Steve wakes up to a quiet rapping on the door. Before he can do much more than lift his head and blink blearily, the light on the lock flashes green and the door cracks open. Natasha pokes her head, her eyes zeroing in on the bed immediately. The beginnings of a frown drag at the corners of her mouth, and Steve follows her glance down to the bed to see that Tony is still tightly wrapped up in his arms. Tony's ear is pressed against his chest, his tear-streaked cheeks and puffy eyes visible to them both.
"We're fine," Steve mouths at her. "Give us fifteen minutes."
Still frowning, she nods and takes a step backwards. The door glides smoothly shut, without even a click. Steve turns his attention back to Tony, freeing one hand to brush at the streaks on Tony's face. Tony murmurs unintelligibly at the touch, nuzzling into it like a kitten before subsiding back against Steve's chest. He wiggles around a little, adjusting his position, then thrusts his ear right up against Steve's heart and goes boneless. The smile that overcomes Steve's face at that moment is so huge his cheeks hurt, but at the same time his eyes go a little misty.
Lying there last night, listening to Tony choke out a story in that awful, broken voice, was one of the hardest thing he's ever done. He wanted so badly to do something more than just hug Tony and let him talk. And the memory of what Tony was actually saying - Steve shudders in rage, his fingers trembling with the urge to hit something. If he were at the tower, he’d go destroy a couple of the reinforced punching bags that Tony created specially for him.
He'll do it, though. He’ll listen for as long as and as often as Tony needs, but it'll never get easier. Stane is dead, but the memory of what he did lives on in the worst way. And no matter how much that Steve wishes the bastard wasn't dead so that Steve could be the one to kill him, all he can do is support Tony in the best way he knows how. It feels painfully inadequate, like he should be doing more, but Steve knows as well as anyone that you can't fight the nightmares in someone else's head.
Hell, some days he can barely fight the ones in his own head.
He tips his head down, brushing a kiss across Tony's cheek. "Hey, sweetheart," he whispers, trying his best not to startle Tony too badly. He's surprised they both slept the night through; if Tony had nightmares, he didn't move around enough to wake Steve. He hopes, perhaps a little naively, that Tony slept well and deep.
Tony stirs reluctantly, brown eyes fluttering open. There's no confusion in his gaze. He locks straight onto Steve and gives a sleepy, gorgeous smile. "Hey," he rasps back, wincing a little. "Time's it?"
"Just after nine," Steve says after a glance at the alarm clock. "Natasha just poked her head in. I think she's ready to go check on Clint. Are you ready to get up? Or did you want to sleep some more?"
After considering the question for all of two seconds, Tony shakes his head and runs a hand through his hair, leaving it sticking straight up. "Nah. If the doctors will let us take Katniss home, let's do it."
"You're so amazingly selfless sometimes," Steve says without thinking.
Tony's cheeks flush. "You're my dom, I think you're biased." As soon as the words are out, and he registers what he said, his eyes go wide and he stiffens all over.
That's - wow. Steve stares down at him, shocked and delighted in equal measures. He's wondered what this - what he – what they means to Tony, but he's never dared ask. He doesn't want to push Tony into something he's not ready for. At the same time, it's hard not to think of this beautiful sub as his. He lifts a hand, ignoring the way Tony flinches just a little, and cups Tony's cheek.
They look at each other for a moment.
"I would love to be your dom, Tony," Steve says, meaning it. He’s already asked Tony to be his boyfriend, but being dom and sub – that’s something different entirely and they both know it.
"Really?" Tony looks a little confused, a little doubtful, and a lot skeptical. "You heard what I said last night. I'm - I'm used goods, Steve, you shouldn't -"
"Don't," Steve says, half-begging, heart aching. He can’t believe those words just came out of Tony’s mouth. "Tony, that's not true. I meant everything I said last night. You are wonderful and amazing and beautiful and I love you." There, he's said it.
Tony's eyes go impossibly wide. "You... what?" he squeak.
"I love you," Steve repeats, a little more firmly. "You don't have to say it back. It's fine. I just wanted you to know that. We don't have to make a contract right now, and nothing has to change. I won't demand sex from you; I’m happy just spending time with you.” His thumb rubs at the grime on Tony’s cheek. “But if you want me to be your dom, honey, nothing would make me happier."
“Steve…” Tony’s expression twists to something conflicted; it’s a face Steve is familiar with, and he knows that it means Tony is wrestling with himself. So he waits, content to let Tony work things out.
Even if Tony decides to end this, he won’t regret telling Tony the truth. The words have been burning inside of him since the first day that JARVIS called them all down to the workshop because Tony was dropping. He’s just held them back out of respect for Tony, not wanting to rush things or pressure Tony. But at the same time, he thinks Tony needs to know it – needs to know that he can be, and is, loved, regardless of what happened in the past.
At least, Tony lets out a quivery breath. “I’m not good, Steve. For you or for anyone. I couldn’t even hold it together with Pepper.”
“It takes two to make or break a relationship,” Steve reminds him.
“Come on,” Tony says, rolling his eyes and propping himself up on his elbows. It brings them a little closer together. “You know that was mostly my fault. I’m the one who locks myself in the workshop for days on end, drinks too much, and can’t stay out of the suit to save my life. She told me when we got together that all she needed was for me to not be Iron Man, and I couldn’t even do that –”
“That wasn’t fair of her to ask and you know that. Iron Man is a part of you; you are Iron Man. That’s like asking you not to invent anymore.”
Tony drops his gaze, staring at Steve’s shoulder. “I would’ve changed for her, if I could’ve,” he whispered miserably. “It just… wasn’t enough.”
“You’re enough,” Steve says. It hurts to know just how beaten down Tony is. The world has trampled all over him, to the point where a lesser man would’ve broken entirely. Yet Tony keeps trying, keeps trusting, keeps loving. “You’ve always been enough. I’ll accept your choice if you don’t want to be with me, but I’m not Pepper. I’m not asking you to change. I want you the way you are.”
He presses another kiss to Tony’s cheek, savoring the soft flesh under his lips. “I want to be there for you, if you’ll let me. And I…” Christ, he’s not sure how Tony got those words out last night. “I want you to be there for me,” he confesses in a rush of shame. He can’t bring himself to admit that sometimes he needs to put Tony down even more than Tony needs it. He slides his forehead down until it’s resting in the curve of Tony’s neck.
“I know I shouldn’t say that, because it puts pressure on you,” Steve mutters. “You have enough to deal with without worrying about me. But –”
“Hey.” Tony’s hands curl into his hair and tug just sharply enough that Steve lets his head be dragged up. Tony scowls at him. “You listened to me last night, which is more than I could ask of anyone else. You’re always there for me. I want to be there for you. This is a two-way street, you said it yourself.”
“Yeah.” Steve smiles a little, because he did say that. “So…”
“Yeah.” Tony bites his lip for a few seconds, then exhales and smiles. “Yeah, okay. You know, if you want –”
“No.” Steve cuts him off, not wanting to hear what Tony is about to offer. It’ll doubtlessly be something that will piss him off and ruin the mood. “I don’t need anything else from you but what you’re willing to give.” It’s the truth. Knowing that he can call Tony his sub now makes him feel light enough to fly.
Tony sighs and rolls his eyes again. “If you did –”
“I would tell you, but that goes both ways. If you ever need something I’m not providing, and I don’t just mean during a scene, you have to tell me,” says Steve.
“Fine.” Tony puts a hand to his chest, where the dog tags are laying in the hollow of his neck. They look good on him. So good.
“I know a collar usually comes after a contract,” Steve says. He’s not sure either one of them is ready for that. And how can they write and sign a contract when Tony doesn’t need know what he likes or doesn’t like? He’ll have to talk to Natasha and Phil and see what they suggest. In the meantime…
“And maybe someday, we’ll get there. But… you could… if you want, in the meantime. I like how they look on you.”
“Oh thank god,” Tony says, mouth tipping from smile into mischievous smirk. “I was afraid you were going to ask for them back. Because you should know you’re never getting them back. They’re mine now.”
“Are they?” Steve says wryly, unable to contain his amusement. “You can keep them, but it’ll cost you a kiss.”
“I think I can swing that.” Tony’s other hand slides from Steve’s hair down to cup the back of his head, and he tugs Steve down for a gentle kiss. Steve tries not to put too much weight directly on top of him, bearing in mind that he weighs a lot and Tony is smaller than him, but Tony seems to like it.
“My pretty sub,” Steve murmurs between kisses, and Tony shivers in response.
They barely hear the door click open behind them, but Bucky’s disgusted groan is hard to miss. “Jesus, I thought you said there was something wrong. This is the cruelest punishment you’ve ever come up with. Tell me what I did wrong so I can never do it again, Красавица.”
Natasha’s eye roll is practically audible. “You’re not being punished. You two, however, might be if you don’t stop that and get moving,” she directs towards the bed. “Visiting hours start in half an hour.”
“We’re coming,” Tony calls out from under Steve.
"I'll kill you if you do," Bucky threatens. When Steve glances over his shoulder, Bucky has a hand clapped over his eyes. Natasha, on the other hand, is watching them avidly. When she sees the smile on Tony's face, she relaxes a little and even gives Bucky's shoulder a playful nudge.
"You're always telling me that you saw everything in the war," she says.
"Somehow I managed to avoid that," Bucky growls back.
"Relax, Buck. He didn't mean it like that." Steve ducks down for one last kiss and then reluctantly clambers off of Tony. He's just in his boxers, but it's not like Natasha and Bucky haven't seen him this way before - or worse. Living in close quarters is one thing - as an Avenger, they've suffered through the decontamination showers more than once.
He holds a hand out to Tony, who takes it and allows Steve to pull him effortlessly off the bed and onto his feet. "Give us ten minutes," Tony says to Bucky and Natasha. "We'll be ready."