The silence that fell was deafening but said nothing. Steve looked at him, his mind going a million miles a minute, remembering when he'd said it and trying to figure out whether Tony wanted him to say it or not. Or whether he was about to scare him off or not.
"I, I uh, I didn't mean to...unless you wanted- um..." He wiped a hand over his face, cursing himself for being so socially inept. "If you wanted me to say it, then I said it, if it's too soon, or if it makes you uncomfortable, or I'm an idiot and men don't say that to each other nowadays or-"
"Steve," Tony said gently, putting him out of his misery. "Being from a different time doesn't make you an idiot. By the way, I'm taking you to Radio Shack tomorrow to help with some of that, men do say that to each other, it doesn't make me uncomfortable and I'm glad you said it." He kissed him softly, stroking his cheek.
"So it's okay? Saying I love you is okay?" He breathed, chewing his lip nervously. Tony kissed him again.
"Yeah, it's okay."
"Then...why haven't yous said it back?" He mumbled. Tony swallowed, frowning. Another lapse of silence fell, one worse than the one a few minutes ago. This one said everything, said a lot. Steve wilted, his heart clenching, trying to meet Tony's eyes and failing. "Tony?"
"We, uh, we were gonna watch The Godfather weren't we?" He said, standing quickly. "I'll meet you downstairs."
Steve watched him go and bowed his head. "Wait." He stood quickly, rushing out the door, scrambling after him. "Tony, wait!" He spat, skidding to a halt at the top of the stairs.
The genius stopped, his heart thudding, mouth dry.
"After everything I've been putting myself through, all that talk about nothing being wrong with me, sticking up for me in front of the press, telling me that all of this was okay, that there was nothing wrong with me and you can't say you love me? We've been through so much and...and it still isn't enough?"
He stayed silent, unable to look at him, knowing how much pain would be in his eyes. He didn't want to hurt looking into them.
He's already confused, upset and lost, and you're running away from him?
"Tony, what do I have to do? What do I have to prove to get you to care about me?" Still silent. "What's wrong with me, then? Not smart enough? Not rich enough? Not good-looking enough, what?"
TALK TO HIM, DAMN IT!
More silence. More awful silence that he didn't mean to happen, silence that spoke lies to someone so insecure and afraid.
"Fine," Steve hissed, shaking his head. "That's fine. I spend months fighting myself, fighting everything I knew and believed in just to be with you because I care about you and this ruins it. I told you to tell me if there was something wrong with me saying it-" He stopped, the anger dying away to pain. "I don't want to watch the movie. I'll be in my room. Alone. And I'd like it to stay that way."
He turned, stalking away with Tony still facing away from him.
He stood, rooted to the spot a tear working its way down his cheek that was wiped away quickly, loathing himself.
Go get him. Go tell him why you can't say it. Go hold him and tell him he's perfect and beautiful and there's something wrong with younot him. He's wonderful. Go tell him so. Stop all of this right now. Go get him.
Of course he didn't.
He went down to the lab and worked.
And worked for days. He knew it was days because Jarvis constantly reminded him that it had been more than 24 hours. He needed to sleep, needed to eat, needed to stop his mind from whirring. He'd learned too much about too much, turned countless people away and even ignored Bruce. Until finally...
"Sorry," he said quietly, stepping inside and pressing a few buttons on the door when he did so. "Sorry, Jarvis."
"No harm done," the computer said, almost sounding exasperated. If it weren't a machine.
"Tony," Bruce began, knowing he wouldn't turn to face him. "What happened?"
No answer, just fiddling away with the holograms in front of him, fighting the urge to turn his music back up and ignore him completely.
"Ya know, the funny thing is Steve hasn't hardly come out of his room either. Not unless he's demolishing the gym. Won't talk to anyone or about anything. Fury talked to him about some stuff going on, and what's been going on with you two in the news..." He paused, looking at his face to see if anything changed. Nothing did, of course.
"Tony, did you and Steve break up?"
"No. Yes. Maybe. Don't know." He cleared his throat, finding it raspy and harsh from lack of use.
"You need to talk to him. He's a mess. You're a mess, look at you. Please, just...just talk to him."
"Really?" He said, peeking around his shoulder to see the computer screen. "Because I'm pretty sure quantum physics was something you covered at the age of nine. What are you running from?"
"Nothing." He spat. "Now leave me alone."
"Not until you tell me what's going on or go talk to Steve. One or the other, Tony." Bruce said, crossing his arms, looking at him like a parent scolding their child. He waited, staring at his back. "Tony."
"What?" He said, spinning around to finally look at him. "I screwed up. I hurt him, okay? But talking to him...he won't want to listen to me. Not after what happened so I see no point I talking to him now."
"The leaders of this team are both M.I.A. right now because they won't talk to each other. What happens if we need to get out there and you two are still at odds like this, huh? You gonna ignore each other out there too, 'cause that could get us all killed. Now stop acting like a child and go talk to him for Christ's sake!" He took a breath, slowly calming himself down. "Please. For him at least. He's wandering around like a lost puppy out there."
"I'll think about it," he said, turning away again. Bruce rolled his eyes.
"Don't let your pride screw this up, Tony. You guys need each other. Whether you want to admit it or not," he said, stepping out and heading back up the stairs.
Tony sighed, listening to the silence that followed, wondering if it was true. If Steve were really as broken as Bruce said he was. If he needed him.
Stop crying, damn it. Stop it! What kind of man are you? Some soldier, crying like a baby.
He tried to stop, he really did, but holding this in like he was was tearing him apart from the inside out.
See, this is exactly what fags act like, isn't it? Pussies. Pansies. Having fun being a queer? Huh?
"Stop," he whispered, pushing at his temples violently. "Just shut up for a minute, please."
He looked up at the figure in his door, his heart clenching with his throat, his stomach sinking. He scowled, the pounding in his head that much worse. "Leave me alone," he spat, looking back at the carpet to hide the tears. "I don't want to talk to you, go away."
"Steve, please, let me explain," Tony said softly, looking at his mussed hair and his blue pullover, his broad shoulders drooped with defeat, fingers pressed to his temples to push out the noise. "Please."
He looked up at him, eyes swimming and puffy. He scoffed at Tony's expression. "Don't pity me. And don't look surprised either, this is your fault."
"I know," the genius said, uncomfortable. "I know. I hurt you and I'm sorry."
"You think it's that easy?" Steve asked, skeptical. "'I'm sorry' and everything's better? No, no, fuck you!"
"Hey, hey..." Tony sat beside him, never looking away from him. "Steve." He didn't, wouldn't, look at him. "Steve, please, just for a minute."
"Five minutes," he whispered, sniffling.
"Look at me, please." He looked up, so wounded.
"I'm killing myself from the inside, Tony," he whispered. "I've been constantly fighting myself about my feelings and who I am and you just..."
"You wanna know why I didn't say it back?"
"Because I said it too early and I'm a freak that doesn't understand how stuff works now," he said so fast and so sure he was right it made his chest ache.
"Don't talk about yourself that way. You're perfect," Tony said just as easily. "No, I didn't say it back because I've never said that to another human being before. Never had it said to me, either. I don't know how to use it, I can't even begin to know what it means when you actually do say it. I don't know, Steve. But what I do know is how I feel whenever you come near me. My heart pounds, I get a ridiculous amount of butterflies in my stomach and I want to be close to you so much it physically hurts. And it hurts when you're gone too. I want to be around you 24/7 because you're amazing. You're sweet, you're funny, you're smart and can draw a lot better than I can." He held his face between his hands. "The way I made you feel, that I didn't love you, that's unforgivable. You've been fighting so hard and working on yourself then I turn around and undo every bit of it. I'm so sorry for how I made you feel, and for making you cry right now. I'll be here for you no matter what from now on. Right here. I promise I won't hurt you again. Because I..." He swallowed again, shutting his eyes for a moment. "I love you, Steve. And you're probably the only person I'll ever tell that to." He stared up at him, looking more vulnerable than Steve had ever seen him.
Steve reached out, carefully cupping his cheek and pulling him close, kissing him more gently than anyone ever had. "See, that wasn't so hard, was it?" Tony laughed ruefully.
"You have no idea how hard that was," he breathed, still trying to smile. Steve wrapped his arms around him allowing him to nuzzle his face into his chest, his own cheek pressed against his neck.
"So, are you done with the fighting and the screaming in your head about us?" He asked quietly. Steve shrugged.
"Quiet right now," he said softly. "You being here helps. It always does."
"So, we win, right?" He said, looking up at him. Steve held his chin, kissing him again because it was far too much to say no.
"We're win-ning yes," he said softly, nuzzling his nose. "I just need a little more time."
"You have it," he whispered. "All the time in the world. Absolutely no rush from me, and everyone else can shut the hell up." Steve smiled again, elated to have to support from him. They were kissing again, slow, soft, all intentions innocent. Tony had his hands on his neck, thumbing his cheeks and keeping him as close as possible. Steve had one hand on his waist, the other rested over the reactor. Tongues were hinted at, breath drawn through noses in harsh gasps that echoed through the room with the quiet smacks of their lips. Their mouths devoured each other, a slow burning heat building between them. Steve's fingers clenched in his shirt, Tony tangling his fingers in the dirty-blond locks, scooting so close to him he was practically in his lap.
"Okay," Steve sighed, breaking away, out of breath and almost shaking. "That was, um..."
"Yeah," Tony smiled, drunk. "That was, um...We should do that more." Steve nodded, blushing. "You wanna do it again?"
"You bet your boots, I do."
Tony burst into giggles, pressing their foreheads together and holding his cheeks.
"What?" Steve said, confused. Tony shook his head, still laughing, pecking his lips.
"You're wonderful," he chuckled. "Don't ever stop talking like that."
"Like what?" He urged, genuinely confused. Tony kissed him again, distracting him from the situation. .
"Just don't change."
"Oh for the love of God," Tony sighed, stepping out of luncheon with Steve on his arm, cameras and reporters everywhere.
"Can we get a statement, please?"
Steve rolled his eyes, Tony's jaw set and angry.
"You want a statement?" Steve said. "You really want a statement? I'll give you one, then!"
He grabbed Tony's elbow, yanking him toward him and kissing him firmly right there in front of the entire world.
Tony stared at him with wide eyes when they broke apart, genuinely surprised at the outcome.
"There. Still Captain Steve Rogers, still Captain America, still able to protect this country. I'm in love with Tony Stark and there's nothing wrong with it. There's nothing wrong with me," he looked directly into CNN's lens. "There's nothing wrong with loving someone. Don't let anybody tell you different."
He took Tony's arm again and walked toward the limo a small smile on his lips. Tony squeezed his hand.
"I'm really proud of you," he said, pecking his cheek. Steve blushed, opening the car door to allow Tony to go ahead of him. "Even if you are the oldest virgin in history." He kissed him swiftly, smiling cheekily before ducking inside. Steve chuckled, climbing in after him.
"If you behave I'll let you fix that."
Tony's bark of a laugh died away as the car sped down the street.