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Metal Lingers On My Lips

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There’s a low hum of music as Tony walks into the shop with his idea stuffed in his pocket. He’s a little nervous, but Natasha told him this was the best studio she’s been to and, well, if he’s going to get a needle jabbed into his skin, he wants it to be from the best. The flash sheets on the wall are certainly impressive, and he does trust Natasha, he’s just never been in this situation before.

“Hey,” says the man behind the counter, pulling Tony’s attention from the art on the walls. “How can we help?”

Tony turns to look at him. “I guess I want a tattoo.”

“You guess?”

“No, I do,” Tony says, walking over to the counter, smiling at the man there. “Natasha recommended you.”

“You know Natasha?”

“Do I not look like someone who knows Natasha?”

The man behind the counter laughs before he holds out his hand. “Sam,” he says with an easy smile. “What do you want done?”

Tony pulls a piece of paper out of his pocket and puts it on the counter. “I’m not really an artist, but this with some roses is what I’m looking for.”

“Okay,” Sam says, looking down at the paper with a slight frown before glancing at Tony. “Sure, you got an idea of where you want it?”

“Down my side,” Tony says. “But, uh—” Tony cuts himself off and sticks his hands in his pockets, rocking back on his heels a little. “Do you not recognise me?”

“Was I not meant to be acting cool about Tony Stark walking into our shop?”

Tony offers him a tight smile. “No, it’s not that,” he says. “Contrary to popular belief I don’t need people fawning over me, but I, uh. I have this thing in my chest, and anyone tattooing me would need to know.”

“Sure,” Sam says, his face turning serious. “Look, if Natasha told you to come here, I presume you trust her judgement, but let me reassure you anyway. We won’t tell anyone you’ve been here, we have a lot of high profile clients and that’s because we’re trustworthy. We have a private room so you don’t have to be tattooed out here in front of everyone,” Sam continues, gesturing at the area just behind the counter where there’s a couple of people being worked on. “We can also do after hours appointments if it’s needed, whatever you’re comfortable with.”

“Appreciate it,” Tony says, a weight lifting from his shoulders. “Really.” He taps his fingers against the counter. “Okay, so, who will have the honour of stabbing me with a needle?”

Sam smiles as he contemplates Tony’s scrap of paper again. “Steve’s the traditionalist,” he says eventually. “I’ll hook you up with him.”

“Today?”

“Might have to make an appointment,” Sam says. “Trust me, if we could fit you in today, I would, but this will take some time.”

“That’s fine,” Tony says. “Funnily enough, I get to make my own schedule. Usually.”

“Good way to live,” Sam says, raising an eyebrow. “Okay, let me get Steve and you two can chat.”

Tony watches as Sam grabs the scrap of paper and walks away towards a back room. Hoping he’s not recognised, Tony hunches his shoulders and takes a seat by the wall. The art all over the walls gives the shop a cosy feeling, despite the sterile smell, and Tony’s also comforted by the fact Sam took the time to reassure him. He’s staring at an animal flash sheet when Sam comes back, accompanied by a tall blonde man Tony assumes must be Steve.

“Hi,” Steve says after Sam introduces them. “Sam said you wanted some work done?”

“Yeah,” Tony says, standing up and offering his hand to Steve, who looks surprised but takes it. “I need to show you something before you agree to do it, though.”

“Really?” Steve asks, his tone flat, and Tony winces.

“Not—christ, do you get a lot of people coming in here showing you their dicks?” Tony asks before holding a hand up and shaking his head. “Wait, don’t answer that. Sam said there was a private room? Could we talk there?”

“Sure,” Steve says, offering Tony a small smile. “Come with me.”

Tony follows Steve through the swing doors at hip height and through the work area to the back room he noticed earlier. Sitting down on a stool, Steve clasps his hands together and looks at Tony. “If it’s not your dick, what is it you want to show me?”

“I shouldn’t really be showing you this without an NDA, but Natasha trusts you all here, so—” Tony shrugs his jacket off and lays it on the chair before he grips the bottom of his t-shirt. “Long story short, when I was kidnapped, I—it wasn’t pretty, and I had to do something to stay alive. I understand if you don’t want to tattoo me after seeing it, but—”

“Tony.”

“Yeah, right, okay.” Tony pauses for a second before he strips his shirt off and stands there trying to quell his anxiety at the thought of someone seeing the mess of scars around the arc reactor. The arc reactor, he—well, it is what it is, and the only reason he tends to hide it is because he knows there’s too many people who would want to take it. But the scars are different. No one’s seen them, except Obie, and the less Tony thinks about that, the better. Tony knows they’re ugly, there’s no getting away from the gnarled marks curling out from the arc reactor across his chest, and he hates how vulnerable they make him feel.

Steve hasn’t said a word since Tony took his shirt off, his head tilted as he looks at Tony’s skin, and the longer the silence goes on, the more Tony wants to pull his shirt back on and leave.

“I can work with that,” Steve says finally. “It’s not a problem.”

“That’s it? That’s all you have to say?”

“What do you want me to say?” Steve asks. “Come here,” he says, face softening as he gestures with his hand. “Let me see up close.”

Tony takes a couple of steps, closing the gap between them, and then Steve’s warm hands are on him, turning him to the side and mapping out an area of Tony’s skin with his fingers.

“Sam said you wanted it here, right?”

“Yeah,” Tony says, his voice slightly rough. “Is that okay?”

“Sure,” Steve says. “Your scarring is centred around the—what do I call it?”

“Arc reactor,” Tony says, looking down at Steve’s head. “Think of it as a fancy pacemaker.”

“Okay,” Steve says, not looking up, and Tony doesn’t know whether to be grateful for that or not. “The scarring is centred around the arc reactor, so if we’re sticking to your side, it’ll maybe curl a bit onto your chest or back, depending on how big you want to go, but it won’t reach the scarring.”

Tony makes a thoughtful noise. “How big do you think?”

“I’m always going to say bigger is better,” Steve says with a low chuckle. “But with the numbers, if you want them worked into the roses, then I’d take up the whole side so that they’re not lost in the design.”

“Guess I’ll put myself in your hands,” Tony says, a shiver running down his spine as Steve’s fingers trace the length of his side down to his waistband.

“Let me just—” Steve’s hands drop from Tony’s body and he leans back, grabbing some paper. “Stay still,” he says as he splays the paper against Tony’s side, picking up a pen and quickly outlining a space. “Okay,” he says, taking the paper away and looking at it. “You can put your shirt back on.”

Tony fumbles with his shirt as he pulls it back on over his head, feeling slightly more at ease when his scars are covered. “Sam said that you could do appointments after hours?”

“I can, if that would make you more comfortable,” Steve says as he puts the paper down after drawing an arrow at the top of the sheet. “I’ve done it before for high profile clients. How soon do you want to get started?”

“As soon as possible,” Tony says. “If that’s okay?”

“I can work with that,” Steve says, glancing at his calendar. “We could do Friday evening?”

“You don’t have plans?” Tony asks, unable to tamp down his curiosity. “No date night?”

There’s an intriguing flush on Steve’s face as he shakes his head. “Not for me,” he says. “Unless you count takeout and a book as date night.”

“Guess it would depend on the book,” Tony says, meeting Steve’s eyes. They’re ridiculously blue, and Tony finds himself struggling to look away before it gets awkward. “So,” he says, clearing his throat. “Friday?”

“Yeah,” Steve says. “Uh, Sam will give you the details if you leave your number, but we close at 7, so plan on getting here around then.”

“Okay,” Tony says, sticking his hands in his pockets and looking at Steve. “It’s a date.”

*

When Tony gets to the shop on Friday, Steve’s outside in a leather jacket eating a burger and Tony pauses, letting himself take in the long line of Steve’s body. The longer he looks, the more he starts to regret his choices. It’s not like he didn’t know Steve was attractive when he met him, but knowing that and realising they’re going to be alone in the shop with Steve’s hands on him for hours is an entirely different prospect.

Letting out a sigh, Tony hopes he’s past the age of inappropriately timed boners and crosses the street. “Hi,” he says as he reaches Steve. “Ready for you to hurt me.”

There’s a muffled cough from Steve and he swallows his mouthful of burger. “I’d be careful who you say that to,” he says once he’s done. “Hi.”

“I think I’m safe with you,” Tony says, wondering if he’s responsible for the flush on Steve’s cheeks. “I’m not making you work late, am I?”

“It’s my day off,” Steve says, finishing the last of his burger and crumpling up the wrapper, throwing it in the trash can. “You’re my only client.”

“You didn’t have to—”

“Tony,” Steve interrupts. “If I didn’t want to tattoo you, I wouldn’t be here. I get to pick my clients. Now get your ass inside the shop.”

“Bossy,” Tony says, winking at Steve as Steve holds the door open for him. “I like it. Where do you want me?” Tony’s choice of words are deliberate, and he’s entertained as he watches Steve’s face go through a series of suppressed expressions.

“In the back,” Steve says eventually, an amused look on his face. “I’m going to shut down the front of the shop, less chance we’ll get a drunk banging on the window.”

“That happen a lot?”

“More often than I’d like,” Steve says, shaking his head. “You can go through, I’ll be a moment.”

Tony nods and walks through to the back room that he was in earlier in the week. When he walks in, he instantly spots the stencil on Steve’s station and part of him itches to go and peek at it, but he doesn’t. Instead, he stands and looks at the walls, eyes flicking over the art that’s covering them until a piece catches his eye. It’s not like the rest, it’s abstract, painted in deep colours, and Tony’s not an art critic but there’s something that hits him in the gut as he looks at it. He would swear he can hear it screaming. It’s disconcerting, but Tony likes it. Understands it, in a way.

“I did that,” Steve says, breaking into Tony’s thoughts. “If you were wondering.”

Looking over, Tony sees him leaning against the doorway. “Oh,” Tony says, looking back at the painting. “Really?”

“Yeah,” Steve says. “I went through a bad patch after I got out of the service. That piece, it—”

“What?” Tony asks, glancing over as Steve pushes off the door and walks over.

“I don’t know,” Steve says with a sigh, standing next to Tony. “It reminds me of what’s underneath, I guess.”

“Army?”

“And here I thought the tattoos covered up my tells,” Steve says, face lifting in amusement.

“Sorry,” Tony says. “You spend as much time as I have around the military, you can spot it, but I’m sure the tattoos work for everyone else.” He pauses for a moment, not sure he has the right to ask the question he wants to, but his curiosity takes over. “Why’d you get out?”

“Got hurt,” Steve says softly. “My leg, the muscle, it’s—”

“Shit, Steve, you don’t have to—”

“It’s fine,” Steve says before he shakes his head. “I mean it’s not, obviously it’s not, but that’s not because of you.”

“Still,” Tony says, looking at Steve. “I’m sorry.”

“Thank you,” Steve says. “You know, I’m not sure you’ll want to hear it, considering everything, but without your weapons I would’ve ended up a lot worse. My men were able to cover me and drag me to safety because of your work.”

“Oh,” Tony says, taking a step back. “That’s—I would say good, but for all I know you were being fired on with my weapons as well, so—” he cuts himself off and sighs. “Sorry. I’m glad you’re alive.”

“So am I,” Steve says. “And it took me a while to get to that point.”

Their eyes meet, and Tony sees the pain that’s still there under the surface. The painting on the wall doesn’t even come close to what Steve went through, Tony knows that. He gets it, some of it, the fear that comes from no longer knowing your body, of your entire world being turned upside down because of something you couldn’t control. “Okay,” Tony says, finally, breaking eye contact with Steve reluctantly. “That was awkward.”

“Really? Felt refreshing to me,” Steve says, walking over to his set up and flashing a grin at Tony.

“Cute,” Tony says. “Do I get to see what you’re putting on me?”

Steve laughs and picks up the stencil, holding it out to Tony. “The numbers are in the petals, but they won’t get lost when I add colour, I promise. If you’d prefer them on a banner, I could—”

“No,” Tony interrupts. “No, it’s perfect. I love it.”

“Okay,” Steve says, a flush of colour high on his cheekbones almost hidden by his beard. “Good. I mean, thank you.”

“How long will it take?” Tony asks, glancing back at the stencil. “Not that I’m in a rush, but this is... big.”

“You’ve never been tattooed before, right?”

“Not even a drunken one when in college,” Tony says. “But I unfortunately know my pain tolerance is high.”

“Yeah, I’m not having you push yourself and pass out on me,” Steve says. “We’ll do the outline and shading, and then see where you’re at. It’s not a judgement on your pain tolerance,” Steve continues before Tony can protest. “I’ve seen bigger men than you not be able to take it for more than a few hours.”

“There’s so many jokes I could make right now, I want you to know that,” Tony says. “I’m holding back.”

A small smile crosses Steve’s face before he laughs. “Take your top off, Tony.”

“No sweet talk, huh? I see how it is.” Stripping his jacket off, he hangs it up on the peg he noticed earlier, before he takes his top off. Steve points at where Tony can leave it, and Tony nods in acknowledgement, dropping it on the chair in the corner. Standing there Tony’s keenly aware of the fact he’s shirtless in front of Steve again. And his nipples. He’s more aware of his nipples than he’s ever been before in his life.

“I don’t want to hurt you,” Steve says as he gets the stencil onto Tony’s skin. “I don’t do this job to hurt people, I did enough of that in the army.”

“Steve—”

“Just wanted you to know that me not wanting to push you to get this finished in one session isn’t to do with you,” Steve says, peeling back the stencil. “It’s personal.”

“I get it,” Tony says. “Promise.”

“Okay. Go look in the mirror, tell me if you like it.”

Tony walks over and looks at the stencil, his mind automatically filling in how it’s going to look when it’s coloured, and he feels a frisson of excitement run through his body. “Yeah,” he says, a big smile breaking out on his face. “Let's do this.”

Steve returns the smile as he puts his gloves on, and he gestures to the bench covered with saran wrap. “Hop up,” he says. “On your side.”

Being careful not to smudge the lines on his skin, Tony gets on the bench and shifts until he’s on his side with his arm over his head. He feels a cushion being placed at his back and he cranes his neck. “What’s—”

“Now you can lean back a little,” Steve says. “I’ll move you where I want you, don’t worry.”

“It’s the power you get off on, isn’t it? Not the pain.”

Steve lets out a low laugh before he presses his hand against Tony’s skin. “Here we go.”

Natasha told him it would be worse if he tensed up, so he doesn’t, but the anticipation makes him hold his breath until the machine hits his skin, and he lets it out slowly.

“You good?”

“Yeah,” Tony says, something settling in his brain as Steve works on him. “It’s good.”

It’s painful, there’s no getting around that, but there’s a soothing rhythm to it, the gentle buzz of the machine rumbling against his skin as Steve inks lines into his skin. Tony can tell how people get addicted to it, he’s halfway there and they’ve barely got started yet.

“So why now?” Steve asks, breaking into Tony’s thoughts.

“Why now what?”

“Why get tattooed now?”

“Because I’m so old?”

Steve laughs, his hands firm on Tony’s skin. “You’re not that much older than me,” Steve says. “No, I’m just curious.”

“After Afghanistan, things changed,” Tony starts. “I changed. Not just the business, my purpose, but my body. And none of it was done with my consent. At least this is my choice.”

There’s quiet from Steve as he works, more lines etched in Tony’s skin before he says anything. “That makes sense,” he says eventually. “I got my first one before I signed up. They changed the policy to open up recruitment, and I was a smartass. Figured if I were going into a warzone I might as well have something on me I wanted. Meant a lot more when I came out of it with something I didn’t want on me.”

“Your leg, right?”

“Shrapnel’s a bitch,” Steve says. “Ripped up my quad, got an infection, got shipped out so I wouldn’t lose the leg.”

“You miss it?”

“I got to keep the leg, Tony.”

Tony tries not to laugh as Steve finishes a line. “You know what I mean.”

“Sometimes,” Steve says. “Not as much since I got this place.”

“Sounds like a story,” Tony says. “Maybe you can tell me sometime.”

“Yeah,” Steve says quietly, and Tony’s sure he can hear the smile in his voice. “Sometime.”

*

Tony does end up having to tap out after the linework and shading gets finished, and they make an arrangement for him to come back in two weeks when he should be healed enough for Steve to start adding colour to it.

Even though they’ve exchanged numbers, Tony’s not expecting any contact from Steve, so when he gets a text a few days after they’ve parted asking how he’s healing up, he has to pause in the middle of a meeting. He doesn’t know if this is something Steve does with every client, but he responds anyway, and is pleasantly surprised when it’s the start of an ongoing conversation.

Steve tells him about a cover up he’s doing on a client who got his kid’s birthdate wrong, and Tony erupts into laughter during a meeting with Pepper. One evening he sends Steve a photo of the sunset from the top of Stark Tower and four days later his phone pings with a photo of a painting of that same sunset.

It feels an awful lot like flirting, but it’s been a long time since Tony’s done that sober, and he has no idea if Steve’s on the same page.

He’s really far too old to be feeling this awkward.

*

The appointment with Steve creeps up on Tony quicker than he anticipated, and it feels like all too soon that Tony’s standing across the street from the tattoo parlour again. Steve’s already waiting, and Tony hurries over.

“Hey,” Steve says with an easy smile when Tony approaches. “You ready?”

“The smile on your face makes me slightly nervous,” Tony says, eyeing Steve. “But yeah.”

“Nothing to be nervous about,” Steve says, opening the door. “Only a coupla more hours to go before you’re finished.”

“Natasha tells me it’s addictive,” Tony says as he passes by Steve, heading inside and trying not to notice how good Steve smells. “This could be the start of something.”

“Here’s hoping,” Steve mutters under his breath, but not quiet enough for Tony to ignore, and he stumbles a little on his way to the back room. “Let me lock up,” Steve calls after Tony. “Go on through.”

When Tony walks into the back room he immediately spots the sunset painting Steve sent him a photo of, and he pauses in the middle of taking his jacket off, taking in all the details Steve somehow managed to get from the photo Tony sent him.

“Like it?” Steve asks from behind him.

“It’s stunning,” Tony says, taking another glance at it before looking at Steve. “Really.”

“Thank you,” Steve says, a pleased look on his face. “You said you healed up okay, can I see?”

“Bit late for me to start getting shy,” Tony says as he finishes slipping off his jacket. He drops it on the chair like before and tugs his t-shirt over his head, holding it as he turns so Steve can see his side. “How does it look?”

“You heal well,” Steve says, running his fingers along the skin. “Looks like tattooing is for you.”

Tony swallows, trying not to lean into Steve’s touch. “Good,” he says. “Considering I’m here to get it finished.”

“You know what—”

“It was too easy,” Tony says, smiling at Steve. “Sorry.”

“Get on the bench,” Steve says, shaking his head. “Let's get you finished up.”

Tony gets settled on the bench, and smiles to himself when he feels Steve place the cushion behind his back like he did at the last session. The noise of Steve setting up is familiar now, and he lets himself relax.

“Ready?” Steve asks, his gloved hands pressing against Tony’s body.

“Yeah,” Tony says. “Ready.”

The needle hits Tony’s skin and he breathes in slowly, acclimating to the sensation. It’s a different kind of pain this time, compared to the line work, and his mind turns over as he tries to place it. The line work was sharper, more exact, but getting colour is almost blunt, a constant scraping against his skin. Tony wonders what it says about him that he enjoys it.

“Not too much?” Steve asks.

“No,” Tony says. “Feels, uh, good.”

There’s a thoughtful hum from Steve, and Tony would swear the air feels thicker. “This might sting,” Steve says. “Slow breathing.”

Tony feels Steve passing over his ribs and he takes the direction Steve gave him, breathing out as steadily as he can as Steve works rhythmically, the needles sending vibrations over Tony’s chest.

“Good boy,” Steve says before falling silent, the words heavy in the room. “That, uh—”

“Thank you,” Tony says, meeting Steve’s eyes reflected in the mirror on the wall. He wouldn’t swear to it, but Tony thinks he can see Steve’s ears turning red, and something settles in Tony’s chest upon seeing that.

“Right,” Steve mumbles, ducking his head and carrying on working on Tony, his hands a little firmer against Tony’s body. “Okay.”

“It is okay,” Tony says quietly. “Steve, I—fuck. It’s okay. Trust me.”

“I do,” Steve says with a short laugh. “I’m not sure I trust myself.”

“What does that mean?”

“I’ve never—” Steve breaks off. “This is all I have in my life,” he continues. “I work, I go home, I go to the gym, and sometimes my friends drag me out to a bar where I nurse a beer all evening because I’m too scared to find out what could happen if I get drunk.”

“Sounds familiar,” Tony says, wishing he could turn around and look at Steve properly. “Steve—”

“I’m not the same person I was before the war,” Steve interrupts, like he’s trying to get all the words out at once. “I haven’t—there hasn’t been anyone for more than a night, and if you—if we—I’d want you for more than a night.”

“I didn’t know you before the war,” Tony says carefully. “I like the person I’ve got to know these past few weeks. But I know what it’s like to not be the same person you were. What happened in Afghanistan changed me and, honestly you wouldn’t have liked the person I was before that.” He pauses, looking at Steve’s reflection in the mirror. “I didn’t like the person I was before that,” he adds in a quieter tone.

“Tony—”

“It’s fine,” Tony says. “And as for the one night thing, it’s not like I’ve been sleeping around with this in my chest.”

“I didn’t mean to imply—”

“I get it,” Tony says. “I have a reputation.”

“Still,” Steve says, pausing in his works and gently moving Tony for an easier reach. “I shouldn’t assume. I guess we both have our issues.”

“You think?”

Steve laughs, the atmosphere in the room turning a little lighter, and Tony relaxes, letting himself enjoy the drag of the needle against his skin. They lull back into an easy quiet, music from Steve’s phone low in the background, and Tony would swear he could fall asleep like this. The pain doesn’t even feel like pain anymore, it’s almost euphoric, and there’s a familiar buzz in Tony’s mind that he’s resisting sinking into. He swallows, wondering if what he’s feeling is unusual.

“You’re doing so good, Tony,” Steve says quietly as he moved over a particularly sensitive spot. “We’re almost there.”

Tony frowns. “We are?”

“Yeah,” Steve says with a low laugh. “You zoned out pretty hard for a while there.”

“Sorry,” Tony says, cheeks heating up. “I didn’t mean to.”

“Hey, I’d rather have that than a client who winces each time the needle comes near them,” Steve says, leaning back and looking at his work. “Sitting well isn’t something everyone can do.”

“Didn’t think I’d find a new talent this late in life,” Tony says, feeling Steve get back to work. “I’ll have to take advantage of it.”

“Well, any time you want, I’ll be happy to work on you,” Steve says.

“Good to know.”

“I think we’re done,” Steve says after a moment. “Let me clean you up.”

Tony shivers as Steve wipes up the excess ink and blood on his skin, slowly realising how much his side is aching.

“You can stand up, take a look in the mirror,” Steve says. “Go on. Let me know what you think.”

Easing himself off the bench, Tony stands up, the fresh tattoo pulling at his skin as he walks towards the mirror and looks at himself. He’s amazed by what he sees, he left the choice of colours up to Steve and there’s an explosion of red and yellow on his skin, with green leaves dotted in here and there. As Steve said, the numbers aren’t lost in the colour, instead standing out in the petals, and Tony’s overwhelmed at how beautiful Steve’s made his idea look.

It’s not until Tony turns away from the mirror that he realises that’s the first time he’s stood in front of a mirror and not immediately had his gaze drawn to his scars.

“It’s gorgeous,” Tony says, watching Steve’s face light up. “You did more than I could’ve imagined, and my imagination is pretty incredible.”

“A lot of you is incredible,” Steve says softly, his eyes on Tony. “Come here, let me wrap you up.”

Once the tattoo has been wrapped up and Steve’s reminded Tony of the aftercare instructions, Tony carefully slides his t-shirt back over his head and picks up his jacket, shifting from foot to foot as he watches Steve start to clean up. “Do you want me to pay and go?” Tony asks, eventually.

“Oh, sorry,” Steve looks up from where he’s breaking down his station. “I—no? Unless that’s what you want to do?”

“I assume you want me to pay,” Tony says, smiling when Steve rolls his eyes. “But if you don’t want me to leave, well, I’ve got no plans.”

“Then stay,” Steve says. “I won’t be long, and my place isn’t far from here if you want to, I don’t know, have a late night snack?”

“Sure,” Tony says. “My schedule isn’t exactly normal at the best of times.”

“Good, great,” Steve says. “I’ll finish cleaning up and then we can go.”

*

“You know,” Tony says, as he follows Steve into the apartment, pulling the door closed behind him. “When you said your place wasn’t far from the shop, I didn’t think you meant upstairs.”

“Makes life easier,” Steve says, throwing his keys on a small table before they walk into the living room. “It can be hard to get around when my leg starts to ache.”

“Makes sense,” Tony says. “I don’t have nearly as good of an excuse for why I live in the same building as my work.” He looks around, greedily taking in this glimpse of Steve’s life that he’s being allowed to see. There’s a drafting table in the corner set up with lights, a comfortable looking couch with a separate footrest that Tony assumes Steve uses when he’s having a bad day, and then Tony’s attention is caught by the slightly faded inspirational poster featuring a cat telling him to ‘hang on in there’. “That doesn’t seem like your style,” Tony says, hiking a thumb at the poster as he sits on the couch. “What’s the story?”

A half smile crosses Steve’s face as he glances at the poster before he joins Tony on the couch. “When I came back, I eventually got a VA counsellor. I didn’t want it,” he says with a heavy sigh. “But I’d promised my Ma that I—before she died, I said I’d get help, so when they called, I agreed. But I can be stubborn, and I thought—. I don’t know what I thought. I was really messed up. The guy I got assigned to, he took a whole lot of me not talking, and then one session he gave me that poster and said he’d give me a similar one every session until I started talking. It was what I needed, I guess. Someone who was equally an asshole.”

“Do you still see him?”

“I do,” Steve says, nodding. “You met him when you came in the shop.”

“Wait, Sam?”

“Yeah,” Steve says, the corners of his mouth turning up as he smiles. “He still works for the VA when they need him, but when I took over the shop, I needed people I could trust and Sam was a natural choice.”

“I get that,” Tony says with a slight shrug. “It’s how I know Natasha.”

Steve shifts, his arm coming to rest on the back of the couch as he looks at Tony. “She’s a good customer,” he says. “I’ll have to figure out a way of thanking her.”

“For what?”

“For telling you to come to my shop.”

Tony can’t help the smile that crosses his face at Steve’s words, and he pushes past the urge to turn away, instead holding the look Steve’s giving him. “Yeah,” he says quietly, inching a little closer to Steve, ignoring the pull of his freshly tattooed skin as he reaches over and rests a hand on Steve’s thigh. “Think I’ll have to as well.” Tony runs his fingers up and down Steve’s jean clad thigh, watching as Steve licks his lips, his mouth dropping open slightly when Tony’s fingers graze over his crotch.

“Jesus, Tony,” Steve says quietly. “If you weren’t freshly tattooed I’d fuck you through this couch tonight.”

“Another time,” Tony says with a laugh. “How about a kiss?”

Steve’s hand cups Tony’s face firmly, pulling him closer, and Tony can only go with it. Wants to go with it, point of fact, wants nothing more than for Steve to take control of this moment. And Steve does, his mouth softly pressing against Tony’s lips, coaxing them open as he kisses Tony with an urgency Tony didn’t expect but is all too happy to be on the receiving end of. Gripping Steve’s thigh harder, Tony resists the urge to climb in Steve’s lap, but only barely, wanting to be surrounded by Steve as much as humanly possible.

Tony’s done this with a lot of people, he’s not ashamed of that, but it’s never felt so all enveloping the way it’s feeling with Steve, and part of him is a little terrified at that. The rest of him wants to sink to his knees and feel Steve’s hand on the back of his neck. Breaking away, Tony brushes his lips over Steve’s mouth, smiling when Steve whines a little. “Can I—” Tony pauses. “I want to blow you.”

“Fuck.”

“Is that a yes?”

“Yeah,” Steve breathes out. “Yes.”

Tony leans in for another kiss, the play of Steve’s lips against his making a part of him that’s been near dead since Afghanistan light up, and he can’t stop the sigh that slips out of his mouth when he pulls away. Sliding off the couch, Tony situates himself between Steve’s legs and looks up at Steve, enjoying the slight widening of Steve’s eyes before his face settles into something more knowing. Tony pushes up on his knees, thankful for the thick rug beneath him, and runs his hands up Steve’s thighs, eyes lighting up when he sees the substantial bulge in Steve’s jeans.

“Oh I’m going to enjoy this,” Tony says, his eyes fluttering shut for a moment when Steve reaches down and runs his fingers through Tony’s hair. Swallowing, Tony opens his eyes when Steve removes his hand, and there’s a pleasant tingle at the base of his skull as Steve looks at him in approval. “Yeah,” Tony breathes out as he gets Steve’s jeans unbuttoned and grins at the sight of no underwear, just Steve’s thick cock curving up towards his stomach. Licking his lips, Tony watches as Steve pushes his jeans down enough to fully expose himself and he waits, fingers digging into Steve’s thighs, until Steve leans back and raises an eyebrow.

Not needing more than that, Tony wraps a hand around Steve’s cock and presses a sloppy kiss to the head, warmth spreading through his body when he hears the groan Steve lets out. Tony lets his mouth get wet, spit spilling down Steve’s shaft, and he jerks him slowly as he runs his tongue over the head, knowing Steve’s eyes are on him, following his every action.

“You’re—fuck,” Steve chokes out as Tony takes more of Steve’s cock in his mouth. “So good, Tony. So good for me.”

Taking the praise happily, Tony pulls off for a moment before he gets back to work, the weight of Steve’s cock in his mouth making his own cock impossibly hard. Ignoring the pressure in his pants, he swallows Steve down and concentrates on finding all the ways to make Steve fall apart. Tony quickly picks up on the fact Steve’s got a sensitive spot on the underside of his cock that makes him squirm when Tony presses his tongue against it, and he gets a drawn out noise from Steve when he lightly trails a finger along his balls that makes Tony proud.

Tony lets out his own groan when Steve twists his fingers in Tony’s hair and tugs a little, like he’s wondering how much he can get away with. The noise he elicits from Tony must reassure him, because his next grip is firmer, less cautious, and it spurs Tony on to work harder, wanting to know what it’ll feel like to have made Steve come. Looking up at Steve, Tony wonders what he’s thinking as he watches Tony on his knees, mouth stuffed full of cock. Steve’s free hand brushes Tony’s cheekbone gently and it’s such a contrast to the harsh grip on Tony’s hair that all Tony can do is stare at him.

“Gorgeous,” Steve says, his voice barely over a whisper. “So gorgeous for me. God, I want to paint you with my come.”

Tony pulls off and wraps his hand around Steve’s cock, not dropping his gaze as he works him. “Do it,” he says, running his tongue along the underside of Steve’s shaft. “You already put a permanent mark on me, I want more.”

Tony doesn’t expect that to be all it takes, but he’s barely closed his eyes before Steve’s come hits his face. He can hear such sweet goddamn noises falling from Steve’s lips, and he wishes he could open his eyes and see Steve’s face, but he’s had come in his eyes before and isn’t eager to repeat that experience. “Steve,” he says, his voice so close to begging. “I want to see you, please, I—”

The grip in his hair goes, and then he feels Steve gently wiping his face with his hand, followed by what feels like a tissue. “Okay,” Steve says, pressing a thumb against Tony’s bottom lip for a moment. “You’re good.”

Opening his eyes, Tony’s met with Steve’s face all flushed, his hair pushed back from his forehead, and he leans in, meeting Steve’s mouth with his own in an urgent kiss. “M’so fucking hard,” Tony mumbles against Steve’s mouth. “Can you—”

“Yeah,” Steve says as he slides off the couch, joining Tony on the floor. “You’ve been so good for me,” he continues, fumbling with the waistband to Tony’s sweatpants, not even bothering to push them down, just shoving his hand inside. “So good.”

Steve’s hand grips Tony’s cock firmly, and Tony groans when he realises that Steve’s using his own come to jerk Tony off. “Not gonna last,” Tony says. “Please, I—fuck.” Steve’s thumb swipes over the head of Tony’s cock, and Tony’s so far gone that that’s all it takes to wrench his orgasm from him and he comes hard, his mouth open against Steve’s neck, breathing heavily.

“Jesus,” Steve says after a moment. “That was—”

“Uh huh,” Tony says, slumped against Steve’s body. “Didn’t expect that when I came up here,” he continues, lifting his head to meet Steve’s eyes as he slowly comes back to himself.

“In a bad way?” Steve asks, taking his hand out of Tony’s pants and wrinkling his nose at the come on his fingers.

“No,” Tony says, leaning in and kissing Steve, his orgasm fried mind unable to think of what to say. He shifts on his knees when the kiss comes to an end and grimaces at the sticky feel around his crotch. “Ugh, that’s not going to be fun to go home with.”

“You could, uh—” Steve breaks off and shakes his head. “Sorry,” he says, reaching for the box of tissues on the coffee table. Wiping himself clean, he drops the used tissues on the floor and stands up, refastening his jeans.

“What?” Tony asks, looking up at him from his position on the floor. “Steve?”

“I was gonna say you can stay,” Steve says, not looking at him. “I could throw your pants in the machine, they’d be clean for the morning.”

“Okay,” Tony says carefully. “What stopped you?”

“I want you to,” Steve says, finally meeting Tony’s eyes. “But I—I haven’t shared a bed with anyone in a long time, and I still get nightmares sometimes. Seems unfair to subject you to that just because—”

“We shared some orgams?”

“Yeah,” Steve says with an amused smile. “That.”

Tony stands up, needing to be on equal footing if they’re going to talk about this. “You’re not the only one who gets nightmares,” he says. “I can deal with that, I promise. And—” he breaks off for a moment before he decides to go all in. “I would like to stay, if you’re okay with it.”

“Tony—”

“If not then I really need to call my driver before my sweatpants stick to my skin,” Tony interrupts, raising his eyebrows. “Because it’s starting to feel like I’m fifteen again.”

Steve laughs, stepping forward and resting his arms on Tony’s shoulders, leaning down and resting their foreheads together. “Stay,” he says. “Let me look after that tattoo.”

As he meets Steve’s eyes, Tony wonders if he’s making a mistake, if this is too much too fast, Wonders if maybe staying tonight will be something he looks back on in several years and regrets. But the thing is, Steve’s looking at him in a way he hasn’t been looked at in a long time, and Tony can’t find it in him to walk away from that. “Yeah,” Tony says quietly. “Yeah, I’ll stay.”

*

Two years later

“Ready?” Steve asks, machine in one hand as he looks at Tony.

“Can’t go back now,” Tony says, looking down at his hand, his ring snug in his pocket.

“You don’t have to—”

“I want to,” Tony says, his foot outstretched under the small metal table, tangling with Steve’s legs. “I want this, you, forever.”

“You’ve got me forever, sweetheart, that’s what yesterday was.”

“You’re a pain in the ass,” Tony says. “I can’t believe I have to talk you into tattooing a wedding band on me.” He laughs as Steve leans in over the table carefully and kisses him. It’s too quick for Tony to really indulge in the feel of Steve against his mouth because all Steve’s doing is proving a damn point, and Tony knows it.

“You don’t have to talk me into anything,” Steve says when he’s done taking his fill of Tony. “I just don’t want you to regret it.”

“Not gonna happen,” Tony says, smiling at Steve before he nudges him with his knee. “Now tattoo me, Mr Rogers.”

“That’s Mr Rogers-Stark, thank you very much,” Steve says, winking at Tony before he starts the machine and gets to work.

Now he’s built up a collection, people ask Tony what his favourite tattoo is all the time, and his answer has always been the roses that led him and Steve to meet. Now, though, as he watches Steve tattoo his left ring finger, he realises he’s probably going to have a different answer. And he’s really okay with that.