Strained notes were the only sound that penetrated the fog. Any other tune would have gotten a shield in the gut for their efforts. But this familiar rendition of the theme song of Wasp's favorite program was off-tune, whistled a key too high, and, like a beacon, led Steve straight to the source.
He stretched a hand out to firmly place on their shoulder, and the notes abruptly cut off.
“Oh my god oh god don't kill me I swear I don't taste good, like cheese, but horrible smelly week-old rotten cheese – eYAHHHHH!”
Tony blubbered against Steve's hand, now firmly clasped over his mouth. His eyes darted back and forth, then he went still and parted his lips.
Steve removed his hand just in time to escape being licked, carefully wiping his palm on his trousers and trying not to appear too smug at Tony's open-mouthed stare.
“Cap!? What are you doing out here!?”
Steve tried his best to look stern. “If Fury finds you, he'll kill you.”
Tony opened his mouth. Closed it. Steve took pride in Tony Stark being rendered speechless before Tony put his hands on his hips, jutting his chest out. “You mean: if Fury finds us, he'll kill us.”
Steve should have savored the moment longer.
“I didn't know you had it in you! Way to go, Cap!” Tony punched Steve's shoulder, entirely harder than necessary. Steve barely noted it, warming at Tony's approving grin.
He really shouldn't be so pleased. The only things that got Tony Stark's approval were girls, robots, and impulsive, ill-thought-out, dangerous stunts.
Like wandering through the timefog alone. At least Tony had suited up, only missing the helmet and a few pieces on his torso.
It had been daytime at the Academy, but obviously the timefog didn't count when it blanketed everything with thick fog. Even Steve found himself stumbling over debris that he hadn't seen a few feet away. It wasn't hard to see why Tony had been entertaining himself with show tunes.
“Breaking the rules isn't something to be proud of, Tony.”
“Yeah, yeah, unless you're Captain America and it's,” Tony rolled his eyes, and pitched his sing-songy voice in an impossibly low register, “for the greater good.”
“There's nothing good about the timefog.” Steve tried to keep the exasperation from creeping into his voice, but really, he sounded nothing like that.
“And what, you're just out here for an evening stroll?”
It was safer for Steve to keep his silence. He had been the one to follow, and he was trying not to regret the decision.
Tony was back to grinning. It was irritating, how he prodded for weaknesses and honed in like a hornet. It was unfortunate, that Steve's weakness came in the shape of an impulsive, flashy show-off.
“Oh man,” Tony snickered. “I love when I'm right, and how much you hate it.”
“I'm trying to be a friend, Tony. If we go back now, no one will have noticed.”
“Mm, no dice. Unlike you, I don't wander into the timefog because I'm getting bored of the usual sights on my daily marathon. I'll let you know, I'm looking for something.” He crossed his arms, looking expectant.
“...And are you going to tell me what this something is?”
Tony's grin spread. “What would you do if I didn't?”
“Well, if it's going to be like that, then I'll have to come along until you find what you're looking for.”
Two for two in rendering Tony speechless in the past two minutes. He needed to take notes on his technique.
Tony cleared his throat loudly. “Are you sure about that, Cap? We don't really know what's in here, or why we're not allowed in. Maybe there's an Eldritch abomination a hundred meters ahead ready to eat us whole.”
Steve shrugged. “I've seen worse.”
“Sooooo, you're definitely coming to keep an eye on me and make sure I don't end up with my face getting reattached to my pinky, aaaand nothing I say will change your mind?”
Steve would be in a very dangerous place if only Tony's words could cajole him into doing anything. Tony was just lucky he had the actions to back it up. Sometimes.
“Some of us actually mean what we say. ”
He thought he heard Tony mutter oh thank god under his breath, but Steve let it go. Just hearing it was good enough.
Tony beamed. “Okay then, Steve. For the sake of my handsome mug, let's paint the town!” He whirled around, pointedly scooting to the side, and Steve realized with a start that Tony meant for him to take the spot. Instead of rolling his eyes, Steve swallowed the traitorous rush of affection, and stepped forward.
“Hey, how'd you even know I was out here? I thought I was doing a good job of being inconspicuous.”
Steve managed not to chortle. “Black Widow told me.” He'd had to promise a week's worth of notes on their 20th century Eastern European History class. His disbelief had brought her as close to laughter as he'd ever witnessed. He also promised to strongly encourage Bucky to move the serenading proceedings away from the middle of the courtyard to the front of Avengers Hall at lunch hour on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, which just so happened to be be the days where professors would host Director Fury at their facilities for lunch.
“Widow?” Tony hummed, rubbing his chin, utterly incapable of hiding his glee. “So, she's been keeping an eye on me, huh?”
“She also asked if I wanted to know the locations of Spider-Woman, Director Fury, and every squirrel on campus.”
Tony remained undeterred. “But my location was important enough information for her to bargain with!”
Bargain with for Steve's sake. He should just be thankful that Tony didn't stop to wonder why Steve had needed to know his location.
Not that Steve had really needed to. It was just how things were; he kept an eye on Tony. Ms. Potts approved of it, so there was nothing wrong with it.
Tony hadn't been at any of his usual haunts: the library, Club A, the tower, the dorms, his arcade with the dancing simulation training game. He'd even inquired of JARVIS whether Tony was in the Stark Initiative. According to Sam, since Steve hadn't ever been, you could see the whole campus from the hot tub atop Stark Tower, but anyone on the ground had no such luck seeing in. He'd been in the courtyard, studying the tower forlornly when Natasha approached him.
Wait. How had she known to bring Tony up without him asking? Steve stopped himself from sighing loudly. Of course; she'd tracked him down specifically to tell him. He never needed to make a bargain out of it, but she saw her chance and took it.
Steve looked over at Tony; Tony didn't notice the glare aimed in his direction, which honestly explained most of his interactions.
“Tony, do you have any idea where we're going?” They'd been walking in a straight line since crossing paths, so it was really a moot point.
Tony kicked idly at a rock. “Well, since you've decided to go get White Castle's with me, I'll let you in on the secret.” He waved his arm like he wasn't sure what he wanted from it. “Did you know, the campus doesn't actually stretch into the Dark-slash-Mirror-slash-Negative-slash-whatever-Dimension? There's an end to it.”
Steve had learned to deal with the non sequiturs as they came. “...Of course?”
“Exactly! But we – I mean, we, the-students-of-our-fine-Academy we, don't know where. We'd have to go into the timefog to find out.”
“I'd rather know why they just let people walk in if it's so dangerous.” It wasn't like there was someone, or something, keeping an eye on its perimeter.
“Pfft. You know how it goes by now. A little patch of timefog suddenly gets fumigated, it's nice and safe for everyone to enter without fear of imminent death, and suddenly there's a whole influx of recruits who we're all ol' buddy ol' pals with!”
The timefog bringing in new Academy students? “...You're saying they want us to go in the timefog?”
“Bingo, Cap.” Tony winked at him. “Jumping right to the rule breaking? You're just full of surprises today. What happened to your straight and narrow?”
Never existed in any sense of the term, as far as he was concerned. Tony carried on without waiting for an answer.
“Isn't the first thing all students do at a new school is explore the place? I'm just doing what's expected of me.”
“Haven't you gone into the timefog before?”
“For a special project for Professor Pym.”
“...And you were scared out of your wits and swore you were never going in again.”
“I – ” Tony looked affronted.“You – what, Jan told you?”
“I wasn't aware it was a secret.”
Tony ran his hand through his hair, scratching at his neck – his usual nervous gesture. “I mean, I guess I didn't tell her no...”
“She keeps the important things in confidence.” There was not a peep out of her on whatever was discussed in the slumber parties she and Tony shared. “But if she's right, couldn't you have sent your robot army in to explore for you, instead?”
Tony scoffed, immediately looking like he regretted it. “Sorry, I'm just not used to you being so quick on the uptake, old timer. That's the thing. After,” he waved a hand between them, “our little tiff, I had some leftover sentries. I figured it was time to start things up into exploring the timefog again.”
He held up his fingers. “First one, poor guy, lost his signal partway through. Nothing abnormal in the readings, other than the fact that one second they were there, and the next they didn't exist. So, as much as it hurts to say, even my inventions aren't immune to technical failure. But the next guy will fare better, right?” He snorted. “Same deal. And the one after that, and after that.”
His expression darkened. “Got them to fly instead of walking, reinforced the armors and their hardware, tried different signaling channels, maybe it was time to go analog. I even got some help from Spider-Man and plopped a Spider-bot onto the wall to send it on its merry way.” He blew a raspberry, but the sentiment didn't reach his eyes. “Whole lot of good that did me.”
“You weren't joking when you talked about Lovecraft, were you?”
“Look here,” Tony said, coming to a stop. He tapped his gauntlet and projected a screen. “See that?” Tony twirled his finger around the offending stretch of blankness on the screen. “Approximate diameter of a kilometer that none of my sensors could get past. A mini-Bermuda Triangle, just for us. So, that's where we're headed, Cap.” He grinned. “Really, you're the perfect guy to have tracked me down.”
A strange thrill coursed through Steve. “I am?”
“Yeah, you're always in uniform and so married to your shield you'd never leave it behind. You'll be harder prey than my poor robots for whatever's gonna eat us.”
“Oh,” Steve said dully. It was always good to be prepared. “You're really expecting a fight out of this?”
“Think of who we are, Cap! We have our mortal enemies cruising around the Academy like they own the place on a monthly basis. I expect run-ins when I turn the corner to the hot dog stand.”
Steve raised an eyebrow. “Then, is there a reason you came out here on your own?” Getting people caught up in dangerous, rule-breaking stunts sounded like Tony's thing.
“Getting people caught up in dangerous, rule-breaking stunts is your thing, Cap. When it's for the greater good, remember?”
Okay. That smarted a bit. Glass houses, stones, et cetera.
“And,” Tony continued, “it's because I'd do a better job than a robot. I – hey, don't laugh!”
“Okay, Team Tony.”
Tony was still pouting. “There are things that only people can do.”
“With the right training. There isn't exactly a precedent for how to deal with the timefog.”
“...So you think robots are a better idea in this scenario.” Tony looked up to the sky. “Okay, I know what happened to my sentries. They fell apart into piles of firewood, because it's Opposite-World in here.”
Steve couldn't stop the fond smile. “Or, after everything that's happened, we've seen the good points of each other's arguments.”
“Mm, nix the Opposite-World bit, because that would make that joke actually funny.”
Steve decided not to deign that with an answer. He grunted when Tony slapped him on the back.
“Besides, what's with all the worrying about anyone going off on their own when you're here?” Tony followed up. “It's not even the one-sided, selfless martyrdom you'd expect from Captain America. You adrenaline junkie, you. Be honest, this is the most exciting thing that's happened since Target had a sale on suspenders. A good excuse, and you're raring to go. Class prez's gotta look out for the school's loose cannon, doesn't he?”
Tony began walking again, and Steve exhaled carefully, reminding himself of who he was with. It was easier to be caught up in the moment when he was with Tony. It was easier to be a lot of things he didn't expect from himself, good and bad.
There was a reason their disagreements were news stories. They were the faces of the Academy, a unit in the eyes of the students and the public watching them, and that was something to be proud of. Even like this, as Tony spoke of unthinkable horrors lurking in the timefog, it grew harder to believe that anything would go wrong when they were together.
Tony was fiddling with something on his wrist up ahead. A small burst of light later, Steve ran over, grabbing for Tony's hand.
“Ow!” Tony pulled away, shaking out his wrist. “If you wanted to, you could have just asked!”
“What is that?”
Tony frowned, turning his hand around, suddenly abashed. The bracelet around his gauntlet emitted a disturbingly familiar glow.
“You're not being mind-controlled, are you?” Steve asked as a translucent wisp vanished into the fog. His mind began to catch up to his eyes. Yup, the green tendril told him. Definitely magic. “What's the last thing you remember?”
“Stop that!” Tony batted away at Steve. “I know, I know. I hate it too, it makes me want to curl up into a ball and die.” He was blushing, and the pink there was suddenly much more interesting than the green magic coming from his gauntlet.
Tony sighed. “But, I couldn't detect what was going on, even with video feeds, and I couldn't find a logical explanation why everything was failing on me.” He scowled. “I couldn't just discount that what's happening here was a result of,” his lip curled, “magic.”
“That...makes sense,” Steve admitted grudgingly. Sensors going wild, time being but a pretense where they were. The vastness of what they had yet to discover seemed to invigorate Tony on most days, if at least to prove the illogical wrong. Usually, Steve was right there alongside him.
Tony put his hands on his hips and puffed out his chest. “I hope you're glad to hear it took a dozen robots before I gave into the possibility.”
“I wouldn't have expected any less.”
“We're never letting this one out, by the way.” Tony angled his gauntlet toward Steve. “I could have done this with my own tech, as long as physical properties were being altered. But, in here,” Tony swatted at the fog, “I wouldn't even be able to tell. Even so, this little tracker is supposed to be more low-key.” He laughed at his own joke because Steve wouldn't. He was that type of person. “I got it from him, by the way.”
Something in Steve twinged, in annoyance and something greener and uglier. “Since when do you listen to Loki?”
Tony rolled his eyes. “I didn't ask him for a favor, Cap. I asked for a deal.” Surprisingly, he wasn't forthcoming with the details of said bargain, which wasn't helping Steve's chest any. “And it was either him or Enchantress, and she just laughed at me.” Tony sidled up much closer, grinning, and Steve tried not to let the flush of heat show. “But, she did say if I came back in one piece, she'd go on a date with me.”
The previous warmth was doused cleanly by a metaphorical bucket of ice. “You're risking your life for a date?”
Tony's expression was blank. Of course, something small in Steve told him. This was Tony, after all. What did he expect?
Tony didn't meet Steve's eyes when he shrugged. “What does it matter to you?”
Steve really shouldn't rise to the bait. “What would a date even mean, if Enchantress doesn't even like you?” He winced, and thought of how best to apologize when Tony guffawed.
“Oh man, did Captain America really ask what's up with this whole “dating” thing?” Tony wiped a tear from his eye. His voice turned deep and affected, in a cheap imitation of Steve's own. “What? I thought women just fell in love after you rescue them from their ivory tower!”
The only reason he was using that mocking tone was to rile Steve up, and Steve hated to admit it was working. Tony sobered up and glared with some suspicion at Steve. “Then again, if there was one person who could pull off the fairy tale cliches...”
“I don't think there's anything old-fashioned about thinking you should go on a date with someone you like, who likes you back.”
“Then again,” Tony spoke over him, “isn't your idea of a date twenty laps around the track? I don't think most people think training is all that romantic.”
Steve remembered asking Tony to train with him and the few times he'd accepted, and resisted blushing. From embarrassment or humiliation, he couldn't be sure. “The most important part is spending time together,” he said hotly.
“Huh.” Tony made a show of studying him. “This explains so much, Cap.”
Why had he let himself get caught up in this? He found the answer when Tony smirked unexpectedly.
“You're one to talk,” Steve said. “When we're all at Club A, you spend all your time at the bar instead of dancing.”
Tony shrugged. “All that's important is to be seen.”
“When you're with someone you care for, you start not caring what others think.”
Instead of the rejoinder he'd expected, Tony rocked back on his heels and rolled his eyes. “Well, that's easy for you to say.”
“What's that supposed to mean?”
It always unnerved Steve when Tony didn't have a set exaggerated expression for a situation.
“You're – ” There it was. Tony waved his hands around before him. “You know! You're kind of a hard person to ignore anytime, least of all when I'm trying to impress someone else.”
Steve frowned, puzzled. What did he have to do with Tony's dates?
“Yes, yes,” Tony continued, babbling now. He started walking again, and Steve had to quicken his pace to catch up. “Everyone already likes you,” Tony said, “and I just have to hope no one else notices or cares too much about that fact. I guess the only thing I've got going for me is that you're so gorgeous and you it intimidates everyone.”
“Oh.” Steve scratched the back of his head, when really he wanted to run his fingers over his cheeks to check if they really were as hot as they felt. “You – you really think so?”
“I mean, it's hard not to feel self-conscious when you're competing with the scientifically-proven pinnacle of human perfection for attention, alright?”
“Uh.” Whatever Steve had wanted Tony to feel towards him, through all his aborted attempts, it wasn't envy or inferiority. “Maybe you have a point.”
“Whoa. Excuse me?”
Steve stretched, carefully avoiding Tony's eye. “I've been doing something wrong, here.” Obviously.
“Not your fault,” Tony said. “I don't think they included this how-to in that little manual you got when you signed up for this. You know, “How to be Strong, Brave, Stupidly Handsome, and the Pride of the American People, for Dummies.”
Steve would never understand how Tony made this stuff up off the top of his head.
“I've always believed the best way to learn is by doing,” Steve said carefully. “But considering what you said...”
“Oh, Steve. I meant that people are too nervous to ask you, not that they're too scared to turn down an offer from you.”
Was “people” everyone, or just the exact person Steve wanted it to be? His heart hammered in his ears. “When we get back, you can, say, tell me how to do this? Or – show me?”
Tony's mouth hung open. It took a protracted moment before he closed it, eyes narrowed at Steve. “Hmm. I could give you some pointers.” His expression cleared and he sighed, in relief, it sounded like. He placed his hands on his hips. “I mean, I did show you up during Civil War, but it's always nice to be reminded how good it feels. Actually, can you say that again? What was it: 'Tony, you're right and I'm wrong, please teach me your ways?'”
Steve stared straight ahead without an answer. He hoped his ears weren't too red, or that his smile wasn't too wide. He was pointedly not looking, but he thought Tony was smiling, too.
There was a loud beeping noise.
“Is that your,” Steve tilted his head, “magic detector?”
“Uh, no, that's my GPS. Looks like we're almost in.” Tony's voice trailed off. “Before we get down to business to defeat the Huns...here.” He shoved something in Steve's hand, and Steve curled his fingers around Tony's to not drop it from surprise.
When he opened his palm, he found a small, nondescript device, gray with a button in its center.
“It sends out an electromagnetic pulse that should wipe out electronics within a 50-meter radius.”
Steve's eyes snapped to Tony's. “And why are you giving this to me?”
“Now, I know Falcon thought it'd be hilarious to watch robot apocalypse films during Civil War to prove Team Cap's point. I heard about the movie nights,” Tony huffed, then frowned. “It's almost all impossible, illogical BS. But the crazy, evil AI thing isn't entirely without basis – just look at Ultron!”
Wasn't the crazy, evil AI thing the...bad part about those films? Steve wanted to ask, but Tony still seemed oddly subdued.
“I'm just saying – if anything's happened to my babies, please put them out of their misery.”
Steve's hand closed over the device. “You trust me with this?”
“Of course. Don't make me contemplate a world where I can't trust you.” Tony smiled, surprisingly open and a little vulnerable, and it was these exact moments that made up Steve's feelings.
“First the magic, and now this. You really came prepared, Iron Man.” Steve smiled at him, proud of how far he'd come.
Tony heaved a deep sigh, his shoulders slumping. “I know. It's not a good look on me.”
Try as he might, Tony wasn't ruining the moment. “I'd beg to differ.”
Tony avoided Steve's eyes, stuffing his hands in his pocket and muttering under his breath. Of course, that meant Steve clearly heard the “dumb handsome perfect teeth.”
Followed swiftly by a swear as something flew out of Tony's pocket.
“Whoa, hey!” Tony shouted after it, and he made to start running before Steve grabbed his shoulder.
“What was that?”
“Uh, my phone? I just finished building that prototype. It has its own AI, like a mini-JARVIS, since I couldn't risk bringing my favorite guy along.”
“I don't think it's a good idea to run after it. If something targeted your phone...” he trailed off, and Tony's answering expression was grim. “Maybe it's something magnetic?” Steve suggested.
“Well, as long as it gets me HOMER back, I don't care if I get stuck to a giant magnet.” Tony looked Steve up and down, and Steve got the distinct impression he was being judged. “It figures that you don't have your phone on you.”
“Actually, I do.” Tony looked mildly offended as Steve dug out his phone out of his pocket, and then he looked aghast.
Tony made a high-pitched, affronted squeak.
“What. is. that?”
“My phone.” Steve flipped it closed, then open again.
“Oh my god, get that monstrosity away from me.” Tony raised his voice. “Cthulhu, please take me now!”
A great rumbling noise answered him, and they exchanged looks. Tony's eyes were wide.
Even through the thickness of the timefog, something loomed.
Every inch of exposed skin prickled, and Steve resisted a physical shudder. He slung the shield off his back. Tony wasn't faring much better, frozen in place.
“What the hell is that.”
There was a loud whirring noise, and something clattered to the ground. Steve edged in front of Tony. It was large enough, with plenty of nooks and crevices, for something to jump out at them. It was...a mishmash of wholes and parts, like the largest trash compactor in the world had stopped midway on a landfill's collection of metal and wires.
It jarred, and dirt spilled through the cracks like fine sand as it lifted itself up, a building uncovering itself. A secret, underground facility sounded like something Director Fury would invest in.
His optimistic, deluded hopes couldn't hold up. There were too many parts moving in entirely different directions, but it wasn't in random order. They moved in concert, like something trying to maintain its balance. No one had built this.
“Is that thing...alive?” Steve took an involuntary step back, a high whimper informing him he'd trod on Tony's boot.
“Do you want me to blast it now to find out, or – ”
“I think,” Steve said, observing its movements, “it – or whatever's in it – knows we're here.”
Right, because it scuttled toward them, and Steve's heart froze in his throat. He raised his shield.
“To the air, Iron Man!”
Tony braced himself. “But you'll be open down here!”
“I can take advantage of its size.” Steve glanced over at Tony, his face pale. The thing was big enough that staying in aerial range wouldn't be much better. They needed a different kind of heavy-hitter than Iron Man for this one, but Steve knew solo retreat was an order Tony would never follow.
“We're not bringing this thing back to campus,” he told him. Tony met his eyes and nodded, skipping a few steps before launching up into the air.
Steve dove to the side, barely avoiding bright blue flashes of light burrowing in the dirt where he'd just been. His shield caught the next barrage of shots, but this strategy couldn't last long. The shield could aid against stray shots, but wouldn't be much help if one of the monster's legs kicked out at Steve.
“I've got you covered, Cap!”
The high whine of Tony's repulsors provided Steve the distraction he needed, the cannons swiveling to aim at their aerial target. Steve spared a glance for Tony, his aerial dodging maneuvers effortless, before sprinting forward.
Steve heard it before he saw it, and even though he twisted his shield, the shot clipped his shoulder.
“This isn't working, Iron Man!” Steve resisted clapping his hand over the searing burn as he rolled on his good shoulder. “It's still tracking me.”
“It's not alive,” Tony confirmed, his voice clipped, “but what kind of robot is that, in the timefog? No one would ever create something so – inefficient!” he gasped.
With a bound, Steve bounced around one of the robot's spider-like legs, smashing the shield into a joint. He lopped off a few more rounds, and when it lurched precariously, he took his chances and jumped forward, smashing through the limb feet-first.
He scrambled up. He was safe from getting shot, but not from a few tons of metal ceiling dropping on his head. His eyes ran over the severed limb on the floor, and his stomach churned. Emblazoned on the side were the damning words.
“Cap!” Tony's voice cracked as Steve stared at the Stark Industries printed on the limb. “It's one of my robots,” his voice pitched higher, “oh god, what happened?”
It wasn't just one of Tony's robots. Steve was scanning overhead, the puzzle pieces falling into place. From the way it looked, with red eyes gleaming from all over and arms – humanioid and insectoid at the same time – it couldn't have been some mutation of just one of Tony's creations.
“It's not one of them. It's all of them.” Steve slammed his shield into the underbelly into another Stark Industries logo. The robot staggered, and Steve had seconds to get out before he was crushed to a pancake.
Something wrapped around his shield arm. His first instinct was to tug, and the grip only tightened, liquid metal flowing out and wrapping around his arm.
“Sir, target has been locked o – ”
Steve swore loudly, prompting an alarmed noise from Tony over the comm.
“Found your phone!” Steve called out, staring at the offending technology as the freezing metal flowed onto his shoulder. His struggle made the metal thicken around his elbow. The voice became a garble of syllables, and then cut off with a hiss of static.
He couldn't even loosen his fingers, the shield trapped in place. He snapped up with his knee, ramming the shield into the underbelly of the robot overhead. He made an aborted leap to gain enough leverage to knock the shield down with his free hand. It would have been humiliating if anyone was watching and he wasn't fighting for his life as he juggled the shield in his hand like a circus performer. He finally wrapped his fingers around the rim and rammed it into the metal.
He hissed, barely missing biting his own tongue as his encased arm jarred with the impact. But the metal was dented there, and Steve rammed the spot again. Something cracked this time, and Steve froze in spot. He loved Bucky, really, but not enough to get a matching set with him.
The metal crackled again, little lines criss-crossing it. Steve tried to shove the edge of the shield underneath the dent to pull up, when he was swept off his feet.
“Tony, what are you doing!? It's going to get you, too!” he yelled. His stomach dropped as Tony executed a roll.
“No worries, my dear Captain.” Tony dropped Steve unceremoniously on the ground. “Use what I gave you earlier!”
One of the metal tentacles flew out at them, and Tony mimed pushing the button as he weaved away, drawing the appendage after him. It snapped out, and in an instant Tony was wrapped firmly within the metal tentacle. Steve made to throw his shield, but Tony shook his head, mouthing something as the metal began to wrap around his face.
Steve's eyes darted back and forth from Tony to the shield still gripped in his only usable hand. The metal was spreading across his chest and down his torso.
The shield clattered to the ground when he shoved his hand into his pocket. He fumbled pulling it out, nearly dropping it when the metal reached his forearm. His thumb swiped over the button, sweaty-slick, and pressed down hard.
The metal receded immediately, rushing back into the phone case that snapped when it hit the ground. The robot let out a high, shrill shriek. Steve's skin prickled, the hairs standing on end. The voice was surprisingly human, familiar, and didn't seem to stop –
“Tony!” Steve took off into a run, and judging the distance with a split-second, ended with a dive. Tony crashed into him, his armored knee in Steve's torso, his hands flailing – away from Steve's face, he hoped, which promptly threw Steve's balance off.
They landed unceremoniously in a heap. Something was buzzing, and it wasn't Steve's head.
“Ow.” Tony winced as he lifted himself up, while Steve contemplated how he could have skipped the extra two hot dogs for lunch. “Nice catch.” He frowned down at Steve, and Steve vaguely noted how his face was mere inches away.
The buzzing was more pronounced now, and Tony blinked down at him. Steve, slowly coming to terms with the positions they found themselves in, turned his burning face away.
“Oh,” Tony said faintly. “That's the magic detector.”
Tony moved back as Steve pushed back on him, then turned his body.
They both stared for a long moment, before Tony began pawing at Steve. Steve tensed up on instinct, even more so when Tony's hand slipped into his pocket.
For someone who cringed at the sight of it, Tony's thumb flew over the keypad of Steve's phone. There was a loud shutter noise, and Steve blinked as the phone camera's flash went off in his eyes.
“My friends!” Thor threw one arm around Steve and the other around Tony. “I'm glad to see you in good health.”
“Same to you,” Steve said. “You gave us quite the scare, when we found you trapped in the ice there.” An involuntary shudder ran down his back.
“Thor Thor Thor, you might be my favorite person in the whole world at this very moment,” Tony rubbed his cheek against Thor's arm, “but your muscles are about to asphyxiate me.”
Thor let go, thumping Tony on the back. “My apologies, Tony.”
“Thor! C'mon, big boy, you ready for your big tour of campus?”
Thor brightened for Jan, like he did for everyone, and everyone did right back for him.
Jan put her hand in the crook of Thor's elbow, and despite the dainty pose, muscled Thor off for his campus tour in her own way.
“First stop, Club A! Or, no, let's make it the Power Gym...”
Thor waved over his shoulder. “If you see Loki, tell him I'm looking forward to reenacting the games of our youth with him as soon as possible!”
“Jan insisted she do the welcoming committee on her own today,” Tony whispered to Steve. “I mean, can you blame her? He's got even bigger arms than you.”
Steve experimentally flexed his muscles as Tony rocked back on his heels.
“Pepper kept brushing me off earlier because she had to file the new student paperwork, plus visas from Asgard,” Tony shrugged, “and whatnot. She was talking about how we didn't have the shards or the experience required to host the crown-prince of Asgard, even though the little black sheep of the family has been here since the beginning.”
“Fury didn't seem happy about him being here, either,” Steve agreed. “With what happened to your sentries around there, too, it's...concerning.”
“I mean, whatever it was, if their end-goal was getting Thor out, then I can't see how it could be a bad thing.”
“I guess you're right.”
Tony grinned. “Did I mention I love hearing those words out of your mouth? Oh hey, look who it is.”
Loki kept walking, the book floating ahead of him as he muttered incantations under his breath.
“I said, OH HEY, LOOK WHO IT IS.”
Loki turned, sending them both a death glare. “What is it?” he sneered.
Tony grinned widely. “You must know about our new student, right? Wasp is giving him the walk around campus now. He was asking for you, though. Wanted to play some games, just like the good ol' days.”
Loki snorted. “That barbaric man's only interested in games where someone gets injured. I'll pass.”
Steve frowned. This wasn't the way to talk about a new transfer student.
“I'm glad we were able to save your brother, Loki.” Steve held out his hand, and Tony snorted.
“Careful, Steve, you know about the little sibling rivalry going on. You might just lose some fingers for saying that – ” Tony's words were abruptly cut off as Loki took Steve's hand.
“Pleasure doing business with you, Captain.”
Tony gawked as Loki continued down the path. “What – what was that?”
Business? “I...I don't even know. I guess he's not as upset about Thor coming to the Academy as we thought.”
“There's no way he's happy about it. At least, not happy about it just because Thor's here.” Tony's eyes were slits as he glared after Loki. “Our deal was that dinky magic detector, and making it so that my EMP could determine sentience and take those out and not, you know, stop my heart instead. In return, he'd get any artifact we found in the timefog. What's his game?”
Steve blinked at Tony in surprise. On one hand, how had he not even considered Tony's arc reactor when he'd pressed that button? On the other, the rush of relieved gratification to know the terms of anything going on between Tony and Loki. Tony and another person, really, and he ducked his head.
“Ugh, forget it!” Tony scowled. He blinked up at Steve. “Shakes and fries, Steve?”
It would have been so easy to say yes. Except – he thought maybe, back in the timefog, that he'd had a chance... but in the daylight, where everything was at relative levels of normal, it all suddenly seemed very distant.
“What I said still stands.”
Tony stared at him. “Uh, what does that mean? Did you express hatred for the potato in the past few hours? Because I think you just made your poor ancestors start crying in their graves.”
“I mean about – ” Steve's tongue felt too big and stiff for his mouth – “how you should go on a date with someone you like, who likes you back.”
Could anyone blame him for wanting to know? He wasn't a telepath.
Tony frowned at him, though he didn't seem to be paying much attention to his words. There was a flush on his cheeks, and the longer Steve stared, the faster it spread to his ears.
“Yeah, I guess I should try again.” He rubbed the back of his neck, not making eye contact. “I said, SHAKES AND FRIES, STEVE?”
The smile spread over Steve's face, mirrored and answered in Tony's.
“I'd love to.”