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AWAKENINGS

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Everything hurt.

Steve Rogers had endured many beatings in his life. He had withstood bullies, Nazis, HYDRA’s most elite corps, and a guy with a head as red and evil as the devil himself. He had been pummeled with fists, shot at with technologically advanced weapons, and endured countless explosions aimed at or near him. Yet he still couldn’t recall a time when his body hurt this much—except maybe the day they pumped the serum into him, but he rarely let his mind dwell there.

Fighting to keep his heavy lids from fully closing, he gazed out the car window in an exhausted stupor at a New York City he barely recognized. He would heal. His body would recover. It just might take a little longer this time. Fighting a nearly unstoppable Chitauri army could really take it out of a guy, even if the guy was Captain America.

A loud belch, followed by a moan, drew his attention away from the window. He looked across the limo to the seat opposite him.

“Damn, that doesn’t taste nearly as good coming out as it did going in,” Tony Stark announced shamelessly.

“Doesn’t smell real good either,” Bruce said drolly beside Tony, waving his hand, his face scrunched.

“Sorry,” Tony responded, though he didn’t sound sorry. “Not sure shawarma agrees with me.”

“Ya think?” Bruce shook his head before leaning it back on the seat where it had been resting tiredly before Tony’s expulsion.

“Happy,” Tony called toward the front of the car to the half-closed partition behind Steve’s head. “Might need to stop for some bi-carb or something.”

“Right,” Happy responded, coughing exaggeratedly before the partition closed fully with what sounded like a pointed snap.

“No need to get snippy,” Tony grumbled. “Gonna begrudge a guy a little gas? I just helped save the Earth, jeez.” He shifted in his seat, resuming the position he had been in for most of the ride, his head snuggled into Bruce’s chest. Without his eyes reopening, Bruce’s arm found its way back around Tony’s shoulder. They both looked as beat as Steve felt. Tony’s face was cut and bruised, battle scars from his recent brush with death. Steve felt certain more bone-deep bruises and abrasions lay beneath Tony’s filthy, torn blue jeans and dark shirt with the words Black Sabbath printed across the front. The battle had been intense enough to leave physical evidence on both Steve and Thor. No doubt Tony Stark’s body was red, white, and blue—not to mention purple and green—under his clothes.

Steve wasn’t sure why his mind kept dwelling on what Tony looked like under his clothes. He also wasn’t sure why this intimate bond Tony and Bruce had formed bothered him so much—yet it did. He had kept his gaze fixed out the window for most of the ride, especially after Thor, Clint, and Natasha had each been dropped off in turn, leaving only the three of them now in the limo as they headed towards the Brooklyn Bridge.

Tony’s unpleasant after-effects aside, it had been nice, their little shawarma dinner, though Steve had been too exhausted to eat much. They were all ravaged, conversation almost non-existent. They had sat together in the off-beat little eatery, a bleary-eyed, battered team, yet a team all the same. A victorious team at that. Steve hadn’t realized how much he had missed the camaraderie of a team until that moment; the unspoken bond between a group of diverse individuals who had come together for a common goal, sharing an experience no one else would ever comprehend. Words weren’t needed in such a situation. They had fought together, protected each other, saved the world. And then they broke bread together, nursing their wounds, taking comfort in the simple sound of each other chewing, tangible evidence they had survived. Yeah, it had been nice. Steve hadn’t shared a meal with anybody, let alone people he considered friends, since—more decades than he wanted to count.

It was over now, though, each of them going their separate ways. Well, except for maybe Tony and Bruce who looked content to stay in each other’s company a while longer. The limo had dropped Thor at the underground SHIELD base in Manhattan where Loki was being contained until the Asgardian could transport his wayward brother back to wherever it was they came from. Clint had asked to be dropped at an address in the village, but en route Tony and Natasha exchanged serious glances, Tony mouthing something about someone needing to tell Clint.

Steve realized belatedly they must have been referring to Agent Coulson. With all that had gone on, it was doubtful anyone had had the opportunity to brief Barton on Coulson’s death. Barton, Natasha, and Phil were all part of SHIELD. No doubt they went way back together. The pang of grief Steve felt every time he thought about the tragedy that had befallen the good man he knew all too briefly had to pale in comparison to what Natasha and Fury, and soon Barton, would be dealing with over Agent Coulson’s loss. Hell, even Tony had taken it hard, much harder than he let on, and Tony didn’t look to bond too closely with anyone.

Except Bruce, his new best friend.

Steve jolted at the bitter voice in his head. Where did that come from?

“Hey, come to the apartment with me tonight,” Natasha had suggested to Clint after Thor took his leave from the group. “It’s closer and I don’t know about you, but I’m beat.”

Clint grinned tiredly. “Not sure you can classify that hole where you hang your extra set of leather pants in between assignments as an apartment.”

“You’ve slept in worse,” Natasha countered.

“Can’t argue there.” Clint, who was on the other side of Tony, leaned forward, trying to get a good look at her in the dim light of the limo. Steve had felt Natasha flinch beside him, but he was certain it was indiscernible to anyone else. “Slumber parties aren’t exactly your style. You okay?”

“It’s been a hard day for everyone,” Steve interjected, trying to help. This wasn’t the kind of thing Natasha was going to want to tell Clint in the limo, in front of everyone, after such a physically and emotionally grueling day. “It’s good to have the support of teammates.”

“He’s right,” Tony chimed in. “Bruce and I are heading back to Stark Tower for a mammoth pillow fight. You want in?”

Steve turned his head toward the window, not wanting to risk anyone catching his sour expression. Clint gave what passed for a laugh in his depleted state and said, “Inviting as it sounds, I think I’ll skip your pillow fight and go with Nat.”

So Clint got out with Natasha in what looked to Steve to be a very rough neighborhood, though he had no doubt she was perfectly safe there. Clint threw an arm around her as they staggered like wounded soldiers across the street towards a row of seedy buildings, quickly disappearing into the darkness.

And then there were three.

Steve kept his eyes fixed out the window, not wanting to look at Tony and Bruce who were getting what could only be described as snugglier as the trip dragged on. Happy had apologized for all the detours, but it wasn’t his fault. Many of the streets in Manhattan were closed off due to alien destruction. The Chitauri had left quite a mess in their wake. It was going to take a long time to put everything right. Steve was anxious to help. Just not tonight. Tonight the smallest bump the limo rolled over sent waves of pain through his aching body.

He tried to close his eyes, wanting to block out broken buildings, crushed cars, sidewalks covered in glass, smashed alien vehicles, and billows of dust and smoke. In his mind’s eye, he saw a simpler Manhattan, one he used to visit as a kid before his mother died. Manhattan was an awe-inspiring place to a kid from Brooklyn, only a bridge away and yet it was like entering another world.

His whole life was another world now, only there was no bridge to lead back home.

He must have dozed off because the next thing he was aware of was the limo stopping and Happy calling to him. “You’re home, Cap’n.”

Steve opened his eyes, disoriented, trying to reconcile the word ‘home’ with the non-descript apartment building SHIELD had moved him to after he broke out of their headquarters. More than once he had needed to refer to the little hand-drawn map stashed in his wallet to find his way back to this place.

“Thank you, Happy,” he said, sitting up. Before he could even locate the door handle in the huge vehicle, which was bigger than the room he had shared with four other boys in the orphanage after his mother died, the door opened from the outside, Happy greeting him with a smile.

“Is there anything else I can do for you tonight, Cap’n?” Happy asked amiably. He was a nice man.

“No, I’m good. Thank you for the ride.” He called a quick goodnight to the limo’s other passengers without glancing at them, not wanting to see what position they had gotten into while he was asleep.

He dug into the pockets of the leather jacket he had shrugged on over his filthy Captain America suit, hoping he hadn’t lost his keys. The sound of the limo door opening and closing behind him caught his attention. He was surprised when Tony ran up to him calling, “Hey, Cap.”

He turned, able to make out the look of concern on Tony’s dark features even with one street light out. “What’s wrong?”

“What you said to Clint earlier. You know, about the support of teammates? You’re welcome to come back to the tower with us. You don’t have to stay here by yourself.”

Tony was making a genuine effort to be nice and Steve was grateful, which only made him feel guiltier about how much the term us bothered him. “I’ll be fine. But thanks. And thanks for the dinner. It was nice.”

Steve had half expected Tony to argue. Tony argues about everything. But instead, he just nodded. He looked defeated as he turned to head back towards the limo. It had to be the exhaustion, Steve told himself, but he knew it was more. He owed Tony a lot more than a lame thanks. “Hey,” he called, reaching for Tony’s shoulder to stop his retreat. He was caught off guard by the distressed wince. Surely he hadn’t grabbed him that hard? “What’s wrong?” he asked. Tony started muttering nonsense about being fine and waving him off, but Steve wasn’t fooled. Without bothering to ask permission, he slid his fingers under the collar of Tony’s long sleeved tee-shirt, easing the material towards his shoulder as he peeked beneath. The flesh on Tony’s collar bone, shoulder, and the part of his arm he could see was viciously bloodied and bruised. “Aww, Tony, you gotta take care of this.”

“No worries, Captain.” He patted Steve’s hand and shooed it from its grip on his shirt. “This isn’t my first dance.”

“Huh?”

“It just means I’ve got it covered back at the tower. Superhero first-aid to the max: ice packs, heat wraps, whirlpool, masseur, the works. Another good reason for you to come. You’re looking pretty beat-up yourself.”

“Kinda got a built-in first-aid system,” Steve reminded, though a lot of the stuff Tony had listed sounded nice.

"You sure? Plenty of room in the hot tub.” Tony waggled his eyebrows and made an obscene grin that caused Steve to blush. Tony Stark was incorrigible, though he’d come to realize it was a big part of his charm.

“Another time,” Steve said, not wanting to sound ungrateful.

“Suit yourself, Rogers.”

The clipped tone told Steve he’d managed to offend. Had to be about more than this, though. No doubt Tony was responding to the Steve who had been such a high and mighty jerk back on the Helicarrier. He needed to fix this and needed to do it now, pain and exhaustion be damned.

“Look, Tony, I want to say something before you go,” he began sincerely, desperately searching for the right words. “I owe you an apology. A big one. I misjudged you. I said awful things and clearly I didn’t know what I was talking about. I was wrong. I’m very sorry.”

Tony’s features softened and he waved his hand as if to make this uncomfortable conversation go away. “Everyone was tense on the Helicarrier. We all said stuff we shouldn’t have. My foot spends more time in my mouth than on the ground. I gave as good as I got.”

“Doesn’t matter. The stuff I said to you was mean and judgmental. I had no right being self-righteous and cruel. I’m truly sorry.”

“You really are the All-American good guy, aren’t you?” Steve wasn’t sure if he was being mocked, but Tony’s expression seemed sincere.

“And you, Tony Stark, are a true hero. You are a remarkable man. I know you don’t think of us as soldiers, but I was proud to serve with you today. It was my honor.”

Um, well, yeah, thanks,” Tony sputtered. It was interesting seeing Tony Stark truly flustered, no smooth stream of words coming out a mile a minute. Steve liked it, though he had grown very fond of verbose Tony as well. He didn’t feel he had adequately made up for the mean things he had said, or come close to expressing how highly he had come to regard this man, but he hoped at least Tony understood he considered him a friend.

“Anyway, it’s late. You’re exhausted. You better get going,” Steve said, though he really didn’t want to part. Something about Tony had gotten under his skin right from the beginning, though at first he had mistaken it for animosity.

“Right,” Tony nodded, still looking uncharacteristically awkward. “Good night, then.”

“Good night.”

Steve watched Tony walk back to the limo, noticing he was favoring one leg. He hoped the superhero first-aid stuff Tony had at his tower would be able to help him feel better. As banged up and hurting as he was, though, Tony still looked pretty damn good for a guy who should have been dead. Those agonizing moments, when Tony lay lifeless on the sidewalk, had been pure hell. Steve had felt his insides turn to ice, as if he had been plunged back into the Arctic with nothing but cold, despair, and hopelessness surrounding him.

He watched as the limo drove off, thankful Tony was inside, battered but still breathing. Finally locating his keys, he entered the building and walked up the stairs to his third floor apartment.

He should have been happy to be home, free of Helicarriers and Tesseracts and aliens, only he wasn’t. The familiar pang of loneliness returned. It had taken a brief respite the day Director Fury gave him his mission, but the mission was over now. Steve sank into the sofa, grabbing one of the cushions to bury his face in. He needed to shower, to change, go to bed. Instead, he hunkered deeper into the pillow, desperate to drown out the agonizing quiet.

~0~0~0~

It wasn’t until the persistent banging roused him did Steve realize he had been unconscious, face down, on the lumpy couch for—how long? He had no idea what time it was, though daylight streamed in through the dingy blinds that hung unevenly over the lone window. At first he thought the loud pounding was in his head, which still hurt pretty good, but belatedly he realized it was his door.

“Okay,” he grumbled as he pushed himself up. “I’m coming.” As he staggered towards the door, he wondered why he still felt so ragged. Usually, when he got enough rest, his body naturally rejuvenated. Of course, the ‘enough rest’ part remained in question since he still didn’t know the time. When he yanked open the apartment door, he was more than a little surprised to see Tony Stark standing on the other side, dressed neatly in a clean suit and, despite his bruises, looking far perkier than he had a right to.

“Tony?” Steve muttered, confused. “Didn’t I just say goodnight to you?”

Tony grinned a charming smile. “And now it’s good morning, though technically it was good morning then, too, considering what time we dropped you here.”

“What time was that? What time is it now?”

“For a super soldier, you look pretty rough, there, Cap. They did explain to you about indoor plumbing and showers, right?”

“What do you want, Tony?”

“For you to answer your cell so I don’t have to make two trips to Brooklyn in the same eight-hour span.”

Steve tried to remember where he had put the SHIELD-issued device, but he was coming up empty. “I, um, still have a little trouble working that thing. Sorry. Were you trying to call? Is something up?”

“Thor and Selvig have gotten the Tesseract stable enough to make the jump to light speed or whatever Thor is going to do to transport Loki the hell off this planet,” Tony explained as he brushed past Steve, inviting himself in. “Thought you might want to be there for the big bon voyage.”

“Wouldn’t miss it.” Steve closed the door and made his way to the small kitchen in search of juice. “The sooner Loki is gone, the safer this world will be.”

“What the hell is this place?” Tony pronounced from the center of the tiny living room as he looked around in disgust. “Where hope goes to die? I feel like I’ve stepped into an old Twilight Zone rerun. No wait, they didn’t even have TV when this stuff was in style. Are you kidding me?”

“SHIELD’s idea. Their way of trying to make me comfortable.” He thought bitterly about the original room they had housed him in, complete with antique radio playing an old baseball game and the SHIELD agent dressed in 1940s nurse’s garb. He couldn’t bolt fast enough from the carefully designed prison. This was their follow-up attempt to stash Captain America somewhere intended to feel like familiar surroundings for a man out of time. Steve polished off the contents of the juice container as he joined Tony near the couch. “I hate it. Feel like I’m part of a museum exhibit.”

“More like the zoo. ‘Come see Captain America in his natural habitat.’ This is truly depressing. You can’t live here,” Tony declared, waving his hands as if he could wipe the dismal scene away

“It’s what I have for right now. What difference does it make?”

The look on Tony’s face was incomprehensible to Steve. For a long moment, Stark remained speechless, which was an odd circumstance. When he did finally speak, Tony changed the subject entirely. “We need to get moving. Shower. Shave. Put something on that doesn’t have Chitauri guts and shawarma stains on it. Unless you’re telling me the clothes SHIELD provided for you are as old as this furniture?”

“I think I can find something that won’t offend you.” Steve took in Tony’s appearance again. Expensive grey suit. Tie. Crisp shirt. Only the rubber-soled shoes, rather than more formal footwear, stood out in the eccentric Tony Stark way. “How is it you look so snappy? You couldn’t have had any more sleep than I have. Probably less, since you drove all the way back here again.”

“Because I’m the master of looking good despite being trashed. I’ve had years of practice. Need a few pointers?”

Steve stepped nearer. Without his Iron Man suit, Tony was regular flesh and blood. He didn’t have any special healing powers. So how could the bruises so visible hours ago have muted this quickly? “Are you wearing make-up?” Steve exclaimed upon closer inspection of Tony’s face.

“Cover-up is not make-up.” Tony sidestepped. “Not in the way you mean.”

Steve shadowed him, reaching for Tony’s shoulder. “What about. . . ?”

Just as he had when they were standing in front of the limo, Tony winced and twisted against his touch, then jumped several steps away, again trying to put distance between them. “What you can’t see, doesn’t matter. It isn’t there. Don’t you know that?”

“Which means you’re still covered in bruises. Did you have any of this looked at? What about your head?” The Hulk had kept Tony from crashing to the ground and cracking his skull open, but it was a far cry from a soft landing. In two steps, Steve covered the ground Tony had opened between them, his hand sliding into the thick mane, fingers finding one helluva lump.

Ow!” Tony protested, though he didn’t flee this time.

“Sorry.” Steve gentled his touch, measuring the swollen area with his fingers. “You need a doctor to look at this. You could have a concussion.”

“I’m fine. Are you done, Nurse Rogers?”

Tony shuddered, which was queer because Steve knew he wasn’t hurting him this time. He was being too careful. Despite the deriding nurse crack, Tony didn’t make to move away again. Steve drew his gaze from the back of Tony’s head to his eyes. He was wearing tinted sunglasses, which masked how bloodshot and tired his eyes were. What they didn’t hide was the unguarded expression belying the chiding words. It was about then Steve took notice of how good Tony smelled.

“Do you want me to be done?”

Where the hell did that come from? What’s wrong with me? I must be more tired than I thought.

Before Tony could answer, the cellphone in his jacket pocket began squawking. Despite the irritating noise of the crazy music Tony favored, neither of them moved for a long moment. It was Steve who actually sidestepped this time, getting a grip on himself, yanking his fingers from Tony’s hair where they had been absently massaging the lump. Tony shook himself, the soft expression fleeing. “Yeah,” he answered sharply as he placed the small object Steve still had a hard time fathoming was a telephone to his ear. “I know. We’ll be right down.” Stuffing the phone back in his pocket, Tony finger combed his hair in the spot where Steve had been touching. “This thing is going down soon. Traffic still sucks. We need to step it up.”

“Was that Happy?” Steve assumed the limo was parked outside his building like last night.

“Nah.” Tony was wandering about, frowning at the depressing furniture and sparse trappings in the room. “After last night, he needed a break. Drove myself. That was Bruce. He’s waiting in the car making sure it’s not up on blocks when I get back. My own personal Hulk anti-carjacking system. No offense to this quaint neighborhood they stuck you in.”

Bruce was waiting for him? Of course he was. They drove here together. Why wouldn’t they? They had been in the same place. Together. “Right. Um, listen, I don’t want to hold you up. It’s going to take me a while to get cleaned up. Tell me where you guys are going to be and I’ll meet you there.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Make your ablutions march, soldier. My car is way faster than the subway.”

Steve didn’t bother to point out he wasn’t sure what ‘ablutions’ were. A quarter of the things people of this day and age said to him were hard to decipher, but with Tony the percentage was always higher. “I’ll take my bike. That’ll be plenty fast enough.”

“Bike as in motorcycle? Is SHIELD really too tight to provide you with a car? They certainly aren’t burning the budget with this apartment.”

“Wouldn’t matter if they got me a car,” Steve shrugged. “It’s not like I know how to drive. Especially not the kind of vehicles I’ve seen here.”

Tony looked flabbergasted. “You don’t . . . I mean, even before—”

“Before, I was a poor kid from Brooklyn who barely had enough money to eat one meal a day. There sure wasn’t any dough for a car, or any place to go where I needed to drive one. Things were different back then.”

“And in the army?”

“That’s where I learned to ride the bike. At least those haven’t changed. Well, the basic mechanics haven’t. The look is a whole other thing.”

Picking up his jaw, Tony responded, “Yeah, I keep forgetting. It’s gotta be very weird for you.” Tony actually looked sympathetic.

Steve laughed. “Yeah, us older fellows have a lot to learn.”

Tony grinned back. “I was kinda out of line with that crack.”

“You were just being you.” It had irked Steve at the time. Now, not so much. “Besides, I’ve been called worse.” Looking down shamefully, he added, “I think I called you a lot worse.”

“Old news.” Tony waved his hand dismissively. “Don’t apologize again. Makes me feel like I should reciprocate, and I suck at apologies.” Clapping his hands, he urged, “Come on, wash, dress. I don’t want to miss the banishment.”

“Okay. But I really do want to ride my bike. There’s a pad on the table. Just write down where we’re meeting and I’ll see you there.”

Tony’s expression, his body language, everything changed. He became stiff, guarded. “Fine.” He stomped toward the table, scribbling viciously before slamming the pencil down so hard it bounced and hit the floor. “There you go. Later, Captain.”

Steve hadn’t meant to offend. He just couldn’t stand the thought of another car ride with Tony and Bruce. What the hell was that about? He liked Bruce. He liked Tony. The fact that he didn’t like them together was a stupid reason to be rude to a friend and teammate. “Tony, wait.”

It was too late. Tony was already gone.

And yet the smell of him lingered in Steve’s dreary apartment long after the door closed.

~0~0~0~

“You still didn’t tell him?” Parking his bike, Steve noted the tense look on the faces of Natasha and Tony as he came upon their whispered discussion. They were both glancing toward Clint, who was preoccupied, staring in the direction of the SHIELD vehicle from which Thor was emerging with a captive Loki in tow.

“I didn’t have a chance,” Natasha responded defensively, voice low. “I wanted to tell him, but we both passed out pretty much the moment we got inside. He’s made the assumption Fury has him locked away in an endless post-disaster debrief and I didn’t correct him.”

“That’s great.” Tony was annoyed.

“If you can do better, be my guest.”

“Guys, this isn’t the time or the place,” Steve cautioned, again looking towards Clint. Even behind the dark sunglasses, he could tell Barton’s icy stare toward his former captor was lethal. “Probably not the best time to let him know Loki murdered his friend. We don’t want this to get ugly in the middle of Central Park.”

“Friend?” Natasha spat the word disdainfully. “You guys don’t have a clue, do you?”

“Clue about what?” Tony demanded.

Bruce drew nearer. “Showtime, everybody.”

Their conversation was cut short by the task at hand, but Tony whispered something in Natasha’s ear before going back to his car to retrieve the brief case that held the object of so much destruction. Steve couldn’t help but stare in disgust at the Tesseract. He meant it when he told Fury they should have left it in the ocean. The device—and Loki—had caused horrible damage and devastation. They were only lucky it wasn’t worse. It was a relief to see it disappear, along with Thor and his wayward brother, into flames of blue light. Good riddance.

The group began to break up after that. Clint was at Natasha’s elbow, so there was no chance for her to explain what she had meant earlier. He doubted Tony would leave it alone, though. As he walked toward Tony’s fancy sports car, he reached to accept the handshake being offered to him. Seemed a small gesture after all they had shared together, but Tony’s hand was warm and his smile genuine. There was no trace of the sour mood Tony had been in when he stomped out of Steve’s apartment. Watching Loki be ejected from the planet seemed to have left everyone in good spirits.

“Where exactly did you think I was going to sit if I had ridden with you?” Steve asked, eyeing the two-seater sports car.

“I was hoping on my lap,” Tony said with a twinkling smile.

Steve had no idea what to make of the tawdry remark, though he did feel his own hand begin to sweat in Tony’s. “I’m pretty heavy,” he ended up responding lamely as their handshake finally dropped.

"I’m stronger than I look,” Tony bantered back. “Listen, when you’re ready to move out of the mausoleum, call me. You don’t belong in a place like that. Stark Tower is currently under renovation, courtesy of Loki and his scaly friends, but it’s going to be better than ever. Plenty of room for you if want it. You could have your own room, your own wing, your own floor, whatever you like. Think about it.”

“Tony, I. . . .” Steve didn’t know what to say. It was a generous offer. He hated the Brooklyn apartment. For a place intended to make him comfortable, all it really did was remind him every day what a misfit he was.

“Steve, you moving in, too?” Bruce asked as he approached the car, toting the bag Natasha had just handed him from her car. “That’s great. Tony’s promised to reinforce the floors and walls, so the Other Guy won’t be able to do too much damage.”

“Yeah, good idea. It’s good. Real good,” Steve stammered. “So, you’re staying? Here? In New York, now, then, right?”

“For now.” Bruce smiled shyly. He was as quiet as the Hulk was loud. “Been running for a while. Hiding out. Guess you can’t really run away from yourself, right? Be nice to belong somewhere for a change.”

“Sure, sounds great,” Steve said sincerely. As hard as it was to be himself, he figured it had to be a lot harder being Bruce. He felt for the guy. Lucky for him, Erskine’s version of the serum worked as well as it did. Still, Steve could empathize with the idea of not belonging.

Tony clapped his hands together, looking quite pleased. “Great. So we’ll go home, pick up a bigger car and then we can swing by your hellhole—I mean, charming apartment—and get your stuff. If there’s anything there you even want.”

“Yeah, no, this isn’t a good day for me.” Steve started to back away. “I’m going to need to think about this for a while.”

“What’s to think about? Hellhole. Penthouse. Hmmm, what to do?”

“It’s not that.” Steve didn’t want to piss Tony off twice in one day, but he sure as hell wasn’t ready to commit to being a third wheel to the best buddies. Not until he could figure out why it got under his skin the way it did. “I really appreciate the offer. It’s very generous and I promise to think about it. I gotta run.” Steve made a break towards his bike.

“Okay, we’ll talk. Call me.” Tony made a face. “You do know how to work the cellphone, right?”

“Sure. Yeah. Almost.” Steve climbed on his bike, trying to pretend he didn’t see the way they smiled at each other as Bruce slid into Tony’s car.

Knock it off, he told himself. Whatever this was, it was crazy.

He revved up his bike, eager to ride. It was a beautiful day. Loki and the Tesseract had been sent back where they belonged. His body had finally healed itself enough for him to feel good again.

Beyond that, he didn’t want to think at all.

~0~0~0~