- Death-Minor Character
- Explicit Sex
- Action Adventure
- Alternate Universe
- Established Relationship
Tony Stark woke up slowly, feeling warm and safe and whole, totally at ease.
In retrospect, that should have been the first sign that something was different. He’d struggled with insomnia as long as he could remember, the uncomfortable press of other people’s emotions and the raw, gaping hole where his Sentinel should be more than enough to keep him awake. When he was younger, he’d wanted nothing more than to be able to sleep.
Now? Now he’d do anything to stay awake. To keep the dreams from dragging him back into the past, dragging him back under the water in that cave.
No dreams, he realized as his brain finally started to come all the way online. There had been no dreams last night. And except for the pain in his ribs, he felt better than he ever had before.
There were two voices in conversation. Both familiar, both beloved. One a voice that had been with him for years now. The other one he’d only just heard for the first time yesterday. Yet both so very dear to him.
“-the sixties saw the rise of many different artistic movements, including Pop Art. Many saw it as representative of a rejection of the Abstract Expressionism of the previous decade. Andy Worhol is one of the most well known pop artists, with his work ‘Soup Cans’ serving as a particular cultural icon.”
“Are you pulling my leg, JARVIS?” Steve asked, and Tony could feel how incredulous he was. But beneath the disbelief was a sense of amusement.
“As I lack a corporeal form, Captain, I am unsure how I could possibly yank anything,” JARVIS answered, his voice dry.
“You’re a smart aleck, you know that?” Steve said, his amusement like champaign bubbles between them.
“I learned from the best, Captain,” JARVIS answered, his voice droll.
“I resent that remark,” Tony said, eyes easing open to take in the scene around him.
“You resemble that remark is more like it,” Steve answered. His blue eyes were warm where he stared down at Tony, his face soft, and Tony could feel through the bond the quiet contentment that Steve was filled with. “Morning,” he said, and he leaned down and pressed a kiss to his lips.
Tony had done a lot of things, okay? A lot. And he wasn’t ashamed of any of them exactly, but he was by no means inexperienced. Tony’d try anything once. And then, like a scientist, he’d try it a second and third time just to make sure.
He was experienced, to put it mildly. He hadn’t thought that there was anything left for him to learn, when it came to this. Came to being physical with someone.
He’d been wrong. He’d been so wrong.
This kiss was nothing like any other kiss he’d ever had. Gone was the ferocious need from the day before, the practically ravenous way Steve had descended on him, like a man dying of thirst in a desert finally presented with a drink. There was no desperation here.
This kiss was soft. Tender. Filled with emotions so deep that they should have terrified him.
But here? Here all Tony wanted was to wrap himself up in those feelings, lounge in them like he would lay in bed on a lazy Sunday morning.
This was an everyday kiss. Full of love and affection and a deep and abiding devotion, all of it underlined by the unshakable certainty that Steve would never let him down. Would do whatever it took to be there to catch Tony when he fell.
It felt like coming home.
Tony pulled away, the tenderness almost more than he could take. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, waiting for it. The inevitable panic. The certainty that he wasn’t good enough. That he was going to mess this up.
It didn’t come.
And that? That was almost more terrifying.
Before Tony could work himself up into a proper state of panic, Steve was there, wrapping himself around Tony. Not just physically, but mentally as well.
With the reassurance and happiness and relief pouring through the bond, how determined Steve was to protect and take care of Tony, it was hard to panic. In the face of that unshakable certainty, poured directly into his very soul…well, how could Tony argue?
Steve cupped Tony’s face in one hand, a concerned look on his face.
“Sorry,” Tony said at last, and he meant it. He was sorry. He hadn’t meant to worry his Sentinel. After all, he’d spent his entire life waiting for this man, told over and over by other people that he was a terrible guide and would only be a burden to his sentinel until he’d almost started to believe it himself. The last thing he wanted was to make this harder than it needed to be. “That’s probably going to happen a lot,” Tony said in an unusual moment of naked honesty.
And then he smiled and tried to laugh it off, the way he always did when he said things like that. It worked with everyone else. For all that he seemed unreadable and glib to most people, Tony knew himself better than that. He wore his heart on his sleeve. He always had. He’d just learned how to deflect, use humor and sarcasm to make people think that the naked truths he couldn’t keep to himself were just another joke.
It worked on most people. Hell, it worked on everyone. Even Pepper and Rhodey, most of the time.
“That’s okay,” Steve, his Sentinel said. ””I’ll be here. And I’ll reassure you as many times as it takes.”
Tony closed his eyes for a moment, fighting the emotion that went through him at those words. he didn’t know what the hell it was, and he knew that he didn’t want to examine it too closely.
Everyone said that. All of them. But they always left. They left when they realized just how broken he was. That the disaster wasn’t just for show. Left like Pepper did, like Rhodey did. They came back, though. Pepper and Rhodey always came back. And he would always love them for it.
When Steve said it though, Tony almost wanted to believe it.
And that was a different kind of terrifying.
Tony took all his emotions and shoved them into a box in the corner of his mind, far away from his bond with Steve, determined to ignore them until they went away. Now wasn’t the time for it.
He was bonded, for fuck’s sake. Bonded to his Sentinel. Finally, after years and years of waiting. He was real, and he was here, and he and Tony were tied together in ways that couldn’t be broken. Only death could they part.
“So, what where you two talking about?” Tony asked, pushing that thought aside with the rest of them to keep himself from freaking out about it too much. Now was not the time. He wasn’t going to deal with it. Not now. Not ever, if he had a choice.
“JARVIS was just catching me up on some of the things that I missed,” Steve said, and Tony wasn’t sure whether to be relieved or disappointed.
He’d been a public figure his entire life. There hadn’t been a moment he’d ever been safe from the media, from the Stark legacy, first his father’s and then his own. Tony’s life had been a lot of things, but it had never really been his. Privacy was a luxury he’d never had. Not for the important things.
When he was younger, he’d used to agonize over it when there was yet another negative media piece about him. What would his Sentinel think when they saw it? What if they didn’t want to have anything to do with him because of something that the press had twisted.
Then, in typical Tony fashion, he’d swung to the other extreme, because he wasn’t capable of doing anything in moderation or remotely close. He’d pulled more and more outrageous stunts, trying to goad his Sentinel into a response. Surely if they saw, they’d react? Come find him and demanded answers and explanations.
And then, when he reached thirty or so, he’d given up. Nothing had provoked a reaction. The attempts to get a reaction had turned into a message. A fuck you to whoever it was who had kept him waiting so long. Not that it mattered. Because wherever they were, they didn’t care.
So Tony’d done whatever it took to try and keep the emptiness inside him at bay.
And then there was Afghanistan.
Never would he have imagined that his Sentinel wouldn’t know anything about any of it. After all, he’d grown up in the spotlight, his antics dissected and discussed on every talk show by every host.
When it had become clear that there was no way Tony would ever avoid the spotlight, he’d done the only thing he could to make it feel like he was in control of his own destiny – he’d embraced it, and kept the media chasing their tails.
Being known, being famous, being infamous, was just a fact of life for him. It always had been. Never before in his life had he met someone who didn’t know everything about him when they met. Or at least think they did.
Tony’d never been able to tell his own story. Not until now.
The idea of doing it had terrified him. But it had also been so unusual that couldn’t help but wonder what it might be like.
He was almost grateful that JARVIS had taken that choice out of his hands. He knew which side of the debate he would have landed on. At least this way he didn’t have to beat himself up and call himself a coward. Even if he knew that he was one.
“So JARVIS was giving you a crash course in history, huh?” Tony said, hoping his heartbeat didn’t give away anything deeper than the glib tone he was using. From the small wrinkle between Steve’s brows, he was out of luck on that front. But all Steve did was wrap his arms a little more firmly around Tony, for all that he was careful of his ribs, and nestle his nose against Tony’s temple.
“Yep,” Steve said. “Just art, mostly.”
“Really?” Tony said, surprised. “I would have thought that you’d be curious about more, is all,” he said, back peddling so fast that it was a miracle he didn’t trip over his own words.
“I wanted to hear it from you,” Steve said, as if it were the easiest and most obvious thing in the world. “Isn’t that what nesting is about, after all? Getting to know one another? Figure out exactly how you’re going to fit together?”
Tony felt his heart soften at that romantic description. He’d rather thought that nesting was more about having crazy monkey sex on every surface in the house, interspersed with cuddling. The way Steve talked about it sounded more like something out of a romance novel. One of those trashy ones that Rhodey thought Tony didn’t know he read.
But Tony’s version of nesting was pretty clearly off the table, at least for a little while. And there wasn’t anything else to do. Might as well get to know each other.
The flutter of excitement in his chest at the thought belonged tp Steve’s for sure. Because Tony knew better than to expect things. It never ended well.
“Besides,” Steve said, and Tony could feel the wry twist in his thoughts. “I know what it’s like.”
That was too much. Ignoring the protesting of his ribs he turned around so he could fix Steve with the full force of his unimpressed look.
“You. Captain America. Know what it’s like to be crucified in the press,” Tony said.
Steve’s smile responding smile wasn’t’ warm. More like resigned.
“I spent the first few years of the war as a dancing monkey, Tony,” Steve said. “People cared about Captain America, but there were maybe six who cared about Captain Rogers.”
This whole thing had been kind of a whirlwind. Tony was still so stuck on the fact that he’d finally found his Sentinel that the rest of it hadn’t really sunk in yet. Wasn’t sure it would, or he’d be in the corner having a panic attack about how little he deserved someone like Steve after everything he’d done.
But Steve did have a point. And know that Tony had managed to find the right frame of reference, things lined up just the right way, connections started snapping into place in his head. The undercurrent of anxiety he’d thought for sure was his own for all that it tasted a little funny suddenly made sense. It was Steve’s. That was why it had a different flavor to it, for all that it was a familiar one.
Tony’d grown up with stories of Captain America. Had grown up with Howard talking about Mr. Truth, Justice, and the American way. He was a cultural icon.
Iron Man, yes. Tony Stark not recommended. How many times had Steve run into something similar?
Tony poured his understanding down the bond, unable to keep it from being tinged with his own relief. Steve’s press was probably a lot better than his own, but for the first time, Tony felt like he’d met someone who understood. At least a little.
Still, that didn’t stop him from humming under his breath.
Steve’s brow furrowed a little, and Tony both saw and felt the moment Steve realized exactly what he was doing.
“Goddamnit, Tony!” he said, but Tony knew he wasn’t mad. The smile on his face, the pure relief he could feel from his Sentinel was more than enough to put that away.
“What?” Tony said, trying to look innocent and ruining it entirely with a mad cackle. “I mean, it’s true. You’re strong and brave.”
“Tony,” Steve groaned again, but his happiness singing between them was infectious and impossible to ignore.
“The Star Spangled Man with a plan!” Tony sang off key, the lyrics running through his head.
He stopped short.
“Oh my god,” he said, glee impossible to contain. “Oh my god, you’re Captain America and your spirit animal is a bald eagle!”
Screw his ribs. That was too amazing not to laugh at.
“You know,” Steve said, “nobody’s made fun of me like this since the treatment except for Bucky.”
“Bucky?” Tony asked.
“Bucky Barnes,” Steve said, and there was a melancholy edge to everything now. “My best friend.”
He knew, obviously. Bucky Barnes was almost as much of a legend as Captain America. But Tony wanted to get to know the person, not the myth. And that held true for Barnes as well.
Tony reached out and put a hand over Steve’s where it rested on his stomach.
“Tell me about him,” Tony said, and then settled in to listen.