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Superhuman Star: Super Romance! Captain America and Iron Man Come Out!

Our reporters were on hand last week when America's favorite golden boy, Steven Rogers, aka Captain America, came out to the world. His lover? Billionaire playboy Tony Stark!

The pair was spotted by reporters at the Coney Island amusement park, sharing an embrace shortly after Captain America single-handedly stopped a rampaging mutant terrorist from leveling the entire park. (See photos on page 32!)

Stark, who is also Rogers' teammate on the Avengers, has a reputation as a love 'em and leave 'em kind of guy – prompting us to wonder what Cap could be thinking?

"Tony's really persuasive," an insider from Avengers HQ tells the Superhuman Star. "He's been after Cap for a while, and Cap's only human. After all, Tony's rich and really good looking."

So is this romance destined to end badly? Stark's track record doesn't bode well for them. And Steve Rogers has been adamant about keeping his personal life out of the spotlight – something that'll be next to impossible if he's spending any time at all with a public figure like Tony "Iron Man" Stark.

"It'll never last," our insider tells us. "Cap's in way over his head here and Tony doesn't do serious. I just hope they can still work together when this is over, or the Avengers might be in trouble."


Last Week:

Steve leaned back against the side of the ring-toss booth and offered Tony a sheepish grin. "This isn't quite what I had in mind, to be honest," he admitted. He looked like a kid: nose and ears turning pink from the sun, hair tousled from the wind and the rollercoaster. He had cotton candy on his shirt, Tony noticed.

"Really?" Tony asked. "Because when you said, 'Hey, Tony, come to Coney Island with me, we deserve a day off' this is exactly what I saw happening."

A wooden carousel horse flew by overhead and crashed to the ground a few feet behind Tony, showering them with dust and wooden splinters. Tony scrubbed his hands through his hair, combing out the odd piece of wood. "Honestly, this isn't quite as bad as I was expecting. One rampaging super-powered teenager is practically nothing."

"We need to stop him," Steve said. "I think most of the civilians got out of here, but we can't be the only ones left in the park. Someone's going to get hurt, if they haven't been already."

"I didn't bring the armor," Tony admitted. He'd thought about it, but he'd wanted a day off as much as Steve had, and bringing the armor had seemed like admitting defeat. Also, it was heavy.

"I brought my uniform," Steve said. He reached out and tugged a piece of pink painted wood out of Tony's hair, the backs of his fingers brushing against Tony's cheek. "I stashed it in a locker back by the restrooms."

"Think you can get it and back without being caught?"

They both glanced up as one of the rollercoasters began to rock back and forth violently. "He's not exactly being subtle," Steve said.

"And then what?" Tony asked practically. "He's stronger than either of us – maybe if I had the armor. But barehanded, he'd crush my bones with one solid hit, and I doubt you'd fare much better."

"I'd be offended by your lack of faith in my plans if you weren't so right," Steve said with a grin. He was relaxed, despite the situation, enjoying the ridiculousness of it all. Or maybe just glad to have a disaster that wasn't heralding the end of the world for once; Tony knew he was. "What do you say? We could try to reason with him. He is just a kid."

Tony leaned to the side and peered around the corner of the booth. The wreckage of several booths littered the fairgrounds, and a rollercoaster car was embedded nose-first in the ground a dozen feet away. He leaned back and gave Steve an exasperated look.

Steve laughed. "Right, right. So. You wanna be bait?"


The good thing about amateur villains, Tony always thought, was that they were too inexperienced to realize that anything they tried to pull had been pulled before - and that the superhero dealing with them had almost certainly seen whatever they had to offer before. Tony skulked behind an overturned car from the teacup ride and tried to think of the last truly original supervillain he'd dealt with and figured it was probably someone he'd fought in his first week on the job. And even then, they'd only been new to him. Well, that thing with the Puppetmaster and the time-travel dolls had been weird, even if he hadn't seen it first hand... And the mind-control snakes. Those had been a new one on him.

"Where are you hiding?"

Tony peered over his shoulder, keeping mostly hidden behind the teacup. The kid – mutant, probably, judging by the powers, though there was always the off-chance he was a post human of some kind – was standing in the middle of the bumper cars and looking pissed. And melodramatic. He had his head thrown back and his arms spread out like a character in a movie.

"Over here," he called out. "Behind the teacup," he added when the boy spun in his direction. He waved.

"What-" The kid stared at him for a second before appearing to remember that he was the one in charge and Tony was just some terrified civilian cowering from his mighty power.

Tony was never going to be able to pull that off.

"Come out of there at once!"

"No," Tony said. "Not unless you're done throwing shit. Do I look like I'd enjoy taking a bumper car to the head? Because I wouldn't." He scanned the space behind the kid idly, trying not to look too interested. Steve's whole plan had basically been to sneak up on the kid and subdue him non-violently, but Tony was really anxious to see how Steve managed that with a kid strong enough to make Luke Cage think twice about getting into a fight.

The kid spun on Tony and hurled a piece of debris the size of a wardrobe in Tony's direction. Tony ducked back behind the teacup as it went sailing past and crashed against the fortune-teller's stall behind him.

"Hey," Tony objected, risking a glance over the teacup. "Seriously, what's your problem? Grow up."

The kid stared. "You can't talk to me like that!"

"Well, that's funny," Tony rolled his eyes, "because I'm pretty sure I just did. Damn. I should try to do something else impossible. Think if I wish really hard I can arrange world peace?"

The kid was mostly staring at him now, and damn if he didn't look to be about thirteen. It reinforced his mutant theory; kids started coming into their powers at about that age. And it wasn't uncommon for something to go really, really wrong if the kid turned out to have serious power. Schools should have classes or something, they really should. Gym, music, art, sex ed and – what would they call it? Mutant awakening class? Number one on the syllabus would definitely be How not to freak out and destroy everything around you the first time your powers manifest. They could get the X-Men to guest lecture and tell about all the crap they'd destroyed over the years. Except it was probably some kind of crime to let Wolverine within a hundred yards of that many impressionable kids.

"You got a list of demands, or something?" Tony asked when it became obvious the kid wasn't going to answer. "You know – money, helicopter, passport?" He eyed the kid up and down. "You're too young for most of the other stuff they always ask for."

"I – what?" The kid looked thoroughly confused now and completely disarmed. He was standing with his hands at his sides and his head was cocked slightly to the side as he blinked at Tony. He was calming down, which was a good sign.

"Your big list of supervillain demands," Tony repeated. He kept his voice calm and even, but couldn't entirely eliminate the edge of amusement he was feeling. "That's what this is all about, right?"

"I- I'm not a supervillain."

Tony couldn't entirely mask a sympathetic wince. "Kid, take a really good look around you. This didn't all happen by accident."

The kid seemed to crumple in on himself. "I didn't mean to!"

"But you did," Tony said relentlessly. He saw Steve making his way toward the kid, the solid, no-nonsense super soldier stride that Tony'd recognize anywhere. "What was so important that you had to destroy an entire amusement park and terrify hundreds of people?"

"I-" he gulped in air and looked painfully young. "I don't want – they were all afraid of me and I just wanted them to stop. I just wanted – I'm not a super villain, I'm not."

Captain America clasped a hand on the kid's shoulder and smiled down at him as the kid gaped and then started to tremble. "I believe you, son. But you've got some work to do to make up for this."


"I could swoon," Tony declared.

Steve shot him an admonishing glance, but didn't rise to the bait. That had never, ever been enough to stop Tony before, and frankly he was disappointed that Steve thought it would be enough now.

"You were so manly," Tony said. He was leaning against a police cruiser, the kid – Jason – between him and Steve. They were all covered in dust and Jason was probably going to be wasted when his body caught up with the amount of energy he'd just expended, but no one was injured. A horde of reporters was lined up along the police barricade, snapping pictures at them and hollering the occasional question, but for now Tony was ignoring them. "The way you just strode in and took command of the situation. How butch."

"Tony," Steve said, a flush staining his cheeks beneath the cowl. He jerked his chin at Jason who was ignoring them in favor of a large box of saltwater taffy he'd snagged from a wrecked confection stand near the entrance. Tony had considered making him put it back, but he had to be crashing and anyway, it wasn't like the original owner could still sell it. He'd find out whose stall it had been and send them a check.

Something inside the park collapsed with a dull crash and a billowing cloud of dust. Tony sighed. A large check.

"That is so gay," Jason said, rolling his eyes at their banter as he gnawed on a pink piece of taffy. Tony appreciated the irony for a moment before he reached over and smacked the kid upside the back of his head.

"Hey!" Jason and Steve both objected and Steve followed it up by added, somewhat exasperated, "Tony, there are reporters and now there's going to be a solid weak of articles about Tony Stark: Child Abuser!"

"Supervillan wannabees who wreck up the joint and ruin my first day off in months should watch their mouths," Tony said, ignoring Steve, because really. "You want to prove you aren't a bad guy? You can start by not saying ignorant shit."

"Sorry," Jason mumbled, blushing bright red and looking all of nine years old. "I didn't mean anything by it. Sir."

Tony crossed his arms over his chest. "This is the worst date I've ever been on, Steven. I expect better next time."

Steve shot him a startled look, then immediately looked away. But not before Tony saw the flash of – of.

Relief. Intense, almost desperate. Followed immediately by disappointment and then the blank face of the super-soldier at work.

Tony stared. "This was a date?"

"Ha!" Jason said. "I was right!" He shoved a piece of taffy in his mouth and dodged Tony's next slap upside the head, but Tony couldn't be bothered to follow through.

"Steve," he said, and he heard the low rumble in his voice. "Steve. Was this a date?"

"Not really?" Steve said tentatively. He scrubbed a hand over his eyes. "I mean, this wasn't – no? I didn't think you'd consider it a date."

Tony realized he was gaping with his mouth open and snapped it shut. He tried to process that statement and kept getting hung up on one thing. "But you considered it a date?"

Steve sighed. "Can we do this later? When there aren't under-aged kids listening to every word we say?"

"No," Tony said, raising his voice to be heard over the sound of another siren as a fifth fire truck arrived on scene, despite the total lack of fires. "Hell no. You are not doing this. I drop this now and you'll go beg Fury to send you on a mission for SHIELD and the next time I see you it'll be all awkward and I am not going that route. Did you consider it a date?"

Steve gave the sky a look that strongly suggested he was glaring at God himself for tasking him with such a difficult friend. "Maybe?"

"Ouch," Jason said through a mouthful of taffy. "Wrong answer, big guy. Princess looks mad."

"Maybe," Tony echoed flatly. "Maybe. How many 'maybe' dates have you taken me on? How long have you been dating me in your mind while I thought we were being friends?"

"We are friends," Steve said fiercely. "Don't ever – you're my best friend in the world, Tony."

"Best friend you wanna do," Jason said.

"Shut up," Steve and Tony snapped in chorus.

"We are friends," Steve said again, softer this time. "I mean that. I'd never risk that. I wouldn't be risking it now except – I'm sorry. I overreacted to what you said."

"Is this a sex thing?" Tony asked, fascinated at how quickly Steve turned bright pink while Jason made faces at him. "And be honest with me. If it is, there's nothing wrong with that."

"It's not – no," Steve said. "I mean, I do think – you're very handsome," he said, almost shyly. "I would like to – but it's not just that. It's more than that."

"So you really want to date? Me?"

"I want our friendship to be okay," Steve said, stepping just a little closer, one hand coming up like he meant to clasp Tony's shoulder, but hesitating as if the touch wouldn't be welcome. "Everything else is something I can live without. Tell me I didn't mess up our friendship today, Tony."

"You didn't mess up anything," Tony promised him. His stomach felt tight, tense, and he took a quick breath before he lost his courage. "I think you made things even better."

"I-" Steve stilled and his focus sharpened on Tony, the battlefield awareness that saw every possible strategy and devised outcomes and plans of attack. It was almost heavy. Tony felt that focus settle on him like a weight and decided he liked it. "Tony," Steve said slowly, and he reached out again. His hand was trembling, just a little, when he touched Tony's shoulder. "Would you like to get dinner later?"

"I would," Tony said. "Do I have to wait till after dinner to kiss you?"

Strong hands cupped his face and then Steve was kissing him, sweet and slow and a little hesitant. Tony made a sound that was absolutely not a whimper and when Steve pulled back Tony followed him, claiming another.

Steve's thumb brushed over his jaw line as they paused for breath. "I liked that," Steve said. "That was good. That was very good."

"We should do that again," Tony declared, leaning into Steve's touch.

Steve laughed, sounding a little shaky. Tony figured it was at least half breathlessness and half residual nerves. "I think you're onto something." He wrapped his arms around Tony and pulled him against Steve's chest in a quick embrace. "I think we're really onto something here," he said again, softer, his lips pressed against Tony's hair.

"I just want you both to know," Jason said, shaking a piece of taffy in their direction. "That I am both scarred for life, and also taking notes. But seriously, can you stop sucking face long enough to explain all this to my mom? Because she's going to murder me when she gets the bill for this. You guys are against murdering kids, right?" There was the sound of a car door slamming and a woman's voice yelling Jason's name. Tony looked up in time to see Jason's face go pale. "Oh crap. Seriously, you guys are gonna explain, right? Guys?"

Tony was aware of the flash of cameras, of the arrival of their teammates, of the sound of someone who could only be Spider-Man singing "Sitting in a tree!" loudly and off-key.

"Best date ever," he announced, and Steve laughed.

Chapter Text

Superhuman Star
Love Under Fire! Can Their Relationship Handle the Heat?

It's been barely a month since Steve Rogers and Tony Stark went public with their relationship but they're already facing opposition from all sides. The couple is having their own struggles adjusting to a new relationship, but our sources say it's the outside pressure – and outright condemnation – that are driving a wedge between them! Public opinion has been largely luke-warm to the announcement, though there has been a vocal opposition to Captain America – the living, breathing representation of American Values – being involved in an alternate lifestyle. And it hasn't been clear sailing for Iron Man, either.

"The board of directors is really unhappy about all of this," our insider, who asked not to be named, revealed. "Steve has a reputation for being really honest and forthright, and Tony's a businessman. The board's afraid that Steve's going to start pressuring Tony to change how he runs Stark Industries."

And those fears may not be completely unfounded. While Stark Industries does have a reputation for fair business practices, that reputation was very recently earned. In fact, Tony started cleaning up the family business right around the time he first became Iron Man - which is also right around the time he first met and became teammates with Steve Rogers. Could this be the golden influence of Captain America? And now that they're taking their relationship into the open, how much more of an influence will Steve have over America's third most powerful CEO?

But as if that weren't enough pressure on any new relationship, there's disapproval at home, too! Tony's long-time employee, friend and confidant, Edwin Jarvis, is reportedly very uncomfortable with the relationship, to the point that he's asked Tony not to mention it in his presence! And the Avengers, while trying to be supportive of the happiness of their two founding members, are apparently bracing for the inevitable fall-out.

"This sort of thing never ends well," our inside source explains. "That's why every military and business in the world has anti-fraternization rules. What happens when the relationship fails? What if they can't work together? The Avengers are responsible for saving the world. Are they really going to risk that for a romance that probably isn't going to make it?"

But the question remains: How much disapproval can their relationship take before they throw in the towel?

****

Tony walked out of the Board meeting feeling slightly shell-shocked. He hadn't felt this off-balance in a long time – possibly not without the assistance of painkillers, massive amounts of alcohol or emotional trauma. He wondered if this all counted as emotional trauma. "Did that just happen?"

"I think it did," Pepper said. She didn't sound nearly as traumatized, but she was watching Tony with slightly wide eyes instead of berating him for annoying the board members or ignoring him while she worked on her PDA, so possibly she was feeling the strangeness of the situation as well.

He thought about that for a minute, then asked the question that had been pressing on his mind for the last several hours. "Did the board of directors for Stark Industries just tell me to marry Captain America?"

Pepper nodded solemnly. "I think they did."

"That's weird," Tony said. "Did they seem, I don't know... happy with me in there?"

"They were happy with you," Pepper confirmed. "You might not have been able to recognize it because it happens so rarely."

"Hey," Tony objected for form's sake. "They were plenty happy with me after the StarkPhone II kicked Apple's ass."

"Yes," Pepper agreed, but she was smiling at him. "But what have you done for them lately?"

Tony chuckled. "Apparently I landed Captain America. Who knew that would be good for the stock prices?" It actually wasn't much of a surprise, when Tony really thought about it. Cap had a near-impeachable reputation, and with Wall Street in the mess it was, his relationship with Tony could conceivably be considered an endorsement of the company as well. It made Tony a little uncomfortable, especially since he didn't want to drag Cap's reputation down by association the next time he did something stupid, or someone used an old piece of SI weaponry to wreak havoc. "Why do I have the sneaking suspicion they'll be sending him swag?"

"He already wears SI shirts and publicly uses your tech," Pepper pointed out. "Frankly, short of tattooing your name across his forehead, he's a better representative than any of the celebrities we've hired over the years." She paused, then narrowed her eyes at him. "That just turned you on a little, didn't it?"

"Not his forehead," Tony said cheerfully, and Pepper smacked his arm.

****

Happy board members meant a significantly shorter board meeting than usual, which meant Tony made it home much earlier than he'd planned. He'd thought about staying at the office, but he'd been working a lot of long days lately, and since he'd cleared the entire day for the board meeting, it wasn't like there was anything else he was expected to be doing. So he told Pepper to take the rest of the day off – it was so cute the way she snorted derisively at him – and went back to Avengers HQ, intending to get a few productive hours in his workshop and maybe drag Steve out to dinner later.

The house was still and quiet when he got back, and he briefly wondered if there had been an Avengers call that he'd somehow missed – obviously due to the shock of being on the Board's good side, or at least that's what he would say when asked – but Peter was sprawled on a couch in the rec room, loose-limbed and relaxed, one leg hooked over the back of the couch, the hand with the remote handing over the edge, and looking half asleep as he watched an episode of Hoarders. "Hey," Tony said. "Where is everyone?"

"Bad guys seem to be taking the day off, so we figured we would, too," Peter said, not tearing his eyes away from the screen. "Luke and Jess went shopping for stuff for the nursery and Thor said something about ice giants. Everyone else went to lunch and I think the movies. Well, Clint and Natasha are in the gym, but I'd knock first if I were you."

Tony grinned. Hawkeye and Black Widow's sparring sessions were legendary. "I'll remember that." He loosened his tie and fought back a pang of disappointment. "So Steve's out, too?"

"Cap's in the kitchen with Jarvis." Peter said. "Apparently he's not a huge fan of Seth Rogen films, go figure."

"Imagine that," Tony said dryly. Steve's fascination with movies and television were well known among the Avengers but he was getting pickier the longer he was exposed.

"Quiet," Peter commanded. "You're making me miss my show. I want to know if Ron and Jennifer lose their kids."

Tony rolled his eyes and swatted at Peter's foot as he turned to leave the room. "Get your shoes off the couch."

"Yes, Dad," Peter said, without moving an inch.

He found Steve and Jarvis in the kitchen, getting dinner ready. Steve was standing in front of the stove, stirring something in a large pot and appeared to be adding salt to it. Tony felt his eyebrows try to crawl up his forehead, but Jarvis didn't even hit him with a wooden spoon. Jarvis wasn't as possessive of the kitchen as they all teased; after all, they all made their own snacks and fixed themselves meals when they didn't eat as a group. But when it came to sit-down meals, Jarvis considered that his job. Being allowed to contribute to the actual cooking process was reserved for a select few – of which Tony wasn't one. Actually, aside from Steve and Peter's Aunt May, no one in the Avengers would be able to get away with messing with Jarvis' cooking.

Tony leaned against the door and couldn't keep a stupid, goofy smile off his face as he watched Steve sample whatever he was cooking and add another shake of salt to it. He was pretty sure he'd never found someone cooking dinner to be a huge turn-on before – hell, he was almost certain he'd never dated anyone who could cook before – and it struck him as a fairly un-Tony Stark reaction. He could get used to it, though.

Jarvis smiled at him and reached over to nudge Steve, who looked up and greeted Tony with a smile that made Tony feel like he'd taken a head-on hit from an energy canon.

Steve was always doing that to him. Tony could get used to that, too. Christ, could he ever.

Steve put the lid back on the pot and came over to greet Tony. "You're early," he said, leaning in for a quick kiss. "Your board meetings usually take all day."

"They let me go early because I'm wonderful," Tony said. He smiled up at Steve and tugged on the curl of blond hair that fell over his forehead.

"You are wonderful," Steve agreed automatically. "Though they aren't usually perceptive enough to notice."

"Flatterer," Tony said. "I took the rest of the day off. I thought we could do something. Maybe basketball or a sparring match before dinner?"

"I promised Jarvis I'd help with the cooking." Steve leaned in for another quick kiss. "Do you want to stay and help?"

Tony grinned and leaned around Steve to look pointedly at Jarvis. "I'm not allowed to help in the kitchen. I've been shunned."

"Tony," Steve said.

"You may stay," Jarvis said benevolently. "So long as you touch nothing. Captain, please, you would be doing me a far greater favor by ensuring Mr. Stark does not meddle with anything until dinner is ready." Jarvis wiped his hands on a dish towel and gave Tony a pointed look. "Anything."

"Man, empty one pepper shaker into one soufflé when you're nine years old and no one ever lets you forget about it."

Steve gave him a sideways grin. "You didn't."

"He did," Jarvis confirmed. He checked the pot Steve had been taste-testing and turned the heat down a bit. "I do believe he was trying to help, but heavens, that soufflé was a disaster. And it still pales in comparison to the macaroni and cheese incident."

"Oh," Steve said, aiming a wide grin at Tony. "I need to hear about that."

"I think you don't," Tony said. He hooked his fingers through the belt loop of Steve's jeans and tried to tug him out of the kitchen.

"I'll tell you all about it one day," Jarvis promised. "We'll talk while Mr. Stark is at his next board meeting. I dare say they'll have stopped finding him wonderful by then."

"Traitor," Tony accused without heat as he tugged at Steve's jeans again.

"Tony," Steve rebuked him mildly, refusing to be budged. "I bet you were cute as a kid."

"Kid?" Jarvis said. "Captain, you do misunderstand. The macaroni and cheese incident happened – well, it can't have been more than a few months before the Avengers were founded. There is a reason Mr. Stark keeps a full kitchen staff, after all."

Tony felt his face grow warm as Steve laughed. "It wasn't – look, there were extenuating circumstance. Which you will never hear about, ever, because Jarvis, you're fired."

"Ms. Potts also knows the story," Jarvis told Steve.

"Pepper is also fired," Tony said. "Steve, you don't want Jarvis and Pepper losing their jobs on your conscience, do you?"

"I'm pretty sure that's all on you," Steve said. He caught Tony's hand by the wrist and tugged until Tony let go of his jeans. "Really, Tony. Did you threaten to fire Jarvis every time he told someone a story about you as a kid. Or, well, a slightly younger man?"

Tony blinked up at him, caught a little by surprise. "I don't – I haven't really had a lot of people Jarvis could tell stories too. I mean, Rhodey," he said, "but he was there for all the really good ones anyway."

"Most of which I have remained blissfully ignorant of," Jarvis said. "Though I did overhear a description of something Colonel Rhodes called 'the unfortunate hooker debacle of two thousand and two'."

"I probably don't want to know, do I?" Steve asked, but he looked kind of curious to Tony's eyes and he was smiling as he said it.

"It's not nearly as interesting as it sounds. And it wasn't actually that unfortunate. And it turned out she wasn't really a hooker." Tony frowned. "We also agreed never to bring it up again. Who was he telling that story to that you would have heard it? Oh, god, tell me it wasn't Clint."

"I really should start setting the table," Jarvis said and Steve laughed as Tony squawked indignantly.

"You can help me make the salad," Steve suggested. "And by help, I mean watch."

Tony let himself be tugged further into the kitchen, shooting Jarvis a grin as he did and blushing a little at the indulgent smile Jarvis gave him in return. "He likes you, you know," he said as Jarvis disappeared into the dining room.

"I like Jarvis," Steve said automatically, gathering an armful of vegetables out of the fridge. "He's a good man. And he takes care of you." His tone implied that Tony needed a lot of that and Jarvis might be fighting a losing battle.

"He never-" Tony bit his lip and stopped himself for a moment, considering his words. Part of him was hesitating to mention anything, but he was aware enough of his own weaknesses to know that it wasn't a lack of faith in Steve that made him hesitate. Steve gave him a glance, but didn't stop chopping lettuce, content to let Tony finish or not on his own time. "He's never told anyone else those stories. Or even threatened to. And – you've met some of my exes, Steve, I'm not good at – I haven't had a lot of people in my life that were trustworthy enough to give them anything like ammunition to use against me. Even stupid kid stories. Let alone the mac n'cheese thing and he'd have killed himself before he brought up the hooker debacle and crap, that reminds me, I have to kill Rhodey."

Steve set the knife down and caught Tony's hand in his, twined their fingers together. "Thank you for telling me that. It means a lot to me." He brought their hands to his lips, kissed Tony's fingers. "You know I respect you, Tony. You really are wonderful."

Emotion curled deep in Tony's chest, painful almost, piercing, and he had to take a deep breath before he stepped closer and put his arms around Steve's waist. He closed his eyes as Steve's arms wrapped around him. "You're pretty wonderful yourself," he said finally.

Steve pressed a kiss against Tony's temple, then his cheekbone, then his mouth. Tender and sweet and Steve and Tony thought maybe every bad decision he'd ever made could be forgiven because it ended up with him here, in the kitchen of his home, surrounded by the smell of a home-cooked meal with the man he'd always loved more than anything, anyone else holding him. The kiss lingered, deepened until arousal uncurled low in his belly and Tony wanted to laugh at himself. All the crazy, stupid things he'd done in the name of love over the years and this is what pushed his buttons now. Kissing in the kitchen. God, Steve was going to domesticate him.

"Oh god, my eyes," Peter moaned from the doorway behind them. "Guys, get a room."

Tony laughed into the kiss as Steve rolled his eyes toward the ceiling and sighed.

"You should be glad your parents still kiss," Tony said not loosening his grip on Steve. "All your friends' parents are divorced and bitter."

Peter rolled his eyes. "When's dinner ready, Mom?"

"You know," Tony said, "You should have told me before we started dating that you had a kid."

That earned him a snort. "Wait till you meet his brothers and sisters," Steve said. "He's got them all doing it now. Except Logan, who just keeps calling me Mrs. Stark."

Some of his amusement must have shown on his face because Steve rolled his eyes and pulled back. "Yes, yes, Tony. You don't want to know what he's calling you."

Tony ran a few names through his head and decided it probably wasn't anything he couldn't live down. Frankly, he'd almost certainly been called worse. And it would be worth it just to hear Logan call Steve "Mrs Stark" even once. Tony wasn't going to think about how his stomach had gotten all tied up when Steve said that. "So if they're all our kids now, does that make Jan and Hank's relationship incestuous?"

"Don't encourage them," Steve said, grabbing Peter's hand as he tried to help himself to a handful of chopped carrots. "We're supposed to be setting an example."

Peter snorted.

"Sure," Tony said. "Because we're their parents."

"Because we're their team leaders." Steve gave Tony an exasperated look as he steered Peter toward the dining room. "Tony, you're not taking this seriously at all, are you?"

"If we're their parents, that means we get to ground them," Tony said. "I'd ground Peter, but he doesn't really have a social life, so I'll have to take away his TV rights instead."

"I have a girlfriend!" Peter shouted through the open doorway. "Just because you've never met her doesn't mean she isn't real!"

"Uh-huh," Tony said. "Sure you do. And she's a super-model, right?"

"I hate you both," Peter sulked from the dining room. "Stop making out in the kitchen and finish dinner. Some of us need more than mutual admiration to live on, you know."

"We do?" Natasha's voice drifted through from the other room. "Who admires who? I could live off mutual admiration, if there was a lot of sex mixed in. And chocolate. And the occasional glass of wine. Dinner smells fantastic, Jarvis."

"Steve and Tony are making out instead of finishing dinner," Peter informed the others and Natasha stuck her head through the doorway to flash Tony a thumbs-up.

The front door burst open and a babble of voices exploded into the mansion as the others returned from their movie. Tony heard Jan and Tigra were exclaiming over something while Luke and Nova bickered back and forth and the Jesses spoke in a soft, pleasant murmur. Ororo's bell-like laughter filled the whole house as Thor's heavy footsteps tromped down the hall.

And Tony, ridiculously, felt like he was the one coming home.

Steve sighed and leaned down to kiss Tony one last time before pushing him toward the dining room as well. "I'll finish in here. Go make sure the children behave," he said ruefully.

Tony eyed the doorway warily. "I don't think I got the better end of this deal."

Tigra bounced into the kitchen, nearly running into Tony who reached out to settle her and ended up enveloped in a bear hug. "Mom and Dad! What's for dinner?"

"Bread and water," Steve told her.

Thor strode in after her, a vicious-looking cut down one side of his face, his jaw dark purple from a bruise that would have killed a mortal, a wicked grin on his face. Tony'd have been worried if that wasn't how Thor usually looked after coming back from fighting frost giants. He seemed to like getting hit by something that was as strong as he was. "Brothers, you missed a glorious fight. The foul beasts were in fine form today."

"I had to battle share-holders," Tony told him and Thor actually shook his head and winced in sympathy. Tony loved the guy, he seriously did.

"Out of the way, Ward." Logan shouldered his way into the room, pushing Tony and Tigra aside as he made a beeline for the fridge.

Ward? Tony mouthed at Steve over Tigra's shoulder and Steve crossed his arms and gave him a pointed look. He wasn't Ward Cleaver. Okay, he had the suit and tie, but really. "You're way hotter than June Cleaver," he told Steve, perhaps a little too earnestly because Tigra giggled and began bouncing up and down in his arms and thank god she was way too young for him because that could get distracting. "Does that make Peter the Beaver? Who's Wally?"

"Clint is totally Wally," Jessica Drew said from the doorway while Clint sputtered objections somewhere behind her. "Jarvis wants to know what happened to his salad."

"I didn't like Leave it to Beaver," Steve said as he handed the finished salad to Thor.

"We're more like The Incredibles anyway," Tigra said. "Dysfunctional, but still awesome and willing to mess up anyone who messes with us."

Tony gave her a grin. "You nailed it, kid."

"We're not dysfunctional," Steve objected.

Tony raised a skeptical eyebrow as he scanned the room. Logan had already thrown back one beer and was working on a second, the rest of the six-pack dangling from one hand as he stomped back toward the dining room. Thor, who had apparently spent the day getting kicked around by giants and loving it and was now trying to put more dressing on the salad without Steve noticing. Tigra who was preparing to trip Logan with her tail, which would undoubtedly start a fight and end with beer everywhere and the two of them chasing each other around the mansion while their dinners got cold. And that wasn't counting the lunatics in the other room, where Luke and Nova had sucked Clint into their argument and Peter was loudly telling anyone who would listen that he was way cooler than the Beav.

"We're kind of messed up," he told Steve as Tigra lashed out with her tail and Logan went stumbling.

Steve leaned back against the counter and shook his head as the two of them took off into the next room and the noisy clamor of dinner preparations turned into chaos. "Think it's too late for family therapy?"

"Oh yeah," Tony said. "Way too late."

Steve smiled at him, a flash of bright white teeth and laughing eyes that made Tony suck in air. "At least we can be messed up together."

He was probably talking about the team, but Tony didn't care. "We're lucky like that."

Steve reached out and snagged Tony by the sleeve, tugging until he came close enough for Steve to wrap his arms around him. "We are. I am. I wondered, a lot, in the early days if I'd ever manage to belong somewhere again." He rested his head on Tony's shoulder, his breath warm against Tony's ear. "That was before I got to know you."

His stomach clenched, his legs felt numb, and when he wrapped his arms around Steve it might have been partly for balance. "I love you," Tony said, something he hadn't meant to say so soon in the relationship, but he didn't care. A confession like that deserved to be returned.

Steve smiled against the shell of his ear. "I know. I love you, too." He rocked Tony slightly, swaying to the sounds of destruction coming from the next room. "After dinner, we should do something together."

"Basketball?" Tony offered, wincing a little at a particularly loud crash and the sound of Jarvis' raised voice. "Or a movie. Have you ever actually seen The Incredibles?"

"You should invite Rhodey to movie night," Steve said. "I can get the hooker debacle out of him and you won't have to go looking far to kill him."

"I really, really love you," Tony said, "even if you did hide your thirteen crazy kids from me."

"Eleven," Steve said. "I take no responsibility for Thor or Peter."

That was fair.

Jarvis called from the next room. "Captain, Mr. Stark, the children are settled. It is quite safe to come in."

"Best babysitter ever," Tony said. He pressed a kiss against Steve's throat as he stepped away and hefted the stew pot off the stove.

"You should rehire him," Steve said. Another sudden crash from the dining room made them both wince. "And maybe give him a raise. A big one."

"I vote we just give him Peter," Tony said.

Chapter Text


Superhuman Star
The Kinky Truth! Are Stark's Wild Ways Too Much?


Sex tapes! Bondage! Adult toys! Roleplaying! Billionaire playboy–turned-superhero Tony Stark has done it all at least once and his former lovers have the pictures to prove it. (See page 34 for a selection!) But our sources are telling us that his wealth of experience may be a major turn-off to the new man in his life.


Tony's new beau is as clean-cut and apple-pie as, well, Captain America. Steve Rogers, Tony's old-fashioned new lover, is not a man who walks on the wild side and it's coming between them.


"Tony's very open, sexually," Stark's ex, Roxane Gilbert, tells us. "I don't think there's anything he wouldn't try. As long as everyone's enjoying themselves, he'll give it a shot."


Some of Tony's former lovers remember things a little differently. "It was like he couldn't enjoy himself the regular way," Tiberius Stone, who dated Tony briefly, told us. "He needed the kinky stuff to get into it at all."


"That's not uncommon in situations like this," Doctor Damian Monroe, a sexual therapist who has not treated Tony Stark, tells us. "Men – and women – with a varied sexual background and few if any emotional ties to their partners can find it difficult to achieve satisfaction the traditional way. They end up seeking out newer and more elaborate methods of release and each time the need gets a little stronger and the satisfaction gets a little less. It's not unlike an addiction."


Amidst rumors of sexual addiction, we have to wonder what Tony's new man is making of this.


"He's uncomfortable," an inside source tells us. "Steve's basically an old-fashioned guy. Even some of the tamer stuff is risqué to him."


Is a man born in the 1920s ready for a relationship involving handcuffs, sex toys and safe words? A relationship with another man, no less, a relationship which was not only frowned upon but actually illegal back in his day?


"That is a lot of change to adjust to at once," Dr. Monroe explained. "Even in this day and age, there is a lot of sexual inhibition, a lot of stigma attached to sex. Any sexual activity, no matter how mild or tame can be considered embarrassing or even shameful and that's an attitude it takes a great deal of time and effort to escape. I would suggest that Mr. Rogers not participate in anything that he is not 100% comfortable with, and consider seeking out a sexual therapist if his discomfort affects his sex life in a detrimental way."


But Steve may feel pressure to participate in the lifestyle whether he's ready or not. "Tony's a guy who gets what he wants," former Stark flame Indries Moomji told us. "And if he can't get it from you, he'll get it from someone else."

Ominous words – and ones likely to spell the end of this relatively new relationship. "Cap's not going to get into anything he thinks is immoral," our insider tells us, "and Tony's not known for being especially forgiving of people who tell him 'no'."

****

He was getting old, Tony thought. There was just nothing else to it. Once upon a time he'd been able to pull all-nighters in the workshop, run Stark Industries, romance a beautiful woman and still have energy left over to save the world. Usually all while drunk. Now he was sober, celibate and fucking exhausted and it hadn't even been three full days since he last slept.

Old, he repeated to himself, rolling the idea around in his mind as he rode the elevator from his workshop to the living quarters above. Not even thirty-five yet and he was already old. It didn't seem fair. Hank McCoy was older than Tony and he wasn't old. Hank Pym wasn't old. Carol Danvers wasn't old. Reed Richards – well, Reed had been born old, but Sue Richards was looking damned good at this age. Steve. Steve was pushing ninety and he wasn't old.

Steve was the opposite of old. He was young and energetic, full of vibrancy and intensity. He made Tony feel like a decade and a half of loneliness could disappear just by standing at Tony's side.

He could also bring the dead back to life, Tony reflected ruefully as his cock twitched at the thought of Steve's vibrancy. He pressed the heel of his hand against his lower stomach and tried to think unarousing thoughts. Three months of celibacy was a long dry spell for Tony – he hadn't gone so long without since he'd stopped drinking. He missed sex just as much as he'd expected to, but...

There were compensations.

Steve's fingers in his hair. Tony's hands on Steve's waist. The taste of Steve's mouth. Things Tony had never thought he could have, things that were, in a strange, but satisfying way, more important than sex.

Old, Tony thought again as his body slowly obeyed his command. So very old. And sappy.

The elevator came to a stop and he shuffled out as the doors slid open. It was late in the evening and the front hall was dim, the night creeping in the windows and the only light seeping out from beneath the kitchen door. It seemed terribly lonely all of a sudden and even though his isolation in the workshop had been entirely self-imposed he had the intense desire for company.

And coffee. Oh, so much coffee. Then bed and a shower. He ran a hand through his hair and reconsidered. Shower. Then bed.

He swallowed a yawn as he pushed open the kitchen door and walked into the light. The kitchen smelled like bread and cheese and a half dozen other mouth-watering scents, and the sounds of Peter and Steve's idle conversation washed over Tony like a wave, leaving him feeling oddly off-center at the sudden presence of other people. Old, he decided. He'd gone longer than three days without company before, but he wasn't used to it anymore.

Steve looked up as he entered and the smile that crossed his lips was small and pleased and made Tony feel like he'd vanquished a supervillain just by walking in the door.

"Hey," Tony said intelligently, blinking at Steve and trying to remember what he'd come in there for.

"Hey yourself," Steve said. His eyes crinkled a little in amusement as he pushed his chair back from the table. "I was starting to think we were going to have to send a team in after you."

He'd asked not to be disturbed when he vanished into the workshop, but he'd known he'd only be able to get away with that for so long before Steve or Pepper came down after him, if only to make sure he hadn't forgotten to eat for three days straight. Which, in Tony's defense, he hadn't. Not completely. He'd had a power bar in there somewhere, he was pretty sure.

"No, I ah-" Tony gestured toward the counter. "I ran out of coffee."

"And here I thought you missed me," Steve teased.

Tony was too tired to be disingenuous, and just awake enough to realize that might be a bad thing. "I missed you the first hour."

Steve's expression softened as he stood from this chair. "Come here." He held out a hand as he walked around the table and Tony went willingly. Steve's hand curled around his arm and tugged him toward an empty chair. Tony let himself be manhandled into sitting and had to resist the urge to lay his head down on the table and fall asleep right there.

"You look like crap," Peter told him cheerfully, shoveling a spoonful of Jarvis's homemade macaroni and cheese in his mouth. "Clint bet me fifty bucks you'd died down there and we wouldn't know until your corpse started stinking up the place."

Steve made a displeased sound that had Peter ducking his head like a schoolboy. "I bet him you'd just forget to eat and come out when you were hungry." He shot a glance at Steve and leaned across the table toward Tony to add, "You totally look like a zombie, though. You sure you didn't die down there?"

Tony narrowed his eyes. "I'll have you know I am stunning and nothing like a zombie."

"You're very pretty," Steve said. He set a mug of coffee down on the table in front of Tony.

Tony took it in both hands and dragged in a deep breath. "Oh, God, that's amazing."

"Coffeegasm," Peter said. "Should I leave you and the cup alone?"

Tony managed to flip him off without letting go of the mug and downed half the coffee in three long, uninterrupted swallows. Steve knew him too well, he thought. Agave, no milk or sugar and it wasn't so hot that he burned his mouth. Pepper must have coached him.

"That's the stuff," he said, slumping back in his chair with a sigh.

Steve's fingers combed through his hair and Tony turned his head into the touch. This, this, he'd missed this for three days. No calloused fingers against his skin, no strong hands cupping his face, no arms pulling him into a kiss. For three nights he'd broken down the repulsors in the backup armors down to their circuits and upgraded them piece by piece instead of sprawling on the couch with Steve's chest pressed against his back as they bickered over what to watch. For three days he'd worked on making sure the updated JARVIS interfaces would be compatible with the older armors, just in case he needed them one day. And it had been necessary work, important work, but he could have been having lunch with Steve at an outdoor café, or challenging him to a basketball game, or letting Steve drag him to the art festival in the park that he'd been talking about all week.

"Missed you," he sighed against Steve's wrist.

Steve sighed against his hair and pressed a kiss to the top of his head. "I missed you, too," he said, and there was nothing grudging in his voice, for all that Tony had basically exiled himself to the workshop and ordered Steve not to follow. Tony felt kind of guilty about that. There had probably been a better way to handle that. Steve ran his hand through Tony's hair again before he reclaimed his seat.

Tony eyed the remains of Steve's dinner until Steve huffed a small laugh and pushed the plate across the table at him. Macaroni and cheese, baked ham, steamed broccoli. Tony closed his eyes and made a mental note to make allowances for any interruptions that involved Jarvis's cooking the next time he exiled himself. "Did I miss anything?"

Steve shook his head.

"Just the Wrecking Crew," Peter said around a mouthful of ham. "Got it into their heads to start wrecking banks, but they kind of suck at it. Hulk and I dealt with it. Most of them are in lockup now. Except the ones Hulk squeezed too hard, but they'll be fine."

They settled into a companionable kind of silence as Tony devoured the rest of Steve's dinner. He finished off the coffee and Steve pressed a glass of green juice into his hand instead of a refill. It tasted a little more strongly of carrots than Tony generally liked, but after the first sip he suddenly realized how thirsty he was and drained the rest of the glass.

He felt a lot better for having eaten and he leaned back in the chair and gave Steve a small smile.

Steve slid a glass of water across the table at him with an expression that said Tony should drink all of it without complaint. "Listen, we should probably talk."

Tony was still feeling too comfortable in the bright kitchen to get nervous over the world's most ominous conversation-starter coming out of Steve's mouth. "About what?"

"About the fact that you keep turning me down for sex."

"Well, I'm done eating," Peter announced, pushing his plate away and thumping his head down onto the table. "Possibly forever."

Tony blinked at Steve, trying to anticipate the joke, but Steve's expression was serious, his eyes nervous, and a little sad. Without looking away, Tony set his glass down on the table very carefully. "Peter, give us a minute, would you?"

"I can do that," Peter said, "I can give you several minutes. I can give you as many minutes as you want." His gaze flickered from Tony to Steve's face and back again, and he actually looked worried. It was sweet. Hopefully unnecessary, but sweet. "Just – yeah. I'll make sure you guys get some privacy for a bit."

Tony waited until the door had closed behind Peter before he licked his lips and realized he had no idea what to say. "Is everything okay?"

"I'm not trying to be pushy," Steve said slowly.

"No," Tony said quickly. "I'm not – I don't get pushy from you at all."

"And I'm not trying to pressure you into anything," Steve continued. He was using the serious, steady voice he used when he'd prepared his words beforehand and wanted to make sure he was understood. Tony was used to hearing that voice in debriefings or speeches. Not between the two of them. "But I've tried to bring this up before and you don't seem entirely comfortable with the subject. I can respect that, but I need you to talk to me." He spread a palm out on the table and his gaze wavered for a moment. "I'm trying not to take this personally, trying not to make it about me, but you practically run away from me every time I bring it up and it's not exactly flattering, is it? I've seen you, I've seen how you are when you find someone you want and I'm not – I'm not seeing that here, Tony. I know this relationship wasn't your idea, exactly, that I kind of sprung this on you. If a physical relationship isn't something you want with me-"

"Want?" Tony repeated, half incredulous, half sick to his stomach. "Want? Steve, I want you so bad it hurts. I fall asleep wanting you with me, I wake up wishing I could reach for you. I wonder if the rest of you tastes as good as your mouth. Want you?" He reached for Steve's hand. "I pretend it's your hands on me when I get myself off," he confessed, voice rough and catching in the tightness of his throat as he tangled his fingers with Steve's. "I lay there in the dark, pretending it's your hands on my cock, imagining how you'd look kneeling over me." Tony dropped his voice even lower, embarrassed to admit this much, even to Steve, maybe especially to Steve, the only person who'd ever mattered this much. "I try to imagine what you'd feel like inside of me, big and hot and you always start out so slow, so careful of me, but you want me too much and you always take what you need in the end, taking me, filling me until I can't feel anything but you and when I'm done I fucking ache for you-"

Steve was out of his chair and around the table before Tony could finish the sentence, cupping Tony's face with both hands and claiming his mouth in a bruising clash of lips and teeth that pulled the air right out of Tony's lungs. Steve's hands urged him up until Tony was standing, then pulled him in closer, one hand cupping the back of his neck, the other flat against his spine, pressing them together from chest to groin. Tony shuddered when Steve pushed their hips together and ground.

Tony scrabbled at Steve's back, fingers clenching against hard muscle until the thin t-shirt stretched and tangled between his fingers. He couldn't stop himself from rocking his hips against Steve's and he practically sobbed against Steve's mouth. "Don't," he gasped into the kiss. "Don't, please, Steve, wait-"

Steve pulled back so abruptly that they both almost lost their balance. Tony fumbled for a grip on the wall beside him, braced himself on shaking legs and tried desperately to keep himself from following Steve. If he so much as touched Steve he'd lose all control and they'd finish what Steve had started, rutting against the refrigerator until they came in their pants. And – not this time. Not for their first time together, not for Steve's first time ever. Steve was better than that, he deserved-

"Sorry," Steve said miserably. He leaned against the refrigerator and let his head drop back with a thud. "Tony, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have done that. You've made it clear you aren't ready. But the way you sounded." He dragged in a breath that sounded like he hadn't had air in hours. "The thought of you – thinking of me." He shook his head, closed his eyes as he scrubbed a hand across his face. "It's not an excuse. I'm sorry."

"You're too much," Tony said without thinking. He wanted to be collected here, wanted to stay in control for Steve, but it was impossible to do with Steve panting and disheveled, lips bruised from Tony's kiss, arousal showing clearly in his jeans. Steve wanted him. And maybe being in control was over-rated if it meant making Steve feel unwanted. "You're everything, Steve. I want better for you."

Steve laughed, a little breathless, a little resigned. "This is perfect. You're perfect. It doesn't get better for me, Tony."

Tony rubbed his hands against his thighs, unable to ignore the way Steve watched the movement of his hands with hungry eyes. He could cross the distance between them, cup a hand over Steve's obvious arousal, bring him off right there and Steve would let him, just let him do it, Steve wanted him to do it.

"I didn't want to push you," Tony said, his voice coming out choked and a little needy. "I didn't want you to do it because you felt pressured. I know what I'm like, what my other relationships were like. I know what people say about us. I wanted to wait till you were ready. This is – your first time has to be right, Steve."

"It'll be with you," Steve said. "That's what will make it right."

"You're killing me," Tony said desperately.

Steve laughed, breathless and happy, and he was smiling again, the warm smile he'd worn to greet Tony just a little while ago. "Come here," he urged, holding out a hand. "Come here, let me-" Tony let himself be tugged in close, Steve's arms wrapped around him, pulling them tight against each other. "I can wait," Steve said, pressing a kiss to Tony's hair. "I waited ninety years to find you, I can wait until you think the time is right."

Tony laughed, ducked his head against Steve's shoulder. "Oh, God. No pressure there."

Steve pressed little kisses against the line of Tony's jaw. "You want to talk pressure? This, right here, is the closest thing to experience I've got and I'm trying to seduce Tony Stark."

Tony swallowed against the sudden tightness in his throat. "There's no pressure there," he said. "I'm a sure thing, Steve."

Steve's hand was rubbing small, soothing circles against the small of Tony's back. It was helping. Tony's pulse was slowing, his breath evening out. And if he was still hard against Steve's thigh, well, Steve didn't seem to mind at all. He seemed to be similarly afflicted, even. "Really?" Steve teased, nuzzling at Tony's throat. "Tony Stark's never been a sure thing in his entire life."

Tony pulled back a little, looking up to meet Steve's eyes. "For you," he said. His mouth was dry and he licked his lips before he could continue. "For you, I am. I'll always be. I love you, Steve."

Steve's eyes softened and Tony saw brightness there before Steve cupped Tony's chin in his hand and brought their mouths together for a slow, languid kiss. He slid his hand from Tony's chin to stroke the line of his throat and curled his fingers around the back of Tony's neck, holding him closer, kissing him deeper.

When they broke apart for breath, Steve kept his grip on the back of Tony's neck, his other hand still pressed against the small of Tony's back, allowing only the smallest space between them as they gulped in air, chests pressed together. Steve's breath was warm on Tony's mouth. He felt like he could just fit his mouth back over Steve's and breathe from him.

"Tony." Steve said. He touched his forehead to Tony's, tried to catch his breath. He was beautiful and flushed and Tony's breath came a little faster because he had done this, Steve was turned on for him. "Come to bed."

"Mine or yours?" Tony asked a little desperately.

Steve pressed a kiss against his lips. "Yours," he said, and his cheeks were turning bright red. "It's bigger."

"You're sure? It's not even eight o'clock, everyone's going to suspect what we're up to." Tony listened to the words coming out of his mouth and wondered if his brain was trying to kill him. God, he needed Steve to be sure, but he wanted this to happen now.

"Let them suspect," Steve said, and if his face was still turning bright red, his voice was completely sure. "I think everyone already thinks we're doing that anyway."

"If you're sure," Tony said, giving Steve one last chance to change his mind now, before doing so would break parts of Tony he couldn't afford to break. "If you're absolutely sure this is how you want it."

"How I want it?" Steve echoed. "Tony." He stole a kiss from Tony, then another. "If you left it up to me, we'd be naked on the floor right now."

Which was, of course, the exact moment Clint and Peter stumbled into the kitchen in a flailing tangle of arms and legs.

"Oh, jeez! Clint, I warned you!" Peter smacked at Clint's shoulder. "Get off me, Clint, for god's sake." His face was pinker than Steve's and he looked about ten seconds away from dying of embarrassment. "Sorry, Tony, guys. Didn't mean to – I know you needed privacy, but Clint wouldn't – I swear to God I didn't hear a thing." He struggled to pull away from Clint and ended up almost tumbling to the floor. "Clint, for the love of god, move."

"You move," Clint said. "You're the one in the way. Can you see where Stark's other hand is?"

"What? No!"

"Too bad," Clint said, still deliberately fumbling Peter's attempts to get out of the kitchen. "Logan bet me two hundred bucks they haven't started knocking boots yet and I could use the cash."

"Clint," Steve said reprovingly.

Clint was unmoved. "It's practically an Avengers tradition. I lost when it was Hank and Jan. And Thor and Ororo. And Stark and Natasha – no offense meant, Cap."

Steve shrugged.

"If junior here ever gets around to getting a girlfriend, we'll get a bet going on him, too."

"I have a girlfriend," Peter said indignantly.

"Uh-huh," Tony and Clint chorused.

"I hate you all," Peter said.

"Why are we all in the kitchen?" Jan asked, appearing in the doorway and standing on tiptoes to peer over Hawkeye's shoulder. "Is something happening?"

"No," Peter said. "I was just leaving."

"Cap and Stark are winning me two hundred bucks," Clint said.

"We are not," Steve said.

"Not till tonight, at least," Tony agreed.

Clint raised both eyebrows at him while Peter moaned and closed his eyes. "I can never unsee that," Peter said mournfully.

"You should be so lucky," Tony said smugly. "You'll have to settle for your imagination."

Steve sighed. "You're a lucky man," he said, a sentiment with which Tony whole-heartedly agreed. "Because if I did mind our teammates speculating on our love life, I'd be very upset right now."

"Sorry," Tony said automatically. He pressed a kiss against Steve's cheek in apology, but he didn't feel sorry at all. He felt almost ridiculously buzzed from the emotional rollercoaster of the last half hour. Arousal and adrenaline and the way Steve's hand was still rubbing gentle circles into his back all combined to make him feel like he was going to laugh out loud at any moment.

"Jan," Steve said, "Tony and I are taking the rest of the night off. Call us if there's an emergency." And then he won Tony's heart all over again by adding, "But only if it's a big one."

"Not a problem," Jan said. "Everyone needs a night off now and then. Have fun. Details, Tony. I expect details."

Tony flashed an innocent smile at Steve.

Steve sighed and leaned back against the fridge, tugging Tony with him. "You know what? Make it the whole weekend, Jan. And Clint, for god's sake, stop taking video of us with your cell phone. Nothing is happening in this kitchen."

"Anymore," Tony said.

"No, apparently it's all happening this weekend." Clint smirked and turned his phone sideways. "Come on, grab his ass or something. Make it look good. Just warn me first so I can cover my eyes."

"I'm not going to make anything look good for the sake of your bet, Clint."

"Yeah," Tony said, leaning against Steve's chest and resting his head on Steve's shoulder. "You're going to have to sneak around and take pictures of us when our backs are turned just like everyone else."

Steve squeezed the back of his neck gently. "Don't encourage him. And Clint, maybe if you stopped making bets like this, especially with Logan, who can smell pheromones and can tell exactly when someone has been having sex-"

Clint's jaw dropped. "That hairy little bastard's been playing me."

"Like a harmonica," Tony said against Steve's throat and in the subsequent chaos of Clint storming off to kill Logan – or at least beat his six hundred dollars out of him – and Peter trailing along to watch and Jan rolling her eyes and deciding to accompany them just to break it up before Clint got his throat ripped out, they ended up alone again.

They stood there for a long minute, holding each other up and breathing each other in. Then Steve ducked his head for a soft, sweet kiss and said, "Come on. Bed."

****

They separated briefly so Steve could get some things from his room and Tony could shower. It was strangely deliberate and as he shaved, Tony wished for the lustful fumbling of the kitchen, for spontaneity to blame things on if it didn't live up to expectations. He needed this to live up to Steve's expectations. Tony didn't know what he'd do if he couldn't make this good enough for him.

He dropped the razor in the sink and sighed at his reflection in the mirror. He didn't look like the suave, experienced playboy. He looked like a nervous virgin trying to work up some nerve.

"Man up," he told himself, and pulled on his robe.

Steve was waiting for him when he came out, sitting on the edge of Tony's bed. He was still wearing the same clothes and Tony felt strangely vulnerable in just a robe. But Steve's eyes were focused on Tony with an intensity that made his skin warm beneath that gaze and it was easier than it had been a minute ago to just go to him, to stand between Steve's legs and bend his neck for a kiss.

Steve's hands settled at his waist, holding him gently, like he actually thought Tony might move away. His mouth was hot beneath Tony's, his lips wet and slick as Tony kissed them open so he could have Steve's mouth. The desire that had never really faded after the kitchen was flaring to life again, uncurling in his belly, heat pooling in the center of him at just the taste of Steve. "You have to tell me what you want," he said against Steve's mouth. He brushed his thumbs over Steve's cheekbones, touched one to the corner of Steve's eye. "I won't do anything you don't want."

Steve gave Tony a steady look, eyes level and sure. "I want to have you," he said and Tony could feel his toes start to curl in anticipation, his stomach tightened as heat flooded his entire body and then Steve said, "inside of me," and Tony couldn't fucking breathe for the desire that flooded through him.

"You're sure?" he asked. "We can take this slow, if you want."

"I dream about it sometimes," Steve said, stretching up to press his lips against the hollow of Tony's throat. "I wake up feeling empty afterwards, missing something I've never had. I want to have that, Tony."

He'd never undressed Steve before. He'd seen him in various stages of naked; in the gym, the showers, the infirmary, after a battle. But he'd never undressed him himself and Tony's fingers, so careful and precise with circuitry and tools, fumbled with the buckle of Steve's belt, tangled in the buttons of his jeans. And Steve, who'd never done this before, murmured wordless reassurances against Tony's mouth, and stroked his hands up Tony's legs, under the hem of the robe until he could take the length of him in one hand and just hold him, a little hesitant, but so sure in his touch.

Tony's breath stuttered in his chest and he shook as he pushed Steve's jeans down his hips. "Steve," he said, then, "Steve."

Steve stroked him carefully before releasing him to stand. Their hands tangled together as they stripped Steve of his clothes until Tony's hands were pressed flat against bare skin and Steve was pushing the robe off his shoulders. There was nothing left between them.

"Okay?" he asked, trailing kisses down Steve's throat.

Steve's mouth curled into a smile even as he bared more of his throat to Tony's touch. "Yes, Tony. I'm a virgin. That doesn't mean I'm going to run away screaming at the first sight of your dick."

Tony couldn't help but grin as he licked his way back up Steve's throat. "It's impressive, you know."

"Well, unless it talks, I don't think it's going to send me running from the room."

Tony couldn't stop the laugh that burst out of him and he curled his fingers through Steve's hair and walked them both backwards toward the bed. He pressed Steve down onto the mattress, onto the bed they'd never shared, that god willing Tony would never share with anyone else. "I'll do anything for you," he breathed against Steve's mouth, a promise, a declaration, a warning. "Anything, no matter what. Don't let me ruin this, don't let me do something you don't want." He wasn't talking about sex anymore but Steve seemed to understand.

"It's all right," Steve told him, spreading his legs so Tony could settle between them, only a hint of a blush on his face as he watched Tony unwrap the condom, slick his fingers. "It's okay. I'd do anything for you, too. There's nothing you can do to make me stop."

"Promise," Tony said, because he really was very good at messing things up. He took himself in hand and slicked himself in two fast strokes, unwilling to risk any longer touch. Steve's lips parted and his eyes were locked on Tony's cock like he'd never – but he had never, not like this, and Tony couldn't deny the tight, hot feeling branding itself into his skin at every glance. He'd be Steve's first. If he did this right, if he was smart, if he was better than he was made to be, he could be Steve's only.

It was so easy to be better than he was meant to be when he was with Steve.

He pressed his face to Steve's thigh, inhaled musk and sweat and arousal, felt the wiry hair against his cheek. He studied Steve's cock for a long moment, listened to Steve's breathing grow faster and more ragged just at this simple intimacy. Part of him wondered if he could get Steve off just by looking at him, but the rest of him didn't think that would be any fun at all so he pressed his lips against the base of Steve's cock, enjoying the way it twitched against his lips, the way Steve's breath caught in his throat.

Steve brushed his fingers against Tony's cheek as he lapped at the head of Steve's cock, tasting salt and musk before he gave Steve what they both wanted and opened his mouth, swallowing Steve in one slow slide until Steve's cock was heavy and throbbing on his tongue and Tony's lips were wrapped tight around the base. He heard a sound that might have been a curse and Steve's hand vanished.

He looked up the length of Steve's body and saw Steve staring back at him, eyes glued to Tony's mouth. His hands were fisted in the bedspread, the cloth straining beneath his grip and Tony wanted that strength to be touching him, holding him. Pulling back, he pressed his lips against the head of him in a soft kiss, before parting his lips and letting Steve slip back in.

Steve's hips were moving in the smallest little thrusts. He was obviously trying to control himself and Tony curled a hand around one hip to urge him to stillness even as he pressed a slick finger against him.

"Tony," Steve said, and he sounded like he was strangling, like he couldn't breathe. Tony licked the length of him, curled his tongue around the head before swallowing him. Steve practically bucked beneath him and Tony took it, held him down with one hand and slid a finger inside of him while Steve said his name over and over again, his voice breaking with each repetition until he was only panting.

Tony held him still, swallowed deliberately as he slowly added a second finger. Steve made a sound like a whimper and Tony had to close his eyes and cling desperately to his own control.

He let Steve's cock slide over his tongue, released it with a wet sound that made Steve groan. "If you tell me to stop," he said, twisting his fingers inside the tight heat of Steve's body, slowly sliding a third in beside them and feeling something like vertigo when Steve opened up to him without a flicker of pain crossing his face.

"Don't you dare," Steve said weakly, but vehemently as he raised his head off the pillow to glare at Tony. "Don't. Don't stop. I want everything, Tony." He unclenched one of his hands from the bedspread and ran his thumb over Tony's lips, kiss-swollen and slick with saliva and Steve's precum. "Give me everything," he demanded, and Tony nipped at his thumb with his teeth.

He fucked Steve with his fingers, sliding in as deep as he could reach. Steve was gasping for breath with each push of Tony's hand and his eyes were starting to glaze over. He was close, and Tony was tempted to have him like this, to make Steve come with his mouth and fingers, to swallow him until he was sated and spent, then make him hard again before he took him. But Steve had only asked for one thing and Tony already knew he was going to have a very, very hard time not giving Steve anything and everything he wanted. And this was never going to be a hardship, not when it was something Tony had been dreaming about.

He pulled his hand away, stretched up to kiss Steve's stomach as he fumbled for more lubricant, slicked himself again, just to be thorough. "Give me your hand, Steve." He let go of Steve's hip, reached for the hand Steve held to him and laced their fingers together as he lined himself up and pressed slowly into Steve.

"Tony," Steve said, soft and low and wondering as his hand tightened around Tony's. His body was hot and tight around Tony's cock, but he yielded so sweetly, relaxed for Tony, let Tony in like he belonged there. Tony bit his lip, closed his eyes as he made himself move slowly, rocking into Steve in gentle thrusts until Steve groaned and shifted his hips, spreading himself wider, letting Tony in deeper, and god, god, Tony'd never been given anything so good as this.

He pressed forward until he was in to the hilt and then he paused, waiting, letting Steve adjust to him. Steve was starting to come apart beneath him, his body trembling, his breath coming in faster and faster gasps and his face and chest were flushed. He looked wanton, beautiful, with his eyes hooded but still fixed on Tony and his cock spit-slick and hard against his stomach.

"I love you," Tony said, because it deserved to be said, Steve deserved to hear it as often as he wanted to, as often as Tony could shape the words. "Do you know-" He pulled out slowly, biting his lip as his cock dragged out of Steve's body, and pushed back in, a little faster this time, but still slow, still easy. Steve closed around him, tight and hot and waiting for him, and Tony braced himself against the mattress, Steve's fingers still tangled with his, and he thrust again, almost helpless not to. "Do you have any fucking idea-"

"I do," Steve said roughly, and he pulled his hand free to wrap his arms around Tony's back. "I do, I know exactly. It's the same, Tony. Please, god-"

"So sweet," Tony breathed, staring down at Steve's eyes. "You're perfect, you're-" He moved, then, long lazy thrusts that Steve's hips rose to meet, "you're perfect, Steve, made for me, you're mine," and he slid a hand between them, took Steve's cock in a loose grip and stroked him in time with the rise and fall of their hips. Steve was gasping, his fingers digging into Tony's shoulders and he'd have nail marks there after, maybe bruises, and he liked that thought. "Don't let me go," he said, and it wasn't what he'd meant to say.

"Tony," Steve said and it was like a heart breaking, like a sun going nova behind Tony's eyes, raw and powerful and almost painful to hear. "I'll never, never let you go."

Tony lost himself at that moment and he blinked against the sweat dripping down his face, dragged air into his lungs. Everything was too much, too raw and he shuddered with every thrust. He stroked Steve faster, hard, needing to feel Steve come apart, needing to wreck Steve the way those six words wrecked him, the way Steve's voice shaping his name made Tony come apart.

He pressed kisses, wet and open-mouthed against Steve's chest and throat, bit down against the muscle of Steve's shoulder, sucking a mark into Steve's skin that would turn purple and last even with Steve's accelerated healing. "Come for me," he said against Steve's skin. "I want to see you spill over my hand, Steve, I want to taste you."

He still wasn't ready for it. The way Steve's body clenched around him, arched to meet his on the next thrust like Steve was trying to get him deeper. Steve shook beneath him and gasped Tony's name as he came.

That was all it took for Tony to follow, both hands on Steve's hips, pulling him as close as possible before he fell, shuddering, after Steve.

****

Sunlight was creeping through the windows when Tony woke, much earlier than he was accustomed to, the next morning. He blinked sleepily at the windows, trying to gauge the time, trying to remember if he needed to be anywhere important.

But Steve was there, reaching across warm, rumpled sheets to tug Tony closer to him. "It's barely sunrise," he murmured, pulling Tony's back against his chest and sliding one arm around to hold him there, his palm curled loosely over the arc reactor. "We have all day."

Tony settled into the warmth of Steve's body against him and slid back into sleep by slow degrees, lulled by Steve's soft caresses and the quiet, almost silent words Steve was whispering into his skin.

Chapter Text

Superhuman Star
Wild Child!

Leather jackets, motorcycles and public brawling aren't what most people think of when they consider superheroes. For any defender of justice and liberty, this kind of behavior would be frowned upon – if not flat-out inappropriate. But for Captain America, the first superhero, the epitome of heroism, it's almost inconceivable.

Yet that's exactly what happened earlier this week when Steve Rogers – sporting leather biking gear and roaming through the city on a vintage motorcycle – ended up in a very public fight with a group of college students outside a coffeeshop on Lexington.

No one was seriously hurt but the police were called to the scene and several arrests were made. The detective in charge of the case, Detective Josh Carlton of NYPD, declined to be interviewed for this article, but did issue a brief statement verifying that Captain America was involved in the altercation but was not under arrest had had returned home after giving his statement. While an arrest record would surely be embarrassing for the cofounder of the Avengers, this brush with the law doesn't seem to have calmed his behavior any.

Doctor Sylvia Ramsey, a behavioral psychologist who does not treat Captain America, offered several possible explanations for his recent behavior. "This could be a delayed adolescence," Dr. Ramsey explained. "Captain Rogers grew up during the Depression and was a young man during World War Two – both very stressful periods of history where everyone was called upon to act with responsibility and a sense of community. He never really had the chance to act out, rebel and sow his wild oats. Now, suddenly in a time and place of relative peace and prosperity, he has the chance to indulge a little and test the boundaries in a way he couldn't before."

Of course, that isn't the only explanation. "It is also possible that there is a negative or unhealthy influence in his life," Dr. Ramsey admitted.

A lot of people think they know exactly who that unhealthy influence is, too. Bad-boy billionaire Tony "Iron Man" Stark has been romantically linked to Captain America for the last few months and there is concern that this out-of-character behavior is the result. After all, Tony is no stranger to wild deeds.

In fact, that is exactly the sort of thing Tony used to be famous for. Since he sobered up, his penchant for public drunkenness, property damage and sexual scandals has dropped considerably. But the timing is too much to ignore.

"Cap's never been known for acting out or rabble-rousing," a SHIELD agent who wished to remain anonymous told us. "This is definitely Stark's influence and the old man knows it."

The "old man" is SHIELD director Nick Fury, who has more than earned his reputation as a no-nonsense, hard-edged administrator. Could his new wildness impact Captain America's job as an agent of SHIELD?

"He's Captain America," our inside agent tells us. "He's got a lot of credit built up. But SHIELD cannot afford a scandal and the old man never liked Stark much. If he thinks Stark is corrupting Cap, he might give Cap an ultimatum."

A career Captain Rogers loves or the man who may cause him to lose it all? Doesn't seem like such a tough choice to us! But people close to Captain America doubt he'll see it that way. Avengers teammate Luke Cage refused to be interviewed but stated firmly that Stark had a hold over Rogers that wasn't going to be easy to break. And our inside agent doesn't think Captain Rogers will be easy to convince. "Cap's a loyal sumbitch," our informant said. "The more people trash Stark, the more Cap'll stick with him."


Tony breezed out the front doors of Stark Industries like a man with everywhere to be, eyes hidden behind reflective sunglasses despite the late hour, his hair a little more tousled than usual. No sign of his entourage today; Pepper was still upstairs working, and Happy would be with her, Rhodey was in Malibu overseeing the testing of Tony's newest helicopter and the bodyguards had apparently been given the night off – or at least ordered to keep their distance. Sometimes the sheer number of people who trailed after Tony on a daily basis made Steve's head hurt. It made it easier to understand Tony's occasional periods of intense solitude.

He strode across the plaza toward the street where Steve was waiting, pushed the glasses down the length of his nose and glared at Steve over them. "All day long I have to hear about the high and mighty Captain Rogers brawling like a common street thug," he announced, voice carrying over the small distance between them. "All day I tell everyone who'll listen that it's just the tabloids and they shouldn't get too worked up about it." He stopped a few feet away from Steve, arms crossed firmly over his chest. "Imagine my surprise to hear it's true."

"It was hardly brawling," Steve said. He didn't move from his place, leaning against a cement pylon next to where he'd parked the Harley, though he did lift his shoulders in a small shrug. "And it wasn't anything to get worked up over."

Tony glared at him over the rim of the glasses. "All day, I tell everyone, hey, it can't be true. If Steve had been arrested I'd know about it. Because he's my boyfriend. He'd call me if something had happened." He swiped the glasses off and jabbed them at Steve for punctuation. "Because he's my boyfriend."

"I like it when you call me that," Steve said, not bothering to hide the fond smile on his face or keep the affection from his voice.

Tony rolled his eyes. "Oh, shut up, you cannot flatter me into calming down. You suck."

"I wasn't arrested," Steve said soothingly. "It wasn't a brawl. Nothing serious happened. If it had, I would have called you."

"Not calming down," Tony said, but his shoulders were already loosening up, his mouth was already losing the tired, stressed twist. He pointed at Steve with his shades again. "You still suck."

Steve snagged the shades away from Tony and slid them into his coat pocket before Tony could graduate to smacking him with them. He pushed away from the pylon and caught Tony by the arms, tugging him in close till there was only a few inches between them. "It wasn't a big deal."

Tony's lips pressed together into a thin, angry line. "They were homophobes. They lured you into that alley and they tried to bash you."

"Tried to," Steve said. "Tried. They were young and ignorant and not one of them a real fighter. I realized I'd been tricked before they got in the first swing. Tony, they didn't lay a hand on me."

"That doesn't make it all right," Tony said. He slumped a little against Steve's hold. "I don't want to think that people will try to hurt you because of –" he caught himself before the word could slip out, but Steve could hear the silent 'me' that hovered unspoken between them. "Because of us," Tony said instead. "I don't want you getting hurt at all but definitely not for that."

It was late enough that the streets were mostly empty, but even if they hadn't been, Steve would still have slid his arms around Tony's waist and pulled him closer, felt the tension in Tony's muscles as Steve propped his chin on Tony's shoulder. "I wasn't hurt. They've all three been arrested for assault – well, attempted assault," he qualified and he grinned as he heard Tony's genuine laugh, felt some of that tension ease beneath his hands even as Tony's arms tightened around him. "I don't care at all what people like that think, Tony. Not about me, or my choice in partners and I sure as hell don't care what they think about you."

"I care when they jump you in alleys," Tony said, but he didn't sound annoyed anymore. He sighed instead and his breath was warm and familiar against Steve's ear. "I heard it from Peter, Steve. He called to give me a heads up before the paparazzi descended or I'd have heard from a blood-thirsty hack that you'd been gay-bashed. Do you have any idea what that would have done to me?"

Steve could imagine that scene all too clearly. He could picture the reverse, and it made his stomach clench. "I should have called," he admitted ruefully. "I always forget about the paparazzi."

"They're usually not worth thinking about." Tony pulled back a little and ran a hand through his hair. "Not that I'm unhappy to see you or anything, but were you just hanging out, waiting for me to get done?"

"I thought we haven't had a date in a while," Steve said. "Not a real one, anyway, with just the two of us." He kept one hand at Tony's hip, his fingers hooked casually in the belt loop of Tony's pants. Tony liked being held on to, or at least he did when Steve was the one doing the holding. "I thought we could take the night off."

Tony brushed a thumb over Steve's cheek. "Just spontaneously?"

Not exactly spontaneous. He'd known how Tony would react to the news; had meant to be the one to tell him, but by the time he'd finished at the police station and checked his cell phone, it was nearly old news. He still forgot sometimes, how fast information moved in this world. "I thought you and I could spend the evening together. Just us. I packed a picnic basket."

"A picnic basket?" Tony's mouth curved upwards in a reflexive smile, then flickered and died as he saw the bulging saddlebags on the Harley. "Oh, hell no."

"Tony," Steve said.

"I own no fewer than thirty cars and you have access to all of them," Tony said. He was waving his hands around Steve's face, gesturing extravagantly, the way he did whenever he was trying very hard to impress upon someone just how dissatisfied he was with the situation. Steve had learned exactly when to dodge over the years. "Thirty cars, one of them an Aston Martin and all of them containing a minimum of four wheels and doors and a roof and you decided that is the ideal vehicle for our date?"

"I like my bike," Steve said.

"It's seventy years old!"

"I'm older than that and I still work just fine."

"You do work very well," Tony admitted, only a little grudgingly, and if his eyes flickered below Steve's belt, well, Steve was going to take that as a compliment. "But you are a person – a super person with super healing abilities and that is mechanized death."

"Tony-"

"Mechanized death," Tony repeated.

"I'm a very good driver," Steve said soothingly. "I have years of experience."

"You have three speeding tickets and two accidents in the last five years."

"Both of those were in the line of duty," Steve felt compelled to point out. "And you have way more speeding tickets than I do."

"Technically," Tony said, in that voice that meant he was going to beat that technicality into the ground, "my chauffeurs have more speeding tickets than you do. I was just in the car at the time."

"I can't believe you let Happy take the fall for you that time."

Tony gave him a dirty look. "I'll have you know he volunteered. And I can't believe you want me to perch precariously on the back of a death trap going ridiculous speeds along roadways full of drivers who at best won't see us coming and at worst may actively try to kill us."

"I'd never let anything happen to you." Steve hooked his fingers a little tighter through the belt loop. "I wouldn't. Never."

Tony froze in place, thrown off his guard by the sudden earnest sentiment. Steve liked that he could make Tony lose his step like that, that he could make the bold and blustery Tony Stark grind to a halt, but he'd like it more if he didn't suspect any honest affection would have the same effect on Tony, no matter who it was from.

"I'll drive extra slow," Steve said, "and use my turn signals and we'll be fine. Because I've been riding a motorcycle since nineteen-forty-three and I know how to be careful. Deal?"

"I don't have a helmet," Tony said.

Steve leaned up and kissed Tony's mouth. "Nice try," he said, "but I thought of that."

Tony leaned around Steve to take a long, hard look at the Harley – and the red and gold helmet sitting on the seat behind Steve's blue and silver one. "It's cold out."

"You can wear my jacket," Steve said, tugging Tony closer. "And you can sit very close and hold on very tight."

"I like holding on to you," Tony said, his voice a little raspy around the edges.

"Not as much as I like being held," Steve said. "Come with me? It's a bit of a ride, but I'll keep you warm and safe until we get there."

Tony narrowed his eyes. "Where are we going?"

Steve cupped his free hand around Tony's neck. "I rented a place outside the city. Just for the night. Just you and me and an otherwise empty house."

"And a picnic basket."

"With cake," Steve added, in case it helped his case. "Jarvis made a cake when I told him what I wanted to do."

Tony arched one eyebrow at him. "You told Jarvis you wanted to whisk me away on your portable murder machine so you could do wicked and debauched things to my body?"

"Yes," Steve said. "And he baked us a cake." He leaned in close, brushed his lips against Tony's ear, felt Tony's body shudder against his. "I have had terribly inappropriate thoughts about icing ever since."

"Jesus," Tony said. "Give me the helmet. Now."

"Are you sure?" Steve caught the lobe of Tony's ear between his teeth and tugged on it gently. "Because I know it's dangerous. We can just go home and watch TV with the team if you'd rather."

"You're a sadist," Tony said. "Get on that bike before I take your pants off."

Steve pulled Tony up against him, kissed him deep and hard and didn't care at all who saw.

Chapter Text

Superhuman Star
Their Love is Dangerous!

It's been hailed as the modern American love story, but the red-hot romance between Iron Man Tony Stark and Steve "Captain America" Rogers is in danger of turning into a tragedy.

Concern flared today when Tony, who is CEO of Stark Industries when he's not saving the world, arrived at a stockholders meeting badly beaten.

"Injuries are nothing new since he became Iron Man," says Gregory Horton Walsh, a member of the Stark Industries board of directors, in a statement issued by his assistant. "But this did seem to be an irregular situation. There was concern expressed."

Stark, who has been hospitalized several times over the last few years (see the timeline on pages 65-66), including twice for heart attacks brought on by the stress of the super-hero lifestyle, has often shocked his staff and shareholders alike by coming into work or appearing in public with painful-looking and sometimes serious injuries (see photo spread, page 67). Concussions, broken bones, even a poisoning on one occasion have left the people around Stark feeling blasé about the dangers of his super-hero work. So what makes today any different?

For starters, the distinct lack of an explanation. There has been no news coverage of Iron Man engaging in combat – either individually or as part of the Avengers – over the last few days. So where are these injuries coming from?

And the nature of the injuries has some people taking notice. "He looked like he'd been punched in the face," a Stark Industries staff member who asked to remain anonymous for fear of losing his job told us. "He was wearing make up and trying to play it down, but someone really did a number on him."

And concern is mounting as several people believe they know exactly who that someone is: Tony's significant other, Steve Rogers.

The all-American hero was photographed in Los Angeles this morning (see sidebar) at almost exactly the same time Tony was shocking shareholders in New York. And those photographs clearly show that Rogers' knuckles are scraped and bruised as if he'd hit something – or someone – repeatedly.

"He wears leather gloves in combat," Dr. Paul Hanover, a military historian who is not associated with the Avengers, told us. "It's unlikely, I'd say extremely so, that he scraped his knuckles in his capacity as an Avenger."

Could Captain America, a man known for his dedication to justice and fair play really be responsible for something so terrible? "It doesn't seem to be in his nature," Dr. Hanover says, "but it's not uncommon for victims of PTSD to lash out at the people closest to them. And between the war he left behind, the wars he's fighting here in the present day, and the trauma of waking up in a different century, I would say Captain Rogers is a prime candidate for PTSD."

Regardless, if Steve is responsible for Tony's injuries, Dr. Hanover says his traumatic experiences are no excuse. "I would recommend Captain Rogers receive immediate counseling," he told us. "And I would hope Mr. Stark is able to safely remove himself from the situation before this happens again."

While Tony's PR department is adamantly denying any allegations of abuse, people close to the billionaire aren't as quick to jump to Steve's defense. "This isn't exactly a mystery," our SI insider said. "The boss gets his face pounded on the same day his boyfriend's walking around with bloody knuckles? That's not a coincidence."

The Avengers were strangely silent on the subject, though Luke Cage, a long-time critic of what he calls the "UnAmerican Couple" went on the record to say, "These two are messed up."

****

Tony staggering into the kitchen was nothing new. Tony staggered into the kitchen nearly every morning, looking mostly dead and fumbling for the coffee maker. The only break in the routine was when he'd been awake for so long that he hadn't gone to sleep yet. So when Tony made his morning appearance, shuffling into the kitchen in sweatsocks and a pair of blue silk pajama bottoms that were too large for him, Jan barely noticed – except for the pajama bottoms. They were definitely too large and were hanging somewhat precariously on his hip bones and Jan knew from decades of exposure to Tony that he rarely wore underwear to bed. Also, she was pretty sure she'd seen Cap wearing the same pajama pants before and they'd fit him much better than they fit Tony.

The back of Jan's mind found that adorable.

Then she looked up and was immediately distracted by Tony's face. The entire right side was swollen and turning dark purple – nearly black – with bruises.

"Oh my god!" She fumbled her cup of tea and set it down on the counter before she burned herself. "What happened?" She grabbed Tony by the shoulders and made him stop so she could get a better look. He ignored her fussing and made pouty faces at the coffee maker, just out of reach.

She touched his jawline, just a brush of fingers over skin and he flinched. The bruise felt hot to the touch and looked bone-deep. It had to hurt. "Did Iron Man have a mission I don't know about?"

"Just an accident. It's not that bad," Tony said, trying to sidle away from her and toward the coffee.

"Have you looked in the mirror lately?" Jan demanded. "Tony were you attacked? What happened?"

"I got punched in the face," Tony said. "What does it look like? Jan, I need coffee. Is there a reason you won't let me have coffee?"

"You're not funny," Jan told him, shoving at his shoulders. "Go look at yourself in the mirror and tell me it's not that bad."

Tony frowned and opened his mouth, no doubt to say something petulant and/or coffee related, but Jan cut him off by shoving him, gently, toward the hallway. "Mirror first. I'll make you some coffee, I promise. But you can't go walking around like this, Tony. People will think you got mugged by the Hulk."

Tony pouted at her, though the effect was lost when he immediately winced. He shuffled off down the hall and Jan heard Clint's voice carry all the way back to the kitchen. "Who did you piss off?"

****

Six cups of coffee later, Tony was still irritable. "The Board is going to love this. Why does this sort of thing always happen when I have a Board meeting?"

"Karma," Clint told him earnestly, and Tony threw a piece of cereal at him.

"It's not…" Jan's voice drifted off. It was pretty bad. She'd mostly been joking about the mugged-by-the-Hulk thing, but if he'd told her that was what happened, she'd have believed it.

Tony yawned into his fist and winced again as he worked his jaw. "Okay, this did not hurt this badly yesterday."

"Well if you had done something to treat it yesterday, maybe it wouldn't hurt so badly today," Clint said with very little sympathy. "You've been in this game long enough to know better."

Tony sighed. "I know, I know. It honestly didn't seem bad enough to worry over."

"Bruises are always worse the next morning," Jan said. She pulled the ice pack away from Tony's face and studied the skin. "Well, the swelling's going down a little. Just keep the cold packs on it and take it easy."

Tony made a face at his coffee, then winced. "Pepper's going to kill me. I promised I wouldn't show up to Board meetings looking like death warmed over any more."

"Well, your options are limited." Jan swapped out the first cold pack for a second one and carefully pressed it against the side of Tony's jaw, where the swelling was worst. "Still no trouble moving your jaw? No ache or trouble talking?"

"Think Potts'll let you play hooky?" Clint asked through a mouthful of cereal.

"No and no," Tony said.

"Well," Jan said thoughtfully. "We could disguise it a little bit, make it look less bad than it is. How long until your meeting?"

"Couple of hours," Tony said. "What are you thinking? Holographic projector calibrated to display a synchronized image? That'll take hours to set up."

Jan rolled her eyes at him. "That's brilliant. No. I had something else in mind."

****

"Why is Tony getting a make over?" Peter asked as he shuffled into the kitchen, nearly tripping over the legs of his pajama pants. "Holy hell, Tony, what happened to you?"

"It's a long story," Tony said, trying to move his mouth as little as possible. He didn't know what, exactly, Jan was doing to him, but it felt complicated. Tony'd worn make-up before – some eye-liner when he was in college, though he'd deny it if the Avengers ever found out, and he'd sat in several make-up chairs before going on to various talk-shows – but this seemed far more involved than anything he'd done before. Jan was into fashion, though, so she probably knew what she was doing. Mostly.

"You look like you pissed off the Hulk," Peter said. "Do not go out in public like that. Seriously. The paparazzi are going to have a field day and Steve's going to come back from LA and beat up whoever hit you. It wasn't really Hulk, was it? Aww, I bet the big guy didn't mean it, don't let Steve beat him up."

"Peter needs coffee," Tony told Jan and she waved a hand at Clint to deal with it.

"Well, that's as good as it's getting without more time and better supplies," Jan said finally, stretching her back and looking down at Tony's face with a critical and largely unsatisfied expression. It was not the look beautiful women usually had when examining his face. "You don't look as bad as before, though, so that's something."

"He looked worse?" Peter said doubtfully as he took the empty mug Clint put in his hands and allowed himself to be shoved in the direction of the coffee pot. "I was mostly kidding about the Hulk, geez."

"It wasn't Hulk, so stop it before Bruce hears you and gets a persecution complex." Tony accepted the compact Jan held out like a peace offering and used it to examine his face. "Well, I look slightly less like a human punching bag. Peter's not wrong about the paparazzi, though."

"Well, 'Tony Stark: Tragic Mugging Victim' is probably the tamest thing they've printed about you in a while," Jan pointed out.

Tony snorted and winced. "No. Love your optimism, but it'll be something like 'Tony Stark: Underground Fight Club Operator' or something about how I pay people for sex and let them knock me around a little and that's the reason why Steve's going to leave me. They like making me the bad guy. It's more fun that way."

"Some of those articles are kind of fun," Clint admitted. "The ones that are ridiculous instead of flat-out slanderous. Remember the one that insisted you were secretly a girl and carrying Steve's baby but you wouldn't admit it because the business world was a man's world? I liked that one. Especially when they took the pictures of you and Steve and merged them together to show what your love-child would look like."

"That was one ugly imaginary kid," Tony said. "You'd think people as pretty as me and Steve would make a better kid than that."

"You're very pretty," Bruce said as he wandered in from the hallway, his eyes on the cheap paperback he was reading as he walked, his glasses sliding down to perch on the end of his nose. "What's this about kids? Are you having Steve's love-child again?" Bruce looked up from his book and blinked owlishly at Tony. "Good lord, did you piss me off at some point?"

Tony sighed. "This isn't going to work."

****

The Board of Directors didn't exactly grind to a halt when he breezed into the room, but there was a sudden lull in conversation. Tony was used to that; there was a time when he was younger, when Obadiah had still technically been running things, when he'd made a point of shocking or antagonizing the Board members. It was neither smart nor especially mature, in retrospect. Tony had stopped trying to shock them only because he stopped having any particular interest in what they thought about him at all.

Didn't mean he wasn't able to shock, dismay or horrify them completely without trying, though. Although showing up looking like he'd been kicked in the face by a horse was probably not the most shocking thing he'd ever done.

Pepper, for her part, just glared at him. It had an edge of resignation to it. Almost despairing. She gave him that look a lot. Sometimes he even felt bad about it.

"Ladies and Gentlemen," Tony said cheerfully. "Has everyone done the reading? All right, Ms. Potts, if you'd handle the administrative duties, we can get right into the finances."

Having a long history of being a trouble magnet meant that the Board members were used to him showing up looking scruffy, or still in his pajamas, or drunk/hungover, or with a hooker. (Only once, and Pepper still brought it up every time she wanted to win a fight about his so-called reputation.) It took relatively little time for them to get down to business and since they spent half the meeting staring at him while he went over the design plans for the next quarter, they eventually stopped wincing every time they saw his face.

Well, Pepper never winced. And she did not stop glaring.

****

"You looked fine last night at dinner," Pepper said later, as she bustled him into his office. "So this happened later. What happened? Was there a mission?"

"Oh, come on," Tony flashed her a smile – or apparently as much of one as he could. "You've seen me worse than this."

Pepper snorted and tapped out a quick memo to the PR department on her tablet before she responded. "Do you really want to compare your present condition to a heart attack or an arc reactor malfunction? Because it looks bad enough without putting those ideas in my head."

"Excellent point," Tony said. He flung himself down at his desk and propped his feet up. "So let's say instead that you've seen me look better – though not by much because this isn't so bad, comparatively."

"You look like the Hulk and the Thing had a death match on your face," Pepper said. She shoved his feet aside and took a seat on the edge of his desk. "And that's after your very lovely make-over. Do I sense Jan's hand?"

"What is with the Hulk references today? You know, the big guy does like me."

"The big guy likes everybody," Pepper said. "Seriously, Tony. What happened? Did you go out on a mission without telling me? We had a deal about that!"

"There was no mission, Pep. I spent the evening with Steve before he flew out to LA for the big Habitat for Humanity thing he's doing." He leaned forward and stared past her. "What the hell is this?"

Pepper turned and saw what had captured his attention so quickly: the television was running a story on Tony – she sighed as the phone in her office began to ring – and the screen was full of pictures of Tony that must have been taken in the thirty seconds between him getting out of the limo and before he made it in the front doors. He wasn't bothering to hide his face from the cameras, but he wasn't hamming it up for the reporters, either. Subtle and discreet, by Tony Stark standards.

A few other pictures flashed across the screen and Pepper made an aggravated sound. "Oh, come on! That one was taken in the boardroom! They are not allowed to complain about bad publicity ever again."

Tony wasn't especially concerned about where the photos had come from. "What are they saying about Steve?" he asked in a dangerously low voice – the low, flat sound of anger Pepper rarely heard from him outside of the Iron Man suit.

There were photos of Steve, too, that Pepper had mostly ignored, used to reporters showing the two of them whether the scandal involved them both or not. But now she looked and felt a hard weight in her stomach. "Oh," she said.

There were pictures of Steve in LA and all of them seemed to be close-ups on his hands – which, Pepper noted with a sinking feeling – were very scraped and bruised.

"Turn the sound on," Tony said in that same dangerous tone.

"No," Pepper said. "We do not need to hear this – whatever it is. Are they actually accusing Steve of domestic assault? Our Steve?"

"I'm going to sue someone," Tony said. "How stupid are these people, anyway? He's doing construction work, of course his hands are going to be scratched up! Anyway, he has a healing factor, scratches like that would be gone in hours!" He gave the television a glare that contained all of his not inconsiderable disdain for people who weren't as smart as Tony thought they should be.

"We're not suing anyone," Pepper said automatically, pulling her attention away from the television, where the graphics department had stamped the word "Assault?" in red block letters over a picture of Tony's battered face. "If we sue, that'll just make it more newsworthy and they'll be talking about it for weeks instead of days."

"This is slander," Tony bit off each word. "This is Steve's reputation."

"It's always someone's reputation," Pepper reminded him. She didn't even disagree with him, which was the worst part. She knew how the paparazzi could upset Steve sometimes, and she knew exactly how worried Tony was about making this relationship work. While she didn't believe Steve was going to call it off over anything the tabloids said, she could also understand why it got Tony so tense sometimes – and this was worse than the usual nonsense. "Everyone knows the paparazzi are basically novelists. You've played this game for years."

"This isn't – this isn't some vague rumor of an alleged hookup, or speculation on some kinky consensual sex. They're accusing him of criminal behavior." He jabbed a finger at the television screen. "This is the sort of thing that can ruin a person's reputation, Pepper. I can laugh it off when they accuse him of dumping me or getting me pregnant or getting me pregnant and dumping me, but I will not let them call him a bad person."

"I'll call legal, see if we can get a lid on it." She took the remote and turned the television off, not that it seemed to divert Tony's ire any. "I don't know what good it will do, Tony. Lawsuits just give a story wings, sometimes. The tabloids feed off press like that."

"Screw the tabloids. That was mainstream media. Sic the lawyers on them." Tony was sill glaring at the darkened TV screen. "See how fast they lose interest in the story once they realize a billionaire with a penchant for holding grudges is accusing them of slander. I'll frivolous lawsuit their asses straight into bankruptcy."

"You need to stay calm about this," Pepper said. "No one important is going to believe this of Steve and Steve himself isn't going to be happy with either of us if he comes back from LA and finds out that I've let you declare war on the media." She paused for a moment to pull out her phone and page the least antagonistic member of the legal department. "What did happen? They're going to ask."

"It was just a training accident," Tony said, exasperated. "I hit people and get hit on a fairly regular basis. This is not the first time this has happened."

"No," Pepper said dryly. "Last time it was Doctor Doom and the press all decided you were a masochist. This is just the newest rumor. It's tasteless, but no one will believe it any more than they believe any of the other rumors about you two."

"After the secretly-a-woman-and-pregnant story broke, people sent me baby gifts," Tony said. "Baby gifts."

"Fair enough," Pepper said. "But you let me handle this. You – go home early or down to R&D and build something flashy and explosive. Whatever. Just let me deal with this."

Tony made a sound like air being let out of a tire and Pepper pointed at him. "No," she said.

"But-"

"No."

"You're not my mother," Tony sulked, slumping back down in his office chair and looking – probably only half-intentionally – like a pouting five-year-old.

"Thank God," Pepper said with a bit more earnestness than she had meant to show, "because that would make our already strange and awkward sexual history even worse."

That got a startled laugh out of him, which was what she'd been aiming for. "Tony," she said, trying to project the absolute certainty she felt. "Steve is not going to lose sleep over this. He's not going to blame you. He's not going to think this is your fault. He's not going to leave you because some reporters said something mean about him. He's not the kind of person who'd do that."

Tony nodded, unconvincingly, but at least he nodded. "He hates all this, you know?" he said. "He'd be happier without it."

"But not without you," Pepper said, narrowing her eyes. "And if he's been giving you reason to believe otherwise, I have a pair of stiletto Louboutins with his name on them."

"No need for that," Tony said with a wry twist of a smile. "He's unreasonably perfect as far as boyfriends go. Anyway, I frequently make use of the parts of his anatomy you're threatening."

"I could just stab him in the foot," Pepper offered. She raised an eyebrow at him and he snorted.

"All right," he agreed. "I'll let you handle this. You're always better with the PR stuff than I am anyway."

Almost anyone is better at the PR stuff than Tony, who could charm and cajole anyone he wanted to but rarely, if ever, wanted to when the media was involved. "You still haven't told me what really happened. We can give the PR people and the lawyers the real story and let them decide how to release it. If nothing else, that might take some of the wind out of the rumors." There was a knock at the door of the office and she stepped away from his desk to answer it, flashing a quick smile at Jade Lawrence, the rep she'd paged from Legal. "Nothing kills a scandal quite like the boring-" she turned around and saw the look on Tony's face. "-truth. Tony?"

"It was an accident," he said again, and the edge of defensiveness in his voice made her throat tight.

"Excuse us," Pepper said and shut the door in Jade's face. She licked her lips and felt a little disloyal just thinking about what she was about to ask, but mostly her stomach clenched tight and hot, a sour ball rising in her throat because she already knew the answer. "Tony. Tell me what happened. Now."

****

Steve found him in the lab.

Tony had retreated there as soon as he reasonably could, leaving his phone in his room and routing all his calls through Pepper. She'd fuss at him for that later, but they'd both know it was probably a good thing he did. She was better at – well, almost everything that had to do with actually managing his business. So he let her do what she did, managing the fall-out and handling the press and stockholders and board, and he did what he did best, which was apparently hiding and pretending to work on the upgrades to the percussive arrows that he'd promised Clint.

If he'd thought about it, he would have expected Steve to come home early. But he hadn't really, too busy thinking about everyone else.

Steve stood in the doorway, watching Tony with a tight expression that seemed caught between guilt and a sympathetic wince. It was distinctly unflattering, Tony thought. He didn't look that bad.

"It looks a lot better than it did," he offered, straightening up from the plans he'd been half-heartedly examining.

Steve didn't seem to find that reassuring. "You look-"

"Handsome?"

"Like Hulk stomped on your face."

"So… ruggedly handsome?" Tony offered.

A half-smile tugged at one corner of Steve's mouth as he crossed the room to lean against the table beside Tony. He raised one hand, pausing in case Tony wanted him to stop, then traced the back of one finger down the curve of Tony's injured cheek. "This explains a lot," he said ruefully. "None of the reporters wanted to know about the construction, just whether I'd ever considered anger management therapy."

Tony laughed. "Yeah, they're all over this one. Avoid the phones, if you can. They've been calling nonstop all day."

Steve dropped his hand and crossed his arms over his chest. "That explains why Luke was shouting at someone on the kitchen phone when I came in, I suppose."

"One day he'll figure out that the more he yells, the more they're going to misquote him." Tony turned and leaned against the workbench beside Steve, leaning until their shoulders touched. "You didn't have to come back early."

"It felt wrong not to," Steve said simply and Tony frowned.

"I don't want the paparazzi to interfere with your plans," he said. "The Habitat thing- you wanted to do this."

"I did," Steve acknowledged. "But I was just attracting the press, and they were disrupting the work. And anyway, I know how they upset you. I already made arrangements to work another build site, a few weeks from now."

"Sorry," Tony offered.

Steve turned his head to press a kiss against Tony's temple, well above the bruising. "You don't have to apologize for them. Anyway, I figured I'd be safer here."

"Safer?"

"Mmm-hmm." Steve leaned against Tony a little. "If Jim Rhodes should show up looking for me, I plan on hiding behind you."

Tony laughed. "Pepper was threatening to sic him on you. Said if nothing else it would teach you to be more careful."

"She doesn't make idle threats." He sighed. "I'm so sorry, Tony."

"It's not your fault." Tony returned Steve's frown with a rueful smile. "Hey. It's not the first time you knocked me on my ass during a sparring lesson. It's just the first time you caught me so completely off-guard. But we'll chalk that up to the hazards of designing circuitry in your head when you're supposed to be learning how to block." Steve had already apologized for the lucky shot the night before, dropping kisses on Tony's cheek and laughingly threatening him with extra sessions, since Tony was so incredibly bad at hand-to-hand. It hadn't even hurt much at the time and they'd both written it off almost as soon as it happened. He nudged Steve with his elbow, just a little. "It could have been worse. I could have been sparring with Peter, who still doesn't remember to pull his punches half the time. Or Logan, who just stabs people."

"I didn't mean to hurt you," Steve offered like Tony didn't already know that. Steve never wanted to hurt anyone, especially not an ally, a friend, and Tony – Tony wasn't so completely lacking in interpersonal skills that he couldn't tell that Steve considered Tony an especially valued friend.

"Don't be stupid," he said.

Steve shook his head and when he spoke again his voice was tight. "I'd never –"

"I said don't be stupid," Tony told him.

Steve let out a long, slow hiss of breath and slid an arm around Tony's waist to pull him closer, turning a little until Tony was tucked against his chest. "I'd never hurt you," he said again, his breath ghosting over the bruises before he rested his head against Tony's. "Not on purpose. Not for anything."

"You're being stupid," Tony told him. "What did I tell you about that?"

"I wanted to say it." Steve pressed a kiss against Tony's hair, then pulled away, letting his hands slide down Tony's back. "Do you still want to train with me?"

"You are really lucky I already like you," Tony told him, "because I usually don't find myself attracted to people this dumb."

Steve grinned at him, a quick flash of teeth and the crinkling of the skin around his eyes. "Cyclops called and offered to let us have Psylocke for a few weeks so she could teach you some self-defense."

"God he's a bastard," Tony said with grudging admiration. "For the record, if Betsy Braddock shows up here, I'm hiding behind you."

"I told Scott that if he sent her I'd send him Tigra and Peter and wouldn't take them back."

"Very smart," Tony said approvingly and he leaned in for a kiss.

****

Movie night in Avengers Tower was very rarely a prearranged thing. What happened was that someone put on a movie and sat down to watch it, and eventually half the rest of the team would wander by and join them. Usually stealing their snacks and talking over the best parts, but that was half the fun.

Steve had fallen asleep somewhere around the time Milla Jovovich kicked a zombie Doberman in the face, the heathen, but it meant Tony no longer had to share the popcorn he'd snitched from Peter.

Bruce and Clint were arguing over whether to watch RE2 or skip to something else entirely and Tony was trying to remember if he'd ever seen the second one, but mostly he was starting to drift and didn't care what they put on as long as it didn't wake Steve. He was pretty comfortable where he was, his back to Steve's chest, Steve's legs cradling his. He could feel Steve's heartbeat, steady and strong, beneath him and if he paid attention, he could feel every soft breath against the top of his head. It was… good. Steve always made him feel good.

He was dimly aware of a new voice joining the discussion, but he was already half-asleep. He thought he heard his name, then someone plucked the half-empty bag of popcorn from his fingers.

He cracked an eyelid – only a little surprised to note that they were closed in the first place. The movie was over, and Jan was perusing the DVD selection while Hank leaned over her shoulder, one hand tracing up and down her back absently. Clint and Bruce were still bickering good-naturedly about which movie to watch next and Peter was asleep in a pile of pillows on the floor at their feet.

Rhodey dropped to the floor in front of Tony, the stolen popcorn held between his knees. "Hey, you're awake."

Tony blinked up at him. "Please tell me you didn't fly all the way out here just because of the paparazzi."

"Course not," Rhodey said through a mouthful of popcorn. He studied Tony's face critically – Tony was going to get a complex if people kept looking at him like that, he really was – and said, "I flew out here because I haven't seen you for a while. Though if I'd known I was missing out on Milla I'd have made an effort to catch an earlier plane."

"You can't beat up Steve," Tony said sleepily. "He's gonna hide behind me."

"Yeah, well." Rhodey reached over and poked at his bruises. It hurt, but not enough for Tony to do more than scowl. "These look worse than they are, huh?"

Steve shifted a little in his sleep and his arms tightened around Tony's waist for a moment before he settled again. Tony turned his head a little, pressed the uninjured side of his face into Steve's shoulder.

"I'm not gonna beat him up," Rhodey said, leaning against the couch and shoveling in another mouthful of popcorn. "Pepper says he's all right. And your friends told me what happened."

"He's good," Tony said, slipping a hand over the edge of the couch to pilfer some of the popcorn. "But I appreciate the thought."

Rhodey made a non-committal sound as Bruce finally won the movie debate and triumphantly queued up RE2 – Tony wondered if it was the zombie thing or Milla Jovovich that made him like these movies so much. "You look good, too," Rhodey said, he held the popcorn bag over his shoulder so Tony could grab some. "You look better than you've been in a while."

"I am," Tony said. He knocked his knuckles against the side of Rhodey's head, just a tap. "You know. Better. Happier. With him."

"Fair enough." Rhodey leaned his head back. "But if it happens again I'll return the favor. You can tell him that."

"Aww, Snickerdoodle. It's good to know you care."

"Shut up, dumbass. And stop stealing my popcorn."

Chapter Text

The Superhuman Star
Drinking Himself to Death!

 

It looks like everyone's favorite playboy-billionaire turned superhero has been hiding a dark secret. The Superhuman Star has first hand reports that recovering alcoholic Tony "Iron Man" Stark has fallen off the wagon in a big way.

It's been years since Tony's drunken shenanigans made headlines or resulted in horribly embarassing photographs being posted all over the internet (see pages 88 and 90-92!) and Tony has very publicly credited his ongoing sobriety to personal determination and the support of the people closest to him. So what could make America's iron-plated playboy stumble?

Sources close to Tony are blaming an unlikely source: The Avengers.

"Part of it's the stress," a former SHIELD agent told this reporter. "Saving the world and having people try to kill you all the time is bad enough, but Stark's never good enough. The Avengers act like family in front of the press, but behind the scenes it's like a feeding frenzy. They tear Stark apart over stuff that no one else would care about. I know the guy's been a fuck-up in the past, but it's like no one's willing to forgive him."

And unfortunately it seems there's no safe haven for Tony to turn to, as even his best friend turned lover, Captain Steven Rogers, is adding to the stress. He's made it clear in the past that he neither approved of, nor supported Tony's drinking, and now he's making his disapproval clear all over again. Our sources inside the Avengers tell us that Cap has grounded Iron Man from several missions until Tony gets his act together. They've even stopped sleeping in the same bed.

"Cap demands a lot of the people in his life," one of Cap's former girlfriernds told us on the grounds that her identity remain a secret. "He's this pinacle of human perfection and he doesn't have any patience for us mere mortals. If you screw up, or if you do something he thinks is wrong, he doesn't let it go. I feel bad for Stark. That kind of constant judgment and disapproval is hard to live with."

Surely Tony's non-Avengers friends and loved ones will rally around him in his time of need? Not so, according to our sources at Stark Industries.

"Mr. Stark has a very small pool of non-Avengers friends and no family to speak of," our source said. "Half of them never approved of all this superhero stuff. The others are torn between thinking Tony's relationship with Cap is disgusting, or thinking that Cap's too good for him. And with the economy in the toilet there's a lot of pressure on him to keep the company successful."

According to people close to him, Tony's been off the wagon for a couple of months, but until recently had been able to control himself and keep his 'slips' private. But recently his drinking has increased dramatically.

"I really think he's just trying to kill himself without anyone knowing that's what he wants," our SI insider told us. "It's like he can't stop himself. I've seen him drink enough to kill a horse and somehow get up the next day and do everything they're demanding of him."

That kind of behavior is a desperate cry for help, one no one in Tony's life seems willing to answer. Unfortunately, if history repeats itself, Tony's got a long, lonely road ahead of him.

****

"What would you do if I started drinking again?"

Steve didn't open his eyes, just turned his head to nose at Tony's temple. "I'd help you stop."

"What if I couldn't stop?"

"I know you," Steve said. "You're stronger than the addiction. So I'd find out what happened to make you think you weren't and I'd help you with that."

"What if there wasn't anything? What if I was just a drunk?"

Steve breathed out slowly and took a deep breath, filling his lungs with the smell of sweat and sex and Tony's shampoo. "What's wrong?"

Tony ignored him, his body tensing a little where he was pressed against Steve. "What if I was? What if I was just a drunk. Nothing made me, nothing was wrong. I just didn't want to stop."

"That's a tough question," Steve said. He stared up at the ceiling, the room completely dark except for the blue-white light of the arc reactor, dulled by sheets, partially blocked where Tony's chest was pressed against Steve's side. His head was on Steve's shoulder, one arm slung across Steve's waist.

Tony had been withdrawnall day. Not unhappy, just introspective. Thoughtful. Not the way he could be when he had a project he was devoting his every waking thought to; then he was all barely restrained energy and sudden non-sequitors. Today he'd been still and mostly silent, joining in the conversations when invited but rarely volunteering anything. But he hadn't seemed upset. He'd been quiet but affectionate and he'd smiled easily enough when their teammates pulled him into some silly argument over dinner.

Steve stroked his hand down Tony's back, traced the bumps and ridges of his spine and let his fingers smooth over the small of Tony's back, brush over the tight curve of his rear. Their lovemaking had been quieter tonight, slow and deliberate, but no less passionate than usual and, if anything, Steve thought perhaps a bit more intimate for taking their time. Even now, Tony didn't seem upset so much as… expectant.

"A tough question," he said again. "I don't know, really. You don't want that. The man you are today isn't the man you're describing. So I don't know. I think I'd probably still try to convince you to stop because that isn't healthy. Your liver, if nothing else."

Tony laughed, just a huff of breath, soundless against Steve's shoulder. "Of course."

Steve palmed the curve of Tony's hip. "Are you thinking about it?"

The silence between them was still and heavy for a moment. "I think about it all the time," Tony said finally. "But less now then before. Today is… throwing off my average a little."

His heartbeat was steady against Steve's side, the smooth metal of the arc reactor warmed between them. Tony shifted and the light threw vague shadows across the wall for a moment before he settled. Even covered by the sheet, the light of the reactor was enough to see by, but it had never bothered Steve, who had learned to sleep in the noise of a Brooklyn tenement long before he mastered rest on the battlefield. The arc reactor's light was brilliant like daylight and Tony had fussed in the beginning, talking about Steve's melanin, talking about circadian rhythms and trying to wear heavy t-shirts to bed at night to dim the glow. But Steve liked it, found it reassuring in the middle of the night when a nightmare woke him. On the nights they didn't spend together – fewer and fewer now and Steve wondered if it was too soon to say something to Tony, if it would feel like pushing – he would wake to a completely dark room and worry.

"Did something happen?" In almost five years Tony had wavered only a handful of times that Steve knew of. The night he left Rumiko. When Ultron took over the Iron Man armor with Tony trapped inside. The day Steve almost chose to use the Puppet Master's time travel dolls to return to the past. And once or twice when there was no clear trigger, no easy place to lay the blame, just the inevitable struggle between the addiction and the man.

"No," Tony said in a thoughtful voice. His breath was warm against Steve's skin and Tony rolled his head a little, let his lips brush against Steve's shoulder, a casual, almost thoughtless affection that never failed to make Steve's breath catch. "It's not – there wasn't anything. I don't even want it, not really. I just can't stop remembering how it felt when I did. Sometimes I remember more clearly than others why I went down that road in the first place."

An emotionally abusive father, a loving, but distant mother, finding himself an orphan too young, shouldering responsibilities that would crush lesser men. And that was before the cave, before Afghanistan and Stane and everything that came with them. Steve slid his hand up Tony's side but didn't touch the arc reactor. "Is there anything I can do?"

There wasn't, and they both knew it. Tony couldn't be sober for someone else, and no one else could be sober for him. It wouldn't work unless he wanted it to and even then Steve knew the odds. He had gone to the AA meetings that Tony couldn't bring himself to attend, he had read the literature that Tony refused to acknowledge. Tony hadn't wanted to know the odds, hadn't cared, had said he'd beaten them all before and would again.

And Steve had believed him, believed in him, but the numbers had held a strange sort of comfort to him anyway. Only thirty percent of alcoholics ever recovered, but those were odds Tony could beat. And of those thirty nearly all of them slipped at least once and were able to start again, so Tony could too, if it happened.

Five years was the magic number. Almost no one relapsed after five clean years. Steve knew that holding onto that number as some kind of talisman was ridiculous, but he did it anyway. He never wanted to see Tony hurting as much as he had been back then. He never wanted to see Tony slip away from him like that again.

Even then, Steve knew with the clarity of hindsight, he'd loved this man beyond all reason.

"You're doing it," Tony said. He splayed his hand flat against Steve's stomach, stroked his fingers over the soft skin of his lower belly. It would have been arousing another time, but for then it was just a touch, one of the hundred little ways Tony reached out for him. Steve loved that about Tony, how casually he would show affection, like he wasn't even thinking about it, like it was so natural that he couldn't help himself. He guarded himself so fiercely with others. "You're here. I always feel like I'm a better man when you're with me."

Steve shifted onto his side, until he could wrap his free arm around Tony. He kissed Tony, with the heavy silence of the words around them and the light of the arc reactor pinned between their bodies. "I know how that feels," he said, breathing the words into Tony's skin like it would make him believe them more. "I've always felt the same way when you're with me."

The tension was seeping out of Tony's skin, some of it honest exhaustion, most of it relief. He kissed Steve back and asked, "Tomorrow. Can we just sleep in? If you don't have anywhere to be?"

"There's nowhere else," Steve assured him. He tugged Tony against his chest until the reactor's light was almost completely sealed between them, pressed a kiss to Tony's temple as the other man's breathing slowly deepened and evened out against his throat. "Go to sleep. When you wake up, I'll still be here."

Chapter Text

The holiday season is a time of forgiveness, a time of sentimentality, and that certainly seems to be the case in New York City where playboy billionaire Tony Stark has started up his on-again, off-again sexcapades with sizzling hot ex-BFF Tiberius Stone.

The two haven't been seen together in public since the very, very dramatic break-up of Tony's engagement to mutual friend Rumiko Fujikawa three years ago, a break-up Tiberius took full credit for. But the estrangement was never serious, according to Ty. And when Tony and Ty hooked up at a holiday celebration this past weekend, sparks were flying.

"We've always had a lot of chemistry, Tony and I," Tiberius told the Superhuman Star in an exclusive interview. "We were never really on the outs, though I think he was kind of embarrassed about the whole Rumiko thing. But that was a long time ago."

The old friends meet up regularly when their business interests take them to the same city. And apparently Tony even takes time out of Avengers business for booty calls!

Stony fans shouldn't fret, though, there's no trouble in that paradise. According to Tiberius: "It's just sex, honestly. As long as Tony still comes running when Cap snaps his fingers, he doesn't care."

****

Tony Stark was not used to being this bored at a party.

He was a professional partier, after all. He'd been shmoozing since he was in grade school, learning how to press the flesh and charm the party-goers at his parents' side. He could fake enthusiasm better than a car salesman desperate for a commission. And he was never, ever at loose ends for insincere conversation.

He supposed there was nothing stopping him from enjoying the party a little more. The string quartet was lovely and after more than an hour of playing had not yet been forced to start repeating their selection of Christmas music. The catering was superb, a fact Tony greatly appreciated, since by the time he'd allowed Pepper to drag him out of the workshop and more or less stuff him into the shower, it had been far too late to eat.

But the decorations were hideous. It was like a rich guy with no taste had gone completely off the ropes in the Christmas aisle at a Walmart. There were blinking colored lights draped more or less everywhere, and there was a singing Santa Claus gyrating his hips on the mantle. Part of Tony wanted to twitch every time someone got close enough to set it off and part of him wanted to see if he could smuggle it out under his coat and get out of having to shop for Clint. It wasn't even Thanksgiving yet, which made everything worse. Tony didn't know if there were any specific rules about when one was allowed to decorate, but he was pretty sure that if he tried to hang fairy lights everywhere before Pepper got her traditional Thanksgiving Family Dinner, she'd beat him down with a cornucopia. Jarvis would probably just flat-out murder him.

All of which was bad enough, but the company was dreadful, too. Board members, investors... other people Tony suspected he was supposed to know but didn't. Parties thrown by business associates were usually terrible, but this was bordering on torture.

Steve's company would make it far more bearable – Steve's company made very nearly anything bearable of course, except possibly those reality shows Peter was always watching – but Steve had been kidnapped immediately after they arrived by a group of gray-haired men bent on reliving America's glory days. Tony caught a glimpse of him occasionally, nodding politely and gesturing with his water glass, probably lecturing them on the corruption of American values and why they should be donating more to charity. Tony couldn't help the little smile that played across his lips at the thought. He had been inviting Steve to SI charity dinners for years for a reason.

“You look like you're thinking of something pleasant,” a warm voice spoke suddenly, almost directly into his ear.

Tony startled, but someone thrust a champagne flute at him and he caught it on instinct. He blinked at it, almost warily, until he realized it was full of sparkling cider.

Tiberius Stone lifted his own glass of cider, fidgeting slightly at Tony's side. “Peace offering?”

“Peace offering?” Tony repeated, and that was apparently close enough to acceptance for Ty, who took it as an invitation to lean against the wall beside Tony.

“You looked bored,” Tiberius said by way of explanation. “God knows I am, so I figured, what the hell. Be bored together.” He took a sip of cider, then made a face. “Okay, that does not taste like apples.”

Tony tried a quick taste, just enough to wet his tongue. “White grapes.”

Ty gave him a sideways look. “Okay. You know, it never even occurred to me that there was more than one kind of cider. I have learned something this evening.”

Every muscle in Tony's body felt tense. “I'm glad it was edifying for you, Tiberius. Feel free to fuck off any time now.”

Tiberius sighed and slumped against the wall. “Would apologizing even do me any good here?”

“Do you even know what this so-called apology would be for?” Tony ask. He scanned the room, trying to pick Steve out of the crowd without making it obvious.

“You have to let me explain about Rumiko.”

“She was my fiancee. I loved her more than I had ever loved anyone and you fucked her while I was on a business trip.” He crossed his arms over his chest, the still-full champagne flute held in the tips of his fingers. “Explain that to me. I dare you.”

Tiberius made a face, then took a dip sip of the cider, clearly wishing it was something stronger. “She was wrong for you. You have to know that, Tone. You do know that, I can see it in your eyes. She was bright and vibrant and being chained up waiting for you to come out of the lab and notice her again was weighing her down. She was already losing interest, starting to drift and when you starting becoming so involved with the Avengers, stopped going to galas and premiers – it was only a matter of time, Tony. I thought – hell, who knows. I thought if it wasn't me it would just be some other guy and maybe I could show you what was going to happen before you had to pay for a messy divorce.”

“So you slept with Rumiko to help me out? That's the story now?”

“That was always the story!” Tiberius glanced around and made a visible effort to lower his voice. “You just never let me explain. You caught us that night and just cut me out of your life without a word. And I respected that, didn't I? Three years, Tony and I never bothered you once.”

The sad thing was, Tony could see it. Rumiko hadn't been a good fit – Ty might have been a drunk and a dumbass, but she had been neither. Whatever had prompted her to go to Ty's bed, loneliness or anger or – well, it hadn't been alcohol making her decisions for her. And looking back, Tony could easily see it happening just the way Tiberius described: Rumiko slowly realizing she'd hitched her wagon to a loser and looking for a way out. Tiberius, a drunken dumbass who was still more observant than Tony and had actually seen the end coming.

Something like melancholy settled in Tony's chest. He didn't think about Rumiko a lot anymore. There had been others since her: the thing with Pepper, which had ended better than he'd had any reason to hope, a handful of one-night-stands and casual relationships with Carol and Natasha and Thor – friends-with-benefits more than romance. And Steve of course. There was Steve now (there had always been Steve). But Rumiko had been different. Rumiko was the only person who had – for some brief, fleeting moment – actually wanted to spend the rest of her life with Tony. But not for long, apparently. And not without regret.

“You've had your chance to explain,” Tony said tiredly. “Does it make you feel better?”

“I didn't do it to hurt you,” Tiberius said, which was probably true. Ty never tried to hurt anyone.

“You went straight to the press,” Tony reminded him, and the years-old knot of betrayal was cold and heavy in his stomach. “Did you do that to protect me, too?”

“The tabloids make that shit up all the time, Tony. We both know that. How many of your new friends have been quoted saying things you'd have thought they'd never say about you?”

Tony took a sip of cider and licked his lips. The cider settled the uneasy feeling in his stomach a little and he dragged his eyes away from the crowd of bored and boring party-goers. “You don't get to pull shit like that again. I don't care how drunk you were or how noble your intentions might have been.”

“I won't. I promise.”

“You're still a jackass,” Tony said.

“I've been told that before.” Ty smiled at him, hesitant but hopeful. “By you, actually.”

“Can't imagine why,” Tony said and just like that, three years of tension and distance snapped.

“Here,” Ty said, reaching for Tony's glass. He fumbled it a little, got their fingers tangled together as he tried to take the glass before Tony had let go. “Let me just – I'll refill these and be right back, okay? Don't go anywhere.”

Tony watched, slightly bemused, as Ty maneuvered his way through the crowd in search of a waiter. He hadn't – that was so far down on the list of things he might have expected to happen. His chest felt oddly tight and his fingers itched slightly, like he was meant to be doing something he couldn't remember. Almost of their own volition, his eyes cut away from Ty and scanned the rest of the room, searching out Steve. For a guy who was a head and shoulders taller than most of the other people in the room, Steve was damn good at blending into the crowd.

Happy Hogan caught Tony's eye and made his way across the room to stand at his boss's side. “The Captain's been dragged off by a half-dozen investors and is holding court in the den, congratulating them quite eloquently on approving your latest philanthropic endeavor.”

“Which they haven't, and don't intend to do,” Tony remarked.

“They will by the end of the night. I never realized Captain America was such a manipulative bastard, but he's shaming them into it, sure enough.” Happy nodded in what could only be interpreted as an approving manner.

“He's in the den, you said?” Tony considered going to find him. Watching Steve browbeat his investors sounded like a lot more fun than anything else going on at this party.

“I think it's a den. A library? I don't know every room in this house looks alike. Old books, uncomfortable furniture, no television.” Happy sounded especially disgruntled by that one.

Tony grinned at him. “Missing the game tonight? It was suppose to be your night off, you know. I think the baby bodyguards could have kept me in line tonight without their old man watching over them.”

The look Happy gave him spoke eloquently on a number of subjects, not the least of them Tony's ability to be kept in line by anyone. “They're a good team. But they haven't figured out you're full of shit yet. And if you ditch your guards one more time and end up gallivanting around the city Pepper will end me.”

“I'm a super-hero,” Tony said to the ceiling because telling Happy and Pepper – and, for that matter, Rhodey and Jarvis and the board of directors – never seemed to take. “I have an indestructible suit of armor that shoots repulsor beams out of the hands and can fly. Where is this impression that I'm helpless coming from?”

“Well, Cap would be there, I'm sure,” Happy said, like Tony hadn't even spoken. “He's as good at ten of my guys, even if he won't carry a gun. But he humors you too much. So probably best to just keep an eye on you.” Happy made a sound not unlike a disgruntled dog. “My team's been sucking anyway. Maybe it's for the best that I don't have to watch them blow it in real time.”

“Yes,” Tony agreed, rolling his eyes at the ceiling, because really, he got no respect, not even from his own employees. “What sport is in season now, anyway?”

Happy didn't deign to respond to that, but Tony knew he'd find the flatscreen in his office magically tuned to ESPN a lot in the coming weeks. “Did you want me to let the Captain know you were looking for him?” One of his hands hovered over the earpiece he wore; a single tap would activate an open comm channel that any SI security personnel present would be able to hear. “I can have his guy slip him a message.”

“You've got security on Steve?”

“Captain Rogers always has a guard assigned to his personal security when he attends an SI function or if the two of you are out together,” Happy said.

Tony hadn't known that, actually, but it was a good idea. All he needed was one of his enemies taking a shot at him in his civilian life and – no. “Thank you, Happy. That's good thinking. I should have thought of it myself.” A thought occurred to him. “Did you do that for my exes?”

“Not regularly,” Happy said carefully. He eyed Tony briefly, before sweeping his gaze over the room. “If someone was with you, then of course your security team would extend to them in an emergency.”

But Steve warranted his own bodyguard. Either Happy thought Steve's presence made things even more dangerous – Tony always felt safer with Steve around, honestly, so probably not – or his people liked Steve enough to extend him the courtesy and protection.

Or they thought he liked Steve enough.

They weren't wrong.

“Well, regardless, it's a good idea. Thank you, Happy, I -” He caught sight of Tiberius returning through the crowd and felt inexplicably disappointed. That probably wasn't fair – Ty was trying, after all and Tony had been complaining of boredom just a little while ago. Anyway, as much as Tony considered Happy a friend, he was here in a professional capacity and it wasn't right for Tony to distract him while he was working just to entertain himself. “Happy. You remember Tiberius Stone, don't you?”

Happy looked at him like he was speaking gibberish for a moment, and it probably did seem a strange non sequitur. Tony nodded in Ty's direction and he blinked a little to see Happy's expression slip into something close to violent fury before smoothing over into a professional mask of indifference. “I do, boss. If you'll forgive me,” he said, nodding to Tony and ignoring Tiberius entirely, “I should get back to my post before the boys think it's all right to goof off.”

Tony was still blinking at his back when Ty slid into Happy's place and offered Tony a full glass. “Ah, that face I recognize. Good old Happy Hogan – though I don't recall him ever looking very happy to see me. Your employees never did like me much.”

“You were a bad influence,” Tony said automatically, echoing something Pepper had told him dozens of times over the years. He closed his fingers around the stem of the flute and couldn't help but think of the way her voice used to sound whenever the subject came up. How fucking tired she used to seem back them.

“Come on,” Ty said. He tugged on Tony's wrist and his fingers felt familiar as they curled around Tony's skin even if he squeezed a little too tight. “Let's go sit down. I'm tired of holding up the wall.”

The crowd got considerably less dense as Ty led Tony away from the main room. Whoever's house this was – Tony really ought to pay more attention when Pepper told him these things – it rivaled Stark Manor for space and grandeur, although whoever decorated the place needed to be dragged out into the street and shot. Happy had been right about that much. Nothing but oppressive dark paneling and uncomfortable chairs as far as the eye could see. And landscapes. Lots of really ugly landscapes. Tony's taste in portraits ran a bit to the fanboy-ish side, he could admit it, but that was why he let Pepper decorate anywhere that normal people might see.

Ty led him across an enormous echoing foyer, into a small den that smelt like no one had so much as opened the door in years. Tony flexed his fingers, his wrist twisting slightly in Ty's grip, but the other man didn't seem to notice. “It's really good to see you again, Tony.” He set his glass down on end table and turned, sliding both arms around Tony's waist. “I really hoped I'd get this chance.”

“Ty,” Tony said warily, and then Tiberius was kissing him. It was – too rough, for a friendly kiss and too deep. Ty's teeth bit at Tony's bottom lip and his fingers were digging into Tony's back like Ty was trying to push under his skin. He tasted like scotch.

He tasted wrong. Felt wrong.

He pulled back, pressed his free hand flat against Ty's chest and pushed. “What the hell? We're on speaking terms for five minutes and you think this is okay?”

Tiberius laughed. “Oh come on. I've seen you beg like a whore with your boardmembers in the next room. You're a sure thing, Stark.”

Tony's own voice echoed in his head from months earlier: "I'm a sure thing, Steve. For you, I am. I'll always be.” It made it easier for him to put some steel in his voice. “Not for you. Those times are over, Ty. They have been for years.”

“Oh, come on. You're always up for a good time.” His gaze wandered lower. “You're always up for me. Or you used to be, anyway.”

Tony caught Ty's hand before it could drift any lower. “It's been a long time, and I'm here with someone.”

“Yeah, Captain Oblivious out there. I saw how with you he was when he ditched you the second he walked through the door and didn't so much as glance in your direction for the rest of the night. I bet he doesn't even know you're gone. Would he even care if he did? Would your captain care if he caught us together? Or would he just be relieved?” Tiberius rolled his eyes. “Come on, Tony. Even you aren't that fucking blind. Whatever thrill Soldier Boy was getting out of you, it has long passed. It's like watching you with Rumiko all over again. It's goddamn embarrassing.”

Tony took a step back, some cold emotion curling in his belly. He couldn't decide what it was, exactly, but it tasted like lead in the back of his mouth. “That's enough. This isn't the same.”

Tiberius exhaled sharply. “Of course it is. Jesus. Tony, I've known you for how long? I know you, okay? And you're so far gone on this guy that you can't even see he's just using you.”

“Don't,” Tony said sharply enough that Ty actually paused. “You might know me, but you don't know him. Steve's a better person than that, so just don't.”

“Hey.” Ty cupped Tony's chin in one hand, his nails digging into the skin. “Listen. I'm just looking out for you. Like before.”

“When you fucked my girlfriend and threw away our friendship?” Tony snapped.

I explained that!” Ty shouted. “Why do you make it impossible to be your friend, Tony? I'm trying here, all right? But you make it so goddamn impossible to be there for you. It's why Rumiko got tired of you and it's why Pepper left you and it's why Rhodes is never around anymore-”

“Don't,” Tony said.

“Let me prove it to you,” Ty said. “Like I did before. Maybe when I've got GI Joe bent over a table you'll understand-”

“Enough.” Tony said sharply. Something like panic was crawling up his throat, bile rising at the images that flashed through his mind. Steve wouldn't, and he clung to that. Even if Ty would, Steve wouldn't. Even if Ty was right, Steve wouldn't. “This was a terrible fucking idea.”

“You know I'm right.” Ty's voice was soft, sympathetic. “It was never going to work with him, was it? He's too much like Rumiko. This beautiful, decent guy, so full of potential. No one blames you for wanting to be a part of that, Tony, but you have to be honest with yourself. You're just dragging him down. How long till he realizes that for himself? If he hasn't already? Do you really want him to be with you out of pity? Because he can't figure out how to dump you without causing a scene? Do you really want to wonder, every time he fucks you, if he even really wants it?”

Tony pinched the bridge of his nose. “I don't want to talk about this with you, Ty.” He turned his back to Ty, trying to put something between them and took a deep breath. He remembered the flute of cider, still in his hand and he started to take a sip.

Champagne. Tiberius had given him alcohol.

Of course he had.

Tony closed his eyes and breathed.

“Tony.” Tiberius pressed up against his back. “Let me do this for you. You know I'll always love you. You don't have to give up anything for me. I'll never ask you to change the way he has.”

“He never asked me to change,” Tony said quietly. “He just believed I could.”

There was movement in the doorway, and he looked up to see Steve lingering just inside the room.

“Tony,” Steve said. His smile was easy, but his eyes were sharp and hard. “I was looking for you.”

“Eventually,” Tiberius said under his breath, resting his chin on Tony's shoulder.

Tony shook him off and stepped away, setting the champagne down beside Tiberius' drink. “Sorry, Steve. Ty and I were just going over old times. You do remember Ty, don't you?”

“I can't say I do,” Steve said, and it was perfect, the one way to really burn someone like Ty. Make him unimportant. Make him powerless. “One of your college buddies?”

Tony gave him a tired smile. “Not exactly.”

Tiberius slid an arm around Tony's waist, possessively tight. “We go back a long way, Cap. Tony and I have a very intimate friendship.”

“Ty,” Tony said quietly. “You can go.”

It seemed to shock Ty into stillness, but Tony didn't so much as glance at him. “And you don't need to come back.” He met Steve's gaze and held it as years of friendship flashed before his eyes. “Ever.”

Tiberius pulled away like Tony had burned him. “You don't have to put on a show for the Captain, Tony. I'm sure he knows what you're like by now.”

“He does, I think.” Tony shook his head to ward of Steve's sudden flare of temper. “But I'm not sure you do, anymore. And I really think you need to go.”

Tiberius snatched one of the champagne flutes off the end table and tossed it back. “You never know what's good for you,” he said in a low voice. “You never have. When you ruin this like you ruin everything else, I won't be there to pick up the pieces for you.”

There was something in Tony's chest, something sick and heavy and aching, but it wasn't anything like regret. “I can handle that,” he said, and it was probably even true.

Steve stepped aside as Tiberius strode past and shut the door quietly behind him. “Tony?”

"Sorry about that," he said. He offered Steve a smile that felt exhausted and - judging by the look in Steve's eyes – looked even worse.

"Not your fault," Steve said. They paused there for a moment, just watching each other. “I – Happy told me that you might want some back up. You looked-”

“I can imagine how I looked,” Tony said.

“If I intruded,” Steve started to day, but he seemed to change his mind halfway through. “I'm not sorry I interrupted. I heard some of what he said to you.”

"Yeah, no. It's all right. Your timing was pretty good, actually. I don't think I ever realized what a little shit Tiberius can be.” He leaned against the back of a truly hideous leather loveseat. He felt tired, suddenly, like just being around Ty had been draining him. "Probably because in the past I'd have been phenomenally drunk. That definitely messes with your perspective."

"I didn't like the way he was acting," Steve said flatly. He leaned against the wall opposite Tony and crossed his arms over his chest, the material of his suit straining just a little at the shoulders. The corners of his mouth turned down. "He shouldn't put his hands on anyone like that, it isn't right."

"Yeah, well. He probably didn't expect me to say no," Tony said with a tired sigh. "I don't know if I ever did, before. Not that he seemed to care much."

"Sounds like a swell guy," Steve said sourly.

"He's a prince," Tony acknowledged. "My taste in friends is a lot better these days." He offered Steve a half-smile and was rewarded with a full grin in return. "I am sorry you had to see that, though. I didn't want you to get the wrong idea or anything."

"I don't think there's any wrong idea to be had. He was increasingly hostile and he had his hands all over you. If he's still out there when we go back out, we should ask Security to keep an eye on him. He might try to bother someone who's not as capable of taking care of themselves as you are."

Tony felt a little twinge of disappointment, which was ridiculous because even he was emotionally mature enough to know that Steve's attitude was incredibly healthy. "You're not the jealous type," he said. "I've noticed that before."

"I don't think jealousy accomplishes anything," Steve said. "I'm human, so I feel it sometimes, but..." he trailed off. "You were worried I'd be jealous of Tiberius Stone?"

"Not worried, exactly." Tony absolutely did not think that it might have been nice – just a little – if Steve had been. You know. In a thoroughly mature and healthy sort of way. Ty's words were still fresh in his memory, telling him that Steve wasn't jealous because Steve didn't care and even Tony knew that was just fucked up.

"Tony." Steve sounded amused and he stepped into Tony's personal space. "There is no reason on this planet why I would be jealous of Tiberius Stone." He cupped Tony's face in one hand and rubbed his thumb against Tony's bottom lip. "He is an angry, bitter man who is only just beginning to realize everything he's wasted in his life. And I am here with you." He kissed Tony lightly.

"You are way too nice." Tony grinned against Steve's mouth. "You're sure you're not even a little jealous?"

"I'm a little angry," Steve admitted. "I want him to treat you with respect. But not jealous. He's out there, wishing he was in here with you. I'm here with you, not wanting to be anywhere else. There's not a damn thing I'd envy Tiberius Stone. If anything, I feel a little sorry for him." He reached over and locked the door.

Tony licked his lips.

Steve gave Tony a thoughtful look as he came closer. "Definitely not jealous," he said as he pushed Tony's jacket off his shoulders and let it fall to the floor. "But if he touches you like he was again – if he talks to you like that again – I'll make sure he can't.”

Tony chuckled, surprised to realize he was shaking a little as Steve began undoing the buttons on his shirt one by one. "Are we having sex in someone's den while my asshole ex is outside?"

"I admit, the ex was not part of my plans," Steve confessed. He pushed Tony's shirt open and slid his hands across Tony's chest.

"You planned this?"

"Well, I know you hate these parties." Steve bent his head and ran his tongue over the arc reactor's casing.

Tony combed his fingers through Steve's hair as Steve lapped at the rough skin around the arc reactor's edges. "So you planned semi-public sex? Oh, God I love you so much right now."

Steve blew slightly on the wet skin and Tony shivered. "Check my pants," he said, before ducking his head to suckle at one of Tony's nipples.

Resisting the urge to slide to the floor in a boneless heap was harder than it should have been, but Tony just clenched his fingers in Steve's hair and held him closer against Tony's chest. He slid his free hand inside the waistband of Steve's pants and slid downward to palm Steve's cock through his boxers. "Found it," he teased, pressing down.

Steve groaned and bit down on Tony's chest, teeth digging into the muscle just hard enough to hurt a little. He humped into Tony's grip a little and Tony rewarded him with a quick stroke of his fingers over the length of him.

"Pocket," Steve said, running his tongue over the flesh he's just abused. He pressed one of his hands over Tony's and held him there as he rocked his hips into their joined touch. "Check my pocket."

"Oh, well you should have been more specific." Tony groped for Steve's pockets with his free hand, loving the way Steve thrust almost helplessly against him as Tony stroked over his stomach and stole into his pocket. "What are you hiding in here, hmm?" He arched his back as Steve groaned against his chest. "Is this – Oh, my God." His fingers closed over foil and plastic and he laughed. "Oh god. Did you bring lube and condoms to a Christmas party? Captain America brought lube and condoms to a Christmas party."

Steve pressed both of their hands against his erection and rolled his hips. "Captain America believes in being prepared," he said, lifting his head to cover Tony's mouth in a deep kiss. He leaned his weight against Tony, pushing him back against the wall, trapping their hands between their bodies. "And I knew I'd never be able to spend an entire night with you and not want to have you." He squeezed Tony's hand, then released him. "Undress for me."

Tony kept his grip in Steve's hair, didn't let him pull away too far. "Don't take this the wrong way or anything, but I am so glad you turned out to be a huge slut."

Steve looked at him from beneath his lashes, and the flush that stained his cheeks had nothing to do with embarrassment. "Only for you. I mean it, Tony. Now get your clothes off before I can't wait anymore."

Whether it was the words, or the tone of Steve's voice as he said them, every syllable went straight to Tony's cock and made him instantly, almost painfully, hard. He tugged at his tie, letting it drop to the floor. Knowing that they'd both be rumbled and wrinkled when they returned to the party, letting everyone know what they'd been up to, just made him harder. He pulled at his shirt, tugging it out of his pants and yanking it off his arms as he watched Steve strip with a single-minded efficiency.

"Look at you," he said as he shrugged out of the shirt, dropping it on top of his blazer. Steve was stepping out of his slacks, thigh muscles tensing and easing with each step, his stomach muscles tense with arousal. His cock was deep red and already leaking. Tony licked his lips and tore off his belt. "Come here, Steve." The sound that came out of Steve's mouth sounded like a growl and Tony grinned, bared his teeth and felt something needy uncurl in his chest.

Steve cupped Tony's face in one hand, thumb stroking along the curve of his jaw. "You're still dressed."

"I don't need to be naked for this," Tony said, and he dropped to his knees.

He took Steve in fast, took the bitter-salt taste of him as deep as he could. Steve was hot, his pulse pounding against Tony's tongue. Both of Steve's hands grabbed at his head, but the hold was careful, not trying to control Tony's movements at all. Tony rewarded him with a quick suck, then pulled back enough to let all but the head slide free. He suckled at the head, looking up to see Steve watching him through hooded eyes. Steve, gentle, sweet Steve, really got off on watching Tony suck him. Christ, life was good sometimes. He took Steve in again, as deep as he could, and swallowed. He tasted ejaculate as Steve struggled for control, his hands cradling Tony's head, his breath coming in harsher and shorter puffs.

"It won't take much," Steve warned him, his thighs flexing under Tony's hands as Steve resisted the instinct to move. Tony swallowed again and grinned when Steve's hands tightened in his hair and tugged. "Tony. Please, I want you naked."

He reluctantly released Steve, pressed an open-mouthed kiss to Steve's hip as he waited for Steve to let go of the grip he had on Tony's hair. Instead Steve dropped to his knees in front of Tony and pulled him up in to a kiss, hard and demanding, his tongue pushing between Tony's lips. Steve shuddered at the taste of himself in Tony's mouth, but just pulled him closer, kissed him harder for a long minute, before he let go. He tugged on Tony's hair, slid his fingers across the scalp in an apologetic rub. "Get on your back."

Tony said something blasphemous and scrambled to obey. He fumbled with the buttons on his pants, pushing them down his hips. Steve pulled them the rest of the way off, tugging Tony's shoes off his feet and tossing the whole tangled mass to the side. He took Tony by the hips, his hands fitting over the curve of bone perfectly, like they were made to fit there, and hauled Tony across the floor till he was flat on his back, legs spread to accommodate Steve between them. Steve slid his hands down to stroke Tony's inner thighs, dragged his nails over the softer skin there, then ducked his head to kiss the thin red lines he'd left behind. "Condom," he said, trailing quick, hard kisses down Tony's leg. He nosed against the skin of Tony's belly, pressed his face into the crease between leg and groin, and took a deep breath.

The foil square was on the floor a few inches away, where Tony had dropped it in his haste to undress. He scrabbled for it, stretching to avoid having to pull away from Steve's touch – he didn't think he could have even if he'd wanted, Steve's hands were bruising tight on his thighs – and groaned when his fingers closed around the square foil. He grabbed the thin tube of lube beside it and shoved them both at Steve.

Steve took them both, pressed a kiss against the side of Tony's dick that had him scrabbling at the carpet and ripped the foil package open. He had the condom on in seconds – it was almost ridiculous, the things that made Tony's blood hot these days, but the idea of Steve Rogers being so practiced with a condom, god – and tore open the lube.

"Okay?" he asked, sliding a hand between Tony's thighs. He pressed one slick finger against the opening to Tony's body and pushed, just enough to drive a whine out of Tony. "Can I?"

"Yes," he said, because Steve would wait for an answer if he didn't. "Yes, you can, you always can, now stop asking me stupid questions and fuck me."

Steve laughed, a fond sound that made Tony's toes curl against the carpet. "And here I thought I was the one who couldn't wait."

"I always want you," Tony admitted breathlessly. He licked his lips and bit back a grin. Not jealous, was he? "I spent all night wishing it was your hands on me, not Ty's-" He arched his back with a strangled scream as Steve drove into him with two slick fingers, pushing in to the knuckle. "God-"

"I'm not going to let him touch you again," Steve said. He dragged his fingers out of Tony's body only to shove in again, fucking him with his hand while Tony writhed. "I don't care if he's your oldest friend-" Steve twisted his fingers inside him, stroked against him from the inside and Tony lifted his hips, tried to shove against that touch, drive him deeper, "-he shouldn't treat you badly. No one should treat you badly. I won't let anyone do that to you." He pulled his hand away and rose up to kneel over Tony, hands lifting Tony's thighs to wrap around his waist as he positioned himself. He pressed forward and Tony let his eyes fall shut as Steve's cock slid inside of him in one slow thrust, until Steve was buried in Tony's body. Tony tightened his legs around Steve's waist as Steve stilled, giving them both a second to adjust.

"Kiss me," Steve said and Tony opened his eyes to find him leaning in close. "Tony-"

Tony surged up, curled his hands around Steve's neck and kissed him deep as Steve began to move in long strokes, pulling most of the way out before sliding back in. Tony lifted his hips into each thrust. Steve shifted his knees, drove in deep, hard and Tony couldn't stop himself from crying out. "Steve," he panted, curling his fingers tighter into Steve's hair, letting his legs fall to the side, trying to spread himself open just a little wider, take Steve just a little deeper.

Steve gripped Tony's thighs, dug his fingers into Tony's skin as he held him open. "I'm not going to let him touch you," Steve said, breath a rough pant against Tony's mouth as Steve kissed him again. "I'm not going to let anyone touch you ever again. No one," he said and Tony sucked in air and dug his fingers into Steve's neck as he felt orgasm build in every nerve ending and muscle. "No one ever gets to see you like this again."

Climax swept through him and Tony arched his back, gasped into Steve's mouth, swallowed his panting breaths as his body shuddered and clenched around Steve's cock. Steve fucked him through it, his thrusts never faltering, the same long, hard glide dragging the aftershocks out as Tony gradually came down from the high. He keened something in the back of his throat, a high-pitched, needy sound and his body bore down on Steve without any conscious direction on his part.

Steve stroked the inside of his thigh with one finger, still holding Tony open wide. "Is this okay?" he asked. He leaned into the next thrust, put a little more weight behind it and Tony swallowed a cry as Steve slammed into his prostate. "Are you hurting?"

"No." Yes, but it was just the sting of friction from a well-delivered fucking, the ache of being filled so thoroughly, the lingering tenderness of orgasm. It didn't hurt so much as make him feel everything. His cock was still twitching and Tony was pretty sure that if Steve kept this up long enough he'd be hard again soon, ready to come a second time when Steve finally let go. "I want – please. Steve."

"Tell me." Steve leaned down again, his weight pushing Tony's legs up against his chest, splitting him open. He lapped at Tony's mouth, kissed him, dragged in breath after breath as Tony panted beneath him. "What do you want, Tony? Tell me. I want to hear it."

"I want you," Tony felt wrung out, like the words were buried somewhere in his chest and Steve was forcing them out of him with every thrust. "I want – Steve. Can I?"

"Tell me," Steve commanded him in a low voice. He lowered one of Tony's legs to his waist and wrapped his hand around Tony's cock instead. He stroked slowly, a strangely gentle counterpoint to the rough, steady snap of his hips. "It can be anything, I won't mind. Tell me. I want to hear."

Jesus. Jesus. Tony wanted everything, hadn't Steve figured that out yet? "I want to tape us," Tony said. He slid his hand between their bodies, splayed his fingers around Steve's cock and felt Steve slide into him. "I want to watch you take me. I want to see everything I miss when you make me crazy. I want to see this," he pressed a finger inside himself, hissed at the burn. He rubbed against Steve's cock and felt the way Steve's whole body seemed to jerk against him. "God, I want to watch you fuck me, Steve."

Steve bit down on Tony's shoulder, dug in just shy of breaking the skin, like he was trying to hold onto his control. It hurt just enough to clear Tony's head a little, made him ache deep in his stomach as the bite mark pulsed with a low heat. "Yeah," Steve said. "Yes, we can." He dragged his tongue over the mark, kissed it almost in apology. "That. We can do that. God, Tony, the things that come out of your mouth. Tell me more."

"I want to fuck you," Tony said, pitching his voice low, letting his need show, all the desire he had for this man bleeding out of him in words. "I want to lay you out with your pants around your knees and fuck you so hard you come all over yourself. Your tux, your shirt – I want to make you come so hard you're covered in it and there's no fucking way we go back out there without every single one of them knowing what I did to you. I want you to fuck me," he said, he pulled his hand away from Steve's cock, pressed it against the trembling muscles in Steve's lower belly. "I want you to take all that super-soldier stamina of yours and fuck me until I'd raw and aching, until you make me scream every time you move. I want you to wreck me until I can't fucking walk, until you're the only thing I can feel. I want to feel you come inside of me, I want that heat, Steve, I've never wanted anything more than I want you." He arched his back, wrapped his free leg around Steve's waist and shoved back against every increasingly forceful push of Steve's cock inside of him. "I want you to lose the condom next time so I can feel your come running down my leg. I want you to kiss me where the paparazzi can see it and I want your legs wrapped around my waist. I want to kiss you until you can't breathe and I really, really want Tiberius fucking Stone to be sitting outside that door listening to you fuck me and knowing that I'm yours, I'm never going to be anything but yours and he's never going to have me again."

Steve grabbed his hips with both hands and slammed into him, all pretense of control gone as he surged forward and crushed their mouths together. Tony slid his hands through Steve's hair and held him there, ignoring the rough burn of the carpet against his shoulders and back as Steve fucked him hard enough to make him slide across the floor.

"I want you," Tony said against Steve's mouth. "Want you, just you. Do I have it, Steve, do I have what I want?"

Steve made a choked, almost pained sound, his fingers digging into the skin at Tony's hip hard enough to bruise as he bucked, as he rutted, base and desperate and perfect, all control gone as he slid into Tony deep enough to make him bite his lip against a scream and held himself there as he came.

Tony smoothed his hands over Steve's back, pressed his fingers against the bumps of Steve's spine, kissed him again and again while Steve collapsed against him, his hips still jerking slightly, still trying to get further inside. "God, you're beautiful."

"The things that come out of your mouth," Steve said again, his voice rough. "Jesus, Tony." He stroked Tony's hip and thigh with a hand that was still shaking as he eased away onto his side, tugging Tony with him. "Sometimes I don't think I even need to touch you. Just let you start talking and that'll do it for me."

"But the touching is good anyway, right?"

Steve caught Tony's chin with one hand, licked his way inside Tony's mouth. He was still breathing too hard for anything deep, but he repeated it again and again. "It's good. I want to touch you again."

"How many condoms did you bring?" Tony demanded, poking a finger against Steve's ribs.

"How many do you think we'll need?" Steve wrapped one of his hands around Tony's aching dick, rough callouses exciting every inch of over-sensitized skin as he began to jerk Tony off. “You said you wanted me to lose them next time. We could – I like that idea.”

Tony touched Steve's wrist, just a brush of his fingers against Steve's skin, but it was enough to still his movements. Tony licked his lips and caught the back of Steve's head, urged him up to meet his gaze. “You're sure? I wasn't trying to push you into anything.”

“It's been six months. That's hardly rushing things, Tony.” Steve brushed his lips against Tony's temple. “There's no one else. And you obviously want to. So, yeah. I'm sure. I can't think of anything I wouldn't try at least once, if you wanted me to.”

Tony laughed, a kind of breathless exhalation that felt like disbelief and relief all at once. So this was what it felt like to open a present and get exactly what you wanted.“You realize you just captured my imagination. Oh, God, Steve, the kinky things I've been wanting to do to you. Can we start now? Right now. You don't have anywhere to be, right?”

"We should probably return to the party at some point before it's over." He sounded incredibly disappointed by the thought and Tony laughed.

"Pepper said I had to put in an appearance, she didn't say I had to close it out. We can leave whenever you want." He rocked against Steve's grip, felt the slow, lazy curl of orgasm building in his muscles again. "But it looks like you have your hands full, so we'll wait till you're done."

Steve shuffled them around until he was on his back, Tony sprawled against his chest, Steve's hand trapped between them. "Come on." He pressed his mouth to Tony's ear, swept his tongue over the shell as he urged Tony to thrust against him. "Come for me. I've got you. Let go. I'm going to get you cleaned up and take you home. I'm going to put you to bed." He tightened his grip a little, pulled Tony closer to the edge. "I'm going to take you to bed, Tony. And we can get started on that list you gave me. Just keep going until we've checked off every single one." He ran his free hand over the curve of Tony's ass and pressed two fingers against the entrance to Tony's body, sliding inside with little resistance. "Except the one about Stone," he said as he twisted his fingers inside, found Tony's prostate and pressed. "He doesn't get to listen, look, touch you ever again."

Tony buried his face against Steve's shoulder and clenched his teeth against a cry they'd hear all the way back to the ballroom as he came all over Steve's hand and groin. He couldn't swallow the protest as Steve pulled his fingers free, but Steve quieted him with a slow kiss.

"But you're totally not jealous," Tony managed. He felt strung out and boneless, content to lay there with Steve's heart beating beneath his and Steve's hand still curled around his dick. His life was awesome.

"There's not a man or woman in the world I should envy," Steve said against Tony's ear. "Although as soon as we walk out of this room, I'm pretty sure quite a few of them will envy me."

Steve wasn't the one the other guests would be envying, but Tony knew better than to disabuse him of his obvious delusion. Sometimes it wasn't in his best interest to win an argument.

Steve dragged in a deep breath, his heartbeat slowly evening beneath Tony's ear. “We should get dressed.”

That sounded terribly ambitious considering Tony's bones had all been turned to rubber. “Okay,” he agreed and absolutely did not move. Steve's breath was ruffling his hair with each exhalation. Moving seemed highly over-rated.

“Tony.” Steve sounded amused more than reproachful. He was already starting to get his breath back. Tony wanted to make him breathless all over again. Make him stay that way. “Tony, someone could walk in – we can't be the only couple that decided to sneak away from the party.”

The door was locked. Those hypothetical couples could get a room somewhere else. Tony rubbed his cheek against Steve's chest and let his eyes drift shut.

Steve's free hand cupped Tony's hip. “We should get up.”

Too much work. Getting up would inevitably lead to getting dressed and that sounded like a frankly terrible idea. “I'm good here,” Tony said.

“Well, I'm getting crushed.”

Tony cracked one eye open and tilted his head to glare up at Steve. “Did you just call me fat? Because it sounded like you just called me fat.” He contemplated pinching, but it seemed like a lot of effort. He'd have to move his arm and everything. Maybe biting would serve to get his point across.

Steve rolled over, holding them tightly together as he settled them on their sides. “You're perfect,” Steve said, pressing a wet, lazy kiss against Tony's mouth. “But heavy. And this carpet is not nearly as comfortable as it was ten minutes ago.”

It was kind of scratchy, now Tony had time to think about it. He gave some brief thought to moving to the terribly uncomfortable-looking loveseat, but Steve was running one big hand up and down the length of Tony's spine and all other thoughts were immediately discarded as unimportant. He tucked his face against the curve of Steve's throat and breathed him in for a long moment while his heart rate evened out and sweat and semen cooled on their skin.

“I want to ask you a question,” Steve said in a low voice. “But maybe it's none of my business.”

Tony slid an arm around Steve's waist so they were holding each other and deliberately tangled their legs together. “You can ask,” he said evenly. “If it's something I don't want to talk about, or something I can't talk about, I'll let you know. But you,” he stumbled over the word for a moment, “you, Steve, you can ask me anything. Anything.”

Steve pulled back just an inch, enough that he could look at Tony, enough that the light from the arc reactor gleamed in his eyes. “Did he treat you like that when you were together?”

“I don't know.” The words came out almost before Tony could think about them, and he scrambled to find better ones as Steve tensed and started to draw back. “No. Stop. Don't – don't leave. I honestly don't know. Steve.”

“I'm not leaving.” Steve stilled, one hand still stroking up and down Tony's spine. “I'm not, Tony. I promise. I would like to understand, though. When you say you don't know-”

“I don't know,” Tony said. “I – look, I'm not trying to be all – but I wasn't the same person then that I am now. Not – and the guy I was before the armor, before Afghanistan. He was someone else again. You know? And Tiberius, he and those guys were best friends. They were two fucking peas in a pod. They got drunk together and they got laid together and they were terrible human beings together. I don't remember that I ever had a complaint with the way he treated me. But, Steve, that guy – the guy I was back then.” Tony swallowed and tried a self-deprecating smile on for size, just to see if it would fit. From the way Steve looked at him, all blue eyes and worried half-frown, Tony suspected it didn't. “He fucking hated himself.”

Steve's face went tight. “Tony-”

“No,” Tony said. “Don't. I don't – look, you have no idea how much you changed my life, Steve. How much you changed me. Pepper and Rhodey and the other Avengers, all of them are – better than I probably deserve after the kind of life I lived, but you were a goddamn miracle. Okay? The messed-up pile of neurosis you see before you today is a well-adjusted paragon compared to the guy I was when I was with Ty. Did he treat me badly? Probably, looking back. Did I notice or even care at the time? Not at all. So. I don't know.” He pushed himself up, braced on one arm to look down at Steve. “I think – as surprised as I was when the whole thing with Rumiko came out, I think I probably shouldn't have been. If that answers your question.”

“It does. Thank you,” Steve said solemnly. “Can I ask you for a favor?”

“Only if you kiss me first,” Tony said and tried to hide the relief when Steve reached up and gave him a wide smile and a deliberately sloppy kiss. “Oh, ew. Yes, fine, what's your favor?”

“He's your-” Steve's mouth twisted into an expression of distaste. “Well, he's not your friend. Your associate, your ex. I don't know him as well as you do. But if he ever talks to you again like he did tonight, will you tell me?”

“Are you going to beat him up for me?”

“That's the least of what I'd do for you,” Steve said, and Tony sucked in a deep breath at the sudden light in Steve's eyes. “But mostly I want to make sure you know how wrong he is.”

“I'll do you one better. I think whatever lingering affection I might have had for Ty has been effectively burned out after tonight.” Tony placed his hand over the center of Steve's chest and splayed his fingers over the smooth expanse of skin and muscle in a deliberate imitation of the way Steve sometimes touched the arc reactor. “I won't listen to him talk about you that way.”

“The man you are today, the man you made yourself, there's no one I love or admire more. And the man you were. I love him too.”

“Well, you have deplorable taste,” Tony said, focusing very hard on his hand as he flexed his fingers against Steve's skin. “Everyone knows that.”

Steve laughed a little and folded both his arms under his head as he stretched. “Says the man dating a nonagenarian.”

“Hey,” Tony objected. “I'll have you know that they made shit to last in the old days.” He cast a deliberate glance toward Steve's groin, where he was half-hard and slowly lengthening under Tony's gaze. “I could make a truly tasteless joke about old man sex, or I could help you out with that. Your call.”

Steve chuckled. “God help me, I almost want to hear the joke.” He cupped the side of Tony's face in one hand and ran his thumb over Tony's mouth. “I have mentioned, haven't I, that I love the things that come out of your mouth?”

“Yeah?” Tony couldn't help the – probably truly lecherous – grin that curved the corners of his mouth. Steve was already turning bright red. “How do you feel about things going into my-”

Someone knocked on the door.

“Oh, you've got to be shitting me,” Tony groused as Steve scrambled to his feet. “Do not tell me he was really standing out there the whole time. I will riot. I'll riot, Steve.”

“He better not have,” Steve said in a dark tone. He was already stalking toward the door while Tony was getting up off the floor.

“Wait! Steve!” Tony grabbed their shirts off the floor and tossed Steve his. “Clothes, remember? I refuse to be held responsible for what I'll do to Ty if he tries to get an eyeful.”

Steve yanked on his shirt and left it unbuttoned so he could step into his boxers and his thoroughly wrinkled slacks. He paused only long enough to let Tony pull on his pants before he unlocked the door and pulled it open with a rough yank that promised no good for the person on the other side.

Happy Hogan offered them a raised eyebrow and a nod. “Hey, boss. Cap. Sorry to interrupt.”

The fight went out of Steve so suddenly that it almost gave Tony a crick in his neck to watch. “Happy! I – that is – I'm sorry, were you looking for Tony?”

Tony crossed his arms over his chest, ignoring his relative state of undress. Happy had seen worse. Hell, Happy had cleaned up after worse. “I'm busy, Happy, go away.”

“Tony,” Steve scolded him. But his cheeks were flushing bright pink and he rubbed a hand over the back of his head. “Sorry, Happy. What did you-” he broke off halfway through the sentence and stared at something over Happy's shoulder. “Is that- Happy. What's going on here?”

Tony sidled around Steve so he could poke his head out the door. “Oh, Happy,” he said, almost gleefully delighted. “Tell me you tased him. Please. I'll give you a raise. Did he flop around like a fish?”

Tiberius Stone was sitting mostly upright against a marble column in the foyer several yards away, slumped over on himself a bit, and visibly unconscious. He may have been drooling a little, it was hard to tell. Two of Tony's semi-regular bodyguards were keeping an eye on him. One appeared to be taking a picture with his cell phone, which Tony supposed was in poor form, but somehow couldn't bring himself to care. “Happy, I love you. Marry me.”

“No,” Happy and Steve chorused in unison. Steve blushed an even brighter red when Happy and Tony both gave him amused looks. He cleared his throat. “Happy, you didn't, did you?”

“Nah, unfortunately.” Happy waved a dismissive hand in Tiberius's general direction. “He was mostly passed out on the floor when I found him. There's a champagne glass on the floor over there, so I figure he just had too much to drink.”

“Champagne,” Steve said. “I thought he grabbed your glass on the way out.”

“Ty didn't care for the cider,” Tony said carefully.

Steve made a sound Tony couldn't quite interpret. “He seemed... perfectly sober. Not thirty minutes ago. Until he drank out of your glass.”

Tony deliberately kept his body language casual, because Steve had gone just a little too still, and Happy was giving Tony that look that always made him want to buy the guy a puppy. “You remember when I said you could ask me anything? But I might not want to talk about it?”

Steve nodded once, sharply. “I'll ask again. Fair warning.”

“Later,” Tony compromised. “Happy, did he do anything after you found him?”

The bodyguard shrugged. “He kept muttering things I wasn't terribly interested in making out, but when I tried to get him on his feet and back to the party so his people could deal with him, he took a swing at me.”

“He didn't hit you?” Steve demanded and Tony gave him an approving smile.

“He barely managed to make a fist. I thought, well- Hardly the first time I've seen Stone too drunk to sit upright.” He gave Tony a quick glance, then turned to survey the scene. “Anyway, I called the boys in to deal with him and he puked on Seeley. We kind of lost interest in getting him home after that and I just sent one of the boys to collect his handler.” They all three studied Tiberius for a moment, suddenly very aware of the odor in the air. “Anyway, figured I'd give you a chance to clear out before his people showed up, just in case.”

“Good call, Happy. Thanks.” Tony ran a hand through his hair. “We've got a minute or two?”

“Not much more. I may have told them to go get Seeley cleaned up before they dealt with Stone's people, but that won't take long.”

It only took a minute to finish pulling themselves together, and a minute longer to clean up behind themselves – watching Steve have a spike of panic over what to do with the condom was hysterical and worth almost all the crap the rest of the evening had included – and Happy gave the room a careful once-over while one of his team hustled Steve and Tony out a side entrance to where one of the cars was idling, just waiting for them to be ready.

It had gotten bitterly cold in the few hours since they'd arrived at the party, and Tony slid into the car with a sigh of relief, only too happy to slump against Steve's side and enjoy the warm air. The driver must have left the heater running while he waited. “I'm giving Happy a raise.”

“Sounds like a good call.”

Maybe it was the warm air, or the reassuring feel of Steve's shoulder beneath his cheek, or just post-sex exhaustion, but he was already half-asleep. “You should come to dinner.”

“Tonight?” Steve asked. He had one of Tony's hands in both of his resting on his lap. “It's a little late.”

“No.” Tony didn't bother opening his eyes, but he tightened his grip on Steve's hands. “For Thanksgiving. We haven't talked about plans, and if you have somewhere else you want to be, I mean, I don't mind, it's no big deal, but. We do something. Every year. Me and Jarvis and Pepper and Happy. Rhodey, when he can get the day off - which he usually can, apparently the Air Force considers keeping me happy to be part of his actual job description. I abuse that, Steve. I abuse it badly.”

“You want me to have Thanksgiving with your family?” Steve asked in a soft voice.

Tony opened his eyes then, watched Steve's fingers stroke the back of his hand, listened to the sound of traffic as they made their way home. The arc reactor was dulled by his shirt and jacket, but the street lights lit the interior of the car in brief bursts of yellow and white. He wondered what he would see if he looked at Steve's face. “Yeah. That's pretty much what I was doing my best to avoid saying outright.”

He felt the kiss Steve pressed against the top of his head. “Of course I'll come, Tony. Nothing would make me happier.”

“Okay.” He let his eyes slide closed. "You sure you weren't even a little jealous?" he asked.

Steve squeezed his hand. “No,” he said. “A little smug maybe.”

Tony kept his eyes shut, trying to figure out what, if anything, he was supposed to say to that – the ridiculous idea that Steve should be the smug one in this relationship – when his phone went off several times in a row. He dug around the inside pocket of his coat until he could pull it out, only to see a series of messages from Happy. “Huh.”

“What is it?” Steve sounded like he was bracing for bad news, which Tony couldn't really blame him for after the evening they'd had.

“Yeah, so, apparently the room Ty and I were talking in was wired.”

“Wired,” Steve repeated.

“Yeah. You know. Cameras. Um. Jury-rigged?” Tony thought about looking up, but Steve's hands were still gentle. “Happy says it looks like someone positioned a couple of video cameras in the room and set them to record automatically when there was movement. So. You know. That probably explains why Ty was working so hard to get my pants off. Fortunately there's no wireless signal and they weren't hooked up to anything. That would have been embarrassing.”

“He – video cameras?” Steve repeated. He squeezed Tony's hand. “Wait. That – the room we were- Tony.”

Tony risked tipping his head back to see Steve's horrified expression. “Guess we can cross the sex tape off our to-do list, huh?”

“Oh, God.” Steve let his head drop back against the back of the seat. “That's – I can't – If I ever see Stone again I'll – What did Happy do with the cameras?”

“He's bringing them home. I can properly destroy the footage in the morning. He's sweeping the room for more just in case.”

“Please do.” Steve's face was pale, his jaw clenched. “We should do something about Stone.”

“Anything we do just gives him more ammo. The only way to hurt a guy like Tiberius is to make him powerless. Refuse to let him hurt you.”

Steve sighed. “Can you take your own advice?”

“I'm learning how.” Tony turned his face into Steve's shoulder. “Bear with me.”

“I can do that.”

They sat in silence for a long few city blocks, while Tony texted Happy back and Steve wrapped an arm around his shoulders.

“Tony?”

“Yeah?”

Steve's voice was tight, a little strangled. “Before you destroy the footage, we could-?”

“Oh hell yes.”

Chapter Text

Superhuman Star!
Baby-Mama Drama!

Tony Stark is getting ready to be a father – but does his boyfriend know?

Millionaire heiress Kathy Dare has been an on and off flame of Tony Stark's since before his Iron Man days. After a brief romance when Stark was in his mid-twenties, Kathy seemed to disappear from his life, reappearing on occasion to declare that they had reconciled and, at one time, to announce their engagement. None of these reconciliations ever lasted long, the engagement was called off almost immediately – Stark's press team called it a hoax (see page 14 for a complete timeline of Tony Stark's numerous engagements!) – and the couple has not been seen in public together for nearly a decade.

But according to Ms. Dare that's the way Tony wanted it. "He was protecting me," she told our reporters in an exclusive interview. "His life has always been dangerous. First from his business rivals and later, with Iron Man's enemies coming for him, he thought it was too dangerous for anyone to know how much we meant to each other."

Is it possible that Stark's two-year relationship and near-marriage with Rumiko Fujikawa, whirlwind escapades with international superhero Natasha Romanoff, and his current sizzling team-up with teammate Steve Rogers were nothing more than an elaborate cover-story? Dare says yes!

Attempts to contact Stark's exes for comment haven't been easy – Rumiko Fujikawa's PR team denied that her engagement to Tony Stark was in any way a sham. Natasha Romanoff refused to take our calls. And Captain Rogers declined to be interviewed. Is it possible that Stark's "beards" didn't know the true story behind their romances? Kathy denies that Tony would lead anyone on, but admits that she has felt uncomfortable these last few months, worried that Captain America may have gotten in over his head.

Kathy told us that Stark couldn't bear the idea of his first and so far only child being born in secrecy. "He's so excited to be a father," she said with a fond smile. "He can't wait for our child to be born. And he knew that this meant the lies and the secrecy had to end."

When asked if she had any worries about Iron Man's enemies targeting her and their unborn child, Kathy only shook her head. "He'll protect us," she said, patting her belly. "He'll always protect us. He wants us to be with him now and always. He loves us more than anything."

****

His phone vibrated for the third time in as many minutes and Steve had to force himself not to take his frustration out on the phone itself as he answered the call. "Rogers," he said flatly, ignoring the stares from the other passengers on the subway car. He was probably imagining at least half of them anyway.

"Captain America! I'm calling from the Daily Exposé. What do you have to say to the recent allegations that your relationship with Tony Stark is nothing but an elaborate lie?"

"No comment," Steve said and jabbed the 'end call' button a bit more forcefully than necessary. He debated turning it off with the possibility that someone important might be trying to reach him, then gave in to impulse when the caller ID screen lit up with yet another unknown number. If it was an emergency, they would call him over his communicator. And the only person he was really interested in talking to at the moment anyway was Tony.

The interview with Kathy Dare – the name sounded vaguely familiar, but Steve didn't think they'd ever met – had only hit the newsstands that morning, but it was already all over the gossip and entertainment shows. Steve had so far fielded calls from most of the local papers, People and someone who worked for The View as well as the usual barrage of tabloid writers and paparazzi. Everyone seemed to have an opinion and most of them seemed to share the same one: Tony was a cheating bastard. Though opinions went back and forth on who he'd screwed over worse: Steve or Kathy.

Steve knew better than to get into a debate with any of them, though he had to resist the urge to severely scold one of the paparazzi who had approached him while he'd been Christmas shopping that morning. Hadn't anyone heard of impartiality anymore?

His communicator chirped in his ear as the subway jerked to a stop and he answered as he all but jumped out of his seat to make for the opening doors. "I'm here."

"Bad news," Clint's voice said in his ear. "Someone let Jan answer the house line. I don't know who she's talking to, but she's yelling something about slander, threatening to ruin someone's reputation to see how they like it and giving out some extremely detailed information on your love life. How does she even know this stuff?"

Steve rubbed a hand over his eyes. "Okay, take the phone off the hook before anyone else gets dragged into this."

"Too late," Clint told him unapologetically. "They called earlier and Luke refused to comment because they always make him sound like a homophobe, and now TMZ is running a story about how Luke's a homophobe. It's awesome. He broke a table and is threatening to kiss Tony on the lips the next time he sees him. And Logan got the phone earlier and someone may be pressing charges over some of the things he said. Natasha is recording all the news stories and won't stop laughing. Also, Peter wants to know if you'd be mad if he wrote his own story. Apparently Jonah's pushing him for the inside scoop since he's Tony Stark's personal friend."

Steve pinched the bridge of his nose as he took the steps to street level two and three at a time, emerging onto the street level to the bustle of holiday shopping crowds, garlands of pine wrapped around streetlights, and a small group of carolers performing a rather vibrant rendition of Good King Wenceslas. "Tell Luke everyone knows he's not a homophobe. Tell Logan to stay off the phone until further notice. Tell Natasha I don't want to see any of those recordings when I get home. And tell Peter he can write whatever he wants as long as he waits till we get home tonight." He almost ended the call right there, but he couldn't stop himself from adding, "And tell Luke to keep his lips to himself," before disconnecting.

He hated it when their teammates got dragged into the media feeding frenzy that occasionally surrounded his and Tony's relationship. The frenzy itself was something he could only barely tolerate on most days and usually was content to ignore – he was naïve about the future sometimes, but he knew how the press worked, had seen how the paparazzi followed Tony around like dogs waiting for him to mess up or slip up. He'd known from the day he realized he was in love with the man that if they ever had a relationship it would be in the public eye. And he'd made the decision, that day at Coney Island, that having Tony – even only having the chance of having Tony – was worth the occasional loss of privacy. But sometimes it stung, how deeply they could pry. How happy it seemed to make them when they reported something brutal.

Steve respected reporters. Men and women like Peter who went out and investigated and covered the news as accurately as they could. People who made it their career to give people the truth, to keep the public informed. That was admirable – and brave. There had been reporters during World War Two who had faced death by Nazi fire to make sure the people back home knew what their brothers and sons were fighting for, to make sure the whole world knew what the Fuhrer had done. Steve had thought it took guts to walk through that particular hell unarmed and unprepared, only to go back and relive it at least long enough to make sure the story was told. The people who wanted to know if Tony had tricked him into a sexual relationship, on the other hand, made him want to punch a wall. Hard.

He dragged in a deep breath and let it go, the tension and most of the anger flow out with it. Anger wasn't going to make this better. Tony would be upset over this, Steve knew. Hurt, whether he'd admit it or not. And he wasn't going to make it worse by walking into Tony's office angry. Tony would take it too much to heart and blame himself.

Stark Industries plaza was decorated for the holidays with a huge pine tree draped in brilliant white fairy lights and shining metal ornaments. It gave Steve a bit of a pang to see it like that – he and his mother had gone to Rockefeller Center when he was a child, and the big tree all lit up was one of the few truly happy and carefree memories he had of her.

There were reporters outside Stark Industries, but only a few and all of them from the tabloids, if Steve was remembering faces correctly. They were on the sidewalk, keeping their distance from SI plaza and the front doors, which probably had a lot to do with the extremely burly security guard standing between them and the building. Steve recognized him; he was one of Tony's alternate bodyguards for special events or days when Happy Hogan was unavailable, the one who'd been taking surreptitious pictures of Tiberius Stone's drugged collapse at the party last month. Steve honestly couldn't remember his name; he wasn't one hundred percent certain they'd ever been really introduced. The reporters, recognizing fair game when they saw it, immediately began snapping Steve's picture as he approached, and calling out interview questions. He ignored them.

"Sir," the guard said, and Steve thought he sounded a little wary.

"Tony's in?" Steve asked.

The guard snorted and tipped his head toward the reporters. "Why do you think they're hanging around? Boss is upstairs." He hesitated, like he wanted to say more. "Sir, you know we're with Mr. Stark pretty much every minute he's not in the armor or with you."

"I know," Steve said. "I'm grateful to all of you for protecting Tony in his civilian hours."

The guard nodded once. "Right. I'm just saying. If there was something funny going on, we'd know."

It took a moment for Steve to realize they weren't talking about a possible security breach but were, in fact, discussing Kathy Dare and her alleged romance. "I… hadn't considered that, actually. The confirmation wasn't necessary," he said and the guard just nodded. "But it's appreciated anyway."

The guard shrugged, looking unconcerned. "I'm just saying. Go on in, sir. I'm sure they're expecting you."

They certainly seemed to be. The security guards in the lobby only tipped their heads in acknowledgement as Steve strode through the doors, and the receptionist at the front desk, who Steve had once seen hurl a stapler with deadly accuracy at a pushy cameraman, only waved at him over the glass menorah as he walked by before going back to her computer.

Tony had a private elevator, off the main lobby, that was only accessible by thumbprint and passcode. Steve's had been entered into the system years ago, in the event of emergency, which happened more frequently than Steve liked, or in case Steve ever felt like helping Tony play hooky and needed to sneak in the back way, which he'd only done once or twice. Three times, tops. As far as Pepper knew, anyway.

The elevator deposited him on the top floor, directly opposite Pepper's desk. It was currently empty, despite the phone being lit up like, well, Christmas. Steve grimaced in sympathy. Pepper liked the paparazzi even less than he did, though she was far better at dealing with them. And she had to deal with the actual business side of things, too. He wondered how many of the calls she'd had to field today were from board members and investors wanting to blame Tony for this latest round of bad press.

Steve pushed open the door that led to Tony's office and stopped dead in his tracks.

The big screen television that was normally hidden behind a retractable wall panel was open and on, the sound muted, but clearly showing yet another tabloid show. The picture in the upper right hand corner was a picture that looked to be nearly ten years old, of Tony and a woman who must have been Kathy Dare. She was pretty, Steve decided, brunette and curvy, a little young-looking, but Tony had been younger then, too. The banner along the bottom of the screen was talking about other things; oil prices on the rise, a bombing in Syria, a protest in DC, the recent elections. All things infinitely more important than Tony's ex-girlfriends, in Steve's opinion, but freedom of the press meant they didn't have to report on only things he liked.

Tony's inner-circle were all there. Happy was sitting on the leather couch by the windows and methodically reassembling his handgun – from the looks of things, it wasn't the first time, either. Rhodey was standing at Tony's shoulder, glowering at Steve in the doorway, and Pepper was sitting on the edge of Tony's desk, leaning into him and saying something in a low and urgent voice. None of them looked happy and Tony – Tony looked rough, worse than Steve had seen him since he'd stopped drinking.

Tony took one look at Steve and went completely pale.

"Tony," Steve said, ignoring the pinched look on Pepper's face or the way Rhodey seemed to be maneuvering between himself and Tony.

But Tony cut him off. He stood and jabbed a finger at the television. "That is not my kid," he said, his voice scratchy and tired and Steve didn't even want to think about how many times Tony had already insisted that to someone today, how many of them wouldn't have believed him. "That is not my kid, she is not my girlfriend, or my fiancée or anything else. We dated for two weeks, Steve. Two weeks, almost ten years ago, and I haven't seen her since." He made a gesture with his hands that looked more like a helpless flail. "She calls and Pepper screens them. And she sends notes that I don't read. And once every couple years some reporter who's hard up for a real story decides that we're having the world's most on-again-off-again romance but that's not true. It's not. I wouldn't." He swallowed, and his mouth was tight and his breath was shaky, but his words were completely steady. "I wouldn't do that to anyone, Steve, but definitely not you. I don't cheat and I don't screw around. I swear she's lying."

"Okay," Steve said. He hesitated in the doorway, a little bowled over by the desperation Tony had put into that declaration.

"Okay?" Tony echoed. He blinked at Steve, then planted both fists on the desk and leaned forward. "Okay? That's all you have to say? Okay?"

"Pretty much," Steve said. He skirted the edge of Tony's desk, patting Pepper's arm and nodding his head to Rhodey, who was easing off with a glare that promised pain and death if Steve said one wrong word. "I believe you. I never thought it was true."

"You didn't-" Tony stared at him. "You didn't?"

"No. Tony." Steve caught one of Tony's hands in his. "There are two reasons why that story could never have been true."

"Two reasons," Tony said warily.

"You are not a faithless man," Steve said quietly. He was aware of the three sets of eyes on them, but he didn't care. These people had been Tony's family longer than he'd known the man, they had the right to know that Steve was going to be good to him. "You said it yourself. You would never do that to anyone. You don't give your heart lightly and you'd never betray someone that way. Don't think for a second I haven't always known that."

Tony closed his eyes. "You are possibly the only person alive who'd call me faithful," he said ruefully.

"I can name at least a dozen. Your friends know better." Steve stroked his thumb over Tony's bottom lip, followed it with a soft kiss.

Tony took a deep breath and seemed to sag a little. "You said two reasons?"

Steve shrugged. "The first one is the only one that matters. But purely from a logical point of view, she had to be lying." He ducked his head and pressed his forehead against Tony's. "You had a vasectomy when you were twenty-one. So the baby couldn't be yours."

"I-" Tony stared at him with huge eyes, then dropped his head against Steve's shoulder, forcing Steve to pull him into a hug. "I had a vasectomy. Jesus. How do you know that? I never told you."

"You did. Years ago, when you'd been drinking. You were talking about Howard and how you wouldn't make his mistakes. You said it had been your twenty-first birthday gift to yourself, knowing that you'd never screw up any poor kid's life by forcing him to have you as a father." Steve pretended he didn't see the way Pepper winced, or Rhodey scowled. He knew his mostly-fond memories of Howard Stark were distinctly in the minority, and he had long ago accepted that the man he'd known had changed in the years after Steve was frozen, and not for the better. "You never seemed to remember that we talked afterwards, and it's not like it came up in casual conversation at any point, so…"

Tony laughed against his shoulder. "Jesus. Jesus. I've been waiting for the world to end since I saw the interview this morning, and you just – you believe me." He pulled back and scrubbed his hands over his face. "Guys, give us a minute, would you?" He waited until the others had left, Pepper pulling the door closed behind her so they could have some privacy, before he took a couple of steps away from his desk and, in a deceptively light voice, said, "If you're just trying to help me save face in front of the others, you can be honest. I'd rather hear it now than later."

Sometimes Steve wanted to track down everyone in Tony's life who'd made him so fast to believe he'd be betrayed and personally smack each and every one of them around with his shield. He'd start with Tony's father. The knowledge that he'd enjoy it entirely too much was only a little disturbing.

He pushed aside the too-familiar surge of hurt and irritation that Tony could think he'd be so faithless. This wasn't about him. And the only way he could prove to Tony that he wouldn't treat him like the others was to stay by Tony's side, to trust him, and to wait for Tony to realize it for himself. It had taken time for Tony to realize it as his friend, and he was aware that they were slowly starting over in all new territory. He would be patient. Tony was worth it.

So he just sat on the edge of Tony's desk and took Tony's hand in both of his. "We're alone now. There's no face to save. And I still believe you." He interlocked his fingers with Tony's, clasped their right hands together. "I still love you."

Tony ducked his head, smiling a little. "I am a trial to have around, aren't I?"

Steve shook his head, tightened his grip on their joined hands until Tony squeezed back. "I'm sorry you have to go through this. You don't deserve to have people treat you this way." He tried and failed not to let it bother him when Tony looked away from him, doubt and self-blame bright in his eyes. "Why is she doing this? Money? Is she hoping you'll pay her to go away?"

"She's not-" Tony broke off and struggled for words. "She's not healthy. We only went out a couple times and she was literally planning our wedding and naming our kids. I broke it off, told her she was moving too fast for me and I woke up that night to find her standing over my bed with a gun."

“God,” Steve said and Tony hurried to cut him off.

“She didn't hurt me. She wasn't thinking clearly. She'd built this fake relationship and this fake future up in her mind until it was real and me breaking things off with her – I think it actually broke her heart, no matter that none of it was real.”

“Did you tell the authorities?”

“No.” Tony got the stubborn-mule look he usually wore when someone was trying to convince him to leave the workshop and sleep, or that he didn't really need to build anymore gadgets into the Iron Man armor. “I didn't want to embarrass her like that. I called her only living family, a distant cousin, and they had her committed to a mental health facility. She's been there for a long time and there's no report that she ever did anything like that again.”

“But she's still fixated on you?” Steve asked. "And you don't have a restraining order against her?" He could picture the scene Tony had described and it made the skin on his back crawl. "Tony, that's not rational behavior.”

Tony nodded reluctantly. "I don't think she's ever tried to come see me in person. If she has, security hasn't let me know about it. I think if she had, Pepper would have taken the restraining order out for me, whether I wanted to or not."

"Do it. Please," Steve said. "If nothing else, it'll giver her less credibility if she tries something like this again."

Tony gripped Steve's hand. “Kathy isn't – she's in a facility, Steve. Reporters can't just walk into a hospital and start interviewing people. Someone paid that reporter to make this whole thing up.”

Someone. Someone who had reason to want Tony's name dragged through the mud, someone who wanted to hurt both of them in one fell swoop. Someone who'd used the tabloids to hurt Tony before. Steve took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I already know who it is, don't I?”

Tony's mouth twisted into something like a smirk. “Yeah. Probably. I can't prove it – we'll probably never prove it. The interview that started all this was from a freelance reporter, someone who'd never sold a story before. As near as Pepper's been able to find, it's a pseudonym.”

Steve wanted to hit something very hard. Barring that he wanted to clutch Tony to his chest and never let anyone else near him again. Neither one would solve any of their problems. “Someday soon, we're going to have to deal with Tiberius Stone.”

Tony exhaled heavily. "Yeah. I got this same lecture from Pepper and Rhodey this morning. I know. And I already arranged for a paternity test tomorrow." He offered Steve a tired half-grin. "This is probably a hoax, but it'll take a few days to clear it all up. And if Kathy is pregnant, you and I both know it couldn't be mine, but the reporters are going to want outside proof."

It was a good idea, though part of Steve wanted to force them all to take Tony at his word. "I'll go with you."

"You don't have to," Tony said half-heartedly. He combed his fingers through Steve's hair, the way he did late at night when he was staying up working, and Steve had fallen asleep beside him, or with his head in Tony's lap. "It might be easier for you if you distance yourself for a few days till this all blows over."

"I'm going to pretend you never said that to me," Steve said quietly, but fiercely.

Tony looked down at him again, and if he looked a little surprised at Steve's adamant tone, he mostly seemed relieved. "I am so lucky to have you. I still don't know how it happened."

It could have been self-deprecating, or morose, but all Steve heard in Tony's voice was a sort of wonder, the same way Steve felt when he thought too hard on how slim the odds were that it took ninety years, a war, and a lifetime in the ice for him to fall in love with his best friend. He squeezed Tony's hand again. "Do you have much more to do here? I'll wait and walk you home."

"Pepper was in the middle of trying to convince me to give up and call it a day when you got here." Tony squeezed Steve's hand. "I might have been avoiding going home and facing you. All of you." He shrugged a little. "If I'd remembered the conversation about the vasectomy, I might have panicked less. Reason seven hundred and forty-three why I should have stopped drinking sooner." He pulled Steve up from the desk and into a kiss, soft and sweet – not chaste, Tony rarely inspired feelings in Steve that could be described as chaste, but unhurried.

"Take Pepper's advice," Steve said long moments later. "Take the day and come with me. We can get lunch somewhere private and you can help me pick out a Christmas present for Jan because I think she'll cry if I try to buy her another sweater. Then we'll go home and turn off the phones and ignore the TV and I'll spend all night showing you how lucky I am to have you, too."

"Jesus," Tony said for at least the fifth time in the last fifteen minutes. "We don't even need to go home. There is a perfectly good couch right there and Pepper knows better than to come in here before we give the all clear. We could just –" He broke off abruptly and Steve tightened his grip on Tony instinctively as he realized Tony was staring at the television.

"Don't look at it," Steve said. "Just ignore it. We can deal with all that tomorrow after the paternity test."

"Oh my god," Tony said, shocked and delighted. His eyes were wide and his mouth curved in a wicked smile. "Steve. Steve. It's my birthday. Power-Man and Iron Fist are making out on live television. Oh my God. Every joke I have ever made about their bromance is now retroactively true."

Steve glanced at the television over his shoulder, where the footage of Luke and Danny Rand in the middle of what looked like a fairly steamy clinch had pushed Tony's story off the screen entirely. "Huh," he said. "As long as he isn't still trying to kiss you."

Chapter Text

All is not well in the romance between Tony Stark and Steve Rogers and the Superhuman Star has the exclusive details. An insider close to the couple tells us that the public courtship has been nothing but a calculated farce – but only one of them knows!

Captain America has been called the Man Out of Time – an apt title for someone who went to sleep in one century and woke up in another. But while Captain Rogers has vocally embraced the present day in his public persona, our source inside the Avengers reveals that he's never really adjusted to this new era.

“He's not happy here,” our insider, who asked that his identity not be revealed, told us. “He misses his own time, places he recognizes, the people and the places he used to love. I don't think there's been a single day since he woke up that he wanted to be here, that he wasn't hoping for this all to turn out to be some weird dream or trick.”

In fact, everything Captain America has done since his awakening several years ago has been with the single-minded purpose of getting back to his own time. Everything – including his friendship with genius inventor Tony Stark.

“Stark's got plenty of faults, but he's a genius. If anyone was going to get Cap back to his own time, it'd be Stark. And Cap's a strategist. He knows how to motivate his troops. Stark's always been into him, and Cap recognized an opportunity when he saw it.”

Is the all-American war hero using sex to encourage his teammate to send him back in time? Our insider thinks so and it would certainly explain why the previously Super-Straight Super-Soldier bent so suddenly. But is the Captain's plan even possible?

“Time-travel is a proven feat,” Doctor Reed Richards, co-founder of the Fantastic Four, told us. “The only reliable means of such to date relies on the inherent abilities of select homo sapiens superior with a chronal variant teleportational power. Technological time-travel has yet to be adequately stabilized or controlled, though I suppose if anyone were able to invest the intellect, time or finances necessary to accomplish the task, Tony would be at the top of the list after myself.”

But how do we reconcile the image of America's moral compass using sex to manipulate a teammate? Our insider insists that while the Captain has entered into this relationship for purely practical reasons, Stark is 100% invested in the relationship. Which is just how the Captain wants it.

“The more involved Stark is, the more likely he is to give Cap what he wants. Cap isn't trying to be cruel, but he's desperate. I think he really sees this as a kind of self-defense. He's a prisoner here, and Stark is the guy who can get him out.”

****

“Hey, this is Tony. If you're a reporter, a lawyer or an accountant, I have better things to do than take your call. If this is a board member, I can either talk to you about how my genius is making you obscenely wealthy, or do it, but not both. SI employees and Avengers know better than to think I ever check my voicemail, so if this is an emergency, you should have already hung up and texted me. If this is Steve, hi, babe. I'll call you back ASAP.”

Steve snapped his phone shut before he could leave yet another message – at least the fifth in the last three days – and shoved the phone back into a belt pouch. Clint and Natasha eyed him with varying degrees of sympathy. Natasha, having actually dated Tony at one point, was giving him ruefully understanding looks in the rearview mirror, and seemed to be wavering between genuine understanding and a degree of amusement that Steve felt was a little inappropriate.

“If there was a problem, we'd know,” Clint reminded him, twisting around in the front seat to face Steve. The archer was wearing SHIELD blue and white instead of his Avengers uniform and combined with the thin scratches on his face and the accumulated grime of three hard days with no rest, it made him look young. “The team would have gotten you a message by now if he needed us.”

He knew that, of course. SHIELD missions were technically confidential and need-to-know but there were a half-dozen Avengers who could find them within an hour, anywhere in the world and that wasn't counting the Avengers who were also SHIELD agents. If Tony were hurt or if something were seriously wrong, they'd have found a way to get in contact with him.

He felt like he was overreacting a little. Tony was known, after all, for getting caught up in a project and not coming up for air – or food, water, human companionship or personal hygiene – until he'd finished whatever he was working on. But Tony wasn't taking his calls and – and Tony always took his calls. Always. Especially when Steve was going on a mission and since long before they started dating. It was almost a tradition. Steve always called and told Tony where he was going, how long he'd be gone, no matter how secret the mission was supposed to be, no matter how much Fury glared at him for it afterward. And Tony always, always took his calls.

Steve sighed and let his head fall back against the seat of the car. He'd been shot in the leg late the previous evening, earning him the right to sprawl all over the backseat of the rusted-out sedan Natasha had hot-wired for them a few dozen miles back. The car had nearly-flat tires and no shocks or suspension left to speak of, but it was still running. There was a helicopter waiting for them at the border and then they'd be home in less than a day.

He hadn't gone four days without talking to Tony in more than six months. Not since they started dating and probably before that. He was torn between annoyance and a genuinely anxious sort of worry that made his stomach twist. He'd managed to push his worry away and get the job done; after all Clint and Natasha had been depending on him. But now he had nothing to distract him but the ache in his leg and the way his head bounced against the car window every time the car hit a bump. And Clint was right, if Tony were hurt someone would have called them by now.

He cursed himself under his breath and pulled the phone out again, hitting the speed-dial for the Avengers Mansion landline. Clint shook his head, but he was smirking in a not-unkind way. Natasha just quirked an eyebrow at him in the mirror before she pulled her attention back to trying to keep the car steady.

“Hey, Cap,” Peter Parker greeted him cheerfully from half a world away. “How's the top-secret spy stuff going?”

“I'm not really a spy,” Steve said, pretending he didn't see the way Natasha and Clint were both nodding in absolute agreement. “And you know Fury probably has this line bugged.”

“Fury's scared of Aunt May. The last time he came in here and tried to read Spider-Man the riot act, she twisted his ear until he apologized. You know, I keep meaning to ask Tony if the mansion security got any of that on tape. Note to self.”

“Speaking of Tony,” Steve said but Peter cut him off.

“Sorry, Cap. Tony's been down in the workshop since before you left.” Peter was slurping at something and Steve could picture him, sitting sideways in the big chair in the living room with one leg thrown over the arm, still in the sweats and t-shirt he'd worn to bed, drinking sugary milk out of his cereal bowl. “He's doing that manic genius thing where he doesn't sleep for a week straight and when he's done he's made a billion dollars and scientists are all humping his leg over the chance to play with his new toy. The hate mail from Justin Hammer should start showing up any second now.”

Steve's half-formed daydreams of a hot soak and leisurely welcome-home sex in Tony's huge, comfortable bed revised themselves to a shower and not-so-leisurely welcome-home sex on the couch in the workshop. “What is he working on?”

“I really don't know. He was reading one of Jan's trashy gossip magazines one minute, and the next he was clutching a full pot of coffee and shouting 'Challenge Accepted!' Then he grabbed Bruce and dragged him down to the workshop. Haven't seen either of them since, but Reed Richards showed up a few hours later and Hank McCoy flew in from Xavier's. They're either having a very intelligent orgy or they're building a doomsday machine. I have no idea which possibility scares me more and either way I'm not going down there.”

“I expect it's the doomsday machine,” Steve said, slumping back against the car seat. “Tony'd risk global annihilation before he had sex with Richards.” Natasha was giving him the hairy eyeball while swerving to avoid a tree at the last minute, and Clint was nodding in sanguine agreement. “If he comes up for air at any point before I get back, have him call me?”

“I'll duct tape the phone to his hand,” Peter promised. “Just don't make me go down there, Cap. I'm too young to be struck blind.”

****

They reached the pick-up location on time and relatively in one piece (“Thanks to my evasive driving skills,” Natasha said while Clint grumbled and shook pieces of the windshield out of his hair.) and the SHIELD chopper was descending to meet them as they drove up. Steve ignored his teammates ongoing bickering, as he had been for the last hundred miles or so, and swung up into the chopper only to be promptly waylaid by a medic. He sprawled out on a bench and let them cut the material away from the bullet wound while Natasha and Clint argued over the sound of rotor blades.

The wound ached but didn't really hurt, although that might change as the adrenaline wore off and he finally had time to relax. But the medics always seemed to get nervous when he watched them without flinching, so he pulled out his phone. No new voicemails and nothing from Tony at all, but there were texts from Peter all in a row lamenting the strange sounds coming out of the workshop and reporting on strange power surges. Def a doomsday mach, his most recent text read. Steve smirked and sent back a quick reply: Nothing you've said rules out a mad scientist orgy. Just because it would make Peter laugh. And cringe.

“Good news and bad news,” the medic reported cheerfully. She was older than Steve – or, well, older than Steve in conscious spent-awake-and-doing-things-years, which was a clarification he probably didn't always have to make, but it was hard to break. You got very aware of such distinctions when you were technically old enough to have fathered pretty much everyone you met. And their fathers. But the medic looked to be in her late forties with laugh-lines around her eyes and deeply tanned skin. “The bad news is you've been shot. The good news is, you're a super-human so you'll get over it.”

Steve shot her a thumbs up, making her laugh. “Try not to flinch or move your leg,” she said, leaning in to make sure he could hear her clearly. “I'm going to clean the area before I bandage this. I don't even know how you got this much sand in the wound, we're nowhere near a beach or a dessert.”

“That's classified,” Clint called from the back of the chopper. He glared at Steve and Natasha both, having already sworn them to secrecy multiple times regarding the incident with the tropical fish tank.

Steve offered the medic an apologetic look, but she just snorted, unimpressed with field agents and their shenanigans, even when they were Avengers. Steve settled back against the side of the chopper while she did her work. The screen of his phone lit up with another text from Peter. Lights r out again Logan sez u will be short 1 bf if his beer is flat.

Steve rolled his eyes even as he dialed. Hopefully Tony wasn't about to destroy their home – or the East Coast power grid – in a sleep-deprived haze. Normally he'd take comfort in the idea that Bruce and the Hanks were down there with him, hopefully reining him in, but Tony became almost ridiculously risk-prone when Reed Richards entered the equation, almost like Tony'd rather go out in a blaze of glory than let Reed outdo him.

He was expecting to get Tony's voicemail again, so he was completely unprepared when someone picked up and announced: “Tony Stark's phone.” It was Bruce, sounding somewhere between exhausted and smug which meant whatever they were doing was probably going well, though a tired Bruce Banner sealed in a room with Reed Richards could be a Hulk-sized disaster in the making. “Tony is unable to come to the phone because he's being a total shit and no one really wants to talk to him anyway-”

Hey!” Tony's voice came through the line, filtered by distance but unmistakable and Steve had to swallow what he knew was a ridiculously sappy smile at the sound.

“-so just leave a message at the sound of the jackass.” There was a pause, then Bruce's voice again: “Come on, Reed, say something.”

“I think someone needs a nap!” Tony sing-songed from the background.

“Bruce,” Steve said. “Are you still there?”

“Oh, hey, Cap.” There was the sound of a scuffle and Steve thought he heard Tony grunt, then Bruce was back. “Sorry about that. Tony was getting handsy. Are you on your way back?”

“We're heading your way,” Steve said vaguely, trying not to get too distracted by the idea of a handsy Tony. It had been a long four days. “Can I talk to Tony?”

“Just a minute. First, we need to talk.” Bruce dropped all signs of humor. “You need to not care about the time machine.”

“The what?” Steve asked.

“You can be impressed – it's pretty impressive, honestly, even for this group, though I'd hesitate to inflate his ego any further than we already have. But the time machine itself is nothing to you, understand?”

Steve pinched the bridge of his nose. “Why did Tony build a time machine?”

The medic didn't stop cleaning his leg but she did blink at him. Behind her, Clint and Natasha exchanged raised eyebrows.

“I'm serious, Steve. You need to not care.” There was a moment of relative silence where Steve tried to figure out how he was supposed to be responding to that and then Bruce was talking again. “I'm not joking here. If you make him think you wanted this I will sic the Big Guy on you and feel no remorse. Do not screw this up.”

Steve could hear the Hulk in the cadence of Bruce's voice, a deep sort of resonance, something rumbling in the consonants that sounded less like anger and more like worry. “Bruce, is everything all right?”

“He doesn't want you to know,” Bruce said under his breath. “Just remember, you don't care about the time machine.” He raised his voice. “For god's sake, Tony, leave Reed alone and come take Steve's call. He's with SHIELD, he's probably in the middle of a terrorist attack as we speak. Do you want Steve to cause an international crisis because he's waiting for you to stop harassing Reed?” A pause, and then, “Well, I know he deserves it, Tony, but Steve doesn't. You do realize that you have almost four dozen missed calls and, like, a hundred unread texts from Pepper alone? And you're still not answering the phone. If I were dating you, I'd dump you.”

Steve bit back a grin as Tony's voice suddenly came through the phone clear as day. “If you were dating me, Banner, you'd be in such a state of eternal fucking bliss that you wouldn't even remember how to use a cell phone. Hey,” he said, breathless and proud. “Steve.”

“My brain cells could barely remember how to dial your number,” Steve told him. “I had to ask Natasha to do it.”

Tony laughed, and Steve relaxed slightly at the sound. Tony didn't have the manic edge that he often got when he'd been locked up in the lab for days on end. Instead he had the same sort of happy pride that he got whenever he solved a particularly tough problem. Or remembered date night. The project – the time machine? - was apparently a success. “I've missed you. You haven't answered your phone for days.”

“I'm sorry, babe,” Tony said. “I missed your post-briefing call. I just – lost track of time. For most of the week, apparently. You know what I'm like.”

Steve couldn't help the indulgent smile that was spreading across his face. “I know how brilliant you are, if that's what you mean.”

“I am a genius, so they tell me.”

“So you tell yourself,” Hank Pym hollered from somewhere in the background.

“I'm being unappreciated,” Tony said indignantly. “Steve, no one appreciates my genius.”

“I appreciate your genius,” Steve said. Then, because Clint was making gagging motions at him, Steve let his voice drop suggestively – or, well, as suggestively as he could manage in front of other people without blushing. “I appreciate a lot of things about you, Tony. Your hard work. Your creativity. Your... enthusiasm.”

Tony laughed. “Steve. Are you hitting on me just to make Clint twitch?”

“I love the way your mind works,” Steve said throatily, just to watch Clint spasm in his seat and flop dramatically against Natasha.

“Dumbass,” Tony said fondly.

“Do you appreciate the flexibility of his hips?” Natasha asked. She shoved at Clint's head with one hand, sending him sprawling onto the floor of the chopper. “I always found that to be one of his finer traits.”

Steve did, actually, but he wasn't sure he could bring himself to get that suggestive out loud. “Natasha says she appreciates you too,” he told Tony.

“I bet she does,” Tony said. He was leering, Steve could hear it even over the phone. “Don't be jealous, baby. Natasha blew her chance. Now she can only lust from afar.”

Steve eyed Natasha – currently pinning Clint to the floor of the chopper with one foot and watching him flop around as he tried to get free – and doubted she was the type to pine. And if there was lusting involved, she wouldn't be doing it from afar. “So what project soaked up all your attention? Bruce said it was impressive.”

“I built a time machine,” Tony said.

“Okay, so the time machine thing wasn't a joke?” Steve raised both eyebrows at Natasha, who raised hers right back. Clint had folded his arms under his head and appeared to be settling in on the floor, with Natasha's boot still planted against his throat. “I thought Bruce was kidding with me. Why did you build a time machine?”

“Because I could, mostly,” Tony said and that was – yeah, that was probably as much of a reason as it would take. “We're doing the final battery of tests, but it looks good. We sent two of Peter's boxsets of The Jersey Shore back to nineteen-eighty-nine.”

“Why would you do that?” Steve asked.

“Mostly I wanted them out of my house. But also, humanity needed to be warned.”

Steve tried to sound disapproving and mostly failed. “You're going to have to replace those.”

“I refuse on moral grounds. I'll build him a jetpack.”

“And I won't see you for another week,” Steve said.

“Well that's no good.” Tony's voice softened, lost some of the teasing tone for something gentler. “Maybe I can just give him cash.”

“I like that better.”

“Steve.”

The chopper was rough with turbulence and the medic was poking at his leg and Natasha was still making eyes at him, but all Steve cared about was that voice. “Tony.”

“When are you coming home?”

“Late. It'll be after midnight.”

“I'll wait up.”

****

The workshop was in a state of controlled chaos when Steve made his way downstairs. Every monitor in the room was flickering with images and information, and one of the replication units was spitting sparks in the far corner of the room. The lights were up as bright as they would go, and music was pounding through the speakers – though not nearly so loudly as Tony usually preferred it. Hank Pym was asleep on the couch and Hank McCoy was sprawled in the chair at Tony's desk, head tipped back and snoring loudly enough to rattle the computer monitors. There was no sign of Bruce, who had probably gone back to his own room to sleep, or of Tony, but Reed Richards was still there, wearing a lab coat over slacks and a button-down shirt and skimming through screen after screen of figures. He looked up as Steve entered. “Ah. Captain. Is it midnight already?”

It was closer to three in the morning and it would have been later if Fury hadn't taken mercy on him and told him to report back for a debriefing after he'd had a chance to sleep and shower.

“I was looking for Tony,” Steve said, even though someone considerably less intelligent than Reed could probably have deduced as much.

“Dr. Banner insisted that he shower before your arrival, on the grounds that no one could love a science-junkie coming down off a four day high who couldn't even remember to bathe himself.” Reed was obviously quoting from memory. “I've been elected to collect the data from the most recent round of tests. It should be finished in five or six hours.”

Steve winced. “They abandoned you, huh?”

“Like the proverbial rats on a sinking ship,” Reed agreed. “I can't object, really. The project was quite challenging. If this works we'll have revolutionized physics.” He adjusted his glasses. “And I feel like I owe Tony the favor anyway, after my unfortunate lack of judgment in talking to that tabloid paparazzi.”

Steve decided to ignore that comment for his own mental health. Something else had caught his eye. “Is that it?”

Sitting at the far end of the workshop was a silver platform, with two half arches that rose up and curved over the top before tapering out into points. Cables and cords ran all over the floor, connecting the platform to computers and machines Steve couldn't name. It looked simultaneously like a cobbled-together science project and the single most amazing scientific advancement in history. Steve remembered photos of the first Iron Man armor, rough and improvised, but already deadly.

“It is. The world's first scientifically designed and produced time-travel device. Assuming it works as it should. We're still in the testing stage.”

Steve shook his head. “I cannot – four days. You guys are amazing.”

“Tony was... motivated,” Reed said. He coughed slightly. “You should probably talk to him.”

“Do I want to know why?”

“I don't know that want has a great deal to do with need.”

Steve was pretty fairly certain that even if he could stomach relationship advice from Reed Richards, Tony would commit homicide if this conversation went any further. “You said he's in the shower?”

“Yes.” Reed blinked. “Ah. See you in the morning then?”

Steve channeled Tony for a moment. “Afternoon. Maybe. See you, Reed.”

He took the elevator up to the living quarters, strode past Clint who had fallen asleep in the kitchen over a bowl of cereal and Bruce who was face-down on the couch in the family room. His own room was dark, the door cracked open from where Steve had ducked in to drop his duffel only a few minutes ago.

Tony's door was closed, but the lights were on and when Steve slipped in, he could hear running water. He closed and locked the door behind him, and slipped off his boots, kicking them into their usual place by the closet. He stripped his shirt off over his head and dropped it onto a chair next to a faded Metallica t-shirt that was more oil-stain than cloth anymore. Steam was billowing out of the open bathroom door and Steve paused for a moment in the doorway to drink in the sight.

Tony was slumped against the wall of the shower, yawning into the spray. His hair was wet and plastered to his skull – he needed to get it cut, it was starting to curl at the ends and he hated that – and his eyes were drooping shut. His body was covered in the usual minor burns, nicks and bruises that usually accompanied a prolonged period of engineering genius, and Steve wanted to touch each one and learn what Tony had done to himself while he was away.

Steve's hands went to his belt just as Tony's eyes flickered open.

“Oh.” Tony blinked into the spray and licked his lips. “You're back.”

Steve shoved his pants down over his hips and kicked them into the corner. Tony's bathroom was huge, but Steve crossed it in three long strides and walked into the shower, into the heat and the steam, instantly drenched by a half-dozen different shower-heads. Tony turned toward him and Steve caught him, slid his hands over wet skin and smooth muscle as he fit himself against Tony's body. Tony tipped his head back and Steve kissed him the way he'd been wanting to for four days.

He pulled back, eventually and saw the way droplets of water were caught in Tony's eyelashes. “I'm home.”

“I missed you,” Tony said. He rocked his hips against Steve, only half hard but his body was starting to wake up. “I'm sorry I missed your call – I didn't realize-”

Steve kissed him again because he didn't need an apology for Tony being Tony. He pressed back until they were both leaning against the wall of the shower, slid his hands down Tony's sides and thought about going to his knees. But his leg, though half-healed already, was still aching, and Tony was smiling up at him with sleepy affection and Steve didn't want to let go of him for anything.

Steve ducked his head and licked beaded drops off water off Tony's lips. “Come on. Let's get you dried off.”

He bundled Tony up in a huge, fluffy bath towel, patted him dry and swatted away Tony's hands when he tried to do the same for Steve and managed to do it all while pressing as many kisses against Tony's mouth as humanly possible. He scrubbed himself dry with a second towel and shook his hair out like a dog while Tony laughed against him. “Bed?” he asked.

Tony hummed and rolled his hips, pressed the hot length of his erection against Steve's thigh. “I would really rather have sex now.”

“Oh.” Steve spread his fingers over the flesh of Tony's rear and squeezed. Tony made a sound like a contented cat that turned into a startled gasp when Steve gripped him tight and lifted, pulling Tony off the floor and holding him pressed close against Steve's chest as he spun around and walked them toward the door to the bedroom. “I can arrange that.”

Tony wrapped his legs around Steve's waist. “I feel like the heroine in a romance novel, being swept off to ravishment by her burly Scottish Highlander.” He licked at Steve's mouth and purred into the kiss, his fingers tangled in Steve's hair. “Oh, idea. Steve. Steeeeeeeve.”

“No kilts,” Steve said and Tony was still laughing as he lowered them both to the bed.

****

It didn't come up until later, when they were sleepy and sated, curled together beneath the sheets, the steam having faded, the lights turned down. Tony was half asleep in Steve's arms, his breath soft, his chest moving slightly with each even breath. Steve skimmed his fingers over the arc reactor and pressed his chin against the top of Tony's head.

“It's going to work,” Tony said, and his words were fuzzy with sleep. “We have to finish the trials, but I know it will. Everything came out perfect.”

“Except for the part where you unleashed Snooki and the Situation on the nineteen-eighties,” Steve said, nuzzling against the side of Tony's head.

“Don't tell Peter,” Tony said. “But it worked. And when the tests are done – Steve we could send people back.”

“It sounds dangerous,” Steve said.

Tony shifted in his arms and for a moment Steve was worried he'd said the wrong thing – Tony was famously protective of his mechanical babies, after all – but he just burrowed closer to Steve's chest. “It could be – I don't know, Steve. Imagine if you could go anywhere. See things that have only ever been speculated about. Meet people that we could never know for sure were real or mythological. We could – visit people we've lost.”

He wasn't talking about his mother, or Howard, or trading notes with Einstein. Steve remembered Bruce's warning, and Reed's unsolicited advice, and something sour and heavy settled in the pit of his stomach. “The risk of changing history – of changing the present, Tony. It's too high.”

“We might be able to make it better,” Tony said.

Steve closed his eyes and breathed in, slow and easy, dragged the scent of Tony into his lungs. Better for who? he wanted to ask, but he already knew what Tony thought the answer should be. “Are you going to go?” he asked instead. “When the machine is ready and tested and – and this visit is possible. Are you going to go too?”

Tony went still against him. “No,” he said quietly, barely a whisper. “I would – I wouldn't go.”

“You stay here with me,” Steve said. He curled his hand over the arc reactor, tried not to think about how hard it was getting to be to sleep without its blue light shining behind his eyelids. “We both stay here. This future is ours. We'll make it better one day at a time. Together. Okay?”

Tony's throat clicked as he swallowed, but he nodded.

“This is home,” Steve said and he meant the twenty-first century, New York, Avengers Mansion, this bed, the way Tony's legs were tangled with his. “You're my home. I'll always come home.”

Chapter Text

Captain America sneaking around? Say it's not so! But the co-founder of the Avengers has been spotted at a local coffee shop, getting cozy with a beautiful young woman – who is definitely not his boyfriend.

The young woman has not been identified, but people in Rogers' neighborhood say the two have been getting closer for a while now.

“They come in every morning,” said “Rick” a barista who wouldn't comment openly for fear of losing his job. “They always come in alone and make a big deal out of ordering separately. But they always seem to end up sitting at the same table.”

Steve Rogers has been romantically linked to women in the past, but never blatantly. His brief affair with federal agent Sharon Carter was kept largely out of the public eye, and the rumors of his workplace romance with Susan Storm were never confirmed or denied. It was only after he began his current romance with teammate Tony Stark that Rogers let his romantic life enter the public eye, a decision that everyone close to him knew he'd end up regretting.

But is it possible that Rogers has been cheating? The Avengers PR representatives had no comment, nor did anyone from Stark's camp, but the idea doesn't seem so crazy to people who know him. An anonymous SHIELD agent told us: “You can tell that things have been rough for a while. I think Cap just doesn't want to dump him with the media watching their every move. He's waiting for the right moment.”

Witnesses at the coffee shop seem to feel the question is moot. “They're definitely dating,” Rick told us. “They look for each other as soon as they walk in every morning. They sit together, they laugh a lot. They look really happy together.”

What does Rogers' man have to say about all this? Surprisingly little. Tony Stark has never been especially shy toward the media, but he's been a virtual ghost since the allegations of Rogers' infidelity began. His people declined to answer our questions, but issued a brief statement that Stark was taking some time off for personal reasons.

It doesn't get much more personal than a broken heart. While everyone seems to agree that Rogers already has one foot out the door in this relationship, Stark just might have been in it for the long haul.

Perhaps most telling? Valentine's Day came and went with no appearance by Stark, who in the past has been notorious for elaborate dates and gifts on this romantic day. Rogers definitely celebrated the lovers' holiday: he had coffee and scones with his mystery woman.

****

“Venti-quintuple-soy-hazelnut-mocha-extra-whip!”

Steve glanced away from his sketchpad as the barista belted out the order like it was all one word – Steve had been placing that same order every morning for a week now and he still had to read it off the post-it note Pepper had scribbled it on for him that first morning – but only one drink was up, so he turned his attention back to the rough pencil sketch that had been occupying most of his morning.

He never actually got any drawing done here, but he liked to look at things in a different light. Sometimes a sketch looked completely different than it had in his room, or the library at the mansion, or – more frequently these days – in the early morning light of Tony's room while he waited for Tony to wake up. This particular drawing had been started under that exact circumstance and Steve had the feeling he wouldn't be able to finish it now that he'd stopped.

“I think this is yours,” a familiar voice said and a large paper cup was set down on the table across from him. “At least, I can't believe more than two of us ordered that and you were way ahead of me in line.” Mary smiled down at him, her eyes crinkling at the corners, as she used her foot to pull out the chair across from him.

“We meet again.” Steve pulled the sketchbook closer so he wasn't taking up the whole table. “That's probably yours, actually. I'm waiting on some other drinks. Apparently once your housemates realize you go to the coffee shop every morning, it's impossible to get out of the house without them putting in a dozen different orders.”

“Oh good,” Mary said as she slipped into the seat, setting a second cup down beside the first one. “My caffeine levels have reached a critical low.” She took a drink of the coffee and made happy sounds in the back of her throat. “I am not a morning person, I don't know why I keep doing this to myself.”

He couldn't resist a grin. “No pain, no gain?”

She rolled her eyes at him. Beneath a light coat she wore color-coordinated workout clothes, and her long red hair was pulled back in a messy ponytail. “You know, I probably undo all my good work by coming here and getting this candy bar in a cup.” She studied her cup intensely for a moment, then took a long sip. “Fuck it.”

“Rough morning?”

She made a face. It was slightly adorable. “I decided to hire a personal trainer, right? It's costing me half my paycheck for this guy to scream at me and call me fat for an hour every morning. I could just call my mother.”

“Or get a new trainer,” Steve suggested. “His methods sound less than motivating.”

“Oh they're very motivating. I'm gonna work my ass off so that when I finally give in and punch him in the face, I'll be strong enough to really make it hurt.”

“And fast enough to outrun security,” Steve added.

“See? You get me. I should hire you to be my trainer.” Mary checked her watch.

“Boyfriend running late again?” Steve asked.

It was the same thing every morning for the last week. He'd run into Mary the first time when Pepper sent him down the block to fetch a ridiculously complicated, sugary espresso drink for an injured Tony. Pepper had called it comfort food and insisted that Tony, who normally had no taste for sweet things - well, except for power bars, and even then only when he was inventing –would appreciate it. Steve had been willing to try anything that kept Tony from sneaking out of bed and trying to get into his workshop. He hadn't expected anyone else to be ordering the same ridiculous drink and had nearly walked away with Mary's order before realizing his mistake. Since then he'd seen her every morning, fresh from the gym and waiting on a perpetually late boyfriend. “You should get him an alarm clock,” he said.

“The sad part is that he has two. He has one on his dresser so he has to physically get out of bed to turn it off. He still manages to hit the snooze button a half-dozen times a day.” She rolled her eyes, but her mouth curved in genuine affection. “I can't be too mad at him. He works two jobs and both his bosses are pretty demanding. It's nice that he gets himself up to meet me every morning, even if he does make me wait a little.”

“I have a roommate like that,” Steve said. Peter spent most of his nights working the streets as Spider-Man, or out on Avengers business, then hauled himself out of bed to make it into The Bugle. There were entire days where he was seen only in passing as he raced out the door with his backpack and camera case.

“It won't be like that forever,” Mary said. She swirled her cup idly. “Or maybe we'll just get used to it, I don't know. I'm depressing myself, Steven. What are you working on? Can I see?”

It took him a moment to realize she was talking about his sketchbook and another long moment to figure out what he should say. The sketch was half-done at best, just strong lines outlining the shape of Tony's body and the shape of the blanket draped over him. He'd added some basic details: the curve of a shoulder, the muscles of his back and upper arms, the dark, messy lines of classic Tony Stark bedhead. He wasn't usually shy about his art, though he rarely showed it off. But the subject matter felt personal. It wasn't risque, Tony was covered or Steve wouldn't have thought of pulling it out in public like this, and Tony was lying on his side, facing away, so his face and arc reactor weren't shown. But he hesitated just a little, eying the line of Tony's throat, the way the sheets seemed to pool around his lower back, the round curve of his hip beneath the sheet. He didn't think Tony would mind. On the contrary, he always seemed pleased when Steve sketched him and had once framed a considerably more intimate drawing and hung it in his workshop. Steve rubbed his thumb over the lean lines of Tony's back, smudging the graphite a little. What the hell. The sketch wasn't half-bad and Tony was gorgeous enough to share.

He flipped the sketchbook over in his hands so it was facing Mary and handed it across the table before he could second-guess himself. “It's not finished,” he said.

“Oh,” Mary said. “This is really good, Steven.” She held it carefully by the edges and traced a delicate finger over the paper. Steve had to resist the urge to lean across the table and see what part of the picture had deserved her attention. “Did you take art classes, or are you a natural?”

“I went to art school. Briefly. But money was tight and I liked having a roof over my head too much to be a very effective starving artist.” He shrugged. “Anyway, then the war happened and I enlisted.”

“I didn't know that!” Mary smiled at him over the sketch. “Oh, wow. You were in Iraq?”

“No, not that one.” Steve had never quite found a graceful way of correcting people when the topic of his past came up. He was proud of his service, and his duty as Captain America – well, aside from the singing and dancing parts, that had mostly just been embarrassing – but it seemed like bragging sometimes. And some people got... weird, when they found out who he really was. “I'm older than I look.”

She grinned at him, all bright teeth and wide eyes. She was very pretty. He wondered if it would be impolite to ask if he could sketch her one day. “I bet you got all the girls and guys in your uniform.”

Steve grinned back, a little wry. “There may have been a few ladies who thought I cut a nice figure, yeah.” Mostly in the States, where the rationing hadn't been too bad yet and all the fighting was far away and romantic. In Germany they'd had other things to worry about, though there had been a girl, about seventeen with bleach-blonde hair and skin too pale from being indoors for years, who had climbed atop the tank he was riding and kissed him half-breathless before informing him in a grave voice that his uniform was the most beautiful thing she'd ever seen. A few seconds later she had said the same thing about Bucky's smile, which Steve had privately thought was much more accurate.

There had been a brothel in southern France where the Commandos had set up base for a few months. The women there had thought his costume was ridiculous, preferring the long black coats and berets of their own resistance fighters, but they'd thought he was nice and had told him he looked dashing anyway.

Tony liked Steve's uniform, probably more than he wanted Steve to know. Steve may or may not have used this to his advantage on several occasions when Tony was holed up in his workshop.

Steve liked the uniform too. It was a symbol of something he was proud of and it had protected him over the years, but maybe he loved it a little bit more when Tony was wearing Steve's mail shirt like too-big pajamas and straddling Steve's waist.

Mary handed the sketchbook back. “He's gorgeous,” she said. “Is he yours?”

“We're dating,” Steve said. “Almost a year. We've known each other a lot longer, though.” Steve was aware that he was gazing fondly at his sketch and probably looked rather like a soppy fool, but he wasn't sure he cared. It was Valentine's Day after all. “What about this chronically tardy boyfriend of yours?”

“A year.” Mary rolled her coffee cup between her palms. “It'll be a year this week. He said he has something important to talk to me about.”

“Sounds like he's got something planned,” Steve said and she waggled her eyebrows at him. “Not what I meant,” he objected over her laughter. “Come on, I-”

Cap?

Peter's voice was a surprise and Steve jerked his head up to blink at his teammate. Peter as standing a few feet away, blocking the path to the register and earning several dirty look from patrons. He was dressed for work, with his camera bag slung over one shoulder. The backpack he used to carry his costume dangled from one hand. His hair looked like he'd tried to finger comb it on the way out the front door, which was almost certainly what had happened.

“Peter,” Steve said. And – so this was MJ's mystery boyfriend. It made perfect sense; two jobs, always running late – and Peter hit the snooze button a dozen times a day, Clint had the room next to his and complained about it frequently. “Well, now that Peter's here, let me get out of the way. My order should be coming up any second now anyway.”

“You guys know each other?” Mary asked. She narrowed her eyes at Steve. “Wait. What did he call you?”

We have to go,” Peter said abruptly as he tugged at Mary's arm. “Hey, Cap, nice to see you. Tony's driving everyone nuts so we've abandoned him to wallow in his own misery. Have fun with that! MJ, come on.”

“You're lucky I like you,” she told him. She shoved the extra coffee cup at him. “Shut up and drink the coffee I very generously got for you – despite you being half an hour late – while I finish my conversation with Steven.”

Peter made a strangled sound in the back of his throat and gulped down a mouthful of what was probably quite hot coffee.

Mary – MJ – rolled her eyes. “Nevermind. Steven, nice to see you again. Peter Parker, you have some explaining to do. The Avengers,” he heard her say as she hustled Peter toward the door. “Honestly. What next? You're best friends with the Fantastic Four?”

****

Despite balancing eleven drinks and six pastries, Steve made it back to the Mansion with only one near-spill. His teammates descended on him like a horde of ravening piranha, and Steve had to actually wrestle Tony's pumpkin bread away from Clint. “You are grown adults,” he called after them as they scattered. “You can feed yourselves, you know!”

Tony wasn't camped out on the couch where Steve had left him, but he remembered what Peter had said and found Tony in his room. His partner was curled up in the middle of his bed, a mountain of pillows and blankets surrounding him like a nest. Scattered across the comforter were a half dozen magazines, a couple of DVDs, Tony's tablet, a laptop, and a handheld videogame that Steve was pretty sure was Carol's. Tony himself looked tired and sullen, his knees drawn up to his chest, his injured hand cradled in the hollow between his knees.

“Nothing good on the television?” Steve asked. He pushed the bedroom door shut with his hip and was rewarded with a rueful smile.

“No. I was driving everyone crazy, so I figured I'd hide out in here where the only person I can annoy is myself. And Pepper,” he added, waving his phone in Steve's general direction. “But she gets paid to be annoyed at me, so I don't mind so much.”

Steve set the drinks down on the bedside table and slid onto the bed beside Tony's little nest. “I doubt it was that bad.”

Tony hunched his shoulders. “I might have been a little irritable,” he said reluctantly. “I hate being useless.”

Three broken ribs, a fractured clavicle, a dislocated shoulder, multiple lacerations and bruises that were only starting to turn green more than a week later. The entire right side of his body had been battered, bruised and broken, but the worst of it by far was the three shattered fingers on his right hand. The threat of a punctured lung hadn't been enough to keep Tony down in combat, but afterwards it was the EMTs warning that he might lose dexterity in his injured hand that had convinced him to stay down and let them take him to the hospital.

“You were injured saving your teammate's life.” Steve shifted on the bed, careful not to jostle Tony as he eased closer and stretched out next to him. “Hank probably wouldn't be here if you hadn't shielded him, not to mention the civilians behind him. That's the exact opposite of useless.”

“Well, I feel useless,” Tony said. He dropped his head down against the pillows with a sigh. “I just sit here and take up space. Pepper sent out a memo that anyone who tries to contact me with work will be both fired and executed. Jarvis won't even let me feed myself. And Bruce overrode the security on the workshop to lock me out.”

“They just want to help.”

“Do you know how old I was the last time I needed to be fed?”

“Depends. How long ago was the last time you got really drunk?”

It was a gamble, with Tony in a mood like this, but a small one. It paid off for Steve because he was treated to an indignant glower before Tony's mouth reluctantly curved upwards. “Be that as it may, I need to contribute something to the team.”

Steve had ridden to the hospital with him, sitting by Tony's side while the paramedics cracked jokes about how they had to stop meeting him like this, and tried to wheedle investment tips out of him. He'd held Tony's good hand while the medics looked over the broken one, the fingers swollen like sausages, listening as they rattled off a laundry list of injuries that had made him wince in sympathy.

“You're not useless,” he said, reaching for Tony's latte. “You're injured. Everyone needs their own time to heal. Would you rather a few weeks of inactivity or a permanent loss of motor skills?” He held the drink steady until Tony had a grip on it with his good hand. “No one on this team begrudges you the time you need to recover from saving someone's life. And if someone has been,” he added, knowing Tony would deny it, “then I want to know who, because that's not how Avengers do things.”

Tony sulked a little. “Nothing like that. They're just treating me like an invalid.”

“Because you're injured.” Steve was content that Tony seemed willing to admit that much. “Not because you're useless. Let them fuss a little.” He settled against the pillows and toed his shoes off while Tony made semi-obscene noises over his latte. “You could use some downtime anyway. I think this is the most rest I've seen you get at one time since we met.” That it took serious injury to make it happen went, unfortunately, without saying.

“I am rested,” Tony said with a sigh. “Rested and bored.” He shifted a little bit, still stiff, but wincing less than he had been a week ago, until he could press his shoulder against Steve's. “We can't even do anything special for Valentine's Day. I had plans,” he added, a little reproachfully. “Good plans. Romantic plans. Plans that did not involve large crowds of people or cost millions of dollars. Quiet plans.” He turned his head to nuzzle at Steve's shoulder. “You'd have liked them.”

That was probably up for debate – Tony's idea of what constituted a low-key celebration differed pretty drastically from Steve's, but he would have enjoyed anything Tony did for them. “We can still celebrate tonight. I can order in and we can have a nice quiet dinner. Just the two of us.”

“I wanted to do something special for you,” Tony said.

Steve took the drink from Tony and set it down on the table. Then he caught Tony's good hand in his and laced their fingers together. “You're alive and safe and here with me,” he said. He kept the words quiet, spoke them against the top of Tony's head. “That is everything. Any one of those things is special and worth celebrating.”

Tony didn't say anything for a long minute, but Steve could feel the deep, slightly shaky breath he took. “Sentimental,” he said finally.

Steve kissed the top of his head. “In love,” he corrected.

“Oh, god. I really want to have sex with you right now,” Tony said wistfully. “Are you sure-”

“You can barely sit up straight without hurting. There is no way we are engaging in any kind of strenuous-”

“I can just lie here,” Tony said brightly. “I don't even have to move at all.”

“No,” Steve said, planting a perfunctory kiss on the top of Tony's head. “I'm not going to do anything that will hurt your ribs or your hand.”

“I don't mind letting you do all the work.”

“No.”

“My mouth works just fine.” He tipped his head back and waggled his eyebrows at Steve.

Steve snorted. “I've noticed that. And no.”

“God, I guess we have to just lie here and enjoy each other's company then.” Tony huffed, but underneath he sounded hesitant.

Steve grabbed the pumpkin bread off the bedside table and deposited it on the center of Tony's chest. “I happen to enjoy your company,” he said firmly. Lurking somewhere in the back of his mind was the knowledge that Tony didn't seem to expect that of his lovers, which made his persistent willingness to offer himself up for sex despite his injuries worrisome. It didn't speak well for his past relationships. Steve deliberately ignored the fact that it didn't seem to say much for their relationship that Tony thought Steve would expect that of him. “Who wouldn't want to spend Valentine's Day with a brilliant, witty man who happens to be their best friend?”

“Sentimental,” Tony said again, but he sounded quietly pleased, and he rewarded Steve with a bite of pumpkin bread. “You forgot gorgeous, by the way. So can we do something completely unromantic for dinner?”

“Bacon cheeseburgers and chocolate malts,” Steve said, licking pumpkin icing off Tony's fingers. “With thick-cut fries.”

“If I wasn't already in love,” Tony said.

“I'll call the order in later. You can pick the movie. But not-” he reached across Tony, careful not to jostle him, and picked up a couple of the DVDs. “Not Mob Wives, Toddlers and Tiaras or Catfish.”

“Peter was keeping me company,” Tony explained. “We need to break his reality television addiction.”

“No more vaporizing his DVDs,” Steve said. “You know he submitted an expense report for those Jersey Shore videos you destroyed.”

“Pepper yelled at me for thirty minutes for endangering the space/time continuum. I maintain it was worth it.”

Steve nosed at the top of Tony's head. “Speaking of Peter, did you know he has a girlfriend?”

Tony snorted. “It doesn't count if she's made of plastic,” he said through a mouthful of bread.

“I- Tony,” Steve said, sounding more scandalized than he actually was. “No, she's very nice. Her name is Mary. She's the girl from the coffee shop.”

“Wait.” Tony brushed crumbs away. “Wait, wait, wait. The super cute girl you sketched the other day? The one who looks like a Victoria's Secret model? She is Peter's girlfriend?”

“I think she actually is a model, though not a very famous one,” Steve added hastily when Tony made a vague choking sound. “She does magazine ads and calendars and some kind of underwear commercial.”

“And she's dating Peter.” Tony's tone of voice indicated that he might have been less surprised to discover she was an advance scout for an alien invasion, or his own long-lost sister. He buried his face against Steve's shoulder with a sleepy huff of breath and when he spoke his words were starting to slur together. “A model. He's been telling us so for months. He's gonna to be unbearable now, you realize that.”

“We'll keep him humble, I'm sure,” Steve said. He remembered what Mary – MJ – had said in the shop. “It's their anniversary. I think he's serious about her.”

Tony took a deep breath and let it out slowly. His body was slowly going limp against Steve's, sleep tugging him back down where he could finish healing. Normally he went fighting, forcing himself to keep moving, to keep talking for as long as possible, only stopping when his body couldn't take it anymore. The sight of him drifting off peacefully, willingly, made Steve's chest swell. He breathed in the scent of Tony's hair for a moment, then carefully reached for the remote and turned off the lights.

Tony slid his good arm around Steve's waist, almost hesitantly. “You don't have to stay, you know.”

Steve clenched his teeth against his instinctive response, against the hurt and anger that got a little harder to swallow every time Tony tried to give him an out, every time Tony acted like Steve was about to leave. He made himself let his breath out in a slow exhale. Tony wanted him there, that much was obvious, and only time would show him that Steve wanted to be there just as much, that he wasn't going anywhere.

He let himself relax, let his muscles ease. The pillows propping them up were soft, the mattress beneath them firm, the sheets cool and smooth. Tony was warm and pliant and heavy against his side.

Steve turned his head a couple of inches and brushed a kiss against Tony's temple. “Where else would I want to be?” he asked, and Tony's arm tightened around his waist.

Chapter Text

The wedding is on! Steve Rogers and Tony Stark are finally ready to take the plunge – but they aren't ready to tell the world.

While both SI and Avengers PR are denying the rumors of an upcoming wedding, the facts seem to speak for themselves. Catering vans, tailors, florists – and a private visit from an exclusive master jeweler! Everything you'd need to plan a wedding and they've all been spotted coming and going from Avengers Mansion over the last week.

The future grooms have been remarkably photogenic in recent days. The super-couple came out last May, though they may have been romantically linked for months or even years longer. And while they generally try to avoid public displays of affection, lately they haven't seemed to mind the cameras as much (see a montage of their steamy PDAs page 16). Could this be a buildup to breaking their big announcement?

“Oh my god,” former co-leader of the Avengers and current member of the Fantastic Four, Susan Storm-Richards said upon being contacted by the Star. “If they're getting married and didn't tell me, I'll kill them both.”

“I haven't heard anything about a wedding for Stark and Cap,” Spider-Man told one of our reporters. “But that needs to be a thing now. Can we start a petition or something?”

With most of their friends out of the loop, could it be that the happy couple is taking the secrecy too far?

“It's understandable to want privacy during such a personal and intimate ceremony,” Doctor Margaret Higgins, a couple marriage counselor who does not treat Stark or Rogers told us. “If the date and location of the wedding were being kept secret to avoid crowds and preserve a sense of romance, that would certainly be understandable. However, the refusal to even acknowledge the wedding with their compatriots and close friends strikes me as highly problematic. This could demonstrate a lack of confidence in their decision, or even in the relationship itself.”

“There's definitely a wedding in the works,” honorary Avenger Iron Fist said, upon being contacted for this article, “but Cap and Stark aren't going to be [making it] down the aisle.”

A pessimistic view, but one that seems sadly accurate. Since going public with their relationship, they've been through a lot of ups and downs, including accusations of domestic abuse and an enormous backlash against the perceived corruption of Captain America.

“Sadly, I believe that Mr. Stark's and Captain Rogers' hesitation to be open about this huge step in their relationship can only mean that they aren't as confident as they should be,” Dr. Higgins said. “Until the two of them are one hundred percent certain of each other, I'm afraid any marriage – or even just a committed relationship, with or without a ceremony – is going to fail.”

****

Tony was in the kitchen, leaning over the island counter as he skimmed through a stack of papers with the now-familiar letterhead of a local caterer. He was chewing on his bottom lip, which meant he was mostly bored by whatever he was looking at and was probably trying to figure out how to add lasers to something. Steve saw that look a lot when it came time for Board of Directors meetings.

Steve stepped up behind him and slid his arms around Tony's waist. “Is the caterer still causing trouble?” he asked, peering over Tony's shoulder at the stack of mock-menus and ingredient lists.

“No, we finally hammered out the details.” Tony leaned back against Steve's chest and Steve tightened his grip a little to take most of his weight. “Gonna go with a buffet. It's too last minute for a big sit-down meal. Four main courses, something for the vegetarians, a truly massive dessert selection and an open bar. I figure that should cover it.”

Steve pressed his mouth to the back of Tony's neck. “Dessert and wedding cake?”

“Hey, it's a party,” Tony said. “We'll have enough food for about two hundred hungry people and since the guest list is only about half that, we'll be living off leftovers for a while. But I figured, who wants to cook on their honeymoon, right?”

“I can think of five or six things I'd rather do if it was me getting married,” Steve agreed.

Tony 's eyes crinkled as he tipped his head back and grinned, his breath a warm puff of air against Steve's cheek. “Yeah, me too. Do we have to wait till the honeymoon, or can we get started on that right now?”

Steve had long since given up trying to discourage his body from reacting to Tony. He rocked his hips against the lean body resting against his, just a gentle push to let him feel how much he approved of the idea. “I'd say yes, but I know you're working.”

“Killjoy,” Tony muttered. “I'm nearly done here. Caterer, tailor, florist. The rings are on target and should be delivered by armored courier the morning of the ceremony. All I need to do is nail down the photographer and we're done.”

The setup was too perfect for Steve to resist. He grinned and ran his tongue up Tony's throat until he was able to press his lips to the shell of Tony's ear. “The only person you're allowed to nail is me.”

The sudden stutter of Tony's breath was more arousing than any innuendo, as far as Steve was concerned.

“I love it when you talk like that,” Tony said. He straightened and Steve reluctantly let go of him when he'd have vastly preferred to start something they really shouldn't in the middle of the kitchen. “I really, really love it. Ask me to nail you again later when I have time to follow through.”

“I don't recall asking,” Steve said.

Tony smiled at him, all white teeth and blue eyes, the corners crinkling with laugh lines that wouldn't turn to wrinkles for a few more years yet. Steve had to tuck his hands into his pockets to stop himself from reaching for him. The way this man made him feel...

Steve knew as much about sex and porn as the next guy – and actually, no. That was not true. But he'd seen enough. The half-nude lingerie shots that Bucky had smuggled past his mother when they were kids. The racier, little-left-to-the-imagination stuff that had been passed around on the front lines. Some of the Howling Commandos had traded stories from their own personal experience, heckling each other's techniques and trying to one-up each other. Steve hadn't participated, but he'd listened and he'd learned – well, a lot, he'd always thought, but there wasn't anything in those raunchy stories that had prepared him for the way Tony's voice could make him desperately hard one moment and weak in the knees the next, how he could want nothing more to take the man to bed, but be satisfied with the touch of Tony's hand against his. The urgency of climax had been explored at painstaking length, but none of those stories ever told him to expect the way affection would make his throat tight until he could barely breathe, or the way Tony's heart beating against his back at night would work its way into his dreams.

He didn't regret that he'd been unable to participate in those stories back then. He'd trade every salacious detail, every raunchy encounter that he could have had, to have a life with Tony.

He swallowed around the dryness in his throat. “You're sure you can't take a break?”

Tony's breathing quickened and he leaned forward, pressed his mouth against Steve's so lightly-

“Oh, thank God. Here. Take her for me.”

Steve started slightly as Jessica Jones swept into the room. Tony pulled back and Jess plopped baby Dani into his arms. Tony clutched at the baby with wide eyes as Jess spun around and headed for the door. “Just watch her for a minute, all right? I have to go find those two idiots I'm allegedly marrying this weekend.”

“I–” Tony stared at the baby with wide eyes. “I've already paid for everything, you know, including the fee for a minister willing to perform a three-way wedding, which is not something they list in the yellow pages, I'll have you know. If you call it off, you're not getting another present later when you inevitably take them back.”

Jess snorted from the doorway. “If they've run off to fight Hydra agents when they're supposed to be getting their final tuxedo fittings then I'm not taking them back.”

Tony stared after her, then turned his gaze on Steve. “She left without the baby.”

“I got that.” Steve smiled at his obvious discomfort. “I still can't believe they agreed to let you pay for the wedding.”

“I'm pretty sure it was the lesser of two evils. Luke seems to be under the impression that if they didn't let me do this I'd buy them something ridiculous and extravagant instead.” Tony tried to awkwardly bounce the baby in his arms. “And not in a good way. Like a solid-gold toilet, or, I don't know. Something tacky.”

Steve tickled Danielle under her chin. “That's your go-to example? A solid gold toilet is the first thing that springs to mind?” Dani burbled at him and grabbed his finger in her tiny little grip. She was strong in that way all babies are surprisingly strong and he couldn't help but grin at her as he wiggled his finger back and forth.

“You have to admit. It's pretty tacky.”

Tony sounded wistful, almost sad and when Steve glanced at him he was looking at the baby in his arms. “You're good with her,” Steve said. “I know you don't like kids –”

“I like kids,” Tony said abruptly. He didn't look up from the baby and his bouncing was easing into a gentle rocking motion. “I – kids are great. You know. They're like people but without all the shit attached. I don't know anything about them, obviously, but –” He shrugged and held her a little closer to his chest. “I just shouldn't be allowed around them, is all.”

“Don't be silly,” Steve said. He curled his finger a little and Dani squeezed. “You're doing just fine.”

“Well, it's only been five minutes. Give me time.” Tony smiled but it was tight. “People with my baggage shouldn't be allowed to have kids. There should be a law or something. You though,” he added before Steve could so much as open his mouth to object. “You'd be great with kids. That should happen. I'd –” He closed his mouth and ducked his head. Swallowed. “I'd like to see that.”

Steve froze, eyes glued to the top of Tony's head. On the face of it that sounded... promising. Almost. But he had the feeling that he was missing something important. Some undercurrent that only Tony was seeing. “I –”

“Cap!” Tigra burst into the room through the door Jess had just used. “Jan needs you up in the monitor room. She's got Fury on the line and there's a situation they want your opinion about.”

“I'm coming,” Steve said automatically. “Tony –”

“Right,” Tony said. “I'm just gonna stand here and try not to scar her emotionally before one of her parents comes back.”

Steve leaned over, careful of the baby, and pressed a kiss to the corner of Tony's mouth. “When I get back we should finish that conversation we were having. Maybe turn in early tonight.”

“Sounds good.” Tony didn't quite meet his eyes as he carefully pried the baby's hand loose from Steve's finger. “You should go, though, before Fury bursts something. That vein in his forehead gets bigger every second he has to wait.”

Steve chuckled and stole another kiss. “All right, let me see what Fury wants.” He stroked a finger across one of Dani's cheeks. “Keep an eye on him for me, okay, sweetie?”

“I am almost entirely positive that baby-sitting works the other way around,” Tony objected.

“The fact that you're only mostly certain gives me some concern,” Steve said. “I'll be right back.”

“You're not the boss of me,” Tony informed the baby sternly and she blew a raspberry at his face.

****

Fury wanted a rundown of a fight in Times Square between some Avengers and a few dozen members of the Friends of Humanity that had resulted in a minor amount of property damage and a significant amount of bad press. Steve went over it backwards and forwards, and by the time Fury was satisfied, Steve was fairly certain he could replay that entire battle in his sleep. He wrapped it up as quickly as he could, turned over control of the monitors back to Jan, and ducked out of sight before Fury could decide he needed to ask any more questions.

Enough time had passed that he wasn't sure Tony would still be in the kitchen, but he headed back there anyway, finding it as good a place to start as any. He had one hand out to push open the door when he heard a burst of familiar laughter.

“Bro,” James Rhodes's voice proclaimed cheerfully through the door, “that's not a bad look on you. You need one of the little fanny pack things, though. The ones that strap onto your chest. I bet you could make one that fits over the armor.”

Tony's voice was dry. “Okay, even I am aware that that is a terrible idea and anyone presenting it should not be allowed to be in charge of children. Give me back the baby.”

Steve ducked his head and grinned at the floor as he pulled his hand back.

“Did my ears deceive me?” Rhodes asked. “Did Tony Stark just announce for the whole world to hear that he wants a baby?”

“That baby,” Tony said, sounding cranky. “I want that baby and only so you don't try to take her joyriding in War Machine, causing her mother to beat me to death.”

“Tony wants a baby,” Rhodes said in a sing-song voice that had Steve covering his mouth to hide his grin. ”Should I warn Pepper that you're not to be left unsupervised around any orphans lest you go all Batman on us? Tony. Tony. Did you go off your birth control?”

“Asshole,” Tony said.

“I better be the godfather,” Rhodes said. “I know Steve's going to try and talk you into appointing someone who doesn't dress up in a heavily-armed robotic exoskeleton and fight terrorists and aliens on a daily basis, but he is clearly biased against me for being more awesome than he is. Also, the baby should be named James, even if it is a girl. The middle name can be whatever you want,” he added graciously, “but my middle name is Rupert. I'm just letting that hang out there.”

“You know, it sounds like it might be more expedient if you just had a kid.”

“Tone,” Rhodes said in a tone of vast exasperation. “Don't be ridiculous. Where am I going to get a kid? Now are you and Steve planning to adopt before or after your big gay wedding?”

Don't,” Tony said so abruptly that Steve, who had been about to reveal himself, froze in place. “Don't do that. Don't fucking joke – look, just don't.”

“Tony –”

“Steve is going to be a great husband and an amazing father,” Tony said, and the fierce pride in his voice made Steve's chest feel tight and hot. “And, with a little luck, I might live to see it. But we both know that I'm not going to be a part of that.”

Rhodes' voice, when he finally spoke, was gentle. “Tony, I didn't mean –”

“Don't. It's fine. I've known it since day one, after all.” Tony's voice was too bright and Steve could practically see the smile that matched it, fixed firmly in place, plastic and fake and utterly convincing to anyone who didn't know him better. “I love him, Rhodey. And I'll take every second I can get with him. But everyone knows we've got an expiration date.”

The floor wasn't actually giving way beneath him, but Steve couldn't stop himself from grabbing at the wall. He'd known – he'd known – that Tony felt this way. He'd accepted that this was a hurdle they'd have to work past. But almost a year later, to hear Tony state it so matter-of-factly, as if nothing in the last year had made any kind of impact on him, as if Steve hadn't had any kind of impact on him –

He felt a little sick.

“Does Steve know you feel like this?” Rhodes asked.

“No,” Tony said and Steve's hand curled into a fist against the wall. “And he doesn't need to, all right? Just let me enjoy this, until he realizes what he really wants.”

“You know, Steve might have some input on what that might be.”

“Don't be ridiculous, Rhodey.” Tony laughed, breathy and a little rueful, a lot tired. “Who ever needed someone like me?”

Rhodes said something, but Steve didn't hear it. He took a step away from the door, then hesitated. He should go in there, he should say something, do something, find some way to make Tony believe him.

A year. And he still thought Steve was going to leave him any day now.

He took a second step away from the door, and a third, and then it was easy to keep walking.

****

Tony was asleep when Steve finally made his way home much later that night.

He was stretched across his half of their bed, which meant he was sleeping well. Tony tended to sprawl in his sleep, which Steve didn't generally mind as the end result was usually Tony wrapped around him, or lying half on top of him. It was when the nightmares came that Tony would curl in on himself, back bowed and head tucked against his knees, muscles locked so tight that he'd be stiff and sore the next morning. The nightmares were few and far between these days, but Steve still felt a surge of relief at the sight of him. If Tony had been here, reliving Afghanistan alone, while Steve had been throwing a temper tantrum he would have been furious with himself.

He undressed in the dark, and then stood for a minute by the side of the bed. The arc reactor was just bright enough to see by, and it cast a soft light over Tony's features, making him look pale as marble. He looked cold, and Steve gave in to temptation and reached down, sliding his fingers over the softer skin of Tony's stomach. He was warm to the touch and his skin shivered under Steve's fingers. Steve pressed a little more firmly, stroked over the fine hair that trailed beneath the sheet. He felt the muscles shift at his touch and then Tony was stretching like a cat, blinking up at him from beneath hooded eyes, a sleepy, pleased smile curving his lips. The sound he made was low and soft, utterly contented, and it made Steve want to press against every inch of him until he could feel Tony's heartbeat in his skin.

“Hey,” he said instead.

Tony tipped his head back, wanting to be kissed. Steve had never quite learned the trick to resisting that, so he slid one knee onto the bed and leaned in.

The kiss was soft. Tony tasted like heat and mouthwash. Steve leaned into it a little more until he could feel the scrape of Tony's goatee against his skin.

Tony sighed against his mouth and raised a hand to cup the back of Steve's neck. “Hey,” he said when the kiss finally ended and there was the space between them to form words. “Fury finally cut you lose?”

“He was done with me a while ago,” Steve said, hating himself for the half-truth. “I spent a few hours at the gym.”

Tony rubbed his nose against Steve's throat. “I can tell,” he said warmly.

Steve leaned into him, braced himself with both arms against the mattress and settled himself atop Tony. “Are you tired?”

Tony's eyes were still half-hooded, but his smile was inviting, and his body was starting to respond to Steve's weight pressing him down. “Not too tired for you.”

Steve leaned in for another kiss, licked at the roof of Tony's mouth and caught his bottom lip with his teeth when they finally pulled apart. He could feel Tony's skin getting flushed, his heart beating faster against Steve's chest, the slow, solid rush of heat as his dick hardened against Steve's stomach.

They kissed for a long time, just rocking against each other while Tony slowly woke all the way up, until his sleepy murmurs became needy gasps against Steve's mouth, until his lazy thrusts turned demanding. It was slow and easy and Steve thought the only thing keeping them from staying like that all night was the way Tony was starting to make that soft, aching whine in the back of his throat that always made Steve lose all control.

He pressed a fierce kiss against Tony's mouth, swallowed that sound until Tony was panting for breath, then pulled away. It only took a moment to rummage through the bedside table and find the jar of lubricant.

Tony watched him with a wide grin, his chest heaving for breath, and almost arched in half when Steve wrapped one slick hand around his dick and pumped. “Steve!”

“Come here.” Steve took him by the hips and pulled Tony with him as he rolled back against the pillows. It was easy to wrap his legs around Tony's waist and hold him there, even easier to arch his back and reach up for another kiss. “Come here. Want to feel you.”

Tony panted his name and Steve had to close his eyes as careful fingers pressed inside of him. He breathed easily through the preparation but shuddered when Tony twisted his fingers deep inside and made Steve's toes curl. He couldn't stop himself from bearing down when Tony pulled his fingers free and his partner laughed as he leaned down to trail a dozen little kisses over Steve's inner thigh. “Ready?”

“Faster,” Steve said, already empty and aching. He rolled his hips beneath Tony, tryng to urge him on. “Tony, Tony. Please.”

“God,” Tony said, and he grabbed at Steve's hips with slick hands.

The slow burn of Tony pushing inside of him was the best sensation Steve had ever known. He shook beneath it, then pushed his hips up impatiently when Tony tried to go slower. He spread his thighs a little farther, rocked up against Tony a little harder, anxious for that moment when Tony could get no deeper and settled against him, chest heaving for a long moment before he started to move.

It took forever and it was over too soon. Steve combed his fingers through Tony's hair and didn't even try to hold on, let himself go a little more with every smooth thrust. One of Tony's hands wrapped around his dick, rough calluses and slick lube, and Steve gave in, shuddering as Tony murmured his name and stroked soothing hands over his stomach.

He dropped his head against the pillows and sucked in cool air and the smell of sweat, while Tony dropped soft, whiskery kisses on his chest. He was still hard and every time he moved it made him shift inside of Steve, made little flashes of light go off behind Steve's eyes. Tony hummed against Steve's skin and rubbed his hands over Steve's thighs, waiting for him to be ready.

“Can we –” Steve swallowed the words almost before he'd realized what he was asking and shook his head. “Never mind. I'm ready. You can –”

“Can we what?” Tony asked. The arc reactor lit the space between them and threw the rest of the room into shadows. It killed Steve's night vision and made it feel like it was just them, locked in their tiny space together, nothing outside of them at all. “Steve?”

“Can we stay like this?” Steve asked quietly. He touched his fingers to the side of Tony's jaw, traced over the stubble until he could hold Tony's face in his palm. “Just for a little. I know you can't be comfortable, but –”

“Hey, hey.” Tony breathed out softly, turned his head to press his lips against the palm of Steve's hand. “We can do whatever you want. Come here.” He tugged at Steve's hips. “Work with me here, this'll be easier for both of us.”

Steve went willingly, let Tony haul him upright until he was settled on Tony's lap, his weight pushing Tony even deeper inside. “Sorry,” he said against the side of Tony's neck. “I didn't mean to wake you up and not let you –”

“Anything you need,” Tony said quietly into the dark room, the light from the reactor hidden between their chests. “I'd get it for you, or give it to you, buy, borrow, beg or – hell, Steve. Anything you need.”

He slid his arms around Tony's back, held on as tight as he dared without risking hurting him. “Just need to feel you.”

“Okay.” Tony rubbed his palms up and down Steve's spine. “I'm right here.”

For now, Steve thought, but didn't dare say.