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From the Bronx to Bangkok

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It started with a look. A look that Tony gave him sometimes that warmed him from the stomach out. It started with a sideways smile and laughing eyes, skin crinkled at the corners. It hurt sometimes to see; it hurt more not to.

They were alone in the hall that night, debrief finished, no place else to be. Tony’s helmet was tucked in the crook of his arm, his hair tousled from running his still gauntleted fingers through it. He made some silly quip, shot Steve that smile, and then something strange happened. Steve watched the smile melt into confusion as he cupped the back of Tony’s head and kissed him.

Steve took him to bed then, and has many times since then. They aren’t together, not exactly. They, well, they’re just the same as they were before, except sometimes, when they’re both free, they spend the night together. Steve hasn’t regretted it, the kiss that followed the look, until today.

 

5:30 AM. The rhythm of Tony’s breathing says he’s still asleep—not unlike Steve’s arm, which Tony is sleeping on. The clock’s tick is very loud, every beat reminding Steve that he needs to get up, go for a run, catch up on the news, be Captain America or at least Steve Rogers. He doesn’t much want to do any of those things at the moment, when he’s laying here next to Tony. He wishes he could regret that too.

Steve rolls onto his side, ignoring the way the movement jostles the erection he’d woken up with. He presses a light kiss onto Tony’s neck just behind his jaw, and smiles to himself at how that always makes Tony shiver when he’s awake. Then he gently wiggles his arm free and waits still and silent to see if Tony will stir.

Tony does, taking one deep breath and turning over, Steve’s favorite smile on his face.

“Good morning.”

“You should go back to sleep,” Steve wiggles his fingers to get the blood flowing back into his arm.

“Mm, no I’ve got… work. I should probably get up anyway. What time is it?” Tony looks around, drowsy eyes not seeming to comprehend what they’re seeing. It’s not often they end up in Steve’s room.

“5:33,” Steve reads from the clock. “A little early for you.”

“It’s fine, I can use the extra time to beautify myself.”

“Goodness knows you can use all the help you can get.” Steve is pleased when Tony laughs at that. “Come here,” he says before pulling Tony into a kiss. Tony’s mouth opens beneath his, and it’s soft wet and warm even as Tony’s rough stubble grazes his face. It quickly turns heated, Tony pulling him down until Steve is on all fours above him. As their lips and tongues slide over each other, Steve can feel Tony’s hands running through his hair and caressing down his side. One of Tony’s legs hooks around his. Steve breaks their kiss to explore other areas, kissing his cheek and behind his ear. He bites and sucks below Tony’s chin and revels in the moan he receives for it.

Steve gasps in turn when he feels Tony’s hand on his cock, fully hard now. He jumps at the touch, pushing eagerly into Tony’s hand. The pressure is perfect, Tony knows just how he likes it.

“You didn’t really think I’d let you leave the bed with this, did you?” Tony whispers into his ear. Steve smiles and kisses gratitude into his skin. He wasn’t going to ask Tony for it, but he’s glad it was offered. But what kind of man would he be if he didn’t return the favor? He shifts his weight to his right arm and reaches the other one down to where Tony’s cock is resting upright on his abdomen.

Tony’s head falls back, mouth slack with pleasure, when Steve takes him in hand. His grip on Steve loosens too for a moment, but he recovers quickly, and then it’s just the warmth of skin on skin for what feels like endless moments. Steve kisses down Tony’s neck, feels his pulse beneath his lips, breathes in the scent of his hair.

“I love you,” he whispers into Tony’s skin, quickening his strokes. Tony gasps and shouts his completion, spilling onto Steve’s hand and chest.

 

That was thirteen hours and forty-three minutes ago. One hour and seventeen minutes ago, Tony had come and asked Steve if they could talk.

 

They’re in the gym, alone. Steve’s just finished his gymnastics routine, Tony’s presumably fresh from the office.

“It doesn’t have to be awkward,” Tony says. “ I know you didn’t mean it. These things happen, it’s okay.” He’s smiling as he talks, gently, like he’s letting Steve down easy.

“I-” Steve stutters. Did he mean it? His first reaction is to protest, how can Tony just assume that? But how can Steve argue that when he himself doesn’t know? There’s no denying he hadn’t meant to say it, but does that mean it isn’t true? Tony’s right that it had been weighing on him all day. He’d mostly be wondering whether or not Tony had heard. If he’d cared. Now Steve has the answers to both of those questions and a growing hollow feeling in his chest. Tony had heard, didn’t care. Had no feelings of his own to disclose. Given the nature of their relationship, that should’ve been what Steve had expected. He should be fine with that.

“Thanks,” he says simply. There’s nothing else to say until he gets himself sorted out. He does appreciate Tony’s… considerate attitude towards the situation, so it’s as good a response as any.

Tony just nods, still smiling pleasantly. But then his smile falters, he looks hesitant. “This doesn’t have to change anything, if you don’t want it to. Like I said I won’t—” he stops mid-sentence as the Avengers cards in their pockets begin beeping simultaneously.

 

Now it’s dark, the air is humid. His shoulder hurts like hell and Tony is lying a few yards away, armor limp, but not dark. In fact, there’s very little light around them that isn’t coming from Tony’s armor.

“Iron Man!” Steve calls as he gets to his feet. His legs are sturdy, at least. He’s only down one arm, he could be much worse off. Like Tony maybe. He kneels in the dirt next to the armor, and lays his hand on the chestplate. “Wake up, Avenger,” he says, as much a wish as an order.

And Tony does, helmet slowly turning to face him. “Why do I feel like I’ve gone ten rounds with Hercules?” he asks.

“That kid said he was going to blast us into another timezone. I think he meant it.”

“Terrific,” Tony says, helmet thudding on the ground as he drops his head back down. After a few moments he sits up and then slowly stands, the armor creaking where it had been dented from their fall.

“You good?” Steve asks.

“Yeah, fine. What about you? Your shoulder looks pretty bad.”

Steve looks down, seeing where his scalemail has been blasted away and a black and red plasma burn is already starting to scab over. “It’ll heal,” he says. It might take a week, but Tony doesn’t need the details.

“Right,” Tony says, somehow managing to sound doubtful despite the suit’s vocal filter. “Where do you suppose we are? My GPS has nothing. I know we’re underground but it could be anywhere from the Bronx to Bangkok for all I can tell.”

Steve’s Avengers ID tells him likewise, flashing a ‘No Signal’ warning. “Between the two, I’d put my money on Bangkok. I can’t hear the subway, and I’d say that puts us beyond the boroughs.”

“Imagine their faces when the team swoops in to rescue us and finds us enjoying some Thai food,” Tony jokes.

“I think if you paid for their meal, they’d forgive you eventually.”

“I look forward to it,” Tony says before pointing past Steve. “According to my sensors that way leads up. I can’t say if it leads out, but it’ll at least take us in the right direction.”

“Any chance you can just blast our way to the surface?”

“The cave is more likely to collapse on us before I could make a big enough hole.”

“Right, it’s never that easy. Lead on,” Steve gestures into the darkness. He spares a moment to hope the other Avengers have fared better than he and Tony. With any luck, they’ve already taken the kid in and are combing the world for their missing teammates. Trapped as he is, there’s not much he could do to help them regardless of what situation they may be in. He resolutely pushes the worst images from his mind and refocuses on the task and trail ahead. He just hopes it isn’t a long one.

Tony sets off, armored feet clanking unglamorously on the stone. It would be him, Steve thinks, that I up be trapped here with. One of those vindictive turns of fate that puts you exactly where you don’t want to be. He’d been almost relieved when the alarm had sounded, calling him away from a conversation he wasn’t prepared to have. Well, no distractions now. Just empty tunnels and the object of his confusion.

That’s not to say there aren’t benefits to having Tony as his partner in this. In the armor Tony’s a heavy hitter, they’ve had a lot of practice working together, and—most importantly at the moment—Tony glows. The soft light of the RT clearly illuminates the tunnel, revealing a forest of stalagmites and stalactites and a charmingly low ceiling. They weave through it in silence for a while, Steve watches the blue light reflect around the cave, glinting off of every surface. Steve thinks if you added a splash of green and purple, it could look like something out of Star Trek.

 

Steve opens his eyes. The plaster on the ceiling hasn’t changed in the last five minutes; it’s just the same as it was the first six times he found himself staring at it. He huffs, and rolls onto his side to face Tony. It’s strange seeing him like this; before now Steve’s only ever seen Tony asleep in places he shouldn’t be—the couch, his office, even the quinjet. Never in his own bed. Never up this close.

Lit from below by the soft blue of the RT, Steve sees every detail of his face. His expression is so gentle, his lips slightly parted like he’s expecting a kiss. Steve wonders if his lips might even be a little swollen still from all the attention Steve had given them… and all of the attention they’d given Steve.

Steve rolls over. He doesn’t think Tony will much appreciate it if he spends the whole night watching him sleep, but Steve isn’t sure what else to do. He knows it’s gonna be one of those nights. It’s different from the sort of insomnia he’d had before the serum, there’s a different sort of alertness and energy humming through him. He’s talked to Tony about it, sometimes, when they were both awake into the early morning. They’ve concluded that sometimes his brain just wants him to be on watch.

He finds it happens a lot his first night with a new… lover. He expected it might be different with Tony, with how long they’ve known each other. No such luck. His brain still expects him to spend the night on the lookout for… lions, or something. Steve rolls onto his back again.

“Can’t sleep?” Tony asks, voice rough.

Steve nods. He hopes Tony wasn’t awake to notice Steve staring at him.

“Is it the light? I can grab a shirt,” Tony says already throwing back the covers.

“No,“ Steve insists, he hadn’t even been thinking about it. “I think I like it.” He puts his hand on Tony’s wrist. “I don’t like that you need it, but it suits you, in a way,” He smiles, seeing Tony’s confusion. “You always did know how to light up a room.”

 

Steve frowns at the recollection, trying to push the scene from his mind. That’s not exactly the sort of thing you say to someone you’re casually sleeping with. He’d known things with Tony could get complicated, but he hoped he’d be able to keep his head on straight. Steve knows better than to confuse physical attraction with romantic interest. They’d talked about it; they’d both been pretty clear that their relationship fell strictly into the purview of the former. Either of them was free to break it off whenever they found a real romantic partner. He and Tony were just… passing the time.

And yet, it had been a few months and neither of them had found anyone else. For his own part, Steve can’t say he’d really been looking. Is it odd that he hasn’t felt the need to?

Ahead of him Tony stops, and as Steve draws level with him he feels himself frown. Before them the floor sharply drops away into a chasm, the light of the RT failing to illuminate the bottom.

“All aboard?” Tony asks, spreading his arms. Steve nods, stepping close and putting an arm around his shoulder. As the rocky floor falls away beneath them, Steve notes that they seem to be flying exceptionally slowly. He would understand the caution if the RT were Tony’s only way of seeing through the caves suffocating darkness, but he has radar and sensors in the helmet. Was the suit damaged by the attack or subsequent fall? He studies the passive faceplate. It, of course, reveals nothing.

When they touch down Steve continues his study of Tony’s movements, suspicion growing in the back of his mind. Tony is stiff as Steve untangles himself, and doesn’t improve much as they start to walk once more. Steve observes for a while, noting every awkward step, or slowing of their pace as they trudge through the cramped, dark cave. Tony’s hard to read inside the suit, but let it never be said that Steve doesn’t like a challenge. It doesn’t take long before he considers himself convinced.

“Why don’t we take a minute to rest,” he suggests, not waiting for Tony’s response before taking a seat on the clammy floor.

“All right,” Tony concedes after a pause. He lowers himself slowly onto a natural shelf in the rock. “Are you feeling okay?” he asks, “How’s your shoulder?”

“Sore,” Steve says before rotating the aforementioned joint. “Healing.”

Steve watches the helmet nod silently. He doesn’t know what to say after that. The ensuing silence is awkward, and strange. Strange because things haven’t been like that between them for a long time. He can’t say he’s missed it, that feeling like he was on uneven terrain, of never knowing where to step, that always followed a fight with Tony. They hadn’t even fought this time. Everything had been going so well. So damn well.

After a few minutes the need to fill the silence starts to itch at him. He can’t stand it, this quiet Tony who thinks too much and says too little. He looks over at Tony, stiff and still in his metal shell. He has to say something to fix this, but not now. Not when Tony is concealing an injury. Not when he’s not even sure what to say. When they’re home, when everyone is safe… then he’ll make this better.

“Well,” Steve says, “Shall we continue?” He stands and turns to Tony, watching him rise with all the patience of a predator. Steve’s frown deepens.

“You’re injured.”

“I got a bit knocked around in the fall. So did you. We keep going.”

“You might’ve mentioned it.”

“I’m not bleeding, I’ll be alright.”

Steve studies him. It’s true that he doesn’t see any puncture marks or crushed sections on the armor. That doesn’t rule out other forms of injury, but he has no immediate way to diagnose those. He’ll just have to take Tony’s word for it. “Well, try take it easy. I’m not sure how long we’ll be trapped here.”

“Hopefully not too long. My sensors can’t pick up the surface yet, but we’re still going upwards so we’re at least headed in the right direction.”

Steve nods. “Keep me updated. On both our heading and your condition, got it?”

The armor nods in return, and then starts their slow march once again. The path continues steadily for a while, but then begins to narrow. Steve waits patiently for Tony to squeeze through the tight sections. He’s not much faster at getting through them himself, the necessary contortions pulling painfully on his shoulder. Soon enough, the path widens again.

They don’t talk much, just the occasional updates on their heading and speculation about how the other Avengers may have fared. They get a good two minutes of conversation out of it when Tony announces his scanners have finally detected ground level, but it still has that weight of awkwardness over it, and Steve hates it more with every passing second. He wants things to be the way they are when things are best between them, when they aren’t fighting, when they understand each other, when things make sense. How it was just two days ago.

 

They’re eating lunch in the dining room, both sitting at the table quietly. Tony pokes at his tablet, Steve is reading reports on his own. It’s nice, just having someone else around without them being a distraction. There’s never any pressure from Tony to inform or entertain.

Steve hears the soft whirring of the elevator and muffled voices rising with it. Shortly the elevator dings, admitting James Rhodes, Carol, and Jan into the main living quarters.

“Yeah, Steve’s right. The level five course is simply the wrong one for their powersets.” Carol says, apparently continuing yesterday’s discussion regarding the New Avengers training regimens.

“Oh sure, everyone side with G.I. Joe,”Jan says, exasperated. “Sometimes a person needs to–”

“Duke,” Jim interrupts. “G.I. Joe was the unit, Duke was the blond guy. I assume that’s who you meant.” He and Carol high five.

Jan rolls her eyes. “Jeez, they weren’t kidding when they said that cartoon was a recruitment tool for the military.”

“Well, what did you watch?” Carol asks as the group crosses into the dining room, “Jem?”

“That accusation,” Jan pauses, pointing her water bottle at Carol, “is truly, truly, truly, outrageous.”

Steve lets himself be an observer, not daring to enter their whirlwind conversation, even if it’s obliquely about him. He doesn’t have much of a foothold here anyway. He looks over at Tony, and finds Tony looking back at him. They smile at each other, the corners of Tony’s eyes crinkling gently before he looks down to his plate, the smile still warming his face.

“And you know what?” Jan continues, tapping her chin. “I’m pretty sure I was right to call Steve G.I. Joe,” she puts a hand on Tony’s shoulder and he immediately grimaces, “because I remember Tony telling me that the original G.I. Joe action figure was an unlicensed Captain America doll,” she continues over Tony’s desperate shushing motions, “which he owns.”

There wasn’t any more peace or quiet after that.

 

Steve lets the silence lie, their echoing steps the only soundtrack to their journey. He wonders why that scene has stuck with him. There’s nothing monumental in it; it was a day like any other. But it had been nice.

He has a lot of moments like that with Tony. Some of his best memories of being an Avenger haven’t come from victories, but from little moments like that where they felt like a family. Moments where he’d been able to turn to Tony and know that someone else felt the same way. Steve rubs at his chest, dispelling the phantom ache.

He knows he’s chased those moments. There have been a lot of times when he could’ve just let the team fall apart, but he always resisted, rebuilt. Because he believes in the Avengers, loves the team as his family. There have been maybe just as many times when he could’ve let Tony go, but they’d always talked it out in the end. Is it so outlandish he might have pursued him for the same reason?

Prior to the start of their… current relationship, Steve had always considered his affection for Tony to be the same, or at least similar to how he feels about his other teammates, but he finds in a side by side comparison that doesn’t hold up. He thinks if any of them were in Tony’s place he wouldn’t feel the same way. Heck, he certainly wouldn’t sleep with most of them, and they’re not an unattractive bunch. It’s hard to deny that the way he feels about Tony is something special. He pushes the thought away as he feels his neck heat beneath the cowl. Luckily they have to squeeze through another tight passage, this one longer than the others, and Steve finds himself grateful for the distraction. Tony seems even clumsier this time, unable to find purchase on the slick stone walls.

“Tony,” Steve says once the passage has finally widened again. “Why don’t we take another rest.”

Tony doesn’t stop or even seem to register than he’d heard him.

“Tony,” Steve says with a little more force, coming to a stop. There’s no response.

“Stop, dammit,” he barks, his frustration with the situation getting the best of him.

The armor does stop walking then, but doesn’t react otherwise, not even turning to look at him over its shoulder. There’s something entirely unnatural about it.

In a few long strides he’s face to face with Iron Man. “Armor, lift faceplate,” he orders after giving his override password. He hears more than sees the responding swish of the metal being retracted– from the second he sees Tony he stops seeing much of anything else. Tony’s eyes are closed and he seems extremely pale. Steve touches his cheek and finds him clammy. It’s clear he’s lost consciousness due to his injuries, the only question now is their exact severity, and if there’s enough time to intervene.

“Disassemble,” Steve commands, and a limp Tony slumps into his arms. He gently lowers them both to the ground, cradling Tony’s head in his lap. “Armor, how long has it been since he lost consciousness?”

“Nearly three minutes,” the electronic voice replies from the faceplate lying next to him. Steve pulls Tony's shirt up, looking for signs of injury, and doesn’t have to look any farther to find them. There’s a massive bruise on his abdomen. “Internal bleeding,” he says.

“His liver,” the faceplate replies. “He will require medical intervention.”

“Did you tell him that?” Steve asks, unable to keep the accusation out of his voice.

“Yes,” the armor replies, seemly unaffected by his tone.

“He could’ve flown the whole way,” Steve says, frustration mounting.

“Not while carrying a passenger.”

Steve swears thinking of the many tighter passageways they’ve passed through. All this for him.

 

He pulls in deep, sharp, aching breaths. Awareness slowly fills in around him. There's T’Challa pulling him from the shattered glass room, telling him about how Tony had saved him, had taken off his helmet to—. Tony is probably dying now because of it. He doesn't remember thinking about it at all, doesn't even remember how he gotten back in there. He just remembers holding Tony's head in his lap, the bright blood on his lips and his pale pale skin. His whole world narrowing to that sharp point and threatening to fall away altogether.

 

They may as well have never left the Red Zone with how completely he finds himself back there.

Steve brushes a lock of hair away from Tony’s pale face and then pulls the shield from his back. I love you, he thinks, finding the words echo with truth in his hollowed out chest. Without looking away from Tony, Steve orders the armor to reassemble.

He takes a deep breath.

“Fire your repulsors at the ceiling of the cave.”

“At this depth there is a 39% chance that course of action will cause a cave in,” the armor replies as the pieces collect themselves into the familiar figure.

Steve leans his body over Tony, sheltering them both with the shield. “If you’re trying to scare me, you must know I’ve faced longer odds than that.” The armor doesn’t reply. “Just do it.”

The echoing blast and the tumble of shifting rock seem almost simultaneous.

 

7:33 AM. Steve’s neck is sore. One of the unfortunate perils of sleeping upright, he supposes. Even Captain America gets neck cramps. The heart rate monitor beeps along steadily, telling him that Tony is still sleeping. Steve brushes the back of his hand over the steady glow at the center of Tony's chest, feeling the familiar tingle. Tony’s just fine. Or he will be shortly, anyway. Steve reaches for his hand lying limp on the sheets and takes it in his own. He strokes Tony’s knuckles slowly with his thumb, taking comfort in the feeling of Tony's skin under his own.

It had been a desperate play, blasting through, and Steve had half-believed it would be the end for both of them. But hardly a month goes by where Steve doesn’t feel that way at least once, and when he’d opened his eyes the cave was still standing. So was the armor, and the energy shield it had erected around them. Steve will have to think of a proper way to thank whichever AI Tony has installed in his armor these days. He’s sure it was just following its programming to protect its creator, but it did its job and Steve is very thankful. Particularly so when Tony begins to stir.

He’s woken up a few times before, but never seemed to make it all the way to true consciousness. He always smiles at Steve though, which is nice.

“Good morning, Tony.”

Tony mumbles something that might be good morning in return before cracking open his eyes. “What happened?” he asks in a rough voice.

“The usual,” Steve says. They can get into it later. He drops Tony’s hand and grabs the cup of water he’s had waiting on the side table.

“I’m usually wearing armor,” Tony retorts, taking the water with a nod of thanks.

“You were,” Steve says simply.

Tony hisses as he tries to shift into a sitting position. “My side hurts, did I puncture something?” His voice is tight with pain.

“Your liver.” Steve’s fingers dig into the armrest of his chair

“Hm. I knew he’d get me back one of these days,” Tony quips, settling back into the pillows. Steve decides to let that one go. “Why are you here?” Tony asks, blue eyes sharp through the haze of pain.

“Well, you know how much I like hanging out in hospitals,” Steve deflects. “The others have been in and out, visiting while you were asleep.”

“Are you injured? I think you were injured. In the uh—the cave.”

“I’m fine, Tony. It was just a small burn and now it’s nearly healed up.” He pulls the collar of his shirt over to show the small white gauze bandage covering the circular burn on his shoulder.

“How did we get out?”

“I found a way.”

“You’re being especially vague this morning.”

“Maybe I think instead of interrogating me you should be resting.”

Tony rubs a hand over his face. “Fine. I’d like to do that at home. Will you talk to the doctors about getting me released?”

Steve sets his jaw. “I’ll see what they have to say about it.” He leaves the room and finds a nurse, who finds him a resident, who finds him Tony's attending physician. After discussing Tony's present condition and having Steve describe the medical equipment at the tower in great detail, she finally agrees to sign off on Tony's release. Steve makes his way back to the room with the appropriate paperwork and finds Tony typing away on his phone. Steve tells himself Tony hadn’t sent him on this hospital mission just to get him out of the way.

“Teleporting Teen Takes Out Two Titans”, Tony says apropos of nothing.

“What?” Steve says, reclaiming his seat by the bed.

“That’s the headline,” Tony smiles up at him, and Steve feels his heart skips a beat. “I guess we didn’t impress anyone with our little spelunking expedition.”

Steve pulls out his own phone to search for the article. “The other Avengers apprehended him,” he says, still navigating the screen. He finds the link and pulls it up.

“Sure, but that won’t sell papers. Where did we end up by the way?”

“Upstate,” Steve replies absentmindedly, starting his scan of the article.

“That’s disappointing,” Tony says. “After all that I was sort of hoping for Thailand.” Steve barely hears him, too focused on what he’s just read.

The teen—whose identity has yet to be released—then fired on Captain America. Witnesses report that both Avengers appeared to have vanished into thin air after Iron Man attempted to push Captain America out of harm’s way.

Steve puts his phone down and pulls off his shirt. With a sticky rip, the gauze bandage comes free off his skin a moment later, revealing the burn on his shoulder. He runs his finger around the familiar round impression.

“Is it bothering you?” Tony asks, tentative.

“It’s a repulsor burn.” He can’t believe he hadn’t seen how the raised skin forms a perfect impression of Tony’s right palm node. “You tried to push me out of the way.”

“I didn’t mean to burn you,” Tony says. “I should’ve thought it through better, the gauntlet must have still been hot from firing.”

Steve nods and looks down at his lap. He remembers how Tony looked resting there. He’d wanted to get mad at Tony for that. For getting injured in Steve's place, for letting his wound nearly kill him while trying to help Steve to safety, but what’s he supposed to say? Stop risking your life to help me? That’s what Avengers do for one another, that’s part of being a hero. So how can he tell Tony he’d rather be the one doing the sacrificing, that he thinks he might rather die than live without him?

“Thank you,” he says instead. “you saved my life multiple times yesterday. You’re one of the most brave and selfless men I know.” He’s got the proof of that on his shoulder now.

“Am I dying?” Tony asks, laughing. Steve sees him flinch as the movement pulls on his wound.

“No. Not—” not anymore, “—no. Be careful, you have stitches.”

“Then why the Captain America pep talk?” Steve sees genuine confusion under Tony’s smile.

“I’m just trying to thank you,” Steve replies, feeling defensive.

“Well, you’re welcome. What are friends for?”

“About that, “ Steve shifts in his seat, suddenly very aware that he’s no longer wearing his shirt. He’d been planning to wait to have this conversation, but it’s clear he won’t be able to hide his feelings from Tony for very long. He clasps his hands together, knuckles turning white from the pressure. “About our… friendship.”

“Ah,” Tony says simply, slumping back into the pillows.

“I realize this isn’t the best time to have this conversation.” He rubs his hands roughly down his thighs before clasping them together again.

“May as well get it over with.”

“Right,” Steve says, ignoring the way that stings. He clears his throat. “I told you yesterday that I loved you. And, well, I do. You made it clear that you don’t feel the same, so with that in mind I think we should discontinue our arrangement.”

Tony doesn’t say anything, just watches him, brow creased and eyes narrowed, the steady, if rapid, beeping of his heart monitor the only sound in the private room. His gaze feels both piercing and weighted. He can see inside Steve now, to a vulnerable place he just learned existed, and the silence weighs on Steve like a physical presence. It’s been a long time since he’s felt like he had this much reason to be ashamed of his feelings. It’s not the sort of thing one gets nostalgic for.

“Well, say something, dammit,” Steve urges, voice as level as he can manage. It was Tony who had said they should get it over with, what’s the use in keeping Steve in suspense now?

“I have a different suggestion,” Tony finally says.

Steve sighs, “And what’s that?”

“You should let me take you out to dinner.” There’s a hesitant smile on Tony’s face and Steve feels his own mouth move to mirror it. “And you should order something incredibly expensive, even if you hate it, just so I can feel like I’m spoiling you. Like I do for all of my dates.”

Steve feels like his own heartbeat must be as loud as Tony’s right now, there’s no way Tony can’t notice the way it’s beating out of his chest like some Tex Avery cartoon. “You’re serious.”

“Would it make you happy?” Tony asks, as if there’s some question. He stretches his hand out from the side of the hospital bed, offering more with that simple gesture than Steve had thought to hope for.

“Very,” Steve says, and he takes it.