Tony isn't pining. That might be what Pepper says when she manages to slip an angrily worded note into the workshop, but it's not true. She's got it all wrong. Tony isn't wallowing in grief over a relationship that was never going to work out.

No. He's being very manly about the whole situation. He's even grown a bit more of a beard, although truthfully, that's largely because he doesn't have any way of shaving without leaving the lab, and he's not going to do that any time soon. He can't. The uncrackable lock he's working on won't build itself.

He's only working on a rough prototype, but it's looking promising. He's coded it beyond override capabilities. That shouldn't be possible, of course, but he's Tony Stark.

From the desk drawer, he can hear the first few bars of AC/DC's Back in Black, and he shakes his head. Pepper's calling him. No doubt she intends to talk him out of his self-imposed exile, and he is not in the mood to hear about it.

With a flourish, he finishes inputting the final code that will make the lock impenetrable to even the most technologically advanced burglars. In this case, of course, he just needs it to be impenetrable to anyone who might be in Stark Tower and have the intention of dragging Tony out of his workshop, but it never hurts to be careful, he reasons.


The lock does its job. Over the course of the next two days, Tony's phone rings sixteen times. He doesn't answer it once. Seven people attempt to crack the lock. No-one succeeds, although Bruce does come worryingly close, prompting a hurried addition to the coding.

Tony knows how it must look. He's well aware that his actions will be mistaken for some sort of childish petulance, an inability to face his fears, but he doesn't particularly care. Heck, he thinks he'd rather they thought him a coward than have to talk to Steve.

He casts his mind back a few days, and he shudders. He thinks about the wide-eyed expression of shock on the other man's face, the moment his secret had been found out, and he wrinkles his nose in distaste. It won't do to dwell on it. He doesn't have to. Steve won't be able to crack the lock. Tony is safe in here, his technological fortress, and he can avoid thinking about the situation for as long as necessary.

He pauses, his self-introspection interrupted by someone knocking on the door, and he sighs.

"Give up," he calls. "I'm not here."

"If you don't open this door," comes Steve's voice from the other side. "I'll open it myself, Tony. I really will."

Tony can feel his pulse quicken at the sound of the other man's voice, and he mentally kicks himself. He is not a teenage girl. He can handle this.

"Good luck trying!" he retorts. "The lock - "

His gloating is interrupted by the fact that the door is suddenly knocked off its hinges, leaving Steve standing there, an apologetic look on his face.

Tony's blood runs cold.

"No amount of technical genius can make up for brute force," Steve explains. Tony swallows. He's not ready for this. He doesn't want to face Steve. He hadn't planned on having to do this today, if ever. Sarcasm is the way forward, he decides.

"Einstein would probably disagree with you there," he counters. "Weedy little guy, but balls of steel, apparently, and - "

"I made you this," Steve interrupts, and thrusts a painted canvas into Tony's hands.

Tony blinks.

Steve shifts his weight from his left foot to his right, his hands behind his back.

"Do you like it?" he asks weakly, and Tony is too dumbstruck to answer, nodding silently, mouth agape. Steve smiles nervously. "It was Hell trying to hide it from you, you know. You actually ran into me while I was working on it once. Do you remember when you invented that encyclopaedia for me? You sat down next to me while I was sketching the outline, and I was so nervous that you'd notice what I was drawing, but you didn't. You didn't even look. Not once."

Tony blinks. On the canvas, painted in hues of red and gold, is a likeness of Tony himself, sat at his workbench and concentrating on the screen of his tablet. In brushstrokes, Steve has pretty much perfectly captured Tony's look of complete and utter involvement with his work, down to the furrowed lines between his brows and the tell-tale two day stubble of a difficult project.

Tony does not know how to react to this.

"I," he says, and he thinks he's made his point. Steve takes a step closer, and Tony can smell now that he's clearly had at least two cups of coffee this morning to try and pep himself up for this. Even if caffeine has no real chemical effect on him anymore, the placebo effect is clearly still pretty useful. Tony can feel his heart-rate increase, hear the same thing of the other man, and he swallows hard.

"I thought that meant that you didn't care," Steve continues. "I mean, I'd made it as obvious as I could. I kept finding excuses to talk to you. I pretended that I couldn't use my phone, or that I couldn't work the comms system, because I knew that Fury would ask you to fix it, and that would mean you'd have to spend time with me. But you just holed yourself up in the lab, away from me, and then you'd present me with a perfect solution a few days later, and I'd have to find a whole new excuse to talk to you. It was actually kind of exhausting."

"You wanted to talk to me?" says Tony, because that part really hasn't sunk in yet. People don't want to talk to Tony. They want him to update their tech or rewrite their code or donate to charity, and they want him to do all this with as little human interaction as possible. People don't willingly converse with him, and that includes Steve. Especially Steve, who always has something nice to say, whereas Tony would generally rather say nothing at all. "Why?"

Steve raises an eyebrow.

"No, but really," Tony adds. "Why?"

Steve rubs the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger.

"Because, Tony," he says, like Tony is a small child. "I like you. So help me, I like you."

"Oh," Tony manages, and then, because he's a glutton for punishment, "why?"

Steve closes his eyes and bites his lip in exasperation, and Tony mentally shoots himself for blowing this. This is why he can't have nice things, he tells himself. This is why he talks to robots instead of people.

Steve's voice actually surprises Tony. He hadn't been expecting an answer.

"You're often rude," the other man begins, and Tony's heart sinks. He doesn't want a list of his faults. He's heard them all before, phrased a thousand different ways on the lips of a hundred different, disappointed people. He's about to protest when Steve continues. "You spend far too much time working. You prefer annoying people to talking to them. You think that a packet of chips and a glass of scotch constitutes a meal. You wear sunglasses indoors. You bought me a ninety-nine cent cheeseburger for my birthday."

Steve finishes, and Tony doesn't really know what to make of that.

"So, what," he says. "In spite of all that, you like me?"

Steve huffs out an exhausted sigh.

"You're really not getting this, are you?" He steps forward again, placing his hands on Tony's shoulders. "It's because of all that that I like you."

"Oh," says Tony, and he can feel the other man's pulse where his thumb is touching the skin of Tony's neck before it meets the fabric of his shirt, and he remembers one afternoon with Pepper when she told him that some people like you for who they want you to be and some people like you for who you might be one day but there are other people who like you for who you are, warts and all, and suddenly everything sort of snaps into place and it's all crystal clear, in focus at last, and Tony knows what he has to do.

Steve is still looking at him, like he's afraid he's said something wrong, and Tony cups the other man's face in his hands and leans up, presses their mouths together. It's not the sort of kiss he's used to; Steve kisses like he's afraid, like he's worried Tony will break the seal of their mouths and rate him out of ten and send him away, but it's kissing Steve, and Tony will take that over technique any day. He figures they've got time to work on that, anyway.

Steve pulls away, his hands still at the base of Tony's skull, the fingers of his left hand curled into the hair at the nape of his neck, and smiles slightly, his face flushed. It's an inherently endearing sight.

"So," says Steve. "Will you come out of this darned workshop now?"

Tony looks at the ceiling, chewing on his lip in mock thought.

"I don't know," he replies, slowly. "I mean, clearly the lock still needs more work - "

Steve kisses him to shut him up. Tony really doesn't mind.

He never does finish that lock. He doesn't mind that, either. Bruce minds, of course, but that's because it indirectly causes him to walk in on two very naked superheroes.

Steve bakes him a cake to apologise, and doesn't even complain when Tony spikes it with green food colouring. Tony thinks that might just be the definition of love.