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Wait & Sea

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Bait & Switch

“Stark...”

“Fury...” Tony mimicked the exasperated tone of the SHIELD director's voice. “Really. No. Actually, let me rephrase that: Fuck, no! Come on! It makes no sense whatsoever to send me on an undercover assignment and you know it. Unless you want the paparazzi involved. Besides, the government has multiple agencies funded by my tax dollars that employ people specifically trained for this kind of work!”

“In this case, Stark, those people can walk the walk, but they can't talk the talk. Porter will be negotiating an exchange of his research results on recreating the super soldier serum in return for god knows what from Hydra. The guy we send has to be able to spout more than platitudes on the topic.”

“I don't do Biology. That involves mucus.” Tony pretended to study his phone.

“Are you a fucking genius, or what? If we give you the guy's notes and publications, I'm sure you'll be able to bullshit your way more convincingly than any spook we'd send.”

He had a point, but that didn't mean Tony was ready concede said point. Tapping away at the screen aggressively, he offered:

“Send Bruce. He's a doctor and his face isn't in the tabloids.”

“The meeting is on a cruise ship in the middle of the Mediterranean, Stark. You'd be surprised to know how fragile those boats are, even big ass motherfuckers like these. One well placed hole and the thing goes down with all on board. I'm sure you've seen Titanic? Compared to the Hulk those icebergs are remarkably passive and peaceful, you know. Given that we're dealing with Hydra, the chance that Banner will hold it together isn't a risk I am willing to take.”

Tony sighed heavily, because that was always effective. It was giving in. He knew it, Fury knew it, and judging by the tiny smirk he sported the fucker was enjoying the shit out of it.

“Okay, so just for the sake of argument, who is this Porter fellow and what is the deal with Hydra?”

“I was getting to that when you so rudely interrupted me....” Tony made sure he could see the Bite Me in his eyes loud and clear. There was a knock on the office door. Maria Hill opened it and then ushered in the most gorgeous specimen of male perfection Tony had ever seen dressed in fatigues. Built, blond, classically handsome and well over 6 feet. Aryan Prime Beef, baby. Tony did not have a soldier fetish, but, hey, obviously one should keep an open mind when it came to acquiring new ones.

“Captain Rogers here to see you, Sir.”

“Thank you, Hill. Excellent. Right on time. Come in, captain. Now I'll only have to go through the details once. Captain Rogers, this is Tony Stark, your partner in this endeavor. Stark, say hello to Steve Rogers.”

“Did they grow you in a lab?” Tony blurted. The captain's impassive face went even more deliberately bland. “Sir.” Captain Rogers had evidently decided not acknowledging Tony was the wiser way to go and addressed Fury instead. Not necessarily a bad decision, although he supposed it might get tedious eventually. Given enough time he was sure he could remedy that, though.

“Stark, behave. Try not to antagonize your partner before we even start. Rogers, please take a seat.”

Rogers folded all his delectable limbs into one of the notoriously uncomfortable office chairs that Tony was sure Fury had picked on purpose to stop his inferiors from asking too many questions. He left a carefully empty seat between Tony and himself. Guess he wasn't getting ready to jump Tony's bones. Pity, that. Silence descended while Fury studied both men as if going through a mental checklist.

“Partner?” Tony prompted, making sure his misgivings could be heard just fine. “Why do I need a partner?”

 

 

“Ok. Here's the thing.” Fury leaned back in his own, infinitely more comfortable chair, steepling his fingers. “This morning we apprehended Corbin and Del Porter, before they were to leave for Marseille, where they were to board the cruise ship Queen of the Nile the day after tomorrow. Corbin Porter's research on recreating the super soldier serum seems to currently be in the phase of animal testing and of course, both the Military and SHIELD are very interested in the results. Which have been slow in coming. Of course, the good guys are not the only ones interested. We started getting suspicious when Porter, who is usually a bit of scientific exhibitionist, suddenly stopped bragging about preliminary results. This could mean the latest results are disappointing, of course, but then it so happened we noticed that Corbin and Del had booked a small luxury cruise. Intelligence is almost sure the cruise was booked for them by Hydra and that meetings have been arranged to take place on board. We need to know what Hydra knows, what they are planning and how Porter's research fits into those plans. We need you to take the place of these two men. We don't think they have had any face to face contact with the Hydra people before, and we have our best people on surveillance, so if they had we would have known. As I explained to Stark before you arrived, Captain Rogers,” Fury turned to face the blond demi-god, “We need people on board who resemble the descriptions of these two men, who have a high enough security clearance and who can convince Hydra they know what they are talking about. It's a stroke of luck, really, that we have the two of you who meet these requirements and that both of you were available on short notice.”

Tony was about to object he was going to miss an important Stark Industries board meeting and that Pepper would be angry, but he figured that would be met with derision. Justifiably so, since he hardly ever bothered to show up for those.

“I was about to be deployed,” inserted Rogers and he sounded put out instead of relieved. Military people were weird.

“Your country needs you on this cruise ship right now, captain.” Fury managed to say it with a straight face, which only went to show that Tony really didn't merit Fury's best efforts on any given day, because the man never bothered to hide his subtle gloating when he was ordering Tony around. “Your superiors assured us you are the best man for the job and I am convinced we can turn you into a believable Del Porter.” He called up an image on the projected monitor and Tony blinked twice and swallowed hard. Del was maybe a couple of inches shorter than Captain Built and Blond, but their physiques were similar. It was the differences that screamed for attention here though. As opposed to the straight laced man beside him, whose solemn presence generated an aura of control and one that demanded respect, Del was a bleached blond, spray tanned, manscaped and bedazzled fashion victim. And clearly a giant poof.

He glanced at the perfect soldier next to him and stifled a snort at the look of wide eyed shock on the formerly impassive face. “Your country needs you to spend a long and painful day at a spa, Captain Beefcake,” he managed to get out before he could not hold back his laughter anymore. Fury glared and Rogers finally deigned to look at him. He graced Tony with a frown.

“Shut it, Stark.” It sounded like a threat. “Here, let me show you Corbin.” The next picture that was pulled up on the monitor bore an uncanny resemblance to the guy in countless memes that had crossed Tony's own screens when lack of sleep and sustenance seemed to conspire to make him think multitasking and social media were a good thing.

“Really? I am supposed to be The Most Interesting Man in the World?”

“I wouldn't go that far,” Fury offered after a pause, clearly puzzled by what he considered a non-sequitur. Rogers' look was totally blank.

Tony sprawled a little more pointedly in his chair and rolled his eyes. “Seriously, you guys need to expand your cyberspace horizons. Let me know when you're ready to move on from MySpace, we can start a support group for you.”

“Thank you for your input, Stark. So, yes. Both of you are booked at a spa. Captain Rogers, you will get your hair bleached, a full body wax, manicure and pedicure and a spray tan. I've been told the tattoos on your ass can be done so they will hold for at least a week.” Tony tapped out a quick instruction to Jarvis to create a meme featuring the Dos Equis man stating I don't always do what Fury says, but when I do I make sure he regrets it and then to set it as the wallpaper on Nick's phone. “Stark will get the mani/pedi, a perm, we'll dye his hair and beard gray and he will have to get his ear pierced for the diamond stud.”

“Whoa! Whoa!” Tony sat up. “Gray? Really? No gray! No. Gray. Porter decided today to dye his hair brown for this cozy little getaway. He seems like the type.”

“Or, we could just strip the dye out of yours, Stark and have you go back to your natural state of salt and pepper. If Porter's man enough to age gracefully, I'm sure you could man up too.”

“Hello, fuck you very much, I do not have gray hair, Mr I'll Just Shave It Off So No One Can Tell. I happen to have superior genes all the way. Brains, beauty and a full head of not gray hair.”

It was Fury's turn to roll his eyes. “Nice try, Stark. The ladies at the spa have already received their instructions. If you hurt them or try to bribe them I will sic Black Widow on you. Are we clear?” Tony wisely shut up and apparently Captain Rogers was still struck dumb by Del Porter's fabulosity.

“Alright. If that is all, you'd best get on your way. We'll send the files with you so you can read them while your hair dye is setting and we'll meet in the morning before your flight.”

“Hold on,” said Tony, “Those guys don't look like they are related at all. For one thing, Corbin is at least 20 years older than Del. Do they have different mothers?”

“Of course they're not related.” Fury's eye was fucking twinkling. “Didn't I mention it was a Couples' Cruise? Del and Corbin are husbands. Married three months ago after a whirlwind romance. They are newlyweds going on their honeymoon. Now, off you go.” He made a shooing motion with his hand.

Well, shit. That was going to be supremely awkward. In the good scenario. 

Tony expected Rogers to just salute and go sacrifice his lovely hair and his miles of creamy skin for Freedom and the American Way, but the man spoke as he stood up.

“Sir, if Del Porter is just there for...” He hesitated.

“Arm candy,” Tony supplied helpfully, with only the tiniest bit of leering.

“Yes... That. If he is only there to be decorative and won't be involved in the meetings, can't you send someone who'd be more proficient at.... That?” He gestured helplessly at the picture of Del Porter with a look of quiet desperation on his face. Tony actually felt a little sorry for the man, even if he was obviously a stick in the mud and unfairly gorgeous to boot. He just looked so very, very uncomfortable and so very, very sincere. And Fury didn't give a shit.

“Captain Rogers, that is not my decision to make. You can take it up with your superiors of course, but I think it would not look good on your record.” Rogers shuttered his face and didn't even salute when he left the room. Tony leaned back in his chair and squinted at Fury.

“Why the fuck did the brass send Captain Tight-Ass to do this job? He's obviously horrified by this scenario and will break cover and run the first time he has to hold my hand. They can't possibly have a shortage of tall muscular dudes, who would be better suited for this. Hell, they probably have a dozen or so gay ones. This has disaster written all over it, Nick.”

“It's a security clearance thing. Apparently he is the only one with a high enough clearance and can be made to look the part.”

“That is weird too. How does someone under 30 and with the lowly rank of captain end up with stratospheric security clearance?”

“It's a good question, but not one the men in uniform would answer for me. I have my suspicions, but let me know what you think once you get to know him more intimately.” The motherfucker waggled his one visible eyebrow. Tony rolled his eyes in answer. He gave a him a sloppy imitation of the salute Rogers had omitted and muttered: “Stay thirsty, my friend.” Then he got the hell out.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Dazed & Confused

 

Steve stared at the contents of Del's suitcase spread out on the odd circular bed in the cruise ship cabin. Stark had mumbled something about the seventies wanting their swinger pad back, whatever that meant, and had disappeared into the bathroom. There were red roses and chocolate covered strawberries on the night stand. Steve didn't think he had felt this lost and out of place even when he first woke up in the 21st century after a 70 year long nap in the ice. The fact that he had woken up in a military hospital on a military base had cushioned the transition more than he had realized. While the weapons had changed, and while the army was certainly much more 'inclusive' these days, with negroes, women and queers as combatants, the environment had been familiar and that had been comforting. Now he regretted not getting off base more in the year since had woken up.  He had failed to make much of an effort to adjust to this new century. He had clung to the service, like a baby with a security blanket, and it had been ripped away...

He stared at the colorful assortment of garments that seemed to have pieces missing. Like legs, and a few crotches. And he wondered why Del would pack chaps for a boat trip with no horses or motorcycles to be had. The contents of the thing that could only be described as a beauty case were puzzling to Steve, who had never used more than soap, a razor and a comb. And the sex toys.... He didn't want to think about the sex toys. They mostly looked like torture instruments. Many, many torture instruments.

He ran his hands through his hair and winced at the texture of the 'product' as the spa lady had called it. She had seemed excited about the platinum blond Tintin quiff, the almost orange tan and his plucked eyebrows and he hadn't wanted to offend her with his lack of enthusiasm, but he doubted he had pulled it off. He must have looked as uncomfortable as he felt. He absently rubbed the nipple piecing that had already healed under the pink polo shirt he was wearing. Stark called it 'salmon'. Whatever. Useful modern word that, he liked that word. Exchanging his dog tags for the silver medallion had maybe hurt the most, although having the hair on his balls removed probably scored higher on a purely physical pain level. What even was the point of that? It looked weird, it felt weird... he had not been this smooth since he was 12. Even now he felt the urge to wiggle to get comfortable in the skimpy briefs and the weirdly short long pants. Stark called them 'capris'. Whatever.

 

 

Tony Stark.... Now there was a conundrum. He was Howard's son, no doubt about it. There was a physical resemblance of course, but also a shared devil-may-care attitude. Although Tony seemed harder somehow, as if he was used to not being liked, while Howard had been big on bluster and charm to appeal to people and get his way. For a moment Steve had feared Stark would recognize him from old pictures that Howard was bound to have had, but either Howard had never shown them to him or Stark had brushed off any resemblance to a man considered dead for 70 years as a coincidence. So far, Stark had mostly ignored him, spending the flight to Marseille immersed in Porter's papers and swearing at either his lot in life or Porter's questionable skills, Steve wasn't quite sure. There had also been some bitching about having to take a commercial flight, although he had been charming and nice to the flight attendants. Steve really couldn't see what could possibly be wrong with flying first class, himself. He'd had trouble not staring like a yokel at the insane luxury on board.

Steve had studied Stark surreptitiously. He was a handsome man, with laugh lines and a penetrating stare, disrespectful and sarcastic, but obviously smart and focused when he wanted to be. Steve had liked Howard, but he had always felt too much like the scrawny unpopular kid hanging out with the flashy dandy to ever feel confident in their friendship. Something that was subtly fed by Howard as much as his own insecurities, he was sure. Stark's mercurial mood changes were somehow more honest and.... appealing. He guessed he could have gotten a worse partner for this pretend marriage, and, boy, was that whole gay marriage thing an alien concept for a guy born in 1918. He reminded himself that Hydra was invloved in this and that that should really be his priority. Nothing else

 

***

 

Stark strolled out of the bathroom while Steve was still working up the courage to touch anything in the suitcase. He came over and stood next to Steve, following his stare.

“I can see why you're scared. That's quite intimidating.” Stark jerked his chin at a realistic looking forearm with a balled fist that had been packed with the sex toys. He looked aside to catch Steve's eye. Steve looked back. Stark's smile bloomed into a blinding grin that came across as just a little bit deranged and more than a little bit evil. And Steve could not help but grin back, suddenly feeling a little less pathetically lost.

“It seems a little extreme,” Steve admitted.

“Not that I would ever be desperate enough to use another man's sex toys,” Stark said, “But nothing that size goes anywhere near my ass, thank you. Those agate anal beads are more my style.” He gestured to the weird short necklace type thing that Steve had previously considered to be odd jewelry. What on earth were anal beads? And what was it with these 21st century people and their total lack of shame in talking about such private things? Blushing furiously, Steve started gathering armfuls of stuff and haphazardly stuffing it into drawers. The sex toys stayed in the suitcase that he unceremoniously shoved into the tiny closet. Only then did he dare look up and meet Stark's eyes again.

“Well, that was certainly efficient,” Stark said with a little smirk, “Let's go check out the balcony.” Once they'd gone outside, he carefully closed the door behind them.

“Alright, Del, I don't know if the room is monitored but it's unlikely they have surveillance on the balconies. Although they're prime murder spots, really. Tip someone over the railing in the middle of the ocean and you're done.” He looked down at the water at least a hundred feet below and whistled. Steve winced. This water was much warmer for sure, but drowning was drowning and he still had nightmares. Stark looked critically at all the parts of the ship they could see. “Don't see anything obvious, I guess we'll take the risk... So the first thing we need to do is to figure out the security system and for that I need access to the ship's network. We'll need to find the internet cafe. Then I guess we'll have to wait for Hydra to make contact, and I fucking hate waiting. I suck at waiting. People start hating me when I have to do a lot of waiting. What is the plan for when they approach us?”

“Well, they're going to expect you to do the talking,” said Steve, “But I think it's important that, whatever happens, we don't let them separate us. They may want to offer you something in return for information, but they may also be willing to kidnap me to force you to give it up. Or kidnap you to make you work for them. Or they may not want anything at all and just want to make sure our side doesn't have access to this information.” He paused for a second. “In that case they would probably try to kill you to shut Porter up. And then they might not even make contact first, but just get rid of you when the opportunity presents itself. Whatever we do, we need to do together, to keep that from happening.”

“Good points.” Tony seemed irritated. At his imminent death, or at the waiting or at the prospect of being virtually shackled to Steve 24/7, that wasn't immediately clear. “Alright. Let's go take care of the security system then, Del.”

Steve followed him off the balcony and out of the room, breathing a sigh of relief. At least they weren't talking about sex toys anymore. Although it seemed kind of messed up that he'd prefer snipers over sex toys, really.

 

 

The ship was.... overwhelming. There were indoor and outdoor pools, restaurants, shops, casinos, gyms, night clubs and there were people everywhere. He automatically started trying to spot the enemy. Their contact could be anybody. Snipers could be anywhere. Contact would likely be made during one of the scheduled activities, but that didn't mean they weren't being watched this minute. It could be that guy with the dodgy hairpiece that was staring at them. Although it looked like his companion was pregnant, that might be a bit much even for Hydra. But times had certainly changed that way and....

He almost yelped when Stark yanked him into a deserted hallway and shoved him up against a wall.

“For god's sake, Rogers, stand the fuck down!” Stark hissed furiously. “Can you look any more like a soldier out there? Do you think Del Porter has been any closer to being in the military than dressing like a stripper cop for Halloween? You can't just fucking look the part, you have to act the part, Captain Boytoy.” Steve sucked in an unsteady breath. Stark was very close and very angry and that was very... wow. It took him a few seconds to realize that Stark seemed to expect an answer.

“I.... Yeah.... Sorry. Old habits. It's going to be a little difficult to make the switch.”

“You don't have a grace period, Rogers! Who knows who else besides Hydra is on this fucking boat? If our guys found out, maybe Al Qaeda and Interpol did too. You can't be seen to be anyone but Mademoiselle Del or they'll fucking know we're on to them and then we might as well paint a big red target on your fine ass. And mine!”

“You're right, you're right. But how do I....?” Stark was staring hard at the floor now, his hands still fisted in Steve's shirt as if he was trying to control his temper, and all Steve could see was his hair. He'd always thought that gray hair would be coarse and brittle, but Stark's hair looked soft and curled a bit around his ear. Maybe that was because it was just dye? He wondered if was as soft as it looked.

“How do you what?” Stark's head snapped up and now Steve was staring into fierce brown eyes and somehow that felt like a punch in the gut.

“How do you what?” Stark repeated. Steve closed his eyes. Focus, dammit.

“How do I..... How do I be Del?” he finally managed, much more uncertain than he wanted to sound. “I don't have a clue how to do this.” Stark sighed and bowed his head again. He let go of Steve's shirt and that felt a little bit like a loss, but then Stark started smoothing out the wrinkles he had left in the pink -no, salmon- polo shirt and that was good. Yeah, that was really nice. Of him. That was nice of him. It took him a moment to realize Stark was talking again.

“.... need to get to the public internet access, so for now, just stay close to me, try to saunter more than march in your own private parade. If you can manage a swish.... No, scratch that. Bad idea. Don't get swishy. I don't want to see your attempts at swishy. Just focus on me... Jesus fuck, are these abs for real? ...I mean, just look at me like I am the most fascinating person on this ship.” If Steve had met anyone more fascinating since he woke up from the ice he couldn't remember it now, especially since Stark was still petting his abs, not even anywhere near the wrinkled part of his shirt. He also felt a weird sense of pride that his abs were indeed for real, and that was strange because he could not remember ever feeling anything in particular about his abs before, one way or another.

“Yeah, I think I can do that.” Um, that came out sounding a bit breathless. Forcing his voice back under control, he asked: “Shall we go, then?”

“Yeah. Yes. Let's do it.” Stark seemed a little reluctant to step back, but then placed his hand on the small of Steve's back to steer him out of the hallway. The warmth of it was distracting and Stark didn't take his hand away even when they turned into the main corridor. Steve had absolutely no problems being completely focused on Stark after that and it was fairly easy to match his steps to Stark's to keep that hand in place. Couples were displaying affection everywhere he could see on this ship, in ways that would have been unthinkable in the forties, but that didn't stop him from feeling a little short on oxygen all the way there.

 

 

When they arrived Stark chose a terminal in the corner and told Steve to block him from sight.

“Just rest your hands on the back of my chair and lean over my shoulder a bit as if you're trying to read the screen. Everybody will be too preoccupied with your ridiculous shoulder-to-waist ratio to see what I am doing. If you stick your ass back a bit we may even get some free drinks out of this.” The leaning and looming wasn't that hard, and if Stark hadn't mentioned his ass, maybe he'd have been totally unselfconscious about pushing it back. But now he was hyper aware of the way his pants -capris- whatever, pulled down a bit when he leaned forward. Was the tattoo showing? 'Tramp stamp' Stark had called it. Steve wasn't sure whether that meant any tattoo, any tattoo above your ass crack, or compass rose tattoos above your ass crack in particular. By the time Steve managed to pull his attention away from his ass and how to prevent it from being on display while still leaning forward, Stark had dismantled part of the computer and hooked up something that looked like one of those pocket phones.

“What are you doing?” Steve whispered close to Stark's ear.

Stark twitched as if he hadn't expected to have Steve be quite so close. “I am uploading my AI into the ship's system. Fury said I could not bring any tech that Porter would not have, but I am interpreting that as having to hide my own tech in the outdated crap Porter would carry around. So I spent the night before we flew redesigning and camouflaging stuff. Like I'd go anywhere without JARVIS.”

Insubordination, thy name is Tony Stark. “Who is JARVIS?” Steve asked.

“That's my AI.... Good, it's done.” Stark quickly put the terminal back together, while Steve wondered what an AI was. Tony stood up and fished two stubby things with loops out of his pocket and handed one to Steve. He watched Tony put the loop around his ear so that the stubby thing was sitting snug against it and moved to copy him.

“These are com units disguised as bluetooth headsets. All the posers have them, so besides the fact that we lose cool points, nobody will think we're odd. Just a bit more douchey than we really are. With these we can talk to each other and to JARVIS. I've set up a personal secured network in our bathroom that should cover the entire ship. Don't dick with the purple hairdryer in the bathroom, okay, it's not a hairdryer.” Stark tapped on the stubby thing that had no teeth as far as Steve could see, let alone blue ones, but whatever. The only thing he'd had come away with from that little speech was not to touch the purple hairdryer. That he could do. Then he suddenly heard Stark right in his ear when he said: “JARVIS? Say hello to captain Steve Rogers, known on this ship as Del Porter.”

“Delighted to meet you, sir,” said a distinctly British voice and Steve's felt his eyes go wide.

Stark grinned at him. “That is JARVIS. He'll answer any questions you have. Try not to piss him off, he can be a bitchy little queen if you get his virtual hackles up.”

“Only because I have been programmed by one,” said JARVIS in a distinctly less friendly tone of voice.

“Sure you have, JARVIS. Now, Del, let's saunter, yes, saunter back to the cabin, shall we?” Stark was laughing at Steve, obviously proud of his accomplishments and apparently used to JARVIS being less than deferential. He started walking away, distractedly yammering sotto voce at JARVIS, but when Steve didn't immediately follow, Stark reached back and snagged his hand. Steve felt his face heat and even if that had mostly subsided by the time they reached their cabin, he still felt slightly drunk and off-kilter when they got there. And so very, very conscious of all the calluses and scrapes on Stark's hand and how warm and solid it felt in his own.

 

 

In the cabin Stark let go, to Steve's relief and at the same time not, and turned to him.

“According to JARVIS there is no visual surveillance in this room, he is overriding the audio with static whenever we're here, so it will sound like a malfunction, and we can talk freely. If needed he can clear other spaces for us, but I want him to interfere as little as possible. The more passively he can ride on the system, the less chance of detection by Hydra.” Steve nodded and caught himself smiling, again. He hadn't smiled this much in months... Man, Stark was a force to be reckoned with, possibly even more brilliant than Howard had been. It felt odd not to be quite in charge, but if he was honest that was probably just as well, since this wasn't exactly a battlefield situation. Stark seemed to know what they were doing. All Steve had to do for now was follow his lead, watch the guy's back and learn to swish. Seemed doable. Even if the swishing might not be.

 

 

Fifteen minutes later his optimism had crashed.

“I can't dance,” he said unhappily.

“It's part of our itinerary on this ridiculous ship and a likely place to meet our contact. And not a likely place to be murdered, I might add. We can't skip it, Steve. It's not for another two days, and it's a class, we're supposed to be learning it,” Stark insisted.

“No, I mean... I can't learn to dance. I just..... can't.” Steve sat down heavily on the stupid round bed and buried his face in his hands. At times like this it seemed like yesterday that he had woken up in a world without Peggy, without Bucky, without Howard or anybody else that remembered him as just Steve, and not a personification of the all-American hero. Who currently happened to be the awkward little secret of the US Armed Forces. At times like this he could barely contain the grief about failing to die when everyone he loved had done so and left him the loneliest man in world. Out of time, out of place, out of friends.

“Because.....?” Stark sounded hesitant, correctly sensing he was about to enter a minefield. Steve said nothing. “Okay, I am shit at emotional stuff, I truly am, and I am guessing that is what this is and not an issue with a torn hamstring or an allergy to sequins or something. Normally I'd be the last person I'd recommend explaining this shit to, because my reaction will be inappropriate at best and likely make you cry at worst. But this is really important to the success of the mission and I'm your only teammate, which sucks for you, I can't even express how much, I am really an execrable team player. But I can't help find a solution if I don't know what we're trying to fix.”

Steve breathed deeply. Stark was right. Man up, soldier.

“Peggy... She was.... She was going to teach me to dance. Before....”

“Wife? Girlfriend?” Tony inquired, “She left? Died?”

“I suppose you'd call it girlfriend. She... yeah... she died. Just before our date. Um, last year.” Ten years ago, actually, but it might as well have been last year, at the time Steve came back from the dead, for all the time he'd had to process it.

“I'm sorry man. That has to be difficult.” Tony threw his arm around Steve's shoulder and pulled him into a side-hug. Steve let himself lean into it. He was so fucking tired of being lonely.

“You know. Stew on that one for a while. Maybe it won't look so bad in the morning once the shock of possibly learning to dance with someone else wears off a bit. And if you still can't do it, we'll fake a last minute sprained ankle or something.” Tony patted his back before he pulled his arm off and pulled out the itinerary again. “Now, how do you feel about karaoke?”

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Wet & Wild


Tony woke up on a couch. At first he wasn't quite sure where he was and what had woken him up. For one thing, this was not his couch and the blanket that had been draped over him actually left his face free, which is not something that Dumm-E had ever managed to accomplish. Then the smell of coffee registered and he jerked upright. Right.... cruise ship cabin. With a coffeemaker, praise Jesus and Princess Cruise Lines. He dug around the blanket for his StarkPad-camouflaged-as-an-IPad because the last thing he remembered was looking up Frank Sinatra songs.

“I put it on the coffee table for you,” came Steve's voice from behind him, “I wasn't sure if it would break if you slept on it.” Tony rubbed his eyes. Blankets, coffee and now tablet retrieval. That was a lot of random acts of kindness for Tony to process. Especially before he'd consumed said coffee. He had not planned on sleeping, but apparently the 40 odd hours he's been awake since the meeting in Fury's office had caught up with him. So much easier to stay awake when you were actually working on something. He was already missing his workshop and the ability to do something besides wait for the villains to show up. Something more interesting than looking up Frank Sinatra songs, anyway. According to the itinerary, Del and Corbin were signed up for the Karaoke Duet Night, so 'Del' and 'Corbin' were going to have to show up and sing something. It had turned out that Steve barely grasped the concept of karaoke, couldn't carry a tune in a bucket and knew only a handful of songs if you didn't count his extensive knowledge of Glen Miller, early Sinatra and pre-war show tunes. Steve had been embarrassed at that and Tony irritated, but eventually both of them had realized at about same time that they were talking about karaoke as if they were planning the D-day invasion, and they'd cracked up. Still, if Sabbath Bloody Sabbath was out of the question, then Tony wasn't going to sing any fucking Bruno Mars or show tunes with Steve at Karaoke Night, thankyouverymuch. Dedicated late night browsing had turned up some Sinatra that would only require Steve to go 'ooooooh' in the back ground. Of course the ship's karaoke library did not have that one, but JARVIS had fixed that real quick.

Where was the fucking coffee? Tony looked up to see Steve standing nearby patiently holding out a cup, waiting for him to notice. He grabbed it eagerly and downed it as fast as he could. Strong enough to strip paint, just how he liked it. There was amusement in Steve's expression when Tony looked back up.

“Figured you'd be one of those people who can't even begin to function without coffee,” Steve said as he poured himself a cup.

“What gave it away?” Tony croaked, scratching his head and then clearing his throat.

“The fourteen cups you had yesterday.”

“You counted?” Tony was a little surprised.

“I made a bet with myself that you would have more than 10. I won.” Steve smiled at him as if he was really glad he won that bet. With himself. Dork.

“Well, then you should know one cup isn't going to cut it when I wake up. Do we have more?” Steve gestured and Tony helped himself to another cup that he could savor more slowly, now that his immediate survival was no longer at stake. He wandered outside onto the balcony, leaving the door open and leaned against the railing looking out over the blue waves. It was a spectacular spring day. Maybe things weren't all that horrible.

“Too bad we aren't really married,” he called back at Steve, “You could cover me with blankets whenever I fall asleep, and make me coffee every morning, and on nice days like this you could fuck me over the railing here.” He heard a clatter inside the cabin and a mutter that could possibly the first curse word he'd heard Steve say. Shitshitshit, not enough sleep. Not enough coffee. Not enough brain cells firing to remember that Steve hadn't been exactly thrilled about the pretend gay married thing.

Steve's voice came from inside the cabin and Tony could just about hear the blush in his voice: “Are you.... I mean.... Are you...?” God, the man could not even say the word gay. Lord help them all.

“No, Steve, I am not gay, I am an opportunist. I have honestly never met a set of genitals I didn't like. It's kind of unfortunate that many of them are attached to people I don't really care for, and I have learned in my ripe old age that those are really not worth the hassle when all is said and done, but I am not particularly bothered by what shape they take, really. Sex is sex, you know. I get off, they get off, it's all good.” Steve remained silent and Tony decided to press on. Share and share alike, pal. “How about you? Good old home-schooled Christian farm boy who loves Jesus and America and guns but hates fags?”

“I'm from Brooklyn, actually, and not really religious.” Tony could hear the trace of the accent now. “But, yes, I love my country.” Steve stuck his head out the door and frowned at him. Tony gave him a big, fake Cheshire Cat grin in return, with just a little bit of 'don't fuck with me' in the eyes. I took a moment, but then Steve smiled and retreated, shaking his head. At Tony or at himself for not berating Tony for his shocking lack of patriotism, that wasn't entirely clear, but he guessed they were still good. Good, that was good. Even if Steve hadn't answered the important part of the question. Which was interesting. Far more interesting than the fact that Tony apparently gave a fuck whether he had Steve's approval or not. Right.


Del and Corbin had only preregistered for one shore excursion, two days from now. Steve and Tony didn't know whether they had planned to play it by ear or whether they were scheduled to meet with people on the ship, so to play it safe they had decided to stay on the ship unless the itinerary specified otherwise. The upside was that Tony thought they were less likely to be murdered while on the ship. Unless it was convincingly made to look like an accident a ship was easily closed down for a murder (or missing person's) investigation. It was easier to do away with someone and get away with it while wandering in a strange city. The downside was that Steve had looked kind of disappointed that he wouldn't get to see Nice and Florence. He denied it of course, but the man's poker face wasn't so good. That, or Tony was reading him much better already. Tony had to bite his tongue before he could offer to take Steve to Florence later, when this was all over. Because, really? That made no fucking sense at all. There wasn't going to be any after. Steve was nothing to him, after all.


Nothing but a guy he desperately wanted to fuck. As of, like, half an hour ago. It had only been three hours since his morning coffee but now Tony was in agony. They were at the pool and Steve had taken off his robe and started swimming laps in the pool and Jesus fucking God, the guy was flawless. He'd had a general idea, of course, you can't hide that kind of body completely under clothes, but it had not even been close to the reality of being exposed to all that gloriously soft looking skin moving smoothly over the superbly defined muscles. Granted, the skin was a bit of a disturbing color due to the spray tan, but, you know, muscles everywhere. And his ass was to die for in the European booty-short style swim trunks that clung in all the right places. He was going to have to send the real Del a thank you card for packing those. Right after he keelhauled Corbin for being the wanker that only packed Speedos as swim attire, mind you. Not that Tony would have been able to get in the pool with Steve anyway, because even camouflaged with the artificial skin flap, it'd be a little awkward to explain the arc reactor to the general public while still pretending to be Corbin.

The worst though, the absolute worst, was the little silver barbell pierced through Steve's left nipple. Ungh. Tony could just imagine, very vividly, what it would be like to suck that into his mouth. Steve's breath would hitch every time he flicked it with his tongue. Or maybe he'd moan. Moaning was good, especially Tony's name. Tony's hand would wander over those perfect abs, the other cupping that perfect ass. And Steve, sweet, gorgeous Steve would press his hips up to find friction against Tony's dick and.... and he really needed to put his tablet down now to hide the tent in his shorts.

Laying back on the lounge chair Tony looked everywhere but at Steve, still cutting through the water like he was Michael fucking Phelps. Several women on the other side of the pool were appreciating the show too, but most of the men pretended not to notice their wives' drooling. Although one Middle Eastern looking guy was staring at Steve openly. And then his eyes swerved to Tony. Back and forth. Hidden behind his sunglasses Tony watched him out of the corner of his eyes, suddenly alert. Could he be the contact, or was he more likely to belong with a rival organization? He looked at the guy straight on for a sec, took a picture with the glasses' inbuilt camera and tapped his earpiece.

“JARVIS, can you run this guy through the database? Do we know him?” There was a moment of silence, because JARVIS was a little slow on the ship.

“Not in the database I have readily available, sir. I could search foreign national databases if you like, but it's going to significantly impact the ship's available bandwidth and I'd likely be discovered in the system. Performing the search in a way that would not raise the suspicions of the sys admin would take up to 24 hours to complete.”

“Yech, that is positively medieval. Do it, I guess, but don't get caught.” He watched the man some more to see if he was going to approach or anything but the guy seemed content with just watching Steve for now.

As well he should. Steve was just now standing up in the shallow end of the pool, brushing back his hair from his face. Water was streaming aesthetically down all the planes and angles of his torso. Muscles were rippling with the movement of his arms and his tramp stamp was just peaking out of the back of the swim trunks. Then he ascended the stairs of the pool like the gay porn version of the the Birth of Venus. Tony wondered if his tablet would break if he slammed it down on his dick to make it behave. He checked back in with the swarthy dude. Still watching Steve, still flicking his eyes back to Tony on occasion. Tony turned his eyes to Steve, wondering if he was going to go back in or come over, but one of the women in the lounge chairs had seized the opportunity to go chat Steve up. Now that she could safely do so and not get her designer bikini wet. Although the way she was trying to climb him might cause some water damage anyway. Steve looked uncomfortable, but he wasn't peeling her off. He was shaking his head, which had absolutely no effect whatsoever on the pouty princess. Tony sighed and rolled his eyes. Of course Steve would have a problem with being rude to women, he probably referred to hookers as 'ladies' too. Tony's job, then, to go stake his claim.

 

Alright.... Showtime!

 

He strolled over, making sure to roll his hips and plastered himself to Steve's other side, drew Steve's arm around his own shoulders and interlaced their fingers, making sure to flash the wedding ring that matched the one Steve was wearing.

“Del, doll, who is your new friend?” Tony graced the girl with a viciously fake smile.

“Oh,” stammered Steve, “I don't.... I don't think she's told me her name yet?”

“Too busy inviting you somewhere more.... private?” Tony looked the young woman up and down. “Sorry, hon, I don't think you have what it takes to 'raise' his interest, if you know what I mean. Is that last year's KENZO swimwear?” Pouty princess went extremely pouty at that point, but was apparently smart enough to know a lost cause when she saw one and beat a retreat. Tony guided Steve back to the lounge with a hand on his ass, just in case she was watching. She was. And boy did that feel good. Steve's ass too.

“That was a bit rude,' mumbled Steve.

“Yeah, well, what can you do? I don't play well with others. Just ask Fury.”

Tony sat down in the chair with his legs wide and motioned for Steve to recline with his back against Tony's chest, his head on Tony's shoulder.

“Come on, doll, time to act the part. I think I have spotted our contact.” Tony whispered in his ear when Steve had settled, a little reluctantly. He could feel Steve go alert against his chest, so he wrapped his arms around that lovely torso and said: “Ssshhh. Relax. You're just lying here with your husband, everything is hunky dory, you're not trying to spot any international terrorists, no sirree.” Steve leaned a little more weight against him as he relaxed back down.

“Where?” he asked, not looking around at all. Tony fished a pair sunglasses out of his pocket and plopped them on Steve's nose. Hands going right back to where they had been, though, brushing lightly up and down Steve's sides.

“At 10 o'clock. Middle Eastern dude. Has been watching both of us rather intently for the last 20 minutes or so.”

“You think Hydra has a lot of Middle Eastern members?”

“Sure. I can almost guarantee it. You need a certain amount of chaos in a region to fly under the radar as organized crazy-ass evildoers, you know. The European Union is way too regulated for them. And the EU may be pissy about the US refusing to import their mad cow infested beef, and they don't particularly appreciate all that 'greatest country in the world' tripe our tourists spew at rude Parisian waiters, but they really have relatively few issues with us. Honey, Europeans have way too much vacation time to bother trying to take over the world these days. I'll bet you a million dollars Hydra has abandoned all their dank Austrian castles and moved to more fertile breeding grounds of discontent people. Like the Middle East. Nice and volatile, bribable despotic fanatics in charge, zealots everywhere, it's like a candy shop.” Tony's hands had snuck around to the front of Steve's torso while he was talking and were now petting his pecs. His eye fell on the pouty girl who was glaring at him rather resentfully still. Just to mess with her, he flicked the barbell in Steve's nipple. Steve almost jumped out of his skin and Tony had to hold on with both arms to keep him in place. Oh, how fun!

“Easy, doll, just warning off the barracuda.” Tony caught her eyes and stared right back.

“Is that his code name or something?” Steve's voice was a little breathless.

“What? No! That's the girl who wanted you to take her non-existent virginity. See, she keeps glaring at me, the little man-stealer.” He flicked the piercing again. This time Steve stayed put but he sucked in a sharp breath. Oh, those nipples were really sensitive. Tony felt himself grinning like a maniac and he had to hide it in the crook of Steve's neck. Which of course made it almost impossible not to open his mouth and drag it up Steve's neck, so he did. The fingers of his left hand were now rubbing the barbell continuously.

“Tony.....” Steve sounded strangled, but he tilted his head for better access and that gesture went straight to Tony's dick.

“It's Corbin, doll, stay in character,” he breathed into Steve's ear, delighted with the shudder that caused. He felt a tiny little bit guilty about taking advantage of the situation. Steve couldn't elbow him in the ribs right here in the open and not cause a scene, but he seemed disinclined to do so anyway. He kind of hoped that Steve would be too embarrassed to tell anyone about this or Pepper was bound to send him to one of those 'don't touch people and keep your mouth shut, you pervert' trainings again. But even that prospect wasn't a strong enough incentive to stop him mouthing along Steve's jaw. He was getting close to Steve's mouth and he knew he wasn't going to stop. He was going to kiss him and it would be glorious. Excitement ran like an electric current along his spine. For a moment it seemed that Steve was turning toward the inevitable kiss, that he wanted Tony's mouth on his as much as Tony wanted it, and Tony wanted it badly, but then Steve went rigid.

“Tony, he's gone. The contact left!”

God dammit! FuckfuckfuckFUCK! They disentangled as quickly as they could without looking totally ridiculous and Steve stood up and put his robe back on. But not before Tony had glimpsed the undeniable swelling in his swim trunks, which made him almost crow in triumph while still cursing himself for letting himself get so distracted. He shoved his stuff in Corbin's man-purse and pulled Steve with him.

“Let's see if we can still catch him.”


They tried, but it was no use, the guy had vanished in the crowds.

“Well, Corbin.” Steve sounded decidedly unimpressed, “What the hell was that?”

Tony considered the question. “Unprofessional and inappropriate?” he offered.

“Damn straight,” Steve bit out and stalked off towards their cabin.

“Well.... not one hundred percent straight, buddy,” Tony muttered under his breath, then followed at a more leisurely pace.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Dine & Dash

 

Tony was beyond irritated. They'd scoured the ship after Steve had put his clothes on, more ass-hugging capris and super tight t-shirts to torment Tony with, but they had not found a trace of their potential contact. Steve was in the shower now and Tony was drumming his fingers on the coffee table in the cabin in lieu of banging his head on it. Fuck Fury and fuck this assignment! He knew that, while there was nothing wrong with being pissed off with Fury for general purposes, the man had almost always done something to deserve it (and if he hadn't he was thinking about it) but right now it wasn't really his fault that Tony wanted to rip something apart. Or blow up something big. Really big. Like Death Star big. No, the real problem was that Tony had been distracted at the wrong time, by the wrong thing and had been doing the wrong thing too, arguably to the wrong person. In short, Tony had fucked up, like he so often did, and Steve had not even smiled once all afternoon and that made Tony feel infinitely worse because of course Steve was disappointed. Tony hated that, because, hellooooooo Daddy Issues, and he so wasn't going to go there right now. The long and the short of it was that Steve was rightfully angry because Tony had followed his dick and Tony had no clue what to do about it.

And it was even more irritating that he couldn't seem to move beyond wanting to do something about it in the first place. He usually tried to fix his fuck ups for Pepper, but he couldn't even remember the last time he had done so for Rhodey and it wasn't like Tony didn't disappoint Rhodey on a bi-monthly basis at the very least. What was it about Steve that made Tony want to sit up and beg for affection? Why couldn't he just shrug it off and let it be? It was annoying as hell. If Steve was just as much of a withholding asshole as Howard had been then Tony should want nothing to do with him. Yet here he was wishing like fuck that he was back in his workshop because drowning himself in work was just how he dealt with feeling inadequate, thank you Dr. Freud. But since he had no workshop at hand, the irritation he was feeling had nowhere to go.

 

 

Steve came out of the bathroom dressed for their reserved dinner seating in a perfectly serviceable sports jacket, except that every single item of clothing in Del's suitcase came in colors that really should not be seen outside of ice cream parlors. This one was strawberry flavored, by the looks of it, but the alternative had been pistachio and that just really clashed with Steve's tan. Tony willed his hands to be still and got up to join Steve.

"It's likely that we'll be seated with our contacts tonight," Steve said, voice cool and professional, "That's how I would have set it up if I were part of Hydra. If it is a different man, do we assume that the Middle Eastern is a hostile?"

"I think so," said Tony, "And since we have no guarantee that Hydra is not hostile towards the Porters too, I kind of hope he is there tonight because it would mean fewer people that want us dead."

"Excellent point," admitted Steve.

 

***

 

"And then there is option number three," whispered Tony as he grabbed Steve's arm to slow him down, as soon as he had spotted the table and their dining companions from a ways across the restaurant, "And that is that we're not dining with the guy from before, but definitely not with anyone from Hydra either."

"How can you tell?"

"Six senior citizens with Hawaiian shirts and John Deere ball caps?" Steve followed his gaze.

"Yeah, that seems unlikely. Alright. Well, it will make for a more relaxed dinner, I suppose." Steve started walking again. Tony yanked him back.

"I don't think it will, Steve. I would almost rather face Hydra, to be honest."

"Really? Tony, they are harmless!"

"Sure, they are not going kill us or anything. They are just going be silently disapproving of our 'lifestyle choices', or not so silently, if we get lucky. They are not going to like you."

"Why not? I am perfectly likeable."

Tony refrained from rolling his eyes. Barely. "You're not getting it. These people would find Steve perfectly likeable. In fact, they would love Steve. They'd happily marry their daughters to Steve. It's Del they are going to have problems with."

"But we're the same person..."

"That is what you think. They may be polite about it. They may not. I say we split this joint and go find some food that comes without the hassle. I am really not in the mood for this. Really, really not."

"We can't split. Tony, we agreed that we have to stick to the itinerary. Maybe the waiter is the contact, maybe someone will join us later. We're going in." And he turned to walk to the table. Tony followed, shaking his head. He sing songed into the earpiece: "Really not in the mood, Captain Strawberry Shortcake."

 

 

Table conversation started innocently enough. John Deere hat was Jim, Hawaiian shirt was Randy, Tony didn't catch the third guys name, Jim's wife was Helen, the others were Lois and Joyce. Of course it all began with the 'where are you from's and the 'what do you do's , although it was blatantly obvious they were only addressing Tony and mostly ignoring Steve, except for looking at him sideways. Well, Tony had warned him and Steve had overruled him, so Steve could just suck it up. This left Tony to carry the conversation, though, so he gritted his teeth and put his schmooze face on. He had plenty of experience talking to people at boring social functions after all and he was determined not to piss Steve off again by being unprofessional about this shit. He answered questions about his 'job in research' and listened to their mundane work stories with only half his brain.

Then the conversation shifted to the Deeres' excursion to Monaco and the Monte Carlo Casino that day and Tony was jolted back to being at full alert when Hawaiian Shirt asked him: “You didn't do the excursion today? I would have expected you to.” Tony looked at him. Shit. Were they supposed to have gone and met this guy during the excursion? Was this what a Hydra agent on vacation looked like? Were they all phenomenal undercover artists? He quickly glanced at Steve, but Steve seemed to be trying to disappear into the background and he didn't seem to have caught on to the potential implication of the guy's question.

“How so?” Tony hedged.

“Well, you know, it's very flashy and there's lots of fashion stores and movie stars. I thought you guys might be interested in that sort of thing.” Tony didn't miss how he glanced at Steve while stating this, nor the hint of disapproval in his voice. Right. Not Hydra then. Just a judgmental asshole about men in pink dinner jackets.

“Yeah, sure, but, you know, crippling jet lag. We like to stay in the first couple of days whenever we cruise in Europe.” This got a chorus of agreement and a full 15 minutes of jet lag one-upmanship, complaints about general insomnia and then the discussion veered off into fascinating tales of various aches and ailments all around the table. Tony had not had a minute of jet lag in his life, thanks to his irregular sleeping habits, but he could bullshit with the best of them.

By the time the food came, Steve still had not been drawn into the conversation. In fact, whenever Steve made a comment or asked a question there was a three second pause around the table after which they all started talking again as if nothing had happened and nothing had been said. The longer it went on, the more irritated Tony got. He was starting to feel like a crappy husband and he wasn't even married. He could feel Steve shrinking next to him with every unacknowledged overture. And that was just wrong. Steve should not feel small, it really didn't suit him. He tried to think of what Corbin would do and realized he had no clue. But of course nobody else at this table knew either, so if Tony decided that Corbin would get as irritated as Tony was right now, then guess what? Corbin was going to drag Del into the conversation if it killed him.

He started by making a point of saying 'my husband and I' wherever he could fit it in. Then he followed up by running everything by Del. "The atrium pool is quite nice, isn't it, Del?" "We weren't very impressed with the breakfast buffet, were we, Del? Were your eggs any good, doll? The breakfast burrito was kind of dry, wasn't it?" Steve looked at him a little oddly first, but then played along quite happily. When Tony took his hand and interlaced their fingers in the space between their plates, he gave Tony a smile. He hadn't smiled since the scene at the pool that morning and it made Tony lose his train of thought for half a minute. Thirty glorious seconds in which he smiled dumbly at Steve and hoped to god the guy had not noticed how sweaty Tony's palms had gotten all of a sudden. The senior contingent was a little taken aback at this sudden turn of events, but to give them credit most of them took the fucking hint and made an effort to be more gracious by including Steve.

All except Mr Deere himself, who was now actively glaring at him. Tony sighed a little. Always a dumbass who wouldn't get with the program. He leaned back in his chair and stared back impassively. A few minutes into the staring match, conversation stuttered to a halt as the others caught on to the building tension. Tony brought Steve's hand in front of his chest. He briefly considered sucking on Steve's index finger, but considering that he was probably still pissed at Tony for his earlier forays into dub-con, he settled for twirling his husband's wedding ring back and forth. The silence was deafening. Helen put her hand on her husband's arm, but it didn't seem to settle him much.

"You people...." Tony offered calmly.

"What!" John Deere Hat fired back, decidedly less calm.

"I don't know the particulars, " said Tony, "But you're obviously dying to make a grand statement starting with the words 'you people' and I was about to expire from the anticipation, so I thought I'd help you get started."

"Why is everything about your lifestyle with you people?" Jim hissed.

"Oh, my bad." Tony did a sadface. "You were going to end the statement with 'you people', not start it. Sorry for confusing you. Even so, your statement is still flawed. My best estimate is that you have used the phrase 'my wife' at least two dozen times in the past hour, while I have used 'my husband'.... " Tony paused, pretending to count on Steve's fingers. "Half a dozen times, tops. So objectively this entire conversation has been about your lifestyle, not ours."

"You people....." continued Deere.

"Us people," Tony cut him off, "Are people. People who realize it is completely pointless to try and shoehorn some common decency and tolerance into your brains saturated by Fox news, your megachurches and your Tea Party, so we will leave you to your regularly scheduled ranting about Obamacare.” He paused and tried to look contrite. “Oh dear, am I making sweeping and totally unfounded assumptions based on what you are wearing? How terribly judgmental of me! So sorry! I will strive to be more open minded in the future.” Tony moved his chair back and got to his feet, pulling an unresisting Steve with him. He slung an arm around Steve's waist and smiled in triumph when Steve reciprocated. “Have a pleasant evening, I hope tomorrow's dining companions are less offensive to your delicate sensibilities and that all your grandchildren grow up gay. Goodnight." And with that he turned them around and started steering Steve away.

"Sorry about that," he whispered to him, "But I told you I wasn't in the mood for fucktards. Can we go drink our desserts now?" They almost ran into a waiter, but Steve swept them both to the side as if Tony was one of those life size cardboard cutouts and that was just a little bit hot, to be manhandled like that. Steve dropped his arm, but before Tony could protest, Steve turned him around so that he was facing him and placed his hands on Tony's shoulders.

“Thank you for standing up for me. That.... That was difficult for me. You know, if they'd just punched me every time I'd opened my mouth, that I could have taken. Easily. But this... It brought back some really unpleasant memories and, you know, even if they were snubbing Del and not me, it was still me. You're a stand up guy, Tony.” Was Steve blushing? It was hard to see in the dim light and with the fake tan, but his ears looked decidedly red. Why was Steve blushing? Then Steve leaned forward and kissed him a little awkwardly on the cheek. Oh! To hide his smile, Tony wrapped his arms around Steve and hugged him. It took a second, but then Steve hugged him back. That felt really, really good. Wow, the man was large. Aware that they were standing in the middle of the restaurant and probably blocking traffic, Tony pulled back reluctantly. Okay, now they were both smiling awkwardly at each other and there was more blushing. Which was adorable.

“Let's get drinks.” Tony broke the silence.

"Let's get ice cream."

“Drinks.”

 

***

 

Of course Steve was a vanilla kind of guy. Tony had tried to convince him that Del would totally have opted for the pomegranate green tea smoothie with hemp protein, but Steve had looked so disappointed that Tony had ordered him the largest vanilla cone they had, instead. Although he had the girl put the boring ice cream into a waffle cone dipped in chocolate and rainbow sprinkles. One had to stay in character, after all. They wandered the deck for an hour or more, long after the ice cream was gone. Tony checked in with JARVIS who reported that he had checked arrest records of most Middle Eastern countries, but had not had any luck so far finding any matches for the guy they'd seen at the pool. Disappointing, but hardly unexpected.

Steve was leaning over the railing staring out over the moonlit sea and the little pinpricks of light at the horizon that must be the Italian coastline. Tomorrow the ship would dock in La Spezia for excursions to Florence. Except Steve and Tony were signed up for an afternoon of ballroom dancing lessons. If Steve was up for it. After checking that this part of the ship was truly deserted and there were no ninjas lurking in the shadows, Tony joined him at the railing. Steve moved closer, so their shoulders were touching, creating a warm and solid presence on Tony's side. He felt tension release that he had not even realized he was holding. Silence stretched and it wasn't uncomfortable, at least not until Tony became aware of the things his traitorous brain wanted to toss into that silence. He struggled valiantly, but it was no use, it was like all that decency Steve exuded had short circuited all the usual overrides and his mouth just went ahead without him.

"Steve? You know.... I'm sorry for the way I... lost focus. This morning. And this evening too, I guess. It's something I do. I get distracted. By shiny tech or.... shiny people. Or annoying people. I know you must be pissed off and disappointed in me, I actually think I got Fury stuck in that state permanently, and I...."

"I'm not disappointed in you, " Steve cut in, sounding surprised.

".....You're not?" Tony blinked and tried to mesh this paradigm shift with the silent afternoon. He could not make it add up. "Then why all the frowny faces today?"

"I... uh...." Steve's embarrassment was evident. "I was angry with myself for letting you distract me and it was easier to be angry at you, I guess. But then I realized it was my problem, really. You are so good at playing Corbin and here I am, completely useless at this. I don't know how to act, I don't know what to do. Even when you tell me specifically what I need to do, I muck it up and lose sight of the one person I am supposed to keep an eye on.” He ran a hand through his hair. “I know this probably sounds ridiculous, Tony, but I am so much better at just beating up the bad guys. I'd gladly infiltrate a Hydra facility, or rescue prisoners or anything else, really. But I'm going to do better. I am going man up and be more professional." What a shame a tiny voice in Tony's head complained. Steve went on. "I thought you were angry with me today, because you were so quiet. Quiet doesn't suit you. Things are wrong when you're quiet."

"Well, I was too busy blaming myself. Just like you, apparently.” Tony looked at him sideways. “You sure you don't actually think I am the fuck up in this scenario?"

"Tony, I think you're brilliant." Steve was smiling now. That fucking smile that was going to be the death of Tony. "You get distracted by... shiny stuff. So what. Every man has something he loses focus over. Nobody is that perfect. If you were one of my men, I'd just make a note to keep you aimed in the right direction, as well as cover your back, and that really goes without saying, I hope you know that. I'd have you on my team any day." He looked wistfully out at the sea, while Tony quietly tried to deal with all the stupidly warm and fuzzy feelings those words called up.

"If only it was as simple as getting some guys together and blowing shit up," Steve mused.

"God, I love blowing shit up," Tony said.

"I'll bet you do. And I bet you have all kinds of fancy toys to do it with." Steve actually laughed this time and pushed a little more into Tony's side. Tony started laughing too.

"You know, we are so the right men for this job," he said, "Your go-to solution is beating up people and mine would be to throw a lot of tech at it and instead we are sashaying around Floating Vegas in our fabulous borrowed clothes and picking fights with senior citizens. No good can come of this, Steve."

"We're screwed, aren't we?" said Steve, still laughing, and he turned his head to look Tony in the eyes. The moment stretched, Steve's smile slipping a little.

"Yes, we are." Tony's mouth provided the words on autopilot. He swallowed hard and forced himself to look away. "Totally screwed." He somehow kept his voice light as he shut his eyes and willed it to go away, that need to kiss Steve. That overwhelming need to kiss Steve, that didn't even feel sexual. He didn't want to rip the guy's clothes off. Well, not right this minute. He was sure he'd want to eventually. But right now, he wanted so very badly to turn around and be wrapped in Steve's arms and to rest his forehead against his and then softly bring their lips together. Smile against his mouth. Maybe trail his fingers through the ridiculous hair a bit. Slide his thumb along those cheekbones. He could not recall wanting something so scarily.... tender ever before. He shuddered at the word. This was not okay. Lust was okay. Lust was simple, lust wasn't so fucking terrifying. Tony was screwed.

"Totally, totally screwed."

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Bump & Grind

Steve woke up when the morning announcements started. A jovial voice through the speaker system urged them all to make sure to visit all the cruise line approved vendors when venturing out and then listed all the fun activities scheduled for today if you chose to stay on board. Right... the ballroom dancing.... that was on the program for this afternoon. He rolled onto his back with his arm behind his head and stared at the ceiling while the voice droned on. Oddly enough, the idea of learning to dance with Tony wasn't as horrible as it had been not even two days ago. He tried to recall the sense of loss he had felt then, and it was still there, but it just wasn't as urgent. He still missed Peggy, but he was very aware that while there was a chance that he and Peggy would have worked out, it had been in no way guaranteed. And she had married someone else after the war, it wasn't like she'd been pining for him forever. Which was good, he didn't need the added guilt of ruining her life. The loneliness he felt right now was more of a yearning for the kind of companionship he'd felt during the war, being part of a company like the Howling Commandos and sharing a purpose. That is why he had volunteered for deployment before this assignment came up. Unable to make the connections he craved on a military base where his abilities were supposed to remain a secret, he'd hoped that getting back into the action would force those bonds under the pressure of danger. That, and he'd been bored out of his skull with the endless testing and hemming and hawing his superiors on base put him through. He needed to be needed and the holding pattern he'd been in had grated on his nerves.

Yet here he was, on a cruise ship instead of in Afghanistan. Yesterday might have been the weirdest day he had ever had, and while he could not say that it had been pleasant, it really had not been unpleasant either. Somehow it had gone a ways to filling that empty space inside him. It had certainly had its moments. He smiled while thinking about the way Tony had told off the seniors, the conversation about explosives, the ridiculous ice cream Tony had insisted on buying him, the hug, the hand holding, the.... yeah. No Bucky, no Peggy, no Howard, but damn, Howard's son's forceful personality had relegated the others a little bit more to the past, where Steve knew they belonged, while carving out a big space for himself in Steve's present in just two days.

Steve turned his head to see where Tony was. On the couch, just where he'd left him some hours ago. His back against the arm rest, one leg flung over the back of the couch, and engrossed in his tablet. It didn't look like he had slept at all. Steve smiled bigger. Instinctively, he knew this was thin ice. He could not expect Tony to replace all the people of his past. For one, that was way too heavy a burden for one person to carry and two, that would be putting all his eggs in one basket. That would be unwise. And most importantly, Tony was temporary. After this was over Steve would go to Afghanistan and Tony would go back to that workshop of his and that would be that. Steve couldn't let himself become dependent on Tony in any way, and he wouldn't. As soon as he got out of here, though, he'd make an effort to truly join this century and find some guys to connect with. Time to really reboot his life. For the first time in a long time he was kind of looking forward to what was to come.

He had a feeling he'd miss Tony, though. He'd miss the wicked sense of humor and the... touching. But that wasn't real. Steve had had to remind himself of that multiple times yesterday. It wasn't real... But fuck if he couldn't enjoy it while it lasted. His councilor on base had called him touch-starved, well... Tony was fixing that, all by himself.

Steve pushed up unto his elbows, decision made.

"Hey, Tony!"

Tony glanced up from his tablet. "Good morning, Sleeping Beauty. Coffee is ready if you want it." He seemed preoccupied.

"Tony, I was thinking..." Steve sat up and swung his legs over the side of the weird bed. Now Tony really looked at him. He pulled his t-shirt down where it had ridden up his front. "I was thinking... Let's learn to dance today."

Tony beamed. There, already worth it.

 

***

 

The ballroom where they were to have their lesson was surprisingly nice. It was two stories high, had big chandeliers, a gleaming wooden floor and it had doors that opened onto the deck located near the bow. About 30 couples were milling around waiting for the class to start, none of them standing out as obvious Hydra agents. But those seemed to have changed a lot since Steve's time, as Tony had pointed out. Monocles, black leather and heavy German accents were apparently out of fashion for the bad guys these days. The instructors came in, a very tan, glittery and sinewy group of men and women, and gathered the milling crowd.

"Oh look, Antonio Banderas is in charge, " Tony whispered, nodding to the Hispanic man with long wavy hair who was currently welcoming everyone, "That is a bit of a cliché." Steve knew better than to say 'who? 'or 'what?' every time he didn't get a cultural reference, so he stuck with a 'uhuh', while he made a mental note to look up dancers named Antonio Banderas. It was quickly explained that today they would learn the Quickstep first, then the Waltz and they would end with the Rumba. Dances like the Foxtrot would be covered during more advanced classes and apparently they had a whole separate session for other Latin American dances. They paired up.

"I think you should lead, " Tony said, "You're bigger. I'd look like a sparrow trying to push a tank through a maze."

"You're not that much smaller than me. You wouldn't even fit under my chin, like with that couple over there." Steve pointed out a particularly small woman pairing up with a rather large man.

"I fit under your nose," Tony objected, "And believe me, she's not going to lead that dude. She doesn't have the upper body strength. She should look into Crossfit. Also, you're military and more used to taking the lead."

That made Steve laugh: "And you so meekly follow orders, don't you? Don't you run a giant company in real life?"

"Yeah, well, technically I make Pepper do that. And why are we arguing about this? I offered to be the woman here, jump on that, Mr Porter, before I change my mind and make you do all the steps backwards in high heels." Tony sounded exasperated, but he looked a little embarrassed.

They got into position. Steve held out his left hand and Tony draped his right hand over it. Tony's other hand rested on his shoulder and Steve got to rest his on Tony's waist and that was nice. The Quickstep was a fairly lively affair with a simple base step they learned to add some variations to. Initially it was a bit confusing with the steps and the rhythm, but it got a little better when JARVIS offered to keep count. JARVIS kept on a steady drone of 'slow, quick, quick' while Steve kept looking down at his feet to make sure he wasn't stepping on Tony's toes.

"Eyes up here, soldier," Tony admonished. Steve looked up and, wow, Tony was close, brown eyes laughing at Steve and all of a sudden he was actually having fun. Of course, he stumbled almost immediately but they quickly recovered and Tony turned it into a dramatic, but probably non-regulation flourish.

"You're picking this up quick," Tony said. Another side effect of the super serum, Steve supposed. Which he couldn't say, so he settled for another 'uhuh'.

 

Obviously they had gotten overconfident. The Waltz was being a bitch. Steve found it difficult to go from the four count of the Quickstep to the three count of the Waltz, even with Jarvis's help, and somehow it felt similar to ice skating and he had to keep stopping himself from plowing forward as if it was a race to be won. It didn't help at all that they were supposed to hold their partners closer during the Waltz and he could smell Tony's shampoo. When they didn't move quite in unison, which happened all the time, Tony's hair would brush along Steve's mouth and it was difficult not to bury his face in it. He gritted his teeth and stamped down on the urge, but apparently flustered and tense wasn't a good state to Waltz in.

His discomfort must have been visible from across the room, because fairly soon Antonio, whose name wasn't Antonio, and a woman he introduced as Vanessa came to their rescue. Steve was to practice the steps with Vanessa, while Antonio would take Tony through his part. Things were easier with Vanessa, mostly because he didn't want to stick his face in her hair, but also because she danced like a drill sergeant and would not let him stray a step out of line. All while she made it look like she was meekly following Steve's non-existent lead. He finally felt like he was getting the hang of things, but then he happened to spot Tony and Antonio. Antonio had Tony pulled flush against his chest, and his right hand was way below the waist, practically on the swell of Tony's ass. Tony was laughing at something he had said and he looked like he was having a grand old time. Steve's stumble took Vanessa by surprise and he accidentally kicked her in the shin. He felt his face flush and apologized profusely, but he couldn't even focus on that properly, his eyes kept straying to Tony and Antonio and he knew he was glaring, but he couldn't seem to stop.

Vanessa stopped her assurances that she was fine and they should try that spin again when she caught his glare. She put her hand on Steve's arm and smiled. "Don't worry Mr. Porter, Vincent won't steal your man. He'd get fired for that sort of thing and he likes his job too much to risk it. He does like the silver foxes, though...." She looked at Steve, who probably hadn't relaxed as much as he should have. Tony wasn't his and in this particular instance he should dance with the instructor. Who danced so much better than Steve, it was no wonder he was enjoying himself, but common sense and Steve's feelings had apparently had a recent falling out and weren't on speaking terms.

"Well, it's nice to see you married him for love and not his money, dear," Vanessa sounded all motherly now, "Let's get you guys dancing together again. Vincent!" She clapped her hands. "Changez!"

Steve might have pulled Tony in a little more forcefully than he had meant to and a lot closer than they had been before, like Antonio-close, but if Tony didn't like that he shouldn't have let Antonio do it to him. Tony huffed a little in surprise and leaned back a little to look at Steve. He opened his mouth to say something, but then seemed to think better of it. Steve closed his eyes in relief. Whatever Tony had been about to say about this, he wasn't ready to hear it. He sighed as Tony settled in a little closer still and then JARVIS cleared his artificial throat and started counting one-two-three one-two-three with something that sounded suspiciously like amusement. With Tony so close that he could feel every little shift in his muscles, waltzing was a piece of cake.

 

It lasted all of 15 wonderful minutes. They were spinning by one of the open doors to the ballroom when Tony went rigid in his arms and hissed in his ear. "The Middle Eastern guy! He's in the hallway!" and started to pull away. Steve tightened his hold on him.

"Keep dancing. Don't act suspicious. We'll go by again." Steve waltzed an illegal u-turn that earned them a frown from Antonio and steered them by the doors again. Yep. That was definitely the right fellow. And he was looking at them. Steve gave him a friendly smile. Couldn't hurt. They went around the room again, cutting a few corners, but next time they went by the doors the man was gone. Tony struggled again, but he wasn't as strong as Steve.

"Come on. Let's go! We need to catch him this time."

"No, we don't. We are exactly where we are supposed to be. They know where we are. We need to let them come to us. If we leave now, they won't be able to find us again." Tony spluttered a little more but stopped fighting Steve's hold on him as they waltzed on. Any pleasure there was to be had in the dancing was gone, though.

 

***

 

Twenty minutes later his hunch proved to be correct. Just when they were about to start the rumba, their potential contact entered the ballroom together with a pretty woman in a stylishly embroidered tunic and a headscarf. They asked and were granted permission to join in the class, but it was obvious they weren't there just for the dancing. Every time Steve looked their way, they were staring back at them. It was a little unnerving and trying to learn the Rumba at the same time was a challenge, to say the least.

"No, no, Mr Porter!" Antonio had snuck up on Steve from behind and put his hands on Steve's hips. "The Rumba is about sex. It is like making love on your feet. You need to roll your hips." And he forcibly started moving Steve's hips in a truly indecent fashion, while crowding against his back. Steve felt his cheeks flame. Tony seemed to be trying very hard not to laugh without a whole lot of success and that made it even worse. Steve pulled him closer to shut him up, but that ended up with Steve being sandwiched between the two men, all three of them rolling their hips in unison. Steve had never before experienced this particularly painful combination of embarrassment and arousal. He willed himself not to get hard, but it was a losing battle with the four hands on him and the rocking pressure against his ass in back and his dick in front. Tony was going to notice any minute now. Holy mother of god, what was he going to do?

"I think we've got it, Vincent, thank you." Tony used the clipped voice he affected as Corbin and Antonio backed off to Steve's overwhelming relief, but not before he'd slid his hands down and cupped Steve's ass. Steve's knees almost buckled.

"Alright, everyone! Let's take a twenty minute water break and then we'll reconvene to go over all we've learned today!" Antonio called out after clapping his hands. Steve would have happily dunked his head in the water cooler right there and then to gather his wits, but they had their contacts to worry about. He made his way over to the cooler with Tony, staying close behind him until he could get his erection under control. The other couple wasn't at the cooler.

"They went outside onto the balcony." Tony's voice was soft in his earpiece while he poured himself some water, "Let's go get some fresh air, shall we?" They took their cups of water and strolled casually outside. Their contacts were standing close together near the bow.

"What. Are they going to do a Titanic?" Tony asked, puzzled.

"You think they are going to sink the ship?" Steve felt a little alarm at that, even if he didn't quite see how they were going to manage that from the position they were in.

"No, no! The movie thing where Leo DiCaprio and Kate Winslett are in the bow and.... Don't tell me you've never seen Titanic. Seriously? You must be the only person on the planet who hasn't seen that movie!"

"Uh.... It seemed like it would be depressing?"

"Duh! Of course it was. The ship sank. But it was romantic. And tragic."

"Not really my thing." Which was a blatant lie. Steve had loved Gone With The Wind.

"Of course not, Captain Ramius." Tony sneered. Steve was fairly sure that had not been the name of the captain of the Titanic, but he didn't know who it was and that was frustrating as hell. It was hard to respond to insults you didn't get and not end up looking even more ignorant. He was really tired of looking stupid.

"Anyway, it looks more like they are arguing, than doing Titanic reenactments. Dammit, I want to hear what they are saying. JARVIS, any audio out here?"

"No, sir. Just visual. And I can't see their lips, so that is no use."

"Fuck. And I am sure they'd shut up if we carelessly wandered closer." The argument was getting more heated, the woman had started waving her hands for emphasis.

"JARVIS," Steve said, "How close would my com unit have to be for you to be able to pick up the conversation?"

"About 10 feet in this wind, Captain Rogers, give or take a few inches."

"Alright, let me know when I am close enough. Tony, hold my cup and block me from sight for a few seconds, pretend to admire the view or something." He moved Tony in front of him, so he was in between him and the arguing couple and hopped over the railing, catching the bars at the bottom so he hung with his hands on deck level on the outside of the ship. He was just going to hope nobody on the lower level would be looking out the window and spot his legs.

"Steve!" Tony sounded quietly strangled, "What the fuck!" Steve looked up into his face and put a finger to his lips.

"Shhhh! I'll be right back." He started swinging hand over hand toward the couple, under their line of sight. It was easy, just like oddly placed monkey bars. When he was about 8 feet away, Jarvis let him know he had audio. Steve carefully removed the ear piece and twisted the ear hook around the iron bar of the railing. Then he silently moved back towards Tony, pulled himself up and swung himself carefully back over the railing. Tony looked at him a little oddly but then focused on his com unit.

"They are speaking in French!' he whispered, "JARVIS?"

"I speak French, leave JARVIS to do the listening," Steve said, "Come on, over there." They moved to a bench that was placed looking outward and facing away from the couple they were spying on. Sitting down with their heads together, Tony passed him his com unit. Steve listened.

"The woman says 'we had a deal....,'" he said to Tony, "The man says he's aware of that. But he thinks it is too early to approach the men.... The woman says 'we'll have to move quick, the cruise is only a few more days. Making the proposal now will give us time for negotiations. And if they turn it down, there is still time for alternate options....' Now the man says 'what if the blond one gets violent when we make the proposal?' and the woman says.... 'don't be an idiot, the blond one will do what the older man tells him to do, he's the one in charge.' And the man goes 'why don't you do it?' and the woman says 'it is part of what you need to do, we've been over this! If you don't there will be consequences.' Now the man says it's fine, it's fine, he'll make the arrangements for the dinner seating right now, and do the negotiations after....”

They held themselves still, with their heads together as if they were gazing out over the ocean on their little bench, while listening to the two sets of footsteps that went by behind their backs. When the steps had faded away, they looked at each other.

"No senior citizens for us tonight, I suppose," Tony said. "And the wait is finally over." Steve felt the same sense of relief. Some action at last! And if that guy thought Tony would stop him from beating him up if needed, he had another thing coming.

"What do we do till dinner?" Steve asked. Tony looked pensive, but then he shrugged.

"Not much we can do till then. We might as well go and conquer that Rumba, Captain And Tenille. Nothing like a little 'making love on your feet'," he mimicked Antonio's accent perfectly, "to make the time go faster."

"Sometimes I can almost see why Fury dislikes you," Steve said. "Fine. But if Antonio feels me up again, I may have to break his pinkie finger."

"Who is Antonio?" Tony asked as Steve jogged off to retrieve his com unit, but Steve didn't answer. "Who the hell is Antonio!?!"

 

Chapter Text

Kiss & Tell

 

Tony looked disconsolately at the offerings in the ship's duty-free-yet-still-overpriced electronics store. He sorely wished he'd had more time to prepare for this trip, but the damned spa treatments had eaten up most of the precious few hours after leaving Fury's office. So here he was without anything lethal that he could hide in a tux. Formal night tonight. Whoop dee doo.

"What are we looking for?" said Steve at his elbow, looking a little lost in the face of all the blindingly white Apple products. They probably burned his retinas.

"Anything small that can pack a punch."

"It doesn't look like they sell any weapons."

"They don't. And the security check prevented us from bringing any obvious ones, so I'll need to get creative. It would look a little weird, not to mention blow our cover, if I showed up for dinner in the Iron Man armor, but I'll be damned if I go in completely defenseless."

"Did you bring the armor?" Steve sounded curious.

"I brought the suitcase suit. Fury said not to. Funny, funny guy, that Fury." He finally settled for a set of electric toothbrushes and some cell phone power packs. "Fuckers don't even have any soldering irons," he muttered. Fortunately he had thought to bring a small tool set. Tomorrow, though, group excursion or not, he was going to find some more suitable stuff in Rome.

 

He spent the rest of the hours before their late dinner seating transforming the toothbrushes into low tech, low power tasers.

"I think this is the best we can do with the inadequate crap we have available," he said as he was showing them off to Steve, "They're pretty much a one shot kind of deal. I've rigged it so that they drain the power packs in one go, which was the only way to get a little oomph. Still, if you hit a guy in the right spot, they should be fairly effective. Too bad we only have two, I should have gotten more toothbrushes."

"You should take them both," Steve said, "I am more of a blunt force trauma kind of guy." Tony smiled. Of course he was. "How are you going to hide them in your suit?" Steve asked.

"I'll have to strap them to my calves, too bulky for my pockets, but they should fit under the pants legs. Can you dig those sex toys out of the closet? I think Del has a leather harness we can re-purpose."

"He has a pair of chaps too."

"Tempting," said Tony, "I'm sure I'll look edible in chaps and a tuxedo jacket. Do they come with a matching jock strap or will I be dangling?"

"No! I mean..." Steve was blushing furiously now and Tony felt a little bit evil. A tiny little bit, really, pretty much negligible. "I mean, there are straps on the chaps too."

"Are you sure? I'd hate to sacrifice the chaps if you were planning on wearing them later."

"Tony!" Steve pleaded.

"Fine, fine. I'll behave. I'll have you know I could have come up with at least 20 more minutes of chaps related jokes and innuendo, though. You're missing out. Okay, bring me the chaps, Captain Underpants."

***

Tony felt distinctly James Bond-like when they were marching off to dinner in their tuxedos, toothbrush tasers strapped to his lower legs. Corbin's tux wasn't the quality he was used to, but he'd live. The unanticipated upside of formal night turned out to be Steve in a tux. Del's was a little bit tight across his shoulders, but damn.... He added a suit fetish to his list. Although it might be time to admit that the common factor in all his newly acquired fetishes, Steve-in-fatigues, Steve-in-capris, Steve-in-booty-shorts-swim-trunks, Steve-in-a-tux, was more along the line of Steve-in-anything rather than the clothing itself. He thought of Rhodey in fatigues: nothing. The thousands of men he'd seen in tuxedos: meh. And he couldn't honestly recall ever meeting men in capris before.... Steve in any of those outfits: yum!

Good. This meant he was back to suffering from a case of good old fashioned lust. Which was a relief, honestly, wanting to make cow eyes at Steve in the moonlight last night had been hugely uncomfortable. This was more familiar territory, if a little inconvenient and distracting when chasing down evil doers. He looked up at the man striding next to him and when he caught Steve's eye, they both smiled. Tony's mouth went a little dry. Really fucking inconvenient and distracting, but what were you going to do? Besides the obvious. Which wasn't going to happen.

 

The hostess led them to another table for eight in the restaurant, which was currently occupied by four young Japanese women in Cinderella dresses. They were friendly and giggled a lot whenever Steve smiled at them, but their English was so limited that they'd exhausted all the possibilities of conversation before ten minutes were up. And that was when their contacts arrived. Middle Eastern Guy cleaned up nice in a tux and the lady in charge had also made an obvious effort. He introduced himself as Abdel Bajjah and the woman as his wife Yamilla, and they claimed to be from Lyon. Once again, it was Tony who had to carry the conversation, but that was because Abdel also worked in a lab and was very interested in Corbin's research. No surprise there. Steve wasn't ignored this time, though, which was promising for not having to shoehorn him into the upcoming negotiations. Which Tony was expecting an invitation for any minute now....

Wait for it.....

"Would you like to join us for drinks on the aft deck after dinner?" Abdel asked, "My wife and I would love to talk to you about certain... opportunities." 

 

So after the meal was cleared they followed the Bajjahs to a small bar with outside seating and a string quartet, near the stern. They selected a standing table in a far corner. Actually, the men did. Yamilla sat at a table nearby where she could view the men without taking part in the conversation. Tony was puzzled, since she had seemed the one in charge during the conversation they had overheard.

"Your wife is not joining us?"

"She prefers me to be the one to do the talking. It is... part of the process." Abdel seemed a little nervous. Was he being initiated in the organization or something? Were there snipers located somewhere unseen that would take them out if they didn't cooperate? “I am hoping we can make an arrangement.”

“I'm sure some kind of deal might be possible. I'm always open to profitable offers.”

Abdel seemed slightly disconcerted. “Well of course I am hoping we will all find some degree of satisfaction, but we were not prepared to make a monetary offer. At least...at least not at this time.” He tugged on the cuffs of his tux. Tony flinched at the move, but relaxed when nothing else seemed to happen. “We do need to make sure of the utmost discretion.”

“What type of offer were you considering then?” asked Tony.

Non, non. Not so much an offer, per se. I'm hoping you will agree to something we would find mutually beneficial.”

“You want to establish some sort of information exchange? Joint research?”

“No, not information, more of a personal....”

Tony was starting to have a bad feeling about this and now he wished they had suggested an alternate location for this meeting, somewhere a lot less dark. He looked at Steve, who was also frowning as if he thought something wasn't adding up. Abdel was taking a long time in trying to formulate what he was going to say, and Tony was getting irritated.

"Listen. Why don't you just spit it out. Mutually beneficial what?"

Abdel looked a little taken aback, but then decided that speed would help him get the words out.

"You will be discreet, yes? Yamilla, my wife, she is beautiful, yes? And I am very fortunate she agreed to marry me. She is also smart and.... very understanding of my needs... which are quite particular. But to earn her goodwill, I have to also meet her needs, yes? Yamilla, she likes... comment dit-on....? the slashfiction? It eh... arouses her to see the gay men. She would like to watch... you." As his brain struggled to make the switch from Hydra to voyeuristic sex, Tony considered tasering the guy on general principle. For not being Hydra. And for making him feel stupid because he really should have seen this coming a mile away. It wasn't like he hadn't been propositioned with a smorgasbord of sexual permutations before, after all. Usually they were a bit more suave about it, but he'd run into the bumbling kind too. He gave Abdel a toothy grin, that the man seemed to take as a good sign. Which was a bit premature, because Tony was planning on having some fun with this first. Before he'd turn him down, of course, because he doubted Steve would be.....

Oh holy hell, Steve! The guy who blushed when he kissed Tony on the cheek in public, and when discussing chaps. Steve was likely to be on the verge of spontaneously combusting right now. He quickly looked aside at him. He looked... stunned. And very red, indeed, even in the dark. He wondered if he should take Steve's hand to reassure him, but was not sure at all about how he'd react to any physical contact at this point. That might be the spark to light the fuse. Better not. He looked at Yamilla who was looking at them beatifically, seemingly completely unaware of what was going on at their table. Right. Fuck this shit. What the hell had he done to deserve getting stuck on a fucking boat with kinky Frenchmen and an overgrown boyscout, and having to pretend to be all lovey dovey with the latter? Steve had conveniently gone mute too. He turned back to Abdel.

"You are asking us to let your wife watch us... in bed." He paused when he felt Steve grab his hand. He wasn't sure whether Steve was clinging to him to preserve his sanity or whether he was trying to calm Tony down. Probably the first, but oddly the latter was happening too. He squeezed Steve's hand and interlaced their fingers.

"Yes," Abdel admitted, "You seemed not averse to public intimacy at the pool yesterday." Tony briefly closed his eyes. Of course that would come back to bite him in the ass now.

"So you thought..... No, wait." He eyed the man. "That is not all, is it? What are you getting out of this?" Abdel cringed. Tony thought he might be blushing too, but it was hard to tell with his skin tone and the lack of light. Yet he seemed a little gleeful in his cringing.

"I... yes. If Del...." He glanced at Steve. "If Del is..... amenable, she would let me watch while he fucks her. If I behaved well, she would let me... um... eat out her pussy afterward." Oh yes, this was definitely gleeful cringing. Tony was torn between needing to cover Steve's ears, being insulted he wasn't invited to that particular party and double checking that Abdel indeed had a humiliation kink as well as a cuckolding kink. Steve's choked off gasp wasn't unexpected, but it irritated him. Of course he was the one left to deal with this while Steve was having a purity crisis or something.

“I see. It's obvious what Del and you two would be getting out of that particular scenario, but what is in it for me? Am I supposed to just go get a cup of coffee while she fucks my husband, since pussy doesn't do it for me? ”

Abdel had no answer to that, obviously, and glanced at his wife for help. Yamilla raised an eyebrow and made some 'get on with it' motions with her hands. The lady was getting a little impatient. Tony was about to rub it in a little more, to expound on his feelings of being left out, figuring he could at least get the promise of a blow job out of it, but before he could speak, Steve yanked on his hand. The stunned look had finally gone. He was glaring at Tony pretty impressively now and jerked his head towards the exit. Fun times were over, apparently. Tony sighed.

"We are flattered, I am sure, but this is our honeymoon. We are not ready to have other people join us in the bedroom. The answer is no." He rubbed little circles on the back of Steve's hand with his thumb, willing him to stay silent. No good could come from Steve speaking right now and as long as he was holding his hand, he might be disinclined to punch the guy. Or Tony. Abdel looked crushed.

"I understand, I understand. Um, before you go though...." he dropped his voice to a whisper, "could you maybe... Yamilla, she will be angry if I deliver nothing. She will hurt me." Tony wondered if he got off on that too. Suddenly he felt kind of sorry for the guy. Must be a bitch to have to jump through so many hoops to get it up. Abdel was still talking. "Would you let her watch you kiss? Right here? It will appease her somewhat and we will not bother you again, I promise." Oh sure, like Steve was going to play along with that? For fuck's sake, they needed to get the hell out of here.

“Sorry. That's not our problem. Have a good evening.” Tony kept his voice deadly polite. He tugged Steve along.

 

 

Once they hit the hallway, after exiting the bar, Tony turned on Steve at the same time Steve turned on him.

“What the hell, Corbin!” Steve whispered furiously, “Why didn't we get out of there as soon as it was obvious they weren't Hydra? Why make me listen to all... that?”

Because, Captain Fucktoy, we are supposed to be a gay couple," Tony hissed furiously. "And a gay couple that looks like us would not be clutching their pearls at the mention of a little kinky sex. You are Del, your job is armcandy and believe you me, Del has had his share of threesomes. Probably not with women, I think he's gayer than that, but who knows... The point is, though... the point is that Del would not have been standing there like a blushing virgin like you did!”

Steve deflated visibly.

“But I am.” His voice was so soft Tony barely heard it. Oh God.... Steve was still a virgin. Okay, okay. Deep breath. Regroup. Well, that explained the constipated faces out there, anyway. Tony was obviously going to go to hell for dragging out that little game. He closed his eyes and tried to think of the right words to say. Mess this up and they could kiss their cover goodbye. Steve wasn't so good an actor. He lifted his head and looked Steve in the eyes, his big, beautiful, blue eyes that looked so very vulnerable right now.

“Okay.... That's.... I'm sorry. I didn't realize. I thought you and Peggy had surely... Listen, I wouldn't have played it that way if I'd known. I thought you were being a prude. I didn't realize you were freaking out. I didn't mean to freak you out more than those assclowns already did.”

“I'm sorry I am such a screw up.” Steve looked mournful.

“No, no, you did well, considering.” This wasn't entirely true, but Tony wasn't Howard and he wasn't going to make Steve feel like a failure when was doing that just fine on his own. “It's just... you know... you need to be seen to be more comfortable around me. You need to be able to kiss me and stuff when the situation requires it.”

“I can do that. I think I can do that.” He did not sound completely convinced.

“Yeah? You think you can do that? You sure? Don't you need to practice? Why don't we practice? Right here. Nice dim hallway, perfect setting.”

Steve went a little wide around the eyes. Tony spoke softly: "Come on, Del, for God and country," and placed his free hand at the back of Steve's head tugging gently. Steve didn't resist and Tony took that as a yes. He meant the kiss to be short and chaste, he really did. He was 99% sure that if Steve had been kissed before it had been limited to women and the last thing they both needed was for him to freak out about Tony's beard being part of the proceedings. But Steve latched on to him as if Tony was the only person left in his world that made any sense at all. He kissed Tony as if he was about to fly off on a suicide mission, and that was just.... Stronger men than Tony, who hadn't been lusting after the guy for days, would not have been able to resist that. Tony didn't stand a chance. He fisted his hand in Steve's hair and softly bit the plump bottom lip that had been tormenting him for what seemed like eons. When Steve gasped at the sensation of teeth, Tony tilted his head more and added tongue. Steve made a startled little noise that turned into a needy little whine and pulled Tony closer. Tony eased his leg in between Steve's and ground his erection against Steve's thigh. Totally lost in the heat of his mouth, in the sensation of Steve wrapped all around him, the feel of him under his hands and against his dick, it was a shock to the system when Steve pulled back abruptly. Abdel and Yamilla had come around the corner. Steve urgently pulled Tony away. Go. They needed to go now.

 

When they had taken a few turns in rapid succession in a direction Tony hoped was getting them closer to their cabin, he finally felt like he was coming out of the fog of that kiss. He looked up. Steve looked debauched. His hair was sticking up everywhere where Tony had ran his fingers through it, his lips -gah,that bottom lip- were swollen and red, he had beard burn all over his chin and Tony must have managed to pull his bow tie out, even if he didn't remember doing that. But his eyes were a little frantic and it seemed like he just could not settle on what emotion to feel. Tony sighed. No way Steve had missed how hard he was, it had been pretty obvious. This was going to take some fixing.

“Okay, Del. We're getting a bottle of booze at the tax free shop and we're going back to the cabin and then I guess I am going to give you a primer on Other People's Kinky Sex Lives 101, so you won't be struck dumb if it ever comes up again.” And we're very much not going to talk about what just happened, he added silently.

That was the moment JARVIS piped up in their earpieces: “I have found the gentleman in question, sir. His name is Abdel Bajjah and he has three unpaid parking tickets in Villeurbanne, near Lyon.”

 

***

“Okay,” said Tony, after they had changed into lounge pants and t-shirts and he'd had a fortifying drink or three, “I know you haven't done it, and I don't know how that is even possible looking like you do....”

“I didn't always look like this,” Steve interrupted, “I was really small and sickly before my.... growth spurt and after that I was continuously deployed. There was a war on.”

“Alright. I guess. I'll take your word for it. Anyway, you've been deployed. You may not have done it, but you sure have heard about it. What do you know? What am I working with here?”

“Ehm... Guys would talk about making love to their girlfriends, but not about... sharing or watching other guys with their girls.... and definitely not.....” He hesitated. Tony waited, but that seemed to be as far as Steve could go.

“Eating out another guy's sperm. Got it.” Tony leaned back on the couch and flipped his feet onto the coffee table. "Well, lemme just start with the Public Service Announcement that people who have kinks are not freaks or deviants and we won't be discussing why they like what they like, because I personally am not that interested and as long as everything is consensual.... Yay for consensuality at all times!" He gave Steve two thumbs up and his best deranged camp councilor grin. "As long as everything is consensual and doesn't involve children or animals, other people have no right to bitch. So I am just going to go through a list and you're just going to nod for 'yes, I know what it is' or shake your head for 'what the hell are you talking about'. Okay? Okay. So our French friend was into cuckolding, among a few suspected other things. How about watersports? Feet? Furries? Cross dressing?...."

 

Three, or possibly four drinks later and decidedly buzzed, Tony found himself leaning towards Steve and wagging his finger.

"No, no, no! It has nothing to do with being abused. Being submissive is about giving up control. Lots of really powerful people are into it, actually, like, to balance things out or something. It's like..... you're used to taking orders in the army, right? And you're used to giving them too, because you're a captain. And don't you feel sometimes, in certain situations, that you prefer just getting the orders instead of giving them? That you like not having to think about what could and should be done? That you don't have to make the decisions?"

"Yeah..... but isn't that different?"

"No, it's the same! Like with you. You haven't had sex, so would you feel more comfortable being in charge when in bed with someone or would you be glad if someone told you exactly what to do?"

"But what if they told me to do something.... wouldn't you....I mean, you'd really have to trust that they would not hurt you or make you do...."

"Exactly!" Tony crowed, flinging himself back against the armrest with the enthusiasm of the mildly inebriated, "That's the other thing it's about: trust. You know how you said yesterday that it went without saying that you had my back?" Steve nodded. "And implicitly you're trusting me to have yours..... So. Steve. Kneel for me." Steve stared at him. "Go on," said Tony, "Trust me. Kneel." After a long moment, Steve slid off the couch and knelt on the floor. Tony felt a little thrill of triumph. "Good. Now close your eyes." Steve did. Tony got up and rummaged in Del's suitcase in the closet, then returned to the couch. "Come closer, don't open your eyes, follow my voice." Steve shuffled closer on his knees. "A little further. Now turn towards me." God, the man was beautiful. "Hold still. These are nothing but scarves." Steve went a little tense when Tony used one as a blindfold. "Shhhhh," Tony whispered and trailed his hand over the blond hair, feeling the tension leave again. "Now hold up your hands, wrists together." Steve didn't hesitate this time and Tony loosely tied his hands together. "Come a little closer still." Tony opened his legs and watched Steve shuffle forward in between them. He let his fingertips trail along Steve's jaw and neck, the touch featherlight. A little shiver passed through Steve and when Tony cupped his jaw he felt Steve push into the touch. This was heady stuff. Tony suddenly wished he had not had that last drink.

"Good boy." he whispered and then let his thumb trace Steve's bottom lip. Steve's lips parted and his breath sped up. "Such a good boy." And he slowly slipped his thumb into the wet heat of Steve's mouth. The sensation went straight to Tony's cock and when Steve curled his tongue around Tony's thumb and sucked it deeper into his mouth he had to suppress a groan. Oh lord..... He leaned forward and ghosted his lips along Steve's cheekbone, caressing it with his breath. Steve tried to turn his head towards Tony's mouth, but Tony would not let him. "Stay still," he breathed. Steve obeyed, except for continuing to move his tongue up and down Tony's thumb in a truly filthy fashion. Cheek to cheek with him, Tony lifted Steve bound hands and slipped one of Steve's index fingers into his mouth and gave it the same treatment Steve was giving his thumb. Steve moaned and the sound of it, so close to Tony's ear, gave him goosebumps. Tony could not remember the last time he had gotten this hard from just a bit of finger sucking but a quick look down proved that at least he wasn't the only one. The tent in Steve's pants showed that he was fully proportional and Tony salivated at the idea of getting his hands on that. He realized he could. Steve would let him. Steve would totally let him. Steve would also let Tony replace his thumb with his dick and fuck his mouth and the idea of that made a wet spot on his lounge pants. That would be way too much way too fast, but Steve would let him, because Tony had asked him to trust him. Tony knew instinctively that when Steve gave you his trust that meant to Hell and back, no questions asked. Which meant that Tony had to stop this, right here, right now, even though his dick was whining that it didn't wanna stop, ever.

Silently cursing a blue streak he let Steve's fingers slip from his mouth and removed his thumb from Steve's. He cupped Steve's face with both hands and brought their foreheads together. Steve made a little questioning noise and Tony felt a surge of protectiveness wash over him. Just in time, he had stopped just in time. When he felt he could trust his voice not to give away how close he'd come to losing control, he said: "See? Giving up control and placing your trust in someone can be quite exciting." He gently nudged Steve's erection with his toe and watched Steve flush beet red. "However, for the rest of your education I think it's best if we stick to theory, rather than practice." When he untied Steve's blindfold, the man wouldn't meet his eyes. Tony leaned back and grabbed the bottle. "Now I am going to hook you up with Dan Savage and drink myself insensible, if you don't mind."

 

 

Tony was lying on his back on the bed and wondered if the room could be spinning more because the bed was round. He was quite sure it was possible but his alcohol soaked brain refused to come up with the appropriate centrifugal force equations. It was Steve's fault for dumping him on the bed after he rolled off the couch for the second time. Not that this bed was inspiring any confidence in him that he'd be able to stay on it, the way it was spinning. Steve wasn't in the bed, Tony could see him still on the couch, his face illuminated by Tony's tablet. Still perusing old Savage Love columns then. Good, Savage was a better Obi-Wan than Tony would ever be. He closed his eyes at the memory of how he had almost fucked up, again. He couldn't figure out if it was Steve's fault for virtually demanding Tony go too far, or if it was Steve's fault for having a direct line into Tony's conscience. Either way, everything was Steve's fault.

 

When Tony next woke up it was full night. Usually he slept like the dead when drunk, at least for the first 4 hours or so, but he could tell he had not been asleep that long. What...? Oh. Steve was next to him in the bed and he was making noises. Familiar noises and not the good kind. Tony looked over to his right. Steve was curled into a fetal position with his back toward Tony and he was shivering. The room was warm and Steve radiated heat. Fever? No. Nightmare. Tony had gained a healthy respect for nightmares ever since he'd been forced to become Iron Man. Fuckers were nasty. At the tower he'd programmed JARVIS to wake him up every time he showed signs of having one. Waking up to a gong beat being trapped in that shit any time. He tried saying Steve's name. Nothing but more heartbreaking whimpers and more shivering. Louder didn't work either. So he finally tried shaking him awake. Steve flailed and almost caught him on the nose when he flew upright, panting.

"Bucky?"

"No, I'm Tony." Who or what the fuck was Bucky?

"Oh, Tony. Good." Steve flopped back down onto the mattress, unfolding his limbs and suddenly there was a lot less room for Tony and his face was flush with Steve's impressive deltoid. "I'm sorry for waking you up, I didn't mean to." Of course Steve would apologize for having a nightmare.

"It's okay, man. That didn't look like sweet dreams to me." Steve was silent, so Tony barreled on. "My nightmares are about being trapped in a cave in the desert with a hole in my chest and a fuckton of people that want me dead. You?" Steve was quiet so long Tony didn't think he was going to answer when he whispered: "My plane going down into the ocean and then freezing to death." That explained the shivering then.

"You and I should have nightmares together, we'd end up in a nice temperate climate with plenty of foliage." Steve chuckled. It hadn't been that funny, but Tony knew the almost giddy relief that came when the nightmares were forced to the background. He fought down the urge to wrap his arms around Steve. Because that way lay madness, especially after what happened earlier. He made do with just resting his head against Steve's arm for a moment.

"Back to sleep, Captain Nemo. We have a busy day in Rome tomorrow." And Tony rolled onto his side, his back to Steve.

"I am not what you call a civilized man," Steve quoted at him.

Tony snorted. "If they come any more civilized than you I don't want to know about it, sweetheart." Steve laughed again, then seemed to slowly drift off back to sleep. Tony lay awake for while, until Steve shifted and threw an arm across Tony's chest, softly breathing against his neck. Oh Jesus fuck it, there was that cow-eyes-in-the-moonlight-thing again. He sternly told his dick this was all perfectly innocent and there was absolutely no need to rise to the occasion even as he pushed backwards to fit a little snugger under Steve's arm. He was never going to fall asleep with someone breathing on him like this. But that was the last coherent thought he had.

 

Chapter Text

Down & Out

 

"Seriously, I fucking hate you," Tony panted next to him. He must be starting to feel better if he was using actual words. "There is no reason whatsoever to go jogging at any time, but I particularly object to it at five thirty in the fucking morning when I have a hangover!" he continued.

"The reason is that I felt like running and we agreed not to get separated, so here you are, jogging for Liberty and Justice. And director Fury, I suppose." Steve felt an almost giddy pleasure at tormenting Tony this morning. Payback was a bitch. Not that he felt especially vindictive about last night. Mortifying as it had been for Steve, Tony hadn't been mean about anything that happened and he had woken him up from that nasty nightmare later. But it was nice to have the upper hand for a change, and the man was kind of adorable when he bitched and moaned. Steve suspected finding Tony adorable was something that should not be mentioned to the man in question, and given that it wasn't a very manly sentiment to start with, he resolved to keep that to himself for the foreseeable future.

"And what the fuck is wrong with jogging at a respectable hour, like, 11 in the morning?" Tony kvetched on.

"We'll be in Rome by then," Steve replied, "And it is not my fault you drank too much yesterday. If you're going to be a big man in the evening, you gotta be a big man in the morning. Besides, you'll sweat it out faster this way."

"Honestly, Doll, fuck you so very much. Why are you not even a little bit hungover? I watched you drink."

"Superior genes," suggested Steve smugly, "I might not ever get gray hair." This set Tony off on a long and spluttering rant that Steve only half listened to. He smiled to himself as they pounded the ship's running track, the pace very slow for Steve, but he'd been ordered to keep his identity a secret so this slow jog was all he was allowed right now. Tony was getting a workout, though, it wasn't slow for normal people. The sun was just coming up and there was barely a soul in sight. The whole garish atmosphere on board was muted somehow. These last few days had been surreal, to say the least. Like a Dali painting. Or like Dorothy arriving in Oz. Except he wasn't looking for a way back home anymore, not really, more like he was looking for something to fill the emptiness of his new life. He was the Tin Man, then. He snorted when he realized the running track was an ugly mustard yellow.

"What?" said Tony, affronted, "Are you laughing at my misery?"

"Of course not. Now hush, Dorothy, save your breath and follow the yellow brick road."

"Dorothy?!? Just because I happen to like dick, doesn't mean I am Judy Garland in this scenario! Dude, I am so the Tin Man here, I have my armor and I have no heart!"

"You do have a heart. You have that armor, physically and emotionally, because you have a heart. A big and squishy one."

"Screw you, flying monkey, and your pop-psychology. If I'm not the Tin Man, and you're wrong about my heart, I'll have you know, very very wrong, just ask anyboy, then I am the great and powerful Oz."

"You can be whoever you want to be in your Oz, Tony, although really, you're much more of a Glinda than a Wicked Witch of the West. In my Oz you guide the way like Dorothy and I am the one looking for a heart."

"Oh, bullshit. You have a giant heart."

"Yeah, but it's been empty for a long time." Tony didn't immediately respond and Steve felt a need a to fill the silence. "It's not a disadvantage in my line of work."

"Yeah, that sounds a lot like the crap my father used to spout," Tony retorted and he added in Howard's cadence, "Stop being so needy, boy, we weren't sentimental during the war and I am not about to start with you. Captain America never let sentiment cloud his decisions and you shouldn't either." He paused and Steve wanted to shout "The hell? Why did Howard think I went for those Hydra prisoners if it wasn't for sentiment about losing Bucky?" but he bit his tongue. Tony continued in his normal voice. "God, I fucking hated hearing about that dude when I was a teen. Nothing like being required to live up to the posthumous idolatry of an American Hero. I'm glad he's still fish food..... Although, maybe if my father had found him, like he tried for three decades, he could have buried the guy and moved on. That would have been nice. You know he established a fund to keep financing those expeditions after he died? As far as I know they're still looking." They ran in silence for a minute, while Steve tried to process the fact that on one hand he really had Howard to thank for being alive, but that on the other he wanted to punch the guy for being such an utter failure as Tony's father. And making Steve complicit in that failure. He could not think of anything to say. Then Tony continued: "I believed my father, about being better off not being sentimental, for a couple of decades. And then I figured out that nothing good ever came of trying to keep people from caring..... And by the way, your Oz analogies suck."

"No doubt," said Steve, "Let's do another lap, shall we?" So many things he wanted to say. So many things he wanted to tell Tony and ask Tony, but he couldn't say a word. The silence continued for another few minutes. Steve found it oppressive. He wished he hadn't mentioned his empty heart or come up with the stupid Oz stuff, he had not meant to make Tony down or to shut him up. It was unnatural.

"You know, Toto." Tony finally broke the silence. "I was perfectly happy in the damned poppy field. The fuck did you need to wake me up for?" And simple as that, all was right in the world again. Steve smiled big and jostled Tony shoulder. Life was absurd, but good.

 

***

 

Steve shaded his eyes while craning his neck to look at the top gallery of the Colosseum. A little rough around the edges after 2000 years, of course, and not accessible to the public, but he doubted Hydra would abide by those rules. They'd discussed the day's program in the touring car, or school bus, as Tony insisted on calling it. He'd been very not pleased with the milling around while waiting for transport, said transport, the tour group, the tour group leader, the lack of regular caffeine stops and a whole lot more. Spoiled little rich boy. Steve had finally elbowed him and told him he was being an ass. Tony had actually looked embarrassed and mumbled something about regressing occasionally. That didn't seem like a welcome topic, so they'd tried to figure out what Hydra would do now that they were off the boat. They agreed a kidnapping was most likely, to force Corbin to work for them. "I'd say there's about a 70% percent chance they go for Corbin, 25% for us both and 5% that I am the target," Steve had said and Tony had agreed, give or take a few percent. So far they'd stuck to the tour group like glue and hadn't seen anything or anybody suspicious.

Instead of taking in the sights, Tony was working furiously on his tablet.

"What are you trying to do?" Steve asked.

"Now that we're off the boat and we can hide our datastream in one of the numerous hotel wifis, I am hacking snapchat so we can send Fury an encrypted message. There, that should do it." He snapped a picture of the Colosseum and wrote: "When in Rome.... what are our friends doing?" It took a couple of minutes and then Tony got a picture back of Fury's desk. It said "its 4 motherfucking am and im at my desk waiting for your sister to call dont bug me"

“What does he mean?” asked Steve.

“Probably that Black Widow is on a mission and hasn't checked in when she was supposed to. Shit, I should have been there!”

“Would that have helped?”

“With the solo missions she usually does? No,” Tony admitted reluctantly.

“Then you can't solve the problems of Black Widow.”

“Thank you, Captain Von Trapp.”

Another picture of Fury's desk came in saying “are the people you need in your group today” Tony stepped back and snapped a picture of the tour group gathered around their guide and typed "Anybody you recognize?"

"nope how is married life" Fury's ceiling responded a couple of minutes later. "Fucker," Tony muttered, "Steve, come here, pucker up, selfie time." He pressed his cheek to Steve's and took a picture of the both of them. He deleted it after checking it, though. "No! Not grumpy cat face! I said pucker up! Come on, Steve, like this," and he made an exaggerated kissy face. "I don't..." Steve objected. Did Tony seriously expect him to....?

"Yeah you do," Tony barreled on. "For Fury, you do. Pretend you're kissing his ass or something." Steve didn't think he'd ever seen a stupider picture than the one Tony eventually sent to Fury with both of them cheek to cheek making kissy faces at the camera with the Colosseum behind them. Tony captioned it: "Blissful. You?" Steve kind of wished he had a copy of it.

 

 

***

 

"Ok, this place is creepy." Tony said in Steve's earpiece as they descended the uneven stairs into the Domitilla Catacombs, "Nothing like going into a underground maze of death with a big fucking target on my back." Steve couldn't reply, a grandmotherly woman in their group had latched on to his arm for assistance and was now chatting away at him. "Hey kid!" Tony continued out loud, addressing a boy of about 10 years old that was going very slowly down the middle of the stairs ahead of him, effectively blocking the entire stairway. "What is the holdup?"

"The stairs are bumpy and I don't want to accidentally touch the dead babies!" The boy gestured at the holes excavated in the walls on either side.

"Dead babies?" Tony sounded intrigued.

"Yeah! My grandma says all those holes were for dead people and those are really small so they must have been for dead babies. They should make a railing here, so you don't have to touch the dead babies if you trip." The lady holding on to Steve's arm beamed up at him: "I did tell him that. Just to make sure he wasn't going to go climbing into one of those holes before he realized what they were. He still climbs onto the paper towel display shelves in the grocery store. It's a thing."

"A railing?" scoffed Tony, "Boy, you need to think outside your lego box. That is horribly low tech. If you can't come up with a reversible escalator at the very least you're never going to be more than a mediocre engineer."

"I am not going to be an engineer," the kid scoffed right back. "I am going to be a geneticist and create griffins!"

"There you go again with the classical thinking, griffins are old school. Engineers think of new stuff. I think we should invent an anti-gravity chairlift for this place."

"I am also going to cross cats with snakes, so I can have a furry snake that purrs... But that chairlift sounds kinda cool."

"It does, doesn't it?" said Tony, taking the kid's hand and speeding up the pace with which they were going down the stairs, to the relief of the rest of the group caught behind them. "But so do cat-snakes. What are your design specs?"

Before the boy could answer there was a shout from below where two identical teenage boys with lanky black hair were looking up impatiently: "Hey squirt! Get a move on. We wanna go see dead people!"

"He's scared," sneered the other one.

"Yeah, he's going to have nightmares."

The kid looked up at Tony. "Those are my brothers. They suck."

"I can see that," said Tony, "Ignore the emo twins, dude, some popular girl will crush their black little hearts soon enough. Tell me how you're going to make the cat-snakes. What are you going to call them?" He steered the kid around the twins, ignoring them completely and kept the boy talking. At that moment, Steve thought he might love him just a little bit.

 

 

The catacombs were indeed a little creepy with all their empty berths (and the occasional bone fragment), but also utterly fascinating. The frescoes were amazing and it blew Steve's mind to see art this old outside of an art-history textbook. But the place was also a maze and he realized that Tony had been right, this was a prime kidnapping spot. Many corridors that were not part of the the tour were closed off by metal gates, but gates had keys and there were so many nooks and crannies to lay low in until the group had wandered off that Hydra would be stupid not to try anything here. Maybe there were even other exits. Apparently there were 9 miles worth of tunnels on three levels and only half a mile was open to the public.

Steve's attention was fully absorbed by the stories from the guide, the shocking degree of exposure of her cleavage, and his elderly companion, who was still holding on to his arm and talking about how she was taking her grandchildren on this tour so their parents could have a romantic day in Rome. He had a hard time keeping part of his attention on Tony, who now seemed to be discussing robot dogs with the kid a little ways away and on making sure no one was lurking in the shadows all around them.

They had made their way down into a small room that was called the King David chamber because of the frescoes when the kid pulled on his grandma's hand.

"Grammy, I don't see Josh and Dane!" he whispered urgently. Steve immediately looked all around. The kid was right, the twins were gone. Then he went cold all over. Tony was gone too. He tapped his ear piece. Nothing. Fuck!

That was the moment the crypt went dark. People screamed and Steve thought he heard someone cry. But several quick thinking people turned on their phones' flashlights and that made things quiet down a little bit. Steve pushed his way through the milling crowd towards the guide, who was asking everyone to calm down with absolutely no effect at all.

"Cecilia!" he grabbed her arm to turn her towards him, "What is going on and what is the procedure?" Cecilia looked irritated at the interruption until she got a good look at Steve. She almost purred. "It's likely a power outage, they happen quite often. The back up generator usually comes on within 20 minutes and we have to wait until it does."

"We are missing three people," Steve replied, "What is the procedure for that?" Not that he cared what the procedure was, he was going to look for Tony no matter what, but grandma was going to freak out about the twins.

"Oh!" Cecilia looked taken aback, "well, when the light is on it is not much of a problem, because there is only a small part of the corridors accessible, and they will find us or another tour group, but in the dark it can be scary."

"I think so," said Steve, "Do you have any emergency supplies?"

"Yes, all guides carry 3 flashlights and water."

"Good. I think it's time to get the lights out, don't you? Give me a flashlight." Cecilia dug into her pack for a good 5 minutes while Steve tried to keep a lid on his impatience. She handed him one. At least it seemed to work. Small blessings.

Steve raised his voice: "Okay, listen up everyone!" The room was immediately silent, except for a sniffle or two. "This is likely a power outage that will last less than 20 minutes. You will all stay here with Cecilia, who has water if you need it. She has two flashlights and some of your phones have lights. To make sure they last, ration the light. This gentleman here will leave his phone on first, the rest of you turn yours off. When his battery dies, the next one can turn on. Do not leave this room. Hold your child's hand until the light comes back on." He paused, then decided to be honest. "We noticed 3 people are missing, I will take a flashlight and go look for them. Stay here with Cecilia and all will be well." And with that he turned, patted grandma's hand and ran out of the room. Where the fuck was Tony?

 

 

A few minutes later, after several twists and turns, he came to a section where the light was still on. Not a power outage then, he thought grimly. They must have cut a wire. He briefly considered running back and letting Cecilia know but decided against it. They were safe for now and he couldn't spare the time. He did stop to look at the place where the wire ran along the wall and noticed that it hadn't been cut but someone had smashed a connector box with a rock. Primitive, but effective. Then he noticed it. Something he would have run right past if he hadn't stopped to check out the box. One of the gates barring access into a side corridor was slightly ajar. The lock had been practically rusted through, so a solid kick must have been enough to open the thing. That is where they must have taken Tony, and likely the twins too. As hostages? A diversion? Didn't matter right now. Steve pushed through the gate and started running.

How he wished he could use his full speed. He needed to find Tony and he needed to find him before Hydra did permanent damage. But between the light that bobbed all over the place as he ran, throwing the empty tombs in the walls into crazily shifting shadows and the need to stop at every intersection to check for sound or light clues that Tony might be nearby, the going was painfully slow. Even if he was probably going twice as fast as anybody else would. Steve wondered if Hydra had a fully operational facility down here, or just something temporary to hole up in until they could smuggle Tony out. It would be a good location for them he supposed, if they had a hidden alternate entrance.

A little flashback of finding Bucky strapped down on a Hydra operating table made his stomach clench. He knew Hydra wanted Corbin to do the experimenting, not be the experiment, but how long before they realized Tony wasn't Corbin? How long before they found out they had snagged Iron Man instead? It would be obvious a soon as he was forced to take his shirt off. Would they kill him or was he worth more alive? Probably depended on how much they needed money. Steve hated the fact that Tony's life depended on a Hydra bookkeeper and he picked up the pace a bit.

He had no idea how many miles of tunnel were in this section of the catacombs and he had no map, how the fuck was he going to find him in this maze? What if he was running away from Tony instead of toward him? What if he had missed the right turn? He wanted to scream in frustration. He would have to save the sentiment for after he found Tony, though. Just like Howard would have expected him to, and wasn't that ironic?

 

Just as he was starting to to wonder whether the open gate had been a decoy, whether he was in the wrong section altogether, he glimpsed a hint of blue light in the corner of his eye. It was glinting off a few minerals way down a corridor to the left, the source hidden around a corner. Steve stopped and turned his light off. The darkness was oppressive but it would hide Steve well if he was silent. Soundlessly he made his way down the corridor, halting when he heard voices. He almost started getting sentimental prematurely when he recognized one of them as Tony's. Not dead. Tony wasn't dead..... He stopped to swallow down his relief.

Tony was... exasperated, by the sound of it. Steve inched closer and peered around the corner. There was a person on the floor, but it obviously wasn't Tony, because Tony, shirtless and arc reactor uncovered was wrestling with a slim figure who was flailing wildly and screaming curses. Steve didn't hesitate. He ran out of his hiding place and slammed Tony's attacker against the wall, arm bent painfully behind his back. The man screamed and started.... crying?

"Whoa! Whoa! Ste... Del! Oh, thank fuck you're here! Don't hurt him!" Steve eased up and took a good look at the man he was pinning down. It was one of the twins. He stared at the boy, not comprehending. Then he felt Tony's hands on him. One on his shoulder and one was turning his face towards Tony.

"Babe. Let him go. He's not... It's not what you think. It's not Hydra, it's a stupid, stupid prank." Tony pleaded with him. In a daze, Steve let go of the boy, who turned around and slid down the wall and buried his head on his arms, crying some more. Steve grabbed Tony's upper arms and pulled him closer. He felt warm and real and Steve just didn't understand what was going on, but he knew he didn't want to let go.

"Tony, what....?" He didn't know how to go on.

"I need to talk to him first. I'll explain in a sec." Tony surged up and kissed him hard and fast. Before Steve could grab him and hold him in place, though, he had twisted away and knelt by the crying boy.

Tony's voice was soft and urgent. "Dane, listen to me. Your brother is not dead. He's just knocked out. He jumped me and I tasered him and he hit his head. I don't think he's badly hurt. He's lucky I wasn't carrying my repulsors, though, or he'd been fried. That was an exceedingly dumb thing you guys pulled here, but see, Josh is already moving. He'll have a headache and possibly a concussion, but he'll be alright. We'll go back now and find your grandma, who I am sure is worried sick about you two, you moron." Steve crouched next to Tony, needing the proximity. He looked at the kid's tear streaked face in the blue light of the arc reactor and finally stopped wanting to beat the crap out of him for scaring him like that.

"How are we getting back?" Dane whispered. "Aren't we lost?"

"Good point," Tony said. "Doll? Are you lost? Tell me you're not lost."

"I have a good sense of direction." Like, a super enhanced sense of direction. "I can find the way back."

Tony smiled his I'm proud of you smile and Steve wanted to preen a little. Then Tony turned back to Dane. "Problem solved. Del will take us back."

"Who are you?" said the kid, staring at the arc reactor.

Tony frowned at him. "I think you know who I am. If you don't, I am not going to tell you and if you do, you are not going tell anybody. I am not here officially and neither is my partner. If you do blab, the word will get out exactly how you two are responsible for this clusterfuck. Don't believe for a moment that I can't find you. Let's go." Tony helped Dane to his feet, while Steve checked out Josh, who was groaning and trying to sit up. Steve handed his flashlight to Tony.

"Cover up and hold the flashlight. I'll carry this kid until he can walk. We need to get going. There is an entire group of people waiting in the dark for a back up generator that is never going to come online." Steve picked Josh up in a bridal hold and took the lead.

"This is not the way we came," objected Dane.

"Son, I can't retrace steps I didn't take," said Steve, "we'll have to go back the way I came." Tony grabbed the kid's hand and started walking with Steve.

“I can walk by myself!” Dane protested.

“Humor me,” Tony told him flatly.

After several twists and turns that Steve was sure brought them back to the original corridor that led to the gate, he broke the silence. "Tell me what happened."

Tony blew out an audible breath. "I heard a noise behind us and went to check it out. Then my section of the corridor went dark, but I could still see light around the corner. When I reached the light the gate was swinging and there was someone with a flashlight a ways ahead, so I followed. They were talking pretty loud so I found out that apparently these two thought the tour was 'lame' and they decided to go see some sections with more skeletons in it. Also, because grown ups are lame too, they thought it would be hilarious to knock out the light. What wasn't so hilarious was that they had no map and got lost within 5 minutes and that their phone flashlights lasted about 7 minutes before completely draining their batteries. Good thing I carry my own personal light at all times." He tapped his chest. "To top off the laundry list of shitty decisions only 15 year olds can make, one of them circled back and tried to jump me from behind when I came over to offer said light and a chance to return. You're carrying him."

Steve nodded tersely. "And your phone?" he asked.

Tony scratched his head with the flashlight, making the shadows jump crazily and looking a little sheepish. "Yeah, I figured out around the time their batteries ran out that, of course, I don't have reception down here. And that the head set wasn't working for that reason either. Sorry." Steve had a question, a very urgent question, but it'd have to wait until they'd delivered the boys back to grandma.

By the time they reached the gate Josh was able to walk again, even if he said his head still hurt. "You should probably have it checked," Tony offered. "Sounds like a fun way to spend an afternoon in Rome for your family. Wonder what Italian ERs are like?" Josh and Dane grumbled and wanted to turn towards the exit.

"Nonono," said Steve, marching them back in the other direction. "We need to go get the rest of our group first, you stranded them there, guys. They're probably still waiting.”

 

They were. There was much rejoicing about Steve finding the 'lost' boys, that he valiantly grimaced through, and a lot of fussing over Josh's unfortunate fall and then Steve and Tony were following Cecilia and her charges back to the exit, once they had made it clear to her that she needed to not follow procedure in this case. When they were climbing up the stairs that came out in the underground basilica that they had started in, Steve finally had the opportunity to pull Tony aside. He turned on him.

"Why the hell didn't you let me know you were going after those guys?!"

"I did! I told you, I didn't realize the com unit would not work this far underground!"

"Did you wait for my response before you ran off?"

Tony hesitated.

"Did you?!"

"I did, for a bit. But then I assumed you were busy chatting with grandma and couldn't respond, and you'd just follow when you could. You know, like silent acknowledgment."

"Jesus Christ, Tony! And they let you out with the Avengers? Do you even know the basics of operating as a team? You can't assume shit like that. You making assumptions about your equipment or communications getting through will get you killed! That is what the 'Roger that' is for, so you know your message came through. And if you make a pun with my last name now, I will punch you." Tony looked a little contrite but Steve wasn't done. "That was two stupid kids, but it could have been Hydra, you idiot. And you not only went after them instead of letting them come after you, you did so without back up! If they caught you and figured out you're not Corbin, which they'd know as soon as you lifted your shirt, they might have killed you!"

"That would have been stupid of them though, they could ransom me for billions. But I knew for sure they'd kill you!" Tony was angry now too.

"So you figured you'd go and sacrifice your ass?" Steve fisted his hands in Tony's shirt and yanked him close. "Fuck you! You're worse than me! You know what would have happened if Hydra had caught you there, Tony? I would have torn the fucking place apart with my bare hands to find you, you asshole! Fifteen hundred year old frescoes and all! And they likely would have killed me anyway, because that would have been the only way to stop me!" And with that Steve sealed his mouth over Tony's. To stop himself from saying more and to stop Tony from saying anything. He'd said too much and it was either slap Tony or kiss him. For a second he was afraid Tony would push him away and yell at him, but instead Tony grabbed his hair and tilted his head for a better fit and then Tony's tongue was in his mouth and he stopped thinking altogether. It was like all his nerve endings had suddenly come alive every place where Tony pressed into him. He felt so solid and warm under Steve's hands, which had wandered to Tony's back, sliding all the way down to the swell of Tony's ass. The way Tony was pulling on his hair made his knees weak, and the way Tony's tongue felt curled around his own was beyond words. He moaned and Tony tugged his hair a little harder in response.

Suddenly, they hit the wall behind Tony, because apparently Steve had been pushing him backwards and Tony surged forward, ripping his mouth away from Steve's. Steve wanted to protest but Tony yelled: "Dude! Dead babies in my hair! Get off!" Trying and failing to catch his breath, Steve brushed Tony's hair. A little frantic and uncoordinated, admittedly, but a man could hardly be blamed for that. Eventually Tony stopped squirming and rested his forehead against Steve's shoulder. Steve immediately placed his hand on the gray head, holding him in place.

"If you turn around now and tell me you're sorry, but you're really straight, I am going to castrate you." Tony said. Steve didn't answer, wasn't even sure if he was able to articulate one, but pushed his erection against Tony's hip, making both of them groan.

Steve was about turn Tony's head and kiss him again when a voice came from above them: "Mister and mister Porter? Are you down there? The bus is waiting!"

"There is no God and that man is evil," Tony complained and thunked his head against Steve's shoulder. Then he straightened up and grabbed Steve's hand to tug him up the dead baby stairs. Steve felt a little dazed still.

"I don't think I've ever been kissed like that before," he blurted. Tony's step faltered for a moment. And he sounded surprised when he answered: "Me, neither."

 

Chapter Text

Cookies & Cream

 

Back on the bus, Steve sat down next to Tony, who seemed distracted and was staring pensively out the window as they started their way back to the town center. The roller coaster of emotions of the past hour had left Steve feeling unsettled and antsy. The near panic he'd felt when Tony went missing and the anger at the sloppy teamwork were to be expected, although if Steve was brutally honest with himself, both had been out of proportion and well beyond professional. Because it hadn't been just any team mate that screwed up and endangered himself, it had been Tony and Steve was by now feeling a bit unprofessional about Tony. Which was also the reason why he'd kissed him instead of punched him and why the fact that he was apparently attracted to men didn't seem quite as high on the list of things he needed to do some serious soul searching about as the fact that he was apparently wanting to jump into bed with Tony -Iron Man- Stark.

Really, the attracted to men bit wasn't like a clap of thunder in a cloudless sky. He had never been particularly drawn to women and a big part of the reason he'd been attracted to Peggy was her mean right hook and her ability to clear out a room full of Nazis with a machine gun. Which probably wasn't what most other men looked for in a woman, on the whole. And if he was very, very honest, if Bucky had offered, back in the day, he was sure he wouldn't have said no. He might have given the whole sexuality thing more thought while growing up if he'd been born 70 years later, but he wasn't, so he hadn't.

So it wasn't so much that he had just kissed a man, outside of the charade he was supposed to take part in, but more that he was wondering what the hell he was doing kissing Tony like that. He wasn't stupid, he knew where this was headed, even if he'd never headed that way before. Give it another day or two and they'd end up naked in bed together, no doubt about it. And that idea was... exhilarating, to say the least and his dick was completely on board with that, obviously, but at the same time the warning bells were deafening. Because it wasn't just his dick that was on board. He wanted it to matter.

Steve sighed internally. Everybody wanted to matter to someone else, it was basic human nature: the need to feel loved and appreciated and cared about and all that stuff. Steve had mattered to his mom, and to Bucky. He'd mattered to Peggy and maybe even Howard, although he suspected that had been Captain America more than Steve. Right now, the few people he had gotten to know since waking up were much more interested in the Captain than they would ever be in Steve. As long as he wasn't clinically insane and could do his job. They really saw him more like a weapon than a person. Tony only knew Steve, but was nevertheless interested in him. Interested enough to want to bed him, anyway. But he highly doubted he mattered to Tony. That still would not have been much of a problem, Steve wasn't holding out for a marriage proposal or anything, but he knew Tony mattered to him and he wanted to matter to Tony.

Everything pointed to that being a hopeless endeavor. The man was a superhero, a genius, a celebrity, mind bogglingly rich and from everything Steve had seen in the papers, a bit of a slut. The chances of him wanting to pursue a relationship with a soldier who was either deployed or stuck on a military base were nil. He tried to imagine asking Dr Redditch if they could take a break during test #376 so Steve could go see his boyfriend and he could just see that going over like a lead balloon. Not that Tony would be interested in Steve once this assignment was over. Their lives just didn't intersect. And even if he was, it had no future because Tony could never find out that Steve was the Captain America he so despised. And he would. There was no way Steve could keep lying to him. Right now he was lying by omission and lying under orders, but it was already grating on his conscience.

The whole situation had disaster written all over it. And the further it went, the worse it would get. He had to stop it now, before..... yeah, before that.

The bus hit a pothole and their shoulders bumped and settled together. A flare of heat jolted through Steve at the contact. Tony didn't pull away. Neither did Steve. Di-sas-ter, he told himself, but it didn't help.

 

 

"So, I was thinking," Tony said as the bus was nearing the city center, "that whether Hydra decided not to stoop to kidnapping in the catacombs or whether the wonder twins somehow messed up their plans, it might be a good idea to not show up for the next part of the itinerary. What are the chances they actually want to talk to us in the Vatican or in the Vatican Museum, both of which are hugely crowded at the best of times?"

Steve pondered this and then conceded the point. "If they want to talk they can find us on the boat easily, nothing good can come from meeting them off the boat."

"Agreed," said Tony, "So let's get off this fucking schoolbus." He clambered over Steve, who had to forcibly restrain himself not to reach out and touch under the guise of 'assistance'. Di-sas-ter, son, disaster. He watched Tony weave to the front of the bus and start a discussion with the tour guide and then pull out his wallet. Several colorful Euro bills changed hands and the bus came to a stop at a nondescript street corner. Three minutes later they watched the bus drive off.

"Where are we?" Steve asked, looking for a street sign on one of the soot blackened buildings.

"Who cares?" said Tony, "We're not staying here. JARVIS! Get us a cab." When a cab showed up not two minutes later, Tony had the man drop them off at Termini Station, where they zigzagged through the crowds a few times and then hailed another cab.

"What the hell are we doing?" Steve saw no rhyme or reason to what was going on.

"Throwing off potential trails," said Tony, "Hydra or paparazzi, it should work the same. Now, I propose we take a vacation from our vacation and get some vacation outfits." He had the cabbie take them to an open air market in a suburb with ugly concrete high rises, where people sold vegetables, fabric, Vietnamese lumpias and cheap knock off clothing. He got Steve an 'I heart NY' t-shirt that barely fit and himself one depicting a bleeding skull with a thorny rose growing through the eye sockets. Then he bought two black ball caps that were just not quite right and really crappy sunglasses.

"I can't imagine either Del or Corbin wearing any of this," said Steve, "I suppose that is the point?"

"Exactly!" Tony grinned. "Now let's find another taxi, some decent food, and then we can take the afternoon off. As long as we're back on the boat by 8 pm, we're good. JARVIS!"

 

***

 

Steve gazed up at the fountain, struck dumb by the combination of the agonized expressions of the statues, the play of sunlight and water and how they reflected on the marble, and the signs of weathering and decay. His fingers were itching for pencils and paper, maybe some pastels. Tony was wandering off, more engrossed in his tablet than in the view and Steve hooked a finger in the back of his collar, not ready to move on. Tony's head shot up as he was choked by his shirt and he looked questioningly at Steve, then followed his gaze to the fountain.

"You like that? It's a bit over the top. Do you want me to take a picture?" He held up his tablet.

"It's totally over the top and no, I wish I could draw it."

"Why can't you?"

Steve tore his gaze away from the fountain and looked at Tony in surprise. "I don't have materials. And, you know, it'd take time."

Tony scoffed. "We got off the fucking bus, Steve, we can do whatever we want. JARVIS, where can we get art supplies?"

 

 

Steve spent a blissful thirty minutes in a little art supply store that likely had not been redecorated since before Steve was born, laughingly fencing off Tony's attempts to buy him half the store's inventory.

"Tony! Seriously! I am not dragging an easel and oil paints around Rome! I am not wearing a beret either, you idiot. I just need a sketchbook and some pencils and pastels. No, I don't need all the pencils, I'll take these three. No, I am not going to run out, Tony. Stop it, I can pay for these myself. Oh fine, you can buy the pastels if you're going to pout about it." After that it seemed only natural to kiss Tony quickly before they left the store, as a thank you. So quickly that Steve had done it before he recalled that he wasn't going to do that anymore. The touch of Tony's lips had regrettably faded long before Steve had made peace with that little slip up.

 

 

They stopped for a gelato on the way back and Tony badgered him to try anything but vanilla, so Steve rolled his eyes at him and consented to try the peach gelato and wow, was that an awesome choice. Tony had had more espresso than was strictly advisable, ducking into coffee bars for 30 seconds at a time, which was apparently enough to complete that transaction, and he was almost vibrating next to Steve as they made their way to an electronics shop JARVIS had found for them.

"Okay, slow down, Bugs Bunny," Steve laughed, placing his free hand on the back of Tony's neck, while trying to catch a rapidly descending drip of gelato with his tongue before it hit his hand. Tony stilled immediately and sucked in a breath. Steve looked at him, Tony glared back.

"What?" said Steve, not understanding.

"You...." Tony started, "You're doing that on purpose."

"What?"

"You... with the..." Tony flailed, "Oh fuck it, come here." He batted the gelato out of Steve's hand and Steve made a surprised noise of protest, over which Tony whispered: "I'll buy you a new one in a minute, soldier. Come here." And he slowly pulled Steve closer, his eyes never leaving Steve's and kissed him. Softly, this time and somehow that was even worse. It was like being laid open, with all his warts and insecurities and to have someone -Tony- smile at him regardless. He couldn't stand it, it was too much, he wanted it too much. Steve pulled away as much as he could, which was barely an inch and breathed: "Tony...."

"I know, I know," Tony whispered, "PDA, it's not you. I'll try to keep my hands to myself, but you make it so goddamn difficult, Steve." And with that they separated and continued on their way in silence. Until the next gelato pace anyway, where Steve wanted another peach cone and Tony started bitching at him to branch out, for god's sake, live a little and what the hell was wrong with pistachio or mango.

 

 

***

 

Watching Tony buy a questionable assortment of electronics was less than enlightening.

"What are you going to do with all that stuff?" Steve asked.

"Upgrade my toothbrushes," Tony answered, "I figured that if I can take down a wonder twin with what I have, a bit more firepower should bag me a full grown man at least. And it might be possible to extend the reach of these..... You know the repulsors are mighty final in most cases, I may want to integrate some of this technology into the armor and...."

"Tony, you took down a kid."

"I know! So it worked great, right? If I just up the..."

"Tony. A kid."

"Yeah?" Tony pulled himself out of his visions of technical nirvana to throw Steve a questioning look. "So...?" Steve looked back with a slight frown. "Oh! You morally object to electrocuting minors! Of course. Yes. My bad. But I think we can safely assume that Hydra won't send any children after us, right? And scientifically, that shit worked. So with a bit more firepower...."

Steve decided to go guard the door to the shop.

 

 

***

 

Steve sat astride the stone bench with his new sketchbook between his legs trying to get the frantic expression of the half submerged horse just right. The sun was warm on his neck, the fountain water smelled faintly like chlorine and all around were the sounds of children and people talking, and subdued traffic noises from further away. Tony was on the other half of the bench, feet on the seat and tablet on his knees while he used Steve's back as a recliner. His weight was a pleasantly warm and solid presence. Occasionally he'd mutter something to JARVIS about a particular bit of armor design and once he mentioned staple guns, but he obviously didn't need Steve's input. He was just there, curled up on a bench with Steve, and apparently perfectly happy where he was. And so was Steve, he realized. Perfectly happy.

 

 

It lasted a couple of hours. First came a snapchat from Director Fury with a nice picture of his desk lamp saying 'your sister thinks our friends maybe ready to talk now i am going to bed wake me up and i will end you'. Deciding they could not do much about that right now they settled back in. For all of three minutes.

"What?!" Tony exclaimed in his earpiece. Suddenly JARVIS was in Steve's earpiece too.

"It seems, sir, that you and Captain Rogers are trending on Twitter. Except I do not believe Captain Rogers' identity is known yet. You are trending with a blurry picture under 'Tony Stark and his male lover share a kiss in a Roman art supply shop', hashtag TonyStarkIsG(r)ay hashtag IronManHasWood." Steve sat up straight, almost causing Tony to roll off the bench. He grabbed him by the shoulder and pulled him back onto the seat.

"Damn it," Tony spat, "Must have been that bored looking shop girl. Any other pictures, JARVIS? Ice cream place? The electronics store? Anything in our Del and Corbin get up?" JARVIS was silent for a few seconds.

"Nothing as Del and Corbin, sir. There is another kiss after the gelato place, in your current outfit. That one does not have your name attached, just a 'OMG! Squee! How cute!!!!!' on Tumblr" JARVIS sounded almost droll when quoting that caption, counting out the exact number of exclamation marks.

"Only a matter of time, before someone links the two, which means the paparazzi...." Tony was interrupted by JARVIS.

"Recorded message from Ms Potts, sir. Set to play when any hashtag with your name in it hits a certain threshold while in Rome." Steve leaned over Tony's shoulder to look at the tablet screen with him. A pretty but severe looking woman appeared on the screen.

"Hello Tony. Not surprisingly, you failed to be inconspicuous. Not that I expected you to, of course. Standard paparazzi protocol will be followed. JARVIS will have called you a cab already. Another cab will meet you behind Rome Termini Station that will take you to our local Stark Industries building. In this case you'll meet your ride back to the cruise ship in the parking garage. Thank you for winning my bet for me, sweetheart. I am sure Director Fury has excellent taste in champagne." The lady smiled and waved at Tony before the message cut off. Steve was surprised Tony wasn't cursing a blue streak. Instead he was smiling and shaking his head.

"Bless your heart, you magnificent witch." Tony muttered and then looked at Steve, smile turned wistful.

"Vacation is over, O Captain, my Captain. Let's make a run for it before the dudes with the tele lenses get here."

 

 

They didn't run, but walked quickly over the Piazza Navona, got into a cab at the corner, sped through traffic in ways even more insane than that morning, jumped out at the train station, where they once again zig zagged through the crowds, which was a veritable mob of going home commuters at this time of day. Bursting out a back door, there was indeed another cab waiting and they made their way out of the center until they came to a steel and glass monstrosity that could only be Stark's local chapter of Grandiose Overachievers. Tony pushed his way into the front seat of the cab and dug a badge out of his wallet to open some really impressive looking gates and proceeded to direct the cabbie to an out of the way corner of the parking garage. There was a limo waiting, with a congenial looking man beside it. Tony thrust a handful of bills at the cabby and told him to get out, pronto, and jumped out of the cab to shake the limo driver's hand. Steve followed behind.

"Happy! What the hell are you doing in Rome?"

The man smiled. "Orders from Ms Potts, sir. I have been told to report at all the ports of call of the Queen of the Nile this week. Just in case, sir. I must say, it's been a lovely and uneventful trip so far."

"Excellent, excellent. At least we'll be traveling back in style to our horizontal skyscraper. Steve, this is my driver and body guard, Happy Hogan. Happy, this is Captain Steve Rogers, aka Del Porter."

"Honor to meet you, Captain Rogers. And I am aware of the situation. I have been briefed most thoroughly." Steve looked for it, but he couldn't see even the hint of a smirk on the man's face. He liked him already.

 

 

Once they were back in traffic, behind the dark glass of the limo, Tony turned to Steve.

"Sorry." He looked it too.

Steve laughed, surprising himself. And Tony, obviously.

"What on earth are you sorry for? I haven't had this much fun in years." Decades. Three quarters of a century. Tony looked at him as if he was a little nuts, then shook his head.

"Okay. Glad I managed to not completely fuck it up, I suppose. Sorry we had to run."

"That was part of the fun, dumbass." Now Tony looked amused.

"You're off your rocker, Captain Ahab. But I'll take it. I'm glad we managed to avoid the professional stalkers, though, they can be annoying as hell."

"What would you have done if we hadn't?"

"Best to give them what they came for, so they'll leave you alone. I guess I would have climbed you like a tree and shoved my tongue down your throat." Steve swallowed hard and felt his hands twitch. And his dick. Tony continued: "Think your commanding officers would approve of that?"

"Possibly not."

"Good thing we managed to avoid that then. Let's change back into Del and Corbin's shirts." He dug into his pack and handed Steve the mint green polo he'd been wearing that morning. Steve pulled the 'I heart NY' shirt over his head, but his head got stuck in the collar. It really was too small. He struggled, and got his arms out, but his head would not budge. He could hear Tony laugh.

"Stop! You'll rip your souvenir! Let me help."

He could not see Tony but he felt his hands tugging on the shirt. With little effect.

"It's your totally manly jawline, sweetpea. It's just too chiseled for ordinary clothing." Steve made a disgusted noise. "Now, now, no disparaging the chiseled jaw," Tony admonished, "I have molto appreciation for the chiseled jaw....." He sounded distracted when he added: "And the chiseled abs... and the chiseled biceps.... and triceps... and the chiseled pecs..." His hands were no longer tugging on the shirt. Steve sucked in a quick breath when he felt them sliding down his arms and chest instead.

"Tony..." he groaned and he wasn't sure whether it was a reprimand or a plea. Tony whispered: "......nipple piercings..." and Steve jerked when he felt a hot wet mouth close over his nipple. Shit! He brought his arm up and ripped the damned shirt off his head. He almost cursed out loud when he saw Tony had stopped mid change to assist him and was also shirtless. Tony's back muscles rippled as he worked his tongue over the little barbell and then slid his mouth up towards Steve's neck. Steve had an excellent view of the swell of Tony's ass disappearing into the waistband of his dark grey slacks. He closed his eyes and pulled his head back but that only made him more aware of what Tony's tongue was doing to his neck, that Tony now had full access to. Holy cow, how was he supposed to not touch him? He tried to remind himself of the reasons this was a bad idea, but he drew a total blank. It could not have been as important as getting Tony's mouth on his own right the hell now. He grabbed the back of Tony's head and forced it up.

"Steeeeve...." Tony whined and pushed his head back into Steve's hand like he wanted Steve to manhandle him. Steve went instantly, painfully hard. He lunged forward and shoved his tongue into Tony's mouth and after that everything dissolved into a frantic whirlwind of lips, hands, tongues, teeth and more skin than Steve had ever laid his hands on. It was absolutely fucking glorious.

Steve had Tony pinned to the limo seat and was trying to get friction on his erection, when Tony started pounding on him with his fists. Steve pulled his mouth away and looked down at him. Tony looked fantastic. His pupils were blown, his hair was a mess and his lips were swollen. Steve's stubble had left red marks along the jaw and down his neck. But Tony was shaking his head.

"What?" Steve panted, "What's wrong?"

"Not." Tony was just as out of breath as he was. "Not taking your virginity in the back of a fucking car, Steve. We're doing this right. We're doing this in the cabin."

"What is wrong with the back of a car?" It was Steve's turn to whine. "Lots of people lose their virginity in the back of a car."

"You're about a dozen years too old for that. Get off, dude. We'll be there before you know it."

 

 

***

The rest of the trip passed in a blur and the world didn't snap back into focus until Tony closed the cabin door behind them and Steve found himself crowding Tony against it. Tony wrapped his arms around Steve's neck and Steve dove in for another kiss. Too low, Tony was too low. He placed his hands under Tony's ass and hoisted him up. Better. Even more so when Tony wrapped his legs around Steve's hips and that felt all kinds of right.

"Dude, how fucking strong are you? Do you know how hot this is? We are so going to fuck this way. Some time, some other time. Jesus, Steve." Steve buried his face in Tony's neck and inhaled deeply, the warm scent of him more intoxicating than the buzz he was getting from alcohol these days. Tony was breathing fast and squirming, and Steve wanted, needed to feel more of that. And he needed more skin. Much more skin. So he held Tony with one arm and worked his other hand under Tony's shirt. God, he loved Tony's skin.

"Are you fucking kidding me?! One hand! You're holding me up with one hand?!" Tony sounded outraged, but in a breathless kind of way that meant that he really wasn't expecting an answer. Steve kissed him some more to shut him up and Tony seemed to be on board with that. Also with the hip grinding. Steve thought he'd could more than likely get off like this, but that wasn't what he wanted. He didn't know what he wanted.

"Tony.... what do I do?"

"I don't care what you do. As long as it involves you naked and my dick, I'm good." He paused, obviously trying to gather his wits. "Bed. We should move to the bed." That Steve could do. He carried Tony across the cabin, ignoring the man beating him on the shoulder demanding to be set down, and tossed him on the bed. He started pulling his clothes off but Tony stopped him.

"Whoa! Whoa! Not so fast! I want to enjoy this!" Tony pushed himself up on his elbows to get a better look and Steve felt his face grow hot. His dick was fine with Tony's intense scrutiny, though. Never better.

"Okay. Now take off the shirt. Slowly." Steve crossed his arms to grab the hems of the shirt, then stretched them up towards the ceiling. He pretended not to hear Tony's low whistle. When his face came out of the shirt Tony was sitting on the edge of the bed, beckoning him closer.

"Your torso is like a fucking work of art." he breathed. He placed his hands on Steve's hips as Steve stepped between Tony's spread knees. Tony leaned forward and pressed a kiss right under Steve's navel, then trailed his tongue down the path of where his happy trail used to be before the day at the spa. It tickled a bit, but in a way that only ratcheted anticipation up another level. Steve bit his bottom lip to stop himself from making embarrassing squeeling noises. When Tony's tongue reached the waistband of his capris, Tony tilted his head up, brown eyes holding Steve pinned.

"Take off your pants." Tony's gaze never left Steve's face and he wouldn't move his head, so Steve worried blindly at his button, his fingers trembling and clumsy. It seemed to take an eternity for the button slip through the hole, but the zipper was easier. Tony batted his hands away and started to ease the pants down Steve's hips.

"Kick off your shoes." Steve complied as quick as he could. Tony slid his hands down Steve's legs, taking the pants down and leaving a trail of goosebumps in their wake. He lifted Steve's feet, one by one, to get rid of the pants and slid his hands up along the back of Steve's legs, not stopping until his fingers were spread over Steve's ass. The press of his hands was warm and urgent through the thin fabric of his briefs, guiding Steve closer. Then Tony tilted his head and started mouthing up the bulge covered in red silk. The cloth was left wet and clingy and rapidly cooling in the wake of Tony's hot mouth, the contrast exquisite. Steve let out a shuddering breath that did nothing to help him calm down. He felt Tony's fingers flex on his ass and then they were pulling down the back of his briefs, stretching them under the globes of his ass, pushing those up, while the front of the briefs pulled taut over the head of his straining cock, adding one more sensation to jumble he was already failing to make sense of. He barely registered Tony's hand sliding over his bare ass, because that was when Tony reached the top of his shaft and closed his mouth over the head. Steve's knees buckled for a fraction of a second before he caught himself with his hands on Tony's shoulders and had to grit his teeth to stop himself from coming right then and there.

"Tony! Please!" he bit out. But Tony must have taken that as encouragement, rather than the warning that it was, because he peeled the wet briefs over Steve's cock and let them snap in place under Steve's balls. He thought that probably ought to be uncomfortable, but instead he felt a thrill at the way his balls were pushed up by the elastic.

"Oh fuck, you're all waxed," Tony groaned and planted his face in the crook of Steve's hip, where his beard made super sensitized nerves fire all over the place. He felt Tony inhale deeply and then the heat of his tongue as it licked a stripe up Steve's cock. When Tony's mouth swallowed him whole, Steve shouted something inarticulate. Never in his wildest dreams could he have imagined anything feeling as good as the combination of suction, heat, moisture and the pressure of Tony's tongue as it flicked against his frenulum. Holy mother of god, this would be over in moments. And that was... unacceptable.

Steve forced himself to grab Tony by the hair and pull him off. Tony whined in protest. He looked dazed, his mouth a wreck, swollen and bruised. And Steve wanted him so badly he felt completely lost.

"Not like that, Tony, I want to touch you." Tony flung himself backwards onto the bed, pulling Steve with him.

"Oh god, yes. Touch me." Two pairs of hands started frantically pulling off his clothes, not always in sync. When Tony was finally, finally, naked under him Steve paused to look his fill, sliding his hands up and down all that beautiful skin that he'd been craving to touch. He ripped off the patch that covered the arc reactor and admired the way the cool blue light played over the planes and angles of Tony's chest. It picked out the scars that Steve now trailed his fingers over, touch light and reverent. He looked up at Tony's face just in time to see a flash of vulnerability in the brown eyes. Then Tony grimaced and jeered: "Come on. You promised to touch my dick." So Steve did, closing his hand around it and giving it an experimental pull that made Tony groan and throw his head back. Steve reveled in the feel of the slippery, warm shaft that seemed to fit his hand perfectly. It was slick with pre-come and slid in and out of his hand with ease. Steve swiped his thumb over the slit every time the head came up, loving the feel of Tony pushing up to meet him.

"Steeeeeve...." Tony could barely get the word out. Steve tore his gaze away from Tony's dick and covered his mouth with his own. The kiss was sloppy, filthy and perfect and lasted until it was reduced to just panting into each other's mouths.

"Both. Grab them both," Tony urged, "Jerk us together." Steve lined up his cock with Tony's and wrapped his hand around both of them. Oh god, that felt so good. Tony's hand wrapped around his and the sight of both their hands on both their dicks made Steve whimper. It took a few tries but then they settled in a rhythm that rapidly started building into a crescendo. It wouldn't, couldn't last, not when Steve felt like he'd been waiting for this forever but he held it back by sheer force of will. Minutes, or hours, later he buried his face in the crook of Tony's neck as Tony arched off the bed and spurted hotly over their joined hands. That was enough to push Steve over the edge as well, his orgasm hitting him like a sledgehammer, ropes of come streaking Tony's chest.

 

 

He let himself fall onto his back as he tried to catch his breath, endorphins rushing through his body, not trusting himself to speak. What did you say after something so mind blowing anyway?

"No more unicorns for you," said Tony, rolling into Steve's side and catching his eyes. Steve smiled at him widely, feeling warmth pool in his belly as Tony smiled in return. He slid his fingers into Tony's hair and pulled him closer. "You expect me to ride into battle on an ordinary horse now?" he muttered, faux put out. "Well," Tony whispered back, "I know this budding geneticist that could probably make you one with fangs and maybe a scorpion's tail and.... " Kissing was an excellent way of shutting Tony up, Steve had noticed.

 

Chapter Text

Rhythm & Blues

 

Tony sat across from Steve at the small table in the nightclub that was hosting the Karaoke Duet Night, the tabletop disappointingly bereft of alcoholic beverages.

“Just because I am not drinking doesn't mean you can't drink, you know that right? I really don't mind. I thought you might want to, if you're going to sing.” Steve said earnestly. Before Tony could answer, JARVIS piped up in their ears:

“Sir has been told on many occasions that, no matter how well he thinks he sings while intoxicated, this is not factually true.”

“Sir would be very happy if you shut up now, JARVIS,” Tony retorted.

“Very well, Sir.”

Tony turned his attention back to Steve. “That. And Fury's message implied Black Widow thought Hydra might show up around now. Although I have no clue why she would be involved in this. Me and Fury are going to have a pleasant little conversation about withholding information when I get back, I know that much.” A potential Hydra spotting demanded that Tony keep his wits about him, though.

And Tony's wits were scrambled. It was absolutely, completely and utterly pathetic. He'd gotten off twice in the last two hours, the second time a lovely mutual jerk off session in the cramped shower stall (cramped, because Steve was fucking huge) that had involved lots of hot water, slippery skin, wandering hands and a frankly ridiculous amount of kissing. He was going to have to get some chapstick soon. Tony couldn't remember this much kissing since he was a teenager, and he wasn't a goddamned teenager anymore. No, he was forty-something and getting off twice in one evening should be enough to last him for days. It should at least be enough to clear his head. Yet here he was, staring at Steve's plump bottom lip and his smiling blue eyes and counting the seconds until he could drag him back to the cabin and get him naked again.

On the small stage an elderly couple was butchering Islands in the Stream. Actually, she wasn't half bad. The guy though, he was no Kenny Rogers. Tony wished for the eleven hundredth time that he and 'Del' weren't almost last on the billet. Or that Hydra would just fucking show and distract him from the urge to crawl into Steve's lap.

“Or, I may skip the part where I try to talk to Fury, because he is just going to keep hiding whatever he wants to hide until he thinks I need to know, and I'll go straight to hacking into his systems again. Too bad that JARVIS doesn't have the bandwidth right now to pull that off. I really, really want to know what went down with Widow and Hydra this morning. Last night. Whatever.”

“Sounds like standard procedure to me. My superiors sure don't sit me down and discuss their information with me,” Steve said, “It'd be nice if they did, I'll give you that.”

"Do you have a way to get into contact with your commanding officers? Have they said anything, these last few days?"

Steve shook his head. "No. I've just been told where to report in Barcelona on Saturday for debriefing. This isn't a standard military operation, not enough blazing guns for that. I don't know how they get their intelligence, but I doubt they were involved with anything Black Widow took part in." He looked thoughtful. "What do you think she took part in?"

Tony shrugged. "Haven't a fucking clue. Her specialty is undercover spy type work, so I am assuming she infiltrated something, somewhere. I hope it was a quiet week for alien invasions and doombots, since we were both elsewhere."

"How would the team handle those threats without both of you there?" Steve asked, obviously curious.

"How they always handle them: toss all we got into the fray and hope for the best."

"Really? Who sets the strategy? Decides how to deploy?"

"Coulson has the plans. He's good, but he isn't on the ground, so they usually go to shit at some point and then we all just kind of improvise."

Steve looked at him in disbelief. "You don't have anyone who calls the shots at the scene? Seriously? What about you? Thor? Black Widow? Hawkeye? I can see why the Hulk is out, but you all seem competent to lead."

"It's not that easy, Cap. We're a weird bunch of individuals. Hawkeye is too used to working alone. Total einzelganger. Black Widow has the chops, but she has the same issue and I am not sure how much SHIELD really trusts her when it comes down to it. Former KGB and all that. Thor is great, especially in brawls, but he sometimes loses sight of the fact that's we're not all gods. And he is hopeless in interviews, man, the shit he comes up with sometimes... Like a frat boy slash soccer hooligan slash alien. And then he goes all befuddled when people think he's weird. And my issues..." Tony held Steve's gaze, daring him. "You know my issues."

Steve leaned back, crossing his arms and, holy fucking biceps, Batman, gave him a grave look. "Distractions? Or commitment?" Tony felt his hackles rise. He leaned back and crossed his arms too, mimicking Steve. Kenny and Dolly finished their song and there was a smattering of applause, but neither of the men moved a muscle.

"Are you judging me for a lack of commitment?" Tony said, sounding perhaps a tad tense.

"I am trying not to. But I do wonder why you'd want to spend so much time going to parties and dating supermodels when you could be a full time member of the Avengers." Steve uncrossed his arms and put his forearms on the table, interlocking his fingers. He leaned towards Tony. There was something very close to wistful in his eyes. "I would think being an Avenger would be worthy of more of your attention and, yes, commitment." Tony relaxed a bit. This wasn't about him so much, apparently, as it was about Steve, who was.... almost jealous, it seemed. He leaned forward too. Another couple started in on Don't Go Breaking My Heart. Tony grimaced.

"You'd be surprised how little time I actually spend at the parties, which are mostly charity events, by the way, and I barely date. I know both type of events get lots of press, but I really spend about 95% of my non-Avengin' time in my workshop. I am not saying I couldn't be more enthused about my commitment, because I probably could and Fury annoys the hell out of me, so that doesn't help. But I like to think that I am there when they need me." Steve nodded silently, looking down at his hands. He looked a little lost. Tony felt for him. Apparently he hadn't been kidding about the empty heart. Tony placed his hands on Steve's and felt the fingers uncurl under his own. "You know, if you wanted to, once your enlistment is over, you could always apply as a SHIELD agent. If you feel like battling doombots is more of your thing than the Taliban." And you'd be right around the corner and you could stay in Stark Tower. Like, in my bed. Tony was hit full force with the realization of how much he wanted that, now that he could see a glimmer of a smidgen of possibility of Steve being close by. It was insanity, he'd known the guy for four days. Four. Fucking. Days. It was the kind of insanity that you needed to pull out by the root, but he didn't know where to even get a grip on it.

"My contract is.... indefinite," Steve said softly, his fingers twitching, "They're never going to to let me go." That didn't make a lot of sense, but Tony was so busy jumping on the See! It's impossible! Now knock it off with the crazy talk! that he didn't question it. He had two more days with Steve. Two days, three nights and that should suffice. Better make the most of it and have all the sex. He pulled Steve in for a kiss that would promise just how much sex they would be having, but somehow it turned into a kiss that promised something tender and fragile instead, something that already felt a little like goodbye. Stamping down on that, Tony forced himself to replay the events of earlier this evening, the way Steve had bitten that bottom lip when Tony had been worshiping his dick and soon arousal wiped out everything else. That, at least he could deal with.

 

***

 

"You're singing what?" Steve said as Tony was leading him to the little stage.

"We are singing I'll Be Seeing You , the Sinatra/Tommy Dorsey version, the other ones are just too slow. Although you're probably correct. I'll be singing and you're going to look pretty and maybe hum along. Do you know it?"

Oh hell yes, Steve knew it. It had been wildly popular with the troops in Europe during the war, reminding the soldiers of the loved ones they left behind on one hand and of all the wonderful everyday little things they were fighting to keep, on the other. Without fail, it'd make one of the guys choke up with homesickness. No matter how badly one wanted to fight the Nazis, everyone had days when missing your loved ones just seemed too much to bear.

He sat on the stool next to Tony while the first chords of the long instrumental intro started playing. Tony was talking to the audience, something about Steve's acute case of laryngitis. The people were laughing. Had Tony just insinuated someone could lose their voice through too much gay sex? How.... ? Oh, right, blow jobs. Dan Savage had mentioned something along those lines. Steve felt his face heat up on cue. Tony was a menace. Steve wanted to slap him upside the head in retaliation, but it'd have to wait, because Tony was starting to sing.

I'll be seeing you

In all the old familiar places

That this heart of mine embraces

All day through

It stabbed Steve right in the gut. Tony had a beautiful voice. He vaguely remembered this from a few nights ago when they'd been discussing this event, but it hadn't been like this. Not with these words, this song.

In the small cafe, the park across the way

The children's carousel

The chestnut trees

The wishing well

Homesickness hit him like a ton of bricks. Not for a place... for a time. Maybe a time and a place. The Brooklyn where he'd grown up, where he'd roamed the streets with Bucky, on the days he hadn't been so sick he'd had to stay home. His bedroom with the damp ceilings. The old comics that had entertained him when he couldn't go out. The ballgames they'd played on the streets when he could. A time and a place when everyone he loved had still been alive, including his mom.

And I'll be seeing you

In every lovely summer's day

In everything that's light and gay

I'll always think of you that way

Tony turned to him with a smirk at those two lines, but Steve was hopelessly caught in the net of his memories. He was seeing the mess tent where this song had been playing on the radio one cold, rainy morning. Bucky's hand had been bandaged and he'd had trouble with cutting his food. Some of the other guys had been making fun of Bucky, some had been complaining about the food. One of them had commented on what a lovely summer's day it was today, indeed. Peggy had been talking to Colonel Phillips in a corner and she'd smiled at him. He tried to smile at Tony, but he knew it came out all wobbly and he could see the smirk fall off Tony's face.

I'll see you in the morning sun

And when the night is new

I'll be looking at the moon

But I'll be seeing you

Tony held his gaze through the last lines, concern written on his face. And Steve was reminded of how in a few days Tony would be gone too. He'd join the hordes of people that were no longer part of Steve's life. Steve was fairly sure that this loss would feel sharp and raw for a long, long time to come. He imagined the months ahead without Tony's acerbic running commentary, his flashes of brilliance, the soft look on his face when he thought Steve wasn't looking, and he came up empty and hollow. A couple of tears slid down Steve's cheeks just as the song ended.

He didn't wipe them off, but pulled Tony close and hid his face in the crook of Tony's neck for a moment. The audience applauded loudly, because Tony was an amazing singer, but Steve ignored them. Tony was looking panicked and Steve wanted to tell him it was fine, it was okay, it was just memories, and he hated that he couldn't, that he couldn't explain why this song meant so much to this displaced WWII soldier. He tried to convey what he couldn't say with a look, and Tony was maybe a little placated, but not much. So Steve kissed him, right there on the stage. The kiss was a little desperate and he could feel some of the tension in Tony drain away, as the man went a bit more pliant in his arms. Some of the people watching were hooting and Steve felt himself blush again.

"Can we leave now?" he asked softly.

Tony nodded.

 

 

***

 

"Listen, Steve," Tony started, as soon as they were back in the cabin, "I don't know how I fucked that one up, but I obviously did, and I am sorry about that, I really am..."

"Tony," Steve interrupted, "Tony, stop! You didn't do anything wrong."

"I made you fucking cry, Steve! Of course I did something wrong!" Tony felt like his skin was a size too small and tried to outpace it. Looking everywhere but at Steve, really not ready for whatever expression he might find on Steve's face. "Just let me fucking apologize, okay?" And then maybe we can forget this happened and you won't have to cold shoulder me the rest of the time we have together. Because that would suck. So badly I am not sure I could stand it. All of a sudden Steve was there in his path and Tony almost ran into him, because he had been staring at the floor while he paced. Steve placed both his hands on Tony's face and forced him to look up. He was looking exasperated. Not good.

"Tony. Did you mean to hurt me?"

"Of course not! You like Sinatra. I thought you'd like it. Why did you cry? If I wanted to make you cry I would have picked Celine Dion or something equally horrendous. Or maybe..."

"Tony. Shut up. Listen." Steve paused. Apparently to make sure Tony was following orders. Tony bit his tongue and tried. "Tony. You triggered some memories... that song got to me, that is all. You meant well and that makes it alright. Stop beating yourself up when things go wrong despite your good intentions. As long as you try to do the right thing I will cut you a lot of slack, like most people will." Except Howard hung unsaid in the space between them and ouch, that hit home.

"Except Howard Fucking Stark," Tony tossed out, suddenly unwilling to hide that shit.

"Yeah. Apparently," Steve sighed, relaxing his hold on Tony's face, turning it into more of a caress. "I'm sorry, Tony. I'm sorry he was such a failure as a father. But believe me when I say that not all people judge mistakes as harshly." Steve was rubbing his thumb over Tony's cheekbone now. Tony wasn't going to say it. Tony refused to say it. And when he did say it, he sounded just as much like a hurt little boy as he'd feared.

"You yelled at me this morning at the catacombs."

Steve winced. Then sighed. "I did. I'm sorry I did. I lost my temper." His face was uncertain, as if he was debating whether to go on or not. He looked down at Tony. "Do you know why?" Tony shook his head mutely. "Because I was already feeling very.... unprofessional about you, and you scared the shit out of me." He looked as if it pained him to say it. It probably did, the man had his own perfectionist streak a mile wide, even without Howard's help. Tony snorted, couldn't help it. God, they truly were a match made in heaven. It's my fault. No, no, I insist, good sir. It's entirely my fault.

Steve's expression turned hurt, his hands falling away. Why would..... Oh shit, Steve thought he was laughing at his confession. That wouldn't do. Tony patted Steve on the cheek to get his attention.

"Steve! I'm not laughing at what you said. I am laughing because you sounded just like me and we're both self-flagellating idiots. That struck me as funny. Not that you're feeling 'unprofessional' about me." He leered at Steve, who was smiling a little now. "Believe me, doll, I haven't had a single professional thought about you in days." That made Steve laugh and Tony, encouraged, continued: "Can we go do the manly thing now and fuck our feelings away?"

"I thought people had sex to express their feelings?"

"You would think that, you big sap" Tony scoffed, "Whatever. As long we can stop talking and start doing it, I'm good with whatever reason. I want you to fuck me." If Steve had been a dog his ears would have perked up. Tony pushed him to the bed.

 

 

Tony didn't bother with virgins, as a rule. They needed guidance and reassurance and if Tony had been any good at providing those he would have become a kindergarten teacher or something. The thought of being significant to some random person as 'their first' held no appeal for him whatsoever. And virgins tended to blow their load a couple of minutes into the proceedings. When Tony got fucked, he wanted to get fucked hard and he wanted to get fucked long. He wanted to be used.

And yet it wasn't surprising to find himself on his knees 30 minutes later with Steve pounding into him like he was never, ever going to stop. Steve was a little larger than Tony normally preferred, but even that seemed right, at this particular moment. And Tony felt a grim sense of satisfaction at being Steve's first, even as he was being fucked to within an inch of his life. It was not at all a pretty feeling and utterly selfish, but the idea that Steve would never completely forget him made him push back onto Steve's dick a little harder. Shit, he was going to lose it, it was too fucking perfect.

"Nnnnggghhh, Steeeeve..." God, he sounded desperate. Steve responded by fisting one hand into Tony's hair, making him keen. Wrapping his other arm around Tony's chest, Steve hoisted Tony upright as if he weighed nothing. The he pulled Tony's head backwards over his shoulder and shoved his tongue into Tony's mouth, fucking up into him now. Tony got his hand on his dick just before his orgasm slammed through his body.

As he started coming down from his high, he felt Steve slam up one more time before moaning a broken "Tony!" into his ear and finding his own shuddering release. Boneless, they toppled over on the bed, a sweaty, sticky, panting mess, grinning stupidly at each other. Endorphins were the bomb.

 

***

 

When Steve woke up in the pre-dawn light, he was alone in the bed. Lifting his head, he could see Tony standing in the kitchenette bent over one of his projects. Tony's lounge pants were slung low on his hips and Steve was struck again with the realization that the man was beautiful and that he wanted him. He felt a tendril of possessiveness unfurl and that probably wasn't a good thing. Falling into bed with Tony yesterday, after having resolved he wasn't going to, probably hadn't been smart either. But that ship had sailed and try as he might he could not feel sorry about it in the least. Quite the opposite, really. He'd just have to deal with the loss when it came. For now, he wasn't going to pass up anything that Tony offered. They had another couple of days, if Hydra didn't interfere. And talking about Hydra....

Steve got up and padded over to where Tony was busy with a soldering iron and a staple gun. He pressed his front against Tony's back, just because he could and said softly: "So Hydra never showed last night...."

"Fuck, Steve!" Tony sucked the finger he'd jerked against the soldering iron. "Your pick up lines need some serious work. That was pathetic."

"I don't think they're interested in talking."

"I think you're right." Tony inspected a large staple he was modifying. "I think the only time we're going to see them is when they are going to try to take us out."

Steve slid his hands up and down Tony's abs. "And if you were Hydra and you were going to send in a few assassins..."

"I'd send them in at a time when they'd be mostly inconspicuous."

He mouthed along Tony's shoulder. "Exactly. Which means..."

"Tonight. At the masked ball." Tony sounded a little tense. "Which means you should let me get on with this."

Steve slid his right hand into the front of Tony's lounge pants and cupped his balls. Tony sucked in a sharp breath. "No. It means you need to get back to bed while you still can," Steve whispered in his ear.

"You don't fight fair, Captain Solo." Who on earth was Captain Solo? Must be another one of those references he was sick of not getting. Whatever. He wasn't going to go back to bed solo. Tony dropped his head back against Steve's shoulder and Steve kissed him deeply and thoroughly, reveling in the feel of the rapidly swelling cock under his hand.

"I'm just matching the strategy to my opponent, Mr Stark. Now come to bed." Tony came.

 

Chapter Text

Up, Up & Away

Tony stood on the patio outside the ballroom with Steve at pretty much the same spot where their French friends had had their argument. The masked ball was in full swing in the ballroom, but they weren't the only ones that had taken refuge outside and clusters of people were milling around in the slightly chilly evening. They were standing shoulder to shoulder watching the goings on and scanning for anything suspicious. There were people in evening clothes with masks on and there were others in full costume, both of which made the task more difficult. They'd been scanning for hours and it was getting tiresome to say the least.

Tony dropped his head onto Steve's shoulder with a sigh. "Steeeeeeve," he whined, "I'm bored. Can we go yet?"

"We can't. It's not even midnight yet. Nothing is likely to happen before midnight." Steve slung an arm around Tony's shoulder and pulled him in, like he was trying to keep him in place. As if Tony was going anywhere.

"I feel like Cinderella."

Steve chuckled and pressed a soft kiss into Tony's hair. His mouth lingering in the same spot, he murmured: "You'd be a pretty princess."

"Oh, excuse me," said Tony, pressing in a little closer, "Just because you bent me over the railing this afternoon doesn't make me the girl in this relationship."

"Sure thing, princess. Whatever you say." Tony could feel Steve still smiling into his hair, his fingers playing with the hair in Tony's neck. Steve obviously had a thing for his hair and Tony had a thing for Steve having a thing for his hair. Actually, if he was honest, Tony had a thing for Steve, period. It wasn't even the sex, although the sex would have been more than enough by itself. Tony had spent the day modifying the staple gun and the toothbrush tasers, and Steve had just been there. He'd made sketches of Tony at work, and he'd worked out, which had been completely distracting and sex had been inevitable after watching him do a zillion push ups with no shirt on. He'd made sure Tony was fed at regular intervals, he had listened to Tony rant with apparently infinite patience and had made sensible suggestions now and then, which showed that he was actually listening and could tell when Tony went off on unrealistic tangents. Now, standing next to him at the railing Tony realized he wanted this. This closeness and familiarity. This sense of Steve being by his side and staying there, because he belonged with him. Belonged to Tony. It was crazy, but somehow not as crazy as it had seemed even just a day ago.

He tilted his face up towards Steve, who took the hint like the smart man he was, and kissed him sweet and slow. There was no urgency in the kiss, just something indescribably tender and Tony's heart ached with it. He wrapped one arm around Steve's neck and drunk in the other man's proximity with all of his senses.

"Jesus fuck, Stark, I thought I'd find you desperate to get out of this freak show, but I see you managed to find some entertainment."

They sprung apart and Tony found himself shoved behind a human shield of Steve. Tony knew that voice, though, so he stepped around him, dodging the hands trying to keep him back and bit out: "The hell are you doing here, Barton?"

Clint apparently felt no urge to answer that. "Who's the pretty boy?" he leered. Tony glared at him. Clint glared back. "Seriously, Stark. Who is he and does he qualify as damsel in distress or do you just need to kiss him bye bye and get his phone number before we go? Or if you don't want it, can I get his number?"

Tony rolled his eyes. "Steve, this is Clint Barton, also known as Hawkeye, hence the bow and arrows. Barton, this is Captain Steve Rogers, the other half of this mission." Steve mumbled a "How do you do?" but wasn't exactly standing down. "Now what the hell is this about getting out? Fury pretty explicitly told us to stay and wait for Hydra."

"Yeah, that was the part that Nat and I didn't get. You know Hydra infiltrated Porter's lab personnel and tried to steal the serum prototype samples while Porter was away on vacation, right?" Clint paused as he took in Tony's face. "You didn't know." His voice was flat. "Okay then. Well, Nat was on site. Played a pretty lab technician. Thwarted their attempts to crack the safe Tuesday night, took a few prisoners, got the distinct impression that this whole circus..." Clint waved his hands around to encompass the ship and the milling people in various costumes, "was only to get Porter out of the way. Yet, you didn't come home after the lab raid went down. So we decided to come see for ourselves what was up. We quietly borrowed a quinjet, and, hey presto, here we are. Dude, I don't know why the fuck you're still here, but Hydra ain't coming to talk to you."

"I agree," said Steve, "I think they are coming to kill us."

And he pointed to something that looked like a dark blob against the dark waves for all that Tony could make out.

"Fucking hell," said Clint, who had legendary eyesight, "electric zodiac. With.... 12 men in it. Wow. Widow was wrong. That doesn't happen much. You sure they're not some random terrorist organization here to kidnap some other annoying rich dude?"

"Oh, sure," said Tony, "That must be it. None of our concern then. Let's just go back to the party. Wanna dance, Clint? I can Waltz now. I'll even let you lead."

"Figures that you're the girl in this relationship, you giant poof."

"Says the man who takes it up the ass from Coulson."

"Alright, guys, that is enough." said Steve. "Look. They've got a grappling hook for boarding. Actually, I think I see another zodiac coming in behind them..." He turned to Clint. "Is Black Widow still up there with the quinjet? Can she see how many there are? Can we.... JARVIS?" He tapped his com unit. "JARVIS, can you get us all on the same frequency?"

"Done, Captain Rogers." Tony suspected JARVIS had a crush on Steve too, judging by his eagerness to please.

"Excellent, thank you. Black Widow? This is Captain Rogers, United States Armed Forces, are you in a position to confirm how many assailants we are dealing with?

"What the... Who? Clint?" Widow sounded as taken aback as Tony had ever heard her. Which wasn't very.

"It's alright, Nat. Answer the man. We have ninjas coming in on zodiacs. Can you see how many?" Clint had taken out his bow and was now aiming at the zodiac. In a fluid motion he let the arrow fly, punching a hole in the little boat, which started deflating rapidly. Most of the occupants were already climbing up the ropes to the ship, though.

"Hang on. There's.. seven, no eight total. Some of them have already boarded, by the looks of it."

Steve looked at Clint and then Tony. "Too many. This could turn into a blood bath with a lot of civilian victims, Tony. I think we should get out of here with Hawkeye."

"Yeah, you're right," Tony admitted, "I have got to go get the suitcase armor from our cabin though. I can't let that fall into Hydra's hands or we'll be battling an army of evil Iron Men next month."

"Understood," Steve said, and Tony was struck by how alert he looked right now. Almost as if he was enjoying this. "You two go get the suitcase suit. Stay together if at all possible. You heard Black Widow, hostiles are already on the ship, so proceed with care. Try to take them out without killing them, if you can, so as not traumatize the other people on this ship." He paused and looked at Clint. "As soon as you have the suit, let me know through the com, or if necessary through a flare from the balcony and we'll make our way up to the helipad, so the quinjet can pick us up."

"Hold on," Tony felt like he'd been bulldozed, "Where are you going while we get the suit?"

"I am going to even the odds and toss some of these guys back overboard. I'll try to meet you at the cabin, but if not, I'll see you on the heli pad."

And with that Steve jumped over the railing. Tony and Clint watched him land, drop and roll onto the deck three stories down, swing himself over the railing there, and catch himself on yet another set of railing bars, rapidly closing in on the zodiac's grappling hook.

"Holy shit, Stark," Clint breathed, "Who the hell have you been fucking? Spiderman?"

"Don't be ridiculous," Tony retorted, a little weakly, "Spiderman is way more scrawny." But he was wondering the same thing. Who the hell had he been fucking?

 

***

 

It had been hell getting Clint through the crowded ballroom without causing a riot. True, there had been some beefy guys in black entering through the doors in the back who were obviously searching for someone, but they hadn't spotted Tony yet and shooting arrows across a crowded room was just going to be asking for a stampede of panicked party goers, even if you were the best marksman in the world and you hit the right person. He also had to persuade Clint not to lie in ambush in the hallway outside the ballroom and wait for them to come out.

"Dude, they wouldn't even know it was me who shot them," Clint tried.

"Really? Because I'd think the arrows in their bodies would be a dead giveaway!"

"Nah man, there were like four Katnisses in there. Katness? Katni? I could recruit an army of Katni! The Hungers Games have been good to me, my friend."

"No time, Clint! There are about a hundred of these guys on the ship and eighty seven of them could be stealing my armor right now, while you stop to pick these off."

"How come you're not doing the bracelet thingie and have it come to you, while I shoot some target practice?" Clint cracked his knuckles.

"It's the suitcase suit. It's like armor-light, it doesn't have the bracelet function. Now, come on!" It was a lot like going to see a surgeon when you only had a sprained ankle. Don't ever consult a surgeon unless you want surgery. Don't ever bring Clint unless you want people with arrows through their throat.

 

 

Peering into the hallway in front of the cabin it turned out that Tony hadn't been far off the mark. So maybe there weren't 87 goons in front of their door, but at least a dozen and lord knew how many were inside the cabin.

"So the problem is," Clint muttered, "That as soon as I shoot the first one, they can have enough of them run this way that not even I can shoot them all before they reach us. It's a narrow hallway."

"I can help with that. I can put them down with the staple gun and you'll have all the time in the world to incapacitate them. I mean, 5 minutes should do it, right?"

"How is a staple gun going to put anyone down, Stark?" Clint's voice was full of derision. It was shocking, the lack of faith he had in Tony even after all these months. Tony sighed heavily.

"Must you question my genius like this, Barton? Always with the doubt, you unbelieving Thomas. I modified the staple gun, of course. The staples carry their own power source and once they hit someone they set up a neat little closed circuit and taser the fuck out of them for about five minutes. By which time most people should be reduced to blubbering wrecks. These guys might be a bit more resilient, but that is what we have your arrows for, right?"

Clint gave him a grudging nod, but was grinning outright five minutes later when the strategy had turned out to work like a charm and the hallway was full of writhing, groaning thugs with arrows sticking out of limbs. It worked just as well for the four that were waiting inside the cabin. Throwing the door open, Tony fell onto his front and stapled all four in quick succession, after which it was child's play for Clint to take them out. Clint stepped into the cabin and locked the door behind him, just as Tony spotted the guys on the balcony.

"Hurry it up, Stark, I hear more of them coming, pounding down the hall." But Tony was busy trying to figure out how to shoot the balcony guys through the glass. They had just noticed Tony and were turning towards him, when the man on the left took a flying leap backwards over the railing. Which didn't make any sense, until Tony saw Steve climbing onto the balcony. The other man jumped towards Steve, who kicked him in the center of the chest and then sent him flying after his friend. Tony swallowed hard. Steve looked..... fierce. Exhilarated. Vibrantly alive.

"Stark! The armor! Put it on now! We can't go out the way we came, there's too many, you're going to have to fly us up to the helipad!" Clint broke through his reverie.

Tony dove under the bed where he kept the suitcase and dragged it out. He had it open and assembling when Steve entered the room through the sliding glass doors. Tony stared at him, couldn't help it. It was like that time he'd come to Tony's rescue in the catacombs but with the intensity cranked up to a hundred. He was magnificent and beautiful and he was grinning at Tony like Tony was the prince in Sleeping Beauty that had woken him up, and he was just so very happy to be back among the living. He was also a complete fucking stranger. Well, maybe not complete. Tony could see the shape of the Steve he knew, but it was like the Picasso version of Steve. Tony searched for words, but couldn't find them. Nothing to connect him to the Steve he.... The faceplate clicked into place and then the issue was moot.

"Okay, let's get out of this shitshow," his voice distorted by the armor. "I can only carry one at a time in this suit. Clint, you first. You can cover me when I go back for Steve. Let's go Mr . Everdeen."

"I'll start climbing," offered Steve. He was shoving something in his shirt. "These guys are too stupid to look up, judging by current evidence. And it sounds like they're about to break down the door." He sprinted back onto the balcony and jumped up to grab the railing of the balcony of the floor above theirs. As Tony zoomed past him with a cursing Clint in bridal hold, the door to the cabin burst open and the men in black poured in.

 

 

***

 

Steve was making his way up the outside of the ship at a good clip, when Black Widow's voice came through the communicator.

"We have a chopper coming in for a landing on the helipad, boys. American Military issue by the looks of it. I gotta stay out of range unless you want explosions to be part of this extraction and possibly cause an international incident. Stark, can you bring Clint to me?" She rattled off a series of coordinates that in Steve's estimate were about 10 clicks east.

"I can, but it'll leave Steve exposed for longer than would be advisable." Tony's voice sounded more contained when speaking in the armor. Like he was talking into a tin can. Which he kind of was.

"Don't worry about me, " Steve interjected, "They haven't caught on yet, by the looks of it. I'll be near the helipad when you get back. Maybe I can scope it out." Tony didn't answer, although the silence sounded disapproving all by itself, so he added: "Confirm, Stark. Or I am going to have to assume your communicator is busted, or out of range, or, you know, underground. And we wouldn't want that again, now would we?"

"No, we wouldn't, mom. Roger that, Rogers." He imagined he could hear Tony roll his eyes.

Steve smiled bigger. He realized he'd have to tell Tony something, maybe even the truth, once they were out of here. He'd sprung into action before remembering that some of the moves he was using weren't considered feasible for non-enhanced humans. And he realized that could potentially turn bad. Very bad, because Tony would be pissed, or hurt, or very likely both. But that was some indefinite thing in the future and right now he was almost giddy with the sense of finally doing something. He'd understood the need to run tests when he'd first woken up, he really did, but it was now more than a year later and it was still test after test after damned test and no action whatsoever. So he thought it was at least understandable if he had gotten a little carried away.

The first raft he'd gotten to was the one Clint had shot and it had been sinking rapidly. Two of the men had already boarded and were guarding the entry point in all directions, except up. So Steve had maneuvered silently until he was right above one of the guys and dropped on top of him. He'd heaved him over the side by time the other man had turned around and there had only been a brief scuffle before that guy went flying. The grappling hook was severed without much problems and that had taken care of that raft. He'd repeated the procedure with the second raft he came to although the fight was more satisfying, because this raft had managed to land six of the men already. Still a piece of cake though. The third raft he'd got to had already unloaded though and all the occupants had disappeared inside the ship. That is when Steve had looked up himself and had spotted the goons standing on a balcony that he assumed was his and Tony's, so up he'd gone and taken care of those.

 

As much fun as he'd been having up till then, it'd been awesome to see the armor envelope Tony and watch him become Iron Man before his eyes. The way he'd shot past Steve with Clint in his arms was impressive. And that kind of bled into the hope that he could make Tony understand. Eventually.

Steve was still in a decidedly good mood when he neared the heli pad. Deciding he could risk a peek, he pulled himself up high enough to peer over the edge. Later he would wish he hadn't done it, that he would just have waited, unseeing and unseen, for Tony to pick him up and take him to the quinjet. Then he would have had more time. More time and a chance to explain and maybe a chance to repair.

 

The chopper was indeed American Military. And it hadn't been stolen by Hydra or anything like that. Unless they had stolen it with its occupant and that didn't seem very likely. Through the open door Steve had a clear line of sight to said occupant and to say he was unhappy to see Dr Redditch with ear phones on peering at a clipboard in his hands would be a gross understatement. The reality of the situation hit him all at once and Steve was furious. These guys weren't Hydra hellbent on killing Corbin Porter as played by Tony, these guys were here to extract him, Steve, and going about it in a way that suggested....

He swung himself onto the helipad and stalked towards the helicopter.

"JARVIS! Make it so the fucker in the chopper can hear me!"

"Done, Sir."

Steve shouted anyway.

"Redditch!" The man's head jerked up and he smiled. He had the gall to fucking smile!

"Is this a test?!?" Redditch kept smiling, so Steve shouted again. "Is this another fucking test?!”

"Captain America," Redditch said it oh so mildly and Steve wanted to strangle him. "You're here fast. No escort?"

"Your fucking escort would be lucky to escape without casualties, you asshole! I tossed two dozen overboard, some of them unconscious and I don't know how many have been shot by Hawkeye! Or how fatally. Are you seriously telling me you risked the lives of these soldiers to administer a fucking test?" He barreled on. "Or was it because you couldn't be bothered to make a fucking phone call and tell me you were coming for me?!"

Redditch had stopped smiling. "It is important for us to know how you would react under a potentially hostile situation, Captain."

Steve had reached the chopper and stood wide legged, hands on his hips, his hair flying in the wind of the chopper blades.

"You have got to be fucking kidding me! How I would react? How I have always reacted, of course, you fucking imbecile! And you have every single file on me as Captain America. What did you think I'd do? Stick up my hands and surrender? Wet my pants?"

"That is enough, Captain." Redditch was looking pinched now. "Board the chopper. You will be debriefed later." He paused and stared over Steve's shoulder.

"Iron Man...." He sounded like he didn't believe Iron Man actually existed and wasn't that typical, Steve thought as he whipped around.

 

Sure enough, there was Tony hovering a little ways away, one hand raised and at the ready. No doubt JARVIS had patched through the entire conversation, he could tell by the way Tony hung in the air, somehow. Steve felt his heart drop into his shoes and he wanted to howl at the unfairness of it all. The unfairness of losing the chance to tell Tony himself, of trying to make him understand. The hope he'd harbored of maybe, possibly not losing Tony was crushed. The opportunities of one more day, one more kiss were wasted. He took a step towards Tony, but Tony lifted the repulsor and aimed it at his chest. Yeah, he'd overheard, alright.

 

***

 

Tony watched Steve take a step back as he aimed the repulsor at him. At his Steve, who wasn't his Steve after all. And even though he'd known Steve wasn't his, that it couldn't last, the betrayal hurt like fuck. But the guy wasn't even Steve. He was Captain Fucking America! It all made a weird kind of sense in retrospect, the things he'd said, the things he could do, what he knew and didn't know, but how the fuck....

"How the fuck are you even alive?!" The armor's speakers boomed and he saw Steve flinch and take another step back. Steve, who'd been friends with his father, for gods sake. And Peggy... Aunt Peggy?!? Oh. My. God.

The dude in the helicopter said something else, and Tony couldn't even process what it was and didn't care to. But he saw a stubborn look pass over Steve's face and then a pleading one. His whole body was one big plea as he started walking towards Tony, holding out his hands to him.

"Tony..." It was a whisper that he could feel more than hear, even with the com unit, even through his armor. And Tony couldn't deal with that. He just couldn't. He closed his eyes as he blasted off towards the quinjet.

 

***

 

None of them spoke as Tony took off the faceplate, once he was strapped into the jet. Black Widow checked on him with a look that said nothing and Tony let his head fall back.

Then Steve's voice whispered in his ear: "Tony... I am so sorry... I l-"

That was as far as he got before Tony crushed the com unit in his gauntlet.

 

Chapter Text

Sound & Fury

 

Tony slammed back into the lab after Clint and Natasha had deposited him on the top of Stark Tower and called for JARVIS to set him up with a video call to Fury. For once, Fury didn't make Tony wait.

“Stark. You're back in the tower? Hawkeye and Widow, I guess. Where is...”

“Steve? Captain Rogers? Captain Fucking America?! In a military chopper last I saw. Listen, you fucking fuck. I have had it with your fucking head games! I am quitting your secret boy band! I am taking my toys and going home. Go manipulate some other dumb schmuck. I don't give a flying fuck. We're done.” And with that Tony cut the connection. Fury immediately tried to call him back. Tony had JARVIS put him on hold indefinitely with elevator music.

 

 

Tony wanted, so badly needed it not to be true. But it was. He'd heard Steve say so himself over the com and everything he knew of Steve fit seamlessly with the story of an American hero who had somehow, some way, survived being frozen for almost 70 years, up to and including the topics of his nightmares. It took him a couple of days to hack into the well protected military records, but then he had his confirmation of all the details of Steve's discovery in the polar wreckage, his unlikely resurrection and miles and miles of test results. What he couldn't find was any idea of what the brass planned on doing with him. They couldn't even agree on whether to make it public knowledge or not that Captain America was still alive. As far as he could tell Steve was now in Afghanistan, but still incognito.

 

 

Next he called the caretaker of Howard's Bring-Captain-America-Home-Yay! trust fund. Tony had never met the man, for obvious reasons that involved Daddy Issues, but he disliked the guy at first sight nonetheless, when he finally deigned to make himself available. First of all, Tony had to resort to threats of dire financial repercussions before the man came on the screen. Second of all, his combover was worse than Donald Trump's. It took a few minutes before he'd managed to explain to Tony that the yearly expedition to search for Cap was combined with an Armed Forces polar training exercise. That in fact, the fund just shoved a whole lot of money at said Forces and left everything up to them.

"Right," said Tony, "So you, Mr Bell, don't actually do anything but oversee a yearly donation to the Pentagon?"

"Um... Well....."

"And in return, the Pentagon sends you what exactly? A report? Some instagram pictures? How do we know what they've done on the expedition besides send a bunch of new recruits to build snowmen and maybe club some baby seals?"

"They send a full account of money spent, sir."

"That's not what I asked. Do they send a report of findings? Coordinates searched? Ultrasound logs?"

"Oh... That. Yes, I believe they do."

"And? Did they ever find anything interesting? Shipwrecks? Mermaids? Downed planes with super soldiers in them?"

"Um.... I'm afraid I don't have that knowledge at the ready, sir."

"Let me put it this way: Does anyone involved in this trust fund have the slightest notion of the results of these expeditions? Even if only how much metaphorical ground we have covered? I would imagine in 70 years we have explored quite a bit of ocean floor. Who decides where to look next?"

"I am.... not sure?"

"Tell me this, Mr Bell, what happens if they actually find Captain America?"

"Oh! Well! There is part of the fund reserved for a grand ceremonial internment at Arlington, sir. Mr Stark, your father, left full details as to -"

"I'm sure he did. And what is going to happen if we find him alive?"

"Al... what?" Bell looked truly flabbergasted. Tony ruled him out as being in on any kind of conspiracy. Complacency and incompetence seemed much more likely vices.

"Humor me. What would happen if we found Captain America alive and well?"

"I suppose.... the fund would revert back to you to do with as you will. But I am going to have to insist on hard proof before taking such a step. I am sure you understand. Your father -"

"Right-o. Here's the thing, Mr Bell. I am going to need to see the last three reports that were sent."

"We do not have digital copies, sir."

"Of course you don't. Horrible hassle that would be. Fine, dig them out of that box in the attic that passes for your filing system and courier them over. As far as I can see you're getting a six figure salary to do dick all, Mr Bell, and you obviously don't give a fuck about the purpose of this fund, so while I am looking at these reports I suggest you make yourself useful and research some charities for me. I think... yeah, homeless veterans would be suitable. Send me a full report in a week." With that Tony broke the connection. If Tony had believed for a second that Steve would have accepted the money left in the fund, he'd have dumped it in his lap in an instant, but Tony knew him better than that. Steve probably wasn't aware of the problems veterans faced these days, but he was pretty sure he'd like such a charity.

 

 

The reports came within an hour. Good old Bell had belatedly found some motivation. Unsurprisingly, most of the pages were censored to hell and back and what was left barely made sense. However, a page to page comparison between the different years made it obvious that momentous things had happened in the expedition before last, judging solely by the extra number of whited out pages. Funny how the one bit of information that the expedition sponsors were sponsoring the expedition for wasn't reported back to them and, come to think of it, funny how nobody seemed to have had any qualms about accepting money for another expedition the year after Steve had been defrosted. Tony wasn't sure if it had been Steve or his superiors that had insisted on keeping his identity a secret, although it didn't seem like a thing that Steve would choose to do, but Tony was going to be damned if he was going to keep funding an annual frolic in the snow just because somebody had decided secrecy was the way to go. Fuck that shit. He wondered how they would react if he sent them a bill for a refund on that latest expedition and have it say 'due to the recovery of Captain America in the previous year', and address it to an underling. He got an evil sense of satisfaction out of imagining all the flailing attempts at cover ups that would result. He had JARVIS put it on the to do list.

 

 

Faced with the evidence that Steve really, truly was Captain America Tony tried to deny that he had any feelings for the man. Feelings for Steve, maybe. Possibly. Captain America? Hell to the fucking no. When he worked up the guts to look at some of the old pictures of Howard and Steve and Peggy, he wanted to claw out his eyeballs. His father, with that smug, superior smile that Tony absolutely hated and had wanted to slap off his face every time it had been directed at himself. Steve, who of course looked fantastic in the old style uniform and somehow seemed even younger and more innocent than he did now. This Steve wasn't shivering and whimpering in his sleep, dreaming about endless years frozen in ice. Aunt Peggy, young and beautiful and unmarried and everything a guy like Steve would want. Did want.

But he'd wanted Tony too and Tony, lord help him, wanted Steve. Wanted all of him. He wanted the looks, the smiles, the dry humor, the fond exasperation, the yelling, the blushes. He wanted the casual touches, the not so casual ones. He wanted Steve's arm around his shoulders during the day and Steve's hand around his dick at night. Or day. Anytime was a good time for that, really.

He located a photo of Captain America in his uniform. He'd seen it before, he remembered his father having this picture around, but now it struck him how the previously despised national symbol was so completely and utterly Steve, even under the mask. It wasn't even what he could see of Steve's face, although there was that edible bottom lip again, it was the way he stood, the look of fierce determination. When Tony caught himself smiling wistfully at that picture of Captain America, he realized he was utterly fucked.

 

 

That led right to feeling irrationally angry at Howard for fucking up Tony's view of Steve in his formative years. Familiar terrain, that, because if there was one person Tony was used to being angry at, it was Howard Stark.

The anger didn't stop there though. He was also angry at Steve for not telling him his secret, even though he realized he was probably under orders not to. And angry at Steve for being all Steve and good and gorgeous and perfect and making Tony fall in love with him. And angry at Steve because Steve was letting himself get shot at right now in Afghanistan of all places, while Tony still had serious issues with that country and even worse issues with terrorists shooting at Steve. Tony was also angry with himself for being so easy and following his dick and being so fucking needy for someone like Steve that he had fallen for him like a ton of bricks. Not to mention that he was furious at Fury, even more than was normal on any given day. He couldn't yell at Howard and he wished he could yell at Steve and he had been yelling at himself for days without it solving anything, so maybe it was time to give Fury another call.

 

Fury was much more prompt in answering his phone than Bell had been. Probably because he'd been trying to get a hold of Tony for more than a week.

"Stark..."

"You knew."

"Knew what? That Hydra might go for the lab instead of Corbin? That was always a possibility."

"No, you fucker. You knew about Steve."

"I had my suspicions. A military serum expert named Steve Rogers? That looked a carbon copy of the old Captain America? It wasn't rocket science. Don't know how the man survived, but -"

"And you chose not to tell me." Tony's anger was flat and cold.

"Stark, you have access to the same files as I do, don't even try to tell me you don't. Just because you avoid your old man's stuff like the plague doesn't make it my duty to point out when you're wearing blinders. You could have known and you chose not to. Tough fucking shit." Fury's was flatter and colder.

"You didn't tell me, because you knew I would refuse to do it."

"You would have gone off on a six month motherfucking bender in Malibu. Fat lot of good that would have done me. I needed you on the fucking ship."

"So much so that you didn't even tell me after the lab break in that Steve and I were just decoys, stealing some poor saps' honeymoon. In fact, you deliberately misstated Widow's conclusions to make us stay put."

"I have Twitter, Stark. SHIELD has a social media department. You were getting along just peachy with Captain America. Didn't seem like much of a hardship for you to stick around and get cozier."

"You pimped me out?"

"No I didn't pimp you out. I didn't tell you to fuck the man. That was all your idea. I was just... pleasantly surprised you seemed to be 'getting along' and was disinclined to break up that particular party."

"Your concern for my happiness is touching."

Fury actually chuckled at that, the asshole. "It is. That's why you're coming back to the Avengers, by the way."

“Am not.”

“Not fucking arguing about it, Stark. You won't be able to stay away and you know it. But you can have your mental health days for now.” He paused and stared at Tony intently. "Stark, I want Rogers."

"You... what?" Suddenly the anger flared hot.

"I don't want to fuck his ass!" Fury rolled his eye. "Jesus! I have no interest in his ass. I want him on the Avengers."

Tony cut the connection.

 

 

The anger burned hotly for almost two weeks. It was a time in which he was phenomenally productive (as opposed to the Denial Days, which he had spent mostly drunk) and made breakthroughs in a number of projects. He added staple gun tasers to the armor, for one. He blasted a lot of grunge and metal through the shop, like any well adjusted man who had had his formative years in the late eighties and early nineties, but JARVIS was the only one around who could complain and he knew better. Especially after Tony had threatened to scrap him after sneaking Captain of Her Heart into the play list.

He had to stop himself several times from going out to find a target for his anger. He knew that in his current state he'd pick a fight with anybody that crossed his path and also that, right now, he'd go way past the point of no return. He'd ruin whatever relationships he had. Just because. So he stayed the hell away from Pepper and Rhodey and his former teammates, because he might need them later. He threw himself into his work instead. The next armor was going to be a work of art. Gorgeous, efficient, deadly as fuck Art.

He also started designing a suit for Captain America, cursing himself all the while for being a sap, for having hope, for feeling so fucking fragile. But if Steve was going to be stupid enough to flee to a warzone, then Tony would design him a suit that would keep him safe, for fuck's sake. He could only work on it for little snatches at a time, half an hour tops, before the anger would start getting choked off by sheer need and the loneliness and yearning for Steve became unbearable. Then he'd go back to making taser arrows for Clint or any other of the fourteen projects he was working on until he got a nice firm grip on his anger again.

Once he caught himself petting the fabric of Steve's suit and proceeded to work 72 hours with no sleep to try to burn that out of his brain, but it didn't work. He still dreamed of Steve. The dreams were wonderful and horrible at the same time.

When his anger had burned itself out with only the embers of 'why am I so fucking pathetic?' still glowing fiercely, he found himself working on Steve's suit for longer and longer periods of time. He realized that he was about to slide into a funk so deep he wasn't sure he was ever going to crawl back out. Steve wasn't dead, for Christ's sake. Steve wasn't even lost. Steve might even be a possibility if Tony could manage to pull his head out of his ass and convince Steve that he needed to be with Tony. But Steve needed to be free to make that choice and he wasn't. And that reminded Tony that Steve's superiors owed him a shit load of money. It was time to grow a fucking pair and do what he could do. So he stopped updating his security system and waited for Nick Fury to show up.

 

 

It took Fury three days and four hours to get through, and that was a pretty poor showing. The SHIELD IT department was obviously a barren wasteland when it came to intellect. And Tony wasn't counting hours since he'd last seen Steve, he really wasn't, because that would be crossing the line between mildly obsessed and pathetic. And that he would never admit to. It so happened though that JARVIS helpfully supplied the hour count every time Tony barely even twitched an eye, because his fucking AI was moping too.

"Took you long enough." Tony bitched at Fury.

"I have more things to do than cater to your little snit."

"My snit is anything but little."

"True. So what's the plan?"

"My lawyers should be here in a minute. Then we'll talk. In the meantime let me show you the helicarrier upgrades I've been working on. How do you feel about tasers....?"

 

***

 

Steve dropped his kit next to his bunk, and flopped down on it, too tired to put it away right now. He was hot and sticky and there was a metric ton of dirt sticking to the drying sweat on every exposed bit of skin. Afghan dirt was nasty stuff, it got into the smallest crevices and into your pores and it was like superglue. Impossible to get off without scrubbing off a layer of skin, and it was everywhere. But at least he was going to be tired enough to sleep today.

He was finally on active duty. Of course, his commanding officers had agreed to send him here before he went on the mission with Tony, but apparently a few pictures of him and Tony on the internet had been enough for them to reconsider and order another battery of tests. Only when Steve had flat out refused to do any more tests, or do any more debriefings in which they surreptitiously tried to figure exactly how gay Steve was, had they reconsidered. On the condition that he would do solo missions only and keep his identity a secret. Steve was so very, very sick and tired of being a secret. He was almost hoping Tony would blab it all over the news. But so far he hadn't heard a thing from Tony. Or even about Tony, who was usually in the news much more frequently than he had been in the month since he had last seen him.

Steve had also refused to have Redditch as his 'handler', claiming the trust was broken. After Steve had insisted several times, he'd finally been told that one of the marines that had come to 'escort' him had died. She'd been unconscious when Steve tossed her over the railing and she had hit her head on the raft and broken her neck. Steve was completely gutted by the news. That she was a woman made it worse. He was born in 1918, okay, killing an innocent woman, whether he meant to or not, was not something he could make peace with. He wanted to talk to her parents and her boyfriend, wanted to apologize, but Redditch had denied him permission. And then he'd muttered a snide comment under his breath that if women wanted to be on active duty they could suffer the consequences. Steve's super hearing had picked up the comment just fine and he'd had to force himself to walk away or he'd have pummeled the guy. He figured that 'broken trust' would be more acceptable than telling his superiors that he would punch the man in the face if he ever saw him again. That might be seen as insubordination, after all, and then Steve would not get to go somewhere where he could do something.

 Not that they were letting him do a whole lot. The new guy they'd stuck him with had really no clue what Steve could do and seemed to be erring on the side of caution all the time. Probably scared to death to lose the American Icon. Steve still had hope he could convince him to give him more high octane missions, though. And if not, well, it wouldn't be the first time that he'd gone off on his own to do what needed to be done, and he could do it again. If he was honest with himself, he should probably admit his need for danger had multiplied since he had gotten back. The time spent on the ship seemed more and more like a wild and crazy colorful dream, a lot like Dorothy's Oz. And it made the reality of Steve's existence seem like an endless slog of khaki and tan monotony.

Today's mission had been decent. He'd rescued a few men who'd gotten themselves kidnapped and that had felt like an honest day's work and it had tired him somewhat. Win-win they called that nowadays.

 

 

Daytimes had distractions, most days anyway, but he had a hard time sleeping at night. Staring at the canvas over his head when the sounds of the day had faded, he missed Tony with an aching need that was so much worse than he'd expected it to be. Not that he was sorry he'd gotten involved with him, because what he'd had could not be taken away, not ever. But he hadn't thought he'd be this heart sore. It didn't help that he didn't know how Tony felt about him. Was he still angry? Was he hurt? Or, and that was almost more than he could bear to think about, was he indifferent? Had he forgotten Steve by now?

He'd requested to Skype Tony so many times now, but he'd gotten turned down each and every time. When, in desperation, he'd requested to speak to Clint and later even Fury, they'd turned that down too. Steve himself was 'classified' now and apparently they didn't trust him to stay that way if had any more contact with people who weren't 'need to know'. He didn't know any other way of reaching Tony. It was maddening and infuriating, and it kept him awake at night.

On the bad nights, he'd toss and turn on his bunk and torture himself with an exquisite combination of memories and the certainty that Tony didn't care about him anymore. On those nights it seemed impossible to even imagine Tony would care, or could ever have cared for him. Even if Steve hadn't lied to him for five days straight, the man had everything: popularity, intellect, money, looks and the Avengers. The fuck could he ever want from Steve besides a roll in the hay?

But on the good nights, he'd sit outside the tent in the cool air, staring up at the moon and the endless expanse of nighttime sky that seemed to swallow him up completely and he knew in his bones that Tony missed him just as much as he missed Tony. There were more bad nights than good nights, unfortunately. Tonight would be a good night in the sense that he would sleep. Maybe even without nightmares.

 

He pulled out the sketchbook he'd got in Rome. It was caked with Afghan dirt, like everything else in this shithole, but the drawings still stood out clearly on the smudged pages. Fountains, fountains, fountains, on the first few pages and then Tony, Tony, Tony, Tony, Tony, Tony, Tony, Tony.... Tony absorbed with his soldering iron, Tony frowning at his tablet, Tony lounging on the couch, Tony laughing out loud, Tony with ridiculous bedhead, Tony sprawled on the bed fast asleep after sex, Tony just waking up with a soft and private smile, before he had had the chance to think of something sarcastic to say, Tony with his hand on his cock.....

"Captain Rogers? There's someone here to see you." Steve was jolted out of his reverie and for a split second his heart soared with hope. Tony? Then it plummeted. If they'd send him Redditch, he might actually kill the guy. He swung his legs over the edge of the bed and sat up, rubbing his face.

"She says she's a lawyer for Stark Industries."

What?

 

 

Chapter Text

Trials & Tribulations

"Mr Stark...... Tony..." It was a surefire sign of how serious Elisa was, that she used Tony's first name. Despite the twenty years she'd worked for Stark Industries, twenty years in which he had insisted that she call him Tony, it had been Mr Stark at all times. "Tony, you can't go to the trial."

"I need to see him. You don't understand."

"No, Mr Stark, you don't understand. You're not just suing the Armed Forces for money. If that was the case they would have settled this out of court in the blink of an eye. You are suing them for access to Captain America. You claim the Howard Stark foundation is entitled to information that they deem classified and, most importantly, you mean to break their claim on Captain America by insisting the contract he signed in the 1940s when he enlisted is no longer valid and cannot be enforced. The goal is to get Captain America into the position where he can make his own choices, correct?"

"So he can join the Avengers, yes."

She peered at him over her glasses. "If he chooses to do so, Mr Stark. We cannot in good conscience argue for his emancipation and then force him to work for SHIELD. He will be free to do what he wants. He can enlist again, if that is what he wants."

"He won't. Well, maybe. I don't know. Okay, he'll be free to join the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, if he so desires. Except he can't sing. Why can't I go to the trial?"

"Because, Mr. Stark, right now this is going to be painted as the immaculate American Hero versus the Dehumanizing Military Bureaucracy. As much as the public opinion is going to be on Captain America's side for this, because his story is just that good, it will never ever be easy in this country to win something against our armed forces, because we consider them heroes too. There's plenty of history to back that up." She obviously had opinions on that that she wasn't sharing.

"And?"

"And, once you show a personal interest in this trial, someone, somewhere, is going to link those pictures from last spring to Captain Rogers and blast your relationship all over the internet. Interest in Captain America will be frenzied at that point anyway and then it wouldn't even have to be true, but since it is true, there is no hope at all of debunking it. All of a sudden we don't have a trial of American Hero versus Misguided Bureaucrats, we have a trial of That Faggot in Spandex versus American Wholesomeness. And we'll lose two thirds of the jury right then and there." Tony grimaced, but didn't say anything. "I hate to say it, Mr Stark, but with your reputation, any contact with Captain America would sully his."

Tony groaned. "Because everything I touch turns to shit." He sounded like a sulky teenager and he knew it. He couldn't help it, though. The trial would last for weeks, months even, and that just wasn't something he could face with equanimity right now.

"That is a statement you had better address with your therapist, Mr Stark. But as far as the limited circumstances of this trial are concerned, it is a valid notion. This case is going to be interesting, but tough. Do not undermine my work." Elisa was ruthless and never minced words and normally that was something Tony loved about her, but right now he was feeling a little fragile. He sighed and tried to reconcile himself with not seeing or talking to Steve for months. It felt like someone had dimmed the lights outside.

 

Tony watched the trial on his TV through the bottom of a bottle. Elisa had been right. This was bigger than the OJ Simpson circus, and it seemed like the whole world was watching. The day Steve was first called to the stand, Tony had made sure he was sober. He was leaning forward on the couch, elbows on his thighs and sucked in a breath when the camera panned in on Steve. He looked different. The platinum hair was gone, buzzed off, and was just starting to grow out again in its regular honey-blond color. The orange tan was replaced with the kind of tan soldiers got in the desert. Golden brown, but limited to face, neck and hands. It made his blue eyes pop. There were dark smudges under his eyes though, like he wasn't sleeping well and Tony knew that feeling. He watched for a hint of the warm smiles he had gotten so used to on the ship, but Steve looked for all the world like he had never smiled like that in his life. It made Tony ache to see how solemn and serious Steve was, and Tony wanted to needle him and tease him and make outrageous comments until Steve smiled again. Actually, Tony wanted to crawl through the screen and climb into Steve's lap and never let him go.

On the screen, Steve was being sworn in. Then Elisa started her questioning.

"Please state your full name and date of birth."

"Steven Grant Rogers. July 4th, 1918."

It was as if Tony could hear the collective gasp reverberating throughout the country. He himself exhaled explosively. A breath he hadn't realized he had been holding. As if he had not truly believed it until he heard Steve say it. He reached for his bottle of Talisker.

 

The trial lasted three months. Three whole fucking months. On Elisa's advice he laid relatively low and only went out a few times with an obviously female companion. Darcy Lewis, Jane Foster's assistant, was more than happy to help a guy out if it involved new clothes and expensive food.

"Just to be clear, I am not fucking you, Stark."

Tony raised one eyebrow.

"Not that you're not attractive. You are, in a vaguely creepy sugar daddy kind of way. Better now that you aren't gray anymore, what were you thinking? But the guys that weep for their lost loves when they come are the worst." She paused with a spoonful of granita in her mouth, which made her look disturbingly like a little girl with a lollipop. "Actually, the ones that weep for Jesus are the worst."

Tony assured her he had never shed a tear for Jesus, but he was on board with the not fucking. At least these 'dates' would be bearable.

Tony avoided the press like the plague. He no-commented his way through a few events and acted with complete indifference towards what was already being dubbed 'the trial of the century'. Which was a little premature since they hadn't even reached the twenties yet. There were days he absorbed every little detail of the trial, even watched all the commentaries. And there were days when he could not stand to hear one more word about it and he lost himself in rebuilding the armor yet again, pretending like he didn't feel like he was teetering on the edge of a cliff.

 

And then the trial ended, but it didn't end. They won, and Steve was free to go and he did. But he didn't come to Tony.

 

***

 

"We'll have to go back to court to get your shield, Captain Rogers," said Ms Elisa Williams, "We can make a solid case for it being your personal asset and not military issue, and I have confidence we can win it back for you. They are just a little butt hurt right now about being forced to acknowledge that they can't extend your contract past retirement age without your consent. And that they owe you roughly 40 years of back pay, with interest." She smiled like a shark and Steve felt a muted sense of gratitude for her efforts in that regard. It was nice not to have to worry about money, it really was, but...

"It is going to take a while to file that case and it probably won't be treated as urgently as this one was. It could be a few months before we need you to testify." She looked at Steve, who had no idea what to say, what to do, and a softer expression came over her face. "In the meantime, Nick Fury of SHIELD has a proposal for you, I believe. There is car waiting for you downstairs if you'd like to go talk to him now." Steve nodded and shook her hand before he started down the stairs.

He slowed and came to a standstill before he was even halfway down, though. The last few months had been exhausting. He had felt like a rope that was being used for tug of war. Or like a piece of taffy being pulled in two directions. And the pulling had stopped, but like the taffy, he had been left strung out and saggy in the middle. Then he knew he wasn't ready. He couldn't go and get in that car and join the Avengers. Yes, he'd wanted to and maybe he'd want to again, but right now he wanted to just.... disappear. Lay low, lick his wounds, whatever. With a sense of wonder he realized he could. He was a free man. He could do whatever the hell he wanted.

So he found a back door and stepped away from it all. As he lost himself in the crowd he felt vaguely uneasy that maybe Tony was waiting for him. Well, maybe he was and maybe he wasn't. Steve hadn't heard from him in months, not since he'd watched Iron Man take off from the cruise ship. Not since Tony had not answered him on the com unit. But even if he was, Steve was in no shape to see him.

 

After collecting his duffel bag from his hotel room, he went to the bank. He withdrew a truly stunning amount of cash and wondered if he would ever get so used to living in the twenty-first century that $10 was not going to seem like a lot of money. Then he went to see a dealer and spent a few hours there before dropping an insane amount of money on a motorcycle and a helmet with a tinted visor. He started driving west just as the sun was starting to get that late afternoon golden glow.

He wasn't in much of a hurry and he preferred the back roads, so it took him a couple of days to get to Bethesda. Once there he visited the parents and the boyfriend of the marine he had inadvertently killed. He was grateful they didn't kick him out in disgust and were willing to hear his apologies, but the visit wasn't comfortable for anybody, so he tried not to overstay his welcome. He left a check for half of the amount left in his account in the mailbox on his way out. He wasn't sure how well the military took care of the survivors these days, but it probably hadn't improved much.

He ate a sandwich on a bench in a park and then dug into his duffel bag for a sweatshirt. The days were getting chillier, he would have to get some leathers soon. Maybe even some chaps. He smiled, remembering Tony's filthy litany as he was dissecting Del's baby blue chaps to harvest the straps for his toothbrush tasers, and it felt unfamiliar on his face, like he hadn't smiled in ages. He probably hadn't. Then his hands brushed the large envelope in his bag that contained some of the letters that Captain America had received during the trial, mostly from kids and seniors. He took it out and flipped through the letters. He had gotten so many, it had been a bit overwhelming. These were only his favorites, less than 50 in all. The one he pulled out was from a 93 year old veteran, who was originally from Brooklyn, and Steve wondered it they had ever met before project REBIRTH. The man was now living in a nursing home in Silver Spring, which was actually pretty much around the corner from Bethesda. Huh. Maybe Steve should just go find out.

 

So he did. He visited with John Denning for hours. The man was tickled pink with Steve's visit and while they could not establish a direct connection, they spent a lot of time reminiscing about people and places they both had known. Then they'd talked about the years that Steve had missed and what John thought about now versus then, and when Steve left in the early evening he felt whole in a way he hadn't felt since, well, Tony. He stopped by a gas station on the way to a Motel 6 and bought a Rand McNally and some markers. On a whim he also bought a postcard with 'Greetings from Silver Spring' on the front and addressed it to Tony Stark at Stark Industries. He simply signed it 'Steve', not knowing what he should or could say anyway, and dropped it in the mail before he could change his mind. It felt a little weird, like it wasn't even scratching the surface of what would be enough, but at the same time it felt deeply satisfying to have someone to send a postcard to. And if Tony didn't agree with that, there was nothing he could do about it. Steve could send him as many cards as he wanted.

That evening in his motel room, he marked all the places he had letters from in the Rand McNally. He didn't plan on purposely visiting all of them, maybe a few, maybe more than a few, but this way he wouldn't miss one if he was close anyway.

 

He settled into a sort of a routine. He'd ride a few hours, pretty much randomly, unless something on the road signs caught his attention. Then there were short bursts of purpose and he'd go see Mount Rushmore or Niagara Falls. He found that he liked riding at night, the quiet making him feel more peaceful. He visited random people who had written to him and either basked in the adoration of eight year old boys and their beaming mothers, or chewed the fat with people of his own generation. He ate in diners whenever possible, avoiding those nasty fast food places, and slept in motels or in the grass next to his bike when he couldn't find one. He realized he had seen more of Europe than he had seen of the US before this trip, but he was certainly getting to know it now.

 

And he sent postcards to Tony from almost every place he visited. At least one a day, and sometimes more than one. The first ones were just signed, but after a week or so he started adding little drawings of things he saw. Quick sketches in ballpoint, anything else wouldn't work on a card. He drew gazebos and cows and trees. Sunsets were hard to do in ballpoint, but he tried anyway. Once, on a not so good day, when he was wondering what the hell he was doing all by himself in Bumfuck, Ohio, he drew a little cartoon of Tony with his soldering iron and wrote 'Miss you' under it. He regretted it as soon as he'd dropped it in the mailbox, but he couldn't get it back. He was more careful after that, but he didn't stop sending the cards, he didn't think he could at this point. They were a lifeline to him.

Sometimes he wrote little observations, things that struck him as odd or funny. Like 'What the heck is a kumquat?', after he had wandered into a California grocery store. All in all, he wasn't what he'd call happy, not in the way he'd been happy those last days on the ship, but he sure as hell had been a whole lot unhappier than this many, many times. Content was probably a more accurate word.

 

***

 

"What the fuck does it mean, Pepper?" Tony complained as he stuck a postcard of the World's Largest Ball of Yarn to Dummy's charging station, which was covered in cards by now. Pepper looked up from her seat on Tony's workbench where she'd been bent over her tablet.

"I don't think there is a hidden meaning in a large ball of yarn," she said, "And you're going to drive yourself nuts over those cards if you are going to start looking for hidden messages, Tony. Nuts-er, I mean."

"Then why is he sending me postcards!?"

"Because he likes you? That is generally why people send postcards and I don't get the impression he is all that deep."

"He is plenty deep, Pep," Tony sounded insulted in a distracted kind of way. "Because he likes me? He likes me this many?" He handwaved at the dozens of cards stuck to the charging station. Pepper slid off the workbench and walked over with her heels clicking on the concrete floor to where Tony was still staring at the cards, as if trying to unearth the deeper meaning of a card depicting Old Faithful geyser. She tapped a manicured nail on the only one that had the message facing outward, a little cartoon of Tony that had masterfully captured the look of intense concentration he tended to get when absorbed in a project.

"This many, Tony."

Tony swallowed hard, then scoffed: "He wouldn't have to miss me if he just came the fuck home!"

"If you love someone, you've got to set them free, hon."

"And now my life is reduced to a fucking Sting song. How absolutely depressing and cliché." He flung himself on the couch with an arm over his eyes, because that was just too close to the truth to be borne in comfort. Pepper sighed and hoisted herself back up on the workbench, picking up the abandoned tablet.

 

***

 

A small redheaded woman slid into the booth opposite of Steve. He was just about to take a bite of his toast, but he lowered it back down as he looked at her.

"Can I help you?"

"The leather is a good look on you. You should wear that when you go see Tony. I'll be sure to bribe JARVIS to get the footage of his reaction. But lose the beard. There should only be one person with facial hair in any relationship."

"I.... What?" Steve was too surprised to blush. Then the voice clicked. "Black Widow?"

"Natasha Romanov. Pleased to meet you, Captain Rogers." She smiled a thin smile that didn't make her look all that pleased.

"Call me Steve. How did you find me? Did Tony....?"

"Tony tried. But if the information isn't digital he's useless, really. He got stuck after that girl's family cashed a check from you in Bethesda. But between the cards you sent and the copies of the letters that the army archived it wasn't that hard to follow your trail and to start to predict it. Typical spy work. It's what I do."

"But why?"

"Because Tony couldn't do it. Or wouldn't do it. That's unclear. And because I saw his face in the quinjet, and I've been watching him get worse ever since. He's not taking this well."

"Tony is angry with me." Steve didn't know why he was even talking to a complete stranger about Tony, except that it felt like such a relief to talk about him. To talk to somebody who knew him. He suddenly felt starved for information.

"He was. For weeks. Very angry. With everyone. When he stopped being angry, he sent you his lawyers. Since then he's mostly been missing you. Why didn't you go see him after the trial?"

"I needed to get away. I needed to stop feeling manipulated." It wasn't an answer, but in a way it was.

"And you were afraid Tony would reject you. That he hadn't forgiven you and that he didn't want to be with you. If you stayed away, you could cling to the hope that maybe you had a chance with him."

I..... Yeah..... How did you know?" Steve thought she looked like a porcelain doll, if porcelain could be as hard as titanium. Her words were scalpels performing precision surgery.

"You're a guy. It's how you think." She shrugged and studied her nails critically. "Don't you think it's time to go home yet?"

"Where is home, Natasha?" Steve really didn't know if there was any place in this world he'd consider home right now.

"New York. The Avengers. Tony. We're all waiting."

"This trip has been good for me. I've finally seen my country. I've talked to people that remember the times when I was growing up. I've talked to kids who think the future is better with Captain America in it. It's been.... healing." Another roundabout answer.

"That is good. It's good to know what you are fighting for. Take a few more weeks if you need to wrap your head around it. But you need to come home."

"Do I?" Steve felt small and uncertain, needing her to spell it out for him.

"Steve, you are the type of man who won't go get what he wants if he can't justify it for some altruistic reason. This is bullshit, of course. If you want Tony you should just go get him, screw the rest of the world. But let me give you your altruistic reasons. You need to come home because the Avengers need you. We need your type of leadership. We need Captain America. And we need you, because without you we'll lose Iron Man too. He needs to either be with you or get over you, in order to get out of his self-destructive funk, and for either of those things to happen he needs to see you." She paused and looked at Steve intently. It made him feel cold. "That, or I could kill you. Then he'd eventually get over you too. I prefer happy endings though. I am a romantic at heart." She smiled sweetly. Yeah. Right. Like Steve was going to believe that.

"Alright. I'll head back east." As if he had a choice. But he realized she was right, actually. The time had come to head back and face the music.

 

Natasha took him to a phone shop after they'd eaten and made him buy one of those pocket phones.

"It's just temporary," she said, "I am sure Tony will insist on getting you something he designed himself when you get back, but I can't have you dropping off the grid again. It's too time consuming to track you down." She finished programming a bunch of people into Steve's phone and then showed him how to use it.

"Thor has a phone?" He just couldn't picture that.

She smiled. A more genuine one. "It only works when he is on earth. And he breaks it a lot. Tony sees it as a personal challenge to design a phone sturdy enough for him. So far no luck though." She tucked the phone into his leather jacket. "Now, I am counting on you to wander your way back east. Don't take too long. Tony is miserable and he is hard enough to get along with when he is happy. Don't force me to come and kill you." And with that she shook his hand and took off down the road. Steve stared after her for a long time before he went back to his bike.

 

He considered calling Tony, now that he had his number, but he decided that whatever needed to be said was better said in person. He did call Nick Fury, though, to let him know he'd be in town next week.

 

***

 

"Pepper! He hasn't sent me a card in three days! Three days! It's never been three days before."

"I'm sure it's fine. I doubt he has forgotten you all of a sudden." She sounded confident. And possibly a little irritated, because it was at least the thirtieth time Tony had brought it up in the past few hours. But Tony was too afraid that that was exactly what it was, that Steve had forgotten him. Or maybe he'd had an accident. He wondered if he should have JARVIS call all the hospitals in the lower 48. Or maybe he had met someone else. Tony groaned. What a god damned fucking mess.

Chapter Text

Captain & Tonylle

Tony blinked blearily. The hell was he awake for?

"Sir, I think -"

"I told you not to wake me up for the meeting, JARVIS."

"The meeting was this morning, sir. It is now 1.07 pm. But the Avengers are -"

"I also told you 'not my circus, not my monkeys', no matter what Fury says, and I am sure they are handling whatever it is perfectly fine without me."

"But, sir -"

"Enough, JARVIS! I am trying to sleep!"

JARVIS' silence had a sullen edge to it. Just as Tony rolled over to stick his head back under his pillow, JARVIS turned on all the screens in the bedroom and tuned them to CNN. The Avengers were fighting a giant squid that was pulling people off a promenade into the Hudson river. Despite his best intentions, Tony couldn't help but look a little closer at how they were doing. Checking that they really didn't need him. Natasha's bullets didn't seem to be doing anything, and even Clint's exploding arrows didn't do much. The chunks they were tearing out of the thing oozed a little and then closed back up. Its brain must be hiding deep inside, somewhere in between the roughly 37 tentacles. Thor's hammer was just kind of bouncing back on the gelatinous mass, but the Hulk seemed to be doing alright ripping off tentacles left and right. They grew back apparently, but not super fast. No need for repulsors then, Hulk would get the thing eventually. He was about to lay his head back down and shut his eyes when the camera zoomed in on a man that was held aloft in 3 of the tentacles, struggling mightily as the creature was dunking him in and out of the water.

"That is Captain Rogers, sir. I thought you'd want to know."

Tony was halfway across the room before JARVIS had finished speaking. He checked that he was wearing the bracelets and was about to jump out the window when he changed his mind and raced down to the workshop.

"JARVIS! Get the Mark VIII ready. Get me the Captain America suit and did Natasha deliver the shield?"

"She did, sir. It is with the suit."

"The fuck is he doing fighting calamari without any stuff? Jesus, Steve...." Tony muttered as he worked on getting all the luggage attached to the Mark VIII.

"I believe the squid interrupted the meeting you were supposed to attend and he did bring some guns, sir, but those seem to be ineffective. And they're wet now."

Tony clung hard to the knowledge that Steve had managed to not drown before he got frozen for 70 years, but it didn't make him feel any less frantic when he finally blasted out of the building.

 

Even without the coordinates provided by JARVIS, the commotion was easy to spot. Tony swooped in from overhead and breathed a sigh of relief to see the Kraken still busy dunking Steve on one side while fighting the Hulk on the other. Steve was still struggling, but couldn't get a grip on the slippery tentacles. Tony aimed the repulsor at the three arms trying to strangle Steve and said a little prayer as he fired while Steve was on the upswing. It worked like a charm, the repulsors cutting through the slimy limbs like a hot knife through butter. Steve went flying and Tony sped after him to catch him. He set him down on the promenade and dumped the suit and shield at his feet.

"What the hell were you thinking, Steve?!" he yelled for good measure, "You don't go battle monsters in... Oh my god, are those chaps? Now you're wearing chaps?!"

"I rode my bike in! It's better than going in with just jeans and a T-shirt!" Steve yelled right back.

"You shouldn't be going in at all without protection! You -"

"Sir, there is another squid coming. Actually, make that two more." JARVIS interrupted.

"Oh geez. Suit up, Steve. There's your shield too."

"Really? How..?"

"Rules are for nice people, Clark. Go find a phone booth and get changed. I have to make more sushi." And Tony flew off with his repulsors at the ready. He still heard Steve though.

"Phone booth? In this century?"

 

The horde of squids were dealt with in good time. Tony lost sight of Cap, but saw the shield fly by in his peripheral vision a few times. It seemed to work a little better than Mjolnir, due to the edge it had, but the repulsors were the most effective, meaning Tony was very busy for a while. It was a good way to take out his anger and frustration, really. Which was why he wasn't about to let the nasty things go when they started to retreat. That, and he wanted a specimen to study. He wasn't buying this as the first sighting of the Kraken in modern times. In the Hudson of all places? Someone had to be behind this.

"Iron Man! Let them go! Fall back!" It was Steve's Captain America voice in his com unit, all clipped consonants and determination, but the beasts were almost under water and Tony still needed to get closer to...

A couple of tentacles shot up from one of the squids that was already submerged and whipped around his ankles. It yanked him under water in the blink of an eye. Oops.... Slight miscalculation. He tried sending a current through the armor, but that didn't seem to affect Squiddly Diddly at all. He needed to maneuver himself so he could use the repulsors.

"Tony! Shit!" That was not the Captain America voice. That was all Steve. Sounding a little... panicked. He wouldn't..? Of course he would.

"Steve! No! I got this! Don't!" But a big splash not far from him made clear that he'd shouted too late. It was hard to see in the murky water, even with the armor's sensors, but it seemed like Steve had borrowed a large knife from Widow. He was doing a decent job hacking at the tentacles, but it was never going to work, he had no hope of killing the damn thing. Tony cursed and got the repulsors aligned so that he would hit squid and not Steve and let them blast. He must have hit it in just the right spot and he'd have to replay the footage later to figure out what that was, because the thing exploded into bite size pieces. Not that Tony had any appetite left. He grabbed Steve around the waist and flew them both out of the water and back onto the promenade. He didn't even wait before the man had taken a breath before he started.

"What the hell was that?! Why the fuck would you jump in after me with only a knife?! I had it!"

"You did not have it! It had you! Excuse me for not waiting half an hour to see if you'd drowned or not! I am not letting anyone drown on my watch!"

"I am not on your watch! And how does it help if you drown yourself in the process?!"

"You are too on my watch!"

Things went downhill from there and Tony was grateful for having the face plate in place. It was like the catacombs all over again, only this time it was Captain America yelling at him and not Steve. He wanted to run away and hide under his bed like he'd done when he was small and his dad had yelled at him. He was considering just getting the hell out when he heard Thor's voice in his com unit.

"I thought adding the good Captain as our leader was meant to bring the Iron Man back into our ranks, my good lady Widow?"

"And, lo and behold, there is Iron Man. He hasn't fought with us for six months, yet he showed up today."

"Indeed. But I fear for our future if he can not respect the American Captain."

"Oh, he does. It'll be fine. Stark won't go haring off on stupidly dangerous quests anymore now that he knows that Cap will just plunge in right after him and possibly kill himself doing so. And Cap won't be so eager to sacrifice himself knowing that Stark will be right behind him. They'll have to keep themselves safe to keep the other safe. It's a thing of beauty, really."

Steve was still yelling, but Tony looked over at his team mates. Former team mates. Maybe. Natasha was sitting on one of the benches on the promenade, flanked by Clint and Bruce. Thor was standing behind the bench with his hands on the back rest. They were all staring at Tony and Steve as if they were fascinating zoo specimens.

"I dunno, Nat." Clint spoke up and nothing good had ever come of that. "It sounds to me like they are breaking up."

"Why don't you get some fucking popcorn and sell tickets, Barton?" Tony yelled at him. "Stop talking about us as if we can't hear you!" Fuck, they weren't breaking up, were they? Steve wasn't allowed to break up with him before they'd even gotten together.

"Seriously, you guys." Natasha said, never taking her eyes off Tony. "Why am I the only woman on a team of emotional Pygmies? Next time we add someone to the team can we get Ms Marvel? Or Wasp? They're not breaking up, dumbass." Well, that was good to know. He hoped Steve was listening to that, if he was listening to anything.

"They're not even fighting,” Natasha continued, “They're going 'Why didn't you call me for six months?' 'Why didn't I call you? Why didn't you call me?' 'I missed you so much, you jackass.' 'I missed you more, you idiot.' Really, it's so obvious." Her voice was a little scornful, which Tony found offensive. Actually, he found the whole situation offensive. He really didn't need the last sucky months of his life to be turned into a fucking joke. Even if she had a point. Tony didn't want to be arguing about this kind of stuff. They needed to talk, argue, whatever, about what they had together. Or, at least, what they could have together.

Steve had fallen silent. Still glaring at Tony, though. Glaring hard. The suit looked great on him, Tony noticed, even now that it was wet and steaming in the winter air. He'd have to build something into it that made it dry faster.

"You sure?" Clint piped up again, "I'm not getting any lovey dovey vibes from them right now."

"Oh please. Only last week Cap was blushing very prettily when I suggested he wear the chaps, because Stark would like them. And he wore them today. And Stark -"

"Spent months making the perfect suit for Cap and got you to steal the shield for him!" Bruce sounded delighted.

Tony wished the ground would open up and swallow everyone but Steve. Why the hell had he added a cowl to the guy's suit? He couldn't see enough of his face to read him and he needed to. Steve's stance seemed a little uncertain, but it was hard to tell. They needed to talk, dammit!

"There's hope for you yet, Bruce. You can be my honorary girlfriend on the team." Natasha's voice betrayed one of her rare smiles.

“Tony?” Steve was tentatively reaching for his face plate.

"Oooh, you're right! Building stuff is like a mating ritual for Stark!" Clint crowed, and he continued in a deep David Attenborough stage whisper: "Here we see the rare Iron Stark with its remarkable red and gold plumage making its offering to its intended mate, the Blue Spangled Rogers. The Rogers is puffing up its star covered chest and flapping its arms, as part of the mating dance. This has never been filmed before in the wild! Any minute now, we'll see the Iron Stark respond to the mating dance by presenting its rear end for mounting..."

This was fucking useless. Tony fired his repulsors and got the hell out while his teammates dissolved into laughter.

"You can run but you can't hide, Stark!" Clint shouted. "We know where you live! Hell, we live where you live!"


***


"You have a visitor, sir" JARVIS announced as he lowered the volume on Badmotorfinger blasting through the workshop.

Tony was stuck under project 11C and he couldn't get the fucking. wires. in. place. goddammit. "No visitors, JARVIS! I specifically told you no visitors."

"But it's -"

"Steve." said another voice and Tony's head jerked up so fast he hit it on a piece of metal and the delicate bit of wiring he'd been trying to get just right melted into metallic goo. Rubbing his head he backed out on his knees from under the hulking piece of machinery. "JARVIS, you traitor! You and your fucking crush on Rogers."

"I am sure I have no idea what you're talking about, sir." sniffed JARVIS. "Hello, Captain Rogers." he continued more politely.

"Hello, JARVIS. Thanks for letting me in. I really need to talk to Tony, I'm glad you understand."

"Of course, Captain Rogers. I am sure Mr Stark will understand too. Eventually.”

"Okay JARVIS, you can shut the hell up now, that was quite enough." Tony wasn't in the mood to put up with this. He pushed the goggles up onto his forehead and studied the man standing in his workshop from his vantage point near the floor. Steve was looking around at all the half finished projects with awe. His hair had grown out since the trial. His stance was relaxed in a way Tony had not seen before, duffel bag slung over one shoulder, other arm curled around a motorcycle helmet. His white T-shirt stretched around his biceps and his jeans were soft and worn looking. Feeling at a distinct disadvantage, Tony scrambled off his knees.

"Steve...."

His voice pulled Steve's gaze from the wonders around him and Tony couldn't imagine what his workshop looked like to a guy from the forties. Steve's gaze landed on Tony and a small smile played around his lips.

"Tony. You're looking good."

Like hell he did. He was running on three hours of sleep max, hadn't showered in days, and hadn't bothered cleaning up after the fight either, because he'd needed to strangle his humiliation by working himself into oblivion. He still smelled vaguely fishy even. His black wife beater was stained and torn, so were the black jeans he was wearing and he knew from experience that the goggles pushed up in his hair gave him that very unsexy mad scientist look. Still, he knew what Steve meant. The man could have shown up in a chicken suit with a big zit on his nose and he still would have looked like manna from heaven to Tony's Steve-starved eyes. It really wasn't the same when they were both suited up and screaming.

Tony didn't know what to say. Wasn't that the fucking joke of the century: Tony Stark, at a loss for words. He strode over to his workbench and started fiddling with something, anything, to try and gain some kind of composure. Unfortunately, it wasn't an instant fix and the silence stretched. Steve dropped his duffel bag and set the helmet down on the other side of the bench. He leaned against the workbench a couple of feet away from Tony, but facing out, where Tony was stubbornly facing in, glaring at the bit of tech he was undoubtedly demolishing. He couldn't quite recall what it had been for, anyway.

“I wanted to say thank you for the suit. It's great. And thank you for... liberating my shield for me. I trust Ms Williams would have gotten it eventually, but it feels really good to have it back.” Steve sounded almost shy.

“Possession is nine tenths of the law. Elisa seems to think they might not even fight you for it now that you have it back.”

“I really appreciate it, Tony.”

Silence settled once more over the workshop. Tony kept searching for words, but they just wouldn't come.

"So, according to the opinions expressed in that team meeting you missed this morning, fraternization within the team should be no problem, but -" Steve began.

"Who said that?" Tony cut in.

"Who didn't? Fury asked me if I was 'planning to continue to bone Stark' and I didn't say anything, but I -"

"Blushed?"

"Yeah, probably. And then he said 'good' and then Thor congratulated me on our joyous union and clapped me on the shoulder so hard he almost smashed my face into the table and Clint said 'thank god someone is going to be fucking Stark, he needs to get laid, thanks for taking one for the team' and -"

"Clint is a dick."

"I am starting to see that, yes. And Bruce said 'Tony is my friend. Don't make me angry.' And he may have gone a little green around the edges. Natasha just started sharpening her knives while she smiled at me."

"That woman is a menace."

"She scares me,” Steve admitted, “But... Tony. If you don't want me on the team, I'm not going to force you to put up with me." Tony looked at him out of the corner of his eye. Steve was staring at something high up on the opposite wall, as if he wasn't able to look at Tony right now. God, they were hopeless. He looked back down at the mangled thing he was holding, looking for words.

"Steve, it isn't that I don't want you on the team. You'd be perfect. It's. It's just. You and me, it'd never work. You haven't seen me at my worst. You have no idea what you're getting into. I'm rude and obnoxious, I don't know how to deal with problems that can't be solved by building something or throwing money at it, I hide in my workshop because I am emotionally constipated, I don't eat, sleep or shower and then take things out on everyone else, I can't follow orders to save my life. Literally. I drive people nuts, Steve. I am a nightmare to put up with. It'd never work, you'd get sick of me so fast and then then whole situation would be... horrible." Tony had been staring at his hands the entire time he spoke. If he'd looked at Steve he'd never had been able to say anything except please love me or something equally disastrous. So he startled a little when he felt Steve's hands on his biceps, warm and solid. Steve was now standing behind him, not crowding him against the bench or anything, giving him space. Maybe Steve was more comfortable not looking at him while talking either. The thingamabob he was holding clattered onto the workbench.

"That is not the part that worries me, to be honest," Steve said softly, "I've seen you cranky and annoyed, but that is not what defines you. You are kind and considerate under that layer of snark and bluster. The guy you just described would not have any friends, Tony, let alone a bunch of teammates that are this invested in his happiness. In their own dysfunctional way, admittedly." His hands were now kneading Tony's arms and Tony had to stop himself from stepping back, to plaster himself against Steve's chest. "What I am worried about," Steve continued, "is that you'll get bored with me. I'm not as smart as you, I don't get most of your references, half the time I don't even know what you're talking about. You're sharp and funny and you're involved in so many things and I am kind of bland in comparison. I don't know how I'd ever keep your interest." Steve sounded resigned, sad even. Tony's head came up sharply, but he didn't turn around.

"God, that is such bullshit, Steve. I don't need you to talk science with me or whatever, I don't want you to talk science with me. You're.... You make me feel centered and... invested. I don't know how to explain it. You're like yoga or something. You make me feel better about myself. Shit, that sounds awful. But I don't think that would ever get old."

"You make me feel alive," whispered Steve and he must have gotten closer because that was right in Tony's ear and it made him shiver. "You can't imagine how long it's been since I've felt alive." His breath ghosted against Tony's cheek and his hands were sliding down Tony's arms and crossed over to his abs, pulling him against his chest.

"I've missed you so much, you jackass," said Tony, dropping his head back onto Steve's shoulder, while Steve's mouth started tracing a hot trail up his neck.

He felt Steve smile against his skin, and then Steve lifted his head and said fondly: "I missed you more, you idiot."

Tony wrapped his hand around the back of Steve's head and pulled him in for a kiss. Steve, as always, knew just how Tony wanted to be kissed. This one was tender but insistent and it felt like coming home. It felt like catching your first breath after swimming under water for just a little too long. The softness of his mouth melted Tony's spine and he turned around and wrapped his arms around Steve's neck for support. Steve slid his hands down to cup Tony's ass. The pressure of his large, warm hands made Tony moan a little and Steve deepened the kiss, sliding his tongue into Tony's mouth, where Tony wanted it. Tony slid his leg between Steve's thighs and pushed his erection against his hip, needing the pressure already. Needing to be closer. Steve pulled his mouth away and Tony made a incoherent noise of protest.

"Where's your bed, Tony?"

"Too far. Couch is behind you."

"Not today. We can fuck on the couch some other time. Right now I am going to make love to you on a bed. I am going to express my feelings with sex. Slowly." Steve's smile was downright wicked.

"Jesus, Rogers, way to ruin my slutty reputation." That sounded like an excellent plan, actually, but Tony would die before he'd admit that. "Don't tell anyone I did anything so sappy as making love on a bed. With sheets and everything. Tell me we can skip the candles."

"We can skip the candles. And tomorrow you can have your slutty way with me over the workbench, I promise." Steve kissed him to seal the promise and that kiss did promise all kind of filthy things, so Tony felt slightly mollified.

"Fine, fine. Take me to bed, O Captain my Captain."



Steve did. He carried Tony all the way to the bedroom and Tony didn't care if that wasn't a particularly masculine thing to have done to him. It put him in the perfect position to enjoy the friction against his dick as he clung to Steve, arms and legs wrapped around him. And Steve made delightful tortured noises as he endured Tony's sucking and biting on his ear while he clumsily tried to navigate the doorways. He intended to toss Tony on the bed but Tony stuck like a limpet and dragged Steve down with him. They took turns removing bits of clothing and each newly revealed bit of skin was greeted like a long lost friend.

"O my god, you kept the nipple piercing!" Tony crowed when Steve's shirt came off.

"Yeah, you seemed to like that and -" Steve's breath hitched as Tony latched on to the little barbel, sucking it and flicking it at the same time. "And I like it too." Steve was breathing hard by the time Tony finally let go.

When they were completely naked, they paused and looked at each other. Then Steve wrapped himself completely around Tony and buried his face in the crook of Tony's neck. Tony hid his face in Steve's, reveling in all the skin on skin contact that went a long way toward making up for the months of separation. He felt his throat constrict and his eyes brimmed suspiciously. He angrily rubbed them on Steve's neck until Steve lifted his chin and forced him to meet his eyes. Seeing the same tremulous emotion there, he forced himself to stop trying to hide his own. Then Steve smiled at him, that big warm smile that had short circuited Tony's defenses from day one. Day two at the latest. It should have scared the beejezus out of him, the realization that his defenses were down, that Steve could reach in and rip his heart out if he wanted. But the flash of panic he'd expected didn't manifest. Instead of feeling weak and scarily vulnerable, he felt like he could take on the world, exposed heart and all.

"Hey." Tony whispered, smiling back.

"Hey." It sounded like a caress. It was.

Tony kissed him and it was like no other kiss he'd ever experienced before. He couldn't help but pour his heart into it, all the fragility and gratitude and joy that threatened to drown him if he didn't share it with Steve, right now. He found himself on his back a while later with Steve leaning over him, smiling again.

"I love you too," Steve said.

"I didn't -" What the hell was he denying? Saying it or feeling it?

"Yes, you did. That's what that kiss said, loud and clear." Steve smiled bigger.

Tony sighed in resignation. "Yes, it did. I did."

"Very expressive with the feelings, babe. Very manly." He was properly smirking now.

"Oh, fuck you, Rogers. No. Actually, fuck me."

"Getting there. Remember this will be slooooow." Tony rolled his eyes at him but knew it wasn't going to make a bit of difference.


Steve kept his word. By the time he finally pushed into Tony, he had reduced him to a shivering, panting mess. Just the sensation of Steve slowly breaching his ass was almost enough to make him come. The slide of Steve's dick through the ring of muscles ricocheted through his nervous system, making him quake. He'd never been this desperate and eager to be filled, and he kind of resented being forced to leave his dignity so far behind, but that was something to worry about later. Much later, when he wasn't begging Steve to move, godfuckingdammit! Thankfully, Steve seemed to have misplaced his own dignity sometime during the proceedings too, if the broken voice was anything to go by.

"Tony, look at me. I want to see you. Please!" Tony manfully un-scrunched his eyes and marveled at sight of Steve: sweaty, messy, bruised, debauched, beard burned and with a look of naked longing in his eyes so strong it might have been able to raise Tony from the dead. Which was good, because Tony was fairly sure his orgasm was going to break the arc reactor. When Steve finally started moving, slow, way too slow, Tony could not do anything but arch up to try and get more friction from Steve's abs on his leaking cock while begging for mercy. Finally, even Steve's incredible staying power crumbled and he started slamming into Tony while babbling sappy nonsense that didn't affect Tony in the least. He wrapped his legs around Steve's waist and held on for the ride, his own ability to form coherent words reduced to an increasingly desperate repetition of 'Steve, Steve, Steve, Steve, Steve, oh Steve, oh Jesus, Steve!' He threw his head back and keened the E on the last one as his orgasm slammed through him, breaking the time-space continuum or something very close to that. Coming down after what seemed like an eternity in the newly broken universe, he landed back on earth just in time to get crushed within an inch of his life as Steve found his own release.


As they laid side by side panting at the ceiling, Tony finally caught his breath enough to talk.

"We're never fucking again. There is no way we could top that one. It's gotta be all downhill from here."

"We won't know that until we try, though. Gimme me twenty minutes."

"Take your time. You broke me. I'm not moving for the next twenty years."

Chapter Text

Epilogue: Bits & Pieces

The next morning when Tony and Steve finally made it in for breakfast, the kitchen was full of balloons that happily proclaimed 'It's a Boy!'

"What the hell, Clint?"

"Would you believe they don't sell balloons that say 'Happy Make Up Sex'? I had to improvise."

Whatever. Tony was still too blissed out to work up any indignation. And it was infinitely amusing to see that his lack of fucks to give riled Clint up more than any snarky come back would have done. Tony filed that bit of information away for later use. To annoy Clint even more he gave Steve a spectacularly sappy look and kissed him slowly with lots of tongue right at the breakfast table. Steve's pink ears were adorable and Tony made sure to make that observation out loud too.

Clint fled.


***


"So what do we do if this doesn't work out?"

"I dunno," said Steve, scratching his abs, "I'll leave. Maybe the Fantastic Four need a Fantastic Fifth."

"Yech, no. Reed Richards is a hack. He can't have you."

"Then you'd better make it work, Stark. For starters, you will attend all the team meetings and debriefings, and -"

"On second thought, I am sure Reed will let me lease you back just for sex."


***


"Did I just run into.... my alter ego in the atrium?" Steve waltzed into the workshop without so much as a peep from JARVIS.

Tony looked up from his calculations. "Del? Maybe he's meeting Corbin for lunch. We moved his lab here, the other one obviously wasn't secure."

Steve smiled. "Did you meet him?"

Tony grimaced. "Corbin? Yeah. Arrogant slime ball. I should be insulted people thought I was him."

Steve smiled harder and wrapped his arms around Tony from behind. "But so distinguished looking with the gray hair. Quite the silver fox."

Tony elbowed him in the stomach. "You're ridiculous."

"Isn't it a relief I will still be attracted to you when you're gray?"

"I'm sure I'll stop having anxiety attacks about that any minute now. Hey, did you know I sent Del a thank you card?"

"You did? For what?"

"For his choice of swimwear and the nipple piercing. Do you think we could have a threesome?"

"With Corbin? Sure."

"Never mind. Creep."


***

 


"We're watching Titanic? Really?" Clint sounded put out.

"Shhhh. Steve hasn't seen it." Tony admonished.

"But he already knows the story! Wasn't he there?"

"No, Clint, that was before my time. Like the dinosaurs. We talked about the dinosaurs."

"How about Columbus? Did you know Columbus? I always thought he'd be a bit of an ass..."

.....

"Ooooh, that's what you were talking about with the French couple!" Steve looked delighted to finally have gotten that reference, when Kate and Leo were doing their flying thing. But then he looked puzzled. "There's no Captain Ramius in this, though, is there?"

"JARVIS, switch to Hunt for Red October."

"What? No! Titanic isn't over yet!" yelled Clint.

"Who cares. It's depressing. The ship sinks."

"Tragic, but romantic," Steve smirked.

“Not really my thing,” Tony smirked back.

“Of course it isn't.”

....

"Bah. His Russian accent is atrocious," muttered Natasha.

"So what," beamed Tony, "He's Sean Connery. Hellloooooo Sean Connery!"

"Indeed," said Steve, "Quite the silver fox."

Tony frowned at him. "JARVIS, back to Titanic."

"For crying out loud, Tony, can we finish a movie for once?" Bruce moaned.

"Fine. Fine. JARVIS, give us Wizard of Oz!"

"Again?!" Clint threw up his arms in disgust.

"Steve likes it." And that, as everybody should know by now, should be that.

"How about we watch that Oz the Great and Powerful thing with James Franco?" Clint tried.

"Does it feature the Lollipop Guild?" Thor wanted to know.

"Uh, no. But hot chicks."

"Then no. We will watch the delightful little people of Munchkin Land." Thor crossed his arms to indicate his decision was final.

 

***

 

Steve flopped onto the bed next to where Tony was poking at something on his tablet. "Why is there a tuxedo hanging in my closet?"

"Because you need one for the charity thing tomorrow." Tony wasn't even bothering to look up.

"I told you, I have a suit already."

"You have an ill fitting monstrosity you got off the rack at Marshall's. Which I am going to burn as soon as I can pry it from your cold, dead hands."

"Tony, I do not need you to buy me a thousand dollar tuxedo."

"I so love your innocence. You go right on believing that one cost only a thousand dollars, honey."

"Tony! Why do you always have to be so extravagant!? I am not wearing that."

Now Tony looked up. And grinned.

"I'll have you know I was very restrained with that purchase. I was very tempted to get you a pink one. I remember you looking lovely in pink." Steve spluttered and Tony started singing.


In everything that's light and gay

I'll always think of you that way


Steve shoved him off the bed and there was a thud and a laugh and then a disembodied voice came from below.


And when the night is new

I'll be looking at the moon

But I'll be seeing you


Steve rolled onto his belly and looked down at Tony on the floor from the edge of the bed. He stared at him until Tony quit laughing.

"You know. The moon is huge in the mountains of Afghanistan. When I couldn't sleep, I'd sit outside my tent and look at the moon and I'd think of you.... And I'd hear you sing that in my head....” He sighed. “Fine. I'll wear the damned tux."

Tony scrambled off the floor and draped himself over Steve's back.

"I love you too." And he bit him softly on the ear.