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charm still spars with misbelief

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“Sir, you have a visitor.” JARVIS announces, on day two of Tony’s self-imposed quarantine in the workshop. 

Tony doesn’t look up. “Lockdown’s on till this stupid curse is broken. No exceptions.”

“I believe you might wish to make an exception, but, as always, it is your choice.” JARVIS says, and it’s only the tone of his voice that makes Tony look up. 

Steve’s standing at the entrance, looking hopefully into the workshop, holding the handles of two steaming mugs in one hand. He visibly brightens when he sees Tony looking at him, and damn, that’s exactly the reason Tony hadn’t looked up, because he’s a weak, weak man who has a very hard time saying no to anything Steve wants, especially when the man looks that hopeful

Especially since Tony’s gotten used to being around people, and two days of no face to face communication is taking more of a toll than he’d expected. 

Still. He almost says no, because Steve is one of the last people Tony wants to spill his heart out to, and he knows he’ll end up doing exactly that if he’s around Steve for too long.

He almost says no, right up until he notices that Steve’s wearing those huge industrial earmuffs they use in some of the labs for explosive testing. “Is he…?” He asks. 

“I have confirmed that any noise lower than 75 decibels is inaudible to the Captain.” JARVIS tells him, “He has, to the best of his abilities, made himself safe. He has asked me to tell you that whatever you need to be said can be projected by me.”

Tony blinks, once, twice, grateful tears burning at the back of his eyes. He turns away, and tries to pretend that his voice isn’t rough when he says, “Let him in, J.”

The thought that Steve would go to such lengths just to see him, to make Tony comfortable with being around him, to the point that he’d rid himself of one of his senses, it’s—

It’s a lot, is what it is, and if Tony wasn’t already in love with Steve this would’ve tipped his heart into it for sure. 

He hears the doors slide open, and pretends to be intensely busy with something on the work table while stealthy wiping at his eyes. “Hi,” he hears Steve say, a little too loud and a little clumsy, without him being able to hear his own voice. 

At that, Tony turns. “Hey,” he says, sees Steve’s eyes flick away from Tony’s own to read JARVIS’s transcript of what Tony’s saying, his very own brain-to-mouth filter while his isn’t working. “What brings you down?”

Steve glances away again, before looking back to Tony. “I missed you,” he says, “And, we had plans. Remember?”

“I missed you too. More than you know.” Tony says, feels his throat tighten at the words. “I miss you whenever I’m not with you. Don’t tell him that, JARVIS.” He says, “Tell him… it won’t be nearly as much fun to watch a movie if you can’t hear my hilarious commentary.” 

“We don’t need to watch a movie,” Steve says, passes Tony the mug, which Tony takes gratefully, takes a sip and closes his eyes to savour the hot chocolate. When he looks back up, Steve isn’t looking at him. “I just… I wanted to see you. Movie or no.”

Tony can’t help but smile at that, at the pure earnestness in Steve’s voice, gestures at the admittedly lived-in looking couch. “You’re far too kind to me.” He says, sits down beside Steve on the couch, gestures for JARVIS to queue up the movie they’d had plans to watch before the whole curse debacle had happened. “I’m lying to you. And you know it, because you can’t even… you can’t even trust that I can have a normal conversation with you without lying, and you’re right , because I’m lying every time I don’t tell you that I love you.”

Steve just blinks at him, brow furrowed, glances to where JARVIS is putting up the transcriptions, where there isn’t anything written. 

“You can’t trust me.” Tony continues. He doesn’t look at Steve. “And I’m sorry, because I’m never going to stop lying to you. Not about this.” 

Steve looks over at the blank transcription, turns back at Tony, and frowns. “Hey,” He says, voice soft, “What was that?”

Tony opens his mouth to respond — it isn’t like he can’t not answer, not with the curse still active — and Steve shakes his head. 

“Sorry, sorry,” He says, quickly, “You don’t have to answer, but I know that face, Tony. You’re not…” Steve’s brow furrows, like he’s deep in thought, scanning Tony’s face, “Whatever you’re saying about yourself, you’re wrong.”

“I’m not.” Tony says, even as his heart trips at just how quickly Steve’s figured him out, “I’m not wrong. I’m lying, when I talk to you, sometimes. All the time,” The correction is forced out of him, and he waves his hand to tell JARVIS not to transcribe that part, “And you know that, or you wouldn’t’ve come down here with earplugs.” Tony takes a breath, and his mouth keeps moving without his permission, “But you still came. You still came, and not because you wanted to know the truth, but because… for some reason, you don’t mind the lies, and— why? Why are you still here even though you know I’m a liar?” 

“Tony…” Steve says, scoots closer to Tony on the couch, “I’m here because I care about you. You’re… you’re my best friend, and… God, Tony, you think I tell you everything? You think that if I was hit with this curse instead of you I wouldn’t be doing the exact same thing you are? There are things I’d rather keep to myself. I don’t mind that you care about your privacy, you don’t have to apologize for that. Please don’t apologize for that.”

Tony swallows, can’t seem to look away from Steve’s eyes. “I am sorry.” He says, and Steve makes a face at that.

I’m sorry,” He retaliates, “For not figuring out how to come see you earlier. I’m sorry you’ve had to be alone this whole time, no offence, JARVIS.” 

None taken, Captain, appears on the transcription, and Tony watches as Steve smiles, small and real, misses whatever else JARVIS says as he’s unable to tear his eyes off of Steve, at Steve talking with JARVIS, at Steve smiling when talking with Tony’s AI. 

“I love you,” Tony says, voice soft, and his chest hurts with how much he loves this man, with how much he feels full, around Steve, like this hole in his chest isn’t quite so big when there’s all of this love to fill it up. 

Tony had thought, for ages, that this gnawing empty space inside of him was infinite, that it would never be filled, that it could never be filled, that he would have to learn to live with something missing. He knows, now, that the place inside his ribcage is infinite, but since he’s met Steve, whenever he’s with Steve, he’s never felt like it’s something he needs to fill.

“I love you, for things like this, and every time I think that I can’t possibly love you more I see you again and somehow I fall in love with you even more than before.” 

Steve finally seems to notice that Tony was talking, blinks and keeps smiling, a soft, slightly befuddled thing. “Were you talking to me?” He asks, and Tony smiles, strained. 

“Yes.” He says, and, “But you don’t want to hear it.” 

Steve’s smile wavers a little when he reads that, but he doesn’t press, and for that Tony’s grateful. He does keep looking at Tony, thought, like Tony’s a puzzle that he hasn’t quite figured out, like… like he wants to figure Tony out. 

“You know I probably would’ve let you in even if you hadn’t been wearing earplugs.” Tony blurts out, and when JARVIS didn’t transcribe it he waved at him to do it anyways — curiosity, maybe, but more than likely masochism, like he wants to know just how much it’ll hurt to have this question answered  — and continues, forces himself to look at Steve as he keeps talking, and talking, and talking. “If you’d asked. I would’ve let you in. Do you not…” He swallows, “Do you not want to know the truth? You could ask me. You could ask me anything, and I’d have to tell you, you can’t tell me you don’t want to know because I see how you look at me, do you not think that… things would be better, if I couldn’t lie? If I had to tell you the truth, all the time? Don’t you— mmph.”

Tony sputters to a stop, because Steve’s covered his mouth with his hand, forcing Tony to stop talking. “Stop, please,” Steve says, and he looks… he looks horrified , eyes big and agonized, and it’s a bad moment to notice that Steve is half leaning over Tony on the couch to shut him up, but now that he’s noticed it Tony can’t not notice it, and oh, he is so fucked. “Of… of course I want to know the truth,” He says, “But I would never betray your trust like that, it’s not— It’s not about what I can learn about you, it’s about what you want me to learn about you, and if your trust in me depends on you being alright with lying to me, sometimes, then that’s… I’ll take it, Tony, because I’m— ” Steve cuts himself off, and his eyes dart to the side, away from Tony, as he slowly removes his hand from Tony’s mouth. “You’re my best friend. I don’t want your honesty to be forced. I want it to be voluntary. I want to earn it.”

Tony’s aware that he probably gapes at Steve for far too long, but… 

God, what can he even say to that? What can he say to Steve admitting that he wants to know everything he can about Tony, good and bad, to wanting that so very much and still allowing Tony to keep his secrets? How the hell is he supposed to respond to that aside from saying, “I love you,” voice muffled against Steve’s palm. 

Steve frowns at him, like he thinks that Tony’s still saying something less than kind about himself, so Tony reaches up to grab Steve’s hand — trying to ignore the way he can feel Steve’s heartbeat under his fingertips, the way Steve’s still leaning over him — and remove it from his face. 

Steve shifts, braces himself a little bit better but doesn’t move away. He doesn’t try to take his hand away from where Tony’s is still resting over it, and Tony doesn’t move his, either. This moment feels special, like any nudge in the wrong direction could send them both tumbling into the unknown. It feels like the moment at the crest of an arc, right before you start plummeting. “Thank you.” Tony says, and his voice is rough, and he’s glad Steve can’t hear it, but he knows that the look on his face, what he’s sure is an extremely sappy smile, gives him away plenty.  “ Thank you. You’re— god, Steve, you’re really something else.” 

He sees Steve read that, and Steve actually blushes a little bit, the barest colouring of his cheeks that Tony wouldn’t’ve even noticed if they weren’t this close together. “I’m really not,” He says, “I just don’t think you’ve known a ton of decent people.” 

“Well,” Tony says, doesn’t disagree, can’t help but stare at Steve, the way the tips of his ears are just a little bit pink. Cute, he thinks. “You, Steve Rogers, are much more than just decent .” 

Steve smiles at that, a small, almost embarrassed thing, ducks his head and flushes even more, and oh, how had Tony not known about this, about how goddamn pretty Steve was when he was blushing, how had he not seen this before? Tony’s just opening his mouth to say something about it — or to compliment Steve again, just to see that bush deepen — when Steve seems to notice the position they’re in and straightens back up, scooting back over to his side of the couch. 

Tony feels a pang at the loss of contact, has to stop himself from reaching out and grabbing Steve’s hand again, but doesn’t say anything about it when he sees the look on Steve’s face, a twist to his mouth and a tension in his brows that means he’s actually uncomfortable. 

“Sorry,” They say, at the exact same time. They snort, the strange tension eased but not broken — something’s happening here, right? He’s not just going crazy, is he? — and Steve sighs and says, again, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to… jump on you, like that.” 

“It’s ok,” Tony says, waving it off, “You… probably were right to stop me. But next time, maybe just ask JARVIS to stop transcribing, yeah?” His tone’s light, clearly he’s joking, but Steve’s face still falls at the same time his flush gets worse , and when Tony said he wanted to see that blush more he wasn’t talking about this! “Steve? Are you—”

“You’re right,” Steve says, sounding quietly miserable and like he’s trying to be calm and polite despite that, “I’m sorry, I wasn’t thinking, I shouldn’t’ve done that, not since you—” 

“It’s ok, ” Tony tries, but Steve’s still apologizing, like he’s done some horrible thing instead of just kind of leaning on Tony to shut him up, like Tony hadn’t liked it. “Steve!” Tony says, “What’s wrong?”

Steve’s mouth snaps shut, and he searches Tony’s eyes for a moment before dropping his gaze. “It’s nothing,” He says, and Tony can tell that he’s lying. 

“No, seriously,” Tony says, scoots closer towards Steve, fists his hands over his thighs, fingernails digging into the fabric of his jeans, in order to stop himself from reaching out to cup Steve’s face. “What’s wrong? Is it—“ Tony swallows, “Was It something I did? Is it—“ Something occurs to him, and he pushes himself backwards almost violently. “Do you not like… do I make you uncomfortable? I’m— god—“

Tony doesn’t make it very far before Steve shoots his hand out to grab Tony’s wrist. “You don’t,” Steve says, “Please don’t think… I like it when you touch me, Just because—“ Steve cuts himself off, swallows, loosens his grip on Tony’s wrist but doesn’t let go, not entirely. 

The pads of his fingers are warm where they rest against Tony’s wrist. 

“You’re my best friend.” Steve says, “And… not a lot of people touch me, like you do. I… I missed it, when you were down here, alone. I missed you, and… I just hope I didn’t make you uncomfortable.”

“You could never.” Tony tells him, completely honestly. “I missed it, too.”

Steve’s hand flexes on Tony’s wrist, and Tony takes that as a sign to scoot back towards Steve, until they're back sitting side-by-side, thighs pressed together. It feels… right.

Steve’s smiling at him, now, a soft little thing that makes Tony’s heart squeeze in his chest. It’s then that Steve seems to realize that he’s still holding onto Tony’s wrist, because he looks down at where their hands are resting in between their thighs, and his smile tinges with sadness even as he flushes. 

His hand starts to uncurl, and Tony…

Tony maybe does something a little rash, because before Steve can let go of him Tony mutters, “Please don’t punch me if I’m wrong,” leans in, and kisses him.

Steve’s frozen against him, for a moment, and Tony’s afraid that he read things wrong, that he fucked things up, and then Steve’s lips part against his, and Steve leans into the kiss, pressing in like he can’t get enough, like he’ll never be able to get enough, and Tony can’t say he doesn’t feel the same. 

Despite that, despite never wanting this kiss to end, despite Steve trying to lick his way into Tony’s mouth , Tony breaks the kiss, putting just the barest amount of space between them, cups Steve’s face with his hand — Steve leans into it, looking at Tony with bright eyes, face tugging into a smile — and Tony pushes his hand up, into Steve’s hair, plucking the earmuffs off, and then the earplugs Steve’s also wearing, dropping them over the side of the couch as Steve watched. 

Tony’s mouth was dry, and he had to swallow once before he spoke. 

“I love you.” He said, couldn’t help the frisson of fear he felt at voicing it, held Steve’s gaze anyways. “I have for a while, now, and I don’t think I’ll ever stop, and I’ve been terrified of telling you for so, so long, and I’m terrified that I’ve fucked everything up by telling you now, and please, please can you say something so I can stop talking—

“I love you too,” Steve blurts out, when Tony starts rambling, shifts his grip on Tony’s wrist so that their hands are linked, intead, and Steve is beaming and Tony can feel his own face splitting in a smile, “God, Tony, this is—”

“Kiss me again,” Tony says, “Please—” and he doesn’t get the rest of his request out before Steve’s lips are back on his, and Tony can feel Steve’s smile, against his, can feel the warmth of Steve’s body where they’re both leaning into each other. 

Steve squeezes Tony’s hand, and Tony squeezes back, feels fondness, bright and golden, light up in his chest. I love him , he thinks, I love him and he knows and he loves me back

“I love you,” He says, when they part for breath again, “I love you so much.” 

“I know,” Steve says, the little shit, smiles wide and bright. “I love you too.”