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The Rest of Our Lives

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Across the street, over the main entrance of the hotel and convention center, the sign "Welcome to the 20th Annual Madripoor Technology Expo!" flapped ever so slightly, an infinitesimally small movement. There wasn't much of a breeze; it wasn't even noon yet and the air was already hot and sticky with humidity. Steve shifted the luggage to his other hand, ran a finger around his collar, and kept waiting to cross the street. Everything looked a little distorted, but that was just the image inducer. A minor side effect of the new model, Tony had said.

"You know," Steve said, "I'm surprised they haven't banned both of us for life, after last year. Took them a week to clean up the robot bees, I heard."

Tony didn't even look up from his phone. "One, we saved Madripoor from the Harvester virus and they should be grateful. Two, my name is still practically a free ticket to these things. Three, they don't officially know you're here again."

Steve had the uniform on under the simulacrum of street clothes and he was toting his shield in a shoulder bag. "They have to suspect something."

"It's a game." Tony shrugged. "If they really wanted to ban you, they'd ban you. But they pretend they don't know I brought you, and I pretend I don't know what they're talking about if they ask. They don't actually object that much to your presence. This is Madripoor. You'd have to kill--" he pauses-- "actually, I can't think of anyone you'd have to kill before they'd care. Everyone is welcome in Madripoor. Besides, you're helping field-test the new image inducer."

"And you wanted me along." He didn't mean to sound so eager; Tony was going to suspect something. He liked Tony. He liked spending time with Tony anyway, even if they weren't... anything more. They were friends. It wasn't ever going to be anything more. He was okay with that. He'd made his peace a long time ago. He loved him. It wasn't like they ever had to do anything about it.

Tony smiled. "No one else I'd rather have at my back."

Steve grinned back -- he didn't want to think about how Tony wasn't seeing the smile on his real face -- and they darted across the street. This year the trip was all Tony's; there was no Kashmir Vennema to hunt down. Tony was making another speech, the same as last year, and he'd just... wanted the company. That was what he'd said. Steve was playing bodyguard. Not that he thought anything was going to happen this year. It'd be almost like a vacation.

In the lobby Steve took charge of all of their bags while Tony went to check in. It was a fancy place, bright and airy, the ceiling arching high above them. Not a lot of blind spots. Not very defensible if anyone tried anything, he thought, but at least the size meant he'd probably be able to see them coming. And they -- the hypothetical they -- would be able to see him just as well. From what he remembered of the convention center, the architecture was similar: pretty as hell, but not great from a tactical standpoint.

Tony returned, grinning, and he snatched his luggage out of Steve's hand and neatly replaced it with a pair of keycards. "Hold mine too for a second, will you?" When Steve was a fraction of a second slow to close his fingers around them, Tony squinted suspiciously. "What are you thinking about?"

"How well this all would hold up under attack."

"You're cheerful today," Tony said, and put a hand on his shoulder, giving him a gentle push in the direction of the elevators. "Come on. The place is swamped and everyone else is waiting for the bellhops; I figure we can haul our own stuff to the room and get to the convention check-in faster. Beat the rush."

Steve frowned. Tony had said the room like... "There's only one room?" He looked down at the keycards; they had the same number printed on them.

"Yep," said Tony, plucking his own keycard from between Steve's fingers as they shuffled into the elevator. "Space is tight and they're booked solid; apparently it was the last available room. You don't mind having a roommate, do you? I promise I don't snore." He flashed one of those charming grins of his -- the one that was a public performance, but still real underneath.

In deference to the rest of the passengers, Steve fell silent in the crowded elevator. Of course he didn't mind sharing a room with Tony -- he'd lived with Tony, on and off, for nearly a decade now, hadn't he? Sure, he had an apartment, but Tony'd always kept a room ready for him, wherever the Avengers happened to be quartered. It wasn't like he didn't know every single one of Tony's quirks and habits, right?

And Tony was right; he didn't snore. Years of seeing him sprawled out on couches and workshop cots had demonstrated that. He was probably a great roommate. They just didn't really share rooms like this. Quiet, he told his overexcited brain. It's not a romantic getaway. You're here for a weapons conference. You're roommates. You can deal with this.

They were almost the last people out of the elevator, and he followed Tony down the hall to one of the dozens of identical doors.

"I'm sorry I couldn't get us something even nicer," Tony said, sliding the keycard and waiting for the green light. The door lit up and Tony pushed it open. "The desk said there was absolutely nothing else left. But the suite I reserved is supposed to have separate bedrooms, so at least we-- oh."

Tony hadn't entered the room; he was stopped, dead, in the doorway. Steve couldn't see his face.

"What's wrong?"

"There's. Uh," Tony said, and stepped in far enough so that Steve could enter. "Take a look."

The room had only one bed.

It wasn't a bad bed -- it looked comfortable, piled high with pillows, covered in rich fabric, the height of luxurious excess, and it was definitely large enough for two people. Or maybe three or four. But it was still exactly one bed.

Roommates, he told himself, firmly. You are definitely being roommates. Friends. Only friends.

"You're sure there's not another--?" Steve began.

Tony sighed. "I'm sure. This or nothing. This is also the only place with vacancies unless you want to stay in Lowtown."

"It's not the end of the world," Steve pointed out, as he dragged his bag in and shut the door, trying to ignore the contrary voice in his head that was just a little bit exultant. Stop it. He sighed and flipped off the image inducer; the world went a little clearer.

Tony dragged his luggage to the far side of the room, favored the one bed with a long considering stare, and then looked up with a wicked grin. "This is definitely going to complicate my plans for convention hook-ups. Bye-bye, threesomes with booth babes."

Steve rolled his eyes, because that was really much safer than picturing Tony's threesomes. "Tony, your sex life is so much less exciting than you want people to think it is. I'm onto you."

"I'm flattered that you've taken an interest," Tony returned, with a smirk, and Steve hastily busied himself with unpacking, looking away, because Tony didn't mean it.

Steve started shoving his clothing haphazardly in one of the drawers. "If you're actually going to have a hook-up--"

"You're a senior citizen, Cap; I don't think you're even allowed to say 'hook-up--'"

Tony was clearly feeling whimsical today -- in a good mood, undoubtedly, and why shouldn't he be? -- but today the teasing was cutting a little close. He didn't know why he was feeling this silly hopeless affection so much more strongly today when it had been a decade and counting, but thinking about Tony in bed definitely wasn't helping.

"Assignation?" Steve suggested, trying not to grit his teeth. "Dalliance?"

"Oh, dalliance, that's a good one--"

"If you're going to have an orgy," Steve finally managed to say, "just let me know first."

He looked up and Tony quirked an eyebrow at him. During the five seconds of utter silence that followed, Steve was acutely, painfully aware that Tony could have followed up Steve's unthinking remark with something like why, so you can join me? He didn't. That would have crossed the line.

"I probably won't," Tony said, dropping the joke entirely. He had his toothbrush and the toothpaste in one hand, then he was walking over, snagging Steve's toothbrush from his luggage, and wandering in the bathroom to put them on the counter. "But I'll let you know if I do have an orgy," he called back, voice echoing off the tile, "so you can clear out. No worries."

"I'd find somewhere else to go. Madripoor never sleeps."

"I don't think Madripoor even knows what sleep is," Tony agreed, coming back into the room.

Steve nodded. "So it's no problem. Glad that's settled."

Tony looked back at the bed, then up at him. "Any suggestions for how to deal with this?"

Yes, Steve thought, and bit his lip.

"The couch is a little short for either of us," Steve said, eyeing it critically. "Call down to the front desk, ask for a cot. And if they don't have that, just extra blankets and pillows. I guarantee you that it won't be the worst floor I've ever slept on."

"Oh, like I'm making Captain America sleep on the floor." Tony grabbed the phone and started to dial the desk. "Pretty sure that's un-American. Unconstitutional. Something."

It would work out, Steve told himself. Somehow. It was just a weekend.

The hotel delivered a cot while they were still unpacking; Steve barely remembered to switch on the image inducer in time as he opened the door. Captain America hadn't come on the trip, after all. But, there, that was that... concern... taken care of. He and Tony would sleep in separate beds. Nothing was going to happen.

"How's that working out for you?" Tony asked, when the hotel employees had left. He motioned toward Steve, a vague sweep of his arm that somehow encompassed Steve's entire body. "The inducer, I mean."

"A little wobbly around the eyes," Steve admitted. "Other than that, great."

Tony stepped forward, squinted at him, and brushed two fingers lightly just next to Steve's eye, not quite touching the skin; it took every ounce of training for Steve to hold still. Tony frowned. "Yeah, the irises there are looking a little flickery. Probably not enough to compromise your cover. I'd switch the eye coloring off for you, but then you wouldn't match your IDs, and anyone who's seen you already would notice. The vision's okay, though?"

"It's good enough." Steve shrugged. He wouldn't have to fight in it; it was just a disguise. It didn't have to stand up to in-depth scrutiny, either. And he could still see. He could do this.

That didn't seem to be the answer Tony wanted, because he was still frowning. "It definitely needs more R&D time, then," he said, and he clapped Steve on the shoulder -- he was touching him a lot, lately -- and dragged him toward the door. "Come on, bodyguard. Let's go check in to the convention."

Today was Friday, the first day of the three-day expo; Tony's talk wasn't until tomorrow evening. And in true bodyguard fashion, Steve was armed -- albeit not with anywhere near the same armaments as the other attendees, who had probably managed to slip their own weapons past the scanners. He'd had to leave the shield in his room, but the hard-light shield was resting, deactivated, against his forearm, and he was carrying Tony's armor in a briefcase. Tony had been working on new armor; it wasn't the nanotech he'd been storing in his bones, last year. Steve hadn't seen this suit yet, but from what Tony had said about it, it was more like his traditional suits, external, but still RT-powered. A lot of power, Tony had said, with a proud gleam in his eye. Multiple repulsor cores. Steve felt a little silly pretending to be a bodyguard for someone who could defend himself, someone whose own armor he was toting around, but, well, Tony had asked him to. (Tony had said the armor had a backpack mode, but he seemed to think that it still needed some work and currently would mess up the lines of his immaculately-cut three-piece suit. Steve... had mostly been admiring Tony in the suit.)

The rest of the day was taken up with the convention. Tony smiled, schmoozed, shook a lot of hands, posed for pictures, and seemed to be deeply invested in free samples. He didn't even attempt to flirt with the booth babes; Steve wasn't sure if that was out of actual lack of interest or a newfound respect for the logistics of planning an amorous rendezvous in their shared room, and he couldn't bring himself to ask.

"Here," Tony said, with a delighted smile, handing Steve another tote bag. Steve shifted the first tote bag to the hand with the briefcase. "We can fill that one up with cheap ballpoint pens too."

"You don't even like ballpoint pens," Steve said, under his breath. He knew this. Tony was a connoisseur of the finer things in life, writing implements included, and that combined with left-handedness -- Steve had marveled that they let children learn to write with their left hands these days -- meant that he was especially picky about pens and ink. Tony'd looked so happy on his birthday the year Steve had gotten him a fancy engraved pen with ink refills that had been guaranteed not to smear.

Tony grinned over at him and passed him three more pens. "The Avengers like 'em. I try to bring them the weirdest branded pens I can find. Not sure who else is doing it, but it's clearly a team sport, because I've seen ones I didn't contribute lying around the tower."

He'd been wondering where some of the pens had come from, actually. "Oh."

"You're not a very talkative bodyguard, are you?" Tony was bouncing a little on his toes. "There's a whole aisle left."

Steve let himself smile, just a little, as he shadowed Tony around the corner. This really wasn't his kind of event. It still wasn't. But he... he liked spending time with Tony. He always had.

That evening -- after a surprisingly good dinner in the hotel restaurant -- they were back in the room, and Steve could finally relax again with the image inducer off. Tony had dumped all of the bags from the convention next to his luggage in the corner, not quite laying claim to either the bed or the cot, and then he'd wandered off to brush his teeth.

Steve moved toward the cot, but before he could sit down, Tony was between him and the cot, chin tilted up defiantly. His eyes gleamed. He was smiling a little, because this was hardly serious, but his face was set in determination even so.

"You don't want to play the 'who's more self-sacrificing?' game with me," Tony said. "I will win. I will definitely win. You know this. Take the bed, Steve."

Steve opened his mouth--

"No," Tony insisted. Steve hadn't managed to get any words out. "Take the bed. Enjoy the bed. I sleep on a cot in my workshop at least twice a week. It's no trouble at all."

It would make Tony happy to let him have the bed. He wanted Tony to be happy. He could concede.

"All right." Steve held his hands up and went to the bed. He sat on the edge and bounced a little, experimentally. It was very, very comfortable; he could feel his muscles trying to relax already. "If you're sure."

Tony grinned crookedly at him. "See, wasn't that easy?"

Steve turned away to give Tony some more privacy as Tony started unbuttoning his shirt; Steve himself really had no modesty left, after the Army and then a decade as an Avenger, but it was only good manners to pretend that he'd never seen Tony (and pretty much every other Avenger) naked. It was also probably a good idea for other reasons. It wasn't as if his fantasies needed any more ammunition.

After a while there was the rustling sound of sheets and blankets, and when he glanced back Tony had in fact pulled the covers over himself and was curled on his side. Steve nodded in satisfaction and set about peeling his uniform off. When he was down to his briefs he headed across the room -- it wasn't like Tony was going to want to be sneaking glances of him, after all, so it wasn't like it mattered -- to go brush his teeth.

Tony slitted one blue eye open. "Turn the light off when you're done, will you?"

Without really thinking Steve ran his hand over Tony's shoulder as he passed. "Bet you wish you could still do that with your brain."

They didn't really talk much about Extremis. About everything Tony had lost. If Steve had been thinking he wouldn't have said it, and he stiffened, waiting for a condemnation. It didn't come.

Tony half-smiled. "Yeah," he said. "It was nice."

Tony didn't say anything after that, even after Steve flipped the lights off and slid into the giant bed, sinking down into the mattress and letting the sheets -- satin sheets, he thought, incredulous -- pool over him. He'd wait for Tony to go to sleep first. It felt like being on watch. He was guarding Tony. That would be right.

But Tony didn't go to sleep. Listening, Steve could still hear Tony breathing, slow and quiet, but not settled yet into the pattern of unconsciousness. And then Tony twisted on the cot, turning over. His breathing still didn't settle. Another few minutes, and he turned again.

"Tony?" Steve ventured, into the silence, when Tony had turned over once more.

Tony's voice was layered with exhaustion and annoyance. "Yeah?"

"You can't sleep, can you?"

Tony sighed. "I'm good," he said, and that was obviously a lie. "I'll get there eventually. The cot's just lumpy."

There was a lot of room in the bed. It would be silly not to make the offer, wouldn't it? And it didn't have to mean anything else. They were adults. They could share a bed.

Steve took a breath. "The bed's great. Do you want to--?"

"I told you, take the bed. I'm not kicking you out of bed," Tony interrupted him. He sounded very firm on this point.

"You don't have to." Steve took another breath. It didn't actually calm him. His heart rate was probably through the roof. "There's more than enough room for both of us."

"Oh," Tony said, very quietly, and then he said nothing. Steve wished he could see Tony's face in the darkness. "Are you sure about that?" he asked, finally.

Steve tried to sound easy about it. Unaffected. "Positive. Plenty of room. Come on. It's comfortable."

"Well," Tony said, his voice gone dry and amused, "it's nice to see that we're both so secure in our masculinity, isn't it?"

He threw the covers off, and Steve could see the RT glowing faintly, blue-white, through what had to be a layer of clothing. At least he could tell where Tony was now. Tony was padding closer, across the room, and the white blur in the dimness resolved into an undershirt and boxers. He was more dressed than Steve was.

The bed squeaked as Tony sat down on the other edge.

"Hi," Steve said, feeling a little sheepish, because what did he even say when he was about to share a bed with his teammate whom he'd been in love with possibly since the day they'd met?

Tony looked down at him. "I brought my own nightlight," he said, and he tapped the RT. "Hope you don't mind." In the glow, his mouth was twisted, asymmetrical. Like he thought Steve might not like it.

Of course he didn't mind. It kept Tony alive. How in the world could he object to that?

"It's not a problem at all." Steve tried out a smile. "Just don't steal the covers."

"I," Tony said, a little archly, like this was some point of pride, "am very considerate, I'll have you know."

Steve slid over a little more, just so they wouldn't be touching, and pulled the covers back as Tony swung his legs up onto the bed with a pleased sigh.

"Oh, hey," Tony said, settling his head on the pillow. His voice was low, gravelly, a little sleepy already. "You were right. This is great."

Steve smiled. "Told you so."

So he was sharing a bed with Tony. It didn't mean anything. It didn't. He'd just offered so that Tony could be comfortable. He wanted Tony to be happy. That was always true. And now Tony was here, inches from him. All night. He could handle this.

He'd intended to wait until Tony was definitely asleep to fall asleep himself, like it was a duty after all, but as he shut his eyes and listened to Tony's breathing beginning to slow, to fall into a predictable rhythm, it was like something -- in his mind, in his body, in his heart -- flipped over: Tony's here, Tony's all right, you're both safe, it's okay to let go. It was like a trust fall, the kind the Avengers practiced, like leaping off a building in battle and knowing Tony would catch him: his body knew he was in exactly the right place. And so he drifted off to sleep.

Steve awoke in the morning on his back, aware before he opened his eyes of a heavy warmth across most of his body, pressing him down into the mattress. Sleep-fogged and half-dreaming, he couldn't quite identify it, but it felt nice even so. Right. Fitting.

Then he opened his eyes.


He didn't know if this was what Tony had meant by calling himself "very considerate," but apparently Tony cuddled with a vengeance. Tony's head was on his shoulder, the side of his face pressed into Steve's chest. He had one arm thrown all the way across Steve's torso, pulling him close, and then a leg draped over one of Steve's thighs. Their feet were tangled together.

It was probably because Tony was used to sleeping with people who he was... sleeping with. Tony had probably somehow thought Steve was someone else. Tony was unconscious. And it would be wrong to enjoy anything about it, Steve told himself sternly. It really didn't mean anything. Not like that.

What it did mean was that there was no way to extricate himself from Tony without waking him up.

Steve tried shifting the arm Tony was lying on.

"Mmm," Tony mumbled, without opening his eyes, and he smiled a lazy, pleased smile. "Morning, sweetheart."

Right. Tony definitely thought he was someone else.

"Tony," Steve said.

Tony opened one eye, then the other, and then squinted at him. His pupils were constricted in the morning light; his eyes were all dazzling blue. He lifted his head just far enough to observe the situation he had put the two of them in. "Oh. Hi, Steve."

He waited for Tony to say something else, to apologize, to crack an awkward joke. Steve was feeling awkward enough for both of them.

But Tony just pushed himself up and grinned wider. "Dibs on the shower," he said, and Steve, dumbfounded and mesmerized, could only watch him as he stretched, arching his back, exposing more skin as his shirt rode up. Tony walked off toward the bathroom. "Ow. Ah. Don't worry, I'll save you some towels," he added, and he pushed the door shut.

After a minute or so, the shower came on.

What had just happened? He had thought that Tony would say something, for certain. This couldn't just be something they didn't talk about.

Or maybe it could be. It wasn't like either of them had done anything inappropriate. There wasn't really anything he could say. So Tony liked cuddling; he hadn't known that. So Tony had cuddled up to him. He'd been asleep. He'd thought Steve was someone else. It was clearly not something he'd done on purpose; no point would be served in bringing it up.

I want him to do it again, Steve thought, before he could stop himself, and he sighed and scraped a hand across his face. He'd liked that. The closeness. It had felt... good. It had felt like the way things should have been. The two of them. Just so... intimate. Not even sexual, necessarily, although he certainly wouldn't turn Tony down, not that Tony would ever have asked. After ten years, it was clear that he wasn't Tony's type. Tony would have made a move long, long ago if he had been. It wasn't like Tony was shy in that respect. Steve knew him, after all.

Steve paced and sighed again. He could drop this. Stop thinking about this. Sublimate this. He'd had a lot of practice, after all.

The shower turned off, and shortly thereafter Tony stepped into the room, wearing -- not that Steve ought to be taking any notice of Tony's body -- a towel slung low around his hips. Steve's mouth went a little dry, and he knew he was tracing the familiar lines of Tony's body with his eyes. Tony was lean but muscular, more so than most people would have expected a businessman to be; Steve wondered if half the time people forgot what else Tony actually did. Without conscious thought, his gaze darted from Tony's shoulders to his chest to his hips, to the arrowed furrow of the iliac crest inviting him to look further down, like the focal point of a painting, and hastily he dragged his eyes back up Tony's body again. Water beaded on the RT, making the light from it refract into thousands of rainbows. Tony was scrubbing at his still-damp hair with another towel; it stood up in little curled dark spikes. Tony grinned over at him, wide and pleased.

Sometimes he was so goddamn handsome that it broke Steve's heart to look at him.

"I still need to make myself pretty," Tony said, winking exaggeratedly, "but you might as well shower first."

"Thanks," Steve said, looking away as quickly as he dared. He stepped into the bathroom -- oh, Tony had left him a couple of towels after all -- and shut the door, reveling for a brief few seconds in the relief of not being in the same room with a nearly-naked Tony Stark who'd just been cuddling him not ten minutes ago.

"You're supposed to tell me I'm always pretty!" Tony called out, his voice indistinct through the closed door. "Honestly, Cap, what do I keep you around for?"

Steve leaned his head against the tiled wall and gritted his teeth. "You're always pretty, Tony!"

He didn't know. It was a joke. It was just a joke.

"That's more like it," Tony called back, and Steve kind of wanted to cry.

Afterwards, when Steve had dried off enough to get his uniform on -- because wet skin and leather weren't a great combination -- Tony was standing in front of the mirror massaging a startling variety of hair products into his hair and then doing up his cuffs. They talked logistics. Well, logistics and clothing.

"You'll be wearing the image inducer," Tony pointed out, as Steve struggled into his boots. "The new model will cover your clothing, even if it can't cover the shield. No one will know you're wearing the uniform, because you're keeping the inducer on. You might as well wear street clothes. Hell, you might as well go naked. No one will know, really."

"I'll know," Steve said. "And you'll know. Humor me."

"I always do," Tony said, with a grin.

Steve slid on a glove -- the right glove, the one with the hard-light shield built into it. He felt like he might as well be unprotected, not taking the actual shield, but there was no way he could get that into the convention without exposing his identity. This would have to be good enough. He flexed his fingers, then tapped the shield on at the wrist, then off again.

"Good to go," he said, and then looked up at Tony, who had moved on to scrolling through something on his phone. "I know your talk's at five, but what's on your agenda before then?"

"This and that," Tony said, vaguely, "but don't forget your agenda."

"My agenda?"

"Mmm, yeah, bodyguard. Your agenda." Tony let out a cackle of laughter. It seemed that he really got a kick out of having Steve pretend to be his bodyguard; Steve could only conclude that it was far better than the years Tony had been pretending to be his own bodyguard. "After what happened last year, they want the security personnel, including the private ones, to go over the new arrangements for the talks. Heightened security. I think they're putting you closer to the stage this time. Which is good, because you'll be the one carrying my armor."

Steve frowned. "You really think someone's going to try something? Again? After what happened last year? Knowing you're here again?" It seemed hard to believe. "That would be stupid."

Tony gave him a long, even stare. "I've found it's always better to underestimate the intelligence of my opponents, in this kind of situation. Assume they're stupid enough to try it."

"If you say so," Steve said, unconvinced.

"Come on, Steve," Tony said, and he ran a hand over Steve's arm -- he was touching him, he was always touching him -- and grinned. "Put your fake face on, and let's get down to the breakfast buffet before everyone picks all the strawberries out of the fruit salad."

Steve switched the image inducer on and his vision fuzzed out briefly before resolving into something that was mostly clear. He palmed the keycard, grabbed the armor, and they headed out the door and down the corridor together. "Tony, if you want strawberries, I will buy you your very own strawberries." I will hand-feed you strawberries.

"Aww," Tony said, cheerful, delighted. "You must really love me."

Steve swallowed hard and looked away. I really, really do.

The elevator arrived, and Steve was spared having to reply.

The venue was clear, the attendees had all checked out clean, and no one seemed likely to try anything; Steve could almost, almost relax. Tony's talk was well underway, and Steve was enjoying every minute of it. From his position just to the side of the stage, maybe twenty feet away, he practically had a front-row seat -- heck, he was closer than the actual front-row seats. He shifted the armor case to his other hand.

Tony was in his element -- well, one of his many elements -- and he was a joy to watch. Steve had seen him rehearsing with notes, but he wasn't using them for the talk, and he was flowing through the explanations like it was all off-the-cuff. Steve was positive Tony could have done it without any preparation, because he was that good. Every eye in the room was fixed on him as he grinned, joked, spun huge holographic projections in the air above his head. He was charismatic, he was charming, he could sell anyone anything. The talk this year was on medical applications of repulsor technology -- a subject that was obviously close to Tony's heart, literally -- but Tony could have convinced the room of anything. These guys were mostly weapons dealers, and half of them were nodding and taking notes, all of them looking interested. He had them eating out of the palm of his hand.

And it wasn't just the showmanship -- Tony was brilliant, Tony was a genius, and just looking at him, you knew it. The entire room knew it. He was talking about RT nodes with the self-assured confidence that came from having designed them, having built them, and the screen above him spun through partially-blacked-out diagrams as Tony gestured lazily to this feature or that. He was a thousand times smarter than anyone in the room. He dreamed things up and made them real.

Watching Tony on the stage, Steve felt, as he often did, so incredibly honored to know Tony. He felt so small compared to him, sometimes. Some days he wondered, why this man, the best and brightest man he'd ever known, would want to be his friend; he wondered what he, a relic of the past, had to offer this man who was making the future happen right in front of him. He'd tried to explain to Tony, once, how it made him feel, when he was watching Tony invent something, when he was watching him change the world right in front of him. Tony'd just stared at him like he was crazy and said you don't even know how I feel when I'm standing next to you, do you? and his eyes had gone bright and awed, his face soft, as if even after all this time Steve was still his hero.

Maybe that wasn't how most friends felt about each other, but that was him and Tony, and it worked for them. I know you, Steve thought, trying to repress the smile. I really know you. And I'm so grateful. Because even beyond that, there was the Tony who grinned at him over morning coffee, who told rotten jokes, who groused at team paperwork with him, who knew exactly what kind of bagels he liked. Steve knew Tony, the real Tony, the one no one else in this room would meet. And even if Tony could never love him back the way Steve loved him, it was enough. It was.

"So," Tony said, and from the way his voice shifted, he was launching into the conclusion of the talk, "I hope that today I've convinced you that an investment in Resilient's medical technology program will--"

Tony didn't get a chance to finish his sentence.

The skylight above him shattered inward.

There were a few shocked gasps from the crowd, but -- thanks to this being a weapons exposition -- the people in the packed auditorium were far calmer than Steve could have expected from any random grouping of civilians. Still, the mass of people took a few steps back, in a wave. Everyone was moving away except him and Tony. That was the Avengers for you: always run toward an explosion.

"If everyone could proceed in an orderly fashion to the exits," Steve began, pitching his voice to carry above the murmurs of the crowd, and then he didn't finish his sentence, because his inducer-distorted vision finally registered the purple-and-orange shape falling in from the roof.

Oh, not again.

He tapped the comms in his ear on, switching to the Avengers frequency. "Tony," he subvocalized, "remember how I said no one would be stupid enough to try anything after what happened last year?"

Tony's eyes flicked over to him. His fingers went to the side of his head, and then his voice was in Steve's ear. "Yeah, Cap?"

"I'd like to change my mind."

Tony flashed him a weary grin; his voice was low in the comms. "Told you so."

In the empty area in front of the stage, surrounded by jagged shards of glass, Batroc the Leaper stood. "Greetings, Stark," he said.

Tony only stared evenly back at him. He didn't ask Steve for his armor; he wasn't standing like he was about to move, or like he thought Steve should be taking Batroc down. He just looked at him, and Steve realized that Tony didn't want to escalate this. The Brigade wasn't here, just Batroc. He wasn't harming civilians, who -- Steve spared a blurry glance at the back of the room -- were even now beginning to move out of the room, thank God. It was just one villain. It was just a Saturday for the Avengers. They outnumbered him. It didn't have to get ugly.

Tony lifted an eyebrow. "I'd appreciate it if you could save your comments until the question period, Batroc."

Someone in the back of the room snickered.

"Oh, but you see," Batroc said, "that won't be possible. My comments are quite urgent. My employers require your armor. I understand you have a new design." His gaze lit upon the suitcase in Steve's hand.

If it was Kash Vennema again, that was just-- no. Steve had had enough.

Tony's face bore an impressively gracious smile; it was all fake. "I'm afraid that's not going to happen. My condolences to your employers."

And then Batroc -- well, leaped -- and he was stalking toward Steve, lightly, all the weight on the balls of his feet, too far forward. He wasn't even standing right, like he didn't think Steve was going to pose any sort of threat. Steve could sweep him in an instant. But this was Tony's show.

"How confident of you," Batroc purred, "letting one puny bodyguard have the care of your precious armor."

"Cap." Tony's subvocalized voice buzzed in his ear. "You're up. Open the case for me. And then stall him. The new armor needs about thirty seconds for assembly. Maybe more. Remind me never to bring a prototype again."

Steve favored Batroc with a grin as he flipped the case open. Tony must have issued some non-verbal command, because immediately the pieces began to float through the air, gold and... black? That was new. And Tony had been right; that was a lot of power. The case held multiple glowing RT nodes, not just the familiar palm nodes. It looked intricate, and Steve guessed that thirty seconds for assembly was underestimation.

"Tell me," Steve said, raising his voice to Batroc, "who did you think Tony Stark would have entrusted his armor to?"

In one motion he slid his hand down his arm, flipping off the image inducer and flipping on the energy shield, which covered his forearm. He let the case -- from which curved pieces of metal were still floating -- drop from his fingers and pushed it behind him, putting himself in between Batroc and his goal.

Batroc's mouth spread wide in a grin as Steve's uniform and shield became visible. "Capitaine! Oh, this is better than I had hoped!"

"You remember you lost to me last year, too?" Steve growled, as Batroc took a few steps, coming closer.

Batroc didn't dignify his answer with a verbal reply -- just a kick. Hard, high, and -- unfortunately for him -- completely telegraphed. Steve swung the hard-light shield up in an arc, blocked, and then shoved hard, so that Batroc fell over and back into a handspring. He was nimble, Steve would give him that.

But Steve was faster. He punched, left-handed, then right, using the shield as a ram. Through the red and blue haze of the vibranium matrix, he saw the armor forming up around Tony, black and gold, RT nodes blank and dull at the hips, about halfway assembled and clearly still unpowered.

Batroc took the shield blow hard, breathing out and dancing backwards, but then he gathered himself up and jumped over Steve's head.

Steve twisted and reached out, but he couldn't quite get a hand on him--

"Ah, but Captain," Batroc said, almost taunting. "I don't have to beat you to win. I just have to take this."

He was next to the armor. Steve lunged--

And Batroc slapped a glowing tag on what was left of the armor, a fully-assembled arm hovering in midair, starting to sail towards Tony. Immediately the gauntlet fell into Batroc's hands, its movement arrested.

"Oh, hell," Tony said in his ear. "Ten seconds left. Steve, a little help here, please--"

Batroc looked up at him, laughed, slid the entire gauntlet on, and raised his palm toward Tony, whose own suit was still dark. Tony couldn't fight back. The repulsor whined, the awful, familiar sound of a weapon-level charge.

Steve ran, jumped for the stage, raised the hard-light shield as he landed, and he was between Batroc and Tony, covering his head, their heads, him with Tony behind him--

His vision went bright as the repulsor fired, crackling, bouncing off the translucent shield. He couldn't see anything else.

And then Batroc was gone.

"He's gone up," Tony said, and that was his voice through the suit filters. Steve turned his head back and saw that Tony was all armored, faceplate down, RT nodes glowing red in his chest, all across his legs and arms -- except for one arm that was entirely bare, still in a suit jacket. "I can track the rest of the armor, but we have to go now. And you've got to be the one holding onto me; this is going to be hard enough. Sorry, Cap, it's gonna be a rough ride."

"I'll cope," Steve said, stepping back, turning, standing on Tony's boots, and his hands found purchase on Tony's shoulders and waist. Tony's unarmored arm encircled him anyway, his bare fingers latching onto Steve's belt, even as they both knew that Tony's unaided strength wouldn't be enough to hold them together at any speed approaching full-out flight.

"You good?"

Steve nodded. "Ready."

They were in the air in an instant, heading up and out through the broken skylight, and Steve saw instantly what Tony had meant about it being a rough ride. Tony was fast but off-balance, and he was wobbling as they rose into the Madripoor night. His bare hand was tight on Steve's belt, and his gauntleted hand was shaking as he tried to stabilize the flight. Even with the filters on Steve could hear him breathing, loud and frustrated.

"Sorry," Tony said. "This model passed basic flight, but I wasn't anticipating a use case where I'd be missing a gauntlet, have a quarter less available power, and be carrying a passenger. Fuck," he added, and Steve tightened his grip on Tony's shoulder as Tony swung one glowing hand forward, around him. They dipped wildly as they skimmed over rooftops, heading across Madripoor into the squalor of Lowtown.

"Am I in the way?"

Tony's hand shifted again, and they turned in the air; Tony's arm was over Steve's shoulder, elbow braced awkwardly. "Little bit." Which meant, of course, completely.

"Where do you want me?"

"Can you climb onto my back?" Tony asked, after a moment of silence. "I'll lean forward. You can sit, maybe? It'll keep my hand clear."

"All right."

Steve threw his other arm around Tony's neck. He wrapped one leg, then the other, high around Tony's hips, blocking the RT glow, and he carefully twisted his way around Tony's side, clinging to Tony's body, climbing with his knees and thighs as Tony began to lean forward, flying horizontally now. After a few more seconds, he was sitting on Tony's back, more or less astride him, his legs around Tony's waist, and Tony laughed. He was flying with his arms held back now, something approaching normal even though one of them was still bare.

They'd flown like this before, Steve remembered, with him on Tony's back. The day he'd found out who Iron Man was. It still made him happy to remember it.

Tony's voice carried back to him on the wind. "Was that good for you too?"

"Mmm," Steve managed, wondering if now was really the time for innuendo. "I'm fine, thanks."

"Think of it as your payback for the snuggling, if you want," Tony said, still laughing, and he'd picked the one time they couldn't talk about it to bring it up, hadn't he? "Oh, hey, I see Batroc there. He's on the roofs. He's taking up parkour, it seems like. Still wearing the gauntlet."

"You could drop me," Steve suggested, "and I could chase him over the roofs."

"I'm still quicker. We can get him on the ground first. Hang on tight, going to lose some altitude fast--"

Steve tightened his grip as Tony's one remaining palm repulsor charged up to weapon-level power, and as they dropped Tony swung his arm forward and shot a burst of energy at the purple-clad figure leaping between two buildings. As Tony straightened up with a lurching swoop Steve saw that the repulsor had clipped Batroc on the leg and he'd fallen into the alley between the buildings.

"He's down," Steve relayed.

"I have him on scanners," Tony said. "He's limping now. In a courtyard. Looks like he's triggered a signal. I'd like to get to him before his ride gets here."

"Let's," Steve agreed.

Tony sighed a staticky breath. "Landing like this is gonna be a bitch, Cap. Going to have to put you down first. I'll let you go as low as I can, but try to stay clear of Batroc until I'm down. I'll be dropping like a ton of bricks, and if I have to fall, I'd rather land on someone I hate."


"I'll roll onto my back and you can drop, okay?" Tony said. "Coming down. Ten seconds."

The ground spiraled toward them as Tony dove.

"Five seconds, Cap."

Tony's palm repulsor shone bright and Steve leaned forward, plastering himself against Tony's back, gripping Tony's shoulders.


Everything went upside-down; the buildings swung above him, the night sky below, and Steve pushed away from Tony, fell, tucked in on himself, and rolled, hitting the dusty ground shoulder-first and tumbling. When he came up to standing, Batroc was there, in the middle of the courtyard, aiming the repulsor at his head.

"Really?" Steve asked. He couldn't help himself. "Again?"

"I can shoot you before you activate that shield, Captain," Batroc said. "Make it easy on yourself."

"I'd rather not do that," Steve countered. "Why don't you hand that over instead?"

He held out his hand, palm up.

Batroc laughed.

"Incoming," Tony said, in his ear, and three of the red repulsor lights about twenty feet up dimmed as Tony dropped straight down.

Tony hit Batroc hard, a controlled dive ending in a collision, and they skidded across the courtyard together, slamming into the opposite wall, cracking the plaster, and God, Steve hoped Tony was all right. Batroc stared up at him, his mouth agape, dazed. Tony pushed himself up, then snapped out a string of numbers and Greek letters, and the gauntlet on Batroc's arm went dead.

"Give it over," Tony said, his filtered voice sounding incredibly cold, authoritative, and he stripped the gauntlet from him and fit it onto his own arm.

"And stay there," Steve snapped, walking over, as Batroc pulled himself to his feet, recovering fast. "We're taking you in."

Batroc scoffed. "In Madripoor?"

Tony lifted his palm. "Maybe you could start by telling us who your employer is."

Batroc was standing unaided now, and Steve raised a wary fist, bringing up his other hand to the shield control.

"Maybe you could start by dying, Stark," he snarled, and his hand flashed out-- there was something in his hand--

He slapped Tony's armor, high on the shoulder.

"Have an EMP," Batroc added, and then he jumped, heading for the second-story windows.

Steve turned to go after him--

Blue lightning crackled all across Tony's suit, and then the bright red RT nodes all went dead and dark. Every last one. Including the one in his chest.

Tony pitched backwards and hit the ground with a metallic clatter.


"Tony!" Steve yelled, frantic. In the back of his mind he knew Batroc was getting away, but he didn't care, because Tony's RT was black.

If he had no RT, he had no brain function.

He was going to die.

Could Steve breathe for him? Could CPR keep him alive until help came? They were in Lowtown. How fast could anyone come for him?

Did Steve's armor overrides still work? Dammit, what were the current armor overrides? What if Tony had changed them? They wouldn't work when the armor was off, anyway. He knew that. No, no, no, no, Steve chanted in his head, the words blurring together in his mind, a meaningless wail of denial.

Somehow he had fallen; he was down in the dirt next to Tony, ripping the faceplate off one-handed--

Tony was alive. Tony was breathing. Tony was staring up at him, and his pupils were pinpricks, his face pale; he was still on an adrenaline high from the fight. Tony was-- Tony was--

"Steve," Tony was saying, but it sounded like the words were coming from very far away. "I'm okay. Listen to me, Steve. I'm all right. He didn't hurt me. I'm all right. Calm down. Shh. It's okay."

How could that be? The RT was dead. He had seen it. Were there emergency release catches in this armor? He reached for Tony's sides, where the first set of catches usually were.

"Hey." Tony was still talking. His voice was low, a little hoarse. "Hey, stop, come on, I'm okay. Focus. You really don't need to get me out of the suit. You broke enough of the armor already just now, come on." Tony was trying to smile, to joke a little, to act normally, he saw. Tony was alive. "It's good. I'm okay. I'm all right. I promise."

He promised. Something about the finality of that settled into Steve's brain. "You're all right?" Steve repeated.

Tony smiled weakly. "I'm fine. The RTs are all hardened against EMPs. Even the big one. Especially the big one. The EMP blacked out the connections between the power and the rest of the suit, which is why it looked dead, but that's all, and those should be coming online again any second now." He made a face. "It's a little hard to tell without the visual feeds."

The RTs were, in fact, flickering back to life. Even the big one. Tony braced himself with a gauntleted hand, jerkily -- he clearly didn't have all the power back -- and pushed himself up to sitting, so that now they were sitting next to each other.

"You could have died," Steve said, and his heart was pounding heavily in his chest. He felt dizzy, cold all over. "Just like that, you could have died."

Tony shook his head. "I couldn't have. There was no way he could have turned off my brain. I promise. I didn't realize you didn't know, and I'm sorry I scared you so badly, but I swear, I'm all right." He rested an armored hand on Steve's arm. "Are you going to be all right?"

"I thought you were dead," Steve said, still frightened, trying to come down, to move on.

He couldn't have said why he did it. Why now, of all the years they had known each other, he finally decided to act, but it seemed like the most natural thing in the world to lean in, to press his mouth against Tony's, to feel him warm and alive against him. It felt right. He was hardly thinking about doing it; it just happened. It didn't feel like something he'd decided. It didn't feel like a first kiss usually did, either; there was none of that strange, unfamiliar uncertainty. It felt like something they'd already done, something they'd been doing all along. Tony tasted like coffee, tasted like hot metal, tasted like he smelled, all of it exactly right, all of it known.

Tony inhaled against Steve's lips, a gasp of surprise, and then Tony wrapped one gauntleted hand around the back of Steve's head and held on, his mouth opening against Steve's, kissing him back just as desperately.

Because he'd had a good ten years to build up a stable of furtive fantasies, Steve had thought a lot about what kissing Tony must be like. Certainly none of Tony's partners had ever seemed to have complaints. He'd assumed that Tony, with his playboy reputation and engineer's mind, would have... patterns. Routines. The optimal methods of seduction, all worked out. Not impersonal, necessarily, but Steve was sure that if Tony had figured out the one best way to kiss people for the first time he would never see any reason not to try it. He probably wouldn't be able to stop himself. And so he'd always thought that kissing Tony would only mean seeing the persona. And he would have been all right with that, he'd thought; it would mean he'd be kissing Tony.

Certainly he'd imagined nothing like this. This was fumbling, awkward. Tony was shaking against him, and he thought maybe Tony had one of the wings on his cowl tangled between his fingers. Tony lunged forward, hard, and Tony's teeth clicked against his, Tony's beard scratched his face, and Tony's tongue was in his mouth, hot and wet and heavy, demanding, thorough, like this was the only kiss they would ever have and he wanted all of Steve's mouth, right now, before Steve changed his mind--

Tony was kissing him like-- like he really wanted him--

He wasn't dreaming.

Dazed, Steve pulled his head away. How could Tony want him?

Tony's eyes were much more dilated now, and Tony huffed out a soft breath, halfway to an incredulous laugh, and he leaned their foreheads together for a second.

"God," Tony breathed, and he was still shaking. His hand slid from the back of Steve's head to his cheek; he trailed two metal fingers down to Steve's jaw. "God, Steve, I-- I--"

Tony's mouth worked. Tony was speechless.

Steve tried to look away, but everywhere he tried to look, Tony was there; he was surrounded by him. "I never meant--" he began, but then stopped, because he had meant to, of course, he meant what he'd done. "I never intended for you to know. That. But you-- I thought you were dead--"

Tony smiled a little, shakily. "You must have seen me almost die at least a hundred times now, Cap. I'm sure you've seen me actually die, even."

"I know," Steve said, helpless. He couldn't have said what was different now; maybe this had been the last straw, the tipping point. Maybe it had all been leading up to this. "I just-- I've-- for so long, Tony, I've-- I've wanted-- I never thought you wanted me--"

Now Tony just looked stunned; his eyes were wide. "You thought I didn't--?"

Steve could feel his own mouth twisting in a rueful smile. "You never did anything. And you're not exactly shy, Tony. I was pretty sure by now that I wasn't your type."

"My type?" Tony actually laughed this time, a dry rattling of breath, blowing warm air against Steve's cheek. "Christ. Steve, you are so perfectly my type that you are my goddamned archetype. I hope knowing that's enough because if I tell you anything else about the fantasies I've had for over half my life I don't think I'll be able to look you in the face again without blushing."

"I don't think I've ever seen you blush," Steve said, still trying to think through the immensity of it: Tony liked him. Tony really liked him.

"Yeah, well, you would," Tony shot back, and his cheeks were already a little pink.

"So why didn't you say anything, then?"

"Isn't it obvious?" Tony looked away; his jaw tightened. "There's you, and there's, well... me."

He couldn't really think that, Steve thought, horrified, but he knew Tony well enough to know that Tony most certainly could. "Please don't tell me that you didn't think you were good enough."

Tony's mouth quirked. "Sorry, Cap."

"I'm not perfect, Tony. I'm just a man. You know that." He wanted to shake sense into Tony. "Hell, you can probably list every single one of my flaws."

"And I'm positive you can list mine. Pretty sure I know which list is longer."

Steve brought his hand up to Tony's face and stroked across his cheekbone with one gloved thumb; Tony shivered. "I'm still here," Steve said, quietly. "I know you. I still want this. I've always wanted this. And if you-- if we both want this--"

"Yeah," Tony said, on a heavy sigh.

Steve could see the hunger in his eyes, an almost physical thing, but there was fear there too. I'm not leaving, he wanted to say. I swear I'm not. "We can do this," Steve said.

Tony was looking at him like he thought Steve might take it all away. "You mean that?"

"Definitely," Steve said, and Tony turned his head to kiss Steve's gloved fingers. Steve took a guilty look around them. "I think maybe we should get back to the hotel."

Tony rocked back and stood up. "Making use of the bed, are we?" It was nothing like any of Tony's joking propositions, over the years. He was wide-eyed, nervous, and though he was grinning there was something deadly serious under it. Like this, here, was what really counted.

"I was hoping to," Steve said, and Tony's smile relaxed.

Tony held out an arm. "Climb on, then. I'll give you a ride." He winked. His smile went broad and lewd, and Steve went hot at the thought, even though that was obviously a joke. An awful, awful joke. Although maybe Tony would...?

He poked Tony in the chest, two-fingered, just above the RT, as he stepped in close so Tony could grab him. "You're lucky I love you so much, because that was a rotten line."

Tony's face had frozen. "You--"

"What did you think this was about?" Steve asked, very softly.

"I didn't want to hope you could feel the same," Tony said, in the same tone, like the words were almost too big for him, and then he wrapped an arm around Steve. "Brace yourself. And hang on to that facemask for me. You break it, you hold it."

"Ready," Steve said, and he was. For everything.

They flew.

The instant the door shut behind them, Tony turned around and slammed Steve back against it. He was shedding pieces of the armor as he went, panels sloughing off him, but he didn't seem to notice or care that he was still wearing a gauntlet on his right hand and both of the boots; Steve had to go up on his toes to kiss him.

Tony pressed Steve back against the unyielding wood of the door, roughly, halfway holding him up with what was left of the armor's power. Steve hauled Tony closer by the tie he was still wearing, and Tony slid one knee between Steve's legs, grinding up against Steve's thigh, hard and hot and heavy. Steve gasped and kissed him, kissed him as much as he could, breaking the kiss every few seconds to pant for air, for anything, for Tony--

"Can I go down on you?" Tony was murmuring, low and dirty. "Fuck, Steve, please say I can-- want to suck you off so much-- want you to come in my mouth-- I'll swallow it all--"

Dizzy, achingly hard, Steve flailed for balance against the door; Tony braced him tighter, body pressed all up against him.

"Yeah," Steve breathed, and he hardly recognized his own voice, dark, jagged, rough with need. "Yeah, Tony, please, anything--"

And Tony dropped to his knees just like that, still in the boots and gauntlet, ripping open Steve's fly like he'd practiced this, and he was grinning and grinning, and then, oh God, his mouth--

Steve had known Tony had prided himself on his skills in this department, and not solely because if there was a skill to be had, he could trust Tony to have mastered it. No, it had actually come up in conversation. Once. Tony had been drinking then. Tony had been very drunk; it had been quite a long time ago. And even as Steve had felt a little guilty being the sober one in the room as Tony had been going on about it, he hadn't exactly wanted to make him stop.

"I'm a great cocksucker" was how Tony had put it, gesturing with his empty tumbler, his speech a little thick and loud. "The best, Cap. The absolute best. I love it."

Steve had maybe jerked off three times that night thinking about it.

And Tony had been right, because-- oh-- Tony was taking him all the way down, making it look easy, pinning his hips to the door with one gauntleted hand, lips wrapped around Steve's cock, head bobbing at exactly the right rhythm, coaxing his pleasure out of him. Tony's eyes were half-lidded and Steve could feel him moaning, like he was having the time of his life, and God, Tony's bare hand was fumbling at his own pants, and something about knowing that Tony was getting off on doing this just did something to Steve, sent a tingling rush of heat down his spine, everything going tight and hot and it was perfect.

"Tony," he gasped. "I'm close--"

Tony's gauntleted hand squeezed his hip in acknowledgement and Steve shut his eyes and came, shaking helplessly, into Tony's warm mouth. Tony moved off a little, and Steve watched Tony swallow, eyes still half-shut in bliss. Tony pulled off entirely, leaning his head on Steve's hip, and when he spoke his voice was hoarse -- I did that to him, I made him sound like that, Steve thought, and his cock jumped a little at the thought.

"Do you kiss after?" Tony rasped.

Steve grinned and hauled him up, leaning up to kiss him again. "Do I ever."

He licked the taste of himself out of Tony's mouth, while Tony made small surprised gasps at every swipe of Steve's tongue, until Tony was panting with desire.

"Okay, yes," Tony said, breathless. "You sure do. Maybe next time I won't swallow."

Next time. There was going to be a next time for this.

And then Tony stepped back and looked at them both, seeming to realize that they were both fully dressed, he was still wearing armor, and that Steve was actually hard again already. "Super-soldier sex drive, huh?"

"Yeah," Steve said, a little embarrassed.

"No, it's great," Tony said, and he started to pull off the gauntlet he was wearing; Steve heard the click of the boots unlatching. "Anything else I can do for you?"

"Oh, I don't know," Steve said, trying to imitate Tony's most risque tone. "I thought you promised me a ride."

Tony's grin was all astonishment. "I swear, you're going to kill me. But what a way to go, huh?"

"La petite mort," Steve agreed, and he pushed Tony towards the bed.

It was when they were both finally naked that Tony, unexpectedly enough, had slowed everything down.

"There's lube in my suitcase," he said, and then caught Steve's arm as Steve got up to fetch it. "But, hey -- have you actually slept with a guy before?"

Steve wasn't sure why Tony was asking. Did Tony think he'd be upset if Tony's own experience was more varied? Of course that didn't bother him.

"No," Steve said, honestly, and he managed to reach the lube anyway. "I've done a lot of thinking though. If thinking counts."

"It counts," Tony said, and he bit his lip. "But I just-- I know people have some funny ideas about bottoming, it being the one defining thing you can do with another guy, and it's not, and so I wanted to let you know, uh, that it's okay if you don't end up liking it, that I don't expect--"


Steve grinned and held up the lube triumphantly. He really had no idea, did he? "Tony, just because I've never been with a man before, that doesn't mean I don't know I like bottoming."

Tony's mouth fell open. "Okay," he said. "We are definitely having that conversation later, because that's the hottest thing I've ever heard. Heard implied. Whatever."

Steve squeezed out some lube onto his fingers and started to slick himself up. Tony, sprawled on his back across the bed, watched, fascinated, like he couldn't believe Steve was really doing this. Two fingers was a little tight, but it was good enough; he liked the stretch of it.

"I feel like I should contribute," Tony said, faintly, awed, watching Steve work his fingers in and out of himself, eyes wide and entranced, like it was the best thing he'd ever seen, as he moved up the bed to sit halfway upright against the headboard. "You're doing all the work."

"You've had a long day," Steve told him, sliding his fingers out. "Besides, I'm very, very flexible."

"You're ruining me for other men," Tony said, in a voice that suggested he was joking even as Steve knew he was absolutely serious.


Steve straddled Tony, kissed him thoroughly, and then -- ah, there -- sank down, as Tony sat up, grabbed his hips, and rose up. It was so much better than all of Steve's imaginings, and for several long seconds Tony just stared at him, wide-eyed, sighing out a long exhalation and smiling, like there was nothing else that could express how good he felt. Steve clenched down hard around him, enjoying the size of him, and Tony's eyes went wider.

And then Tony started to move, arching up into him, slowly at first, then faster, as Steve pushed back to meet him, every thrust hitting him exactly right, and he knew it wasn't going to last.

"Oh," Steve breathed. "You're so--" he tried to say, but Tony pushed into him again and Steve entirely forgot how he was going to finish the sentence; all he could do was moan, as Tony forced these noises from him.

"It's good," Tony said, grinning wildly up at him. His eyes were dazzling, gorgeous, locked on Steve's face. "Go on. Almost there," he added, and he gasped as Steve tightened down around him; he reached out a hand, wrapping his callused fingers around Steve's cock, jerking him off, fast and rough and perfect, in rhythm with everything else. "Come on," he said. "We can do this together, come on, come on, come on-- oh, fuck, Steve--"

And Tony was coming, trembling, still slamming into him, head thrown back, eyes shut, and then Steve breathed in and out and his own release hit him like a punch he hadn't braced for, heavy and fast and he thought maybe he was gasping Tony's name and he was coming hard, all over him, and he was gone--

Tony was smiling up at him still, indolent, wrung out with pleasure, as Steve reluctantly moved off him. The corners of Tony's eyes were crinkled. He looked like he was never going to be able to do anything else ever again. It was a good look on him.

"Nice job, Avenger," Tony said, sleepily slurring his words, and he reached up to pat Steve on what Steve thought was probably supposed to be his shoulder but was mostly his throat.

Steve started laughing. "Great," he said, "now I'll never be able to sit through mission briefings without thinking of this."

"Mmm," Tony said, still grinning. "That's the idea. Also if I do my job right you may not be able to sit at all."

"Promises, promises."

Tony pulled him down and kissed him, slow and lazy and messy and halfway missing his mouth at first. "Exactly my point."

They didn't make it to the final day of the convention. Neither of them really cared.

"So," Tony ventured, sometime after the fourth time they'd had sex, while Steve was wrapped around him, "because one of us has to be the one to say it: what happens when we get home?"

Steve squinted. "What do you mean?"

Tony gestured, a sweep of his hand taking in the entire room. "Us. This. I mean, the hotel room's great and all, but is this a thing that we're doing because we're here, in Madripoor, in someplace that isn't the rest of our lives? What happens when we leave the room?"

"Tony," Steve said, and he reached out and intertwined their fingers, "we're leaving together. That's-- that's how I'd like it to be. Together."

"Together," Tony repeated, like he'd never heard the word before.

"So we go home," Steve said, squeezing Tony's hand, "we go back to the rest of our lives, we go back to the Avengers, we fight together, we save the world, and now we can sleep in the same bed. If that's how you want it. Not so different. I'll still get you coffee in the mornings."

"We've always been together," Tony said, like he was only now realizing this. "You've-- you've always--"

"Oh, now you get it, genius," Steve said, fondly, so full of warmth and affection that he almost couldn't speak. "Welcome to your life."

"I'm going to like it here," Tony said, and he kissed him again.