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Or Call Me Something Else

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“It’s about making a connection,” Nat explained, connecting her fist with the chin of the HYDRA operative in front of her.

“Connection?! That’s not a connection. It’s a fleeting, one-sided interaction. At best it’s hollow, and at worst it’s disingenuous.” Steve pushed open the heavy double doors and was greeted by six more agents, storming down the hall. From the outside, this building looked like an old school or a library. He would never have guessed it was a secret HYDRA base, the last of nine bases they had raided over the past week’s mission. “It would feel like being paraded around. Like I was in the USO again reading poorly written lines off the back of a fake shield.”

Steve slammed the real shield against the chest of one of the advancing agents and she careened backwards into the wall with a satisfying thud. Nat took out the three on her side, while Steve bounced the shield down the hall to knock out the last two. Steve and Nat pushed forward to the door at the end of the hall, scanning the room for any additional agents, but finding it empty. They made their way over to the bank of computers, and Nat began looking them over.

“Besides,” Steve continued, “I can’t imagine anyone out there wants to see a picture of what Captain America has for breakfast.”

“So far, nine thousand eight hundred and eighty-eight people want to see what Captain America has for breakfast.” Nat paused in her work to pull out her phone. “Either that or they’re hoping for post-workout pictures. Oh, look, eighty-nine now!”

Nat turned the screen towards him and he could see a little profile page made out for him with the shield as his picture and ‘realcaptainamerica’ at the top. Sure enough, it said 9,889 followers. Steve gaped at the screen. “You already made me an Instagram?”

“Welcome to the 21st century. Just be sure to check the settings on your phone, so it doesn’t automatically upload all your naked pictures of Tony. Though, that would boost your followers pretty quickly.”

“Geez, Nat. I don’t have naked pictures of Tony on my phone.” He did have some pictures in a special place on Tony’s servers, but that was between him and Tony. And JARVIS.

“Sure, you don’t.” Nat stuck her USB key in one of the computers and started typing away. Steve leaned against the desk, facing the door, shield poised. “The account’s all yours. Your password is tonystarksdick. Enjoy!”

Steve glared at her. “Which? Social media or my password?”

“Well, I meant Instagram, but - “ Nat pulled her USB key out of the console and waved it at him “- that takes care of this mission so I imagine you’ll be enjoying your password pretty soon too!” She shot him a cheeky wink and the back of Steve’s neck heated. She marched off, headed for the door to the alleyway, and he followed. He should never have told Nat about his little arrangement with Tony; she got far too much joy out of mocking him for it.

Still, the blowjobs definitely made up for any jokes at his expense.

“At least I’m getting some,” Steve reminded her with a grin, pushing open the heavy side door and breaking out into the light. They both climbed into the flashy sports car Nat had chosen for the mission.

“Right. As if I’m jealous of your no-strings-attached orgasm sessions with Iron Panties.” Nat hit the gas and roared out towards the highway. “See, you need social media, Rogers. You need to meet some people who want more than a five-minute ‘hang out’ in a broom closet at two in the morning.”

“That was once…” Steve mumbled, crossing his arms. “And you’re wrong. I’m happy with this. I’m not ready for anything serious, I’d mess it up.”

Nat reached over the gear shift and patted his knee mock-comfortingly. “Yeah, you probably would.”

**

Steve chucked his go bag in the corner by the door and shuffled into his apartment, kicking his shoes off as he walked. He unzipped his uniform halfway then gave up on undressing when he reached the fridge. He pulled it open, grabbed a soda, and knocked back half of it, leaning against the counter. He let his eyes drift shut, taking a few even breaths, then startled them open when a hand slipped inside the opening in his uniform.

“Tony…” he hummed, letting his eyes fall shut again. Tony’s heat appeared against his side, firm and insistent. The hand against Steve’s chest floated down to the zipper, inching it down. The other hand went to Steve’s hip and squeezed. He let Tony pet him, and undress him, for a while, until he couldn’t take it anymore and grabbed Tony around the waist, pulling him bodily against him. Steve’s eyes snapped open and found Tony’s face. Tony was smirking, but the flush on his cheeks gave away his need.

Steve knew that need, felt it cascading down his spine and settling in his gut. He drew their mouths together, reveled in the taste of black coffee and whatever he’d spiked it with, and danced his fingers under Tony’s shirt, up his back. “Were you waiting for me?” he whispered against Tony’s cheek.

“You’ve been gone for six days. Of course, I was waiting for you. I ran out of self-control five days ago and I’ve been jerking off in your bed ever since.”

“Jesus, Tony.” Steve’s cock jumped to attention, trapped uncomfortably in his uniform, but not for long as Tony’s hands found the zipper again. They tumbled backwards towards the bedroom, shedding the top half of Steve’s uniform, Tony’s shirt, shoes, Steve’s pants. They didn’t make it to the bed.

Steve bounced off the wall near the doorway, mouth glued to Tony’s, and bumped into the long, narrow table against the wall by the bookcase. Good enough. He shoved Tony’s pants to the floor, pausing to fish out the bottle of lube he knew the other man would have in one of the pockets, then hooked his hands under Tony’s thighs and lifted him onto the table. Tony’s mouth fell to his neck, and Steve groaned as he bit down hard, sucking a dark bruise into his collarbone that would fade in mere minutes.

Steve leaned over Tony, bracing his forearm against the wall. The other hand slipped between Tony’s legs. He slid his flat palm along the inside of Tony’s thigh, down along his ass, his thumb teasing at his hole until Tony gasped and ground into his hand. Steve pulled Tony into a bruising kiss while he slicked his fingers and dropped them back to Tony’s ass. He worked him open roughly; he knew how Tony liked it, the perfect spots to make him gasp.

Unable to wait any longer, Steve pressed forward, yanking Tony’s hips to the edge of the table to get a better angle. Tony slammed his head back against the wall as Steve pushed inside, moaning, his feet scrabbling against Steve’s back, urging him in deeper. When Steve started to move, Tony’s hand dropped to wrap around his own cock, but Steve grabbed both his wrists and pinned them against the wall.

Tony hooked his heels around Steve’s waist and met every thrust of his hips with one of his own. He was so hot and tight and his wide eyes were fixed on Steve’s face, his mouth twisted into a perpetual moan.

When Tony started making the little, breathless gasps that meant he was getting close, Steve released his hold on Tony’s right wrist and dropped a hand to his thigh instead. Hooking his grip under Tony’s leg he pushed up, holding him open, changing the angle. Tony swore and eagerly took himself in hand, stroking his cock urgently. The hand Steve still held pinned against the wall above Tony’s head clenched, fingers digging into Steve’s wrist and then Tony was coming, over his stomach and chest with a cry.

Tony went limp in the wake of his orgasm, his free foot sliding off Steve’s hip and crashing to the floor, the other still held high by Steve’s white-knuckled grip on his thigh. Steve’s body curved tighter over Tony’s, crushing him into the wall, the table, yet still, he pushed harder, needing to be closer, deeper, needing to feel Tony everywhere, trapped underneath him. He dragged Tony’s wrist down the wall until it was beside his jaw and leaned his forehead above it. God, he was impossibly deep, and Tony was impossibly tight and it built and built and broke. He came with a gasp, buried inside Tony’s heat. He hung there, panting, gentle rolling aftershocks breaking over him and sending shivers down his spine.

“Um, Steve?” Tony said, gently patting Steve’s back with his free hand.

“Mmuh?”

“Kinda uncomfortable here.”

Steve chuckled, twisting to rest his chin on the top of Tony’s head for a moment, then pulled back, helping Tony onto his feet. Tony padded, stark naked, into Steve’s kitchen and started knocking back the rest of Steve’s soda, while Steve pulled on his boxers.

“So, how’d it go?” Tony asked, rolling out his wrist. Steve could see bruises dotted around it in the pattern of his fingers and he blushed at the memory of putting them. “You and Nat managed not to kill each other?”

“It was touch and go,” Steve said with a smile, crossing the room to pull another drink for himself out of the fridge. “She made me an Instagram.”

Tony looked at him and grinned. “You’re so sexy when you pout.”

“I’m not pouting. It’s just… weird. She says I need ‘connection,’ whatever that means.” He took his drink and wandered over towards the couch.

Tony reached out and smacked Steve’s ass as he passed by. “I think you’re ‘connecting’ just fine!”

“Har, har.” Now that the orgasm high had diminished somewhat, Steve was feeling wrung out. It had been a long, arduous mission with lots of hitting and not much thinking. Not his favourite kind. He was starving, but realized that there likely wasn’t much of anything edible in his fridge after a week on the road.

Tony got dressed once his soda was finished, and Steve wondered if he was going to head back down to the workshop. It was still early in the evening and he knew Tony was deep in an important project for SHIELD. Instead, the other man flopped down on the couch next to him, halfway through pulling his t-shirt back on. Steve watched the fabric settle over the arc reactor, dimming the blue glow, but not snuffing it out entirely. He was intrigued by the “pretty blue Duracell” as Tony described it, but he didn’t feel comfortable asking. Tony didn’t talk about it unless absolutely necessary and even then, it was usually in the guise of a joke. Most of things Tony said were wrapped up in jokes, really.

“Hungry?” Tony asked, derailing Steve’s train of thought.

“Starving.”

“Takeout?”

Steve was opening his mouth to say, “Yes please,” then thought better of it. “I’m exhausted. I’m going to crash if I don’t move and I need to stay up for a few hours at least. Diner?”

Tony’s phone chimed, presumably with one of his neverending work emails, and he pulled it out and started typing. “Casey’s?”

“Nah, cause they - “

“Oh yeah. Alf?”

“Sure.”

Tony stood, still typing, and walked out. That was one of the things you had to get used to when spending significant time with Tony Stark. He had a forty-five track mind and at most you were going to get two or three of them, at any given time. Even when he was five seconds to orgasm, Steve was pretty sure he was calculating the zero to sixty-thousand on homing missiles or something. Once, he’d actually stopped mid-blowjob to inform JARVIS that he’d solved the “roadblock with the left ankle’s stabilization flaps.” Steve had paid him back for that by coming on his face and then rolling over to go to sleep, leaving Tony hard and unsatisfied. Tony had laughed for about five minutes straight at that which had Steve grinning into his pillow while he pretended to snore. Tony had taken his punishment like a man, giving Steve a swat on the ass before trundling off to implement his new design.

Experience let Steve know that now, Tony was headed up to the penthouse to change, and he’d almost certainly end up down in the garage in ten minutes wondering where Steve was. He frequently failed to actually express these plans out loud, but after living with him for over a year, Steve had it down pretty well.

“JARVIS, can you give me a heads up if Tony gets distracted?” Steve called out, gathering up his discarded uniform and tossing it in the laundry basket, then digging out a fresh t-shirt and jeans. Bizarrely, the top two shirts he pulled out of his dresser were Tony’s, but the third was a success.

“Mr. Stark is currently on his way to the garage, Captain.”

“Thank you.”

In the end, they chose to walk. It was only a few blocks to the diner, Happy was busy with Pepper, and Steve didn’t feel compos mentis enough to take the bike. Even if he did like the way Tony wrapped around him on the back seat.

There was an autumn crisp in the air and the refreshing breeze had Seve feeling wonderfully awake again in no time. They ordered the same food they always did, Tony swapping his fries with Steve’s salad without asking. It was simple and easy and Steve felt the last of the tension from the mission leak out of his shoulders.

Tony talked about his projects in the lab and Steve told him about the mission, employing not-so-subtle coding whenever he thought someone might overhear something particularly sensitive. Tony laughed when he used Utilities Board instead of HYDRA, and Steve stole a bite of his pasta in retaliation.

“I have a confession to make,” Tony said, halfway through his tortellini.

Steve swallowed a mouthful of fries. “Were you the one that drew cartoon puppies all over my reinforced punching bags?”

Tony blinked at him. “Well, yeah, but that’s not what I was going to say.”

Steve ate another fry and made a go-ahead motion.

“I got The Builds with your shield straps, took them apart and rebuilt them.”

“Tony.” Steve shot him a look.

“I know! I know I said I’d ask first and tell you my plans, but it was 3am and you were sleeping and it was such a good idea, I couldn’t help myself.”

Steve grinned at him. “Am I even going to recognize them?”

Tony shrugged. “Yeah, probably not.” He leaned in and Steve mirrored his movement on the other side of the table. “See, I noticed that when you reach back to grab it, while threatened on the left side, kind of like - “ Tony demonstrated the motion. As he twisted back, his eyes flicked up. The warm, excited expression he always adopted when talking about his work dropped off his face to leave blank, cold nothing in its place. Tony leaned back into his chair, out of Steve’s airspace. He tipped his dark glasses back onto his face and picked up his drink to take a long sip. “I’ll show you later.”

Steve risked a look behind him and saw a group of young people with their phones out. Even with his short glance he caught their eyes flicking towards the table he shared with Tony, and he sighed, feeling his face fall. He wasn’t surprised when Tony was cool and detached for the rest of their meal.

When the bill came, Tony tossed a few massive notes on the table and hustled out of the diner, Steve in tow. At some point, Steve had given in to Tony always paying for everything, though it had been a struggle at first. This concession was partly because most of Steve’s money was tied up in government backpay that he hadn’t seen hide nor hair of since he woke up. He was absolutely sure that his file was traveling from one desk at the IRS to another, no one wanting to be the one to take on his case lest they screw it up. He knew a lawyer or accountant could probably help him sort it out, but SHIELD paid him enough to live on in the early days, and then he moved in with Tony and suddenly seemed to no longer have any expenses.

He’d tried to buy things at first, but JARIVS always managed to order what he needed before he had time to go get it himself, sometimes before he’d even realized he needed it. In the end, he gave up - it wasn’t a hill he cared to die on. Tony was so unbelievably rich that Steve’s sketchbooks and Thai food weren’t even going to come close to making a dent. Besides, once Steve finally got off his ass and sorted out the copious backpay, he was going to make a sizeable donation to a charity in Tony’s name to pay him back. Maybe something with kids and science.

They hit the sidewalk as the sun was beginning to set and walked along the bustling street in comfortable silence. A fresh breeze kicked up, ruffling Steve’s hair and filling him with a swelling satisfaction. He was well fed and headed towards a warm bed, his body hummed peacefully with post-sex relaxation, and he had his best friend beside him. He turned his face towards the glowing yellow light and took a moment to appreciate everything wonderful in his life. Tony bumped against his shoulder, dodging a pedestrian’s overly friendly dog and Steve smiled to himself. Tony was so easy, it was a such a relief, he never felt like he had to filter what he said, he never worried about overstepping, or saying the wrong thing, or that Tony would be hurt if he gave him the brush off some nights. They had their best friend thing, they had their sex thing, and it was all just easy.

Tony caught him smiling and gave him a look, but Steve just laughed to himself and turned back to the setting sun.

**

Steve sipped his champagne and tried not to grimace. It was too sweet and had no effect, but it was all part of the show you put on for these sorts of things. It still kind of blew his mind that 70 years on, Captain America could still convince people to open their wallets and give to a cause. Though this time he was in a tux instead of tights. Small mercies.

Tony usually came along to these events - he fit in here like robots in his lab - but if he wasn’t free, or didn’t feel like it, Steve would bring Nat. Once, he had brought Clint. Once.

“Oh my god, do you think that guy’s famous? He has two dates, Steve. Who does he think he is? Hugh Hefner? Are you going to finish that?” This time, however, he had Darcy on his arm.

“Uh, no. All yours.” He traded his half-full champagne flute for her empty and watched her drain it in one go. She’d begged to go, something about Johnny Storm tweeting about showing up tonight and she wanted a chance to, “drool all over his killer abs in person.”

They took a turn around the party, Steve shaking hands and saying, “The people who run the charity, they’re the real heroes, ma’am,” enough times that he was considering keeping a recording of it on his phone. Once the worst of the socialization was over, they found two stools, back by the bar, and took a seat.

Darcy was chatting away about her work with Jane when she broke herself off and turned sharply towards him, speaking softly under her breath. “Oh my god, Steve, that’s Prince Jack. He looked right at me and now he’s coming over here, oh my god. Please, please look even gayer than you usually do because if he thinks we’re together I might die.”

Steve held back a laugh. “I’m hurt.”

“You are not. I’ve seen the way you look at Indiana Jones.”

The laugh wiggled its way out. “Not about the gay thing - though you do know I date women too, right? - no, about not wanting to appear to be with me.”

“Steve. He’s a prince . I wouldn’t want to appear to be with Ryan Reynolds, in front of Jack. It’s nothing personal.”

“I don’t know who any of those people are.”

Darcy shoved his arm. “Just - look brotherly or somethi- Hi.” Darcy turned and beamed at the young man with dark hair who had finally sidled up next to her. “I’m Darcy.”

The man blushed, and Steve recognized the look of someone who was trying very hard to keep his eyes above sea level. Darcy’s dress wasn’t leaving a lot to the imagination. “Uh, I'm Jack.”

“Oh, I know. Drink?”

Steve decided that his best bet at looking uninterested - since he wasn’t sure how to manage “gayer” or “brotherly” - was to drift away down the bar and leave them alone. He ordered a scotch, just to get the taste of champagne out of his mouth, and leaned against the bar while he waited. He checked his watch. Only two more hours before he could reasonably bail. Darcy would probably want to stay, but she could easily get a cab or hitch a ride with someone else. Two hours, and then he could go home, take off this tux - second only in ridiculousness to tights - and relax.

Maybe he’d see what Tony was up to; he was usually up late these days. A low, smoldering heat flickered to life in his gut as he thought about it, and he swallowed hard, willing it to stay there and not make its way up to his cheeks.

He caught a movement out of the corner of his eye and looked up to find a young woman, a few feet down the bar, looking sharply away and blushing deep crimson. She had short dark hair and her green dress floated prettily over the stool she was perched on. Steve smiled back down into his drink. He caught people looking his way a lot, but most of them didn’t do it as adorably as she did. He watched her, without making it clear that he was watching her. Her lips moved a few times and her brow furrowed. She rose half out of her seat, then sat down again. The napkin twisted her napkin between her fingers was shredded nearly beyond recognition. Finally, apparently making up her mind, she stood and powered over to him. “I’m sorry, I just have to - you’re not… Captain America, are you?”

Steve smiled warmly and extended his hand. “Steve Rogers.”

“Wow. Abigail Hannah.” She shook his hand, her bright green eyes fixed on his face and tinged with awe.

Steve shuffled a bit under her wide eyes, not used to such open adoration. Most New Yorkers were too cool to even acknowledge they were watching him, nevermind coming over to say so.

“Sorry, that was terribly uncool, wasn’t it?” She chuckled nervously and he smiled, his mind having been read. Steve could hear the hint of an accent when she spoke - British? “I was joking before that I’d go to New York and meet someone famous but I didn’t think it would happen at this party. I didn’t know it was such a big thing. Or that the someone would be you. Or that you’d look as uncomfortable at this thing as I feel.” She leaned in close to say the last.

Steve chuckled. He gestured at her drink and she nodded so he held up a finger to the bartender. “Oh god, is it is that obvious?”

Abigail smiled. “Only to a fellow sufferer.” She winked. “The girl you’re with seems more in her element. Is she an Avenger too?”

“Oh no, that’s Darcy, no, she’s -”

“Your girlfriend?” Abby interrupted.

Steve held up a hand. “Noo. No, she’s more like - uh - the team little sister? She’s like Thor’s… girlfriend’s… assistant? I’ll be honest I’m not sure, but we all love her. She asked to come tonight.”

“She’s waltzing with Prince Jack,” Abigail said, the awe creeping back in.

Steve grinned. “Yeah, she’s the outgoing one. She’s good at this. People aren’t really my strong suit,” he admitted.

Abigail ducked her chin and blushed again, reaching for her fresh drink and hiding her face in it. “I never would have guessed.”

People flirted with Steve, sure, men and women, but there was something so honest and plain-spoken about Abigail that instead of being annoyed like he usually was, he found himself charmed. “So, you’re not from the city then?”

“Oh, no. I’m doing my graduate studies at Penn. I’m just here for the party.”

“What are you studying?”

“Parallel processing.” At his blank look, she clarified, “Computer science.”

“Ah, that’s amazing. I’m still getting used to computers. You’d get on with my friend, though. Tony. Stark, that is. Iron Man.” Steve fumbled his words, not sure how to handle the fact that to him Tony was just “my friend Tony” but to Abigail, he was famous, and not just for being Iron Man.

“Wow.”

She was starting to look awed again so Steve pushed the conversation in her direction. “You’re a donor then?” He gestured to the huge “Lehman Group” banner that hung over the stage.

“Oh gosh, no. I mean yes.” Abigail shook her head and took a sip of her drink. “I am, but not enough to be invited to something like this. I did some programming for them - they needed a new database system for the donor registry and I offered my services for free as part of my master’s thesis last year. When they invited me to this I had no idea it was going to be such a - a thing.” She tugged at her dress self-consciously.

You and me both, Steve thought with a smile. “So, parallel processing. Tell me about that.”

Once Steve got Abigail talking about her research, she visibly relaxed. The conversation came easily after that, and the party drifted away as Steve found himself drawn into Abby’s words. Research topics segued into talking about Abby’s school, then friends, and onto family.

“I actually came to America for a boy,” she admitted, once her drink was nothing more than a spent lime and a few melting ice cubes. “He was moving to Philadelphia to become a musician, which he never did, and I was in love. So I followed him, even though we’d only been together for a few months. My mum wasn’t well pleased about that. She was all, ‘Abby don’t you run off to another country for a boy!’” She laughed. “She was right of course, he dumped me a month in, but it was worth it. I found a new topic to study, moved out of the city, got a job. All in all, I’m glad I came here. I do miss my family though.”

“I’m glad it all worked out for you. I don’t think my mom would have been thrilled with my choices, either.” Steve winked. By now, everyone knew about his past - lying his way into the army, scientific experiments, fights with aliens. Sarah Rogers wouldn’t have exactly been surprised, but she probably would have had some choice words for him.

“Really, that’s what mums are for, aren’t they? Worrying about us.” Abigail gave him a soft smile. “Mine would like you though! You’ve got a job at least.”

Steve laughed, mostly at the absurdity that what he did could be considered a job.

Abby glanced down at her phone and started. “Oh god, it’s so late. I’m so sorry, I’ve kept you talking for so long. I’m sure you’ve got people you’re supposed to be - I don’t know - mingling with or something.”

Steve checked his watch too. Somehow they’d sailed right past his two-hour deadline, half an hour ago, and he hadn’t noticed. “Not at all. It was nice talking to you. I did my mingling earlier, we’re fine. I was actually planning to make it an early night tonight, but I’m glad we got talking instead.”

“That sounds like a wonderful idea. I usually spend my evenings with Netflix and a glass of wine, not three hundred people and four gin and tonics!”

“I’ll walk you out?” Steve offered.

Abby smiled. “That would be lovely.” She tapped a few buttons on her phone, apparently calling a cab, though she never spoke to anyone. The more Steve saw what everyone else’s phones could do, the less impressive Tony’s was. He’d have to remember to tell him that - it would make Tony wonderfully grumpy.

Steve hadn’t realized how loud the party was until they stepped out into the quiet, cool night. The convention hall was set well back from the street so by the time they trotted down the massive front stairs and reached the sidewalk, the music and chatter softened almost to silence. It smelled fresh, like a rain had just passed, and groups of moths fluttered in the light from each soft streetlamp.

They walked to the corner in companionable silence, enjoying the still of the night. It wasn’t long before the taxi arrived, pulling up to the corner and putting its flashers on. Steve gave the driver a wave and pulled open the back door, leaning on the metal frame as Abby stepped forward.

In the v of the open taxi door, Abigail paused and turned back towards Steve. “I never do this kind of thing but…” She leaned forward and gently pressed her lips to Steve’s. “I’m staying not too far away.... I just feel like we really made a connection, you know? I’d love to keep chatting. Have some coffee, maybe...”

When she pulled back, Steve leaned in after her, drawn by the warmth of her lips on his. He could text Darcy; she’d get a cab home. He liked Abigail. She was sweet and smart and funny. Pretty. He couldn’t pull his gaze away from her bright, green eyes. It would be lovely to spend the night with her. He’d had a plan though - go home, find Tony - and he just couldn’t seem to pull his mind away from that plan. He couldn't imagine waking up in Abigail’s bed tomorrow instead of his own.

And Abigail didn’t seem like the kind of person who would be okay with just a night. She thought they had a connection. And not the Instagram kind. What if she saw this as the start of something? Penn wasn’t that far away; she might want to see him again. Steve wasn’t ready for a relationship, and he didn’t want to lead her on, when he couldn’t give her that. Besides, if pleasure was all he was looking for, he could find the best of that at home without hurting anyone. At home with Tony.

“I’d love to,” he said, finding that he really meant it. “But, my friend - I’d better get her home. Thanks for the offer though. I really enjoyed our chat, Abby. You made a very dull party extremely enjoyable, after all.”

Abby only looked a little disappointed, and not at all surprised. Steve gave her hand a squeeze as she slipped into the taxi. She waved as the car pulled away from the curb, and Steve was left wondering if he’d made a mistake. It didn’t feel like a mistake, though, as much as he liked Abigail, it felt like a relief.

Back inside, Darcy was easily extracted from the arms of somewhat shell-shocked looking prince and installed in the town car Tony had lent them for the night. Once he’d poured Darcy into bed in one of the spare rooms in the tower, Steve started towards his own apartment, then changed his mind and hit the elevator button for the workshop instead. It was only 2am, Tony would still be up.

Chapter Text

Tony was more than up, he was standing right outside the elevator doors when they opened. Tony looked at Steve in confusion, then at the button he’d presumably just pushed to call the elevator.

“Is this a Steve summoning button now? That’s amazing.” Tony pushed it a couple of times in rapid succession as if more Steves would appear.

Steve laughed, then reached out and grabbed Tony’s arm to pull him into the elevator. “I was coming to find you.”

“I was going up for a snack: popcorn or fruit or, you know, whiskey.” Tony pressed into Steve’s space until he was backed against the far side of the elevator car. “There’s something else I’d rather have my mouth full of, though,” he purred. Steve’s hands worked their way under the hem of Tony’s shirt. Tony’s skin was warm and smooth under his fingertips, and Steve‘s blood shot south.

“You smell like booze,” Tony said, burrowing his face into Steve’s chest.

“I was at a party with Darcy. Something interesting happened, actually I met this - uhhnn -”   Steve cut off in a groan when Tony dropped to his knees in front of him. “Oh fuck, Tony.”

Tony made short work of Steve’s zipper, pulling his rapidly hardening cock out and immediately wrapping his lips around it and sinking down. Steve grabbed at the handrail for support as Tony pulled back, sucking, saliva leaking around his lips.

All memories of the party, Darcy, Abigail, champagne evaporated from Steve’s mind, replaced only with thoughts of yesyesyes and a little bit of harderplease. The last he evidently spoke out loud because Tony hollowed his cheeks and sucked Steve all the way down, his nose hitting Steve’s stomach, swallowing around the head of his cock.

He was so wet, so tight, so hot. “God, Tony, that is not going to take long.” Steve’s fingers wound through Tony’s hair and his responding groan vibrated up his throat and along Steve’s cock.

They reached Steve’s floor and the doors slid open. Tony pulled off Steve’s cock then gazed up at him and licked his lips, and Steve nearly lost it right there. He grabbed Tony by a fistful of his shirt and dragged him off to the bedroom. They tussled with each other, and their clothes, until they collapsed, still half-dressed, on the bed. Tony shoved his way between Steve’s knees and sucked him down again without pause. They’d made it as far as Tony’s shirt off, Steve’s jacket shucked and his shirt unbuttoned, and both pants undone before they’d hit the bed. Steve scrambled backwards, his feet losing traction on the smooth sheets and Tony moved with him, never letting Steve’s cock fall out of his mouth.

“Tony, I want to - let me - ” he stuttered out, pawing frantically at Tony’s hair, wanting to feel him, touch him, anything. Tony’s only response was to swivel on the bed, swinging his leg over Steve’s head until his crotch was over Steve’s face. “Holy shit.” Tony chuckled and Steve’s toes curled at the sensation.

He wasted no time in shoving Tony’s pants aside. Steve ran his hand down Tony’s bare chest, over the arc reactor, the light splitting and dancing as his fingers dragged across the glass surface. Tony swallowed, spit spilling out of his mouth and over Steve’s balls.

Once Steve had Tony’s cock free he arched up and swirled his tongue around the head. Tony’s hips twitched down. It gave Steve immense satisfaction, knowing he could make Tony feel good, hearing him groan, watching him writhe, feeling him come; there was nothing like it. He grabbed Tony’s hip with one hand and wrapped the other around the base of his cock, pumping in rhythm with his mouth.

Tony’s wet heat enveloping his own cock, and the heavy, musky presence of Tony in his mouth, combined to push Steve into a wild, needy state. He braced his feet against the mattress and fucked up into Tony’s mouth in time with the bobs of his head. Tony’s hand wrapped around his thigh and squeezed tight, and something about that tipped him over the edge. Steve came, pulsing into the heat of Tony’s mouth. He cried out around Tony’s cock when the other man pulled back and let Steve’s come spill hot all over his cock and dribble down Tony’s chin.

His mouth free, Tony burst into a litany of filthy praises and exclamations as Steve continued to suck him off. He worked his hand in time with his mouth, flicked his tongue out as he pulled back, sucked, swirled, swallowed and after a few minutes, Tony came with a shout. He pressed his hips against Steve’s face, shooting deep in his throat, knowing Steve could take it. And he could more than take it, he loved it. Tony’s pleasure robbed him of oxygen and his heart pounded in his chest, his lungs begging for release while Tony just begged on top of him.

Finally, spent, Tony pulled back and Steve sucked in a breath, the hand on Tony’s hip stopping him from going too far. Arms shaking, Tony tipped to the side, taking Steve with him until they were side by side on the bed, foreheads to thighs, toes hanging off each side.

“Holy shit, that was incredible,” Tony breathed out, and Steve puffed up, grinned. That was another thing he’d never get tired of. Tony didn’t hold back with the praise, was never too proud to be grateful.

“It was.”

Tony’s wrist came to rest on Steve’s thigh, and he felt the pull of sleep on his mind. With great effort, he dragged himself up until his head was on the pillow, dislodging Tony in the process. He knew Tony wouldn’t stay, he never stayed, and sure enough, after a brief recovery, Tony patted Steve’s side and slipped out of the room.

Less than a minute later, Steve was asleep.

**

Steve was alternating watching CSPAN and watching the follower count tick up on his Instagram. He’d finally given in and installed the app on his phone so he could watch it with curious horror. He still hadn’t made a post, he wasn’t sure he ever would, but it was bizarre and not entirely unflattering that so many people were interested in his life.

Or at least in the possibility of post-workout pictures.

He tossed the phone aside and turned back to the TV but his vision was filled with an I <3 Avengers t-shirt instead. “I know stealth is your strong suit, but you know you’re not actually invisible, right?” He looked up and met Natasha’s eyes. She was smirking at him, one eyebrow raised.

“Made a post yet?”

Steve glanced at his phone. Of course, she’d been watching. “No.”

“How many followers?”

“Twenty-eight thousand.”

“Nice. You beat Hawkeye.” Nat sunk gracefully to the carpet, legs folding under her, tucked between Steve’s knees, facing the TV. She picked up the remote in one hand and held a hairbrush out behind her in the other.

Steve took the brush and started the mindless repetition of working the knots out of Nat’s hair. The little ritual had started about a year ago when Nat broke her wrist on a mission and was endlessly frustrated by the things she couldn’t do, including putting up her long, red hair. Steve knew nothing about working with hair but had offered to help and they’d spent the next three days with Nat nursing painkillers, and Steve attempting to master a ballet bun. In the end, he found it soothing, and apparently so did Nat, because even when the cast came off she still came to him, brush in hand, with a silent request for pampering.

They all needed it, Steve supposed. A little comfort from one another, physical support, touch. He and Tony had their way of getting it from one another, he and Nat had another. No one else understood what they went through, what their lives were like. It was hard to find normality, but if they could break off a little piece of it, once in a while, they would.

Steve brushed Nat’s hair back while she flipped through the channels, then started a french braid on one side of her head, working his way around, finding a calming rhythm in sliding the smooth strands through his hand. When he reached the end, he raked it out with his fingers and started over.

Nat’s weight against the inside of his leg was warm and comfortable. One hand still sliding through her hair, the other wandered back to his phone. He checked the Instagram again with a frown. Twenty-nine thousand. What would he even post? It’s not like he took interesting pictures. He opened the gallery app and flipped through the most recent ones, curious.

The cover of a book someone had been reading next to him at the barber’s that he wanted to remember to read himself. Several selfies with Darcy she’d insisted on taking before the party. A cute dog he’d seen at the park. A blurry shot of a sidewalk he’d accidentally taken while out on a run. A map of the factory from a mission with Natasha. All boring. He swiped again and paused.

He’d taken the shot of Tony for drawing reference. He liked drawing all the people in his life and usually found it pretty easy to catch them in a quiet moment and at least get a pose sketched out. But Tony never sat still and never seemed to do the same thing twice, and after several months of half-finished sketches, Steve had given in and taken the picture with the plan to draw from it later. Only he never had. And, looking at it now, he was beginning to wonder if it was because there was no possible way he could do Tony justice.

In the picture, Tony sat in one of the big, cushy armchairs in Steve’s apartment. His elbow rested on the arm, and his chin rested on his fist. He was turned away, looking not towards Steve but towards the bookcase against the wall. He wasn’t seeing the bookcase, of course, he was seeing some equation or schematic laid out plain as day to him and invisible to anyone else. His eyes glowed with it, manic and bright. Steve gripped the phone, caught in the intensity of the moment. He was sure now, he would never draw it. He would probably never draw Tony.

“How many now?” Nat asked from the floor without turning her head from the TV.

Steve switched quickly to the Instagram app. “Almost thirty thousand.”

“Wow. It’s almost like you’re famous, or something.”

**                                                   

Robots they could handle. Even robots who shot laser beams out of their eyes were in their wheelhouse. It was a bit melodramatic, but nothing they hadn’t faced before. A robot that shot laser beams out of its eyes and apparently could randomly grow to the size of a large apartment complex was a new one.

They’d been trying to shut this thing down for over an hour now with no success, and Steve was getting frustrated. The robot hadn’t succeeded in doing much damage, but they hadn’t been able to hurt it back, either. Its casing seemed to be impenetrable, and its long, flailing limbs were impossible to get by. Surely, it had delicate electronics at its core, but there was no way to get to them.

Tony and Thor circled it endlessly in the air, trying to draw its attention and leave an opening for Clint, who perched on a fire escape nearby and fired arrow after arrow at anything remotely weak looking. Nat and Steve stayed low, dodging its giant feet and peering up at the colossal metal frame.

Steve could hear Nat and Tony’s breathing getting laboured through the comm, Clint was making the frustrated noises that usually preempted an announcement that he was running low on arrows, and Thor was huffing out Asgardian swear words every time one of its arms got too close. It was going to tire them out long before they could shut it down.

Steve was just opening his mouth to warn Bruce that they might need a Code Green - he was loathe to call it, since they’d had one just the other day and Bruce was still recovering - when he spotted a dark patch under a bent panel by the robot’s right arm that looked suspiciously like a clump of wires. It wasn’t a sure thing, but it was worth a try. He waited, jumping to the side when it’s enormous foot stomped down threateningly close, until Tony drew the attention of its right arm which raised up to swat at the relatively fly-sized Iron Man.

Steve aimed, then let his shield fly. It zipped up under the robot’s arm and collided with the dark patch. A shower of sparks rained down, and Steve threw his arm over his head, running out of the way.

“Steve!” someone yelled, and then a metal vice clamped around his right leg and ripped him into the air.

The shock pushed all the oxygen out of his lungs and he gasped uselessly as the robot swung him in a wide arc. In his effort to dodge the right arm, he’d missed the left zeroing in on him and now it had his leg in an unbreakable grip. Steve scrambled his hands against its clamp-like fingers to no avail. It snapped him through the air like a whip and his leg exploded with pain. His comm was screaming, but he had no air to scream back. All he could do was hang helplessly as the creature shook him violently, squeezed until he felt like his leg might explode, then slammed him into the ground.

He lay, flat on his back, his leg screaming in agony and his mind wild with panic. He tried to shove the adrenaline rush aside, breathe, assess, but he couldn’t overcome the screaming hysteria his body was pushing his mind into. He couldn’t move, he couldn’t think, all he could do was suck in shallow gasps of air, so he focused on that and nothing more. Steve heard Tony shout, “Code Green!” over the comm, and he watched as an explosion of green rage collided with the bot.

Steve’s eyes became unbelievably heavy, and they drooped shut a few times. When he next pried them open, he was startled to find a face peering down at his. Harper? Halpert? She was a medic with SHIELD and she’d apparently sprung up out of nowhere. Her mouth was moving and Steve watched, entranced, but he couldn’t hear what she was saying because his entire mind was focused on trying to follow the sounds coming through his comm.

There was a lot of shouting, multiple teammates yelling at once, and he couldn’t follow it. It sounded weirdly hollow and far away. He squeezed his eyes shut again, trying to pick Tony’s voice out of the din, but a gut-wrenching shock of pain shot them open again. He was being lifted off the ground. He struggled a bit, desperate to be still again, but a warm hand landed solidly on his chest.

“You’re okay, Cap. Take a deep breath.”

He opened his mouth to ask about his team, find out what was happening but his throat was too dry to speak, and swallow after swallow wasn’t helping. There was a sharp jab in his thigh, someone pulled the comm out of his ear, and everything went blissfully quiet.

By the time they unpacked him at Medical, Steve was feeling a little more together. The elephantine morphine shot they gave him had held on for a heroic half an hour before he metabolized it, and the brief reprieve had given him a chance to get his head together. He was fully conscious and able to help haul himself up on the exam table so the doctors could fuss over his leg.

Steve had become pretty good at ignoring pain over the years. In his line of work, he was in pain pretty frequently. Still, it was taking all of his energy to hold back from groaning, flinching, or even wrapping his hand around one of the doctor’s necks and getting him to. Just. Stop.

But he gritted his teeth and squeezed his eyes shut and pushed through it. The medics murmured amongst themselves, but Steve ignored it. They were the only team in the world who knew how to handle his serum-altered body. They would know the best way to deal with this.

After a tense discussion, they all disappeared to get his x-ray results, leaving him alone in the exam room. He shuffled on the paper-covered table then winced when the movement jostled his leg. He hung his head, letting his eyes drift closed again.

He was his old self again, in the next moment. Small, sick, curled up in Bucky’s bed, under every one of his blankets. Bucky stretched out next to him, back-to-back, making some joke about being tired and Steve hogging the bed, but Steve knew, always knew, that Bucky was sharing heat, trying to keep Steve alive. It had worked.

They never talked about it, didn’t reminisce or keep score, not even later when Steve no longer needed the help, but he knew in his heart that Bucky had saved his life several times over, just by being there. He was starting to fade into that dozey place between awake and asleep when a sharp voice snapped him back into the present.

“As if that would stop me!”

Tony. Tony was out in the hallway yelling at someone. Steve strained to hear.

“You have to let me in!” Steve couldn’t pick out the replying voice but he could imagine it was that special, overly calm, hushed tone nurses used when dealing with irate visitors. He had a strong suspicion that it wasn’t going to work on Tony.

“I know the proto-fucking-cal, but I don’t really give a shit what Fury says. I’m not going to ‘waiting room four,’ and you’re not going to hold my boyfriend hostage. Let me in!”

Steve startled at the word, but then the doorknob was turning and Tony’s arm appeared. He was still turned away from Steve, presumably towards the person he’d been talking to. “Yeah, you do that!” he called, then slipped inside.

He turned, met Steve’s gaze, smiled, then dropped his eyes to his leg and blanched. “Holy shit, they weren’t kidding.” He stepped forward but kept his hands loose by his sides. He didn’t seem able to look away from the mangled remains of Steve’s leg.

“It’s okay. I’m going to be fine,” Steve attempted to reassure him.

“Right, of course you are, because someone has replaced your right leg with minced spam and that’s usually something one can just walk away from. I assume you’ll be doing your usual three hundred mile jog tomorrow morning, why wouldn’t you?” Tony’s voice was tight and unsteady.

“Tony.” He waited but Tony’s eyes wouldn’t budge. “I’m not just anyone, right? It’s going to be okay. Tony. Stop staring.”

Tony was pale and the lines of his jaw were clearly defined where he pressed it tightly closed. Steve was desperate to put a smile back on his face and the first thing he thought to say was, jokingly, “You called me your boyfriend.” He chuckled and shot Tony a mocking look, that he missed entirely, still absorbed by the sight of Steve’s injured leg. That man would say anything to get behind the velvet rope.

“Well, yeah.” Tony shrugged, then crinkled his nose adorably. “Or are you one of those “partner” people? Cause I can’t really get behind that. I know ‘boyfriend’ sounds appallingly middle school but partner is like, what kind of partner? Business partner? Workout partner? Dance partner? Partner in crime? And, like, yes I know you're all of those things as well, but it’s just not clear, you know?”

The entire world shifted three violent feet to the right, and Steve was left reeling. “What?”

Tony’s eyes finally snapped up from Steve’s leg to his face. He scanned Steve’s face, then frowned, brow twisting in confusion. “What?” Tony echoed tentatively.

Steve opened and closed his mouth several times, trying to form words. Tony thought they were - Tony thought Steve was his - “I - I didn’t think… I didn’t know we were… like that.”

“Like what?”

Steve swallowed hard. The pain of his leg had completely faded in the face of the dread that was crawling up and wrapping around his stomach. “Like… boyfriends. Or partners.”

Tony was silent for a moment and Steve could see him processing that, saw the moment when it all clicked together. “Then what did you think this was?” he asked, voice falling flat.

“I don’t know… I thought it was… fun?” That wasn’t the right word, he didn’t know the right word. He couldn’t find any of the right words.

Tony gestured towards the door he had just come through. “How does that - ? You put me on your form as next of kin! I’ve got you down as mine!”

“Well, yeah,” Steve spluttered. He was feeling desperate and confused. He could tell he was messing something up, but he wasn’t sure how. The pain in his leg throbbed it’s way back to the front of his mind. He squeezed a hand on the uninjured part of his thigh, seeking some kind of relief, but it provided none. “Who else would I put? I would have picked you even if we weren’t sleeping together. I put you down ages ago, it didn’t mean anything!”

Tony’s face fell from pained to blank and cold. He was silent and calculating for a long moment. “Well, it did to me.” Without another word he turned on his heel and stormed out.

Steve flinched forward after him, but the slight movement of his leg sent a wave of pain and nausea through his body and he sat back down hard, sucking in half-breaths through his teeth.

The door opened and he looked back up sharply, but it was Natasha’s red hair that slipped through the door, not Tony’s brown.

She glanced behind her. “Was that Tony I saw bolting out of here?”

Steve braced his hands against the table, crunching the paper cover in his fists. His eyes were hot and his lungs were tight and twisted. “Yes.”

“What happened?”

“I fucked up.” He was nearing the end of his patience, his control, his… sanity.

Nat, perceptive as always, said nothing. She climbed up on the table and settled on her knees behind him. She ran her fingers up either side of his spine, digging in whenever she snagged on a tight spot, and Steve let out a breath. Nat hooked her chin over Steve’s shoulder, her long hair brushing against the bare skin at his throat. Her fingers kept working their magic up his back.

“They say you have to stay for 48 hours,” she whispered. “They have to make sure it heals properly. You’ll need constant x-rays.”

“Dammit.” Nat’s thumbs hit a particularly angry knot, and Steve groaned. “I just want to go home. And I have to talk to Tony.”

“I’ll stay with you,” she offered, and as much as Steve wanted to say, no, you should go, he clung to that comfort, nodding gratefully. She added, “He’ll come visit.”

“I don’t think he will.”

**

He didn’t.

Nat left Steve with the doctors and returned an hour later with both of their go bags, a laptop, and a pizza. They ate together on Steve’s hospital bed, watching episodes of Sport’s Night on the laptop. Steve tried to relax, to enjoy the food, company, and TV, but his leg hurt and his thoughts kept skittering back to Tony.

He kept rewinding and replaying all their time together, trying to figure out what he had missed. It had been sex and friends. That was it. It was simple, straightforward.

Steve couldn’t sleep that night, especially with the doctors coming in to take x-rays every two hours, but he dozed and Nat remained a pleasant warmth along his side. She did sleep, and her even breathing and slack hand on his bicep lulled him into a happy half-sleep a few times. That dozing probably saved him from true exhaustion, in the end.

A few times, they had to reset one of the breaks when the x-rays revealed that it was healing wrong. He was too afraid to hold Nat’s hand, lest he crush that too, but she circled her fingers around his wrist while he grit his teeth, and it helped.

After a particularly bad reset he lay flat on his back on the bed, his good knee bent and one arm thrown over his eyes. Nat, stretched out beside him, let him pant through the echoes of the pain for a while then leaned over and pressed a kiss to his cheek. “Ball up, Rogers.”

He laughed for the first time since Tony had been there. “Yeah, alright.” He wiped hot tears out of his eyes and turned to face her. She propped herself up on her elbow.

“What happened with you and Stark?” she asked.

Steve frowned. “Oh sure, interrogate me when I can’t run away.”

“That’s the best time to interrogate someone.” She smiled. “That, or when they think I can’t run away.”

“I fucked up.”

“So you said.”

“I - I didn’t understand our relationship, I guess. I thought it was… more casual than it was.” He took a shaky breath. “I don’t know how to fix it.”

Nat considered him for a moment. “If you want it casual, and he wants it serious, I’m not sure you can fix it, Steve. You might have to settle for being friends.”

“I would! Anything, I just - I don’t want to lose him completely. I never even thought we could have something more serious. It seemed… impossible. But all this time, he thought we were. I - I don’t know what to do.”

“Well, what do you want?”

Steve stared at her in the dim fluorescent light. “...I have no idea.”

“Well, you’re going to have to figure it out, Rogers. Then you have to tell him.”

Steve nodded.

“At least you still have a whole day here to think about it.” She shot him a wink and he sighed.

“Don’t remind me.”

“Jello?”

“Yeah.”

Nat kissed the tip of Steve’s nose then rolled out of bed. She pulled her shoes on and slipped out the door, leaving Steve alone with his throbbing leg. Tony thought they were… dating. He still couldn’t process that. A part of him thrilled at the idea, told him he should be pleased that Tony thought he was special, but it was easily quashed by the part that screamed you fucked this up, Rogers. It didn’t really matter what Tony had thought about them, or what Steve wanted. It was over. Tony hadn’t come visit; he probably never wanted to see Steve again.

The door opened, but it wasn’t Nat, it was a doctor, come to check his leg again. Steve gritted his teeth and tried to remember who had hit the walk-off double that won the Senators the World Series in ‘24. When the pain receded, and he opened his eyes again, the doctor was snapping off her gloves and Nat was beside him in bed. She handed him a green Jello cup and a spoon. He ate it with a mixture of fascination and revulsion, watching Nat slurp down her orange cup with visible pleasure.

“I think I might be able to sleep for a bit,” he told her when they were done. It was a lie, but if he were quiet and still, he might be able to disconnect from the physical sensations of his body for a while.

“Okay.” Nat tossed their garbage aside and snuggled up against his side, resting her cheek on his shoulder. It was wonderfully comforting having her there.

In the dark and quiet, he let some of his fear slip out. “I’m terrified he hates me now.”

“He doesn’t hate you. He’s just hurt.” And right before she drifted off again, “You have to tell him what you want.”

Chapter Text

Steve had only been back at the tower for less than an hour when his feet carried him to the elevator. He watched Tony’s back through the door to the workshop. Part of him wanted to turn around and walk away without pushing on the glass panel, because if it didn’t open, if JARVIS wouldn’t let him in, that might be what broke him. But after a few deep breaths, he found the strength to reach out and press his palm to the glass. To his great relief, it swung open.

Tony didn’t turn to look - Steve was sure JARVIS had announced his presence long ago - but Steve could see his shoulders tense as he drew near. He came to a stop next to Tony’s workbench. Tony’s eyes flickered over to him, but he said nothing. His clever fingers danced across the circuit board laid out on his desk, moving pieces into place with tiny tweezers.

Tell him what you want, Nat had said. Tell him what you want.

“I want you,” Steve stammered out.

Tony’s lips flattened into a hard line. “Well, I’m a little busy so you’ll have to get in line.” His voice was sharp and cold.

Fuck. “I didn’t mean like that. I - I meant, I do want you, like how you thought. Only I didn’t know it was an option. I was confused and you startled me, but I do. I didn’t think - I - ”

“Yeah you didn’t, did you? Didn’t think about me and what I might want. How could you not realize this was important to me?” Tony’s voice rose, the ice giving way to fire.

“You never said anything!” Steve yelled, something inside him snapping. “You never asked me to be your… anything. We never talked. You never touched me in front of people. You never spent the night in my room. You never. Said. Anything.” Tony gaped at him and Steve went on, “We did all this friend stuff, and then sometimes we did the other stuff and so I thought that’s what we were doing. Friends… with stuff.”

“That’s what a relationship is!” Tony shouted, the last of his cold exterior finally cracking and revealing roiling lava underneath. “Friends who like to hang out and also bone. Enough that they don’t want to do it with anyone else - Oh Jesus, Steve were you - did you… you didn’t think it was exclusive.” Tony went pale, his mouth twisting unpleasantly. “Considering how very awful I feel right now and how very close I am to snapping this whole circuit board in half, I think it should be Bruce that gives you the ‘stay safe’ speech if you’re going to be doing….that.”

It took Steve a minute to catch up with what Tony was suggesting. “No! No there hasn’t been. I haven’t… with anyone else.” Tony’s eyes dropped to the floor, and Steve felt nagging guilt wriggling through his gut. “There was one woman. But we didn’t sleep together. She wanted to. I said no. But I - she kissed me. That was all.”

Tony ran a stiff hand through his hair. His expression was unreadable.

“I’m sorry,” Steve whispered, and Tony met his eyes.

“I’m sorry too.” Tony sounded utterly defeated. “I just - I don’t think I can… I need you to go, okay? Please.”

Steve hovered for a moment, watching as Tony turned back to his circuit board, his mouth twisted and brow furrowed in pain. Steve wanted to touch him desperately. Needed to stroke fingers through his hair or press a kiss to his jaw. But he couldn’t. He wasn’t allowed. He’d broken something he didn’t even know was his to break.

**

Steve shoved into Natasha’s apartment to find the light off and her lithe form tucked under the covers on her bed. Without hesitation, Steve collapsed onto the quilt next to her.

“Fuck off, Rogers. I did my time at the hospital.” She muttered, but she betrayed her words by curling in towards his body, her knee bent and pressed against his thigh, her forehead at his ribs.

All those times Tony was in his bed and not once was it like this. Not once had he stayed the night, slept beside Steve. Not even held his hand, dammit. And he had the gall to blame this on Steve? What else was he supposed to think?

He had the bizarre, fleeting urge to kiss Natasha, whether to get back at Tony, or to prove to himself that it was possible to have both sex and affection, he didn’t know. But he shoved it aside with a surge of anger. He didn’t want to kiss Nat, he never had. Besides, she would probably stab him if he tried.

But he did want to kiss Tony. Wanted to kiss him, grab him, feel the soft, sweet give of Tony’s body under his. But he also wanted this: to hold him, sleep beside him, burrow his face in short brown hair instead of long, red. Nat had been filling a hole he hadn’t realized he’d had, giving him something he never noticed he needed but wasn’t getting from someone else.

“I was an idiot,” he whimpered against her scalp. “I thought I was protecting myself from getting hurt but I’ve just hurt both of us much worse.”

“Yes. But you’re an adorable idiot so he’ll probably forgive you after one look in those puppy-dog blues of yours.”

“Nat.” If only it was that easy.

Natasha sighed, then pushed herself up to a sitting position, cross-legged on the bed, by his hip. She flicked the bedside lamp on and bathed them both in soft, yellow light.

“This isn’t about Tony,” she said firmly.

“What? Of course it is I - “

Nat held up a finger and he cut off. “This isn’t about Tony, Steve Rogers, this is about you. I was hoping you would figure this out on your own, but unfortunately it looks like you’re not going to, and since I love you both I’m going to do my part to fix this before you stubborn asses talk the both of you out of loving each other and into hating each other instead.”

“Jesus,” Steve hissed under his breath.

“Shut up and listen.” Steve snapped his mouth shut. “You’ve been here for nearly 2 years and you’re still waiting to be sent home. You won’t settle in the 21st-century. You’re afraid if you put down roots here, if you meld completely, if you let go of the past, that that’ll be when plane number two, or whatever, happens and you’ll be whisked another 70 years in the future. You’ve been living on the edges of your life, holding everyone at arm’s length, Tony especially, and flat out refusing to make this home home.”

Steve’s jaw dropped and he pushed himself up to lean back against the headboard. Afraid to settle? Holding people at arm’s length? Really?

“When I say you need connection, Steve, I don’t mean you need to talk to people at parties, or get laid, or find someone to braid your hair.” She smiled, and Steve chuckled. “You need to connect to now. To your life. You need to get a library card and paint your apartment and tell that boy you love him and hire an accountant to untangle the mess that is your backpay. You need to live here, not perch here.”

Steve stared at her, replaying her words over and over in his mind, trying to make sense of them. Had he really been perching? Sure his apartment was still builder’s white, but what did that really mean?

That was the problem though, he had an excuse for everything. Every commitment, big or small, to the 21st-century he had staunchly avoided without letting himself think about it too much. And here was Natasha, of course, smacking him in the face with all of it at once. He glanced around at the deep blue Nat had painted her bedroom. It looked like the night sky.

It was a long time before he was able to speak and Natasha waited patiently, eyes on his, as still as a sniper in a perch. When he finally managed to move his jaw again, all he could think to say was, “Thank you.”

That, apparently, was not what Nat was expecting because she burst into laughter. “You’re welcome.”

“You’re right.” Steve scraped his hands over his face, his eyes suddenly feeling heavy, and his body achy. His leg throbbed and he unconsciously dropped a hand to it to rub the pain out of his abused nerves. “I don’t know what to do.”

“What do you want?”

Steve caught her eye. “I want him. More than anything. I want all of it.”

“Then you apologize.”

“I tried that.”

“Maybe you weren't apologizing for the right thing.”

Steve flopped back on the bed with a huff, tossing an arm over his eyes. Nat switched the lamp off and settled down next to him again. “I hate this,” Steve whined.

“Either shut up or leave, Rogers, I need my beauty sleep.”

**

Steve managed to shut up for about an hour then decided that if he valued his bits unstabbed he should leave before he couldn’t hold his tongue anymore. Sleep clearly wasn’t coming, so he did the next best thing and hit the gym.

His leg held him back from his usual workout, but the pool was a nice, light exercise that burned the twitchy energy out of his core without taxing his healing tendons and muscles. He powered his way back and forth across the pool several times before he let himself think of anything besides reach and pull, reach and pull, breathe, reach and pull.

But, of course, he couldn’t keep thoughts of Tony at bay for long. It was easy to blame him for their misunderstanding, but it wasn’t fair. As much as Tony should have said, “Are you my boyfriend?” Steve should have said, “What does this mean to you?” They shared the blame equally on that front. But the other things, they weren’t so easy to suss out. Tony swore up and down that he wanted Steve, expected they were together, but all the things that were lacking in their relationship were hard to ignore. Why didn’t Tony want to touch him, stay with him, be… coupley?

Nat was right, but if they were going to talk this out, there was a lot Steve needed to figure out for himself first. Tony would have questions of his own, and he’d need to be able to answer them. What was he afraid of? Why was it easier to think of Tony as a friend with benefits instead of something more? What more did he want, and what if Tony couldn’t give that to him?

The more was pretty easy to answer, really; he wanted all of it. He wanted to fall asleep next to Tony at night and wake up beside him in the morning. He wanted to hold hands and sit on the same side of the booth at Alf. He wanted Tony to wear Steve’s shirts while he drank his morning coffee and get pissy when girls at parties asked for Steve’s number. He wanted to draw him and have it come out right.

He wanted to watch him work and think, with absolute clarity: that one’s mine.

That was a feeling he’d actually had, once before. About six months ago, before he and Tony started their not-actual-arrangement. Or, really, it was the beginning of it all. Steve spun onto his back and floated, arms spread wide, water licking at his cheeks.

They had just been best friends, back then, and even though Steve had known Tony for over a year, there was still a lot he hadn’t understood about him. Steve hadn’t been able to sleep one night and had decided to run, or maybe box, until either morning came and he gave up on sleep entirely, or it wore him out enough that his bed called to him once again.

He had opened the door to the gym and his jaw had dropped. All the equipment had been pushed up against the walls, leaving the vast floor clear, except it wasn’t clear, it was completely covered from wall to wall with pieces of machinery. Steve stood, for a long moment, in the doorway, staring.

Tony was in the middle of the sea of gears and wires and metal, his shoes off, sitting cross-legged on a little island of empty floor, fiddling with something in his hands.

“Tony?” Steve called out quietly, not wanting to fill the soft middle-of-the-night air with too much sound. There was no response. Steve started to pick his way across the room, eyes on the floor, careful not to step on any of the delicate looking pieces. “Tony?” he tried again, louder. Nothing.

When he successfully arrived at Tony’s side, Steve reached out and rested a hand gently on his shoulder. Tony jumped and propelled himself to his feet, staggering backwards. Steve caught his arm just in time as he stumbled towards a sensitive looking pile of circuit boards.

“Holy shit, Steve, get a bell.”

Steve chuckled. “I said your name twice.”

Tony righted himself in the small empty patch of floor and Steve released his arm. Dark circles hung under Tony’s eyes and there was a sad slump to his shoulders. He was holding a hammer. “Sorry. I was… thinking.” He stared blankly at the mess.

“I can see that.” Steve pushed a metal panel aside with his foot, trying to make a little more space for the two of them. “What are you building? This looks incredibly complicated. Is that a blowtorch?”

“It’s a spacing problem I think… maybe the alignment...”

“Is that why it’s all spread out over the gym floor?”

“Hmm?” Tony’s gaze finally snapped up to Steve’s like he was waking up. He followed Steve’s line of sight, taking in the room and actually seeming to see it for the first time. “Oh no, this isn’t the thing with the spacing - or alignment. This is the south elevator.” He waved a hand dismissively. “Stress relief, or whatever.”

Steve looked down at a pile of gears. “What.”

“Maybe if I shifted the whole side…” Tony had that blank look again.

“Tony, did you say this was the south elevator? You took apart one of the elevators. That we use. What are you - why?”

“Because! I can’t solve this thing. I needed something to do with my hands so my brain could work on it.”

“You’re taking apart the elevator and you aren’t even using your brain?!”

“Oh no, I took it apart hours ago, now I’m putting it back together. I’m at the nice bit with the wires. That’s my favourite bit.”

“Favourite - have you done this before?” Steve asked, aghast.

“Sure. Pretty regularly. It’s like, doing a Rubik's cube but more bangy.” Tony twirled the hammer between his palms and waggled his eyebrows.

“Tony!”

“What? Steve, I designed these elevators, no one on this planet knows how they work better than me. I needed something to do with my hands while I thought. Stop fretting.”

“I came down here to try to stop fretting, but my treadmill is covered in button panels.” Steve crossed his arms and stared Tony down.

“Ah, yeah, that’s fair. Sorry. I’ll just be…” Tony looked around, numbers ticking behind his eyes. “Like four hours?”

“Tony…”

“Steeeeeve. Help me? It’ll go faster with someone bringing me pieces. You can also keep an eye on me in case I break anything. You know to be worried - and to take the stairs from now on - if I say, ‘oh fuck.’”

Steve let out a tense breath between his gritted teeth. Tony was looking at him, wide-eyed and hopeful, like he thought Steve might buy him an ice cream if he was good. Steve deflated. “Okay, fine. I’ll help.”

It took them a little while to find a rhythm, but after about twenty minutes they had a system down and things went smoothly for well over an hour. Tony would describe the part he needed next, rambling endlessly about what it looked like and what its function was and how he would attach it to the other parts and by the time he’d run out of things to say, Steve usually had the piece in hand. He’d run it over to Tony, and Tony would start in on the next piece.

It was actually pleasantly mindless, trotting around the gym, holding up the wrong gear several times in a row, until he had the right. Tony worked quickly, assembling various parts of the control system and specialized pneumatic rigging, but not attaching them to each other. He’d need the suit to put it back in place in the tower, but it was a very modular design and it was fascinating watching the mess of bits and pieces coalesce into something functional.

Occasionally, Tony broke into his piece descriptions with a short burst of techno-babble that Steve didn’t understand. But he’d always go back to the build after a moment, and Steve took those opportunities to move some of the pieces around into an organization that would probably have made Tony shudder for its lack of mechanical finesse, but it made sense to him.

Steve was sifting through a stack of cables, looking for the, “short, but not super short, black one with the little metal thingamy on the end,” when there was a clattering noise from the centre of the room. Steve abandoned his cables to turn towards it.

“Oh fuck,” he heard Tony whisper.

Steve started darting across the room. “Tony! I swear to god if you - “

“No!” Tony leapt up and turned to face Steve, grinning. He bounced on the balls of his feet and leaned into Steve’s space as he arrived beside him. “Not the elevator. Good ‘oh fuck’. I solved it. It’s so simple, I don’t know why I didn’t see it before. I just have to flip the left and right sides and change three gear sizes. It’s genius really. Don’t know why I’m surprised, I’m frequently genius but this. This is a good one. Ah.”

Tony continued making pleased noises and bouncing. Steve couldn’t help but smile. “That’s good, Tony, I’m glad.”

“You! You helped.” And he hooked one hand around Steve’s neck, drew him in, and kissed him.

It was barely more than a friendly peck, a light tap of his closed lips against Steve’s, but it wasn’t the kiss that caught Steve’s mind in a bear trap, it was the hand hooked around him, warm fingers brushing the hair at the nape of his neck. It was the way Tony’s bare toes bumped against his, and the bent knee that hinted at the possibility of sliding between his legs. Steve was suddenly thinking nothing but Tony,  and it was a wonderful thought that he had no intention of letting go of.

Tony rocked back, clearly attempting to bounce back out of Steve’s space again, but he didn’t move far. His eyebrow shot up towards the ceiling, eyes fixed on Steve. Steve realized that the reason their bodies were still pressed close together was that Steve’s hands had each of Tony’s biceps locked in a vice grip and didn’t seem eager to let go anytime soon, even though he knew he should make them.

Tony hung there for a moment, confusion written all over his face. Steve was sure he was mirroring it himself, not sure what he was doing or why. His eyes stayed glued to Tony’s face, and he watched the startled confusion melt into understanding. Tony’s lips curled up in a cheeky smirk. “Oh,” he whispered softly, and the back of Steve’s neck heated when it saw what had shifted into Tony’s gaze.

“I - “ Steve started, dropping his eyes to fixate on Tony’s lips. And Tony kissed him again.

This time was different, heated and insistent. Tony didn’t pull away, he pressed forward, slotting his lips against Steve’s, moving, tasting. Steve still couldn’t seem to unclench his hands, but Tony’s came up to rest gently on Steve’s hips. Warm, bare toes bumped against Steve’s again, then shuffled up and over them until Tony was standing half on the floor, half on Steve’s feet, gaining back the inch of height Steve had on him.

Tony leaned against him, and Steve took his weight easily, finally releasing Tony’s arms when the draw of touching his face became too much. Tony’s jaw was rough and stubbly under his fingers, giving way to the soft skin behind his ears and into the wild wavy hair at the back of his neck. Tony kissed like each one might be his last, hot and open and a little bit desperate. It wasn’t long before Steve was wild with desire, frenzied and hard, his skin begging for more contact.

Tony gave it to him. Hands rucked up under his shirt, teased along his waistband, pulled his hips closer. He broke the kiss with a gasping groan only to rub his cheek against Steve’s, sending a shiver down his spine.

“Tony…” Steve breathed.

Tony leaned in and huffed out a breath against Steve’s neck. “I really want to touch you, Steve. Is that okay?” He sounded like there was only one answer to the question that he’d be able to handle, but it was so very okay with Steve.

“Yes. Yes please, anything. Touch me, god.”

Tony’s hands turned frantic, pawing at Steve’s clothes. He shoved a little too hard at Steve’s shirt, and Steve staggered backwards, pivoting to avoid a large piece of assembled elevator and bringing them both to the floor. Steve landed on his ass and Tony tripped down on top of him with a huff.

Steve wasted no time in using their new configuration to his advantage leaning back and drawing Tony back with, into another kiss. Not thrown by the change, Tony’s hands kept working at their clothes, pushing Steve’s shirt up under his arms and unbuckling his pants. He shifted until his knee was between Steve’s legs, straddling one of his thighs, and Steve could feel his arousal when he ground his hips forward. When Tony slipped his hand into Steve’s jeans and cupped his erection, Steve moaned and nipped at Tony’s bottom lip. His hands tightened on Tony’s hips and the gasp that elicited spurred him into further action. He mirrored the other man’s movements, undoing Tony’s pants and sliding his hand in. Tony’s cock was firm and hot in his grip, only thin cotton boxers between his palm and the smooth skin he longed to touch.

Tony squeezed his thigh and pushed into Steve’s hand. They both rutted into each other’s grip wildly, like horny teenagers, caught in the rush of touch. When it wasn’t quite enough, Steve shoved at Tony’s clothes, pushing them out of way and finally taking his cock in hand. Tony groaned and collapsed down onto Steve’s chest, trapping his hand against his own hip, but Tony rocked his hips, pushing his cock through the circle of Steve’s hand, a litany of filthy expletives falling out of his mouth with every thrust. Tony scrabbled blindly beside him until he’d freed Steve from his boxers too. The smooth stroke of Tony’s palm against his desperate cock had Steve’s eyes rolling back in his head.

“Oh my god,” Steve hissed out and Tony whimpered, thrusting harder. He matched the rhythm of his hand on Steve with the rolls of his hips, squeezing his grip tighter and twisting his hand to catch his finger on the underside of the head. They fell into a timeless haze of pleasure and pants and whispered words. It built gradually into too much, and Steve’s free hand snapped to Tony’s side. “I’m close, I’m - Tony,” he stuttered out. Heat flooded him from the tips of his toes, still tangled with Tony’s, up to where Tony’s hand was gripped tight in his hair. He gritted his teeth and arched into the touch, spilling hot over Tony’s hand.

Steve’s hand snapped to Tony’s wrist stilling the movement on his oversensitive cock, and Tony released him, dropping his soaked hand to the floor by Steve’s hip. The new anchor gave Tony a better angle to fuck into Steve’s hand and it was all Steve could do to hold on, still floating down from his orgasm while Tony chased his own pleasure. He found it, a few minutes later, pressing forward one last stuttering time.

Sweaty, panting, and covered in come they slumped in a heap on the floor, surrounded by the half-reconstructed elevator.

“Holy shit. We should - we should definitely do that again sometime,” Tony huffed out.

And that was it; that was the moment that Steve’s brain had clicked it all into place. He’d gone from guh which was all he had managed from the kiss on, to taking what Tony said, flipping through his options of: mistake we never speak of again, one time fling, beginning of something serious, or regular shared orgasms with no expectations, and settling on the latter.  

Remembering it now, as he floated around the pool, Steve felt dawning realization collect like hot lead in his stomach. He’d never really given it a chance. He’d read into Tony’s words what he wanted to hear, because he was afraid. He was afraid to say, “What is this?” or, “Where are we going?” He didn’t want to be the one to put himself out on a limb, for fear that Tony would hack it off with a few words. So he handed the steering wheel to Tony, then ignored every opportunity to re-evaluate after that. From then on he’d decided that was all he wanted. He’d settled where he thought he had to settle and carefully avoided the thought that they could build something deeper between them.

Abigail had made it clear she was happy to give Steve anything he was interested in, and he’d said no thanks and gone home to Tony. He’d been using Tony as an excuse to push everyone else away, and his own fear as a reason to keep Tony at arm’s length. Because the truth was, he was in love with Tony and that terrified him.

He had been hiding. And it wasn’t fair to Tony, or to himself.

Chapter Text

Steve woke up the next morning, back in his own bed, and with a plan. His leg ached when he stood and stretched. The swimming had been a bit much for it to handle this soon, but the rest of his muscles sang with the release of pent-up energy so it was worth it. He took a shower, dressed, and steeled himself for the conversation he hoped Tony would let him have.

Tony was in his workshop, but he wasn’t working. He sat, leaned back in his chair, shoes kicked off and feet propped up his desk. He held a screwdriver in his hands but was just fiddling idly with it. On a giant holoscreen in front of him, Alien was playing. A half-drunk, green smoothie was clenched between Tony’s knees.

Steve pushed through the door and pulled up a chair nearby. Tony’s eyes slid from his movie to Steve, but his expression remained blank. After a moment’s pause, he waved a hand towards the screen and the movie paused.

“I said I needed space,” he said coolly.

“I don’t care,” Steve replied, and Tony’s eyebrows shot up. “Nat said something to me, and she was right. If we’re apart too long, we’ll talk ourselves into hating each other. So if you need space, fine, but you can’t have it until we talk this out first. The team needs us to be a united front, if nothing more.”

Tony bristled. “You can’t guilt me into forgiving you because of the team. That’s not fair. I can be pissed at you and still keep it professional out there. Though god knows Clint never does.”

Steve’s lips threatened to twitch into a smile, but he held them back. He expected Tony to try and deflect some of the tension with humour, and he needed to push through this. “I’m not guilting you. And I know you can. The team isn’t why you’ll forgive me.”

“Who says I will?”

Steve took a steadying breath and hoped he wasn’t about to lie. “I do.”

Tony took a sip of his smoothie then eyed Steve over the edge of his cup. “Why should I?”

“Because I deserve it. Because I’m sorry.” Steve met his eyes and tried to pour apology into his gaze. “Because you want to. Because you’re my best friend in the whole world. Because I forgive you too.”

Tony broke away first, dropping his eyes to his cup. He poked his straw into his smoothie, stabbing little holes in the green sludge. When he spoke, his voice was sad and quiet. “You hurt me.”

“I know.” Something cold and scary was curling through Steve’s gut. He’d assumed that there was something he could say or do that would keep Tony from falling out of his life completely, but now he wasn’t so sure. Tony wasn’t mad, mad he could deal with, Tony was sad, and it was breaking Steve’s heart. “Tony…”

“I keep going back over every moment we spent together, wondering how much of a fool I made of myself, following you around like a damn puppy, seeing something that wasn’t there. If I’d known that sex was all we had going for us, I would have worked harder on making the orgasms something to write home about.”

“Jesus Christ.” Steve dropped his face in his hands and held back the heat that threatened the back of his eyes. He tried to reel it in, but he could feel his voice shaking with barely contained anger. “That is not all we had going for us.” Tony startled up from his drink, eyes going wide. “I don’t give a shit about the sex. It was fun and hot and incredible, but it’s nothing compared to what your friendship means to me. I - I was always so happy with how easy things were between us, but I guess I was just pretending I couldn’t see the things that were hard. I’ve been… hiding.

“If it helps, at all, it wasn’t about you. I’ve been… I’ve been struggling.” Steve’s voice broke and he fiddled with his phone so he wouldn’t have to see Tony’s face. “I was ignoring it, but I’ve been having trouble settling here. I know it’s been a long time, but it was easy in the beginning to see this life as temporary. I thought it would turn out to be a dream or a mistake or something, and I’d find myself back as a sickly slip of nothing sleeping on Bucky’s couch in Brooklyn. I didn’t want to accept that this was my life - which is crazy because this is a great life! I’ve been so scared to settle in though, I can’t even use social media without having a panic attack, for fucks sake. But it was all ripped away from me once and I - if I - if I woke up 70 years in the future again and you were…” Steve broke off, his eyes flicking back up to Tony’s and catching there.

“You never said anything.” Tony sounded a little shaken.

“It’s been pointed out to me that I was pretty fiercely in denial.” He chuckled, and Tony’s expression softened a little. “I didn’t think it was an option, being your boyfriend. It seriously never crossed my mind. You seemed... happy with things being casual. You never talked about feelings, or touched me in public, or stayed the night. I honestly thought that was all you wanted and I’ve been going over everything too, over and over, and I can see all the little ways that I was wrong.”

Tony shifted in his chair, picking at his smoothie again. He shrugged. “That’s just what I’m like. I’m not good at expressing those kinds of things.”

“I know. Clearly, I’m not either. But I want to tell you now. I know you’re mad and hurt and you need time with this, but I have to say this before you make up your mind about me. I’m in love with you.” Tony went stone-still in his chair, but Steve plowed on. “I want to ask you to be my...whichever word you prefer.” He braved a little smile. “But not like what we had before. I want to do it right and part of that is me giving you what you need, and part of that is me making it clear what I need. And I’m not going to ask now, obviously. But I want you to know that that’s what I want and maybe… someday. But if it’s a choice, between letting those feelings go and having you as a friend, or pushing this too hard and loosing you entirely, well, no contest. I need you in my life, however you want to be. And if it’s a no. If you - “ he stuttered around the words. “If you don’t want to see me at all anymore. I - I can handle it. I just, I might need to be… away for a while. Move out of the tower, or something. So yeah, if you know it’s that, just let me know and I can, you know, plan for that - “

“Steve.”

Steve cut off abruptly at Tony’s voice, realizing he had been babbling. He snapped his mouth shut and leaned back in his chair. “Sorry. That wasn’t coherent. I’m in love with you, but I also love you, and I’ll give up the first, if the second is all I can get.” Steve replayed his own words in his mind, wondering if he’d made any sort of sense, and if he’d gotten out what he needed to. “...that’s my point, I guess.”

Tony stared at his cup in silence for quite a while and when Steve shifted in his chair, Tony muttered, “Give me a second okay?” Steve nodded, sat back, and waited.

“Okay,” Tony said finally and Steve snapped back to attention, feeling like he was waiting for the “Oscar goes to” envelope to be opened, but there were only two nominations and it was an equal chance of it being, “Steve gets all the Oscars,” or “Steve gets a swift kick to the stomach.”

“Okay?”

“Okay.” Tony laughed, then cut it off sharply. “That’s apparently as far as I got. ‘Okay.’”

Steve swallowed the knot that was tightening in his throat. “Right. Yeah, sorry. It’s a lot to - I’ll go. Thanks for giving me the chance to talk.”

Steve stood to go, but Tony’s hand shot out and wrapped around his wrist. “No, wait.” His hand slipped away almost immediately, but Steve could still feel the places where his fingers had rested like blistering burns on his skin. “I’m far too selfish to let you leave the tower, or I guess, even this room right now. I don’t want to lose you as a friend either. I don’t know about the other thing, but I also don’t know if I want to have a burger or bourbon for dinner tonight, so it’s not really fair to ask myself that, is it? Stay. Let me sort my head out. Or, you know, apparently Nat has all the answers, so maybe you could ask her for some for me too.” He winked and Steve let out an audible breath, relief rushing through him, heady and dizzying. “It won’t be overnight, you know I - “

“I know. It’s okay. Just, if there’s a chance.”

“Yeah.” Tony smiled almost shyly at him, then went back to fidgeting with his drink.

“Start over, yeah?”

“No,” Tony said firmly.

“No?”

“I don’t want to start over. We already put two years of awesome into being best friends. I don’t want to lose that. If we hadn’t, I wouldn’t want to save this so badly.”

Steve glowed. “Yeah. I agree.”

“So, not start over. Do better.”

“Okay, deal. Do better.”

There was a long moment of not entirely comfortable silence, then Tony tossed his feet back up on his desk, picked up his screwdriver and waved it towards the screen. “Want to watch Ripley kick alien ass?”

“Yes, please.” Right now, there was nothing in the world Steve wanted to do more.

**

It was a couple of uncomfortable days before Steve saw Tony again. They’d parted on mostly amicable, if somewhat tense, terms after the movie, and it left Steve uncertain about when to seek Tony out next. He thought it was unlikely that Tony would come to him, though he hoped desperately that he would, but he was pretty confident that Tony at least wouldn’t immediately slam the door in his face. That being said, he wouldn’t be as welcome in Tony’s space as he once was. And Steve missed him, terribly. He didn’t realize just how much time they used to spend together until they were apart, and it only served to double down on the guilt that was already a constant presence in the pit of his stomach.

He went so far as to stand outside the door to Tony’s workshop a few times, feeling the pounding music reverberate in his chest, before turning and walking away. And the longer it went on, the harder it became to bridge the gap - Natasha had been right, he never should have let any space come between them. He should have powered back into Tony’s life, as often as Tony would let him, and shown him how badly he wanted to be there. But it was hard.

JARVIS was kind enough to give Steve updates on Tony, which also meant that Tony hadn’t revoked any of Steve’s access - a small comfort. Tony had been on a massive engineering binge since their awkward Alien afternoon and Steve told himself that he couldn’t wuss out any longer - the second Tony reemerged from the workshop, Steve was going to be there.

In the end, that wasn’t how it went.

Steve was slumped low on his couch, half-focused and half-daydreaming, the world's longest baseball game in history playing out the eleventh inning on his TV. He still held the remote in his hand, telling himself after every pitch that he needed to switch it off and finish it tomorrow morning. He could always ask JARVIS to record it, and he wouldn’t get spoiled if he watched it first thing, before going online. But inevitably, he wouldn’t move, watching another batter step up and strike out.

“Just hit the ball,” he muttered, caring less about who won and more about it being over with.

The door slammed shut behind him and he startled up, his heart pounding him fully awake and flooding adrenaline through his veins. The remote clattered to the floor as he staggered back and spun to face the door.

Tony was standing there.

He had dark circles under his eyes, and his hair had gone wild and curly around his face. He wobbled a little where he stood, his eyes slowly widening as he took in his surroundings and Steve’s surprised expression. “Oh. Fuck.”

“Tony, geez. Are you okay?” He rounded the couch, peering into Tony’s face, looking for a clue as to what had happened.

“I -” Tony looked up at Steve then over at the TV where another batter failed to get past first. “Shit, Steve, I’m sorry.” A hint of pink coloured Tony’s cheeks. “I, uh, I always come here… you know… after a case of the Builds. We -” Tony made a vague gesture, and Steve’s stomach swooped as he realized what Tony meant.

“Oh.”

Tony scrubbed his hand over his face. “I’m sorry. Autopilot. I wasn’t even - my feet just took me here. Fuck.” He spun on his heel, headed for the door, and Steve lurched after him, reminded of his promise to himself to see Tony when he was done, desperate for him not to go.

“Don’t -” he cut himself off. It was late. Tony was exhausted. They certainly weren’t going to do what they normally did when Tony came staggering out of the workshop filled with manic glee and accomplishment. Steve didn't expect Tony to stop, but he did. His feet stilled, still facing the door, but with his chin tipped to the side, listening, waiting. “Can I -” Steve looked around, desperate. “When was the last time you ate?”

Tony turned fully now, hesitant, but not outright rejecting Steve’s flimsy attempt to get him to stay. “I don’t know. Wednesday? What day is it?”

Steve couldn’t help but smile softly. “God I hope not, it’s Sunday, Tony. Can I… make you something?” Steve shuffled where he stood, mentally reviewing everything he had in his fridge and hoping it was enough for a sandwich at least.

Tony was silent for a long time, eyes fixed sharp and penetrating on Steve, but his face expressionless. It felt like a test. Steve held his gaze and waited. Finally, Tony shrugged. “Okay.” Tony shuffled back the way he came, back into the apartment, and his gaze came to rest on the TV. “Why are they still playing this late?”

“Extra innings,” Steve explained, his head in the fridge, rummaging through the vegetable crispers. “Tied it up in the 8th, haven’t had a hit since. It’s misery.”

Tony chuckled and folded himself onto the sofa. “Only baseball fans would think that getting more of the game they claim to love is misery.”

Steve rolled his eyes. “I’d rather win it in 9 than lose it 14, which is what it feels like we’re gonna do.” He had what he needed for grilled cheese - it would have to do. He pulled out a pan and started heating it while he spread butter on four slices of bread

“Way to have faith in your team.”

“My team moved to your city. The Mets are just filling in until I find a way to convince you to buy the Dodgers back.”

“Hey! L.A. isn’t my city. I was born in New York. And, sure, I’ll buy you the Dodgers.” Tony yawned. “But I’m moving them to Manhattan. You live here now, deal with it.”

It was casual and offhand, but there was something about Tony reminding Steve that he lived here, that this was still his home, that comforted him. Tony easily could have kicked him out of the tower, demanded he leave. He wouldn’t be cruel about it - he’d probably buy Steve some swanky apartment in Brooklyn to make up for it - but he certainly had every right to not want to share a home with the man that had hurt him so badly. But he didn’t.

“Gross,” Steve played along. “Might as well leave them where they are then.” He set a plate with a grilled cheese on it in Tony’s lap and sat on the other end of the couch with his own, an entire cushion between them. Never able to let subtlety stand, Tony eyed the sizable gap then gave Steve an amused look. Luckily his mouth was too full of bread and melting cheese to make any snide remarks.

The game went on, making it all the way to the bottom of the 12th before a walk-off home run sent the Phillies onto the field in victory. “Dammit,” Steve hissed under his breath.

“At least it wasn’t 14 like you predicted,” Tony quipped back. His grilled cheese was long gone, but he had stayed, even through commercials and pitching changes.

Steve flipped the TV off, and Tony stood. He set his plate down in the kitchen, staring at it with a curious expression on his face then shrugged, said, “Thanks,” and walked out.

It was new, and it was weird, but it also kinda felt like progress.

**

Edging back into Tony’s life was slow going, but it was going. It wasn’t quite easy yet, but it also wasn’t exactly hard. Steve pushed through and found the guts to seek out Tony, and to his surprise, Tony happily allowed Steve to occupy his time. They weren’t quite close, not in the comfortable way they had been before, but they were friendly, and that was nice.

Steve had expected some cold shoulders from Tony, maybe the occasional scathing remark or brush off, but Tony didn’t seem to be in pain anymore. If anything he seemed off-balance, like he couldn’t quite relax. He still winced when something about their past relationship slipped into conversation, but he never took it out on Steve. He was distant, but moving closer, and that gave Steve hope.

Now that he was really looking, Steve noticed something he hadn’t before: Tony was jealous of Natasha. He didn’t make a big deal out of it, and it didn’t seem to impact his own friendship with Nat at all, but it was clearly there. Whenever he walked into a room and found Nat at Steve’s feet having her hair done, or perched on the back of the sofa giving him a massage, or asleep against his shoulder, Tony tensed and found an excuse to leave again pretty quickly.

Steve could only assume it was the easy touching he and Nat shared. In the past, Steve had been convinced that Tony didn’t want that from him, but in new light it was clear that he was just holding back for some reason. And Steve did want to touch him, not just the way they had before, but in new ways, soft, friendly ways. He wanted to pat Tony on the shoulder and hug him before he left for missions and fall asleep on the couch shoulder to shoulder.

But Tony wasn’t going to initiate it, and that meant Steve had to. Which also meant that he had to steel himself for the possibility of rejection. He also struggled with how to breach the personal space bubble between them without Tony thinking it was an ill-timed attempt at seduction.

So he started out tentative. He asked Tony to pass him a soda from the fridge one day and when he handed it over, he clapped a hand on his shoulder, just once, in thanks. If Tony reacted, he didn’t see it. He purposely turned away, walking over to the table where his book lay, to make sure Tony didn’t read anything else into the gesture.

The next time, he didn’t turn away, and Tony just gave him an easy nod back. After that, he grew more bold. When he joined Tony in the workshop, he gave his shoulder a little squeeze before settling into his chair. When they watched a movie, Steve sat nearby and bumped his shoulder against Tony’s at the funny bits.

Bit by bit, Tony softened into the touches. He’d been receptive from the start, but after a few weeks, it was as if he came to expect them. He stood closer to Steve than he used to, joined him on the couch instead of a nearby chair and hovered in his space when they talked. Steve snatched every opportunity he could to get his hands on Tony, always outwardly platonic, but he couldn’t help the way his mind extrapolated every shoulder squeeze and couch cuddle into something more heated every night once he was alone in his bed.

One day, he headed down to the workshop with his sketchbook in hand, determined to try drawing Tony for the eightieth time, to find the other man hunched awkwardly over his worktop. Steve watched as he stood, stretched, clamped a hand to his lower back, then leaned over again. Steve made his way over.

“You okay?”

“Hmm?” Tony twisted up, pushing his glasses onto his head. “Yeah, just drilling this. Needs downward pressure and it’s awkward as fuck. I should really get a taller work table. Or maybe one with hydraulics that go up and down…” Tony trailed off, looking around the workshop. Steve knew that look, and he also knew that if he wanted any of Tony’s attention for the next few hours, he had to snatch it now.

“I could help?” he offered, waggling his fingers and gesturing towards Tony’s back.

Tony’s eyes widened, as he realized what Steve was saying. “Oh, uh, yeah, sure. That’dbenice,” he mumbled at his circuit board.

Steve moved to stand behind him. “So what are you working on?” He skated his hands over Tony’s back, getting him used to his presence, before starting to work his thumbs down either side of Tony’s spine.

“I’m updating one of the holoscreen systems and it needs some custom circuit ughhh.” Tony moaned, gripping the edge of the table, as Steve dug his thumbs into the tight muscles in Tony’s lower back. The sound shot straight to Steve’s groin, as his mind helpfully reminded him of all the other times he’d made Tony make those noises. He sucked air through his teeth as silently as possible and focused on his hands.

Tony stopped his work, bracing against the table so Steve could use a little of his super-strength to dig into the knots and work them loose. Steve could tell Tony was trying to choke back some of the more obscene noises, but enough leaked out anyway that Steve was rock hard in his jeans and biting his lip.

When Steve smoothed his hands over Tony’s back one last time, then stepped back, Tony didn’t turn. He let out a soft, happy breath and stood. He shot an almost glance back, just to acknowledge Steve, then went back to his work. “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome,” Steve replied, trying not to squeak. He wasn’t sure if Tony wasn’t turning because he knew what Steve’s reaction would be, or, dare he hope, to hide one of his own. “I’ll let you work then.”

Tony shuffled, then picked up the drill again. “Yeah, thanks. Wanna play a game later?”

Steve skidded to a halt, halfway to the door already. “Yes,” he breathed out, too eager. He reeled himself in. “That would be great. Chess? Cards?”

“I’m good with anything. I’ll come find you.”

“Perfect.” Steve attempted to adjust his pants to the pressure as he left the workshop. He risked a glance back before he pushed open the door, and he could swear Tony was doing the same.

**

Steve expected that there would still be a lot to resolve between them and it wouldn’t all be hugs and puppies, but what he didn’t expect was his own sudden surge of anger that hit out of the blue, a few weeks into his Woo Tony Campaign. They were out at Casey’s, and Steve had been so relieved to fall back into their old routines that he’d been buzzing with satisfaction all evening. Tony had his phone out and was flipping through top 100 lists on imdb, trying to pick something for their next team movie night.

“I should make you watch Back to the Future again.” He chuckled.

Steve rolled his eyes. “It’s bad enough that Thor keeps picking Mean Girls. Don’t make your nights to choose even worse,” he begged.

“Blade Runner maybe? Or, Thor hasn’t seen Saving Private Ryan, but you don’t like war movies,” Tony muttered as he scrolled.

Steve’s eyes snapped up from his plate. “What makes you think that?” he snapped out, his voice tighter and sharper than intended.

Tony startled back, his brow furrowing. “I guess I just figured cause, you know,” he gestured towards Steve.

Steve’s stomach twisted with unexpected indignation at Tony’s words. He dropped his eyes back to his plate and pushed his food around with disinterest. “Yeah, you would.”

“Would what?”

“Would assume.”

“Well, fuck me for trying to avoid a movie you wouldn’t like.”

Steve gritted his teeth. “That’s not the - you know what, nevermind. Pick whatever movie you want, Tony.”

Tony went back to his phone, shoulders bristling with irritation, and Steve tried to narrow down exactly where that rush of anger had come from. He’d been so scared, scared to lose Tony, scared he broke the best thing in his life right now, that he’d pushed aside his own feelings. The last few weeks had been all about earning Tony’s trust again and he hadn’t realized that there was something he needed from Tony too. An apology.

He was angry that Tony always assumed he knew how Steve felt. Tony didn’t want to ask, so he made a decision on his own. It wasn’t just in their failed relationship, it was in everything and Steve wasn’t the only one he did that to. Steve considered Tony from the other side of the table, watching him scrolling through the movies with a scowl.

**

They both slept off their uncomfortable dinner and started the next day as if nothing had happened. Steve felt a bit freer for having acknowledged his feelings, knowing he had to find a way to bring it up without setting all of this back to zero again. Tony shot him a worried look when they bumped into each other in the kitchen the next morning, but Steve smiled and offered him some coffee, and Tony relaxed.

Tony said something about not wanting to be cooped up in the workshop all day and Steve asked if he’d like to go down to the park with him. To his surprise, Tony agreed, and an hour later they were walking down Fifth Avenue.

Tony stayed close by his side as they walked. They got to talking about Tony’s work and then how much New York had and hadn’t changed, and finally lapsed into silence as they reached the park. Tony slumped onto a bench, complaining that he now realized why he had people to do his walking for him. Steve laughed and tucked in beside him, close enough that their arms were touching.

“Steve?”

“Yeah?”

“I - I have a question, but I don’t want you to, like, read anything crazy into it, ok?”

Steve turned to look at him, but Tony’s eyes were hidden behind dark glasses and his mouth was carefully expressionless. “Ok.” He braced himself.

“If we - “ Tony paused, cleared his throat. He turned his head ever so slightly side-to-side and Steve recognized his ‘checking for eavesdroppers’ look. Steve remained still and silent, waiting. Tony’s voice dropped to a whisper. “If we… tried again. If we dated. Would you want to tell people? Would you be okay with going public?”

It wasn’t the question Steve expected, so it took him a moment to process it. “Do you mean, would I want to keep our relationship a secret? If we had one?” he added hastily.

“Yeah, I guess.”

“Why would I want to do that?”

Tony shuffled on the bench. “Why wouldn’t you?”

Steve made a few confused sounds, then snapped his mouth shut and thought through it. “No. I’d want everyone to know you were mine. I’d want to shout it from the rooftops. I’d probably finally make a fucking post on Instagram letting everyone know.” He laughed, and Tony’s lips twitched up. “If that were a problem for you, if you didn’t want to, I’d listen to why. I could try, though I’d definitely want our friends to know. But public… I could see not. If it were important to you. But no, it’s not what I’d want.”

Steve lapsed into silence and worried when Tony didn’t say anything in response, for a long time. When he finally spoke it was just, “Okay,” again. Steve sighed quietly to himself.

“Sorry,” Tony mumbled.

Steve slid a little closer, until Tony was a solid warmth along his side.

Tony swiftly changed the topic and Steve let him. He felt like they were circling around something, but if he pointed at it too closely, it would panic and go back into hiding. They spent a long time at the park and tripped back to the tower around sunset, sun-tipsy and laughing. Steve followed Tony to his workshop and pulled out his sketchbook while Tony described his latest project with great animation. Steve interjected with mocking comments whenever he thought Tony was getting too full of his own genius, while his pencil scratched across the page.

After an hour of Tony’s over-the-top science lectures, Steve had a finished drawing. He held it out to see it better and burst out laughing, interrupting Tony’s monologue.

“What is it?” Tony asked. He turned and saw Steve cackling at his own drawing. “What did you draw?” He started to cross the room and Steve clutched the sketchbook to his chest.

“Nope, this one’s for me.”

Tony rolled his eyes and smirked. “If you’re drawing porn, you have to share, Rogers.”

Steve broke into laughter again and held the sketchbook even tighter. “It’s not porn, you lunatic. I have a special sketchbook for that.”

“Ooh, you tease.” Tony reached for the sketchbook, trying to peel back the top and see, but Steve catapulted himself off the couch and held it out of reach. “You interrupted my zone, I deserve to see in exchange for you ruining my workflow.”

“The only thing I interrupted was you showing off. You’ve done nothing but talk for an hour.”

“Talking is part of my process.” Tony grabbed at the sketchbook, but Steve twisted out of the way.

They wrestled half-heartedly for a while, Steve laughing and shoving Tony away, while Tony made every appeal he could think of. Finally, he backed off and pouted. “Why not?”

Steve flushed. “Cause it’s embarrassing. It’s of you. But it’s silly.”

“It’s of me? Well, fuck, now I have to see it. Please?”

Steve’s mouth twisted while he thought about it. He’d been trying to draw Tony for over a year now and had never managed to catch his expression, his charm, the way he was always filled with movement even when he was still.

Until now.

He sighed, bit his lip and tore the sheet of paper off the top of his sketchbook. He held it out, and Tony grabbed it, eyes bright. It was a cartoon, instead of a life drawing, a style he hadn’t tried in a long time. It was of Tony, but with a sort of Tasmanian Devil look about him. He was half man, half tornado and he whirled around his chaotic workshop, sending tools, equipment, and DUM-E flying. He wore tinted glasses and a smirk, the arc reactor visible through his tank top.

Tony stared at the drawing in silence for a moment, then squealed. “Oh my god, this is amazing. I can have it, right? Please? I love it.” Tony turned his eyes up to Steve’s, and Steve’s cheeks heated.

“Of course you can have it.”

“Thanks. I’m going to get it framed and hang it upstairs.” Tony grinned down at the cartoon. “Oh wait, you forgot to sign it. Not a Rogers original, unless it’s signed.” His grin softened to a warm smile and he held the picture out, resting it on Steve’s sketchbook, but not letting go. Steve caught in his open, honest look for a moment, then shook himself loose and scratched his signature in the corner with the pencil he still held.

“Thanks,” Tony whispered, and it sounded like something more.

That night, curled up on his couch before bed, Steve thought about the picture hanging in Tony’s penthouse. He looked up from his book at the white walls of his apartment, devoid of art or personal touches. It suddenly felt cold and impersonal. Nat was right, he had lived here for two years, it was time to move in.

Chapter Text

Tony caught Steve in the garage lugging cans of paint and bags of supplies from the back of Happy’s car to the elevator. Tony had been “bumping into him” a lot lately and Steve wondered how much JARVIS was reporting about his activities to Tony. He didn’t mind. It was nice that Tony was seeking him out instead of waiting for Steve to come to him. It meant whenever he was making food Tony would appear in the kitchen, or if he turned on a movie, the cushion beside him would sink down, and Tony would be there.

And Steve was trying really really hard to wait, not to push, not to ask, because having this much of Tony was amazing. It was like a dam had been opened, though, and whereas before it had never crossed his mind to want to hold Tony close, touch his cheek, brush his hair back, carry him to bed when he fell asleep in the workshop, now it was all he wanted. He’d it clear what he wanted, though; the next move was Tony’s.

Tony leaned in the doorway of the elevator, his eyes fixed on Steve as he schlepped the supplies across the garage. “I’d offer to help,” Tony said with a cheeky smile, “but then I wouldn’t get to watch.”

“That’s okay, I wouldn’t want the squishy human getting hurt,” Steve replied lightly.

“Excuse me? Which of us just spent weeks limping around whining because he got a little bit tossed around by a robot? I get tossed around inside a robot every day and I’m fine. Better than fine. I’m damn fine.”

Steve stopped, one foot inside the elevator car and one out, right next to Tony. He raked his eyes down Tony’s body. “Can’t argue with that.”

Tony spluttered a bit, clearly searching for a comeback, then gave up and laughed. “So what’s all this for?”

“I’m painting my apartment.”

“Why?”

“Apparently, normal, modern people - “ Steve grunted as he lifted the last set of cans “ - who are absolutely settling into the 21st century and not at all expecting to time travel again, have apartments that are more interesting than builder’s white.”

“Whoa, hold up there, buddy. I am responsible for your apartment, and I’ll have you know I am far too rich and sophisticated to let anything called ‘builder’s white’ near my building.”

Steve stared at him.

“It’s called ‘Cloud White.’”

Steve rolled his eyes. “Ah yes, a crucial distinction.”

“It is. One is gross, one is elegant.”

“It’s white, Tony.”

“‘Cloud White.’”

“Your penthouse is all kinds of colours.”

“Well, yeah, who has a white apartment these days? That’s so ‘unsettled, early 1900s, super soldier.’”

Tony piled into the elevator after him and hit the buttons for the workshop and Steve’s floor.

“Thanks for the encouragement.”

“You don’t know the half of it, Rogers.”

The elevator arrived at the workshop and Steve was surprised when the doors stayed open after Tony had exited. He waited, and after a moment, Tony reappeared, in changed clothes, and with DUM-E in tow.

“Alright, let’s go do this thing!”

Steve grinned at the pair of them. “You two are going to help me paint my apartment?”

“Of course not. You and I are going to sip margaritas and watch while DUM-E paints your apartment.” The elevator doors shut and they started to rise again.

“Ah, is that so?”

“Mhm. He’s never painted anything before but how hard can it be?”

Very hard turned out to be the answer. Tony had also never painted anything before, and Steve’s experience was limited to 8x10 acrylics. They consulted JARVIS, who consulted google, and determined that they had to edge one wall, then fill it in quickly, then move on to the next wall. They discussed the application of tape, failed horribly at the application of tape and discarded tape as an option. After a little practice, they determined that Steve’s super-soldier hand was steady enough to do the edge free-hand, while Tony rollered in behind. DUM-E was in charge of holding the cup of paint for Steve and pulling his stool along every time he hit the end of his reach.

While they worked, they talked, and for the first time since the hospital it felt blissfully normal. There were no sharp edges under Tony’s words, no awkward pauses when one of them brought up the past. Their inside jokes still landed, their silences were comfortable again. Steve grinned, trying, and failing, to focus on keeping his brush steady, thrumming with the warm pleasure of having his Tony back. This was perfect, this was what he wanted out of them. He could be happy with this forever, even if Tony never wanted more. Steve wanted still, of course, but the happiness of having his best friend far outweighed the ever-present, tingling urge to grasp at romance.

Steve stretched out towards the ceiling, but there wasn’t enough paint on his brush so the resulting stroke was thin and patchy. He bent down to dip his brush in the cup, but it was empty too. “More paint, please, DUM-E.”

The bot trundled over to the collection of paint cans, set his cup down, then reached for the can. While he refilled, Steve adjusted the stool to begin turning the corner.

“Dammit, you bucket of bolts, what are you doing?!”

Steve spun to see DUM-E, having made his way over to Tony’s side with the can, attempting to pour more paint in Tony’s tray. Unfortunately, Tony was still holding the tray with one hand, roller in the other, and the weight of the new paint was bending the corner of the tray down threateningly. Steve bounded across the room to grab the tilting corner, but he landed poorly on his bad leg and stumbled. Into DUM-E.

Steve figured, later, that the resulting mess was an almost perfectly choreographed Three Stooges routine. DUM-E rocked forward as Steve’s weight collided with him and the tray in Tony’s hand collapsed under the weight of the paint. Tony’s other hand swung in, automatically attempting to catch the falling tray, but forgetting he still held the paint roller, which smacked uselessly against the side of the tray, sending it tumbling to the ground. The tray connected with Tony’s foot, spraying paint everywhere, and Tony’s roller connected with Steve’s face.

They stopped, hung in a moment of shock, everything that wasn’t the walls covered in paint. Then DUM-E, with a gentle whiirrrrr, bent down, set the now empty paint can on the floor, rolled over to his cup, picked it up, returned to Steve’s stool, slid it ever so carefully three feet to the left, then held his cup aloft, waiting. Steve stared at the bot, paint dripping through his eyebrows and into his eyes.

Tony exploded into laughter.

“Oh my god,” he screeched. “Your face. You look amazing. Hulk 2.0.”

Steve wiped his eyes, seemingly only succeeding in spreading the paint more effectively all over his face. “You got out of that remarkably unscathed, only your shoes are green.”

“Dammit, my shoes were the only thing I didn’t change. These cost $780.”

“Jesus Christ, Tony. How can you spend that much on one pair of shoes?”

Tony shrugged. He reached down and gingerly picked at the laces, then toed the shoes off and tossed them aside, followed by his equally wet socks. He picked his way through the splatter on the drop cloth, over to Steve’s side. “Be useful for once and get us some paper towels or something, would ya?”

DUM-E obeyed, setting down his cup on the stool and rifling through the supplies until he found a roll of paper towels. He brought them over and Tony snatched them out of his claw, pulling a long line off the roll and snapping it off. He wadded it up and handed it to Steve, who mopped at his face, frowning when the towels came back soaked. Somewhat cleaner, he turned to Tony to find the other man grinning up at him. He was so close, and Steve could see his bare toes wiggling on the drop cloth and he knew he shouldn’t, but all he could think about was that first time in the gym and how exhilarating and terrifying and wonderful it had been when Tony had kissed him. But this time, this time he had to hold back, had to keep his hands to himself, keep his eyes away from Tony’s tempting mouth. Because that was pressure, and pressure was the thing he had promised not to do.

He tried to lean back a little, shift out of Tony’s enticing aura without making it too obvious, but Tony shifted too, keeping the distance between them small.

“You missed a spot, Kermit.”

“What?”

Tony peeled another paper towel off the roll and wiped it over Steve’s nose. “Sorry.”

“For what?” Steve asked, bewildered, every ounce of his being focusing on being as controlled as he could possibly be.

“For the roller to the face.” Tony chuckled, inching even closer.

“Right. Well, I probably deserved it for something.”

“Probably.”

“Why on earth didn’t you pay someone to do this?” Tony’s voice was barely more than a whisper now.

“I thought I should do it myself.” Steve shrugged. “Like therapy or something.” Tony’s eyes danced with amusement.

Steve’s injured leg complained and he shifted to his good one without thinking, without realizing that the small change in angle would bring his arm against Tony’s. He opened his mouth to say something, maybe apologize, maybe beg, maybe ask Tony why in god’s name he was standing so close when he knew it would -

“Can I?” Tony asked, voice so low Steve wasn’t sure a non-super soldier would have picked it up. And he was so so close and so warm and he was looking at Steve’s lips and what was the question again? Can he - ?

“Oh,” Steve breathed, finally catching up, and Tony grinned in response. “Yes. Please.”

They’d kissed a hundred times at least, probably many more, but this kiss was different. From that first day in the gym, with his hands around Tony’s arms, and Tony’s toes on his, they had kissed each other wild and greedy, taking what they wanted, pushing, grasping, urging. This kiss was tentative, but easy. Soft, yielding. Tony pressed his lips gently against Steve’s, and for a moment, they hung there. Then Steve moved, parted his lips, just a little, an invitation, a question, and Tony answered with more pressure, melting his body against Steve’s, slotting their lips together more intently. The kiss deepened as they grew bolder, but it never became frantic. Finally, with a sigh, Tony broke away, leaning back far enough to meet Steve’s eyes, but keeping his weight solid against Steve’s chest. Steve looked down at him and smiled.

“Now you’ve got paint on your face too.” He reached up and finally, finally, brushed his thumb across Tony’s cheek, catching the droplet of green then wiping it on his already stained shirt.

“You okay?” Tony asked, and Steve’s first impulse was to say, “Of course,” but his bit his tongue and thought about it first. Communication was their new watchword and by god he wasn’t going to be the first to fuck it up.

“I’m scared,” he finally admitted, when he managed to wrap his brain around what the vibrating unease he felt deep in his gut really meant. “I don’t want to mess it up again.”

Tony sighed, too sadly, and Steve’s hands tightened around his waist. “It’s not fair, you know, for you to take all this on yourself. I’ve been - I’ve been letting you. Which is horribly selfish of me. But it’s not your fault alone. Yes, I was hurt, yes, I was confused, but the truth is, I can see it. I can see why you thought what you did. It wasn’t fair of me to decide everything about our relationship on my own and never ask you what you wanted. I - I was scared too. I was scared, that if I asked, you’d say no and then I’d have to decide. Decide if I could live with having your body, but not your heart. It was a decision I didn’t know how to make so I just… didn’t. If you hadn’t overheard me at the hospital, it probably would have been an embarrassingly long time before I had the courage to use that word in front of you, and this all would have been that much more horrible and complicated to untangle.

“I had reasons, excuses, for everything, you know. No PDA because I've been hounded by paparazzi since I was a kid and I wanted to protect you from that, never staying the night because I had work to do and I didn’t want to keep you up with my insomnia anyway, no cuddling or casual affection because you didn’t seem like the kind of person who would like that, even though I know that’s not true. I’d see you with Nat, all snuggled up and I wanted that for me, so badly, but I couldn’t face why I wasn’t just grabbing those things for myself, if you really were mine. The truth is - is horrible. I didn’t want the world to know how I felt because I knew the first thing I would hear from the public was ‘Tony Stark isn’t good enough for Captain America; he can do better.’ And I didn’t want you to know, in case you thought so too. I was hiding, because I was scared, and I’m sorry. And if I made you feel like you had to earn me back, I’m sorry for that too. I needed time to trust myself, more than anything.”

Steve brushed his thumb across Tony’s cheek again, processing those words, feeling the last of whatever anger he’d been holding on to float away.

“Thank you for waiting for me,” Tony whispered.

“You are so worth waiting for.” Steve kissed him again. And again. And for a long time, nothing else mattered.

**

They did manage to get the apartment painted, though it took several days and Natasha’s help for the final push. DUM-E was eventually banned from the process entirely. The spilling of paint was a mistake that could be forgiven. But apparently, Tony getting kissed after hitting Steve with the roller had given DUM-E the idea that it had been welcome, appreciated even, and he had taken to applying every unsupervised paint roller to the nearest person he was a fan of.

In the end, Tony had locked the bot in the workshop with a clean, dry roller of his own, and his new greeting involved affectionately rollering everyone who came down. Steve had tried to dodge it at first but had now given in to having the roller rubbed up and down his side whenever he came to visit Tony.

Walls dry, and furniture back in place, Steve had to admit that his apartment was a much more pleasant place to be. Just in time for him to start spending all of his time at Tony’s. It was still tentative, and careful, but it was real - Steve could feel the difference viscerally. They both found it difficult, but they were talking about how they felt more often, and even if it could be awkward at times, it always felt better when they did.

Steve waited until they were curled up together in one of the big, squishy armchairs in the common room before he broached the subject that had been bothering him since their second first kiss.

He wrapped his arms tighter around Tony’s waist and pressed his lips to the tip of his nose.

“Hey, Tony?”

“Yeah?”

“What did you mean before, when you said the public’s reaction would be that Tony Stark wasn’t good enough for Captain America?”

Tony was silent for a moment, but instead of stiffening in Steve’s arms, he curled closer into him. “I mean just that.” His voice was soft, with a slight waver of something painful through it. “I’m a slutty, self-obsessed, rich asshole.” He shrugged, but his shoulders were heavy with too many “care-free” shrugs over the years. “You’re Captain America.”

“So, you get to be Tony Stark in this, but I have to be Captain America? Do you only like me as Cap, do you not like Steve Rogers?”

“Of course not. I barely know Captain America. You’re just Steve. I like Steve.” Steve warmed at his words. “But it’s not the same when it comes to public opinion. I was Tony Stark, slutty asshole, long before I was Iron Man. There are even some outlets that still don’t believe that I am Iron Man.”

“Have you been arguing on reddit again?”

“That’s beside the point. Ask the general public and I get ‘Tony Stark’ and you get ‘Captain America,’ it’s just the way things are. And they’re not going to think we’re a good match.”

Steve was still for a moment, thinking. “Do you think we’re a good match?” he asked softly.

Tony swivelled awkwardly until they were face to face. They were sitting so close Steve had to work to not let his eyes go cross-eyed, trying to meet his gaze. “Steve?”

“Yes?”

“I’m in love with you.”

It was a similar feeling to the one he’d had in the hospital, when Tony made it clear he thought they were more than friends. Like the world had stuttered along and left him behind, stuck in the moment. But unlike last time, this was a moment he wanted to be stuck in forever, if he could. It was more than the burgeoning hope that they were destined for something real and wonderful, it was the first time Tony had ever expressed feelings of any kind for him with actual words.

“Tony…” he started, struggling to find the right words to express his own feelings.

Tony rolled his eyes. “Oh, god, don’t get all sappy on me, Rogers.”

That punched a laugh out of Steve, and he buried his face in Tony’s neck and chuckled into his hair. “You started it.”

“Yeah…” Steve could hear the smile in Tony’s voice. “I’m going to finish it too…”

Tony swung his leg over Steve’s lap so he was straddling his thighs. He reached up and furrowed both his hands through Steve’s hair. His eyes had shifted from soft and adoring to dark and heated. Steve’s breath caught as he gazed up at the man in his lap. Their kisses had been getting increasingly intense over the last few days, but they had yet to go farther than that. This time.

Steve’s hands migrated to Tony’s thighs of their own accord and squeezed the tight cords of muscle. He’d been waiting for Tony to be ready, but now that he was faced with it, he found he was the nervous one. He understood in that moment, painfully, what it had been like for Tony to find out he’d been seeing it all wrong. He had the man he loved here in his arms, and he knew Tony loved him back, but there was this underlying anxiety telling him that the rug would be pulled out from under his feet at any moment.

Maybe he was wrong again, despite all the talking and the effort, and this time he was the one seeing more than what was there. Maybe it was all a cruel trick to get him back for the harm he had caused, which he supposed he deserved. Maybe it was a dream and he’d wake up in tangled, sex-rumpled sheets, alone and cold.

Then Tony hooked his thumbs under Steve’s jaw, tipped his chin up and kissed him, and all his worries evaporated. He melted against Tony’s mouth, letting him drive, sinking into the sensation as their bodies took over. Tony’s hands dropped from his face to his chest and he raked his fingers over his nipples, through his shirt, making Steve shiver.

In so many ways, this felt like build up to their first time, but Steve knew Tony now, knew his body language, the little signals that showed what he wanted. He could feel Tony’s body winding tight with need and he knew how to find release for that tension. Tony knew his body too and with just a few light touches he had Steve’s nerves humming.

“You sure?” Steve mumbled into Tony’s neck and only got hands clenched in his shirt and a needy sigh in response. Tony slipped backwards, off his lap and used the grip on Steve’s shirt to leverage Steve up with him and draw him back to his mouth. Tony ran kisses across Steve’s cheek then along his jawline.

“Tony,” he begged, when clever hands found the button on his jeans and popped it open. Tony started driving him backwards and Steve let himself be led. He fumbled with Tony’s clothes while they moved, urging his shirt over his head and pawing at his jeans. They were both naked by the time they stumbled onto Steve’s bed, and the brush of Tony’s heated skin against his had Steve painfully hard in no time. Tony kissed his way down Steve’s chest and over his stomach, pausing to nip at the jut of his hipbone. His cheek brushed against Steve’s cock and he gasped, arching towards the minuscule contact.

“I know what you need,” Tony mumbled, the first thing he’d said since he’d climbed in Steve’s lap. He ran his tongue over the tip of Steve’s cock, humming with pleasure at the bead of precum he found there. Steve fisted his hands in the sheets, eyes glued to Tony’s mouth. Tony sucked cock like an enthusiastic vacuum cleaner, and while Steve had missed Tony’s heart and words and smile more than anything, he certainly didn’t complain when Tony wrapped his lips around him and hollowed his cheeks.

“Fuck, Tony. Like that,” Steve hissed, but he didn’t need to because Tony knew. Tony knew to run his tongue flat after his lips as he pulled back. Tony knew to leave Steve’s cock to his mouth so his hands could wander over his stomach and behind his balls. Tony knew to meet Steve’s gaze as he sucked him down, just this side of too slow. And Steve knew to bury his fingers in Tony’s hair and grip. Hard.

When Tony’s hand slipped lower, Steve flung his arm out and scrambled blindly through his bedside table until he found the bottle of lube. He tossed it to Tony who caught it, never faltering in the teasingly slow bob of his head. Slick fingers brushed over Steve’s balls, along the sensitive skin behind them, then circled the edge of his hole. Tony took his time, backing off every time Steve moaned and arched his back, then pushing forward again until he had two fingers buried deep in Steve’s ass, brushing against his prostate with every slide.

It was a slow, lazy build. Tony’s hot mouth slid up and down Steve’s cock while his fingers stretched him open and worked his prostate relentlessly. Time got a bit hazy, lost in pleasure that wasn’t building towards release but kept him on the edge of something for what felt like hours.

Eventually, Tony pulled back, sliding his fingers out and leaving Steve feeling unpleasantly empty. Tony crawled up into the cage of Steve’s arms and legs, resting his hips between Steve’s open thighs and his chest on Steve’s chest. They breathed together for a moment. Steve ran his hands down Tony’s back, recognizing every bump of his spine and crease of tensed muscle. He knew this back, this was his back, he knew these thighs, the hot press of Tony’s hard cock against his stomach, Tony’s breath on his shoulder, the dig of the arc reactor against his chest and the steady thump of Tony’s heart behind it.

But there was something new and beautiful and overwhelming curling through the moment. The way Tony paused and brushed his mouth across Steve’s neck, the easy pace like they had all night to stay wrapped in each other’s arms. And then, heart-stoppingly, the way Tony propped himself up on his elbows, pressed the head of his cock to Steve’s slick hole and whispered, “I love you.”

All Steve could do was moan in response as Tony pushed, slowly, but steadily inside him. When he was fully seated, he paused and Steve found his breath again. “Keep that up and I will get all sappy on you, Stark,” he huffed out with a grin, and Tony laughed then bent to nip at his lower lip.

“I think I can distract you sufficiently.” He started to roll his hips, and Steve gripped Tony’s sides then dropped his hands to fist in the sheets when he realized he wouldn’t be able to stop himself from squeezing too hard. Every slow slide of Tony’s cock into his body sent a new shiver of pleasure up his spine, and Steve whimpered with each one.

After the slow start, Tony ramped thing up quickly until they were forehead to forehead, sharing air and moaning and gasping with every thrust. Steve could tell Tony was getting close when a fountain of filthy promises and expletives burst out of his mouth.

“Ah, fuck, Tony, yes,” Steve hissed back, wrapping his hand around his cock and stroking, short and quick over the head. “Yes, please, like that, fuck me, I love you, guh.” Steve came hot and hard over his belly, jerking into Tony’s pounding thrusts with every gasping surge of pleasure that washed through him. He came back to himself, hand stilling on his cock, just in time for Tony to press forward, feet scrabbling against this sheets, and cry out, buried as deep as he could be in Steve’s body.

Tony collapsed onto Steve’s chest, breathing hard. As the sparking aftershocks of orgasm faded into soft, satisfied pleasure, Steve was hit with an unwelcome jolt of anxiety that Tony would kiss him, and walk out, as he always had before. His arms clenched unconsciously around Tony’s back. Tony brushed soothing fingers along Steve’s ribs, then he pulled back so their eyes could meet. “I can stay here tonight, right?”

Steve’s heart swelled. “Of course. I think I might have tied you down, if you tried to leave, actually.”

Tony chuckled. “Kinky.”

“But if you’d rather we go upstairs to your room…?”

Tony yawned and curled back down onto Steve’s chest, one leg hooked over Steve’s thigh, his palm flat over Steve’s heart. “Nah, I like it here.”

“Me too.”

Tony shifted around a few times, getting comfortable. “Sorry if I wake you up,” he added quietly. “I don’t always sleep well.”

“I don’t either. It’s okay. I’d rather have you here.” Steve brushed his fingers through Tony’s hair, and he settled with a happy sigh. “Tony? I love you.”

Steve could feel Tony’s smile against the bare skin of his chest. “Me too.”

Chapter Text

Steve hauled himself off the penthouse couch with a groan, grabbing the edge of a table to steady himself. He looked down at Tony, still sprawled on the couch, clothes half-off, hair wild, spent cock softening on his stomach. He reached out and ran his hand through Tony’s hair, and Tony leaned into the touch.

Steve stood and stretched, then gathered his clothes pulling his shorts back up over his hips. DUM-E helpfully handing him one of his socks. “Tell me again why DUM-E is up here in your apartment instead of downstairs?”

“Mmm,” Tony moaned from the couch, still not moving. “I’m working with a very sensitive new explosive.”

“Ok.”

“It can’t be compressed.”

Steve eyed DUM-E who picked up his pet roller and waved it around hopefully. “Ah.”

“It should only be a few more days.”

Steve turned back and pressed a kiss to Tony’s lips then started hunting for his other sock. “You heading back down?” He’d been lucky to drag Tony up here for a quickie in the first place, considering how deeply invested in his work he had been. He found the sock on the other side of the room, and he tossed it towards the bedroom, leaning over the back of the couch to watch Tony stretch on the cushions.

“Is that okay? I’ve got The Builds something fierce, and it’s best if I just push through it. I’ll be back by midnight, though. I’ll make JARVIS remind me.”

Steve smiled. “Perfect.” He pressed a kiss to Tony’s forehead and whispered, “I love you, boyfriend.”

Tony leaped to his feet and started pulling on his clothes. “I think I’m almost there, it’s really coming together now.”

“Thanks for taking a break with me.” Steve gave him a cheeky smile, and Tony crawled up the back of the couch to lean over for a moment, pressing their chests together. He pulled Steve in for another kiss.

“Anytime, hot stuff.” He wrestled his shirt over his head and trotted for the door, calling back, “I love you too!” then sticking his head back in to add, “Boyfriend!” before disappearing.

Steve smiled. They’d said it to each other - they made a point of saying it to each other - and they’d said it to their friends. They had yet to say it to the public, but Steve had assured Tony he was ready whenever he was, in any way he wanted to. Even if he was never ready.

Steve tossed his collected clothes towards the laundry basket then headed for the bathroom and hopped in the shower, taking extra time to enjoy the hot water. He rubbed his hand over his leg. It looked completely back to normal, and ninety percent of the time it felt back to normal, but every now and then it would twinge, reminding Steve that while he healed at superhuman speed, healing still took time. Eventually, before he pruned too badly, he turned off the taps and stepped out, DUM-E greeting him with a vigorous rollering over his damp arm. Steve poured a glass of water and drank the whole thing in one, long pull.

There was a chiming noise and he headed for the arm of the chair where he’d left his phone, but it wasn’t there.

Another chime.

Steve spun around, tracking the noise. It chimed again. The phone continued to chatter and Steve followed it, feeling uncomfortably like he was playing a game of “hotter, colder” with a robot, until he found it wedged between the couch cushions. Odd, he hadn’t been on the couch at all since he last had it. Tony must have moved it. He swiped it open.

Instagram: ashy89 and 684 other people liked your post

What.

Cautiously, Steve swiped the app open and watched the notifications scroll by. He’d made a post to Instagram and nearly 700 people had liked it. He’d made a post to Instagram. He had not made a post to Instagram; Tony must have, on Steve’s account. He clicked on the notification, opening the picture, braced for what he might find. He stared at it in shock for a long time.

It was of himself, turned away from the camera, in only his gym shorts, his back glistening with sweat. His hand was up, at the back of his neck, fingers digging into the muscle there. The evening light poured through the windows to his right, washing out the background of the photo but lighting his arm and hair up vividly. The picture had clearly been taken immediately after the sex they’d just had, while Steve was turned away, getting his sock back from DUM-E. Thankfully, you couldn’t see the over-helpful robot off to the side, and you couldn’t tell that Steve’s shorts were open at the front and his spent cock was still hanging out.

He found himself grinning, despite thinking that he should probably be irritated that Tony had posted on his behalf. Truthfully, Nat had likely bribed him to do it, and at least now he didn’t have to worry about making the first post on his not-so-new social media account. There was something pleasantly trusting about Tony posting for him, even if the picture was horribly embarrassing - in a flattering sort of way. Chuckling, he scrolled down to check the comments and realized that Tony had tagged the picture.

#PhotographybyIronMan

#postworkout

#captainassmerica

When Steve got to the fourth, and final, tag, he burst out laughing then clutched the phone to his chest grinning. They had this. They were going to be alright.

#pawsoffmyboyfriend