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Problems in Relativity

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"They'll get here when they get here, Barton." Steve snapped, well aware that his tone did little to hide that this waiting had him on his last nerve as much as anyone else. "Why don't you go play with Carter's people?" They'd probably appreciate it. If there was anyone more bored than a weapons specialist with nothing to shoot at, it was half a dozen marines stuck in deep space.

"Because the second I sign off here'll be the moment a Hydra cruiser pops up, weapons blazing." Barton had partly undone his harness so he could tip back in his seat and make a show of bracing his boots on the edge of his weapons panel. He was also trimming his nails with a knife, though at least he was careful enough to collect the clippings before they drifted into someone's eye. "Hell, maybe, that's why whoever we're supposed to meet hasn't shown yet."

"Or they thought they were being followed, and made a couple extra jumps to shake them, or they're having engine trouble, or they're coming in slow to check us out before they make contact." That in itself would mean a stop a light day or so out system to look ahead, which the America would pick up pretty soon if they'd stayed long. "Sit cool until we know what we're looking at."

"We've been sitting cool for two days, and–"

"Enough!" Thor rumbled, and Steve imagined he could feel the vibration through the toes of his boots. "Captain Rogers has commanded us to wait, so we shall wait. Your complaints do nothing to hasten our target's arrival."

Barton opened his mouth, but Steve cut off his rejoinder. "Aren't you both due for some rack time? Shift off for four hours, and Jan and I will take a break when you get back on."

Steve unclipped and pushed towards the pilot's seat as Thor vacated it. He didn't have the instinctive knack for navigation that came with the god-like alien's natural talents. However, aside from the unfortunate brush with relativity that had cost him sixty years, Steve considered himself a better than average pilot.

Despite his admonishment to Barton, he had to stop himself from detouring to drifting by Van Dyne's console and its more detailed displays. The tactical screens above the captain's chair sketched out both the system as a whole and the area surrounding the America as she rested in a Lagrangian point created by the system's brown dwarf and flaring blue giant. Thermal, radar and visual imaging overlaid the lines of the archaic Republican charts in a maelstrom of colour. It should be more than enough information, but didn't feel like it. Short of a commission to survey the system, and Lord knew the charts could stand the update, Steve had no reason to order active scans. Even without relay buoys, passive thermal sensors alone could pick up anything with an engine this side of the sun.

"Sweet blessed silence at last," Van Dyne said well before Barton was out of hearing range. She clipped the other headphone in and focused in on her computers.

"I don't suppose..."

"You know better, Cap." Which, fair enough, he did. If something came up, she'd tell him. In the meantime, it was probably best to leave her to her work, likely monitoring all incoming signals, updating what chart information she could with passive sensors, reprogramming the air filtration system, and texting Foster in the engine room about new theories of artificial gravity. If she was finding space in all that to be irritable, Steve felt he was justified in starting to worry.

As he tugged himself down into the the pilot's seat, he decided that he was going to give whoever this was another twenty-four hours then they were gone. He didn't appreciate playing Director Fury's errand boy. Being sent off to pick up unknown packages for unexplained reasons had not been part of their deal. It wasn't what he wanted for the America; he'd never meant to be a pawn on Nick Fury's chess board.

Granted he had more or less signed on with Fury's more or less government, but it had been on condition of a good deal of autonomy. Steve's idea of a perfect "assignment" involved being given a sector and spending a couple of months running a combination mail service, circuit court and border patrol for the smaller colonies. His ship, and the half dozen like her, were meant to represent connection and stability in the chaos that had fallowed the fall of the Interstellar Republic. It didn't always turn out like Steve would have wanted it to, but it wouldn't work at all if they were just minions of yet another jack-booted imperialist like Von Doom. The only soldiers on the America were Lt. Sharon Carter and her marines, and Fury saved his prized warships for when he really needed them.

But this – Fury sending his right hand, Maria Hill, in a tiny jumper shuttle with orders to make a pick up, but no indication of what or who they were supposed to meet – this didn't sit right at all. Not with the crew and not with Steve.

One more day, Steve told himself, and set to running through the pilot's check list.

Almost two hours later, he's tapped into the latest sky scans, poking through the mid-range data just outside the system's heliosphere. The interference at the termination shock could cover a jump in, if not the waste heat generated by life support and engines. Still, he knew pilots who'd used the manoeuvre back in the War. It gave them a few seconds, and that could mean the world. Of course, Van Dyne would set off the alert the instant she saw anything, and Steve knew he was essentially wasting his time, but it kept his mind alert and focused.

Staying awake on long watches was one of the most valuable skills he'd learned at the Republican Fleet Academy. Certainly more useful than how to put a perfect shine on his boots or clean the commandant's office with his own toothbrush. Especially now that neither the commandant, nor his academy, nor the whole damn Republic had existed for over fifty years. Relativity, he yet again reflected, could be a real bitch.

"Contact!" Jan's voice rang out across the command centre. "Three points starboard, and a point up, range two thousand kilometres."

"Call all hands." The navigation controls blinked back to the default tactical display, showing Steve a blip and a string of metrics that Van Dyne was better off deciphering. "Damn, they must have stopped for a peek to get this close." He knew he shouldn't have stayed this long. "Weapons status?"

"Not armed." He could hear Van Dyne's fingers flying across her boards. "It's reading like a stripped down Greenhill-class transport. It's coming in slow on a steady bearing." She pulled up a visual on one of the overheads: a small, angular shuttle, not a sixth of the size of the America. Steve couldn't read the markings at this angle.

"Are they broadcasting the right codes?

Thor tumbled into the command centre just as Van Dyne answered in the affirmative. He shoved off the hatch to true his course and angle towards Steve. A second behind him, Barton grabbed Thor's ankle to get the curve he needed, tucking into a ball to avoid the retalitory kick and catching the edge of his panel to keep from careening back towards Van Dyne. For his part, Thor scrabled empty air for a moment before catching a guide rope and pulling himself back on course. "We there yet?" Barton asked as he adjusted his belts.

"Looks like." Steve unclipped and kicked out of the chair to make room for Thor. "It's all yours," he told the alien. "Barton, I'll need you down in the landing bay."

"Just me?" Barton asked falling in behind Steve as he glided past.

"No, I've paged Carter and Sam."

"What the hell kind of package is this, anyway?"

Steve shrugged. "We're about to find out."

The dimensions of the airlock dictated that Sharon had to leave half her marines behind to make room for Barton and Justice Wilson, plus who or whatever they were receiving. She didn't much care for the America's layout: too many choke points and blind corners, but her petitions to the Captain to requestion an upgraded internal security system had met with nothing but stonewalling. When pressed, Captain Rogers would mutter something about Ultron and the War, but was short with details. The inadequacy of the current situation was one of the few things she and Barton ever agreed on.

Still, she had her three roughest looking soldiers in tight formation between the captain and the door. If hostilities did break out, they had good odds of holding enough room for Sharon and Barton to hustle Cap and the Justice out and seal the hatch. She'd fitted out her people with vacuum-proof, flexisteel body armour. The other guys might not do so well in a vented compartment.

Jan's voice piped over the intercom. "Docking procedure complete." Unnecessary, as they all heard the heavy thunk of contact and the hiss of re-pressurisation behind the lock. She could feel the vibration of it though her grip on the wall. She saw Cap's biceps flex as he tensed, and Justice Wilson met her gaze just long enough to raise an eyebrow. She jerked her head back towards the next compartment, and he nodded. Good, she thought. If it came to it, she could count on Wilson to help get Cap out.

The airlock cycled green, and Cap nodded to Sharon, who nodded to PFC Fesi, who keyed the door. The lock ground open, incrementally revealing three figures floating in a mirror of their own chamber. Sharon blinked, waiting for the smear of pixelation that would tell her she was in a VR: no luck. Then she heard Wilson suck in his breath hard enough that he had to catch Cap's shoulder to stay even, and Barton said, "Fuck me," in a tone somewhere between outraged and impressed.

That made the man on the other side grin, teeth brilliantly white behind a neat black goatee. "Yeah, I get that a lot, too bad today's not your lucky day. I really don't have time to help you out."

He pushed off the wall, coming right at them, and Sharon had to put her hand on Cpl Johnson's shoulder to keep her rifle from coming up. "But it's Tony Stark," she whispered.

Sharon shook her head. "Not yet."

Stark had to have heard her, but he continued as if they'd welcomed him with open arms. "Besides, I prefer blonds." Holding a hand out, he let Cap grab him to stop his momentum. "Captain Rogers, I presume. I asked for you, specially. It was nice of Fury to oblige."

"Until we hit Fury's carrier group, you should worry more about keeping me happy," Cap said, and Sharon narrowed her eyes. She could usually count on Cap letting that kind of double entendre sliding right past, but he seemed to have caught it this time and was responding. He held on to Stark's hand a moment longer than he needed to right him. It wasn't as if he didn't know full well that hand shakes had always been more of a gravity thing, and he sure the hell wasn't trying to be polite, not with this man.

No, Sharon thought. I know that look. She could almost see Cap's ears perking up (among other parts of his anatomy). Sharon had no idea exactly what it took to ping Cap's inexplicable sexual radar, but she knew all too well what he looked like when someone had. Not three years ago, those parts had been perking at her. Great. This is all we need.

Cap had let go of Stark's hand, finally, and turned to wave the two women on board. "Are we taking all three of you?"

"The sooner the better," Stark said. The humour had left his voice, and he glanced back at his own ship.

Cap nodded. "Command, this is Cap. Disengage and clear for jump."

As the door ground closed behind him, Stark pushed himself a little closer to the taller woman. Sharon analysed their postures relative to each other and concluded they were either lovers, or as close as. Her long strawberry-blonde hair marked her as a dirtsider, no matter how tightly she braided and pinned it down. The jacket of her slick corporate suit was likewise ill-fitted for zero gravity, as it drifted up around her ears, held in place only by the double breasted buttons, and the thin line of an emergency oxygen collar. At least she hadn't tried to wear a skirt. The other woman hovered a body-length away. She looked like some kind of Hydra recruiting poster, all long, deadly lines in a skin-tight black jumpsuit and spiked red hair. When their eyes met, Sharon recognised the cool assessment in the woman's gaze as a mirror of her own expression.

She recognised something else, too. She knew those eyes; she'd caught them once before, across a storage depot two parsecs into Hydra territory, right before the shooting had started. This was one of Fury's pet assassins. Sharon glanced at Cap, trying to tell if he'd noticed, but she didn't think he had. She'd need to have a quiet word with him later, possibly after he talked to the woman Stark blithely introduced as "Natalie Rushman, a technical adviser." The dirtsider was improbably called "Pepper Potts" and seemed to be in charge of organising Stark's life. "And your friends are?" Stark asked.

"We can make introductions later," Cap told him. He somersaulted, then jack knifed further back into the ship. "You took enough time getting here that we're not going to have much space before your friends show up looking for you."

Sharon let Cap and Barton lead, with Johnson as guard, letting their new passengers drift by before following with Fesi and Rodriguez. Wilson fell in beside her. He didn't say anything, but the set of his jaw gave him away. It was the same look he had when he had to acquit a known murderer on a technicality. Sharon could empathise, both him and with Johnson wanting to shoot the bastard on principle.

The passage from the airlock opened into the secondary cargo hold, now mostly full of water stores stocked there for ballast. "We'll wait out here," Cap announced. "You may want to hang on to something."

Even with the water, the hold stretched about five metres across and twice as high, and Sharon's people could spread out for full coverage of their guests. Rushman didn't move to counter them, which meant she either wasn't planning anything or had something up her sleeve that Sharon hadn't predicted. In that she probably had full access to the carnival horror show of Stark Teck's arsenal, Sharon couldn't begin to contemplate the latter.

Thor's voice rang out over the PA. "Brace for jump in five, four, three, two, one..."

And nothing. Full, unending seconds of nothing. Sharon's brain was aware of itself and its surroundings, but there just wasn't anything there. The emptiness stretched into eternity, and Sharon reflectively groped for something, anything to connect with.

Then the ship snapped back into place taking her body with it, and she fell face first into a tidal wave of disorientation and the sure feeling that important bits like hands and livers weren't tucked where they should be.

They were though, and so was the rest of the room as Sharon surveyed it.

Both Potts and Stark looked a little green, but held together okay. "How long until we're back in normal space?" Rushman asked calmly.

"Six hours. We're taking the long way around." Cap glanced between Stark, Barton and Wilson, before meeting Sharon's eyes. "I need to talk to my crew," he concluded. "Let Cpl Johnson know if you need anything."

"What the fuck are we doing?" Barton demanded the second the doors shut behind them. They were in the passage from the hold that branched into the galley on one side and the med bay on the other.

"Following orders." Remarkably, Cap managed to say with the conviction of a man who had previously felt moved to bother doing anything of the kind. Only years of military discipline kept Sharon from laughing in his face. Wilson didn't have the same restraint.

"Yes, but seriously," Barton said.

Cap's mouth tightened into a grim line. "I'm deadly serious." He held up a hand to still further protest. "I don't like having him on board any better than you do, but his ship had the right codes. This is the package; if Director Fury is playing with this kind of fire power, I want to know more than we do before stepping in the way."

Another sentiment without a lot of historical precedent backing it up, but then Cap wasn't playing entirely straight, either.

"Hence the long way around," Wilson said. He'd let himself drift until his shoulder brushed against Cap's then caught a wall grip to keep from ricocheting.

Cap nudged back, sending them both in opposite directions until he bounced gently off the wall and drifted into Wilson again. He wore that smug little grin that used to make Sharon want to hit him, back when they were dating. "If Fury asks, we're muddying the trail and running security checks on the 'package.'"

"But you want to pick his brain first."

"Something like that."

Wilson's lips twitched up into a wry smile. "That'll be interesting."

Barton snarled, shoving off the wall to shoot towards the lock connecting to the main trunk. "Fine, you're the captain. Just don't expect me to make nice with the Merchant of Death." He closed the hatch behind him like he wished it slammed.

"What's got into him?" Wilson asked.

Sharon met Cap's eyes before answering. "Last year, you and Thor took a couple of my boys down to New Harmony to track down a smuggling ring. A day after you left, a buoy popped into normal space broadcasting a mayday, and the America left you without backup while we followed it up" The lines in Wilson's brow deepened as he nodded; he was following the story all too well, though she imagined his mind was more on the three day man hunt and ensuing legal battle. "The buoy had jumped in from a proposed colony site on the edge of our space. We tracked the co-ordinates back to transport ship, but showed up, as Cap would say, a day late and a dollar short." It hadn't been a day though, only two hours at the most. The ship had still been venting pockets of oxygen, each jet sending the wreckage into a new spin. "I was short handed, and Barton came in with me and the girls as we picked through the wreckage." They'd been in those awful, claustrophobic heavy-rad suits, trying to sift through false positives and flaring heat signatures for signs of life. They hadn't been that late, and going in Sharon had held onto a slim hope of finding survivors. "It would have been a hell of a job on a good day, and we had as much chance of killing the people we were trying to rescue by compromising some poor bastard's emergency air pocket, but..." She hesitated, still trying to sort though the pictures in her head. When her brain had pieced together that what she was looking at had used to be a living breathing human being, she wished it had stayed abstract. "Something had hit the crew before the hull took any damage. Even the bodies we found without decompression damage were... grotesque. Whatever hit them, it didn't happen fast."

Cap took up the story when she fell silent. "They didn't figure a shoe-string little colony ship like that could afford a jump buoy, so they got lazy cleaning up. They blew the engines, but didn't stick around long enough to make sure all the evidence burned out." He'd drifted back into Wilson, and held onto his wrist now. Sharon could see his knuckles whiten, but Wilson didn't make a sound, letting Cap continue. "We jumped a quarter of a light day out, spread a receiver net, and watched the whole thing play out. It was a Hydra ship all right. They just flew in and blasted that ship like it didn't matter, some kind of weapons test, an experiment." A message from six hours in the past. Barton had watched it in sickened silence then broken his hand driving it into a wall. "Jan didn't recognise the outputs, but we passed the recording back to Fury's brain trust."

Wilson followed it the story back to its logical conclusion. "And they traced it back to Stark Teck."

Sharon nodded. She realised she was coming pretty close to wrenching the wall grip clean off, and powered down her armour. "Last time we made official contact with Fury, we received an alert about some new weapons system, not the kind of thing they fill you in on, Justice. It was Stark Teck's newest and shiniest innovation in space warfare, supposed to incapacitate the crew while leaving the ship intact and online. Of course, they claimed it was non-lethal, and Stark's never admitted to dealing with Hydra, but Van Dyne knows her radiation signatures. Fury agreed."

"So what," Wilson asked slowly, "is the CEO and leading engineer of Hydra's pet tech company doing setting up a secret meeting with Director Fury?"

"I don't know," Cap said. "But I sure as hell plan to find out."

Then he turned back towards the hold, leaving Sharon to worry about how, exactly, he intended to do that.

Pepper yanked her jacket back around her shoulders and tried to let her annoyance at Tony for reducing her to the clothes on her back – when those clothes didn't fit right in outer space – distract her from worrying about Rhodey. She didn't like the way he'd looked at Tony as he'd hustled them into the airlock; it had felt too much like a last time to her, and the worst of it was she'd agreed to it. This wasn't a Tony Stark special where none of them, Tony least of all, had the faintest idea what they were getting into until the shit had hit the fan and Pepper was diving for cover. This time, the three of them had set up an inconspicuous little meeting, far away from either Tony's people or Hydra, and planned the whole thing out. More than running for her life with Nick Fury ahead and Hydra at her back, it was Tony Stark thinking more than half an hour ahead that scared the shit out of her. That and leaving Rhodey behind to cover for them as long as he could.

So she shivered and fussed with her jacket and tried to be annoyed at Tony as if this were one of his usual screw ups. She'd tried taking it off on the first day out on Rhodey's ship, but then her chemise just drifted up and exposed all kind of things she didn't need strangers to see. Now, she'd stopped to loop a bobby pin through her bottom button hole and into a belt loop, which held until she reached for the next hand hold.

The pin popped free and spun through the air and out of her reach. Pepper cursed under her breath and tried to dive after it, but she got off on the wrong angle and had to scramble for a wall grip to keep from careening into the ceiling. She hung on, panting, and watched the pin bounce off the wall and drift out of sight.

"Why don't you take my hand?"

"Pardon?" The first thing Pepper saw looking down was a halo of free-floating blond hair, the first she'd seen since they'd left the artificial gravity of Stark Teck headquarters. Her eyes fixated on it for a moment before following the undulating strands down to an open, bearded face, and a well-muscled man in a spacer's jumpsuit.

He was holding out his hand to her. "You're not used to this gravity; let me take your hand."

She hesitated for a moment before accepting. His skin felt dry and rough, but very warm. "Thank you. Normally I can manage, I'm just..." losing my everliving mind "it's been a long couple of days." She let him pull her down beside him, coming eye-level with the wall plates. "Pepper Potts," she said, squeezing lightly.

"Thor Odinson." He actually brushed his lips against her knuckles, and she shivered. Pepper had heard of him, of course, a god-like alien exiled to a mortal realm when the battle with his brother had torn stars apart. That, and how he'd joined Captain Rogers' crew in an attempt to redeem himself through service, was the stuff of spacer legend. Pepper had thought most of it was tall tales – like half of the things surrounding the America – but now that she met the man, she found herself starting to reconsider.

"I'm um... I'm..." She looked around again. The floated at an intersection of three corridors, two coming in at right angles and another hatch below her feet. Pepper thought she'd come from her left, but she could have gotten turned around and they all looked much the same to her. "I think I'm lost," she admitted. "Captain Rogers was showing us around, and I stopped to fix my jacket and..." And Natasha had disappeared with the Marine lieutenant, and Tony hadn't even noticed that Pepper had fallen behind. It occurred to her that Tony had been holding onto the good captain's hand too, and Pepper knew he didn't have any problem with zero gravity. She couldn't say this was the least appropriate time for his libido to kick in, but it had to be in the top five.

"I believe they've doubled back to the mess," Thor told her, and towed her along behind him like a child dragging a teddy. "The most important part is not to pull too swiftly," he said, easily manipulating their course down the passage with one free hand. Then he caught an overhead rung and used her momentum to spin them both and neatly pulled up through another hatchway.

"I think there's a few more tricks than that."

"Maybe so." They swung around another corner, drifted to a natural halt long enough to open and close a lock, and ended up in a square room about four metres square lined with small cupboards, and a vacuum sink in one corner.

Captain Rogers had lost his toy soldiers along the way, and Natalie must have gone with them, because the room was empty save for him and Tony.

Tony had some kind of belt around his waist, with a lanyard keep him from drifting too far. He spun as he spread his arms. "Pepper, there you are. We were starting to wonder if you'd floated off into oblivion."

"Thor?" Captain Rogers asked. He'd belted in next to Tony, and appeared to be fussing with several meal packets.

"Barton and Lady Jan are on the command deck," Thor replied, gently detaching Pepper onto a wall grip. "I came back to great our guests, but found one of them on the way."

"Good to know." Rogers said, then, before Thor turned away, "Why don't you take Ms Potts by the engine room and see if Foster or Lewis have any spare clothes that might fit her, something more appropriate."

Even not knowing either man for more than five minutes, Pepper could pick up the unspoken messages passing between them. Thor was a nosy bastard and wanted a look see, but he also needed to make sure his captain knew he had his back. Rogers appreciated the thought, but wanted his first mate to check in with the rest of the crew. Also, Pepper thought, he wants the room for himself. No. Actually, he wants Tony to himself.

At least Tony claimed to have noticed she was missing. His eyes, however, were tracing the lines of Roger's muscles as if he could see right though the blue and white jumpsuit. Captain Rogers was watching Pepper and Thor, but he'd also let himself float closer to Tony so he had to turn to look at them.

Right. "Will you be needing anything, Mr. Stark?" Pepper asked in her primmest tone.

Tony wrinkled his nose at her. "No, that'll be all, Ms. Potts."

A pause seemed to fill the room as Pepper got herself turned around again, and the two men waited for her to leave. Thor broke it, saying, "Come, Pepper; let us go to the engine room and meet my wife," and blithely tugging her out of the room.

The last thing Pepper heard before Thor closed the hatch was Tony asking if there was anything to drink. She would have hoped he'd be careful, only with Tony she knew it wasn't even worth the prayer.

"Do you keep all the booze locked up in your room, or just the good stuff?" Tony asked. Rogers had asked him in for a drink, and Tony had followed because, well because how the hell else was he going to kill six hours. He knew he wouldn't sleep, pacing wasn't possible in zero g, and he doubted anyone would let him near the engine room. He might as well do his best to get completely blitzed and forget everything he'd just left behind. What better place to do that than the Captain's quarters.

Of course, quarters was an exceedingly generous word for a space that probably envied most broom closets. With two grown men inside, it barely had enough room left over for the rolled up sleeping bag, and an old-style electronic book drifting loose. One wall held a bank of computers, with pictures taped to the blank spaces – Tony stopped snooping through those when he saw his father in the back of a group shot from the War – and stacks of drawers the other two. Rogers shoved the book into one of the latter, and Tony calculated that opening all of them at once would make the room too small for even Natalie to fit in. As it was, the drifted so near each other that their knees brushed every time Tony tried to move.

"My first mate has the really good stuff," Rogers said, digging through another drawer, "But I never figured out how, and he doesn't always share. This is drinkable."

Tony eyed the bag dubiously. He didn't have good experience with decanting anything stronger than beer into plastic. Back then, however, he'd cared more about the flavour than getting drunk of his ass with all good speed. Now... "What the hell," he said. "Hit me." Rogers obligingly fired a wobbling shot of alcohol straight into Tony's open mouth before taking a pull out of the bag. Tony swallowed then coughed as it seared its way down his throat. "What? Do you make this in the engine room?"

Rogers shrugged. He had one arm looped through a wall grip, and the other wrapped around the bag of booze. "No, it's something one of the outer colonies came up with. I wouldn't ask what it's made of, if I were you."

"I wasn't planning to." Tony held his mouth open and got another shot. That was enough to take the edge off the world. "If I'd known things were this dire out here, I'd have had Pepper organise some kind of relief effort."

"Tony Stark, Philanthropist, bringing decent whiskey to the tired, the poor and the huddled masses."

"We all have to do our part." Another shot, and Tony laughed. "Clearly you're not a man who appreciates subtlety."

Roger's expression hovered at an attempt at innocent for the barest moment, then he shrugged again, mouth quirking up. "I have no idea what you're talking about, Mister Stark." He took another pull and Tony watched his throat bob; just then their ankles brushed together, and Tony didn't think it was his fault that time.

The rot gut must have extra kick to it, because Tony felt lightheaded all of a sudden. Though that, he realised, could just be the lack of gravity. He pressed his point regardless. "I'm trying to think of a more obvious way you could try to liquor me up, get in a quick fuck, and pump me for information." He snapped a stray drop out of the air, and pretended to consider the problem. "Nope, not coming to me."

"I could strip naked and demand to know all your secrets." Rogers was laughing at him. Maybe not openly, but his eyes crinkled up around the edges, and Tony could hear the catch in his voice.

After everything that happened this week, laughed at by an antiquated space captain, even a built blond one, actually just pissed him off. He grabbed the front of Rogers' jumpsuit and shook him sharply, bouncing them both off the walls. "Or strap me down and stick needles in me until I say what you want. I warn you, people have tried that before, and they didn't like what I did after that." Another, more horrifying, thought occurred to him. "Oh, shit, Pepper. If that alien behemoth of yours so much as–"

A broad hand came up to cup the side of his face. "Easy, Stark." His voice was low and steady, like Rhodey's when he was trying to talk Tony down from his latest bad idea. "Ms. Potts is probably in the engine room with the alien behemoth's wife, trying on clothes. I assure you she's safer there than anywhere else in the galaxy. And no one's going to stick anything in you that you don't want them to." He held Tony's gaze, and Tony found himself getting pulled into those clear, serious blue eyes; he could feel his heart rate dropping. Whatever Rogers had going on, he should bottle it and sell it.

"I've heard that before," Tony said, but let his grip loosen, and they drifted apart a little. Rogers took another pull from the bag, now half deflated. He raised it in Tony's direction, but Tony shook his head. Getting too wasted to think straight didn't seem like such a good idea anymore. The cost of forgetting something important was too high. Besides, Rogers had drunk more than he had, but his hand had felt warm and steady against Tony's face, and his pupils hadn't widened at all. "Besides, you don't get drunk, so you're clearly taking advantage."

This time, Rogers actually did laugh at him. "If you're anything like your father, you could drink the whole bag and still pilot a racing skimmer through a meteor shower."

"It was one of his better traits," Tony snapped. Then, because he was not going to start reminiscing about dear old Dad with a man who looked fifteen years younger than Tony – or with anyone else hopefully ever – he said, "So come on, give me a hint here. You're broadcasting mixed signals like a neutron star, and I've taken too much shit this week to get much out of playing this game. Tell me what you want, and I'll let you know if you can have it or not."

"You asked Fury to send the America specifically. Why?"

Tony snorted. "Are you kidding? That's what you're leading with? You're supposed to be the most bullheadedly decent person in the history of space travel. I think Hydra has posters of you with those little motivational quotes. That and you must run some kind of swimsuit contest to pick your crew, because even the marines are improbably attractive. Who else am I going to trust with my life?"

Rogers made a non-committal noise then fell silent. He was just looking at Tony again, but it felt like he could see right through to his soul. It wasn't fair, and Tony found himself starting to hate him. What right did Steve Rogers, Hero of the lost Republic have to judge him? When had he ever had to make the kind of sacrifices Tony had this last week? He just jumped in and started organising everyone's lives to his liking, kicked in a few heads, then moved on to the next system. Fuck growing a conscience anyway. Hitting Rogers wasn't going to end well, so he jerked him forward until their mouths met.

He didn't expect Rogers to open his mouth right away like he did. It almost threw him off his rhythm, but then Rogers grabbed the back of his neck and Tony got with the programme. He let go of Rogers' jumpsuit so he could get a glorious double handful of toned ass and pull them flush together. It was enough to make Rogers moan and hook an ankle around Tony's knees to increase the pressure.

They started to drift back into the work area, but Rogers caught a wall grip and held them in place. He trapped Tony's body against a bank of drawers, kissing him relentlessly. Their teeth bumped. Tony drew away enough to bite Rogers' bottom lip in retaliation. When he pulled back again, Tony asked, "Is this the part where you strip naked?"

"It could be."

"Just so you know, I'm done with answering questions."

"You don't need to." Rogers let go of his neck and made enough room between to start unzipping his jumpsuit. Swapped hands to shrug out of the sleeves, and let the top half of the suit wave behind him. Tony had no idea how much a man would have to work out to keep muscle definition like that in zero gravity.

Tony froze. "I'm starting to reconsider," he said, and Rogers paused in the middle of trying to tug Tony's shirt free. "I didn't realise you were the kind of guy who'd sleep with the enemy. Me, I mean, sure, but aren't you supposed to be all truth, justice and the Republican Way."

"You're not my enemy." Rogers said it with enough conviction that Tony almost believed him.

Almost. "So what? You're psychic now too?"

Rogers tilted his torso back enough to meet Tony's eyes. "I fought in the War. Back then, I knew cruel men who did evil things because they enjoyed it, and lazy ones who did them because they were too afraid to do anything else." Tony tried to stop himself from flinching away from the words, but couldn't. How the fuck could a man he'd met an hour ago sum up his whole orbital pile up of a life so well? Suddenly he didn't want Rogers touching him any more. He tried to pull away, but Rogers hips still pinned his to the wall. He didn't have any leverage. "I've also," Rogers continued, "known men who realised the damage they'd done, and gave up everything they had to try and make it right."

"And you can tell that just by drinking with me?"


Tony opened his mouth then closed it when he realised he had nothing to say to that. Mercifully, Rogers leaned in and kissed him again. This time, instead of pulling away, Tony yanked his shirt off and tossed it in a corner just hard enough so it wouldn't bounce back. Then he let Rogers kiss him again, moving his mouth down Tony's body as he stripped him out of the rest of his clothes.

Before long, they floated in a cloud of abandoned socks and pants. Rogers had started to try catch some of it to stow away, but Tony grabbed his ass again and wiggled down his body until he had his cock in his mouth. That got Rogers back on track, and he buried both hands in Tony's hair. Loose from the wall, they spun sideways. Tony curled up, making as little motion as possible past bobbing his head up and down. He sucked intensely as he pulled away, trying make Rogers lose some of that fucking control. He was making appreciative noises at all the right times, but even when Tony squeezed his balls at the same time as he bounced head first off the door, as he only grunted. What Tony needed was a scream.

He pulled away, frowning, and shimmied back up until they rested face to face, his hands on Rogers' hips, carefully holding them enough apart so their dicks didn't touch. "You got any lube around here?"

Rogers dug his fingers into Tony's scalp and tried to push their hips together, but only managed to spin them across the room again. His hand shot out to catch a wall grip and pull them steady. Tony bent in to suck at his throat, nipping hard enough to leave a mark well above what his collar would cover.

"Top or bottom?" Rogers asked. He was distractedly shuffling through a drawer above Tony's head. A handful of pencils and a sketch pad floated into the debris field around them before he came up with a squeeze bottle of barrier lube.

"Definitely top."

He wondered if Rogers would have a problem with it, but he just handed Tony the tube and said, "Remember to do me too."

"Please," Tony scoffed. "I'm like a charter member of the Zero G Club."

"Just– agh, okay." Rogers choked off as Tony smeared the gel over his cock. He took his time, making sure to cover every millimetre of skin so it sealed right. That, and Rogers was starting to make high-pitched whining noises ever time Tony's thumb rubbed over the head. "Wait," he stammered. "I want... just... wait."

"That's more like it," Tony leaned in, teeth brushing Rogers' ear. "Tell me what you want."

"Shut up and fuck me, Stark."

"That'll do." Rogers felt loose and ready under Tony's hands, so he didn't bother with much preparation. He wanted to take more time, but the way Rogers was wiggling into his fingers, he knew neither of them would last that long. "Ready?" he asked, just the tip of his cock brushing Rogers' ass.

In reply, Rogers tipped his hips forward, using his braced arm as a pivot point, and wrapped his legs around Tony's hips. "Fuck," Tony hissed as Rogers' calves pressed into his ass, inexorably pulling him in. As they came together, Rogers' heels dug into the small of his back, and his full cock rested between them.

Tony spread his hands on Rogers' stomach and pushed them apart as slowly as he could bare, only to have Rogers slam their bodies together again. They both gasped, and Rogers strained forward to capture Tony's mouth. His free hand stretched back to find another wall grip, and he floated there, suspended between them as though pinioned to the wall, legs wrapped around Tony, panting as sweat gleamed across his chest.

As they pushed apart again, Rogers' muscles quivered with the strain of holding them both steady, and his breath started to catch in ragged gasps. This time as they separated, Tony matched the motion with a long, slow pull along Rogers' cock. That, finally, made Rogers cry out, and he screamed into the kiss.

They slammed back together, and Tony did his best to pick up the pace, pushing frantically against Rogers, while Rogers tried to shimmy and wiggle, and, above all else, to keep them pressed as tightly together as he could. Tony gave up long enough to drag both hands up over Rogers' cock, twisting roughly at the head, letting his fingers slide over the barrier lube, which he knew doubled every sensation. Rogers came hard, screaming Tony's name.

His legs relaxed then, letting Tony to pull away enough to finish via a series of short, sharp jerks of his hips. A wave of heat washed over Tony, and squeezed his eyes shut to ride it out. He could feel Rogers' heart pounding, steady as a base line, and pulled in a few deep breaths to cool down. When he opened his eyes, Rogers was smiling lazily at him from a few centimetres away, and Tony couldn't resist leaning in for another kiss.

"Fuck, that was good," Tony said sincerely.

Rogers grinned, rolling his shoulders before he let go off the wall grips. He snagged a packet of wet wipes from the air behind Tony's ear, and cleaned them both up with gentle, practised movements. "So," he asked, tossing the whole mess down the vacuum trash, "How about telling me all your secrets?"

Tony flipped him the bird and kicked off the drawers, trying to chase down one of his socks.

"Fair enough," Rogers said without rancour. "But at least tell me how long until Hydra realises you're selling them out and comes after your blood."

That was an uncannily good guess. Tony's mind flashed back over how that marine had taken the time to show Natalie to the head, which had been followed not long after by a hushed conversation between Rogers and the same marine. "'I knew a men in the war,' my ass," Tony grumbled. "I smell a rat."

"Pardon?" Rogers asked. He'd flipped one eighty to Tony, resting his feet on Tony's stomach as he tried to round up his drawing pencils.

"Much too late," Tony said more clearly. He'd caught both socks now, and curled into a ball to pull them on. "We'll be tucked away safe and sound before the first bombs even go off."

Rogers nodded knowingly. "Right. I'll call Command and make sure we have weapons hot when we pop into normal space."

"Oh, fuck you. No, wait we already did that. I think Barton's next."

"I'd leave that one alone if I were you." Kicking off one wall and pulling another, Rogers spun to face him. "I really think it'd be for the best if you just stuck with me."

"No, promises," Tony told him, but he was already starting to think maybe that wasn't true after all. Maybe this time he could stop running.