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Breakfast is the Most Important Meal

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Contrary to popular opinion, Steve Rogers is not, by nature, a morning person. He gets up early not because of any ingrained desire to greet the rising sun and not because of the Army; it’s what he’s conditioned himself to do his entire life, to get a head start on the day, and the Army only reinforced it. He doesn’t really need to run anymore either, not after the serum, but there’s something about the early morning streets falling away under his feet that lets him reacquaint himself with a body that sometimes still feels foreign, something about the slowly increasing concentration of futuristic cars and too-modern buildings that helps him truly wake up.

It’s no surprise then that he is not entirely aware when he returns to the Avengers mansion, listening for the harsh whistle of breath that doesn’t come from his chest, head still full of the overlapping languages that fill the streets of Manhattan markets in the mornings. Tony is sitting at the kitchen table. ’Sitting,’ for some definitions of the word, Steve thinks absently as he cracks a half dozen eggs into a frying pan. “Morning,” he says, nodding at Tony and the woman by the coffee maker. Tony is slouched onto the kitchen table, forehead pressed against the wood with only his shoulders and the top of his head visible, hair sticking out at wild angles. It’s a strange hour for Tony to be up here – he’s usually in bed, unconscious, or still in the lab from the night before.

“Want anything?” Steve asks as he drops bacon into a second pan. Tony only grunts in return. The one downside to his physical enhancements – and Steve really hates to think of it as an inconvenience at all, because really, he doesn’t have any call to complain – is the enhanced metabolism that comes with it. He burns a lot of calories. He’s pretty sure he should start eating before he goes for a run, with his glycogen stores so low from fasting through the night, but there’s a part of him that remembers war-time rationing and the scarcity of the Depression, and still quails from the amount of food he consumes. The smell of coffee brewing and bacon sizzling finally hits his brain and he’s famished. “Tony? Food?” Because Tony needs to eat more, Steve thinks with a frown.

Tony grunts again. “He’s fine,” the woman by the coffee maker says, except now she’s the woman at the kitchen table, as she sets one of two cups of coffee down in front of Tony’s head. His hands shoot up from under the table instantly, wrapping around the mug and clinging. The other she sets down at Steve’s side, and he nods his thanks as he hovers over the stove, stomach growling. She’s dressed all in white, where she’s dressed, and drinking something red that Steve thinks is probably not a virgin Bloody Mary. His coffee is black and perfectly sweet.

“Come now,” she says, standing imperiously by Tony.

“Don’t wanna,” he says, voice muffled by the table.

“Now.”

“Emmmmma,” he whines.

“I’m sorry,” she says, one sharp eyebrow raised. “Did you think you had a choice in the matter?”

Tony sways upright as Steve transfers his breakfast to his plate. “Too early,” Tony says. The arc reactor in his chest glows blue through his thin white tank. Steve’s thinking about caloric expenditures and recent patterns in gang violence and if there’s a league of super villains that requires you to have an absurd villain name as they leave.

“Too bad, darling,” the woman – Emma, his lizard brain supplies – as they disappear down the hall. Her boots manage to somehow clack even through the carpet. “You get what you pay for.”

Steve is on his third (maybe overfull) mouthful of eggs when he pauses. Stops with one hand wrapped around the coffee cup and his fork half way to his mouth and reruns his morning. “Wait,” he says. Blinks owlishly as glucose hits his brain and the last ten minutes – and the woman’s lack of clothing – catch up with him. “Why was there a stripper in the kitchen?”

*

It’s not actually like this is unprecedented. Somehow, Tony’s parties seem to accumulate strippers, or at least lovely young ladies who decide as the evening goes on that they’d like to exchange their clothes for cash (or sometimes they’re young men, but Steve tries not to think about that or the tips of his ears turn red). Steve’s been on Tony’s plane, and he really doesn’t buy the smirking explanation that the poles are load-bearing, for structural support. Or for if you want a workout during a long intercontinental flight.

“Do you really expect me to believe that?” he'd asked Tony with a frown.

Tony smirked. “Helps me work,” he said, spreading his arms wide across the back of the leather seats and kicking his feet up onto the cushions. “We all multitask,” he said, face a study in fake innocence. “Except I’m kind of a genius. So I have to multitask more than most people in order to pay attention.”

“You realize that doesn’t make any sense, right?” Steve asked, frowning at Tony’s shoes kicked up on the seat.

“Hey, who’s the genius here?”

“Your shirt’s on inside out,” Steve said helpfully. He was pretty sure Tony just liked naked people. And being scandalous.

*

The stripper - Emma – is in the kitchen again the next morning, having mimosas with Bruce and Natasha. Tony is listing sideways in his chair with a cup of coffee clutched tightly to his chest.

It’s not like Steve had spent most of the day before thinking about it (it may have popped into his mind occasionally, like when he was going through the endless files on potential allies and enemies or running drills with SHIELD trainees or eating supper or watching the news) but if he had, he would have decided to chalk the entire incident up to Tony being Tony. And with Tony’s attention span for things he can’t weld or reduce to 0s and 1s, well. If Steve had been thinking about it, he would have assumed he wouldn’t have to think about it again today.

Emma is dressed all in white again, leather and satin that doesn’t leave much to the imagination. She raises an eyebrow at him as she catches his eyes as they drift upwards, and Steve feels himself redden. “Breakfast?” he asks as he roots around in the fridge, face hot.

“Any yogurt?” Bruce asks.

Steve pulls the container out of the fridge and hands it over.

“Ooooh, strawberry,” Bruce says, as if he’s not aware that’s all they keep after the blueberry yogurt incident.

At the table, Tony’s eyes are starting to open past shuttered slits. Bruce sits back down at the table, digging into the container with a spoon as Natasha and Emma sip from champagne flutes and eat toast. Clint shuffles in and nods at the table. Steve stands in front of the open fridge door with an egg carton in his hands, staring at the kitchen and wondering if he’s going around the bend. Clint reaches past him into the fridge and pulls out the milk.

Right.

He moves mechanically as he starts putting things into the frying pan. Emma is once again shepherding Tony from the kitchen and down the hall. This time, she appears to be doing it solely with imperious glances and crossed arms. Clint watches her go intently, grin morphing into a leer when she turns to catch his eye. He doesn’t redden like Steve did. Emma and Natasha appear to exchange some form of silent communication that involves eyebrows and frightening grins. Tony continues to shamble down the hall, and Clint tries hard not to look like he’s afraid of the quirk of Natasha’s lips.

“Good yogurt,” Bruce says. “Wait, is that a blueberry?”

*

Steve doesn’t see either of them for the rest of the day. Which isn’t unusual when it comes to Tony, really, but he’s not usually actively looking for him. Not that Steve is actually actively looking for them, or anything. They’re both consenting adults, and he’d gotten that speech from the orientation team as part of his introduction to the 21st century. Then he’d gotten it from Coulson. And Pepper. Pepper’s had probably been the scariest. Sometimes he feels like everyone’s just waiting for him to say something horribly offensive, but while the world might have changed a lot, he’s pretty sure it’s all for the better. (Or mostly. He’s not sure about Twitter or TMZ. Sometimes he feels helplessly old-fashioned, and ashamed of the things he’s surprised by, but he’s working on it.)

When Steve finally tracks down Tony and Emma, they’re in his lab. When they weren’t anywhere else he kept looking, but he assumed – he assumed that Tony wouldn’t have let her down there. Brought her down there.

He peers through the glass door, not sure what he’s going to see. Tony has a welding helmet pushed up on his head and is gesticulating wildly. Emma is sitting on one of the tables, one elegant leg crossed over the other, the blue light of holographic designs casting light and shadows across her white hair and skin. She’s wearing as many clothes as she was at breakfast, which is to say, not too terribly many. There’s something almost innocuous about the scene, and Steve feels a rush of relief that he can’t quite place, at least until he looks a little more closely. Tony’s supposed to be working on suit upgrades.

By the looks of it, he is.

Steve knocks on the glass, somewhat harder than he means to. It rattles. Tony looks over and waves at him. ’Come on in,’ he mouths. Steve shakes his head and lets his still-raised hand drop to his side, fisted tightly. Steve steps back away from the glass, where he can’t be seen from inside, and waits for Tony to come to him. He’s probably wrong. Tony can be reckless, but he’s not usually irresponsible.

Not this irresponsible, anyway.

Or, all right, not this irresponsible in this way. The Air Force may have ended up with one of Tony’s suits, covered with guns, through a set of circumstances no one will explain to Steve beyond ’Well, you see, Tony – Tony, well’ and something about a watermelon, but that at least involved someone with full clearance.

Steve’s pretty sure the chances of mind control being involved are slim.

“Hey,” Tony says. “What do you need? There’s not some sort of alien squid attack going on, is there?”

Steve is surprised to find Tony already in front of him; Tony is never what one would call subtle, and seemingly incapable of moving without a surrounding cloud of babble or snapping fingers or loud music. “No,” he says. “No squid.” Steve realizes he was waiting for the jarring blast of discordant music to come spilling from the open door to indicate that Tony had left the lab. Sloppy on his part, he thinks.

Tony is stripping off his machinist’s gloves. “Shrimp?”

“No shellfish or sea creatures.” Steve finds himself drawn to the contrast of the paleness of Tony’s lower forearms against the smudges of grease and dirt above the line of the gloves.

“It’s not Loki again, is it? Because I hate magic.”

Steve’s jaw clenches. “No. Just wanted to check in on the suit upgrades. ”

Tony frowns. “Working on it. What, is Hawkeye whining about more bow upgrades already? Does Fury want a floating aircraft carrier again? Because I’ve told him that it’s going to take way more than –”

“Does Coulson know?” Steve asks. Smoothes his hands against the front of his blue jeans. It still surprises him sometimes, how much more tactile he is, how each of his senses is just that much sharper. The weave of denim against his fingertips. The iron-cordite-engine oil-solder smell of Tony, the faint crisp overlay of Emma’s perfume.

Tony blinks. “Right,” he says. “Okay, first of all,” Tony says, “yes, I assume so, even though it’s none of his business. I didn’t exactly wait until he was engrossed in Super Nanny and sneak her in through the servant’s entrance.”

Steve blinks. “You have a servant’s entrance?”

“What, no, of course I don’t.” Tony pauses. “Seriously?”

“It’s not like you let us be unaware of the fact that you’re rich.”

“Okay, you missed a word there, and that work was ’filthy.’ ’Filthy rich.’ Who has servants these days, anyway? ’Help,’ maybe. I prefer interns, to be honest.” Tony stops, shakes his head. “And, secondly. I don’t know if you’ve forgotten – and it seems like you haven’t, what with the servant’s entrance thing – but this is my house. I let you all live here. It’s not like I don’t get to bring whomever I want in.”

Except. “It kind of is,” Steve says. There are three pizza places in the entire city cleared to deliver to the front foyer of the mansion. (Only one is willing to. There have been incidents. Thor likes pineapple on his pizza, and gets sad if there are sardines with little faces. Clint’s opinions run opposite. Things have gotten heated.) “She’s –”

“You’re going to want to stop right there,” Tony says, eyes flickering.

And Steve is just so entirely lost because Tony is a squirrelly bastard at the best of times, doesn’t trust the team or even himself half to three quarters of the time, but he’s terrible at looking at himself. “You can’t just let anyone in here,” Steve says. What if she’s after corporate secrets? What if she’s part of one of those villainous clubs that requires really awful nicknames? “You don’t know what could –”

Tony laughs with a smile that’s almost blank and dark eyes. “Oh, I’m aware,” he says. “She’s got clearance. Look, your concern is cute, really. Practically adorable. But if there’s nothing else, I’m just gonna –”

Tony’s gone already, workshop door closing behind him, leaving Steve standing there, caught somewhere between anger and confusion.

Through the glass door, he can see Emma still sitting there, head cocked as holograms play across her face. He could almost swear she looks disappointed in him.

*

“Yes, I’m aware,” Fury says without looking up from his desk.

Steve stands uncertainly in the doorway.

“Yes, I’m aware, no, I don’t approve, but yes, again, her clearance is valid.”

Steve clears his throat. “She’s –”

“Done some sensitive work for us in the past, and they go back a ways, so how I feel about her doesn’t really matter right now,” Fury says, finally looking up to where Steve is standing at attention.

Steve clears his throat. “Right. Sir.” He’s not sure he wants to know exactly what kind of work she’s done for them.

There’s a soft knock at the door, and a SHIELD agent sticks her head in. “Director Fury?” she asks, entering at Fury’s nod and handing him a red file.

Fury curses under his breath a bit. “I’m a bit surprised at you, though,” he says, almost proudly, looking up at Steve before turning back to the folder.

“Sir,” Steve says, taking it as the dismissal it is.

*

It’s not that Steve has a problem with strippers. They’re people who make a living taking off their clothes. Steve is someone who makes a living putting on ridiculous clothes and punching people in the face, so it’s not like he has a lot of room to talk.

He just – doesn’t get it. He wonders if this is part of the thing where Tony sometimes feels the need to pay people to be his friends. He wonders why she gets to waltz right in when it took him so long to find any sort of equilibrium with Tony, some balance where one or the other of them wasn’t lashing out with sarcasm and/or hiding in the lab (the majority of both behaviours actually being attributable to Tony).

He asked Pepper once if dealing with Tony was one of those things about the modern world he was learning. She laughed and told him that the modern world still hadn’t figured out how to deal with Tony.

Steve is pretty sure Fury had approved of his distrust of Emma, and he isn’t quite sure how that makes him feel. Actually, he’s pretty sure he feels like crap, but he’d like to think that wasn’t based on Nick Fury’s approval. She has security clearance. She is Tony’s – friend, or something like it.

He makes her pancakes. She doesn’t actually know that he thought she might be some sort of evil spy. Or seducing Tony into showing her details of the Iron Man armour. Which. His imagination might be getting away from him.

He’s cooked about half of them when she wanders into the kitchen the next morning, and once again raises that eyebrow when he slides a plate in front of her. “Sorry,” he says. “I think we got off on the wrong foot. I’m Steve.”

She looks incredulous, but shakes his hand when he offers it, “Emma,” she says, and he thinks he sees her trying not to laugh. Tony, when he wanders upstairs, seems to shake himself awake as he stares at the two of them talking in horrified fascination, before dragging Emma almost bodily from the room.

“Tony!” he calls after them. His eyebrows are drawn together. “That’s no way to treat a lady!”

As the elevator door slams shut, he’s pretty sure Tony collapses against her in laughter.

Half an hour later, the banging starts.

*

There’s banging drifting up from the workshop the next day.

And the day after that.

*

Steve has never considered himself to be easily distracted. The intermittent banging, however, is driving him to the end of his rope. Even when he’s not at the mansion. Someone drops something at SHIELD HQ and it’s his first thought. He’d like to think that it’s the noise itself, but it’s not. It’s the – the images. He tries not to wonder what on earth they’re doing to make that sort of racket. Steve hasn’t had a chance to get a lot of experience, and he just – he’s read the papers, and he knows Tony’s background. And Emma seems like the sort of dame who’s had her fair share of experience.

(They’re probably spectacular together.)

He feels like a voyeur.

It’s a relief of sorts when Pepper shows up. Her heels are much more silent on the hardwood floor than Emma’s manage to be on carpet, so he’s starting to think it’s a choice on her part.

(It was bad when Tony and Pepper broke up. Pepper went away for a while, and they’d thought Tony had done the same until Bruce mentioned something about his having being in the basement for the last week. Then there was the intervention. Apparently Thor had wanted to perform the Midgardian ritual since he’d seen Intervention on television. It had taken them a while to explain to him that Tony wasn’t actually having Pepper withdrawal, and that Thor could take off the fake Jeff VanVonderen moustache any time.

“I CANNOT, FRIENDS!” Thor had boomed. “I HAVE GLUED IT TO MY FACE FOR MAXIMUM AUTHENTICITY.”

Tony ended up crying with what was probably laughter, but at least it was a step forward. Tony sometimes still looks at Pepper with something like reverence, like he can’t believe she’s still his friend.)

“He’s in the basement?” Pepper asks. She’s got a sheaf of documents under her arm and a frazzled look on her face. Steve’s pretty certain he’s never thought about what Tony’s scarred hands would look like against her pale skin.

Pretty sure.

“Basement?” Pepper repeats as Steve blinks guiltily. Something down there crashes and she sighs. “Of course.” She pulls out her tablet and starts flipping rapidly through documents.

Steve reaches out instinctively to grab her arm as she heads for the hall. “You, um. Might want to wait. He’s got company.” He can feel his face colour as he releases her arm. He doesn’t know what the rules are for this. If Pepper is allowed to know about Tony’s sudden attachment to a particular stripper. If she wants to know. Pepper seems to have taken the break-up on a slightly more even keel than Tony, but Steve usually think that’s because Pepper as a whole is on a much more even keel than Tony.

Pepper looks up. “Is Emma in?”

“Yes?” Steve offers, wincing as something bangs loudly.

“Oh, good,” Pepper replies. “I wanted to see her, too.”

“Oh,” Steve says. Pepper is usually the one ushering out people covered with glitter, with her back straight and lips ever so slightly compressed, so that’s not exactly what he was expecting. But Fury implied that Emma and Tony went back, so it’s entirely possible that Pepper and Emma are already – familiar.

Pepper tucks her tablet and the folders against her navy-clad hip. “Tony was just the tiiiniest bit stuck until she agreed to clear her schedule and work out here for a bit. Not that he’d admit it.” Something crashes loudly again, and she sighs in exasperation. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go and see what they’re doing.”

And just like that, she’s heading for the basement. Steve stays where he is, standing stock still, because that’s not what he was expecting at all. The banging stops for a few minutes, then starts up again at what he’s pretty sure is higher volume. He sits down carefully and puts his head in his hands.

Just when he thinks he’s got this century figured out.

*

The thing is, Steve’s trying not to think about why this bothers him so much. He’s trying not to think about it because he may be old-fashioned, but he’s not stupid, and he gets it. It takes more than a few months to erase a lifetime of social conditioning, no matter how much you might be consciously aware of it. He knows he thinks about Tony more than he probably should; about the crinkles at the corners of his eyes and the curve of his shoulder muscles arcing into a neck that always looks corded with tension, about the shadow of stubble that ghosts his jaw when he’s been up all night.

It has less to do with Tony and more to do with the fact that Tony is the first guy he’s actually let himself think of this way. (It being thinking about Tony. Or thinking about thinking about Tony. Steve thinks, anyways.) And Steve feels almost like he’s taking advantage of him. That he’s making assumptions because of Tony’s reputation, and the fact that Tony apparently sometimes like men that way. With the fact that if you want to get technical, Steve’s the team lead and Tony is a subordinate in their quasi-military set up, though he’s pretty sure Tony would laugh himself sick over the idea. (He doesn’t think Pepper would, though, which gives him pause.)

It’s not about Emma at all.

*

Steve overcompensates. Tony asks him if he wants to grab a burger one day, coffee the next, pizza, and Steve makes sure to invite Emma. There’s a flicker in Tony’s eyes when Steve does that, and his grin becomes forced, like he knows what Steve’s overcompensating for – or he thinks Steve is judging, and Steve’s not sure which would be worse; Steve wants to say something but he has no idea what that would be. Instead, he pulls out Emma’s chair for her and stares down at his hands and tries not to feel small.

*

It turns out that the fact that Steve’s trying not to think about it means that he’s really not thinking about it. At all. He’s not thinking about things in the most spectacular of manners, as becomes abundantly clear to him while they’re fighting bear-sized mechanical kittens on the lower East Side.

The kittens aren’t the most destructive things they’ve faced, not by a long shot, but they are having a bit of a hard time taking them out. Hawkeye’s arrows have a tendency to get vaporized by the green laser beams the kittens shoot from their eyes before they hit their targets, and even with all Natasha’s ninja-like skills, she appears to be having a hard time finding the important robot-y parts under the fur.

Apparently, the Hulk is allergic to cats.

Thor keeps trying to pet them in the hopes of finding one that would make an appropriate steed. He only smashes them with the hammer after they respond to his advances with an attempt to eat him. Steve is mainly afraid that one will actually befriend him and Thor will try to bring it back to the mansion, where Tony will destroy it in a way that makes Thor make that sad face that Steve tells himself he is in no way affected by.

Speaking of. “Iron Man, what’s your ETA?” he yells into the comm, vaulting over a park bench. He tucks into a forward roll as he comes down, heels hot from narrowly-avoided laser beam blasts.

“Less than five minutes,” Tony’s voice comes. He chuckles, low. “Don’t tell me Captain America needs to be rescued from a bunch of kitty cats?”

“Just get here,” Steve grits out, whipping his shield around to catch a paw swipe that knocks him back into a tree.

“Hulk no wike fwuffy kitties!” Hulk yells, eyes red and swollen as he smashes – someone’s car.

Steve winces.

“Control module is in the back of the neck!” Natasha yells, holding something pulsing red and silver over her head as the cat she’s crouched atop of crashes to the ground with a hole in its neck.

“Got it!” Steve yells, adds: “got that everyone?” into his communicator.

“Incoming!” Tony’s voice sounds in his ear and he looks up to see Iron Man arcing in towards them. Steve has a moment to notice that the suit appears to be carrying something. Something humanoid and made of glass. Steve dodges under another paw swipe as Iron Man releases what he’s carrying. It resolves itself into a human shape as it falls, arms outstretched to control the descent. Steve rolls backwards out of the robot’s reach and has just enough time to wonder why Iron Man is carrying someone (who isn’t him) before the figure crashes down on top of the robot kitten at near-terminal velocity, sending fur and giant kitten limbs flying everywhere and shaking the ground. It’s a female figure that climbs out of the impact crater and robot remains, scowling at the fluff and motor oil that coats her glittering surface.

“You all right, ma’am?” he asks, just to be sure, because, well. Impact crater.

“Yes, yes, fine,” she says dismissively, and whips the robot kitten sneaking up on her halfway down the block.

She looks familiar, but Steve’s pretty busy dodging another one of the cats. It doesn’t take too much longer after that; they know what to go for to take out the control centre so he starts taking them out with a hurled shield while Black Widow and the new woman rip them out. Iron Man picks them off from above, Thor has stopped trying to make them his friends and is just hitting them with his hammer in a way that is rather reminiscent of little bunny Foo Foo, and Hawkeye has taken to pointing the Hulk at things that are actually robots and then letting him go.

There’s a pretty good crowd gathered by the time they’re done. Apparently, mechanical kittens are not above the threat level that sends civilians actually scurrying for cover, even if the kitten are bear-sized and shoot lasers. The air is full of cat fur and fluff, and the Hulk is sitting sadly on the corner across from the park, sniffling and sneezing gigantic sneezes that lift him right off the ground.

The glass woman stands at the edge of the grass, surveying everything with crossed arms. Steve walks over to her, glittering white and semi-transparent, flashbulb from the reporters flickering strangely through her body. Not glass, his hindbrain supplies. Diamond. Organic diamond. Which means –

“Good thing they look like robots when you smash them open,” Iron Man says as he lands besides Steve. Steve’s stomach is turning slow lazy circles. “Instead of organic, bloody fluffy balls of death.”

“Can you imagine the publicity, if Fluffy were spread gorily about the block?” Emma replies. “I doubt it would do any good for either of our company’s stocks.”

*

Emma.

Emma Frost.

Co-headmaster of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. CEO of Frost International.

Not actually a stripper.

Steve stands there, staring at a metal spine with wires sparking sullenly against the sidewalk. Low level SHIELD agents are starting to move into the area, collecting debris. The rest of the Avengers gather in around Steve, Tony, and Emma. Bruce is back but his face is still swollen, eyes red, and sneezing miserably. No one else seems surprised to see Emma there, or to see her flicker back into flesh and blood.

“Let’s all agree not to do that ever again,” Clint says.

The press is even more excited than normal.

“How do you justify this blatant cruelty towards robo-animals? Are you at all concerned about PETA’s response?”

“Captain America! Who was the mysterious woman you were seen speaking with in a grocery store at 2:14 AM last Thursday?”

“Are the X-Men and the Avengers forming some sort of combined super team?”

“How do you justify working with any part of the mutant menace?”

“Why aren’t there any mutants on the roster of the Avengers? What sort of a message does that send to young mutants?”

“Well, this has been great,” Tony says, finally. “But, busy people, lots to do. Companies to run, genius inventions to create, small countries to save, that sort of thing. Wanna ride?” he asks, turning to the group.

Steve’s about to reply that yes, he’d love a lift back to the mansion when he realizes Tony’s talking to Emma. He closes his mouth again as she nods, and steps onto one of Tony’s boots as he tips his visor back closed. She shifts back into her diamond form as they blast off, and Steve tells himself that it is ridiculous to be jealous that Tony is carrying someone who is not him.

*

It’s probably the ex-super villain thing that they thought he was freaking out over, Steve realizes in the car on the way back to the mansion. That’s what Fury thought Steve was warning him about. Why Tony thought Steve was asking about Emma’s security clearance. When she was a supervillain she designed her own version of Cerebro, and created a gun capable of switching people’s consciousness between bodies, so she’s actually probably exactly the person Tony would want to help him to work on neurological interfaces for the suit. So she was actually helping with the suit, because Tony’s an engineer, and physics and mechanics only go so far. It’s a good thing that no one knows what he was thinking when –

Except, Emma’s a telepath.

Steve lets his head bang forward against the dashboard.

“What is the problem, my friend?” Thor asks from the back seat. He leans forward. “Are you much saddened by the loss of our potential kitten steeds?”

“No, Thor,” Steve says, and shakes his head as much as he can while still resting it against the dash. Emma Frost.

"Yes!" Thor proclaims. It appears Steve might have said that out loud. Thor beams as Steve as he continues. "Tony’s woman of ice was indeed of great help! And of great use as an aerial bombast!"

Coulson, driving, says, “Pay up.” Steve turns his head to see Coulson snapping his fingers over his shoulder at Natasha in the back.

“Fine,” she says, and pulls a few bills from – somewhere, she pulls them from somewhere, and Steve still hasn’t figured out how she gets herself into her uniform, let alone anything else in there with her. “I can’t believe you actually won with ’during a fight with dinosaurs or robot animals.’” She frowns at Steve as she hands them to Coulson. "You couldn’t have held off on the realization until a society function?"

Thor frowns. "Do you think that she would deign to allow me to hurl her at our enemies, should an opportune occasion arise?"

Steve covers his face with his hands and doesn’t look up for the rest of the ride.

*

It’s no wonder that Tony and Emma get along, Steve thinks. They come from the same world, grew up in the same way. He wonders what it was like: flatware and silverware and summer homes. Private lessons, probably, piano or dressage or dance. Did they ever go cold or hungry? Living here now he finds everything almost impossible to comprehend and far too easy to take for granted.

He thinks of his childhood, of their single room with its bare bulbs and drafts and worn floorboards, of his mother and her determined, tired eyes, and he is filled with a fierce warmth.

They are worlds apart, and he’s not sure if he’s the anomaly, or if they are.

*

Steve’s mother always told him that if you hurt someone, you apologize to them. Actually, she first told him that he should always do his best not to hurt others, but if he messed up and did so, the first thing he had to do was to apologize, and mean it.

Problem is, Emma is making it very hard for him to apologize. He’s not sure if he’s offended her – though he can’t see how not – but the fact that he finds himself unable to catch her alone makes him suspect there’s something he should do to put the situation right.

("I do not understand, friend," Thor says, brows drawn together in confusion. Steve thinks that this world must be both easier and harder for Thor, because while he is so very far from home, Steve still stumbles the most when things are closest to what he remembers. He is thrown not by the colours women (and men) dye their hair, but by the way they let their roots grow back in; coffee shops unsettle him not in that they exist and serve tea from Japan, China, India, but in the fact that no one in them smokes. "If there was no shame to be found, why is an apology necessitated?")

After a few days, he finally tracks her down. She’s up on the roof, sunbathing. He is thrown first by the fact that he actually found her, and second by the fact that her skin doesn’t appear to be darkening, the wings of her shoulder blades still alabaster.

It takes him a moment to realize she’s topless.

“Please,” she says, head resting on her crossed arms. She doesn’t look up, angles her head back to where he hovers behind her. “Just because I enjoy a little sun doesn’t mean I want to court wrinkles and cancer.”

“Right,” Steve says. He tries to keep his thoughts as neat as possible. He concentrates on the scent of sunscreen that he’d somehow missed before, tries to focus on the chemical-coconut smell of it and not look at the oiled sweep of Emma’s spine. He wonders briefly if she’s set this up to be as uncomfortable for him as possible, but he squashes the thought down.

“Out with it, then,” Emma says. “You haven’t got all day.”

“I’m sorry,” Steve says, stiffly. “I just wanted to apologize.”

Emma sighs at that. Raises herself up on one elbow and angles her head back towards him. The blond spill of her hair means that he can’t see anything, but –

Her eyes are like diamond. “Whatever for?”

Steve swallows. “I thought –”

“I’m aware of what you thought. That’s not what you need to apologize for.”

Steve steps forward. His shadow is tattooed across the small of her back. “But there is something I need to apologize for?”

Emma raises an eyebrow at him. “Let me know when you figure it out,” she says, and lets her head rest back down on her forearms. “You’re in my light.”

*

“Emma’s not offended that you thought she was a stripper,” Pepper tells him. “She’s offended that you’re sorry about it.”

*

“What does Emma like to do?” Tony repeats back to Steve. Steve shuffles his feet a little and nods.

“Um,” Tony says. Reaches up to scratch his forehead, and catches the fact that he’s holding a still-lit blowtorch just in time. “Fight or commit crimes? Crush people’s dreams while wearing white negligee?”

Steve frowns, because really, it’s like Tony isn’t putting any effort in at all, which – okay, not unexpected, but – “That’s not very nice, Tony,” he says in rebuke.

Tony blinks at him, owlishly. “Steve,” he says. “I’m not sure if you noticed this – and if you haven’t I’m definitely going to have to re-evaluate the ’super’ part of super serum – but neither Emma nor I are nice people. You want nice, you’re going to have to borrow Jane from Thor or something. The Avengers have a limited supply of ’nice’ and you’re hogging it all up.”

“That doesn’t even make sense,” Steve says. “I’m not – I’m not nice, I’m decent. And besides. There’s not a finite supply of niceness.”

Tony snorts, and finally shuts off the welding torch that’s still spitting blue flame into open air. “Of course you are. And of course there is. It’s the good cop/bad cop thing. We can’t all be good cops, and there’s a good chance I might be genetically incapable of not being an asshole.”

Tony has that look on his face, pinched and challenging and set around the eyes that he gets sometimes when he’s thinking of his father. Crosses his arms a bit and angles forward, like he’s looking for a fight. Steve feels something low flip in his stomach. He knew Howard. He liked Howard. He finds it difficult to integrate the man he owes so much to with this one Tony remembers; he’s not sure where their own biases line up and there’s still that undercurrent sometimes where he doesn’t know how the Howard he did know would feel about this man his son has become. And he hates to think ill of the dead, but – there’s the way Rhodey never mentions Howard’s name. The way Tony seems to spend pretty much all of his time shouting himself hoarse, like he thinks he’ll disappear if he stops yelling ’Look at me!,’ and no one will notice. Tony’s still looking at him, challenging, and Steve sighs and drops his eyes.

“Of course,” Tony says, as if they hadn’t been staring uneasily at each other for several minutes, “I might have to re-evaluate the nice thing, given that Emma’s in a relationship. You know that she’s in a relationship, right?”

“What?” Steve feels his ears colour as the implication sinks in. “That’s not what – I wasn’t asking because I wanted – I’m not –” He hadn’t realized that she and Tony were that – were –

“You dog,” Tony says, and he’s laughing, but he’s not.

“I wouldn’t,” Steve says, because that’s important. It’s important that Tony know he wouldn’t. “I would never –”

“Of course not,” Tony says, voice mocking. “What would the press say, Captain American and someone with a history like that?” There’s something in his eyes that Steve can’t identify, but Tony flips the welding shield back down over his face and turns back to the armour.

Steve has no idea how this conversation has gone so wrong. “That’s not what I meant,” he says, plainly.

Tony sparks the torch back to life and waves at Steve in a way that manages to convey a mixture of ’yeah, yeah,’ ’uh huh,’ and ’go away now.’ Steve stands there for a minute, watching Tony work, before he turns to leave the lab.

“She doesn’t dislike art,” Tony calls out finally, grudgingly, as the door closes behind him.

*

The thing is, Steve’s starting to suspect that he was wrong about this not being about Tony. Or rather – when he lets himself think about why he’s not thinking about it, he’s decided that maybe it’s about more than just the idea of Tony. Tony as someone who is there and available and has liquid smiles and quicksilver moods and tawny skin and –

When he lets himself think about it?

Well.

*

“You weren’t entirely wrong,” Emma tells him. They are standing in front of a piece of particularly confusing modern art. It’s a local gallery opening, high class. Lots of press and glitz and glimmer, exceedingly tiny food on silver plates that leaves his stomach grumbling. He doesn’t know how Pepper secured the tickets. Steve has his head cocked at a thirty degree angle as he tries to figure out if the piece is supposed to be mating jellyfish or a commentary on societal overindulgence.

His head snaps around to Emma, staring at the painting with her face a perfectly constructed façade. Her hair is caught up in an elegant twist, and her neckline exposes her bellybutton. “It’s not as if I’ve never been a stripper,” she says as she raises her flute of champagne to her delicately painted lips. Flashbulbs go off behind her, catching amber against the bubbles that rush against the glass. They are going to make the front page of at least a few papers, the society section of most of the others.

“I’m sorry,” he says numbly, because Pepper was right. If there’s nothing wrong with being a stripper, why is he so sorry that he thought Emma was one? Why would that have wronged her?

Emma delicately plucks a fresh flute of champagne from the tray of a passing server. She holds it to the light to admire the colour, the rise of bubbles. “Please, Rogers. I’ll admit to the tiniest bit of disappointment, but in order for you to have actually offended me, it would require that I care rather more about your opinion of me than I actually do.”

He feels awkward and ungainly, like everyone can see that he’s still just that boy from Brooklyn, like the expensive suit Tony poured him into sits on top of his old, frailer frame, an imperfect disguise everyone can see right through.

Emma reaches out to gently straighten his bowtie. “We all come from somewhere,” she says.

*

Steve has dreams sometimes. Ones about Tony that leave him red-eared and that he likes to pretend not to remember. Others, more common, about falling. Water and ice. Bombs and chain link fences topped with razor wire. Sometimes he wakes up gasping, remembering nothing of where or when he is, other than that it’s wrong, that it’s somewhere he doesn’t belong. Less and less these days, though, and it takes him less and less time to remember where he is, when he is. He used to go for a run when he couldn’t go back to sleep, slip out into early morning New York, but then JARVIS tattled on him to Tony, and Tony pitched a fit about safety and responsibility and who goes out by themselves to run through dark alleys at 3 am in New York, Jesus.

He’s making hot milk in the kitchen when Emma walks in. Her makeup appears to be somehow perfectly applied, hair neat and straight, and she’s wearing – he quickly turns back to the stove. Something made of lace and satin. “What are you doing up?”

“You were loud,” she says. She takes the cup of hot milk he hands her without comment, and he tries not to look at her in surprise as he settles beside her with one of his own.

“I’ll try to be more quiet in the future,” he says, wincing. Tony sleeps little enough as is, and if he woke her...

“Your dreams,” Emma clarifies as she sips her milk. “Your dreams were loud.”

Steve has a nasty, free falling moment where he can’t remember which set he was having, if he was freezing or hurtling, plunging into the ocean and made her live that with him. It was one of the other ones though, the ones that leave him hot and ashamed and disoriented.

“I could make that go away, you know,” Emma says. She’s staring down into her hot milk like she’s never seen anything like it before, and it takes a minute for her words hit him.

“No!” Steve says, more forcefully than he means it to come out. He’s still getting there – he’s still learning to accept who he is, and that it’s okay for him to – it’s okay if he likes men like that, it’s okay if he is attracted to men, it’s okay if he’s – it’s okay if he’s gay. If he is. “No,” he repeats, skittering back from the table a little bit, like she might already be in his mind and a few inches would make all the difference. “Why would you offer that? I read the news,” he says, up on his feet, pacing, feeling something build inside him. “There are kids being driven to kill themselves for being gay, even in this century. Because they’re told that it’s not okay. But it is. It is okay. There is absolutely nothing wrong with –” Steve stops. Looks down at himself. “It’s okay,” he says, softly. “I have to – I have to go.”

*

He sits up on the roof of the mansion with his bare feet on the shingles and stares at the same city lights Emma is probably staring at. Cold night air seeps through the thin fabric of his pyjama pants, and he wraps his arms around his knees, the tiny hairs of his forearms prickling upright, and he lets himself think about the way Tony’s hands move when he talks, nails lined with grease and skin flecked intermittently with small cuts and healing contact burns. He thinks about Bucky, a bit. About the shell of Tony’s ear. About a beautiful man he saw in Denmark who had a light dusting of freckles and an easy smile. What Tony’s face might look like in the dark, soft with sleep and lit only by the faint blue glow of the arc reactor.

So men, yes. Tony – yes.

He thinks about Tony.

He lets himself think about Tony.

*

Emma is still sitting alone in the kitchen when he walks back in, empty mug sticky from milk between her palms, staring blankly out at the city lights. “I’m okay, ” he says, quietly. His face is numb, skin still raised in goose bumps, and his toes are starting to warm somewhat painfully back to life with pins and needles, a sharp contrast against the warmth that’s starting to grow somewhere in his chest, his heart, his head. “I’m all right, ” he repeats, and he’s not sure if it’s a confirmation or a confrontation or –

“If you’re quite done jumping to conclusions?” Emma asks as she turns to face him. She’d startled a little when he spoke, as if she hadn’t heard or sensed him coming and that’s – that’s a huge flashing sign of something. Her eyes are colder than he’s ever seen them, but he refuses to let them quell the sense of warmth growing inside him. He stares right back at her, shoulders back, and hangs on tight to that one belief, that it is okay. Emma continues to look at him, and something in her face – it doesn’t soften, but it shifts, and she looks so tired, and Steve feels all the righteousness leave his body.

“Who?” he asks as he seats himself gingerly back at the table. Because unlike Tony, Emma actually doesn’t care particularly about what people think about her. What he thinks about her.

She raises an elegant eyebrow. “That, darling, is because I learned eventually that the approval of my family was something that would, in fact, diminish me. ” Her voice is cold and controlled, and Steve thinks she’s baiting him.

"Who?" he repeats, because Emma’s hands are still clutched tightly around the mug. Because not everything is about him.

“My brother,” she says, finally. And Steve wonders – he wonders for a moment if maybe she hasn’t seen anything like that cup of warm milk before, if no one has ever handed her a glass of warm milk when she couldn’t sleep or when she thought there were monsters under the bed. “I was sixteen the first time he tried.”

Steve swallows. “He was – “

She looks up sharply. “He was the only person in my family who really had any sort of intrinsic value as a person, and yes, he was gay.”

Steve feels himself shrink. “So when you offered –”

“I meant the internalized homophobia, yes.”

“You were being nice to me,” he says.

“You’d be hard-pressed to prove it.”

He grins. “You were.”

“If you tell anyone –”

“What, you’ll make me regret it?”

She raises an eyebrow. “If you tell anyone, they’ll never believe you.”

“You’re not very good at it.”

“It’s not a skill I’ve had much call to develop.”

Steve looks down at his interlaced fingers resting on the wooden table. He still remembers the original width of his palms, the slenderness of his knuckles. He forgets sometimes that he’s still growing into himself. That they’re all still growing into themselves, really. He looks up at Emma. “I’m sorry,” he says, and means it as much as he’s ever meant anything. He’s sorry about her brother; he’s sorry about himself; he’s sorry that –

She reaches out to cover his hands with hers. “You really are,” she says, with something in her face that’s almost like wonder. “How remarkable.”

*

The morning paper has a picture of Steve and Emma at the art gallery on the front page. Their heads are inclined ever so slightly in towards each other as they look at a canvas of turquoise and citron swirls; his hand hovers by her lower back and she is toying with one diamond earring. The inset photo is from the battle the other day. Emma is punching the head off of a robot kitten while Steve hides behind a tree. He was actually dodging a series of laser beams, but as presented, it looks like he’s hiding.

Someone – probably Clint, but only because Steve hasn’t seen Pepper – has taped it to the fridge. Someone – almost certainly Clint – has drawn a heart around Emma and Steve and adorned it with frighteningly realistic-looking arrows piercing it. Bruce is standing at the fridge, drawing over the heart with red marker to make one that’s more anatomically accurate.

“Good morning,” Steve says when Tony shambles into the kitchen. “It’s not what it looks like,” he adds with a sigh when he sees Tony blinking at the picture Bruce is doodling on.

“Really?” Tony asks. His voice is only a little sharp, but considering the hour, that’s the equivalent of razor fine.

“Really,” Steve says. Because, the whole maybe-possibly-gay thing aside, Tony can’t really think that Steve would steal his girl, could he? That Steve would be able to steal his girl?

“Of course it’s not,” Tony says. “Why would the great Captain America deign to be involved with someone like us?”

Emma appears out of nowhere (Steve wonders if maybe she’s been taking lessons from Natasha and isn’t that a frightening thought) and flicks Tony across the back of the head. “Be nice,” she says.

“First of all, oww, and second – what the hell? Did Steve infect you with nice? How did that happen?” Tony skitters along in front of her as she glares him down the hall and towards the elevator.

“Wait,” Steve says, staring after them as they disappear.

Bruce caps the pen heavily and opens the fridge. “I can’t believe I’m the only one here who gets treated as less than stable.”

Someone like us? Steve blinks. “Wait, what?”

Bruce shrugs and goes digging through the fridge. “You do all know that I don’t actually have a problem with blueberries, right?”

*

Steve lies flat on his back on his bed with his arms crossed and glares up at the ceiling. Somewhere in the basement lab, something bangs loudly.

He’s trying to have an epiphany here, he really is, but the intermittent banging is making it very difficult. It’s making it difficult for him to finish realigning his worldviews when he keeps being forcibly reminded of what is probably going on in the workshop with Tony and Emma right now. It’s not that he has any problem with the idea of mixing business and pleasure (he might). He supposes that working on electrical upgrades and improved neurological interfaces for days on end must get exhausting. Boring. Something you require a break from. It just seems unprofessional. Which, really, isn’t anything that should surprise him, Steve thinks. It’s just –

“Captain Rogers?” JARVIS’s cool voice asks. “Your vital heart rate and pulse indicate you are experiencing some amount of distress. Is there anything that I can do to assist you?”

Something crashes again, and Steve forces the muscles in his hands to relax out of the fists they had apparently curled themselves into of their own accord. “I’m fine, JARVIS. Thank you.”

“If you’ll pardon the observation, that does not appear to be the case.”

“Thank you, JARVIS,” Steve says through gritted teeth, hoping the AI will get the hint. And he seems to, leaving Steve alone to do something that is definitely not sulking or dwelling for what is either an hour or five minutes.

“Captain Rogers?” JARVIS asks again.

Yes, JARVIS?”

“At Ms. Frost’s request, I have transferred several files to your computer,” JARVIS says. “It consists primarily of security camera footage from the workshop.”

Steve bolts upright. “Wait, what, no. There is no way I should have access to that sort of thing.”

“She believes it will be most illuminating,” JARVIS continues as if Steve hadn’t interrupted. “I must say that I concur.”

“Take it away, JARVIS,” Steve says desperately.

“The files have already been transferred,” JARVIS says. “You may do with them what you wish.”

“JARVIS...”

“Good day, Captain.”

*

Steve has every intention of deleting the files. It’s the only reason he turns on the computer that Tony helpfully installed in his room. The keyboard and mouse are specially reinforced, because at first Steve kept accidentally ending up permanently compressing keys and smooshing the mouse.

He means to throw the files away. He’s really not sure where Emma is coming from on this one. There was no way she hadn’t picked up on how he felt about her boyfriend. Maybe she thought that she was doing him a favour – a glimpse of Tony’s arched back or of his – Steve blushes. If she – if she wanted to introduce him to porn, he was under the impression that the internet was approximately 30% made up out of the stuff. The computer isn’t his favourite part of the 21st century, but he can deal with it. And there were a few places he accidentally wandered into, but.

He starts to delete the files five, ten times. Once he actually drops them into the trash bin before pulling them back out again.

It’s probably a slip of the mouse that opens the largest video.

Okay, that’s a lie. He looks away quickly, fingers laced over his eyes. His face is hot. From his computer’s tiny speakers, he hears Tony say, “Ready to go?”

Emma’s voice is level. “Everything appears to be in order.”

“Safeties?”

“In place.”

“Hopefully this time we’ll have worked out the kinks.”

Emma snorts. “If I get stuck again...”

“No, no, no, we should have enough flexibility this time.”

And then the banging starts.

“Good,” Tony says. “That’s it.”

“Here?”

“To your left and just a little harder.”

It’s... vigorous. Steve can feel himself flush down to the back of his neck. The thoughts that are running through his head are – there’s no way that they’re any more graphic than what’s actually happening on screen, and he lets himself peek up through his interlaced fingers.

It takes him a moment to parse what he’s seeing, even as his hands drop limply to his sides.

Emma, glittering diamond, is punching the Iron Man suit. She appears to be targeting the shoulder joint at the moment, as Tony monitors a string of readouts spilling from the suit and onto a holographic display.

She’s not. They’re not.

Steve feels Emma’s telepathic presence filter into the back of his head, and she laughs, not unkindly.

Which means she was in his head, when.

When he was thinking those thoughts.

When he was thinking those thoughts about Tony.

She laughs as Steve puts his head down and thumps it against his desk.

*

“Tony?” Steve calls. He’s standing at the entrance of the lab, shifting awkwardly on the balls of his feet. JARVIS has assured him that Tony was down here (and had offered that Emma had gone back to Westchester the day before), but he can’t see him.

“Steve?” comes the muffled reply, and Steve sees Tony roll out from underneath something that looks to be somewhere between a car, a plane, a motorbike, and the Batmobile. “Hi?” Tony asks. “What are you doing down here in my den of debauchery?”

“Hi,” Steve says, moving to stand by Tony as he levers himself up and off of the rolling contraption he was laid out flat on. “I just – hi.”

Tony blinks at him. “Hi. Okay.”

“Hi,” Steve repeats, leaning back against Tony’s workbench.

“Yeah, I think we covered that.” Tony’s hands are covered with grease, oil worn into his knuckles and smudged across his forehead. “If you’re looking for Emma, she headed back to the school. Something about how everyone here except Bruce has PTSD and dreams at excruciating volume.”

“I know.” Steve fights the almost overwhelming impulse to check his hair, fiddle with the edge of the plain white shirt that it took him longer to pick out than it probably should have. He blinks. "I thought you were just done."

"And that, but she’s never been one to waste an exit." Tony shrugs. "Bruce and Thor, but apparently, Thor ’dreams in wretchedly alien tongues about battle, blood, and glory.’ Seems all-speak gives her a migraine."

"Oh," Steve says, and tries to remember to focus. Tony’s wearing a stained tank top and old jeans, ripped and faded, worn until they cling to his butt in a way Steve is entirely okay with. “I just wanted. I wanted to apologize.” And that’s not really what he wants to do at all, but it’ll have to do.

Tony cocks his head. “For?” He reaches past Steve for an old rag on the table behind him, clearly expecting Steve to give way. Steve forces himself to stay still, fingers tightening against the cool metal edge of the work bench. Tony has to lean in close to grab the rag, biceps brushing his, breath ghosting over Steve’s neck. The glow of the arc reactor is cast faintly though the thin white fabric of Tony’s tank and across the cotton of Steve’s t-shirt. Tony smells like metal, oil, and old coffee, and Steve doesn’t remember the last time anything smelled that good. He drops his chin a bit as he breathes, fingers digging into the bench in a way he’s pretty sure doesn’t leave dents.

Tony looks at him somewhat strangely as he draws back with the rag and starts wiping down his hands. “Is this one of those apologies where you’re actually trying to reverse psychology me into apologizing myself? Because those are the only type I usually get.”

“No?” Steve offers. Takes a deep breath. It would be so easy to back out now. Say something about not mistrusting Emma after all, or something about how he drank the last of the milk, or – “It’s possible Emma might have picked up some thoughts from me that were not entirely pure.”

Tony laughs. “Steve. She’s a telepath. She dresses herself. That’s kind of the point.”

“No,” Steve says slowly. His fingers tighten on the workbench and this time he knows he feels something give.

“I guarantee you she’s picked up worse. She probably thinks you’re cute,” Tony says, continuing like Steve wasn’t even trying to speak. “I will bet you several million dollars that she has overheard more explicit fantasies involving you just from people in your general vicinity.”

“Not thoughts about her.”

“And that is a bet you will lose because I can personally, 100% guarantee you she has heard worse, because Emma may have more than a passable grasp on electronics, but that doesn’t overcome the lack of knowledge about the Iron Man suit or arc reactor technology, so she’s kind of been living in my head a bit for the last few weeks.”

“Thoughts about you.”

“In fact, if it makes you feel better – you know, that probably doesn’t make you feel better, so um, before this gets awkward I will note that I may be a bit mushier about you, but you are not the only one she has heard me – ” Tony stops. Freezes. Points at Steve. “Wait. Back up here a second. What did you just say?”

Steve’s ears redden, but he refuses to drop Tony’s gaze. “That the thoughts your girlfriend picked up might not have been about her. Weren’t about her.”

Tony’s face is almost blank, slack with shock, and that in and of itself is almost worth the price of admission, Steve thinks. Tony shakes his head. “Okay. Not my girlfriend. No. First, her boyfriend, Cyclops, who happens to be able to shoot force beams from his face, would probably beat me to death with the stick he keeps up his ass. Also, second, given the fact that we had rich, drunken parents with loose morals who ran in the same drunken social circles, there is a non-zero chance that we are related. Third: you know what, I don’t even have a third.”

Which really, is kind of what Steve had been hoping for. Except for some of the details, but. “That is the part of this conversation you’re focussing on?” he asks.

Tony goes to run his hands through his hair, then stops and reaches out to pick up something from another workbench, then paces and just waves his arms widely. “That. I wasn’t sure if that other part actually happened or if I just dreamed it.”

“I understand,” Steve says stiffly, “if it makes you uncomfortable.”

“What? No. Why would it?” Tony stops pacing. “Wait. We are talking about the same thing right now, right? You are saying that you, Captain America, have had thoughts about me that are less than pure.”

Steve nods, stiffly. “Yes.” He can feel the heat coming off of his face, but he refuses to back down.

Tony takes a step towards him. “And by less than pure, you mean of a sexual nature, correct?”

Steve can feel his ears and the back of his neck flush. “Yes,” he says, and he lets his gaze wander significantly down Tony’s body. By the time his eyes get back up to Tony’s face, Tony’s looking at him with something soft in his eyes, something that he flickers aside when Steve meets his eyes again. It’s still there, but it’s like Tony feels the need to sweep it aside so it’s not visible. Steve thinks it’s something he might enjoy teasing out again and again.

Tony steps in towards him again, giving Steve time to react, to move away, but Steve stays where he is as Tony’s thighs brush up against his, as Tony reaches out slowly with grease-stained hands to rest them against Steve’s sides, pressing dark handprints against the fabric. “You know that I’m not a very good prospect, right?” Tony asks. “I mean, you saw how things went with Pepper.”

“Tony?” Steve says. “Be quiet.” Because Steve’s not an idiot, really, and he knows what he’s getting into. Or he has a good idea, anyway. “I’ve thought about it.” He’s thought about it a lot, and standing here with Tony’s hands warm against his side, knees touching, he’s pretty sure.

“So,” Tony says. “The thoughts I’m having right now? Not entirely pure.”

Steve leans forward until his face is scant inches from Tony’s, breath gusting against his cheek. Presses his lips to the shadowed stubble at the corner of Tony’s jaw. “I’d certainly hope not,” Steve says, a weight somewhere deep in his chest releasing as Tony laughs into him.

EPILOGUE

Something bangs down in the basement. Steve winces automatically, shoulders drawing up a little tight before he makes them relax back down. Tony was gone when Steve woke this morning, later than he’d like, but on less sleep. Tony is down in the basement with Emma doing a second round of stress tests on armour upgrades. Something crashes again, and Steve feels himself flinch.

“I’ve been meaning to ask, ” Clint says. “Why do you keep twitching like that? ”

“Seriously? ” Steve asks, because while he really doesn’t expect anyone to have had the same reaction as he did, it’s still loud noises! People with super human reflexes! “Doesn’t the random crashing coming from the basement at intermittent intervals ever startle anyone else? ”

The breakfast table is silent. He can hear the soft creak of paper as Scott Summers, who had apparently turned up with Emma, flip a page in his newspaper.

“… No? ” Natasha offers.

Bruce looks up from his yogurt. “You’re aware that the basement is soundproofed, right? ” he asks.

Steve blinks. “But! The banging. ”

Thor looks at him in some concern. “What banging? ”

Somewhere in his head, someone laughs. Steve sighs, and puts his head down on the table. It’s a position he’s starting to get used to.

“Don’t worry, ” Scott says, idly. “You get used to it. Do you want the entertainment section? ”

“I’ll take the sports section if you’re done with it, ” Steve says, forehead still resting on the table.

This century, he thinks.

That would be a rather more convincing thought, Emma says inside his head, if you didn’t exhibit such a blatantly noisome love for it.

Forehead still resting on the table, Steve shakes his head, because he kind of does.

Something crashes again. Out of the corner of his vision, he sees Bruce startle slightly, and Steve narrows his eyes in suspicion. Bruce smiles guiltily and looks away.

Most days, anyway.