A year has passed since Thanos’ defeat. Since the deaths he had caused were undone.
A party is in full swing at the Avengers’ Compound, the sound of voices and laughter rising over the background music.
Tony stands in the background, leaning against the wall and watching as Thor and Quill bicker on the other side of the room as the rest of the Guardians watch them with varying levels of exasperation and amusement.
“Boss,” FRIDAY announces in his ear. “Everything is set.”
Tony’s mouth twitches into a faint smile as he catches sight of Rhodey and Sam by the bar, immersed into a discussion.
Probably another one maneuverability vs. firepower discussion Tony has early on learned not to get involved in.
Even if the answer is blatantly clear.
“Okay, FRIDAY,” Tony says, pushing himself off the wall and rolling his shoulders. “Time to get this show on the road.”
“Boss,” FRIDAY interjects. “Are you sure about this?”
Tony hesitates for a beat. He’s known this moment was coming for months. He’s been preparing for it just as long. But now, he finds himself reluctant to take those final steps.
“I-” Tony starts, then trails off as his gaze sweeps across the room, lingering on each familiar face, a bittersweet ache unfolding beneath his breastbone.
It has been an entire year and the sheer relief of having all those people alive and whole again still has the ability to steal the air out of Tony’s lungs.
Tony shakes his head, the corner of his mouth tugging up. “I’ve been preparing for this for the last six months, Fry.”
It is the truth, but Tony cannot stop his eyes from straying to Peter one last time, the bittersweet ache inside him going sharper. Peter is listening to Shuri explain something and even from the distance, Tony can make out excitement and awe on kid’s face. As well as the glances he keeps throwing over his shoulder at T’Challa, standing a few steps away.
Two years, numerous sleepless nights filled with grief, rage and guilt, failing and fighting and failing again, almost dying but somehow winning… and finally, finally, Tony can look at Peter without seeing him crumble into dust.
“Maybe six months wasn’t enough,” FRIDAY says. “Maybe you need more time.”
Tony snorts, amused and wistful, and not only a little tempted. Still. He knows better now. “Yeah, how long? A month? Two? And how much after that? No. It’s time.” Expelling a long breath, Tony steals another glance of the gathered people. People he’d come to consider as family. A strange, slightly dysfunctional family, but a family nonetheless. “Besides, the world is in safe hands.”
“You sure about it?”
“Yeah,” Tony replies softly, and for the first time in eight years, he actually believes it. “I am.”
The world will never be without danger but there is nothing in the back of Tony’s mind where Thanos’ shadowy presence used to dwell.
If this is how content feels like, well… Tony could easily get used to it.
Turning to leave, Tony catches Natasha’s gaze and holds it for one brief moment.
She is standing on the far side of the room, partially hidden by the width of Barnes’ shoulders, but there is no mistaking the flicker of a soft, knowing smile - there and gone in an instant - in the corner of her mouth.
Tony feels his own mouth curve upwards in an answering smile. Then, with a short nod, Tony turns and leaves the room.
He doesn’t look back.
When Tony steps outside, Steve is already there.
“You know,” Steve says, lips quirking upwards. “I was starting to think you stood me up.”
Tony stops in his tracks, his heart picking up speed as it always does when Steve is near.
As it always has done.
It has taken years - and a whole lot of mistakes and fights, and having to watch Steve walk out of his life - for Tony to admit to himself the reason behind it.
Tony slides his hands into his pockets and takes a moment to fully appreciate the sight of Steve Rogers, dressed in dark jeans and a leather jacket, standing next to his bike.
It is a quite a sight.
“And what were you planning to do?” Tony asks, arching an eyebrow.
The curve of Steve’s mouth turns playful. “I can be persuasive when the situation calls for it.”
Tony snorts. He moves forward until there is only a few inches of space between them.
“Persuasive, huh?” Tony says as Steve wraps his hands around Tony’s waist and pulls him near, closing the distance between their bodies. “You want to elaborate further?”
Steve leans down, brushing his lips against Tony’s in a brief kiss. “I might.” Straightening, Steve glances pointedly around them. “Somewhere more private than the Compound’s driveway.”
“You lack imagination, Rogers,” Tony says. He traces the line of Steve’s jaw with his thumb, watches as Steve’s eyelashes flutter briefly, his throat working as he swallows. “You know, sometimes I miss the beard.”
Steve’s eyebrows go up. “You do?” Steve says, his eyes lighting up in a way that spells trouble. “Well, if you really miss it, I can-”
“I don’t miss it that much,” Tony interjects quickly. He manages not to roll his eyes at the smug expression that flickers across Steve’s face, settling instead for a quick kiss.
Only the kiss is not quick at all. The moment their lips touch, Steve takes control of the kiss, turning it hard and heated, with just a hint of something sharper and darker, his fingers digging deeper into Tony’s flesh, as if trying to bring them even closer.
“I thought you were against public acts of indecency,” Tony says when they break apart, voice a little unsteady.
“I got carried away,” Steve says, looking completely unabashed. A beat later, his expression softens, as does his grip on Tony’s waist. He cups the back of Tony’s neck, bringing their foreheads together, something brittle and uncertain shadowing his gaze. “Tony… Are you-”
“Yes,” Tony replies before Steve has a chance to finish the question. “Completely, one hundred percent sure.” He huffs out a sound that is halfway between fond and exasperated at the way Steve’s eyes light up. “Dumbass.”
Steve chuckles, low and amused. “And that isn’t even the least romantic thing you have ever said to me.”
“Well, you deserved it,” Tony says. Then, softer, “You’re a bright guy, Steve. It cannot have escaped your attention that I love you.”
“With our history?”
Tony gives him a flat look. “Now you’re just being an ass on purpose.”
Steve’s mouth twitches in a poor attempt of holding off a grin. “I thought you liked my ass.”
Tony rolls his eyes. “I can’t believe there are still some people that think you’re an innocent wallflower.”
“Not my fault,” Steve replies, smiling. He leans in for a soft, almost chaste kiss, before pulling back a step. He keeps his hands on Tony’s waist, his fingers stroking idly against the Italian silk of Tony’s shirt. “So. Where do you want to go?”
Tony looks at the bike then back at Steve. “You know what? I don’t really care. As long as we’re-”
“Together?” Steve cuts in, voice soft, his eyes glinting with an emotion that cannot be mistaken for anything but what it is: love.
“Yeah,” Tony says, gaze firmly caught on Steve’s. “Together.”