he admits.

Steve is blown away.  Obviously, he had no idea that his reluctance to accept gifts from Tony was contributing to this sense of unworthiness.  And if it will help, even a little, he’ll let go of his stubborn pride.

“I only wanted to protect you,” Steve says.  “To be someone in your life who you know really does think you’re enough.  Just you.  Not your money.  Not your name.”

“I know,” Tony says.  “And I appreciate it.  But if you’ll let me have this, I’ll keep working on the rest.  And I’m not ever going to doubt your intentions.  Your sanity, sure, but not your intentions.”

Steve smiles.  “Okay then,” he says, reaching over to rub Tony’s thigh.  “Have at it.  Shop away.”

 

2015 W

Steve spends the drive to the hotel wondering how many delivery boxes are going to be waiting for him in his room.  The answer is none.

 

2015 X

Picking Tony up from rehab is surprisingly anti-climactic.  It’s a Sunday so he drives over in the morning like usual.  The only difference is that this time Tony’s waiting for him on the porch with his duffel bag and a suitcase.  Steve knows Tony had planned to say all his inside goodbyes before Steve got there.  Tony’s exact words were “Leave the car running.  I’ll be ready to go.”

The drive back to the tower is a quiet one.  Steve knows that if Tony wants to talk, he’ll talk.  They hold hands for most of the trip, and when the traffic picks up and Steve needs both hands on the wheel, Tony rest his fingers on Steve’s thigh.  It’s nice.

They have done lots of this slow-paced affectionate touching.  It feels different, somehow, out in the real world.  At the clinic, sex was not something that was going to happen.  There were security cameras in the bedroom, and while they’d been assured they did not transmit sound (Tony had done a little poking around to make absolutely sure that was true) they were still being broadcasting via visual feed to the front desk.

Steve had already dealt with one too many sex tapes for his liking so anything more than a brief kiss was a no.

For all intents and purposes, Steve and Tony were alone for the first time in months.  When they got up to the penthouse in a few minutes they were <i>really</i> going to be alone.  Suddenly the hand on Steve’s thigh took on all new promise.

They’d talked about sex on multiple occasions.  Told each other what they wanted and what they absolutely didn’t want.  It was difficult because Steve had boundaries and Tony mostly seemed to think whatever Steve wanted was fine.  And in their case that could work because Steve was a good guy.  He wouldn’t take advantage of Tony’s hesitance to make his desires known.

Steve shakes himself from this line of thought as he pulls into the private entrance to Tony’s personal garage.  All the cars are where Tony had left them.  And they are gleaming clean.

“I washed them all last week,” Steve admits.  “I was having trouble sleeping.  Jarvis walked me through what you ask the professional cleaners to do.”

“You didn’t have to do that,” Tony says.  “You aren’t my employee.”

Those are the first words Tony has spoken in over an hour.

“I wanted to,” Steve says.  “I mean... I figure as long as you’ll have me, this stuff is all kind of my responsibility, too, right?  I should help where I can.”

Tony looks at Steve like Steve’s speaking a different language and Steve can see he’s overwhelmed.  Steve steps slowly around the car and draws Tony against him.  Tony rests there, like he has no intention of pulling away any time soon.

“You can do this,” Steve says.  “And I’m going to be with you every step of the way.  Rhodey’s gonna fly in tomorrow.  Pepper wants to bring us breakfast.  Bruce may already be upstairs in a lab right now.  You don’t have to handle any of this alone.”

Tony nods against Steve’s shirt.

“If I may, Sir, I am also here, and I am happy you are home,” Jarvis says from above.

“You’re both saps,” Tony pouts, finally struggling a bit in Steve’s hold.  He sounds more himself.  Reassured.

Steve lets him go with a kiss to his forehead.  “Takes one to know one.”

 

2015 Y

It doesn’t take them long to unpack Tony’s things.  

“You want to go check out your workshop by yourself or do you want some company?” Steve asks.

He’s noticed the way Tony keeps running his fingers over things (the kitchen counter, the knobs on the bathroom sink, the books on the nightstand) like he never expected to see any of it again.

“Come with,” Tony says.  “Show me all these tricks you allegedly taught Dum-E.”

“Allegedly?” Steve asks.

“Like I don’t know you drew those hearts,” Tony challenges.

Steve knows Tony’s not serious.  The picture with Dum-E’s hearts had been displayed front and center in Tony’s rehab room, and at some point Pepper had brought a frame for it.  It is currently sitting on Tony’s bedroom dresser in a place of honor.  Valued.

When they walk into the workshop there can be no doubts left about the validity of the Dum-E drawings.  There are hearts everywhere.  They’d been drawn on every scrap of paper Dum-E could get his claw on.  The floor is littered with them, strewn like flower petals on a honeymoon bed.

U and Dum-E chirp happily when Steve enters and then go absolutely bonkers when Tony appears behind him.  U whirs his parts like a cat purring, and Dum-E gives a metallic squeal.  In Dum-E’s haste to get to Tony he catches the edge of a work bench and sends a dozen tools tumbling out of a toolbox in the process.

“I believe they are most happy to see you, Sir,” Jarvis interjects.

Steve tugs Tony down, so they can both sit on the floor where they are easily reachable.  Dum-E seems adorably determined to trace a heart on top of Tony’s head.

“Ugh, you’ve somehow made them even more useless,” Tony complains, as his hair gets pulled in the process.  “What did you do to them?”

Tony’s biting back a smile despite his complaints.  He’s trying to hide how happy this makes him, but he can’t.

“You love it,” Steve says, bumping Tony playfully.

“Yeah,” Tony says. Reaching up to nudge Dum-E’s claw away.  “I kind of do.”

 

2015 Z

Bed time is not as awkward as Steve had feared.  Tony wants a shower, so Steve changes into some plain blue and gray pajamas while Tony’s in there, and when Tony comes out, he’s also in pajamas.  Red silk ones, because he’s fancy like that.

Steve’s sat on the bed, doodling in his notebook.

“Is this okay?” Steve asks.  “For me to be in here?”

“God, I hope so,” Tony says.  He climbs onto the bed and leans in toward Steve to kiss him.  “I wasn’t sure where you planned to sleep.  I was hoping it would be with me.”

“Don’t be offended if it takes me a night or two to get comfortable.  Sometimes mattresses still feel too soft.”

“I can buy a new bed,” Tony says.  “I’m not picky.”

Steve reaches out to pull Tony down next to him, so they’re lying against each other.  Steve’s whole body shivers from the contact.  He lets his hand rub lightly over Tony’s back.  The material of the pajamas is so soft and silky, Steve’s brain (traitorously) flashes to Peggy and those petticoats she used to wear.  Not helpful brain.  Shut up.

“This mattress is fine,” Steve assures him.  “Better than fine, because it’s got you on it.  Can I kiss you?”

“You don’t have to ask,” Tony says.

“But I probably will for a while,” Steve says.

If Steve gets even an inkling Tony isn’t one-hundred percent on board with what they’re doing he’ll slow this down to an absolute crawl.

Tony leans in to kiss Steve, like he’s trying to prove a point.  And yeah-- no hesitance there.  Just want and need and relief and desire.  All things that aren’t going to cause a problem.  

They continue until they’re both out of breath.  Steve aches with how much he wants this to go further.  

“What do you want?” Steve asks, his voice barely more than a whisper.  “I’m up for anything.”

Tony looks wrecked in the best way possible.  His lips are cherry red, and his hair is sticking up wildly, and he’s staring at Steve with the same sort of wonder as the first time he’d seen Dum-E’s art.  Like Steve is something beyond special.

“Not picky, remember,” Tony says.  “Dealer’s choice.”

“Can we lose our shirts?” Steve asks.

“I’m not much to look at without it,” Tony says.  He’s sort of scoffing as he says it but Steve knows how admitting that hurts him.

Steve tilts his head and waits for permission.  Tony gives him a slight nod.  Steve tugs his own t-shirt off over his head and tosses it to the side, then puts his fingers to the buttons on the front of Tony’s pajama shirt.  He looks one more time for confirmation.  Tony reaches up to help him, and Steve can take it from there.

Tony’s body does not disappoint.  Sure, there are scars.  And an arc reactor.  There is absolutely nothing unattractive about either.  If anything, the imperfections add to Steve’s attraction.  Without the scars and the reactor Tony wouldn’t be alive.  He loves them, because they’re a part of the journey that brought them here.

“You’re beautiful,” Steve says, running his fingers lightly over one of the lowest scars.  “And anyone who ever said different is full of shit.”  Just like Steve knew they’d be.

“You don’t have to lie to get in my pants,” Tony mumbles.  “I’m a sure thing.”

Steve lowers his head and kisses Tony’s collarbone, and then again, down across his ribs.  He trails a finger over Tony's scars, like had had so many times in his fantasies.  Real life is so much better.

“I’m not lying,” Steve says, looking up at Tony with lustful eyes.  “You are gorgeous.  Perfect.  Incredible.”

Being this close to Tony’s body is making him incoherent.  Steve is feverish with need.  He moves to straddle Tony’s thighs, so he has a better angle to give him his attention.

He kisses Tony everywhere he can reach.  His neck, his arms, his chest, his stomach.  He lets his fingers ghost over Tony’s skin.  He can feel what this is doing to Tony, and Steve’s body is definitely mirroring that.  He doesn’t want to rush, though.

“I’ve waited to do this for so long,” Steve breathes out.

He moves up again, letting his forehead drag up Tony’s sternum and over the arc reactor.  Tony’s making all kinds of whimpers and gasps and soft moans.  He can’t lay still. It’s driving Steve crazy in the best possible way.

“Fuck, I-- want this.” Tony’s incoherent too.  His hands grab at Steve to drag him up, and when their faces are even, Tony presses up to kiss him hard.  Desperate.  He shifts to open his knees further, so Steve’s weight will pin him and force them closer.  “You’re everything I want.”

“Me too,” Steve says.  “All that.  Everything.  Me too.”

Chapter Text

2015 AA

The next morning Pepper and Rhodey show up bright and early.

“There’s something we’ve been wanting to tell you,” Pepper says, once they’re seated in front of waffles.

“Yeahhhhhh, I’ve known for a while now,” Tony says. “Unless you’re pregnant. That’d be news. But the whole you and Rhodey sneaking around like teenagers behind my back thing? That was pretty obvious before rehab.”

Pepper and Rhodey both look surprised.

“It didn’t happen before rehab,” Rhodey objects.

“Oh. Then I guess I figured it out before you two did. No big deal. I’m clearly a relationship savant. I mean, look at my boyfriend. I did good.”

Pepper, Rhodey and Steve stare at Tony who appears entirely unfazed by the news. He’s eating his breakfast and they’re all still staring so Tony lifts his hands in a sort of ‘what were you expecting’ gesture. He still has a piece of waffle speared to his fork.

“You aren’t upset?” Pepper asks. “We didn’t want to tell you while you were still in rehab because that was supposed to be about you. Your recovery. Your healing.”

“If you’re with Rhodey that means no other man can swoop in and steal you away, Pep,” Tony says. “This works out great for me. I’ve always figured some day you’d have to drop me when you found someone to put a ring on it. Now that’s not going to happen.”

Tony turns to Rhodey and adds “You have put a ring on it, right? A woman like this doesn’t drop her standards for a loser like you every day. You’re not going to do better.”

“No ring yet,” Rhodey says. “Not even any real dates yet. That’s what this conversation is about. Was supposed to be about anyway, before we got derailed by the Tony Stark Talk Parade. Pepper and I both agreed we wouldn’t move forward without your blessing.”

Tony pauses. It takes a few seconds for all that to sink in. Tony’s eyes give away his surprise.

“You’ve got my blessing,” Tony says easily, and with a sincere enough smile they know it’s true. “Though you need to get your heads checked for worrying about my feelings in the first place. I don’t deserve that kind of consideration.”

“You’re important to us,” Pepper insists.

“Fine. Name your first kid after me. We’ll call it even,” Tony says.

Rhodey laughs. Pepper leans in to give Tony a side hug. “We would never do anything to hurt you,” she says.

“This doesn’t hurt,” Tony insists. “I’m happy. Really.”

It feels true. The rest of breakfast is full of laughter and stories Steve has never heard about some of Tony and Rhodey’s more off the record exploits. Steve hasn’t laughed this hard since the night Dum Dum Dugan got so drunk he shit in his own boot, forgot about it, and then put it on the next morning. Good times.

When it’s nearing noon, it’s time for them to go. Rhodey has work and Pepper’s got a meeting. Steve hates to see them leave.

Pepper hugs Tony tightly and they whisper a few things quietly to each other.

“Next time I’ll stay longer,” Rhodey promises, as Steve walks him to the elevator. “There’s just a lot of fires to put out right now, you know?”

Rhodey’s gracious enough not to mention the increased criminal activity is directly related to a distinct lack of Iron Man. Steve also knows that Rhodey’s spent the last six months flying around the globe nearly non-stop so the government pressure on Tony stays to a minimum.

Steve pulls Rhodey into a hug of their own. “Give ‘em Hell, Mop Man.”

Rhodey smiles and claps Steve hard on the back.

“Just take care of Tony for me,” Rhodey says. “I got the rest.”

 

2015 AB

“I want to make a video,” Steve announces from where he sits on the floor of the garage, watching Tony’s legs dangle out from beneath one of his cars.

They’ve been home a week now. They haven’t left the tower and they probably won’t for another few days, so it seems like as good a time as any to get the YouTube Outing over and done. Tony rolls out from under the car, and he’s got smudges of grease on his cheeks and something else goopy on his forehead. The look Tony gives Steve is equal parts amused and surprised.

“A video, huh?” Tony says. “Kinky.”

Steve’s mouth falls open. He’s holding a wrench that Tony had handed him a few minutes before and Steve waves it emphatically. “No. No, not a sex tape. No.

“It was your idea,” Tony points out. “Why are you getting all flappy?”

“Because that’s not my idea. No sex tapes. I’ve had enough sex tapes for a lifetime.”

“Oh right,” Tony says. He rolls himself back under the car. “Your foray into the Hammer Industries Server Farm. Seriously, Steve? Making Jarvis your criminal accomplice? That’s so 2001.”

“You know about that?” Steve asks.

“You think I’m going to create an Artificial Intelligence that can go behind my back to break laws without me? Give me a little credit. Anytime Jarvis does something outside of his ordinary protocols I have a subroutine that sends me a notification. Accessing Hammer’s servers was pretty far out of the ordinary.”

“So wait. You knew right away?” Steve asks.

Tony doesn’t reply. Steve can hear him messing around under the car and that’s about it.

“Were you upset?” Steve asks, since Tony isn’t volunteering any additional information on his own.

“That I’d done something shameful enough that you had to invoke your admin privileges and tell Jarvis my sex tape was a threat to the security of the Avengers? Yeah, that wasn’t my proudest moment.”

“There was never any threat,” Steve says. “You know that, right?”

“Pretty sure the whole criminal underworld watching Iron Man beg to be let go while he takes it from behind would have been a threat to our credibility, if nothing else.”

Tony’s voice sounds tense. Steve isn’t having this conversation while Tony is under a car. He reaches for Tony’s ankle and slowly (carefully) wheels him out from under the vehicle.

“I wasn’t worried about our reputations,” Steve says quietly. “God, Tony, I was worried about you. About that tape getting out and you having to relive someone hurting you.”

Tony’s eyes are guarded. He’s looking at the wrench in Steve’s hands and not at Steve.

“That’s not how I saw it at the time,” Tony says. “I believe you now. I know... I know how protective you are.”

“Damn right I’m protective,” Steve says. “It was all I could do not to snap Justin Hammer’s neck that night. I broke a very expensive table and I didn’t even apologize.”

Steve reaches for Tony, who is still flat on his back. He helps him sit up and then rolls him closer so they can kiss.

“I should have gone to you and told you what I’d overheard,” Steve says. “It wasn’t fair of me to go behind your back, even for a good reason.”

“I would have been a dick about it,” Tony admits. “I was relieved when I saw Jarvis’s activity log. I was embarrassed but relieved.”

Steve tips Tony’s chin up so they’re looking at each other.

“This talking thing is hard but I like it a lot better than when everything I do makes you want to yell at me,” Steve says.

He leans his forehead against Tony’s and when he pulls back, Tony cracks up. The serious moment dissolves.

“Sorry. You’ve got a little...” Tony makes a wavy gesture in front of Steve’s face, and Steve remembers the goop on Tony’s forehead. Which is now on his own.

“Perfect,” Steve says, as he rubs at the spot with his palm. When he pulls his hand away there’s a dark smudge.

“You’re only making it worse,” Tony laughs. “You should probably clean that up before you make your sexy video. Which is for what exactly?”

“YouTube,” Steve says. “And it’s not going to be sexy.”

He pulls off his t-shirt and uses it to wipe off his forehead.

“If you’re dressed like that, it will be,” Tony says.

Tony can never seem to resist reaching out and touching Steve’s chest when Steve’s shirt is off. Steve rolls Tony forward again, the last few inches, and tugs at Tony’s shirt.

“I’m coming out,” Steve explains. “It’s time. I don’t want to have to do a lot of explaining when people start spotting us together. And I figure if I do it now, we can hide out here for a day or two and maybe we’ll get lucky and some other celebrity will make news before the week’s up.”

“Bruce Wayne’s due for a meltdown any day now,” Tony agrees.

“Are you okay with it?” Steve asks.

“Are you going to talk about us or just about you?” Tony asks.

“Whatever you’re comfortable with,” Steve says. “I’m not ashamed of you, but I’m not going to put us out there if you’d rather me not. It can be all about me. I don’t mind.”

Tony considers Steve’s offer. He leans in closer to Steve and kisses his bare shoulder.

“Out us. People are going to find out. Might as well be on our terms.”

 

2015 AC

They decide to make the video in Tony’s workshop. Despite Tony’s numerous complaints about camera quality and angle, Steve insists they use his phone’s video function. He wants this to be real. He’s not the least bit worried about production value.

Dum-E is elated to be given the job of cameraman. He drops the camera twice within the first minute of taping, and the outtakes from that are going to be hilarious. Steve doesn’t get more than a dozen words out before they have to start again. Tony’s face as he scolds Dum-E is priceless.

“It’s like I bought you at Wal-Mart,” Tony accuses. “Think if I box you up they’ll give me my money back?”

“Tony,” Steve warns, good-naturedly. “You’re making him nervous.”

“He should be nervous,” Tony says. “Their return policy is generous.”

“Like you’ve ever been in a Wal-Mart,” Steve scoffs.

“I liked you better when you didn’t understand pop culture references,” Tony quips.

Steve leans in and plants a kiss on his cheek. “I know that’s a lie.”

Tony huffs in response.

Steve moves back to Dum-E for take three and hands the robot the phone. “I think we’ve got this.”

He steadies the camera in Dum-E’s claw carefully and then takes the seat next to Tony on the couch.

He waits a few seconds, for Dum-E to press the button, and when he sees the red light flicker on, he begins.

“Hi. America,” Steve starts. “And maybe the world? It’s me, Steve Rogers.”

Steve gives a little wave.

“Dork,” Tony coughs under his breath.

Steve turns a playful glare on him. “And this is Tony Stark. Which I’m sure you already know. Do you want to say hello, Tony?”

“Hello, Tony,” Tony mimics.

“Really?” Steve asks. “That joke was stale in the 1940s.”

“What can I say?” Tony’s eyes sweep over Steve. “I’m into antiques, lately.”

It’s probably good they’re getting this out to the public now because there is no way the paparazzi are going to miss the way Tony looks at Steve. And Steve knows his eyes are equally lovey. They’re too into each other to hide.

It takes Steve a few seconds to even remember what it is he’s supposed to be doing. Tony is too (wonderfully) distracting.

"You might be wondering why we're making this video," Steve says, looking back toward the camera. "This isn't publicity, this is personal and I don't want to draw it out so here it is: I'm bisexual. Always have been. It wasn't something we talked about back when I joined, it was something that could risk my career and put my friends careers in jeopardy. I'm grateful this is no longer the case."

He wets his lips, before his gaze steels. "That might offend some of you, but if you think who a person loves diminishes their service, you do not support the ideals that we swear to uphold. I am who I am. And I’m happy, finally. Happy being with the person I love and being able to show him how much I love him."

Tony’s hand has slipped onto Steve’s knee and Steve places his own hand there to cover Tony’s. He gives it a gentle squeeze.

“Anything you want to add to that?” Steve asks.

“Sure.” Tony looks at Dum-E and the camera. “Hey kids. After a long life of fucking up more than anyone has a right to fuck up, I’ve learned a couple of things. Things that maybe could help one of you, so you don’t have to hit rock bottom before things get better.”

He takes a deep breath. “Be kind to others. Be kind to yourself. Learn to accept help.” Tony looks back at Steve. “That’s all I’ve got to say.”

Steve nods. “Then I think we’re good here. I know a lot of you will have questions. If you put them in the comments, we’ll have a friend sift through them for us, and answer what we can. Thank you for watching. Have a good day.”

“Captain America out!” Tony shouts, holding up a peace sign.

The video goes to black as Dum-E tries to mimic the peace sign action and the camera drops one last time.

 

2015 AD

Steve naively thinks they might get a couple thousand views by Christmas if they’re lucky. The video shatters every 24/48/72 hour record that’s ever been set on YouTube.

By the time the new year comes, they’ve made the most watched video of 2015.

The internet is finally good for something other than cat pictures and porn.

 

2016 A

“Tony, what did you do?” Steve asks.

He wants to sound stern but Steve can’t keep the smile off his face. He crosses his arms in an attempt to look more offput, but he can’t even manage that much. He’s too amused.

Tony looks up from his workbench and shrugs. “Why? Something happen at work?”

“A lot of somethings happened at work,” Steve says. “Every single IT person at SHIELD came to find me at some point today to meaningfully and sincerely apologize for having teased me when I first woke up from the ice.”

“Oh, well, that’s nice of them,” Tony says. “Don’t know why you’d complain about that.”

“Half of them looked like they’d been crying,” Steve laughs, sitting down on the edge of the table. “You didn’t have all their pets kidnapped did you?”

“Yes,” Tony says, putting down the gauntlet he’s fiddling with, so he can reach over for Steve. “That’s me. Master pet thief. What’s Captain America going to do about it?”

Tony pulls Steve toward him and into a promisingly filthy kiss.

“Nothing,” Steve mumbles, when Tony lets go. “Enjoy your menagerie. Distract me with more of that and I’ll let you move on to bigger scores. Llamas. Hippos. An elephant. A zoo. I’ll help.”

“Move to the bench and I’ll get right on that,” Tony says.

Steve does as he’s told.

“What did you do really?” Steve asks, once he’s pressed against Tony’s side. “Why are they all so sorry?”

He runs a hand up Tony’s back, so Tony will know he isn’t upset.

“I set Jarvis loose on them,” Tony explains. “If it’s tech, and they touch it, they get a blue screen of death that tells them to apologize to you in person for being unprofessional dicks. They’re going on ohhhh... 20 hours with no phones, internet or Xbox.”

“Tony. I appreciate the gesture, but that could have disrupted SHIELD missions,” Steve says gently. “Put people at risk.”

“Which I considered. I even gave Fury a head’s up and I had Jarvis acting as tech support for the whole operation all day. Didn’t I, J?”

“You did, Sir,” Jarvis agrees. “SHIELD agents are experiencing unprecedented uptime and productivity. I assure you there was no harm done.”

“I think the IT team got the message loud and clear,” Steve says. “Thank you.”

“Jarvis, go ahead and bring their devices back from the stone age. They’ve learned their lesson.”

“Don’t be unprofessional?” Steve asks.

Tony shakes his head. “I love unprofessional. The lesson here is do not fuck with my boyfriend.”

Steve chews on his bottom lip. “It’s a good feeling knowing you’ve got my back.”

“It’d be a lot easier if you’d wear those ‘Stark Industries’ sweatpants I bought you.”

“They’re two sizes too tight, and they say Property of Tony Stark on the ass,” Steve reminds him. “Not exactly work appropriate.”

Tony lets his hand slide down to Steve’s rear and squeezes possessively. “Their loss.”

 

2016 B

Their first diner date is not a disaster.

Tony and Steve use the service elevator to get to the garage, and take Steve’s bike out through the back way to avoid being seen. The YouTube video has swung public opinion in their favor, and the downside to that is that everyone and their grandma wants a picture of them. Maybe especially the grandmas.

Steve had phoned ahead and talked to Mae and she’d agreed to lock the doors once they are inside. Any diner patron can leave, but no one else will get in until Tony and Steve are finished eating. Mae offered to do more, but Steve turned her down.

“It’s more of a safety issues than anything else,” Steve explained. “People get crushed because there’s sort of a swarm. We’re fine if someone inside the cafe takes a picture. You don’t have to confiscate phones or anything.”

Steve knows the usual lunch crowd and they are long over any Avenger celebrity awe. If someone does make a big deal out of him and Tony, it’ll be a tourist, and the diner doesn’t get too many of those.

It’s actually kind of anticlimactic once they arrive for lunch. The people who know Steve greet him by name. The people who don’t, ignore them. God bless true New Yorkers.

Tony has only been to the diner once, that day after their trip to the Children’s Hospital, and that day they’d only had milkshakes. This date is for food, and Tony seems surprisingly torn over all his options.

“Order it all,” Steve says. “I’m paying today.”

“Order it all,” Tony repeats. “This from Captain ‘Rinse-That-Plastic-Fork-Because-We-Might-Use-It-Again’ Rogers? It seems a little wasteful.”

“There’s a time and a place for frugality; a first date isn’t one of them. I’m trying to woo you, here, so order what you want. Order everything.”

“I’m usually the one making that offer. It’s weird from this side.”

Steve thinks back to Rhodey’s story about Tony’s college years. How Rhodey was the first person to ever offer to buy Tony’s meal. It’s nice to be able to provide, even something as unpretentious as diner lunch.

“You’re worth every penny,” Steve says.

He doesn’t miss the way Tony ducks his head, a little shyly, and Steve’s pleased he can still get this reaction.

They’re half way through their feast when Mae drops off the milkshake menu. True to her word, the Iron Man is back in its spot. Tony reads the list then looks up at her.

“You should probably update this for accuracy. There’s no such thing as Iron Man anymore.”

“Well, I’m not standing here serving fries to the Easter Bunny, am I?” Mae asks.

Tony doesn’t have a quick reply for that one. Instead he just looks sort of stumped. He lowers his eyes to look back at the menu, and Mae leans down so he’ll have to pay attention to her.

“You are Iron Man, Mr. Stark,” Mae says seriously. “Don’t you ever doubt that. Steve sure doesn’t.”

She straightens back up and looks at Steve expectantly. “You lovebirds know what you want to order?”

“A large Iron Man and a large Captain America,” Steve says. “Two straws for each.”

“Sap,” Tony accuses, elbowing Steve lightly in the ribs. The soft smile on Tony’s face chases away any semblance of an insult.

 

2016 C

It’s their first charity event since Tony’s return. The only reason they are here is because it honors the last World War II veterans, and there are so few of them left now, Steve doesn’t want to miss. He isn’t sure how many of them will be left when next year rolls around.

“You don’t need to babysit me, Steve,” Tony says. “Go. Mingle. I’m going to sit with Rhodey and Pepper, drink my water and watch my trophy boyfriend do his thing. I’ll be fine.”

They’ve discussed this in therapy. Steve needs to be his own person. Tony needs to be his own person. And Rhodey and Pepper are trusted friend who will keep an eye on what Tony drinks. As if reading their minds, Rhodey appears across the room and waves.

“Mingle,” Tony demands. He gives Steve a playful push and then heads across the room to his best friends.

Steve takes a deep breath. He will be his own person. He can do this.

And he does do it. Once he sits at the first table of veterans, the years fall away. They tell stories, they laugh, they reminisce. They’ve brought their families, and point out their children and their grandkids and their great-grandkids out on the dance floor.

Steve greets anyone who stops by the table cheerfully and only drinks water no matter what he’s offered. He’s not going to go home with Tony, smelling like wine.

As the night wears on the old folks show their exhaustion early. It’s barely nine when Steve walks the last of the guys from his table to the door. He’s on his way to find Tony when a young man stops him.

“Captain Rogers?” he asks shyly.

“Yes,” Steve agrees. “What can I do for you, son?”

“You knew my great-grandma. Mercy Rhodes? She toured with you.”

Steve doesn’t speak. Not because he doesn’t remember Mercy Rhodes but because he remembers an awful lot about Mercy all at once. Not all of it rated G. The boy (he’s probably twenty, but God, twenty looks young these days) takes Steve’s silence as a no.

“She said everyone called her Boop,” the kid offers helpfully. “Like Betty Boop?”

Steve looks more closely at the young man before him. And yes, he can see it. The same wide eyes and dark curls. The cupid bow lips. A smile that could launch a thousand ships.

“I remember her,” Steve confirms. “I had the biggest crush on Boop when we first met. She was a beautiful person, inside and out. And one of my first friends in the USO.”

Now it’s the young man’s turn to smile. “She never forgot about you. She taught me and my brother all your lines from the stage show and we’d put on little plays with her in the backyard. We’d fight over who got to be you and who got to be Hitler but I always won, on account of my name.”

Steve tilts his head in curiousity and the kid looks down. “My name’s Steven. After my father. After his father. All named for you.”

“That’s--”

“Embarrassing,” Steven fills in, with a wince. “I can’t believe I just told you that.”

Steve laughs. “You aren’t crying. I can’t tell you how many people cry on me when they meet me for the first time.” He gives the boy a pat on the shoulder. “You’re doing fine. If you’ve got a minute, I’d love to hear about your great-grandma. How life turned out for Boop.”

Steven nods enthusiastically. They take a table and Steve completely loses track of time. It’s fascinating. He’s happy to hear that Boop had married a serviceman, and that she’d had four children with him. Those children had given her a dozen grandchildren, and when she passed in 2010, she’d been surrounded by a huge family who loved her.

Steven is her oldest great-grandson. He’s a journalism student at NYU and he is just as spirited as Boop. His opinions are hilarious and he is so full of hope and energy and goodness. Steve doesn’t interact with a lot of young people these days so Steven is a breath of fresh air.

It’s nearing eleven when Steve realizes he wants Tony to meet his namesake. He looks around and Tony and Pepper and Rhodey are nowhere to be seen.

“I need to go,” Steve says apologetically. “It was great meeting you, though. I can’t tell you how happy I am to know Boop lived a long, happy life. And here. Let me write down my phone number. I’d love for you to meet Tony. Maybe you could come by the tower sometime?”

Steven looks absolutely star struck as Steve hands him the napkin with his number on it.

“It was amazing meeting you, too,” Steven says. “You are every bit as awesome as she promised.”

That brings a smile to Steve’s face.

Steve pulls out his phone as soon as Steven walks away. He has no missed texts or calls. He texts Tony.

Steve: Still here?
Tony: no
Steve: Oh. Okay. Are you home?
Tony: yes
Steve: Are Rhodey and Pepper there?
Tony: no

Tony doesn’t text like this unless he’s pissed. Steve’s not sure what’s wrong but before he jumps to conclusions he types

Steve: Are you upset?
Tony: no

Right. Steve texts Jarvis.

Steve: Hey, is Tony okay? Sober?

Because Steve doesn’t have to tiptoe around the ugly truths with Jarvis.

Jarvis: Sir appears sober. Ms. Potts and Colonel Rhodes accompanied him home and left shortly after, at Sir’s request.
Steve: They didn’t tell me they were leaving. I was worried.
Jarvis: I got the impression they believed Sir had told you of their departure from the fundraiser. He is in his workshop now. Would you like me to patch a call through to him for clarification?
Steve: No. I’m on my way home. Just keep an eye on him for me til I get there?
Jarvis: Of course.

Steve heads straight for the workshop when he gets back to the tower. Tony’s ripping the guts out of a circuit box like it personally wronged him. He studiously ignores Steve.

“Hey,” Steve says carefully. “I looked up and you were gone.”

“Oh, you mean you took your eyes off Prince Charming long enough to miss me?” Tony asks, with false cheerfulness. “I didn’t expect you back until after breakfast.”

“Prince Charming?” Steve asks. “I’m old enough to be that kid’s great-grandfather. In another life I could have been his great-grandfather. And I will never ever cheat on you. You know that.”

“Do I?” Tony asks. He gives up on ripping out the wires and just starts beating the thing on the table as hard as he can in frustration. Shards of plastic and wire and metal fling off in a spray around him. “Or does it even matter? I’d let you, you know that right? Fuck whoever you want. I would let you do anything if it meant keeping you. I’m fun like that.”

“Tony.”

No reply. Tony just starts banging the metal thingy again even harder. Hard enough that it starts to twist in his hand.

“Tony, can we talk about this, please?” Steve asks, loud over the noise. “Don’t you even want to know why I spoke to him for so long?”

Tony stops what he’s doing and glares at Steve.

“Because he was hot and you’re sick of dealing with the perpetually damaged?” Tony guesses. “See? I didn’t need to ask. Got in on my first try.”

Tony raises his hand again like he’s going to start pounding and Steve just blurts out the first thing that comes to mind.

“I lost my virginity to his great-grandmother!”

Honesty does the trick. Tony’s hand hovers in mid-air and then he lowers his busted noisemaker slowly to the table. Steve continues.

“Boop was an amazing woman and she was kind to me at a time when I was lost and confused and alone. Very, very patient. She’d have had to have been, because I didn’t know any more about how to get around a woman’s body than I did about how to navigate Albuquerque.”

Steve crosses the room and takes a seat next to Tony on the bench. He carefully places a hand on Tony’s wrist. Tony can shove him away if he wants. This isn’t a show of power, it’s supposed to be comfort.

“I’m sorry I wasn’t more attentive,” Steve says. “I’m sorry I gave you reason to worry. I would never consider going home with someone else. I don’t want to be with anyone but you.”

“I’ve heard that before,” Tony says. He sounds plaintive. Small.

“But not from me,” Steve insists. “I can’t stop you from feeling insecure, sweetheart. I can be more aware of how situations might look, though. And I can make sure I check in more often. How you interpret things... that’s up to you.”

Steve pulls his hand away and Tony catches it, in the universal signal for ‘don’t go.’

“Boop?” Tony asks finally. “You lost your virginity to a woman named Boop?”

Tony’s voice is a little shaky but the relief rolls off of him in waves. Steve pulls Tony near so he can give him a proper hug. When he lets go, they stay close, settling against each other comfortably.

“Jarvis? Can you pull up a picture of Mercy Rhodes from back when we were on the USO tour together, please?” Steve asks.

A moment later a picture of Boop appears on the nearest screen. She’s as beautiful as Steve remembers. Large, intelligent eyes, curves in all the right places, dark curls pinned up to frame her face, and an easy, sweet smile as she beams at the camera.

“Damn,” Tony says quietly. “Granny’s got it going on.”

“Had it going on,” Steve corrects. The picture makes him happy, but at the same time, seeing her floods him with a sadness that he’s too tired to mask. “She passed away a few years ago. Had a happy life though. Named a son after me. A grandson, too. The boy you saw tonight was her great-grandson, Steven.”

“Shit,” Tony swears. Now it’s his turn to be the cuddly one. He turns in and presses kisses to Steve’s shoulder. “I’m sorry I’m a jealous asshole. I’m sorry you had to cut talking to that kid short when you noticed I was missing. I’m sorry I--”

Steve quiets Tony with a shake of his head. “I don’t need you to apologize,” Steve says. “Right now, all I really want is to go to bed. It’d be nice if you were there, but if you’re busy murdering a robot that’s okay, too.”

“I want to go to bed with you,” Tony says. “Robot murder can wait.”

It’s a subdued ride up the elevator. Tony holds Steve’s hand the whole way to the bedroom and once they’re under the covers with the overhead lights out, Tony wraps himself around Steve like a squid. Steve smiles as he presses his face into Tony’s hair and breathes him in. Tony’s presence is warm and alive and the soft blue light from the arc reactor relaxes Steve.

“I don’t know what I’d do without you,” Steve whispers into the darkness.

“Fuck old ladies,” Tony whispers in return. “Get some octogenarian venereal disease. Pine for a hot young ass, like mine.”

Steve sputters a laugh as Tony derails his spiraling depression with his ridiculous sense of humor. Tony may never realize how much of a comfort he is to Steve, but this is why Steve sees them as equals. This is why Steve needs him so badly.

This is love.

 

2016 D

True to their word, Clint and Natasha never mind when Steve brings Tony around. They have a regular booth in the diner now. Steve and Tony take one side, while Bruce, Clint and Natasha smush into the other.

They try new combinations of their favorite milkshakes every time they meet up. Steve’s new favorite is the Iron Widow. Clint insists on buying an Avenger Special which is every one of them all mixed together. The smell makes Steve gag. Tony and Bruce are purists. They refuse to mix and match, though Bruce will sip whatever Clint’s having occasionally.

“We want in on the YouTube channel,” Clint declares one afternoon, halfway through dessert. “I’ve got a shit ton of ideas.”

“He wants to juggle donuts,” Natasha says, unimpressed. “Like that’s a talent.”

“While I’m standing on an exercise ball,” Clint says. “I learned to do it when I was twelve and no one ever appreciated it.”

“I appreciate it,” Bruce consoles.

Natasha sticks her tongue out at him.

“Very mature,” Steve muses. “And sure. Why not? We can make it an Avengers channel. Everyone can take a turn.”

“I’m out,” Bruce says, shaking his head. “I don’t think Knitting with the Hulk would go over very well with the other guy.”

“Who said anything about the Hulk?” Clint asks. “Cooking with Bruce. You already do a running commentary the whole time you’re in the kitchen. Live out your Rachael Ray dreams. You know you want to.”

“Bruce is boring,” Bruce says. “And also speaks about himself in third person. Historically not a good indicator of popularity or sanity.”

“I’ll cook with you,” Steve offers. “I could be the person you’re teaching. If you want to do it.”

Bruce looks pensive. “Maybe. What about you, Natasha?”

“Makeup tips,” she says with a smirk. “Or how to kick a guy in the balls so he won’t be getting up anytime soon. Maybe both in one video. I’ve got plenty of talent to share. One of you could be my demonstration dummy.”

“Count me out,” Tony says.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Steve says. “Jarvis can get you all set up. It’ll be fun.”

 

2016 E

“Awwwwww, donuts no!” is the meme of the year.

Clint’s hilarious misadventures in juggling, his downright appalling abuse of ‘the ten second rule’ and his earnest love for his one-eyed dog make him a breakout YouTube star. Companies beg him for endorsements. He’s awarded free Dunkin’ Donuts for life.

It couldn’t have happened to a nicer person.

 

2016 F

It turns out, Tony doesn’t have the market cornered on jealousy. When Steve accompanies Tony and Bruce to a science talk at one of the nearby universities, he finds out just how miserable it can feel.

Dr. Wilkes is in his late thirties or early forties and every word he says for a full two hours goes straight over Steve’s head. He might as well be speaking Martian. Bruce’s face is full of wonder. Tony’s sitting on the edge of his seat, tapping rapid notes into his StarkPad without ever looking down at it, because he can’t take his eyes off the man at the podium. Steve’s not sure Tony’s ever looked at him like that.

When the talk is over (and thank God it is over because Steve’s ass had gone numb about thirty minutes back) Tony practically bounces down the steps to meet the guy. Bruce hangs back, and Steve stands with him.

“So... all that made sense to you?” Steve asks.

“Sure,” Bruce says. “It was fascinating. Dr. Wilkes is a good ten years ahead of his time. Tony’s probably down there trying to recruit him for R and D as we speak.”

“Oh,” Steve says. “Good.” He can’t make himself sound the least bit sincere.

Bruce’s eyes widen and then he laughs. Laughs!

“Oh my God, you’re jealous!” Bruce whispers. He’s radiating delight. He’s grinning like a maniac.

Steve makes a disgruntled face. “You could sound a little less happy about it.”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry. This is mean. I am a mean person for enjoying this.”

“Yes, you are,” Steve agrees. “Why are you enjoying this exactly?”

“Because I’m the one with the most to lose, here. I’m the monster watching my best science friend make a new science friend. But you’re the one making that face.”

Steve turns to give Bruce an indignant look.

Bruce shrugs. “What can I say, I like this petty side of you. Want to go egg his car?”

Steve can’t tell if Bruce is kidding or not, but the thought of tossing eggs at Dr. Wilkes car brings a smile to Steve’s face.

“Kind of, yeah,” Steve admits. “But we shouldn’t. Too many witnesses.”

“I suppose so. But for what it’s worth,” Bruce says, “When Dr. Wilkes posits that X-395 is fissionable by the introduction of ultra-fast proniating neutrons, he’s not accounting for the inelastic scattering of the proton energy field and probably he’s going to blow himself up. That might be what Tony’s down there trying to explain.”

Steve glances back at his boyfriend. Tony’s moved over to the nearest white board and he’s using a marker to write out a long, complicated equation. He pauses to explain a set of brackets, points at the board and underlines something, and the group gathered around him laughs. Tony’s audience grows by the second. Dr. Wilkes, and half the people who are left in the room, are taking notes. They look varying degrees of confused and amazed. There is absolutely no doubt that whatever Tony’s saying is absolutely blowing their minds.

“He’s taking them to school,” Bruce says, once Tony turns back around to write a few more calculations on the board. “Ten years ahead of our time is still twenty years behind Tony...”

The pride in Bruce’s voice is unmistakable. Bruce is exactly the kind of friend Tony deserves.

“Mind if I go down and join him?” Bruce asks. “He’s got a covariance where he needs a correlation.”

“And that’s bad?” Steve asks.

Bruce’s smile brightens. “That depends on how you feel about relocating Manhattan to the moon. Me? I’m not a fan.”

 

2016 G

There are no words for the level of delight on Tony’s face when Steve confesses his bout of jealousy. They’re in bed, and they were about to go to sleep, except now Tony’s bouncing on the mattress with excitement.

“Seriously? You were going to egg his car?” Tony asks.

“It was Bruce’s idea,” Steve says, dragging one of the pillows over his own face and holding it there. “I didn’t like the way you looked at him.”

The last words are muffled, and Tony’s not having that. Steve doesn’t fight when Tony straddles his waist and yanks the pillow away. Tony’s beaming down at him and Steve groans.

“It’s not like I’d have really done it,” Steve says.

“I dunno, Captain Covetous. It sounds like you would have, if the street had been deserted.”

“Fine. If the street had been deserted and I already had the eggs, yes. Sure. I might have tossed one or two. I’m petty, okay? Bruce thinks it’s one of my better qualities.”

Tony nods. “Bruce is smart. Listen to Bruce.”

Tony leans down to kiss Steve, and Steve opens his mouth and sucks on Tony’s tongue and shudders with just how good having Tony close makes him feel.

Jealousy isn’t fun. Ending the night together because in the end this is where they both belong? That’s fucking excellent.

 

2016 H

Life goes on. Sober and happy, Tony develops new inventions at a rate unmatched by any of his peers. Unmatched even by Howard’s successes at the height of his career.

Steve still takes on missions for SHIELD but he’s choosy now. He only leaves the country when absolutely necessary and when he’s overseas, he works fast. When he’s home, he and Tony date. They watch movies, they make pasta, they laugh. Steve accepts a $200,000 Maserati for his birthday with very little fuss. (Once Steve lays eyes on the shiny, blue sports car he’s in love.) (They’ll have to pry the keys out of his cold, dead hands.) (He’s dating a billionaire. Still not used to that.)

Steve’s caught Tony working on his Iron Man suits a few times, but Tony doesn’t want to talk about it. Clint and Natasha still aren’t ready to have Tony back on the team, and they all know it. And while their friends seem to genuinely enjoy Tony’s company again, they don’t turn their backs on him.

Steve knows the day will come. He just doesn’t know how long it’s going to take.

Turns out, fate takes matters into her own hands.

The Avengers are in a fight that they just might lose. Hulk gets drawn away early, out of the fray, and Steve’s fighting off more bad guys than he can count. More than he can take on alone, that’s for sure.

“Barton-- I could use some help thinning the crowd over here if you’ve got a minute,” he says into his comm.

Natasha’s on the next block over and Clint is on the rooftop of the parking garage in between them.

“Can you move toward Tash?” Clint asks. “She isn’t clear. Can’t cover you both unless I grow another set of arms.”

“Protect Natasha. I’ve got this,” Steve replies.

He takes a hard blow to the shoulder and throws his elbow backwards to send whomever hit him flying backward.

That’s when there’s a blast overhead. Cars fly off the roof, fiery and twisted and embed themselves in nearby buildings or hit the ground with deafening bangs. The parking garage is on fire.

“Clint!” Natasha screams into the comms.

There’s something in her voice that sends a chill down Steve’s spine.

“Fuck,” Natasha swears. “Stark-- I know you monitor these comms! Clint’s on the roof. We need an evac! Now!”

There’s something else in her voice beyond fear. Pain, too. Shock.

Steve takes off running toward Natasha’s last known position and God help any AIM minion who gets in his way. He gives the shield a heavy swing. He has no time for their shit.

The next twenty seconds are agonizingly long. When he got to Nat, she’s bloody all over. Dead bodies litter the ground around her. She’s too weak to stand.

“He’s-- Clint’s--” Natasha looks up toward the flames on top of the parking garage where Clint was perched. Steve can see part of it has crumbled. A few cars are teetering over the edge. “Go get him,” Natasha urges.

“You’re going to bleed out,” Steve says. He can’t save them both.

When he sees the streak of red and gold above them, he’s not sure he has ever been more glad to see Tony.

“I’ve got a visual on Barton,” Tony says, through the comm. “Get Romanov out of there. I’ll meet you at the hospital. SHIELD’s 2 minutes out. They’ll clean up the mess.”

“Hulk’s still running around somewhere.”

“Barton first. Then we worry about Banner. Hulk will keep Bruce safe till we can get to him.”

Tony’s thoughts on Hulk have always differed from Steve’s, but there is some comfort in knowing that no matter how bad things get, at least one member of the team is protected.

Steve scoops up Natasha in his arms and prays he’s not making her injuries worse. He runs the six blocks to the nearest hospital at a sprint. Jarvis must have sent word ahead because there are already nurses and doctors waiting for Natasha’s arrival with a guerney. The nearest doctor explains that Clint’s there already and being prepped for surgery. Still alive. Expected to live.

Tony’s off to the side, his armor coated in blood. His mask is closed so Steve can’t see his face, but just by his stance, Steve knows something’s wrong. As soon as Nat is whisked away, Steve walks over to Tony and wraps both arms around him.

“Thank you,” Steve breathes out. “Thank you for coming.”

“Don’t thank me,” Tony says. His voice is steel through the speaker.

“This wasn’t your fault,” Steve says, instinctively knowing that’s where Tony is going with this. “You aren’t on the team right now.”

“And whose fault is that?” Tony snaps.

He yanks away from Steve, and since he’s in the suit, he can add a little shove of warning, too. Stay away. Back off. I don’t deserve the comfort.

Steve knows that’s what Tony’s saying. And he also knows this is how ugly things start. How the next words he chooses are crucial. And how everything they’ve learned in therapy is about to be put to the test.

“You’re right,” Steve says. “It’s your fault you aren’t on the team. Operation Scorch-The-Earth worked great and everyone was pissed at you and even though things are mostly better now they still aren’t back to normal. That’s on you. That’s your fault.”

Iron Man stiffens. That clearly wasn’t what he expected to hear. “Glad you got that off your chest, Cap?”

“No,” Steve says emphatically. “It guts me to put it like that. But what else can I say? You don’t want to hear that I love you and that this isn’t your fault. Or that Clint and Natasha love you and that when the shit hit the fan, Natasha didn’t have to think twice about calling for you. She knew you’d come. She trusted you. That’s team. That’s family.”

Steve pulls the cowl off from over his eyes.

“Tony, please. I’m begging you. Don’t run away. Come with me to check on Clint and Natasha. Please don’t leave me to deal with this on my own.”

This isn’t how the leader of the team is supposed to act. He can’t make himself care.

“I need you,” Steve says. “Please.”

The faceplate lowers. Tony looks uncertain, but not like he’s going to run. He reaches out and takes Steve’s hand in his own.

“I’m not going anywhere,” Tony says. “Not without you.”

Chapter Text

2016 I

Tony stays in his armor as they wait for news. He leaves the faceplate open but the rest of him is entirely closed off. That’s okay. Steve gets it, he really does. It’s awkward to hold hands with Tony in his gauntlets anyway, so instead they lean against each other for comfort, secluded on a couch in a private waiting area. They don’t speak more than a few polite words in the first hour.

“Want some coffee?” Steve asks.

“No, thank you.”

Minutes pass.

“They’ll be okay,” Steve mumbles, this time mostly to himself.

“We’ll never get rid of Barton that easily,” Tony agrees.

Steve flips the television channel away from the breaking news to a documentary about national parks. He stares at a magazine until his eyes blur. Tony spends his time tapping on the wrist display of his suit. Steve doesn’t ask what he’s doing. He’s just glad Tony’s here.

Bruce shows up about an hour and a half into the wait. He’s dusty and his clothes are mismatched and ill-fitting. There’s really no telling where he found them.

“How are they?” Bruce asks. His voice is raw. Pained. Scared.

Steve knows how much Bruce feels for Clint. It’s different seeing Bruce’s emotions laid so bare.

“They’re both alive,” Steve assures him. “The hospital staff promised they’d come get us the moment either of them are out of surgery.”

“I got sick of waiting and let myself into the surgery records,” Tony says, turning his wrist display toward Bruce. “Here. You probably know what this doctor talk means better than I do.”

Tony shifts away from Steve to make room for Bruce to sit between them. Bruce only hesitates for a second before he joins them on the couch and the grateful look in this eyes over this small kindness is almost more than Steve can take. He leans in a little against Bruce’s side, and he can see that Tony’s doing the same. They can’t be there for Clint and Natasha just yet, but they can take care of Bruce.

Once Bruce is sandwiched in between them he begins deciphering the medical jargon in real time.

They all calm considerably once it’s clear from the notes the surgeons are inputting that Clint’s going to be fine. Natasha, too.

When a doctor finally comes to get them, they’re in better spirits. Steve’s sure they must make quite the spectacle walking through the halls, with Tony and Steve still in uniform and Bruce in... a blouse? Cargo pants better sized for Hulk. Flip flops.

Natasha and Clint are in the same room to recover, which makes it far easier to pile in and fuss over them. They’re both groggy, but happy to see their friends. Bruce kisses Natasha on the forehead then takes a seat on Clint’s bed. Steve mirrors that exactly, greeting Nat and then moving to check on Clint. He can see from the way she’s looking at Tony that she wants a moment of privacy with him.

Tony sits on the edge of Natasha’s bed and she says something to him Steve can’t hear. Tony takes off one of the gauntlets and Natasha reaches for his hand. Her eyes are serious but soft. Tony nods then leans down so she can kiss his cheek.

Nick Fury arrives shortly after, and Steve and Tony get sent home. Bruce and Nick can handle it from there.

“You and Natasha good now?” Steve asks, once he and Tony are in their bedroom, stripping down for a shower.

Tony nods. “I really think we are.”

 

2016 J

Steve’s first mission with Natasha and Clint, once they’re cleared for return to duty, drags on for ten terrible days. Steve has a feeling Tony’s tracking him, but they can’t communicate, so he isn’t sure. It’d be against mission protocols for Steve to text Tony and as tempting as it is, Steve’s not willing to put his team in danger just to tell his boyfriend how much he misses him.

If he’s done his job right, Tony already knows.

He and Clint and Natasha debrief with the STRIKE team the whole flight home, so once they’ve got wheels on the ground, Steve hops on his motorcycle and heads straight for the tower. Since Tony’s installed a link with Jarvis, Steve uses it to let Tony know he’s on his way.

“Hey Jarvis?”

“Welcome home, Steve.”

“Not quite home yet, but I’m aiming that way. Can you let Tony know?”

“I have done so already. I believe he is most impatient to speak with you. He is requesting that you make no stops along the way and also that you don’t listen to the radio until he can explain.”

“Okayyyyy,” Steve says.

That sure sounds ominous. The crowd of photographers in front of the tower aren’t a good sign either. Steve pulls around back, up into the delivery bay, and leaves his bike there before he steps into the private elevator.

“Sir is in the shower,” Jarvis tells him. “He has been there since I alerted him that you’d arrived in New York.”

It’d been a thirty minute ride through traffic.

“Jarvis, what’s going on?”

“I have instructions not to say. You’ll need to ask Sir.”

“Has he been drinking?” Steve asks. The thought of that happening because Steve left Tony behind in the states makes Steve’s chest clinch tight.

“I have not observed any indication that he has. You should know, Colonel Rhodes is here and he and Ms. Potts have taken turns staying for the last three days. The colonel intends to leave now that you’ve returned, but he would like you to call him later this evening, when you have a moment.”

“Jarvis--” Steve starts.

This all sounds so bad. The elevator comes to a stop.

“Sir has asked to be the one to explain the secrecy. The door to the master bath is not locked.”

At least Jarvis’s refusal to spill the beans means whatever it is, Tony isn’t in imminent danger. And Steve does feel better knowing Rhodey and Pepper have been keeping an eye on things.

“Tony?” Steve calls as he exits the elevator.

There’s no reply, only the sound of the shower running.

The bathroom is steamy when Steve opens the door, though thankfully the air isn’t overly hot. Tony hasn’t been scalding himself.

“Tony?” Steve asks again. This time more quietly.

The water turns off. Tony peeks his head out a moment later. His eyes are tired and there are traces of red in them. He doesn’t look happy to see Steve. He looks miserable.

“Have you seen the papers?” Tony asks.

“Hello to you, too,” Steve says gently. “And no. I came straight here, like you asked. What’s going on?”

“I didn’t cheat you on you,” Tony says, as Steve hands him a towel. Tony half-heartedly dries himself then wraps it around his waist and tucks it in. “I swear I didn’t. There are photos. I can explain.”

Steve tilts his head slightly. “You don’t have to explain. I believe you.”

Tony opens his mouth as if to launch into another explanation then seems to realize what Steve’s said.

“You can’t know that. You haven’t seen--”

“I don’t need to see,” Steve says. “I don’t think you’d cheat on me. And I know if you did, you damn sure wouldn’t lie about it. If you say it didn’t happen, it didn’t happen. End of story.”

Tony shoulders sag in relief. He grabs for the counter to support himself and Steve rushes to his side, to steady him and then to hug him. He holds Tony tight and doesn’t mind how the wet seeps through his shirt. He doesn’t plan on letting Tony go any time soon.

“This is why Pepper and Rhodey are here?” Steve asks.

Tony nods against him. “They were worried. I tried to buy The New York Post. It was a thing...”

Steve chuckles. “Can’t do anything half ass, huh?”

He lets go of Tony enough to pull back and get a better look at him.

“Want to put on pajamas? I’ll take a quick shower and do the same. We can lay down and nap. I’ve missed you.”

Tony nods.

He’s quiet as he walks out of the bathroom. Steve strips, showers as quickly as he can, and steps out of the water to find Tony’s laid out pajamas for him. Steve dresses and walks to the bedroom to find Tony in bed. Steve slides under the sheets and scoots closer, wrapping an arm around Tony’s wait to drag him back toward him. Tony’s entirely pliant.

“I want you to see,” Tony says. “Before-- before you just let this go. I want you to see the pictures and I want to explain.”

“If it will make you feel better,” Steve agrees. “Jarvis, put them up?”

Steve can see immediately why the press would run wild with the photos. In the first, Tony’s got his arm around an attractive man in his mid-twenties and they’re rushing out of a ritzy hotel Steve doesn’t recognize. In the second, Tony’s ushering the same man into a car, protecting him from the photographers by allowing him to use his suit jacket for cover. The third is a blurry shot of them inside the limo as the door is closing. It looks a lot like they’re in an embrace of some sort, but Steve has zero doubts about Tony’s fidelity in any of these pictures.

“Okay, the hotel might have taken me by surprise. But I know that face you’re making,” Steve says, nodding toward the first. “That’s you’re protective face. Whatever was going on here, you weren’t trying to hide some kid you’d taken to bed.”

Tony nods. “He’s the son of a competitor. He got himself into some trouble and then his parents disowned him and I recognized his name in the paper. I know a little something about how that feels. Went to check on him. Offered to pay for his rehab. I was stupid to think we wouldn’t get caught together.”

“That’s good of you, sweetheart,” Steve soothes. “Really good. See? No reason to think I’m going to jump to the worst possible conclusion. I know you wouldn’t cheat on me. That’s not who you are anymore.”

“It’s not who I ever was,” Tony says with a lot of emphasis and meaning Steve doesn’t completely understand.

“Right. A momentary lapse--”

“No,” Tony insists. “I’ve never cheated. That’s what I’m trying to say.”

Steve pauses. Tony knows he knows about Pepper. Which in this context make zero sense.

“So Pepper--” Steve starts slowly.

“Wouldn’t end things without a reason,” Tony said quietly. “I lied. To her. To everyone. I did take a woman back to my room. We drank. We talked. But I didn’t cheat. No matter how drunk I was I couldn’t.”

Steve has no clue what to say to that. Tony’s voice is so soft that without super hearing Steve probably wouldn’t have heard him. He props himself up on an elbow.

“All this time...” Steve says.

Tony buries his face in the pillow. “I’m a shitty person. I don’t know why that’s ever a surprise.”

Steve gives Tony a light nudge so Tony will look at him.

“You’re not a shitty person,” Steve says. “I happen to know you’re a very non-shitty person.”

“I hurt Pep,” Tony says. “Let her believe all this time...”

“Not your best plan,” Steve agrees. “You know if you ever want to break things off with me we can just talk about it, right?”

Tony lets out a groan. “Ughhhhhyessss I know. Can you not talk about us breaking up right now? It’s all I’ve thought about for three days. How that’s exactly what I’d deserve. Karma for lying to Pepper.”

“Except I wouldn’t have believed even for a second you’d do that,” Steve reminds him. “I trust you.”

“You shouldn’t.”

“You’re here telling me the one time everyone thought you’d cheated in the past you hadn’t,” Steve says.

“Will you please just suffocate me and put me out of my misery?” Tony asks.

“Can I ask you a question first?” Steve asks. “Just one. Then I’ll smother you for as long as you like.”

Tony’s eyes narrow slightly at Steve’s sad attempt at a joke. “Fine. Ask away. I couldn’t feel any more like shit if I tried.”

“Is this it? The last big secret you think is too terrible to share with me?”

It seems to catch Tony off guard. Steve’s pleased when Tony actually takes some time to think about his response. Like he’s really giving it some thought.

“I think you’ve heard the rest,” Tony says. “I can’t-- can’t really think of anything I’d consider big.”

He sounds amazed.

“Okay then,” Steve says. “There we go. I know as much as anyone, probably, and I’m still here. I’m not going anywhere. I am deeply, ridiculously, happily in love with you. All this... baggage. We both have it. It doesn’t change a thing.”

He leans in, kisses Tony on the forehead, and then moves as fast as he can to shove a pillow over Tony’s face. He is extremely careful not to cut off Tony’s air. He’s holding it close enough to be annoying but far enough away that Tony can easily breath, and be heard, and scooch away if he wants to.

“Lemmeeeegoooo,” Tony whines as he pretends to struggles against the pillow.

“Nope. A promise is a promise. I told you I’d suffocate you, and as Captain America I am honor-bound to do it. It’s in the constitution. It was nice knowing you.”

Steve’s teasing has the desired effect and Tony laughs as he finally swats at Steve a little harder and then after a few seconds gives up and wiggles down the bed to get away from the pillow.

“You’re such an ass,” Tony pouts.

“But I’m your ass,” Steve reminds him.

Tony lets that sink in, looks a lot more pleased and then shifts to all fours so he can crawl back up the bed to Steve.

“Yeah, you are.”

 

2016 K

“You think I should tell her,” Tony says. It’s not a question.

A few hours have passed since the conversation about Pepper. Tony’d welcomed Steve back thoroughly, they’d showered, and now they’ve ventured out to the kitchen, half-dressed.

“No,” Steve says honestly, as he swirls a knife around in the peanut butter. “Yes? I don’t know.”

Tony glares. That’s clearly not the answer he’s looking for.

“If I was half as good a person as people think I am, I’d probably say yes,” Steve says. “But if it was me I don’t think I’d want to know. It’s water under the bridge now. She’s forgiven you once. I’m not sure she should have to do it again. It’s up to you, though. Whatever you decide, I’ll support you.”

“I’m sorry,” Tony sighs. “I can’t stop fucking up.”

“Heeeeeeey,” Steve says, drawing out the word to shush away that line of thinking. “You didn’t fuck anything up. Nothing between us, anyway. Where’s this coming from?”

Tony shrugs. “Dunno.”

“I was gone too long,” Steve guesses. “You need to hear how much I love you, every single day.”

“You shouldn’t have to do that,” Tony says. “It’s pathetic.”

“No more missions out of the country,” Steve says. “It’s as easy as that.”

“I can’t ask you to give up your work for me,” Tony says.

“It’s not unreasonable,” Steve says. “And since you deserve all the honesty I’ve got to give-- I’m not really sure I want to work for SHIELD anymore anyway. I want to be an Avenger. The SHIELD missions... I could take them or leave them. Most of the time I’d like to leave them. And I’ve felt like that for a while now.”

“Tell me you aren’t still working there because you think you need the money,” Tony demands.

Steve can see the concern in his eyes. Probably because Steve doesn’t talk about this stuff enough. After all these months, this shouldn’t be a surprise to Tony. It's Steve's fault that it is.

“It’s not that,” Steve says. “Or okay, it was a little bit that. I like feeling financially secure. But the bigger part of it is that I don’t know what else I’d do with myself.”

“Why don’t you take some time and find out?” Tony asks. He abandons all pretense of making sandwiches, to step around the counter and rest his hands on Steve’s hips. “I can keep you financially secure and I am incredibly turned on by the thought of you as a kept man.”

Steve laughs at that. “Seriously?”

“Don’t kink shame me, Captain Prude. Let me enjoy this daydream. You as the starving artist, me as the benevolent patron.”

Tony steps in closer and rests a hand on Steve’s ass.

“You as the poor factory worker with a secret child. Me as the wealthy foreman.”

“You only watched the first few minutes of Les Mis, I take it?” Steve laughs.

Tony leans in and kisses his neck. “There was a lot of singing,” he whispers.

Steve feels shivers run down his spine.

“Kind of the point of a musical,” Steve breathes out. He needs this to be a real conversation but the way Tony’s looking at him is making it difficult to think. Impossible. “You wouldn’t mind? If I spent some time...”

“On self-discovery? No. No, I think it’d be good for you. Even outside all the incredible fantasies I can cook up. You should do this. Look into art school. Or work with one of my foundations. Start your own foundation. Find what makes you happy.”

Steve puts down the knife and peanut butter and slides down to his knees. He presses a few soft kisses to Tony’s thigh, then looks up at him.

“I already have everything that makes me happy right here. Anything else is just the icing on the cake.”

Now it’s Tony’s turn to look incredibly dazzled. He runs his hand through Steve’s hair then gives him a nudge away.

“You’re not-- I mean, you don’t owe me this. The money is no strings attached.”

Steve bites at the bottom of his lip and looks up at Tony with as much affection and lust as he can manage. His hand goes to Tony’s pajama bottoms and he ghosts his fingers around where the waistband meets his skin and then he gives them a rough tug.

“Baby, you couldn’t buy me if you tried.”

 

2016 L

Steve won’t talk to SHIELD without talking to Clint and Natasha first. They meet for milkshakes on a Wednesday afternoon while Tony’s in a board meeting. It’s no surprise when Bruce joins them as well. He and Clint share a side and Natasha slides in next to Steve.

Now that Steve’s made up his mind, he’s eager to move forward and he’s hopeful his friends will understand.

“I still want to be an Avenger,” Steve starts.

“This sounds bad,” Clint drawls.

Natasha kicks Clint under the table.

“I still want to be an Avenger but I want to retire from SHIELD,” Steve continues. “I’ve been thinking about it for a while now. Just-- didn’t know what to do with myself, I guess. And I still don’t know what I’m going to do with myself, but I figure now’s as right a time as any to try.”

Clint lifts his water in salute. “It’s about damn time.”

“Seriously, you thought you needed to soften us up with milkshakes for this, Rogers?” Natasha teases gently. “I’m happy for you. This is good news. Stop looking like you think you’re letting us down.”

“Not that it really has much affect on me at all, but I’m glad for you,” Bruce says. “And technically you’re well past retirement age.”

“Except from the Avengers,” Natasha says. “There is no retiring from the Avengers.”

“That’s right,” Clint agrees. “Can you imagine what an awesome weapon a walker will make when I’m Steve’s age?”

“Or a cane,” Natasha says.

“With a knife in it,” Clint suggests excitedly.

“Or a gun.”

Natasha and Clint flip over their placemats and they’re off. Bruce and Steve talk about a new stroganoff recipe and about a science documentary they’ve been watching on Sunday nights until the food shows up.

Once they’re finished with lunch, Nat and Clint leave their place-mat-weapon sketches behind and Steve pockets them without them seeing.

He’s found his first retirement project and with Tony’s help it’s sure to be a good one.

 

2016 M

“Is this even considered the boondocks, or was that like twenty miles back the other direction?” Clint asks.

“I hear banjos,” Natasha whispers in a low, spooky voice.

Steve glances in the rear view mirror and sees Clint shove at Natasha like they’re brother and sister and all of 6 years old.

“So help me, I will turn this car around,” Tony warns.

They really are in the boondocks. Possibly twenty miles past them. Tony owns some property out here and it seemed like a good idea to take this project out of the city to upstate New York.

At Tony’s warning, Natasha and Clint freeze.

“Yes, dad,” Clint says, before shoving his knee into the back of Tony’s seat.

“You’re both awful,” Tony says. “I want a refund.”

“You don’t mean that!” Clint fake whines. “You’re not even my real dad.”

“You don’t even go here!” Tony retorts.

“Are these movie quotes?” Steve turns to Natasha to ask.

“Bastardized, but close,” she says.

“Name of your sex tape,” Clint says, sounding triumphant. His words are followed by a sharp oomph as Natasha takes her revenge.

They turn off down a side road and Clint gives a quiet, pained cheer.

“We’ve only been driving for a couple of hours and we’ve stopped twice for food. How are you possibly this averse to road-tripping?” Tony asks.

“Because for all I know, the two of you have decided to kidnap us and bury us in the woods. I don’t like not knowing where I’m going.”

“You wouldn’t have known where we were going even if I told you,” Tony says, easing the huge SUV into a narrow clearing. He puts it in park and undoes his safety belt. “Okay. Everybody out. Steve and I need to kill you and bury you real quick because we’ve got an appointment up the road in...” he glances at his watch. “Half an hour.”

Clint scrambles out of the car, as Natasha fixes Tony with a look that dares him to try and then climbs out with steady grace.

“Steve, you wanna get the shovels?” Tony asks.

Steve shakes his head and laughs, but does open the back. Inside there are four massive crates. He lifts them out one by one. Each is labeled with one of their names.

“Go ahead,” Steve says, gesturing. “Merry Christmas.” It’s late July, but he knows they’re going to appreciate what’s inside just the same.

He reaches down to open his own box. He saw Tony being sneaky as they were closing them up so he figures he’s got at least one or two surprises to look forward to.

“Holy. Shit.” Clint swears. “This is awesome!”

Straw flies everywhere as Clint starts dragging weapons out of his crate. Natasha’s excited enough that she’s moving quickly, too. And really so are Steve and Tony. This is too much fun to delay.

Between the four of them, they have the most high-tech paintball gear ever invented. There are jumpsuits. Tactical gear. Guns. Bows. Arrows. A variety of the most creative paintballs Steve and Tony could imagine. Face guards. For Natasha, a cane with a built in paintball gun. For Clint, a duel-cam bow with Tony-Stark levels of flare.

“Bad. Ass,” Clint says, lifting it and admiring it with the sort of adoration generally reserved for a firstborn child.

“Not bad, Stark,” Natasha says, already strapping weapons to herself. From the way she’s looking at them, Steve’s pretty sure the paintball stingers are her favorite. “Now I see why we left Bruce at home.”

“He knew what was up,” Steve agrees. “He helped design a few of these. And he promised he’ll have dinner waiting for us at the tower when we get home.”

“Teams?” Clint suggests.

“That’s what we figured.”

Steve pulls out a paintball shield that Tony has stealthily painted to look like an arc reactor and snuck into Steve’s stash. Steve’s got guns, too. So many guns.

Even Tony, who’s never been big on carrying traditional weapons, is holding a paintball assault rifle that would send whole armies running. He’s got a paintball gauntlet, too, attached to his hand. And that’s before he pulls out a series of large gun parts that he has to assemble on the spot.

“Is that-- are you making a bazooka?” Clint asks.

Tony grins like a seven year old. “I so am.”

“This is the best day of my life,” Clint says.

They all gear up, and then Tony explains the rules. He and Steve have come up with a game that borrow rules from Capture the Flag, Kick the Can, traditional paintball, and The Art of War. Basically, they’ve spent waaaaay too many late nights on this.

The whole afternoon plays out like a dream. They take paintball warfare to a whole new level.

“Barton, I will end you!” Steve hears Natasha shout from across the woods.

Clint is cackling loud enough to be heard easily despite the distance. “It wasn’t me, Nat! It was Tony, I swear. He’s a sharpshooter. You’ve got to keep your eyes on that guy.”

“You think I don’t know how to track the direction of a bullet? You shot me, ass!”

“No. I shot your ass,” Clint laughs. “Big difference!”

Steve hears Natasha’s paintball cane shoot out a few new rounds and then Clint cry out in horror.

"Not the StinkyPinks!”

Those were Steve’s personal favorites, too. They cover you in pink glitter glue and smell like sewer. He was definitely saving his for Clint. As was Tony, apparently, because by the time they all came back together once the game was over, Clint was pink and stinky from head to toe.

“Feel free to declare me your queen,” Natasha said, handing Steve back the Team IronAmerica flag.

She may have won, but she was also oozing paint.

“The bazooka?” Steve guesses.

She nods and Tony beams.

They strip out of their gear and jumpsuits without much care for privacy. Tony used to be so concerned with anyone seeing his arc reactor and now he doesn’t appear to think about it at all, as he guzzles some bottled water and stands around in nothing but his boxers.

Steve pulls his shirt off, too, and groans with the effort of moving his arms. He has never been so sore without a building collapsing on him first.

“This is going to be an awful ride back to the city unless you brought some portable showers,” Natasha says.

“Nah,” Tony says. “I figured we’d strap Barton to the roof. The rest of us can just ride with the windows down. We’ll be fine.”

“Ha ha,” Clint grouses. “Seriously. Shower?”

Tony nods, and fiddles with a panel on the back of his jeep. Two showers pop out of the top, one on either side.

“I call this one,” Natasha says. “And I’m the winner so I get it all to myself.”

“No way you’re pawning off Pepé Le Pew on us,” Tony objects.

“Queen Natasha has spoken,” Nat declares.

She raises a hand to silence any objections and then turns her back on them to strip down to just her bra and underwear, and then she glances back over her shoulder to glare at them until they look away.

“You’re such a nerd but fine,” Tony says. “Barton, you’re with us.”

Clint’s presence means Tony and Steve are a little less handsy in washing each other, and it also results in a sort of awkward not touching Clint dance, because Clint strips naked without a care in the world and then stands directly in the middle of the spray, hands on his hips, junk jutted forward, just to be a dick.

“You practicing for the Victoria’s Secret runway, or just really, really proud?” Tony asks, as he gives Clint a nudge to move him forward and out of the middle of the stream.

Clint shrugs. “If you’ve got it, flaunt it.”

And God does he flaunt it for the next minute and a half. Steve’s showered with plenty of guys-- that’s part of Army life. He has never showered with anyone so intent on putting on a circus act with their penis.

Tony and Steve do get their revenge because once Clint closes his eyes to let the spray wash his face, Tony gestures at Steve to move back. Steve does, and Tony springs forward, smacks the temperature controls, and then hops out of the shower range right as the water turns ice cold.

Clint’s scream sends nearby wildlife running.

“Nathashaaaaaa they’re bullying me!” Clint sulks.

“You are such a baby,” she calls back. “But fine. Get over here. I guess now that you’re mostly clean we can share.”

Clint flips off Tony and Steve and then dashes around to the other side of the SUV.

Steve and Tony laugh all the way back to New York.

 

2016 N

“You know I love milkshakes,” Steve says. “I do. But this is both our anniversary, so if you wanted something more your speed, that would have been okay, too.”

“My speed?” Tony asks. “Do foods have speeds? Are you calling me, what? Fast? Slow? I don’t even know what’s more insulting here. You’re going to have to explain this metaphor.”

Steve shakes his head. Tony’s being weird. Or, well-- not weird. Tony’s being oddly chatty, and he’d been oddly quiet earlier, and Steve’s not stupid. Something is up. They’re having their anniversary dinner at the scene of their first date. Mae won’t stop glancing in their direction. Tony’s fidgety.

A marriage proposal is coming and Steve can not fight back his grin.

He’s thought about it, of course. Definitely considered proposing himself. Also considered what a proposal from Tony would be like, and had wrongly assumed it would involve violins and skywriting and a thousand roses. Tony’s romantic gestures were... big. Always.

This feels small.

Perfect.

“What?” Tony asks.

Steve’s daydreaming. Shit.

“What?” Steve asks.

“You’ve got a look on your face,” Tony says.

“Good look or bad look?” Steve asks.

“A look like you know what’s about to happen,” Tony says.

“Yeah? And what’s that?” Steve prods innocently.

“You’re a terrible liar,” Tony insists.

“But I’m great in bed,” Steve says. “You win some, you lose some.”

Tony chokes on his drink. “I can’t believe I ever thought you were innocent.”

“I was,” Steve lies. “You’re a terrible influence.” He doesn’t mean for it to happen but his voice goes a little soft. A little extra fond. He reaches over and rubs his fingers over the top of Tony’s hand. “And I wouldn’t have you any other way.”

“So you’ll have me?” Tony asks.

Tony reaches into his pocket and pulls out a small blue box. He flicks it open and inside there are two rings.

Steve looks at him questioningly.

“Seems stupid for only one of us to show off that we’re taken,” Tony says. “I want the world to know I’m yours.”

Steve’s so choked up he can only get out one word.

“Yes.”

His eyes fill with tears, and he half expects Tony to mock him for it but Tony’s looking a little misty-eyed too.

“That was a yes, guys!” Tony calls instead.

Which is apparently a signal because Clint, and Natasha and Bruce and Pepper and Rhodey all stream in from the kitchen. There ware party hats. Roses. Cheering. Seven people cram into a booth made for four. And maybe most surprising, Pepper and Rhodey climb in to join Steve’s side, and Nat and Bruce join Tony. Not surprising anyone at all, Clint attempts to sit on the table.

Jarvis joins them by phone.

There are milkshakes and more fries and burgers than Steve can count. And when the meal is over, there are kisses and hugs and more congratulations.

Then there’s a limo. With more roses.

So Tony hasn’t completely given up on large scale romance, but it’s all the sort of romance that Steve can appreciate. And he is all the happier when the limo takes them straight back to Stark Tower so they can celebrate there, alone.

“That was perfect,” Steve tells Tony, when they’re in the elevator. “I-- I don’t know how I could be happier.”

“I never thought I’d get here,” Tony says.

He leans heavily against Steve and Steve turns him so he can hug his boyfriend-- fiance-- close.

“Is it everything you wanted?” Steve asks.

“Everything and more.” Tony laughs against him, and presses a kiss to Steve’s shoulder. “Dr. Gerber’s going to shit himself.”

“We should probably send him a thank you gift basket,” Steve laughs.

“We should send him a thank you yacht,” Tony corrects.

“And move up our counseling sessions to twice a week,” Steve adds.

“And that,” Tony agrees. “I-- I have never been so sure I wanted to make something work.”

“We will,” Steve says. “Whatever it takes, we will.”

He tightens his arms around Tony and breathes him in. Wills this moment to see them through forever.

 

2055 A

It does.

Chapter Text





This AMAZING art was created by Mushroom who is legit one of the nicest, sweetest, kindest, most generous Stony artists out there. If you don't follow her you absolutely should! And as always, you can find me at OrbingArrow where I will sit happily reblogging all of Mushroom's considerable talent!!!