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Tony gets that they think this is an ego thing. They think Tony’s getting pissy because Steve was the last one in and now he’s running the place. That’s not true. Tony doesn’t want to be leader – he’s not made for dragging people after him into the breach. He’s perfectly willing to let Steve do that part, and he’s not plotting to throw the guy into another ice floe. Steve just bugs him.

Tony looks Steve up and down. “And honestly,” he asks, “what’s with the suit?”

Steve frowns at him. “Your father designed it.”

Clint laughs, from where he is lurking over in the corner of the room. The man likes corners. And heights. Tony guesses it’s an archer thing. Clint says, “Was that like a forties ‘yo mama’ joke?”

Thor’s forehead crinkles. Tony doesn’t know if it’s not getting the joke – Asgardian humour doesn’t tend to subtlety, not that Clint does either – or that he thinks this is about to turn nasty. Thor says, “I believe it was Tony’s father that Steve was referring to.” Well that answers that question.

“Colloquialism,” Natasha says, appearing out of nowhere. She does that. She turns to Steve. “Tony’s father made you the costume?”

Steve shrugs, a movement which seems to involve the displacement of a lot of shoulder muscle. “We worked together.” He waits a long moment and then sets his shield down on the table. “He made this.” Steve’s fingers run along the smooth metal edge like he’s not quite sure about letting the shield out of his sight.

Tony wants to touch it. He doesn’t. But he wants to.

 

*

Steve in his costume is more breakable than Tony in his suit. Out of them both, Steve could probably flatten him. He wouldn’t, because he’s the All-American Good-Guy and it would ruin his image, but he never looks like it even crosses his mind. They stand beside each other getting dressed in the locker-room, with Tony needling him the whole time, and Steve just ignores him.

Thor gives a deep, rumbling sigh and puts his hand on the hammer at his belt. Tony takes the hint: Thor could squash both of them. And he might do it, because in comparison with ‘my brother, the Trickster God’, mortal squabbling always looks a little beneath him. But then he laughs his ridiculous boom of laugh or something and Tony remembers why everyone likes Thor. (Maybe not Loki, but that’s a little more complicated.) Plus Thor likes everyone in return. Even Banner, who Tony hasn’t got figured out yet. Only they’re still a team, is the thing. Somewhere along the line Tony has got co-opted into this weird little band where one minute he’s staring pretty idly at Steve’s bare ankle and the next he’s-

“Tony.”

“Sure.”

-following Steve out the door without thinking about it.

*

Steve’s shield is lighter to hold than it looks when it’s in action. It’s lighter than the half-finished prototype Tony salvaged from his father’s things, as though the best had been saved just for Steve. It sings in the air when Tony tosses it lightly back across the street from where it had fallen.

Steve catches it and his smile is white and genuine and untouched by anything but simple gratefulness. Tony hates him just a little bit.

 

*

“What was he like?” Tony asks. He’s never been able to leave a wound alone.

“Who?” Steve asks.

“My father. When you knew him. What was he like?”

Steve looks at him. “A little taller than you. A few years younger.”

“That’s great, that’s really gratifying for my ego.”

“What do you-?”

“What did you think of him?” Tony asks.

“I…” Steve trails off. “He was the best civilian pilot I ever saw. Reckless, maybe, but the best. He was a brilliant engineer. A genius. And a war hero. He saved my life a few times.”

Tony says, “Not the time that mattered.”

Fury descends down the stairs. His timing ought to be studied. He says, “Howard Stark and his team spent weeks scouring the ocean floor looking for Captain Rogers. That’s how we found the device.”

Steve straightens up. “Sir.” Tony wishes he would stop that. The more people call Fury ‘Sir’, the more he acts like one.

“Gentlemen. I believe one of you is supposed to be giving me a report.”

“Of course, sir.” Steve bounds off his chair and trails Fury into his office. Tony can hear him asking, “Weeks?”

It happens less and less nowadays but Tony has always hated being outshone by a ghost.

 

*

Steve is a dead weight in Tony’s arms. Tony jets away from the fight and dumps him on the ground. He can hear Thor yelling a battle cry and it’s tempting to just let him deal with the problem but that guy threw Steve away like he was nothing. Tony’s maybe a little pissed off about that.

Tony lowers his mask to look at Steve. Steve blinks back into awareness, staring at him. Tony glares. “Don’t go anywhere.”

“What?”

“Stay there.”

“There’s smoke coming out of your suit.”

Tony examines the elbow piece. “It’s a little charred. It’s nothing.”

“Tony.”

“I’ll bill you for it.”

Steve laughs and it sounds like an old movie. He says, “Can I get an IOU?” Tony can see his chest rise and fall with his breath, and the flush which has risen on his cheeks from exertion. Steve is still so very human, underneath it all. It’s just that he’s a better human than Tony is.

In the background, Natasha cries out in triumph. Tony should probably go and provide air-support. He lays his hand on Steve’s chest and pushes him down. “Stay there.”

 

*

In the locker-room, Clint is trying again to wield Mjöllnir. Tony supposes everyone likes tilting at the occasional windmill. Thor steals it back and balances it lightly on his palm before throwing it up in the air to catch it. He tosses a conspiratorial grin at Natasha. Sneaky little bastard isn’t nearly as gallant as he pretends.

Steve rolls his shoulders, working out the kinks, and then looks up at Tony from the bench. “I saw something like that once.”

“What?”

He taps Tony’s chest, where the reactor is visible through his shirt. There’s no innuendo, nothing behind it at all that Tony can see. Steve’s old-fashioned and buddy-buddy with everyone and maybe this doesn’t mean a thing to him. His hand slips off the reactor casing and brushes over Tony’s shirt. His hand is warm. Steve is always warm.

 

*

Steve finds him in a bar in New York, during what is supposed to be their off-time. Steve is wearing slacks and a white t-shirt but no one would look at him and think anything else but ‘soldier’. Tony loosens his tie.

Leaning close, Steve pushes the sunglasses down Tony’s face. “You’re indoors.”

“And hungover.”

“So why are you drinking?”

“In an attempt to forget the hangover.” He gestures at the bartender for another glass and slides it to Steve.

Steve looks apologetic. “It won’t help.”

“You only think that because you’re not drunk yet.”

“No, I mean- I can’t get drunk.”

“I knew there was a reason I didn’t like you.”

Steve frowns. A question forms on his lips and Tony can see him discard it and try another. “Okay,” Steve says. He pours himself a glass.

“What happened to ‘can’t get drunk’?”

“I’m keeping you company.” He settles down elbow to elbow with Tony. They don’t talk.

 

*

“I’m like ten years older than you! Why the hell do you think I’d let you-?”

“I was born in nineteen seventeen. I think that makes you the kid.”

Tony is distracted from what would have been a truly excellent smack down by the trace of Steve’s smirk. He hadn’t realised just how much of Steve’s personality was still buried underneath the ice. Now every day there’s something else. Tony likes surprises.

“Tony?” The smirk has faded to puzzlement. “Are you…?”

“I’d look for you, you know. And I wouldn’t give up after a week or two.”

“I know.”

“I mean, I get that I’m not a war-hero but I think I do okay and- what?”

Steve blinks at him. “I know you would. Like your father.”

“I’m not-.”

“You’re a lot like him.”

“But older and shorter and without the moustache, right?”

“I saw him at the Expo, did I tell you that? With these girls and a flying car.” Steve grins. Tony can picture it. “And everybody was falling over themselves to meet him,” Steve says. “But the next time I saw him he had his shirt-sleeves rolled up, in the back of this secret military installation in Brooklyn, trying to win the war. He flew me miles into enemy territory, against orders, on a rescue mission. You’re a lot like he was then.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. But it’s different with you and me. I didn’t really know your father very well and you and me are-.”

“What?”

Steve shrugs. “I know you don’t like me much. Or at least that’s what you said. But I think we’re friends anyway.” He gets up and leaves, before Tony can puncture the moment with a joke.

Or else by saying that he doesn’t always like Steve, but Tony would search the world for a long fucking time before he gave up on him.

 

*

He hears the zing of Steve’s shield flying close past his head, and then back again, with a solid crash in between. Tony opens his hand to fire his repulsors the same direction.

Natasha is off to the left doing her stealth deadly force thing, and he can hear Clint on comms awarding himself points for a particularly difficult shot. The sky cracks open and then there’s a roar. Bruce has finally turned up for the party.

Tony finds himself at Steve’s back. With the suit on, he’s a little taller. Steve leans around to ask, “Would you like the two small guys, or the one big one?”

“Which one’s setting the place on fire?”

“The little guy. You’ve always got to watch out for the little guy.” Steve’s face is stained with dirt but his smile is bright underneath it.

“I’ll take the flamethrowers,” Tony says. “You go smash up the big one. Meet you in the middle in five minutes.”

“Make it four.” Steve takes off into the fray, still laughing.

It takes six, in the end, after the big guy turns out to have some special powers other than tremendous size, and the other small one starts spitting acid. This didn’t use to be Tony’s life. His life used to make sense and Steve is a large part of the way it doesn’t any more. But the sad thing is, Tony’s not sure he cares.

They get dragged up into the Helicarrier. Tony snags Steve by the shoulder. “Barton can make the report.”

“Tony-.”

“Hell, Hulk can make the report for all I care.”

“I think we should probably wait until he’s Bruce again.”

Tony really doesn’t care. He drags Steve down the passageway until they find somewhere he can take the suit off. Then he can feel the heat of Steve’s skin underneath his own.

Steve looks at Tony’s hand where it is gripping onto his arm. “Okay.”

“Okay?”

“Yes. I thought that’s what the- I don’t have a lot of experience in how men let each other know that they- but you want-?” Steve is usually more articulate than this.

Tony snorts. “I can’t believe they ever let you inspire troops. Come here.”

Tony peels Steve out of the armoured costume, letting the shield fall with a crash. He pulls Steve closer and moves his hand so it is settled on Steve’s chest. Steve’s heart is racing and Tony doesn’t know if it’s his increased metabolism or something else. He’s always so warm.

Steve tugs at the ends of Tony’s hair and then turns his head to kiss him. They fight for position for a moment, jockeying for the best angle, for dominance over the kiss. Tony doesn’t want to lead but he’s not good at being led either. Steve shifts closer and Tony turns a little - they can both manage to meet in the middle.

Tony puts his hand on Steve and is tempted, if only briefly, to make a crack about the serum’s effects there. Steve cuts him off with another kiss, one calculated to make Tony lose any possibility of coherent speech. “Easy,” Tony says, when he can breathe again. “Jesus. We’re not in a hurry.”

“No,” Steve says. “I guess not.” His hands are wrapped around Tony’s hips. He holds on – he kisses – like the world might end any minute. That’s something else Tony didn’t know.

Tony takes hold of Steve’s dick and jerks him off as slowly as he could never bear himself. Steve keens; Tony finds himself shuddering closer, grinding helplessly against Steve’s thigh. Gorgeous fucking Steve who looks as though he was designed for some Army propaganda poster and has only ever wanted to do his duty. Who likes Tony anyway.

Tony bites Steve’s neck, because it is bared to him and the cords of muscle are straining. Steve curses and bucks his hips, intentionally or unintentionally brushing their cocks together. Tony just holds on for a moment, pressed with Steve against the wall and the two of them gasping. “Okay,” he says. “Okay. Let me drive for a while.”

Steve nods, shaky, and closes his eyes. Tony wraps his hand around the both of them and begins to move. Steve is sweat-slick against him; Tony trails his other hand down the damp line of hair on Steve’s chest, to the sharp jut of his hip. Steve’s fingers move. He works under the t-shirt Tony forgot to remove, light over his ribs and then sharp on his nipple. He breathes against Tony’s ear: come on, come on, faster than that, Tony, Christ.

He shivers and shakes and comes first, over Tony’s hand and dick, and the remains of what used to be a good shirt. He kisses the corner of Tony’s mouth and stays there breathing softly. Steve’s hand ends up in Tony’s hair again. “My turn to drive,” he whispers.

Tony doesn’t normally find being manhandled a turn-on but Steve raises his eyebrow and Tony just nods. Lets Steve turn them around so Tony has his back to the wall and Steve’s one leg holding him up so Tony is pressed over the other. They rock together and it’s drowning, being swept under and not fighting the tides. Steve says, “Tony, Tony, Tony,” and keeps the same steady pace. Every time it stirs higher in Tony; he bites out Steve’s name in the air and lets himself be carried off.

They stand there, gasping, for a long while after.

Tony eventually notices the banging on the door. Thor has a pretty recognisable knock. “Give us a minute,” Tony calls.

“When you have made yourselves respectable,” Thor says, “you are expected in the briefing room.” His heavy footfall fades away again.

Steve groans. “I’m pretty sure he was laughing at us.”

“Oh, he was definitely laughing at us.” Tony pats Steve’s shoulder. “Still. It was worth it, wasn’t it?”

The smile Steve gives him this time is new. “Yes.” Before Tony can respond properly to it, it’s gone. “Okay,” Steve says. “Briefing room. We can talk about this later. The mission comes first.” He turns away to start cleaning himself up. Tony barely catches what he says, hunting on the floor for his shirt. “We’re not in a hurry.” Tony loves it when Steve admits that he was right.