Officially, the Avengers were the ones who fought the foes no single superhero could withstand. But, as far as unofficial Avengers mantras went, expect the unexpected was high on the list of contenders.
But even Steve wouldn't have reckoned he'd ever have found himself here, sprinting bare-naked across the Savage Land clutching an also-very-much-nude-save-for-one-repulsor-gauntlet Tony Stark in a bridal carry while being chased by a rampaging Tyrannosaurus Rex.
To be fair, the expedition had started off innocently enough.
“'You don't get into the Savage Land without crashing'? We'll see about that.” Tony inclined his head as he tipped the nose of the quinjet down. “You strapped in?”
“We didn't crash last time. Not unless you're going to count the quinjet being crushed by a T-Rex as crashing,” Steve said, squeezing the upholstery of the back of he pilot seat.
“Steve,” Tony intoned. “Do you have your seat belt on?”
Steve whirled back around to take a seat, threading his arms through and clicking the buckle. “Yes.” He had the sudden urge to add a dear at the end. That must be Peter's influence.
“Right. But anyway, I would hope Earth's mightiest had technology that could at least handle Earth's best from millions of years ago.”
“You didn't take me along to test our jet against a dinosaur, did you?” Steve asked, attempting for appalled but probably coming off more as amused.
“Of course not. That would be impractical. But you've got to see, this is not the same jet we flew in the last time.” Like a switch had been flipped, Tony proceeded to launch into an increasingly impassioned spiel concerning that upgrades to the new quinjets that had very little to do with flight stabilizers and much more to do with structural components that might, say, help the quinjet withstand the concentrated force of a five ton creature's foot.
A smile tugged at Steve's lips as he watched Tony go. Of course, Tony likely didn't actually intend to goad some of the most dangerous inhabitants of the Savage Land into attacking them. It wasn't like he went around picking fights with the same villains who compromised his armor right after the fact. Steve could guess at his friend's thought process: notice something lacking, and, at the very first opportunity, repair and upgrade the technology, and, now that he had to test out the improvements, the initial place of failure seemed a good bet. So it was off to the Savage Land they went. It was a very...Tony thing to do, and Steve couldn't help but chuckle.
“Hey, what's so funny?” Tony asked.
“It's nothing,” Steve said quickly. While Tony hummed a little in acknowledgment, Steve took his chance, something like hope growing and churning in his chest. “Why'd you ask me to come along, by the way? I couldn't really give you much input other than how comfortable these seats are – ” they could probably stand to be improved – “unless you plan on letting me test run an emergency landing and get me to parachute out of here.”
“Nonsense, your input is always valuable.” Tony paused. “And, well, considering quinjets were made for transport, it didn't seem right to go on my own, so I figured I'd ask an Avenger along. But Luke and Wolverine would get bored, Spider-Man would be too annoying, and Spider-Woman would be too distracting, if you get what I mean.”
That something in Steve withered and died a slow death. “So my qualifications are that I'm not annoying.” Not attractive, either. “And I take interest in your work?”
“Or you feign it well. And that's why you're my favorite.” Tony beamed at him, bright, and whatever was in Steve's chest stuttered.
At least he was number one somewhere in Tony's heart, Steve tried to reassure himself as he leaned back against the seat, tipping his head back and closing his eyes.
The next few moments passed in silence, until the slight turbulence of descent was suddenly punctuated with a sickening lurch. The force threw Steve forward, but the chair straps held him in place; he would have ended up on the other side of the quinjet if he hadn't been buckled in.
“Tony?” He reached over to tug the shield to himself.
“I'm on it,” Tony called out. “Stay put!” It felt like the inside of the quinjet was bouncing now – Steve couldn't even get his footing although he was held in place in his seat.
“These readings are – ” Tony's voice was strained. “It's like we've gotten ourselves stuck in a magnetic force field. They're impossible!”
“You did say we were going to the Savage Land!” The exact type of place where this sort of thing happened on a daily basis. Steve brought the shield up and held it against his chest.
“This sort of thing can't happen!” Tony shouted, like if he tried hard enough, logic could be wielded against the reality of the bind they'd found themselves in.
Steve's stomach dropped out of him as the quinjet took a sharp, almost vertical dive. The drop was interspersed with loud crunching noises, the trees of the forest no match against Stark tech.
“Watch yourself, Tony!” he called out, as he grimaced and braced for the impact.
“The one time we could have laughed down anything the Savage Land threw at us, and as it turns out, the X-Men just had to have their most recent blowout yesterday. The worst kind that turn physics inside-out. Why need a magnet, when you can just have the fancy field by itself?” Tony put his hands on his hips. Steve's natural inclination was to follow the movement of his hands, which was a mistake. Steve couldn't help but sweep his eyes down discreetly over Tony's body, over the musculature that, thanks to the hazards of the occupation, he had seen before but never had time to admire.
As their luck demanded, their crash landing had ended in a swamp. A murky, alarming-shade-of-green, swamp that, by all rights, shouldn't have been there. To top it off, they discovered, dragging themselves onto shore dripping wet, that it had had been filled with some sort of corrosive liquid. That probably made it one of A.I.M.'s abandoned projects, Tony had declared, and that meant off their uniforms and everything underneath had come off.
Which left them here, standing around, naked, with nothing of the villainous sort around to demand their attention. Which was exactly the moment that Steve's mind helpfully supplied him with some ways they could occupy their time. He tore himself from those fantasies, and willed himself to stare at the quinjet, half of it visible above the surface of the unsightly liquid, the swamp too shallow to swallow it up.
“I hate magic,” Tony declared soundly, drawing Steve's attention back to his face.
Which left it to Steve to be the reassuring one. “We're both safe and there are no villains around who are trying to kill us.” At least, as far as they knew. “Plus the Avengers have been alerted. ” Steve reached out slowly to place a hand on Tony's shoulder. Tony snorted, but returned Steve's hesitant smile. He didn't shrug off Steve's hand, either, which Steve had honestly been expecting.
“I don't know if we'll be safe for long, considering our current...condition. Imagine everything that could end up on us like this.” Tony made a face. “If only I'd taught any of the Avengers how to pilot one of those things, we could get out here in half the time,” Tony huffed, following his gaze. “Now we have to wait around for Carol to get to New York first before we can get picked up.”
Tony's eyes were hooded, mouth pulled tight in a frown. It wasn't like Steve hadn't seen Tony troubled before, but here and now, it was the last thing he wanted to see. He stirred, and, decision reached, raised his arms, punctuating his stretch with a loud yawn.
“Well, I don't plan on sitting here and pouting. We can go see if we can find anything useful around.” Not that they really needed shelter, or things to make a fire, or anything that one would need if one were staying any longer than a few hours here. (Well, considering here was the Savage Land, they needed weapons, but the shield was intact and one repulsor gauntlet had been spared.)
Tony stared at him, expression guarded and calculating, until something clicked and he grinned hard, eyes twinkling. “I'm not pouting,” he finally said, as he turned on his heel and made his way over to the pile of his armor and Steve's uniform.
“Hmm,” Tony bent over – Steve immediately averted his eyes – and fiddled with the gauntlet still on his hand. “With this still here, I can lead us back.” He tapped at the side of his head. “Or tell if anything comes around here, although I don't know what would wander around and not consider it a giant trash heap.”
Steve nodded, slinging his own shield over his shoulder.
“Have you outgrown our strolls in Central Park, Steve?” Tony teased a bit as they began their walk, which meant he knew exactly what Steve was up to.
As for the question – Steve never would have, and right now he would really much have preferred to be in Central Park, fully clothed, stepping out of the mansion with Tony to grab a hot dog, instead of naked and damp from humidity and in very close proximity to a Tony in similar straits.
Which is how Steve ended up pointing out an odd-looking rock formation as a distraction. Tony unexpectedly took to the topic like a bee to honey. Steve hadn't even been quite sure whether rocks had a proper shape, but Tony sure knew so.
But that was how their trek turned into Tony dragging Steve from Point A to Point B, his mouth a motor as he waved his bare hand around, explaining to Steve the impossibility of the phenomenon there. Steve wasn't quite sure which of them were due to magic, or due to them being in, well, the Savage Land.
It took Steve a while to realize, as they wandered along, their original intent of finding something useful completely forgotten, just how much he was laughing and smiling. It was definitely the most since – well, the the most since the time the mansion still stood. Thinking of those memories was usually enough to dampen his mood. Now, it just made him look to his side, at Tony's profile, and realize how lucky he was to have this again.
They were in the middle of the Savage Land, bare-naked, stranded and waiting for retrieval, and doing nothing of real import. Steve found he didn't really mind. In fact, Steve found he could stand to have more of this. Much more of this, for as long as he could imagine.
Steve's mouth went dry as he looked at Tony – his upper half, Steve'd gotten very good at being careful with his eyes in the past half-hour or so. Something was telling him, wanted him to go ahead, get out with it already –
Tony whirled around, and Steve nearly jumped. “Something's at the quinjet, and it doesn't look good,” Tony said, dashing past him.
By the time they ran back to the swamp, they were treated to the sight of a flock of birds poking at their uniforms. There was a pause to regain themselves at the wrongness of the sight, because – right. Those weren't birds. This was the Savage Land, and they weren't the size of the ones in the movies, but those were definitely pterodactyls.
“Hey!” Tony shouted, running forward and waving his arms at them, his repulsor gauntlet momentarily forgotten. Spurred into action, Steve threw the shield instead, hoping to frighten them off. Dinosaurs were fearless or really stupid, because that didn't faze them, but Tony knew to duck.
One of the pterodactyls broke from the group, a repulsor gauntlet clutched in its feet.
Tony aimed and fired. The pterodactyl changed direction at the last moment, avoiding the blast and swooping away with its prize. Tony swore loudly, to which the rest of the pterodactyls scattered, their cries making Steve's ears ring as he caught the shield.
“How did that work?” Tony yelled as he turned. “Steve, that bird-brained reptile just took my – ” He paused as they both heard the footstep. One, two, three more in quick succession, and that must have been enough distance to clear a good distance –
Steve turned around slowly. The T-Rex had spotted them by now, and it gulped, saliva dripping from its mouth. It tilted its head inquisitively, in the way that told of wondering how these strange creatures in front of it would taste for dinner.
Steve took in their situation – he could manage a fight without getting hurt, but all Tony had was a gauntlet. He turned, scooped Tony up under the knees, fixing an arm around his back, and took off in a full sprint.
“What the – hey!” Tony protested, beating at the shield on Steve's back with his free hand. “Put me down!”
That was never happening, not when the chase had already begun. Steve heard the roar as the T-Rex began pursuit.
“Cover me, Iron Man!” Steve shouted instead. Like clockwork, Tony reached over his shoulder and began shooting off blasts. There was a squawk-roar of pain.
Steve bounded off, dodging between the trees. The discomfort of running so – exposed – it didn't matter. He shifted Tony higher up on his chest.
“There is no way we have come this far together only to become lizard food!” Tony shouted, and that was it. No matter how far they had to keep this up, Steve would never let himself let go of this man.
He was so intent on his footwork, it took Tony palming Steve's face to grab his attention. Way too much of his attention, as Tony's thumb swept over Steve's lip, and Steve nearly stumbled after leaping over a log in his path.
“Tony?” His mouth was parched.
“We can't keep running forever. We have to turn around!” To punctuate the words, there was a loud roar, and a large crack as the log snapped.
“What?” Steve shouted. “Why would we do that?”
“We have to get back to the quinjet! I've thought of a way to throw it off our tail! Trust me!”
Steve did, so he circled around the next tree in an arc. It couldn't be too wide of one, though, lest they get cut off. These creatures might have had small brains, but they made up for it with a hunter's instinct.
There was something to be said for being nimble, which, when it came to these lumbering beasts, still applied to a Steve lugging around an extra two hundred pounds of muscle. Steve lowered his head as a tail flew over their heads, his hearing momentarily dulled by the force of the air.
“Circle the swamp and go up in the trees from there!” Tony squeezed his shoulder when they came in view of their landing site.
“That'll cut down on our lead – ”
That turned Steve's path, not straight through the clearing, but in a circle around the edge of the swamp, toward where the quinjet was half-submerged.
Their dinosaur didn't care about the relatively shallow swamp, stomping through it and – a loud, jarring noise rang through the air, followed by a resounding crash. Tony's arms wrapped around Steve's neck as Steve knelt down behind a tree, shielded from the splash.
By the time things had settled, the T-Rex had landed on its side, legs working in an attempting to keep running, feet pushing uselessly into the water. It looked like a very pathetic attempt to paddle, almost enough to make Steve pity it.
He nearly dropped Tony as Tony pushed up, pumped a fist. “The quinjet held up!” Tony shouted gleefully. “I told you those upgrades would work!”
True to form, the quinjet really didn't look damaged at all. That was when it dawned on Steve that Tony's plan had been to turn a multi-million dollar aircraft into the most expensive banana peel ever. He didn't know whether to laugh or kiss Tony.
“Okay, stop feeling bad for the thing nearly about to eat us,” Tony said, looking at Steve's expression, “and keep on running. Preferably that-a-way, before it gets back on its feet.”
Steve, with an inkling that Tony had become accustomed to being carried around surprisingly quickly, headed in the direction Tony pointed him in.
“We'll need to meet up with the Avengers outside of the range of the magnetic field before we go back to retrieve our things, anyway,” Tony said offhandedly as they picked their way through the forest, his directions oddly specific. As the adrenaline died down, Steve grew more and more uncomfortably aware of just how intimate this entire affair was. He tried not to think of how much warm bare skin was on bare skin. He tried not to think of how Tony hadn't asked to be put down.
Instead, he followed Tony's directions, which eventually led them to a cave. Shelter would be a good idea, Steve mused, although he wasn't sure how Tony had known the exact location to direct him in.
Tony squirmed out of Steve's grip. Steve, caught off-guard, looked at Tony, all of him, and suddenly wished Tony hadn't been asked to be put back down.
“Well, we found my other gauntlet,” Tony declared, answering Steve's question. Steve followed his gaze up, and there it was, gleaming dully on a jutting of the cliffside. It was shoved between clumps of foliage and with an assortment of knick-knacks (was that a red visor?), in an arrangement that looked just like...
“It's a nest.” Steve said, having scrambled up the wall to fish it out. He dropped it below him into Tony's hand. “They probably took it for decoration, then.”
Tony was staring strangely at his gauntlet. “So they went after our uniforms because – huh. Pterodactyls like shiny things. Who knew?”
Steve nearly fell off the cliffside, but settled for sliding down quickly.
“Tony,” Steve giggled as he reached the ground, doubling over and letting out an embarrassing guffaw. Once he started, he couldn't stop, the rings of laughter echoing through the air.
“It wasn't that funny, Steve,” Tony said, but he was grinning too, trying to cover his face.
“Tony, what part of this whole thing wasn't that funny?” Steve meant to say, but it came out garbled, his puffs of breath making the words impossible to distinguish. He grabbed his stomach instead, burying his forehead in the dirt as he laughed harder.
“Rogers, get into the damn cave before everything within five miles hears us,” Tony said, shooting a repulsor into the cave. Nothing came out, so he dragged Steve in behind him. It wasn't that Steve wasn't willing, it was that he had to use the side of the cave as support as he entered, laughter now borne out into small chuckles as he resorted to gasping for breath.
Eventually he slid down the cave wall, the cold ground shocking the last of the delirious spell away. He felt Tony settle down next to him, and they sat there, nothing but contemplative silence in the cool darkness.
“Just imagine how many hits that could have gotten. There's a lot of money in that: Captain America in his birthday suit caught in the middle of a hysterical giggle fit.” Tony let out a soft chuckle. “It's probably not the most common a fantasy a Cap fan would have, but who's to say anything when I've had stranger.” Tony tipped his head back with a smile, which quickly slid off.
Steve's heart felt like it had stopped.
“I wonder what kind of fantasies an Iron Man fan would have!” Tony suddenly said brightly, punctuated with a high, nervous laugh. “Maybe a half-armored thing going on? They'll be just like those things out there, wanting some shiny things for their collection.”
“Well, I think I'd want some, too, then.” The words came out before Steve could stop them, but – no. He had decided this back during their walk, and now he couldn't take the sentiments back.
Tony stared at him, and Steve tried to stare back evenly, aware that a blush was starting to rise on his cheeks. Tony shuffled toward him, until they really couldn't get that much closer without at least jostling knees.
“Forgive me if I'm reading this wrong.”
Steve gulped. “You really aren't,” he finally said, and Tony leaned forward and kissed him.
It was light at first, a tentative press of lips. When Steve pushed forward, letting his hand grip Tony's hair, Tony moaned, and it was nothing but heavy then, deep and thick and overwhelming.
Steve had touched Tony before, and often, but it was when he was armored, with the coolness of the armor a comfort of familiarity. This – this was nothing like it. He was too aware of how alive Tony felt, how much life and warmth there was, and how new it all felt. Places he'd never explored, things he'd never done to someone he'd known and loved for so long. Steve exhaled sharply as he broke the kiss.
“Tony,” he mumbled, his head a dizzy rush of sensation. He couldn't stop smiling, the dazed look on Tony's face flooding him with warmth.
Steve leaned over Tony, kissing him again. This one was slower, less needy, if the last one had been him jumping into the deep end, this one was like a slow descent into the waves washing over him.
This time, Tony was the one who broke the kiss.
“I lied.” Tony said abruptly as they stared at each other. “You're definitely too distracting.”
The daze snapped with that, and Steve buried his face in the crook of Tony's shoulder, smiling harder.
“Well, then this has got to be the worst first date on record,” Tony mumbled distractedly.
“Being alone together, out in nature?” Steve rubbed his cheek against Tony's shoulder. “It sounds kind of charming to me.”
“Good in theory. Didn't pass the testing phase.”
Steve got up, looking down at Tony, thought on it. They were naked and sweaty for reasons no normal person could have guessed, taking refuge in a cave from dinosaurs. On the other hand, neither of them had tried to kill the other, or proposed marriage before knowing each others' names.
And most importantly, he couldn't stop grinning and Tony had a fond look in his eyes that Steve never could have believed he could have put there.
“I don't know about that,” Steve finally said, leaning over and smiling into their next kiss.