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a bad reputation

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In hindsight, he should have expected it. Steve is, after all, the least subtle person that Tony has ever met in his life. That he was still refusing to give up his obnoxious spangly gimmick this many years into the whole Avengers thing should have been pretty telling, but Tony, lead by his dick, had happily overlooked that for a few hours of a warm hand in his, a set of blue eyes blazing adoringly in his direction.

Really, it’s his own fault, Tony manages to think blankly as he stares down at the screaming headline in front of him. His fingers feel numb around the StarkTab. Vaguely, he thinks his face might be sweating, which would be more worrying if he weren’t so busy trying to make enough sense of this to come up with a plan. Any sort of plan. Any way to keep Pepper from strangling him the next time he fails to avoid her. It’s absolutely Tony’s fault, because he knows that Steve’s listening skills leave a lot to be desired. He knows that, knows Steve, more importantly, so he should have taken precautions. So he can’t be mad.

Blinking furiously, and groping the counter blindly for his mug with his free hand, Tony dares to scroll down his news feed. In some dim corner of his mind he realizes that he should probably ask JARVIS to keep Steve distracted until he gets this sorted –

AMERICA’S FAVORITE SON OUT ON THE TOWN WITH EX ARMS DEALER

Tony scowls and scrolls down. They’re teammates, they’re allowed to go out in public together, hell – they all go out to lunch together on a weekly basis! Admittedly, usually as a group, sometimes in threes or fours, but –

PLAYBOY TONY STARK MAKES A MOVE ON THE AVENGERS’ GOLDEN BOY

Right, well, he could have predicted that one –

HAS CAPTAIN AMERICA SOLD HIS SOUL?

Jesus. And people call him dramatic.

STEVE ROGERS: OBLIVIOUS? OR LESS WHOLESOME THAN HE APPEARS?

He chokes mid-swallow at the photo accompanying that last one; Steve, standing behind him – tall, blond, handsome, smiling from beneath his lashes as he pulls out Tony’s chair for him with a flourish. Tony, faintly flushed and lips curved up in what is more a goofy grin than the smooth smirk he’d been going for.

He looks like exactly as much of an idiot as he expected he would. Yay.

“Fucking Steve,” he mutters, and doesn’t even bother to raise a finger when JARVIS replies drily, “Shall I ask Captain Rogers down to the communal floor, sir?”

“Not going to dignify that with a response,” he mutters. Great, he’s starting to get pissed. It’s one thing for the press to come for his throat. Tony’s above that shit, has been since he was thirteen, whatever. If Howard did one good thing for him it was giving him a very thick skin for this sort of thing. But Captain America?

Any stupid, half-hearted hopes that Tony had harbored that Steve, of all people, might be immune to the kind of scrutiny that Tony Stark is drenched in is flushed down the toilet. This, he registers dimly, is not even close to the worst of it. This is tame.

Steve’s about to be dragged buck-naked through the proverbial mud and hung up next to every random celebrity Tony has ever been naked with. They’re going to be mocking Captain America on talk shows for months. Inviting him just to ask him if Tony pitches or catches, and how do you, a symbol of freedom, a legendary war veteran, feel about the fact that Tony Stark is withholding desperately needed weapons from our boys overseas?

And Steve, he’s not ready for that kind of shit. There’s a reason that Tony handles all of the Avengers PR. That was the deal: Steve can deal with the politicians, none of whom will touch Tony with a ten-foot pole anymore and all of whom are tripping over themselves for a chance at Captain America’s endorsement for their next campaign (not that Steve is dumb enough to make any promises, and good for him), and Tony can talk circles around the people begging the Avengers for interviews and endorsements, and sic his lawyers on the rest. It’s what he does best, talking. Redirecting. Push comes to shove, Tony is more than willing to get vicious, to play dirty. Withdraw funding, dissolve mergers, leak sensitive documents to the public and decimate someone’s career in an instant if they try to paint his teammates red.

Tony’s reputation has been limping along for a long time. Visibly scarred, just like his chest. But Steve is the type who believes in second chances, in wiping a slate clean.

Fuck, he thinks desperately, and has to force himself not to grind his teeth over the next one. Buzzfeed has already begun rounding up the most popular tweets.

someone should tell cap how to google before sleeping around (1.6k Retweets)

There are hundreds of replies, and Tony’s finger twitches toward the “show this thread” button before he can stop himself. It’s like a slow motion trainwreck, except it’s Steve’s LIFE.

stark’s gonna break his heart AND give him gonorrhea (♥ 840)

“What the fuck,” Tony snaps, and clicks away before he can have an aneurysm.

Fuck, okay. This… it will blow over. For him. It will blow over for him. But for Steve –

Unbidden, Tony’s imagination conjures up Steve, wide-eyed and hurt, marching up to him to ask if he’s been tested, recently, awkward the way he gets when he knows that what he’s saying could easily be read as an accusation and he doesn’t want that, but it’s totally reasonable, because – well – he’s Tony Stark, and everybody knows –

Everybody except Steve. Tony’s not naïve enough to think that Steve doesn’t know all about his hellion days, but the SHIELD briefing would have been very formal, succinct. They wouldn’t have showed fresh-out-of-the-ice, vulnerable-to-culture-shock Steve Rogers his myriad of leaked sex tapes, for example, or the interview he’d done after that one court-mandated rehab stint. That was pretty bad. But it was the 90s! Nothing that happened in the 90s was relevant anymore. And that’s where all of that shit should have stayed, could have stayed, and maybe Tony could have had a few years of domestic bliss before Steve would’ve realized what a mistake it was.

All this because he wasn’t fucking awake to head it off.

Refreshing the page only brings another two headlines, but Tony knows that by noon there will be dozens, maybe hundreds. He’s lucky that Steve avoids Twitter like the plague. But still… Damn. Pepper really is going to have his head. She knows that he knows better and she’s not going to hesitate to tell him that if he tries whining about it. Tony tips his head back toward the ceiling and blows out a breath, trying to empty his lungs which suddenly feel clogged and heavy, like they’re full of poison gas.

He hasn’t even given any thought to how he’s going to tell Pepper about this thing between him and Steve. Outside of a professional context, she’s probably going to be hurt. Not about the fact that he’s moved on, of course, she’s been silently willing him to for months now, Tony could feel it, but – he hadn’t told her. Hadn’t asked for her advice or anything. In fact, he’s shocked he hasn’t got a dozen missed calls from her already, which can only mean one of two things: either she’s dropped everything and is already working to get it under control, or (more likely), she’s waiting for Tony to get his head out of his ass and confess to her before she lifts a finger.

Tony mentally tells his knees and his dignity to brace themselves for the amount of groveling he’s going to have to do today. Sometimes he really misses when Pepper was just his PA,

Another thought occurs to him suddenly and Tony’s skin starts to feel too-tight, clammy. Fuck. Pepper… is not his only friend that doesn’t dress up in spandex and live in his Tower. Give it a few days and Rhodey will be barging in here, too, demanding to know why he hadn’t heard it from Tony himself. Demanding that Steve shake his hand, probably. FUCK.

Because God forbid Tony cherish the fragile, precious beginnings of his own shiny new relationship, he thinks moodily. The prospect of Rhodey showing up unannounced before Tony’s got a lid fucking superglued on this thing is beginning to make him nauseous. Damn his nosy, overprotective friends. Why the hell are they all like that?

God forbid he not want to say anything until he’s reasonably sure that he won’t fuck it up!

Frowning, Tony glances back over his shoulder at the elevator, wondering if Steve had bothered to look at the news before his run. Wondering if he’s upstairs right now, doing the same thing that Tony is doing – staring down at his StarkTab in horrified fascination as the speculation piles up. Some pathetic, quivering part of his brain is so overcome with anxiety that he half-expects it to start leaking out his pores at the slightest movement. Steve’s never been on the receiving end of the kind of media frenzy that Tony Stark can generate just by stepping outside, not like this, and despite the fact that it contradicts everything he knows about the man – his, holy shit he can hardly believe he gets to say this, his BOYFRIEND – Tony can’t help but feel paralyzed by the possibility that Steve had taken one look at the headlines this morning and decided that this wasn’t worth it, after all.

Is that why he’s not down here right now? Tony blinks at the time, forcing himself to breathe. 9:45 am. He can’t taste his coffee. Steve makes breakfast early, around 8 every morning whether anyone else is up and roaming the Tower or not; there’s no reason he should be down here, really, but the anxious something’s-very-wrong-here feeling won’t be dislodged from his chest, from his throat, no matter how hard Tony rubs and taps at the reactor. No matter how much he swallows and coughs and breathes to ten.

God fucking dammit.

The elevator doors glide open abruptly to reveal Steve, who takes one look at Tony and smiles sheepishly. “Hey! I was just about to go looking for you.”

“What, yeah, here I am,” Tony babbles, taking a firm mental hold of the threads of his sanity and pulling them in tight. He cannot lose it here, or in front of Steve at all. Or in front of anyone. He hops off his stool and tucks his StarkTab against his side, moving toward the elevator that Steve’s just vacated, narrowing his focus down to the number of seconds it will take approximately for him to be safely ensconced in his workshop, where he can start making the necessary phone calls with Steve none the wiser, superhearing notwithstanding. “Just on my way out, actually, did you sleep okay?”

“Fine. More than fine. You didn’t want to let me up for my run.” He sounds fond and amused and not at all like he’s been reading the “Controversy” section of Tony’s Wikipedia page, which only makes Tony all the more desperate to do whatever harm reduction he can before this makes it to the newsstand or onto a billboard. “Kept mumbling at me to come back.”

“Yeah, I’m clingy, should’ve warned you.”

“I like it,” Steve murmurs, and Tony feels the flush creep up the back of his neck, warm and pleasant despite his ongoing anxiety attack.

“Well, I’m glad somebody appreciates me around here,” he sighs dramatically. Just a few more feet and he’s home free. He’s just got to keep Steve from getting in the elevator with him. “I’ll see you later, alright? Busy day, blah blah, you know how it is – I’ll be back in time for, well, maybe not dinner, it’s movie night though, it’s Bruce’s turn, right? Don’t let Thor near the microwave if I run a little late.”

He fully intends to keep talking until the doors slide shut behind him but he doesn’t even make it into the elevator before Steve follows after him, reaching for his arm to pull him back and frowning when he steps neatly out of range and nearly trips over himself getting into the compartment. “Tony. Hey. What’s wrong?”

“Wrong, nothing’s wrong,” Tony laughs, foot tapping so rapidly on the floor that his whole body is practically vibrating. He places a hand over Steve’s and squeezes briefly, warmly, before prying it off and taking another quick step backwards. “So paranoid. Don’t miss me too much, sweetheart, I’ll be back before you know it.”

“Not true,” Steve says, looking put-out and still suspicious but the edges of his gaze soften as Tony waves him goodbye with his pinky finger. “I miss you already. Text me?”

“I’ll be bitching at you from under the conference table all day,” Tony lies, plastering on a smile. Just a small one, so that Steve can’t identify his discomfort. “JARVIS?”

The elevator doors slide shut once again and Tony slams his forehead against them forcefully as soon as they start their descent, huffing out a strangled breath.

“J, pull all mentions of Tony Stark and Captain America from Steve’s news feed today,” he mutters. “I don’t want a word of this to get to him until I talk to him later.” It’s probably not the most ethical stopgap but Tony is currently pressed for time, and it will have to do for now. It’s not like he wants to be the one to break the news to him but it’s probably for the best. With any luck, none of their teammates will go to Steve if they have questions – miraculously, they’re all rather intelligent people (even Barton, though he hates to admit it), and besides, they love tormenting Tony with an unholy glee. At the very least, they’ll probably wait until tonight to catch both of them at once, and hopefully by then Tony will have called in every favor he’s accumulated in the past twenty years and managed to corner Steve alone, and maybe they can shove this all back into the closet for a while. Or, you know, forever. It’s cozy.

“Call Pepper for me, will you? Let’s get this over with.”

“Dialing,” JARVIS says, sounding almost sympathetic, and Tony rocks back upright, rubs at his forehead and squares his shoulders.

Tony hates doing damage control. He hates it so much. Normally he’d just drop a memo for his laywers and wash his hands of it, wouldn’t touch it himself at all, because frankly there are far better uses of his time than getting worked up over what random nobodies on the internet were saying about him, except –

It’s for Steve, he reminds himself, and plasters on a painful smile when Pepper’s face appears projected against the wall, brows furrowed with confusion and vague disapproval.

“Tony? Have you slept?”

“Actually, yes, but I have just, a teensy, tiny problem, and I’m going to need your help.”


 

“Shades,” Tony had said before their first date, absently, and dangled a pair of sunglasses in the air between them.

Steve only blinked at them, confused and fondly exasperated, which is an expression that all of Tony’s friends seem to adopt around him all the time. He looked Steve up and down, slowly, and grinned smugly. He was so gonna tap that, later. “Very nice. Good job on the outfit, by the way, no one will be able to piece together your secret identity when they’re busy staring at your nipples.”

Steve was midway through tucking the arm of the glasses into the collar of his shirt; he smacked his hands over his pecs and flushed nicely.

Tony leered.

“I don’t have a secret identity,” Steve reminded Tony, patiently. Because when was Steve ever not patient. Because Steve was (is) fucking perfect.

At least, when he’s not being a stubborn, self-righteous asshole. Which is a semi-regular occurrence, really. But Tony had a tendency to think a little more charitably about a person that he was reasonably certain was going to end up passed out naked and sticky in his bed later, and right then, all prettied up and smiling shyly at Tony every few moments, blue eyes glimmering under those impossibly long lashes, Steve was absolutely delectable. Indescribably sweet.

Perfect.

“Tonight you do.” Tony’s eyes dropped pointedly to the faint impression of Steve’s abs through the fabric of his white t-shirt. Fuck, he wanted to lick him. They should really get going before his resistance crumbled. Come on, Stark, at least take him out first – he’s an old-fashioned guy.

Pfft. Yeah, right. Okay.

He’d caught Steve licking his lips behind him on multiple occasions, now – not just today, but for weeks, hell, months, which in hindsight should have lead him to this conclusion way earlier, but Tony has always been a realist (at least, when it comes to his personal life – he has no illusions about his own glaring lack of social skills where people he sees on a regular basis are concerned) and the resulting eye contact had been so full of smoldering promise that Tony was still surprised that his pants hadn’t caught on fire. He’d asked JARVIS, later, in a spectacular invasion of privacy, exactly how much time Steve had spent sneaking looks at his ass since he moved into the tower, and JARVIS had drily asked if he didn’t want to know about the statistics on any other parts of his body, as well.

Tony kind of wanted to taunt him about it, but that would have been hypocritical, probably. (Definitely.) He’d have to settle for bringing it up during sex. Mm… Steve, naked, sprawled out on Tony’s bed. Pale against the silky red sheets. Looking up at Tony the way he does when he lifts the faceplate after a battle, eyes hot and searching, pupils blown with adrenaline. Oh, God. That… that was a very nice mental image.

When he resurfaced from his own drooling fantasies again, Steve was still standing there, head cocked, blinking innocently.

Later. A warm curl of pleasant anticipation had settled in Tony’s gut.

Later was going to be a lot of fun.

Tony reached over and plucked the glasses back off of Steve’s collar and unfolded them, shoving them none-too-gently onto his face. Steve scrunched his nose up.

“I don’t need these,” he said, and that – that should have set off some warning bells, Tony sees it now, because of course, Steve doesn’t really understand the media these days. It’s been a couple of years and it’s not like he hasn’t been thoroughly acquainted with the internet but sometimes the things he says in interviews are so painfully honest and real that Tony has to press a hand to his own chest and wince, something carefully cultivated in his chest curling up and dying of secondhand embarrassment. He wonders sometimes if Howard is rolling in his grave; he wonders, actually, if Howard knew this about Steve and had just charitably ignored it. Maybe assumed he’d grow out of it? If only he’d set aside some of that patience for his own kid, right? Tony is not bitter, not at all.

Steve cleared his throat, that shy smile twitching at his lips again. Tony feels a bubble of unbearable fondness burst in his chest at the sight of it. Steve doesn’t shift from foot to foot or stammer or give any obvious signals of distress, of anxiety, like any other person – he’s too used to keeping himself in check for that – but Tony can always see it in the way he holds himself, slightly stiff, almost formal, whenever he’s gearing up to say something about his Feelings, capital F. “You – you look nice. I don’t ever see you leave the Tower without a suit jacket.”

The way he was looking at Tony’s biceps, eyelashes lowered and lower lip catching briefly between his teeth, was nearly Tony’s undoing.

Suffice to say, Tony has plenty of good excuses as to why he didn’t insist on a little more discretion. He’s only human. And Steve was clearly trying to kill him.

Their date was shockingly sweet, so nice that Tony wanted to hold his breath afterward for fear that it would all disappear and turn out to be just another impossible dream. Holding his breath turns out to be impossible, however, with Steve’s hands in his hair and down his pants and all over him. It’s a long time coming and shockingly athletic, and for once in his life, Tony dropped right off to sleep afterward with the low, comforting sound of Steve’s chuckling in his ear, the warm, damp slide of a cloth on the insides of his thighs. It was, to his recollection, just past eleven when his eyes slid shut.

The first article had popped up around midnight.


 

In a bizarre twist of fate, Pepper finds the whole thing hilarious. Tony is torn between feeling pathetically grateful that she’s not mad and wanting to shake her until she understands that this is the end of the world.

“It’s not the end of the world, Tony,” she says, already with a phone to her ear and half a dozen new email windows open in front of her on the desk that used to be his. She gets a lot more use out of it than he ever did when he was CEO. “Look, I’ll do what I can. But you know how people are. Let them make their assumptions – what matters is that you and Steve know where you stand.” She raises an eyebrow slowly at the way he fidgets, growing more incredulous by the second. “You have told him, haven’t you?”

It’s barely noon when Tony finds himself dragging his feet into the communal living area, after being literally chased out of his own office by an exasperated Pepper. He’d managed to earn his keep by attending a meeting in her place, a rare opportunity that he knew she wouldn’t be able to pass up, and had managed to make good on his promise to text Steve under the table for at least half of it until he was forced to start paying attention. It’s been a while since he had to attend one of these for any other purpose than presenting a new prototype and it’s excruciating; Steve had kept him hanging onto his sanity by a thread with a steady stream of flirtatious banter and strings of emojis but it couldn’t quite distract Tony from the growing ball of dread in his gut, leaden and ominous.

And now he has to tell him. He sucks in a quick breath and lets it out, summoning his courage before he joins the others. Thor, Clint, and Steve are all squeezed onto the couch together – Tony’s not entirely sure how Clint is breathing, squished between the two of them, but hot damn it’s an attractive place to suffocate to death. He’s also, somehow, winning this round of Mario Kart and talking a massive amount of shit while he does it. Thor is not handling it well.

Just as Tony steps into the room, Steve looks up – it’s like he has a sixth sense, sometimes, for when Tony is in the room, or maybe he’s just hoping that it’s Tony because his eyes absolutely light up when they find him. “Tony! I thought you had to work!”

He’s beaming, so stupidly excited and having the full force of Steve Rogers’ affection on him is always staggering. Tony clutches onto the doorframe to hold himself steady under the combination of unbearable nerves and the odd sensation that his heart is literally going to melt right out of his chest. “I, ah, got out of it. First meeting went so well that – anyway –” God, he can’t remember the last time he stammered this much. Steve is looking at him in concern now, having abandoned his controller in favor of prying himself loose from between Clint and the arm of the couch. “Listen, I need to talk to you about something.”

“I’m listening,” Steve says. H e’s doing the nervous jaw-clenching thing again, and Tony wants to reach up and rub at it, soothe him.

“Nothing bad,” he promises quickly, grabbing Steve by the wrist the moment he’s in range. His wrists are thick enough that Tony can barely get his fingers all the way around them. “How about some privacy, first.”

Steve, to his credit, only nods and follows him, but the tension is practically leaking out of his pores now. Tony pulls him all the way through the kitchen and to the elevator before Steve says, sudden and low and guilty, “Is this about last night? I’m really sorry if, I mean, I don’t have a lot of practice, but if you give me some instruction I’m a quick study. I’ll get better.”

“What?” Tony says absently, then frowns and then chokes, spinning around to grab Steve roughly by the shoulders. “Oh my god, Steve. Please. Shut up. This is not – that was, did I sound like I was complaining? Because I definitely was not. That was fucking incredible, you’re – no, I mean, we need to talk about the date.”

“Oh.” They step into the elevator and simultaneously lean against the wall of it as the doors close again. JARVIS is silent, waiting patiently for their instructions, but Tony doesn’t actually want to take this up to the penthouse just in case Steve reacts really, really badly and needs to get away from Tony as fast as possible. That still seems like a distinct possibility. “… I thought the date went really well.”

“No, I mean,” Tony catches himself, tugging the top button if his shirt undone in frustration. “The date was great, Steve, don’t get me wrong, but.” How to say this delicately… Tony grimaces. Fuck it, might as well just blurt it out.

“But what?” Steve asks. He’s starting to look like a kicked puppy.

“There are pictures.” Tony coughs, rubs at his goatee, takes a deep breath and coughs again. He doesn’t meet Steve’s eyes. He’ll have to in a moment, but he doesn’t want to see it in his eyes if… “Someone – well, multiple someones, must have recognized us. It’s all over the internet.”

“Oh,” Steve says, and then, leaning closer to pull Tony into his arms, “That’s it?”

“No, unfortunately, that’s just the tip of the iceberg,” Tony mumbles into the fabric of Steve’s shirt. He can’t help himself; he wraps his arms around Steve’s waist and huddles closer to him, breathing in the scent of his laundry detergent and sighing. Might as well soak as much of this in as he can while he still can, right? “Pepper’s handling it, but I… don’t think I can sue them all.”

“Why are we suing people?” Steve asks, bemused. “Were they terrible photos?”

“What? No, they’re fine, it’s just. We shouldn’t have gone out in public.”

“I thought you were out?” Oh, no, that’s Steve’s frowny voice. Tony hates the frowny voice. Often, it’s the first warning sign before he whips out his Captain Voice, which is about ten times worse and has an unfortunate side effect of making Tony want to punch him a little. Or a lot. But Steve’s not reading him the riot act right now – he looks genuinely concerned, the cut of his jaw even more striking than usual from the way he’s clenching his teeth, eyes darting over Tony’s face in uncharacteristic nervousness as he offers, seemingly in explanation, “I read your interview with The Advocate.”

Blinking rapidly, Tony pulls back to look at him, momentarily sidetracked. “You what?”

For all that he doesn’t have a whole lot of nervous tics, Steve is a full-body blusher, and Irish to boot, so it’s hard to miss. His face is already starting to go blotchy pink. “Well, I had to be sure you weren’t going to sock me in the jaw for asking you out.”

“I would never do that,” Tony says automatically, and oh, God, he can’t even tell anymore if those are butterflies in his stomach or if he’s really going to throw up all over the inside of this elevator. It’s guaranteed to be all acid, if he does; he’s had about six cups of coffee today and nothing else. “I don’t care about that, I’m not hiding anything, Jesus, Steve, have you seen yourself? Straight men want you to fuck them, they should all be jealous, it’s – just, promise me you won’t look it up. I don’t – people say really nasty things.”

Evidently he hasn’t gotten his point across, because Steve perks right back up. He’s so very, very blond in this light, and goofy-looking with that grin spreading across his face, and Tony is forcibly reminded of an oversized golden retriever.

“That doesn’t bother me,” Steve says confidently, tugging him back in and flattening his palm against Tony’s back, rubbing it in slow, firm circles. The tension has drained back out of him and his lips are incredibly soft where they press to Tony’s forehead, following his hairline. He doesn’t even complain about the taste of the half-gallon of product Tony’s got in his hair to keep it coiffed and perfectly in place. “But if it bothers you, we can make a statement.”

“A – what? Steve, no.”

“Why not?” Steve challenges. “Puts the ball back in our court, doesn’t it?”

“No,” Tony says, more forcefully. “You don’t get it. You can’t give these people an inch. If we confirm it then they’re going to be saying that we eloped, that you married me for my money, and that we have three secret adopted Chinese babies hidden in the Tower by the end of the week.”

And every person you ever want to date for the rest of your life is going to be able to see that when they look you up, he doesn’t say. Mostly because the thought of Steve wanting to date someone else makes him feel like he’s been kicked in the solar plexus.

“Well it might be a little soon for that,” Steve hums thoughtfully. “But I’m not ruling it out.” He pauses, apparently unaware of the fact that Tony’s brain is now melting out his ears. “Except for the middle part, I’m not even going to dignify that with a response.”

“You,” Tony says, splutters, and can’t come up with a word strong enough to express his incredulity. Some rational part of his brain is screaming at him that he needs to tell Steve what a terrible idea that is, assure him that he’d understand if he decided that this wasn’t worth it, that he could still call things off. But the larger, vastly more selfish part of him is rolling ecstatically around in the hot, defiant, possessive undertone in Steve’s voice. He thinks about waking up alone, in the center of his huge bed, to cold, stiff sheets and without a pair of huge arms wrapped around his waist, and the idea of it is so unappealing that his throat feels like it’s about to close up. It’s ridiculous. He’s only had Steve for a few weeks… Only had him in his bed for one night. But it already feels like he belongs there. Like not having him there would be wrong.

More than that, Tony has wanted this for so long that he almost can’t remember a time when he didn’t.

He lets out a noise like a deflating balloon and Steve just strokes his back, grinning, and tells JARVIS to take them to the penthouse.


 

OPINION: SHOULD CAP HAVE BEEN DISCHARGED IN 1943?

With all the public outcry over “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, it seems natural to wonder what life would be like if Steve Rogers, the most iconic openly gay former serviceman in America, had been discharged over his orientation back when we needed him most –


 

“Those are all trash rags,” Natasha comments, leaning over his shoulder while he scrolls angrily through his feed the next day, and Tony has been so caught up in what is a very promising fit of ice-cold rage that he jumps halfway out of his skin and knocks over his coffee. Swearing, he grabs for the paper towel roll on the counter beside him and begins dabbing it off his pants.

“Make a noise once in a while, huh?”

“You’re getting worked up over nothing,” she says, rolling her eyes as she folds herself neatly into the chair adjacent to his. Her hair is particularly vibrant today, likely freshly dyed, and Tony might compliment her on the impeccable state of it wound artfully up behind her head if he weren’t so annoyed. “The Sun? You’re really going to get your panties in a twist over that load of bull?”

“Nooooo,” he drawls, shooting her one more pout as he begins wiping lukewarm coffee out of the grooves of his chair. How humiliating. He should invent a robot to do things like this – one more coordinated than DUM-E, for sure, but the possibilities… He coughs, aware that she’s raising her perfectly sculpted eyebrow at him, waiting. “I’m going to sic my lawyers on them for defamation of character. Then I’m going to let Steve twist my –”

“I’m not sure I want to know where that sentence was going,” Steve says drily from behind the towel he’s using to mop the sweat out of his hair. Tony’s mouth snaps shut and his eyes zero in on those glorious thighs. He might be drooling, he’s really not sure anymore. He’d discovered last night that sex was an excellent distraction from his anxiety and it’s a struggle not to cling to Steve like a baby koala and forget about the world for a few days. Or weeks.

Actually, he’s pretty sure that he still owns that little island in the Caribbean. He should look into that…

“Since when do you give a shit about defamation of character?” Natasha scoffs, dragging his attention back to the present.

“Not my character,” Tony says, affronted. He flails a hand in Steve’s direction. “His!”

“I hate to tell you this, Tony,” Steve sighs, wandering closer and attempting to peer at the StarkTab he’d abandoned on the table right beside his sadly empty mug; Tony makes a grab for it and clutches it to his chest protectively, absurdly flustered. They’d squabbled over it the entire night, but he’s not sure how long he can keep Steve from finding a way to look at the news, even with JARVIS running interference. “But I’ve been slandered before.”

“Not like this,” Tony mutters. “Trust me, I would know.”

“Right,” Nat sighs, reaching across to the fruit bowl and selecting an apple, turning it over idly to inspect it while she talks. “All those newspaper clippings pinned to your bedroom wall are starting to make so much sense.”

“They’re not in my bedroom.” Tony snaps, a hot flush spreading across his cheekbones, god he can’t even look at Steve right now – “Those belonged to my father. But yes, I’ve read them. Steve, the public loves you. They LIKE loving you, almost as much as they love hating me.” He finally chances a quick glance under his lashes and catches the unimpressed eyeroll before Steve can hide it. “Ohoho, you think I’m kidding. Y’know what? I told you to put on the damn sunglasses.”

“Tony, I don’t care,” Steve begins, but Tony waves him off impatiently. He gives the chair he’d been sitting at one more cursory wipe with the sodden paper towel in his hand and tries not to feel the tendrils of panic in his gut. There’s no reason to panic, there’s no reason to…

“That’s nice, Steve, look – I’ve got a lot of work to do today, I’m going down to the lab. See you tonight.”

“That’s what he said yesterday,” Steve says, sounding distinctly put out.

As the elevator doors are sliding shut, he catches Natasha’s low murmur. “He’s probably going to call the sharks to deal with this. If he hasn’t already.”

“What did they say that was so bad?” Steve asks, and then he’s moving downward, and Tony slams his forehead against the metal and let’s his shoulders slump.

“Fuck,” he says succinctly.

“If you say so, sir,” JARVIS replies mildly. Tony gives him the finger.

Someone’s going to fucking pay for this. He’s not going to deal with this shit for their entire relationship. He’s not.

He’s lucky that Steve wants to take him out at all, and he’s not going to let the press ruin whatever little time he gets out of it. Tony’s not stupid. He knows that this is a limited time only thing, that eventually Steve will get sick of him and all of his eccentricities, his mood swings, his complete lack of social graces when it’s just the two of them and Tony doesn’t have to pretend to be an aristocratic douchebag, can just be the regular kind of douchebag that frequently has motor oil in his hair and doesn’t exercise enough. God knows what Steve sees in him, but Tony’s definitely not going to complain. He’s going to cherish every second of this until it’s over, gossip rags be damned.

He just hopes that Steve doesn’t see anything too humiliating before Tony gets a handle on it.

He has to have faith that he can get a handle on it.

“Fuck,” he mutters again, fishing his phone out of his pocket. It’s eight in the morning, which is hideously early for him to begin with. Worse than yesterday, even. “What’s the number, what’s the – J, extension for legal?” Bothering Pepper again won’t do him any good. Maybe if he takes things into his own hands…

“I’ll put you right through,” JARVIS soothes.


 

STARK & ROGERS: FRENEMIES TO GAY LOVERS?

Insiders claim that Avengers Tower, formerly Stark Tower, is a “den of sin” –


 

“Holy shit!” Clint cackles, falling backwards off of the couch and onto his head. He’s laughing so hard that Tony can feel the vibration in the floor under his socked feet, clutching his gut and grinning up at Tony with gleeful, teary eyes. “Please tell me they think we’re having orgies up here!” Nat snorts and nudges her with her toe, delicately with the underside because she’s only just painted the nails deep maroon. “We need to make them think that we’re having orgies, please, I need this to be my legacy –”

“I’m so fucking glad that you’re amused,” Tony growls. Steve’s arms, which are wrapped tightly around his midsection, are all that’s holding him back from lunging forward and mauling the tablet on the coffee table. “Give me that, I want a name.”

“Tony,” Steve and Bruce sigh at the same time, in almost the exact same tone. They turn to look approvingly at each other and Tony takes his chances at breaking free while Steve’s not paying attention, but he might as well be pushing at a set of steel bars; Steve just hugs him closer against his chest and rubs his smooth cheek deliberately against Tony’s scruffy one.

“I will not calm down,” Tony says (shrilly) for the umpteenth time (today.) “JARVIS!”

“Shall I call The Bugle directly, sir, or would you prefer to compose a strongly worded email?”

“Enough with the sass,” Tony mutters. “Call. I want the chief editor.”

“What are you gonna do to him?” Clint sniggers, far more amused than he has any right to be. He’s reclaimed the tablet and is greedily skimming the article, more than likely looking for more fodder for raising Tony’s blood pressure. “Hey, show of hands, who thinks the person who wrote this was homophobic and who thinks they’re just really horny?”

“End call, JARVIS,” Steve instructs before it can even start ringing.

“Hey!”

“Horny, definitely,” Bruce says in the mildest tone possible.

Tony hisses and twists in Steve’s grip, which is ridiculously gentle despite the fact that he can’t fucking move an inch. “Let me go, come on. You can’t actually expect me to let them get away with saying shit like that? In a legitimate news source?”

“You call The Bugle a legitimate news source?” Natasha squints at him like he should know better, which, fair. But it’s the principle of the thing!

“I bet you that every single person in that office has at least one piece of Stark Tech in their home,” Tony says, crossing his arms over his chest in something uncomfortably reminiscent of a pout. “And this is the thanks I get! I make everyone’s lives so much more convenient and they turn around and slander my boyfriend, call us a bunch of sluts –”

“I’m okay with being called a slut,” Clint shrugs. Natasha nods in agreement, balancing her heel on Clint’s knee so that she can lean down and begin applying a second coat of polish.

“I’ve been called worse.”

“I would happily lay with you all,” Thor says earnestly. Tony’s brain goes briefly offline at the mental image that conjures and he tries his damnedest not to look intrigued, he really does, but the way Natasha is smirking at him makes him doubt that he’s entirely succeeded. “Asgard smiles upon the practice of lying with one’s shield brothers and sisters. It is a very pleasurable form of bonding –”

“Sorry, no can do,” Bruce says, but now his lips are twitching with what Tony is absolutely certain is amusement. He frowns at him, betrayed, but Bruce just shakes his head fondly continues staring down at the scientific journal in his lap. “I don’t really want to know anything about the Hulk’s kinks. Or if he has them.”

“That could be really interesting, actually,” Tony says reluctantly, and he’s so, so, so glad that Steve fits his wide palm over his mouth just then because whatever was about to come out of it was both woefully off topic and probably irreversibly awkward.

“It’s just a bunch of gossip,” Steve says, so calmly, so very rationally that Tony kind of hates him for a moment. What he wouldn’t give to be so damn calm about this. He’s been driving himself up a fucking wall for days, almost a week now, and he can’t focus on anything else – not his suit upgrades, not the Quinjet repairs, or the designs for the new engine he’s been meaning to install, not even on the prototypes for the new shield that Steve didn’t ask for and likely doesn’t want, and that’s his favorite pet project right now. No, instead, Tony is trapped in an emotional corner in his mind. Cycling through the tabloids like it’s his job, forgetting to shower, shave, eat, and now that he thinks about it, he hasn’t so much as left the Tower since Friday night. It’s probably for the best. He can feel from the five-day scruff on his cheeks that he looks a little homeless, and he hasn’t regretted giving up liquor so much in months.

Steve is being remarkably, almost unrealistically patient with him about it all. He’d snuck out and read through the headlines at his favorite little café, with their shitty wifi, on the third day, but Tony could hardly be mad when he came home grinning ear to ear and lifted Tony straight up into his arms, peppering his face with kisses, excited about the quality of the photos and the tender way they looked at each other in them.

“We have actual, professionally shot photos of our first date, Tony,” Steve had said animatedly, and then, “I should start a scrapbook.”

“Arts and crafts aren’t really my thing, big guy,” Tony had said dismissively, and failed to notice the way that Steve’s eyes narrowed manically. “How about we just save them on a thumb drive.”

“You don’t have to help, Tony. I just think it would be neat.”

Neat is what did him in, because God, Steve is just, he’s too adorable for his own good. Which is how Tony found himself ordering sixteen pounds of cardstock and rubber cement at 3am on a Tuesday, wondering how the hell this is his life.

If Steve ever decides to use these powers for evil, Tony is so screwed.

“I still think that we should just hold a press conference,” Steve is saying in the present, nuzzling under Tony’s jaw. He’s so huge, a massive wall of muscle pressed up behind him; Tony is starting to feel a little dizzy and he’s pretty sure that it’s not just because Steve is slowly suffocating him. “Confirm the rumors, take away their power. They can’t speculate on anything if we tell them everything.”

“They’ll speculate anyway. People are going to be making jokes about this for years, Steve. Years! I want those articles incinerated, I’m serious, I’m ten seconds away from hacking into their archives and factory resetting every single one of their –”

“Can we all go?” Clint asks, obviously having tuned out a while ago. He’s looking to Steve for permission which is just all kinds of infuriating. “Bring some beer, make it a party.”

“Go where?” Tony frowns, distracted.

“The press conference.”

“We’re not holding a press conference.” His eye twitches. Natasha reaches over and pats him on the back of the head, perhaps less gently than she could have.

“Listen to Steve and Pepper,” she advises, cocking her head and examining his face in a completely unnerving manner. Thor has plucked the pages out of Bruce’s hands and is squinting at them, completely transfixed and apparently utterly disinterested in Steve and Tony’s love life; Bruce has been murmuring the answers to his questions for the past five minutes while the rest of them bickered. Clint is still on the floor, and Natasha is nearly done painting the nails on her left foot. She’s not even looking at what she’s doing and it’s flawless, which is… oddly intimidating. “It’s not like everyone in the world didn’t see this coming.”

Tony glares. Steve shoots her a million-watt smile, fingers carding through Tony’s hair. Unconsciously, he tips his head back into the touch, eyes fluttering shut.

“At least consider it,” Steve pleads, except he says it with certainty – like he knows that Tony will, and asking is just a formality. Wow. Tony wants to get his hackles up over that (prove him wrong! Some incredibly stupid part of him screams) but it’s really, really hard to say no to Steve Rogers. Especially when he’s so goddamned earnest about it, fuck, is that really necessary? “We can do it together. I can take your hand in front of the whole world.”

“You can do that now,” Tony argues weakly. Steve’s fingers have stopped moving in his hair. He rubs his head forcibly back on them until he starts up again. “We can literally do that anytime, Steve, seriously, what’s your motive?”

“I want to take you on another date,” Steve says evenly, but there’s a little guilty spark in his eyes that says he’s not giving Tony the full truth, and Tony mentally latches onto it with both hands. “And I know you’re not going to agree to go out in public with me again until you feel better about this. I think this would be quickest.”

“He wants everyone to know who you belong to,” Natasha counters, which – wow – based on the way Steve’s shoulders have just curved inward, like he’s cringing against the accusation, seems a lot more accurate. Clint nods absently, having taken hold of her left foot a few minutes ago, kneading his thumbs into the arch expertly. Her back arches off the couch a little and Tony closes his eyes rather than suffer the humiliation of having them wander when Steve is literally right here, half on top of him, touching him.

“Oh, darn,” he says, sounding not the least bit sorry. “Guess I’m stuck with you now.”

“Yeah, you are,” Steve agrees, and buries his face in Tony’s neck. His lips are pressing right up behind Tony’s ear and Tony goes utterly boneless.

“You guys are sickening,” Clint complains, looking up and between them with a critical eye. “I changed my mind, you can have your coming out party without me.”

“No,” Tony says again, and Steve shuts his mouth reluctantly. “No, no, still no. We’re just going to wait it out.”


 

ALL-AMERICAN SCANDAL: WAS STEVE ROGERS THE OTHER WOMAN?

Inside the twisted love triangle of infamous Tony Stark, ex-fiancee Virginia “Pepper” Potts, and his new lover – Captain America himself!

Sources say that soon after the Avengers team had settled into Stark’s iconic tower, Pepper felt she “couldn’t compete.” The Stark Industries CEO retreated to the West coast mere weeks later – “probably to get away from the lovebirds!” The same source tells us that Ms. Potts, 38, had been contemplating a separation from Mr. Stark for some time preceding the incident in Manhattan that spelled the end for their relationship. Inferences could be made about the strain of running a Fortune 500 company, which Stark has cited multiple times in the past as the driving force behind his more public breakdowns. It seems logical to conclude that Ms. Potts, who took the reins two years ago, might not have time for romance around her blossoming career.

Or was it something else?

Eye witnesses say they’ve seen Stark canoodling with official Avengers team leader, Steve Rogers, on multiple occasions both in public and in the relative privacy of Avengers tower. “There’s an awful lot of… touching. I think it’s inappropriate. The Avengers have a fraternization policy, surely?” says one employee, who wishes to remain anonymous. “I think it’s a shame that Mr. Stark left such a lovely woman for a man. Not only that, but Captain America is practically his boss!”

This reporter could not find any conclusive evidence on the existence of such a policy. They did, however, manage to catch a few sordid moments between Mr. Stark and his new flame.

Ms. Potts herself could not be reached for comment, but these photos say it all!

Turn to Page 2


 

“Pepper,” Tony whines into the phone, but Pepper’s hologram just sighs and rubs her temples.

“I think we both knew that this was coming,” Pepper points out, sounding both very tired and very fond. “Don’t worry about me. You know that I can handle a couple of stray reporters. I’ll be back in a few weeks, we can go out to lunch, and their poor little brains won’t be able to keep up. How’s Steve coping?”

Tony glances backwards and fights back a fond smile. “He’s been printing out articles for our scrapbook.” Pepper’s eyebrows shoot straight into her hairline.

“You… scrapbook.”

“No. Steve scrapbooks, I watch and try in vain to reason with him.”

“These are better than selfies,” Steve says sagely as he paints the back of another photo with rubber cement and sticks it carefully in the center of a page. Wiping his fingers on a paper towel, he reaches over to retrieve a pen and neatly adds the date below it.

Tony’s heart gives a pathetic little squeeze. He looks away.

It’s been weeks and Steve still hasn’t freaked out, or left, or gotten tired of his constant moping. Tony doesn’t get it. The headlines are still awful, Twitter has become a cesspool of raunchy speculations, and Tony’s entire life is being trotted out for Steve to see if he even so much as glances at the front pages of any of the major news outlets online. Being a celebrity had been fun once, Tony was fairly sure of it, but every day it gets harder to remember. He’s also pretty sure that Steve’s been accosted by dozens of hopeful reporters at this point – Tony hasn’t left through the front door since this all started, but soldier boy has to have his morning jog, and no matter how many times Tony points out that they have a perfectly serviceable treadmill in the Avengers’ private gym, he insists that he likes the fresh air.

Any day now, Steve is going to get sick of this.


 

STEVE ROGERS RINGS IN NEW YEAR WITH BENEFACTOR IN PRIVATE

Partygoers at Avengers NYE bash wonder where their host has gotten off to; meanwhile, Cap and Mr. Stark get cozy! Photos on Page 4 –


 

“This is actually a really nice photo of us,” Steve says, staring at the blurry spread of the two of them crowded into a corner and kissing furiously with such warm affection that Tony’s insides are squirming with embarrassment. It's what he says every time but it still sounds ridiculous, it is ridiculous. Tony would be laughing at him if he weren't so uncomfortable.

“Who the fuck took that picture?” Tony groans. Natasha slaps a hand over his mouth helpfully, and Clint plucks the paper out of his reach, ignoring Steve’s hangdog look as he folds it up and backs away.

“Come on now, man, it’s not a big deal.”

“It’s really not,” Steve jumps in, apparently eager to convince Tony of this totally offensive, untrue fact. His hand settles on Tony’s waist, fingers stretching around Tony’s waist, and it’s a struggle not to melt right into it. Tony’s face feels abruptly hot. It’s cheating is what it is. Steve should never have been given this knowledge, clearly, because he’s going to use it for evil the same way Pepper always did – “Tony, I don’t mind. I don’t care what people are saying about me. And I don’t care if people know about us. Actually, I’m kind of –”

He doesn’t want to hear anymore. Steve’s said it a thousand times now and he doesn’t want to hear it. Tony throws up his hands and huffs, stalking out of the room, five pairs of eyes trailing after him in bemusement.

“I’m find out who took those damn pictures and sue them so hard they won’t be able to walk tomorrow,” he says, mostly to himself, but there’s a chorus of groans and Steve’s familiar protests and he wilts against the wall once he’s far enough down the hall, pressing the heels of his palms to his eyes.

This is… starting to spiral out of control. Tony can admit that he hadn’t really had much of a semblance of control over this whole situation to begin with – if he had more power over the tabloids then he probably never would have been outed himself in the first place, never mind taking Captain America down with him – but the panic is starting to give way to horrible, bleak, wrenching helplessness. Pepper has done what she can and is probably going to be screening every call he makes to her for the next five months, the team at large thinks the whole thing is hysterical, and Steve is – Steve is obviously upset, no matter what he says. If he really thinks Tony hasn’t noticed the tension that bunches up under his shoulder blades every time he sees one of those damned headlines, then he’s embarrassingly oblivious. Tony is sharply observant when he wants to be, and with Steve he always wants to be. But Steve doesn’t want him to sue. Steve wants to stand up on a podium with him and declare his love or fealty or whatever the fuck it is for all the world to hear, and he doesn’t understand that that will ruin him.

The problem is – the problem is that for once, just for once, Tony doesn’t want to be a disappointment to Steve. He wants to do what Steve is asking him to do, which is… relax. And let it go. Take it in stride.

He just, he can’t.

Steve doesn’t deserve this.

He doesn’t deserve Steve.

“Hey,” and speak of the devil. Tony hurries to unstick his face from his hands and clears his throat, moving them down to his hips like he’s not been standing here for ten minutes brooding. Steve looks him up and down, distinctly unimpressed, but underneath it there’s a current of tangible worry that instantly has guilt crashing through Tony’s gut.

Ah, fuck. He’s making this about him.

“I hate watching this eat you,” Steve says, low and painfully honest. He sidles closer and leans against the wall beside him, at an angle so that he doesn’t loom, and that’s just another one of those things that makes Tony feel like the most stupidly lucky guy in the world – like he can’t believe Steve is real, sometimes. “I’m sorry for nagging. I just – I think it’s the right play.”

“Getting antsy without any aliens to kill?” Tony mutters, but his smile doesn’t feel fake. It just feels tired. Steve’s massive hand comes up to cup his jaw and he leans into it, because he can’t not. Because he’s too selfish to just put an end to this himself, before Steve runs off and does something stupid, which, honestly, Tony kind of can’t believe he hasn’t done already. He’s hyperaware of the fact that that is only the case because Steve respects him, and that – that… he doesn’t know how to deal with that information.

He doesn’t get it. He just.

This was easier when it was just the two of them, just a quiet, private thing they could tease and toy at together, alone. Tony hadn’t needed to think about how it would all pan out when it was just him and Steve, learning each other. Staying up late in the glow of the television or the muted starlight on the balcony. It had felt… safe. Hopeful. But now –

Well, he should have thought ahead, clearly. Isn’t that just typical of him?

“I didn’t mean it like that,” Steve sighs. He shifts even closer, until their noses are rubbing together; Tony has the vague thought that if this were anyone else, he’d be irritated, maybe even offended. Pepper had always complained that he got standoffish when he was upset like this – didn’t like to be touched, or, well, wouldn’t let himself be touched, anyway. He’s like a cat that way, wants things and then can’t handle it when he gets them, shies away just to keep himself from getting overwhelmed. Hates being vulnerable. Steve always manages to rip straight past that, though, and gets right to the trembling center of him.

He’s still rubbing his nose against Tony’s. Tony lets out what’s supposed to be a laugh and comes out sounding dangerously breathy, not in a hot way. “I’m only going to say this once,” he says, quiet and thick and carefully unexamined. “But I know you’re right. Just…”

“Time,” Steve agrees, and strokes his thumb beneath Tony’s lip. “Okay.”

That is not, Tony knows, the sound of Steve giving up. This is a tactical retreat. He’s just regrouping, waiting for Tony to shore up his defenses one last time before he goes in for the kill. The thought is not as dismaying as it should be. Tony feels strangely giddy.

Steve doesn’t sound like he’s going anywhere.

That... he hadn't forseen that. Seemed too unlikely, stupid to hope for. Selfish to want.

It definitely warrants further investigation.


 

THE AVENGERS: AMERICA’S STEAMIEST ORGY?

Is our government funding the depraved sexcapades of a bunch of superpowered deviants?


 

There’s a copy of the National Enquirer lying innocently on the breakfast nook when Tony stumbles up from the workshop at the asscrack of dawn several days later, dazed and holding his sad, empty coffee cup. He’s barely conscious when he notices it – he hasn’t been able to focus in weeks, but after his… talk, with Steve the other night, clarity had burst through the haze of panic at last and he’d climbed right over Steve and out of bed, nearly forgetting his pants in his haste to get down to the workshop to pry apart his gauntlets.

But the assortment of photos on the cover is in full color, and every single one of them is of Tony with his lips puckered up against one of his teammate’s faces.

Steve is sitting a foot away from the thing, not even looking at it, which should have tipped him off. Alas, Tony is not awake enough to read a room, much less Steve’s morning stoicism. His coffee cup is dangling from his pinky finger now, utterly forgotten. He blinks once, groggily. Squints his eyes and wills the letters to come into focus.

He reads the headline.

Tony takes a deep breath, pinches his nose, and bellows,

“BARTON!”

“Please don’t kill Clint,” Steve says, frowning down at the paper in his hands. The cover of which is decidedly lacking in pictures of Tony’s face. Tony approves. “He promised to spar with me today and I don’t want him getting out of it that easily.”

“Oh, well, pardon me. Wouldn’t want to upset your training schedule, Cap.” Traitor. They’re all traitors. Tony stumbles over to the stool beside Steve’s and perches on the edge of it carefully, wobbling. Steve flashes him a sweet grin and leans over to kiss him lightly on the lips, pulling back slow and casual like he doesn’t know that he just short circuited Tony’s brain at 5am.

“No, you wouldn’t,” Steve agrees. “Because it’s your turn after Clint’s. If you take his, I might get confused and forget to go easy on you.”

“Easy? You have an easy setting?” Tony scoffs. “I’m sorry, you’re going to need to verify that for me. I want to see some proof.”

“If you want to try and find my off switch, be my guest,” Steve says, spreading his hands with a suddenly coy smile, like he’s offering Tony his body to – to touch, to run his hands over and “look”, fuck, Steve is going to kill him.

“Never,” Tony mumbles, slumping into Steve’s big, broad shoulder and burying his face in his neck without preamble. “Never that.”

“Between you and me, sweetheart, I don’t think you could ever turn me off.”

“Such a romantic, Rogers.”

“I know, I get all my lines from you. Want some coffee?”

“God, yes. Was that a line? Yes.”

“Of course. What was I thinking.”

The blurriness at the edges of his vision is less gray and more… soft, warm, with Steve in the room with him. Or maybe it’s the fact that he’s not surrounded by metal and cement up here. Maybe it’s the natural light, lavender shot through with streaks of pink and canary yellow, that’s straining to be seen through the windows. Or the tantalizing scent of coffee percolating just to his right. Whatever it is, Tony is stricken by the bone-deep sensation of home. He grips the edges of his stool so tightly that his knuckles turn white. He wonders vaguely where he set his coffee mug, because he’s definitely not holding it anymore, and he’s pretty sure that Steve hadn’t been the one to take it out of his hands. Huh.

Steve sets down a fresh mug right in front of his nose like he can read his damned mind and Tony could cry, he honestly could.

“I love you,” he breathes as he raises the ceramic to his lips. Steve gives a little twitch, but by the time Tony has opened his eyes again – it’s a long moment, not savoring the first sip is a crime against humanity, even when it’s so hot he can’t even taste it – he’s schooled his features again into that disarmingly soft smile, small and pink and utterly kissable. Tony bites his own lip just thinking about it.

He can’t remember what he was yelling about.

“How about you come to bed with me?” Steve says, all low and husky right into his ear, and though he’s too far gone to even consider getting hard over that, Tony nods and clutches his mug to his chest, leaning forward until their foreheads rest together.

Steve kisses the tip of his nose. Tony hears the words shiver silent through the air between them.

Love you.

No - wait. Too soon for that. Right? He's not sure, he's never been very good at this relationship thing. But - 

Maybe - maybe, Tony stresses in his head, maybe things will be alright after all?


 

IS TONY STARK CAPTAIN AMERICA’S NEW SUGAR DADDY?


 

“For FUCK’S SAKE!” Tony yells, chucking the tablet across the room.

A hand shoots out to catch it before it can crack against the wall; Tony clenches his fists and twists violently away to no avail. Steve catches him around the waist and pulls him in in a move that’s quickly become familiar, equally infuriating as it is terribly nice, in a way that strips Tony emotionally bare in milliseconds and leaves him feeling fidgety and vulnerable, quiet because he doesn’t know exactly what will come out of his mouth if he opens it. He wants to struggle or to protest but he knows from experience that Steve will just wait it out, patiently petting his arms and his face and his hair until he stops ranting and starts nuzzling back into the touches like he obviously wanted to from the get go.

Tony should probably hate that Steve knows him so well. He should definitely be alarmed by how quickly he got used to this, to Steve, in this capacity, but he’s not.

“What now?” Steve asks, not even pretending not to be amused as he glances down at the bolded text at the top of the page. He gives a short, choked laugh, the sort that he makes when he’s taken off guard at how funny he finds something. “Oh.”

Just, oh.

“Oh,” Tony repeats vehemently, then falls suddenly quiet. As quickly as it had come, though, the blinding rage that had descended red across his vision dissipates; he’s not sure what does it. Maybe it’s Steve’s good-humored smile, or his heartbeat, which Tony can feel strong and steady against his back – not elevated at all, not stuttering and uneven, the way Tony’s heart feels whenever he has to read another bad word about Steve. A few months ago he might have wondered scornfully if Steve even knew what a sugar daddy was, because surely Mr. Apple Pie would be offended at the implication that he could be bought –

But, well, a few months ago Tony wouldn’t have been waking up with the guy drooling attractively on his pillow. He would have flinched away from a hand spread out heavy and warm over the arc reactor. Would certainly not have admitted to Steve that he was right, before he’d even really given up the fight. It’s not like him to give up on something at all until it’s blown up in his face. Sometimes literally. But Tony is starting to feel like a different person, lately… in a good way. A really good way. He feels – stable. He feels almost okay.

The anxious knot that pulses like a living thing in his chest, tangled through the arteries surrounding his damaged heart, loosens a little every time Steve laughs like none of this matters.

Like the only thing that matters to him is Tony.

Which, while entirely incomprehensible and also very, glaringly stupid, makes Tony feel like the arc reactor is overheating in his chest. He clutches a hand to it almost as if to check, but it’s cool to the touch as usual. Steve – Steve is looking at him the way that Pepper used to, except it’s more, and Steve’s not about to let him down gently with “I can’t date a superhero”, nor, apparently, is “I can’t date someone who’s been gangbanged on tape” apparently on the table. Tony sucks in a breath. He knows he’s zoning out but he can’t help it. Something momentous is happening in his brain and for once it has nothing to do with circuits.

It is, ironically, almost exactly like when the answer comes to him after days of frustrated tinkering. The pieces just… fall together, all at once, once his guard is down.

It’s just getting his guard down in the first place. That’s the problem. Easier with circuits than with people. Tony is not much of a people person, no matter how well he fakes it.

But Steve has never cared about that.

“What are you thinking about?” Steve asks, just a touch of the worry he’s clearly trying to smother in his voice. That’s… fair. Tony’s tendency to get lost in his own head is a well-known warning sign for some of his more ambitious pet projects. He’s got a couple of those half-assembled down in the workshop right now, actually, come to think of it, which he makes a mental note to stow away before the next time Steve decides to pop in unannounced and force-feed him the dinner he’d skipped.

Tony doesn’t want to think about JARVIS Jr. right now, though (which is really more proof that Steve has turned him into a gigantic useless sap.) He realizes he’s gone rigid in Steve’s grip; he relaxes, leaning back against him and tipping his head back to look at him trustingly, upside down, grinning at the way Steve’s smile softens of it’s own accord.

Clearly, he’s made Steve into a sap, too, so it’s fine.

“I was just thinking that I’ve never had an actual sugar baby,” Tony tosses out, obviously testing. Steve just rolls his eyes indulgently.

“That’s shocking. You’ve never paid someone’s tuition in exchange for regular morning blowjobs? And here I thought you were a philanthropist.”

“Wow, I wasn’t sure you could say that word out loud,” Tony laughs.

“If I can do it, I can say it,” Steve says, grinning. He loosens his arms and takes a half-step back, turning Tony gently so that he’s facing him. Blue eyes lock searchingly onto his and Tony stays very still, forcing himself not to look away or fidget, letting Steve perform his little checks. And the whole team calls Tony ‘mom’. Right. “Tony. I don’t – I don’t want to push,” he starts, averting his eyes guiltily at Tony’s barely repressed snort. “But if this is bothering you, maybe – maybe I should say something. I could do it alone. I’ll even lie, if you want me to.”

“Oh, shut up. I’m not asking you to lie for me on national television. Your conscience will strangle you to death in your sleep. It won't be explainable by medical science, I'll be the primary suspect because you'll be in my bed when it happens, obviously, and then Pepper will have to bail me out of jail again and then, Steve, then she is going to use her heels to punch holes in my head so that maybe I'll hear her next time she tells me to do something - you laugh but that's a real threat! She said that to me! Out loud! Multiple times! You think you're being nice but really, you're just facilitating my murder, Steve, that's not very boyfriendly of you."

Steve's lips are twitching. "Are you done?"

"Probably not."

"Is that a roundabout way of saying yes, but you want to be there?"

“Might be time,” Tony agrees, casually as he can muster, and tries to ignore the sudden weakness in his knees. It's okay, though, because Steve's still here and he's got him. He crushes Tony back into his arms and lets out a lightheaded-sounding laugh.

"Good. I thought I was going to have to trick you into it."

"Like you even could."


 

A week later, there's a new photo of the two of them magnetted to the fridge. They're standing side by side on a podium, sharing one microphone between them, in dark suits offset by the jewel tones of their respective dress shirts beneath (the regular red for Tony, and a deep, gorgeous blue for Steve, who had squirmed his way through the entire fitting with a long-suffering pout on his lips) and clutching each other's hands, half-hidden behind them.

STARK AND ROGERS REVEAL ALL: TEAMMATES, LOVERS, AND LIFE INSIDE AVENGERS TOWER