Genre and/or Pairing: Avengers movieverse/X-Men movieverse crossover; Steve/Tony
Warnings: infidelity, homophobia, alcoholism, hurt!Tony
Word Count: 13,555
Summary: After Steve caught Tony cheating on him with a woman he's never even seen before, Steve's heartbroken and Tony's desperate to explain that it wasn't quite what it looked like, that he's fucked up, so fucked up, and he's sorry and sometimes he does really, really stupid things. Steve wants to believe him, because he is stupidly, ridiculously in love with Tony, but he's hurt, and it's hard. Also, there are giant panther chameleons on the Empire State Building.
So awhile back, I wrote this x-men crossover. It was supposed to be a oneshot. So many times, things I mean to be a oneshot just aren’t, lol So, this is the second follow up, the aftermath of what happens when Steve gets back home after trying to get drunk to forget he came home to find Tony cheating on him…X.X
I know I’m the constant source of your frustration
But here I am again knocking at your door.
I’m just no damn good, am I, baby?
I’m just no damn good,
I know it’s true
-No Damn Good, Gary Allan
Just like he’d expected, Tony was waiting right inside. He was perched on the back of the nearest couch, one foot up on the armrest so he could lean on that leg as he anxiously turned Steve’s phone over and over in his hands. At the sight of Steve in the doorway he lurched forward, and Steve held out his hand to stop him even though Tony was already talking.
“You left your phone, that’s the one hard rule around here, you don’t fall off the grid, you know that, you-“
“Tony, don’t.” Of all the things he didn’t want to hear, how much Tony had worried absolutely fell somewhere on the list. As far as he was concerned, you gave up the right to worry like a lover when you couldn’t even be faithful to the person you were supposedly worried about. He stretched his arm out, right hand still jammed in the pocket of his coat. “Give me that.”
Tony was moving like an overeager puppy, all jolts and frantic clumsiness, and though getting the phone into Steve’s hand shouldn’t have been a feat he almost dropped it twice.
“Look, I know you’re furious at me, I’m furious at me, and I have no excuse, I’m not trying to make-“
“Tony,-“ Even saying his name hurt, a kind of stinging burn that stayed in his throat. “-you have no idea how much I don’t want to talk about this right now. I cannot talk to you about this right now. What’s done is done, just let me go to bed.” Maybe if he could get upstairs in the dark and quiet he could clear his head. More likely he’d just see it all again in too bright color, memories made all the more vivid by a Tony-less bed and the way he’d grown so used to never having to sleep alone.
Tony tried to reach for him, almost made it all the way to Steve’s wrist but he kept stopping himself, his hand a twitching mess like it couldn’t decide if the risk was worth the potential gain. He settled for holding back, and Steve was grateful because he wasn’t sure how he’d have responded to Tony’s hands on him just then.
“Steve, please, please, hear me out, alright? Let me talk and then you can totally punch me, or I mean, you could do that now and then I could talk, I don’t care either way. I mean, punching probably needs to happen soon because I know I-“
The words hurt more than he’d have ever expected, and after the night he’d had that was just the last straw. It was one thing for Tony to cheat on him, one horrible, shattering thing, but it was another entirely for him to try to fix it with words that make it clear no matter what good Steve might’ve thought he’d been doing, Tony still didn’t really understand him.
His hand shot out to grab Tony’s wrist, turning him with it before slamming him back up against the wall of the hall he’d been trying to escape down. Tony hit just hard enough that for a second the air rushed out of him, and though Steve at first braced his forearm against Tony’s chest out of habit, the feel of Tony’s hastily buttoned shirt against his skin felt too much like a burn for him to keep it there. Still, even without current restraint, he’d had Tony pinned and now he had his attention.
“What have I ever done that makes you think I’d hit you?” The thought was repulsive enough that it almost shook everything away, definitely brought a whole new kind of sick taste to his mouth. He’s met men like that before, men who hit their girls because they said too much or too little or for some slight either imagined or real, and even before the serum those were the kind of people he’d take a swing at. Tony’s certainly not a woman, but that doesn’t make it different because Tony is(was? God, he’s not sure.) his lover, his partner, and raising a hand against someone you’re meant to protect is an inviolate rule in his book. The fact that Tony would even consider he would felt like a whole other level of betrayal.
Still pressed against the wall as if Steve was still holding him there, Tony’s eyes were downcast, his tongue flicking out to hesitantly wet his lips.
He looked so damn lost, disheveled shirt hanging off his shoulders and the scent of whiskey mixed with perfume was all over him and even so, that defeated, rounded set to his shoulders and the way he bowed his head just made him look like a little boy. Steve hated it, hated it because it made him think of old questions about Howard he’d probably never have answered, because Tony didn’t have a right to look like this when he was the one who’d fucked up. Sometimes, Steve wished he didn’t have quite so much empathy.
“Tony, look at me.” Not the best idea, really, because those beautiful brown eyes were so often his undoing on a good day. The pull they held like that, the look that seemed like Tony’s soul was cracking open before him…
Steve swallowed hard, took a deliberate step back to put some space between them.
“I don’t believe in that. I don’t believe you use that kind of force on someone you-“ Love. That was it exactly, what he’d believed since he was a kid. “I’m not gonna hit you, Tony, and the fact that you think I could-“
“Fuck, Steve, no, it’s not like that, it’s nothing against you I just, Jesus, I’d hit me right now, I’m a wreck and seeing what you did with Vera-“
“Oh, she has a name? Clint said some of the tabloids just use hair color and number.” Even as it slipped out, he was a little shocked at his own quick thinking.
Tony flinched, hands reaching up to self-consciously tug the neck of his shirt a little farther closed. He could tell Tony was about to start his rambling again, and despite how much he hadn’t wanted to even see Tony when he came in the door, he’d known it was going to come to this, and he let the question that had been burning in his chest ever since he’d come home slip out.
“Why, Tony? I thought this actually meant something to you, I thought-”
“That’s exactly the problem!” For a genius, Tony could’ve won a shocking amount of awards for not making a lick of sense. He scrubbed his hands through his hair, his hands fidgety like they always were when they had nothing concrete to do. “I’m an idiot, I’m a mess and I’m an idiot and seriously, there is a reason I don’t have relationships. I mean Pepper, Pepper didn’t work out and she knew everything going in so really that’s just all kinds of disturbing. She knew when to cut her losses but you, you just keep at it and I keep thinking every time I-“ For a heartbeat his eyes met Steve’s, the look in them just short of wild. “I’m a fucking nightmare, Steve, and I have no right to think this could ever work, but it keeps working and lately I just keep feeling like I’m running out of points I expected you to duck and run. So I was drunk, I was ridiculously drunk and I thought, if I could still bring home a girl then maybe it wasn’t too late, maybe-“
“You are not seriously trying to tell me you slept with a woman because you have feelings for me. Tell me that’s not what you’re saying, because even expecting conversations with you to be maddening, that’s too much.”
“Look, I realize this sounds crazy, I know it’s all kinds of crazy, but at the time I thought, if I could still bring myself to do it, I’d still…I’d still have something when this falls apart.”
“And apparently, that worked out for you just fine.” His ribs felt like a bear trap against his lungs, sharp and constricting closer the deeper breaths he tried to take. The step he took down the hall carried no conviction, slow despite the nagging thought that he needs to get out of there, he’s got to get out of there before he does something really stupid.
Tony blocked him easily, sidestepping to keep himself in front, keep his body between Steve and the stairs. “That’s just it, though, it didn’t. It was all wrong, it-“
“Sure looked like things were going just fine to me.”
“I swear to God, I was gonna ask her to leave right after, even drunk as I was earlier, which, less drunk now, but still, I was gonna ask her to leave and that was it, that’s it, just me and you now. That’s all I want.” Tony’s thumb rubbed over his fingers, right hand flexing as he contemplated once again reaching out. Usually it was Steve that took his hand, used it to drag Tony away from his workbench and to the kitchen for some breakfast when he’d been up all night or held it between both of his as they watched a movie on the couch with the others. For a long time now he’d been itching to do the same in public, to thread his fingers through Tony’s even in the suit as they stood together triumphant in the aftermath of some almost destruction, but Tony had never wanted it, had said it wasn’t safe, not with the way the world was. Sometimes, he couldn’t believe everything had changed so much only to have a handful of important things change so very little.
Just then he couldn’t do it, couldn’t reach out to give Tony the opening he was looking for, and Tony shoved his hand into the back pocket of his jeans.
“Just me and you, Cap. I swear. I’m so sorry, I can’t even tell you, I-“
“Tell me this, Tony, were you gonna tell me when I came home about your little revelation?” No, he knew the answer was no, knew it had to be. Even so, the way Tony swallowed hard when he asked dragged his heart a little lower. “Right. I didn’t think so.”
“What do you want me to say, Steve? What good would telling you have done at that point? I can’t fix it now, I can’t undo it, believe me, I wish I could. I fucked up, and I’m sorry, you’ve gotta believe me. It’s just you, I don’t think at this point there could ever be anyone else for me, I-“
“Tony. Stop.” Just then, it doesn’t matter that something to that effect is all he’s waited to hear. Everything still felt too raw, too scraped up and ripped apart and all the trust he’d built in this man felt like it had scattered to the wind. Underneath all that pain, though, he was still in love with Tony, painfully in love because it wasn’t the kind of thing he could just turn off. Hearing those words from Tony’s lips was enough to wreak havoc on the tiny bits of sanity he might have left. He couldn’t believe, and he desperately wanted to, and all of it was coalescing into an exhausting mix of pain and anger and desire and hope.
He rubbed the bridge of his nose hard, unable to shake the feeling that his head should be hurting more than it was. Sometimes, the effects of the serum still took him by surprise.
“I can’t believe you right now. It doesn’t matter how sorry you are, it doesn’t even matter if I want to believe you because right now, the only thing I’m absolutely sure of is the fact that I thought I could trust you, and I was wrong. I told you I can’t talk about this right now for a reason.”
“Trust me, Tony, this is not a decision you want me to make right now.” Because if he had to decide their future right at that moment, no matter what he wanted, the foremost thought in his mind is that if he can’t trust Tony, they can’t have a future.
“Later is…something I won’t know about until we get there.”
“Steve, I don’t know what-“
“I need some time, alright? I need some time, and I need it away from you.”
For the first time since he came in, Tony didn’t even try to speak. His nod was barely perceptible, more a defeated shrinking drop of his head than actual conscious movement, and he finally stayed stock still to let Steve pass him. The stairs felt longer than he remembered, his boots heavier on the wood, though halfway up he still heard Tony’s soft whisper carry from the hall.
“That’s not a ‘no’.”
“No. It’s not. Not yet.”
Right after he woke up from the ice, Steve still slept like an army man. If he wasn’t on a mission he went to bed early and he got up early, went for a run even though he didn’t need the exercise, boxed in the gym to give himself time to think before he even thought about getting himself breakfast. It changed a little after the team formed because breakfast became a priority, one of those team bonding moments he couldn’t afford to miss. It wasn’t just that he wanted them all to be a family(though he did, absolutely), it was that being their captain was one of the greatest honors of his life.
Rescuing Bucky held first place for that and always would; Bucky had saved his ass a thousand times and the rush of being able to return that favor was something that would never be surpassed, but still, this position was close. He took his duty seriously, went at it with all the fervor he could. A good captain didn’t just know battle strategies, and he didn’t just know the strengths and weakness of his men. They were his charges and his friends, his family. The best captains were the best because of the strength of the bond of love and respect they had with those under their command, not for any military genius they possessed. If he was going to lead them they had to be his priority in every way, and when he moved into the mansion with them his life had changed accordingly.
He made sure they ate meals together(when they could), practiced together(even if they protested), and had fun together(even if their first game night had been a disaster because Thor didn’t understand Clue and Tony cheated). It was so different for him, a real family for the first time in his life, and it was the kind of good that only got better when he got up the nerve to kiss Tony one day in his workshop. Tony had brought him down to a show him a new bike he’d been working on for Steve, with all the style of the 40’s and all the toys Stark Industry had to offer, and it had to have taken Tony God only knew how many hours to make it that amazing but he’d only shrugged, said he’d wanted to do that one personally. Before he quite realized it, Steve had Tony against his chest and Tony was making these soft, whimpering noises into his mouth and he realized with a jolt that he’d never felt arousal like that in all his life. He’d been drawn to beautiful women, and a handful of initially confusing times to certain men; he’d felt want and need and desire and though he’d never indulged, he thought he knew those things.
He’d always said he was waiting for the right one, and he was, but what he’d never realized was just how deeply that right one would make everything different. With Tony, everything was more than he’d expected. That first kiss set a burn in him that carried the sweetest kind of pain, a sharp tug in his belly like the pull of claws trying to draw him into Tony until there was nothing separate left. He’d always wanted marriage, wanted that kind of promise and commitment and the act of standing up in front of everyone he loved to claim the one he loved the most, but he already knew enough of Tony from the beginning to fear Tony’d never let them go that far. He shelved that dream, quieted the voice in his head with the feel of Tony’s rough fingers against his back, the reverent way his name sounded on Tony’s lips. It had only taken him an instant to decide that Tony was worth the compromise, a certainty so quick that he knew it had to have been lying dormant in him for quite some time, building every day he fought side by side with this man, every night he came home to him.
He’d chosen Tony, and no matter what Tony thought of himself, it felt like a miracle that Tony had chosen him, that he let Steve hold him down and take him, that he leaned into Steve’s hand on his cheek with the faceplate flipped up on the suit like the touch alone was enough to begin to rebuild him. On a level even the team didn’t reach he’d made Tony his life, and Tony’s absence dragged on him like a physical weight.
That first night he went back to his room, the old one he hadn’t used for months. His bed was made just the way he’d left it, never changed because when he’d lived in there he’d always insisted on taking care of those things himself, thinking it ridiculous that Tony had staff for something a person should just naturally do. The sheets were cold, and he lay there for a while unnerved by the dark before he realized it was the light of the arc reactor he missed, the dim blue glow his eyes had grown so accustomed to. He’d learned to sleep on Tony’s patterns too, waking up around three or four when Tony came up from the workshop and staying up with him for a while, making love and falling asleep tangled up in each other.
The night before he’d left on that last mission Tony’d made it upstairs a little early, and he’d woken up at two to the feel of Tony’s tongue against his cock, sinfully hot as lapped in slow strokes. Tony’s mouth on him was something that still had the power to make Steve blush, a throwback to a time when such an act was something more expected of a whore than a lover. Tony, Tony fell to his knees for him like it was nothing, moaned around him like the taste of Steve on his tongue was something he ached for rather than something he did for Steve’s sake. It was intoxicating, and though he’d learned how to last longer, the first time he’d come at the very first sound of pleasure from Tony’s throat. His body trembled with the aftershocks and the rush that overtook him as Tony slid up to lay on top of him and let him feel what Steve did to him, feel the press of the hard line of arousal that had come from what he’d done.
Alone, that last night dominated his thoughts. He could still feel Tony between his legs beneath the sheets, one hand gentle against his thigh as he spread them wider, hear the rough warmth in his voice after, between kisses.
“Don’t think that was your going away present; it wasn’t. I’ve never understood the concept of that, why give someone a present for leaving unless you want them to go? Fuck, it’s like celebrating their disappearance, it’s crazy, it’s-“ His hand had wrapped around Tony’s cock then, and he’d dissolved into nothing but sound.
Every time his memory got that far, he couldn’t help but wonder what sounds he made for her, if he came for her, if she saw how he looked with his head thrown back as the pleasure took him. Part of him kept thinking that it was stupid to dwell on it, stupid to wonder because a hundred girls saw him like that before Steve came into his life, but the voice he can’t shake whispered not like this and it was different before and sometimes, they can’t know, it’s different with us.
He felt sure of that, sure of the magic and the impossibility that anyone could ever fit with either of them the way they fit together, but he can’t feel sure of anything with Tony anymore.
He finally dragged himself up, long after light had filled the room under shades he hadn’t bothered to draw down. It was practically afternoon and he was half starving and half disinterested in even the thought of food, and he went first to the gym instead of the kitchen. He’d hope to burn off some of the pain with a few punches like he had when he first came to this time, but once he got there all he could think about was Tony slouched up against the wall the night before, broken and hurting and telling Steve how he should hit him, how he’d be justified. After that, the urge to hit anything at all faded right out of him.
He wandered through the kitchen long enough to snag a granola bar and a glass of milk, followed the hallways almost all the way to Banner’s lab before he realized Tony might be there, then almost out to the balcony on the third floor before he remembered that Jane was visiting and in all the mansion, that was her favorite place. She was probably out there with Thor, and even if he hadn’t been fairly sure they wouldn’t want to be disturbed, he wasn’t at all sure he was ready to tell Thor what had happened.
He had just started to think another long walk through the city might be his best choice when he heard heels clicking on the hardwood behind him, and he turned around to see Pepper. Her work clothes had been exchanged for jeans and a t-shirt that was probably a souvenir Tony brought her, thin and grey and sporting flowing white letters that told him it was from the Hard Rock Café in Moscow. She had two coffees in her hands, and the minute he turned back to her she held one out to him.
“Hey. Thought you might could use a friend. Or, at least a coffee, if you don’t want to talk, believe me I completely understand.“
“No, no talking actually might…thank you.” The cup warmed fingers he hadn’t even realized felt so cold, and he took a sip without hesitation. God, he loved modern coffee. They’d thought he’d complain at first, or at least Tony had, that he’d say it was too much sugar or too many flavors but he didn’t have a problem with Starbucks in the slightest. Black coffee had its place and he could still drink it just fine, but if he had a choice between that and salted caramel, he’d pick that every time. It reminded him of being a boy, of cracker jacks and Halloween, and he took another sip before he looked back up at Pepper. Smiling, she beckoned him toward her.
“Come on, Cap. Let’s get out of here.”
The mansion was situated on the fringes of the city, close enough it wasn’t hard to hop a cab to get into midtown(or fly there, as happened more often) but far enough that they were mostly surrounded by houses and families, and rather than grabbing a cab for the city, Pepper led him into the neighborhoods. The wind was cold, the trees practically all bare to herald the rapid coming of December, and when he held his arm out to Pepper so she could tuck in close to his side she murmured her thanks.
Three blocks over, he finally managed to get the first burning question over with.
The breath Pepper let out sounded positively dangerous, and not for the first time he couldn’t help but think that just like Natasha, this was a woman he’d never, ever want to cross.
“Tony is Tony. He’s handling his own fuck up with all the grace that can be expected, which explains why I got a call at seven this morning that began with him telling me he’d ruined everything and ended with me hanging up.” She sighed, shaking her head. “I came in to see him. By the time I got there he was working on the suit and out of his ‘oh God help me Pepper’ phase and into his ‘I’m an angry drunk bastard’ phase, and considering I was mad enough at him already, I didn’t feel like dealing with that one. That was a few hours ago, but far as I know he’s possibly still drinking, probably still working, and definitely still downstairs because he made it pretty clear he wasn’t going back up there.”
It probably shouldn’t have hurt. It wasn’t that he had trouble holding onto the anger; that was still there. It was more that even then, even angry, Tony was still the top of his worry list, the thing he most wanted to shelter and protect in a world full of things he did his damn best to protect. Somehow, Tony had become his center.
“I keep telling him he has to take better care of himself. He’s reckless, not just on missions but all the time, he- Sorry. I know you know all this, probably way better than I do.”
“I do, but sometimes it’s nice to hear it coming out of someone else’s mouth instead of just being endlessly parroted out of mine.” For a second her head rested against his shoulder, maybe to draw his strength or to give him hers but either way, it was welcome. “Steve, he loves you. He really, really loves you.”
His jaw clenched so tight it ached, his whole body tensing in the effort it took to keep his heart from racing. He loves me, Tony loves me, if anyone knows she has to, it has to be true. He swallowed bitterly, barely resisted the urge to mutter out loud that he had to get a hold of himself. He wasn’t a child, and it wasn’t that simple.
“He tell you this?”
“Please, he’d never have to. I know what Tony in love looks like, and this is off the charts.” With as easy as their friendship came now, sometimes it was easy to forget that once upon a time it had been more between the two of them, that not too long before he’d met Tony it had been Pepper sharing his life and his bed. “Do you know why Tony and I broke up?”
He’d heard the story, told in the shower after a mission where Pepper’d nearly taken a gunshot and Tony had needed an hour of steaming hot water before the shivers that shook him would loosen.
“He said he couldn’t bear to lose you, and if it had gone on any longer he might have. He said he didn’t want to be responsible for driving you away, so it seemed better to let you go while he still could.”
“Mm, yes and no. The thing to understand about Tony is that he has no frame of reference for people that don’t screw him over. Literally, none. I mean, at this point he really should because there’s me and Rhodey and now all of you, but the everything he’s got in him still tells him not to trust in that. He’s absolutely convinced his ability to drive anyone that gets too close away is undefeatable. The closer you get to him he more he pushes back, except with me he’s gotten tired of pushing back because I didn’t follow the anticipated pattern. I did, though, agree that we should break up, but not so much because I was afraid he was right about him driving me away, just that I was afraid of what he could do to himself, of how much of that I could survive up that close. I let him go, honestly because I think I love Tony too much to marry him. If nothing else I’d go to an early grave from worry and he’d be left alone and frankly I don’t think he’d make it a week, but that isn’t exactly the point.”
As she talked her walk had slowed, more focus shuffling from her feet on the cracked sidewalk to her words, and finally she stopped entirely, still held tight to Steve’s arm as she half turned him to make him look at her.
“Tony screwed up, last night. He’s good at that, but the fact that the form it took was him falling into bed with some woman whose eye color he probably couldn’t even tell you is kind of irrelevant. I don’t doubt seeing it was horrible, but all in all Tony’s a shockingly loyal creature and that’s probably not something that ever could or would happen again. Once he’s in something, he’s in it; as far as I know he never cheated on me once and believe me, I’d know. JARVIS loves me.” The ghost of a smile flitted across her lips, and her fingers squeezed gently at his arm. “The question you need to find an answer to isn’t whether you can forgive Tony for this, not really. I mean, not saying that isn’t important, but honestly-and I realize it might be hard to believe this right now-Tony will give himself more hell over that than you ever could. He is unbelievably good at innumerable forms of self-destruction, and that’s exactly the problem. I was terrified Tony was going to burn himself out, maybe in some twisted move to protect me from himself or maybe for another reason entirely, but I was always half sure it was coming. That’s the part of Tony you need to find out if you can handle, and…I know it’s none of my business-“
“Of course it is.” He couldn’t help it, hated to interrupt her but couldn’t resist slipping in the reminder that yes, her opinion was wanted, and not just because she was Tony’s ex-girlfriend. She was a friend, extended family in a way through her position at Stark Industries, and he’d never mind her advice, certainly not about the one subject she knew most about.
“You really are the sweetest human being alive, you know that?” Another gentle squeeze on his arm and they were walking again, Pepper tugging him forward down the sidewalk, stepping over tree roots. “It’s just that, I think you have a chance, with him. All I ever do for Tony is patch his wounds once they’re there. Even when we were together, I never had a better rate of success than that. You, he’s different with. One look from you and he doesn’t just apologize for working on a bomb in the basement, he puts it down. No one’s ever held that kind of power over him, and if you keep at it…if anyone’s ever had a solid shot at fixing him, I think it’s you. That’s all I wanted to say. Well…”
With a last sip at her own coffee cup, she stopped to pitch it in a trashcan, smiling as the squirrel sitting on top of it flailed on his way to jump off. “That, and I’m so sorry. Sometimes, the man’s impossible and I can’t imagine how you’re feeling.”
They walked on, drifted into talk about the mansion and recent missions and Pepper’s desire to get a cat that she tried to keep shoving back because she didn’t think she spent enough time at home. By the time they got back to the mansion it was late afternoon, and though he was grateful for the distraction, everything she’d given him to think about was filling up what felt like every inch of space in his mind.
The thought of Tony loving him was one thing, that he might actually be good for Tony, that was holding a damn carrot out in front of him, gleaming and fresh.
He hadn’t even made it one day and already his decision to not yet decide was wavering, hard.
When he found Tony he wasn’t really looking, was mostly on his way to the kitchen for a sandwich but there he was, scrunched up asleep on the couch. It was the sleep of the exhausted like Tony’s sleep almost always was, like he’d run until he fell to the floor, like a crazed kitten. He was still in the clothes from last night, still hadn’t showered, and when he asked JARVIS in a low voice, JARVIS confirmed that no, he hadn’t eaten either. He’d had coffee, whiskey, a Red Bull, and more coffee, all since Steve had gone upstairs the night before.
Their favorite blanket wasn’t far, draped over the shorter side of the L shaped couch and Steve went to automatically, ignored the twinge in his heart that came at the feel of the soft blanket against his fingers. He knew how this one felt against his bare skin, how it draped over both of them to keep them covered as he slowly rocked into Tony in the early hours of the morning. Tony’s approximation of soft cries were rarely soft, and Steve had tried to keep catching Tony’s lips with his own to muffle them, ineffective “Shhhh, Tony” ‘s coming out in whispers inbetween.
It felt wrong to drape it over Tony alone but he did it anyway, chose it over the others out of affection or nostalgia or habit, or maybe, maybe because he wanted Tony to wake up under it and know he’d been there. In his sleep Tony shifted into it, nestling in and getting comfortable. His palm brushed Tony’s cheek as he tucked the blanket in high over his shoulders, and Tony hummed something unintelligible, something warm and content and enough to make Steve’s eyes sting.
He wouldn’t wake him, not now, and really he knew logically that time was still something he needed, that even if laying down and taking Tony into his arms was everything he wanted, he wasn’t quite ready for it. Still, even if he knew he shouldn’t follow through on it, as he walked back upstairs he comforted himself with the thought that maybe when Tony woke up tomorrow, they’d talk again.
At three in the morning, Steve’s phone vibrated underneath his pillow. He’d hoped there it would wake him if it rang, hadn’t even cared how crazy that might seem, but he’d only been spottily sleeping anyway and when he felt and heard it go off, he was wide awake.
He tugged it out, rolled over onto his back to squint into the darkness at the too bright screen.
I know, I know I’m supposed to be leaving you alone, but I feel like you can’t make a fair and unbiased opinion if you don’t have all the facts, right? I think Dummy misses you.
He wasn’t even done reading that before the second came through.
Alright, I know that sounds ridiculous, fuck it. He probably does, but he also misses that little alien rat we had living in here for a month so I don’t exactly trust his judgment. I, however, miss you like all hell. Just thought you should know that; should’ve had the balls to say that first.
His thumb hovered over the touch screen, contemplating either a reply or shoving it back under his pillow to wait till tomorrow when a third message vibrated its way into his plans.
I’m sorry, I can leave you alone, I really can, if that’s what you need. I just hate it. I hate you not being here and I hate me not being there and I hate that I hurt you; I might’ve known I would but that doesn’t mean it’s ever what I wanted. I’ll shut up now. Goodnight, Steve. Hope you’re somehow still sleeping.
After the third one, he forgot about replying, forgot about sleeping, just sat up and tugged his shoes on with his pajama pants and went down to the kitchen like that, in scraggly, worn plaid pants and a shirt Tony’d brought him back from CalTech. If he knew Tony, he still hadn’t eaten. He worked quickly and quietly, both to keep his presence from waking anyone else and to keep himself from second guessing the decision that had spurred him out of bed.
He made a sandwich with the roasted turkey meat from Trader Joe’s he knew Tony loved, added two cheeses and the jalapeño ranch sauce Thor had recently become obsessed with. Clint’s salt and cracked pepper chips were up over the refrigerator in a pitiful attempt to keep them out of Tony’s reach, and though Clint climbed up onto the cabinet and then the fridge to get them, Steve just reached. It looked good when he was finished, good enough to make him hungry, but he ignored the growl of his stomach. He remembered to feed himself on a fairly regular basis; Tony actually needed this.
The startled, half scrambling look in Tony’s eyes when he keyed his code in and came into the workshop was more endearing than anything else, and right then, he knew beyond all doubt that he’d made the right decision. Forgiving Tony had always been a forgone conclusion. He’d take all the pain and worry and stress and drama and anger that Tony brought him, now and for the rest of his life, and he’d take it gladly. All those decision were already made; he was absolutely neck deep in all of this. He loved Tony far too much, and seeing Tony look at him just then like he was some kind of apparition, he couldn’t bring himself to regret it, not even a little. After a lifetime filled with people like Howard Stark and Obadiah Stane, Tony deserved to have something that seemed an apparition prove itself real.
“Shit, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you.”
“Here.” Steve settled the plate down on the one blank spot on the workbench he could find, always careful not to disrupt Tony’s work. “I brought you dinner. Sort of. Late, late dinner.”
Tony reached for it without looking down, patting at the air until his fingers hit the bread of the sandwich and though his fingers closed around it, he didn’t pick it up. “You didn’t have to, I-“
“What the hell happened to your hand?” Tony might not have been paying attention to his hands but Steve was, and the splash of seeping red that came from a gash across the webbing joining his thumb to the rest of his hand.
Tony looked down, half dazed, like he wasn’t quite sure what the hell had happened. “Oh, that. It’s nothing, I was trying to get a panel off this thing here, it’s nothing, it’s…“
Steve snagged Tony’s had between his, all instinct, and though he heard the way Tony’s breath sucked in sharply when he did, he was still caught up with the blood. It didn’t look too terribly deep and he could probably get by without stitches, thought Steve would rather that be a call medical made.
“Hold on a second.” There was a sink against the back wall, and he cut it on to let the water warm while he shuffled around in the drawers he knew might have a clean rag. The second drawer had one tucked under a spiral notebook, and he soaked it through with nearly hot water before going back to Tony. That time he took Tony’s hand slowly, gentle as he wrapped one hand around Tony’s wrist and used it to pull him a little closer. “Come here. This won’t feel too good.”
For the time being he kept his eyes down and on his work, watched the bloody water flow in rivulets across his own fingers and tried his best to clean the wound as tenderly as possibly. Tony’s tolerance for pain was high, too high in Steve’s opinion, but that knowledge just made him all the more conscious of the possibility for all kinds of pains Tony never spoke up about.
His muscles were tense and twitchy under his skin, and they’d barely made it five seconds before Tony cleared his throat.
“Why, ah…why are you…”
“You’re hurt. You should take better care of yourself, Tony. It’s not that hard to just be careful.”
“Sorry. Not so good at taking care of- well, most things, really, but hey, the shit I do take care of gets done so that’s gotta count for something, right?” There was unnatural humor there, and unsteady tone to his voice and though he didn’t look, he could practically feel Tony wincing as he started over. “It’s just, that self-preservation instinct we’re all supposed to have so much of, I don’t really have it. Evolutionarily, I’d be a failure; I am an evolutionary failure so I guess it’s a good thing I can’t imagine I’ll ever have kids.”
Steve would’ve never thought it was possibly to meet a narcissist with this much self-hatred. What that said about Tony(or about himself), he wasn’t quite sure he wanted to know. Under his ministrations the cut was looking better, less a bloody mess and more defined, and he was running out of a reason to keep staring at his hands.
Well, that was alright; he had to reach that point somehow anyway.
The extensive mansion PA system cut on, JARVIS barely having time for a weak, “Sir-“ before Coulson’s voice took over.
“Giant lizards on the Empire State building. I need you all ready to go now.”
Tony took advantage of the distraction to pull his hand away, already heading off toward the suit and almost out of reach. Steve only just caught his arm again, slowing him enough to make Tony look at him.
“We’ll talk after, ok?”
“Yeah. Ok.” God, he looked so condemned that Steve almost told him right then, almost blurted out the highlights. I forgive you. I love you. It still hurts and I still hate this, but we’ll be ok, Tony, we really will. If he started talking he wasn’t sure he could stop, and just then his city needed him. This was personal, and it would have to wait. He clenched his jaw against the desire, gave in and turned around to head toward his room and his gear.