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"Stop the engines, Iron Man! Someone is out there!"

The sharp note of Thor's voice pulled Tony out of his concentration on the instrument panel and his fingers flew across the controls before he glanced out the port to see what had the other Avengers so excited. His superior vision picked out the shape of a man, tattered clothing draped over him, with what seemed to be a round shield clutched in his hands. His eyebrows shot up as an incredible explanation presented itself to him, but he dismissed it out of hand. Even the greatest hero of World War II couldn’t have survived in the Atlantic Ocean for almost seven decades.

The scents of his teammates told him that although the other Avengers were worried about their find, the excitement over finding the strange man was their main focus. From Thor, the worry smelled stronger, and Tony suspected it was because of Don Blake's influence. Thor's human side was probably already turning over the possibilities of their find.

Something about the sight unsettled him, his metaphorical hackles rising, and Tony suppressed a growl, hoping no one heard the aborted noise. From the sidelong look Thor shot him, he knew the god of thunder had caught it, and he inclined his head slightly in silent reassurance. Tony had too many years of experience hiding his true nature to let it slip now, no matter how unnerved he felt. The last thing they needed was Jan or Hank freaking out over finding out he was a werewolf.

Even in the armor, Tony’s hands moved with quick, precise movements as he brought the sub to a stop and released the safety latches on the outer hatch. He set the proximity alarms, watching on the monitor as the others headed for the hold, Thor and the Wasp shifting toward the side walls to give Ant-Man room to grow. He kept an eye on the scanners as he watched the action. While a body floating in the depths of the Atlantic Ocean was an unlikely trap at best, he’d had too many run ins with super villains and terrorist groups to not take basic precautions.

“Nothing showing up but some fish,” he reported. Ant-Man nodded, then opened the inner hatch, starting the airlock cycle. Moments later, he was shrinking back to down to his regular size as Thor carefully lifted the dripping body out of his arms in order to carry it down to the med bay. After resealing the outer hatch, Tony made his way to the med bay, feeling strangely on edge. He wasn’t sure why; finding a dead body in the ocean was a first for the Avengers, but not anything they would deem unusual. Nothing about the situation seemed all that suspicious. Nonetheless Tony felt the skin at the back of his neck prickle. He fought the impulse to tear his helmet off and scratch.

He wasn’t prepared for the sight that met him when he opened the med bay door. The Wasp was flitting excitedly around in the air over the body on the table, Ant-Man stood openly staring, and even Thor looked bemused. As soon as he saw the table, he understood their reactions.

The man was alive.

Tony's eyes widened as he got his first good look at their find. Beneath the tattered remnants of a tan uniform, a white star shone from a blue mail shirt. Red and white stripes peeked out from further down. And the gleaming shield lying on his chest... Tony sucked in a breath.

"Captain America." His half-whispered words seemed to break the expectant silence filling the room, and the man moaned. Riveted, Tony stepped forward, seeing the man's eyelashes flutter. For some reason, he expected the man to go half-mad when his eyes opened.

Instead, the man stared upward, apparently trying to focus, for a long moment, then turned his head. His gaze lingered on Tony before his eyebrows drew together, his face settling into simple confusion.

"Where am I?" His voice sounded rusty. Understandable, Tony thought absently, since he hadn't spoken in seven decades or so. The timbre of it sent a shiver down his spine.

"Thou art in the submarine vessel of the Avengers," Thor answered, his voice grave. "We discovered thy body in the ocean depths."

The Captain blinked again, then sat up with stiff movements, one hand grasping the edge of the table for support.

"The ocean...?" His question trailed off and he shook his head. "Bucky... you didn't find him?" He glanced around at all of them, pausing only momentarily on Tony, the gleaming form of Iron Man probably looking weirdly alien to him. Their bewildered frowns must have given him his answer, and his head bowed, his eyes closing again. Tony's hand clenched as he took another step closer, the urge to comfort the man almost crowding out anything else from his head. Only the Wasp stopped him as she stepped forward and took the Captain's hand, her voice calming as she offered her sympathies.

Tony didn't hear any of it. Something teased his senses, some alluring scent that he’d never come across before. He sniffed, trying to identify it. Whatever it was, it called to him, drawing him in closer… Only the sound of his name, spoken sharply by Thor, shook him from whatever spell the scent had placed over him. When he looked up, he found himself standing in front of the man with no recollection of walking there.

Blue eyes met his own, piercing clear through to his soul. Tony instinctively sucked in a breath and nearly reeled. This was the source of the scent. His entire body tightened painfully in response and he bit back a curse, fighting the instincts that screamed at him to tear off his armor and claim the man in front of him.

Years of searching. Years of disappointment. He’d all but given up on ever finding his mate – and now here he was, standing in front of him.

His mate was Captain America.

“Iron Man, art thou well?” Thor’s concerned voice pulled Tony out of his daze, although his eyes didn’t leave the Captain’s. Tony realized he’d been standing there silently, staring at the Captain, for several moments. He could feel the weight of his teammate’s stares on him, wondering at his strange behavior.

“Yeah, Thor. I’m fine,” he managed. Fine as can be expected, considering the circumstances, anyway. After an awkward pause, he managed to hold out his hand, cursing the armor that prevented him from feeling his mate’s fingers as the other man reached out and grasped the gauntlet, shaking it in a firm grip.

“I’m Iron Man.” Tony kept his introduction short, not trusting his voice. His entire body thrummed with awareness of the man in front of him and he couldn’t prevent himself from looking him over. The nearly skin-tight costume didn’t hide much, and he noted that the Captain seemed to be in excellent shape even as he tried not to linger over the muscles outlined by the clinging outfit. The blond hair and arresting blue eyes held his interest even more, and his nostrils flared as he caught the scent of the man’s curiosity and interest in him.

“Please, call me Steve. Steve Rogers,” the Captain said, and Tony nodded dumbly, only realizing as Wasp stepped forward, eyebrows raised, that he still held the man’s hand. Clearing his throat, he dropped the Cap – Steve’s hand and moved backward. Thor’s hand clasped his shoulder and he nodded absently at the god. He couldn’t tear his eyes away from Steve, who looked a little overwhelmed at Wasp’s excited chatter and Ant-Man’s embarrassed awe.

“What troubles thee, my friend?” Thor asked softly. Tony snorted.

“Remember all the conversations we’ve had about my playboy lifestyle?” he asked, apparently changing the subject. But Thor understood. His hand tightened on Tony’s shoulder, causing the metal to shriek slightly.

“Art thou saying that this man…” Thor’s voice trailed off delicately. Tony nodded, finally forcing himself to turn completely around and face his friend. He could hear everything going on behind him and wanted nothing more than to interrupt the fawning and drag Steve off to privacy behind closed doors and… Gritting his teeth, he met Thor’s eyes.

“Yes.”

Thor’s face softened in sympathy and the Asgardian glanced over Tony’s shoulder. “This is… not something I would have predicted.”

“Tell me about it,” Tony muttered. Another spike of Steve’s aroma hit him and he swayed with the force of the instinct-fueled lust flooding his body. “I can’t… I can’t stay here, Thor. If I do…”

Thor nodded in understanding. “Go. Attend to the piloting of this vehicle. I will intervene in thy behalf and attempt to get thy mate settled for the moment.” Tony flinched a little at the word and he knew the perceptive god saw the motion, but nodded again.

“Thanks. I’ll, um… I’ll go pilot this thing.” He stepped toward the doorway, then stopped again and turned around. “Are we going back to New York to show off our find, or are we going on to the Arctic to look for Namor?” Thor frowned as he thought, then shrugged.

“I would say that we continue onward to seek our foe,” he answered. “But I suspect that the good Captain would prefer land beneath his feet again before he joins a battle that is not his.”

“New York it is, then. You can handle the announcement, though; I deal with the press too much as it is to look forward to what we’re going to go through when we get back to harbor,” Tony answered. As he walked toward the pilot’s station, he realized he really wasn’t looking forward to that moment; when news got out that they’d found Captain America, after almost seventy years, and that he was still alive… He paused and closed his eyes with a sigh. The Mansion would be a madhouse, with reporters camped on the lawn. Well, not the lawn, Tony amended his thought. The fence would at least prevent that. But regardless, it was going to be hell getting in and out of the building for the next few days, if not weeks.

**

Time alone in the front of the sub gave Tony a chance to reclaim some control over his body. All of his senses remained hyper-aware of Steve, the man Tony ached to be near. He suspected that wouldn’t change. Ever. Everything he’d ever read about were mates made it seem like the compulsion to surround oneself with the scent and presence of one’s mate might fade over time, but never fully left. The thought of being around the man left Tony unsure if he wanted to glory in the feeling or cry.

Nearly an hour later, Thor sat down beside Tony, his bulk making the co-pilot’s seat appear tiny. Tony glanced up at him, attempting to appear casual as he asked, “So, how’s our guest settling in?”

The twitch of Thor’s lips told Tony he’d failed miserably in that attempt, but Thor answered, “Fair enough. He struggles to grasp the time that has passed, but the Wasp dost appear to be good company for him now that she hast regained a semblence of calm.”

Tony growled, the wave of possessiveness that swept over him taking by surprise. Thor raised an eyebrow, then reached back and latched the door. “Tony, my friend… I know that this is not what thou expected, but surely the finding of thy mate should bring thee happiness?”

Shoulders slumping, Tony set the autopilot, then reached up and pulled off his helmet, running a hand through his tangled hair. “It should, yes. But… Thor, I can’t just throw myself at him, bite him, and…” He cut himself off, shaking his head. "He's Captain America, for god's sake!" An icon, a legend… his childhood hero. Someone Tony had spent his adult life trying to imitate. The man his body was clamoring for him to fuck senseless and mark as forever his. Tony gritted his teeth in frustration.

Ignoring the sharp tone of his words, Thor continued to watch him, his presence helping to calm Tony’s jangled nerves. “Then speak to him. Spend time with him. Explain, and perhaps he will not respond so adversely as thou seemest to fear,” he replied gently. Tony’s hand tightened on his helmet and he stared down at it, tracing the sweeping lines of the gold faceplate with an absent finger as he thought. It sounded so simple, but would he be able to control himself well enough to even be around him? How much of a chance would he have to spend time with him? He couldn’t hold the man captive. Surely Steve had somewhere to go. He winced at the pain that thought caused him: His mate… leaving him. Alone again.

Finally, he said, his words halting, “I’m not sure if I can. All I could think about while I was standing beside was taking him, claiming him, and I would have done it then and there, in front of all of you, without even knowing his name, let alone having his permission. And even now…” He paused, sniffing the air. His shoulders stiffened. “I can smell him, Thor. And it makes me want…”

Silence filled the room. Thor considered him for some time, then appeared to reach a conclusion and laid a companionable hand on his shoulder. “In time, my friend, all will work itself out.”

“I hope so, Thor. I really hope so.”

 


The return to New York City was every bit as painful as Tony had feared, and very nearly overwhelming for Steve. Not that the man said so, of course, but Tony's intent gaze caught every wince, every hesitation before he spoke, the slightest slump of the shoulders that spoke of incredible weariness. His patience snapped when Steve attempted to step back and one of the reporters latched onto his wrist, shoving a microphone into his face.

Steve looked appalled at the man's behavior, but Tony was outraged. A stranger dared to lay hands on his mate! Growling, he strode forward, placing one hand lightly on Steve's shoulder and stared down at the reporter until the man hurriedly backed away.

"That will be all," he said, the amplifiers in his helmet ensuring that his words carried. "Living symbol or not, Captain America has just returned home for the first time this century and he needs time to rest. The Avengers will host a press conference once he's fully recovered. Until then, there will be no more questions." He didn't miss Thor's sidelong, amused glance, but the distinct gratitude in Steve's eyes as the man turned his head toward Tony interested him more.

Steve remained silent until they were away from the crowd, a wide space separating the team from anyone who might overhear them. Then he stopped, looked up at Tony’s eyes through the face plate, and said, "Thank you. I hate to seem rude, but right now, I just..." He paused, as though weighing his words, then continued, smiling slightly, "Dealing with the press was never my favorite part of this job."

Tony nodded. "You're welcome. As long as you're our guest, we'll make sure that you don't get hounded. As much as we can, anyway." He saw Hank and Jan glance at each from the corner of his eye and rewound his words, wincing as he realized what he’d said. “I’m sorry, Steve. I didn’t mean to assume… but if you’d like to stay with us, you’re more than welcome to.”

Steve’s smile widened. Tony noticed his eyes seemed to turn a brighter blue whenever he smiled. "As your guest? Do you have a headquarters somewhere?"

Tony laughed. "In a manner of speaking, yes." He shot a glance at Thor, Ant-Man, and Wasp, and even as he told himself not to, he couldn't prevent himself from saying, "Fly with me?" At Steve's raised eyebrow, and Tony forced himself to sound casual as he explained, "We can all fly, one way or another. It's a lot more convenient than trying to flag down a taxi."

"If they're anything at all like I remember, I can believe that," Steve said, his voice light. Tony could scent his sudden excitement, could hear his heartbeat speed up, standing as close as they were. "But how can you get me there? You can't just carry me by the wrist."

"No. But I can do this." Without another word, Tony wrapped an arm around Steve's waist, pulling him close, grinning to himself at the man's gasp. The grin faded as Steve threw an arm around his shoulders for balance, then looked at him, eyes shining. Close enough to kiss. If only the armor weren't in the way. Tony's blood throbbed at the thought and he drew in a deep breath in an attempt to calm himself. When he filled his lungs with Steve’s uniquely addicting scent, he bit his lip and his eyes closed as he struggled for control.

"Is this okay?" Steve sounded worried, and Tony opened his eyes again, forcing back the beast inside him, grateful that Steve couldn't see his face. If he could, the man would probably run screaming the other way from the lust Tony knew was written on his features.

"That's fine," he said hoarsely, then cleared his throat. "Stand on my boot... yes, like that." Steve shifted his weight and Tony fired the thrusters in his jet boots. Slowly, more careful than he had ever been of himself, he lifted into the air, his gaze not leaving Steve's face. The other man's wide eyes showed his excitement as he took in the view of New York City from above, but Tony could see a hint of sadness in his eyes. He found himself wondering who Steve had left behind all those years ago. Surely there must have been someone. The thought made him want to growl again, and he suppressed it with an effort. Ridiculous, to be jealous of a hypothetical someone who would have lived before he'd even been born.

Increasing the thrust, he waved his free hand at the other Avengers and they waved back, heading for the Mansion. He hovered there for a moment, compensating for the lopsided weight of his passenger, watching him closely. There was no fear on the man's face at all. Just that mix of awe and grief, plus visible excitement at the sheer act of flying.

"You like it?" Steve started a little at the question, but smiled as he turned his head to meet Tony's eyes again.

"Yes. I've always loved flying," he said. His gaze wavered out over the city again, and that flash of sadness passed over his features. "I hadn't realized, I guess. How much would have changed. So many people. So many cars. So many buildings. I wonder if there's anything still here that I remember."

Tony's heart ached, hearing the pain in Steve's voice. "We can find out," he offered, wanting nothing more in that moment than to keep his mate in his arms, even without being able to touch him. Wanting to make him happy. Steve shook his head.

"Thank you, but... you were right. I need... time. To rest, and recover, and learn. This is just... too much, right now." He waved at the city skyline with his free hand, and Tony nodded, biting back useless words. Instead, he carefully angled them, then headed to the Mansion.

**

By the time they landed, Tony's body was screaming at him for touch. The flight had been the strangest mix of enjoyable and torturous that he'd ever experienced -- and that included the night he'd spent in agony with silver burning through his chest. Having his mate so close, his scent filling his lungs with every breath, made his blood boil. Being so close and unable to touch him... Tony realized he was growling softly as he touched down and clenched his jaw, feeling his elongated canines scraping against his lips.

"That was amazing." Steve's eyes sparkled as he turned to look at Tony, his smile bringing a burst of warmth to Tony's chest. His free hand clenched, claws scraping the metal inside the gauntlets as he battled back the urge to tighten the hand resting just above Steve's hip, to pull him close and... Tony bit his lip again, tasting blood this time.

"Would you be willing to do that again sometime?" The almost-shy tone of the question surprised Tony, but he nodded.

"Any time you'd like," he promised. Steve grinned, and Tony was painfully aware of his mate's closeness, the warm body pressed so close to the armor. When Steve unwound his arm from Tony's shoulders and stepped back onto the ground, one hand straightened the shield strapped to his back in what seemed to be a habitual gesture. Tony's fingers twitched before he could prevent the movement but he managed to restrain himself from reaching out to his mate to draw him back in. Steve turned around to look at the Mansion and Tony laughed at the expression on his face.

"This... is your headquarters?"

"Yes. It was Tony Stark's family home before he donated it to the Avengers."

"Tony Stark?" The strange note in Steve's voice drew Tony's gaze back to the other man, and he frowned.

"Yes."

"Any relation to Howard Stark?"

"Howard was m-- Tony's father. How do you know the name?" The words came out sharper than he'd intended, but Steve didn't seem to notice.

"I knew him. Only briefly, but he helped with the Super Soldier project." Beneath the helmet, Tony's eyebrows shot up. His father had assisted with Operation: Rebirth? That information wasn’t in his dad's notes, nor had he ever told Tony anything about it. It might explain part of his father's fascination with Captain America, he thought. Looking at the man next to him, he wondered darkly if his father's fascination had been purely admiration, or if there had been something more to it. The flash of jealousy he felt at the thought didn't surprise him this time, but he ruthlessly suppressed it. Bad enough to deal with this situation in the first place without worrying about what might have been motivating his father.

"Tony Stark just... gave up his family home?" The mixture of disbelief and bewilderment in Steve's question tore at Tony's heart as he realized for the first time that Captain America, for all the glory and legend that surrounded him, had grown up in one of the poorest periods of American history. The thought of giving away a house, especially one like the Mansion, had to be foreign to him.

Choosing his words carefully, Tony answered, "He felt it would be better used as the Avengers' headquarters. He hasn't lived in it since his childhood."

Steve’s frown smoothed over into thoughtfulness as he eyed Tony's armor. "How do you know so much about the Starks?" Dammit, thought Tony. He'd anticipated the question but he'd been hoping it wouldn't be so soon.

"I'm Tony Stark's bodyguard." The excuse sounded feeble to his ears this time.

"His bodyguard? But you're a member of the Avengers?"

"Mr. Stark has always taken a very personal interest in the Avengers, and he knows how to contact me when I'm needed." He heard the defensiveness in his own voice and cringed inwardly. If Steve noticed, he didn't say anything. Clearing his throat, Tony asked, "Would you like me to show you to your room?" Steve nodded, still looking thoughtful, and followed Tony as he led the way into the Mansion. Although he remained quiet, Tony could see him looking around, sizing up the Mansion and the rooms inside in what was probably an unconscious habit.

Halfway up the stairs, Jarvis appeared on the landing, looking relieved when he saw Iron Man in front of him. "Oh, sir. Very good to see you! The Captain's room has been prepared. I took the liberty of using the room beside Mr. Stark's, as it was the most convenient." Tony's throat closed for a moment -- his mate would be next door to him? -- before he could respond.

"That sounds good, Jarvis." He paused, then made a quick decision. "Could you please show Steve to his room? I need to get down to the lab and check my sensors." He flicked a glance toward Steve, relieved yet disappointed to see no hint of upset on his face.

"Certainly. Right this way, sir." Jarvis gestured to Steve, who nodded at Tony and followed the butler down the hallway. Tony watched, waiting until they'd turned the corner before heading back down the stairs. He wasn't running away, dammit. He just knew his limits -- and knowing that the living legend who just happened to be his destined mate would be sleeping in the room next to his was definitely well beyond them.

 


"Steve! There you are!"

Steve looked up from the window he'd been staring out of for the past half-hour and found Jan beside him, grinning widely. Her current outfit seemed to be made out of green and black satin with gold trim, and it showed a lot more skin than he was used to. He jerked his gaze away from bemused contemplation of the curves she had on display and flushed at the wicked curve of her lips. He thought of apologizing, then realized it would involve explaining just what he was apologizing for. He quailed at the thought.

"Uh... yep. Here I am. Did you need me for something?" He hoped he hadn't sounded as pathetically eager to Jan as he did to himself. He hadn't been bored since his return - the past few weeks had actually flown by, between random villainous attacks on New York City and his own fascinated research into all of the changes seventy years of time passing had caused. For the last few nights, he'd even run patrols, slowly spiraling further outward as his familiarity with the area grew. But his time at the Mansion... In the depths of his own mind, Steve admitted to himself the real reasons for spending so much of his time with his nose in a book. Keeping himself busy by reading about the history he’d missed kept his mind off of the puzzle that obsessed him.

Tony Stark.

And Iron Man.

While neither of them had been anything but friendly and welcoming to him, Steve was very much aware of a strange undercurrent between himself and both of them, unlike anything he'd experienced before. Whatever it was seemed to put him on edge around Tony and Iron Man, almost as if something he couldn't quite sense teased at him, keeping him more aware of the two of them than he'd ever been of anyone else in his life. Not even Peggy had fascinated him like this.

Steve had quickly realized he wasn't the only one affected. After their first meeting, Tony Stark had made himself scarce around the Mansion, to such an extent that even Hank Pym had commented on it. Iron Man was around more often, but only because the Avengers meetings required his presence, as did their missions. Steve was fully aware that both of them were avoiding him.

And that in itself made him wonder. Given his so-far limited encounters with the two of them, he didn't have enough data to draw on for any real theory, but he had a lingering suspicion that there was more going on with the two men than the “I’m his bodyguard” excuse could cover. He never saw the two of them together, although with both of them absent so often, that didn't mean much. They both possessed an amazing amount of knowledge about technology in general and the Iron Man armor in particular and a lot of their mannerisms were the same. None of that was enough to tell him if his inner suspicion was correct, but put together, it made him even more aware of them whenever they were together.

He sighed. And how much of his suspicion, he wondered, was his own blind optimism? If the two men were really the same man, he wouldn't have to suffer through divided loyalties. Loyalties. Hah. He rolled his eyes at his own mental side-stepping, ignoring the discomfort he felt. Attraction, to call it what it was. Something about Iron Man's voice, his presence, had drawn Steve in from the second he opened his eyes on the submarine. He'd been ready to leap off the table and start attacking whoever held him captive, his mind still locked in the adrenaline of his last remembered moment... and then he had heard Iron Man's voice. Something about the man calmed him down, even as it sent his heart rate rocketing for an altogether different reason.

"Geez, Cap. I didn't realize my presence was so boring."

Steve opened eyes he hadn’t realized he'd shut and turned to face Jan, embarrassed at his woolgathering. She giggled and waved a careless hand as he began to stammer an apology.

"It's okay. I know you've had a lot on your mind, but I thought I’d introduce you to some of the modern world that I know you've missed out on." Seeing his frown, her smile broadened. "Television! And movies. I'm sure you'll just love Star Wars. Everyone likes it -- it's one of Tony's favorite movies."

Swallowing back his trepidation, he followed Jan down the stairs to the main room. "Living room" didn't really do it justice, but it wasn't just an "entertainment room," either. Tony and Hank had both tried to explain to him about home-theater systems, but given that the last movies he'd seen were black and white newsreels, he hadn't followed their descriptions. As they walked into the room and Jan pressed a button on the small device she held, Steve's eyes widened.

A screen almost as big as the movie screens he remembered from his youth slid down from the ceiling. It was lit from behind and already showing the quick, flashing images he'd seen on his earlier -- brief -- attempts at watching TV. But seeing something in a store window wasn't anything like seeing it on the other side of the room. Steve numbly followed Jan's urging, taking a seat on the couch as she curled up in the oversized chair to the side. He caught something about blue rays and interstellar wars, but missed the actual flow of words.

At the first rush of sound, Steve jerked upright before forcing himself to relax back into the cushions, well aware of Jan's barely-suppressed giggles. He could feel the heat on his cheeks and resolutely ignored it, instead focusing on the screen. Sheer wonder blossomed as the images in front of him drew him in. He was thoroughly captured by the plot as soon as the villain came onto the scene. As if they really needed the raspy breathing and echoing voice to show he was a bad guy, Steve thought, then shrugged it away. Maybe later he could get Tony to talk to him about the imagery of good and evil in today's culture and see how it compared to what he knew. At least the bad guys still wore black - that didn't seem like it would ever change.

Hard on the heels of that thought, Steve stiffened, some sense alerting him to Tony's presence even before Jan twisted in the chair and chirped, "Tony! I was just telling Steve how much you loved this movie. Sit down and watch it with us!"

Steve turned his head just enough to watch Tony without taking his gaze off the action on the screen in front of him. He noted that Tony held some sort of gadget in one hand and a steaming coffee mug in the other. From the half-buttoned shirt and rolled-up sleeves, Steve suspected Tony had just gotten in from work. Even as Tony jerked to a halt in surprise, Steve could feel... smell?... the abrupt mixture of fear and surprise and... desire? He blinked, feeling his cheeks heat again. Certainly that couldn't be right. How could he smell someone’s feelings? Besides, Steve knew he was handsome, but even in the short time he'd been back, Steve had seen Tony's endless parade of beautiful women. He might suspect that parade included some men as well, given that Tony seemed to flirt with everyone on an equal basis, but he hadn’t seen anything to lend substance to that theory. Without more to go on than his vague hopes and suspicions, Steve didn’t want to make assumptions that could land him in hot water.

"Um. Well, actually, Jan, I was just on my way to the lab to work out the equations on the new jet boot thrusters--"

"Oh, stop being such a wet blanket!" Jan's exasperation showed in her tone. "You've spent more time down in that lab lately than I've ever seen before. You need to come out of your cave every once in a while. It's only a movie. Come on, have a seat!" She gestured imperiously to the vacant side of the couch where Steve sat, and Steve watched sidelong as Tony bit his lip, obviously indecisive.

"Sit, Tony!" Tony's lips twitched at Jan's tone even as his shoulders slumped in submission, and he rounded the corner of the couch to settle down on the other side. Steve noted that he left as much room as possible between the two of them.

Part of Steve was completely absorbed in the movie, marveling at the crisp effects and how real the stars looked. The plot would have caught him up instantly under normal circumstances -- if Tony weren't sitting beside him, looking increasingly tense as time passed, his body language drawing further in, as if he felt trapped. Trapped, on the comfortable, overstuffed couch in the enormous living room, with Steve a few feet away from him. Steve frowned, watching Tony from the corner of his eye as the rebels grouped for their attack. He understood the fear and adrenaline of the hopeless rush on the unassailable fortress -- he'd been in that situation more than once.

Tony pretended to watch the movie, but he kept staring at Steve. Steve felt it. Every time Steve glanced up, Tony’s eyes were on him, their blue darkening as time passed. Steve tried not to fidget under that intense gaze. He couldn’t help but notice that Tony's fingers tightened on the mug in his grasp until they were white-knuckled, and he wondered why.

The ending dog fight finally pulled Steve's attention fully into the film, and he didn't realize that he was tense, rooting silently for the attacking rebels, until the final, dramatic explosion as victory music swelled. He relaxed back into the couch cushions, looking up at Jan's giggle and meeting her wide grin with an abashed smile. Beside him, Tony sat motionless, not even pretending to be watching the television anymore.

As the closing credits started scrolling across the screen, Steve turned to face Tony, concerned but also strangely restless. He felt as though his skin were too tight, a strange heat running through his body. Tony met his gaze squarely and Steve flinched at the hunger, the raw need, that he saw there. Almost as if he'd been waiting for that reaction, Tony slowly inhaled, a deep, intimate breath. Their eyes remained on each other, and Steve shivered. The small motion seemed to break the moment and Tony stood up, placed his empty mug on the coffee table, then turned and strode from the room without another word.

"Okay, that was just weird." Jan frowned over her shoulder at the empty doorway. "Usually you can't pry him out of the room if he knows we're watching Star Wars." Steve saw her glance at him, saw the worry in her eyes, and said nothing. "Do you want to watch the next one? Or..." Her voice trailed off and Steve stared at the doorway for a few more seconds before shaking himself out of the daze and turning back to her, putting a smile on his face that felt incredibly fake but apparently satisfied Jan.

"Sure." As Jan grinned and jumped up from the chair to change the disc, Steve leaned back, casually crossing his legs. The movement made him shiver again, but not from cold. The weirdly intimate moment of silence at the end of the last movie had left Steve burning for... something. Something more. At least he wasn't wearing his uniform -- there would be no way to hide from Jan that he was hard as a rock in those skin-tight pants. He'd never reacted like this to anyone before, male or female, and he didn't know what was causing it now... but he definitely wanted to find out more.

 


Tony sank down into the overstuffed chair with a relieved sigh. After being thrown through a wall by the Wrecking Crew, it felt good to just sit and relax. True, he should be working on repairing his armor, not re-reading The Return of the King for the hundredth time, but with the day he'd had, Aragorn's travails sounded more appealing than a blowtorch. Putting his feet up on the ottoman, Tony settled into a comfortable position, found his place in the book, and began to read.

Lost in the familiar realms of Middle-Earth, Tony didn't realize anyone else had come into the library until an awkward, "Oh, sorry! Didn't mean to interrupt--" hit his ears at the same moment that he picked up the strong scent of... Steve. No wonder his back was aching again -- he'd tensed up as his mate approached, even though he hadn't consciously realized what he was doing.

Placing a finger on the page to hold his place, he looked up, almost straight into Steve's face. The smile curving his lips was genuine; he'd been trying so hard to avoid his mate that outside of the fight earlier in the day, he hadn't seen Steve for most of a week. Being able to smell him without being around him, between the faint scent wafting through the house and the ever-present Steve-aroma from his neighboring bedroom had almost been as much as torture as being around him was. At this point, Tony didn't care. Just seeing his mate made something inside him, something that had gotten all wound up, ease back. Admittedly, seeing Steve this close meant that his body was anything but at ease -- at attention, more like -- but Tony had years of experience in ignoring the wants and needs of his body. He put it to good use now, setting aside the rampaging lust that made him intimately aware of the play of light along Steve's neck and the sound of his quickening heartbeat.

"You're not interrupting in the least." Leaning back and stretching, Tony used the movement to cover any awkwardness as he crossed his legs, attempting to keep Steve from seeing just how aroused he was simply by his presence. "The library is open to anyone. I'm certainly not in here often enough to lay claim to all of it."

Steve's discomfited expression twitched into the hint of a smile before he nodded at Tony, then turned to browse the shelves. Tony sat another few minutes, watching him from the corner of his eye and taking in the scent of his mate, relaxed and casual, masked a bit by soap and deodorant, but easily discernible to Tony's nose. Although his body was clamoring to throw Steve down and fuck him senseless, Tony realized he was more relaxed than he had been in days. Apparently, avoiding his unclaimed mate constantly was bad for his health. He'd have to determine which was worse to inflict on himself: The stress and raging lust of an unclaimed mate at his side, or the stress and unceasing longing for his unclaimed mate's presence when they were apart. He wondered what it would be like if they were mated -- would it still be painful to be apart after a certain length of time, or would the bond settle into place and ensure that neither of them felt distant?

That spurred Tony's thoughts into a whole new direction. His father hadn't been able to tell him anything from personal experience, since Maria hadn't been his destined mate, but from the books Tony had at his disposal, along with his limited dealings with local tribes, he knew the mating bond carried a telepathic bond along with it. Between two weres, anyway. He wondered what that sort of connection would be like, a hint of longing to his thoughts that surprised him, before dismissing the subject altogether. If nothing else, his destined mate wasn't a werewolf, so experiencing the full mating bond would never happen. Rather than dwelling on things he couldn’t have, he needed to focus on getting to know Steve better. He’d promised Thor to give it a chance, and he couldn’t ever work up to confessing the truth to Steve unless he felt comfortable enough around the man. Of course, the longer he went without telling Steve that he wasn’t quite human, the more difficult it became to actually do so.

With a sigh, Tony picked up his book again and tried to pick up the thread of the plot. He listened to Steve browsing the bookshelves behind him and found himself smiling at the quiet exclamations as Steve found new books by favorite authors. As Steve finally pulled a book off the shelf and settled into another chair -- the mate to the one Tony sat in -- Tony realized that although he'd been staring at the book in his hands, he hadn't read a word of it since he'd opened it again. His attention was too caught up in basking in Steve's scent and the comforting rhythm of his heartbeat and the strangely soothing effect that being in his presence seemed to provide.

An easy silence settled over them. After more long moments of staring sightlessly at his book, Tony dared a quick glance at Steve. The other man appeared to be absorbed in his own book, but he looked up almost as soon as Tony looked at him, an eyebrow raised in silent question.

Tony found himself at an uncharacteristic loss for words as the curious blue eyes met his own. Attempting to sound casual, he said, "I was just wondering how you've been settling in."

Steve's eyebrows lowered, although Tony could scent his mild confusion. After a moment of contemplation, Steve shrugged. "As well as I can. It's strange, you know? To go out and turn down a familiar street without even thinking about it, and only realize that I've done it when I stop -- expecting to see something familiar but not seeing it." Steve's words trailed off and Tony saw a fleeting expression of longing and wistfulness cross his face. He could smell grief in his mate and it took every bit of willpower he possessed to keep from crossing the room and pulling Steve into his arms.

Instead, he asked, "Is there anything I can do?" Part of him hoped that Steve heard the hope and… other emotions… underlying the nondescript words. Another part hoped he hadn’t; the last thing Tony wanted to do was scare the man off with too much intensity.

Steve blinked and when he looked at Tony again, it was clear that he'd forgotten he wasn't alone in the room. Tony could practically see him pulling himself out of whatever memories he'd been lost in, before he gave Tony a weak smile.

"No. I just... have to get used to things. It's one thing, knowing that so much time has passed, but it's different, seeing it for myself." He paused, and Tony wished he could hear whatever words Steve was holding back, or at least see them in the clouded eyes that met his. Something shifted then, between them, and he inhaled reflexively. His nostrils filled with the aroma of his mate, and he almost choked in surprise, wondering if he could be right. Surely not -- Steve wouldn't be feeling lust... not for him. Steve hadn't shown the slightest hint of interest in men. Tony couldn't be the reason for the sharp tang of desire he could smell on his mate. Definitely not.

The wave of possessive jealousy and anger that swept through him at the thought took him aback, and he almost missed Steve's abrupt movement as he set his book down and stood up.

"Good night, Tony," Steve said quietly, an unidentifiable emotion wound through his words. Before Tony could answer, Steve was gone.

**

Months later, their late-night conversations had become something that Steve looked forward to. Over time, as he’d gotten to know Tony – and Iron Man, since the Golden Avenger seemed to be just as prone to spending nights in the library as his employer – they’d become friends. Best friends, in Steve’s mind, although he didn’t know if either of them felt the same about it. He missed the late nights together lately. Outside of team meetings and fights with super-villains, Iron Man had made himself scarce, and Tony's schedule these days was crazy enough between Stark International and his late hours in the lab that Steve was always mildly surprised whenever he saw him.

None of that had kept Steve from noticing all the little things that someone not almost obsessively interested in Tony Stark and Iron Man would miss. Little things... like the fact that their speech patterns were identical. How they laughed at the same things. How they both deflected personal questions with self-deprecating answers that most people didn’t realize were a clever way of side-stepping things they didn’t want to answer. Most importantly, however -- at least, to Steve -- was the simple fact that they both drove him crazy with lust.

Not so simple, really, if he were being honest with himself. Being attracted to people -- to men as well as women -- was nothing new to Steve. But this -- whatever it was -- that he felt around Iron Man, around Tony -- this was different. He'd never before felt like he was being pulled toward a piece of himself that he hadn't known was missing until he found it.

That feeling alone convinced Steve that he knew who was behind Iron Man's mask, but he didn't dare try to find out the truth of it until he knew why he cared so strongly in the first place. Oh, he loved Tony, loved Iron Man -- that was easy to admit. He'd never been shy of acknowledging when he loved someone, even if only to himself. It didn't matter whether it was the romantic love he'd had for Peggy or the love of a good friend, as he'd had with Bucky.

The problem was that whatever he felt for Tony -- and Iron Man -- was something altogether new and different. There was love, and sexual longing, and friendship -- and something else, something he couldn't explain or understand. He thought, watching the reactions Tony tried so hard to hide from him, that Tony knew what it was, that he felt the same primal pull. But with Tony and Iron Man apparently doing their best to avoid him lately, Steve hadn't had a chance to find out for sure.

When he entered the library, refusing to acknowledge the hope that hung like a weight on his heart, and found it empty, Steve had a brief second of longing to destroy the room. Breaking the furniture, ripping the books apart, tearing the precious paintings down from the walls... that might vent some of the unbearable frustration he felt mounting up inside him.

Only his mouth, lips pressed together in a thin line as he surveyed the empty room, showed the frustration. He allowed himself an aggravated huff, then lingered in the doorway, caught between the urge to take refuge in his room -- the one right next door to Tony’s, he reminded himself -- and sleep, and an older, more familiar urge to take down the leather-bound copy of The Two Towers and lose himself in adventure.

"Thou dost look lost, Captain." The rumbling words started him and he cursed mentally. If he was so lost in his own frustrated longing that Thor could sneak up behind him without even trying... well, at least he wasn't out running a patrol in this state.

Turning around, Steve closed the door and leaned against it, crossing his arms over his chest. "Not lost, Thor. Just... indecisive." The words were easier to say than he'd thought they would be. Although he liked Thor, respected the god, he didn't know him very well. Not nearly as well as Tony did, he thought, and then cocked his head, considering. "You've known Tony -- and Iron Man," he added, seeing the amused glint in the god's eyes, "for a long time, right?"

Thor nodded. "Indeed. We have been brothers in arms for quite some time now."

Steve nodded to himself, not missing the wording of Thor’s answer. "Maybe you can tell me, then. What's going on with him -- with them -- lately? We used to spend time together, in the library or training or wherever, but lately I've hardly seen them. I can tell something's going on, but I don't know what it is, and I just..." He ran a hand through his hair as words failed him.

"Thou dost feel as though something is... incomplete?" Thor inquired delicately, and Steve nodded abruptly.

"Yes! That's it exactly. I don't know what or why, but something's... not complete. Not done. I don't know. But with Tony avoiding me now, I can't even begin to figure out what's wrong. I don't know if I did something to make him mad, or if it's something else altogether." His mind raced as he watched the thoughts slide across Thor's face, the slight frown on the god's face telling Steve that Thor knew more than he was saying. "Tell me, Thor. Please." He could hear the plaintive note in his own voice and wanted to cringe, but shoved away the reflex. He wasn't above begging at this point, not if it would get him the answers to whatever was keeping him awake at night.

Thor cocked his head, one hand resting on Mjolnir, his fingers idly caressing the hammer as he thought. Finally, he shook his head. "I cannot. Whatever it is that lies between thee and Tony, it does not concern anyone else. I know he is not angry with thee, Steven. But I do not know why he hast chosen to remain aloof from his friends, nor why he refuses to confide in thee." He must have seen the bitter disappointment that Steve felt, and reached out, clapping him on the shoulder. "Fear not, Captain. Things cannot remain in this state for much longer, and I am most certain that thou wilt find the resolution thou seekest."

Steve bit his lip as he watched Thor walk away. If things couldn't remain as they were... how were they going to change? His eyes widened as Thor’s words echoed in his head again. Steve had asked about two men… and Thor had only mentioned one. A spark of hope lit within Steve’s heart, and he picked up his Tolkein novel feeling better than he had in weeks.

 


Even with Dave Mustaine's voice snarling about coffins and graves at a volume loud enough to make his monitors shake, Tony heard the door to his lab open and shut again. The sharp tang of ozone told him that Thor had finally had enough of his hiding. If he turned around, the god would undoubtedly have his arms crossed, the expression of fond annoyance on his face that he seemed to wear most of the time around Tony.

"I'm busy, Thor," he said without turning around, his words clipped. Jabbing a little more fiercely at the recalcitrant bolt, he finally managed to get it to move, wincing at the screeching groan of protesting metal as it reluctantly gave way. Dropping the wrench with a sigh, Tony mopped at the sweat on his brow with one hand, then picked up the pliers with the other. His last encounter with the Wrecking Crew had left his armor badly dented, and even though he had other suits, fixing this one gave him an excellent reason to barricade himself in the lab for hours on end. A reason, not an excuse, he reassured himself, feeling the weight of Thor's gaze on the back of his head.

"So I see." The god's voice was level but the words contained a dry note that told Tony he hadn't fooled Thor at all. He heard Thor's boots clipping the cement floor of his lab as the god crossed the room, coming up to stand behind him. "Aye, thou dost appear most industrious indeed," Thor said. "Thou hast already repaired all of one gauntlet from our battle with the villainous Wrecking Crew yesterday. Surely, this snail's pace compared to thy usual speed with repair work must mean that the damage was far more extensive than it appeared."

Tony's hands clenched into fists at his sides before he forced himself to take a breath and relax, knowing Thor was trying to goad him into a reaction. He muted the music with a quick motion before turning around, leaning one hip against his workbench and crossing his arms over his chest. Facing an annoyed god of thunder while wearing ripped jeans and a worn wifebeater, grease smeared across his cheek from a careless gesture earlier that evening, made it difficult to maintain his casual pose, but he tried.

"Dripping sarcasm doesn't become you."

Thor grinned. "Mayhap not, but I do learn from the best." A nod of his head in Tony's direction left no doubt as to who he meant. Tony rolled his eyes.

"What do you want?"

Thor regarded him steadily before replying. "Jan spoke to me. She seems quite concerned about thy health -- something about thy abrupt exit during a showing of thine favorite film?"

Tony snorted. "Just because I didn't stay to watch the entire Star Wars trilogy doesn't mean there's something wrong."

"No. But she also mentioned that thou hast avoided sharing thine meals with the team for the last several days, well over a week."

Tony remained silent, stubbornly denying the concern in his friend’s voice.

"As well, Steve did ask me, most reluctantly methinks, if perhaps he hast offended thee in some way."

Tony's head snapped up, his eyes narrow. Thor returned his stare blandly.

"Why would he think that?" Inwardly, Tony winced. He sounded hurt, rather than annoyed, and the amused glint in Thor's icy blue eyes told him the god had noticed.

"I do believe it may have somewhat to do with the fact that thou hast been avoiding the good captain most completely, outside of team missions. Leaving rooms as he enters, excusing thyself from conversations if he joins in... closeting thyself in this workspace to an extent that is almost unheard of, even for thee."

Tony did wince at that. "Dammit." He ran a hand through his already-ruffled hair, staring at the floor. "I didn't... I didn't mean for him to think that I was mad at him."

Thor’s voice was stern as he replied, "What else should he think, if thou dost constantly avoid his company?"

"You know exactly why I'm avoiding him, Thor!" Tony snarled, glaring up at the god. Thor shrugged.

"Truly, but I am not the one of concern here. Thy mate is."

"He's not--" Tony began, but Thor cut him off.

"He is thy mate, no matter how much thou dost wish it otherwise. By treating him such, thou dost bring shame to both him and to thyself, as well as unneeded hurt," Thor said sternly. Tony's mouth tightened into a thin line.

"What the hell would you know about it?"

"What thou hast told me, over the course of the past few years. I do recall many conversations about long, empty nights and thine unending loneliness. Thou seemed to wish most fervently for thy mate, then." Thor's voice gentled as he spoke, and Tony bowed his head, staring sightlessly at the floor again.

"It's killing me, Thor." When the god didn't answer, Tony looked up again and laughed humorlessly. "I mean that literally, you know." At Thor's widened eyes, he added, "Oh, I don't mean that I'll keel over tomorrow or anything. But eventually, denying myself my mate will kill me. Either I'll waste away or I'll throw myself into something even more idiotic than normal and get myself killed. Dad told me about other weres he'd seen do that."

"But why did he not have this sort of reaction?"

"He never met his intended mate. He married my mother because she had good ties - money and breeding. They weren't intended mates. That's why their marriage was so miserable; if a were doesn't find their intended mate, they can make other relationships work if they try, but there'll always be something... lacking. Dad didn't bother to try."

"I understand now why thou didst refuse to engage in any long-term relationships in the past," Thor said, his voice soothing. "But why dost thou keep fighting this, now that thou hast met thine intended mate?"

"Because he doesn't know a damned thing about me, Thor. Not about me, not about weres... and there's no indication whatsoever that he has any interest in me like that. I've read about weres taking their mates unwillingly, and afterward it always seems to work out, but..." Tony shook his head, his face grim. "I'll be damned if I force him into something he doesn't know about and doesn't want."

"Then why not tell him?"

"I..." Tony cut himself off and shook his head. "He's Captain America, Thor. Can you imagine what the public would do if Captain America ended up in a gay relationship with Iron Man? It would cause riots. I would have corrupted a national treasure, ruined someone who's been the symbol of everything this country stands for through the last seven decades."

"Tony--"

"No. No, Thor. I can't. I won't. End of story." Tony turned around and picked up his welding torch, listening as Thor sighed before leaving the room. Once the door had shut behind the god of thunder, Tony closed his eyes and called himself every name he could think of.

Why didn't he tell Steve the truth? Why didn't he offer a man he barely knew every secret he'd ever guarded with his life -- literally, more times than he could count -- and then tell him that regardless of any personal preference or inclination, they were destined mates and Tony had to claim him – had to fuck him -- no matter what he thought about it?

The real reason was simple. He was a coward. Tony's lips thinned as he stared down at the gauntlet in pieces on his work table. The thought of telling anyone the truth - about him, about Iron Man, about his being a were -- was terrifying. And to throw all of it at someone who didn't even know his own place in this modern world, seventy years out of his time? Someone, Tony admitted in the depths of his own mind, who he already loved. It hadn't been hard. He'd grown up with a bad case of hero worship for the almost-mythical Captain America, made worse by his father's tales of the Captain's exploits. Meeting the man in the flesh had been so much more than anything he'd ever dreamt of, Steve such a different but better man than he'd ever imagined... Tony wasn't even sure when he'd fallen in love. Probably the first time he'd looked into those blue eyes.

Shaking his head, Tony snorted at his own thoughts. It was all well and good to say how easy it should be, to just tell Steve everything and let him sort it out... but Tony had spent his entire life in hiding. Even meeting his destined mate couldn't overcome more than three decades of conditioning. Taking a deep breath, Tony lowered his welding mask, flipped on the torch, and went back to work.

 


Steve stared at the message in his hand, eyes tracing the jagged handwriting that he recognized from decades earlier. It wasn't possible - no, he immediately stopped that line of thought. He shouldn't have been possible, but here he was, so why should he be surprised by the news that one of his oldest enemies had also managed somehow to survive the decades between the War and now?

Even so, Steve's lips thinned as he gazed down at the letter. Zemo. Baron Zemo was the person responsible for nearly killing him, for killing Bucky... for taking away everything and everyone Steve had ever cared about. That's not quite true, whispered a voice in the back of his head, and he tried to ignore it. There was no one here for him, not now, no matter what strange thoughts or feelings may have crept into his mind from time to time. Besides, Iron Man was a teammate, and Tony was... Tony. Rich, brilliant, handsome, and someone who confused the hell out of Steve. Their friendship had clicked at their first meeting, but anymore Steve felt like their almost-regular late-night conversations in the library owed a lot more to mutual insomnia than to anything else.

As his breath puffed out of him in a frustrated huff, he realized he'd creased the note in his hand, leaving only a crumpled scrap that he let drop to the floor.

However the Baron had survived, Steve hadn't made himself difficult to find. He wasn't about to look the Baron's unexpected gift horse in the mouth and miss his opportunity to take his revenge on the person who had cost him his life.

***

Flying the Quinjet was easier than Steve had expected, but then for all of its bells and whistles, Tony hadn't really deviated from the standard flight controls. Iron Man had made it look easy when he ran Steve through the basics, but Steve had never had occasion to fly one himself before. If anything, flying the machine was easier than anything Steve had flown in the War purely because of all of the automation.

As he watched the scenery pass by below him, urban landscapes thinning out to farms, then to greener hills, he wondered if he'd done the right thing in taking the Quinjet without telling anyone. But if he had, the Avengers would have wanted to come with him, and he couldn't allow that. This was his fight, his life, and they had no part in it.

Something about that thought pulled at him, and he finally admitted to himself that at least one Avenger did have a part in it.

Iron Man.

As rolling hills gave way to beaches, then to glittering sparkles from cresting ocean waves, Steve leaned his head on one hand and stared at the sea below.

Whatever was going on with him and Iron Man -- and Tony -- Steve couldn't deny there was something there. He was nearly positive that Tony was Iron Man, after weeks of studying both of them, analyzing every movement, every word... and the strange pull that he felt toward the two men only cemented the idea in his own mind. That draw was unlike anything he'd ever experienced before, although something about it seemed naggingly familiar. It was almost like he could smell the man, smell his moods, his presence... and every time he was near, Steve could definitely smell his desire.

Which was ridiculous. Not the desire; Steve was honest enough with himself to know that most people found him good-looking, but how could he possibly be so attuned to someone that he barely knew?

***

Only hours later, Steve found himself wondering just how distracted he'd been by the issue of Tony. Distracted enough to walk into an obvious trap without even noticing it ahead of time, something he'd cautioned Bucky against often enough to be disgusted with himself for making the same mistake. Throwing himself to the side as Zemo fired a pistol at him, he got his shield up just in time to deflect the bullet. Zemo's snarl made him grin viciously and he regained his footing in time to see Zemo fling the useless gun to the side. Behind him, Steve saw Zemo's minions turn tail and run, something the frustrated villain apparently missed.

"You will not escape my wrath this time, Captain!" called Zemo. Steve rolled his eyes.

"After seventy years, you could at least think up some new rhetoric," he muttered under his breath. He wished Tony were at his side, backing him up, but pushed away the thought as more distracting than helpful. Tony wasn't here and he wasn't going to be, so it was useless to dwell on thoughts of him. Instead, he moved slowly to the side, putting his back up against a wall as he edged to the other side of the room, keeping a watchful eye on Baron Zemo.

"Always so clever, my Captain," Zemo taunted. "Clever enough to survive a death trap of my own devising, all those years ago. Where, I wonder, is your young companion? He was with you then... is it possible that you survived at his cost?"

Steve's eyes narrowed as anger washed over him, surprising him with its intensity. Normally he was much more controlled during a fight, but for some reason, Zemo was pushing all of his buttons today. Zemo must have seen the change in his expression, as taunting laughter echoed across the control room.

"Clever enough then... but are you clever enough now?" With the question hanging in the air between them, Zemo turned, pulling a lever. Steve leapt toward him, knowing even as he moved that he couldn't reach him in time. In front of Zemo, a wide pit opened in the ground, sharp metal edges gleaming in the harsh artificial light of Zemo's bunker. Steve tucked himself into a roll, managing to land at the edge of the pit, one foot slipping into the sheer emptiness before he stopped himself from falling in.

"Is that the best you've got?" he shot back as he rose to his feet, shield at the ready, circling the pit with a deliberate pace. Zemo laughed again, more confidence in his voice than Steve liked to hear.

"Not even a taste, I assure you." A purple-gloved finger pushed in a button and Steve swore to himself. He had to get Zemo away from the control panel or the maniac could trap him, even kill him. And he'd be damned if he died now, before he could settle whatever it was going on between him and Tony, he thought grimly.

The building rumbled. Steve shot a glance upward but didn't see any new openings or devices, and cocked his head at Zemo.

"Trap fail you, Zemo?"

Zemo let out a short laugh and pushed another button. "You may choose to believe so, Captain. It is, I assure you, quite incorrect."

This time, Steve felt the floor shake beneath his feet and he sped his movement, anxious to reach Zemo before the madman could finish triggering whatever death trap he was setting up.

"One more button, Captain, and you will never leave this room alive." Zemo gloated as he paused. His hand hovered over a large green button, lit with an ominous glow, and Steve narrowed his eyes in concentration.

"So be it then, Zemo," he answered, positioning himself. "But I won't be dying alone today." With that, he sent his shield spinning in a clean arc, passing through the air behind Zemo's head.

"Ach, Captain, Captain. I expected better of you! You never mi--" Zemo's smirking words cut off as the shield rebounded from the far wall of the room, intersecting neatly with the control panel just below his outstretched hand. Sparks flew as metal screamed, and the building shuddered. Zemo shrieked, scrabbling with frantic motions at the control panel, only to crash to the ground as Steve launched himself at the man, tackling him with all the force he could muster. As he looked down into the faceless mask, Steve smiled mirthlessly.

"You're right, Baron. I never miss." With one hand on Zemo's chest, Steve reached out with the other one and pulled the shield free of the now-smoking console. Keeping a firm grip on Zemo's tunic, Steve hauled him to his feet. "And you are finally going to face justice for what you've done."

Zemo snarled at him and wrenched away with a violent pull that sent him stumbling backward. "You will never place me in your wretched prison!"

Cursing, Steve lunged forward, trying to catch the man, but as his gloved fingers touched Zemo's chest, the villain's feet slipped on the slick metal floor and he fell backwards... into nothingness. In his lust to be free, Zemo had forgotten about the pit he'd opened.

Steve closed his eyes briefly as the sound of Zemo's scream echoed through the room, but the increased shuddering in the building snapped him back to reality. With a final glance at the yawning pit, he turned and ran on light feet down the hallway leading out of the bunker and back to freedom.

 


"What the hell do you mean there's a Quinjet missing?" Tony could hear the sharp note in his voice and winced. Jan must have caught it, from the glare she sent his way, but Hank only shrugged.

"There's a Quinjet missing. There should be three, there are only two in the hangar, and when I checked the logs, they show that Steve checked one out early this morning and left."

Tony bit back his initial retort, knowing that if he panicked too obviously, his teammates would pick up on it and call him out. That was a conversation he was absolutely not ready to have. Instead, he took a deep breath, then asked, "Did he file a flight plan?"

"Yeah." Hank frowned, cocking his head. "That's the strange part. He went to South America."

"South America?" Tony and Jan asked at the same time. Hank nodded.

"I've got the coordinates, so if you want to follow him, we can." Something about Hank's tone made Tony look up sharply, but Hank met his gaze unblinkingly.

"Have you tried contacting him using the communicator?"

"Yes. He's not answering."

"Dammit." Tony ran a hand through his hair. "So he's either not in the Quinjet, or something's interfering with our communications."

"Or he may be unable to respond," Thor put in quietly. Tony glared at him. That was the option he was trying not to dwell on.

"What in the hell could have possessed him to fly off to South America with no warning?" Tony wondered out loud, frustrated. Thor stepped forward and placed a comforting hand on his shoulder.

"I do not have thy answer, but perhaps thou shouldst contact thy bodyguard, if indeed we will be following the Captain in his course?"

"Of course. Of course, Thor. I'll do that immediately. Iron Man will be able to scan the area once w -- you arrive. I'll just... go do that." He hurried out of the room, conscious of the Avengers' gazes on his back. If he hadn't just completely blown his cover, he'd eat his hat. Not that he wore a hat. Maybe he could eat Steve's cowl instead. It was leather - it would be edible. Not pleasant, but edible. And at least it would be Steve-flavored...

Tony stopped dead in the middle of the stairway. He was beginning to panic, really panic, and he absolutely could not afford to do that. If Steve took off without telling anyone, he must have had a good reason to do so. Tony falling apart wouldn't help anything at all. In fact, it would impede things, since Thor would feel compelled to bring in Don Blake to check on him, and that would only mean further delays in finding out what was going on with his mate.

His mate. Tony drew in a deep breath, conscious of the lingering odor of Steve in the hallway. After this, he couldn't deny things any longer, or hope that the situation would magically go away by his hiding his head in the sand and ignoring it. Once they were back... he had to talk to Steve.

Heading down the hallway, he paused outside the door to Steve's room, allowing himself the luxury of inhaling the mix of sweat and leather that always seemed to waft around his mate. Then he frowned. Taking another breath, he could smell something sharper overlaying the scent, something that reeked of... fear? Anger? He couldn't tell, but something was definitely not right. Something had set Steve off this morning -- could it still be in his room?

Cautiously, Tony opened the door, something he hadn't done since Steve had first moved in. The scent of his mate was almost overwhelming here in his bedroom and it sent a bolt of lust slamming through Tony's body before centering in his groin. He groaned, then tried to force it away, concentrating on the odor that had caught his attention. His cock throbbing behind his well-tailed trousers, he moved across the room until he stood in front of Steve's dresser. He hesitated, guilt pulling at him. Bad enough that he'd entered Steve's room without his permission, violating his privacy -- at least he could blame his actions on his concern for Steve. But he couldn't go through his dresser. That was just too... intimate. And tempting. If Tony moved to open a drawer, he wouldn't be able to stop himself from pulling out each and every item kept inside, smelling them and knowing them and generally just driving himself batshit crazy with lust for his unclaimed mate. No. He couldn't do that.

Dropping his glance to the floor, Tony caught sight of a pale flash from the corner of the dresser. Then again... maybe he wouldn't have to intrude on his mate's privacy. Yet. Crouching down, he pulled out the crumpled piece of paper and sniffed it delicately. The scent of anger and fear almost overwhelmed him and he pulled his head away with a jerk. Whatever had caused Steve to head to South America without saying anything to anyone started here, with this paper.

Smoothing out the paper, Tony scanned it, then swore loudly. Damn it, Steve! You know better than to walk into such an obvious trap as this! Turning on his heel, he pushed aside the worry and the lust he'd grown accustomed to over the last weeks, and headed into his own room. Stripping, he pulled on the armor as quickly as he could, anger warring with fear as he thought about the note.


Captain America - it is good to know that someone besides myself survived all those long years. I'm sure you would like to take up where we left off. Please come to the coordinates below if you would be as interested in renewing our acquaintance as I am.

Yours sincerely -

Baron Heinrich Zemo

***

As the Quinjet arrowed through the air, Tony found himself calculating how long Steve had been by himself, in the middle of one of his oldest enemy's traps... and didn't like the answer. After Jan demanded he stop tapping his fingers on the controls for the third time, he set the autopilot, pulled his hands back, and folded them across his chest. From the look he received from her, it wasn't much of an improvement, but at least it kept her from nagging him. Beside him, Hank sat in the co-pilot's seat, silent except for the occasional status update from their flight.

Yeah, he definitely had to have “The Talk About My Secret Identity” with his teammates. Soon.

But first, they had to find Steve.

Behind him, Thor sat quietly, eyes closed. Tony didn't know if the god was meditating, sleeping, or simply bored out of his mind, but his friend’s quiet presence helped calm him. At least, pointed out the sarcastic voice in the back of his mind, he was finally free of the overwhelming lust that he'd been fighting ever since he first laid eyes on Steve. Instead, he was filled with a mixture of fear and anger: Fear that his mate was in danger, and anger both at the man who had put him there and at Steve himself for choosing to rush headlong into something without telling anyone else -- specifically Tony -- first.

The more logical part of his mind knew he was being ridiculous. He hadn't done anything to show Steve how much he meant to him. Much the opposite, in fact. After weeks of avoiding the man both as himself and as Iron Man, how could he really blame him for not choosing to confide in either identity when he'd needed help? Not confiding in any of his other teammates, though... Tony realized he was clenching his fists and forced himself to relax. His were strength could crush steel like it was tin foil, and damaging his own armor wouldn't accomplish anything except to lessen his capability in a fight.

When they got back... things had to change. They had to. The problem was, Tony had no idea how to make that happen. He knew that he couldn't endure this kind of agonized worry again, but the thought of just sitting Steve down and laying everything out in plain words made him cringe. He refused to claim his mate by force -- no matter how successful the mating might be afterward, the knowledge that the act would essentially be rape made his stomach turn. The simple thought of hurting his mate was enough to pain him without even considering how bad that would be for both of them.

"Calm thyself, Iron Man," Thor's voice rumbled from behind him. Tony rolled his eyes, but knew that Thor meant well. He forced himself to draw in a long, deep breath, then another, and another. He felt Thor's approval radiating from the man, and felt grateful for his suggestion when he realized he did feel better after forcing himself to complete the breathing exercise.

"Yeah, what's up with all this stress, anyway? I didn't think you and Cap got along that well," chimed in Jan from the other seat. All of the tension that his breathing exercise had chased away returned in full at the words, along with disgust at himself for his own actions. If their teammates thought he didn't like Steve, what could the man himself possibly believe?

That was almost more depressing than the fear that they might show up too late.

Tony struggled to find words to explain, but didn't dare turn to face anyone else. He closed his eyes, leaned his head against the seat, and fumbled for an explanation. "It's not that. I just... I..." His voice trailed off and he made a face, secure in the knowledge that no one could see him in the helmet. "I don't really know how to explain, Jan."

"Well, you've sure been a jerk lately," Jan said cuttingly. "Ignoring all of us and walking out right after meetings and disappearing to God knows where. If it's not because of Cap, then what is it?"

God, this was painful. "I... I'm sorry. I haven't meant to act like that. I've just had a lot of things to deal with lately, and I've been under a lot of pressure. Steve... Cap... he means a lot to me. I know I haven't been good at showing it, or at acting like a teammate, let alone a friend, to any of you, but I promise I'm going to try to fix it."

The resounding silence that met his halting words made his neck itch, but he refused to turn his head and look, in case he was met with stares of stark disbelief. If his teammates couldn't even trust in him anymore, he didn't want to know. Not right now.

The rest of the flight passed by in a stillness that, while still tense, seemed more thoughtful than before.

***

The fading light of dusk outlined Steve's figure, showing his silhouette clearly as the Avengers stopped at the hill crest. Tony could smell his mate's weariness, but overlaying that was the clear scent of blood. His vision blurred for a moment until he regained control of himself, pushing his anger back behind its usual wall. Whatever -- or whoever -- had injured Steve was no longer a threat, judging from the crude grave in front of his mate. He forced himself to stop moving once he was within arm's reach of Steve, not sure what he might do if he touched the man. Now that he knew his mate was safe and well, the burning from the unfilled mating was rising again, making him hyper-sensitive to Steve.

"Thou art well?" questioned Thor, striding forward and laying a hand on Cap's shoulder. Steve nodded silently, obviously aware of the team's presence even though he hadn't turned from his contemplation of the grave. "Thou didst worry us with thine unexplained absence." Thor rebuked him, his voice mild but the words pointed.

"Yeah, Tony was flipping out!" Jan chimed in. "It was kind of weird, really, but then he's been acting weird for a while."

Steve turned his head until he could see Tony -- Iron Man, Tony reminded himself - and gazed at him, his expression indecipherable. "Was he." It wasn't a question, and Tony was unsure what Steve meant, especially since the words were clearly directed at him, not at Jan. He nodded woodenly.

"Mr. Stark was very worried." He chose his words carefully. "We were all concerned about you." Something flickered in Steve's eyes, but when he blinked, it was gone.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to cause anyone to worry." Steve turned to face them all and as the sun sank lower, Tony could see his face, his superior vision picking out every scrape and bruise. The sight made him want to growl. He bit back the sound, aware of everyone's eyes on him. "Well, I suppose we might as well go home. I'm sorry you ended up coming all this way for nothing."

"It wasn't nothing," Jan protested. "It was for you!" The smile that crossed Steve's lips made Tony bite his lip. Dammit, that smile should be his!

"How should we handle the Quinjets?" asked Hank, ever practical, even as he glanced toward the jungle foliage surrounding them. Tony knew the only reason he wasn't already off in the bushes looking for exotic insects was because of Jan's earlier threat to remove part of his anatomy if he did. Steve looked at Tony, his eyes showing an odd glint again.

"I flew the one down here by myself, I'm sure I could handle it on the way back," he said mildly.

"But should you really fly by yourself? I mean, you were just in a fight." Jan frowned in worry, then turned to Tony. "Iron Man! You should go with him. I mean, you were even more worried than the rest of us." Was that a glint of mischief in her eyes? Tony couldn’t tell for sure, but he would have been willing to lay money down on it. Dammit. Trapped in a Quinjet with his unclaimed mate for that long would drive him insane, but with the way Jan had phrased it, there was no graceful way to back out of it. And if he did, she'd spend the entire flight home needling him about it.

"Aye, that would be a grand idea," Thor agreed. Tony glared at him but nodded reluctantly.

"Fine. Hank can pilot the second one." Hopefully he didn't sound as cranky to the rest of the team as he did to himself. Jan's expression told him he probably sounded worse.

"Let's get going, then. The sooner we get home, the sooner I can get back to my experiments," Hank prodded them all along. As Tony followed Cap into the Quinjet, he could feel Thor's thoughtful gaze on his back.

Steve remained silent as he ran through the pre-flight checklist and took off, Hank following closely with the second Quinjet. Tony found that he was grateful for the silence. Sitting this close to Steve, inhaling the mingled scents of his mate and blood, now that his adrenaline rush of worry and anger had worn off, was putting him even more on edge with unfulfilled lust. He shifted in his seat, wishing that he'd made the armor’s codpiece out of flexible metal, as his blood pulsed, making him ache with want. Turning his head, he saw that Steve had pushed the cowl back, leaving his face exposed. Serious blue eyes met his as Steve set the autopilot and leaned back before facing him.

"What's really going on, Iron Man?"

Even though Tony had been expecting the question, he realized he didn't have an answer. His silence seemed to be the answer Steve expected, from the quiet huff he let out.

"I just don't understand you," Steve told him. "You claim that you -- and Stark -- were so worried about me, but you don't give me the time of day at the mansion. You're running out of the room as soon as I walk in, and then you lead the entire team rushing down here after me? There has to be some reason for it."

Tony sought for an answer. This wasn't a conversation he wanted to have while trapped in a Quinjet with Steve for the next several hours. If nothing else, having this talk at the Mansion would allow one or both of them to storm off and relieve anger, tension, frustration, whatever, in the training room or take off for a patrol or something. If things went badly here, though... Theoretically, he could fly back just using the armor, but the current suit wasn't exactly designed for that kind of sustained flight.

Steve seemed -- not content, but willing -- to wait for as long as it took for Tony to come up with some sort of answer. Maybe... maybe if he offered him part of the truth? And if Steve could deal with one secret… maybe the other one would be easier to tell.

Drawing in a deep breath, Tony raised his hands to the latches at the sides of his helmet. He noticed that they were shaking. Steve's nostrils flared but he remained motionless otherwise, even when Tony drew the helmet up and off, showing him Iron Man's true face.

"I knew it was you." Steve's quiet words made Tony's lips quirk.

"I thought you might. I think, after today, everyone knows." He couldn't keep the rueful tone out of his voice, even with the hunger and excitement thrumming though his body. He hadn't spent this much time alone with Steve in weeks, as the mating lust had worn away his willpower. Taking the helmet off meant that now he could smell his mate directly, without the scent being filtered through the suit's systems. It only made his hunger worse. He knew Steve could see some of the symptoms -- he knew his pupils were dilated, his heart rate elevated. Fortunately, those could be written off to a number of things.

"You're not very good at hiding it, you know." Tony cocked his head at Steve, who laughed. "Iron Man and Tony Stark have the exact same interests, skills, and personalities. The voice is different, thanks to the armor, but your speech patterns are the same. Those are all dead giveaways to anyone who's paying even the slightest bit of attention."

"I'll have to work on that, I guess."

"Guess so."

Silence rose up between them again, still uncomfortable but less tense, and Steve eventually leaned his head back, his eyes slipping closed. Tony took advantage to stare, his eyes tracing the lines of Steve's face, the curve of his neck and the muscles of his chest...

"You do that a lot."

"What?" Tony yanked his gaze back up, only to find Steve watching him. He hadn't turned his head, but his eyes were on Tony.

"Watch me."

"I... I'm sorry." Tony rarely found himself at a loss for words, but every time he spoke with Steve, he ended up floundering. Steve shrugged.

"Doesn't bother me."

The quiet words floored him, sending his mind racing through all sorts of possible meanings. Tony realized he was staring again when Steve's mouth lifted in a smile, and he fumbled for a response. "I suppose I should've guessed the squeaky-clean image was a product of the PR department, huh? No one could be that much of a Boy Scout."

Steve grinned at him before letting his eyes close again, apparently ending the conversation. Tony was all too happy to let the disconcerting exchange trail off to silence. Keeping his eyes to himself this time, he called up his latest project on the Quinjet's computer screen and began working on it. By the time he'd found the error that had been plaguing the design for the last month, he was so deeply enmeshed in equations and blueprints and analyzing the design that he'd nearly forgotten where he was.

Only later, after they'd landed at the Mansion and gone their separate ways, did he wonder just how Steve knew how much Tony watched him.

 


That night, Thor almost bashed down the laboratory door with his knocking.

"I'm coming, Thor, damn it! Stop hammering on the damned door!" Tony yelled over his shoulder as he finished soldering the last connection on the circuit whose blueprints he'd fixed on the Quinjet. Turning off the soldering gun, he set it down carefully, then pushed his goggles up onto his head before sliding off his stool onto the floor, crossing to the door in bare feet and opening it. "What the hell is so important--" he started, then saw the scowl on Thor's face and stopped.

"Thou hast not yet told the Captain the truth," Thor admonished. "I had thought that after today, thou wouldst finally admit the necessity of truthfulness."

Tony opened his mouth to reply, then shut it again. Wordlessly, he turned back to his workbench and pulled off the goggles, dropping them onto the cluttered surface, then ran a hand through his hair. "If you're going to insist on having this conversation again, we are not doing it in my lab," he announced, turning to face Thor again. The god shrugged.

"The location is of no consequence to me. If thou wouldst be more comfortable elsewhere, then by all means."

Tony thought longingly of the shower, but dismissed the thought almost as soon as it came to him. He'd already spent too much time in there today as it was. After spending hours in the Quinjet with Steve, he’d headed for the shower as soon as the Quinjet landed, desperate for relief. With all of his senses on overload from so much exposure to his mate, it hadn't taken much, but it hadn't brought any satisfaction, either. The temptation to repeat his earlier performance would be too tempting if he allowed himself the luxury again.

"Fine. I'm getting some coffee, and then you can yell at me all you want." Thor followed him through the Mansion, his quiet presence at Tony's back almost reassuring, even though he knew that no matter how good the god's intentions were, this was going to devolve into a shouting match. Thank god Jan and Hank both stayed at their own places. At this hour, Steve should be sound asleep, so Tony didn't have to worry about accidentally waking anyone up.

Five minutes and a cup of hot coffee later, Tony stood in the living room, glaring down at Thor, who was seated comfortably on the couch, arms crossed, looking smug.

"Because I can't, Thor. I've told you that!" His frustration showed in his tone, but Thor merely looked at him.

"So thou hast, but thou hast not given any real reason for it, other than thy fears," he replied placidly. Tony glared.

"And those aren't good reasons?" Thor's calm look was answer enough and Tony growled. "I told him who I was, today in the Quinjet." Thor raised an eyebrow. "That I'm Iron Man, I mean."

"It is a good beginning," Thor allowed. "But from what thou didst tell me before, thou canst not continue to deny what is between thee and the Captain. It wilt only lead to pain and possibly thine death."

"Maybe it would be better that way!" Tony snapped, his jaw shutting with a painful snap as he realized what he'd allowed to slip out. Thor lost his smiling calmness, his arms falling to his knees as he leaned forward.

"Thou dost not mean that," he stated. Tony snorted and drained the last of the coffee from his mug.

"Maybe I do. Maybe it would be better if I were gone, Thor. If I were dead, I wouldn’t have to worry about any of this." He gestured around the room, vaguely indicating both the Mansion and Steve with the movement.

Thor stood up and glowered down at him. "I do not pretend to understand what it is that ails thee, but thou art not the man I befriended, Tony Stark. My friend is a man of courage and bravery, unafraid of anything. The man in front of me now is naught but a lovesick child, cowering in his fear."

"God dammit, Thor!" If he hadn't been so incensed, he would have cringed at the volume of his voice, but he was too swept up in hurt anger to notice. As his frustration and fury and lust and longing spilled out of him, Tony realised he was answering his own inner accusations as much as Thor’s. "Is it cowardly of me to deny myself my mate when I know that it means pain and possibly death for me? Is it cowardly of me to refuse to force an unwilling partner to mate me? Sorry, but I don't see where refusing to rape someone I love is cowardly."

"Art thou so certain Steve wouldst be unwilling?" Thor asked quietly, and Tony laughed, his voice bitter.

"Steve's from a time when men having sex with other men led to prison terms, if they were lucky, and he's never once mentioned interest in anyone but Peggy and this mysterious Agent 13 he keeps running into." His mind replayed the casually drawled words from the Quinjet -- "Doesn't bother me" -- but he pushed them aside. Not being bothered by someone looking at you was a lot different from actually being interested in anything beyond looking. "I don't know how Asgardians do it, Thor, but here, forcing someone who doesn't want it is a crime, and I'd rather die than hurt Steve like that!"

Turning angrily, he paced the length of the room before turning back to his friend, anguish in his eyes. "What do you want from me? I can't just walk up to him and announce, "Oh, by the way, I'm a werewolf, we mate for life, and guess what? You're my destined mate and if I don't fuck you, I'll die?" Do you really think that'll result in anything besides him thinking I'm crazy?"

As he trailed off, he realized his throat hurt -- from yelling, apparently, since the silence once he finished speaking was almost louder than his words had been. Thor's face was unreadable, but Tony knew what he was thinking. If Tony was this out of control, this prone to uncharacteristic angry outbursts, after just a few months, what would he be like in a year? Or more? Or would he even be alive to find out? Shoulders slumping, Tony turned toward his chair, depression welling up strongly enough to drive out both the anger and the burning lust that had been his constant companion since finding Steve in the ice months earlier.

"Well, to start with, you could actually include me in the conversation." The casually uttered words stopped Tony cold. He slowly turned, to see Steve leaning in the doorway clad in jeans and a t-shirt, in bare feet, his arms crossed across his chest. Behind him, he was aware of Thor quietly but quickly vacating the room. Tony’s eyes were locked on Steve's as the blond straightened and crossed the room, stopping in front of him.

 


Tony opened his mouth, then shut it again, staring at his mate in helpless confusion. Steve's lips twisted in amusement, but Tony could see the anger in his eyes, could smell it on him. He wanted to cringe back in shame for having upset his mate so much, but he also wanted to throw him down, kiss him until neither of them could breathe, and then fuck him senseless. He had no idea what to say.

"I heard you yelling at Thor all the way upstairs." Tony's eyes flickered toward the doorway and Steve snorted. "If you didn't want anyone else to know your little secret, having a shouting match with Thor in the middle of the Mansion wasn't the best way to go about hiding it. Now," and he pushed Tony back, until his knees hit the chair and he fell into it, still staring up at Steve, "Tell me. Everything. I have a right to know."

Tony licked his dry lips, considering where to begin, and was nearly bowled over by the sudden sharp tang of desire he could smell on his mate. His eyes widened as he looked at Steve, who shook his head.

"What? Did you really think I was some blushing virgin, Iron Man? I served in the War alongside Nick Fury and the Howling Commandos. I fought Baron Zemo and the Red Skull and vampires and werewolves and I killed men. I saw bravery in ruined towns and horrors worse than you could imagine." Steve's face tightened as he spoke, and Tony wondered what he'd seen before realizing he really didn't want to know. "I did USO shows, yes, but I spent more than one night in a French brothel. My best friend growing up liked men, and Europe doesn't have the same reservations as America does. I may be out of place -- out of time -- but people are still people. I know what all those looks you've been giving me mean."

Listening to Steve's words, looking at him, smelling the lust from him, was almost too much for Tony. His cock throbbed painfully, obvious behind the thin cover of his worn jeans, and the long look Steve gave him told him that his mate was anything but oblivious to him. How had he missed this?

Clearing his throat, he said, his voice rough, "I'm a werewolf." He paused, watching Steve warily. He'd never before said those words out loud to anyone, not even to Thor – the god had merely asked him one day why he kept his primal nature so chained. Hearing them spoken out loud made him skittish, made him want to run. Steve merely gazed at him, waiting for him to continue.

He swallowed, aware that his claws were extending and his teeth lengthening. He was quickly losing what little control over himself he'd managed to maintain over the last few months. "My family, we're lone wolves. Literally. A few generations back, a something-great-grandfather came over from Europe because he hadn't found his mate and he was tired of trying to fit in with all of the old world customs and traditions. From what I know, Old World weres are... very ritualistic. And very, very conservative. The Starks have never been good at fitting in with either of those."

Steve's lips twitched up into a smile, but he didn't interrupt Tony's halting flow of words.

"My father, he made sure I was raised knowing all the traditions, but he was pretty lousy at following any of them himself. And after watching how he and my mother got along... it was enough to put me off long-term relationships. At least, until I found my mate." Somehow, the more he talked, the easier it got to tell Steve all the secrets he'd held on to for so long.

"So that's why the playboy reputation," Steve said softly.

Tony's mouth twisted. "Yeah. Trying to find my mate, trying to have what little human contact I actually could... between those two things, it's a wonder my reputation isn't worse than it is."

"You keep talking about finding your mate. That's... me, right?" It wasn't really a question, but Tony nodded anyway. Steve made a quiet noise in the back of his throat, apparently considering something, then asked abruptly, "How do you know? That it's me. What makes me so special?"

Tony stared at him. "You... you're... Captain America. A living legend. An icon. God, Steve, I grew up hero-worshipping you."

Steve winced, but met Tony's eyes. "That's exactly my point, Tony. How do you know I'm your mate, and that this isn't just some sort of thwarted lust?"

"My father always said that our mates are chosen for us by fate." Tony cast a look up at Steve, who still stood looking down at him, and saw nothing except patience on his face. "I really don't know what he meant by that, or if it's ever been explained in any scientific way, but... judging from my reaction to you... I suspect it's some sort of pheromonal thing. The first time I smelled you, I just... knew." He gestured vaguely, a sort of circular hand-wave that he wasn't sure meant anything. "Dad always told me I'd just know. He pretty much failed to mention that finding my mate would leave me with a permanent erection."

Steve made another quiet noise, but nodded at Tony to continue. Tony took a breath, then regretted it when it filled his senses with Steve: a hint of sweat, a slight whiff of the Old Spice he used, a lot of the leather-and-skin scent he associated with his mate, and a cloud of lust. He whimpered, his nails digging into the arms of the chair, and he squeezed his eyes shut, fighting back the beast inside until he was in control again. When he reopened his eyes, Steve had shifted, kneeling in front of him at eye level.

"You... don't think I'm crazy? Or a monster?" he asked, only half-joking. Steve regarded him levelly.

"I encountered all sorts of things in the War, Tony. Vampires and werewolves and man-made monsters that put all the mythical ones to shame. I know you're not crazy, and you're certainly not a monster. You're just... you." Steve reached out, laying a hand on his knee, and Tony flinched back.

"What about the fact that if I don't mate you, I'll die?" he challenged, something about Steve's calmness pushing him into anger again. Anger at himself, at the world, at his werewolf heritage for forcing this screwed-up mess on to both of them. "If I don't claim you – if I don’t fuck you -- I'll either go crazy or find some way to kill myself. And I absolutely refuse to force something like that on you."

"What makes you so sure I'd be unwilling?" Steve asked, his voice sharp. Tony’s breath left him at the words, an echo of Thor’s question earlier, and he stared at Steve. "Didn't you listen to me? I'm not some naive teenager, Tony. I know exactly what mating you -- what fucking you -- would mean." And God, didn't those words sound filthy, coming from Steve's mouth? "Even with all the time you've spent avoiding me, you've still ended up as my best friend and I love you."

"This isn't about love, Steve!" Tony interrupted, his voice harsh. "It's about fate and pheromones and someone somewhere with an incredibly fucked-up sense of humor. It's about us fucking -- and if we do, then you're tied to me for life. For life. It's not just a one-night fuck and forget about it thing. What don't you understand about that?"

"Oh, for--" Steve cut himself off with a frustrated noise, then leaned forward and grabbed Tony's head, fingers wrapping around the back of his neck, and kissed him. There was nothing soft or sweet or gentle about it. Lips collided, teeth clashed, and Tony tasted blood, although he wasn't sure whose it was. Then Steve's tongue flicked against his lips, demanded he let it in, and he was lost. Groaning, he reached out, grabbing Steve's hip with one hand, his shoulder with the other, and pulled him up close against him until they were plastered against each other from mouth to groin. He barely noticed, too caught up in the taste and smell and feel of his mate, as Steve gave proof to his words. He didn't ask permission -- he demanded.

Only when Tony saw spots in front of his eyes from lack of breath did he pull back, staring at Steve's flushed face as he half-panted, half-growled, cock hard as a rock and rubbing up against a matching hardness that Steve's tight jeans did nothing to hide. Steve tipped his head forward, resting his forehead against Tony's, and said hoarsely, "I never said I didn't like men. I like them plenty. I just haven't talked about any since waking up here because nobody compared to you. I can smell you too, you know."

Tony licked his lips again and Steve growled. The air around them was saturated with lust, making it difficult for Tony to think, but he tried to protest one last time. "It's forever, Steve."

"Dammit, Tony, what do you need from me? A proposal?" Steve demanded, frustration clear in his voice. "I already told you I love you. I don't have a ring, but I can get one if you need it."

Tony blinked, taking that in, shook his head, and said quietly, "You love me. But you thought I hated you?"

Steve sighed, his breath brushing Tony’s cheek. "That's what made it so hard to be around you. With the way you’ve been acting, I thought for sure you'd figured out that I fancied you and wanted nothing to do with me."

Tony snorted. "I've wanted nothing but you since the moment I laid eyes on you. There hasn't been a minute of any day since then that I haven't smelled you, thought about you, craved you. I just didn't think--"

Steve's fingers covering his lips silenced him, and Steve grumbled, "No, you didn't. And now you're thinking too much. I love you, I want you, I understand everything you've told me. For god's sake, Tony, just fuck me already."

The words hit Tony like a punch to the stomach and he instinctively sucked in a breath, feeling dizzy. The immediate flood of mate and lust and now was almost too much and his hands tightened on Steve's body. He lifted one hand, noticing distantly that it was shaking, and ran his fingers through Steve's hair. It was just as soft as he'd thought it would be.

"I... yeah." He felt Steve's silent exhalation, felt the tightness in his body, and almost couldn't contain himself. This was his mate. And he was about to claim him. The thought sent a renewed flood of heat burning through his body and he shuddered, meeting Steve's hungry eyes with his own. "Not here. My room."

His room, up the stairs and down the hall, seemed light years away, with the need burning through him, but he stood up, raising Steve up to his feet as he did, and headed for the doorway. Steve stayed at his side the entire way there, neither of them quite touching the other in a silent agreement that if they did, they'd end up having sex in the hallway.

Somehow, they made it to his bedroom and no sooner had the door shut behind them than they were on each other, mouths fused together in desperate kisses, tasting each other even as their hands moved frantically to discard unnecessary clothing. Tony wanted to worship Steve, cover every inch of him with his fingers and lips and tongue, learn all of his most sensitive points, those places that made him burn. He wanted to drop to his knees and suck the gorgeous cock in front of him, learn the taste that dripped from it.

But not now. Right now, all he could think about was getting inside Steve, claiming him, marking him, making him his. Steve seemed to agree with that goal and somehow they ended up on the bed, cocks rubbing together in a delicious friction that was nowhere near enough. Pulling his mouth away from Steve's, Tony reached out to his nightstand, fumbling the drawer open and groping blindly for the tube he knew was there.

"Come on," Steve growled, one hand reaching down between them to wrap around both their dicks and squeeze, pulling a groan from Tony.

"Trying," he panted, and managed to pop the cap open, squeezing some of the lube out onto his fingers as he reached down, fingers slick against Steve's skin until he brushed against the puckered entrance and Steve made a noise deep in the back of his throat at the touch. He wanted to take his time, luxuriate in the feel of Steve beneath him, opening up to his touch, wanted to drag it out until Steve was begging for more... but not now.

Instead, he worked a finger in as carefully as he could, until Steve growled, "Not. Breakable," in his ear and bit him on the throat, his teeth breaking skin.

Tony froze for a second, the beast inside raging as his tightly-held walls crumbled, then looked down at his mate, his eyes almost black with desire, and snarled. He thrust another finger in, his movements rough. Steve only growled again and shoved his hips up in a demand for more. Tony obliged, then yanked his fingers out and smeared his cock with lube before wrapping his still-slick hand around Steve's thigh, pushing it upward until his knee rested against his chest. He allowed himself one look, one moment to take in the sight of Steve spread out under him, open and ready and demanding to be claimed. Then Steve shifted, sliding his own hand down to bring his other leg up as well, holding himself wide open, and Tony snapped.

"It'll hurt," he warned, his voice harsh.

Steve growled right back. "Don't. Care." Tony leaned down, seizing Steve's mouth in a violent kiss, and pushed forward, sliding his cock into Steve's tightness until his balls rested against Steve's ass. Steve's body quivered beneath him and Tony forced himself to pause, to make sure his mate was well, and Steve glared up at him. "Don't stop, dammit!"

That tore a breathless, hoarse laugh from his throat before he pulled back, then thrust in again sharply, drawing a high, keening noise from Steve. He could smell the lust and the urgency rising off of his mate in waves, and didn't stop again. He kept going, his hips pumping as he staked his claim. He felt the urgency building, felt his orgasm rising, and released his hold on Steve's thigh to reach between them and wrap slick fingers around Steve's dripping cock. Steve grunted, then shuddered as Tony started stroking him in short, fast strokes that matched the furious pace of his hips.

"God... Tony... gonna--" Tony felt Steve's body tense, felt his own orgasm boiling up out of him, and leaned forward, sinking his fangs into the soft flesh at the juncture of Steve's neck and shoulder. The cry of mingled pain and pleasure from his mate, combined with the taste of Steve's blood in his mouth, sent Tony over the edge and he came, pulsing in waves into Steve's body. He was dimly aware of warm wetness spreading across his stomach and felt regret that he'd missed seeing his mate's orgasm... but knew he'd make up for it, soon.

Sometime later, he returned to himself and realized he was lying bonelessly on top of Steve. He tried to roll away in order to give his mate breathing room, only to be stopped by Steve's arms tightening around him, his voice whispering, "Don't go." Tony raised his head, forcing his eyes to focus, and found Steve smiling up at him.

"Never," he said hoarsely. "Never leave you. Love you."

Steve blinked, and for a moment Tony worried that he'd said the wrong thing. The soft smile spreading across his mate's face allayed his fear. "Love you too."

 


/Gorgeous./

The word wound through Steve's mind, tapping lightly at the edges of his consciousness until he blinked. That... wasn't his voice. He frowned, eyes flickering open, groaning at the brightness of the mid-morning sunlight pouring in through curtains they'd forgotten to close the night before. God, I hurt, he thought. Then he remembered why he hurt and his eyes shot open, head turning instinctively toward his mate. Tony lay beside him, watching him with intense blue eyes.

Steve's lips curved as he said, voice husky, "Good morning." Tony’s mouth covering his cut off any further words. Unlike the frenzied kisses the night before, this kiss was slow, deep, as they learned each other's taste, tongues meeting in languorous caresses.

When Tony pulled back, Steve leaned forward to follow, but a strange flicker of worry at the back of his mind stopped him. "Are you... all right?" Steve frowned, not sure what the strange note in Tony's voice meant, until he saw the quick glance Tony flicked downward before meeting his eyes again. The flicker of worry turned into a flame of mixed guilt and self-blame. His eyes narrowed and the hand resting casually on Tony's back curled into a fist.

"Stop that," he growled, and Tony blinked. "Stop blaming yourself for things that aren't your fault. You didn't force me, or coerce me, and I don't regret a second of last night." He shifted as the pain in his lower regions reminded him forcibly of just what they had done last night, and caught Tony's wince at the movement. He sighed. "Tony. Stop. I mean it. You didn't do anything I didn't want you to do." His mind jumped back to the previous night, their frenzied – mating was really the only word for it -- and bit his lip as he thought of all sorts of other things he wanted Tony to do to him.

Tony drew in a breath, and Steve watched, amusement growing, as his mate's pupils dilated.

"You... mean it." Steve wondered at the almost-awed tone of the words, until Tony continued, "I've never been that... rough, before. I didn't dare lose control. I’ve frightened off more than one lover." Steve growled quietly, a rush of possessiveness sweeping through him at the mention of past lovers.

"Not this one," he said gruffly. "Not ever again." He didn't know if he meant that Tony would never scare him off, or that Tony would never have another lover besides him again, but Tony nodded anyway, apparently understanding.

/No one else. Just you. Always./

Steve's head shot up, his eyes wide. That time he hadn't imagined it, and he wasn't still drowning in sleep to be able to ignore it. "Tony...?"

"Mm?"

"Did you... say something?" He heard the uncertainty in his own voice, but forgot it as soon as Tony touched his shoulder, something... something like hope sparking in the depths of his eyes.

"Did you -- what did you hear?" Steve saw Tony cut off the first question, could practically feel his surprised hope... No. Not practically. He could feel it. His eyes widened.

"You... said it would be just me. Always." He swallowed, his throat abruptly dry. "But you -- you didn't say it, did you?"

Tony's eyes were huge, soft and hopeful and wondering, as he shook his head. /No. But I thought it./

"You--" Steve's voice failed him as he stared at his mate. His mate. His. "Good lord," he whispered, his mind reeling. /You... you didn't tell me about this,/ he thought, trying to sort out the emotions spinning through him. Tony's face tightened and Steve glared as he felt Tony withdrawing from him, frustration spiking through him. Tony blinked at him, and Steve could feel -- could feel -- the surprise at his reaction. "You can't pull away from me every time I even ask a question," he said. "Especially not one like this."

He watched as Tony drew in a slow breath, then let it out again, aware that he could feel Tony's desire brushing against the edges of his mind... along with guilt and confusion and an absolutely alarming amount of self-hatred. "I'm sorry. I... I wasn't expecting it." Steve heard the honesty in his words and reached out, drawing him closer. He shuddered as their hips met, hard flesh rubbing together, but chose to ignore it otherwise, wrapping a hand around the back of Tony's neck, his thumb rubbing against the edge of his cheek.

"Tony, I love you," he said, willing Tony to feel the truth of the words. He smiled as Tony flushed. "I'm not upset, just... confused." /Tell me. Please./

A shaky nod, and Tony's hand reached up to cover his. "Dad mentioned it, but only in passing. The books... they said it would only happen between two weres." He paused and eyed Steve, sudden suspicion evident in his eyes, but Steve shook his head, a smile pulling at his lips.

"I promise you, I'm not a werewolf. Or a were-anything."

Tony watched him for another moment before continuing, "It's part of the mating. When the bond is true, between two weres, there's a... link. Not a constantly open mind-link, from what I understand, but they can sense each other's emotions, particularly if they're close, and they can talk to each other. Not all the time, but if they want to, or if it's a really powerful thought." The hesitation in Tony's voice was plain, and Steve bent his head and kissed him.

/I'm not upset at all. I think it's marvelous,/ he thought earnestly. Tony laughed, then took on the thoughtful expression Steve had become familiar with over the last few months.

"I wonder why it happened, though. You're not a were, so it shouldn't have. I wonder if the serum in your blood makes you react to it--"

Steve kissed him again. It was, he decided, his favorite way of shutting Tony up. Not that it stopped the thoughts he could still hear running in the back of Tony's mind, but at least it distracted him.

Tony grinned up at him. "I heard that." Steve shrugged, not repentant in the least, and Tony laughed.

He reached out and traced the bite mark on Steve's shoulder, already nearly healed, and Steve shivered at the soft touch. "I wasn't expecting that."

Tony's face smoothed over into an all-too-familiar emotionless mask, but the new swelling of guilt he felt was plain to Steve through their link. Steve thumped him on the back with his fist, frustration spilling out into his voice. "Stop that, dammit. We can't make this work if you're so ready to take fault that you think everything I say is blaming you for something. I just meant that you didn't mention biting. I'm not complaining about it."

Worrying his lip between his teeth, Tony hesitated, then met Steve's eyes. "I... forgot, honestly. It's part of the claiming - a need to mark your mate." He looked down, fingers brushing over the mark again. "I think it's going to scar." Steve peered down, trying to see the mark for himself.

"Really? I haven't scarred, ever since the serum."

Tony's lips curled into a smug smile. "The serum wasn't made to ward off werewolf mating marks." Steve rolled his eyes at the tone, but Tony's next words made him shiver. "And if it doesn't scar -- I'll just have to try again."

"Promise?" The heat sparking in Tony's eyes at Steve's question told him his mate was definitely picking up his scent again. Before Tony could follow up on the silent promise, another question struck Steve and he pulled back slightly as he asked, "Will you show me? What you look like, I mean?" Tony looked as though he'd been struck dumb, and Steve almost regretted asking.

"As... as a wolf?" Tony's uncertainty radiated off of him in waves, and Steve became aware of a strong tendril of fear running through all of it.

"As whatever you can become." Steve tried to sound comforting, tried to project his sincerity to Tony, but real curiosity buzzed through him. "I mean... I've seen the full werewolf form, but I've never actually known one before."

Tony nodded slowly. "That's right -- you said you'd fought werewolves."

Steve wanted to curse himself for ever mentioning that, but he nodded. "Yes. And I meant it last night, Tony -- you are not a monster," he said emphatically, feeling the low curl of shame running through his mate. Tony looked at him, considering, for long moments and then pushed himself away, off the bed. With an effort, Steve forced himself not to reach after him.

"It's strange, you know," Tony said conversationally. "I've never done this with an audience. Well, not a friendly one, anyway." And that made Steve wonder, but he quelled the questions that wanted to come bubbling out. They could come later. Right now, he had to convince Tony he didn't find him monstrous in any form.

As Steve watched, Tony seemed to... blur, almost, or ripple, and then, standing in Tony's place, was a form almost half again as tall, rippling muscles covered in black fur. Steve regarded Tony's were-form steadily, taking in every detail. The muzzle was long and slender, but sharp teeth gleamed as his mouth opened slightly. Tapered ears twitched as Steve slid to the edge of the bed, sitting with his feet on the floor as he reached out to touch, the soft pelt calling to him. Even softer than Tony's hair, Steve's fingers told him as he combed gently through the fur. He looked up, meeting Tony's bright blue eyes, and smiled.

"You're gorgeous," he said sincerely. Then he cocked his head. "Can you talk, like this? Some of the werewolves I ... met, spoke, but some didn't seem like they could."

The blue eyes crinkled a little as Tony let out a growly chuckle. "I can talk." His voice was deeper, harsher, but still Tony's. /And even if I couldn't, I can speak to you./ Steve's lips curled, feeling Tony's wonder at their link and returning his own.

/Why do I suspect you'll take undue advantage of that?/ he asked wryly. Tony let out another huff of laughter.

/Because you already know me too well./

Steve stood up, feeling small in a way he hadn't known since his teenage years, and circled his mate, his hand trailing over Tony's fur in a constant touch. The tail caught his attention and he stroked it, feeling a shudder run through Tony's body at the touch. When he stood in front of Tony again, he realized there was a scattering of silver hidden in the dark fur on his chest.Now that he'd seen it, he could trace what almost seemed like a starburst, and he brought his hand up to trace the jagged lines. Tilting his head back, he saw Tony watching, and asked, "What caused this?"

Tony growled, letting Steve feel his irritation with the memory. "Stupidity." When Steve continued to look at him, waiting silently for an answer, he shrugged, then shifted back to his human form. Looking at the bare skin of Tony's chest in the light -- for the first time, Steve realized -- he could see the same pattern traced in faded scar tissue.

"Silver," Tony said after a long pause. "When I was younger, at college, I used to go out for runs at night. Sometimes I just... need to run, to get out and let everything go except the feeling of running, of now." Steve caught the look Tony gave him and nodded. He might not understand the whys of it, but he understood the need to get away from things. Tony let out a breath, one hand coming up to tangle with Steve's, still resting on his chest. Over his heart, Steve realized. "One night, someone followed me. Another were. When I realized they were chasing me, I turned to fight, changed into my were form... and got a chest full of silver."

As the meaning of Tony's words hit Steve, he felt an irrational rush of fear. His mate could have died! Looking at the scars, Steve was positive that Tony nearly had died. A gentle touch to the mark on his shoulder pulled him out of the dark thoughts, and he met Tony's concerned gaze.

"I'm all right, you know," Tony said quietly. Steve almost laughed at all the possible responses that came to mind, but he restrained himself.

"Does it... hurt?" he asked instead, tracing the scar with a gentle finger. Tony shivered at the touch and shook his head, then stopped himself, a rueful smile on his lips.

"Sometimes. Silver is one of the things that can kill a werewolf outright, and there are still trace amounts of it in my chest. If not for that, it wouldn't have scarred."

"Who shot you?" He surprised himself with the anger in his voice, and Tony raised an eyebrow.

"It was fifteen years ago, Steve."

"I don't care. Who?" His voice was rough as he imagined all the ways he could make someone pay for injuring his mate, for causing him permanent pain.

Tony paused before answering, obviously weighing his words. "A... rival, at university. I didn't kill him, but I definitely gave back more than his equal share of pain. Don't worry about it, Steve. It's long past." It wasn't an answer he liked, but he could live with that. For now. "Do you want to see my wolf form, too?"

"You are the worst person I've ever known at deflecting uncomfortable conversations." Steve shook his head. "Not right now. Right this second, I can think of far more interesting things of yours that I'd like to explore."

"Oh, really?" The melodramatic salaciousness of Tony's words made Steve grin, but the very pointed images he shared with his mate soon had them too busy for laughter.

**

By the time they made it out of Tony's bedroom, it was past noon. Even after the shower they'd shared -- the second one, as the first had only led to them licking water droplets off of each other and then, much later, needing another one -- Steve was aware they both looked as though they'd spent the last twelve hours fucking each other silly. Since that was exactly what they'd done, he couldn't really complain about it, but he suspected his teammates would be more than a little shocked, given that they seemed to think of him as the world's most naive Boy Scout. Tony laughed out loud at that thought, not intimidated in the least by Steve's narrow-eyed glare as they entered the kitchen.

"So, you finally joined the land of the liv--" Hank's teasing cut off mid-word as he turned and took in the two of them, Tony with his arm around Steve's waist, Steve's arm around Tony's shoulders, and both of them covered in bruises and bite marks that obviously hadn't come from a battle. Steve felt Tony trying valiantly not to burst out laughing at the expression on Hank's face, and slapped his shoulder in a silent reprimand.

"You... my god," Jan breathed, as she looked them over, before a smile broke out on her face. "I didn't think you two would ever make a move on each other. About damned time." Steve flushed slightly at the saucy wink she gave him, but couldn't keep the contented smile off his face.

"Yes, yes, if you're all done now," Tony began, only to be interrupted by a delighted roar that rattled the paintings on the walls.

"I see thou hast finally claimed thy mate! My congratulations to thee both!" Thor's voice reverberated from the walls, the hearty slaps he bestowed on each of them making even Steve wince.

He eyed his mate sidelong. /Thor knew? And you weren't going to tell me?/

Tony winced. "But I did tell you."

Beside them, Hank’s eyebrows shot up. Steve briefly considered how long it would take them to get used to only hearing half a conversation, then dismissed the thought and narrowed his eyes at Tony. "Because I heard you and Thor arguing about it all the way upstairs and interrupted it."

"But I told you. That counts, doesn't it?" Damn it, Tony was giving him the wide-eyed look that Steve just couldn't stay mad at.

"Wait a minute... mate?" Hank stood up, his confused gaze bouncing between the grinning god of thunder and the two of them. "I've never heard Thor call a... a lover... someone's mate before." He floundered in the middle, but met Tony's amused gaze with only minimal embarrassment.

"That's because Steve's not my lover. Well, not just my lover," Tony amended hastily, aware of the look Steve had given him. "And on that note, perhaps you had better sit down. Again. We have some things to tell you, and I think you're probably going to want to be sitting when you hear them.”

**

"They took it pretty well," Tony observed, sometime later that afternoon. Steve nodded, content with reclining beside his mate beneath a tree in the garden.

"Considering that they'd already figured out most of it? Yeah."

"Okay, okay. I know I'm lousy at keeping secrets, you don't have to keep rubbing it in," Tony said snippily. Steve snorted.

"No, but it's something you'll want to work on. It's one thing for your teammates to have figured it out, but it's something else for the public to do so," Steve pointed out.

"I know," Tony sighed, rubbing absent circles on Steve's hip. "At least they hadn't figured out the werewolf part."

"I don't think anyone could have seen that coming," Steve agreed. "I think you're going to be apologizing to Jan for a long, long time, though. It's not so much that she didn't know as that Thor did know that's getting to her."

"Mm." Steve felt more than heard Tony's wordless agreement. He could feel his mate drifting closer to sleep, and shifted so he could draw him closer before leaning his head back and letting his own eyes close.

/Love you,/ came Tony's sleep-blurred thought. Steve smiled.

/Love you, too./

 

~ fin ~