Tonight was the night.
Tonight, Steve would tell Tony that he loved him. That he was in love with him.
Tonight, he would tell his love that he would accept anything Tony was willing to give him and that he would stay his friend and family if that was what Tony wanted.
There was a slight chance, Steve might run before tonight happened.
Exhaling harshly, Steve squared his shoulders. No. Tonight, he would tell Tony how he felt and then… then Tony would be able to decide what he wanted. He would know what his glances and (innocent!) touches meant. No, that was wrong. It didn’t mean he wanted something more from Tony, if he didn’t want that.
Oh god, what if Tony thought he wanted him just for that and that their cuddling (because there had been cuddling and Steve was over the moon every time it happened) had been sexual for Steve? What if he thought Steve had taken advantage of him?
Had he taken advantage of the genius?
Oh god, he had, hadn’t he? What if-
A small hand connected hard with his cheek and Steve, without thinking about it, grabbed the slim wrist of his attacker to stare down in Natasha’s calm green eyes.
Steve let go of her wrist as if it had burned him. Nat could do so much worse to him if she wanted to.
Taking a step back, Steve put his hand to his cheek. He didn’t ask why she had hit him. He knew.
Nat just looked up at him, unimpressed, not trying to hide her exasperation that could also be a heavy annoyance. She didn’t say a word, but she didn’t need to. They had talked about it.
More exactly, they had talked about it three days ago, when it felt like they were finally relaxing again. After Tony almost dying because a building fell on them, all of them being kidnapped to a fictional island and believing Tony was dead the first time and Tony being kidnapped again a week later and them thinking he was dead for sure that time, while Hydra reared its ugly heads, the last couple of months had been rough.
Six weeks ago, he had come face to face with the Winter Soldier. The one he had thought had killed Tony. But he hadn’t. While being kidnapped Tony had managed to uncover a decades old conspiracy and turned their Asset against them.
A few days later he had learned that the Winter Soldier had once been his Bucky but wasn’t anymore. After that it had taken them all almost a month to finally calm down again. There had been setbacks from time to time, the last one happening two weeks ago in which Winter, as Bucky called himself now, had stopped speaking completely and had not left Tony alone for even a minute. He had even stayed with Steve and Tony in his bedroom. He hadn’t touched Tony, even moving back from Tony’s touches, which he hadn’t done before, looking more haunted than Steve could stomach.
Tony hadn’t said a word about it, but the guilt had been heavy in his eyes.
Steve still didn’t know what had happened. Neither why Winter had the setback nor why, suddenly, he seemed to be better again, taking up where he had left off, starting to talk again, or step closer to Tony and relax.
He didn’t think Tony knew either, but as he relaxed as well, Steve was okay not knowing, as long as Tony was happy.
That was the exact reason he had started to think about telling him again. And then Nat had taken him aside, smiling up with that special smile she used for the worst of the villains or whenever she thought one of her teammates was exceptionally stupid.
For a heartbeat Steve had known she thought him to be a villain. She had told him to be careful with Tony months ago. What if she thought he had done something to Tony?
Luckily, that hadn’t been it. She had just thought him to be idiotically dumb, encouraging him to try.
Steve trusted her. Of course, he trusted her. With his life, the life of the world and his family. Of course, he did.
Still, he was terrified. Because what if? What if Tony rejected him and their friendship would suffer? What if he didn’t reject him and Steve hurt him? What if he would become an even more desirable target if they got together? Would the villains try to hurt Tony to get to Steve?
What if Tony hated him for it?
“Do I need to slap you again?”
Steve looked back into Natasha’s eyes, calm and almost amused if there hadn’t been the growing frustration.
“No, I’m good.”
“You’re going to tell him.”
“Tonight.” She repeated, a threatening edge to her words.
“Tonight.” Steve confirmed. He might be stubborn and stupid, but he was neither too stubborn nor stupid to go against Nat when she had that glint in her eyes.
“Good.” Nat’s smile softend. “Our kotenok might take some time to react to it, but he will, Steve.”
Nodding, Steve didn’t think about what that could entail. There was just too much that could happen. Sometimes he hated how is mind would immediately start to formulate plans, pick every possibility apart and show every possible and probable way for him to fuck this up.
He should be more confident. Tony liked him. Maybe not like Steve liked Tony, but he liked him. They were sleeping in the same bed for god’s sake. They cuddled . And sometimes he thought that Tony was smiling at him, or looking at him and… even if Steve and Natasha misinterpreted it, Tony wouldn’t be cruel about it. Never.
But this was Tony. So even if he liked Steve that way, he was certain the genius would find a way in his brilliant mind to either devalue it all, so that Tony would think he wasn’t good enough for Steve or make it out like Steve didn’t really want it. Both were ridiculous. If anything Tony was way too good for Steve and he has been gone over the genius basically since they met.
If Tony didn’t like Steve that way, there were a lot of possibilities how he could react. The most likely was a kind but definite decline, letting Steve down easily, which would probably mean they wouldn’t cuddle anymore. Which would be horrible.
Another possibility was that Tony would think he should like Steve back. Or would force himself to do it, because he didn’t want to hurt Steve. Or tear the Avengers apart. No, Tony had to have more self-worth. Right? He had to!
The worst would be if Tony thought Steve did everything he did, especially the physical expression of love and comfort, only because he wanted to sleep with the genius. Which was not true! It wasn’t! Had his body reacted to Tony’s presence? Yes, it had and some of that could be blamed on the serum, but… oh god, what if-
Nat slapped him again.
She was right. Steve had to tell Tony. It was only right. Tony had to know. Steve had to tell him.
The butterflies in his stomach made a somersault at the mere idea that Tony could actually like him back. He would be able to hug Tony more . He would be allowed to kiss Tony. Most likely. He would ask, of course, but… he would probably be able to kiss Tony! To hold him! To tell him that he loved him!
“Better.” Nat commented, almost a smirk on her lips. “Now get dressed, we have to be there in an hour, and you know who Pepper is going to blame if we are late.”
Yes, he knew and they had to do anything to keep Tony calm and happy. Not because of the press conference, if anyone didn’t give a shit about those it was Tony. Sure, he hated them and hated to put up his masks, but they didn’t scare him.
Not that they scared Steve. Or Nat, Clint or Thor. They might scare Bruce a little, but differently. The fact remained that none of them were as used to giving interviews as Tony. None of them were as relaxed doing so.
One of the things that might make Tony nervous was the fact that Winter would come along. Not that anyone was surprised. Tony had tried to fight it, nevertheless.
No one had been surprised when Winter, exceedingly unimpressed, had just turned from Tony to the rest of them, raising an eyebrow as if to ask do you believe this guy ?
The following fight had been short, half-hearted and ended when Nat ignored all of them and told Winter that Pepper had sent a suit for him and that he could wait in the backroom.
“I hate wearing these monkey suits.”
“We know and we don’t care, Birdbrain.”
“You hate them too!”
“Doesn’t matter, they love me.”
Steve stepped around the corner and had to bite back a whine. Because Tony was right. Not that Clint didn’t look good in a suit. He did, even if you could see how uncomfortable he was in it. At least if you knew him.
But Tony? The black suit hugged his curves tightly, showing his well built body off with class. The red satin shirt was a splash of colour, beautifully accented by both the sunglasses with the red tinted glasses and the thin black tie.
As luck would have it, Clint saw Steve staring at Tony, an evil smile creeping on his lips. Before he could say whatever it was he had planned to say to embarrass Steve, Winter stepped towards them and Clint’s focus, thankfully, shifted.
“Why is it that even the defrosted Assassin over there looks good in a suit and I look like a show poodle?”
“Show poodle.” Winter answered, nodding condescendingly.
“That’s right, Buttercup, if everyone else looks good in a suit it might be that, as always, Clint is the problem.”
“I’m damn hot, you assholes! Something is wrong with my suit!”
“I do not think so my friend.” Thor, wearing a white shirt and suit pants, stepped closer, looking at Clint critically. “I think your natural beauty shines much more in other clothing.”
“AHA!” Clint gestures dramatically at Tony and Winter.
“Calm down, Clint, he is saying that you can’t pull off anything that is more than the Walmart T-shirts you wear so offensively.”
“This was not my intend, I-”
“All your band-shirts-”
“If you say anything against my awesome shirts, Birdbrain, I will-”
“Home sweet home.”
Steve almost startled looking to his right side where Natasha had just materialized, wearing a beautifully cut suit herself, accenting her more female attributes to perfection. It didn’t really do anything for Steve, but he could appreciate beauty when he saw it.
Smiling, Steve looked back at his fighting family. The happiness was almost visible between them. It was audible in their voices and he could feel the last of his panic calm.
“Bruceybear, back me up on this!”
Bruce, who had just stepped out of the elevator, glanced over all of them, some of his tension lessening, even though he still looked like they would drag him to his own execution.
“What am I backing you up on?”
“See! Bruce is on my side!”
“That’s bullshit and you know it!”
Ignoring the Tony-Clint-Show for the moment, Steve followed Thor’s eyes to Bruce. The scientist wore a black suit, as all of them, with a dark blue shirt.
Biting back a smile he met Natasha’s eyes. The Black Widow obviously trying to hold back a sigh.
“Sir, if I might remind you of the very inventive and descriptive threat that Miss Potts made against you, if you’re going to be late.”
“Shit.” Tony flinched, already backing towards the limousine, waving demandingly to his teammates. “Come on, chop chop. Pepper is going to- never mind. She is not going to do it if we’re on time.”
The fact that Winter didn’t growl at that showed how far he had already come in the last weeks. The fact that every Avenger, even Nat, got into the car at a fast speed, spoke for how utterly terrifying Pepper Potts could be. And that they all loved Tony. Like family. Not like…
Right now, they were on their way to their first big press conference after Hydra had shown their hand too soon and lost. There had been some statements, and Tony’s interview, but nothing more.
Now, over a month after everything happened, most things had calmed down, and the Avengers had been asked to give a press conference about what had actually happened, how they had coordinated and worked with other teams, such as the X-Men and allies around the world, and that the world was safe again.
It didn’t matter that it would be at least partly a lie. There were still a lot of operations going. There were people in positions of power that, if not outright being Hydra, sympathised with them. There was still a long way to go, and Steve was ready to tackle everything. As soon as he had talked to his genius. But right after, he would be ready to fight Hydra. Maybe tomorrow morning. And then: destruction to Hydra once and for all.
This was one of the parts of being an Avenger he hated the most: being the dancing monkey in front of the cameras. It wasn’t like he didn’t know how to do it. Hell, this was how he had started out as Captain America. But that he still had to do it even now grated on his nerves.
And the fact that Tony was at a scheduled meeting out in the open. Last time that had happened he hadn’t even reached his hotel. True, his kidnapper was sitting with them in the car and would sooner rip his metallic arm off, which he loved with a passion since Tony had created it just for him, then hurting him ever again. And by now Steve was sure he had understood that taking someone against their will was hurting them.
It wasn’t a guaranty that no one else would be stupid enough to try anything. Yes, it was the middle of the day, and yes, the Avengers were surrounding Tony, but desperate people were known for desperate ideas.
A warm hand patted his knee and he looked up in whiskey-coloured eyes with just the slightest splashes of dark chocolate and honey. They were warm, calm and smiling.
“Come on, Cap, if Brucey looks like we’re going in front of a shooting commando at least you, as our fearless leader, have to look like we survive this. It’s just the press.”
“They called you the devil two weeks ago and thought it was your failed attempt to finally go bat-shit-crazy-supervillain-overlord on our asses.”
“See? Nothing to worry about.”
Steve sighed deeply.
“It was a disservice to us!” Clint exclaimed, offended. “If we ever take over the world, we, of course, will succeed!”
“This is why you aren’t allowed to say anything at press conferences, Birdbrain. Jenny threatened me with death if I allowed you to speak.”
“As if you can stop me.”
“Jarvis is running the mikes. He knows to not project your voice.”
“What? It’s my God-given right to say-”
“All the shit you wanna say.” Tony smiled sweetly at him. “Just like those lovely reporters saying I was too stupid to take over the world.”
“First of, low blow. Secondly, that’s exactly what I mean. We wouldn’t have failed.”
“Not we, Birdbrain, I.” Tony was fiddling with his phone, distractedly. He didn’t see the smile forming on Clint’s lips.
“There is no ‘i’ in Team, Tony.” He said, shaking his head, disappointedly. “I thought you knew that.”
“Thank god, we’re here.” Happy mumbled from the front seat, not reacting to the glares he earned for his trouble.
They got out of the car, making sure to keep Tony in their middle, which he commented with an eyeroll. He didn’t say anything further on the matter as some reporters, probably those who weren’t invited into the press conference, were waiting for them in front of the back entrance.
Winter, who hid his face under a black fedora, pushed his way through them with Thor by his side. It had taken them barely thirty seconds to leave the open street, still Steve relaxed his muscles as soon as they entered the narrow corridor of the backstage part of the theatre that had been rented to hold the press conference.
“Breathe, everyone.” Tony quipped, winking at them. “The show is about to start and if we can sneak in some burlesque dancing-”
“Pepper, light of my life, I-”
“If you even think about going off script-”
“Would I ever?”
The silence was answer enough. As was the glares Tony earned, not only from Pepper but also from the blond woman standing behind her. It was Jenny from PR, who had handled some of SI’s and the Avengers' more delicate matters in the past and was Pepper’s right hand woman in all things media related since Hydra had attacked the Tower.
Clint snorted, clapping Tony hard on his back. “I take it back. There is an ‘i’ in Team. Good luck, you’re on your own.”
Instead of an answer, Winter grabbed Clint by the back of his suit jacket and pushed him in front of Tony.
“What the- I thought we were friends!” Clint huffed, looking hurt. Winter just smirked.
They really had come a far way.
Pepper, as the wise woman that she was, didn’t react to them, but was still staring holes into Tony.
“No, Pepper, I will be very good. I will not tell any state secrets and I won’t close any departments of SI; I swear.”
“You can’t do that anyway.” Her shoulders relaxed and she stepped closer passing Winter, who didn’t react but kept his eyes on her.
“As this is an official Avengers press conference, we couldn’t decline certain news stations and newspapers, but Jenny made sure the worst of the worst paparazzi were uninvited.”
“Thanks Pep.” Tony leaned forward kissing the woman on her cheek. Which was fine, because they were friends and he kissed others on their cheeks too. Not Steve, but if he was honest, that weren’t the kisses he wanted anyway.
“And to you, Jen-Jen.” He smiled at the blond woman, who nodded, business-like, before glancing down on her wristwatch, an old model with a gold casing.
“You’re up in 5.” She said, before turning around promptly, leaving for the stage entrance.
“Everyone ready?” Steve turned to his team, looking at everyone, to make sure they were fine.
Bruce’s “No” was almost drowned by the agreeing noises the others made.
“Come on, Brucey,” Tony slung an arm around the other scientist, dragging him along. “You can stand beside me; I’m going to keep you safe from all the asshole reporters.”
“Are you going to do it by drawing all the attention to yourself?” Bruce asked, disapprovingly. As much as he didn’t like to be the focus of anything, he hated the way the press reacted to Tony as much as the rest of them.
Which meant that there had been an instance in the past in which Thor and Steve had to wrestle the Hulk into his cage after one paparazzi had written an extraordinarily piece of trash in which the nicest accusation against Tony was that he forced the Avengers to be his personal harem.
When Tony had learned about it later from a still seething Bruce, he had started laughing, declaring each and every one of them could kill him without effort. The following mood drop seemed to go unnoticed by the genius.
“I don’t have to, the press is naturally drawn to me, honey.” Tony winked at him, before letting go of the other man.
“Cap, you’re going to start this speech or should I rile them up first?”
“Come on, I thought we could-”
“Absolutely not.” On this Steve wouldn’t budge no matter the pout Tony sent his way. He had learned that lesson painfully enough to know, this was never an option.
Before either Tony or Clint could comment, they got the signal to get onto the stage and Steve groaned, silently. Up into the spotlight to dance.
While Tony told Winter to stay with Pepper, he stepped out into the blinding light. Forcing a relaxed smile on his face, that he knew looked like he wanted to be anywhere but where he was at the moment, he took his place in the center.
Nat stepped to his left, her natural grace making it look like she was finally home. Her posture was relaxed and elegant, her expression calm and a silent smile tucking at the corner of her mouth.
Next to her stopped Clint, his shoulders squared, his expression open and relaxed, a smile brightening his eyes.
Bruce stopped to his right, leaving a spot open. He, too, had his shoulders squared, his expression calm, his fists clenched.
Beside him stood Thor, tall, smiling and relaxed.
A few seconds later Tony stepped onto the stage, waving and smiling, like he owned the theatre, the crowd and the stage. His hair gleamed in the bright lights and his eyes danced. He hated it, yes, but no one would guess that, as he stepped between Bruce and Steve.
As soon as the crowd quieted down some, Steve cleared his throat.
“Thank you for coming. In this press conference we will usher a statement to the current state of affairs and afterwards we will be answering some questions.” He smiled his useful I-am-new-to-this-century-so-please-be-gentle-smile (Tony’s description, not his) at the sharks in front of him.
“Six weeks ago, we learned that Hydra was still-” Steve never finished that sentence, as, right at that moment, a shot interrupted him.