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"Oh." Tony looks at his - Steve's - hands and then back up at the sky. "He wasn't kidding. I hate magic." The last is a muttered complaint, and he has to wince at how wrong Steve's voice sounds when it's petty.

Up in the sky, still locked in battle, there's Loki, there's the Hulk holding onto one of his ankles, and there's the rest of the Avengers.

"Guys?" He tries, clears his throat, and tries to remember how and where Captain America works his communicator. It takes some seconds of fiddling, then he's on the team's channel. "Loki cast a spell or something and I'm actually Iron Man down here, can someone catch Cap before he breaks my suit?"

"Fantastic," comes Hawkeye's voice, "Captain America's learned to tell jokes." His tone is the 'please be joking' one, and Tony doesn't blame him.

"I'm not joking," he says, and even from the distance he can see Loki clap his hands together, clearly delighted.

"You two weren't getting along," and they weren't, they were arguing over the best way to take down Loki (it's been a bad day for Tony, one where he's been willing to ignore Steve's 'stop talking and focus, we're in the middle of a fight!' warnings) and Loki's smug as he says the rest of it. "You'll thank me later."

"Brother," says Thor, and Tony misses the rest of whatever Thor says in the chaos of having to run and duck as the Hulk is thrown into a building above him. Rubble rains down and for a moment he stares up at it, raising an arm, then has to spring into action: he can't fire repulsor beams, and he'll be flattened if he doesn't get out of the way.

It's a terrifying thought, the one that occurs to him as he hefts Captain America's shield above his head: he's actually vulnerable down here, shield or no shield, and the light-weight armor he's got on is nowhere near as comprehensive as his own Iron Man suit is.

"Where's Iron Man," comes over the comm, and Tony jerks his head up, looking out from under the shield, all too aware that trying to fly - or anything in his suit - without knowing how to will inevitably lead to a crash.

It's faster this time, to shift channels on the comm to a private one with Iron Man, and he stays crouched under the shield so he can focus on the conversation.

"Steve?" He asks, pushing away fear or discomfort: he sounds exactly like Steve does when he's concerned, and he knows it's Steve's voice, but there should be dissonance, a reminder that he's not who he's wearing. "Where are you? The sooner we can get you down and out of there the better - "

"Tony, is that you?"

"Where are you?" Tony repeats, staying calm.

"I'm," there's a pause, and Tony imagines Steve looking around, unaware that he can pull up GPS or anything that Tony uses to keep track of his location while fighting, "I crashed," Steve says finally. "And I'm afraid to move in case I accidentally fire the repulsors again."

Tony opens his mouth to tell him not to twitch, but actually? That's a good idea. If Cap stays put, they can collect him and get him out without hassle.

"Okay, okay, good. I've let the team know Loki swapped us, and I think.." He ducks his head out from behind the shield, scanning the sky. Nothing. Huh. That's not worrying at all. "I think they're fine, let me find out - "

"Tell me how to at least move around," Steve says.

"I can't, almost everything in the suit is based on twitches and subtle movements I can't teach you right now, so stay put before you hurt someone." Tony stops for a moment to be pleased with himself, because that was the perfect serious Captain America voice, and if he's lucky it'll get through to Steve.

"If anyone is harmed because we're out of commission - "

"There's nothing we can do about it right now." Tony stops. "Steve? I made a mistake. Tell Jarvis to activate contingency plan two point sixteen."

"What does that do?"

"I think I see Thor, bye," Tony says, changing to the team-wide channel. He waits, listening for - for anything, but there's nothing.

"That's reassuring," he mutters. "Cap, are you listening?" He's probably not, because changing comm channels isn't something he does with his hands in the suit and he'd gotten more zealous about preventing Jarvis from having complete control over the armor. (That session of programming had been 'Jarvis, do you need this function to drive me home or shut me down? No? Then you can't touch it.' because it never hurt to be paranoid in this business.)

There's still nothing over the comm, only an eery silence.

"Right..." He mutters, and makes his way out of the area, watching as Iron Man finally emerges from the building up above and heads home.

If the Avengers aren't here, and if Loki's gone too, then he really doesn't need to stick around.

---

Steve, unsurprisingly, is furious when Tony finally arrives at his workshop.

"I stopped to get out of that costume, can you blame me?" Tony asks, propping the shield up against a workbench. "I'll take that as a yes."

Okay, he'd neglected to tell Steve that contingency plan 2.16 not only brought the armor home, it also locked whoever was inside in unless they had a verbal password and happened to be Tony Stark, and it was mean of him to enjoy locking Steve in the armor for an hour while Fury got his report and he changed out of the uniform.

Horrible of him, really, but - he shuts down that line of thought, all too aware that Steve keeps looking for Howard in him and that he doesn't help, because the only language he can seem to speak around Steve is asshole.

"You can let him out now, Jarvis," Tony says, and the passcode, and he watches as the armor is removed, piece by piece.

So that's what he looks like when he's spitting mad. Good to know. He'll deal with how weird it is to look at himself later, and crosses his arms, waiting for Steve to say something.

The last of the armor is removed, and Steve still hasn't said anything, not yet. He works his jaw, and Tony imagines everything that will probably be said, except for what is actually said:

"Where's the rest of the team?"

"Fury thinks Loki kidnapped them." Tony raises his hands in a shrug. "We're the only Avengers left, and neither one of us is up for a rescue mission, so he let me come back here."

He can see the frustration coiled up in the tension of his body, and jerks his eyes away, waiting for Steve to say whatever heroic thing he'll say next. He's been nearly forced into the Avengers, but even in the short time they've all been fighting together, he's still had time to learn to expect Captain America to say something self-sacrificing and heroic if the situation needs a hero.

It's annoying, is what it is.

"I need a crash course in how to use your armor."

"No." He doesn't need to think about it. Steve flying his armor? No. Touching his armor? Absolutely not. Over his dead body, and if they're permanently stuck like this he can arrange that.

"You can't refit the armor to fit yourself in a day, and we need to start looking for the others now." Steve lifts his chin. "You won't want me to risk injuring your body."

It's true and they both know it. Tony meets his eyes for as long as he can, which isn't long at all.

"I'm not going to pretend I can fight like you can." He should have left Steve locked up in the armor.

He watches himself cross the room and pick up the shield, and winces at the thought of himself wearing that silly costume. (And shoots down the twinge of excitement at the idea, because a long time ago he admired Captain America, but that was before he met Steve Rogers.)

"With or without your help I'm going to find them," Steve says. "The question you need to answer, Stark, is how much injury you want me to risk in the process."

Because without the armor he's just a man. Right. Tony glares, and wants to say something cutting, but the truth of the situation is: he knows Steve means what he says.

"I can probably cook up a simplified interface," Tony says, cautiously. "But you're going to need to learn how to fly."

"What does that involve?"

"You're about to learn more about Iron Man than I'm comfortable telling," Tony says, "So let me make this clear: You're only getting away with it because I like Thor." In other words: because of circumstances. Because he cares about his hide. Not because it's you.

Steve nods, and Tony already hates how Steve's holding his body, hates how the body language is all wrong there. He's recognizing Steve's expressions on his face, and - at least anger doesn't look entirely wrong, like this grudging acceptance does.

"Where do we start?" Steve asks, setting the shield back down again, and abruptly it's all too much for Tony. He's looking down at Steve, which isn't fair because it's only a few inches.

"With coffee and telling Jarvis to look into their locations, obviously." Tony says, grabbing at the way out, and hurries to do that, to get some distance before he loses it and tries to throttle Steve.

---

Coffee is awful. Eating is awful. Everything is awful and Tony's never wanted to be back in his own skin this much before in his life.

Steve's appetite is huge, which makes sense what with his metabolism, but Tony personally feels somewhat sick after eating that many sandwiches.

Then there are his hands, which he keeps spotting and he's still not used to thinking of them as his hands. They're calloused, weirdly nimble for how big Steve's fingers are, and Tony keeps catching himself staring at them, bending and flexing his fingers as if he's never seen a pair of hands before in his life.

Leaving aside the problems with using the restroom and the fact that none of his clothes fit him now, which are big enough problems on their own, there's still the looming prospect of being stuck this way, the nightmare-inducing thought of waking up every morning as Captain America.

It's awful and wrong, and Tony grudgingly makes the trek back to his workshop, because he gets it. He's not stupid, and the point is: everything is weird and unsettling, and Tony would like very much to test out Steve's muscles on Loki, and to do that he's probably (definitely) going to have to teach Steve how to fly.

---

Before he can explain this line of logic to Steve, Steve makes things worse by showing that he's thinking along the same lines.

"If we want to be swapped back," Steve starts when Tony comes into view, "Then we need to be able to face Loki."

Tony raises an eyebrow. "That's obvious."

Steve opens his mouth, closes it, and Tony should help him out, except he doesn't want to show Steve the armor.

"We should spar," Steve says.

There are thousands of reasons why that's a bad idea. There are a handful of even better reasons for why it's a good idea. All Tony can think about, however, are the really bad reasons.

"I am not sparring with you."

"We need to be sure you can handle my reflexes." It's practical, too, which makes it worse, and Tony doesn't want to concede to this point.

"You're learning to fly first," he evades, and knows that expression: Steve's holding back a sigh.

"Fine."

---

He gives Steve a spare pair of jet boots and gauntlets, stands pretty far back, and tells Jarvis to start with one percent thrust capacity.

"One percent?" Steve asks, and then he's wobbling in the air, already going to do the wrong things with his hands -

"Cut the power!" Tony calls, quickly, before Steve can hurt himself.

He comes over to steady Steve before he falls on his ass, then pinches his nose. Deep breaths. Calm. He can't arrange for an 'over his dead body' or coincidence as much as he wants to.

"Keep your palms facing down and out, or you'll burn yourself or damage my mechanics. You don't want to damage my mechanics, do you?"

"You could have warned me," Steve says, and Tony hears that note of indignation.

"You've seen me fly how many times?"

"I never expected that I'd need to copy the motions," Steve says dryly. "You're going to have trouble handling my shield because of the same problem."

"I'm not going to have any trouble with the shield," Tony says, and stops himself before he even begins to finish that thought. "That's beside the point," he says instead, because he can't resist arguing, and can't resist needling Steve. "Iron Man is awesome, and you should have been watching me fly."

"Are there any other unpleasant surprises you aren't telling me about?" Steve asks, and Tony tells himself not to be grateful that he's not mentioning the shield.

"Five percent thrust is enough to give you an injury on the ceiling," Tony says, going for cheerful instead of irritation. "And if you want back in the full armor, you're going to have to learn to control the output automatically. If you're good, you'll be used to it after a week or two of practice."

"Tony?"

"We could stop now. Leave things up to SHIELD."

"Tony."

"If it's going to be too much for you, you'd better quit before you hurt yourself," Tony says, which is advice he never takes.

The next moment is very confusing, because he didn't consent to any of it: Steve reaches out, to do what Tony doesn't know (punch him? grab his shoulder?) and Steve's body has reflexes when he's feeling threatened and suddenly he's throwing Steve over his shoulder and whirling around, arms raised.

"That...wasn't supposed to happen," he says, watching as Steve slowly climbs back up off the floor.

"Reflexes," Steve says, and shakes his head. "I'm fine."

"If any of that's broken - "

"You threw me."

"That wasn't me! That was your body, I didn't consent to that!"

They stare at each other, Steve in the flying gear and Tony discovering he can do judo throws without thinking about it, and then Tony's laughing, great big helpless laughs at how absurd it all is.

Steve probably thinks he's crazy, but it doesn't matter, and anyways it takes a few minutes before Tony can stop.

"Ready for another go?" Tony says instead of addressing the curiosity he can read in Steve's face. "One percent again, Jarvis, hit it."

"Tony - " Steve says, but he keeps his hands down, and wobbles in the air - but not as badly as Tony remembers from his initial attempts. Reflexes, he explains to himself, and hms.

"Raise that to two percent," he says, and ignores the glare Steve sends him. "You can handle it, believe me. Stay off the cars and the workbenches, got it?"

---

He can't decide if he's proud of his body or not when Steve gets the hang of it within hours instead of days.

---

"I made the armor to be responsive, and if you want a chance at using it today, you're going to have to live without some functions, Rogers."

"Which functions?"

"Most of them," Tony says, stabbing at the keyboard. "You wouldn't know what half the scanners would do, let alone be able to use their readouts, and I am going to kill Loki and skin him, I can't believe I have to dumb down Iron Man for some star-spangled nitwit - Um." He looks up at Steve, guiltily. "I didn't mean to say a lot of that. And in my defense, it's been a long day."

Steve says nothing, which prompts Tony to go on, which is a bad idea but he talks anyways.

"You're losing most of the missile launchers and the shoulder-mounted antipersonnel cannons, internet access - tell Jarvis if you need to look something up, I'm giving him some control back - not much, just enough to help you out - and basically you'll be able to fly, work the communicator, and shoot repulsor beams. And one of the missile launchers, but I'm reconfiguring that so it's harder to fire on accident." He pauses. "If we need anything I'm leaving out, we're screwed, but I don't see much of a choice here."

"Is there any news on where Loki might have gone?" Steve asks, after a minute, and Tony shakes his head.

"Nothing. Not unless SHIELD's found something and they aren't letting us in on it, which is likely, but I'll hack their servers when we're done here and check."

Tony pauses. That's something else he probably shouldn't have said, but too late now.

"We still need to spar," Steve says after a too long pause, and Tony stops mid-motion.

"I could accidentally kill you," which isn't something he ever wanted to admit, but it's true. Steve will be expecting faster reflexes and a longer reach, and Tony doesn't know if he could stop himself if a lethal reflex kicked in.

That is to say: how does Steve handle it? Tony doesn't think it's the kind of self-control he can learn in an afternoon.

"I haven't forgotten how to fight," Steve says. "We've had several hours to adjust to this already."

"I don't want to." It's petty, and he doesn't look at Steve, returning to work on the modifications on Iron Man's program.

A hand lands on his shoulder, and he tenses but keeps working.

"Stark," the hand tightens its grip, "Our teammates are in danger. This is no time to behave like a spoiled child."

"You just want a chance to punch me, don't you?" Tony asks, continuing to type. "That's what this is about. I can see right through you."

"I do not want a chance to punch you."

Tony shakes his head, and when he looks Steve is furious again, clearly frustrated, and Tony wants to offer him a pat on the shoulder and a reminder that he doesn't play well with others.

"Get up, Stark."

Tony raises an eyebrow, but to his surprise he gets up too. It's something about the tone, he thinks, something that makes it difficult not to leap to attention, even though he's no soldier.

"We don't have time for this," Steve says. "I'm just as unhappy with the situation as you are." There's the unspoken judgement there, something Tony can't meet with anything other than anger.

"We'll spar, then," Tony says, stepping around Steve. "I'd like a chance to punch you."

---

It's easier than it should be to punch his face in.

Steve's good - very good - but Tony was right, and he's still assuming his reach is longer than it actually is, and while Tony doesn't have half the skill Steve does, he's armed with reflexes, the perfect body, and he doesn't hesitate to hit.

Tony watches Steve climb back to his feet, thinks briefly that he's going to be a giant aching bruise whenever he switches back, and raises his fists again.

"You're pulling punches," he says, because it's true. "Too scared to hurt this face?"

"I'm trying to relearn the form, not hurt you - " Steve starts, then breaks off, giving Tony a long stare. "Are you trying to injure me?"

"It's training."

"I wouldn't have thought you'd be able to..."

"Punch myself?" Tony finishes the sentence. "It's my face. I'll be fine, I'll take painkillers tomorrow."

"You don't need to aim for the face," Steve points out, reasonably, rubbing at his cheek.

"What if I want to?" Tony says, and regrets saying it almost immediately. The problem with Steve is that he's sharp, and while he'll probably take it as an insult...

"You're that determined to keep us grounded while the Avengers are in trouble."

There's that, too.

"No?"

Steve's expression changes from realization to anger to disappointment, and Tony doesn't have to take this, doesn't have to face that too-familiar expression (on the wrong face, on - ) and it's easy, too easy, to cross the gap between them and deck Steve, to knock his face into something bruised and angry.

He raises his arm again, barely blocks the jabs Steve sends at him, and then Steve lands a punch of his own, and he's not holding back now.

Tony'd like to say that he leaves Steve a mess on the floor after that, would like to actually do that, but Steve's had time to learn his reach, to observe Tony's flaws - and Steve catches his forearm, pushes his wrist back, catches his neck and Tony doesn't actually want to break anything so he goes still, waits for whatever else is going to come.

"I thought you were better than that," Steve says, and Tony can't meet his eyes.

"Go on," he says, working his jaw, feeling Steve's fingers on his throat. "Don't hold back. I didn't."

Steve says nothing.

"What, you won't?" Tony says, meeting his eyes, angry again. "I know what you're thinking, and the sooner you say it, the sooner I can get off this damn mat."

Nothing happens, and Tony's braced for the worst, and he tugs at his hand, looking away again. The waiting is always the worst part, he thinks, and barely hides the cringe at the thought.

"I don't understand," Steve says quietly. "Why can't you talk to me?"

"Let go."

"Coward," Steve says, and Tony twitches in his hold.

"Going to kick me off the team?" Tony says, licking his lips. "That's what comes next, right?"

"I would, but I still need you."

It hurts to hear it, but Tony just grins, because what else can he do? He's not a team player, he told them all that at the start.

"You can let go of me now," Tony says, tugging at his wrist.

"I can't trust you not to attack me right now."

"Oh, that's obvious. Have you looked in a mirror lately?" Tony asks, tugging again. "That face you've got is very punchable."

"Stark - "

"It's Tony, even if you are a dick." Tony corrects immediately.

"Stand down," Steve says; orders.

"I can threaten you all night, and you'll have to stay here," Tony says, tugging again. "You're going to have to risk a punch or two to get out."

It occurs to him that he's digging a hole he can't get out of, but that's nothing new, is it? He'll keep right on digging, and if he goes far enough he'll be able to do anything except be himself, which is perfect.

"Why are you doing this?" Steve asks, and why is he concerned. Tony jerks his eyes up, stares at Steve again.

"I thought you figured that out," Tony says, confused.

"You're not the kind of person to abandon anyone." Steve says quietly. "There's something else going on."

Tony tugs again, ready to go, but Steve's grip on his wrist tightens.

"Do you want to hurt yourself that badly?"

"Why would I want to hurt myself?" Tony asks, not thinking, "I'm Tony Stark." Except that he's already said something about a punchable face, and Steve is the last person in the world he wants to talk to about anything, let alone this. "Let go, I won't punch you, promise."

"Is this why you tried to avoid sparring with me?"

"You're not a shrink, you punch people for a living."

"I'm your teammate," Steve says, and Tony laughs.

"You just told me you wanted to kick me off the team."

"I might be wrong," Steve says, and pauses. "I was wrong in assuming that you wanted to injure me to keep us here. Right?"

Tony says nothing.

"Talk to me, Tony. Please."

"Are we really going to do this while you're choking me?"

"Would you talk to me otherwise?"

Tony says nothing. Maybe if he were drunk, or otherwise out of control, but the only good answer to that question, of course, is no.

"Tony."

"You were right," Tony says. "About something. I'm not as 'good' as you think I am."

They aren't fighting, and Steve isn't hostile, but it's awkward now, and Tony would very much like to get out of the gym. He doesn't want to talk about his feelings.

"Loki," he reminds Steve. "Avengers in trouble. Etcetera. I need to finish programming the armor for you."

That's frustration, an expression he knows all too well, but the concern is something new - something worrying. But he lets go, and Tony immediately backs off, then makes a break for the workshop.

---

"Sir," Jarvis starts, but Tony's ahead of him.

"I see it," he says, hesitating briefly before picking up the letter that's magically appeared on his keyboard. "You've scanned this."

"Of course, sir," Jarvis says, and Tony breaks the seal, opening the letter.

A minute later he groans, and tosses it into the trashcan. A few seconds later he digs it back out and rereads it.

"What is it?" Steve asks from over his shoulder, and Tony jumps out of the chair.

"When did you - " Tony stops himself, and holds out the letter. Of course Steve followed him, and of course Steve could move soundlessly. "Loki says hi."

He watches Steve read through it, then shrugs.

"At least we know they're fine for now," He holds a hand out for the letter, just to be sure he read it right, and he did. Fantastic.

"What do you know about norse myths?" Steve asks him, after a pause.

"Long story short, we have to find and capture a giant sea serpent. While you're using crippled armor and I use an over-sized frisbee. Piece of cake."

"It's not a frisbee," Steve says, and Tony looks at him.

"Sea serpent." He says. "Let's stay focused, Captain."

"Send this to SHIELD," Steve says instead of answering that. "What do we know about Jormungandr?"

"Myths, and not much else." Tony says, quickly sitting back at his desk and bringing up a search on the serpent. "You do know that whatever I find is probably going to be wrong."

"We need to start somewhere," Steve says, refolding the letter. "Why do you think Loki wants us to - "

"He's a nut," Tony says. "That's why." He glances up at Steve. "If this is right, he's sending us after his son."

---

Loki, because he's helpful when setting superheroes on impossible tasks, sends a second letter with a date, time and place that 'would give you the best chance of not dying in the process', and there's a photograph attached as well: Thor looking proud and angry in chains.

"That's three days from now," Steve says when he's done reading it.

"No chance we can find Loki before then, Jarvis?" Tony, frankly, would like to skip this one.

"Sir," says Jarvis, and with that tone Tony just sighs, throwing his hands up.

"I hate magic."

Steve clears his throat, and Tony looks over, eyes narrowed. Here comes the next part: "That's three days to prepare, and I'm going to need to..." He trails off, catching Tony's expression.

"The program's ready," Tony mutters. He knows. He's still not happy about this.

"We should start now."

Tony shakes his head, but gets up, and crosses to where he stores the bodysuit, pulling it out and tossing it to Steve.

"Wear this, and nothing else." He's been very good at not finding any amusement in this entire situation, but the phrasing and the resulting blush makes him grin at Steve. "Go on, take it all off."

"You want me to..." Tony grins as the blush gets worse.

"It's nothing I haven't seen before, promise."

"I...ah..." Steve says, raising a hand to his shirt, then stopping. "I really shouldn't - "

Tony narrows his eyes. "You're not going to try dressing with your eyes closed, are you?"

"That would be the...polite thing to do," Steve says, fumbling. "It's not my body, and..."

"You're the type to close your eyes while using the bathroom, aren't you." Tony says flatly.

"I can't..."

Tony groans. "Right." He comes over, and starts opening the shirt. "Lose the modesty, you don't need it."

"Tony - "

Tony stops, hands on a shirt that used to be his. There's the arc reactor, glowing like always, reassuring, except when it's not.

Right now it's not.

Tony stares at it, frozen, until Steve touches his hand.

"What is this?" Steve asks, quiet.

Tony swallows. This isn't something he's ready to share. This is something he has to tell Steve about, because he's living with the reactor in his chest.

"A miniature arc reactor," Tony admits. "It's keeping you alive right now."

Steve looks down at his chest, and Tony steps back, needing the space.

"How?" Steve asks, after a moment. He raises a hand, touching the front of the reactor, curious.

"There are metal fragments in there," Tony says, watching. "The reactor's keeping them from piercing your heart. Take it out, and that's it. The..." He bites his tongue, censors what he says. "First one was powered by a car battery. I had to carry that around with me until I was able to..." He trails off, looking away.

Steve lowers his hand from the reactor, but Tony doesn't see what else he does, turning away.

He picks up the bodysuit, and passes it over. "You can do the rest."

"Thank you for telling me."

"I'd...forgotten," Tony admits. It's too soon to face this, not after that stunt in the gym, but he has to say something. "That you wouldn't know about it. Walking around with a built-in flashlight."

Steve touches his shoulder, and he looks back.

"Thank you," Steve says. "You didn't have to tell me."

"Don't thank me for it," Tony snaps, savoring the surprised hurt that flashes across Steve's face.

"Why not?"

"If anything screws with that, you're dead." Tony says without thinking. "If we run into Magneto, you're dead. If - " He stops, because he tries not to think about any of the above most of the time.

"And you still put on the suit," Steve says.

Tony blinks, thrown for a loop. "What about it?"

"With that in mind, you're still Iron Man." Steve clarifies, and it's probably a good idea for him to get out of here before Steve says something inspiring or worse.

"Would you finish stripping?" Tony says, and it comes out harsher than he means. "We don't have all day to stand around and chat."

It's quiet until Steve's dressed, and when that's done Tony just points to the right spot on the floor.

"Hold still," he says, and, "Except for when the gauntlets come down. You'll see them."

Tony's dealing with the urge to shove Steve out of the way, to halt the program and take back Iron Man, but it's too late when the faceplate comes down, and oh, that's something else he should mention, so that can go up if for some reason it needs to.

"Try walking around before you fly anywhere," Tony says, retreating to his workstation. More advice that he'd never follow, but Steve's a goodie-two-shoes.

He doesn't watch, except when he does, and Tony has to put his hands under the desk so he can't see them and he pinches at his thigh, trying to remind himself that this isn't a dream. He's not hallucinating.

What brings it all home that he's not dreaming is the point when Iron Man tries flying ungraceful laps around the room, and that's when Tony debates putting his head between his knees and quietly going to pieces.

Instead, he gets up, waits for Iron Man to be out of the way, and makes for the stairs, heading up.

"Sir?" Jarvis asks, voice following him.

"Shut him down if he starts breaking anything," Tony says, and doesn't answer the question, letting himself into the kitchen first, then one of his living rooms.

Captain America can't get drunk, which sucks, but Tony pretends it does something while he channel surfs.

---

Halfway through Jeopardy Iron Man walks in and sits on the couch, except it's not Iron Man except that it is. Either way the helmet's off, and Tony barely glances at him.

"You're lucky these are reinforced," Tony mutters as Steve sits down, and even so there's a brief groan from the couch at how heavy the armor is.

"What are you doing?" Steve asks, quietly.

"Ssh. Jeopardy. Would you interrupt Alex Trebek?" He ignores Steve's blank look and pays attention to the screen, because Jeopardy is what qualifies as normal in his life. (He shoos the thought of normality away, because comparing what his normal is like to what 'normal' is - right. Shutting down that thought.)

"Tony," Steve tries at a commercial, and Tony sighs before muting it.

"What?"

"I'm not going out there alone."

"Yes, and?"

Steve leans over and collects the shield from where he'd propped it up against the end of the couch.

"Frisbee," Tony says intelligently. "I should order in pizza."

"Tony," Steve says, and Tony rolls his eyes. It's not his fault the big round thing reminds him of other big round things - and he's hungry.

"You can teach me how to toss that around tomorrow," Tony says. "Right now is," he reaches for the remote, "more Jeopardy, and that comes first."

Steve sighs as the Final Jeopardy category and question are revealed, and he's definitely going to ask again as soon as he can, but Tony has a foolproof way to avoid the shield tonight.

"Tony," Steve tries when the credits are rolling, but: foolproof plan. Tony sits back, satisfied.

"See? Double feature tonight," Tony says, but Steve grabs for the remote and okay, not so foolproof when the remote gets crushed on accident. Except - Tony grins. Now there's no way to turn off the TV without pestering Jarvis, and Jarvis is on his side.

"I'll fix that after Jeopardy, so give it up," he cheerfully tells Steve, and settles in.

"I'm sorry," Steve says, and Tony gives him a look out of the corner of his eye. Does he have to be so sincere every time he says please or thank you or sorry?

"Remotes are cheap," Tony says. "Ssh."

---

Half an hour later, Steve knows that much more about modern culture and Tony's jury-rigged the remote to get the mute button to work, because commercials are worse than any supervillain.

The shield is an obtrusive presence in Iron Man's lap, though, and Tony's somewhat twitchy by the final answers.

"Tony - "

"No," Tony says, getting up immediately. "I am ordering pizza, Jarvis is turning off the TV, and you are getting out of my armor. Got it?"

Except that right now Steve's grip is nearly unbreakable and he's snagged his elbow. The TV does turn off, though, so at least someone is on the ball tonight.

"Tony."

"Stop saying my name," Tony says. "You're turning into a broken record."

"What's the aversion to the shield?"

"Did you miss the memo? You're not a shrink!"

"Everytime I suggest doing something that would help you adjust to fighting as me, you fight it." Steve points out, and Tony is hungry, damn the metabolism, he has no time for this.

"Can you quiz me after I've gotten food ordered?" Tony asks. "You're worse than a teenager."

He gets a blank look, then exasperation, then understanding. "My metabolism - "

"I know all about it. Food first." Tony says, and promptly whisks off to order pizza when Steve lets go of him.

---

"He'll be here in less than twenty minutes, so you'd better let go of me before then," Tony points out, calm.

"We need to talk."

"I practice hitting things and tossing the frisbee around tomorrow, got it. Are we done now?"

He'll take exasperation on his face. That's an expression he sees a lot of the time in Pepper or Rhodey or - almost anyone he talks to on a regular basis, and it's almost comforting.

"What's your aversion to the shield?"

"Nothing!"

Steve holds it out, eyebrow up, and too late Tony realizes that the way out of the conversation would be to take it and sling it over his shoulder or something. Instead he looks at it, looks at Steve, and says: "It'd make for a nice centerpiece. Put some flowers in it, you know."

There is well-restrained anger again, and Tony tries a smile. Maybe he can charm Steve into letting go of his elbow.

"You carried it earlier," Steve says, voice tight. "Why can't you do the same now?"

"I don't need a security blanket," Tony says. "If you need one, keep it."

"It's not - "

"Right, right, unbreakable shield that can reflect bullets. I know. Used it to save myself this morning and all that. When you go down to the workshop to take off my armor, take the shield with you and drop it off."

Steve lets go of his arm, and Tony flashes him a grin before going to - do something other than be near Steve.

---

Eating is less awful, he's finally beginning to get used to everything, and he locks himself in his bedroom before Steve can come back and ruin his freshly restored good attitude.

He rests his head against the doorframe and holds still for a long moment.

"Jarvis?"

"Sir?"

"Did...is the armor back where it should be?"

"Yes, sir."

"And he's..."

"In the gym now, sir."

"Remind him that he's mortal like the rest of us," Tony mutters, then raises his voice. "Jarvis, if he's in there for too long, remind him that he's going to need more sleep than he's used to."

"Of course, sir."

"Thank you," Tony says, and he turns away from the door. It took several codes and long minutes of letting Jarvis scan him for anything odd before he'd been able to convince his AI of the change in bodies, but it was worth it for the ease of mind that came with being recognized.

Pepper would be another story, as would anyone else who knew him, but if his luck held out Pepper wouldn't come back from her trip until after this was taken care of and he could work around anyone else.

Without ruining Steve's reputation, that was. He laughs quietly at himself for thinking of that, because what does he care about Steve?

---

There's a blonde-haired, blue-eyed man in Tony's bed when he wakes up, and Tony hates magic. It screws with his systems, it screws with any calculations he could ever do, and it screws with his hair color.

He's up hours before he'd expect to be awake, he's hungry again, and he glares darkly at the mirror as he splashes his face and brushes his teeth.

It's going to be a long day.

---

The bruises on Tony's - Steve's - Tony's face are ugly when he spots Steve next, down in the workshop.

Good, he thinks, and resumes welding.

"Good morning," Steve says thirty seconds later, and Tony grunts instead of greeting him. He's been working for the last six hours and feels much better about everything, now that he's had a chance to unwind.

For another thirty seconds there's peace, and Tony goes 'aha!' as he fits several pieces together. It's coming along nicely, this project, and with luck he'll be done before they're forced into battle or before Steve talks him out of it.

"What are you doing?" Steve asks, and Tony puts the blowtorch down.

"Compensating for the obvious flaws in your armor, what does it look like?"

"It looks like..." and Steve is smart, smarter than Tony gives him credit for. "No."

"Yes. If I'm stuck like this, I'm making the most of it." Tony keeps his hand near that blowtorch, in case he needs it.

"I don't need armor like yours."

"Emphasis on the sea part of sea serpent." Tony says, calm. "One of us should be able to maneuver underwater, and I don't mean that we should learn to swim."

That brings Steve up short, and Tony turns over the helmet in his hands, careful of the residual heat.

"I've been thinking," he says, checking the helmet for flaws. There are none. "We're going to have to capture Jormungandr, and that means something more than hitting it until it falls over."

"We're still going to need to be able to use force," Steve points out, which is reasonable, except that Tony's been thinking over this for hours while his hands have been busy.

"No," Tony says. "Not as much as you're probably thinking. If any of the research I've done is right, we'd need someone with more firepower than we're currently packing to tackle this thing."

"What do you suggest, then?" It's not a sarcastic tone, but one that Tony finds himself responding to: a reasonable 'talk to me about solutions' one.

"We're being sent to the arctic," Tony says. "I checked the location Loki was talking about. Have a look - Jarvis, put up the satellite photos, okay, thanks - have a look." They're not the best photos, as - okay, Tony made a mistake, he admits it. He hadn't thought to make sure the poles would be covered by more than rudimentary satellites. At least he hadn't been forced to hack the Google satellites, though.

The area they're being sent to is coastal, icy, and cold. Not exactly helpful conditions.

"We're not going to have much maneuvering room," Tony says, tapping the screen. "I was thinking we might want to discuss the feasibility of dragging Jor on shore."

"Jor?"

"I'm not saying Jormungandr every single time he comes up."

"Ah." Steve looks over the photos, frowning. "Do we know how big Jormungandr is?"

"I'm going to guess gigantic and work from there."

"Right. How would we..."

"That's the question," Tony says. "I've been puzzling over that all morning, and the sooner we have an answer, the better. Oh, and there's no guarantee that getting him on land would even help, because he's a serpent, not a fish...shame that he isn't, actually."

Steve doesn't say anything, and Tony manages to hold his tongue. That's as far as he's gotten on this plan so far, and while there are ideas, they're still half-formed and unreliable. In short, he needs to spend more time working, so his brain can solve the problem without his input.

He collects his tools and returns to his project, keeping an eye on Steve as he starts the blowtorch.

If he's lucky Steve will turn up a solution without any of his help, and if he's luckier it'll be a plan that won't have any problems.

---

The next time he pauses work to get more food (it's ridiculous how quickly he gets hungry, and it's even worse when he can't ignore it for long) Steve presents him with a problem.

"No," Tony says the moment he spots Steve picking up the shield.

"Do you have a completed plan to take care of Jormungandr with yet?" Steve says, holding out the shield.

Tony takes it, not answering that, and turns it over in his hands. It fits in his hands, and he doesn't have to think about the motions before he's sliding his arm through the straps and hefting it.

He doesn't miss Steve's wistful look.

"Frisbee," he says, and it works like a charm, because Steve is annoyed again.

"What frisbee is unbreakable?" Steve asks - no, demands - and Tony flicks the rim of the shield.

"This one. You know how it has a giant target on it, meant to attract bullets? That means you're not supposed to throw it around."

"It's saved my life more times than I can count."

"And you can't hang onto it and use a gun or something?"

"Tony."

"What?"

"I don't use guns."

"Right. Just an idea. What about repulsor blasts?"

"I haven't asked you to redesign your armor, Tony."

"I had to do that anyways," Tony jabs back, but the flat look Steve gives him makes him hold his tongue from any other comments. "Right. To the gym, then."

---

"You were right," Steve says, watching as Tony catches the shield with one hand.

"Of course I was. What about? Be specific."

"You didn't need this practice."

"Of course not," Tony says, moving to sit at a bench. "Your body's used to it, and I probably know more about your shield than you do."

"Really." Steve says, and Tony nods, reaching for a water bottle. "You're that sure about it?"

"It came up a lot when I was researching appropriate materials for Iron Man," Tony says, conveniently leaving out anything personal. "I'd love to melt this down and reuse the materials, but...right, see, that reaction exactly. So you get to keep your shield." He picks it up and holds it out, and laughs when Steve takes it out of his hands.

"It's not funny."

"It absolutely is." Tony says, grinning.

"You'd destroy something your - "

"Reuse," Tony cuts in.

"Why?"

"Unbreakable, remember? There's only so much you can do with non-ultra-rare materials."

"That's..." Steve's got that look again, the confused hurt that Tony saw when they met. "Why, Tony?"

He's not asking about the alloy, now. Tony puts down the water bottle.

"I'm not going to answer that, and you should stop asking about it," Tony says, low. "I'd be happy to give you another black eye, honestly."

There's a long pause.

"This is about Howard, isn't it?" Steve says, and Tony stiffens. Hit the nail on the head, and he gets up.

Steve makes a grab for his shoulder, as he passes, but he's not in the armor, and Tony ducks out of the way. He's not sticking around.

"Tony - "

"Don't mention him again," Tony says, low, pausing. "We'll both be better off for it."

"I don't understand."

"You don't need to in order to keep your mouth shut, Cap."

"He was my friend."

Tony grits his teeth, and turns around. "That's great. I'm very happy for you."

"Why do you need to act like this?"

"How many times do I need to repeat it before you get it?" Tony snaps, tense, ready to lash out. "You're not a shrink. You're not my friend. I don't owe you anything, and I'm not going to just sit and tell you everything about him. You don't get that."

Whatever's going on in Steve's mind, he doesn't stick around to find out: he leaves both Steve and the shield behind.

---

Tony's satisfied with how Steve avoids him or keeps conversation to a functional minimum until afternoon, when instead of getting out of the armor, Steve catches his arm. Because Steve grabbing him and making him talk about his feelings is the other theme of this entire event.

"I really hate magic, did you know that?" Tony tells him, to forestall anything he doesn't want to deal with. That is to say, the entire conversation.

"So I've gathered," Steve says dryly. "We need to talk."

"Yes, we're talking already, can I get back to working on the idea of a net?"

"You've already turned down that idea," Steve points out, reasonably, except how does he know that? That was an idea Tony came up with, worked out a plan for, then discarded hours ago, without ever mentioning it to him.

"How - "

"I can read my own handwriting," Steve says, tone still dry, and points to the list on Tony's desk. It's a list of ideas Tony's been thinking of, with lines through most of them, and oh. Right. Net, near the top, crossed out. It had been a silly idea anyway.

"Those are my private notes."

"Tony, would you please stop trying to evade the topic?"

"I have no idea what the topic is," Tony lies, and, "You're supposed to be getting used to the armor, not walking around with the helmet off."

"Tony."

Tony looks away. "Why can't you let it go?"

"I'll let it go when I have answers."

"No, stop right there." Tony raises a finger. "You're supposed to give me a reason why you can't let it go, one I can take care of, and then we can skip the rest of this conversation and get back to the important issue here. Which is the giant sea serpent we're expected to catch in order to rescue our teammates."

Steve furrows his brow. "Do I need to try to help you in order to bring out the responsible adult in you?"

So many things wrong with that sentence, and Tony steps back.

"Okay, three things," he says. "There's nothing to help. And I'm already a responsible adult," he'll ignore the quiet cough from the ceiling, "And you need to get off your high horse."

"I apologize," Steve says. "That wasn't right of me to say."

"See, was that so hard?"

"I still want to help you."

"What is there to help!?"

"We can't work as well together if we argue every time I mention Howard."

"It's for the sake of teamwork, then. Figures." It's easier to jump on that instead of reacting to memories.

"No, it's - " Steve stops himself, (Tony can see him count to ten, slowly) and restarts the sentence. "That's not entirely why. I...Tony, I'm concerned about you."

"I don't buy it."

"I don't lie."

"...I'd buy that, but beneath that exterior of gold lurks the manipulative streak of a supervillain. Can you please let go of me? I have things to work on."

"The...manipulative streak of a supervillain."

"Absolutely. Comes with those sparkling leadership skills you have, so don't even try to pretend you're as good as you look."

"We're moving away from the topic again," Steve says, after a long pause, and Tony grins to himself. Point for Tony, check.

"Which means it's a good idea to stay away from it, don't you think?"

"Why is Howard such a sticking point for you?"

"Family business stays in the family," Tony says, flatly. "I told you, we'll both be better off if you don't mention him."

For a long moment Steve is silent. "...Alright," he concedes. "I'll stop asking about him."

"See? We'll get along fine," Tony says, but Steve still hasn't let go of him.

"Why do you argue with me so often?"

Tony groans, dropping his head. This conversation just keeps getting better and better.

"Frankly, you argue with everyone, but you seem to have it out specifically for me."

"Do we really need to talk about this?"

"Loki specifically switched us because we weren't getting along yesterday."

It's very reasonable. Tony has a not-so-reasonable reason to get out of this.

"Aren't we supposed to avoid pleasing the villain?" It has absolutely no chance of working, but it gives him more time to stall.

"If it improves our chances of getting the team back safely," Steve says, completely serious, "I would attempt to befriend even you." It would be sharp, almost is, but Steve offers him a sheepish smile, and that softens it somewhat.

"You're learning from me," Tony says, then pauses. "Your sense of humor needs work."

"Yes. I'm sorry."

"I can't believe that you mean what you're saying." That's always the worst part about talking to Steve, and Tony's been over this before. He pats Iron Man's arm. "The first step in befriending me is to stop cornering me and prying into my business."

"You've been avoiding me," Steve points out.

"Well, yes, but even you have to admit that these last few days have been stressful."

"You've been avoiding me since me met."

Tony stops. He doesn't have an excuse for that. "...Right. Well."

"I'm not asking you to like me," Steve says. "Or pretend to. I'm asking you to give me a chance."

"That's...fair. Very fair of you." Tony says.

"I'm sorry I mentioned him when I saw you," Steve says quietly. "I didn't know..."

"Can we please stop bringing him up?"

"Yes, I, ah, sorry. I didn't mean to..." Steve lets go of his arm this time, and Tony rubs where he'd been held.

"I'm thinking electricity," Tony says, changing the topic entirely. "What do you think?"

"Electricity...?"

"For our buddy Jor," Tony says. "Cattle prods. Big ones."

"I'm not sure about that," Steve says, but he takes the hint, and conversation is business after that.

---

"If all of my assumptions are correct, this is guaranteed to work."

"That's not reassuring in the least."

"Giant electric net, or complicated plan that's guaranteed to work? Come on, Captain, I know what I'm talking about here. I've done all the research."

"There's a way to research capturing sea serpents?"

"Not specifically, but if you look up ways to capture whales, fish and assorted sea creatures and then scale them up, it becomes a way to research how to capture sea serpents. Technically."

"Then fill me in," Steve says, and that Tony's cue.

"Bear with me," Tony says, "And don't raise any protests until I'm done explaining. The first two assumptions I'm working on are that Jor is going to a) need air and b) not be smart enough to figure out what we're doing until it's too late."

"And if either of these are wrong?"

"Improvisation."

The look Steve gives him is long and doubting, but he gestures at the map. "Go on."

"Okay," Tony says, turning on a 3D hologram. It's a model of the area they're being sent to, with glaciers and ice chunks highlighted. "We're going to chase Jor under the ice shelf and up through a trap. Unfortunately, we're going to have to put in some work to make this trap, as I don't have any already prepared fake glaciers that could hold leviathans."

"That implies that you have fake glaciers already."

"Anyways, we're going to have to melt a tunnel through one of these glaciers, trick him into thinking it's the best way up for air, and instead it'll lead to a conveniently prepared pond in another chunk of ice that we can seal him in."

"This," Steve gestures to the hologram. "Is a map of the area, right?"

"As accurate as possible, yes."

"I don't see this conveniently prepared pond."

"We're going to have to move the ice around, obviously. Maybe borrow some from the ice cap. Fortunately for you, I both have the tools and the glaciers all picked out, so we can get going now and, with luck, be done preparing this thing in time."

"Tony."

"Yes?"

"I have two - no, three - important questions."

"Ask away."

"Will this harm the local ecology?"

"No. Maybe. Don't worry about it, I'll put everything back when we're done." Tony waves a hand, ignoring Steve's look. It's not like they have much of a choice under the circumstances. "Right. The other two important questions?"

"How are we intending to herd the giant sea serpent?"

"Okay, that's an important question. I...don't have an answer yet. I have a lot of potential answers, but we won't know which one is the right one until we're actually testing them on Jor."

"Care to fill me in?"

"Patience, Cap. I was just getting to that. See, if I pause at the right moments it's more dramatic that way."

"Tony - "

"Electric cattle-prods, repulsor rays, conventional weaponry, sonics, depth charges, harpoons, robot drones, trained attack dolphins: the list goes on for pages, gets more and more ridiculous, and there's no guarantee anything will work. So: assuming one of those things can hurt or scare Jor, then the rest of my plan works."

For a moment they both look at the model, and Tony adjusts it, showing a little diagram of how the serpent should move, and how they should act to make it move.

"You had a third question, right?"

"...No. Not now." Steve says. "We should get to work on this."

"Exactly what I was thinking," Tony says, and he turns off the diagram. "This way to the jet - grab anything you're going to need, and remember that it's cold out there."

---

There is one snag to Tony's brilliant plan - one that he'll admit to - and it's not a pleasant one: they're going to have to stay out on the ice overnight, as flying back would eat up too much time and Steve has refused to let them approach any civilized areas and use their local hotels.

("We might be recognized," he'd argued. "Loki may decide to involve them in our problem. There are countless ways that can go wrong. We'll stay out here or fly back to the mansion. Is that clear, Stark?")

There hadn't been much conversation after that argument, as Tony had been busy sulking while he'd pulled out sleeping bags and had a good long look at exactly how much floor space there was in the quinjet.

At least - not until he'd concluded that unless they were going to share sleeping bags, someone would have to either sleep in incredibly uncomfortable circumstances (i.e. outside or bent around a chair) or not sleep at all.

The problem was, while Tony was both used to pulling all-nighters and in a body that could get by on only four hours, he had a sinking feeling that Steve, being a responsible and generally healthy man, would insist on making sure he slept.

Depending on how badly it went, it could also mean that Tony would get the comfortable spot until he was rested, then trade with Steve, but -

Tony has a long look at the line of Iron Man's (Steve's) back, then approaches him.

"Problem," he says.

"What is it?"

"There's room in here for two sleeping bags, but only if they're being used by tiny people. We're not tiny."

"We'll sleep in shifts." Steve says automatically, but there's the other problem. Except it's not really a problem, but...

"You're going to have to get out of the armor to fit in the sleeping bag," Tony points out.

"I know how cold it will get," Steve says, and Tony wonders what he's looking like behind the faceplate.

Tony nods, and backs off, setting up the sleeping bag. "You take the first shift," he says, fully intending to let Steve sleep for as long as he can.

It's a surprise to him when Steve doesn't protest, but a welcome change from their usual arguments: instead he gets to watch Steve like a hawk as he removes the armor. It's to make sure that none of the individual pieces are damaged, because he's not a narcissist, not in the sense Fury implied.

This, however, leads to an entirely new problem: he - his body that is - is shivering.

"It's not that cold in here, is it?" Tony asks, and at Steve's questioning look he points to one of his hands. "You're shivering."

"I hadn't noticed," Steve says, stepping out of the boots. It's just the bodysuit and the cool (but not cold) air of the quinjet, and he's definitely shivering.

"If I look, are there going to be goosebumps?" Tony asks, narrowing his eyes. He hadn't disabled the temperature settings on the Iron Man suit, he's certain of that (he's not that cruel), which means...

"I'm fine," Steve says, and he probably didn't mean to snap like that.

"It's the ice, isn't it?" Tony asks, bluntly.

"It's fine," and he's sliding into the sleeping bag, zipping up tight.

Tony watches from his seat, arms crossed over his chest, and frowns. It's the ice, then. The ice, and the cold.

"What was it like?" This is a bad idea. He asks anyways, as curiosity overrides bad ideas.

The small movements in the bag go still, and Steve isn't looking at him.

Tony carefully leans forward, uncrossing his arms.

"I meant - "

"I know what you meant." Steve says, voice flat, but nothing follows that. Tony waits a moment, then prods.

"Were you...aware for any of it?"

"I have nightmares," Steve says flatly. "Do you really want to ask this, Stark?"

"Can I take that as a yes?"

"Stark." Steve meets his eyes. "Shut up."

"Right," Tony says, and turns the chair around.

---

The stage is set halfway through the day, and abruptly they both run out of things to do. Jormungandr won't make his appearance for hours yet (if Loki's letter was right) and after the fourth slow lap around the area in the quinjet, Tony's bored.

"Hey, Cap - "

"No."

"Let me try that again - "

"No."

Tony sets the quinjet to automatic and turns around. Steve's reading a book, but with the faceplate down the book could be a ruse, for all Tony knows. It's very annoying, he decides. For all he's been glad of the faceplate in the past, it's very annoying to be on the other side of it when trying to figure what someone's thinking.

"Captain."

"We're going to stay here," Steve says, lowering the book. "We're not landing, we're not returning to civilization. I intend to read until it's time to act."

Things fall silent as Tony ponders how best to approach a casual conversation with Steve, because if he's going to sit here and be bored for hours, he'll be damned if he does it alone.

Potential opening lines: "Say, it's cold out there." "You should put the faceplate up." "Women: easier or harder to pick up in modern times?" "What are you reading?" "So I read your file after hacking SHIELD's servers and discovered that you went to art school." "Think Hulk's calmed down to Banner-size, or has Loki been taunting him for the last few days?"

There are a lot of opening lines. It's worse than thinking of a pick-up line, because those you can throw away if they don't work.

He thinks for a moment longer, decides that Steve might not immediately chew him out if he starts with mundane and boring, and asks: "What are you reading?"

"Don't you have something to do to amuse yourself?" Steve asks, lowering the book again. He's been cranky all day, and obviously it's worse now that there is nothing to do. There's nothing Steve can go tell him to do, as the ship can fly itself, and Tony looks back at Steve, trying to picture himself when he looks annoyed.

That only leads to images of Pepper, Rhodey and others being annoyed at him, and he shakes his head, giving Steve a smile.

"I could play with my phone, but I'm curious: what are you reading?"

"A Tree Grows in Brooklyn," Steve says in clipped tones, and Tony leans forward to verify that yep, it is.

"That can't be very exciting," he says, reaching out, but Steve turns, keeping the book out of his reach.

"Play with your phone, Stark."

"I told you that I don't like being called that," Tony says, refusing to give up at conversation. He's charming, smooth as butter when it comes to schmoozing, surely he can work some of that charm on Steve here.

(Not that he's been doing a fantastic job of hitting it off with Steve already...)

Nothing, except for Steve completely turning around. Tony glares at the back of his head.

"Loki," He starts, thinking this approach over. "He switched us because we were bickering. You're sure you want to go into this while we're arguing?"

"Tony," aha! A small victory! "I am reading."

"I'm bored, though. Can I talk you into - "

"No."

"At least let me finish asking, Cap."

Steve turns around, looking at him, book closed and in his lap.

"Can I talk you into a round of hangman?"

"You...want me to play hangman."

"I'm bored."

That seems to work, for some reason, as Steve raises his hands and removes the helmet entirely, setting it on the dash. He doesn't look entirely happy or approving, but he tries a smile and Tony grins back, plucking some paper from one of the compartments under the console.

"Nothing foreign, foul or overly-scientific," Steve says, and Tony inwardly sighs. "Fair?"

"And no names, right. Everyone's played hangman before, you don't need to worry about the rules."

"The usual rules don't include the scientific clause," Steve points out, reasonably.

"If I want to beat you, I don't have to make it obscure," Tony says, writing out the spaces. "For example, try this..."

---

"Are you honestly accusing me of cheating, Tony?"

There's an emphasis on the 'me', and Tony just knows there's a speech in there. One involving 'accusing me, Captain America, paragon of justice, superhero, honest goodie-two-shoes' and so instead of saying anything - because there's no way to respond to that - he drops his head into his hands, then fills in the blanks.

"It had two As. How on earth did you know the word was 'Saturday'?"

"The same way I knew that you were using the word 'nuclear', Tony. The placement of the letters and the spelling - "

"And mind reading - "

"There was no mind reading."

Tony grumbles and passes the paper back, and honestly? He's not upset over his words being guessed so easily. He's upset because he's not getting a chance to draw a hanged man with little wings on its head.

---

Jormungandr absolutely dwarfs the quinjet. He rises up out of the water, roars, and Tony congratulates himself for thinking in such large terms.

"Now we find out what hurts him," he says to Steve, refusing to be awed by the sight of Jormungandr and his very large fangs.

What follows involves more than a few explosions, Tony's nerves winding themselves up with fear and worse as Steve flies out to try repulsors on Jormungandr, then relief when - of all things - it's the basic repulsors that make the serpent roar with pain and dive under the water.

"Follow him," Tony says over the comms, following with the jet. "Don't let him surface." Redundant, but there's a plan in place here, and Tony doesn't like being made to follow and watch and hope nothing happens that Steve can't handle out there.

It's an odd feeling, one he tries to ignore while remaining focused on keeping Steve on the right path, and pointing out where Jormungandr's beginning to surface.

"I think he's wounded," Steve says over the comm, and Tony looks over the water with a naked eye.

"We can't stop here," Tony points out as he flies the quinjet higher, not mentioning that he's seeing blood in the water. "If you want to help the giant snake, we can do that after he's trapped."

"Tony," Steve says, then nothing. Tony checks, and yes, he's still there. He waits a moment, then asks.

"Problem?"

"There's blood."

"Yeah, I got that. Hold your fire for a moment, I think he's making a move for the tunnel."

"Can you tell if he was bleeding before we attacked him?"

Tony doesn't answer that yet, making sure that the sensors are following Jormungandr as he swims up through the tunnel they'd made for him, and so far so good - the plan's working.

"I don't think we're doing anything more than scaring him," Tony says a moment later, as Jormungandr bursts through the other end of the tunnel - and into the trap. He's caught, but Tony doesn't let himself relax until after several minutes have passed.

When Jormungandr's done thrashing and trying to get out, when he curls his giant form up in the water, that's when Tony breathes a long sigh of relief.

"He's still bleeding," Steve says over the comm, and Tony carefully pilots the quinjet further down, and Steve flies up, hovering outside the cockpit.

It's easy enough to see from here: there's a nasty looking gash along Jormungandr's side, and what looks like metal - a harpoon? spear? - at the bottom end of the wound, and there's blood staining the ice.

"We should help him," Steve says, and Tony can't argue with that - he can promptly freak out over Steve's abrupt descent, and then he can watch helplessly as Steve hovers just over the water, in front of Jormungandr - who can certainly attempt to bite him, and the armor might not...probably isn't able to withstand that kind of force -

"Steve!"

"I'm going to try to communicate," Steve says, and then all Tony can do is watch as Jormungandr raises his head from the water, eying Steve warily.

"I thought I had bad ideas sometimes," Tony says under his breath. "But you've outdone me this time."

"You care!"

Tony whirls in his seat, and sitting in the co-pilot's seat is Loki, bedecked in his usual garish green-and-gold outfit, but fortunately his helmet is missing.

"You," Tony hisses.

"Yes, it's me," Loki says, propping his chin up on his hand and giving him a smirk. "How nice to see you again, Captain. Was it Captain? You look like - "

"I'm not the Captain," Tony says through clenched teeth. "Change us back. We've caught your serpent, and - "

Loki shakes his head, interrupting. "We can discuss identities another time. There are more important matters at hand: my son, for example."

"Jormungandr," Tony confirms. "We've caught him."

"He's injured."

"That wasn't us," Tony says, but notes how Loki's concerned. Almost angry. "Nothing we did scratched him, and the repulsors - "

"I believe that," Loki says. "He wasn't injured by mere mortals."

"We filled the terms of your offer," Tony says, reasonably. "Give back the Avengers, and switch us back."

"Tony," Steve's voice comes over the communicator. "I've spoken with Jormungandr, and I think we can help him."

Tony raises a hand, re-opening the channel, giving Loki a long glare as he does so. "How?" He starts, because if that's going to get out of hand, he's quitting right here and now.

Loki snaps his fingers, and abruptly there are Avengers in the quinjet.

"Help him," he says, quietly, "And I'll change you back."

Then he vanishes.

"Steve," Tony says, interrupting whatever Steve was in the middle of saying, "Would you like Thor's help down there?"

There's about half a minute of silence from Steve, then someone taps Tony's shoulder.

"You're not Captain America," Hawkeye says, helpfully.

"Yeah, no, I'm not." Tony says, glaring at the console. "Hawkeye, everyone, I need you to sit down and shut up until Steve and I sort this out."

"Are they safe?" Steve says, and yes. Right.

"They don't seem to be bleeding. Also, Jormungandr," Tony says, prompting. "Loki said that we get swapped back if we help him out - "

"How fares my nephew?" Thor booms, and Tony gestures to the seat next to him.

"Have a look. Steve?" He sets to ignoring Thor and the stares from the rest of the Avengers.

"He's still bleeding because he can't get what hurt him out, and I think I've seen this kind of thing before."

"What is it?" Tony asks, but he has a feeling...

"Atlantean make."

Which means only one thing: "Namor." Tony says, and groans. "Loki's doing all of this because Namor hurt his kid. Great. Fantastic. It's Thursday, isn't it?"

"It was when this all started, yes," Steve says. "Ask Thor to come down, he can help me get it out."

"If this leads to Loki demanding we get Namor to apologize, you can have my body."

"Just send Thor."

Tony grunts and turns off the communicator. "Thor? Get down there and help. The sooner this is over, the better."

He watches the god leave, then looks at the rest of the team: they're all there, and look to be in one piece. That's good, then.

"Welcome back to Earth," he tells them. "Have a good time at Loki's place?"

"Thor did," Hawkeye says, and leans back, propping his feet up on the back of the co-pilot's seat.

"...No chance for details?" Tony asks, after a moment.

"The mead wasn't bad," Hawkeye says, and the Black Widow shakes her head when Tony looks at her.

"Right," Tony says. "No details."

---

The trident comes out fairly easily, once Steve talks Jormungandr into holding still for long enough, and Tony watches the entire endeavor from the quinjet, watching as Steve flies back to the quinjet, bloody trident in hand.

There's a moment where he feels guilty and mildly embarrassed for watching Thor rest a hand on Jormungandr's head and talk to the serpent, but that's easily taken care of by letting Steve inside.

"We should return this," Steve says, holding out the trident, and Tony shakes his head.

"No," he says, and is surprised at the Steve-like tone of authority in his voice. "I get a chance to study that, then we pick an ocean and toss it in. We're not making this more complicated than it already is."

There's something of a staring contest then, but in the end Steve props the trident up against one of the walls and crosses to the co-pilot's seat.

"Fine," he says.

"That's creepy," Hawkeye murmurs to the Black Widow.

---

Thor tells them to go home, for he'll stay with Jormungandr until the serpent is well again, and one feels-longer-than-it-really-is flight later, the Avengers have been dropped off at SHIELD and Steve and Tony are back in the Stark Mansion.

Or, they would be, except that Steve is and will always be a goodie-two-shoes, and he's gone in to report to Fury.

Tony waits in the quinjet, because he refuses to be seen in the costume in public.

---

"So," Tony starts. "Any idea when Loki will come through on the rest of his deal?"

He's helping get the armor off of Steve, and arguing over a stubborn clasp that had trouble with the cold, and a moment after he asks the question he whacks the armor with the wrench he's holding.

"I have no idea," Steve says, sounding apologetic above him. "Presumably when Jormungandr is completely healed."

"I should have altered the arctic armor - !" Tony exclaims, furious with himself. Forget swapping bodies, he's angry over getting his usual armor damaged by an oversight. An oversight!

"Are you alright?" Steve asks.

"No, I am not! I am dressed in a ridiculous costume," He ignores Steve's indignant scowl, and pries the last of the leg armor off. "My armor is damaged because of an oversight, I still need to restore functions, and we're still in the wrong bodies."

"Tony," Steve says.

"I am not okay with this."

"You did a good job out there."

"What?" That brings him up short.

"Your plan worked," Steve points out, shaking his fingers out after removing the gauntlets. "We have our teammates back, and Thor's taking care of Jormungandr right now. You even got a valuable artifact to study in the process. I'd say that's some good work."

Tony, who is still on his knees and convincing the boots to come off, looks up and stares at Steve.

What do you say to that? He blinks. Oh, right. "Thanks?" and, "I just want to get us back into...where we should be. That's all."

"You took the time to make sure the armor worked for me, and that I was rested for when it counted."

"You can stop now."

Steve nods, and Tony resumes work on the boots. He'll get them off soon, but soon can't come quickly enough, with how awkward Steve's made it.

He gets one boot off a minute later, and Steve shifts above him. Tony looks up, knowing that movement all too well: he's got something to say.

"After I hounded you," Steve says, pausing, starting again, "About Howard. I should be fair."

Tony waits, unsure if he wants to hear the rest of this.

"I...ah...was aware for too long. In the beginning. I was panicked, sure that was it, but...I remember..."

Tony pointedly whacks the other boot with his wrench, and Steve closes his mouth.

"Nightmares," Tony says, quiet. "I get it."

"...I still don't like the cold."

Tony opens his mouth, and doesn't like what comes out. "I can't take baths anymore. Showers sometimes make me panic."

"What?" Audible confusion, and Tony doesn't want to explain context. At all.

"Remember this?" Tony reaches up with his hand, taps the reactor. "Around the same time that happened, my captors tried drowning me several times, to convince me to work for them."

He doesn't look at Steve, and focuses on the boot. It's in worse shape than the other one is, and it's not coming off soon enough, and he'd really like to leave.

"I'm sorry," Steve says, carefully.

"The armor's waterproofed," Tony says, voice tight. "It won't come up anywhere else."

"Tony?"

"I'll be done with this in a moment."

"You didn't need to tell me."

"Same goes for you." Tony whacks away ice with his wrench, still not looking up.

"I'm sorry," Steve repeats.

Tony doesn't answer that, and finally works the boot off. He edges back, then stands up.

"You can move back in at SHIELD," Tony says. "When we're changed back." It's not the best topic to switch to, because - because a lot of reasons.

"Ah...yes." Steve says, and he even looks confused. "I'm a guest here, I understand."

Tony has a moment where he remembers exactly why this is a bad idea: he's gotten a glimpse of the room SHIELD's doled out to Steve, and it has no windows.

It'd probably be a good idea to bolt before he does something - well - philanthropic. Damn it.

"Actually," Tony says, tightening his grip on his wrench. "I changed my mind. You can stay. That cubicle wasn't good enough to be used as a closet, not just - " He breaks himself off. At this rate he'll invite the other SHIELD-dwellers to move in, and no.

"Tony?"

"Can I get to repairing my armor while you think about that? Please?"

He can't meet Steve's eyes, but Steve nods and gives him space after that.

---

It's hours and hours later, and Tony's almost got everything back into working order - complete working order, as all of the functions on his armor have been restored, the original programming is back, and he's managed to work out some more extensive security measures for the remote-control functions, and Tony has completely forgotten that he's using the wrong hands here.

He doesn't flinch away from reflections now, and whenever he realizes that he quickly turns his attention back to the armor - his armor - and that's how he completely misses hearing the tell-tale sounds of someone walking into his workshop.

Instead, he has a minor heart-attack when his shoulder is tapped, and then there's food flying through the air as he pins Steve to the floor.

"...Oh," Tony says, blinking down at him. "Remind me never to sneak up on you."

"I said your name twice," Steve says, and Tony knows he's blushing.

"I didn't hear you."

"I can tell."

Tony clears his throat. "Sorry?"

"Tell that to that sandwich," Steve says dryly, but he's smiling, and something in Tony's chest twists.

He scrambles up, looking to see where the sandwich landed, not stopping to figure himself out.

"You've been down here for hours," Steve says, climbing to his feet.

"Narcissist," Tony says, then rethinks that. "I meant, sandwich."

"What?"

"I'm not hungry," Tony amends, but he knows he's lying, and his stomach growls to make that painfully clear.

"I know how hungry I can get after a long day," Steve says, friendly, and he bends to collect the fallen plate and sandwich. "Want to come back up with me?"

Tony has a look at Steve - friendly, expectant - and a look at himself - hungry - and at the armor - mostly complete, save for upgrades that (he doesn't want to admit this) can be done later.

"Sure."

---

Which is how he winds up watching himself make a salad and cook up hamburger in a frying pan. It's a surreal experience, and that's saying something.

"Exactly what is this?" Tony asks, watching as Steve stirs the meat in the pan.

"It's fairly simple," Steve says. "Where's your spice rack?"

Tony stares at him while Jarvis gives directions.

"...I have a spice rack?"

Steve just smiles at him, clearly amused, and Tony retreats to the table, deciding not to follow up on that. He's seen all of the ingredients, and he's fairly certain he's not about to be poisoned, so...

It's not long before Steve sets a plate of salad in front of him before returning to the stove.

"Steve?" Tony tries, poking at the salad.

"Yes?"

"I thought we were going to be getting sandwiches up here."

"We can get sandwiches," Steve says. "But since you're actually up here, I decided to make you something more involved."

"Why are you cooking for me?"

Steve looks at him, but doesn't answer.

Tony isn't quite sure what to do. The last time someone cooked for him...he has to stop and think about that. In fact, the last time someone used this kitchen for anything more fancy than sandwiches was...he has to think about that too.

He eats his salad, though, and studies the back of his head, thinking.

This, he realizes, is the first proof he's gotten that Steve's as good a guy as he makes himself out to be. It's all very confusing, but there it is: Steve's cooking him a meal, and as far as Tony can tell, he doesn't even want anything in return.

Which means that Loki succeeded, and Tony groans into his lettuce.

"Is something wrong?"

"No, no, I'm fine," Tony protests, then finishes the salad to get around saying anything else.

As Steve sets down the plate of the cooked hamburger - and it's been spiced with something, so Tony pokes it with a fork first - Tony's mouth does something on its own again.

"Are you always like this?"

"Like what?"

Tony quickly has a bite of the hamburger stuff, then another. To his surprise, it's good.

Steve, however, is patient, and when he's in-between bites Tony sees that he's still waiting expectantly for the rest of that question.

"Uh," he says. "Are you always so..." How does he finish that, "Nice? I mean, to people you're not - "

"Tony," Steve says. "We started off on the wrong foot."

"Yeah, I got that."

"This would be the right foot."

Tony bites back a comment about two left feet or something equally nonsensical and eats his meal instead. Which is the smarter option, in his opinion.

Steve sits at the table, and as Tony finishes his plate he gestures to him.

"You should change out of that," he says, because Steve's still in the bodysuit, and privacy issues or not he knows how clammy it can get in that thing if he's in it for too long.

A moment later it occurs to him that he's actually being considerate. Right foot. Tony gets up from the table and walks out, thinking that over instead of staring at himself. If he's going to be lost in thought or dealing with emotions or anything, he's going to do it where he can put his hands to use.

---

Tony snaps his fingers as a brilliant idea occurs to him, then carefully puts down the blowtorch he's got in his other hand. It'd be a bad idea to burn his fingers before he loses his chance for this, after all.

"Jarvis?" He asks, stepping away from the workbench. "Where's Steve now?"

"Sleeping, sir," Jarvis says, and Tony processes that.

"What time is it?"

"Four fifty two, sir."

Tony has a look at himself, then grins. He feels fine, barely winded, and he hasn't had a chance to really appreciate how little sleep Steve's body needs yet, has he?

He almost turns back to the workbench right then and there, but he has a plan: if Steve can be nice, then so can he, and there's definitely something he has to experience before they change back.

Long story short, in the privacy of his own thoughts he can admit that yes, he is something of a narcissist. And it's justified - he's been looking at himself for the last three days, he knows how dashing he looks.

The point is: Steve's body isn't so bad itself, and now that he knows he's not going to be trapped in it for the rest of his life, he should advance the idea of taking themselves for test drives to Steve.

Before the chance to do so disappears, anyways.

Which is why he sneaks into Steve's room in the middle of the ni- morning.

Which is why he doesn't hesitate (much) before climbing onto the (his) bed and straddles Steve. (himself)

Which is why he whispers 'Jarvis, raise the lights by forty percent' so he can see what he does - what he's about to kiss - before he kisses himself. (Steve)

This, Tony thinks, is rather nice. Kinda odd. He doesn't mean that because Steve's slowly waking up and kissing back for some reason. He means because he's getting an eyeful of himself when he's both sleepy and being kissed, and it's weird.

About thirty seconds later he breaks for air and Steve is staring at him, utterly freaked out.

"Morning?" Tony tries. "I thought I'd better do that before the chance for it vanished and now you're going to probably kill me, so I should probably lock myself in a room somewhere so when we switch back I can make my escape without too much trouble, but - "

"Tony?"

"Can I do that again now that you're not asleep?"

"Tony."

"Sandwich. I mean narcissist. I mean I had an idea and it's really something everyone who gets bodyswapped should do sometime and - " He's nervous, isn't he. Tony carefully slides back off the bed.

Steve is staring at him.

"I'm going to go do that thing about locking myself in somewhere. Yeah. See you later!" And Tony turns to go.

"Tony!" Steve says, and Tony freezes in his tracks.

Okay, it wasn't a brilliant plan. He'll admit that much.

"Are...did you...Why?"

"I wanted to see what it'd be like?" Tony asks, because he thinks that's the truth.

Steve is still staring at him. Tony knows how poorly he functions before coffee, so that's probably the only reason he's not getting...being...something unpleasant.

"We could go the rest of the way," Tony says, and okay, there is something wrong with Steve's brain-to-mouth filter, he's sure of it. Or maybe that's just him. Pretty sure it's Steve's fault, though.

After all, he's still sitting there, and if Tony can be honest (and he can be honest in his head, right?) he still looks pretty kissable, and narcissist. He can live with that.

"What are you..."

"There is something wrong with your brain-to-mouth filter," Tony informs Steve just as he realizes that he could be somewhat punchdrunk after working for so long so intensely. Just because he's not winded doesn't mean that there's something weird going on with Steve's body from it.

Damn it.

"You kissed me."

"To find out what it would be like." Tony says.

"While I was asleep."

"I couldn't exactly do it over dinner, could I?"

"Tony."

And now Steve is climbing out of bed, and of course he's dressed in pajamas.

Tony makes himself hold still, and reminds himself to be careful so he doesn't do anything to Steve against his will again.

"You could have asked."

Wait, what?

Tony stares at Steve.

"What do you mean I could have asked?"

"Well," and now Steve's blushing, fingers crossed Tony can avoid doing that when he gets his own body back, "I mean that you could have asked. It's pretty harmless, right?"

"Right," Tony says, because it is completely harmless to kiss Captain America while he's in your body.

"Then...if you want..."

Tony stops. Pinches himself. It's not a dream.

"How are you..." Tony waves his hands. "Why aren't you freaking out?"

"Should I be?"

Tony lowers his hands. Nods. At least he thinks so - after all, Steve's...not...

Is he?

"Tony, if you want to kiss me to satisfy your curiosity, you can."

Tony pinches himself again.

"I'm not sure...I'd, ah, be comfortable with anything else, but...a kiss is harmless, right?"

"Right," Tony repeats, steps forward, and stops, because is he really going to do this?

He has a long look at himself (Steve), thinks sandwich (narcissist, or Steve gives him bad word associations) and thinks screw it before kissing himself again.

This time it's better, if only because Steve hesitantly returns the kiss, and while it's still fairly light - there's that twist of something in Tony's chest, but he's not looking at emotions or reactions or anything other than the present reality of how he tastes from the other side.

Tony breaks it after a moment, then steps back. He shouldn't go forward, or ask for more, or anything. He should stop here, before - before he does something Steve really will punch him over.

"...We should try that later," Tony says, and pinches himself. He still won't wake up, damn it. "I mean, when we're...normal. You know. For comparison's sake."

"Tony?"

"I mean I don't want to make things awkward - I mean, more awkward - "

"We can talk about that later," Steve says, and Tony blinks at him. "When it's not five am. Okay?"

"Oh." Tony blinks. "Oh, right. Sorry. I'll be going now."

He backs out of the room before he can do anything else.

---

"I hate magic," are Tony's first words when he finds himself in his own body again. His second words are: "Jarvis, make Steve take two steps back and turn off the blowtorch before he blows something up."

"Yes, sir," Jarvis says, then, "May I assume that you have resumed your correct form, sir?"

Tony rubs his forehead, stretches; touches his toes, checks that everything's there, starting with the groin and moving up. Then he tells Jarvis several passcodes he'd set up for identifying himself.

"Very good, sir," Jarvis says. "I am pleased to report that Captain Rogers has safely put away the blowtorch, and is coming up."

"He didn't break anything, did he?"

"No, sir."

Tony grins at nothing in particular, then, after checking that Steve's not in here yet, whoops. It's great to be home.

"Okay, I'm going to intercept him," Tony says, spinning on his heel and heading out. He should probably be turning and running in the other direction, but it'll be better when he can see that Steve's back where he should be first.

"Tony?" Steve calls, and Tony can't stop grinning, waving as he approaches.

Oh, it's so nice not to be blond anymore.

"It's me," Tony confirms. "I'm back where I should be."

"Oh, good," Steve says. "I, ah, am sorry if this wasn't what you wanted," and then he kisses him.

Tony goes wait, what, then am I dreaming, then comparisons!, then oh, this is nice in about two seconds. Then he's gripping Steve's shirt and kissing back, deepening it, unafraid of licking into Steve's mouth and making Steve moan.

"My turn," Tony says, grinning as he breaks the kiss. "If that wasn't what you wanted - I'm not sorry."

Steve's bright red and looks a little dazed, but Tony can't think of a better way to welcome someone back to their body.

"I think," he says, moving closer, "I'd like to do that again. For comparison's sake."

"Tony?"

"If that's a no, can you save it until after?"

"Tony."

"That's a yes, then."

"Tony," Steve says, and catches his chin in his fingers. "I think we should wait more than five minutes before we...ah..."

"Why?" Tony asks, because why.

"I'd like a chance to make sure I'm - "

"That's exactly why we should kiss again. To make sure it's all working." Tony says, and Steve huffs.

"And a chance to let the team know we're alright."

"But - "

"Tony."

"You can be responsible later," Tony tries, but - it's Steve. He's never not responsible. Steve steps back, and pulls out Tony's phone.

"Right," Tony says, watching as Steve dials, thinking of what it would be like to have those fingers elsewhere, because he's had hours since that kiss at five am to spontaneously develop enough material for wet dreams for a year.

Steve Rogers, after all, is very attractive, when you're looking.

He only half-listens to the conversation Steve has with Fury, more preoccupied with watching Steve's hands.

Another idea occurs to him halfway through the call: Steve only needs one of those hands right now. And why not try this? He needs to establish boundaries with Steve now, before Steve gets a chance to set them, and he needs to push at them, because that's what he does.

He catches Steve's hand, runs fingers over his palm, then licks at his index finger. He watches the blush return, licks again, and slowly slides Steve's finger into his mouth.

"Tony," Steve whispers before he's talking to Fury again.

Tony hums, licks again, and sucks on Steve's finger, eyes closing for a moment. He's almost too familiar with these hands.

Big fingers, nimble fingers - he shifts from the index finger to the ring finger, then back to the middle finger, and is careful and slow as he works over all of them, tasting all the while.

Tony watches Steve fumble to turn off the phone when the conversation is over, then runs his tongue over Steve's palm when he tries to say something.

"Don't drop that," Tony murmurs, holding a hand out, and Steve hands over his cellphone, and he still doesn't pull his hand away from Tony's mouth.

Tony nips, gentle, then licks, then raises his head.

"That works," he reports, pleased with himself. "What should I test next?"

"I think we should go to a bedroom," Steve says, then pauses. "Fury wants us - "

"No," Tony says immediately. "Fury can wait. We're going to the bedroom now, and if he has a problem with that, he can take it up with me. Come on."

From there it's as short a trip as Tony can make it to the bedroom, then it's Steve catching his arms before Tony can push them down onto the bed.

"Are you sure about this?" Steve asks.

"Would I have been sucking on your fingers if I wasn't?" Tony asks, and kisses Steve, quick.

"Tony, we're moving awfully quickly - "

"You can take me out for dinner later," Tony says, and kisses him again, deeper this time.

"Are you sure?"

"Yes!" Tony says, almost exasperated. "I want you to get on that bed and let me - " This time the brain-to-mouth filter works, because he doesn't know how much experience the Captain has, and he doesn't want to scare him off when they're this close. "Sex, Steve. Stop saying no."

Steve stares at him, flushed, mouth open, and Tony kisses him.

That, it seems, is the lucky kiss, as it gets him the results he wants, and then they're falling back on the bed, and clothing is going to have to come off somehow, but now Tony can touch as much as he wants (and he wants a lot) and Steve is moaning again, and Tony decides then and there that until he gets proof otherwise, Steve is a virgin.

Steve's writhing under his touches, and Tony finally bends to the task of removing clothing, fumbling with pushing a slightly-greasy shirt up and off of Steve, then fighting with his own shirt, and coordination. He's usually better at it, but there's Steve, blushing and eyes dark and aroused under him and it's hard to be coordinated like this.

Tony fits his hands over Steve's chest, has a good long look at what he's so very lucky to get his hands on, and debates sending Loki a thank you card.

Then he gets to business, because those pants are coming off.

"Tony," Steve says, and, "Tony - " and, "Ah!" and Tony grins at him, licking lines over his hips and thighs and touching everywhere he can, leaving Steve's pants at his ankles instead of anywhere else, and here's a portion of Steve's anatomy he hadn't quite worked up the nerve to play with. (mostly because...well, in all honesty, it had been impossible to get drunk with that super-serum in his system, and without an excuse...)

Tony licks, thinks about the taste, decides it's not bad, and then decides to make Steve shout: he fits his mouth around Steve's head, sucking, careful not to use teeth.

Appreciate this, he thinks, digging his fingers into Steve's hip, working his tongue. It's not something he'd do for just anyone, and the realization there makes him feel something like fear, but he chases that thought away with another look up at Steve.

"This," he says, panting, lifting his mouth from Steve's cock, "Is the right foot, right?"

That makes Steve laugh, and Tony grins as he moves up to kiss him, pressing close against him, then sliding to the side so he can fit his hand around Steve's cock and stroke him, work to figure out a proper angle to jerk Steve off to, and he bites at Steve's lips, licking right after that, and he wants all of this.

"I want," Tony informs Steve, still stroking him, "I want this. You."

Steve's hands come up, one landing on his hip and the other cupping his cheek, and Steve kisses him, and for all there's want and need, there's another angle to the entire thing, a tender and emotional one, and Tony answers it with a deeper kiss, answers it with tongue and gripping Steve tighter and he makes him groan with need.

"Perfect," Tony whispers, and he kisses Steve again instead of letting him answer that, and he feels fingers tighten on his hip.

Steve comes with a drawn out yell, and jerks his hips up into Tony's hand, and Tony kisses him again and again, letting go only when it occurs to him, and Steve's free hand finds its way into Tony's pants sometime after Steve sprawls under Tony, panting.

Tony's hips jerk forward, and he cries out, surprised, but the Captain can do at least this, or is a fast learner, or both, and he rocks forward into Steve's hand and writhes on top of him, giving himself over to how good it feels, and unable to get too far away because of Steve's steady, anchoring hand on his hip.

Tony doesn't come down for a long time, not after he comes like that, and when the world comes back into focus he's tucked against Steve's chest and he's still in his body, so that's all right.

So is Steve, when he leans up to kiss him, and Tony chides himself for grinning, but he can't seem to stop that.

"Good?" He asks, because he has to be sure.

Steve nods, finding and taking his hand. "That was very good," he murmurs, and he pulls Tony close again.

Tony huffs into Steve's shoulder, but he's warm and comfortable, and it's easy to drag blankets over them, so he lets it all go.

---

If a simple card can get awards for being smug, then it's the card that Tony finds several hours later in the workshop.

It's not a thank you card; it's a you're welcome card, written in ancient Norse, and when Tony gets it translated -

Steve stops him from destroying the card.

Steve also writes a short thank you note and leaves it in its place.