by Nix
(crimsonquills AT gmail DOT com)

The world had narrowed.

First the Extremis inputs had cut off, up to and including the armor, forcing Tony back into the confines of his immediate surroundings. For a moment, he'd been disoriented by the sudden loss of data. Extremis still worked internally. Why the hell wasn't it working externally? The confusion lasted long enough for someone to knock him down, pin his limbs, and pull a heavy cloth bag over his head. The problem with being your own bodyguard and head of security was that there was no one to watch your back.

Then he'd been tossed into a cold, damp room with a rough stone floor. Eventually he'd managed, painfully, to bring his bound hands from behind him to in front of him and had pulled the bag off of his head. He found that the world had become a cell in an honest to God dungeon. That had been funny, once.

Then they'd forced him to his knees and chained him to the walls, and the world became about six inches of slack in the chains that stretched his arms out to either side. At least he wasn't hanging, but mercy had noting to do with that. They just liked seeing him kneeling.

Last, but not least, never least, the pain had pared the world down to the space within Tony's skin.

They'd fancied themselves sophisticated. Too sophisticated to use the common, pedestrian means of torture. Instead, they'd whipped out a set of electrodes that looked like conductor's wands and were wired to a control board that resembled a professional musician's mixing board. Tony had laughed.

He's laughed right up until his captors had used those wands.

Every touch had turned a nerve, one single nerve, into a screaming symphony of pain. There were, Tony knew, something like a thousand nerves in the human body. You'd think it would hurt more to have them all lit up with agony at once, but somehow the absence of pain in one part of the body made it's presence in another sharper, more vivid.

They'd had fun at first. Tony hadn't bothered trying not to scream. Screaming wasn't what he needed to hold back. They'd liked the screaming. But after...some time, Tony didn't know how much, they'd started getting angry that screaming was all he was doing. Not talking. They liked the screaming, but they needed him to talk. Though they tried to hide what they were after, Tony put it together, one piece at a time: the designs for the armor.

He'd be damned before he'd give them that.

The more frustrated they got, they more creative they got with those wands, until there was nothing but the pain and the screaming and the roughness of his throat and the burning knowledge of what he couldn't tell them. Thank God they didn't have a telepath, because it was all he could think about.

Eventually, the wands weren't enough for them.

Tony hadn't been able to resist laughing when they brought out the whip. It wasn't posturing, he was genuinely amused. All their pretensions to sophistication and in the end they were just as crude and barbaric as anyone else who resorted to torture.

The whip had bitten into his skin over and over again, leaving long welts across Tony's back and ass. Occasionally the lash had curved around and bitten into his chest and abdomen. They were good with the whip, but as their frustration mounted they became less careful and they started to draw blood. The pain wasn't any different, but Tony could feel it running down his body in a dozen places, sticky and hot.

He wasn't quite sure why they'd stopped. He hadn't been left alone for...however long he'd been here. He'd tried to keep track, but the awareness of time the Extremis gave him came from outside sources. There was no light down here. They hadn't fed him at all. The only water he'd had he had stolen in mouthfuls during the times when they hosed him down. They hadn't wanted to deal with the scent of his filth, for which Tony found himself pathetically grateful. Bad enough to kneel and scream without doing so in the midst of his own waste.

But some time ago they'd left him alone for the first time. Tony sagged in his chains as much as he could. It put his shoulders, scored with welts, into agony, but it took a little pressure off his knees. After God knew how many days on his knees, they were worse. Probably.

Thump. Thump. Thump.

Tony blinked and slowly realized that the sound wasn't that of his own heart beating. It was too metallic. Metallic. Heh. But he had an ordinary heart again, now, and that was definitely the wrong sound for it. Tony struggled to raise his head, to try and find the source of the noise.

Just as he managed the motion, the thumping noise changed in pitch and suddenly transformed into a rending, splintering sound. It took Tony a long moment to realize that the outline of the room had changed. The door was open. There was someone standing in the doorframe.

He knew that silhouette.

Tony tried to say the name. His lips moved, but no sound emerged from his dry and shredded throat. Footsteps rushed across the room. When they reached him there was a sudden, audible intake of breath and then the red, white and blue shield clattered loudly to the stone floor and Steve dropped to one knee.

"Tony," he said, voice choked and pained, and cradled Tony's face in his hands. "Oh, God, Tony, what the hell did they do to you?"

"Steve," Tony forced out, though his voice was still a rough and broken whisper. He had to tell Steve, he needed him to know. "I didn't...I didn't tell...them."

Steve made a soft, distressed noise. "Of course you didn't," he said gently, his hands stroking Tony's face for a moment. "Let's get you out of here."

Tony coughed out a harsh laugh as Steve reached for one of the manacles. "Too much faith in me," he grated. "I would have told them. I would have told them anything. But I used the Extremis to program myself not to. Couldn't tell them."

The manacle came loose. Tony's arm would have dropped bonelessly to his side, but Steve caught it and lowered it gently. "It doesn't matter," he said, turning to the other manacle. "It doesn't matter how you did it, Tony. They had you for," Steve's voice choked off for a moment. "For nine days. It doesn't matter how you did it."

Tony's hand slipped free of the other manacle. Without that support Tony swayed, but Steve's hands steadied him gently. Tony let himself lean forward, resting his head on Steve's shoulder. "You came for me," he said quietly, wonderingly.

"Of course I did!" Steve said, briefly fierce. "I just... I'm sorry it took so damn long."

"I don't care," Tony murmured, turning into the curve of Steve's throat. "Just stay with me."

Steve hand stroked the back of Tony's neck lightly. "I will," he promised softly. "But we need to get you out of here. Can you walk?"

"I don't think I can stand."

The gentle stroking of Tony's neck paused for a moment. "I can carry you, but...not without touching these cuts and welts. It's going to hurt."

Tony laughed again, a short, ragged sound. "It hurts anyway."

Steve let go of Tony long enough to secure his shield on his back. Then he whispered an apology and scooped Tony up into his arms, quick and sure. There was no unnecessary motion or contact, but Tony still cried out in pain as stiff, cold muscles suddenly shifted and raw welts pressed against the mail and leather of Steve's costume.

"It's okay," Steve said, almost urgently. "I've got you. That's the end of it."

Tony leaned into Steve's body, pressing himself close to strength and warmth and safety, and not caring that even that small motion aggravated the pain. "I think I'm going to pass out now."

"I've got you," Steve repeated, and the world faded to black.


Despite the warning, Steve's heart missed a beat when Tony went limp in his arms. He had to pause and make sure he could still feel the steady thump of Tony's heart before he could breathe again.

Breathe, but not relax. Steve's jaw clenched tight and he wished for one, savage moment, that there were two of him so that he could take care of Tony and beat the crap out of his captors. But there weren't two of him, and Tony was more important than the satisfaction Steve would get out of pounding on the bad guys personally. He'd just have to leave that to the rest of the team.

Steve carried Tony to the door of the cell and poked his head out quickly to check the hall. It was clear, so he stepped out and jogged towards the stairs. If Tony had been conscious he would have moved slower, afraid to jostle him, but Tony was out cold. Unconsciously, Steve held him a little closer.

"Cap!" Spiderwoman stopped on her way down the stairs and turned to run up them alongside him. "Oh my God," she breathed when she got a good look at Tony. "Is he...?"

"He's alive," Steve said tightly. Thank God. For a moment, when he'd first broken through the door, he'd thought Tony was already dead. He'd thought he'd lost his chance, that he'd waited too long, that this was what he got for thinking that there would be a right time, when they were both ready. Steve swallowed, trying to clear his throat and sound a little more normal. "He was conscious when I found him. I think he only passed out because he knew it was safe."

Jessica let out a sigh of relief. "The others have the bad guys taken care of and have called the FBI to come in and take over," she said. Tony's captors had been ordinary, non-powered Americans, which meant SHIELD didn't have jurisdiction. They'd been after Tony Stark, the designer of the armor, not Iron Man himself. A fresh rush of anger went through Steve at the thought. Damn it, couldn't he ever be safe?

They reached the top of the stairs and headed through the corridors towards the exit. "I, ah, had to stop Wolverine from killing a couple of them." Jessica's tone was slightly apologetic, but Steve wasn't sure if she was apologizing for Logan's enthusiasm or for stopping him.

They'd all heard Tony screaming when they arrived.

"You did good, Spiderwoman," Steve said, trying to remain professional. He glanced down at Tony, exhausted and pale and covered in dark welts and streaks of blood. Better than he'd done.

Jessica touched him gently on the arm. "It's not your fault," she said gently. "You couldn't have known he'd been kidnapped."

"Nine days, Jessica," Steve bit out. "I should have realized sooner. I should have known something was wrong."

"Tony made a point of telling us he'd be out of contact for a week," Jessica pointed out.

"Having the Extremis means Tony is never out of contact," Steve said. They rounded a corner and picked up Luke and Spider-Man. Spider-Man did an actual double take when he saw Tony, but he didn't say a word. "Just because he isn't supposed to communicate doesn't mean he won't." Steve smiled tightly. "Tony never was that good at following other people's rules. I should have realized something was wrong when no one had heard from him for a few days."

Jessica started to speak, but was interrupted when Logan joined them. "The Fibbies have everything under control," he said in response to Steve's sharp glance. Then he snorted. "Or so they say. Anyway, it's just a bunch of plain human assholes."

Plain human assholes who'd managed to hold Iron Man for nine days without even knowing he was Iron Man. Steve bit the words back.

Logan took a look at Tony. "Could be worse," he grunted.

Steve's hold on Tony tightened a little and he stepped out of the worn stone building the bad guys had been holed up in. It wasn't big enough to be called a castle, dungeon or no dungeon. "I doubt the whip was the first thing they tried."

"Could still be worse."

"Is he going to be okay?" Spider-Man asked, almost jogging alongside Steve as they headed for the Quinjet. Steve hadn't realized he'd been walking that fast, but he didn't slow down.

"He'll be fine," Luke assured Peter. "It looks worse than it is. And he's got the Extremis."

Steve wasn't so sure. Physically, yes, but... He'd never seen Tony the way he was before he passed out. An interrogation was different from a battle, or from being held prisoner. The whole point was to grind away your defenses until you didn't care about anything but making it stop. Tony hadn't even had the bitter option of relief. He'd made it impossible to given them what they wanted, and they'd kept grinding and grinding away.

How much was left of him?


Tony woke, the unfiltered data streams telling him he was in the hospital before he registered the scent of antiseptic or opened his eyes. He didn't try to block out the simple but numerous signals from the life support equipment in other rooms. Instead he expanded his awareness of the data, tapping into transmissions until his head ached. Only then did he, slowly, ease his eyes open.


Tony turned his head to find Steve sitting at his bedside, leaning forward in the chair intently now that he saw Tony was awake. "Hey, Steve," Tony said softly, smiling.

"How do you feel?" Steve asked, blue eyes full of concern.

He could feel the pull of bandages against his skin, but the welts didn't hurt much beneath them. The other pain was long gone, of course. Tony knew that, even if he swore he could still feel echoes of it. "Better," he answered Steve. Tony's eyes wandered over his friend, drinking in the sight of him. He'd wondered, in that dungeon, if he'd ever see Steve again, if his last sight of him would be a distracted wave as Tony departed on a business trip. "I take it the doctors used local anesthetic on the welts?"

"Yeah." Steve hadn't relaxed at all. "I'm so sorry, Tony."

Tony blinked. "What for?"

"They had you for nine days," Steve choked out, looking away from Tony, the set of his shoulders radiating shame.

Tony shifted slowly and reached out, but Steve was seated beyond his reach and he wasn't looking at Tony. "Steve," Tony tried. "Steve, please."

Steve looked up, saw Tony's hand, and paused for a moment before clasping it in his own and scooting his chair closer to the hospital bed so that Tony could lower their joined hands to the cool sheets.

Tony took a moment to enjoy the contact before going on. "It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter how long it took. I'm glad just you came."

"You said that before," Steve said. He squeezed Tony's hand. "You sound surprised. Didn't you know we'd get you out of there?"

Part of Tony knew he should lie, that Steve would be happier with the lie, but he couldn't seem to bring together the pieces of it in his head. His silence stretched out long enough to become an answer in itself. He just lay there and looked at Steve and watched as understanding dawned on Steve's expression and was joined by pain.

"Tony..." Steve said, distressed. "You're an Avenger. You're a good man, a hero, a friend. You're my friend! We'll always come for you. How could you not know that?"

Tony laughed, but it was a harsh sound. "I'm not a good man, Steve. I'm not strong enough to be a good man. I've gotten a lot of good people killed, one way or another." He closed his eyes, tired. "I try to be a decent man, but it's hard. Very hard."

Steve's hand tightened around Tony's. "That makes you more admirable, not less."

Opening his eyes, Tony smiled wryly at Steve. "I'm too selfish to argue with you." He lifted their clasped hands and rested them on his chest instead of on the bed. "Will you stay?"

"Of course," Steve said immediately. Tony could tell Steve was still worried and upset, but he sat quietly and let Tony hold his hand without pushing any more. After awhile, Tony closed his eyes, though he didn't sleep. He just held onto Steve's hand and let his mind drift.


Steve sat at the kitchen table, the morning's newspaper spread out in front of him, a sesame seed bagel with butter sitting on a plate at his elbow, and a glass of orange juice in his hand. But he didn't sip the juice, nor did he set the glass down. Instead his hand and the glass hovered mid-air while Steve stared, unseeing, at the newspaper.

"Master Rogers?"

Jarvis's polite inquiry broke into Steve's musings and he looked up and set the glass down, a tad sheepishly. "Good morning, Jarvis."

"Is something wrong?" Jarvis asked as he moved about the kitchen, gathering breakfast fixings. The others would be waking up soon.

"No. Well..." Steve frowned. "It's Tony," he said eventually.

"Master Stark seems to be recovering from his ordeal," Jarvis commented, but it was just a neutral statement, Steve could tell. A way to keep the conversation moving.

"Physically," Steve said, nodding a little. Thanks to the Extremis, after three days the welts had vanished completely and the places where the whip had broken the skin were quickly fading marks. "'ve known Tony his entire life, Jarvis. Doesn't he seem different to you?"

Jarvis finished cracking eggs into a mixing bowl and turned to face Steve while he whisked them together. "He does seem to be less inclined to keep others at arm's length."

That was an understatement, but Jarvis always had been reserved when commenting on these things. Tony hadn't just been 'less inclined to keep others at arm's length'; he'd been openly needy. At least, he had been with Steve. Part of Steve couldn't help but enjoy the way Tony reached for him, physically and emotionally, the open warmth in Tony's eyes. For years, Steve had harbored the growing desire for a deeper relationship than the friendship they shared, but somehow the moment never seemed to come. After the Avengers disbanded he'd thought the moment had passed and maybe they weren't meant for each other after all.

And then there'd been the breakout and Tony was there and they were together again. Not like before, but almost better. This new team was so raw, so inexperienced when it came to working together. Training them made Steve feel new again himself; at the same time, it threw the depth and closeness of his friendship with Tony into sharp relief. Steve had been so sure that he and Tony would finally take that last step...and then nothing. Steve had made overtures, but something had held Tony back.

Now that something was gone.

"I used to wish that Tony would open up more," Steve confessed. "He keeps so much locked down, and it only hurts him. But this..." Steve trailed off and shook his head. "I don't know what to do. I feel like no matter what I do, I'd be taking advantage of him."

Jarvis tapped the whisk against the side of the bowl and turned on the stove. "Master Stark will relearn how to raise his barriers again soon enough, I expect," he said as he dropped a bit of butter into a frying and pan and waited for it to melt. "Perhaps it wouldn't be such a bad thing if you were within them when he did."

Steve stared at Jarvis's back for a moment. "But he would never let anyone in like that if he was in his right mind!"

Jarvis poured the whisked eggs into the pan and stirred them for a moment before looking up at Steve. "That doesn't mean he wouldn't want to."

Frowning, Steve took a bite of his bagel, though he wasn't really that hungry, and chewed while he thought. Finally he swallowed and washed it down with a swallow of orange juice. This was starting to remind him uncomfortably of Hank and Jan's wedding. How could any relationship he built with Tony be stable if the foundation was mental and emotional trauma? Hank and Jan loved each other, Steve knew they did, but that hadn't been enough to hold them together. Steve didn't want to get stuck in an endless cycle of making up and breaking up. He wanted forever. Till death do us part.

He needed Tony to know that Steve loved him just the way he was.

He needed to wait.



Tony stood on the roof of the penthouse, clad only in the thin gold mesh of the underarmor. The rest of the armor lay carefully fitted into its case on the ground a few feet in front of him. Taking a deep breath, Tony looked up at the wide blue sky and sent a mental command.

After a short moment the armor started locking itself into place around Tony. The familiar sensation was comforting. Safe. Protected. The faceplate locked into place and for a moment everything felt right.

But the display projected in front of his eyes wasn't the real sky. It was an image of the sky. The sky was locked away on the other side of experimental alloys and bulletproof glass. The world was on the other side of the armor and it was only Tony on the inside of it, nothing but Tony inside of it, nothing left but the inside of his skin and he clenched his eyes shut, blocking out the sight of the fake sky, and he opened up the Extremis connections and tried to feel like the armor was a part of him, it had always been a part of him, he was in the world with it, it didn't cut him off, it made it possible for him to really affect the world, damn it!

Tony clenched his teeth. He wasn't going to take it off, he wasn't. He just needed to reach past the metal skin that was sealing him away from the world, needed to make a connection, needed to reach out somehow and God, he wished Steve were here, wished for Steve's warm touch, wished for Steve's concern, wished for, "Steve."

"Tony?" Steve's voice, coming through the Extremis. It took Tony a moment to realize he'd actually called Steve's communicator.

He was already reaching out again, settling the connection. "Steve."

"Where are you?" The concern was clear.

"On the roof."

He still had the armor on when Steve arrived on the roof, which Tony felt was a minor triumph. Steve wasn't out of breath when the roof access door opened precipitously, but the elapsed time between his response to the call and his arrival told Tony that he must have run. Damn it. He'd hadn't meant to worry Steve.

"Tony?" Steve walked to his side and laid a hand on Tony's armored shoulder. "Can you take the armor off?" His voice came through the auditory receivers built into the helmet with crystal clarity, but that wasn't what Tony wanted. He turned the receivers off as he answered.

"No," he said quickly. Then, realizing how that might sound, "I can, but I need...I have to keep it on. to me for a minute."

"Tony..." Steve said, hesitating for a moment. "Is there something wrong with the armor? Did they do some damage your connection with it?" Without the auditory enhancement, Steve's voice was indistinct, muffled by the helmet. But it was real, a part of the world outside of the armor, reaching in to find Tony.

"No, it's okay," Tony managed, sucking in deep breaths. "I'm just...feeling disconnected." Steve didn't reply at first and Tony realized that he wasn't being entirely coherent. "When I was-- When they had me, it felt like the rest of the world stopped existing. I wasn't a part of it anymore. The armor is...reminding me of that. A bit."

Steve voice went gentle, almost too quiet to hear without the sensors. "Are you sure you don't want to take it off?"

The armor didn't actually have tactile sensors, but it could communicate degrees of pressure when he wanted it to. It had to, or Tony would be oblivious to half of what happened around him. With the Extremis, the weight of Steve's hand on his armored shoulder was almost like a touch. "I'm fine. I'm good. It's better now." As long as Steve didn't remove his hand.

He didn't, though he did move around to stand in front of Tony, looking at him as if he could meet Tony's eyes through the slits in the helmet. He couldn't, of course, there were sensors there, but the effect was the same from the inside. Which was, Tony suspected, the point.

"This isn't the first time you've done this, is it?" Steve asked, lifting his other hand to Tony's other shoulder.

Tony laughed hollowly. "No. It's the first time I've managed to keep it on this long, though." He felt almost normal. Maybe it would be all right to take the armor off now, to feel Steve's hands on his shoulders for real.

"It'll get better," Steve said softly.

Tony lifted his hands and took off the helmet so that he could meet Steve's eyes properly. He tried to smile, but knew he wasn't quite successful. "I know."

Steve hesitated, but after a moment he lifted one of his hands from Tony's shoulder and cupped the curve of his jaw instead. "If you need me..." Tony reached up to take Steve's hand in his, drawing it away from his jaw as he leaned in, tilting his head...

Steve pulled away.


Tony caught Steve's wrist as he pulled away. "Damn it, Steve, what's wrong?" he asked, voice tight and hard with frustration.

The sound of it made Steve's heart ache with longing. It would be so easy... "You're still recovering."

"I'm well enough for this," Tony said. The armor disengaged with a series of clicks and flew back into its case, leaving Tony clad only in the form fitting gold under armor. He took a step closer to Steve.

Steve couldn't help it, his breath caught in his throat. After ten years of business suits and armor, it was still a thrill to see every muscle of Tony's body lovingly outlined. But now was not the time to indulge himself. "I don't want you to think I only want you when you're vulnerable."

Tony laughed, the sound disturbingly harsh. "And letting me think that you only want me when I'm strong is better?"

"That's not--"

"I want this," Tony said intensely. His eyes seemed incredibly blue. Steve couldn't look away. "I want you. I thought-- Don't you want this? I thought--" He broke off, voice cracking a little.

"Of course I do," Steve said, forcing himself not to step away from Tony even though they were standing too close together for his self-control. He dropped his gaze, but looking at Tony's defined musculature wasn't any better than looking into his eyes. He looked up again, heart clenching at the look in Tony's eyes. "I've been waiting. Waiting and waiting and waiting. For the time to be right. For me to be ready. For you to be ready. I've waited for so long that I'm almost willing to say to hell with being ready and let's just take what we can get." Tony's eyes had widened a little, and Steve wondered if he was saying too much, but he couldn't seem to stop. "But this," he lifted the hand that Tony wasn't holding onto and cupped Tony's jaw. "I need this to be real. For that, we have to go into this with our eyes open, and I'm not sure that you're thinking clearly right now." Steve faltered for a moment. "We've both seen what happens when a traumatic event jumpstarts a relationship," he finished, quietly.

Tony frowned. "I'm not sure what you mean. We both knew how we felt before this."

"Hank and Jan not only knew, they'd had a relationship for years," Steve argued.

Realization dawned in Tony's expression "Steve, I'm not going to dispute that Hank and Jan didn't start their marriage on a solid foundation, but Hank was having a psychotic episode when they got married! I may be shaken up, but I'm not crazy."

"Hank isn't crazy," Steve said automatically.

Tony sighed. "He was. He certainly wasn't capable of making rational decisions, then. This situation, right now, with me, isn't comparable. I am rational, Steve."

"Then why have you completely reversed yourself on this?" Steve demanded. "Less than a week ago you were still shying away from me every time I tried to take us beyond friendship."

"Because I'm having a hard time lying to myself right now," Tony said intently. "Because... Steve, I think I fell in love with you because you were safe to love."

Steve blinked. Safe? How on Earth was he safe to love? He was Tony's teammate. They were public figures. He was a man. He threw himself into life-threatening situations on a regular basis. What about that said 'safe' in a relationship?

"You weren't ever going to love me back," Tony went on. Steve started to speak, but Tony raised a hand to silence him. "I believed it, Steve. Completely. You were never going to love me back, which made you safe, because there's no risk when there's no relationship. And I just got in deeper and deeper, because the more of myself I gave away to you, even if you didn't know it, the more of me was left when someone else screwed me over." Tony's mouth twisted into a wry smile. "I'm not even sure how much of it was about you, in the beginning."

Not about him? Steve's certainty faltered. "Tony--"

Now Tony actually laid his fingers across Steve's lips. "In the beginning," Tony repeated quietly. They were still standing so close together that Steve could feel the heat radiating off of Tony's body. It was all he could do not to touch his tongue to Tony's fingers, despite what Tony was saying. Maybe because of it. "The closer I got, the more I realized how much there was to love about you. And then you caught my eye one day and I realized that maybe you could love me and--"

"And suddenly I wasn't safe anymore," Steve finished, lips brushing Tony's fingers. He reached up and wrapped his hand around Tony's fingers, drawing them away from his lips and lacing their fingers together instead. "But...isn't it worth it?"

"Yes!" Tony said, oddly triumphant. "Which is why I'm trying to make it happen, but now you're shying away."

Steve swallowed a small laugh as he realized that Tony had neatly maneuvered him into the opposite side of the argument. "Won't it--we--still be worth it in a few weeks, when we know you're thinking clearly?"

Tony sighed. "Of course it will," he said, strangely deflated. "I'm just not sure I'll be able to admit that. But I'll wait, Steve."

He turned and stepped away, his fingers sliding through Steve's. As their hands parted, Steve couldn't help but wonder if this would ever happen again. Tony had become an expert in self-denial, to the point that he considered the ability a virtue. Steve had never met anyone who was so good at refusing themselves things that they needed, both for happiness and simple physical survival. If there was anything good about the way all of this had messed with Tony's head, it was that he'd been willing to accept the rest that his body needed.

"Oh," Steve said softly, looking at Tony's back as he started to walk away. Rest, Steve realized, wasn't the only thing Tony had accepted he needed. And now he was walking away and this was the moment, this was Steve's chance, and he was missing it.

Suddenly, Steve reached out, seized Tony by the arm, and jerked him back towards him. Tony stumbled, surprised, and half turned as fell against Steve's body. That was okay, that was just perfect; Steve bent his head and kissed Tony, letting go of his arm in favor of a real embrace.

Tony made a surprised sound into Steve's mouth and then the awkward angles of his body in Steve's arms softened and he leaned into Steve and returned the kiss with a sweetness Steve hadn't really expected from Tony Stark. It was a long time before he could bring himself to end the kiss. It felt so good to finally hold Tony like this, to kiss him. He'd wanted it for so long. But it had to end eventually.

For a moment after Steve pulled away Tony held still, eyes closed, lips slightly parted. Then he blinked and met Steve's eyes. "I thought you wanted to wait until you were sure I was thinking clearly?"

"I changed my mind," Steve said, voice slightly rough.

Tony just looked at him for a long moment. He started to speak, then paused. "Good," he said finally. His lips curved up a little. "We have a lot of wasted time to catch up on, don't we?"

Steve kissed him again.