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Blood Makes Noise

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Later they would learn that the attack had been meant for Thor all along. The Enchantress Amora – and wasn't that name a steaming pile of irony – was apparently trying to corner the market on bunny-boiling, jilted-ex crazytown shenanigans, and not above using HYDRA as a handy diversion for her schemes. Like you do.

At the time though, all Tony had known for sure was that one moment it was all jackboots and gas masks, and the next, Cap was shouting to get down, and hurling his shield at a random hot blonde in WoW getup. Then there was a crash, a flash, a shriek of rage, a slam of force like a Jericho missile to the gut, and then... nothing.

A big, black nothing that swallowed the whole world, and Tony Stark right along with it.

~*~

He woke slowly. Warm, comfortable, bones heavy in his skin, muscles lax and lazy, the fluttering storm of numbers and notions and fears and fancies gone still and quiet in his mind for the first time in... well, maybe for the first time, actually. It occurred to Tony that he should maybe worry about that, but fuck it – when did he ever get this kind of peace without drinking himself into it first? Let the mad genius-brain sleep, Tony was too warm and comfortable to muster up any real angst, he decided. Then he smiled, sighed deeply, and nuzzled back down into the arms curled around him.

The chest under his ear flexed, stretched, muscle sliding smoothly into muscle under velvety skin. Tony heard a deep, waking breath purr into it, and then wriggled happily to feel the arms pull him in closer. There was a little sound, almost like a moan, and Tony smiled to feel a sleepy, whuffling breath stirring his hair. His prick gave a twitch, definitely interested in finding out where this was going, and Tony nuzzled close, mouth open against heated skin to taste the wonderful scent rising off of...

"Good afternoon, Sirs," Jarvis said, subtle as a brick through the window. "It is three thirty-six on December fourth," he continued as Tony jolted fully awake and flailed to the other side of the bed in a completely dignified and deliberate way that absolutely did not almost wind up with him falling out on his completely naked ass. "The weather in New York City is 50 degrees, overcast with a slight chance of rain, you are both un-injured, and currently in the Master Suite of Stark Tower."

And, Tony couldn't help but notice, naked. Very, extremely, what the fuck naked.

"The fourth?" Steve asked, sitting up and scowling at the ceiling like he didn't particularly notice all the naked, let alone that it was both of them, and what the fuck was that all about anyway?

"Yes, Captain. You have been asleep for approximately twenty four hours. Dr. Banner took the liberty of examining you both after the incident, and established that outside of some alterations in your blood chemistry and electrolyte levels, you were both in good health."

"So what's with the..." Tony flapped a hand at the empty space between Cap's vast, rippling naked and the sheet he was using to cover his own, "Slumber party?"

"As you were both somewhat... disruptive when they attempted to separate you, the team elected to leave you and the Captain to recover in the larger of the beds available, Sir."

"Disruptive?" And of course Steve glanced at Tony when he asked, the asshole.

"Apparently, there was biting," Jarvis answered, unruffled, and suddenly Tony found himself transfixed by the shadows under Steve's chin. Particularly, one just at the join of neck and shoulder, that was a little darker, a little more ragged, a little more mouth-sized than the rest of them. As if someone very motivated had set their teeth just there, clamped down and sucked like a fucking remora. Tony licked his lips and found them salty.

"Doctor Banner has recommended that you both eat and shower before he comes to examine you again," Jarvis went on as Tony whirled to glare at his reflection in the windows, and winced. His neck and upper chest were covered with livid purple hickeys. "Where would you like me to place the order?"

"Um..." And again, Steve glanced at Tony, a faint, rosy flush rising up along his cheeks, staining his throat, and bringing several more almost-healed hickeys into view. "You like pancakes, right?"

"Fuck," Tony moaned, burying his face and his mortification in the sheet, "My. Life."

~*~

They watched the security footage together. Steve insisted on that, and even though Tony really thought he might rather have been lit on fire, he agreed that it was probably better to know what neither one of them could remember having done, than to wonder. Besides, there had been something edgy and fragile in Steve's voice when he'd brought it up – something that had forcibly reminded Tony that this wasn't the first time the guy had woken up in a strange place with a slice of his life missing, and that the last time it hadn't gone over all that well for anybody.

So over a frankly appalling amount of greasy diner food and surprisingly decent coffee, they sat at opposite ends of Tony's sofa and watched Jarvis fast-forward through the previous day.

Cuddling. So. Much. Cuddling. It was adorable, appalling, and thankfully for Tony's inner squirming 12 year old, not really porny at all. There were a couple of times when it had looked like one or the other or both of them was getting a little friction on, but when they slowed the feed down to normal speed, they just turned out to be more cuddling. Aggressive cuddling. With necking.

"Jarvis, remind me to get Cap a teddy bear," Tony mumbled over the remains of his pancakes.

"Don't need one," Steve said around the last of his eggs.

Tony waved a hand at the screen, where Cap was wrapped around him like a very grabby big spoon. He resisted the urge to rub his neck where Cap had been nuzzling, telling himself it could not possibly tickle now. "Evidence to the contrary?"

Steve smiled. "Just used to sharing a much smaller bed's all." Then he rolled his eyes at Tony's stare. "Me and Bucky, back when we were young and poor and sharing a cold water walkup with four of his cousins. Only so much space to go around, and bunking together was a lot warmer than just blankets in the winter. Gotta be cosy about it though, or someone winds up falling out of bed."

"Yeah, sure," Tony huffed, absolutely not blushing at the idea of Cap and his bestie in a clinch like the one that was happening up on the screen. "That's why you sleep like a horny octopus."

"Sure, Tony," Steve agreed with a roll of his eyes, and slid some more bacon onto Tony's plate, "That's why." And he turned back to the screen, where fast-forward Tony was wrapped around Steve's starfish-sprawl, industriously nuzzling at his shoulder while... fidgeting against his side. "Finish your pancakes."

Tony stuffed another bite into his mouth and scowled at the screen, calculating how much he was going to have to drink before his good buddy Bourbon would be able to scrape these awkwardly hot memories out from under all the carbs and sugar in his stomach. Oh well. At least the syrup was decent.

~*~

"So," Clint grinned, plopping down in the sofa far too close to Tony for that hour of the hangover. "You and Cap, huh? What's that like?"

Tony glowered over his sunglasses. "Did you miss the part of the debriefing where we all agreed that we would never speak of that again on pain of eviction?"

"'Cause I can't say I blame you; pinnacle of human perfection and all. I'm straight, and I'd probably bend a little bit if it was him asking," Clint went on, undeterred. "I mean I'm pretty sure there's a waiting list for hitting that, and you just jumped one hell of a queue."

"This is a conversation we are not having, Barton," Tony warned, fairly sure that if his brain just hurt a tiny bit less, he'd be able to use it to light the grinning asshole on fire. Vomiting on him would be easier, sure, but ultimately less satisfying, and dumping his coffee was right out.

"You know you're not eligible to win the betting pool though, right?"

"Okay, first, I can't hear you over the sound of the movers throwing all your SHIT onto the curb," he said, "And second, what are you on? Cap's as straight as I am."

Cling laughed louder than was at all necessary. "Seriously? You are actually being serious right now?"

"Totally serious," Tony groused, considering the long stagger between him and the elevator, and wondering whether his blood alcohol level was low enough that Jarvis would let him into the workshop yet. "You are out of the clubhouse, and I'm renting out your room."

Laughing again, Clint propped his feet on the coffee table. "Come on, man, since when are you too shy to kiss and tell? I've seen your YouTube channel, dude!"

"I hate you. I really do."

"Sure. So the sixty thousand dollar question is-"

"Boots off the table, Barton," Steve's Captain-voice cut through the room, making Tony wince into his cup, and Clint jolt upright like someone had goosed him with a cattleprod. "Were you raised in a barn?"

"Tent, but close," Clint cheeked back as Steve set a plate of unasked-for toast down beside Tony's elbow. "So Tony was just wondering whether you're gay or not."

"What? I wasn't!" Tony yelped, then winced at the spike of pain behind his eyes.

"Not particularly at the moment," Steve's voice was low, heavy, and ominous. "I'd say I was closer to surly right now, in fact."

"No, see 'gay' means 'into dudes' now," Clint went on, forcibly clueless. "Which, by the way, are you?"

He didn't need to look at Steve's face to know he was glaring – the gravity in the room was increasing by the second. "Depending on the dude, sure," Steve said after a long moment.

"Wait, you are?" Tony asked, squinting up at him, because that couldn't be right. "But what about all that stuff with Carter? Epic romance, missed date, the right partner and all that?"

One corner of Steve's scowl broke into an evil little upward curl, and he shrugged. "Peggy never minded." Which made Tony squint harder. But he guessed if she'd been ready to shoot at him for kissing another girl, then she probably wouldn't have been shy about it if she really did mind Cap being a little bent where guys were concerned.

Clint cackled then, unrepentant as Tony cursed his entire genetic line and tried to hide in his coffee. "Cap, you have just made a lot of bookies happy," he crowed. "Assuming that's not hypotheti-"

"You have a training session to run at HQ today, don't you?" Steve cut him off, arms posing a serious challenge to his workout shirt as he braced them over his chest.

"Not till this afternoon," Clint replied airily. "Now about the-"

"Then you have time to come for a run with me," Steve said.

Clint's face fell so fast it was a miracle it didn't smash. "What, right now?" he whined as Tony picked up a piece of toast and tried a nibble. It was actually pretty good as toast went.

"Sure. You've clearly got nothing better to do. Let's go. You can ask me what you like while we're out."

"Umm, pass?" Clint said, rubbing at the back of his neck.

"Wasn't an invitation," Steve informed him stonily. "We could spar if you'd rather, though."

And apparently, even a man who got into the ring with the Black Widow on a regular basis knew better than to take that dare. "I'm not running in my boots," Clint said with a grimace as he climbed to his feet and headed for the elevator. "Did enough of that in basic."

"Lobby in ten," Cap agreed, a distinct note of 'don't make me come looking for you' lurking behind his tone.

"Not that that wasn't hilarious," Tony said once Clint had gone, "but did you seriously just jump in and defend my honor here, Galahad?"

The grin that crossed Steve's face then came straight off a USO poster. "I don't know what you're talking about, Tony," he said, blue-eyed and earnest as apple pie. "I always go for a run around this time of day." Then he tipped a sarcastic salute and headed for the elevator.

~*~

"They're only teasing, you know," Bruce said quietly, sliding more chips into Steve's reach.

"Hm?" Steve tore his attention away from the raucous debate going on across the common room. Colonel Rhodes and Pepper were tag-teaming Tony pretty mercilessly about his youthful addiction to some television show or other, while Clint and Natasha kept score with a gleeful sort of cruelty. Tony's protests were loud and whiny, but he was smiling, eyes shining, as he extolled the virtues of paper clips, duct tape, and chewing gum wrappers as hotwiring tools. "Oh, I know."

"So what's with the glare?" Steve turned a baffled look on him, but Bruce just raised a skeptical eyebrow. "The glare you've been giving anybody who looks like they're going to say 'boo' to Tony for the last two weeks, Steve."

"I haven't-"

"Steve. You've been looming."

"No I haven't," Steve protested, mortified. He stole a glance at the group again, and hoped his face wasn't red. "Have I really?"

"Your regard has been somewhat ominous of late, my friend," Thor agreed, bringing a double handful of beers to the table and sliding one to each of them. "As though you worry for his safety, even among friends."

"I don't." He took his beer, more to have something to do than because he actually wanted it. "I know damn well Tony can take care of himself."

"You were growling at Fury in today's mission briefing," Bruce pointed out gently. "I don't think anybody heard it but me though," he added when Steve groaned and put a hand over his face.

"Nay, I marked it as well," Thor said. "I merely thought you particularly offended by our enemies' plans." He finished his second beer in one long pull, and set the bottle carefully to the side -- an improvement over smashing it on the floor to express his approval, though really, that only happened when he was tired anymore. "I have noted that you are not alone in your regard though." He cut a glance toward the others when Steve peeked through his fingers, and following it, he found Tony watching him with narrow intent.

"Everything all right over there, Cap?" he called as Steve hastily picked up his pencil again.

"It's fine, Tony," he replied, and determinedly began a drawing of Pepper and Natasha, curled easily together in the loveseat. "Just talking shop is all."

Tony didn't look particularly convinced, but then Colonel Rhodes began telling a story about frozen gas, the MIT dormitories, and underwear, and that distracted him.

"Have you talked to him about it?" Bruce asked under Tony's squall of indignation.

"About how he picks fights with everybody, you mean?" Steve shook his head. "Pretty sure I've mentioned that before, yeah. It's just his way though. Howard wasn't much different." Truth be known, Steve was beginning to think that neither Stark had really ever learned any way to be that wasn't aggressive and confrontational. Not that he was about to put it to Tony that way of course -- there was something to be said for choosing one's battles.

"Nay, but have you made your suit plain?" Thor corrected, "So there may be no mistaking your intent to court him?"

Steve's pencil broke. "I'm not courting him!"

Bruce didn't look impressed. "How many times have you brought food down to the workshop in the past two weeks, Steve?"

"A few times-"

"Seven. And that's not counting the times when you've turned up to drag Tony up to eat with the rest of the team."

"Well you know he doesn't eat or sleep enough," he blurted, knowing he was protesting way too much, but not quite able to stop himself. "We could get called out at any moment, and how's Tony supposed to stay combat ready like that? I can't make him sleep, but food is easy."

"And you just thought of that recently because..."

Steve sighed and reached for his pencil sharpener. "Tony's not gay, Bruce."

"Really?" Thor asked, confused. "He seems happy enough."

Steve gave up and put his head on the table when Bruce started chuckling.

~*~

"Okay gang," Tony said, breezing out of the elevator at full stride, "Everybody ready for our big entrance -- whoa!" He stopped dead in his tracks as the most amazing scent in the world shivered right down his spine and curled up around his balls. "Romanov, is that you? What the hell are you wearing?"

She shot him a supremely unimpressed look and shrugged. "Vera Wang, I think. Didn't check the tag."

"Not the dress," he protested, stepping around the armchair where Clint was still putting his shoes on and leaning close to her for a better sniff. "What's that perfume?"

She put one finger in the center of his forehead and pushed him back. "I don't wear perfume, Stark," she warned. Which, yeah, she wasn't. And of course that made sense for a super spy who might need to stab somebody in the arras at a moment's notice, but still...

"Well somebody is," he declared, taking another deep breath and trying to parse out the aroma on his tongue. It was sweetish, though not quite like food, or flowers; musky but not like sweat, a little spicy though he couldn't have said what kind, and it made Tony's dick think of all kinds of fantastic pastimes that could be had at a fancy dress ball once people got bored and a little bit drunk.

"Thor, is that some kind of Asgardian cologne?" he asked as the Prince turned from the mirror, looking regal and a little bit terrifying in his tux. But no, as soon as Tony turned to face him, he realized it wasn't -- underneath the ever present haze of ozone, Thor only smelled like soap and chapstick. "What the hell am I smelling here?" he cried, before a tiny little noise brought him around on his heel.

And Steve was standing behind him, throttling the life out of his bow tie. His cheeks were stained with a feverish slash of red, eyes wide and dark, parted lips shining as though he'd just licked them. Tony's dick gave a lurch that was almost painful.

"It's you, isn't it?" he demanded, marching up to Steve and yanking the tie out of his hands. "You're wearing some kind of old man aftershave or pomade or..." Tony grabbed his lapels and boosted up onto his toes so he could shove his nose against Steve's throat and fill his head with it. "Jesus, what is that?"

"I, uh, don't use. Any of that stuff." Steve sounded like someone had hold of his throat. His arms came up, those big, square soldier's hands slipping carefully along Tony's arms until they just rested behind his elbows, but otherwise Steve was very, very still. "Strong smells give me a..." He took a breath and shuddered under Tony's weight, and somehow that incredible smell burst even stronger, even richer across Tony's tongue. "A headache."

"Oh, is that what they used to call it?" Clint snickered from a thousand miles away, and all of a sudden, Steve lurched away, leaving Tony blinking, confused, and desperately horny.

"Fuck you, Barton," Tony snarled, catching Steve's arm before he could get too far away. "Hey. Let me fix this tie for you, huh Steve?" He swallowed hard, but nodded and let Tony draw him aside to sit down at the table.

"Just ignore him," Tony murmured, standing astride Steve's knees and pushing Steve's tux jacket back to get at his collar. "Barton's like twelve inside his head."

"Accurate," Clint replied.

"Generous," Natasha countered.

Tony ignored them both, and focused on the smooth slide of black silk against white linen instead. Steve's throat was basking hot under his fingers, and he could see blood roaring under the surface of his skin, feel the smooth mechanics of Steve's nervous swallow rippling under his touch. And that goddamned amazing smell just made Tony just want to sink down onto Steve's lap and lick him.

"Okay," he said in a perfectly normal voice that did not sound at all like a bullfrog, "now let me just..." Tony buried his hands in Steve's fine, silky golden hair, disrupted that razor-straight part of his into something a little more organic and a whole lot sexier. "There," he said, just a little breathless once he'd finished. "Perfect."

Steve opened his eyes, looking stunned and a little helpless. "Yeah?" he murmured, and Tony became aware, suddenly, of Steve's hands under his jacket, warm and heavy on his waist, and of how perfectly simple it would be to just lean down, and-

"Yes, you're gorgeous, Cap," Fury's voice startled Tony back into his skin and around on his heel, empty palm outstretched as Steve's chair toppled to the floor behind him. "But if you two aren't gonna go get a room now," the Director went on, unimpressed as Tony realized that all the others were gone, "Maybe you wanna think about getting your asses down to the ballroom before all the reporters leave?"

Tony straightened his jacket, shot his cuffs, and dredged up his best party smile. "Aw Nicky, there's no need to be jealous," he said over Steve's dithering, "I'd totally braid your hair too, if you'd only grow some." Then he caught Steve's arm and hauled him toward the elevator, hoping the ride down would be long enough for his awkward erection to subside.

So long as he didn't stand too close to Cap and that goddamned cologne, he figured, there was a chance, anyway.

~*~

"Mr. Stark?" the security guard called, rapping on the door. "Are you all right?"

"Fuck," Tony grumbled, dropping his head back against the tiles. Of all the fucking timing... Then, "Yep!" he called, loud enough to make the porcelain echo with cheer. "Just peachy!"

Which worked about as well as could be expected, really. The guard knocked again. "You've been in there for a good while, Sir, are you certain you don't require assistance?"

"Not from you," Tony shot back, which made the blonde between his legs choke on a snicker. Felt good too, as far as it went, which like his previous three tries at getting a little quick relief, was not nearly far enough. Dammit.

"Look," he called, nudging the girl back onto her heels, "there's a bigger john across the ballroom. Whoever's waiting for this one, tell them to get lost. I'll be out once I've finished..." The blonde slid her lips down into his pubic hair again, sucking hard and hopeful, and Tony grimaced. "...contemplating my life choices."

There was a mutter and a shuffle of shoes under the muffled sound of the event DJ, and then someone else stepped up to the door, leaning against it in a rustle of cloth. "You hiding out from Fury, or from Everhardt, Tony?" Steve said in a low, amused drawl. And just like that, Tony's dick went from 'can't make it, carry on without me,' to 'steadfast little tin soldier' so fast it kind of hurt.

The blonde made a pleased little hum and settled down into an eager rhythm. "Ah... neither," Tony gasped, wishing she had less fucking product in her hair. "It's just crowded out there, is all. Crappy music. Needed a hummer- a breather! Needed a breather. I'll be out in..." Jesus, he could smell that shit Steve was wearing right through the door, and his balls were drawing up tight and hard. "Soon. Be done real soon."

"Good," Steve purred -- fucking purred! "'Cause they just finished the silent auction, and the team's decided to head out for ice cream. I can tell them to wait for you if you want to come." Which was, ironically enough, exactly what Tony did right at that second. Lip clenched firmly between his teeth, he curled over the blonde's head, both hands wound in her stiff, crunchy hair, shaking like a junkie as he turned out every brain cell he had out down her throat and prayed he could stay quiet enough to keep Steve fucking Rogers from knowing what the hell he was up to in there. Like it mattered or something!

"You... ah. You go ahead," Tony eventually managed, pushing the blonde away from his over-sensitive prick. "I'll catch up in a bit."

Steve didn't reply, but the scent of him faded from the air along with the sound of his shoes, leaving Tony sore, chilled, and oddly unsatisfied.

"So. Ice cream, huh?" the blonde -- Tammy, he remembered now -- asked with a knowing smirk as she went to the mirror to repair her lipstick. "Guess that means you'll want a raincheck, huh?"

Tony considered it for the three seconds it took him to clean up and tuck himself back into his pants. Considered the heat still pooling in his guts, considered the amused glances and leering smirks Pepper and the spies would give him, and the judging expression Cap would surely meet him with when the others pointed out, as they definitely would, just what Tony had been doing in the bathroom for nearly half an hour. Well fuck that. He had better things to do!

"Nah," he said, putting on his best camera smile. "I can get ice cream any day. Meet me in the elevator lobby in ten minutes, though, and I'll let you convince me that pegging's all you say it is."

"Brilliant," she answered, with a smile like a shark. "Trust me, Tony, you're gonna love it!"

And as it happened, he did.

What he did not love, however, was waking the next morning, when Tammy (or maybe it was Tonya?) informed him that she expected to be paid; Jarvis informed him that Cap, Clint, and Natasha had left on an unplanned op for SHIELD, Bruce was on a booty call to Culver U, and Thor had gone back to Asgard; his guts informed him that something from the buffet had Done Him Wrong; and Pepper informed him via Skype that he was a douche.

"On the corporate card, Tony!" she said in a tone of voice that in no way inclined him to turn the viewscreen on. "Seriously, it was a charity auction, and a team event. I thought you got over the cheap hookups with tramps phase five years ago!"

"Okay first of all, watch the slut shaming," he protested, picking up a razor to do a little maintenance on his beard, "Tricia is a skilled professional, and definitely not cheap."

"Yes, I did notice that."

"And second, you haven't been the boss of me ever since we had that little 'I think we should see other chauffeurs' conversation in Hong Kong." He craned his throat, scraping foam and hair away in long, cold streaks. "I needed a little relief, and I arranged for it."

"You paid for it."

"Who are we to condemn entrepreneurial spirit?" he demanded. "As it happens, she had a damn good product, and everyone but you was satisfied with the transaction."

"So satisfied you had to stand your team up, and then drink yourself into a hangover. Steve was really disappointed, Tony." Ah, so that was what this was all about. Wonderful.

"What hangover?" He rinsed the razor. "I'm not hungover."

"Then your reason for skipping the R&D budget meeting is that you don't want to throw the hooker out of bed?" She sounded like she might actually be ready to scream, and Tony's conscience twinged just enough to make him turn on the camera. Sure enough, her Irish heritage was standing out, bright pink and wrathful across her face.

"No," he said, tossing the razor and wiping foam from his face, "She's been gone for hours. I'm missing it for the reason I said I'm missing it."

She didn't look impressed. "Food poisoning."

"Or something," Tony shrugged, knowing the truth showed in the dark ringed eyes and the greenish pallor of his face. "It's not horrible. I don't need a doctor or anything, but I'm not going to be able to focus on the bean counters while I'm worrying about making it to the bathroom in time. So tell them to just have it without me, and I'll review the notes later."

Pepper peered at him for a long moment, then snorted. "I'll have them reschedule it. Again." She held up a hand when he opened his mouth to complain. "R&D is still your circus, Tony, you get to wrangle the monkeys. That's the price you pay for leaving the lions to me."

"You can have the clowns too," he said, belting his toweling robe tighter and heading back to bed. "They creep me out."

"Milk creeps you out, Tony," she sighed, but the fondness had crept back into her voice, and so he knew he was forgiven. "But I think we can leave the clowns to legal for today. Get some sleep, huh?"

"Yes ma'am," he saluted. Then, when the screen went dark again, he added, "In between bouts of superheroing, random acts of genius, and trips to the john. Jarvis, order some Gatorade and Imodium AD, and have it delivered to the workshop."

"Of course, Sir. What could possibly go wrong?"

~*~

Focus. It was about focus, not force. Precision and control; sixteen strikes, quick as he could within one two inch square of lead-filled canvas. Two spin kicks to the same spot. Turn, heel bash one inch lower. Sidestep. Breathe. Choose a new target. Do it again. Controlled, see? Steady and focused, and not putting the damn bag straight through the mirror then ripping through the gym like it was a HYDRA base that he was damn well supposed to have been reconnoitering, not burning to the damn ground!

The bag's anchor gave a warning beep as a punch too hard knocked it out of the stability field, and Steve had to lurch in close to catch it before the backswing yanked the damned thing down. He took it on the chest, yielding a half step as the impact drove the breath from his lungs in a roaring groan and a jolt of pain that didn't help anything at all. His heart was still charging at full steam, the blood still singing in his ears and throbbing in his cock as he pressed his forehead to the gritty, damp canvas and tried to think of something calm, something quiet, something safe.

Anything but Tony.

"So I'm guessing it didn't go well," Bruce's voice came in low and wry, and thankfully, far enough away that Steve could turn a glare back to meet it rather than a fist. The scientist was leaning in the doorway of the gym, arms crossed easily over his chest, hip shot, and one foot toe-balanced across the other; nothing threatening whatsoever in his bearing, so why should it make Steve feel like snarling just to see him there?

"You could say that," he replied after a hard swallow to clear his throat. "Turns out Fury wanted maps, personnel lists and shipping manifests. I gave him explosions instead." It was hard to be sorry about that, even with the telling off – Steve had seen what HYDRA had been building in that factory, and it had not been pretty.

Bruce winced, but nodded. "Any of ours get hurt?"

Steve considered the minor injuries of burn and bruise, and shook his head. "Not particularly."

"And you got the bad guys?"

"Yeah. And their prototype mind control guns too," he said. Which was probably a good half of what Fury was really cheesed off about, but that was just the Director's tough luck, because like hell was Steve going to leave technology like that intact once he realized what it could do. He let go of the bag and stepped back to unwrap his hands. "When'd you get in from Culver, Doc?"

"About half an hour ago," Bruce took the subject change as an invitation and wandered in from the doorway. "I was looking for Tony and couldn't find him. Little surprised to find anybody else up at this hour, actually." He stopped then, well shy of the bench, and his faltering smile warned Steve that he was probably glaring again. "Tony's all right, isn't he, Steve?"

"I wouldn't know," he said, not quite able to keep the growl out of his voice. "Jarvis won't unlock the door so I can check."

"And is there some reason to think he wouldn't be all right?" Bruce asked, the tone of his voice now hovering between 'use small words so the relic doesn't get confused' and 'calm the hot head down before he breaks something.'

Steve made himself take a long, deep breath and silently count to twenty in German before he answered. "Not outside the fact that he's locked himself into my damn apartment and isn't even answering the damn door!" He managed not to shout, but it was close.

"Why... Why would he do something like-"

"Sir has had trouble sleeping since the charity auction," Jarvis put in then, soothing and impersonal as Steve knelt to shove his hand wrappings into the mission bag alongside his scorched and filthy uniform. "It seems that Captain Rogers' bed has been the only one to afford him any comfort in the past week. I do apologize for the inconvenience, Captain, but when you inquired, Sir had only been asleep for a few hours."

"Steve, you can use my guest room if you want," Bruce said as Steve hoisted the bag over his shoulder. The note of concerned conciliation back in his voice again, and Steve had to fight against the urge to bare his teeth at the man and declare that he'd rather sleep on the team lounge sofa.

"Too wound up to sleep anyway," he temporized, stepping around the doctor to head for the elevators. "I'll just... go for a run or something." If he went the long way around Astoria, that place with the gourmet donuts might be open by the time Steve got back, and if Tony'd been having trouble sleeping, then he probably wouldn't have been eating either, so maybe he'd like... Steve shook the thought off with a growl as he punched the elevator's call button. Tony could get his own damn donuts if he wanted them!

He heard Bruce's quiet footsteps behind him and grimaced. Jarvis was taking his sweet time with the damn elevator, and the last thing Steve was in the mood for was another damn talking down. He'd had enough of those on the Helicarrier, and if he had to listen to another pointedly soothing voice, Steve thought he just might put his fist through a wall. Maybe he should just take the stairs instead. He turned for the stairway door, then nearly leapt out of his skin as a crash of thunder rattled every goddamned window in the tower.

"Christ!" Bruce yelped, green eyed and scrambling back against the wall as Steve whirled around with fists at the ready. A blaze of coruscating light washed across the bank of windows, then winked out all at once, leaving the pair of them dizzy with adrenaline and primed for danger.

"Thor, I think," Steve said once he could make words fit past the growl locked in his throat. "That was Thor."

"Quite right, gentlemen." And even Jarvis sounded a little bit rattled. "It would seem Prince Odinson has arrived from Asgard. It appears he has brought guests."

Steve groaned. 'Guests' generally meant Thor's four best friends from Asgard. And that generally meant that the Avengers were in for a party – loud music, far too much drinking, raucous boasting, often in iambic pentameter, cheerful brawls, property damage, and on one memorable occasion, an infestation of huge, fluffy cats.

After the day Steve'd had, one of Thor's parties was positively the last thing his temper could take. Avoiding it would take longer than Steve could keep running though, and Fury had made it clear that he didn't want to see Steve's face at HQ till they'd both had time to cool down. He could get a hotel room, Steve guessed, but not in his sweaty damn gym clothes, and not without the wallet and ID he'd left on his dresser.

"Jarvis," he grumbled, "Please tell me that thunder woke Tony up."

There was a considering pause. "It appears to have done so Captain, yes."

"Good," Steve said, yanking open the stairway door. "Then tell him I'm coming up, and I'm coming in, and if he's still in my bed when I get there, then I'm going to damn well use him for a pillow!"

The door slammed shut behind him, but through it, Steve heard Bruce's low, awed whistle. "Maybe you'd better unlock the apartment door, Jarvis. Just so Steve doesn't break it down?"

"Already done, Dr. Banner," came the reply as Steve started the three flights up to his floor, stomping all the way, and telling himself that he wasn't disappointed that he wouldn't need to kick the door off its hinges when he got there.

As it happened, the door to Steve's apartment was not only unlocked when he got there, but standing wide open – a clear sign that Jarvis had managed to impress the gravity of Steve's mood on his creator. That was a good thing, Steve told himself as he stepped into rooms that reeked of sex and desperation, and none of it his own.

There was an orgy going on in the bedroom – Steve could hear it from the vestibule. Three... four men at least to go by the voices, the slapping, squeaking rhythm of flesh on flesh, the panting sighs and filthy encouragements he couldn't quite make out over some inane, wordless music. Furious with disbelief, Steve felt the metal outer door creak and then crush just a little beneath his grip. Then he was moving, a roar gut-deep grinding out between bared teeth as he smashed the bedroom door aside to find...

Nothing.

No one was there. Only pornography, grunting and humping to itself on the television that had been in the living room of Steve's apartment when he'd gone to Bogota last week. Steve flexed his hands and took a breath, his head swimming with the seething, musky smell of the room – all sweat and come and resinous, mineral sweetness underneath it; some earthy cologne or perfume that Steve couldn't parse, but which made his cock throb and his mouth water at once.

The bed was a mess, he noted as he stalked into the dark room; the blankets and sheets were wound up into a pile in the middle of the bare mattress, with Steve's unwashed laundry, and the towels from his bathroom dumped into it for good measure. There was even a pair of his running shoes in the pile. And yes, the smell was definitely stronger there on the bed -- it was beginning to make Steve's head swim. What the hell had Tony been doing in there?

Steve dropped one knee to the mattress, feeling about in search of the TV remote, and growling a little despite himself at the damp, tacky feeling of the cloth under his hands. There. The familiar oblong shape of the remote rolled into Steve's palm, and he turned, pointing and clicking. Only instead of silencing the hollow pantomime on the television, the remote set something to buzzing rhythmically under Steve's knee.

"Damn it!" he snarled, remembering Jarvis only when the TV shut itself off as his hand cocked back to throw. Steve let out his breath and carefully set the remote on his night table, beside what looked like every single coffee cup Steve owned, plus one or two he'd never seen before. "Jarvis, where's Tony?" he asked, needing to be sure.

"Sir is currently in the master bedroom of the penthouse suite," the AI replied. "He appears to be looking-"

"Thank you, Jarvis," Steve belted, digging through the layers of fabric in search of whatever was buzzing. "I don't need to know that. Privacy mode and mute now please."

"Captain, Prince Odinson has requested-"

"I'm unavailable," he snapped, "Until further notice! Now shut the hell UP!"

His only answer was the quiet closing 'snick' of the outer door, and Steve let himself sigh in relief as his fingers finally closed on the slippery, jittery culprit, and he dragged the vibrator out of hiding. It wasn't the only one, he realized now that his eyes had adjusted to the gloom – he could spot at least three more suspiciously phallic shapes in the welter, but this one... this one took the prize.

It was scarlet, of course, banded with gold rings along its curved length, it wanted only a tiny, gleaming arc-reactor to complete the obvious analogy. It was also gleaming with slick, redolent and body-warm in Steve's grip, as if Tony had only just pulled it out of himself. Steve frowned, puzzled as he turned it off and looked closer, his thumb slipping through some kind of thick lubricant along the heavy shaft and releasing another heady burst of scent that crawled up his nose and strangled his brain with want, with the need to fight, to bite, to fuck someone, anyone, (Tony!) before he ran mad of it.

Groaning as his mouth flooded, Steve let his knees give way, slithering to the floor with an ungraceful thump, caring only about that amazing scent, and getting more of it. He didn't even realize he'd shoved his free hand down his pants until he felt his own fingers closing tight around his erection. His shorts were wet with precome, hot and tacky against the back of his knuckles as Steve thrust helplessly up into his own grip, pressing the warmed plastic hard against his cheek so that he wouldn't shove the damned thing into his mouth.

"Steve."

"Tony..." he groaned to his shabby little fantasy; enflamed, frustrated, on edge and yet too damn far from coming. But then his shabby little fantasy took a shuffling step and spoke again.

"Steve... Jesus, look at you!" Something dropped to the floor, clattered and rolled against the hardwood, and Steve was moving before he'd even wrenched his eyes open. On his feet and lunging in a breath, head full of red, red, and hungry red, he grabbed the intruder – grabbed Tony -- and bore him hard against the wall.

Tony grunted as he hit, eyes wide and hazy with alarm even as his fingers bunched tight into Steve's sweaty t shirt and his legs wound up around Steve's hips to drag him in close and hard. "Yes," he panted. "Fuck yes, please!" There was a string of condom packets trailing from between Tony's fingers, Steve realized distantly, he was hard, his shorts wet and hot under Steve's hands, and he smelled amazing!

"What," Steve's voice broke on the word. He shook his head, tried again. "What are you doing in my room?"

"Waiting," Tony gasped, nuzzling along the side of his throat and making Steve see stars. "For you. Steve. God, I want you to-" He yelped as Steve scruffed a handful of his hair and pulled his face away, lips gaping wide, wet and swollen as if he'd been sucking cock for days while Steve had been gone.

Steve shoved himself away, scraping both his hands into this hair and gripping hard as Tony staggered to get his footing. The pain didn't do as much to ground him as he'd hoped. "Jarvis said you've been here all damn week, with that," he waved at the television, then at the scattered dildos, "and those, and I want to know why! Why here? Why in my damned rooms?"

"Because you WEREN'T!" Tony shouted back, "And I want you so bad it hurts, Steve! I can't think of anything else, and I can't even eat or sleep, and Jarvis couldn't tell me where you'd gone, and I can't concentrate on any -" his breath caught on a sob, arms bound tight over his belly, as if to hold his guts inside, but far from pain, Tony's dark eyes were full of outrage and hunger, unflinching as Steve loomed helplessly close again. "On any fucking thing except when you would be home so you could FUCK me, all right?"

"Why?" Steve demanded, throat thick, head spinning, cock like a bar of iron against his belly.

"I just told you-" Tony yelped as Steve wrenched him from his feet and slung him onto the pile of bedding, then clambered on top to pin the wily bastard down.

"You're. Not. Gay," Steve said through his teeth, not quite able to look away from the frantic vein beneath the skin of Tony's throat. "You made that plain enough the other night. You can pick up any woman you want and get her to use this," he grabbed the first fake in reach -- a long, purple V-shaped thing -- and flung it at the wall, "on you whenever you like, so why are you playing with me?"

Tony arched into his weight, grappled at his sides as if he meant to pull Steve in, not shove him off, and his throat stretched out long and taut as he groaned. "Not playing, oh fuck, so not playing, Steve." He found Steve's wrist and tugged feebly, pleadingly until Steve let him drag it down, across his trembling belly, past the prick that twitched and yearned along both of their wrists, and further back to where damp, tacky cotton barely covered the straining spread of Tony's thighs. "I need you to fuck me," he sighed as Steve's fingers rubbed at the hidden furl, felt it give, felt it try and clasp him even around the fabric. "Please! Look, I'll beg; I'm begging you right now."

Shaking with restraint, Steve made himself sit back, draw the ruined shorts off instead of ripping them to shreds, and surrendering his t shirt to Tony's grappling without complaint. "God," he groaned as the scent of Tony's slick, flushed hole reached him. He touched again, because he couldn't not touch, and then shuddered as he felt a gush of that strange, heady lubricant slide out across his fingers. He was serious. Nobody prepped themselves that thoroughly if they only meant to tease...

"Tony," he said as he tipped a finger in, just a tiny bit, just to know for sure that he was as loose, as ready as he looked. A sudden, ferocious wriggle on Tony's part slid it all the way home without a twitch of resistance, and Steve caught his breath on a groan. "Tony, one more time," he said, struggling one-handed out of his sweatpants. "Tell me this is okay. Tell me you want this."

"Christ, Steve!" Tony bleated, squirming for more. "Jarvis, record: this is consent, okay? I'm not high, I'm not drunk, I'm not being coerced, and if Steven Grant Rogers doesn't fuck me in the next minute, I am going to kill him in his fucking OHMYGODFUCKYES!"

Steve, while wholeheartedly agreeing with the sentiment, couldn't manage more than a gutted wheeze as Tony's body, wet and blazingly hot, furled rippling-tight around his prick. He could no more hold back than he could have leapt into the air and flew. The animal back-brain he'd fought so hard for weeks roared up through him, eclipsing everything but the rut; the heat and the slide, the taste of sex snarling in the back of his throat, and his mate's frantic cries as Steve thrust himself in and in, and in forever.

A part of his brain registered it each time Tony came; felt the muscles clamp and flutter around his prick, heard the gulping screams as pleas for breath, for more, for mercy, but another, bigger, fiercer part knew he couldn't stop, not yet. It would all be worse if he did. And Tony was chanting Steve's name in his ear as he rolled up into every thrust, goading him, urging him, clawing furrows of perfect scarlet fire across his back. "More, damn you," he growled, beard a heckling burn against Steve's throat, "Give it to me!"

And then he bit -- sank his teeth in just where the meat of Steve's shoulder swept up into his throat -- bit down and held on like he never meant to let go again. Steve's orgasm bashed through him in a blinding rush, stealing his breath, emptying his brain of everything but the clamp of Tony's teeth, of his grappling hands, of his body, of his mind.

'God, God, God!' the thought rang like a bell through the blinding press of pleasure. 'How the hell what is oh God bigger so good this can't be right so much bigger how can it even he's still oh fuck so good-' And it wasn't stopping, the pulsegush of pleasure, the storm of sensation buzzing up and down Steve's spine, the whirling amazement echoing from Tony to himself and back as Steve's prick swelled so thick, so hard that neither of them could have moved even if they'd wanted to.

"Over," Tony grunted as Steve's arms began to tremble, and they rolled, careful, precise, and perfect, the tangled knot of baffled pleasure never once unraveling into pain. They settled still entwined, still echoing against/within each other, still too distracted by the patient buzz of ongoing orgasm to question the knowing that welled up unbidden between them.

"Why didn't you?" Steve murmured, winding his arms around to stroke the nape of Tony's neck. "You've wanted... for years. Rhodey, Tiberius, but you never..." But even as he asked the question, Steve knew the answer; Howard. Stane. The press. A killer disease that swept through a generation of lovers like a murdering storm, with no reprieve to be bought at any price. A futurist with too many battles to fight already, choosing not to take on one more -- not when women were so very much safer.

"You didn't either, you big faker," Tony mumbled, nuzzling under Steve's ear. "All that crap about 'Peggy didn't mind', like a few handjobs on the USO tour even counted!"

Steve chuckled, and they both groaned at the sensation that followed. "She didn't mind me liking fellas..." he gasped once he could. "I'd done anything about it though, she'da shot more than my shield. And after-" He couldn't finish saying it. Tony's tongue was abruptly in the way, tangling 'the right partner' and 'didn't think you wanted' into so much ancient history.

"I did," Tony gasped, threading both his hands into Steve's hair and rubbing, firm and perfect along the lines of tension at temple and jaw -- pockets of stress so familiar it was a surprise to feel them easing under those callused, perfect hands. "I'm a fucking moron, but I did want to, with you, and it freaked me out, so I-"

"I know," Steve murmured, drawing Tony back down into another kiss, this one reverent, sweet and welcoming -- everything their months of sparring and sniping and striking sparks off each other's sharp edges hadn't been. The pleasure between them bloomed out again at that -- a tiny little crescendo against the continuing pulse, but it was enough to draw Tony's brilliance off the topic of regret. Like flocking birds, Steve's thoughts followed after.

"What the hell is even happening here?" Tony grumbled, hiking up onto his elbows to give a querying wriggle that dazzled them both with sensation.

"No, the serum has nothing to do with it," Steve growled, catching the drift of Tony's speculation, "I'm not a dog, and you're not a bitch. This hasn't happened to me before -- something changed."

"We changed," Tony said, and Steve's head filled with flickers of realization; Tony accepting Steve's food whenever he offered it; Steve hovering, watching, looming, always on the edge of Tony's senses when others were around; the smell of home, of want, of promise caught up between them; Tony grooming Steve, and Steve letting him; the building tension that haunted them both as the days spiraled on, until finally the heat broke between them into a storm. Into this.

"Amora," Steve breathed, at the same time as Tony grumbled, "Fucking Enchantress," and dropped his forehead onto Steve's shoulder.

Steve stroked his hair in silence for a long moment before deciding, defiantly and loudly in his own brain, that he didn't care if magic had forced his hand, he damn well wasn't going to regret this. Not when they'd both wanted it, maybe even needed it, and not when it might've taken years for them to work it out if the spell hadn't scraped away the walls between them to let them finally know each other.

Still -- and that thought was Tony's -- this bizarre estrus-thing could be a risk if it happened again at the wrong time. And Amora wasn't exactly a pal -- there had to be hidden costs at work here.

"Yeah," Steve sighed, shifting a little as his erection at last began to subside. "Thor's back from Asgard. Brought guests too."

"Just one guest, Captain," Jarvis contradicted. "A lady of the Court, by name of Freya. They have asked to meet with both of you at your earliest convenience."

"Of course they have," Tony grumbled, sitting upright with a groaning stretch, and not-so-subtly snuggling his ass farther down over Steve's shrinking prick. "But you're supposed to be muted, and in privacy mode in this room, so you couldn't possibly have been bothering us about that right now."

"Of course not, Sir. I'll just inform them of your continued indisposition."

Steve grinned at the snark, and at the grudging echo of pride Tony felt at it. Then he stroked both hands up along Tony's sides and down again as the gush of heat leaked out across his belly and balls, and the blended smell of them swelled out to fill the room. "Six in a row not enough for you?" he chuckled when Tony ground hopefully down against him again.

"Well, it's a start." Tony rolled aside with a bark of laughter, kicking at the tangled nest until it was flattened out enough to let him sprawl out like a thoroughly debauched Odalisque. "But you being a super soldier, I'm pretty sure you can do better if you put your back into it. If you need a break though, I guess I can be patient while you get your second wind."

"Patient?" Steve snorted, grabbing a towel to mop the come from his belly. "Never in your life."

"Okay, you've got me there," Tony admitted, and stretched out long to snag the TV remote from the other night table. With a click and a flash and a jangle of obnoxious music, the orgy bloomed back across the screen, and Tony settled back into his nest with a smirk. "Make me a sandwich while we wait?"

"Brat," Steve grinned, but he went to the kitchen all the same.

~*~

"Amora can claim neither the rights of Wife, nor Queen," Thor said, pacing the length of the team's gathering room and back again, so that Tony couldn't help thinking of a caged and angry lion. "And the rights of a consort would never be enough to raise an army against the Crown of Asgard. But a son of my own getting?" He shook his head. "There are many who would follow the name of Thorson, even were he a babe in arm and his crown a far distant thing."

"The Mordred effect," Bruce observed, still a little giddy over the revelation of Amora's curse, and the samples he'd drawn from Steve and Tony once they'd finally put their clothes on and come out of hiding. "Worked well enough for Morgan Le Fay, the stories say."

"It has worked for many would-be Queens in many lands," the Lady Freya answered, stroking one of the enormous, fluffy cats she'd brought to the Tower with her. They were lying liars, those monsters, offering tempting expanses of belly to rub, only to turn into whirling, screaming masses of claw and tooth the instant anybody tried to take them up on it. Tony curled a little tighter against Steve's side, fingering his bandaged arm as it eyed him with purring disdain.

"The judgment of Kings and Princes is notoriously faulty where their fleeting pleasures are concerned," Freya went on, "and the mother of a King may often wield more power even than the wife. But our Prince Thor is the son of a wise father, and an even wiser mother, and is well protected against such machinations and magics. My cousin who seeks her throne through him must play a far more sidelong game."

"So basically we have an Asgardian honey trap that misfires," Clint waved an arm at Tony and Steve where they cuddled at the end of the sofa, "and somehow instead of getting Miss Hot Mess into Thor's pants, it gets those two into some kind of biting, clawing, wall banging, jungle-fuck frenzy on each other?" He shook his head, eyes tight with obvious strain, despite the surreptitious hand Natasha pressed to his knee. "Why didn't it make Tony and Cap both go for her? That was Amora's goal, wasn't it?"

Freya smiled again, and the glance she slid Tony's way was all too knowing. "Magic tends to be lazy," she shrugged one shoulder. "It is easier by far for a spell to seed lust where love already exists, than to carve space for it out of a soul indifferent. Had Thor hated Amora, perhaps her spell might have born her better fruit, but as it is, he cares for her not at all."

"So it wasn't just because I caught the spell on my shield and the rebound went wild?" Steve sounded relieved.

Freya smiled. "Even had I arrived in time to break the spell of lust upon you both, the channel in which it had flowed to bind you and Lord Stark would still have remained as vital as ever. As it will remain between you, now Amora's spell has run its course."

"It wasn't about love though," Natasha said, eyes sharply green in the winter light. "Not really. If Thor turns up in Asgard saying Amora's his true love and everybody has to so what she says now, nobody would buy it."

Steve stirred again, and Tony could feel the echo of his mind turning colder, harder, worried. It was quieter, more distant, that link that had buzzed and whirled between them before, but it was still present enough for Tony to pick up the drift of the soldier's thoughts.

"It was about her getting knocked up," Tony said as Steve's fingers tightened over his shoulder. "So she could come back to Asgard with a pretender to the throne." He didn't let himself shiver, didn't let the panic rise up into his throat as he stared at the dumpy little woman who didn't look all that hot, but apparently knew all there was to know about Asgardian sex magic. And fuck did he really hate magic just then, but he made himself ask the question anyway. "So what, exactly, did it do to us?"

Freya's smile turned a little softer, a little sadder. "Exactly what Amora intended, Tony Stark; it created the chance for a life where before there had been none. You and the Captain did the rest."

The room went silent on that -- not stunned, precisely, and not resigned, but waiting. All of them appalled, uncertain, afraid to disbelieve. Tony couldn't even think the words -- feeling around the impossible shape of them like probing the socket of a missing tooth. He couldn't be... like that. It was impossible. But some part of him knew; it was true. He was... There would be a baby. His. Steve's. He thought of the string of condoms he'd gone running to find when Jarvis had said Steve was finally on his way -- the ones he'd completely forgotten about once Steve's scent and teeth and hands were on him.

This was, in its own way, more terrifying than AIDS had ever been.

"Is... is it certain?" It was Steve who found his words first. On the other side of the room, Bruce sat forward in his chair, eyes wide, guilty fascination mixing with horrified amazement on his face -- a researcher to the bitter end. Natasha's face was sphinx-blank, betraying her nerves as clearly as Clint's openly squicked grimace, and Thor's funereal gravity.

Tony closed his eyes, wondering if this was what shock felt like when it came on its own, without blood loss.

"Oh yes, Captain," Freya answered. "You are both of you quite potent, and the spell was a canny one. Your seed has caught quick, and now Lord Stark's welcome holds it fast."

'Breathe,' Tony thought, or maybe it was Steve. Either way, the air sounded far too much like a sob when he took it in.

"And..." Steve's hand stroked tiny circles against Tony's arm, and his thoughts were delicate, tentative as he chose his words with terrified care. "Is there... anything you can do? To help?"

"To help do what, exactly?" Freya's voice was hard and edgy, a clear warning.

"Whatever Tony wants," Steve answered without hesitation or fear, and Tony felt the cramp of anger in his guts unspooling as quickly as it had knotted up. "Human men can't... we can't have children by ourselves. It's just not possible, but if Tony wants to try, then he'll need a lot of magical help to make it happen." Steve's wide, warm hand stroked down Tony's arm again, and Steve's glance was a quick, furtive thing. "But Amora had no right to inflict this on him... on us at all. If Tony doesn't want the child, then he shouldn't have to put his life at risk."

"It's true," Bruce spoke up then, clearly worried, "the hormones, the arrangement of the organs, the bone structure -- it's all wrong in men. Even if Tony weren't Iron Man, even if he didn't have a ridiculous excess of heavy metals still in his system, he'd have to have magic backing this up in order to survive gestation."

"Unless we found a surrogate," Natasha said, and suddenly Tony felt like sobbing with relief. "A woman could gestate the child and give it birth. Maybe even raise it away from the crosshairs, if we were going to be smart about it."

"Can magic do that?" Steve leaned forward, suddenly eager. "Could the baby be taken out of Tony and put into someone who could... someone who wanted to carry it?"

Freya's answering smile was warm and not a little sly. "To the relief of many a shieldmaiden and at least one royal prince of my acquaintance, yes -- such a transfer is not at all beyond my skills." Thor looked like he didn't know whether to bluster or to sink into the floor, but stiffened up defiantly when he noticed Tony staring. So there was definitely a story there!

"If all are agreed," Freya went on as if she hadn't noticed, "The child need not even know that she who bears it is not, in fact, the mother who conceived it."

"Not like that's ever backfired before or anything," Clint groused, fiddling with an arrowhead Tony was certain he hadn't had a moment ago. "Still, it's probably better than painting a target on the kid's forehead. That'd be one hell of an interview process though -- wanted, surrogate mother for possible superbaby; security clearance and combat experience preferred."

"I don't want it," Tony said, before Clint's edgy giddiness could get him shaking again. "In me. I can't." He took a deep breath, sat upright from the cradling slouch against Steve's warmth, and tried not to shiver. "I can't do that. It's too much -- I never wanted kids, and I. Never. I mean fuck, can you imagine what kind of a parent I'd be? I can barely manage to care for robots -- Howard would be father of the century by comparison!" He scraped a hand through his hair, resisting the urge to tug. "But that doesn't mean I want it ..."

"Dead," Steve finished when he faltered, and there was something so relieved in his voice that Tony couldn't help reaching to tangle their fingers together. "I never thought I'd be a father either," Steve went on, "and it scares me, a little, what could happen. Ours isn't a great life for a kid to be part of, but..." and here, he smiled at Tony, a little helpless, a lot mushy, and so, so earnestly gorgeous it made his chest ache. "I can't help thinking how bright a kid of Tony Stark's would be."

"I was thinking 'dangerous,' myself," Natasha snarked, and if Tony hadn't been thinking the very same thing, he'd have thrown a pillow at her.

"There are many upon Asgard who would welcome the blood of Midgardian heroes into their clans," Thor offered. "My companion Volstaag is a doting father, and his-"

"Volstaag?" Clint asked, turning to stare, "Isn't he the one who threw Sif through the window at Steve's birthday party?"

"She has known worse," Thor shrugged, oblivious to Steve's expression of horror.

"I need time," Tony groaned, scrubbing at his face with both hands and hoping to stop the debate in its tracks. "I can't make this decision right now." Pepper, for one, was going to take at least a week to stop screaming at him over this when she heard about it, and Rhodey was probably going to need two. Tony didn't even want to think about telling Fury. "I need time, and maybe my weight in alcohol. Except for how I probably can't have any on account of being fucking pregnant!"

There. He'd said it. He'd fucking said it, and it was utterly ridiculous, but nobody was laughing. Least of all himself. Fuck. His. Life!

"Then time I shall award you," Freya said after a silent moment, nudging the cat from her lap and standing, graceful and majestic, and suddenly every inch the sex-goddess Thor had named her on introduction. "In payment for the transgressions of my kinswoman, Amora against the Avengers. Come to me, lovers of Midgard."

She held out her hands, imperious until he and Steve both got to their feet and took hold. "You will have three years' time," she said, fixing each of them in turn with a grave stare. "One year for each of you thus affected, to determine the fate of your child; whether to be raised within your own clan, fostered in another's, or not."

Tony gasped, flinching when he felt the woman's words take hold of him, wrapping tightly around something deep and intangible inside of him. At his side, Steve's sharp, ragged breath betrayed a similar sensation on his part -- distant from Tony now, as it hadn't been before, shielded from the reach of his senses.

"What..." Steve swallowed, and his fingers clenched tight around Tony's own, heated counterpoint to Freya's cool grasp. "What do you mean, 'or not'?"

"Fear not, Captain -- I will not leave Amora's spell to run its course," she frowned, and Tony had the sudden idea that this small, round woman was going to bring hell to pay if she caught up with her hot mess of a cousin any time soon. "Your bonded will not die of his burden. At the end of three years, Amora's spell, and all it has wrought, will unravel," she said, dropping their hands and turning away as if it was the simplest thing in the world.

Tony might not have felt the disappointment surge up in Steve's breast, but he couldn't miss seeing it sweep across his face. Steve would never say a word, he realized, just like he had never let himself imagine being a father back when he'd been small, sickly, or later, embroiled in a deadly war. He'd hold to hope though, and he'd yearn.

And there was something to be said, after all, for getting to see what the child of the pinnacle of human potential might look like, wasn't there? Tony might be the world's worst dad, but couldn't Steve make up for that somewhat? Especially if Tony was around to make sure the kid didn't die of vegetables, homework, and clean living. He gave Steve's hand a squeeze, and smiled. "Bet she'll have your eyes," he said, half joke, half dare, and, he was shocked to realize, all promise.

Steve beamed, beautiful in the low light of the afternoon. "Three years, huh?" he said, "We can figure something out by then, I'll bet."

"Sure," Tony let himself grin back, let himself believe, let himself raise a middle finger to the cold ghost of a cold father, and a lifetime's assumption of failure. "We can do this. We beat the Chitauri, the Red Skull, and the Mandarin -- how hard can one little baby be?"

"Oh," Natasha smirked as the rest of the team hurried to knock on wood, "this is gonna be fun..."