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“You have a dog?”

Tony is clearly surprised, but it’s the hesitation in his tone that has Steve shifting protectively, firmly holding the door where it’s still only partially ajar. He’s not worried about an escape, but some people are weird about dogs. Even though he’s got complete faith that his won’t hurt a fly, he’s had more than enough public encounters to be aware that not everyone else trusts his four-legged companion as much as he does. 

Which is implicitly, unconditionally, and profoundly. 

“Yes,” Steve says awkwardly. “Is that - is that a problem?”

And Tony shakes his head so Steve opens the door more, enough for Tony to wedge his way inside. 

“I guess what they say about dogs looking like their owners is true. What’s her name?” Tony asks, still wary but not looking like he wants to bolt, which is fine. Maybe Steve should have mentioned the fifty-pound canine who sheds like he’s trying to carpet over the hardwood in the apartment, reminiscent of decorating styles of decades past, but he’s gotten so used to his freeloading roommate over the last few years that he’d honestly forgotten. 

“He,” Steve corrects, and scratches the top of his best boy’s head, snout knocking into the side of his thigh in appreciation. “This is Nomad. I can give him something to do, if you want. He might be curious about you because you’re new, but if I give him one of his treat puzzles, you might get away with him ignoring you completely.”

Steve doesn’t know how Tony feels about dogs, because he doesn’t know much about Tony to begin with. They’ve only known each other for a few months, thanks to Natasha dragging Steve along as her plus one to the holiday party thrown by the company she’d been temping for. Tony had cornered Steve at the open bar, smooth and charming and just boyish enough to get Steve to feel comfortable in a sea of people he didn’t know, nursing a drink that tasted like rubbing alcohol and five minutes away from telling Natasha that he needed to get home to feed his dog. 

But somehow, and Steve is still a little blurry on the how, because he doesn’t drink liquor very often, he’d ended up on a higher floor in a dark glass-framed office with an enormous desk, pants around his ankles and fumbling with Tony’s belt. 

As he’d been putting himself back together, trying to check his reflection in the wide expanse of glass wall and praying that Natasha wouldn’t ask, Tony had knocked his shaking hands aside and insisted on doing his tie. 

“Let’s do this again,” Tony had said, eyes bright and dancing mischievously, fingers deft as they made fast work of Steve’s nicest tie, a sky blue that he’d been told brought out his eyes. 

And Tony had been very clear that he wasn’t looking for anymore more, and he’d been so fantastic with his mouth that Steve wouldn’t have cared even if he was wanting something serious. It was easy to tell how Tony was, whiskey tangled with experience on the back of his tongue, and Steve had been unlucky enough in relationships thus far to not want to ruin what had the potential to be a good thing. 

While waiting for a cab to take them home, Natasha had laughed hard when Steve had reluctantly told her where he’d disappeared to. 

“He’s my boss's boss, Steve,” she’d said, seemingly unconcerned as she fixed his hair, still a mess from where Tony’s hands had found purchase. “He’s being groomed to take over the entire company. Only you, honestly .”

So Steve doesn’t know much about Tony, other than he smells like expensive sandalwood and eucalyptus, and he has a driver who has offered at least a dozen times to drive Steve home after their trysts. He declines every time, even when Tony is escorting Steve to the elevator of his penthouse in a tiny silk robe with raised eyebrows, warning him that he’s going to offend Happy one of these days. 

“He’s starting to think you don’t like him,” Tony had said once, pushing the button for the lobby and turning away without any more of a goodbye. 

Steve isn’t entirely sure that he knows how old Tony is, knowing that he could Google the man if he wanted to, but he’s got no desire. They’re about the same age anyway, he’s grasped that much from Natasha who likes to complain about her boss’ taste in music, and from the compact musculature that looks like it can at least be partially attributed to youthfulness and excellent genetics that haven’t yet had a chance to decline. Therefore it’s really not too far of a stretch to have failed to anticipate Tony’s reaction to Nomad.

“Or, we don’t have to do this,” Steve offers up when Tony hasn’t replied, looking at Nomad like he’s not sure what to make of him. “We can wait until your place is done being repaired.”

That seems to shake Tony into action, shaking his head as he stuffs his hands in his pockets and looks up to survey the apartment. 

“They’ve got to replace drywall,” Tony says as Nomad circles the coffee table and sectional, and Steve doesn’t even want to imagine the hassle. “Pipes. Tile. It’s a nightmare.”

Steve doesn’t know what happened, only that every other time Tony had texted to see if Steve was busy or not, it had been with the understanding that Steve would go to him. He doesn’t have a problem with it, not really - Tony’s place is beyond nice, the kind of penthouse that gets featured in magazines and has sweeping views of the park from a private terrace. But he hadn’t been expecting Tony asking if he could come to Steve, citing burst pipes in the master bathroom and a construction crew that apparently wasn’t good for anything besides asking for catered food and turning Tony’s heat on full blast. After Tony explained that he was currently shacking up with his best friend to avoid the headache from the machinery, Steve had offered up his address without much thought.

“He’s not a problem,” Tony says, and he’s exploring in a way that Steve isn’t sure he loves, in a way that Steve definitely had never been granted the privilege of at Tony’s. There, he’s only seen what Tony has allowed him to see. “I’m just not overly familiar with dogs.”

Tony pauses in front of the fridge, tilting his head slightly as he takes in the collection of magnets and wedding invitations, mail that needs responding to and a notepad where Steve likes to jot down his shopping list throughout the week. Right now, he knows exactly what’s written there in blue pen: milk, chicken thighs, bananas, light bulbs, fabric softener, mustard. At the bottom of the pad is a sketch of a cartoon monster that he’d roughed out while on the phone with a client, wanting to hold onto the visual in his mind as he paused in the middle of making himself a BLT for lunch. 

It’s uncomfortable, gives too much away, and Steve rocks back on his heels as Nomad ambles around the counter to join Tony. 

“I know it’s not much,” Steve says, looking about his Brooklyn apartment and wondering if letting Tony come over in the first place had been a good idea. “But it’s got more square footage than most places in the area, and I’ve got a second bedroom which is great for the rent.”

Tony turns his head to smile sideways at Steve through the cutout between the kitchen and the living room. 

“It’s fine,” he says, and he’s never unkind, but Steve still feels like an idiot for talking about rent, of all things, to a man who could buy a luxury car with the amount he pays in living expenses every month. “It’s nice.” And then, with a studying gaze, he adds, “It suits you.”

And Steve isn’t sure how to take that, but then Nomad is bumping Tony with his nose, whining low in his throat in a way Steve knows from experience will turn into a dramatic yowling if he doesn’t stop it. 

“Sorry, he - he just wants to say hi,” Steve says, nearly tripping over his words as he too rounds the corner to join them in the kitchen. “He’s friendly, promise, he just doesn’t know what to make of you.”

At the unsure expression on Tony’s face, Steve holds out an empty palm and extends it to Nomad. 

“Here, buddy,” Steve mutters low while bending his knees slightly, and then nods at Tony, encouraging him to mimic the gesture as Nomad noses at Steve’s hand, expecting a treat of some sort. “This is Tony. He’s not going to bother you.”

And once Nomad has huffed hot breath across Steve’s open hand, determining that he’s been tricked, he switches to check out Tony’s hand. 

“I’m not an expert,” Steve says, straightening and leaning against the counter, watching as Nomad sniffs crazily. “But I read that this is the best way to greet a new dog. Something about letting them smell you, and the open palm communicates that you’re not hiding anything.”

And Tony doesn’t look scared, but he’s still wary. Nomad brushes his nose against Tony’s fingertips before licking at them, small but rapid little things that have Tony frowning and instinctively making to pull away. 

“Not a fan of dog kisses?” Steve asks, teasing without realizing, and that lets Tony look up and throw Steve an impish smile that’s getting more and more familiar. 

“You’re one of those, aren’t you?” Tony fires, teasing right back. “One of those crazy dog owners who lets the animal sleep in your bed and slobber all over your face. That’s you, isn’t it?”

Steve can feel his face grow warm, but he just lifts his chin and shrugs, unembarrassed. Nomad is his constant companion, and he refuses to be judged for the bond they’ve formed. 

“Maybe,” he says, and then he watches as Tony replaces his hand for Nomad to sniff before switching to scratching under the dog’s chin. “Is that a problem?”

Tony is now tentatively petting the top of Nomad’s skull, right along the dip that makes Nomad lean forward and wordlessly demand more. 

“No,” Tony says, like he’s deciding it on the spot. “You’ve still got a picture perfect dick, Rogers. I’m not turning that down just because you like to make out with your dog in your spare time.”

“We do not make out,” Steve says adamantly as he flames red, and now Nomad is bumping into Tony harder, earning long, careful strokes down his back. “And my dick is not picture perfect.”

Tony just grins because it’s not the first time he’s said it, not the first time Steve has refuted it, and it’s definitely not going to be the last, if the look on Tony’s face is anything to go by. His gaze visibly flits down to where Steve can feel himself growing harder - he’s been half-hard since opening the door if he’s being perfectly honest, because Tony looks like something out of the pages of GQ when he’s still dressed from work - and suddenly, the ambient temperature seems to raise at least ten degrees. 

“You said something about a treat puzzle?” Tony asks, clearly on the same page as Steve, who just nods dumbly and goes to the living room to load the large rotating sphere with little dog treats. Nomad comes over to check out what he’s doing, impatient with his tail wagging a million miles an hour, and Steve fumbles more than once as he listens to Tony’s shoes making their way down the hall. 

It’s not that he minds Tony in his space, exactly, but they’re trying to keep this thing strictly physical, and to Steve that doesn’t involve snooping around in each other’s personal belongings. 

Once the toy is locked and loaded, Steve doesn’t waste a second. By the time he’s reached the threshold of his bedroom, he’s got his shirt off and is shoving his pants down his thighs. Tony is already in the center of the bed, completely nude and heavy-lidded while stroking himself. Steve wrestles with the growl in his throat and kicks the door closed, hoping that Nomad doesn’t get curious about what’s about to happen. 

“What’s on the agenda, then?” he manages to get out as he finishes undressing, climbing onto the bed and over Tony, who looks entirely too at ease, as though he’d never been bothered to begin with. 

Tony doesn’t answer. He just wraps a hand around Steve and sucks on his neck, and just like that, they’re falling into their usual rhythm. 

*

“I’m so sorry,” Steve groans, flopping down onto the mattress. “I don’t know what’s wrong with him.”

Tony currently has a pillow pulled over his head to muffle Nomad’s persistent howling, and Steve knows that if he doesn’t get up and tend to that soon, his neighbors are going to complain. As far as Huskies go, Nomad isn’t too noisy, but even that isn’t saying much. Steve is fortunate to work from home most of the time so he can mitigate it, but the middle-aged couple below him are particularly sensitive to it, and he doesn’t feel like having another complaint lodged against him. 

“I can’t hear you,” Steve says, reluctantly getting up and finding a pair of sweatpants in a pile on the corner of his dresser, pulling them on as fast as he can manage. “The pillow, Tony.”

Tony throws the pillow to the floor and props himself up on his elbows, all stretched out against the sheets in a way that’s making him extremely hard to resist. 

“I said,” Tony says, looking murderous, “that this didn’t happen last time!”

Steve opens the door and snags a hand around Nomad’s collar, keeping him from bounding up onto the bed as he usually does. The primary advantage to letting him in is that he goes near quiet, only whimpering as his head swivels around to take in what’s going on.

“You might want to cover up,” Steve says, motioning to Tony and wincing at the accusatory glare thrown his way. “I’m sorry! I said I was sorry!”

“Just as I was starting to maybe kind of sorta like the idea of you,” Tony tells Nomad, tugging up the comforter until it’s at waist level. “You have to go and cockblock me.”

Tony says the word like it’s disgusting, and it’s getting harder and harder to take him seriously. Steve rolls his eyes, petting Nomad until he begins to calm, his tail slowing and his panting fading. He pets his head, his back, his stomach. He scratches behind his ears and crouches down so Nomad can lick at his face, twice, before trying to nuzzle in against his chest. 

“I know,” Steve says, holding his boy close. “I know, buddy. The weird noises were freaking you out, weren’t they?”

He hears indignant mumbling from Tony’s general direction but ignores it. 

“What do you need?” Steve asks, thumbs digging into the spots behind his ears that Nomad loves so much, and he leans into it immediately. “Huh? You need a treat? Some attention?”

“This is ridiculous,” Tony says, and a quick glance tells Steve that Tony is bent at odd angles as his upper half leans forward, trying to get closer to the action. “You’ve touched that dog more in the last thirty seconds than you’ve touched me since I got here.”

“I think last time was a fluke,” Steve grimaces, easing down to fully sit on the floor. “He’s pretty attached to me, but I didn’t think this would happen.”

He’d stupidly forgone the treat puzzle this time around, instead just handing Nomad his favorite chew toy and mistakenly assuming that they’d be left alone until they were done and Tony was ready to go. Instead, they’d barely gotten in bed before Nomad had started whining at the door, progressing to barking by the time Tony was demanding lube and a condom, and ended up howling before Steve could even get the cap open. 

“Have you ever brought people back before?” Tony asks, now practically half hanging off the bed, his chin dangling close to Steve’s shoulder. He looks ridiculous, making a tangle of Steve’s bedding, his mouth red and bitten and his annoyed expression almost unfairly attractive. 

“I mean,” Steve says, refocusing his gaze on Nomad who is approximately two pets away from rolling onto his back to beg for tummy rubs. “I usually end up at their place.”

Tony doesn’t immediately answer, and Steve finds himself faced with Nomad’s furry underside, so he strokes down and makes sure to scratch the place that always makes Nomad’s back left leg shake in delight. 

There’s a small sigh and the sound of the weight on the mattress being redistributed, and when Steve looks up next, it’s to see Tony picking his way to stand in front of them, jeans on and zipped but not buttoned. 

“Dogs need walks, right?” Tony says, rolling with the punches as he does, and Steve’s chest expands with gratitude. Tony shrugs. “Maybe he’ll get some energy out of his system, sleep when we get back.”

“Thank you,” Steve says gratefully as his embarrassment ebbs, tapping Nomad so he rolls upright, instantly alert and panting again. “I really am sorry.”

“Stop apologizing,” Tony dismisses, “and give me a hoodie or something. It’s cold out there.”

Tony looks younger than usual all huddled up in Steve’s old NYU pullover, shoulders braced against the late-night early April chill. He spends the majority of the fifteen minutes walk complaining about the weather and occasionally pressing himself against Steve’s back to stay warm. Steve knows that Tony is touchy - it’s how things started between them, after all - and he teases his cold-bloodedness as Nomad yanks them down the street. 

“I guess Brooklyn isn’t so bad at night,” Tony concedes when they’re nearly back at Steve’s building, Nomad having finished his business and mostly focused on chasing shadows. “I mean, you guys could do with fewer kitschy coffee shops out here, and I say that as a guy who needs an IV drip of the stuff to function.”

“Good to know,” Steve says, fiddling with Nomad’s leash as he gets his keys out of his pocket. Tony is smashed up against his side, biting at the meat of his bicep through lightweight cotton. “I’m honored that you’ve made the trek out here for me, to be perfectly honest.”

Nomad is pulling at his leash, and Steve fumbles the keys before dropping them entirely.

“Don’t look into it too hard,” Tony tells him, bending to retrieve the keys and hand them back. “You’re just a good lay, that’s all.”

“Must be pretty good to get you out of Manhattan,” Steve says, a rare flash of cockiness, and maybe that’s what has him shaking his hand out of the loop of Nomad’s leash. “Here, hold this for a second. He’s in rare form tonight, I’m not going to be able to unlock the door without him pulling my arm off.”

Tony looks at the offering as though nylon could bite.

“Um,” he says, staring at the blue length. “What makes you think I can handle him?”

“He’s not that big, Tony,” Steve says, but he reconsiders, twisting his wrist to make as to slide the leash back around it. “But if you don’t think you can do it - ”

That’s all it takes for Tony to scoff and scrabble his nails against the back of Steve’s hand, practically ripping the leash from him. “I can handle this gentle giant,” Tony boasts defensively, and without Nomad’s unquenchable thirst for adventure weighing him down, Steve gets the building door unlocked within seconds. “I mean, he’s not that bad, is he?”

“He’s pretty well behaved,” Steve agrees, unsure of how much is appropriate to reveal. What he and Tony have going for them is closer to fuck buddies than friends with benefits, because they’re not friends, and they don’t talk much beyond logistics and positions in bed. 

Once they’re inside, he unclips the leash and lets Nomad run up the first set of stairs. Normally Steve keeps him on the leash just so he doesn’t end up bowling anyone over - against, Steve trusts his dog implicitly, but stuff like that tends to piss other people off - but it’s near midnight on a weekday and the likelihood of anyone coming or going is very low. It leaves him alone with Tony as they climb the first level of stairs, and Steve bites back the automatic apology that comes with living on the third floor in a building without an elevator. 

Thankfully, Tony hasn’t seemed to mind yet. 

“So,” Tony says, as they near the second-floor landing. “Did you purposely pick a dog whose eyes would match yours?”

And it catches Steve off guard, laughing with the absurdity. 

“No,” he says, looking over his shoulder to see Tony grinning expectantly. “I didn’t. Could you imagine? How narcissistic would I have to be?”

“You have very nice eyes,” Tony notes, and Steve rolls his eyes because if there’s one thing Tony gives freely and without prompting, it’s compliments about Steve’s appearance. He’s not dumb, he knows how he looks, knows that he’s held a wide appeal ever since after college when he’d picked up weights to go with his running habit. “So what, just because he’s a pretty dog?”

“He is pretty,” Steve agrees, because they get stopped all the time asking if Nomad is friendly and allows pets, and people try to take pictures, his mostly white coat tinged light gray around the face and down his spine and tail. If Steve had been aware of the unintended consequence that a dog would have in taking some of the attention off of him in public spaces, he would have gotten one even sooner. “But no, that’s not why.”

“So why?” Tony pushes as they climb the second set of stairs, Nomad waiting at the top, his tail thumping the floor and his mouth open, tongue lolling out of the side. “My parents never let me have one growing up. Or any pet, really, so the concept is foreign to me. Explain the appeal of a four-legged slobber monster who requires constant care and attention.”

Steve pauses at his door, keys loose in his hand as he sizes Tony up. 

“You’re more of a plant guy, aren’t you?”

“I’ve killed at least four cacti and eight succulent arrangements,” Tony confirms, almost proud. He pokes Steve’s hip. “So. Explain .” 

Steve lets them inside and he hangs up the leash while they kick off their shoes. 

“I have a friend,” Steve says, a little slow, after a maybe too-long pause as Nomad strides to where Steve keeps a shelf of treats. “Who works with the VA. He recommended a service animal to one of his patients, but the first dog didn’t end up working too well. I think he’s got a Belgian Malinois now.”

“Nomad was a service dog?” Tony asks, eyebrows shooting up as Steve finds the treat puzzle and begins filling it. 

“A failed service dog,” Steve corrects. “They tried to train him up for something like a year, but he’s too headstrong and friendly. He’s got the wrong temperament. My veterinarian says he can’t imagine why someone would recommend a Husky as a service dog in the first place, but….”

Steve just shrugs and holds up a free treat for Nomad who sits obediently until Steve gives it to him. 

“Too loud too, probably,” Tony says, and Steve looks at him warningly. Tony just grins winningly. “So if he knows commands - ”

“We’re kind of out of practice,” Steve interrupts, because when Sam had talked of the dog who was causing more problems for a veteran who really had enough on his plate already, he’d only intended to give the dog a home until Nomad could be matched with someone more suited for his personality. It turned out that person had been Steve, and after a week of morning runs and Nomad worming his way onto Steve’s pillows and a couple of chewed shoes that had taught Steve to keep his closet doors closed, they’d become inseparable. 

“So no ‘play dead?’” 

“No,” Steve says, but then bites his lip, thinking about it. “He does do a couple of things…”

“Show me,” Tony demands, and Steve makes him promise not to laugh. 

“Shake,” Steve tells Nomad, who is currently pawing at the counter and whining at the lack of treats he’s being fed. He stops at the word though, turning to look at Steve like he’s considering it. Steve just holds out his hand, fingers tilted to the floor. “Shake,” he tries again, and this time, Nomad raises a paw to smash into Steve’s hand. He grips it tight and Nomad lets him for a few seconds before reclaiming it and landing on the floor. 

“Oh, wow,” Tony says, and he almost sounds impressed, but Steve can’t be sure because he’s busy scratching Nomad’s fluffy chest.

“Good boy,” he rewards, knowing that he must look and sound so uncool right now, but he doesn’t care because this is his boy, and he cares about what Nomad thinks a lot more than he cares about what Tony thinks. “Who’s a good boy? You are, yes you are,” he reassures Nomad, who is giddy with glee at the praise showering him, and he bangs his paw against Steve’s hand the second it pulls away. 

“Okay, that was kind of cool,” Tony says. “What else?”

“He can sit,” Steve says. Over the last few years, he’s come to care less and less about complete obedience. Nomad might pull on walks and can’t be off leash unless he’s enclosed, might require a minimum of a three-mile run every morning and eats so much kibble that Steve is always running out, but he also cuddles with Steve at night and while he’s watching tv, and doesn’t mind being left at home for moderate stretches of time as long as he’s gotten enough exercise that day. 

“Is that all?” Tony wants to know. 

“He’ll lie down if I bribe him with food,” Steve says. “He behaves at the vet and the groomers, which is more than can be said for a lot of dogs. Sometimes he’ll ‘heel’ on a walk, and he can fetch at the dog park. Goes wild for a frisbee.”

It’s clear that Tony’s interest is waning, because as Steve talks, Tony’s crowding his space and pulling at his collar to mouth at the skin there. 

“Do you think he’ll shut up this time?” Tony asks against him, and Steve remembers Tony’s earlier desperation and nods fast. 

“He better,” Steve says, and then he gives Nomad the treat puzzle and practically drags Tony down the hall, closing the door behind them. 

They only get half an hour before Nomad escalates from muted crying to full on howling, but they hold on just long enough to both finish. Tony pushes at Steve halfheartedly, and Steve rolls off of him and onto his side of the mattress while contemplating a solution. 

“Please tell me they’re going to be done with the repairs soon,” he struggles to get out, because Tony pushes his endurance beyond any limits it’s ever known. It’s part of why it’s so good, because Tony is so relentlessly demanding and Steve is more than happy to rise to the occasion. 

“Please tell me your dog knows how to be quiet,” Tony says, as equally out of breath, and Steve curses as Nomad amps it up a notch and he’s forced to pull on his sweats again. 

“We’ve got to figure something out,” Steve says, catching Nomad’s collar again, because Tony isn’t moving quite yet. 

“No shit,” is the only response he gets.

*

Steve tries to ask Natasha to watch Nomad at her apartment for a couple of hours, but when she connects the dots and figures out why, she laughs in his face. 

Which is a definite no, he surmises. 

They try a hotel, but Steve doesn’t like the inevitable mess left behind for housekeeping and ends up feeling like a hooker. 

“But a high-class hooker,” Tony tries to console him. “This is a presidential suite.” 

Steve just shoots him a death glare. 

There are issues with the contractors and Tony is apologetic, but not nearly as apologetic as Steve is when they’re forced to settle for rushed blowjobs for the fourth time in a row because Nomad is proving absolutely impossible. It’s still good, but it’s not the same, not after four months of mind-blowing, nerve-numbing, absolutely fantastic sexual encounters.

“I could ask Rhodey to clear out for a few hours,” Tony suggests afterward as he buttons his shirt, frustration tainting the usual post-coital high. Nomad has wiggled his way onto the bed and Steve is partially propped up against the pillows, petting him lazily. 

“No,” Steve says, shaking his head. “That’s just - I’m not in college anymore. I’m not kicking your friend out of his own place.”

“He wouldn’t care,” Tony tries to assure him, then frowns. “Hm. Maybe he would.”

Nomad plops his head down on Steve’s abdomen, and Steve scritches behind his ears. 

It’s almost part of their routine at this point, setting Nomad up with one or two of the several treat puzzles Steve owns before stripping and working as fast as they can. Steve can tolerate the howling as long as it’s not too late and he doesn’t have to worry about it affecting sleeping neighbors, but Tony seems particularly sensitive to the noise and just about loses his cool whenever Nomad starts to ramp it up. There’s barely a chance to enjoy themselves once they’ve finished, with Steve pulling on whatever pair of pants or boxers he can locate first and letting the menace in through the door. 

Personally, he’s just glad that Nomad hasn’t taken to scratching at the door. He’s pretty sure that wouldn’t end very well, and would put a stop to all Tony-related activities completely. They’ve never bothered to cuddle afterward, never lingering any longer than necessary, but somehow they feel rushed in a way they never had when meeting at Tony’s. If anything, it just reinforces whatever exists between them. 

Tony finishes tucking his shirt in. More often than not, they meet once Tony’s done with work, still dressed in multi-thousand-dollar suits with Italian leather loafers. He doesn’t keep the most normal nine-to-five, often working late and weekends and on call at all hours of the day, and Steve respects his work ethic. Early on, in passing, Tony had mentioned that he was clean and uninterested in sleeping with anyone else, and for half a second Steve thought he’d pulled a complete one-eighty since their first encounter. 

But then Tony had clarified. 

“I don’t mind swallowing,” he’d said, patting Steve’s thigh before getting up and making his way to his bathroom, shapely backside drawing Steve’s eyes the entire time. When he reappeared, it was with one of his dozens of silky robes, this one a deep garnet that showed off his tan. “And I still want us using condoms for penetration. A guy like me - I don’t have a lot of time to waste. Every second is worth something. But I need the stress relief.”

“Oh,” Steve had said, nearly frozen to the spot but slowly thawing as he attempted to unwind whatever web Tony was spinning. “So if you - do you expect - ”

“Are you sleeping with anyone else?” Tony had asked, eyes going intent for a moment.

Steve’d swallowed. “No.”

“Then you just let me know if that changes,” Tony’d decided. “Until then, we’ll proceed as normal.”

Steve has learned a couple of things about Tony, involuntarily collected a few more tidbits since they’d started doing this at his place instead. He’s learned that Tony is an expert at slipping into the building with one of Steve’s neighbors and is a champion at charming small talk, and can finish Steve off in less than five minutes, start to finish, if he really sets his mind to it. The most important thing Steve had learned is that he tolerates Nomad, but doesn’t quite like him. Tony will pet him in greeting and goodbye, allows Nomad to seek out his affection and will respond gingerly, like he isn’t sure what to do. So he’s not entirely unsurprised when Tony makes his way to the side of the bed and reaches down to rub the heel of his palm against Nomad’s head. 

“Look at him,” Tony says savagely, eyes meeting Steve’s and nearly sparkling. “Such a Steve hog.”

“He’s my buddy,” Steve says, because if Tony hasn’t gotten that by now, Steve needs to be seriously concerned about how he’s going to be CEO of an international corporation someday. 

“I know, trust me,” Tony says, looking privately amused. “You think he’ll let you up to give me a proper goodbye?”

Steve just shakes his head and reaches for Tony’s collar, pulling him down enough to kiss hard and deep. 

They don’t even get a chance to really get into it, because Nomad is then wailing and digging his paws into Steve’s stomach, rising to put his weight into it and Steve makes a noise of pain into Tony’s mouth before breaking the kiss.

“Nomad,” Steve says, caught between reprimand and shock. “Really, bud? That’s how you wanna play this?”

“He’s jealous,” Tony grumbles, and then he’s stepping back and fixing his shirt where Steve had grabbed it. 

For a flash, Steve imagines Tony being so aggravated by Nomad and how it’s affecting them that he just calls it off, deciding that it’s not worth the trouble anymore. It’s primarily been stress relief, and while Steve doesn’t know exactly what Tony does that has him so perpetually stressed (he can still see it though, sense the weariness in the way he redresses and the wrinkles by the corners of his eyes linger for a few moments even when he’s not squinting), he can empathize and not want to add to it. His own life isn’t that stressful, he’s got a good thing going, but he doesn’t want to lose this. 

The sex is truly too phenomenal, and Steve already refuses to think about its inevitable end. Because realistically, eventually one of them is going to meet someone and call it off. He is not looking forward to that day. 

“Hey,” Steve says, swiping out a hand, relieved when Tony is still close enough for him to snag a belt loop. “I can look into it, okay?”

Tony looks uncharacteristically confused as he pulls his phone out of his pocket. “Look into it?”

“Ways to get him to relax when you’re here,” Steve explains. “I’m sure I’m not the first person ever to run into this with their dog.”

After sending off a text that Steve knows is asking Happy to bring the car around, Tony looks at Steve all long and considering. 

“Yeah?” he finally says. 

“Yeah,” Steve says, and tugs Tony closer to squeeze his ass. “If I’m going to keep you out of your fancy-schmancy hotel suites - ”

“There is nothing wrong with having sex in a hotel, Steve,” Tony says loudly, like it’s still up for debate, which it isn’t. “Housekeeping practically expects it.”

“ - I can at least work at the alternative,” Steve says, ignoring the interjection. “If you think it would help?”

“What the hell,” Tony says under his breath before raising his voice to normal. “Yeah, why not? It can’t hurt.” He glares playfully at Nomad as he says it, the monster having settled back on top of Steve like he hadn’t done a single thing wrong. “You know, for someone who’s supposedly a failed service dog, you’re pretty devoted.”

“We’re codependent,” Steve admits, thinking of earlier, when he’d been suckered into giving Nomad several forkfuls of his dinner. “I think I accidentally conditioned him this way. Working from home doesn’t help with that.”

And a strange expression crosses Tony’s face, but it’s gone as suddenly as it appeared. 

“Let’s hope you find something,” Tony says as he consults his buzzing phone. “Alright. I’ll see you.”

Steve sincerely hopes that he’s solved the problem before the next time. 

*

“So let me get this straight,” Sam says, leaning back and crossing his arms. “You’re trying to figure out how to get your dog to leave you alone while you have...company?”

He lowers his voice for that last bit, looking around them at everyone else out for lunch on a bright and sunny Saturday.

Steve sighs and drags a fry through a small puddle of ketchup.

“Well, when you put it like that - "

“Is there another way to put it?” Sam asks, practically chortling. He’s enjoying this far too much and Steve is ready to scowl at him before Nomad puts a paw on his knee, evidently unhappy with the lack of food coming his way. 

“Down, buddy,” Steve tells him, gently shoving the paw away. Nomad balances it on the concrete for a brief second before replacing it, and Steve is less gentle the second time around. “No,” he says sternly. “No.”

“Dude,” Sam says as he goes back to eating his own food. “I don’t think he knows what that word means.”

Steve looks at him in exasperation, and when Nomad makes to put his face right up by Steve’s plate, he relents and holds up a single mealy French fry. Nomad sits immediately, panting eagerly and looking like he’ll jump right up to get the fry if Steve doesn’t surrender it within the next two seconds. 

So Steve does, and Nomad swallows the entire thing without chewing. 

“Has he always been like this?” Steve asks, sliding his plate to the other side of the table in the hopes of discouraging Nomad’s behavior. “Am I just noticing it? Or has it gotten worse?”

“Uh, probably a combination of both,” Sam says as Steve attempts to pacify Nomad with another fry. He knows that Sam loves Nomad but doesn’t feel the same way about dogs that Steve does, and doesn’t quite ascribe to the whole sharing food thing that Steve has going on more often than not. 

Steve isn’t sure how he ended up such an indulgent dog owner when he’d never had one growing up, but he’s never stopped to question it. 

Until now. 

“It’s causing a problem,” Steve says, picking up his pickle spear and slapping it against the edge of his plate. “Tony won’t say it, but I can tell he’s way past annoyed. I did some research, and aside from either locking the two of them in a room together until they become best friends or embarking on an exposure therapy program that I can’t see Tony consenting to, there’s not much I can do except pray that he hires another contractor sooner rather than later.”

“Yeah, what the hell is going on with that?” Sam asks while Steve chews through a big bite of burger and pets Nomad, encouraging him to stay calm and quiet. 

“He didn’t like the first one?” Steve guesses as he reaches for his water glass. “I don’t know. I didn’t ask.”

“Do you two talk at all?” Sam asks, and Steve knows Sam just likes poking at him because he can. 

“Rarely,” Steve tells him, and Sam looks ready to make some sort of snarky comment but is stopped by the appearance of two girls at the edge of their outdoor table. 

“Oh my God,” one of them says, almost too quick to decipher. “You have, like, the prettiest dog ever.

Steve smiles as best as he can, still petting Nomad who looks torn between giving his attention to the newcomers or Steve’s fries. “Thank you.”

“What’s her name?” the other one asks, clutching her phone.

“This is Nomad,” Steve introduces as he has a million times. “He’s almost five.”

“Is he friendly?” the first one asks, words still tumbling into each other. He can read her body language as she tucks her hair behind her ear and instinctively wants to recoil. They look high-school-aged though, and Steve can relax into the interaction without having to worry about being visually strip-searched. 

“He’s very nice,” Steve tells them, because Nomad doesn’t exactly take to strangers right away, but he’s never gotten aggressive in the slightest. “Do you want to see if he’ll let you pet him?”

And the girls are well mannered enough, at least waiting until he’s given the go-ahead before they’re attempting to smother Nomad with enthusiastic pats over his head and back, and it gives Steve a chance to enjoy a couple of bites of food without having to share. 

“He’s super pretty,” the second girl says, glancing up at Steve from where they’ve both crouched down to give Nomad an excess of attention that he seems to be enjoying if the way his tail is swinging is any indication. “Do you mind if I take a picture for my Instagram?”

“Have at it,” Steve says, gesturing widely. They take pictures in a frenzy, nudging each other over angles, and Steve tries to lean to the far side so his face doesn’t end up in one. He meets Sam’s face as the girls try to convince Nomad to take a couple of selfies, and just shakes his head in warning. It’s clear that Sam is on the brink of bursting out into laughter, but Steve is used to this and doesn’t want the girls to feel weird about it. 

The entire interaction lasts a few minutes at most, and when the girls straighten up, they thank him profusely. He assures them that it’s no problem, and as soon as they’re out of earshot, he’s narrowing his eyes at Sam and going back to keeping a hand on Nomad. 

“Don’t you even dare,” he tells him. 

“Fine,” Sam says, but he’s wearing that shit-eating grin of his as he steals one of Steve’s fries. “I won’t.”

“Good,” Steve says. “Because you know this happens all the time.”

“Oh, I know,” Sam says, and it feels like there’s more to that, but then the waitress arrives to leave the checks, and they don’t revisit the subject until Steve convinces Sam to come into a pet supply store with him. 

“I can try high reward treats,” Steve says, holding the enormous bag of dog food as they peruse the aisles. “Maybe get some new treat puzzles. Something that will keep him occupied for longer.”

“Two things,” Sam says, holding onto Nomad’s leash and using his free hand to flash two fingers in the air. “One - you know most people have this shit shipped to their door, right?”

Steve looks in time to catch Sam sweeping a hand over where Steve’s hefting the thirty-pound bag of kibble higher on his hip.

He frowns. 

“It’s not that heavy,” he says. “And you know how I feel about ordering online.”

“Yeah, I know how you feel about insisting on living in the past,” Sam says, tucking down a finger to point the other in Steve’s direction before reeling Nomad in from where he’s attempting to wander off. “Two - are you really dating a guy who doesn’t like Nomad?”

“We’re not dating,” Steve corrects, setting the kibble on the linoleum floor so he can read the packaging on a bag of dental chews. “Should I be brushing his teeth?”

“Uh, probably?” Sam says cluelessly. “I don’t know man, I don’t have a dog. Shouldn’t you be asking your vet that?”

Steve replaces the bag and goes for another, trying to feel the texture through the packaging. 

“Point still stands,” Sam says as Nomad tries to amble off again. “If this guy - ”

“You know his name is Tony, don’t be like that - ”

“ - doesn’t like your dog, who is pretty much the most important thing in your life - ”

“ - he doesn’t not like Nomad, he’s just not a dog person - ”

“ - sometimes I think you’d be happy alone forever, just you and Nomad - ”

“ - being primed to take over a Fortune 500 company, he’s allowed a couple of quirks - ”

“ - still can’t believe you’re sleeping with the guy and you haven’t swindled his fortune out of him yet - ”

“Hi, can I help you find something?”

They’re cut off by a friendly middle-aged woman, which is probably for the best, and Steve takes advantage of the opportunity to smile at her and say, “Actually, yes you can.”

Sam groans and follows Steve around as the lady shows him all kinds of mentally stimulating treats. There are textured silicone mats that can be smeared with peanut butter, something vaguely cone-shaped with a hole in the middle that the employee calls a Kong, and several plastic toys that can be fitted with specially shaped dental chews. 

“They’re very long lasting,” the lady says as she checks them out, offering Steve a handful of treats to feed Nomad. “Your boy should have plenty of fun with them.”

“That’s what I’m hoping,” Steve says, making Nomad sit before letting him inhale the bone-shaped biscuits, sticky saliva smearing across his palm. 

“Huskies are like that,” she says sympathetically. “Beautiful, but they need a lot of love and care.”

“They do,” Steve agrees, ignoring Sam’s snort behind him. 

Once they’re outside, Sam shakes his head. 

“I can’t believe that just happened,” he says, still holding Nomad’s leash and looking vaguely disgusted. “I feel like I was just in a sex shop.”

Steve rolls his eyes. 

“Grow up,” he tells Sam as they begin the walk home. “If you knew what I’ve been missing out on - ”

“I don’t want to know,” Sam says with a shudder, shaking his head. “Seriously, dude. Let me live in ignorance.”

He’s being nice by controlling Nomad while Steve carries his bounty (Sam is the only person Steve trusts to do so, aside from potentially Natasha, but she’s refused the responsibility every single time), so Steve takes pity on him and changes the subject so they can shit all over the Yankees. 

It works every single time. 

*

Nomad is spoiled. 

Steve knows that. Steve has known that. And yet the reality of that doesn’t fully crash into him until he and Tony have overestimated Nomad’s compliance levels, mid-thrust when Nomad goes right from silent to loud and piercing enough to wake the dead. 

It’s New York City, for crying out loud. Sure, it’s Brooklyn, but still. A healthy amount of ambient noise is allowed, if not accepted, basically encouraged. 

But Tony’s face screws up tight and he opens one eye as they both go stock-still, glaring at Steve as Nomad gives it his all, singing to them and begging to be let in. 

“Maybe if I just set him up again real quickly,” Steve says, cringing at how he’s practically begging. “I don’t know how he made it through everything I left for him, but we got distracted when you did that thing, so we took longer to get started than - ”

Tony just reaches to slap Steve’s ass, a resigned expression painfully clear in his face. 

“Steve, come on,” he says, and Steve hates it, hates the way they separate and hastily put themselves back together so he can tend to Nomad, who Steve both loves and hates an infinite amount at this very moment. When he’s got pajama pants on, he lets Nomad in to immediately jump on him, front paws pressing into his bare chest and nails curling painfully. 

“Ow,” Steve says, pushing Nomad off in annoyance. “Down. Nomad, come on. You know you’re not supposed to do that. That’s bad boy behavior.”

And Tony has his underwear on but is grimacing with the rest of his clothes in hand, and Steve instinctively steps aside to let him pass through to the door. 

“I’m going to steal the bathroom for a few if that’s okay,” Tony says, disappearing without waiting for an answer, and Steve’s stomach drops unpleasantly. 

He doesn’t even bother with a shirt, just slips on some shoes and hooks Nomad up to his leash before leaning against the bathroom door. He can’t hear much of anything through the solid wood, and the thought of Tony either redressing or jerking off is so depressing that Steve closes his eyes and is tempted to bang his head into the wall. 

“I’m going to take Nomad out,” Steve calls through the door, slow and unsure. For a second he’s not sure that Tony’s heard him, but then there’s a grunt of acknowledgment and Steve doesn’t linger. 

It’s not Nomad’s fault - Steve knows that. His favorite boy might be spoiled and jealous and is probably overly attached to him, and he wants to smack himself for not having realized the potential downsides of that. He’d loved the bond the two of them had formed, still loves it. He loves that Nomad knows exactly how to match his stride while running, loves their nighttime cuddles more than anything. He loves that Nomad’s favorite toy is a red, white, and blue frisbee that Steve had gotten for free during a Fourth of July celebration. He loves that every time he has to leave Nomad home alone, he comes back to a frantic tail and an overwhelming number of kisses all over his face. 

It’s not Nomad’s fault, but Steve can’t help but feel as though it’s unfair to blame Tony. It’s not exactly Tony’s fault that Steve has a codependent relationship with his dog, and it’s certainly not his fault that he has no prior experience with pets. Steve had been somewhat comfortable around animals before he’d gotten Nomad, thanks to Bucky’s family cats growing up, but he can admit that it might just be an inherent quality that Tony lacks. 

Steve doesn’t blame anyone, not really, and he drags his feet as he circles the block. Nomad seems to sense his mood, not wasting as much time sniffing as usual. When Steve approaches his building, he’s disappointed but not upset to see a figure hunched over on the front steps. He tries to arrange his features into something a little more neutral, but Tony doesn’t even look up from where he’s playing with his phone until Steve has lowered himself to sit on the same step, but a careful distance apart. Nomad settles almost unusually quickly, curling up against Steve’s feet and more than likely enjoying the cool stone under him as the season slowly grows warmer, more humid. 

He counts to sixty, registers that Tony clears his throat and clicks his phone off but doesn’t speak, and then takes a breath. 

“I’m sorry,” he says, because he is, because he’s still got blue balls and even if Tony did get off in the bathroom, it’s still a shitty situation. “I really wish I could figure this out. I really - ”

“Steve.”

Tony puts a hand on Steve’s knee, and Steve turns to look at Tony’s face, unusually grim even for the circumstances. 

Steve tries to swallow, but his throat is dry and coated in dread so he just meets Tony’s eyes and dips his head in a single nod. 

Tony sighs hugely. 

“I really like you, Steve.”

There’s a long pause, but Steve knows that Tony isn’t finished. 

“You’ve got a picture perfect dick,” Tony eventually continues. “And I don’t know if I’ll ever find someone with the same superhuman flexibility and stamina.”

Steve wants to laugh, but can’t, so he just tucks his chin against his shoulder and waits for the rest. 

Tony doesn’t even have to say it. 

“I’ll call you when my place isn’t constantly teeming with sweaty workmen and a wet saw?” he asks, and Steve’s throat nearly spasms as he tries to force words out. 

“Any idea when that will be?”

“They have to rip up the bedroom flooring,” Tony says, his face falling. It’s a small consolation that he’s as bummed about this as Steve is, another being that at least Tony has the decency to let Steve down gently instead of just ghosting him. “Something about the subfloor. I have guest bedrooms - but it’s a mess, Steve. An absolute mess. It smells like sweaty man and everything is taped off, and fuck, it’s been hell - ”

He breaks off then, burying his head in his hands with his elbows on his thighs, and Steve’s feelings about their situation dissipate almost instantly. He hasn’t at all stopped to imagine what it would be like to temporarily be forced out of his apartment, and he lifts a hand to rest on Tony’s back, between his shoulder blades, and belatedly wonders if that’s crossing a line for the two of them. The protocol for comforting a fuck buddy gets a little blurry sometimes. 

Tony doesn’t move, doesn’t react in any way, so at least Steve can know that he hasn’t done something reprehensible. Steve wants to move his hand from the gentle rise and fall of Tony’s breathing, take it away before things can feel awkward, but then Nomad is getting to his feet to stretch and it distracts him. 

“Hey, boy,” Steve says quietly, hand still weighed down by some invisible force. “What’s up? You okay?”

Nomad lets out a sort of whine, an audible representation of the tension he must be releasing as he assumes downward dog, front legs stretching horizontally across the steps until he’s right between Steve and Tony. Then he pulls his back legs in, standing tall, and to Steve’s complete shock, wedges his face right between Tony’s open arms and legs. 

It’s borderline surreal, to only be able to watch in tempered awe as Nomad continues to whine and shove his head closer and closer to Tony’s, as much in his lap as a dog his size can manage. The real surprise, though, is how Tony slowly lifts his head and stares unblinkingly into Nomad’s eyes. 

“Is he okay?” Tony asks, so quiet that Steve can barely hear. 

“Yeah,” Steve breathes out, lips barely moving as Nomad nestles in, plopping his butt down right between Tony’s feet and resting his snout on his thigh. “He - he probably thought something was wrong.”

Tony looks apprehensive but just as in awe as Steve feels, lowering a hand to run his fingers through the fur on Nomad’s chest. It’s cautious but still happening, and Steve lets his hand fall from Tony’s back to the flat cold of the steps. 

“I’m alright,” Tony tries to reassure Nomad, who just makes another noise that borders on mournful and Steve almost wants to laugh at his over-reactive dog. “Just tired, that’s all. I’ll be okay.”

Steve wavers before deciding to speak. 

“He’s pretty good at sensing emotions,” he says. “I think he picked it up when he was training to be a service dog. For PTSD, you know? But he can be pretty in tune with that kind of stuff. Probably part of why we’re so close.”

“I don’t think most people and their dogs are like you and Nomad,” Tony says distractedly, as Nomad pushes his face into Tony’s hand. “What does he - ”

“Just kind of rub his cheeks a little, that’s what he likes,” Steve says, reaching over to demonstrate. “Like - yeah, you’ve got it.”

And then he’s goddamn captivated, watching Tony cradle Nomad’s head in both hands, thumbs stroking the side of his face. Nomad is eating it up, nuzzling against Tony’s hands and closing his eyes, and Steve feels the briefest pang of betrayal before the reality is hammered into him. It’s definitely not that Tony doesn’t like dogs, or doesn’t like Nomad. 

He just has no idea what to do with him. 

Steve had given it a cursory thought before tossing it aside, thinking about how some people are more innately comfortable with animals than others. For all the thinking about not assigning blame, Steve realizes that maybe he can be held accountable for some of what’s broken down here. 

Rather than take the time to let Nomad and Tony get acquainted with each other beyond an aborted introduction, he’d effectively let a stranger into Nomad’s home. He’d entertained it before dismissing it, assuming that Tony wouldn’t be game to sit down and get to know the number one guy in Steve’s life, but maybe that had been a miscalculation on his part. Maybe so far, Tony’s been keeping Nomad at a distance because Steve has been keeping them apart. 

Maybe Steve’s gone about this all wrong. 

And then Tony says, “I don’t think he hates me,” and Steve wants to shake himself. 

“He doesn’t hate anyone,” Steve says, scrubbing a hand over his face. “Except for me, when it’s bath time.”

Tony spares him a glance, but he’s too busy trying to keep Nomad’s attention. 

“Do I even want to know how you do that?”

“In the tub,” Steve admits, shuddering at the crime scene that Nomad turns his bathroom into. “I’ve got one of those detachable handheld things.”

“I’d pay to see that,” Tony says, only half a smirk making it onto his face before Nomad pulls back out of his open hold, and then Tony’s face falls before immediately going unreadable. “Look, he wants his dad.”

It’s true that Nomad is now pawing at Steve’s knees, demanding pets, and Steve indulges him instead of pointing him back in Tony’s direction the way he really wants to. 

“I guess I kind of am his dad,” Steve says, cringing and thinking of the people who carry tiny dogs in strollers and strapped to their chests. “He’s just a very overgrown nonverbal toddler sometimes.”

“Like I said, I’ve never seen anyone act like this with their dog,” Tony remarks, and Steve knows he’s being watched so he just focuses on scratching Nomad’s back. 

“It’s not a bad thing,” Steve says, knowing he’s being defensive, but he’s already demonstrated whose side he’s on here, and he’s not afraid to stick by it. 

“I didn’t say it was,” Tony says, and then his car is at the curb, slowing to idle. 

But Tony doesn't move, so Steve just increases the speed of his scratches. 

“He’s a very sweet boy,” Tony says, and Steve would swear he sounds wistful. “I’m a little jealous. I don’t think I’ve ever convinced another living thing to like me as much as he loves you.”

And there’s respect there, and that’s what makes Steve look up and speak without thinking about it. 

“You know, he just doesn’t know you,” he says, trying to be non-confrontational about it. “I think - that’s probably why he’s so weird when you’re over.”

“Yeah, probably,” Tony says, and he seems better now, less likely to show any cracks in his put-together appearance, and Steve almost finds himself missing the honest vulnerability from before. 

But that’s not exactly fuck-buddy behavior, so he lets it be. 

Tony stands, and Steve shoves away the disappointment threatening to overshadow everything. 

“As soon as construction is done,” Tony says sternly, jabbing a finger in Steve's direction while using his other hand to ruffle over Nomad’s head. Nomad bumps his head up, asking for more, and Tony complies for a few too-short seconds. “I’m serious, Steve. Picture. Perfect .”

“I’m going to end up with that on my gravestone, aren’t I?” Steve asks, resigned.

“Burial is tacky nowadays, you should really opt for cremation,” Tony informs him, which of course, the man is all about streamlining things. 

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Steve says, and even if Tony does contact him again - which is up in the air, really, because the man is simply too attractive to be left wanting unless by choice, which considering the frequency at which they’ve been seeing each other, isn’t likely - he’s still going to miss him in the interim. 

Because Tony’s hot, and excellent in bed, and really good at small talk, and a thousand times funnier than he has any right to be. 

But he’s also walking to his car and getting in the backseat without sparing Steve a backward glance, and that tells him all he needs to know. 

Nomad’s desolate howl, and the way he lies down flat with his head pressed to his outstretched front paws, also tells Steve all he needs to know. 

*

There’s sweat pouring off of him, Steve’s lungs are gasping for air, and he’s pretty sure he’s pulled something in his quad. With an hour down and half an hour to go, death is surely imminent. 

Remind him to never accompany Natasha to hot yoga ever again. 

It seems particularly cruel, and Steve has tagged along to regular yoga and pilates before, so he’s got an accurate benchmark against which he can determine that. There’s sweat bleeding into his eyes, his mat has gotten slippery, and a cursory glance around the room reveals that absolutely no one is having the slightest difficulty with the lead up to the much-awaited savasana at the end. 

Steve isn’t a quitter, but he’s tempted. If not for the fact that he knows Nastaha would skin him alive for embarrassing her by leaving in the middle of the class, he’d happily cut his losses and slink out. 

Well, slink out as much as a guy of his stature can manage to slink. 

The instructor describes the flow into the next pose, and Steve does his best to follow along, but it’s hard. He’s athletic, but he’s also a guy who, for all Tony had said about him, isn’t all that flexible compared to the gazelles around him. 

Someone had put their leg behind their head earlier. Surely that had been unnatural. 

When Steve nearly slips, momentarily losing the grasp of his palm against the textured rubber underneath him, Nastaha slides her towel from her mat to his. He shoots her a grateful look that goes ignored, and between poses, she snags his water bottle. 

Eventually the torture ends, but outside isn’t much better. May has brought a heatwave along with it, and Steve feels ready to dehydrate. 

“I need food,” he tells her as she adjusts the waist of her black yoga pants, completely unconcerned with the overly crowded sidewalk she’s parked in the middle of. “And water. Lots of water.”

“I know a place that does great grain and kale bowls,” she offers. “It’s a little walk, but you’ve got legs.”

Steve still thinks he’s pulled something, but it’s either eat dinner in Midtown with Natasha or wait till after the trek back home, and he’s pretty sure his stomach is one growl away from digesting itself. 

“Are we still all going out Friday night?” Steve asks while they wait in line at some trendy counter-service place that looks like it’s popped up overnight. 

“And indulge Barnes’ proclivity for obscure IPAs?” Natasha asks with raised brows. “No, thank you. Couldn’t even if I wanted to.”

“I thought you were free,” Steve says, frowning as they inch forward. “Even Thor and Jane said they might swing by.”

“You mean they’re willing to leave their little engagement nest for some hipster venue that’s six months and several thousand followers away from a feature on a certain Food Network show hosted by an insufferable bleached flip-flop-wearing hooligan?” she asks sarcastically. “But really, I can’t go. Stark has spent the last couple of weeks running around the office like a chicken with his head cut off, so unless you start screwing him again to make his presence slightly more bearable, Pepper has appointed me babysitter for this weekend’s visit to the California offices.”

“Can she even do that?” Steve asks, electing to ignore the half dozen land mines lurking in her explanation. 

“Yesterday he tried to take the Legal interns on a field trip to the Natural History Museum,” Natasha says, clearly torn between her own pain and relishing in everyone else’s. “Said they were too serious. Needed to look at the big whale and feel creatively inspired.”

“I like the big whale,” Steve says. “It is inspiring.”

Natasha looks like she’s sucked on a lemon, and he mimes zipping his mouth shut. 

“The point is, he’s being insufferable and Pepper can’t take it anymore. If I’d known that my happiness as a full-time employee there was dependent on your ability to keep a man, I would’ve gone back to the temp agency.”

And then they’re at the front of the line, ordering down the counter until they hit the register where Natasha just grabs two bottles of water and roughly jabs Steve in the bicep when asked if paying together or separately.

Together it is then, and he hands his card over.

He insists on sitting inside where the AC is blasting, and it takes a solid ten minutes while they eat in companionable silence before Natasha speaks again. 

“I just got an email requesting that I bring along an assortment of swimwear because Stark wants to hit up a few pool parties,” Natasha says, locking her phone and dropping it to the tabletop like it’s burning her hands. “What did you do to the man? Because honestly Steve, whatever broke you two up? Isn’t worth this.”

She pointedly stabs her fork in his direction, expression accusing, but Steve just shrugs and unscrews his water bottle. 

“It’s not really a breakup when you’re not together,” he tries to tell her when he’s gotten nearly half a liter in him. It’s not the first time he’s told her this, and he doubts it will be the last. “And I told you before - his place isn’t inhabitable and Nomad won’t leave us alone for five seconds.”

“Nomad is a dog ,” Natasha says emphatically, as if Steve was unaware. “Why the hell have you let your dog destroy my life?”

“Remember when I asked if you’d watch Nomad for a few hours?” Steve reminds her, because he’s a patient guy, but the way her face goes all pinched as realization strikes is too good to pass up. “Yeah. Maybe if you’d been a good friend - ”

“I am a good friend,” she shoots at him. “If it weren’t for me, you never would have met the guy to begin with.”

“Not quite sure that you deserve brownie points for telling me that I was the only one you trusted to show up shaved and on their best behavior,” Steve says, recalling how she’d justified asking him along to the holiday party. 

“Barnes looks like he’s growing a rabid animal on his face ninety percent of the time,” she argues. “And we both know that Sam likes to abuse open bars. And even if I’d stooped low enough to ask a basically married man, I’d still be paying for the hearing damage Thor would have caused.”

“Just because you can justify it doesn’t make it nice,” Steve tells her as they begin to clear their trash and get up. “Listen, it is what it is. It was fun while it lasted, but I’m not hung up on it, and he’ll level out when he meets someone new.”

“If you can get him to stop blasting that stupid music he likes before I’ve had my morning coffee, I’ll watch Nomad for two hours,” she attempts, but Steve just shakes his head and enjoys how disgruntled she is. 

“You had your chance,” he tells her and makes no secret out of how much he delights in her attempts at bribery all the way back to Brooklyn. 

*

A relatively quiet Sunday morning a couple of weeks later finds Steve in Central Park. He’s against traveling into Manhattan just to run with Nomad, because really, the sidewalks tend to be overly crowded and he likes being able to stretch out, to let the both of them take up space without worrying about too many tourists and angry natives. But he agreed to go on a run with a pretty girl he met after Nomad had nearly run her over while pursuing a squirrel, and she’d chosen the location. 

He mostly only agreed to go because she’d been such a good sport about it, laughing about the slight road rash on her knees and reassuring him that she didn’t need tending to. Instead, she’d scratched Nomad behind the ears and asked about his favorite running routes until he’d finally asked for her number. 

Now, Sharon is a rare combination of sharp and easy-going and lets Steve buy her a coffee, offering to hold Nomad as Steve pays the cart vendor. 

“No, I’ve got it,” he reassures her, but lets her carry both cups until he’s put his wallet away. 

“I can’t believe you drink it black,” Sharon muses as they amble along. They’d gotten in a decent run, but Steve’s more than experienced and had made sure to keep pace with her even while knowing that he’ll probably end up running back to his apartment just to make sure Nomad is tired out for the rest of the day. 

“Holdover from my broke college days,” Steve says with a shrug. 

“What is it that you went to school for?” Sharon asks like she’s really interested, and they make their way down Fifth Avenue until they’ve nearly cleared the park entirely. He can see the glass cube of the Apple store in the distance and is so preoccupied with listening to Sharon talk about her ideal career trajectory that he doesn’t catch who they’re standing at a corner with until it’s too late. 

“Steve?”

It’s Tony, in all of his casual blue-jeaned dark-lashed glory, looking as good as he always has when not done up in one of his bespoke suits. He’s stepping closer, like now he’s certain that he hasn’t seen a ghost and it really is Steve in front of him, and it’s completely disconcerting. 

Because Tony looks good. Whatever was going on with him that Natasha had been complaining about either wasn’t true or had no impact on his appearance, because he looks almost better than Steve has ever seen him. His sunglasses are perched on top of the head of tousled hair that surely takes at least four different products and the better part of an hour to achieve, and his faded band t-shirt stretches across his chest in a way that proves he’s not old enough to have actually lived through the height of the rock genre. Even in the city with its myriad of unpleasant smells ranging from hot sewage to literal dog shit, Tony seems to radiate his usual expensive I-paid-four-hundred-dollars-for-this-aftershave scent, and Steve finds himself swallowing a mouthful of saliva in a way that feels unfairly and distinctly Pavlovian.

When he snaps back to himself, it’s because Nomad is pulling at his leash in a desperate attempt to get to Tony, who reaches out a single hand, palm open, the way Steve had first taught him. 

His chest clenches, feeling too small for his lungs. 

And then Sharon is clearing her throat and Steve feels horrible, so he coughs and gestures ambiguously. 

“Hey, Tony,” he says lamely. “Long time, no see.”

“Hey,” Tony says, and his eyes are warm as he steps closer so they’re all slightly out of the way of other pedestrians. The movement gives the clear benefit of being able to reach Nomad easily, and Steve tries not to take notice as Tony scritches under Nomad’s snout. “How are you?”

“Good,” Steve says, and it’s his turn to clear his throat. “You?”

“Can’t complain,” Tony says as he looks up, that old amused little expression on his face, and for all that Steve has been adamant that what happened wasn’t a break up, he feels like he’s encountering an ex. “You been taking care of yourself?”

“Yeah,” Steve says, and then motions to Sharon. “This is Sharon.”

Of course Tony is polite enough to grin widely, his eyes squinting against the bright sun overhead. 

“Nice to meet you,” he says, and now both hands are petting Nomad’s cheeks, cupping his head like that last time on Steve’s front steps. “I’m Tony.”

“Nice to meet you too,” Sharon returns, and the whole interaction doesn’t take very long, but it’s enough for Steve to feel horribly awkward and wish that the sidewalk would just suck him in, never to return. 

Nomad is nearly purring, and Steve would roll his eyes if he wasn’t so uncomfortable with it all. His boy can be such an attention seeker. 

“Well,” Tony says slowly, drawing it out in direct opposition to how he’s scratching at Nomad. “It was good to run into you.”

“You too,” Steve says, because really, what else is there?

Except Nomad is pushing his face into Tony’s body, either trying to hug him or knock him over, and Steve snaps his fingers to get his attention. 

“Nomad,” he says strictly. “ No . Come here. Leave Tony alone.”

To his credit, Nomad does back down, even if he looks unhappy about it. 

“Sorry,” Steve tells Tony, mostly because it’s the polite thing to do as a dog owner, but also because he doesn’t know what else to say as it seems the three of them are stuck in some weird sort of limbo where the crosswalk has ceased to exist and they’re all being held captive on the street corner. 

“It’s alright,” Tony says, and he’s grinning wide, almost like he’s pleased with himself, but there’s something sharp in his eyes. “Must say, it’s nice to be recognized.”

“Of course he recognizes you,” Steve says before he can stop himself. “I told you he likes you, remember?”

“Took him long enough,” Tony says, with that same grin. “Anyway, I’ve got to be on my way, but maybe I’ll see you around.”

Steve isn’t expecting anything, not even as Tony and Nomad exchange a very prolonged, dramatic goodbye that involves a whole lot of yowling and Nomad momentarily leaping up to press his front paws to Tony’s chest. Tony steps back instinctively but seems to be neither bothered nor hurt, so Steve just reels in the leash until Nomad is locked in at his side and apologizes. 

“Really, so sorry,” he says, even as Tony waves it off. “But you know how he is.”

“It’s fine,” Tony says, waving as he starts walking backward. “You take care of each other, alright?”

Steve knows his eyes linger for a second longer than is appropriate, especially as Tony turns around to look where he’s walking, but he’s still very aware of Sharon so he refocuses his attention. Sure, Nomad is pulling at the leash in an attempt to get back to Tony and his magical hands, but Steve is just thankful that he’s not howling in the middle of the city.

“Sorry,” he says, aiming for casual and unaffected, but not entirely confident that he’s nailing it. “Tony’s a bit - he’s an old friend.”

He’s not sure what he meant to say or how he meant to justify the action, but even as he thinks he recovers pretty well, Sharon raises a single eyebrow. 

“Sure,” she says, skeptical but with all the grace of royalty, and then her face smoothes out and Steve smiles in relief. “I know a place nearby that does a cheap brunch, has outdoor seating, and won’t turn their noses up at how much we smell. You in?”

“So in,” Steve says, and just like that, everything is fine again. 

It’s like Tony was never even there. 

*

Except that evening, after Steve has showered and spent most of the afternoon puttering around and finishing up a few last minute projects for work in between cooking himself a simple spaghetti bolognese, there’s a knock on his door. 

It’s Tony, and the way he stands there is so startlingly reminiscent of the first time he’d been over, that Steve just stands there gawking for a moment. It gives Nomad enough time to bust forward, knocking the door open all the way as if to grant Tony entrance in exchange for as many pets as possible. 

“Good,” Tony says, peering into the apartment with one hand already on top of Nomad’s head. “She’s not here.”

“Why would she - what are you - why are you here?”

“It smells like sauce,” Tony says, sniffing the air, and he uses his knees to nudge Nomad fully back inside so that Steve can close the door behind them. “You cook?”

“Among other things,” Steve says, crossing his arms over his chest. “Tony?”

But Tony seems completely uninterested in answering the question, squatting effortlessly so Nomad has better access to him, and Steve’s not entirely sure he approves. It’s like the two of them are in cahoots, with Tony cooing in his face as Nomad attempts to lick any accessible skin. 

“No, boy,” Tony fusses, trying to redirect Nomad’s head by scratching under his chin. “No kisses. I promise I don’t taste good. Unless you think I do, in which case I’ll have to let Tom Ford know that this cologne is universally appealing.”

“Why are you here?” Steve persists, getting impatient. It’s not that he doesn’t want to see Tony, but he would appreciate a little context at the very least. 

Tony’s eyes slide over to Steve, and he sighs as he eventually sits down on the floor, half-leaning against the entertainment unit and letting Nomad attempt to curl up in his lap. 

“So, I’m kind of a genius,” Tony says, and Steve does his best not to pull a face. Judging by Tony’s slight wince, he doesn’t exactly succeed. “Okay, right, that’s not the best opener. So. Let me try again.”

Steve sits down on the leather sectional on the opposite wall, affording them a little distance because as annoyed as he might be, Tony does smell good enough to eat. 

“I’ve got multiple doctorates from MIT,” Tony says. 

Steve’s lip curls up reluctantly. “Not much better, Tony.”

Tony just shrugs, and Nomad has fully settled into him, leaning the bulk of his body against Tony’s chest. Steve can’t look away as Tony practically hugs Nomad, hands winding into his fur and scratching deep underneath. 

“Alright, so there’s no way to say this that doesn’t make me look like a conceited asshole, but I’m used to being thought of that way. The point is, I’m an engineering genius.”

“Is that what Stark Industries does? Engineering?” Steve asks, because he’s never been completely sure, and he’s not once felt inclined to do any Googling. 

Tony just stares at him. 

“Is that what - you don’t know what I do?”

“I know your last name is on the front of the building,” Steve defends. “I didn’t really need to know more than that to screw you a few times a week, did I?”

And Tony just tips his head to the side, contemplatively. 

“Huh. Okay. I guess not. Anyway. Engineering genius.” He indicates himself, and Steve nods. “Engineering problem.” He points to Nomad, who whines in the interim that he’s not being given at least 75% of Tony’s attention, but immediately quiets and nestles back in as soon as Tony’s hand makes contact again. 

“What does my dog have to do with engineering?” Steve asks. 

“I’ve won dozens of awards, given two TED talks, and yet I couldn’t figure out how to get him to leave us alone for more than twenty minutes at a time.”

“Technically, I was the one figuring that out,” Steve says, because he can’t resist, not when Tony is sitting sprawled on the floor while still managing to look like he’s king of the world. 

Tony grins in response, and it’s exactly like the grin from the street earlier. 

“So if you’re not monogamously seeing that girl who looked about as interesting as drying paint - ”

“Sharon’s a nice lady,” Steve interrupts, fixing Tony with the stern look he usually reserves for when Nomad has attempted to steal another dog’s toy at the park. 

“I’m sure she is,” Tony says placatingly. “But she’s not here right now, is she?”

Steve leans back into the couch and crosses his legs, one ankle resting on a knee. He looks at Tony, limbs spread wide to accommodate Nomad who appears to be tolerating a lower frequency of pets as his eyes blink slowly. For someone so unfamiliar with dogs, Tony looks rather cozied up, and Steve uses that as justification for what he says next. 

“Okay,” he relents slightly, rubbing his palms down his thighs. “But if you’re just going to be weird about - ”

“I’m sure your dick is still picture perfect,” Tony interrupts, licking his lips and cocking an eyebrow. Steve snorts, because on anyone else it would be ridiculous, but of course Tony manages to make it work. 

“Not what I meant. I mean, no being weird about Nomad.”

“Weird?”

“No getting pissed when he interrupts,” Steve clarifies. 

If he interrupts,” Tony says. 

When ,” Steve continues, eyes narrowing, “he interrupts, because you might be a genius, but if you were capable of a 100% success rate, we’d have solved this a long time ago.”

“You wound me,” Tony tells him, delicately placing a hand over his heart. 

Steve just surveys him, ignoring the unidentifiable pang that comes with watching Tony and Nomad cuddled up together. 

“So. What’s this genius plan you’ve got?”

Tony’s eyes light up, and he shifts a deadweight Nomad to extricate his phone from his pocket. “Building off what seems to have worked the best, I’m thinking some kind of treat system. I might have to jerry-rig something in here - nothing permanent or damaging, I know how tetchy you renters get about your security deposits - but I’m thinking it’s going to involve a pulley system.”

Steve gives him a look.

“Just kidding,” Tony says hastily. “No, but really. Come here, and look at what I’ve got so far.”

And Steve slowly slips off the couch, getting closer until he’s peering at Tony’s phone with him and brainstorming with a self-proclaimed genius. 

*

Hours later, Nomad has gotten bored and curled up on the couch after a long day. Steve and Tony are still stretched out on the rug, having ditched their planning after Steve had been forced to definitively tell Tony that no, he was not going to ask his vet for some anti-anxiety meds to help solve the problem, and then Tony’d segued into a story about the time he accidentally took three Benadryl the morning before his undergraduate graduation. 

“I’m pretty sure everyone thought I was still drunk from the night before,” he told Steve. 

“You’re telling me you weren’t?”

“I was hungover,” Tony’d corrected. “I took the Benadryl - I thought a few hours of sleep were better than nothing, you know? But I was seeing triple, not double, because I’ve always been an overachiever - ”

So then Steve had told Tony about the time Bucky had nearly gotten him killed during a game of high school truth or dare, and Tony had been in stitches while Nomad blinked his blue eyes open to glare at him for disturbing his slumber. 

“I didn’t know she was exclusively into girls!” Steve tried to justify the tale. “I just thought, here’s my chance to feel up a girl for the first time! Are you telling me that you would’ve passed up an opportunity like that?”

But now it’s close to midnight and Tony is spinning his phone between his fingers, flat on his back while Steve is propped up on his elbows next to him. They’re crammed in between the coffee table and the kitchen barstools, and it’s nice. 

Steve doesn’t think they’ve ever just hung out like this, and he feels a little like his old teenage self with how he wants to lean over and kiss Tony square on the mouth, but isn’t sure if it would be welcome or not. 

“I should call Happy,” Tony sighs. “I’ve got work in the morning.”

“What does he do while you’re busy, anyway?”

“Whatever he wants,” Tony shrugs, letting his phone fall to rest on his stomach as he folds his hands under his head, propping him up just enough so that Steve can look him directly in the eye. “He’s been around forever - more of a friend than an employee at this point. I don’t care where he goes or what he does as long as he gets me where I need to be on time.”

“I’ve heard that being punctual isn’t exactly your strong suit,” Steve says, and Tony scowls. 

“I’m going to have a talk with Natasha about spilling company secrets,” he declares, lifting a hand to mockingly slide an index finger across his own throat. 

“You’re going to need more than that to scare her,” Steve tells Tony. 

“So, hey,” Tony starts, but doesn’t finish. 

Steve raises his brows. “Hey, yourself.”

Tony jerks a chin abstractly. “Your demon dog is asleep.”

“Don’t talk about him like that,” Steve protests, but there’d been no heat behind Tony’s comment, and he thinks that Tony and Nomad might actually be starting to get along. Not that they ever hadn’t gotten along, but it’s a far cry from how they had started. 

“How come he’s never done this before when I’ve been over?”

“Maybe because we were loud and in a different room,” Steve hypothesizes obviously. 

Tony rolls onto his side, and the look on his face is making Steve squirm not unpleasantly. 

“What if,” he says, “we got up, real quiet?”

Steve cranes his head around to look down the hall to his room, and then back at Nomad, who is indeed still snoozing away. 

“If he wakes up,” he warns. 

“I thought it was ‘when,’” Tony counters with a smirk, and really, he’s kind of insufferable, but Steve kind of doesn’t hate it.

He rolls back and up onto his shins, as slow and as silent as possible while Tony returns to lying on his back, but as soon as he’s there, Nomad’s eyes snap open. 

“Stop,” he hisses, shooting out a hand to stop Tony, palm flat against his lower belly. “Wait.”

“Did you wake him up?” Tony hisses back. “I should’ve known, you’re too big to be stealthy, fucking unnaturally broad shoulders - ”

“Shut up,” Steve snaps as quietly as he can. “Give him a second, he might go back to sleep.”

It verges on comical, with how Tony’s eyes go cartoonishly wide. He sucks in a breath and Steve can feel how his abdominals contract, and he’s glad that the jeans he’s wearing are loose and relatively accommodating. 

Of course, Tony notices. 

“Really?” he asks, remembering to keep his voice down only on the second half of the word. “Your dog is like, right there .”

Steve glares at him. “I can’t help it.”

“I mean, you’ve always been responsive,” Tony goes on, turning thoughtful, and Steve isn’t sure he likes where this is going. “But I haven’t even touched you, and you’ve barely touched me, so - ”

“Tony,” Steve says through gritted teeth. “Shut. Up.

“I’m not judging,” Tony says while holding up his hands, and a quick glance tells Steve that Nomad has set his head back down, eyes drooping. “I mean, if you can get it up with the kid in the room, I’ll take it as a compliment. Good to know I haven’t lost my touch. After all, it has been like a month since we last - ”

Tony ,” Steve says, and he’s not proud of how he’s practically snarling, but he is a little proud of how he manages to swing one knee over Tony’s hips and plant a hand on the floor by his head, the other covering that stupidly attractive mouth of his. Nomad doesn’t stir, and Steve focuses on Tony’s gaze, heavy-lidded and almost black. 

For a second he thinks he’s gotten it, he’s shut Tony up and they’re going to be able to pull this off and finally - 

But Tony licks his hand, of course he does, and Steve pulls it away, disgusted. 

“You’re five sometimes, you know that?” Steve tells him, and Tony just smiles wide. “I have a theory.”

“Tell me your theory,” Tony encourages, and Steve can feel the heated arousal radiating off of him. 

“I think Nomad freaked out because he didn’t know you very well,” Steve says as Tony slowly raises his hands to land on Steve’s hips, skimming up his sides until they’re fanning over his shoulders. “I did some reading on dog psychology - ”

“Not the biggest fan of psychology, if we’re being honest,” Tony interrupts, now feeling along Steve’s biceps, cupping his elbows, and adjusting his own positioning to run down his forearms until he’s encircling Steve’s wrists. 

“It’s like, you were a strange new person, invading his home,” Steve keeps on going. “And I thought, you clearly didn’t love Nomad at first sight - ”

“I liked him just fine, thank you very much.” 

“ - and I thought the answer was to keep you two as separate as possible, which may not have been the best idea, I’ll admit - ”

“You should’ve talked it over with me, I’m full of excellent ideas.”

Steve lifts a hand to poke Tony’s nose, and Tony’s hand comes along for the ride, so Steve pauses to lean down and brush a kiss to his knuckles before continuing. 

“ - so now that he knows you better, I think it can only get easier from here,” Steve says. “I didn’t think you’d want to get to know him, because I know you don’t really do dogs, but if you’re okay with it, it can only be a good thing.”

“I like Nomad,” Tony says as Steve presses his hand to the rug again. “Aside from the whole thing where he single-handedly destroyed my sex life - ”

“You are aware that my dick is not the end-all-be-all, right?” Steve interrupts, but he knows he’s flushing pink from how satisfied Tony looks when he lets go of Steve to loop his arms around his neck and pull him down. 

“But it’s so pretty ,” Tony whines, and their lips are nearly touching, Tony rolling their hips together until Steve is just about falling down into him. 

“I swear to god, if you say it’s - ”

“Picture perfect,” Tony finishes, all smirking satisfaction and pulling at Steve’s shirt until Steve is suddenly fumbling with jeans buttons and cursing as it takes a couple of tries to get it right. “Are we really going to, with Nomad - ”

“Are you really asking that?” Steve asks, pausing, and it’s quiet and Nomad is doing that little snuffling thing he does when he’s dreaming, and Tony is just so fucking hot and feels so good against his newly bare skin. 

He has to shake his head for a moment of clarity. 

“If you’re uncomfortable,” he starts, “we don’t have to.”

Tony just squints at him, already tweaking a nipple, and Steve bites his lip so he doesn’t let out a gasp. 

“You jerk off with him in the room,” Tony says accusingly. “Don’t you?”

And Steve grimaces, burying his face in Tony’s neck. It’s all the answer they both need, and Tony’s hands rove over Steve’s back, always moving and kinetic, the way Tony always is. 

“You try having a codependent dog,” Steve mumbles into Tony’s neck. “It’s either that or die of frustration. Take your pick.”

“Well,” Tony says low in his ear, nipping an earlobe, and Steve shivers. “As long as he stays asleep.”

“I’m fucking praying,” Steve says as he tries to work Tony’s shirt off, and it takes a healthy amount of shimmying until they finally succeed in the joint effort. 

There’s a moment halfway through, when they’ve got hands wrapped around each other and Tony’s making a blotchy, bruised mess out of Steve’s neck, that has them immediately freezing. 

“Shit,” Tony pants. “Tell me he’s not - ”

“Just moving,” Steve says, eyes closed but ears straining. “He’s good - give me a second - fuck - ”

He breaks off, all choked up as Tony picks up where he left off, a punishing pace that he knows Steve loves, and Steve is quick to return to the task at hand. 

It’s nothing short of a miracle, and when they’ve come and Tony has finished licking the mess from their hands in a way that blows right past the border of pornographic, they collapse next to each other, lined up shoulder to shoulder. 

“Jesus,” Tony says, and Steve’s missed this, how blissed-out he sounds after with his body all loose and free of the usual tension he carries. “Forgot how good that was.”

“Yeah?” Steve says, yet to catch his breath as he rotates his head to the side, to watch Tony’s profile and the way his chest moves as he takes in huge, steady gulps of air. 

He can hear Nomad jump off the couch, and Tony turns his own head to meet Steve’s eyes. 

“I’m going to figure something out,” Tony vows, and then Nomad is nudging his nose against Steve’s ankle, and he pulls his foot away as Tony watches. “And this was great and all - really needed this. Not complaining. You’re great, you know that. But I draw the line at cuddling with your dog while naked.”

Steve rolls his eyes as Nomad curls up a few feet away, and reaches out. It takes no small amount of strength considering how Tony’s never gone along with anything in his life, not without questioning it to infinity and beyond, but eventually Steve pulls Tony on top of him, narrow hips fit between his and chin digging into Steve’s collarbone. 

“There,” Steve tells him. “No dog cuddling. Happy?”

Tony thinks about it, and Steve just cups his ass firmly to hold him where he is. 

“I’m going to be late to work tomorrow, aren’t I?” Tony says, resigned. 

Steve just squeezes, once, and grins into Tony’s hair. 

*

There’s a product on the market, something that throws out treats for dogs and can be controlled by an app. Tony goes on and on about how he’s improved upon the design, all while Steve nods and lets his eyes glaze over until Tony’s impatiently snapping fingers in front of his face and heaving enormous sighs. 

“Won’t even listen to the genius,” Tony says pathetically, cradling the thing, and Steve swallows his laughter. “You know, Nomad, if I didn’t feel bad for you, I’d keep this all to myself and find a way to patent it.”

“So now we’re feeling bad for the cock blocker?” Steve asks. 

“If he’s going to have to suffer through listening to us, or, God forbid, watching us,” Tony says, looking thoroughly repulsed by the idea, even though they’ve both come to terms with the unfortunate reality of their situation, “then he should at least be getting something out of it.”

It’s taken Tony less than a week to put the thing together, and he’d shown up on Steve’s doorstep with bags of Greek food and announced that he had big plans. Part of Steve wants to know why Tony has suddenly turned so persistent, especially when he could surely find someone else to scratch his itch who requires much less effort. But Tony seems to have enjoyed playing around with the device, and the falafel had been extra crispy, so Steve doesn’t complain. 

His answer comes sooner than he expects, though. They migrate to the couch where Tony is explaining how the thing should work when Steve’s phone vibrates from its location on the coffee table, which he’d tossed there after Tony had arrived and not touched since. Steve doesn’t care who it is - they’re on a mission here, one that he’s doing his best to take seriously even if it involves listening to Tony talk shop - but Tony pauses, eyes flicking to the lit up screen, and stops mid-sentence. 

“So you altered the frequency according to what?” Steve pushes, trying to get Tony back on track. 

“Sharon texted you,” Tony says, and he sounds almost too breezy, too casual. “Do you need to text her back?”

“No,” Steve says slowly, because Sharon is nice, but he’s a little preoccupied. “I’m listening to you.”

“I can wait,” Tony offers magnanimously, and Steve squints at him. 

“Are you jealous?” he asks slowly, and he catches a glimpse of the guilty look on Tony’s face before something more neutral slams into place. “Is that why - is that why you showed up here the other night? Because you saw me with her?”

“No,” Tony says, but they both know he’s lying. 

“Tony,” Steve sighs, and he’s not sure of whether to laugh or be nice about this. He feels like they’ve talked more in the time after running into each other than they had in all their encounters before, even if it’s not true, and while he’s not entirely sure what it means, he’s not completely blind. “Show me how the damn thing works so we can get this show on the road.”

They have to leave the door open, and Steve’s pretty sure at one point Tony has to shove Nomad’s head away from the bed, but between the modified device and the loaded Kong Steve leaves behind, they manage to wear each other out the way Steve knows they’ve both been aching for. 

“That was - ”

“Phenomenal,” Tony finishes, and Steve nods in agreement. 

*

It’s basically a robot by the time Tony is done perfecting it, at which point Steve has to make him promise to leave it alone. 

“If I could just get it to learn Nomad’s chewing habits - ” Tony argues, but Steve just wrestles him down the hall. 

“Goddamnit,” Steve curses, digging his nails into the small of Tony’s back, contemplating hauling him up like a fireman before throwing him down to devour. “If I don’t get your dick in my mouth in the next five seconds - ”

Tony gets pretty agreeable pretty quickly after that. 

Steve wants to ask about the renovations, but they’re having too good of a time for him to want to mess with it. Tony doesn’t initiate that conversation, content to bring over dinner a few times a week and get in some quality Nomad cuddles before they inevitably end up naked and sweaty and sticky, twisted up in Steve’s sheets until they physically can’t take it anymore. There’s an element to it that’s better than it had been before, which had seemed impossible, but it feels twice as intense and twice as fun as it had been before their little break. 

Along the way, Steve expands his mental tab of things he knows about Tony, and he wonders if he’s done anything to allow Tony to do the same. 

Tony uses napkins compulsively, and leaves them crumpled and strewn across the counter until Steve is forced to sweep them into the trash. He makes fun of the beers in the fridge, the ones that Bucky pressures Steve into trying until he finds ones he can tolerate, but finishes Steve’s more often than not until Steve just ends up giving him one of his own. He relaxes when it rains, his perpetually tapping foot slowing until he’s just as easy as he is after orgasm, and once or twice they slide into the shower afterward where Tony becomes loose and pliant and lets Steve rub soap into his body before wrapping him in an oversized towel. 

When Steve tries to obliquely comment on it, Tony just says, “You’ve got good water pressure. For being out in the middle of nowhere, that is.”

He always has Happy pick him up when it’s over, never stays the night, and Steve doesn’t mind. 

He doesn’t mind too much, anyway. 

Because now, when Nomad greets him at the door, Tony hands the food off to Steve and spends a solid five minutes just petting Nomad and talking to him. 

“Have you been a good boy today?” Tony asks, stroking the dip on his head, tracing it all the way back to his wagging tail. “You didn’t give your dad any trouble, did you?”

Steve just listens to it as he unpacks takeout containers and sets their places at the counter, trying to ignore the feeling threatening to seep out of him. He’s usually successful by the time they’ve finished, by the time Tony comes over and kisses him - his mouth, the back of his neck, behind his ear. 

“Hope you like Indian,” he’ll say, or Thai, or Brazilian, depending on whatever he’s chosen for them. 

It’s different, but they settle into different until it no longer is, and it’s nice. 

It’s more than nice, but Steve doesn’t think about that. 

*

It’s hot out, even in the dead of night, and Steve’s window unit isn’t getting the job done. 

“I have a place in the Hamptons,” Tony offers. “Central AC.” They’re mostly naked because it’s too humid to bother with clothes, too hot to bother with touching each other. Instead, Steve just listens to the hum of the window unit, to Nomad’s panting where he lies on the living room rug below them. They’d tried blowing each other on the couch in the heat of the moment, but the leather had stuck unpleasantly. 

Something cold and liquid gets flicked against his bare chest, and Steve opens his eyes just a crack to see Tony standing over him with a glass of ice water, still as naked as the day he was born. 

“I’m awake,” Steve says sourly. 

He gets grumpy when he’s hot, which he’s sure Tony has noticed. 

“The Hamptons,” Tony repeats impatiently. “Next weekend? I can maybe get out of the office early on Friday. Don’t think I haven’t noticed that you don’t have a commute, I know you’re available.”

Steve wriggles around, trying to get comfortable, and Tony flicks more water onto him. 

“Stop that,” Steve tells him, and they tussle for the glass, Steve winning after narrowly avoiding spilling the entire thing on the floor. “I have a thing next weekend.”

“Yeah, I know,” Tony says, and now he’s straddling Steve’s lap, all short breaths and wet, warm kisses all over Steve’s skin. “It’s called the Fourth of July. Everyone has a thing next weekend.”

Steve lets himself get swept up in it for a while. Tony kisses hard and it drives Steve insane, makes him dizzy as they grind slow against one another until they’re horizontal. 

“Ditch your thing,” Tony exhales against his neck, once he’s used his voice to activate Nomad’s treat robot and retrieved the condom and lube he’d apparently fetched while Steve was busy melting into the cushions. It’s going to be messy, Steve knows, but it’s lazy and he’s kind of enjoying the salty-sweet perspiration gathering in the notch between Tony’s collarbones. 

“What?” he asks, thoroughly caught up in the slick-slide of their movements, of Tony’s fingernails scrabbling against his chest, of the fight for leverage with how their thighs are slipping against each other. 

“Ditch your thing,” Tony emphasizes before groaning. “Fuck, yes, Steve - ”

“I can’t,” Steve pants, barely present with how good it feels, how good it always feels for them. “Got a - Nat’ll kill me. My birthday. She’s got something planned. Shit, are you close?”

He comes first but Tony isn’t too long after, and Tony takes on the job of cleaning them up before settling against Steve, who is still refusing to move. 

He’s going to fuse with the couch, but at this point, he’s okay with it. 

“I didn’t know it was your birthday,” Tony says with a frown, and Steve really just wants to fall asleep, but he nuzzles into Tony’s overheated skin and lets the summer heat win. 

“Never asked.”

It takes him a long moment to realize that Tony is stiff, even as cradled up against Steve as he is. 

“Tony?” He feels ice cold suddenly, and something occurs to him. “When’s yours?”

Tony clears his throat. “May twenty-ninth.”

Steve tracks backward, trying to remember what he’d been doing that day, but he can’t, not without his calendar in hand. When he realizes that Tony is silent, he wonders if he’s somehow fucked this up. 

“Was I - ”

His voice comes out a horrible rasp, and he swallows thickly and clears his own throat. 

“Did I miss it?”

And then Tony is petting his hair, so similar to how he does to Nomad, and it makes Steve feel inordinately small for a man who stands a minimum of six feet tall on a bad day. 

“No,” Tony says, and Steve would swear he sounds sad, except he doesn’t quite know Tony well enough yet to swear that. “No, you didn’t. I - I don’t make a big deal out of it.”

And Steve isn’t sure what to do with that, so he doesn’t say anything, and just lets them doze on the couch. 

*

It’s Steve’s birthday and he should be having the time of his life. 

Natasha has done beautifully, decided it’s a thank you for making Stark tolerable again, but Steve can’t stop thinking about the single unanswered text burning a hole in his pocket. They’re at Thor and Jane’s cute little house in Astoria, a neighbor is promising some phenomenal fireworks, and there’s a cake with star-shaped sprinkles and Steve’s name on it in red, white, and blue frosting. 

“I finally got her to agree on wearing burgundy,” Jane tells him, because Natasha is a very difficult bridesmaid. “I can’t wait until this wedding is over. I just want to be married.

Steve nods along like he understands, even though he very much does not. 

Bucky slaps him around the head and tells him to stop bringing the mood down. 

“Help me with these,” he says, indicating a mix of raw beef and vegan burger patties. “Ask who wants cheese on theirs. And put more ice in the cooler - no one likes warm beer.”

When the sun begins to set, before the fireworks really kick off and before anyone has unearthed the birthday candles that Thor swears he’s got in a drawer somewhere, Steve excuses himself to the front stoop for some air. He sits on the cracked concrete steps, admiring the little herb garden in front of him, and thinks that this is why people pick up smoking. 

He pulls out his phone to thumb through his messages, scrolling past the dozens of birthday wishes from old friends. Tomorrow he’ll thank them before deleting the threads, but for now, he opens the one that had landed precisely at midnight, when Steve had been half asleep and extremely confused as to why his phone was vibrating on his nightstand. It’s from Tony, just a simple happy birthday to you and your picture perfect dick, and when Steve had been less awake he’d been able to laugh at it. Now, though, he just feels weird about it. 

It feels like something is off, like something is missing. He’s got all his best friends around him, Nomad is probably currently hamming it up and begging for table scraps in the kitchen, and yet as he locks the screen of his phone, he feels like he’s only partially present. 

The screen door behind him creaks open and he’s unsurprised when Natasha folds herself down beside him, extending one of two royal blue plastic cups in his direction, maraschino cherries and an orange wedge plopped on top. 

“Just drink it,” she orders when he sniffs at it. It smells sweet, sugary, and when he takes a tentative sip, it’s admittedly delicious. “I’m saving you from Barnes’ latest brew of choice. Someone needs to tell him that no matter what the label tells him, yeast and hops don’t actually taste like black currants or kiwi or whatever the fuck he keeps trying to tell us.”

“He thinks he’s educating us,” Steve says, tasting rum underneath a myriad of fruity flavors. “Some of them don’t completely suck.”

“All of them deserve to be dumped in the river,” Natasha disagrees as she shakes the ice in her cup. “Why are you moping?”

He just shrugs and drinks. She knocks their shoulders together. 

“He invited me to the Hamptons,” Steve says, at a loss for how to adequately explain what’s been running through his head. 

“Who, Stark? Yeah, he’s got a place there,” Natasha says, unconcerned. “Have I mentioned how much I hate working for him?”

“Only three times today,” Steve tells her, but they both know she exaggerates and won’t leave, not when she gets paid far more than she would elsewhere. 

“So you couldn’t go,” she says. “What’s the big deal? He threaten to cast your dick into a dildo and never need you again? Did you hurt the big boss man’s feelings?”

He groans, running a hand through his hair, and avoids the sudden suspicious eye contact Natasha seems determined to make. 

“Did you hurt his feelings?” she demands. 

“I told him it was my birthday,” Steve says. “I didn’t think anything of it. But then I thought that maybe he gives a shit about stuff like that - ”

“He doesn’t,” she interjects. “Trust me.”

“ - so I asked when his was - ”

“May twenty-ninth,” she supplies. “There was a gala. White tie. Pepper took me to Saks for a gown and Louboutins.”

Steve needs to find friends who don’t constantly interrupt him. 

“I couldn’t remember whether I’d seen him that day or not,” he admits. “So I went back and checked my texts to jog my memory, and I’d been at a bar with the guys to watch the game, but Tony came over the next night. Brought these tiny chocolate lava cakes with gold leaf on top and this raspberry sauce he made me heat up in the microwave. Said something about how catering had left the extras behind.”

Natasha contemplates, leaning back onto her elbows. 

“Okay. Not like, particularly incriminating. It’s not unlike Pepper to have the extras brought round for lunch the next day. He easily could’ve snagged some.”

“But he was weird about it,” Steve stresses. “I mean - we just fuck sometimes. Right?”

Natasha tips up her face to catch the last few rays of sunlight. 

“A lot,” he amends. “We fuck - a lot. More than sometimes. But we don’t know each other, not really. And he’s never given any kind of indication that he wants to know me, or he wants me to know him.”

She hums in acknowledgment. 

“But then he texted me happy birthday, like, first thing today,” Steve finishes. “And that’s not - that’s not how we are. He only texts to ask to come over.”

“He was probably just being polite,” Natasha suggests. 

“Yeah, but - ” He blushes red at the thought of the words. “It wasn’t just like, a plain happy birthday . And it was at midnight.”

Natasha cracks open one eye. 

“It’s not normal,” he says. “And he asked me to go out of town with him. And his apartment repairs still aren’t finished, and it’s been what, nearly four months now?”

As he speaks, Natasha shoots upright and turns to face him, frowning so deeply he thinks she’s going to give herself instant wrinkles. 

“Steve,” she says, looking disturbed. “The penthouse construction was finished a month and a half ago.”

Steve’s brain slams to a stop as he tries to process that. 

“It’s been - what? Are you sure?”

“Very sure,” Natasha says. “Pepper had me dealing with the invoices. His place is fine.”

“So then - why’s he - ”

He knows he’s stammering, his world toppled sideways in a way he can’t make sense of, and Natasha just watches him try. 

“He built Nomad this treat thing,” Steve says, desperately trying to get her to understand. “To keep him occupied. And he brings dinner now, and stays to shower sometimes. He pets Nomad and cuddles him all the time, and he - he - he - ”

He looks at her helplessly, and she takes pity on him, guiding his plastic cup up to his mouth. When he’s drained it, he feels slightly better. 

Only slightly. 

“You should talk to him,” Natasha says, but looks pained, like she knows exactly how much Steve doesn’t want to do that. “Ask why he didn’t tell you the repairs were done. He’s got six showerheads, Steve. I really can’t believe the man has been showering in your moldy little tub when he’s got a marble bench and heated floors. I wonder if he’d let me get some use out of that bathroom, if he’s not going to...”

“He says I have good water pressure,” Steve says, and Natasha makes a noise of disbelief. 

“Good water pressure, I’m sure,” she says sarcastically, shaking her head. “Steve, I love you, but you can be so stupid sometimes.”

“Stupid?”

“How long have you two been sleeping together?” she asks, and he tries to count backward. 

“Since December, so - maybe six, seven months? Maybe less? Since you know we took a little break there.”

She just pats him kindly on the shoulder. 

“Let’s get you another one of those before we cut the cake,” she says, indicating his empty cup. “Just try to enjoy the rest of the night. You can figure out what to do with Stark some other time.”

Steve’s brain feels like an egg that’s been blended into Hollandaise, but he numbly gets to his feet and follows her back inside. 

Just enjoy the rest of the day, he tells himself as Thor triumphantly waves the pack of candles in his face. He can deal with whatever the hell is going on with Tony some other time.

*

Steve has every intention of asking Tony what the hell is going on the next time they see each other, but late on Sunday night, Tony is asking if he can come by, and Steve is too confused and turned on to say no. 

“Did you literally just get back in town?” Steve asks, incredulous, because Tony smells like a salty breeze and coconut body oil and is wearing a pineapple patterned button-down that would be hilarious if Steve wasn’t so caught off guard. 

“Didn’t want to wait,” Tony says, from where he’s attacking Steve’s neck while hip-checking the building door shut. “Can’t wait - upstairs - now - ”

Nomad temporarily throws a wrench in their plans because he’s so out of his mind to see Tony, howling happily and refusing to settle until Tony finally breaks away from Steve, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, and gives in. 

“I want you naked and in bed by the time I’m done saying hi,” Tony says, throwing Steve a serious look as he lavishes Nomad with the attention he requires. “You’d think he hadn’t seen me for weeks. Yes, hi, I missed you too, you little attention whore - ”

Slightly disoriented, Steve still listens to instructions so that he’s ready by the time Tony slinks in and mostly closes the door, only a thin strip of light from the hall shining through the gap. 

“God, I’ve been needing this,” Tony says, more to himself than Steve. Then, louder - “You’re still clean, aren’t you?”

Steve knows they should slow down and talk, but Tony is nudging his hips, and when Steve doesn’t go easily, his touch gets rougher, more insistent, impossible to ignore. 

“I want to do something,” Tony pushes, spreading Steve wide. “Answer the question.”

And his breath is hot against Steve’s hole in a way that sends shivers down his spine, so Steve grips the pillow in front of him and grinds out, “Yeah, I didn’t - I would've let you know. That was the deal, wasn’t it?”

Tony pauses, so close that Steve can barely take the anticipation. 

“I wasn’t sure,” he says, measured, in a way that Steve has never heard and instantly hates. “We were on a bit of a break.”

Steve is torn, wants Tony to get a move on but knows he should turn around and force them to have this conversation. Ultimately, though, the selfishness wins out and he just arches his back in a way he knows Tony won’t be able to ignore. 

It works, with Tony groaning loudly and running a hand down his flank. 

“I’m good if you are,” Steve says, and they should really talk, because this isn’t just casual fucking anymore, maybe hasn’t ever been since after that first time, definitely hasn’t been casual since they came back together - 

But Tony’s kissing and licking and Steve muffles his moans into the mattress so that he can stay quiet, so they can’t be interrupted, because he needs for this to go on forever. 

*

It’s nearly three in the morning when they call it, after a shared shower that had gone for so long the water had nearly turned cold. Tony refuses to put on any clothes aside from his underwear, not even the NYU sweatshirt that is more Tony’s than Steve’s at this point, and Steve wonders why Tony hasn’t texted Happy yet. His phone is nowhere to be seen and Steve worries that maybe this is it, that Tony is going to give him a serious talk and just wanted to end things with a bang. 

He’ll miss the sex, but maybe it’s for the best. Steve isn’t ready to deal with whatever feelings Tony may or may not have towards him. He’s spent the last close to seven months believing that everything between them has been casual, a matter of convenience because Tony’s a busy man with needs who doesn’t have time to continuously vet potential sexual partners, and because Steve seems to have notoriously bad luck with it comes to getting anyone to stick around long enough to realize that he’s more than just a handsome face attached to some muscles. 

So he’s steeling himself for the letdown, only to undoubtedly mishear what Tony says around a wide yawn. 

“Come again?”

“I’m staying,” Tony tells him, and Steve just blinks. “By the time I get back into Manhattan, I’ll barely get any sleep before work. I’ll just have Happy bring a suit in the morning.”

“You’re staying?” Steve asks, sure that he’s imagining it. 

“Unless you don’t want me to,” Tony says, now looking slightly unsure. “I know that’s not our usual, but it’s late, and - ”

“No,” Steve says, shaking his head. “No, it’s fine. You should get some decent sleep. I think I have an extra toothbrush under the sink.”

Steve takes Nomad out for a quick walk and makes sure to set a glass of water on Tony’s side of the bed along with a spare phone charger. Once they’re both under the covers, Nomad curls up between them, and Tony huffs out a laugh as he turns to the center of the bed. 

“Sorry,” Steve whispers in the dark. “He’s - we’re pretty used to it being just us.”

“I know,” Tony whispers back, and Steve can’t see his face, but it sounds like he might be smiling. “I know who the real third wheel here is, and it’s not the guy with four legs.”

“As long as you know,” Steve says, aware that he’s smiling even as he drifts off, one arm wrapped around Nomad’s body as usual. “You got what you need?”

“I’m good,” Tony says, voice growing distant. “Goodnight, Steve.”

Steve thinks he feels Tony stroking down Nomad’s belly, but he’s already mostly asleep, and it’s too easy to slip into contented unconsciousness, even with a bed that’s fifty-percent more full than he’s used to. 

*

When he comes to, it’s too early even for him and he’s groggy, head pounding with a severe lack of sleep. The bed feels empty and he feels beside him, utterly lacking any kind of coordination but alarmed when he doesn’t find anything. 

“Nomad?” he calls, quiet at first, but Nomad rarely gets out of bed first and he’s instantly concerned when he doesn’t hear anything. He tries again, louder, and when he gets no response, fumbles upright and reaches for his bedside lamp. 

Except then he can hear the front door open and sharp nails on hardwood, and faster than he can get the light on, Nomad is running full-stop into the bedroom and pouncing on Steve’s lap. 

His heart is racing and he wraps his arms around his boy in relief, face buried in fluff until he mentally connects the dots and looks up. 

It’s Tony, leaning against the doorframe and dressed in a striking gray suit with a bright red tie, eyes creased in a suppressed smile. 

“Hi,” Steve says, wary. 

“Hope you don’t mind,” Tony says, nodding to Nomad who is wriggling out of Steve’s arms and loping back towards Tony to beg for pets. “But he wanted to get up with me, and I figured I might as well take him out while I was up. He went, by the way. Hey, how much do dog walkers charge for this shit? Is this an industry I need to break into?”

Steve’s chest flares warm as he scrubs a hand over his face, trying to get his bearings while Tony automatically scratches Nomad’s head. 

“Thank you,” he says sincerely. “I know he’s not your dog, I know you didn’t have to, but thank you.”

“No big deal,” Tony says dismissively with a wave of his hand. “I thought I’d let you sleep in. Sorry for letting that backfire, by the way.”

“I appreciate it,” Steve says, and he’s awake but feels like he’s dreaming with how he can’t make sense of what’s in front of him. “If you’re hungry - ”

“Happy’s downstairs with coffee,” Tony says apologetically. “And I usually require at least three cups of the stuff before I’m alive enough to upgrade to solids.”

“Right.”

Steve curls his toes against the floor, attempting to ground himself. 

“Well, I’ve got to go,” Tony says briskly, far too brisk for the muted early morning light. “I’ll see you? Later this week?”

“Sure,” Steve agrees. “Later this week. Whenever.”

There’s a moment after Tony pushes off the doorframe where Steve thinks he might linger, thinks he might walk over to kiss Steve goodbye or something as equally insane, but then he’s just rubbing Nomad’s back and crouching down to murmur in his ears. 

“I’ll see you, okay sweetheart? Be good while I’m gone. Don’t give your dad any trouble. I’ll miss you.”

Steve looks away, wishing he couldn’t hear Tony as he talks, but the apartment is completely silent otherwise and it’s impossible to tune out. 

“I’ll be back,” Tony says, like it’s a promise. “Okay? No, sweetheart, paws off the Armani. Yes, thank you. You’re a good boy, aren’t you? You listen so well, when you want to - ”

Tony only stops when his phone starts audibly vibrating, and he sighs. Steve looks over in time to see him get to his feet and answer the call, nodding a goodbye in Steve’s direction before heading for the front door. 

“Yes, I’m coming. I told you I’d be a minute. No, I wasn’t having a quickie , I was handing off the dog. Who even uses that word - ”

And then he’s gone, Nomad having trotted off behind him to watch him go, and as soon as the door closes, he’s whining. 

“Nomad,” Steve calls out, exhausted and confused and wanting to go back to sleep for a million years so he doesn’t ever have to deal with this situation. “Come here, buddy. We’re going back to bed.”

All Nomad wants to do is howl and cry at the door, so Steve is forced to haul himself up and start his day. It’s too early, too early for Tony to have looked as good as he did, and Steve posts up on the couch with the news on tv and tries to distract Nomad with his oatmeal. 

“He better not be your new favorite,” Steve tells Nomad, letting him lick the remnants from the bowl. “Don’t forget who brings home the kibble. Okay?”

Nomad pays him no attention, instead wailing mournfully before eventually quieting and curling up on the couch for a nap. 

*

It’s been a long week, a blur of deadlines and more takeout than Steve usually allows himself. He’s missed Nomad’s run the last two days because of unrelenting rain and work, and when Friday afternoon rolls around, Steve takes him out for a quick walk while glued to his inbox. His frustration is reaching its limits, emailing back and forth with a client who doesn’t seem to be satisfied with any of Steve’s proposals and who refuses to agree to a higher quote in accordance with what they’re asking for. 

So when he gets a text from Tony asking if he can come over, he shoots off a short No without thinking twice about it. 

Half an hour later he receives a short Okay. 

The time delay, capitalization, and punctuation are dead giveaways that Steve has been rude, and he tugs at his hair before logging off for the day and composes a better response while standing at the kitchen counter, waiting for his leftover pizza to reheat. 

I’m sorry. Bad week. Just tired. Raincheck?

Tony’s response is near immediate. 

do you need anything? we don’t have to fuck, i was thinking about burritos 

And that sounds a lot better than two-day-old pizza but they’ve never hung out without the guarantee of sex, so Steve hesitates. They’re edging into new territory and he isn’t sure if he’s okay with that, but he hasn’t seen another human being since he’d popped over to Bucky’s on Wednesday to return a book he’d borrowed in a desperate ploy to get some fresh air. Burritos are almost too good an offer to refuse. 

Before he can respond, another text buzzes through. 

i’ll throw in guac and chips and a star wars prequel of your choosing 

Steve texts back while he tosses his half-warmed pizza in the trash. 

I want salsa and Episode IV. 

Tony arrives slightly damp and carrying a paper bag and two Mexican Cokes. 

“I’m here to save the day,” he announces, and Steve manages to save the Cokes before Nomad can knock them to the floor in his excitement. 

They spread out on the couch, on opposite sides as the movie plays and they debate the ideal ratio of chip to dip. Halfway through, once the food is gone and the trash has been cleared, Tony migrates to Steve’s side of the sectional and they’re making out before Steve fully registers what’s happening. 

Of course, without anything to preoccupy him, Nomad attempts to crawl between them while starting to howl. 

Steve breaks the kiss and pulls his hands out from under the hem of Tony’s t-shirt. 

“Does he hate me again?” Tony asks. “Or do I need to set up his robot?” 

“I think he likes you more than he likes me,” Steve sighs, letting his head fall back against the cushion. 

“First, the problem was that he didn’t know me,” Tony complains, but Steve can see his smile. “Now, the problem is that he likes me too much. Nomad, sweetheart, pick a side, please.”

Steve gently lifts Tony up and pushes him back to his side of the couch. 

“I really am tired,” he says with a grimace. “Work’s been hell, and I’m probably going to be working through the weekend to get some shit done.”

“Okay, I’ll keep my hands where they belong,” Tony says, holding them up in surrender as Steve tugs the throw blanket off the back of the couch. “I can behave.”

They lie down, feet overlapping in the middle, and Nomad curls up along Tony’s front. 

“I told you,” Steve says, nodding at the two peas in a pod. 

“Shush,” Tony says, eyes glued to the tv while he rubs Nomad’s belly. “This is my favorite part.”

With heavy lids, Steve watches as Obi-Wan has R2D2 play Leia’s message.

He falls asleep before the movie finishes. 

*

When Steve wakes up in the middle of the night, bleary and unseeing, Tony guides him to bed with unusually gentle hands. 

“It’s okay,” Tony tells him. “Just sleep.”

“Nomad,” Steve says with a sleep-thick tongue, words running into each other. “Need to - gotta take him out.”

“I’ve got him,” Tony says, and Steve thinks he imagines the way Tony brushes a kiss to his brow. “You just sleep. I’ve got the boy.”

Steve passes back out almost immediately, only rousing slightly when Nomad pads onto the bed, and then there’s another body crawling up to join them. 

“Tony,” he slurs, and he wants to roll on his side to look at him, but his limbs and eyelids refuse to cooperate. “ Tony .”

“Right here.” Tony’s voice sounds close, and Steve tries to lift a hand, but only manages to slap the bed once or twice. 

Familiar fingers slide down his arm until they’re loose around his hand in an unfamiliar hold. 

“I’m right here,” Tony soothes. “Go back to sleep. I’ve got you.”

Comforted, Steve does as he’s told. 

*

In the morning, Tony stumbles over some explanation of why he can’t stay, of where he needs to be and why. 

Steve feels reinvigorated after so much sleep, and before he lets Tony call Happy, gets them both off in the kitchen while the coffee brews. He hooks Nomad up to his leash and sees Tony off, surprising the both of them when he catches the bend of Tony’s elbow to haul him in for one last bruising kiss. 

When they pull apart, Tony’s mouth hangs open while he’s searching for words, and Steve tries not to be too smug about it. 

“Well then,” Tony says, voice still cracking even after clearing his throat twice. He licks his lips and leans against the open door. “I’ll text you.”

“You do that,” Steve says with a nod, and he heads off down the block, having to bodily drag a screaming Nomad who is very upset with his lack of a proper extended goodbye. 

The panic doesn’t really set in until Steve gets to the dog park, accepting the blueberry muffin that Sharon pulls out of a bag. 

They hang out, sometimes. In Brooklyn, in dog parks, where Tony won’t happen upon them. Because Steve had told her he wanted to be just friends and she’d been perfectly fine with that, but something had told Steve that Tony wouldn’t get that. The hunch grows stronger every time they see each other, reinforcing the decision. Steve justifies it by telling himself that it’s not like he’s planning on sleeping with Sharon, like, ever, and he doesn’t owe Tony any details about his life. 

“So,” Sharon says, legs crossed properly as she settles on the wooden bench. It’s drizzling lightly, the forecast predicting heavy rains in the afternoon, and she’s pulled her blonde ponytail through the back of her baseball cap. “What’s going on?”

Steve has work he needs to get back to, and even though he’d made it through the first part of his morning without thinking about it all too hard, he knows that he’s woefully unprepared for how to deal with this. He tells Sharon the latest because she’s already got a vague idea of the situation, and she stretches a long arm out against the back of the bench while finishing off her own banana-nut muffin. 

“Well,” she says when he’s done talking, licking the crumbs from the pad of her thumb, “do you want the mature solution, or the stoic, manly, emotionally immature Steve Rogers situation?”

And he’d resent that if she didn’t have a point, because he hadn’t exactly been delicate when stumbling over the explanation of why he wasn’t interested in dating her. 

“I’m bad at this,” he says, trying not to be glum as he watches Nomad tussle with a Retriever at the far end of the park. “Which is exactly why I can’t do it.”

“Maybe,” she allows. “Do you know that he even wants a relationship?”

“It feels like it,” Steve admits. “It’s been...different.”

“And you don’t like it?”

He grimaces. “I’d be so bad at it, Sharon,” he says. “I like my life the way it is. I don’t have time for more. And he gets jealous, which I don’t love. And - and - he’s busier than I am. He’s learning how to run an entire company, and I just work from home and my best friend is my dog, and - ”

“Okay, okay,” she stops him, holding up a flat hand. “But all of that aside. You’re sure that you don’t even want to try?”

“Do you think I should try?” 

“I think that you should at least be sure of what you want before you send him on his way,” she tells him. 

“And is keeping on like we have been really out of the realm of possibility?” he asks, even though he knows the answer. The look Sharon shoots in his direction makes him cringe. 

“You’re not a complete jerk,” she tells him. “Try and keep it that way. You know it’s not fair, not if he really does want something more with you.”

“Maybe he just wants to be more along the lines of friends with benefits,” Steve tries even though he knows Sharon isn’t buying it, because he isn’t even buying it. “Instead of just sleeping together. It’s possible.”

“Sure,” she says placidly, and Steve is starting to think that when it comes to making friends, he’s definitely got a type. As much as he appreciates that very few people in his life let him get away with anything, he’s starting to wish that someone would indulge him, just for once.

But Sharon has a point, and he knows Natasha would say the same, and so would Sam if Steve had the balls to go to him and deal with being made fun of for an hour straight. Bucky might take a different approach, might suggest that Steve just ghost Tony entirely or something along those lines, but Steve at least has enough sense to know that he’s better than taking advice from Bucky at a time like this. 

“Do you really not like him?” Sharon asks when he’s done distracting himself by checking his email and putting together a list of things he needs to get done before the end of the day. “Would trying to date him really be the worst thing? Because no offense, you seem pretty torn up over the idea of not being able to see him again.”

Steve is fully aware of that, and when he opens his mouth with the intention of telling Sharon that they’re just that compatible in bed together, something else entirely comes out. 

“He’s so good with Nomad,” Steve says, the words running out without his permission. “He took a while to come around, but it’s like once he realized he didn’t have to touch Nomad with kid gloves, they became obsessed with each other. Last night, Nomad cuddled up to him to watch tv. And Tony takes him outside - doesn’t even ask me, just does it because he wants to. He calls him sweetheart . Am I supposed to ignore that?”

Sharon raises her eyebrows. “So what, you don’t want to tear them apart?”

“Nomad cries when he leaves,” Steve says, feeling like he’s right back on that front stoop with Natasha with how helpless he feels, trying to put it into perspective but instead grasping at straws. “He built my dog a treat robot. How can I - who else is going to like my dog that much?”

“Oh,” Sharon says knowingly, and Steve just about scowls at her. “You like him. You know that, don’t you?”

“I don’t like him,” Steve stresses. “I mean, I do. He’s a good guy. But I don’t like him - not like that.”

She stands up with their trash in hand, pausing before walking to the garbage can. 

“As someone who has firsthand experience with what you look like when you don’t like someone like that….”

She just trails off, giving him a significant look and a nonchalant shrug before turning her back on him. 

Steve sighs, and Nomad comes running up to him, barely stopping in time to avoid a collision. 

“Hey, buddy,” Steve says, accepting the stolen tennis ball Nomad is trying to give him. “You been up to anything fun?”

Nomad nudges the tennis ball with his snout, obviously impatient and goal-oriented. 

“Okay, okay,” Steve relents. “But next time I’m bringing your frisbee. That way we don’t end up stealing someone else’s ball.”

He throws it as far as he can while Sharon sits back down, limbs folding over each other as she observes the dogs in front of them. 

“I’m thinking about a Miniature Poodle, maybe,” Sharon says thoughtfully. “Nothing too big, my apartment has a weight limit. Maybe a dachshund. But I think I want a rescue, so it might depend on what I find.”

“I can always go with you to look,” Steve offers. “And I’m always good to dog sit.”

“I might take you up on that,” Sharon says, looking over with a smile. Nomad comes bounding over, dropping the tennis ball almost directly in her lap, and she doesn’t bat an eye as she throws the mud-caked ball an impressive distance. “Softball,” she explains when Steve gets caught staring. 

“I think I know more about you than I do about Tony,” he says. 

“Well,” she says as Nomad comes back even faster than before. “You can fix that.” And then, with a sideways look - “You know. If you want to.”

There’s a crack of thunder and dark clouds are rolling in, and Steve sighs at the ominous cliche. 

He really needs to make some decisions. 

But first, he’s got about a dozen other things to do. 

*

For as oblivious as Steve can be, it’s never escaped his notice that Nomad can be high maintenance from time to time. 

Alright, that’s an understatement. 

Mostly Steve has learned to live with it. He’s not big on vacations, preferring to spend his free time with friends while sticking close by and occasionally venturing further when he can get away with bringing Nomad along. He feeds Nomad more human food than he should, spends no small amount on yearly checkups and vaccinations and groomings, and has long since accepted that going to the bathroom alone is a thing of the past. 

That’s just his life. He loves it, and wouldn’t have it any other way. Even with all the howling and carrying dog food up two flights of stairs, the frigid middle of the night walks and keeping wet wipes by the door for dirty paws, he wouldn’t trade any of it if it meant any less Nomad. 

So when Steve finds himself outside in the pouring rain for the third time in twice as many hours, he’s not too perturbed. 

“Did you eat something funny?” Steve asks, because Nomad looks vaguely unhappy with the situation. It’s nearing nightfall and Steve is so close to finishing everything on his list so he can enjoy his Sunday, and he’s not going to let his dog’s suddenly urgent need to go outside ruin that for him. 

But then Nomad gets his usual kibble for dinner, drains a full bowl of water, and throws it all up half an hour later. 

Steve is a little concerned, but not enough to do more than some quick Googling, which doesn’t turn up anything definitive or worth worrying about quite yet. 

Nomad’s stomach remains upset throughout the night, barking at the front door to go out at a frequency he’s never displayed before and seems more characteristic of a puppy who can’t make it through the night. It’s unlike him, and Steve sleeps in short bursts that have him wanting nothing more than for it all to end as abruptly as it started. Instead, he just moves a pillow to the couch around six A.M. and watches tv in a haze in between trips outside where they’ve finally been granted a respite from the rain, and when Nomad vomits foamy yellow bile, Steve does some more Googling and withholds breakfast. 

The internet tells him it’s time to call his vet, so he does. Nomad is almost entirely curled up on his chest, heavy and solid with labored breathing, and Steve knows something is wrong. 

He tells the nice receptionist what’s going on, and she tells him that she can fit him in at 9:30. 

No matter how much Steve pets his neck, Nomad is a nervous wreck because the vet is older and matter-of-fact in a way that Nomad doesn’t appreciate. Steve knows the man is just doing his job - he likes the vet, the practice doesn’t overcharge and provides everything Steve and Nomad have needed - but it pains him to see Nomad so clearly miserable. 

“A couple of things,” the vet says when he’s done palpating Nomad’s stomach. “We’re going to run some tests to see if this is due to bacteria or a virus. Do you know if he ate something funny or got into anything that could’ve been contaminated? Water, another dogs’ business, anything?”

“No,” Steve says, shaking his head and trying to remember as Nomad cowers against him. “No, I mean, nothing unusual. We went to the dog park yesterday morning, but we’ve been there before without a problem. I don’t - ”

Suddenly, he feels like the worst dog dad ever. 

“I don’t keep an eye on him the entire time,” he says stupidly. “It’s possible.”

“Happens all the time,” the vet says, gloves snapping as he takes them off. “We’ll see what the tests turn up, they shouldn’t take more than a few hours. The other thing - he could have an obstruction.”

Steve can figure out what that means, and his heart pounds too fast. 

“An obstruction?”

“He’d need some scans to rule it out,” the vet says, pushing his glasses up his nose. “Most dogs require sedation for that, so we can get a good look.”

“And how expensive is that?” Steve asks, dreading the answer. 

He’s got some savings - he’s fairly responsible. But the tech who comes in to take some samples tries to ease his nerves, and while he helps hold Nomad still for her, he nods and takes in the information. 

“A lot of people wait to explore more expensive options,” she says, pressing a cotton ball to the puncture site. “You can wait a few hours, see what the tests turn up. If they’re negative, bring him back for the scans. In the meantime, we’ll send you guys home with some anti-nausea medication and a couple of pills in case it turns out to be bacterial.”

“Thank you,” Steve says gratefully. “He’s just - he’s never been sick before. I’m a little lost here.”

The woman smiles, petting Nomad’s head briefly before grabbing the samples and paperwork. “He’s a beautiful boy. We’ll get him all better in no time.”

The total at the receptionist’s desk makes him blink several times. 

“Just for some tests and pills?” he asks, handing over his card. “I thought - with how much the scans and sedation would be - that would be on top of this?”

“I’m afraid so,” the older woman says, giving him a receipt to sign. “You know, a lot of people have pet insurance. Comes in handy with things like this.”

The tech comes back out with the pills and gives Nomad the first dose, showing Steve how to make sure it goes down. 

“Dogs can be very sneaky,” she explains. “And smart. If he gets wise to this, try hiding it in a little bit of peanut butter. Otherwise, no food or treats for now.”

But Nomad pukes up the pills on the walk home, and Steve just about cries in frustration. He feels worn, exhausted and beat down and desperately praying for Nomad to make a miraculous recovery, and calls Sam while crouching down and trying to calm Nomad enough so that he stops trembling. He relays the series of events, and Sam tells him to breathe. 

“You two feed off each other,” Sam says, and Steve knows he’s being talked to like one of Sam’s patients, but he can’t find the energy to be bothered by it. “If you’re upset and anxious, he’s going to sense that and act accordingly. Try to take it easy, man. Relax. Do it for the dog.”

“He’s like my kid,” Sam,” Steve mutters, shifting to squeeze the phone between his ear and shoulder, ignoring the curious looks he’s getting as he gathers Nomad to his chest. “I hate seeing him like this.”

“He is your kid,” Sam says, and Steve can’t tell whether he’s agreeing or correcting him. “Just wait for the vet to call back. Let me know if there’s anything I can do, alright?”

They hang up soon after, and Steve stuffs his phone back in his pocket. One look at Nomad’s body language is enough to set off a million alarm bells, and Steve sighs before deciding that he’s going to do whatever it takes to get them through this. It’s a level of responsibility he’s never been forced to assume before, but this isn’t about him - this is about Nomad.

So he scoops Nomad up, grinning grimly in sick satisfaction at how Sam always gives him shit for carrying dog food across the borough, and begins the rest of the walk home. 

It’s a testament to how shitty Nomad is feeling that he allows it. 

Steve doesn’t set Nomad down until it’s time to unlock the building door, and then picks him back up for the trek up the stairs. In the apartment, Steve spends twenty minutes trying and failing to get another couple of pills in him: by the time he’s ready to give up, he’s got powdery tablets crushed into peanut butter and Nomad’s head has whacked into him, hard, at least several times in his attempts to wiggle away. 

“Please,” Steve pleads from where he’s cornered Nomad at the end of the kitchen. “I promise they’re going to help. You let the nice lady do this, remember?”

Nomad’s response is to lie down on the floor, peering up at Steve pathetically. 

Steve sighs, and his phone vibrates. 

It’s Tony, wanting to know how he feels about sushi for dinner, and Steve sighs harder. Not wanting to send back something short and rude, Steve washes the peanut butter paste from his hands and out of Nomad’s snout. Once they’re on the couch, Nomad on his chest again, Steve hits the phone icon. 

“Hello?”

Tony sounds surprised, which is understandable.

“Sorry,” Steve says, and he knows he sounds horrible. “I’m going to need another raincheck.”

“That’s fine,” Tony says, and Steve can hear the curiosity there. “I can still bring sushi, though. We can start the next movie, really embrace the rewatch.”

Steve swallows, stretching out along the length of the sectional. “Nomad isn’t feeling well,” he tries to explain, hoping that Tony will understand, but the quiet on the end of the line has him elaborating. “I had to take him to the vet this morning. He’s got an upset stomach and won’t take his pills, and he might have to go back depending on the test results.”

“Shit,” Tony says, and Steve closes his eyes against the concern in his tone. “Shit, Steve. I’m sorry. That’s - that sounds rough. Is there anything I can do?”

Steve laughs but it’s hollow as he runs a hand through Nomad’s hair. “Retroactively have me purchase pet insurance?” he suggests hypothetically. “No, I’m okay. We’re just hanging out, hoping it doesn’t get worse.”

“Are you sure?” Tony pushes. 

For a brief second, Steve imagines Tony helping him, convincing Nomad to swallow the pills and taking him out together.

But that’s exactly what he’s been trying to avoid, so he shakes his head before realizing that Tony can’t see him. 

“There’s really nothing to be done,” he says. “But that’s nice of you.”

“I can come anyway,” Tony says, voice going softer. “I can come over in a bit, just keep you company.” When Steve doesn’t respond, he adds, “I miss the boy. If I’m not there, I’m just going to worry about him.”

“You don’t have to,” Steve says, but his resolve, which wasn’t very strong to begin with, is rapidly weakening. “But if you want to - ”

“I do,” Tony says, almost eagerly. “I’ll be there within the hour, okay?”

Steve and Nomad doze lightly until there’s a tap at the door, just barely loud enough to wake them up, and Steve wipes at the drool on his chin while carefully dislodging Nomad from his lap to answer the door. He’s expecting Tony, but what he isn’t expecting is Happy accompanying him with a myriad of bags from the pet store, including a doggy bed the size of a small country. 

“What the…” Steve trails off, opening the door wider. 

“Where’s my sweetheart?” Tony demands, as gentle as he’s ever been. “Where’re my hugs and kisses? Poor baby, come here, I missed you so much -

He blows right past Steve straight to the couch where Nomad’s head is raised, eyes big and wary as he looks at Happy. As soon as Tony knees in front of him, though, Nomad allows himself to be pulled into a hug, Tony’s arms around his neck. 

“Thank you for...all of this,” Steve says, motioning to Happy’s baggage. “Is it - what is it, exactly?”

“Ask him,” Happy says with a grin far too wide for the occasion, nodding to Tony who is cooing in Nomad’s ear. “He insisted on picking it all out. Doesn't know how to do anything halfway, that’s for sure.”

Steve begins to take everything from him, face going hot. 

“I told him we didn’t need anything,” he mumbles, showing Happy where he can set the dog bed down next to the entertainment unit. 

“He’s not the best listener,” Happy tells him, still grinning. “You need anything else, boss man?”

“Sushi,” Tony calls back, still fully absorbed in stroking down Nomad’s side in large, comforting motions. “I put in an order, you just have to pick it up. Should be ready soon.”

And then Happy is gone and Steve is so worn out and paper-thin that he thinks he might crumple in the middle of his apartment, especially once he opens one of the bags slung over his forearms to find a couple of stuffed toys, soft as anything to the touch, one a hot fuschia triceratops with lime green spikes and another a pale blue shark with darker blue fins. He can’t stop after that, emptying them all to find things like pill pockets, a cooling pad, a new treat puzzle that Steve doesn’t already own, and more, so much more - 

A hand on his shoulder brings him back to the present, and Steve realizes his eyes have gone blurry with tears. 

“Sorry if I overdid it,” Tony says lightly, removing his hand. “I’ve been told I have a tendency to go overboard with things. I just - I care about him, too.”

“I know,” Steve says through a clogged throat, because if it hadn’t been apparent before, it is now. The emotions that have been building for the last twenty-four hours hit him like a tsunami and he blinks away overwhelmed tears, appreciating the way Tony gathers the bags to throw away to give him some privacy. “I - thank you, Tony, really. It means a lot that you care about him as much as you do.”

“I thought we could try the pills again,” Tony says, once Steve can stand up straight without wanting to cry. “Get it out of the way before Happy comes back with lunch, and then we can settle in with a movie and try to get some sleep. You look like you need it.”

It makes Steve let out a garbled laugh. 

“Yeah, alright. Let’s see if the genius can do a better job than I could.”

The pill pockets are a failure with Nomad feeling too ill to want to eat anything, so they try another approach. It’s a mess and Tony cracks inappropriate jokes, but Steve laughs and is thankful for the distraction as he holds Nomad firm and lets Tony try to shove the pill in. 

“Okay, I think he tried to bite me,” Tony says after another failed attempt. “What do you say, we switch and give it another try or two before calling it?”

“Deal,” Steve says, taking the wet and crumbling tablet Tony offers him. 

They get it on the second try, and when Steve tells Tony that it was only one of two pills, Tony’s jaw unhinges to a degree that Steve didn’t think was anatomically possible. 

“No,” Tony decides, shaking his head. “Absolutely not. He’s just going to have to - you’re going to have to have someone at the vet’s office give him all his pills from here on out. Nomad, sweetheart, I love you, but I am not losing a finger because of you.”

Steve’s pretty sure his heart skips a beat as Tony attempts to lift Nomad clear off the floor, arms around his midsection, getting only a few inches of air before setting him down with a quiet oomph. 

“Alright,” Tony says to Nomad, dusting his hands off on the hem of his t-shirt. “Let’s try to get you comfortable.”

Nomad is too weak to want to drink and Steve worries about him getting dehydrated, so Tony holds an ice cube in his palm and encourages Nomad to lick. 

“Good boy,” Tony says from where they’re practically sharing the new dog bed, a furry-soft blanket covering them both. “That’s it, good job. Hey, Steve. Happy’s downstairs with the food, do you mind getting it?”

Steve pretends like he can’t see the knowing look Happy gives him at the curb, and when he gets back upstairs, it’s to find that Tony has relocated to the bedroom, complete with Nomad’s new bed at the foot of Steve’s, blankets tucked in around both bodies.

“We weren’t all going to fit on the couch together,” is all Tony offers in the way of an explanation as he makes grabby hands for the bag. 

“If you spill,” Steve tries to warn him, but his voice sounds horribly indulgent to his own ears, and judging by Tony’s smile, to his as well. 

“I’ll replace the entire bed,” he promises, extending a pinky that Steve begrudgingly links with one of his own.

They watch Star Wars on Steve’s laptop, and when Tony is done eating, he snuggles up to Steve’s chest so sneakily that not for the life of him could Steve pinpoint how or when it happened. 

“You’re not sleeping,” Tony says, craning his neck to look at Steve. 

“Kind of hard when I’m waiting for a call about his results,” Steve says, indicating his phone on the nightstand. 

“Give me that,” Tony says, and Steve doesn’t have the energy to argue about it, so he does. “I’m starting to think that you get even less sleep than I do, which I didn’t think was possible.”

“I’ve never needed much,” Steve says, but then Tony’s maneuvering him with surprising dexterity until their positions are about reversed, with Steve slumped halfway down the bed and Tony’s fingers carding through his hair. 

“I promise I’ll wake you up if they call,” Tony tells him, adjusting the laptop until it’s stable. “I’ve got Nomad, and I’ve got you.”

Steve isn’t sure why it’s so reassuring when it’s been a day from hell and his baby boy is so sick he can’t even be bothered to complain about Steve and Tony touching, but it is. There’s a conversation that needs to be had but Tony scratching at his scalp just feels so good, and Steve is starting to feel the effects of poor quality sleep, so he makes a concerted effort to close his eyes and wipe his mind as blank as he can. 

*

The one constant from there on out is Tony’s presence. 

He’s there when Steve talks to the vet tech on the phone, watching carefully as Steve chews on a hangnail and shoves down the rising anxiety. 

He’s there when they bring Nomad in for the sedation and scans, because the other tests all came back negative, and he wraps a hand around Steve’s when he can’t stop fidgeting. 

“I hate not being with him,” Steve says, leg bouncing in distress. They’ve been relegated to the waiting room for the time being, and his mind spins in a thousand different directions, trying to think of all the things that could possibly go wrong and prepare for them. 

“He’s going to be okay,” Tony tries to reassure him. “These people know what they’re doing, it’s not their first rodeo. And Nomad is a good dog. When he’s awake, he’s going to be able to see you again, and he’s going to be so happy.”

Steve snorts and shakes his head. 

“He definitely likes you more than me most of the time,” he tells Tony who just scoffs. 

“He only gives me so much attention because he doesn’t see me every day. It’s like a kid at summer camp. Trust me, he loves you the most. That’s not going to change just because I give him treats and you’re the one torturing him with the nail clippers every few weeks.”

“You built him a treat robot, Tony,” Steve says, somewhat deprecatingly. 

“I build lots of robots. And you’re his dad,” Tony says, squeezing his hand for a brief second. “Just you wait and see.”

Tony’s there when the vet calls them back to view the scans, and Steve gathers a groggy Nomad in his arms while Tony’s index finger follows along on the backlit x-rays thrown up on the large monitor. 

“Okay, so there’s the blockage,” Tony says, and Steve hates this, hates it all so much. “Where do we go from here?”

There’s a chance the obstruction could resolve itself, but when the vet tells them that the lump-shaped object on the scans looks like it could be a large rock or a hunk of plastic from a toy, he admits that a conservative approach might not be the best one. 

“In order to avoid the possibility of necrotic bowel, your best bet is going to be surgery,” he says as Tony studies the scans like he’s cramming for the most important exam of his life. “Now, I can give you the number to the surgery center we’re affiliated with, but by the time you get there it’s going to be after hours since it’s a Sunday. I can call ahead, but it’s going to be considered an emergency - ”

Steve involuntarily tunes him out, trusting Tony to listen to every word, but all he can see in his head are dollar signs. It’s terrifying, not only thinking about Nomad lying on a cold, stainless steel table in the middle of a tiny operating room, but trying to strategize whether or not he’s going to need an emergency loan, or if the total cost will fit on his credit card, or if the surgery center offers a payment plan - 

“Hey,” Tony says, and he’s suddenly in front of Steve, carefully petting Nomad between them. “How’s he doing?”

Steve looks down to see Nomad awake but afraid and still except for his anxious panting, eyes darting back and forth between the two of them. The vet is gone, the exam room door closed, and Steve looks up at Tony. 

“He’s as good as he can be,” Steve says, holding one of Nomad’s front paws in his hands. “Did I miss anything important?”

“He told us to head to the front desk when we’re ready,” Tony says, quiet and even. “Are you holding up okay?”

Steve goes to say yes, but he doesn’t want to lie, so he shakes his head. 

“No,” he says. “But I don’t really have a choice here, do I?”

Tony’s eyes are big and sympathetic, real and deep in a way Steve has never seen from him before. 

“Lucky for you,” he says, with just the right amount of humor, “I’m pretty decent in a crisis.”

Steve smiles as much as he can muster up, which isn’t saying much. 

At the front desk, the vet tech from earlier in the day checks him out with a genuinely sorrowful look at Nomad’s situation. 

“I know it’s expensive,” she says, keeping her voice low while Tony sits with Nomad in one of the plastic waiting chairs, which Steve appreciates as he hands over his credit card to pay for the sedation and scans. “But a lot of places have payment programs. And he’s young - he’s still got a lot of years in him. It’s worth it.”

Steve knows his face is candy-apple red as she slides the card back across the counter along with an emergency pet loan application pamphlet. “I know. I really appreciate this,” he tells her. 

“We’re all animal people, here,” she offers up with a sad smile. “We hate it when our four-legged friends are hurting.”

When Steve has tucked his wallet away and turns around, Tony is on his phone, having a hurried whispered conversation that ends rather abruptly as soon as he notices Steve. 

“What’s that about?” Steve asks, taking Nomad’s leash. 

Tony deflects until they’re on the street, and then stops Steve from calling the surgery center’s after-hours number. 

“Tell me if I’m overstepping,” he starts. 

“Okay,” Steve says, confused. 

“I just got off the phone with Pepper,” Tony says, and he’s speaking fast, like he expects Steve to put a stop to whatever is going on. “Because one of my project managers in R&D - he’s got a wife. I remember specifically, because his wife was pregnant at some stupid gala, but I wasn’t sure when she was due, because obviously, I’m useless at gauging bump sizes. Anyway, Pepper says she’s still pregnant, which is very good for us, because she’s not on maternity leave yet, so she can do Nomad’s surgery.”

Steve doesn’t even know what to say. 

“Tony - ”

“Just hear me out,” Tony says, putting his hands out placatingly. “She routinely operates on dogs and cats, graduated second in her class - I had Pepper confirm - and is more than happy to meet us at her practice in the next half hour.”

“Tony,” Steve says, looking at the phone in his hand, thinking about the pamphlet in the back pocket of his jeans. “I can’t - I have so many questions. Like where is her practice and how are we going to get Nomad there, and how am I going to pay for this, and - ”

“Happy is around the corner,” Tony says. “Luckily traffic isn’t bad this time on a Sunday - he can get us there to meet her. And if she tries to charge you unfairly, I’ll just threaten to fire her husband or something.”

Steve’s expression must reflect something along the lines of horrified disappointment, because Tony hastily backtracks. 

“No, of course I’m not actually going to - look, no threatening, okay? But I want Nomad to be okay, and I know you do too, so is it so terrible to want the best for him?”

It’s not, but Steve has never been comfortable with accepting help, and this second-in-her-class private practice stuff is sounding a lot more expensive than a surgery center. 

“It’s going to be expensive,” Steve says, knowing that he’s turning red again, embarrassed because he’s worried about money when the man in front of him routinely wears watches that could pay for an entire year of Steve’s rent. “I - the tech told me that the surgery center might do emergency loans for stuff like this, and I really don’t think I can afford it out of pocket.”

Tony goes unnaturally still, and Steve refuses to look at him, just bending at the knee to gather Nomad in his arms and bury his face in mountains of fluffy white-gray fur. 

“Steve,” Tony says, words perched on eggshells. “If you really don’t want to, I’ll tell her not to worry about it. We can go to the surgery center. But I’m offering, because I can. Because I love that stupid dog more than he knows, and because this is when having money and connections come in handy. A lot of the time it’s bullshit, boring parties and sucking up to the right people. But being able to do stuff like this? This is why I’ve stuck around, instead of telling the board to fuck off while I go do whatever I want and get financially cut off.”

It’s a rush of information, absolutely nothing that Steve would be able to glean from all the time they’ve spent together, and he lifts his eyes until he can see Tony’s expression: uncertain and troubled, like he knows he might be smearing his fingerprints all over a place he shouldn’t, but has decided that it might be worth the repercussions anyway. 

His stomach lurches. It’s all the stress and anxiety over Nomad as well as the imminent costs he’s not prepared to incur, but it’s also because of Tony. He worries for a moment that Tony is only doing this to endear himself to Steve, to butter him up and be able to guilt him into whatever it is that he really wants.

But then he feels instantly horrible for that, because Tony reaches down to smooth a hand over Nomad’s back, fingers sinking into dense undercoat and scratching lightly. Tony isn’t even looking at Steve, instead just entirely focused on Nomad, his brows drawn and his jaw tensed. 

Steve wonders if it’s true, if Tony doesn’t really want to stick around and run Stark Industries when the time comes and he’s deemed ready. He wonders if Tony really loves Nomad that much, and thinks of a robot in his apartment and disintegrating pills and feeling like the odd one out with increasing frequency. Maybe it doesn’t matter that he doesn’t return the feelings he suspects Tony holds towards him because Tony cares about Nomad enough for Steve to respect what’s being offered. 

“I don’t want you paying for it,” Steve says heavily, and Tony’s eyes meet his, tentative and hopeful. “He’s - Nomad’s my responsibility. It means the world to us that you’re here right now, that you’re helping out, but he’s still mine. I wouldn’t - it wouldn’t feel right. To let you do that for us.”

“Okay,” Tony says, nodding fast and stepping back to pull out his phone. “Okay, yeah. I hear you. Let me get Happy - Happy? Yeah, you know where I am. I forwarded you the address, it should come up - awesome. See you in a second.”

Tony is there when Nomad vomits bile up on the floor of the car, and Steve apologizes profusely while Tony just asks Happy to pass back some napkins and brushes it off like it’s nothing. 

“Happy’ll get it detailed while Nomad’s in surgery,” he says dismissively. 

Tony is there to introduce Steve to Dr. Cho who does the intake herself and tells Steve to make himself at home in her very modern, very chic, very expensive-looking practice. 

“Everyone else is getting the OR ready,” Dr. Cho says, indeed heavily pregnant but incredibly nice and welcoming for someone getting called in to work an emergency for her husband’s boss. “Do you want a minute with him before we take him back?”

Tony is there, demanding private time with Nomad, and Dr. Cho just looks mildly entertained before turning to Steve. 

“We’re going to take good care of him,” she reassures. “It’s a very low-risk procedure. You two are welcome to stay in the office while he’s in surgery, but if you want to head out, we’ll give you a call as soon as we’re done. Barring any complications, you should be able to take him home when we’re done.”

“I’ll see what Tony wants to do,” Steve says, glancing over at where Tony is solemnly petting Nomad, having what looks to be a very serious conversation with him. “Look - I really appreciate you coming in to help with this. But do you have any idea what it’s going to run me, approximately?”

Dr. Cho hides it well, but there’s still a flicker of surprise before she’s slipping back into her friendly professionalism. “I came in as a favor to Tony,” she says. “I thought - ”

“No,” Steve says, shaking his head firmly. “He’s helping me out here, but Nomad is my dog.”

She blinks, but seems to get it. 

“We’ll talk about it afterwards,” she tells him. “Billing can get a little complicated with surgeries, and with insurance - ”

“I don’t have pet insurance,” he interrupts, flushing again, because who knew that goddamn pet insurance was such a thing. “But, uh, our usual vet said something about payment plans, so I was hoping….”

He trails off, hoping that she understands, and she just nods and smiles. 

“Got it,” she says. “We’ll figure it out, okay? For now, let’s just worry about getting whatever this thing is, out of him.”

Tony bumps up against him, then jerks his head towards Nomad.

“Wish your boy good luck,” he tells Steve. “Let me steal Helen for a moment.”

Steve feels the nerves rush back as he pulls Nomad into his arms as best as he can, but Nomad is as tired of dealing with this as Steve is, and doesn’t want to do much besides lie down.

“Don’t ever do this again,” Steve says, not bothering to scold properly. “Let’s learn our lesson from this, okay? Whatever you ate, let’s not do that again. Because as much as I love you, this hasn’t been a lot of fun. Okay, buddy?”

Tony and Dr. Cho approach the exam table a few minutes later, and Steve carefully sets Nomad down on the floor so he can be led to the OR. It’s horrible to watch him go, horrible to listen to him whine and protest at the separation, and Steve buries his face in his hands and wishes he could fast forward through the operation. 

“Hey,” Tony says, hands on Steve’s shoulders. “This sucks, doesn’t it? Come here a second.”

And Steve looks at him, bewildered. 

“What?”

“I’m trying to hug you,” Tony says. “Should I not?”

Steve can’t pinpoint why he’s suddenly uncomfortable, but he clears his throat loudly and shifts until Tony drops his hands and steps away. 

“I didn’t tell her whether we’d stay or go,” he realizes. 

“She’s got my number,” Tony says. “I didn’t think you’d want to hang around and worry.”

Steve grits his teeth, trying not to be annoyed with Tony making that decision for him, but he knows it’s the right choice. 

“I’m sure you’ve got places to be,” he says, not knowing where it’s coming from. “I can probably take it from - ”

But Tony cuts him off, shaking his head and pulling Steve into a hug that sticks this time until Steve finds himself leaning into it, spine bowing until he’s hooking his chin over Tony’s shoulder and doing his best to let go of the tension and frustration. His hands find Tony’s hips somewhat awkwardly, and it’s not a bad hug, per se, but something is still keeping him stiff. 

“I’ll go if you really want me to,” Tony says, quiet but firm. Decisive. “But I know it’s been a lot for you, and I’d like to be here. I don’t have anywhere else I need to be.”

Steve can feel his muscles giving in before he does. 

“You’ve already done a lot for us,” he mumbles against Tony’s shirt, smelling day-old cologne and something indistinct but familiar. 

“Do you think I’ve done any of this because I haven’t wanted to?” Tony says, with a rumbling laugh. “Steve. Come on. Have you known me to ever do anything I don’t want to?”

With his hands tightening uncertainly, Steve thinks no but says, “I don’t think I know you well enough to say.”

Tony doesn’t respond, just stays still, and when Steve finally releases him and stands up on his own, Tony’s smile is odd around the edges. 

“Let’s get something to eat,” Tony says, and Steve wonders if he’s done something wrong. “Come on. I know a place.”

Tony is there when Steve eats his feelings at a nearby deli, devouring a Reuben and kettle chips while Tony picks at a spinach and strawberry salad while dipping a side of steak fries into an enormous pile of ketchup swirled with deli mustard that has Steve pulling a face. 

“That’s...unusual,” he says delicately. 

“If you shut your mouth, I’ll let you order something else,” Tony says. 

“I don’t need your permission to order something else,” Steve says, and Tony dumps yet another packet of Splenda in his iced tea. Steve wants to tell him that it’s a useless endeavor but he’s sure Tony’s smart enough to know that, so he just smiles at their waiter and asks which menu items are their best sellers while playing keepaway with his pickle, which Tony seems to believe should belong to him. 

It’s so silly, especially when Steve tries to claim ownership of the sugar dish (Tony orders a hot coffee and tries to poison himself with half a dozen packets of Sugar in the Raw), which leads to Tony smacking a single stolen regular sugar against the heel of his palm in consideration. 

“So,” he says, elbowing his abandoned salad to the side and scooping up another handful of fries, dragging them through his horrendous condiment of choice. “I’ve got an idea. Have you ever played paper football before?”

Steve leans back in his side of their booth, aware that they’re pushing the limits of how long it’s socially acceptable to occupy a single table. But he’s got a bowl of matzo ball soup on the way, so he figures they aren’t being too rude as long as they’re ordering food. 

“Maybe in middle school,” Steve says. “Where are you going to get a piece of paper?”

Tony shoots out of his seat to go sweet talk a college-aged kid with a backpack in the corner, and Steve thanks the waiter for the soup and asks for another plate of fries and one of pickle spears. 

“Like, a plate of pickles?” the guy asks, confused, scratching his chin with the end of his pen. 

It’s a good decision because Tony gets horrendously possessive with food, and they spend nearly an entire hour flicking a paper triangle back and forth while Steve resorts to holding the fries hostage until Tony surrenders an entire two pickles. The soup is delicious and keeps Steve warm as a humid summer rain bears down outside, darkening sidewalks until the sun has abruptly disappeared and the paper triangle dies an unfortunate death. 

“If I just - ”

“No,” Steve says firmly, shaking his head as Tony tries to wipe the folded notebook paper of its horrible ketchup-mustard stain. “Not worth it.”

Tony orders them a dozen black and white cookies to go, only because their waiter is looking increasingly bored by their presence, and Steve grabs for the check when it comes. 

“I was going to get that,” Tony says, and Steve has to contort his body to avoid having it snatched away. 

“You always get food for us,” Steve points out. “You’ve bought me a million dinners at this point. It’s about time I repay the favor.”

Tony hums as they wait for Steve’s card to be returned, and it’s been almost fun. More than almost - it’s been real fun, and Steve’s been able to have his mind taken off the fact that Nomad is having his stomach cut open. The nice thing about Tony’s incessant chatter about everything and nothing is that it doesn’t leave very much room for anything else, and as the near silence falls between them, Steve takes it all in. 

It’s like tunnel vision, the dull roar of the rain on the window and the background conversations fading until Steve can barely taste the sour of the pickles on the back of his tongue. His fingers drum on the greasy tabletop and he watches Tony, listening to him hum abstractly while staring off in the distance. Tony looks a little worn around the edges, like he’s been having the same rough day Steve has been, and there’s that rush of warmth that Steve gets sometimes with him, the one that makes his ribcage feel both too big and too small at the same times, the one that makes him uneasy for reasons he hasn’t bothered to examine close enough to identify. 

Tony always looks good, Steve thinks. Even with faint sweat stains under the arms of his t-shirt, with a patch of stubble under his jaw that it looks like he missed while shaving that morning, with his lashes long and sweeping from this angle, his head directed sideways. Tony always looks good, and is unbearably kind in a way that Steve never would’ve anticipated, and he turns back to Steve with his most beguiling smile, something slightly uneven and all the more genuine for it. 

Steve’s heart stutters, just for a second, and then he’s feeling nauseous all over again. 

“You know this song?” Tony asks, seemingly on an entirely different planet as he points towards the ceiling to indicate the overhead speakers. “One of my favorites. Haven’t heard it in ages, though.”

“Have you heard from Dr. Cho?” Steve asks, itching to get away from wherever Tony’s unknowingly threatening to take him. He doesn’t think he can handle it, thinks about his conversation with Sharon - and how had that only taken place the previous morning? - and knows that for as much good exists between them, it’s all that it needs to be. No matter how good Tony is with Nomad, no matter how good he looks, they still don’t know each other and that’s not much of a foundation for anything. 

“Not yet,” Tony says, scanning his phone before looking outside. “Damn, I was really hoping the rain would hold off. I thought maybe we could find somewhere to eat our cookies.”

As if on cue, their waiter deposits the cookies and Steve’s card on the table. 

“I think I’d rather head back,” Steve says, avoiding eye contact as he puts his card back in his wallet. He can literally feel the anxiety crawling up inside of him, hates how he’s suddenly aware of how often he has to swallow the building saliva in his mouth, and slides out of the booth without waiting for a response. 

“Okay,” Tony says gamely, and Steve grabs for the box of cookies to tuck under his arm. At least the packaging will protect them from the rain, he thinks with a grimace as they push outside and stand under the tiny awning. 

“I can call Happy,” Tony offers, motioning to a larger awning several yards down the street, where they can wait unobtrusively. “The car should be cleaned by now, he can drive us over. I know it’s not far, but with the rain - ”

Steve swallows again and nods tightly as Tony dials. 

Underneath the other awning, Tony stands closer and smiles, and Steve isn’t sure that he likes it. It feels like something has flipped, and he has no idea what, but his palms grow clammy and he shifts the box from one hand to the other. 

“Thanks for insisting on treating me,” Tony says when he’s finished with Happy, and he’s still grinning - why, though, Steve can’t figure out for the life of him. 

“It’s not a big deal,” Steve says. “Like I said, just repaying the favor.”

And then, out of seemingly nowhere - 

“Does this count as like, our first real date, then?”

Steve’s eyes snap to Tony’s face, taking in the impish smile and the cock of his elbows as his hands slot into his back pockets. Suddenly he looks young, looks how he does all wrapped up in Steve’s NYU pullover and standing on the sidewalk while holding onto Nomad’s leash, and Steve can’t do this. 

Sharon is going to kill him when she finds out. 

“Um,” he says, stilted and feeling like there’s nothing but cotton between his ears, swallowing pools of saliva and feeling so sick he thinks he might make like Nomad and lose his dinner on the spot. “That wasn’t my intention, no.”

Tony’s expression goes very neutral, and when he speaks, it’s in that measured way that Steve hates more than almost anything. 

“That’s fine,” he says, and then he’s wearing a smile that’s large and brittle, passably charming but lacking any kind of soul. 

God, Steve hates this. 

“Did you - ” Steve’s throat feels too dry to speak, which makes no sense considering how he’s just about drowning himself. “Did you want it to be? A date?”

And Tony’s face looks like he’s desperately trying to keep that too-big smile plastered on, but it’s wavering and he’s failing miserably, and Steve doesn’t know how to fix this without being dishonest. 

“No,” Tony says, and then he’s thumbing at his phone in that way people do when they want to look occupied. “No, I don’t know why I said that, that was stupid.”

It feels like Steve’s stomach is free-falling, hurtling downwards without anything to slow it down. He scrambles, trying to grapple at this before it disappears entirely, before Tony walks right out of his life again, because maybe he doesn’t want dating and feelings and all that jazz, but he still wants Tony, with all his ridiculousness and talented tongue and everything that Steve has learned, all those little bits that Steve could put together in a strange mosaic of a person. 

“It’s okay if you did,” Steve says, steady without knowing how. “I’d rather - you can be honest with me.”

And then Tony’s looking at him, eyes absurdly wide and optimistic, and Steve thinks that if he really is the kind of person to have to disappoint someone so wonderful, then maybe he doesn’t deserve to hold on in the first place. 

“Yeah?” Tony asks, phone forgotten. “I just figured - we’ve been at this for a while.”

“We have,” Steve agrees. “And it’s good. It’s been really great, actually.”

“Yeah,” Tony says eagerly. “It’s been great. I just didn’t want to fuck with it.”

“Me neither,” Steve says, and maybe he can salvage this. “So I think - if we just keep on the way we have been - ”

But then Tony’s doing that thing again, where it’s all tight control and a pretty mask, and Steve can’t dance around it anymore, not when he feels like he’s on one of those cheap amusement park rides, the ones where he swings on a pendulum, back and forth until it's unclear if his stomach will ever get a chance to settle. 

“Tony,” he says, and he feels so helpless, so powerless to do anything but try and make himself heard and get Tony to understand. “Listen. I’ve loved what we’ve had, and you’re a great guy. I mean, hell, you built my dog a robot. I don’t think anyone else would have put up with his shit long enough to get to that point - I didn’t even think you would get to that point. But if you’re looking for someone to date, I’ve got to be honest here, because I don’t think I’m that person for you.”

Tony stays perfectly still, there on the sidewalk, just out of the elements with his hair curling around his ears and that little patch of stubble where it shouldn’t be. 

“I’m sorry,” Steve says, cringing internally as he speaks, knowing how awful he’s being, but knowing that the least he can do is be upfront about this. It’s the bare minimum, but it’s all he can muster up. “I want to - if you do - we could just keep sleeping together. It works, and it’s really good, and Nomad loves having you around, but I’m just not up for the rest of it.”

The lack of an argument, the lack of a defense, tells Steve that he’s been right, that what he’d suspected ever since he’d gotten that happy birthday text, that what he’s been afraid of and avoiding - it tells Steve that Tony’s in this for more than sex, and it’s all going to have to come to a grinding halt for the second time. 

“Is there any specific reason? Tony asks evenly, like he’s resigned himself to their fate. “Or you just...can’t?”

So this is what it feels like to be a piece of shit , Steve thinks, but he doesn’t have time for this. 

He’s got a dog who should be out of surgery any minute now, and an inbox full of angry clients. He doesn’t have time to dissect exactly what happened to allow Tony Stark of fucking Stark Industries to develop feelings for him, because Steve is nothing special, not really. For all that he knew they couldn’t keep this up forever, he’d mostly thought that it would end for a better reason. One of them would meet someone else, Tony would be too busy with work, or Nomad would get to be too much the way he had the first time. He definitely didn’t think they’d call it off because Tony liked him. 

“I’m sorry,” Steve repeats, because it’s really all he’s got. 

Tony snorts, and the mask lifts, and for a second Steve is relieved. But then he’s not, because what’s underneath is just as ugly. 

“Yeah, I’m sure,” Tony says, and it’s so hot and lashing that Steve recoils instantly. “I’m a fucking idiot. I thought - ”

He turns to step out from under the awning, and Steve is aware that Happy’s been idling on the curb for who knows how long, bearing witness to this mess, but then he whirls back around and stabs a finger into Steve’s chest. 

“Yeah, I did build your dog a fucking robot,” he snarls, and his eyes are black, dark and expansive, sucking Steve in until he’s lost with no way to escape. “I love that boy.”

Steve doesn’t know what to say, so he keeps his mouth clamped shut. 

Tony steps back again, his back getting quickly drenched as the rain picks up. 

“I’ll have Helen call you,” Tony says dully, and Steve can feel hot rain hitting his feet, the wind aiming it towards them at a punishing angle, Tony catching most of it. “I’m going to - I don’t fucking know.”

He looks to the side, running a hand through rapidly dampening hair, and when he speaks again, Steve can barely hear him from how the rain pounds down around them. 

“Take Happy. You’ll need the car to get Nomad back to Brooklyn,” Tony says, and guilt spikes icy hot right through Steve’s belly. 

“I couldn’t,” he tries to protest, but Tony shakes his head once and pins Steve with the kind of stare that belongs in boardrooms, not out on the streets directed at lovers. 

Ex-lovers, Steve supposes. 

“Do it for him,” Tony says, steely and scathing. “Don’t let whatever the fuck is going on with you affect him.”

Steve nods, unable to do more than stare as Tony steps out into the rain, leaning down and rapping on the passenger window of his car. He can’t hear the words being exchanged, can’t even really see Happy with how Tony’s narrow shoulders manage to crowd the open space, and then - 

And then Tony isn’t there. 

But Happy is, with an umbrella and his mouth in a tight line, looking down the streets where Tony is stalking away in long, measured strides. Steve only looks for a second because Happy is opening the back door and waiting, and it would be rude to make him wait when it’s raining so hard. 

They don’t speak while Happy drives, and Steve knows from the distrustful glances being sent his way via the rearview mirror, that if it were up to Happy, Steve would be the one walking in the downpour. He keeps his head down, slumped against the door, and plays the age old game of tracing the raindrops on the window until they reach the end of their journey. His phone buzzes with a text, and for a brief moment in time he thinks it might be Tony - but it’s just an unknown number, letting him know that Nomad is out of surgery, doing great, and headed into recovery. 

It should feel like relief, like success, but Steve just stares at the screen until it goes blurry. At that point he shoots off a quick update to Sam, trusting him to pass the message along if anyone asks. His finger hovers over his conversation thread with Tony, knowing that the right thing to do would be delete it, but as he stares at the little trash icon, he thinks that maybe he’s being premature. 

They’d left things ambiguously, hadn’t they? Maybe Tony would understand what Steve was saying, would agree that the sex was unreal and transcendent and better than Steve had ever thought sex could be. Maybe Tony would reach back out, the way he had before, and they would be able to get back in their routine. Maybe Tony would -  

He’s an asshole, he realizes, tapping into his thread with Sharon to tell her about Nomad. He really is an asshole, wanting to take advantage of a guy who has feelings for him, praying that he’ll settle for whatever Steve will give him. It’s a terrible feeling but he’s the only one to blame, and when he looks up to see Happy glaring at him while stopping at a red light, he knows that he deserves it.

When they pull up outside the vet, Steve hesitates with his hand on the door. He hates that he’s indirectly dependent on Tony for this, but he clears his throat and meets Happy’s stoic expression in the mirror.

“So,” he starts, uneasy, “Tony said - ”

“Boss man told me to wait for you,” Happy says shortly. “Take you and the dog back to your place.”

“Thank you,” Steve says, and this time Happy doesn’t get out with his umbrella to open the door, which is fine, that’s not anything Steve particularly cares about, but it certainly is telling. 

Inside, Dr. Cho is waiting for him, sitting in a chair behind the desk and cradling her enormous stomach. 

“Thank you so much for coming in,” he says. “You have no idea what it means, to know that he was in good hands.”

She brushes it off, spinning around to reach for something behind her. 

“People don’t go into this profession because they don’t care about animals,” she says with a shrug. “Besides, for Tony? He’s not exactly someone you say not to.”

“I’m sorry about that,” Steve says, haltingly. “I tried to tell him - but he’d already called - ”

“Oh, I don’t mean it like that,” she says with a smile thrown over her shoulder, snapping on a pair of gloves. “He’s pretty good at making people offers they can’t refuse. I mean, I’d have to be an idiot to turn down the three months of paternity leave he was offering my husband. You think I’m looking forward to changing all those diapers by myself?”

Before he can process that, she’s coming back to him with a clear plastic bag marked all up in biohazard labels. Inside is a screw-cap container, inside of which is something that looks remarkably like - 

“Part of a tennis ball,” she confirms, laughing at what he’s sure is the incredulous expression on his face. “Looks like he might’ve chewed it up first? He’s got quite the set of jaws on him, that’s for sure. Just be glad he didn’t swallow it whole - I’ve got a colleague who had a case like that once.”

“I’m going to have to start keeping a much closer eye on him,” Steve says with a grimace. “I swear, he’s never done anything like this before.”

“Let’s hope he doesn’t develop a bad habit,” she says, putting the bag back in a plastic bucket and taking off the gloves. “Anyway. He’s almost awake, we tried to keep the anesthesia as minimal as possible. He’s going to need to wear a cone to protect the stitches for a week or two, unless he turns out to be the kind of dog who leaves them alone, which - no offense - doesn’t seem very likely.”

He agrees, and she hands him a stapled set of post-op instructions that they then run through together. In the back of his mind he knows that this is a tech’s job, that she’s going above and beyond for him even without Tony at his side, but he’d like to attribute that to her professionalism rather than Tony’s influence. When they’re done, Steve reaches for his wallet and braces himself. 

“So, what does all this come out to?”

Dr. Cho’s friendly demeanor slips, and it’s clear that she knows Steve has caught it, because she shuffles around some of the things on the desk. 

“I’d be more than happy to print you out an itemized bill,” she says, and dread curdles hot and disgusting in Steve’s stomach. “But Tony came with a check, and, well, it’s more than enough.”

Steve doesn’t have a response for that, feeling violated and grateful and angry, and trying to parse through his emotions quickly enough to avoid taking it out on Dr. Cho. 

“I know what you said earlier,” she adds, looking up. “And if you want to pay for the surgical costs on your own, separately, I can let you do that. But he told me that he wanted to thank everyone for their time today, and he was very generous about it.”

And he knows that Tony is a billionaire, that something like this is no sweat off his back, but that doesn’t make it right, not after what Steve had asked of him. Steve has morals, and he’s proud and self-sufficient, so he shakes his head and digs out his credit card. 

“I’d like to pay for the surgical costs,” he says, because he’ll concede that Tony is the one who pulled all these employees into the office on a Sunday evening, but he’s not about to let a man who may very well never talk to him ever again pay for something so big. 

“Of course,” Dr. Cho says, and then she’s clicking around on the computer while Steve mentally calculates exactly how much he can still afford to put on his credit card, and he’s relieved when the total comes to only a couple thousand. He can manage that, he tells himself, and then he’s taken back to see Nomad who is now awake but just barely. 

He gathers his boy in his arms, pushes Tony from his mind, and lets Happy drive him home. The apartment feels strange inside, too empty and quiet as he sets the box of cookies on the kitchen counter, but Steve just lugs the new dog bed on top of his own bed and arranges Nomad until they’re both comfortable. 

Even then, the bed swallows him up with all the extra space. 

*

Nomad hates the cone, and after a couple of days he especially hates not being allowed outside for anything more strenuous than a moderate walk, thanks to the risk of tearing his incision. Steve does his best to keep them entertained despite being cooped up inside, but his own legs itch for a run, and when he offhandedly mentions this to Natasha, she shows up at his door one evening with a thick paperback and a bottle of wine. 

“Go,” she says, shooing him away as she curls up on the couch, reluctantly petting Nomad in greeting. “Get out of here for an hour or two.”

He changes into running shorts and shoes and asks if she’s sure. 

“It’s either that, or I ask you why Stark is looking at buying a third jet to accompany his new private island,” she says, and he’s jumping down the stairs before she changes her mind. 

When he comes back up, Natasha is perched on the edge of the coffee table with the pint of cookie dough ice cream he keeps stashed in the back of his freezer, watching as Nomad attempts to play with his treat robot sans cone. 

“Don’t worry, I wouldn’t let him get at his stitches,” Natasha says, eyes unmoving as Steve catches his breath and wipes his face with his mostly sweat-soaked shirt. The city just keeps getting hotter as July progresses, and he goes for the kitchen to get a glass of water. “Is this that thing Stark built for him?”

Steve waits to answer until he’s drained the glass and refilled it. 

“He modified something already on the market,” Steve says. “Took it apart - I don’t know, he used a lot of phrases like ‘internal mechanism’ and ‘mediocre at best.’”

“I didn’t know he could do stuff like this,” Natasha says, offering Steve the spoon. “At the office he just hides from Pepper and finds excuses to get out of meetings.”

“He told me he’s an engineering genius,” Steve says, sitting down next to her and accepting the spoon, digging in. “Multiple doctorates. Don’t people usually put those on their walls or something?”

“I knew he was smart, but...” Natasha trails off. 

“What does he do then?” Steve asks, a little curious as Nomad jams a paw over one of the levers. 

“Nothing,” Natasha says, but then quickly corrects herself. “I mean, he’s being groomed for CEO, what does any CEO do? They make big decisions and sign papers and sit around becoming billionaires while everyone else does the grunt work. I didn’t know he had any actual talent. I just assumed he was smart enough to skate through life on his last name and good looks.”

“I don’t think he loves it,” Steve says slowly, remembering something Tony had said to him before Nomad’s surgery. “I think...I think he wishes he could actually be useful.”

Natasha just takes the spoon back and tilts her head to the side, still watching Nomad fight with the robot that moves around of its own volition and is programmed to only dispense treats if he hits all the knobs and levers in the correct order, designated by flashing blue lights that change order at random. 

“Huh,” she says, scraping at a particularly large boulder of cookie dough. “Imagine that.”

*

Bucky takes a shift, coming over Friday with a six-pack of his newest find which promises to taste of prickly pear. It’s not half bad, Steve thinks, as they boo the Yankees on tv, and by the time the seventh inning rolls around, he finds himself wondering what Tony would think of it. 

“You alright?” Bucky asks during a commercial for auto insurance. 

“Yeah,” Steve says, peeling at the label on the bottle. “Just - just haven’t gotten laid in a while.”

It’s only part of what’s going on in his head, and he cringes at how it comes out. 

“I didn’t mean it like that, shit.”

Bucky just looks at him sideways, an amused grin wrapped around his beer. 

“Nah, I mean, we’ve all been there. But what, things with that guy didn’t work out?”

Steve just looks at him with raised brows because he knows that Natasha has told him about Tony, if only to bitch about her rich and eccentric boss. 

“I think Nomad misses him,” is what Steve says, and he really needs to start looking into where his mouth-brain filter has disappeared to. 

“Yeah?”

“He naps curled up to that thing,” Steve says, gesturing in the direction of where Nomad is on the corner of the rug, head resting against the treat robot. “He’s on alert all day around the time Tony would come over, barking at the damn door, and won’t sleep at night unless he’s in that bed Tony bought him.”

Bucky just sprawls lower and wider, tilting his bottle back and forth like he’s thinking about it. 

“So it’s not just about getting laid,” he says, and Steve scowls automatically. “What? Because Steve, you know as well as I do that if it was just about getting your rocks off with someone, you could head down to the closest bar and find someone to go home with real easy. Don’t pretend like that ain’t the case.”

“I don’t want that,” Steve says irritably. “You know that.”

“Then stop moping around,” Bucky says, shrugging all casual and relaxed as the game comes back on. “Whatever the reason for not working out - no use in crying about it. Nomad will get over it soon enough. Dogs aren’t like people.”

Steve knows that that’s all the opinion Bucky’s got on the matter, but he can’t stop thinking about it. 

Specifically, he can’t stop thinking about a little robot and Dr. Cho and feeling like a third wheel.

He kind of misses feeling like that.

*

Sam’s the one who suggests going out once Nomad’s stitches are gone, so Steve takes off the cone and meets everyone at an outdoor bar where even Thor and Jane stop by for a drink and Sharon orders a round of shots for everyone. 

“I like this one,” Sam says, pointing at her and laughing heartily, and Steve grins and shoves his arm off his shoulders. 

Natasha looks thrilled to have another female around, and she steals Sharon away while Bucky gets into a heated debate with the bartender about God knows what. Steve stands patiently while a group of girls out for a bachelorette party want to pet Nomad, and one of the bridesmaids seems particularly interested in him, not giving Nomad any attention as she asks if he’s having a good night. 

“Celebrating this big boy healing up after a big surgery,” he says, holding up Nomad’s leash. 

She glances at Nomad and smiles but it doesn’t reach her eyes, and Steve doesn’t even know if he cares anymore. Part of him wants to get her number and another part wants to just ask her home, but using the treat robot with anyone else wouldn’t feel right and he can’t just ditch Nomad, so he discards any ideas pretty quickly and makes up an excuse to watch Sam and Thor as they argue over who can chug a beer faster. 

“I told you, didn’t I?” It’s Sharon, looking at him knowingly, and he shakes his head. 

“I don’t - ”

“It’s okay to like him, you know,” she says, close to his ear so he can hear over all the noise. 

“He’s never going to want to see me again,” Steve says, and his heart clenches painfully with the thought. 

“He might,” Sharon says, and then there’s another round of Fireball being dropped off, and for as perfect as everything is, as wonderful as his friends are, he still feels like something is missing. 

Jane agrees to one more round of shots before heading home, and Thor orders some special gin that Bucky lets sit on his palate before describing exactly which species of twig and leaf he can taste in it. Steve throws it back and then Natasha pushes a blue cocktail with a pineapple wedge into his hands, and he thinks he splits a beer with Sharon, and Nomad barks at someone who tries to get too close and Steve blinks slowly before reeling him in. 

“No,” he tells Nomad, reaction time not what it usually is, but knowing that the last thing he wants is trouble because of his dog. But then Nomad barks louder and tries to pull away, and Steve looks at the perpetrator who is holding his hands up in apology. 

“Sorry,” he says, pushing dark hair off his face, skin golden in the warm lighting. “Dogs usually like me.”

“It’s fine,” Steve says, squinting, and he knows that dogs identify people by scent and not appearance, but this guy looks similar enough that Steve feels his own hackles rising. He’s not sure exactly how it happens, but he at least knows why, when he leaves Nomad with Sharon and scrolls through his message threads until he finds Tony’s and calls. 

He gets voicemail, tries again, and ends up leaving a message with a clumsy tongue and loose lips. 

“Hi,” he says, words rolling out as quickly as they come to him. “You - I think he misses you. He’s fuckin’ obsessed with the robot. You gotta - you gotta come visit him. He keeps thinking you’re coming back and barking at the door, and we can fuckin’ - fuckin’ - we can split custody. Not custody, I mean, he’s my dog, but we can figure something out.”

His chest feels too big and too small and he misses his quiet nights in, weird beers and different types of takeout and easy conversation and fucking all over the apartment. He doesn’t miss Tony’s penthouse, just thinks that he’d like to keep the both of them at his place until Tony stops hating Brooklyn, and - 

“You never told me the penthouse got fixed,” he says, and he’s not slurring, but it’s close. “Nat - Natasha - did you know that she doesn’t know how smart you are? You’re so pretty and rich and smart but she doesn’t even know. How does she not know? Your brain is perfect, like I know you say my dick is perfect, but you’ve got such a perfect brain that it makes me wanna - ”

Then there’s a tiny hand on his wrist, trying to take the phone away, and it’s strong but Steve is stronger and he shakes it off before putting the phone back to his ear. 

“Steve,” Natasha says seriously. “Hang up.”

“Natasha wants me to hang up,” Steve says into the phone, licking his lips. “But she doesn’t know - Nat, you don’t know how pretty his brain is.”

“Okay,” she mutters, and he frowns because he doesn’t understand why she’s doing this, not when this is important, there’s so much he needs to say that he’s never told Tony. “I can’t believe it took ten years to hit your limit, but at least we know you have one.”

“He never told me about the penthouse,” Steve tries to explain to her. “And he didn’t tell me - he tried to pay for the surgery. He tried, even though I told him no. He did it anyway. For Nomad.”

“Okay, Steve,” she says, reaching for the phone again, but he just uses his other hand to hold her at a distance. 

“No,” he tells her. “This is important. Tony, are you listening? This is important. He misses you, and that kinda makes me miss you too. D’you miss him? D’you miss me?”

And then there’s pain in his groin and Natasha ducks to grab his phone as he drops it, catches it before it can hit the ground, and he tries to breathe through the pain while letting loose a stream of expletives. 

“You’re not getting this back,” she tells him firmly, waving the phone in front of his face before pocketing it. “Now come on. We’re getting your pathetic ass home before you can do anything else you’ll regret.”

Steve doesn’t remember how he gets home. He doesn’t remember much after Natasha kneeing him, and when he wakes up on his couch, he finds her in his bed, Nomad curled up in his damn dog bed beside her. His phone is plugged in on the nightstand next to her, and she cracks open an eye as he reaches for it. 

“You’re really dumb, Rogers. You know that?”

Steve stares at the messages on the screen. 

Don’t call me again. Thanks. 

And then, timestamped an hour later:

I miss him very much. Tell him that for me. 

He nods around the lump in his throat. 

*

The rest of the weekend is spent nursing a monstrous hangover, and Natasha pulls her legs up under her on the couch while Steve contemplates whether getting hit by a truck would hurt less. 

“I miss him,” Steve says, because it’s too big to ignore as he watches Nomad attempt to cuddle Natasha, only to be gently rebuffed. She’s not cruel enough to deny him outright, but she pushes at the bulk of his body until he’s merely leaning against her. 

“I know,” is all she says, and then she leaves shortly after, dropping a kiss to his cheek on the way out. 

Sam texts to tell him what a great night it turned out to be, Thor spams them all with a million blurry group selfies, and Bucky sends everyone an invitation to break in his new vintage backgammon board. Steve doesn’t have it in him to respond to any of it, but he doesn’t feel like being alone with his thoughts, so he texts Sharon who comes over to show him the dogs she visited at a shelter. 

“This one was really sweet,” she tells him, tapping on a picture of a small mix with curly hair. “She’s only a year and a half old. I don’t know though, I might see if I can just foster a few dogs first before I’m ready to commit.”

Eventually, she tucks her phone away and looks at him. 

“I drunk dialed him,” Steve admits with a groan, scrubbing a hand over his face, feeling the grit of his unshaved upper lip and chin and resolving to put himself back together in the morning. “And he texted to ask me not to do it again.”

“Well,” she says, “he’s allowed to set some boundaries. You knew this would happen.”

“I just didn’t think it would suck this bad,” he says, and then Sharon is laughing at him but not unkindly. 

“Steve, it’s been what, two weeks? You’re going through a breakup. Of course it was going to suck this bad. I’ve been watching you be gone over him since what, May?”

Not wanting to incriminate himself, Steve presses his mouth together. 

“Explain to me again why you’re doing this to yourself,” she says. “I saw you two that day, remember? I barely knew you, didn’t have any clue who he was, but could instantly tell that there was something there that you had no right letting me intrude on.”

“We weren’t even seeing each other at that time,” Steve protests, but it’s futile and he knows it. 

“Why not?” she asks, and it’s not a demand because she’s too sharp for that. “Just tell me that it’s worth suffering through this.”

Steve thinks for a minute, trying to put it all into words, and she waits patiently. 

“Because dating sucks,” he begins, struggling to get all his thoughts in order. For so many months they’ve been abstract, a silent force encouraging him to keep Tony at a distance, but now he’s finding the clarity necessary to paint a picture of what’s been going on in his head that’s kept him so resistant. “It does, I’m sure you know. Trying to date in this city is hell, Sharon, and I got tired of it. You think you like someone, or maybe you know you do, and if you’re really lucky, they’ll like you back. 

“And so it should be that simple, right? But it’s not. Even if the feelings are there on both ends, which happens about once in a blue moon these days, by the way, then both people have to commit to something. And that’s even more uncommon. No one wants to be exclusive or put a label on things, so instead you just wind up in this weird limbo for months where you end up feeling like you wasted all this time on someone you thought you could’ve had a future with.”

“So what, we’re talking garden variety millennial commitment issues here?” Sharon asks. “Because I thought you weren’t seeing anyone else when you were with him. If he likes you and you like him - ”

“I don’t even know him,” Steve interrupts, because that’s the root of everything. “He’s - I don’t even know what he does at work. He talks about engineering and circuits and Natasha says that all he does at work is play music and run away from his assistant, so what’s the truth? Who is he?

“And then there’s Nomad, which, what the hell, because Tony doesn’t even do pets. Says he’s never had one. But then he comes here and ends up getting my dog to love him more than he loves me, I’m pretty sure, and watching them together feels like - like - like it means something when it doesn’t and - ”

“Steve,” Sharon says, putting up a hand to stop him. “You’ve gotta do something.”

“But what do I do?” he asks, about to burst with frustration. “When he’s here, everything is perfect, but we can’t live in a bubble forever. And I don’t think that I’m ready to be a part of something where we’re only half in it. We’ve all done that, Sharon, and it fucking sucks.”

“It does,” she agrees. “But how do you know that he’d only be half in it?”

He just stares at her and she sits back, not even trying to hide a satisfied smile. 

“Either talk to him or get over him,” she says. “Maybe someone else will come along and love your kid as much as he did. Maybe not.”

“He paid for the surgery,” Steve says, because he doesn’t know if she knows. “Who does that?”

“You’ve mentioned it only ten thousand times,” she says, rolling her eyes. “And I don’t know - maybe a guy who’s a little more than half in it. Did you ever think about it like that?”

*

It takes a whole lot of begging and promising not to ask for any more favors for at least the next few months and be available for any favors she might need for the rest of the year, but eventually Steve gets Natasha to relent. 

“I’m busy, ” she hisses into the phone, annoyed. “Some of us don’t have the luxury of playing around on computers all day, you know. I have to get shit done, or Pepper notices.”

Steve takes great offense to that, because his work can be hell more often than not, but her mood is a small price to pay for what he’s asking. 

She sighs, before telling him, “Stark never misses the three o’clock coffee cart stop. Sometimes it’s early, sometimes it’s late, but he’s always here at three. The barista knows his order.”

It’s a trek to Midtown and he leaves Nomad behind because he’s not stupid enough to think that there’s any way of making it in the doors with a dog, even if he is depending on Natasha to grant him access to the upper floors of the tower. He’s there at two forty-five and navigates to Natasha’s desk, the glass walls taking him back to a certain December night. 

“Should’ve brought the dog,” is the first thing she says, fingers flying across her keyboard even as she looks up to smirk at him. 

“Fuck you,” he says, shoving his hands in his pockets and leaning against the edge of her enormous desk. He can see through to Tony’s office, devoid of all life, and wonders if Natasha is right. At least then he could be sure that Tony would stop to say hi, rather than chance being ignored. 

Or worse, have security called on him, which is exactly what Tony requests when he steps out of the elevator, accompanied by a pretty slender woman in heels taller than the letters on the front of the Tower. 

“Pep,” he says, turning to her and jabbing at the elevator buttons in a fruitless attempt to stop the doors from closing and the car from leaving. “I want him gone when I come back, do you understand? Call security - hell, call Happy if you have to.”

Natasha is giving Steve a look that plainly says did you seriously expect anything else? but he ignores it in favor of jogging the short distance to the elevator and summoning every ounce of bravery he possesses. Which, quite frankly, is luckily a lot, because the icy glare Pepper turns on him immediately communicates that she isn’t to be trifled with. 

“I just want to talk,” he says, holding up his palms in deference. 

“Security, Pepper,” Tony demands, jabbing at the elevator button again. 

It’s a very fast elevator, Steve knows, but it’s not fast enough to cycle back already, so he’s got a window. 

“I just want to talk,” he says, even as Pepper clicks away to reach for the phone on Natasha’s desk. “Look.” He turns to her, keeping his body language open, and Pepper pauses with a manicured finger poised over the buttons even as Natasha keeps typing. “I’m not - I know I was an asshole.”

“Are,” Tony says, and when Steve looks over at him questioningly, he elaborates. “You are an asshole. Not, you were an asshole. You are.”

“Okay,” Steve agrees, because if that’s what Tony thinks, then that’s fine. He just wants a chance to say his piece, wants a shot to say something that Tony only barely bothered to ever try and say to him, and this is exactly what he hates about dating in the era of hookup apps and situationships. This is what he’s been talking about with Sharon, because really, Tony had never said anything, nothing definitive, and maybe Steve had been an asshole - no, Steve had definitely been an asshole - but that doesn’t mean that he wouldn’t have liked an opportunity to have things laid out in front of him. 

He needs a little heavy-handed bluntness, sometimes, and Tony Stark can be as sharp as a tack. Very precise, but easy to miss. 

“Listen, ma’am, please,” he says to Pepper, because he’s never going to get anything worthwhile out if she ends up calling security. “I just want a minute to talk, that’s it. I don’t want any trouble.”

And he watches Pepper’s eyes flit to Natasha’s, because she’s not Tony’s assistant because she’s brainless, and has clearly connected a dot or two as far as how Steve managed to get on the floor. He must miss whatever Natasha communicates in return, but finds himself on the end of a slightly less frosty glare than before. 

“Tony,” she says, sighing. “We really do have a lot to get through this afternoon, what with the proposals and all. Can you please just let him say his piece so that we can get started?”

Tony’s eyes are darting back and forth between Pepper, the elevator display, and Steve. 

“I’ll escort you out,” he tells Steve, tone taut and genial all at once. 

“Thank you,” Steve says in relief, and suddenly all he can focus on is Tony, Pepper and Natasha fading into the background. “I just - I should apologize.”

“You needed to do that in person?” 

“Well, you asked me not to reach out again,” Steve says. “I wanted to respect that.”

“So what, you just turn up, unannounced, at my place of work?”

Tony crosses his arms against his chest. He’s dressed impeccably, an armor that Steve hasn’t seen in a while, and Steve misses the familiarity of bare feet on his living room rug and soft cotton t-shirts under his spidering fingers. 

“When you put it like that,” Steve says, pulling a face. “It’s not the best idea. But it was either this or try for you at home, and this felt...more neutral.”

It’s not truly neutral, not when it’s their origin story, but at least it’s not the penthouse and doesn’t bring with it a dozen distant memories and unanswered questions. 

Questions that he needs to ask, in order to receive answers to, he reminds himself. That’s the root of this: lack of communication. 

“In the elevator,” Tony says crisply, gesturing smoothly before the doors slide apart noiselessly. “I’ll ride down with you.”

In the elevator, Steve does his best to strip away everything he might have inadvertently put on upon seeing Tony, leaving himself and his vulnerabilities bare. 

“I’m sorry for not seeing how you felt,” Steve says, facing Tony who is studying his fingernails like he’s thinking about opening up a salon. “Which I’m still not completely sure of. How you feel, I mean. Felt. You did like me, didn’t you?”

Because now, with Tony all unmoving and decidedly casual, Steve thinks that he can see past the front, but he doesn’t know Tony, not really, and can’t be certain without confirmation.

“What,” Tony says, his voice so close to a lazy drawl, and Steve wishes he would do away with it and just be himself, the way he always has been with Steve. “Do you need to twist the knife in a little deeper? Didn’t embarrass me enough the first time around?”

“You never said anything,” Steve, trying extra hard to control his temper because the last thing he wants right now is to go flying off the handle. He really doesn’t need to get banned from Stark Tower. “I wasn’t sure - I wasn’t prepared. Tony, I thought we were just sleeping together. When you asked if it counted as a date - ”

“I could’ve laughed it off, you know,” Tony says, pushing off the rail around the edge of the elevator he’s been leaning against. He holds himself tall and he’s still shorter, but his presence is massive and Steve wavers for a second before reorienting himself, holding his ground. “I could’ve said that no, I didn’t want it to be a date - actually, you know what, I did say that. I did try to brush it off, salvage things before they ended up going to shit, but you were a fucking asshole who let me think that I had a shot, that maybe you liked me half as much as I liked you.”

“You don’t even know me,” Steve says, nonplussed. “How could you like me?”

The sound that comes out of Tony’s throat is nearly inhuman, distressed and incredulous and plaintive. 

“I don’t know you?” Tony asks, and Steve hates this, hates himself, fucking hates interpersonal relationships and everything involved that leads to getting hurt and hurting other people. “Is that what you really think?”

“How could you?” Steve asks, and now Tony is laughing but it’s hollow and cruel and Steve never wants to hear it again. “All we ever did was fuck, and talk about my dog, and that was really it. How was I supposed to know that a few dinners would end up with you lying about the penthouse not being repaired?”

“I never lied,” Tony says adamantly, and the elevator is rapidly approaching the main floor. “Never. If you’d asked, I would’ve told you. But you didn’t ask, did you?”

“Maybe I just didn’t like taking the train into Manhattan,” Steve says, but that’s a lie, and he’s a horrible hypocrite. “Maybe I liked being able to stay with Nomad, and I didn’t want to talk about the truth.”

“Yeah,” Tony says savagely, as the doors separate. “You didn’t want to talk about the truth. That sounds about right.”

Steve knows he’s not going to get away with lingering for long, not with the turn the conversation has taken, so he steps out of the elevator and holds a hand to the entrance to stop the doors from closing just yet. 

“I asked you not to pay for Nomad’s surgery,” he says, looking Tony dead in the eye. “But Dr. Cho told me you gave her husband substantial paternity leave and a very large check.”

Tony looks back, unwavering. 

“I’d do it again,” he vows. “I’m not sorry for that. I told you - I love that dog. And you didn’t even have the courtesy to let me know how he was. I had to ask Natasha. Do you know how humiliating that was?”

Steve’s eyes burn as Tony demands an answer, eyes challenging. 

“Do you?”

“I’ll send pictures,” Steve says, and he’s amazed that he can keep the emotion out of his voice, because he doesn’t think he’ll ever meet anyone who cares about Nomad the way Tony does, had never dreamed that Tony would care so much, and he’s cursing himself for resisting Tony every step of the way instead of giving in and making his life that much easier. “He’s - he healed up perfectly. But I’ve got some pictures of him with the cone.”

Tony is quiet for a beat and Steve lowers his arm, ready to go. 

“I’d like that,” Tony says, and he’s found his professionalism again, nodding politely as he adjusts his posture. “Thank you.”

He’s so polite, a portrait of a perfect CEO, and Steve can’t reconcile the different version of Tony he keeps getting to see but maybe - 

Maybe they’re all Tony. 

Maybe Steve kept seeing things that made him think that he didn’t know Tony, but maybe he just was refusing to fully flesh him out in his head. 

Maybe Tony isn’t a mosaic, relatively two-dimensional but pretty and flashy and painting a very nice picture. Maybe he’s a modern three-dimensional sculpture, capable of warmth despite the unforgiving mask, offering a different view from every angle, but still a figure that Steve knows and can recognize no matter the direction he approaches from. 

Maybe he does know Tony, and if he does, then maybe Tony knows him too. 

*

There’s a Ziploc bag of freeze-dried liver in his pocket, and he’s thinking about abandoning it. Nomad won’t stop nosing at the scent and it makes the trek annoying as hell, but eventually they reach their destination. 

It’s still early. The sky streaks indigo and palest gray, nearly silver with patches of peaches and cream poking through. Steve watches as the clouds roll over until they’re fluffy and white, blue lightening to cobalt and then cerulean. It’s enough to capture his attention, eyes studying to find minute shifts in hue as he pets Nomad’s head and occasionally feeds him a liver treat to keep him complacent. 

The city grows louder around him until it becomes that steady hum of noise, raising in volume while he tunes it out in the way that’s always been second nature. Once it reaches its peak - cars honking, shoes thudding, the ever-present machinery that accompanies the constant construction - he shifts his eyes away from the sky, a perfect powdery baby blue now. He tracks the people around him, the cars slowing on the curb, and nearly misses a flash of strawberry-gold accompanying black stilettos and a white skirt suit. 

It’s a sign, though, a sign that his morning might not be a total wash. 

The car is the same as always. Steve has precisely positioned himself, had scouted the location thoroughly when leaving the previous afternoon, and it pays off. He knows when he’s been spotted and dips his head in acknowledgment, ignoring the fluttering in his gut. 

Steve’s not going to accost him - he’s got better manners than that. While his self-restraint doesn’t always kick in at the most appropriate of times, he’s not going to let himself make another mistake, not if he can help it. If this is what Tony wants, he can bridge that final gap. 

He can be in control of himself. He needs to be done trying to control everything with Tony, but he can still be in control of what he does. So he sits and waits, and is rewarded when Tony comes over with an outstretched palm, the poorly restrained joy on his face a reward in itself. 

“The pictures were enough,” Tony says, voice nearly lost to the constant cacophony around them, vision skittering over Steve up to the Tower behind them before landing on Nomad. 

“No, they weren’t,” Steve says, just as subdued.

Tony bends his knees just in time, crouching and saving himself from being toppled by fifty pounds of very enthusiastic Husky. Instead Nomad catches him around the neck, paws clutching on for dear life - Steve can see by the curl of his nails, Tony protected by the Italian wool of his suit jacket - and his tongue determinedly seeking out Tony’s face in a way he never does with Steve. 

“Hi, sweetheart,” Tony murmurs, the most beautiful smile spreading across his face. “I missed you, too.”

Steve hates that he’s unintentionally denied them this, watching and feeling like a third wheel as Tony holds Nomad close, uncaring for the shower of white fur raining down on his black suit. He’s going to need a lint roller, Steve thinks.

“I missed you so much,” Tony tells Nomad who is now licking his left ear. “You look so good. You healed up alright, huh? Did your dad take good care of you? He better have, you deserve nothing less than the best, you beautiful spoiled monster - ”

Steve could listen if he wanted to, but he just shakes out the Ziploc and hands it to Tony. 

“Did you need a bribe to wait for me?” Tony asks Nomad, indirectly asking Steve, as he pulls a treat out and makes Nomad sit for it. 

“He kept wanting to keep going,” Steve answers. “Chase after other dogs. You know how he is.”

“I do,” Tony says, feeding Nomad another liver treat before zipping the bag closed and setting it down on the edge of the waist-high stone planter that Steve’s been posted up on for the better part of an hour. “What a good boy.”

He strokes Nomad’s head, whispers in his ear some more, and then eventually pulls away to stand up straight and looks at Steve. 

“I’ve got to head up,” he says, gesturing. “The board - ”

“I get it,” Steve says, doing his best to smile. “I just thought, it was the least I could do.”

Tony doesn’t smile back, but that’s okay. 

“Miss you, sweetheart,” he tells Nomad with one last nuzzle, their cheeks against each other as Tony’s eyes flutter closed for a brief second. Then he’s up again, shifting his weight like he doesn’t know how to leave. 

Steve does it for him, standing up and wrapping Nomad’s leash securely around his hand. 

“Well,” he says, “contrary to popular belief - I do have work to do.”

“You do that,” Tony says, and he’s already walking away, posture practiced and formal. 

There’s a nod goodbye, and Steve attempts an aborted wave, and it could be closure. 

Could be. 

*

But his generation is terrible at closure, and Steve shows up on mornings when he’s not swamped, and after the second time, Tony carries a large-mouthed reusable water bottle that he lets Nomad dip his long tongue into. 

“Do you two share germs now?” Steve asks dubiously. 

“Exposure to so-called ‘germs’ helps boost your immune system,” Tony informs him. “As if you’re one to talk. I know you let him eat off your fork.”

It’s a bright spot in a tricky minefield, one that they mostly navigate for five minutes a couple of times a week. For the most part, they’re successful, and the fifth time it happens, Steve realizes that Tony has started showing up at the same time every morning. 

There’s no way for Tony to know when Steve plans on coming. 

Steve starts coming every Monday and Friday morning, and Tony is there with a water bottle and a dog treat. Sometimes it’s a carefully iced creation shaped like a bone or decorated to resemble a cupcake, and other times it’s half a sleeve of crackers that had clearly been scouted on the way out the door. It’s always something, though, and Nomad is always just as eager to see Tony no matter what he brings with him. 

“I miss him,” Tony says one day, wistful as August turns into September. 

“He misses you,” Steve says.

What he doesn’t say, is I miss you, too. 

*

One Monday, Tony shows up with a patch of stubble under his jaw, a missed spot while shaving. 

“It’s always right there,” Steve says, unconsciously thumbing the same spot high on his own throat. 

“What?” Tony asks, caught off guard in the middle of feeding Nomad several chunks of apple. 

“You always miss the same spot,” Steve says. “You don’t always miss it - always the same spot. Right there.”

Tony looks at him oddly but proceeds as normal until he’s gone. 

*

On Friday, Steve can’t quite explain why he says, “Why do you take your coffee without sugar when that’s not how you like it?”

Tony blinks, wide-eyed as Nomad jumps for the dog biscuit in his hand. This one is shaped like a car with hot-rod red icing. 

“It’s easy,” he says. 

“You like it with sugar,” Steve pushes, trying to understand. “Sugar isn’t hard.”

“Six sugars,” Tony corrects automatically. Then, he looks slightly abashed, like he hadn’t planned on saying it. “I - most coffee is too bitter. But usually, people are bringing me coffee. And the people who bring coffee tend to think six sugars means, as many sugars as you feel like putting in. Which usually isn’t six.”

*

Monday, Steve hands Tony a takeaway cup. 

“Six sugars,” he says, meeting Tony’s eyes and refusing to look away. 

Tony tastes it, makes a noise of surprise, and feeds Nomad what looks suspiciously like a piece of beef jerky that had come out of one of his suit pockets. 

*

Friday, Tony brings a handful of training treats and feeds them to Nomad one by one. 

“I shouldn’t have tried to pay for his surgery,” he says, once he’s dusted his hands off. “I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”

“I know,” Steve says, hoping that Tony understands that it’s okay, that he wouldn’t want any less from him. 

*

Monday brings bagels. 

A biscuit version for Nomad, sesame for Steve when he peeks into the paper bag. 

“I - ” Tony begins, but then stops. “They were at the register.”

Steve tries to calculate how much to push, but then Tony is running a hand over Nomad’s head, and the window of opportunity disappears. 

*

Friday brings a light drizzle, and Tony comes with an umbrella. Steve has two coffees and a white shirt with dark dots of moisture. 

Tony doesn’t even taste his before he’s smiling secretly into the lid. 

Steve holds the umbrella while Tony feeds Nomad bits of stale croissant.

When Tony takes it back, their fingers brush. 

*

The first Friday in October is crisp and cool, and Tony is beautiful with a bag of Goldfish crackers for Nomad and a green juice that he makes Steve taste to confirm how awful it is. 

“I like it,” Steve says with a shrug, and Tony lets him have it.

*

The next Monday, Steve brings hot chocolate on a hunch, and Tony makes that same noise of surprise. 

“I think you have a secret sweet tooth,” Steve tells him, trying to tamp down a grin. 

Tony feeds Nomad a dog biscuit designed like a sandwich cookie. 

“Oh? What gave me away?” Tony asks, and for a second, it’s like it used to be, the both of them smiling. 

*

Friday grows unbearably chilly as a cold front passes through, and Tony hands Steve a steaming black coffee and keeps one for himself. He unwraps a cheese stick and holds it out for Nomad, who bites the thing off in uncivilized chunks. 

“You gonna keep waiting out here?” Tony asks, gesturing around at the whipping wind, at the countless New Yorkers wrapped in gloves and scarves and hats. 

Steve runs warm and shrugs under his hoodie and joggers. 

“Until you ask me not to,” he says. 

Tony looks at him peculiarly, and by the time he heads inside, Steve’s coffee is empty. 

He suspects Tony’s was too. 

*

Sunday night he gets a text from a number that hasn’t graced his phone in months. 

Away on business. Won’t be back by morning. 

He texts back, carefully. 

Nomad will miss you.

He doesn’t write, I will miss you. 

But he hopes Tony knows anyway. 

He thinks Tony knows anyway. 

*

Friday is unexpectedly warm and sunny, balmy with pretty leaves on the ground in hues of fall, and Steve is studying the bright cerise of one when Tony’s appears with two frappuccinos, big and topped with whipped cream and drizzled with chocolate. 

When Steve unthinkingly holds out a hand for what’s presumably his, Tony pulls it back. Steve stares questioningly, licking his lips. 

“I want to know things about you,” Tony says, eyes liquid and simmering, and Steve feels something itch pleasantly under his ribcage. “Like who your first girlfriend was. Boyfriend? Like, how do you like your eggs in the morning? Did you actually attend NYU, or did you just buy the sweatshirt? Because let me tell you, a lot of people just buy the sweatshirt. How do you feel about Disney World?”

Steve just shrugs, trying to process as an involuntary grin spreads across his face. “Never been to Disney World.”

“Never been to Disney World?” Tony splutters. “Never been - who are you? Never been to Disney World? Well, now I know where I”m taking you for our honeymoon. Scratch that - too cheesy, and too far in the future. When can you take off work?”

“I freelance from home, Tony,” Steve reminds him, joy radiating down to his toes, out through his fingertips. “I can be free whenever you are.”

“Excellent,” Tony says, finally relinquishing the mocha frappuccino. “We’re going. I’m ditching Nomad with Pepper.”

“Do I get any say in this?” Steve asked, mouth quirking up in unconscious amusement. 

Tony pauses. “Do you want a say in this?”

It only takes Steve a split second to decide how to proceed. 

“My first girlfriend was very lovely and here for a semester abroad, and it was perfect until we realized we were too young for that kind of long distance. I’ll take my eggs any kind of way. I’m not picky, but I have a feeling you are. I actually did attend NYU on a track scholarship and now I work in graphic design. I’ve always preferred sketching, sometimes painting, but growing up poor made me want to be smart and choose something that would give me stability.”

“Not too much stability,” Tony says, lips curling in a wry smile. “I mean, freelancing? Really?”

“It’s worked out well,” Steve says, looking pointedly at Nomad. “Even if it leaves me less time with my preferred mediums than I’d like.”

Tony sucks at his straw and Steve knows he’s probably quelling the urge to offer him a position in Stark Tower, an offer where he can bring Nomad to work every day and Tony can come by to steal the both of them as his heart desires. Steve takes advantage of the pause to taste his drink as well, and it’s thick and sugary and everything he wants but would never order for himself.

“Christmas,” Tony says decisively, pulling his mouth off the straw with a wet noise. “I’m taking you to Disney for Christmas.”

“Okay,” Steve says agreeably. 

Because really, what else is there to say?

*

That weekend finds them mostly ensconced within Steve’s apartment until Tony complains that he needs clean underwear and recruits Happy to drive them back to Manhattan. He insists that Steve brings Nomad, and beams when the doorman notices. 

“What a beautiful dog,” he says, dipping his head in acknowledgment. 

“Thanks,” Tony says brightly, and he shepherds Nomad in through the doors. “He really needed that. He’s been a little insecure about his appearance as he’s gotten older.”

Steve stifles a laugh and waits till they’re alone in the elevator. 

“You know,” he says, stroking over Nomad’s head and leaning over to speak directly into Tony’s ear. “Nomad used to get me a lot of phone numbers. He really loved the ego boost.”

Tony turns to look at him, curious and challenging. “And now? How’s his ego gonna do without being such a ladies' man?”

“I think he’ll survive,” Steve quips, and spends the rest of the elevator ride being kissed by Tony’s smiling mouth. 

The penthouse feels familiar in the same way a dream feels like deja vu upon waking, and Tony unclips Nomad’s leash so that he can begin sniffing everything he can press his nose to. 

“Never thought I’d see him here,” Steve says, keeping his hands to himself. For a moment he’s unsure of whether or not to stay put in the living area, settle down to wait on the couch that he recognizes but never had a reason to linger over. Tony solves that dilemma for him though, talking as he walks down the hall towards his bedroom. 

“Don’t let him get too comfortable,” he says, and Steve follows like he’s being pulled along on an invisible string. For a moment Tony’s words make his heart beat uncomfortably, but then - “We’re not staying long. There’s a place around the corner from you, new, makes these steamed buns with brisket inside. How insane is that?”

“Is that dinner, then?” Steve asks, and Tony’s room is different, the floor a slightly different shade, the finishes not what they used to be, but the bed is exactly where he remembers it, and he brushes up against the mattress to test the give with his knee. It feels the same, he notes, with slight satisfaction. “And then back to mine?”

“Well,” Tony says, not even pausing as he goes for his closet, banging drawers closed and throwing things around. “That’s where Nomad’s stuff is. Unless you’re hiding his dinner under that tight-fitting shirt of yours, yeah - back to yours.”

Steve treads carefully, peeking in the bathroom which indeed looks spectacular and the result of long weeks of work. It’s all expensively cut marble and glass, specialty fixtures and clean lines that pique Steve’s artistic eye so that he doesn’t quite notice when Tony enters. He’s too loud to miss entirely though, flinging open cabinet doors while his feet quickly and confidently maneuver even in his soft-footed step. 

“I like what you’ve done with the place,” Steve says, tipping his head towards the shower that looks every bit over the top as Natasha had suggested. 

A look crosses over Tony’s face as he pauses with deodorant in hand. 

“Ah,” he says, not guilty but at least caught red-handed. “Yeah. About that - ”

“Do we need to talk?” Steve interrupts, because there’s so much they could’ve said, so much they haven’t, and a couple of days aren’t exactly enough to put them on the same page. 

Tony zips his bag shut and pads over to Steve in no time at all, arms around his shoulders just as automatically as Steve’s arms sling around his waist. 

“Do we?” Tony asks, and Steve can only see the barest hint of uncertainty there because he’s seen it before, knows how to find it. 

Nomad comes clicking in, nails on the tile floor, and he doesn’t even fuss - he just curls up on the cool floors, content to watch them. Steve lets his attention be stolen, until Tony is pressing firm fingertips to the back of his neck.

“I don’t want you pushing me away again,” Tony says, expression close and observant. “I’ve gotten kind of attached, in case you couldn’t tell.”

Steve feels the warmth of skin through clothing, knows the planes of Tony’s body and is learning what to reach for in the darkest hours of the day, when they’re both only half awake. He’s come to understand that Tony wants things he doesn’t know how to ask for, doesn’t always know how to speak up for himself, but holds onto things he considers important until someone pries his fingers away, one by one. Tony is kind, and generous, impossibly funny and beautiful and absorbs the scent of Steve’s sheets around the twelve-hour mark, which makes Steve want to wrap him up and keep him close and figure out exactly how much more there is to learn. 

“I want to know you,” he says, echoing the sentiment Tony had imparted in front of his Tower. “Like…”

He trails off, grip squeezing tenderly and Tony waits, patient in a way that at first can seem uncharacteristic, but makes so much sense when Steve shifts the lens through which he views him. 

“Like what you do at work all day,” he says, reaching blindly because there’s so much to know and he doesn’t know where to begin. “Like why you came up to me that night. Why me? What’s your go-to cocktail? How do you unwind when shit gets stressful? Why did you let me hang around the Tower like a stalker? Most buildings wouldn’t put up with that.”

“I had to tell security to leave you alone,” Tony says, kissing the base of Steve’s throat, sending a curl of want and affection spiraling through him. “Posted your mug shot in all the breakrooms. Warned everyone that you were a serial killer on the loose, and if they came across you, to avoid contact at all costs.”

Steve laughs despite himself, because Tony is so ridiculous and he really, truly likes it. 

“You can ask as many questions as you like,” Tony tells him, and this time it’s fond as he mouths his way up Steve’s neck. “I never wanted for you to not know me. You just never tried.”

“I know,” Steve says, because it’s true, he’d kept himself boxed off from that particular brand of intimacy where Tony was concerned. “But you just - the way you were with Nomad.”

“I love him,” Tony says, but it’s not up for debate, it’s the one thing Steve is absolutely certain of. 

Steve captures his mouth, kissing him slow and thoroughly until Nomad is whining, until he can hear paws on tile. He pulls away, not wanting Nomad to start yowling obnoxiously, and merely presses his forehead against Tony’s. 

“I’m going to need a robot for here, aren’t I,” Tony says, and it’s not a question, and he’s affectionately exasperated as Nomad brushes up against their legs, not-so-silently asking for attention. 

“Unless you plan on relocating permanently,” Steve suggests facetiously. 

“You wish,” Tony says, rolling his eyes and adjusting the collar of Steve’s jacket, punctuating the gesture with a short smacking kiss. “I love Nomad, but not that much.”

“I’m not the one bringing an overnight bag,” Steve points out. 

Tony sighs exaggeratedly, looking very put out as he gathers his things and leads Steve back to the elevator. 

“Just for that,” he throws over his shoulder as Steve finds Nomad’s leash to hook him back up, “you’re paying for dinner.”

Steve bumps their hips together, smiling softly while making sure Tony can see. 

“It’s a date,” he tells him, and Tony’s resulting grin makes Steve wonder how he could’ve ever thought he didn’t want this. 

*

It’s the Stark Industries annual Christmas party, and Steve’s sure that somewhere downstairs, Natasha is fuming. 

It’s not like he’d intended to disappear, but she only has herself to blame. Her, and her enchanting, delectable, handsome-even-under-office-fluorescent-lighting boss. 

A knee shoves its way between his thighs, and Steve tips his head back in a moan, hands thrown out behind him to catch the edge of the desk and brace him against a pair of very determined lips. 

“I have a date to get back to,” Steve grinds out, but he’s already hard and his neck is warm in the best way. “She’s going to kill me, she’s going to kill me - ”

“I’m going to kill her ,” Tony growls, and he kisses Steve rough and hard, tasting like scotch and peppermint, courtesy of the candy cane he’s been sucking on all night. 

Steve flattens a palm against Tony’s chest, panting while exerting more energy than should be required to restrain someone of Tony Stark’s stature. 

“I owe her,” he says, apologetic as Tony’s gaze turns murderous. “I told her - if she got me in the Tower, that one day, that I’d owe her. She hates coming to these things alone.”

But Tony suddenly has his belt undone and is sinking to the floor, and it’s just like the first time, and that knowledge alone has Steve ready to come at the first touch of Tony’s fingers to the skin under his waistband. 

“Then she should’ve known better than to try and steal my boyfriend for the night,” Tony growls against Steve’s groin, and then he’s pulling Steve out of his briefs, breath hot in the cool of the dark and empty office. “It’s like I won the lottery,” he says, almost adoring, as he strokes from root to tip, and Steve can’t decide whether he wants to roll his eyes or beg Tony to get a move on. 

He settles for a happy medium. 

“We have a dog to get back to,” he reminds Tony. “Unless you’re okay with the possibility that he’s currently tearing the penthouse apart.”

“He would never,” Tony says, obnoxiously confident. “He loves me too much for that.”

He licks at Steve’s tip, delicate and exquisite, and it’s blissfully painful, making Steve groan out and narrowly avoid bucking his hips in the air. It only takes two more seconds for him to lose all higher-level brain function, and Tony’s mouth is just as fantastic as ever. 

Yeah, Natasha is definitely going to kill him.

*

Back at the penthouse, they take advantage of the renovated shower before moving to the bed where they take their time, knowing that Nomad is in the living room with his second robot and completely unconcerned with anything else. Steve goes slow and watches Tony close, cataloging every muscle twitch and reaction time, checking all his data against what he already knows until he’s certain that he’s giving Tony the best he’s ever had. 

Afterwards, Tony doesn’t even have to reach for him because Steve is still there, both of them sweaty and spent and deliriously happy. They relax in a manner that’s still new for the both of them, but Steve doesn’t mind new. He likes the opportunity to learn new things about Tony, like how he delights in pressing the cold soles of his feet to Steve’s calves and pushes how much overstimulation Steve can take, scraping nails over nipples and pressing his thumb into the marks he leaves behind. 

Mostly, Steve just likes Tony, and he likes making sure that they’re on the same page about that. They’ve gotten to a point where they can laugh about how Tony had said that on the front steps of Steve’s building months back, the confession easily glossed over. Both of them thought they were getting rejected, and now Steve holds Tony tight and they agree that they want this, that they’re more than half in it. 

There are plane tickets and updated emergency contact numbers on Nomad’s paperwork and Steve goes to brunches with Pepper and Rhodey and Tony accompanies Steve to boys night and quietly confesses in the dead of night that he’s afraid that if he ever wrongs Steve, his body will end up in a ditch in the middle of nowhere. It’s a valid fear, Steve reassures him, but then Tony reassures him that he doesn’t plan on wronging him ever. 

“We’ve got to take him out before we fall asleep,” Steve says, face buried half in a pillow and half in Tony’s hair. 

“No,” Tony mumbles, jammed up against Steve’s chest. 

“Yes,” Steve says, fingers rubbing at the notches of Tony’s spine. “Otherwise he’s going to wake up early, and you’re going to insist on being the one to take him out, and then I’m going to have to listen to you complain.”

“Well maybe if you weren’t such a heavy sleeper and woke up to take him out - ” Tony argues, but it’s weak and Steve peels them apart, rolling onto his back and trying to remember where he’s stashed the pajamas he usually leaves at the penthouse. 

“You don’t have to come,” Steve tries to tell him as he tugs on a pair of sweatpants and searches for a hoodie. 

Tony’s stubborn though, even as he pokes his head through the neck of Steve’s old NYU pullover and complains about how cold it is outside. As much as he wants to reprimand Tony for not wearing a coat or tell him to go back up, he knows his words will go ignored so he lets Tony sneak frozen hands underneath his shirt and press to his bare stomach, leeching body heat as Steve tugs Nomad away from the same patch of grass he’s been sniffing for at least an entire minute. 

“I’m going to miss him,” Tony laments, voice muffled from where he’s wrapped around Steve’s back, clinging on like his life depends on it. “Are we positive he can’t come?”

“You already tried bribing them,” Steve says, thinking of how Tony had called and offered to fund a new park if they allowed Nomad past the gates, greatly offended by the ensuing rejection. “Besides. You can’t bring him on the roller coasters, and I’m not going to take turns going on rides with you.”

“I’m bringing you back so many presents, sweetheart,” Tony says, letting go of Steve long enough for them to meander down the sidewalk. Steve knows he’s cold, knows that when they get back upstairs he’s going to dive under the covers and force Steve to cuddle him until he stops complaining about how he’s not allowed to train Nomad to use a litter box. “He won’t even know what hit him. If he even thinks about forgetting me - ”

“He’s not going to forget about you,” Steve says, rolling his eyes as Tony presses against his back again. 

“Says the guy who was worried that I was the new favorite,” Tony accuses, bringing up his favorite subject. “I can’t believe you only realized you couldn’t live without me because you were worried that your dog had lost his favorite dad.”

“Okay, that is not how it went,” Steve tries to protest, but Tony brings it up at least twice a week, and he knows it’s a battle he’ll never win. 

Tony just hums in response, mind presumably elsewhere as it tends to be, jumping from place to place as Steve now understands. They stay pressed against each other as much as they can, even as Steve grows overheated in the elevator. He knows Tony gets cold, knows that Tony is tired after the party and wants to be asleep, but knows that Tony won’t think about closing his eyes until Steve and Nomad are in bed for the night and the lights are off. 

“Remember when you were too chicken shit to admit you liked me?” Tony asks in the dark, Nomad shoved to the side of the bed so Tony can tuck his head under Steve’s, blankets piled on top of them. 

“Remember when you lied?” Steve asks, exhausted and covering as much of Tony’s body with his as he can. “Remember when you pulled a woman who was literally thirty-four weeks pregnant - ”

“Unfair,” Tony mumbles under his breath. “I try to do one nice thing - ”

“ - and then you didn’t tell me that your renovations were finished and - ”

He knows Tony wants to argue, wants to defend himself, can feel the rising huff in the way his chest expands against his. Steve is braced for it, knows that they’ll have this argument till the end of time, but Nomad decides he’s had enough, stretching his body over them until his face nudges right up between theirs, whining lowly. It’s enough to shut both of them up, and Steve just blanks for a second, incredulous that his dog has decided to tell them that’s enough, now go to sleep.

“He really said shut up,” Tony marvels, and Steve can’t help but laugh in small pants and then Tony is doing the same, and Nomad is intrigued, licking each of their faces in turns. 

“My dog really said, if the two of you can’t get your shit together, I’m going to make you,” Steve says, trying to fight the sleep-fevered giggles threatening to break through. 

“Thank god for that,” Tony breathes out, and Steve is trying to pet Nomad along the length of his back, but he finds Tony’s hand already there, stroking back and forth. 

Steve might not know everything about Tony just yet, but he does know quite a lot. 

He knows that Tony showers with eucalyptus body wash and uses expensive cologne, but soaks up the scent of Steve’s fabric softener and when combined he smells like a safe house. 

He knows that Tony has a bigger heart and bigger brain that he lets most people see, which is saying something considering how kind and smart people already think he is. 

He knows that Tony likes silk and velvet robes in jewel tones and orders out for every meal because he doesn’t know how to cook and it’s in everyone’s best interest to keep it that way. 

He knows that Tony isn’t scared of their relationship and had waited to be sure that Steve wasn’t either, and that alone had been almost enough to get Steve to want to throw away all his twenty-first-century concerns and ideals around what commitment actually looks like. 

Steve knows that Tony loves Nomad just as much as Steve loves Nomad, and he knows that’s the most important thing of all.