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Matchmaker, Matchmaker (Or A.I.M. Tries Matchmaking)

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“Ah, Captain, we meet again.” Iron Man’s modulated voice betrayed no emotion beyond amusement and a faint hint of teasing.

“Iron Man.” Captain America grunted, knocking back an energy blast from the man in a beekeeper’s suit that was attacking the bank. “Friends of yours?”

“A.I.M.?” Iron Man made a scoffing sound, firing his signature repulsors at the enemy and knocking them back into a wall, sending the energy gun flying. “Does it look like I ascribe to their fashion sense?”

“Hard to tell,” Captain America said, shooting Iron Man a smirk, his blue eyes laughing. “What with your armor and all.”

“This is all you’re getting, Cap.” Iron Man hovered several feet off the ground. “Think you can live with that?”

Captain America relaxed slightly, one eye on the unconscious A.I.M. lackey behind Iron Man. “I suppose I’ll have to.”

Iron Man saluted rather sloppily. “At ease then, Cap. I’ll leave this one in your capable hands to deliver to the police. After I take this, of course.” He grabbed the energy gun in something resembling a tractor beam, giving Captain America one last salute before heading off.

Captain America stood there amidst the wailing cars and oncoming police sirens, contemplating Iron Man’s disappearing figure. He knocked the A.I.M. lackey out when he began to stir before turning to the approaching police officer, giving him all the details he had as to what had transpired.

Later, once he was back in his apartment and showering, Steve Rogers heaved a heavy sigh.

One more day where he hadn’t taken in Iron Man, even though they’d exchanged witty banter as per the course.

It was something that the media was beginning to question, as Iron Man was viewed as a vigilante by many and a sort of anti-hero by others. Steve wasn’t sure which it was, but he knew Iron Man wasn’t bad. Sure, there were other villains that liked to exchange witty banter with him – Batroc the Leaper being one that was a pain in Steve’s neck – but all of them accrued no small amount of property damage and didn’t mind if people were injured.

Iron Man consistently tried to avoid that, and if he couldn’t manage it, there were always mysterious anonymous donations that helped offset the damage costs.

No, Steve didn’t think Iron Man was a villain, but he had no idea what Iron Man was. Only that he would really like to talk to him without a battle going on.

Just once.

And maybe even get to see the face behind the mask.

Back in his workshop under his tower, Tony Stark pulled off his helmet and sighed, running a gauntleted hand through black hair before pulling the gauntlet off as well, flexing calloused and scarred fingers that nimbly danced seconds later over the gun he had acquired (stolen, really) from Captain America.

He was one step closer to dismantling A.I.M., even if the goal was still a light in the distance. He’d been working toward this for two years now, and every step closer was another victory, bolstering his resolve.

His jaw tightened as he remembered what had given him the arc reactor in his chest, and what it had cost him on the way. Yinsen hadn’t deserved to die. Not that Tony had deserved to live either, but he was alive, and he was going to put his life to good use now.

Getting rid of A.I.M. (or at least beating it down to the point where it would be unable to come back for a long time) was one way he could begin to repent.

Tony regretted the cost of his illegal acts, but he tried to offset them as best as he could. It would all be worth it in the end, anyway.

Gradually taking the armor off, Tony mentally planned out what he needed to do next. He had to inspect the gun, see what info he could get from that. Then he’d work on fishing out some more of A.I.M.’s shell organizations, and if he ran into a few other illegal operations on the way, it’d be all the better.

Of course, if he didn’t also take care of some of his company’s paperwork, then Pepper would gladly have his head. Even Rhodey wouldn’t save him there.

Rubbing his face, Tony cringed at the thought of all that paperwork that had doubtlessly accumulated in his office in the short time he’d been away. It was almost enough to make him want to pull the armor back on and go out to beat something up. Like M.O.D.O.C. if he ever got his hands on the ugly guy.

But he was responsible. Mostly responsible. He would do his job.

Picking up a pair of goggles, Tony turned his attention to the gun, taking a scanner to it. As the device did its job, his thoughts turned to Captain America. It wasn’t the first time he’d met up with the other superhero, and it most likely wouldn’t be the last time if Tony had anything to say about it.

It was foolish of him, but Tony really liked talking to Captain America. The probability of it being the actual Steve Rogers from World War II was ridiculously low, but that didn’t mean he didn’t like the guy wearing the mask now. He certainly resembled the old Captain America in body build and attitude, and it didn’t hurt that he had a really lovely smile.

Sighing, Tony shook his head, mentally reprimanding himself for thinking like that. He couldn’t have a relationship now. Not with how things stood.

But that didn’t mean he couldn’t want it.

Somewhere in a secret base, a large head in the floating chair was watching footage from that day’s news. His dark hair was lank against his skull, and his beady eyes were squinting at the bright screen in the darkness of the lair.

The being known as M.O.D.O.C. sneered at the footage, scowling darkly at the two familiar figures the camera was focusing on. One was clearly Captain America, throwing his shield at one of his loyal minions; the other was just as obviously Iron Man, making off with his one-of-a-kind energy gun. M.O.D.O.C. was not happy to say the least.

“That disgusting flirting again, ugh!” M.O.D.O.C.’s puny hand curled into a fist on his equally tiny thigh. Not that it mattered considering the size of his cranium. He was superior to all other life-forms. Including that wretched Iron Man, who had been far too successful with dismantling M.O.D.O.C.’s plans for eventual world domination. Through science, of course.

Something had to be done about him. He just wasn’t sure what, but as he continued to watch the footage sudden realization struck him.

M.O.D.O.C. rewound the footage, watching it again just to be sure (of course he was, but it never hurt).

Maybe there was a way to take Iron Man and Captain America out in one fell swoop. And without anyone being the wiser.

He would need to call in reinforcements for this. Someone with more insight into…romance would clearly have to be brought in.

M.O.D.O.C. shuddered at the thought, shutting the footage off.

Well, sacrifices had to be made at points. And this would be a sacrifice that all could agree on.

Somewhere secret that no one knew of, the Scientist Supreme of A.I.M. was doing extremely clever things. Like science.

Because she was the Scientist Supreme.

Not unlike that Sorcerer Supreme she occasionally heard about through the grapevine, but what she did was better. Because it was science, not hand-wavy magic that gave her a headache just thinking about it. In that aspect, she and Iron Man had one thing in common, and it was something she wouldn’t mind sitting down with him over a beer to rant about.

Because freaking magic.

Huffing, Monica Rappaccini rolled her eyes, tapping impatiently as the computer compiled the latest data on her newest experiment. Since her ill-advised attempt at getting Tony Stark to heel two years ago and the subsequent havoc wrought by Iron Man, she was wanting for resources.

Such as high-speed Internet. Or good minions to do her will.

A few seconds later, the buzzing of her phone had Monica looking away from the computer screen and down to the piece of technology that she had stolen – ah, appropriated – from Stark International. She wasn’t above admitting that Tony Stark had some truly amazing technology, which was why she’d wanted him from the beginning with Madripoor.

In any case, that was the past, and it was useless reminiscing when the future had to be dealt with.

Heaving an impatient sigh, Monica answered the phone, about to answer with a curt “What?” when a familiar and rather dreaded voice spoke.

Scientist Supreme,” M.O.D.O.C. said crisply, causing Monica to straighten automatically despite herself, “there is a question I must ask you.

Monica mentally tracked all her current activities, coming up empty for anything that might have made M.O.D.O.C. mad. “Yes?”

I have calculated the probability of Iron Man and Captain America interfering with our activities to drop significantly if the two were involved in a romantic relationship. What possible actions can we take to bring this about?

Monica blinked, pulled the phone away to stare at it, checked that it really was M.O.D.O.C. on the other end, and then put it back to her ear. “Just for clarification, you’re asking me how to get Iron Man and Captain America involved in a romantic relationship? Like, dating?”

M.O.D.O.C.’s voice was impatient as he responded in the affirmative, once more bowling Monica over.

“May I ask what brought this on?” Monica asked.

I recorded a significant number of their interactions and noticed a common trend. This action called ‘flirting’ seems to be prevalent among them. As Iron Man has once more stolen my property, I am taking preemptive action to take both him and the Captain out of the picture.

“I see.” Monica mentally wondered if M.O.D.O.C. had gone completely cuckoo. “The idea certainly has merit,” she conceded. “It will take a little time to implement, as the two aren’t always in the same place at the same time. I think a third party might need to get involved.”

I have evaluated all the enemies that Iron Man and Captain America have fought together and come to a conclusion as to which one will be most likely to help us given his interactions with the two.

Without warning, the computer screen in front of Monica fizzled before pulling up a certain picture that instantly had her wanting to groan.

“Yes,” Monica said instead, already feeling the budding headache that would come from being around this hyperactive villain. “He’ll work.”

Steve didn’t really like Mondays. A lot of bad things tended to happen on Mondays. Like the start of the week. (Even if Sunday technically was the start of the week, it was still part of the weekend, so Monday was the start for Steve.) Villains deciding to give destruction and destroying New York another go.

Intergalactic issues.

Well, the last one hadn’t happened yet, but Steve would be willing to bet that it was just a matter of time before it did.

Today was a Monday. An awful Monday.

He’d been having a perfectly lovely morning, thinking that maybe it’d turn out to be better than usual when Batroc the Leaper showed up and started causing a scene, jumping out from store window to store window, eventually ending up decked out in whatever glittery jewelry he had picked up, an ostentatious fur jacket, the ugliest hat Steve had ever seen, mile-high heels that he could still leap about in despite all the laws of physics working against him, and a glittery handbag that was hopefully not made out of diamonds.

It took Steve all of ten seconds to swap out his civilian clothes for his uniform in a deserted store before running out after Batroc and engaging him.

“Ah, mon capitaine!” Batroc sounded truly delighted to have Steve there. “You have arrived! This is truly magnifique!”

Steve ducked under one of Batroc’s leaps, springing forward onto his hands and kicking Batroc on the underside as he jumped over. “Give back what you stole. That’s not yours.”

Au contraire, mon capitaine!” Batroc paused, posing for a moment so Steve could fully take in the horror of his outfit. “I am wearing it, am I not? Zis is mine!” He spun out of the way as Steve attempted to bean him with the shield.

“Just because you’re wearing it doesn’t mean it’s yours,” Steve said, jumping off a car. He landed heavily as Batroc leapt out of the way, his heels not seeming to impede his progress at all.

“Is that not zee meaning of owning?” Batroc sounded genuinely confused, his eyes wide behind his mask.

Steve straightened out. “Did you pay for any of that?”

Batroc shrugged. “No. But it matters not! You have an appointment!”

Steve ducked and swerved as Batroc leaped towards him, only to regret turning his back to Batroc when something soft settled over his head, cutting off his vision.

Un moment, mon capitaine,” Batroc said from behind Steve. There was a fizzling sort of sound, then Steve felt his skin tingle for a brief moment before it was gone.

The obstruction on his vision was gone a second later as Batroc whipped it away before Steve could do it himself.

“Okay,” a familiar modulated voice said. “This is not what I expected to see for my ten o’clock appointment.” Iron Man stood there, staring impassively at Batroc, who seemed extraordinarily pleased with himself.

“He is your appointment!” Batroc pointed to Steve. “I hope you have much fun, mes amis! I wish you all zee best in your love match!”

“What?” Steve turned about to grab hold of Batroc by the ridiculous fur coat, only for the other to disappear in a swirling vortex that was preceded by that same fizzle Steve had heard before.

“Teleportation,” Iron Man noted, grabbing Steve’s attention again. The man in the suit was looking at where Batroc had just disappeared. “That’s new. Since when did Batroc wear heels?”

Steve relaxed, slipping his shield onto his back. Iron Man wasn’t going to attack him, and Batroc wasn’t likely to come back either, not with all the stolen goods on his body. “Since this morning.”

“Hm.” Iron Man cocked his head, his visor turning to Steve. “You’re my appointment this morning?”

Steve was grateful for the cowl, as it hid what was probably a pretty obvious blush. “I didn’t set anything up.”

“I’m sure you didn’t.” Iron Man sounded amused. “Which means a third party set us up for some reason.” He turned to the side. “Batroc said something about a love match?”

“I’m sure it was a figure of speech for him,” Steve said calmly, unable to stop the reflexive twitch of his shoulders at Iron Man speaking the words “love match.” “He tends to use those.”

“I get the feeling it was a little more purposeful than that this time around,” Iron Man said. Steve had the eerie sense that the man behind the mask was grinning at him, and he wished for a wild second that he could see it. “But if Batroc was the one who set the appointment up and he didn’t stay, that means my job here is done. I’ve got other things to do.”

Before Iron Man could fly off, Steve took a lurching step forward, placing a hand on Iron Man’s arm before he could stop himself. “Just wait,” he blurted, ears burning. “What is it you’re doing?”

Iron Man didn’t respond immediately, but there was no doubt he was studying Steve carefully. “Isn’t it obvious, Cap?” There was no emotion in those words.

“You’re not a villain,” Steve said evenly. “I know you’re not. You’re doing something, and it has to do with A.I.M.”

Iron Man was silent, but clear surprise radiated from him. “What gives you that impression?”

“Anytime you show up – anytime you do anything – it always concerns A.I.M. in some way. There’ve never been any civilian casualties, and someone always pays for the damage. That’s not the mark of a villain, and A.I.M.’s up to some pretty shady stuff.” Steve let his hand drop, wishing he could feel the armor through his gloves. “So all I want to know is if I can help.”

Iron Man turned, fully facing Steve. “I appreciate the thought, Cap,” he said after a moment, his tone gentle, “but this is something I have to do by myself. I’m not willing to put you in danger.”

“Am I not in danger already?”

Iron Man laughed, the sound crackly through the modulators. “You’re cute.” He patted Steve on the shoulder, the motion ginger. “Thanks again, Cap. See you soon.”

This time when Iron Man made to take off, Steve didn’t stop him. He stared up after Iron Man’s disappearing visage, mouth set in a disapproving frown.

Too dangerous, was it?

Okay. Steve would show him dangerous.

Only a mere two days later, M.O.D.O.C. could be found snarling at Monica, most displeased at the current turn of events. “This was not supposed to happen!”

“You’re asking me?” Monica pointed to Batroc. “He was supposed to get them together!”

“But I did!” Batroc protested, that ugly hat flopping in his face. Even M.O.D.O.C. could admit that it was truly ugly. “Zey were in zee same place!”

Monica huffed in disgust. “I’ve watched my fair share of romantic-comedies, and that’s not how you get people together.”

“Captain America has dismantled several facilities singlehandedly since your attempt at pushing him together with Iron Man!” M.O.D.O.C. shouted at a cowering Batroc. “He is more efficient than ever!”

Batroc scratched his nose, his other hand fiddling with the hat. “Would you like me to try again?” he offered tentatively. “I have heard that zee dangereux act of being kidnapped and locked up togezzer may change things, no?”

M.O.D.O.C. looked inquiringly at Monica, who shrugged. “That’s true.”

“One more chance,” M.O.D.O.C. decided, baring his square teeth at Batroc, who screwed up his nose in clear disgust.

“Most people offer trois chances,” Batroc said.

“I am not most people.” M.O.D.O.C. remotely activated Batroc’s teleportation device before he could reply and further aggravate M.O.D.O.C.’s volatile temper. “This must work.”

“It will,” Monica said, sitting back in her chair and pulling open a fashion show on her phone. “Let me know when he gets to the big show.”

The Scientist Supreme was too valuable to lose, M.O.D.O.C. reminded himself. A little insubordination was cheap compared to the value she brought to the organization.

Especially if she was able to handle makeup well enough to cover some problematic zits M.O.D.O.C. kept dealing with in his hairline.

And Tony had been having such a nice day. He’d gotten up just on time, had a great breakfast, been on time for some important meetings that Pepper had been hounding him to attend, installed some important upgrades on the Iron Man armor, and then decided to take it out for a spin for fun.

Which was when it all went to shit, naturally. He never could have nice things, could he.

One moment he was jetting through the air having the time of his life and plotting out his next move against A.I.M., and the next thing he knew some juiced up EMP knocked out his suit’s systems and fried all the circuits he had just upgraded. Heads were going to roll. And he didn’t care whose.

His ears managed to pick up the sound of something fizzling and then he crashed into something hard. The suit was a dead weight on him, and he wasn’t in a position to reach any of the emergency latches that would release him. For one, he had no idea where he was. For two, he had no idea who had him. For three, he had a secret identity to protect, and the suit would keep him safe even if he couldn’t move.

But Tony’s math was generally sound, so he’d just have to trust it.

It was a relief that the juiced-up EMP hadn’t taken out his arc reactor, otherwise he would be in serious trouble. The reactor had shielding on it, but then so had the suit, and look what happened to that (though the suit had protected the reactor, so he should be grateful for that).

Mentally counting the seconds to keep track of the time, Tony was aware that it was dark, and that he was alone. He didn’t know for how long this would be true, though, so he kept still. (Not that he had much of a choice, really.)

Thirty minutes passed by his internal reckoning before he heard another fizzle and light flared through the eye slits. Someone groaned faintly, evidently displeased with their rough landing.

Tony was simultaneously relieved and panicked that he wasn’t alone anymore. Relieved because it meant there were two brains. Panicked because Iron Man was viewed as a vigilante by many and treated as hostile by both heroes and villains. It was tough living in the gray area.

“Wha – Iron Man?” a familiar voice asked, surprised.

Tony sagged in relief in his armor. “Cap.” He wasn’t sure if Captain America heard him considering the microphone weren’t working, but hands rolled him over onto his back, so Tony assumed Cap had heard something.

“Your armor’s dark.” Cap sounded worried. “It’s not supposed to be, is it?”

Tony mentally deliberated his answer for several seconds before replying truthfully. “No. Got hit by an EMP that wrecked my shielding.”

“Hm.” There was a faint rustling noise. “I just got clocked by an ugly hat after chasing Batroc around for twenty minutes.”

“Did you at least get the hat?”

“No.” Cap sounded truly regretful about this fact.

“Pity. I’ve seen some ugly things, and that hat tops the list,” Tony said honestly.

“It really is ugly,” Cap agreed. There was more rustling, and then Cap tapped on the visor. “Can you see anything out of that?”

Just about all Tony could see was the ceiling, but since it was so dark that wasn’t much at all. “All my sensors are down.”

“Any chance of you getting them back up?”

With the fried circuits, there was no chance of that, especially since Tony didn’t have any of his tools here. “Sorry, jury’s out on that.”

There was a small sigh from Cap. “Can you walk?”

Tony didn’t respond, unwilling.

“Iron Man?”

“No,” Tony conceded finally, aware that he sounded disgruntled but unable to stop it. “It’s dead weight.”

Cap fell into what seemed to be a considering silence. “I…I know we don’t really know each other,” he said haltingly, “but do you think you can trust me enough to know that I’ll get us out of here?”

Tony didn’t have to think about his answer this time, which should probably be frightening but really wasn’t. “If I can’t trust your word, there really isn’t a lot to trust.”

The silence now felt stunned. “Coming from a guy like you,” Cap said eventually, “that means a lot.”

“Nah.” Tony kept his voice jovial. “Just telling it like it is.”

“Still.” Cap hefted Tony up into an upright position. “So how do we want to do this?”

Tony shifted uncomfortably in the confines of his suit, sweat beading down the back of his neck. He wasn’t really sure he could stay in the suit like this for much longer, not with all sensors down and even the air filtration system nonfunctional. It was luck that he hadn’t used up the internal air supply and that some had come through the mouth slit.

“We’re alone, yeah?” Tony asked.

“Best as I can tell,” Cap said.

“Okay.” Tony took a shallow breath, closing his eyes and hoping he wasn’t making the biggest mistake of his life. “I’m trusting you with a lot here, Cap. I’m not going to let you go out on your own with no backup, and dragging this gigantic tin can around isn’t gonna do anything but slow you down.”

“Iron Man?”

“So here’s what you’ll have to do,” Tony said quickly, pushing past the doubts and fears. “I’ve got a release on the sides, about where the helmet meets the neck. I need you to push that.”

Cap didn’t move. “Are you sure?”

Tony cracked a smile that Cap couldn’t see. “Air’s getting thin in here. You’d be doing me a favor.”

“Okay.” Cap sounded like he was trying to gear himself up for this, which surprised Tony. He would’ve thought the other would jump at the chance to see who was behind the mask. “Okay.”

A few seconds later, there was clumsy fumbling at the sides of his helmet, and Tony held his breath in nervous anticipation, still not sure if he was making a gigantic mistake.

The helmet released with a metallic clinking sound, and Cap pulled it off carefully, not bumping Tony’s head.

The first thing Tony did was inhale deeply. The second was meet Cap’s eyes for the first time without a visor in the way.

Cap was wide-eyed, his lips parted in clear surprise.

“So,” Tony said, “I hope this won’t make things awkward?”

“You – you’re Tony Stark!” Cap sounded stunned.

“Yeah.” Tony tried to shrug, only to regret it when the suit reminded him that he was still stuck in it. “You think you can hold out on further spazzing and get me out of the rest of this?”

It took five minutes for Tony to walk Cap through dismantling his suit without breaking it, and he was thinking about how he was going to have to completely redesign the next one so no secrets were known (any other secrets). Once the entire suit lay there in pieces, Tony sat there in his workshop outfit, all too aware of how his arc reactor lit the space up between them.

Cap couldn’t stop staring at it, though to his credit he was doing his best to pretend that he wasn’t looking.

“I know I’m pretty, but you don’t have to stare,” Tony joked, eyes flickering down the dismantled suit. He really didn’t want to leave it here, but he didn’t really have a choice. It would be impossible for him to take it with him.

“Sorry,” Cap said automatically, head snapping around to stare at the opposite wall.

“Nah, it’s all right.” Tony patted Cap on the arm, mind taking note of how the muscles shifted and twitched under his touch. There was a whole lot of power coiled in that one arm. “I hate to ask you another favor so soon after the last one, but is there any chance you can destroy this so no one can get at it?”

Cap looked down at the armor pieces, shield shifting in his hands. “You’re sure?”

“Can’t carry it out.” Tony forced himself to sound nonchalant about it. “And can’t risk anyone getting their hands on it, circuits fried or no.”

“I understand,” Cap said, nudging a gauntlet with his boot. “I’ll see what I can do about this.” He gave Tony a smile.

“Sounds good.” Tony swallowed, mouth suddenly dry as his brain struggled to take in the sight. Even in the dark, Cap’s smile was gorgeous, and Tony was struck (not for the first time) with the desire to see his face.

Shaking his head, Tony pointed back at the only door in the small room they were in. “I’m gonna see what I can do about getting us out of here.”

Spinning on his heels before Cap could flash another of those killer smiles at him, Tony made his way determinedly to the door.

He was going to get out of here and feed Batroc that ugly hat one way or another.

It was the least he could do after the shit Batroc had pulled.

Steve bit his lower lip as he smashed a gauntlet to pieces with the sharp edges of his shield, glancing back at where Tony Stark – Tony Stark – was doing something strange to the door.

He hadn’t at all anticipated finding one of the U.S.’s most famous men behind the mask. In fact, he wasn’t really sure who he had expected, but it wasn’t Tony Stark.

The thought boggled the imagination.

Steve dipped his chin, discarding the shattered pieces of the gauntlet and moving onto the chest plate.

His mind turned to the device in Stark’s chest, and he wondered what had happened for Stark to have such a device installed in his body. It wasn’t anything he’d seen in any photos or videos of the man, and he had to wonder how long Stark had been walking around with that with no one the wiser.

There was also the niggling and completely inappropriate thought about how handsome Stark was. There was something incredibly attractive about a man who got his hands dirty and didn’t mind doing it. Stark was clearly a man who worked with his hands. Steve’s enhanced eyesight had easily caught sight of burns and scars and dirt under manicured fingernails, all telling a story about the man they belonged to.

It was a story Steve really liked, even though those kinds of thoughts weren’t really appropriate for the situation they were in.

Or ever, really, because Stark had no idea who Steve really was. He probably just thought Captain America was some overeager fan with a great replica shield and amazing battle skills.

Ten minutes later, Steve finished crushing the rest of Stark’s armor into mince-meat, kicking the smaller pieces around to make sure they couldn’t be found easily. It was the best he could do given his tools; he was surprised and thankful that Batroc hadn’t thought to divest him of his shield.

“You got a way out of here?” Steve asked, turning to face Stark.

“Good news, yes.” Stark shot Steve a bright grin over his shoulder that had Steve’s heart skipping a beat in his chest. He’d imagined what Iron Man’s smile was like, but nothing compared to the actual sight of it.

Steve shook himself free from his daze, reminding himself that he could admire Stark’s smiles and grins all he wanted later. “There’s bad news?”

“We still need to navigate our way through the base.” There was an electrical sizzle, and then the door slid open, revealing a yawning hallway with almost no lights. “I do like spooky hallways,” Stark muttered, standing as Steve came to his side.

“No kidding,” Steve said, squinting down the hallway. There was enough ambient light from the flickering bulbs that he could see what was ahead, which was literally nothing. “It’s clear as far as I can tell.”

“You got super eyesight or something?” Stark sounded amused; it was so much more real without the suit’s modulators disguising it.

“Or something.” Steve went first, wanting Stark to be behind him. “You got any fancy gadgets on you?”

“Screwdriver. Wrench.” Stark held up said devices before putting them in his pants. “Various bits and bobs – so that’s where that pen went.”

“Is it a magic pen?”

“I wish.” Stark laughed ruefully, flipping said pen through his fingers before putting it away. “Would be cool if I had a pen that shot repulsors. Would definitely make my life easier.”

“Wouldn’t it be dangerous, though?” Steve mused, glancing back at Stark. “What if you wrote with it and it destroyed something important?”

“My assistant would kill me,” Stark conceded.

It reminded Steve rather brutally again of the fact that this was Tony Stark, and he couldn’t stop himself from asking, “Doesn’t being Iron Man cut into your company time?”

Stark was silent for a few minutes, keeping close behind Steve as they walked through the suspiciously empty hallways. “I adapted,” he said eventually, voice quiet. “There’s one person who knows who I am. He’s been helping me keep it on the down low.”

“You’re doing pretty well from my end,” Steve said, stopping at a fork. “No one knows.” He turned to Stark. “But why hide?”

Stark shrugged, smile rueful. “Protection. For those I care about. And if no one knows who’s behind the mask, all they look for is the mask itself. I got out of A.I.M.’s clutches fast enough that they never saw how I escaped, so they never knew that I built the first armor.” His expression was pained for a brief second before it smoothened out. He nodded to the left. “Left?”

Steve took the left fork, hearing Stark fall into step behind him. “So that’s why you’re targeting A.I.M.”

“It’s not revenge, if that’s what you think,” Stark said. “I mean, that’s part of it, but I just need to shut them down. They were hijacking my weapons back when my company still made them, using them to cause a lot of damage that I’m still trying to fix.” His voice was quiet toward the end. “Not that I’ll ever be able to fix it.”

“Hey now.” Steve was facing him before he knew it, placing a reassuring hand on Stark’s shoulder. “You’re doing your best, and that’s all we can ever ask for. You’ve made mistakes, but the important thing is that you realize you made them. It’s part of being human.”

Stark’s smile was odd. “You’re probably about the only one who thinks that.”

“I’m sure I’m not,” Steve disagreed, wanting to take that sad expression off Stark’s face and replace it with something happier. “You just haven’t given anyone else a chance.”

“Not like it really matters.” Stark looked off to the side. “I’m pretty sure A.I.M. was the one that gave Batroc the tech to take us in, so they’ve already got my face and name on file as being behind the mask.”

“So?” Steve’s fingers tightened on Stark’s shoulder, and he belatedly realized that maybe he should have let go by now. It was too late to do it now, so he soldiered on. “If they want to get to you, they’ll have to get through me.”

Brow furrowed, Stark met Steve’s eyes. “You barely know me, Cap.”

“I know enough.” Steve forced himself to let his hand drop, instantly regretting the loss of Stark’s warmth. “And I know you’re a good man who’s trying to do the best thing.”

Stark dropped his eyes, shoulders hunching slightly. “That’s all any of us are trying to do,” he said softly.

“Good.” Steve kept his voice firm. “So what do you say we get out of here?”

There was a small smile on Stark’s lips now that had Steve’s heart racing. He’d never seen this smile before, and it was something entirely new and just for Steve. “Wasn’t that the plan?”

“Come on, then.” Steve grabbed hold of Stark’s wrist, trying not to think too much about it, though there was nothing he could do about his burning ears.

Stark stumbled after him, not speaking. “Is this something?” he asked after a few minutes, his voice sounding slightly strangled.

“I do like a tough guy,” Steve admitted, feeling the ground beneath his feet slope slightly upward. He hoped it meant they were getting closer to an exit. “And one with a sense of humor and a great smile.”

“I’ve got a nice smile?” There was definitely a smile in Stark’s tone now.

Steve didn’t answer that.

“This coming from the guy whose smile could probably light up New York City with the wattage it contains,” Stark muttered a few seconds later.

“Yours could light up the sun,” Steve said determinedly, staring straight ahead.

“You’ve not seen me smile.”

The small smile Stark had given him flashed through Steve’s mind. “Yes, I have, Iron Man.”

Stark’s wrist jerked in Steve’s hold, but he didn’t try to pull it away. “I think we’re at the point that you can call me Tony,” he said eventually.

Steve’s heart thumped painfully against his ribcage, and all he could think that he was so screwed even as a blinding smile threatened to break his cheeks. “Tony,” he repeated.

As if it was now time, they reached another door that Tony quickly wired open with the few bits and bobs he had in his pocket, including several paperclips that he finagled into something truly strange that Steve had never seen before. Once this door slid open, they stepped into a musty old warehouse that had clearly seen better days.

“That was strangely anticlimactic,” Tony said, putting his bits and bobs back into his pockets, though he gave the paperclips to Steve, smiling strangely as he did. “Saw you eyeing it.”

“Thanks.” Steve held it up, inspecting them for a brief moment before putting them in his belt. “What do you say we get back into the fresh air?”

“Sure thing.” Tony glanced back at the tunnel they’d exited. “And then I’m gonna get the specs of this warehouse. That can’t be legal.”

It wasn’t until they were outside the warehouse and under the night sky that Steve turned to Tony again. “You’ll be okay?”

“Oh, sure.” Tony cracked another smile. “I’ll just get a cab and come up with some kind of an excuse for going AWOL for the rest of the afternoon. You?”

Steve’s lips tightened at the thought of going back to an empty apartment. “I haven’t got anyone to return to,” he admitted, rubbing the back of his head. It took him all of a second to decide and pull off his cowl, letting the cool air brush over his hot head. “Being seventy years out of time will do that to you.”

Tony’s eyes widened. “Oh…” He took a small step back, bracing himself on the side of the warehouse. “You’re actually Captain America. You’re actually Captain America – Steve Rogers. Oh man…” He slid down to sit on the ground.

Steve hesitated, hoping he hadn’t just made an enormous mistake. “You okay?”

“Okay?” Tony let out a laugh that sounded vaguely hysterical. “I just found out the guy who’s pretty much implied he’ll have my back is the real Captain America and that he might want to date me. I’ll say I’m a little more than okay.”

Steve crouched down next to Tony, eyes lowered. “You’re pretty awesome yourself, you know.”

“Oh, I know,” Tony said brightly. “My awesomeness can’t be contained.”

Steve snorted despite himself. “So…you want to do it?” he asked just to be sure.

“Date you?” Tony made a considering sound, head leaning back against the wall. “It’ll be problematic, but I do love a challenge.” He smiled at Steve, eyes bright.

“And if you’ll let me…” Steve swallowed thickly. “I’d like to help you with A.I.M.”

“Oh, Captain…” Tony’s smile was truly breathtaking, and Steve lost his breath all over again. “They won’t know what hit them.”

“Curses!” M.O.D.O.C. shrieked several days later, fleeing yet another exploding base. “What hit us?”

“Captain America and Iron Man, sir,” an A.I.M. lackey reported, taking the question at face value.

M.O.D.O.C. shrieked again in helpless fury, beating his tiny fists against his chair as he struggled to figure out where it had gone so wrong.

Iron Man and Captain America were partners now, so they should technically have been too distracted with each other to fight villains or destroy A.I.M. But instead they were more efficient than ever, and M.O.D.O.C. was most displeased with the loss of countless experiments and secret bases that weren’t so secret anymore.

Very well, then. If pushing the two together into romantic relationship wouldn’t stop them, then he would have to break them up.

He’d heard that heartbreak was an excellent distraction, even if neither one of the two superheroes was a sparkly vampire.

Somewhere on another secret base that hadn’t yet been discovered, the Scientist Supreme felt like groaning in dismay, even though she had no idea why.

And Batroc the Leaper found himself rather wishing he’d hidden his hat somewhere safe. It was truly magnifique.