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Birds Do It, Bees Do It

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The radio was playing in Hank’s lab when Jan arrived - something classical with flutes and cellos, soft and slow. It was at odds with Hank’s hurried movements. As Jan watched he went from table to table, checking on an ant farm, a bubbling flask atop a Bunsen burner, and a large computer. Every now and then he’d pause long enough to jot something down in a stained notebook, but he’d make up for his temporary stillness with a stream of muttered words.

Jan smiled as she entered the lab. The manic Flight of the Bumblebees would be better suited than this gentle music, but Jan wasn’t complaining. She turned the volume up as she passed the old radio.

Hank’s shoulders stiffened and then relaxed. He didn’t look up from his work. “Jan,” he said evenly, “can I help you?”

Not the warmest reception, but she could work with it. “Just a small favor,” she replied. Maybe it was her imagination, but she thought Hank’s shoulders slumped ever so slightly. “I’ve made a new costume, and I need some help putting it through its paces.”

Hank knelt down to peer at the ant farm. “Why are you asking me? Cap has set up an obstacle course in the gym, and Iron Man has that battle simulation with the lasers.” He sighed. “They’ll be better help than I can be.”

“It’s not a Wasp costume, Blue-Eyes. It’s a dress for a theater production. I need to make sure the darling diva it’s for will be able to dance in it.”

“Dance?” Hank finally turned to look at her. His eyes widened as he took in her elegant sleeveless gown. Jan smiled, enjoying his reaction. From all of the time she had spent by the mirror, she knew exactly how the pale green fabric set off the glow of her skin.

She winked and curtseyed, showing off the gathered skirt. “The lead actress is a dear friend of mine, so I made this as a special favor. We could wear each other’s clothes in grade school and we still can now, can you imagine?”

Hank found his voice as he looked away. “It’s very nice. I’m sure your friend will be able to dance just fine in it.”

“Oh, but I have to test it out just in case! It would be terrible if Julie happened to trip during opening night. She might never speak to me again.”

Glancing back at his computer, Hank hesitated. “I’m really busy, and I’m not much of a dancer.”

“It’ll only be a minute,” Jan promised, extending a white-gloved hand, “and nothing fancy. Just a slow dance.” Hank took her hand and Jan stepped closer, placing her other hand on his shoulder.

“Captain America can do the jitterbug and swing. He’d be a better choice,” Hank continued as he guided her into a slow, swaying step, as if he hadn’t already given in. Jan just smiled.

He was obviously nervous. He was holding himself stiffly, and his hands were warm and moist. She bit her lip in thought as they stepped in time to the orchestral music. Finally she said conversationally, “Bees dance to communicate, don’t they?”

He gave her a startled look. “Yes, they do.”

“I know I read an article all about it.” She hummed in thought. “It was a while back, though. Refresh my memory.”

Hank didn’t need to be told twice. “Honey bees dance to describe the direction and distance of pollen or nectar they’ve found to other bees. It’s really quite remarkable.” He relaxed as he talked, absently pulling Jan closer. “It’s called a waggle dance. The direction the bee moves on the honeycomb indicates the food source’s angle to the sun, while the length of the dance indicates the distance.”

“I like it,” Jan said as Hank took a breath. “Life would be a bit more beautiful if we danced to recommend a good restaurant instead of just blabbing on.” She grinned up at him. “What does this mean in honeybee?” She let go of his shoulder and stepped back until their clasped hands were at arm’s length between them. Then she stepped forward, raising their hands and spinning under the archway of their arms. She ended against his chest, her skirt still twirling about her legs.

Hank’s hand found its way back to her waist. “You want me to make reservations at Oscar’s. I hope you’re free on Friday night, because that’s when I booked them.”

Jan stared. “What? How did you know?”

“I uh, I heard you talking about Oscar’s with Mr. Stark. You said you couldn’t wait to eat there again.” He suddenly looked unsure. “I hope you don’t mind.”

She slapped his shoulder lightly. “Of course I don’t mind!” It wasn’t often that Hank could surprise her. Many days she felt like she knew him better than he did, and could anticipate his every move. That wasn’t a bad thing, really - in her experience, surprises were rarely welcome in relation to men. Hank had never been her usual kind of guy, though.

“Good. I’ll pick you up at seven.”

The cello and flute piece had long since ended, replaced by mellow piano music. They continued to sway together. Jan closed her eyes and tried to imagine dancing with Hank in a black tuxedo, in some formal ballroom. Nearby the computer beeped and Jan opened her eyes. There was no point in pretending to be somewhere else. The flask was bubbling softly and insects were rustling in their cages, and Jan found none of it bothered her in the least. None of it changed the way she felt about the man in her arms.


The wall Scarlet Witch had created was breathtaking. Water rose from the ground in a forty foot wave, swelling and churning in place like a wild horse reigned back from a charge. This close, Carol ought to have felt the spray, but a wind running towards and up the wave kept the water contained and Carol dry.

Her hair caught in the wind as she flew along the wall. Above the wave, the winds came together to form a further barrier. Clods of loose earth, leaves, and branches were flung about in the winds like flecks of dust.

Carol flew higher until she could see past the wall. The cloud inside seemed to be repelled before it even reached the wave, and as far as Carol could see the red zone was contained.

She turned around and headed back to the backyard where Wanda stood. Part of her wanted to do a complete perimeter check of the wall, but she didn’t want to leave Wanda alone for more than a few minutes at a time. Wanda had said she would hold the wall as long as it took, but Carol could only guess at the effort it took to hold a spell so powerful. It seemed to her that Wanda could falter and lose control at any moment. If that happened, Carol needed to be ready to swoop in and get Wanda to a safe distance from the red zone.

Helicopters couldn’t get near the wall without great risk, but Carol had instructed the choppers to land as close as was safe at intervals around the zone. She had eyes and ears along most of the wall, even if they weren’t her own. The soldiers were ready to act if the perimeter was broken by refocusing the evacuation effort based on the location of the breach. This left Wanda as Carol’s main responsibility. It was a good call; Wanda was safest in her hands.

It also meant that no one else would be seeing Wanda naked. Not that it was a big deal; a catastrophic plague put a little thing like modesty in prospective. All the same Wanda would probably prefer a team mate see her like this than a stranger.

About an hour after Wanda had cast the spell, Carol had flown to the nearest checkpoint to pick up some clothes for Wanda. It was the longest she had let her out of her sight, and her heart had been beating fast by the time she had returned with a backpack containing a set of clothes.

Carol flew along the curve of the wall, so strange in the middle of a middle class neighborhood, and once again Wanda came into view. She was as still as a statue, her arms out flung, a faint glow surrounding her hands. Her face was tipped up so that her eyes stared blankly at the crests of the frothing waves. Carol landed a short distance behind her, prepared to wait in silence.

The eastern sky was turning light when Carol’s radio crackled to life. The relief at hearing Captain America’s message was profound; Tony’s scientists and the Wakanda scientists had, working together, discovered a way to neutralize the red zone. The news that both Cap and Tony had been exposed and were in the hospital put a damper on her relief, but Cap had been reassuring. Carol focused on the job at hand.

She circled around to approach Wanda from the front, afraid of startling her in the midst of the spell. “Wanda?” She asked softly.

“Yes,” Wanda replied. “I heard the radio.”

Carol nodded, although she wasn’t sure if Wanda could see with her eyes glowing like they were. “The helicopters with the neutralizing agent will be here in half an hour. It’s safe to release the wall.”

Wanda closed her eyes. The winds that had been pushing against the wave suddenly changed, spraying the women with a fine mist. The wave curled in on itself, flowing down and outward with each passing second. It shrank so quickly that it was only a few feet high as it neared them, but it was moving fast. Carol turned to face Wanda and picked her up with one arm around her thighs and the other around her back. They were in the air mere moments before the wave rolled through the yard.

Wanda wrapped her arms around Carol’s neck and turned her head to the side so that her hair wasn’t in Carol’s face. Carol flew higher. She could hear the helicopters in the distance and adjusted her path to give them a wider breadth. The further they flew from the red zone, the better she felt. Chances were that Wanda wasn’t immune to the pathogen.

It was bad enough that Wanda had walked through the red zone for hours while suited up. After Carol had found her and she’d been patched up, Wanda had come right back to the edge of the red zone without a hazmat suit. And what kind of spell burned away clothing, anyway? Carol had nothing against nudity in general, but when there was a flesh eating pathogen spreading through the air... the last thing she wanted to see was Wanda’s skin consumed by disease.

Wanda’s voice cut into her morbid thoughts. “You can put me down, Carol.”

Right. Carol looked down and saw that they had passed the homes and streets of the town. Now they were over lightly wooded land. It was certainly a safe enough distance from the red zone for a quick stop. Wanda deserved a few minutes to dress and catch her breath before they flew to the hospital. Carol wanted to see if Cap and Tony were all right, and she wanted Wanda checked over, too, but it could wait until Wanda was clothed.

She landed near a small stream. The ground was littered with damp leaves and sticks, and the tree tops were filled with broken and dangling branches. Carol wondered if a storm had passed through recently, or if the spell had caused the damage. She set Wanda down carefully, keeping a hand between her shoulder blades until she had gotten her footing.

Carol took a step back and handed Wanda the backpack. She stared at it a moment before unzipping it, the sound loud in the quiet clearing.

“There’s a shirt, pants, and underwear,” Carol told her. “No bra though, sorry. I’m not sure what your size is, and I didn’t have much time for shopping around.”

Wanda shrugged as she slipped on the white panties. “That’s fine. I’ve generally found that no bra is better than an ill-fitting bra, unless there’s running involved. We don’t have any running planned, do we?”

“No. There’s more flying planned, and some walking and a lot of talking. There might even be coffee drinking, but hopefully no running.”

Wanda smiled. “Then I’m sure my breasts will survive.”

“Good.” Carol watched as Wanda pulled on the dark gray-green pants. Perhaps she shouldn’t be staring, but it seemed pointless to avert her eyes now. And quite frankly, Wanda was stunning. The pants rested low on her hips, showing off the long lines of her abdomen and the slight slope of her belly.

The moisture in the air had caused her wavy hair to curl into messy ringlets. They framed her face and fell over her bare shoulders. The contrast between dark hair and pale skin kept catching Carol’s eyes.

Finally Wanda put on the shirt. As she pulled it over her head she arched her back slightly, and the shadows of her ribs were momentarily visible beneath her breasts.

Carol felt warm despite the cool weather. “We should get moving,” she said.

Wanda regarded her calmly. “Not yet.”

Carol fought down a sense of irritation. It was nothing to be bothered about. Wanda wasn’t under her command; she wasn’t being disobeyed or disrespected. “Why not?” She asked. Then, with a growing apprehension, “Are you sick?”

“No!” Wanda looked startled, then smiled reassuringly. “No, I’m fine. It’s just that this spell was much larger than I’m accustomed to. I can feel residual magic around me still.”

“Is that the charge in the air?” Carol took a step closer, wondering if the feeling would grow stronger. If it did, it was too small a change to notice.

“I’m not sure if you can feel it. There’s very little chance of it causing harm, but I’d prefer to wait until it dissipates before going somewhere crowded.”

Carol nodded. “How long?”

“Just a few minutes.”

“Do you need to sit down?” Carol asked, remembering how Wanda had stood statue-still for hours. “You must be tired.”

“Actually, I feel... good.” She gave Carol another smile, looking playful. “Almost like the time Hawkeye gave us those drinks, the Red... uh..”

“Red Bulls.”

“Yes, to help us stay awake. I feel like I’ve had three.”

“That probably means you’ll crash fast and hard.”

“Good thing you’re here, then.”

And those butterflies in her stomach meant it was time to steer the conversation away from topics that had Wanda gazing at her with affection. “You saved a lot of lives today. I had no idea your powers could work on such a scale.”

“To be honest, for powerful spells I put all my might behind it and hope it works. It’s the delicate, precise hexes that are hard. They take less strength, but the direction behind them must be so exact. In some ways, the probability of all winds coming together is greater than the probability of one wind coming from nowhere to do one small task and then disappearing.”

Wanda held her hand towards the tree tops. One of the hanging branches began to sway, knocking against the trunk in a steady beat. The leaves in that particular tree rustled with each knock, but whatever wind was moving the branch wasn’t touching them.

Wanda continued, “If you don’t care what gets disturbed in the process, hexes are much easier.”

Suddenly all the tree tops shook. It was a bit like standing in the middle of the world’s largest wind chime as the broken branches swung and knocked against the tree trunks, making different pitched noises. Wanda cocked her head to the side, listening.

Gradually the treetops stilled until only four branches were left knocking. Each had a very distinctive sound. The winds were moving them at different speeds, and it took Carol a moment to realize that Wanda was playing them like a musical instrument. The deepest sounding branch was still moving at a steady beat while the other three were pounding out a lively rhythm.

“Nature is your xylophone,” Carol noted dryly, but she was impressed. Something about using wind and towering trees as instruments was awe inspiring. Maybe it was just the size; it reminded Carol vaguely of a huge pipe organ she heard in a church as a child. Back then, the rows of pipes had seemed like a forest to her.

“We’d be a very dull species if we only used nature for food and shelter,” Wanda replied.

“With lives like ours, dull isn’t a bad thing.”

“Do you want me to stop?”

“No.”

“Good, because after standing still for so long, I really want to stretch.” And then Wanda began to dance.

Carol stared, fascinated, as Wanda raised both her arms high above her head with fluid, snakelike movements. She moved her feet with quick steps that matched the rhythm of the branches while languidly rolling her hips.

“Dull is fine,” Wanda murmured as she arched her back, letting the movement travel down her body like a wave. “But imagine how trapped our species would be without music or dance as expression.”

A tree overhanging the stream shook, and a rain of sticks fell into the water like the clapping of castanets. Wanda shimmied her body to the sound.

“I prefer language.” Carol said, mouth dry.

“Do you want me to stop?”

“No.”

Wanda’s smile was dangerously close to a smirk. “Language does the trick if you need to say something in a hurry. But if you have a few minutes and some muscle cramps to work out, nothing beats a dance for sending a message.”

“And what message is that?”

Wanda sighed, tipping her head back and curving her arms outwards. “Do you ever feel that there’s a... a window after each victory, where it’s okay to celebrate, where you’ve earned the right to smile? But then the window shuts too soon, and you have to act somber because people have died and property has been damaged, and you know of one more person whose brain allows them to think they can do these terrible things.”

Carol frowned. She rarely celebrated victories for herself. She felt good about them, but rarely in a way that warranted a change in behavior. But she could understand how someone as empathetic as Wanda might feel the highs and lows of battle more acutely. “I suppose,” she answered.

“Well, the message is that the window is still open. It won’t be for long, though, so I’ll be as joyful as I can for the moment.” She reached out one arm, palm up, fingers splayed, and spun. Each tree she passed shook like a mammoth maraca until she’d made a complete circle. In the black t-shirt with her hair wild and her gestures passionate, she reminded Carol of nothing so much as a rock star.

Wanda was beautiful and untamed and gentle and motherly. She was cheerful and sorrowful and coolly distant. Carol wanted to kiss her.

Carol shook her head. She didn’t want Wanda all to herself. She wasn’t even sure if she was or ever had been in love with Wanda. All she knew was that they were friends despite the things that had come between them. Against all odds, she trusted Wanda and Wanda trusted her.

Maybe Wanda would let Carol kiss her.

Carol didn’t believe that adding sex to a friendship made it inherently better or worse. Like adding superpowers to a person, it could enhance, complicate, or corrupt. It depended on what was there before and how it happened.

She didn’t want to make vows that set one person in her life above all others. She just wanted to keep her friendship with Wanda, and make it as good as possible for as long as possible. And she had no idea how to go about saying that. It wasn’t like she could ask Wanda if her heart was over Vision or if she could love two people at once and, by the way, did thoughts of girls do anything for her?

Some days Carol wished she was psychic, because it sucked trying to figure out who would welcome her kind of friendship and who would find it deviant.

Well, she’d move when the time felt right, and at that point she’d have to do her best with language.

“I have three questions,” she told Wanda.

“Yes?”

“Is the window still open?”

Wanda smiled. “I think it’s open as long as we stay here. Maybe longer.”

“Good. Can you strike up the band again? I want to dance, too.”

The smile grew. “I’d be delighted to.” She lifted her hands in preparation. “What was the last question?”

“I’ll ask you later. For now I just want to dance with you.”

Wanda raised an eyebrow. “Is your question something that doesn’t belong in our window of celebration?”

Carol considered this. “No, it’s just that I haven’t figured out how to express it yet.”

“Then music and dance is exactly what you need. You might ask me without using words, and I might even have your answer before the question is spoken.”

Carol opened her mouth to respond, but the wind had started blowing again and the trees were making their loud, staccato music.

Words were overrated, anyway.


Bad days still happened. This didn’t surprise Tony, of course. He wasn’t naive enough to think that starting a new Avengers team would make everything better, but the truth was it did help.

He’d been apprehensive about a new team. He’d thought it was too soon, considering he was still kept awake at night with a drowning feeling in his chest when he thought about the end of the Avengers. That he had failed to see his team crumbling weighed on him. His friends had died because of what he had done and what he had failed to do, and he didn’t know if that was something that could or should be forgiven. But Steve had asked, and having Steve nearby was comforting in a way that almost touched all that guilt.

And it was nice having a team living together again. Tony liked hearing Spider Man and Spider Woman trade barbs, and watching Luke and Jessica Jones flirt. It was nice to see Steve and Jarvis discuss a book, or even see Steve and Logan regard each other with a mixture of distrust and respect.

But then there were the times like last evening. Fresh from a work out, Tony had stopped by the New Avenger’s kitchen for a glass of orange juice. He could hear voices in the next room over, loud and amiable.

As he had left the kitchen he took a left and headed for his room with his mind absorbed in thoughts of business. Another left and he headed for the first door on the right, fully expecting it to be his bedroom. Instead he had found himself blinking stupidly at a linen closet. It took him several moments to realize he had been remembering the kitchen-to-bedroom path from the mansion.

He hadn’t slept well last night. He had kept walking through the mansion in his dreams, opening doors that led to empty rooms.

Today wasn’t faring much better. It was only one in the afternoon, and he’d already stubbed a toe against his bedroom door and suffered through a board of directors meeting. Now he was locked in battle with a rampaging sea creature. Normally that wouldn’t bother him in the least, but today he was kept from enjoyment by the fact that his repulsor boots were apparently malfunctioning.

He was having trouble keeping a steady elevation. He bobbed slightly in the air as he blasted the creature with his gauntlets, doing his best to keep it away from the docked boats.

Below him, Cap threw his shield. It ricocheted off of the creature’s snout and back into Cap’s hands. The creature gave an angry snort, turned in the water, and began swimming back out to sea.

Tony considered going after it to try to tag it. They could use some advance notice if it came back, and it would be good to know where in the vast ocean this thing was living. But he didn’t want to risk any extra time in the air if his boots weren’t working. He descended rather unevenly and landed next to Steve only to find the other man grinning at him.

“What?” he asked, the question coming out more testily than he intended it.

“Nothing, nothing. It’s just... you reminded me of a song.”

Tony blinked, caught off guard. “Which one?”

Steve whistled a few notes, but trailed off as Tony stared at him. “Never mind. Just an old song I like.”

People were starting to reemerge onto the docks, checking the damage to the boats. Some were unabashedly staring at the two super heroes, while others were wandering towards them while pointedly looking at other things, as if it were a total accident they were coming closer with cameras in hand.

Tony wanted to press for the name of the song or more of the faintly familiar tune. He didn’t want to hang around, though. “I’ve got an international call in half an hour,” he told Steve. Not that he was looking forward to it, but it was unavoidable.

“Go on, then. I’ve got everything under control here.”

Tony sighed. Steve was always so prepared to take on more than his share of responsibilities. It made him feel guilty, which fed into his foul mood. “You sure? You’re in danger of invoking Stark’s Law.”

“Which one’s that? If it can go faster, it should go faster?”

“No; the longer one stays at the scene of a fight, the greater one’s chance of being sued.”

Steve smiled at him. “That may be true, but one’s chances of getting fresh baked banana bread from a happy bystander go up, too.”

Tony huffed. “That’s Rogers's Law. Doesn’t apply to me.”

The interpreter Tony had arranged for the international call was losing her voice, but stubbornly insisted she was fine. Tony winced at every scratchy, raspy word out of her mouth. Five minutes in, Tony asked his prospective business liaison if he would rather keep the interpreter or wait half an hour while Tony found someone whose voice didn’t sound like broken glass. There was an awkward pause before the interpreter conveyed the message.

Either the liaison had nerves of steel or was extremely impatient, and the interpreter stayed. To distract himself from the irritating voice, Tony mentally analyzed his armor’s boots. Why was their propulsion uneven? He could picture them perfectly, gleaming red casing which he removed and set aside in his mind, revealing the nuts, bolts, and circuitry beneath.

Soon his hands were itching to pick up a set of tools and do some real work. If he faked an emergency call, he could be off the phone and in his garage in no time. If he were smart he’d have taken this call in his garage... he sighed. If he were smart he’d think about something less distracting until this call was over.

He reminded Steve of a song. That was rather... romantic.

No, it wasn’t. Tony shook his head as the interpreter lapsed into a coughing fit. Associating a person with a song could be romantic, but there was nothing inherently romantic about it. It was like giving someone a mix tape; it all depended on the songs. Fill it with platonic dance numbers and he could give it to Pepper without raising suspicions. Fill it with songs with titles containing words like ‘heart’, ‘forever’, and ‘baby’, and even Rhodey, should he receive it, would start to wonder.

So what song did he remind Steve of? To be honest, he’d take even an incredibly sappy song with all three of those words in the title if it meant Steve had a romantic interest in him. Sure, he’d question Steve’s taste in music, but he wouldn’t be able to fault him his taste in men. Not without his neurosis showing, at any rate.

He had to stop this. He was reading too much into the situation. It might be fun to pretend that the way Steve looked at him, talked to him, and casually touched him meant he wanted a different sort of friendship, but these conclusions were a mirror, not a window. He was the one who wanted it, not Steve.

Tony smoothly deflected a question about Stark Industries' role in the New Avengers. Pining was ridiculous, and pining for Steve was doubly so. To distract himself, he focused on the scratchy voice of the interpreter.

He had new connections in a country where formerly he had none by the time he hung up. He also had a minor headache. Jarvis reserved the best coffee for the Avengers kitchen, so that’s where he headed.

The kitchen wasn’t empty. Steve was standing at the stove, stirring a large pot. The tangy scent of cooking tomato filled the room. An ornate mahogany record player was set up on the kitchen table, spinning away merrily, and Steve was tapping his foot to the tune. Tony didn’t recognize the song, but the style of the smokey singing and piano music suggested something from the thirties or forties. There was a small stack of records next to the player.

Steve looked up before Tony could announce his presence. “Hey,” Steve said, breaking into a grin that rivaled the afternoon sunlight for warmth.

Tony could feel his bad mood begin to fade. His teammate had pushed his sleeves up to his elbows, and Tony was having a hard time looking away from his bare forearms. “Hey,” he replied. “Smells good.”

“Thanks.” Steve gave a final stir, tapping the ladle against the side of the pot before setting it on the counter. “All compliments should go to May, though. She’s making chili for dinner, and asked me to keep an eye on it while she takes a nap.” He placed a heavy-looking glass lid on the pot, his movements so delicate he might as well have been handling Swarovski crystal.

“A nap sounds nice,” Tony said wistfully.

“There’s only an hour ‘til dinner,” Steve said, glancing at the wall clock. As of a couple months ago, it was a Felix the Cat shaped clock with a swinging tail. No one had yet admitted to bringing it to the tower. “You could eat with us and then go to bed early.”

He gave Steve the incredulous look that statement deserved.

“What? Haven’t you ever heard that early to bed, early to rise...”

“And your girlfriend goes out with other guys?”

Steve raised an eyebrow. “That’s not the way I learned it. At least stay for dinner, Tony. When and where you sleep is completely up to you.”

Tony felt his chest tighten at the casual words. He knew where he’d be sleeping if it were up to him. “I might be able to. I’ll check my workload.”

“Great! I’ll set a place for you.”

Tony experienced déjà vu as Steve clapped his shoulder. This was exactly how he had ended up playing host to a new gaggle of super heroes. “You’re aware that wasn’t a yes, right?”

Steve shrugged cheerfully. “You’re aware I never asked you a question, right? Come on, sit down and keep me company.”

He was stirring the chili again. Tony frowned. It was too hard to argue with him when he sounded so happy, so he pulled out a chair at the table and sat. “I know you take duty very seriously, but I’m sure May wouldn’t mind if you left the kitchen. She probably meant for you to check the pot every now and then, not watch it boil.”

Steve put the ladle down. “Maybe, but I like it here.” He held out an arm expressively. “Sunny kitchen, food on the stove, hit songs on the radio - just like when I used to watch my mom cook.” He came over and sat on the edge of the table, next to the record player, facing Tony. With his elbows on his knees, their faces were almost level.

“She didn’t make chili, though. We had... well, beans were affordable, we had them a lot. She’d soak them overnight. I remember the smell they’d give off. Then in the morning she’d put them in the oven with molasses and water, and they’d be ready by the time my father came home. I could draw at the table as long as I didn’t make too much of a mess, and if one of her favorite songs came on the radio my mom would dance with me.”

Tony tried to picture Steve as a boy, small and thin, dancing with a worn but smiling woman in a kitchen more than three quarters of a century ago. It was hard. Steve had such an immediate presence that it felt like blasphemy to think of him belonging to a different age. Still, it was good to see him cherishing a memory. “That sounds nice,” Tony said.

“It was nice.” Steve stood, taking Tony’s hand and pulling him to his feet. Bemused, Tony allowed himself to be spun until both his hands were back in Steve’s hands. Steve began stepping to the upbeat music, and because he couldn’t say he minded, Tony matched his steps to Steve’s.

“We’re dancing,” Tony noted.

“Darn, you noticed.”

“Why are we dancing?”

“I’m testing out a theory that enjoyment of kitchen-dancing doesn’t diminish with age. Well, that or I just like this song.” As if to prove his point, he whistled along with the next few lines.

When the red, red robin comes
Bob, bob bobbin’ along, along

It took Tony a moment to realize that the tune Steve was whistling was the same one he’d teased him with earlier that day. Now that the whistling was side-by-side the lyrics, he had no idea how he had failed to recognize the song.

Bewildered, Tony asked, “I reminded you of Red Red Robin?”

“Well,” Steve spun Tony again as the lyrics implored them to wake up, wake up, you sleepy head; get up, get up, get out of bed. “When we were fighting that creature by the docks, there was something up with your armor’s boots, and you were...”

“Suffering from fluctuations in flight elevation.”

“...bobbing. You were bright red against the sky, and the song just popped into my head.”

Disappointment flooded Tony. It had just been a chance association, nothing intimate or romantic. He’d still been hoping that reminding Steve of a song would mean reminding him of sex or love or something at least remotely sensual. Instead, the comparison fell in the realm of good natured jibbing.

Steve let go of Tony’s right hand, freeing his left hand to rest on the small of Tony’s back. It took Tony a moment to recognize the slow-quick step of the foxtrot, and a moment longer to take up Steve’s lead. He hadn’t danced the foxtrot in years, and he was unused to doing it backwards. Steve smiled. “Also, this song is familiar and comfortable, like you. And this song makes me happy, like you do.”

It would be safer to laugh that comment off, but Tony couldn’t, not when hope was suddenly relit. “I make you happy?”

“Like a favorite song, or a sunny kitchen, or a victory without casualties.”

“Those are vastly different things.”

“Still fits. You make me happy in vastly different ways.” Steve danced them past the windows, through the pools of evening light and past the stove. Tony knew it was an unsubtle way to check on May’s chili again. He grinned, feeling warm.

Steve continued. “You make me happy the red, red robin way.” He let go of Tony’s hand to use the backs of his index and middle fingers to tip Tony’s chin up slightly, “And the jeepers creepers, where’d you get those peepers way.” Steve leaned in, his mouth close to Tony’s ear. “And the it’s delightful, it’s delicious, it’s delovely way.” With a dip of his head, Steve kissed the soft skin behind his ear at the edge of his jaw line. Tony stopped dancing completely and rose on the balls of his feet, pressing his neck harder against the warm lips. The contact was exhilarating, and it was making him buzz the way he did after recharging his heart.

Steve moved his mouth down Tony’s neck, dragging against the sensitive skin and stopping above his carotid pulse point. He lingered there, inhaling deeply. “And I was thinking, Tony, that the New Avengers are coming together so well. Maybe it’s a sign that now is a good time for new beginnings.”

He drew back, looking Tony in the eyes once more. “We’re both healing from what happened to the Avengers, and I can see us settling into our old roles. I think before the wound heals and scars are set, we should change. I want something new for us while we still have time. I waited before because we had something really good and I didn’t want to jeopardize that. And then we were both in bad places and I wasn’t sure we could recover.”

“But now here we are, making each other happy,” Tony said.

“Here we are,” Steve repeated with a smile. The last song finished playing and now the record was spinning with the needle in the lock groove, producing a soft background noise of pops and clicks.

“Want to celebrate us being here by taking this somewhere else?” Tony asked, returning the smile. He hadn’t felt this good in a long time, even with new threads of trepidation running through his head. The second thoughts could wait. “I’ve thought of a way you could get me to bed early.”

Steve laughed. “Not a chance. May made us this chili, and the New Avengers are going to eat together as a team.” Reluctantly he let go of Tony, and once more went to check on the chili. As he lifted the lid, he added, “If the New Avengers are going to last, we have to do this right.”

“Yes, I know.” Tony supposed he could wait a couple hours, especially when Steve put it like that. He sat back down and began flipping through the stack of records, looking for a new one to put on. “Promise me one thing, though?”

Steve turned to look at him. “What is it?”

“Red Red Robin will not be our song. It’ll ruin my image forever.”

“You’re just saying that because you don’t see how appropriate it is for you. By the way, I’ve always thought your costume would look great with some wings painted on the side of your helmet, and-”

“What can I do to make you stop this line of thought?” Tony asked, horrified.

“You could set the table.”

“Consider it done.”