It hits him from the second he lays eyes on Tony, the wretch from the centre of his chest as the bond solidifies. His eyes widen and he sees that Tony's do too. Taking a step back doesn't stop it - it's too late, there's nothing either of them can do. Neither metal suits or enhanced muscles are enough to stop a link once it's set.
They're stuck like this.
And they haven't even said hello yet.
Steve stares at Tony with something like horror on his face, the pair of them panting for breath while the other members of the team look on with bemused curiosity.
"You have gotta be kidding me," Tony says. "Him? All this time waiting, and I get him?"
Steve blinks. He hardly even knows how to make sense of it - he's been asleep for decades. How do bonds even work in the modern world?
"What is going on?" Fury barks, sounding very much as if he'd take any reason to charge Tony with some kind of crime. From all the warnings Steve has been given about Tony (do not spend time alone with him, do not engage him in conversation, do not listen to his plans, and do not let him near alcohol), he thinks that maybe letting Fury's wrath take its natural course might be a good idea. Better than the alternative. "What did you do to him, Stark?"
"I didn't do a thing. We imprinted on each other." Tony's eyes narrow like he's eyeing Steve up one more time, before he switches his attention wholeheartedly onto Fury. Being deprived of it leaves Steve feeling as if a bucket of icy water has been thrown over his head: sudden and cold, he doesn't know if he can stand it. "Looks like America's Golden Boy's decided he wants to be my new sub."
Steve would argue that 'decision' had very little do with any of it. When it comes to instinct, free will goes out of the window.
He clears his throat before Fury can try to throttle Tony with the power of his one-eyed glare alone. "Um," he says. Instantly, every gaze in the room is pin-pointed on him. Heat fills his cheeks, pinking his skin. "How does this work here? I've not really... Well, things were different, I think. Back in my day."
He sounds like an old man. The more he hears about the changing world, the more he feels like one too.
"It's okay," Tony assures him, crooning as if he's talking to a frightening animal. "Just lie back, baby, I got you - I'll take care of you. Trust me, Steve, c'mon."
Steve would object to being talked to as if he were fragile and treated like a delicate object, but the sheets of Tony's bed are so very soft and the hands skimming along the inside of his thighs are so very gentle and the desire to listen to Tony's voice is so very, very strong. He's known the man less that twenty-four hours, yet here he is in his bed, utterly naked, and feeling more at home than he would have thought possible.
Tony's eyes are devouring him as if he's never seen an inch of uncovered skin before: Steve knows that isn't true for a fact. Yet there's something there in Tony's eyes, something in the way he touches Steve - as if it really is the first time for both of them, not just Steve.
"I'm the luckiest sonovabitch in the world," Tony murmurs, and it's like he's only talking to himself for once rather than the audience of the entire world. His voice is hushed: reverent. "You could've imprinted on anyone. Anyone. Some hot chick to boss you around. Bet you would've liked that."
Steve thinks of Peggy and the thrill he'd felt whenever they were together; he'd always felt so sure he would imprint on her, eventually. Maybe it really would've happened if they'd had the chance.
"I'm glad it's you," Steve says.
He hears his voice crack along the words and stares at the ceiling for a few moments, while Tony hushes him and allows his hands to explore.
"I'm going to make you feel so good," Tony promises, his mouth skating somewhere over Steve's navel, starting to trace the trail of fine hair that leads down between his legs. "Gonna make your head explode."
And, really, that doesn't sound too great at all, but Steve is getting used to the new speech patterns and vocabulary of the twenty-first century. He knows this one, and it makes him smile. "Shouldn't this be the other way around?" he asks, looking down. Crouched over him, Tony looks up at him like a mischievous woodland creature, as if he's here to steal Steve's soul and innocence. "I mean, you know... Shouldn't I be the one doing... that?"
"The very fact that you can't even say it probably means we're better off this way around," Tony says. He pulls away from Steve's abdomen and winds up his body, planting a kiss against his mouth, too quick and fleeting for Steve to respond. "Anyway, I like you like this. It's hot. And, if you're mine, that means we get to do things my way, right?"
There's heat in Steve's stomach to go with the nervous beating of his heart in his chest. "I'm yours," he says.
Tony grins, his teeth bared like a tiger, and then he strikes again, kissing Steve properly this time. His tongue thrusts brutally into Steve's mouth as if he's trying to make a point, but Steve doesn't have a clue what he's trying to say - he can only go with it, losing himself, giving himself over. He thinks that somewhere between the scrape of Tony's teeth against his bottom lip and the first curl of Tony's hand around his swollen cock he feels the last sliver of his resistance and uncertainty slip away.
It all makes sense now.
Tony takes his time, and hours seem to pass timelessly before Steve is on his hands and knees, bracing himself as Tony gradually pushes himself inside. Tony's hands grasp his hips, his fingers flexing and releasing as he rocks inside, inch by inch. It's like nothing Steve could have imagined, the utter completion he feels when Tony is rooted inside him, as if he has been waiting for this for all of his life - waiting for it, broken and unwhole without knowing.
Something like a sob breaks from his chest as Tony drapes himself across his back, panting. Feather-light, Tony brushes a kiss near the nape of his neck where his hair is already damp with sweat. "So good," Tony pants. "Fuck, you feel so good - I love it."
Steve wants to say something in reply but he can't speak, can hardly think, can barely breathe. Tony takes him slow and easy, rocking into him as if they have all the time in the world. Steve could take anything Tony wants to throw at him: his body was designed for it. Tony could take him hard or beat him down, could cut him open and rip him to pieces, but all he does is slide slowly and carefully, as if Steve is someone to be protected, not something to be used.
All the time, Tony murmurs a liturgy of praise against his neck, interspersed with absent-minded kisses. Steve has been a national war hero and he has been a super-soldier, but he has never felt as wanted or admired as he does right this moment, with the intoxicating weight of Tony's attraction pressed against his back.
"You're doing so well, baby, so good," Tony pants. "Perfect, fucking perfect. Love this. Love you."
They've known each other for less than a day.
Face flushed, body quaking, Steve finally finds his tongue in order to spill the truth: "Love you too," he groans.
When he comes, he feels as if he's being ripped apart and created anew. They sleep together in Tony's large bed, Tony's head pillowed on Steve's chest while he snores gently into the silence of the night.
Steve makes breakfast in the morning, while Tony hums tunelessly to himself and checks his emails. Steve's still getting the hang of electronic mail, but even then it only ever takes him ten minutes to check it: Nick Fury is the only person who contacts him that way, and sometimes he gets S.H.I.E.L.D circulars that he makes sure to read. Tony, on the other hand, seems to have received dozens of messages overnight. Steve's impressed.
He's also kind of worried.
They've not really talked about what any of this means, yet here he is in Tony's kitchen, wearing only his underwear while frying eggs.
He clears his throat. Tony's humming doesn't stop.
"Um," he says.
Tony glances up towards him, eyebrows raised as he waits for Steve to say something.
That's pretty hard, because Steve doesn't even know what he should say. He's feeling lost, here, and he's already learned that the new century doesn't come with a guidebook. "How is this going to work?" he asks eventually.
Tony shrugs. "However we want it to, I guess. It's not like there are rules." He grins, that wicked grin that Steve is already starting to be wary of. "Not 'til I make any rules, anyway. Rule Number One: you need to walk around like that all the time. Underwear and nothing else. It's like you're my pool boy."
"Alright, okay, you can put more clothes on when you leave the house. See, I can be nice."
Steve stays frowning. "I can't tell when you're being serious," he admits.
"Good. Most of the time I can't either. Don't worry - we'll work it out. The rule thing, not the seriousness thing." Tony waves his hand vaguely, like none of it is a problem. Under Tony's easy-going nature, Steve feels like maybe it's really not: maybe everything really will just fall into place like Tony expects it to. He already feels as if he's landed right where he's supposed to be. Tony points at the stove. "Your eggs are burning."
With a super-human burst of activity, Steve manages to save their breakfast (it's not as glamorous as fighting Nazis, but it's a start) before he takes his place at Tony's side. He spends the morning exploring Tony's home while Tony heads down to his workshop. Slowly but surely, he begins to settle in, while his body burns in anticipation of what they might do together when Tony is finished with his work. There is still so much that Steve wants to do; his face burns at the thought of it, of the tastes to sample and the skin to explore.