Waking up in an unfamiliar room was a sensation that Bruce Banner was intimately familiar with.
Although, looking a little more closely at the sleek modern furnishings adorning the off-white walls, he realised that he wasn't that far removed from his own room, and was most definitely still in the Avengers Tower.
Once that thought had reached full maturity in his still waking mind, Bruce had immediately remembered why he was in a different room. Sitting up quickly from his god-awful scrunch, blood began to pulse painfully back into formerly restricted areas, and taught muscles flamed awake as he moved.
Shoving away from the 'chair of evil' with a grunt, he turned to the bed across the room, something in him relaxing as his still focusing eyes made out the broad back and shadowed blond hair of his patient.
Somehow, he'd half expected to find the bed empty.
Shuffling closer, stretching and stifling a yawn, Bruce rounded the bed- and stopped still.
Because Steve wasn't the only one in the bed.
Half curled underneath the Captain's arm, most of his body hidden beneath the mound of blankets that the super soldier hadn't needed the night before, was Tony.
Bruce knew immediately, and without a doubt, that Steve had broken his word. That at some point during the night, his injured patient had crept from the room and sought out his lover.
He couldn't find it in himself to be truly angry or upset about it.
After all, it was a testament to just how strongly Steve felt about the man who was essentially Bruce's best friend.
That didn't mean that Bruce and Steve wouldn't be having words about this at some point in the near future. Perhaps next time the soldier was dealing with an obstinate Tony, once again refusing to believe that bed-rest generally took place in a bed, Bruce would raise an eyebrow and mouth the word hypocrite to a frustrated Steve.
Whether by serendipitous coincidence, or some instinctual awareness, blue eyes chose that moment to flicker open slowly. They immediately dropped to where his partner's dark tousled hair was just visible, peeking out from beneath the blankets at chest level.
There was something so reverent and intimate in the way Steve looked at Tony, that Bruce felt the urge to avert his eyes, but the moment was lost as Steve looked up and caught sight of him.
The other man at least had the good grace to look slightly bashful as he took in Bruce's knowing gaze, but he offered no explanation other than to gently settle a hand in close approximation of where Tony's head should be. There was no regret in the abandoned shrug he gave in reply to the silent reprimand.
Bruce nodded, accepting the unsaid answer as he spoke quietly, "Morning. How do you feel?"
Steve lowered his own voice as well, in deference to the still sleeping Tony, answering, "Much better – a bit stiff in the face, but it's already easing up."
Stepping forward and raising a hand, Bruce paused infinitesimally as he asked, "Do you mind?", and barely allowed time to acknowledge Steve's nod, before his fingers were prodding the raw pink skin, a mess surely, but looking months healed, instead of mere hours.
"And your side?" The scientist asked, not stilling his ministrations.
Turning his head slightly to allow Bruce better access to the area toward the back of his skull, Steve replied, "Just twinges. No heavy lifting for a day or two."
"Two, if you don't mind." Bruce replied dryly.
"Deal, on the proviso that he-" Steve gestured down to where Tony's head was resting on his chest, "-doesn't count as heavy."
Bruce grinned, "He aint heavy, he's your genius", after a second the smile slipped a little, and he continued, "How is he?"
Steve knew that Bruce wasn't asking after Tony's physical health.
"He's…We're going to need some time." Steve said, after finally settling on the best words.
The scientist eyed him carefully, taking in the protective tightening of the bicep curled over Tony's shoulder, and the careful way Steve's body was bracketing the smaller one cradled against him.
As if Tony were the one who had been most hurt.
And despite the healing wounds across the side of Steve's face, perhaps he had been.
"Can I ask-" Bruce began, unsure if he was in the right to be asking Steve behind Tony's back, well – his side really. But feeling that he truly needed to know, and that it had to be the truth, which he wasn't sure he'd get from Tony anyway.
His chance was taken when Tony shifted slightly, pulling away from Steve with a half-stifled jerk, relaxing his suddenly tense body only slightly when Steve ducked his head to whisper in one partially revealed ear.
Steve must have mentioned Bruce's presence in his soft murmuring, because Tony slowly sat up, and moved himself bodily away from his lover, one hand coming up to rest over the reactor as he slipped from the bed completely.
"Bruce. Morning. Coffee.", and turning, Tony slunk from the room at a smooth skulking pace.
Any remaining hope Bruce had of finding out what had happened in the workshop in the near future was dashed, when Steve, smiling apologetically said, "I'm going to go after him – I don't think he should be alone."
And then they were gone, and Bruce sighed, looking about the empty room. With a shrug, he eased himself down on vacated bed, and settled in for a few hours of decent sleep.
Steve entered the elevator on Tony's heels, having caught up in the hallway. Turning, he setted into a half-slumped lean against the shiny glass wall, and watched as Tony crossed his arms and mirrored the stance opposite him.
Tony was still.
Tony was never still.
"Are you okay?" Steve asked, if only because he knew it would get a reaction.
A tiny aborted flinching shiver swept through Tony's frame, and Steve's eyes chased the twitch up to brown eyes, and waited with patient worry as Tony answered, "Hmm- what? Yes, of course. "
Ignoring the obvious lie, Steve pressed, "How about a 'Good morning, Steve' then?" standing up and closing the two steps between them. Settling his weight in front of Tony, his lover was forced to look up to meet his eyes.
Tony sighed, but answered softly, "Sorry, I'm just- …Good Morning."
Despite whatever Tony was feeling, the greeting had a quiet sincerity to it that set a small smile on Steve's lips. Bending slightly, he returned the words, a quiet murmur of "Good Morning, Tony", followed by a gentle press of lips.
It was a nice kiss, a very nice kiss, tender and soft, a barely-there brush of heat.
Only, it stayed that way.
Steve could count on one hand the number of times Tony hadn't at least attempted to turn a chaste kiss into that of deep devouring passion. He had expected to be a flushed, breathless mess by this stage, pressed against the wall behind him, with Tony plastered down his front, or half climbing him like a tree.
But Tony just stood there, his lips gentle and tentative beneath Steve's dominant press.
And the moment Steve attempted to add a little spice to the sugar, in the form of a tongue flicking its way across Tony's lower lip, the smaller man pulled away with a slight gasp.
Steve frowned, stepping back to give Tony a little space, although he had to admit, he was thoroughly confused. In an attempt to resolve this, he asked "Tony? What's wrong?"
"What, nothing. I just – I have things. I need to go do-" He mouthed wordlessly for several seconds, obviously losing the trail of his impromptu excuse.
"What about coffee?" Steve pressed, both worried and amused by the deer + headlights look his partner was making good use of.
"Exactly! Coffee. I need to go do Coffee. You're a lifesaver, babe." and with a quick kiss to Steve's cheek, Tony used the conveniently opening elevator doors to flee Steve's presence.
Watching as Tony disappeared around the corner that led toward the gym and library, Steve shook his head, and resisted the urge to shout that coffee was in the kitchen, which was in the other direction. Knowing Tony though, which he did, Steve was pretty sure there was a coffee machine in every second room in the tower.
With a sigh, he decided against going after an obviously rattled and defensive Tony, opting to wait until his lover was more settled.
Instead, he made his way toward the kitchen. And coffee.
Two days later, and Steve was definitely worried.
He'd had the same conversation, or at least elements of the same conversation, every time he'd cross paths with Tony.
And 'crossed paths' was definitely the right phrasing.
No one did avoidance like Tony Stark, and Tony Stark did avoidance like no one else.
Steve had been on the receiving end of Tony's avoidance techniques on more than one occasion, and yet, even he had to admit that this was different. It wasn't so much that Tony was actually avoiding him, at least not initially. It was only after a conversation became personal, or a movement bordered on physical, that Tony lit out like the hounds of hell where at his heels.
He hadn't appeared in their bedroom either night, and although JARVIS had reassured Steve that Tony was fine, and was in fact working on something SI related in an empty lab several floors below, Steve had still worried.
Worried on more than one account. Firstly, because Tony wasn't in the bed beside him, curled up where he belonged. And secondly, because Tony wasn't down in his workshop, where he always retreated to.
According to JARVIS, Tony hadn't set foot inside since the incident.
So, not only was he partially avoiding his lover, but it seemed Tony was also fully avoiding his favourite sanctuary.
Bruce had asked the engineer about it earlier that morning, in passing over the breakfast table. At which Tony had been present, but had not been sitting at the table, instead perched on the counter itself, coffee mug clutched to his chest as he'd answered.
"I've been busy. Designing interfaces for the new StarkTablet… My wrist is still too sore to be hammering and banging about in the workshop."
Which was complete and utter bullshit, and each and every one of them knew it. It was after all, Tony Stark who'd been caught trying to work while hobbling about on a broken ankle only three months ago…
No one was buying it, but it wasn't until Natasha said as much, that Tony became defensive and fled the kitchen in short order, rather than have to talk about it.
It wasn't just the odd 'sometimes-avoidance'.
There was also the flinching away from unexpected touches, and all out avoidance of those expected.
He'd limited himself to a clap on the shoulder, his hand resting on Bruce's arm for mere seconds before he'd whisked it away. Not once had he draped himself across his long suffering friend, babbling nonsense and generally being as annoying as possible.
He still poked Clint in the side to see the archer squirm against the invading fingers, but there had been no crash tackling into the beanbag strewn corner of the lounge room.
Thor, his huge bear hugs usually groused at, but not-so secretly cherished by the touch starved genius, had come at him only once, arms spread wide in SALUTATIONS and WELL-WISHING'S MY FRIEND, before Tony's scuttle from the room had ensured the Thunder god had yet to try again.
Natasha he rarely touched anyway, except on the exceptional occasion when either his hand found hers, or hers found his and a gentle squeeze was exchanged. He'd allowed this the first morning he'd seen her after the incident. Yet, they were all pretty sure, that come this movie night, Tony wouldn't be found splayed out on the carpet, his head in Natasha's lap, her nimble fingers chasing tendrils of tension, while Steve was left to contend with feet that rested on his lap while he rubbed them, or dug into his stomach when the rubbing lapsed.
And Steve, the man he laughed with, lived with and loved with? Well, he'd kissed Steve yesterday in the hall, but only a fleeting brush of lips, rather than the all-consuming need that usually possessed him. And twice, he'd all but run when Steve had offered him heaven, hell and the most perfect body between the two.
Tony's words of course.
After a full two days, Steve himself was doing fine, better than fine. In fact, he'd be willing to bet that the remnant of his injuries were easily outstripped by the myriad of ugly colours littered across Tony's upper back. Not for the first time, he wished he could share his healing ability.
So, Steve was doing okay, Tony was doing less so, and the other four were existing somewhere on the scale between them.
The general atmosphere that permeated the tower, and had settled over the inhabitants like a cloying cloud, was heavy and oppressive. Not necessarily malevolent or malicious, but certainly tense. And Tony was at the heart of it.
The others wanted to know what had happened. Why it had happened. Most of them were aware that it had somehow involved the arc reactor, but were unable to move beyond that.
Unable to understand how Tony, who walked around with the light emanating proudly from his chest, who had started to allow Bruce to help with minor adjustments of the reactor, who allowed Steve free reign to touch the reactor, could suddenly have reacted so aggressively.
Of course, they all knew of PTSD, flashbacks and battle-shock to varying degrees, but understanding and accepting were worlds away from merely knowing.
It all came to a head on Thursday evening. Movie night. As many of these things seemed to do.
The five of them, minus Tony were gathered in the smallest entertainment room, with its plush carpeting, comfortable seating and cosy atmosphere.
They were waiting.
If Tony didn't join them, they'd likely turn off the TV and disperse.
Movie night technically didn't start until 7pm, and according to Jarvis, their wayward genius was deliberating about 20 feet down the hall, contemplating his options – left toward the Avengers, or right to elsewhere and loneliness.
He'd still had three and a half minutes left when he'd turned left and shuffled into the room.
No one said anything about the chosen path as he entered. There was no need- he was here and that was all that mattered.
Instead, Natasha informed JARVIS of her movie choice, while Steve scooted over on the couch to make room between himself and the arm of the seat.
Only Tony padded beyond his usual spot, carefully avoiding Steve's eyes, lest he see hurt, and sank down into the other available armchair.
Natasha fell silent mid request, her sharp gaze jumping between Tony and Steve. Thor growled low in his throat, the unsettling nature of his Midgardian family's pains troubling him. Bruce sighed, worry battling with mingled exasperation as he tried to intercept Tony's resolute gaze from its pointed stare toward the still black television.
Clint just looked non plussed, in a disquieted sort of way, knowing something was wrong, but having no idea how to even attempt fixing it.
Tony always sat beside Steve. The only exceptions were injuries that required non-jostling or limb elevation, and usually, he ignored attempts to separate them even then.
Enough was enough.
Steve rolled easily to his feet, his injuries little more than a remembered pain as he crossed the room in three easy steps. Stopping in front of the couch, Tony's resolutely unfocused gaze settled somewhere about the level of his hips, refusing to be swayed upward.
Steve knelt, his hands coming to settle on rigidly tense thighs, and he kneaded gently as he leaned forwards, using his own not inconsiderable body size to create a sheltered space, fostering an illusion of privacy between them.
Pitching his voice deliberately low and soothing, Steve spoke quietly, "Alright. This has gone on long enough, we're all worried. Tell me what's going on in that head of yours."
To his credit, or perhaps Steve's, Tony didn't try to evade the question, but his eyes scanned some unknown distance, and his voice was even quieter than Steve's as he answered, "I haven't slept, and I'm tired…If I fall asleep, and I dream, or if someone accidentally or almost touches the arc…I don't want to hurt anyone else."
Steve was struck speechless, his heart rendered by the raw vulnerability he heard in a voice that was usually masked to its core, and twice more just for kicks.
Having barely heard the almost-whisper, Clint was less effected, and without conscious decision, a reaction bore of days of wondering and worrying, his voice was loud in the silence as he suddenly asked, "Touching the arc reactor? Is that what caused the- A flashback of Afghanistan?…"
Tony sighed, and then seeming to accept that this was apparently happening, had to happen, he sat up slightly, and answered, his voice at its usual volume, if slightly more hesitant, "-Steve…startled me. He touched the reactor, and I freaked."
It was Bruce this time, who replied, "The arc reactor? A flashback maybe, But of what? And why now? Why Steve just touching it? Since when do you have issues with...us, touching it? I helped clean it just last month… "
Looking at where Steve was still crouched down before him, hands still splayed over his thighs, rubbing soothing little circles, Tony sighed. He could explain until he was blue in the face. Tell them all about how he didn't like people touching it because of a man named Stane. Tell them what he himself had been doing to try and resolve the underlying issues he had with the reactor.
He could tell them all of that, but they were never going to understand. Not even Steve fully appreciated what he had been doing to himself in watching and re-watch that video.
They had no idea. For them, taking the reactor might as well be simply picking it up from a bench. Even when he explained that Obi had ripped it from his chest, they still didn't understand that it wasn't the same as having someone steal their cell phone from their pocket, or a pendant from about their throat.
He had to show them.
His voice was snappish as he spoke, but I didn't hide the underlying tremor to the order he gave, " Oh for- JARVIS, roll footage file 67."
"are you sure that is the wisest-" JARVIS tried, his voice less mechanical and more concerned that any of them could remember hearing.
Tony cut him off, his voice demanding in its surety as he ordered, "Play it."
Steve suddenly comprehended what his lover was up to, and immediately jumped in with an adamant refusal, his voice inflexible, "No."
Sighing, Tony turned to look at Steve, brown meeting blue for the first time since he'd entered the room, his reply both beseeching and persuading, "Steve- none of you can understand-"
Ignorant of the fact that they had a concerned and curious audience, Steve immediately replied, "NO. I said you weren't watching it again, so you're not watching it!"
All lingering insecurity and fear fled as Tony riled beneath Steve's words, his voice scathing as he replied, "Steven. You're my lover, not my father. Don't you dare tell me what I can and cann-"
Steve backtracked immediately, realizing he had been skating very close to the edge of overbearing and outright patronizing. Whatever authority he had over Tony, was only what Tony had allowed him to take. His voice was pleading, as he replied. "No – I just. I'm sorry- I wasn't. I wouldn't. I just- What it did to you. Please don't watch it again."
"Watch what!? What the hell are you two arguing about?" Clint interrupted, and the two in question turned to face their mostly forgotten audience.
There was silence for a moment, and then Tony spoke, "There is footage of this-" he tapped the arc reactor before continuing, "-being taken by Obadiah Stane. I've been forcing myself to watch it every night for weeks – trying to desensitize. It caused the flashback that led to- I want you to watch it, so you can understand…"
"Watching old B-roll footage of someone getting their hands on the arc made you flip out?" Clint asked, glaring at Natasha when she elbowed him. Hard. But he hadn't been poking fun, or being anything other than insensitive, as only Clint could be… he'd just been asking.
"Just- You need to watch it to understand. Steve?" Tony finally asked, turning back to his lover. Despite his anger of moments ago, when Steve had tried to order him, This time Tony was asking permission. He wouldn't watch it, if it truly bothered Steve that much. He was allowing Steve the authority to veto this…out of love, and nothing else.
After long seconds in which many eyes watched the byplay between brown and blue, Steve finally replied, "Okay. Yes. But… I need you to sit with me. I need to be able to touch you. Please."
It was the 'please' that did it, and despite the token protest of, "Steve- I could hur-", Tony was already allowing Steve to propel him across the room to the large sofa.
"You can't. No gauntlet. I've got you – just come sit with me." Steve murmured, pulling Tony down into the cradle of his arms, careful to keep his hands well clear of the muted blue glow.
The screen before them flickered to life.
For an instant, it was just Tony on the screen, a few years younger and a little less worn, but perhaps also somehow more so. Most of them noticed the cut sliced into his forehead first, fresh and painful looking, and wondered what had happened in the hours previous.
Steve only noticed the fathomless brown eyes, the same as those he knew he could meet in real time, with nothing more than a slight tilt of his head.
A phone suddenly rang, and more than one head swivelled to search for it, before they realised that it was part of the footage, and attention snapped back to television in time to catch Tony bringing it to his ear, preparing to answer the muffled voice barely audible within the footage.
From the left side of the frame, behind and out of onscreen Tony's line of vision, a man suddenly entered. He walked like he belonged there, like he had a right to be there, but immediately, five sets of eyes narrowed, and one dropped away from the TV, and the memories it was evoking.
The stranger's hand reached out, towards the unsuspecting Tony, and Natasha muttered low and filthily in Russian as she noticed some sort of device mostly concealed in his hand.
An instant later, and the swearing was much loader, and was accompanied by gasps of dismay and fear, as on screen, Tony suddenly twitched, and then paled rapidly, his eyes widening in confusion, as fear played on lips that couldn't express it.
Footage Tony jerked more forcefully, and then froze completely, and the stranger eased his paralysed body to the couch in an almost sickening parody of care, soft murmurs of "Breathe" and "Easy, easy", accompanying the gentle hands.
They could see him fighting it, in the wide eyes, and lingering hand, but it was futile, and too soon, Tony was helpless and defenceless in the company of one they would soon label a monster.
No one really heard the next few sentences of the man's softly murmured conversation, beyond a general knowledge of paralysed and Tony. They were too busy fighting to remain in their seats, when half their senses where screaming that a friend, that family was in trouble. But it was trouble long ago, and he'd had no one to help him then.
Steve felt Tony, his Tony, shift against him, a minute movement, not meant to be detected. His gaze immediately dropped away from the TV, and down to the form plastered to his side. Tony's dark head was down, and his hands where clenched together in his lap, his eyes riveted on them, rather than the ghosts haunting from the tv.
Steve pulled Tony closer, and gathered both hands into one of his own, curling his other arm around bowed shoulders. Tony relaxed slightly against him, and in turn, Steve himself relaxed, turning back to the screen.
Beside him, Tony hid the small smile of success by keeping his head down, and tucked himself more firmly against Steve's side. It was Steve who'd needed the comfort, he'd been drawn tighter than Clint's bowstring, and gearing up for a snap. If caring for Tony allowed him to calm, then Tony would give him that.
Obadiah had tried to take the one thing Tony needed above all others.
He'd tried to take Steve.
Obadiah Stane could never have power over him again.
Tony looked up at the screen, seeing himself, pale and sickly, staring back. He could do this. He had to.
And then Obadiah reached for that god-awful silver claw-extractor, and Tony dropping his gaze, along with most of his breath, was no act. This time, the comfort offered by way of a hand gently trailing over the side of his face, was sorely needed.
Obadiah was spouting some nonsense about golden geese and hits, and fate… all of which Tony could repeat back verbatim of course, but he wasn't putting stock into what that murderous, greedy bastard said ever again.
It was Thor's voice that rent the silence within the room, oddly hollow as it echoed over, but didn't muffle the sound of the footage, as he asked, "This- man. Who was he to you, Tony Stark?"
"Friend, Mentor, Brother, Uncle, Godfather, Father… for a long time he was everything I had." Tony whispered back, knowing that everyone had heard anyway. He could feel the chill from Natasha's cold fury from the other side of the room, Clint's white hot rage, Thor's melancholy anger and Bruce's struggle between protective and enraged. Steve was utter devastation, for Tony, and who Tony had been, that others hadn't seen. Because this had happened, and Tony had been alone.
And then Obadiah pulled the silver claw loose from Tony's chest, and the arc reactor, minus its casing, went with it. Gorgeous, luminous beauty, enthralling and enchanting in its ethereal paleness. No one could look away, and for the first time since the footage started, no one wanted to. The arc- rector was simply stunning.
Silence fell, both in the room, and on the screen, just for an instant, and then Obadiah opened with the heavily spoken words, "Your Father-" and Tony, the one sitting there, among his family, watching one of the worse days of his life play out on TV, flinched like he'd been struck.
And Steve finally started to understand beyond just, Howard changed. Because it wasn't about Howard, it was about Tony, and no one seemed to get that.
Obadiah mentioned something about selfish, but Steve wasn't listening, he was too busy pressing a kiss to Tony's messy hair.
His gaze snapped up though, when there was a foreboding technological buzz, and onscreen Tony's eyes suddenly bulged, and he gagged on air frozen within his paralysed lungs.
The arc reactor was ripped clean away.
"Enough. Turn it off. Please- off!" Bruce suddenly bit out, shoving to his feet and lurching toward the TV.
JARVIS shut down the screen, Obadiah's last immortalised words echoing in the air, "Oh, it's beautiful".
Bruce was vibrating with rage, eyes almost transcending green, right into black. Yet somehow, he was holding it together.
"Please tell me he's dead." the physicist's bit out between clenched teeth, long shuddering breaths whistling between them.
"As you helped battle against my misguided brother, I would defend you from your deranged kin" Thor vowed solemnly, looking as though he was itching to fling his hand out and call Mjölnir.
"I volunteer for that privilege", Clint immediately spat, pacing in front of the window, fingering an arrow head that had come from god knows where.
Natasha snorted, a quiet sound of barely miffed anger that spoke of almost incontrollable rage, as she replied, "Get in line."
"He's dead." Steve said quietly, knowing as much from what Tony had told him.
Tony nodded from his spot beside Steve. "Very dead. You guys need to breathe. Calm down a bit – this happened years ago. He'd dead, I'm fine."
Steve snorted at the most bald faced lie of the evening, but Bruce beat him to it, sounding outraged as he spoke, "You've been watching that?! Over and over- god, Tony…that's torture!"
The others slowly settled as they realised what Bruce was saying, remembering what Tony had alluded to earlier. That he'd been watching the footage to desensitize himself, and it had caused one hell of a flash back.
"Before anyone else has a chance to hop on the 'berate Tony for his stupidity' wagon - I've stopped. I thought I was weakening his hold on me, but I was only strengthening it. Never again. I won't give him any more power over me." Tony said seriously, half smiling at the huff of relief that played across the back of his neck.
"Now, before I break out in hives- I am allergic to feelings, you know. It's quite a serious affliction- Can we please just watch a damn movie?" The genius all but begged, reaching across Steve for the abandoned popcorn bowl.
It was 8:30pm when the credits for 'Jurassic Park' started rolling, and whilst they would normally be cuing up the sequel, it had been a long and emotional night, and so the collective decision was to turn in early.
Although, Clint and Thor, who had been most impressed by the 'legendary Midgardian creatures', were headed to the kitchen to locate adequate sustenance to undertake watching the second, and possibly the third, in short order.
Bruce had retired to mediate, having been unable to settle his still jangled nerves, his gaze having swept to the alive and well Tony every few minutes to help calm himself.
Natasha simply disappeared into thin air, as was her want.
Steve, one arm wrapped about Tony's shoulders, easily guided them down the hallway, happily listening to Tony babble about the atrocious butchering of science within the film.
He was just glad that Tony seemed to be coming back from whatever self-imposed denial he'd set himself, allowing Steve's arm about his shoulders. Although the real test would be the kiss he planned to bestow once they reached their rooms.
Entering the elevator, Steve leant against the wall, and Tony settled in beside him, close enough that they were touching in several places, but not plastered down his side as the other man often did in the confines of the elevator.
They started to rise, and before Steve could think it through, it escaped his lips, "Actually, the workshop please, JARVIS."
He audibly heard Tony's breath hitch, but there was no argument or refusal, and so the elevator started to descend rapidly.
As it stopped and the doors slid open, Steve moved to reach for Tony's hand, only to be met halfway, when Tony reached for him.
Reached for him.
It was pathetic how much such a simple gesture of trust made his heart thump, and Steve couldn't help but grin as he led the way into the workshop.
True to their word, Clint and Thor had cleaned all the blood, but the workshop was still a bit messy. Different from its usually chaotic organisation, there were odds and ends strewn about that the others hadn't know where to put.
There was also a conspicuously open area, where Steve's body had been sprawled.
He felt the full body shudder that engulfed Tony through the connection of only their hands, and quietly spoke as he led an ever more reluctant Tony toward the workbench- the scene of the crime.
"Its okay- I want to try something. Do you trust me? " Steve asked.
Tony's answering nod was immediate, with no hesitation.
Steve dropped a light kiss against upturned lips, and then continued, asking, "Do you have a gauntlet in here?"
"Yes. Why?" The genius question, his voice starting to get wary as his suspicions rose.
Steve accepted the gauntlet that Tony handed to him, and then pressed it back into the retreating hand, replying, "Put it on."
Tony stiffened, almost fumbling the gauntlet, only Steve's steady hands keeping it in place as Tony snapped back, "What?! No[C1] ! Just- no. That is an astronomically Bad Idea."
"Tony. I've got you. Trust me and put the gauntlet on." Steve replied firmly, but oozing reassurance.
Tony slipped the gauntlet onto his hand, clipping the manual catches to secure it, and connected it to the arc rector with shaking hands.
"Is that where you were standing? Like that, toward the desk?" Steve asked, and received only a wordless nod, so he continued, "Where was I standing? Tell me."
Tony shivered a little, both hands flat on the workbench before him, the bare hand pressing down over the gauntlet, as if to keep it there. Steve didn't push him to answer before he was ready, and eventually Tony replied, "Behind me."
Stepping up behind Tony, Steve stopped a step away, and asked, "Like this?"
Peering back over his shoulder, Tony shook his head and murmured, "Closer."
Shuffling slightly closer, leaving about an inch between them, Steve replied softly, "Better?", and accepted Tony's jerky nod in answer.
He waited a moment, but when Tony neither moved nor spoke, Steve took control again, "What did I do next? Did I kiss your ear?", as he spoke, Steve leaned forward slightly, and planted a sloppy kiss against the ear that was slightly turned towards him, grinning when he received an surprised yelp and a half disgusted, half amused head shake in response.
"No? Okay, maybe I ran my fingers through your hair." His fingers found purchase in the deep shiny locks, and he noted that Tony's tense form started to relax slightly.
His usually confident voice was quiet and shaky when Tony finally started to play along, "No. Not yet. You- your hands were on my shoulders."
Steve slowly brought his hands up, absolutely gentle and calm in his approach, knowing that the time for jokes was over or hadn't arrived yet – Tony needed to trust him with this.
Settling his hands on too tense shoulder, he just let them sit for a moment, still and completely predictable, before asking softly, "Was I rubbing?"
All Tony could manage for him was a jerky nod, but it was enough for Steve, who slowly began a gentle massage, not aiming to work knots from muscle, but just to relax.
Silence, except for Tony's occasional hitched breath as he fought to not tear off the gauntlet and run, and Steve eventually asked, "What next?"
There was no answer, not even after a few moments, and Steve tried again, "What next, Tony?"
"You wrapped your arms- my waist", it was barely more than a whisper, but Steve heard it anyway, and slowly he slipped his arms down over Tony's shoulders, and looped them about the slender waist.
He could feel the gentle tremble of barely contained shudders of fear that racked his lover's body, and wondered if maybe he was pressing too hard, too soon.
And then a whisper quiet mummer drifted over Tony's shoulder, saying, "You were closer by now – almost engulfing me."
Steve stepped forward with a relieved grin, pressing up against the involuntarily tense body that almost shuddered apart under the confining comfort of his grasp.
"Now what…" he breathed, his voice hot and moist against Tony's throat, which he was certain was his next target.
True to form, Tony simply tilted his head, and allowed Steve access, warm tongue free to bathe salty skin, and soft lips to follow the curve.
He could actually still see a faint mark at the base of Tony's throat, and Steve moved to worry slightly at it with his teeth, rebranding, remarking. Tony jolted in his arms, but the blond was sure it was a good type of jerk this time.
Soothing the small area with gentle strokes of his tongue, Steve managed to get out, "What next?"
Sounding slightly breathless, Tony replied, "All that 'hand in hair' business now."
Carding his fingers through Tony's hair was one of Steve's favourite past times. The soft texture, and messy tangles, the rich colour and vibrant shine. There was also the fact that having his hair played with made Tony all but melt into a puddle in Steve's grasp.
It wasn't quite as effective under the current circumstances, which told Steve a lot about Tony's state of mind – he wasn't entirely calm, no matter what his body was saying as it folded all but bonlessly into Steve's hold.
Twenty minutes later, Tony was more relaxed then he had been since they'd entered the workshop, and Steve knew they had to move onto the next stage, and he knew this was when it could all fall apart on him.
"Tony? What next?" He asked quietly, keeping up the gentle massage as he waited for an answer that he honesty doubted he'd get.
Minutes passed, and as expected, there was no reply. He was about to ask again, when Tony's hand closed about the wrist of his free hand, not moving it, just holding it within his slightly trembling grip.
And then, as if steeling himself, Tony tugged gently and Steve allowed his hand to be moved around and pressed against the cotton covered skin of Tony's stomach.
Splaying out his fingers, pressing his hand flat against taut stretched stomach muscles, Steve waited for Tony to relax.
Only he didn't. Ten minutes later, every muscle and joint Steve could feel was tense and locked, and he realised that Tony wasn't going to relax, and if he waited any longer, he very might well end up in an empty workshop.
Slowly he began to gently rub over the cotton covered skin, fingers light enough to tease slightly, but firm enough to not tickle. The cotton rode up slightly, exposing a strip of skin, and Steve's index finger wandered onto it, tracing the revealed area, before slowly sliding up and under Tony's t-shirt, settling against bare skin.
Tony shuddered, and pulled back slightly, a gasp rising in his throat as he realised what was next, what had to be next. Steve just waited patiently until Tony had relaxed as much as he thought was possible, and then his hand crept slowly upwards, gentle, careful.
And then touched on the cool metal edge of the reactor.
Tony flinched wildly, a guttural cry rising from deep within his throat, and he brought the gauntlet covered hand up- And slowly moved to place it carefully over Steve's, where it rested against the arc reactor.
Steve didn't move his hand, pressing his lips to Tony's ear and murmured, "I'm fine, you're okay."
And after a moment of complete silence and absolute stillness, Tony removed the gauntleted hand, and huffed a deep breath. Relief, happiness, excitement, passion, gratefulness…Steve heard all those, none of those and more.
Mostly he just heard Tony's demand to be kissed.
Turning slightly in Steve's stubborn grasp, their lips met in a kiss that would have been almost violent, if not for the absolute worship found on each set of lips.
Beneath Tony's shirt, Steve's fingers beat a gentle staccato heartbeat against the glass of the arc reactor.
That's it for 'Sometime, You've Just Gotta Breathe'...tune in next time for some breathing difficulties born of a combination of fire and water :)
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