i.] First, Figure Out Who Needs Setting Up With Whom
Waiting on hold for Reed Richards, Arno suddenly felt conspicuous in his metal life support suit. He knew his camera only captured him from the neck up, but he still squirmed inside his suit. Nothing to be done about it.
Reed Richards' face flashed across the screen, static for a moment until the connection settled. He nodded at Arno. The background was his lab in the Baxter building. Arno recognized it from the schematics.
“Thank you for meeting with me, Dr. Richards.”
“Call me Reed. And you're-”
Reed's eyes narrowed. “You're Tony Stark's brother, aren't you? The biological Stark.”
Arno sighed. So much for subterfuge. “I thought you might have figured it out.”
“Not until I got your voicemail. I haven't been paying much attention to Tony's personal affairs. Had my own to prioritize.”
“I thought revealing myself to you would risk revealing my identity,” Arno confirmed. “Which means, as you must have gathered, the reason I come to you is dire.”
“I thought as much. Would you care to expand?”
Arno got right to the heart of the matter. “It's about the incursions.”
Reed's eyebrows shot up. “You know about those?”
Arno shrugged. “What can I say: I'm a Stark.”
“Tony told you, then.”
“Not what I said,” Arno pointed out.
“Hm. Right. That's the problem with geniuses...”
“...we always figure it out. Yes, I know,” Arno said wryly.
Reed interlaced his fingers, stretching them out beyond human lengths. “Well, you have my attention. You must want something from me you haven't already figured out, so: what do you want to know?”
“I need all the information you have on Tony and Steve.”
“Steve? Rogers?” Reed frowned.
Reed hesitated. “But he's... Are you aware that he is no longer privy to our... situation?”
“The incursions? Yes, I know you kicked him out. I also know that Tony has started setting up his life's work so that he can give it away to Steve. Did you?”
“I... wasn't explicitly aware of this, no. But it makes sense for Tony to prepare for the day when Steve will find out about the incursions, and possibly about what we did. Captain Rogers has a tendency to... overreact, on issues he deems of high moral import.”
“Well, for the reason I need the information: as I'm sure you gathered, I'm a futurist,” Arno started. Reed nodded. “It's what I was born to be: to look ahead, to prepare humanity for whatever the future might bring. Tony keeps me busy with pet projects, but it certainly can't occupy the whole of my attention. So I started looking a little further afield, checking to make sure we were on the right path. And what I noticed was that history is about to repeat itself. A rift is going to form between Steve Rogers and Tony Stark, and this time I'd like to try and circumvent it. Or at last mitigate it.”
Reed's mouth twisted. “It's true that things tend to get out of hand when the two of them disagree.”
“Was there any universes which avoided the last conflict between the two of them?” Arno asked.
“The fight over the SHRA?”
“Yes. You looked, didn't you?”
Reed shrugged. “I did. There was one. But it wasn't of any use-”
“Tony Stark had been born Natasha Stark, so it doesn't have any bearing-”
Arno cut Reed off again in his irritation. “Was that the only difference? Tony was a woman? Why would that have changed anything?”
“Well, she was married to Captain Rogers.”
Arno blinked. “Oh. That's extremely helpful. Why didn't you mention it before?”
“Tony was a woman in that universe, and married to Steve. That's the farthest thing from helpful.” Reed stretched his neck away from the screen, apparently checking on something somewhere else in his labs. He was losing interest in the conversation. Arno ground his teeth in frustration.
“It's not that far removed from our universe. Why would you think it is?”
“Because Steve Rogers and Tony Stark's counterpart were in a romantic relationship,” Reed explained, as if talking to a small child.
Arno rolled his eyes. “So?”
“I... Don't see how a universe where the biological sex of one party is different-”
“But if they were in a relationship in that universe-”
“-has no bearing on whether or not they would have a relationship in this universe,” Reed cut in, exasperated. “Last week I witnessed a universe where myself and Victor von Doom were lovers.”
Arno allowed a pause to drag out for several seconds. He raised both eyebrows at Reed. “... Well.”
“I'm heterosexual. In this universe.”
“Well maybe Tony isn't.”
That caught Reed's attention. He stared, wide-eyed at the screen. “What?”
Reed sputtered. Off-camera, Arno clenched and unclenched his hands nervously. This was the part he was most uncertain of. But he'd checked and rechecked the data. Anyone who wasn't blind should have been able to see it. Should have, but hadn't. Apparently all the world's greatest detective and crime-stoppers couldn't see through their two leaders' own self-denial. Arno wasn't sure how everyone besides himself had missed it, but he was sure it was there. Mostly sure. Everyone else just must be too close to the problem. Too used to the status quo to see it.
“Excuse me?” Reed finally replied.
“A lifetime of observation has led me to this conclusion,” Arno explained. “I'd rather not say much more, but I would venture a hypothesis that Tony isn't wholly heterosexual. At least not when it comes to Steve Rogers.”
“And what about him? Steve Rogers? Tony is not Natasha in our universe. And I doubt Captain America...”
“Might not be entirely straight either.”
“You must be mistaken.”
“When it comes to Tony,” Arno amended.
“What are you saying? That they are each other's exceptions to heterosexuality?” Reed snorted incredulously.
“You don't think so?”
“I think it's unlikely.”
Arno narrowed his eyes. “I think it should be obvious to anyone who's worked with them for any length of time.”
“Tony Stark flaunts his heterosexuality. And Steve Rogers' mores are from a time when homosexuality-”
“-wasn't embraced. But it did happen, you realize? As it is, Steve is the one I'm less certain about. Tony I am certain about.”
“That he's interested in a romantic relationship with Steve Rogers?”
“That he's deeply in love with Steve. And just as deeply in denial about it.”
Reed opened his mouth, then clicked it shut. Arno raised and eyebrow. It would seem he'd rendered Reed Richards temporarily speechless. After a moment of quiet contemplation, Reed finally admitted: “I wouldn't deny that.”
“You know what is coming, better than most. Better than everyone except for myself, maybe Beast, maybe Tony. Steve will find out. And, in the event that you and your Illuminati do end up saving the universe and denying the apocalypse yet again, Steve will not forgive Tony. Not for a while. There will be a rift between them which I deem... unproductive for the future of humanity. I've run the projections—projections Tony has been too afraid to run. Things would go much more smoothly if Steve didn't shut Tony out. If they were a united front in the wake of this latest apocalypse.”
“And you think entangling the two of them in a romantic relationship would prevent this rift?”
“It worked for the SHRA crisis. I already knew Tony is interested in Steve in this universe, and most likely vice versa. To find out that the SHRA crisis was averted because those two were romantically involved just gives further credence to my theory. ”
“You don't think it would make it worse?”
“It might. But one split is much the same result as another.”
Reed thought on this for a moment. Arno waited patiently. After a few seconds Reed tilted his head back and forth reluctantly. “Say I agree to this. Which I don't, but I'm curious. What would you propose we do?”
Arno breathed a sigh of relief. No matter what caveats Reed gave him, Arno knew he had him interested, now. And that was all it took for Reed: to be interested. “Tony won't initiate the relationship,” Arno mused. “Not ever, and especially not now. He's displaying all the symptoms of an impending suicide, though I don't think he would take things that far. But he's going about as if he's planning for his death: setting up the Avengers to run under Steve's care without him, organizing his assets, turning his city over to me as acting steward. He's preparing for his own metaphorical death to the Avengers, specifically to Steve. He wouldn't start a relationship now— especially not with Steve. He's trying to make the break as clean as possible.”
“So you want me to... what? Convince Steve Rogers to initiate a romantic relationship with Tony Stark?”
“That's the plan,” Arno confirmed.
“I was going to leave that up to you.”
Reed shook his head abruptly. “Not possible.”
“You yourself didn't deny that Tony is deeply in love with Steve. And Steve has certainly forgiven Tony for far more than he should have over the years. To change their relationship to a more physical one... there is data to suggest that Steve wouldn't react adversely to the idea.”
“Data,” Arno repeated mysteriously.
Reed eyed Arno. “I don't like to embark on a plan without having as many variables as I can.”
“You have a lifetime of data for both these men. Gather whatever you need from there. And then figure out a way to play matchmaker. Remember: it needs to be Steve who initiates the relationship. Even if Tony knew he wanted it, he wouldn't make any effort to obtain it. If anything, being aware of his latent desire for Steve would cause Tony to push him away even more.”
Reed tapped at his chin. “That does sound like something Tony would do. In keeping with this self-flagellation he's been putting himself through.”
“So you've noticed that too,” Arno asked.
“I've noticed something to that effect,” Reed agreed. “But that's Tony's business.”
“It's going to get worse before it gets better,” Arno warned. “That's why we need to do this now.”
“You aren't afraid that Tony would reveal his secrets if he became more intimate with Steve?” Reed asked.
Arno shrugged. “Anything's possible. But if there's one thing we know more surely than anything else, it's that—apparently—a romantic relationship between the two of them eases tensions and closes rifts. The 'how' of it doesn't matter so much as the ends.”
Reed's lips pressed into a thin line. “I do agree with you there, although it irks me to bring about a scenario where I haven't already foreseen every outcome.”
“You're talking to a futurist,” Arno reminded him. “I understand your discomfort.”
Reed's fingers drummed against his desk, stretched freakishly long as he thought. Finally he nodded. “I'll look into it. I can't promise I will go through with prompting a romantic entanglement between the two, or that if I try I will succeed, but I will give the matter my attention.”
“That's all I asked,” Arno thanked him with a grin. His display went dark as Reed terminated the call.
Reed would go through with it. Only if because he was interested, curious. Now Arno just had to hope that Reed was smart enough to go to someone else for help. He might be the smartest man in the world, but when it came to romancing, Arno had his, entirely justified, doubts.
1.] Candlelit Dinners are a Classic for a REASON
The glow from Reed's personal computer screen illuminated his study, the only light source in the room. He tapped a finger on his desk, running over and over the information on his monitor. If only there was an easier sort function...
“What are you doing up so late?” Sue asked. She wrapped her arms around Reed's chest and set her chin on his shoulder. “And not in the lab?”
Reed frowned at his computer screen. It showed listings for “romantic” restaurants in the NYC area. He had eliminated those which were too expensive, and those which were too cheap. Remembering Tony's disastrous relationship with Rumiko (not because Reed had any memory for his colleague's dalliances, but because he had generated a list of past exes for both Steve and Tony), Reed eliminated any Japanese restaurants. The list he was left with was more than five hundred items long.
He was going to need some help with this. Someone who had a head for... emotions. And romance.
“Sue!” Reed jumped, realizing his wife was there with him. Stretching his neck so he could face her without turning his body, Reed smiled. “You're good at... romantic... things.”
Sue raised an eyebrow. “I am. You're not going to make me plan our anniversary again, are you? Because it's in a month, and I expect a card at least.”
He hadn't remembered that. Reed hoped it was in his calendar so he wouldn't forget, because he wouldn't remember to add it by the end of this conversation. “No, no. Of course not. This is a mission for someone else.”
Sue laughed. “Are you... playing matchmaker? For who?” Her eyes lit up. “You want me to help?”
“Yes, please.” Reed was not above begging his wife for help when he was so vastly out of his depth. “And it's for Steve Rogers and Tony Stark.”
Sue smiled. “Double date? Who are you setting them up with?”
Sue's eyebrows shot to her hairline. “Each other ?! But they're not... They're not gay! Steve's... Steve! And Tony's happy to sleep with anything with a nice smile and big rack. Though I suppose Steve technically fits that description... Who on earth told you they were gay?”
“There's a third party—who I'm inclined to trust—who believes entering Tony and Steve into a romantic relationship with each other would be advantageous for the future of the earth.”
Sue's eyes narrowed. “This source isn't Kang or-”
Reed shook his head. “I said I trusted him. And he's not from the future. He brings fresh eyes to their dynamic, and although I still don't believe either men would be interested in a homosexual relationship-”
“Tony might,” Sue mused.
“But certainly not Rogers...”
Sue shrugged. “Who knows? He might be the superhero version of Rock Hudson. Big and manly, everyone so sure he's a ladies' man... As it is, he never really has much luck with them, does he? I mean, with Sharon—God rest her—it always seemed like he was settling. Her, too. Like they thought they should be with each other, so they were. But they never really fit right together. Maybe being with women is just one of those things Steve does because it's expected of him.”
Reed frowned “Steve Rogers doesn't seem like someone who would hide who he was just because he was afraid of what others would think,” he pointed out.
“No, no! I'm not saying it's like that. I'm saying there's a certain type of person everyone expects Steve to be, which is who Steve expects himself to be. It probably never occurred to him that he might actually want something different.” Sue paused, finger tapping on her forearm. She shrugged her head to one side. “And they're both very attractive men. If they'd go gay for anyone, it'd be for each other.”
Reed wasn't sure if he should be offended by that. But then Sue draped herself back over his shoulder and pressed a kiss to his cheek, so he relaxed. He did ask her opinion on the matter: she was only giving him her honest assessment as a woman.
“So what's the plan?”
Reed gestured at his computer screen. “I was looking up romantic dinner locations.”
Sue waited a beat. When Reed added nothing, she prompted: “And?”
“And... Ah. Well. I thought I'd send out an invitation to the both of them?”
“From who? You realize they'll think it's a trap from a supervillain if you send it anonymously.”
Reed hesitated. “I realize that now...”
“You have to do it likes sleepovers.”
Reed blinked. “Sleepovers?”
Sue was grinning. She was getting into this idea, now. “When you were a kid, and you wanted to stay out somewhere you weren't supposed to. Your friend would say she was spending the night at your house, you'd say you were spending the night at her house, and then you'd go out somewhere else.”
“I never did that.”
Sue ran her fingers through the grey streaks at Reed's temples, smoothing the hair back. “I believe you. Point is, you should do that with Steve and Tony. Send an email to Steve from 'Tony' asking him out to dinner, then send an email to Tony from 'Steve' asking the same thing. They both show up, thinking the other one initiated it.”
Reed frowned. “Won't they think it's a supervillain plot once they reach the restaurant?”
Sue frowned. “Hm. They might. We'll have to give them a reason for wanting to meet. Is there anything Tony would want to discuss with Steve? Something he'd need buttering up for?”
Reed barely suppressed a full-body wince. Stoically he replied: “Not off the top of my head.”
“Maybe Avengers business...” Sue continued on, not noticing her husband's sudden taciturnity. “Maybe Tony wants to go over some of the stuff you both did on Earth while Steve was away with the rest of them?”
Reed shook his head. “I'm sure they already reviewed that. It would have been the first thing they discussed when Steve came back.”
“Maybe the situation in Wakanda? Namor and T'Challa are still at odds, aren't they?”
Stretching his hand out, Reed scratched at his head. “And it's not an imminent enough problem that they might have discussed it already... But what about Tony?”
Sue snapped her fingers. “Thanos. What did you ever do with him?”
Reed hesitated. Sue noticed and rolled her eyes immediately.
“Never mind, never mind. Is there anything Tony can talk to Steve about?”
“Black Bolt! He's turned up safe. And that's not too big of a secret...” Reed glanced at Sue. “Don't tell Medusa.”
Sue frowned but nodded. “He should tell her that he's alive, even if he can't let anyone else know. She should know, at least.”
Reed nodded. “In his own time. He does plan on it. And he has a good reason to be keeping his survival a secret.”
“Yes, well: you men always do,” Sue observed.
Ignoring that, Reed continued: “So we send an email to Steve from Tony, saying he wants to discuss something about Black Bolt. Then an email from Steve to Tony, saying he wants to discuss the situation between Wakanda and Atlantis.” Reed's fingers flew over his keyboard. “Then I have to intercept the reply emails, make it look like they're replying to the emails they thought the other one sent...” Quickly Reed set up an automated program to do exactly that. “And done. Steve and Tony are going to go on a date.”
Sue clapped her hands together. “I'll get the popcorn!”
“Hey, Steve. Fancy meeting you here,” Tony joked.
“What are the odds, right?” Steve shot right back. The two men hugged warmly, before Steve grabbed the door for Tony and gestured him inside.
Tony grinned back at Steve. “Such a gentleman.”
Steve shrugged, one hand slipping to the small of Tony's back. “What can I say? Mom raised me to always treat a lady right.”
“You're a jerk, you know that?” Tony laughed.
Inside the Baxter building, Sue and Reed watched their monitors. Sue gaped. “Are you sure they're not dating?” she asked Reed.
Reed shook his head. “No, I already checked. Why? Is this-”
“-flirting. This is definitely flirting. This is the most blatant flirting I've seen since junior high.”
Back at the restaurant, Steve pulled out Tony's chair for him. Tony fluttered his eyelashes at Steve as he took a seat. In the Baxter building, Sue smacked Reed on the shoulder. “That's what romance looks like!” she told him.
Reed noted it, even though he'd probably forget.
“So you wanted to talk to me about Black Bolt?” Steve prompted.
Tony looked a little surprised. Sue and Reed held their breaths. But then he shrugged. “Yeah, sure, how'd you... never mind. Yeah, if you want. What about Wakanda and Atlantis relations, though?”
Steve shrugged, a little furrow appearing between his eyebrows. “Oh, sure. We can talk about that, too. It's basically the same problem, anyway.”
“How you figure?”
The two men launched into a discussion of Earth politics. Reed and Sue both breathed a sigh of relief. The most treacherous part was past.
For the next two hours, Sue and Reed watched as Steve and Tony had a lovely dinner. In the most romantic restaurant in the city. The conversation was absolutely sparkling . Tony stole food off Steve's plate by making a “ caw, caw!” warning noise, and Steve just smiled and let him, head shaking ruefully and eyes fixed on Tony. It was like the rest of the restaurant fell away as the two men dined together. When the desserts came out Steve politely asked if he could have a piece of Tony's, to which Tony responded by holding up his fork and making Steve lean across the table to eat directly off it. Steve didn't seem to find this out of the ordinary at all, going along with Tony enthusiastically, if the little approving noises he made at the dessert were any indication. Sue was getting hot under the collar watching the two gorgeous men flirt so outrageously with each other all evening.
“Are we sure they're not already in a relationship?”
“Well technically they are in a relationship,” Reed pointed out.
Sue smacked him on the shoulder. “I mean a romantic one.”
Reed shook his head, tapping at his displays. “I'm sure. I tapped into Tony's security systems-”
Sue coughed meaningfully. Reed had the good sense to looks embarrassed.
“For the purpose of this mission! I wasn't already tapped in. What interest is the Avengers' daily goings-ons to me? As it is, I tapped into Tony's security systems, and it would appear that both Tony and Steve spend their nights apart from each other.”
“Are they sleeping with anyone else?” Sue asked, leaning over Reed's shoulder to look at his displays.
“Not since I started observing them,” Reed confirmed.
“Hmmm.” Sue tapped at her chin as she thought. “Well, what's next?”
Reed winced. “Honestly, I don't think I'm the right person to lead this mission. You, on the other hand...”
Sue rolled her eyes. “Sure, pass the mission of romance off to the woman.”
Red looked up at her with pleading eyes. “You are better at this than me. You have a better head for... emotions.”
“Oh, fine. You're right, as it is. And I know just the partner to bring in on this with me...”
2.] Buy Him Presents... Especially Ones That Make Him Think of Sex
Jan shrieked and wrapped her arms around Sue in an enthusiastic embrace.
“Match making?! This is going to be so much fun! Who are we matching up? Is it Carol and Rhodey? Because they've totally been making googly eyes at each other.”
“No—though really? Oh! But no, it's Tony and Steve,” Sue explained.
Jan's enthusiasm didn't dim a wit. “Oh, okay! With who?”
Jan blinked. Then her eyes got glassy. “Oh, well. There's a picture...”
Sue nodded her agreement. “I know. But this isn't just about how Reed could get us video of them together.”
Jan grinned. “He could?”
“He absolutely could. But it's more important than that: the fate of humanity rests on those two hooking up.”
Jan frowned. “But they're not gay. Either of them. Well... Tony maybe...” she tilted her hand back and forth. “Maybe goes both ways. Who knows. I never believed him when he denied those Henry rumors. And when it comes to Steve, well: Tony would do just about anything for Steve. Or to him. Or with him. If Steve gave the go-ahead, I don't think Tony would say no. Gay or not.” She paused and tapped at her cheek. “Unless he did it just to be contrarian...”
“The orders we've been handed down is to get Steve to make the moves on Tony. Because you're right: getting Tony to sleep with Steve would be the easy part. It's the other way around we have to worry about,” Sue agreed.
Striding over to her over-stuffed couch, Jan flopped down dramatically on it. Her feet hung over the edge as she kicked them back and forth. “Well. Have you tried setting them up on a date? Do the whole 'I'm at my friend's house and she's at my house' sleepover trick?”
Sue joined Jan on the couch as she nodded. “Didn't work.”
“They thought it was a trap?”
“Worse.” Sue collected Jan's legs up and set them in her lap so she could sit more comfortably. “They didn't realize it was a set-up. They sat through an entire dinner together at the most romantic restaurant I know-”
Jan guffawed. “They ate dinner at Amore together and... what? Didn't realize it was a date?”
“They just acted normal! They had a lovely conversation and Tony even walked Steve home. I'd kill for Reed and I to go on a date that romantic! But then Steve got in his bed and Tony got in his and that was that.”
“Are they seeing anyone else right now?” Jan asked.
Sue shook her head. “Reed looked into it. Steve hasn't had anyone over since Sharon. No one besides that teenager, and he's not taking advantage of her.”
Jan rolled her eyes. “Of course he isn't. The thought probably hasn't even crossed his mind.”
“And if anyone mentioned it to him, he'd be horrified,” Sue agreed. “As for Tony, he hasn't had a woman over in ages, according to Reed! Not since he came back from space, and not since before then for a ways, either.”
Jan raised her perfectly-plucked eyebrows. “Maybe they really are gay for each other.”
Sue rolled her eyes. “Going through a dry spell doesn't make you gay . Steve's probably still mourning, the poor thing, and Tony... honestly, I'm not sure what's going on with Tony. But it doesn't have to mean he's suddenly gay for Steve.”
Jan wriggled her feet in Sue's lap, head tossed back to the ceiling as she thought. “Well... what could we get them to do that would make them gay for each other? Or realize they were gay for each other?”
“Specifically, Steve,” Sue reminded her. “We have to make Steve realize he's in love with Tony.”
“Steve's already in love with Tony,” Jan replied with a wave of her hand. She arrested her hand's movements mid-wave and stared at her fingernails. “Hm. I need a manicure. Anyway: Steve's already in love with Tony. We have to convince him that he wants to have sex with Tony.”
Sue drummed her fingers against Jan's ankle. “I don't know what we could do that they haven't already done with each other. I mean, Steve's worked closely with Tony for over a decade, now. They've seen each other through everything. If Steve hasn't been attracted to Tony by this point...”
Jan gasped, sitting up. “No! I've got it!” She tapped excitedly at Sue's arm. “Tony's sexiest Avenger walking, no question. But we don't need Steve to realize that—objectively, he knows it already. What we need Steve to realize is that he's interested in men. Just a tiny bit. Unleash his inner bear!”
Sue frowned. “Would he be a bear? He's not especially hairy. Not like Logan, or even Tony. And it's all blonde.”
Jan sighed dreamily. “Blonde all the way down. I know: Avengers missions are better at liberating you from clothes than tequila night at Studio 54. But what else would you call him?”
“Hold that thought!” Jan exclaimed. She tapped Sue's leg. “I know how! Oh! I know how!” Jan exclaimed.
Jan steepled her fingers together, hiding behind them sheepishly. “Well... Okay. But it's a little bit... pervy.”
Sue squinted at her. “Well, now you have to tell me.”
“Oooh, it's bad,” Jan cautioned.
Sue shook her ankle. “Tell me!”
“Okay, okay. So... we have to make Steve realize he could be gay, right? And think of Tony, first and foremost? So we send him... a gag gift.”
Sue's eyebrows raised. “What kind of gag gift?”
Jan bit at her lip. “The kind of gag gift where... it's from Tony...”
“And... an... ironmanvibrator.”
Sue pinched at Jan's calf. “That's awful!”
“I know,” Jan moaned.
“That's so pervy!”
“But it just might work...” Sue mused.
Jan giggled. “I know ! It's perfect, right? So we make it seem like Tony sent it to him as a gag gift, like 'hey, look at this funny thing I found of myself, now when I fuck you over it can be literal, ho ho he he'. And then Steve laughs and has warm fuzzy feelings towards Tony, because he was thinking of him. And then maybe that night Steve's bed is cold, and the vibrator looks like maybe some fun...”
“And then he associates anal orgasms with Tony,” Sue finished for her. “It's genius. Completely genius.”
Jan hid her face in her hands. “I can't believe you just said the word 'anal orgasm' about Steve.”
Sue gasped. “You were the one who wants to send Captain America a vibrator! And you work with the guy! At least him and I aren't on the same team!”
Laughing so hard she could barely breathe, Jan forced out: “I don't know. Maybe Steve's on the same 'team' as the both of us! Or will be after this!”
Jan read the email out loud over Reed's shoulder. “'You're getting absent-minded, Tony. Who's the old man now? I guess I'll have to start a collection. Or did you lose your Captain America toy and this was your subtle way of asking for a replacement? I've got Amazon already sending one your way.'”
Reed frowned back at the two women. “What's he talking about? What did you send him?”
“Nothing!” Jan shrieked. Sue's eyes were wide. The tips of her fingers and hair started to go invisible.
“Stop reading their emails!” Sue begged.
Reed looked between the women. “What exactly did you do? What 'toy' is Steve talking about?”
“We need to hold a conference. A girl conference,” Jan told Reed.
Sue nodded her agreement. She blew Reed a kiss as Jan dragged her away to the other side of the room. Sue threw up a forcefield around them, making their conversation soundproof from stretchy ears.
“He already had one?!” Jan exclaimed.
“It sure looks that way,” Sue sighed.
Jan's hands dug into her perfect pixie cut. “Captain America already has an Iron Man vibrator. An Iron Man vibrator that Tony sent him . And Tony Stark has a Captain America vibrator, that Captain America himself sent him.”
Sue leaned against her own forcefield, arms crossed her under breasts. She drummed her fingers moodily against her forearm.
“Are we sure they're not already going at it like horny little bunnies?” Jan asked, exasperated. “Horny, sexy, adorable, patriotic, hot little bunnies?”
Sue shrugged. “Reed says he's been monitoring their bedrooms, and I believe him. They haven't been having any sex with anyone recently.”
“What about outside their bedrooms?” Jan asked. “Maybe they're sneaking off to have a torrid affair with each other in some skeezy hotel?”
Sue frowned. “It certainly doesn't seem like behavior becoming of Captain America. But I suppose it's possible.”
“You know what we need,” Jan said, a sudden gleam in her eyes. “A spy.”
3.] Break for a Stakeout. And a Manicure
Natasha leveled them both with a flat look.
“I'm not helping you hook those two up. The fallout would be the end of us all. Again.”
She shut the door firmly on Jan and Sue. The two women sighed and turned to each other.
“It was worth a shot?”
Sue rolled her eyes. “I told you she wouldn't help. You should know that better than me.”
As they walked down from Natasha's apartment, Jan shoved her hands in her overside coat pockets. Oversized boy cut coats were all the rage this season. Or they were if Jan had anything to say about it—and she totally did. “Well, yeah! But I figured it's me. Girl Avengers gotta help each other out and all, you know?”
Sue's lips twisted as she thought. “Well, on that vein of thought, who else could we enlist? Carol?”
Jan shook her head. “Mind wipe. She's getting it back, but I figure she's got her own stuff to sort out before we go bugging her with other peoples' emotional messes.”
“Nah, she's helping Carol out. Though, Jessica Jones might help us? She was an investigative reporter an all. I'm sure she's got some sleuthing skills.” Jan made chopping motions with her hands that were supposed to indicate sleuthing. They were more indicative of bad karate.
“But she has the baby. And I think her and Luke are in the middle of a move right now.”
Jan bonked herself on the head. “Right, Luke's setting up a Mighty Avengers team. And Jennifer's got her new law practice with Patsy, so they're both out.”
Jan glared. “No.”
Sue winced. “Right. Sorry.”
Sue squinted in the bright winter sunlight as they stepped outside. Jan dropped her oversized glasses down over her eyes with one flick of her finger. “When did all the girls get so busy?” she whined.
“When have any of us not been busy,” Sue pointed out.
“Oh! Oh oh! I know who!” Jan grinned big.
Sue brought a hand up over her eyes so she could examine Jan's expression carefully. “Who?”
“It's just so good to see you two again! When did we get too busy to grab lunch?” Jane Foster asked as she munched at her salad.
Jan laughed. “Maybe we were always too busy, we just didn't care.”
Jane rolled her eyes. “Let's stop caring again, then. We need to catch up more often than once every year.”
“Agreed.” Jan raised her glass in a toast and the three women clinked them together.
As Sue set her glass down she cleared her throat. “Though, as you might already suspect, we're not just calling this girls' lunch date for fun. We have an ulterior motive.”
Jane grinned. “Well I sure hoped so when I got your text. Why else would I have switched shifts with Marie—I owe her a double, for this. So this better be good. What's up?”
Jan waved her fingers mysteriously. “It's better than good. It's practically scandalous.And torrid. And also totally, totally sexy.”
“You've got my attention. Spill.”
Sue nudged Jan and swept in to explain before she made it too dramatic. They had a serious mission, after all... even if it was a really fun serious mission.
“We've been tasked to saving the future by sources which a reliable but must remain anonymous,” Sue explained.
Jane's expression got slightly more serious. “Oh?”
“By hooking up Tony and Steve!” Jan exclaimed, excitement bubbling over.
Jane frowned. “With who?”
Jan leaned excitedly over the table. “Each other.”
Jane gasped and lifted a hand to her mouth. “Oh. Oh! Are they... I didn't know...”
“We didn't, either. But our source thinks they are. And, honestly, after what we've seen...” Sue trailed off.
Jane's eyes widened to the size of saucers. “What have you seen?!”
So Jan and Sue explained the lovely not-date that Steve and Tony had gone on, and the apparently duplicate vibrator gifts. Jane's shoulders were shaking with giggles by the end.
“Now we just can't believe they're not dating,” Sue finished.
“Or having a torrid affair,” Jan added.
“What do you want me to do about it?” Jane asked.
“Stake out.” Jan grinned.
Sue pointed at Jan. “I do have children. So I was hoping you'd join Jan for the stake out and give me a break.”
Jane grinned. “Sure! We can make popcorn.”
“And give each other manicures,” Jan swooned.
Sue rubbed her forehead. “I think I'm making the right decision backing out of this now.”
Jan stuck her tongue out at Sue. “Spoilsport. Not all of us are tied down by adorable little munchkins. Some of us can still have fun. Even when we're on a very serious top secret mission.”
“To watch your teammates bone,” Jane finished for her.
Jan nodded so, so seriously. “To watch my incredibly hot teammates bone.”
They cheersed to that.
Monday was games night. Jan had forgotten about that. She and Jane sat in Jan's SUV, munching on popcorn as they watched Tony and Rhodey pair up for pictionary against Carol and Jessica and Sam and Steve. No less than four times over the course of the game, Steve called out something Tony was drawing after Rhodey hadn't been able to guess it and time had run out. Thanks to Steve's artistic abilities, Tony never had to do the same when Steve was drawing—though he did call out “Radiohead!” just before Sam did. He and Steve shared some sort of secret smile over that, and Steve even leaned down and knuckled Tony familiarly over the head as he went back to his seat. Later that evening, the Avengers said their goodbyes and went home to their own beds. Steve and Tony shared a hug in front of the elevators to Avengers' Tower, and some whispered words, but then they both turned away from each other and went their separate ways.
Jan sighed and spit a kernel out her SUV window. What a bust.
Tuesday night was drills. Tony and Steve, to the utter shock of no one , took over the grappling gym for an hour. Their fight was intense, leaving the training room in utter shambles, and Tony sans both gauntlets and one boot. He was flat on his back in the end, breathing heavily, as Steve stood over him with the shield.
“Uncle, uncle,” Tony gasped. Steve grinned and held a hand down to help Tony up. Tony hugged Steve close and then pulled back to sigh exaggeratedly. “Okay, so maybe I'm getting old,” he admitted.
Steve smiled sadly at him. “Yeah, but I skipped ahead a few years, so I figure we're still even.”
Tony's smile faltered. “Oh. Hey. Do you wanna talk-”
“No, no. It's fine.” Steve's smile was a little watery. “Forget I brought it up.”
Tony set a heavy hand on Steve's shoulder, tilting his head in close. “You know you can talk to me about anything. Anytime. Especially that.”
“It's fine, Tony.”
“I know, Tony. I know you're there for me. I'm just... not ready, yet. It's still too close.”
Tony nodded and squeezed Steve's shoulder. “Alright. So long as you remember: we are friends.”
“Not gonna forget that,” Steve promised. They hugged again, more tenderly than their immediate post-workout hug. Then they left the room for the showers. Separate showers.
Jan banged her head into her car dashboard. Jane flipped through a training update for her job on her phone.
On Wednesday the Serpent Society attacked, leaving Tony and Steve occupied, and Jan unable to stakeout with Jane. Thursday night Tony flew out to Japan, Friday night Steve went with Sam down to Washington for some closed-door meetings. By Sunday both men were back in town and ended up grabbing some Chinese on the couch of Avengers Tower together. They practically snuggled as they watched a movie.
Monday again, and Jan flopped in the backseat of her SUV, groaning loudly. “Are they still just hanging around their apartments?” she asked.
In the front seat, Jane fiddled with the screen of her tablet for a moment before nodding. “Looks that way.” Setting the tablet on the dash, Jane turned around to peer back at Jan. “You know, this is the eighth night we've watched them. If they're having an affair, it can't be a very satisfying one.”
Jan groaned. “And there hasn't even been a crisis . Nothing real, anyway. They're both in town. Take it from an Avenger, you do not go this long without sex when both you and your lover are in New York together.”
Jane nodded her head. “The girlfriend of the alien agrees with you.”
Jan sighed and sat her head on Jane's shoulder. “Okay. So they're not dating.”
“Or they are, they're just not having sex,” Jane amended.
“We need to think of a plan. Something to put the physical in their relationship.”
“Well, sparring is out,” Jane commented.
Jan tapped at her chin. “It needs to be something they don't normally do.”
“Something we can disguise as innocent, but gets them close,” Jane continued her train of thought.
“Oh!” Jan hit Jane on the head. “Oh, oh! You're a nurse!”
Jane frowned at Jan. “Yes?”
Jan grinned. “I have an idea.”
4.] Initiate Physical Contact
That Tuesday, Jan and Jane stood in the training room of Avengers tower. Jane addressed the group. “So, uh. The standards have been modified, so I figured now would be a good time for a refresher course, especially since you have some new members! And for you older members, too, it's always good to practice.”
Jan clapped her hands together. “Okay, so I'll just pair everyone off! Carol, you can go with Rhodey, Sam with Natasha, Bobby with Izzy, oh, Steve, why don't you go with Tony, Bruce with Clint, Eton and-”**
Steve raised his hand as Jan continued pairing everyone off. “Jane, don't you think those of us who are more experienced with CPR should pair off with people who are less experienced?” Steve asked. He gestured between himself and Tony. “Both of us have experience in the field effectively administering CPR.”
Tony draped himself over Steve's shoulder. “On me, even!”
Steve turned so he could shoot a rueful look at Tony. “More than once. Which is way more times than I'd care to have had to do that—one time is too many.”
“You're the best,” Tony cooed, and kissed Steve's cheek.
Steve switched his attention back to Jane. “We could help some of the less experienced members of the team...”
“No!” Jan exclaimed. She hesitated and glanced over at Jane. “We, er...”
“Just stick with the pairings I assigned,” Jane ordered, using her best “I'm a trained medical professional and I know what I'm doing” voice. Steve shrugged and deferred to her. The voice must have worked.
“Okay!” Jane clapped her hands together. “So, the beat is still the same, one hundred beats per minute. That's the beat of the BeeGee's 'Staying Alive'.”
Izzy glanced at Sam and Bobby. All three raised their hands. “Uh... what?” Izzy asked.
Jan put her face in her hands. She was getting old.
Once Jane had explained how to properly administer CPR and demonstrated on the dummy, everyone paired off and started practicing. Jan and Jane kept careful eyes on Steve and Tony.
Lying down on the floor first, Tony winked up at Steve. “Sure you remember how?”
Steve snorted. “Had enough practice breathing around that goatee of yours over the years. I think I can manage it.”
Tony laughed, then quieted himself as he closed his eyes. After Steve did his compressions, he dutifully tilted Tony's head back and blew into his mouth. When he pulled away Tony started laughing again. “Less tongue, Steve! And warn a guy before you go in for the kill!”
Steve laughed and bopped Tony upside the head. “Shut up, you lug. And move. Your turn.”
Tony rolled up onto his knees as Steve took his place on the floor. As he settled onto his back he smiled up at Tony. “Be gentle,” Steve told him. “It's my first time.”
Tony grinned too-big. “Oh, Captain. I'm honored.”
Tony went through the motions he was supposed to, pumping at Steve's massive expanse of chest, then blowing into his mouth. Jan held her breath as she watched, but Tony pulled back and went again with the compressions, as if he hadn't just been kissing his best friend. He blew into Steve's mouth again, then sat back. Steve's expression was pulled tight: he was trying not to laugh. Jan groaned.
Tony's head snapped around, grinning when he caught her looking. “See something you like, Ms. Van Dyne?”
Jan rolled her eyes. “Not over there, no!” she snapped lightly.
Tony moved in on Steve, pulling their heads together so they were rubbing cheeks. “Want us to go again? Put on a little show?” He tilted his head to kiss Steve on the corner of his mouth. Jan's breath caught in her throat.
But then Steve was laughing, whole face scrunching up. He shoved Tony away, scrubbing his hands through Tony's hair. “Ms. Foster? Are we...”
Jane sighed and waved her hands at them. “Fine. You two know what you're doing. Thanks for coming.”
Steve and Tony stood up and left the training room together, practically arm and arm. Jan glared after them, Jane coming up to her side. “I think they're a lost cause,” Jane grumbled.
Before Jan could reply, a voice piped up behind them. “Um. Dr. Foster?” Bobby was peering up at them. “Am I doing this right?”
Jane sighed and bent down to work. Jan continued to glare at the door where Steve and Tony had walked out.
5.] Make Him Jealous
“And I'm coming to you because you're my last hope and really I can't think of anyone else who knows Steve as well as you do.”
Sam blinked at Jan across the diner table. “Wait, back up. You want to hook up who? With who?”
“Steve. And Tony.”
“But with who?”
Jan growled and smacked her fists down on the table. “With each other!”
“But Steve's not gay. And neither is Tony. Wait: is this some kind of bet? Did you lose to Patsy or something and you need to pay off a debt?”
Jan sighed. “No ! This is to save the world! Apparently!”
Sam wrapped big hands around his coffee mug. “Okay. Start from the beginning.”
“Someone told Reed who told Sue who told me that it is vital for the fate of the universe that Steve and Tony get their mack on.”
Sam blinked. “'Someone' who?”
“I think it's someone from the future but Reed won't tell Sue.”
“Is it Kang?”
Jan shook her head. “Apparently it's not Kang. It's someone Reed trusts.”
Sam brought his coffee mug to his lips, sipped, then set it back down. He squinted at Jan. “Are you sure this isn't a plot to destroy the universe?”
“Listen, I thought it was hinkey too, but then I started trying to hook these two dorks up, and Sam. We must have been blind not to realize they're in love. And dating. Did you realize they were already dating?”
Sam jerked in his seat. “What?”
Jan waved her hands. “Not really . They don't know they are, and they're not getting any nookie. But do you know how much time they spend together?”
Confused, Sam frowned. “Well, maybe. But they're friends. Friends longer than even me and Steve. Tony's the first person Steve met, coming out of the ice.”
“Sue sent them on a date, and they didn't realize it was a date. Because apparently going to Amore together and flirting and eating off each other's dessert forks is normal for them.”
“They... eat out a lot. Tony's not exactly going to hang out on a couch with pizza and beer.”
“Did you see them during CPR training?”
“Wait, that was all part of this crazy plan? I thought there were new guidelines!”
Jan waved her hands impatiently. “There are, but that's not the point! Did you see them?”
Sam rolled his eyes. “They're old pros at this stuff. Steve's had to resuscitate Tony more times than I can remember.”
Placing her palms flat on the table, Jan leaned forward. “They both have each other's official superhero vibrator,” she hissed.
Sam's eyes went wide. He opened his mouth, then clicked it shut. He opened it again and managed: “That's... pretty gay. I mean, as I understand it, a straight man can enjoy that, but not if it's got your buddy's face on it. Really? You're sure?”
“We sent Steve an Iron Man vibrator, and according to the emails we intercepted, he already had one. And Tony already had a Captain America one.”
Sam stroked at his chin. “Okay. Well. If you want Steve to notice Tony—which, seriously, I still don't believe either of them are gay, but I'll give you it for now—you gotta make Steve jealous. If there's one fault the guy has, it's he can be kind of a control freak.”
Jan rolled her eyes. “No, you think?”
Sam grinned crookedly. “It's a trick I'm stealing from Sharon.” His smile fell. “She knew him. Knew how to get his attention.”
Jan's mouth twisted sympathetically as Sam took a moment to himself, over the memory of Sharon.
“So you get someone on Tony's arm. Someone that would make Steve sit up and take notice. Someone who would make him jealous.”
Jan drummed her freshly manicured fingers against the diner table. “But who? Tony's had more girlfriends over the years... if Steve hasn't gotten jealous before, what would change now?”
Sam shrugged. “Well, it'd have to be a guy, wouldn't it?”
Jan's eyes lit up. “Oh. Oh! And I could get Tony to do that, sure I could. Just tell him I've got a friend, please take him around the town, show him a good time...”
“Get someone who looks like Steve,” Sam prompted, getting into the idea now. “Macho, blonde. Big.”
Jan grinned. “Sure! Sure, I've got plenty of male models who look like him. And I'll make sure he's gay, so Steve gets the wrong—or right—idea.” Jan lifted her hand up above her head. “Team work!”
Sam huffed, but high-fived Jan so she'd drop her hand. Jan preened.
“So you just have to show him around for tonight, okay? You said you needed a date for the charity ball anyway, right?”
Tony leaned into the mirror, adjusting his bow tie. “No, yeah, sure. I don't mind. He knows it's not a real date though, right? Don't want to lead the guy on.”
Jan rolled her eyes and smacked at Tony's arm. “You are not as irresistible as you think, Tony Stark.”
Turning away from the mirror, Tony grinned. “Yes I am.”
Wrapping Tony up into a tight hug, Jan grumbled: “Okay, yes you are.” When she pulled away Jan continued: “But yes , he knows it's not a real date. Just show him a good time. Have fun. He's new to New York and is a little intimidated by the social scene.”
“And spending the night on my arm at a charity gala is your way of introducing him to it?” Tony scoffed. “Not much fun.”
“I'm sure he'll have a blast,” Jan promised him.
Tony picked up Jan's friend, Mike, outside his hotel. When he got in Tony shook his hand and smiled big. It was obvious the guy was a male model, even if Jan hadn't told him. Built like an adonis, chiseled but still boyish features, a mop of thick, golden hair. If he hadn't been a model, he should have been.
“Tony Stark,” Tony introduced himself.
“Mike Steele,” Mike replied.
Tony snorted. “That your real last name?”
Mike laughed. “It actually is, yeah. I know: should have gone into gay porn with a name like that.”
“Nah. You'd have had to change it to 'Dick' or something. 'Dick Steele', 'Rod Steele'.”
Mike laughed again. “You an expert on gay porn or something?”
“I'd like to think myself an expert on porn in general, but not gay in specific, no, sorry to disappoint.”
Mike smiled sweetly over at Tony. “Nah, don't worry: Jan told me I wasn't getting lucky tonight. Too bad.”
Reaching into his non-alcoholic car mini-bar, Tony fixed Mike a Shirley Temple. “Hey, now I never said that. Stay on my arm and I'm sure we can find someone ten years younger and ten times cuter than me for you.”
“It's a date.”
Jan grabbed at Steve's arm and shook it like a dog with a bone. “Ooh! Look! There's Tony! Let's go say 'hi' to him!”
Before Steve could protest, Jan was dragging them across the floor of the gala.
“Oh, look at that hunk he's with,” Jan whispered to Steve. “He's one of my male models. Total new 'It' boy. GLAAD loves him. He's all clean-living and apple pie.”
Jan pushed Steve forward at the last second, then floated off to the side. Hopefully Sam was right about his best friend and Steve's jealous side would rear its ugly head.
“Hey! Steve! How's the gala treating you?”
Steve and Tony embraced warmly. Jan's eyes narrowed as they flickered between them, searching for any sign of weakness.
“Same as always. Signed enough pictures of myself for senators' 'kids'...”
Tony laughed, fingers fluttering forward to straighten out the lines of Steve's military uniform. “Well, at least you look good doing it. Oh, hey, speaking of looking good: my date for the evening, Mike. Mike, this is Steve Rogers.”
Mike was pretty star-struck, fumbling his hand out to shake at Steve's. “Hi. Uh, sir. It's an honor. I mean. Um.”
Steve grinned big as he shook Mike's hand. Was that a flicker of annoyance? A fake smile? But no: Jan couldn't spot any cracks in Steve's friendly veneer.
“Please: call me Steve. Jan says you're a big deal model of hers? What's that like?”
“Oh, it's... well it's just fine, thank you, sir. Steve. It's... it's not saving the world...”
Steve shook his head. “Now don't say that. Without folks living their lives, there'd be no world to save. I do what I do so folks like you can do what you love.”
There were stars in Mike's eyes. Tony's, too. Jan's maybe a little bit, too, if she had to admit it under torture. Steve was just that damn good.
“Jan wanted me to show Mike a good time. See the city. Rub elbows,” Tony explained.
Steve shook his head as he looked around the gala. “Well, if Tony's supposed to be showing you the city, here isn't a great place to see it. After my speech and Tony's, why don't we blow this popsicle stand and grab a bite to eat? Hit up a couple of my favorite New York sights after dark.”
Mike looked like he might faint. Tony looked extraordinarily pleased with his Steve. Steve just looked like he was happy to help Tony out. Jan felt like she might burst, if these two jerks didn't figure out they were in love!
The next morning, Jan had a bouquet of flowers waiting for her with a note:
Thank you so much for introducing me to Tony! The two of us had a great time seeing Captain America's favorite restaurant. He even got us into the Brooklyn Dodgers stadium after dark!!
Jan almost threw the flowers into her trash in a huff. But they were lovely flowers.
6.] ... No, Not THAT
Sam passed a smoothie across the table to Jan. “I just don't think they're gay.”
Jane and Sue nodded as they sipped on their smoothies. “And if they are, nothing short of 'Gays Anonymous' is going to make them realize it.”
Jan sat with her cheek in her fist, scowling angrily down at Sam's kitchen table. “Sex pollen,” she suggested.
“Okay, I know! I wasn't serious.” Jan picked up her smoothie and sipped at it. It really was delicious. “I guess you guys are right. I'll just have to admit defeat.” Clenching her fists together, Jan whined: “Ooo, I hate having to admit defeat!”
“You gave it your best shot,” Jane reassured her.
“I asked Reed if there was any more he thought we should do. He'd forgotten we were even working on it,” Sue put in. “So I guess the mission is off.”
Jan sighed and laid her head across the table. “It's just... we've seen them do all that , and it's so obvious they're in love! Now that I see it, I can't unsee it. But they're not together! It's all so tragic...”
“Guess that's just the way it's supposed to be,” Sue mused. “For better or for worse.”
7.] NEVER Admit Defeat
“One large coffee, two shots of espresso, one sugar.” Tony peered back at the bagels the shop had neatly displayed behind the counter. “And a half-dozen sesame seed bagels. Thanks. Keep the change.”
Tony moved to the side, puttering around on his phone as he waited for his order. Except when he heard someone call out “Tony?” it wasn't an overworked barista. Tony's head snapped up from his phone to see “Steve?”
Steve was grinning lopsidedly at Tony as he stepped away from the counter, having presumably just placed his order. “Oh, hey. I didn't know you went here.”
Tony shrugged. “Was out, needed a pick-me-up and didn't feel like waiting until I got back to the tower. Yourself?”
“Same. Just got finished with my jog, figured I'd-”
That was the voice of an overworked barista. Tony went to pick up his coffee and bagels. Steve grabbed his order, which was apparently one sesame seed bagel and... “Two coffees? Who's the lucky lady?” Tony teased.
Steve flushed that Irish flush of his, cheeks going all pink. “Uh. It was... It's actually yours. Both of them. I got them how you like it: two shots of espresso and one sugar.”
Before Tony could tease Steve relentlessly for his thoughtfulness, Steve noticed the bag in Tony's hand.
“What about that? You don't eat bagels. Too many carbs.”
Right. Those. Sheepishly Tony held out the bag to Steve. “I may have picked up some bagels for the tower. You know. For whoever.”
Peering into the bag, Steve observed: “They're all sesame seed.”
“Yeah, well.” Tony shrugged. His mouth flapped for a moment until he managed: “easier to just get one type?”
Steve's face lit up. “You got them for me.”
Taking the drink carrier from Steve, Tony grumbled: “Yeah well, you got me coffee. So we're even.”
“Square,” Steve agreed. But his voice had gone all funny: kind of soft and wondering. Tony glanced up at Steve, startled.
“Hey, something wrong, big guy?”
“Do you want to go on a date? With me?”
If Tony's heart could stop, it would have. His thoughts certainly came to a grinding halt. Then sped up, like old film footage. Immediately he came up with a million reasons why this was a bad idea—loudest of all being the word incursions, incursions, incursions hissing on repeat through his head. Steve was going to find out—about the incursions and, even better, the mind wipe—and it was going to hurt. This... idea, Steve had: that would just make it hurt so much worse.
Steve shook his head. “No, come on, Tony. I know you've got a million reasons not to. I can see them all spinning up there, even if I don't know what they are.” He rapped gentle knuckles on Tony's forehead. “But if you just got one reason you can think of to do this, it's good enough for me. Go on a date with me.”
And Tony melted a little bit, his eyes softening against his better judgement. “Okay. One date.”
Steve smiled like the sun rising. “One date. Though I'll have you know: I don't put out until date number three.”
Their shoulders brushed as they exited the bagel shop together. Tony ducked his head to hide his smile. “You a good girl, Cap?”
Steve nodded solemnly. “Traditional values. I'm from the thirties, you know.”
Tony bumped his shoulder against Steve. “I guess I better start planning dates number two and three, then.”
“Guess you better.”
8.] Celebrate by Buying Presents for your Friends! And their Adorable Daughters
Reed poked at the invention that had appeared in his lab: a dark matter shifter. Oh. Well that was handy. He could use one of those.
There was a note attached: Looks like whatever you tried did the trick. Thanks for your help. And let's hope this doesn't blow up in our faces.
It took Reed a moment to remember what Arno was referencing. When he did, Sue was just walking into the lab, Valeria hoisted up on one hip and Franklin trailing obediently behind her. “Your son just fried one of Valerie's pigtails off!” Sue told him. As they got closer, Reed could see that Valeria had been crying, and that indeed, one of her pigtails was gone.
“What did I tell you about testing inventions on your sister?” Reed chastised Franklin.
“Not to,” Franklin grumbled.
“I wanna shoot him with a laser!” Valeria shrieked, beating at her mother's shoulder. “I'm gonna shoot you with a laser, Franklin! Right in your butt!”
Sue shook Valeria gently. “There will be no laser-shooting in this house.”
“Unless it's for science,” Reed pointed out.
“I'm going to shoot you with a laser in your butt for science, Franklin!” Valeria amended her threat.
“Okay, so you're going to take the boy...” Sue passed Franklin off to Reed. “And make him do boring chores around the lab until he's learned his lesson. Oh! What's this? Who's Arno Holmes? That sounds like a fake name.”
Taking Franklin by his elbow, Reed stretched him across the lab to the dirty beaker sinks. Franklin scowled but got to work. “Oh, that's the project with Steve and Tony. It appears to have been successful.”
Sue gasped. “I hadn't heard! Oh! I'll have to tell Jan! She'll be so pleased.”
“Auntie Jan!” Valeria screeched. “Mommy, Mommy! Auntie Jan can make me a wig?”
Sue bounced Valeria on her hip. “Sure thing, sweetie. We'll have lunch with Auntie Jan and she'll get you the prettiest wig in the whole world.”
“I want the prettiest wig in the multiverse,” Valeria insisted.
Sue started away with Valeria, waving a grateful hand at Reed as she went. “Okay then. It'll probably be tougher, but I'm sure Auntie Jan will find you the prettiest wig in the whole multiverse. And I get to tell Auntie Jan something that will make her the happiest Jan in the multiverse.”