Disclaimer: Avengers are sadly copyright of Marvel/Disney and not mine

Author's Note: I'm back! Sorry been very busy recently, but I have written this massive oneshot. I was trying to keep it short and sweet but somehow it sort of morphed out of control but I really do like this one. It's a concept that's been tackled before, Steve loves Iron Man, hates Tony, the world has no idea who Iron Man really is. So here it is, please do enjoy, and be on the look on for a new one I'm working on!

For ravingbeauty, our last work together…thank you for everything.

Love All of Me

"Iron Man, watch out!" a panicked, all too familiar voice yelled in his ear. Heeding the warning, the figure in Ferrari red and gold rolled easily to the side, dodging out of the way of the blast from attacking AIM machines.

"Thanks for the heads up, Cap," he replied. "How about we take these assclowns down?"

Captain America chuckled, "Sounds like a plan."

"You two done grab-assing? Can we get back to killing the bad guys now?" Hawkeye asked dryly.

"Enemy on your eight," Iron Man warned as he flipped past, blasting away the would be attacker. Smirking, the superhero hurried to help the Cap as the assassin cursed roundly in his ear. As the battle continued to drag on – seemingly endless, as with most encounters with AIM – they fell silent.

Eventually, though, the Avengers managed to get the upper hand and push back the enemy. But they didn't go quietly – each took one last parting shot towards their intrepid leader. It annoyed Iron Man just how much they hated Captain America, he thought, gritting his teeth as he stepped in front of an incoming blast.

The impact sent him flying backwards into an already ruined car. Grunting in pain, he let his head loll back to fall with a clink onto the metal car.

"Iron Man, you ok?" A worried Cap stared down at him.

"Fine," he replied, wincing as a strong arm pulled him upwards and Cap set him on his feet. Now steady, he began to check over his suit, muttering darkly at the dents. It was going to take him hours to get those out…

"He won't be too mad, will he?" the man beside him asked softly.

Frowning inside the helmet, Iron Man turned to his companion. "Who?"

The patriotic superhero cocked his head as his expression hardened, "Stark."

The man inside the suit froze, feeling as if he'd been doused in ice water. For a second there he had almost forgotten…

"Probably," he managed to reply, keeping his tone as light as he could. "Guy loves his suit more than anything."

"I can talk to him if you want," the soldier offered tentatively.

The other chuckled, the sound tinny and distorted through the speaker. "It's ok, I can handle Mr. Stark."

Cap looked ready to argue, but the others joining them interrupted their little discussion. Widow and Hawkeye looked as unruffled as ever, Bruce looked very ruffled, and Thor… well, Thor always looked the same.

"The enemy was most unworthy today," the god was explaining to Bruce as SHIELD descended en force and a newly reinstated Coulson strode towards them.

"Debriefing in ten," the agent ordered as passed by, his new team trailing him to see to the aftermath of the battle.

Nodding formally, Captain America leaned in close to his metal companion, "You coming to the debrief?"

The voice echoed from the expressionless helmet, "Wouldn't miss it for the world."

-#-#-#-

Tony Stark was a man of secrets.

The media and his personal assistant turned CEO would no doubt argue that statement. But in truth, he was. And while his life had more or less been lived in the public eye, he had managed to keep this secret from even those closest to him.

No matter how much it hurt.

Sighing, he scrubbed at his face, wincing as he accidently hit the rapidly darkening bruise along his jaw. Poking the darkening flesh he shrugged, dismissing it as inconsequential; he'd had far worse over the last couple of years.

"Iron Man to Conference Room B," the annoyed voice of Agent Hill announced over the PA system.

Tony glared upward. "I'm coming," he mumbled as he pulled his helmet back on and replaced his gauntlets. Once more the faceless Iron Man, he turned on his heels and clunked out of the private room.

Yes, Tony Stark was a man of many secrets. And this was his biggest – he was Iron Man.

-#-#-#-

Keen blue eyes kept glancing to the door, as super human hearing strained for the familiar metallic clink that would signal the arrival of his – their teammate, he mentally corrected himself, ignoring the faint heat of a blush on his cheeks.

"Why do you think he always keeps us waiting?" Clint mused aloud, dirty combat boots on the table as he tilted back in his chair, muscular arms crossed across his chest.

"Who?" Natasha asked, the picture of calm.

"Who do you think? Iron Man," the archer replied, making finger quotes in the air.

"He doesn't always keep us waiting. He's usually here before Fury," Steve pointed out reasonably, missing the way grey eyes rolled.

"He probably has to call Tony and let him know about any repairs needed to the suit," Bruce spoke up sensibly, smothering a yawn.

Munching noisily on a bag of chips, Thor added his two cents, "Mr. Stark does worry about his armor."

Clint snorted, "That's all Stark seems to care about."

Bruce frowned at the archer, "That's not true, Tony's allowed us to live in the Tower, he keeps Iron Man running…"

The archer allowed the chair to thump down. "True," he admitted grudgingly. "But I still like Iron Man better," he muttered. Thor nodded his agreement, Natasha held her stony silence, and Bruce just sighed.

Steve, having only half listened to the conversation, finally picked up the faint sounds of metal on metal. Eyes on the door, he perked up eagerly and straightened in his chair as the familiar figure joined them.

"Hey, all," the tinny voice resonated and the others called greetings as the newcomer took his usual seat beside the Cap.

"Everything ok?" Steve asked hesitantly, watching as the faceless metal mask turned to him.

"Just fine, Cap." Iron Man replied. "No worries."

Whatever else they may have said was cut short as Fury joined them, immediately launching into a critique-laced congratulatory speech.

Steve, however, was barely paying attention. His mind was too busy churning with nervous energy, eagerly anticipating the end of this debrief – because today was the day. Today Steve was going to do it. He was going to finally get up the nerve to ask Iron Man out.

Biting his lip to keep from grinning too widely, he glanced sidelong at the metal man beside him and tried to keep the flush from his cheeks. He had high hopes that today he was going to finally be able to cross that fine line of friendship to something more.

Steve couldn't pinpoint the exact moment his feelings had shifted. Iron Man had always just been there. After he'd woken up, Iron Man had been an almost overwhelming spectacle to him. But despite all the flash and metal, whatever was under that armor had been… understanding.

At first Steve had thought it just a mechanical marvel, something right out of a dime store novel. He'd been fascinated; it had encapsulated this new era and appealed to his artist imagination. He had spent hours conversing with it, studying it, finding himself drawn inexplicably to it. So much so that he'd begun to wonder what it had meant for his mental stability to be developing such a strong connection to a machine.

It was a connection he apparently shared with Tony Stark. Stark, the inventor of the amazing machine, was a billionaire, charismatic, incurable ass. They seemed to rub each other the wrong day since day one. Lately, though, they had formed a truce of sorts. At least during the odd times they happened upon each other in the Tower. It was a sort of cool formality, but it was worth it – because Iron Man was worth it.

And despite his worry over his then burgeoning dependency on the perceived machine, it was not enough for him to pull away. For Steve, a man who'd lost his entire word, it was a godsend to find a connection to anyone, anything. It was not something he'd been willing to loose. So he'd found solace in a machine, the irony not completely lost on him.

It had been completely fine with him right up until six months ago, when a Hydra attack had turned his world completely upside down.

"Iron Man, you with me?" he yelled, eyes straining to make out the fight through the pouring rain.

"I've got your back, Cap," came the familiar tinny voice, the bright flash of gold and red a welcome sight.

It was just the two of them that day, with the others spread out on other missions or visits to loved ones. But that was ok, because he had Iron Man, and that was all he needed.

"How's your vision? I can barely see in this rain," Steve confessed, just managing to dodge out of the way of an errant blast.

"Copy that, fearless leader. I'll be your eyes."

Steve couldn't help but grin, "Thanks."

Following the clear and incredibly concise directions, they worked seamlessly. Captain America felt more than a little smug as the last of the enemy fell to his shield and Iron Man's repulsors. Through it all the rain hadn't let up a moment. Soaked through, the Captain turned slowly, panning for anything still moving.

"Cap!" the metallic voice yelled an instant before the impact.

Then the world slowed to a series of still moments. Something coming out of the sheeting rain, his back colliding hard with the pavement, breath whooshing out of his chest in a rush, the too heavy weight of metal on top of him.

He blinked, dazed, as he sorted out what had happened. Rain still pelting his face, he turned blue eyes to the glowing eyes near his own.

"Ok?" the metallic voice asked, sounding a little more distorted than normal.

Steve managed a nod. "Yeah," he answered faintly, still rather winded, as Iron Man was not a lightweight.

"Sorry," the machine on him mumbled, rolling away with a sound that Steve could only equate to a groan. Could a machine groan?

Frowning thoughtfully, he slowly sat upright, his chest still aching from the impact.

The rain was finally letting up, changing to a soft mist. Steve spared a glance upwards before turning to face Iron Man, who was speaking.

"Went right through the armor," he was muttering as he studied his arm.

Steve curiously looked to the outstretched arm, not fully comprehending what he was seeing. At first he thought some sort of oil was mingling with the rain and splattering to the pavement. Only the oil looked red… blood red…

But that couldn't be – did machines bleed?

The arm moved, pulling back, and Steve could see the ragged tear in upper part of the arm, where very real torn skin was visible, the blood sluggishly seeping out.

Shock overriding his common sense, he reached out and grabbed the arm. "Whoa, Cap. Injured here," Iron Man said. But Steve was focused on the blood, rubbing it between his fingers.

"Cap?" came the curious voice.

"You're real," he mumbled, unaware he'd spoken aloud.

"What?" Iron Man asked, cocking his head curiously.

"You're real!" Steve said louder now, staring incredulously at that expressionless face.

"Yes, I'm real," Iron Man said carefully, as if speaking to a child.

"But I thought… I mean, it didn't…." Captain America was having a hard time trying to get a reign in on all the emotions bubbling up in him. Anger, embarrassment, incredulity, but mostly an overwhelming relief.

Iron Man seemed to understand. "You thought I was a robot?" And if a mechanical voice could sound amused, his did.

Steve flushed in embarrassment. "I just assumed," he mumbled, looking away.

Iron Man seemed to take pity on him. "Cap, I'm real. Just a man hired by Mr. Stark to pilot his suit."

Steve could feel his jaw working, as something very much like a squeak managed to get out of his tight throat.

"Did you not read the file?" the man asked.

Steve managed a nod, "I did, but it was only half a page."

He laughed and Steve returned it with a smile, more relieved than he could remember being. Iron Man was real. There was a real person. A real injured person.

"Come on, we should get that arm looked at."

The rain picked up again and Steve could hear the water echoing off the suit… just a suit…

"Captain, you have anything more to add?" Fury's voice drew him from his thoughts; Steve had no idea what he'd been saying.

"No, sir," he answered, managing not to blush too badly. Fury gave him a bland look before pressing on, and Steve let out a breath.

He glanced to Iron Man out of the corner of his eye to see the metal fingers giving him a thumbs up. Steve felt a warm flush rise in his chest; yes, today was definitely the day.

He was barely able to sit through the rest of the debrief; it seemed to take far longer than usual. After what seemed like an eternity, Fury dismissed them and the others slowly got up from the table to leave.

Iron Man immediately turned to Steve. "You ok, Cap? Bit of a space cadet today," the mechanically modulated voice asked.

Steve waved a dismissive hand, "Fine, I'm fine… I just had something I wanted to ask you."

The metal headed nodded, "Sure, Cap."

Clearing his throat, the big man shifted nervously, "I, ummm… did you maybe want to get dinner?"

"Yup, sounds good." Steve was rewarded with an immediate nod as Iron Man stood up from the table. Steve hurried to stand as well, stopping him with a gentle hand on his arm.

"Wait… I mean without our suits," he got out all in one breath. The man in armor froze, and Steve held his breath, waiting… hoping.

"I can't," came the slow, toneless reply.

Steve couldn't help but feel devastated. He cleared his throat, trying to push down his sorrow. "I get it," he found himself saying as he ran an agitated hand through his hair. "I'm sorry, I just thought that maybe… I was wrong, I just hope we can still be friends."

Beyond embarrassed now, Steve turned away, hoping to put as much distance between them as possible – but a metal arm was stopping him.

"Steve, no… it's not that."

The man in uniform froze. Iron Man never called him Steve. Slowly he turned to face him, the pain in his chest lessening marginally. "No?" he asked softly, hesitantly.

"No, I… Cap, Steve… It's not that. I do want to, I just can't. My identity… it can't be known."

Blue eyes blinked. "I wouldn't, I mean – I can keep a secret," he replied hopefully.

"I'm under contract with Mr. Stark. No one can know who I am," he explained quietly, squeezing Steve's arm gently before letting go. "I trust you with my life, Steve."

Captain America was silent a long moment, a tangle of emotions rolling through him. Sadness, then understanding, before he found a firm resolution. Steve found himself straightening, determined. There was only one thing he could do…

"Ok, then. I'll talk to Stark," he decided, flashing the metal man a smile, wishing that briefly – just once – he could see the man beneath.

-#-#-#-

He sat and stared listlessly at the suit suspended before him, dark and silent in the too quite lab.

Tony was tired, sore, and stiff. All he wanted to do was sleep for days, but his mind wouldn't let him. Instead it insisted on replaying his conversation with Steve, over and over again. Heart clenching when he remembered the look of utter rejection and hurt on that handsome face when he'd said he could not give Steve what he wanted.

Tony had just about broken right there.

Even now he couldn't bear to think about it. Steve had looked so determined, and Tony was more than a little touched that the soldier was willing to fight for him… well, Iron Man.

He winced physically, reminding himself yet again that the Cap had no idea who he was under the armor. Hell, the man had thought he was robot for a long time, and he'd still wanted to be with him. Tony thought that said more about the man than anything else.

As it was, and as far as Steve Rogers was concerned, he was just some faceless bodyguard hired by billionaire, asshole Tony Stark.

Sighing heavily and more than a little mournfully, Tony slumped back in his chair. Scrubbing tiredly at his face, he wondered not for the first time how had this become his life. Two completely different men, living two very separate lives.

On one hand, he was a businessman – owner of a cutting-edge billion-dollar company, with a taste for the high life… fast cars and faster women. On the other hand, he was the superhero known as Iron Man – one of the Avengers, savior of humanity, and best friend to Captain America.

And it was Captain America that was the root of all this turmoil. Steve Rogers, with his beautiful smile, his amazing personality… and his wicked sense of humor. Steve, who Tony was pretty sure pretended he didn't know how to use his computer or phone just so he could ask Iron Man questions. Steve, who was so perfectly flawed, Tony really hadn't stood a chance.

To say he'd been elated when Steve had asked him out on an actual date would be an understatement. He was so hopelessly head over heels for the man it was almost embarrassing. And for one beautiful, brief moment Tony was sure he was dreaming – the man he loved more than anything was asking him out… only he wasn't.

Reality felt far too cruel when Tony reminded himself just who Steve was asking out. He was asking out Iron Man, not Tony Stark.

"Sir?" JARVIS' voice echoed loudly around the silent lab.

Tony just about came out of his skin in surprise.

"Christ!" Tony said, clutching his arc reactor as his heart pounded against his ribs.

"Apologies sir, but Captain Rogers is requesting entry."

The billionaire cursed roundly, leaping off his chair and running a hand through his already disheveled hair.

"Tell him I'm busy working with something dangerous," he said quickly. He didn't think he could bear to speak to Steve right now. Worrying a chapped lip, he waited as the AI relayed the excuse.

"Captain Rogers has asked me to inform you he is more than willing to wait," JARVIS returned placidly, and more than a little smugly.

Tony was torn, both aggravated and impressed with Steve's persistence. It was humbling just how determined he was to fight for what he wanted. At the moment, though, the Cap's tenacity made him want to wring his handsome neck.

Cursing, Tony hurriedly threw on a hoodie to conceal the glow in his chest, while he nudged his bots to life.

"JARVIS, turn everything on and make it look like I was working," he ordered. DUM-E, wrench in claw, followed him as he hurried around. Trying vainly to make it look like he hadn't been brooding in the dark, he snatched up a hammer and headed for his suit. Pulling off the chest piece, he set it on his bench and began to bang out the dents.

"Ok. JARVIS, let him in." Tony tried to focus on working out the dent, assuring himself he was not watching the man make his way across the room. His blond head turned this way and that, and Tony wondered briefly what he was looking for, until he realized it was probably the pilot of Iron Man. His frown was not contrived.

He waited as the soldier wandered up to him, absently patting a whirring DUM-E as he waited for Tony to acknowledge him. The genius had to bite back a smile, acutely aware of every move the man had made since he'd set foot in the room.

Making a show of finishing off the dent, he pushed up his goggles and turned to face the other man, casually crossing his arms.

"Rogers," he said smoothly, keeping his expression as neutral as possible.

"Stark," the soldier returned, coolly polite.

An uneasy tension automatically settled between them, and Tony, both apprehensive and curious, wondered how Steve was going to go about this. He watched the blue eyes dart around the lab before finally settling on Tony with an intensity that made his breath hitch in his chest.

"Stark," he began, voice low, husky, and almost sensual. Tony found his eyes fastening on his perfect lips, mesmerized. "I would like to ask your permission for Iron Man to, ummm… go on a date with me."

Tony carefully kept his face blank, wanting to simultaneously hug the earnest looking Steve and kick him out of his life completely. Pretending to mull it over, he tried to buy himself some time, for in truth he had no answer for Steve. Those eyes, though, were so clear blue and damned determined that Tony had to look away.

"You don't need my permission," he said dismissively, turning back to the chest plate. "You go out with him all the time."

Steve huffed a sigh of annoyance, "No, I mean without the armor."

Tony knew what he'd meant, but he'd been hoping that maybe Steve would have decided against it. He should have known better.

"I'm afraid that's impossible, Captain Rogers," he said, schooling his features before facing him once again. "Iron Man's true identity is to remain anonymous indefinitely."

Steve stiffened, eyes narrowing as a fire lit in those blue depths. Tony knew that look well and he braced himself – Steve was going to battle.

"He would remain anonymous. No one would recognize him outside the suit," he argued, stepping forward, broad shoulders squaring as if for an attack.

Tony was not going to back down. "Oh really? Can you assure that? The Avengers are already constantly in the news – it wouldn't take the media long to put two and two together, Captain," he volleyed back.

Steve clenched his jaw. "We could protect him…" he began and Tony cut him off with a bark of laughter.

"Oh really? And if you're not there? What if, for some reason, some bad guy corners him? What then, oh mighty Captain?" Tony pointed behind him to the banged up metal, "Outside that suit, outside my tech, he is just a regular guy. Not a super solider, not a god, or a rage monster, or even a trained assassin. He's just a man."

Tony wasn't sure how it had happened, but suddenly the words falling from his mouth were hitting far too close to home. His own deepest fears lay bare to a man that already knew all of his secrets – all save one. Chest heaving in agitation, he turned away and tried to get ahold of himself, reigning in his emotions.

Steve was silent for long moments. "I… thank you for explaining. I never fully thought it through," he said softly, and Tony was able to hear him shift uncomfortably.

"Could you…" he cleared his throat before continuing. "If you see Iron Man, could you ask him to come see me?"

Tony gave a vaguely affirmative sound, still staring intently at the dented metal. The silence stretched on achingly until, without another word, Cap walked out, leaving Tony to listen as his footsteps retreated.

Tony maintained his stance until the door closed and he was once more alone in the quiet space. He exhaled a shuddering breath, suddenly unable to support himself. Sinking back into his chair, he buried his face in his hands.

Why couldn't he just tell him? Come clean, throw himself on Captain America's mercy. Breath hitching, he ignored the pain in his chest, already knowing why he couldn't. He was in far too deep.

Unbidden, his mind conjured up images of a horrified Steve looking hurt and betrayed as he confessed who he really was. That he'd been lying to him all this time…

It was hopeless, utterly hopeless.

Dejected, he looked up at the armor once more – the armor that symbolized both his freedom and his burden. He was trapped in a prison of his own design. Standing slowly he moved towards his suit as if in a trance, callused fingers reaching out to touch the faceplate.

"He loves you," he said, speaking aloud. "He loves you," he reiterated, suddenly irrationally angry. Rage bubbled through him as he pulled the helmet off and heaved it across the room.

"He loves you!" he yelled, voice breaking as he tore apart the suit in piece by piece. He didn't stop until his creation was in pieces around the room and he stood amidst the mess, chest heaving with exertion and emotion.

Slowly, painfully, that blind rage began to subside and Tony Stark stood hollow and empty once more, looking mournfully at the dark, accusing eyes of Iron Man.

"He loves me…" Tony whispered, voice hoarse now, throat raw from his cries of rage.

He wiped his face, ignoring the moisture that seemed to be tracking from his eyes, as the words he'd spoken echoed in his mind. He loves me. Dark eyes widened with realization as hope rose in his ruined chest.

Steve wanted the man in the Iron Man suit… And he was the man in suit.

If Steve could fall for him as Iron Man, maybe he could make Steve fall for him as Tony Stark.

Just as quickly as it had come, though, he dismissed the idea as ludicrous. Steve hated him. It was completely impossible.

But if there was one thing Tony Stark could do, it was make the impossible… possible.

-#-#-#-

That had not gone well, Steve thought as he paced his room in agitation. He'd gone down there with every intention of convincing Stark that Iron Man should be allowed to make his own choices… not be bound to Stark's contract.

He'd been more than willing to do battle with the snarky, arrogant man. But somehow he'd been blindsided and thoroughly disarmed by his outburst. Stark argued with him all the time, but somehow this time… his words had rung true.

The emotion, the honesty… Steve had been utterly surprised by it. Clearly Stark cared for the pilot of Iron Man, and for some reason that fact had floored Steve. He wasn't sure why he'd been so surprised by it, but he had.

Sighing heavily, he stopped his pacing. A frown pulled at his face as he tried to decide what to do next. Stark had made his position very clear, but his feelings for Iron Man were not so easily set aside. He wasn't just going to give up. He'd never given up in his life, no matter how hopeless it seemed.

Sinking onto his bed, he rubbed his face tiredly. There had to be something he could do, some way around this.

"Cap?" a soft, tinny called from the door, and Steve looked up eagerly. Iron Man stood hesitantly on the threshold. Smiling, Steve cocked his head curiously; Iron Man wasn't wearing his normal armor.

"Mr. Stark said you wanted to speak with me," he said.

Steve could feel the man's hesitation. Nodding the blond waved Iron Man in, gesturing for him to sit. "Did he mention our talk?" he asked as the metal figure sat beside him.

There was a long pause, "Yeah."

The soldier clenched and unclenched his hands fruitlessly, struggling to collect his thoughts.

"I'm sorry," the metal man said into the silence.

Steve whipped his head around to look at him so fast he heard his neck creak; the faceless mask was looking down at his lap. "What do you have to be sorry for?" Steve asked, surprised. "I'm the one who should be sorry for getting you into trouble with your employer."

A hollow metallic chuckle issued from the suit, "I'm not all that scared of Mr. Stark."

Steve grinned and the pair fell into a comfortable silence, at peace in one another's company as they sat side by side on Steve's bed. This time it was the solider who eventually broke the fragile moment.

"I'm not going to give up, you know," he said, looking across the room, jaw setting firmly as he came to an internal decision.

Iron Man said nothing.

"I'm not giving up on you," Steve affirmed, turning to look at his silent companion. "No matter what."

Silence fell again, stretching out, tension-filled.

"Ok," came the soft, barely audible reply, and Steve blinked.

"Ok?" Steve asked, eyebrows lifting in confusion as he looked into glowing blue eyes.

"Ok… let's have dinner," Iron Man said.

Steve felt his face splitting into a wide grin, "Ok."

-#-#-#-

"Why did I do it?" he moaned, biting another nail to the quick, barely noticing the sting as a metallic taste flooded his mouth. Grunting, he switched to his other hand, never once breaking his pace as he circled the lab in agitation.

"I can't believe I agreed to it. What am I going to do?" he asked aloud, but JARVIS remained frustratingly silent.

Tony Stark had no idea how he'd gotten into this position – or rather, he did know, but was just reluctant to acknowledge it. He was in this position because where Steve was concerned he was an utter pushover.

"Sir, I am to remind you of your date in an hour," JARVIS finally said, and Tony cursed roundly.

What was he going to do?

Different scenarios kept playing through his head, each more ludicrous than the last. He considered just not showing, but standing up Captain America was not something he was willing to do. He could hire someone to pretend to be him, maybe even put the Cap off Iron Man, but the thought of another man with Cap didn't sit well at all.

"Not helping, Stark," he growled, glaring across the lab at his reconstructed suit. Panic was setting in as the clock ticked relentlessly closer to the appointed time.

What was he going to do?

-#-#-#-

Steve stood nervously outside the restaurant, checking his watch for the umpteenth time. Clutching a bouquet of flowers in one hand, he tried to calm his wildly beating heart. He still couldn't believe Iron Man had agreed to dinner, to finally meet him. He was both excited and incredibly nervous.

He wondered idly what Iron Man looked like – not that it really mattered, but secretly Steve hoped he was handsome. Flush creeping up his neck, he shook such silly thoughts from his head.

Biting his lip, he looked down the street again, eyes skimming over the crowd as he wondered and waited on tenterhooks.

"Flowers. I'm touched, you shouldn't have."

Steve rounded on the familiar voice, eyes widening in surprise before narrowing in suspicion, "Stark. What are you doing here?"

The billionaire looked good, Steve thought grudgingly. Suit cut to perfection and dark hair styled elegantly, the man smirked cockily, "Iron Man sends his regrets and sent me in his place."

Steve could feel his face fall. "Cheer up, Cap. He had a last minute call that he very reluctantly had to attend to," Tony explained, looking bored.

The blond felt marginally better; he hadn't been stood up.

"Does he, ummm… need help?" Steve asked tentatively.

"No, he can handle it," Stark waved a dismissive hand. "Come on, Rogers. At least let me buy you dinner."

Steve hesitated a moment, looking down at the flowers in his hand, finding himself nodding, "Sure, why not."

Tony grinned and led the way as Steve followed a little slower, unable to help but wonder what kind of disaster he was heading for.

-#-#-#-

Tony was thrilled. Things were going way better than he'd anticipated. Not exactly to plan, but still, it was going well. After all, he'd managed to convince Steve to have dinner with him, and that was a win in his book.

His original intent had been to confess to Steve, to just tell him the truth… but once he was faced with the blond, his conviction had failed him. Instead he'd fabricated the story about being a stand in for Iron Man. The irony set his teeth on edge.

The hostess showed them to a table, smiling at them winningly, and Tony felt his first twinge of unease; she recognized them. Brushing it off as paranoia, he sat as Steve settled across from him and both busied themselves with the menus in an effort to ignore the awkward silence.

Glancing over the entrees, Tony finally took notice of where they were. He'd been so nervous and worried about the date he hadn't even noticed where Steve had taken them.

He must have really been trying to impress Iron Man… well, him. It was very upscale and very expensive. In all honesty, though, Tony would have been happy with a greasy hamburger at a divey diner. Steve really didn't have to impress him.

"I have no idea what half this stuff is," Steve sighed. His quite exasperated statement had Tony grinning.

"Me neither," he confided, earning a small shy smile in return.

"Can I get you gentlemen a drink?" the waitress asked smoothly, smile in place and paper pad in hand.

"Coca-Cola please," Steve asked politely.

Tony would love a drink – love a lot a drinks, actually – mainly for courage, but…

"Me, too," he found himself saying. Nodding, the waitress disappeared, masking her surprise well. Steve just gave him an inscrutable look before glancing back down at his menu.

Silence descended once more and remained until their drinks came and they quietly gave their orders. With nothing left to distract them, that awkwardness was becoming thick and cloying.

Tony was beyond frustrated.

Taking a sip of his drink, he tried to collect his thoughts. This was the first time he'd been with Steve as himself and they weren't at each other's throats. He didn't want to screw it up.

When he was Iron Man they talked all the time, about anything and everything, sharing themselves. With Steve he had found a freedom to be himself, to be unflinchingly honest. In return, Steve had given equal measure.

Quiet whispered words in the back of rumbling cargo planes as they flew home from a mission, loopy from exhaustion. Conversations that went on as dawn appeared over the horizon, as they sat atop the tower. Companionable silences when no words were needed at all.

Now, though, Tony had to forget all those intimate moments, pretend he knew nothing about him at all.

Perhaps that was a good place to start.

"So," Tony said softly, looking very determinedly at his fork. "How do you like the 21st century?"

-#-#-#-

Uncomprehending, Steve blinked at his dining companion. Vaguely he wondered if this was some kind of bizarre dream, as he'd never once since meeting Tony Stark imagined them sitting together in a restaurant, trying to have a civil conversation.

Keen blue eyes took in the slumped, unsure figure, dark eyes that seemed fascinated with the tablecloth. It was completely out of character for the snarky, in your face, billionaire, playboy, Tony Stark. Despite himself, Steve found it intriguing.

"It's ok, I guess," he answered hesitantly. Dark eyes glanced up at him through thick lashes.

"Anything in particular you like?" Tony ventured, hands toying with the silverware.

"Well, I guess my favorite is the internet. Google is amazing," he answered honestly. "And Iron Man, too," he added.

The man across from him grinned widely, "Mine, too – Google and Iron Man."

Steve couldn't help the amused chuckle that fell from his lips.

Looking a little more relaxed now, Tony sat back, "What do you hate?"

Steve made a face, his answer coming quickly. "Cell phones," he replied, wrinkling his nose in disgust.

Stark grinned widely at him as a chuckle fell from his lips, "I can see that."

Steve found the tension easing slowly from his shoulders as the stilted conversation began to flow more easily between them. The solider soon learned that with just the two of them Stark was different. He listened attentively and asked intelligent questions, and by the time dinner had come and gone, Steve was feeling completely relaxed.

As they grinned at one another shyly over coffee, the small fragile moment between them was shattered by a sudden flare from a flash. Shocked, Steve turned, instantly overwhelmed by the amount of media that had gathered. More camera flashes burst like stars before his eyes and he vaguely heard Tony calmly settling the check.

Blinking, Steve tried to clear his vision as dots of light danced before them. There was a growing murmur from others in the restaurant as they turned to look, intrigued at who was causing all the commotion.

Dazed and more than a little out of his element, Steve froze up, unable to do more than blink stupidly. Suddenly there was a strong, confident hand on his elbow, pulling him upright. Obediently he complied, following as he was led out the back of the restaurant and into a waiting car. Gentle hands ushered him safely inside the vehicle.

Sinking back into the plush seats, Steve tried to collect himself, but they were almost back to the Tower before he managed it.

"Apologies for that," Tony said quietly, face hard and inscrutable.

Steve turned to look at his companion and managed a shaky smile. "It's not your fault. The press tend to find the Avengers more often than not."

Stark nodded slowly, clearing his throat nervously, "True, but I was worried they may get the wrong impression."

Shrugging, Steve offered a lopsided smile, "I'm not too worried."

Once inside the parking garage of the Tower, they exited. Half listening, Steve heard as Stark thanked the driver before joining him and heading for the elevators.

Silently they rode upward towards the living areas, stopping first at Steve's. As the doors dinged open Steve stepped off, pausing when he remembered the flowers he'd rescued from the restaurant.

"Thank you for dinner, Stark," he said politely, holding out the flowers. "Maybe you could give these to-"

The dark haired man waved a dismissive hand, "To Iron Man, sure."

Steve hesitated, fancying he saw a flash of hurt in those keen, intelligent eyes. As quickly as it'd come, though, that small glimpse was replaced with a cocky, confident grin.

"Have a good night, Captain," Stark said, stepping back and hitting the button.

"Night," Steve echoed as he watched the door close, a tangle of confusing emotions rising in his chest. Heaving a sigh, he turned to head for bed, mind full and churning. Tonight had been eye-opening. Stark…Tony was not at all like he'd expected him to be.

-#-#-#-

Callused hands carefully arranged the flowers in his makeshift vase, a graduated cylinder that Bruce must have left behind. Finished fussing, he set them in a safe spot and stepped back.

"These are actually for you," he said aloud, looking sidelong at the dark armor, ignoring the small voice in the back of his head that said he was losing it.

Tony Stark felt a small smile turn the corners of his lips. Tonight hadn't been a complete train wreck. It hadn't been great, but it hadn't been a disaster either. Steve had had dinner with him; the genius counted that as a win in his book.

Sparing one last look at the flowers, he turned to move towards his workbench, shedding his jacket as he went. The expensive dress shirt carelessly followed. Stripped to his undershirt now, he scratched idly at the glowing ring in his chest. As dark eyes glanced back towards the flowers, a small smile tugged at his lips.

"Iron Man will have to apologize for standing Cap up tomorrow," he mused, turning back to his work.

Tonight, though, he hoped Steve was thinking of him.

-#-#-#-

"Cap, you have a second?" Steve looked up, face splitting into a grin as the familiar metal figure stood on the threshold of his office.

"Sure. Back safe from your mission then?"

"Yeah," the modulated voice replied as the other shifted uncomfortably. "I wanted to apologize for standing you up…"

Steve waved a dismissive hand, cutting him off, "It's ok, I understand."

"I hope Mr. Stark at least bought you dinner," Iron Man joked and Steve chuckled.

"Yeah, he behaved himself and everything."

Steve stood, moving around his desk to approach the other man, "I think you still owe me a date, though." The metal figure didn't move and Steve smiled softly into glowing blue eyes. Reaching up, he tenderly lay a hand on the pulsing blue in his chest, starting when the other flinched away with a mumbled apology.

Surprised, Steve blinked and pulled away. "I'm sorry," he apologized quickly, unsure what he'd done. He'd touched Iron Man hundreds of times. What was different this time?

"It's fine," the distorted voice said quickly, and the blond got the impression he was trying to steer the conversation to some other topic.

"Well, how about I make it up to you? Since dinner was a bust, how about coffee and a walk around Central Park?" Steve said, seizing the moment to try again; he hadn't expected that courting Iron Man would be easy.

He waited hopefully, almost shouting with joy when that faceless mask slowly nodded.

"Ok," said the soft voice.

"Excellent. Tomorrow at two?" Steve ventured and his excitement grew when he got another nod.

Steve shifted, worrying his lower lip as he felt an odd sort of unvoiced tension settle between them. It was a new feeling, an awkwardness he'd never felt with the other even when he'd thought him a machine. It was a very human moment.

"Sir?" A young agent appeared behind Iron Man looking nervous; Steve wanted to throttle the kid.

"Sorry, I'll see you tomorrow," the metal man said, beating a hasty retreat.

The super solider watched him go and, with a sad sigh, turned towards the agent, all but glowering. "Yes?"

-#-#-#-

"Why the hell did I say yes again?" he asked, glaring at the mask sitting innocently on his workspace.

Tony really had no idea what had gotten into him.

He had gone to see Cap today with every intention of apologizing for the date and explaining why it had been a bad idea to say yes in the first place. He was going to be firm, honest, and hope that Steve understood.

It hadn't worked out at all like he'd wanted.

One look into those beautiful blue eyes and he'd met his downfall.

"I've got another date with Captain America," he groaned and let his head drop onto the table, banging it several times in frustration.

"Sir, Doctor Banner is requesting entrance. He's seeking your assistance."

Sighing, Tony straightened. "Sure, give me a sec," he mumbled, taking a moment to slip on a sweater, hiding his arc reactor. Properly covered now, he turned and called out a greeting when the scientist appeared.

"Hey Brucie, what can I do for you?"

The doctor looked his usual disheveled self, and Tony waited patently as the absentminded man approached. He liked Bruce; the man was a calming, rational presence in an otherwise chaotic world. He also got great amusement from the dynamic contrast between Bruce and his alter ego. Secretly he felt a kinship with him, as he too was often at odds with his alter ego.

Mostly, though, it was just nice to have someone like him as Tony Stark.

"Hi, Tony," the curly headed man returned as he joined him at the worktable. "Sorry to bother you, but I was wondering if you could look over my notes on this project?"

Dark eyes automatically flew to the screen as he pulled up the data from Bruce's file. "Sure thing, Bruce. What are we doing?"

-#-#-#-

"Hey, Steve!" A jovial voice called, startling the man at his desk.

Blue eyes narrowed as they glared upwards at the ceiling. "I thought the director had you locked out of the vents permanently."

"He did. Challenge accepted…" Clint explained as he dropped from overhead. Casually brushing his clothes off, he nonchalantly settled into the chair facing the desk.

"So… word on the street is you're shacking up with Stark," the blunt man said, studying his nails.

Steve looked at him in wide-eyed surprise. "What… I mean, how..." he began, immediately flustered.

Clint cackled, "So it is true."

Steve vehemently shook his head, "No."

Confused, a blond head dipped to the side, "So you didn't have dinner with Stark?"

"Yes, I had dinner with him. No, there is nothing between us."

Clint idly rubbed his chin as he absorbed the information. "So, why are you hanging out with Stark then? Last I heard you hated one another."

"Well, I was supposed to meet someone, but they didn't show… so Tony filled in."

Intrigued, the far too nosey archer sat forward, keen gray eyes fixed on Steve in a penetrating stare. "Who?"

Flustered now, Steve looked away, fiddling with the papers on his desk before he muttered, "Iron Man."

Clint whooped with laughter, "I knew it! Bruce owes me five bucks."

Blue eyes narrowed before Steve sniffed, looking away.

"So you and Iron Man together now?"

Steve shrugged, "No, haven't been on a proper date yet."

"But you and Shell Head go out all the time," Clint waved a hand dismissively.

"Yes, I know we do, but I want to go out just the two of us… without the armor," he explained, trailing off self-consciously.

Hawkeye was silent a long moment before speaking, "Cap, Steve… you might be asking a lot there. Sometimes anonymity is all we have." His tone was unusually solemn and quiet as he met Steve's gaze steadily.

Steve was the first to look away. "I know," he returned just as softly.

A contemplative quiet settled between them before Clint finally sighed. "Well Cap, I wish you the best of luck. Finding someone in our line of work is tough, but I'd like to believe it's worth it," he mumbled the last part, more to himself than to Steve, as he disappeared back into the vents.

Steve watched him go, mind turning over his impromptu heart to heart with the archer. What he'd said made a lot of sense; maybe he was pushing Iron Man to do something he wasn't comfortable with. Maybe it wasn't Stark forcing him to remain anonymous… maybe he wanted to be.

Sighing, Steve checked the time. He was meeting with Iron Man in an hour; he guessed he'd have his answer then.

-#-#-#-

"What's bothering you, Tony?" Bruce asked over the rim of his tea mug, soft hazel eyes studying the man seated across him. Taking in the slumped, tired looking man, he felt his lips quirk when he got his reply.

"What makes you think something is bothering me?"

Bruce shrugged, holding his peace as they sat quietly in the lab. The silence stretched on for long moments.

"Bruce… You ever been in love with someone you knew you could never have?" Tony asked quietly.

The scientist smiled sadly. "Yeah. I've been down that road once or twice," he replied. "Although I can't imagine anyone not wanting the famous Tony Stark," he teased gently.

Tony snorted a humorless laugh, "You'd think, wouldn't you?"

They were quiet again. Bruce knew not to push, but his eyes slid to the Iron Man armor as an interesting thought began in the back of his mind.

-#-#-#-

Steve checked the time again, his heart sinking further as the seconds ticked by. He wasn't coming. He was sure of it. Iron Man wasn't coming.

Disappointed, he looked down at his shoes. He really shouldn't be surprised, but he had hoped…

"Cap!" a voice called and the blond head snapped up. Eager blue eyes searched the crowd, eventually landing on a man stepping out of the throng of people. His anticipation faded as he recognized him.

It was Tony Stark.

Swallowing down his disappointment, Steve put on a smile as he watched him approach. Stark looked different today – no expensive designer suit, just faded blue jeans and a thick cream colored sweater that looked unseasonably hot.

"Stark," he said politely before voicing his own dejected thoughts. "He's not coming is he?" he asked softly.

The billionaire shifted, "No, he is. He'll just be late… was test flying new armor and had a bit of an issue. Wanted me to relay the information to you is all, keep you company until he gets here." The usually confident voice was soft and hesitant, completely unsure.

Steve was beginning to like this more unsure side of the larger than life Stark. Nodding in acceptance, his smile was genuine. "Come on, Stark. Let me buy you a cup of coffee."

He watched a small smile pull at the genius's lips as he turned, leading the way into a coffee shop.

Steve would be lying if he said he wasn't disappointed by the turn of events. He had been hoping against hope that Iron Man would come, but he'd been prepared for the worst. And as he handed over the plain black coffee to Stark, the shorter man looking flustered and unsure, he realized that this wasn't all that bad.

"So how's your week been?" Steve asked.

Tony accepted the proffered beverage and cleared his throat nervously. "Busy," he said with a half smile. "Suit's been acting up."

Sipping from the paper cups, they stepped out into the busy street, navigating the crowd.

"Oh really? I imagine it's difficult to operate," Steve ventured curiously.

"Yeah, you have to be quick on your feet. If something goes wrong, the pilot has to think fast." Tony sent him a side long glance, "And be more than a little crazy."

Steve chuckled, smiling softly to himself as he sipped his coffee and considered the accuracy of that statement.

"Fishing for information, Rogers?" the billionaire asked knowingly.

Steve gave a self-conscious little shrug. "Maybe. I'd like to know a little more about him, I guess."

They stepped across the street and entered Central Park proper, the city falling away as they moved further in.

"What if he's not what you expect under the armor?" Tony asked softly, dark eyes staring resolutely ahead, face betraying nothing.

Steve glanced at the shorter man. "It doesn't really matter," he answered honestly.

Tony snorted, "And if he's fuck ugly?"

Frowning, the soldier sighed and looked at Tony with a little disdain. "It doesn't matter. What matters is the heart beneath it."

Silence settled between them, stretching out uncomfortably before Stark broke it once more. "What is it about him?" he asked tentatively.

Steve took a gulp of coffee before answering, "It's not really something I can put a name to, or a moment I can give you… it's just, he's my best friend."

He felt the other stiffen beside him in surprise, but pressed on, finding the words tumbling out unbidden. "He was there at the beginning, always patient, willing to listen to me…" he trailed off, mind drifting back over the near year he'd known the Iron Man.

"At first I thought him an incredible machine, but then to learn it was a person under the armor, a real flesh and blood person… willing to understand, when everyone else just assumed…" he trailed off, chest heaving with emotion.

They had stopped at some point, standing alone on a little path in the park. Wide, dark eyes stared at him with a confusing mixture of surprise, astonishment, and possibly a flicker of understanding.

Steve looked away first. "Sorry," he breathed, suddenly embarrassed to be spilling his secrets to someone who might as well have been a stranger.

"Nothing to be sorry for," Stark said, a weak smile in place. "For what it's worth… I know he thinks of you as his best friend as well. He speaks of you often."

Steve felt a sudden unaccountable warmth in his chest, "Really?"

Tony turned and started moving again, and the blond found himself falling into step with his companion. "Yeah," the billionaire finally answered, tossing out his empty coffee cup and stuffing his hands in his pockets.

Contemplative, they walked along quietly as Steve debated with himself before finally giving in. "Could you maybe tell me more about him?" he asked, hesitant and hopeful, watching Stark out of the corner of his eye, wondering if perhaps he was asking too much.

But after a long tense minute, Stark acquiesced, "If I can."

Eager, Steve could scarcely decide where to begin. He had a million and one questions bubbling around in his head. It was on the tip of his tongue to start peppering the genius with them when he realized with a sudden and undeniable clarity that he didn't need to know anything more. He already knew Iron Man, heart and soul. And the rest, well… the rest was just superficial.

He found himself smiling as a sense of calm descended on him, and Stark looked at him curiously.

"Cap?"

Steve gave him a lopsided grin, "On second thought, I think I already know everything I need to."

Blinking in surprise, a dark head cocked curiously, "Yeah?"

Steve nodded firmly, "Yeah."

It wasn't until they were back at the Tower that Steve had a revelation; Iron Man had never come. More amazingly, Steve found he hadn't minded all that much.

-#-#-#-

"Iron Man. Status?" Captain America's voice demanded in his ear.

"Still alive," he grunted back. Although for how much longer, Tony had no idea. This particular suit model was not meant to sustain the kind of heat being thrown off by the fire; he was literally cooking alive.

Still he pressed on, his infrared sensor useless as he searched the burning building.

"Iron Man, the building is seconds away from collapsing. You need to get out." The Cap sounded more than a little worried.

"Little more time, Cap. I'll find him."

Ignoring the sweat dripping steadily into his eyes, Tony kept moving. "Come on, come on," he rasped, blinking rapidly as he rounded a burning wall and moved toward the doors at the end of the hallway. He was almost to the end of the hall when he heard the weak cough.

Freezing, he waited, listening to himself sweat as he strained his ears, hoping it hadn't been just a figment of his imagination. Just when he was about to give up and keep going, it came again. It was a weak gasping cough, and Tony zeroed in on it. Walking through the smoldering door, he scanned the smoke-filled room.

"Where are you, little man," he mumbled, rounding the bed and spotting a small figure huddling in blankets.

"Hey buddy, you with me?" he asked softly, peeling back the blanket. The little soot-stained face was ghastly pale and his breath was shallow and rasping. Wasting no more time, he bundled the kid up and hoisted him carefully into his arms.

"I'm coming out," he came over the comms. "Hold on, little man," he said to the child.

Knowing his armor was unbearably hot, he held his precious cargo away from him as he ran out of the rapidly crumbling building. Moving faster than he thought possible, he was once more outside.

"Medic!" he hollered, already spotting the EMTs hurrying towards him. Stopping short, Tony held the small boy out. "Take him," he urged as they carefully accepted the bundle and rushed off to get the boy attention.

Tony stepped back and moved quickly towards the firefighters. Well past his breaking point within the overheated armor, he sought out a quick solution, "Help me out, guys." Without hesitation they turned the hoses on him.

Tony's groan of relief was drowned out by the hiss of steam as the water hit the super heated metal. Turning in the spray he soon cooled enough for the suit to once more be tolerable. Giving the boys a thumbs up, he stepped aside as they headed to join the others.

Once more livable, he turned, intending to check on the little boy – but he came face to face with a solemn Captain America instead. Tony winced, already knowing he was in for an earful.

"Iron Man," he began, face an impossible mixture of pride and disappointment. Only Cap could make you feel equal parts proud and thoroughly chastised. Bracing himself for a thorough chewing out, he was more than a little surprised when he was suddenly being gathered into a strong embrace.

Shocked, Tony automatically found himself returning the hug, only to remember he was still probably hot.

"Whoa Cap, hold on – suit's still hot," he explained, disentangling himself carefully. Tony could already see an angry red welt slashing across Steve's cheek from contact with the metal. He felt instantly guilty. "Steve," he whispered, stepping forward and reaching out a hand, only to catch himself at the last moment.

The super solider waved a dismissive hand. "It'll heal. You, though…" he sighed heavily, running an agitated hand through his hair. "I want to kiss you and hit you at the same time," he confessed, a rueful smile pulling at his lips.

Tony chuckled, feeling his cheeks heat impossibly more, "Kiss sounds better."

Cap looked about ready to say more when a call from one of the EMT's interrupted, "Iron Man, sir?"

Tony hurried over to the ambulance to find a small boy inside wrapped in a shock blanket, eyes gritty and red above an oxygen mask. Yet in those wide-eyes, the look was one of hero worship.

"Thank you, Iron Man…" the little boy huffed through the mask. Tony felt his mechanical heart clench. Kneeling down so he was eye level with the little guy, he gave him a small salute in recognition. Despite his traumatic day, the jubilant expression on the boy's small face was worth everything.

Standing once more, he allowed the paramedics to fuss over their charge as he rejoined Captain America. The pair standing in companionable silence as they watched emergency services run around in a state of organized chaos.

It hadn't been an official Avengers call; only he and the Cap had responded. Well, the Cap had – and Iron Man was not about to let him go alone, whether it be an alien invasion or a kitten in a tree.

Eventually Steve broke the silence. "If I were to ask you out for dinner again, would you say yes?" he asked hesitantly.

Tony automatically turned to face him, sparing a second to wonder just what Steve saw when he looked at the faceless metal mask. "Steve, I-" he began, not sure at all what he was going to say.

Steve cut him off, though, with a hand on his arm and a warm smile, "Five tonight. Joey's, down the street from the Tower."

-#-#-#-

Steve sat staring sightlessly out the window, only half acknowledging the people hurrying by on the street. Mind moving ceaselessly, he sat nursing his coffee. Every so often blue eyes darted to the clock before rolling back to the door as the bell jingled merrily. A happy couple, smiling at one another… not who he was looking for.

He felt a sad smile twist his lips as he was once more reminded of just what his problem was… Just who was he looking for to enter through the door? Truthfully, Steve wasn't at all sure anymore.

The last couple of weeks had been eye-opening. He'd set out to try and meet the man within the suit – that patient, caring, heroic heart within the metal, the heart he'd fallen so hard for. In the process, though, he'd met the man behind the suit instead.

The once standoffish, intolerable, genius, billionaire was now sweetly vulnerable. He'd seen a completely different side of the man, and Steve was coming to like it… like it very much.

Which was why he was at such a loss at the moment. He was still very much enamored by Iron Man; today's heroic actions only reaffirmed that. Seeing him save the young boy from certain death at the risk of overheating in his suit… Even now, a fondly exasperated expression pulled at his lips.

Steve was so lost in his own thoughts that he missed the approach of another man.

"Hope that smile is for me," a light teasing voice commented.

Steve startled and looked up as Tony slid in across from him in the booth. Blue eyes blinked, heart clenching with sadness. Tony's appearance was bittersweet, confirming a small, sad suspicion that'd been plaguing Steve's thoughts of late.

"Iron Man-" Tony began nervously.

Steve cut him off. "He's not coming, is he?" he interrupted softly.

The billionaire's voice was small and strained, "No."

Steve sighed, nodding more to himself than the man across from him.

"Look Steve, I wanted to talk to you," Tony began, looking pensive and resolute, as if he'd come to some sort of major internal decision. It was not, however, Tony's tone that gave him pause; it was the first time he'd ever called him Steve.

"It's about Iron Man," he continued, dark eyes still avoiding Steve.

Steve sighed heavily; he'd been anticipating this since the first failed date. "It's ok, Tony… I think I've figured it out."

The genius stuttered to a stop, dark eyes snapping back to him, "You do?"

Steve nodded, trying to mask his hurt, ignoring the ache in his chest, "Yeah, of course. It really doesn't take a genius to figure it out."

"It doesn't?" Tony's voice sounded distant and far away.

"Yeah, it's ok. I just have to accept it and get over it."

Blue eyes looked up, frowning when he saw just how pale and scared the other man looked. "Tony, are you ok?"

Steve watched as Tony's mouth worked before finally a tumble of words fell out. "I'm so sorry Steve, I wanted to tell you a hundred times-"

The blond blinked, trying to follow the babble.

"Every time I tried, I just couldn't find the words… but I really should have told you, there's no excuse really, except once I started it was impossible to stop."

"Tony-" Steve tried to interject. He was completely confused, but the man was on a roll.

"I hope you can forgive me for not telling you," he pleaded, dark eyes desperate.

"It's not your fault, you couldn't have known," Steve tried to reassure him, wondering why on earth Tony was so upset.

"Wait… couldn't have known what?" Wide-eyed, Tony stopped mid-tirade.

Steve offered a comforting smile, "That Iron Man didn't return my feelings."

Tony stared at him in open-mouthed astonishment for a long moment, then snapped his jaw shut with an audible click. "He doesn't return your feelings?"

Steve nodded, trying for a look of nonchalance even as his heart was breaking a little. "It's obvious," he explained matter-of-factly.

"Is it?" Tony asked faintly.

"He's just too nice to say no. He always has an excuse for not coming. I understand and I'm not mad – I just hope we can still be friends." He looked at Tony from across the table, at the handsome, if rather shocked, face.

"I had hoped that it could possibly be more… but I understand. You can't make someone love you, can you?" he asked philosophically.

Sitting back in the booth, Steve watched Tony across him curiously, marveling at the flurry of emotions crossing his normally guarded features. Steve was having a hard time following – shock, anger, and sadness, before a look of pained resignation settled on his features.

"Steve," he began firmly, dark eyes fathomless and deep. A callused hand reached out to grip his. The blond looked down in surprise, automatically clasping his hand in return.

"Steve, I have to tell you something. I-" Whatever Tony was about to say was cut off by the blaring of an alarm.

The Avengers were being called.

They shared a look before both scrambled out of the booth and headed for the door, making it outside just in time to see a large ball of brilliant orange light explode across the city. Steve set his jaw, finding his center as an eerie calm settled on him.

Briefly he turned to Tony, feeling like he should say something… anything… to break the sudden thick tension between them. Steve wanted so badly to give voice to those things tumbling around in his mind; his chest ached with it.

In the end, though, it was Tony who broke that unbearable silence. "See you on the other side," he said with a half smile before turning and bolting back towards Tower.

Steve spared a last longing look to the retreating figure before he turned, taking off at an incredible speed.

-#-#-#-

Tony Stark hadn't thought life could possibly get any worse.

After all, the man he loved had no idea who he really was and hated him as he was – and now Steve was ready to give up on the half of him he did like. Really, it couldn't be worse… then the universe set out to prove him wrong.

With an invasion of machines that had them seriously outnumbered.

"Steve, you ok?" he gasped, trying not to wheeze too badly as an explosion sent him hurtling through a building.

"Still here," came the tired reply of Captain America. His resigned tone had Tony gritting his teeth. How much longer could they hold out for all alone?

They were still waiting on the others, though Fury assured them they were coming with all haste. But right now all that stood between the city and ruin was Captain America and Iron Man… and the odds were not in their favor.

Pushing his battered body beyond endurance, Tony picked himself out of the building and joined the Cap on the ground. Neither said a word as they moved to stand back to back, saving their breath for the fight.

Tony tried in vain to stay hopeful, but realistically he was just hoping to stay alive long enough for the others to arrive.

The robots closed in around them, firing with a single-minded determination. For every one they took out, three more appeared in its place. Yet they fought gamely on.

"Iron Man?" Steve huffed quietly.

Tony shot three down with a rapid-fire blast. "Yes?" he gasped back, blinking sweat from his eyes.

"If we don't make it," he began, gasping as an errant shot grazed his chest.

"Don't talk like that. We'll get through," Tony shot back forcefully.

Steve was silent a moment, just grunting softly as he caught his shield. "But in case we don't," he said, almost too quiet to hear.

Tony really, really didn't want to have this conversation. Not now, not ever… He knew what this conversation meant; it meant goodbye.

He wasn't saying goodbye.

Just as the terrible thought crossed his mind, a new large beast of a machine reared its ugly metallic head. "What the fuck," he cursed, trailing off as the monstrosity leveled a lethal looking gun.

Before he could process what he was seeing, the thing fired – right at Captain America.

Time seemed to slow, Tony feeling as if his limbs were dipped in molasses. He turned to Steve and yelled – what he wasn't sure, but it must have been something because suddenly blue eyes were looking at him in wide-eyed confusion.

Feeling like he was moving in slow motion, Tony reached for Steve, thinking only to push him out of the way of whatever it was coming at him. Desperate, he had just reached the broad figure when something hit his shoulder like a freight train.

Tony could only grunt with pain as he felt white-hot agony rip through him. The pain was followed by a sick sucking sound and the surprised, pained, cry of Steve.

The world sprung back into motion as the machines marched relentlessly on, leaving Iron Man lying motionless on the ground atop Captain America.

Tony's shoulder was screaming as he shook his head, trying to push the creeping blackness away.

"Cap?" he mumbled, disoriented, receiving a small moan in reply. Worry began to override pain as he looked down at the man beneath him. Worry morphing into full-blown panic – Steve was deathly pale, his blue eyes wide and pain-filled as they stared up at him, confused.

"Steve!" Tony tried to move, to get up and see what was wrong. Only as he jerked upwards Steve came as well, a moan falling from his lips. Uncomprehending, Tony moved again. The pain in his shoulder made itself known and Steve shuddered, eyes rolling as his complexion turned waxen.

The world was descending into chaos around them, but none of that registered for Tony. His whole universe narrowed to Steve.

Slowly, carefully, he lifted a hand, shakily reaching for his shoulder. Metal digits curled in disbelief around the long, thick, pole that had gone clear though himself, his armor, and into the chest of Captain America.

They were pinned together by the metal rod.

Hands trembling, he probed the unseen wound. "Steve," Iron Man wheezed, trying to get the blue eyes to focus on him; he was looking worse by the moment.

"Iron Man to SHIELD, Fury!" he bellowed over the comms. "Captain America down. I repeat, Captain America down!"

His frantic plea was answered with a crackle of static before the grave voice of the Director came on, "Iron Man, cavalry is less thafdn five minutes out. We can't get to you until then."

Cursing, Tony spread himself protectively over the fallen figure as the ground nearby exploded. "Steve, you hear me?" Tony was beyond panicking now as he tried desperately to get those beautiful blues to look at him.

"Steve," he tried again, watching as pale lips moved but no sound issued forth. Another explosion rocked them and Tony cupped Steve's face, moving to protect him from the falling asphalt. The fight was all around them now; they were in the very heart of it.

Tony had to make a decision. Mindful of their situation, he reached up and snapped his helmet off. "Steve," he breathed in his own voice. This time blue eyes did look at him, hazy and distant, but Tony finally thought he was hearing him.

"Steve, you need to stay with me now, ok? Help is coming but I need to buy us some time." Tony reached out with metal fingers and gently tugged off the already torn cowl.

"You with me, Steve?" he asked, tenderly running his fingers through blond, sweat-matted hair. "You hold on for me," he pleaded desperately, dark eyes searching for some sort of understanding.

"You hold on so you can yell at me later," Tony tried to joke, but his voice had a hitch to it and his smile was sickly. Cap looked as if he was trying to speak, mouth moving before he convulsed again, blood trickling between his lips.

Tony knew he was out of time.

Leaning down, he pressed dry, cracked, lips to Steve's. There was nothing loving or sweet about it; the kiss was a quick, desperate mashing of lips, the metallic bite of blood making it all the more horrifyingly real.

Holding the contact, he braced his arms on either side of Steve as he settled his legs and prepared to pull up. Beneath him Steve trembled, whimpering faintly into his mouth. Pulling away Tony rested their foreheads together, panting faintly.

"Ready?" he asked rhetorically, before with a mighty push he heaved upwards, drawing the end of the metal out of Steve's chest.

Steve screamed as the metal released with an obscene sucking sound. It was all Tony could do not to lose it completely. Now sitting upright, he could see the soldier's injury in its entirety. Steve's chest was a mess of red, the blood pumping sluggishly from the wound.

Swallowing thickly, Tony reached out and grabbed Steve's limp hands as he moved them to press against the wound.

"Need pressure, Steve. Don't you die on me," he ordered fiercely.

As the ground rumbled beneath them, Tony stood, ignoring the long pole still running through his shoulder. Snapping his helmet back on, he turned to braced himself over Steve. Setting his jaw grimly, he raised his hands defensively.

He would go down protecting the man he loved.

-#-#-#-

It was a scene that none of the other Avengers would ever forget.

They arrived praying that they weren't too late, SHIELD backup hot on their heels. Hurrying into the mix, the tableau that greeted them was both valiant and heartbreaking.

A bloody, unmoving Captain America lay motionless on the ground. Standing protectively above him was Iron Man, grotesquely speared by a long metal pole, the metal man heroically holding off the enemy against overwhelming odds.

It was enough to give them pause before fear for their friends had them hurrying into the thick of it.

"Can't let you have all the fun," Clint announced their presence, unable to hide just how impressed he was.

It was a long moment before a very tired, but familiar tinny voice replied, "Nick of time mean anything to you guys?"

The Hulk seemed determined to singlehandedly bring the mechanical menace to an end, and the others joined him with a ferocity that bordered on manic. One of their own was down, and another was not far behind.

Above the melee Hawkeye could see and hear Iron Man ordering medical around. The small medical team descended on the Cap en force. In no time they had him bundled up on a gurney headed for evac.

Once the Cap was taken care of the team turned their attention to Iron Man. The archer smiled, amused, as the metallic, distorted voice told them to fuck themselves; this was personal. He did allow them to remove the metal bar though.

Interested, the assassin paused to watch as it took three big men to yank it free. His respect for Iron Man grew when all he did was grunt. "All good, Shell Head?" he asked trying to sound lofty and uninterested.

"Cover me, just need to wrap this up," he huffed back, and Clint and Natasha affirmed. Iron Man dropped off the link and Clint, true to his word, held them off while Iron Man doctored himself up.

Sighting another target, Clint released an arrow with a sharp twang and grinned when he heard the tinny voice again.

"Iron Man back online."

-#-#-#-

Steve woke slowly, feeling sluggish and disoriented. Blinking crusty eyes, he frowned, trying to recall what had happened. Bright overhead lights and the stinging smell of antiseptic told him he was in medical, but Steve was sure he'd been in the field… hadn't he?

Frowning, he turned his head and confirmed his suspicions; he was in medical. Confused he wracked his brain, calling forth hazy and disjointed memories. It'd been only him and Iron Man, and the odds hadn't been good.

He remembered being worried about dying without telling Iron Man just how much he'd really meant to him. There had been a yell, panic, chaos… then the world had exploded in pain.

Moving in the bed, he sat upright and felt a mild pull in his chest. Glancing down, he saw his torso wrapped in gauze. He reached to touch the bandage, brow furrowing as more memories bubbled up. There had been a metal rod, pinning him to Iron Man…

"Ahh, Captain, you're awake," a brisk voice said from the entrance.

Turning, Steve blearily eyed Agent Coulson as he walked toward him looking relieved.

"Wha-" Steve began, his voice cracking with misuse. He paused to clear his throat before trying again, "What happened?"

Phil stood beside his bed. "You were badly injured, Captain," he said vaguely as if that explained everything. "You've been asleep for twenty-four hours. It was touch and go there for a while. The doctors weren't sure you'd make it, but you pulled through with flying colors. Guess you have the serum to thank for that."

Steve nodded mind reeling… twenty-four hours. He'd been out that long?

Another thought occurred to him then. Iron Man had been injured as well; the metal had gone through him first.

"Iron Man?" he managed, something tugging at the back of his mind, like he was forgetting something important.

"Sent Shell Head back to be patched up," Clint answered as he entered, closely followed by the others. "How you feeling, Cap?" he continued as the weary, dirty Avengers gathered around his bed.

"Fine," Steve said absently, rubbing at the gauze on his chest. "He went to get patched up?" he asked faintly, something still tugging at him.

"Yes, Steven. The Man of Iron was wounded," Thor, explained a solemn look on his face, "He fought most valiantly and has earned his rest."

"Why isn't he in the hospital?" Steve demanded, growing more agitated by the moment.

Bruce, looking exhausted, tried to placate him, "He allowed the medical team to pull out the metal rod but said he would get treatment at the Tower."

"Stark's probably worried about his precious suit," Clint growled.

Bruce sighed. "That's not true. Tony cares about his pilot," he defended.

Steve, however, was not listening to them argue – something had finally connected in his mind. There was a roaring in his ears as flashes of hazy memory burst in his mind's eye.

Glowing blue eyes, that voice pleading with him to not die… the helmet coming off… a face… a kiss…

He was up off the bed in a moment, the room falling into stunned silence for about a heartbeat before everyone began trying to get him back into bed. Ignoring them, Steve stripped off the leads from the machines, searching for some sort of clothing.

"Sir, Captain Rogers," Agent Coulson insisted.

Alerted by the sudden flat line of machines, medical personal were rushing in expecting an emergency. The scene they walked into, however, was one of chaos, and in the middle of it Captain America looked murderous. Medical knew when to retreat, the Avengers however….

"You can't-" Clint started, but Steve was having none of it.

"Stop," he said quietly and firmly, his expression daring someone to contradict him. "I'm leaving."

Without another word he left the room, nosey staff hurrying out of his way. Steve barely noticed; he had one destination in mind.

-#-#-#-

"Would you knock it off?" Tony sighed wearily, pushing aside the whirring, clicking DUM-E and Butterfingers, the latter holding a gauze pad. They buzzed around him worriedly as their creator alternately chided and shooed them out of the way.

Sadly this little scene had played out many times before. With Iron Man's identity a secret, Tony couldn't risk seeking out medical treatment unless the injury was life threatening. So he'd become rather adept at fixing himself up; necessity he'd always known was the mother of invention.

Settling on a stool, he carefully opened the large medical kit; it was professional grade and always well stocked. One of the perks of being a rich kook was that no one asked questions. Wincing as the motion pulled his shoulder, he turned his attention the tattered, bloody remains of his shirt, which had been serving as a makeshift bandage.

A claw clicked near his ear as DUM-E tried to help, but Tony pushed it aside. Peeling off the sopping material, he revealed the injury. Exhaling shakily he studied the wound, prodding it curiously. It appeared the bar had gone through and through cleanly; thank heaven for small mercies.

First he needed to clean it out; his shoulder throbbed just thinking about it. Butterfingers handed over the bottle of peroxide and Tony opened a fresh gauze pad. Soaking it, he pressed it quickly to his wound, hissing through his teeth. Cursing softly, he dabbed gently at the opening as his mind shifted back over the last twenty-four hours.

It had been hell. Sheer and utter hell.

He'd thought for sure he'd lost Steve, lost the one thing that mattered in his life. He'd been close to losing it completely… and honestly, he thought he had.

After they'd evacuated Steve, Tony had taken out all his helpless rage and pain on the enemy. Thor had called it a berserker rage, his voice bordering on awe – and from Thor that was saying something.

Eventually though it was the quiet, calm voice of Natasha that had finally broken through the haze of pain.

Cap is going to be fine.

Tony had once more been able to breathe.

He'd wanted to sob with relief, hurry to the hospital… Steve was going to be ok. About the same time, the grueling battle had finally come to an end. Tony had become very aware of every single, ache, pain, and injury he now had.

Tossing aside the now bloody pad, he wet a new one, twisting awkwardly to try and clean the exit wound. An irritated chirp had him reluctantly, and with no small amount of trepidation, hand over the pad to his machine.

Vaguely listening to the whir of gears, he turned his attention back to the case and pulled out more supplies, idly wondering if Steve was awake yet. He had hoped to be there when he woke, but irate medical people had hounded him for bleeding all over. Snorting, Tony managed a tired chuckle; you'd think they'd be used to blood.

A particularly hard swipe against his back had him cursing, "Christ, Butterfingers, easy."

"Sorry," a soft voice said.

Tony stiffened, freezing instantly. He didn't turn around, didn't blink, didn't breathe. Adrenaline roared in his ears as panic rose in his chest; slowly the hands left his back and a large figure appeared in his line of vision.

He tried to speak, get any sound out of the throat, but all he managed was a rush of air bordering on a whimper. He could do no more than watch as Steve sat on a stool before him, face betraying nothing.

Neither man spoke as they sat stared at one another, the silence in the room utterly deafening. Just when he thought he might break from the tension, Steve moved slowly leaning forward. Too stunned to move, Tony had a brief hysterical moment of thinking Steve was going to punch him, right before firm lips were kissing him.

It was so much better than their first. It was sweet, hesitant, and everything Tony had ever dreamt it would be. With a small sigh, he was melting completely into the contact as they kissed for long moments, lips and tongues exploring.

Long moments later they parted, resting their foreheads together, panting faintly. Tony felt lightheaded and giddy, unsure if it was from the kiss or blood loss.

The air between them was heavy with all that lay unspoken between them. Yet this one silent moment was utterly perfect. Tony closed his eyes; if his arc reactor were to fail at this very moment, he would die an incredibly happy man.

Steve moved his lips to press against a dark, still faintly sweaty temple. "Thank you for saving me," he whispered, as if he too was loathe to break whatever fragile connection they shared.

Tony, unable to help the chill that ran up his spine at that husky tone, found himself unconsciously pressing back against the warm, stubbled face. Lifting his good arm, he gently touched Steve's chest where not so long ago a cold piece of steel penetrated.

"I didn't do a very good job," he muttered darkly. He felt Steve's warmth pull away at that, and he wanted to moan at the loss, but blue eyes were looking at him intently.

"No, Tony. You did," Steve insisted intensely. "A fraction of an inch more and I would have died," he said, bright blue eyes sliding to the still sluggishly bleeding hole in the other man's shoulder.

Tony swallowed, looking down embarrassed, but he'd go to his grave before he admitted to the faint blush on his cheeks.

"You should see a doctor, Tony," Steve said, but the genius was already shaking his head.

"It's fine, I'll just sew it up," he mumbled as he turned away, suddenly very aware he was half naked, sweaty, probably smelly, exhausted, and bleeding. This wasn't really how he had anticipated revealing himself to Steve.

Clearing his throat, he tried to shrug off his growing embarrassment as he put his mind to work, wondering if there was some way he could salvage this. Snapping on some gloves, he expertly threaded up a sterile needle with practiced ease.

"You've done this before," Steve observed.

Tony nodded absently, knotting the thread before awkwardly moving to start closing the wound. "Can't risk revealing my identity," he said softly, wincing more from his words than the needle pulling through his skin. He wanted to kick himself in the ass – leave it to him to stick his foot in his mouth.

He silently cursed his own stupid mouth as he readied for the anger he knew had to be coming. Steve had every right to be pissed with him. Hell, he had every right to never speak to him again. He'd been lied to, betrayed…

Instead, once more, Steve utterly floored him.

"I wanted him to be you," he confessed hesitantly.

Tony's steady hand trembled a moment as he pulled the thread, closing the wound. Dark eyes snapped up and Steve was waiting for him, capturing him effortlessly in those endless blue depths. He swore he could see the emotions swirling in their depths – acceptance, pride, hesitation… and, dare he hope, love?

Tony found himself swallowing thickly. "You… you did?" he asked, stunned.

Steve nodded as he tugged on some gloves of his own and reached out to help tie off the thread. The entrance wound closed, Steve took charge of the needle and thread, rolling on his stool to examine Tony's back.

Dazed, the genius surrendered the sutures without protest, barely feeling it when Steve put needle to skin and carefully began to close the second hole.

"But I thought you hated me," Tony blurted, finally finding his voice, hoarse as it was.

Steve concentrated on his task. "I did," he replied bluntly. "I thought you were an arrogant, egotistical playboy with no morals."

Tony winced with every rather accurate observation.

"Be still or the stitches will be crooked," Steve chided before continuing on. "That was before, though."

Tony didn't move, distantly feeling the tug of torn flesh being pulled together. "Before?"

"Before I met the unsure, funny, patient, vulnerable man who showed up to make excuses for Iron Man," Steve finished as he quickly tied off the neat little row of stitches.

Tony didn't even feel it as his mind seemed to overload with information. He watched distantly as Steve checked his work, making sure the wound wouldn't pull apart. Finished with his inspection on the back, Steve moved to repeat the process on the front.

Tony finally found the words that he'd so desperately wanted to say spilling from his lips. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you," he blurted. "I wanted to, so much…"

Steve looked up at him and smiled tenderly, "I know. It's ok, you had your reasons." Tony nodded as slowly a weight he'd been carrying for years began to lift.

"No one knows… they can't know. Iron Man… he can be anyone, and it's better this way. A faceless hero with no past, no baggage."

Steve stripped off the gloves took Tony's hands tenderly.

"Tony, I understand," he soothed, slowly pulling the smaller man close. Tony went willingly. He wanted this, wanted this so badly he could taste it. There were so many things he wanted to say to the blond man, yet he was so utterly exhausted.

He was just so relieved that someone knew… One other person in this world knew who he truly was – the relief was overwhelming.

They were kissing again, and this time there was nothing sweet about it. Lips mashed, teeth clacked together, Tony's hands moved to fist in the hospital shirt Steve wore. He could feel big hands settle on his naked skin.

Need for air eventually drove them apart, and Tony caught a rather pungent smell of something. He wrinkled his nose, embarrassed. "I need a shower," he explained.

Steve smiled at him sweetly, kissing his nose he stood, holding out a hand. "Then let's shower. I could use one, too."

Tony's brain short-circuited – he was sure he was dreaming, or had died and this was heaven. Either way, he wasn't going to kick a gift horse in the mouth. Eagerly he took the proffered hand and limped towards the elevators with Steve in tow.

JARVIS, who'd been unusually quiet, opened the doors for them and Tony couldn't bring himself to chastise his creation for allowing Steve inside in the first place. As they spilled into the small space, they were kissing again like nothing else in the world existed save them.

Within seconds they were wordlessly stepping off in the penthouse, walking hand in hand towards the bedroom, and the opulent bathroom.

All Tony had on was a pair of filthy, blood splattered jeans, and he shed them so fast he stumbled. "JARVIS, shower," he called as he turned back to Steve eagerly. The big man was stripped bare, save the large white bandage. Tony's mouth went dry at the sight. He was utter perfection from his thick blond hair, to his large, enduringly awkward feet.

If he'd been a little less punch drunk and exhausted, Tony was sure he would have been completely self-conscious. Instead he moved closer, the glow from his chest lighting the space between them as he reached up, gently peeling off the gauze pad. There were no stitches in the skin; it was pink and sore looking, but healing rapidly.

Amazed, Tony couldn't help but touch what had once been a gaping, sucking wound; now it was all but gone. Without thinking he kissed the new skin tenderly, listening to the strong steady heartbeat under his cheek.

"Thought I'd lost you," he mumbled, stepping away with a final shaky breath. Trying to reign himself in, Tony turned to the shower and stepped inside before Steve could see the raw look of agony on his face. Taking a shuddering breath, Tony could once more see the pale face beneath him as Steve bled out, that metal rod spearing him grotesquely.

Warm arms encircled him in the shower, causing Tony to startle before leaning back against the wide chest. He reminded himself again and again that Steve was alive, and here with him.

Holding onto that mantra, he melted bonelessly into Steve as big hands slowly began moving across his body soothingly. There was nothing sexual about the contact; it was reaffirming, careful, and tender. Touching and kissing, they washed one another. Tony felt as if he was floating. The heady combination of heat, Steve, and exhaustion had him slipping into some sort of hazy, hallucinatory state. And he had no will to leave it.

"Tony," Steve was saying softly, and the genius hummed tiredly in reply. He felt the warm chuckle and a soft kiss to his temple, before he was led out of the shower, a fluffy towel surrounding him.

Suddenly Tony was beyond tired; his limbs felt as if they weighed a thousand pounds. Eyes dropping, he struggled to stay awake and docilely allowed those wonderful warm hands to lead to bed. He couldn't be bothered to find any clothes, simply dropping the towel and collapsing onto the plush mattress. Moaning, he slowly painstakingly rolled under the covers, eyes fluttering.

He vaguely felt the bed dip, and a warm welcome presence beside him. Snuggling closer, he was asleep within a heartbeat.

-#-#-#-

Steve woke first, blinking sleepily in the fading sunlight that filtered in through the half lowered curtains. Smiling, he closed his eyes languidly, for once in no rush to get out of bed, nor to move away from the figure curled into him.

Utterly content, he wrapped his arms around the other man, pulling Tony closer. The dark haired man gave a small huff as he settled comfortably into him, face pressed into Steve's neck as he breathed rhythmically.

Fully awake now, Steve's mood turned contemplative, mind idly drifting. In the last couple of days his entire world had been rocked to its foundations… and truthfully he couldn't be happier.

When Tony whimpered faintly in his sleep, Steve automatically reached up to card thick fingers through dark hair, feeling him settle once more. Turning his head slightly, he kissed a scruffy cheek gently, marveling at the novelty of the contact – contact with the man under the suit. Here was Iron Man in his arms, the heart that had captured his own so readily.

Steve supposed he should be angry, betrayed, or even hurt Tony hadn't trusted him with his identity. But he wasn't. He understood, and really his relief was far too great to really be hurt. Iron Man and Tony Stark were real. He'd fallen for the gentle soul under the metal, and more recently he'd begun to fall for a sweetly vulnerable genius.

Even as the thought drifted across his mind, he found his lips once more searching out Tony's. Kissing across the sleep warmed neck, he moved to capture chapped lips, kissing slowly, languidly, until he felt the slack lips under his own begin to lazily reciprocate.

Steve wanted to grin in triumph when he felt Tony kiss back in earnest. He moved to deepen the contact, running his hands across the wiry muscled back, mindful of the fresh stitches. His hands moved lower, smoothing across soft skin, suddenly very much aware they'd both gone to bed in the nude.

Cheekily he squeezed Tony's ass. The shorter man huffed a laugh into his mouth.

"I probably have morning breath," the dark haired man mumbled, nibbling along Steve's jaw line.

Steve grinned, hooking a strong leg over a slender hip, flipping them easily as he ground his already straining erection into Tony's own. "That's impossible, it's almost evening."

As Tony gasped and arched back, the super solider pressed his advantage. He moved his lips lower across Tony's neck and chest, gently caressing old scars and wounds, before lavishing attention on the glowing metal circle in his chest.

He felt Tony arch into him as he ventured lower, tracing the long lines of his abs. Teasingly he kissed muscled thighs before moving back to his true target. Glancing up into dark eyes, he held Tony's gaze as he very deliberately swallowed him down, sucking hard.

Tony bucked into his mouth, as he felt long, strong, fingers twisting in his hair. "Steve," he heard his name fall from kiss bruised lips, and Steve shuddered.

It had been a long time since Steve had done this, anything like this. A furtive encounter for stress relief in a darkened back room of a bar was nothing compared to this. The way Tony hitched his hips, his smell, his taste… Humming, he took as much as he could, running his tongue roughly along the underside.

"Shit, Steve…" Tony mumbled, and suddenly hands were tugging him off. Tony, beautifully flushed and panting, mashed their mouths together once more. Steve willingly went, feeling Tony fumbling. His curiosity peaked when Tony pressed something into his hand. Pulling back slightly he looked down, Tony bit his ear.

"The condom is there… I'll let you decide."

Steve wasn't worried; with his serum enchantments he could never be sick. Instead he focused on the bottle. Intrigued, he squeezed some onto his fingers. Rubbing them together, he looked down at the vision spread out beneath him.

Under all the mottled bruises, cuts, and stitches he sported, Tony was all handsome planes and angles – and in the middle of it all was a beacon of light. Steve felt his breath hitch; this is what he'd been dreaming of.

"Steve?" Tony asked hesitantly, a worried frown creasing his brow, and the blond shook his head to clear it. Leaning down, Steve kissed already swollen lips as he gently caressed Tony's tight ring of muscle. Working one finger in slowly, he couldn't help but moan as Tony rippled and flexed around him.

Slowly, carefully, he wiggled and moved, loosening the entrance before sliding in a second finger. He could feel Tony writhing beneath him, arching up as he slung his good arm around his neck.

Steve was fast losing his patience. A third finger worked in and he was scissoring, pushing further, looking for that spot, brushing it again and again, until he had Tony writhing and begging in his arms.

"Steve," Tony panted.

Hands shaking, Steve put some of the gel on himself before easily lifting Tony's hips. Holding the smaller man steady, he slowly slid inside, inch-by-inch. It was all he could do not to thrust into that hot, rippling heat as he clenched his teeth and moved with care.

Long moments later Steve was buried to the hilt, a trembling, sweaty Tony Stark seated firmly in his lap. They stayed that way a long heartbeat, joined so intimately together. The crimson rays of sunset splashed across the bed, dyeing the room a vibrant red, Tony's blue light a cool counter point to the outside world.

Tony shifted first in his lap, hissing and moaning out an odd sort of plaintive sound. Steve rested his hands on narrow hips, kissing and nipping as he mumbled against a bruised jaw, "Ok?"

He felt Tony nod as he moved again, both groaning at the friction. Holding those hips tighter, Steve lifted Tony, bring him down again, meeting each movement with a thrust of his own hips.

They moved together fluidly, instinctively, pressed tightly together. Steve watched every movement, every breath, gasp and quake. Tony was exquisite in his passion. Steve felt like he was in a dream – it was almost surreal, a desperate hallucination cooked up by his own mind.

Yet as Tony moved, riding him with abandon, Steve felt everything in minute detail, his nerves singing as his feelings threatened to overwhelm him. He knew he would not last long. Just as the thought crossed his mind, he felt Tony tighten around him impossibly, muttering and moaning as he arched back, hips moving erratically as he impaled himself roughly with a strangled cry a pleasure.

At the feeling of the hot rush of liquid between them, Steve felt himself shudder. Hips snapping, he grunted, fingers digging into Tony's skin as he gasped and panted. Tony was with him every movement; leaning in, they kissed passionately before Steve heard a soft husky voice, "Let go, love."

That was all it took.

His orgasm ripped through him with a force that had his vision gray around the edges as he crushed Tony to his chest, riding out the waves of ecstasy. Chest heaving, Steve held Tony close, unwilling to part.

Hazy in the afterglow, Steve only vaguely felt the soft kiss pressed to his shoulder. "That's a nice way to wake up," he mumbled into the sweat-dampened skin. They sat facing one another, Steve still buried inside his lover as Tony held onto him tightly, showing no signs of wanting to move.

"Been wanting to do that a long time," Steve mumbled, hands ceaselessly caressing the other man.

Tony chuckled, "With a metal suit?"

Steve shook his head. "With the man inside the suit… and more recently, the man behind the suit," he said softly, pulling back slightly to smile at him. "I'm just grateful they're one and the same."

Tony looked up at him, wide dark eyes solemn, expression bordering on desperation, "I love you, Steve – as Iron Man… as Tony Stark. I love you and I couldn't bear the thought of you not knowing."

Steve felt a warm flush of heat rise in his chest, the words going right to his heart. Cupping the sweet earnest face, he smiled, "I've loved Iron Man for a very long time, and truthfully I was falling hard for Tony Stark."

Tony's grin was shy and unsure before he buried his face in Steve's neck. "I'm so glad you know," he whispered, frame shuddering with emotion.

Steve hugged him fiercely. "You'll never be alone again, Tony. I'll always be here, no matter what," he vowed. Tony was silent a long moment, and Steve content to stay in the embrace forever.

"We should shower," Tony finally managed and Steve hummed in reluctant agreement, pulling back with an exaggerated sigh.

"You are a mess," he said, gently probing Tony's black eye.

Tony kissed a big hand. "Yeah, so are you," he teased back, smiling more widely. "At least now we can be a mess together."

-#-#-#-

"Iron Man, report," the Cap's commanding tone brooked no refusal, and Tony felt himself stutter in the air, suddenly very worried.

"Uh oh, Shell Head. You're in trouble now," Clint sassed.

"Shut it, Robin Hood," he grumbled back.

"That one's not even original."

Tony wasn't listening, however; he was busy searching for Steve amidst the debris. He had no idea what he had done, but he was worried nonetheless.

A month into their newfound relationship, and Tony was still amazed every time he woke next to the big blond. He couldn't remember the last time he was so happy. And yet he was terrified he'd do something to mess it all up.

"Cap?" he called, voice distorted and echoing to his ears. Still searching, he was passing by an alleyway when suddenly someone or something grabbed him.

Reacting on instinct, he brought his palms up in defense before recognizing Steve at the last moment. Relaxing, he turned off their comms.

"Steve, wha-" Tony began, breaking off when expert fingers hit the latch of Tony's helmet, and strong hands were tugging it off.

Shocked, he couldn't say anything as he was exposed and suddenly Steve was pinning him to the wall, kissing him like a drowning man. Tony could do no more than respond in kind, burying metal fingers in blond hair as they devoured one another. They parted sometime later, panting and flushed.

Dazed, Tony grinned as strong hands moved across his armor, stopping to rest against the glow in his chest. "Am I in trouble?" he asked Steve half-teasingly, but still a little worried.

Steve's grin was full of dark, sweet promises, "Not yet, Iron Man."

Tony felt a thrill as another bruising kiss followed, fierce and fast. Pulling back, Steve held out his helmet, and Tony accepted it, a grin stretching his lips. Steve reached up, one hand hovering above his comm. "I love you, Tony," he said.

"Love you too, Steve," Tony breathed, snapping his helmet back on. Once more they were Iron Man and Captain America to the world.

Inside his suit, though, Tony knew that though the world still speculated on identify of the faceless Iron Man, one man knew the truth. And for him that was enough. He was Iron Man, and Tony Stark… and he had found a man that loved them both.

End.