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In Sunlight and Shadow

Chapter Text

Tony’s mind, maneuvering into a begrudging state of wakefulness, confronted the impossibility of three variables vying for his immediate attention: He had slept for more than five consecutive hours; he was awake of his own volition - no alarm, prodding Pepper, or distress call necessary - at a time that should never again be witnessed by him or anyone else; and Steve Rogers was in his bed, wearing nothing but skin and heat under tangled sheets.

Turning on his side, Tony propped himself up to focus on the particularly challenging piece of that equation.

Sunlight, it would seem, was no different than anything else in this world or, likely, the next: it was inexorably drawn to Steve. A finger-width beam stole across the stretch of Steve’s brow, slipped down the strong slope of his nose to linger, as Tony was, on the man’s sinful lips.

Lips he was now intimately familiar with.

Tony knew exactly how much pressure to apply to get them to open for him; he could recount with absolute clarity how that full lower lip felt between his teeth; he didn’t have to imagine how it shone, flushed red and swollen, after Tony eased the sting with his tongue.

That knowledge - and the memory of what they had done in the wake of those first hot-as-Hell kisses - simultaneously crashed and shocked his nervous system.

Carefully disengaging himself from the strip of silk wound around his legs, Tony slid from the bed, one question dogging every oh, God, I can still feel him step he took away from it: Who had shut his brain down - who had shut Steve’s brain down - long enough to let any of last night happen?

 

~~*~**~**~*~~

Steve tipped his head back on the pillow. A smile tugged at his mouth before his lashes cleared his sight line.

Shifting into a long, indulgent stretch, he felt every muscle in his body pull and release; the loose, contented hum that claimed him once it was done, he realized, felt something like a third or fourth orgasm.

Turning to look at the man responsible for giving him that insight, Steve’s stomach clenched as he stared for an endless moment at the bare sheets and fading impression of Tony’s body. Pushing off the bed, Steve padded to the bathroom, listening for the sound of running water, distracted humming, anything that indicated Tony hadn’t left Steve, alone, in his bed.

The only thing that filled the space on the opposite side of the door was silence.

Following the trail of his discarded clothing, Steve pulled on his jeans, fastened them with fingers that trembled minutely, and slung his t-shirt over his shoulder. He was half-tempted to seek Tony out wearing the same clothes he’d let the other man strip him of the night before, but he needed the time, needed to figure out how to approach Tony who had bolted like a skittish horse.

Twenty minutes later, Steve took the steps down to Tony’s workshop two at a time. In a bright blue wash of light, Tony swiveled in his chair, restlessly turning one way only to retreat back, his hands still, for once, in the pockets of black pants that, with their thin blue pinstripe, looked too elegant to be worn around machinery in various states of use. The skin-tight black tank Tony wore pulled taut across his back when Steve’s purposeful steps behind him registered.

“Morning.” The coffee mug he held, large enough to almost require his full handspan, checked Steve’s impulse to ease the tension in Tony’s shoulders. Setting it down within easy reach, Steve noted a hatch mark pattern of grease on Tony’s forearm, a small patch of dried blood on his elbow, and, as they slid around the mug, the indigo ink that mapped the skin between his thumb and forefinger. “Looks like you’ve been busy.”

“Yeah, I...had things,” Tony said, nodding at the clutter of metal and virtual plans in front of him.

Steve leaned into Tony’s heat. Tearing his gaze away from Tony’s pulse, visible proof of life in that column of firm, warm skin, Steve looked up at the screens surrounding them. Tony was designing a...“What is it?”

“This?” Tony regarded the origami-like structure of the device he’d been toying with and shrugged. Easing out of the chair, he leaned over the desk, away from Steve, reaching for a fountain pen, its nib bent and cracked. “Whatever I want it to be.”

“Can you take a break? We could grab--”

“I can’t. Actually. That flamethrower I promised Clint? He wanted it yesterday. Or maybe the day before that. I don’t know. For a sniper, the man has no patience. Anyway. I was going to get to it last night, but that didn’t happen--” Tony cut himself off.

“Because you were otherwise occupied.”

Steve could still feel the sweat-slick valley at the base of Tony’s spine, the way lean muscle shifted as Steve urged the other man to move; he could hear, like it had been moments ago instead of hours, the low, purring rumble that caught in Tony’s throat when he was close, the breathless hitch that snagged on Steve’s name as Tony came.

A deep inhale, then: “I never thought the first time I made love would” make me feel alive in a way that waking up from the ice never could; would make me want to mark you so there could be no confusion, no question: you are mine, there will never be anyone else, he thought, but said, “be like that.”

Despite the lame conclusion to his observation, or more likely because of it, Steve’s words broke Tony’s concentration. Straightening from his tinkering slouch, he turned towards Steve, closed his eyes. The scarred pad of his index finger rubbed tight circles around the active tic at his temple.

“It’s like the allergy thing all over again.” Tony threw his free hand up between them. “No. It’s worse. Cherries; not strawberries,” he muttered, tipping his head back to blink up at the ceiling. “Of all the things I have forgotten, how your cherry was one of them, well, fuck me. No, I know. You’ve already done that. That’s the point, Steve. Look,” he said, dropping his chin like a chastised child for a split second before notching it back up. “I’m sorry. I should have remembered.”

“Cherries? Tony, what--”

“No.” Tony forestalled Steve’s question. “No. We’re good. We’re fine. We’re fine?” he asked, and it wasn’t until then that Steve noticed the freckles, one piling on top of another as Tony scrunched up his nose, waiting for Steve’s answer. When Steve didn’t immediately supply one, Tony pushed on. “We can just--”

“What?” Steve asked, a hint of laughter teasing his voice. “Forget it happened?”

Relief spread like complicated code across Tony’s face.

Steve bent at the waist; he gripped the back of Tony’s chair, his knuckles flushed and tight. “That’s...You really want to forget it?”

“Yes. What I mean is, what happened, it was a one-off. And we don’t want the team to find out. There’s a joke I don’t need to be the butt of,” he said, exhaling, cringing. “And that was a lousy pun. Another thing to forget.” Tony batted at the air as if words had a form that could be as easily pushed aside as his holographic schematics.

It had taken time and, frankly, a lot of patience, but Steve now knew several things about Tony: When something mattered to him, he treated it like a bullet he couldn’t dig out of his body, over thinking what might happen if he just let it be; he responded blithely when confronted by any situation that favored emotion over intellect; and, at times like this, he rarely meant what he said. Steve knew that, and still, a hurt so ferocious it made his enhanced vision blur dug into his stomach with claws.

“A joke?” Steve choked out. “Being with me...like that...that’s what you think it was?”

“What?” Panic flared in Tony’s eyes, his pupils dilating, bleeding black over brown. “Steve, I wouldn’t. No,” Tony said, shaking his head with a vehemence Steve had only before seen directed at contrary calculations. “Last night was...In my dreams it was never, but...It just can’t happen again. Yeah?”

Relationships required risk. Steve knew that better than most. He’d willingly put himself on the line when he had backed Tony against the bedroom door, tasting the salt on Tony’s exposed clavicle, wrapping the length of the man’s loosened tie around his fist. Steve wasn’t going to act like there was nothing between them now; wasn’t going to change his mind when the only thing he’d wanted for himself in a very long time was standing in front of him.

Steve’s answer, swiftly spoken, was delivered with unhesitating authority.

“No.”

 

~~*~**~**~*~~

No. A small word, just a consonant and a vowel; Tony saw no reason it shouldn’t be simple to decipher. He had run up against it often enough - hell, his younger self had been half convinced his father had invented it along with everything else - so he should have no problem spelling it, defining it, and using it in a sentence. And yet...No.

Rubbing the back of his neck, Tony swung his seat around, settled his legs on either side, and began a steady rotation, drumming his fingers on the glass workstation as it passed.

He glanced at the door for the twenty-third time since Steve had walked out.

When momentarily stumped by the vagueness of human behavior, Tony thought, opt for petulance. “Jarvis, rescind the codes to the workshop,” he said. “All of them.”

“Rescind, sir? Because giving others the code was an invitation you extended out of generosity of heart, and not as a result of a great deal of brow-beating, a lengthy bout of the silent treatment, or on orders?”

Tony sighed. “Can you just do it?”

“I have, sir. But perhaps now would be a relevant time to point out that the odds of you maintaining a long-term romantic relationship with Mr. Rogers are--”

“Excuse me. Who,” Tony said, interrupting the AI before it could provide him with concrete proof of what Tony already knew: that the odds were so shitty, he’d have to find a shovel to dig himself out of the mire of self-pity the numbers would throw him into.

“You did, sir, after you saw the Captain cuddling a lost puppy at the conclusion of your second mission with the team. It was, I believe you said, a Husky, as the dog’s eyes were the same shade of blue as--”

“Jarvis.” Tony tried for threat, but settled for glaring at the wrench balanced on the arm of the couch.

“If I may--”

“Is it up to me? Do I have a say--”

“You also requested a run on your sexual compatibility with Mr. Rogers--”

“No need, Jarvis,” Tony said. “I figured that one out on my own.” He scratched idly at his jaw. “Well. No. Steve was there.”

“And why isn’t he here now, sir?”

It was a valid question. One Tony hadn’t quite worked out. When he’d cloistered himself in his workshop that morning, he’d run through a set of possible outcomes, hoping that determining an endgame would steady the ground he was on. He’d gone down the one night stand route with Steve, but he knew, had known the moment he woke up and wanted to push the hair back from Steve’s forehead that it wasn’t an option. Tony’s uncomfortable brush with sentimentality aside, Steve wasn’t that type of man. Which made Steve’s reaction incomprehensible.

Tony had expected demands. Persuasion, maybe, if Steve was feeling uncharacteristically flirty. And, barring any of that, Tony was sure that disappointed frown thing Steve did would make an appearance, scoring those two deep lines between Steve’s eyebrows. Imperfect, incredibly sexy lines. “Damn it, Jarvis.”

“Sir?”

“Look. He can’t be here. I can’t have him here. In my,” Tony waved his hand, encompassing the workshop, himself, “space.”

“The presence of a strong, attractive man in one’s space is burdensome indeed, sir.”

Tony’s head connected with the desk. “You know what? I have work to do.” An exasperated exhale fogged the glass around his eyes. “And how do you even know he’s attractive? No. Never mind. That’s it. I’m done thinking about this.”

Six hours later, Tony drew the word liar on his thigh with an unsteady finger.

Chapter Text

Steve had just turned six when his asthma manifested in weeks of sleepless nights. He’d lay in bed rubbing tight circles, as firm as his small hand could manage, over his chest, attempting to ease the pressure building there. Attempting to suppress the anxiety that threatened to choke him each time he tried for and failed to take a deep breath.

He was never sure if he made a noise - a sob, or, more likely, a whimper - but his mother was always there before the first tear fell.

Steve recognized the shadows crouching in the pinch between her blue eyes; he knew how helpless she felt, because it lived in him too. But she tried any thing she could think of, so many things, until one night his bedroom became her ballroom. She picked him up; his weight slight, her hold was effortless. And she began to sway. Steve had clung to her neck, panting into the worn collar at her throat as she sang, her voice soft and sweet, just above his ear.

“I keep trying to, I’m just dying to
Get you out of my mind,
But that’s hard to do with somebody you love!
I’ve denied it, I’ve tried to hide it,
But every evening I find,
You’re the one that I keep thinking of.”

Eventually, Steve’s breathing would lose its biting edge. But as wrung out as he was, sleep would not come. It didn’t take long for his mother to catch on: once she put him down, tugged the frayed hem of his sheet up to his chin, Steve would lay there until the sun rose and gave him permission to do the same.

“I don’t mind, mama,” he told her. “I like to draw.”

“Draw?” She looked around his cramped room for evidence, knowing he’d used the last of the crayons she’d been able to buy weeks before.

“Up there,” he answered, lifting his arm, his index finger extended toward the ceiling. As she watched, he sketched a flock of birds in the air, and made their wings elaborate, textured things that spanned from wall to wall. “See?”

She surveyed the bare space, nodded. “I do, Stevie. It’s beautiful.”

“Thanks,” he said, his smile full of loose teeth and bright pleasure. But then he’d see the shadows creeping back into the home they’d made on her face, and he’d feel compelled to add, “Don’t worry, mama. I can do this.”

Steve still wasn’t sure what he had meant: live without sleep or, simply, live.

Despite his reassurances, night after night, his mother continued to dance once his lungs began to work in his favor. She waltzed with him down the brief corridor to the living space; she’d spin around, one breezy, elegant twirl, before sitting on their hand-me-down couch, Steve on her lap.

“Okay, Stevie?” she’d ask, her hand pacing his back.

And Steve would pull air in through his nose; a big, deep inhale that he’d let out in a hasty puff that made his mother’s cornsilk hair stir against his cheek.

“I think,” he’d say, his gaze intent on the buttons of her shirt, “I should stay out here with you. S’late. What if you need me?”

“I always need you, a Stóirín. But I do see what you mean.”

They’d rearrange themselves on the couch: Steve’s head on his mother’s lap, his thin body stretched out over the lumpy middle cushion. Her arm was a welcome weight on his shoulder, her hand curled lightly over his stomach, her fingers keeping time on his ribs as she hummed and crooned under her breath.

“I know you love to flit around

While I just sit around and wonder,

What’s become of you;

I know that I shouldn’t mope, shouldn’t hope you’re lonesome, too,

But I do, you know I do!
I keep saying and I keep praying

That I’ll forget you somehow;
But the more I try seems the more that I pine...”

She’d pull a crossword, days old by the time she got it, onto the arm of the couch; Steve would fall asleep to the sound of a pencil scratching at paper. If he woke, startled by a dream or sudden silence, his mother was there.

His mother was always there. Until she wasn’t.

That day, Steve stood staring down at the couch, lost.

He’d felt something similar after waking in an unfamiliar room, a familiar game playing out in the distant voice of a radio announcer. Peggy was gone, he had learned; he’d missed their date, had lost his chance. Until he was given a second one.

Steve felt it now, again, as he thought of Tony, just beyond his reach, buried in his workshop, in his designs and plans, in his desire to forget the best night of Steve’s life.

But this time, Steve could do something about it. If he could just figure out how.

“Steve?”

Natasha’s eyebrow was arched, her lips a bright red moue; the dot on the question mark. Steve paused in the pursuit of a pear-shaped drop of rainwater; let it slip away from his finger to focus on her reflection in the glass. Pushing back lingering thoughts of his mother, he found he couldn’t pull himself entirely from the past. Lifting the sketchbook from his knee, Steve answered, “Back...before, it seemed to rain every time I picked one up.”

Stepping further into the lamplit room, Natasha moved in front of one of Tony’s many impeccably cataloged shelves. She ran a blunt nail along a thick, leather-bound spine before pulling the book down. “Does Tony know you’ve been in here drawing his face for the last five hours?”

Steve couldn’t deny the possibility; he was aware of the cameras, tucked in corners and hiding in plain sight. If Tony knew, if he’d watched as Steve’s preoccupation got the better of him, revealing its source in familiar lines and angles, Steve was fine with it. Natasha accepted his shrug as the deflection it was.

She moved to Steve’s side, the book she’d chosen pressed against her chest, trapped by her crossed arms. She studied the sketch for several seconds. “You’re very good.” Canting her head, she asked, “That’s how you see him?”

Steve dropped his eyes to Tony’s on the page.

After the first time they had come together, Steve had pulled Tony close, refusing the distance he sensed growing in the other man. “Don’t,” Steve told him, burying his face in Tony’s neck. Steve kept count with his own heartbeat as Tony relaxed, inch by inch, his body settling into Steve’s like it was made to be his cradle. In the hush that followed, Tony looked up at Steve, his chin a slight pressure on Steve’s chest, his lashes a thick fan snapped open over warm eyes. Steve had barely been able to keep himself from tracing the crescent curve around Tony’s faintly smiling lips.

It had taken Steve a prolonged moment to realize what he was seeing: Tony at ease with himself, living comfortably in skin he too often wore for show, content in a way Steve had never before seen him.

If Steve hadn’t already been in love with the man, he would have fallen right then.

“It’s--”

“Did Fury give Stark some top-secret assignment I don’t know about?” Clint asked, entering the room with that silent tread that drove Tony insane.

“Clint, we’ve had this discussion,” Natasha said. “Top-secret mea--”

“Bullshit. How can I be a know-it-all if I don’t actually know it all?” he asked. “I could wing it, sure, but there’s no satisfaction--”

“No,” Natasha said.

“No, what?” Clint asked, looking to Steve.

“Fury didn’t give Tony an assignment,” she explained. “Top-secret or otherwise.”

“Why did you think he might have?” Steve asked, setting his pencil down on the table, the bright yellow shell standing out in sharp relief against the rich mahogany.

“Stark’s not one for paranoid privacy when it comes to his tech,” Clint said. “Arrogant bastard that he is, he probably thinks no one could make one of his designs work even if he wrote out a set of directions keyed to the Alphabet Song.”

“And he’d be right,” Steve interjected, his defense of Tony’s genius offered with absolute conviction.

“I know,” Clint agreed, pride and annoyance playing tug-of-war for control of his expression. “Like I said, bastard.”

“Clint,” Natasha said, drawing his attention. “You know I love points. Sharp points, generally, but I’ll accept an articulate point.”

“He taped blueprints, or - I don’t know what they were - up on the windows and door to the workshop. Why else would he do that?” Clint asked.

An echo of the pain Steve had felt in Tony’s workshop gripped him.

Clint perked up. “Do you think he’s working on my flamethrower? Bastard promised me I’d have it two days ago.”

Shoving the sketchbook under his arm, Steve stood. “Why don’t I go find out?”

“Light a fire under his ass, Steve,” Clint said, laughter spreading a web of fine lines around his eyes.

“When you’re the only one laughing, Clint, it isn’t as funny as you think,” Natasha said. She nodded at Steve as he hurried from the room.

Striding down the hall, Steve shook his head. “Not again.”

Clint hadn’t been exaggerating. Every inch of glass that held the perimeter of Tony’s workshop had been plastered with blueprints; Post-its with random bits of script, half-formed numbers, and scribbled words bridged the gaps.

Tapping his code on the keypad, Steve frowned at the door when it remained locked and stubbornly shut. It took a concentrated effort to curb the instinct that screamed at him to pull harder, to tug until the door tore from its frame, no longer an impediment keeping him from the man on the other side. He knocked instead, little more than a rap of knuckles, but it reverberated in the shallow stairwell. “Tony?”

Steve could hear music playing in the workshop, just shy of ear-splitting decibels, and knew Tony hadn’t heard him. Even if he had, Steve knew Tony may not have answered.

Folding down onto the bottom step, his legs slanted in an awkward sprawl, Steve tore the picture of Tony from his sketchbook. Patting his pocket, he closed his eyes when he felt the unmistakable barrel of a golf pencil. Pressing the fine tip to a bare corner, Steve sifted through the mess of words that wanted out. When he was reasonably certain of what to say, he began to write.

Tony,

You think you need to push me away; you don’t. You think you need to build a wall between us; words, paper, it doesn’t matter. I will take it apart. If it takes days, weeks, or years. It will come down.

And I will still be here. For you. With you.

I found the right partner once, Tony, and I lost her. I’ve found one again: a brilliant, infuriating man who recognized and responded to Steve, not Captain America.

I won’t let history repeat itself.

Steve

Reading it back, they were just sentences, inadequate and flat. But what Steve really wanted to say to Tony required the man himself.

He’d adapted to his new environment quickly, but Steve still felt a tug of foolishness when he called for Tony’s AI. “Jarvis?”

The cultured tenor Steve had come to know well responded immediately. “Mr. Rogers?”

“I’m going to leave a letter for Tony on the floor. Can you--”

“I’ll see he gets it.” An imperceptible pause. “Sir.”

“Thank you,” Steve said, and set the paper down on the ground in front of the door.

Chapter Text

“Your song choice is irrelevant as you and Mr. Rogers have not broken up. If you would--”

“Don’t interrupt, Jarvis. It’s rude.” Tony rapped his knuckles against his chest, counting beats; he picked the song back up at the chorus. “Make it easy on yourself. And...make...it easy on yourself.”

“I believe this is a new low,” Jarvis said over Tony’s crooning. “Bacharach, sir? What shall we move onto from here? Barry Manilow, perhaps?”

“You’re right, Jarvis. What was I thinking?” Tony stared into the middle distance. “Play ‘Weekend in New England’. That fits. Steve’s just a kid from Boston--Shit, no. Brooklyn.” Shaking his head, he muttered, “Boston?”

“Sir--”

“Play it anyway. And for the record,” he said, pushing to his feet, “I refuse to feel maudlin without being able to blame it on an unwise level of alcohol consumption.”

“Being inebriated might also excuse your musical selections for the evening,” his AI informed him. “If only the lyrics eluded you.”

“Yeah, well,” Tony said, rolling his shoulders to loosen the too-tight knots that bound the muscles in his back. “Blame Molly Hannigan. And Curran O’Connell. And Felicia McGill. And Roarke what’s-his-name. Or maybe that was his last name.”

“Considering your tendency to break it in every other aspect of your life,” Jarvis said, “your adherence to pattern in this is remarkable.”

“What? The Irish thing?” Tony grinned. “Díul mó bhad. I may not remember his name, but the Irish Roarke growled at me in bed stuck.”

“Suck my dick, sir?”

“If you had one, Jarvis, I would definitely consider it,” Tony said. “Especially if you threw in a please. Sir. I’d be a sure thing then.”

“Of course,” Jarvis replied, the vocal equivalent of an eye roll. “Your willingness to overcome your modest nature on my account is flattering.”

“Well, but here’s the thing: I’ve been told I have a talented tongue. For languages,” Tony said, wagging his finger. “Go ahead and get your hard drive out of the gutter, Jarvis.” His tut-tut was hushed by an artfully lecherous smile. “But while it’s there, you should know, foreign words aren’t the only thing I can wrap it around. Steve certainly wasn’t complaining last--”

No, Tony thought, Steve hadn’t complained last night. He had groaned, and snarled; he had begged, and, when he came, Tony’s name had been a cry wrenched from his chest.

After, Steve had urged Tony up his body; he took Tony’s mouth, licking his come from the creases in Tony’s lips. “I want more,” Steve had said. Tony hummed his approval. His consent; for anything, everything. “I want your cock. I want it inside of me, Tony. Now.”

Words Tony would have thought Mrs. Rogers’ son incapable of uttering leashed the breath in his chest. As often as Tony had thought of it - Steve pressing him into the bed, straddling his hips - he’d consigned the fantasy to a corner of his mind.

It was ridiculous: wanting Steve.

It was like wanting a TARDIS. (He’d tried; failed magnificently. Working on it.) Or wanting Charlotte to live. (If the TARDIS had been a success, he would have gone back and forced E.B. White to change the ending. For fuck’s sake, did the man get off on traumatizing children?)

It was like wanting Howard Stark to just once not view Tony as a creation, but as his son.

Tony knew better. He did.

Which is why looking at Steve above him had been Tony’s first mistake. Steve’s eyes had been lit by desire, need. And not just for sex. But for the man under the flash, stripped of style; the Rubik's Cube that was Tony Stark, left time and again in favor of things that didn't require as much effort. But there’d been something else there, in Steve’s eyes, and it took Tony an impossible minute to name it: devotion, buried so deep in all that blue it just might be true.

At the sight of it, Tony’s heart transmuted into an anxious bird, its wings thrashing against its cage. Maybe it wasn’t so ridiculous; not just wanting Steve, but having him. Hard on the heels of that realization came another: What if Tony asked for more than Steve was willing to or could give? What would Tony have then?

Memories that bit more viciously than all the rest.

“I can’t do it, Jarvis.”

“Is he like the rest then, sir?”

“Like the rest?” Tony asked, winding his thoughts back in. There was a reason he didn’t do emotions; they negated his genius. “I don’t--”

“When Ms. Potts broke off your relationship, you grieved,” Jarvis said. “But you adapted. You solidified your friendship and, if I may make such an observation, you were admirably determined to survive. You were even, at times, happy rather than resigned. If you were to let Mr. Rogers go, and if he were to move on--”

Tony choked. “No.” His voice was coarse; sandpaper to scour the very idea from his mind. “No.”

“Then I suggest you open the door.”

“I’m so very not good at letting people in, Jarvis, you know that. It never--”

“I was not speaking metaphorically, sir.”

“You weren’t? No. Of course not. Why would you? You couldn’t. I didn’t program you to be a millennial Tennyson.”

“One would think you’d fancy Yeats or Wilde over Tennyson,” Jarvis replied. “Either would suitably fit the configuration of your romantic pattern.”

“Don’t you know? It’s not nice to poke a man in crisis with a stick.” Tony looked at his door. At the blueprints he’d taped up on the glass; the Post-it notes that were peeling away, letting in scraps of warm light. He’d built a working prototype of his suit out of motley parts. In a cave. Under intense, life-or-death pressure. He could fucking open a door. “Wish me luck, Jarvis.”

“It would be superfluous to do so, sir.”

Tony clenched his fists. Forcing them open, he rubbed his palms against his legs; his pants absorbed the sweat Tony was loathed to admit was there.

Before he could think better of it, Tony crossed the workshop’s littered floor, and yanked the door open. The remaining Post-its fluttered to the ground.

The stairwell was quiet. And absent of one super soldier.

“Must I do everything?” Jarvis asked. Tony transposed a huff onto the question, and was about to sling a retort back at his AI when Jarvis continued. “Look down.”

Tony was momentarily startled to see a version of himself staring back.

Crouching down, Tony pulled the paper close; he recognized Steve’s skill, his capacity for feeling, in every shade and shadow that caressed Tony’s drawn face.

Unwilling to smudge a single line, Tony’s index finger hovered over the smile that curled his lips and brought to mind a satisfied, content cat. It was in Tony’s eyes, too, rimming his pupils like kohl: happiness. Tentative, perhaps, but there all the same.

“Maudlin. Sentimental.” Tony ignored The Walker Brothers harmonizing in the background: So run to him before you start crying too. Christ. “I’ve gone and turned stupid.”

But his eyes found Steve’s words, and wouldn’t release them; Tony read them once, then again. And again.

And one more time.

“Where is he?”

“Mr. Rogers is in his room, sir.”

“Then you’ll know where to find me,” he said, rising to his feet. “But Jarvis? Steve willing, I’d rather not be found. At least not until morning. And maybe not even then. I’ll...let you know.”

“In that case,” Jarvis said, his voice following Tony up the stairs, “It is my sincerest wish to not hear from you.”

Chapter Text

“Steve, I’m a jerk. A self-centered bastard--” Tony shook his head. Trailing his fingers along the wall the way children rake branches across picket fences, Tony continued down the hall. “No. Won’t work. Steve hates it when I say shit like that, even about myself. Which, okay, I don’t get, because he’s all about honesty. And--Why am I talking to myself?”

“I don’t know,” Clint said, “but I agree with your self-assessment.”

“Son of a--” Tony turned to see Barton grinning to beat the Cheshire Cat at his own game. Crossing his arms, Tony brought a hand up to stroke the trim, coarse strip of beard along his jaw. He tapped his index finger against the slope of a mirroring grin. “Is it wise, do you think, to sneak up on and then taunt the man who’s making you an incendiary weapon? Because I could always rig it to--”

“You wouldn’t.”

“That’s precious,” Tony said. “Really. That kind of sweet naiveté will get you everywhere on a certain kiddie channel. Well, until someone shows the execs the pictures from--”

“Alright. You’re a god among men, Stark. Is that what you want to hear?”

“It might get you a flamethrower in perfect working order,” Tony said.

“How long?” Clint asked. “And if I feed you another bullshit line will it knock a day off? A couple of hours?”

“That depends entirely on the caliber of the line. One of the many sciences I’m fluent in is false flattery. It takes a lot to impress me,” Tony told him. “But it’ll have to keep - the line and the flamethrower - because there’s this thing I’ve got to do--”

“You mean Steve?” Clint smirked. “What? You thought that cat was still in the bag? If you wanted to keep it a secret you should have fucked him some--”

“Another word, Barton,” Tony said, his voice a low whip of sound, lashing out, “and I will take great pleasure in ensuring your inability to lift a bow in the near future. And if I ever - are you listening to me? - if you ever say anything like that within Steve’s hearing, I will--”

Clint held up both hands. “I get it.” He considered the cold fury in Tony’s eyes. “You’re not messing with him, are you? It’s for real. For both of you.”

Tony’s throat worked, swallowing the denial, the lie, that was on the tip of his tongue. He nodded curtly.

“Look, Tony, I’m...sorry. I didn’t mean--”

“Yeah, well.” Tony took a deep breath. “I think I knew that. Know that. It’s just...new. This thing with Steve. It kind of bit me on the ass.” He was going to leave it at that, but-- “Figuratively and literally.”

“For fuck’s sake, man, I said I was sorry.”

“So you did,” Tony said. “But I was on my way to do some groveling of my own. I’d like to get to it before I’m too old for him.”

“Wouldn’t that imply that you aren’t already?”

“Two words: technical malfunction.”

“Hey, I was just kidding.” Clint slugged Tony’s biceps. “And you were right about Steve. The honesty bit. So just tell him the truth.”

“God. I hate the truth,” Tony said. “It’s so...true. Nothing good can come out of it. I’m telling you.”

“I don’t know about that,” Clint said. “It’s worked out for Steve. Until now. You. What the hell is he thinking?”

“Damned if I know,” Tony muttered. He swiped the pad of his finger across one closed eyelid, but he couldn’t dislodge doubt the way he did debris, and when he blinked his eyes open, Clint’s mildly annoyed-slash-understanding expression wavered like a mirage. “Are you...Do you care, Barton? Is that what I’m seeing?”

Clearing his throat, Clint’s lips firmed into a thin line. “You’re hard on yourself, Stark. Sometimes I get it. This isn’t one of those times. And besides, whether or not you think you’re right for him, or good for him, or whatever the hell it is you’ve got going on in there, Steve obviously thinks the opposite. Doubt yourself all you want, I guess, but who the fuck are you to doubt him?”

“Have you been taking pep talk lessons from Fury? Because I caught a distinct whiff of motherfucker under that stirring little speech.” Before Clint could toss the match that lit in his eyes on the bridge between them, Tony said, “No. That was...Thank you, Clint. Hey. I mean it. You have to cut me some slack here. You’re not usually so--”

“Wise? Perceptive? I keep telling Natasha they should give me my own show. Maybe on Opr--”

“Sure. I was going to say-- But, no, we’ll go with that. And on that wise, perceptive note, I’m going to go push my luck with a certain blond Adonis.”

“Thor? He’s out with Jane tonight,” Clint said, a variation on his earlier grin sliding into place. “I’ll see your fatalistic attitude, and raise you, even though you’re not going to need it, good luck. Go get your guy, Stark.”

As Clint vanished into a room at the end of the hall, Tony said, “Go get your-- I’ve become the plucky heroine in a romantic comedy, haven’t I?”

Sticking his head around the doorjamb, Clint yelled, “Yes,” and shut the door.

“Will you stop with the coming out of nowhere? And quit yelling. Man with a heart condition here.” Tony waited. “Alright then. Time to get my man. Did I just--Oh. Oh wow. Okay. No more stalling. I’m just going to walk up to his door. Right now.” Turning in the opposite direction, he thought, “Maybe I should bring him something. I could go to the kitchen, grab some ice cream--No. This is ridiculous.”

Pivoting on his heel, Tony strode down the hallway; he didn’t stop until he was standing, pulse pounding, in front of Steve’s door. He knocked once, twice. “Steve?”

A second passed. “C’mon.” Another. “I opened the door, Steve. It’s your turn.” Another. “Please, just--Answer.” And another.

Tony sighed. He was pulling back, fitting the mask in place, when the door opened.

~~*~**~**~*~~

Steve’s heart stumbled. “Tony.”

“If we’re going to do this,” Tony said, “I don’t want you opening any more doors sans shirt. And if that can’t be avoided, at least pull up your pants. Wear a belt. That hipbone is mine.”

“We’re going to do this?” Steve gripped the doorknob. “Tony?”

“We should probably,” Tony paused, shuddered, “talk. But, yeah. We are. Unless you--”

Curling his finger around Tony’s belt loop, Steve pulled him over the threshold. Pinning him against his body, Steve tipped Tony’s chin up. “I’m not changing my mind.”

“You’re not?” Tony asked, licking his lips. “That’s good. That’s great. Because I--Can we close the door? Clint’s been popping out of cracks in the wall, and you, ah, feel really good, you know, pressed against me. I won’t be held responsible if our marksman turns up out of commission because he was--”

Steve shut the door. The latch bolt scraping against the strike plate muffled the rest of Tony’s rambling sentence. “Better?”

“Not by half,” Tony answered. “You haven’t kissed me in twenty-one hours and thirty-two minutes.”

“That long?” Steve asked, tracing the subtle cleft in Tony’s upper lip with his thumb. “But you said we should talk?”

“Overrated.”

Steve’s gaze slid down to Tony’s mouth, parted around his thumb; his eyelashes shuttered, closing as Tony applied gentle pressure with his teeth. “I think...” Steve took a stuttering breath. Opened his eyes. “I think you’re right, though. We should talk. Before we...before we get to other things.”

“Other things? Please tell me that means what I think it means,” Tony said.

Steve lowered his head. “It means,” he said, his lips brushing Tony’s, “that we are going to make love on every surface in this room.”

Tony groaned. The sound passed like a current from Tony’s tongue to his; a shock of emotion that made his fingers dig in, tangle in Tony’s hair. “Talk.” Steve nipped Tony’s bottom lip. “First.” He licked along the seam; quick, wet strokes. “Come.” Steve pressed his mouth to Tony’s before pulling back to meet his eyes. “Later.”

“We could reverse those,” Tony said, panting; staccato bursts of air, hot as a brand on Steve’s skin. “Orgasms then pillow talk. You’ll like pillow talk.”

“I’m sure I will, but--”

“You really know how to wear a man down, Rogers,” Tony said, pacing away from Steve. “I’ll talk, but you—Don’t interrupt. Got that?”

The words climbing up his throat, trying to scrape past his heart, weren’t easily denied, but Steve bit them back and nodded his agreement.

“You’re making a mistake, Steve.”

Steve swallowed. “Ton—“

“You’re interrupting. I need to get this out. Because there’s this loop running in my head: Mistake. Regret. Gone.” Tony picked up the pencil Steve had tossed on his bed; he shuffled the narrow barrel through his fingers like Steve had seen him do a hundred times with a washer or bolt. “I can’t…I don’t know how to shut it down. It’s driving me—“ He shrugged off the rest of his sentence. “Anyway. The thing about mistakes: I’ve made ‘em. A dozen people within a half mile radius would be willing to reel off a comprehensive list. Would probably pay for the pleasure. But look where those mistakes got me, Steve: right here, with you. If we’re talking about outcomes that one is…I can’t think of a better one actually.”

Steve moved on instinct. The bed was in his way, keeping him from getting his hands on Tony. When Tony took a step back, Steve stopped, frowned.

“Not done yet, and if you touch me—Just, I don’t know, give me another minute.”

“I can give you more than that,” Steve told him.

Tony looked up from Steve’s sketchbook on the nightstand. “See, when you say things like that, I want to believe you. History tells me that would be one of my lousier ideas.” Tony jerked his chin up. “Fuck that. I started to rewrite my history in a cave using scrap parts as ink. I did that. I can do this. It won’t be easy, because I’m not easy—“

“Tony, what makes you think I am?”

Tony blinked. “Well, because you’re—“

“Stubborn,” Steve said, edging closer.

“I was going to say steady. And—“

“Possessive.”

“Perfection. And—“

“What I am,” Steve said, pushing Tony down on the bed, “is crazy about you.”

Steve knelt between Tony’s legs; he ran his palm up Tony’s inseam, pulling at Tony’s belt buckle when it hindered his progress, stripping the leather out of the loops. “Is it my turn?”

“What?” Tony looked up at him. “Now?”

“Yes.” Steve tugged the button on Tony’s pants loose.“I need you to listen.”

“Fuck, Steve, this is...this is the wrong way to achieve that.”

“This might be the one time you’ll hear me, Tony.” Steve drew the zipper down. “Because you won’t be thinking.”

“That is...sneaky. I like it.”

Sliding his thumb under Tony’s tank, Steve twisted the material around his hand, pushing it up Tony’s ribcage. He dropped his head, laved his tongue around Tony’s navel, and dragged his lips up to set his teeth on a peaked nipple.

“St-start talking, Rogers.”

“What I feel for you,” Steve said, trailing his fingers down Tony’s stomach, “didn’t blindside me. My eyes have been open the entire time. And I’ll tell you what I saw.” Steve teased the length of Tony’s erection with his fingertip. “A man I’d fight for.” Nudging Tony’s boxers down, Steve circled Tony’s cock, tightening his grip until Tony’s hips bucked up into his touch. “The person I’ve been waiting my whole life for.” Steve smoothed his thumb over the flushed head, tracing the slit, and felt his pulse quicken when Tony fisted a hand in his hair. “It’s not going to be easy. For either one of us. We’ll find a way, we will, because I...”

Steve let his head fall to Tony’s shoulder, nuzzling into his throat, distracting them both, he hoped, by mapping the trail of Tony’s collarbones with teeth and tongue.

“Steve?”

Taking Tony’s mouth with his, Steve let the agitation that rose in the wake of what he’d almost confessed set the pace, working Tony with quick, firm strokes that made the man hiss and hum.

“You didn’t--” Tony took Steve’s lower lip between his teeth. He shuddered as Tony pulled on the sensitive skin; deep drags that made him sigh against Tony’s mouth. “Finish that sentence.”

“No,” Steve said. “I didn’t...I don’t want to scare you.”

“I can’t believe I’m going to do this,” Tony said. He took Steve’s hand, still wrapped around his cock, and eased it away, moving it up to rest on the arc reactor. Tony drew on the back of Steve’s hand, random numerical patterns, a soft and sweeping motion he didn’t seem to be aware of. “Steve, you terrify me.”

Steve’s head came up, his study of the light coming from the reactor and the way it soaked into his skin forgotten. “What?”

“You got under my skin. You. Pep. Rhodey. Anyone who manages that - because, let’s face it, my skin’s thicker than most, and who’d be willing to break out the jackhammer on my account - but those who do? Scare the shit out of me. There’s always the possibility they’ll want out, you know?”

“I don’t want out.”

“Well, not now,” Tony said, laying his hand down on top of Steve’s, unconsciously lacing their fingers together. “But eventually.”

“I said what I feel for you didn’t sneak up on me, Tony. But it did get stronger every day,” Steve said. “All those hours I spent in your workshop, I...wanted to make sure. For both our sakes. And then one day I just knew.”

“What? Knew what?” Tony asked. “Speak in complete sentences, please.”

“You’re it for me.”

~~*~**~**~*~~

When Steve looked at someone like he was looking at Tony, there was no reason to second-guess what he said, or look for a hidden motive; not when Steve’s expression was a neon sign flashing ‘sincere’ in big, bold letters. Tony responded to it the only way he knew how. “I’m it? Are we playing tag?”

“We can. Once these clothes come off,” Steve said. “But we’re having a grown-up discussion right now. I know you know how to have those, because you were doing so well earlier, and--”

“Now you’re just patronizing me,” Tony said. He couldn’t help it: he grinned. Despite every uncertainty that made itself known, clawing into position at the front of his mind, and every instinct that nagged at him that he was setting himself up, trying to make a go of it with Steve. “You said something about being naked? Because I clearly heard you mention a burning need to take my clothes off, and yours, and I think you should get on that.”

“Tony--”

“Also, I want you to finish your sentence. The other one. The first one. You know which one I’m talking about,” Tony said. “But I want you buried inside of me when you say it.”

Heat flared in Steve’s eyes, turning his irises into a darkening sky, the light from Tony’s reactor as bright as the North Star, caught just off-center in reflection. Tightening his fingers around Tony’s, Steve slid their joined hands down Tony’s body. “I can do that, but, Tony, you’re...Are you ready for this?”

“I’m sorry,” Tony said. “Can you be a little more specific?” Tipping his head back, his spine arching off the bed, Tony breathed around the spike of pleasure that charged his nerve endings as Steve guided their hands to Tony’s erection. “You mean ready to have your superior cock thrusting in and out of my ass? Yes. Or, well, you’ll get me there. With your fingers, and, maybe, if I’m lucky? Your tongue.”

Steve’s hand jerked, breaking the easy rhythm he’d set for them.

“Not what you meant then. Alright. Let me try again?” Gently disengaging his fingers from Steve’s, Tony made short work of the button and zipper on Steve’s pants. “Honestly? I won’t know until I hear it. But - and if we establish a brownie point system in the future I should get an infinite number of retroactive points for this - I actually want to, Steve. I want those words from you.”

Steve searched Tony’s eyes; the moment extended, a long, hushed breath building in Tony’s chest, everything in him aching for the one thing, the one person, Tony wanted more than his pride should allow. And Steve saw it. Saw everything Tony couldn’t articulate: the wanting, the need, the adoration. And Steve reacted to it, shoving at Tony’s pants, tearing a seam in his haste. Tony kicked them off the bed, sinking his hands under the snug material at Steve’s lower back, reciprocating his lover’s urgency, digging his fingers into the smooth, supple curve of Steve’s ass.

“Off,” Tony demanded. “Take them off.”

Steve writhed against Tony; long undulations that worked his pants down, and pushed the hard length of his cock into Tony’s thigh. Steve groaned. “Tony, I can’t...I want you too much.”

“Next time,” Tony said. “Fingers...Just get your fingers in--Open me up, Steve. I want to feel you.”

Shifting to the side, Steve yanked a drawer open, tearing through the contents until he withdrew with a small, nearly empty bottle clenched tightly in his fist. As he watched Steve’s hands shake, the lube dripping between his fingers, splashing down on Tony’s leg, a shock of cold on his feverish skin, Tony couldn’t still the traitorous tremor that rocked him. He shook his head. “There’s no guarding against you.”

“No,” Steve said, his finger poised at Tony’s hole, the barely there pressure forcing a deep, keening whine up Tony’s throat. “I won’t let you.”

“Wo-won’t...fuck, yes, Steve.” Tony breathed out as Steve pushed in, not stopping until his knuckles were flush against Tony’s ass. Dipping his head down, Steve caught Tony’s mouth, his tongue moving restlessly against Tony’s, his finger still, letting Tony settle around the feel of him there. “Not enough. Never enough of you.”

“Never,” Steve growled back.

“When did you...” Tony gasped as a second finger joined the first. “You said stubborn and possessive. You didn’t...didn’t mention aggressive.”

“Didn’t I?” Steve’s voice was rough, thick. He curled his fingers; Tony’s back bowed as Steve’s nails scraped against a tight cluster of nerves. Like flint struck against steel, pleasure sparked and caught in Tony’s body, the burn of Steve’s intrusion replaced by the heat of a more insistent fire. “Tony...so beautiful. I need...”

“What?” Tony raked callused fingers down Steve’s back. “Tell me.”

Steve moved between Tony’s legs. “You. Always you.” Catching the back of Tony’s knee up in the bend of his elbow, Steve took himself in hand. “This.” Steve teased Tony with shallow thrusts against his hole. When Tony was convinced Steve was trying to break him, was willing to plead with him, Steve pushed forward until the head of his cock breached Tony’s body. “Fuck, Tony, I...”

“Don’t stop,” Tony said, uncertain of what he wanted more: the words, all of them this time, or Steve pounding into him. Both, he decided, and opened his mouth to say so when Steve sheathed himself completely in Tony’s tight heat. And Tony’s focus narrowed until the only thought he could hold onto was: “Steve.”

Tony felt every inch of Steve’s cock, sliding back, easing out of him. The feeling intensified when Steve pushed back in, slowly, so slowly; he watched Tony’s face for any sign of discomfort. “It feels,” Tony started to tell him, but had to stop when Steve began to move faster, his breath hitching around the pleasure Steve was giving him. “What am I...Without this, Steve. What am I going to do without--”

“You won’t.” Steve snapped his hips forward. “I’m yours.”

“But--” Steve silenced him with a brutal kiss, his grip on Tony’s shoulder bruising, holding Tony steady as Steve rocked into him harder. Tony was splintering apart; jagged pieces that had been cutting him up for too long breaking off, losing their edge as Steve laid his claim. “Same here,” Tony managed to say, surprising himself with the vehemence that deepened his voice. “Yours.”

“Oh, God,” Steve said, pressing his forehead to Tony’s. “I wasn’t sure--”

Cupping Steve’s ass, Tony urged him to move faster, harder, knowing he was getting close, that Steve wouldn’t be far behind him. “Now,” Tony said. “Now would be a good time, Steve.”

Coming up on his elbow, Steve slowed their pace, his strokes long and deep. His skin was flushed, his pupils blown wide, and his lips swollen. Tony couldn’t look away from him; couldn’t escape, even if he wanted to, and Tony was no longer sure that he would ever contemplate running again. “Going to...Please, Steve...”

Tony felt it crest, in both of them, was about to close his eyes when Steve spoke.

“I love you, Tony.”

Tony’s orgasm broke over him, through him, and he gripped Steve’s arms, the trembling muscles beneath his palms spiking his pleasure higher. He heard his name as Steve’s release filled him.

When Steve would have moved off of him, Tony held on. “Steve?”

Steve laid a gentle kiss on Tony’s lips. “Yes?”

“Ready,” Tony said. He pushed Steve’s hair back from his forehead. “I’m ready.”